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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

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I like the ring to “101 Posts,” anyway. Hello my friends and readers. Please forgive me for neglecting this blog and for prolonging the wait for the post you chose. Our lives are more or less inverted at the moment, and much of my fun writing time has been diverted to bill paying time.

I have not abandoned this blog, nor have I forgotten that some of you are waiting for some custom-tailored info on New York City! Stay tuned, and I will let you know when it is ready.

A little teaser: My wife Amber and I are collaborating on the 101st post.

There are some heavy things to weigh in on these days – and I’m honestly tired of thinking about them today. One thing I am not tired of thinking about is the age old question of yawn contagion. What is the deal with that? More importantly, what is the maximum distance at which you can catch a yawn from someone. I’ve actually filtered this through my wife and let it sit for more than 12 hours before posting here, which is a step forward for me. But let’s break it down.

First, what makes a yawn so contagious? If you refuse to admit that you can catch someone elses yawn, I think you’ll prove yourself wrong at least once this week. There is something primal and unfiltered about yawns. According to some boring Finnish research I can’t even bear to link to, the mind’s perception of a yawn seems to temporarily disable the part of your brain that would cognitively conclude “Hey, that dude is tired.” Instead of acting consciously, we see that we act subconsciously. Unfortunately there is no substantial research to prove any of it is actually happening for a reason. I don’t really need proof, because it happens to me all the time. But what I’m interested in knowing is this: How far away do I have to get to be in the safe zone. The other day I saw a guy yawn from a block away, and I felt nothing. Not even sympathy for how tired he looked. Any theories out there?

By the way, this has nothing to do with living in New York, except for the fact that I mentioned a city block as a unit of measurement. Sorry.

I recently posted on how thrilled I was to be finding my place in this crazy city. Remember my bagel guy? He got deported.

How many times have you been to a restaurant where a “$10 minimum” sign is taped underneath the Visa logo and a picture of Barack Obama? If you’re like me, that upsets you, especially when you didn’t see it before you sat down to eat with no cash in your pocket. In New York, people are trading those signs for “Cash Only.” How did we get here? Ten years ago, I was buying a 50-cent coke with my credit card and not thinking anything of it, because the incentive was there for me to use the card. Consumers adopted “plastic” because it was easy and businesses and banks promoted it. Now, consumers are being punished for this widespread adoption, and we are even being charged 25 or 50 cents in some cases for the “privilege” of using a credit card. The same thing is happening on the internet as we speak. Bandwidth babies, you’re using too much, and the companies that pushed it on you are about to start making you pay for it.

Recent talks between Google and Verizon have begun raising a lot of questions, and that is exactly what they intended. The issues raised lend themselves to a certain demographic – the informational elite. What do net neutrality and the difference between broadband and wired internet mean to the people who maintain and propagate online data?

The more salient question for the average American is – “What does this mean to my family or my business?”

Consumers drive the internet now more than ever. User generated content (blogs, comments, YouTube videos, etc.) accounts for most of the data created online, and the other content is generally created to drive user interaction (and user generated content). The language of this proposal affirms the primacy of the consumer, and it calls on the FCC to protect consumer interest first, while simultaneously eliminating its ability to do so. If the bottom line is user experience that leads to conversions (money), then what is the bottom line for two powerful companies crucial to the success of the web?

Understand that almost any corporation online is there to persuade you to do something. Whether it’s buying something, buying in to a cause or learning more about a brand, companies are scrambling online to grab your attention. And it’s working. When Google brings up the idea of net neutrality, they frame it in a way that makes them sound like the noble champions of the common good. Maintaining a free and open public internet appears to be a top priority to the search giant. Verizon feels the same way, specifically in regards to content accessed over FiOS, the company’s fiber optic infrastructure coming to a city near you. But a distinction must be made between communication and transactions that occur over wired connections versus wireless. This distinction is laid out in the joint proposal to congress released August 9, 2010. The proposal, written in the same way legislation might be drafted, stipulates the maintenance of a free wired web, while creating an entirely new class of wireless web. This new wireless web must not, in these companies’ words, be held to the same standard.

Broadband, or the wireless web, being held to a new and undetermined standard, will also begin to gain new traction. The same mock legislation from these two corporate lobbies also carries with it strong recommendation to provide broadband to communities who lack it, with Federal funding! Note that the push is for broadband, not hard lines. Thus, a new preferred web is created around the fastest growing method of obtaining web access. Deregulated and ripe for corporate innovation. The answer to the above-questioned is this – what is happening online matters to you. It will change the way you live, as it will change what you have access to and when. Imagine searching for something online the way you normally do. On broadband, through Verizon wireless, you will receive the content they choose for you to receive first. Layered beneath what you see will be the underbelly of a dying free web.

This is not all bad. Businesses will have new, innovative ways to approach the online space. Companies like yours might have the privilege of fairing favorably in premium content delivery. There will be plenty of deals to make, and many companies will profit a great deal from them. And the consumer would inevitably benefit from the results of a paid internet – like better games and 3D TV. But something intangible will be lost in this fundamental shift – in the same way that we give up our freedom for comfort. I will be participating with great hope for the future.

