The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘New York City’

BLOWING SMOKE

If it weren’t for Grand Jury decisions, we might have to focus our attention on Reality TV and Attorney General Holder would have to find other matters which he could address as he heads for the exit.  Actually, if it weren’t for our citizens who break laws, we would have no need for Grand Juries in the first place.  Blessed are the lawless for they shall be called our diversion of the day.

Eric Garner died because he was being apprehended for committing a misdemeanor offense, selling individual untaxed cigarettes on the street without a vendor’s license and the appropriate permitting, and then resisting arrest.  Now the marches commence in New York, protesting his unfortunate death – or more precisely the failure of a Staten Island Grand Jury to return a “True Bill” indicting the NYPD officer who was instrumental in bringing this corpulent man to the ground after he refused to comply with police orders.  Had Garner not engaged in this business in violation of the law, he would be alive today.  But he is portrayed as a victim – and perhaps he is.

With the plethora or laws, rules and regulations that regularly spew from the pulpits of our legislative bodies intended to make sure that we are kept safe from inflicting harm upon ourselves and others (and which incidentally bring in scads of money so that those who make the laws have plenty of cash so that they can continually enact more laws which require more people to write more rules and even more people to turn those into regulations), each of us is probably in violation of some law, rule or regulation which we did not know even existed.  In Mr. Garner’s case, ignorance was not an issue as he had been arrested nine times previously for committing exactly the same offense and twenty-two times for other infractions.

But it is fair to ask, in the greater scheme of things, is selling a loose cigarette on the street a “crime” of the same magnitude as stealing a car, beating up an old woman and snatching her handbag, raping a fourteen year old or murdering someone?  I think we would all agree that Mr. Garner’s offense was pretty minor – and our police departments would better serve our communities focusing their attention on crimes that are a serious threat to the common good.  But there’s that nasty law on the books banning the activity in which Mr. Garner engaged and the police are required to enforce it.  Otherwise, they would certainly be accused of dereliction of duty.

Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) may rightly point to the true cause of Mr. Garner’s death as being the politicians who micro-manage our lives, have raised the taxes levied on a pack of cigarettes in New York to the highest in the country and created the economic environment which makes engaging in selling “loosies” a modestly lucrative business.  Those in positions of public office who believe they know better for us than we ourselves, will undoubtedly miss the point of the senator’s comments.  Missing the point has become the platform for many of them.

This death, together with the death of Michael Brown have caused these same politicos (and their supporters who apparently have no jobs to which they can go and thus the time to demonstrate) to raise the question of the fairness of the justice system.  That is a reasonable question and one which we should re-examine periodically to insure that justice is indeed blind but fair.  According to those chanting their mantras in New York and elsewhere, the system is biased against black Americans – Mr. Garner being its latest victim.  The call was taken up by Mayor Bill de (Blah Blah) Blasio in citing centuries of racial prejudice – although it is as unclear in this case as in Brown’s that any racial element exists other than that both of the lawbreakers happened to be African-Americans.

Ironically, word is on the street that Mr. Garner’s widow is contemplating filing a “wrongful death” suit against the city to the tune of $75 Million – an amount that might realistically exceed the late Mr. Garner’s lifetime earnings potential by about $75 Million.  Of course, the lawyers in the sharkskin suits are all probably salivating at the potential of collecting their third of whatever amount will be awarded – and there is no doubt there will be a judgment in some amount in her favor.  This is the “zakat” that all Americans must pay for the injustices of two centuries past – or at least that seems to be the thematic basis for liberal thinking.  And it will ultimately be awarded by the same “unfair” justice system against which the protestors demonstrate.

Fortunately for the City of New York, when a judgment comes down in Mrs. Garner’s favor, the politicians can simply float yet another bond issue to cover the amount of the award.  Or they can just raise the excise tax on cigarettes a few cents a pack to take care of it.

EBOLA AND MENTAL HEALTH

After my mother’s death, my Aunt Helene readily inserted herself as a surrogate.  I had always been very close to Mom’s younger sister and I welcomed her nurturing and support at both that difficult time and for many years afterward.  I never failed to call her weekly and always sent her a wonderful birthday present.  On her 70th birthday I hosted a party for her, her three children and their spouses at The Four Seasons for dinner – although I had to specify that they gave the guests menus without prices on them – as she would have gone into cardiac arrest if she saw the cost of the meal and would have opted for bread and a glass of water.  She was a very practical lady.

