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Me: Frank Lynch. These are my daily rants, mostly political. For something less spontaneous, I maintain The Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page (over 1,800 Johnson quotes), perhaps your best online resource for insight into his thinking.

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Bio: Born 1957, raised in Florida, moved to New York area in 1982; now live in Brooklyn. Married, with one daughter. I work in marketing research for Abt SRBI. My opinions should not be construed as representing those of my employer.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Gee, I hope this works out better than de-Baathification.

So you might have heard that the Speaker of the New York Assembly, Sheldon Silver, was indicted and arrested for corruption, accused of "accepting" $3.8 million in bribes and kickbacks. We (me and the cat, my editor) presume his innonence, but there are a lot of interesting aspects to this story. For one, the suspiciousness of Silver not reporting significant amounts of income, as required; the income he earned while working at a law firm whose specialty wasn't anything he was familiar with; why anyone might do this and not expect to be caught; but lastly and mostly that the Feds' investigation picked up steam after Governor Cuomo disbanded his anti-corruption Moreland Commission, and the Feds took over all the files.

Cuomo's sloth in rooting out corruption was one of the reasons Zephyr Teachout decided to primary him, and his closing of the Moreland Commission was one of her big talking points. (As well as fracking, which also helped her get the unprecedented, phenomenally high 35% vote count in the primary.) So the Times (and Teachout, naturally) are calling for Silver to resign, without having been convicted.

I have mixed feelings here. It's not quite the Louisiana "Vote For the Crook" bumper sticker, but it's in that direction. I do not want corruption in Albany, truly, or I would not have sent Teachout the campaign donation I did. But at the same time I'm not going to be pleased if a power vacuum creates new corruptions and darker forces. As one of the dealers said in a NYT article (not sure which article), "Sheldon was the devil we knew."

I want this to go well. I really do.

Link | Comments | 7:08 PM

Monday, January 19, 2015

Another sign of an improving economy?

So figures from Hollywood report an astonishing $90 million opening weekend for "American Sniper;" that's twice as much as the prior record for a January opening weekend. Here's what caught my eye, though: add up the revenue from the top 12 movies of the weekend, compare it to last year's, and year-over-year increase is 19%. Maybe last year's Top 12 were turkeys, or already stale. But something got people to open up their wallets this weekend.

Link | Comments | 10:25 AM

Friday, January 16, 2015

Message to the NYPD: your churlish brethren ticked us off.

Polling results show the voting public disapproved of the turned backs and work slowdowns. That's not just the public, it's the voting public. I hope it gives your better cops room to speak out and show some cracks in the solidarity.

Link | Comments | 12:54 PM

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

And now that I'm back from the 94th Annual Transportation Research Board conference...

Not ready to return to our regular programming yet, although I confess there's plenty of post-ready material, so automatic I'd swear one of our long-dead guinea pigs could crank out something on the concept of Mitt Romney running again in 2016.

(That whole album is great; if you don't have it, do yourself a favor and buy it.)

But as for the conference, this was my first trip; although before this I was a co-authour on a report we did on motivating support for transit, this year I was the primary author of a report on a project we did on truck drivers and how they log their hours of service. So I went down to answer any difficult questions requiring detailed responses, in support of our prime contractor's presentation (Gene Bergoffen, MaineWay Services). In addition, we (my boss and I) leveraged the data collection experiences into a presentation to a subcommittee that focuses on freight surveys.

So that's why I was there. And now I'll describe what it was like, and the handful of sessions I was able to attend. The conference is attended by over 12,000 people who work in transportation. And you have to understand that this isn't just buses and cars, it's rail, light rail, subways, freight trains, ferries, container ships, ports, semis... the whole gamut from the present, as well as future-looking perspectives on automated transit (driverless cars, etc.). I did not see a session on We Were Promised Jetpacks, regrettably. They talk about all sorts of industry-specific topics, they really drill down: what many would consider arcana (the erosive vulnerability of various pavement types), but all those specific under-the-hood topics add up to making you not notice how wonderful your world is.

The conference took over both buildings of DC's Walter E. Johnson Conference Center, as well as the adjoining Marriott, with discussion rooms not just up from street level, but three or four floors below. (Cue the Overture to Tannheuser, I guess.) And in any given block of sessions there must have been huuuuundreds, four blocks during the day and some at night.

