THE SAGE OF BALTIMORE

Stroudsburg, Pa.

While I generally find The Nation enlightening, howlers by its writers sadden me. The “famous Jewish sage” to whom Eric Alterman attributes the rejoinder “You may be right” [“Letters,” April 18] was that goyish Baltimore wit H.L. Mencken, who replied to people who wrote him with postcards on which only that was written. My grandfather, who admired the curmudgeon, was proud of having one such.

PARIS FLAMMONDE


ALTERMAN REPLIES

New York City

You may be right.

ERIC ALTERMAN


SUICIDE EFFECT

Rutledge, Pa.

Alexander Cockburn asks in his April 18 “ Beat the Devil” column, “Death, Depression and Prozac”: “How many times, amid the carnage of such homicidal sprees [the Red Lake, Minnesota, killings], do investigators find a prescription for antidepressants at the murder scene?” I think a better question would be, “How many times are such prescriptions there, but investigators don’t bother to look for them, except in the most sensational murder cases?”

When my brother shot and killed himself and his wife last Labor Day in Norwich, Connecticut, leaving behind eleven children, the police couldn’t have been less interested in the contents of his medicine cabinet. “What’s the point?” they asked me. “He’s dead.”

I knew that my brother was deeply depressed and had started taking Effexor (one of the antidepressants linked to suicides in teenagers) just six days before. I spoke to him by telephone that morning, and he said he thought the antidepressant was “starting to kick in.”

Three of his children, who witnessed the murder-suicide, reported that he behaved and spoke with unnatural calmness, even taking a few minutes after killing their mother to give his children instructions about cashing his paycheck and selling his vehicles. Then he calmly and without hesitation shot himself.

I confiscated his medications and reported this “adverse event” to the FDA’s Medwatch. A week after the incident, the FDA announced that it planned to investigate the potential link between antidepressants and adult suicide. I think that antidepressants might be implicated in a lot more suicides and other violent acts than anyone knows. And as Cockburn indirectly points out in his discussion of the Wesbecker case, it is virtually impossible to successfully sue the manufacturers of these drugs, except in cases where the publicity is so awful that they will settle for “a confidential amount” just to turn the news spigot off.

JODINE MAYBERRY


NAME ‘EM & SHAME ‘EM!–II

Olney, Md.

David Sirota states in the April 11 “In Fact…” that six Senate Democrats joined Republicans in voting against a measure to preserve soldiers’ minimum bankruptcy protections from debts incurred when they leave better-paying jobs for service in Iraq. Would you identify them? I’d like to know who they are–and so would their constituents.

SUSAN NERLINGER

The senators are: Max Baucus (MT), Joe Biden (DE), Robert Byrd (WV), Thomas Carper (DE), Tim Johnson (SD) and Ben Nelson (NE). In the words of Peter Dubuque of Malden, Massachusetts, “Let the tarring and feathering commence.”


I ❤ MACCABEES

Rockville, Md.

Richard Goldstein criticizes Mel Gibson for departing from “the Hanukkah story most of us know” in an upcoming film about the Maccabees [“ It’s Easter: He Is Recut,” April 11]. In fact, Gibson’s version of the Hanukkah story as described by Goldstein is accurate. The rabbinic sages of yore, however, in their wisdom omitted the Book of Maccabees from the Jewish Bible, preferring not to glorify the war and fundamentalism at its heart. Instead they focused on the rededication of the desecrated Temple, emphasizing the myth of a single flask of oil burning for eight days. Hence, “the Hannukah story most of us know” is about lighting the menorah candles for eight days and eating foods fried in oil, like latkes and jelly donuts. As Goldstein points out, Gibson intends to resurrect and glorify the violence and fundamentalism that the rabbis shunned. By doing so, Gibson once again thumbs his nose at Judaism.

ED WALDMAN


East Rockaway, NY

Kudos to Richard Goldstein for his insightful commentary on The Passion. Goldstein cuts to the heart of the matter, the theological/political agenda of this portrayal of the muscular, rugged- individualist Christ persecuted (as many of our fundamentalist brethren see themselves) by the corrupt (secularized) powers that be. But as Goldstein points out, the struggles of Christ are absent. Perhaps as a result of that absence, Jesus’ personality, indeed his personhood, is absent as well. He is little more than a prop, at best a symbolic self-portrait of the religious right’s self-image as the innocent, stoic victim. The struggles of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels are what make the story more than just another poor guy being tortured, yet they are virtually absent in Gibson’s picture, and the whole point, the resurrection, gets but a few seconds.

I saw the film with my teenage son. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said, “It was really bloody. I feel like it needs a sequel.” As for me, I think the book is better.

THE REV. MARK J. LUKENS


Providence, RI

Re “It’s Easter: He Is Recut”: Someone should make a movie about the Inquisition.

