DIVORCE, AMERICAN STYLE REDUX
Perhaps I can have the last word on Katha Pollitt's review of Judith Wallerstein's Legacy of Divorce ["Subject to Debate," Oct. 23; "Exchange," Dec. 4]. I'm a sociologist who has written and taught about marriage and family for seven years. Whatever the merits of the methodological debate on Wallerstein, I have my own method of truth, which although nonscientific has proven extremely reliable. Every semester I ask my students to raise their hands if their parents are divorced. As in the rest of the population, around half raise their hands. I then ask them to keep their hands raised if they wish their parents had not divorced. Without exception, all but one or two hands fall. When I ask those who lowered their hands, "Why?" they respond that the stress and conflict of unhappy parents took an intense emotional toll on them.
If the children themselves have no regrets, why should we?
DR. ROBERT MANIS
THE TENNIS, POKER & BLACKLIST BOYS
New York City
The recent moving tributes to the late Ring Lardner Jr. by Victor Navasky [Nov. 27] and Roger Kahn [Dec. 4] encourage me to add my own, as one of Ring's few contemporaries still alive. Ring and I were both born in Chicago on the same day--August 19, 1915.
I was privileged to be part of a poker game that began in the 1950s when Ring and Ian Hunter, with Maurice Rapf and the composer Sol Kaplan, moved to New York after the blacklist drove them out of Hollywood, and included many of the lawyers who defended them, like Martin Popper, Jerry Lurie and his law partner Sidney Cohen. Sidney had invented what came to be known as the "diminished Fifth," which would have permitted answers to the key question raised by HUAC without naming names, which Ring famously said he could answer but that he would hate himself in the morning.
We had all reached the age when we felt that for health reasons we would meet every Thursday to play two hours of tennis at 4 pm before reassembling for poker in the evening. For about thirty years, until we could no longer play either tennis or poker, Thursday became for all of us the high spot of the week. We began by occasionally joining a poker game on 28th Street, dominated by Zero Mostel and his former WPA artist friends, that had begun back in the Depression; but the high decibel level of any game with both Zero and sculptor Herb Kallem drove us to organize our own Upper West Side tennis/poker group. To fulfill our wildest fantasies, we decided to play our first game at a Turkish bath at Al Roon's on West 73rd Street, as suggested by a short story by Irwin Shaw, but we found that the steam melted the cards, and we were forced to rent a room to finish the evening.
For the next thirty years the game was held at Ian's apartment in the Belnord on 86th Street. Ian was a great cook and would sometimes prepare a delicious roast beef for us. Otherwise, the kitty would permit us to order from the Stage Door Delicatessen or the Tip Toe Inn.
When the blacklist was finally broken and Ring could write under his own name, I like to think that we all had a hand in his script for The Cincinnati Kid. After Ring's second Oscar, for M*A*S*H, we all enjoyed hearing that the pendulum in Hollywood had swung to the point that blacklisted writers had become social lions, and some people were now lying that they had been blacklisted.
While we almost never talked about our personal problems all through those years, the weekly meeting became a refuge from a hostile world for those of us who retained the ideals we had formed in the Depression years. In addition to the original group, we were later joined by Bella Abzug's husband, Martin, Peter Bernard and Jesse Reed. Maurice and I, alas, are the sole survivors. The group left an important legacy to our children--to appreciate the joys of living a life of principle.
JAY M. GOULD
WHAT WORKS: METROPOLITICS
Thanks to Jay Walljasper for a terrific article ["From the 'Burbs to the 'Hood," Nov. 20] on Myron Orfield and his plans (and achievements) for metropolitics! Orfield explains why, in the words of many a Republican, "schools need more than just money." Schools--all schools--need more money and lots of it. But the concentration of severely poor students in certain schools, not relative underfunding, is key to their relative failure. Vouchers will only aggravate this problem, but voucher proponents have one thing right: Students do better in schools with other students who bring learning from home. Orfield's ideas for regional planning offer an actual solution to this national disaster--the reduction of concentrated poverty.
Walljasper concluded by suggesting we promote metropolitics as something "pragmatic" rather than just. I'm not sure, but it sounds like an underestimation. Increasingly, labor unions and environmental groups are forming blue-green alliances against sprawl, big-box employers, the defunding of mass transit and affordable housing, the lengthening of commuting time and the transfer of jobs to suburban un-unionized companies. "Unions are basically an urban institution," Don Turner, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor told me in arguing for such efforts, which are being led by a group called Good Jobs First (www.goodjobsfirst.org).
