Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Raging Bull

Martin Scorsese is, without a doubt, one of the greatest filmmakers ever. A New York boy, he's made many movies set in his hometown. His 1980s classic Raging Bull may very well be his best film and it was considered by many critics the single best movie of the 1980s.

The story of Jake LaMotta, a boxer with more rage than Mike Tyson ever had, is hard to describe. He was a great boxer, a tragic figure, and a fascinating character. He was proof that human beings are, despite millions of years of evolution, despite all our culture, education, and pretenses to the contrary, animals. Jake LaMotta's rage and extreme behavior showed how ugly and beautiful we all can be, and his story remains haunting. That his hard life became the basis for this film is probably its most redemptive quality. And it gave Robert DeNiro the role of his lifetime.

You should read this fascinating article about how this movie came to be made. It not only redeemed LaMotta but also Scorsese, showing that no one is beyond redemption.

Nooks of New York

It's Census time again and that means the Big G is trying to count every man, woman and child in the country. That's a challenge, needless to say, in a vast land with 300+ million living souls. It's particularly hard here in NYC where there are so many "nooks" and crannies, so many obscure places people live, that counting everyone here is especially daunting.

Let's hope they do though. The more people they can count in NYC, the more representation we'll get in Congress and state government, and the more power our city will have.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Lions of New York

In Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities, the father of main character Sherman McCoy is a partner at a prestigious New York law firm, hilariously called Dunning Sponget. The father is semi-retired but he still shows up to the office most days, does some work and makes some rain. He is called the Lion of Dunning Sponget, a man of sterling character and a lawyer of unquestionable reputation, who can never be fired and never quite retire.

These Lions are real. The New York Times has a short list of them, including recently retired Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau.

Right after I graduated college I briefly worked at a law firm where I saw, roaming the halls every so often, a very elderly man. I didn't know what he did at the firm and he only seemed to show up there once or twice a week. Everyone seemed to ignore him and he seemed to ignore everyone else so I had no idea who he was but he had an absolutely huge office filled with an immense amount of paper and pictures and junk. Later I learned that he was an old partner who had represented kings, queens, vice-presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, famous Old New York families, and was in fact the son (hard to think of him as anyone's son) who had served in FDR's cabinet.


They may be lions in winter but they are certainly keeping warm in some very lucrative cages. And they are links to our history who we should appreciate while they're still here.

Clover Club

Recently some friends and I went to Clover Club in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. It's an old-fashioned cocktail lounge right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and, I must say, a real find.

With an extensive menu, you can get just about any kind of drink you want. There are regular cocktails, wine, champagne, and beer as well as more exotic things like fizzes, Royales, and "Buck and Mules." I had an absolutely delicious cocktail called an Autumn Tryst which was made up of Cognac, pear brandy, and some other liqueurs. My wife had an Eastern Fizz which is made of Bourbon, orange, bitters, and soda. My friends had some drinks I can't remember the name of but they too were really good.

Best of all, they have some reasonably priced and very tasty Savory Bites. We ordered the Crostini (a goat cheese spread on bread, very good) and the Sweet Potato Frites (awesome!) and they went perfectly with our drinks.

The decor is very classy and the service is good and friendly. It is very dark inside but that's typical of most of these kinds of places. However, I really liked it and hope to go back soon. If you ever find yourself in this hip part of Brooklyn and want some good drinks, Clover Club is a must.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Crashing NYC

Remember the movie Wedding Crashers? Remember a few months ago when those people crashed that White House state dinner?

"Crashers" aren't just people who go to events where they're not invited. They're also folks who pretend to be celebrities and use their "celebrity" to do things like get into exclusive clubs and restaurants, score free food and booze, and go backstage at shows. In short, to skip to the head of the line.

I've never understood why people become crashers. Why go somewhere you're not wanted? Is that really fun? It only seems to confirm that you are not someone you wish you were. But this hilarious piece from the New York Press sheds some light on why people do crash.

