Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Crooked Lines

The 2010 elections are fast approaching and, this being a year that ends in zero, it means that next year the victors in those elections will get to do something they love most: political redistricting. Popularly known as "gerrymandering", it gives state legislatures the power to draw assembly, state senate, and US congressional lines. What it means in reality is that incumbent politicians draw lines to protect themselves from political challenge. It's a really disgusting, insider, gangster like practice and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of it.

NY1 is doing a week-long series called Crooked Lines, about how gerrymandering perverts our political system and gives us the dysfunctional government we have. It's a definite must-see.

Newtown Creek Gets Cleaned Up

Here's a rare bit of good news: the US EPA has finally designated Newtown Creek a Superfund site.

Newtown Creek is that sliver of water, often overlooked on the map of NYC, that separates Brooklyn and Queens. For more than a hundred years it has been a dumping ground for chemicals and pesticides and all sorts of other nasty stuff that came from the factories and refineries and other industrial businesses that used to exist near there. Superfund designation means that the government will conduct a review and direct a clean-up effort that will be partially funded by the government and private companies (including ExxonMobil that spilled some oil there back in the day).

Believe it or not, the pollution in Newtown Creek is three times worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill up in Alaska. Needless to say, cleaning it up is way overdue and the economic potential for a rehabbed creek are big.

This is a really great thing, a rare instance of the government doing the right thing for the right reason. NYC will be the better for it.

Newtown Creek Alliance

Governor Paterson on Saturday Night

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The World of Khubilai Khan at the Met

Membership has its privileges and, being members of the Met, the wife and I had the pleasure of catching an advance preview of the new Khubilai Kahn exhibit that officially opens tomorrow. And I strongly suggest you see it ASAP (it runs through January 2).

Called The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty, this show examines the impact that the Mongol emperor's dynasty had on the art and culture of China in the 13th century. Unlike other leaders named Khan (Ghengis, the guy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of ...), Khan was what you might call an enlightened despot: he provided religious freedom to Doaists and Buddists, created paper currency and postal services, built roads and waterways, and even established aid agencies (he would probably be viewed by today's Republican Party as a socialist). He also moved the capital of China to what is modern day Beijing and was the emperor that Marco Polo met with (introducing the young Italian to, amongst other things, the noodle).

The art of this period and in this exhibit is fascinating and it is totally unlike Chinese art that I've seen in other exhibits. There are lots of beautiful, long silk scrolls that chronicle the lives of powerful Mongols, jade and golden cups and bowls, and beautiful, gorgeously hand carved statues (including an amazing column that was excavated from Khubilai's "pleasure-dome" Xanadu). What I didn't see was a lot of porcelain pottery and watercolor paintings that you usually see in Chinese art. This art (which, remember, is more Mongolian than Chinese) is very colorful and more formal than most Chinese art. The coolest thing I saw is something that the Mongols put on their front doors called "passports": metal pendants with Mongolian words that must be uttered in order to come into people's homes. We even saw a headstone from this period that was partially in Arabic! (Go figure.)

As a ruler, Khubilai was way, way ahead of his time (by about, oh, six to seven hundred years). And the art in this exhibit demonstrates it: as old as this art is, there is something almost modern and contemporary about it. None of this stuff would feel out of place in an exhibit at a modern art. It goes to show you that art and politics do not necessary progress in a straight line, that there are periods of progress and enlightenment and innovation leavened with periods of regression and ignorance and fear (see Barack Obama vs. Sarah Palin 2010).

The great poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote about Khubilai and composed a poem, the opening lines of which have become very famous (enshrined forever in Citizen Kane):

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is Walmart Coming to NYC?

New York is the city with everything -- except, that is, a Walmart store. A Walmart Superstore, to be precise. Walmart is the biggest and most notorious "big box" retail chain in the nation (and the world), the place that sells almost everything ever invented in human existence (home supplies, food, clothes, books and magazine, you name it). They even provide services like pharmacies and banking. Walmart boasts that it is the ultimate "one-stop shop", the one place where you can get everything you need. And why are they so successful? Because they sell all of this stuff really, really cheap.

