Saturday, August 17, 2013

The near future of New York will be a trip to the past

Is New York the Next Detroit?

New York City Mayor Bloomberg is on his way out, and as sometimes happens when a politician heads for the exit, he let leak some molecules of truth...

“Avoiding the hard choices is how Detroit went bankrupt,” he said in a speech Tuesday, according to the New York Post. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, thinks that his successor as mayor will have a unique window to act, because all the major public sector unions are currently operating without a contract.

Mr. Bloomberg is talking about his successor in hypothetical terms. If a successor were to come in and act like a grown up for a day or two, New York City's fortunes might be marginally improved. Of course this isn't going to happen.

You probably aren't following the New York City mayoral race (or the comptroller race where the maniacal Eliot Spitzer has a real shot at being able to torture us again), and there is no reason why you should be. Every candidate is running to see who can best combine the worst aspects of David Dinkins ('90s disaster) and John Lindsay ('70s disaster). The only difference between the current candidates is weight and gender.

New York has been red hot for many years. Its economy didn't shatter as much in the crisis and has recovered better than much of the world. And New York City is now a hot place to work and live. No longer is it a commuter city full of Long Island and Connecticut residents. Brooklyn, once known for its pedigree and streetwise rap stars and street-hardened boxers, has become a white hot place full of families and couples intending to start families. You heard me right. People are setting down roots in Brooklyn with the intention of raising families there. In the old days young couples frolicked in New York for a few years, then moved to the suburbs when it was time for kids. Things have changed.

New York's crime rate has had a 20-year decline. When you cruise the sidewalks, your path is not constantly blocked by homeless people and scam artists. No one is carrying designated pick-pocket money to appease potential muggers.

I'm thinking that's going to change. Although Guiliani (especially) and Bloomberg are both horrible human beings, at least their initiatives occasionally overlapped with reality. New Yorkers are about to discover that 10% reality, 90% fantasy is far better than 100% fantasy.

What I think is coming is the most cynical breed of populist policing mixed with the most cynical breed of populist economics. In other words, higher taxes, higher crime rates, more public debt, and much worse public services. And don't think that the higher crimes rates will be because of fewer laws. There will be more asinine laws passed to generate revenue raising fines. And when it comes to crime, you can bet tax paying residents caught in wispy misdemeanors will be shamelessly inconvenienced and milked, while those benefiting from their taxes will be told they're the ones being ripped off. Yeah...that's going to cause some friction. Should crime rates spike, expect the next mayoral administration to issue lots of calls for "understanding." Muggings will probably be renamed "cultural exchanges."

We are going to see a wonky, liberal arts curriculum approach to governance, which will push much of New York's celebrated "creative class" (and its tax base) to flee. It will be an early '90s flashback. The younger people who have only lived here during the prosperity have no idea what the old New York was like, and given the mushy world they grew up in, they are the least prepared to handle it. Well-practiced criminals are not intimidated by anti-bullying slogans. They do not drop their weapons upon hearing ironic comments. And your Superman tattoos? Not scary to a dude with his strangled cell-mate's name carved into his neck. It brings to mind the younger Wall Street traders who had never seen a bear market before and had no idea what to do when 2008 struck.

Instead of the "hard choices" Bloomberg referenced, there will simply be a greater distribution of hardship to the net taxpayers of New York. This is how it always goes down. But having said all that, I still don't plan to leave. It is better to die in a place you enjoy than live long and prosper in Squaresville.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Pouvez-vous chanter?

How much more powerful and far-reaching is music than other art forms? Music can explode in popularity around the world without being translated. Novels have to be translated. Movies need the help of subtitles. But music, whether it is opera or popular music, can move people to tears in a language completely alien to them. They will even learn to say the words (without necessarily understanding them) simply to chant them back at the singer in frenzied ecstasy.

Origami doesn't seem to have this effect.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

It Ain't a Small World at All

Doesn't take much for folks to proclaim: "It's a small world!" I'm not sure who originated this expression, but his legacy is a pox on all our tongues.