In February 2001, the author was hanging out at a bar with what he was led to believe was the actress Helena Bonham Carter's posse (she's been in a lot of Merchant-Ivory movies plus Fight Club and is now married to -- or living with -- Tim Burton and appears in all his movies). This led to a series of ridiculous events where the fake Helena and her friends almost got backstage at "Saturday Night Live." The author had some legitimate pull there and was used by these crashers to get in. I don't remember hearing about this then but apparently this incident ended up in Page Six and caused something of a hubbub back in those days just before 9/11.

What's great about this piece is that it makes you understand why people crash.

This fake Helena and her friends were at this bar, just hanging out, when one of the people working there asked if she was the movie star. When this woman lied and said yes, suddenly she and her friends were getting free champagne and exclusive seating. What was the point of being honest and just giving that up? Is a movie star somehow more worthy of free booze than a regular person just by virtue of being famous? Who was this hurting? The bar owners were dumb enough to give "Helena" and her friends free booze so why shouldn't these folks, they figured, get it too?

And that's what motivate crashers. It's revenge on those who give and are given things for free just because they're rich, famous, beautiful, powerful, connected, whatever. Crashing is about exposing how the world really works, showing why some people get the good stuff in life for reasons that have nothing to do with things like being honest, hardworking, virtuous, and good. You know, the things we were taught as children were important but, as grown-ups, find out really aren't.

Crashing is a form of terrorism in a way. It's the most harmless kind to be sure, but still a hostile act: outsiders lie and steal in order to become insiders -- if only very briefly -- so as to hurt and humiliate the very people they hate because they are not them. There's no excusing crashing just like there's no excusing any act of terrorism but the more you think about it, the more you understand why some people do go to that extreme: when people feel that they have no chance in life to get what they want or think they deserve well ... then they'll just take it without asking or hurt those who they think are denying it to them.

When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

Interestingly enough, this week, I was invited to an exclusive party where there will be a few celebrities. I've never been invited to such an event before but why was invited now? Because I have a blog! And for no other reason. I may or may not go but, if I do, I'll blog about it here. Why might I not go? Because I've always felt like an outsider, I've always been one, and, unlike crashers, in many ways I'm more comfortable being on this side of the fence. And that's why I might not go: because even though I've been invited, if I go, somehow I'll feel like I'd be ... crashing ...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Memo from NYC

President Obama's been in office over a year now. In my humble opinion, he's doing a great job. I know this flies in the face of the media, the Republicans, and the political intelligentsia's consensus of him, in which he's doing a horrible job. Never mind that he still has a 50%+ approval rating -- according to these brilliant folks, everyone in America hates him. He's a huge "disappointment"; "What happened to 'hope and change'?" And on and on and on. Because these insiders hate him so much, in their line of thinking, so does the rest of the country.

They are America, and so can we.

But no question about it, President Obama's had a rough year. Healthcare reform has stalled due to the Democrats dithering and financial reform is facing vicious resistance from -- who else? -- the financial industry! (Never mind that they caused this economic catastrophe in the first place -- it's just so unacceptable to them that the government dare try to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. Dah' noive!). And even though the bailout and stimulus plans prevented this country from slipping into an even deeper economic crises, the economy is still in very rough shape. Like most people I found the bailout and stimulus plans -- plus the resulting deficits -- distasteful. However, I viewed them as the economic equivalent of chemotherapy: as awful as the treatment is, leaving you feeling even sicker afterwards, it's quite preferable to the alternative, namely (economic) death. So thanks to President Obama, Congress, and the Fed, America is now recovering from a nasty recession instead of wallowing in another great depression.

But Presidents don't get credit for preventing depressions, only booming economies, and one of those is a long way off. Also, in tough times, it becomes uber-fashionable to bash the government both for not doing enough to solve the problems and for creating the problems in the first place. Never mind, in this case, that it was an out of control private sector that caused this mess and it's the government that's mopping it up. We can only vote against the President and the Congress -- not against Wall Street or the real estate industry -- so the political deathmatch continues.

Still, President Obama admirably labors on. And not only in economic matters.

