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A Gingerly Step Middle-East-Wards

Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 27, 2009

Ever since the start of Israel’s heavy-handed military incursion into Gaza, I’ve debated writing on the subject.  At first, I considered it beyond the purview of this weblog and that of my alter-ego site Bubkes.Org — and also a Pandora’s box that, in the face of my other interests and commitments, I did not want to open — but after a few weeks of agonizing I realize it is not.  And by “it,” I mean both the sobering effects and consequences of Israel’s indiscriminate, and possibly cynically timed, unleashing of weaponry and the excuse this has given to disturbing numbers of people in Europe and the Muslim world (I am writing this from Istanbul) to turn anew to that venerable but always toxic “socialism of fools” … antisemitism.

Whatever I write on the Middle East crisis will certainly not provide definitive insights or explanations but will only point to alternative viewpoints.  But, what I write about antisemitism will reflect my years of study on its origins, manifestations, and relation to the identities of most modern nation states, as well as my unavoidable lifelong commitment to go to the front line in fighting against it.

I’ll begin with this coincidence:  The other morning, Anu Garg’s excellent A.Word.A.Day mailing contained this timely quote from George Orwell:

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Part two of the coincidence is that just the night before I had begun to read a slim volume of reprints of essays by Orwell published by Penguin as part of its “Great Ideas” series under the title “Why I Write.”  The cover of the volume contains this quote from the Orwell:

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The third part of the coincidence is that around the same time I came across an article introducing the book version of Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman’s award-winning animated documentary “Waltz With Bashir,” a memoir of his repressed memories of his military service during the Israeli incursion into Lebanon during the early-1980s. The article is on the weblog  Tom Dispatch, which this past Saturday ran a long excerpt from Folman’s book and which will run a second excerpt next week.  Folman’s work and the struggle it embodies suggests even to this cynical writer that there are still Israelis who passionately seek to break through the all too frequently truthful failings described by Orwell’s quotes.  Other recent pieces on Folman’s film and its relevance to present events include this article and this interview, both on Salon.Com.

For iconoclastic, ethically-driven, and analytic takes on Israel and the Middle East, I recommend Gershom Gorenberg’s and Haim Watzman’s “Progressive, Skeptical Blog on Israel, Judaism, Culture, Politics, and Literature” South Jerusalem.  Also recommended: the writings of Haaretz writer Amira Hass, not least this recent piece and this.

More on this subject from time to time over the next couple of weeks.

Posted in Commentary, Politics | 3 Comments »

An Inauguration After a Demonstration

Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 20, 2009

Over the decades, while working in Eastern and Western Europe and the Balkans, I’ve learned to hesitate before replying to inquiries as to my ethnicity or religion. (Oddly or not so oddly, in most countries, it is only Roma (Gypsies) who are able to guess who and what I am.)  Each time I am faced with such questions, I calculate anew whether a truthful answer will be worth the hostility or know-nothing remarks it as often as not will bring.  Sadly, here in Turkey these past weeks, I’ve also learned to calculate before replying.

Likewise, during my life abroad, I’ve also learned to hesitate before replying to questions about my nationality/citizenship. My stock answers, depending on circumstances: “I am a New Yorker” or “I carry a Dutch passport.” In terms of my American citizenship, I am unwilling to be the focus of unwarranted condescension or justified or unjustified rage for wars, foreign policies and domestic injustices that I myself have opposed and have paid a price for opposing.  And, I remember all too clearly having been told over and again during the civil rights, labor, and anti-war struggles in the US during 1960s and 70s that I should “love my country or leave it” or simply “go back to Russia.” Luckily, because I carry more than one passport it has always been easy for me to prevaricate.

Yesterday, in the shadows of police water cannons and circling helicopters at the terminus of a memorial march here in Istanbul commemorating the murder two years ago of Armenian-Turkish newspaper editor Hrant Dink, two fellow marchers amongst the thousands present asked me what country I am from.  This time, rather than dodge the question, I answered indirectly but with a smile and pride: “Tomorrow, Barack Obama will be my president!”

Here’s hoping that Obama will help inspire and lead America and, for that matter, the rest of the world to “change” in the best and most appropriate ways that any and all of us can.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a Comment »

Investigating the Presidential Crisis: Bush, Obama, Ford, and H.G. Wells

Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 18, 2009

Further to my last post on investigating the financial crisis, Paul Krugman wrote these words in the New York Times last week on the dangers of President Obama’s not investigating or prosecuting the Bush administration’s abuses of office.  Ala investigating the financial crisis, investigating the “presidential crisis” is part and parcel of going forward.  Not doing so, even in interest of national unity or of not looking backward, as Obama would have it, is reminiscent of Gerald Ford’s all-too-quick, all-too-blanket pardon of Nixon.  Krugman:

“… if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.  Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.”

Also last week, by coincidence, Anu Garg, the creator of the magnificent site wordsmith.org, shipped out this quote from H.G. Wells along with his a.word.a.day mailing:

“A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide. It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men’s lives should not stake their own.” -H.G. Wells, (1866-1946)

Other recent timely quotes on Garg’s daily mailings:

“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” -John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)

and

“Corporation: n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.” – Ambrose Bierce 1842-1914

In honor of President Obama’s inauguration, Anu Garg announced that all this week a.word.a.day will feature unusual words taken from Obama’s writings.  For unlike most US politicians, Garg reminds us, Obama is literate and energetic enough to write his own books and not resort to ghostwriters.

Posted in Commentary, Language, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Investigating the Financial Crisis and My Passion for Borsalino Hats

Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 9, 2009

The mortgage, housing market, and stock market collapse were neither acts of nature nor products of cosmically ordained cycles or hypothetical laws governing hypothetical markets. They were the results of specific deeds by specific individuals — financial and corporate types out for riches at whatever cost, equally greedy and conveniently blind investors, and politicians and constituencies with minds muddled by neo-McCarthyite bashing of “socialism” and the New Deal and by the ethos and platitudes of “Reaganomics” and its successors. It is now time to assign blame where blame is due, but not necessarily for purposes of revenge …

In Where is Our Ferdinand Pecora?, in last Monday’s New York Times, author Ron Chernow wrote:

The moment calls for nothing less than a sweeping inquest into the twin housing and stock market crashes to create both the intellectual context and the political constituency for change.

