Cousins


As we were heading home from the TV truck late last night, near the Lincoln Center firehouse memorials we passed a man walking a very large horse down the sidewalk. New York is always interesting.

People are very devoted to their pets in New York, and these are not just birds, cats, dogs, and fish. Earlier this year, the New York City Council voted to legalize ferrets as pets, but the mayor stopped the move. If I recall correctly, he said they might eat human babies.

In the mayor’s press conference today, he unequivocally stated — for the first time — that he would NOT seek to run for a third term. The state legislature wasn’t inclined to allow it anyway. Now he characterizes an extension of his current term as an “offer” he’s making, rather than an ultimatum. The state legislature doesn’t seem inclined to allow that either.

Before the press conference, it appeared that there could have been four major-party candidates running for mayor in November. Besides the Democratic and Republican candidates, there was the possibility of Giuliani on the Conservative line, and one of the defeated primary candidates said he would use the Liberal line if his second choice doesn’t win next Thursday’s primary runoff.

The other runoff candidate has now been endorsed by former mayor Ed Koch, giving him an amazing spectrum of support, having previously been endorsed by Al Sharpton. Sharpton laughed about the strange bedfellowship. “Wait till we campaign together!” New York politics are also interesting. Tonight was the first mayoral primary-runoff debate.

For the Public Advocate (#2 executive position) runoff, the Board of Elections has decided that former New York Civil Liberties Union head Norman Siegel will be one of the two (former parks commissioner Betsy Gotbaum is the other) out of the previous field of seven. They hadn’t finished counting yet, but they wanted to get the absentee ballots out, and it didn’t look to them as though the positions of the top-two candidates would change.

In tonight’s debate, the issue of how many New Yorks there are came up. It was pretty silly. But we ARE a city of neighborhoods.

One of them is Battery Park City, and its residents have been having the hardest time since the attack. They’ve lost their nearest subway lines and have to walk a mile to hail a cab. One of their two food stores was destroyed, and they cannot get deliveries without special permission. They still have the acrid smoke of nearby “ground zero,” but they no longer have the offices that may have influenced them to live there. And those are the ones whose apartments weren’t directly affected.

It’s not surprising that many of the residents of Battery Park City want to get out of their leases. What’s amazing is that not ALL of them seem to want to. New Yorkers have a love/hate relationship with adversity.

We were delighted to learn today, for example, that we will soon be despised again by others in America. New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman called others of his ilk. Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times said, “Wouldn’t you in New York hate it if it became the warm, cozy hearth of America?” Haberman answered, “Absolutely,” on behalf of all of us. John Cass of the Chicago Tribune was even better: “We’ll wait 40 days. That’s a proper mourning period. Then we’ll hate you again. Well, not really hate.” Haberman closed his column with a bit more from Morrison followed by his response: “‘New York,’ she said, ‘is definitely not my cup of two cents plain.’ She should only know what a comfort it is to hear that.”

There ARE joys in New York. Today was warm and sunny. We biked around the park this afternoon and found the sunbathers to be out in force (and this was mid-day on a workday). The weather reminded me of Madagascar. We were there earlier this year during the northern-hemisphere summer, which is their winter (but the climate didn’t seem to notice).

We flew into and out of six Madagascar airports. At five of them, there was no security at all. Anyone so inclined could wander out onto the tarmac; some did.

The sixth was the airport near the capital. In the domestic terminal, the only security was a do-it-yourself sign with five questions to ask yourself (the English-language version asked travelers to tell airline personnel if they WEREN’T doing anything wrong). The international terminal had more conventional x-ray and metal detection stations, but those were self-service, too. Travelers would put their bags on a table, walk through the detector, and then retreive them uninspected.

That didn’t make us feel insecure; it actually had the opposite effect. We felt quite secure in the knowledge that no one seemed to feel there was any need to inspect us. One doesn’t worry about loopholes in a security system when there’s no such system at all.

We’ve been to many destinations that, like Madagascar, are not on common tourist or business itineraries. I’ve swum both in the Arctic Ocean and off the coast of Antarctica (proof that New Yorkers are weird). Everywhere, I have found some pleasant surprise. Who’d have thought Hong Kong had pristine, unpopulated beaches and forested hills? Who’d have thought we’d have come across an unguarded painting by Leonardo, sitting on a easel in Kracow?

I’ve never been to Afghanistan. I don’t know very much about it.

One of our neighborhood restaurants — with a terrific delivery deal — is called Baluchi’s. When I suggest the place, visitors usually think it’s Italian. Baluchis are one of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan. The menu at Baluchi’s says of one dish, ka-choris, that it’s “too difficult to put into words but highly recommended.” I agree.

The CIA web site estimates that the population of Afghanistan was 26.8 million in July (but the CIA didn’t seem to notice that India claims a small border with Afghanistan). What are those 27 million people like? I don’t know. But I do know this: They are my cousins. I am speaking literally.

Like every other person on this planet, I had a mother and a father. My mother had a mother and a father, and so did my father. I had two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so on.

How long is a generation? 25 years? If so, there are 40 generations in a millennium. If the progression I started in the last paragraph continued back the same way to the year 1000, then I should have then had over a trillion living ancestors.

That’s clearly ridiculous. But I’m alive today, and I had ancestors alive in the year 1000. The reason there weren’t a trillion of them is that there was a lot of cross-mating going on. My mother and father had common ancestors. So did all of my grandparents.

Guy Murchie, a scientist and writer who has looked into these matters more than I have, wrote the following two very interesting comments on the subject of our common ancestry:

“It is virtually certain that you are a direct descendant of Muhammed… Confucius, Abraham, Buddha, Caesar, Ishmael, and Judas Iscariot…. The earlier they lived, the more surely you are their descendant.”

“No human… can be less closely related to any other human than approximately 50th cousin, and most of us are a lot closer. The family trees of all of us, of whatever origin or trait, must meet and merge into one genetic tree of all humanity by the time they have spread into our ancestors for about 50 generations.”

We’re all in this together.

TTFN, Mark