Monday, March 17, 2008

Brooklyn For Peace: Protesting Iraq 5 Years Later

Remember that war everyone used to talk about? There were two of them actually, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. Well, five years and over 4000 American lives later we're still fighting them and despite some successful recent propoganda from the Bush Administration about last year's surge, they're still not going too well.

Thankfully, the grassroots organization Brooklyn for Peace hasn't succumbed to the fatigue that has lulled our media's coverage of the war to sleep. This Wednesday, March 19th, Brooklyn for Peace is holding two rallies to mark the fifth anniversary of George Bush's "preemptive and unjustified war against Iraq".

The first will be held at 12 Noon at the Brooklyn office of "War-Hawk" Republican Congressman Vito Fossella: 8505 4th Ave. (at the corner of 85th St. and Bay Ridge).

The second event, the "Brooklyn Says No To War" March, will begin at Grand Army Plaza at 6 p.m. and continue on to the U.S. Army Recruiting Station at Flatbush Ave. & Livingston St.

Finally, there is a citywide protest organized for 12 Noon this Saturday, March 22nd. Protesters will aim to form a human chain from the East River to the Hudson River across 14th Street in Manhattan.

For more details on any of these rallies or how you can get involved in the anti-war movement in our borough, call Brooklyn For Peace at 718.624.5921 or go to their website:

March (Midterm) Madness

As many of you have written me to point out, I have been a bad blogger this past week. This time the culprit was a mountain of midterms and other assorted assignments that demanded my attention. My mind has been so fixed in grading mode that even now I can't help wondering to myself what mark this blog entry deserves. I'm leaning toward a C+.

How much better our education system would run if only teachers and students could switch places for a day! I remember as an undergraduate thinking my professors slackers if they did not promptly return my assignments. It was a recollection that came vividly back to mind this week as my students asked with barely masked contempt if I had their papers yet. Shaking my head, I could not help but whither for a moment beneath the weight of their tacit condemnations.

But those of you who have taught can empathize with my travails of late. Students think only of their own work, embittered at their teachers for their sadistic affinity for doling out homework. If only they took a moment to reason through our arithmetic! With 60 students, every time I assign homework, I brace myself for at least 60 times the amount of work I require of them. Multiply that out to three classes a week and you already get a sense of the deluge. Moreover, I teach writing, which means that I must meticulously edit each paper, or my students will be deprived of the personalized nuance of instruction.

It's almost enough to make you long for standardized tests (which, incidentally, are the cornerstone of the lazy man's curriculum - not an attempt at educational parity as the Board of Ed would like to dupe parents into thinking they are).

But enough about me. There's a lot more important things going on in the world. Let's get to 'em.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Two Missed Morsels in the Spitzer Feeding Frenzy

Among the deluge of articles about the Spitzer scandal in the last three days, two tasty tidbits have been overlooked.

1. If Spitzer does get his wet dream (er, not that one) of the Democrats at last taking control of the State Senate, but the Dems only do so by a slim margin, then none other than Spitzer's arch-enemy and soon-to-be Lieuntenant Governor Joe Bruno would be the tie-breaker in close votes. Can you imagine? As bad as Spitzer's personal fall must be hitting him, the realization that he is going to be responsible for getting Joe Bruno a promotion must be nearly as despicable.

2. Before David Patterson lucked into the Governor mansion, it was widely speculated that he was the frontrunner for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat if she is elected President. With Hillary's surge and Patterson certain to stay in Albany, all of a sudden there must be a flock of powerful New York Democrats salivating over the job of Junior Senator.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer Shocker: Another Moralist Bites The Dust

There's a simple formula for determining which politician will be the next to fall in disgrace. All you have to do is to listen for who is hooting and hollering the most sanctimoniously about immorality. Whether it's Larry Craig on homosexuality, Newt Gingrich on infidelity, or Eliot Spitzer on prostitution, whatever they're railing against in public is likely what they're doing behind closed doors.

