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Friday, August 26, 2011

There's More To The Galápagos Than Iguanas, Nazca Boobies And Albatrosses

My friend Kelly works for a cruise ship line that travels all over the world, including to a place I've always wanted to go but still haven't reached yet-- the Galápagos. I asked him to give us a taste of what it's like and thought we'd wind up hearing a lot about strange animals and birds. Instead, he wrote about an important and wonderful component for any traveller: indigenous music.

Rock the Islands: The Growing Rock Music Scene in Galápagos and Ecuador

-by Kelly Darmer

Over the course of the last 20 years, as it has become increasingly simple to exchange ideas, opinions, and content across cultural and physical boundaries, music has served as a vital conduit for communication. A truly universal language, music is enjoyed the world over, and there is seemingly little rhyme or reason for why a style becomes popular with a particular group. The music that emerges from a particular region or population is often heavily influenced by the indigenous musical roots of that region or population. Over the course of the last twenty years, however, music from different cultures has spread, collided, and mixed to form some very interesting contemporary sounds. Tune into any online radio station and it is as if you have found yourself aboard one of many musical world cruises. This mixing of sounds has become most noticeable in the world of rock. Rock bands crop up in surprising places, and the rock sounds emanating from Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have a distinct vibe all their own.

The Galápagos Islands and Ecuador are most commonly known for three types of music, Andean folklore, pasillo, and cumbia. Andean folklore is characterized by the use of a bamboo panpipe called a rondador. Go just about anywhere in the world, and at some point in a street market you will probably encounter two or three men with speakers and CDs, playing a rondador arrangement of a Celine Dion hit. The sound of the pipes has become synonymous with the region and their haunting quality has proved popular worldwide. Pasillo is the oldest music of the region and is a close cousin of the waltz. It has fallen out of favor since the late 70s, but has still managed to influence contemporary artists all over Latin America. Cumbia, which was developed in Colombia, is a relatively new form of music in Ecuador and the Islands, and the Ecuadorian population has altered it a bit, creating a rawer, funkier sound that is played everywhere from backyard barbecues to high-end clubs. All three of these musical traditions have had an impact on the sounds of the rock bands of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. However, what makes these groups so interesting, are the elements of punk, ska, reggae, rap, hip hop, and jazz that have been liberally combined to create some fascinating sounds.

Every country needs some head thrashing rock, and a heavy metal group named Viuda Negra fills that bill. Formed by two friends in the late 90s, the group is known for their heavy music and socially conscious lyrics. They released their first album in 2003 and continue to perform together to crowds as large as 10,000 in Latin America.

The group that has managed to have the most crossover success is Esto Es Eso. With their funky, accessible mix of reggae, rock, hip hop, pop, pasillo, and folklore, Esto Es Eso has toured Europe and the US, and was formed by an Ecuadorian musician and a former Californian. Their sound has been described as “Ecuafornian”, and there is no denying that it rocks. Check out the video below.

Afrik’ns Homosapiens created their own form of rock music under the direction of famed folkloric artist Guillermo Avoyi, also known as Papa Roncon. Combining sounds particular to coastal regions of Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, including Bunde, Arrullo, Chigualo, Alabao, with ska, reggae, calypso, and other musics of the Caribbean, Afrik’ns Homosapiens developed what is now called Bao. Their slowed down groove is characterized by the use of hand drums, marimba, and other traditional instruments alongside electric guitars and bass. (One of their videos is up top.)

Since 1996, one band has dominated the ska and punk scene in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. El Retorno de Exxon Valdes was formed in 1996 and fifteen years later, they are still going strong. In the tried and true fashion of all ska/punk groups, their early albums focused on issues of identity and feelings of disassociation. Their lyrics have matured along with the members of the band, and their popularity continues to grow.

If you are headed to the Galápagos Islands, make sure to take a trip to some of the local music venues. There is a long tradition of excellent music making in the region and the energy surrounding the live music sceneis infectious. You never know, you just might stumble upon the next.