He deserves credit for banning torture, re-establishing the rule of law, and improving the nation's image around the world. Yet these are intangibles -- it doesn't give any one a job. And none of this is easy and all of it is politically treacherous.

Cleaning up the slime of the Bush presidency and years of Republican misrule has ignited heated opposition from -- guess who? -- the Republicans! This is understandable. After all, his election was a total rebuke to their party, their governance, and their worldview. And he has kept his word since taking office, trying to pull us out of their wreckage. Needless to say, the Republicans are offended by this and, more importantly, very scared that if he's successful he'll do great damage to their future electoral prospects. So they're currently doing everything they can to ensure he fails, in order to make themselves look more politically palatable -- specifically, this November.

The scary thing is, it might work.

The Republicans are, in the words Bill Kristol, one of their intellectual henchmen, going for "the kill." And the Democrats are predictably acting like lambs at the slaughter.

Predictably. After first, I didn't understand why the administration and Democrats in Congress were so caught off guard by the Republicans exasperating, mean spirited, destructive opposition. Did they really think the Republicans would behave any differently out of power than in? Haven't Democrats learned anything about how Republicans operate after all these years?

Then I realized something. Something fundamental about the differences in the DNA of both parties.

Republicans look at Democrats and think, "They're bad people. Whatever we do to defeat them -- break the law, violate longstanding norms, engage in violence, use hate speech, shred the very Constitution we supposedly love -- is fine because it helps put us in power. "

Democrats look at Republicans and think "They're not bad people. They're good people who just disagree with us. And we should debate them civilly, work with them when we can, and respect the political process."

And so this nation's existential nightmare continues.

It's not so much a partisan divide as much as an attitudinal divide that's wrecking our country. The Republicans want to destroy the Democrats while the Democrats want to work with the Republicans. One side is engaging in battle while the other side wants to ... debate ... In short, there's a political war in this country and one side doesn't realize it.

This is not a choice the Democrats have right now. Or ever. They have to fight! I hope they realize this and sometimes I think they do but more often than not I see they don't. They have to wake up and start fighting the Republicans like their lives depend upon it because lives do depend on it -- their political lives as well as the physical lives of their constituents. This is a political war and there are no rules, there are no norms, the gloves are off, and all tactics (except illegal ones) are acceptable. And until Democrats start looking at Republicans as bad people -- which is what they are -- and develop a war-like, take-no-prisoners, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead mentality -- in short, until they start hitting the Republicans harder than the Republicans hit them -- then the Democrats will keep losing.

And the people that the "party of the people" are supposed to represent will continue to suffer for years to come.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

QT in NYC?

Like most guys who came of age in the 1990s, I worship Quentin Tarantino's movies. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, and Inglorious Basterds are examples of American film making at their finest. They are a reminder that movies can be both artistic and complex while also entertaining to the masses. He puts shallow and pretentious movies to shame.

Being a man who is defined by film, QT has understandably lived most of his life in Hollywood. But now comes word that he might be looking to move to New York. According to today's Daily News, QT already has an apartment here in Greenwich Village and apparently he's planning on "relocating" here soon -- probably sometime after the Academy Awards in March (where Inglorious Basterds and QT himself have scored major nominations).

I hope QT moves here and I really hope that he makes a movie in and about NYC. Certainly our fair city isn't starved for great directors who live and work in this town -- Scorsese, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Sidney Lumet and others live here and have made great movie about this city, obviously -- but it would be so great to get see QT apply his film making genius to NYC and to see what he came up with.

That would be amazing.

After all, his movies are largely re-imaginations of classic genres: Reservoir Dogs was LA Noir, Pulp Fiction came from the same vein as well as sharing some similarities to Blaxploitation, Jackie Brown was pure Blaxploitation, the Kill Bill movies were pure Hong Kong, and Inglorious Basterds is the most brilliant and unique war movie since Apocalypse Now.

So if QT comes to live here, perhaps he'll dabble in the New York movie scene. He has much to choose from. He might re-imagine the classic New York romantic comedy (at least one of the characters, however, will get have to get his or her head blown off) or perhaps he'll do a classic NYC crime movie ala The French Connection or Taxi Driver or something like that.

