Thursday, January 30, 2020

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Rikers Island, New York's Next Hot Neighborhood?

Once New York City's Rikers Island correctional complex closes, the buildings will be torn down and developers will be falling all over themselves while salivating at the chance to fill the vacant land with high-rise condos, boutiques, restaurants, and pricey fitness centers. Thus turning the island into the city's next hot neighborhood or nabe, to use real estate lingo. Rikers Island will then become an extension of Manhattan--overwhelmingly white and wealthy.

Realtors will likely call it Rikersville, Rikers Manor or give it a hipper, trendier, jazzier name to lure the people with deep pockets and to cover up its unsavory past.

They won't have to worry about  displacing longtime residents and businesses. There are none. The only ones affected will be the ones currently incarcerated there. And the inmates will be dispersed to supposedly easier to get to, modern community-based facilities throughout the five boroughs.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ida B. Wells's Portrait On The Twenty-Dollar Bill?

At the risk of being labeled an elitist (and to some, a sexist or male chauvinist), I prefer to have the portrait of Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) on the twenty-dollar bill to replace Andrew Jackson's likeness instead of Harriet Tubman (ca. 1820-1913) as many have proposed. (Jackson (1767-1845) was the seventh president of the United States.)

I am not attempting to disparage or dismiss Tubman's efforts and courage in leading Southern black slaves to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. But I think Douglass, a fugitive slave himself, would be a better choice. Not only was he an abolitionist and advocate for women's rights, he was also an eloquent, persuasive orator and writer. In addition, he published an influential newspaper, The North Star and had a close relationship with president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

But if we must have a woman of color on the twenty-dollar bill, then an excellent candidate would be Ida B. Wells (1862-1931). She was a journalist and activist who fought against segregation in the South, especially in Memphis, where she lived and published a newspaper.

One writer called her "a sophisticated fighter whose prose was as tough as her intellect." Another writer described her as "an incredibly courageous and outspoken black woman in the face of innumerable odds," such as intimidation and the threat of being lynched by white segregationists.

To re-evaluate my choice, I went back to listen to a 1949 "lost" episode of  NBC's Destination Freedom that I recorded off the radio in 2018. The half-hour episode called "Woman With a Mission,"written by black dramatist Richard Durham, was about Wells's work as a "famous social welfare worker and woman editor." In the broadcast it was noted that she traveled across the country and abroad advocating for freedom of speech and equal rights for women.

One male voice said she should stay in a woman's place; another described her as having "a tongue like a flaming sword." Such attitudes didn't bother her because she believed her "resistance to tyranny was obedience to God."

For those reasons, I think Ida B. Wells's portrait on the twenty-dollar bill should be considered.

Thursday, January 23, 2020



Note: R.I.P. Jim Lehrer, journalist, novelist, and former co-anchor of public television's The McNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, and later the sole anchor of The PBS NewsHour. He died today at age 85.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The New York Public Library's Most Checked Out Books

The New York Public Library, of which I am a longtime card-carrying member, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.

As part of the celebration, NYPL's librarians have listed in the winter/spring 2020 issue of The New York Public Library Now magazine the ten most checked out books "ever since [they] opened [their] doors" in 1895.

Among these books are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1984 by George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.

Below is a list of the ten books:

1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
3. 1984 by George Orwell
4. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
8. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

And one Honorable Mention: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Saturday, January 11, 2020

An Early Article On "The Twilight Zone"

Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), one of the writers on The Twilight Zone, wrote an article in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine's December 1959 issue about the now classic sci-fi/fantasy CBS television series, which premiered on October 2, 1959.

Beaumont's article revealed the initial resentment of people in the sci-fi community toward the show's creator, Rod Serling (1924-1975), "the eminent TV writer," who they felt was "an outsider." After Beaumont met Serling, he learned of Serling's "love [for] science fiction and fantasy." And when he read the first nine scripts that Serling wrote for The Twilight Zone and discovered their high quality, "I knew," wrote Beaumont, "that Serling was an 'outsider' in terms of experience; in terms of instinct, he was a veteran."

As it turned out, wrote Beaumont, "a circle of excitement surround[ed] the show. People [actors, directors, writers] want[ed] to be associated with it." Furthermore, "Serling and his associates...[did] their best to make this a first rate production."

