Archive for the ‘Culutre’ Category
I usually drive to work along the Hudson River. It’s a nice drive. Beautiful old buildings to my left and the Hudson on the right. But today I took the bus through the city.
In northern Manhattan there was a man, an African American man, dressed in a manner that clearly identified him as a Muslim, trying to cross the street after the bus passed. I reacted. “What a brave man to announce his religious affiliation in this manner.” I was horrified. My immediate reaction was to fear for his safety because people would know his religion. I didn’t have time to consider, “Have we really come to this?” before the bus drove by the mural reproduced above. (Photographed with an iPhone.) It appears to have been painted around the time of 9/11 or shortly thereafter. (The bottom third is certainly more recent.) It speaks of unity. The unity of New Yorkers. The unity of Americans. Of all Americans.
I now hear that there is preacher who wants to burn Korans to make a statement. To show the world that we aren’t going to let Muslims get away with…with who knows what. Political figures, such as Newt Gingrich (a man with a Ph.D.), are making frightening and spurious claims about Muslims. There is no doubt: the sickness that is religious prejudice is infecting America, making a sham of the most cherished values of this nation. And yes, I am well aware that we have not always lived up to these values. But to see how far we have sunk in nine short years leaves one breathless. The 9/11 terrorists would be laughing in their graves, if they had them, for what they have managed to do to us. We have come to fear fellow Americans for no other reason than that they profess to be Muslims. And if you think that this is not due to base prejudice and fear, consider how many Americans started to assail white (former?) Christian males after Timothy McVeigh slaughtered 168 adults and children in Oklahoma City. (Or perhaps a better analogy: suppose an all white anti-government militant group, identifying itself as Christian, blew up the Washington Monument and the White House. Would white Christians then be treated as suspect?)
America is in bad shape economically. We have suffered through years of wasteful war. But we have come through hard times before. Let’s hope we can do so this time without condemning the innocent.
So, you think of yourself as an honest soul. You understand that stealing property or money is wrong. You wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t want your kids or friends to do it. It’s unthinkable. But I have a proposition for you.
Here is a button. All you have to do is press it and $100,000 will be transferred from Goldman Sachs, BP–or any other giant corporation whose resources are larger than most countries–into your bank account. Nobody will ever know. It’s a magic button. Well, not really magic. Some geek has wired it in a fashion so that money can be transferred to your account without anyone being able to trace it–in the tradition of how derivatives were traded.
Just think of how much money Goldman Sachs and its executives made in the last few years as the Market tanked, while you probably lost money in your hard-earned retirement account. Not only did you recently lose money, but if you had invested $1,000 dollars eleven years ago in the Dow, that’s just about what it would be worth today, $1,000 (less if inflation is factored in). But you know, and I know, how much money these guys have made trading your money and my money. But that’s capitalism, you say. It’s the way the game is played.
But would you push the button? Would you be tempted to do it? Or perhaps a better question: how many of your fellow Americans do you think would be tempted? A lot, right? (Or an even better question, how many more would push it today than ten or twenty years ago?)
The recent Melt Down on Wall Street, and the ensuing profits made by big trading firms and banks, have been corrosive in ways that we may not fully understand for years. You’ve got Tea Baggers screaming about Washington, but the revelations about how Wall Street operates have buried themselves deep in our collective subconscious. Real damage has been done. Yes, we knew that there was big money out there and that big money corrupts. (Before the present Melt Down, there was Enron and assorted other travesties.) Yet “knowing” is one thing. Seeing it in front of your eyes day after day, year after year, undermines confidence that the system is anything close to fair. Yes, Obama has attempted to tame Wall Street with new regulations. They will do some good. Yet as long as we continue to see different rules of the game for a small strata of society, which is indeed what we have seen, our belief in the benefits of capitalism will be undermined by a gnawing sense that it is corrupting us, our children, our society. From a sanctified economic system, it will become what we have to put up with, sort of like the Roman emperors in Imperial Rome. It won’t go away anytime soon but we aren’t going to feel good about it.
There was a time in American business when many people believed that a handshake was as good as a contract, or so I am told. People kept their word. It now seems that handshakes still function in this manner for a small elite segment of corporate America that makes deals for unimaginable sums. The rest of us can’t depend on them when we deal with companies. (How about a handshake between you and your medical insurance company to guarantee your coverage? Any takers?) The middle class will need more and more contracts and lawyers to protect them in an economy in which money has gone wild. And they will have relatively less money to hire these lawyers.
No doubt there are problems with the way government functions. But anyone who thinks that this is the major source of the declining confidence in how our society works really needs to look at Wall Street with suitable eyewear. The business of America is no longer doing business but being given the business.
Since this Blog began a few months ago it has been called, “Mitchell Aboulafia,” which happens to be the name of the author of the postings. But as the Blog grew in circulation, it needed something a bit snappier (than me) for a title. Hence, “UP@NIGHT.” (The author is a bit of a night owl, but he also wants you to know that he is working away at all hours of the day and night to produce UP@NIGHT.)
I have had some very nice feedback on the site and I hope that readers continue to enjoy it. I know that I have enjoyed participating in “the collective experiment” of internet writing and communication. (And it certainly allows me to be more playful than my academic work.)
UPDATE: August 21, 2008: On August 20th I added a little feature to the site, a cluster map. If you click on the map, you can see the locations of the visitors to this Blog. I have noticed that on the first day of its use it is not registering all of the visits, but I have been informed that there is often a delay (and there can be more than one visit from one location, since a location is an IP address).