Whatever he does, if he comes to live in NYC and does that, it sure will be a movie I will want to see.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blind Date with a Legend

Ever had a blind date?

Many of us have. Sometimes they become great love stories. Most times they are the first and last date for their participants.

And then there's that blind date that becomes a "I knew [insert pronoun] once."

Such was the case for a young New York woman in 1946 when she had a blind date with a slightly older man. The date was sweet but a love affair it was not meant to be. Off her gentlemen caller went and life ground on for this young lady, who later married and had a good life.

But one day she heard there was a short story published that seemed to be about their date and this lady got chills. The blind date had become a quite famous writer and he had obviously mined their one meeting for his material. And what was the blind date/writer's name?

JD Salinger.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

NYC Trivia - Past and Present

During my recent visit to the Transit Museum, I learned some wonderful historical trivia about NYC that I want to share. Also, I have a couple of other interesting present-day tidbits for you to enjoy.

Where did the Dodgers get their name? Before they were the LA Dodgers, this great baseball team was born and bred in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Dodgers were born in 1845 and went through a variety of names until 1911 when they were given the name the Trolley Dodgers. Because of the plethora of trolleys in Brooklyn, Manhattanites had derisively called Brooklynites "trolley dodgers" so Brooklyn decided to co-op the name and give it to their hometown team. In 1913, the name was shortened to Dodgers and the rest is baseball history -- namely, that the Dodgers went West in 1957, never to return.

Who was Elizabeth Jennings? Just imagine what NYC and America was like in 1854. Slavery was still legal in much of the country and segregation was everywhere, even here in NYC. On July 16 of that year, a young black schoolteacher named Elizabeth Jennings wanted to go to church. She was the organist and was running late so she tried to do something that no black person would ever dare do -- ride a streetcar. When she tried to get on, the conductor demanded she leave. The conductor and driver attacked her, called a cop, and she was forcibly ejected.

A proud woman from a proud family, she decided to sue the Third Avenue Railroad
company. The incident gained some publicity and Jennings got an ambitious young lawyer to take her case.

She won. The court ruled that:
"Colored persons if sober, well behaved and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the Company, nor by force or violence." From then on, the streetcars -- and later the subways and buses and all public transportation in NYC -- were desegregated. And even though America had a long way to go after that (ending slavery, ending Jim Crow laws, passing civil rights, electing the first black president), this was a small light in a dark era, and a proud moment in our city's history.

By the way, the name of the lawyer that represented her was a 24-year old named Chester Allen Arthur who later became president of the United States in 1881.

Moving on to the present day ...

What's this building? If you've ever been on 10th street and 6th avenue, you've probab
ly seen this striking building and wondered about it. Well, here's a little history. Today it is called the Jefferson Market Library but it used to be the Jefferson Market Courthouse. Built between 1874-1877, one of the architects of this building was Calvert Vaux who helped design Central Park with Frederick Law Olmstead. After the building was abandoned as a courthouse in 1945, it lay empty and was targeted for demolition. However, a community activist named Margot Gayle led an effort to save it -- and was assisted by the great writer Lewis Mumford and the poet e.e. cummings. Who would have thunk it? And thank god they did. This wonderful building is now a National Historic Landmark, protected for history and our children.

The NYC of "24": I have never seen -- nor plan to -- the TV show "24." Somehow a show that openly endorses the use of torture and has a neanderthal mentality isn't my cup o'tea. That said, this season, from what I understand, the show is set in NYC and is "redrawing" the map of Manhattan. In fairness to "24", this is not the first show or movie to tinker with the geography of the city. The New York Times provides a short write-up and a map about how Hollywood has re-mapped our fair city.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Transit Museum

Recently I had the pleasure of going back to the The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights. I'd been there a few years ago but since then they've done a massive overhaul of the place and it's now one of the best museums in town.

