Friday, September 30, 2005

September 30, 2005--Friday Feature: Fanaticisms II

In New York City, actually in Manhattan, so much revolves around parking. Street parking for you car. We have Alternate Side of the Street Parking rules that require moving cars from one side of the street to the other at least four times each week so the streets can be cleaned. Street parking is at such a premium (monthlies for garage parking can exceed $500) that some have even been known to hire car movers who will sit in their car all day while waiting for a space to open up.

But as with so much else in the Big Apple, parking is about a lot more than a space in a No-Tow Zone. It’s also about ethnic and religious identity.

Take Diwali, for example. For Hindus, Diwali is an annual festival of lights and the latest parking cause in the on-going Culture War. There are 33 holidays in New York when Alternate Side of the Street Parking rules are suspended, days when cars do not have to be moved. For holidays such as Yom Kippur, Christmas, Immaculate Conception, Asian Lunar New Year, Shemini Atzeret, and Id al-Fitr among others. Most of the world’s major religions and ethnic groups have a parking day of their own. But not Hindus. Therefore, the battle in the City over Diwali [see the report in the NY Times, “A Hindu Festival of Lights, and Parking?” (link below)].

The City Council this week unanimously passed a law to include Dawali; but Mayor Bloomberg, in spite of being in the thick of a reelection campaign, has indicated he will veto it, risking the lose of the Hindu vote (though probably assuring at least 90 percent of the Staten Island vote). Not that he is anti-Hindu; it’s just that the streets have to be swept (we should be so lucky).

Hindu business leaders showed up at City Hall the other day to demand “respect and equal treatment.” I say amen, or whatever.

And then there is the business of Rabbi Schneerson. You may remember him as the Grand Rebbe of the Brooklyn-based Lubavitchers. He died back in 1994, but apparently is still exerting his influence from beyond the grave [see the Times piece, “Fertile Blessings Indeed” (link also below)]. He is interred at Old Montefiore Cemetery and his gravesite has become a sort of pilgrimage site for Lubavitchers. Most who make the trek there are hoping to be witnesses when he arises as the meschiach, or Messiah. Though this has not happened as yet, others, while waiting, have also taken to asking his help with another matter—fertility.

When he was still alive, he received his followers each Sunday at his house on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Jews from Russia to Roslyn would come to him seeking various forms of assistance, including and especially in conceiving children. He would give each person a dollar and a blessing, “Easy pregnancy, healthy child.” It worked so well that infertile couples now come to visit him at the cemetery. Of course they no longer receive dollar bills, but they do appear to get pregnant. One couple, for example, that tried unsuccessfully to conceive for nine years recently had triplets as the result of the Rebbe’s intervention, and, as the Times reports, with “the help of in vitro fertilization.”

This couple returned to Montefiore the other day, with their three children, to thank the Rebbe and then to go to the nearby visitors’ center where they had bagels and whitefish salad.

New York, as you know, has the best bagels in the world.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

September 29, 2005--Driving Miss. Saud

It is encouraging to take note of the fact that the Bush administration is now actively engaged in solving two of our most pressing, interrelated problems: The “dire picture of American public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world” (to quote from yesterday’s NY Times—link below); and our over-consumption of gasoline (a second link below).

It is however not encouraging to think about the ways in which he is working on these solutions. Let me take them in turn.

In regard to the former, the President apparently sees this to be more a public relations problem than something deeper. Thus he named his former “communications advisor,” Karen Hughes, to be Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy with the assignment to fix the way the US is viewed in the Middle East.

Ever energetic, she took right to the road. The Under Secretary spent her first day in Egypt where she communicated the need there to foster the advance of electoral democracy. That taken care of, in just one day no less, she moved on to Saudi Arabia to secure rights for women. At a public event with a hand-picked audience of 500 university students, faculty, and professional women, she held out the promise that if the Saudis would only embrace freedom and democracy, women would be allowed to “fully participate in society,” even be able to secure drivers licenses. (The price of gas there would not be too much of a problem, if you understand.) To her surprise, her message was not all that well received. Many in the audience said, thank you very much, “We’re pretty happy.” Noting that Ms Hughes was wearing Western-style clothing, one 21-year old student said, “I love my abaya. It’s convenient and it can be very fashionable.”

I do not know the rest of her itinerary, but I hope it includes stops in friendlier and more fashionable places such at the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Back home in the USA, the President himself is working directly on the gasoline problem. You recall that earlier this week he urged Americans to limit their driving to just what is most essential. He was quickly criticized for his own inessential travel--burning up so much fuel and money during his many trips to the Gulf States in Air Force One. (Seven since his belated first visit there after Katrina.) So he’s cutting back on those and will take fewer White House gas guzzlers with him next time.

But more important, he directed his staff to turn down their ACs, form car pools, and turn off photocopiers (actually since the Pentagon Papers I thought they had been banned from the White House). There is the question, though, about Vice President Chaney—will he in fact agree to turn down his AC? Recall, in 2001 he said, “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy.” He said this while on his way to a meeting with his infamous Energy Task Force (subpoenas to follow).

Chaney again is of course correct. But he did say to Under Secretary Hughes that she should tell those Saudi women that when they get their drivers licenses they should keep the AC set at 78 degrees.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

September 28, 2005--I'm Gonna Wash That Man . . .

I don’t quite know how to bring this up in mixed company, but in the spirit of science and truth, I will force myself to do so.

The NY Times Science Times Section yesterday reported that though 91 percent of Americans say they always wash their hands after using public toilets, only 83 percent actually do so, according to an observational study (see link below—click on “Original Article”).

First just the facts: In a nationwide poll conducted by Harris Interactive, 1,013 adults were interviewed; that’s how they got to the 91 percent. Suspecting this might not capture the whole truth, a second study was commissioned by the American Society for Microbiology and the Soap and Detergent Association (more about them in a moment). For this study, 6,336 adults’ toilet behavior was observed in the field; that’s how they came up with the 83 percent.

Any serious student of science wants to know about methodology, and since I had a few questions I made a few inquiries—

(1) How did they come up with 6,336 to be observed when they interviewed just 1,013?

(2) Where did they do the observing?

(3) Who did the observing?

(4) Were there statistically significant differences in washing behavior between those with just a high school education and college graduates and/or between higher and lower income urinators?

