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Stars and bars forever!

Stars and bars forever!

Who is laughing now?

Just five years ago some Americans were painting their Hummers in the stars and stripes, confident that the “liberation” of Iraq would bring global peace and low, low gas prices. The Hummer symbolized American strength, wealth, and frontier attitude. Now all those cowboys who thought they were starring in an Old West flick have been told “Go East young man!” as the Hummer brand is sold to a Chinese company.

It’s too easy to say that their jingoistic hubris is the root cause of this national humiliation. Instead I’ll point out that passing the baton of overweening douche-baggery to the Chinese might be exactly what saves our republic.

redhum

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Yay! Obama announced a plan to invest $8 billion in high speed and existing rail projects! This is a welcome change from the plan of the past administration to strangle Amtrak and throw it in a tub to drown it. Build it, and they will come. Please lord, let the economically stimulating effect of mass transit in New York City show the Feds and the villains in the New York State senate that mass transit is a priority, not a privilege.

Hit bonus plus two for being a "native"

Hit bonus plus two for being a "native"

Two art interventions caught my eye the other day, so I thought I’d share. The one above is more obviously hipster ironic than the one below. The one below is just great art. (I hope you can see the stubble lovingly drawn in on her chin.) Now that the G will only be running every half hour, young aspiring artists will have plenty of time to perfect their skills at the Metropolitan stop.

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Kathy, or Ken?

Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

Chinese electric cars, courtesy of the NY Times

There’s plenty of uncertainty on what the future holds, but one thing is for sure, the 21st century will not be like the 20th.

While Obama and Gordron Brown try to convince the Europeans not to take away our capitalism toys, the Chinese are making exactly the kinds of massive public investments in the future that Krugman and others have argued the US must make in order to stay relevant. The money isn’t the problem. Excluding some rightwing nutters in Congress, our country has signed on to the idea that something must be done (other than cut taxes) to ameliorate this economic crisis. But why isn’t any of that money going to beef up Amtrak or the MTA? The answer: no one in power in America, either Democrat or Republican, has a 21st century vision.

But the Chinese have it.

Outside the Court Square stop in Queens

Outside the Court Square subway station in Queens

What’s the news on NYC’s slice of the stimulus money? I hear complaints from conservatives that the money isn’t going to “shovel ready projects,” and then I hear complaints from liberals that the money that IS going to “shovel ready projects” is paying for thousands of miles of new highway in the fly-over. Ahem, but, NYC has billions of dollars of shovel ready projects ready to go. Second avenue subway anyone?

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Public spaces are great for public speech and debate. This is a good example of NYC’s diversity, written on a subway wall.


Hell(o) (t)here

Hell(o) (t)here

I am truly in Hell.  The only work I have managed to get is in the comic book convention world.  Which, judging by the sold-out numbers of people at the Javits for the New York Comic Con, is still kinda recession-proof.  I fell into the work, really.  I don’t even read comic books*  (Get the whole story here).   And I definitely don’t “get” comic book geeks.  I mean, they’re sweet enough, in their own, special, pasty, basement-dwelling way, but I mean, puh-lease.  You weren’t all home-schooled, were you?  There has to be an ounce of social skills somewhere in that cranium, right???  Whatever the case may be, these skills were not on display (yet again) at this year’s New York Comic Con.  Actual snippet of overheard conversation on the crosstown bus on the way to the Javits:

Geek Girl1: So when I finally saw X-Men 3…

Geek 2: Oh you didn’t!  It was HORRIBLE.

GG1: I didn’t think it was so bad, at first, you know, just taking it at face value, but then they explained to me how it was totally in opposition to the art and color scheme by so-and-so and blahdy-blahdy-geek-blah…

… and this drivel went on the ENTIRE CROSSTOWN RIDE.  Nightmare.  How do I get myself into these situations?  Anyway, I was working a booth for my new semi-F/T gig with the longest running independent comic book convention in NYC.  I have biz cards and everything!  I am officially one of THEM.  O.M.F.G.

... themmm

... themmm

And I work for one of the top guys in the comic book collecting world.  Somehow he’s one of them and not one of them at the same time.  He knows them all, but he used to  ski with the beautiful people at Studio 54.  High and low, as it were.  Anyway, scads of people come by his booth and I get to people watch them all.  I could go on and on about the various freaks and geeks**, but the ones who really caught my eye were the Gothic Lolitas: you know, Asian girls in a mix of goth and maid uniforms, with a Lolita twist.

