Monthly Archives: May 2009

Parking for 71 People

Parking for 71 bikes, 71 cars, 1 bus

Parking for 71 bikes, 60 cars, 1 bus


Just saying.

Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon

Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon

Not. Finished. Yet. Review to follow.

Biking Rules



Transportation Alternatives has published a comprehensive set of guidelines for street cyclists. Applicable not just to New York City, but everywhere.

Having been flipped off by an angry dumpster truck driver yesterday(ironically, while standing well off to the side of the road), all I can say is: follow these guidelines and do your part to stop the hate.

No parking at Metro-North? How about bike boxes?

Bike locker at NJ Transit station

Bike locker at NJ Transit station

The New York Times Westchester regional published a story last week about the extraordinary steps some communities have to take because they have run out of parking spaces at their Metro-North stations.

Published: May 16, 2009

BY the time Ned Midgley drives up to the Scarborough Metro-North Railroad station here for his 8:38 a.m. train to Grand Central Terminal, more than 800 cars have already crammed into every available permit parking space.

Valet parking? Extra fees of several hundred dollars a year? Folks who are retired or laid off, but who won’t relinquish their parking permit?

But nary a word about alternative transportation to and from Metro-North stations. Shuttles? Bikes? Unthinkable, one supposes. Except for so many for whom a short bike ride to the train could be a truly viable solution, if they only had a secure way to leave their bikes at the stations.

Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance is actively lobbying for secure bike storage at Metro-North stations throughout the County. Please join us in urging your municipal and County legislators to endorse this worthwhile project. And while you are at it, it would be worth your while to also express your opinion to Metro-North, and Region 8 of the New York State Department of Transportation.

New York Mag article on NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan

The new pedestrian plaza at Herald Square, NYC

The new pedestrian plaza at Herald Square, NYC

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s Transportation commissioner, manages to be equal parts Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. As she prepares to close swaths of Broadway to cars next week, she is igniting a peculiar new culture war—over the role of the automobile in New York.

(Click the quote above to view the whole article.)

What is so radical about the idea that the central city is better off with fewer cars? Pedestrian-friendly zones honor our city centers, and in the long-term, dramatically INCREASE economic activity for local shopowners and taxi drivers too. Like our absence of government-sponsored health care, the United States is the only advanced industrial nation that does not follow this basic design concept in its major cities.

UPDATE (7:30 pm): Heard in the car on the way home tonight, on NPR, a cab driver: “Stupid people, streets are for cars.”

Yonkers residents dropping resistance to completing Westchester Trailway system

Members of the Westchester County Planning Department and Parks Department met with Yonkers residents and representatives of the Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance, Westchester Cycle Club and Yonkers Bicycle Club at the Will Library last night, to discuss final plans for the Yonkers “missing link” section of the Westchester South County Trailway. County Legislator Kenneth Jenkins also attended, and made many constructive and positive comments in support of both local residents and the larger Trailway project.

SCT Yonkers Unfinished segment

While homeowners living immediately adjacent to the planned trailway section voiced understandable concerns about crime and unauthorized access to their properties, they seemed mostly reassured by both government and non-government speakers, who described other communities’ experience with the Westchester Trailway system.

Homeowner objections are the last major obstacle to building the 2-mile section of the South County Trailway through Yonkers. When this section is completed, along with the proposed Route 9A bypass near Elmsford, cyclists and other users of the Trailway will be able to journey the entire 46 miles from the New York City line to the Putnam County line, on this paved, off-road route. The “vertical” park created by the Trailway has become one of the major amentities and attractions for tourists and homebuyers alike in communities where it has been completed. The completed north-south oriented Trailway will become the backbone for a system of east-west and north-south trailways that will make cycle commuting and family-oriented cycling, roller-blading and walking accessible to large numbers of residents for the first time in this densely populated county which has for so long been designed with only automobile transportation in mind.

Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance Founder David Wilson discussing the Westchester Trailway system with a new member.

Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance Founder David Wilson discussing the Westchester Trailway system with a new member.

Getting buy-in from the proposed Trailway’s neighbors will be the latest accomplishment of the newly-formed  Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance.  The Alliance was formed this year to coordinate efforts to advocate for improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Westchester County.

It also moves forward one of the Alliance’s most important near-term goals, which include getting bike racks installed on Bee-Line buses, secure bike parking at County Metro-North stations, and 100% completion of the South County, North County, and Westchester Avenue Corridor bike trails.

(Click here for more information or to join the Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance.)

Liz Cheney joins the Torture Party

Let’s get this straight: Dick Cheney’s mouthing off has nothing to do with potential future leadership of the Republican Party. Mark my words, it has everything to do with Dick Cheney staying out of jail; at the very least, his being free to travel to foreign countries where he’s sheltered his asbestos and war profits.

With a smile on her voice, and the safety of your children in her heart, Liz Cheney joins her father’s defense team. Despicable Liz wants you to understand the following:

  • It’s okay to torture if you have protocols and guidelines;
  • It’s okay to torture if your torture program is “very carefully and responsibly done”;
  • It’s okay to torture if your lawyer tells you it’s okay;
  • It’s okay to torture if that torture is “effective”;
  • It’s okay to publicly defend torture because Al Gore publicly lobbies on climate change;
  • If you put your own soldiers through training to resist torture, it’s okay to use those same techniques on detainees; and
  • Everyone the United States tortured had “information that would save your kids’ lives and my kids’ lives.

And frankly, Mika Brzezinski’s chiming in at the end of this piece that “most Americans would agree” with darling Liz, is equally disgusting.

I used to think Dick Cheney wouldn’t survive long enough to be prosecuted for the prima facie war crimes he directed during the Bush Administration. To me, he now looks tan, fit and ready for prosecution. He can see the writing on the wall. He knows that the Senate Judiciary Committee is reeling him in. (Witness testimony can be found here, here, and here.) And he’s working very hard to try this case in the court of public opinion. With good reason, one supposes: he stands at least a 1-in-4 chance of being acquitted there, in an actual courtroom it would appear his chances of acquittal would be slim to none.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who has for months quietly been doing yeoman’s work uncovering these crimes against our Constitution, our nation, and our conscience, puts it most succintly:

Winston Churchill said, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” The truth of our country’s descent into torture is not precious, it is noxious. But it has also been attended by a bodyguard of lies. This hearing is designed to begin to expose some of those lies, to prepare us to struggle with that noxious truth, and to examine the battlements of legal authority upon which that truth and its bodyguard of lies was constructed.

The lies are legion.

President Bush told us “America does not torture” while authorizing conduct that America has prosecuted – both as crime and war crime – as torture.

Vice President Cheney agreed in an interview that waterboarding was like “a dunk in the water,” when it was used as a torture technique by tyrannical regimes from the Spanish Inquisition to Cambodia’s Killing Fields.

John Yoo told Esquire Magazine that waterboarding was only done “three times,” when public reports now indicate that two detainees were waterboarded 83 and 183 times. About Khalid Sheik Muhammad, reportedly waterboarded 183 times, a former CIA official had told ABC News, “KSM lasted the longest under waterboarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke it never had to be used again.” This, too, was a lie.

We were told that waterboarding was determined to be legal, but were not told how badly the law was ignored, bastardized and manipulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, nor were we told how furiously government and military lawyers rejected the defective OLC opinions – but were ignored.

We were told we couldn’t second-guess the brave CIA officers who did this, and now we hear that the program was led by private contractors with a profit motive and no real interrogation experience.

Former CIA Director Hayden and former Attorney General Mukasey told a particularly meretricious lie: that the Army Field Manual restrains abuse by naïve young soldiers but isn’t needed by the experienced experts at the CIA.

The Army Field Manual is a code of honor, as reflected by General Petraeus’ May 10, 2007, letter to the troops. Moreover, military and FBI interrogators such as Matthew Alexander, Steve Kleinman and Ali Soufan are the true professionals. We now know that the “experienced interrogators” referenced by Hayden and Mukasey had little to no experience. In fact, the CIA cobbled its program together from techniques used by the SERE program, designed to prepare captured U.S. military personnel for interrogation by tyrant regimes who torture to generate propaganda. To the proud, experienced and successful interrogators of the military and the FBI, I believe Judge Mukasey and General Hayden owe an apology.

Finally, we were told that torturing detainees was justified by American lives saved – saved as a result of actionable intelligence produced on the waterboard. That is far from clear. Nothing I have seen as a Member of the Intelligence Committee convinces me this was the case. FBI Director Mueller has said he is unaware of any evidence that waterboarding produced actionable information. The example of Zubaydah providing critical intelligence on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, often given, is false, as the information was obtained before waterboarding was even authorized.

(Statement of The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse, United States Senator, Rhode Island, May 13, 2009)

As John Dean would say, this is way worse than Watergate. It is high time to genuinely begin to put this blight on our Republic behind us forever. And the only way we are going to do that is by prosecuting those truly responsible. And Dick Cheney knows full well the identity of the one person singularly responsible for the American torture regime. He sees his sneering snout in the mirror every day.

A Star Trek for the Obama Generation?

With its JFK, NASA and Neil Armstrong audio clips, this “teaser” for the new Star Trek neatly melds our childhood’s wanna’-be-an-astronaut nostalgia with the latest manifestation of Star Trek Utopianism. A neat trick. Is the “final frontier” reopening? Or is it already too littered with junk, physical, historical and emotional junk? Still: “Spock’s” voice at the end of this trailer brings tears to my eyes, just like Obama’s.

The battle between our basest and better instincts play themselves out against a background of technological opportunity, in the persons of the young Kirk and Spock. Star Trek, in each iteration, has become steadily more humanized. Has technology? So many great American tropes, spoken and unspoken, present themselves  here. Obama himself, steadily plays both sides of the Kirk/Spock divide; the unflappable guy with all the answers who defiantly takes mustard on his Hell Burger. We’re in a hell of a pickle, Mr. Zulu; but our best days are surely still ahead.

The likely phenomenal box office success of this movie may eventually look like a cultural turning point. (“Inflection point,” I suppose, is the current jargon.) Baby boomers mind-melding with Generation Y in a neoliberal paradise powered by clean nuclear windmills made in America.

Well, maybe for two hours this Saturday night.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

(Official White House photo by Pete Souza © Creative Commons, via Flickr White House Channel.)

’cause that’s where the money is

Willie Sutton at Eastern State Penitentiary

Willie Sutton at Eastern State Penitentiary

My dearest brother sent me a link to yesterday’s New York Times story detailing how hedge fund investors are circling the country’s small banks like raptors after particularly tasty chipmunks.

Published: May 5, 2009

CAINSVILLE, Mo. — No one seems to want to own a business in this dusty, windswept corner of rural America, population 370, with its crumbling sidewalks and boarded-up storefronts.

First National, with its boarded-up second story and $17 million in assets, is worth about a third of what its owner, a New York investor, paid for an Upper East Side town house in 2006. It is an unlikely launching pad for a new American banking empire. Except, that is, for J. Christopher Flowers, a media-shy New York billionaire who last year bought the First National Bank of Cainesville, one of the United States’ smallest national banks.

With that charter in hand, Mr. Flowers plans to take over a handful of large struggling banks, casualties of the economic crisis. In some cases, he hopes, the federal government will help.
Mr. Flowers, a private equity manager, has no particular love for rural Missouri; in fact, he has never set foot in Cainsville. Rather, he wants to use the national bank charter he picked up in this farm town to go on a nationwide buying spree.

My brother’s comment was telling:

Hello sucker— how the vulture capitalists will pick your pocket with the help of their lobby and the same connivers in the congress!!
M.C. Escher in Lego by Andrew Lipson and Daniel Shiu

M.C. Escher in Lego by Andrew Lipson and Daniel Shiu

And it’s hard to argue that he’s not right. Parties that hold “toxic assets” are going to unload them to other parties who also hold “toxic assets,” who in turn will unload their “toxic assets” to other parties who also hold “toxic assets” in a scheme to make would-be M.C. Escher’s the world over jealous. And all with underwriting from the government and the Fed.

But, as hard as it is to believe, there is method in the madness. And that method derives from the timeless logic and priceless American wisdom of Willie Sutton.
Sutton, as we’ll all remember, was among the public enemies number 1 of his day (almost as fatal as being “Al Qaeda’s No. 2” today I suppose) who, when asked why he robbed banks, famously replied, “because that’s where the money is.”
Which brings us back to the question, why are “vulture capitalists” (and their firms) being allowed to “pick our pockets [again]?” The obvious answer to which is “’cause that’s where the money is.” Having recently put my wallet through the washer, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that passing “distressed assets” from dirty hand to dirty hand is an act any money launderer can be proud of. But, given the way the world works, this miracle of accounting legerdemain (or should that be “ledger-demain“?) will probably have the desired effect, over the long run, of rinsing away the sins of the B- tranche, and restoring the appearance, if not the actual fact, of health to the financial sector.
The Whos Roger Daltry

The Who's Roger Daltry

And since this is a game that requires an enormous amount of money to play, why waste our time being aggrieved that the same Masters of the Universe who drove the bus off the cliff own the tow truck that’s come to drag us out? It’s American as Willie Sutton. Or in the words of the immortal poet, Roger Daltry: “Meet the new boss [baby]; same as the old boss.