On Wednesday this week, my trip from Cobble Hill to Midtown took me 90 minutes. The subway was experiencing delays, so I went above ground at W4th and cabbed the rest of the trip. Sadly, the taxi portion consumed more than 30 minutes because 6th and 8th Avenues were totally clogged. This has been the case increasingly in NYC, as there are simply more automobiles on the island, than Manhattan can support on an average day. Even in Brooklyn, the roads are jammed. On Tuesday of this week, my drive to Coney Island (to defend a speeding ticket on the BQE, go figure) took 50 minutes.
Just two weeks ago, Sheldon Silver and the Democratic majority of the NY State Assembly vetoed Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan in the New York City Council, preventing the measure from reaching a public vote. While I usually vote Democratic (or even more liberally), I can’t understand the ill will towards this measure from NYC representatives. (Governor Corzine was also opposed to it, but for more obvious reasons, as he’s representing his constituents in NJ.) Automobile traffic in Manhattan has reached epic proportions. Nobody will argue that. Traveling by car mid-day is unbearable. It’s one of the most unattractive qualities of our great city. Can you imagine other global cosmopolitan centers with this issue? Traffic in LA is bad, but it’s all on the freeway. Same with San Francisco. Inner city traffic in DC, Boston or Chicago doesn’t compare. London is crowded, but all the streets are one-way which keeps traffic flowing. Paris….no chance. This measure would have raised an estimated $350 million in federal funds that would be used to improve and add subway capacity. Then, drivers entering Manhattan would be charged $8 for the day. Money also would flow towards bike lanes (an increasingly popular mode of transport) and other greener forms of movement. While yes, some people of lesser means may have lost perceived access to Manhattan, those who truly rely on the city day-to-day would benefit greatly with increased mobility. A city of this size needs the latest and greatest public transportation technology, and this measure would help raise the funds to pay for it. Mayor Bloomberg called the votes against his bill cowardly and I agree on this one. Sheldon Silver was also a major factor in stopping the Manhattan Jets stadium construction plans, a move that would have added some periodic traffic on Sundays, but one that would have revitalized Hell’s Kitchen and brought a professional sports team to the NY Metro area for the first time since the Brooklyn Dodgers. Assemblyman Silver has been in office for more than two decades and usually is elected without challengers. Given his recent voting record, which shreaks of stagnation and fear of change/improvement, it may be time for the Assemblyman to consider his next career. I hope Governor Patterson and Mayor Bloomberg will be able to resusitate this plan that would have benefited so many New Yorkers.
Barack sums this speech up with the essence of why he needs to be our next president. Hope and aspiration don’t solve our problems nor do beautiful speeches, but they are the right places to start if we are to have any chance of accomplishing these feats. Despite what the nay-sayers preach, a leader first needs to be able to articulute our hopes and dreams before we have a chance of living them….
Andrew Sullivan writes a beautiful and cogent article in this week’s Atlantic on why Barack Obama is the best choice to lead our country as the next President. This is one of the best essays and analyses of the leading Democratic contenders that I’ve seen yet. Already leaning towards Obama, I’m now sold.
I’m in Orlando for FETC and engaged in a shocking conversation with a computer science teacher today. After I presented our offering and gave her a tour of the website, she asked if there was any information available on STDs. Afraid where this conversation might be going, I explained that naturally, the answers was "yes, we cover 4 million topics from 135 reference titles – encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc and STDs are certainly included somewhere in there." She explained that her school district couldn’t condone the use of our site since it contained educational information on STDs and "high schoolers are very interested in researching these topics." Ahh…..yeah. Needless to say, the three of us working together were dumbfounded. I’ve heard and read plenty about right-wing fundamentalists, but never necessarily experienced one on this level. To deny children the right to learn and shelter them from understanding issues that will help them protect themselves from dangers that may lay ahead seems like a shocking misappropriation of state and federal resources and a betrayal by the education system in which they place their trust. Do these people truly believe that 17 and 18 year olds don’t know about sex? and/or aren’t thinking about sex? and that teenagers are better served by their parents and teachers looking the other way? I chose not to pursue this debate with the teacher, but the things you see in the heartland are truly amazing…and in this case, disturbing. By the way, in case any of you missed Jim Webb’s Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union….he kicked ass – Jim Webb’s Democratic response
NY1 reported today that the Atlantic Yards project received the required unanimous approval from the three-member board made up of George Pataki, State Senate Majority Leader George Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. With the end of Pataki’s governorship imminent, he was pushing hard to get this through. While I was once in favor of the project, thinking it would help revitalize downtown Brooklyn, I am now firmly opposed to it. The fact is that Brooklyn doesn’t need any help with revitalization. Its neighborhoods, particularly those around the proposed project, are growing
faster and revitalizing themselves as fast as any neighborhoods in the NYC area. Prospect Heights,
Boerum Hill and Fort Greene have already become some of the coolest, most sought after neighborhoods in the borough, if not all of NYC. Traffic congestion in that area, particularly on the
Atlantic/Flatbush intersection, is already miserable and this project will only make it infinitely worse. Forest City Ratner’s current project in the area, Atlantic Terminal, is a miserable excuse for a shopping center – I get frustrated every time I’m forced to deal with the oddly-configured multi-teared maze – and if the new project is going to be any resemblance, it will cause more anger than pleasure. Most significant, the scale of the project appears to be wholly inappropriate for historic Brooklyn, currently made up of mostly three and four-story brownstones. The Atlantic Yards Report blog posted these images showing the project’s scale, which I think are important for more people to see. And I haven’t even addressed the unproven economic forecasts or building aesthetics, the latter of which is both cheap and commercial and make no attempt to conform to the precious existing Brooklyn landscape. I’m a little confused as to why the state is making a decision that ultimately affects the city, but I think its time for us citizens to speak up.
Last weekend, some friends and I found ourselves at a party at the corner of Atlantic and Nostrand Avenues in a neighborhood of Brooklyn known as East New York. Anyone familiar with East New York knows that it’s one of the roughest neighborhoods of the city with some of the highest crime statistics. Of course the neighborhood is also predominately black. Leaving the party at around 1am, one member of our crew, in spite of my suggestion to call a car service, insisted on trying to hail a taxi in the street. Fifteen minutes into this ordeal, with nary a taxi in sight (taxis don’t shop for fares in East New York), she agreed to allow me to call a car.
As a result of these shenanigans, the six of us spent 25 minutes or so standing on the curb of Atlantic Ave in this very sketchy section of Brooklyn. There was undoubtedly some element of fear that I experienced standing on this street, as 20 or so black men and women passed us on foot. Don’t get me wrong…I do not, in any way, harbor any racist thoughts or feelings. Those who know me are aware that I have friends of all color, races and religions. As a travel hound, I also value cultures and crave experiences that are foreign to my own way of life. But on this evening, smack dab in the middle of a culture very foreign to me, I experienced a bit of fear and felt unclear about my willingness to explore it. Aware of this paradox, I turned to my friend Andy (an even more experienced traveler than me) and suggested that we visit the corner bar where most of the passers-by seemed to be congregating. Without much hesitation, he rejected the idea. When I questioned him on it, explaining the paradox above, he expressed that this was not an experience of interest to him; and I couldn’t completely blame him. I certainly wasn’t going to enter the bar alone.
For the past week, this experience has troubled me. Racism still exists in our country and until last week, I believed that I wanted to end it as much as anyone. But from my actions on Saturday night, I’m not sure I can still say this with a completely straight face. If we are less curious about the cultures in the next neighborhood than we are about the ones on the other side of the world, how will our country and people every fully integrate? In my opinion, much of it comes down to psychology. I can’t place the source, but I’ve learned in my studies that behavior is largely dictated by expectations that are communicated in a variety of subtle ways. Malcolm Gladwell speaks to some of this in his books The Tipping Point and Blink. If a white man shows fear when he enters a black neighborhood, black people who witness this will internalize it and begin to think there is a reason why this man should be frightened in their presence. Compounded many times over, this may lead to behaviors that would not have occurred without that judgment having been passed. On the contrary, if Andy and I had visited the corner bar and exhibited confidence and a friendly demeanor, without even acknowledging being the only Whites in the establishment, I’m fairly certain we would have received the same in return. Ultimately, much of it comes down to fear and our own abilities to conquer it. I’m reminded of a memorial I saw touring the Guguleto township outside Cape Town. Amy Bhiel, an American exchange student working as an anti-Apartheid activist, was stoned to death and cut up with knives because she was white, despite pleas from several locals in the community. It’s an awful story, but an illustrative one for the purpose of this article. Her leadership served as a beacon of courage and conviction for South Africa’s fight to overcome Apartheid. Later, during the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, Amy’s parents chose not to press charges against their daughter’s killers, and instead bravely chose to subscribe to the broader cause and movement. One of Gandhi’s famous quotes is "be the change you want to see in the world." If we truly care about ending racism in our country, we should start by removing our own judgments and giving others the benefit of doubt and respect that we hope to receive in return.
As a follow up, this troubled me so much that a few nights later I dreamt I was dating a Kenyan woman, and was struggling to figure out how to integrate her into my white Jewish family. What gives?
I caught one act of When the Levees Broke on HBO last weekend. Despite visiting New Orleans in the
past year and driving through the decimated Ninth Ward, the film’s content and the way it was presented still amazed me. My reaction was one of anger and tremendous disappointment towards our country and government. The federal response has been disgusting and FEMA, part of that response, has shown complete incompetence. The response from corporations involved – mostly insurance co’s and local industry (oil) – has been one of apathy. It’s interesting that these same industies are typically connected with Republican groups. Coincidence? I doubt it. After discussing it with several government loyalists, I have still yet to hear a strong argument to the contrary. If ever there was a clear signal that the leadership of our country is in disarray, this event should be it. New Orleans is one of America’s truly special cities and this makes the situation even more tragic. I’m currently researching Katrina relief organizations and determining what help I can provide.
This photo was emailed to me with the following capton:
Do you see the "problem" with this picture? The last "body" in the back is getting up too early. These are the "57 dead" in Qana and the journalist goes along with it. In case you missed this piece of news last month, Lebanese journalists initially reported that 57 people had been killed including 37 children in the Israeli bombing of Qana. This led to the Israeli government suspending air strikes for 48 hours. Human Rights Watch later reported that, in fact, 28 was the number dead, which included 16 children. Its hard to argue over numbers of dead, especially since I believe every single one of the lives lost in this conflict were killed unnecessarily. However, in the crucial war of public opinion, the Arab nations battling Israel continue to gain support, and with much assistance from foreign journalists who do not seem to care about reporting news factually. I am reminded of the NY Times photo in September 2000 of Tuvia Grossman, a Jewish student from Chicago, blood streaming down his face, which included a caption describing him as a Palestinian victim of Israeli abuse. The report proved to include other factual errors including the location where it was taken. The point here is that a strong anti-Israel sentiment continues to plague honest reporting around the world, particularly reports from the region of conflict. One might expect this type of biased coverage from Lebanese or Syrian sources, but from the NY Times and Washington Post….its very disappointing.
Republican groups have been doing some pretty sneaky (and admittedly creative) stuff to influence the opinions of young voters in America. This isn’t surprising since it was largely their creativity and willingness to play dirty that got W elected in 2004. Ironically, it was the WSJ who uncovered this news last week in an Aug 3 article. Someone uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "Al Gore’s Penguin Army" mocking his film – "An Inconvenient Truth". The 2-min video is neither creative nor intelligent in its message – though I’m still amazed someone can get away with implying global warming is anything less than a harsh reality. What is creative is the method of distribution – uploaded to YouTube and distributed for free to millions of users, mostly in the highly sought after 14-26 demographic. The video has been viewed just under 400,000 times in the past week, so as a marketing ploy, its been pretty damn effective. Thanks to a few curious journalists, it was uncovered that the video had been uploaded from computers at DCI Group, a conservative PR and lobbying firm in DC who counts Exxon among its clients. When questioned about it, DCI would not comment.
In a related story this week, the WSJ reported that marketers are using mySpace to do social marketing by allowing users to make "friends" with movie characters, and other relevant pop culture icons. The article alluded to Ricky Bobby’s mySpace page, a fictional page made to look like one owned by Will Ferrell’s character in the new film "Talladega Nights."
The message here is simple. Marketers of all types who want to influence opinions are embracing Web2.0 technology offerings with a vengeance and taking advantage of opportunities they enable. Social networking technologies enable groups and individuals to interact with a level of ease and accessibility previously unknown. Organizations who want to communicate a message or idea can, for the first time, reach out directly to groups of their constituents. Groups that fail to embrace these new offerings will fall behind, and possibly precipitously so. Its not surprising that media and entertainment groups have been some of the earliest adopters. I am surprised, though, and impressed with conservative groups’ adoption rates. For the sake of our country, I hope Democrats heed these signs and jump on board the bus before its too late.