(5) Were there any differences in the post-potty-hand-washing activities of men and women? In other words, is this a gendered situation?

(6) Were there observed divergences between those doing Number One and Number Two?

(7) And, perhaps most important, did any of those who did the observing misbehave or get arrested?

I’m not that much of a researcher and thus I cannot comment on the “N,” the delta in the number interviewed and observed. I can report though that the observing took place in six locations, including Turner Field in Atlanta; the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; Grand Central and Penn Stations in New York City; and, and at the Ferry Terminal Farmers Market in San Francisco (I won’t even begin to tell you what else they observed there).

I cannot say who did the observing (that was not noted), but from my own research, reading the full report, I can pass along that:

"Observers discreetly watched and recorded whether or not adults using public restrooms washed their hands. Observers were instructed to groom themselves while observing and to rotate bathrooms every hour or so to avoid counting repeat users. Observers were also instructed to wash their own hands no more than 10% of the time." ("Women Better at Hand Washing Hygiene Habits, Hands Down," American Society for Microbiology, September 21, 2005)

This suggests the observers must have been out of work actors.

And yes, as one would expect, the findings are in fact gendered and SES-correlated: woman “were more diligent than men”—90 percent washed their hands as compared with only 75 percent of men; and poorer, less educated men and women were also less diligent. If you are curious about different rates of diligence between, say, the Turner baseball stadium and San Franciscans, you will probably not be surprised to learn that just 74 percent of fans washed up while 88 percent did in the City By the Bay.

So what besides prurience might be the bottom line? As noted above, this study was largely financed by the Soap Association. Could there be a little self interest at work here? (Recall all the “scientific studies” commissioned by Phillip Morris.) Up to now, I had been led to believe that because more colds are spread through handshakes than anything else, it is important to wash ones hands frequently, especially during the flu season.

But what’s the issue about washing after peeing? OK, food handlers I can understand. But what’s the science-based, public health urgency about washing up after handling that other equipment?

Maybe for once, just this once, men have it right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 27, 2005--His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso AKA The Dalai Lama

I don’t know about you but I was wondering what the Dalai Lama was doing in Piscataway, New Jersey the other day. According to the NY Times (see link below) it was to give a talk, a “sold-out” talk at Rutgers Stadium.

Of course I know about China and Tibet and that as a result of China’s annexation he has been forced to live in exile, but I also remember the time before then when no one except a few monks were allowed to even see the DL, much less have direct access to him. Those were the good old days when the Dalai Lama was the Dalai Lama. Remote. Inscrutable. Mystical. (Orientalists please hold your fire.) Before the world knew that he also had a given name, Tenzin Gyatso.

But now here he was in New Jersey before an audience of 36,000. I had a hint that things had changed when, a few years ago, I saw him pictured in an Apple Macintosh ad on a huge billboard at the intersection of Broadway and Houston Street in NYC. The tag line, I recall, was something like, “Think Different.” And then of course he was seemingly everywhere, with Richard Gere at the center of his posse.

Thus, I couldn’t resist checking his official website ( to catch up with what he has been up to. That wasn’t too difficult since the homepage moved me quickly from (1) Biography to (2) Discovery of His Holiness to (3) Dignitaries His Holiness has Met. I was surprised not to see Mr. Gere listed, just assorted prime ministers and heads of state.

Attempting to understand what drew so many thousands to the Stadium “event,” I went back to the Web to find his remarks in full. The crowd apparently responded most enthusiastically to his vision that “We are all living things, like trees and grass.” And smiled and laughed when he pointed to the artificial turf of the football field, “But I don’t know if this is true grass.”

In the audience, the Times reports, was Kathleen Davis, a former flight attendant, who heard him expound upon the difference between attachment and compassion. She had been taking notes on “a pink piece of paper,” and “squealed” when she pointed to those words in her own handwriting.

Later, back in New York City, surrounded by Secret Service agents, he ventured into the crowd for a meet and greet, stopping to sample a roasted ear of corn from a street vendor who exclaimed in glee, “I’m a lucky man!” And so he is.

Monday, September 26, 2005

September 26, 2005--"Let Them Eat Transportation"

Is there a better example of doing harm with the best of intentions? Keep reading.

I suspect that most of you are not up to date about agricultural subsidies. True? It’s not what makes your heart beat fast first thing in the morning or gets your blood boiling later in the day? I admit it, there are other things of concern and interest higher on my list. So indulge me here for a bit so I can fill you in.

The subsidies take a number of forms—first there are the out and out cash subsidies that go mainly to huge farm conglomerates, to the titans of Agri-Business. Most famously they are given money not to plant this crop or that so as not to flood the market and thereby lower prices. And then, in spite of the fact that those most behind these subsides are devout believers in the Blind Hand of the Free Market, they vote to give farmers cash (tax monies) to compensate them for selling their products at a price that allows them to be competitive—in other word the are guaranteed to turn a profit through governmental subsidies. How laisse faire.

There is a corollary form of subsidy—to transporters who bring agricultural products to the markets—truckers, rail freight haulers, and river barges. They too get federal money to assure that their piece of the action is protected and profitable.

This can all be fairly benign—after all what is $19 billion a year in subsidies of this kind to a government (ours) spending that every few weeks in Iraq? And so what if our Corn Flakes cost a little more. We probably shouldn’t be eating that stuff anyway.

But it gets much less benign when you look at how this plays our globally. Especially in places where there is widespread starvation and US agricultural products (also federally subsidized) are to be made available to help alleviate the suffering.

Let me take you to the situation in Niger through a series of recent reports in the NY Times (see 3 or 4 links below) to show how what we are up to there, through these boondoggle programs, winds up doing harm with all the best of intentions.

There have been crop failures in Niger for some time, and we know from pre-hurricane images on the cable news channels how horrific this has been for families and especially children. There has been a worldwide effort to bring food to the starving, with the US committed to be a significant supplier. So far so good. But when one looks closer at how this is actually playing out the picture does not look very benevolent.

First, the good news—in Niger after a season of good rains they are now harvesting millet and other foodstuffs. This should enable the Niger farmers to recover by bringing their products to market while at the same time contributing to the alleviation of suffering. The bad news, though, is that the food that is being distributed by the aid agencies, in combination with the locally grown products, is contributing to an oversupply and an associated decline in food prices. Thus the farmers who just now have the capacity to bounce back from the effects of the drought are ironically being penalized for their success.

