Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

Protesters Bring Missiles to Ground Zero

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

With a closeup of the sign:

Rachel Slajda of Talking Points Memo reports that the missiles seen being dragged around Ground Zero have been donated by an ad agency that recommissions missiles for advertising purposes.

One of the websites listed on the missiles – WhatDoYouMakeOfThis.com — is an error-filled diatribe by the owner of the ad agency, JetAngel, Arye Sachs. He repeats a number of the errors I tried to correct in my piece on “Fighting the Lies, Damned Lies, and Paranoia” about Cordoba House. On the positive side, the poll on his site shows majority support for what he insists on calling the ‘Ground Zero Mosque.”

Can we agree that the circus atmosphere and blatant bigotry of these protests disrespects the sacred ground near Ground Zero far more than a community center and mosque run by a patriotic Sufi Muslim?

[First set of images found on LGF; second image on Gawker by Mark Borden of Fast Company.]

Must-Reads of the Week: The IRA, Journalism, Unsavory Profits, Bipartisanship, and the Tyranny of New York

Friday, May 21st, 2010

1. Double Agents in the IRA. I recently came across an excellent article by Matthew Teague in The Atlantic about the British counterintelligence program and the IRA. It’s from 2006, but still engrossing.

2. Restoring Journalism. Maureen Tkacik talks about her life as a journalist, the nothing-based economy, and the future of journalism:

If journalism’s more vital traditions of investigating corruption and synthesizing complex topics are going to be restored, it will never be at the expense of the personal, the sexual, the venal, or the sensational, but rather through mastering the kind of storytelling that understands that none of those things exists in a vacuum. For instance, perhaps the latest political sex scandal is not simply another installment of the unrelenting narcissism and sense of invincibility of people in power. Most of the journalists writing about it have—as we all do—some understanding of the internal conflicts that lead to personal failure. By humanizing journalism, we maybe can begin to develop a mutual trust between reader and writer that would benefit both.

What I’m talking about is, of course, a lot easier to do with the creative liberties afforded a blog—one’s humanity is inescapable when one commits to blogging all day for a living.

The piece is long, and worth every word. (H/t to John Cantwell.)

3. The Papacy, Blumenthal, and Now Goldman Sachs. The New York Times took on Goldman Sachs earlier this week with a look at the perfectly legal but unsavory practices it uses to make money:

Transactions entered into as the mortgage market fizzled may turn out to have been perfectly legal. Nevertheless, they have raised concerns among investors and analysts about the extent to which a variety of Wall Street firms put their own interests ahead of their clients’.

“Now it’s all about the score. Just make the score, do the deal. Move on to the next one. That’s the trader culture,” said Cornelius Hurley, director of the Morin Center for Banking and Financial Law at Boston University and former counsel to the Federal Reserve Board. “Their business model has completely blurred the difference between executing trades on behalf of customers versus executing trades for themselves. It’s a huge problem.”

4. Erroneous Assumptions. Matt Yglesias concisely summarizes what left-leaning advocates of bipartisanship have found time and again:

Oftentimes people reach the conclusions that conservatives might support this or that by the erroneous method of pretending that conservatives believe in the stated reasons for their policy positions. It seems to me that private views of wonks aside in practice the conservative political movement simply opposes anything that would increase government revenue and/or be bad for rich people.

5. The Tyranny of New York (cont). Continued from last week, many voices around the interwebs weighed in on the conversation started by Conor Friedersdorf on the tyranny of New York in media and culture. There’s a lot of good pieces to read on this — but the 2 I will recommend are this response in the New Yorker by Amy Davidson and this follow-up by Friedersdorf himself.  Davidson, as an aside mentions an E. B. White essay “Here Is New York” that I now need to read:

(Friedersdorf mentions “living vicariously through” E. B. White, who once wrote that there were three New Yorks, that of the native, the commuter, and the newcomer from smaller American places, and that “Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal…Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.” But I’ve never really bought that, as matchless as many of White’s descriptions of the city are, maybe because, as a native, I feel no shortage of passion, and don’t much like being called solid. And, again, for many of the most interesting newcomers, this is an entry point to America, not the “final destination.”)