And as everyone now knows, their efforts created a memorable, revered, thought-provoking, and timeless anthology series of half-hour dramas that examined human nature. "The Twilight Zone," noted the entertainment website, "featured forays into controversial grounds like racism, Cold War paranoia and the horrors of war."

Beaumont's brief article, if it hasn't by now, deserves to be included as a foreword to a Twilight Zone book. It chronicles the attitudes and expectations about the series from someone who was there as an observer and a participant during its creation.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Unprofessional, Abusive FDNY Paramedics

Daniel A. Nigro, Fire Commissioner
9 Metro Tech Center                                               Re: FDNY Paramedics
Brooklyn, NY 11201
December 21, 2019

Dear Commissioner Nigro:

There's a saying, no good deed goes unpunished. I learned that lesson last night [December 20].

On 116th Street, near 8th Avenue, in front of what used to be a 7-Eleven store, was an elderly black man lying on the icy sidewalk wrapped in a blue blanket on a night when the temperature was in the mid-twenties. One of his shoes was off.

At 11:44 p.m., I called 911 to report a person in a dangerous situation. Two FDNY paramedics (both white; one male, the other female) arrived in less than five minutes in Ambulance 1358. But I should have expected the worst when it took them nearly five minutes to exit the vehicle. Apparently they were reluctant to get out in the cold air.When they did get out, they took out a stretcher and with the help of another man who had also called them, attempted to get the old man on the stretcher. He was becoming belligerent, using profanities and threatening to "bop" the female paramedic. She responded that she would bop him back. He rolled off the stretcher and onto the sidewalk. They had to lift him by his coat back onto the stretcher.

Then the female paramedic got angry that she had to deal with a resistant old man. She said I should mind my business and then said that I should take him to my apartment, that they couldn't make a person go to the hospital. She was completely out of line and not acting like a professional. I'm trying to do a good deed by saving someone from freezing to death and instead of receiving thanks, I get chewed out for calling 911. I told her she should do her job and that she was ignorant.

To me, instead of calling these two paramedics First Responders, they should be called First Responding Idiots. How can anyone be angry with someone for trying to be a good citizen?

When I got home, I called both 911 and 311 and filed a complaint with the FDNY. If the two paramedics can't deal with the public in a dignified and respectful manner, they should find another line of work.

Their attitude will not stop me from calling 911 when I see someone in a life-threatening situation. These two paramedics, especially the female, are in desperate need of sensitivity training.

Sincerely yours,
Charles M. Smith

CC: Bill Perkins, City Council, 9th District
        Jumaane Williams, Public Advocate


Monday, January 6, 2020

"Hollywood Babylon" Books On TV?

I don't know if Kenneth Anger published a third or fourth sequel to his books Hollywood Babylon (Straight Arrow Books, 1975) and Hollywood Babylon II (Dutton, 1984), but if he hasn't he should. Both books are sitting side by side in my bookcase.

These books are focused on the dark side of Tinseltown fame--suicides, murders, drug addiction, sex scandals, mental breakdowns, etc.

I'm surprised that HBO, Showtime, the History Channel or one of the other cable networks hasn't done a documentary series based on the Hollywood Babylon books. If they did, I'm certain the number of viewers would be astronomical.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

History Repeats Itself

The recent violence against Jewish individuals in the New York metropolitan area is a throwback to an earlier time. In John Strausbaugh's Victory City: A History of New York and New Yorkers During World War II (Twelve/Grand Central Publishing, 2018), he writes: "Through 1942 and 1943 there would be numerous reports in the press of roving gangs of young men, mostly identified as Irish and affiliated with the [Christian] Front [Catholic priest Charles Coughlin's anti-Semitic organization], beating and sometimes even knifing Jews in neighborhoods such as Flatbush, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx, where Irish and Jewish communities abutted. Many shops, synagogues, and cemeteries were vandalized." (Page 155)

On an earlier page, Strausbaugh points out that "The city's police force, which was nearly two-thirds Irish, turned a blind eye [to any violence against Jews or the distribution of anti-Semitic literature on the streets]; some number of them were Christian Fronters themselves." (Page 152)

But unlike what went on back then, today's mayor and police commissioner have responded with a considerable amount of police presence in heavily Jewish neighborhoods of New York City like Crown Heights, Brooklyn to prevent any further attacks.