Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just when you thought ...

... that people were hopeless and that your cynical epidermis couldn't be breached, you read a story like this ...

In Strangers, a Blind Centenarian Finds a Literary Lifeline

... and it restores your faith in people just a little bit.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fiscal Crises!!

New York State is hurtin' for cash and Governor Patterson is moving fast, calling the state legislature into special session and urging some serious budget cuts. Wall Street is in the tank and those mega-bonuses which basically keep the city and state economy afloat have taken a serious dive this year -- all that tax revenue they generate is nowhere to be found.

Looks like the red ink will be flowing in abundance up in Albany.

Gotta hand it to our new Guv -- he's being upfront about the problem and tackling it head on, not wasting time. For a blind guy, he sure can see ahead and urge a new course. Not many politicians are that brave.

Of course the real problem is and always has been that NYC sends vastly more money to the federal government than we get back in services or grants. We are a "donor" city and get back only cents on every dollar we send down to Washington. We could probably fix these state budget shortfalls in a second if the federal government just gave back more of the money it steals from us each year! Our money is wasted on "bridges to nowhere" and pork barrel projects in "red states." Politicians like Senator Ted Stevens -- who's just been indicted! -- basically rob NYC blind.

It's an outrage but sadly it won't stop anytime soon. In the meantime, we New Yorkers have to tighten our belts and bend over. Ugh ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Is a Third Time a Charm?

Apparently Donald Trump, Ed Koch, Peter Vallone and some other city bigwigs want to overturn the law that limits city officeholders to two consecutive four year terms. New York City voters passed this term limits referendum (sponsored by failed Mayoral candidate and Estee Lauder heir Ronald Lauder in 1993) and, assuming it's not overturned, Mayor Bloomberg will have to leave office at the end of next year.

More Speculation of a Third Term for Mayor Bloomberg

I'm against term limits simply because they're undemocratic -- if a public servant is doing a good job, the people want to keep him or her, and that person wants to remain, then democracy should work its course. That said, it's probably a good idea for Bloomberg to step down in 2010. As good a Mayor as he's been, third terms have usually been disastrous in New York politics. Mayors LaGuardia, Wagner and Koch were good mayors but all had miserable third terms. Running a city like this is exhausting and after almost a decade, fresh leadership and new energy is needed. What do you think?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Review: "Never So Good"

In 1957, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan gave a rousing speech where he declared that the misery of World War II and the post-war time were at an end. The economy was booming, rationing and war time austerity were over, and the war's trauma was receding from memory. He exclaimed, "you will see prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime ... Britain has never been in such a good state ... most of our people have never had it so good."

I didn't know anything about Harold MacMillan until I saw this play but he was a fascinating character. His family founded the MacMillan publishing empire and his overbearing mother was an American from Indiana. He had a homosexual experience at boarding school. He was badly injured in World War I multiple times. His wife Dorothy had a decades-long affair with a close associate of Churchill's named Bob Boothby (MacMillan succeeded in destroying Boothby's political career where he became Prime Minister). MacMillan sided with Churchill against Chamberlain on appeasing Hitler and, after the war, was one of Churchill's closest allies. MacMillan helped Prime Minister Anthony Eden negotiate the Suez Crises of 1956 and, after it became clear that Eden was a drunk pill popper, MacMillan became Prime Minister in 1957. He was very popular until 1962 when one of his ministers named John Perfumo got involved in a sex scandal with a Russian double-agent. This became a political nightmare for MacMillan, a staunch Roman Catholic, and he retired in 1963. He died in 1986.

Never So Good by Howard Brenton covers these events in MacMillan's life. Jeremy Irons plays MacMillan from middle to old age and a young actor named Pip Carter plays Young Mac who follows his older counterpart around, making snide comments and deriding what he has become. Anna Chancellor manages to make his adulterous wife Dorothy a sympathetic character and, after Irons, the best performance is by Ian McNiece as a hilarious Winston Churchill. You might think this is a stuffy British play about old politicians but you'd be wrong: there are war-time scenes with the most incredible explosions I've ever seen and the play moves through the decades with music and dancing, ending in the 1960s with sleazy dance music. While the sets are simple, they manage to re-create what I imagine the atmosphere of wartime and post-war Britain was like.

Iron is just amazing. "Never so good" might be said about his performance. You see what a great actor he is and that he's at the top of his game. And to think he won his Best Actor Oscar for Reversal of Fortune almost 20 years ago -- time clearly hasn't dulled his talents. He walks on stage as MacMillan and captivates. Just great.

Never So Good closes in London in August and currently there aren't plans to do it in NYC. Irons is scheduled to do another play with Joan Allen on Broadway next year, however, called Impressionism. But according to the New York Post, Irons has said he'd like to do Never So Good on Broadway eventually. Let's hope this happens!

Back Home

Ahhh! After spending most of this past week working like a dog in a dreary London suburb, it's a joy to be back in NYC. Got in late last night and am trying to avoid jet lag. Fortunately my flight to the UK and back home were both on time and uneventful (thus no traveling nightmares to report). This was NOT a vacation so the wonders of the UK were largely denied me this time. Oh well.