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of the Week: SWAT, Google’s News Plans, MTA Motto, Peanuts, Tea Party Feminism, Republican Pravda, Fiscal Hangover, New York’s Tyranny, Brooks on the Military, and Facebook Backlash

Friday, May 14th, 2010

1. SWAT antics. Radley Balko does some follow-up reporting on the now infamous video of the SWAT team raid in Missouri in which 2 dogs were shot:

[D]espite all the anger the raid has inspired, the only thing unusual thing here is that the raid was captured on video, and that the video was subsequently released to the press. Everything else was routine… Raids just like the one captured in the video happen 100-150 times every day in America.

2. Google’s News Plans. James Fallows discusses how Google is trying to save the news industry.

3. If you see something… Manny Fernandez in the New York Times discusses the impact and coinage of the ubiquitous phrase, “If you see something, say something.”

It has since become a global phenomenon — the homeland security equivalent of the “Just Do It” Nike advertisement — and has appeared in public transportation systems in Oregon, Texas, Florida, Australia and Canada, among others. Locally, the phrase captured, with six simple words and one comma, the security consciousness and dread of the times, the “I ♥ NY” of post-9/11 New York City. [my emphasis]

4. Artful Grief. Bill Waterson — creator of Calvin & Hobbes — reviewed a biography of Charles Schultz for the Wall Street Journal a few years ago — writing on the ‘Grief’ that Made Peanuts Good. It’s several years old but well worth reading.

5. Tea Party Feminism. Hanna Rosin of Slate evaluates the Tea Party as a feminist movement. And her reporting surprised me at least.

6. Republican Pravda. Jonathan Chait collects a few Weekly Standard covers to illustrate the changing right-wing portrayal of Obama over the past year. He identifies the passage of the health care bill as a turning point:

Now that Obama has won his biggest legislative priority and is closing in on at least one other important win, the tone is change. The hapless patsy has become the snarling bully. The lack of Republican support for Obama’s agenda, once a credit to Republican tough-mindedness, is now blamed upon Obama’s stubbornness. Here is a recent cover of Obama–the nefarious, but powerful, overseer…

7. Fiscal Hangover. Gillian Tett of the Financial Times explains the successful approach the Irish are taking to their fiscal crisis: treat it like a hangover.

8. The Tyranny of New York. Conor Friedersdof complains about the tyranny of New York — but I will excerpt his praise:

Even if New York is a peerless American city, an urban triumph that dwarfs every other in scale, density, and possibility; even if our idea of it is the romantic notion that Joan Didion described, “the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself;” even if you’ve reveled in the fact of the city, strutting down Fifth Avenue in a sharp suit or kissing a date with the skyline as backdrop while the yellow cab waits; even if you’ve drunk from the well of its creative springs, gazing at the Flatiron Building, or paging through the New York Review of Books on a Sunday morning, or living vicariously through Joseph Mitchel or E.B. White or Tom Wolfe or any of its countless chroniclers; even if you love New York as much as I do, revering it as the highest physical achievement of Western Civilization, surely you can admit that its singularly prominent role on the national scene is a tremendously unhealthy pathology.

Despite the rent, the cold, the competition, the bedbugs, the absurd requirements for securing even a closet-sized pre-war apartment on an inconvenient street; the distance from friends and family, the starkness of the sexual marketplace, the oppressive stench of sticky subway platforms in the dog days of August; despite the hour long commutes on the Monday morning F Train, when it isn’t quite 8 am, the week hardly underway, and already you feel as though, for the relief of sitting down, you’d just as soon give up, go back to Akron or Allentown or Columbus or Marin County or Long Beach — despite these things, and so many more, lawyers and novelists and artists and fashion designers and playwrights and journalists and bankers and aspiring publishers and models flock to New York City.

I don’t quite get Friedersdof’s complaint to be honest. What would be improved if there were more sitcoms taking place in Houston?

9. Military Flow Chart. David Brooks analyzes the military’s adaptation of counterinsurgency as a case study in the flow of ideas in entrenched organizations.

10. Facebook Backlash. Ryan Singel of Wired has one of many pieces in the past week fomenting the growing Facebook backlash:

Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed.

