Thursday, November 10, 2005

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (11/10/050


To the manor born. For some unfathomable reason, supposedly egalitarian America became fascinated by royalty in the 19th century, and the phenomenon continues. The current Prince of Wales and his former mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, newly minted as his wife and Duchess of Cornwall, have just completed a whirlwind tour of the United States. Prince Charles, who has been active in the environmental movement and has warned about the dangers of climate change, is not as green as he pretends to be.

"We must take action to reduce pollution," he intoned about a month ago. Environmentalists, however, have pointed out that the prince has a penchant for high-speed, gasoline-guzzling motor cars; he has two large houses and a farm; he racks up more air miles than a commercial airline pilot. They suggested that the prince's advice might carry more weight if he got rid of his Aston-Martin car, his private plane and helicopter, and moved into a smaller house rather than the two "which use as much energy as a medium-sized town." Critics also rail at the prince's preference for chartered aircraft and the royal train. His two residences need a full-time staff of 29, including secretaries, butlers, four chefs, two chauffeurs, valets and gardeners.

The principal reason for the U.S. visit is to rehabilitate the royal image here, badly damaged by multiple retaliatory adulteries, notably his long-running affair with Mrs. Parker-Bowles, and the subsequent messy divorce from Princess Diana, who was adored by the American public. His new wife brought 50 frocks, dresses and gowns, and three dressers to drape them on her.

Righteous indignation. Members of the 9/11 Commission were right to be incensed that the Administration's dismal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast and the latest debacle of Hurricane Wilma in Florida only underscored the reality that none of the commission's year-old recommendations still had not been put into effect. Natural disaster or terrorist incident, crony-heavy FEMA showed that it wasn't--and isn't--ready to handle evacuations or to rush in relief supplies to masses of displaced victims. FEMA's repeatedly bungled performances do not bode well for Westchester County, with its faulty plan for evacuating the area within a ten-mile radius of Indian Point with its two aging, obsolescing nuclear power plants and a leaking fuel storage pool.

Animal lore. Some remarkable and righteous human beings have figured in the history of man's relationship to animals. Two centuries ago, animal cruelty--notably horse and dog whipping--were common on both sides of the Atlantic. It remained for the English, that "nation of pet-keepers as well as shopkeepers," to demonstrate their exceptional devotion to animals by taking the lead for animal justice in the "animals' Magna Carta," a law sponsored by Richard "Humanity Dick" Martin and passed in 1822. Other early fighters for animal rights in Britain included the Rev. Arthur Broome, and William Wilberforce, the philanthropist who worked successfully for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. These three founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824. With the blessing of Queen Victoria in 1840, the Society added "Royal" to its name to give the group greater leverage. Interestingly, societies for the prevention of cruelty to children were formed as an offshoot of animal humanitarianism.

On this side of the Atlantic urbane Henry Bergh founded of the first American society for the protection of animals in 1866. Two years later, George T. Angell, achieved passage of anti-cruelty laws in Massachusetts. Within twenty years every other state had followed suit. In the United States today some 65 million dogs are in 40.6 million households. Almost 78 million cats are in 35.4 million households. The downside to the pet explosion is that between 6 and 8 million cats and dogs are turned in annually to animal shelters. Half of these are adopted and the other half euthanized. Amazingly, one of every four dogs in shelters is a purebred.

Just asking. Does it make sense to rebuild a major city below sea level at water's edge behind fragile levees? Rebuilt levees could still be victims of another major hurricane or a terrorist bomb, resulting in a replay of the recent disaster. The devastated neighborhoods must be bulldozed. Why not fill in lower sections of the city with the abundant material available from Mississippi River dredging before rebuilding? Other alternatives include turning the low portions of New Orleans into an American Venice with canals in place of streets. Or, most daring of all, city planners could give the Mississippi River back its flood plains, as was done in Grand Forks, North Dakota, with the Red River of the North.

Oh, deer. December 21 marks the winter solstice, the beginning of winter. It is the shortest day of the year. The period we are now entering of diminished daylight is always marked by an increase in the number of accidents involving deer on roads and highways, some injurious or fatal to motorists. The explosion of the white-tailed deer population, of course, is a consequence of our removal of the deer's natural enemies, namely the wolf. My friend Roger Caras had a solution to the deer problem: bring back the wolf. In the long history of the European occupation of the Western hemisphere, he liked to point out, although we have killed about two million wolves, there has never been a recorded incident of a wolf or wolves attacking a human.

Your tax dollars at work. Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, has announced that Michael Brown, who resigned under fire as the head of FEMA, is being retained as a FEMA consultant for another 30 days. The hapless Brown's only conceivable usefulness would be as a reverse barometer.

"Reverse barometer" is a term often heard on Wall Street. Knowing that unskilled investors are bad at forecasting, the smart money keeps an eye on what the public is betting on and does the exact opposite. In popular culture, the term was featured in the movie "Little Big Man." When Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), tells Gen. Custer (Richard Mulligan) that thousands of Indians are lying in wait for him, Custer's reaction is: "Anything that man tells me will be a lie; therefore, he will be a perfect reverse barometer? Isn't that correct?"

Dead of night. World maps in the 19th century were splashed with large areas of red indicating the broad sweep of the far-flung British Empire. It was an appropriate tint--the color of the blood of British Tommies who "took the King's shilling," a small payment paid to enlisters, who were sent to fight and die. They now lie far from home in cemeteries at the scattered outposts of empire. On the other hand, we repatriate our honored dead. But our government thinks images of flag-draped coffins are too shattering for our tender eyes. We bring our fallen home almost surreptitiously in the dark of night.


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