Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Big Apple Mysteries

This issue's secrets will thrill and chill you to the bone!

Scouting New York explores the Mystery of the West Village Camper!

Jeremiah uncovers a secret porno theater in the Case of Times Square's Missing Past!

Ephemeral New York asks Who Watches You on the Streets of New York?

The Bowery Boys want to know: Is Mayor Mike Taking us Back in Time?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NYC Comics

“There’s this kinetic energy that, if you have a dream and ambition, and you want to make something, you come here. The minute your foot hits the ground it’s in this groove and you’re doing and meeting other people who are the same vibe. It’s so easy to make something here if you want it, and if you want to do the work for it.”

Chris Irving of Graphic NYC checks in with an excellent look at graphic novelist Christine Norrie. The interview covers many topics, including Christine's views on the city and romance:

“Is there such a thing as real romance?” Christine poses as she adjusts her maroon scarf. “Its just drama, 24/7. I feel like romance and love, which I’m all about, is also one of the beautiful and crushing things we do to each other. It can be so hurtful and painful, also wonderful and uplifting, except there are no rules, no formula, and so many, many variables. I know everybody goes about it differently, and there’s great love out there, but there’s also such great sorrow.”
(Norrie's "Cheat", from Oni Press)

Irving also has a piece in New York Magazine exploring some of the comic book landmarks of New York City. The article highlights locations with additional fictional histories (such as the George Washington Bridge, where the Green Goblin killed Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacey), and also places of historical significance to the comic industry, which has roots deep in NYC (including DeWitt Clinton High School, alama mater of Will Eisner, Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Stan Lee, amongst others).

Also at NY Mag is a brief list of the top New York comics, as selected by some of New York's many comic writers and artists. The attempt to call the list a canon is charming in its pretension, but there are some great works included.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The People in Your Neighborhood.

It has been an interesting few days. I got together with DJ Belladonna at The Quays this weekend to discuss the state of nightlife in Astoria. Her regular Subkulture and Grooveskool nights at Hell Gate Social have been growing every month. She's also a Queens native, which made me feel a bit less self-conscious about wanting to see my kind of nightlife in Astoria. There is always this sort of fear that working in that direction would make me one of those transplants. An interloper who ruins what's good about a neighborhood. Having first-hand confirmation that there are people who've lived here all of their lives want a stronger nightlife makes me less wary about working towards that.

We discussed a lot of the positive growth seen over the last year or so. Why Leave Astoria?, a social networking site for the neighborhood, run by Ran Caycraft, has played a key role in connecting Astorians with others in the community who are interested in the same things. The site seems to largely cater to the 20s to 30s crowd, but it does so very well. They've recently introduced a Perks Card, which gives access to discounts throughout Astoria.

I think the part I like most about WLA is that it is building community amongst the people who haven't lived here all of their lives. It is very easy to live in a neighborhood like Astoria, enjoy the restaurants and shops, and never really know your neighbors. But that leaves out crucial parts of the Astoria experience. You're not really a part of the neighborhood if you don't participate. You just live here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gentrification Crashing on the East River?

Vanishing New York brought my attention to this piece in the Times. It is interesting to consider what will happen to neighborhoods on 'the verge' with the current economic downturn. Locally, I'm particularly interested in how this plays out with the LIC condo boom. We've already seen a number of those new buildings accepting rental tenants when they can't sell units. This has sent some would-be owners scrambling to get out of their agreements before closing.

Long Island City is a fascinating test case of this sort of thing. There is so little residential neighborhood there compared to the number of new developments. It seems every bit the test-bed in engineering a neighborhood. I have no idea what it will all look like if/when these developments fail, but I'm curious to see. Not sure if this bodes terribly well for new establishments like Dutch Kills.

Astoria on the other hand seems relatively culturally intact. While the number of shops that have recently closed on Steinway Street isn't a good sign, this is every bit the pre-existing neighborhood. Already a mish-mash of cultures, Astoria will likely benefit in the long run from the slowing tide of gentrification. Most of the property here is rental property anyway, and the hiccups in redeveloping LIC will slow the hand of those who would like to tear down and redevelop the neighborhood. 

Successful newer establishments like Blackbird's have found a niche and steady local clientele. They've catered very well to the Astoria that actually exists, as opposed to a hypothetical neighborhood that could be.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in Soho

Last night I attended a party at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in Soho. It was my first chance to get a look at the space, and I had been looking forward to it. I wasn't disappointed.

The Rock Annex is a much smaller space than the Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but they pack a lot into what they have. Entrance is staggered, so only so many people are walking through a given exhibit at a time. While I haven't seen this at work with large crowds of tourists, it worked really well at last night's party. Everybody had time and space to explore the exhibits without any crowding issues.

The exhibits blend hi-tech, interactive media with memorabilia throughout rock history. Guests wear headphones throughout the Annex, and as they approach an exhibit, the corresponding music tracks begin to play. This lets you wander in any direction you like, making it a big difference from traditional audio tours. My personal favorite example of the blend of interactive media and traditional exhibits is the Jimmy Hendrix section of the Guitar Heroes gallery. Concert footage of Hendrix wailing away at "Purple Haze" plays on a massive screen. As the music fades, the image vanishes to reveal a display case behind the performance. Included in the display, amidst guitar straps and other minutiae, are the original lyrics for "Purple Haze".

New York Rocks is an exhibit close to home. NYC rock history is explored here with the Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, John Lennon, and of course, CBGB. That they've replicated as many elements of the club here as they have is fairly impressive. Graffiti and sticker-encrusted walls are preserved under glass. It's a look back at an old New York that would almost feel too sterile, too museum quality, if not for Joey Ramone shouting in your ears. For a split second you're there.

