Thursday, May 27, 2004

the problem with letting republicans run our culture

Ah, yes, now you can make sure that your kids don't hear someone who unwittingly triggered Armaggedon in Terminator 3 say "Dear God" while still allowing them the wholesome pleasure of seeing Arnold Schwarzenneger shove his female opponent's head into a toilet.

As David Pogue puts it in his New York Times article, "Add 'Cut' and 'Bleep' to a DVD's Options": " it is, the evidence suggests that ClearPlay's technology is not intended for families at all. It's for like-minded adults, specifically those who are offended by bad language and sexual situations but don't mind brutality, destruction and suffering.

"Maybe every ClearPlay-sanitized movie ought to begin with a message: 'This film has been modified as follows: It has been formatted to fit the taste, sensibilities and religious beliefs of a couple of guys in Utah. That'll be $1.50.'"

Once again, it's the people crying the loudest about the downfall of U.S. culture that are degrading our society the most. And sticking our country's fists in places we should not be, like Iraq.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

bush once again demonstrates his incompetence with language

I'm surprised not to have heard any guffaws about George Bush's mangling of the pronunciation of "Abu Ghraib" a couple of days back. When I first heard him say it, I thought there was a glitch in the tape. But then when he got more and more confident in his mispronunciation, I realized that his handlers had once again forgotten to do those flash card exercises with him before he tried to talk.

Of course, I don't watch the Daily Show – or much TV at all – and I can't imagine they'd pass up that opportunity. Maybe it's appropriate he mangled the prison's name, much as the soldiers there have mangled any sense of human decency. Of course, the entire administration has shredded human rights, civil rights, constitutional rights, and any idea of lawfulness, so it's not as if the soldiers who committed those despicable acts didn't have role models. I don't believe for a minute that these were simply a few rogue soldiers – this reaches up to higher levels, and the U.S. administration, starting with Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush, should be mature enough to take responsibility. Where's Truman when you need him?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

pissed-off pedestrian

I wrote a couple of days ago about the positive aspects of a car-free Manhattan, and possible ways to do it. Now let me tell you what pisses me off about those metal boxes of death:

When I'm walking at a good, steady clip, trying to get some exercise as I get to where I'm going and I have to stop at every damn traffic light just so people in cars can go faster, I become a frustrated young man.

When I have to literally stick my neck out into the street to see past a parked van or SUV to make sure I won't get creamed by oncoming traffic, I contemplate reducing its height a few inches by letting the air out of its tires.

When I'm squeezed on the sidewalk by too many pedestrians and see how much space all those cars are taking, it makes my blood boil.

When drivers act like the second line of the crosswalk is where they should stop for the light, I feel like walking over their hood. Very, very hard.

Don't even get me started on car alarms.

When some car honks at me because I'm riding my bike ahead of them in a narrow lane, I want to put my fist through their horn. As it is, I just pull into the very center of the lane to make absolutely sure they don't try to get by me and scrape me between themselves and the parked cars. Hey buddy, you don't own the damn road!

When I'm forced to breathe your SUV's second-hand smoke, I want to scream. But I don't, because that would mean I'd have to breathe in even more of the air you've fouled.

And when I hear that over half of the people getting hit by cars in New York City are in the crosswalk, I feel like taking a sledgehammer to the grill of any car that gets near me.

See, especially in a place like New York City, there is so much bad that is associated with cars, that it really outweighs any of the good. So get out of your car and freakin' walk! And while you're at it, check out Transportation Alternatives, NYC. They've got all kinds of information on making our cities more human-friendly.

Monday, May 24, 2004

next thing you know, they'll be telling us the sun shines at midnight

As we all know, the Bushies love a good lie. But come on, trying to pull a fast one about the weather?!?

my neighborhood — a fifth-grade essay i wrote today

This blog seems to be turning into a discussion of urban issues, but since that's what's interesting me at the moment, I'm going to keep going with it.

I guess today I'll do a little bragging. Not about me, but about my neighborhood. You see, I grew up in a small ag town in California and, despite its relative diversity, I am still sometimes bowled over by the day-to-day richness of where I live.

My block on the western edge of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York has people from an amazing variety of ethnicities, races, and nationalities. My own incomplete recollections enumerate:
- Korean
- Egyptian
- Puerto Rican
- White Boy Mutt (that's me)

That's just in my three-apartment building. On the rest of the block there are also:
- Japanese
- African American
- Italian
- South Asian
- Yemeni

Okay, the Yemeni guys actually run the corner store. Which brings up the shops and restaurants in a one-block radius (i.e., less than a minute's walk away):
- the aforementioned corner store
- a fish and chips shop that also serves curry and is the inventor of the deep-fried Twinky.
- a Peruvian restaurant
- a Mexican restaurant
- a Thai restaurant
- an Italian restaurant
- an excellent deli
- a barbershop
- a grocery store
- a hardware store
- a big chain video store
- an odds-and-ends store
- a travel agency
- a furniture store
- a real estate agency
- a carpeting store
- some other stores I've forgotten

Walk another block in either direction and you'll find a greengrocer, a tattoo parlor, a comic shop, a fancy florist, my bank branch, a fried chicken place, etc., etc., etc.

My block is quite residential and the area around it has only in the last couple of years begun to come into its own. With all that's going on and available so close to me, the area is still human-scale, and walking around is a pleasure. I know a goodly number of my neighbors. The guys at the corner store would pull down prepaid calling cards as soon as I walked in when my girlfriend was away in India. Much as I still feel like a Californian, Brooklyn is New York City's saving grace, and my neighborhood is a very integral part of that.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

brooklyn museum of art renovation

Yesterday I biked over to the newly renovated Brooklyn Museum of Art to check out its new look. I wanted to see how well the new glass atrium, the radiating lawns, the ampitheater, and the dancing fountains worked for the space. I was not disappointed.

The renovation gives the plaza and entryway a much-needed multi-level aspect and encourages the surrounding community to utilize it for a myriad of purposes. Before, the museum stood as a blank, vertical, neoclassical monolith across a flat expanse of lawn. This has been broken up by the curving glass atrium that pushes out from the building. The series of narrow lawns, along with the ampitheater to the eastof the entryway, radiate out from the entrance, drawing passersby into the museum's sphere of influence.

The steps of the ampitheater are so broad that I could sit on one step, lie my bike flat in front of me, and still afford plenty of room for someone to sit in front of my bike. These platforms, rather than being solid concrete, are instead framed by it, with the vast majority of the surface area made of wood planking. This planking also features on the walkway that leads from the top of the ampitheater around the curve of the glass entryway and affords interesting views into the entryway itself as well as across the plaza. The stairs down from the other end of the curve are also made of the same wood. While not visible if you are simply passing by, the wood softens the features of ampitheater for those who take the time to sit and conveys a sense of being on a boardwalk, along with the leisure and relaxation that connotes.

Children are drawn to the ampitheater space not just because of the opportunity to run up and down the stairs and make up multilevel activities, but also because of the dancing fountains that provide a visual focus at the bottom of the ampitheater. It has been stated by a number of people that the fountains are a legacy of mall gimmickry. But these fountains are placed right out front rather than inside some courtyard or behind an impenetrable barrier of hedges or tulips. Maybe this is why metal police barricades were set up around their perimeter yesterday. I hope they take those barricades away - looking at how the fountains are situated, I get the sense that the architects wanted to maintain a feeling of openness. Is the museum afraid of liability? That the fountains aren't robust enough for children to play in and amongst them? If they are afraid of these possibilities, and insist on making the fountains themselves off-limits, I would hope they would consider doing it in a way that retains an overall feeling of openness.

I would also be remiss if I didn't note that the fountains use a fair amount of water and I'm sure a not-small amount of energy to run. Much as I feel curmudgeonly for criticizing the fountains on sustainability grounds - since they seem to be an effective draw to the plaza - it is important that we always look to principles of sustainability especially when building new projects. It's possible that the fountains run with treated greywater from the museum and solar cells from the building's roof, and if that's the case, so much the better. In that case, they could become a public educational piece about the possibilities for sustainable design. But somehow I don't think they're doing what I just suggested.

What defines the success of an open space is whether people use it. Yesterday, despite the spurious threat of rain, many people were using the space. People sat on benches under the trees at the west end of the plaza, and a few folks lounged on the lawns in the middle. At the ampitheater, parents lounged on the steps watching their children playing down by the fountains, and not a few kids got themselves purposely drenched when the water blew their way. It was a diverse crowd on the plaza, and it was apparent that many of the people there that day came from the surrounding community. This last point is especially important and positive, because it means that the museum has succeeded in providing a service to the people who live and work around it, and so has integrated itself into the community a little bit more.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

carless manhattan

What if Manhattan were a place with no passenger automobiles? What if, for the most part, trucks were also banned? It seems to me that because of its density, the borough is one of the most amenable places for getting around without cars or motor taxis or the like. We could have an extensive networks of electric trams, a fleet of pedicabs, people on bicycles and on foot. The subway system's capacity and extent could be increased. Cargo could be brought in via train and carried to centralized points of the borough using a tram-like system, which could possibly be all underground. Small electric vehicles or pedicabs could then be used to take goods from distribution points to stores and institutions. Many streets could be either wholly or partly converted away from vehicular use into parks, gardens, outdoor shopping, play areas, and the like. Emergency vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances, as well as certain service vehicles, might need to have the same flexibility of movement they do now, along with their current sizes. But police could patrol more on foot, on bikes, or in smaller electric vehicles similar to what the meter cops use now. With a reduction in asphalt, the city would become less of a heat sink it is now. With less fossil-fuel burning vehicles, air would be cleaner. As a pedestrian-oriented city, even more tourists would be attracted. And vehicle-related stresses would be reduced. These are a few initial thoughts, and I would welcome comments, additions to this narrative, and the like. I would love to see someone come up with visual sketches of what this all could look like. One group that is working at moving New York City away from the automobile is Transportation Alternatives.

a little experiment

It's very late, and my brain is rather mushy after setting this up. So at this point, all I am posting is a little experiment to see whether I can get this whole thing to work. It looks like it might be, and I'm fairly amazed at how easy this whole process is. Though I need to change the layout at some time.