Thursday, July 22, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (7/22/04)


No group was more disturbed over those photographs of American military guards mistreating detainees in Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad than American veterans of World War Two. Tom Brokaw called us "the greatest generation," and we were proud of our discipline and professionalism. The army I served in during that war was relentless in battle. But once an enemy had taken off his steel helmet, laid down his arms and surrendered, he was treated humanely under the rules of the Geneva Convention.

Such abuse may be a result of the Army's foolish recruiting slogan, "Be an army of one." An army works best as a team. Recruiting ill-trained part-time units of hillbilly reservists by offering enlistment bonuses and the promise of money for college doesn't automatically create professional soldiers.

Most upsetting of all, however, a review of the abused detainees found that half were common criminals, not terrorists. The hooded prisoner photographed standing on a box with arms outstretched and electric wires attached to them had been arrested for being a car thief. Just what operational intelligence were such prisoners expected to reveal? Wasn't it Mark Twain who pointed out: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."?

When a man uses the word "veggies" in a conversation with me, I start looking for an opportunity to end it.

Two villages, two Indians. In Croton, the $20,000 contract to redesign the village seal has been awarded to a local design firm. The present seal is a representation of the Indian chief for whom the village is named. One replacement image has a foot in the door--a stylized sailboat already appearing on village literature and the village website, leading to confusion. With funds so scarce, it's regrettable that money wasn't saved by holding a contest in which local high school students submitted designs? A new village seal is hardly an emergent situation.

There has been no move in Ossining to change its seal, which depicts the profile of an Indian in a feathered headdress not unlike the Indian princess on the old Indian head penny. The village's former name, Sing Sing, comes from the aboriginal inhabitants, the Sint Sink tribe whose name meant "place of rocks." Extensive outcrops of dolomitic limestone made Sing Sing an attractive site for the state prison. In fact, the original buildings were built from blocks of this limestone.

I'll bet that few men carry pocket knives these days.

Funny guy. On maps of Westchester you'll find Heaptauqua Lake in Chappaqua. Despite its Indian sound, the name was meant as a joke. Victor Guinzburg, president of the Kleinert Rubber Company, makers of women's dress shields, owned property there. In 1901, he formed the New Castle Water Company to supply water to the village. The following year he dammed the head waters of the Bronx River south of Haight's Cross Road, coining this phony Indian name for the resulting lake.

The front part of the name, heaptau, came from friends' frequent comments about the project ("heap talk") and the ending, qua, from Chappaqua. In 1913, when the dam creating a second water company lake came in over budget, he admitted that he had goofed by waggishly naming it Oneonme ("one on me") Lake. Taking his cue from the ancient English manor of Chislehurst, Guinzburg named his imposing King Street house Chiselhurst. This was not a typographical error--his wife was a chisel-wielding sculptor. The house still stands, but a tower and the top floor have since been removed. Later, still another lake was added. Called Tercia Pond, the name is a bastardization of tertia, Latin for third.

Why is that heavy smokers are unapologetic and almost proud when they admit to being smokers? At the prices now charged for a carton of cigarettes, one would expect them to be sheepish.

The suggestion has been made that Croton set aside an area for a "dog park," an unfortunate appellation for what should be described as a "dog run." Croton is the only area community that does not permit dogs--even on leashes--in its parks. It would be fitting if the village recognized the important role companion animals play in our society by setting aside an area at Croton Landing at which dogs will be permitted to be dogs by running and socializing with other dogs and people. Right now the area's only use is as a repository for small mountains of untested odoriferous sludge dredged from the Duck Pond and the Hudson.

How does Andy Rooney manage to keep barbers from trimming his eyebrows?

A modest proposal. Anyone in law enforcement will tell you that a lot of crime-fighting time is wasted trying to stem the flood of illicit drugs. The so-called "war on drugs" has been a flop. Those plastic-wrapped bundles displayed by district attorneys and touted as "worth millions on the street," represent only a tiny percentage of the drugs that make it into the country illegally.

Large-scale bootlegging ceased with the end of Prohibition. What if the government faced up to reality and struck a deal with major street drug producers abroad to purchase their entire supply? Drug "fixes" would then be sold at low prices by prescription only to drug users willing to register, identify themselves as addicts and enter an ongoing treatment program. The millions now spent on the ineffective drug war could be diverted to the rehabilitation of known drug users, restoring them to useful lives. Police could concentrate on more serious crimes.

Who would pay ten dollars for impure drugs in furtive transactions when the real thing could be had for a quarter? Street-corner drug dealing would dry up in the face of such stiff competition. The unavailability of street drugs also would make it harder for young people to become hooked. Petty crimes by drug users would diminish. Your car radio or CD player would be safe in parking lots. Home burglary would decline. Your computer, TV, video player or audio system would cease to be targets for addicts raising cash for a fix. But would bluenoses permit this innovative idea to be tried?

What does the discovery of a new planet do to astrological charts?

Many gun owners keep their bicycles more securely locked than their guns. Yet a gun is the only commodity that actually increases in value when stolen. Criminals will pay a big premium for a stolen gun, as compared to the "Saturday night specials" bought legally in a hardware store in South Carolina and sold on the streets of New York. Criminals don't obliterate serial numbers on stolen guns; they don't have to. If used in the commission of a crime and discarded, suspicion falls on the registered owner, not the criminal.


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