And Chernow gives us an excellent model for such an inquest:

For inspiration, Congress should turn to the electrifying hearings of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, held in the waning months of the Hoover presidency and the early days of the New Deal. In historical shorthand, these hearings have taken their name from the committee counsel, Ferdinand Pecora, a former assistant district attorney from New York who, starting in January 1933, was chief counsel for the investigation. Under Pecora’s expert and often withering questioning, the Senate committee unearthed a secret financial history of the 1920s, de-mystifying the assorted frauds, scams and abuses that culminated in the 1929 crash.

He describes Pecora in action:

The riveting confrontation between Pecora and the Wall Street grandees was so theatrically apt it might have been concocted by Hollywood. The combative Pecora was the perfect foil to the posh bankers who paraded before the microphones. Born in Sicily, the son of an immigrant cobbler, Pecora had campaigned for Teddy Roosevelt and been imbued with the crusading fervor of the Progressive Era. As a prosecutor in the 1920s, he had shut down more than 100 “bucket shops” — seamy, fly-by-night brokerage houses — and this had tutored him in the shady side of Wall Street.

Last month, I thought of Judge Pecora (as Ferdinand Pecora was later known) in a much different context. It was in Borough Park, in Brooklyn, and I was just about, as they used to say back in the heyday of Pecora’s career, to “plunk down two C-notes” for a new “lid,” an old-fashioned fedora, a high-crowned, broad-brimmed, Italian Borsalino, made of soft slightly-shining green-grey felt and lined with a hat band of equally soft leather.

I buy a new “lid” every few years, always in the autumn and usually when the economy falters and my own prospects wobble. A jaunty Borsalino equips me with the courage of those who made it through the Great Depression, makes me feel as tough as Bogart, Cagney and Edward G. combined, and gives my walk a bounce that would not have been out of place in, say, Minton’s in the 1940s or the Five-Spot in the 60s. When I was a kid, my grandfather would buy a new Dobbs hat every few years but a Dobbs was a stiff hat with a pre-formed shape that embodied more the ethos of the 1950s than those of the decades before or after. You’d rarely catch a jazz musician wearing a stiffly-formed Dobbs.

The first Borsalino I remember ever seeing or trying on came straight from the head of Judge Pecora. It was in 1962 in the old Barney’s Clothing Store (“Select, Don’t Settle … at Barney’s” as the radio jingle went) on 7th Ave. and 17th St. in Manhattan. I was 15 and had lied about my age to get a job working Saturdays and Sundays “writing-up” sales. The pay was minimum wage, “a buck and a quarter an hour.” My main task was to prepare invoices for customers’ purchases, note alterations, and send customers on to the cashier. I had other tasks as well. In those days, Barney himself, the founder of the store, a squat octogenarian, elegantly dressed but with the tough confrontational edge of a one-time Lower East Side street kid, still roamed the store, hunting out and berating shoddy employees and insufficiently deferential customers. On Sunday mornings, Barney would hand me a cash-stuffed envelop to pass to the policemen who came to deliver the weekly summons for violation of municipal “blue laws” prohibiting retail sales on the Christian sabbath. And, if customers ever dared to complain, Barney would give me the unwelcome task of throwing the complaint back at them. When a woman returned with a suit bought for her husband and shipped to her home,  claiming that it had arrived in need of cleaning, Barney shouted at me:  “Tell her the suit ain’t dirty, her husband’s dirty.”

One Sunday, I saw Barney in another guise. Uncharacteristically deferential and glowing with pride, Barney led a equally short, equally squat elderly man to my counter. Barney himself held the man’s new purchases for him. The man had hawk-like eyes, a protruding nose, and a giant cigar clenched between his teeth. He wore a magnificent gray suit tailored in the style of a past age, and carried a near-floor length camel-hair overcoat over one arm. In his hand, he held a very large velvety gray fedora with the crown indented vertically and with deep parallel creases along its sides. Older shoppers noticing the man stopped and pointed as if they’d seen a long-forgotten prize-fighter or film-star: “It’s Ferdinand Pecora; it’s Judge Pecora,” they said in amazement — this a third of a century after Pecora had made his name. Barney whispered in my ear: “Kid, take care of the Judge, and if you fuck up I’ll throw your ass out on the street.” I wrote up the Judge’s invoice and escorted him to the cashier. As he paid, he handed me his coat to hold and reached up and placed the fedora on my head. “You look great,” he said to me. “Remember,” he added, “work hard, stay clean, and don’t take any crap off of anyone.”

For better or worse I’ve tried to follow the Judge’s advice. Forty-six years later, I tip my hat to him and, for that matter, to Barney as well. I also tip my hat to Ron Chernow for the very timely resurrection of Pecora, his style, ethics, and deeds.

Posted in Client Relations, Commentary, Eclectic, Economy, History, Politics, Work | 7 Comments »

Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries

Posted by Stephen Lewis on December 10, 2008

A central element of the ethos and significance – or at least the rhetoric – of the Internet Age is the transcendence of the arbitrary geographic and political boundaries we have inherited from the past and the liberation of the exchange of information, the conduct of commerce, and the formation of communities from the constraints of physical locations and boundaries.  Consider the following case to the contrary …

“This American Life”

I am – or rather was – a regular listener to Ira Glass’s wonderful eclectic radio program This American Life, broadcast over non-commercial, listener-donation-supported National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA and available courtesy of NPR worldwide over the internet.  The ubiquity of the internet had given me the luxury of listening to the program “on demand” during my long periods of work and residency abroad –  that is, if and when I can find an internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to stream the show.  To ensure enjoying This American Life without being tethered to my computer, whenever I stumbled upon suitable signals I took to downloading current and back episodes as podcasts via iTunes for later on my iPod and Blackberry.

