Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 30, 2010

The summer progresses but slowly, almost imperceptibly, the days get shorter and the sunset comes a little earlier every evening. Now more than ever, it is time to savor the season as we contemplate the past week:

I’ve Got A Secret?

This week began with the seemingly incredible story that the Wikileaks organization/site and released 90,000 classified files related to the United States war effort in Afghanistan covering the years 2004-2009. There is not enough time or space to get into the discussion as to whether the Wikileaks leak has actually breached U.S. national security interests. There is a monumental debate that could take place over whether the release of information from six years ago endangers some aspect of America today.
What we did learn however, is that in the search for the perpetrator(s) of this leak to Wikileaks, there are over 800,000 people with something called “top secret security clearance”! These are men and women in the American military, in the federal government and in the workforce of the legions of corporations that service the military intelligence complex. Keep in mind that this 800,000 is close to twice the population of Washington, D.C., a huge number within any context.
One can only hope that someone, somewhere, will wonder how any item of information can remain “top secret” if close to a million people have access to that information. Either that information is not really worth of being “top secret” or this is a classic case of “over classification” run amok. In the rush to identify to “leakers”, it is important that at some point the entire “top secret” classification process is questioned. There simply has to be a more intelligent way to handle intelligence.

Ticket to Ride

It was announced today that President Obama is going to Michigan to accentuate the remarkable recovery of the American automobile industry. For the first time since 2004, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are reporting quarterly profits. All three of the Big Three are hiring workers and extending shifts to increase production. Good news for the American economy it would seem.
President Obama will be right to remind the naysayers in the Republican Party of No that General Motors and Chrysler, two of the aforementioned Big Three, are recipients of bailout funding, and he will remind Americans that, without the bailout funding so maligned by the Party of No and its Tea Party subsidiary, at least a million more Americans would be out of work right now. No responsible economist can accurately calculate the consequent collateral damage to the American economy that would have ensued if the much touted “free market” had been allowed to run its course and General Motors and Chrysler had gone out of business, but it stands to reason that most of us would be suffering the consequences of that damage.
The bailout of the auto industry was far from perfect. The bailout of the auto industry seems to have worked. The bailout of the auto industry may be one more step in progressing from the disastrous precipice over which we peered at the beginning of 2009. The Party of No and its Tea Party subsidiary would have us believe that no disaster was averted. Their hindsight is astigmatic and suspect.

Recommended Reading

This week’s edition of the New Yorker Magazine (August 2, 2010) has a cover story about end of life medical care in the United States. It is not a feel good happy story, but it is one that should be read. Medical technology has developed a capacity to keep people alive long past anything resembling quality, dignity or comfort. Because we have been conditioned to medicine being able to “do something” we now find ourselves in a situation where “something” may entail keeping the human organism alive even after the spirit and soul and essence of the person within has departed.
The anguish and emotional assaults endured by patients and their families can be, at times, unspeakable as well as enormously expensive. The article does indicate a non-technological solution, however – talking. Studies indicate that when individuals have open and frank and honest conversations with their doctors and families about how they want to spend the last days of their lives, the result is a more fulfilling and peaceful end of days.
Ironically, one of the earlier versions of the Healthcare legislation provided Medicare funding for these patient-doctor conversations. And then the mindless yammering about “death panels” and “pulling the plug on grandma” ensued and this item was yanked from the final version. And so, as a nation, we still have to come to grips with the reality of mortality and seize the opportunity to greet the end of days on our own terms instead of being in the thrall of a technological hamster wheel that will prolong existence, but not life.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Freedom of Speech

The winds of change continue to ebb and flow across these United States. Change and renaissance and renewal and the possibility of the impossible are as much a part of this country’s DNA as amber waves of grain. Change has not always been for the better and the improbability of renewal is always fraught with the possibility that not everyone will awaken to a new day with smiles wreathing their faces.
The so-called midterm elections that are slated for November 2, 2010 promise to provide another opportunity for us to observe the limits and outer limits of change and the promises inherent in the prospect of different realities. Of course, no change is inevitable; voters across the United States will determine which candidates and what kind of change are preferable.
As a public service, during the coming months this Point of View column will present the unexpurgated and unvarnished campaign positions of some of the self-anointed avatars of change who are running for office. I will offer opinions as to those positions but it is important for all of us to know and understand what those positions are and why we should care.
Let us begin with three names that we should all know by now – Linda McMahon of Connecticut, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sharron Angle of Nevada, all Republican candidates for the United States Senate.

One of the founders and principal shareholders of the World Wrestling Federation, Ms. McMahon presents herself as a “successful businesswoman and not a career politician”. The fact that she made her millions (she has already spent $20 million of her own money on this campaign) by promoting violence, misogyny and mayhem does not seem to deter her supporters. Clearly, in the view of some, enough millions can hide the grime of the grim exploitation of wrestlers, women and the prurient interests of the American public.
Ms. McMahon also proclaims that “people create jobs, not government”. I assume, in the WWF world that she inhabits, Ms. McMahon is able to conveniently ignore the WPA, NASA, the United States Defense Department and the G.I. Bill.
Ms. McMahon also calls for increased drilling for all offshore and in Alaska. It should be noted that in this particular proposal there will be no oil wells (and therefore no oil spills) off the coastline of Connecticut and the recent BP oil spill fiasco is somehow a once in a lifetime event that could never ever ever happen again.

