Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bare Economy: Burlesque during the Depression Era

The feathers, the glitter and the G-string. These were the tools of the semi-clad girls who performed Vaudeville inspired dances and short comedy skits that sometimes ended with a striptease.

Burlesque became one of the most popular forms of entertainment during the Depression era.

Men were unemployed and idle and burlesque was cheap. It was even affordable for blue-collar workers who had been laid off from factories throughout the U.S.

But, by 1937, it had been banned in New York by
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who linked burlesque to prostitution. The Catholic Church agreed and burlesque mostly died out --until now.


The Minsky Brothers' Theater -Times Square

Gypsy Rose Lee (1911- 1970):

Blaze Starr (b. 1932 - ):

or Zorita (1915 - 2001):
The old hangouts and stars of New York's depression era have given way to neo-burlesque at "hipster" bars in Williamsburg like The Galapagos and Public Assembly.

Burlesque in BillyBurg

By: Madiha Tahir & Ethan Phillips


The word burlesque comes from the Italian (and Spanish) burla for 'joke' or 'comic.' The genre is inspired by everything from performance art to opera and vaudeville.

Burlesque arrived to the US in the 1860s. Lydia Thompson's British burlesque troupe shocked New York audiences. Women performed as men wearing tights. The show, called, Ixion, became an instant hit.

Burlesque reached its peak with shows like Anatomy and Cleopatra during the Depression, performed at the Minsky Brothers’ Eltinge Theater on 42nd Street.

Between the 1900-1930's, more than 200
opened throughout the U.S.
Burlesque performers would usually tour on a 40-week season with a troupe.

But it wasn't just about the girls, the pasties or the skin. Like it's name, burlesque was about comedy and it even included men. Performers like Abbott and Costello, Andy Rooney and Bob Hope would perform routines that involved throwing pies in their faces or dousing themselves with water or simply word repetition:

Abbot and Costello's Who's on first?

The Burlesque Museum, New York Times, New World Encyclopedia, wikipedia,,

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Burlesque through the hard times

Legs Malone packs a latex Hillary Clinton Mask, silk stockings and a embroidered American flag thongh in her bag. Tonight is her big show. The burlesque special before election night.

Two years ago, Malone was laid off from her art gallery. So she took on four jobs to pay for her expenses. The biggest one is the mortgage for her apartment on Hulton Street:

With the economic crisis she has had to take on other jobs to pay her bills. On any day she can model nude for an art academy, work part time at a hedge fund, bartend at Midtown bar and dance burlesque into the early hours of the morning.

On average she makes $50 on burlesque and another $100 among her other jobs a day. Her expenses? Costumes, cel phone, mortage payments, makeup, and groceries. But she saves up as much as she can. "I'll never go out to eat dinner unless someone invites me," she says. "I'll go out and and eat a falafel and there I have my dinner for $3.50 and that's OK with me."

Listen to Legs talk about the economy:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Women in Hip Hop

On October 4, 2008, Harlem's Culture Center invited talented female hip hop artists from across the country to showcase their talents in front of a community of music lovers, artists, and supporters. Here is their story.

Publish Post

New York Tokyo Tag for Adults

After the tourists and business people left for the day, a group of tag enthusiasts and Japanese culture buffs descended on Battery Park for a sunset game of tag. About 13 adults and teenagers scampered around in front of the Clinton Castle in one of the most aggressive games of tag I've ever witnessed. The scene grew heated when runners accused the games organizers of secretly adding another chaser in the middle of the game without telling anybody.

The tag players were ostensibly competing for a free Ipod, but many of them said they already had one and were just trying to recapture their childhood.

In the end, however, it seemed that even an abundance of enthusiasm was no match for real youth. Brian Makito, a 15-year-old student, was the last runner to avoid being "frozen." Unlike the adults, Brian didn't need any elaborate strategy to win. His young, fresh knees let him outlast even his most serious, toughest talking competitor.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Slideshow: Billyburg Burlesque

These performers bare more than just their bodies through burlesque. Originally a form derived to parody Italian opera, the burlesque revival of the nineties has fuelled controversy among feminists. Some see it as the same-old strip tease. But others, like the women profiled here, find it the most intimate form of self-expression and empowerment.

Bryant Park Petanque

Every week Bryant Park attracts New Yorkers to play the traditional French game Petanque.

New York Times Great Children's Read

At the 4th annual New York Times Great Children's Read, hundreds of kids gathered at Columbia University and listened to celebrities read their favorite books. But it was a psychedelic modern day version of the Muppet's, Yo Gabba Gabba, that stole the show.

Great Children's Read

At the 14th annual Great Children's Read at Columbia University, New Yorkers of all sizes came together to celebrate a day of singing, reading and buying. The event, held on a beautiful Sunday, was organized by The New York Times, Brooklyn Public Library, The New York Public Library and Queens Library. The event was a huge success and drew immense crowds.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New York Times Great Children's Read

At the NYT Great Children's Read, Hundreds of kids listened to celebrities read their favorite books. But "a pshychedelic modern day version of the Muppets" stole the show.

Tasting Wine at Bacchus

Upper West Siders discovered last Tuesday whether they were crisp, bold, mellow or bubbly, as they gathered for a wine tasting event at Bacchus, a wine store on Broadway between 71st Street and 72nd Street. A variety of wines from California, to Tuscany was on display. To taste the wines, all the guests received a Riedel Crystal wine glass that they took home at the end of the evening. Some regulars admitted to having more than 20 of these glasses.