Urban Gadabout: NYC tour updates -- breaking news!

The Bowery in 1896 -- it sure doesn't look like this now, and the long-ago disappearance of the el is almost the least of the changes. The third in Francis Morrone's MAS tours focusing on the East Village (October 9) targets the Bowery.

by Ken

As I wrote Sunday, given how perilously close we're getting to September, the new tour schedules of the Municipal Art Society had to be released momentarily, and now they have been, more or less. I've done some difficult triage and filled in a lot of my fall calendar.


Again as I wrote Sunday:
In the case of the Transit Museum, the smartest thing you can do for now is to become a member. While it's technically true that very few of its tour offerings require you to be a museum member, in fact members take such advantage not just of the lower members' price but of the early registration period that it's awfully hard to squeeze onto most of the tour lists if you aren't a member.

Members have now received the full fall tour schedule, and the members-only early registration period is set for August 31-September 8, and this time it's going to be doable online as well as by phone. (I've got my sights set on four tours.)

I assume there will be a general announcement of the tour list shortly. I don't feel at liberty to pass on what we've been told, except to note that the cutthroat competition for tour slots should be eased with all of the fall regular tours offered at least in duplicate, and some of the likely most popular ones being offered even more frequently. There is, by the way, another one of the Transit Museum's famous Nostalgia Tours, scheduled for late October.

My advice still is to join immediately, and ask to have the tour list sent to you if it's still not posted.


The September and October listings are now up on the "Tours" page of the MAS website, and there's lots of exciting stuff. I'm conflicted out of a couple I would have loved to do: The Architecture of Literacy: University Heights, the Bronx (Saturday, September 17, 11am, with Jean Arrington), Arts for Transit: Brighton Line (Sunday, October 2, 11am, with Amy Hausmann, registration required -- when I moved to NYC at age 12, the Brighton line from Brooklyn was my lifeline to "the City," as I learned to refer to Manhattan), and Crown Heights North (Sunday, October 16, 11am, with Suzanne Spellen and Morgan Munsey, with whom I did an MAS tour of sections of Bedford-Stuyvesant a month or two ago -- unfortunately that's the day of my Working Harbor Committe Circumnavigation of Staten Island, also mentioned in my Sunday post).

However, in a frenzy of excitement I've already registered for seven tours. Except as noted, the tours are all still $10 for members, $15 for nonmembers.

Dawn Powell and the Greenwich Village of Her Time. Sunday, September 4, 2pm, with Francis Morrone
The World Trade Center: 10 Years Later. On the eve of the anniversary, Saturday, September 10, 6pm, with Francis Morrone, $20
The Architecture of the Garment District. Tuesday, September 20, 5:30pm, with Andrew Dolkart
Starchitecture NYC, 2011, "a concentrated three-hour tour via small motor coach and on foot of some of the city's most talked-about buildings, structures, and spaces," Saturday, September 24, 10am, with Matt Postal (also offered Saturday, October 15 -- I think! the schedule says "Sunday, October 15), $49 for members, $55 for nonmembers
East Village III: The Bowery, the third in a series of East Village tours Francis Morrone is leading. Sunday, October 9, 2pm
Chinatown-Little Italy Historic District. Saturday, October 22, 11am, with Kerri Mulhane

Then there are a bunch of tours offered on a walk-up basis (as I've mentioned, tours director Tamara Coombs likes offering the tours in both formats, to accommodate the widest range of potential tour-walkers) which I've inscribed on my calendar:

Sixth Avenue and the 1961 Code Revisited, the first of two walks looking at the wave of high-rise construction that was build in accordance with the major changes in the code implemented in 1961 (Sunday, September 18, 11am, with Matt Postal)
Battery Park City Evolving, "love it or hate it," focusing on the northern section. Sunday, September 25, 4pm, with Francis Morrone
Catalysts for Change: East Midtown and the 1961 Code, the East Side continuation of Matt Postal's Sixth Avenue walk above (September 18). Saturday, October 1, 11am
Forest Hills: Garden City in the City. Sunday, October 23, 2pm, with Francis Morrone
Downtown's Forgotten Neighborhood, the immigrant-rich "Lower West Side" that remained a multicultural hotbed until it was largely displaced by the World Trade Center. Saturday, October 29, 11am, with Joe Svehlak ("whose family settled here in the early 1900s")