Great, right? Hey, you might be saying, we could sure use a Walmart in NYC! Well, not so fast.

Walmart can only afford its cheap prices because: a) it is non-unionized and pays its employees awful wages without any benefits; b) engages in rampant labor abuses like forcing employees to work overtime "off the clock", even going so far as locking them inside the stores. Many of their employees live below the poverty line and are forced to use things like food stamps and Medicaid to live on (i.e. the government/taxpayers subsidize the company); c) forcing companies to shut down their factories in the USA and shipping those jobs overseas -- in order for the companies to produce cheaper goods under the threat that Walmart won't carry them; and d) coming into communities and putting small mom-and-pop shops out of business.

It's a horrible company. It's the epitome of everything that's wrong with corporate America. The people who work for the company are little more than slaves while the people who own it (the Wal family) are some of the richest people on earth. Walmart may be cutting edge as a business, but its practices are friggin' Medieval.

Fortunately, the one place where Walmart has failed to open a store is in NYC. This is still very much a union-town, and the unions and the city council have successful kept the company out of the five boroughs. Like a ravenous caged animal in heat, Walmart has been panting with it's tongue hanging out, trying to break out (or, in this case, in) to NYC -- those 8 million potential customers being their prey. Walmart has been successful just about everywhere else in the country (even Chicago finally let them in) but NYC has remained elusive, its bonanza of customers a figurative White Whale.

I remember about five years ago there was some noise about Walmart coming to NYC but it didn't happen and it seemed like it never would. After all, constructing a huge non-union big box store in NYC would create a huge backlash by the unions and politicians. But it seems like Walmart has found a new tactic -- start small. According to recent reports, Walmart is looking to open small stores in lower Manhattan and Queens, mostly concentrating on groceries. The idea is to give New Yorkers a taste of the Walmart experience (and prices) and build a demand for more and presumably bigger stores. Walmart is using the economic crises as its hook to get into NYC -- after all, they argue, Walmart stories will create badly needed jobs and low prices for those in economic woe. It's an understandable if cynical strategy -- and it might just work.

This is, thankfully, not going unnoticed. Retail alliances and unions are hitting back and want to stop these moves by Walmart dead in their tracks. Many believe that Mayor Bloomberg wants to let Walmart into NYC (suprised?) but fortunately the city council is there to block it. Hopefully they won't change their mind.

Let's hope that Walmart stays out of NYC. It would hammer the NYC economy, force more smaller business to go under, help undermine the unions, and erode the city's character. If you want to learn more about what Walmart is up to, go to Walmart Watch and stay informed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Open Letter to New Yorkers

Last week, former NYC Mayor Koch, former State Comptroller McCall, and former US Senator Al D'Amato released the following letter:

"The victory of Carl Paladino in the Republican Primary was a disappointing day for all New Yorkers. This state has a long history of electing highly qualified, forward-looking statewide candidates - both Democrats and Republicans. Yesterday, however, anger overcame reason and enabled a fringe element to choose the Republican nominee. The end result was the selection of Mr. Paladino, a divisive figure simply not fit to lead this great state.

At a time when we need leaders who can bring New Yorkers together, Mr. Paladino practices a destructive brand of politics that will divide our state. He first came to the attention of most New Yorkers when it was revealed that, for years, he has shared racially offensive emails with associates. Including videos popular with white supremacists, these emails are beneath the dignity of a candidate for high office.

This, however, was merely a preview of what we have seen along the campaign trail. Mr. Paladino was justifiably condemned by the AntiDefamation League and editorial boards alike for referring to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver - a prominent Jewish leader - as the closest thing New York has to an anti-Christ or a Hitler. Most recently, Mr. Paladino offended basic New York values when he suggested that low income New Yorkers should be sent to prison work camps for lessons in "personal hygiene." That type of hateful comment has no place in our discourse, dehumanizing the poor and playing off of despicable racist ideas.

