Friday, December 19, 2014

Alphabet City

Monday, December 15, 2014
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey collects purchasing data on almost 1,000 goods and services in the US.  Two academics have organized the data for the period 2007-2012 by 18 metropolitan areas and come up with some fascinating results.   
For instance, New York City is last (farthest below average) for purchasing alcoholic beverages at home.  Minneapolis-St. Paul leads in this category, and for alcohol purchases outside home, which may account for them being last in buying watches, since time must lose its meaning when in a  perpetual buzz.  The converse is also true, with New York City spending far more on watches (punctuality and fashion) than any other locale.   Not surprisingly, New York City leads in dining out, women’s footwear, men’s suits and wigs and hairpieces, while last in spending on pets, new cars, and lawn and garden.  

I’m disappointed, though, in New York City placing second from the bottom in book purchases, with Seattle and San Francisco-San Jose in the lead.  We may have an excuse for this in the time we spend (along with the money) in dining out, but folks in Miami combine the lowest rates in dining out and buying books.  There is no accounting for time spent in dermatologists’ offices.  There are other natural combinations: Houston leads in mutton, goat and game purchases, while spending the least on china and other dinnerware.  After all, mutton, goat and game are best served on paper plates.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I’ve been going to Tasty Dumpling, 28 Mott Street, more often lately because of their reliably hot soup on these chilly days.  Today, I found that they make a very good, very cheap scallion pancake ($1.50, no tax, no tip in this modest joint where you order at the counter).  It comes in a greasy waxed paper sandwich bag, which is a bit daunting at first.  However, the bag seems to pick up most of the grease, leaving the pancake relatively dry.  What is lacking is the soy-ginger-rice wine-vinegar dipping sauce that complements your best scallion pancake.  Maybe, if you come here often enough, you can save up for your own bottle.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
I was challenged twice today, even before lunchtime.  Both arose in the offices of Dr. Jeffrey Liebmann, distinguished ophthalmologist, who, alas, does not own Liebman’s Kosher Delicatessen, 552 West 235th Street, the last remaining Kosher delicatessen in the Bronx.  First, I had to take that infernal vision field test, the one where you stick your head into a large, hollowed-out pumpkin and you have to push a button when you see pinpoint flashes of light.  This has frustrated me several times before, because I’m so competitive that I don’t want the machine to get one by me.  The only good thing about it was that they tested my left eye only, the one that has been a bit wobbly in prior tests.  

The second challenge, and the more profound one, came in the large waiting room.  A little old man (just how old, I can’t say) came in, huddled over, packed in several layers of black clothing held together by safety pins.  His mouth hung open and I could see one tooth in his lower jaw.  So, what?  Well, he reeked, he stank.  Each time that he left the waiting room to see a doctor or a technician in back, the receptionist jumped up and sprayed air freshener behind him.  For better or worse, I am sufficiently stuffed up when the weather turns cold that the 10 feet between us was an adequate buffer.  But, it was nasty.  

Where was a companion or relative to see to his personal condition, to escort him to the doctor and help explain some of the simple things that seemed to confuse him and led to tears?  In New York City, can a person be that isolated?  I may be a bit bourgeois in hoping that he could clean up, but he won’t be able to do it alone.  (Note, that he got to the doctor’s office, at least.)  If no friend or family is available to him, how much aid can society offer him?  I tried to assuage my conscience by running through our charitable contributions, including DOROT, an organization devoted to supporting the elderly.

Even if I didn’t have the excuse of having my own doctor’s appointment and then being expected at work afterwards, I admit that it was unlikely that I would take on the responsibility of helping this man, extending a figurative or literal hand to him, assuming that he would even allow me to approach him.  What if he is sufficiently addled that the prospect of soap and water would evoke an hysterical reaction?  I don’t take rejection well.  Is it enough to pronounce it a social problem, allowing me to walk on by?    
Thursday, December 18, 2104
Today’s newspaper could keep me blogging for weeks, it seems.  To start with, we have President Obama’s recognition of Cuban baseball players as a strategic asset for the continued dominance of the American way of life.  This was a surprise for many of us, but may be viewed as a holiday gift to the management of the New York Mets and Yankees.