There are also a pair of "Beyond Sight" tours specifically conceived for people with visual impairments (though open to others), stressing "visual description and multi-sensory exploration," led by art historian Sylvia Laudien-Meo (reservations required for both): Grand Central Terminal, September 3, 11am, and The September 11 & Irish Hunger Memorials, October 20, 12n.

And a tour of a project that was never built --

I'm also delighted to see that Matt Postal is once again doing what was my first MAS tour (only last fall!), one I talk about all the time: LOMEX Remembered (Thursday, September 15, 5:30pm) -- a tour of a project that was never built (!), Robert Moses's planned Lower Manhattan Expressway, when a local community threatened with destruction discovered that it could too fight City Hall, in a long series of battles (Moses didn't give up easily; every time the opponents thought they had thwarted the project, he came back with a revised plan and they had to start all over) in which Jane Jacobs's name was heard for the first time.


Sherman Creek seen from the northern edge of Inwood, Manhattan -- target of James Renner's October 2 WAHI tour.

It's a series of six, covering areas of Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill, being offered Sundays at noon from September 11 to October 16 by Northern Manhattan historian James Renner, author -- by strange coincidence -- of the book Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill (Arcadia Publishing; I've ordered my copy!) and the official historian of Community District 12 Manhattan. Again, you'll find the schedule here, and the tours are $15, $10 for students and seniors.

I'm sorry to say that after the triage with the NYTM and MAS schedules, plus other tour plans (like, again the Staten Island circumnavigation, which I have no intention of missing!), I'm probably only going to be able to make two of the six, but they're two I'm especially eager for: Jumel Terrace Historic District & Sugar Hill (Washington Heights and Harlem, the first of the series, September 11) and Sherman Creek (Inwood, October 2). I'm hoping that the book will help me plug some of those gaps. And of course I assume James will be offering more tours in the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Urban Gadabout: How I spent the earthquake, plus gadding to the North River, SI's Freshkills Park, and Constitution Island (opposite West Point)

"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

So I guess it was a little before 2 this afternoon. Hey, if I'd known it was going to be history, I'd have checked the time -- I just thought it was, well, I didn't know what the heck it was, but I considered and dismissed "earthquake" as a possibility. We don't normally have earthquakes on the 14th floor of my building in the Financial District (Lower Manhattan) of New York.

So like I said, it must have been a little before 2, and I was at my desk in my cubicle on the 14th floor of a pretty sturdily built building (at least in the 2½ years my company has been here, the building has never moved that I'm aware of), and for a while the floor and everything kind of trembled, and after awhile people sort of looked at one or another, and somebody mentioned that there had been a 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Only I didn't make out exactly what that person said; I reconstructed it later after I found out that there had been a 5.8 earthquake centered in northern Virginia, which was also reported as 5.9 or even 6.0 Online somebody joked that S&P had upgraded the earthquake from 5.8 to 6.0.

Then we were hustled into the conference room to hear our HR director, who happened to be in California (as it happens, our office manager was also out of the office -- coincidence?), via conference call tell us to do whatever we felt necessary for our safety. She also warned us about taking precautions before getting on a subway, but somebody else reported that New York Transit was reporting no service delays. (And New York Transit wouldn't kid us now, would it?)

Me, I figured if an earthquake is coming to get me, I really wouldn't know where to go to escape its clutches. I figure you're just as likely to walk into it as to escape it. When I went back to working on the InDesign file I had been working on, the computer claimed that the file was damaged. I rebooted and tried reloading it, and while the program still voiced suspicion about the file being damaged, it then accepted and saved some small changes, and the asterisk went away. So far the file seems to be OK.

