WHO WAS THAT BIG-HAIRED GUY?

Ann Arbor, Mich.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Douglas Wolk’s perceptive review of the Cure’s career and latest release [“Men in Black,” Feb. 16]. Although the captioning of the accompanying photograph might be taken as support for Wolk’s assertion that nobody can remember what any of the non-Smith band members look like, many longtime fans will realize that the gentleman “seated center” is not Robert Smith but bassist Simon Gallup, and that Smith is the slightly less big-haired fellow seated on the right.

EWAN MACPHERSON


PUNCHES & JUDY

Buffalo, NY

Thank you, Katha Pollitt, for your refreshing take on Dr. Judith Steinberg [“Judy, Judy, Judy,” Feb. 16]. Her treatment by the media and its pundits has been misleading, hypocritical and downright nasty. And as you made clear, these attacks and subtle snubs reveal more about the values of the pundits than the character of Howard Dean’s wife. Judy was my high school classmate–bright, hard-working, generous, always ready with a smile. And, yes, she was shy, typically inconspicuous on the edge of the seating chart and never taken with self-promotion. Her quiet strength then, on her way to Princeton, appears to have grown in the three decades since. Rather than the nonsense she’s encountered from the press, Dr. Steinberg–community doctor, mother and spouse in a stable and loving family, active volunteer–deserves our respect and admiration.

PETER PITEGOFF

We’re still being flooded with mail on this column, which says, actually or in effect, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for ‘Judy, Judy, Judy.'”   –The Editors


MURDER OR ASSASSINATION?

New York City

As a longtime admirer of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s brilliant, idiosyncratic writings–so little known in the States–I was delighted to see the new Pasolini essay collection lauded by George Scialabba’s review, “Lust for Life” [Feb. 9]. However, the bald statement that Pasolini “was murdered by a teenage boy he had picked up” should have been more nuanced. A great many serious people in Italy believe that Pasolini was assassinated in a plot that included elements of the neo-Fascist party, the MSI, and in which the state security services were, at the least, complicit. A great deal of the physical evidence at the crime scene flatly contradicted the “confession” of the alleged murderer, whose family had ties to MSI circles (even Enzo Siciliano’s rather homophobic Pasolini biography, available in English, details many of these contradictions). And the youth’s insistence that he killed because Pasolini had tried to sodomize him with a two-by-four struck those who knew Pasolini as absurd. Among those who believed there was a plot to kill Pasolini were Italo Calvino and his redoubtable wife (both deeply fond of Pasolini), as they recounted to me some years back when I took them on a night-crawl of Manhattan’s gay discos. So did Oriana Fallaci, who wrote about it in the days when she was still an internationally respected journalist, long before she gave herself over to the racist diatribes of her dotage. My view is that the many questions surrounding Pasolini’s murder make it an enigma that, at this late date, will probably never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

DOUG IRELAND


MEDICAID MAY STILL FOOT THE BILL

New York City

Regarding Marc Siegel’s “Coverage for No One” [Jan. 12/19]: His patient John Elias may be eligible to have some of the costs of his medicines covered by Medicaid even if his income exceeds Medicaid eligibility limits. As a New York City social worker, I became aware of the Surplus Income (or “spend-down”) Program within Medicaid, which allows monthly income in excess of the allowed amount to be offset by medical bills. Thus, if the patient’s income exceeds the allowed monthly income level, and if the monthly medical expenses exceed his “excess” income, he will be eligible for Medicaid each month after he has incurred medical expenses equal to his excess income. Medicaid will then cover the remainder of his medical expenses for the rest of the month. Perhaps Siegel can get the social service department in his hospital to look into Elias’s eligibility for this program.

ERICA SUCHER


PILL-PUSHERS TO THE PUBLIC

Mahomet, Ill.

The public would do well to take note of Richard DeGrandpre’s “Trouble in Prozac Nation” [Jan. 5]: A few years ago, as a primary care physician practicing in student health, I became alarmed at the number of my clients who, in the healthiest period of their lives, had been prescribed SSRIs. The level of use of these agents reminded me of the 1970s, when the benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium) were the rage. I concluded that, now as then, if everybody needs to be on these medications, then hardly anyone should be on these medications. A review of the literature revealed that in addition to their unpleasant side effects and the increased suicide rates DeGrandpre discusses, there is little evidence that these medications are any better than a placebo for treating depression. Further, the biogenic amine theory of depression, used to rationalize the use of these agents, is just that–a theory. Despite decades of diligent research by many bright investigators, no biological markers for depression have been found.

Unfortunately, you likely won’t hear that from a physician. I recently attended a presentation by a psychiatry faculty member on the treatment of depression–with SSRIs, of course. After the talk, I asked him about the fact that he did not mention the reports of increased suicide rates among those taking SSRIs.

