Korea Seen Clearly

New York City

Bruce Cumings’s “Korean War Games” [April 22] debunks the endless, often mindless global media coverage on what is happening on the divided Korean peninsula. Alas, too much attention is given to North Korean “experts,” in and out of government, who rely on low-level intelligence and much second-guessing. Cumings’s piece is a strong corrective to this stream of mis- and disinformation.

Former managing editor
The Korean Review

The Poop on the Pipeline

Washington, D.C.

Re Bill McKibben’s “Kerry’s Keystone Decision” [April 22]: A new Public Citizen report debunks some of the main arguments made by supporters of Keystone XL and demonstrates that the pipeline would in fact increase gas prices and reduce US energy security. This study flies in the face of industry-promoted wisdom.To view the report, go to citizen.org/documents/Keystone_Report_4.15.2013.pdf. 

SAM JEWLER, Public Citizen

Popular Unrest in China

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Reading Peter Kwong’s astounding statistics on corruption and inequality in China, as well as his reporting that “popular unrest has risen to unprecedented levels” [“Why China’s Corruption Won’t Stop,” April 22], calls to mind a speech Mao Zedong gave to the Communist Party leadership in 1962: “We can now affirm that classes do exist in socialist countries and that class struggle undoubt­edly exists.… We must acknowledge that classes will continue to exist for a long time. We must also acknowledge the existence of a struggle of class against class, and admit the possibility of the restoration of reactionary classes…. If our children’s generation go in for revisionism…so that although they still nominally have socialism it is in fact capitalism, then our grandsons will certainly rise up in revolt and overthrow their fathers, because the masses will not be satisfied.”


A Blast of Fresh Arctic Air

Oakland, Calif.

A wonderful, encouraging article: Russell Mokhiber’s “Alaska’s Lesson for the Left” [April 22]. I need to hear of the (not so) little victories over wealth and power by the underdogs!


The Dance of the Dilettante

Potsdam, N.Y.

In his review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, Stephen Wertheim makes some important points, but he misses a few big ones by a mile [“Hunter-Blatherer,” April 22]. Although he persists in referring to Diamond as an anthropologist of sorts, Diamond is not, and has never been, an anthropologist. He is an ornithologist (orni=bird; anthro=human).

Nor have anthropologists looked kindly on this latest contribution, despite Wertheim’s anecdotal case of some judgment-challenged anonymous blogger. (See, for example, the book review and subsequent letters in the Sunday New York Times some weeks ago.) Although Wertheim gives Diamond credit for “scouring” the anthropological literature, Diamond’s labors clearly amounted to cherry-picking juicy tidbits, exaggerating and using them out of context to illustrate various points he hoped to make. This is very much in keeping with a long tradition of dilettantes expounding personal philosophy for a mass

audience. It has little or nothing to do with anthropology. It should no longer be necessary to point out that the people Diamond used to bolster his arguments are not our “living ancestors.” They are not “isolated,” and their histories are every bit as long and as deep as anyone else’s. The reviewer also uses the unfortunate term “primitive peoples.” Seriously? In 2013?

Professor of anthropology emeritus
St. Lawrence University

Wertheim Replies

New York City

My review never calls Jared Diamond an anthropologist, much less attacks anthropology in general. To the contrary, it opens by noting Diamond’s credentials in the hard sciences and several times points out that Diamond went to New Guinea to watch birds, not people. Richard Perry also objects to my use of the word “scouring” to describe Diamond’s engagement with anthropological literature; Diamond cherry-picks his evidence, Perry rightly insists. Here Perry is picking cherries of his own, for “scouring” appears in a paragraph devoted to arguing that, indeed, Diamond cherry-picks evidence: “Somehow Diamond’s experiences in New Guinea and his scouring of anthropological literature landed him exactly where substantial numbers of Americans were already heading, right down to the slow-food movement….his book blatantly filters those stories for conclusions compatible with the values and structures of his own society.”

I invoked the term “primitive peoples” (as well as “traditional societies”) to convey Diamond’s viewpoint, not mine, but I should have overcome my reluctance to burden the reader and placed quotation marks around those terms whenever they appeared. For all his insistence on precision, Perry might have made clear that it is Diamond’s book, not my review, that calls indigenous peoples our “ancestors” and “isolated.” Could the academic hyper-defensiveness exhibited by Perry be one reason popular dilettantes like Diamond have a vacuum to fill?


Hell No, We Didn’t Go

Middletown, Conn.

A story about Anthony Lewis that reaffirms what he meant to us during the Vietnam War [Eric Alterman, “The Liberal Media,” April 15; “Letters,” May 13]: In November 1965, I and four others burned our Selective Service cards in a public demonstration in New York City’s Union Square. We were tried and, with the exception of one of us, all sentenced to six months in prison. 

However, after waiting more than two years to go to jail, in February 1968 I left the United States for France. In 1972, negotiations between the ACLU and the FBI allowed me to return to the States to serve my sentence with no extra time imposed. When I descended from the plane, the only reporter who was there to meet me was Anthony Lewis. 

His article about me appeared a few days later in The New York Times. He emphasized that I had never intended to avoid doing time for my protest activity, and he reviewed the facts of the historic draft-card-burning event.