Saturday, October 31, 2009
The clocks are changing tonight. it's the last Saturday before Election Day. I speak with my friends to find out what goes on behind the scenes and what doesn't make the papers. A man who works in government, who asked to remain unidentified told me he spoke to one of the people who endorsed Mike Bloomberg publicly, who told him a very different story off the record.
"Yeah I'm endorsing Bloomberg. I want my program funded. If I go for Thompson, my funding gets cut. Am I endorsing Bloomberg? Sure! Do I have a choice? No! Am I voting for him? No way! I'm voting for Bill Thompson.
I have spoken to people who report a crime and get treated like criminals. They call the precinct for a complaint number and get blown off, told to call back later. The report gets lost. The crime never happened. Bloomberg's crime numbers are lies. He is like the old joke, where a guy asks his doctor what the easiest thing to do is for his condition.
"Touch up the X rays". The doctor replies.
Mike Bloomberg has done a great job of touching up the X rays. He is the master of illusion. But the city he speaks of in his glowing spinfomercials is a castle in the sky that does not conform to the reality on the ground.
When his education results are held up to scrutiny, it seems that New York trails on a national level. Tests are dumbed down to create the illusion of progress.
So I have a mayor with an election strategy straight from George Orwell's Ministry of Truth. He takes money from the tax payers and uses it to intimidate people who are helping people in New York and bullying them into giving endorsements they don't really believe in. When unemployment goes up, he shines the spotlight elsewhere. He creates the aura of inevitability to the prospect of his reelection by saturating the airwaves, broadcast media and the internet with his propaganda. his election campaign is a textbook example of how campaign finance reform can be subverted and eviscerated by anyone wealthy enough to do so.
Bloomberg likes to say that he is above the special interest groups, neglecting to say that he IS a special interest group. The fact that he financed his campaign on his own has insulated him from any need to answer to the people , except at the polls. Perhaps this is why he looks so ill at ease in a debate format. His arrogance, aloofness and indifference to public concerns is written on his face and imprinted on his manner of governance.
There is an air of Nixonian desperation, an extreme overkill to Bloomberg's reelection campaign. Behind the smug exterior is a vindictiveness and a willingness to retaliate against those who do not endorse his coronation efforts. I will be voting Tuesday to save the city. I will be voting to make government more respectful to and responsive to the people. I will be voting for Bill Thompson. Sphere: Related Content
Friday, October 30, 2009
The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is coming up on November 9. It is a time when my thoughts return to my father's home town and to Germany's 40 years of complete separation. Americans still feel the effects of our own civil war, which resulted in a splitting of the United States for four years. Germany certainly presents a fascinating case study.
One thing that has come to light in the aftermath of German reunification is the intense interest of West Germany's espionage service in the conditions, attitudes and opinions of ordinary East Germans. One of the more interesting activities of the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) was the collection of political jokes forwarded by its informants in the former East Germany. The joke reports made for very popular reading, and were considered useful for gauging popular attitudes and levels of discontentment. Der Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine reports as follows on the extensive collection of jokes compiled by the BND.
The jokes were gleaned from secretly opened letters and phone conversations that agents from West Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) would monitor in their quest for East German state secrets during the Cold War.
Intelligence services around the world tend to value every snippet of information they get and the BND was no different. It scrupulously collected and filed the jokes and dispatched them to Bonn during the carnival season each year, much to the delight of civil servants. The BND has just released the files it kept on East German humor.
The joke report was by far the most popular service the spies provided. "It was our biggest hit," recalls former BND spy Dieter Gandersheim, whose real name is of course quite different. The Chancellery and the ministries couldn't wait for the file, he said."
Although East German jokes were popular in West Germany, they were dangerous business in East Germany. In the 50's and the 60's, there were quite a few people who ended up in jail for telling jokes that were considered subversive. Getting caught having a laugh at the expense of the regime was a real possibility. According to Der Spiegel, "The Stasi had 91,000 employees and a network of around 189,000 civilian informants to spy on the East German population of 17 million. It regarded every political joke as a potential threat. Anyone who poked fun at the representatives of the organs of state and society was subject to prosecution."
Why was the regime so afraid of humour? With a monopoly of the newspapers and the broadcast media, word of mouth was the one alternative source of information. Ridicule was one of the few weapons left to a population that had been disarmed, demoralised and intimidated. Ultimately, the Berlin fell. The regime that inspired such fear is now but a memory.
To this day, East German jokes are still told. There are books full of them that have been published and reprinted. Sequels have been written as well. What is the attraction in the jokes of a captive nation? Der Spiegel gave a few examples. Google yields a wealth of East german jokes as well. I have included some of the jokes here.
- Early in the morning, Honecker arrives at his office and opens his window. He sees the sun and says: "Good morning, dear Sun!"
- The sun replies: "Good morning, dear Erich!"
- Honecker works, and then at noon he heads to the window and says: "Good day, dear Sun!"
- The sun replies: "Good day, dear Erich!"
- In the evening, Erich calls it a day, and heads once more to the window, and says: "Good evening, dear Sun!"
- The sun is silent.
- Honecker says again: "Good evening, dear Sun! What's the matter?"
- The sun replies: "Kiss my arse. I'm in the West now."
The teacher asks in school: "What is the most important thing in socialism?" The students consider and little Fritz (Fritzchen) answers: "The most important thing in socialism is the human!" The teacher: "That is a good answer, Fritzchen. I will give you a B-grade." Fritzchen is dissatisfied and responds emphatically: "Would you maybe give me an A if I told you what the human's name was?"
The teacher asks: "Fritzchen, why are you always speaking of our Soviet brothers? It's 'Soviet friends'." Fritz responds: "Well, you can pick your friends.
"Honecker meets Mao and asks him: "How many political opponents do you have in China?" Mao: "I estimate about 17 million."
Honecker: "Oh, that's pretty much the same here." (The GDR had 17 million inhabitants)
The teacher asks: "Fritzchen, what is the difference between capitalism and socialism?" Fritz replies: "Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man. Under socialism, it is the other way around."
"What would happen if the desert became communist? Nothing for a while, and then there would be a sand shortage."
"Why does West Germany have a higher standard of living than we do? Because communists can't get work permits there."
According to one joke, Christmas had been cancelled. Mary didn't find any diapers for the baby Jesus, Joseph was called up to the army and the three kings didn't get a travel permit.
East Germany was not alone in having a rich arsenal of political jokes. My favourite anti Nazi joke was told to me by an ethnic Ukrainian whose parents had worked as slave labourers in Germany.