Located on the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Streets, you descend into the museum like you would a regular subway stop. In fact, the entire museum is a regular subway stop! As you enter, you come up to an old fashioned token booth where the cost for the entire museum is only $5 (or $3 for kids and seniors; a real bargain). You then go into a tunnel where you learn about the history of how the subways were built. You see how they dynamited underneath the streets, how the workers toiled, and also the various tools they used to hack through the rock and earth. This museum doesn't sugarcoat how hard this was. The work was dangerous, treacherous, and lots of workers died. You really appreciate what an amazing undertaking the building of the subways was -- and what a human toll it took.

This is only the beginning of the museum's wonders. There are several special exhibits as well: The Last Day of the Myrtle Avenue El (El trains used to populate the cities but today they are no more), The Triborough Bridge: Robert Moses and Automobile Age (a history of how this amazing bridge came to be built and how it changed NYC for better and worse), and Where New York Began (a show of discoveries at what is now the South Ferry stop). This month there is a Black History Month exhibit on how African-Americans contributed to the building of our transportation system as well as a special exhibit about the building of the LIRR.

What's best about the Transit Museum is that it's interactive. There are replicas of city buses where you can sit in the driver's seat and "drive." Most fun are the old turn styles and subways cars. The museum has a subway car from almost each decade of the 20th century with the original seats and
ads. (Did you know that subway seats used to be padded -- with straw?!) Some of the old-time ads are amazing (for Stetson Hats: "84 out of 100 women prefer men in hats"; in a 1960s car, there's an ad that announces "Sean Connery is 007 in 'Thunderball'!). The old cars are really amazing and beautiful and it literally is a walk back in time when you stroll through them.

The turn styles are a lot of fun as well. You can go through turn styles from 1907 to today. There's also a big exhibit about the history of the token -- how the subw
ay was a nickel from 1920-1948, then a dime from 1948-1953, and then the first token was introduced in 1953 when the fair was raised to fifteen cents.

Most interesting, there's a big exhibit on the history of money trains. These were special trains that ran late at night that would stop at each station across the city (there were usually about a dozen or so trains running each night) and collect the money deposited by riders during the day. The workers would take the bags of coins collected at the turn styles or token machines, count it against a ticker, haul it into the money train, do this at several stations, and then all of the money from all of the stations across the city would be counted in a huge secret safe room in Brooklyn. On January 13th, 2006, the money trains ceased to exist. However, at the Transit Museum, you can tour some of the old money trains, a piece of NYC history that is lost but not forgotten.

There's so much to see at the Transit Museum and I've only cracked the surface of it. If you're a subway junkie and a lover of this city and its history like me, I urge you to go there ASAP.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

V-Day in NYC

Yes, that's right, it's here again, that most wonderful time of the year -- Valentine's Day.

February 14th is just days away, and I know how excited you all are. Married people, people in relationships, and those living-in-sin are now obligated to spend money on their significant others while those who are still single can either feel depressed that they're alone -- or be happy that they're saving money.

Ta-mato, toe-mato, I suppose.

My lady and I have our own Valentine's Day ritual but for those of you wondering what to do on this upcoming V-Day weekend, GoNYC has links to comprehensive info about romantic restaurants, bars, hotspots, even chocolate stores where you and your l'object d'amour can celebrate together. In these tough times, you'll not only be warming each others hearts but you'll also be pumping some much needed cash into the ailing NYC economy.

And talking about pumping, you might want to visit NYC Condoms for info about playing it safe this Valentine's Day.

Finally, Some Good News

New York Senate Expels Monserrate Over Assault

This guy got exactly what he deserved.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Mayor Bloomberg King of New York, Is Democracy for Sale?

Interview: Suzannah B. Troy

If anyone is Jane Jacob's 21st-century, digitally-savvy successor, it would be Suzannah B. Troy -- the most outspoken political activist in NYC.

On YouTube, on her blog, and in the streets, Suzannah shines a bright light on things that the powers-that-be in this town would prefer you not notice: community destroying development, the vanishing middle class, official negligence, and the political cronyism that enables it.