The last exhibit hall currently houses The Clash (the exhibit runs until sometime this Spring). It was remarkably well done. As a Clash fan, it was magic. This is a massive gallery to devote to a single band. I think this is probably the best thing about the Rock Annex. A few times a year, they'll rotate this exhibit, and focus on something new. It gives a reason to return.

Overall, it was a really fun way to spend an evening. There is definitely something there for any rock fan.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

35th and 36th Streets in Astoria

Forgotten NY has a nice piece on Astoria, with lots of photos. Definitely worth checking out.

While only briefly covered in the Forgotten NY piece, the Museum of the Moving Image is really a great spot in that neck of Astoria. Once they finish their renovations, I expect it will be a much stronger attraction. 

As is, it really isn't a bad spot to spend an hour or two. Especially if you like vintage arcade games. The museum's collection includes Asteroids (1979), Battlezone (1980), Berzerk (1980), Defender (1980), Donkey Kong (1981), Frogger (1981), Galaxian (1979), Gauntlet (1984), Missile Command (1980), Ms. Pac-Man (1982), Qix (1981), Space Invaders (1978), Super Breakout (1978), and Tron (1982).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Headlines for February 25

As reported in numerous places, New York Water Taxi is adding another Water Taxi Beach this summer. Governors Island will play host to the city's newest fake beach. Harry Hawk and the crew have some fantastic burgers, so it'll be interesting to see what has become a Long Island City staple expand beyond Queens. Between this, the Circle Line Downtown acquisition and the Ikea shuttle, Water Taxi has emerged as a major player on the water.

Eater continues speculation on the rumor that Tishman Speyer is looking to turn the legendary Rainbow Room into more Rockefeller Center office space once Cipriani vacates. I think that would be a big mistake on Tishman's part, especially considering they would have the opportunity to more closely tie a new Rainbow Room to their very successful Top of the Rock Observation Deck.

Ephemeral New York looks back at Soho Zat, a haven for comics, zines, and graffiti artists back in the day. It later became Bomb the System, finally becoming Scrap Yard after 9/11.

Joey in Astoria confirms that the El Rey Del Taco Truck, an Astoria staple, will soon be expanding into a storefront on Steinway St. They're keeping the truck as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Condo and Co-Op Crunch

As bad as the economy is, the worst is likely yet to come for those who live in condos and co-ops. Gothamist and Crain's are both reporting on skyrocketing maintenance fees for many Manhattan buildings, citing one Upper East Side co-op whose rates are shooting up 15%.

It is especially fierce in buildings that depend on retail and office rental income for their bottom line. Crain's notes:  "Ground-floor retail leases are major sources of revenue for many residential properties. For instance, such space in a building on Madison Avenue in the East 80s can fetch at least $300 a square foot. Retail rents can bring in millions of dollars, according to Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail leasing and sales division."

With the retail vacancy rate in Manhattan closing in on 18%, the numbers look pretty grim there.

While there are advantages to buying in a depressed economy, condos and co-ops may be a really rough bet. Home-seekers may be better off renting for the time being. Who knows, maybe you can find your very own Greek temple.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome, City Room Visitors!

The blog has seen a big spike in traffic today since being linked over at NY Times City Room. For those who are new here, archive links are on the right. As are subscription buttons if you like what you see. 

No Sleep: Where you pay for the whole seat, but you'll only need the edge!

Thanks for checking the place out.

Warren Ellis' Crooked New York City

In his 2007 debut novel, Crooked Little Vein, veteran comic book scribe Warren Ellis spends a good deal of time looking at New Yorkers as a species in the zoo that is modern American subculture. The lead character, private detective and self-described "shit magnet" Michael McGill, is a New York transplant, living and working on the edge of a "pre-Rudy zone" in Alphabet City.

McGill approaches NYC as a challenge, which in some respects puts him at constant odds with elements of the city he now calls home. He lives in New York, but is perhaps more properly a Chicagoan. His outside perspective on New York is well represented by Ellis, himself a Brit. The story plunges him into an absurd to the point of brilliant mystery, where he must track down the "Secret Constitution" of the United States, which has been lost since the Nixon era.

Ellis' New York City is one where any fetish has a place (this is true of other cities as well in the book, especially and most disturbingly Los Angeles, but we're focusing on NYC here). Our shit magnet protagonist follows one of the early leads in his investigation to a private club that specializes in Godzilla bukkake. I don't want to ever know if there is a factual basis for that. I am quite happy to pretend it is purely a product of Ellis' demented mind.

McGill's traveling companion for this cross-country journey is a thesis student, and native New Yorker, named Trix. She's his tour guide into the strange, opening doors to worlds of polyamory, saline-injection fetishists and more. Through these sub-cultures the get closer and closer to the secret constitution. Their rapport bristles with an awkward sexual tension, but is also used to highlight the differences between Trix's New York, and the more mundane parts of the country. 

Travelling in Ohio, Trix is particularly astounded at the presence of American flags outside of people's homes (for the record, I have had a similar moment travelling in Ohio). Mike is dismissive of her surprise on account of her being a New Yorker. Mike's response shows how he still perceives NYC as an outsider:

"People in New York are either New Yorkers, or they're Spanish, or Italian, or Irish, or  whatever. Who the hell moves to Williamsburg and says, Hey, I'm an American? Hell, even after 9/11, if you wanted to tell someone they were being a good guy, people were saying, 'You're a hell of a New Yorker, buddy.'"