Mr. Paladino is also running a disingenuous campaign. He has portrayed himself as an anti-government crusader, while embodying the very worst of Albany's pay-to-play culture. To quote his own slogan, he is the reason that New Yorkers are "Mad as Hell."

He has personally distributed close to a half a million dollars to federal and state candidates, bankrolling the campaigns of numerous allies. This has allowed him to pocket millions of dollars in tax incentives, sweetheart deals, and scores of government contracts. Paladino's real estate empire takes in over $10 million each year in government rents alone.

There's a reason why even the chairmen of the Republican and Conservative parties disavowed Mr. Paladino's candidacy, noting that he "stands in stark contrast to what the Republican party stands for," that Paladino is a "dangerous candidate," and that he "tries to appeal to the mean spiritedness" of people.

We need a governor who can take on the special interests, not one who is a special interest. We also need a governor who will bring New Yorkers together to take on our common challenges, not drive us apart. Through his own words and actions Carl Paladino has proven himself unfit to serve as Governor - he is exactly the wrong person to lead our state."


Love and the City

Interesting column from the New York Press about a woman who thought she was too cool to have an ordinary relationship. Instead, she and her inamorata thought they could have a post-modern, "post-love" relationship that seemed to be about everything but commitment (forget about marriage and kids, that's way, way too square for these cats).

What she found, in the long run, was that trying to redefine traditional relationships is impossible -- feelings can never be ignored and what people really want, in the end, is a stable commitment. (And when I say "redefine traditional relationships" I'm not implying in anyway that I'm against gay marriage -- I 100% support it.)

Only in the NYC, the author convincingly argues, do people think they're too good for a regular relationship. They think they can have their cake and eat it too. They're way too sophisticated, way too cool for that.


What struck me about this article is that I have known so many people who have tried to have just these types pseudo or "meta" relationships -- relationships that try to have all the fun and joy (like sex, companionship, even social respectability) but that requires none of the attendant sacrifices and responsibilities (like monogamy and family and social obligations). The thing that all of these people have in common is a belief that somehow they're special, that they're too intelligent and enlightened to be bound by regular human emotions, that somehow they're above it all and only dopes and rubes let themselves get "tied down." Well, inevitably, these insane types of non-relationship/relationships end in disaster and people discover they're human after all.

Speaking for myself, I've never thought I was that special. And I'm lucky to have found my lovely wife who makes my life such a joy. I may be a New Yorker, and a damn proud one, but when it comes to love, the (truly) better half and I are as square as they come.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Flushing Queens Tornado Aftermath 09-17-2010

EF1 Tornado Tears Through New York City (September 16, 2010)

What a Week in NYC!

This past week in New York will certainly reverberate for a while and if you had to try to describe it in one word, I think only one pronoun would suffice -- stormy.

As the saying goes, things come in twos. In this case, there were two big storms in New York last week.

Storm #1: the victory of Carl Paladino in the New York State Republican primary for governor. This man, a hardcore right-wing reactionary, is a real estate developer from upstate who shocked the GOP establishment by knocking Rick Lazio out of the race and winning the chance to face Democratic Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in this fall's governor's race. Paladino fancies himself an outsider, just an ordinary (multi-millionaire) citizen who's "mad as hell" with the dysfunction in Albany and is "not going to take it anymore." He vows to cut state spending by 20% and taxes by 10% in his first year as governor, all part of his plan to take a "baseball bat" to state government.

He's insane. And a total fraud. First of all, this supposed "outsider" actually made his fortune by getting lots of contracts with the state -- so it was government "spending" that's responsible for his current candidacy. And he's a racist and bizarre pervert, a man with a well-known habit of getting and forwarding racist and obscene emails (apparently he has the kinds of friends that like sending him jokes comparing President Obama to a monkey and of broads banging horses; and the would be governor apparently has even more friends who he believes would enjoy seeing this junk; "With friends like these ..."). And he believes that welfare recipients should be put in camps and taught hygiene. And he wants to use the power of eminent domain to stop the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan. And he fathered a love child.

