Los Angeles

Marc Cooper well describes the stakes in the California grocery strike–a critical struggle against corporate greed and to defend workers’ healthcare [“Supermarket Showdown,” Jan. 12/19]. But he gets the Teamsters story wrong when he writes, “The Teamsters say they have no choice but to send their drivers back to work.” By “the Teamsters” he means Teamsters vice president Jim Santangelo, not the rank-and-file warehouse workers, office clerks and drivers. Santangelo and the Hoffa leadership had a choice, and they chose to fold.

In fact, as of early January, 2,000 Safeway/Vons Teamsters at four warehouses were courageously continuing their solidarity strike, despite the top Teamsters officials’ back-to-work directive. This battle for justice against the food industry giants can be won, but only by expanding the struggle, not contracting it. Nation readers can check the Teamsters for a Democratic Union website ( for more on this issue.

Ralphs/Kroger Teamsters Local #572


Wakefield, RI

It’s surprising to see a critic like Terry Eagleton repeat the tired saw that poetry has stopped mattering, that it is now a trivial hobby pursued by those without the guts to confront public concerns [“Mystic Poet,” Dec. 8]. Considering that when a fact is constantly denied there must be something to it, we should ask ourselves why so many intellectuals and pundits need to deny that poetry is important. In this case, that denial must arise from a literary theorist’s disappointment that more people read poetry than his theories.

Meanwhile, poetry is indispensable to a not inconsiderable percentage of the literate public, including those who circulate opinions about public policy and make laws to implement their views. I have many novelist friends; they all read poetry. Many journalists read novelists and poets. Many legislators and other elected officials read journalists and novelists. It’s not possible to place an automatic, verifiable limit on the eventual reach or influence of a feeling or idea that first surfaced in a poem.

Does Eagleton believe that the poets of the Black Arts movement in America had no instigative effect on African-Americans’ struggle for civil equality and autonomy in the 1960s? Does he really doubt that Ginsberg’s poetry was influential in mobilizing antiwar activism during the Vietnam era? Does he forget the role that the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich played in awakening women’s consciousness to the fact of their secondary position in contemporary society? Does he assume that poets like Ginsberg, Rich and Audre Lorde had nothing to do with the development of gay liberation in America? Has he not heard about the remarkable resurgence of an antiwar movement in America over the past year, one associated with Sam Hamill’s Poets Against War initiative? If so, he ought to reconsider the cultural and political history of the past forty years. It will be a better use of his time than reading and reviewing a biography of a politically conservative poet like Yeats, whose views had such a dampening effect after his death even over here in America.


Somerville, Mass.

How very unworthy of The Nation to publish Terry Eagleton’s venomous character assassination masquerading as a review of Roy Foster’s biography of Yeats, the most scurrilous piece of blarney being Eagleton’s assertion that Foster is “an offspring of Protestant Anglo-Ireland.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Foster is indeed both Protestant and Irish but cannot be considered Anglo-Irish. The distinction is significant. Eagleton is a prominent English academic of Irish descent who lives in Ireland and must understand the issues of class involved, so one can only assume that he’s being contemptuous. But this is not the first time that Eagleton has employed this tired canard in relation to Foster.

Another blatant lie is that Foster is on record as having derided “commemorating the dead of the Great Famine.” Twaddle. Foster is on record as having said that it is impossible, given the distance of time, to recapture the trauma of the Great Famine, unlike, for example, that of the Holocaust, which exists in living memory. Also, he is on record as having been critical of the exploitative theme-park aspects of the current Irish renaissance, such as the interpretive centers in the new museums that now dot the country. Eagleton’s dislike of Foster, as he has clearly stated in other diatribes, is based on his conviction that the historian is prejudiced against Irish nationalism and a toady to the English establishment, telling the “chattering masses” what they want to hear about Irish history. How Eagleton must have jumped for joy when handed the opportunity to trash Foster to a fresh audience on this side of the Atlantic.



Bellarena, N. Ireland

To call Roy Foster a member of Protestant Anglo-Ireland is not to suggest that he is descended from landed gentry, which is only one meaning of “Anglo-Irish.” The dominant class in colonial Ireland included middle-class members too. As for the Famine dead, the official commemoration of them in Ireland is the Famine Museum, which Roy Foster is as supercilious about in his book The Irish Story as he is about every other Famine memorial.

