Author Archives: John Carey


Column: How we got our Rye golf course

As we note the 50th anniversary of Rye’s acquisition of its own golf course, it would be well to recall how it came about and who deserves the greatest credit for the acquisition.

The course used to be privately owned and the time came when we on the City Council began to hear that the owner might be planning to sell to developers. We could visualize the many gorgeous acres crowded with dozens of houses great and small.

How could we avoid such a calamity? How could we keep the magnificent acres open and forever green? After all, a landowner has certain prerogatives and can sell to developers, subject only to such valid local land use rules as are in place.

We in Rye knew about Westport’s town-owned golf course in Connecticut and wondered why we could not have something similar. It was rare for small communities to possess such seeming luxuries, but we in Rye possessed something rare too: a mayor of vision, organizational skill, leadership and courage, H. Clay Johnson.

The golf course owner was approached about selling to the City of Rye. He might have been interested at a price, but any price of his was not of interest to Rye. How could we compel the owner to sell at a reasonable and defensible figure? No one seemed to know the answer, except Mayor Johnson.

The mayor told the City Council that we needed to start proceedings to acquire the golf course by eminent domain, in other words, to condemn it. This can be a risky process, because condemnation leads to a forced sale, at a price to be fixed by a court. If the court goes way high, the buyer is stuck and must pay up.

Mayor Johnson never showed any sign of apprehension that I could detect. He calmly but persistently nursed us along until all us members of the City Council were willing to vote in favor of acquisition by condemnation without knowing what price we would be stuck with.

Rye paid a hefty price for the golf course, but in light of the vast increase in real property values since then, it was a genuine bargain. I hate to think of its or Rye’s image being tarnished by any more recent events. The image of Mayor H. Clay Johnson can never be tarnished.



Column: What to do about ISIS

The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations last week published a massive “Special Collection” entitled The ISIS Crisis. Editor Gideon Rose said in warning that, “We can’t promise that after reading it, you’ll know exactly what to do. But we can promise that you’ll have the information you need to think about the question intelligently.” I do not find here the information I need.
The first section of the document, also by Rose, is entitled “The New Jihadist Thing; Meeting the ISIS Challenge.” Included within are sections such as “The Myth of the Caliphate; the Political History of an Idea;” “The Rise of ISIS and the Fall of al Qaeda;” “ISIS’ Strategy and How to Counter It;” “The Women of ISIS;” “Measuring the Threat from Returning Jihadists.”
Under a heading of “The Response,” are sections of the document on subjects such as “ISIS’ Worst Nightmare,” “The Hollow Coalition: Washington’s Timid European Allies,” “Why Counterterrorism Won’t Stop the Latest Jihadi Threat” and “Ready for War with ISIS? Foreign Affairs’ Brain Trust Weighs In.”
I have not read every word, but I have sampled the views of the brain trust on whether the United States should go to war with ISIS. I wish the brain trust had been able to come to some sort of consensus, to help me “think about the question intelligently,” but instead I am left in a quandary.
My sampling of the dozens of snapshot views of the brain trust members shows them to be roughly divided between those who want to go to war with ISIS and those who do not. There are also those who declare themselves to be “neutral” on the question; just as well that they are not responsible for fashioning U.S. foreign policy.
I do not in fact find in this roster of pundits a significant number of persons now involved personally in developing foreign policy on the firing line, nor do I see much if any representation of the military establishment. What I do see, in spades, are professors from various faculties around the U.S., not around the world.
Outside of teaching, professors spend substantial time writing books and conducting research for the next book in the pipeline. However, amidst the ranks of the brain trust are people employed by “think tanks,” who also conduct research, writing and may have relevant past experience with war, but little or no responsibility for any present or future war.
Those who undertook forming part of a brain trust could make a valuable contribution by now talking to each other in search of consensus on whether the U.S. should declare and wage war against ISIS.



Column: Palestinians join the ICC

The New York Times on April 2 published on page A4 an article entitled “Palestinians Join International Criminal Court, and Tread Lightly at First.” The sub-title was, “No immediate request to look into cases that may implicate Israeli Officials.”