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Essentially, these girls are walking manga.  I was Goth, bitd, but this is a Japanese twist on an old classic.  I talked with one self-professed Gothic Lolita, 18 year old Kana from Manhattan.  She said she first got into the look 8 years ago after seeing J Rock artists on TV (example here).  She saw the fans of that style of music and wanted to dress like them.  It’s a very cute world with which to identify.  As opposed to Cosplay fans at the Comic Con, Kana said this is her normal style of dress.  She likes bands like Plastic Tree, and she and her friends get together for karaoke parties.  She seemed really well-adjusted.  It was refreshing, in this land of make-believe.

Kutie Kana

Kutie Kana

So I am officially an insider in this crazy comic book world.  But I guess now I can finally finish my Sandman collection.  I’m only missing #2 and #43.  Christ.  Kill me now.

*Except Neil Gaiman’s Sandman in the 90’s.  Brilliant.  Oh, and the occasional Betty and Veronica when I was little.  Can you say cat fight?  Me-ow!

**New rule: Guys, if you’re wearing spandex, will you PLEASE wear a cup?!?!?!?  I am still scrubbing those lumpy images from my brain.

oil-fields

Dubai is a palace of excess and contradition. It is a mushroom that paradoxically bloomed under the whithering rays of the sun. But the leadership of the UAE is a lot smarter than anyone in America today. From today’s New York Times:

[The UAE’s] new investment [in renewable energy] aims to maintain the gulf’s dominant position as a global energy supplier, gaining patents from the new technologies and promoting green manufacturing. But if the United States and the European Union have set energy independence from the gulf states as a goal of new renewable energy efforts, they may find they are arriving late at the party.

The irony that the most wasteful and oil dependent part of the globe should be on the cutting edge of green energy is unremarkable next to the ambition — characteristic of the Gulf states — to go all the way all at once. Consider Masdar City, a planned community outside of Abu Dhabi that claims it will have a zero-carbon footprint. Even though skeptics doubt this claim, it is notable not for its complete success in execution, but for its audacity.

According to the Times article, Qatar has invested $225 million into a British research fund, and Saudi Arabia has invested untold millions into American universities, including $25 million for Michael McGehee an associate professor at Stanford, to develop cutting edge technologies. That is fifty times the amount invested by Western governments or industry.

Finally, the Times tells us Masdar City “goes beyond creating new materials and is in fact exploring a new model for urban life.” To wit: “The city will have no cars; people will move around using driverless electric vehicles that move on a subterranean level. The air-conditioning will be solar powered.” As a New Yorker I take exception to this. After all, we also have subterranean electric cars that move people around. It’s called the subway. If only the city, state, and federal government could get their posteriors and capitals wired together they could see that a massive investment in the New York City subway is a necessary good faith effort to putting America into the 21st century.

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Merry Christmas to any Christian readers. Happy Chanuka for the Jews. Happy Kwanza, happy holidays, and merry festivus for everyone else.

I read the news today, oh boy. It looks like folks in state governments in the middle states want to use Obama’s stimulus plan to build more highways — just in time for plummeting gas prices. They argue that road projects are already started or ready to go, and plans for beefing up the rail system are too far in the future to get people working now!

Sounds like drill baby drill! And it is. The hype is motivated by our dear old attachment to individual transit and the automobile. I am sure that even after eight years of strangulation and abuse, Amtrak has a capital plan they would loooove to put into effect. The car maniacs say our country is less productive because we waste so much time in traffic jams, but as this review of Traffic by Tom Vanderbuilt reminds us, building new roads doesn’t alleve congestion, it just makes it worse. More importantly, as the MTA report on ridership during the 00’s points out, New York state’s investment in mass transit paid huge dividends in increased ridership and decreased car traffic.

I hope to high heaven Obama and his cabinet have the testicular fortitude to stand up to state governments and tell them the money has to be put to good use — building up our national rail system.

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A study released on Monday showed that from 2003 to 2007 New Yorkers (such as myself) left their cars at home — or abandoned them entirely! — to take the train or bus. An article in the New York Times give the details. Bruce Schaller, New York’s deputy transportation commissioner for planning and sustainability, is quoted as saying, “What you see is that for the first time since at least World War II, all of the growth in travel in the city has been absorbed by non-auto modes, primarily by mass transit.” I can tell you from personal experience that leaving car culture and living in the dense urban core was a fundamental and life changing choice for me. And as I have argued elsewhere, it is a choice that many Americans are also ready, willing, and able to make. Let’s hope that President Obama is able to use this pivotal moment in history to write a new chapter for America, one that does away with SUVs and ushers in cheap, efficient public transit.

This guy was in his clown suit on the L train between 1st Ave. and Bedford. He looked sad. Sad clown. After a hard day of clowning I imagined he was on his way home to his clown wife and clown kids. Probably in Queens.