10th Annual Czech Street Festival

New York's Czech community may not be as numerous as other immigrant groups, but a stroll down 83rd Street earlier this month showed that the Czechs in the city still know how to have a good time. On Saturday, October 4, the Czech Center of New York organized the 10th annual Czech Street Festival, a mad stew of traditional and modern music and dancing, plus plenty of food and bottled beer--the latter available only in brown paper bags, provided with a wink and a nod from the man beside the potato pancakes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Good intentions, but no safety net

East New York, at the end of the 3 train in Brooklyn, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Over half the population lives under the poverty line, and infant mortality is way above the city average.

This week's financial crisis has created a near-panic for many people this community - no, not the employees of city agencies, not the residents themselves, but people who work at nonprofits. As Lehman Brothers and other firms have folded, it suddenly seems like most of the major sources of charitable funding have dried up overnight.

Some of the nonprofits in East New York are the best in the city, programs that have won praise and major grants in the past. Over the years they've gained a larger and larger role in people's lives. Many of them provide the most basic services: shelter, childcare, furniture, legal help. There are also dozens of churches that provide food, many reporting a drop in their tithing income.

New Yorkers have yet to see what will happen to these organizations and to the people who rely on them.

In a short walk through the neighborhood, you'd come across a huge number of charitable programs, sometimes a few to a block. Here's a cross-section of what's available in East New York and the kinds of things they do:

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The International Express

Since the Subway's first ride in 1913, this line has been known for its diversity. It is the only line in New York that is part of the National Millenium Trail or a group of 16 trails that reflect the history and cultural diversity of America.

So ride along with Mets fans on their way to the last regular season game at Shea Stadium. Or pretend that you are reading a newspaper to overhear conversations in dozens of languages from all corners of the world. On your way from Manhattan to Western Queens you'll see the fluorescent spray painted walls of Long Island City's PS1 museum. At the 74th St., make sure to stop in Little India for best curry in town and the latest trends in saris. On the other side of the railroad you can get an authentic Colombian meal or join the dancing troupes in the annual Hispanic parade.

We did.

Just another rainy Sunday along the International Express.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Graffiti cleanup

In New York City, graffiti have been a problem for a long time. In 1995, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York set up the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, a multi-agency initiative to combat the perceived problem of graffiti vandals in New York City.

The City currently offers free graffiti removal services to communities across the five boroughs. Property owners or authorized representatives may submit a waiver to the City to allow authorized personnel to clean graffiti.

The question, however, remains how fast does the cleanup happen? We looked at this question by examining Chinatown, a neighborhood in Manhattan with a relatively high number of graffiti cleanup requests.

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MAP: Homes for the Hip

Once a predominantly working class and industrial neighborhood, Greenpoint became the subject of a controversial rezoning in 2005. Author and urban activist Jane Jacobs criticized the plan in a scathing letter to Mayor Bloomberg:

"...the proposal put before you by city staff is an ambush..."

Sample Property Listings in Greenpoint

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The plan allowed investors to develop 175 blocks of Greenpoint and nearby Williamsburg into luxury buildings and high-rises. It is still home to a predominantly Polish immigrant population. But as a younger, richer demographic moves in, they may be forced to relocate.

The NYT noted increased rents as early as the 1980s. Today, Greenpoint is among Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhoods. The price of homes for sale outstrip the neighborhood's median income. It is unlikely that traditional residents of Greenpoint could afford to buy--let alone rent--residential property.

Residents have organised a town hall on Oct 2nd to discuss housing, transportation and overdevelopment.

Stats for Thought
  • Median Household Size: 2.55
  • Median Household Income: $38,240
  • Median Housing Value: $562,200
  • Job Growth (past 12 mths): -0%
  • Residents w/ a 4 Yr Degree: 12%

Master’s Project Blues: Boycotting Eateries near the J-School

During the summer of 2008, three J-School students, Kelly, Alicia, and Cassandra, spent many days (and nights) on the 5th floor editing suites, working on their documentary. During this time, take-out food was the norm. The girls ultimately began to grow sick of several eateries in the area and boycotted them for one reason or another.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Graffiti in Morningside Park

One of New York's most famous forms of urban blight, or, if you prefer, street art, has all but disappeared from Morningside Park. A stroll through the park turned up very few examples of graffiti, and park-goers and employees are quite pleased about it.

The roughly 30 acre park has playgrounds, baseball fields, a swampy pond, and only eight instances of graffiti. The writing is small and relatively unassuming - nothing too large or colorful. 

One of the tags was poignant. Penned on the steps of the park's southwestern entrance were the words, "RIP Daddy." Some were simple exercises in self-promotion, featuring only a clearly written name. Others were nearly illegible.

Parents watching their children on the playground say they feel the park is safe and clean. Under a close watch from both the NYPD and the Parks Enforcement Patrol, the park is improving - and one of the most visible signs of that change is the lack of graffiti. 

"It used to be much more unsafe," says Parks Enforcement officer D. Louis. "Basically we try to patrol around the premises as much as possible." 

Park visitor Maria Lancaster is satisfied with their efforts.

"It's fine," she says. "It's clean enough. There's no graffiti or garbage on the ground."

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Mash-Up: Where Are We Peeing Illegally?

