Saturday, April 25, 2015

History Watch: As Dr. Henry Chickenkisser" said so famously, "History is just one damned thing after another"


"For more on Robert Grossman's should-be-legendary character Dr. Henry Chickenkisser and his should-be-legendary quote, check out this April 2007 post.

by Ken

I've mentioned before the free writing workshop for seniors offered on Wednesday afternoons by the New York Transit Museum in association with the New York Writers Coalition, and I couldn't resist the new session in the spring-summer program calendar," which started this week. Hey, it beats most anything else I could be doing these Wednesday afternoons. Like sitting at my desk, to pick a not-quite-random example.

(So far for spring it's a small group, so there's still room for newcomers for the session, which runs seven more weeks, through June 10, at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. If you're interested, call Elyse at the Transit Museum, 718-694-1867. You can tell her Ken suggested you call, but she'll be just as nice to you if you don't. And if you have questions about how the Transit Museum is defining "senior," talk to Elyse. The thing is, it really is free, no strings attached. And the writing doesn't have to be transit-themed. The museum itself is there to inspire us if we choose to be so inspired -- we usually write in an ancient IRT car with wicker seats which is part of the museum's collection.)

For the first session Eileen, our instructor from the NY Writers Coalition, in keeping with the transit theme, passed around a bunch of photos from the 1964-65 World's Fair, and invited us to take off from that in any way we wished -- or, if we preferred, to ignore the prompt altogether. As it happens, with last summer marking the 75th anniversary of the 1939-40 fair and the 50th anniversary of the 1964-65 one, over this past year I've done a scad of tours looking at what's left of the two fairs, trying to conjure up what was once there, and of course exploring Flushing Meadows Corona Park itself. So that was my point of departure for this half-hour meditation, I guess, on history.

Since I had to type the thing up anyway, I could hardly resist the temptation to make a few tiny improvements and some amplifications, but this is pretty much what I wrote in pencil on Wedneday. (We're not allowed to use pens in the irreplaceable subway cars housed at the Transit Museum.) I realize this is kind of like posting the thing on my refrigerator, but I don't have any refrigerator magnets anyway.
Everything could have been different

Maybe if I had gotten to the World's Fair, everything that came after would have been different. No, not the 1939-40 fair -- how old do you think I am? Yes, I know that the 1964-65 one wasn't really a world's fair. It wasn't sanctioned by whichever sanctioning body sanctions world's fairs (say, I wonder how you get a job on one of those commissions; that sounds like an easy enough gig), and the Soviet-bloc countries steered clear, and so, I think, did most of the Third World ones. Still, that's the fair I could have gone to, the 1964-65 one, if it hadn't been such a long schlepp from Brooklyn. That excuse got me through the summer of 1964, and by 1965 I didn't need an excuse to not do anything.

I have, however, paid multiple visits to the site today, in the world of 2015, which you'd think would be the "World of Tomorrow" that was celebrated in 1964-65. It isn't, though -- either onsite or in the world at large. Even Shea Stadium, which was built at the same time as the home of the New York Mets, is no longer part of the World of Tomorrow. We have Citi Field instead, and that's just as good, I guess. Soon, if the developers have their way, we'll have a shopping mall -- right there on land that's actually part of Flushing Meadows Corona Park (as was Shea Stadium and as is Citi Field). Yessiree, a shopping mall on NYC parkland -- is that the World of Today or what? Will it also be the World of Tomorrow? Care to guess?

The old Corona Ash Dump
Of course, the fact that we have Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a truly great park, is owing to the 1939-40 fair -- the real world's fair. That's when Robert Moses, who presided over both fairs, cleared the giant ash heap that we all remember from The Great Gatsby, drained and filled a lot of marshland, and did much other rejiggering of the landscape and waterways, with a view to leaving a big new park behind when the fair was done. That was the good side of Robert Moses, who wore, among his dozens of hats, that of NYC parks commissioner. Both the good and the bad sides of Robert Moses played a crucial role in shaping the real World of Today, not to be confused with the World of Tomorrow from back in the day.

No, we're not so good at predicting the future. But I read just recently a piece that argued that we're not much good either at predicting the present based on the past, which the piece argued is what historians do. Even having all that past laid out for them, and knowing how it all turned out, at least so far, historians can't agree on why it all happened or what might have changed those outcomes.

So I feel perfectly entitled to speculate that everything would have been different for me if I'd gotten to the 1964-65 fair. I'll bet I would have enjoyed those Belgian waffles that were the runaway hit of the show, which are certainly part of the World of Today, thank goodness. I would have enjoyed them, that is, provided the lines weren't too bad. I don't remember what I've heard about lines at the 1939 or 1964 fair, but we know that there were especially popular pavilions, and I expect that they involved pretty substantial lines. How many things are there that are really worth enduring long lines for? I mean, apart from the things where you have no choice -- like the truly horrible old days of the Department of Motor Vehicles, where doing a routine license renewal could be an all-day project.

The DMV has actually fixed that, though, with License X-Press. It's not nearly so bad now; it can be almost easy. That's a World of Tomorrow we can believe in. But, even knowing that transportation was a favorite subject at the 1964-65 fair, and that given Mr. Moses's predilections, "transportation" meant cars, when it wasn't planes or other flying craft, I'm doubtful that there was an exhibit devoted to a revolutionary new way, in the World of Tomorrow, to renew your driver's license.

Now, addressing the world of 2065, I can say confidently, how the heck would I know? I wish I were more optimistic, but maybe there are people working now, or people who will come along soon, to make the prospects look less grim. One thing I know is that I could go for one of those Belgian waffles.

In April 2014, former Staten Islander Martha Flynn Winecki e-mailed this photo of herself eating a Belgian waffle at the 1964 New York World's Fair to the Staten Island Advance from Cambridge, England.

No, not the actual posting

After we'd read and commented on our writings -- always supportively, focusing on "what's working for us" -- we had 15 minutes left in the session, so Eileen suggested a five-minute effort taking off from a posting she'd seen somewhere around town by a 60-ish gentleman, with a suitably unglamorous picture, who declared himself "Looking for Love," which had touched her with its apparent sincerity in declaring a wish to eschew games and blah-blah-blah -- you know, all the things that are said by people who post postings purporting to be looking for love. As always, we could take this any way we liked, including perhaps just a list of words that were suggested to us by it, or write something else entirely.

Not all of us were as touched as Eileen by the plea from our gentleman poster, to whom she had given the name "Albert." What I wrote. It got a couple of laughs. Here it is.
Yeah, Albert, we're all looking for something. Only we don't all deface public property as part of our quest. Or were you planning to remove those goddamn postings yourself? As for love, you appear to have been around the block once or twice, at least. Am I guessing correctly that in all this time nobody has stepped up to the plate yet? Is there maybe a lesson in that? Thanks for sharing.

