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. Continue reading Will the Last Horse to Leave New York City Please Sweep Up After Himself?
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 that’s 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
There hasn’t been a winter like this in New York City since … well, since there were wolves in Wales.
And yet at once one has to apologize, because what New York City has been experiencing is nothing compared to what others have been going through, in places like Minnesota and the Dakotas, and indeed in Georgia and North Carolina where they were just plainly unprepared for a bizarre onslaught of cold white material falling right out of the sky. Although my experience is limited, I doubt that there is any city in the world better able to deal with winter storms than New York, where the very worst blizzards only seem to succeed in slowing the city down for a couple of hours. It’s one of what seem lately to be a decreasing number of advantages to living in this city. Continue reading New York City Winter
The National September 11th Memorial opened in lower Manhattan on September 12th, 2011; so, it has now been open for two years. Yet, though yours truly is a resident of New York City, I only got around to seeing it for the first time last week, in the company of an out-of-town visitor who was interested in going there. Frankly, I’d had no great interest in seeing it (which I knew meant reserving a ticket and then standing in line to gain access to the memorial). Why? I suppose—although I fully appreciate the purpose of a national memorial for the victims of the September 11th attacks—that I just felt no need to utilize it. Without wanting to come across dramatic and angst-ridden, I think I can honestly say that I remember the 9/11 attack each and every day that I am in New York. And I’m quite sure that something very similar is true for most New Yorkers who were here on the day it happened. It’s merely human nature. Familiar things retain the sense of such an emotional event. I can’t so much as glance at the skyline without some measure of remembrance, however fleeting. A jet airliner flying relatively low … it’s just the way it is, and will be, till these bones are desposited into the earth. And just the typical weather of September in New York City evokes that day, in a similar way to that in which a specific smell can evoke vivid memories of a long past moment.
In addition to that, I didn’t lose a loved one in the attacks, so the site would not be a place for me to go and remember or pray for any one in particular.
Nevertheless, I can well understand why out-of-towners would want to go, and so I dutifully accompanied my visitor. It was not a challenge to reserve tickets online a day before (the rush has diminished since the opening two years ago). And the line to get in, through the entrance at the corner of Greenwich and Albany, moved pretty quickly. In line, one’s first impression is the similarity to going through airport security. There is a fairly thorough security check (please leave your guns and bombs at the hotel) and the passes I’d printed out from the internet were checked no less than three times.
At the end of it, you emerge into the September 11th Memorial, which is entirely outdoors. It basically comprises the land area that was occupied by the Twin Towers, and the space between them and immediately around them. (The new World Trade Center “Freedom Tower” is immediately adjacent.) When the towers were standing, you would have been able to walk through this space freely, entering from multiple points on the Manhattan street grid. Now that they’re gone, there is the single entrance via the security checks. Continue reading Visiting the September 11th Memorial