31 July 2014

Jefferson And The Carriage Horses: When Democracy Fails.

By: Jon Katz
Stealing From The Mouth Of Labor

Stealing From The Mouth Of Labor

My daughter, who lives in Brooklyn, was visiting me recently and she asked me about the carriage horses, she was curious that I was so drawn to the subject, especially since I do not live in New York City.  I asked her what the thought about the mayor's drive to ban the horses from New York.

She said she didn't care, really, she had always had this sense that the horses were being abused, she had seen that accusation so often online she assumed it had to be true as no one ever challenged it. If it wasn't true, she said, and she was coming to see that it wasn't,  then the horses were no one's business but their owners and drivers, and the mayor had better things to do. Still, she said, she saw the carriage horses as an expensive entertainment for tourists, they didn't really have much to do with her, it wouldn't affect her greatly whether they stayed or left.

I am an animal lover and I write about animals, so the issue has special meaning for me on many levels. But I told my daughter I thought the issue was important for everyone who cares about a moral government or the workings of a healthy democracy. The nature of government – it's power and purpose, affects everyone in a democracy, and if a wrong is done to anyone, it is done to everyone. This issue is not just about horses, as many people are beginning to see.

What the mayor and his millionaire friends are doing to the carriage horses can be done to us. And most likely will be, if history is a judge.  Some millionaire might wake up next week, decide my having a border collie who works or three donkeys who guard sheep is abuse – they should all be out roaming in the wild -  and give a lot of money to the governor New York for his re-election campaign. I could be facing an angry mob of people – none of whom would ever speak with me or come see my dog or donkeys -  protesting the existence of my farm, and lobbying for a ban on my work and livelihood.

I am surprised and sorry to say that is more or less what has happened to the people in the carriage trade. Has democracy failed them?

My guides to moral democracy are the people who created it in our country, most especially John Locke, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson. They understood the dangers of arrogant government and grasped the need for defining its power and purpose.

"A wise and frugal Government," wrote Jefferson, "is one which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." This, he wrote, "is the sum of good government…"

I prefer Jefferson's definition of moral government rather than that of Steven Nislick, the founder of NYClass, the private organization spearheading the drive against the horses. He threatened to punch a New York Daily News photographer in the face because the paper has opposed his efforts to ban on the carriage horses.

Then good government is failing in New York City, a city which professes to care deeply about justice and fairness.

Government has not served the carriage trade. In New York, the city government has made no effort to curb or control the relentless, and often dishonest and cruel, attacks on the people in the carriage trade, or protect them from cruel slander. The hundreds of people who work with the horses are not being left free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, quite the opposite, their work and livelihood is gravely threatened with cause or any due process, or any kind of open hearing, debate or discussion.

The people in the carriage trade have broken no laws, committed no crimes, there are no charges or complaints against them from the five different city agencies responsible for regulating their work and the the horse's well beings. The mayor's clear intent – without ever once speaking to anyone in the carriage trade or visiting a single stable – is to take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is not in response to the public will or the public well being, or any accusation of wrongdoing. It is almost entirely a response to the private and intensely controversial views of one millionaire who calls himself a supporter of animals rights and who gave the mayor enormous amounts of money for his campaign, and his small but angry legions of fanatical supporters.

Even though 66 per cent of all New Yorkers, nearly three out of four, say they wish the carriage horses to remain in the city, the clear will of the people has no meaning in the debate. The mayor has said that does not matter to him, the City Council is moving ahead to take away the legitimate work of hundreds of people and seize their property regardless  of the public's will. He means to enact his ban on the horses, which he has described as one of the most urgent priorities of his administration.

The philosopher and writer John Locke invented the idea modern democracy, he was one of the strongest influences on Thomas Jefferson and the founders of the American experiment. "All mankind..being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions," he wrote. "Every man has a property in his own person," Locke wrote. "This nobody has a right to, but himself."

Locke also said this: "Government has no other end, but the preservation of freedom and of property."

Are the members of the carriage trade being treated as equal and independent?

The mayor often speaks to the people in the organizations seeking to ban the horses, he has taken their money, attended their fund-raising dinners, and plots in secret the move to banish the horses. He will speak to millionaires about them, but he will not speak to the people in the carriage grade, visit their stables, negotiate with their representatives, attend their functions or meetings, or even share the reasoning or nature behind the secret proceedings underway in the City Council and meant to shut down their work. In fact, the members of the carriage trade are treated as less than human, not entitled to the considerations given most the wealthy or other members of the so-called moral community.

Thomas Paine, the soul of the American Revolution, the author of "Common Sense," the pamphlet that helped inspire it, wrote that "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for it he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." This, I told my daughter, is why she might care, and why you might as well. Paine might well have been speaking of the carriage horses when he wrote that "when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon."

All over New York and in many parts of the country, thinking people are embracing the privilege of thinking, awakening to the distorted morality and corrupt origins of the movement to banish the carriage horses from New York. It is not right, it does not bear thought or scrutiny, it speaks to the failure of democracy, not it's proper and moral workings. It would also be a grievous setback for the idea that animals like the horses can remain in our world and be safe with us if we will find the will.

I told my daughter that it would be a good exercise to take the statements of Jefferson, Locke and Paine, architects and angels of our democracy and imagine the three of them sitting on a jury that would decide whether or not the carriage horses would be banned from New York. They seem as well qualified as the New York City Council. And all three actually knew something about horses.