There is something to that. Something which New Yorkers take pride in and many others  (particularly in Middle America) scorn. We frequently see our city as the center of our world,  and have, as John Updike famously said, a “secret belief that people living anywhere else had to 
be, in some sense, kidding.” Something that separates us from Sarah Palin's 'pro-America parts of America.' The 'Main St vs Wall St' line which echoed throughout last year's presidential campaign which only seemed to further illustrate the ontological differences between NYC and the rest of the country.

What is it about this city that inspires us to act that way?

This question isn't the focus of Ellis' novel, so he doesn't set out to answer it on a  specifically local level. But it, among others, is posed, sometimes literally and sometimes between the lines. The tension between normal, straight, vanilla America and the crooked social preferences of New Yorkers is embodied by the tension between Mike and Trix. Geographic and social boundaries are both examined in their journey. The lines between normal and abnormal are drawn, crossed, erased and redrawn throughout the novel, as Ellis pokes at the absurdity beneath the puritan hang-ups that still linger in American society.

Crooked Little Vein is an excellent first foray into prose fiction for Ellis. A worthy successor to his Transmetroplitan, one of the finest comic series I've ever had the opportunity to read.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Subkulture at Hell Gate Social

Last night was SubKulture at Hell Gate Social. For those who've never been to the bar, let me set the scene. It's way east in Astoria, at 12th St & Astoria Blvd. The exterior has this imposing and unmarked black door (a small sign with the bar name is a good 12 feet up). It has all the look of a private club. Behind that door is one of the coolest bars you'll find in the borough.

(pic via Hell Gate Social website)

Subkulture is a monthly party at Hell Gate where DJs Belladonna and Scandal spin alternative classics, punk, glam, goth, metal, post-punk, new wave, britpop, psychobilly and whatever else crosses their mind. The atmosphere is fantastic and the regulars are pretty friendly. Things seem to really start picking up around the 11:30 to Midnight time frame. I was a bit exhausted so I checked out before 1:00 last night. Next time I'd like to be less of a weenie and stick around longer. 

It's the sort of place we need a little more of in Queens (not too much more of, because I'd really rather not be Williamsburg 2 Electric Boogaloo)

I had a fantastic time last night. Definitely looking forward to the next Subkulture event.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Drama's Tour Guide

Over the course of the last week, we had a visit from the newly christened Major Drama First Class, who is, amongst other things, a roller derby girl in San Francisco. One of the things I most enjoy about out of town guests is getting to show them around. As much as I like showing them the things I love about the city, I really enjoy the chance to see the city through their eyes as well. I find it helps me appreciate aspects of the city I might never otherwise consider.

The Astoria portion of the trip was largely covered by food from Blue Restaurant and Cup, and too many drinks at Blackbird's. We have many fond wishes for the Blackbird's waiter who is off North Carolina. Fond wishes and a complete confusion as to why anyone would ever want to live in North Carolina.

Thursday afternoon, we took some time to wander the East Village. We browsed through Trash & Vaudeville for a bit. This is probably one of my favorite stores in Manhattan. Their racks are chock full of everything you could need to dress a rock band for a world tour. Or play Rock Band at Hell Gate. I'm kind of thankful that they don't sell more things sized for me, as I'd spend even more money there than I already have. There are only so many club clothes you can own once you've crossed 30 and your club excursions are less and less frequent.

We searched for birthday gifts for Drama's boy, but came up empty. Not that we didn't find a few thousand dollars worth of outrageous shit we could have bought for ourselves (but didn't).

We stopped at the Joe Strummer mural outside Niagara. Joe wasn't a NY native, but his spirit resonates strongly with the place. I like to stop by and say hello every time I'm in Thompkins Square.

Photo from Forgotten NY, who has an excellent feature on Thompkins Square.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Astoria in Brief

Blue Restaurant seems to have slipped in quality. There have been several new hires over the last month or two, as they've introduced their new menu, and the service just isn't what it used to be. I'll be keeping an eye on this one, since they've been my regular diner since moving to NYC. Hopefully things will improve.

Tuesday nights are Bingo Nights at Blackbird's. They've put a twist on the church hall classic. When you win, you get a shot. Last Tuesday, we bowed out before the festivities started since the drink of the night was tequila, and Senor Cuervo is no friend of mine.

Saturday night is Subkulture at Hell Gate Social. Dj Belladonna and DJ Scandal will be spinning from 10 to 4. I'm pretty excited to have a night like this in Astoria, as opposed to having to trek to Manhattan or Brooklyn. 

Quick Update

Sorry I've been lax in posting. NYCC kind of ate my brain, and ever since I've been consumed by a massive redecoration project at my apartment. The blog should be getting back to your regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rockabilly Burlesque at Hell Gate!

Tonight, at 10 PM, Hell Gate Social in Astoria presents AM Preacher and the Snootie Little Cuties in a burlesque show backed by live rockabilly. Looks like fun. When the dancers have names like Bird of Paradise, Madame Hari, Miss Kissy Wishes (seen right, performing with AM Preacher), Rosie 151, Rubie Figg, and Strawberry Cream Puff, I fail to see how you could go wrong.

The bulk of my day will be spent over at the Javits Center today for NYCC, but I hope to see you at Hell Gate tonight.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NYCC - Yet More Parties

Tonight's pre-party at D&B should be quite large. I understand they had over 500 RSVPs by yesterday afternoon. I've got info on some additional parties for convention-goers. 

Thursday February 5, 2009
7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Donation : $5 & up for current CBLDF Members; $10 & up for non-members

Kick Off NYCC with the CBLDF!

