Saturday, May 16, 2009

Yet Another Pretty Map

Rikers and Roosevelt Islands are beyond the pale

I am re-posting this with additional thoughts, updates.

Hey! Look at the pretty colors... At TripTropNYC, you enter your street address and the site grades the average time of travel according to a rainbow spectrum. That gives you a decent average, I suppose, with all trains and buses running normally (and these days, none of the MTA is running anything close to normal).

Then TripTropNYC also lets you compare time of travel between two addresses, by subway. Again, sort of useful, I guess. Most New Yorkers who have used the subway system regularly would be able to guesstimate times fairly accurately anyway. But the colors are pretty! As the site's creator amusingly puts it: "It's also a nice way to tell your friend to stop inviting you to the purple part of the Bronx."

I was further entertained to find that the creator, Jonathan Soma, also created a Singles Map some time ago. This issue — presumed ratios of males to females in various parts of the U.S. — has arisen as a matter for discussion between myself an a straight, single female friend, who chooses not to return to New York because she says there could be (hyperbole alert) as many as 86,000 single women per 3.4 single men in New York City, and given that 2.7 of the 3.4 are gay, then she will remain single for at least 234 years. So, behold the (admittedly heteronormative) interactive Singles Map!

Ink-stained Retching

The Wall Street Journal: 'President Obama deserves credit for finally identifying an industry he doesn't want to rescue -- ours. Pressed about a bailout for struggling newspapers, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last week that while it's sad for cities to lose their daily papers, any public assistance "might be a tricky area to get into." He added, "I don't know what, in all honesty, government can do about it."

That wisdom apparently doesn't extend to Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who held a hearing on the future of newspapers -- and how the federal government can help...

Mr. Kerry is especially worried about the Boston Globe, which admires him greatly and was recently threatened with closure in a showdown between unions and its owner the New York Times Co.'

A Time To Fight the Wrong War in the Wrong Place

In memory of deputy U.S. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and his lovely, lovely ideas.

"In Iraq," Wolfowitz said,
He said, "In Iraq,
Memories of the Hussein dictatorship
May provide 'a unifying force.'

They may lead people to say,
"Wait a minute, remember what it was like when we
Fell to quarrelling with each other,
With each other

Or when we let the army get too strong,
Too strong,
Or when we let decisions be made by force,
By force."

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Time To Fight

I'm reading this at present. So far, so-so.

Senator Jim Webb (Dem., Virginia), roots in Northern Ireland, has led an interesting life (Marine Corps, Vietnam, injuries, then a long career as a writer and journalist, before winning election to the U.S. Senate by a tiny majority of votes). Much of what he decries as wrong with America in the first few pages of "A Time To Fight" are issues which the Obama campaign brought to national attention (growing opposition to the Iraq war, health care costs, the environment, politicians exploiting petty obsessions with gay marriage/abortion). But he seems to be as sincere and genuine an egotist as ever girded himself for service in the arena of the United States Senate.

And yes, he is a fighter: he boxed from the age of twelve, and I can attest to memories of various Webb families in and around my home town of Dungannistan, Northern Ireland, many of them wild, fightin' men and equally wild women; hilarious tales are told.

More telling a tale about Webb, is this gem: November 28th, 2006, a reception is held at the White House to welcome newly elected members of Congress. According to a Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, aides warned President Bush to be "extra sensitive about talking to Webb about his son, since Webb's Marine Corps son had had a recent brush with death in Iraq."

The President approached Webb and asked him, "How's your boy?" Webb, who campaigned as a veteran utterly opposed to the Iraq War, replied: "I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President."

Bush responded: "That's not what I asked you. How's your boy?"

Webb responded: "That's between me and my boy, Mr. President."

The Hill newspaper cited an anonymous source who claimed that Webb was so angered by the exchange that he confessed he was tempted to "slug" the president. Oh, I would have given an arm and a leg to see that. But they patched things up! And so there is a photo of Webb and his son with the Amoralist-in-Chief, W., from 2007.

[Also, Webb defeated that racist asshole George Allen in the 2006 Senate race. Well done!]

Broadway Closed to Traffic

Broadway slices across Manhattan in a great big long diagonal slash from north to south. As it cuts across the otherwise orderly grid of avenues and cross streets, interesting intersections are created... and, it seems, weird traffic snarl-ups.

So now portions of Broadway, one of New York City's busiest streets (arguably its most famous, though perhaps Wall Street is known better, certainly hated more) will be closed to traffic in a radical new attempt to fix some of the traffic flow. There are additional benefits as well — see graphic above.

The traffic-free sections are at Times Square (the area created by Broadway cutting across Seventh Avenue) and Herald Square (Broadway cuts across Sixth Avenue).

Poetry and Statistics

When looking up something about Seamus Heaney just a while ago, I came across this astonishing statistic: according to the BBC, his books make up two-thirds of the sales of all living poets in the UK.