There was a one year period when I was a child when my aunt disappeared from the scene.  It’s as though she had been abducted by aliens and transported to a distant planetary system.  In fact, although my parents never told me what happened and I learned the truth many years later, she had been consigned and confined to Bellevue Hospital to be treated for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia.  This was in the late 1950’s.

The “modern medicine” of that day frequently addressed this psychological illness with what today we may consider to be a rather primitive treatment.  It  was known as “shock therapy.”  If you saw the first “Lethal Weapon” Mel Gibson movie, you may remember the scene where he is suspended by his hands from the ceiling and water is poured over him as his interrogator hits him with electrodes to force him to talk.  That’s “shock therapy.”  It’s apparently extremely painful.

Well, the medical practitioners at Bellevue pronounced my aunt “cured” after she had been confined there for a year and undergone that treatment twice a week during her interment.  She returned home to her family, but I could see that she had gotten much more docile, measuring every word and making sure never to offend anyone.  She had always been a very gentle person but her gentility had transmuted to an almost submissive meekness.  It was many years before she rediscovered some of her previous élan.  And discussing that one year was so painful that no one in the family dared speak of it or ask for details – until many years later when my aunt felt comfortable discussing it and brought it up herself.

Four years went by and Aunt Helene began experiencing the same symptoms she had exhibited before her commitment.  Many years later she confided in me that she would have committed suicide rather than repeat her “therapy” at Bellevue, which incidentally, was known as one of the premier psychiatric hospitals in the country.  Fortunately, she had found an osteopathic doctor and had been seeing him for several years.  She described her current symptoms and told him about her stint at Bellevue.  He told her that he had a theory but he would need to request her medical records from the hospital before he could confirm his belief.  While waiting for those records he ordered some blood work done so that he would have those results when he received her transcript from Bellevue.

Two weeks later he called my aunt with news – some bad, some good.  “Helene, you do have a medical condition – that’s the bad news.  The good news is it isn’t schizophrenia – it’s hypoglycemia.  You have low blood sugar, the reverse of diabetes.  And hypoglycemia manifests itself in many symptomatic ways that may look like schizophrenia.  We need to raise your blood sugar level which we probably can accomplish through diet – and you should be just fine.”  My aunt told me that when she hung up from that call she felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders.  And she dealt with her condition through dietary management until her death at the age of 85.  I still miss her as she was a wonderful lady.

The blood work that Dr. Castin had received from Bellevue Hospital showed the same low blood sugar levels five years earlier.  But none of the physicians there caught it.  So my aunt went through nearly one hundred unnecessary shock treatments which left deep psychological scars.  Well, we all know the old joke that if you’re on the operating table the one thing you don’t want to hear your surgeon say as you float off under the anesthesia is, “Oops.”

Ebola is a potentially fatal disease – the mortality rates ranging between 50 – 70% according to the World Health Organization.  Mostly it has been confined to large areas of west Africa.  Probably those mortality rates would be lower in countries with more advanced infrastructure and medical systems.  Both the flu and traffic accidents kills more people in the United States than have fallen to Ebola in Africa.

As much as man would like to think he is in complete control of his own destiny, what we used to refer to as Mother Nature has a vote in the conversation – and she sometimes holds a very strong hand.  We have seen devastating plagues afflict human populations several times in recent and past history.  And while it is probably true that we are better equipped today than in the Middle Ages when bubonic plague ravaged Europe, it would be pure hubris to believe that we are so wise and so well prepared that we are impervious to a potentially ruinous outbreak of something the old gal has cooked up for us.  Admitting that would be to take the first step toward truly preparing for the potential of just such an outbreak.  And therein lies the problem.

Repeatedly since the first Ebola victim came to America from Liberia and subsequently died in Dallas, we have been told that any “large scale” outbreak of the virus is unlikely.  While that sounds reassuring, I for one would like to know the definition of “large scale.”  Is that one hundred patients; one thousand or one million?  That would seem a germane question since we have now been informed by the CDC that we have five hospitals which are prepared to handle just such an outbreak should it occur.  What the CDC has neglected to tell us is that between all five of those hospitals, spread throughout the country, there are a total of eleven beds to accommodate those who might come to them with the infection.

The CDC and its head, Dr.Tom Frieden have not exactly been reassuring in the way in which they have handled the situation thus far.  Nurses’ union leaders are complaining that they not only have not been instructed in the protocols that should be implemented to insure their safety and the proper treatment of the patients entrusted to them, but that they do not have the appropriate equipment nor instruction in how to use it.  That is a bit chilling.