And that's how I spent the earthquake. We're not used to this sort of stuff here, but believe me, I take it seriously. It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.


Constitution Island, viewed from the West Point side

As I write, I'm getting read to leave the office for this evening's Hidden Harbor Tour of the "North" (i.e., Hudson) River waterfront, and then tomorrow I'm actually taking off work for my first look, courtesy of a tour offered jointly by SI 350 (a volunteer group promoting celebration of Staten Island's 350th birthday -- apparently someone thinks Staten Island is 350 years old; I wonder how Mother Nature feels about that) and the NYC Parks Dept., at the work-in-progress Freshkill Parks, built with huge infusions of technology, cash, and manpower on top of the old trash megadump.

The Parks Dept. has been offering tours, but I could never figure out from the website where I would have to get to, or therefore whether I could get there via public transit. This tour, however, is leaving from in front of the library in St. George, the part of Staten Island where the ferry lands -- and that I know how to find.

Then Saturday I'm actually venturing outside the five boroughs of NYC, well up the Hudson River to venture onto Constitution Island, which is opposite West Point on the west bank of the river, and is only open three weekends a summer. I'm expecting to meet up with a Shorewalkers group at the Metro North train station in Cold Spring, on the east side of the river from the island.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

While we wait for tour announcements from MAS and the NY Transit Museum, here are some upcoming NY area tours for your schedule

I was really looking forward to this morning's MAS walking tour of Manhattan's Lower East Side, but no, I was still struggling with my Sunday Classics post on Andrea Chénier. Oh well.

by Ken

I've recovered my wits a bit since the post I wrote yesterday upon return from the New York Transit Museum's subway-and-bus Nostalgia Tour to the Rockaways, and I want to add some information.

First, while I focused on NYTM and Municipal Art Society (MAS) tours, anyone who clicked through to the respective websites would have found the tour cupboards pretty bare. (Well, MAS had an awfully interesting-looking walking tour of Manhattan's Lower East Side scheduled for this morning, but I had to blow that off because I was doing battle with Andrea Chénier.) I should have mentioned that both NYTM and MAS are presumably days if not hours away from announcing schedules that cover September and beyond.

I've been checking the MAS website daily. Oh, even the tours that require preregistration won't sell out that quickly, but I'm kind of out of my mind with excitement to see what MAS's Tamara Coombs has cooked up for us. And for your planning purposes, it's wise to assume that the tours that do require preregistration will sell out well before the tour date. The prices are ridiculous for tours of this quality -- as of the summer offerings, still $10 for members and $15 for nonmembers for most tours. (Longer tours or more elaborate tours are priced higher.)

In the case of the Transit Museum, the smartest thing you can do for now is to become a member. While it's technically true that very few of its tour offerings require you to be a museum member, in fact members take such advantage not just of the lower members' price but of the early registration period that it's awfully hard to squeeze onto most of the tour lists if you aren't a member. I can't wait to see what Luz has cooked up for us, and assuming I have the information in time, I plan to do what I did this summer: call in with my request list as early as possible the morning of the start of the registration period!


In July I wrote with great excitement about the first of three Hidden Harbors Tours I was doing, arranged jointly by the Working Harbor Committee (WHC) and Circle Line Downtown this one through the Kill Van Kull, which separates the west of Staten Island from New Jersey, to exotic Newark Bay. The trip was fantastic! Since then I've also done "The Brooklyn Tour," which took us up the East River to the junction of Newtown Creek, then close along the Brooklyn waterfront until we swung across New York Harbor past Staten Island to the opening of the Kill Van Kull and the New Jersey shore, then past the Statue of Liberty and back to the Fulton Street pier. We did much of the trip with lightning flashing, and then a wild thunderstorm broke out just as we passed the Battery for the short trip back to the pier -- it's a shame they can't plan on including this effect all the time!