"What is the difference between a Nazi and a dog?"
" A Nazi lifts his arm."
In the USSR, they had Radio Yerevan (capital of Armenia) jokes, in which subversive answers were given to questions submitted by listeners. The following are some examples.
Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is the USA? A: In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished. In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, "Down with Reagan!", and you will not be punished.
Q: Is it true that the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky committed suicide?
A: Yes, it is true, and even the record of his very last words is preserved: "Don't shoot, comrades."
Q: Why is there no flour in the market?
A: Because they began adding it to the bread.
Q: Is it true that in the Soviet Union people do not need stereophonic equipment?
A: In principle, yes. One hears exactly the same thing from all sides.
Q: Is it true that conditions in our labor camps are excellent?
A: In principle, yes. Five years ago one of our listeners was not convinced of this, so he was sent to investigate. He seems to have liked it so much that he hasn't returned yet.
Q: Under communism will we still have money?
A: No, none of that either.
Q: Could an atomic bomb destroy our beloved town, Yerevan, with its splendid buildings and beautiful gardens ?
A: In principle, yes. But Moscow is by far a more beautiful city.
Q: What is chaos?
A: We do not comment on national economics.
As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches recalling the humour of the East Germans gives us insight and feeling for that trying time. The suffering of the East Germans and others who lived under communism should not be forgotten. The jokes that people did time for are colourful brush strokes in the picture of that troubled time. I hope my readers appreciate them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_German_jokes#The_Trabant_.28an_East_German_Car.29 Sphere: Related Content
Thursday, October 29, 2009
There was once a judge who was asked to define pornography. His irate answer was "Don't ask me to define it. I know it when I see it!"
There used to be some common sense in giving legal armour to common sense and decency. A case in Texas has a district attorney in a quandary. He wants to prosecute a man who forced his 7 and eight year old daughters to watch hard core pornography. A law passed in the 1970's seems to protect the (chromosomal) man's right to do so. Associated Press reports as follows.
"Randall County District Attorney James Farren has asked the Texas attorney general's office to review his decision not to pursue charges in the case, which has prompted at least one lawmaker to vow to change the state's public indecency law.
"Our hands are tied. It's not our fault. I have to follow the law," Farren said Thursday. "The mother of the victims in this case was less than happy with this decision, which I understand. We were less than happy with the statute."
The law apparently was meant to protect the privacy of parents who wanted to teach children about sex education, but it states clearly that parents can't be prosecuted for showing "harmful material" to their children.
Farren said police reported the incident to his office after one of the girls told a counselor in June that her father made them watch adults having group sex and various other acts at his home in Amarillo. The parents of the girls, and their 7-year-old sister, are divorced and share custody.
The girls' mother, Crystal Buckner, wants her ex-husband to be jailed. She said she was stunned to hear from prosecutors and police that nothing can be done."
It is apparent that District Attorney Farren badly wants to prosecute a man who was clearly abusing his daughters. Fortunately, the father of the girls, who sees them once a month must be supervised when his children come to visit. Hopefully, the law will be clarified. In most states, even a parent can't take his or her child to an X rated movie. Getting a kid drunk is considered contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But forcing a kid to watch porn is OK. Where is the common sense here?
The one positive thing that can be said in this whole unfortunate affair is that the State of Texas is at least trying to protect its children. In Massachusetts, a man named David Parker found out that gay marriage was being explained and lauded in his son's kindergarten class. He was repeatedly rebuffed when he asked to discuss the matter with the principal and to have his son excused from the "diversity" lessons. Eventually he was arrested and barred by court order from entering the school. The courts told him that his only recourse was to remove his kid from the school.
When I was a kid in Catholic school, there was one girl who was Episcopalian. Without a problem, she was excused from religion class and given art work or reading to do instead. The school did a good job of tolerating diversity.
Tolerance does not and should not mean approval. It should mean that you recognise the right of a person to differ. You do not have to love homosexuals to recognise that they have a right to live their lives without fear of violence or persecution. You can be totally convinced that someone is going to hell. It only becomes a problem when you want to send them there ahead of schedule.
I am not happy about the crazy laws in Texas. But at least the people there are trying to do as much as they can under law to protect and raise children properly. I seriously worry about Massachusetts and other places where "diversity" and "tolerance" are euphemisms for intolerance and aggressively promoting ideological conformity.
I was raised in Massachusetts, keenly aware that it was founded by the Puritans who sought religious freedom and denied it to others. "Puritanical" has become a disdainful adjective for being sexually inhibited. It seems that the hedonism of our day can be every bit as intolerant as the "puritanism' of yesteryear. What better place for this irony to play out than in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Life sure is strange.
http://www.massresistance.org/docs/parker/parker_son_incident/index.html Sphere: Related Content
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Are you thinking of buying a flag at home Depot? Are you thinking of buying anything at Home Depot? You might want to ask questions about how they treat their employees. Trevor Keezor worked in the Home Depot in Okeechobee, Florida. On October 23, Keezor alleges that he was fired for wearing an American flag pin with the slogan "One nation under G-d. Associated Press reports as follows.
"A former cashier for The Home Depot who has been wearing a "One nation under God" button on his work apron for more than a year has been fired, he says because of the religious reference. The company claims that expressing such personal beliefs is simply not allowed.
"I've worn it for well over a year and I support my country and God," Trevor Keezor said Tuesday. "I was just doing what I think every American should do, just love my country."
The American flag button Keezer wore in the Florida store since March 2008 says "One nation under God, indivisible."
Earlier this month, he began bringing a Bible to read during his lunch break at the store in the rural town of Okeechobee, about 140 miles north of Miami. That's when he says The Home Depot management told him he would have to remove the button.
Keezer refused, and he was fired on Oct. 23, he said."The company claims that it has a clear policy about employees not wearing buttons or pins that are not given to them by management. I can understand the need to filter out political slogans and material that might be obscene. What ever happened to common sense? Wearing a flag pin with a line from the pledge of allegiance scould not be considered controversial, combative of offensive. Even if home Depot is within its rights to fire Mr. Keezor, it is a real bad idea to do so. I do not why shows of religiousity and patriotism should trouble anyone. Proselytising, electioneering and talking politics to customers on the job might be problematic, but why fire Mr. Keezor if he was doing his job?
I really hope that Mr. Keezor is hired back. I want to shop at businesses that support our nation's Bill of Rights, in letter and in spirit. I hope that Home Depot is such a company. Sphere: Related Content
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Local police in conjunction with the FBI have launched a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution, resulting in 690 arrests. CNN News reports as follows.