Further, since millet is poor in protein Niger needs to receive other grains to enrich peoples’ diets. Through the US Agency for International Development there is a billion dollars available right now to help. But Congress is blocking USAID's attempt to do so in a way that would actually help. The US has wheat surpluses and USAID would like to get some of that to Niger and neighboring countries. But because wheat in the US is heavily subsidized it will arrive at below local market prices and thereby compete unfairly with African grown grains that are produced without subsidies. More problematic, though the Bush administration would also like to allow USAID to use some of its billion dollars to purchase agricultural products grown in Africa and thus assure that it gets to the starving people quickly, both the House and Senate have stepped in to block this.

Why might they be doing this when the needs are so palpable and the solution so simple? To protect US interests you may not be surprised to learn—our Congress is insisting that all food distributed by USAID must be purchased from US farmers and all must be brought to Africa on US-flagged ships. Shipping this way adds 40 to 50 percent to the food aid budget and delivering the food this way typically takes four months.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of USAID says the government would be able to buy twice as much food for the same money if the transportation money could be saved. To quote him, “You can’t eat transportation.”

Then again, maybe you can—it all depends on who's doing the eating.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

September 24, 2005--Saturday Story: "Uncle Morty and the Tongue Factory"

My plan has been to post a blog every weekday inspired by an article in the NY Times. I will continue to do that. But I thought, as a respite from all that, you might enjoy an occasional Satuday Story. Here then is . . .

Uncle Morty and The Tongue Factory

Most people think that the tongue sandwiches available in the Second Avenue Deli come from cows. In fact the tongue comes from Tongue Factories. I know because my Uncle Morty owned one in the 1950s. It was in the South Bronx.

He was actually in the meat "processing" business. People in this business would process meat products--smoke hams and pigs knuckles, pickle corn beef, cure pastrami from beef briskets, and pickle tongues. That’s why his really was a factory.

People in the meat processing business were always in a tight cash flow situation because products such as tongues needed to be bought and sold on the futures market--in order to assure a delivery of 2,000 tongues for processing and sale in December, one needed to purchase futures for them in July. At a per pound price fixed in July. Since orders for processed tongues were typically not secured so far in advance, Uncle Morty and his meat processor competitors needed to speculate that the price they were required to pay in July would be for orders they might receive in September from retail meat stores and supermarkets which in turn needed to be sold at a price by them in December that would enable the processors to turn a profit.

But since they never had the money they needed in July to secure the September futures, they needed to borrow the money. Money that was secured only by hoped-for orders. In a way, Morty and his colleagues were not so different from the George Soroses of the world—just a little ahead of the arbitrage curve and of course in a very different sort of business.

As one might imagine, in an industry so unpredictable and where one's "protection" and union relations were provided for and controlled by the Mob it was not always possible (actually never possible) to borrow money from conventional places such as banks. That's where "Factors" came into the picture. Factors provided unsecured, very high interest (read usurious) loans to people such as Uncle Morty, and of course Uncle Eli in the garment industry since he too lived with daunting cash flow issues--needing to buy velvet in March for clothes that would hopefully be sold in September.

Factors were not nice people. Since Uncle Morty could never secure their "loans," he was forced to give them a piece of the business--in fact a controlling piece. Off the books of course, with Eli listed as the sole owner. He lived that way for years, from month to month, eking out a modest living. But basking in the pride of owning his own business--at least on paper.

His dream was to get a big order from the A&P or Food Fair. This would be such a big order that he would at last be released from the futures-Factor cycle and in fact reclaim his own business.

This fantasy came true. One day, out of nowhere, he got a call from the Macy's food buyer (Macy's at that time had the fanciest, highest quality, highest volume meat store in the City right there in its then one flagship store at the corner of 8th Avenue and 34th Street). The most prominent New Yorkers sent their cooks there to buy prime meats; the most exclusive restaurants sent their chefs there every day to buy the most selective meats and delicacies. Macy's at the time was about much more than mass marketing Polo jeans.

So when the Macy’s meat buyer called Uncle Morty and placed an order for a thousand tongues Morty saw it as his way back to prosperity as well as a way to enter the world of "quality"--Macy's meat store after all was the place where the uptown goyim shopped.

But this magnificent, life changing opportunity also presented an conundrum--because of Macy's reputation and buying power they told Uncle Morty not only how many tongues they needed but also how much per pound he could charge them. The problem--he had bought the 1,000 tongues via the futures market for more per pound than Macy's was willing to pay!! They planned a special tongue event and thus demanded them from him at a price that would allow Macy's to turn a profit even after placing the tongues on sale.

So what to do. Uncle Morty was constitutionally unable to turn down an order of this kind (after all his customers were places such as Willie's Meat Market on Church Avenue in Brooklyn, where a big order was for two dozen tongues) and all he pleas about how much he had paid for the tongues and how much he would lose on every pound did not move the Macy's buyer. He had a sale planned and fixed numbers in his head. So Morty of course said yes and promised them the 1,000 tongues by next Friday.

I was working for him at the time and among my specialties was injecting the pickling liquid into the tongues. I did this by using a huge syringe attached to a pump that was inserted into a vein at the base of the tongue (the schlong—don’t ask) which then pumped in the brine. The factory was of course federally inspected--this meant that the resident inspectors were changed every six months so as to limit the possibility of corruption. Corruption included over-pumping tongues when pickling them. But of course we managed to find a way around this. Cash in blank envelopes was always helpful. That also was one of my specialties--the delivery of such envelopes.

The federal law allowed us to pump up a two pound tongue to double its size and weight. Uncle Morty, though, had something else in mind for the Macy’s tongues. While the inspectors were on a day long break, with their envelopes firmly in hand, he had me pump the tongues up to triple their original size--to six pounds per tongue. This would mean that he could deliver the tongues to Macy's at a net price that would at least allow him to break even. And perhaps more important--to enter into the goyisher world of fine meats.

The following Friday he proudly delivered the 1,000 tongues personally to Macy's (with me driving). The buyer was there to receive them and to pay Morty--unfortunately by check. He made note of the tongues' colossal size--he had never seen tongues like that. Morty told him that they came from a specially bred herd and that he had made an extra (expensive) effort to secure them for the Macy's order. The buyer appeared to be impressed.