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Mike Honda Has A Transgender Granddaughter; She's Lucky She Wasn't Born Into A Republican Family


Frank Townsend Bow was born the same day as me-- February 20-- but half a century earlier. He served as a conservative Republican congressman from northeast Ohio's 16th District from 1951 until he died in 1972. When he died, Richard Nixon wrote that he was--
deeply saddened to learn of the death of Representative Frank Bow of Ohio. In over 20 years of outstanding service in the Congress, Frank Bow earned respect as a man of energy, principle, and dedication. As ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility, repeatedly taking his stand against excessive Government spending.
I never met Bow. But I knew his grandson, Michael Bow, very well. Just before the Congressman died, I returned to Amsterdam after a couple years in India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka... I found a job in the meditation center de Kosmos. And I met Michael. De Kosmos' world and Michael Bow's world couldn't have been more different. Back to that is a second.

Today I heard Rep. Mike Honda on Chris Matthews' MSNBC show talking about respecting transgender children-- like his own granddaughter. Honda is 73 and has virtually nothing in common with Frank Bow. Where Bow was obsessed with lower taxes on the wealthy, Honda is a steadfast progressive who has been working to make the lives of ordinary working families better. Honda was on TV celebrating his transgender granddaughter. Frank Bow and his family paid Michael Bow an annual stipend to stay out of Ohio and out of the U.S. so that the congressman wouldn't be embarrassed. 

Michael was gay-- really gay. He presided over a trashy gay salon, a kind of polar opposite of my meditation center. Michael and a bunch of Americans and Brits, some of whom took women's names (Michael was Michelle Le Bow, for example), behaved outrageously. They wore clothes that were at least as much women's clothing as men's clothing. It was a fascinating subculture and a shock for someone wrapped up in the relatively strait-laced world of meditation as a lifestyle. Michael's dad was a senior executive at Chrysler. He didn't want Michael around Ohio either. The checks that came from home supported not just Michael but 4 or 5 friends. There were candles everywhere and red and black fabrics hanging from everything. Shabby chic is probably how best to describe the setting.

Once or twice a week I took a break from my life in the meditation center and hung out with Bow and his crew. Sometimes I went with them on free trips around the Mediterranean, where a London-based sugar daddy owned tourist villa developments (and a plane). I don't know what the Republican grandfather and father thought of Michael-- although I can imagine-- but they were willing to pay him a very substantial amount of money to stay away. He was anything but closeted-- the only state of being Republicans find acceptable for gays-- but as long as he was thousands of miles away from Canton, Ohio, no one had to worry about it. Very different from Mike Honda's family situation.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) made headlines in February for the seemingly simple act of tweeting a message of love for his grandchild, an 8-year-old girl who happens to be transgender. Now Honda's daughter and son-in-law, Travis Phillips and Michelle Honda-Phillips, are telling others about the experience of raising a transgender child.

"Her name wasn't always Malisa," Honda-Phillips told NBC Nightly News. "She chose her name when she was very young. It just felt right to her."

Honda-Phillips said she and her husband noticed something unique about their child at just 18 months old. "She always wanted to role-play as the girl," Honda-Phillips recalled to NBC. "All her toys and all her presents were always from the girls' section, you know, everything was pink. Her self-portraits have always been with long hair and as a princess. She's always wearing a dress in her self-portraits."

The parents always accepted their child for who she is, even though doing so wasn't always easy. "It's a hard thing to go through, because... you want to be supportive of your child, let them do what they want, explore, express themselves," Phillips admitted. "But at the same time, you think, 'Okay, what are other people going to think, right? How are they going to react?'"

"It was a challenge to get there, to not care about what people thought," Honda-Phillips affirmed. Rather than act defensively or combat their daughter's wishes, the parents chose to educate themselves instead. Eventually, Honda-Phillips said, "it all clicked."

  The couple likely learned that being transgender was not a "phase" for their daughter, but rather-- as studies confirm-- a consistent gender identity. And allowing their daughter to express her gender identity made a world of difference for the whole family.

"They didn't understand at first, then they started to understand and let me be who I was," 8-year-old Malisa told NBC.

"It was almost like night and day," Phillips recalled of his daughter's transition. "She became who she is on the outside and everybody is now recognizing that. She felt so much better because now that weight is lifted, that stress, that frustration."

Their only regret, Honda-Phillips admitted, was the thought that their daughter "lived so long as someone she didn't feel she was inside. We never wanted our children to be anything other than who they believe they are."

Today, they are living proof that when every member can be the most authentic version of themselves, the entire family benefits. As Phillips put it to NBC, "She's a happy kid and that's the biggest thing I know I want, is for her to be happy."

Malisa's situation is unfortunately not the norm: As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, for example, largely due to the rejection of their family. Malisa and her family are showing what it looks like to accept transgender children for who they are, and setting an incredible example for what will hopefully one day be the norm.
After I left Amsterdam and moved back to the U.S., I never did see Michael Bow again, although I've been back to Amsterdam several times and have run into several of his old crew and other acquaintances. And I can't find anything online about him. I hope he's as well-adjusted as Malisa appears to be, but that probably isn't too likely. Conservatives, and who people immersed in conservative values, never are. Take conservative Republican transgender person Bruce Jenner.
The more shocking revelation for many, however, was Jenner's admission that in addition to identifying as a woman, he also identified as a conservative Republican.

"Are you a Republican?" a stunned Sawyer asked the former patriarch of the Jenner-Kardashian household. "Yeah," Jenner reticently responded. "Is that a bad thing?"

"Neither political party has a monopoly on understanding," Jenner told Sawyer, who advised him to ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for help championing the cause of transgender people.

"I would do that, in a heartbeat," Jenner retorted. "Yeah, why not?"

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So what happened to the Comcast-TWC deal? Not enough lobbying, or not good enough lobbying?


"They talked a lot about the benefits, and how much they were going to invest in Time Warner Cable and improve the service it provided, but every time you talked about industry consolidation and the incentive they would have to leverage their market power to hurt competition, they gave us unsatisfactory answers."
-- an unnamed senior Senate staff aide, quoted by the NYT's Eric Lipton regarding Comcast's massive lobbying efforts for its takeover of Time Warner Cable

"No amount of public-interest commitments to diversity would remedy the consumer harm a merged Comcast-Time Warner would have caused to millions of Americans across the country."
-- CA Rep. Maxine Waters, who had "offered reserved support for [Comcast's] NBCUniversal deal after playing a leading role in pushing for concessions by Comcast to promote diversity in its programming"

"This merger would have further enhanced this company’s incentive, its means and its history of abuse of market power."
-- CT Sen. Richard Blumenthal, an early critic of the deal

by Ken

As a Time Warner Cable customer, and thus hardly a disinterested observer, I have so far resisted the impulse to dance a jig over the announcement that Comcast has abandoned its effort to swallow TWC. I can't help thinking that great minds will yet knock heads together and come up with something worse.

Still, it's a relief. My only problem with TWC is that they charge too damn much. Whereas those Comcast people -- they're devils.

So what happened? "Ultimately," says the NYT's Eric Lipton in his post mortem, "Intense Lobbying Failed to Assure Comcast's Deal," the deal to amalgamate the country's top two cable operators "collapsed because of clear signals that federal regulators were preparing to block it."

Eric leads off with this tale:

David L. Cohen, the master salesman who runs the Comcast Corporation’s lobbying efforts, stood before a room full of Latino House lawmakers one morning in early December trying to convince them that they should embrace his $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable.

