Review and Comment: The Dirty Side

March 7, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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I have lived in the United States for seventy-two years. My mother was born here. This is in so many ways a great place to live, to enjoy comforts, to be free to be one’s self. Still there is a part of me that has never become quite adjusted to a strain of brutality, of meanness, that runs through American society and is at odds with the image of America as a great humanitarian example, a beacon of democracy to the world, a model of civilization. The recent obscenities of Rush Limbaugh are just one demonstration of this bullying, uncivilized strain.

Another instance of this dirty side of American life was revealed in the report by Saturday’s New York Times that a National Football League team had been paying its players money to physically injure opposing players. The New Orleans Saints team pooled funds, administered by a defense coordinator, to pay bounties for disabling opponents, with the team’s top management doing nothing to stop the practice. A league investigation showed, the Times reported, that a player would be paid $1,500 for knocking an opponent out of a game and $1,000 for when an opponent had to be carted off the field. Payments were doubled or tripled in playoff games. An offer of $10,000 was made to anyone who could knock Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of a championship game (he was hurt but managed to stay in the game).

To those who would claim that the above are exceptional “bad apple” cases, there is the abundance of “dirty tricks” that we have seen with Super-PAC money paying for often scurrilous attacks by one candidate against another in the Republican primary campaign. Or the cynical and deceptive mortgage lending practices by banks and other supposedly respected financial institutions that were a core cause of the great recession from which we are still trying to emerge. And we saw during the Iraq war (which itself was set in motion by a heedless swaggering mentality) such bullying cruelty as was exhibited at Abu Ghraib, or more recently, in Afghanistan — after eleven years of experience with Muslim sensibilities! — the mindlessly insulting burning of Korans. We can be more like the atrocious Taliban than we like to admit.

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Yes, it’s a cruel world out there. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, frightened for his life, will stop at nothing in a desperate effort to prevent his overthrown. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians are all, at least in part, bad actors (and expansionist Israel keeps building settlements). We can’t control all the anger or evil in the world, or right all the misery and ignorance that are at the root of much of it, but we need in so many cases to send a better message. Right now there is growing an almost irresistible pressure to attack Iran out of fear it will develop nuclear weapons. The consequences could prove worse than Iraq and Afghanistan together. If we can live with a nuclear Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea, we’ll be able to live with a nuclear Iran, unpleasant as it may be.

We are too enamored of “carrying a big stick” to pay attention to the other half of Theodore Roosevelt’s admonition: “Walk softly.”

Words, Meanings

On a lighter note I want to go back to what I said here in last week’s editorial urging that the endangered tanker Mary A. Whalen be made part of Brooklyn Bridge Park. As a reminder of the ships we used to see from the Heights Promenade, I used an accompanying photo taken by my father in 1960 of a presumably Swedish freighter docked at what looked like Pier 2. In the caption I translated the ship’s name, Havskär, as “Sea Skerry” (a skerry being a rocky outcropping or tiny island). Only after we went to press did another translation occur to me. I had thought of the compound word as being divided Hav-skär, but then I realized it could also be divided Havs-kär. That would change the meaning to “Sea Loving” or more precisely “Enamored of the Sea.” A Swedish woman endorsed this latter interpretation.

I realize I’m not speaking to many Swedish linguists, and that the distinction may be too insignificant for anyone to care. But “Enamored of the Sea” appeals to me, and I think there’s a lingering sentiment for a visible, tangible reminder of the ships we used to see along the Brooklyn Heights waterfront. So I urge again: put the Mary A. Whalen there.

— Henrik Krogius, Editor
Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News

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