Letters

Autumn 1999
A Two-Way Street

To the editor:
I read your recent article on the Principal for a Day program with interest ("How Businessmen Shouldn’t Help the Schools," Summer 1999). Certainly visiting a school for a day will not solve the significant problems facing many of our schools. Such a visit may provide a valuable perspective on our schools’ challenges, but not much in the way of tangible benefits. On this we agree.

I adopted Intermediate School 131—The Albert Einstein School—more than three years ago. I visit I. S. 131 monthly and do my best to help monetarily: I give to the school all the stipends I receive from my various speaking engagements—little things like a check for $1,000, 600 disposable cameras, 1,500 packages of cookies, and pen and pencil sets for the graduating eighth-graders. But I also try to convey my own views on how to be successful in life: working hard and "standing out."

It’s a two-way street out there, though, and my giving to the school comes back to us in our business at the Pathmark store, located within a quarter mile of I. S. 131. The relationship will continue on a month-to-month basis, and Pathmark will continue to do its best to support the school and its needs. It’s important to us to continue to fill the needs of each and every customer as well as potentially become a place of employment for these students as they graduate from school and start to look for jobs.

One visit as a Principal for a Day will not turn around our school system, but a longer term commitment can be a big step.

Jim Donald
Chairman, President, and CEO
Pathmark Stores, Inc.

Sol Stern responds:
Mr. Donald’s letter perfectly illustrates the point of my article. Too many of the CEOs in the Principal for a Day program think that the public schools they adopt need things like cameras and pens. What the schools desperately need, however, is the principle of accountablilty that doubtless makes Mr. Donald’s own company successful.
 

Partners in Crime

To the editor:
William J. Stern in his usual careful manner excoriates the New York State Legislature for superordinating political advantage over the common welfare ("The Oops Effect," Soundings, Summer 1999). In conflating the decision to eliminate the commuter tax with the LILCO takeover, though, Mr. Stern confuses legislative initiative with gubernatorial initiative. Bruno and company are responsible for inadvertently blundering into the commuter tax issue, but George Pataki is largely responsible for the LILCO takeover, since he wanted to derive the political benefit of a rebate in the last campaign. Indeed, he derived that benefit, and in so doing has imposed an inefficient state-dominated energy system on the residents of Long Island.

Herb London
John M. Olin Professor of Humanities
New York University

William J. Stern responds:
In the case of the LILCO takeover, the governor was the instigator and the legislature was the accomplice. In the case of the elimination of the commuter tax, the legislature was the instigator and the governor was the accomplice. The point of my story was to demonstrate the legislature’s responsibility—one might say guilt—in both of these matters. On that point,I’m sure there’s little disagreement between Mr. Londonand myself.
 

Rockaway Reminiscers

To the editor:
I read Peter Reinharz’s "Rockaway Riviera? CopacaConey?" (Summer 1999) just days after visiting Rockaway Beach—only $1.50 away via an express bus from Woodside—for the first time in ten years. When I was a teenager, Rockaway enabled young men and women from dozens of poor and working-class communities to enjoy days at the beach usually reserved, in most countries, for the economic elite.

Unfortunately, as at CUNY, these halcyon days are long gone. While the NYPD presence was reassuring, and the beach was clean, the city seemingly has turned every small hotel into a welfare hotel, and the streets are filled with adults wandering aimlessly, drinking, and panhandling.

James J. Dillon
Queens Coalition for Good Government

To the editor:
For most of my life, I have wondered why the City of New York abandoned its most valuable oceanfront communities: the Rockaways and Coney Island. My parents brought me, from the age of two on, to Rockaway’s Arverne section during the summer; I spent my teen years in the Edgemere area as foolish urban planning slowly destroyed Beach 90th Street to Beach 32nd Street. For 17 years, my family enjoyed summers at this city shore. Yet, by 1974, it was no longer possible to find a decent place to rent for the summer, thanks to the poor planning Mr. Reinharz describes in his article.

I agree with Mr. Reinharz’s revitalization plan almost entirely. New York City’s beachfront communities could easily provide a Hamptons—like atmosphere for weekenders and vacationers. Summer housing for the middle class, as well as the wealthy, mustn’t be over-looked, either. There is ample beachfront for a sizable middle-income summer population who would otherwise travel to western Massachusetts or the Catskills. The possibilities for economic, commercial, and community development are vast.

