Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

NYC to require permits for public photography

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Oh, this is good:

Some tourists, amateur photographers, even would-be filmmakers hoping to make it big on YouTube could soon be forced to obtain a city permit and $1 million in liability insurance before taking pictures or filming on city property, including sidewalks.

New rules being considered by the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting would require any group of two or more people who want to use a camera in a single public location for more than a half hour to get a city permit and insurance. …

Julianne Cho, assistant commissioner of the film office, said the rules were not intended to apply to families on vacation or amateur filmmakers or photographers.

Nevertheless, the New York Civil Liberties Union says the proposed rules, as strictly interpreted, could have that effect. The group also warns that the rules set the stage for selective and perhaps discriminatory enforcement by police. …

Christopher Dunn, the group’s associate legal director… suggested that the city deliberately kept the language vague, and that as a result police would have broad discretion in enforcing the rules. In a letter sent to the film office this week, Mr. Dunn said the proposed rules would potentially apply to tourists in places like Times Square, Rockefeller Center or ground zero, “where people routinely congregate for more than half an hour and photograph or film.”

The rule could also apply to people waiting in line to enter the Empire State Building or other tourist attractions.

The rules define a “single site” as any area within 100 feet of where filming begins. Under the rules, the two or more people would not actually have to be filming, but could simply be holding an ordinary camera and talking to each other. …

Mr. Dunn says that in addition to the rules being overreaching, they would also create enforcement problems.

“Your everyday person out there with a camcorder is never going to know about the rules,” Mr. Dunn said. “It completely opens the door to discriminatory enforcement of the permit requirements, and that is of enormous concern to us because the people who are going to get pointed out are the people who have dark skin or who are shooting in certain locations.”

Not only will your everyday citizen not know the rules, but I bet your everyday police officer won’t, either. They’ll just know there’s some sort of law that says you need a permit to take pictures, and they’ll use that knowledge to their own advantage as needed. This relates back to what I was talking about yesterday. In addition to the problems mentioned by the NYCLU, the permit scheme will add another weapon to the arsenal of intimidation devices that bad cops can use when citizens dare criticize their actions or question their authority to issue commands they’re not actually authorized to issue. Now, it’ll be: “interfering with a police officer, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest… and taking photos on city property without a permit.” Nevermind that the charge might not stand up in court — it’ll be enough to get most people to back off from, you know, asserting their constitutional rights, including freedom of assembly and the general right to be free from arbitrary governmental interference with legal activities in public areas.

P.S. Imagine the implications of this for videotaping police activity. If someone is standing on a sidewalk, talking with a friend while recording the police making an arrest, and he’s there for more than a half-hour, the police now have a legitimate basis to tell him to stop. (Well… “legitimacy” is in the eye of the beholder… but at least on its face, under New York law, it’ll be legitimate.) Even if the photographer is there for less than a half-hour, do you really think that’s going to stop a policeman (who doesn’t fully know the rules) from accosting a photographer (who’s never even heard of the rules), if by doing so the officer can shield his actions from scrutiny?

Contact information for the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting is here. Contact information for President Mayor Bloomberg himself is here.

Apparently, New York City is one giant nude beach

Monday, June 18th, 2007

To wear a shirt, or not to wear a shirt? It’s up to you, New York, New York:

Who knew it was legal for a woman to walk around with her breasts exposed in New York?

Well, one woman did – and a cop didn’t – and now she has forced the city to fork over a $29,000 legal settlement for illegally busting her when she lawfully bared her bosom and went for a stroll two years ago.

Why didn’t the producers of Sex & the City ever capitalize on this law?

Was the JFK plot even possible?

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

You’ve probably heard already about yesterday’s big anti-terror news, the foiled JFK plot:

Federal authorities announced Saturday they had broken up a suspected Muslim terrorist cell planning a “chilling” attack to destroy John F. Kennedy International Airport, kill thousands of people and trigger an economic catastrophe by blowing up a jet fuel artery that runs through populous residential neighborhoods.

WCBS explains that “the suspects believed explosives could ignite the pipeline at JFK and destroy the airport and parts of Queens, where the line runs underground.” But the key phrase there, it turns out, is “the suspects believed.” According to at least one expert, that belief was flat wrong:

Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline expert and president of Accufacts Inc., an energy consulting firm that focuses on pipelines and tank farms, said the force of explosion would depend on the amount of fuel under pressure, but it would not travel up and down the line.

“That doesn’t mean wackos out there can’t do damage and cause a fire, but those explosions and fires are going to be fairly restricted,” he said.

