Without Merit

Why merit pay won't reform public education.


Red Hollywood

Three cheers to Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley for exposing Hollywood's failure to come to grips with the subject of Soviet communism ("Hollywood's Missing Movies," June).

He did not mention, however, Darryl Zanuck's fine anti-communist films of the late '40s and early '50s for 20th Century Fox. The Iron Curtain (1948) was a suspenseful and dramatic film detailing the desperate attempts of Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet clerk in Ottawa, to make contact with the Canadian government and media about the extent of Soviet espionage in the West. Two other films, Diplomatic Courier (starring Tyrone Power, 1952) and The Night People (starring Gregory Peck, 1954), were directed principally against Soviet espionage in West Germany, with no holds barred. All of these are intense and powerful films, but unfortunately none of them is currently available on video.

No Hollywood film, as far as I know, describes any aspect of the Gulag–only a few fleeting moments with Anthony Quinn at the opening of The Shoes of the Fisherman. Solzhenitsyn's three-volume The Gulag Archipelago will provide endless material for tense and dramatic cinematic treatment. The film One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch treats the miseries of camp life but doesn't touch the massive, life-destroying cruelty of the Gulag projects. The first chapter of volume one of the Gulag, on the construction of the Balmoral Canal, has enough heavy drama for any number of movies.

There is an abundance of material on the Soviet system now available, much of it cinematic dynamite. Think of just one incident in Shostakovich's autobiography, Testimony: Stalin plays cat and mouse with him by telephone, encouraging him one day and threatening him with execution the next, then sends him to New York to spread Soviet propaganda to American correspondents.

As Shostakovich speaks, he tries with subtle cues and gestures to make the reporters detect the truth concealed by the words he is made to utter, but none of them sees through the propaganda. They are too excited at finally seeing the great Soviet composer in person. What an opportunity that one scene would present to an able actor and an imaginative director! Yet today, years later, it remains only a small incident in a powerful book, thus far (and perhaps forever) untouched in any film.

John Hospers
Los Angeles, CA

I read "Hollywood's Missing Movies" with great interest. I would like to bring your attention to one small mistake: Hitler's invasion of Soviet Russia–called Operation Barbarossa–began June 22, 1941, and not in September 1939 as you stated. You have inadvertently confused the attack on Russia with Hitler's invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939).

Eric Mowrey
Bursins, Switzerland

Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley replies: John Hospers is one of many to unearth anti-communist films I neglected to mention, including Escape from East Berlin, a European effort. Boat People, about the exodus from Vietnam, is another. Perhaps yet another reader will help these films appear in the video market.

I thank Eric Mowrey for his comments and for pointing out the inadvertent transposition of dates for two of Hitler's invasions.

Local Guns

Kenneth Smith's article on the news media and guns ("Loaded Coverage," June) helpfully exposes the biases of the national elite press. I suspect, however, that similar analysis of the local media would paint a more attractive picture. The local media are likely to be more responsive to (and share) local community sentiments on guns (pro or con), to be more connected to police and prosecutors than to organized interest groups such as either the National Rifle Association or Handgun Control Inc., and to be more concerned with the facts of the story than with making a political point.

Smith himself points to the reporting of the Rankin County News on the school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi. Similar stories of less high-profile events probably abound at the local level. The Houston Chronicle, for example, reported on an event that would never have attracted the attention of the national media. In 1994 a deputy sheriff was shot during a traffic stop of what turned out to be a group of teenaged car thieves. His life was saved by a passing motorist who pulled his own gun and returned fire. The motorist the Chronicle hailed as a "good samaritan" noted that the car thieves learned the useful lesson "that other people have guns, too" and "that guns can fire two ways." He could have been a poster boy for the NRA: a Korean War veteran and retired gun-shop owner on his way to the shooting range when he came across the besieged officer.

Such reporting may not be heard in Washington, D.C., but it undoubtedly helps shape how average people think about these issues.

Keith E. Whittington
Assistant Professor of Politics
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ

Planning Pittsburgh

As a person who has lived and worked in Pittsburgh, I was most intrigued by Bill Steigerwald's article ("Death By Wrecking Ball," June). While in the main I agree with his conclusions, I'd like to present a different spin on Pittsburgh's redevelopment efforts. Such yuppie-style redevelopment is unfortunately inevitable.

I say unfortunately because I love the old-style city: shops, streets, independent businesses, the variety and diversity that can be found only in the core of a major city. I've lived in Pittsburgh, and I loved it for its people, its hills, its neighborhoods, and, most important, its being urban (not urbane, but urban). Unfortunately, I'm in the minority and I've had to witness the centers of many fine cities become "yuppified." I'm not saying that re-gentrification or redevelopment per se are bad; rather, the problem seems to be that the city fathers are jumping the gun on both the market and the economic realities. It's actually a civic version of keeping up with the Joneses…and an expensive version at that.

Pittsburgh has evolved dramatically over the years. While it lost thousands of blue-collar jobs in the steel industry, it has gained thousands of white-collar, high-tech, and office jobs in their place. To a certain degree, there must be an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new mentality, but the city fathers are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Many other rust belt cities are not destroying their blue-collar past; rather, they are turning their past into a tourist-oriented future, a future with the small(er) businessman in mind.

On the other hand, the same small businessmen could be facing very similar problems even if the redeveloper were a private business and no taxpayer funds were involved. Perhaps a good example of this would be Rockefeller Center in New York City. We now see a modern, urban multi-use commercial complex; however, hundreds of small(er) businesses were forced to relocate so that Rockefeller could build this monument to his ego.

Times change, and the laws of supply and demand should be allowed to guide the transition. Unfortunately, many of the taxpayer-funded, municipally ordained redevelopment agencies know nothing about the laws of supply and demand. There's no need to worry about economic realities when you've got your paws in the taxpayer's wallet!

Fred Bluestone
Lauderhill, FL