Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seasonal Reflections: No Matter How Fortunate or Not, We Are All Equal, Sharing a Common Journey

 The cusp of a new year and the winter solstice have arrived and it is again that time when, Noticing New York returns to its now annual tradition.  Since 2009, Noticing New York has annually offered a stocktaking of the decisions we are making in the public sphere that make it appear that we are veering off to a reality where a select few of our population revering money and accumulating “wealth” count for almost everything while the rest of us are treated with increasingly less regard.  I’ve done this in the context of two traditional Yuletide tales, both taking place in critical part on Christmas Eve, and both essentially the same story in many respects: Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” about the reformation of the miser Scrooge and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Both these stories frame the importance of free will and choice in terms of alternative possible realities, in order to contrast decisions about the bunching up of wealth and treasure with the benefit and spirit of shared community and giving.
(* You can find out prior annual essays here: Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville), Friday, December 24, 2010, Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, Saturday, December 24, 2011, Traditional Christmas Eve Revisit of a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, the Real Life Incarnation of the Abhorred Pottersville, Monday, December 24, 2012, While I Tell of Yuletide Treasure, Tuesday, December 24, 2013, A Seasonal Reflection: Assessing Aspirations Toward Alternate Realities- 'Tis A Tale of Two Alternate Cities?)
With the arrival of the solstice hope is kindled during these longest nights of the year by noting that we have reached a turning point with light beginning to return.  In the darkest of days it is always important to give thanks for all that’s good and all that we have been able to achieve.  This 2014 there has been some good news to lift our spirits . . . . 

. . . .Governor Cuomo just recently announced that hydro-fracking is being banned in New York State.  That is a big win bringing what may be the end to a long fight and it prevents the ravaging of the environment belonging commonly to all of us for the financial benefit of only a few.

. . .  There were victories also in the fight to save our public libraries from sale and shrinkage for the sake of creating real estate deals, another struggles where the public commons has been in jeopardy, again for just a few benefit at the expense of the many.  The biggest of these successes this year was the defeat this spring of NYPL’s Central Library Plan that would have squandered more than $500 million of the public’s money and resources, the full extent of that loss being announced only belatedly after the plan was officially derailed.
Above and below from the Moyers report
. . . . The New York City real estate industry is increasingly recognized as increasing the city’s wealth and power inequalities and destructive of the public’s interests.  Just around Thanksgiving a Bill Moyers & Company report devoted to this theme made such points clear sounding very much like Noticing New York and a number of its articles.  In fact, that report started with and was keyed off a reflection of the damage to the city, Central Park another critical public commons being done by the series of super-tall towers at the park’s south end casting shadows across it.  That is exactly what Noticing New York’s annual seasonal reflection focused on this time last year.

But, not all is improving and there is much that remains to be done as some things get even worse.
In "It's a Wonderful Life": on left Lionel Barrymore (who played Scrooge in annual radio broadcasts) playing the Scrooge-like Henry Potter and on right Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey, the banker with friends who fends off succumbing to the Potter world
One matter these annual reflections have always tuned to is the way that Forest City Ratner’s takeover of a swath of Brooklyn constitutes a concentration of wealth and control that’s analogous to the way that in “It’s a Wonderful Life” the communally shared town of Bedford Falls became Pottersville in the alternate reality where unchallenged power was allowed to accumulate in the hands of Henry F. Potter, the bad town banker.  The unfortunate news to report this year with respect to Forest City Ratner is that its spreading power and influence in New York is continuing to grow like Potter’s did in that alternate reality. . .

George Bailey, the good banker of the "Wonderful Life" story, gets to see what the world would be like had he never been born, counterbalancing to make it better: everywhere he turns Potter's negative the influence of doing things only to dominate and make money pervades.
Just months ago the head and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner, MayAnne Gilmartin, was appointed to the board of WNYC, the city’s highly influential public radio station.  See:  Sunday, November 16, 2014, Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?- WNYC's Press Release on Appointing Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin to Its Board of Trustees, and Monday, December 8, 2014, With Big Bucks Out To Hijack Truth and Broadcasting Integrity- The Daily Show and Bill Moyers Set Models for WNYC Radio.

Does WNYC know better? 

Oddly, WNYC has its own annual yuletide tradition that ought to teach it better.  Every year the station broadcasts a radio play version of  “A Christmas Carol” in which the familiar radio personalities of WNYC appear performing roles.

This year, as I listened, I heard the principle declared that, however fortunate or relatively unfortunate any of us are, we are all equals, “one in the same.”  I believe that, but is that the message we would glean from the Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to the WNYC board?  Would those who would and could truly represent the interests of the general public in fashioinging the public radio station's mission have as equal a chance of being appointed to its board has as equal a chance of being appointed to the board?
Basil Rathbone on left playing the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's deceased partner, essentially a version of Scrooge  who doesn't get to reform and on right in another production playing Scrooge who does eventually reform  
Here is the portion of the of the WNYC play (by Written by Arthur Yorinks) where that point is made as Scrooge debates with his nephew what Christmas means, what its value is:
    Scrooge (To his nephew Fred): You keep Christmas in your own way let me keep it in mine.

    Nephew: But you don't keep it!
    Scrooge: Let me leave it alone then: Much good it has ever done you!

    Nephew: Oh I think there are many things from which I've derived some good, by which I have not profited financially, I dare say. There is more in life than money, Uncle.

    Scrooge: Humbug to that!  More in life than money!  Humbug!

    Nephew: And I've always thought of Christmas time is a good time, a kind, forgiving and charitable time when men and women seem to open their shut-up hearts freely, and think of people not as fortunate in life as their equals, for they very well are equals.  We're all one in the same.  And therefore uncle, although it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket I believe Christmas has done me good, and will do me good but I say God bless it.

    Cratchit (Scrooge’s cleark):  Well put Fred!
In the Dickens’ book Cratchit’s approval is actually silent, something hard to convey in a radio play.  In fact, in Dickens’ book the concept is not, per se, `equality,’ but “fellow-passengers to the grave” and fellow members of the same race:
"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it,"

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
The message, of course, is also that much of the good in the world simply can’t be measured in dollars.  That’s bad news for those who relentlessly look to “monetize” all and sundry and consider subjecting everything to the constricted and constricting measures of the Wall Street mentality.
Alistair Sim, perhaps the very best ever to play Scrooge.  On left, Scrooge the epitome of a miser at the outset of the film.  On right, the reformed Scrooge now a model of kindness and generosity.

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