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of the Week: American Power, Inequality, 1 Billion Heartbeats, Hacking Life, Anthora Cups, Structural Deficit, Financial Doomsedays and Crises, China, the Tea Party’s Views on Immigration, and Lady Gaga

Friday, April 30th, 2010

There were a lot of good articles and posts I came across this week — so brace yourself…

1. The American Power Act. David Brooks makes the case for progressive reform — specifically the American Power Act regarding climate change:

When you read that history, you’re reminded that large efforts are generally plagued by stupidity, error and corruption. But by the sheer act of stumbling forward, it’s possible, sometimes, to achieve important things…The energy revolution is a material project that arouses moral fervor — exactly the sort of enterprise at which Americans excel.

Matt Yglesias had earlier this week critiqued Brooks (among others) for taking the exact opposite stance of the one he was adopting here:

Oftentimes in the Obama Era the difference between “reasonable” conservatives (David Brooks and Greg Mankiw often leading the charge) and reasonable liberals has been that reasonable liberals look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and support it while “reasonable” conservatives look at flawed legislation that would improve on the status quo and oppose it, while claiming to support alternative flawed proposals that they don’t actually lift a finger to organize support for within their own ideological faction.

2. Inequality, social mobility, and the American Dream. The Economist had a good piece that can serve as a starting point for a post I’ll be writing soon on inequality, social mobility, and the American dream:

The evidence is that America does offer opportunity; but not nearly as much as its citizens believe.

Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.

3. The Science of Life. Jonah Lehrer for Seed magazine has a brilliant piece on how cities are like living organisms. As a side matter, he notes this beautifully poignant data point:

[A]n animal’s lifespan can be roughly calculated by raising its mass to the 1/4 power. Heartbeats scale in the opposite direction, so that bigger animals have a slower pulse. The end result is that every living creature gets about a billion heartbeats worth of life. Small animals just consume their lives faster.

4. Fine-tuning life. Gary Wolf for the New York Times Magazine explains how the accessibility of computers is creating data about every aspect of our lives — and of the efforts of some people to begin to catalog and find insights in their own data. Surprisingly, Lifehacker was never mentioned.

5. The Anthora Cup. Margalit Fox of the New York Times writes the obituary for Leslie Buck, the designer of the Anthora cup:

It was for decades the most enduring piece of ephemera in New York City and is still among the most recognizable. Trim, blue and white, it fits neatly in the hand, sized so its contents can be downed in a New York minute. It is as vivid an emblem of the city as the Statue of Liberty, beloved of property masters who need to evoke Gotham at a glance in films and on television.

6. Unified Theory of the Financial Crisis. Ezra Klein synthesizes various narratives into a unified theory of the financial crisis.

7. The Structural Deficit. Donald B. Marron provides a coherent and reality-based conservative look at America’s structural deficit. Absolutely a Must-Read.

8. The Financial Doomsday Machine. Martin Wolf dedicated his column in the Financial Times last week to describe the “financial doomsday machine“:

[T]he financial sector has become bigger and riskier. The UK case is dramatic, with banking assets jumping from 50 per cent of GDP to more than 550 per cent over the past four decades…The combination of state insurance (which protects creditors) with limited liability (which protects shareholders) creates a financial doomsday machine. What happens is best thought of as “rational carelessness”. Its most dangerous effect comes via the extremes of the credit cycle.

9. Realism on China. Stephen Walt explains his take on China’s strategic ambitions — and its inevitable rivalry with the United States and other regional powers.

10. The Tea Party & Immigration. Radley Balko explains his take on the widespread support among the Tea Party for the massive government power grab that is Arizona’s new immigration law:

It also makes a mockery of the media narrative that these are gathering of anti-government extremists. Seems like in may parts of the country they’re as pro-government as the current administration, just pro-their kind of government.

Coincidentally, I made that exact point about the Tea Party back in September 2009 entitled: These Protests Aren’t Against Big Government, But About Liberals Running the Government.

Andrew Sullivan piles on:

Worse, on the fiscal front, they’re total frauds. They have yet to propose any serious cuts in entitlements and want far more money poured into the military-imperial complex. In rallies, the largely white members in their fifties and older seem determined to get every penny of social security and Medicare. They are a kind of boomer revolt – but on the other side of that civil conflict, and no longer a silent majority. In fact, they’re now the minority that won’t shut up.