Paid Podcasts

A few weeks ago, this system “crashed,” so to speak, and fatally at that.  While downloading podcasts to my computer in preparation for a long flight from New York to Istanbul and a few internet-less weeks thereafter, I discovered that I could gain access only the most recent episode of This American Life.  Podcasts of past episodes were only available for sale from Apple’s iTunes store at a price of $0.99.  This sounded very reasonable. By paying $0.99 for each one-hour-long weekly episode, I could  both obtain the programs and conveniently make regular donations to its support – an excellent alternative to the disruption of writing out a check or calling in a credit card number donating during National Public Radio’s seasonal on-the-air and over-the-internet fund raising drives.

Reinforcing Artificial Boundaries

Excellent, or so it seemed, until I read the fine print.  As it does with its iPhone, Apple “appliances” its services to geopolitical strictures inherited from the pre-Internet age and to a jingoistic concept of national identity quite contrary to the expansive spirit of This American Life and to the “worldwide” as in Worldwide Web.  Podcasts of This American Life are available for purchase and download via iTunes only from IP addresses within the boundaries of the United States.  Also, even within the US, Apple does not accept for payment credit cards issued by overseas banks.  Last, even when listeners from within the US attempts a purchase a credit card issued by a US bank, Apple will not sell them podcasts if their iTunes Stores accounts were originally registered from abroad.

By jigsawing its services to fit national boundaries, Apple fragments the efficacy and global scope of the internet and denies NPR broader listenership, international impact, and potential revenues.  By outsourcing  exclusive sales of podcasts of the This American Life to Apple’s iTunes Store, NPR denies the benefits and insights of listenership and the pleasure of contributing to the support of Public Radio to Americans living and working abroad, not to mention citizens of all other countries.

The Internet and Its Infrastructure

Those who participate with me off-line in the examination of the future of  infrastructure and the Internet will recognize in the above case a familiar conundrum.  The Internet — in its role as prime infrastructure for the formation of community and conveyance of the information, entertainment, knowledge and transactions — is intangible and without physical location.  However, the infrastructure that supports it is quite physical, an ad hoc non-purpose-built amalgam of fiber, copper, and wireless  strung together, enabled, and animated by protocols.  By resting on a “borrowed” infrastructure, the Internet has inherited the “gatekeepers” that own and control, charge for, and regulate these legacy elements – telecom operators and service providers, cable TV companies, governmental authorities, etc.).  Such organizations still carve up the world according to geopolitical entities and borders defined between the late-eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth and gerrymander services and access accordingly.  Apparently, so does Apple.  Apple’s method of “appliancing” country-by-country reinforces anachronistic borders and undermines the potential of the internet to transcend past divisions.

Apple and AK

Last month, a chance glace at Freedom Against Censorship Thailand led me to this report from the Christian Science Monitor re: Turkey’s current blockage of YouTube and Blogger, a reprise of its blockage of WordPress a year ago.  The present affair stems in part from a YouTube video posted by Greek football fans cast aspersions on the sexuality of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the iconic father of the modern Turkish state. Turkish law forbids the insulting of Turkishness and of the Republic, its founders, and symbols. Last year’s ban on all weblogs containing the name “wordpress” in their URL’s derived from a order issued by the local court of a religious neighborhood in Istanbul in response to a law suit filed by a Turkish “creationist” who claimed to have been libelled by an entry in a weblog hosted by WordPress.Com – an Internet Age case of “killing the messenger.”  The AK Party is Turkey’s ruling political party; the question of whether and how its incumbency prompts or facilitates such bans is a matter for discussion in another context.  For the moment, let’s leave it at saying that the heading to the present paragraph is a matter  of alliteration.  As to Apple, its geopolitical-entity-based approach to distribution of and access to podcast material is similar to Turkey’s operation of a “Great Firewall” congruent with its national boundaries and in accordance with its whims.  Opinions to the contrary?

Afterthoughts:

1. No More Newsprint, No More Disk(c)s

The Christian Science Monitor is America’s first venerable mainstream newspaper to end its print edition and become an exclusively online publication.  For details on the Monitor’s shedding of  its corporeality click here.  Not long after the Monitor gave up newsprint, Atlantic Records reported that for the first time its sales of music in mp3 format surpassed its sale of Compact Disc recording.  Music is by its very nature ephemeral and incorporeal and, in the scheme of things, the mere 100 or so years over which music has been distributed in the physical embodiments of phonograph cylinders and records, tape and CDs has been but a curious aberration.  A sad farewell to album cover art and liner notes, thus … and to slyly shaped invitations for guests to come over to look at one’s record collection.

2. Google and “The Great Game”

The Emergence of Google as the world’s prime search engine and the proprietary of Gmail, YouTube, and Blogger has given the “Company that Does No Evil” unparalleled knowledge of what is on the Web as well the ability to control how to find it. It also has given Google an unparalleled knowledge of who uses the web and how.  This has turned Google, a private company with no accountability to any constituency, into a negotiating partner of national governments whose laws or policies do not  reflect or respect the ethical stance claimed in Google’s own slogan.  Thus, Google now functions on a diplomatic level with the ability and clout to forge country-by-country compromises affecting internet activity and the free flow of information and opinion, Turkey’s YouTube and Blogger ban not least among them.  Click here for a journalistic portrait of Google’s emergence as a party to “The Great Game” of diplomacy via the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Posted in Censorship, Commentary, Content, Infrastructure, Internet, Media, Music, Podcasting, Politics | 2 Comments »

Purple vs. Pixelated: The Obsolescence of States and the Reality of Differences

Posted by Stephen Lewis on November 19, 2008

A few days after the US presidential election, colleague JP Rangaswami posted two maps of results from the 2004 election.  The first map showed the results by states, portraying them as red or blue. (NB: In the US quite oddly and contrary to the political color-coding used in the rest of the world, blue represents the sometimes left-of-center Democratic Party while red is the color of the right-of-center Republicans).  The second map showed results by county, giving a more variegated portrait of results.

JP writes that the difference between the two maps suggests that there are neither red nor blue states — nor counties, cities, and households — but only purple ones. My own take is that America’s red/blue divide is very real, albeit one that can no longer be encompassed by geographic boundaries gerrymandered in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Just as in digital photography, what appears purple from afar is divisible on a pixel-like-level into primary colors.  Fault-lines separating red and blue are increasingly divorced from geography.  They might be hard to chart but they are very real nonetheless. My short comment on JP’s post can be read here, for a far sharper take on the reality and permutations of the red/blue divide see Frank Rich’s The Moose Stops Here.