Needless to say, the big media in NYC does its best to ignore people like Suzannah so Mr NYC decided to see if Suzannah would share her thoughts on these topics and she happily obliged. The interview is below:

You're an artist and outspoken political activist. Tell us a little about yourself and what fuels your art and activism.

I found the "on switch" when NYU targeted St. Ann's at 120 East 12th Street. I urge people to pass by and see the new hideous mega dorm. The facade from 1847 is still there fronting yet another zone busting mega-dorm. NYU mega-dormed the East Village to death.

I got the Parks department to return bathroom doors to the women's bathroom in Tompkins and DOT wrote me in response to passionate letters and a drawing of Alfredo Feliciano asking for two speed bumps for schools on the Lower East Side. A public member of the community board told me I would never get them. I have a letter from DOT stating they are coming and thanking me for caring about school safety.

Bottom line: write the city directly, write the newspapers, make YouTubes and band together.

I am part of a group Fed Up New Yorkers that fought Bloomberg and we wanted to hire a bus and drive from borough to borough protesting no third term. Judging by how close the election was I am sad we never got the bus!

Bloomberg's soul crushing tsunami of community crushing development really got me started using the term activist and take action.

How long have you lived in NYC and what makes you take such a big interest in the city's fate?

A big part of my family was born here including my maternal Grandfather on Ludlow Street in 1904. To have me they moved across the border to NJ and I moved back to the city in 1984. I have lived the most years of my life here. When I was six weeks old we moved to England for a year. I've lived there two years.

My first apt was an illegal sublet on Carmine St. Her rent was 100 dollars and she charged me 350.

I picked the Village because there were very few tall buildings and the light was spectacular. I loved how it was truly a village. I love the buildings, even the trees and nature seem beautiful and rebellious. I love the NY character and characters. I am one and I am sure you are. I love the passion.

Like you, I'm concerned that NYC is turning into a bland playground for the rich, squeezing out the middle and working classes. What do you think can be done to turn this around?

Bloomberg and socialite mega-millionaire city planner Amanda the peoples' Burden have crushed this city with reckless development fueled by the very same stupidity and greed that brought down this city.

It truly may take a revolution to turn this city around. If not a revolution than new dynamic leaders that truly care about the people. Benjamin Lesser of The New York Daily News wrote some articles that exposed city council members including Christine Quinn getting kickbacks aka campaign donations from developers.

New leadership, reform or a revolution...

You're a ubiquitous presence on the web and YouTube. Tell us how many blogs, websites, and YouTube videos you have, and how you use digital technology in your art and activism.

Short answer: a lot. All 334 YouTubes were removed before the election or theft of a third term by king Mike for 28 hours. Many activists spoke up on my behalf and Norman Siegel represented me.

Google wrote me an apology.

I use my IPhone and film as events unfold and post immediately to YouTube from the street.

The Villager and NYU hosted the debate between Christine Quinn and her opponents. Somehow magically Quinn's people all got to the front of the line and in. The Villager turned away the press including NY1. They told NY1 you had to stand in line with everyone else. I caught [them] turning away a senior citizen, long term community member who made an Olympic effort to get there in a wheel chair. Norman Siegel, I and some really dynamic activists fought hard and eventually we got him in. Huffington ran a piece on it. The IPhone described in the article as NYU's public relation nightmare is mine.

The associate editor Lincoln Anderson of The Villager sent me all these emails harassing me. I had told him to leave me alone and he didn't. I filed an aggravated harassment complaint.

The Villager and NYU backed Quinn who sold out to developers and Mike Bloomberg. John Sexton of NYU ran down to testify [that] Mike Bloomberg must have a third term. Sure, Mike and Amanda Burden care more about students than they do about New Yorkers.

The voters sent a message to Mike. The most humiliating and expensive win. It was proof we can't rely on newspapers and we have to take to the streets with video, go to churches, community centers, make YouTubes, blog because the media, even most little rags, are owned by developers or mega rich in bed with Bloomberg.

The night of the election they finally had to go off script and report the truth ... the election was too close to call.

Could you imagine is the press had given protesters some coverage, ditto for Tony Avella and Bill Thompson?