This guy is certifiable, totally insane, and he's unfit to be the governor. Want proof? Former Senator Al D'amato, the old boss of the New York State GOP who engineered the victory of Governor George Pataki in 1994, has said Paladino shouldn't be governor. And the Republican candidates for State Comptroller and Attorney General are refusing to endorse him. He's that bad. Andrew Cuomo should win in a walk -- but not be afraid to fight back hard against this guy.

Think how far the New York GOP has fallen. It used to produce great senators and governors like Theodore Roosevelt, Tom Dewey, Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller -- even Al D'amato and Pataki were giants of the GOP. And now what do they offer this state? Carl Paladino. How sad.

Storm #2: this time it was a literal one -- specifically a TORNADO that ripped across Brooklyn and Queens. It happened on Thursday evening, around 5:30 PM, and tore up streets and felled trees that smashed into car and houses. It was quick and scary and has caused millions of dollars in damage. Fortunately the Parks Department, the police and firefighters, and the office of Emergency Management are on the case and working methodically to assess the damage and clean it up. Yes, that's right -- those same government employees that so many like to complain about are actually out there fixing the city after an unnaturally natural event hit the city so viciously. And they're working hard without complaint and without much glory (this isn't like cleaning up Ground Zero after all -- just an act of God). One person was killed which is tragic but fortunately there weren't a lot of injuries. Let's just hope this is the last tornado NYC will see in a while.

So that's the week that was, a stormy one in the literal and political environments of New York. And let's hope the damage they inflicted won't be too long lasting.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Football NYC

Being the great city that it is, NYC is and always has been a great sports town. Baseball, football, hockey and basketball -- we got 'em all. Our teams have their ups (the Yankees) and downs (the Knicks) and they obviously don't win every championship every year but generally we have good teams who are usually competitive. The Knicks used to be great during the Pat Riley/Patrick Ewing era and many think it will be again (the turn down from LeBron James not withstanding). And even though it was sixteen years ago, the Rangers won the NHL championship in 1994 -- which I remember fondly.

That said, it's fair to say that NYC is, above all, a baseball town. Since the days of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Giants to the present of the Mets and the Yankees, New York teams has had more good teams and won more World Series than any other town. (Since 1986, the Mets and the Yankees have won six out of 23 World Series, more than quarter of them.) New Yorkers define themselves, almost to a person, as to which team they follow. NYC and baseball is a long, ongoing, passionate love affair.

NYC and football have had, it's fair to say, a more complicated relationship. Let's call it a FWB kinda deal. Every decade or so the Giants win a Superbowl and that's great but then they usually slink back into mediocrity for the next several years (the Giants aren't like a New England Patriots or the Yankees -- a team that is perennially feared). As for the Jets ... oh boy ... they're like the Cubbies of football. They last won a Superbowl in 1969 under Broadway Joe Namath and since then ... well, let's just say, it's mostly been a ongoing comi-tragedy of suckiness.

Until now. Last year the new quarterback Mark Sanchez took the Jets within a one game of the Super Bowl. And hopes are high that they'll "go all the way" this year. This extensive profile on Jets owner Woody Johnson shows the man and the mentality behind the team that is unrelenting on making it a great team again -- to basically undue forty years of failure and make the Jets NYC's best football team again. But the Giants are giving them stiff competition -- Eli Manning and the team opened the season on Sunday with a smashing 31-18 victory over the Carolina panthers. They're good ... and they're just as driven as the Jets.

So finally, after many years, it looks like football in NYC is going to be something to watch. It's way, way too early to start talking about a "Subway Super Bowl" or anything like that but, if the promise of these two teams is anything like the hype, it might become a reality after all.

Let's hope so.

Monday, September 13, 2010

2010 Primary Endorsements

Tomorrow is primary day in advance of the 2010 state and federal elections. A bunch of people are running for various offices which I previously wrote about and now here are my endorsements (or lack thereof):

US Senate: what's interesting is that both senators this year are up for re-election (Kristin Gillibrand is running to complete the rest of Hillary Clinton's term) and yet they have no serious opposition. I haven't paid any attention to the Republican candidates so I don't care who wins those primaries and endorse no one.

