Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New York, New York

"The Bronx is Up and the Battery's Down."
This is midtown Manhattan as seen from the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway taken a couple days before Christmas.
My wife and I spent Christmas and a few more days in the Big Apple. I lived there some 40 years ago - drove a cab. While much has changed in the city, much remains the same.
While there is much to love in New York, it is also a really tough place to live and work. It's really hard to be middle class there.
We did and saw a lot in the 5 or so days we had: We saw "Fela" the new Broadway musical, we saw the movie "Avatar." We attended a Christmas Eve service at "The Marble Church" to hear my wife's cousin sing a great solo. We went to the "Top of the Rock. We walked around the Battery and Ground Zero. We toured Trinity Church and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where my son works. We strolled around Central Park and had eats at The Boat House Restaurant. We also toured MOMA which was absolutely packed.
But mostly, I guess, we spent a few great days with our younger son. Both of our kids live well away from home. We see them only rarely.
What takes a midwesterner's breath away about NYC is the cost. We stayed at our son's apartment in Brooklyn, so we didn't have to pay for lodging. Still, everything costs a bunch. Eating at restaurants can be really expensive, although it doesn't have to be. Transportation is very costly. When I lived in NYC the subway cost 20 cents. There were no monthly passes or anything. You just plunked down 20 cents for a token. (Hell, the Staten Island Ferry was a nickel.) Now a single subway ride is $2.25 (or $2.50, I can't remember which.) Now you can purchase monthly passes for $80., but for a variety of reasons, subways just weren't going to work for us. Most subway stations are 2 to 3 levels below ground. My balky knees just don't do well with steps. Cabs are really pricey. A cab ride from LaGuardia to my son's apartment would likely have cost us in excess of $60. The alternative? Car services. You call a car service and usually they appear within 10 to 15 minutes - sometimes far less. The cost? The LaGuardia to Brooklyn trip was $35. The trip from Brooklyn to midtown Manhattan was usually $25. The same for the return. Still, after a few days it became apparent to us that we were spending a bunch on these cars, but there just wasn't any reasonable alternative. They are generally far better than cabs in that they are usually late model Lincoln Town Cars or something similar; far more comfortable than the average cab. They actually have suspensions. The car service drivers tend to be less manic than most cabbies - I know. Remember, I used to be a NY cabbie.
My wife had what she called her "New York" moment when an older woman accosted us down by the Battery asking for money. I didn't hear what my wife said to the woman, but the woman responded by calling her a cunt. Welcome to New York!
Good times.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Scourge of Nationalism

While we are now deeply concerned and in conflict with radical religious fundamentalism, it is also true that nationalism is essentially equal to religious zealotry in its destructiveness. The wonderful British philosopher and essayist A.C. Grayling stands in agreement having stated that "Nationalism is an evil. It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism."

The notion of "American exceptionalism" is not only bunk, it is at best insulting to the rest of the world. At its worst it marks us as delusional in the irrational belief that we are inherently superior to everyone else which sets us up for a hard fall. We are all Americans simply by the accident of our birth.

While we have long felt - and perhaps rightly - that our particular constitutional system is superior to any other, as we know all too well, it has been so bastardized in practice (if not in print) over the years that it is hardly recognizable. George, Thom, John & Ben would probably shake their heads in dismay at what we have wrought out of their hard labor in the Philadelphia heat.

However, I am not one who hankers back in the belief that we should return to our supposed governmental roots. The fact is, this country and the times in general have far outgrown our founding documents. That there are those who would amend our constitution for the sole purpose of depriving citizens of basic rights is perhaps a harbinger of worse things to come.

We are on the verge of being a global society. I won't live to see it, and perhaps no one alive today will witness it either, but it is coming, like it or not. It will be necessary to human survival. If it doesn't come, it will mean that we have blown ourselves back to the stone age to start again (if any humans do survive.)

Its coming will no doubt be violent and painful. If we think getting health care reform has been difficult, wait until the battle begins over the notion of a "one world" global government. Warning shots have already rung out with the collapse of the WTC. Nationalism and its cousin, regionalism, won't go quietly, not to mention the ongoing tussle over whose god can beat up all the other gods.