New Yorkers are famously competitive, and the battle between neighborhoods is no exception. Upper West Siders sneer at the old money across the park; Chelsea residents stay away from the tourist trap of Greenwich; and the Lower East Side is vastly superior to the East Village, thank you very much. Now, thanks to information from New York's 311 citizen information phone line, we can compare neighborhoods using an age-old standard of popularity: which gets pissed on the most?

In 2005, New York City Council passed Local Law 47, which requires the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to release monthly reports of the calls made to New York's 311 number. Local Law 47 was intended to increase the transparency of the city government, by letting people know how long it took the city to respond to complaints. But the information it provides can also be used as a window onto the lives of New Yorkers: what they do, what they see, and what they complain about. And one of the things New Yorkers call to complain about is people relieving themselves in public.

The map below shows reports of urinating in public in Manhattan since the beginning of 2008. The reports are grouped by zip codes--the smallest geographical areas available in DoITT's monthly reports, and areas that largely (if imperfectly) coincide with neighborhoods. Each icon represents one complaint; zip codes that aren't included below have zero complaints this year.

Admittedly, information about where we pee illegally may be subject to reporting bias: residents of tony Gramercy, for instance, may be quicker to complain to 311 than those in the neighboring (and more transient) Lower East Side, which may explain some of the difference captured in the DoITT's reports. Indeed, neighborhoods that rank the highest in complaints may even try to claim superior citizenly virtue, for being so quick to notify the city of their misbehaving brethren. This isn't the last word in the Great Manhattan Inter-Neighborhood Piss-off. But until then, let's let the numbers tell their own story.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

MASH UP: This is how you'll enjoy a rainy fall

As the summer comes to an end and fall comes back to town, New Yorkers and tourists alike need to be prepared to entertain themselves during rainy Sunday afternoons. We have compiled a little list of extraordinary experiences in the West Village. All the places are within walking distance, so huddle under that umbrella and enjoy yourselves.

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1. Breakfast at Amy's Bread on 250 Bleecker Street: Enjoy some pastry before a long pampering-filled day.

2. Don't forget it's Sunday, so church goers can take a seat in the Neighborhood Church on 269 Bleecker Street.

3. Make a stop on the corner of W 11th Street and 7th Avenue South to pick up the perfect Halloween costume. There is something for everyone. (A personal favorite: gentlemen can dress up as Father Will U Tell)

4. On the same street, after purchasing the perfect Halloween outfit, wander into 182 7th Avenue South for a psychic reading. See what the stars have in store for you this fall.

5. Walk a little further, and step into the Pleasure Chest. The store is quiet until a flock of women from the Sex and the City bus tour walks in. Giddy and giggly, they look at all the different objects to enhance female pleasure.

6. Cross the street to have some lunch at Jekyll and Hyde on 91 7th Avenue South. According to the restaurant's Web site, "Jekyll and Hyde is a haunted restaurant and bar for eccentric explorers and mad scientists where guests can eat and drink among the unusual and the bizarre." If that does not grab your attention...!

7. After lunch, if the rain persists, it is time for some pampering. Get a manicure at 168 Bleecker Street at Model Nail. After that, keep on relaxing during a real Chinese back or a foot rub on 88 7th Avenue South. For the more adventurous

8. With all this leisurely behavior, it may be time to step into an ATM, but do not step into this one. Washington Mutual was the biggest American bank to go bankrupt. So better to step into another ATM.

9. If you are in the mood for an Asian dinner: stop by Chow Bar on 230 West 4th Street.

10. Have after dinner drinks at Wicked & Willy's, where the sign reads: "Time flies when you're having rum." With that motto in mind, the rest of the night will be a guaranteed success.

11. After dinner it's time to put on a stylish outfit, sip a manhattan (or another drink of your own choosing) in the stylish underground Madam X on 94 West Houston. The outside looks like an Amsterdam style red light district brothel, but the inside is a Zagat rated lounge.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Round Up: Fantasy Football

If you're interested in joing a fantasy football league, Fantasy Players is a great site. Also, you can research more about the game on Wikipedia. Once you're ready, check out these tips for fantasy football.

Profile: Fantasy Football Fanatic

Alex Lombardo, 24, is a self-admitted fantasy football fanatic. His fantasy football obsession stems from his general sports infatuation. Now he can really pretend to be Bill Parcels. Alex's football team is named "Holy Crip He's a Crapple" (taken from an episode of Family Guy). Alex is in a league with twelve other guys whom he is all friends with- a dangerous band of fantasy footballers. The Championship winner rakes in $1500 bucks, plus incentives (whatever that is). Lombardo also manages hockey and baseball teams during their seasons. He's won more than $2,000 throughout his five years of playing. And he's not worried that his obsession is affecting his social behavior, in the least. Alex says he enjoys sitting on the couch on Sundays, lap top at his side, watching all the games while simultaneously checking his stats after every play. He says he checks his fantasy football account nearly 70 times on Sundays. Alex also screams at the television and takes his excitement out on his lap top. He curses at the computer since most of his picks this year "suck." Alex says Fantasy football is worse than crack.