The co-authors suggest that the Palestinian leadership is not immediately looking for prosecution of Israelis but rather to add a prominent international organization to the list of the 40 which the Times says Palestinians have already joined. The Palestinians are surely not just seeking to show the extent of their popularity; very likely they believe that the more international organizations recognize them, the more governments are joining the ranks of recognizers.

Under established rules of international law, recognition as an independent state requires widespread if not nearly universal recognition by the established nations of the world. This is so clear legally that I am surprised to observe the assertion that the Palestinians can gain statehood only by agreement with Israel.

A greater obstacle to Palestinian statehood is lack of clearly defined territory under their control. So long as Israel occupies the West Bank militarily, it is hard to see how the territory criterion of statehood could be met by the Palestinians unless they based their claim entirely on the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas.

Control of territory figures importantly under the wording of the Rome Treaty, which created the court. Article 12 gives jurisdiction to the court if the acts complained of happened on the territory of a state party or if the accused is a national of a state party.

If an Israeli were accused, the second basis of jurisdiction would not apply, since Israel, like the United States, is not a party to the Rome Treaty. But if criminal acts committed in allegedly Palestinian territory were charged against an Israeli, Palestinian membership in the court could be a huge obstacle for Israel. The Rome Treaty was adopted in 1998 by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 countries abstaining. The countries that voted against the treaty were Iraq, Israel, Libya, China, Qatar, Yemen and the United States.

The Times suggests that Hamas could be charged in the court with firing rockets and shells from Gaza into Israel. Such acts, being committed from inside the territory of an alleged ICC member, would confer jurisdiction on the court, which should give Hamas pause.



Column: Cockpits: locked or not, tragedy can strike



We have seen in the Germanwings crash what terrible tragedy a locked cockpit door can cause at the hands of an insider/turncoat hijacker. And we saw in the enormous disaster where unlocked cockpit doors gave access to the controls of hijacked planes.

In recent days we have been reminded that since American cockpit doors have been locked, as if that had something to do with the inability of Germanwings chief pilot to return to the cockpit and prevent the deadly crash. While he is no longer available to explain why he was not in the cockpit when his co-pilot locked him out, news programs have declared that he left the cockpit in order to relieve himself.

If the A360 plane in fact has no toilet in the cockpit, which would seem to be a serious design oversight, that would not excuse any absence of the chief pilot from his station in the cockpit. If he did not feel able to make it from Barcelona to Duesseldorf without urinating, then he could have equipped himself with a suitable container, or with a device like what is known as a “policeman’s friend.”

This reminds me of early 1944, when I was on the USS Loy (DE160), seeking to destroy enemy subs off the coast of occupied France. I stood four-hour watches on the ship’s bridge. The nearest “head” (Navy lingo for “toilet”) was one or two decks below. Holding it for four hours was not as hard for a 19-year-old as it must have been for some of the more senior sailors or officers in their 30’s.

As for, there are still people around who must know why cockpit doors were not locked beforehand as they have been since. We recall hearing that al-Qaida’s intent to hijack American planes was known before.

If that was not enough reason to require the locking of all American cockpit doors, then at least public warnings could have been issued so those choosing to travel by air would have had a chance to decide for themselves whether to take the risk. The decision to take the risk was made for them by the government’s saying nothing while failing to cause the locking of American planes’ cockpit doors.



Column: Zero-sum game with the $20 bill?

Gail Collins in her New York Times op-ed piece on March 21 urged removing Andrew Jackson’s face from our $20 bill in favor of a yet-to-determined American heroine. Fortunately, there is room for both the lady and the president. Bear with me, please, while I take you around Robin Hood’s barn before getting to the point.

Years ago Pat and I were in communist Poland and stayed overnight in Warsaw with a Yale classmate who was the U.S. ambassador. He told us that his official residence had to be “swept” for “bugs” whenever workers from outside had been allowed in. The search almost invariably turned up some sort of newly installed eaves-dropping device.

When it came time for us to head further East, our host very kindly escorted us to the airport. His presence was reassuring. Just before boarding our plane, we did some minor airport shopping. To my surprise, I was given in change a U.S. $2 bill. On it was a likeness of Thomas Jefferson. This was too unlikely a souvenir to part with. I had not seen a U.S. $2 bill for years

Happily, that bill has reposed ever since under glass in our Rye home. It can shed some light on the issue of jettisoning Jackson from the $20 bill in order to make way for a female likeness. The goal of gender fairness is now in sight without heaving Jackson overboard.