Mike Bloomberg barely won. The next morning I was receiving calls congratulating me.

You protested at Mayor Bloomberg's latest inauguration. What other kinds of protests and activity have you done and what advice can you give to other aspiring political activists?

I answered some of this already like getting bumps that DOT has promised to install by two schools not that far from where the tenement house were my Grandfather was born.

I have been urged to keep making my YouTubes even though I have to admit I am exhausted. My newest slams Mike for burdening tax payers to what The New York Post estimates is 2 million dollars to hire his campaign staff when he should and could have payed out of pocket. It is criminal to do vanity hires for his legacy when he is closing homeless shelters, firehouses, libraries, schools and laying off people! So I got on YouTube and made a series.

Many New Yorkers don't have computers so you have to get out on the streets to get your message out.

The city has a tremendously rich history of dynamic activists using every way possible to protest and I am sure the future will bring more ways that maybe we haven't begun to even fathom.

I am moved by how many hip New Yorkers bring their kids to protest. We had a stunning girl holding a protest sign at the mass eviction at 47 East 3rd Street. She is our future.

My advice is be passionate as if today is your last day on Earth because it just might be. Hold on to your passion!

What are your favorite things about NYC and your favorite places in the city?

I love what is left of the historic buildings, culture and history. I love the energy and the diverse mosaic of people. I will be in the subway crushed together with the broadest range of people, all colors, mixes, ages and I think wow they are beautiful and you won't find this mosaic in LA, Tokyo, anywhere.

Tell us something about yourself and NYC that most of us don't know.

Short answer: I did grunt work on the film Wall Street. That was not the original ending which was darker. Oliver res-hot the end which I thought was a mistake.

Long answer: after Sept 11 I can't express the pain, upset and grief but anyone here, anyone who lost someone knows the feelings.

At some point later I met this fireman that was clearly shaken. I think he had spent too much time digging in the rubble. I remember when Rudy tried to tell the FDNY they could no longer take the trucks down to pick up their guys if and when they were lucky enough to find the DNA. Of course they did go down.

He was huge! He looked like he walked out of a photo of New York firemen from the turn of the century. He was divorced, maybe six foot five and I call him Mr Heaven on Earth.

We were so sad and a service was coming up to honor a hero at St Patrick's we both knew. This guy did CPR on my soul. I am still in shock about Sept. 11 and I can't believe it happened. He was this one positive light.

I voted for Bloomberg twice and I would never vote for him again. He destroyed the city pushing massive displacement and pushing all these sky piecing mirrored buildings reflecting a history destroyed and communities no longer welcome.

I ask myself if this is another horrifying bad dream like 9-11 that I can't wake up from. I look around the city and I am shocked. It is unrecognizable, soulless, so many empty store fronts ... People have been forced out.

I do think about leaving. Reuniting with Mr Heaven on Earth or someone like him and finding some more Heaven outside NY.

I know whether I stay or go so many dynamic activists will keep on keeping on as they have before me and will after I am gone. I think of the kids that showed up with their parents to protest and truly I think a revolution maybe needed to bring change.

Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me.

Thanks! After this interview, Suzannah sent a couple of short notes which I'm happy to include here:

The air sale over St. Ann's by the USPS to NYU was illegal because the USPS never notified the State of New York as legally obligated. I called Environmental Crimes at the State Attorney General Offices and had him talk with Andrew Berman of Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation. He said we had a case. I gathered we needed as much money as NYU and the USPS to go after them. But still make the phone calls, leave a paper trial and blog on.

I would advise activists to seek out lawyers. Norman Siegel has been critical to me. I even discussed the law re: putting up my Mike Bloomberg King of New York Poster. I wanted to put the poster on every empty store front to highlight Mike's new NY but Norman said I could get ticketed so I turned to YouTube.

Thanks again!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Has it all been a lie?

For the last two decades, city officials have boasted about dramatic reductions in crime in NYC. Each year since 1994, Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg have proudly announced plunging crime rates, pointing to various statistics and the use of things like CompStat and "broken windows" policing.

