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.