Next, we have the figures of declining law school enrolment to the lowest level since 1973, when there were 53 fewer law school in the US.  According to the American Bar Association, 37,924 students entered law school in 2014, compared to 52,488 four years ago.  My own anecdotal experience is somewhat contradictory on whether we are overpopulated with lawyers, justifying students seeking other paths to fame and fortune.  I hear from many people that their recently-graduated-from-law-school children cannot find jobs, or that they themselves are unable to find a new position after being let go in middle age.  On the other hand, my work involves establishing and monitoring the schedule of cases through the courts, which entails meeting many lawyers.  So often, when I inquire why agreed-upon deadlines are missed, I hear from the lawyers about the scarcity of resources.  Can we bridge this gap?

Ultimately, I don’t think that there are too many lawyers, although I would make admission to the bar much harder.  As with the medical profession, the deployment of our professional talent is severely skewed towards more prosperous urban and suburban areas, while needy segments of the population are underserved.  Significant, even total, tuition abatement may direct young lawyers to those poorly represented areas.  Also, a serious pro bono requirement should be imposed to remain professionally qualified for those parked in their glass houses.

Then, we have the North Korean response to satire.  There is evidence that the hacking of Sony Picture’s e-mail is rooted in North Korea’s offense at the upcoming (but not any more) movie The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s beloved leader.  Besides the hacking, physical threats to audiences are conveyed in messages received by Sony, which was sufficient reason for major movie chains to cancel planned showings of the film, and then Sony to cancel its release all together.  

I know that the North Korean regime is headed by a megalomaniac and it has shown itself able to disrupt at least one major corporate computer system, as well as inflicting cruelties on its own people.  However, North Korea has demonstrated no capability to use force on any scale beyond its land mass and the surrounding waters, no less get terrorists into the multiplex at the mall.   And, we have CIA agents who have demonstrated their willingness to go to great lengths to get information about suspected dangers to Americans and cops everywhere who shoot when confronted by vaguely suspicious behavior.  Instead, we now invite blackmail by anyone who can send an e-mail message, while we remain unwilling to disarm or inhibit gun ownership by anyone able to chew gun and pass gas simultaneously, or at least one of the two.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe the story that has greatest import for the way we live, or should live, is the refutation of the right-wing gospel that if welfare benefits are generous and taxes high, fewer people will work.
As the caption on a graph in this article reads, “the countries with the highest rates of participation in the labor force tend to have higher taxes and more extensive social welfare spending.”  Another graph is headed: “Employment Rates Are Higher in Countries That Subsidize Child Care.”  Now, the data comes from a professor with a foreign name at a foreign school, so the Domestic Enemies of Sanity will reject the “solid correlation . . . between what countries spend on employment subsidies — like child care, preschool and care for older adults — and what percentage of their working-age population is in the labor force.”  As in other matters, our American Exceptionalists are likely to include exception from evidence.    

The last word for today comes from a story about the failure of the New York City Housing Authority to get hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.  The details are sorry enough, but my concern is more basic – how the New York Times handles acronyms.  Quoth: “The Housing Authority, known as Nycha, also failed to secure $263 million from the Section 8 rental assistance program . . . .”  That is bushwah.  The Housing Authority is known, and appears constantly in legal papers, as NYCHA.  Just like the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is NASCAR, not Nascar, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is HIPAA, not Hipaa.  Feeble justifications for the Times style on acronyms of more than four letters include “an all-capitalized acronym calls attention to itself, possibly distracting a reader,” and “ a story filled with long, all-cap expressions looks strange on the page, as though someone were shouting at you: NAFTA, I say! NAFTA, NAFTA, NAFTA!”  I say FUBAR. 

No comments:

Post a Comment