Sorry for the long post.

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There is a lot of press on the Zadroga Bill that failed to pass in the house yesterday. I’m not sure what the coverage is like elsewhere, but given the sensitive nature of any legislation related to 9/11, you can imagine it is all over the news in New York City.

For those unaware, the legislation would have provided more than $7 billion to compensate those adversely affected by the events of September 11, 2001. This is completely separate from the legal settlement of about $700 million that is to be distributed among the victims and survivors. I think the way Congress handled this is interesting (and infuriating). Summer recess starts today, so the vote was made a spectacle, and I think it’s exactly what house democrats wanted. The process guaranteed that the bill would fail, and it was designed to put even more tensions across party lines. They used a special rule that required a 2/3 majority vote to pass it – the rule also eliminated republican law makers’ opportunity to amend it. From what I’ve read, it appears that the bill would have had enough supporters to pass by simple majority. So what’s wrong with this picture?

Almost everything is political. In the office, on the playground. It never ends. Everyone is pandering to some kind of special interest. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with special interests. But when those interests take hold of a system, those who are truly suffering become its victims, even if they are the majority. In this case (and over the last 10 years), those victims are more and more becoming American citizens.

I think I’ve stopped asking questions as a U.S. citizen and voter. So let’s ask some. For starters – if the well-being of 9/11 victims was a priority for our federal government, why is this legislation still stalling in congress 9 years after the event? Second, if congress really wanted this done, why would the democrats not use their majority in the house to pass it? My ultimate question is this: is the scope of this bill the responsibility of the federal government? That’s a lot of money to add to the deficit over 10 years and a whole lot to add to the national debt. I guess one could legitimately ask at this point – what is an extra $7 or 8 billion going to do in the long run that hasn’t already been done? The war on terror, stimulus package, recovery spending bill and health care legislation really dwarf anything under $100 billion. I’ve often said that we’re squandering our children’s future, and I believe that we are starting to dig into our grandchildren’s credit. But no one wants to see victims of a national tragedy go untreated. The heroism of those men and women, and the bravery and sacrifice of their families, is not to be understated. But who should get the tab here? The money has to come from somewhere.

The bill’s funding was, at the very least, suspect. It would close a tax “loophole” that shelters companies who are incorporated elsewhere and requires them to pay corporate tax to the U.S. Are you surprised republicans voted against it? If you insist on tangling up conflicting interests into sweeping legislation, you are going to have problems. This is one of the biggest problems with the bill in my opinion, and it is prescriptive of a federal government operating on a nation’s false paradigm. If everything is the government’s responsibility and not ours, then we can’t be upset when things cut in to our civil liberties. If someone can find a way for legislation to be “budget neutral,” then it’s considered a success. As a result, law makers find convoluted ways to scrape up money, and in doing so they write legislation into bills that is completely unrelated. What do the tragedies of 9/11 and its aftermath have to do with corporate tax law? Absolutely nothing. So why is there legislation regarding both in the same bill? What did health care legislation have to do with student loans? I’m not really sure, but a federal overhaul of student loans was tacked on to the health care bill President Obama signed in March. I think this is beyond pork. And who knows what else made it into that one. How can we stand up under 1,000 page laws? How can they be enforced?

These are questions that we should all be asking, because we are all responsible for their consequences. How can we expect our law makers to do a good job when we ask them to do everything for us? These are our responsibilities. I hope that the victims of 9/11 get what they need, and I will even dare to say that I would help make sure it happens. But I am also ready to take a hard look at our legislature and what I am doing to empower a system that is clearly broken. Enjoy your recess.

If there’s one thing I’m thankful for today, it’s music.
If there’s one musician I’m thankful for today, it’s Jay-Z.

And I am.

Have you ever seen Stand By Me? It’s a feature film from the mid-80s, based on a novella by Stephen King called “The Body.” It’s about a group of boys who go on an adventure to see a dead body. At least that’s what the back of the DVD box would probably say (I wouldn’t know; we watched it on Netflix). After watching it, I think I understand why it has endured throughout my lifetime as a sort of classic. Many filmmakers try to hit a home run in their final frames and sum up their story memorably – this one succeeded. “The Writer,” played by Richard Dreyfus, thinks about his friends, the ones he so compellingly illustrated in his story, as he overhears his son’s comment to his own. He takes it all in as he almost walks away from his computer, returns, and adds these lines:

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve….does anyone?

Something inside stirs to keep this from becoming my reality. I wonder what complicates friendship so much in adulthood. Or maybe that’s the wrong question. Perhaps I should be looking for what we lose in childhood that made friendships so powerful – simple, yet deep, unassuming, yet confident, and ultimately free. It’s definitely not the absence of sin – the movie does a good job of illustrating that, too, with four foul-mouthed kids. I don’t know exactly what it is, or what I’m trying to say. But I appreciate art when it can move my heart. So I hope you get a chance to read the story or watch the film; I think you’ll enjoy them both.

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