I mention them now because both "The Newark Bay Tour" (September 13) and "The Brooklyn Tour" (September 27) have one more incarnation coming up for the current season, while the final offering of the "North River Tour" (i.e., the Hudson River, formerly known as the North River) which I haven't done yet, is this Tuesday, August 23. I bought all my tickets online; there's a discount for WHC members.


For all the tours, the WHC's Captain John provide running commentary along with a guest for the particular tour. One event he has talked about on both the tours I've taken is a circumnavigation of Staten Island, for which the date has finally been announced -- Sunday, October 16 -- and ticket sales begun. A planned WHC Lighthouse Tour sold out before I had a chance to book it, so I wouldn't wait on this one. (As a matter of fact, I didn't!)


I also wanted to report on an exciting series of tours "WAHI Tours" of Northern Manhattan being offered Sundays from September 11 through October 16 at noon by James Renner, author of Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill (Arcadia Publishing; I haven't had a chance to get my copy yet!), and the official Community District 12 Manhattan historian -- priced at $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students. I'll write more about them soon.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Urban Gadabout: A year later, I finally made it to the Rockaways Nostalgia Tour

1) Great Kills, 2) Miller Field, 3) Fort Wadsworth, 4) Canarsie Pier, 5) Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, 6) Floyd Bennett Field, 7) Jacob Riis Park, 8) Fort Tilden, 9) Breezy Point 10) Sandy Hook, 11) Fort Hancock

by Ken

It was full circle for me today, participating in the New York Transit Museum's final Nostalgia Tour of the summer, to the Rockaways -- not so much because I participated in all three of the summer's Nostalgia Tours (the previous ones were to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and Coney Island in Brooklyn), not to mention a slew of other NYTM tours over the last year, bt because it has been a year. It was last summer around this time that I took advantage of a half-price offer for NYTM membership just in time, I thought, to go on its first-ever combined subway-and-bus Nostalgia Tour -- taking a train of vintage cars as far as the subway will take you on the Rockaway peninsula, to Rockaway Park, and then piling onto vintage buses for the additional journey farther west, beyond the residentially settled area of Rockaway to Jacob Riis Park, yet another Robert Moses creation of the '30s.

The problem was last year that I hadn't booked ahead, but knew that there was space on a walk-up basis, but didn't know that they weren't taking credit cards. I had meant to stop at an ATM en route to the Transit Museum that morning, but I was worried that I was running behind time-wise. As it turned out, I arrived in plenty of time, and waited in a long line, only to find out that no, they were taking cash only. Somebody said something about a bank nearby, but I couldn't rally myself.

An inauspicious beginning, but when the next batch of tours was announced, I took advantage of the week's advance reservation period for members, and began a year of discovery, fascination, and wonder in, literally, all five boroughs of New York City. It's a city I've lived in since I was 12 (no, I'm not going to tell you how many years ago that was, but it's a lot, though still on this side of

Via Transit Museum tours I've seen things I literally couldn't have seen any other way: the Coney Island subway repair center and signal tower; behind-the-scenes Penn Station including its ultra-secure command station; the inside of the awaiting-development Farley Post Office. Some of these are things we probably still should talk about. And there were a host of others, thanks to Luz, the indefatigable director of NYTM's tours.

Perhaps the most profound impact was from the tour that introduced me to "urban geographer" Jack Eichenbaum (the Queens borough historian), who took us to and through three subway "nodes," places where two or more separate subway lines intersect -- the ultimate node, Times Square in Manhattan, plus Queens Plaza and Jackson Heights in Queens -- and showed us how the intersection of those subway lines shaped the subsequent development of the areas. It set me on a whole other way of thinking about, well, places. After all, every place where there's human habitation exists where it does for a set of specific reasons.

