Friday, January 02, 2004

Some bloggers are upset that the TSA, a government agency, is doing special favors for first-class travelers at airports. But hey -- rank has its privileges. Example:

In 1939, a tony apartment building in New York City got a lease on land for a garden at $1.00 a year, to ease the pain of an eminent domain claim for a highway project. (New York highway czar Robert Moses was very solicitous of rich folks who were displaced by his projects. The less affluent weren't so favored -- the decline of the South Bronx was caused in large measure by his ill-chosen route for the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which he refused to consider despite massive community opposition. But that's another rant).

Skip a few decades later, to 1990, when the building's trustees noticed, to their general dismay, that the lease was running out. Their response? Rather than try to, say, renegotiate, they swore all apartment owners and prospective buyers to secrecy, and hoped no one would notice.

It worked... for three years, until Betsy Gotbaum, then parks commissioner, noticed. At that point, she may have had a few quiet conversations (her husband is an old friend of the building's president), and was apparently won over to the view that:

Since I am told that this is one of the 10 best residential buildings in Manhattan, it does not make sense to me for the city to create an improvement that will decrease the property value of the residences.

And so, the rightful privilege of the people who paid millions of dollars and abased themselves before a famously snooty committee to get one of these apartments was preserved... until now. It seems that the highway underneath the garden is being repaired, and the highway repair bureaucrats are balking at restoring the private garden of some rich swells at public expense, particularly when they don't actually have any current legal right whatever to the land.

This isn't a partisan matter -- remember, the garden was preserved under Democrats in the early '90s (at the city, state, and national levels). In fact, some of the people in the building are no doubt Democrats themselves. Instead, it's a simple question of the privilege that has almost always accorded to rank in America, even if some of the more rank individuals in our society have found it inconvenient to discuss the matter in a few recent decades, with the result that the highway bureaucrats seem to have forgotten all about it.

What's the matter here? Don't these people know their place?

TSA link via Atrios

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The headline of an article in today's New York Times:

A Nuclear Headache: What if the Radicals Oust Musharraf?

It's about time the major media started worrying about this. Unfortunately, the worries seem confined to the Times's headline writers. The guys who wrote the body of the piece, David Sanger and Thom Shanker, have quite a bit to say about scenarios in which terrorists acting against the Pakistani government seize weapons or their components, and possible countermeasures (technical safeguards on detonators and the like). But they have very little to say about the increasingly worrisome scenarios in which radicals seize control of the Pakistani government itself -- which would make all safeguards against third-party terrorist action irrelevant.

The situation in Saudi Arabia is a little less dire. Mind you, the current government is in danger of toppling to radicals there too, particularly after Dubya's crowd gave Osama bin Laden one of his heart's desires by pulling out American troops. But hey -- they don't have nukes!

By the way, the Sanger/Shanker piece quotes several American officials, anonymously as usual these days, claiming that we actually don't know where Pakistan is currently storing its nuclear materials. Such comments aren't always to be taken at face value, of course, but still, Jim Henley may wish to take note...

Still think our Republican overlords did us a favor with that new "anti-spam" law? Consider the views of notorious spammer Alan Ralsky, who is now on hiatus, but will shortly be back in business, in full compliance with the new law. He's bitching about such nuisances as having to provide a legitimate return address on all his cut-rate mortgage spam, but the bottom line is that the law just doesn't change things for him much at all...
A liberal blogger, one of many, writes:

optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism optimism ...

I've changed the target of the link to be something I feel is perhaps a tiny bit more appropriate, in my admittedly personal judgment, but if you read the comments on the original entry, you'll see that the original poster had a spot of trouble with that himself.

Cognoscenti will recognize this as "google-bombing" -- in this case, trying to trick google into returning a particular site as the best reference to a one-word search for "optimism". If successful, this gives the google-bombers a neat joke to share with their friends and fellow true believers, as just about no one else is likely to be impressed, or even amused.

People who don't know what's going on will just assume that liberals are in the habit of posting incoherent babble. But hey, every prank has its price...

Monday, December 29, 2003

The new consumer revolution is products that know where you are. And can tell other people. Cars. Cell phones. And so forth.

And maybe some of those companies will guard your privacy. Well, as much as they can. Which is less than you'd think these days -- some financial institutions, for instance, have a fairly long tradition of safeguarding the privacy of their customers, but the Patriot Act put a crimp in that, by giving government the power to obtain records from all financial institutions without a warrant. Powers which now apply to the cell phone companies and automobile manufacturers as well, after our Republican overlords redefined the phrase "financial institution" to mean any establishment whatever that exchanges useful goods or services for money...

The New York Times reports that Halliburton, in Iraq, seems to have problems controlling costs.

Ummmm... they have a cost-plus contract, awarded without bids so they needed to compete against no one to get it. Why would they want to control costs?

A little news from Boston: with most of the Big Dig finally open, the old Central Artery, the elevated highway that slashed through downtown Boston, is dead. Now comes the dirty business of carving up and carting away the corpse. Which is being pursued with vigor -- the Democratic convention is coming into town, and mayor-for-life Tom Menino wants it all down by then.

So, as late as 7:00 Saturday evening, there was a tag team of heavy construction equipment on the old highway by the North End, looking vaguely like the legs on the spider from the Return of the King as they swung around to get the best angle on the debris, tearing it to pieces. Over by Quincy Market, there are already a few short segments of the highway that are completely down -- the heavy metal support beams cut to pieces with welding torches, and carted away. There's a kind of forlorn grandeur to watching this kind of work, like in Sebastiao Salgado's pictures of shipbreakers in India. But the highway was a mistake from the start, and it won't be missed.