Sunday, August 26, 2012

Billyburg Comes of Age

In NYC, like in all thriving cities, the issue of gentrification is a non-stop debate. 

On the one hand there are those who love it when new people move in and new businesses open in areas that were once blighted or down on their luck. There is nothing better, in their view, of the old being made new again, of a neighborhoods being rediscovered and made livable again. On the other hand, however, there are those who fear that the new arrivals are throwing out the old timers, raising rents and prices across the board, and making it too expenses for residents of modest means to stay in the neighborhoods they love and have lived in for years.

This is one of those urban issues that will never be settled and debated for as long as cities exist.

Take the case of Williamsburg. The small neighborhood on the edge of Brooklyn used to be for decades -- neigh centuries -- an industrial mecca of factories. Then, as the factories closed, they were converted into apartments where artists who were priced out of Manhattan fled to. In the last few years, as the neighborhood became "hip" and "trendy", as the artists made it cool (like Soho before it), the rich people came. They started shelling out big buck to live in huge condos and now the financial squeeze is on the residents of what some have called "the last Bohemia."

It used to be that you could afford to starve in the East Village but that hasn't been true for almost twenty years. For the last decade, people could afford to starve in Williamsburg -- but that, sadly, seems to be coming to an end.

You should listen to this interview last week from WNYC with a man named Robert Anasi who has actually written a book about this very subject -- about how Williamsburg has transformed from industrial pit to Bohemia to wealthy playground. 

It is a cautionary tale about the direction this city is going in -- and everyone should hear it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg Updates New Yorkers on Shooting at Empire State Building

Memo from NYC

Willard Romney is going to be formally nominated next week as the Republican party attempts to make him the 45th president of these United States. They argue that Romney is some kind of economic genius who will be able to fix the horrible economic problems that they themselves inflicted on this country when they were last in power under President Bush -- and that, for the last three and a half years, President Obama has been trying to fix.

For the last few years, the GOP has tried to portray Obama as some kind weird "other", a freak of nature who somehow conned the nation into giving him the nation -- and the world's -- most powerful job. They like to portray Obama as mystery man who possesses strange ideas to transform America into some kind of Islamic socialist international state (never mind that Obama killed Osama Bin Laden and refused to fight for Medicare for All in the health care debate). The GOP wants you to believe that Obama is just strange and therefore he shouldn't be reelected.

And, of course, he's black. 

Enter Willard. He's all American! He's a Republican! And he's white! And, gee golly, he'll just make such a gosh darn good president because he's very, very rich. Nothing weird about him!

Au contraire.

Willard Romney is probably the strangest man ever to run for president in American history. 

He looks and sounds like a malfunctioning robot ("severely conservative" anybody?). He once took a picture with a bunch of black kids and said "Who let the dogs out?" He has flipped flopped on every issue imaginable. And he has a pathetic desperation in his voice of a high school virgin begging a cheerleader to rid him of his virginity. The guy is just creepy and strange and gross.

And no, never mind the fact that he's a Mormon -- never mind that Romney believes that God is a man who lives on a planet called Kolub, that he wears magic underwear, that the Garden of Eden is in Jackson County, Missouri and that he, Romney, will one day get his own planet. Never mind that! How's about Romney's finances?

They are truly, downright bizarre.

Yes, he's rich but that's not the issue -- it's that Romney's finances are a complex maze that only a Bernie Maddoff could understand. He has accounts in the Caymen's and Switzerland. He has money in shell company's to hide them from taxes. And he's lied about his money as well -- saying that he left Bain Capital in 1999 while it has been proven that he's been working and getting money from the company since then. How someone with finances like this didn't think these would become an issue in a presidential race -- and who refuses to release his tax returns -- makes him the most clueless president candidate since ... well, ever.

The great website Gawker today has released 950 pages of Bain documents that prove how complex and bizarre Romney's finances are. A person's finances are an extension of the person. 

Which would make Romney the weirdest president we've ever had. Let's hope to God it never happens.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Music in the Streets, On the Air

The following videos capture a few interesting moments in the history of music in NYC.

First, you know him as the other half of Simon and Garfunkel -- Art Garfunkel -- performing his song "A Heart in NY" at Ellis Island. It's a beautiful song, and the place he performs it -- at the entry to America for so many of our ancestors, gives it a special poignancy.

Second -- this had to be one of those moments where, if you were there, you could never forget it. In 1983, in Central Park, Diana Ross gave a concert and it got hit by a spectacular rainstorm. Ms. Ross does a great job keeping the audience in line and, thankfully for her, it did not sour her on Central Park -- she has playground named for her in the same park.

Third, be an "ear-witness" to history. In 1966, on the funky little radio station WBAI, the legendary overnight broadcaster Bob Fass did a wild call-in show with the legendary Bob Dylan. Of course, Dylan wasn't quite the legend he is today in 1966 but he was well on his way. This clip shows what a wild, strange mind he had. Can you imagine Dylan, today, doing a call-in show on overnight New York radio? Take a listen to something that, sadly, shall probably never happen again.

Art Garfunkel: A Heart In New York

Diana Ross Sings in the Rain (Central Park) 1983

Bob Dylan and Bob Fass (WBAI Radio, NY January 1966)