Thursday, October 28, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (10/28/04)


What with the league playoffs and the World Series, I've had enough TV close-ups of baseball players, managers and coaches constantly chewing and spitting to last a lifetime. Bubble gum may have replaced chewing tobacco but the constant expectorating is just as disgusting.

In the upcoming election, minority populations have been courted as never before. Westchester County is a multicultural community with a racial and ethnic composition not unlike that of New York State. But what are the population percentages of its significant minority communities? In Westchester, with a population of 940,302, Hispanics now make up the largest minority (17%), followed by Blacks (16%) and Asians (5%). In Census Bureau classifications, Hispanics may be of any race.

The city with the highest percentage of Blacks is Mt. Vernon (60%), followed by Peekskill (26%), New Rochelle (19%), Yonkers (17%) and White Plains (15%). Among villages, Elmsford and Ossining each have the largest percentage of Blacks (20%), followed by Tuckahoe (10%).

Among cities, Hispanics are the leading minority in Yonkers, making up 26% of the city's population of 197,388. White Plains is 24% Hispanic, followed by Peekskill (22%), New Rochelle (20%) and Mt. Vernon (10%). Among villages, Port Chester has the highest percentage of Hispanics (46%), closely trailed by Sleepy Hollow (45%), and Ossining (28%), Mt. Kisco, which is both a village and a town, (25%), and Tarrytown (16%).

Rye is the city with the highest percentage of Asians (7%). (Asians may include Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Pakistanis and Indians, and Filipinos.) Scarsdale, another village/town, claims the highest percentage of Asians among villages (13%), trailed by Ardsley (12%) and Tuckahoe (10%).

In northwestern Westchester, Cortlandt's population of 29,419 is 8% Hispanic, 6% Black and 3% Asian. Buchanan is the "whitest" village (96%), with minorities of 4% Hispanic, 1% Asian and 0.7% Black. Croton-on-Hudson is 8% Hispanic, 2% Black and 2% Asian.

Ossining village's population of 24,229 is 28% Hispanic, 20% Black and 4% Asian. Ossining town, with a population of 4,953, is 7% Hispanic, 5% Asian and 4% Black. Briarcliff Manor is 5% Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% Black.

One doesn't have to be a military expert to recognize that our request that the British transfer 850 soldiers of the famed Black Watch Scottish regiment from the British area in southern Iraq to aid American troops in the Baghdad area is tacit confirmation that we haven't provided enough troops for the occupation.

As if the government's mishandling of flu vaccine procurement wasn't bad enough, Capitol physician Dr. John Eisold advised all members of Congress to come to his office for a shot regardless of their age or health needs--and many did. His rationale was that they are more exposed to the virus than ordinary citizens "because they have to meet with a lot of constituents." Where does that leave those whose jobs bring them into contact with many people--train conductors, supermarket checkers, bus drivers? No wonder "member of congress" is at the bottom of the list of professions rated for earned respect.

Picture this. It would be difficult to find a more brutish period in history. The air of the teeming cities was laden with the noxious gaseous and solid products of the imperfect combustion of the fires that were used to heat the warrenlike abodes of the people. Buildings sprawled in careless abandon without regard for plan or esthetics. The streets, pitted with gaping holes, were filthy with swirling debris and animal excrement. The drivers of the numberless vehicles that filled these streets rent the air with their insistent clamorous sounds. If a pedestrian should be unlucky or careless enough to be run down, the stricken victim was often left to the chance ministrations of passersby.

The most bizarre costumes and garbs could be seen on the crowded streets. In their everyday dress the people showed no originality, but adorned themselves with useless vestigial remnants of buttons, tabs and belts that once served some now-forgotten purpose. Shoes of animal hide covered their feet. Legless mendicants rolled through the streets while other unfortunates occupied street corners or doorways and displayed their deformities to the passing multitudes. Adequate medical care was available only to the very rich. The favorite stories of the masses with which they occupied their spare time revolved around murder, although other popular themes included the sudden and unexpected accession to wealth through inheritance, the discovery of hidden treasure, the seduction of a vapid woman, or the unfaithfulness of a marriage partner. Their sports were cruel in the extreme. In some sadistic exhibitions, the contenders performed in giant arenas before tens of thousands of bloodthirsty onlookers and pounded each other into insensibility.

