Friday, January 21, 2005

John Hess (1917-2005)

John L. Hess died this morning at the age of 87. He passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are ---
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

--Tennyson, Ulysses

Friday, December 31, 2004

Let Them Eat Sushi

Being called a skinflint got George Bush into a swivet. He said we’re the most generous country in the world. Then New York must be the most generous city in the most generous country. Evidence of that appears in the Dining section of the Times. Its critic took a guest -- at least twice -- to a new sushi joint in midtown where the tab comes to $500 apiece, minimum, counting tax, tip and a glass of sake. The critic went out of his mind at the first bite of raw fish, and his bliss only deepened as he went course after course to the end. Four stars. He’d evidently have given more if the Times had any more stars to give. One might say that the stars are based on price more than on the quality of the food -- for in the el cheapo column down below no stars are given, though the critic raved about the raw fish in a whole block of restaurants costing $25 or less.

Considering the rents in midtown, what can they be paying the help? I think of dishwashers earning less for 40 hours of hard work than the $500 the Times is enchanted to pay for its four-star tasters. And their workers have shlep home to wherever they can find shelter -- with rent controls going up and the MTA panting to raise fares and cut service. For the workers the choice is often whether to buy medicine .or groceries. But here in Wall Street, generosity is in the air. It’s year-end bonus time, and the big firms are dishing out packets of up to 20 million and more. So bring on your $500 sushi -- and don’t you dare call us skinflints.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Uncle Scrooge

I can’t get over it. We tell the wealthier countries of the world to chip in billions for the victims of this catastrophe, and then we toss three million into the kitty. No doubt we’ll shell out a bit more, but don’t hold your breath. It’s not high on our national agenda. Leaders of both parties are visible on our TV screens with their hands our - but it’s relief from taxes that they’re asking - or more federal spending in their own districts..
Call us Uncle Skinflint. We’re not even on the list of the 10 most generous providers of aid -- we’ve not even come close to the pittance called for by a treaty that we have signed. Norway is at the top of the list. One of our diplomats suggested that it ought to put up more.

Or call us Uncle Scrooge. Scrooge has been all over our screens as the old meanie in "A Christmas Carol." A fable for the kiddies. Actually Dickens created him as a reply to the meanies of his day, who were campaigning for the repeal of England’s poor laws. They were arguing that home relief was was bad for the poor -- undermined their character and caused them to multiply until they ate us out of house and home. Scrooge refuses to give a donation, saying "Are their no prisons? Are their no workhouses?"

In the end, Scrooge repents, and provides a turkey the Cratchits and medical care for Tiny Tim. In real life, alas, the meanies won. The poor laws were repealed, the common grazing lands were sealed off and peasants were driven to seek work in mines and mills.


It can escape nobody that most of the victims of natural disasters are poor folk. Correction: It did escape the Times, which blames geology for the tidal waves that devastated the shores of South Asia. In other words, blame God. Well, he's done it before.

But it's poor folks who settle in where disaster has a way of striking, and they keep going back. In fact, survivors are already scavenging in the wreckage for shelter and for gravesites. Where would they go? Safer areas are out of their reach.

Our local media took pride in the $40 million that some zillionaire we never heard of paid for a penthouse in midtown. Not of course for safety from tidal waves, though we do often have watermain breaks. The price does, I guess, reflect the vitality of our town, which sparkles despite its atrocious mismanagement. Check the cultural listings.

Just now I will not dwell on New York housing and wages. Those millions in South Asia get far less, and very few public services. Lord, they didn't have sirens to warn them about the earthquake. They fled the first wave, came back and were hit by the second. We've had much better warnings of all the bad things that are happening to the environment. What are we doing about it?

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Suicides to Come

Sy Hersh says our brass is afraid to tell their civilian bosses what they don’t want to hear. Remarkable evidence of that came at yesterday’s joint news conference by Donald Rumsfeld and General Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Rummy said the bombing of that mess tent in Mosul reflected the desperation of our enemies in the war on terror. He babbled that THEY could lose an occasional battle and survive, whereas we could not afford to lose one. I defy you to make sense out of that. General Myers then slipped in a revelation -- that was a suicide bomb. Never mind what that tells about our security arrangements -- he said they were first rate --but it blew a large hole in the argument that our foes are just fighting for oil and power. They are mad and evil -- true enough -- but they could hardly have expected to strike oil where they were headed. Nor were they cowardly, like the Bush gang of draft dodgers. As for winning battles, we just drove them out of Fallujah. And three more U.S. marines were killed there yesterday.
These have been uncomfortable days for those who sent them there. Tom Friedman of the Times agonizes over the picture of the murder of three election workers in Baghdad - in broad daylight, in the middle of a main street. The killers did not even bother to wear masks. Freedman somehow found that to be the fault of Rummy and his gang -- for not sending enough troops, and for turning the world against us. But he sounds like them. He’d stay the course -- and send as many more troops for as many more years as it takes -- on a suicide mission.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

We Told Them So

We on the left are in a bind. How can we say “we told you so” without sounding smug. The first count of our impeachment of George Bush has been his attack on Iraq. We warned that he was lying and that this would be a war we could not win. Every day it becomes more painfully clear that we were right -- that we're losing the war and the only sane thing to do is bring our troops home. But those who said we had to stay the course find it hard to say THEY were wrong. So they don't, quite.