Poetry and success are as rare companions as poetry and statistics, and in that book which I seem to keep raving about, Stepping Stones, Heaney tells a funny story from his early years as a poet, when he met the legendary Monaghan poet, Patrick Kavanagh, a difficult man to say the least. For him, recognition of his poetic gift was slow in coming, and it's very probable he never made much money from it.

And this was obviously a sore point with Mrs. Kavanagh. After an evening drinking with the Kavanaghs and others, Heaney offered the moody, taciturn Bard and wife a ride home in his VW Beetle. Mrs. Kavanagh and Pat were clambering into the back seat when Heaney heard her say, "see, Pat, you can be a poet and have a car."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

In memory of Jack Holland, 1947-2004

Jack with nephew Timmy atop the Empire State Building, 2002

At times it seems that this life doesn't get any easier, and I am now old enough to have had friends who have upped and died on me. It is five years today since my friend and colleague Jack Holland died of cancer, a mere eight weeks after his diagnosis -- unmercifully swift.

I still think of Jack regularly, as I am walking Manhattan's streets. If there are ghosts, then his is still here, hanging out in some mythic bar with a notebook and a glass of Chardonnay.
He was a wise and humorous man, and a loyal friend. After the Sept. 11th attacks, when it seemed that terrifying, mind-bending forces had been unleashed, Jack was a source of calm reflection to many people, including strangers in bars who would hear him offering his reasoned, rational perspective, and start to listen, ask questions.

I caught a glimpse of Jack at the end of his life, working alongside him for four years before he died. Strange then, to discover in a recently published book, a memory of Jack just as his life was starting. The book, Stepping Stones: interviews with Seamus Heaney, is by Irish critic Dennis O'Driscoll. Heaney was briefly a schoolteacher in Belfast and remembers teaching Jack when he must have been maybe 14 or 15. Heaney, once called 'the poet of poets,' is asked by O'Driscoll in the book if he felt he had succeeded in broadening the perspectives of his students. The Nobel laureate says:

One pupil, by the way, did triumph – the late Jack Holland, the novelist and writer on Northern Irish affairs, who eventually ended up in New York. Jack was in class 4B and his essays suggested he would make a path for himself. He had an appetite for language – and a sardonic sense of humor. If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.

Thank you, Seamus.

Jack Holland certainly triumphed over his horrible childhood in god-awful, religious war-poisoned Belfast. Knowing this, I often looked at him and wondered if perhaps having led such a diverse life, he sometimes wondered if it was all real. Heaney wrote the following words of himself, but I think they also fit Jack:

And there I was, incredible to myself,
among people far too eager to believe me
and my story, even if it happened to be true.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The sky shall surely fall, brother!

LEON, N.Y. (AP) -- Police cracking down on rowdy Amish youths ticketed a teenager for having beer in his horse-drawn buggy when they pulled him over on a western New York road.

They say 17-year-old Chris Slabaugh of Conewango was charged with underage possession of alcohol after he was stopped by Cattaraugus County deputies late Monday night in the town of Leon, 40 miles south of Buffalo.

Detective Nathan Root says the teen admitted drinking beer, but passed a field sobriety test.

Patrols were stepped up after an Amish elder's property was vandalized when he confronted youths about their drinking and listening to radios.

This gives me an opportunity to tell my well-known Amish joke:

Q: What goes clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop bang! bang! clip clop clip clop clip clop clip clop ?

A: An Amish drive-by shooting.

Low-flying Air Force One: Obama explains

At the White House Press dinner, President Barack Obama finally came clean about why Air Force One flew low over Manhattan (see above):

"Now Sasha and Malia aren't here tonight because they're grounded. You can't just take Air Force One on a joy ride to Manhattan. I don't care whose kids you are."

Hartford Courant

As newspaper obituaries are being written across the country, I wanted to draw attention to one venerable old rag, the Hartford Courant, published out of Hartford, Connecticut since 1764.

The Courant, despite its age, has in recent years won awards for its iconoclastic front page design, as you can see from these examples, above... and below...
For Obama's election victory, the Courant switched the front page to landscape view. For the President's first budget, designers spilled a graph of tax increases across the front page.

Poem for today, Wednesday 13th May, 2009

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

-- William Carlos Williams, with painting by Charles Demuth, inspired by the poem.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Paid Pipers Also Pay

Carol Ann Duffy (above) is the new British poet laureate and the first woman to be appointed to the position.

The job of official state poet burdens the office holder with writing poetry on tap. This has been known 
to cause the poetic Muse to flee. The previous incumbent, Andrew Motion, said the job has been "very, very damaging to my work." 

I hope Duffy avoids a similar fate. Here's one of her poems, "Valentine," which I have always liked:


Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

-- Carol Ann Duffy

I've got a little list

Given that I, though Irish, have enjoyed certain British privileges (free health care, free college education), I will now sort of balance my previous anti-Brit post below by noting that the Home Office has released a list of 16 persons refused entry to the U.K., because they are believed to be 'promoters of hate.'

On the list there's Abdullah Qadri Al Ahdal, and also Yunis Al Astal (not him!) as well as (who else?) Wadgy Abd El Hamied Mohamed Ghoneim (recent photo above) and Safwat "Big Ian" Hijazi. These all are some variation of Muslim extremist preacher.

The press release, amusingly, reads a little bit like a breathless cast list for a bad soap opera:

"Amir Siddique: Preacher. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by fomenting terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs. Is often seen in the Crown and Bucket drinking Red Bull and vodkas while bitching about his girlfriend."

But there are three names on the list which Americans may recognize: Fred Phelps Snr, Shirley Phelps-Roper, and, separately, Michael Alan Weiner (also known as Michael Savage). Rev. and Mrs. Phelps are the notorious "God Hates Fags" morons from Asshole City in the great state of WhoGivesAFuck (it's between Missouri and KantFindAMap). Radio chat show host Michael Savage is a sort of full-strength filterless hi-tar menthol Rush Limbaugh.

(Note: Wadgy Abd El Hamied Mohamed Ghoneim is considered so dangerous that he is sometimes called "the Iris Robinson of Karachi.")

"Hanging is too good for them..."

It seems (gasp) that the U.K. (golly!) in cahoots with the U.S. (are you for real?!) tortured people picked up in the wake of the Sept. 11th attacks. (Sept. 11th... when did that happen?)

When you keep on boasting about the 'special relationship,' you must have been offered a real good price on special rendition. Tellingly, it seems only to be Brits who talk up the special relationship. Most Americans have been too busy watching "Real Housewives of Onion Bag, Kansas," to remember some far-away wet islands.

To be strictly accurate, it seems that the British government outsourced the torture of al Qaeda suspects to Morocco, rather than get les mains salles.

All the way through the last nine years of mind-bending madness -- Bush, the 2000 U.S. election, 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, et al -- it has felt as if people have forgotten that there is a basic set of rules between the citizen and the state, in democracies: the nation state is the sum of its citizens and their electoral power. Government officials are public servants. In return for taking money from us, called taxes, we have a lifelong contract with the state, and we are therefore entitled to an account of what that money and those servants have done with it. It may not always work out this way, but it should.

As is so often the case with shady British behavior, Northern Ireland limps into view, waving from beneath a rain shower. Gareth Peirce, an attorney who has represented both Irish and Muslim individuals accused of terrorism, writes in the London Review of Books:

"In August 1971 British soldiers arrested 342 men in Northern Ireland claiming that they were IRA suspects. To force their confessions, 12 of them were taken to a secret site and subjected to the now notorious five techniques (forced standing, hooding, sleep deprivation, starvation and thirst, and white noise). Most of the men later reported experiencing auditory hallucinations; the interrogators referred to the room used for noise as the ‘music box’, and were aware that the detainees were exhibiting distorted thought processes. The Republic of Ireland took the UK to court in Strasbourg for their use of these methods and Britain gave an unconditional promise never to use them again."

He details how Muslims were picked up after Sept. 11th and tortured on behalf of the British and American governments, despite ... despite what? Aside from their innocence, there is the well-known fact that torture is immoral and repugnant, and on top of that, if you torture someone, they will say whatever you want them to say, just to make you stop!

States have always been too arrogant and secretive (cowards) to come clean with us, the citizens who bankroll them. As my grandfather would say when faced with some depridation by the Army, police, prods or provos: "Hanging is too good for them." [Long pause]. "It's a kick in the ass they need."

[N.B: One unthinking American reaction to the words "British government" is to gush lavish praise on a misplaced idea that Britain does diplomacy really well. And while I agree that there is a repository of great power experience in the Foreign Office going back hundreds of years, most British diplomats I have met have been whinging alcoholics].

Monday, May 11, 2009

Going down

What does it feel like when major corporations face decline and decay as market forces or the march of time renders them obsolete? Tobacco companies, feeling the squeeze in the U.S. and Europe, have been scrambling to addict as many new smokers as possible in the developing world. With climate change and the recent economic whirlwind, U.S. car makers will perhaps also one day exist only as artifacts in museums.

I was surprised to discover this scurrilous advertisement which General Motors Canada ran in 2002 in Vancouver, attacking public transport in that city, and offering as the perfect alternative, what else, a car... several other ads included one that stated "wet dog smell."

In your own vehicle, negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, there is no danger of you reading a newspaper over someone's shoulder; no chance of happy accidents like seeing someone you went to school with and taking them out for a drink; nor will you catch the eye of some hot and sexy boy/girl. For that sort of dangerous gambling with one's well-being, you would need a public transport system.

Here in New York City, the current 'Great Depression II' which I have decided ought to be called 'short-term crisis in banking' has been used by the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (subways and buses, bridges and tunnels) to increase fares and cry bitter tears of how they have no money for nuthin'.

So strange after the subway system, nine times larger than any other in the U.S., has seen much-increased rider numbers in the last ten years. Yet now the city that never sleeps faces this horror, according to the NY Times: "extreme measures, like stopping nighttime subway service," cannot be ruled out.