The tongues went on sale the next day and I visited to see them on display in Macy's elegantly iced cabinets. Though I was there for just half an hour, there was a run on these magnificent items: no one had ever seen tongues of this gargantuan size nor at such a price. They were selling like hot cakes.

When I reported this to Uncle Morty he was ecstatic, feeling he was on his way to full respectability and financial security. He would be able to pay his Factors and recover control of his business and wouldn't Macy's, coming off this great success, see him to be their provider of choice for his full range of meat products--Paramount hams (the company name), corned beef, pastrami, and of course tongues.

All was well until Monday afternoon. The phone started ringing. The calls were from irate Macy's tongue customers. All complaining that when they went to steam their magnificent Paramount tongues, to prepare them for dinner (needing to stuff them, because of their size, into huge pots), when they uncovered the pots, after just a half hour of steaming, the tongues appeared to be about on third the size they were before the steaming.

The next series of calls was from the Macy's buyer--all not returned. But he did leave a message for Uncle Morty with Phyllis, Paramount's zaftig secretary (she is another story unto herself). In essence the messages said, Don't even bother to deposit the check for the tongues since Macy's had already stopped payment.

Morty came looking for me. I was hiding in one of the huge refrigerators crouched between racks of hams ready to be moved into the smoker. Phyllis had alerted me that Morty was looking to blame me for over-pumping the tongues.

In fact, he was coming to hide with me in the cooler because the Factors had heard about the Macy's fiasco and were on their way to collect, one way or the other. I avoided Morty and somehow he managed to fool the Factors that day--they never thought to look in the freezer.

But the day of reckoning from another source was soon upon Morty. While struggling to keep his books in balance and to have some money to pay his own apartment rent, he had neglected to pay the US Government the payroll taxes he had been withholding from his employees. You can run and maybe hide from the Factors, but the Feds are another matter. Even though he was just the owner on paper, he was held accountable, tried and convicted, and spent a little time in jail (the family's darkest secret until today).

But while Morty was "upstate" (in a sanitarium recovering for TB we were told), Paramount continued and did generate some income that kept his family going. All transactions were in cash; but since Uncle Morty owed the government back taxes, he of course did not want them to know about this small stream of money. Thus that cash went to my mother who kept it in her safe deposit box (along with her engagement ring).

Escorting her weekly with the cash to the Greenpoint Savings Bank on MacDonald Avenue, to stash it and occasionally to withdraw some, were among the best times of my young life. Because at long last I was involved in mobster like activity--my career plans were beginning to take shape.

But that's another story!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

September 23, 2005--Friday Feature: Fanaticisms

This new Friday Feature will report on various forms of fanaticism. A subject of considerable significance since many would contend that fanatics of all stripes are making quite a mess of the world.

Today, I begin by returning to a subject I blogged about a few days ago—how the Vatican was about to dispatch commissioners to look for evidence of homosexual activity (and signs of New Age practices) in America’s 229 seminaries.

Yesterday, the NY Times reported that this new policy will be officially announced in just six weeks and that it would include new, not-previously-reported strictures: Earlier, the intention was to leave celibate, non-practicing homosexual seminarians alone. The new rules will require that they too must be rooted out. Celibate heterosexuals are OK; celibate homosexuals are not OK.

In attempting to explain the difference, one anonymous Vatican official claimed that this will not represent any theological shift because Church catechisms consider homosexuality “objectively disordered.” In an article today (see link), conservative priests in the US welcomed the new rules. For example, the Reverend John Trigilio, president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, said that barring gay men from seminaries was “for their own good, just as the Church once barred epileptics from the priesthood.”

And then there is the article (also linked below) about news from another of the Religions of the Book: A Barbie clone called Fulla, a dark-eyed doll with “Muslim values” is jumping off the shelves throughout the Middle East. Though Fulla shares Barbie’s size and anatomical proportions (get the picture?), she comes with either a black abaya or a white head scarf and long coat. Parents are especially pleased that for a few extra Rials, one can purchase a pink girl-size prayer rug.

This set me to wondering about head scarves. I did not recall reading about them in the Koran. A little research revealed that the head scarf is of rather recent vintage. For example, in 1981, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Abol-Hassen Beni-Sadr, the first president of the new Republic, announced that “scientific research had shown that women’s hair emitted rays that drove men insane.”

The final Religion of the Book, Judaism, also appears to have come to the same conclusion, requiring orthodox women to shave their heads after marriage to keep men, I assume, from becoming insane. But rather than head scarves, these women are expected to wear wigs (sheitels), some of which cost thousands of dollars and are quiet glamorous. But even here there have been problems. Recently, the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn made all the women in his congregation burn their wigs at a public bonfire because he learned that many included “Hindu hair,” hair from women who had participated in “pagan [read Hindu] rituals.”

More fanaticisms next Friday.

September 22, 2005--"C'est Si Bon"

True, I’m again about to pick on the French. But before I do allow me to assert that I never went along with the Freedom Fries business and certainly never, never participated in boycotting Bordeaux. Quite the contrary. Life is too short not to drink good wine. So I’m about as much a Francophile as a Francophobe. But when some French begin to lecture us about race, well I can’t just sit here and ask for another pour.

I don’t need to be reminded by “them” that race was a huge factor in why the Bush administration and others responded so indolently and incompetently to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. Certainly not by anyone from the French government or intelligentsia. They have a few matters of their own that require attention. For example, the recent spate of fires in Paris that killed more than 50 Africans living in worker housing. All were black Africans. And thus one might enquire why in a country that prides itself on having created, yes created human rights, why do they even have government-funded segregated housing, relatively new apartments without running water, where residents need to cross the street to get water from public taps?

So yesterday’s article in the NY Times that reported how many in France have been eager to point out that the US government’s response to Katrina “brought into plain view the sad lot of black Americans,” that rubbed me the wrong way (see link below).

Further, as reported, France’s insistence on the equality of man presents a predicament—since everyone is equal there is no need to list people by race in France; and since there is no concept of race in France there is no need to take the measure of how blacks are faring in comparison to others. Taking that measure might reveal that there are virtually no black corporate executives, almost no political representatives in regional governments, and not one black member of the National Assembly. Blacks are thought to number at least 1.5 million out of a total population of 59 million; but they are largely invisible—Josephine Baker and James Baldwin notwithstanding (though both are long since deceased).

None of this should be a surprise in a nation that also prides itself on the creation of the canons and methods of Post-Modern Thought-—most notably Deconstructionism, which claims that even the concept of race is socially constructed. This sounds reminiscent to me of something Karl Rove said not too long ago, though pre-Katrina: “Reality is what we say it is.” Karl the Deconstructionist. Though I wonder if he is aware of the source of his political epistemology.

But to quote another well-known expat, Eartha Kitt (not as yet deceased):

C’est si bon
So I say it to you
Like the French people do,
Because it’s oh, so good.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

September 21, 2005--Throwing Her Weight Around

There I was quietly reading my way through a front page story in the NY Times about how more and more women at elite colleges are saying that they plan to set aside careers to stay at home and raise children (see link below). Always looking for straws in the cultural wind, I was of course thinking about how to blog about this without getting myself into too much political-correctness trouble. My angle was shaping up to be about how this trend was going down with the potential fathers. I planned to quote one Harvard senior, Sarah Currie, who reported that many of the men in her American Family class (they teach this at Harvard?) approved of these plans: “A lot of the guys were like, ‘I think that’s really great.’ One of the guys was like, ‘I think that’s sexy.’”

But then Rona asked if I had read the article about Oprah and the Hermes handbag (link below). Somehow I had missed it, but after even a quick read realized I needed to turn today’s blogging attention to it.

It seems that Oprah and her entourage were in Paris and wanted to shop at the flagship Hermes shop on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoree. But they arrived at closing time and were not allowed in. Oprah being Oprah subsequently brought this to the attention of her huge TV audience, even instituting a “shopping fatwa” against poor Hermes. This was apparently so damaging to the company that the CEO of Hermes USA went on her show to apologize.

Though some saw this incident in racial terms (would Martha for example have been turned away?), Oprah sort of rose above that contending that it wasn’t even about the shopping: It was the rudeness of the salesperson that had stung her. “Anyone who has been snubbed because you were not chic enough, or not thin enough, or not the right class, or the right color, you know that it is totally humiliating.”

Always standing up for the little people.

After the public apology, though she did not give Hermes scarves away to her audience, she lifted the fatwa and urged her fans to buy Hermes Birkin bags—about 5,000 Euros a pop.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

September 20, 2005--The Slammer

Seems as if everyone’s going to the slammer these days—Dennis Kozlowski, Tyco’s former CEO, just got 8 1/3 to 25 years in a New York State prison and Lil’ Kim is off to the Big House today for 366 days. For Kozlowski this will mean no more $2.0 million birthday parties (paid for by Tyco), and for Lil’ Kim it will mean considerable difficulty maintaining her “signature style,” to quote the NY Times shadenfreudian, “Much to Do Before Checking Into Prison” (see link below).

For Ms. Kim, who just last Wednesday was seated front and center at Marc Jacobs’ fall fashion show, prison life doesn’t have to be too radical a change in her life. Jacobs reports, for example, that he is standing by her. He told the Times that until now Winona Ryder T-shirts have been among his best sellers, but now he anticipates that his Lil’ Kim version, on sale around the country, will quickly outpace them. At $20 each they will likely be jumping off the shelves.

Lest one conclude that this is not an appropriate rehabilitation strategy for Lil’ Kim, and in fact it may not even be legal in NY State to profit from one’s crimes (there was a Son of Sam law put on the books to assure just that), should we be equally concerned about how Martha Stewart might be profiting? Now that she is free from home confinement and unshackled, in one episode of her new talk show, Martha (not her version of The Apprentice), the doyen taught audience members how to prepare microwave dishes she perfected while incarcerated.

So let’s think for a moment about what Mr. Kozlowski might be able to do to help him pass the time and pay his $75 million fine. One of Tyco’s businesses is ADT Security. To quote their website, “the world’s leader in electronic security.” So he certainly could consult with the Attica folks about improving theirs. And of course Tyco Healthcare is “a leading manufacturer of disposable medical supplies.” To say the least, there should be considerable demand for these products among his fellow inmates.

Might even improve his social standing, if you get my drift.

Friday, September 16, 2005

September 19, 2005--McMuslim Burger

Maybe I’ve had it wrong all along. I had been thinking that one reason McDonalds and Starbucks are being attacked around the world is because they represent the worst of America’s globalizing reach. But now the NY Times suggests something else in “The World McDonald’s Missed” (see link below). They may not represent the worst of America, maybe they are just serving the wrong food.

Here's why I've changed my thinking. In France now, one finds a new restaurant, “Beurger King-Muslim.” (I suspect still not Michelin rated.) A halal version of Burger King where Islamic people can get more than Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. At Beurger King-Muslim, a Franco-Algerian girl in low-slung jeans or head scarve can get an all-halal Double Koull Cheeseburger (“koull” means “cool”) while a flat screen TV shows scenes from the life of The Prophet Muhammad. The place is so popular that there is a waiting list of at least 30 franchisee hopefuls scattered around France.

Maybe Dick Chaney had it right—offer them what they really want and they will welcome us with roses and open arms.

Perhaps the problem has been that we have been focusing on pipeline infrastructure and democratic institutions when what we really should have been doing is helping the folks in Afghanistan and Iraq open halal fast food restaurants.

Then maybe they’d leave us alone. Or at least our Starbucks and McDonalds.

September 16, 2005--Do Ask; Do Tell

At a time when the US military for obvious reasons is having difficulty fulfilling its recruitment quotas, the Roman Catholic Church is experiencing a similar problem—they are unable to recruit enough men to serve as priests.

In searching for a solution, The Defense Department is winking at its Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell policy in the hope that this will attract more gay volunteers. No reports yet on how this is working.

The Church, however, appears to be going in a different direction. In yesterday’s NY Times there was a piece, “Vatican to Check On Gay Presence,” that reports on how the Vatican is investigating seminaries to ferret out priests in training who might be homosexual.

They of course have had their problems in the US with even some Cardinals needing to be “reassigned” because of “scandals” involving priests and young boys. They are being careful, though, to distinguish between individuals with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and those who just have “an attraction to children.” Homosexuals may be OK if, in the words of Father Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector, those with these tendencies “live in chastity because homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

So how are these "inspections" to be carried out? At each seminary the “visitors” will conduct confidential interviews with all faculty members and seminarians to find out if they have seen evidence of “particular friendships.” In effect, Do Ask; Do Tell.