NANCY GREEN


RATHER ANNOYED

New York City

Eric Alterman, in his April 11 “ Liberal Media” column on Dan Rather, quotes from a New York Post column of mine. While I certainly stand by what I wrote, Alterman provides a misleading context. The column was not written, as Alterman implies, in reaction to Rather’s resignation. It ran on September 22–when the controversy over the Bush National Guard story was first breaking, and when both Rather and CBS were still refusing even to consider that there might be problems with the piece or the memos.

Moreover, the line that Alterman quotes, about how conservatives convinced of liberal media bias “have found their smoking gun,” was not written in response to Rather’s resignation. It referred to something quite specific: the admission that “Rather’s senior producer put [CBS source Bill] Burkett directly in touch with the Kerry campaign.” Indeed, I contrasted this with Woodward and Bernstein’s disclosure in All the President’s Men that they’d spurned a request from the 1972 McGovern campaign for an advance look at an upcoming Watergate story, saying it would compromise their credibility. I don’t mind being quoted, or even criticized–as long as the material is presented fairly and in proper context.

ERIC FETTMANN


ALTERMAN REPLIES

New York City

Oh, I dunno. Eric Fettmann is angry about what I am alleged to imply, but I’d be more concerned if he could point to a problem with what I actually wrote. He’s right that I took his comments on one aspect of the Rather mishigas and applied them to the entire affair, and I’m sorry if he feels that this provided a “misleading context.” I don’t happen to agree, but I’ll grant the case is arguable. His criticism about my use of the “smoking gun” quote, however, seems stronger than the rest of his complaint, and for that I do apologize. Still, though you can’t blame a writer for a headline, the use of IT IS WATERGATE above his article was clearly designed to imply some sort of moral or political equivalence between CBS’s actions and those of Richard Nixon. And that, I continue to maintain, is just silly.

ERIC ALTERMAN


LETTERS BY GENDER

Silver Spring, Md.

Re Katha Pollitt’s “Invisible Women” [“ Subject to Debate,” April 4]: Last fall I tabulated by gender the letters to the editor in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Washington Times–529 letters over nineteen days. The percentages of writers, by gender: 73 percent by men, 27 percent by women. The breakdown for women by paper was: New York Times, 31 percent; Washington Post, 26 percent; Washington Times, 15 percent. The study was hardly scientific, but it showed that the number of letters by women was related to how liberal the paper is.

EDD DOERR


ITALY: ANTIWAR, NOT ANTI-AMERICAN

Washington, DC

We were surprised to read Lucia Annunziata’s “ Anger in Italy” [April 4]. It claims that the Italian left (and for that matter the right) has used anti-Americanism to cover its inadequacies in the case of the killing of the Italian intelligence officer traveling with journalist Giuliana Sgrena in Iraq. We disagree for two reasons. First, the widespread anger at this episode among the majority of Italians is a sign of longstanding disagreement with the occupation of Iraq, with the Berlusconi government’s involvement of the Italian military in that occupation and with the killing of innocents there daily. The left is rightly giving voice to these antiwar feelings, a position not to be confused with anti-Americanism.

Second, this killing caused much indignation because it was associated with the US military’s accidental killing of civilians in northern Italy, when a US military jet severed a cable at a ski resort, but no justice was meted out. The identification of antiwar positions of the left with anti-Americanism is wrong: It does not serve the cause of peace and aids the neocons’ ideological campaign (did anyone read their blogs against Sgrena and the peace movement in the days following the incident?).

TIZIANA TAMBORRINI, EMANUELE BALDACCI


NO HOMAGE TO CATALONIA

Belmont, Calif.

While Spaniards struggle to recover the history of their civil war and Franco repression [Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend, “ Letter From Spain,” March 28], the role of Americans in that conflict has been remarkably preserved as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), now part of New York University’s Tamiment Library. When the same cold warriors who supported Spain’s dictatorship ignored the historical preservation of the antifascist Lincoln Brigade (one major New York library allegedly destroyed such material), the US veterans took the initiative to save their history. The ALBA collection is an immense treasure, including papers, publications, graphics, oral histories and microfilm of material stored in Moscow. ALBA also creates cultural events to keep alive the legacy of the American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. Next year look for the exhibition “New York and the Spanish Civil War.”

PETER N. CARROLL
Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives


WORTH 1,000 WORDS

Medford, Mass.

I want to express my appreciation for the artists–Peter O. Zierlein, Caitlin Dover, Ryan Inzana et al.–whose images regularly illustrate Nation articles. They’re always smart, amusing and punchy and show a real understanding of the written piece. They are a crucial element of The Nation‘s unique format.

CARL MARTIN


MURDERERS & MURDEREES

In Lee Siegel’s April 11 “ The Imagination of Disaster,” killers and victims were reversed in Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers. The murderers are the decadent Venetian husband and wife; their victim, the husband in the deceptively innocent English couple.

In Michael T. Klare’s April 25 “Imperial Reach,” Grafenwöhr training area is not in the former East Germany. It’s in western Germany, about forty miles from the old border.