Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What the community wants

I went to a meeting of the revived Wailuku Community Association Monday evening. Community is an exaggeration. Of about 20 people there, all but 5 or 6 were on the county payroll.

Of the private citizens, all were business owners. No one who lives in Wailuku was present.

The featured speaker was Marc Fenton, who said that by reducing parking and making streets narrower, our mobility and quality of life would improve. Business would perk up.

Dunno who he meant. Not my family. 

My mother is 92; she has balance problems and walks with a cane. She is not going to be bicycling to the store.

I walk and could bicycle if I wanted to, but my wife requires bottled oxygen and cannot walk far. We are not going to be bicycling to the store.

My daughter is 34 and runs marathons. She could ride a bicycle, but she has children ages 6, 4 and 2. They will not be bicycling to the store.

So who does Marc Fenton want to tear up our streets, parking lots and zoning ordinances in favor of?  Well-to-do, unattached, healthy young people. Special Snowflakes.

He made another presentation to the planners and council today. I did not go but I've been to 4 or 5 of these bj's before. No doubt he was petted and praised, as he was Monday night. And no doubt nothing will happen, because the grown-ups will (again) recognize this for the specious nonsense it has always been.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Colonial American women in burqas

Philip Fithian was a recent graduate of Princeton in 1774 when he took a job as tutor at Nomini Hall, home of one of the richest families in Virginia. His journal is an important source for information about daily life in colonial America during the time of poltical agitation just before the Revolution, at least among the1%.

In a letter of August 1774, he advised his replacement about the odd (to a Jersey Presbyterian) customs of the locals:

The Balls, the Fish-Feasts, the Dancing-Schools, the christnings, the Cock fights, the Horse-Races, the Chariots, the Ladies [go] Masked, for it is a custom among the Westmorland Ladies whenever they go from home, to muffle up their heads, & Necks, leaving only a narrow passage for the Eyes, in Cotton or silk handkerchiefs; I was in distress for them when I first came into the Colony, for every Woman that I saw abroad, I looked upon as ill either with the Mumps or Toothache!

From "Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian: A Plantation Tutor in the Old Dominion 1773-1774," University Press of Virginia

Sunday, September 4, 2016

An evil saint

I was aware, from a short passage in "Hitch-22," that Christopher Hitchens considered Mother Theresa a fraud and an inhuman proponent of mutiplied human suffering; but I never inquired further, as I know plenty already about the Catholic church and its despicable record regarding the poor.

However, today, on the occasion of her canonization I watched his full indictment made over 20 years ago. I had no idea what an evil woman she was.


As I watched the Hitchens expose, little of it surprised me, but one incident shocked me: when Theresa laid flowers on the tomb of Hoxha. There was a stalinist murderer that even other stalinists could not stand. Out of 7 billion people in the world, only one could be found to give him flowers.

And then I thought further about the hospices that Theresa founded in Calcutta, where the poor die alone and untended on the streets. Or do they?

Visitors are shocked by the poor workers sleeping in culverts and on the streets in Calcutta and they are right to be appalled by the way the Indian economy works, but to some extent the sleeping on the streets is customary. It is a way for migrants from the countryside to save more money to send home. A local custom, you could call it, and not impractical in a place as hot as Calcutta, at least in the dry months.

It is not necessarily the case, either, that the poor are dying alone. Their situation is miserable but poor people in cities have their own networks, hard for a passerby to detect. I will bet that, in some cases at least, the squalid sick are being visited by neighbors with water and a chapatty or two.

Dying, as living, on the streets is a way of life.

So what does Theresa do? Carries the sick away from their homes to die alone and untended in bleak warehouses. They get water and a little food and, obviously, no other nursing or medical care to speak of.

How do I know this, who have never been to Calcutta? Because in the video all the dying people are wearing brown clothes. The garments of a poor Bengali are white. The poor wear brown because their garments have not been washed.

It would cost nothing, but sympathy and work, to bathe the dying and wash their garments. A bit of delousing would cost little more in trouble or money but would ease the discomfort of the dying considerably. One of the things that First World people tend not to realize is how irritated poor people are by the parasites, vermin and skin diseases they spend their lives with. 