The president assured us that there was no chance that Ebola would make its way to the United States.  As of this writing, we now have four such cases, the latest being a returning doctor who is with Doctors Without Borders and lives in our most populous city, New York.  He is currently quarantined in Bellevue Hospital.

This evening, from that hospital, the mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio and NY governor, Andrew Cuomo together with the physicians who head NYC’s and the state’s health services appeared together at a news conference to update and reassure the public about the most recent Ebola patient and any potential threats to the health of New Yorkers because of the exposure he may have had to others.  I was impressed with several things at that press gathering.

First, in the finest tradition of the White House, the scheduled press conference began late.  In fact it started nearly forty minutes late.  Simple common sense would suggest that if you’re dealing with a restive public who are concerned about a situation, delaying a scheduled press briefing is not the way to instill confidence.

Second, I was struck by the almost robotic monotone in which the public was updated on the latest Ebola patient by both the mayor, the governor and the female doctor who heads NYC’s health department.  I will give credit to the state’s chief physician.  He appeared definitely to have a pulse and seemed to engage actively and with interest in the topic at hand.  I don’t expect a Periclean speech from either our elected officials and certainly not from appointed bureaucrats, but a little bit of emotion would convey a sense of actual interest.

Third, we are asked to rely on our government’s public health officials and agencies to keep us safe from harm.  One of those on a Federal level would be Sylvia Burwell, the head of Health and Human Services.  You’ll remember that agency which formerly was headed by Kathleen Sibelius who brought us the Obamacare website roll out.  In his remarks, Governor Cuomo, never a candidate for a MENSA application, referred to Ms. Burwell as the head of Homeland Security – a post currently occupied by Jeh Johnson.  Forgive me but I’m not instilled with the warm glow of security when those who are supposed to be in charge don’t know where those with whom they may need to coordinate actually work.

If we accept, perhaps with a grain of salt, that Ebola is fortunately a hard virus to transmit from one person to another, that may give us some comfort.  But what is disturbing is the response from those within Federal agencies which seem at best, confused and unprepared.  That is not unlike this administration’s response to a host of other issues which have surfaced in the last six years.

There are threats which nature provides and which man has created.  The two terrorist attacks which have occurred in Canada, I use the term terrorists because Canada’s PM has done so being unafraid to call it as he sees it, are truly disturbing, especially in this context.  We have seen recent purported uses of mustard gas in Syria.  After 9/11 we had a mini crisis as we worried about the dissemination of anthrax.  And terrorists in Japan have used sarin gas to advance their agendas.

In view of the savage brutality of the Islamic extremists (terrorists), it is not beyond the realm of possibility to believe that if they view their mission as destroying the infidel by any means possible they would eagerly resort to the dissemination of chemical weapons within major U. S. or other western population centers without regard to the niceties of international conventions to the contrary.

I hope that our officials are correct and that any outbreak of Ebola in the U. S. will be limited in nature and that we may assist in eradicating it in west Africa.  But based on the response we’ve seen to date, to put all one’s faith in that outcome might cause a trained medical professional to question the state of our mental health.

POLITICS AND POKER

Long before we knew Tom Bosley as Fr. Dowling in “The Father Dowling Mysteries” or Sheriff Amos Tucker on “Murder She Wrote” or as Howard Cunningham on “Happy Days,” the late actor had a career on Broadway.  He originated the title rule in “Fiorello!,” the musical that brought to life the former Mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia.

Mayor LaGuardia was elected as a Republican on a platform to reform the horrible system of cronyism which existed in politics in New York City at that time.  He was serious about his intent and succeeded in ridding a great deal of the corruption that was inherent in the political system in the Big Apple.

Then as now, politics is often a back room cigar smoking business where deals are made which have no bearing on the public interest but on the interest of the players – the politicians.  We have no lack of examples for that statement, the most recent being Rep. Todd Akins, currently running for Senator from the state of Missouri.

I won’t go into Mr. Akins’ asinine and Neanderthal statement about forcible rape and abortion.  That has been well documented and sufficiently reported.  The most polite thing I can suggest is that the man is either a cretin or has perhaps had a lobotomy.

What I do want to discuss is why this “conservative” individual, a long-time player in the political game is staying in the race despite all the members of his own party who have called for him to withdraw.  The seat for which he is running is one that people of both parties see as most vulnerable to a Republican victory.