The larger implication is that America’s states appear purple because they are entities without substance, irrelevant to real fracture lines that divide the country and define the issues that confront it.  States are administrative inheritances from a past age and are increasingly obsolete as clusters of interests or self-identification.  Immigration and trans-state migration within the US, the rise of megalopolises that span state boundaries, and the divorce of economic functions from locational agglomerations call into question the utility of states and their efficacy in coping with or resolving economic, infrastructural, and environmental challenges.

Posted in Commentary, Identity, Politics | 5 Comments »

An Intellectual’s Ascent to the White House and the Half-Century Decline of American Conservatism from Intellectuality to Ignorance

Posted by Stephen Lewis on November 13, 2008

In Obama and the War on Brains, Nicholas Kristof comments on the return of intellect to government and the damage done to public policy by a culture of ignorance.  In The Perils of Populist Chic in the Wall Street Journal, a political conservative bemoans the half-century-long fall of the American right from intellectuality to self-cultivated provincialism.

Posted in Commentary, History, Media, Politics | 4 Comments »

Obama Victory: “Get Thee Out,” Mayakovsky and the Dust on My Blue Passport, and In Praise of a Skinny President

Posted by Stephen Lewis on November 9, 2008

I’ve waited before posting a post-Obama-victory entry.  Wiser people and better writers have already have had much to say.  Just a few peripheral observations, thus …

“Get Thee Out”

President-elect Obama used church cadences in his acceptance speech (i.e. the responsive chanting of the phrase “yes, we can!”), so forgive me if I step out of character and get biblical.

A week or so ago, I was examining the facade of a synagogue in Brooklyn and noticed on its bulletin board that the Torah-portion to be read on the upcoming Sabbath was Lekh L’KhoLekh L’Kho is translated in the King James version of the bible as “Get thee out.”  In the original Hebrew, Lekh L’Kho has a crisper sound more akin to “Walk!”, “Get Moving,” or, even more simply, “Go!  Lekh L’Kho is the portion of the Pentateuch in which God tells Abraham to leave his father’s house and head to a new land, to depart Harran for Palestine.  Figuratively, Lekh L’Kho also refers to Abraham’s departure from a place of idolatry to the domain of a monotheistic deity.  How apt in the week of the American presidential election.  Think of the false gods of the Republican years: Deregulation and “free markets,” “trickle-down” economics, the equating of individual greed with the public good, “pro-life” anti-abortion agitation, patriotism and “vets” “WMDs” and “War on Terror,” “the surge,” martial and mercenary definitions of “freedom,” and more.  Together, they form a pantheon of idols sufficient to occupy a score of Abrahams in smashing.

When Abraham left his father’s house, he abandoned the old, cut with the past, and stepped into the unknown.  This took courage.  Those who voted for Obama have the shown the same courage (see Bob Herbert’s Take a Bow, America).  The irony is that the mean-spirited, bible-thumping Evangelical Christian right and the majority of residents of the Old South and the still largely homogeneous Anglo-Saxon and Germanic mid-western states who voted for McCain/Palin would never have had the faith or the courage to abandon idolatry or go forth from their father’s house.  When the Old Testament god said: “Lekh L’Kho” they would have cowered in fright and hid like Cain once did.  Hand me my walking shoes!

Mayakovsky and the Dust on My Blue Passport

I have two passports: a red one (The Netherlands) and a blue one (USA).  The red passport is well worn and the blue one is pristine but for a layer of dust.  Throughout the Republican years it has been far more congenial to move around the world as a Dutchman (which I am by passport only) than as an American (which I am by birth).  On a Dutch passport one travels with anonymity, never upsetting fellow passengers, border police, or hotel clerks.  (How short people’s memories are.  Who today remembers the brutalities of Dutch colonialism or the venality of Dutch collaboration with the Nazis?)  Traveling on the American passport, on the other hand, awakens the condescension of Western Europeans and the envy of Eastern Europeans.  During the Bush years, it made the bearer personally accountable for corporate misdeeds, misuse of the world’s resources, and violence in the Middle East and Central Asia.  Worse still, it often attracted the unwanted good fellowship of fascists, racists, and professional “anti-communists” worldwide who love America for being “white” (66% and falling!) and for rejecting all pretenses of supporting its citizenry (see this post-election editorial in the New York Times).  The enthusiastic international reaction to the election of Obama and the courage of Americans in electing him has lead me to do do something I haven’t done in a long time.  This week, I will blow the dust off of my American passport and, later this month, I’ll hand it to police and clerks in Istanbul, Sofia, and Amsterdam and look into their eyes with pride.

(Pride in passports brings to mind Mayakovsky’s 1920’s poem about traveling abroad on a Soviet passport.  A serviceable but somewhat flat English-language translation can be found here and a bilingual version — Russian original followed by English-language translation — here.)

In Praise of a Skinny President

In years past, I sometimes antagonized Israeli friends by telling them that I had lost faith in Israel and its politics because of the girth of its leadership.  Ariel Sharon was grotesquely obese as was opposition figure Tommy Lapid.  So were the leadership of the religious parties and the membership of the politically influential “Chabad” sect.  During the 1960s, African-American comedian and political activist Dick Gregory used to do a routine that involved asking the women in the audience who they would rather go to bed with … Lyndon Johnson or Che Guevara?  Without waiting for the answer, Gregory would archly say: “… and that is how you judge the vitality of a nation.”  Click here for Finally a Thin President, an “Op-Ed” piece from the New York Times.

Posted in Change, Commentary, Identity, Language, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak!

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 19, 2008

In Friday’s New York Times, David Brooks considered the causes and outcomes of Barack Obama’s seemingly even and unflappable temperament — his “homeostasis,” as it were — and suggested two types of presidencies Obama’s style might shape.  Obama, Brooks observes, has the class origins of a Clinton or Johnson, but without their self-defeating needs for affection or respect, and the evenness of an FDR albeit without FDR’s characteristic ebullience.  According to Brooks, Obama’s seeming emotional distance could lead to a presidency that is a needed island of calm and rationality or to one that is an island of ineffectual isolation.  An Obama victory will enable us to find out which.