More and more, this feels to me like an essentially cultural revolt against what America is becoming: a multi-racial, multi-faith, gay-inclusive, women-friendly, majority-minority country.

11. Sovereign Debt Crisis. Felix Salmon and Paul Krugman are both very pessimistic about how Greece will get out of this crisis — and what it means for the global economy.

12. Lady Gaga’s Ambition. Brendan Sullivan for Esquire chronicles the life and ambitions of Lady Gaga:

“There is a musical government, who decides what we all get to hear and listen to. And I want to be one of those people.” The girl who said that didn’t yet have the number-one hits (although she had already written most of them).

She was not yet the creative director of the Haus of Gaga, which is what she calls the machine of more than a hundred creative people who work for her. She didn’t make that statement in an interview or from the stage. She made it in 2007, when she was a go-go dancer sewing her own outfits and I was her DJ. She wrote it in one of my notebooks…

Lady Gaga is a student of fame, and the fame she studies most is her own — being famous seems to both amuse and fascinate her.

[1st image by me; 2nd image by LarindaME licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Diabolical Republicans, Strategic Patience, Weiner, China, New York City, -20 Questions, & Glenn Beck’s Obsession With Woodrow Wilson

Friday, April 16th, 2010

1. Diabolical Republicans. Noam Scheiber in The New Republic explains how the “diabolical” plan the Republicans have adopted to achieve their fiscal ends (discussed on this blog here) may backfire:

Ever since George W. Bush massively cut taxes back in 2001, squandering much of the $5.6 trillion, ten-year surplus he inherited from Bill Clinton, liberals have assumed that the fiscal game was rigged. Conservatives had been explicit about their starve-the-beast strategy—the practice of creating large deficits through tax cuts in order to force future spending cuts…

“Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state,” Krugman wrote. “So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe.”

…I suspect…that Republicans believe precipitating a fiscal crisis will force Democrats to roll back entitlement spending (i.e., Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), which would be both politically unpopular and the realization of the right’s dearest policy fantasy. It’s an altogether brilliant, if diabolical, plan. Except for one minor flaw: There’s a good chance it could vaporize the GOP.

2. Strategic Patience in the Face of Long-Term Problems. David S. Broder, eminence of the press establishment, apostle of bipartisanship at all costs, proponent of convention, seems to have finally come around to Obama with this trenchant observation:

We are beginning to learn that the Obama presidency will be an era of substantial but deferred accomplishments — perhaps always to be accompanied by a sense of continuing crisis. His vaunted “cool” allows him to wait without impatience and to endure without visible despair. It asks the same of his constituents.

The backdrop of the serious long-term issues facing America is precisely what made Obama’s election so important in the first place — as this blog repeatedly argued. David Rothkopf put the matter in a wide-angled perspective:

[T]he reason the health care reform bill is important is not because it was the first major such piece of social legislation in the U.S. in decades, but rather because it represents the first in what will become by necessity an on-going series of efforts to fix deep and serious defects in the American economy. In a decade or two, this legislation is like to be seen by Americans as the beginning of a lengthy, brutal and spasmodic process to cut deficits and restore America’s leadership prospects in the global economy.

3. Answering Sarah Palin. Anthony Weiner meanwhile has arisen as the Democrat’s answer to Sarah Palin and our sensationalized media moment. (Others might argue for Alan Grayson.)

4. Chinese Predictions. Gordon G. Chang, for World Affairs, explains his argument for why the Beijing consensus cannot last and its power will soon begin to wane.

5. New York’s Neighborhoods. Nate Silver, baseball statistician and political polling expert, turned his skills to rating New York’s neighborhoods. Really interesting for locals.

