Sunday, April 29, 2007

My 89th Street

New York is a city of odd little neighborhoods, and you come to expect that you'll stumble upon something strange each time you venture into an unexplored part of the city. Visitors to Worth Street encounter a 500-foot tall windowless obelisk. If you live on 30th Street, you live next door to a police fortress.

Over these past few years, whenever out-of-town guests have visited us on 89th Street, I've been cheered to show them our strange wonder: The Claremont Riding Academy at 89th & Amsterdam, the last public stable in Manhattan. After 115 years of operation, it closes today.

In honor of the Claremont Riding Academy, I thought I'd share a reminiscence of my strange 89th street.

Walking down 89th Street between Riverside Park and Central Park is a visual and cultural treat. Starting at Riverside Drive, you encounter the first of two Jewish schools on my street, reminding you the Upper West Side is not only the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States, but also one of the most demographically Jewish neighborhoods outside of Israel. After passing a row of brownstones, another Jewish school, and 5 of the Upper West Side's ubiquitous 12/14 story apartment buildings, we arrive at 89th & Amsterdam.

If I could pick a phrase that best described Manhattan living for all of its residents, "Nobody Rides First Class on the Subway" would be an easy choice. The central difference between living in a varied urban setting and anywhere else I've visited is that rich & poor interact with (or are proximal to) each other to a far greater degree here than elsewhere. My street is a microcosm of Manhattan — 100 yards from the affluence of Broadway, and across the street from a building touting "Luxury Apartments," a 20-story public housing complex sits at the corner of 89th & Amsterdam.

Walking by this intersection during the summer means walking by a table or two of old men (and occasionally women) playing dominoes all day and into the evening, latin music on the portable radio, the whole scene having a certain Norman Rockwell quality to it. There was a gang-related murder here in broad daylight back in May 2006, reminding residents that things are not always just grand for those who live in public housing. But this is not a scary place. It strikes me that fear is usually just unfamiliarity, and these environs have become very familiar to me over the past couple years.

Also familiar, and soon to be missed, is the frequent sight of horses, walking single file down the street, either turning right on Amsterdam to head to Central Park via 90th street or returning from the park down 89th. Passing the stable during the day meant that there would usually be children inside, learning to ride. Each time we'd have a friend gaze through the open doors of the academy to view the trotting horses inside, we've enjoy watching a broad smile cross our friend's face. The reason someone standing in Manhattan loves the sight of these horses is the same reason that Central Park is so wonderful: To be in an urban environment, surrounded on all sides by concrete, and then to have just a glimpse of something wild or green or agrarian reminds you that the world is not yet entirely paved.1

Passing the stables, you come to the 1898 Gothic edifice of P.S. 166, The Richard Rogers School of Arts & Technology, the primary school where Jonas Salk, J.D. Salinger, and – naturally – Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers & Hammerstein) started their educations. The elaborate facade of P.S. 166 usually leaves me asking the same question that so many New York buildings instill in me: How stonemasons used to work in this city? How many are still here?

A few more apartment buildings and a row of brownstones and you've arrived at Central Park, just south of the 90th street gate. Like so many living in New York, I've grown attached to the little idiosyncrasies that differentiate my street from elsewhere in the city. As the Claremont Riding Academy closes its doors, I'm sad to see one of those points of distinction disappear.

1 I think Albert Camus detailed a similar feeling in his Desert Island (New York):
Manhattan. Sometimes from beyond the skyscrapers,
across the hundreds of thousands of high walls,
the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia
in the middle of the night,
and you remember that this desert of
iron and cement is an island.
Albert Camus, 1946

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Refusing to Defend the Indefensible

No reader of this blog will be surprised to hear that I consider myself to be a political & cultural liberal. Still, it's easy for me to identify a handful of conservative voices whom I treasure. Leading the pack are David Brooks (presently/formerly referred to as "every liberal's favorite conservative," NY Times columnist) and Andrew Sullivan (former editor of The New Republic, blogger, author of The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back).

Other than strong writing, the thread linking Sullivan & Brooks in my mind is a capacity to be critical of the broader political & cultural conservative movement. Surely part of the attraction of having a conservative criticize conservatism is that it saves liberals from doing all the work, but that's not the half of it.

A larger part of my attraction to these writers' work is their refusal to close ranks and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other self-identified conservatives when doing so would require them to compromise their views. After what this country has recently been through, this is a trait all liberals should value.