Now, look, I don’t go out of my way to assume that the government is “hyping up” terror plots… but um, isn’t U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf being a little too credulous here? She says “the devastation that would be caused had this plot succeeded is just unthinkable,” but that statement isn’t very meaningful if the plot could not have succeeded as envisioned. She echoes the terrorists’ own claims that the attack would have caused “greater destruction than in the Sept. 11 attacks,” calling this “one of the most chilling plots imaginable.” But isn’t that all dependent on the fire and explosion going “up and down the line,” which apparently would not have happened?

If I hatched a “plot” to kill thousands of people using fairy dust, a magic wand, and a Harry Potter spell, it wouldn’t be “chilling” so much as ridiculous. And the mere fact that I might have believed the plot would succeed, doesn’t make it so. [UPDATE: Likewise in commenter Doc’s alternate analogy, if I hatched a “plot” to kill thousands of people with a knife. It’d be good to catch me, obviously, but it would be rather idiotic to uncritically repeat my own assertions that the knife attack would have been “worse than 9/11.”]

Now, perhaps the government has its own expert advice that differs from Mr. Kuprewicz’s. If so, I’d like to hear it. But as it stands now, this seems like much ado over not very much.

That said, of course it’s a very good thing that these men, who clearly intended to harm America (and who could certainly have killed at least a good handful of people), are in custody. I congratulate the authorities for busting up this plot, and I am grateful for their efforts. I just don’t think we should be throwing around “worse than 9/11” rhetoric unless it’s, you know, actually true.

P.S. There’s also this: “Since Defreitas [one of the plotters] has worked at the airport, security has tightened, and his knowledge of the operation was severely outdated.”

As I said, I’m glad we got these guys, but for me, this just doesn’t pass the sniff test as a terribly serious plot. Between the apparent physical impossibility issue, the outdated expertise issue, the plot’s silly code-name (“Chicken Farm”), and the ridiculous statement that blowing up JFK Airport would be especially traumatic because “[Americans] love John F. Kennedy like he’s the man… it’s like you can kill the man twice” (huh?), I’m just not that impressed.

UPDATE: I found Mr. Kuprewicz’s e-mail address online, and on a lark, shot him an e-mail, asking for a bit more detail and whether he agreed with my conclusions here. To my surprise and delight, he wrote back almost immediately:

You are correct in that a pipeline explosion will not move up or down a pipeline. One can get a serious explosion depending on the pipeline at the point of release, usually a big rupture where the dynamics forces in the pipeline cause the pipe to shrapnel, but the burning front remains at the general site of the release. Depending on several factors which are pipeline specific…a pipeline fire and/or explosion can be quite large, but no where as large as suggested by various commentators who appear to be very uninformed about this important infrastructure (both pipelines and terminals). …

Reviewing your blog, I would not disagree with your posted opinions and observations on the overstatements concerning this threat.

He also suggested this Yahoo group, a “pipeline safety discussion list,” which contains some more reactions to the JFK plot coverage. Among other things, it includes a link to an ABC News article quoting an unnamed official as saying that the plot “was not technically feasible”:

The pipeline snakes more than 100 miles from Pennsylvania through New Jersey to JFK. Once they learned of the plot, authorities investigated at what points the pipeline could be accessed and found that even if those points were bombed, there would be little to no impact — and no ignition — and that the only way to wreak havoc at JFK would be to
detonate bombs at the airport itself.

But, a source said, “They never let go of the idea,” and seemed determined to find a way to execute it regardless.

Another post on the Yahoo group wonders “if the plotters got the idea of a fire traveling down a pipeline from Hollywood.” It links to a UPI article on the impossibility of the plot:

Blowing up a jet-fuel pipeline at New York’s Kennedy airport might not have produced the chain-reaction inferno the accused plotters allegedly imagined.

An examination of safety documents and scientific studies by UPI Saturday indicated it would be virtually impossible for flames to travel through the line and ignite at other points along the line.

Commercial airliner fuel, known as Jet-A, is a form of kerosene and requires a mix with air before it becomes explosive. Because pipelines are under pressure, the fuel would be forced out through the hole in the pipe where it would likely catch fire. The flames, however, would not travel back through the line.

Explosions along petroleum pipelines carrying jet fuel in the San Jose and Seattle areas in recent years caused casualties; however, the blasts were limited to the original breaches.


Friday, June 1st, 2007


Once again, New York City smells

Monday, January 8th, 2007

There is a strong odor of gas across much of Manhattan this morning, which has — needless to say — alarmed many New Yorkers. At a press conference moments ago, Mayor Bloomberg responded to reporters’ questions about the smell by stating, “Don’t ask me. He who smelt it, dealt it.” No, actually, Jersey City officials say they’ve been told the odor is “due to a gas leak in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.” Ah well, at least it’s not maple syrup.