Criminal suspects were questioned relentlessly, often being tortured with insidious devices capable of wringing a confession even from the innocent. Convicted criminals were kept in cages smaller than those used to house the beasts that were exhibited in zoos to the cruel and ignorant population. Many of the rabble kept their senses dulled to the brutality they were forced to witness through the ingestion of intoxicating beverages or narcotic substances. Superstitious practices and the divination of the future by the pseudo-science of astrology or card reading were rife. Infesting the courts were hordes of avaricious lawyers who preyed on those unfortunate enough to be caught in the toils of the obsolete and unenforced body of laws whose evasion was almost a national pastime. Venality was not uncommon among the judges who dispensed justice. Similarly, the halls of state were filled with solons who extracted tribute from the populace in the form of crushing punitive taxes. Much of the monies collected were siphoned off by wastefulness, graft or corruption.

The schools were institutions where unusable antiquated languages, outmoded rules of law, applied science dedicated to the martial arts and a self-serving naturalistic view of history was taught. Education had little to do with the world for which students were being prepared. It mattered little; legions of youths were carried off far beyond the nation's borders to fight in undeclared, almost continuous wars that were economically disastrous and whose issues and goals were only vaguely comprehended by the indifferent citizenry. Overlong election campaigns for positions in government were characterized not by a discussion of issues, but by bitter personal exchanges besmirching the character of opponents. Despite prodigious efforts in which vast sums were spent, less than half of the eligible electorate cared enough to participate in the voting.

Everyday life in Imperial Rome? A medieval European city at the time of the Crusades? Charles Dickens's London? No! A picture of life in these United States in A.D. 2004.


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Thursday, October 14, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (10/14/04)


I like the aphorism attributed to Mark Twain: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Following up on an earlier piece, here are more clichéed words and phrases I nominate for retirement:

In the new speak now taking hold, let's get rid of metrosexual--an urban male who pays too much attention to his appearance; bling bling--former street slang for luxury items; low carb--need I say more?

Then there's closure--surely there's more to grieving than merely achieving this state of mind.

A no-brainer describes the one who uses it.

As for give me a break--please do.

I tune out people who tell me, "I hear where you're coming from."

And I would string up by their thumbs all who substitute he goes, she goes for "he said, she said."

In politics, let's shun battleground states, swing states, red and blue states, stump speeches, undecided voters, politically correct and wonk, as in policy wonk.

How about girly men? Doesn't Arnold Schwarzenegger realize that the term was coined by two Saturday Night Live comics to parody him?

I'll vote against any politician who uses the verb opine or categorically denies any charge.

I detest those who claim they ran for office to give something back to the community.

How about the candidate who begins a challenge with the phrase with all due respect and then rips the opponent's character to shreds?

Officials who resign under fire to spend more time with their family or to pursue other interests will get no sympathy from me.

As for the war, can't we find a better phrase than a global war on terror? How do you wage war against an abstraction?

Please don't tell me that we have partnered with those other countries that have supplied tiny token forces; only the British sent a sizable contingent.

I draw a line in the sand for accounts of unsung heroes who were placed in harm's way--whatever that is.

Saddam Hussein was reported to have been captured alive; ever hear of anyone being captured dead?

Spare me from stories ripped from the headlines.

Nor do I like the mental image conjured up by reporters embedded with the troops.

And I'm tired of a win-win situation, used by Pentagon types to describe each of our changed policies in Iraq.

Also on my list are any officials who are cautiously optimistic or who claim there are no easy answers.

Donald Trump isn't known for pearls of wisdom, but he hit the nail on the head recently. Trump, a Republican, asked how come we can't find a bearded Arab who's 6-foot-6 and has to travel from place to place with a dialysis machine.

With home-heating oil and gasoline soaring to record highs, you're really gullible if you believe this war is not about oil. Oil was supposed to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq--but Uncle Sam is footing the bill. Interestingly, the Iraqi oil ministry was the only building actively guarded by American troops in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad. Yet our
troops looked on as other ministries and government offices were sacked and the infrastructure of the nation was hauled away in hijacked pickup trucks.

You're a chump if you think females in the military are treated with respect by male soldiers. By April of 2004, rapes and sexual assaults were endemic in the Middle East. Even after more than 83 incidents were reported in a six-month period, the Army's 24-hour hotline in Kuwait was being answered by an answering machine advising callers to leave a phone number at which they could be reached. Reports of assaults were generally not investigated because commanders had "other priorities."

The attitude of Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the ground commander, set the tone for the entire command: "The women asked to be here, so let them now take what comes with the territory." Only after abused female soldiers started phoning home to parents who complained to the media and Congress did the Secretary of Defense appoint a task force "to undertake a 90-day review of all sexual assault policies and programs." The resulting report confirmed the seriousness of the situation: In the past two years more than 2,100 sexual assaults were made on female members of the U.S. military.