For these mayors and their flunkies, this has been political gold. Crime is at historic lows! The city is safer than ever! And on and on and on. This is the main reason our city has had Republican mayors for the last 16+ years. Can't trust those weak on crime Democrats, they argue, the Republicans are tough on crime and have the results to prove it.

But what if it was all a lie? What if those statistics were a fraud?

In the last decade, there have been scandals in things like accounting (Enron, Bernie Madoff, etc.) and war ("proof" that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction turned out to be less than accurate). Until now, however, no one questioned the drops in crime in NYC. Numbers don't lie, went the argument and besides, everyone felt like crime was going down dramatically so that must mean it was true, right?

Not so fast. Today there is a bombshell article that indicates that there was intense pressure on the police to cook the books and manipulate the figures to make it look like crime was a lot lower than it was. Mostly this meant discounting serious crimes and felonies as misdemeanors. Other changes were regarded by cops as unethical. Most of these revelations come from retired police officers who indicated that the golden years of crime reduction weren't so golden after all, and that the public was being fed a bunch of phony, misleading crime statistics.

Sadly there is no smoking gun in these surveys. It just doesn't look very good. But it has lead me and others to believe that our city might not be quite as safe as our public officials want us to believe. And if this is true, it's a disgrace.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Court of Mayor Bloomberg

If you read history (or fairy tales), you know all about Kings and Queens and their courts. Not courts like courts of law, but courts that were extensions of the royal household, where the men (mostly) and the women (i.e. mistresses) who had the monarch's proverbial ear helped him or her rule the realm.

Since we live in a republican democracy, we don't really have courts but, hey, come on, people who work in the White House or for governors or chief executives are effectively courtiers if they're anything at all. All powerful people have their courtiers -- including big city mayors.

And what big city mayor is more royal than our own Mayor Mike? Everyone calls him the King of New York and he's just that in everything but name only. Actually emperor is more like it, since his power extends beyond politics into both business and media. He controls and influences all of it like the Tsars in Russia used to do.

And like a Russian Tsar, Mike is living large and rewarding his courtiers while the people suffer. Bloomberg is paying his closest fifteen aids high six-figure salaries. Meantime, for "budgetary reasons", he's closing firehouses, not paying teachers enough, and foregoing our city's security by not hiring a new class of police officers. He's also taking an axe to the city budget, slashing programs that help the poor, all in the name of "fiscal responsibility." And yet ... and yet ... there seems to be plenty of money to reward his courtiers, most of whom worked on his re-election campaign, huge salaries.

Now I'm not naive. In these brutal economic times, the mayor has no choice but to slash the budget. Unions and special interests will scream but that's what they're in 'bidness' to do. I hold no brief for them.

But Mike, come on, giving your staff and flunkies, your already wealthy courtiers, huge salaries in the midst of a budget crises is unseemly and grotesque. Oh, I know the argument: we want to hire the "best" people in key roles in city government. That's always your argument. But aren't these "best" people folks who love their city and might be willing to work for a little less -- say $99,999 a year? These salaries are obscene -- especially when one of those you just hired was recently hit with an ethics fine by the board of elections. The fact that this person is still on the city payroll is simply unacceptable.

So Emperor Mike and his courtiers live large while the rest of us do more with less and go without. It truly shows that if you break a certain glass ceiling, if you join the court, get into the club, then no matter the economic weather, you'll have shelter from the storm.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch - Elaine Stritch

Elaine Stritch has been singing and acting in movies, TV and on the stage for decades. And at age 85 she's at the top of her game -- winning Emmy's for her turn as Alec Baldwin's crazy mother on "30 Rock" and selling out her performances at the Cafe Carlyle (I tried getting tickets -- really, really expensive tickets -- and they're all sold out). Anyway, here's Elaine Stritch singing one of her signature tunes, "Ladies Who Lunch", from the Stephen Sondheim musical Company (the original production of which she appeared in 1970).

In an era where old New York is vanishing, Elaine Stritch is a class act whose act will never get old and will never fall out of fashion.