Category Archives: Rachel

Taxi Cab Confessions

Diane McGrath-McKechnie would not be happy about the current state of her Taxi & Limousine Commission.  McGrath-McKechnie was the Giuliani era Chairman of the TLC, and despite some controversial tactics that have lead to still going lawsuits, she made sure the most controversial laws were not passed under her watch.

Matthew Daus took over when Bloomberg began his stay at the Gracie Mansion (or more accurately declined the invitation and stayed at his 45 million dollar town house on 79th St. off 5th Avenue, but as we know is in his 3rd term as Mayor of New York city).  The controversy spoken of above is all about technology.  The two points that lead to the day long taxi cab strike a few years ago were the usage of credit cards to pay for taxis as well as the GPS systems being installed.

Nobody was rejecting the utility of both of these new technological improvements.  No doubt, the ability to pay on credit has increased attendance in said taxi cabs, and the GPS (although hard to prove) makes trips more efficient.  Overall, there is more money to be made with these than without them, something that nobody involved should be upset about.

Problem is where the money is going though.  The first problem was the installation.  Somebody had to pay for the thousands of cars that needed to be remodeled to house the 17” televisions in the backseat that would contain the GPS, credit card payment system, as well as annoying weather updates and promos from hype machines such as LX.TV.  The conversation of how we’ve yet to meet the potential of the taxi cab network can come another day, but let it at least be said.

The main thing that got drivers angry was that they, the drivers, were the ones footing the bill, but they were not having their salaries increased. Basically the only incentive for them was the potential for slightly more income.  Slightly is the opportune word though, because even with the increased gross from credit cards, the companies take a 5% percentage of every receipt.  Tips get taxed and taken out of their salaries more than before, when they would obviously just pocket 100% of the cash they were given on top of the fare.  Overall, their salaries will still not really jump up at all until the foretold fare hikes coming in a few months, at which point that would have happened anyway, and it is years later.

Their problem with the GPS contains a slightly less legitimate argument, but either way, they have no reason to want it.  Apart from the costs of installing it, now their every move is tracked.  Now, unless they own their cab, they cannot use the car for any kind of personal use.  If the choose take a fare outside of their assigned coverage area—they will get in trouble.  Before, there would be little chance of getting caught, and nobody really cared.  Now, they need to remain on their route, even if they are assigned to do airport runs all night without taking any fares back in the city, something that could cut their gross in half on a shift such as that.

Apart from the 5% take, they also do not get any money for two weeks when somebody pays with a credit card.  At this time of the year, drivers complain to their passengers because they’re understandable overextended already and won’t actually see any of that money until the new year, when it will be much less useful.  The usage of credit cards in their cabs forces them to likely max out their own personal credit cards, just to avoid giving coal to their kids for the holidays.

Overall, the problem is lack of leverage.  Drivers of taxi cabs are not in short supply.  When all they can do is strike, scabs are brought in very quickly.  It takes too much organizing of too many unions to be effective.  They just have no leg to stand on to fight these new regulations, thus need to simply suck it up.  None of them are fair, nor does anyone really argue that they are.  The only thing someone like Daus would argue is that he doesn’t have the funding to do it another way, and the changes undoubtedly bring in more net money to the city, while also making taxis cabs a more enjoyable and efficient experience and form of travel.  It’s an unfortunate situation, but again unfortunately, no changes are seen on the horizon.


Dreams Behind Glass


On Tuesday, November 25, The Committee to Protect Journalists hosted its 2009 International Press Freedom Awards at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Four leading journalists were presented awards during the ceremony that according to the CPJ website, highlighted “impunity in journalist murders, this week’s killings of Philippine journalists, and the Internet’s emerging role in press freedom.”

CPJ Overview Video 2009 from CPJ on Vimeo.

The CPJ got its start in 1992 by a small group of U.S. foreign correspondents in response to the often cruel punishment given to their fellow colleagues by enemies opposed to independent journalism.  While most assume that journalists are predominately hurt or killed in war torn regions, the majority of journalists killed in the last decade didn’t die in cross fire.

They were murdered, often as punishment for their reporting. According to CPJ research, over 500 journalists have been murdered in direct relation to their work since 1992, making murder the ultimate form of censorship and leading cause of work-related deaths. This year, 33 journalists have been killed so far, 760 have been killed since 1992—and 482 of them were murdered. Increasingly, it is online journalists that are being targeted.

Naziha Réjiba, Editor of Kalima, an online news website banned in her home country, was honored Tuesday evening for her courage. Four other leading journalists were recognized as well.

Among them was Maziar Bahari, Newsweek’s Iran correspondent, who spoke about the importance of CPJ and international support in general.

Maziar Bahari, Newsweek’s Iran correspondent, courtesy of

The CPJ has a full-time staff at its New York offices so any journalist reporting under dangerous conditions can depend on the CPJ in case of an emergency.

The CPJ uses its local and foreign contacts to intervene in certain situations and Bahari  said that he and his colleagues appreciate the  CPJ for letting them be “recognized as journalists, not heroes or victims.” When traveling on assignment, many correspondents often turn to the CPJ for insight into various press conditions around the world.

Anthony Lewis, a founding board member of CPJ, who received the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement during the ceremony, said “I believe in journalism,” when asked his reason for doing his job. Lewis also spoke about his commitment to CPJ, an organization that he’s been working with since it’s founding in 1981.