But as Mr. Cohen continued to talk — taking up much of the time set aside for the closed-door session — at least some of the assembled lawmakers began to wonder if his highly polished pitch was falling short.

"He was smothering us with attention but he was not answering our questions," said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California, who said that in the early stages of the deal he was open to supporting it if his questions were addressed satisfactorily. "And I could not help but think that this is a $140 billion company with 130 lobbyists — and they are using all of that to the best of their ability to get us to go along."
So we're talking, what, not enough lobbying? Or just not good enough lobbying?
"The warning signs," says Eric, "were already present from the muted reception [the deal] had received on Capitol Hill."
Despite the distribution of $5.9 million in campaign contributions by the two companies during the 2014 election cycle, and the expenditure of an extraordinary $25 million on lobbying last year, no more than a handful of lawmakers signed letters endorsing the deal. By contrast, more than 100 signed letters of support in 2010 when Comcast was pushing its merger with NBCUniversal.

Congress has no direct power to approve or disapprove any merger, but endorsements, particularly if they come from black and Hispanic leaders, can send a subtle but important message to regulators that the deal is in the public interest and should be cleared. It was not that many lawmakers spoke out against the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal — it was just that many of them remained silent.
And it's not as if Comcast hasn't been to this rodeo before. Eric notes that the company, "at least until this deal, had a near-legendary reputation in Washington for leveraging its connections."
Its connections?
In 2013, President Obama stopped by Mr. Cohen’s Philadelphia home for a fund-raiser, and Mr. Roberts was envied for having played golf with President Obama that same year in Martha’s Vineyard.
Oh, its connections.
The company carefully assigned members of its sprawling lobbying team to different lawmakers at both the federal and state levels, based often on their ethnicity or past relationships, company officials acknowledged in an interview shortly after the Time Warner Cable transaction was proposed in February 2014.

Comcast, for example, assigned Juan Otero, a former Department of Homeland Security official who serves on the board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and now works as a Comcast lobbyist, to be the point person to work with Mr. Cárdenas.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Stewart, an African-American lobbyist on the Congressional Black Caucus Institute board, was assigned to work with Marc Veasey, Democrat of Texas, who is also black. She personally appealed to Mr. Veasey’s staff, urging that he not sign a letter last August questioning the deal, according to an email obtained by The New York Times, citing the company’s work on behalf of the minority community. (Mr. Veasey still signed a related letter.)

Comcast also asked Jordan Goldstein, a former official at the Federal Communications Commission who is now a Comcast regulatory affairs executive, to work with [Connecticut Sen. Richard] Blumenthal’s office. Mr. Goldstein had previously developed a working relationship with Joel Kelsey, a legislative assistant in charge of reviewing the matter for the senator, who is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

At the state level, it also hired at least two former state attorneys general — Patrick C. Lynch of Rhode Island and Walter W. Cohen of Pennsylvania — to reach out to state officials, who in many cases have their own antitrust powers, to try to remove impediments to the deal’s approval.
Senator Blumenthal, Eric has already pointed out, "was critical from the deal from the start." He says now, ""There are limits as to how effective even the best advocate can be with a losing case, as this merger would have further enhanced this company’s incentive, its means and its history of abuse of market power."

Oh my.
Lawmakers cited a variety of reasons as to why Comcast’s elaborate pitch failed to gain traction this time: The miserable customer service ratings the company earns, for instance, made politicians leery of helping it out. In addition, there were much more substantial antitrust concerns associated with this deal, and some members of Congress said they thought Comcast had failed to live up to its promises in the NBCUniversal deal, and so could not be trusted this time.

Other lawmakers and staff members on Capitol Hill, in interviews Friday, cited Comcast’s swagger in trying to promote this deal. They said they felt that Comcast was so convinced in the early stages that the deal would be approved that it was dismissing concerns about the transaction, or simply taking the conversation in a different direction when asked about them.
"The miserable customer service ratings the company earns made politicians leery of helping it out"? And members "thought Comcast had failed to live up to its promises in the NBCUniversal deal and so could not be trusted this time"? Oh my.

Comcast itself isn't talking much.
Comcast did not offer on Friday its own post-mortem on the deal’s collapse. "Today, we move on," the Comcast chairman and chief executive Brian L. Roberts said in his short statement. A Comcast spokeswoman declined to comment further.
We learn, though, that "in some cases, lawmakers like Mr. Cárdenas and Mr. Blumenthal had private conversations with Thomas Wheeler, the chairman of the F.C.C., to express their reservations." Oh my. And Senator Blumenthal "also spoke directly with Mr. Cohen," the master lobbyist, "who visited the senator’s office for a chat." The senator, however, "said he came away from the meeting unconvinced."

So did "others on Capitol Hill who had similar conversations," like the two quoted at the top of this post, the "senior Senate staff aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly," and Rep. Maxine Waters."

Meanwhile Comcast is "mov[ing] forward." Watch out in case it comes too close. Unless you're already one of its customers, in which case God have mercy on your soul. And we TWC customers are left to wonder what's in store for us next.

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Ted Cruz And The Gays


Just in case Ted Cruz was embarrassed when it came out this week that he had held a fundraiser at the Central Park penthouse home of gay New York hoteliers Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner (where a 23-year-old man had OD-ed and died last fall), he was ready with some anti-LGBT legislation immediately after the event-- two bills in fact! Still eager for the evangelical/bigotry vote that is so crucial in GOP primary contests (especially in places like Iowa and South Carolina), Cruz is trying to establish a constitutional amendment that would shield states that define marriage as between one woman and one man from legal action.
An aide to Mr. Cruz, reached on Thursday, reiterated that the senator is opposed to same-sex marriage.

Mr. Cruz has honed his reputation as a grass-roots firebrand, and was strongly supportive of the Indiana religious exceptions law that was recently blasted as discriminatory by gay rights activists. When the law was attacked by major businesses like Walmart, he criticized the “Fortune 500’s radical gay marriage agenda.”

In Iowa a few weeks ago, Mr. Cruz said, “The Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberty to say, ‘We will persecute a Christian pastor, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi. Any person of faith is subject to persecution if they dare disagree, if their religious faith parts way from their political commitment to gay marriage.’"

So the juxtaposition of Mr. Cruz being the guest of honor at a home owned by two of the most visible gay businessmen in New York City was striking. Mr. Cruz was on a fund-raising tour of New York City, although the dinner was not a fund-raiser.

Mr. Cruz also told the group that Peter Thiel, an openly gay investor, is a close friend of his, Mr. Sporn said. Mr. Thiel has been a generous contributor to Mr. Cruz’s campaigns.
The gays claim they invited Cruz and half a dozen conservative donors because they agree with him on national security issues, especially Israel. Cruz didn't talk about LGBT issues one way or the other at the event but he did say he'd still love his daughter even if she was a lesbian and that one of his best friends...
Reisner owns the Out NYC, a gay-oriented hotel on Manhattan’s West Side. He purchased the Pavilion nightclub, the Blue Whale and other commercial properties in Fire Island Pines, New York, in January for $10.1 million.

A Facebook page calling for a boycott of the Out NYC and the Fire Island businesses that Reisner owns has received more than 1,400 likes since the New York Times published its article earlier on Thursday. It contains a picture of the Weiderpass with Cruz that was taken during the Manhattan reception.