Like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul is the gift that keeps on giving to commentators and observers of political discourse. According to him, Rand Paul is a “career doctor not a politician” even though he grew up in a political household headed by his father who was (and is) a United States congressman.
Dr. Paul opposes all federal bailouts of private industry – absolutely and without exception. Consider then, that in Rand Paul’s reality the devastation and upheaval that would have taken place with the collapse of General Motors, Citicorp, and AIG during the past 18 months would have been the natural consequences of free enterprise. Presumably the unemployment and financial dislocation that would have occurred would have been unavoidable collateral damage.
Citing the 18th century world view of the Founding Fathers (a world view that did not include the internet, jet travel or totally interrelated global economy), Dr. Paul would pull the United States out of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. I am not making this up.
Dr. Paul sees home schooling as an answer to the deepening crisis in public schools across this country (including Kentucky where the adult illiteracy rate is 40%). Home schooling can be an alternative for families where one literate and educated parent can stay home instead of working, but the reality is that this precondition exists in a minority of a minority of American families so Dr. Paul’s answer to the crisis in our nation’s public schools is not much of an answer.
On the subject of immigration Dr. Paul is adamantly opposed to amnesty. Presumably, as a United States Senator he will propose a bill that will result in the issuance of 11 million deportation notices. And, he is also unalterably opposed to any restrictions on gun ownership, and his website shows him aiming an assault rifle (every home needs one) in case there is some unintended subtlety in his message. Finally and unbelievably, there is his quirky questioning of the validity and constitutionality of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill (Please see “With A Child’s Heart” Point of View column in the archives).

Last but not least, there is Sharron Angle of Nevada. Ms. Angle has publicly and repeatedly stated her view that these government initiatives, programs and departments should be repealed and discontinued – Social Security, Healthcare, the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. She has also been quoted as saying that unemployment benefits “spoil” the recipients, which must come as some great surprise to the recipients of unemployment benefits who, by definition, have lost their jobs and are probably not feeling very spoiled or pampered.
I invite you to go the websites of these candidates – Linda McMahon – http://www.linda2010.com, Rand Paul – http://www.randpaul2010.com , Sharron Angle – http://www.sharronangle.com and you can see for yourself. One wonders if the leaders of the Republican Party are willing to endorse and support these candidates and their views as they become more publicly known. The light of day can be as merciless as the reality that these candidates seek to avoid. Let them speak freely and then let the voters decide.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 23, 2010

The summer continues to sizzle and it may be a while before cooler heads prevail. Nevertheless, thoughts of the past week and the future come to mind:

African Americans of a certain age might have known the name “Shirley Sherrod” prior to this week. Those who have a more nuanced perspective on the history of the civil rights movement in the America of the 1960’s might have recognized the name “Sherrod”. Before this week some might have known that Shirley Sherrod and her husband were leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Georgia at a time when membership in SNCC was a death-defying act. Some might even recall an old Jet magazine story that would have detailed the murder of Shirley Sherrod’s father by white men who were never imprisoned, never tried, never indicted indeed, they were never arrested.
As this week comes to an end, we all know her name. But we don’t know her name because of her fine and historic work with disenfranchised black and white farmers in the South. She is not a household name because of her incredible ability to overcome pain with compassion and to replace vengeance with redemption.
Unfortunately, America knows Shirley Sherrod because she has been victimized. First by the slime blogger, Andrew Breitbart, who intentionally put an out of context portion of a speech by Ms. Sherrod on his site, creating the false impression that she was the incarnation of the mythical black reverse racist victimizing defenseless white people. Her speech was the exact polar opposite of this slime bite and Breitbart knew it, or should have known it.
And then Ms. Sherrod was victimized by the NAACP and its president Benjamin Jealous. When shown the Breitbart clip, Jealous and his staff didn’t try to find a tape of the entire speech (clearly easily available), and accepted the Breitbart slime bite as gospel and attacked Ms. Sherrod as a reverse racist and called for her ouster from the United States Department of Agriculture.
And then, in the continuation of a story that takes on mythic tragic characteristics, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture orders her to resign immediately. She was asked to resign even though the only basis for such an order was the Breitbart slime bite. Due process, human decency and common sense should have given Ms. Sherrod the opportunity to defend herself against this bit of internet calumny. But it was clearly important for Ms. Sherrod to be an ex-employee of the USDA prior to the Fox News cycle of that evening.
When the truth about Ms. Sherrod began to bubble up through the accumulated slime and bile and bigotry, it became clear to the White House, USDA, the NAACP and even Fox News that she had been wronged. Fox News apologized. The NAACP apologized (Mr. Jealous claimed that he was “snookered”. Perhaps he should have added “hoodwinked and bamboozled” for good measure). The White House apologized. USDA apologized and offered Ms. Sherrod a new job.
But it is clear that this shameful episode reveals much more than the unwarranted and thoughtless attack on a woman who has led a good and respectful and productive life. The episode also reveals the paucity of good judgment that would permit news organizations, a major civil rights organization, the White House and a major federal agency to stomp on the reputation of a respected individual with no evidence greater than an unsubstantiated slime bite from a blogger of questionable virtue and veracity.
Whoever put the “jerk” in knee jerk was overzealous in the extreme. I am aware of no place in the private sector where due process would not permit an accused employee to respond to the kind of charges leveled against Ms. Sherrod prior to the extreme step of termination – particularly in this economy.
Was the NAACP so afraid that the mythical reverse racist black person was indeed real? Like finding out that Big Foot lived next door? Was the USDA and the White House so afraid of Fox News highlighting a possible reverse racist black person that the nation could not survive for another 24 hours while some basic due diligence was completed?
Perhaps it would be helpful to ask Van Jones, the departed green initiatives czar what happens at the White House when Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et. al., start baying at the moon and howling for your blood.

