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?