At a national conference on living-wage campaigns in Baltimore recently, ACORN discussed building coalitions with environmentalists. Wade Rathke of ACORN and SEIU in New Orleans (where a living wage of $1 above the minimum wage will be on a ballot soon) said, "You cannot separate economic development from income policy." Other conferees recommended working for laws requiring economic development commissions to bring any decision above a certain dollar figure before elected officials for a public vote. In Minnesota a law now requires these commissions to establish criteria for giving out their (that is, the public's) money. With advocates for the working poor pushing such issues, it's hard not to see regional planning as a matter of justice.
A KVITCH, A KVETCH, A KRECHTZ
Morris Plains, N.J.
Ilan Stavans criticizes Ruth Wisse for neglecting the Sephardic contribution to Jewish literature, but in his own anthology, The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories, less than 10 percent of the authors are Sephardic ["Mr. Sammler's Planet," Nov. 27]. There's a good reason, and it has nothing to do with bias. Modern Jewish literature flourished in Europe among Ashkenazic Jews, because of the influence of the Enlightenment. Few Sephardic Jews lived there. The heyday of Sephardic literature was the Golden Age in Spain, and US Jewish scholars have not neglected these writings, as Stavans claims. They can be found in well-known sources, including Lewis Browne's The Wisdom of Israel, Nahum Glatzer's The Judaic Tradition and Nathan Ausubel's A Treasury of Jewish Poetry.
Stavans's claim that Jews have not created their own literary canon is also questionable. In addition to his own anthology, which Stavans is perhaps too modest to mention, there are excellent collections edited by Joseph Leftwich, Leo W. Schwarz and Saul Bellow.
Other peculiarities in his review include his characterization of Bialik, the Hebrew poet, as "proto-Zionist" and Wisse's book as "proto-Ashkenazic." In both cases, the prefix "proto" is superfluous. Finally the first name of Peretz, the Yiddish writer, can be written as Yitchak or Isaac, but never "Itzjak," and kvetch is a perfectly good Yiddish word, not "Yinglish." So please accept this kvetch as an antidote to Stavans's.
GIVE THE FALUN GONG A BREAK
New York City
Something weird happens to people of the left persuasion when they travel to countries flying the red star (I know, it happened to me). They tend to lose perspective, as has my old pal Christopher Hitchens, judging by his vitriolic put-down of Falun Gong ["Minority Report," Nov. 20]. How odd that he echoes the language of a Chinese Communist Party campaign of defamation, cult-bashing and false allegations in a crackdown even Hitch calls "clumsy" and "probably counterproductive" (probably?).
Yo, brother, we are talking about more than seventy people dead in police custody so far, and as many as 50,000 detained, many of them subjected to torture and abuse (including being involuntarily tossed into mental hospitals). I have just published Falun Gong's Challenge to China (Akashic Books) and have also produced a film by the same title, which offer an independent assessment of this crisis.
In all my research, I didn't find a shred of evidence to substantiate the state media's accusations that Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi has used "tricks" to "induce the credulous to part with their money" (Hitchens's words, though they sound like they come from Beijing's People's Daily) or to suggest that these nonviolent practitioners have been programmed to protest. (Remember the civil rights movement?) Ironically, many are pro-party and pro-government and have been appealing for justice from a regime that won't hear them. These folks preach tolerance and compassion. How about showing some?
Danny Schechter--who is not my old pal--can certainly speak for himself when it comes to credulity. He fell for everything from the Khmer Rouge to Clinton, and now the Falun Gong has helped him get in touch with his inner swastika. Check out the FG website (www.falundafa.org) if you think I jest.
PRONOUNCE IT 'PERFECTION'
Santa Rosa, Calif.
After all these years of wondering, I finally have heard the way to say "Klawans"! The eminent film critic would not divulge this information when a reader wrote in some time back ["Letters," July 19, 1999]. Many of us consider Mr. K the best movie critic in the (small n) nation if not the world, so now when we read a review in his excellent style, we'll know it's Kla-wans. Anyway, so said the MC introducing him during the TMC movie classics program.
New York City
If you ever fire Stuart Klawans as your reviewer, I'll drop your rag like a Republican Party membership card. In a world gone mad, he is my only idol.