Monday, March 3, 2014

Last Week's World News Close to Home

A cruise. Seemed like just the right way for Gilda and me to celebrate our respective 65th birthdays (mine’s on Thursday, Gilda’s 11 days later). Gilda found a summer cruise that would incorporate a new region of the world for us to explore with the type of land tours that combine history and heritage, in our case, Black Sea ports with Jewish legacies. 

Cities like Odessa. Sevastopol. Yalta. For those not completely familiar with those cities, they are in Ukraine. Yes, that Ukraine, the one dominating most foreign news reports these days. They’re in Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine where a sizable number of residents have Russian ancestry. Three other stops on the cruise would be in Turkey, another hot spot. We’d also visit Sochi, which by then, with the Russian Olympics long over, presumably would not be high on the Chechen separatists’ hit list. 

Last week our tour operator bit the bullet and cancelled the trip. Ah, well, maybe next year.

Salt of the Earth: The New York metro area mostly dodged a snow bullet Monday, though the streets, no doubt, were treated with salt to prevent icing from the dusting that did manage to trickle down. The availability of salt has been a major storyline this winter as municipalities have exhausted their normal supply and budget lines. 

When I attended graduate school at Syracuse University, I kept hearing the town referred to as Salt City. Until my last week there I assumed the nickname came from the liberal spreading of salt on city streets to clear the average 115.6 inches of snow every year (the year I was there it snowed 133.7 inches.) The nickname actually derived from the nearby salt mines at Onondaga Lake, to which I was oblivious.

The importance of salt as a life-sustaining commodity was impressed on me recently by Big History, a TV mini-series on the History 2 channel. It seems early mankind chose to inhabit locations not just because fresh water was available but also because there was ready access to salt. 

Our family visited a salt mine in Krakow, Poland, in 2008. The Poles have turned part of it into a museum, with salt sculptures depicting religious and national events. It is truly amazing what goes on underground. You might also find this clip from a CBS News broadcast last week enlightening and entertaining:

Deathaholics: Wall Street and banking firms are trying to induce young workers to take weekends off, this after a London-based Bank of America go-getter intern may have died from exhaustion after pulling three all-nighters last summer.  

When our family visited Japan back in 1991, we heard about “karoshi.” The Japanese economy was booming. Workers paid the price. They labored long hours. It was not unusual for workers to die in their tracks, while walking or driving to work. Passersby would simply shake their heads from side to side and whisper knowingly, “Ah, karoshi.” Simply translated it means, death from overwork.

Slave Labor: 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar as the best picture of the last year. The historical drama of Solomon Northup’s tenure as a slave in Louisiana still has bearing today. 

Consider U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s re-election campaign in the Bayou State. Though she is given high marks for working in the best interests of her state’s economic vitality, voters are upset the Democrat supported Obamacare. Here’s how one of her constituents explained his position to an NPR reporter:

"I don't vote for black people, lady. No, ma'am. I don't vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That's the way I was raised."

Here’s something to ponder about the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman confrontation, which commemorated its second anniversary last week: Where was Zimmerman’s gun during their fight?

During a WNYC interview last week, Lisa Bloom, NBC legal analyst and author of Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It, sharply criticized the prosecution for, among many points, not questioning how Martin knew about Zimmerman’s gun.

According to Zimmerman’s testimony, he was lying on his back while Martin pounded away at his face. He said he shot Martin only after the youth allegedly saw the gun and said he was going to kill him. But, said Bloom, Zimmerman’s gun was in a holster tucked inside the back of his pants. Only if Martin had X-ray vision and could see through Zimmerman’s portly body could he have known about the gun, she said. Prosecutors never asked Zimmerman to explain this dilemma, she lamented. 

I assumed the gun was holstered on his hip, in clear view. I never thought Martin was guilty of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an overzealous, possibly bigoted, Zimmerman defied police orders to back off. The more you hear about this case, and others reported by Bloom, the more injustice cries out.