Join the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in kicking off the 2009 convention season at our New York Comic-Con Welcome Party on Thursday, February 5! Enjoy drinks, free sliders for early arrivals, and door prizes! This party is sponsored by Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics.

Attending artists will include: Colleen Doran, David Mack, Rantz Hoseley, Dean Haspiel, Mike Cavallero, Nikki Cook, Mahmud Asrar, Brahm Revel and many more!

Saturday February 7th
7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m
Who: Internet superstars and hosts of Revision3’s weekly comic book show iFanboy: Conor Kilpatrick, Ron Richards, and Josh Flanagan; Tim Hwang, founder of ROFLCon, the world’s greatest Internet culture conferences, Garnett Lee, editor of 1UP and Mark Andrew Smith & Joe Keatinge, editors of the Harvey Award Winning Popgun Anthology published by Image 

Featured attendees also include: Christian Beranek, writer, Disney’s Kingdom Comics; Paul Cornell, writer, Marvel Comics’ Captain Britain & MI13 and television writer, Dr. Who and Robin Hood; Mike Norton, artist, Green Arrow & Black Canary and Trinity; Tom Katers, co-host, Around Comics and host, Tom vs. The Flash; Meredith Gran, writer, Octopus Pie; Jonathan Rosenburg, creator, Goats; Scott Kurtz, creator, PvP; Brad Guigar, creator, Evil Inc; Robert Khoo, business manager, Penny Arcade; Neil Kleid, cartoonist, RANT Comics, Action Ohio, The Chemistry Set; Wes and Tony, Amazing Superpowers; Scott Ramsoomair, cartoonist, VG Cats; Johnny Johnny, Tiki Bar TV; and more to be announced!

I have also recieved word from a representative at Dave & Buster's that several of the con exhibitors will be hosting events at D&B over the course of the weekend. So keep your eyes open for info on that. 

For as complete a rundown of NYCC events as you're likely to find anywhere, check out the ever vigiliant Heidi McDonald at The Beat.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Look at the Queensborough Bridge

Ephemeral New York checks in with a post about the Queensborough Bridge. They include one of my personal favorite quotes about the bridge. F. Scott Fitgerald wrote in the Great Gatsby that “the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time in its wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”

I remember the first time I crossed the bridge years ago. Looking out along the East River around sunset, my eyes seized on the Ravenswood Power Plant, known to many as "Big Aliss". Its three striped smokestacks had been featured repeatedly in the movie "Conspiracy Theory", which I have a serious soft spot for. Having seen that movie rerun on TBS and TNT something like a billion times, the visual had an instant familiarity with me that most seem to reserve for icons like the Empire State Building.

In warmer weather, I like a nice walk over the bridge. The view is pretty spectacular, if constantly changing with the real estate development on Roosevelt Island and in Long Island City. On one day where a tunnel fire had caused massive delays on several Queens-bound trains, I opted to walk through pouring rain from my old office at Rockefeller Center to my apartment in Astoria. Aside from being waterlogged, it was a pretty nice walk. The Queensborough's pedestrian walkways aren't as appealing as those on the Brooklyn Bridge, which I think contributes to its role as the East River bridge of lesser regard. Hopefully that can be remedied in the future.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Visions of NYC

Abstract City at the Times looks at a Lego NYC. 

Streetsblog is interested in what the city would look like if some of the infrastrcuture spending in the Stimulus Package were directed to public transit. Maybe then the light rail proposed by the The Institude for Rational Urban Mobility would be vaguely likely. Or, you know, the 2 Train could smell less like piss without going out of service.

One way to radically transform the city would be converting the city's taxi fleets to electric hybrids. Of course, that would happen much faster if the government would provide tax relief for those who convert existing vehicles into plug-in hybrids.

NYCC - Your Party Primer

New York Comic Con starts on Friday, and I expect you'll see lots more about it in the media later this week. The convention continues to announces guests and events, so it should be a blast. 

It has been confirmed that the convention is moving to October for 2010 and beyond, so no more February conventions. Smart move.

This Thursday there is a pre-party for NYCC at Dave & Buster's. They're hyping the following guests: Mike Perkins, Mark Brooks, Joe Quesada, Jay Leisten, Joe Benitez, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Phillip Morris, Aaron Douglas, Dekker Dreyer, Brian Thompson, Yuri Lowenthal, and J. LaRose. I know there are several well known comics names on that list, but... Brian Thompson? Perhaps one of the best guilty pleasure B-Actors of his generation. You may recognize him from such films as Cobra, or from TV "classics" like Kindred: the Embraced. 

The party will also play host to a raffle to benefit the Hero Initiative, which is an excellent cause.

D&B has been named "the official con bar", but since it is far from the Javits Center and February is cold, I wouldn't expect to see too many con guests popping up there during the show itself. Perhaps once the extension of the 7 Train is finished, that will change for future cons. I'd expect Bar-Con to be occuring elsewhere. Twins Pub is a good bet, with its promimity to the convention center, Penn Station, the excellent 24-hour Skylight Diner, and midtown hotels. 

The Indy After Party, hosted by the Comic Artist's Guild, will be at Blaggard's on Saturday night. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

NYPD Dishonor Roll

Harrassment? Graft? Certainly not from the NYPD.

