Sunday, July 26, 2015

Dining in New York

                                             Fine Dining in New York 

This week my wife and I took the commuter train to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and view a couple of its current special exhibitions. It was a special occasion because we were going to meet up with an art history friend visiting from South Carolina who is a veritable gold mine of information. One could not ask for a better guide. She was equally at home touring the John Singer Sargent portrait exhibition, or the amazing fashion exhibition based on traditional Chinese costumes.

In between we decided to have lunch not in the Met’s noisy cafeteria but in the Member’s dining room. As expected the surroundings were quiet and elegant. The service was impeccable and the food was excellent. My little strip of steak was delicious and my wife said her scallops were the best she ever tasted. As expected the servings were small and expensive but who could complain since the experience was so pleasant.

Two days later I had a different though equally fine dining experience on Long Island right outside of NYC.  My brother’s son is getting married and while my wife was attending the bridal shower, I join my two brothers for lunch at Bigelow’s clam shack in Rockville Center. Bigelow’s is apparently a Long Island institution that proudly proclaims it has been offering the best of seafood since 1939.

Bigelow’s is an unpretentious dining establishment. There are no tables but just a horseshoe shaped counter with stools like an old fashioned diner. The small room was packed with people obviously enjoying their overflowing platters of clams and shrimp. I’m not a seafood fan so I had the burger that was one of the best I ever had, along with a very fresh salad.

Speaking of food today at Mass we heard the gospel account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes where Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 with just five loaves of bread and two fishes. I know some people doubt this miracle but I like the explanation of one man who wondered why the God who could create the incredible abundance of food in this world, couldn’t conjure up a meal for the 5000.

I thought of this yesterday after enjoying my dining at both the Met and Bigelow’s Clam Shack. Where does all that food come from? At Bigelow’s the clams, shrimp, and fries keep coming and coming as the empty stools are quickly filled with eager customers. I know there is hunger in the world but the real miracle is how much food there is available to take care of the world’s population. ###

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Police Pension Revelation


A recent front-page article in the Connecticut Post noted the potential decimation of the Bridgeport Police force in the coming year due to a rash of retirements. The paper placed the blame on the new police contract that went into effect this year. Although there were things in the contract that the police did not like, the major reason for the retirements is a tremendous increase in pension benefits.

For some reason the Bridgeport Police Department has been allowed to transition its retirement plan to the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System. Apparently, the City of Bridgeport will no longer be responsible for police retirement benefits. The responsibility has been shifted to the taxpayers of Connecticut who fund the Municipal Employees Retirement System.

I can see why the Bridgeport Police Department liked this arrangement. In the first place, the State of Connecticut is less likely to go bankrupt that the City of Bridgeport. More importantly, for senior police officers the new plan is a huge windfall.At the end of the article, the Post quoted David Daniels, a retired police lieutenant who plans to run for mayor as an independent this year. Daniels provided a rare reveal.

“I was making $80000 as a lieutenant when I retired last April, which meant I could retire at $40000. But when we switched to the state system, which looks at the three best years, that bumped it up another $20000. Would you stay?”
Instead of taking early retirement at half pay, the lieutenant was able to immediately retire at 75% of pay with no additional pension contribution on his part. He probably would have had to work another 10 or 15 years in Bridgeport to get a comparable retirement benefit. Moreover, he is still young enough to get another job somewhere else, or even become Mayor of Bridgeport.

To put things into perspective it is useful to calculate how much money it takes to provide Daniels and the other retirees with this retirement windfall. It would take about a Million dollars earning 4% interest to provide an annual income of $40000. But it will take an additional $500000 to provide the extra $20000 per year. Multiply the $500000 increase by the expected 30 other retirees this year and you get an additional $15 Million pension liability that the already underfunded State plan has to contend with. 

There are almost 400 members of the Bridgeport Police Department. If they all get a boost comparable to the one Daniels received, that will eventually cost the State over $200 Million.

The rash of retirements has left the Bridgeport Police department seriously understaffed but officials explain that the shortage is being met with increased overtime. Of course, they don’t mention that the increased overtime is only going to boost final average pay and facilitate more retirements for other officers approaching early retirement age.

I know that people will say that police officers and other civil servants work hard and deserve all they bargain for. But they never bargained for this incredible windfall. They bargained for half pay at early retirement, not 75%. Wouldn't we all like to retire after 25 years of employment on 75% of our highest three years salary?


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Black Racism?


Just last week an editorial appeared in a local Fairfield newspaper with the headline, “Where is it safe to live while being black?” The writer, the Reverend Frederick J. Sheets, was identified as the former chaplain of Yale University and the current pastor of the historic Dixwell Congregational Church of Christ in nearby New Haven, Connecticut.

Pastor Sheets wrote in response to the shooting of nine black participants in a bible study class by an avowed white racist in Charleston, South Carolina. He wrote, “The murders in Charleston are a reminder that black people everywhere are threatened by those who hate them.” On reading these words I could not help but feel that the pastor was overreacting to the event in Charleston, itself a city with a crime and murder rate well below the national average.