That has changed my life, and since then I've seized a bunch of opportunities to take tours with Jack which aren't like anybody else's, always showing us places that hardly any other tour leader would think to show people. (I would have to single out the all-day tour of the No. 7 line to Flushing, Queens.) But my life was also changed by a tip Jack gave us: about the Municipal Art Society. I'm embarrassed to say that all these decades it was just a name to me, and I assumed it had nothing to do with me, since I am not what you would call an "art person." But MAS's concern is the municipal art, the art of making a more livable city, and as I've written here, MAS tours have become inextricably with my week-to-week life -- there have been a bunch of weeks when I've done MAS tours back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.

I would be tempted by pretty much any tour announced to be led by my MAS standbys: Jack Eichenbaum, of course, and the more architecturally oriented Matt Postal and Francis Morrone, and the boundless-spirited and inexhaustibly knowledgeable Justin Ferate. I've been to bunches of places on Staten Island with Justin and Francis (and the MAS's equally indefatigable tour director, Tamara Coombs, who's a Staten Islander herself), where I'd previously hardly ventured beyond the St. George ferry terminal; and lots of places in Brooklyn with Francis and Matt, and learned to look at Manhattan skyscrapers a whole other way with Matt, and . . . well, I could go on and on, but I won't. ditto with all the other tours I've found my way to. It's been quite a year! (Oh yes, when I got a renewal notice from the Transit Museum, I sent my check in that very day.)

I'll just say that Rockaway was a blast today, and it was especially interesting wading in the surf -- real surf, since this is open ocean, in contrast with the beach at Coney Island, which as Joe Svehlak had just pointed out to us in an MAS tour of Coney Island, has the protection of being inside the Lower Bay of New York Harbor. You see how these things all fit together? One of the things I've written about here most often is my fascination with New York as a coastal city, a major harbor.

I know I'm babbling, and have left out all sorts of points I planned to make. But it's been a long day!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Starting The Ball Rolling Towards A Trip To Ethiopia

Three ladies from the Mursi tribe

I started my adventure traveling before I understood anything about sex. In fact, the first time I ever even had sex was when an older woman-- she was 17 I think, or almost 17-- seduced me in the back of a Greyhound station in Jacksonville, Florida. I had virtually no idea what was going on and mostly all I remember were the big black rubber tires we were surrounded by. I was on my way to visit my grandparents for Pessach in Miami Beach. Later being physically attracted to a people helped determine where I wanted to visit; I've had wide tastes and see beauty in almost every kind of people. But that was a long time ago and these days I'm much more likely to pick a destination because I like the cuisine. Really.

Roland, who is really eager to go to Ethiopia (not to mention Eritrea and Somalia; he's insane)-- and knows my proclivities-- has been trying to talk me into liking Ethiopian food for just around a decade now! He keeps claiming it's "one of the great cuisines of the world." L.A. has a Little Ethiopia about half and hour from my house. There are over a dozen well-regarded Ethiopian restaurants within 2 blocks of each other. The basic building block of the cuisine is injera, a kind of sour bread that he just loves and I never really took to-- until this year. The meal consists of the injera and some wats or stews. Just when I was starting to get used to the taste of the injera I found out it's made of fermented teff, which is totally in synch with my health regime. Teff is a kind of grass, but not wheat-- which I avoid-- and it's not gluten. It's more like quinoa or millet and it's a good source of fiber, protein, iron and calcium-- very healthy.

Anyway, Roland's in Maine for a few weeks and yesterday I went to Little Ethiopia for lunch. My favorite restaurant there-- by far-- is Rahel, which is the only pure vegan place. The others-- Messob, Rosalind's, Nyala, Merkato, etc all serve vegetarian dishes, which are common in Ethiopia, but Rahel makes an art of it. On Saturday's lunch is an all-you-can-eat buffet for something like $12. There are a dozen dishes, all delicious and healthful. So Ethiopia passes the food test and we're in the early stages of planning a trip there. One of my neighbors has an orphanage in Lalibela.

In his enthusiasm, Roland has been feeding me this line about how it doesn't only have "one of the world's great cuisines" but that it's also the "land of eternal spring." I decided to double check, knowing how completely unreliable he is when he's made up his mind. He's been pushing for next June.
When to go to Ethiopia?

