Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Affordable Housing and Transportation

Mother Jones’ blog last week pointed to the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s recent report on affordable housing and transportation. The traditional way to look at what makes housing affordable is if it costs less than 30% of your household income, but this new survey takes into account the cost of transportation as well (a combo which seems kind of arbitraly at 45%) which (because of the lack of public transportation in many parts of the country) changes the amount of affordable housing in the US drastically. Click here to look at the handy map and find your hood.

Looking at my part of Brooklyn and the areas around it the lack of affordable housing seems to predictably follow the lines of desirable neighborhoods (like Park Slope), and the addition of transportation into the equation makes little difference since most parts of the area are well served by public transportation. What’s interesting on the map to me is the blue areas (people who are paying more than 30% of their income for housing) are predictably in expensive neighborhoods, with giant yellow patches in less desirable places like Bushwick and East New York, there’s also giant blue patches in Marine Park and Bay Ridge/ Bensonhurst, I don’t know enough about these areas to say why, my guess is that more people there own houses and have to pay property taxes/ deal with foreclosures, etc.

As far as transportation equaling in on the affordability of these more far flung neighborhood I could predict that the recent MTA cuts could make certain places less affordable or that less access to public transit might drive down home costs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in many other places.

What I’d like to see however is a neighborhood affordability index that took into account more factors about the neighborhood as a whole. The Median Household Income for New York City is listed as $41,053. Of course it’s impossible to live in these more expensive hoods on that income, the people who live there make well in the 100 thousands and above, which means there’s some pretty low incomes in those more affordable hoods drive the median down. While housing prices might change, I’d like to see a study of prices of the rest of costs of living by neighborhood and how much that changes. I think I could predict the results. Moral of the story: it’s effing expensive to live here, and “affordable” housing probably only exists if you have a rent stabilized apartment.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Boobs! In Public!

In the past couple weeks there’s been a big hullabaloo about ladies putting up picture of themselves breastfeeding on Facebook, and Facebook getting all “Those are boobs and that’s obscene!” and threatening to delete the accounts of those ladies. And then as you do the ladies have blogged about it and wanted everyone to change their Facebook status and pictures, at all (you know, the type of lazy nothingness that passes for activism these days)

For the most part I am totally on their side, and Facebook’s argument that they want “ the site to "[remain] a safe, secure and trusted environment for all users, including the many children.” holds no weight when those “children” are (according to Facebook’s rules) over 13 years old. Or when you take into account ridiculous FB applications like "Big Boobs" that lets users send each other cartoon drawings of breasts, or the “Boobs or Butt” application that makes users answer tough questions deciphering if a cropped image is cleavage or a butt, or "boobs" fan pages, or lots and lots of pretty sexualized cleavage shots in profile pictures.

Where these mommies lose me is when they start acting like having a kid is the pinnacle of human accomplishment. It’s a big deal sure, probably the biggest thing that will happen in your personal life, but it ladies have been doing it for awhile, don’t expect everyone to drop their bags and applaud when you whip your boob out to feed. Do I think women should be allowed to breastfeed in toys r us, or restaurants or anywhere else their babies are hungry? Yes of course. Do I think they should be able to post pictures of it wherever they want? Why not. What I disdain is the tone of their argument, like one mom who wrote an open letter to Facebook after they took down her boob pictures:
“That's right, Facebook. I grew two tiny people inside my womb, birthed them, almost died in the process, and then set my own needs aside to carry out the grave responsibility of sustaining those lives by creating nutritionally perfect food within my body and feeding it to them using my (GASP!) breasts.”
I can only respond with this fantastic Garfunkel and Oates song (yes I’m a little obsessed).

The overall issue I think is the odd values that Americans have on what is and isn’t offensive. I’ve never understood the lines of “decency” that we’ve agreed on as a society, like boobs are fine, but nipples aren’t, and butts are OK and long as there’s no crack. Sexual representations are sometimes OK, but sex isn’t. Objectification is funny and sells products, but representations of homosexually or things like breast feeding aren’t for young eyes and aren’t decent. You can call a woman a bitch on prime time TV, but you can’t call a man an asshole. I think I might start a Facebook group in protest of this.

