Wednesday, June 29, 2005
My friend, Eric, said he was relieved ... new to my Blog, he had noticed, apprehensively, that my posts were coming fast and furious. And then, suddenly, nothing. "What happened", he wanted to know."I haven't seen one of those blogs for weeks now." Eric, I suspect, is like the rest of us computer users -- our inboxes are deluged and clogged with endless tracts, ads, junk, pleas and exhortations. I commiserated with Eric, being there myself. There's not enough time to read all that. Of course, that doesn't apply to my blog.
But as for writing, it's the summer, that's what I blame it on. Things just slow down in the summer.(Ain't that grand?) And so does my desire to write and snap. On top of that, I did what I had been contemplating doing for many months -- removed my long-faltering hard drive (the faltering was rapidly becoming failing), inserted a new one and, for the past few days, have been endlessly re-installing Windows XP, a myriad of programs and utilities that I use and depend on and all my data (which I had meticulously backed up; I've learned that lesson). It's a process I've visited several times before. Each time, with dread.
And so, I've delayed. But the time came and I was forced to proceed. The upside of that is my computer now behaves like it did when I first purchased it - snappy and speedy. It obeys my every command. I still haven't finished the job. I installed my most heavily used programs. The rest will come over the weeks ahead on a need-to-use basis.
Ah yes, the title of this post: Dinner On The East River. I knew I had something on my mind. As our esteemed, former Vice President Quayle (VP-Potatoe) once said, "A mind is a terrible thing to lose."
Last night, Stacey and I joined several hundred others on Bargemusic's floating barge at the foot of Atlantic Avenue. The occasion was the annual fundraiser for Brooklyn Parents For Peace. It was a beautiful, if hot and steamy, evening. But being out on the river with its beautiful breezes helped to cool our sweaty brows. On the other hand, being on the river with its vigorous current and waves, also helped to slowly and gently rock the moored barge up and down and back and forth which induced a slightly queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
A chamber music trio was playing sweet tunes as we feasted on a wonderful spread of foods that had been donated by local merchants. We took our dishes out onto the deck of the barge to enjoy the magnificent view: the Brooklyn Bridge, the river with boats sailing by and an assortment of people on the adjacent pier, out to enjoy a beautiful summer night on the East River.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 - enjoying the warm breezes of the East River.
Sunset on the river - and a time to reflect on the country's direction.
While we were partying with our fellow peace activists, the President (he's not my president) was defending his fast-sinking war on Iraq. As New York Congressmember, Louise Slaughter wrote in her blog --
President Bush spoke tonight and his silence was deafening. If anyone was surprised... if anyone was shocked to see their Commander-In-Chief so divorced from reality, they really haven't been paying much attention.
But day by day more Americans are seeing the light. Each day they see the news... More casualties. More wounded. Billions of dollars lost or wasted. Congress cutting off veterans benefits. New memos discovered detailing White House plans to invade Iraq using manipulated or manufactured evidence. The list goes on and on.
After we finished our dinner and enjoyed the views, it was time to get down to the business of the evening. This dinner was called to raise funds for the job ahead. Brooklyn Parents has grown so large that it now has an office and a full-time staff. That takes lots of money, but it's money well spent. They are very effective, reaching a broad population in downtown Brooklyn and beyond. Hundreds of newspaper clippings from local papers were on display to attest to the wide coverage the group commands.
As an aside, I urge my readers to send a contribution to keep this organization going and growing. You can make an online donation by clicking right here: Brooklynpeace.org . Or, you can send it in the old fashioned way --
Brooklyn Parents for Peace
138 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Another purpose of the evening was to honor those in our community who had made a significant contribution to the cause of peace. This year we were honoring Congressmembers Major Owen and Nydia Velasquez (both of whom could not attend due to an important evening vote in Washington), The venerable War Resistors League and Debbie Almontaser, an educator who is a Boardmember of Women in Islam and a tireless community activist.
