A few years back I wrote in this space about a public school in New York City that was utilizing the Hindu concept of karma to teach good behavior to its students, as evidenced by prominent signs both outside and inside the school referring to karma and relating it to specific behaviors. That was the Robert F. Kennedy school (PS 169) on the upper east side of Manhattan. The ultimate point of my piece was to highlight the double standard inherent in this vast official employment of a Hindu religious concept in an American public school, whereas posting the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes would have brought speedy intervention by those who are out there trying to protect young and impressionable minds from any Judeo-Christian influence. Why would the latter amount to a “state establishment of religion,” while plastering the entire school with postings about karma was regarded as entirely benign? I concluded that I didn’t really have a problem with the karma stuff, if it worked, but I did have a problem with the message implicitly being conveyed to students that Hindu religious concepts are fine to teach and follow, while the banned Judeo-Christian ones must be somehow toxic. Continue reading “Karma Comes Up Short for Robert F. Kennedy School”
Reading the newspaper summary of the life of Joseph Lemm—who was killed with five other American troops in Afghanistan two days ago—makes for a devastating reminder that the people we lose on these battlefields and outposts thousands of miles from home are the very best of us. We have no right to expect such people to be given to us in the first place; we certainly have no right to believe they will always be there to lay down their lives for our safety. And so we also have a duty (in which we are failing) to take care that their sacrifices are for causes that we truly cherish and will continue to defend. Continue reading “Sacrifice in Afghanistan”
52° (F), raw and raining is what it is on this June 2nd; the same as it was on June 1st. Now there are places getting much worse weather, so this is not any cry for sympathy. However, this is a beginning to summer unlike any yours truly has experienced in the last couple of decades in New York. The season may not officially begin until June 21st, but the warm 70° and 80°+ weather had always settled in for the long haul by the start of June. The current chilly snap feels like yet one more tentacle of this past winter that did not want to die, reaching up from the cold grave when we thought it had finally truly gone. Continue reading “I Like New York in June”
“Act big and make loud noises.” In the bad old days of the Big Apple, this might have been excellent advice for those occasions when you needed to take a walk to the bodega to stock up on beer and cigarettes. (And let it please the Lord for those days not to return.) Now, however, it is part of “Five Easy Tips for Coexisting with Coyotes,” which is advice for city dwellers from the New York City Parks Department, regarding, well, coexisting with coyotes. Because, they’re here, they’re hairy, and, according to the powers-that-be, they are apparently more than welcome to stay.
The Eastern coyote is sometimes referred to as the “Coywolf” because of evidence that it emerged via hanky-panky between coyotes and gray wolves. Its territory stretches from Ontario and Nova Scotia in the north down through New England and into New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And now you can add Manhattan’s Stuyvesant Town neighborhood, among others, to places where the Eastern coyote has set his or her paws. Recent sightings of coyotes there and in other Manhattan locations have caused minor media ruckuses as people follow the chase, but the real news if you ask me is that the Parks Department is quite happy with them being in the city, and is expecting them to be around in Central Park for the long term. They’ve been sighted to the north in Bronx parks for quite a few years, so it’s not like they dropped out of the sky, but—on the other hand—the thing about the Bronx is that it’s a contiguous part of the United States of America (as startling as this may be to Kansans) whereas Manhattan is, well, an island. This has kept New York City proper insulated from quite a few things, like deer (and their awful ticks), bears (at least at the time of writing), in addition to innumerable wholesome virtues of the heartland that have never been proven to survive the journey over the Hudson or Harlem rivers.
So how are the coyotes getting here? It’s suggested they may follow “a train line;” whether on a bridge or underground, I don’t know. Five years ago, one was seen waiting on the Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel, and apparently it managed to come up with the toll, because a little later there was a big coyote chase in Tribeca resulting in one tranquilized canid.
