George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘New York

NASHVILLE

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I’ve just returned from spending some time in Nashville, and I liked it a lot. The city is pristine and pleasant, and as I often say, returning to New York City is an embarrassment in these categories. What is perhaps most striking about Nashville is how new so many things are, the way Long Island or California was in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

The the downtown area on Broadway was really jumping with live entertainment and mostly young people jamming the bars and restaurants. That may be why we had a curious experience at the upscale “upstairs” of one of them, when a waiter asked us for identification. I haven’t been asked for proof since I was a teenager and the drinking age was still 18 in New York, but anyway we incredulously handed it over. He studied it with more scrutiny than a TSA agent, and when I asked what that was about he explained that  they’ve been getting harassed or busted for underage customers so they decided to ask everyone without exception for I.D. That was pretty lame and makes about as much sense as everyone having to take off their shoes when boarding a flight, and the food wasn’t that good either. 

We went to the Grand Ole Opry twice; once at the old Ryman auditorium and again at the “new” Opry (which is forty years old) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Contemporary country singers tend to all sound the same to me so I was pleased to hear some older stuff as well as bluegrass and cowboy singers. However, if you lack  much meat on your behind, as I do, you will find sitting in the Ryman auditorium sheer torture, since the seating consists of extended hard wooden pews. At the new Opry at least the seats are padded. The excellent, varied, and relatively inexpensive  programs make up for any inconvenience. 

 

For a change of pace we also went to a concert by the Nashville Symphony at the Schermerhorn concert hall, which is a very impressive facility with fine acoustics. It is reminiscent of the kind of design you see in concert halls across Europe, but with more modern details. The Mozart program they played sounded as good as anything I’ve ever heard in New York. The downtown contains some architecturally interesting skyscrapers that don’t have the cookie cutter steel and glass look of so many other cities. The reproduction of the Athens Parthenon in centennial park is very impressive, and if you haven’t been there since the statue of Athena was added, filling the space from floor to ceiling, it will blow you away. There are also many interesting places in the vicinity of the city, such as plantations, gardens, the Hermitage, etc. that are well-preserved reminders of the past. 

 

This is a place with a vibrant pulse and the “music city” name is very appropriate, although there is a lot more to it than that. The musical base is very broad. If you doubt that just watch an episode of the television show Nashville just for the music. It seems to be a very livable city. This is the kind of place that, along with vast sections of the country, people on the coasts are just oblivious to, or view with  a misplaced contempt. That is essentially a kind of reverse-prejudice against  a largely Anglo-American culture that is far more pronounced than anything emanating back. As much as I like the “diversity” (to use a purloined phrase) back home in New York, I also appreciate places where things are just basically American. It is well worth a trip for the entertainment venues alone and I look forward to returning on business as well. 

 

 

NO SMART KIDS ALLOWED!

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Much has been written about how our schools are failing “poor and minority” students, as the cliche goes, but far less has been said about shortchanging gifted or exceptionally bright students of whatever background. The latter is increasingly happening, and if the left has its way, it will accelerate, based upon convoluted, loony theories and radical political ideology. 

A public school in Brooklyn recently began to scrap its program for gifted students, essentially because the gifted were not sufficiently “diverse,” so as to proportionately reflect the student population. As a result the smart kids will now be educated and treated the same as ordinary students, so that everything is nice and equal. This means that they will be held back by the rest, and have little opportunity to develop the full potential they have because of an ideology that puts equality above all else. If some kids are too smart they have to be constrained by others less able so that the outcomes are equally bad. It is more than leveling the playing field, for it is detrimental to the development of these kids, who are likely to become bored, disinterested, and even troublesome to the extent they are held back. In an ordinary class social pressure will further inhibit them from being “too smart” in the classroom. It also reduces their prospects vis a vis gifted kids in other places in the world who are not so limited when they go on to further education.

Leaving aside the kind of damage it does, you can argue they still have an even chance, the same as everyone else, but equal mediocrity is not a recipe for a dynamic society. Whether we like it or not, talents are not equally distributed and equal results cannot be programmed. If those who excel at something are discouraged from reaching their full potential, it is a loss for everyone. The only way we can have, i.e. the best scientists, is by encouraging the best minds to flourish. To the extent that they do, we have more discovery, innovation, new processes, ideas, technologies, etc. These are the things that improve life for everyone. It is a relatively small handful of people who bring about breakthroughs and significant change. In historical time we are dependent on a few bright people, no matter how inconvenient this is for the ideologically obsessed. 

