Friday, September 19, 2014

Home and Away

Monday, September 15, 2014
Jews are considered People of the Book. These days, it is more typically People of the Newspaper, more particularly People of the New York Times. Therefore, you might understand the mixed emotions that accompanied the (ultimately unpublished) letter to the editor that I sent off this morning.

"I consider myself a careful reader of your newspaper, so I was confused by the following opening paragraph of an otherwise heartening story:

‘BERLIN — Thousands of Germans, many wrapped in Israeli flags, gathered at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday for a rally against anti-Semitism, which has flared up in Europe following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.’

I’ve read about the extensive damage done by the exchange of missiles, rockets and artillery by the contesting forces. However, I simply missed the news of an invasion of Gaza by Israel. When did you publish this story, which presumably was more than a one-day affair? Or, were you referring to the infiltration of Israel by Palestinians through tunnels under the border between Gaza and Israel? If so, haven’t you confused your proper nouns? Please clarify."

I had to check my notes to find that I had been to Hong Kong Station, 45 Bayard Street, before on August 10 2010, so long ago that I forgot. I wasn’t sorry that I returned. The bright, airy space had leaf green paint and tiles accenting the white interior, containing about 25 two-tops. The menu basically offers you the opportunity to create your own dish, choosing among 10 noodles or rice, 32 toppings (tofu, beef balls, fish skin, Spam, shiitake mushrooms, and so on) in one of 6 sauces or soups. The exhaustive possibilities exhausted me, and I chose one of a handful of organized efforts, spicy chicken fried rice ($7.25). It was very good, carefully cooked for me in the open food preparation area at the back of the restaurant. The spicy rice contained egg, small chicken chunks, pieces of chopped choi sum (poetically translated as Chinese flowering cabbage), and boiled peanuts. It was the sort of dish that would go well with a variety of 6 or 8 others on a table surrounded by hungry friends.

Joseph Berger, distinguished reporter for the New York Times and a fellow Feingoldian, is about to publish a book about the Hasidim, the very orthodox Jews who are both a mystery and an embarrassment to many (most?) other American Jews. After reading a short essay on the subject in yesterday’s paper, my anticipation of his book is heightened.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I went to my last Mets game of the season yesterday, and, too predictably, it ended the same as the first game that I attended this season, a one-run loss after they lead most of the game. I will soon face the test of my loyalty to lost causes when asked to renew my subscription to 20 or so ball games. This is the sixth losing season in a row for the Mets, all of which I’ve attended. However, Gil Glotzer, attorney to the stars, my faithful companion throughout this fruitless period, is relocating (not because of the Mets, it should be noted), leaving me to face the next drought alone. I must think long and hard about this.

Today, doctor-lawyer-rabbi Traube examined my kishkes from the inside while I was dispatched to Dreamland. He reported that all was essentially well with my GI system, even after eating haggis in Edinburgh, a fact that I kept from him.

I haven’t been in Illinois since July 2013, but the Greek Bookstore appears to be only a web site based in Chicago, not a physical presence. In any case, I received an alert this evening that someone, using my credit card, was trying to spend $125.55 there. No, I said, resulting in the cancellation of the card all together in light of its compromised position. Unfortunately, I have no information about the nature of the suspect purchase – poetry, pornography, Plato – and can only wonder how I was selected for this dubious transaction.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
For those, such as Stony Brook Steve, who worry, as taxpayers, that I may not be devoting my time and energy to public employment, allow me to note that this commentary (about Scotland’s independence vote) is being written before 9 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Today, Scotland votes on its independence, whether to leave the United Kingdom. Our trip to Scotland and England ended just one week ago and, while politics played no role in our scheduling, it was exciting to be in the midst of this historic event. It was especially interesting as the London political establishment woke up to the ineffectiveness of its campaign for continued unity, the No vote. While the political party dynamics involved are complex and ambiguous, the leadership of the two major parties realized that they had a lot to lose and were, according to the latest polls, losing. Their sudden devotion to their even funnier-talking brethren to the north was amusing at times, since an element in Scotland’s move towards independence is the benign neglect shown by Westminster (the shorthand for the British government) towards Scotland. It was even suggested that the announcement of the pregnancy of Kate Middleton, future Queen of England, was timed to evoke feelings of avuncular (what’s the word for auntiness?) pride throughout the land(s).

An interesting procedural note about this election: Voting is limited to physical residents of Scotland. A kilt-wearing, haggis-eating, bagpiper who moved to London from Glasgow weeks ago cannot vote, while any citizen of the European Union living in Scotland may vote. That includes Poles, Italians and Germans, for instance, since they might be expected to benefit or lose by the results of the election. Personally, as a graduate of CCNY, I would vote for independence, because Scotland, like New York City until the late 1960s, offers free college tuition, while England does not. The legacy of Scotland’s free tuition may not rival CCNY’s, but it is a building block for a better, more equal society.

Finally (at 8:57 AM), I predict a narrow victory for independence. See you tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2014
I was wrong about Scotland, but not too disappointed in the result. I believe in pluralism as an organizing principle of civil society. Living alongside someone different in relative peace and harmony is a substantial challenge and tests our values as a person and a people. That’s what marriage is about, after all.

There were already sounds of discontent with the prospect of an independent Scotland. Orkney and Shetland Islands, which voted overwhelmingly for remaining in the United Kingdom, threatened to leave an independent Scotland for many of the same reasons that 45% of the voters wanted Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. No doubt, some village or two on those islands might have been disgruntled, in turn, by incorporation into an autonomous region.

There is an evident gravitational pull among like-minded, ethnically-similar people. It’s just easier to understand and tolerate those whom you recognize as versions of yourself, at least on the outside. Fun, risk, frustration comes with moving beyond the similar and familiar. Breaking up homogeneous populations in Africa and the Middle East by the arbitrary imposition of borders resulted in turmoil that remains today. Minorities usually suffer at the hands of empowered majorities everywhere you look. However, Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority dominates the Syrian Sunni majority even as the Koch brothers attempt to rule their fellow citizens.

With increased mobility and the ultimate futility of trying to keep people within borders or settings that they find unbearable, the need for pluralism arises, even if undesired or unanticipated. Without going all Emma Lazarus, I think that the United States has done a better job than most other nations in coping with disparate populations, even though the ebbing of white, Christian power has been so disturbing to many Americans who mistake the accident of birth for virtue.

From the New York Times today: "Jackie Cain, who teamed with her husband, Roy Kral, to form probably the most famous vocal duo in jazz history, melding popular tunes and sophisticated harmonies for more than half a century, died on Monday at her home in Montclair, N.J. She was 86." They were wonderful performers, who recorded together for over 50 years. If you don't know their work, beg, borrow, buy, stream or download "Storyville Presents Jackie And Roy" (1955) (also released as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"), and anything else they did later. I'm partial to their "Sondheim" album (1982). Be warned, though -- you'll fall in love or more deeply in love with whomever is in the room listening with you.

No comments:

Post a Comment