I am indeed a critic of Foster’s work. But he has received such lavish praise that a spot of criticism can surely be accommodated. As far as the praise goes, he has been described as “one of the most distinguished heirs of the great tradition of Anglo-Irish liberalism.” He has been lauded for his “supple, civilised intelligence,” canonized as our leading Irish historian and admired for his “genius.” His work has been commended as “erudite and illuminating,” marked by “wit, insight and coruscating intelligence.” His Yeats biography has been called “one of the mightiest biographies of our age…splendidly stylish…grippingly readable and intellectually rich.”

Who showered him with all this praise? Why, me, actually. Has John McSweeney really not noticed, or does it just suit him to keep quiet about it?



Newton, Mass.

I was obviously pleased by Eric Alterman’s recent reference to my book as “his superb new study, Averting ‘The Final Failure': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings” [“Exchange,” Jan. 26]. However, I would like to make two corrections. First: I was the historian at the Kennedy Library, not the chief archivist. Second: I agree that the Miller Center/Norton edition of the missile crisis transcripts is “far more accurate” than the 1997 Harvard Press version. Nonetheless, scholars should consult my review “The JFK Tapes: Round Two,” in Reviews in American History, December 2002, pp. 680-688 and the Appendix in my book, “The Published Cuban Missile Crisis Transcripts: Rounds One, Two and Beyond,” pp. 427-440, to learn that the new edition is still not nearly as reliable as it could and should have been.



Los Angeles

I notice a common thread running through all the reminiscences about Senator Paul Simon, who died December 9 [“In Fact…” Dec. 29]. All who met him were struck by his love of humanity and his belief that the proper role of government and the political process was to better the lives of all in our society.

Having had the honor and pleasure to work in Paul’s (he was on a first-name basis with everyone) Senate press office in 1987 on an internship, I was impressed by his down-to-earth nature and the strength of his convictions. I was living in South West DC not too far from the Simons’, and occasionally the senator would offer me a ride home in his very unassuming car.

One day as we drove past the Capitol, we saw a homeless man sleeping on a steam grate. With a look of indignation, Paul pointed to the man, and said, “Do you want to know what the legacy of Reaganomics is? This is the legacy of Reaganomics.”

Senator Simon always tried to find ways to use his office and influence to help the least fortunate–he proposed programs to create jobs and wrote a book on poverty and world hunger with his brother. Paul Simon cared about people, the people he knew and the multitudes he was always trying to help. I will miss Paul Simon, and wish there were more public servants like him.



Cold Spring, NY

What led you to give so much space to Danny Postel’s attack on the very interesting British writer John Gray, professor at the London School of Economics and author of a dozen books or so? [“Gray’s Anatomy,” Dec. 22] Postel, a man of no credentials, has an ax to grind but never gets it sharpened.

Postel seems to think he has summed up Gray by saying he is a conservative and guilty of “a right-wing ontology of alterity,” whatever that gobbledygook may mean. That doesn’t come close to describing him, and it is not, whatever Postel may believe, a sufficient label of condemnation. Gray is, in short, a deep-ecology “collapsist,” pessimistic to the core about the human future, and I for one am right with him.

Postel is also absurdly wrong to think that Lovelock’s Gaia theory is in disrepute and no longer a useful ecological analysis and to believe it and overpopulation are no longer issues of utmost importance to the environmental movement. He thinks Gray’s use of these ideas is “downright embarrassing,” but it is The Nation that should be embarrassed.



Austin, Tex.

“Sacred Rage,” Baruch Kimmerling’s December 15 review of books on the roots of radical Islam, is a superb short course in Terrorism Literacy 101 that Sharon, Bush and Dean need to put on their required reading list. As US troops continue to die in Iraq we need to be reminded where terrorism comes from–Israeli policies of fear and humiliation toward Palestinians, and our tacit endorsement of them, is the driving force behind Muslim outrage and violence. Unless terrorism is attacked at its source it will not be defeated.



DeKalb, Ill.

Sasha Abramsky’s “The Redistricting Wars” [Dec. 29] is a scary, eye-opening account of how the Republicans are trying to use democratic institutions to undermine democratic representation. When I was young, the Communist Party platform had some things I found attractive, just as the Republican platform has today. But as I came to understand that it was the aim of the Communist Party to get elected, then to alter the system so that no one with alternative ideas could challenge them, I moved on…