6. Negative 20 Questions. Jason Kottke describes a game that “resembles quantum physics.”

7. Glenn Beck’s Woodrow Wilson Obsession. David Frum puzzles on why Glenn Beck focuses so much on Woodrow Wilson as the beginning point of all things progressive and source of evils in the modern world. There are so many more logical choices, more progressive historical figures of greater note who are more closely aligned to contemporary progressivism. And then he answers his own question:

Here’s a president who took the United States into a very controversial war, ending in an unsatisfactory peace. In response to a domestic terrorist threat, culminating in a deadly attack in lower Manhattan, this president adopted draconian domestic security policies. Oh – and his administration concluded with an abrupt plunge into severe recession.

Any parallels come to mind?

What’s taking place on Glenn Beck’s show is a coy conservative self-conversation. Maybe it’s because I’m in China now, but it reminds me of the way Chinese intellectuals in the late 1970s would discuss the first Qin emperor, as a way of debating – and denouncing – Mao Zedong without explicitly mentioning a sensitive subject.

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of the Week: Nukes, Inconsistencies, Graphing the Economic Crisis, Half-Hookers, Palin 2012, Mailer’s Wife, & Complex Business Models

Friday, April 9th, 2010

1. Nukes. Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan both make the same point: Obama’s nuclear policy is the fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s vision:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
www.thedailyshow.com

2. Inconsistencies. Matt Yglesias:

The main difference between left and right with regard to property rights is simply that the right is invested in a lot of rhetoric about markets and property rights and the left is invested in different historical and rhetorical tropes.

… Formally, the right is committed to ideas about free markets and the left is committed to ideas about economic equality. But in practice, political conflict much more commonly breaks down around “some stuff some businessmen want to do” vs “some stuff businessmen hate” rather than anything about markets or property rights per se…

Or if you look at the energy sector, you’ll see that businessmen want to push property rights for the stuff that’s in the ground (coal, oil, whatever) and a commons model for the stuff (particulates, CO2) that’s in the air. You can call that “inconsistent” if you like, but obviously it’s perfectly consistent with what coal and oil executives want! And those industries are the most loyal supporters of “right” politics around.

3. Graphing the Economic Crisis. Ezra Klein puts out some interesting graphs about the economic crisis and nascent recovery including this one:

Klein explains:

This graph is a political problem for the Obama administration (if not, in the short-term, an economic problem). But it is also necessary for all the other graphs. The bank rescue, which added temporarily to the deficit, stabilized the stock market and set the stage for its recovery. The stimulus, which also added to the deficit, helped moderate the job losses and and has contributed to recent gains. You could’ve made the lines on this graph better, but only by letting the lines on the other graphs get worse.

4. Half-hookers. Lisa Taddeo for New York magazine writes about the burgeoning half-hooker culture which exists in a bizarre alternate reality existing so close to our own where celebrities and finance guys get their women:

The general-admission crowds dance, and the table crowds dance a little more woodenly, a little more entitledly, with their finger pads on their tables. The promoters are dancing with the models and the waitresses are dancing with the bottles and everybody finds a place on the floor.

The floor people, they are just to fill the place up. The celebrities and the athletes and the tycoons are the ones for whom this world is zealously designed. A rung below in after-work pinstripes are the money guys, the Deutsche guys and the Goldman guys and the no-name hedge-fund guys—the “whales”—guys like that one over there in a Boss suit and John Lobb shoes, standing beside the table that cost him $3,000. Standing very close to it, like a Little Leaguer who wants to steal second but has never done it before. This gentleman’s not dancing, but he’s thinking about it.

There’s quite a lot to the article. A fascinating piece of reporting.

5. Palin 2012. Chris Bowers makes the argument for why Sarah will win if she runs.

6. Mailer’s Wife. Alex Witchell profiles Norris Church Mailer, Norman Mailer’s final wife, whose story moved me as I read of it:

John Buffalo Mailer [stepson of Norris:] “People are their best selves and worst selves intermittently,” he told me, “and the best marriages navigate that ride over the hurt, which I believe they did right to the end. They both had options, and at the end of the day the life they created together won out over infidelity, illness and hard times…”

7. Complex Business Models. Clay Shirsky:

One of the interesting questions about Tainter’s thesis is whether markets and democracy, the core mechanisms of the modern world, will let us avoid complexity-driven collapse, by keeping any one group of elites from seizing unbroken control. This is, as Tainter notes in his book, an open question. There is, however, one element of complex society into which neither markets nor democracy reach—bureaucracy.

Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it’s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.

Read the rest.

[Image by me.]

Must-Reads of Last Week: Data Warfare, Gay Rights, McCaughey, Summers, and Yankee Tickets

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Data Warfare. Marc Ambinder got hold of Catalist’s after-action report on the 2008 elections – describing how effective the Democrats were in pushing their voters to vote. According to the report, the combination of the effectiveness of data targeting and the pull of Obama’s candidacy made the difference in at least four states: Ohio, Florida, Indiana in North Carolina.

Gay Rights. Andrew Sullivan takes on the Weekly Standard‘s arguments in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and continues his crusade to push the gay rights movement to agitate for change instead of simple accepting leaders who make the right noises. He continued over the weekend:

The president wasn’t vilified on the streets on Sunday as he has been recently. We are not attacking the president; we are simply demanding he do what he promised to do and supporting the troops who do not have the luxury of deciding to wait before they risk their lives for us.

We know it isn’t easy; but the Democrats need to know we weren’t kidding. You cannot summon these forces and then ask them to leave the stage. We won’t.

Remember: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Not him, us.

A Professional Health-Care Policy Liar. Ezra Klein recommends: “Michelle Cottle’s take down of professional health-care policy liar Betsy McCaughey is deservedly vicious and unabashedly welcome.” The entire article is illuminating, but I want to point out Cottle’s nice summary of McCaughey’s brilliance at debate:

Ironically, her familiarity with the data, combined with her unrecognizable interpretation of it, makes it nearly impossible to combat McCaughey’s claims in a traditional debate. Her standard m.o. (as “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart recently experienced) is to greet each bit of contradictory evidence by insisting that her questioner is poorly informed and should take a closer look at paragraph X or footnote Z. When those sections don’t support her interpretation, she continues to throw out page numbers and footnotes until the mountain of data is so high as to obscure the fact that none of the numbers add up to what she has claimed.

But it is Klein, in recommending the article that gets at the heart of why McCaughey is so effective:

She’s among the best in the business at the Big Lie: not the dull claim that health-care reform will slightly increase the deficit or trim Medicare Advantage benefits, but the claim that it will result in Death Panels that decide the fate of the elderly, or a new model of medical ethics in which the lives of the old are sacrificed for the good of the young, or a government agency that will review the actions of every doctor. McCaughey isn’t just a liar. She’s anexciting liar.

Summers. Ryan Lizza profiles Larry Summers for the New Yorker. Read the piece. This excerpt isn’t typical of the approach of the Obama team that the article describes, but it touches on something I plan on picking up later:

Summers opened with a tone of skepticism: The future of activist government was at stake, he warned. If Obama’s programs wasted money, they would discredit progressivism itself. “I would have guessed that bailing out big banks was going to be unpopular, and bailing out real companies where people work was going to be popular,” he said. “But I was wrong. They were both unpopular. There’s a lot of suspicion around. Why this business but not that business? Is this industrial policy? Is this socialism? Why is the government moving in?”

Noblesse oblige. Wright Thompson for ESPN explains the reason for the exorbitant prices and examines their affect on the loyalty of longtime fans. The article provides a close-up view of the  of the corrosive effect of the concentration of wealth and Wall Street culture – and how it destroys what the very things it enriches.

The Mayor’s Filthy Salt Habit

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Mayor Bloomberg launched a health initiative last year aimed at reducing the city’s salt consumption leading to such memorable headlines as the New York Post‘s:

BLOOMY TO NYC: HOLD THE SALT

The other New York rag, the Daily News, quoted Bloomberg on the new salt initiative:

People are eating too much salt, me included. After this, we can keep going. People don’t like to have somebody come in and tell them what to do, but afterward, if it turns out to be something that’s in their interest, they sure as heck say thank you.

Michael Barbaro of the New York Times though gets the real skinny a year after this initiative is launched: the Mayor himself “dumps salt on almost everything, even saltine crackers.” Barbaro apparently has been watching the mayor in dining situations closely – even counting the number of dashes of salt applied to his pizza: 6. (Salt on pizza?! Really?). This paragraph is representative of the piece:

But Mr. Bloomberg, 67, likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others’ lips. (At Gracie Mansion, the cooks deliver it to him with a salt shaker.) He sprinkles so much salt on his morning bagel “that it’s like a pretzel,” said the manager at Viand, a Greek diner near Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side town house.