Personally, I have nothing against prostitution. It's certainly a scummy thing to get involved in as a married man, but it's by no means inherently evil. In fact, it would be a whole lot more sensible and safer for everyone involved were prostitution legalized. Unfortunately, for Governor Spitzer, however, it hasn't been (nor would he have ever pushed for it to be on his "law and order" watch).

In my eyes, Spitzer's crime - for which he should and will resign - is not solicitation, but hypocrisy. Spitzer framed himself as a moralist in the model of Plato's Euthyphro - a man who would even prosecute his own father in the name of right. He embraced the image of caped crusader, intimating that only he could clean up our wayward Empire State. Well, anyone who has paid attention to Spitzer's brief Administration knows just how poorly he has performed as a crime-fighter in Albany - long before yesterday.

Since taking office, Spitzer has acted like the laws he so zealously trumpets apply to everyone but himself. While condemning the credibility of his allies and enemies alike on the one hand, he has flagrantly abused his power on the other, stooping to such deplorable machinations as illegal wire-tapping and flaunting the campaign finance laws he allegedly held sacrosanct. His embarrassments were so many that only a few months after his landslide victory, Spitzer was already being written off by some as a one-term governor.

With this latest scandal, in one fell stoke Spitzer has humiliated his family, scuttled his reformist political agenda (as well as any else's in New York State for the time being), maligned his party, created negative fodder for the presidential race, and ruined his own career. Oh, and most ironically, even paved the way for his arch-nemesis Joe Bruno to get a promotion. And why? Not because of any sexual indiscretion, but because he thought he thought he was special. He thought that what was good and just was whatever he pronounced it to be, and so he could never do wrong.

Had Spitzer been any less self-righteous, he would have friends coming to his defense. He would have been able to slither away like Senator David Vitter of Louisiana did a few months ago. As it is, now he has no one. But unlike the lone sheriff Gary Cooper played in High Noon, Spitzer can't even take solace in his own virtue. He's just as bad as the outlaws coming for revenge.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Polytechnic University OKs Merger With NYU

Apparently not satisfied with just gobbling up Lower Manhattan, NYU has set its sights on expanding to Brooklyn. Yesterday, according to the Daily Eagle, the Board of Trustees of downtown Brooklyn's Polytechnic University voted overwhelmingly to approve a merger with NYU.

The Department of Education and New York State Board of Regents still need to sign off on the deal to make it official, but NYU's trustees have already voted in favor of the merger and it seems unlikely that any impediment to its completion will arise. Talk of the merger first surfaced three years ago, but faculty concerns and, more recently, suspicions of conflict of interest between members of the universities' two boards postponed the arrangement. Those obstacles appear to have since been surmounted to the satisfaction of all the parties involved.

On the surface, the merger would seem to benefit both schools, even though NYU is roughly 10 times larger than Polytechnic. Polytechnic will now have access to the vast wealth of resources and facilities held by NYU, while NYU will get to add an engineering school to their academic portfolio.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Colbert Report Slams Six-Year-Old Park Slope "Graffiti Punk"

Nothing gets by Stephen Colbert. Just look how he takes six-year-old Park Slope resident Natalie Shea to task for writing in chalk on the sidewalk in front of her house.

Brooklyn Losing Power in the U.S. House, but Strong in Senate

According to's recently released 2008 Power Rankings for the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Brooklyn's Congressional delegation doesn't have as much weight to throw around as borough residents might think. Out of the nation's 435 members of the House, only one Brooklyn Congressman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, slips into the top 50 most powerful at #43 on the list. Despite his prominent placement, Towns is still likely disappointed by his Power Ranking. In 2007, he came in at #18 on the list.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, who comes in next at #63, also lost influence from last year according to, which ranked him as #43 last year. As did Jerrold Nadler, who went from #128 in 2007 to #162 in 2008. Brooklyn's sole Republican member of the House, Vito Fossella, tumbled precipitously from #116 in the 2005 Power Rankings to #315 this year, though his decline reflects the fact that his party is now in the minority, rather than his performance. Fossella actually bettered his 2007 ranking of #365.

