Recently in General Category

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strictly speaking, the phrase was, Qu'ils mangent de la brioche*


Air France cancelled our holiday.

Only early this afternoon, when I had fortuitously come upon a news article in the front section of the Sunday New York Times did I become aware even of the possibility of a disruption in our plans for a two-week holiday. The Times, even with a deadline some 15 hours earlier than my reading of it, seemed pretty certain there would be no Air France flights on the day we were scheduled to fly out of JFK. That would be tomorrow.

As of five o'clock today (September 14), we had still received no notice from Air France that either of their flights we had scheduled to get us from New York to Lisbon via Paris has been cancelled, although immediately after reading the report in the Times, we checked the carrier's own web site and saw that the flight from Paris to Lisbon was definitely cancelled.

We were unable to find an alternative to that flight, or to the original flight plan overall. We found nothing which could get us to Lisbon in less than 18 to 24 hours on a carrier which wasn't scary. Our plan had taken a great deal of time and effort to assemble, and serious money for the tickets. Now we had no choice but to cancel the entire trip, including hotels, car rental, and our two round trip tickets (four Air France flights), as well as the passion which went into its planning.

The demands of the pilots, as I understand them, seem to me to be both reasonable - and exceptionally unselfish. According to the New York Times article, they are "seeking to ensure that the 250 new pilots the group aims to hire for [Transavia, its newly-expanded] budget carrier over the next five years will be employed under the same contract as those flying under the main Air France brand.".

Just because they are real people, and not corporations, and people to whom we entrust our lives every time we fly, I wish the pilots well.

We're not thinking good thoughts about their employer however. Air France just might be as incompetent in business as it is disrespectful of real people, and shoddy in its treatment of good customers. Incompetent, because the dispute should never have gotten to this point, (and not even because it will cost the corporation something like $26M a day to refuse the pilots' demands), and its corporate peremptoriness will now be displayed in the full glare of daylight; disrespectful because of its lack of communication with its customers; and shoddy because it has refused to refund the considerable cost of fares paid for services they themselves withdrew without any notice, offering us only a voucher good for one year.


* with apologies to Marie Antoinette, as the phrase's connection to her is completely apocryphal


ADDENDUM: Air France has now refunded the money we paid for our fares, by crediting the card used to pay for the trip.

The pilots strike is now apparently over, although without an agreement, after two weeks which disrupted the travel plans of nearly a million people, and may have cost the airline close to half a billion dollars. It's not certain that anyone involved gained anything.


[image from Wikipedia]

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Barry and I were a part of a large - but very polite and stunningly geeky - crowd of, eventually, one to two thousand people gathered today (Jan. 18) in Midtown.

We were outside of the Manhattan offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer. Both are co-sponsors of the latest egregious Congressional attack on the Internet, the tech industry generally, and, in its ultimate implications, the basic right of free speech: It's a Senate bill called the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA. The House has its own version, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA,.

Both bills were actually written by Hollywood and the recording industry, which together have thrown millions at a Congress whose members have admited that the voters have not actually asked for their personal and quite extraordinary ministrations in this area of critical national interest. If the two houses were to agree on its terms and a bill were signed into law it would essentially mean the corporate privatization of the Internet.

The protest had been called by New York Tech Meetup, a group founded in 2004 to represent professionals from all parts of the technology industry in the New York community. Along with many other sites, Wikipedia and New York Tech Meetup went black today to protest SOPA/PIPA, but in a very quick search I found 1stwebdesigner, only one of many useful sites able to provide information useful especially to those less than completely technically fluent.

Why were we all there this afternoon?

Those of us who use the Internet know the difference between fair use and piracy, but an unrepresenative government owned exclusively by the super rich and the wealthiest corporations - including legacy media - a government which can't figure out how to keep people from being thrown out of their homes, a government which worships secrecy while it engages in torture, wars of aggression, and political assassination, which enshrines gun ownership as something of a Constitutional sacrament while erasing habeas corpus, due process, the rights of assembly and free speech, and prohibitions against indefinite detention without trial, is a government which absolutely cannot be trusted to make the right call if it gains the powers contemplated by SOPA and PIPA.


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I'm always excited to see theatrical or dramatic elements introduced into political activism, and sine this was a pretty staid crowd, I was particularly delighted when a man stepped into the crowd near where we were standing listening to the scheduled speakers, unwrap a large stash of blank all-black cardboard sheets, and then quickly distribute them to strangers. Most of them accepted their assigned role in representing conceptually an internet blacked-out by government censorship. Others immediately picked up on the image of blank screens they had formed and whipped out their cameras to capture it. The action's creative director appears in the center of this picture.