We are simply not equally endowed. We have equal rights before the law, but we do not have equal abilities. To pretend that we do, or to suppose that we can change this simply limits our future prospects. Certainly everyone should get a good education, but it is in fact the bright students that will most influence our future and the quality of life we have. 

 Good teachers also need good students who actually want to learn. If this kind of leveling spreads into the public school system, more and more parents will be driven to place their children in private schools. There are rumblings now of also leveling down the elite high schools, which have competitive admissions, based upon the same misguided ideology. If these trends continue we will be much poorer as a society in every way.

Written by georgesarant

February 6, 2014 at 6:05 PM

EUROPEAN TRAVEL NOTES & RANDOM REFLECTIONS

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Returning home to New York’s JFK airport from abroad continues to be a major embarrassment, after leaving a shiny modern airport in Europe. You exit through a dingy corridor to customs, immigration, and baggage retrieval, to find transportation. You have to haul your baggage across a busy thoroughfare to reach the cabstand. Then you’re treated to a bumpy ride into the city over bad roads through dismal surroundings. Welcome to America 2013. There is no possible excuse for the way our infrastructure has deteriorated. It is nice to hear the administration talk about improving this but you have to wonder where all those billions of stimulus funds went, when there’s not a single project of any note being undertaken anywhere. 

Another embarrassment is Times Square, especially insofar as it is largely populated by tourists, wandering about what is a joke of a pedestrian mall. Having just left countries with beautiful piazzas with fountains, etc. the plaza created on Broadway is laughably bad in comparison, consisting of junk outdoor patio furniture and baffled visitors milling around. It desperately needs some creative architecture. Perhaps Bloomberg will donate a fountain, but then again he would probably want to plaster his name all over it.

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Everywhere you go in Europe now there are huge crowds of tourists at the most visited sites. If you want to see anything important you really have to arrange it in advance these days by booking a time slot via the Internet, as far ahead as possible. That’s the only way to avoid long lines when you get there. Much of the continent has become a museum. What is really striking is how anywhere you go there is a church or cathedral that is the major feature of the city or town. But almost all the visitors are tourists in the overwhelmingly secular Europe of today and few of the locals go to church. 

This loss of faith has profound consequences, and I say this as an agnostic, but one who is sympathetic to religion. First there is nothing to replace it, resulting in a kind of nihilistic fatalism. Second, there is no faith in the future, only living in the present, and as a result the population is not growing and there are not enough people to pay for all the benefits they have promised themselves. Third, without Christianity, which is a crucial part of their cultural DNA, they are disconnected from a rich heritage. This is symptomatic of a long decline that began with the monstrous disaster of World War I, which I believe to be the seminal event of modern history, considering the impact and all the consequences that flowed from it. 

A century ago, just prior to the war, Europe was on top of the world and the epicenter of western world. The war destroyed too much of that civilization, and this was compounded by the second world war, which was a direct consequence of the first. The continent has yet to recover its cultural vibrancy, if it ever will, as it is now under American influence more than ever. 

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Two decades ago in any European city you could pick out the American tourists due to their casual, if not sloppy dress. Nowadays that is impossible as everyone looks the same, no matter what their origin. I’ve written on this in more detail here.  We are more alike than ever, especially the young, who everywhere use the same Iphones and Ipads, due to the now ubiquitous Internet. But some things are not the same. Today the single greatest difference between Europeans and Americans is space. In America we have a lot of it, even in less affluent homes. In Europe space is at a premium and private spaces tend to be much smaller. Anything from a hotel room to a car is smaller, due having a larger population in a smaller territory.

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Much of the traveling on this trip was done on a cruise ship. Apart from people from all over the U.S., there were many others on the ship, notably Australians, French Canadians, and people from the Netherlands, where the ship is registered. It is a hell of a trip from Australia to Europe, but a lot of them do it. The French Canadians are a lot more jolly than the people in France, and actually speak better French. 

