Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sidewalks Are For Schlepping, Dining, and Baby SUVs

I moved to Manhattan 850 days ago. Should you eventually follow in my footsteps, permit me to be the first to welcome you to the sidewalk. It's going to be like your second home.

Unless you're one of the happy few for whom a $700-per-month parking garage bill is no problem, moving to Manhattan entails giving up your wheels. Manhattan might be interlaced with roads, but 99.9% of the time you (and everyone else you know) have no use for them. Your life is lived on the sidewalk.

Carless, you quickly learn that although schlep might be a Yiddish word, schlep is above all else a New York-living word. The kind of hoofing you do in Manhattan, where owning a car is perceived in some circles as a Gatsby-esque luxury, is so different than the normal walking burden experienced elsewhere that it really merits a separate word. You do not "carry your stuff around." You schlep.

Schlepping about town, you quickly learn that you can never really buy more than about $40 of groceries — since any more than that results in the kind of backbreaking load that keeps chiropractors in business. You must schlep wisely.

Schlepping, New Yorkers develop relationships with their bags that are barely distinguishable from the relationships that drivers elsewhere have with their autos. Your day is in your bag. Or, if you're my wife, several days are in your bag. And a little bag is in there, too. Kind of like the tiny car that gets pulled behind the motor home.

Now that I push a stroller about the streets rather frequently, I realize that a stroller is not a stroller when you're pushing it around New York.

It's a sidewalk SUV.

Yes, I will jam the net beneath the stroller to the breaking point with items. This is my SUV, and I will buy $80 worth of groceries, even if that means that the frame is visibly sagging and junior appears at risk.

When not schlepping around the sidewalks, New Yorkers are eating upon them. I'd add my two bits on the phenomenon that is New York sidewalk eating, but this Sunday's New York Times is running a wonderful piece that saves me the trouble.

"Curbside, We'll Never Have Paris" is one of those wonderful We're-New-Yorkers-and-We're-All-Nuts pieces that details the differences between the sidewalk caf├ęs of Europe and New York. I highly encourage you to read it. Every word of it is truth, and it further illuminates this strange relationship between New Yorkers and the raised concrete dividing the buildings from the cabs.

If you move here and stay for a little while, mark my words: you'll come to appreciate that sidewalk in ways you never did when you were walking about the provinces. And you'll come to embrace it as part of your lot, however filthy and frantic it might be.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Found On The Internets: YouTube — Gallery for the Unconventional Artist

First up, this guy is the Bob Ross of one-minute spraypainting:

Next, I can't even fathom how much time and effort went into this stop-motion work of art:

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan for the second link)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What if MLB Had Promotion & Relegation?

I've mentioned before in this blog that the system of promotion & relegation in European league sports is the "awesome Shiva of sports, destroyer and transformer." US sports leagues are worse for not having promotion & relegation; however, even with 24/7 coverage of sports in this country, most sports fans have no idea what promotion & relegation are and how they'd change their favorite sports.

O Dear MLB Fan, if your sport had promotion & relegation like the European soccer leagues, the bottom three teams in the MLB would move down to the AAA league, and the top three teams in AAA would move up to the majors. The end of the season wouldn't merely mark a battle for the wild card spot: It'd be a life-and-death battle to stay in the MLB and we'd all be glued to our televisions.

If the baseball season ended today, and MLB/AAA promotion & relegation operated the same way it does in the English Premier League, the Nashville Sounds (89W/55L, .618) of the Pacific Coast League and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (84W/59L, .587) of the International League would be promoted to the MLB. Playing a 4-team mini-tournament for the final slot would be Sacramento River Cats (.583), the Toledo Mud Hens (.573), the Durham Bulls (.599), and the Iowa Cubs (.549).