So that's my overture to pointing out that there's no way I could give you any thing close to a representative sample of everything that went on. For a bunch of reasons: a few of my available blocks were taken up by my project on the truck drivers; there's no way I'm going to do a random sampling of the sessions that were offered (we have to focus); and lastly it continues tomorrow, and I'm not there.

So what did I see? I was really thrilled to see so many people dedicated, passionate about their fields and how they saw it contributing to our greater understanding and the benefit of the "people." Sometimes it came out in the sharing of the learnings from a database of a senior citizen's rider program; or the arts programs associated with transit stations in LA and here in NYC; or the improved transit time from setting it up so that people could board buses at all doors rather than just the fron the front; or the trends in fatalities associated with trucks, and how they've blossomed in North Dakota (away from the highways but close to the relatively new oil fields).

And I heard presenters and questioners from both sides of the "aisle," not D-R, necessarily, but system board members being open about how they can't afford more ridership because of their limited capacity; trucking industry people trying to get truck drivers to drive at night (easing local congestion) vs. concerns regarding drivers' attention at night; as well as speculative commentary on why these kids today don't want to be truck drivers, thus limiting the number of big rigs on the highways.

I generally sat on my hands in the sessions I went to, but I did ask a question in a session on improving customer experience. Two presenters discussed art in stations (LA and NYC). The presenter on NYC's station art focused on integrating the local neighborhood and maps into station design. She spent considerable time on Smith and 9th in Brooklyn, and showed how lucite (?) displays showed the neighborhood you'd have seen if you'd been there in the past. (I simplify.) In the Q&A I pointed out that the renovations done at Smith & 9th were done on a decrepit station, well overdue for some love. And I asked, "how often do you go beyond stations already marked for renovations? How often do you look at New Lots [a poor, tough neighborhood in Brooklyn]?" She pretty much whoomped me side a head: "Funny you should mention New Lots, next week I'm..." (wamp wamp)

Link | Comments | 10:54 PM

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is there no recognition that the NYPD's poor behavior is visible, obvious?

Okay, so you've heard that our very popularly-elected Mayor Bill De Blasio has come under fire from some members of the NYPD for, in the wake of a Staten Island grand jury's failure to hand down an indictment over the death-by-strangling of Eric Garner, to have shared how he and his wife have cautioned their mixed race son to be careful in dealing with the police. And how, after two idle policemen were murdered in Bed-Stuy by a malicious, aimless drifter, members of the police force have physically turned their backs to De Blasio (at the hospital the night of the shoootings, and then at each of their funerals). With others hiring planes to fly banners castigating the mayor.

Tonight the Times is running an op-ed piece from a retired policeman who says it comes down to not being shown sufficient respect. Before I launch into my vehement arguments on that, let me do a little overture: the voters' alternative to De Blasio was Joe Lhota, who ingraciously referred to the police working for the Port Authority as "mall cops". It's not like Lhota's comment made the NYPD feel as if they inhabited an elevated rung: Lhota was being a jerk, and apologized later. But had he won, he'd have had baggage every bit as overstuffed as De Blasio's: De Blasio had campaigned on eliminating stop and frisk. I'm not sure why the police actually liked that policy, since it led to so few arrests; shouldn't it have been apparent even to them?

Now, as for the op-ed. I get that the force doesn't like being characterized as racist, and for them that's a lack of respect. But it's not like the "bad" cops have brands on their foreheads which will tell Dante how to behave. It's not like the proportion of bad cops is known, or known to be a sliver. And it's not as if the good, responsible cops are visibly shunning the bad, or complaining about their behavior. It's like Russian Roulette: if you had 75 unlabeled cans of food, and you knew one of them would kill you, wouldn't you be cautious about any can you opened? And maybe wish you'd gone to McDonald's?

There's nothing wrong with what the mayor said; a person of color would be wise to be careful until such time as the conditions I just laid out were achieved. The cops who are protesting are identifying too much with each other, and have no idea how they are perceived.

Link | Comments | 9:46 PM

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As big as this is, not sure it's enough.