The Gotham Gazette follows the allegations that NYPD officers have been arresting middle-aged gay men at sex shops under false pretenses. More than 200 people gathered to discuss the situation at a recent town hall meeting at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who was arrested for prostitution at the Blue Door in the East Village on Oct. 10, spoke at the town hall meeting. He said a young man — a 29-year old undercover cop who, Pinter said, looked even younger — cruised him in the store. He was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [to have sex].' I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange," Pinter recounted. As the men left the store, Pinter said, a group of men who did not show police identification pushed him against the wall

"I thought I'd been set up by a gang," he said. "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless. They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the f--- do you think we're arresting you — loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"

Gothamist and the Post both check in with stories on a YouTube release of surveilance camera footage (seen below) that may have several NYPD officers in hot water. The footage, from a November 14, 2007 raid of Beer Goggles, a Staten Island bar, shows officers putting stacks of bills taken from a video poker machine into their pockets. The officers are on record as having confiscated approximately $700. It remains unclear if all of the money in their pockets was accounted for, but that is certainly not an official procedure for storing evidence.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pre-NYCC Festivities

New York Comic Con is almost here, and Oni Press kicks off the festivities early with several events supporting the release of Volume 5 of Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe".

Comic Book Club Live! Featuring Bryan Lee O'Malley
Tuesday, February 3, 8 p.m.-10 p.m. at The Peoples Improv Theater. Tickets are $5

Tuesday/Wednesday, February 3/4 Midnight at Jim Hanley’s Universe.

Wednesday, February 4, 7-9 p.m. at Rocketship Comics.

Bloomberg & Derivatives: Another Look At the Financial Crisis

The cover story of this week's Village Voice explains, in layman's terms, the damage done to our economy through credit derivatives (essentially insurance policies for large loans). The derivitives market became a big money operation by making money off of failed loans. 

An interesting twist to this is that the company who put together the hardware and software for pricing and clearing derivatives is Bloomberg, the company which is the cornerstone of Mayor Mike's vast wealth. The Voice takes a closer look:

"Did Bloomberg L.P. do anything illegal? Absolutely not. We prosecute hit-and-run drivers, not roads. But there are many questions—about the size of the derivatives market, the names of the counterparties, the amount of replication of derivatives, the role of securities ratings in Bloomberg calculations (in other words, could puffing up be detected and potentially stop a swap?), and how the OTC industry should be reported and regulated in order to prevent future catastrophes. Bloomberg is a privately held company—to the chagrin of would-be investors—and quite private about its business, so this information probably won't surface without subpoenas."

Lost City takes a less politic stance, comparing Bloomberg to Oppenheimer. "Bloomberg–he's the guy who's trying to convince us to elect him for a third term, because he's the only mayor who can handle things during a financial crisis like this one, right? Is that because, since he helped create the crisis, it's only right that he should clean it up?"

A recent NY1 poll shows that 57% of New Yorkers still disapprove of Bloomberg's move to extend his stay in Gracie Mansion. 46% said they think less of the Mayor because of how he's handled the term limits situation. I would suggest, in light of the Voice article, if Bloomberg wants to be our savior in the next election, he should encourage some transparency on the part of the company which bears his name.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Burgermeister Meisterburger

As a burger fan, the growing trend of burger joints in this city is one I can get behind. There is something wonderfully old-school about a burger and fries. 

Last week, John gave high marks for Jackson Hole. Five Guys is a good DC-area chain that has moved into NYC recently. Their burgers are too well done for my taste, but their fries may be the best in the city. For my money, the best burger in Manhattan has to be Burger Joint, the amazing little hole in the wall tucked inside Le Parker Meridian.

City Search gives its top ratings to Shake Shack and Island Burgers and Shakes. Both are solid, but not as good as Burger Joint.

Of note for Astorians is Petey's Burger, the relatively new 30th Ave burger spot. Their styling owes more than a little bit to In-N-Out, but since the nearest one of those is in Vegas, that's pretty OK. They serve a decent burger, and perhaps most importantly in the cold of Winter, they deliver. You can order your burger online through the Petey's website.

On Your Mark, Set... GEEK!

New York is gearing up for the fourth annual geekfest of New York Comic Con, coming to the Jacob Javits Center February 6th to 8th. Last year's show was a good one, and I suspect this year will be even better. Rumor has it this will be the last one in February, as someone has realized that being just off the Hudson in the dead of Winter can be awful.

Over the course of the next week, I'll look at some of the events coming up at the convention, and note some of the nearby parties. Medium at Large, the convention's official blog, has updates on special appearances at the con as well as the world premiere of the new Futurama movie.

If you're looking for a good warm-up activity for the con, I suggest you hit the Geektacular Basement Sale at Housing Works this  Saturday and Sunday, January 31st and February 1st from Noon to 7PM. Records, comics, and vintage paperbacks will all be on sale 5 for $1. That's a great bargain and it benefits a fantastic cause

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ghosts of Past, Present & Future

Where's Jacob Marley when you need him?

WHAT IS - Eric at Edge of the West pontificates a bit about the 1916 zoning law that resulted in the dimensions of most Manhattan skyscrapers. The regulations were intended to preserve sunlight in the streets below, and allow for a variety of flourishes on the part of the architecht.

WHAT WAS - The new Rock Annex on Mercer features an exhibit on NYC rock history, which includes several items from CBGB's. For a more in-depth (and mobile) look at New York's rock history, Rock Junket offers the East Village Rock n Punk walking tour. This is a 2 hour walk through the city's rock history.

WHAT MAY BE - Sewell Chan at City Room checks in with a look at 42nd St might look like in the future. The Institude for Rational Urban Mobility proposes shutting down all vehicle traffic on 42nd and implementing a light rail system that would run river to river (seen above outside Grand Central). The concept is intriguing, but sadly unlikely. Particularly if the city won't spring for a 10th Avenue stop on the extended 7 Train.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spare Some Change?