"Law enforcement authorities have recovered 52 children and arrested 60 pimps allegedly involved in child prostitution, the FBI announced Monday.
More than 690 people in all were arrested on state and local charges, the FBI stated.
The arrests were made over the past three days as part of a nationwide law enforcement initiative conducted on the federal, state and local levels, the bureau said.
There have been raids in connection with the sweep in 36 cities across the country. The victims, some as young as eleven, were moved from city to city. Addiction to drugs became in many cases a chemical chain that tied them to their pimps. Rehabilitation resources are being lined up to facilitate the rehabilitation of the girls into society.
It was heartening to note the compassion for the girls in the voices of law enforcement agents who were interviewed in the raid. Prostitution, which often involves violence against those who are ensnared in it is in a real sense a slow motion death sentence. Drugs and prostitution make exposure to HIV a virtual certainty. Hopefully, the sentences given to the pimps will express the outrage, anger and disgust of society at the degrading treatment of society's most vulnerable citizens. This problem is deeply entrenched. Hopefully, the nationwide raids we are now will be followed up with similar such measures in the future.
On a personal note, I have noted with disgust the use of the word "pimpin" as a synonym for cool and "pimp up" as a term for improving one's appearance. The original definition of pimp is that of a prostitute's boss. This is a profession that involves degradation, coercion and violence. It is impossible to introduce such changes into daily language without contaminating our thinking. For years there has been an inner city urban subculture of glorifying pimps. Such attitudes tend to seep into society at large. Drugs, broken families and other social ills are ignored as long as the stay in the ghetto. People start to care when such behavior goes suburban.
Meanwhile, there are warning signs in the schools that things are seriously off track. Police in Richmond California reported making arrests in a gang rape outside a high school dance of a 15 year old girl. there were reportedly a dozen witnesses, none of whom intervened to stop the attack. Associated Press reports as follows.
"RICHMOND, Calif. (AP) -- Police believe as many as a dozen people watched a 15-year-old girl get beaten and gang-raped outside her high school homecoming dance without reporting it.
Two suspects were in custody Monday, but police said as many as five other men attacked the girl over a two-hour period Friday night outside Richmond High School.
"She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized by several suspects who were obviously OK enough with it to behave that way in each other's presence," Lt. Mark Gagan said. "What makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it."
The victim remained hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries."
Loading up children with facts does not teach them to be better human beings. A human being without a moral code and compass can quickly descend to animal levels. What is happening in Richmond, California? I am not confident that such callousness, brutality and indifference is unique to Richmond California. School massacres and other violence in school are no longer the unthinkable prospect that they once were.
It is an article of faith that advertising sells merchandise. If advertising sells merchandise, how can a song or video not sell behavior? There are many questions we should be asking ourselves . Because it is a major warning sign when a group commits or tolerates a crime.
When children do terrible things, it is a wake up call to their parents. The gang rape in Richmond, California should be considered a wake up call to us all. Sphere: Related Content
Monday, October 26, 2009
There is a lot of politics that goes into the enforcement to the law in New York City. On the plus side, people have noted that there are less parking tickets being given out. But in Mike Bloomberg's New York, there is always a hitch The Sanitation Department in Mike Bloomberg's New York City has according to the New York Post issued $125,775.00 dollars in fines for putting Bill Thompson posters on city property. Although the Bloomberg campaign has also been hit with fines, it should be noted that the fines levied on the Thompson campaign come out of a budget that is estimated to be about 6 1/4 % of that of Bloomberg's campaign. There is the chilling feeling that the letter of the law is being used to stifle free speech. The saturation of the airwaves with Bloomberg propaganda is meant to create the feeling that his victory is inevitable.
The Bloomberg campaign has managed to saturate the compliant news media with fluff coverage while the Bill Thompson campaign is ignored. We are choked with mailings that clutter our mailboxes with Bloomberg's campaign literature. The airwaves are saturated ad nauseum with his ads. This media creation who only steps onto the subway with an entourage of body guards was too cowardly to face the people in a referendum on term limits. It was far easier to buy off the City Council.
In this mayoral election ,our city's history city history has been edited and truncated. Racial fears were shamelessly stoked by Rudy Giuliani when he campaigned on Mike Bloomberg's behalf. His now infamous words about Bill Thompson were a slap in the face of city history.
“I worried daily that the city might be turned back to the way it was before 1993 — and you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Anyone who has lived in this city remembers that it was under John Lindsay that a lot of the problems of crime and bloated welfare roles became seriously entrenched. Rudy Giuliani proved himself to be as adept as Al Sharpton in playing the race card by hinting at the mayoralty of David Dinkins as the beginning of the city's decline.
Bloomberg attacked Thompson as being a poor manager of the city's pension fund. Before the election, he referred to Thompson as “maybe the best comptroller the city has ever had.”
The man who made his billions peddling financial information had no complaints about Thomspon's investment picks, which had to be voted on by the mayor's own representatives. The New York Times reports as follows on Mayor Bloomberg's duplicity.
"Mr. Thompson’s campaign manager, Eduardo Castell, assailed Mr.Bloomberg for suddenly attacking the comptroller. “Bill Thompson as comptroller has been a stellar success. And the mayor has himself lauded Bill Thompson as comptroller. So it is unfortunately and shameful that now, in the heat of a campaign battle, the mayor turns on his owns words praising Bill.”Mr. Castell said that the mayor himself is partly responsible for the performance of the city’s five pension funds since he appoints trustees to the board of each. Mr. Bloomberg’s appointees “have been in lockstep with the strategy of the pension systems,” Mr. Castell said."
Look what happens when you have a media billionaire chopping up the facts so they will lend themselves to self serving sound bites. It reminds me of the old Yiddish saying, "A half truth is a whole lie."
Mayor Bloomberg would rather face the city Council with his term limits than face the people in a referendum. His campaign is a textbook illustration that even a lofty law like campaign finance reform can be eviscerated and perverted. He insists on his plan for a nanny state in which cigarettes and transfats are punitively taxed and banned. It is almost as though all of New York city's other problems had been solved. Dumbing down tests in the public schools and cooking the crime statistics help to create the illusion that Bloomberg has solved all of our problems. The reality we see in the outer boroughs shows us that the manipulation of perceptions does not change the reality. The shootings, the increase in petty crime as well as more serious crime give lie to the rosy illusions of the Bloomberg campaign.
What is most reprehensible is that the law is perverted to give only one candidate a voice in public forums. Under Mike Bloomberg, we have lies and distortions at high volume while rebuttals have been silenced with a mute button. We are told that only Mike Bloomberg can lead us in these challenging times. it reminds me of Bertolt Brecht's famous words.