UPDATE: Apparently the gas leak isn’t the culprit. According to the New York Times, Bloomberg “said a construction-related gas leak at Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village this morning was a small one of the kind that occurs frequently in the city, and could not account for the widespread smell.”

He also made the following not-at-all-reassuring statement: “We don’t know what it is. … The one thing we are very confident of is that it’s not dangerous.” Um, yeah, I said it before and I’ll say it again: How can they be “very confident” that it’s not dangerous if they don’t have any clue what the hell it is??? That makes no sense!

Anyway, the New York Times‘s Empire Zone blog is speculating that the source of the smell might be mercaptan:

While they don’t know yet what it is, the mayor said, they are pretty sure about what it isn’t: a major gas leak. First of all, no increased levels of natural gas in the city’s open air have been detected. Second, there is no telltale sign on Con Edison’s control screens of any unexplained drop in pressure.

And furthermore, as many folks already know, natural gas itself does not have an odor.

A common additive to natural gas does, though — it is put there as a safety feature, so that consumers will notice when gas is leaking. It’s called mercaptan.

The mayor said the investigation is continuing, and that while the odor may turn out after all to come from mercaptan-laced natural gas, it may simply be a leak of mercaptan on its own (which at this point seems more likely, given the air quality test results so far).

In other news, birds are mysteriously dropping dead in Austin, Texas. I blame global warming! :) Actually, wait a minute… didn’t that happen in The Core? Heaven help us if the events of The Core are coming true, because that would mean the laws of physics have ceased to function. :)

NBA brawl: suspensions in

Monday, December 18th, 2006

They ended up lighter than I expected. 15 games for ‘Melo, the maximum penalty of all involved.

I still stand by my original statement Friday night.

Flagrant fools

Sunday, December 17th, 2006

If the NBA was going to have a(nother) big brawl, I’m glad it was at Madison Square Garden, just because the New York tabloids are so entertaining at times like these…


The Post‘s Andrew Marchand asks, “Is this the final straw for Isiah?” The Daily News calls it a new low, and News columnist Lisa Olsen writes:

It was offensive enough when they were falling into the Garden crowd, risking injury not just to themselves, but to innocent bystanders. This was criminal behavior perpetuated by both the Nuggets and the Knicks, and if David Stern had the cojones, he would expel their precious bodies into the next season.

As it was last night, 10 players were ejected, the NBA once again gave the impression it was a league perpetuated by thugs, and yet, the madness did not end there. It shouldn’t be that difficult to separate bravado from responsibility, machismo from reality, but there stood Nate Robinson nearly an hour after the blood had barely dried on one of the game’s worst brawls ever, talking about how it was all about “trying to protect family.”

Good Lord, what a way to pile shame on top of the disgrace. Had some masked man just broken through the window and stolen Robinson’s bling? Had his fancy ride been carjacked? At least the culprits involved in the Pistons fight against the Pacers two seasons ago in Detroit had the good sense to shut up.

There will be plenty of opportunity to dissect last night’s film from all angles, to replay again and again the sorry sight of Jared Jeffries going after Carmelo Anthony at midcourt, the pitiful images of Robinson and J.R. Smith wrestling atop the baseline crowd. There will be mammoth fines, lengthy suspensions. Psychologists will moan about the decline of sportsmanship, and they’ll be right. Robinson’s postgame justifications might even get lost in the roar, but they shouldn’t. Because the attitude precedes the actions, always.

Robinson and some of the other Knicks, including and most importantly their coach, actually had the audacity to suggest the Nuggets were at fault because their starters were still in the game late in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks trailed by 19. As if Thomas never had the killer instinct. As if that was reason enough to start chest-bumping and fighting.

“It was like a slap in the face to us,” Robinson said of the Nuggets’ strategy. He went on to add that never in his life, not in high school or in college, had any opponent done something so disgraceful, so dishonorable. “We just tried to come back from a deficit and they still had their starters in the game. It was a slap in the face to us, to the franchise.”

As I said in comments last night, those comments from the Knicks and — especially — their coach Isiah Thomas were just incredibly, unbelievably lame.

November 2004 redux

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

I’m not talking about the election…but about tonight’s brawl between the Nuggets and the Knicks in NYC.

It all started on a flagrant foul. That alone warranted an ejection but we did not need to see what happened next. Ten ejections (all players on the court.) Carmelo Anthony probably deserves at least a 40-game suspension. Collins? Probably 20.

ESPN has video clips.