“The man in the picture next to Ted Cruz, one of the most vociferous anti-gay politicians in contemporary history, is Mati Weiderpass, the co-owner, along with Ian Reisner, of ~75% of Fire Island Pines’ commercial district as well as the Out NYC Hotel in Manhattan,” reads a post beneath the picture. “Weiderpass, an out gay man, held a “reception” this past weekend for Senator Cruz. The question, among so many others, is, WHY???!!!”

Reisner on Friday responded to the growing controversy over his decision to host Cruz at his apartment.

The gay hotelier wrote on his Facebook page that he was “given the opportunity to have a candid conversation with Senator Ted Crus on where he stood on issues including the state of Israel and national security.” He said these are “the only places where we share common ground." ...Cruz last month introduced a resolution that urged Congress to kill a D.C. bill that would protect LGBT students from discrimination in religious schools.

Ted Cruz poses with a gay... in Manhattan

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Food Watch: "Herbing up" with Ellie Krieger


Ellie is interviewed by Family First's Marijo Tinlin.

by Ken

Since we were just talking about food in my 3pm PT post, from the New Fulton Fish Market, I thought this might be a good opportunity to slip in this latest mailing from Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian who's an interesting combination of a nutritionist who's serious about both nutrition and food (I've got two of her cookbooks). Ellie has had her own Food Network show, Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, which I enjoyed a lot, and she maintains an active website (not to mention the usual Facebook and Twitter stuff, which I won't mention) in addition to sending out periodic nutrition-themed food bulletins to her mailing list, which is definitely worth signing up for. (She's also scorching hot, but that's neither here nor there, right?)

In addition, as Ellie's Washington Post bio says, she's
a healthful eating columnist for The Washington Post's Local Living section, and writes a weekly Nourish recipe for The Washington Post’s Food section. She is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author. Her most recent cookbook is Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less."
Ellie's subject this time out is "Ten Ways to Herb Up," which links to a WaPo column of hers, "The health benefits of herbs," with tips on buying and storing fresh herbs as well as these herbing-up tips.
10 ways to herb up

Using fresh herbs is a great way to add both flavor and health to your food. While there are plenty of inspiring herb-centric recipes from all over the world to explore, like pesto, Tabbouleh salad, or chimmichurri sauce, you don’t need any special instructions or culinary skills to get more herbs into your life. When you move beyond thinking of herbs as a mere garnish and start to see them as the major culinary player they can be, a whole world of healthy taste opens up to you. You can simply add them to foods you are already making. Here are ten ways to get you started:

* Add chopped fresh or dried parsley or dill to your scrambled eggs.
* Tuck a few leaves of mint and/or basil into your ham or turkey sandwich.
* Pile fresh cilantro leaves onto your turkey or veggie burger.
* Toss handfuls of fresh tender herbs—parsley, basil, cilantro, mint-- into your basic green salad,  treating them more like a lettuce than a seasoning.
* Add a generous pinch of dried oregano or thyme to your vinaigrette-type salad dressing.
* Mix a handful of fresh Italian parsley or dill into your boiled or mashed potatoes.
* Rub a mix of dried rosemary and thyme onto your chicken breast before grilling
* Muddle some fresh mint or basil leaves in a glass then fill with iced tea or sparkling water and a twist of citrus.
* Spruce up jarred pasta sauce with a handful of fresh chopped basil leaves.
* Stir fresh basil, parsley or mint leaves with grilled zucchini or sautéed green beans.

Click here to learn about the health benefits of herbs and buying and storing tips.

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To market, to market! Or: Daybreak over the (New) Fulton Fish Market


Photo courtesy of the NYC Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC)
Set your alarm clock early for a trip to the New Fulton Fish Market with OHNY and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), where you’ll see the principal wholesale market for seafood in the New York City area in full swing. Learn about the history of the market, located in the historic South Street Seaport area until 2005, on the bus ride there, and then walk the massive market shed with Security Director Victor Seguinot. Talk to vendors, jobbers, buyers, and other market regulars and hear about life in the city’s food hub.
--the description of today's Open House New York tour, in
the series The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York
by Ken

It was, chronologically speaking, about as an unusual outing as I can recall ever undertaking. I tore out of my apartment building in Washington Heights a little after 2:45am on whichever day it was (yesterday? today?) and ambled back in the downstairs door in broad daylight a little before 8:30 that (this?) same morning.

The "little after" 2:45 is important, because according to what I'd gleaned from the MTA's online schedule information, there should be a train coming through my station about 2:56. Of course, that didn't mean there'd be a train at exactly 2:56, so I'd hoped to make it a little earlier just in case, because the information I tended to trust more from what I'd gleaned was that at that hour the train was running every 20 minutes, and while I probably would have been okay with a hypothetical train coming through at 3:16, that would be cutting it close. After all, I still had to do a change of trains at Times Square.

The time I was aiming for was the start of check-in at the office of Open House New York, at Broadway and 26th Street, at 3:45am, but if I could be screwed if I didn't make it by 4am, at which time the bus was supposedly leaving for sure for the trip up to the Hunts Point peninsula of the South Bronx for our visit to the (New) Fulton Fish Market. Meaning that if I'd been out of the house really and truly at 2:45, I should have had a fairly easy time catching a train that passed through at 2:56. But the few minutes I lost to slow-motionness with the three hours' sleep I'd notched put that schedule in jeopardy. Hence the "tearing out" of my building.

Where there's a will there's a way, sometimes, and I actually got to the platform a good minute before the train, which actually arrived maybe a minute early! Score! According to the station countdown clocks, the next train was indeed 20 minutes away. The rest looked to be easy, and it was. I had placed myself almost perfectly on the train to head up the stairs at Times Square for the walk to the southbound BMT platform and even made a good connection to an N train that was indeed making local stops (in the event of an express, I was prepared to walk the distance from 34th Street), and a little after 3:35 I approached a cluster of people outside a bus parked at the sidewalk, with the OHNY people on the job to check me in and pass me through to board the bus!

For the outing we were given excellent "dress code" instructions, which called for "hard-soled, closed-toed shoes that you don't mind getting a little dirty" ("the fish market will be at its most active during our visit, so it may be a little messy") and included this advisory:
The fish market is, as you might imagine, a pungent place. You may want to bring a change of clothes if you are planning to go directly to work after the tour. According to people we've spoken with who've been to the market before, the smell of fish will linger on your clothes.
Luckily, I had cleared the day from work and didn't plan to continue on to the job, in either smelly old or fresh new clothes.

Of course the bus didn't leave on the dot at 4, but not that much after we indeed had our busload of hardy nocturnal adventurers in place, and we rolled out in time to roll into the parking lot not much after 5 for the final stage of the day's market activity. They get going, we learned, at midnight, and for a good part of that time there's a lot of activity, as the day's procession of buyers -- wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, brokers, even the odd retail buyer -- arrive to inspect the offerings of the more than two dozen purveyors lining the two sides of the well-refrigerated indoor grand allée that is the (New) Fulton Fish Market, make their choices, and have their purchases loaded onto forklifts for conveyance out to their waiting trucks for the trip on to, well, wherever the chosen fish and seafood -- most of it on ice but still fresh is destined.

It's an incredibly complex symphony, this meeting up of sellers and buyers, as buyers choose when during those hours of market to arrive for their hoped-for optimal combination of ultimate freshness, choice, and pricing. The sellers are, as they have been since the Fulton Fish Market came into existence down on South Street, and certainly since the new market at Hunts Point opened in 2005, in competition with each other, and the most obvious thing they have to compete with during each day's market is price. All of the buyers know what they're looking for, and what they're looking at. At the end of each day's market everyone packs up and prepares to do it all again the next day.

Which is how, if I got the figure right, some 50 percent of the fish and seafood coming into the Greater New York area, is passed on in the chain from the fishermen who made the catch to the consumers who eat it. I believe that was Victor the security director mentioned in the tour description who accompanied us on the tour, but we were led by the manager of the market, on behalf of the company that runs it on lease from the city.

En route to Hunts Point we had been briefed on the history and operation of the food-oriented markets and other facilities occupying the city-owned Hunts Point campus by the alarmingly well-informed Julie from the NYC Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit org whose board is appointed by the mayor, and whose many functions include overseeing the Hunts Point operations, including the Produce Market (of which there will be an OHNY tour on May 28; see below), the cooperative-run Meat Market (which is very differently organized and not amenable to tour visitation), and the Baldor Specialty Foods facility (of which there will be an OHNY tour on June 10; see below), and a host of others.

The new Fulton Fish Market, we learned, was built to house 30 vendors from the old Fulton Street site, which was impossibly cramped, unhygienic, and without temperature controls or loading faciilities. Some 70 percent of those original vendors remain tenants; there has been steady turnover (and, yes, vacancies) in the rest of the space.


The New Fulton Fish Market tour description I've put atop this post continues:
The Final Mile: Food Systems of New York is a year-long series of public programs, organized by Open House New York as part of its ongoing Urban Systems Series. The Final Mile is intended to shed light on New York City’s dynamic and multi-layered food economy while introducing and exploring approaches to render this invisible system more tangible.
The linked Final Mile page expands on this:
Why are we doing it?

In the age of superstorms, rapidly rising inequality, and global distribution systems, we are all increasingly aware of the connections between food, public health, and environmental stewardship. The Final Mile helps New Yorkers to better understand how food shapes the city in critical ways that all too often go unnoticed.

How can you participate?

The Final Mile will be comprised of a series of tours and events over the course of 2015. Tickets for individual programs will become available two weeks in advance. Watch the Schedule for updates and details as they become available, or subscribe to OHNY’s Mailing List. You can also follow our Blog to learn more about how the city’s food system operates.


The announced plan is:

Spring 2015: Industrial-Scaled Distribution in the Global City
Summer 2015: Uncovering the Remnants of Historic Food Systems
Late 2015: Exploring New Models for a Sustainable Future

Already scheduled are:

Lecture-discussion: How Great Cities Are Fed
Wednesday, April 29, 6:30pm
SVA Theatre, Chelsea, Manhattan
"A very special public talk and discussion to kick off The Final Mile," featuring Karen Karp ("New York-based food systems expert, president of Karp Resources") and Robert LaValva ("founder and president of the New Amsterdam Market").

Free for OHNY members, OHNY volunteers, and students; $10 for general admission. Registration in progress.

Tour: Hunts Point Produce Market
Thursday, May 28, 8am
A cooperative market through which 60% of the produce consumed in the New York Metropolitan Area passes every day. On this morning tour, you’ll walk one of the four massive “row” buildings, each a third of a mile long, then visit a variety of packaging plants within the facility. Afterwards, market manager Myra Gordon will lead a group discussion of the role that the produce market plays in the city’s food system.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 14.

Tour: Baldor Specialty Foods
Wednesday, June 10, time TBD
Tour the facility of Baldor, a major regional food distributor that started off as Balducci’s Fruit Stand in the Village in 1946, to better understand how private firms fit into the mix in the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. Explore the sprawling warehouse with food systems expert Johanna Kolodny, who works directly with suppliers to expand the company’s diverse offerings to the New York market. Participants will learn how the company keeps track of the thousands of varieties of fresh food on-site, and how they bring food from a thousand partners around the world to plates across the five boroughs.

Tickets go on sale at 10am on May 27.
For the tours, OHNY members are likely to get a discounted price, and registration as close as possible to the start of the on-sale time is advisable; my guess is that they'll fill up fast. For the other Hunts Point tours, as with today's Fulton Fish Market one, round-trip bus transportation is provided from OHNY's office at 1133 Broadway (at 26th Street).


It's called Monographs in Motion>, and it's a series of events "that highlights the work of firms that have had a significant impact on New York City's built environment through public tours of the firm's most exemplary projects." First up is the architectural firm FXFOWLE, and we've already toured the substantial renovation and major expansion of the Juilliard School at Lincoln center undertaken by the firm in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro and a host of outside experts in a host of fields.


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Senate Finance Comm. Approves Wyden-Hatch Fast Track Bill


Ron Wyden, one second prior to saying
F-U to progressives who oppose TPP

by Gaius Publius

In a late afternoon and evening session, the Senate Finance Committee has approved the Wyden-Hatch Fast Track bill, 20-6. The bill now goes to the Senate floor. The Hill has the story (my emphasis):
Senate panel approves trade bill

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would streamline passage of global trade deals through Congress.

The panel approved, on a 20-6 vote, a long-awaited trade promotion authority (TPA) ["Fast Track"] measure with the support of seven Democrats, sending the measure to the Senate floor, where it will face another tough test in the coming weeks.

The Democrats who voted to approve were Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tom Carper (Del.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).

The lone Republican to oppose was Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.).
So, again, your pro-corporate betrayers of American workers are:
  • Ron Wyden — Ranking Member and Lead Perp
  • Michael Bennet — Former head of DSCC who ... well, just read; also here
  • Maria Cantwell — Who just erased any good she's ever done
  • Ben Cardin
  • Tom Carper
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mark Warner — Whom Schumer just brought into Dem Senate leadership
In the same session, the committee voted down an amendment that might have made this tragedy slightly less tragic, by starting to maybe begin to address currency manipulation by the Chinese:
In the most contentious vote of the day, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) lost their bid — on an 11-15 vote — to include an amendment in the legislation that would have required the White House to include enforceable currency manipulation provisions in international trade agreements.

Five Democrats — Cantwell, Nelson, Carper, Bennet and Warner — and 10 Republicans opposed the amendment.
If three more Democrats had voted with the Democrats, the amendment would have passed. Again, note the pro-corporate perps.

Maria Cantwell, by the way, turned up on another false progressives list — this one — when she voted both ways on last year's Continuing Resolution. She voted Yes to kill the Warren filibuster, then No on the floor when it was obvious the bill would pass anyway (and the big TV lights were on). That's called voting progressive "for show."

Keep in mind that TPP is mainly written by now. Most Fast Track bills precede negotiation on trade treaties. This Fast Track follows its treaty, and grandfathers what's already been agreed to. In other words, any attempt by any committee or house of Congress to modify TPP as written or about to be written will kill the treaty. Good.