Governor: I heartily endorse Carl Palidino for the Republican nomination to run against Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Palidino is so extreme, so wacked out, so replellent that he will lose the general election in landslide -- so Republican voters, please vote for him.

Congressional 14: This is the only local primary that I'll be able to vote in and I will happily vote to re-nominate Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. She has represented the rather unusual district of the Upper East Side and Astoria, Queens for 18 years. She has been a leader this year in pushing for financial reform and women's pay equality and I have heard nary of bad word about her except from her rather odd opponent. So Carolyn has earned my endorsement.

New York State Attorney General: this one has left me stumped. There are so many good, credible candidates in this race on the Democratic side that it's hard to know who to vote for. I really like Assemblyman Richard Brodsky who has fought to reform and make the public authorities more transparent. State Senator Eric Schneiderman is very impressive too, he's one of the few ethical leaders in Albany. And Nassau DA Kathleen Rice is good too. I'm going to go with Rice in this race, she's been a very impressive DA, really cracked down on drunk driving and has managed to attract crosover support. I think she's the strongest Democrat in what will be a tough year for the party so I say go for her.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ed Koch in Real Life

It's Sunday in NYC, the Christian day of rest, and a day where we New Yorkers who are blessed not to have to work are free to choose the day's agenda. For many that includes brunch with friends and family, going to museums, strolling in the park, hitting the gym, or just "vegging" on the couch at the home. It also usually means errands: shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. to prepare for the week.

So it's interesting to read about what Ed Koch likes to do on his Sundays. Twenty-years out of the Mayor's job, at 85 years old, the ex-Mayor likes to spend his Sundays doing a lot of those types of things as well -- although he gets up much earlier than most other New Yorkers (6:30 AM!) and spends a fair amount of the day writing his columns.

Call it Ed Koch in Real (political) Life: even though he's long out of office, he still needs to use part of every day to shape the public debate and play politics. Once a politician, always a politician, I guess, even on a low-key Sunday in NYC (although he likes to go to the Met so at least that redeems him somewhat).

U.S. Open Tennis Fight - (New) - In HD!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Want Proof?

Today is the 9th anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks on our city and, as usual, there are commemorations and tributes to those were died on that -- and whose lives were permanently changed. All of us living in NYC then were changed by it and the city and country will never be the same again.

The popular refrain, in the days and years since, has been "The terrorists can't win." And they can't. What is it that the terrorists want to "win" exactly? They want NYC and American to change to their perverted idea of some 7th century Islamic caliphate, some kind of mystical Shangri-la that never existed and never will. This is a place where women are subjugated, modernity and progress (science, human rights, technology, music, etc.) are banned, and our way of life no longer exists. Obviously no sane American wants this and 99.9% of Muslims don't believe in this nonsense either. So they can't "win."

You only need to look around at how NYC has thrived in the years since 9/11 for proof that the terrorists "jihad" is quixotic. But when I think about how the terrorists can't win, I like to find the small examples, one that most people wouldn't even think of.

Too whit: this Monday, nine years since 9/11, the city's first Chock Full o'Nuts in 20+ years will reopen -- and there are more on the way. Chock Full o'Nuts was a city-wide chain of coffee shops that were a city icons for decades before they dissapeared in the 1980s. I remembered them as a kid in the 1980s and was sad when they went away. There was something so distinctly New York about them that it felt like a part of the city's spirit has died. But now that part of our spiriit has been re-kindled. You obviously can't compare something like that to 9/11 but the fact that they're coming back makes me smile -- and on a day like today, that's the best you can hope for ... and further proofs that the terrorists can never win.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Now that Labor Day has come and gone (along with Jerry Lewis) election season has officially begun. Here in NYC, there are really only three interesting races to watch: the Governor's race, the Attorney General's race, and the Congressional race in the 14th district.

The two senate races are foregone conclusions: Senators Schumer and Gillibrand will be easily re-elected (they have Republican opponents who have no money, no name recognition, and no business running for dogcatcher let alone the US Senate) and it's pretty fair to say that State Comptroller DiNapoli will win too (he has a slighly more serious Republican opponent but should win anyway).

