10th June 2004


The streets of Manhattan New York have a character all their own. First there are the subway vents, immortalized by THAT picture of Marilyn Munro.   These are embodied in the form of grids, on the footpath, all over Manhattan.  Sometimes you can look down through the grid and see railway tracks reflection. Wait long enough and a train will go rattling past.   Sydney (or LA or SF) do not hear their underground trains rushing past - well, in Manhattan they do.  And as they pass by, they send up a gust of air, (a' la Marilyn Munro) that (to put it kindly) aint the freshest air I ever sniffed.

Those panels in Spiderman comics, or in the Ninja Turtles toons, with steam rising from improperly sealed manhole covers - yes, you see it in Manhattan. there are wisps of mist or steam, even on quite warm days.  I haven't found anyone to explain what that much heat is doing down there.

There are rumours that alligators (or crocodiles) inhabit the tunnels under Manhattan.  So far I haven't seen any.  But with all that steam, I would not be surprised.  It should be tropical enough.

There are cobblestones.  On quite a few of the streets.  They look like granite house bricks, shaped roughly with a hand chisel, then laid to prevent (presumably) wagon wheels from sinking axle deep into the mud.  I remember when the streets of Sydney were being ripped apart because (I suppose) a lord Mayor decided that our "wooden block" streets were "old fashioned" or something, so he ordered them replaced with nice smooth bitumen.  (Geez I wish we had participatory democracy!).

Compared to SF or Sydney (or even LA), Manhattan island is flat, with a maximum height above sea level of maybe 20-30 meters.  If New Yorkers seem like left wing loonies (they call that "liberal" over here) about global warming and rising sea levels, then I can't really blame them.  If the seal level rose two meters, the underground rail system (and all sorts of other things) would probably cease to function,.

I have already discussed the traffic in NYC, but I have not mentioned the taxis.  Ulike our own dictatorial NSW state government, there is no law in New York City (NYC) that forces taxi drivers to wear a taxi driver uniform under pain of a $500 fine (first offense), but there is a law that makes all taxis be the same golden yellow.  I would also like to point out that (perhaps because of the severe inhibition on ownership or use of private cars by reason of limited parking spaces) there are a lot of taxis in NY.   In peak hours, it is a sight to see, scores of yellow taxis (looking like a swarm of hornets) interspersed with an occasional private car, thronging the roads.  And everyone likes honking their horns.  There are street signs all over New York, prohibiting the use of horns except in emergency.  Sounds to me like there must be a lot of emergencies in New York.

At the present time, my centre of operations is in Greenwich Village.  I am gradually finding the gourmet foods which are so readily available in cosmopolitan Sydney.  For the carbohydrate conscious, I recommend "East Village Cheese" at about 40 - 3rd Avenue for it's fine selection of cheap cheeses & olives.  A word of caution, keep away from the halvah.  It does not taste as though it has low carbohydrates.  There is another shop "Lifethyme" selling organic salads around 400 - 6th Avenue. - make up your own salad for US$7/lb.  Cheaper non-organic salads can be had for as little as $5/lb (about AU$16/Kg) up along Broadway in the 30's and 40's.  Greenwich Village has restaurants that appeal to the eye, ear, nose & tongue.

I am becoming an alcoholic.  The excise on ethyl alcohol in the US is trivial (as is that other excise, on petrol).  Reasonable Australian reds can be had for $3.50 to $5.00 (AU$5 - AU$7) a bottle..

New Yorkers tell the story of how "Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for trinkets worth about 60 Dutch guilders and founded the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (now New York City)"   Me, I can't figure how non-Indian Americans figure that Peter got a smart deal.  After all, the British appropriated Manhattan Island away from him 40 years later, (just as they appropriated a lot of other real estate around that locale).  From my point of view, the Indians sold an asset that was in danger of being seized at top dollar.


The brother of the man who allegedly betrayed Saddam was murdered yesterday.  Perhaps Arab terrorists are trying to show us the direction that we should take in combating terrorism.  Are we being told that we should identify the terrorists, and punish their families?

That is a common tactic within the arab culture, which is much closer to anarchy than our own.  The prophet made laws regarding revenge, because the concept of vengeance was so firmly entrenched in the Taureg culture.  One of his laws was that revenge for a murder could be witheld if an appropriate financial reparation could be negotiated, (what we call "blood money").  If a blood price could not be negotiated, then it was permissible to take "revenge" on the murderer or on a member of his extended family.  This is what happened with Gaddaffi over the Lockerbie incident.  Acting as the person responsible for the fatalities, he paid "blood money" to forestall the vengeance of the injured parties.

What could have happened after 911 was this:  having identified the attackers, a negotiator representing the interests of the victims (or even a portion of them) should have (a) demanded blood money from the extended families of the perpetrators, and (b) financial reparation for the property damage done. If satisfaction was not forthcoming, then the negotiating entity should have organized the assassination of as many of the nearest family members (their choice) of those 19 men and Osama Bin Laden, and then demanded reparations for the property damage done from the Saudi government.  (I would not subtract those 19 men from the total to be executed, although it could be argued that they should be so subtracted. Osama, while a choice target, would only count as one life on the credit side.  )

Sounds weird?  Well if you were from an Arab culture, I suspect that you would find it an understandable & acceptable response strategy.  Even in our own culture it makes a weird sort of sense.

I suspect that such a strategy would make it very much harder for Osama Bin Laden to find volunteers for future terrorist acts.


On 8th June I drove the approximately 200 Km from NY down to Washington DC, the capital of the USA.  DC is a square shaped territory, about 15km on each side, and straddles the Potomac.  The Potomac river i a border between the states of Maryland and Virginia.  Washington has a population of about 525,000 people, of whom about 320,000 are african-american, and about 165,000 are designated "white".  The African americans seem to reside mainly in the eastern part of DC.  Many of the government office workers seem to commute on the very efficient Metro from upstate Virginia and Maryland.  As I left DC I noticed extensive urban/rural housing development about an hour north in Virginia.

Washington is the southern tip of the metroplex which has been given the name "Boswash".  Naming the cities downwards are Boston MA (6,000,000) Providence RI (1,000,000), then Hartford, Connecticut (1,500,000), New York NY (9,500,000), Newark NJ (2,000,000) Philadelphia  PA (5,000,000) followed by Delaware (750,000) and Baltimore MD (600,000) for a total of over 26,000,000 people.

The city of Washington is a rather impressive collection of Masonry, centered around the White house and "The Capitol" as the Americans call their parliamentary building.  Just before I left for Washington, ex-president Reagan died.  He was flown over from California, and placed in the Capitol, where a reported 150,000 people, including world leaders from Thatcher to Gorbachov paid their last respects.  This is a presidential election year, and the eulogies were flying thick and fast.  Reagan's death quickly became a political issue, with the Democratic machine attempting to cut short the ceremonies, which were taking the public's attention away from their candidate, while the Republicans were painting Dubya as the natural inheritor of Reagan, who is being lauded by some as the second greatest President ever (after Abraham Lincoln.) because he stopped the cold war and restored the US economy to preeminence with his fiducary policies.

An event happened as I was leaving Washington late at night.  I had planned to travel south but got lost.  I stopped at a service station in the southeast of DC to ask for directions.  I noticed that everyone was African-American.   Hotted up cars were being driven onto the apron.  The attendant (about 25) was behind armoured glass, with a tray for exchanging money.  A fairly solidly built man about mid forties intercepted me and offered to help me with directions.  He wanted to know why I wanted to go to the location indicated, and (mistunderstanding my explanation) offered to put me up for $5 for the night.  I gathered that he was quite desperately short of money.  He tried to sell me a watch for $5.  I gave him $2 for oral directions.  I find it impossible to find words to convey the sense of hopeless need I was confronted with.  The Afro problem is a cauldron coming to the boil for the people of the USA.  The afro problem does not derive from racism, because other races do not have the same friction with the majority european americans.  I believe that the problem is cultural, and stems from the self image held by many young male members of the Afro community.  (Another problem for Madison Avenue?)

I travelled back to New York via Gettysberg in Pennsylvania.  Gettysberg was where that the most savage battle of the American Civil war was fought, by some accounts the battle that decided the war.  One division of about 12,000 had around 6,000 casualties.   Many people believe that the civil war was fought to free slaves.  Some authorities believe that there was a commercial reason for the war, having to do with the Industrial north's need for trade protection, and the desire of those in the south to purchase the cheaper and better quality goods manufactured in Europe.  Whatever the reason, I could not but feel sorrow for the wasted lives, all because politicians could not resolve the matter amicably.