Over the following weekend I saw a few random illustrations of black people living in apparent peace and tranquility. A picture in the paper showed a young black woman obviously enjoying herself at a July 4 fireworks show at a beach in Fairfield surrounded by a crowd of white people. She apparently felt safe there.

At Wimbledon’s tennis tournament Serena and Venus Williams, two black females, were mowing down the opposition in front of a peaceful, largely white crowd. Ok, that’s England. But every year when the two sisters play at Forest Hills in New York, they only have to fear the umpire’s calls. In fact, their family is always noticeably in attendance in the box seats again surrounded by a mass of white spectators. I suspect that the family has also found a safe place to live in America.

The Reverend Sheets failed to point out that the most dangerous place for blacks to live in America is in black communities. In Connecticut blacks have more to fear in the pastor’s home city of New Haven, or in other black sections of cities like Bridgeport and Hartford. None of these towns comes close to matching the murder rate of blacks upon blacks in large cities like Chicago.

Within a week of the pastor’s editorial came the tragic news of a murder on a subway train in Washington, D.C. Jasper Spires, an eighteen year old black man, has been arrested for the brutal knifing of a young white man in broad daylight in front of a number of subway riders. I say brutal because the man was beaten, kicked, and stabbed at least 30 times by his assailant.

The victim was a former resident of Connecticut and his death has been making headlines here. If he had not been from Connecticut, I suppose his death would have gone unnoticed here since so many young men are murdered in our cities. Incredibly, the assailant had been released from police custody only the day before even though he had been charged with another assault. The judge reduced that charge and let him go scot-free.

I wonder if the pastor would call this a “hate” crime or accuse the assailant of “racism.” There were other subway riders. Why single out the white man? Why stab him so many times? Why, after robbing some other passengers, come back to kick the man bleeding to death on the floor? Is there such a thing as black racism? Is it even possible to discuss the possibility?


Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Day 2015


Every July 4 we celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the promulgation of our famed Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Most of us have heard the famous opening lines of the document:
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, few have ever read the entire Declaration and even fewer have any understanding of the nature of the actual grievances that led the colonists to sever their ties with England and seek independence. Most readers don’t get past the following words.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
Even though King George III of England was one of the nicest, most benevolent rulers that England ever had, the colonists portrayed him as a tyrannical despot. No one was a more determined supporter of representative government than this young King, who though descended from German ancestors prided himself on being an Englishman.

The real conflict between England and her American colonies was not between Monarchy and Democracy but between the rights of the British people represented as they were by their own Parliament, and the rights of the American colonists represented as they were by their own colonial assemblies. In this conflict no one was a greater supporter of the rights and authority of the British Parliament than the King.

For the most part the Declaration of Independence does not complain about violations of individual human rights but concentrates on what it claims has been a systematic attempt on the part of the government in England to violate the rights and privileges of colonial representative assemblies.
The founding fathers believed that these assemblies that represented the leading citizens and property owners in the various colonies were the sole bulwark against monarchical tyranny on the one hand, and democratic anarchy on the other. They claimed that the King and his colonial governors have repeatedly refused to put into operation laws passed by these assemblies.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operations till his assent should be obtained;He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature,…He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
In some cases the English government has even gone so far as to dissolve some of these representative assemblies and leave particular colonies without any form of self-government. The legal system, military defense, and tax collection have been taken out of the hands of the colonial representatives.
He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly for opposing with manly firmness his invasions of the rights of the people.He has refused for a longtime, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected…He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
•He has made the judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.•He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.•He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.• He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.
In the end the Declaration claimed that it came down to a contest between their own local representative assemblies and a faraway legislature that did not represent them. Because they had come to deny the authority of the British Parliament, they never used the word Parliament in the document but the following words are unmistakable.
•He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation.
 These acts included the following:
•For quartering large bodies of troops among us:•For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment•For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:•For imposing taxes on us without our consent:•For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:•For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences:
There are elements in the Declaration that might seem offensive to modern ears. Jefferson and others in America opposed the efforts of a reforming British government to permit religious toleration of the large Catholic population in newly conquered Canada. For them Catholicism went hand in hand with despotism.

The Declaration also complained about attempts on the part of the British government to prevent colonization of Indian territory. Indeed, it claimed that England was encouraging the native tribes.
•And has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
Nevertheless, the leaders assembled in Congress insisted on their rights as Englishmen to govern themselves. They wanted government to be as close to home as possible. They would make their own laws, vote their own taxes when necessary, and be responsible for their own legal and military systems. They did not want to be governed by a faraway government that had little concern for their interests or welfare.

It was true that the founders were men of property and status. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Franklin were not common men. Democracy would come later. For the present they wanted to protect their right to self-government. The British government had declared itself “invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” To resist, they were prepared to risk all that they held dear.

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”