President Obama's overall agenda is outlined on the new White House website.

Locally, the Nation and Air America present "Change for America? The Left and Obama", a discussion panel on how the progressive left can effectively work with the Obama administration. The discussion starts tomorrow night at 7:00 at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.

The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel and Air America's Mark Green will be moderating the panel, which will feature:
William Greider, "An Economy for All" 
Patricia J. Williams, "Law & Justice, Again" 
Lawrence Korb, "Fighting Terrorism After Iraq"
Eli Pariser, "Moving On with a New Democratic President"

Always organizing and growing, Move On presents its top goals for 2009 as voted by its members. New organization Change NYC is looking to harness some of that energy for New Yorkers.

As I become aware of events and organizing going on here in NYC, I'll share it here on the blog.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This Modern World - Not So Pretty

Robot 6 just pointed out that Village Voice Media which, in addition to our local alt weekly, owns 14 other alternative newspapers across the country, has suspended the publication of its syndicated cartoons. This includes Tom Tomorrow's excellent This Modern World.

On his blog, Tomorrow indicates that he thinks this move includes VVM pulling all of its syndicated media, not only comics. This "suspension" is intended to last at least through the first quarter of 2009.

Tomorrow encourages readers to contact editors of VVM papers to express their support for comics. "Anyway, if you live in one of those cities and think this is a bad decision, you might want to share those feelings with the local editor. Politely, it should go without saying. And keep in mind: it’s not just my cartoon, it’s all of them, so put in a kind word for my compatriots while you’re at it. The only thing any of us have going for us in a situation like this is reader support."

To email Village Voice Editor in Chief Tony Ortega, click here.

MMA in NY - Hoyce Gracie Joins the Fight

Mixed Martial Arts legend Hoyce Gracie has joined the fight to see his sport legalized in NY. His Op-Ed piece in the Daily News gives a compelling argument, as well as an abbreviated history of the sport from its days as Vale Tudo to the modern interpretation. In many ways, the early part of that history is the journey of the Gracie family, who are represented locally by Renzo Gracie, who runs a jiu-jitsu school in Midtown.

That same journey proved the inspiration for one of my favorite movies of 2008, David Mamet's Redbelt. I was reminded of this when a friend asked about my take on the movie following my last post about MMA in NY. In Redbelt,  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays an American fighter who has married into a Brazilian family clearly inspired by the Gracies. The film finds the heart and poetry of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Those who view MMA as strictly some kind of bloodsport have missed out on so much nuance and skill, something which Mamet zeroes in on.

Hopefully, lawmakers in Albany can see some of what Mamet saw when they look at legalizing the sport. 

Bad Old Days of NYC? Hardly.

The Post claims the bad old days are coming back. I think that's a bit much, and entirely premature. Shiny, touristy Times Square won't be reverting to the infamous Forty-Deuce, home of grindhouse cinemas and hookers by the dozen, anytime soon. There isn't some magic button that will bring back CBGB and start a new riot in Thompkins Square. Jeremiah at Vanishing New York has rounded up some of the latest stories on the subject.

We're in a recession, and in economy like this, people panic. Petty crime rates are naturally going to rise. That's par for the course in this economy. Some have speculated that fear of this crime will damage the city's booming tourism trade. It won't. It'll take a lot more crime than some loitering and pissing in the street to take the shine off of the Big Apple. Others have speculated that it may cause a new white flight, sending some of the gentrifiers running for the suburbs or smaller cities in other parts of the country. Again, I think it will need to get a lot worse before we see much of that, though it could happen on a limited scale.

The thing is, there are over 8 million people in this city. We come from a multitude of cultures and backgrounds. We're subjected to more stimuli than people just about anywhere else in this country. We have traffic, and people who walk too damn slow on the sidewalk and crowded trains and sometimes chaos is going to get past the attempts to make everything safe, clean and pretty. Like the proverbial tree growing in Brooklyn, sometimes chaos breaks through in unexpected places. That's every bit as much a part of this city as the iconic skyscrapers. You can't gentrify that out of the city, no matter how hard you try. That's part of New York's DNA.

"That’s why they can never hope to win. Chaos sneaks in every time. They can cover the world with cameras, but they can’t stop the guys in the monitor rooms from jerking off or playing the fifteenth sequel to Doom for the hundredth time. Total bloody chaos. Christ."
—Grant Morrison, The Invisibles

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blackbird's in Astoria

Since it opened last year, I've found myself frequently visiting Blackbird's Bar & Restaurant on 30th Ave in Astoria. They have a small, but tasty, menu and they mix a good drink.

I distinctly remember the first day I walked in there. I was tired and sunburnt from spending the day at the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island, regretting the choice of wearing sandles, and as my girlfriend and I walked up 30th from the N train, we decided to stop in for a drink at the new bar on it's opening weekend. From the word go, we were made to feel at home. The service was excellent and the atmosphere was very comfortable. We've been coming back ever since.

Blackbirds has become one of my favorite spots to stop by for a drink in the afternoon. Since the bar is in a newly constructed building on the corner of 30th Ave and 42nd St, it has the luxury of having a lot more windows than the majority of bars or restaurants in the neighborhood. Plenty of natural light by day. This makes it a great spot to sit and read in afternoon while you have a few pints. Nights at Blackbirds get a bit louder, but no less welcoming.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Fight to Legalize MMA in New York

I enjoy mixed martial arts or MMA. The growing sport is competitive and exciting. Many NYC bars, like McCann's here in Astoria,  swell with patrons when UFC Pay-Per-Views run.