Short "thank yous" were said, plaques and bouquets, expressing our appreciation, handed out and then the evening ended with some more music and socializing. It was, indeed, a wonderful night out on the shores of Brooklyn.
Lovely music by which to dine.
David Tykulsker, of Brooklyn Parents, presents certificate of appreciation to Chris Owens (son of Rep. Major Owens, who was detained in Washigton).
Community activist, Debbie Almontaser receives her award.
Part of the crowd at the fundraiser on the barge.
Dan Wiley, representing Rep. Lydia Velasquez, says thank you.
Representing the War Resistors League, four women accept the award of honor.
Olga Bloom, founder and chair of Bargemusic - receives a big thank you from all of us.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Last Thursday, a young Brooklyn woman, peacefully riding her bicycle up Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, was struck and killed by a delivery truck. Liz Padilla swerved to avoid a door that was unexpectedly thrown open in her path by a driver parked at the curb. Her emergency maneuver landed her under the wheels of another truck that was overtaking her, killing her instantly.
New York State and City laws both prohibit the opening of car doors in such a manner as to present a hazard to other vehicles and cyclists --
NYS VTL A33, ¤1214.: "Opening and closing vehicle doors. No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers."
NYC Traffic Rules ¤4-12 (c): "Getting out of vehicle. No person shall get out of any vehicle from the side facing on the traveled part of the street in such manner as to interfere with the right of the operator of an approaching vehicle or a bicycle."
Yet, "dooring" is the number one injury confronting New York bicyclists. In this case, a young woman's life was taken from her. Yet,amazingly and tellingly, not even a summons was issued to the driver who acted thoughtlessly and was the direct cause of the tragedy!
Liz Padilla was the third cyclist run down on our streets in the past month and a half, bringing the total of cyclists killed since 1995 to 204, a staggering toll. And although, NYC streets are somewhat safer than they've been in the past, the city's Department of Transportation still makes auto traffic flow it's main priority, while cycling and pedestrian safety gets a very short shrift.
So today, several hundred bicyclists gathered in silence at the corner where Liz Padilla lost her life. They then proceeded to the Brooklyn Bridge, crossing it to rally at City Hall. Here, they demanded from the Mayor that the city increase its efforts to make the streets safer and more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians. It's clear that in the long run, cycling will provide a healthier and more efficient means of transportation than the current system of allowing cars to dominate and overwhelm our city's streets.
Flowers for Liz Padilla at the corner of Prospect Place and Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn.
The Daily News story of June 10th.
A white bike placed at the scene - to symbolize our loss.
Paul Steely White, of Transportation Alternatives -- a moment of silence.
We won't forget you Liz.
Up Smith Street - heading to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall.
Hundreds of cyclists, demanding safer streets, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
At City Hall.
Taking our message to City Hall.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
I attended (and spoke at) a memorial last night at NYU's Tamiment Library for Simon W. Gerson. Si, who died last December at the age of 95, was a close personal friend, a comrade in the fight for a better world and a remarkable human being. I will miss him. But more important, all people who seek a future based on human values, who cherish peace and equality, who respect the value of labor and of working people, who want a world based on sharing and caring - they will miss Si Gerson.
Si Gerson was a leader of the Communist Party and the editor, for many years, of it's newspaper, the Daily Worker (later the Daily World and People's Weekly World). He was also a committed social activist for over 70 years. He was of that generation of activists which made such huge contributions in the 30's and 40's by struggling, succesfully, for the organization of America's industrial workers, pushing through the New Deal with the creation of basic social amenities such as Social Security and unemployment insurance and achieving the defeat of fascism in World War II.
Si was married to his wife Sophie for 72 years who he met at City Colllege (CCNY) in New York in 1926. Sophie Melvin was famous in her own right: as a 19 year old organizer for the YCL (Young Communist League) she was framed for murder (along with 14 others) during the fight to organize textile workers in the deep south town of Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929. She was acquitted when a campaign for the Gastonia 15 took on world-wide propotions. Si, a cub reporter for the Daily Worker, was sent to Gastonia to cover the trial, and the two were married in 1932.