So, a carnivorous predator, skilled at hunting singly or in packs, is invading New York City, competing with those humans here who already occupy the niche. Yet the Parks Department is not treating this as the prologue to an apocalyptic disaster movie scenario, but instead simply as nature taking its course. Coyotes are part of the food chain, the narrative goes, and they will help control populations of rats, rabbits and the like. We need to practice our “Five Easy Tips” for coexisting with them and go about our business.
Well, why do I strongly suspect this isn’t going to end well? For my part, I love animals, especially canids. I’m exactly the kind of fool who, if I saw a coyote in Central Park, would probably try to make friends with him, offering him lunch at the Shake Shack and an evening of music at the Village Vanguard. After all, the NYC Parks Department assures me that “nationwide, only a handful of coyote bites are reported each year,” and there are millions of people across the nation, and zillions of coyotes. What are the odds?
On the other hand, there’s a rational person buried somewhere deep within my skin who starts whispering: “BUT, there’s a lot of room out there in the rest of the country. Coyotes and people might coexist pretty well in Arizona, but how are they going to get along on a crowded 6 train?” Or indeed, how will they get along when dowagers strolling down paths in Central Park start seeing their Yorkies getting chomped up like so much beef jerky?
As far as the species homo sapiens goes, it occurs to me that we sure have funny ways of measuring progress. Time was, progress was defined by pushing back the boundaries of unforgiving nature; now we pat ourselves on the back for allowing it to encroach again on our carefully built settlements. I’m all for controlling the rat population in New York City, but if we want the coyotes to achieve it, we should equip them with badges and flashlights and set them loose on Lexington Avenue. We’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re apparently going to attempt some strange détente of wildness and urbanity.
But then maybe that’s what New York City has always been about. Good luck to the coyotes.
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Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were murdered in Brooklyn yesterday, five days before Christmas. They were shot to death as they sat peacefully in their patrol car, eating lunch, and performing duty that would have found them without question coming quickly to the assistance of anyone in trouble in the nearby public housing project, as NYPD officers do on a routine and daily basis. The church that Officer Rafael (Ralph) Ramos regularly attended was reportedly packed this morning with those showing sympathy to his bereaved family. Ramos himself, a devout Christian, was to graduate today from the New York State Chaplain Task Force. His partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, had gotten married just two months ago. He and his bride were described today by a neighborhood acquaintance as having been “quiet and clearly in love.” Continue reading “For Christmas in New York: Murder”
Taking up an issue central to the platform of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Council this week introduced legislation that would ban the horse and carriage business in New York City. It remains to be seen if it will be passed. It’s likely no visitor to Manhattan would be unfamiliar with the sight—especially in and around Central Park— of these iconic horse-drawn carriages.
If the legislation passes, it should be emphasized that only the horses will be banned from the city, and not the drivers. The drivers might be offered job “retraining,” or apply for green aka Boro Taxi medallions, or perhaps drive proposed novelty electric vehicles in place of the horse carriages. The horses will be, well, put out to pasture, ostensibly.
Polls show New Yorkers want the horses and carriages to stay, so why are politicians pursuing an unpopular thing? It goes back to the Democratic primary contest for the mayoral ticket, where de Blasio committed to ending the carriage horse business and gained the support of the vocal anti-carriage horse lobby. De Blasio, himself a dark horse in that contest, went on ultimately to win, as frontrunner Christine Quinn and other competitors stumbled (and relatively few actual voters even paid attention). Whether the mayor really believes in the issue or just doesn’t want to be seen to renege on a full-throated promise so blatantly, he is at any rate now pursuing it by way of legislation through the City Council. It has also been suggested that the issue is less horses than real estate: The stables that currently house the animals sit on land between 10th Avenue and the West Side Highway that has shot up in value and is coveted by developers.