The main rainy season is June to end of September. Don't go then unless it is the ONLY period you can take a holiday. it rains pretty well every day-- some is drizzle but much is heavy tropical rain. Things get very muddy. IF you can only go in this period of the Big Rains try to spend some time in lower altitude areas like the Rift Valley Lakes zone, where it will be warmer and a bit less wet...

Best time to visit is mid October to mid March-- the dry season.

Since this coming December we're set on the Yucatan, it'll have to be the following Christmas. Long way... But here's a video I found with an overview of the capital, Addis Ababa, a city with 4 million people that everyone tells me to have a quick look around and then out into the country.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Delta Threatens To Leave U.S.

Oh boy... 2,000 extra bonus points from Delta, the airline that doesn't let their customers use frequent flier miles! The above ad came as an e-mail yesterday, the same day Delta threatened to follow Blackwater, Halliburton and other extreme right-wing companies out of the U.S. Richard Anderson, who's personally donated tens of thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians-- including heavy contributions to Boehner, McConnell, Romney, McCain and deranged nihilistic teabaggers like Tim Walberg (R-MI), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), John Bircher Paul Broun (R-GA) and Taliban Dan Webster (R-FL)-- told a crackpot Fox propagandist, Neil Cavuto, that he might pick up his toys (Delta) and leave Atlanta (and the U.S.) if he isn't free to keep up his anti-union policies.
Anderson is grumpy because of a change in labor policy that makes it easier for union organizers to win elections.

To understand what's changed you need to know that in the past, when employees were presented with the option of joining a union it wasn't just the "yes" votes and the "no" votes that were counted. The number of people who did not vote was tallied too and those non-votes were considered "no" votes. The philosophy behind this somewhat odd practice is to make sure that a majority of all employees vote for the change, giving a voice even to those workers who don't want one enough to actually cast a vote. 

...Certainly Delta is not alone in opposing anything that will increase the likelihood of unionizing. Fed Ex and UPS are also said to be lobbying hard to overturn the new National Mediation Board policy on union elections. 

But it's only Delta's top dog who decided to go on national television and threaten the nation with its exodus.

"Capital is mobile" Anderson said in a not-at-all-veiled threat that if Congress comes down on the wrong side of the unionization policy, companies will pack up and move, repeating the threat three times. 

Where might unhappy companies like his go you might ask? Anderson cites appreciatively the locomotive-like economies in Brazil and China. Now if Delta is planning to pull up stakes from Atlanta, its home for the last 70 years and carry its kit and kaboodle down to Rio or Shanghai that's news! Unfortunately, and Mr. Anderson surely knows this, a raft of restrictions would have to be changed for a US airline to makes its headquarters anywhere outside of the USA.

Delta's employees are generally so dispirited that the company's service is miserable and Delta is widely considered the worst airline in America. Dozens of groups are boycotting it for dozens of different reasons. Survey after survey show that they rank at the bottom of the heap in everything travelers care about-- and since Anderson took over and made Delta a vehicle for his neo-fascist political agenda, the airline has gotten noticeably worse.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Urban Gadabout: On the waterfront -- two interesting-looking MAS tours, provided the weather cooperates

Aerial view of Governors Island, off the southern tip of Manhattan
(with the Brooklyn waterfront off to the right)

by Ken

Rain, rain, stay away!

For this weekend I've had a couple of Municipal Art Society walking tours penciled in all summer, and as the dates approach I've grown more and more enthusiastic. The only problem: The weather forecast for the weekend is lousy, with talk of thundershowers both afternoons. Some other time I want to write about the weather factor, something that's obviously wholly beyond the control of tour planners and leaders and yet has so much to do with the success of the walk out come -- not to mention whether there actually is a walk.

But for now I'm hopeful about this weekend's MAS offerings: "Governors Island: Heart of the Harbor," Saturday at 11:45am (meet at the bike rack to the west of the Battery Maritime Building); and "Coney Island: What's Next?," Sunday at 10:30am (meet in Coney Island outside the Stillwell Avenue subway station, on the northeast corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues).