Also, interestingly, while there, the visitors are to look to make sure that the seminaries are “free from the influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality.”

It is sounding as if life at the old seminary will be a lot less fun—not only will particular friendships no longer be permitted but they will also need to end the before-bedtime singing of Kumbaya.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

September 15, 2005--Wanted: Dead Or Alive

It looks as if $25 million doesn’t buy you very much these days.

One would have thought that placing a $25 million bounty on Osama bin Laden’s head (remember him?) would have assured either his capture or, better, his head. Recall, we began with $5 million; then doubled it; and finally upped it to $25 million. Back in January we even thought about doubling that again to $50 million.

But still no bin Laden.

One would have thought (a) he would not be difficult to spot considering he is six feet six inches tall and needs to lug around a dialysis machine and/or (2) considering the life style of Afghani or Pakistani folks in the Tora Bora region, $25 million could get the one who turned him in a nice house, satellite TV, even access to MTV. After all, isn’t that what we are trying to make possible for all these people?

Thus I was surprised to read in the NY Times that the “Islamic Army in Iraq” was offering just $100,000 to anyone who would assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari or any other high-ranking members of the new government (see article attached below). And this seems to be working—the same group announced in an Internet posting (there they go again using our Western technology) that it had killed a high-ranking Interior Ministry official.

So here’s my suggestion:

(1) Lower the bounty on bin Laden’s head to $100,000

(2) Turn the assassination work over to the Islamic Army in Iraq

Outsourcing appears to be working well for at least half of US companies so why not outsourcing this as well?

And save $24,900,000 to boot.

September 14, 2005--"March of the Guppies"

I sense that you may be feeling, “Enough already about Bush and Condi and race and income disparity.” I hear you. How about a break; how about a word about them penguins?

Have you seen The March of the Penguins? If you haven’t, the Conservatives have been poring into movie theaters in numbers not seen since The Passion of The Christ (it is their Fahrenheit 9/11). Why you may be asking am I spoiling your pleasure by turning this charming documentary into something political? Don’t blame me; blame Michael Medved (conservative film critic and radio talk show host) and the National Review, among others.

As reported in the NY Times Science Section (see link below), many on the Right are seeing evidence of Intelligent Design (ID) in the life of penguins: In Medved’s words, this film “most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice, and child rearing.” To the Reverend Ben Hunter, who is coordinating trips to the local Sidney, Ohio movie theater for his parishioners, “Some of the circumstances [the penguins] experienced seemed to parallel those of Christians. The penguin is falling behind, is like some Christians falling behind. The path changes every year, yet they find their way. [It’s] like the Holy Spirit.”

I have nothing against penguins or the Holy Spirit; in fact I love penguins. I can’t get enough of them; but please, from the full Animal Kingdom, to selectively cite them as the best case in support of ID is a little pseudo.

For example, what if we were to look at the behavior of, say, Guppies? What if we were to check on their mating habits and how they care for their young? Would we find similar evidence of ID? Would we find monogamy, sacrifice, and child rearing? Let’s do a little Goggling.

Checking the definitive Guppy Website,, we find a world that is very different from that of penguins. Among other things, Guppies are everything but monogamous and, are you sitting down, the“females are cannibalistic”—they eat their babies (fry). And thus Guppy breeders have to provide “many hiding places for the fry” so the species can survive.

Sounds more like Evolution to me.

Tomorrow, back to Iraq.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

September 13, 2005--"Grab Some Black People"

The NY Times reported—“Gulf Coast Isn’t the Only Thing Left in Tatters; Bush’s Status With Blacks Takes a Hit” (September 12, 2005).

It appears that sending Condi Rice down home to Alabama, to pray and to promise that “Jesus is coming soon,” is not working for the President or Karl Rove. The Pew Research Center reports that two-thirds of African-Americans believe the government’s response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina would have been quicker if most of the victims had been white. Seventy-seven percent of whites felt otherwise. (No surprise, recall the reaction to the OJ verdict.)

Laura Bush next leaped to the President’s defense, saying, “I think all of these remarks were disgusting.” (Mother-in law Bush, however, had a different view. When visiting the Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome, she said that since the evacuees were “underprivileged” living in the Astrodome turned out to be an improvement in their lives.)

Beyond Laura and Barbara and Condi, who else did the White House reach out to to mobilize its spin? Again, the Times reports that behind the scenes there has been lots of confusion and scrambling. But then one of the President’s most prominent black supporters came to the rescue. He called the White House to say that they needed to get a different message, different images into circulation. Off the record he told the Times that he advised the White House that the next time the President visits New Orleans he should “grab some black people who look like they might be preachers” and take them along.

Never one not to take good advice, the very next time POTUS went down there, by his side was the conservative African-American television evangelist and founder of the 30,000 member megachurch in Dallas, the Bishop Jakes.

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 12, 2005--"Brain May Still Be Evolving"!!

When I saw this article in the NY Times, I said, “Thank God.” Or if you prefer, “Thank Evolution.” Because our brains could sure use some more evolving.

It seems that researchers have discovered that two genes involved in determining brain size have done some evolving recently, that is during the past 60,000 years. This is good news since it had been assumed that the brain stopped evolving 50,000 years ago. In effect, Evolution or the Intelligent Designer had determined that our brains had reached a certain level of perfection.

I had always considered that to be depressing news. If the human brain had stopped evolving 50 millennia ago that would mean that in some ways we had stalled out at the hunter-gatherer, Stone Age stage. Of course that would help explain much of what is happening in the world: Though parts of our brain invented “civilization” and science and technology and air conditioning, other parts of our brains were still hunting and gathering. Gathering in a current context may explain things such as pre-emptive wars, and hunting of course can easily have been transmuted into murder and mayhem.

Thus, when I saw the headline, “Brain May Still Be Evolving,” I thought, minimally, this news would make my weekend. But then I read further.

It appears that we are talking here about just two genes. That in itself should not be a problem because even one gene, if evolving in a good direction, could make a very big difference in human capacities and behavior. For example, maybe one of these newly evolved genes might strengthen the Altruism Gene. But alas no such luck.