Residents in both communities deserve credit for hanging on for the past three decades. Fortunately, the strong economy offers the best hope to revitalize these areas. New York City as a whole will benefit, and our beachfront communities will, in a generation or two, live up to our high expectations.

William E. Rapfogel
Metropolitan New York
Coordinating Council On Jewish Poverty
 

Defending Foster Care

To the editor:
I was shocked and dismayed that you would publish Heather Mac Donald’s "Foster Care’s Underworld" (Winter 1999). It would not have passed the scrutiny of a refereed journal. The article’s sensationalism grossly misrepresents a system that needs assistance, not attack. A case or two of what Ms. Mac Donald believes to be abuses of the system does not demonstrate widespread corruption, any more than a few tax cheats prove that all taxpayers cheat.

Unfamiliar with historyor even literature—Dickens’s Oliver Twist, say—Mac Donald proposes "academically rigorous boarding academies," a euphemism for orphanages, to warehouse emotionally disturbed children. But Mac Donald does not need to be knowledgeable about history, just current events, in order to realize the dangers of her proposal. With the fall of the Ceauïsescu regime in Romania, the world was once again witness to the horrors of orphanages. Children were subject to inhumane treatment as a result of inadequate staffing and care. One can easily dismiss the comparison by saying that would not happen in our country. Ms. Mac Donald and others like her need only to look to the atrocities committed against retarded citizens that Geraldo Rivera exposed at Willowbrook. The abysmal conditions in many children’s institutions are well documented. Little wonder that the first White House Conference on Children in 1909 went on record as saying the best place for children was in their own homes.

Furthermore, Ms. Mac Donald’s argument that it is fiscally more responsible to raise children in "rigorous boarding academies" is flawed for two reasons. First, it assumes that institutional care is superior to family—like settings: children already traumatized by removal from their homes should not be further traumatized by being placed in totally unfamiliar settings. Children understand and can relate to foster families more readily than to the impersonal institutions Ms. Mac Donald touts.

Second, her proposition makes no economic sense. Estimated costs for children living in group homes and residential treatment centers across the country averaged about $3,000 per month, and costs are much higher in New York. Thus, her proposition would cost at least ten times the amount currently being spent on foster—family care maintenance. Her argument is neither fiscally or logically sound.

The fiscal responsibility and moral hazard arguments against income-maintenance programs and kinship and non-relative foster care are as incredulous [sic] as the eugenic rationalizations against supporting the poor propagated at the end of the nineteenth century. One hundred years later, the moral-hazard argument and the call for orphanages have been recycled when they should have been trashed.

My basic reaction to Ms. Mac Donald’s article can be summed up in the following headline: "Old Mac Donald’s Antiquated Idea Needs to Be Eighty-Sixed."

Ernst VanBergeijk
Columbia University
School of Social Work

Heather Mac Donald responds:
The abuses of kinship foster care are quite real, as Mr. VanBergeijk would discover by talking to the city’s caseworkers. New York already runs group foster homes, in recognition of the fact that the most severely abused children may never adjust to a single-family home. Today’s adult graduates of orphanages fare better on a range of social measurements than average Americans, and much more so than the average foster child. As for the inevitable horrors of boarding schools, Mr. VanBergeijk should ask why wealthy parents fight to get their children into them.
 

It’s the Owner, Not the Breed

To the editor:
I write to tell you how much I agree with your article "Scared of Pit Bulls? You’d Better Be!" (Spring 1999). I have lived in my house for 12 years, and recently, an individual owning a pit bull moved in next door. We have had almost daily problems with this dog ever since. He jumps onto our shared wall and has tried to attack our Jack Russell terrier. We have even taken photos to show the owner what his dog is up to, but he refuses to do anything. We’ve had to call animal control when the dog got loose and the owner couldn’t be woken to retrieve his dog. I now have to put a leash on my dog to walk it in my own backyard. I no longer view my own backyard as a sanctuary, but rather as a place of fear. Laws need to change so that these animals cannot be allowed in a residential neighborhood unless they’re caged or have a high wall keeping them penned in.

In my frustration this morning after running into the house when the dog tried to get over the wall, I read your article and found it a validation of my misery.

