Thursday, March 31, 2011

NYC Subway Etiquette, stuff you should know if you ride!

It's hard to believe that some people who ride the subway everyday don't know the basic etiquette of what is and isn't appropriate to do when you're on the subway.  Obviously, there are some tourists who may get a pass, but most of the craziness I see comes from people who seem to be regular riders. 

So, in the interest of clarifying "da rules", I have put this top ten list of stuff NOT to do while you're on the subway, and which might potentially get you into a down and dirty brawl!  I tried to include rules that I think most if not all of us would agree on, though obviously many of us have personal preferences that are hard to impose on everyone.  Here's a website where you can find, or send, pictures of some pretty extreme subway stupidity:

Now, DA RULES on what NOT to do:
1) Stand fully in the doorway when the train stops.  Yes, this pisses most of us off.  At the very least turn sideways to allow people to get in and out, or better yet, take a step into the train if there is room, or out of the train to open up the doorway. 

2) Have a three-course meal on the subway.  Did you see this video?  This is what happens when a fine italian diner meets an annoyed commuter and go at it.  While certain MTA board members have recently supported a food ban, the MTA Chairman and most riders oppose it.  Eating on the subway is a matter of degree and common sense.  I think there are some basic guidelines that would go a long way to resolving the problem: (1) if it smells, don't eat it, (2) nothing that involves sauce, a plate, tupperware or utensils, (3) if it can fit in your pocket and not cause a mess, go for it. 

3) Play a radio, music on your smartphone, or play an I-pod at maximum decibal levels.  If I can tell you what song you are listening from five feet away your music is too loud.  Chances are, your music sucks and at least half the people hearing it don't want to, so turn it down!

4) Get expanding crotch disorder.  This is mostly, but not exclusively a male phenomenon.  Usually occurs when self-important and rude people put a large bag between their legs or just plain old decide that their crotch needs several feet of breathing room, thus expanding the person's legs into the seats on the left and right.  This says, screw you, I am worth three seats and you get to stand till I get where I'm going.  I saw a lady the other day who had this and she also added a foot of her trench coat into the next seat. When a passenger sat down and brushed her jacket aside, she gave her the look of death and a brawl almost broke out.

5) Be the oversized backpack guy.  This guy goes to the gym and is badass.  He wears a backpack that is overstuffed and slams it into everyone on the train, refusing to take it off and put it by his side or on the floor. Take off the bag and wake up!

6) Be the pole rider.  This means: I am too friggin lazy to hold the poll so I will just lean my whole body on it. This means nobody else gets to hold the poll, and if they do, they get ass or a dandruff covered head on their hand. 

7) Do nail clipping and misc personal hygiene chores.  No.

8) Shoving or running past people at the edge of the platform when the train is approaching.  Please, don't run behind me as the train is approaching because you want to get to the other end of the platform.  Every year or so people get intentionally shoved on the tracks by someone who isn't thinking right.  To me, you and those people look pretty much the same and it pisses me off.  Figure out where you need to be before the train comes. 

9) Slow or distracted on the stairway.  If you are on the stairs or escalator and are crawling, you should be on the right side.  The left side is for actual walking.  Under no circustances should you be in the middle of the stairs texting or talking on the phone as dozens of people get backed up behind you.   Wake up, besides, that is where people's phones very often get stolen.

10) Please comment, I'm sure I left something out!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New York to Convicts: Out of Jail, But Out of Work

Many people think of New York as a state of progressive politics and liberal ideals.  In some areas this is true, but in criminal justice policy, New York's laws do not convey a consistent policy that focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into society. On one hand, we have substantially reformed the Rockefeller drug laws, created very effective specialized courts (though only in select areas of the state), and are beginning to adopt more comprehensive strategies to treat and rehabilitate offenders who are going back into society.  On the other hand, we have not addressed some of the most significant boundaries that offenders face in reintegration.  Our legislation has been piecemeal rather than comprehensive, and we have failed to address major barriers to reemployment for ex-offenders.

