Saturday, November 1, 2003

Things are Getting Better

The Central Park Reservoir opened in 1862 surrounded by an elegant 5' high iron fence providing an unencumbered view of the growing city around it.  In 1926 that fence was replaced a mundane chain-link affair which couldn't destroy the view altogether but gave it a gauze-like, not to mention rusted-out, quality.  Surrounding the water is a track, the favorite of many New Yorkers like myself and countless other jogging visitors.  It's always been a near perfect place.  Early this past summer, staggered work begin on restoring the original fence design.  Within the last few weeks a large section has been reopened.  One always surmised that the project would enhance this beloved urban space, but what it has done is no less than astounding.  Running this familiar track, is a dramatically different and wondrous experience.  So, too, is what's happening to the City's Hudson shore line.  The long decaying rot of abandoned piers and neglected waterfront is being replaced by wonderful parks.  One can now bicycle down a protected path (with a few remaining detours) from the George Washington Bridge to the Battery.  Riverside Park is being extended South and will one day join with that new park system below 59th Street.  In New York, things are getting better.

Things are getting better in Iraq as well.  Right.  It seems now that every Thursday and Sunday we're getting the classic half-full, half-empty in the columns of Tom Friedman and Maureen Dowd.  Among the issues at hand, for them and for a growing number of others, is whether we're experiencing "déjà vous all over again?"  Friedman doesn't see Viet Nam, Dowd does.  And so do I in much the same way.  It isn't that these wars are identical in cause or content, but much more in the way we Americans come to them.  There is an eerie echo in those rosy statements coming out of the Administration.  The "we'll be home by Christmas" and the preposterous proclamation that increasing violence is a sign of "enemy" desperation (read imminent defeat).  At least as important, and sadly Tom Friedman falls into that pit, is an inability to admit being wrong.  We know today that our suspicions about motivation and our doubts about proclaimed immediate threat were correct.  Perhaps if that had not been the case, we too might be holding on to our rightness.  Perhaps, but we haven't put so many kids at risk and there is no joy or satisfaction in saying we told you so.  Far from it.  Did you hear that the Defense Department is not allowing ceremonial returns of the dead and that our caring President has not attended a single funeral.  Counting the dead just doesn't smack of success and missions accomplished.  In downplaying individual tragedy these people are under the illusion that we won't notice its magnitude.

It's not merely that the mission has not been accomplished in Iraq, it's that we're in a global quagmire of terrorism in which we continue to combat symptoms not causes.  Just look at the unending terror in Israel where military strike backs have been notoriously unsuccessful while the ongoing issues are not even being addressed and the violence just continues.  And look at the other breeding grounds of hopelessness around a world in which the gulf between rich and poor is growing daily.  The most disturbing part of it all, however, is not our machismo or our denial, but the fact that, for the most part, we just don't get it.  We remain a largely insular people who always want to be in absolute control and are unforgiving to those who won't follow our lead or who resist being  like us.  How dare they?  We are language and culturally deficient which is part of what got us into trouble in the 60's and what clearly is hurting us still in Baghdad and other places.  We continue to have a short attention span with a mentality of out-of-sight means out-of-mind and thus not really happening. 

I love our renewed running track and our revitalized shoreline.  New York needs the boost which these amenities provide.  But getting things better, requires more than surface cosmetics.  I don't see that happening.  I take it back.  Things are not getting better.

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