A well-recognized "brand" is nothing without a competitive product. Just ask DeSoto, Wang, Pan Am, or Smith-Corona. Warren Buffett's investment in American Express ("Why Warren Buffett's Betting Big on American Express," October 30) is as baffling as his ill-fated stake in USAir.

The fatal defects Buffett missed when he analyzed USAir were management and product quality. The problems at American Express are unproven management and irrelevant products. The Platinum Card is a perfect example: an absurdly overpriced package of no incremental value whatever, designed for the insecure with money to waste.

The Amex brand is being rapidly destroyed by mediocre, delayed responses to powerful, well-funded, and creative competition. The slightest hint that American Express management can effectively cope has yet to surface. Mr. Buffett will be doing a mea culpa about his investment in American Express at a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting before the decade is out. JAMES F. CHADBOURNE III Tampa


Your complaint about progressive tax rates ("The U.S. Tax System Just Ain't Fair," Reality Check, November 13) ignores the greater utility the affluent receive from living in a civilized society. The poorest can survive, maybe even prosper, as scavengers in a Bosnia. The working class can survive the low-level terrorism of a Northern Ireland. But the rich need the less well-off to work hard for modest rewards while avoiding the jealousy that leads to riots.

There are three economic models to choose from: Sweden, where the poor and middle class are bribed through a confiscatory tax rate on the rich; Latin America, where the rich spend their tax savings on bodyguards, barbed wire, and Dobermans; or the U.S., where the rich pay a reasonable rate for a system in which they can make all the money they could justifiably want. Which would you choose?

MARK MAISONNEUVE Eastpointe, Michigan


It just took me nearly ten minutes to look up the instructions on how to send external E-mail from my office computer, so I'm not sure I'm the best candidate for a personal information manager, or PIM ("What Software to Use to Organize Your Life," October 16). I persist, however, because the illusion that software could actually bring order to my life is so tantalizing.

My husband is one of those computer wonks you describe, and I'm an English major/purchasing agent. It's a pathetic mismatch. I crave structure but am functionally software-illiterate, while he spends all his free time Web surfing and won't even balance the checkbook, let alone organize anything.

I'm going to give your article to the office techoid and hope he will authorize the procurement of PIMs for our whole department. Thanks for a helpful and entertaining feature. KATE FRAZIER Batavia, Illinois

Personal information managers represent one of the hottest categories in the software business right now. As a result, a severe shakeout is inevitable. In the late 1980s there were more than 40 word-processing vendors, which each accounted for $15 million or more in revenue. Today the number of viable competitors is down to three.

Given the degree of "bonding" that occurs between a user and his or her PIM, it would be worth noting that most of the companies in your roundup will be out of business in five years or so, and as a result, readers might want to be careful which company they choose. GEORGE W. COLOMBO Author, Sales Force Automation Winter Springs, Florida


"Stretch Goals: The Dark Side of Asking for Miracles," From the Front, November 13) missed one key point in its summary box, "Five Ways to Get More From People." The point was implicit in Steve Kerr's examples: Stretching requires loosening, warm-up exercises and careful training. Without them, people strain the organization and hurt themselves. DALE E. ZAND Management Professor, Stern School of Business New York University New York City


I was intrigued by the plans of Princeton Electronic Billboard to superimpose "live video insertions" of commercial messages into telecasts of big-league ball games ("Here Comes the TV Commercial No Remote Control Can Zap," News Trends, October 16). Perhaps Paul Tagliabue, the NFL commissioner, and the NFL owners committee should insist on using this new technology in their fight to keep Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones from selling his own advertising (which is competing with the NFL's own advertising plans) inside the Dallas stadium.

That way Jones gets his wish of selling ads to the public, but the advertising messages won't ever be seen by the fans who watch TV around the world. And that would most certainly kill any future deals for Jones and other money-hungry professional sports owners. JOHN D. BAKER Columbia, South Carolina


Sending Americans to live in Asia to gain a "global mindset" is a waste of time ("Don't Be an Ugly-American Manager," From the Front, October 16). If you think a two-year assignment in Singapore or Hong Kong is really living in Asia--and is the answer--you also believe in the tooth fairy. You might as well send someone to San Francisco's Chinatown. The truth is that in most instances, Americans are very poor at assimilating.

Most overseas Americans live in U.S. compounds or communities, they patronize U.S. clubs, their children attend U.S. schools--in short, their exposure to the foreign community is limited to a few select social encounters and a protected employer/employee relationship in the workplace. Only when you can accept someone as your equal have you truly integrated.

Americans have a big advantage over most other nations: The cream of Asia's future managerial prospects generally attend U.S. universities. These students are tomorrow's leaders, they know Asia, they speak the language, they have area knowledge and family or clan contacts, and they are local--they don't require home leave; they don't have spouses who have to sacrifice careers, or children who require some continuity of school systems.

America was late to accept the Age of Asia. If U.S. companies really want to participate in Asia, they have to localize right up to the local CEO--and accept the fact that the era of the white expat is over. KEVIN PARNELL Singapore

Just a picky note to remind you that the "ugly American" in William Lederer's novel was the good guy. BOB COLVIN Carbondale, Illinois

A word of advice to anyone comtemplating entering the global market: Do it now!

In mid-1994, I sold my half of a consumer electronics service center that I had started myself, and decided to give the "global" idea a try. I chose the Middle East--Bahrain and, ultimately, Saudi Arabia. In the past year I've learned much more about doing business than I ever would have on my home turf in Pennsylvania, and here's the kicker: It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life.