Memorable Moment: Wild Turkeys

I was in my usual morning rush, bolting out of the house to make it to work on time. As I busted out the front door, I stopped dead in my tracks. A flock of wild turkeys had invaded the driveway. There they were, walking around my car, rather aimlessly. A few seemed to take a keen interest to my back bumper, as they congregated around it. At one point, one of the largest birds extended its wings, taking a stretch. There were a few smaller baby turkeys, as well, which I found adorable. I wondered where the birds usually hung out, since none of them had ever wondered into my yard before.
I didn’t know what to do. I had to get to work. But, was I about to disturb the turkeys’ morning coffee clutch? How would I even go about shooing them away? I pondered the idea of getting an umbrella and running through them, opening and closing it, like Sean Connery did in Indiana Jones. But what if they attacked me? These were “Jersey” turkeys after all. And, they seemed so peaceful, oblivious to the stress they were cau sing me. I decided to call in late and pull out the camera instead.

Mini Profile: Life In Sips

Uptown in many aspects is becoming the new downtown. With pose, swanky restaurants opening left and right, people are starting to realize hanging out near their apartments is not a bad idea.

Karl Williams, decided to make his realization into a business. Society is a café in west Harlem which motto is life in sips. With communal benches and local art work on the walls, it is a popular spot for singles and young families.

Karl started the business with personal savings and loans. Since Society's opening it is a bug success for offering a downtown atmosphere uptown. The food has a reputation all by itself. Scrimp and grits is a favorite. The stuffed French toast is the perfect brunch item. The restaurant has the unique element of transforming itself thrognout the day. Starting out with a brunch crowd in the morning and ending with a coffee and laptop corwd in the eveing.

Karl admits this is just the beginning for his uptown investments. He soon plans to open a lounge not too far from Society. He says seeing the neighborhood at Fredrick Douglas and 114th Street slowly transform itself over the years proves that uptown is changing for the better.

Link Round-Up: The Year Of The Shirts!

We’ve seen so many people wearing election shirts. It’s not just “Vote For Obama,” or “Vote for McCain,” it’s become a fashion trend. Many of the urban stores like Jimmy Jazz or Dr. Jay’s are selling these shirts and are even sold out!

In the past couple of days, however, there have been mass text messages and emails being sent out advising our friends and colleagues not to wear the shirts to the polls. The Board of Elections has indicated that a person can be turned away from the polls and asked to return after they change their shirt. It’s part of the electioneering laws. The growing concern is, how many people will actually go home, change their shirt, and return to the polls?

A Huffington Post article addresses this in depth and gives some history on the law. This wasn’t such an issue in the past, but now we find ourselves in an era where politics is actually a hot topic and even a fashion statement.

A lot of people are confused about this. Yahoo Answers has a post as well.

Memorable Moments: Obama Supporters Overseas

I was in Europe earlier this month and it was incredible how many people are keeping up with the U.S elections. My first encounter was in London. I entered Selfridges in search of a new piece of luggage. After swiping my Bank of America debit card, the sales representative realized I lived in the states and asked if I would like for my total to be converted into dollars. I said yes and we continued the transaction. Upon giving me my receipt, he asks, “So who are you voting for? I hope not McCain…” I laughed and he apologized for being so forward. I told him it was ok and we had a brief discussion on the candidates.

A few days after that, I found myself lost in the streets of Rome. I stopped a gentleman to ask for directions and before telling me how to get to my destination he asked where I was from. He immediately inquired who I was voting for. “McCain is no good,” said the man.

The final Obama encounter was in Paris, outside of the CathĂ©drale Notre Dame de Paris. Vendors were selling Barack Obama T’s and pins right next to Moulin Rouge post cards and French paintings. I spoke to one of the vendors and he said it’s one of his best selling souvenirs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Memorable Moment: Politics, Sex and the 1 train

It was a Sunday afternoon, and the September sun poured through the window of the elevated train onto my New York Times Magazine. I felt an anxious guilt over putting my schoolwork on the back burner over the weekend. I squished the nagging voice – now that I am in J-school I imagine the ghost of Joseph Pulitzer hectoring me – and returned to the article about how income inequality harms the Republican Party.

Another voice, this one coming from my left instead of inside my head, said, “Do you think that’s true?”

The man sitting next to me wore a paint drizzled sweatshirt. He tapped my magazine and announced that the New York Times had gotten the story wrong.

The train dipped underground as he explained his disillusionment with politics. Poor people would not return to the Democrats because the liberals, in over 70 years, had not earned their loyalty by delivering what they promised. The Republicans, he said, at least had not courted voters in his poverty-stricken neighborhood, promising jobs and prosperity.

I was so engrossed I forgot my stop. His arms swung widely as he spoke, lurching his monologue from poverty to Barack Obama. A great orator, but a lousy speaker was his diagnosis.

The train pulled into the 59th Street station, and he hauled himself to his feet, giving me a quick goodbye. Before I could begin to digest his ideas, he poked his head between the closing doors to offer this last assessment.

“Obama looks like a boxer who just had sex with a woman [when he debates],” he said. “He looks all weak in the knees.”

Profile: Escape from Arizona

Some New York transplants don't come here looking for fame or glamour. Lauren Harrison left Phoenix, AZ, simply to escape a dead-end relationship and a monotonous routine.
“I kind of moved here to escapeall the negativity in Arizona,” Harrison said, resting a meticulously made up cheek on her hand. “I dumped my boyfriend I was living with and I bought a one way ticket to New York.”
Harrison, 24, had been working as a dance teacher since she was 16. She had started dancing as a kid to correct the scoliosis that twisted her spine. She was passionate about jazz and modern dance, cleaning classrooms at her studio just so she could attend extra classes. Her enthusiasm left her longing to find other ways of expressing herself artistically, an ambition Phoenix did not easily satisfy. New York, she hopes, will provide fertile soil for her germinating love of music.
Within three months of relocating, Harrison discovered a new talent for sales. She works at a furniture boutique in Soho and is now one of their top sales people, grossing around $120,000 per month for her store.
“I really don’t know why I’m here, Harrison said. “Everyday it seems like an adventure.”