Those who take the meat from the table Teach contentment. Those for whom the tax contribution is destined Demand sacrifice. Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry Of wonderful times to come. Those who lead the country into the abyss Call ruling too difficult For ordinary men.
Bloomberg's net worth has increased from $4.8 billion when he took office in 2002 to $17.5 billion in 2009. His theatrical flourish of taking a dollar a year in salary has been an effective cover for the fact that he is doing far better than the city he has led for almost eight years. It doesn't fool anyone any more. It's time to enforce the term limits we voted for, and to vote for a mayor who cares about all five boroughs. Bill Thompson is the man to vote for on November 3. Sphere: Related Content
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I was trying to explain to my children what life was like before cell phones and the internet. My wide eyed wonder at seeing my first push button phone, the expense of telephone calls and air conditioning. I found a great site called The People's History that said $100.00 in in 1950 would be worth $835.41 in 2005. According to this method of computation, a television that sold for $179.00 back in 1954 would be like paying $1500.00 for a television today. By contrast, houses commonly sold between $7000.00 and 14,000.00.
If you crunch the numbers and look at the ratio of the price of a home to the income of a head of household, we do not come out very far ahead. On phone service we do better today. Most people have unlimited national phone service. You can buy phone cards and talk for hours around the world. Entertainment choices are far better. Gone are the days when you had to wait to watch your favourite TV show.
If you really want to be scientific about prices, the best method to use is to compute how many minutes you have to work to buy something. Minimum wage was 75 cents in 1950. That year gasoline was 18 cents a gallon. That means you worked about 15 minutes at minimum wage to buy a gallon of gas. Today minimum wage is $7.15. A gallon of gas costs about $2.80 in New York City. That means the cost of gas to a minimum wage earner is about 24 minutes of work. Although calculations are more complicated, they provide a more complete picture of how things are.
When I tell my kids about teachers that used to slap us around, they are properly horrified. Their attitude changes when I point out that we were less afraid of each other. In school violence usually meant meeting at the flagpole for a fight. Columbine and felonies in school were unheard of.
One difference that looms large is not between now and then but between America and Europe. When was the last time America had a war on its soil? In Europe, you could go back 60 years. In Yugoslavia, you only have to go back 15 years. In America you have to go back 145 years. One thing I remember in Italy back in the 1970's was how big grandchildren looked next to their grandparents. There was no genetic mutation. There was better nutrition. There was genuine hunger in much of Europe when some of the old folks I saw on the streets of Roe and Torino were growing up.
I remember reading in the American Spectator that back in the 1920's, African American out of wedlock births were about 10%. Today, the rate across the board for all races is 40%. National Public Radio reports as follows on today's discouraging statistics.
Forty years ago, a government report on the state of the black family in America warned that almost one out of four black children were born to unmarried mothers. Recent figures suggest that now, almost 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.
This raises the very real juxtaposition of social and economic poverty. It also raises the question of external oppression versus internal oppression.
Sometimes, you see a relative who has grown taller, grayer, fatter or thinner in the years since you took leave of them. Introducing my children to the past is like taking a similar look at changes in the world and in society. Assessing how things have change requires not only open eyes but discerning vision. It means asking the right questions and knowing which questions to ask and of whom to ask them.
Early on in life, I realised that history involved real people, and that I could ask my parents and grandparents about what I read in the history books. I have spoken with an Italian POW, Hitler Youth members, and a man whose father had a medal pinned on his chest by Stalin himself. To me, learning history is a dialogue between who I meet and what I read. My library is on my bookshelves and sitting in front of me behind the partition in a taxi. I don't trust my government, and I don't even necessarily trust my own perceptions.
It's always good to step outside your time and place to look at the present. I am always glad when my children ask me questions. It reminds me to keep asking them myself.
The following is a Swift Meat commercial from 1949. It has a far more spontaneous and far less glossy feel than what we watch today.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_MYy_XqyKM Sphere: Related Content
Friday, October 23, 2009
I have a co-worker whose conservative politics are combined with an odd sense of humour. On lunch break, the foibles and shortcomings of the Obama administration have provided much material for comedy. One of the hallmarks of the Obama administration has been its appointment of regulatory czars, not subject to congressional approval and able to make life changing decisions by simple decree. My friend is very concerned about the overreaching activities of big government. Recently, there has been news coverage of a government decree limiting executive bonuses. My friend, (I'll call him Ken) thought it was an absurd idea. He felt it set a dangerous precedent for government to regulate even hourly wages.
"I've got to do something" Ken said decisively.
When he said that, I broke into a cold sweat. I never know what kind of crazy idea Ken will come up with. For all I know, he might have had his own distillery in high school, or a chemistry set that you keep in a wall safe. With his sense of humour, I'm not sure how much I want to know about him.
Ken flipped open his cell phone with a decisive air.
"I'm calling the White House." he told me. He had the White House on speed dial.
"What do you want to say?" I asked nervously. I didn't want the secret service kicking down our office door and dragging Ken away, or me for that matter.
"Hello, Is this the White House?' Ken asked. His earnest tone was belied by a mischievous smile.
"I'd like to complain about the price of ice cream." Ken said. "Groceries are getting more expensive. I want to be able to afford ice cream."
I could only hear one end of the conversation. But it seemed as though the operator was being studiously polite.
"I demand that there be an ice cream czar. Someone needs to regulate the cost of ice cream. Right now, the stores can charge whatever they want. Someone has to stop them."
I had a feeling that Ken was goofing. But I just wasn't sure. He listed the various regulatory czars already in office. He had his facts straight. He almost made sense.
When he got back off the phone, he admitted that the White House operator seemed to be holding back laughter and struggling to remain professionally detached.
It is hard to talk very long with Ken without being pulled into his frame of reference. He would have done good in sales, for two reasons.
1) He is very persuasive.
2) A salesman hits the road after a short period of time, so he never has a chance to drive you nuts.
Ken suggested that I call the White House and demand the appointment of an ice cream czar.
"If we're going to have big government micro managing everything, let's go the whole nine yards". he explained to me.
I wrote down the White House phone numbers so I could call later. (White House Comments: 202-456-1111. Switchboard: 202-456-1414.) Maybe we do need an ice cream czar. Fifty seven flavours, fifty seven states... It has a certain symmetry to it. Ken is starting to make sense. I better take a vacation. Sphere: Related Content
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Is equality always a good thing? Women have been legally entitled to vote and to work in a harassment free workplace. It is hard to find fault with that. If barriers between men and women result in less violent behavior by men, I would not quarrel with that. There is no question that society has changed its view of gender roles a lot in the last 30 years or so.