In 1937, Si was serving as the City Hall correspondent for the Daily Worker. This was the time of the Popular Front and the American Labor Party, when a coalition of progressives, including labor activists, Communists, Socialists and liberal Republicans were able to wrest control of the city from the Tammany Hall machine. Progressive Manhattan borough president Stanley Isaacs appointed Si to his staff. The tumult that resulted from the appointment of a known communist was incited by the tabloids, the Daily News and the World Telegram leading the pack. The American Legion and other right-wing groups waged a 3-year campaign but Isaacs held firm, insisting that Si was well suited and the best man for the job.
In later years Si authored the book, "Pete," a political biography that described his work managing the campaign of Peter V. Caccione, a popular community leader from Brooklyn, who became New York's first elected Communist Councilman. Si managed both of Caccione's campaigns. Another Communist, Benjamin Davis, was elected to the council from Harlem. These electoral victories were the result of proportional representation, a truly democratic voitng system that allowed minority viewpoints to be represented in elected bodies. Both council members went on to introduce and win progressive legislation in New York including rent control that committed the city to provide affordable housing to its citizens - something sorely needed today. And during this time, Si and the Communists were also active in desegrating baseball - a fight that led to the Brooklyn Dodgers' hiring of major league baseball's first African-American player, Jackie Robinson.
But the times were a changing and the victories of the 30's and 40's had aroused the ire of America's corporate aristocracy. Things were getting out of hand, they believed and thus, the era of anti-communist witch hunts, House Un-American Activities Committe (HUAC) and McCarthyism was unleashed. In New York, a city charter revision was enacted to do away with the proportional representation. Caccione led progressives in a fight to prevent its passage but PR (and democracy) lost out. Caccione died soon after and a fight ensued when Si was named by the Communists to fill his vacant post as prescribed by law. The Tammany bunch were having none of that and refused to seat him. The New York Times, in an editorial, called on the Council to obey the law and seat Si Gerson, Caccione's replacment. And an ad in the Times supporting Si's right to be seated included the names of dozens of public figures, among them the author Dashiell Hammett, attorney Arthur Garfield Hays, Congress members Leo Isaacson (D-NY), Vito Marcantonio (D-NY) and New York City union leader, Michael Quill.
Si never was seated, as Tammany used stalling tactics that continued throughout the remaining two years of Caccione's term. He did, however, run for Council in 1948 as a Communist Party and American Labor Party candidate from Brooklyn and received 150,369 votes! But PR had been abolished and Si could not be elected under the winner-take-all rules that Tammany had reinstalled.
Si's knowledge and experience of independent electoral politics was widely respected beyond the borders of his own party. He had friends and admirers from all walks of life and all points of views. Yesterday's memorial at NYU was a testament to that widespread respect. The audience was filled with family, friends and comrades and the speakers included leaders of Si's party but also beyond it from other sections of the progressive movement.
In a beautiful and fitting end to the evening, Si's daughter, Deborah, brought tears to the eyes of many of us by reading a love letter that Si had written to Sophie from the Pacific battlefields of World War II. In it, he extols his love for her and for their shared ideals. And then he quotes Russian leader Vladimir Lenin - "All my life and my strength were given to the first cause in the world - the liberation of mankind." There was no doubt that Si had lived his life in that very same way.
I knew Si through my political activism in the peace movement but also personally. Si was a customer at my camera shop and that developed into a strong friendship with him and Sophie over the years. I taught him how to use a computer so he could file his columns electronically for his beloved newspaper, the People's Weekly World, the successor of the Daily Worker.
Si Gerson's courage of conviction, his unwavering support for the struggles of working people for a just society and a better world were, to me, the model of that most decent of human being - one who cares about his fellow men and women. On a personal level, Si was modest, kind and gentle with a fine sense of humor. I will miss him very much.