Roundup: Profile and Memorable Moment


Memorable Moment:

Roundup: Day in Pictures

The BBC's picks for the day: Blue-dyed sheep, a contortionist who fits inside a TV screen and the first cricket bat used by Australian cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman.

The New York Times takes a more serious tone with Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission appearing before the Senate Banking Committee. Also: Police arresting Indian activists, Pakistani workers in front of the Marriott Hotel destroyed by suicide bombers three days ago in an attack that killed 60, and workers removing notes from the Western Wall — Judaism's holiest site — in preparation for Rosh Hashana next Monday.

In the Reuters photo blog David Gray travels to the Chinese-North Korean border-town of Dandong following reports that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was sick. Shannon Stapleton covers the seventh anniversary of 9-11 and Eric Thayer discusses the "art of the underexposure."

(Photo: BBC/PA)

Mini Profile - Lois Coy

Lois Coy, hunches over a cane looking at the concrete floor as she prepares to cross 5th Ave., in Jackson Heights. At some point she turns around and smiles at me. I ask her for directions to a nearby church. "Mass started," she says. "But do you want to join me for dinner instead?" The white LCD display flashes the “walk” sign and I follow her to her favorite diner. Employees greet her by name and sit us in her usual spot. At 91, Coy, a retired businesswoman talks about her life lucidly. Her family came from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts with the original settlers in 1620 and later settled in New York in the 1800’s. Her brother fought in WWII; she never married or had kids but always volunteered for the neighborhood’s Methodist Church. In the mornings she buys coffee at the neighborhood's Dunkin' Donuts just to listen to conversations in languages that she'll never learn but that sound nice to her ears. “I love to learn about their traditions and vice-versa,” she says. We order rice pudding and she asks me if have heard of Che Guevara. "Have you seen the bike diaries?" she asks. "I saw that. I even bought the book. The only thing I didn't like was the language. I never heard that growing up..." The bill arrives and she snaps it away from the table. "You're my guest today and I wont hear about it,” she says taking out dollar bills from her purse.

Memorable Moment - Last Day at Yankee Stadium

On Sunday, the House that Babe Ruth built opened its door one last time for thousands of fans.

As I went up the 161st St-Yankee Stadium metro station I realized I must have been the only
Red Sox fan in the Bronx. But I kept my sports allegiance to myself and a day at The Evil Empire turned into a fascinating assignment.

At some point I caught up with
Spike Lee who was shooting video of the players with a handycam and asked him about the significance of the day:

Behind a metal fence, wearing a Yankees cap, Elba Delgado, 77, waited for more than three hours for a glimpse of Derek Jeter. Delgado became a Yankees fan when the team traveled in the early 50's to her native Puerto Rico to play against Ponce.
Her memories of Yankee Stadium went back to the 50's with DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. "This is like a wake," Delgado said of the last day of Yankee Stadium. "It's the end of an era and it won't come back."

Follow the rest of the story at:

Profile: Refugee on Arrival -Lessons from the Afterlife

Mohammad Al-Karkhi spent nearly all his savings during his time in Syria. A local producer for NBC in Baghdad, Al-Karkhi had already sent his wife and three children to live in Damascus. He escaped from his hometown himself last year after a neighbor, who'd been kidnapped and released by the Sadr Brigade, ,warned that they were after Al-Karkhi too.

He finally made it to New York City with his family this June. He lives now in a sparse Bronx apartment in a squalid graffitied building with steep stairs and peeling paint. So far, the IRC is paying for his apartment, food stamps, a phone and electricity, and sending a monthly check for $520. He has four weeks left to find a job and become self-sufficient before that support stops.

That's part of the "self-help" philosophy among American refugee organizations. Al-Karkhi would eventually like to return to school and then practice journalism. Today, he's meeting with his caseworker at the IRC. She scrolls through Craigslist looking for jobs. "Ah, I think I found something!" She scans the computer screen quickly.

"No," her voice flattens. "It's the Army. I don't think you wanna talk to the Army."

Link Roundup: The Next War in Pakistan

Pakistani villagers were killed earlier this September when US troops crossed the Afghanistan border into Pakistan. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry immediately condemned the attack calling it a "grave provocation."

This is only the latest round in increasingly aggressive talk regarding Pakistan. Already by mid 2007, Barack Obama had stated his policy on Pakistan saying "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." So much for national sovereignty.

The discussion has been getting narrower and with a charged US election approaching, the media has hardly done anything to expand the debate. In a recent Huffington Post, blogger Brandon Friedman uses the Pakistan issue to criticize McCain predicting that it will become McCain's next flipflop. According to Friedman, Obama had it right. Whither the anti-war liberals?

The limited grounds for debate have been prepared for at least a year now. First, Newsweek came out with an article titled "Pakistan The Most Dangerous?" The Economist followed suit putting it bluntly: "Pakistan The Most Dangerous Place" and finally the Washington Post: "Pakistan Still the World's Most Dangerous Country".

The US debate on Pakistan leaves Pakistanis wondering whether the US is capable of delivering anything other than bombs and bombast. The headlines, meanwhile, leave little doubt about what the conclusions of that debate will be.