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this clock has been stuck on nine for some time; I'm moving on to ten


Today marks the ninth anniversary of this blog. It began when, finding myself totally frustrated with the idiocy and brutishness of my country's response to the events of September 11 and feeling almost totally isolated in my disgust, I started sending a series of emails to people I knew well, sharing my thoughts and my anger. A few months later I started jameswagner.com, intending it to be a more structured and more widely broadcast form for the kinds of unelicited rants which were testing the patience of my friends. It was also intended to include ruminations on subjects in which I thought others might share my interest.

Almost from the start there were entries on politics, the arts, queerdom, history, New York and the world, and within a year they began to be accompanied by images and photographs. Many of the latter have been my own.


April 27 marks another anniversary for me, one infinitely more important than the launch of this modest little blog: I met Barry, my perfect partner in everything, and Wunderkind webmaster, exactly twenty years ago today.


[the image is that of a beautiful clock mounted high on the outside of the handsome bank located across the street from our apartment, the modernist West 23rd St. building constructed for The Broadway Savings Bank in 1948; the architect was Harold R. Sleeper]

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Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!


[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]

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No, it isn't the holiday that's being exacted. By "enforced holiday" I mean that my little Air is back in the shop, this time with an audio output malfunction (it simply stopped). If I'm very lucky, and my neighbors at Tekserve are really kind, I'll have it back on Wednesday, but I'm preparing to expect a slightly longer wait because of, yes, the holiday. In the meantime I'm using the equivalent of a borrowed jalopy, so I won't be posting here for a while.

A lot of people aren't looking at their computers this week or next anyway, between the preparations for and the distractions of Thanksgiving and the Miami art fairs, so I'm concentrating on the arrangements for our own little roasted bird in good conscience: It's a small Canard de Barbarie, and I picked it up yesterday at Ottomanelli's. Our plans to celebrate the feast in Brooklyn with 14 others were sadly cancelled at the last minute. Unable to invite company only days before the date, we had to re-think our favorite harvest féte as a much smaller and more home-based event. If it's a culinary success, there will be a report in our Food Blog.


[image from Huro Kitty's Flickr]

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I've become unhinged. That is, my lovely MacBook Air has become unhinged. The bracket which attaches the screen to the base broke yesterday, so my baby is currently on the bench down the block at Tekserve.

I won't be able to upload my own images until the patient comes home, probably on Wednesday, so blogging will have to be suspended until then.


[image from UES]

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In a functioning community, "I've got mine" is not the beginning and the end of civic responsibility.

When did the discussion of promoting public health degenerate into a discussion about promoting the health of private insurance companies?

I'm hoping that we're going to find out soon that there aren't enough votes to pass a health-care bill either with or without the "pubic option", and that Congress will then have the courage and good sense to produce the only solution which would serve people rather than corporations: Single payer. I know it sounds crazy, but it could actually happen, and the insane mechanisms being tossed around right now really are crazy.

Medicare for all: It's the only rational and ethical solution, both for delivering health care and for controlling its costs. It's our selfishness which has always been behind our horror of "socialism" (and from our beginnings as a people, our distrust of any government). It's time to just get over it. Were it not for those fears, fanned on the subject of health care by the insurance corporations which have owned the discussion for longer than anyone alive today can remember, we'd have already been living with its benefits and its savings for half a century, perhaps longer.


ADDENDUM: Obama doesn't seem to be a part of the process these days, and perhaps he never was, but for what it's worth, the man we now address as Mr. President once favored a single-payer system. In his post on creators.com, "Health Care's Enigma-In-Chief", David Sirota reminds us of a speech Obama delivered at the AFL-CIO Civil, Human and Women's Rights Conference in 2003:

[He] declared himself "a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program" -- i.e., one eliminating private insurers and their overhead costs by having government finance health care. Obama's position was as controversial then as today -- which is to say, controversial among political elites, but not among the general public. ABC's 2003 poll showed almost two thirds of Americans desiring a single-payer system "run by the government and financed by taxpayers," just like CBS's 2009 poll shows roughly the same percentage today.

In that speech six years ago, Obama said the only reason single-payer proponents should tolerate delay is "because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House."



[image from education-portal]

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we can't do it with bake sales


Gordon Marino's short piece, "The real US healthcare issue: compassion deficiency", should be the first and the last word on the subject of health care. These are just excerpts:

The healthcare debate has revealed that Americans suffer from a compassion deficiency. Many of us would prefer that our fellow citizens go without medical care rather than make even the slightest of sacrifices.

. . . . Apparently, there are a lot of folks who would choose to have young mothers with cancer go without chemotherapy, instead of giving up a bit of that disposable income that is our badge of freedom and individualism.

Sure, we all like to think that as Americans we care, but normally we'll only bother to help when someone's tragedy manages to really touch us - a loved one perhaps, or a subject in a media drama - but it's not enough, and it's not about ethics. Marino continues:

I reside in a small town and every week there is some kind of raffle or spaghetti dinner to scrounge together the funds to meet the medical expenses of a child with leukemia or a teenager with a brain tumor. We're trying to pay for brain surgery with bake sales!

"The real US healthcare issue" had been published in the Christian Science Monitor exactly one week back, but I first saw it a few minutes ago when Barry sent me an IM pointing to what I have to describe as a pretty exciting new social bookmarking site for philosophers*, "Sympose". It describes itself as "a fast and easy way for professional philosophers to find online philosophy content that they might enjoy". While content can be supplied only by philosophers who have earned their Ph.D. or persons who are enrolled in a graduate program in philosophy, at least the rest of us can swim around in all that heady wisdom.


Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf's College, and the item was "scooped" onto Sympose by Preston Werner.


*
Disclosure, or confession: Back in the early dark ages (way before the internet), one of my undergraduate minors was philosophy. Okay, the other was German, but my history major was supposed to be the practical subject.


[image from trinityhawaii]

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I'd love to find some excuse to continue shopping at Whole Foods, but I just couldn't live with myself if I went with anything I can come up with.

I am a serious cook, I make a real dinner for Barry and myself virtually every night, sometimes including friends as well, and I take my food sources very seriously. I was delighted to learn around nine years ago that a branch of Whole Foods was going to be opening at the end of our block. We already had Garden of Eden on 23rd Street, about the same distance away, and I could easily visit the Union Square Greenmarket, Citarella in the VIllage, Balducci's on 14th Street and Buon Italia and the other shops in Chelsea Market. I could reach just as many more good food outlets if I ventured a little further, and I often did.

I immediately found Whole Foods very convenient, and I had a certain amount of confidence in the quality of what they sold, perhaps buying too much into its own hype and the excitement of its fans. The store became a very big part of my hunting and gathering activities. I soon began to think of the store as almost indispensable. It didn't hurt that since it was only a few hundred feet from our apartment I could walk out my door at 9 in the evening or even later, having no idea of what I was going to buy, and still get back in time to make a proper dinner for the two of us.

But Whole Foods has been out of my life since last Thursday (except in the telling of this story). I'm going to have to make some adjustments and I'm definitely going to be planning ahead from now on. I regret having to make the adjustment, but I may be more disturbed about the fact that it took me too long to get to this point.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that for a long time I found it convenient to ignore what I began to hear early on about the Whole Foods management preventing its employees from unionizing (I did not then know the extent of its larger political involvement fighting the union movement, including opposing the Employee Free Choice Act). And then late last week the news broke about co-founder, Chairman and CEO John Mackey's Thursday Wall Street Journal op-ed on health care, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare". I could no longer ignore the fact that my money was supporting reactionary politics (the agent of the transaction was boldly broadcasting it to the world). Mackey opened his odd, obsessional piece with an ignorant, plainly specious quote* from scary Margaret Thatcher, and went on to argue against President Obama's health reform proposals. In fact he railed against any government involvement in the regulation of health care, positing instead eight of his own ideas for reform.

My favorite:

Revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

From its beginnings this food chain, anointed (with some justification) as more wholesome than any of its competitors, has assiduously cultivated an image of social responsibility. But it's an image which is, at the very least, at odds with much of its social and political conduct, especially because of the activities of the increasingly-eccentric John Mackey. The long arm (money, power, influence) of this very successful, wealthy corporation now manages to touch the lives of everyone, even those who have never entered one of its stores.

Even if the expected (and already dramatic) negative reaction of Whole Foods customers to the revelation of Mr. Mackey's Right-wing adventures isn't enough to frighten the corporation's investors, I would be surprised if they haven't already started to question his judgment, his ability to perform his job. Any competent CEO is well-advised to avoid political activities which offend and damage the best interests of his firm's clients and customers - or at least avoid being discovered or outed as an extremist nut.

I'm not going to pretend that my decision to no longer darken the threshold of the Chelsea Whole Foods outlet is of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, but I know I'm not alone in wanting to see John Mackey relieved of his duties. Stranger things have happened, and corporations are not known for courage, or preferring stupidity over the bottom line.

Should he be removed, John Mackey, the free market libertarian, should be able to appreciate the irony of the marketplace deciding that it had to be.


*
"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out
of other people's money."


[image from gezellig-girl's Flickr photostream]

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It seems to me like it's been around forever, but today is actually the seventh anniversary of this blog.

For those of us who follow these things, this is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met, eighteen years ago.

And, making the day even more perfect, . . . it's also Paddy Johnson's birthday!

I just checked on what I had written one year ago. Today I may be more upbeat about the world outside the circle of our friends, but only a bit.


[the image is of one the three metal street numbers mounted on a metal service door belonging to a building down the street from our own]

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