So there's this oil company called "Shell." You probably haven't heard of them unless you read Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, because aside from being a side theme, they're nobodies, a Mom and Pop shop of no importance, like that other one, You Bet Your Sweet Bippy, or something.

Well, you might also have heard that they had some serious spills in the Niger Delta. And they were awful, and they were serously toxic. Shell is ponying up at last, to the tune of $84 million (US). I wish I was in a better position to judge the equity of this; on the one hand I don't think the communities were thriving by first world standards, but if there was a potential for growth and rising beyond their situation at the time, do you compensate them for what they were then, or is there some recognition of longer term losses?

The spills here -- and the avoidance of accountability, similar to what we saw with Bippy in the Gulf -- are stark warnings about the risks associated with the Keystone Pipeline and the aquifer through which it runs. The Shell oil spillse happened in 2008 and 2009, and it's only now that there's a tilt towards resolution. Should we be led to believe that the people behind the Keystone pipeline will be more eager to make restitution? Why do I have the feeling that they'll never raise it with their Saturday confessors, much less adhere to a prescribed penance more serious than a couple Rosaries?

Link | Comments | 8:16 PM

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Fame is a shuttlecock," said you-know-who.

And I wouldn't mind it at all if someone in the White House press corps asked Josh Earnest about Representative Steve Scalise every day. I happen to think there's not much here besides the stupidity of an opportunistic rising politician, but this was an unforced error the Republicans didn't need. The CW I've heard is that the GOP wanted a Southerner in leadership, and that's why he's not sandwiched between asphalt and a bus yet. You'd think they could find another Southerner, though, without resorting to the likes of Louie Gohmert. (Gohmert may not be interested, as it seems he wants Boehner's gavel.)

Link | Comments | 8:06 PM

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Burning Bridget Cleary.

Found this through Bands In Town's listings of bands similar to those I track for local shows.

Link | Comments | 6:27 PM

Lindsey Graham pledges allegiance to Netanyahu.

And the Right has been afraid of us throwing away our sovereignty to the U.N.?

Link | Comments | 3:51 PM

Andrew Cuomo hits the right notes.

From the credit where credit is due department... Governor Cuomo interrupted his mourning for his dad yesterday by attending the wake of Wenjian Liu, one of the two police officers murdered as they sat in their cruiser two weeks ago in Bed-Stuy. While there, Cuomo spoke about the need to "move to a phase of healing in this city." In doing so, he talked of the daily possibility that an officer won't come home, and the pain and anguish which Liu's family and his partner's family have gone through.

But he also talked about the similar pains felt by Eric Garner's family. The importance of mentioning Garner's family can't be understated, as it reminds us of the inherent similarities, that all are suffering, and asking us to realize the pain they are all feeling.

This had to come from Cuomo, as he is seen as the anti-De Blasio. I don't think De Blasio was wrong for speaking of the care which Dante should take when dealing with the police: it's not as if the cops who are racist have a brand on their forehead to cue the person of color whether he'd dealing with a good cop or one of "them." A person of color has to be careful with all cops, and not just the white ones.

Today at Liu's funeral, a large group of our "finest" again turned their back as De Blasio spoke, contrary to warnings from Bratton and a request from Liu's widow. A core, churlish group has not gotten the message.

Link | Comments | 3:25 PM

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Excuse me, how do I get to Mecca from here?

So there's this scene in "Four Lions" where one of the less informed of the underinformed Brit-Pak wannabe terrorists is now in Pakistan, to train for terrorism, and doesn't understand that while in London he should direct himself to pray to the east, that no longer applies once he is east of Mecca.

The sound on this clip is pretty bad, and it's out of context, but here you go. (Don't let this stop you from watching the movie.)

I only bring this up because you're bored, I'm bored, it's a holiday weekend, and there was this item in the Paper of Record, regarding an alleged terrorist, who'd did before trial here in NYC:

"who, after Mr. Ruqai died, turned his body in a northeast direction, to face Mecca."

OK, so now I have to give the NYT kudos and thorns. First, yes, they originally suggested that Mecca was northeast of NYC, and if you click through they've amended that. That's true. Second, they saw the error of their ways. Good for them. But in the shifting sands of writing for the Internet they chose to correct the "northeast" reference silently, with no mention (as if they'd misspelled "their."). First, this ticks me off to no end because on a slow news weekend I can't even find dog-bites-Area Man stories. Second, (and it's really first) there is no correction on the current page where the stupidity is openly confessed. It really should be confessed.