The seat is currently held by Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskall who has come under charge for ethics violations – using public funds for purposes of taking trips that were of a strictly political nature.  Although the Senator has denied these charges, she did “voluntarily” repay $88,000 to the Treasury – after the charges were filed against her.

Even to a novice political observer, such as myself, it is obvious that Rep. Akins’ statement did his campaign irreparable damage.  It’s almost as if Sen. McCaskall paid him to make that statement.  Oops – corruption – how unthinkable – but is it really?  Well, it is certainly not out of the question considering the Senator’s own marginally ethical background.  It isn’t if you think back to the kind of deals that were made in Mayor LaGuardia’s New York.

It’s now well-documented that Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid who ran a campaign that was in serious trouble in 2010 poured money into the primary campaign for one of his challengers, Sharon Engle because she was the weakest of his potential competitors.  Had virtually any other candidate run against the Senator he would now be retired.

We probably will not know until long after the election, if ever, whether any dirty dealings are on-going in Missouri.  Rep. Akins’ withdrawal from the race would do a great deal to dispel any murkiness over this issue.  That would be the act of a statesman – which may be too much to expect.

Politics and poker.  Both can be a dirty game.  But as a poker player, I think I would rather play in a game where I knew several of the players were in cahoots.  It would probably be a cleaner game than the political one which is now being played.

THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WATER

If you are even one tenth as much an aficionado of great pizza as I you have no doubt your favorite version of this sublime delicacy.  Of course, growing up in New York, I still prefer the version that is produced there.  Even a bad New York pizza is better than a great pizza from anywhere else.

Living for many years in Chicago I became acclimated to the deep dish thick crust pizza that is the signature trademark of Uno’s and Due’s – started by an Irishman, Ike Sewell.  In fact I make a very good version of it.  It’s filling and satisfying and brings back memories of sitting in Ike’s restaurants with good friends and a pitcher of beer.

In Las Vegas there are a number of pizzerias all of which throw New York somewhere in their name to entice the unwary into thinking that they’re about to get the real McCoy.  Some of them do a reasonable impersonation of the genuine article.  They carry that off almost as successfully as I would doing an impersonation of Mae West.

A new pizzeria, Dom DeMarco’s came to town last fall.  It is only about a five mile drive from the house and people talked it up as the authentic thing – coming as they do from Brooklyn.  I stopped by one day and picked up a menu.  I thought it was pricey but ordered one the next night.  I got there ten minutes early as my salivary glands were in overdrive and found that my pizza beat me to the pick up station by some time.  There was no heat lamp so I had to reheat it when I got home and there were so few toppings I wondered if I had been given someone else’s order for a plain cheese.  All this for $28.00 for a 16” pizza.

I happened to mention this the next morning at the dog park and one of the other morning regulars said he had the same experience – no toppings and overpriced.  He also mentioned that when President Obama had been in town on a fundraiser he had ordered seven or eight pizzas for his entourage from Dom DeMarco’s.  Had I known that I would have realized that I was going to get gypped and not patronized the place.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I did find a pizzeria in North Las Vegas at Uncle Angelo’s Pizza Joint in Jerry’s Nugget Casino which is as close to the real New York experience as I have come.  When I ordered one I swooned.  Great crust, plentiful fresh toppings, excellent sauce, the right amount of cheese and baked to perfection.  A 17” pizza for $17 and that included a free pitcher of beer.   I was by myself so I passed on the beer and took home six wonderful slices to enjoy over the next three evenings.

So what is it about New York pizza that makes it different?  Everyone tells me that the secret ingredient is the water.  New York reportedly has some of the finest water flowing from the tap of any city in the country.  I can believe it – and I think the water has properties that go far beyond allowing for the creation of fantastic pizza.

I say this because I read a story the other day that former Rep. Anthony Wiener (D), NY is considering a return to politics, perhaps running for Mayor of New York City.  The former Congressional Representative resigned last year because of the flap over his posting semi-clad photos of himself on the internet.  He is apparently sitting on $4.5 million in campaign contributions which could be used to facilitate that bid.

Apparently the former congressman’s incipient career as a model for men’s undergarments didn’t work out.

I have a theory that New York City water increases libido and diminishes any sense of propriety.  It is possible that this may only affect politicians.  I have a call in to former Governor Eliot Spitzer to see if I can get some confirmation of this.  I will keep you posted as developments warrant.

Until then, I would suggest that politicians who either live in or are visiting the Big Apple take caution and make sure that they only consume water that has been bottled elsewhere.

There’s something in the water.

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