As it currently stands, 6 MLB teams – the Chicago White Sox (.433), the Kansas City Royals (.433), the Pittsburgh Pirates (.427), the Baltimore Orioles (.427), the Florida Marlins (.427), and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (.414) – are seriously at risk of finishing in the bottom 3 slots for the year. Relative to other teams in the league, these teams are horrible. And because we have a system where they're locked into the top flight professional baseball league, they can get away with being horrible.

Under a system without promotion & relegation, the players for these teams will simply go through the motions for the rest of the season, playing their remaining games lackadaisically. The best of these teams, the White Sox and the Royals, are 25.5 games out of playoff contention: What do they care who wins or loses the remaining games?

Under a system with promotion & relegation, these players would be playing like madmen. Presently, sportswriters are shocked when teams that have had a rough season play their best at the end of the season. If we had promotion & relegation, this would be commonplace, as each threatened team battled to stay in the top league.

Owners would be forced to invest in their teams or risk falling out of the league — you wouldn't see them employing a penny-pinching strategy of running a wildly profitable but unsuccessful team (See Bud Selig or (outside of baseball) the Golden State Warriors).

What do we get instead of relegation & promotion? We get a Congressionally-sanctioned monopoly for major league baseball. We get meaningful games at the end of the season only for those teams at the top. We get a farm system where the teams are locked into their divisions and financially dependent on their big-league paymasters. We get less.

7 of the Chicago White Sox's final 14 games this season are against the Kansas City Royals. The team that wins the majority of these games will move up the table. The team that loses the majority will probably end the season in the bottom three teams.

Without promotion & relegation, you don't care about these games and nobody else does, either.

With promotion & relegation, you'd care, the players would care, the owners would care, and you can rest assured that the people of Chicago and Kansas City would care.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Making Mannahatta

Following up on my 1685 map post of 2 weeks ago, the New Yorker has an online slide show with computer-generated images that attempt to depict Manhattan (probably from the Lenape "Mannahatta" (Island of Many Hills)) as it was in 1609.

Although I'm a new and almost certainly a temporary New Yorker, permit me to speak as one for a moment. As a New Yorker, the shape of Manhattan is etched in my mind. If you live in this city, you see it every time you take the subway. You could draw it in the dark.

To see it bare of buildings and concrete and landfill is just haunting.

(Hat tip to Gothamist)

Science does it again!

Every once in a while we stumble across a paper that brings the office to a standstill for a while, a paper the epitomizes what good science is all about.

This week's wonder comes to us from Japan, no stranger to unusual technological achievements.

Yes, we can now continue to eat species long after we've eaten them down from a stable, reproductively viable population size.

Science brings you Inter-species Sperm Transfer.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad & Academe

At the end of the Columbia Hillel Reform Kol Nidre (Yom Kippur) service, the rabbi urged all the congregants to join the protest Monday against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whom Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs is hosting for its annual World Leaders Forum.

At the time, I generally agreed that protesting Ahmadinejad was worthwhile. Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, calls for destruction of the State of Israel, and generally holds odious and illiberal beliefs on many subjects. Furthermore, he is in a position of political power to effectuate at least a subset of these despicable beliefs into action.

Ah, but the protest is only partially against Ahmadinejad. Most of the rhetoric seems to be directed against Columbia University for allowing Ahmadinejad to participate in the World Leaders Forum.

The main argument against Columbia's action (or inaction, depending on how you view the events) is that providing Ahmadinejad with a forum at Columbia University either (1) implies academic or Western endorsement of his beliefs, or (2) legitimizes him as a political figure. Andy's post effectively addresses the second prong, so I will address the first.

Despite various disclaimers by Columbia President Lee Bollinger that Ahmadinejad's participation does not amount to a University endorsement of his views, the millions of people who hear of this event will likely fail to make this distinction, and may think more highly of Ahmadinejad or his beliefs than before. Even though the University interlocutors promise to "sharp[ly] challenge[]" Ahmadinejad, the simple granting of a forum to some extent implies that his beliefs are worth challenging.

