Breathtaking Inanity: iPod Illegal on City Streets?

February 7, 2007

I’ve only been gone a day and it seems a bout of inanity has erupted in New York. According to Computer World, it could soon be illegal to listen to an iPod while walking in New York. Because of a couple recent deaths of people hit by cars, State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) is going to introduce a bill that would ban people from listening to “music players or using electronic devices that would hamper their awareness of their surroundings while crossing the street.” If passed into law, violators could be fined $100.

Check back soon for some posts about LA … where Gov. Schwarzenegger will soon make it illegal to fiddle with the radio while driving.

Running of the Bulls

January 29, 2007


Gothamist reports on the annual Idiotarod, a satirical race based on the Iditarod in Alaska (the 1000 mile dog sled race), except this one is run by teams of people dressed in costume who tie themselves to a shopping cart and run through the streets of New York (this year from Greenpoint to Long Island City). The event originated in San Francisco (if I remember correctly) and has spread to other cities, but has not been warmly embraced here by the authorities, as Jake Dobkins reports:

… police were swarming … They actually called in air support– I’ve never seen a police chopper that close before. Before the race began, the Captain at the local precinct read a statement saying that the event didn’t have a permit, so if anyone blocked traffic, they’d immediately be arrested…

Happily, it seems no one got jacked by the cops and fun was had by all. More photos and video on Gothamist.

Stuck in the John

December 5, 2006


Just because New York has a clean, well-lighted “public” bathroom sponsored by Charmin, you still have to keep your wits about you. This is New York, after all. A tourist (and regular Polis reader) sent in this rather hilarious comment about my post regarding the Charmin public toilets at Times Square, which I noted was a brilliant PR move (the writer happens to work for a PR firm):

I was in the city Thursday and Friday of last week and visited the mighty shrine to Charmin to wait in line for a freshly scrubbed bathroom. Once it was my turn, an attendant welcomed me to door #12 and informed me to lock the door behind me. Once inside, I noticed the clean environment and cheery Charmin-esque music blaring through speakers and that the door construction was a little shoddy…loose purse hook, flimsy door material. When I tried to unlock the door, the deadbolt jammed and I couldn’t get out.

I felt a rush of panic because I realized that the line was quite a distance away from my door (maybe 20 feet) and the music was really loud, so I worried no one would hear me. I frantically started wiggling the door handle hoping someone outside would notice a bathroom visit run amok. When I didn’t get a response, I started pounding on the door (a little worried that I might bust right through) and after about 30 seconds, someone came over and wrestled with the door handle.

I eventually got out (I must have looked completely bewildered) and dashed outside for a gasp of fresh air. On the way out, a cheery Charmin agent asked if I enjoyed my stay while poised to write my comments on his clipboard. When I responded that I was stuck in my stall for a couple minutes, he smiled and said have a good day. …

Toilet paper provided, but bring your own allen wrench.

Breathtaking Inanity: Subway “Bombs” as Art

October 14, 2006

This is just a jaw-dropper: For a sculpture class, two students at Pratt Institute planted suspcious packages in several subway stations and trains for a site-specific installation assignment. According to the Times article:

Reached by telephone last evening, Ms. Davis said she was sorry for what had happened. “The intention of the piece was not to create fear or anything like that,” she said. …

Mr. Barrett, who would not comment on his case, wavered between ebullience and gloom, breaking into an impromptu tap dance one moment, falling into a moody silence in the next.

Now they’re charged with five felonies and facing up to 7 years in jail. Lots of time to do site-specific installations at the big house.

Breathtaking Inanity: Pirro and Kerik, BFF

September 27, 2006

pirro2.jpgI haven’t had a good Breathtaking Inanity post recently, so the Republican nominee for New York attorney general (formerly the Republican candidate for Senate to challenge Hillary Clinton), Jeanine Pirro, once again steps up to fill the void.