There’s nothing wrong with a man – who admits his own faults – attempting to curb unhealthy behavior. But the many micro-initiatives to make New Yorkers healthier do end up getting on my nerves in a manner that makes me more sympathetic to Jacob Weisberg’s Slate piece.

[Image by the Center for American Progress licensed under Creative Commons.]

What We Forgot All Too Quickly

Friday, September 11th, 2009

This morning, I re-read George W. Bush’s September 20, 2001 address to a Joint Session of Congress. You should too.

It is an impressive speech – both in its temperance and quality of rhetoric and how it so clearly set up the tragedies that were to come. Re-reading the words written so near the aftermath of this attack, it is remarkable how clearly they foreshadow what came next. It is as if the Bush administration never recovered from this attack – and never took time to reflect after those panicked moments when the towers fell. Bush used the now ubiquitous formulation, “We will never forget,” repeatedly in the speech – though all too quickly, we seemed to forget all of those things he said we never would:

America will never forget the sounds of our National Anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo.

We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.

Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico, and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens.

Yet too often since then, “We will never forget,” is used as a code word for the other elements of his speech that came to dominate the polarizing battles as America re-polarized: from his declaration that every nation must be either with us or with the terrorists to his declaration that terrorism was motivated by the hatred of our freedom to his understated plea for more centralized executive power. (I’ve always found it interesting that the loudest voices railing against any curbs on government power used to defeat terrorism seem to live in areas remote from danger. The cities – where terrorism is much more likely – are hotbeds of liberalism and civil libertarianism. I, for one, work in a landmark building and pass through Penn Station, Times Square, and Grand Central Station.) Ignored from the text are the pleas for understanding of those different from us, his appreciation for the support of the world, and his declaration that in our response, America proved itself resilient and strong.

But for me, the two most memorable lines are the following – at the beginning and then end of the speech:

Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done…

Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice – assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come.

This is the path not taken. In our response, we often failed to live up to these words, these noble goals. Our justice system was deemed too weak for terrorists. Patience was abandoned in favor of short-term actions.  And all too quickly, the Baby Boom generation re-polarized along partisan lines as Karl Rove sought to turn what he saw Bush’s greatest weakness into his strength. And, in neglecting to reflect on the events of that day, we learned the wrong lessons – focusing on a “by any means necessary” response indicative of panic that undermined our power rather than the true lesson about America’s core strength that was revealed in the efficacy of the local responses and in the only thwarted attack:

The best defense of our way of life, of our institutions, of our government, of our people is the American people themselves – properly informed.

We should never forget this – and remembering this day should reinforce our resolve to “meet violence with patient justice” and to stand for the civilization, freedom, the rule of law in the face of fear and terrorism rather than being cowed into preemptive surrender.

[Image by amarine88 licensed under Creative Commons.]

Liberty in the Face of Men With Guns

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

In which I recount the story of a minor incident that occured yesterday (St. Patrick’s Day) in Midtown Manhattan, that is entirely unimportant in it’s impact, but significant in what it reveals about being an American citizen.

For regular users of the Long Island Railroad and the New York City subway system, the message is repeated and insistent, as disembodied voices over the loudspeakers intone:

Backpacks and other large containers are subject to a random search by the police.

I was in a hurry to make my train, but I had to drop off a FedEx package first, so I dashed around the corner to deposit that. This took me in the exact opposite direction from where I needed to go – but I moved quickly. I crossed 42nd Street on a fast-blinking “Stop” hand, but made it without blocking traffic. From there, it was a half-block to the subway station – which I got through moving into and out of the strolling mobs of tourists and the slower-paced commuters. As I entered the subway station, I could see the turnstile and knew that I only had to make it down the three flights of stairs to make my train. 