A Man of Hope…..
In the unlikely story that is America, there’s never been anything false about hope.
~Barack Obama
Like many things in life, the internet can be fascinating and annoying. There are many too many bits and pieces of unnecessary information that come across our screens every time we go online. And then there are nuggets of news and thought that make browsing worthwhile.
I just received a note suggesting that on August 4th, Barack Obama’s birthday; there should be an effort to celebrate. Not so much observing the President’s birthday as using that occasion as an opportunity to reaffirm the belief in hope and progress and change that brought about the unlikely story that is President Barack Obama.
And it may be about the right time for reaffirmation. The fulminations of Michael Steele and John Kyl and Eric Cantor and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin can dull the senses after awhile. The constant artillery barrage of the nihilist fringe of the Tea Party movement along with the Foxinistas like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity could lead to thinking that 2008 was just a mirage and the “reality” of the right wing of the right wing is in the ascendancy.
But the purported right wing ascendancy is the mirage. In less than eighteen months the Obama Administration has reconfigured health care in this country after over a half century of failed efforts. The ravages of a sustained depression that would have eviscerated this country were avoided due to the boldness and alacrity of the President.
The financial reform legislation just signed into law was the most comprehensive overhaul of this nation’s financial services sector since the Great Depression. In over two centuries this country had two women appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. In less than two years President Obama has appointed two women to the Supreme Court of the United States. And we should not forget the historic $1.25 billion resolution of the decades of discrimination claims by black farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture.
And there are the items that truly defy metrics. For example, it is widely agreed that the international reputation and global image of the United States were at historic lows two years ago. It is also widely agreed that the reputation and image of this country have been rehabilitated, enhanced and burnished by the new President. The value of this improvement is incalculable and of value for generations to come.
It is true that President Obama has revealed his humanity and has erred. Once is clearly too much for some zealots and true believers. But the errors and lapses in judgment are far outweighed by the historic accomplishments and the continuation of promise and hope that this president has brought to the American people.
And that is why it might be a good thing to use August 4th as a day of celebration as some have suggested. We can use the day to celebrate the fulfillment of promises and to reaffirm our belief in the power of hope and the strength of dreams and the possibility of change. There will be those who continue to mock the power of hope – John McCain and Sarah Palin immediately come to mind.
I will leave the mocking to the smaller minds. I know that I am not prepared to cede the future of this country to those who would make it smaller and meaner and less just.
On August 4th I just might get my “CHANGE” banner out of the closet and dust off my “HOPE” button and work a little harder with my fellow believers in making some more dreams come true.

Have a great weekend!

Excerpts from "The Pride"

The Pride – Chapter 3

“The Pride” is my first novel, originally published by Kensington Books -www.kensingtonbooks.com – in 2005. The sequel, “What You Sow”, was published (also by Kensington) in 2006.
“The Pride” describes a world where politics, investment banking, corporate finance and a multitude of passions intersect. Although “The Pride” is a novel and therefore fiction, it describes a world and a way of life that is very real.
During the coming weeks, chapters of “The Pride” will be published on this site and I hope that you will be interested enough in reading “The Pride” that you will want to get the entire book, available at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.bn.com, http://www.borders.com and at many community-based bookstores around the United States.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy “The Pride”.

Now Introducing…….