In fact, they do not as yet know what these changes might be contributing. But if other recent findings about genetic changes are a guide, we may be disappointed by the implications of this new news. The previous examples of further brain evolution apparently were primarily to “confer the ability to digest milk in adulthood.”

Now do not get me wrong, I have nothing against the work of that powerful Washington-based Dairymen’s Association. But really, if you are going to lobby for something, how about to have the brain evolve in a more significant direction—say toward the enhanced human capacity to digest pizza?

Friday, September 09, 2005

September 9, 2005--Gimme that Old-Time Happiness Insurance

In her NY Times column, Economic Scene, Virginia Postrel asks, “In Times of Stress, Can Religion Serve as Insurance?” Not “assurance” but “insurance.” (September 8, 2005; full article accessible below.)

Here’s how it works—Economists are increasingly interested in how families, friends, and religion might serve as economic safety nets during critical times. For example, killer hurricanes cause “nasty shocks” to individuals’ economic well being. That seems like a proverbial no-brainer. But as a result of these dislocating circumstances, does religion, say, help reconcile individuals to their radically altered circumstances? This too would appear to be a no-brainer: Of course we would expect that the devout might even see such disasters to be part of God’s Higher Plan, perhaps even as a sign of the Rapture, the Final Days, the Second Coming, Eternal Life. (As an aside, Condi Rice back home in Alabama last Sunday, at her hometown Baptist church offered the following consolation, “Be patient, Jesus will be here soon.” And she wasn’t referring to Dick Chaney!)

But read a little further. There is a black-white component to this as well. Here’s what the research says about that: Using religious attendance as their measure, researchers find “strikingly different results by race.” In times of economic shock, whites get no significant “happiness insurance” (I did not make up this phrase) while African Americans do. For blacks, just average church attendance reduces the “happiness impact” of economic shock by about 75 percent. And, it’s even better for those with a high school education or less.

To quote a former President Bush—Message to Blacks: To help prepare you for the effects of hurricanes such as Katrina, don’t wait for FEMA to get there but instead drop out of school and go to church regularly.

That’s it for this week. On Monday I promise to move on to a more entertaining subject—Obituaries. Actually, mine.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

EXTRA, EXTRA September 8, 2004-- Yes, Bob Novak!

I couldn’t resist doing one more posting for today.

I know you know who Bob Novak is and have undoubtedly seen him on CNN, that is until they fired him. But I suspect that few of you actually read his column. I usually don’t, but when I go to Buffa’s Coffee Shop for a fried egg sandwich (I highly recommend Buffa’s), the sandwich comes with a copy of the NY Post. [No, this Blog is not morphing into “Behind (the New York) Post.”]

I thought you just needed to see today’s version of Bob’s column, “Plague of Lawyers: Republicans Rage at FEMA’s Fatal Fumbles.” (To read it in its entirety, click on “Original Article” at the end of this posting—I recommend that too.)

When he joins the chorus of rage at FEMA’s and the Bush administration’s fumbles you know they are in trouble.

More important, maybe Bob too will help us fix the things that have been festering too long and are at the root of this tragedy and nation humiliation.

September 8, 2005--Make Room Below

In the spirit of I’m-not-making-this-up, did you see the piece in the NY Times, “Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded” (September 7, 2005)? In case you didn’t, on August 30th, just two days after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and before FEMA discovered, by watching TV, that there were more than 20,000 refugees in the Super Dome and Convention Center, two Navy helicopter pilots whose mission was to deliver food and water to military installations along the coast (to service men and women, not to hurricane victims), after delivering those supplies, on their own, used their choppers to rescue 110 marooned people. When they returned to their base in Pensacola, instead of being commended, they were reprimanded by their commander who said, “We have other missions we have to do right now and that [rescuing people] is not the priority.”

A few days earlier, there was a report in the Times that New Orleans city officials had begun offering all expense paid trips to Los Vegas to police, firefighters, and emergency workers and their families. (“City to Offer Free Trips to Las Vegas for Officers,” September 5, 2005). The Mayor and Police Chief said their forces were exhausted and traumatized and that the arrival of the National Guard had made it possible for their officers to be relieved.

I am not here intending to beat up further on New Orleans police and other municipal forces who also were victims of Katrina (though as a chauvinistic New Yorker I cannot help but think about the behavior of my city’s emergency workers on 9/11). I mean to beat up on their leaders and those two good pilots’ commander. And all the other failed leaders who have betrayed the public trust.

And to remind them that in Dante’s Inferno, the Ninth and deepest circle in Hell is reserved for those who betray the public trust.

Make room for more down there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

September 7, 2005--Dream Ticket 2008

It took them a week. Not just to get water and food and some medical care to Katrina victims stranded in the Super Dome. Not just to begin the Blame Game. It took them exactly a week to begin to churn about the political implications and consequences for the 2008 Presidential election.

What is Hillary up to? How will what husband Bill said at the Astrodome affect that? Senator Frist is a physician, so where has he been? And McCain—he comes out hemming and hawing, not yet having his spin together. Senator Santorum has been absent, probably because it’s the start of a new school year and he and his wife need to get their 10 children back into their home schooling routines.

But the pundits have been active. For example, William Kristol, reports the NY Times, has been searching for meaning (“Buying Time With Quick Action on the [Supreme] Court and a Second Trip South”). I need to quote him:

“I do think people think Bush could have shown stronger leadership.” But Kristol feels that “People are capable of saying, 'The President kind of screwed this one up, but I still basically agree with him.'" Kristol continues, " I think the Clinton administration would have done a better job, . . . but I’m also glad that Bush is president and not a Democrat” [my italics].

As an aside--Mr. Kristol: Even if in doing that better job maybe just maybe kind of “only” 1,000 people would have died, rather than the 10,000 projected?

So what to do? Everyone I speak with says we have to fix the situation—we need of course to rebuild the Gulf Coast the right way this time with the environmental issues we have ignored appropriately addressed; we need to have effective plans to deal with natural and unnatural disasters; we need to look more honestly at income disparity and do something about that; we need not only to rebuild our schools but make them work; we need to deal honestly with the daunting, persistent issue of race.

In sum—we need governments and institutions of Civil Society that are competent and compassionate.

This brings me to the Dream Ticket for 2008. At times of national crises leaders put partisanship aside for a time to get difficult jobs done. Israel is a current example where Sharon and Peres share power. An equivalent in the US would be Giuliani for President and Clinton (Bill, yes Bill) for Vice President.

