Jersey Dreaming

New York City/Bradley Beach, N.J.

It’s not just that Bruce Springsteen speaks out about political issues, important as that is [Eric Alterman, “Springsteen’s Political Voice,” April 30]. It’s that he gives voice to his fans’ frustration, despair, longing and hope in a way that ties our lives to a larger sense of community. It’s being at one of the last Giants Stadium shows in 2009 on the edge of tears thinking I will never be in this building again, I will never be able to afford Giants season tickets again, maybe the band will never tour again, we are losing so much we care about in this country… and suddenly Bruce is singing “bring on your wrecking ball” and we all have found a way to sing out our anger together. So the band never did tour all together again, but Bruce gave us a beautiful way to say farewell to Clarence, the Giants did win the Super Bowl and we’ll keep going to the shows as long as we can to sing along with Bruce about hard times and the land of hope and dreams. Plus, nothing will ever beat a summer night on the beach in Jersey watching fireworks and listening to “Sandy” or “Born to Run.”


Giving Us the Willys

East Hampton, N.Y.

Lee Siegel’s extensive and thoughtful comments on Death of a Salesman [“Willy Loman’s Secret,” April 30] are appreciated. But saying Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance “establishes [him]as the definitive Willy, and as one of the greatest American actors ever to appear on stage or screen” is over the top.

Those of us long in the tooth remember the 37-year-old Lee J. Cobb as the first Willy, and his performance is the gold standard against which the other four Broadway Willys are measured. To my mind at least, none of them have ever equaled, much less surpassed, Cobb. Siegel saying “every ten years we get the same interpretations” makes me wonder if he has seen all the different performances. George C. Scott played Willy as a violent loony; with Dustin Hoffman, Loman became a wimp; Brian Dennehy’s performance was very much like Hoffman’s, an Everyman overwhelmed by his own mediocrity and expansive dreams.

Clearly, though, Salesman holds a mirror to America, and the reflection today is as unsettling as it was more than sixty years ago—perhaps even more so.


Blooming Grove, N.Y.

A student in my literature class at a community college where I was teaching Death of a Salesman taught me something about paying attention: in this case, to the name of Willy’s first son, Biff. We had discussed the ironic significance of the name Happy for the other son, when this student pointed out that Biff backwards is Ffib, an insight of equal if not greater significance. “Attention must be paid” indeed.


Looking Out for Our Own

Swansonville, Wash.

I just read the replies [“Letters,” April 30] to Barbara Ehrenreich’s April 2 “Rediscovering Poverty.” I am not poor, although I have been off and on for many years, working as a shipwright and commercial fisherman and providing food, the means to keep boats going to keep catching food, and making people’s lives better by repairing and rebuilding their boats. Ehrenreich replies to commentaries by quoting her father as saying, “If you ever need money, go to a poor man, because they’re the only ones who will help you.” This is absolutely the truth, more than nine times out of ten. Today I gave a guy a steering column from a truck I’ve got. He’s starting a new job tomorrow, is totally broke, has a baby on the way and had nowhere else to turn. The column is worth around $200. I could use the money, but although I barely know him, it’s his, because his family needs it, and I’ll probably get some work in exchange. This is in stark contrast to most of my dealings with the rich and middle class.


Beaverton, Ore.

Barbara Ehrenreich hits the nail on the head, as always. Nine years ago, we, the staff of a local elementary school, were asked to read A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. I found it to contain much social stereotyping, classism and racial profiling—everything from “quizzes” about the characteristics of poor families (true or false: I know where every garage sale in the area is; I know how to decorate the house for each season) to remarks about people in poverty buying a satellite dish instead of groceries. I was offended. I pointed out that I know where all the garage sales are, choose to use public transportation when I can and choose to buy used furniture and make decorations because I care about being a nonconsumer, not because I am poor. I guess we are no more enlightened now than we were fifty years ago.


Nukes? WMDs? Remember the Maine?

Spencer, W.V.

Jonathan Schell’s “Thinking the Unthinkable” [April 23], on what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, avoids the largest point in this debate—which seems to be missed in most media discussions: that Israel’s (and by extension the United States’) problem with Iran is not fear of Iran becoming a nuclear state but rather fear of Iran becoming an economically and politically successful state. Our problem with Iran is no more about its nuclear weapons program than our problem with Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction.

In the Iraq conflict, Paul Wolfowitz supposedly said that WMDs were “something we could all agree on” where an excuse (not a reason) for war with Iraq was concerned. In the Iran situation, the usual suspects (the “we” in the previous sentence) have decided that a possible Iranian nuclear weapon is something they can all agree on as an excuse (not a reason) for war with Iran.

In the same way that there was nothing Iraq could have done to avert a war, there may be nothing that Iran can do to avoid a war if the United States and Israel want one. Iran could bulldoze its nuclear facilities and execute Ahmadinejad, and the US reaction would be, “Well, that’s a good first step, but we need to see more.”

So who are the usual suspects? People focused on Israel’s continued dominance of the region. In Iran’s case, there is also Saudi Arabia (Sunni), which would love to see Iran (Shiite) destroyed and fears its economic and political power. Then we have the military contractors who get rich from war, the neocons who think it possible—and a good thing—for the United States to dominate the world militarily, and cowardly politicians who want to pander to the American tendency to see war as sports, our team against theirs (the real Hunger Games?). With the exception of Saudi Arabia, this is pretty much the same grisly gang that cheer-led the Iraq War.


Mind Your E’s and U’s

In “Mitt Romney’s Neocon War Cabinet” by Ari Berman [May 21], Heather Hurlburt’s name was misspelled with an e rather than the final u. Our apologies.