I remember the end of that evening. When the last guests had been served and all the tables had been cleaned and set for Saturday’s brunch service, I sat in the now dimly lit dining room, sipping some Felipe II brandy and simply inhaled the wonderful, sentient experience of finally being where I wanted to be. The pianist in the bar that is just off the dining room was playing George Shearing’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” in a haunting, yet lilting style, the million billion lights of Manhattan reflected off the waters of the river. Off in the distance I could even make out the microdots of lights that were jumbo jets circling Kennedy Airport, bringing more dreamers like me to America at that late hour.
It was at this moment that I had my own personal revelation, an epiphany of sorts. The outline of my personal dream came to me. If I could have anything in this wonderful world amidst this explosion of humanity, I would have a restaurant like this. I would serve fine food and great wine and mingle with the best of the best in the world. I would bathe in the reflected starlight of my guests and friends and patrons and be more than happy. I would be fulfilled. At that point all I knew about the restaurant business was how to wash dishes, but one night in an actual restaurant told me that my dream was the right one for me.
And it was at that point the owner of the Water Club, Buzzy O’Keefe, happened to come by, checking on his restaurant before closing up for the night. I later came to know Buzzy as a very smart businessman, who was able to build a successful restaurant based on his ability to understand people. That particular night he seemed to be able to read my mind, almost seeing my dreams as if they were being broadcast on a wide-screen television. I have never found out if maybe he had the same dreams once upon a time.
Buzzy noticed me in my late night, after work reverie and told me that he had been watching me and that he liked my work. He offered me a full time waiter’s position and I accepted it in a heartbeat, afraid that he might change his mind before my dream started to come true and I wound up waking in the darkness of disappointment. And that turned out to be the true beginning of my beginning in the restaurant business.
I didn’t learn how to be a good waiter. I learned how to be a great waiter. I also learned how to be a great wine steward and a great maitre’d. Our guest have to decide for themselves as to whether I have become a great restaurateur when they visit Dorothy’s, just south of the Chelsea Piers and north of the World Financial Center, on the West Coast of Manhattan.
Duringthe next decade of working my way up the ladder at the Water Club, I learned about a lot more than the restaurant business. I learned about life in the greatest city in the world,
Working in that restaurant was like having a ringside seat at the wildest, most bizarre and most beautiful circus ever. The Water Club was a veritable epicurean carnival. The supermodels and the tycoons, the actresses and the hustlers, the sycophants and the pseudo-hip, the has-beens and the wannabees, all were part of the cavalcade that I was privileged to observe and serve. There are many jobs that an immigrant from Norway could land in New York City. I have always felt that I got the best. I have no idea what second would be, but it wouldn’t even be close.
Even now, as I stand on the deck of Dorothy’s, overlooking the Hudson River’s shimmering wavelets, I reflect upon my good fortune. I also reflect upon the fact that the Law of Unintended Consequences controls so much of life. That “Law” is a term used by my friend, benefactor and business partner, Paul Taylor.
Paul is a lawyer, businessman and a charter member of The Pride. Indeed, it was Paul who first made me even realize that there was something called “The Pride”. And it was Paul who first introduced me to the Law of Unintended Consequences.
The “Law” goes something like this – whatever your plan might be, there is always a strong probability that something is going to happen that is totally unplanned. To put it another way, one can be assured that something will occur as the result of a plan that will be unplanned.
To put it yet another way – be prepared for the unexpected. And it was this Law, which introduced me to Paul in the first place. It was the Law that resulted in my being a part owner and host of Dorothy’s by the Sea.
Despite it cosmopolitan veneer and its ultra liberal reputation, when it comes to matters of race New York City can be strangely conservative and segregated. As a schoolchild in Norway I read that there was a time in this country when there were signs on public restrooms, hotels and restaurants, restricting access to whites only. As an immigrant and an outsider I realize that it is easy to be critical as the ethnic and racial differences that we in Norway face are much more.
Nevertheless, upon getting off my SAS flight in New York City in the late 1980’s, I was certain that the racial divide about which I had learned was a thing of the past, especially in New York City. I was also certain that since all the civil rights bills had been passed that there was true integration, certainly in a major international city like New York. I could not have been more wrong.
When I was working in the kitchens of various restaurants, I had no idea of what was going on outside in the serving area. A dirty plate needs washing. That was all I needed to know. However it was not too hard to notice certain realities when I started working the tables at the Water Club. The first time I could take a moment to look around it was obvious-the complexion and racial makeup of the patrons made me think I had made a wrong turn coming out of the kitchen and that I was back in Oslo. Where were the black people?
I often wondered why a question like this would even come to the mind of one of the finest sons of Bergen, Norway. And I realized that the answer was simple and so very obvious.
When I came to America, I had seen black people on virtually all the sports programs and in many movies and television shows. Black music, black fashion and black style seemed to me to be very real aspects of American culture. As someone observing America through various media presentations, black people seemed to me to be a major and significant component of American culture, far out of proportion to the 12% of the population that black people represent.
It was with a dawning realization that I finally took note of the fact that very few black people ever came into the Water Club as guests. Over the years, I learned that it was not just the Water Club – it could be Lutece, the Gotham Grill, “21”, Windows on the World – it was almost as if someone had hung a “Whites Only” sign on the door that only blacks could see and read.
A dozen years later I am still trying to come to grips with this New York City phenomenon. Many books have been written and many books will be written about this particularly New York phenomenon. It is a phenomenon that correctly characterizes New York City as the most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world. Yet this city is virtually segregated at the highest levels of commerce, culture and social intercourse.
True to the Law of Unintended Consequences, it would stand to reason that, at a place like the Water Club, the de facto segregation was noticeable. And, true to the Law of Unintended Consequences, and in a strange and almost predestined way, it would stand to reason that I would come to know Paul Taylor and learn about The Pride.
It would also stand to reason that meeting Paul and learning about The Pride would open yet another new and exciting chapter in my life.


Point of View Columns

To be or not to be…..?

To a contemporary columnist Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving. After the Mama Grizzly exhortations and the views of Russia from her kitchen window, she continues to provide demonstrable indicia of the madness that pervades current sociopolitical discourse. But it is wise to beware.
Most recently, the self-deposed governor of Alaska called upon the Islamic community to “refudiate” (this is not a typographical error) the planned construction of a community center in the proximity of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York City because the initiative was the work of a local Islamic organization. When this truly bizarre mangling of the English language was noted she called upon the beleaguered Islamic organization to “refute” the project. Of course, now Sarah Palin was just misusing the English language instead of masticating upon it.
When this brush with illiteracy was brought to light Ms. Palin’s final response was to point out that Shakespeare also made up words. A statement that is stunning in its presumptuousness and brazen stupidity but noteworthy because it emanates from an individual who is thought by more than a few to be a possible presidential candidate in 2012 and therefore a possible President of the United States in 2013.
As in any sociopolitical discussion, facts are always helpful although perhaps a little awkward for Ms. Palin and her fellow travelers. But in this instance a few words from the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States may be of assistance:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…….
A sage observer will note that this Amendment does not refer to Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism or exclude Islam. The Amendment refers to the free exercise of ALL religions, which presumably includes Islam.
Sarah Palin and the yahoo clan of the right wing of the right wing seem to feel that the Constitution of the United States is a Happy Meal Menu from which delectable portions can be selected and the unpalatable selections can be left on the steam table. The Mama Grizzly in Chief would have us believe, her self-imposed illiteracy notwithstanding, that pressuring Muslims to build a planned community center in some location more pleasing to her and her cohorts does not constitute the prohibition of the free exercise of religion.
Yet Sarah Palin and the right wing of the right wing will bristle at the mere suggestion that the unfettered and unrestrained possession of AK-47’s is not a constitutionally protected right.
And the logical extension of this warped interpretation of the Constitution is that one can pick and choose the rights that should be protected and defended. And, by extension, one can pick and choose whose rights under the Constitution should be protected and defended.
I am not unsympathetic to those who find the construction of an Islamic-sponsored community center in the vicinity of the World Trade Center problematic. I would imagine that there are those who would oppose the construction of a Catholic Church near any school, playground or youth center in light of the epidemic of revelations of child abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. But I cannot support the notion that their discomfort should displace the right of the community to construct such the Islamic center, keeping in mind that the local community board in lower Manhattan supported the construction of this center. And I would think that although community revulsion at the depredations revealed in the Catholic Church is intense and profound, most communities would not oppose the construction of a Catholic Church or Catholic-sponsored community center, regardless of its location.
To date Sarah Palin has gotten a pass on this double standard upon a double standard. And there is yet another issue that has not been addressed as she big foots her way into this community controversy. As noted, the local community board has supported the construction of the referenced Islamic-sponsored community center; presumably, according to Ms. Palin the will of the (local) people should be erased and replaced by the will of the Mama Grizzly Oracle. And if it can happen once, it can happen again.
I believe that at the end of the day the center will be built. I believe that men and women of good will and of all faiths will recognize the goodness and value of this community center. But Sarah Palin and her cohorts in the right wing of the right wing have provided us with a coming attraction of the America that she envisions – an America that is right only and if only if she says so. The coming attraction is frightening. The actual feature is to be avoided at all costs.

Excerpts from "The Pride"

Chapters 1 & 2 of “The Pride”

“The Pride” is my first novel, originally published by Kensington Books -www.kensingtonbooks.com – in 2005. The sequel, “What You Sow”, was published (also by Kensington) in 2006.
“The Pride” describes a world where politics, investment banking, corporate finance and a multitude of passions intersect. Although “The Pride” is a novel and therefore fiction, it describes a world and a way of life that is very real.
During the coming weeks, chapters of “The Pride” will be published on this site and I hope that you will be interested enough in reading “The Pride” that you will want to get the entire book, available at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.bn.com, http://www.borders.com and at many community-based bookstores around the United States.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy “The Pride”.

My name is not Ishmael

Every story has to start somewhere, and mine starts the first time that I saw New York City. My name is Sture (pronounced “Stude” as in “Studebaker”) Jorgenson, and I am from Bergen, Norway, a small town not too far from Oslo. Until I came to New York City, Oslo was the biggest city that I have ever seen.
There is only one serious high rise in Oslo, and from the observation deck of this hotel/office building you can see the harbor, you can see the Eggar Bryge which is the Norwegian version of the South Street Seaport. You can see the incredible Viegeland Park statuary garden that, if not one of the seven wonders, is certainly one of the seventy wonders of the world. At night there is a small coverlet of lights that modestly covers Oslo from the hills to the sea. And then there is New York City.
The first time that I saw New York at night, it seemed as if the sky and earth had changed places and that the stars and all of the lights of the heavens were at my feet. The lights, the lights, and the lights – the incredible, passionate embrace of electricity and luminescence – when seen from above it resembled nothing so much as an infinite array of constellations designed by the unfettered genius of an unseen hand.
At least that’s what I remember thinking as I looked out of the window of an SAS jet coming into Kennedy airport more than a dozen years ago. The lights were something more than a spectacle, however. To me they were an invitation to imagine the possibilities of my own dreams coming true.
I also found myself trying to imagine all of the millions upon millions of stories that were unfolding that very moment, even as the plane was coming in for a landing. If Oslo’s night-lights were a shining coverlet, then New York City’s made up a huge, multi-colored duvet of gleaming possibilities and endless dreams.
Even though I had lived my entire life in Norway up until that point, I could not help but be aware of “the eight million stories that could be found in the Naked City”. I had seen so many American movies I felt like I had been to New York a hundred times prior to this, my first visit. But no book, no movie, no television show, no magazine, nothing prepared me for the sheer wonder of the reality that is New York City.
After the lights, after the spectacular spectacle that is visual New York City, after all of that, there is the City itself. And there are the people of the City. My first impression was that of being on a carousel while witnessing a bizarre bazaar of the greatest urban gathering in history, a gathering that resembled a psychedelic kaleidoscope.
As a visitor, I could take in the view or I could stay on board the carousel. I chose to get on board and I had no idea of how much my life would change from that day onwards. And I had no idea about how much I didn’t know when it came to the people of New York City.