However, I did get to do two very (for me) fun things: see Jeremy Irons in the play Never So Good at the National Theatre (review to follow) and check out the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms near the Houses of Parliament. If you're a history buff and are ever in London, you must check this museum out: its recreates the actual rooms and offices where Churchill and his people basically ran World War II from.

You see his offices, the rooms he and his wife and generals slept in, the communications centers, map rooms, everything. The Churchill Museum exhibits absolutely everything about Churchill's life. The coolest feature in a huge interactive table in the middle of the museum where you can press on electronic panels (indicated by year) that pulls up nearly everything Churchill in that year, down to the day. It's really amazing. They also show footage from his funeral in 1965 (that includes shots of a very Young Prince Charles) and Churchill's Nobel Prize for Literature. If you though you knew everything there is to know about Old Winston, you'll learn a lot more if you ever go here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mr NYC Across the Pond

Once again, and so very soon after coming back from vacation, I must go away again -- this time not for fun but for "bidness." Da Man is shipping me across the Atlantic to the land of Christopher Marlowe and Johnny Rotten and, in order to earn my keep, I must go. Thus Mr NYC will be dormant for the next week but I should be back on July 26.

If I'm able to get some time and a decent Internet connection then I shall try to blog, so keep checking back. Otherwise, gentle readers, I'll be back in a week. See ya!

Transportation Alternatives

If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you know I kvetch regularly about the transportation problems in this city. (The flooding of the subways last year made me mental.) But ranting and raving is one thing, actually doing something about it is quite another. That's where Transportation Alternatives comes in: this city-wide advocacy group works hard to improve public transit, make New York City streets more pedestrian friendly, promote biking, and try to limit the stream of cars into our city.

Transportation Alternatives member and Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron was kind enough to answer a few questions about this group, and about transportation problems in NYC in general and Queens in particular.

How long has Transportation Alternatives been around and what is its mission?

TA was founded in 1973 and it's mission is to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives. The TA Queens Committee was formed in January 2007 to advocate for these same goals in Queens.

How did you get involved?

After a trip to Holland where I rented a bike for the week to get around I came back to NYC and bought my first bike since I was a teenager off of Craigslist to get around town. Internet research on riding in the city led me to become a member of TA and get the Streetbeats updates. When the Queens Committee was formed I joined and attended my first meeting in the living room of one of our founding members Cris and Rich Furlong.

What has Transportation Alternatives done to make NYC a more pedestrian and bike friendly place?

In Queens we created a community sign on letter that requested the DoT to re-evaluate the Vernon Blvd Greenway proposal, which the DoT eventually did and led to the new Vernon Blvd bike lane. We're currently putting together a traffic study on the intersections that lead to the Astoria Blvd stop and what is know as Columbus Square. We're hosting a block party in Sunnyside Queens on August 10th from 10a-3p to promote re-envisioning public streets for purposes other than driving and parking. June 8th was the first ever Tour de Queens and had 500 people on a 100 degree day.

What is Transportation Alternatives' position on the rent-a-bike idea that originated in Paris?

We're in favor of it and in fact helped plan some trial rent-a-bikes on Governor's Island and in Downtown Manhattan. A bike share like Velib goes a long way to promoting getting more people on bikes for short trips around the city.

What was Transportation Alternatives' position on congestion pricing and, since it has died for now, what else can be done to limit the flow of cars in our city?

We advocated hard to promote CP in Queens and in all the 5 boros. Charging a market price for street parking is a good way to reduce the amount of time drivers spend looking for parking and encouraging drivers to leave the car at home. Improving mass transit options where it is limited, like Eastern Queens, also gives people more options to get around without needing to drive. Bus Rapid Transit, or as the city calls it Select Bus Service, is key to getting mass transit to areas that are underserved now. Bus lane cameras are also good way to cheaply ticket for traffic infractions and to keep non-buses out of dedicated bus lanes, speeding up the time it takes to get from a to b on a bus, but often fail in committee upstate.

As the Queens Committee Chair, what are some of the specific transportation alternatives that this borough should pursue, and are Queens transportation problems different from the rest of the city?

Queens transportation issues revolved around our boro being the largest geographically and intersected by so many highways and wide avenues and blvds, which can make it dangerous at times to take the most direct route by bike. Eastern Queens is sorely underserved by mass transit. Inter-boro mass transit is also lacking, there is too much focus only on travel to and from Manhattan.

I my opinion Queens could use a few physically separated bike lanes along major thoroughfares like Queens Blvd to promote cycling to get around Queens and into Manhattan. BRT service connecting Queens to Brooklyn but also Eastern Queens to transit hubs in Central and Western Queens. BRT service should also go over the Triboro and Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan.

How can New Yorkers get involved with Transportation Alternatives and with making NYC a less car-dependent place?

New Yorkers can join Transportation Alternatives at and/or sign up for updates to Streetbeat to keep up with all the doings and goings ons. Volunteers can join the Queens, Brooklyn or Bronx committees. Writing letters to your elected official and community boards, letting them know they should fund and extend mass transit and the bike network also helps get the word out. And finally New Yorkers can get themselves a bike or a Metrocard and get around town that way, nothing promotes something like doing it.

