Friday, 27 November 2015

London vs. NYC

I’m currently in my third trip to New York City, and the attraction of the place hasn’t diminished with time or familiarity. In fact, it has increased. It’s one of the few cities I’d consider moving to, if such an option were available; I’m sure that if I did live here, certain things would start to grate, the same as in any other place, but it’s a risk I’d be willing to take.

So, I have concocted a list comparing my adopted city with my the one I’m visiting, to see if it is indeed all that, or if I don’t take some of the good things about London for granted some of the time. Having only been to NYC as a tourist, elements of the below will necessarily be extrapolated or based on things I’ve been told or read, but it’s still a fun exercise. Here goes (in no particular order):

Public transport: London has the tube. The original, the o.g. (or should that be the u.g.?). NYC has the subway, as do many other cities following that idea. The tube is a victim of its own success - many of the problems it faces in expanding and increasing capacity come from the fact that it was built so long ago, with smaller tunnels than are now generally used, as well as narrow platforms. This, coupled with the sheer amount of cabling, sewers, and miscellanea under the city, making increasing capacity difficult and expensive. The subway is more spacious, the carriages bigger, and there is more track. They also have express trains, which is fantastic. Still, I feel like the underground, and buses, are better, for the following reasons.
  1. It’s cleaner. NYC subway stations are dirty, and homeless people abound (more on this later).
  2. There is more information. The schedules are easier to understand, and there are live boards telling you how long your train will be at every station. The information at bus stops is really good. The subway is ok, but elements are really confusing.
  3. Oyster cards are easier to use and more durable than Metrocards. And, they work on other forms of transport.
  4.  Etiquette. Though people on the tube are rude, people on the subways here are downright aggressive.
  5. In London, we have tube lines that actually run from east to west. NYC needs to up its game in that regard.

London: 1 New York: 0

Crime: though it’s a lot better than it was, parts of New York are still very unsafe. Add to that the existence of guns, and the safety factor decreased a little. I feel more uneasy in Manhattan than I do in London, and not because I am a tourist. The police in London are amazing, nice to deal with, and more willing to engage with the public. I guess that’s easier when you’re not in a city which needs to have stickers on police cars advertising rewards for information leading to prosecution of those who kill cops.

London: 2 New York: 0

History: how much do I really need to say about this? NYC is a fascinating place, with a lot of interesting historical sights, but London is over a thousand years old.

London: 3 New York: 0

Art/culture: Both cities have great museums, both contribute a lot to the world in terms of their artists, musicians, cultural festivals and institutions. I’m going to call this one a tie.

London: 3.5 New York: 0.5

Green space: One of the things I love about London is the amount of greenery. It’s hard to walk around the town without coming across a park or square, most of which are open to the public. London has nothing on NY in terms of the sheer size of Central Park, but the total green space must be higher. NY has great squares and open spaces, but the grass areas are often fenced off. Oh, and in London you can see deer.

London: 4.5 New York: 0.5

Travel: From NYC you have easy access to the East Coast of the US, as well as across the continent, up to Canada, down to Mexico and the Caribbean. You can also reach South America. From London you can get to Europe easily, with all that that entails, while Africa is within easy reach. London has five airports, New York three. This one all depends on what you like, so I’m calling it even.

London: 5 New York: 1

Food: Ok, so, London does Indian food well, Asian food well, Caribbean food well. New York has amazing delis, pancakes, soul food, bagels. This is another very subjective one. Both cities are chock full of international cuisine, with plenty of variety. However, NYC has all night diners, which I really love, and they also have way better candy. Let’s face it, Haribo sucks. Peanut butter M&Ms rule.

London: 5 New York: 2

Heathcare: The NHS versus an insurance-based system where you can be sued for any reason at all? As much as people critique it, the NHS is beautiful. Long may it last. Nuff said.

London: 6 New York: 2

Sports: Having not been raised with it, I don’t really like the American system of moving teams around. How can you cheer for a franchise, only to see it bought or sold, and shifted to another town? Or, be happy about a new one coming in? Maybe that’s just my mindset, not being used to such a thing. In terms of fanaticism, of the sheer loyalty and energy, which comes from football, London wins hands down. But then, you have all the anger and violence which is the flip side of that coin, so it’s not cut-and-dried.

In terms of the actual sports available, again, it’s what you’re brought up with, mostly. I’ll always love rugby, cricket, and football more than NFL, baseball, and hockey. However, as I can see it from the other side, too, I’m calling this one even.

London: 6.5 New York: 2.5

Employment: Let’s not pull any punches: employment law in the US is shit. You get two days annual leave, as compared with at least 20 in the UK, and you can be fired without notice for no reason at all. Parental leave is barely any better. There’s no job security, and workers are often treated badly.

London: 7.5 New York: 2.5

Weather: New York gets colder, no doubt, but it also stays clearer. You get sunshine even on freezing days. The cloud cover might make it warmer in London, but it also makes it more sombre. And in summer, NYC has long, hot weeks. In London, if you see the sun you dart outside and take your shirt off, because tomorrow it might be raining again.

London: 7.5 New York 3.5

Layout: Again, in this category, London suffers from its success. It is weighed down by its history. London in often held up as an example of how not to plan a city. The strange nature of the streets might be called charming, but it also might be called confusing and inefficient. NYC is well-designed, easy to navigate, and even the street names make sense.

