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Nominal Me

I'm falling in love with my camera and taking photos everywhere I go. That, combined with my passions for politics, sports, religion and other things we all agree on, makes this blog persist.

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Location: Astoria, New York, United States

I'm born in Manhattan and raised in Queens.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 In Blogs

Last year I had a blog recap, and thought I'd do the same this year. Here are the best things from my blog this year, as well as interesting things from other places.

My Top 10 Posts of 2005:

Q&A With Mike Dukakis, a chat with the former governor and presidential candidate.

September 11th, Again, a look on my feelings of that day four years later.

The Top Ten Tragic Moments of the NFL, with number one being the top of the list.

I spent some time in Juarez, Mexico, and I wonder if that was a wise thing.

Q&A With Ante Razov of the Metrostars, a talk with the soccer star and former US team member.

Thinking Red vs. Blue in Hutchinson, MN, a look on why America's political divide exists.

Photo Essay: Gays and Billy Graham
, a day that shows just how diverse New York City can be.

Serving The Media, an inside perspective on the pressures members of the media are put under, and how it affects the news.

Photo Essay: New York City Hippies, a day in New York's Union Square Park.

Machines That Learn, a look at the future of war, jobs and technology.

Here are the top 10 posts of other websites:

Dr. Strangejazz of Bitter Daze had some things to say about the most beautiful people list. He also had a great post about America's God being money.

The Airing of Grievances mocks UK terrorism. The same blog tells homeless people to get a job.

Paul Katcher had his five year anniversary. He's had a lot to celebrate.

Faith was not raped.

The Moderate Voice had the best Watergate coverage.

Starts and Fits had a great post about crime in New York City.

Life In The Shadows Time, You're No Friend of Mine, a story of a girlfriend in cosmic terms.

Courting Destiny talks about a TV reality show that unites adoptee and their real parents. She's an adoptee herself, and she didn't like it.

Happy New Year!

The Art of Getting By has a top posts list too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Things To Do In New York: Strawberry Fields

One of the random things in New York "to do" is visit Strawberry Fields, the shrine to the former Beatles star, husband to a psycho and communist, John Lennon.

In Cuba, Lennon has a statue. Here, he gets a circle in the ground.

There's a guy who will sing Beatles and Lennon hits. He'll even sing the Ringo Starr stuff, if you can think of any.

Here is the shrine of the slain musician. It's one of those odd, yet colorful things that make New York what it is.


Things To Do In New York: The American Museum of Natural History

Today, my cousins were in from out of town and we went to the American Museum of Natural History. The museum, located on Central Park West and 79th Street.

NY.com describes the place:
For 125 years, the American Museum of Natural History has been one of the world's preeminent science and research institutions, renowned for its collections and exhibitions that illuminate millions of years of the earth's evolution, from the birth of the planet through the present day.

It is an impressive structure, but its collections are hit-and-miss. The museum's strongest suit is an impressive collection of dinosaur bones, which mirrors the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

The museum knows what it has, as dinosaurs greet you in the main lobby.

Towering high above the crowd is the remains of a Barosaurus, which can be 88 feet high and (possibly) 88,000 pounds. Further research, however, shows that these are fake bones, made from a cast. Real bones of this type would be too heavy to show in this manner. Regardless of the real-bones versus fake-bones controversy, this is the only Barosaurus on display in the world.

Except it's really not on display.

Oh never mind. Those damned scientists, they are always lying to us.

Like any good science museum, the American Museum of Natural History seeks to put things into context, based on the current orthodoxy of scientific beliefs. This graph connects the dots between the species of old and the birds of today. All of the bones on display in the dinosaur section are extinct, yet they are in a very distant manner related to the birds we see in our skies.

This Edmontonia rugosidens, which is believed to have lived 75 million years ago, is one of the worlds best preserved fossils, as it includes part of the being's scales.

Here is the Protoceratops andrewsi, which probably lived in Asia (around modern-day Mongolia). They are famous by dinosaur standards, and have popular descendants:
The descendants of Protoceratops andrewsi probably emigrated from Asia to North America where they eventually gave rise to such well known dinosaurs as Triceratops.
The size of the bones are at times larger than life. One example of this is this display of a Triceratops horridus, which just looks pretty fierce.

High above the capacity crowd is an example of an Anatotitan copei, otherwise known as a "giant duck".

Try calling that thing Donald.