If Theresa and her pious friends really cared even a little about the sick, they would not dump them in a warehouse to die but would, at least, wash and tend them and perhaps bring a little dignity to the last days of people who were accorded none of that during their working years.

Finally, something was nagging at the back of my head while watching the videos of Theresa hobnobbing with people who  were notoriously uninterested in the state of poor people, like the Reagans. Later I realized what it was; Theresa acted just like that other pious fraud from India, Gandhi.

Real problems, unreal solutions.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Is Trump's physician Jewish?

Yes, according to The Forward, which ought to know.

And why would we care? I don't, but this is Restating the Obvious, and while there was much comment from the antiTrumpeters about his alleged antisemitism,  I didn't notice any of those people noticing that his personal physician is Jewish. It isn't obvious that he is, but Harold ben Jacob Bornstein, from New York City -- it's an obvious hint he might be.

Any real reporter would have checked.

Does having a Jewish physician clear Trump of charges of antisemitism? Not necessarily. 

In the weird minds of bigots strange things occur. No one doubts that Hermann Goering was a Jew-hater and Jew-murderer. But he was also a feverish art collector whose favorite dealer was a Jew.

When some daring Nazi challenged Goering with breaking the Nuremburg Laws, which as police-president of Prussia he had helped create, he answered, "I will decide who is a Jew."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review 372: Over the Edge

OVER THE EDGE: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers. 586 pages. Puma paperback, $24.95

Chuck Jones wouldn’t have subjected even Wile E. Coyote to what Californian John Presley did to himself in 1968: while hiking a rough trail Presley slipped on loose gravel and, instead of just plotzing, ran out of the slip. He kept upright but could not stop as he approached the edge of a cliff.

At the last moment he wrapped his arms round a barrel cactus but it pulled out by the roots and both fell 50 feet. Presley died.

This seems to be more a case of hard luck than the rank stupidity and carelessness that characterize most of the 700 or so deaths of visitors to what Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers, both experienced hikers and rescuers, call the most unforgiving place on earth.

That seems excessive. Actually, the toll over a century, while high, is not enormous, and over half the deaths came in crashes of helicopters and planes, including a 1956 collision of two airliners that was the worst peacetime civil aviation disaster to that date.

Despite spectacular opportunities, people fall or jump off the rim to their deaths only about once a year. Falls from below the rim, plus deaths from heart attacks in out-of-shape middle-aged men about double that toll.

Drownings are somewhat more common. Still, the body count doesn’t come close to what Hawaii enjoys.

Some things that might seem dangerous have so far failed to kill any visitors: animals and poisonous plants or running the rapids of the Colorado on commercial oared rowboats.  (Rafts and private trips have been more dangerous.)

Lee Whittlesey inaugurated the morbid book about deaths in our western parks with “Death in Yellowstone.” There are more ways to die in Yellowstone than in Grand Canyon (but not nearly as many as in Hawaii), and Whittlesey’s book is still the best of the genre. “Over the Edge,” while admirably complete, suffers from Ghiglieri’s purple prose and a somewhat phony public service justification.

Nobody really reads these books for deep insight into safety considerations. Walking into the desert without water is not a topic that requires deep reflection to avoid. Likewise, stepping over safety barriers to teeter on the edge of a cliff in order to get a dramatic photograph does not require 500 pages of explication in order to discern the risk.

(I never reviewed Whittlesey's book, but I did write about it in the context of deaths at Haleakala National Park.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The big kill

Although I said I wouldn’t have more to say about guns, reflecting on the book “Bloodlands” got me to thinking. “Bloodlands” didn’t add anything to my knowledge about gun deaths but it did inspire me to compare three facts I already knew, and that is the method implied by “restating the obvious”: We know more than we think we know.

The NKVD shot something over 1,000,000 people. The SS shot closer to 2,000,000.

Neither – nor even both combined – shot to death as many people as American gun nuts have.

Possibly the Second Amendment was a bad idea.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mass guilt

Here is an episode I was not aware of but that resonates today: From Politico Magazine, a story about rounding up Muslims in America.

Read the whole thing.

It was a nice touch to name it Amt IV; shows historical sensitivity