The critical difference, as I see it, is that Ahmadinejad is not simply a layman who holds such beliefs. In other words, he is not "a Grand Wizard of the KKK who called for African nations to be wiped off the map." He is being invited because he is the leader (more accurately: second in charge) of a large and influential nation. If Ahmadinejad were just a shopkeeper in Tehran, Columbia would really have no business inviting him.

But even in this last case, I think Columbia should still have the right to invite him. This is a question of academic freedom. Specifically, it raises the following question: Are there people whose beliefs or actions are so odious that they should be forbidden from speaking at a university? This is a tough question, but I'm inclined to answer No.

As Mike Dorf has pointed out, refusing to allow some people to speak would imply university endorsement of everyone else who speaks. Since drawing the line once would mean having to draw the line forever, from a pragmatic standpoint it makes sense to adopt a hands-off approach.

At bottom, however, it comes down to how much one values the special position of the university in intellectual discourse. Yes, there is a danger that Ahmadinejad may gain in influence by participating in this event (though unlikely to gain much from the one person who matters: Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran), but academic self-censorship is more dangerous precedent. Most ideas are odious to someone. If universities are closed to ideas that lack a consensus, where can they be subject to rational criticism?

We have the powerful institutions of diplomacy and the military to oppose Ahmadinejad's implementation of his ideas outside the borders of Iran. What do we have to prevent the spread of academic self-censorship outside the borders of Columbia?

Ahmadinejad on Campus

Entering the Columbia campus today was no small feat, as the subway entrance outside the gates ejects you into a security cordon. The Columbia campus, a 6-square-block quad, is sealed off except for the two main gates. After presenting my Columbia ID card, I made my way to the law school, passing through a locked-down campus littered with the indicia of a protest-to-come.

New York civic leaders of all stripes are up in arms at Columbia welcoming Ahmadinejad to campus, some threatening to find economic ways of harming Columbia. Yet New Yorkers have had to do their cosmopolitan duty and entertain ghoulish figures since the dawn of the U.N., and my words to those who oppose his presence at Columbia – not to those who oppose him through their questions and remarks at the event or to his ideas through their protest signs – is the same as Josh Marshall's reaction to the Ground-Zero-visit opposition: Grow Up.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been around for almost 30 years — whether its 2nd in command is invited to face U.S. students or not doesn't really matter when questions of legitimacy come up. It's not a question of legitimizing a less-than-democratically-elected leader. It's a question of dialoging with a presence on the world stage that won't go away, however much we choose to avoid diplomacy and dialogue.

Lost in the furor over the Ahmadinejad visit are two interpretational lenses that I find instructive.

First, it was almost a year ago that supporters of the Iranian progressive movement were heartened by the vocal opposition that met Ahmadinejad when he spoke to students at Tehran's Amir Kabir University. I was elated that Ahmadinejad met vocal opposition then, and I hope he meets vocal opposition today. If I could engineer society so that he met vocal and informed opposition every day, I would.

(In this sense,
Ahmadinejad's interlocutors inside the auditorium serve roughly the same purpose as the protesters outside the auditorium. But for Ahmadinejad coming up to Columbia, how would he ever encounter those strenuously opposed to his message?)

Second, our country needs many things, but it especially needs to reacquaint itself with civil debate, even if it looks like civil debate with monsters. For 7 years, we have suffered under a President who appears afraid to face his opposition. This is a problem. Just as the UK's Prime Minister must face bombardment every week during Prime Minister's Questions, we should demand a society where political views of all stripes engage opposing ideas, even if those opposing ideas sound odious in the extreme.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Banks Over Broadway: My Own Personal Liechtenstein

Prior to recent changes in European banking law that diminished its role as a tax and regulation shelter, I'd been told that you knew when you entered Liechtenstein because bank branches began immediately at the border. (A bit like casinos in Nevada, gun shops in Maryland, and fireworks stands in Missouri.)