Since the $2 bill is now so seldom seen, its re-issuance with a new likeness should not seriously offend fans of the third president, who have his stately memorial by the Potomac. And the question of whose likeness would adorn the bill could be decided fairly by means of a vote between those wanting to keep Jackson and those preferring an American heroine. Any anti-Jackson candidate could find enough to say about our energetic seventh president.

The candidate receiving the greater number of votes could be given the $20 spot, with the second place contestant being pictured on a newly revived $2 bill. This is not a zero-sum game. Both faces can grace U.S. currency.



Column: Use of force by Rye police

While we know that photos can be altered, Rye is very lucky that the battered face on page one of the March 13 Rye City Review is a white face and not a black or brown face. If it had been black or brown, the boy’s image would have been splashed across media far and wide.

We learn from the press that the Rye City Council agreed to pay nearly half a million dollars to settle the case. It has not been made clear whether all that public money bought release from liability for the city alone or also for the individual defendants, from the then police commissioner down to officers on the scene.

But now we taxpayers must weigh in and demand the protection we are entitled to. We must not be left alone to pay for all the victim’s injuries and legal costs. Without any participation from the individual defendants, we taxpayers would be deprived of the protection we are entitled to against co-defendants.

I hope the City Council is considering the city’s right of contribution from other defendants under Article 14 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules. Possible equivalent provisions of federal law should be considered, since the case is said to be before U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff. I served on a criminal trial jury before him and am confident of his judicial skills and temperament.

I would also like to see this entire incident looked into from top to bottom by a blue-ribbon panel of citizens with relevant experience and judgment as well as subpoena power. If such an inquiry is not performed in good faith locally, it could very well be put before a grand jury in White Plains or Foley Square. It cannot be simply left to fester.

We taxpayers need to know what training our police receive on the use of force and on how to control themselves when faced with obnoxious persons of any age, gender or race.



Column: Apple triumphant; Kaypro also ran

So, Apple has joined the Dow Industrials price index, ousting the venerable AT&T from its position in that exclusive club. Apple has come a long way since it launched its Apple II small computer in the early 1980s.

I was tempted by the Apple II, but there was a competitor, the Kaypro II, and I opted for it, even though it weighed 26 pounds and could not be called “portable,” only “luggable.” Another buyer and intense user of a Kaypro II was my late friend William F. Buckley Jr.

Kaypro fell behind Apple and finally went out of business. It was expensive compared to today’s laptops and was hampered by user problems. There was no internal operating system. You inserted one disk with the CP/M operating system and another for saving content.

Why did I want my own computer?

My law firm provided a capable secretary who could take dictation and type quickly, a varied correspondence. But with much-revised corporate contracts, it would be quicker if I did the revising while negotiations proceeded.

Typing was no problem. I had taught myself while at sea in 1944. When it was my turn to stand the “mid-watch,” from midnight to 4 a.m., I did not want to sleep in the evening because it was so hard to rise and shine at 11:15 p.m. So I sat in the ship’s office, pounding out “asdf” etc.

My room in the law office had a door that I seldom closed. So passers-by could see me with my fingers on the keyboard. Secretaries often showed signs of disapproval, perhaps wondering if lawyers with computers would compete with them.

I notice that nowadays nearly every lawyer has a computer nearby. How much use they make of them I have no way of knowing. Since I have no secretary now, a computer is indispensable. I find it also essential to have a generous friend who is an accomplished “techie.”



Column: ISIS: What’s in a name?

President Obama has been chided of late for not using a phrase like “Islamic extremists” to describe those who call themselves by the Arabic equivalent of “Islamic State.” He apparently does not want to lend credence to the notion that those extremists are, or behave in a fashion that can accurately be called “Islamic.”

I have not heard the president suggest a more accurate title, but I have a suggestion for him. It comes from the name used by the United Nation’s World Health Organization to describe a deadly disease that seems to have originated in the Middle East, possibly from contact with camels. The acronym is MERS.