But my new favorite dead thing is this Glyptotherium texanum, which on the Web is described as:
[A] clumsy, heavily armored animal whose body and upper limbs were protected by an immense, turtlelike carapace covered with horny scales. Having a six-foot-long carapace and weighing about a ton, this animal could not have been very balletic! Despite their size, glyptodons thrived in the tropical and subtropical regions of Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. Glyptotherium texanum is sometimes viewed as so highly specialized in its adaptations that local populations could have been wiped out easily by climate change or humans.
He's kind of like an ancient couch potato.

Educational displays, like this description of the location of dinosaur bones, do a great job of putting a pretty nebulous thing to life.

Other displays are somewhat pretentious, like this clock that has humankind as "one second" of the world's existence. What fools, everyone knows the Earth was created in seven days and mankind has dominion over it.

This was the really good stuff.

Here comes some of the bad.

Taking up most of the museum are stuffed dead animals, like this zebra. These displays are educational, showing them by species or by climate type. For instance, this display is called the "Waterhole Group" from Kenya.

Yet for an institution dedicated to science and knowledge of animals, it seemed odd that most of the museum seemed to rely on stuffed, dead (and thus killed) animals.

There is some explanation of this on their website:
The American Museum of Natural History was established in 1869 in a world very different from today's. Even by the late 19th century, we did not have a firm knowledge of many of Earth's land regions and oceans, the diversity of cultures outside of western societies, and the essential history and organization of life on Earth. Darwin's revolutionary Origin of Species had been published only ten years before. It would be 30 more years before the structure of the atom would be revealed and the laws of heredity disclosed, 40 years before Einstein would share his theories of relativity, and 132 years before the entire three billion nucleotides of the human genome would be mapped.
So it's unlikely that back then the average New Yorker (or American, for that matter), had no idea what the environment of the mountain Nyala group in Ethiopia (above) was like (not that Americans today do either). These stuffed, dead animals were the early interactive displays, and may have predated most zoos.

Nevertheless, the museum itself seems to be a throwback in time and morals, when having stuffed animals around seemed like a perfectly acceptable thing for a liberal society to do. Perhaps, it still is, but I just don't know anyone who has them.

Part of the problem is that the museum itself is just the face of a larger organization. The institution seeks to expand knowledge, with most of the exciting stuff going on outside of the main view:
The work of scientific research, training, laboratory work, and collections management concern more than 200 scientific personnel, including more than 40 tenure-track curators. The museum's doctoral training program, which connects with five universities (Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and New York universities and the City University of New York), represents the largest and most diversified program of its kind offered by any unaffiliated museum. The collections and research assets are cultivated by continued exploration-over 100 expeditions and field projects annually. A critical resource for the scientific effort is the Museum's Library. With over 400,000 volumes, it is one of the great natural history libraries in the world.
The museum has rooms of fake humans from other cultures wearing clothes. I didn't bother taking pictures of that stuff because I'm not fond of recreations.

Mostly due to its impressive collection, the museum was packed with people. They should have a tourist on display too. We are a strange bunch.

If you like stuffed dead animals, or dinosaur bones, this is the place in New York to find it. The museum also has a space center connected to it, which I have not had a chance to check out yet. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, I'll be able to check it out.

Other Things To Do In New York

Other articles on Religion, Science, and Philosophy

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

J-E-T-S: Just End The Season

Monday night, I attended the final Monday Night Football game on ABC, which featured the New York (cough, cough, Jersey) Jets against the New England Patriots. The game, held in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, was a home game for the "New York Jets" team.

New York had a chance to build a stadium, but it passed on the idea.

I have often complained that New York City did not have a professional football team. If not for the Giants, New Jersey would not have one either. The Jets this year are one step above an NFL Europe team. Pitiful. Needless to say the Patriots destroyed the Jets. It was still a fun time however, as the fans around me gave me quite a few people-watching opportunities.

Immediately, attention was drawn to a "show up to the stadium drunk and root for the away team" guy, who would give the Patriots a standing ovation for doing things like running up the middle for a loss of one yard, and calling a time out. He got into an argument with a guy ten rows above him. Even though he was a drunken idiot, I had to have some sympathy for him, as I've rooted against the Jets (as a Buffalo Bills fan) more than for them here. This guy lacked the charm I usually put into it though.