I remember back in the early 60's when Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn costarred in "My Fair Lady, in which an upper crust British professor tried to teach high society manners to a woman of lower class. In one sequence of the musical, he sang the famous song which at the time seemed quaintly absurd. The song was titled "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like A Man?" It showed an idealised picture of manly virtue and a caricatured version of feminine shortcomings. The song would never make it in our times.
Forty five years after "My Fair Lady" we have an answer to the famous song title. It seems that young British women are in significant numbers adopting some of the behavioral norms that have given the Y chromosome a bad name. The British press has come up with the term "ladette", which is a feminisation of "lad" a term used to refer to women who get falling down drunk and become sick and disorderly in public. Apparently these young women have become numerous enough to constitute a trackable phenomenon. The Daily Mail reports as follows on this sociological mutation.
"....experts warned that British schoolgirls are the worst for binge drinking in Europe. The problem is likely to become worse as it becomes more socially acceptable, a conference heard.
Some 648 children under ten were admitted to hospital due to drink between 2003 and 2008.
Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: 'We are more than double our nearest rivals when it comes to women binge drinking. We stand out like sore thumbs.'
He added that many career women were drinking to 'hold their own' with male colleagues at after-work drinking sessions.
Binge drinking among young women hit the headlines again last week when university students across the country took part in organised marathon pub crawls.
Many familiar scenes of debauchery were seen, including half-naked women collapsing on the street."
Is this what equality looks like? What do we become when we attempt to mold human behavior into the contours of a political manifesto? We have tinkered with gender roles and the biochemistry of women. The Catholic News Agency reports as follows on Carl Djerassi, one of the researchers whose discoveries in the early '50's were instrumental in the invention of the modern birth control pill.
The chemist who made a key discovery leading to the invention of the birth control pill has written a commentary calling demographic decline in Europe a “horror scenario” and a “catastrophe” brought on in part by the pill’s invention.
Mr. Carl Djerassi, now 85 years old, was one of three researchers whose formulation of the synthetic progestagen Norethisterone marked a key step in the creation of the first oral contraceptive pill, the Guardian reports.
In a personal commentary in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, Djerassi said his invention is partly to blame for demographic imbalance in Europe. On the continent, he argued, there is now “no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.”
“This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete,” he wrote.
Djerassi focused in the interview on the demographic explosion in Austria. The effects on human behavior and gender roles are an entire unexplored topic.
The pictures from British streets are a wakeup call to the world. What are we becoming? If you would have predicted such behavior back in the 1970's, most people would have laughed it off. But here we are in 2009. Do we like where we are heading? Do we like what we are becoming?
If equality means rising together to higher levels of moral and societal evolution, then I have no problem. If it means equality in the gutter, then count me out.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Doz5w2W-jAY Sphere: Related Content
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Is this the wave of the future? An upscale London department store has now started offering investment grade gold for sale. the Daily Telegraph reports as follows on Harrods of London, a store with an international reputation.
"LONDON luxury goods department store Harrods is moving into the precious metals market with the launch of a service to sell investment-grade gold bullion bars and coins to customers.
Malcolm McLean, general manager of Harrods Bank, told Reuters overnight that the company saw a gap in the market for a well-known retailer to enter the increasingly high-profile gold market.
"We have been very conscious of the fact that there has been an ever increasing amount of interest in the gold market, and in buying investment gold," he said.
"We became very conscious that there is no well-recognised name out there which the general public can turn to and say, I know that name, I trust it, I want to buy from them."
"That is not to say there are not reputable dealers out there - we know there are," he said. "But they don't carry the brand that we do."
Since Monday, Harrods has been selling Swiss-sourced investment grade bars and coins including sovereigns, South African Krugerrands and American Eagles, from the Harrods Bank premises on London's upscale Brompton Road."
Until relatively recently in history, the world's currencies were tied to precious metals. In 1971, former US President Richard Nixon took the US dollar completely off the gold standard, leaving the United States with a fiat currency. A fiat currency is a currency with no backing at all other than "trust me". What assurance do holders of dollars or any other currency have that the currency will not later be printed in some higher quantity? There is none, really. It is for this reason that concrete physical commodities are looking better to those who are fearful that today's dollar that is hard to come by will later be vastly diminished in value. Indeed the Chinese have been buying copper in what some believe is a part of a multifaceted strategy of sidestepping the volatility of fiat currencies.
Before the election, the Democrats were telling us to hurry and approve massive emergency spending to avoid an economic collapse. Unemployment continues to inch up to levels not seen in decades with no relief in site. When communist China tells us that they are fearful of the future of the US dollar, it is time to wake up. There is no transparency surrounding the supply of US dollars. It is beyond the reach of the voters and beyond the reach of Congress.
Perhaps it would be wise for Americans to consider silver and gold as part of their savings strategy. It would be good to see a return to currencies that are backed at least in part by precious metals. The best possible role for government is to create the climate in which citizens are free to generate solutions to the nation's problems. Printing more and more money with no end in sight and no plausible explanation of its value leads nowhere. Old fashioned currency backed by precious metals is plain common sense. It is an idea whose time has come. Sphere: Related Content
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Russia Today reports as follows on a sickening development in Russia.
"A new cemetery has been opened in central Russia, but this one is a bit different from others across the country: The site honors the German soldiers killed in Russia during World War II.
Almost 25,000 Germans have already been buried in a cemetery near the village Besedino in Kursk Region, in a move Russia hopes will be viewed as a sign of reconciliation.
However, the decision to build the cemetery was not easy, the governor of the Kursk region Aleksandr Mikhailov told Vesti TV Channel. He noted that the Nazi occupation of Kursk destroyed over 300 villages in the region, leaving thousands dead or homeless."
Such "reconciliation" is an obscenity. It is not a reconciliation with the German people but with evil itself . If anything, it brings back the dirty secret that many Russians welcomed the Germans as liberators. When the Germans first came in, many Russians thought they would bring relief from the Stalinist Bolshevik terror. Very quickly, it became apparent that the only freedom that the Russians secured under the German occupation was the freedom to kill Jews. Many villages were emptied of Jews in bloody pogroms that often involved covetous locals who wanted the property and homes of their Jewish neighbours. This strain of Jew hatred was deeply ingrained in the Russian psyche, manipulated and used first by the czars and later by the communists.
