Give That Lady a Cigar!

Canton, Mich.

Re “The Old Dope Peddler” [“Letters,” March 9]: I wish to thank The Nation for running the cigarette ad with the opportunity to take advantage of a coupon. Tobacco is a legal product, as are cellphones, books, sleep aids and pearl necklaces. If one has no need for a cellphone, sleep aid, cigarette or pearl necklace, don’t buy one. First Amendment, anyone?


Santa Cruz, Calif.

Your response to letters critical of advertising tobacco is the most tortured piece of writing I have read since some Christian gave me a leaflet on avoiding hell. Your reasoning contained everything but the virtue of motherhood. You obviously stand on unstable ground.


Paging Alexander the Great…

Placentia, Calif.

Your editorial “Don’t Escalate in Afghanistan” [Feb. 23] is absolutely correct! Someone should remind our president and the Pentagon that only Alexander the Great succeeded in conquering that country.


Whiners of the World, Unite!

New York City

Congratulations on a terrific article: Nicholas von Hoffman’s “Jobless in America” [Feb. 23] accomplishes something very important by bringing Nation readers the voices and stories of so many different people struggling to cope with this brutal economy of ours. It also accomplishes something important by letting these men and women–and others like them–realize that they are not alone.

Feelings of isolation, panic, shame, confusion, anger, guilt and much more are all hallmarks of our economic downturn. I was struck by Anonymous in Miami, who asked, “Where are other people’s stories? I have been looking online…”

To Anonymous and others like him/her, I invite you to, a website I founded with a small band of fellow “whiners” to give people hit hard by the economy a place to share their experiences, emotions and survival strategies. (The name was inspired by Phil Gramm’s outrageous claim that there wasn’t anything wrong with the economy–we are just “a nation of whiners.” George Will went one better, calling us “crybabies of the Western world.”)

EconoWhiner is for all of us, since no one is invulnerable in a world increasingly defined by extreme financial insecurity. People have been coming to the site and sharing such stories as, “You don’t know me, but I lost my job last week,” “Who do I have to know to get a job interview?” and “17 months unemployed–and counting.” They’ve talked about what it’s like to go through a foreclosure or a bankruptcy, to transition to life without credit cards, to sell treasured possessions online to pay for groceries. What it’s like to work in an industry, or for a company, that’s falling apart around you. How it feels to start every workweek feeling it’s going to be your last.

Anonymous, you’re not alone. Your story is important. Keep telling it. How else will life as we now know it get better?


Bulgaria’s Jews in World War II

New York City; Sofia, Bulgaria

We wish to correct a small but significant detail in Akiva Gottlieb’s “Schlepics” [Feb. 16]. Angel Wagenstein was never sent to “a Nazi labor camp.” Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany and when, in the spring of 1943, Hitler demanded the deportation of Bulgaria’s Jews, Czar Boris III complied, sending to the death camps some 11,000 Jews from Thrace and Macedonia. Hitler had promised to return these territories to Bulgaria after the war and placed them under Bulgarian administration for its duration. But when Hitler then demanded the deportation of another 20,000 Jews from “old” Bulgaria proper, there was such a furious outcry from the Bulgarian church, Parliament and non-Jewish citizens that Czar Boris is thought to have said to an enraged Hitler something like, Sorry, Adolf, but I need my Jews to build roads. Thus, able-bodied Jewish men were sent to labor camps in the countryside. It was from one of these that Wagenstein escaped and returned to Sofia, where he engaged in sabotage with a partisan group and was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Upon the arrival of the Red Army, he was freed from prison and joined a theater group that entertained Soviet troops on the Ukrainian front. He went on to study screenwriting in Moscow and has had an illustrious career in Bulgaria as one of its foremost screenwriters and novelists.

Not one of Bulgaria’s 48,000 Jews was sent to a death camp.

Elizabeth Frank
Deliana Simeonova
Translators, Farewell, Shanghai
and Isaac’s Torah

Paris in the Springtime

New York City

Scott Sherman’s “In His League” [Feb. 2], about George Plimpton, paints a good picture of a great lightweight and raises serious questions about just what Peter Matthiessen got up to in the CIA (even if, nowadays, it’s hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for a time when any branch of the government took such a lively interest in the arts). It’s a pity, however, that in the interest, apparently, of journalistic color, Sherman introduces Harold “Doc” Humes as a “mentally unbalanced former Navy cook” remarkable chiefly for traipsing around Paris in a wool suit and homburg even in the hottest weather. Humes eventually lost his mind, but he was perfectly sane when he was in Paris in the ’50s, and it was the practical and literary savvy he’d developed as publisher and editor of the Paris News Post that made it possible for him and Matthiessen and Plimpton to start The Paris Review. Humes also went on to write two novels, Underground City and Men Die, both recently republished and still very much worth reading. And though he may well have cooked in the Navy, he also studied at MIT and graduated from Harvard.


Rome in the Fall

New York City

Italy’s New Racism” by Frederika Randall [Feb. 2] focuses on the surge of xenophobia the right-wing government has been silently condoning. While it is important to emphasize these appalling episodes, it is also crucial to learn that as the article went to press, news came from Italy that four of the city policemen who beat up and humiliated the Ghanaian student were put under house arrest and charged with kidnapping, slander and abuse of power, and dismissed from their posts.

As for the still popular “obscenely jolly Fascist song,” Randall does not recall that after it was released in 1936–at the time of the attack on Ethiopia, the only Italian attempt at colonialism–“Faccetta Nera” was subsequently prohibited by the Fascist authorities after they realized that the catchy melody actually encouraged an all-too-predictable mixture of the races.



In Eyal Press’s “Betrayal” [March 9] no mention was made of the translator of the book under review, Writing in the Dark, by David Grossman. She is Jessica Cohen.