Linda Arce
Palmdale, California

To the editor:
I have owned a pit bull for four years, having found the dog tied to a tree when it was just four months old. I don’t know how it was treated before, but my guess is that it was treated badly. I’m very cautious with it around people. It is aggressive toward strangers, especially males, and I think this has to do with its past. It is, without doubt, the best dog I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t own any other breed and quite frankly, all this negative publicity about pit bulls is starting to tick me off.

People think that pit bulls will turn on their owners or get loose and kill everyone in the neighborhood. The people who are so scared of these dogs, though, don’t know anything about them other than the garbage that they see on TV. I think they should have a documentary on pit bulls, so people will know the truth.

Pit bulls weren’t bred to be aggressive toward man, but submissive. I’ve read that they don’t make suitable guard dogs: it’s against their instincts to bite a human. You would have to spend lots of money and give lots of training to teach them to go against their natural instincts, or badly mistreat them. Throwing a dog of any breed in a backyard with just food and water and not paying attention to it breeds aggression and anger. Humans screw things up for these dogs. I guess it’s in human nature to be violent and not appreciate things for what they are.

Ninety-five percent of pits pass the Canine Temperament test, whereas only 74 percent of all dogs pass. There are many families out there that have had a pit bull as a family pet and have not had any problems. I just wish they would speak up.

Some compare pit bulls to loaded guns; well, some people shouldn’t own a gun. People who choose to own a pit bull should have to pass a safety test, as well as have to take a class on how to train their dog properly. Even I admit that I should have trained my dog differently. I should have taken my dog to an obedience school. If they offered some form of public financing, I would have taken her in a heartbeat. I agree about making the dogs wear muzzles in public, but only if there has been an incident of aggressiveness.

Derek Kitamura
Riverside, California

Brian C. Anderson responds:
Ms. Arce’s letter exemplifies the central theme of my article: pit bulls are often a public terror. Mr. Kitamura asserts that pit-bull aggression is solely a matter of training, but ignores the fact that the dogs have genetic wiring that makes them especially fierce; he’s right, though, that training—or abuse—can transform them into truly deadly animals. And Mr. Kitamura’s letter suggests that his pit bull is perhaps a bit of a menace itself.
 

Family Concerns

To The Editor:
Our thanks to Kay S. Hymowitz for taking the time to come to New Haven and to write about the Waverly Extended Family ("Civil Society Blooms in New Haven," Summer 1999). We do, however, wish to make a two comments.

First, we have no evidence of any criminal activity on the part of any of the young people in the Extended Family and we regret that the story suggested anything to the contrary. Second, despite the story’s somewhat pessimistic conclusion, we continue to believe firmly in the Extended Family’s transformative possibilities for the young men as well as the young women of Waverly. We are determined to keep working to help all our children reach their full potential.

Sharon McBlain
Enola Aird
Waverly Extended Family
 

Poetry, Not Monuments

To the editor:
Francis Morrone’s informative and finely photographed "Statues and Civic Memory" (Summer 1999) begins on a mistaken note. While Homeric heroes did noble deeds in the hope of winning honor, glory, and the praise of their fellows and posterity, fame for the greatest actions did not take the form of a "‘marble monument,’ in The Iliad’s constantly recurring phrase."

Homeric fame, as the heroes themselves regularly acknowledge, comes from poetry, not statuary. The foremost reward of heroism is good report among men and, by extension, remembrance in song, specifically, epic poetry. For as long as The Iliad and The Odyssey continue to be read, Homer’s heroes will continue to receive their just rewards.

Free-standing marble statuary was unknown in the mid-eighth century B.C., when Homer is thought to have lived. While funerary markers conferred recognition in Homeric society, the earliest sculpted examples date from the mid-sixth century b.c., as does the use of marble as the material of choice for statuary.

Monuments and statues last only so long. Fame-conferring poetry is imperishable.

Jeffrey M. Duban
New York, New York

Francis Morrone replies:
I am thankful to Mr. Duban for his thoughtful correction. The sentence to which he objects quotes from memory Pope’s lyric translation of The Iliad, not the Greek original.

I do wish to point out that not only do statues and monuments "last only so long," so do the cities and civilizations they help to define. Though epic poetry is an excellent commemorative medium, I am sure Mr. Duban does not need to have pointed out to him how little of the literature of ancient times has survived. Conferring immortality is a tough business, but we try.