Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, June 13, 2003
Neville Chamberlain Sighting! The spirit of appeasement is alive and well on 43rd Street. The NY Times this morning reported what Mourning in America readers already knew: That "Gov." Pataki is steering the World Trade Center redevelopment process so that the groundbreaking on the 1,776-foot "Freedom Tower" would be executed by President George Wobbly Bush during next year's Republican convention. The headline in this morning's paper read:
Goal is to Lay Cornerstone at Ground Zero During GOP Convention

Only that's not the headline you'll find if you follow the above link. The Times' web site now titles the story:

Officials Plan Speedy Ground Zero Environmental Review

Why the change? The Lower Manhattan Development Corp.'s press office issued a statement to the city's press highlighting the change this afternoon -- the agency maintains that the timetable discussed at its meeting Thursday, in which environmental reviews will be completed by April so that construction can begin in August, has nothing to do with the fact that the convention will also take place in New York in August. In fact, the agency's press secretary writes that they'd like to get started "sooner if possible."

The story might be plausible if developer Larry Silverstein, who owns the lease on the site and will build the Freedom Tower, hadn't told the Daily News last month that the schedule was being prepared precisely to coincide with the convention. But the Times reporter didn't talk to Silverstein himself, and the LMDC folks were sticking by their story. Rather than cite the Daily News report to uphold the honesty of their headline, the Times editors caved and changed the story.

Some would say this is evidence of the long shadow of the Jayson Blair fiasco and Howell Raines' resignation -- that the Times newsroom isn't as confident of itself as it once was. However, the paper does have a history of giving the "Governor" a free pass on most controversial issues, so perhaps it's just business as usual. Either way, one has to wonder if, after the paper finishes it's current bout of "soul searching," it will find it has the heart of a 1930s British Prime Minister.

UPDATE This morning's Times contains a correction regarding the above story that quotes a spokeswoman for Pataki maintaining that while a convention groundbreaking was considered, the idea has been dropped. To be fair, the additional reporting does exonerate the Times' decision making here quite a bit, although it also raises the question of where the theme of the headline came from in the first place -- I see two possibilities: A) The original reporter just picked up the Daily News' Silverstein story without additional reporting, verification, or credit; or B) The state was still considering staging the groundbreaking at the convention until yesterday morning, when the Times story stirred up a firestorm and forced the officials to back down.

Either way, even if the groundbreaking does not occur at convention-time, I'm confident the GOP will find other, less blatant ways to politicize 9/11.

What "W" Stands For He might be able to fly a Navy jet, but apparently "Top Gun" Bush has issues with ground-based transportation devices.

The Segway scooter's page on boasts:

This small cube is packed with five solid-state, vibrating-ring, angular-rate sensors ("gyroscopes") that use the Coriolis effect to measure rotation speed. These tiny rings are electromechanically vibrated in such a way that when they are rotated, a small force is generated that can be detected in the internal electronics of the sensor. Each "gyro" is placed at a unique angle that allows it to measure multiple directions. Segway's onboard computers constantly compare the data from all five gyros to determine if any of the five is supplying faulty data--in this condition, it can compensate and use data from the remaining sensors to continue balancing through a controlled safety shutdown.

But all those gyroscopes weren't enough to keep the President upright at his father's house in Kennebunkport last Thursday:

From this point forward, his middle name is "Wobbly"

Thursday, June 12, 2003
Alas, Poor Stevie, We Knew You Too Well The inevitable became reality at Shea today when Mets GM Steve Phillips was fired -- a move baseball writer Jayson Stark termed "merciful."

I've been a Phillips basher throughout his tenure with the team, so I'm shedding few tears today. But there's little joy, either, since Phillips isn't taking the owner, Fred Wilpon, with him. Wilpon's the guy who gave into the Machiavellian machinations of Phillips and ex-manager Bobby Valentine and fired baseball God Joe McIlvane back in the late 90s, then stayed with him despite an embarrassing sexual-harassment complaint against him by a Mets employee. For that, the team lost the services of Omar Minaya, who decamped to become the GM of the Wild Card-leading Expos. For the record, while Phillips was in office during the Mets' playoff appearances in 1999 and 2000, McIlvane had assembled the team -- focusing on defense and high-average hitting (two characteristics that went missing as Phillips began to put his stamp on the organization).