Monday, October 19, 2009
So Rudy Giuliani is out campaigning for Mike Bloomberg. Even though I would vote for Giuliani in a second if he were running for governor, I will not be taking his advice on voting for Mike Bloomberg. Giuliani has been frightening the public with the spectre of a return to Dinkinsian chaos if Mike Bloomberg is not reelected The New York Times reported as follows on Giuliani's comments.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Mr. Giuliani said at a breakfast sponsored by the Jewish Community Council in Borough Park, Brooklyn. “This city could very easily be taken back in a very different direction — it could very easily be taken back to the way it was with the wrong political leadership.” Mr. Giuliani made his blunt — and to some minds, incendiary — comments a day before Mr. Bloomberg, a two-term incumbent, was scheduled to be endorsed by the city’s largest police officers’ union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, according to two people told of the plans. It would be a big step in his quest to secure the strongest anticrime credentials in the mayor’s race."
I wish Giuliani were listening to the people who voted for him instead of just talking to them. There is an uncomfortable feeling in a lot of areas that crime statistics have been ginned up, and that books have been cooked. People complain of being discouraged from reporting crimes and having crimes classified as less serious offenses than they really are. The same goes for Mike Bloomberg's alleged gains in education. It now turns out that tests in the public schools have been " dumbed down" and that New York City measures very poorly against the nation as a whole. Today's New York Post makes that point as follows.
"Federal test scores this week cast serious doubt on state results that suggest big gains in New York, including in the city. The feds say just 40 percent of fourth graders cut it in math -- not 80 percent, as Albany claims. And only 34 percent of eighth graders are up to snuff -- versus 87 percent, in the state's account. Worse, New York's fourth graders are actually below their level of two years ago on the federal exam, despite huge "gains" on the state test. (City kids' national test results are due next month.) Actually, the state numbers have been suspect for a while: No one seriously believes that 80 percent of students statewide are learning enough to succeed. "
The article goes on to cast the statistics in a more positive light, but on both crime and education, Mike Bloomberg is statrting to sound more like the Henny Youngman joke about touching up the x rays to make the patient feel better.
Mike Bloomberg makes his living packaging information and making it look however he pleases. Bloomberg News was very good training for packaging himself as a good mayor. Mike Bloomberg has learned the art of spin very well.
Rudy Giuliani was a great mayor. I would like to see him as governor. But I have had my eyes and ears wide open during the eight years that Bloomberg has mayor. Rudy Giuliani's endorsement of Mike Bloomberg will not change my opinion of Mike Bloomberg, but it might well change my opinion of Rudy Giuliani's political judgement. Rudy Giuliani is a well paid consultant and speaker. He has been out of touch with the city he once led. I believe he is misguided in attempting to inflict four more years of Bloomberg on New York city. Sphere: Related Content
Saturday, October 17, 2009
A judge in Florida is in hot water for refusing to officiate at the marriage of an interracial couple. He said that his experience with mixed marriages is poor, that a high percentage of them break up due to societal tensions revolving around such relationships. CNN reports as follows on Judge Keith Bardwell of Hammond, Louisiana.
"The actions of a justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple have prompted some top officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, to call for his dismissal.
Jindal said the state judiciary committee should review the incident in which Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward, refused to issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, 30, and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond.
"This is a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law. ... Disciplinary action should be taken immediately -- including the revoking of his license," the Republican governor said.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-Louisiana, said the committee should "use its authority to have Justice Bardwell dismissed from his position.""Not only does [Bardwell's] decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long," she said. "
To me, the legal issues are clear. Any two human beings who are unencumbered by age or marital status may get married. End of story. That's the legal part. It's easy. The societal and psychological angles are another story.
I have a fascination with intermarriage. My mother was raised Catholic. My father was a German Jew of reform background. To them, the rift between the two faiths didn't matter. I had a different take on life. I chose Judaism of the orthodox variety. You can't wish the rules of established faiths away. Love and marriage do not exist in a vacuum.
In our home, marriage within the faith is a logical extension of religious choices that shape and influence our daily life. We don't believe in intermarriage. But how do we define intermarriage. To me, an African American or Chinese Jew who marries into our family is not intermarrying. A white person with a Jewish last name and a non Jewish mother is intermarried if he or she marries a Jew. If a non Jew converts to Judaism according to halacha (Jewish Law) that also is not intermarriage. This is what I believe. It is my business. If I go to an orthodox rabbi, it is also his business. It is not the concern of a civil court judge.
I have known a couple in which the man was American and his wife was German. When he got mad at her, he would call her a Nazi. He was a jerk. The marriage didn't last. It was another type of intermarriage. They could not handle their differences.
I read about a Croatian woman married to a Serbian man. Their respective countries have historical narratives in which the other country is portrayed as criminal and genocidal. It was a pretty stormy marriage. I would not want to be a fly on the wall there. There are people on both sides of that ethnic divide who would consider them to be traitors.
There were marriages in Rwanda between Hutu and Tutsi. When Hutu militias waged a genocidal campaign against the Tutsis, some were stuck in the middle. Some Hutu men were forced to kill Tutsi family members to prove their loyalty.
There are people who would get hot under the collar about a marriage between a Baptist and a Lutheran. Shiites and Sunni Muslims have trouble blending traditions. There are divisions in the world that you just can't wish away. Decent people can decide that they want to perpetuate a blood line, language or faith. And that is nothing to apologise for.
There are a lot of definitions of intermarriage as well as attitudes to it. There are certainly societal attitudes towards it that will seep into many marriages. If someone uses racial epithets or invokes race to demean their spouse, then they are scum. But there are people like that, and it is a good idea to see if a prospective spouse can handle society's attitudes.
I feel the same way about a judge lecturing me about mixed race marriages as I do about Mike Bloomberg telling me about smoking or what to keep in my refrigerator. I have a doctor and a rabbi. I mostly (kind of sort of) listen to both, except for maybe cussing , chocolate chip cookies and a bit more beer and caffeine than would seem advisable.
Judge Bardwell has, I presume a degree in law. I do not believe he is racist. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. What he said would have been perfectly acceptable to voice in his living room. Had he doubled as a clergyman, he could have invited them to his chapel for a frank talk. But he had no right to refuse to perform the marriage as a justice of the peace. As a lawyer he should have known that. For a judge, he displayed a lack of judgement. He should apologise to Beth Humphrey and Terrence McKay, not for his opinion, but for failure to respect Humphrey and McKay's right as adults to decide what is best for them. I hope the couple is married by now. And I wish them well.
The picture above is of Mildred and Richard Loving who were arrested in 1958 for violating a Virginia law banning interracial marriages. The Supreme Court struck down the law that banned their marriage in 1967 Sphere: Related Content
Friday, October 16, 2009
I knew that the American Northeast is soft on crime, but it seems that the rot is spreading. The North Carolina prison system is releasing twenty prisoners who have accumulated a total of 256 infractions. We think of infractions as things like like not feeding the parking meter or sneaking bottles into the regular trash. In prison, "infractions" are usually plain old crimes, often heinous felonies.
The prisoners scheduled to be released this month owe their freedom to a lawsuit filed by double murderer Bobby Bowden, who challenged a law defining a life sentence as 80 years. The court decision cut life sentences in half and resulted in the application of "time off for good behavior" and a laundry list of other sentencing reductions.
Who is being released, and what did they do? Associated Press reports as follows.
"Bowden had argued before the Court of Appeals in 2008 that he had accumulated 210 days of good conduct credit, 753 days of meritorious credit, and 1,537 days of gain time credit. But the 60-year-old has also racked up 17 infractions in prison, including two for weapon possession, one for damaging property and several for disobeying orders.
Others have equally long rapsheets: William Baggett, a 60-year-old convicted of a 1976 murder in Sampson County, got a fighting infraction last year - his fifth fighting offense while behind bars. Kenneth Mathis, a 55-year-old who went to prison in 1976 after forcing a woman into the woods and raping her, has had three sex infractions in prison. He was accused in 2005 of assaulting an inmate with the intent to commit a sexual act."
It is clear that extremely violent prisoners are playing the system. A guy who is used to shanking someone who looks at him funny is likely to have anger management issues on the outside.
There is a very easy solution to violent prisoners. Treat all prisoners like citizens and human beings. That means that they should expect to be treated like human beings and to accord such treatment to others. A prisoner who extorts canteen money from a weaker prisoner should be convicted of the same crime he would be convicted of if he extorted money in Scarsdale or Beverley Hills. The term "infraction" should be trashed. The proper word is "crime". There should be courts holding session in prison for crimes committed in prison. The sentencing should be as severe as those given on the "outside". And guys like Kenneth Mathis should be getting consecutive sentences for crimes committed in prison.
Enforcing civility in prison is a prerequisite to rehabilitation. If it means hiring more guards or redesigning prison space, then do it. We will pay one way or the other.
There will be a majority who will welcome peace and safety. But there will be a minority of prisoners who are hooked on violence. They will need to be isolated in prisons designed to keep guards and less violent prisoners safe. Supermax prisons such as the one in Florence, Colorado or Marion Illinois might be good places for the minority of truly dangerous prisoners. Perhaps some demonstrably incorrigible prisoners should be executed.
Sentences are handed out to reflect public concern and indignation There is nothing wrong with judicially tempered revenge. Giving the force of law to righteous indignation helps keep society safe.
It might be desirable to expand our use of alternatives to prison. Enforced restitution and residence in therapeutic communities might be far more suitable for non violent offenders and those with substance abuse problems. Rehabilitation and restitution are not always best accomplished in prison.
Seeing prisoners as human beings means judging them by the same standards we judge ourselves. Distorting moral clarity by using words like "infraction" is an insult to the humanity of prisoners who must live with the climate of violence that we tacitly cultivate.
I am not optomistic about the North Carolina prisoners due to be released this month. It is probably a matter of time before they rob, rape or kill again. If we cared about these men when they were behind bars and took their offenses there seriously, we would not be discussing this latest menace to public safety. The crimes that will likely be committed by the violent men due to be released in North Carolina are predictable and preventable . When we as a society nurse the wounds of recidivism, it should be borne in mind that they are self inflicted. It is time for this to change. Sphere: Related Content
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Where is America and its culture loved and admired? In the Czech Republic, formerly of Czechoslovakia, American democracy was an inspiration when Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918. The choice of red, white and blue was a conscious expression of admiration for America's political system and the desire to exchange the Austro Hungarian monarchy for a republican form of government. Czechoslovakia has had little respite from foreign domination since it was founded in 1918. From 1938 until 1945, it was dismembered and occupied by Nazi Germany. After a brief respite at the end of World War Two, the Soviets established the Socialist Republic of Czechoslovakia as a puppet state.
Not surprisingly, Czechoslovakia's strong cultural and political affinity to the US and to western ideals persisted. Amazingly enough, Czechs and Slovaks are avid fans of country music. The first country music station in Europe was established in the Czech Republic. The link to it is here, if you want to listen to round the clock Czech country music. A real artist can not simply copy a painting. Something of his or her soul shines through in imitation. A lot of Czech country music accomplishes this very well, becoming as thoroughly Czech as it is evocative of Americana.
I found it very moving to Bruce Springsteen's "My Home Town" sung in Czech by Pavel Bobek. The theme of longing for home and some permanence in the environment carries over very well into other tongues. Bobek, who is probably among the better known country singers in the Czech Republic. His rendition of "Take me Home Country Roads" by John Denver is right on target. He and his backup singers create the atmosphere of an American live country music performance very well.
Bobek was born in 1937 and trained originally as an architect. He performed on the Supraphon record label, which was the state record label during the communist years. His career started in the 60's and has enjoyed strong popularity since the fall of communism.
It is heartening to feel the fondness for America that is so common in the Czech Republic. Seeing what the Czechs see in America and its cultural treasures gives me a deeper appreciation of America. This resonates all the more profoundly at a time in history when hate for America is so commonly and vocally expressed.
American country music truly showcases the beauty of the English language. "Two of a Kind and Working on a Full House" is a song title that would never work in any other language. High Cost of Low Living" and Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart are some other classic titles. I'm sure the Czechs have likewise done great things combining the Czech language with the country genre.
When I listen to Czech country music, the world sounds like a far friendlier place. I hope that my readers will check it out as well.
Pavel Bobek "Country Boy
Pavel Bobek Take Me Home Country Roads
Pavel Bobek "Country Boy by Don Williams
Crazy country song titles Sphere: Related Content
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
For years, the Eurovision song contest has been a major event in Europe, in which singers from across Europe compete and showcase their talent. Over 100 million viewers tune in, despite the criticism of some that the contest promotes kitschy and shallow music.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed such a contest which would center on Chinese and Central Asian musical talent. He proposed the name "Intervision", which is a name that would probably not offend anyone.
There is a whole galaxy of music out beyond Europe and America's borders. When India and the USSR signed in 1971, it had the concrete affect of creating a market in the former USSR for Indian moves, which combine romance, action and beauty with fairly strict rules about showing flesh. What truly marked the Taliban as intolerant fanatics was not banning American movies, but when they banned "Bollywood" movies from Bombay, the Hollywood of India.