So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority.  And, for quite a number of Democrats, Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are unsettling suggestions of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular.  I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.

Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not-yet-fully-ripened tropical fruit served with a sauce of thick sweet soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili peppers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp.  Roedjak‘s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory flavors is more than culinary.  Roedjak restores equilibrium even while satisfying the senses.  Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of individual emotional turmoil. Domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions begin to escalate. On the symbolic level Roedjak embodies much of what is positive in the wisdom and values of southeast Asia.

Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundamentalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the Indonesian facets of the Democratic presidential candidate’s personality and past, his formative years on the island of Java and his being part a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan, Kenyan and African American ones.

In Java, outward emotional evenness and formal displays of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages.  Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat.  Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.

On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture.  The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali.  They are part and parcel of classical Javanese theater and dance and of raucous puppet theater and shadow plays. In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.

And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers.  Join me for a mango, anyone?

Posted in Commentary, Food, Identity, Media, National Identity, Politics | 2 Comments »

Call Me Hussein: The Language of the Third Reich and the Politics of Middle Names

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 12, 2008

Years ago, when I worked in the field of so-called “marketing communications,” I used to tell colleagues that there were two fathers of modern advertising: St. Paul and Dr. Goebbels. Paul was a true believer who knew how to craft the message of a small sectarian movement and convey it throughout the Roman world. Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels was a hate-driven man who was a master of twentieth-century communications media and who knew how to use the power of the big lie to manipulate individuals and nations. Goebbels also understood the subtle power of contrived language to reshape people’s perceptions, emotions, and behavior and turn their ideals on their heads.

The classic, and possibly the only, study of the language of Nazi Germany is Viktor Klemperer’s brilliant Lingua Tertii Imperii (“The Languague of the Third Reich”). Klemperer, best known in the West for his posthumously published pre-war and wartime diaries (issued in the US in a two-volume abridgment entitled “I Will Bear Witness”), was a Jewish-born convert to Christianity and professor of French literature in Dresden. Klemperer’s background was as rich as his interests; his father was an orthodox Jew turned reformed rabbi and his uncle was orchestral conductor Otto Klemperer. Klemperer was saved from war-time deportation by being partner to a childless “mixed” marriage and later by the disappearing into the chaos that followed the fire-bombing of Dresden. After the war, Klemperer chose to remain in Dresden — in East Germany, thus — proudly clinging to his German identity. He also joined the Communist Party, a decision he chronicled in his book “The Lesser of Two Evils” and that later, in the aftermath of Stalin’s Anti-Cosmopolitan campaign and Doctors’ Trials, caused him no small inner anguish.

That “Lingua Tertii Imperii” remained relatively unknown in the west during the cold war was in part due to its East Bloc pedigree and also to the embarrassing applicability of its insights to the language of post-war denazification and the reinvention of national identity and political discourse in West Germany. This was a shame, not least because the language and style that Goebbels perfected and Klemperer documented survived the denouement of Nazism to manifest themselves in what on the surface seem the least likely of places — including the present US presidential campaign.

Two of the most oft-quoted, albeit simplest, examples of Klemperer’s treatment of Nazi reshaping of the German language refer to the words fanatisch and aufziehen. Under the Nazis fanatisch (fanatical) was transformed from something negative into something worthy of emulation, an exhortation to over-the-top true-believer-ship and transcendence of reason; aufziehen was transformed from a word whose meanings included the act of winding clocks to an approving term for the staging of manipulative events on a grand scale.

Both these words came to my mind during the recent Republican convention, especially during Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s speech accepting her party’s vice presidential nomination. The choice of Palin and her contrived stance as an establishment-hating populist were case studies in aufziehen. In her acceptance speech, Palin made good use of the Nazi’s big lie technique, repeating over and again, amongst other exaggerated claims, the absurd and easily disproved contention that the Democrats are responsible for America’s staggering national debt. Palin’s tone of voice and body language were also classic Goebbels, her references to Democratic candidate Barack Obama were laced with sarcasm and dismissive gestures. On the television screen, the facial expressions of many of the Republican delegates cheering Palin’s comments appeared stereotypically fanatisch, betraying mixtures of rage and near-ecstasy, the stuff that street brawls and civil wars are made of. As a coda, during the vice-presidential debate, Palin described how, if elected, she would expand the role and power of the vice presidency in the American congress, this redolent not only of current US vice-president Dick Cheney but also of the Nazis’ bullying tactics in the German parliament following their rise to power in 1933.

The Politics of Middle Names

Goebbels’s fellow Nazis understood the power of names as well as words. Raul Hilberg, the pioneer historian of the administrative workings of the wartime murder of six million European Jews, described the underlying method of the Nazi’s war against the Jews as identification, concentration, and extermination. Part and parcel of this process was the compulsory assignment to all Jews of identical middle names, “Israel” for men and “Sarah” for women. The desired effects were to make Jews visible, portray them as caricatures, rob them of their individuality, and break their spirits. Given the minority position of Jews and the scope of the power turned against them, such stigmatization invariably accomplished at least the first two of these goals and more often than not the last two as well.

Over the past week, a vicious undertone in the Republican campaign rose to a crescendo as Palin and McCain used Obama’s passing acquaintance with a long-ago member of the one-time Weather Underground in a manner worthy of the Nazis’ heavy-handed attempts to incriminate their opponents in the 1933 burning of the Reichstag. During the same week, supporters of the Republican ticket increasingly and ever-more-archly referred to Barack Obama as Barack HUSSEIN Obama — this not as a paean to Democratic candidate’s mixed heritage but as an ad hominem slur and questioning of his “Americanism” and professed Christianity. By the end of the week, the flood of hatred proved too great even for John McCain to control and he was heckled and booed by his own supporters while trying to speak up for the “decency” of his opponent. The Republicans’ emulation of Goebbels, it seems, has created a Frankenstein.

