Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day + Rebuilding Haiti + Ray's Candy Shop + Jets Win!

Readers, I am now having to confront regular spammers who, I assume, are paid to post ad, phishing or malbot links on the blog. If these continue, I may have to move to a moderated comment approach, though I've always wanted to avoid that because I want it to be easy for people to post directly to the blog. I've been flamed on here only a few times; one of the most memorable to me was during the middle of George W. Bush's second term, when I posted snarkily on the Disaster-in-Chief and a pro-Bushite posted to defend him and slam me. Another came when I gave a mixed review of John Adams's opera Dr. Atomic (great music, muddled, undramatic libretto). But I'm willing to live with respondents, even negative, vituperative ones. Spammers are in a completely different category...


It's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it strikes me that the Reverend Dr. King Jr. (1929-1968), who gave his life so that we could be free, would have had some profound things to say about our current era, including our first African-American president, Barack Obama, whose election he made possible; the ongoing and proliferating wars and imperial projects, promoted by said African-American president, that the US is involved in; the terrible financial situation wrought by conservatives and neoliberals, and the struggle, by millions of Americans and American immigrants, for a decent and sustaining wage, a roof over their heads, an affordable education, and the ability to live in dignity and be treated with respect; the continuing cancers of racism, sexism and misogyny, classism, and, I believe, homophobia and heterosexism; and the situation in our Hemisphere and continental neighbor, Haiti.

Jack & Jill Politics is already on this meditation, so I'll link to their post from several days ago, on Rev. Dr. King Jr.'s actual birthday (January 15), called "What Martin Luther King Would Say About Haiti On His Birthday." What they note is that Rev. Dr. King Jr., as is well known, spoke out about the Vietnam War and American imperialism, and they quote his speech on this topic to extrapolate on how he might respond to the multiple challenges Haiti is facing. One noteworthy issue, which I hope our government notes, is the discrepancy between the billions being blown on military engagements (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Colombia, etc.) and support of dictatorial regimes (Egypt, Uzbekistan, etc.) and the comparatively paltry $100 million the US pledged towards Haitian relief. Many of those billions, of course, ought to have been and should be spent rebuilding the US ECONOMY, which was effective nuked by the conservative-neoliberal fantasists of the last 25 years, instead of being funneled into a for-profit military-industrial machine whose actions and accounting most taxpayers will never know. But I know that I'm talking about a fantasy of recognition that won't be happening. Instead, we will keep pouring money into "war on terrorism" phantasms, which is to say, the military industrial complex, and scolding Haiti when it doesn't turn things around fast enough, or pay off the onerous debts and financial burdens that so terribly weakened its foundations, and those of numerous other countries around the world, before the earthquake hit. Now, to quote the incontrably more eloquent Rev. Dr. King Jr.:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.


With regard to the physical reconstruction of Haiti, Anne Kiremidjian, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, offers some suggestions on CNN's site. Kiremidjian is an earthquake expert; from 1987 to 2002 she served as the Director and Co-Director of Stanford's John A. Blume Earthquake Engineering Center. Her suggestions about how to improve Haiti's infrastructure include the following thoughts:

To prevent future disasters, the country needs to develop, or at the very least adopt, a seismic building code from other earthquake-prone regions. Adopting the seismic components of the International Building Code would be a good place to start.

Sure, measures such as adding lateral reinforcement to columns and adding steel reinforcements at joints between beams and columns to transfer forces will be more expensive, but they are clearly necessary.

Adopting a seismic code by itself, however, does not solve the problem and all the money in the world can't make reconstruction happen immediately. Local engineers and planners need to be trained in proper design and construction practices, and most importantly, there has to be a regulatory body that oversees the implementation of such codes.

It strikes me that down the road, as the process of reconstruction begins, the Haitian government, in consultation with citizen stakeholders (and this must be central to any move forward), local and international engineers, environmentalists, and NGOs, could rebuild not only Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel, but remake (with regulated building codes, reforestation and sustainable agriculture, etc.) many parts of the country so that the majority of the Haitian people, as opposed to just élites, will benefit, for years to come.


Memories of youth. And one of those memories involves grabbing cheap, delicious snacks at Ray's Candy Store, on Avenue A in the East Village, after a night of clubbing. The 24-hour store/restaurant/hangout, which faces Tompkins Square Park, opened in 1974. You know what's coming: Ray's is on the verge of being shuttered, because Ray Alvarez, the 76-year-old owner, is 2 months behind on rent. The New York Times article points out that back in 2000--which would have coincided with the surge in gentrification of the area--his landlord shifted his lease to month-to-month, and hiked his rent from $800 to $3500 (+ $650 for a 1BR apartment above the store), 500%. Meaning it would be easier to oust him and turn the property into one of the luxury venues that now grace the East Village. According to the article, some locals have cobbled together about $850, but that's a long way from the $7000 that Alvarez needs to stay in business, and if he goes, so would pass yet another longtime outpost of pre-gentrified-and-now-collapsing New York. If you know someone who's got the loot and wants to help an old man and a great institution out...Ray's Candy Shop photo (image from, by Andrew K.)


Shonn GreeneAnd last but not least, let me not forget those New York Jets, the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs, who defeated the 2nd-seeded San Diego Chargers 17-14 to head to the AFC championship. Rookie RB Shonn Greene (at right, AP), subbing for starter Thomas Jones, broke off a 53-yard run in the 4th quarter that gave his team the game, rookie QB Mark Sanchez limited his mistakes to one interception, and the defense sparkled throughout. The Jets, who were 4-7 and facing yet another losing season in late November, went on to real off 3 straight wins, and then capped the season with two more, including one against the last league's final undefeated team, the powerhouse Indianapolis Colts. The Jets will face Indianapolis in the championship game, and should they win, they'll be heading to the Super Bowl. A nice turn for a team that was written off only two months ago, but as pro sports show, while the odds are usually on target, anything is possible.

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