While there may be many factors that lead to unsuccessful reintegration, such as drug addiction, lack of social support, and lack of job skills, we clearly have done little to make it easy for ex-offenders to gain meaningful employment in the community.  As many of us know, even people with advanced degrees have difficulty finding jobs in the current economic climate, so imagine how difficult it is to find a job when you have to explain a criminal conviction. Short of a pardon by the Governor, New York has no mechanism for vacating a conviction based on the length of time passed since a conviction, the nature of a offense, or rehabilitation. In New York, a 60 year-old man with a larceny conviction from when he was 20 years-old will have to disclose such conviction upon request in every job application he files.  And while it is generally illegal not to hire someone simply for having a criminal record, most people who apply for a job have little ability to determine why they were not hired, nor do they have the resources to pursue their rights in the dark while fighting to find meaningful jobs and to support their families.

New York should join other states and pass legislation that allows convictions to be sealed or expunged after some period of time, perhaps a shorter period for misdemeanors and a longer period for non-violent felonies. Such legislation should allow ex-offenders to apply to an administrative agency, such as DCJS or a local probation department, that would review applications for evidence of rehabilitation and allow District Attorneys to object where appropriate. Such determinations could be appealed in court by either side. This would provide a process for ex-offenders to restore their rights, including the right to vote for some felons, and to be competitive in applying for jobs. The current policy, by placing barriers in front of ex-offenders, increases the chances that such individuals will reoffend (at a cost to all of us) and increases the likelihood that the cycle of poverty will continute in certain families and communities.

As of 2006, forty states allowed expungement or sealing of arrests not leading to conviction, and twenty-nine permitted an individual to deny the arrest. Sixteen states allowed expungement or sealing of convictions, and thirteen permitted an individual to deny the conviction. Ben Geiger, The Case for Treating Ex-Offenders as a Suspect Class, 94 Cal. L. Rev. 1191, 1200 (2006).  There have been proposals for such legislation in New York but none of have been passed.  All New York has is a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities process, which prevents certain automatic bars to some employment and licenses, but does nothing to prevent a potential employer from learning of a conviction in the first place.  It is time for New York to get in front of this issue and become a leader in fully integrating ex-offenders in our communities.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tearing the House Down in Prospect Park

The Brooklyn Eagle reported today that police raided and demolished a homeless man's "elaborate six-foot-tall house of twigs" which stood for months near the lake in Prospect Park. While the eviction is sad for this guy, who obviously put a lot of work into the house, it was inevitable that the law would step in.  After all, who wouldn't like to build a house on the lake in Prospect Park?  Ask your Realtor for a quote on that piece of land.....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prescription Drug Disposal Day in Brooklyn!

Most people don't know that there are low levels of dozens of prescription and OTC drugs, as well as their chemical components, in our water supply and the health effects are largely unknown. This is partially a result of people flushing unused prescriptions.  For background, here is an article about this as a nationwide concern:

Please consider bringing your unused drugs to the local collection sites listed in the US DEA announcement below: 
The U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration is sponsoring a...
APRIL 30, 2011, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM

This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. More than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Each day, approximately, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet.

In an effort to address this problem, DEA, in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, conducted the first ever National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, September 25, 2010. The purpose of this National Take Back Day was to provide a venue for persons who wanted to dispose of unwanted and unused prescription drugs. This effort was a huge success in removing potentially dangerous prescription drugs, particularly controlled substances, from our nation's medicine cabinets. There were approximately 3,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation that participated in the event. All told, the American Public turned in more than 121 tons of pills on this first National Take Back Day.

Due to the overwhelming success of the first event, DEA has scheduled the second National Prescription Drug Take Back Day which will take place on Saturday, April 30, 2011, from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. This is a great opportunity for those who missed the first event or who have subsequently accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs, to safely dispose of them.

Two Take Back sites in the Brooklyn CB6 district include:

*NYPD 78th Police Precinct, 65 6th Avenue (between Dean & Bergen Streets)
*FDNY Engine 220/Ladder 122, 530 11th Street (between 7th & 8th Avenues)

New sites are being added to the list. Use link below to get most current listing, and to find a site near you!

Reminder: Drugs that are flushed down the toilet may ultimately find their way into a nearby waterway, like the Gowanus Canal, particularly in the event of a Combined Sewer Overflow event. Help us keep our canal clean, sober and drug-free!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Civility ... what is this talk about?

Civility.  In recent months this word has been getting a lot of play in political and policy circles on the national, state and local level.  Some public debates and recent events come to mind as related to civility or the lack thereof:  congressional divisiveness, tea party attacks on the President's birth place and religion, "2nd Amendment remedies", attacks on public workers in Wisconsin and other states, the horrendous shooting in Arizona, and local issues like Atlantic Yards and bike lanes.  It has been said many times, with respect to all these issues and events, that our discourse lacks civility because we (1) turn policy issues into personal ones, (2) speak only to those who agree with us to further radicalize them, and (3) such conversations do little to advance public discussion and sometimes even inspire people to violence.