I actually spent some time on this. I'm glad the NYT realized it was wrong, but really? Is no one watching anything?

Link | Comments | 8:20 PM

Friday, January 2, 2015

Mario Cuomo on immigration and equality.

At the Abraham Lincoln Association Banquet, Springfield, IL, February 12, 1986. Excerpt.

Many battles have been won. The embrace of our unity has been gradually but inexorably expanded.

But Lincoln's work is not yet done.

A century after Lincoln preached his answer of equality and mutual respect, some discrimination—of class or race or sex or ethnicity—as a bar to full participation in America still remains.

Unpleasant reminders of less enlightened times linger. Sometimes they are heard in whispers. At other times they are loud enough to capture the attention of the American people.

I have had my own encounter with this question, and I have spoken of it.

Like millions of others, I am priveleged to be a first-generation American. My mother and father came to this country more than sixty years ago with nothing but their hopes. Without education, skills, or wealth.

Through the opportunity given them here to lift themselves through hard work, they were able to raise a family. My mother has lived to see her youngest child become chief executive of one of the greatest states in the greatest nation in the only world we know.

Like millions of other children of immigrants, I know the strength that immigrants can bring. I know the richness of a society that allows us a whole new culture without requiring us to surrender the one our parents were born to. I know the miraculous power of this place that helps people rise up from poverty to security, and even affluence, in the course of a single lifetime. With generations of other children of immigrants, I know about equality and opportunity and unity in a special way.

And I know how, from time to time, all this beauty can be challenged by the misguided children of the Know-Nothings, by the shortsighted and the unkind, by contempt that masks itself as humor, by all the casual or conscious bigotry that must keep the American people vigilant.

We heard such voices again recently saying things like: "Italians ae not politically popular."

"Catholics will have a problem."

"He has an ethnic problem."

An ethnic problem.

We hear the word again. "Wop."

"We oftentimes refer to people of Italian descent as 'Wops,'" said one public figure, unabashedly.

Now, given the unbroken string of opportunity and good fortune provided me by this country, I might simply have ignored these references. I could easily have let the words pass as inconsequential, especially remembering Lincoln, himself the object of scorn and ridicule. But the words took on significance because they were heard far beyond my home or my block or even my state. Because they were heard by others who remembered times of their own when words stung and menaced them and their people.

And becuase they raised a question about our system of fundamental American values that Lincoln helped construct and died for. Is it true? Are there really so many who have never heard Lincoln's voice, or the sweet sound of reason and fairness? So many who do not understand the beauty and power of this place, that they could make of the tint of your skin or the sex you were born to or the vowels of your name an impediment to progress in this, the land of opportunity?

From More Than Words: The Speeches of Mario Cuomo; St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Link | Comments | 11:00 AM

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Police Benevolent Association Fee-Fees.

So in the wake of a Staten Island grand jury failing to indict any members of the NYPD over the strangling of Eric "I Can't Breathe" Garner, Mayor De Blasio identified with the fear that many people of color have regarding the police, and said that he and his wife cautioned their mixed-race son Dante to be careful:

But the mayor, who shied away from describing family conversations after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., volunteered on Wednesday [December 3] that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, had instructed Dante "on how to take special care" in encounters with police officers, and described a private worry of whether his son was safe at night.

And apparently for his failure to include a grateful preamble to the bulk of the NYPD (as well as including arguments against "stop and frisk" in his campaign points), De Blasio has fired up all sorts of resistence from some unmeasured proportion of the NYPD. When two officers were ambushed and killed in Bed-Stuy last Saturday, the head of the Policemen's Benevolent Association accused De Blasio of having bllod on his hands; when De Blasio went to the hospital where two officers had been taken after being fatally shot, a number of policemen on the scene turned their backs to him; this past Friday, a plane circled the city tugging a banner that read "De Blasio, our backs have turned to you"; and yesterday, at the funeral of one of the officers, scores of police again turned their backs on the mayor.