However, whether naive or no, let’s put the money issue aside and just take the animal rights angle. For many years there have been those who’ve said the very fact of having horses pulling carriages in New York City is cruel and abusive. Partly as a result of this, the business is highly regulated (New York might be the regulation capital of the world). There are rules about how long the horses can work, and under what temperatures; there are mandatory rest days, vacations in the country, and regular inspections by veterinarians. And New York certainly is the media capital of the world: the very notion that the horses are being misused and abused when their work is all performed in public would seem to defy commonsense. But the sense being employed here is not particularly common; it needs to be noted that many of the animal rights activists who oppose the horse and carriage business also oppose any service to people by any animals whatsoever, equating it to human slavery.
Horses have been utilized in the role of “beasts of burden” for thousands of years. It seems likely to yours truly that rarely have they had as much attention and care as they have while pulling these carriages for tourists in New York City.
The anti-carriage horse folks eagerly highlight some accidents and incidents over the years. And accidents naturally have happened, garnering much publicity, far more indeed than is generally given to the many, many more accidents that humans suffer in New York every day. No one has yet advocated banning humans from New York City for this reason. (Though perhaps this bears more serious thinking. Imagine, with no people in the city, how much cleaner and quieter it would be. Imagine the reduction in costs related to sanitation, medical services, water supply, policing …! Of-course, tax receipts would take a big hit … but it seems to me someone at least ought to crunch the numbers: this may be something the mayor will want to add to his platform at the next election.)
On a few occasions over the years, horses have died while still in service. What’s not clear to me is whether—if the horses do not pull carriages—they will obtain the gift of eternal life. Do horses ever die in pastures? I confess that I’ve never seen it happen. Fully investigating the question will require a field trip, I guess.
But as much as people like seeing horses in pastures, I can’t help but speculate that if the need for horses to pull carriages in New York disappears, the result in the end will simply be fewer horses in the world.
I happen to be someone who is unlikely ever to pay the very high price to ride in one of these carriages, but I have to say that I do like seeing the horses. There is something calming about the sight of these beautiful, strong and placid animals clip-clopping through the park pulling their carriages. (The sight of the guys huffing and puffing on the pedicabs isn’t anywhere near as pleasing.) It is an antidote to the crazed hustle of the city. And, although I may not know much, I know this: If these horses are banned, then—whether it’s 10 years from now, or 20, or 30—there will surely come the day when people will be looking at photos of how New York City used to be, down through all the years of its existence, and will wonder why the horses and carriages suddenly disappeared. They will miss them terribly and envy the New Yorkers of bygone ages. There will be a campaign to bring them back, but it will not be so easy to restore this very small and special industry and craft once it has been wiped out. It is rather amazing that it has survived this long. In many places around the world, people would be going out of their way to protect such a precious and iconic treasure of their city, even if it didn’t make a profit; in New York, in 2014, we instead have to deal with an administration that is doing whatever it can to destroy it, despite the fact that it is thriving perfectly well on its own terms, without subsidies.
One compromise idea that pleases many people is to build stables for the horses in Central Park, so they don’t have to travel through the city streets from midtown to get there. The idea has not gained much traction as yet, probably because (1) space is obviously at a premium even in Central Park and no one wants to give it up and (2) in the end it wouldn’t satisfy the most radical activists because, you see, the horses would still be slaves.
As unlikely as it may be with the elected leaders we have chained ourselves to, here’s to hoping good sense prevails, for once. And failing that, a modicum of horse sense would do.
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A man in New York City was picked up last month on the charge of trespassing. He had been found by police sleeping in a stairwell of a public housing project in Harlem. It has surely been a very cold winter in New York, and I guess a stairwell there is one of the places where someone without a home of his own could find some shelter. Public housing projects in New York City generally have token and non-functioning security mechanisms, so that anyone can just stroll in off the street and do whatever they want in the stairwells—which is naturally catastrophic for the quality of life of all of the residents (and yet our new mayor is more concerned about banning carriage horses from pulling carriages, rather than fixing such a fundamental problem for so many poor city residents). The easy accessibility of a legally-prohibited sleeping space was arguably tragedy number one for this man, Jerome Murdough, although really it had come after all of those other tragedies that led him to his life of living on and off the street. Continue reading “Man “Baked to Death” in New York City Jail Cell”