Hidden Valley Lake, Calif.

The January 3 cover defaces a great photograph of a farm worker mother and child by Dorothea Lange. There are enough contemporary Wal-Mart workers and photographers covering their situation to use an appropriate image and not insult one of our greatest photographers.


Oak Park, Ill.

If there are awards for covers, Gene Case and Stephen Kling should win one. The January 3 cover featuring Dorothea Lange’s classic photograph “Migrant Mother,” updated to depict the present day’s exploited worker, is pure genius–the best “readymade” since Duchamp. I am a high school photography teacher and would love to get a poster of this cover for my classroom. I teach a whole unit on social reformers like Lange and Lewis Hine and try to make it relevant to today. Case and Kling did just that in one stroke.




The many progressive critics of Wal-Mart “enjoyed a bit of schadenfreude” [Liza Featherstone, “Down and Out in Discount America,” Jan. 3] and the TV series Desperate Housewives “showcases…outright schadenfreude” [Richard Goldstein, “Red Sluts, Blue Sluts,” Jan. 3]. I ran, faster than an editor I think, to my Sylvia Brownrigg: “Often the people Pi met in Mendocino wanted to hear these terrible stories, the personal disasters, or they quoted them back to her from what they’d read, with a certain glitter in their eyes–giving Pi the chance to wonder again as she once had in a Wittgenstein seminar why there wasn’t a word in English for schadenfreude.” Do the critics of Wal-Mart and the salacious women of Desperate Housewives wallow together in that very human pleasure taken in other people’s misery?



Washington, DC

Jonathan Steele’s December 20 “Ukraine’s Untold Story” was long on flattery for the US government’s “subtle and sophisticated” effort to massively interfere in Ukraine’s recent elections. While we make it a policy never to reject flattery, in this case we have to call these allegations of conspiracy–rehashed from a previous Guardian piece by the same author–just plain wrong. Along with the EU, the UN, the OSCE and other democratic nations, our candidate of choice has always been the Ukrainian people who have said “Enough!” to attempts to cling to power by manipulating election results.

Our democracy assistance programs are designed to help people create the conditions to make their own choices–about their leaders, their societies and their futures. We’re proud of these programs.

Along with the EU, the UN and the OSCE, we applaud the courage and idealism of all those Ukrainians who braved official intimidation and the freezing cold to peacefully pave the way for a democratic future. Steele’s article recalls specious arguments that we faced years ago regarding nations such as Poland and the Baltic states: that we should consign these countries to a gray zone or a “sphere of influence,” where their fate rests in the hands of outside powers. This was a bad idea in the past and is a bad idea today. The future of Ukraine should belong to the Ukrainian people and no other.

Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State



A. Elizabeth Jones accepts my flattery but evades my critical points. Why, for example, is US electoral interventionism selective–in Ukraine, but not oil-rich dictatorships like Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan? I alleged no conspiracy. US programs were blatant. Claiming they were impartial merely repeats an old cover story when the facts show that US-funded Ukrainian websites and radio stations failed to give democratic coverage of the campaign. They supported one candidate, and the State Department was quite content.



Williston, Fla.

In “Gonzales: Wrong Choice” [Dec. 6], David Cole cites Alberto Gonzales’s relentless bias against those scheduled for execution (even ignoring evidence of innocence) in his recommendations to George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas. Gonzales went on to urge military tribunals for suspected terrorists, disfavored any civilian participation, opposed giving defendants a presumption of innocence (contrary to “innocent until proven guilty”) and was responsible for the “torture memo” being issued. All of this is in line with a police state.

Cole goes on to remark that we should ask Gonzales whether he can restore the rule of law. Nowhere does Cole consider that this Administration and Gonzales are not concerned with the rule of law, because they expect to establish their own “rule of law.” Woe unto us and our civil liberties.


Langley, British Columbia

Perhaps the questioning of Mr. Gonzales should include shackling him naked in an uncomfortable position.



Charlottetown, PEI, Canada

As he would have turned 100 this year, it surely is appropriate to celebrate A.J. Liebling, as David Thomson and the compilers of Liebling’s works have done [“An Appetite for Liebling,” Dec. 13]. As one who knew him fairly well, perhaps I may add my two cents.

