Bush Bilks New York

On Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of New York City firefighters-the best-trained Fire Department in the world-learned to their horror that their radios didn’t work. As they attempted to save thousands of people trapped in those two mortally wounded towers, firefighters couldn’t communicate with each other. High-ranking officers in the north tower command post frantically tried to relay orders to companies in the stairwells, only to hear silence in reply.

In the meantime, police officers in helicopters tried to warn their firefighter colleagues that the towers seemed in imminent danger of collapse. Their warnings went unheard-the police and fire communication systems were not coordinated.

After the horror of 9/11, the city vowed to improve the Fire Department’s communications system. In fact, that promise was a long time coming-Fire Department personnel who were at the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 had complained about the faulty radio system, to no avail.

The federal government recently undermined this urgent task by cutting a $54 million appropriation designed to improve emergency communications around the country. About $6 million was earmarked for New York.

As 9/11 demonstrated, local emergency workers are on the front line of the war on terror. But the Bush administration apparently has little appreciation for the task assigned to firefighters, police officers and other emergency personnel. George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security-run by a rather undistinguished minion, Tom Ridge-cut the money designated for improved communications in an absurd exercise in cost-cutting.

At a time of record budget deficits, the Bush administration is looking to save a few dollars by denying local governments the money they need to further enhance their ability to respond to terrorism. What could these people be thinking? The federal government is running a half-trillion dollar deficit; $6 million would be a drop in the bucket. Mr. Bush would not shortchange our troops in Iraq, but he is doing just that here at home.

Luckily for New York, the Fire Department already has ironed out some of its communications problems. But that $6 million would have paid for even better communications systems and coordination.

Senator Charles Schumer rightly denounced the White House’s priorities, saying that the federal government has “pulled the rug out from under our cops and firefighters.”

After 9/11, we know the importance of well-trained emergency workers. We cannot send these men and women into battle, however, without the best equipment. How unfortunate that the White House continues to underfund New York City to a mind-boggling degree.

Siblings and Success

It’s the sort of thing that’s rarely spoken about in polite company, but everyone has an example from his or own circle of friends: siblings who have wildly divergent levels of success in the world. As New York University sociologist Dalton Conley writes in his new book, The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why , there’s an American myth that within families, a certain balance exists, and that people who are thriving in their career, social prestige and net worth would be likely to have equally successful siblings. But Mr. Conley’s research found that within families there is often profound economic disparity between siblings; indeed, he claims that 75 percent of the country’s income inequality can be explained by differences between siblings.

But no one wants to admit that such Darwinian odds exist within the cozy family unit. As Mr. Conley recently told The New York Times ‘ Emily Eakin, “There’s this enormous issue of sibling inequality that we sweep under the rug because we want to see the family as a haven in a harsh world, operating outside the dog-eat-dog world of American capitalism.” But for every sibling success story-George W. and Jeb Bush, for example-there are, according to Mr. Conley, many more tales of siblings whose life achievements are so far apart, it’s hard to believe they were raised in the same family, such as Bill and Roger Clinton. Sibling relationships have generally been left to psychologists to explore; Mr. Conley suggests that economists should be in the thick of the research. Rather than comparing households or social groups, a comparison of sibling triumphs and tragedies might lead to provocative new ways of looking at society.

Mr. Conley also had some news for parents: If you have two kids and are thinking about a third, you should know that “middle children” tend to suffer the most, economically and education-wise, in the family unit. He found that the middle child tends to be allocated fewer financial resources all around; indeed, a second child’s chances of attending private school drop 25 percent when a third child is born.

Maybe it’s time for everyone to reread the story of Cain and Abel.

Ave Atque Vale : Lutèce

Over the last week, every food critic and his brother have been weeping into their Alsatian tarts over the Feb. 14 closing of Lutèce. But those fortunate enough to have experienced André Soltner’s Lutèce know that the restaurant closed for, all intents and purposes, in 1994, when the chef sold his business to Michael Weinstein’s Ark Restaurants group.

It wasn’t just that Mr. Soltner was one of the best chefs this country has seen. His warmth and generosity of spirit added immeasurably to the dining experience. “Cooking for someone is like having a love affair,” Mr. Soltner said in Irene Daria’s 1993 book Lutèce: A Day in the Life of America’s Greatest Restaurant . And for more than 30 years, he strove to make each of his customers feel like the object of his affection. Silver-haired and stately, Mr. Soltner would shuttle between the kitchen and the dining room, sizing up the humeur du jour of each patron, and then cook accordingly. “He goes table to table to look into your eyes,” Thomas Kelly, a restaurant professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, said in Ms. Daria’s book. Who knows what Mr. Soltner saw, but if he made chicken soup for you, it tasted like chicken soup for the soul.

Lutèce didn’t start out that way. The townhouse restaurant at 249 East 50th Street was opened in 1961 by an airline caterer named André Sussman, whose Francophilia prompted him to adopt a fake surname, Surmain, and the snooty, surly attitude of New York’s preeminent French restaurateur at the time, Le Pavillon’s Henri Soulé. Fortunately, Mr. Surmain had the sense to hire Mr. Soltner, who in 1972 assumed control of the restaurant, and with his wife, Simone, showed New Yorkers that an exceptional French dining experience need not come with an amuse bouche of sadism.

Mr. Soltner ran the kitchen, Ms. Soltner presided over the dining room-and when they closed Lutèce at night, they headed to the fourth floor of the townhouse to sleep. Their devotion did not allow for time off or sick days, and it insured that whoever succeeded them at Lutèce would be overshadowed by the Soltner legacy.

When Time magazine asked Ms. Soltner what she would do if her husband ever sold Lutèce, she replied: “I would live.” Who could begrudge them that? And yet, almost 10 years later, it’s still difficult to accept the end of the affair.