First, a recap: She fumbled through her announcement to run for Senate, shuffling for a lost page of her speech for an uncomfortably long time, completely unable to proceed without the text in front of her. Then she waffled on her position on late-term abortion, leading some observers to comment that she’s not quite ready for prime time. Then came a scoop from New York Observer’s Politicker that she’s taken campaign donations from a company suspected of ties to the mob. It was also widely noted that her husband, a Republican lobbyist, served 11 months in federal prison for his conviction on tax fraud in 2000. He also fathered a child in an extramarital relationship in the 1990’s (a different news report said the child was conceived in the 1980s — I don’t know or care which decade is correct). I predicted that she wouldn’t make it through the Republican primary to even challenge Hillary, which turned out to be true when she was forced out by fellow Republicans.

Now she’s running for the AG’s office against Andrew Cuomo. In this race, she’s already had to cancel a pro-death penalty press conference at Ground Zero when it came out that a man who had been wrongly imprisoned for sixteen years was being let out of prison at the very same time. So? Well turned out the prosecutor who replaced Pirro in Westchester (a position she quit to run for Senate), did not object to letting him out of jail based on evidence proving his innocence that PIRRO REFUSED TO HEAR.

Now for today’s news, I turn to the AP:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republican state attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro has been told she is under federal investigation for allegedly plotting to secretly record her husband to find out whether he was having an affair, two people familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

I love it. The best part is, who did the alleged bugging for her? Bernard freakin Kerik, the would-be homeland security czar but for his den of iniquities at Ground Zero and ties to the mafia. From the Times:kerik.jpg

Seething with anger, and choking up as she laid bare her marital problems, Ms. Pirro said that two federal agents approached her at her home late one recent night and revealed that the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York was investigating her surveillance discussions. They had been caught on tape by Bronx authorities who were conducting a separate investigation of Mr. Kerik.

It doesn’t get any better than this. Politics is indeed show business for ugly people, some of them sublimely stupid ugly people.

Breathtaking Inanity: WTC Triangulation

September 7, 2006

Larry Silverstein unveiled plans this morning for three more gargantuan towers to be built at the World Trade Center site, which will rise near but set apart from the Freedom Tower. As David Dunlap of the Times put it diplomatically: “…the buildings do not appear at first glance to be parts of a unified whole. Instead, it may look like an instance of urban randomness.”

Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any worse, here’s some rock salt for that gaping wound: “Construction of Tower 2 [second from left] will require the removal of the Vesey Street staircase, also known as the survivors’ stairway, which is the only aboveground remnant of the original trade center that is still in place. It served as an escape route for hundreds of people on 9/11.”

How can this possibly be happening? Please, please, Eliot Spitzer, stop the madness. Step in now, say you’re going to void the whole deal when you take the office of Governor, and start over. We beg of you.

Breathtaking Inanity: Grand Transit Here, There and Everywhere

June 27, 2006

After decades of neglect, New York is suddenly in love with its monumental transportation hubs, even if all the grand architectural gestures in the offing won’t do much on the most basic level: make more people’s commutes easier.

Today’s installment of breathtaking inanity (the new irrational exuberance) takes note of three facets of this latest craze.

moynihan-station0.jpg1. Moynihan Station, in its third (or is that fourth?) design iteration, will cost $1 billion to turn part of the Farley post office building into a partial replacement for Penn Station across the street. The catch: the only tenant is NJ Transit, which will leave behind 80 percent of commuters who currently use the old Penn Station in the pit below Madison Square Garden. This makes absolutely no sense. The inanity of this was pointed out when an even grander plan was floated recently to move the entirety of Madison Square Garden across the street as well, thus forcing Amtrak and the rest to move into the new space. Even though this will take much longer to build and will be much more costly ($7 billion) at least it makes sense in the long run, but of course Gov. Pataki might quash this plan because he wants a groundbreaking before he leaves office on the long delayed Moynihan Station.path-station.jpg

2. Santiago Calatrava’s beautiful transit station design at Ground Zero will cost $2 billion and serve only those people who ride PATH trains from New Jersey to Lower Manhattan (so New Jersey commuters are getting not one, but two grand transit hubs built for them here in New York City?). Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely, lovely train station. No question about it. But here’s the rub: it will be connected underground to yet ANOTHER architecturally grand and very costly transit hub, the Fulton Street subway station, less then two blocks away, which brings us to the final point:

fultontransit.jpg3. The new Fulton Transit Center, run by MTA, is behind schedule and over budget even after the signature architectural element, a huge “oculus,” was reduced in size and – get this – the plans to untangle the clusterf**k of subway lines underneath Fulton were also scaled back. In other words, MTA is prepared to spend another $800+ million on a duplicative grand transit statement while backing away from the original intent of making the subway lines more rational for commuters … New York commuters.

Hey, I’m all for grand architectural gestures, WHEN THEY ALSO WORK FOR THE PEOPLE WHO USE THEM.

Breathtaking Inanity: Village Voice in “Turmoil”

April 19, 2006

vvm1.gif Against my better judgment,* I’m veering way off the usual course here at Polis to comment on the “turmoil” at the Village Voice. See, its been purchased by the New Times company, ending a long-standing rivalry between the two competing alt-weekly chains in order to dominate what has rapidly become an obsolete media market.

The breathtaking inanity of this otherwise little league media story became evident with a quote by New Times editor Mike Lacey, who has been firing Voice people en masse since taking over last fall. His main complaint has been that the Voice writers are all commentators and navel gazers, and that they don’t do any real reporting. New Times reporters do real reporting, he declared to The New York Observer. They actually get on the phone and talk to people!

“We can our wrap our hands around the throat of the beast, find out what happened, and give that to readers,”” he said. ““It’’s fun. It’s a kick-ass way to make a living.”

“Wrap our hands around the throat of the beast””? A ““kick-ass way to make a living”? Is this guy serious? To my ears, that sounds as retrograde as if David Schneiderman had said when he bought the Village Voice in 2000, ““We’’re going to stick it to the man! It’s a groovy way to make a living.”” Lacey’’s absurd bravado is just as amateur and outmoded as the Voice’s unreconstructed leftism. There’’s something sad about a fat, middle-aged man in the throes of total irrelevance talking about ““kicking ass.” Read the rest of this entry »

Gondolas to Gov’s Island: Breathtaking Inanity

February 23, 2006


Last week when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made another plea for development proposals for Governor’s Island and revealed Santiago Calatrava’s vision for gondolas linking Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to the Island, I was tempted to nominate this for another edition of Breathtaking Inanity. But I quickly realized it’s meant to be just a teaser, so I didn’t bother.

But today, the Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff puts the gondolas into an urban planning context that makes this much more worthy of comment. Ouroussoff rightly points out that this latest plea for ideas is an obvious if not explicit admission that the city’s planning/economic development departments are bereft of ideas themselves and have outsourced planning to the private sector:

“[C]onjuring an image for the island’s future will be left up to developers. … Not all countries operate this way. In Spain and the Netherlands, city and regional governments typically organize elaborate design competitions for a major urban site, then hire a developer to figure out how to put the idea into practice.

An aggressive government role in galvanizing the best creative minds is virtually nonexistent in the United States, where political and financial power has shifted to the private realm. That’s why New York has fallen behind cities like Barcelona, Rotterdam and even London in terms of the level of ambition behind public works projects. In New York, the system can foster a poisonous mix of political self-interest and commercial greed, as it did at ground zero.

And there you have it, the problem in a nutshell. One of the first pieces I wrote as a brand new freelancer in New York City was for Metropolis magazine that touched on this very issue. An urban planning firm founded in Amsterdam had opened an office in New York in hopes of applying their waterfront redevelopment expertise here. As far as I know, since then they’ve had one New York client in four years because we DON’T PLAN HERE. We throw designs at the wall and see what sticks. Is it any wonder then that Governor’s Island, perhaps the most intriguing piece of developable land in the Northern hemisphere, has been collecting dust since the Coast Guard abandoned it more than ten years ago?

The final irony (did I just use that cliched phrase?) is that this Dutch-based planning firm has been trying to get involved with Governor’s Island since they first set up shop here more than four years ago — the same little island that a Dutchman purchased from Native Americans with two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails in 1637.