I was one of several young New Yorker “Talk of the Town” reporters immediately after World War II to be asked by Mr. Shawn to assist Liebling with “leg work” (research). My first assignment was to uncover in children’s books by an obscure author a tribal African term for meat hunger, which Liebling employed in a “Wayward Press” piece about the newspapers’ exaggerated reporting on a supposed domestic meat shortage. (“The Wayward Press” gave Joe a big following among newspapermen, who wrote or wired him from all over the country.) Following a number of leg-work missions, I was asked by Joe to perform the same duties in connection with a series on Time magazine for which he had been contracted by Colliers magazine. For about a year, in 1949 and 1950, both of us in the pay of Colliers, I saw Liebling almost daily. At that time he had no permanent address, so he hired a two-room suite in the Seville Hotel, a somewhat run-down establishment in the East 20s, where he set up his typewriter and interviewed former Time correspondents.

He was also finishing another assignment for Colliers on Col. Robert McCormick and the Chicago Tribune, so he was occasionally absent in the Windy City. Lucille Spectorsky, who was not yet his bride, was a frequent presence at the Seville. Lucille, a strikingly handsome woman about half a head taller than Liebling (whom, incidentally, I would not describe as “small,” as did Thomson; he was at least 5′ 9″ in height), brought some joy into Joe’s life; not least his pleasure in being seen with her about town. Yes, Liebling liked to reminisce about the war, which was a bond between us, as I had served with the Third Army in Europe. We also had friends in common, as relatives of mine had been part of the same Far Rockaway summer milieu in which Joe grew up. One of our common friends was Fred Schwed Jr., a former Wall Streeter with a ready wit who had written Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? Liebling was not witty like Schwed, his repartee not sparkling. His wit came out of his work, rubbing against odd characters like a little chap living in the Dixie Hotel (near the New Yorker offices), immortalized by him as “The Honest Rainmaker.” Joe’s conversation was about whatever he was writing at the moment, giving one the privilege of hearing what would later appear in print.

The never-published Time series on which we worked has been the subject of speculation. Some of it was based on exhaustive lists of adjectives culled from hundreds of issues, comparing, say, “corpulent labor leaders” with “stout corporation executives.” Liebling particularly delighted in dissecting the contributions of Whittaker Chambers, whose cover stories Time considered masterpieces of prose. Liebling skewered a number of cracked metaphors, such as an opera curtain, in a piece on Marian Anderson, opening like a mouth (as if curtains opened down, instead of up). Liebling was also involved with efforts of the French cultural establishment in New York to publicize the Resistance during the German occupation of their country (for which he received the Legion of Honor, proudly sported in his buttonhole).

Why did the pieces on Time and the Chicago Trib never see the light of day? A colleague at Colliers told me that at a meeting of publishing executives, Time Inc. agreed to a favorable accounting of Colliers‘ paid circulation in return for suppression of Liebling’s prose. (Soon after, Colliers disappeared.) I never heard any explanation for the nonappearance of the Trib pieces. Of course, with his gift for making lemonade out of lemons, Liebling did find in his Chicago experiences inspiration for his famous “Second City” piece. (Historians seeking more information on the Time saga can consult my papers in Cornell Library’s Liebling collection.)

As Liebling’s career was great, his life was unrewarding. Not working, he was lonely, often at loose ends, hungry for companionship. He had a deep vein of sweetness and sympathy, which contributed to his rapport with those he wrote about. Long after he and Lucille parted, he maintained a close relationship with Lucille’s daughter. He surely consumed inordinate amounts of food, often second lunches, his increasing girth testimony to this. I was far from New York City when he died in 1963; but I heard from Jack Flagler, another former “Talk” reporter and Liebling leg-man, that Liebling was miserable because of losing his appetite. I suspect what put him in the hospital was a disorder of his digestive system, and I think he died there of pneumonia.

We occasionally dined with Joe’s mother, a small woman who closely resembled him and called him “Abbott.”