Also on hand was "show up drunk and root for the away team" girl. Her style was a little different however, as her role was to flirt with Jets fans who have given up on the game by halftime. Her nice smile, combined with beer goggles would be enough for any man to overlook her pair-shaped frame and bad Boston accent to go full out and flirt back. I wasn't drunk. I didn't bother.

Then there's "wear a large hat so the guy in front of me can't see" guy. He had a decent sense of humor though, as the drunk Pats girl with the big buttocks made a game of trying to throw a quarter onto his sombrero. After about five tries, the guy next to her got one on the hat and almost made the nearby crowd give a standing ovation.

The final score, Patriots 31, Jets 21.

More Sports

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Subways Are Back, and I Can Hate The MTA Again

The very-hated NYC subway union strike recently ended, and I have had a chance to travel freely around the city once again. Regular readers of my blog know I have been critical of the transit union for going on strike. That's all over now. I can go back to hating the MTA.

Now that I can take the subways again, I can travel with people who have that miserable vacant stare about them. That look of boredom, misery, and resignation that most subway riders have. And with good cause, as with my first post-strike trip on NYC mass transit came my first post-strike annoying schedule change. Luckily, they did not use the very popular "due to necessary track maintenance," opting instead for a pipe leak somewhere.

You see, while the MTA says their on time record has never been better, New Yorkers are a lot smarter than that. The delays are more and more frequent, and service changes are regular.

The MTA makes no effort to do anything about the homeless in the trains, which are now a regular sight in the post-Giuliani New York. Giuliani's tactics of having them constantly move around while enforcing "loitering laws" was not well received by homeless activists in the late 90s, but I can't imagine ignoring them now is a better policy.

We are now back to the Dinkins days when New Yorkers would pretend the homeless person wasn't there and avoid sitting near them.

Another moronic policy of the MTA is the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign. This is aimed at subway riders, imploring on them to inform the authorities if they see anything suspicious, like a ticking time bomb or a brown paper bag with plutonium in it.

There are some basic problems with this system however, MTA employees are really hard to find. If you're lucky enough to be in a subway car with them, many of them lock their doors so you cannot approach them. If you are in a car without a conductor -- which is most of the time -- the doors to go from car to car are locked, so you cannot find one if you need one. The icing on the cake is this...there is a phone number to call if you "see something," but you are underground in a tunnel and cell phones do not work there.

The MTA are a bunch of idiots. I want "my dignity" as a rider.

With all of my bitching and moaning though, I'm really glad the subways are back. It beats having a car and being trapped at home. You have to take the good with the bad I guess.

I was going to go up to a subway employee and tell them that I was glad they were back to work, but they all looked scary.

So I stayed away.

NYC Straphangers Campaign

More Politics

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

We're not sure when Jesus Christ was born, but a long time ago, it was decided that we'd celebrate it on December 25th. For those of you with the spirit, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Here's something to remind you of the power of the day:

National news

Dec. 23, 2005, 12:33PM
Homeless Get Second Chance As Santa Claus

By VERENA DOBNIK Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK — Dale Keyser: bipolar, alcoholic, homeless, jobless, estranged from his wife and children.

But that's history.

Days before Christmas, Keyser is playing Santa Claus on Fifth Avenue _ now a man with a roof over his head and a job, who volunteers to entertain the sidewalk crowds. And who will spend time with his own family during the holiday season.

"I love this. Little kids run up and say, 'Santa, I love you,'" said Keyser, who works for Volunteers of America, the group that helped him and about a dozen other "Santas" rebuild their lives.

One of his happiest moments was the day when two busloads of schoolchildren on Fifth Avenue ran to him with such glee that they toppled him over.

Keyser, 63, is one of 96 formerly homeless people who live in studio apartments at Rose House, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where they are offered treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, as well as job training. Four of them are playing sidewalk Santa.

Another is Thomas Sanchez, once a Sears employee and book vendor who lost his income, wife and three children after being disabled by arthritis. He ended up living on the steps of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

At 46, he now volunteers for the church and during this season rings his bell to raise money to buy food for people who can't afford it.

The Santas plant their portable red chimneys at tony locations where the holiday crowds are thickest: Rockefeller Center, across from St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the sidewalks in front of Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and FAO Schwartz.

They started work the day after Thanksgiving, standing in the cold from noon to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

The Fifth Avenue Santas _ a dozen in all _ come from city shelters after being approved by the Department of Homeless Services, having proved that they can kick old habits and work with therapists to get better.