The same principle applies in my neighborhood. When you visit me, the immediate, overwhelming presence of banks will indicate that you're getting close. I live in a retail banking Liechtenstein.

Until a few months ago, there was Ann Taylor store at the corner of Broadway & 87th. Some weeks back, construction workers began toiling away at the site, combining the vacant space with the space next door. Today, as we walked down Broadway, Steph asked a construction worker what was going to occupy this new, enlarged location.

"It's going to be a Bank of America."

Cue Claude Raines. I'm shocked, shocked that another bank is popping up on Broadway.

A recent Congressional report (.pdf link) on limited access to banking for the poorest New Yorkers reported that in 2006 the Upper West Side had one bank for every 7,000 residents. However, the same report also counted 11 banks on the Upper West Side. Today, I count 8 banks in one 8 block stretch of one street on the Upper West Side. (Traditionally, the "Upper West Side" has referred to the 250+ blocks to the immediate west of Central Park.) Somethings tells me that there are far, far more than 11 banks on the Upper West Side as of this writing.

The New York Times has covered the recent bank branch explosion, and is predicting a slow down in branch creation. Thank goodness. I'm bank-overloaded.

(The interactive map below may not work on all browsers. If you don't see My Own Personal Liechtenstein, click here or on the image at the bottom of this post.)

View Larger Map

Friday, September 21, 2007

Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory? (Part II)

God has apparently answered the complaint and is – you guessed it – disputing jurisdiction.

The manifestation of the divine legal writ out of the ether brings new meaning to the phrase special appearance.

Earlier: Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Found On The Internets: A Soviet Poster A Day

When your website is called A Soviet Poster a Day, what it does is pretty self-explanatory, Comrade.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Suing God: Jurisdictional Purgatory?

To make a point about frivolous lawsuits, Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers is suing God.

Although such a case might have political or social merits, my first thought was that a cheeky court willing to hear Chambers would come to the same conclusion as the court in Gerald Mayo v. Satan and His Staff, where a Pennsylvania court found that it lacked jurisdiction over Satan (who was being sued), as the defendant was "a foreign prince" probably beyond that court's jurisdictional reach.

It occurs to me, however, that suing God might present a different set of jurisdictional issues than suing Satan. I'll merely get the conversation started and hope that you all can expand it via the comments:

  • Foreseeability: Here the omniknowledgeability (yes, I shall create that word) of The Almighty works against He/She/It if He/She/It wants to avoid lawsuit in Nebraska. Even if God is a non-resident of Nebraska (naturally, you'd need to test for domicile to determine its status), the ability of God to foresee that its actions would cause in-state injury could subject it to Nebraska's jurisdiction under Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984). Of course, Chambers's complaint would still need to arise out of these Nebraska-directed-Almighty actions, as Calder concerns specific personal jurisdiction. To satisfy the broader general personal jurisdiction standard, God's actions would need to satisfy the continuous and systematic contacts that SCOTUS reiterated in Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408 (1984).

  • One Person, All Persons? If we're talking about a Triune God, it's unclear to me whether getting jurisdiction of One Person is sufficient, or whether jurisdiction of all Three Persons must be obtained. Since tag jurisdiction – transient jurisdiction where notice is served on a party while that party is physically in the jurisdiction (e.g. visiting friends) – does not apply to corporations, an analogous jurisdictional limit might apply to a deity with multiple instantiations. See Burnham v. Superior Court, 495 U.S. 604, 609 n.1 (1990).

  • Book of Mormon Connection? Although various Mormon scholars believe that the Book of Mormon describes God as physically present in the Great Lakes region several hundred years ago, it is unclear if God was physically present in Nebraska at this time, or whether these corporeal contacts should even factor in to determining jurisdiction several hundred years later.