Footnote: Call Me Hussein

I am particularly sensitive to the politics of names. My own family changed its name in the early-1950s in the shadow of the social and political pressures in America at the time. This said, this morning I decided — out of solidarity with Barack Obama and disgust with Republican stigmatization of his “un-American” names and origins — that from now until election day in November I will adopt “Hussein” as my own middle name and introduce myself on all occassions, informal and official, as “Stephen HUSSEIN Lewis.” Bigotry, innuendo, and the legacy of 1930s Germany call for protest and satire. Care to join me?

Posted in Commentary, Communications, History, Identity, Language, Media, Politics | 1 Comment »

Infrastructure of Work and Society: Five Failed American Axioms

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 9, 2008

Both sides in the US presidential campaign and debates — albeit one side far more than the other — use language and cling to axioms that obscure reality, make “change” unlikely, and keep America out of sync with the rest of the world. Five examples follow:

1. “American workers are the best in the world”

Nonsense. Americans may be decent sprinters but Western Europeans win the race. Good health care, regular vacations, job security, employee participation in management, lower stress, and no necessity to work two or three jobs to pay the kids’ educations makes Western European workers the world’s most productive. The growth of Asian economies speaks volumes about the quality of Asian workers just as does America’s outsourcing of its most exacting tasks to them. The diligence of Central and South American workers now bolsters America’s productivity through immigration. Turkish workers spend their lives laboring at highly segmented tasks. Even Eastern European workers are on their way to surpassing Americans. In alcohol-sodden Bulgaria, for example, workers tend to be “jacks of all trades and masters of none,” the upside of which is the ability to improvise and to more-or-less fix and keep running all things in their environment regardless of scarcities or systemic collapse.

2. “The Middle Class”

Both presidential candidates talks of helping the “middle class” but neither say a word about helping the working class or the poor. Avoidance of the term “working-class” is part-and-parcel of America’s pathological fear of “socialism.” It also belies the harsh reality that social mobility in America has been on the downturn since the 1950s. Not speaking of the poor is either callousness, blindness, or the abandonment of the tradition of the party of FDR and LBJ (let alone the party of Debs and or even that of LaFollette).

3. “Families”

Candidates speak of needs, opinions, and values of “families.” This in a country where the number of single and divorced adults rivals that of married ones and in which a good proportion of those nuclear families that are intact are dysfunctional. Since World War II, housing policies, suburbanization, and westward and southeastward migration have compromised multigenerational families (except amongst the poor and marginalized ethnic minorities), as has the Americanisation of immigrants. Eastern Europe and the “third world” have far stronger family values and structures. In fact, America may have proved itself to be a family-breaker and, through this, a compromiser of its own social infrastructure.

4. “We Honor Your Service”

Both candidates become Uriah-Heep-like in their obsequiousness when talking about the military or when speaking with present- or ex-servicemen. Obsequiousness toward the military was a hallmark of Franco’s Spain, Peron’s Argentina, and other tinpot dictatorships. It is also a matter-of-fact reality in countries such as Turkey, where, in an unusual balance of power, the military, with its proven willingness and ability to stage coups, is the guarantor of the survival of a secular state in a predominantly religious country. I would like to hear the candidates also “honor” America’s war and draft resisters for their sacrifices. A few words of “honor” and thanks for “service” to America’s lowest paid workers wouldn’t hurt either.

5. “Business is better than government”

This is the mother-of-all failed axioms, especially in the month when America’s iconic financial sector turns to the government for bailouts. During the last debate McCain trotted out this worn chestnut to denigrate Obama’s modest health-care proposals.

This brings us full circle. Universal health care is one of the features of European social infrastructure that ensures productivity by keeping health high and stress low. An important question for Americans is whether health insurance should be viewed as a luxury as it is now, a commodity as McCain proposes, or an essential aspect of social infrastructure as Obama proposes in part. The answer is not just a function of one’s morality but of one’s method of accounting. If one takes a longer and broader view, money invested in infrastructure — i.e. those physical and intangible systems and processes on which the social and economic life depend — pays off in macro terms even if initially developed or delivered at a short-term loss. The consensual nature of government and its operation beyond enterprise-level constraints of profit and loss make it the ideal provider or prime-mover when it comes to infrastructure. In fact, the provision and maintenance of infrastructure might be at the very essence of what government always has been, is, and should be.

Posted in Change, Commentary, Economy, Health Care, Infrastructure, Language, Markets, Work | Leave a Comment »

The Toxic Cynicisms of Amnesiacs: “Drill, Baby, Drill” and “Never Again!”

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 7, 2008

In 1973 and 1974, I was a graduate research assistant to Henry Cohen, founding dean of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School for Social Research in New York. Henry was not an academician. He was a seasoned New York City bureaucrat with an innate talent for balancing competing constituencies and getting things done within giant organizations. He was also a master of malapropisms. Henry would prompt students to understand the complex “woof and wharf” of New York City politics and chide long-winded speakers to “stop beating a dead horse to death.”

At the risk of beating a dead horse to death myself, I’d like to add a coda to yesterday’s post on Palin and Language. The subject: the Republican mantras “Drill, Baby, Drill” and “Never Again!” …

The Republican promotion of offshore oil drilling as the solution to America’s energy problems is either a red herring or a proof of their poor grasp of energy matters. But the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” that they use to promote this policy is proof of their historical amnesia or near-obscene bent toward cynicism. “Drill, Baby, Drill” is an obvious paraphrase of “Burn, Baby, Burn,” the chant that was the background score to the urban uprisings and riots that traumatized a score of American cities during the 1960s. Promoting an empty energy plan by purloining and paraphrasing a chant associated with the tragic outcomes of America’s deep-rooted race and class divisions goes over-the-top, especially at a time when economic inequality reaches new extremes in America and when race remains a dividing line in American society and an undercurrent in the present election.

Even worse is Palin’s proffering of “Never Again!” as a cry of protest for holders of foreclosed mortgages and owners of devalued real estate. Their plight and rage is real enough but “Never Again!” is a slogan that has been used for a half-century by Jews throughout the world as a blunt statement of their willingness to fight against future attempts at mass murder and by Jews and non-Jews alike to draw attention to ongoing acts of genocide that continue to torment and disgrace mankind. Is it possible that while guarding Alaska against Russia and Canada Palin was too busy to learn of such events or to have heard the phrase?