The only other member of the Brooklyn delegation to ascend the list was my congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who leapt to #96 from #180 last year.

Our borough's newest member of Congress, Rep. Yvette Clarke, who won her seat in 2006, almost doesn't register in the rankings. After premiering at #366 on the list last year, Clarke has fallen to #402, giving her the dubious distinction of the 5th LEAST influential Democrat in the House.

Despite our decline in the House, Brooklynites can console ourselves with our seniority in the U.S. Senate. Both New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton place in the Top 10 most powerful members, Chuck at #5 and Hillary at #9.

Could Gore Broker Peace...Between Barack and Hillary?

As we continue to head toward a brokered convention, Clinton and Obama supporters alike are confronting more seriously our worst fear - that the only thing that can beat the Democrats in 2008 is a division in our own party.

Mindful of this chilling scenario, The Post has an interesting editorial this morning arguing that the only person who might be able to find a peaceful resolution to the battle between Barack and Hillary is Al Gore. Now I'm usually hesitant to agree with the Post, but this strikes me as right. Except for a joint ticket, any other resolution to the pending superdelegate crisis will leave the losing candidates' legions of supporters feeling cheated.

But were Al Gore to negotiate a compromise between the two campaigns it would have a sense of legitimacy far more difficult to assail. Gore has become the sole figure in our party respected by all Democrats and no one in the country can accuse him of being insensitive to the nuances of a stolen election.

Explosion Wakes Up Times Square

Around 3:43 a.m. this morning, a homemade explosive device detonated in the heart of Times Square, right in front of the Armed Forces Career Center. The recruitment office was damaged, but thankfully no one was injured.

According to this breaking story in The New York Times, the police and F.B.I. are investigating whether there is any connection between this latest explosion and two earlier bombings in the City - the 2005 blast outside the British Consulate on Third Avenue and the two dummy grenades that rocked the Mexican Consulate on 39th Street in October 2007.

The government has yet to declare this morning's bombing a terrorist attack - meaning that they can't link it to al-Qaeda - but, given the targets, there is no question that the perpetrator or perpetrators of these attacks had a political agenda. Personally, these bombings seem a lot less to me the work of Muslim extremists than the acts of domestic terrorists - like what Brooklyn Heights resident Ivaylo Ivanov may have had in mind for his arsenal on Remsen Street. Let us not forget that before 9/11 the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil - the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City - was perpetrated by disaffected Americans who deluded themselves into believing they were revolutionaries.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Optimist Hosts "A Walk Around The Blog" on Brooklyn Independent Television

Apparently it's been on for a week, but it was only yesterday afternoon that I saw the latest segment of "A Walk Around The Blog" from Brooklyn Independent Television. If you haven't seen the show, it's probably because it's new to Time Warner Cable Channel 56 and Cablevision Channel 69.

Each episode a different borough blogger leads a short stroll through an area of Brooklyn life. I had the honor of being selected as the show's third host, following in the esteemed footsteps of Robert Guskind of The Gowanus Lounge and Robin Lester of Clinton Hill Blog.

For my segment, I chose to focus on the proposed Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a sweeping 14-mile park project that would stretch along the entire length of the East River from Bay Ridge to Greenpoint. In the video I interview Milton Puryear, co-founder of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, the organization spearheading the push for this ambitious, eco-friendly expanse.

With the Greenway borough residents would finally be able to access a waterfront we lost long ago to commercial and industrial interests. In place of powerplants and other eyesores, pedestrians, bicyclists and families would have an ambitious multi-use green space to enjoy much like the series of wonderful parks which now span the West Side of Manhattan. I hope my "Walk Around the Blog" will inspire you to advocate on behalf of the Greenway.

For more information how you can donate your time and money to the not-for-profit Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, check out the organization's website. To tune into "A Walk Around the Blog", check your local cable listings or go to the show's site.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Court Orders Husband to Give Wife 124,000 Roses

Usually any wire story that begins with "An Iranian court..." ends up being horrific news, more often than not about some woman unjustly punished for, well, being a woman. But for once, this morning, I was happy to read a piece via Raw Story about a wife prevailing over her husband - albeit in a very bizarre way.