How we’ve changed

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

It occurs to me that the media reaction to today’s tragic plane crash in New York City is a great example of how we’ve changed since 9/11.

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, when the first pictures of the burning North Tower appeared on TV, it would already have been entirely reasonable, if you think about it, to conclude that the tower had been deliberately hit; we were just too naive to see that. But the evidence was there: it was a crystal-clear day, the gash in the building’s side was huge and the fire massive (making the notion that terrorists would attack in such a manner entirely plausible), and the World Trade Center is so much taller than every other building in that area that it simply didn’t make any sense that someone would accidently fly a plane into it. If such an attack happened today, with our post-9/11 mentality, we would all immediately assume terrorism, even before the second plane hit. And yet on 9/11 itself, even after the second plane hit, some TV news anchors were still implausibly clinging to the notion that maybe this was somehow a freak double-accident (although at that point they acknowledged that was unlikely). If you watch the real-time coverage, it seems odd, really. It wasn’t until President Bush called it an “apparent terrorist attack” that the anchors really became comfortable raising the spectre of “terrorism.”

Flash forward to Wednesday afternoon, October 11, 2006. When the first pictures of the fire at Belaire Apartments appeared on TV, it was immediately, instinctively obvious that this was not terrorism. The fire was far too small to make an “attack” scenario seem plausible. Meanwhile, “accident” scenarios, unlike on 9/11, seemed instantly plausible: it was a foggy, dreary day in New York (though I have no idea if that was actually a factor in the crash), the plane that flew into the building was obviously small (increasing the possibility that there was no co-pilot, so maybe a heart attack or something caused it), and the Belaire building wasn’t nearly as disproportionately tall as the WTC had been, so it didn’t seem totally ridiculous that a plane in trouble might accidentally crash into it while trying to avoid other buildings. Point is, there was never any way this was terrorism. No way.

And yet, and yet. The attitude of the media was exactly the opposite of the initial 9/11 coverage. It wasn’t, “This is an accident, right? What else could it be?” Rather, it was, “This isn’t terrorism, is it? Are you sure? Please, tell us it’s not terrorism!” Virtually every question that was asked, every piece of information that was conveyed, was done so in the context of trying to figure out whether this was terrorism. Meaningless non-facts like “the FBI cannot rule anything out, including terrorism” were given major play. (Of course they can’t rule anything out; it happened 20 freakin’ minutes ago. They can’t rule out space aliens, either.) This is all quite understandable, beacuse the first thought on everyone’s mind was, of course, terrorism. That’s the post-9/11 reality. And it’s not just the media: the government dispatched fighter jets, the FBI dispatched terrorism investigators, and the Department of Homeland Security announced they were “closely monitoring the situation” — all because of a crash that was, instinctively, on its face, self-evidently not caused by terrorism.

Mind you, none of this is a criticism. As far as I’m concerned, everyone did exactly what they should have. With regard to the government response, even when there is self-evidently a 99.9% chance that something is not terrorism, it’s still prudent to take precuations until you’re 100% sure. And the media was just giving people the answers to the question we were all naturally asking — questions most of us weren’t asking when we initially saw that first fire at the WTC on 9/11.

I just think it’s an interesting reflection of how much we’ve changed since 5 years and 1 month ago.

Darfur protest photos

Monday, September 18th, 2006

My mom’s pictures of yesterday’s Central Park “Save Darfur” rally are now online.

Full gallery here. You can also hear my mom’s live audioblog posts, if you missed them, here and here. The first one is rather garbled, probably due to a bad cell-phone connection, but the second one is crystal clear.

Here’s a New York Times article about the demonstration in NYC and others around the world. Police estimated the NYC crowd at 20,000; organizers said it was more like 30,000.

Darfur rally

Sunday, September 17th, 2006

My mom will be at the Save Darfur rally in NYC this afternoon. She has a cell phone now; I’m not sure whether she’ll be able to liveblog, but she does at least plan to take pictures with her digital camera. So, stay tuned.

Three years ago today…

Monday, August 14th, 2006

the lights went out.

More here.

P.S. Here, for your listening pleasure, is a compilation of all my blog audio posts during the blackout:

source file

Farewell to the Dolyan

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

A somewhat momentous occasion in my family occurred this past weekend, as five years after moving into an apartment in northern Manhattan which served as a sort of “home away from home” in NYC, my parents moved their stuff out of there and returned permanently to Newington. The lease on the New York apartment expired today.