Si's daughter, Deborah Gerson, addresses the audience at NYU's Tamiment Library.
Campaign literature on display at the memorial.
Jarvis Tyner, Executive Vice Chair of the Communist Party - "Si walked the long walk to freedom and never turned back."
Tim Wheeler, former editor of the People Weekly World - "Si was my teacher."
Henry Foner, former president of the Furrier's Union - "Si was a wise counselor and a tower of strength to all of us in the labor and progressive movements.”
Carol Gerson Higgs - Si's daughter-in-law: "how wonderful it was to be part of that family."
Me, Matthew, at Si's memorial - "He was a skilled practitioner in overcoming the onerous obstacles placed in the way of independent politics." - photo by Stacey Weinstein
Frank Barbaro, NY Assemblyman and judge - "Si was my guiding light."
Daughter Debbie, reading from Si's WWII love letter to Sophie - "All my life and my strength were given to the liberation of mankind."
The program from last night's memorial. Aside from everything else - he was one hell of good looking guy!
Monday, June 06, 2005
It's an oft-repeated cliche that spring comes to New York for two days or so and then summer begins. But cliches take flight on wings of truth and summer has, indeed, arrived with a vengeance.
Sunday was Brooklyn's first Tour De Brooklyn. Patterned after a long-standing bicycle tour of the Bronx, Brooklyn decided to give it a try and, despite the intense heat and humidity, it was a great success.
Stacey and I, up late the night before, rose early at 7:30. The Tour was to depart Grand Army Plaza, just a block or so away, at 9:00.
Leaving our house, bound for the Tour De Brooklyn.
We joined thousands of other bicyclists and lined up inside Prospect Park. This was to be an easy-going ride down to the shore and back. Sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, (T.A.) New York city's bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization as well as the city's DOT and the Brooklyn Borough President's office, it was evident that the bicycling community has become a large and increasingly potent force in the city and it felt good to be there in such great numbers. I've observed before that my neighborhood of Prospect Heights is a big biking locale - just standing in front of my building on Underhill Avenue on any given day, one can see dozens of people cycling by - on their way to work or play - the word is out: the bicycle is the fastest (and most pleasant) way to get around downtown Brooklyn's car-congested streets.
Lining up inside Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza.
The official sticker denoting one's status as a Tour participant. And yes, that's Stacey's back to which it's adhered.
Thousands of Brooklyn bikers turned out - biking is mainstream in our neighborhood and throughout downtown Brooklyn.
Before we got under way, and standing in the broiling sunlight, we were addressed by Paul Steely-White, the director of T.A. and then Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, who clowningly admitted he couldn't make the entire ride due to lack of fitness. Not a great role model, I thought. But, nevertheless, he was out there showing his support for cycling and that was a plus. A few more speakers and then we were off.
Leisurely rolling through idyllic Prospect Park.
We descended, with wonderful speed, the great moraine that underlies Prospect Park and exited at Park Circle. Crossing Prospect Expressway we were delighted to find that Ocean Parkway was closed, southbound, to automotive traffic and we cyclists had all three lanes to ourselves. Fabulous, as we cruised toward Coney Island and the beaches of Brooklyn totally unimpeded.
A bit of historical perspective is in order -- Ocean Parkway, built between 1874 and 76 later had the country's first bike path constructed alongside it. The Parkway was designed by the same great landscape architechts who conceived Prospect and Central Parks: Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. And the bike path was opened in 1894 with a grand parade of thousands of cyclists, members of more than 60 "wheelman" clubs. By that time, production of the bicycle had become the largest manufacturing industry in the United States and bike riding was the favorite outdoor activity of Americans. Sadly, it's enormous popularity declined just a few years later with the invention and ascension of the infernal internal combustion engine -- the car. Happily, bicycling for pleasure and for commuting is on the upswing again.
Historic sketch of the bicycle path on Ocean Parkway.
Riding over Prospect Expressway toward Ocean Parkway.
What a spectacle - thousands of bikers entering Ocean Parkway while the cars wait.