Living for the City

As I made my way through Customs and Immigration at Kennedy on my first day in America, I had no idea that a dozen years later I would be the manager and part owner of Dorothy’s By the Sea, a most popular restaurant on the western shores of Manhattan. Dorothy’s – a restaurant overlooking the Hudson River named after the great and tragic black movie star, Dorothy Dandridge.
I remain fascinated that my partners felt that in a very important way she symbolized all that should not be forgotten about blacks in America – spectacular possibility bound up in the limited universe of a constricted reality. And on that day at Kennedy Airport, I never dreamed that as the manager of that restaurant I would be a partner with some of the most prominent members of The Pride.
Many people are not familiar with the term “The Pride”. I have heard it used in private gatherings and not so public conversations. My partners introduced me to term and I have been told that it refers to a relatively select group of black professionals in New York City and elsewhere throughout the United States – African American men and women who make their living as investment bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Many of them are graduates of some of the finest and most prominent universities and colleges in America and all of them are impeccably trained professionals in their areas of chosen pursuit.
As an immigrant from Norway with limited dreams and even more limited skills, there is no way that I expected to learn anything about The Pride – I didn’t even know of such a thing called The Pride. And, as I have come to learn, most white Americans that I have met know nothing about this fascinating group of men and women. And that is what is one more thing that I find to be so maddening and interesting about America – anything is possible.
Of course, when I settled in on the convertible sofa in the living room of my sister Ilse’s apartment in Queens later that day, I had no way of knowing that I had begun an adventure that would teach me all about the restaurant business, the American criminal justice system and, of course, The Pride. All I wanted was for sleep to wash the jet lag off me so that I could wake up and begin the greatest adventure any young man from Bergen, Norway could possibly hope for.
I spent my first few days craning my neck in wonder, gazing at the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. I made an effort to see every tourist site and all the sights that I could find.
After a few days, however, Ilse made it very clear that, brother or no brother, if I wanted to be able to keep craning my neck every now and then, I needed to find a job. That was the only way I could maintain my legal immigrant status and my temporary residence on the convertible couch of her living room. Having a very modest educational background, and discovering that my knowledge of Norwegian history had limited value in the job market, I looked for and found a job that fitted one of the few skills that I had that were in demand in New York City in the 1980’s – washing dishes in restaurants.
I worked in short order diners, hotels and every restaurant featuring every kind of cuisine imaginable – Turkish, Slovenian, French, Egyptian, Brazilian, Ethiopian, Italian, South African, Colombian, Ghanaian and Guatemalan. After a while, all scraps and leavings truly did look alike. And then, by chance or fate, I got a job working at the world famous Water Club.
Located on the banks of the East River and not too far south of the United Nations, the Water Club is built on floating piers that abut the East River Drive. It is, in effect, a huge barge tethered to the edge of Manhattan. The Water Club gently floats on the multidirectional currents of the East River, offering spectacular views of New York’s waterways, bridges, floating traffic and East Side skyline. All of this is combined with great food, an exquisite wine list and good service. The combination has made the Water Club one of the most popular and successful restaurants in the United States. Indeed, in operating Dorothy’s, I always have looked at the Water Club as the standard that we seek to emulate.
One thing I knew from the time I got off the SAS jet at Kennedy Airport was that even though my sister Ilse loved me dearly, there was no one who was going to support Sture Jorgenson except Sture Jorgenson. So I used the one talent that I had discovered when I had my first job in Norway-I can work very hard.
And I worked very hard at the Water Club. I washed dishes on double shifts, weekends, holidays. I washed dishes when other dishwashers wanted the night off. After a while I became friendly with some of the waiters.
One evening, one of my new waiter friends called me over and, barely containing his excitement, told me of his great fortune in securing a date with a double-jointed contortionist from Belarus who worked at the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The circus was leaving town in two days and she had the night off that night. My new- found best friend begged me to substitute for him.
I was only too happy to get out of the kitchen and see the Water Club in person. I couldn’t wait to see the rich and famous of New York City and the world dining under the stars that shone through the skylight that covers the main dining area. It certainly didn’t matter to me that the cacophony and madness that is any New York City restaurant on a Friday night made the place seem like Bedlam with good food. On that Friday night, as I served wine to actresses and appetizers to Wall Street wizards and entrees to CEO’s and desserts to supermodels, I finally felt that I had arrived in New York City. And now I was sure that I never wanted to leave.


Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – July 16, 2010

Some thoughts as the summer simmers and the second decade of the twenty first century moves inexorably towards its appointed rounds:
Justice Denied
This weekend some sports aficionados may have seen the ironic news announcement that the Iroquois national lacrosse team was denied entry to the United Kingdom and would not be able to compete in the 2010 lacrosse world championships that are taking place in that country. The reason for the absence of the team representing the people who literally invented lacrosse is that they wished to travel using their Iroquois national passports – not United States passports. And the United States government and the British government felt that these documents would not be sufficient for the Iroquois team to travel even though for 27 years, the team representing the Iroquois – the confederacy of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations – has been the only Native American team to compete internationally, using Iroquois passports for all of that time.
What bureaucratic epiphany enveloped the civil servants in London and Washington to decide that now was the time to deny these Native Americans this small modicum of sovereignty is unknowable. We do know that an entire continent was taken from the ancestors of the Native Americans, with the British and Americans (along with the Spanish, French and Dutch) were complicit in this historical heist. And clearly the irony of the British and the Americans colluding in this additional indignity is lost on the perpetrators.
But it is sad and it is a shame that the other teams that are in the tournament did not perceive this reiteration of historical injustice. There are 29 other teams participating and, at the time of this writing, not one team, not one athlete has refused to participate. The beat has gone on without protest or pause or some recognition that justice has been denied to Native Americans – again. The bureaucrats and athletes are safely insulated from the reality of their participation in the continuation of injustice against a people who invented the sport that they are now playing. It is hard to see how the winners in England can call themselves “champions”. Not this time.