I believe these three brilliant men would instantly grasp that this issue is about much more than the horses. Their feelings about the duty of government are quite clear. This controversy is about how government and democracy work, whether government can be just and fair, whether government will protect our freedom and property rather than join in the mobs that sometimes appear seeking to take it away.

It is also about whether the men and women of the carriage trade are our equals, after all, entitled to the rights of hard-working citizens who pay their taxes and obey the law. It is about whether they are free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement not have the taken from their mouths the bread of labor that they have earned.

You can read their own words and think for yourselves. If the visionaries who created our democracy – Jefferson, Locke, Paine – were deciding, the carriage horses would remain in New York, the freedom and property of the human beings in carriage trade preserved.

Posted in General
30 July 2014

Me And My Surgeon: Reunion Thursday. Recovery Journal, Vol. 31

By: Jon Katz
Back To The Scene

Back To The Scene

Tomorrow, an important day in the recovery. We go back to the hospital to see my surgeon for the first time since she stopped my heart, cracked open my chest and rebuilt my artery system. Perhaps saved my life as well, and surely improved it. Dr. Adanna Akujuou shocked me when she appeared in the doorway of my hospital room, she was a vision, a dream, not what I expected. A tall, strikingly beautiful African-American women from Nigeria, trained in New York city, she had a wide smile and shoes that were the envy of many of the hospital nurses.  When I met her, she was wearing five-inch heels, she was nothing like the other surgeons, they mostly looked like homicide detectives, all men in their white shirts, crewcuts, ties and shiny shoes.

She was confident and charismatic, a vision.  I had an instant crush on her which I confessed to Maria. I told her I trusted her with my heart, she said the operation was not a big deal for her, it was the valve surgeries that were creative. Maria said she understood (she usually doesn't.)  Meeting her, I did not again worry about the surgery.

I last saw Dr. Akujuou two days after my operation, she warned me against using my big camera or moving my arms much or lifting things for months. They kicked me out of the ICU and sent me home before I could say goodbye, so tomorrow I will thank her and, perhaps, say goodbye. If all goes well, I will be turned over to a cardiologist and not see her again.

Ironic for someone who changed my life so much. Tomorrow, she will check me out, look at an X-ray of my chest, looked at the bloodwork, ask me a lot of questions, listen to my heart. I will ask her to clear me for driving and for permission to carry my camera, again, which I will bring with me. I hope she will let me.

I hope she likes what she sees, I will tell her I am feeling good, doing well, I walked more than four miles today and am storming hills all over the county just like Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American war. One friend dropped off a treadmill, another brought over a stationary bicycle for the winter, I will try both of them out. In the meantime, I am a walking fiend, and I am loving it, although it often tires me out.

I see tomorrow as an important day, the end of this phase of open heart surgery – the struggle to walk, the diagnosis, the hospital, the surgery, the recovery. I believe I am healing well, I understand it is a long progress and it will last for months, even a year or so, but I am ready for the next phase, it is time. I am  working through most of the day, I feel strong and eager to resume life. Unless I sneeze or cough, I am in little pain and am beginning to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. I still crash most afternoons and sleep the deepest sleep sometimes. It is a little bit better every day.

So back to Albany, back to the hospital. I admit to not being eager to return there. But I want to see my surgeon again, and thank her for returning my heart to me. It might be a routine thing for her, but she changed my life, and she needs to be thanked.

Posted in General

Waiting Their Due

By: Jon Katz
What They Are Due

What They Are Due

Donkeys are the most intuitive animals I have ever known, they known when it is time to appear for a treat or for attention, they know when you will give them something and when you will not. When I come out to tend the garden or do a chore, they ignore me, when I mean to give them an apple or carrot, they are right by the gate, they simply wait for their due, they come up to me, stand and stare at me as if all of us understand the outcome, it is only a matter of time, of which they have plenty. I am not sure if they have trained me or if I have trained them – actually, I have a pretty good idea. Today I had three carrots stuck in my back pocket, and they knew it or sensed it or smelled it and were standing by the gate.

When I came inside, they simply stared at me until I turned it over. Then they went out to graze, done with me for now. I suspect they hear us talking inside the house. I know they can do that.

Posted in General

American Family Tableau: Lauderdale Lake

By: Jon Katz
American Family Tableau

American Family Tableau

At Lauderlake Lake today, I saw this American Family Tableau, family picknicking at a table by the water, teenager in the now unmistakeable cell phone reading posture.

Posted in General

Birthday Love: Donna Wynbrandt And George Forss

By: Jon Katz
Birthday Love: Donna And George

Birthday Love: Donna And George

Today was the artist Donna Wynbrandt's 65th birthday, she had a celebration at Lauderdale Lake a few miles away from the farmhouse. She and George and their friends brought a cake, watermelon, corn and hot dogs to her birthday party, I walked from the farmhouse to the party.

It is always a beautiful thing to see the pure love that has connected and sustained these two original, idiosyncratic and artistic people for so many years. They adore one another, it is a gift to catch it once in a while with my camera, which Maria carried for me (I had the heavy lens.) They are an inspiration to me, they are supportive of each other every minute, creative every day of their lives. Donna was also celebrating the publication of her latest book, a story about family, anger and reconciliation. These two light up whenever they see one another. George has agreed to come to the second Bedlam Farm Open House on Columbus Day Weekend to do portraits of people who wish to have them.

A special privilege to have one's portrait taken by a master, I think I might have him do me and Maria, if she is agreeable.

Posted in General