All because he omitted an introductory statement about the bulk of the NYPD being dedicated and forthright. I'm amazed still that those who disagree with the Mayor have had such a command of the attention, and that others have not come out and acknowledged the legitimacy of people's complaints. Eric Garner was not the first, of course. And while no individual case may indicate racism, it takes me back to my cognitive psych classes regarding prototypes. Let's say you have a prototype design of dots, and only expose subjects to variants of the prototype, not the prototype itself. People become convinced that the've actually seen the prototype, even though they've only seen its variants. The NYPD has a perception problem that it has to deal with; a significant proportion of the community sees it as racist, and until the NYPD accepts that, acknowledges the perceptions, acknowledges the events that lead to it, and deals with it, it's not going to change.

Link | Comments | 12:08 PM

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cooler heads aren's prevailing enough: two cops shot in Brooklyn.

You know the drill with the Eric Garner case. Friday night there was a pro-police rally in front of City Hall, with some guy flying in from out of town to sell his "I Can Breathe" t-shirts. (In other contexts people like these are called "outside agitators." Or opportunists, take your pick.) There were also opposing marches, and heavy police presence on Flatbush Avenue on the blocks near Barclays Center. (The Nets were out of town, so I assumed they were part of a contengency in case there were marches. But that's speculation.)

Yesterday afternoon two cops were murdered in cold blood in Bedford-Stuyvesant as they sat in their squad car; the presumed assailant -- with a long arrest record -- killed himself shortly thereafter. The guy was apparently on some kind of rampage, having shot his former girlfriend in Baltimore that morning, made threatening posts on social media expressing anger over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases expressing an intent to kill police, and travelled north to NYC.

So, cue the anger. PBA head Patrick Lynch, who had just a week before circulated a form that officers could sign in case they were slain in duty, asking that Mayor DeBlasio not appear at their funerals -- well his list of those who have blood on their hands "starts at City Hall in the Office of the Mayor."

But the New York Times has reported (and I believe it's true), that DeBlasio has been careful to support both the police and the right to protest:

The mayor has taken care to praise officers’ work repeatedly since the grand jury decision, but he has stressed the rights of protesters to express themselves and spoken of his personal experience instructing his biracial son, Dante, to "take special care" during any police encounters.

That statement about "special care" apparently angered a good portion of the NYPD, and when DeBlasio showed up at a press conference last night a number of officers turned their backs to him.

Into this mess, as if we needed him to weigh in, tweets George Pataki.

Your mileage may vary, but the last thing this controversy needs is a fly-off-the-handle politician like George Pataki, who back in 2003 added to the conflation of 9/11 and Saddam Hussein by suggesting that metal from his torn-down statue be melted and forged into a girder for the new WTC. "The war started right here on September 11 of 2001." The one in Afghanistan started at Ground Zero, but the one in Iraq started at the Bush White House. Pataki is nothing more than a weather vane, and is of no help now.

Link | Comments | 8:35 AM

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Well. Isn't THIS interesting.

Jeb Bush financial improprieties.

Link | Comments | 6:46 PM

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Well. A good day.

It was, by any measure.

  • US-Cuba relations ease incredibly.
  • The thaw was brokered by the Pope.
  • Individual executives at the company ("Freeeeeeeeedom Industries!") that polluted the Elk River (WV) with all those horrible chemicals were indicted.
  • A judge semi-righted a wrong: throwing out the conviction of a black teen 70 years after he was executed for allegedly beating two white girls to death. (A semi here, because it's obviously regrettable this decision was ever needed.)
  • NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is going to ban fracking. (His failure to do so earlier is one factor which contributed to Zephyr Teachout getting north of 30% against him in the September primary. So we still thank Teachout.)
  • SCOTUS refuses to wade in on a case in Arizona, where the prior highest decision was yes, let immigrants the US won't deport get driver's licenses.
  • A captain at Rikers Island was convicted of violating a prisoner's civil rights, and callously letting him die. He only faces ten years, though.
  • Colombia is putting Gabriel Garcia Marquez on their money. No word on the denomination (might be Catholic, in that country, nyuk), but the hundred would be damned cool.

I have no doubt that there's bad news out there today too, but this was pretty impressive.

I hope you remember this guy from Buena Vista Social Club...

Link | Comments | 7:40 PM

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