In 1946, at age 23, Henry Cohen left the US Army to become the administrator of one of the largest displaced persons camps in occupied Germany. A summary of his experiences at the camp — and of the tensions between Jewish survivors and the US military — can be read in this transcript of a talk he gave in 1996. In it, Henry’s emotions and humanity shine through his bureaucratic prose. I wonder what Henry Cohen would have made of the policies of McCain and Palin or of their trivialization of the inequities faced by Blacks in the US and Jews in Europe. But I do know he would have honorably yielded to Palin his title of master of malapropisms. And, so, in memory of Henry, I’ll stop “beating a dead horse to death.”

Posted in Cities, Commentary, History, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Palin and Language, McCain and Strategy, “Supporting Our Troops,” and Alfred E. Newman Redux

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 6, 2008

Like half of the population of the United States (i.e. the half that opposes the Republicans) I had intended to write about vice-presidential candidate Palin’s misuse of language and deformation of facts and logic during the televised debate with Democrat Joe Biden last Thursday.  However, better and brighter people beat me to the punch.  And, as often as not, the best and the brightest is Bob Herbert of the New York Times.  Click here for Herbert’s incisive Palin’s Alternate Universe.

McCain and Strategy

Equally worthy of merit, but far less known, are the reflections of Jan Searls, a retired career naval officer and sister of my long-time friend and colleague Doc Searls.  In a short piece buried deep in the comments section of Doc’s weblog — so deep, in fact, that I won’t post a customary link — Jan debunked Palin’s snide aside that Biden did not know the difference between “strategy and tactics.”

Tactics without strategy, Jan notes, is what enmeshed America in the Vietnam War.  She adds that it has also been the hallmark of the Bush Administration in Iraq, in its so-called “War on Terror,” and, by extension, in its domestic policy.  On the basis of her decades in the military, Jan Searls deflates John McCain’s supposed mastery of strategy and tactics by pointing out that: “… McCain never was a leader in the well-honed military sense. He went from playboy plebe to pilot to POW to politician.”

“Supporting Our Troops”

In the jingoistic language of US political discourse the phrase “supporting our troops” has become confused and conflated with presidential requests to — and Republican candidates’ conviction that we should — send more troops and materiel to Iraq.  The real support to the troops is taking place at the grassroots level and in the Obama camp.  Examples: Retired naval officer Jan Searls is out this weekend knocking on doors in rural North Carolina on behalf of the Obama campaign.  My good friend and neighbor Eric Werthman, a psychotherapist, filmmaker, and life-long political activist, is doing the same in the depressed small towns of southeastern Pennsylvania.  Eric, by the way, provides free-of-charge therapy and counseling to Iraq War veterans with problems of adjustment, rage, and what is now called “PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the “Shell Shock” of past generations).  In his own private time, thus, Eric does what the Republicans refuse to do, provide Americans, veterans in this case, with the support they need but often cannot access or afford.

Footnote 1: Twisted Language and Twisted Logic, Afghanistan-style

Late last year, I met up with a long-time acquaintance who is a high-ranking US diplomat in Afghanistan.  When I asked him the state of the pursuit of Bin Laden and the subduing of the Taliban, he answered: “The Taliban is finished.”  How did he know this, I asked.  “Simple,” he replied, “they are committing more attacks on civilians in urban areas … a definite sign that they are desperate and on their last legs.”  Hopefully, in the time since, he has spoken with the general whose name Palin cannot remember.

Footnote 2: “What, Me Worry?”

I’ve tried to keep a somewhat professional tone in posts to this site, so forgive me the following lapse (although few things I would say could match the obscenity of the Republican opposition to ensuring Americans with the health care that is considered matter of course in other “first world” nations*).

For the last months, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I’d seen Governor Palin before.  And then, I remembered.  (Note: to understand this, one must have wasted a portion of one’s youth reading Mad Magazine in its golden years.)  Palin is the spitting image of … Mad’s signature idiot Alfred E. Newman (alias Melvin Coznowski).  But in drag!  And in heat!  Note the protruding ears, the shining eyes, the wrinkle-fee brow, and the smile masking … absolutely nothing.  Mad afficianados will not be surprised if in a future malapropism Palin refers to the US commander in Afghanistan ala Mad as  “General Potrzebezi.” Palin’s motor-mouth presentation and seeming lack of logic struck another familiar note … the onstage persona of American comedienne Kathy Griffin, whose non-stop patter and unexpected mid-sentence swerves in subject matter turn her appearances on CNN’s Larry King Live into a dadaist comeuppance.

*For a concise comparison of the consequences of McCain’s and Obama’s approaches to health care, go to Paul Krugman’s Health Care Destruction in today’s New York Times

Posted in Commentary, Language, Politics | 2 Comments »

Infrastructure and Height, Myopia and McCain

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 2, 2008

Since the 1970s I have worked mostly in Eastern and Western Europe, regularly returning to my native New York for occasional assignments and to enjoy the pleasures and pride of being a New Yorker.

When I first showed up in Western Europe almost four decades ago, the process of post-war recovery was not yet over.  As the years passed, however, I watched Europe slowly overtake America on a number of fronts, in part by engaging in long-term investment in its infrastructure and guaranteeing the health, education, and housing of its people as well as by curbing the extremes of economic inequality.

I’ve also watched changes in Eastern Europe since the fall of communism and seen the gaps in standards and ways of life between east and west narrow, especially as former Soviet bloc nations merge into the European Union.  From a New York perspective, European upswings are mirrored in shifts in the City’s immigrant populations, for example Irish and Polish immigrant communities have declined in size in part due to recent arrivals from both countries being lured back home by comparatively more attractive work opportunities and standards of living.