Oh, yes, my "advice" to anyone about to embark on an overseas stint: Make the most of it by preparing to embrace the culture and its differences rather than resisting. You'll be surprised how well you'll be received as an American, provided you make an effort to understand the new culture. At the end of your assignment, you'll have gained something much greater than the training your boss had in mind--a view of the big picture. J.D. FALLAT Al-Kauser Industrial Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia


Someone slipped me a copy of Betsy Morris's "Executive Women Confront Midlife Crisis" (September 18), and my life has been forever changed. It was incredibly sad and painful for me to read, but oh so necessary for my coming to terms with my life. The article is an excellent representation of the lives of many professional women over the past 20 to 25 years. I cannot remember when I read anything that so moved me and helped me.

As a teenager in Syracuse, New York, I naively thought the way was already paved for me. Mistakenly, I assumed that the 1960s and 1970s had opened all avenues to women. I never expected that 25 years later I would be a (reluctant) pioneer myself. It is late 1995, and I am still astonished that the Sixties and Seventies have taken so long to be "implemented" in American business and academia.

Most of my fortysomething professional women friends have been repeatedly "battered and bruised." We found few if any career mentors, and career counseling usually meant "outplacement." So there were a lot of job changes, and each time we hoped the next position would be a more comfortable fit; it rarely was. In the process, we grew older and each move further disrupted both our personal and our professional lives.

My students are all about age 20. To them, this is ancient history, the "way it was in the olden days." My women students tell me it isn't like that anymore--or rather, for two to three years they believe that, and then it seems that history does repeat itself.

I want so for the patterns and mores to change so my women students will have happy personal and professional lives. I believe now that this will take at least another generation, and will be implemented primarily through the effort of my men students as they move into positions of power and authority. I continually encourage them to assist their women classmates and other women coming through the pipeline. FAYE BRADWICK Associate Professor of Taxation Indiana University of Pennsylvania Indiana, Pennsylvania


I like your magazine...always problems at all. But I have to tell you I love Stanley Bing's column, While You Were Out. Please keep him happy and writing more. If a raise is out of the question, then at least give him a pat on the back once in a while as you look fondly at him and say, "Fine job, Stan." (And no, I'm not a relative. Actually I've never heard of him before. It's just that his humor is a welcome change. Sort of P.G. Wodehouse-ish. Sort of.) SANDY C. NITTA Honolulu


"Fatal Litigation" (October 16), on mass-tort litigation, creates the impression that manufacturers are invariably the losers in such cases. Nearly a decade ago I was part of a team that successfully defended Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals against claims that its widely prescribed morning-sickness drug Bendectin caused birth defects. The litigation involved several years of extensive discovery, including the taking of more than 100 depositions and the production of more than 500,000 pages of documents. The cases culminated in a "common-issues trial" involving about 1,200 plaintiffs, which was directed solely to the issue of causation. After having been presented with all the scientific evidence, the jury concluded that Bendectin does not cause birth defects and rendered a judgment for Merrell Dow. Merrell's strong and well-coordinated defense, coupled with its refusal to settle, stemmed the tide of new cases. Bendectin became a financial disaster for the plaintiffs' bar.

Five years ago, in what was touted as the "new asbestos," plaintiffs' firms began filing thousands of "repetitive stress injury" cases against manufacturers of computer equipment. Early efforts to consolidate these cases on an industrywide basis were rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Plaintiffs have failed to prevail in the first eight national trials. In one major case that we tried as national coordinating counsel for a major computer company, a federal judge in Michigan disqualified the plaintiff's experts and dismissed the case, finding that the "theory" that keyboards cause upper-extremity disorders is based on unreliable methodology and is not scientifically sound. Once again, weak scientific evidence, a vigorous defense, and a growing public backlash against the "tort lottery" have virtually stymied this litigation. STEVEN P. BENENSON Principal, Product Liability Department Porzio Bromberg & Newman Morristown, New Jersey


In "Rubbermaid Goes Thump" (October 2), you write that Rubbermaid "formed a joint venture with a chemical company owned by the Dutch government . As a state-owned chemical company, Curver was inclined to accept downturns in the business cycle and suffer the losses stoically." In fact, Curver is not a state-owned company; it is a subsidiary of DSM, a chemical concern founded by the Dutch state in 1902 as a coal-mining enterprise, but in which the state currently holds a minority share of only about 30%. And it is definitely untrue that the company "suffers losses stoically." Furthermore, after having been partners for several years, DSM and Rubbermaid jointly decided not to continue the joint venture; the decision was not one made solely by Rubbermaid. WILLEM KLAASSEN Corporate Vice President, DSM Heerlen, the Netherlands


"The New Corporate Uniforms" (November 13) raises the question: Does this style shift represent a move toward greater balance between personal and corporate goals, or is it a mask that attempts to cover up the increased pressure to operate without increased authority to deliver increased results in an increasingly ambiguous environment? More freedom or more illusion? ANETT D. GRANT President, Executive Speaking Inc. Minneapolis

The only conclusion I could come to after reading "Where to Work" and "What to Wear" is that the Midwest no longer exists! C'mon! One tieless VP from the Motor City hardly represents half the country from Cleveland to Denver. NANCY DODD MCCANN President, Fordham Group Barrington, Illinois