You're being conned if you believe politicians' assurances that a return of the draft is not in the cards when every military expert knows differently. Our all-volunteer Regular Army, Reserves and National Guard forces, stretched thin and plagued with problems of training, equipment and spare parts, are unable to respond to a major crisis elsewhere in the world. Complicating the issue are the Pentagon's makeshift troop retention policies, especially its "Stop Loss" program that has sapped soldiers' morale and held them long past their contractual terms of enlistment.

John McCain and John Kerry have both called these troops "backdoor draftees." Failure to foresee an extended occupation, numbing slowness in restoring basic services and negative publicity like the Abu Ghraib scandal have brought countless recruits to the radical Islamic movement. The coming struggle will not be fought with Cold War heavy armor and field artillery but with quick-reacting Special Forces trained in guerrilla warfare. Civilians in the Pentagon are not happy with the prospect of a return to the draft; a volunteer force is less likely to cause trouble or raise questions. But draftees are quick to complain to the folks back home. The only sticking point seems to be whether women will be included in the new draft or not.

Cynic H.L. Mencken claimed that love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.

If your answering machine responds to incoming calls by identifying your name or phone number and "We're not here now," you are playing into the hands of annoying telemarketers or potential burglars. For telemarketers, reaching you or your phone number only keeps you on their calling lists. For burglars randomly searching for a target, you are announcing that your home is empty and ripe for the plucking. "Please leave your name and telephone number after the tone" is all the message needed.

The White House tribute to Christopher Reeve's courage rang hollow in the face of its opposition to stem cell research.

This column recently propounded the theory that the market rises or falls just before job growth numbers are released, as if some traders had early access to the information. In June and July, the market went down before disappointing job growth was announced. In August, it went up before rosy numbers appeared. True to form, last week it went down the day before September's disappointing job growth numbers. Experts had predicted more than 150,000 new jobs; the actual number was 96,000, mostly in the government sector. One has to wonder about the usefulness of preliminary numbers that change radically. June's figure of 112,000 new jobs was revised downward to 78,000. July's 32,000 was raised first to 73,000, and a month later to 85,000. August's encouraging figure of 144,000 was revised downward to 128,000.

Billy Rose once offered this advice: "Never invest your money in something that eats or needs painting."


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Thursday, October 07, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (10/07/04)


Westchester and Putnam have been the birthplace or home of many celebrities. Here's a small sample of the women who have made it in Hollywood or on Broadway: Nina Arvesen (White Plains), Justine Bateman (Rye), Kathleen Beller (Croton-on-Hudson), Joan Bennett (Scarsdale), Elizabeth Berridge (Mamaroneck), Ann Blyth (Mt. Kisco), Martha Boswell (Peekskill), Elizabeth Berridge (Mamaroneck), Jennifer Bransford (Mamaroneck), Irene Castle (New Rochelle), Colleen Dewhurst (South Salem), Anne Francis (Ossining), Morgana King (Pleasantville), Ricki Lake (Hastings-on-Hudson), Dorian Lopinto (New Rochelle), Susan Lucci (Scarsdale), Moms Mabley (White Plains), Ali MacGraw (Pound Ridge), Jill Novick (Mamaroneck), Penny Peyser (Irvington), Tina Sloan (Bronxville), Kimberley Williams (Rye), Vanessa Williams (Millwood).

More name dropping. Among the men: Lou Albano (Carmel), Ed Binns (Brewster), Art Carney (Mt. Vernon), Lex Barker (Rye), Bud Cort (New Rochelle), Howard da Silva (Ossining), Bob Denver (New Rochelle), Matt Dillon (Mamaroneck), Dan Duryea (White Plains), Michael Eisner (Mt. Kisco), Peter Falk (Ossining), Parker Fennelly (Peekskill), James Montgomery Flagg (Pelham Manor), Eddie Foy, Jr. (New Rochelle), Mel Gibson (Peekskill), Fred Gwynne (Bedford), Lee Hays (Croton-on-Hudson), Barnard Hughes (Bedford Hills), Bruce Jenner (Mt. Kisco), Gene Krupa (Yonkers), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Bedford), Robert Montgomery (Beacon), Alex Nicol (Ossining), William Prince (Tarrytown), Christopher Reeve (Bedford), Peter Strauss (Croton-on-Hudson), Stanley Tucci (Peekskill), Jon Voight (Yonkers), Denzel Washington (Mt. Vernon), James Whitmore (White Plains).

According to the Académie Française, there are at least 2,796 separate languages being spoken on our planet.

The Scots-Irish side of my family arrived in this country in the 1840s, having first fled abysmal conditions in Scotland for northern Ireland--only to find them even worse there. A member of my family has fought in every war since then, always as volunteers. I cite this record, not out of immodesty, but to squelch any suggestion that what I am about to say springs from a lack of patriotism.