Thanks Mike!

You can also check out the Queens Committee Google group at

Thursday, July 17, 2008

West Side Story Returns

Great news! West Side Story, undoubtedly the greatest New York City musical of all time, will be returning to Broadway next year. Best of all, it'll be directed by Arthur Laurents, the original author of the musical and director of the successful revival of Gypsy currently on Broadway.

This new version will be bilingual and much grittier than than the movie. It sounds really exciting and I can't wait to see it.

Jets? Yes! Sharks? ¡! in Bilingual ‘West Side’

FYI - West Side Story takes place in the area of Manhattan that Lincoln Center and environs now occupies. The musical and movie were produced in the late 1950s/early 1960s and a few years later all those old tenements and working class housing was torn down. Now, of course, this area is very expensive and chic. But 50 years ago it was a different world. And who was responsible for this huge change to the West Side? You guessed it ... our pal Robert Moses.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sometimes I wonder ...

... what the hell is wrong with white people? And I'm white! It's easy for white folks to say "Oh, it's satiric! See, this is actually making fun of what some ignorant people think about the Obamas" but what this really does is play into those ignorant people's prejudices and, most of all, it offends black people. If The New Yorker did a cover of John McCain in a Nazi uniform, I'm sure most white people would be offended -- and rightly so. So how is this different? Hmm?

For shame ...

Incompetence and Corruption Haunt Crane Work

Hey city government -- get your act together and stop bending over for all the big developers!!

MLB 2008 All Star Game at Yankee Stadium

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It'll Never Be the Same ...

Tonight NYC is hosting its first Major League Baseball All-Star game since 1977. But that's not really what makes it such a big deal. This will be the last major event held at "the house that Ruth built" before it's torn down at the end of this season and the Yankees move to their new beautiful stadium next year.

64 All-Stars and 1 Baseball Monument

That means, besides the rest of the regular baseball games for this season, there'll be no more rock concerts or Papal masses or graduation ceremonies, etc. held there. I guess if the Yanks make it to the World Series then maybe those games will become the last major events at the old stadium but, based on how the team has performed over the last few seasons, I wouldn't count on it.

The old Yankee stadium's days are ticking down, the sand in the hour glass almost all gone. And New York City baseball will never be the same.

So here's to you Yankee stadium. The Babe and the Scooter, Yogi and Reggie, David Wells and A-Rod all did you proud. When you're gone and New Yorkers are filing into your replacement, they may find it more modern and user-friendly. But I'll miss you, ya old dump, because, well ... your seedy greatness can never be replicated. Seedy greatness is what made you, for more than 80 years, part of the soul of this city. Seedy greatness is what makes New York City New York City. So let's hope tonight's All Star Game will give you a good show. You deserve it. You will be missed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How Old is New York City?

This is still an issue for debate. According to the city government, NYC was "founded" in 1625. The Dutch sailors came in 1624 but didn't charter "New Amsterdam" until 1653. I think 1653 should be the birthday year since that's when this area was officially declared a city. Seems obvious to me.

Hmmm? I guess cities are the opposite of people: when they lie about their age, they make themselves older.

Bon Jovi - Livin' on a Prayer - Central Park - July 12th, 2008

You Can't Go to 1994 Again

‘The Wackness’ vs. ‘Kids’: Which Is More Authentically 1994?

Obviously Kids is the more authentic 1994 movie since -- shocker -- it was actually made in 1994. But it's not like the mid-1990s was a very authentic era to begin with, nor was there anything interesting about it, culturally speaking, that makes it deserve a nostalgic paper-dollish treatment (like Boogie Nights did for 1970s LA). The Wackness sounds like history replayed as ... eh.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Back in the New York Groove

Wha? Huh? Where am I? Oh yeah, this is ... New York, New York City ... right?

At the moment my head is spinning 'round and 'round, and I feel like one big mega-relaxed blob. It's been a while since I've been this serene and calm and re-entering reality is taking some time. All of my tension and stress has dissipated and I ain't eager for it to return.

I've spent the last week swimming, reading, eating, sleeping, swimming, eating, sleeping, reading, swimming, sleeping ... egads it was great! The week was totally media-free and I can't explain how relaxing and pleasant it was. Not that I didn't miss the ol' blog but it's good to get away from the white noise of American society and just ... chill. I mean really chill. And chilled I am.

That said, Zen from Debonair Debacles was inspired by my 1994 nostalgia entry from a couple of weeks ago and wrote a great post about her own memories of that odd yet strangely memorable year. You should definitely read it since she knows so much more about the music of that year than I do.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mr NYC Off to an Undiclosed Location

Like Dick Cheney, I am going into hiding. Fortunately it's not because terrorists are looking for me (at least I hope not), it's just a good old fashioned vacation. I may be able to blog at some point from my place of rest but, otherwise, I will return in top form on July 12. Sadly I will miss the free Bon Jovi concert in Central Park that night but please go and have fun and tell me all about it. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Is This the Most Popular Man in NYC?

According to the New York Observer he is.

The Man Who Plays Pat Kiernan on TV

And he's - gasp! - Canadian!