 

That was a fairly diverse population, but it wouldn’t be for a left-winger. I picture one defining this as a boatload of predominantly older white people served by a third world population, (never mind that they are genuinely happy in their work). Since the left sees any grouping that happens to be overwhelmingly white as illegitimate, I get the impression they don’t cruise much, otherwise they would have shitted it up the way they have ruined everything else by politicizing anything they come into contact with.

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As I prepared for this trip it occurred to me how much we depend on things going right in our lives every day,  i.e.  that the plane will land safely, on time, and that we will get our luggage,  that no one will break into our homes while we are away, etc. (Although they could have been enticed, thanks to the Post Office, which again bungled a hold-mail request while we were away and allowed it to pile up). Fortunately most of the time, we go through life expecting that other people will do the right thing, and get angry when they don’t, i.e. in traffic. Whatever problems there are here, there is still a high level of interpersonal trust, which is one of the best features of this society. Nevertheless, things do happen, and it is wise to always expect the unexpected in life. 

 

Written by georgesarant

May 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM

THE REPUBLICAN COASTAL DISEASE

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The national Republican party is increasingly in danger of going the way of the moribund New York party I’ve written about previously here, where yet again the party establishment is lining up behind another gruff, inarticulate candidate whose only virtue is money, and who is certain to wind up an embarrassment if nominated. It doesn’t even matter that such candidates aren’t even Republicans, or are recent converts of convenience, as long as they are willing to part with some cash for the party establishment apparatus. When a party starts looking for candidates who can self-finance you know it is in trouble, as it portends nothing more than a lack of a broad-based support network. The party in California is in the same shape, although there at least the last statewide candidates were good. 

This pattern just confirms the phony depiction of the Republicans as the “party of the rich,” never mind that the super-rich actually favor Democrats. It is in fact a bona fide middle class party, but it doesn’t help when the last candidate for President, as good and decent a man as he was, only confirms this stereotype. People see this and form their perceptions, often concluding that “he doesn’t represent people like me.” The only way the party can gain strength is to do the nitty gritty work on the ground and build from the bottom up, rather than wait until election season and hope the right candidate comes along. Even if such a person does materialize they can’t magically create a functioning party structure where none exists, which is pretty much the case at the moment on both coasts. 

The party establishment often gets the blame from conservative activists, and there is some truth to this, to the extent that they have frequently connived to rent out the party line. No one should be able to buy a nomination for office in either party, but it continues to happen. But that is ultimately where failure commences, when the party ceases to represent the people it is supposed to represent. The usual prescription to correct this is to limit the amount of money in politics. However, it is in fact such restrictions on donations that has handed rich guys the keys to the party since they are willing to spend their own money, making campaign finance rules ludicrous. I’ve argued a number of times here that what we need is electoral reform: first a limit on how long campaigns can go on, and second, that candidates ought to be nominated by the elected officials of the party, who after all, have been chosen for public office by the electorate. However, the prudent way to approach big questions is incrementally, not in a rush to “reform” or correct a situation that often backfires due to unforeseen circumstances. Any change should first be tried out in a few states to see how it works before becoming a national template. 

Republicans aren’t losing on ideas as much as organization, or the lack of it. It is increasingly impossible to win an election if you write off large geographic sections of the electorate. The problem isn’t with “minorities” as we hear all the time, but rather with geography. The division into so-called “red” and “blue” states, or tactics to maximize the party’s “own” turnout may occasionally work, as in the past few presidential elections, but it is a terrible long-term strategy. Both parties are guilty of this. The way to start repairing this is to ask the questions “Why aren’t we getting the vote in these states?” and “What can we do to appeal to them?”  

A decade ago former Governor Zell Miller wrote a book called A National Party No More about the Democrats. The same could now be said about the Republicans. When a huge block of voters on both coasts are basically written off it is that much harder to win an election.The national party should look at states where they are faltering and resuscitate the local parties. It was not so long ago that California or New York could be successfully contested. They should be again, by doing the necessary work of building a party from the ground up instead of from the top down. 

Written by georgesarant

March 23, 2013 at 5:18 PM

REPUBLICANS FOR RENT

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There is no more dysfunctional, morally bankrupt political party in America than the Republican party of New York, which having hit bottom somehow manages to wallow in futile irrelevance. It is often said that New York, is after all, a “Democratic” state, which is true on paper in terms of party registration. But the state has often been as likely to elect Republicans in the past to statewide office, be it Governor or Senator, so the party argument doesn’t hold up. It is also suggested that it is a “liberal” state, which is another myth, at least outside of Manhattan and some other city neighborhoods. In fact because the registration is so Democratic there are a large number of conservative Democrats in the state. So there is no reason why Republicans cannot win elections at least some of the time, yet they do not hold a single statewide office at present. The party has become irrelevant, largely due to incompetence, mismanagement and stupidity.