America, on the other hand, seems lost in a time-warp.  In this year’s presidential speeches and debates, as for what seems time immemorial, Democrat and Republican candidates prove their patriotism by repeating over and again the well-worn claim that America is the “greatest country on earth.”   America might have been so in the immediate post- World War II years but the disinvestment in social and physical infrastructure by the Republicans since the 1980s and the rapacious corporate culling of short term profits have undermined the country — as have the effects of the inappropriateness, extravagance, and incompetence of America’s military adventures abroad post-September 11, 2001.

Inadvertently, John McCain drew attention to an objective measure of this in last Friday’s presidential debate when he pointed out that residents of communist North Korea are, on the average, several inches shorter than fellow-Koreans living in the capitalist South.  What McCain did not say, however, whether out of ignorance or cynicism, is that over the last few decades Americans have become shorter than Western Europeans, over whom they had towered less than a century before.  For what this tells us about disparities in incomes and opportunity within the US, the consequences of the dismantling of America’s “welfare state,” and the absence of adequate insurance coverage and medical treatment in the country, go to this recent posting on the Health blog of the New York Times which, in turn, offers links to longer pieces on the subject from the files of both the Times and the New Yorker.

Posted in Cities, Commentary, Economy, Health Care, Infrastructure, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Not a Bit Surprised: The Financial Crisis, Reading Beyond the Mainstream, Real(?) Estate, Yankee Stadium, and Impeach Palin Now

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 28, 2008

So far, the current US financial upheavals have not effected me.  I don’t own stocks or real estate and I don’t carry debt. The collapse of the housing market, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, and the large insurance and banking houses didn’t even cause my blood pressure to rise.  In fact, they didn’t even come as a surprise.

Reading (and Viewing) Beyond the Mainstream

One reason might be my reading.  In my student years I read Marx.  The effort I put into Marx might have cut into my time at the front lines of the sexual revolution but it paid off by prompting me to see through myths of the efficiency and beneficence of “markets” and realize the myopic inefficiencies of enterprise-based profit motives.  Most important — to my spirit albeit not to my “net worth” — it led me to look for value in the inherent worth of things rather than in their speculative potential.

I’ve also always looked beyond the traditional press.  I cut my political-reading-teeth on the legendary I.F. Stone’s courageous belated “Weekly.”  Since the 1980s, I’ve subscribed to Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer, a little known and erratically published broadsheet that uses economic analysis to see through, rather than justify or exploit, economic news and trends.  Today, in the Internet age, I read Jim Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation which  passionately and knowledgeably explores the relationships between infrastructure and economy and the prices to be paid for urban sprawl and SUV-driving suburbia.  And, in the age of diminishing attention spans, I’ve become a loyal viewer of the short videos of the Internets Celebrities, Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn, producers and presenters of “Bronx Bodega” and “Check Mate” (to view the videos click on the appropriate icons at the top of Celebrities’ site).

Real(?) Estate

Back in July I met Dallas Penn for bagels and lox in a luncheonette near Flatbush Avenue to discuss ideas relevant to the Celebrity’s planned new production “Real(?) Estate.”  The basic idea (without giving away plot or “MacGuffin”): The Celebrities would, in their usual mix of contrived innocence and spot-on insight, hit the streets (and apartment buildings) throughout the city to prod and expose the abstract and illusory nature of urban property ownership, down to the trade in air-rights.

The Internet Celebrities, by the way, are models of fiscal prudence.  Their productions are not financed by loans or “IPO”s and will not be bailed-out if they fail.  Instead, their videos are funded by plain old-fashioned cash donations from ordinary hard-working (or slothful) folks like you and me.  You can play your part by clicking here.   And do it quickly!  Had the Celebrities been able to get “Real(?) Estate” out six months ago, the mortgage crisis and subsequent financial implosion might never have taken place.

Yankee Stadium

During our discussion of the tulip-crisis-like trade in sliced-and-diced three-dimensional urban space, Dallas Penn pointed out that sports stadiums occupy volumes of space that could house thousands or tens of thousands of people or serve as immense urban parks, yet they are used for mere parts of each day for, on average, only 80-some-odd days a year.  This does not mean that stadiums should be done away with but that new stadium projects should be carefully weighed.

The Yankee Stadium project is a case in point.  Last week, Bill Moyers echoed Dallas Penn in a close-of-show editorial exposing the new stadium as a publicly-financed boondoggle benefiting the private sector — a Mae-and-Mac/AIG/WAMU meets the “national pass-time” as it were.  At tremendous public expense and little cost to its private-sector owners, the old stadium is being replaced with a new one that will have a capacity of 5,000 fewer seats but a greater number of corporate “private box” facilities.  The new stadium will occupy a larger footprint of Bronx territory than the old one did but will feed less back into the local economy of (as the Internet Celebrities underscored in “Bronx Bodega”) the poorest urban county in the United States.  Not least, the stadium project sweeps away a cultural if not physical monument — the “House that Babe Built” — the longest lasting of New York’s one-time legendary troika of baseball fields (the other two, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, fell victim to … real estate development).

Footnote: Impeach Palin In Advance and Dallas Penn on the Presidential Debates

Bob Herbert writes about the crisis obscured by the current financial crises, i.e. the apocalyptic crisis that could ensue if Palin would ever accede to the presidency.  Herbert calls on Republicans to dump Palin from their ticket now — abortion for the good of the nation, as it were.  And, voters should think hard about what the Palin nomination tells us about the kind of administration McCain would appoint if elected.

Dallas Penn voices the frustration many of us felt as Obama pulled his punches during the debate, letting McCain off the hook a number of times and compromising his own positions and personality, as well as the stances of his supporters, in a possible attempt to woo centrist and “undecided” voters.  When reading Dallas’s post, however, don’t waste time on the link to the infantile video by Sarah Silverman.  Silverman’s “Uncle Moses-ing” and suburban whine are offensive.  Contrary to Silverman’s view-from-the-suburbs, out here in Brooklyn we have many Jews (this writer included) whose politics are far, far to the LEFT of Obama’s, who do not necessarily define themselves in terms of America’s racial bifurcations, and who have never been to Florida nor even thought of owning a Cadillac (well, one that runs, anyway!).

Posted in Cities, Commentary, Economy, Infrastructure, Links, Marx, Media, Politics | 1 Comment »