Friday, May 19, 2006


It seems like a broken record but somehow the President and the Senate are still talking about languages, with Bush reiterating his earlier comments that immigrants should learn English while the Senate considers a bill that would make English the "national" language.

Obviously this is pandering to the unfortunate majority of people who find this kind of thing to be important. How is it relevant whether a given person is speaking English or Spanish or French or Swahili or ancient Aramaic? If an immigrant wants to advance to a better job or to an opportunity where speaking English is required, he or she will learn it. That's their own business. If the government wants to provide classes to help them do so, more power to them.

English is not in danger of being replaced as the dominant language in this country. Lawmakers need to stop wasting the nation's time with this nonsense.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Common Sense Taxed

With another tax bill that primarily benefits the rich passed today, this one worth $69 billion, one can only wonder how in the face of a mounting deficit and unfathomable war costs, Republicans can continue to cut taxes for the wealthy. They need to pay for that all-important security fence, after all.

It's not just that Republicans love rich people, or don't care about the future. Sure, those things are mostly true, but average people who salivate over the phrase "tax cut" every other November are just as much to blame. Your local Republican senator will now go around thumping his chest about how he cut taxes. Meanwhile if you make less than $75,000 a year, he saved you about 100 bucks or less. That'll get you about 3 extra tanks of gas.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fare Scare

According to the New York State comptroller, the MTA can get by without its proposed fare hike next year thanks to an unexpectedly high cash balance.

Good news although I highly doubt that the MTA will not raise fares, something they've been more and more eagar to do in the last few years. Obviously being able to get from Brooklyn to the Bronx or from Jamaica to downtown Manhattan for $2 is a bargain.

Still the service isn't any better than it was when the price was $1.50 a ride, and we know that money isn't going to significantly higher pay for transit workers, so where exactly is it going? A typical trip through the New York City subway system entails watching cat-sized rats scurry across the tracks, and hoping that your train will actually take its prescribed route, which it often does not with no notice or announcement. When you are on the right track, so to speak, you're often delayed by "switching problems" or "debris" or one of a plethora of other problems that can keep you motionless in a dark tunnel for 20, 30, or even 40 minutes.

Another fun trick the MTA likes to play is changing train routes for no apparent reason. The D goes where the B used to go, and the C doesn't go to the Bronx anymore, and wait, there's a V and a W now? You often find yourself wondering if you were absent the day in Kindergarden when they went over the alphabet.

I know a good deal when I see one. I'm perfectly willing to pay $2.50 for a trip into the city, but for 5 trips a week that's an extra $130 a year. I want to get something in return this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Exit Exams... Exit.

In California a judge plans to grant an injunction blocking the graduation of high school seniors who hadn't passed a controverial exit exam that had been put into place this year.

Good for him. An exam like this is utterly pointless. We're talking about a high school diploma here, not a law degree or a doctorate. It's not the state has to live up to the standards of employers out there who are blown away by the incredible achievement of making it through the rigors of high school. Just give them their diplomas and let them get on with their lives.

New York State and its regents exams are a similar situation. If a teacher felt that a student had done enough to pass a given course, why does he or she have to prove it again by sitting through a test that does little but test their ability to take tests? Society wouldn't be losing anything by graduating students who don't have that all important skill.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Thought That Counts

As construction began this week at the World Trade Center site, an increasingly nasty debate has erupted over the ballooning pricetag of the Ground Zero memorial, the safety of the planned underground museum, and the emotions entangled with the design that was selected without much public input.

Some question the concern over the price when more is being spent by the city to build stadiums. Others lament the use of the issue to further politicized agendas, and the governors of New York and New Jersey demanding that the pricetag be slashed in half. Meanwhile some victims family members are skewering the design itself saying that it doesn't do enough to honor those who died.

This is out of hand. The point of a memorial is for those who see it to remember what happened there. It shouldn't matter whether it costs $1 billion or $500 million or $49.99 with free shipping and handling. Do we really need giant reflecting pools and underground waterfalls to appreciate the severity of 9/11?

Super-artsy architecture and futuristic designs and glass cases with 9/11 artifacts are all well and good, but in the end it's the thought, or the thoughts of the people who view whatever winds up being there, that counts.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Horse Is A Horse, And So On

Well another year and once again, my Kentucky Derby strategy of picking the horse with the coolest name, in this case, Sinister Minister, fails to pay off with the big bucks. Sigh.

I was sure to pay extra close attention to the race this year, because in the face of the current fuel crisis, this might be the mode of transportation that we're all using within the next couple of years.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Warehouses, Identity Burn in Brooklyn

New York City's largest fire in over a decade has been burning for the past 3 days over blocks worth of abandoned warehouses in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blaze, which has been labeled suspicious because of accelerant found in five different spots around the building.

The owner of the site is a real estate developer whose plan to build waterfront condos has stalled because of historical preservationists who are trying to get the century-old warehouses declared landmarks, which would mean that they couldn't be taken down. Well, so much for that. Seems like those condos will be going up after all. Surprise, surprise.

I don't buy the "industrial history" argument, but the borough of Brooklyn is undergoing a massive change that mirrors what will happen at the site of the fire. One and two family homes and small businesses are being replaced by towering condo developments that developers are rushing to get built ahead of a proposed zoning law change by the city.

Drive down the 6-mile span of Ocean Avenue, for example, and you'll see at least ten active construction sites all building the same thing---condo developments that look almost identical. Emmons Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, which used to be dotted with seafood restaurants is now the home to and endless sea of completed and semi-completed condos, one taller than the next. Brooklyn is still the most unique of the boroughs, but you can't help but feel that some of that character is being drowned.

On the Greenpoint waterfront, it will be more of the same. It doesn't take a pyrotechnics engineer to figure out what happened there.