A lot of Buncombe

I have admired Henry L. Mencken for 60 years, but I must disagree with Phillip Johnson [``Mencken -- pungent wit and all: a one-man show,'' Jan. 4] when he credits him with the term ``Buncombe.'' Back in 1820, Rep. Felix Walker, from Buncombe County, N.C., excused some of his more extravagant oratory in Congress by explaining that this was aimed ``only at Buncombe County.'' Gerald Raftery Arlington, Va.

Re The editorial ``Speaking out on human rights,'' Dec. 6: Providing an agenda for the US dealing with those countries that are abusing human rights may appear both moral and imperative. It was interesting to note, however, that the countries mentioned in the editorial (South Africa, the Philippines, etc.) are all struggling democracies. Where is that same moral fervor expressed toward leftist regimes whose atrocities against mankind are far more brutal and hideous?

Yes, let us strive to ``speak out'' on human rights. But let us not be hypocritical, subscribing to a double standard. Eileen E. Hendrickson New Wilmington, Pa.

I was pleased to read Barbara Koeppel's Jan. 3 Opinion column [``Two nations and two standards''] about the United States' inconsistent policies toward US ``friends'' like Chile and communist countries like Poland when it comes to condemning human rights abuses. Poland has had to demonstrate rights improvements in order to get International Monetary Fund aid and a loosening of trade sanctions, while Chile's Pinochet has headed an extremely repressive government since 1973 and gets no end of aid from the Reagan administration.

Journalists like Ms. Koeppel have a very important role in loudly protesting such US policies and in causing us to look long and hard at what is happening to poor and working people in countries called ``friends'' of the US.

The Reagan administration would rather we didn't know the truth about what these countries have to do to maintain their position. Maureen Walsh Boston

Glancing down the ``News in brief'' Jan. 3, one headline prompted a reread: ``Plastic bags to be banned in Italy beginning 1991.'' Was the small country of Italy really leading the world in this revolution -- this complete turnaround in life style so sorely needed in the world's most civilized countries?

Mental pictures of Venice, its water-streets overflowing with pollutants and unrecyclable material, answered my question.

Plaudits to Italy for starting the ball rolling. [The United States] would do well to be the first to follow. Edith C. Smith Erwinna, Pa.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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