London: 7.5 New York 4.5

Welfare: The social welfare system in the UK, while not without its problems, is far superior to that in the US, which is not really a system to speak of. Homelessness here seems, to me at least, to be rife, and there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of support for those who are down and out, or to prevent them from becoming down and out. I admit that I don’t have a lot of back up on this one in the form of facts and figures, just what I have seen with my own eyes. I also know that London is worse now than before the Tories got in, but still, the support systems in the UK, some of which I have used, make me award the points in this one to London.

London: 8.5 New York 4.5

Nightlife: this one is harder for me to gauge, having hardly scratched the surface in NYC. I can bet it has a lot going on. I love the pub culture of London, too, and the nightlife there is exceptional. The sheer variety of music available, as well as live venues for music and comedy, is amazing. Both cities have excellent stage shows and theatre, too. A share of the points.

London: 9.0 New York 5.0

Atmosphere: This last one I added in, to try and convey the feeling of the place. London has atmosphere, but not in the same way as New York does, or maybe I’m just so used to it I don’t notice anymore. New York feels, well, like you’re in a movie. It feels alive, even at three in the morning. This category is an odd one, but New York takes the points for me.

London 9.0 New York 6.0

So, there you have it. London wins by three. Fairly comfortable in the end, even if some of the categories are boring, or I have left out others you might consider important. Or even if you disagree with my assessment. I think there’s a lot about life in London to love. Would I still take a shot at living in New York, though? You bet your ass I would.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Capital punishment

A tricky issue, even after you realise I am not talking about being forced to live in Auckland rather than beautiful Wellington. No, what I am talking about is the death penalty. Widely decried by advocates of human rights, and others who believe the justice is simply too flawed to allow such extreme measures to operate without error, my own thoughts on this issue are relatively unequivocal. I consider myself to be of a modern sensibility in many things, and liberal in many ways, but when it comes to the death penalty, I am decidedly pro. Let me tell you why, while also thinking about some of the arguments around the issue.

First is the idea the capital punishment should never be used, from a moral standpoint. This seems to me to be based on either one of two premises. First, that killing is morally wrong and that we, as reasonable, evolved beings, should eschew it. The second is the idea that there is no action which anyone can commit which deserves death. To take the second of these first, I believe that this is simply untrue. There are many actions which, if committed, warrant the forfeiture of a person’s life. Each crime will need to be judged by its merits, but acts like those committed by Josef Fritzl, Anders Breivik, or David Berkowitz, to name but a tiny few, would fall into this category. I am sure you can think of your own examples.

The first issue, that killing is morally wrong, seems fair enough on the face of it, but fails when put to the test. Let me propose a scenario wherein a police officer is facing off against a terrorist who had planted a bomb under a school bus full of children. The terrorist has his thumb over the switch, and the cop must decide whether to shoot, knowing that the only shot he has is a head shot. Does he pull the trigger?

Of course, even if your answer to the above hypothetical is yes, you might still argue that shooting a man in the heat of a battle is much different to holding a man for years and then executing him in cold blood. I would not disagree on this point, but rather point out that the argument shows that killing is not always wrong, from a moral standpoint.

Next, suppose we have a situation where the policeman missed his shot, the children got cooked, and the terrorist got arrested. Does this man deserve to live? More to the point, is it worth society’s time and expense keeping him alive? That money could be better spent elsewhere. Rehabilitation, you say? Let me tell you this, rehabilitation is not always possible and, with regards to the protection of those in society, should not always be attempted. Now, I am not fit to judge individual cases, but it seems to me that it would be downright irresponsible, in terms of the risk to future buses full of children, to try and ‘rehabilitate such a man. Nor has he earned such an opportunity by his behaviour.

So, again the question: why keep such a man alive? He is now nothing more than a drain on the resources of society. I don’t mean to suggest that human life be measured solely in terms of productivity, but the ninety-year-old who has been a peaceful member of society all her life has earned the right to care until the days she dies. Our fictional terrorist has forfeited such rights.

Now, there is another issue: not all cases are as black and white as the one I have described. What about human error, or corruption? Certainly mistakes happen, or are made to happen. Shouldn’t we hold back on using capital punishment just in case?

This argument is a good one, and the relative strength of it will depend upon the country to which it is being applied, there being different levels of trust in the justice system and its officials, in various places in the world. That said, I don’t believe this is a reason not to implement the death penalty. One reason for this might be that fifty years spent on death row could be considered a worse fate than a quick death, but this is of course a subjective view. Another point though, is simply that the penalty should be applied is some cases. Some people deserve to die; the world is better without them in it. As long as the correct checks and balances are in place, I believe that capital punishment is not only an option, it is the only option in some cases. Granted, we must be very careful about how and when the penalty is used, but this should not stop the pursuit of justice, merely direct it.

Revenge is not justice, I also hear shouted at me. This is true. However, sentencing, when applied by a trained and appointed judge, is not revenge. It is merely the system at work. A careful, unemotional, and reasoned examination of the facts of any crime may lead others to the same conclusion.

Perhaps you’d think differently if it were you wrongly accused, you say to me. Perhaps. But if I were able to rearrange the justice system from my own selfish perspective, it would not necessarily be that pleasant for anyone who wasn’t me. These issues must be decided without personal prejudice, as far as possible.

And that’s all I have to say about that. I think there may be other problems I have not anticipated. Feel free to let me know. After all, it’s not like I’m going to kill you.