Today, the CPJ still remains to be funded solely by the donations of individuals, corporations, and foundations. On Tuesday night, more than 800 people attended the CPJ benefit dinner, which raised over $1.3 million in proceeds.

The last honoree was Jiang Weiping. Initially, Weiping was awarded back in 2001 but couldn’t be there accept because he was in prison in China at the time. Now free from prison and  living in Toronto, Jiang happily accepted his award and closed the ceremony with, “The pen in my hand has not been broken.”

Last month, an award was handed over for CPJ’s role in advancing human rights worldwide. CPJ was honored as “the group that has made a significant effort to advance the cause of international justice and global human rights.” And as long as there are journalists challenging the establishment, CPJ will continue to  bring their stories to light and advocate for the rights of journalists.


In the business of mail, times are tough for the U.S. Postal Service. In August, the USPS announced a plan to shut down 800 post offices nationwide in an effort to pay back it’s $7 billion deficit.  In New York alone, 250 post offices would shut down.

“New Yorkers from every borough and every income level depend on their local post office for a number of key services,” said  Christine Quinn, New York City Council Council Speaker, in a statement to the press.

After the angry calls from people and politicians came flooding in, USPS officials released a revised list of locations, lowering the number of closures from 250 down to 14.

Still,  the potential closure of 14 post office locations in New York City would disproportionately affect communities  in Manhattan and the Bronx.

In an effort to help save the broken structure from collapsing, Congress provided the USPS with operation funds. In an article concerning the financial crisis facing the USPS nationwide, it New York Times wrote “if something doesn’t change by the fall, the Postal Service will have to renege on those health benefit prepayments — despite its legal obligation to pay them — or start missing payroll.”

It’s a fact that in order for the Postal Service to stay alive, each street must drop at least 25 envelopes into the mailbox per day. In the last two years, approximately 14,000 boxes failed to pass the test on different occasions in New York City. “The loss is almost entirely due to a recession-driven decline in business mail,” said William Burrus, president of the American Postal Service Workers Association.

Burrus blames the post office failures on the recession because a “$1.2 billion surplus for its 2008 and 2009 fiscal years,” he said, was expected before the recession hit.

Recession or no recession, most people would rather email than purchase stamps. And if the real mail doesn’t flow, neither will the cash. The USPS might end up going postal after all.

New York City Jewish Cemeteries in Turmoil


Tombstones in Chelsea on West 21st Street

Dead Jewish people are having problems in New York City. Since Judaic law only permits cremation in Reform Judaism, the rest of the Jewish deceased are forced to take refuge in cemeteries. The only problem is that Jewish cemeteries are not quite what they used to be.

Today, some of New York’s Jewish cemeteries have become mismanaged and are in a state of deterioration, leaving the bodies of many Jews, past and present, in limbo. “Judaism, in particular, puts great emphasis on the body after death. The Old Testament says Jews were born from the Earth and Jews have to go back to the Earth,”  said George Bernstein, a retired Jewish historian.

Much of the problem with preserving these cemeteries can be attributed to the slow demise of Jewish burial societies.  Originally started as a way to cut burial costs, Jewish burial societies bought and sold cemetery plots and also held meetings in which families could come together and socialize. Over the years, however, these societies largely disintegrated, leaving only a handful of people in charge of maintaining the plots and burial records.

And it’s not just active cemeteries that are having issues. Even the few Jewish cemeteries that have been preserved as landmarks are running into trouble. The 1654 Society was created in an effort to restore the three landmark cemeteries under Congregation Shearith Israel.


Manhattan's second oldest cemetery is located on West 11th Street.

Chatham Square Cemetery, located in Chinatown is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in North America. Over time, the cemetery began to fall apart, tombstones disappeared, and graves were left unmarked.


Chatham Square, the oldest Jewish Cemetery in North America.

Many disturbed plots were moved further uptown to when the third oldest Jewish Cemetery in Manhattan, was purchased. Located on West 21st street between 6th and 7th avenue, this cemetery fell victim to an unfortunate construction accident, in 2006, in which the scaffolding fell off from a site of luxury condos, leaving tombstones in shambles. Three years later, the cemetery still appears to be in dire straits.


Manhattan's third oldest cemetery on West 21st Street in Chelsea.

“These are centuries-old Jewish cemeteries we’re talking about here, whose tombstones bear extraordinary importance to our religion and our culture,” Sean Glass, a student at NYU who lives in the area, said of the cemetery. He said he was disappointed to see the cemetery’s tombstones “just laying there like left-over’s.”

To the living, the remains of loved ones bears heavy sentimental attachment. “I could never separate from my mother or she from me,” said Holocaust Survivor, Clara Duetsch.

Unless Jewish cemeteries get their act together, the dead are going to have a hard time finding a place to live when they die.


Two tombstones belonging to a family members resting next to each other in Chelsea.

Performa 2009: Marjie Vogelzang’s Pasta Sauna


“Eating Designer” Marjie Vogelzang’s latest installation, Pasta Sauna, in which the steam generated while cooking pasta is used to create an actual sauna. You take a plate of uncooked pasta to the “sauna” and hand it off to the cooks who unroll the pasta shells into a large pot of boiling water. After two minutes, the pasta is cooked and fit for consumption. Free lunch! Ends tomorrow.

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