The Governor's race is also fairly certain: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo should win handily but it will be interesting to see who his Republican opponent will be. It will either be former Congressman and failed Senate candidate Rick Lazio or businessman/teabagger Carl Palidino. I hope it's Pallidino as the Republican nominee because it will only be too sad to watch Lazio lose a second big race, plus Palindino is an outrageous racist and watching him lose will be fun.

The Attorney General's race is also very interesting: there are five Democratic candidates vying for the nomination (Nassau AG Kathleen Rice, State Senators Brodsky and Schneiderman, some former commissioner named Eric DiNallo and a lawyer named Sean Coffey). Schneiderman has won the backing of the Times and Al Sharpton and has racked up a lot of big endorsements. Rice is a proven vote-getter in the suburbs and is believed to be the favorite of Andrew Cuomo. So it looks like the nomination ace will come down between Rice and Schneiderman. Whoever wins will face the Republican Staten Island DA Dan Donovan who's a serious candidate and is backed by Mayor Bloomberg. This remains something of a toss-up.

And the most local race is that between Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and young upstart Reshma Saunjani. Maloney has been in Congress for 18 years and is very well-liked and Saujani is a total unknown. They are both running for the Democratic nomination for this safe seat and Maloney has the power of incumbency but Reshma has managed to raise a ton of money to maker herself competitive. Also, this has turned out to be a nasty anti-incumbent year so there's always the possibility that usually reliable Maloney voters might just go the other way -- but this would be a real, real upset and I don't think it'll happen.

This is just the lowdown on only a few races and politics of New York are always crazy. Your best resource to stay on top of all of this is the New York Observer's PolitickerNY blog where they write about, and aggregate, all of the latest political goings on. It's very up-to-the-minute and detailed and a good one stop shope for political news (and no, I wasn't payed to blog about this).

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chris and Lidia: Food, Show Business, and Nostalgia

A couple of week ago, the always great WNYC interview Leonard Lopate had a surprise guest host -- legendary, Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken. Walken needs no introduction: he is one of the most beloved, amazing actors of his generation. He has made many great movies (Annie Hall, The Deer Hunter, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Catch Me If You Can), has had career on stage (he recently appeared on Broadway and, did you know that he started as song and dance man in musicals?), and even music videos. He is also a frequent guest host of Saturday Night Live and crafted a couple of great characters -- "the Continental" and the music producer always screaming "More cowbell!" Imitating Christopher Walken has practically become a cottage industry -- Kevin Spacey, Jay Mohr and others have received acclaim pretending to be him -- that he will be remembered forever.

By the way, did you know Walken has been married to the same woman for 40+, casting agent Georgianne who casted The Sopranos? And that his mother recently died at age 104? Pretty amazing.

Recently, during Walken's hosting gig he interviewed a bunch of people including restaurateur/TV cooking host Lidia Bastianich. Both grew up in Queens in the 1950s and have knew each other back then (Lidia actually worked in Walken's Bakery in Astoria, owned by Chris's family). In this wonderful interview, they talk about their families and lives growing up back then and Chris talks about his family's bakery and how he used to work in the back. Lidia talks a lot about her career and her memories of Chris's family and they are joined by Lidia's adorable mama who shares her memories of Chris's dad and what a great, hard-working man he man. You don't hear a lot of interviews like this so it's something really special. Enjoy.

Ground Zero Rises

My previous post, which may have seemed a little morose, was a contemplation about where NYC is going -- economically, culturally, politically, etc. I indicated and still believe that our city is at a crossroads -- and that the path we're taking might not be the best one.

However, there is some good news: Ground Zero is finally being built. After almost a decade since 9/11, the lawsuits, contracts, government agencies, etc. seem to have gotten their collective, frustrating acts together and the building is commencing. The memorial should be ready for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 next year and the completed buildings should be ready by 2013. So, while it took a long time, New Yorkers will no longer be condemned with staring at a giant hole in the ground -- Ground Zero will rise again, a tribute to the indefatigable spirit of our city.