My read of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution suggests this would not be prohibited. It states that “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice.” It does not explicitly exclude the possibility of two terms as President and one or more as VP. Rudy would bring the competence and Bill the compassion.

I know this is all disputable, and probably Chief Justice Roberts would have to weigh in, but it does suggest a way to begin to think our way out of this mess.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

September 6, 2005--Namibia On the Hudson

Since we are finally talking about class in America, allow me to turn your attention to a recent piece you might have missed because it was in the NY Times Metro section—“In Manhattan, Poor Make 2 Cents For Each Dollar To the Rich” (September 4, 2005).

The Times commissioned an analysis of income disparity in Manhattan. It found that the upper fifth of earners now make 52 times what the lowest fifth make--$365,826 compared with $7,047. It also discovered that this gap has been widening—in 1980, for example, the top fifth made “only” 21 times what the bottom quintile earned. To put it another way, the lowest fifth now makes two cents for every dollar the top fifth earns. This gives new meaning to that famous New York City drink—the Two Cents Plain. (I’m showing my age again.)

Where does this place the City on a world scale; which countries have an equivalent income disparity? Do you know that former German colony in southwest Africa—Namibia? Well, that’s where NYC ranks.

I’ve been to Namibia and can report that conditions there do not fully resemble NYC. Ovamba Land, for example, is a bleak homeland for Blacks who were deported there by the colonists in a Namibian version of apartheid. We do not have that here, do we? Maybe in New Orleans but certainly not in Blue City New York, USA.

Monday, September 05, 2005

September 5, 2005--Homeland "Refugees"

Why are so many of us embarrassed by what we are experiencing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? There is of course also frustration and anger about governments bumbling, negligence, and lack of compassion. But over and over again, Americans are expressing embarrassment.

Is this because the world is watching, looking in on our incompetence? That we have historic pride in our ability to successfully take on massive tasks, including in the aftermath of national tragedies—acts of nature, wars, terrorist attacks—not only at home but globally? Weren’t we in the forefront of responding to the recent tsunami, mobilizing money, materiel, and relief workers? Aren’t we an optimistic, “can do” people, tireless, self-sacrificing, effective, and generous in action? Aren’t we the world’s most powerful nation with the strongest economy and military, leaders in science and technology, the most responsive, self-confident, and nimble in response to crises? Home to "the greatest generation"?

Or is this view of ourselves merely an illusion, a self deception? Even worse, more chilling, perhaps this perception was at one time true but is no longer. Can it be that what Katrina revealed is that we have slipped from our preeminence, our vaunted ability “to get the job done,” and the long decline to mediocrity and insecurity has began, maybe is well underway.

This may help explain the hot reaction to the NY Times and other media calling those who lost their homes “refugees”--in the words of Saturday’s editorial (“Katrina’s Assault on Washington”), “the sudden underclass of hundreds of thousands of hurricane refugees cast adrift like Dustbowl Okies.” I heard many in effect say, “Americans aren’t refugee. This isn’t the Third World. These people lost their homes; it is a disaster true but they are ‘homeless.’”

Could we here be getting closer to a more fundamental source of embarrassment—being forced to think about Americans as refugees? For us up to now this has been an oxymoronic concept. “Americans” and “refugees” do not belong in the same sentence.

But perhaps some good can come from this tragedy and national disgrace if we fess up to the reality that these Americans are refugees. Yes, as in The Sudan. The Times speaks about our refugees as an “underclass.” Bringing class into the discussion is not a comfortable thing to do in the USA. When this occurs those who raise the specter of class are accused of fostering “class warfare.” But isn’t the dirty little secret Katrina exposed that most who couldn’t evacuate, who got left behind and substantially ignored for days and days were in fact part of an underclass? Is there another explanation? I’m waiting; I am not hearing anything to the contrary, at least not anything that anyone should take seriously.

And I don’t want to hear that this is an unsolvable problem—having a large underclass in a place such as America. It’s a solvable problem. There are things we have done in the past that in fact work. The War On Poverty had many faults and there was mismanagement and corruption laced in among the many, many effective efforts that contributed to the alleviation of a great deal of injustice and inequality. It is because we stopped doing the things that were working that conditions worsened during the last two decades (so this is not partisan). We set our priorities elsewhere and the consequences speak for themselves.

Maybe, maybe the harrowing images from this wrenching week will jar us from our long lethargy of deception and indifference. Maybe, maybe we will now insist that not only must our Homeland Security systems be made to work but also that we must solve once and for all our most unacceptable national problem. If there is something to be embarrassed about, this is it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

September 2, 2005--Whither Men?

As you may have noticed, I have some interest in evolution and the on-going controversies that swirl about it. Thus I was intrigued by a piece in yesterday’s NY Times about chimpanzee genes (“In Chimpanzee DNA, Signs of Y Chromosome’s Evolution.”). While evolutionary biologists struggle to resist the counter pressure of both creationists and intelligent design advocates, they also press on with their work. For example, scientists recently reported that they successfully decoded the chimpanzee genome. This is significant because, if you are inclined to believe, chimps are our closest relatives. (And I always thought my closest relative was my cousin Chuck!) Therefore, the researchers assert, by comparing chimp DNA with ours we may be able to learn more about that illusive subject—human nature.

So as I read deeper into the article I hoped I would be able to learn more about why human nature makes us so aggressive, greedy, violent, and if you will even evil. Issues we probably need to grapple with and contain if this species (homo sapiens) is to continue to survive.

But wouldn’t you know it, the first aspects of human nature our scientists turned to is, yes, sex! Male sex to boot.

In spite of their obsession with sex, I did force myself to read on and was a little surprised to learn “that humans have led sexually virtuous lives for the last six million years,” in comparison to chimps that is. (Though I wondered if the DNA decoders had watched the MTV Video Awards show earlier this week.)

But I was less surprised when I got to that part of the report about the Y, or male sex chromosome. Six million years ago both X (female) and Y chromosomes carried the same number of genes—1,000 or so. However, over the millennia the Y chromosome has been losing some of its male qualities and thus “may lapse into terminal decay, taking men with it” [my italics].

Aha, perhaps by 2075 there will be no more males. And who said the Intelligent Designers were crazy!