Also, good to know. If Congress passes anything in Fast Track legislation that forces modification of TPP, they've effectively destroyed the treaty. Thus, the vote on the Portman-Stabenow amendment was a vote whether or not to kill TPP. The amendment failed, as it had to, if you're on the corporate side.

House Democrats Still Seeking a Path to Yes

When the show eventually moves to the House, Pelosi and House Democrats will attempt to triangulate their "path to yes" with a substitute Fast Track bill:
House Dems back alternative trade bill

House Democratic leaders are coalescing around a fast-track alternative they say would address the outstanding issues in a trade deal spanning from Latin America to the Pacific Rim.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she will back the trade promotion authority (TPA) option that Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) is planning to offer in the House’s markup of the legislation on Thursday.

House Democratic leadership met earlier on Wednesday and decided they will all back Levin’s substitute amendment, according to a Pelosi spokesman.

“The leaders agreed to all support the Levin substitute in an effort to try to improve the TPA bill,” the aide said.

Levin, the House Ways and Means Committee’s ranking member, is staunchly opposed to the fast-track bill backed by the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"The leaders agreed." No word on whether House Progressives will back this substitute.

I'm in the progressive camp that says we don't need another billionaire-serving "free trade" agreement. So anything that will kill TPP is fine with me. If the House Democrats craft a "path to yes" that throws a wrench into the TPP deal, that works for me — so long as the new House bill is moot and TPP never gets introduced. But I, like the rest of us, will have to watch this play out. Maybe Democratic "leaders" will find a way to mitigate, say, 3% of the poison in a very bad trade deal. After all, that is a path to yes, and a path frequently taken by Democrats.

Elizabeth Warren Says No TPP Unless It's Made Public

Yet another monkey wrench rears its head (so to speak), and we're thankful to Senator Warren for raising it. This requirement is impossible to fulfill if the treaty is to stay alive. Warren has found the sweet spot of opposition — make the text public:

A simple request, and simple to understand. But if TPP's creators have to choose between releasing the text to the general public or trashing this crack at billionaire rule and moving on to the next attempt, it's a no-brainer. TPP will disappear like a bad dream.

I'll have more on the Warren angle as this moves to the Senate floor. Remember: This is open rebellion from Elizabeth Warren. Does she bring others along? And if Wyden's Fast Track bill is clearly going to pass on the floor, how many votes against it will be "for show"?

This should be over soon; the rush is on, so stay tuned. (If you're interested, all of my TPP coverage is collected here.)


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Will The Adelsons Buy Marco Rubio The Oval Office?


Overall, Jeb Bush is winning the Republican Party big money primary, some say by stretching the definition of what's legal and outsourcing his whole campaign to his Super PACs. He may be hauling in the most cash from multimillionaires but that hasn't translated-- at least not yet-- to popularity among base voters. And now other candidates are starting to show they can raise substantial campaign cash as well.

Among the GOP's biggest sugar daddies, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers seem to be getting behind, respectively, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker (although the Kochs say that Bush, Rand Paul, Rubio and Ted Cruz are still in the running, along with Walker, for their help). Yesterday, Alex Isenstadt reported that the Adelsons, who spent $100 million in the 2012 campaign, are going to finance Rubio. Rubio's total subservience to right-wing Israeli politics is exactly what Adelson is looking for in a candidate.
Winning the backing of the 81-year-old Adelson would give Rubio a serious boost in his quest for the 2016 Republican nomination. His campaign is predicated on the idea that he can appeal to a broad swath of primary voters and stay in the race long enough to outlast well-funded establishment favorites like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. To do so, he’ll need the support of deep-pocketed contributors like Adelson, whose $32 billion net worth makes him the nation’s 12th-richest person, according to Forbes.

...Adelson’s attraction to Rubio is in no small part centered on the Florida senator’s outspoken support for Israel, an issue near and dear to the billionaire’s heart. Rubio has reached out to Adelson more often than any other 2016 candidate, sources close to Adelson say, and has provided him with the most detailed plan for how he’d manage America’s foreign policy.

Since entering the Senate in 2011, Rubio has met privately with the mogul on a half-dozen occasions. In recent months, he‘s been calling Adelson about once every two weeks, providing him with meticulous updates on his nascent campaign. During a recent trip to New York City, Rubio took time out of his busy schedule to speak by phone with the megadonor.

The connection is also personal. Adelson, whose father emigrated from Lithuania and worked as a cab driver, has come to admire Rubio, the son of a bartender and a hotel maid, for his compelling life story. On March 2, the two had a private dinner at Charlie Palmer, a posh steakhouse at the foot of Capitol Hill. There, they talked for hours about their families and personal lives. “It lasted quite a while,” said one source close to Rubio.

...During the 2012 campaign, Adelson made his voice heard loud and clear. Of the $100 million he spent on Republican causes, about $15 million was devoted to supporting Gingrich, his favored candidate in the primary. His benevolence enabled the former House speaker, who was waging a long-shot campaign, to remain in the primary until late April.

This election, though, Adelson’s advisers say he’s determined to get behind a more mainstream candidate who has a better chance of becoming the party’s nominee. “He doesn’t want the crazies to drive the party’s prospects into the ground,” said one person close to him.

He’s held private meetings with most of the Republican candidates, many of whom have courted him with fervor. But he’s become particularly fond of Rubio, who attended last year’s RJC meeting but who will not be present this year. He has told some friends that the senator would offer the party a freshness that most other contenders, including Bush, cannot.

In private, Adelson, who’s had labor disputes with workers at his Venetian property, has also said positive words about Walker and that he admired how Wisconsin governor handled his 2011 clash with organized labor.

But Adelson’s desire to get behind an electable candidate may also mean that others with whom he has close ties will be left by the wayside. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who shares many of Adelson’s foreign policy views, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who last year sponsored an anti-Internet gambling bill that the casino magnate supported, will be appearing at the RJC confab on Saturday in hopes of winning the mogul’s support.

But, Adelson’s advisers say, there remain questions about whether either will be able to establish the kind of broad national following that would be needed to win the presidency.

For another 2016 hopeful, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, it’s not about winning Adelson’s endorsement-- it’s about making sure he doesn’t come after him.

During an appearance on a Jewish-themed radio program last month, Paul, who’s come under fire from the neoconservative wing of his party for his more isolationist foreign policy views, said he’d recently had a private meeting with Adelson and his wife, Miriam, and asked him about a report that he was considering funding a campaign against him.

“They assured me there was no truth to that,” Paul said.
Even if Sheldon and Miriam aren't going to directly fund a series of attacks on Paul, others already are. Lindsey Graham says he's running so that he can debate Paul and warn Republicans how dangerous he is. And his best bud, John McCain, has also been out on the warpath against Paul, claiming he's the worst Republican in the field on matters pertaining to national security.
"Sen. Paul is the worst possible candidate of the 20 or so that are running on the most important issue, which is national security," McCain told Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "The record is very clear that he simply does not have an understanding about the needs and the threats of United States national security."

McCain was responding to Paul's Tuesday comment that McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were Obama's "lapdogs."

And even though McCain relentlessly mocked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) earlier this week, he said he'd prefer Cruz over Paul.