I say this as one who once directed the state Republican Policy Committee and struggled to get ideas and solutions in the forefront, but when I persisted the highest elected official at the time told me “You want policy? How much money can you raise? That’s the policy,” and so it was and still is. This is a party that is focused on one thing: money, to fund itself, maintain the party apparatus, and go through the motions of trying to win an election. Thus they have a special soft spot for billionaires or millionaires that are willing to fund their own campaign and a long history of effectively “renting out” the line to whoever comes along with the cash, no matter how inept, politically illiterate, and tone deaf they are. This has happened time and again and will certainly happen in the future. While there rarely  may be a competent dud like Michael Bloomberg, he’s a perfect example of how low this party has sunk. First he was a Democrat who became a “Republican” and rented the line to get elected. Then he left the party and ran as an Independent, but the spurned Republicans gave him the party line again anyway. But the typical candidate, if not for their money, would be dismissed as a nonentity, and there are more former Democrats in the pipeline with cash.  

Even at the local level it is a disaster. Suffolk County on Long Island was once the most Republican county in the country. It leaned so much to the right that the Conservative Party of New York used to come in second, outpolling the Democrats. Now Democrats regularly elect the County Executive and Town Supervisors. The apologists will tell you it’s due to a demographic shift, but that is nonsense. The party overplayed its hand, behaving like the corrupt political machines that used to dominate New York City and eventually lost the confidence of the electorate, while the local Democrats wisely ran conservative campaigns. Virtually the entire congressional delegation from Long Island was once Republican. Now there is just one left. 

You would think that given the dismal state of the Republican party that the Conservative Party would rise as it once did in the past and keep the Republicans honest. Instead they have settled for making deals for their endorsement and are overly obsessed with a single issue, abortion, even though there is already a separate “Right to Life” party based solely on that. 

So there’s not much here to give genuine conservatives and remaining Republicans much hope, given the moribund party state and the total lack of effective leadership. Under the present circumstances they are likely to continue to falter and put up dopey candidates, we will hold our noses and vote for these fools, who don’t have a prayer of winning and wouldn’t know what to do, if by some miracle, they did win. Unless and until there is a reform movement that can muster enough support and financing to shake things up, actually stand for something, and field serious, articulate candidates, the New York Republican party will continue to be for rent. 


Written by georgesarant

May 30, 2012 at 1:50 AM

DOWNTOWN TRANSFORMATIONS

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Lower Manhattan has changed considerably in the years since I had an office there. From my window you could see the World Trade Center, and its destruction is at the root of the transformation. For one thing the area is swarming with tourists, where in the past there was never that many downtown. Whenever I used to get frustrated I’d take a walk down to Wall St to see George- that is George Washington’s statue in front of Federal Hall, where there were few visitors. Now poor George is surrounded by tourists taking pictures of each other next to or in front of him. But at the same time security has been greatly heightened. You can’t drive there any more; the streets are full of barriers, and it’s a nuisance trying to wade through the crowds if you have business in the area. Back up by City Hall there is now so much iron surrounding it citizens no longer have the easy access they once had, where you used to be able to drive and park in front on business. Police headquarters is even worse. There are so many barriers and iron gates it is like a fortress, and the nearby underground municipal parking garage is gone for security reasons. I don’t understand this siege mentality at all; it is not like the police are a vulnerable target. Whatever the case, it makes walking around a nuisance as well as an unpleasant experience.

Both buildings I used to have offices in are now residential, as are many others in the area as businesses vacate either for midtown or out-of-town, due to the onerous tax burden in NY City. The result is there isn’t much of what people think of when they say “Wall Street” left on the actual Wall St.  The area where the Trade Center was has gone through many transformations. Once Cortlandt Street was known for electronics stores, and I remember shopping there for tape recorders at a very young age. Not far away on Washington Street there was a produce market from  where wholesalers would supply restaurants and other customers. I used to send orders there when I was in the shipping business when the offices of shipowners were located way downtown. Then there was St. Nicholas church, where I was married, which was turned to rubble when the Trade Center was destroyed. There were years before that event when I had a parking space right next to the WTC due, I’m ashamed to say now, to a government connection.