As of this writing, the government has identified the number of deaths in Iraq as well over 1,064 and the number of wounded as more than 7,730. The latter statistic, however, does not include those members of the military evacuated from Iraq for noncombat injuries and illness. Since March 2003, that number has now reached 17,000 with more than 5,000 troops removed because of mental illness, including 800 diagnosed as psychotic.

In military parlance, a casualty is "a service person lost to a command through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, capture, or through being missing in action." In the 18 months of the war, more than 25,000 members of our armed forces have become casualties. Given the budgeted cut in Veterans Administration funds and the shifting justifications for this pre-emptive war in Iraq (Pearl Harbor was also the start of a Japanese pre-emptive war), I say that these statistics are unacceptable.

What kind of war is this? If this is truly a war by and for this country, where are the homefront sacrifices? Where is the gas rationing, the food stamps, the war bond rallies? We at home go merrily on our blissful way, wasting and spending. Meanwhile, the troops in the deserts of Iraq yearn to be back in "The World"--to echo an expression from our foolish undeclared war in the jungles of Vietnam. When the history of the Iraq adventure is written who will be blamed for the failure to plan for urban guerrilla warfare, the lack of adequate body armor, unprotected Humvees, and the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, which was allowed to melt away with its weapons?

In addition to the languages spoken worldwide today, there may be as many as 8,000 dialects. Dialects frequently became languages. Modern French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian all began as regional dialects of Latin within the Roman Empire.

Peekskill, which once liked to call itself "The Friendly Town," might have been called the "City of Parks." Over the years, Chester A. Smith was the prime mover in setting up Peekskill's Friendly Town Association. Using its name, he assembled seven pieces of local real estate that he turned into privately owned parks open to the public. At the time Peekskill only had six parks. In 1954, the Drew Seminary for Young Women, a private secondary school in Carmel, N.Y., declared bankruptcy. Smith, a trustee of the school, was appalled that it was unable to pay half of its debts--$43,000.

Legally, the school was free of any obligation to pay. But Chester Smith felt that the debt should be paid in full. For 47 years he had been a court stenographer in the Ninth Judicial District of the State Supreme Court. To help pay off the school's debt, he decided to become a lawyer. At the age of 75, he graduated from the New York Law School in 1959 but never practiced law. When Peekskill decided that the Association's parks would have to remain on the tax rolls, he unsuccessfully offered to give them to the city. Smith decided to sell the parks and use the proceeds to pay off part of the Drew Seminary's debt.

"I got a good price for them," he crowed. "But I could have done better. I insisted in putting in the deeds that the property never be used for the manufacture or sale of spirits. A lot of prospective buyers balked at that." He added, "I couldn't help it, though. I'm a good Methodist. Been fighting the liquor people all my life." The reaction of the donors of the park lands is nowhere recorded.

Generally speaking, almost all the polysyllabic words in English are of French-Latin origin and the one-syllable words come from the Anglo-Saxon.

Funny Coincidence Department. Thursday, August 7th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 163.48 points, although there was no particularly discouraging economic news that day. Release of job growth information for July by the Labor Department was scheduled for the next morning at 8:30. Experts were predicting a July growth of number as large as 247,000 new jobs. A disappointing figure of only 32,000 new jobs were created in July, and the Dow Jones Industrials dropped another 147.70.

Now consider what happened the day before the August job growth information was released. On Thursday, Sept. 2nd, the DJIA leaped 121.82 points. At 8:30 the next morning, the Labor Department released figures showing that 144,000 jobs had been created in August. The Dow went up another 30.08 that day. In a poll of 61 economists in advance of the Labor Department report due Friday, Oct. 8th, the median September job growth number is that 150,000 new jobs will have been added in September. It will be interesting to see what the market does on October 7th.

If David Letterman had a "top 14" list of the most important languages of the world in the number of speakers, it would go like this: (1) Chinese, (2) English, (3) Hindustani (the spoken form of Hindi and Urdu), (4) Russian, (5) Spanish, (6) Japanese, (7) German, (8) Indonesian, (9) Portuguese, (10) French, (11) Arabic, (12) Bengali, (13) Malay and (14) Italian.

Language gap? The 9/11 commission report revealed a startling statistic. In 2002, only six--count 'em--undergraduates in the U.S. earned degrees in the Arabic language. Even though the FBI received an additional $48 million over the past three years for translation services, the agency recently admitted that 120,000 hours of pre-9/11 "terrorism-related" recordings remain to be translated. That equals 13 years, eight months and five days of listening and translating. How many of the post-9/11 recordings that were not transcribed have yet to be revealed.

The Bible has been translated into and published in 275 languages.


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