"I was caught up in drinking. I was destroying myself. Eventually I lost my family _ four kids and my wife _ and I became homeless," Keyser said. "Then I was able to get help and I'm on medication. My personality has leveled out, and I've been sober for 13 years."

After a 15-year absence, the one-time iron foundry worker from Pennsylvania now periodically sees his ex-wife and children.

Volunteers of America, a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit, was founded more than a century ago to provide help through a network of community-based offices.

Relying on federal and state funds, plus residents' Social Security checks and private donations, the organization houses and cares for 750 New York men and women. Many are recovering from mental illness or substance abuse, mostly untreated, said Andrew Martin, a spokesman for the organization in New York.

"Our mission is to provide every last opportunity for a person to turn his or her life around. We don't give up easily," Martin said. "These men exemplify the true spirit of Christmas _ looking inside yourself and finding hope."

More Religion, Science and Philosophy

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Grinch That Stole Christmas

Having been driving on the road for four months, I was really looking forward to spending some quality time on the New York City subway system, what I once considered to be one of the best systems in the world.

Now the subway system is on strike and everything is a mess.

Thanks a lot Roger Toussaint.

New York City is in chaos! People are walking and biking and working from home. We can't get to the stores to spend money! We can't get to work! We can't see each other! All of this right before Christmas.

It has personal and economic consequences:

City officials have said a transit strike could cost the city $440 million to $660 million a day.

None of this personally effects me, except for the last one of course. I've had to cancel get togethers with friends since I've been back due to this nonsense, but I do not have to get back to work for at least a month.

I do find it sad though. I have commented in the past that New York City is moving in the wrong direction. People have become too used to the clean and efficient city of the Giuliani years, and have forgotten the hard work it took to make it that way.

At the heart of the matter is the Grinch That Stole Christmas, Toussaint, president of the Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union of America. The union has its roots among Irish Catholics who worked long hours seven days a week. Historically, it's clear, the union has done some good.

That was a long time ago, however, and the MTA workers seem to have it pretty good. With a New York City resident median income of $38,293, the union members wages are larger by far than the average city dweller, some reports indicating more than $50,000. Certainly, the health care and pension benefits that they get are not things most New Yorkers have.

Why is the union so aggressive then?

According to reports, Toussaint's election in 2000 was a sign of things to come:

Toussaint's election in 2000 "was a pretty clear indication that
union members wanted someone who was less accommodating to
management," said Richard Steier, editor of The Chief, a weekly
newspaper that follows public employee unions.

It appears that Toussaint, an immigrant from Trinidad, has a lifetime of similar establishment struggles. Even as a child, he railed against society. Here's a great nugget of information/gossip:

He was arrested and expelled from high school and left for Brooklyn in 1974 to escape a violent atmosphere of harassment and retaliation." A former St Mary's College schoolmate remembers and speaks about Toussaint: "He was expelled for spray painting socialist slogans on the College walls...The talk in school was that the police caught him doing it, arrested him and took him down to jail where Father Lai Fook went to get him out. No charges were laid because the College was not pressing any. He eventually sat his O level exams at Queen's Royal College."

How stereotypical, having a socialist in charge of a trade union. We need Joe McCarthy back.

The union is not without its good arguments, ones that I would be more likely to listen to if their membership was working. The most compelling statistic is this:

With a $1 billion surplus, this contract between the M.T.A. and the Transport Workers Union should have been a no-brainer. Sadly, that has not been the case. Our contract expired on Thursday at midnight. In an attempt to save mass transit, and in deference to our riders, we postponed our deadline and attempted to continue talking to the M.T.A.

However, the union is hung up on saving their pension, which does not touch upon this matter. A surplus is a temporary condition, while pensions are long-term investments. To negotiate pension benefits based on current income is foolish, and will only lead to fare increases and deficits for the MTA down the line. But let's not let logic take over now, that wouldn't be any fun. The fact that this strike is hurting people not making 50,000 a year and not having a pension does not seem to bother them.

Also, the union was demanding raise hikes as high as 24% over three years, which has nothing to do with pensions. It seems that the union now is scrambling for something to hold on to as a way to justify their "illegal strike," as Governor Pataki puts it.

Why put New Yorkers through all of this?