"Ted Cruz has a much better handle on our national security issues," McCain said.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day report: Man goes for swim in Gowanus Canal, lives to tell tale (so far)


Anyone for a swim? Popular Science labeled this photo by Dan Bracaglia: "A Swirl of . . . Something."

"We don't really know what's in there, we don't know what's in the soil and air around it, and we don't know how it affects the tens of thousands of people who live within a few blocks of it. . . .

"The EPA recommends people avoid the canal water, the land around it, the air above and adjacent to it, and anything that swims or crawls in it."

-- Popular Science's Dan Nosowitz
on the Gowanus Canal (October 2013)

by Ken

Not the winter just past but the one before that, on what turned out to be an exceptionally frigid day (single-digit temps) Francis Morrone led a never-say-uncle band of winter-walking warriors on a stroll around, of all things, the Gowanus Canal, which he explained he has been happily traipsing around through all the various decades he's lived in NYC.

Of course not everyone who had registered showed up -- for one of Francis's tours it's a good guess that the full complement of 30 tourers had signed up, and we certainly didn't have any 30 people on hand. But amazingly the people who did show up stuck it out to the frigid end. It was even crazier for me, because I had just come from doing a whole other walking tour, also in Brooklyn, of Bushwick, with Joe Svehlak, who had been amazed that anyone showed up in that bitter cold. In fact, we'd had a pretty decent-size group there too, and there too most everyone who showed up stuck it out to the end. We can be tough, us Gothamites.

Since then I know Francis has done the Gowanus Canal jaunt again, in presumably less crazy weather, and I would have loved to revisit the sights with him, but I had a schedule conflict. I bring up the subject of this tour, though, because it was either on that tour or one of the others I've done with Francis which put us in close proximity to the canal that he read us terrifying excerpts from an article about one of North America's most polluted waterways which had been published recently in Popular Science (by coincidence a journalistic alma mater of mine).

I just dug out what I'm guessing must be the article in question, "What Would Happen if You Drank Water from the Gowanus Canal?" by Dan Nosowitz, posted in October 2013., and here's a sample:
[T]he Gowanus is one of the most creatively and massively pathogenetic waterways on the planet. We know some things; we know that the quantity of fecal matter, usually measured in parts per million, can be measured in parts per hundred in the Gowanus. But the Gowanus isn't any one thing; water taken from different parts of the canal, from different depths, will have totally different levels of contaminants, microbes, radioactive materials, or carcinogenic materials. I took a sample, pictured throughout this article, by hanging off of some scaffolding underneath the Union Street bridge--but that's surface water, in the shade, near shore ("shore" in this case being foul, reddish mud), in one part of the canal.

That water is polluted and dangerous as hell, but it's polluted and dangerous in an entirely different way than most other water in the Gowanus. This is what happens when you have a huge, 1.8-mile waterway that's completely stagnant: you get micro-environments, because there's hardly any interaction between the water I grabbed and, say, water a few inches above the muck in the center of the canal.

The other, bigger problem is that there's essentially no funding for testing. We don't really know what's in there, we don't know what's in the soil and air around it, and we don't know how it affects the tens of thousands of people who live within a few blocks of it.
Here's another chunk (links onsite):
Nasreen Haque, a microbiologist who has studied--or attempted to study--the microbial makeup of the Gowanus, was teaching at the City University of New York a few years ago. As an exercise, she decided to have her students test for microbes in water she assumed would have some--the Gowanus. "We found that everything we threw at it, every kind of imaginable pathogen, was growing there," she told me. But here's where it gets nuts: in the stagnant water of the canal, fed by chemicals from raw sewage, tar, and rotting garbage in the sludge at the bottom of the canal, they're breeding and evolving into new forms we've never seen before, in concentrations seen in few other places on Earth. It was only in 2008 that Haque conducted a study revealing the white clouds of "biofilm" that float just above the sludge at the bottom of the canal. The clouds aren't microscopic; they're giant clumps of white gunk that nobody had ever seen before, because hardly anyone has ever been submerged in the canal, because Jesus Christ, why would you go in the canal.

Microbes shouldn't be able to survive in the Gowanus; it's estimated that the oxygen levels are at 1.5 parts per million due to the lack of circulation, less than the 4 parts per million needed to sustain a healthy population of marine life. And yet they're thriving, mutating into new forms. "Nobody is researching the microbial makeup of the Gowanus," said Haque. But it might even be to their benefit; the purpose of her study was to see if these mutated microbes could hold the key to new antibiotics. As you can see in this sampling (PDF), taken by the EPA shortly after Hurricane Sandy, there's basically no test at all for microbial content. The test for Enterococcus you see there is basically a canary in a mineshaft; that particular bacterium is believed to have a strong correlation with the concentration of other pathogens in a body of water. If a body of water tests highly for Enterococcus--and boy, does the Gowanus test highly--it's a pretty good sign that there's a whole bunch of other nasty stuff going on in there too.

Haque only discovered the white clouds of biofilm because she is one of very few to have dived beneath its surface. Hardly anyone has every actually gone into the water; the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy is about the only organization that does it (Haque made her dive with the help of the Urban Divers). The testing itself is very difficult for an environment as dense and varied and unknown as the Gowanus. "Normally, you'd get a sample, bring it to the lab, and try to grow it, but you'll only see the microbes that best respond to the nutrient you provided," says Haque. "If you put in ten different nutrient types, you'd grow ten different types of bacteria."
And, oh yes, we can't leave out this:
There's very little data on the microbial makeup of the Gowanus, but the EPA, the Department of Environmental Protection, and other governmental and non-governmental groups have measured other dangers lurking in (and beneath) the water: heavy metals, carcinogens, congeners, and more.

The EPA recommends people avoid the canal water, the land around it, the air above and adjacent to it, and anything that swims or crawls in it. There are highly carcinogenic materials in the land and water, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are found (and banned) in some plastics, or in the charred parts of grilled food. There is literally liquid coal tar in the Gowanus, bubbling up from the muck towards the surface. There are also high concentrations of heavy metals, like arsenic, lead, iron, manganese, cadmium, and zinc. Those aren't toxic immediately, and indeed humans need a small amount of some of those metals, but they're all rated at an unsafe level in the Gowanus. If they get into your system and build up, they become highly carcinogenic. Let's start off with a real easy one: arsenic.

"Arsenic at ten locations with maximum concentrations of 8.2 µg/L and 7.8 µg/L for dissolved and total concentrations, respectively, compared to the human health screening value of 0.14 µg/L," reads one EPA Gowanus report. Arsenic is a poison, plain and simple, and the dissolved concentration of arsenic in the Gowanus reaches nearly 60 times the human health screening value, which is the point at which exposure becomes unsafe. Arsenic needs to build up in the system, so one glass won't have too much of an effect--but a glass of that hyper-arsenic-filled water will lift your arsenic levels dramatically. Keep it up and you'll end up with drowsiness, then confusion, then severe diarrhea, then convulsions and cramping, then blood in the urine, and soon enough, a coma and death. Cool."
Cool indeed, Dan! And remember, this is just the arsenic component, one of about a zillion toxic substances known to lurk in the canal. So whaddaya say, everyone in the water? Last one in's . . . well, a candidate for drowsiness, then confusion, then severe diarrhea, then convulsions and cramping, then blood in the urine, and soon enough, a coma and death -- just to pick one among the known canal toxins.