  • Other jurisdictional possibilities are out there, – Agency Law, Foreign Relations, etc. – so please feel free to add them in the comments section. Also note that Australian cinema has already addressed this question.
Many thanks to Dan & Colin for many of the above points. Where the points sound inspired, that's them. Where they sound insipid, that's me.

Update (9/21/07): God has answered the complaint and is disputing jurisdiction.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Law School Tabloids: Principles and Policies of a Scandal

This past week, the law school world got its own, far more clothed, version of tabloid scandal as the as-yet-to-exist UC-Irvine School of Law hired Erwin Chemerinsky , reknowned constitutional scholar, to be its founding dean, then fired him for being too controversial, then said that it wasn't because he was too controversial, then hired him again, because the decision to fire him had turned out to be too controversial. Blawgers everywhere have hashed and rehashed the ins and outs of this embarrassingly public situation (see here, here, and here).

However, I fear that not all these sharp legal minds pay enough attention to the population most commonly affected by these sorts of break up-make up cycles to accurately analyze the situation. Therefore, we need to provide them with some assistance. What do you predict is in store for Chancellor Drake and Professor Chemerinsky?

  1. Chancellor Drake, previously unknown, will squeeze the publicity for all the endowments he can get, while Professor Chemerinsky falls down the law school tiers, last spotted drunkenly trying to read from Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies at Regent University School of Law.
  2. Professor Chemerinsky will attract large crowds to UCI, but they will leave largely disappointed with the overall result, while Chancellor Drake will make increasingly pointless public appearances which only serve to draw attention his waning relevance.
  3. Despite putting the ring on Professor Chemerinsky's finger, Chancellor Drake will back out yet again, unable to play second-fiddle. Professor Chemerinsky will go back to his roots at USC and focus on the treatise work that made his star shine so brightly in the first place.
  4. Against all odds, they will make it work, produce a beautiful baby law school, and watch their careers fall off a cliff.

The legal world needs your expertise!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

North of Wall Street, There Be Dragons

Although Wall Street got its name from the Walloons, a group of French-speaking settlers in early New Amsterdam, the street actually was laid out in 1685 along the fortified wall which capped the north side of 17th Century Manhattan.

This stunning overlay on Yahoo Maps – combining a map of the city in 1660 with a modern map – shows exactly how much the tip of Manhattan has grown in the last 400 years.

Note that Pearl Street, nearly a quarter mile from the water today, was Manhattan's original eastern shoreline. Broad Street's original canal is also visible, as is the original battery standing guard over New York Harbor.

(Hat tip to Gothamist.)

Arbitrator vs. Arbitrageur

It amuses me that two words with more-or-less the same etymology would have such different modern meanings:

When an arbitrageur sees bias and imbalance,
she seizes upon it for personal gain.

When an arbitrator sees bias and imbalance,
she tries to even the imbalance and undo the bias.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ogden's Ode to the Boys I Loathe

You're able to quote copyrighted works
without being dragged into court,
but it's hard to legally quote a poem
because a poem is short.

I quote the passage that comes below
not to take away this poet's money.
I quote the poem that follows below,
because it is true, and funny.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.

from Song To Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children by Ogden Nash
Although I link to the full poem, it – like other poems similarly situated (published before 1978 with copyright notice, renewed with the copyright office, etc.) – is covered by U.S. copyright for 95 years from the point of publication.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Simple Rules for Jaywalking in Manhattan

This week, New York City launched a new tourism campaign called Just Ask the Locals. The campaign is devoted to making tourists feel in-the-know about the city. The program provides them with helpful tips and encourages visitors to, as you might have guessed, ask local New Yorkers if they need help.

Though the thought of a Bermuda-shorts-wearing tourist asking Johnny New York for directions sounds at once dangerous and amusing, I think the campaign is a winner. I've found the average New Yorker to be shockingly friendly, bordering on chatty. A New Yorker's friendliness is borne of necessity: We're all in this together, living right on top of one another — we might as well make it livable.

