Incidental New Yorker XIII

March 3, 2016

Has been a while … Sorry! Glad to be back. Had a lovely New Year break in Denmark. And lots to attend to. I’m  already half way through my temporary stint as Incidental New Yorker. Not any way near half way through exploring the city, though.

Hudson River Park – the old railway landing connecting New Jersey and Manhattan
© Mette Holm


🚲 Just the other day, a lovely climate change warm Saturday we rode our bicycles along the Hudson, something we’d been meaning to do for a long time. We saw (Danish architect) Bjarke Ingels of BIG’s marvellous new pyramid-highrise-warped residential building, which completely changes appearance depending on the angle you view it from. And its green. And its lovely. And I will return often to look at it and show it to friends who visit.

Columbia University – first day of spring © Mette Holm

📚 And in late January I started work with my lovely team of MA-students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. It is wonderful and inspiring to work with these dedicated students on cross boundary access to justice as well as a pleasure to be part of the Columbia community; its a delightful refuge from the buzz and superficiality of the city. Columbia’s Morningside Campus is tranquil and exciting; people are interested, they talk and make real conversation on real subjects. Its like an island in the hectic mass of stressed out people who eat on the run, rarely finish their sentences, shout in their cell phones, always running, always late. Many have several jobs to make a living. 


🚶But not all. Some people refuse to keep the pace. And much as NYC has managed to make a virtue out of the constant noise and decided to brand itself as the city that never sleeps, a group of laid back people have managed to take advantage of other peoples’ ridiculously hectic pace to make a living out of their own relaxed approach to life. They queue for people who are too rich or too busy to stand in line. Same Ole Line Dudes pride themselves in being New Yorks only Professional Line Sitting Team; under the motto “We wait for your wants!” they offer to queue up for designer samples sales, stand-by tickets, anything … “We are a team of professional line sitters whose primary aim is to reduce your wait for anything this great city has to offer. With over 8 million residents, lines for anything in New York can be long! Add to that, over 56 million tourists each year and you’re in for an even longer wait! Whether it’s smartphones, the latest sneakers, or the hottest Broadway tix in town, Same Ole Line Dudes, understands your wants & needs and is here to help. We even go above and beyond …” 


Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, may he rest in peace, passed away in February at the fairly mature age of 79. Two years back, in Denmark, I attended the retirement reception of our highly respected and much loved president of the Supreme Court. In Denmark even judges retire, and they do so at the age of 70. Also, they are politically neutral. So to us life time appointment of an openly political justice is a novelty. I was much surprised when I read, heard and watched how the media here expressed “surprise” when at 79 Antonin Scalia died after what was described as a delightful day at the golf course. Okay, I suppose they were allowed some surprise, because the day before I read in NYT about the growing disparity in life spans of the rich and the poor in the US. NYT writes that despite big advances in medicine, technology and education, the longevity gap between high-income and low-income Americans has been widening sharply. In the 1970s a man of 60 from the the wealthier half of Americans was expected to live 1.2 years longer than his peer in the lower half. In 2001 the gap had widened to 5.8 years. And for the top 10 percent, life expectancy has now jumped to 87.2 from 79.1. Scalia died at 79. So statistically, I guess it was a surprise that he passed away – or rode a crane to the West, as the Chinese say.


🇨🇳 China has a nasty habit of having people, Chinese or foreigners, “disappeared” from their whereabouts, even outside China, only to have them show up weeks or months later on national Chinese television where they express scripted “remorse” over whatever China accuses them of, and promise to make amends. Friends and family of these people in this modern Chinese version of stocks claim that the confessions are forced. This happened recently to a Swede, who worked with Chinese human rights lawyers, and to five book sellers (all Hong Kong or Chinese born, but one a Swedish citizen; another British)  who disappeared over several months from Hong Kong and Thailand only to surface on Chinese TV. The five worked in a Hong Kong book store which sells – or sold, rather – books on Chinese politics and politicians as well as other books that are illegal on Mainland China. Closed circuit TV showed the manager of the store being abducted from the store’s warehouse. Happy Year of the Monkey! 🙉 However, on the eve of the opening session of China’s legislature, according to Hong Kong and mainland media, one prominent mainland lawyer has called for an end to the practice of making suspects “confess” on television before they go on trial. Zhu Zhengfu is deputy head of the All China Lawyers Association and a delegate to the country’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference; he says that the practice does not protect the suspects’ legal rights and help the fairness of the judiciary. In an interview with mainland media outlet Caixin, he said suspects were “very likely to have been coerced into making confessions and under pressure from law enforcers.” He pointed out that “a confession made on television does not equate to a legitimate confession or carry any indication he or she is guilty.” Zhu warned the practice would lead to trial by media and give the public the impression that the suspect was guilty. One can only hope that the brave professor’s words will be heeded – and that he will remain in office.


🇺🇸 Aaah, and then there are the primaries here in the US. Even if they are actually more democratic than the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all presidential election, they unfold like a primitive Roman gladiatorial contest. The Darwinistic and highly predatory “selection process” of the presidential candidates, amongst republicans in particular, is like wrestling on TV, only much more frightening because this country’s future as well as its relationship with the rest of the world is at stake. His Trumpness 🌽 becoming evermore removed from reality, which seems to have a distinctly positive influence on his chances, while the republican debates play out with absurd exchanges. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are a lot more connected to reality, and stick to the subject; they have programmes and plans, but they too talk rough now. Sometimes I get the feeling that a large share of Americans perceive politics as just another cartoon or TV show; they simply watch and live life through their TV-screens. And its a self-fuelling affair. While boiling everything of substance into stock cube one-liners, everything gets both amplified and simplified through several layers of commentators and observers. And nobody – apart from perhaps Bernie Sanders – seems to want to add the ingredient to complete the dish, so to speak; put the debates and election process back into meaningful shape and substance. This is frightening. And come the actual election in November, the gap between the two parties, and more importantly, their voters, will have widened even further, and thus tearing the country further apart. 


🇨🇦 Even the Canadian neighbours are taking precautions now: watch this. (the original link has been removed so I have replaced with a later one on the same subject)