thanks but no thanks part 2

Administrative policies can wedge prohibitions and fear between inhabitants of the city. Coinciding with the city’s dropping crime was what seemed like a decline the independence of its citizens.

The newest (and my personal favorite) vague, socially damaging and intellectually dulling MTA announcement is “A crowded train is no excuse for an inappropriate touch”. When I hear it, half of me wants to laugh. I imagine someone actually telling the police that the train was crowded and that he or she did not know that sort of thing was frowned upon. The other half of me wonders what exactly they are talking about.

In high school, a close friend of mine in a crowded train on her way to school felt something bumping her leg. A man had exposed himself, and was very inappropriately touching her leg. She yelled at him and asserted with disgust (to the entire car) that she was 15 years old. He was humiliated and the other people on the train gave her the support that she needed.

This creative and assertive problem solving, is what this city is supposed to breed in its residents. If something or someone is legitimately threatening to you, you can say something without waiting until after the fact and going to the police or an MTA employee. Resolving an issue with an unarmed person should not require a sign or a police officer. It requires awareness of yourself and others around you. The city should facilitate communication, and community through solidarity and self sufficiency. It should not inject a middle man that discourages interpersonal relations and encourages dependence upon its institutions.

thanks but no thanks part 1

I graduated from high school in 2002. When I came back from college for winter break, I noticed that the subways and buses had been plastered with ads for “if you see something, say something”. Although it seems obvious that these ads are specifically geared to preventing terrorism, the signs and instructions are quite vague.

The “See something say something” campaign has potential to be damaging in a variety of ways. The city is filled with potentially “suspicious” packages and characters; how is post-9/11-suspicious different from what pre-9/11 we called diversity?

If we called the police every time a “suspicious package”, an individual in “bulky clothing”, or “suspicious activity” appeared on a subway platform, the city would cease to function.

I always like to make a mental note of suitcases or unattended packages that would warrant “saying something” – if I didn’t know better. The vagueness of the word “suspicious” is an open invitation for service delays on subways, and traffic delays in the street. Not to mention, it is easy to forget that we are looking for terrorists and a successful terrorist’s job is to not look suspicious.

A friend from college moved to New York about a year ago. She recently posted on facebook that she saw a “shady guy” outside of her window. Invoking the “see something say something” guidelines, she called the police. In a hip and selectively charming way she described her conversation with the police officer. She said she “saw”, a man standing on her corner in a puffy jacket, and so she “said something”. The police officer asked if the gentleman was African American. Ugh. It would have been so much better if the officer asked if the gentleman appeared to be Middle Eastern. Even though it would still be racial profiling, at least it would be slightly more consistent with the intention of the ad campaign…

Family Politics

My paternal grandmother is in the hospital. Although I have a very close relationship with my father, she and I are not close and we never have been. My father’s family is from Iraq. He moved here on a student visa in 1958. His mother and brothers followed in the early 1970s. They escaped through Turkey (I think). I know pathetically little I know about their experience.

The reason my grandmother and I never really got along is because, simply, I have a low rank among her 8 grandchildren. Of the eight of us, my skin is the fairest and my facial features are the least ethnic. I am a girl (one out of five) and I am a younger sibling. I am her B- grandchild for reasons completely out of my control, no matter what I do or how much I try. She always showed clear favoritism toward my sister and most of all to her oldest grandchild, the male product of an arranged marriage. I know this is a cultural difference that I should not take personally, but I always have.

In 2003 when my grandmother heard that Saddam had been captured, she “screamed with joy” at the television. The image always makes me very emotional and I get defensive of the war’s critics. However, when I imagine the war objectively, I think of the scattered remains of homes and infrastructure; it makes me angry for the Iraqi people and I feel frustrated. When I picture American soldiers, or American politicians (really George W. Bush) or political scientists sitting down and talking to my grandmother about the war it just makes me laugh (her English is not great and I am not sure if she has ever met someone from the South).

It is immensely difficult to understand another culture; it is even more difficult to imagine understanding another culture well enough to judge the institutions that the culture creates. The dynamics of other cultures or societies gestate and foster their governments (even if it uses repressive tactics). I don’t think any one person, let alone any group of people, can ever understand another culture well enough to impose destruction.

Debt and Sarah Palin

Neither debt nor Sarah Palin seem to actually exist. Although Sarah Palin is tangible and debt is not, no one knows what either one is capable of doing, so everyone expects the worst.

I attempted to purchase the Economist today for the first time since my subscription ran out in Dec. 2008. Why was Sarah Palin in the Economist at all? It makes the same amount of sense as worrying about debt or sovereign default in an interdependent global economy. The state of Greece’s economy is “Pretty catastrophic” but nations with debt don’t disappear. People are still going to visit the Greek Islands, and Germany will still have a very successful economy. Greece may go into Sovereign default, but the population can also retire at age 54…

It seems like “wealthy” or “modern” (aka Western) states are in debt and “poor” or “developing” states can afford to purchase that debt. China purchased a significant amount of US’ debt because US consumers are what sustain China’s economy. If Western states stop buying, then what?

What is debt? We know that debt accumulates and we know that it can be leveraged, packaged and traded but because the global economy is so interdependent, states have an interest in never allowing “debt” to materialize anywhere.

My law firm defended a major investment bank that “collapsed” in March 2008. We were defending the bank in an arbitration involving a former employee (contract issue) in California when the bank collapsed. The arbitration continued along schedule, and my firm continued to collect payments. How is this possible? If an institution’s debt makes the institution collapse, what did it use to pay the outrageous legal fees? Why would a non-entity even need to defend itself?

Debt is more like a symbol than a real problem. Just like a swastika or a peace sign, debt only materializes when people choose to make it real. Admitting that debt is meaningless would destroy the credit markets and end the banking system and global economy as we know it. Like Sarah Palin, debt stands for something intangible and undeserving of the half-hearted attention we pay to it.