The Times had to lead with the catastrophe in Mosul, but it felt obliged to balance that with quotes from people who said that was sad, but. William Safire claims we're winning the war, and he's still hoping to find those weapons of mass destruction, somewhere, by widening the search to other countries. Tony Blair flew in to say that our prediction of an election proves we're right even if it doesn't don't look very plausible. Bill O'Reilly invited a peace advocate to explain our side, and cut him off with a long rant charging that we are traitors, rooting for the enemy -- that we want our troops to lose so we can say, “I told you so.” Well, sorry, Bill -- as long as this war goes on, we'll have to say it, and keep on saying it: We told you so.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Flat-Earth Crusade

When they decided to make war on Iraq, the Bush gang at first called it a Crusade. They hastily renamed it but the notion survives.

On a panel show last week, a guy called in to say he’d read every word in the Koran, and couldn’t find a single bit of mercy in it. That proved to him that we had to fight till we converted all of Islam to our faith. He should have spent part of this time hunting for mercy in the Old Testament.

Islam adopted the Old, and the New Testament as well, as holy writ. It was far more tolerant than Europe to non-believers. In what we now call the dark and middle ages, Christians slaughtered one another, and Jews, en masse, and burned heretics at the stake, while scholars of the Caliphate were translating much of what now survives of the science, medicine and art of the golden age of Greece.

There is plenty of proof in our language: Arabic numbers and words like algebra and alcohol - though liquor is supposedly forbidden in Islam. Great minds have never taken literally the mumbo-jumbo of folk religion. Greeks put the planets in orbit and worked out the circumference of the earth thousands of years ago. And then the church cracked down.

Now, we’re turning backward. Our president applauds those who teach that every word in the Bible is literally true -- that the earth and all in it were made in six days -- and that textbooks have to say that evolution is only a theory. I don’t know how much of that, if any, he actually believes -- but clearly, we’re in for a lot of superstitious blather these next four years.

Footnote: That noble investigative reporter Gary Webb has taken his own life, a victim of savage persecution by the CIA and the major media for his exposure of links between crack cocaine and the CIA and the contras. Please do check out the splended eulogy by Alex Cockburn in the Nation. In passing, I remark that the Nation not long ago disavowed a Cockburn column, whereas it keeps its door open for Christopher Hitchens, a convert to Maggie Thatcher and Yankee imperialism. It is no surprise that the Times Book Review engaged Hitchens, and not Cockburn, to report on Leftwing writings, but how does one explain the Nation? (Its editors say they can’t explain the exclusion of my MY TIMES: A Memoir of Dissent from its roundup of writings about the Times. As Rumsfeld says, stuff happens.) See also my comments in my book and in EXTRA! and Counterpunch and WBAI and blog etc. To be continued ...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bernie’s Hideaway

It would have made a great final chapter to Bernard Kerik’s autobiography, just out. President Bush was about to swear him in as chief defender of homeland security. Instead, Bernie presented his excuses at a state dinner in the White House.

The president had been facing the need to fill that job for over a month, but he seems to have overlooked it in his daily chats with the Lord Jesus. It turned out that there some problems with Bernie’s resume.

Now, we bleeding hearts feel obliged to pass over his misbehavior as a youngster, because he had a dreadful childhood. But that happens to be just the kind of mitigating factor that Kerik and Giuliani would not tolerate in their pre-emptive war against crime in our Latino and African-American communities. Kerik got his first crack at them as a corrections officer -- if you’ll excuse the expression. The news clippings show him using inmates freely as personal help. There’s something about a valuable painting taken from Rikers Island. Then Giuliani named him police commissioner, chauffeur and bodyguard.

Eyebrows were raised when Kerik assigned half a dozen homicide detectives to search for some keys that his publisher had mislaid. It turned out that she had changed handbags and just forgot about it. She’s a rich widow who owns a big rightwing publishng house. She enjoyed working on Kerik’s book, with occasional foreplay in a hideaway the city maintained for the commissioner in Battery Park City -- until she came upon a note left behind by another woman, and there went the ballgame. Pity: We do need to learn more about that stun-gun that Kerik manufactures, in partnership with Giuliani. A few people died of heart attacks after being stunned, but they say there was no connection. As Rumsfeld said, things happen.

We’ve got four more years of this coming up. They won’t be dull.