“You know,” he replied, “we didn’t believe those data initially. Now we think there’s probably something to it. The problem is, we just don’t know what to do with that information.” Indeed. The powerful pharmaceutical industry has effectively marginalized the SSRI skeptics. I look forward to the day when a patient can hear, “I am sorry you’re so sad. There are some behavioral approaches we can take to help you cope better and gain happiness”–so much preferable to the all-too-common, “You have an abnormal brain. Here, take this pill.”

CHARLES G. YOUNG


R I P, MR. ALGER

Bath, Me.

Kudos to Paul Krugman for his “The Death of Horatio Alger” [Jan. 5]. I have a term to describe the Bushies, one I’d like to see in general use: Regressives.

ARTHUR CANNON


Rochester, NY

Paul Krugman is no doubt right that the rich are getting richer and even the gifted poor are less able to join in the fun. But he’s wrong on Horatio Alger. In those novels, luck and pluck were always required as well as true grit (dutiful hard work at bare survival wages); and even these were not enough to assure the hero’s ascent to riches. He also needed a boss with an eligible daughter, and also whatever it takes to meet, woo and win her hand in marriage.

Economists don’t tell us these days whether Boss’s Daughter per capita ratios have risen or fallen, but given the consolidation of small and medium-sized businesses into big ones, I suspect it’s fallen substantially since Alger’s time. Even more reason to mourn the loss of the old days of greater–if never really equal and always fictional–opportunities available to those who have what it takes.

RICHARD GOLLIN


Bethesda, Md.

What about women entering the work force in greater numbers and women earning college degrees in numbers greater than men? In Horatio Alger’s day, women couldn’t vote or own property, most colleges would not accept our applications and we were barred from many professions. Krugman may be right about father-son mobility, but how about mother-daughter mobility? I am the first woman in my extended family to earn a graduate degree. My earning power is far greater than my mother’s, and while she could not have supported a family above the poverty level, I can easily do so.

JENEVA STONE


YOU CALL THAT A REVIEW?

Kensington, Calif.

John Palattella’s review of my book Dismantling Glory: Twentieth-Century Soldier Poetry [“The War of Words,” Jan. 12/19] reminds me of an old query: How many times does a reviewer read a book? Less than once. Using his review to vent his own ideas on war and poetry, Palattella nevertheless leans on much of my material, falling into paraphrase here, statistics and citations there–with everything he takes pulled from the opening chapters. As I read I kept wondering when my work and the reviewer’s riffs on what I’d written would be sorted out; but this moment never came. There were only a few instances of “according to Goldensohn,” when Palattella worked up to some point he disliked.

Clinging to a narrow definition of pacifism that severs it from any grounding in history or politics, Palattella then dismissed my specific analyses of poems: “She offers the poems as medicine for a happier world, but their complexities and contradictions cannot be distilled into a tablespoon-sized dose.” Complexities and contradictions! In order to sustain this Pollyanna caricature, Palattella cuts from my discussion of Owen and Jarrell any hint of the real conflicts and unresolved tensions about war and bloodshed that I am at pains to show.

In comparing the scope of my book invidiously with Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, Palattella ignores my addition of two more generations of poets to the mix, and that Fussell’s Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War does not center on poets or poetry. Palattella passes over the gender issues I treat and Fussell omits and refuses to recognize any discussion in these poems of internalized war-guilt, or of complicity in war’s atrocities.

From this review, you would never guess that about sixty-five twentieth-century war poets appear in my book, with extended readings of particular poets for each war. For depth of comparison, I include Homer, Archilochus and Gascoigne. It’s hard to take seriously Palattella’s complaint–with all due respect to his picks–that I leave out Kenneth Rexroth and William Stafford.

LORRIE GOLDENSOHN


PALATTELLA REPLIES

Brooklyn, NY

Lorrie Goldensohn seems to think that because her book discusses the writings of well-known, and some lesser-known, poets, she must be cited as the source of those poets’ work. That’s odd, especially since W.H. Auden’s “Spain,” Keith Douglas’s worries about the inadequacies of poems about World War II, George Oppen’s poems about military force–these and the writings of other soldier poets, as well as scholarly works about war poetry–were familiar to me long before I read Goldensohn’s book. As for her assertion that I pass over the gender issues that she treats and Paul Fussell omits: In fact, I discuss the homoeroticism latent in Wilfred Owen’s war poems–a subject not unrelated to gender and one, as I note, examined by Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory. Goldensohn also claims that I refuse to recognize how the work of soldier poets deals with internalized war-guilt. Yet I mention that Randall Jarrell’s war poems often grapple with the culpability of soldiers for war’s violence, and I point out that Owen’s poems sometimes embrace heroic conceits even as they deflate them. Their work, obviously, is riven with unresolved tensions. They are the strange lyrics of war. Why can’t Goldensohn let those tensions stand instead of trying to herd them together under the banner of pacifism?

JOHN PALATTELLA