I should go back to that point I made about having these tours "penciled in." MAS schedules its walking tours in two different configurations. Some are booked ahead, by advance (paid) registration; others are offered strictly on a walk-up basis. The idea is to accommodate different kinds of tour-takers, and to make sure that even when the advance-registration tours sell out, as they usually do, there are still tours available on a walk-up basis for people who don't like, or weren't able, to book the other kind. And it happens that both of these MAS tours are of the walk-up variety, which is why I've only had them "penciled in."

Turnout for the MAS walk-up tours is of course wildly unpredictable. On a nice day, turnout may be massive. On a miserable day, it can get mighty lonely. It's only in extreme weather situations that a tour is canceled. (I'm keeping the "hot line" number, 212-453-0050, handy.)

Saturday, August 6, 11:45 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Governors Island: Heart of the Harbor
Governors Island offers a singular vantage point from which to see the last 200 years of the life of New York Harbor and a glimpse into the next 200. Join us for a look at the island of today as well as the opposing waterfronts of tomorrow. We’ll also take in the award-winning Harbor School and discuss the opportunities and challenges the island offers as it enters its new life as a public space.
Tour Leader: Carter Craft, civic activist and a leading waterfront planner.
Meet at: The bike rack to the West of the Battery Maritime Building.
Cost of Tour: $15, $10 MAS members. Pay at tour.

The reason I've been getting more excited about this tour is that I did some online investigation of tour leader Carter Craft, who was formerly program director of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which was founded in 1999 as an initiative of . . . the Municipal Art Society (!), and then in 2007 was spun off as an independent entity. Carter has carved out a career for himself as a "waterfront planner."

In July-August 2007 he fielded three days' worth of waterfront-related questions from readers of the New York Times's City Room blog, and he's written a slew of column features for Gotham Gazette, among a help of readily available online writings. Of particular interest to me was a piece he did for UrbanOmnibus last summer previewing the Museum of Modern Art's "Rising Currents" exhibition, which (the introduction explained) would "display the design schemes of five interdisciplinary teams, charged with re-envisioning 'the coastlines of New York and New Jersey around New York Harbor and [imagining] new ways to occupy the harbor itself with adaptive "soft" infrastructures that are sympathetic to the needs of a sound ecology,'” obviously with reference to the expected rise of water levels in the harbor. If you look at Governors Island, just off the southern tip of Manhattan (I reported on my first trip there, in 2006 and returned just a couple of weeks ago, taking advantage of the free ferry service provided all summer), it looks like the damned place is maybe a few inches above the water.

Sunday, August 7, 10:30 a.m.
Coney Island: What’s Next?
As we explore America’s first great seaside resort, we’ll look for remnants of Coney Island’s “honky-tonk” past, when as many as a million people would visit “Sodom by the Sea” on a hot summer day. View Nathan’s Famous, the popular ballpark, the new amusements, the historic rides and enjoy the boardwalk as we discuss the struggle to designate landmarks and the future of the fabled resort.
Tour Leader: Joe Svehlak, urban historian.
Transit: D, F, N, or Q Trains to Coney Island.
Meet at: Outside the Coney Island/Stillwell Ave. subway station at the N.E. corner of Stillwell and Surf avenues.
Cost of Tour: $15, $10 MAS members. Pay at tour. If you want to go for a swim with Joe after the tour, wear your bathing suit!

As for Coney Island, I was just there for the second of the New York Transit Museum's three Nostalgia Ride days (there's one still to come, on August 20, using vintage subway cars and buses, to the Rockaways), and was happy to have a tour of the rebuilt Stillwell Avenue station (opened in 2005), which services four separate subway lines. And I was surprised to see that there have been other changes -- for better and worse. I'm ready for a proper onsite update.

Weather permitting.

The rebuilt Stillwell Avenue station at Coney Island,
where four subway lines come together