The Price of Victory
The last few decades have not been kind to the liberal/progressive cohort of the American body politic. After Nixon there was Ford. Then there was the all too brief Carter presidency followed by Reagan followed by Bush – a full dozen years of continual shifting to the right. Through “triangulation” there were eight years of Bill Clinton, still the rightward shift persisted. And then, of course, thanks to a purloined election sanctioned by the right wing of the United States Supreme Court, eight more years of a President named Bush.
With the election of Barack Obama, there was a widely held belief in the liberal/progressive cohort that a cessation and reversal of the rightward shift was at hand. And any objective appraisal of the first 18 months of the Obama Administration would lead to the conclusion that this country is indeed moving in a more progressive and enlightened direction. But any objective appraisal of the prevailing mood of politicians and commentators from the liberal/progressive wing would lead to the conclusion that many Obama supporters are profoundly disappointed with the results of his presidency to date.
Somehow the passage of the historic healthcare bill is now seen as inevitable. The tireless rehabilitation of America’s international stature is viewed as sideshow of a sideshow. The bold and aggressive stimulus package which almost certainly saved this country from a reprise of the Great Depression of the last century is characterized as inadequate because it has not fully solved the institutional rot that has permeated the financial marketplace turned casino. Indeed, even the historic financial reform bill passed this week has been criticized as being too little too late.
There is every reason for every one of us to have high expectations of the Obama Administration. And there is every reason for sane and rational supporters of progressive change in this country to understand that President Obama is practicing the art of the possible rather than immolating his presidency on the altar of the perfect. And while his record of achieving the possible has been truly remarkable and the stuff of real history, it is amazing that so many expressions of disappointment and defeatism have emanated from the liberal/progressive cohort. We should consider the consequences.
Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, by howling to “kill the bill” referring to the healthcare bill, came incredibly close to doing just that. That would have meant the virtual end of any possibility of healthcare reform for a generation. And by his howling, Dr. Dean empowered the ubiquitous right wing of the right wing to not only continue their passionate denial of the importance of healthcare, even after its passage, but it also gave aid and comfort to the yahoo bizarros who now are running for office and whose Neanderthal approaches to governance would prove to be the ruination of this country.
Consider that, in Nevada, Sharron Angle is the Republican nominee for the United States Senate and she is on the record as being in favor of the dismantling of Social Security and the Departments of Energy and Education. In Kentucky, Dr. Rand Paul is the Republican nominee for the United States Senate and he has openly questioned the validity of the Civil Right Bill. In Connecticut, the Republican nominee for Senate, Linda McMahon, the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, controls a company whose trail to success is littered with the broken and bruised and discarded bodies of wrestlers who receive no healthcare, insurance or pensions. She proposes to bring her “good business practices” to the halls of Congress.
Please read the preceding paragraph again and realize that these candidacies represent the first wave of the reaction of the right wing of the right wing to the prospects of even modest change. It is not necessary to pledge allegiance to the United States of Obama. But the challenges of the time do require us to measure our criticism of the Obama presidency and balance it against the very real danger of regressive conservatism that threatens us all.
It may be time to focus on the proponents of regressive conservatism who publicly promise to dismantle a governmental apparatus that has sustained every American and has allowed many to prosper. It may be time to engage in more constructive and supportive criticism of an Obama Administration that is clearly our best home for the progressive and innovative change in this country.
As in all political decisions it is important to consider the alternative. What would President John McCain have done with the national financial meltdown during the past 18 months. What would President Sarah Palin do when faced with the BP oil crisis? How would President Hank Huckabee handle the much needed reformation of the American educational system? What would President Mitt Romney say to the Muslim world community? What would Senator Rand Paul say to the jobless and homeless and hopeless Americans who need compassion and support, not neo-conservative psychobabble that makes points but solves nothing?
We can consider the alternatives and make decisions in our best interests for today and tomorrow. It would seem that the choice is clear.

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

Guest Column by Dr. William Pollard


When I initially heard the news that the controversial, hard nosed owner of the Yankees had died following a massive heart attack, my immediate thoughts were about the Yankee season and what a motivation this would be for what I call the real “ America’s team.”
It was later in the afternoon as I listed to Jeter and several of the other players reflect on the life of the Boss that I recalled meeting George Steinbrenner. It was a spring afternoon in Louisiana and the New York Yankees were in town to play the Grambling Tigers. I, and maybe fifty to sixty other die hard baseball fans were there to watch the Grambling Tigers play the New York Yankees.
It was not a terribly eventful game, except that I recall the Tigers held the Yankees scoreless until the third inning. I also recall that Coach Ellis gave each of his pitchers an opportunity to pitch at least one inning against the Yankees. While the game itself was not terribly eventful, the occasion itself was memorable. I met the Boss, George Steinbrenner.
I sat behind him on the wooden bleachers filled with the same splinters The Boss rested on. I am sure those seats were nothing like the ones in the box seats at Yankee Stadium. I watched the Boss as he engaged in baseball talk with Grambling residents and as he signed every piece of paper that sought his autograph.
Now as I reflect on his death I recall the Boss as a man who honored his friendship and respect for Eddie Robinson, the late football coach who put Grambling on the map. I recall the Boss as a man who really did not seem to mind being with the people. I will never forget that warm spring afternoon in Grambling, Louisiana.
Bill Pollard
copyright 2010 William Pollard
William Pollard is the President of Medgar Evers College, City University of New York