Breastfeeding and Facebook the debate

Fashion Friday: Custom Keds

Spring is finally in the air and thusly I've been on the hunt for new canvas flats. After not finding anything I like in any stores, I found the custom Keds site, you can design your own or tweak the colors on designs from actual artists. The flats I want are $60, which is about four times what I'd normally pay for shoes like this, but I'm obsessed and want about five different pairs now. Girls, Shoes, blah, blah, blah... Here are a few of my favorites. Votes on which I should get? Anyone want to buy me a pair (or 2)?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care and Killing Babies

Much talk about the health care reform bill, the comprise that’s left the country more divided and neither side getting what it really wants. For “liberals,” it’s a “something is better than nothing” reform that will still leave many uninsured, might not take care of the struggling working class enough and will take years to take effect.

For the tea party republicans it makes us a communist baby-killing country. The whole thing makes for an interesting case study in argument tactics. BBC World News put forth the idea that those opposed to the health care reform aren’t so worried about what the bill contains as they are about the implications that it threatens the idea of American Exceptionalism —that we are above the rest of the world and don’t need the same sorts of systems that other countries do.

After all, this new law is far from radical, and leaves a lot of payment on individuals. And as noted on NPR this morning, the first benefits of the bill even go to the groups that have been complaining the most: seniors with Medicare, will get $250 rebate this year to help fill in the gap in the prescription drug coverage, and small business owners will get tax credit starting this year to encourage them to provide insurance to their employees (which they are still not even required to do).

The other major sticking point is a “moral” one of course—abortion. The irony in the pro-life panic about tax money funding abortions is that the “baby killer” screamers aren’t prolife at all, they are pro-moral agenda pushing.

As George Carlin famously said, “Conservatives are all in favor of the unborn, but once you’re born, you’re on your own, they are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months, after that they don’t want to know about you—no daycare, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare —if you’re pre-born you’re fine, if you’re preschool, you’re fucked. They are not pro-life, they are anti-woman.”

But the bill passed and it’s a law now, and I’m glad for some progress, even if it’s at the cost of a more divided country with knee-jerk flawed logic. As Joe Biden said, it’s still “A Big Fucking Deal”

Summary of Health Care Reform

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sex with Ducks and Health Care

So the health care bill has passed and that's huge and all, but at the moment I don't really have anything insightful to add to the chorus of voices on the subject. However Mark and I went to see the very awesome Garfunkel and Oates this weekend. And I've have this song stuck in my head for two days. It's political and funny...you know like I try to be.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Obesity –Hunger Paradox

Along the same lines as my recent posts about poverty and obesity, is this recent New York Times article, The Obesity-Hunger Paradox which points to poverty riddled South Bronx (the most overweight and least healthy part of New York City) as one of the areas in America with the biggest hunger problems. Hunger defined not by starving, but by the lack of access to nutritious food, and an inability to afford the basics, being referred to as “food insecure.”

Families with not enough money to get an actual meal, and no grocery stores to buy real food at anyways, so they fill up on calorie-filled food from bodegas (check out this video)

In fact a recent survey by the Food Research and Action Center, found that nearly 37 percent of residents in the South Bronx, said they lacked money to buy food at some point in the past 12 months. The article points to some incentives that sound like really good ideas (encouraging farmers’ market patronage through food stamps incentives and attempts to lure grocery stores to poor areas with tax breaks.

The figures are showing that the programs aren’t working, most likely because they aren’t wide spread enough, and the healthy options still aren’t cheap enough. Even if it’s the difference of a dollar between a filling and tasty healthy meal that you have to prepare and a filling and tasty junk food meal that you don’t have to cook, the choice is obvious when you’re poor, stressed, and busy. These programs are good steps but their clearly not enough, the structure of the neighborhood, the structure of minimum wage, and the structure of the industrial food system all need to be changed.