It's possible though that this strike is in response to pressure from the left -- even by New York City standards -- and that the Local 100 leadership needed to do this to remain in power. Toussaint had been criticized for doing a "right turn" by...negotiating...in the past.

This is silly at best and dangerous at worst. The union needs to get back to work, fire their idiot president, and then New Yorkers will be more likely to listen.

Don't get me wrong. The MTA has few heroes. They aren't the ones that walked out though. If the union gets back to work, my sympathy for their "plight" goes up.

Hurry up though.

More Politics.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Back In New York

I stayed at Big Uke's house for a while.

It doesn't seem like New York is home yet. My favorite grocery store has closed down, and I don't remember where certain stuff is.

I will nap until all is better.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Atlanta and Traffic

There's nothing like making a 2,200+ mile drive from Los Angeles to Atlanta to then get stuck in traffic. Atlanta is a fine city, with lots to offer, but it has more than its share of congestion.

Driving slow does give you a chance to see their nice skyline. In fact, you can look at it for an hour, which is how long it took us to go 15 miles to the airport.

Here's an Olympic torch. I bet the marathon runners could go faster than the speed we were.

You can watch the sun go down, in great detail.

It is quite beautiful actually. Pollution will do that.

I was done with travel though. It was time to go back home to New York...on a plane this time. I'll be back on the road in late January, so the rest of this blog will be about non-mobile musings.

I'll try not to be boring.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Truck Stop Life

One big lesson for me when taking my current job was the life of a (sort 0f) truck driver. These drivers are carefully regulated in terms of the number of hours they drive and the cargo that they hold.

One way the government keeps track of drivers are weigh stations, which most of you regular drivers have seen but have never been to. Sometimes they are called "inspection stations" and they serve to be the eyes and ears of transportation officials nationwide.

A driver is expected to drive over scales and is sometimes asked to provide your DOT card (an extra drivers license for truck drivers) and other vehicle information. Most of it is routine, although sometimes (like this Mississippi stop above) you are pulled over and inspected more thoroughly.

Drivers also have to keep "log books" which document where they have been in a day, how many miles they have driven, and how many hours they have worked. If it appears they have been speeding, or working more than 70 hours in an eight day period, heavy fines are enforced.

It's not all bad for truck drivers though, because truck stops can be really awesome. The good ones, like the TA Centers, have places to eat, sleep, and shower. I've never had to sleep or shower in one of these places, nor would I really want to, but the choice of food can be pretty extensive and it is a good place to shop for odd things.

It seems that these places are warehouses of odd, unsold items. In this place in Arizona (above), I found the Star Wars: Clone Wars novel Jedi Trial, a book that was so bad I could not find in any Barnes & Noble in New York City.

Sometimes you see strange things in truck stops, like the "no one's been hurt here in a while" sign. Not good.

These places are pretty large however, and you can get all of your Christmas (oh wait, we're not allowed to say that anymore), uh, Holiday shopping done here.

Clothes, like leather jackets, hats, "I love America" t-shirts, flannels, as well as stuff about owning guns and random bits of pottery.

Truck stops are a whole different world.

America's Treasures

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eating Like A Hog In Midland, TX

Hidden on an barely noticeable county road in Midland, TX resides one of the best BBQ places in America. No joke. I had the ribs here and they are fall-off-the-bone good. It was some of the finest prepared meat I've ever had.

This is the front door of the Hog Pit Pub & Grub right near Midland International Airport (yes, in theory you can leave America from Midland, TX). Walking up to this place, I wasn't sure if we were going to get out of here alive. It seems like the kind of place where out-of-towners are stored -- forever.

It is a place that only the locals seem to know about, and we could tell by the stares of the people inside that we are not one of them. If not for my very good friend Natasha, a Midland native, I never would have heard of this gem of a place.

There was one dude who had a mullet goatee combo that I really wanted to get a picture of. I value my life however.

They seem to have the capability of mobile marketing, although I'm not sure how often they use this.

The food and the service was fantastic. Sherrye, Becca, and Deena, as well as the others on hand, even managed to make me -- a Yankee -- feel welcome here.

At one point, I told Becca, our waitress, that we had driven all the way from Los Angeles to eat here -- a fib, of course -- and she replied with a charming Texas drawl "I was born at night, but not last night".

That seriously won me over.

So did the top-knotch BBQ.

Too bad every girl in the town must be married. I was ready to fall in love.

Back to the road.

America's Treasures