Point of View Columns

Heart of Darkness, Heart of Light

The catastrophe that is the American military incursion in Afghanistan opens its bloody maw daily and consumes more lives and treasure, seemingly by the moment. We have become anesthetized to the daily body count that is broadcast on the televised news channels and printed in a barely legibly font on some miscellaneous page of the newspaper. The detachment between the people of America and the American military in Afghanistan is not imaginary. The disconnection is real, and that separation of the American people from reality endured by the American military makes the entire misadventure all the more tragic and sad.
It is useful to start with some very simple arithmetic. The population of the United States is approximately 300 million. Of that population, it is estimated that approximately one per cent is actually connected to the American military – as members of the armed forces or as direct family members. For the sake of focusing on the larger issues involved, we can offer a guesstimate and double that number to two per cent, meaning that approximately 6 million Americans have some direct connection to the military and the ongoing wars being waged in the name of this country and some elusive and ephemeral notion of national security.
That bit of arithmetic means that over a quarter of a billion Americans have no direct connection to the war effort. Their suffering is limited to the ravages visited upon the global and national economy and the inconvenience of regular news interruptions listing more dead and wounded Americans every day. Approximately half of the quarter of a billion Americans supports the war theoretically, politically, empathetically and sympathetically. But they do not get the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night. They do not answer the front door bell and find uniformed officers informing them of yet another tragically avoidable loss of life. They do not suffer the stress and tension and debilitating helplessness of knowing that a loved one or family member is in harm’s way twenty four hours a day.
I have written of my opposition to the American military incursion in Afghanistan and will continue to do so. I believe that a misbegotten strategy of ten years ago has enmeshed President Obama in Gordian knots of counterintuitive strategies and conflicting policies that will never produce success, if success is to be defined as the men, women and children of America being safer at the end of this woeful conflict. For lives to be lost in a cause with no hope of success is a full color illustration of tragedy writ large.
The price of any war is high. Wars fought for a just cause are full of human errors and human failings that result in the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives. It has happened in every war since Cain and Abel. It happened in Vietnam, it happened in Iraq and we can be sure that it is happening at this very moment in Afghanistan.
I commend to your attention a recent book about the war in Vietnam, Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes. In some ways it is the same story that is told in films ranging from All Quiet on the Western Front to Platoon to The Hurt Locker. Matterhorn plumbs the depths of the human side of the war and the price that is paid in blood and lost limbs and shattered minds because of strategic and policy decisions made by those who never have to suffer the consequences. Read Matterhorn and think Afghanistan and be very afraid.
Undoubtedly there are men and women of good will who are supporting “the tough decisions that have to be made” in Afghanistan. But, as has already been noted, that support is empathetic and theoretical and not visceral. There is a difference.
During the war in Vietnam there was a draft. As the mortal madness swirled in Southeast Asia, the winds caught young American men who had not volunteered for combat. The winds caught young American men who dreamed of going to college or teaching in a university or becoming lawyers. Draftees were different from the enlisted men who joined the armed forces out of a sense of patriotism or from a desire for structure and stability.
As the winds swirled and howled and gathered up more young men, the support for the Vietnam War wavered and opposition to it grew to unprecedented levels, particularly on college campuses. The sons of congressmen and senators rarely have been drafted during the history of this country. But the sons of supporters and voters started being swept up in the gathering storm that was the madness of that was the war in Vietnam and questions started being asked, goals started to be doubted and certainty was yet another casualty, shipped home along with the body bags containing the ruined youth of this country.
The body bags are being shipped home again. Men and women are being maimed and blown up in the name of a strategy that is proven false daily. Even if Afghanistan were totally pacified (however that might be defined), would that make Americans safer in Kampala, Uganda where an al-Qaeda-related bombing killed and maimed Ugandans and Americans a few days ago? Will a housebroken Taliban mean that there will never be another bombing attempt in Times Square or on an American airliner (think Shoe Bomber or Underwear Bomber) or at an American base in the United States (think Fort Hood)?
But there is no draft today. The protests against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are muted because there is no risk presented to the millions of young men and women (and their parents) who go to class, attend football games and drink beer at parties. The members of Congress who are bellicose and are willing to “pay any price” do not have legions of constituents mourning the dead and wounded for the most part. Journalists and commentators supporting “tough decisions” rarely know anyone at risk of dying or losing their legs in Afghanistan.
So the disconnection empowers remote control videogame bellicosity. The disconnection permits this country to allow two per cent of the population to bear one hundred per cent of the burden. The blood and the tears flow but they are unseen or presented in sanitized digital tableaus that we watch between commercials and lamentations over the loss of LeBron. Yet another American Tragedy.

Point of View Columns

C’mon Jesse!

I begin by acknowledging the historical bona fides of Jesse Jackson. As a lieutenant of Martin Luther King, Jr., as the founder of Rainbow Push, as a presidential candidate – his place in history is secure and undeniable. This is a man worthy of respect despite his occasional human missteps.

Which makes me wonder why oh why would Jesse Jackson inject himself into the Lebronidiculous spectacle that culminated in LeBron James making his professional career decision to move from Cleveland to Miami into a national circus? When superstar athletes leave their “home” team, the locals rarely react positively. Ask Alex Rodriguez who is still reviled in Seattle although he left there almost a decade ago. And Seattle wasn’t his “home” – he is from Florida.

As Brett Favre how it goes when he visits Green Bay having been a Packer demigod and “hometown” hero for over a decade. When he comes to Green Bay wearing the hated colors of the Minnesota Vikings he is burned in effigy and cursed. And he isn’t even from Wisconsin – Brett Favre was born and lives in Mississippi.

So when LeBron James, who is from Akron, less than a half tank in an Escalade away from Cleveland, why should it be surprising that everyone in Ohio, even the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, would go nuts. There are Cleveland fans who have been fantasizing about LeBron James being a Cavalier since he was 13 years old, so listening to him describe his departure in the third person on ESPN (in Greenwich, Connecticut) had to sting.

Now Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, went over the top when he reduced the price of LeBron James jerseys to $17.41 (1741 being the year of Benedict Arnold’s birth), but I did not pick up a whiff of racism that Reverend Jackson claims permeated every word that Gilbert spoke. Saying that LeBron James was being treated “like a runaway slave” and playing the slavery card is in incredible bad taste for any number of reasons.

First, slavery was a tragedy shared by all Americans of African descent and we do dishonor to the memory and suffering of voiceless ancestors by trivializing that tragedy. LeBron James has made hundreds of millions of dollars as a professional athlete and will make billiions before his career is over. It is hard to make a case for him being a slave, “runaway” or otherwise.

Additionally, Jesse Jackson acts as if there is some racial teflon attached to blackness which should insulate LeBron James from criticism. James has made a very comfortable living being a superstar. Superstars receive adulation and praise from the same people who will curse and revile them when they feel rejected or disappointed. Just ask Tiger Woods.

LeBron James might have considered a less ego-driven public presentation of his departure. Considering his ringless fingers and his swan dive in the most recent playoffs, some humility might have been in order. As a professional, he might have wanted to call the owner of the team that had paid him tens of millions of dollars and catered to his every whim a heads up by phone before his ESPN closeup. But those were James’ decisions and he has to live with the consequences…..somehow I think that he will survive the current opprobrium and live quite nicely in South Beach.

So you can support LeBron James or not. But please, please, let Lebronomania not be the battlefield. There are so many worthwhile battles to be fought.