Just across from what is now known as Ground Zero is Century 21 department store, which got its start in the Brooklyn neighborhood I grew up in, Bay Ridge, or Fort Hamilton as part of the area is also known. The downtown store is now always crowded with foreign,  mostly European tourists, who oddly enough are there to buy European designer clothes, if you can figure that one out. There are long lines at the checkouts everywhere, and their arms are full of apparel to take back home with them.  That brings me to the subject of

FASHION CLASSICS

I prefer a classic look in clothing, which has a timeless sophistication about it, as opposed to the ephemeral trendiness of fashions that, especially when executed in the extreme, quickly go out of style. I used to buy some of the Italian designer stuff I like at Century, but not any more. I  was quite taken aback to find virtually all of the men’s suit and jacket section full of garments with very narrow lapels. It’s as though they’ve flipped out over the Mad Men tv show. But given the cost of many of these clothes, notwithstanding their lack of particularly fine fabrics, you have to be crazy to spend good money on them. It won’t be long before these look as silly as the extremely wide lapels of the 1970s. To make matters worse, many of these jackets are cut so short that it leaves the distinct impression of a poor fit rather than anything attractive. Couple this with ties that are proportionately much wider and you look ridiculous, yet this is the look you are now seeing in many garment ads, at least for much younger people, but then the young always look ridiculous. Put that jacket over baggy pants perched on the behind and it is a very clear statement of very poor taste. It takes years to get passed the youthful impulse towards trendy conformity, but the sooner that happens the better off we always are.

At the same time I must note that the traditional men’s clothing stores nearby were pretty empty by comparison. But that’s where people who work buy their clothes and they aren’t likely to be out shopping in the middle of the day.

I’m no expert on women’s clothes, but one day I glanced through a style magazine my wife had that was full of various celebrity actresses in outfits that failed to impress. Then I came across an advertisement that had a full page picture of Audrey Hepburn in an elegant outfit, and that image just put all the contemporary women featured to shame. There was such a timeless beauty about it that the only way I can describe it is “classic.” Again, you can’t beat a well proportioned classic look.

Written by georgesarant

March 30, 2012 at 4:04 AM

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OF PEOPLE AND PLACES

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We’re in Vermont for the week, doing some leaf-peeping. I have yet to come across any socialists, not a sign of them, (apart from an abundance of Venezuela-owned Citgo stations) which is odd insofar as this state has elected a bona fide Socialist to the Senate. I haven’t come across many Yankees either, and therein lies a tale. For generations this was a state of flinty Yankees, but two things caused this to change. First the Anglo-Americans failed to reproduce, as in much of the north and their culture faded away as they were replaced by others. Given the small population base of the state it did not take that many people coming up from New York and Massachusetts to cause a culture change, particularly insofar as many of them were Ben and Jerry types. Thus the whole political dynamic changed as the underlying culture shifted. The same thing is happening to a lesser extent in neighboring New Hampshire.

There’s not a hell of a lot to do around here and so the highlight of our trip so far has been across Lake Champlain in neighboring New York, where we visited Ausable Chasm, often called the “Grand Canyon of the east.” The natural scenery there is stunningly beautiful and our enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that we had the entire place virtually to ourselves. New York state offers a different kind of example of population change. Upstate New York has become depopulated and contains the most wide-open spaces you’re likely to find in the east. The state is continuously hemorrhaging population, which is partially masked by the large number of immigrants moving into the state.

When I was growing up the Empire state had the largest population in the union. It was eventually supplanted by California, which is now approaching nearly double the population of New York. It has been passed by Texas, and will be passed by Florida in a few years. As other states have progressed New York has declined. None of this was inevitable. It is largely a consequence of decades of miserable political leadership, high taxes, and government dysfunction. All of this has caused industry to flee the state leaving upstate cities a shadow of their former selves. Every election there is talk of reviving the state economy but nothing is done. If you don’t like living too close to your neighbors you definitely want to move upstate New York.

Written by georgesarant

October 7, 2009 at 5:00 PM

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