It's a testament to the strength and influence of Transportation Alternatives and the bicycling community that the city agreed to close the Parkway for a bit while the bikers proceeded along their ride. The cars just had to wait as this magnificent, non-polluting and silent (except for the lovely, soft sound of thousands of tires and gently clicking gears) parade of bicycles passed by. Quite beautiful, I thought. The car drivers, for the most part, took it in good humor, many of them standing outside their cars and applauding as we pedaled by. It was quite a sight.
Gliding down Ocean Parkwy.
I've done this ride many times over the years, but by myself or with friends. This time, accompanied by thousands of other cyclists, I felt inspired. And the time flew by as we chatted or pointed out places of interest along the way. As we approached the shore, my alma mater, Lincoln High School, (class of '63!)came into view, standing there as proud and beautiful as ever even after all these years.
Lincoln High - one of Brooklyn's great public high schools.
We hit the shore and cycled down to the western end of Coney Island and the fenced off community of Sea Gate. There we turned around and headed for Kayser Park where the bikers were served bagels, organges, bananas and water. After a bit, we mounted our bikes and headed back up Ocean Parkway for our return to Grand Army Plaza.
At the ride's end at Prospect Park, ride t-shirts were distributed and live bands competed to a large audience. Later, at 3pm, riders were treated to free beer at a new eco-friendly restaurant that has opened in Fort Greene: The Habana Outpost Brooklyn. It's billing itself as "New York City's first solar-powered restaurant and market."
It was a great day - and we were hot and tired. But we also felt rewarded by joining fellow cyclists from Brooklyn and beyond in an exhilarating adventure that promoted both bicycling and Brooklyn, both of which grow daily, it seems, in appreciation and respect.
Free beer and great Cuban food at Habana Outpost on Fulton Street.
Wall mural at Habana Outpost Brooklyn.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
A: When it's Bartel-Pritchard Square.
Which is the traffic circle located at the juncture of Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest. How this circle got to be named a square seems to be lost to history. Perhaps it was rectangular once upon a time. No more. Now it's very round.
While we're on this subject, I'm always curious to know the origin of names of places and streets that we take for granted. Like, who was Van Wyck, Major Deegan (of their relative expressways fame), and Cortelyou (a road with that name in Brooklyn) - not to mention The Bronx family (from you-know-where)? Then there's the Outerbridge Crossing, the bridge that connects the southern tip of Staten Island with New Jersey. It's named after Eugenius Outerbridge, the first chairman of the NY-NJ Port Authority and a resident of Staten Island (thank you, Google!). Because of his last name that span is referred to as a "crossing" and not a "bridge." Can you imagine? "To get to New Jersey, just take the Outerbridge Bridge." That doesn't work, does it?
I'm getting off the subject again. Let's see what Google had to say about the origin of the name of the quite pretty, artchitecturally un-Brooklyn, Bartel-Pritchard square. Just who were or was Bartel-Pritchard? --
This site, at the intersection of Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest, was named by the Board of Aldermen on April 10, 1923 after two young Brooklyn natives, Emil Bartel (1895-1918) and William Pritchard. Bartel and Pritchard both died in combat in France during World War I (1914-1918). Bartel resided nearby at 251 Windsor Place and Pritchard lived at 128 Linden Street in Bushwick. The men were close personal friends, both enlisting in Brooklyn’s 13th Regiment of the National Guard. During the War, they served in the 59th Regiment, Coast Artillery. - NYC Department of Parks website
Speakng of things Brooklyn, this Sunday we are participating in the Tour De Brooklyn - a lovely organized bike ride that showcases Brooklyn's greatest bike routes. It takes off at 9:00 a.m. from Grand Army Plaza, heads for the seashore and then back north again for a festival with live music and eats in Fort Greene. Care to join us? For more information click here. See you on the bike path.
Bartel Pritchard Square ? Not so.
Circle in a square. The two columns frame one of Prospect Park's west side entrances.