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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Letters

Don't take Manhattan

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How ironic that HCN would publish an essay romanticizing a city that, like San Francisco in the 19th century and Los Angeles in the 20th, symbolizes the inexorable flow of resources and wealth out of the productive lands of the West and into the warehouses and pockets of the merchant elites (HCN, 11/23/09). Zoellner's piece romanticizes both the myth and the reality of large trading cities, opening with an example of the culture (Dvorak's New World Symphony) that is supposed to sweeten the climb up the economic ladder, or to console those who are trapped at the bottom.

Zoellner's rose-colored glasses next shift to the exploitive origins of cities as markets where merchant elites benefit from the labors of rural pioneers and the natural produce of those "great blank spaces on the map." He honors the Stock Exchange, symbol of the market economy, and he calls our attention to the "democratic and generous" New York-based publishing industry.

In our vast, demographically diverse society, "democratic" is a politician's cliché, obscuring the reality of our political system. Citizens of this society are free to consume a bewildering array of products manufactured from rural natural resources, while they are constrained to labor in the market economy where their success is judged by how far up the ladder they've climbed. Such is the ideology generously gifted to Alamogordo and Bakersfield by the publishing houses of New York City.

Timothy V. Ludington
Silver City, New Mexico

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