Recently, there has been considerable discussion about legalizing MMA in New York. Assemblyman David Englebright is the chief sponsor of the bill to legalize MMA, which has support in many quarters, including that of state athletic commissioner Melvina Lathan.

Joining the argument against the legalization of MMA is the NY Times Editorial board. I am disappointed in the Times, not for choosing a position I disagree with, but for doing so with such poor research to back up their claims. They quote John McCain's infmaous "human cockfighting" comment from years back, and Albany Assemblyman Bob Reilly's weak arguments. What they insist to be the most damning evidence that MMA is unsafe are the very contested findings of the British Medical Association, which is attempting to have both boxing and MMA banned. However, while relying on the BMA's claims, they stop short of calling for an end to boxing as well.

Boxing is, after all, part of the history of New York City, and thus the NY Times. They even sell a book on the subject. MMA is an upstart sport and easier to condemn without actually taking a close look. Those damn kids and their rock & roll! Seriously. Maybe the editorial board should start their research with some of the articles which have appeared in their own paper.

Justin Porter wrote about high school MMA program in Winchester, MA which is decidedly positive. Michael Schwartz turned in a solid piece on MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko just this past week.

MMA experts on Fanhouse tee off on the Times Editorial Board here.

MMA is on the rise. It is a strong PPV and arena draw. MMA cards at Madison Square Garden would draw significant money and in this economy, NYC needs whatever new revenue streams it can find. Englebright's bill calls for the state to take 10% of all MMA gate revenue (UFC gates have ranged between 2.5 and 5 million dollars). The state has numerous MMA gyms, whose fighters must all travel out of state for professional competition. They could be competing on smaller, local shows if it were legal to do so. New York should be at the forefront of a new sport, not naysaying with poorly contructed arguments. Let the best in the world come to New York City to compete in MMA as in other sports, arts and industries. That's what we're here for.

But... If you're going to argue against MMA, at least do your homework.

There Are Only Two Good Places to Eat...

...At Home & At The Blue Restaurant. That's what the menu says anyway. I suspect there may be a few other good places to eat out there, but you have to appreciate a bit of hyperbole now and then. I know that Every Restaurant in Astoria wasn't especially flattering of Blue when comparing it to neighboring diner Mini Star, but I have a real soft spot for Blue in the world of New York diners.

The food is solid diner fare and the staff is wonderful. They've recently expanded their menu offerings and while I haven't tried all of the new stuff, it looks very promising. Also of note, the menu looks a lot more professional now, no longer in Comic Sans.

I am especially fond of breakfast at Blue, and their sausage is fantastic. I'm not sure where they get it from, but it very tasty (or, to invoke my Boston roots, wicked yummy).

I admit a little bit of bias since Blue is really the first place I became a regular once moving to NYC. Over the last 3 1/2 years I've managed to move closer and closer to the diner, till now it's only right around the corner. To me, Blue Restaurant is the quintessential neighborhood diner for the 30th Ave/Steinway St area of Astoria.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Afternoon in DUMBO

As Jared mentioned over on the blog, I went down to DUMBO yesterday to discuss blogging at the offices. We walked through the GeoToolkit and discussed some of the interesting marketing challenges and opportunities posed by the growth of the geoweb. There was some really great food for thought to be had, and I suspect there will be some future posts coming out it.

After I left their offices, I stopped next door at Neighborhoodies. I've been in the market for a new hoodie and they happened to catch my eye. We went through their custom design process, and they made me a black hooded sweatshirt that reads "ASTORIA" on the front, with a crown on the back (for Queens, of course).

While waiting for my hoodie, I walked around the neighborhood, browsing at P.S. Bookshop, where I picked up some great post cards with cover art from classic pulp novels. I'm thinking I may throw a few in a frame when we get around to redecorating the apartment this Spring.

I followed that with a drink at reBar. Avery Ale To The Chief is a local brew commemorating Barack Obama's ascension to the White House. A little bit lighter of a taste than I usually go for, but at 8.75 ABV it is a potent ale. I recommend it. reBar's atmosphere is nice, I was there in a quiet moment before the post-work crowd started piling in, and it was a great place to pass the time. The quality of their drafts largely make up for the considerable price (a pint of Ale To The Chief ran $7).

My new hoodie in hand, I took the F train back to Queens.

The List That Never Sleeps

The latest installment of the List That Never Sleeps comes from John Marshall, who blogs at both Buzy Guy in da NYC and Diary of Fools. John is one of my favorite smartasses in the city.

1) Spot for a Drink 
With so many bars closing down and opening up seemingly every day, it’s been very hard for me as a twentysomething to come up with a dedicated spot for drinking. So I’ll give you two from the mind of one of the biggest NY drinkers I’ve ever known – me dear ole Dad. So go check out Nancy Whiskey or the Ear Inn for a good time.

2) Bite to Eat
I’m a burger guy and you can’t find burgers much better than they make ‘em at Jackson Hole. Of the 5 Manhattan locations, I prefer the 64th Street location for its cramped quarters and intimate feel.  

3) People Watching
A ride on any NYC subway line is definitely the best place to people watch. It’s like a giant science experiment – let’s see what happens when we jam people together in dirty corridors and add funny smells, bright lights, and loud noises. Humanity at its’ finest, I tell ya.

