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Autumn 2005
 
City Journal Autumn 2005.
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Legitimate Questions

To the editor:
Kay Hymowitz writes that one cause of black illegitimacy is that children learn that single-parent households are normal and appropriate [“The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies,” Summer 2005]. But what led the original two-parent black family to disintegrate and begin perpetuating the vicious cycle? Racism and slavery were, no doubt, pernicious influences. But the matrilineal patterns seen in African-Americans are very similar to those seen among sub-Saharan blacks today. Surely slavery and racism cannot explain those behaviors in Africa.

Maybe the evolutionary history of Africans led them to adopt different patterns of reproductive behavior than other ethnic groups. Perhaps ancient Africa favored early and frequent reproduction with relatively little parental attention devoted to individual offspring. It is well known that the average age of menarche in black girls is earlier than in Asian or white girls. Perhaps this, combined with the caddishness of males, permits high fertility and consequently high reproductive success.

Bradley M. Cooke, Ph.D.
Dept. of Neurobiology and Physiology
Northwestern University

To the editor:
In so confidently attributing many of the ills of urban America to unwed motherhood, Kay Hymowitz has made a basic error of statistical analysis: assuming causation because of correlation. In fact, there is little evidence that the rise of single-parent families has caused crime, drug addiction, and the other severe social crises in our cities. It is just as reasonable to conclude that these problems result from the same socioeconomic conditions—such as unemployment, poverty and racism—that led to the breakdown of the traditional family.

Clearly, fathers’ taking responsibility for the children they create is an important and necessary piece of the puzzle. But sweeping generalizations with ideological undertones do nothing to solve complex social problems.

Daniel Brezenoff
Long Beach, CA

Kay Hymowitz responds:
Dr. Cooke may be right that the modern nuclear family is ill suited to sub-Saharan Africa, but he also implies that marriage norms are a part of our genetic inheritance passed down through generations. I doubt it. All races have been able to adapt to norms that have changed over the centuries with economic, demographic, and cultural conditions. The weakening of those norms—the result of slavery, the sexual revolution, and the left-wing obfuscation that followed publication of the Moynihan Report—better explains a 70 percent black out-of-wedlock birthrate.

Mr. Brezenoff might want to familiarize himself with the summary of the latest research on marriage and child well-being in The Future of Children, a joint publication of the Woodrow Wilson School and the Brookings Institution, neither of them known for the ideology that he hints is the source of my “sweeping generalizations.” The journal shows that even when controlling for race, education, and income, children who grow up in single-parent homes are at higher risk of school failure, teen pregnancy, delinquency, and a host of other ills, than those from intact homes.

Mr. Brezenoff says that we should blame the deterioration of the ghetto after 1965 not on the breakdown of the family, but on joblessness, poverty, and racism. But why did ghetto conditions worsen even during the years that employment rose? As for racism, does he mean to suggest that Americans became more bigoted after 1965?

Has the City Stalled?

To the editor:
Steven Malanga’s article [“Gotham Stalls Out,” Summer 2005] is completely off the mark. In the past year, all five boroughs experienced significant job growth and greatly reduced unemployment rates, and our economy is now outpacing the nation’s. The longing for a time when New York’s outer-borough economies “contributed nearly half of job growth” is particularly puzzling, since the outer boroughs contributed more than 60 percent of the city’s job growth last year.

It is equally unclear what the basis is for the implication that the city’s commercial real-estate market is suffering. Last year, Class A commercial vacancy rates fell and property values rose in all five boroughs; construction spending throughout the city matched the record set in 2003; and the number of building permits issued in the city was the highest it had been in at least a dozen years.

Andrew M. Alper
President
New York City Economic Development Corporation

Steven Malanga responds:
Andrew Alper’s claim (made over the summer) that all five boroughs have “experienced significant job growth” is patently absurd, considering that in total the city’s job rolls grew by less than 0.3 percent in 2004, the most reliable data available when I wrote my piece, while national employment grew by 1.14 percent, or triple the city’s rate in that same period. More recent job figures hardly bolster Alper’s argument. Through the first half of 2005, preliminary figures suggest that the city’s annualized job-growth rate has increased to about 1 percent, while the U.S. job-growth rate has accelerated to 1.7 percent in the same period.

Mr. Alper adds that the outer boroughs are contributing 60 percent of job growth, but 60 percent of practically nothing is less than practically nothing. In my story, I wrote about a time in the late 1990s when the outer boroughs were contributing half of city job growth and when the city’s economy was expanding by some 300,000 jobs. To compare that period to feeble job growth of one percent or less is meaningless.