What is civility?  Civility in public discourse has come to be equated with a level of due process, allowing everyone to have their say without being heckled or intimidated, not turning policy issues into personal ones, and keeping debates peaceful.  To find an acceptable definition, Justice Scalia might turn to a dictionary to be accurate, and one defines civility as follows:

  1. Courteous behavior; politeness.
  2. A courteous act or utterance.
When I think of civility I think of civilization, or civil society.  However, the history of civilization (including dozens of bloody conflicts raging around the world as I type) is hard to equate with civility.  Is our conception of civility in our public discourse really one that is helpful to us in addressing the complex issues inherent in urban society?  No.  Our "civility" has become a set of guidelines that discourage us from screaming too loud, becoming violent, or getting too personal with each other.  If nobody gets physically hurt, or verbally assaulted, we are generally willing to declare that the discussion was civil.  What a low and inconsequential bar we set for ourselves. 

A civil discussion should in some way define and advance our goals for a civil society.  It should go well beyond the mere process of allowing people to speak about their already formed positions. It must encourage us to collectively address issues through a process that moves us closer to achieving shared goals.  Lining us up and having us hit each other with thickly padded gloves to avoid bloodshed does not accomplish much, but simply sends us all home with a headache rather than a broken nose.  We should challenge ourselves in our public discourse to raise the bar of civility to focus on a process that builds unifying bridges, and perhaps we'll all be better off.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prospect Park West Bike Lane, Tonight's Community Board 6 Meeting

 I attended tonight's meeting, which easily drew several hundred community members from Park Slope and some neighboring areas.  The meeting literally and figuratively started at about 90 degrees, but the heat did come down, though the passions stayed high.  Approximately 40-60 people spoke for and against the bike lanes and, as someone who was not very familiar with the history of the lanes and current concerns, I found the discussion to be very constructive and informative.  While the focus of the meeting was to discuss the DOT's proposed safety and aesthetic improvements to the lane, much of the opposition was arguing for outright removal of the lane, or a compromise which would involve replacing the two-way lane with a one-way lane that flows with the one-way traffic, and then opening another lane inside the park to travel in the other direction. This was rather non-spontaneously proposed by most of the opponents, several of which were from organized advocacy groups like Seniors for Safety and Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes (who are currently suing the DOT to remove the lanes).  The current bike lane set up, although with some modifications, was largely supported by residents at the meeting, and also evidenced by a recent survey conducted by CB6 and local City Council Members.

One of the most interesting perspectives came out of an exchange with a resident from Carrol Gardens who was lightly heckled by at least one audience member with words to the effect of "you don't live here", when he spoke in support of the lanes. While the meeting was largely passionate, but civil, this heckler's comment brought about responses from other speakers who essentially made the point that Prospect Park belongs to all of us, including residents from outside the Slope. Interestingly, according to the surveys, support for the lanes is highest among residents who live further away from the lanes (approximately 50% on PPW, 70% in Park Slope and higher outside of Park Slope).  Yet many of us like me who grew up in other parts of Brooklyn, or even outside of Brooklyn, may have used the park since we were kids and have an interest in safety and the quality of the park and the bike lanes. It's a part of our life, though perhaps to a less extent than someone who views the park from their kitchen window. Overall, I got the sense that most people at the meeting agreed that the park belongs to the people of Brooklyn at a minimum, if not the whole city.  The roughly 50% of the PPW neighbors who oppose the lanes will clearly not have a veto in this debate, unless the courts side with them.

As a non-board member of the CB6 Public Safety, Environmental and Permits/Licensing Committee I look forward to further discussions on how to improve the lanes, though I am leaning toward supporting improvements to the current configuration that will enhance pedestrian safety and address traffic issues.  There were important concerns raised about double parking, visibility of bikes to pedestrians crossing, and enforcement of both vehicular and bicycle traffic on PPW. There certainly needs to be a strong education and enforcement strategy in place moving forward.

Here's some recent press on the CB6 meeting and lawsuit challenging the lane under Article 78 as "arbitrary and capricious". There will be many articles tomorrow and I will post some links: