Category Archives: Opinion

Governor Cuomo, Sir! A Way Better Idea for Penn Station.

Yesterday the Governor of New  York, Andrew Cuomo, announced a new shopping mall and Amtrak station adjoining the James A. Farley Post Office Building, across Eighth Avenue from the current Madison Square Garden. Call it the new Penn Station.

If you’re not familiar with New York you have no idea just what a disaster the current Penn Station, which currently resides under the Garden, is. For one thing, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad all come through the station, which is a tangle of platforms and stairways and levels, all with low ceilings and a sense of crushing crowdedness.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-30-17For another, it isn’t the glorious station that was built in 1910 and graced the site for 50 years before it was ingloriously torn down by greedy developers, a move that sparked New York’s historic preservation movement cum bureaucracy those many years ago.

If you are familiar with the station, you know all its horrors, but you might not guess that 650,000 people arrive and leave from it every day. It was designed to handle about 200,000.

As someone whose portal into the city when I was growing up was Penn Station, it was always a miserable place to be. Its dismal surroundings were ameliorated somewhat by the fact that you were either leaving or coming, you didn’t linger longer than necessary in Penn Station. Still, sometimes the wait was long.

I don’t know if it is by coincidence or plan, but the New York Times today has an elaborate suggestion for how to fix Penn Station. The beauty of the plan, which was developed by the architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, is to leave the massive cylinder that is Madison Square Garden intact, but to do away with all the innards.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-32-00No concrete shell, no hockey rink, no basketball court. No stairs or escalators. The shell would be replaced with something called blast-proof glass, and the space would be open to the sidewalk. No doors!

Though in cold weather the station may be sealed off by temporary walls. But the idea is that the sun beating down on a giant glass building would work like a greenhouse.  Anyone who has ridden the escalator up with a full complement of luggage to the door on Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street knows how nice the elimination of door would be.

In any case, the Times presentation of this idea, written by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s architecture critic, is not only beautiful, but it is beautifully presented. If there’s a reason to move from print to digital now, this is it.

And I’m not showing any of it. Be surprised!

 

Donald Trump and His Associates’s Disgraceful Birtherism

Barack Obama was born in the US. We all knew it in 2004, in 2008, in 2012. Now, holy cow, even Donald Trump agrees that’s true. Boy genius!

But why did Trump spend seven years insinuating that Obama wasn’t born in the US?

Was it because there were legitimate questions? Or was it because Trump could gain political advantage by exploiting the prejudices of people who weren’t comfortable having a Black man with an unusual name as president?

Where do you stand?

This story is a good resource: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/09/priebus_pence_christie_conway_all_lie_about_birtherism.html

 

 

 

 

History Unfolding, Obama and Trump.

A month or two ago I saw the video of Obama roasting Donald Trump at the Correspondent’s Dinner in 2011, and I felt sorry for Trump. Even though he had orchestrated the utterly cynical campaign against Obama and his birth certificate.

That’s how good Barry was.

But it’s hard to watch this and not see the Donald formulating his revenge.

Not that he’s earned it, but it appears a not small percentage of us thinks he has. Wow. Let’s try to convince them otherwise.

Also, here is Adam Gopnick’s clever take on this. More info and ideas.

This Guy Tracks Presidential Movie Watching.

Movies are important, all over the world, and many presidents watch movies. It seems that no president watched more movies than Jimmy Carter. And the man who lusted in his heart brought the first x-rated film to the White House, at least officially. (Didn’t JFK live the x-rated life?)

And note that by the time Midnight Cowboy screened at the White House it had been rerated R.

The link here is to a story about a guy who uses FOIA requests to glean the movie watching schedules of the Presidents of the US. He’s extracted the publishable goods for Carter (and Nixon and Reagan). What the hell is Bill Clinton hiding?

Much less Jerry Ford?

I’m thinking about making a tumblr devoted to movies our leaders should watch. They’ll watch, right?

Screenshot 2015-10-09 07.08.34BTW perhaps the best filmic incursion into the Carter White House was Terry Southern’s Magic Christian. Not a great film, but an awesome provocation.

Teju Cole, about liberte’ and Charlie Hebdo

Screenshot 2015-01-11 10.50.43One of the challenges when thinking about this week’s terror in Paris was that much of the work of Charlie Hebdo was offensive, not in the least likable or defensible on anything but the broadest grounds.

Another, as Teju Cole points out in the New Yorker, is the asymmetry between our hand-wringing about this assault on our liberty, and our indifference or silence about the actions of our governments taken in our names. He writes:

“Rather than posit that the Paris attacks are the moment of crisis in free speech—as so many commentators have done—it is necessary to understand that free speech and other expressions of liberté are already in crisis in Western societies; the crisis was not precipitated by three deranged gunmen. The U.S., for example, has consolidated its traditional monopoly on extreme violence, and, in the era of big data, has also hoarded information about its deployment of that violence. There are harsh consequences for those who interrogate this monopoly. The only person in prison for the C.I.A.’s abominable torture regime is John Kiriakou, the whistle-blower. Edward Snowden is a hunted man for divulging information about mass surveillance. Chelsea Manning is serving a thirty-five-year sentence for her role in WikiLeaks. They, too, are blasphemers, but they have not been universally valorized, as have the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.”

There is a little bit too much in Cole’s piece of the This-was-a-horrible-event-but sort of rhetoric, but he rightly shines a light on our preference for short-term reactions to events that present themselves as personal rather than engage in the formidable struggle to change the behaviors of governments. Of course he also scolds rather than point to an effective action to take.

But maybe there really isn’t a different course, an effective action, at least not until enough of us are suitably maddened about the way our governments make us complicit in their abominable actions in defense of our so-called liberties.

 

Ezra Klein is Pessimistic about global warming.

There is an article at Vox by Ezra Klein that is well worth reading.

He has seven reasons why America will fail at global warming. If you don’t want to read this, he also has a brief video “conversation” with Te-Nehisi Coates at the top of the page in which he summarizes the points he makes in more detail in the article.

Klein’s argument is pretty straightforward. We’re too late getting started fixing the climate (if it is fixable), and our political processes do a poor job of taking on a problem that requires long-term sacrifices for less-than-immediate gains.

He does a good job, too, of showing how the Republican position on putting a price on carbon has changed radically since John McCain ran for president (and lost). McCain supported it. He also writes about why we can’t expect to engineer our way out of the problem scientifically.

All of this is pretty depressing, but he also does a good job of covering his butt at the end, saying he is pessimistic but not fatalistic. He hopes a solution will emerge.

As I watched him talk with Coates in the video I realized that while Klein was limning the depths of the coming disaster, he was also painting this as an obvious problem for America. But as this map shows, while the US may produce a disproportionate percentage of the world’s carbon emissions, we also have one of the biggest cushions for absorbing climate change. It isn’t really our problem yet, unless we look further into the future.  (click to enlarge)

Screenshot 2014-09-23 09.39.36Klein quotes Matt Yglesias on this: “Very few of us are subsistence farmers. Relatively few of us live in river deltas, flood plains, or small islands. We are rich enough to be able to feasibly undertake massive engineering projects to safeguard our at-risk population centers. And the country is sufficiently large and sparsely populated that people can move around in response to climate shocks.”

So, the question becomes, how do we convince Americans to make significant changes and sacrifices when the short term threat level isn’t nearly as dire as the long term threat?

Marching felt great, we should do more of that, but we need to keep talking broadly about how the system works and why it isn’t really designed to answer this question. Maybe, I worry, we’re not designed to answer questions like this one as a species, but I’m not pessimistic. I’m pretty sure that we will hammer on this problem, as other ones, with increasing urgency. And while we talk about it and argue about it and elect public officials who recognize the problems, we’ll make progress.

Will it be enough, soon enough? I hope so.

Netflix Fail Confirmation? Not so simple, but maybe

Some months ago I wrote about our miserable experience with Netflix. Constant freaking buffering through our admittedly old Roku box.

We tried a number of things to improve performance, including a new N-type router, but the same behavior persisted until we learned to go with the flow, sort of.

Instead of reloading the network, or reloading the stream, the best thing to do was wait: We would start a stream, it would play for a few minutes, grind to a halt, then reload and eventually drop from 4 dots of throughtput to 2 stars. It would then buffer some more and after a couple of minutes, it would work. Usually.

Sylvester Stallone would be grainier. So would Denise Richards. But the show would go on.

This all started happening late last year. At first I thought it was perhaps interference from all the routers in our building and the ones surrounding it. Or a microwave or cordless phone on the other side of the wall.

But the more I diagnosed the cause, it seemed to all come back to the fact that Netflix used to seamlessly adjust the screen resolution based on the amount of available bandwidth, but it was now insisting on running in HD. Despite the fact that Verizon cannot deliver more than 3Mb per second to our house over DSL.

Which is fine. I get HD when I stream on my computer. Barely. But the Roku fails and that seems to be a failure of either Netflix to properly adjust the resolution or Roku to transmit the information.

In any case, as much as I loathe Verizon, they didn’t seem to be particularly to blame here. My bandwidth tests show occasionally erratic bandwidth, but more often not delivery of what I was paying for. And my mlb.tv stream, while far from faultless, wasn’t constantly buffering. It was, in fact, constantly adjusting stream rates so I had a picture. Sometimes really sharp, sometimes pixilated. Usually with inane local banter.

I wrote about this here some months ago (February), mainly my attempt to work out what was going on. And it seemed to make the most sense that Netflix was trying to force the ISPs to provide more bandwidth (Netflix consumers 70 percent of the streaming video volume, and insane amount of total internet use every day) at lower cost. Those that did, had reasonable throughput. Those that wanted to charge Netflix for that throughput, namely Comcast and Verizon, saw throughput drop.

In recent weeks, Netflix started to send an error message to customers saying that the buffering was Verizon’s fault. This caused Verizon to go to court, and before it showed any evidence Netflix withdrew the error message.

Which makes this rather long and somewhat technical story of interest, since it seems to muster numbers that show that the Comcast and Verizon problems for Netflix were actually caused by Netflix. Sort of like I said in February.

As the story concludes, it is based on the available numbers, and those may not be all the numbers.  Netflix may actually have good reasons to be negotiating with Comcast and Verizon this way. And it seems likely that there will eventually be a better way to handle the sharing of routes of pipes, called “peerage,” in the future.

For now, we’re stuck with this mess. And I don’t think it unreasonable for Netflix to try to push Comcast and Verizon into better service. These monopolistic giants are a burden to us all, and we would be better off with a different system.

Verizon signed a franchise agreement with the city of New York in 2007 that said it would provide universal fiber optic (FIOS) service throughout New York City by the end of June 2014. Uh oh.

It turns out that FIOS installation is really expensive. Verizon got slammed by our two big storms, Irene and Sandy, but the fact is they’re giving up on FIOS. Having no competition, they can sit on their decaying DSL system, invest less and milk their exclusive franchise until someone sues them for failure to deliver. Which will mean a fine, a cost of doing business, in the future, and leave large parts of New York City a tech black hole, and yet a cash cow, for the phone company.

I want my video now. And if Netflix is messing up my stream, they’re playing with fire. The problem is they have the extinguisher: No video.