As to Mr. Alper’s claim that construction is booming because of rising permits, this clearly is not reflected in employment in the industry. Employment in construction has fallen in every year since 2001 in New York City and through 2004 was down by 11,000 jobs, or 9 percent, from the peak. Preliminary numbers for the first six months of 2005 show that construction employment is running at merely the 2004 levels, which hardly suggests a robust recovery.

During the mayoral election, the Bloomberg campaign ran television ads that claimed that the mayor’s programs added 62,000 jobs to all the boroughs. But the city has seen nothing like that kind of growth. Last year, in fact, was the first since the mayor took office that the city experienced any job gains at all—small as they were.

Ibsen’s Wild Duck

To the editor:
While Dr. Dalrymple’s discussion of A Doll’s House, Ghosts, and Hedda Gabler demonstrates scholarship [“Ibsen and His Discontents,” Summer 2005], his selecting these plays as representative of Ibsen is disappointing. True, they are popular, and useful to make his points in counterposing utopianism and perfectibility with a more realistic view.

But contrast 20-year-old Ibsen seeking a transcendental “new truth” with a mature Ibsen stating, “You must never tell everything to people.” Or compare Ghosts with The Wild Duck, which satirizes Gregers, a would-be reformer who brings out the truth with devastating effects for a family with a secret as old as their 14-year-old daughter. Struggling against Gregers is Dr. Relling, who reminds him, “The child is part of the marriage.” With her paternity exposed and her father from birth saying, “Don’t come near me,” the daughter commits suicide.

Relling denounces Gregers as one of “those damned shysters who come badgering us poor people with their ‘summons to the ideal.’ ” The doctor’s prescription: support this father’s illusions and his family’s myths. Does not this comport with Dalrymple’s point about imperfectibility?

Lawrence Grolnick, M.D.
White Plains, NY

Theodore Dalrymple responds:
I am grateful to Dr. Grolnick for his comments. The Wild Duck—a most beautiful play—does indeed seem to have the opposite moral of the three plays I have commented upon. However, Ibsen wrote it because he was worried that he had won the argument, or had had an effect too easily: he feared not untruth, but being the leader of a group and therefore not being alone. He did not publicly contradict the Shavian interpretation of his importance as a critical moralist.

Seeger’s Legacy

To the editor:
In his article about Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and others [“America’s Most Successful Communist,” Summer 2005], Howard Husock cites a little-known verse of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” about “no trespassing.” One of the reasons this verse is little known is that it was edited out of the recording’s most-distributed version.

In the late 1990s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences issued a boxed set called “The Ultimate Grammy Box” with about 100 Grammy-winning songs, as well as a few recordings made before the Grammys began in 1958.

Guthrie’s 1947 performance of “This Land Is Your Land” is in the set. When I first heard it, I noticed that it faded out at the end, a common technique in popular songs now, but certainly not in 1947. After some searching, I found the identical recording, but one that was 40 seconds longer and had the “no trespassing” verse in it.

So NARAS, which spent most of the nineties shrieking about censorship of its “artists,” quietly censored one of its own.

Jay Gilbert
WEBN
Cincinnati, OH

To the editor:
Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers did not oppose war altogether. They opposed it firmly and vehemently until June 22, 1941, at which point it suddenly transpired that Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia—I mean, that what had literally been until the day before an imperialist war, not worth the life of one American, suddenly became a glorious crusade for freedom and democracy.

In May, Seeger and the other lovers of peace had put out an album and book called Songs for John Doe, spelling out why the war was merely a clash of two bourgeois, decadent states. I am told that a copy of either is now quite rare, since come June 22 they did everything they could to grab them back. I don’t think this little incident appears in Seeger’s reminiscences of the high days. No doubt just an oversight; he’s had a busy life.

Sometime in late 1945 Seeger became a pacifist again, or at least a pacifist of a sort: vociferously against war and war preparations—when conducted by the West.

Alex Bensky
Detroit, MI

To the editor:
Howard Husock’s otherwise excellent article has one small error. He referred to an organization called the “International Workers of the World.” Husock meant the “Industrial Workers of the World,” often called the “Wobblies.”

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles, CA

Howard Husock responds:
There were several small errors in the piece that I am grateful to readers for pointing out. The IWW was, indeed, the Industrial Workers of the World. The song “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” was not based on “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” though their tunes are similar; the latter was a protest song written by another left-wing folksinger, Ed McCurdy. And Pete Seeger did indeed change his views on World War II once the Soviet line changed—and it’s worth noting that he served in the army, in the Pacific theater.

 

 


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