Dating Advice From Disney

From This Article

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fizzing Out

Related to my previous posts on the misguided fight against fatties, The New York soda tax has “fallen flat” and “fizzled out” some may even say it’s “evaporated.” Aside from being ripe for puns for headlines, the soda tax was another government idea that seems to have been thought up by a 7th grader (an oversimplified, not thoroughly thought through solution to a complex problem). Sure the money from adding a penny onto the price of every ounce of soda would get a lot of money and that money could be used for health care.

But therein lies the first major failing of the idea: you are taxing soda to discourage people from drinking it because it’s bad for them, but you’re making it low enough that you can still count on people drinking it. Adding a one cent tax to soda doesn’t make healthier options any more affordable, it doesn’t even close the gap in any noticeable way between a 99 cent two litter of soda and a $5 bottle of organic juice.

The other major problem with these and other similar “sin taxes” is the people that you are taking the money from are usually those who can least afford to pay it. Smoking, drinking and eating crappy food are vices enjoyed by all classes but are about the only luxuries the poor can afford. Similarly, if you are admitting that a product is bad for it’s consumers, simply charging them more money to kill themselves seems more like a way to capitalize on it rather than help fix the problem. In short, the argument just falls flat.

Soda Tax Plan Evaporates


I realized something today, being unemployed has turned me into a bit of a housewife. I’ve been reading and writing more, thinking more. I spend hours in the drudgery of looking for and applying for jobs. But perhaps because I spend my days at home now instead of an office I’ve become more domestic. I cook and clean more, and I’ve started getting more into other things around the house like crafts and gardening. After this long harsh winter I’m more excited than usual for spring, so I had to take pictures of the first joyful little purple flowers in my backyard that I can see from my desk.
(pictured: a pillow I made recently and the first flowers in my garden)

Snow No! It’s Global Warming!

The volume, frequency and devastation of earthquakes, tsunamis, snowstorms and rainstorms recently has had some calling it a sign of the end of world. While others are using it as proof that global warming isn’t real (in fact, a recent Gallup Poll found that 48% of Americans now believe that the "seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated," up from 41 percent last year). The truth of course lies somewhere in between, the world is going to end, but it’s not going to happen this year, these things take time. But Global Warming is real, the problem is in the branding. Logic would follow that if we’ve messed up the planet and ice caps are melting and everything is getting warmer than we shouldn’t have MORE snowstorms, we should we wearing t-shirts in February right?

Of course Al Gore the spokesperson for climate change awareness had to defend the idea that heavy snowfall is no reason to think everything is A-OK. In a recent New York Times Op Ed he wrote:

"The heavy snowfalls this month have been used as fodder for ridicule by those who argue that global warming is a myth, yet scientists have long pointed out that warmer global temperatures have been increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, putting significantly more moisture into the atmosphere — thus causing heavier downfalls of both rain and snow in particular regions, including the Northeastern United States. Just as it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, neither should we miss the climate for the snowstorm."

I read a little more about it and it turns out that as the planet gets warmer rain and snowfall get heavier (by about 10-20 percent) , with the more intense storms will most likely to happen in late autumn, winter, and early spring. Aside from the obvious problems like flooding, power outages, snow and down tree removal and the associated costs to already strained infrastructure. There’s the irony that more precipitation might actually mean less useable water. Basically reservoirs will fill earlier than normal, and snow will melt earlier in the year, which will put the water runoff all into spring rather than being able to draw it out through summer. The systems that can't hold an entire season of runoff all at once will be challenged to meet the demands of their water customers later in the season.

So maybe it’s confusing to call it “global warming” because the name only covers part of the cause and not the whole problem. But climate change by any other name still spells the same result.