I say nothing controversial at all when I say that many of the self-inflicted injuries wrought upon this nation during the past 6+ years have been exacerbated by dissenting or skeptical members of the controlling party/ideology either supporting or refusing to oppose decisions made by other party/ideology members. Fortunately for us, as frustrating and painful as this past historical period has been, it appears we're entering a new era with a different set of rules regarding toeing the ideological line.

The American voter's rejection last November of the conservatives-united-will-never-be-divided approach is starting to bear fruit, and public dissent among conservatives has returned to the public forum. Although this public conservative dissent is now no stranger to the airwaves, I wanted to cheer you with a less-known bit of conservative dissent that cheered me today.

A bit of back story: The Corner is a blog run by the National Review, a magazine founded by William F. Buckley in 1955 and lately accused by voices on the left of chickenhawking — that is, offering civilian commentary (from commentators who have never served in the military) in strong support of an aggressive interventionist military strategy. Of late, I've become a bit addicted to The Corner, if for no other reason than to learn more about how the current crop of neoconservatives see the world.

On the day after the Virginia Tech tragedy, and in the spirit of a true chickenhawk, one of the National Review bloggers, John Derbyshire, wrote a post blaming the victims of Monday's attack for the enormity of their own suffering. "Where was the spirit of self-defense here?" asked Derbyshire, wondering how a lightly armed person could kill so many. Apparently, Derbyshire was certain of his own courage when similarly situated.

Over the past four days, me-too conservative pundits have tried to reframe the debate about Derbyshire's words, engaging in all manner of apologetics and trying in vain to turn blaming the victims into something other than blaming the victims. Finally, today, another National Review blogger, John Podheretz, stood up to Derbyshire's accusation. "I have to dissent, in the strongest possible terms, from John Derbyshire's shocking posts on Virginia Tech," Podheretz began, launching into a blistering critique of his colleague's view.

I'm not accustomed to National Review writers dissenting amongst themselves in the "strongest possible terms," and I was well pleased — not pleased that I found one more conservative voice to consistently enjoy (JPod's not really my cup of tea), but that I witnessed a conservative voice stand up to another conservative voice when it would have been easier for him to attempt to excuse his colleague's poorly-conceived comments or just to look the other way.

Monday, April 16, 2007

2nd Amendment Basis or Objective Basis for Firearm Ownership?

(Crossposted from the American Constitution Society :: Columbia Law School)

Although I do not agree with people who find a right to privately own firearms in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, I see their point. This amendment — along with a Congressional Commerce Power limited only by prudence and a 9th Amendment that either does nothing or everything — represents some of the most ambiguous, sloppy drafting in the entire Constitution. Although I don't think you have the constitutional right to buy one gun per month (a limit Virginia has placed on individual gun ownership), I see how people can seize upon the 2nd Amendment's sloppy drafting to claim that they do have such a right.

On the other hand, the people whom I do not understand are those people who ignore the historical accident of the 2nd Amendment and attempt to argue from first principles that a universally armed society is preferable to a less-than-fully-armed one.

When Kathryn Lopez, conservative blogger at The Corner on National Review Online, says:

If you want domestic tranquillity, an armed and responsible citizenry ready and able to protect life and property is not a bad way to start.
...she is calling for a type of Wild West society that has been rejected by the rest of the developed world.

Argue from the Constitution that you have a 2nd Amendment right to private gun ownership and I'll begrudgingly admit that you have a textual leg to stand on. Argue from first principles that the best society is one where we're all armed and I'll remind you that you stand in sharp disagreement with the rest of the developed world.

Update (4/19): My brother-in-law & sister-in-law (...once removed? What do you call the person who married your brother-in-law?) are living in France for several months, and here's Ilia's take on the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

The most telling passage:
In reading the French newspapers concerning the tragedy I noticed that they kept using the English terms "mass murder" and "school shootings" in lieu of using a similar phrase in French. Is it that they simply don't have the words for such atrocities, or are they so common in the US as to be better known around the world by their English names?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gone Are the Brethren

(Crossposted from the American Constitution Society :: Columbia Law School)

In my 3½ semesters in law school, I’ve noticed a funny expression in old Supreme Court opinions. Justices would often use the phrase “my brethren” to refer to their fellow justices.