MERS is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, sometimes followed by the words “Corona Virus.” The title indicates both the geographic origin and the general nature of the illness. In the same way, the origin and the nature of these extremists could be shown by the title Middle East Cruelty Organization, MECO.

As regards the big, strong man referred to as Jihadi John, who humiliates and murders defenseless victims on TV, he should reveal his face and then prepare to meet, clad only in shorts, in physical combat with an equally sturdy opponent. It takes no courage, only cruelty, to dominate and frighten someone at your mercy.

In the midst of all the present bad news about inhumanity, violence and gore, it is difficult but necessary to keep in mind that there are brave people in every part of the world and in every faith who believe devoutly in and practice, at whatever cost to themselves, kindness, compassion, justice and love of one’s neighbors.



Column: How we remember our presidents

When I was a boy, we celebrated President Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, the actual date of his birth; and we celebrated President Washington’s birthday on Feb. 22, his actual date of birth. Of the two dates, the 22nd was the one more likely to be taken off from school or work.

Nowadays, you hardly hear either of these two presidents’ names mentioned in connection with their birthdays. Washington and Lincoln are squeezed together in the anonymity of a new, artificial holiday/shopping day called Presidents’ Day, which fell on Feb. 16 this year; not because some president was born then but, because, it makes for a long weekend. No names; no historic figures memorialized, just big-box stores bursting with shoppers seeking bargains.

With the cold weather we have experienced this winter, we could do worse than to celebrate our first president by recalling the suffering of his still-loyal troops at Valley Forge. It was the winter of 1777-1778. What was left of the Continental Army after defeats at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown withdrew to 20 miles from British-occupied Philadelphia. The crown might have been able to put an end to the American Revolution that same winter, but armies then did not like to fight in cold weather.

If you have visited Valley Forge, you have seen replicas of the unheated wooden huts the men built for their shelter. You must have wondered where any kind of rations were found for thousands of starving, shivering Americans. You may have seen a famous picture of Washington kneeling alone in the snow to seek divine intervention.

Not until February 1778 was there a glimmer of outside encouragement.

It was then that a crucial military leader from Europe arrived in camp. He was the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who trained and organized the discouraged troops and remolded them into a fighting force.

Perhaps the luster of Washington’s real birthday could be at least partially restored by a gathering of citizens who would do a march through the cold for a mile or more, followed by hot chocolate and marshmallows. The day now called Presidents’ Day could be re-named more accurately as Shoppers’ Bargain Day, leaving the names of presidents Washington and Lincoln untarnished by acquisitive desire.



Column: Cold weather, Soviet style

The late writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn made the world aware of punishment in a Soviet gulag when he issued “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.” As I recall the story, Ivan is not sure why he was detained in the first place. But he is now doing a multi-year sentence in frigid Siberia.

Despite having served in the Soviet army from 1941 to 1945, Solzhenitsyn himself was sentenced to eight years in prison for anti-Stalinist remarks written to a friend. His prison experiences provided the background for the Ivan story.

There appear to have been various gulags, or labor camps, in Siberia, in a network known as the Gulag Archipelago. Though on short rations, prisoners were required to do heavy labor six days a week, even in the coldest weather. Ivan survives by his wits and his courage.

Solzhenitsyn makes his readers painfully aware of the prisoners’ suffering from the cold of the Siberian winter. One scene has stuck in my memory through all the years since I first read Ivan. He and other prisoners are marched to their work sites by armed guards.

In all but one detail, the guards are more fortunate than the prisoners. That detail involves protection of faces against frost bite. The prisoners are on their own as to clothing, and if they are able to scrounge an extra piece of cloth, they are free to wrap it around their faces. But the guards would be out of uniform wearing such an essential bit of protection, so they must expose their faces to the sub-Arctic air.

Solzhenitsyn survived not only the gulag but also a bout with cancer. He makes the struggle against disease just as vivid in his later work Cancer Ward” as he has made the rigors of deeply sub-freezing temperatures in Ivan.

Later in his life, Solzhenitsyn was able to leave the Soviet Union and came to live in the State of Vermont, where the winters must have seemed balmy to him.