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The Straight Dope



Is there some rumor about George Bush's alleged marital infidelities that I'm supposed to know about but don't? I keep seeing these veiled references in places like Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom Watch, but no details. Please, help me get hip. Half the time I don't even get Doonesbury these days. --Elizabeth A. Clarke, Chicago

I know the feeling. If you're not wired into the media gossipnet (and even I take a week or two off occasionally just to detox), getting through the trendier magazines is like trying to read code. The rumor you're supposed to know about refers to one Jennifer (with a J, not G) Fitzgerald, a 60ish longtime aide to Bush. Described as domineering, she was unpopular with co-workers but could do no wrong in her boss's eyes. This led some to conclude that the two had something going, although you could use the same reasoning to prove Bush had an affair with John Sununu.

The rumor has been circulating since the early 80s and occasionally surfaces in the papers, most notably (and explicitly) in a story in the L.A. Weekly during the 1988 presidential campaign. A few days later the stock market dropped 43 points on rumors that the Washington Post was about to do a similar expose. The actual evidence for the alleged liaison is laughably thin--anonymous second-hand accounts, mysterious day-long disappearances during 1978-79, that kind of thing. Fitzgerald has denied the story; Bush, on one of the few occasions reporters had the nerve to ask him about it, said, "I don't respond to rumors." Personally I won't be satisfied until we get lab tests and a televised hearing. For a fuller discussion (no additional facts, but an amusing account of mainstream media squirming on the subject), see the November 15, 1988 Village Voice.

Marilyn vos Savant recently answered the following question in her column in Parade magazine:

"Suppose you make $10,000 a year. Your boss offers you a choice: You can have a $1,000 raise (not a bonus) at the end of each year, or you can have a $300 raise at the end of each six months. Which do you choose?" Marilyn says you should choose the $300 raise. "At the end of one year," she says, "you'd be ahead $300; at the end of three years, $700; and at the end of five years, $1,100."

Could you please double check Marilyn's answer? I don't see how she comes up with these numbers. --Name Withheld, Novato, California

I know I shouldn't do this, but I can't help myself. Not that I'm going to say she's wrong, you understand. On the contrary, her answer is 100 percent correct. It's just not necessarily the answer to the question she was asked.

Given the question as stated, many people would interpret a $300 raise to mean a $300 increase in annual salary--that is, after six months your salary would rise from $10,000 to $10,300 per year. In your first year you'd make $10,150--$5,000 the first six months, $5,150 the second. Under that interpretation there's no way a semiannual $300 raise would beat out an annual $1,000 raise.

But that's not what Marilyn has in mind. She interprets the question this way: Would you rather have your $10,000 annual salary increased $1,000 each year, or your $5,000 half-year salary increased $300 every six months?

Put that way, the correct choice is the $300 raise. In the first six months you'd make $5,000, the second six months $5,300, the third six months $5,600, and so on. A semiannual raise of $300 is an annual increase of $600, and if you have two such increases per year your annualized salary hike is $1,200. Under that scenario Marilyn's right in saying you'd be $700 ahead after three years and $1,100 after five years. The difficulty here is that the question is ambiguous. So let's not blame Marilyn vos Savant, but rather the dope who wrote the letter. It's a strategy that usually works for me.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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