Mind you, the house in Newington has remained my parents’ primary “home” throughout the last five years, so they’re not really “moving” per se. They’re more “consolidating,” if you will. :) They got the New York apartment — the “Dolyan Heights,” we called it, or just “the Dolyan” — while my mom was in art school part-time at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, so she’d have a place to stay while in the city and an art studio to work on her printmaking. (She was there on 9/11, barely a month after they got the place. Luckily, the apartment is about as far away from the World Trade Center as you can get while still in Manhattan.) After she graduated from Pratt in 2003, the Dolyan allowed my mom to maintain a foothold in the City, which was essential for various art shows, teaching jobs, and so forth.

My dad also spent a fair amount of time in the Dolyan, as did I, whenever I happened to be in New York. Indeed, in 2003, after graduating college, I lived there for several months while working in Tribeca. I never really thought about how far away the Hudson Heights region (between Washington Heights and Inwood) is from Tribeca until the Blackout of 2003 struck, and I suddenly had to figure out how to get from one tip of Manhattan to the other (a distance of about 10 miles) with no subways running, no ATMs working and a dollar of cash in my pocket. :) Anyway, the Dolyan was my home during the blackout, and it was also home base for Becky, Shannon, Adrienne and me during one of the funnest weekends ever. I have lots of happy memories of that place.

Alas, keeping the apartment was no longer practical for my parents, so they have finally bid farewell to the Dolyan. Here’s the final picture of the apartment, looking rather barren after my parents have hauled all their stuff into a rental van for the drive back to Newington:

To the next renters of Apartment 2K at 802 West 190th Street, if you’re reading this: I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Here are a few photo galleries featuring pictures of the Dolyan:

Our new apartment in northern Manhattan, Aug. 1 & 5, 2001

New Year’s in New York City, Dec. 30, 2001-Jan. 1, 2002

Becky visits CT & NYC, May 31-June 3, 2002 (scroll down; Dolyan pics at the very bottom)

Up on the roof, NYC apartment, July 1-14, 2003

NYC weekend with Becky, Shannon & Adrienne, June 27-30, 2003

The Great Northeast Blackout, August 14, 2003 (not actually a photo gallery, but a blog post with lots of photos and links to even more)

And, last but not least, here’s an aerial view of the neighborhood. :)

Watch out, Indiana: the terrorists are coming for you!

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Commentary would be superfluous:

It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.�

But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place� sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent� are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.

The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.

The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha.

“We don’t find it embarrassing,� said the department’s deputy press secretary, Jarrod Agen. “The list is a valuable tool.�

But the audit says that lower-level department officials agreed that some older information in the inventory “was of low quality and that they had little faith in it.�

“The presence of large numbers of out-of-place assets taints the credibility of the data,� the report says.

In addition to the petting zoo, in Woodville, Ala., and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including “Nix’s Check Cashing,â€? “Mall at Sears,â€? “Ice Cream Parlor,â€? “Tackle Shop,â€? “Donut Shop,â€? “Anti-Cruelty Societyâ€? and “Bean Fest.â€? …

“Now we know why the Homeland Security grant formula came out as wacky as it was,� Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday. “This report is the smoking gun that thoroughly indicts the system.�

The source of the problems, the audit said, appears to be insufficient definitions or standards for inclusion provided to the states, which submit lists of locations for the database.

New York, for example, lists only 2 percent of the nation’s banking and finance sector assets, which ranks it between North Dakota and Missouri. Washington State lists nearly twice as many national monuments and icons as the District of Columbia.

Montana, one of the least populous states in the nation, turned up with far more assets than big-population states including Massachusetts, North Carolina and New Jersey.

In a related story, the Senate rejected additional anti-terror funds for New York and Washington, D.C. (Previous post here.)

NYC Building Explosion

Monday, July 10th, 2006

A building blew up in NYC this morning.

Don’t worry — this does not seem to be a terrorist act; you probably won’t hear ‘7/10’ repeated as a battle cry. While at least 15 people have been injured by this morning’s blast, only one person was believed to be in the building at the time. In fact, there seems to be some suspicion that this was a bizarre suicide attempt by a man named Dr. Nicholas Bartha, who happened to be the building’s owner. From the CNN article:

[New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas] Scoppetta said before the explosion, someone in the building sent an e-mail to a neighbor that “leads us to believe this may have been a suicide attempt.”

A police official told The Associated Press that the attorney for Bartha’s wife contacted police recently and said that she had received an e-mail from the doctor in which he indicated he was contemplating suicide.

Bartha was going through a difficult divorce and was being forced to sell the building, and authorities believe the explosion may be related to a suicide attempt, the police official told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said there is no suspicion of terrorism in the explosion — although this being NYC, I bet passers-by were pretty freaking terrified to see a building blow up.