Any little encounter that has any connection to us in any way makes us think that even with 7 billion Earthlings, our planet is really just a snow globe. Sorry to spoil it for the romantics out there, but it isn't that neat and clean. Odd connections from far flung places do occur. What you forget is that five years went by before your stepcousin met that person who grew up four counties away from that summer camp you went to for half an August. During those five years, you encountered thousands of people who had no connection to you whatsoever. But you didn't count them or the amount of time that passed. Mentally, you hit pause as you waited for the next "small world" encounter, and responded as though it came right on the heels of the last one. Our brains seem to have a cryogenics lab that preserves these contrived patterns and chronologies, and it fools us regularly.

But don't despair, you can still take your kids on the It's A Small World ride. Just make sure you tell them it's a lie (like everything at Disneyland).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Why You Shouldn't Cheat off an English Major's Test

Despite being so much less important, verbal intellectuals cast a much longer shadow than scientific ones. The reason should be apparent: verbal intellectuals do all the talking. Their tools are writing and rhetoric; the tools that spread ideas. No one thinks of the scientists and engineers who made possible the electronic devices they're reading those words on - just the words themselves.

The things verbal intellectuals say are also much more understandable to the average person than scientific premises, ensuring their output reaches many more people. And no one is going to sentence me to sensitivity training for saying verbal intellectuals usually have better social skills than scientific intellectuals, so naturally the public is more eager to hear them out.

Because verbal intellectuals rightly feel the need to justify themselves (cinema expertise is less demonstrable than geology expertise), they do a lot more campaigning for themselves and their like. Scientists (apart maybe from those in string theory) give talks about their theories and methods, not about the overall validity of their field. The world of verbal intellectualism is so malleable and easy to play in you don't even have to be a doer to be taken seriously. You can simply be a critic. There is no such field as geology criticism. Not surprising then that there are so many more persons masquerading under the verbal intellectualism banner than the scientific one.

The plight of the scientific intellectual is that there are fewer of them and their voices are drowned out by the bluster of verbal intellectuals and a public that applauds that bluster. Maybe what they need is for a really dumb "scientist" to take up residence at a high profile outlet. If anyone knows of any Tom Friedmans stumbling around the scientific world, tell him there is a position available.

Feynman learned everything he knew from my Twitter feed:

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Rockers who are so straight they're gay

Rumors of homosexual experimentation by rock stars like Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie have circulated for years. Even if there were truth to these rumors, does this alleged "experimentation" mean these chaps truly have gay tendencies?

Think about the sheer quantity of women they've had - thousands. Among regular people, a guy with numbers in the high twenties (not counting prostitutes) is considered a major success. Think of the quality of women they've had - actresses, models (both famous and unknown, and let's face it, even Joe Six Pack models are pretty hot), and the top "girls next door" in every town in the world. Think of the kind of extreme sex they've had: massive orgies, twins, mother-daughter; depravity that makes Nero look like Mary Poppins. People talk about "exploring" their sexuality; these guys have explored their sexuality and all its multiverses.*

Rock stars have a bucket list longer than the Golden Gate Bridge, and they still manage to check every box. And when you have truly had all there is to have of women, eventually boredom creeps in, and suddenly having every fantasy fulfilled feels tired and bland. Penelope Cruz is throwing herself at you and you're like "Ugh, meat loaf again?"

After hitting that kind of saturation point, all that's left are men, so perhaps it's not surprising that some rockers would venture a few blocks into the gay part of town. In fact, they might be the only people for whom homosexuality truly is an experiment! To them, starting over with men is like a wacky form of born again virginity.

Makes you wonder if Liberace ever tried similar experiments with women.

*Obviously, other kinds of celebrities get around too, but the kind of devotion musicians cull from their fans seems to lead to far more epic kinkiness.

Become a groupie for my Twitter feed: