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Yesterday was the last day of summer. The Labor Day weekend is behind us, and it's back to work and business as usual. The weather here was extraordinary, and I spent most of it reading on the balcony. At once point in the early evening, I lifted my eyes and saw that the somewhat distinctive shadow of a building at the corner of 87th Street and York Avenue was falling on the rear of building on East End Avenue between 88th and 89th. Amazingly, my hands were steady enough to capture good pictures.

When I wasn't reading, I was thinking of the remark that I'd made in an earlier entry, about not understanding how this country holds together. I knew that I'd have to explain it, and I knew that I'd never be able to explain it all at once. I'm going to begin now - but only begin. First of all, the statement was does not reflect any sentiment other than common sense. My feelings about the South (say) have nothing to do with my remark. When I say that the South seems more foreign to me than the Netherlands, that is not a like/dislike statement. It's nothing but my observation that the everyday values of my part of the United States are more closely aligned with those of a people whose first language isn't even English than they are with a region that is still scarred by the legacy of slavery. 

The slavery thing is still hard to discuss, or rather, still very easy to get wrong. I believe that no group came out of the War of Secession in good odor. It was waged by a Union even more extensively plagued by fundamentalist radicalism than we are by the End Times folks. I certainly don't believe that the War accomplished very much beyond the persistence of the Union, a result that for me has no value at all, because I long ago lost faith in the myths that inflate it. What I do believe is that we are all - all - still engaged in resolving post-slavery issues. These issues have mutated so extensively that there is a widespread argument today about whether it was racism that doomed the poor of New Orleans. I'm inclined to agree with the "poorist" argument, which holds that today's discrimination runs along economic lines that just happen to jag along racial ones. But there can be no denying that "poorism" in this country is a child of racism. Just as slaves were thought to lack the wherewithal to govern themselves even in the smallest, most intimate matters, so now the poor are thought to lack "personal responsibility." The flip, from assuming dominion over slaves, and "taking care of them," to abandoning the poor to a fate of fending for themselves is not really a flip at all.

To say that I don't know how or why this country coheres is not to hope that it stops trying. But it is to ask that we stop pretending. Look what pretending, at every level, did to the good people of New Orleans.

A little while later, I looked toward the north, where the windows of the obliquely-sited Stanley Isaacs Houses, our view of which is almost completely obstructed, were flashing like the cities on an alien planet.



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Could you expand upon this notion of "pretending?" I don't think pretending has anything to do with what happened in NOLA. I think New Orleanians are more aware of race than most people in the US. I think this has everything to do with poverty and location. I think the pretending happened with George W. Bush who likes to pretend that his nation is free from blemish and would prefer to shut his eyes to problems rather than confront them. See his views on environmentalism, race, women, poverty, health. The list is endless.

I do not think any part of the country is free from the taint of slavery. The North likes to pretend that it had nothing to do with it, but, in the North, I have met far more people with intense latent racism than I have in the South. It's time we all stop pretending that we can smooth over difference and actually do something about it.

For the moment, I'll expand my argument just this far: too many Americans, officials and private persons alike, are pretending that the country is in good shape. The catastrophe in New Orleans and elsewhere is proof of a shameful vulnerability. Other pretenses involve our huge national debt, our dependence on oil, and, perhaps worst of all, our educational system.

Americans must stop pretending that things will take care of themselves.

I must say that i'm in a remarkably good mood after attending the US Open all weekend, but I should point out to our kind readership that empires fall remarkably faster and harder than anyone inside them ever expected....

Everyone seems to be amazed how 'third world conditions' could exist in the United States from a hurricaine, but having been to the third world many times, we're really just one infrastructure jolt away from the chaos that will insue when the fault lines of our racial and economic inequities are exposed....

Misspoke, perhaps not, rather more not speaking enough and perhaps we misread or did not read carefully enough. We as a nation have the potential for greatness but only, as you say, if we dispense with the ideological nonsense and get back to reality and the hard work of dealing with each specific issue on its merits for the long term and not its political or rhetorical value for the moment.

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