4) Historic New York
Albert Einstein Hospital. Birthplace of John Marshall... Okay, I’m sure that doesn’t quite qualify for landmark status so I’ll leave you this nugget. Boston Road in the Bronx actually goes to Boston!. All the way. Swear to God. Here goes the verification, care of the NYC Parks Department:

“In 1783, Lewis Morris (1726-98), an influential American political leader and landowner, created a new and final route that passed through his land, known as Morrisania in what is now the Bronx, on the way to Massachusetts. Boston Post Road remained a major postal route in New York City until the 1840s, when it was phased out following the rise in popularity of railroads for commercial transportation. In the present day, the former Boston Post Road has become U.S. Highway One from Boston to New York City; it follows Boston Road in the Bronx, and Park Avenue, the Bowery, and Broadway in Manhattan, leading to Battery Park at the island’s southern tip.”

5) NYC Secret 
They say the best way to hide something is to leave it right out in the open. With that in mind, I’ll offer up Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Packing every bit as much action and fun per square inch as Central Park, it is relatively unvisited anyone outside of its’ cozy neighborhood.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Move On Inaugural Bash at Kafene

Tuesday night, my girlfriend and I attended Move On's Inaugural Bash at Kafene in Astoria. There was something wonderful about the energy in the room that night. The bar was packed wall to wall with Obama supporters who were buzzing with the energy of the day. We had themed champagne drinks (the Obamosa and the Michellini) as we watched CNN and a DJ played. It was fun.

That was the good. As for the less than good...

Kafene is way too "cozy" for a 60 person party. They were too packed. Between the crowding and the volume of the DJ, it was difficult to socialize with anyone who wasn't seated immediately beside or across from you at a table. The appetizers were tasty, but were both in short supply and difficult to reach with the mass of people crammed into the bar.

We chatted for a while, and looked forward to more Move On events in the neighborhood, but ultimately bailed on this one after an hour or so. I'm inclined to give Kafene a shot on a more normal occasion based on the experience and the raves of a couple of regulars we met at the party. According to the regulars, it has improved since Foodista wrote it up in April.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crowds line up for Spidey & Obama team-up

This morning, I lined up in the cold outside Midtown Comics (200 West 40th St). I was one of many in that line, which at times stretched nearly a whole block.

While Wednesday is new comic day, this line had little to do with most new releases, and was instead centered on the release of Amazing Spider-Man #583, which features a back-up story where Spider-Man saves President-Elect Barack Obama from the Chameleon. In addition to the standard cover of the issue, Marvel Comics offered a limited edition variant cover with Spider-Man and Barack Obama.

As I waited outside the store, a man walked up and down the line selling hats, gloves, and earmuffs. Thankfully it looked like most of the crowd was well bundled up for the blisteringly cold weather. I chatted with some of the others waiting in line. They included Obama supporters who didn't frequent comic shops, Midtown regulars, and speculators hoping to cash in on a collectable item.

Son of Baldwin has his take on the scene, as does City Room. Jim Hanley's Universe (4 West 33rd St) liveblogged the crowds outside of their store this morning while Robot 6 and Newsarama have a look at how the book was selling across the country.

Many in the crowd noted that the lines were far and away larger than those on Free Comic Book Day, which made some of this feel like a missed opportunity. I feel like there should have been some kind of takeaway in my bag encouraging me to return to Midtown on a less insane day. There could have been more done to create repeat business from those who don't frequent the store.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

NYC Inauguration Parties

We're just over a week away from the inauguration of President Barack Obama. To me, this is a far more exciting cause for a party than the Superbowl. New York's role in this election was an interesting one. I volunteered for Obama here during the brutal primaries with Hillary. Some of the arguments at that point in the campaign season were really intense, especially here, where HRC was a Senator.

It was a foregone conclusion that HRC would win Super Tuesday in New York City. But, even still, the lines at my local polling place in Astoria were astounding. Everybody seemed to know the importance of this election and the turnout was telling. In the months that followed, as Obama built up steam, New York remained a focal point, with Bloomberg's public pondering of an independent run for the White House (which would have been laughable), and one of the Presidential Debates being hosted at Hofstra.

All of the moments pale in my memory to the images of proud New Yorkers celebrating in the streets when Barack Obama was elected in November. There was one massive gathering in Harlem shown on TV that was particularly moving, but there were hundreds of smaller scenes on street corners and in bars across the five boroughs. There was an energy in the city that night which was unlike anything I had felt before. 

With all that in mind, I look forward to celebrating on the 20th. I'll be at a Move On sponsored event at Kafene in Astoria. If you're in the area, you should come. Should be fun. There has been some discussion that there will be an event in Central Park, but that doesn't seem too solid yet.

Where will you be?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Living in Queens

The Times has an interesting article today on the melting pot of Queens. Specifically, the parts that haven't so much melted yet. Being the most of ethnically diverse county in the United States, you can walk the streets of Queens and hear any number of languages. Restaurants are the most easily penetrated layer for outsiders exploring the neighborhoods.

The article's references to both the Korean nightspot and the Irish pub ring fairly true to my own experience in the borrough. True, here in Astoria things are generally less closed off than in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights or Flushing, but it is still very easy to become an outsider in even the most basic of transactions. When looking for an apartment a year ago, most of the discussions between my realtor and my now landlady were held in Greek, leaving me only to smile and nod. 

While it means the world outside my door is sometimes difficult to translate, I love it here. When the World Cup is played, there is a loud celebration in the streets no matter who wins a game. Because, chances are, that ethnic group has a sizable population in the area. The tide of gentrification is slowly moving into Queens, perhaps slowed by the current economic crunch. I wonder how different these neighborhoods will look in a decade, hoping they don't lose too much of what makes them astonishing. In the meanwhile, I'm very grateful that I live here now.

On that note, Scounting NY posted some fantastic pictures of Fort Totten. A fascinating look at what once was in Bayside, and worth taking a look at before there is nothing left.