Incidental New Yorker XIV

April 6, 2016

🇵🇦  We went to Panama over Easter and had the loveliest break there. Wonderful and very friendly people, beautiful place, terrific food, and the wildly impressive canal, where I was so lucky as to be invited to actually open a lock gate for a huge container ship heading East from the Pacific. The locks are computerized now. But the old system still functions. Managing the lock was somewhat of a consolation for my not having actually seen a sloth. I have always wanted to see the Panama Canal, and also a sloth. So my expectations were very high. Perhaps a little too high. I was very eager and more than ready when an alien animal, which had to be a sloth, crossed our path in the local jungle – only it moved a little faster than the sloth’s two metres (a good two yards) an hour. But for at least half a day I convinced myself – and my husband – that it was a sloth. And I was elated. I ought to have suspected it when it moved so fast out of our sight that I didn’t have time to photograph it. We never did find out what it was. Not a dog, not a cat. Monkey perhaps?

Me, lost in deep concentration, I open a lock gate in the Panama Canal with a single click on the mouse. See the gate actually opening on screen in top right corner

Anyway, opening the gate at the first lock at the Pacific Ocean end of the canal made up for it. And we saw flocks of pelicans dropping into the water like bombs when catching fish to store in their baggy beaks. We watched a painfully long midnight Easter Parade depicting the entire Old Testament, and possibly the New one as well, but we didn’t wait around to check.

Jesus and angel in midnight Easter procession in Panama City

And we cycled on the causeway to the islands in the bay, we walked and walked in the beautiful Old City as well as the new – and we did wonder where all the money for new construction in the new city came from. The other day we found out – massive white washing from tax evasion and more takes place in Panama, and has done so for years. Particularly intriguing is the person who served on several hundred company boards, even eight years after her death! This and more in the Panama Papers.

Panama City – Old and New

🍹 Mind you, we really don’t have to leave town to be surprised or entertained … Take for instance the Robin Hood waiter in a Brooklyn pancake restaurant who for six months served free drinks worth 3000 dollars to poor people who couldn’t afford a drink. He didn’t do it for himself. He simply didn’t charge them. “I am the modern day Robin Hood, I am not stealing, I am serving the ones in need, I take from the rich and give to the poor,” the waiter told investigators after he was caught, according to DNAinfo. His boss watched him for months before filing a criminal complaint against him. The very same pancake chain, IHOP, gave away stacks of pancakes for free on National Pancake Day, March 8th (not to be confused with International Women’s Day on the same date) and asked patrons to donate to charity instead. IHOP raised almost 4 million dollars on Pancake Day.

Observing Earth Hour while eating dinner with husband and niece, Clara, at home

🌎 Saturday March 19th between 8:30 and 9:30pm we observed Earth Hour – along with people in 177 other countries. Our niece Clara who studies in Poughkeepsie spent the weekend with us in NYC, and and it was fun and very exotic to eat dinner in darkness. Afterwards we fooled around and took lots of photos in the dark to test aperture and other retro manual photo techniques. 

Prominent UN Ambassador for Happiness and the Climate

That very same weekend on the International Day of Happiness, March 20th, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, appointed a new goodwill ambassador for both happiness (🇩🇰 Danes being deemed once more the happiest people in the world it does warm one’s Danish heart to meet a Happiness Ambassador) and the climate. I bumped into the new ambassador, a big woolly red ball with brows and a beak, so round that we had to help push it (him? her?) through the door into the General Assembly Hall, where Its Angryness was greeted most enthusiastically. Interesting that a cartoon character easily attracts a lot more attention than many people do. It reminded me of the election campaign. 

🇺🇸 Interesting as well – if also frightening – to watch election campaigning here. Voting isn’t easy, and voters not much in focus. Candidates compete in nastiness. Mostly, we hear about money and advertising, not about voters. Or rather, voters seem to be counted in the way of money for “attack ads”. So, you should pay to support your favourite candidate. Even if voting is a civil right it doesn’t come easy. One must register to vote. Not the other way round, where everyone receives a poll card, which you swap for a ballot paper on election day – or when you cast your vote by post. If you live in Alabama, you must register to vote 11 days before the general election, or rather your application must be postmarked 11 days before the election. In Alaska it is 30 days. In Connecticut it must be postmarked two weeks before the election and if you show up in person to register, you must do so a week before. In Delaware the letter must be postmarked by the fourth Saturday prior to a general or primary election, and 10 days prior to a special election. In DC your letter must be postmarked 30 days before the election, but you can also register in person on Election Day as long as you can provide proof of residency. In Georgia, the registration letter must be postmarked by the fifth Monday before the election, and so on.  Different rules in different states, and if you work or study away from you home state, you must return to vote. This makes it extraordinarily difficult for a good many voters to actually cast their vote. This is rather an intricate way of keeping people away from the ballots, along with gerrymandering, which, according to Wikipedia, is a complicated, but quite unsophisticated way of establishing “a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts. In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as “majority-minority districts”.” Due to the electoral system of first-past-the-post, where the winner takes all the votes, it is possible to actually move district boundaries to fit a given political purpose. Gerrymandering shouldn’t be mistaken for 🦂🕷 jerrymander, which is a cross between scorpions and spiders, known as camel spiders, wind scorpions, sun spiders, or solifugae.

📺 The average American child watches TV four hours a day according to a survey by A.C Nielsen. That’s 28 hours a week. The survey also reveals that average parents spend 3.5 minute a week in meaningful conversation with their children. From the survey: The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders. At a meeting in Nashville, TN last July, Dr. John Nelson of the American Medical Association (an endorser of National TV-Turnoff Week) said that if 2,888 out of 3,000 studies show that TV violence is a casual factor in real-life mayhem, “it’s a public health problem.” The American Psychiatric Association addressed this problem in its endorsement of National TV-Turnoff Week, stating, “We have had a long-standing concern with the impact of television on behavior, especially among children.”  California State University, Northridge has analysed the data and concludes i.a. that TV addiction and the passive, sedentary nature of TV-watching is a serious threat to national health in the US as well as a contributor to “the nation’s epidemic of violence.” The most comforting info from the analysis is the fact that the US actually has an organisation which advocates a national TV-Turnoff Week. Much like in the not so distant past when there was no TV on Thursdays in Iceland. One wonders whether this might be part of the reason that Icelanders on average read more than anyone else in the world. And one can safely term Iceland a peaceful nation as well – even if the prime minister has resigned over shady investments in Panama. 

💰 And finally, on the absolute plus side: Wealthy New Yorkers are getting together and demanding to pay higher taxes. They wrote to Governor Cuomo and the local legislature: “We are New York’s millionaires and we say: raise our taxes. Each of us earns over $665K a year. We can afford to give more to help children in poverty, the homeless and people on low incomes.” The letter is signed by over 50 wealthy New Yorkers. While demanding to pay more to contribute their fair share to the city’s developments and needs, they suggest that workers’ families pay less.  “As New Yorkers who have contributed to and benefited from the economic vibrancy of our state, we have both the ability and the responsibility to pay our fair share. We can well afford to pay our current taxes, and we can afford to pay even more. Our state needs to invest this revenue in our struggling schools, in antipoverty measures and in infrastructure improvements. Our state’s long-term economic prosperity depends on strong investments in our people and our communities.” The Guardian has printed the letter in its entirety. And this is no April Fool’s prank. I checked. The letter was printed in the paper on March 21st.