To Wilpon's credit, he's not afraid to spend money -- he still owes Phillips somewhere in the neighborhood $1.5 million on the misguided, three-year guaranteed contract he gave him before the 2002 season. But it's so sad to see the money going down the rathole (we have the rapidly-aging Tom Glavine for three more years?). At least there's the possibility that we could see Gene Michael here at the end of the year...

Good-Neighbor Policy New York's own elected executive-branch officials continue to be reluctant to publicly criticize the Bush administration for selling the city short on World Trade Center recovery aid. Luckily, Sen. John Kerry, from nearby Massachusetts, is willing to take up the fight.

Kerry also predicts that some of the money might begin flowing next year, as the Republicans gear up to exploit 9/11 for the President's re-election campaign. He suggests, however, and I agree, that New Yorkers won't be fooled:

"The question will always be asked why we had to fight so hard ... to keep a promise kept," Kerry said.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
The Meaning of this Site The past three weeks pretty much sum up what it is to be a Mets fan. The team started the period with a "critical" 12-game stretch against the teams presumed to be the class of their division -- the Phillies and Braves. The thought was that we'd know "what this team was made of" and, more importantly, whether they had any hope of crawling back into the pennant race, or if it was time to try and trade away potential free agents like Roberto Alomar and Armando Benitez (there are those who would argue that last year was the right time to try and trade Benitez, but I digress).

But the answer from those series was inconclusive. They finished 3-3 against the Braves and 4-2 against the Phillies. Not enough to make up any real ground lost while they struggled with Mo "FTL" Vaughn in the lineup earlier this season, but definitely a glimmer of hope.

The Village Voice has a good take on the essential character of the team throughout its existence, summed up in reliever Tug McGraw's 1973 exhortation, "Ya Gotta Believe." Basically, the argument is that the Mets are a reincarnation of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who thrived on being the lovable underdogs who sometimes overachieve enough to win a pennant or a championship.

So as the calendar turned to June and the rains continued, Mets fans began to believe -- only to witness the team getting swept in double-headers by the Brewers and Seattle Mariners (at least the Mariners are baseball's best team. The Brewers?). Then, last night, we ended the Texas Rangers' 9-game losing streak. For those keeping score at home, that makes the team 1-5 since the "critical" intra-division series.

Always Asking the Right Questions Newsweek's Howard Fineman argues that:
if the Democrats want to beat Bush next year ... the real question will be, "Are we safer than we were on 9/11?" If Bush can't answer "yes," then he'll be in jeopardy and Iraq will look like a misadventure.

You might be saying to yourself, "Hmmm. Haven't I read that point before?" If so, you'd be right (see last paragraph).

Monday, June 09, 2003
Soundproofed Newsroom? One of the most tragic moments in baseball history came in 1951, when Bobby Thomson hit a home run to beat the noble Brooklyn Dodgers in the third and deciding game of the playoff to determine the National League pennant-winner. The home run as been immortalized as "The Shot Heard Round the World."

Apparently they have some hearing problems at the NY Times, however. In the Week in Review section this week, they referred to Bobby Johnson's shot heard round the world, as part of a Sammy Sosa-themed piece on baseball cheating. Unfortunately, no link is available -- the piece doesn't appear on the web.

Moses, Rehabilitated Robert Moses, the master builder of a huge portion of New York City's public infrastructure, has generally been the target of derision since Robert Caro's epic biography, The Power Broker, was published in the early 1970s, detailing the often hard-edged tactics he used to get things done.

But lost in those reactions is appreciation for the stunning visions Moses had when no one else was looking. This piece in Sunday's NY Times "Week in Review" section is an exception -- recounting the many predictions of doom that accompanied Moses' construction of Lincoln Center, a first-of-its-kind arts campus that rejuvenated the arts in New York City (despite continuing complaints about the acoustics in some of its auditoriums) and went on to help inspire similar developments around the world.

Particularly sweet for Moses partisans is the article's repudiation of the warnings of Jane Jacobs, who successfully opposed Moses on a number of highway projects. She said: "Lincoln Center is planned on the idiotic assumption that the natural neighbor of a hall is another hall." While Jacobs is canonized for an exclusive focus on building neighborhoods within the city, that approach does have its limits. In Lincoln Center's case, "clustering" the projects together helped create sufficient demand to draw more people with specialized skills. The presence of those people and skills, in turn, raised the level of talent available to all of the participants in the cluster, ultimately turning the center and its tenants into the world-renonwed institutions they are.