There is a vibrant pop music scene in China. Iran has made award winning films that are popular not only in Iran but in Afghanistan and beyond, where languages related to Persian are spoken. I do not like the idea of Russia and China teaming up, but if Putin succeeds in shining a spotlight on music from the Chinese, Turkic, Iranian and other language groups of Asia, I will be very happy.
My preliminary nomination for "Best Female Vocalist from Former Soviet Asia" would go to Nigora Kholova, who achieved childhood stardom much as did Tanya Tucker back in the early 1970's. Kholova sings in Tajik, Farsi and other languages of her region. Recent videos of her music have proven that her talent will last well past childhood and hopefully into a lifelong career.
Sound tracks for Chinese music are also an entire category. Vietnam has 90 million people and a great pop scene Bollywood is a genre with a worldwide following. In Israel, there is a full time Bollywood channel that is watched by an audience comprised of Arabs, Russians and Jews from Arab countries. The cultural treasures in the combined Russian and Chinese domain of interest are vast and enchanting. If "Intervision" succeeds in bringing to world attention the music of Asia, it will prove a worthy counterpart to the Eurovision contest.
When I was a child, sushi was unheard of. Today it is a household word. Falafel has also conquered large areas in the west. Who knows what treasures await us from Central Asia? The political landscape that is unfolding in Asia is bewildering in its complexity at a time when leadership in Europe and America is sorely lacking. If "Intervision" arises from our complex and troubled times, we will be fortunate indeed.
Borat Sagdiev, was a satirical character who put a Kazakhstan on the map that has no relationship to the reality on the ground. Perhaps now, Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and other parts of formerly Soviet Asia will have an image of their own creation. I look forward to seeing this process unfold.
I am also including the following link to Mera Joota Hai Japani, a classic song from Shree 420, one of the films that made Raj Kapoor a famous Bollywood star. This particular song clip has English subtitles. Some of its words would make it a worthy inspiration for an international song contest.
"My shoes are Japanese. My trousers are English. The cap on my head is Russian. But my heart is Indian."
Well said. Thank you Raj Kapoor.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZTmPRvW-f4&feature=related Sphere: Related Content
Monday, October 12, 2009
There are certain landmarks that should be preserved because of their historical value. Following are some accepted sites that "belong to the ages."
1) When I was a child, a lot of places in Boston were landmarks of the American Revolution. The Old North Church, Faneuil Hall and the site of the Boston Massacre were among the sites that comprise the Freedom Trail, a popular course of landmarks for tourists and history buffs.
2) The South also does a good job of preserving its history. I visited a slave market in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a bleak and sad feeling to stroll through what used to be a site where humans were bought and sold and to reflect upon how different the City of Charleston must have looked to those who were being auctioned off.
3) The Tuol Sleng internment center in Pnom Penh, Cambodia was one of the many sites where the Khmer Rouge perpetrated the Cambodian Genocide, an event in which over a million Cambodians were killed for" crimes" that could be as trivial as wearing glasses, which was considered a sign of being a member of the intelligentsia.
4) Many visit concentration camps to pay respect to relatives who were murdered there. When I visited Dachau, I was remembering a great uncle who was murdered there and the genocide network that was part of the attempt to wipe out the Jewish people as well as Romany,religious and political dissidents from the various occupied countries.
5) The Berlin Wall was a monument to the failure of communism for as long as it stood. It was bizarre to see the Wall cutting across subway tracks and to see an entire side of an apartment building bricked up.
Landmarks can be quiet places such as the Roosevelt summer home in Campobello, New Brunswick or they can be somber and tearful places such as Babi Yar in Ukraine, in which the ground was literally soaked with the blood of Jews who were murdered there by the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators. It remains to be seen whether the Russians will turn Lubyanka Prison and other sites in the Soviet prison network into places of memorial.
There is a site that I used to pass through daily on my way to work. It was the South Bronx. I used to hear fond reminiscing from people who had lived there up until the 1950's. It was a network of vibrant communities. But when I passed through, it was a bleak landscape that was every bit as desolate as the site of the London Blitzkrieg in 1940, when the Nazis had hoped to bomb the British into submission.
Despite their visual similarity, bombed out London and the burned out Bronx came to their bleak appearance through vastly different routes. No one ever attempted to conquer and annex the South Bronx to another country. The South Bronx was an example of well intentioned but disastrously awful legislation.
Back in the 1940's rent control was instituted in New York City. large numbers of apartments had their rent frozen at 1943 price levels. By the 1960's many buildings were simply abandoned by owners who lost money for every month that they owned such a property. Many buildings were stripped and then put to the torch for insurance money. Before rent control was instituted, there was a housing surplus. I spoke with old timers who told me of times when landlords would offer one, two or three months rent to prospective tenants. Despite its compassionate motivation, rent control and rent stabilisation laws have actually created the very suffering they were meant to alleviate.
What is the solution? Repealing all forms of rent regulation in New York City would lead to a stamped of avarice in which the working class would be squeezed and trampled. It would be far better for the government to recognise its power and to offer tax breaks for construction of moderate income housing. While the government can not solve every problem, it can not pretend that it itself does not exist. Laws governing commerce are a fact of life. Those who make such laws should recognise this and tread lightly and wisely.
We are in the first year of a presidential administration with an activist philosophy. The heavy hand of government in economic recovery and health care is highly visible. America's friends have voiced their concern. China has counselled fiscal prudence and France has pleaded for steely resolve. The dollar has fallen steeply in what is perhaps the most eloquent voice of "no confidence" in our chosen economic course.
As we debate economic and health legislation, it would be wise for Congress to deliberate in New York City, which was after all our nation's first capital from 1785 to 1790. But Congress should not deliberate on Wall St. as it did in America's early days, but in the South Bronx. There should be no grand classical architecture underscoring the gravitas of our elected leaders. It would be far better for them to meet in the shell of a burned out ruin to serve as a sobering reminder of the havoc wreaked by bad legislation and its costs to common folk.
The South Bronx is at least as vivid a backdrop of our nation's history as is the Freedom Trail or any battlefield in or beyond our borders. Although no one died there for our freedom, in a ral sense, many died there of our mistakes. As we stand at the threshhold of troubled times, we should be mindful that there is a past to guide us into the future. We would be well served by leaders who remember our past and wish to learn from it. A walk through the South Bronx would serve that purpose well. Sphere: Related Content