I noticed a portly, bald-headed cop twirling something – a police baton perhaps – casually strolling into and out of the rush hour crowd. He pointed at me as I went to swipe my MetroCard: “Random security search. Get over to the desk,” he said. It’s minor thing, I know. But in that moment, of being casually ordered around while doing no wrong in a public place while everyone around me continued on – I felt a surge of anger at being told what to do, of frustration at being impeded while trying to make my train, of annoyance at the inconvenience, of the slight fear that comes from entering into an interaction with armed men who are regarding you with some suspicion, of resentment at being casually ordered about. I wondered if I was doing something that made me a target – my walk, my age, the fact that I made eye contact with the police. 

But I did what I was told – after a moment of slight hesitiation in which I looked around to make sure the officer meant me. He nodded and said, “You.” At the desk, there was a different officer. He seemed apologetic. Behind him was a third officer, hand on his weapon holster, stern-faced. “Put down your bag.” I did. Waited a beat. The officer behind said, “Open up the pockets,” with an attitude suggesting I should have known better than to wait before doing this. Another spasm of annoyance at that attitude.

“All of them?” I ask. My bag has eight pockets. “Just the main ones,” the second officer said, still apologetic. “I know you don’t have anything in the bag.” Then why are you looking? I thought, but at the same time, relieved that he thoughtI look and act trustworthy. He looked at the bag – perhaps even into the pockets. I can’t imagine he would have found anything with his search unless it was shining brightly. “Thanks,” he said. I hurried back off – and missed my train by about 20 seconds – it pulled out of the station as I was still descending the stairs.

That’s it. The encounter is truly trivial. I missed my train – but this is but a small inconvenience. None of the officers were abusive. There was a slight attitude – but no one’s perfect. I don’t oppose the policy of random searches, although I’m not sure how effective it is.

But within this interaction something important occurred – something that occurs every day across the world: The local political authorities set up a checkpoint to search innocent people in the hope of finding or deterring illegal activity. In some nations this is routine and perhaps becomes accepted. The bursts of anger and annoyance I felt but did not act upon become dulled or perhaps aren’t even felt by citizens of these nations. These citizens perhaps become inured to the daily violence being done to their essential liberties. Or perhaps they don’t.

What exactly had happened? Armed men picked random people from a crowd and searched their belongings for signs of illegal activity. In my case, through no fault of my own, I was temporarily detained and pressured to allow the authorities to search my possessions. My personal space was violated. My private possessions were searched. I was pressured to consent to a search without a warrant. For a moment, I was regarded as a person of suspicion, on the “other” side of the law – and my freedom was suddenly at the whim of the armed men around me. In a primal sense, my liberty was violated. Violence was done to the God-given, inherent rights I enjoy as a human being – which the American government was formed to protect. 

Yet – I do not oppose this policy. I am not saying what the police officers did was wrong. If this policy of random searches prevents a single terrorist attack, it’s probably worth it, in my opinion. Steps were clearly taken to ensure that I was inconvenienced as little as possible. From what I recall, I had the right to walk away from the search and not enter the subway. But that does not change the fact that my rights were violated – perhaps with due cause and sufficient safeguards – but they were violated nevertheless, and I could feel on a gut level that they were being violated.

Now imagine all of the circumstances in which there are additional factors making a search like this more intrusive and seem more unjust – if I needed to go through it every day instead of once in a year; if I was required to submit to it instead of having a choice; if the officers seemed to bear me some kind of ill-will; if I was a member of a targeted ethnic group; if I did not accept the legitimacy of the authority conducting the search – or if I had no say over how they acted. Imagine if the procedures were more intrusive.

Imagine what emotions Palestinians must feel having to be searched by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints; that Iraqis must feel being searched by American troops to move about their own country. Imagine as the anger builds up at each minor injustice, each negative attitude, each time one’s impotence in the presence of men with guns  is brought home.

One thing that is easy to forget when creating checkpoints such as this is the fact that each search is a violation of the liberty of an individual. It may be in the interests of justice – but there is a tradeoff involved. This isn’t about the ACLU agitating for more rights – it is about my sense of liberty moving about in a free society. To lose that is a precious thing. To be denied it is something that will make anyone angry. 

Which is why I’m glad I felt violated by this occurence – it lets me know that I still am alive, that I still consider myself a citizen in the basic American sense of the word. 

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