Memorable Moment: Pakistan Snapshots

The US is keen to invade Pakistan with a single-minded view towards routing out Islamists in FATA. Meanwhile, Pakistanis are motivated by another cause –the fight to reinstate the Supreme Court judges that Musharraf deposed last year. This is the democracy movement in Pakistan today and many Pakistanis connect it with their own struggle for daily necessities. This isn't about votes and governments; it's about food, electricity, rights.

She smiles easily. It would be hard to guess that Mukhtar Mai is a gang-rape survivor and activist for women's rights. She puts the issue bluntly. “If something can happen to the Chief Justice, then you can see what will happen to the rest of the public.” She sits up on her bed. It's late night and the darkness is heavy in the village where Mukhtar Mai makes her home, a spread of concrete, enclosed rooms and open terraces overlooking her school where 300 girls and another 300 boys come for a primary education.

At the moment, you can’t see any of it though because there's loadshedding, a term for a rolling blackout. These planned power outages happen upwards of 12 hours per day across Pakistan. One hour on. One hour off. On. Off. The heat pushes us all outside and I feel my way to a rough stone step. It's difficult to see how businesses, hospitals, daily life can function with this sort of instability.

Tractors roll in the distance harvesting wheat. Old songs float out from them into the dense black night. It’s a sweet sound in a country where the wheat crisis currently tops the list of problems.
I grab my cell phone for light. It flicks on. Amidst fields, in this tiny village that isn't even a dot on a map, I have a signal.

Peshawar, NWFP
At the smuggler’s bazaar on the border between Peshawar and Khyber Agency, DVDs calling for death to America and are available for purchase if you know how to ask for them. A vendor who sells them also hands out a bonus DVD to ensure repeat customers. It’s pornography and it may be the real seller.

The frustration with corrupt politicians is more palpable here. One man says, "Look at what happened with the judges” He grows impassioned. “This is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship. They’ve deceived us. They’ve deceived the poor and tried to finish the poor.” He forcefully marks his point in the air. “They want to end the poor but the poor will fight. The poor will commit suicide bombings and the poor will make America flee from here and make him [Musharraf] run too.”

Links Round Up: Celebrity Gossip

Ellen Degeneres, the newly wed talk show host appealed to her fan to vote for the right of same sex marriage in a post on her official website.
Degeneres has also confirmed reports that she will be the new face for Cover Girl, the cosmetics giant. Here are some links:

Princess Diana’s private letters are soon to be auctioned. In a letter written to her nanny when she was 17, the princess expresses relief when plans to marry off her older sister to Prince Charles failed. In another letter she wrote when she was pregnant with her first child, the princess complains from pregnancy discomfort.
The Australian Melbourne Herald Sun has the story,21985,24393260-663,00.html

Keanu Reeves is in the clear. A California judge has dismissed allegations by a paparazzo that the actor was trying to hit him with his car deliberately. Check what the BCC has to say about the case

Victoria Beckham tells The Sun her busy schedule will keep her from having another child for at least the next couple of years.
Here is the article

Mini Profile: Long gone are the washing dishes days

Freddy Gonzales’ story is the perfect example of an immigrant success story. In just six months he was promoted from washing dishes in a restaurant and juice shop on Bay Ridge 5th Avenue, in Brooklyn to actually managing it.

It all happened in just six months. “It is all about working hard,” Gonzales said while preparing one of his famous protein shake. “It makes you move up as quickly as you can imagine.” When he to New York from a small village on the US-Mexican border, six years ago Gonzales enrolled in English and management classes. Impressed with the speed with which he was learning and improving, the owner of the restaurant promoted him to manager. It also helped that the former manager decided one day to quit without prior notice. “I do everything now,” Gonzales said with pride and a wide smile.

Memorable Moment: A not-so graceful priest

Coming soon: The Kingdom of God. It is not a movie. Neither a play. It is the actual moment when God will restore the nation of Israel to the land, as mentioned in the Tanakh. Or at least this is what the man who was preaching on the corner of West 34th Street in Manhattan on Monday evening was saying. His name was priest Sabach and he said he represents the House of Israel, a religious group who believe that the true Jews are the African-Americans and not "the ones who we see on CNN."
"Those Israelis we see on TV are not the true Jews, they are converts." And so, he said, this is why they are targeted by the Palestinians. "They had a car attack there today?" the priest asked the crowd of 10 gathered in front of him. "What the hell is a car attack?" Not a very graceful language coming from a priest, but what-the-heck. "It is called a suicide attack," he answered himself (interference seemed to be unacceptable.) He then burst into laughter clapping his hands as if to congratulate himself for the joke, or maybe the discovery. Not quite clear. Two policemen were keeping a watchful eye over him and his four companions.

Link Round-Up: The Changing Face of the Modeling Industry

Although the 2008 New York Fashion Week has come to an end, the event brought up many questions about the state of the today's modeling industry. While the top models of the 1990s were primarily Eastern European or South American women, the fashion industry is beginning to embrace more diverse models. A July 2008 U.S. Vogue article titled, "Is Fashion Racist?" examined the rising popularity of three new black models (Chanel Iman, Jourdan Dunn and Arlenis Sosa) while Italian Vogue's July 2008 all-black issue was its best-selling issue ever. An albino African-American walked in the men's shows this season. As for size, several media outlets noticed that the models this year looked a little bigger than in previous years.

Not only are changes occurring on the runways and in magazine spreads, but mainstream marketing is also in the process of redefining the modeling industry. The Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty," ads, in which average-sized, un-photoshopped women are shown using the company's products, has been very successful - the company's commercial, "Evolution" has had over 7.5 million views on youtube alone in the two years its been online. The changing face of modeling is creating an exciting new atmosphere in the fashion industry, and it will be interesting to see what the men and women walking next year's Fashion Week runway look like.

Profile: Living two lives

Krystal* graciously glided across the room to greet her two friends. Tall, slim, in a perfectly-fitted pencil dress and flawless make-up, she looked like she stepped out of pages of a fashion magazine.

Gender identity on Krystal’s identification card reads male. Now 21, she says she identified herself as a trans-woman since the age of 15, but had stayed “in the closet” until she was 18.

When her mum found out three years ago, the situation became so tense that Krystal decided to move out of their home. Their relationship is much better now, provided conditions mum has set are respected.

“When I go there, she don’t want me dressing flamboyant or anything. So I wear men’s clothes and don’t put on make-up,” said Krystal.

One of Krystal’s plans is to undergo hormonal therapy that would allow her to start the process of becoming a female. The fear that her mum and friends might completely reject her if she made a full transition prevents her, however, from starting the therapy.

“I wanna live my life as a female. That’s my greatest dream,” said Krystal. Until that dream starts coming true, she continues living two separate lives.

*Name of the individual has been changed to protect her privacy.

ROUND-UP: Guns in schools

The debate over gun control was inflamed anew yesterday after ten people were shot at a school in Finland. The AP has released footage from YouTube, as well as stats on guns in Finland and the political fallout, as gruesome new details emerge about what happened. takes a cultural angle on the shootings, noting the musical tastes of the killer. 

On the same day, the principal of a Christian high school in western Canada wrestled a pellet gun away from a young man who walked into the school's morning chapel services. The Canadian Press has footage. Meanwhile, in Oklahoma City, a high school is locked down after police arrested a student carrying a gun.

The day before, the National Rifle Association released an ad accusing Barack Obama of seeking to raise taxes on guns and ammunition, and banning shotguns and rifles. The ad is called "Hunter."

Memorable Moment: Standing in line for the first time at 62

Iris Dolphin walked briskly until she approached the place where about a dozen people were waiting in line. She gave them a glance, hesitated for a few moments, but then firmly took her place in the line.

Sporting red leather pants, matching sunglasses and an angry look on her face, Dolphin stood out from the crowd. That was, however, only the surface of what separated her from the rest of the people waiting in line at a food pantry at St. Benedict the Moor Center in Mott Haven, Bronx.

“I’m 62, and I’m standing on line for the first time in my life,” said Dolphin explaining the real difference between her and other people in the line. Her eyes sparkled with rage as she explained the circumstances she faces. “I’m in foreclosure. I’m forced to come here.”

Fifteen minutes later Dolphin was holding two bags of food in her hands. Pleased with the way she was treated by the volunteers in the food pantry, Dolphin seemed to have overcome the initial uneasiness about being there the first time.

“I guess I’m gonna be here every week,” she concluded, leaving the food pantry.

Link Round Up: Ahmadinejad at the United Nations

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday criticizing the administration of George Bush and declaring that the “American empire ... is reaching the end”.

He also blasted Israel saying “the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters.”

Ahmadinejad spoke a few hours after President Bush made his final appearance before the U.N. General Assembly, urging the international community to stand firm against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. At one point during Bush's 22-minute speech, Ahmadinejad turned to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and gave a thumb's down.

During interviews ahead of his speech Tuesday, Ahmadinejad blamed U.S. military interventions around the world in part for the collapse of global financial markets.

On the subject of Iran's nuclear program, he said that Iran would “resist” Western bullies attempting to prevent the country acquiring civilian nuclear technology.,0,2913574.story

Coney Island: Links

Here’s a round-up of various media stories about the closing of Astroland:

Albert said she wanted a two-year lease this time, to cover the summers of 2009 and 2010, because her 300 employees needed more job security.

Joe Sitt, to whom Albert sold her property in 2006 for $30 million, said the developer won’t negotiate through the media or with a gun held to their heads.

Astroland’s rides are already on sale on the Internet. Prices range from $95,000 for the merry-go-round to $199,000 for the bumper cars.

More information about the Astroland rides on sale on the Internet:

Carol Albert stresses she hasn’t given up on Coney Island, as Thor Equities has stated. She has given up on negotiating with Thor.

The Coney Island Development Project is working to make Coney Island a yeat-long recreational destination.

The president of the Coney Island Development Project accuses Joe Sitt of buying up boardwalk land and

cleaning out rides to force the mayor to let him build luxury condos.

Coney Island Development Project presents “Coney Island 2009?” A presentation about the future of Coney Island, considering new rezoning laws.

PROFILE: Happiness is a small white truck

Columbia Business School graduates end up in a lot of places, but selling food out of a truck isn't usually one of them. So it's fun to imagine how Chris Chen's parents reacted when he told them that instead of joining an investment bank like many of his classmates, his recipe for success after graduation would be a little different: recruit (1) pastry chef from Le Cirque; buy (1) white truck; offer (6) restaurant-quality desserts; charge (5) dollars for each; sprinkle with stops throughout the East Village; and make lots of ($). 

So far, the recipe looks pretty good. Chris and his partner Jerome Chang launched the Dessert Truck last year, and the critics went wild. The New York Times called the pair's creme brulee "textbook and top-notch." New York Magazine warned that the hot chocolate was "nearly lethal." The Dessert Truck even made USAToday's top-ten list of America's best movable feasts.     

Running a Dessert Truck isn't all glory. At the end of a late night, Chris returns the truck to a garage in the outer boroughs, schleps home to his apartment in Manhattan, then gets up early the next day to begin preparing that night's chocolate bread pudding and goat cheese cheesecake. But that's he's making money and making people happy. He may even start getting applications from his classmates at Lehman.


For Canadians, an excess of patriotism is as enviable as an excess of stomach gas. So I grimaced when the man in uniform announced, from the side of the stage, that all servicemen and women, veterans, or their families, were asked to stand during the appropriate portion of the Armed Forces Medley

It was last July 4th, and I had decided to spend my first Independence Day in the United States by seeing the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. To celebrate the occasion, the conductor had invited the United States Military Academy Band to join the Philharmonic onstage for the second half of the show, and sitting through the Medley seemed to be the price of an otherwise enjoyable review of Aaron Copland greats. So I buckled down and waited for it to be over. 

A few bars into the Medley, the man in uniform shouted out "Coast Guard." An old man in the third row stood up; a handful of others followed, gingerly at first, then with more confidence. The man in uniform shouted "Navy," and more stood up, faster this time, and different ages--old men, but young men too. He shouted "Marines," and more young people stood up, men but also women, standing on their own or holding the hands of young children. At the shout of "Air Force" whole groups of people sprang up around the room, older men with their wives, their children, friends they had served with, young families too. 

Finally, the man cried out "Army," and great swaths of the auditorium were on their feet, old and young, men and women, children raised up out of their seats by mothers and grandparents and aunts and uncles, smiling at them as if to say, See, it's alright, other people's fathers are over there too.

Patriotism may be a foreign concept for Canadians. But that one moment, on my first July 4th in America,  I got the idea.

Mini-Profile: Preserving Prospect Park

Richard Engquist, 75, is a devoted volunteer at Prospect Park. For 35 years, the Brooklyn resident has been keeping the park's trails and grounds looking their best. Engquist volunteers three times a week, with duties ranging from planting and mulching, to picking up litter to removing exotic plants that are taking over native flora. On Sunday, September 21 he showed off a nearly full trash bag, the sixth bag he had filled in just 3 hours by picking up trash along the walking trails, and laughed, "I'm keeping busy."
When Engquist first started volunteering with Prospect Park, there weren't many others dedicated to keeping the area clean. Now he says there are lots of volunteers and a variety of jobs for them to fill, from operating the carousel in the children's area to running the historic Leffert House. With his woodland crew focusing on keeping the natural areas of the park in good condition, Engquist shows no sign of stopping soon; as he puts it, "There's always something to do."

Memorable Moment: Fisherman in Lullwater Pond

Rapidly peddling on one side of the two-seat boat, the fisherman was in constant motion - casting his rod, reeling it back then moving on to a new location in quick succession. Lullwater Pond, part of the watercourse in Prospect Park's 585 acres of urban green space, wasn't very crowded on the last official weekend of summer; the fisherman only had to share the waters with the occasional tour boat leaving from the Audubon Boat House. However, he still didn't seem to be having much luck in his search for the pond's elusive fish. Peddling over to the dock opposite the Boat House, he explained that earlier in the day he had caught a 4-pound, large mouth bass that was over a foot long, but added that he threw it back because of the park's catch-and-release policy. After hearing admiration from the observers on the dock, the fisherman seemed to gain back his confidence and cast again - only to have his line land squarely in the branches of a low-hanging tree.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ROUND-UP - Voters in Rwanda break records

Rwanda made headlines around the world this month when it became the first country to elect a majority of women to parliament. In an election last week, 56% of seats went to women.

The countries with the most women in government after Rwanda, as of 2006, were Sweden and Costa Rica. Now Cuba has moved to third place. The United States ranks low on the list with only about 16% women in elected government, roughly the same as across Africa as a whole.

Analysts say that Rwandan women were motivated to become more politically active after the genocide there in 1993. They are also slightly in the majority in the general population, since more men than women were killed in the genocide.

It also helped that Rwanda had a law guaranteeing that 24 seats will go to women. The parties also put their own rules into place that ensured women would be at the top of the ballot.

The New York Times' coverage:

An African perspective:

From a feminist site:

MINI-PROFILE - Between Oxford and Singapore

Hannah Lin only has one year to spend in New York City, so she wants to make the most of it. “I think I should develop a serious drug habit,” she jokes. Raised in Singapore, where drug traffickers are hanged, and educated at Oxford, she feels she’s run up a deficit in seediness.

Hannah is in the city for a year of grad school, and when she finishes, she’ll return to a six-year contract at a major paper in Singapore. Later in life, she’d like to work as a foreign correspondent, maybe in Beijing.

Bubbly and quick to make friends, Hannah admits that she is not only nomadic but thrives on the process of adjustment. Still, she says that her fluency in various cultures and languages hasn’t eclipsed her sense of origin. She used to dread returning to Singapore, a place of “no flux.” But now she looks forward to it: “It's braver to come back than to leave. You can find adventure anywhere if you look for it."