In the spirit of Just Ask a Local, I thought I'd provide visitors to Gotham with some simple guidance that will help them navigate the city and avoid calamity. I'm going to help you jaywalk.

Jaywalking is ubiquitous in New York City, especially Manhattan. However, crossing at the crosswalk in the face of a DON'T WALK sign is not due some lawless impulse lurking deep in the hearts of all New Yorkers, it's due to the layout of the city.

In Manhattan, the roads running roughly north/south (or uptown/downtown) are avenues. At Central Park, Manhattan Island is 15 avenues wide. Generally, these are 4 lane boulevards, sometimes with a median. Crossing 15 avenues on foot would mean walking nearly 3 miles.

Conversely, streets in Manhattan run roughly east/west. There are almost 300 streets from the southern tip of Manhattan to its northern end. (Although highest numerical street in Manhattan is 220th Street, 1st Street is not even close to the bottom of the island.) Most streets in Manhattan are one-way, one-lane affairs. Crossing 15 streets translates into walking a little over a half mile.

So let's say you're a New Yorker walking south down 10th Avenue between 46th and 45th. It took you a little over a minute to traverse this block, and now you're facing an illuminated DON'T WALK sign, even though you can clearly see there are no cars coming down this one-way, one-lane, 30-foot-wide street. Like everyone else, you're going to jaywalk. Here's how you're going to do it.

Sauntering's Simple Rules for Jaywalking in Manhattan

  1. At an intersection, if you can cross the street at a casual pace, you may jaywalk.

    This is really the only rule. If you are able to casually cross the street, walk signal or no, you may do so. Naturally, the rule has a number of caveats:

    • So you want to jaywalk across an avenue or a through street.
      Manhattan jaywalking is an art developed for the one-way, one-lane streets, not the broad avenues. However, the same rules apply. If you can see clearly and walk casually across multiple lanes of traffic, feel free. If you run, we will secretly believe that you have robbed a store.

    • So you want to jaywalk with your infant, your luggage, or your dog.
      You still may jaywalk while encumbered with cumbersome, precious, or cumbersome & precious cargo, but please do so only when you can still obey the casual pace rule. Watching a person hurriedly jaywalk with a stroller makes even the most thick-skinned New Yorker wince.
      • Note: You will occasionally see people in this category engage in Principled Non-Jaywalking. These are the conscientious objectors of the New York City streets. You look at them and you know that they know the deal, yet they choose not to jaywalk. Maybe they're teaching a child to obey the traffic signals (a useful skill elsewhere in the world, if not in Manhattan) or maybe they're a nanny, eager to appear concerned with their charge's welfare, should a friend of the family be about.

    • So you want to jaywalk in the presence of other tourists or the elderly.
      Jaywalking in Times Square or near Rockefeller Center means jaywalking in the presence of people who have never been exposed to Manhattanite jaywalking. They will follow you into the intersection, oblivious to the signals and the traffic. Unawares, they will take terrible risks and tempt death. Look out for them a little bit.
      • Note: When walking in one of these touristy areas, you will be able to discern local New Yorkers from the rest of the throng because locals will walk in the gutter/parking lane.

        Tourists walk umpteen abreast, choking foot traffic on even the broadest sidewalks. Staying near the gutter guarantees locals that their pace will not be impaired by the skyward-looking mob.

      One of the joys of New York is that the elderly live among the rest of society, not sequestered away in their suburban homes or care centers. Yet, one of these senior Gothamites might follow your example without your locomotive ability, jaywalking dangerously. Please keep an eye out for them.
What does the NYPD think about jaywalking? In 1998, then mayor Rudy Guliani announced a crackdown on jaywalking. A year and a half later, the New York Times reported that a "spokesman for the Police Department wavered between saying the anti-jaywalking initiative was over and that there never was an anti-jaywalking initiative."

So there, New York visitor. Jaywalk to your heart's content, but please jaywalk correctly.