At this point you should be sufficiently primed for a story you may have heard about, where some crazy person announced that he was going to take a swim in the canal, and then did it! Our pal Mai Armstrong, the blogger for the Working Harbor Committee, filed this report (with more pictures onsite):
He Actually DID Swim In It

There he is! The tiny yellow blob! Photo by Mai Armstrong

by Mai Armstrong for the Working Harbor Committee

Yesterday, I went to watch clean water advocate Chris Swain’s earth day swim in the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Word was he would swim the entire toxic length.

Heading for the 3rd Street Bridge, I set myself up in the Whole Foods Market parking lot pocket-park – coffee and restrooms close by! – along with dozens of news media outlets, buzzing helicopters overhead, and a few bewildered local shoppers with their dogs.

It had rained the previous day, and I wondered how much raw sewage had been freshly discharged into the waterway.

We waited for a looong time. The reporters started to thin out, and eventually the helicopters left. My companion started to fidget so we abandoned the effort, and decided lunch on the outdoor roof deck at Whole Foods was in order.

At some point, the swimmer came into view, and I snapped a couple of shots of him splashing in the water before he climbed ashore. I was kind of glad not to be too close, I didn’t want any of that water on me!

I gathered from my fellow gawkers, that the swim had been cut short by the impending weather, and sure enough the skies darkened and the wind picked up as I wound my way home.

Did he accomplish his goal to raise awareness? The media were there… but I got the impression they were there to see a guy swim in poop. What do you think? Noble or reckless? Irresponsible or dedicated? Brave or stupid? Let me know in the comments.


It's a double-header May 31st: Newtown Creek from 11am to 1pm (with our pal Mitch Waxman, the Newtown Creek Alliance's official historian, providing commentary); Gowanus Bay and the Gowanus Canal from 1:10 to 3:10pm. Both depart from and return to East River Pier 11 (Wall Street), and tickets are $30, $25 for seniors. I've done a WHC "cruise" up Newtown Creek, but I signed up for this one as soon as it was announced. Thanks to the following boat trip, it should get me back in time to make my 2pm MAS

Newtown Creek
Sunday, May 31, 11am-1pm
Come explore Newtown Creek by boat with The Working Harbor Committee with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman as your guide. Boarding begins at 10:30 a.m., and departs at 11:00 a.m. sharp. A 2-hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion on a NY Waterway vessel.

Buy tickets here.
Gowanus Bay and Canal
Sunday, May 31, 1:10-3:10pm
Come explore Gowanus Bay and Canal including Erie Basin & Sunset Park by boat with The Working Harbor Committee. Learn about Erie Basin, GBX Gowanus Bay Terminals, the Historic Ferry Yankee, the giant Slag Ship MV Loujaine, the Big Grain Elevator, the Gowanus Canal, Sunset Park and more! A 2-hour, fully narrated, round-trip excursion on a NY Waterway vessel.

Buy tickets here.


Dan Nosowitz himself allows that his title question, "What would happen if you drank a glass of water from the Gowanus?," is "flawed."
Even if the Gowanus is eventually repaired enough to pass EPA standards, the EPA has totally different standards for waterway water and for drinking water. You're not supposed to drink out of any canal, really. But it was my way to figure out what's going on in the canal. And it turns out that nobody really knows.
Still, everyone he asks the question comes back with, shall we say, an unencouraging reply. At the end of his piece he mans up and confronts the question. "For now," he says, the answer "seems to be a horrified 'nobody knows, but nothing good. And probably diarrhea.' "

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Cutting Up The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau... Bipartisan Affair?



Thanks to a tiny gaggle of reactionary Blue Dogs, Boehner's latest attempt to gut the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection can be called "bipartisan." H.R.1195 passed yesterday, 235-183, with 5 Republicans voting for the interests of their constituents and 4 faux-Democrats crossing the aisle in the other direction and voting with Wall Street and the GOP. The bill was sponsored by Bob Pittenger (R-NC), and among the co-sponsors was right-wing Arizona Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema. The bill itself wasn't that controversial, but it includes an amendment that would cut the CFPB's budget by $45 million over the next five years and $100 million over the next decade. The Democrats who voted with the GOP yesterday:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
2016 will see aggressive DCCC efforts to raise money for the Democrats who vote with the GOP and have managed to alienate Democratic base voters. Brad Ashford, Kyrsten Sinema and other faithless Blue Dogs and New Dems will get millions of dollars from the DCCC, much of it from progressives who are unaware that the DCCC distributes their money to Democrats who vote as badly as some Republicans! If you want to contribute to progressives running for the House, never give to the DCCC. Always contribute directly to progressive candidates you'll find endorsed by Blue America, PCCC, DFA and like-minded organizations.

The other notable House vote yesterday was passage, 307-116, of a controversial new cyber info-sharing bill, H.R. 1650. Devin Nunes sponsored the bill, although a bunch of New Dems-- Patrick Murphy (FL), Jim Himes (CT), Terri Sewell (AL), Adam Schiff (CA) and Mike Quigley (IL)-- signed on as co-sponsors. Generally speaking, the progressives Blue America endorses and supports were the ones who voted against it, like:
Xavier Becerra (CA)
Matt Cartwright (PA)
Judy Chu (CA)
Donna Edwards (MD)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Alan Grayson (FL)
Raul Grijalva (AZ)
Mike Honda (CA)
Barbara Lee (CA)
Ted Lieu (CA)
Beto O'Rourke (TX)
Mark Pocan (WI)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)
The above are all members whom Blue America backed and who all voted against the latest unconstitutional domestic spying bill (the 79 Democrats who voted "no" were joined by 37 Republicans). The bad Democrats we warned you about before the election include:
Pete Aguilar (New Dem-CA)
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Ami Bera (New Dem-CA)
Don Beyer (New Dem-VA)
Brendan Boyle (New Dem-PA)
Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Joe Crowley (New Dem-NY)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)
Tammy Duckworth (IL)
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)
Steve Israel (Blue Dog-NY)
Ann Kuster (New Dem-NH)
Sean Patrick Maloney (New Dem-NY)
Donald Norcross (NJ)
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
Privacy advocates blasted the legislation. "These bills do little to protect the Internet, but rather reward companies who undermine the privacy of their customers," said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at the advocacy group Access Now, in a statement. The Blue America-endorsed candidates stand strong for Net Neutrality and cyber-privacy, and last night Alex Law wasn't surprised when he saw Norcross voting with the conservatives-- again. 

"Yet again," Law told us, "we have a clear difference between myself and my opponent in the Democratic primary in NJ-01. Today, Donald Norcross voted in support of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill that is a surveillance bill disguising itself as a cyber-security bill. This bill gives companies a significant expansion in their ability to monitor customers' online activities. It allows them to share vaguely defined 'cyber threat indicators,' which then automatically go to the NSA. The NSA is then authorized broad law enforcement rights that could stretch beyond cyber-security.This chain of events is a slippery slope. I totally disagree with the structure of this bill. We must stand up for individual privacy. What we have in this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and if I were in Congress, I would have voted against it like other progressives such as Alan Grayson and Judy Chu."

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