As one might expect, the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court marked the end of this practice. A Westlaw search of the phrase “my brethren” in Supreme Court opinions yielded some 284 Supreme Court cases, from 1795 to 1981, in which the phrase appeared. The last time “my brethren” was used to refer to fellow justices was in Justice Rehnquist’s dissent from a denial of certiorari in Jeffries v. Barksdale, 453 U.S. 914 (1981). The Jeffries dissent was handed down on June 29, 1981; President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor on July 7, 1981.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Skype Video: Enabling Full-Color Lullabies from 1,000 Miles Away

When I became a dad, some aspects of my previous life came to a screeching halt. Some continued unabated. Still others mutated into a strange and heretofore unknown form. My fascination with technology & gear falls into this last category.

Sure, I still go gaa-gaa over the newest gadgets and grown-up toys, but suddenly I find myself having strong opinions about an entirely different set of gadgets:

  • I suddenly have strong feelings about a certain type of swaddling blanket that I consider to be superior.
  • If left unchecked, I will ramble on at length about why today's cradle toys put the toys of my youth to shame.
  • I gaze in wide-eyed wonder at the incredible absorption qualities of the modern diaper and its awesome next-generation Velcro straps.
I have become a gear-obsessed dad.

My appreciation for most of this stuff doesn't rise to the level of wanting to blog about it, but there is one technology whose utility rises above the rest from this parent's perspective: Skype Video. Instead of blathering on about how great Skype is, I'll permit the picture below to provide the bulk of the explanation:

Yes, that's an actual picture of four generations of my family on one screen during a video conference earlier this evening.

Yes, that's a technology built from the ground up to handle video conferencing (as opposed to other services that include video conferencing as an afterthought).

, that's a service that is 100% free.

According to Google Maps, my hometown is a short 1,385 mile drive from where I currently live, so suffice it to say that I've become accustomed to not seeing my family every weekend. Skype has shortened this distance for my family, letting my parents, my grandparents, my brother, and Steph's family (a short 2,936 mile drive away) interact with Katie in a way that just blows my mind.

Katie already responds to the screen, staring at the faces, reacting to their speech (and their occasional singing). I feel so fortunate that we've found this way of sharing her growth with my far-away family. I can't wait to see where we go from here.

(Incidentally, the camera that took that great screen capture is our new Fujifilm FinePix F30. Very affordable and I've never seen a point-and-shoot digital camera work so well in low light conditions.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Transatlantic Road Trip

Thank you, Andy, for introducing me to the Sauntering community. I shall strive to live up to his high standards of journalism. That said, I hope you enjoy my first blog post.

Ever have that urge to take a nice long drive? Well, Google maps can help you relive Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. This time, it's a road trip! (Hat tip: Andrew Obus)

You might consider driving this route in one of these amphibious vehicles:

Big Changes @ Sauntering: Welcome, Colin!

According to the folks who run Blogger, this post is the 725th since I started working on this project back in August 2003. Sauntering has changed little during the intervening 43 months, and the time for change has arrived.

Over the next few months, a few people will join me at Sauntering, the result of which will be to turn this blog into a little more of a community and a little less of a monologue.

Today, I'm excited to welcome Colin to Sauntering. Colin's provided the grist for many posts to Sauntering over the past year and a half, and I've been thinking about asking him to join me in this project for almost the same length of time. I'm glad he's decided to join up. I know we're all going to love his stuff.

Iranian Fashion/Hostage Crisis Continues/Culminates

Whatever else you might say about the now-ended Iranian/British sailor imbroglio, no one knows how to deflect a hostage crisis through questionable clothing choices like the Iranians.

Having formerly swaddled its British captives in tracksuits, the Iranians chose to release all the hostages clad as game show hosts. All of them except for Faye Turney, the only woman among the 15 sailors. From the photo, it appears that she was released disguised as a Russian Babushka.

I particularly like the guy on the far right, who opted for the three-piece suit. I'm sure he's thinking, "Hey, the Iranians are giving me a free suit. I'll take a free vest, too."

Previously: Iran Complicates Hostage Crisis Through Use of Time Machine

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iran Complicates Hostage Crisis Through Use of Time Machine

Nothing funny about the escalating hostage/prisoner crisis between the UK/US & Iran. Nothing funny at all.

...except for Iran giving the 15 British sailors a bunch of assorted tracksuits to wear during their captivity. U.S. espionage has been able to determine that the Iranians are keeping the sailors in a Foot Locker circa 1995.