Americans More Confused About Climate Than Ever

Snowmageddon Is A Sign Of Global Warming

Global Warming Water Shortage

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Story of Stuff

The guest on the Colbert Report last night was Annie Leonard who created the awesome video “The Story of Stuff” (which you can and SHOULD watch here: http://www.storyofstuff.com/) and wrote a book of the same name. Both detail the production, consumption and disposal of the vast amount of crap Americans have and shop for.
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Annie Leonard
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

Some of the things she highlights are kind of no brainers (but need stating none the less), like advertisements make us feel like we aren’t good enough and need to buy more stuff, or that the government doesn’t take care of making sure products are safe for us because they are tied up in corporate interests, or that all the plastic crap we buy is kept cheap at the expense of the enviorment it destroys, the factory workers health, and the store employee’s wages and benefits. (She also points to how all the chemicals in everything we consume is making so sick that even breast milk is full of chemicals).

The 20 minute video also talks about how much (4.5 pounds per person per day) and how fast (99% of what is bought is trashed in six months) all the crap we buy is thrown out. And that after WWII our economy has been specifically designed to be one of disposable consumerism. One idea that I found really interesting was that of “planned obsolescence,” that most products are in fact “designed for the dump” that since the 1950’s manufactures have figured out how fast the products that they make can break and have to be replaced while still maintaining customer confidence (she points to that fact that happiness has been on the decline since the 50s as well and suggests the corrletion is the replacement of family time with “stuff.” The other piece is of course what she refers to as “perceived oblencence,” the “need” to keep up with trends or have the newest, flattest, shiniest update of something you just bought (I’m looking at you Apple).

The whole idea of her video and book is that this cycle is totally unhealthy for everyone at every step of the way and suggests ways to make changes (follow this link).

For me personally, this resonates on a variety of levels. Since losing my job, I’ve of course had to cut back my spending which has caused me to fist re-discover stuff I already had that I forgot about like clothes I had bought and never wore or books I own and never read. I’ve also looked at the potential of things differently (I recently turned an old scarf of Mark’s into a throw pillow). But I’ve always been thrifty (also known to some a cheap), which has caused me to make things last longer than they were meant to—like the jeans I patch up instead of toss and the goodwill boots that I redid the heel with a marker. Still, I come from a family of bargain hunters and yard salers, while we may not have to (or can afford to) have the newest and best of things, we did and do always have to have stuff and shop.

And while the new things I lacked growing up have led me to desire a life with a home with “nice” things, I have realized by way of the necessity of living a semi-transient life in small apartments, that I don’t NEED a bunch of stuff. I know that (especially in a place like New York where space is at such a premium) I am not willing to give up quality of life in order to have a bunch of things. In essence the old adage is true. I want to own my stuff, I don’t want my stuff to own me.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Least Amount of Fun you can Have on Coney Island

I've loved Coney Island as long as I've lived in New York, despite of and sometimes even because of it's past and problems. It's one of the most interesting places in the city. I naively thought biggest problems the neighborhood faced were poverty/blight vs. disney-fication and condos.

This essay about the squalor of "Surf Manor" adult home from Mother Jones, points to a whole other world just one block from the boardwalk.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Three Things I'm Obsessed with Right Now

It's time for the next installment of three things I'm Obsessed with Right Now:

1. Hawai'i: I just got back from an amazing trip to Maui (tsunami scare notwithstanding). The sun, the fresh fruit, the tasty drinks, the flowers and beauty of nature, the Aloha spirit. I've only been back for a day and I already want to go back. New York has never seemed so gloomy and depressing.

2. Freaks and Geeks: Now that I'm home at lunch time everyday I let myself take a more leisurely lunch once in a while, and I've been watching the series regularly and I had forgotten just how well done it was. By far the best thing Aptow has ever done.

3. Mac and Cheese: This has been my go-to winter comfort food for the past couple of months, and I've been trying it in many different versions at various restruants all over NYC. The best of which is at Cafe Moto in Brooklyn (it has potatoes in it!)