A woman, identified only by the first name of Hengameh, filed a complaint against her husband to collect her dowry, which, by Iranian law, a wife can claim at any time during the marriage. According to the article, the woman's lawsuit was precipitated by how stingy her husband is - apparently so stingy that he would even refuse to pay for a cup of coffee when they went out together.

Finding in the woman's favor, the court ordered the husband to pay his promised dowry: 124,000 roses. Although the verdict seems like a purely poetic punishment for romantic hyperbole, it is serious stuff. To ensure that the man complies, the court has seized his apartment - worth $64,000 - until he delivers all 124,000 roses.

Not unexpectedly, the man is now crying poverty, claiming that he can't afford to give his wife more than 5 roses a day (roses cost an average $2 a piece in Iran). But he might not have much of a choice but to fork over the 100,000+ long-stemmed apologies. A man who fails to hand over the dowry he pledged at marriage can be sentenced to prison.

On a related note, those interested in learning more about Iran's recent history and the country's treatment of women should watch the Academy Award-nominated film Persepolis, The Brooklyn Optimist's vote for the Best Picture of last year.

Brooklyn Blogade March 2008 Edition

For all you bloggers out there, don't forget that this Sunday, March 9th is the monthly meet-up of the Brooklyn Blogade. This time our host will be Joyce Hanson of Bad Girl Blog. Joyce has picked the Old Brick Cafe at 507 Church Ave. (between Ocean Pkwy. & East 5th St.) in Kensington for a noon lunch date.

The cost is $15, not counting tip. The company is priceless.

For more information, including the event's tasty menu, check out Bad Girl Blog. And don't forget that The Brooklyn Optimist will be hosting the gala June edition of the Blogade.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Double Dose of Personal Optimism

Despite asbestos in Carroll Gardens and swastikas in Brooklyn Heights (read the posts below), I have a plethora of personal reasons to be optimistic today.

My dazzling fiancée Patricia turns 26 today, despite the fact that she's already been claiming she's 26 for the past six months. And my stepbrother-to-be Jesse Zuba and his wife welcomed their first baby, Luke, very early this morning, thankfully making it much easier for everyone in our family to remember both birthdays.

Congratulations to all my loved ones!

Asbestos Unnerves Carroll Gardens

Is asbestos the real reason that G and F train service has been disrupted this weekend? The Gowanus Lounge has a blistering exposé today about the MTA's sudden (and shoddy) removal of asbestos from the Carroll Street F/G subway stop.

I understand that there are many instances where the City chooses not to unduly unnerve its residents, but deliberately downplaying very real dangers under the pretense of "track work" is indefensible.

Brooklynites are tough. We'd rather hear a hard truth than a whitewashed lie. The MTA should treat us better than former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman did after 9/11.

Brooklyn Heights Violated By Another Swastika

Why has Brooklyn Heights become a focal point of antisemitism? After Remsen Street resident and alleged aspiring terrorist Ivaylo Ivanov confessed to drawing swastikas in the neighborhood, it appeared that Brooklyn Heights residents could be consoled that the spate of recent antisemitic graffiti they have had to endure could at least all be attributed to a single source.

But last week yet another swastika smeared Remsen Street, this time at number 22. According to the Gothamist, the owners of the multi-unit brick apartment building are Jewish, but none of the tenants are and there is no outward sign of why 22 Remsen should have been targeted in particular by the perpetrator(s) of this hate crime.

At this point, Brooklyn Heights residents are right to be concerned. These swastikas can no longer be written off as an ignorant prank. Most frightening of all is the possibility that Ivanov could have sympathizers in the neighborhood or, even worse, inspired a copycat.

If you have any information about who may have painted this most recent swastika or any other one in Brooklyn Heights, please call the 84th Precinct immediately at (718) 875-6811 and share your tip with an officer.