Category Archives: NYC

public philosophy stories 3: Red Hook

pork chop sandwichesThis happened at the end of last winter, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Normally I am nowhere near Red Hook, first because it is near nothing else and also because it is turning more hipster by the day, if not minute. But I was grumpy, so I went and did something out of the ordinary.

Now, there were two days that were unseasonably warm, just gorgeous, at the end of winter. This caught us New Yorkers unaware, which is the theme for this story. No one was out on the streets enjoying the day, as they would normally be if there was any reason to believe that the weather would cooperate. It was a ghost town, in broad daylight, which makes for an unusual scene in New York City.

As I walk down the street I hear someone calling after me and a young woman starts explaining how she is canvassing for some cause. Perhaps others are different, but I have negative levels of patience for people soliciting for my time. There are just too many causes and too many liars canvassing on the streets. But I am stuck, as there is no one else around, as the sole focus of her attention.

She starts to explain that she has never canvassed before, which basically makes me lose any sympathy that I at least hold for my fellow human. If you are going to canvass, do not waste my time and especially do not make me your guinea pig. So I excuse myself and say I’ll be on my way. But she asks if she can walk with me. I agree to this and she starts telling me her story.

She’s nervous, she rambles, and spends the next few minutes patching together one of the craziest New York stories I’ve ever heard. Apparently she has ventured the few blocks that separates the Red Hook projects, where she lives and is one of the forgotten hellish places in the city, to the hipster waterfront, full of 20-somethings from Ohio roasting coffee and distilling craft whiskey. She made this trip of only a few blocks, but of a huge cultural divide, as a last ditch attempt to save the last community center, already slated for closure, in her neighborhood.

It is not just the huge jump in random shootings, but the targeted drive-by where her friend lost her pregnancy and the complete neglect of the city and police that has forced her to make this trip. She has no idea what she is doing and I am the absolute first person that she has run into: there is exactly one name on her canvassing sheet, her own. For a few seconds, when I realize the gravity of the situation that I am in, I am completely flabbergasted. This is someone that really needs help, who has been failed systemically, and is asking me to do something about it.

Now I have neither the money nor political clout necessary to do anything at all. I can’t even sign her paper as I am not a Brooklyn resident. But I may actually be the single best person she could have ran into.

I tell her, after she has poured her heart out over the last few minutes, that she has to get her story down to about 30 seconds or else no one will listen to her. Her face drops to the pavement, but I continue, “and here is exactly what you say… ” and hit her with a distillation of all her main points in about 20 seconds. I even add a little rhetorical flare, giving her the core of what she needs in order to talk to anyone in the city. She goes from completely crestfallen to incredulous as I speak, and unconsciously starts to back away from me (really – she looked almost scared at that point). As I finish I say “Good luck, now you know what to do,” and leave her, eyes wide, mouth agape, and possibly with a chance.

Posted in NYC, pps.

Calendar Fall 2016 Update

zolloc4

A few weeks into the semester and the calendar is packed with events (but no one seems to have told the admin of Rutgers Philosophy Dept. webpage). Traffic to the calendar has continued its slow and steadily rise, with a corresponding rise in repeat visitors, that is, people who come back to check for updates. So, hello to all you new and return users. Feedback is welcome, as are event submissions.

I finally got around to looking into the issue where every event had a button to buy tickets, whether or not the event actually required them. If any of you checked the website this afternoon (16 September) you would have noticed that the entire site was down. Only “Error connecting to database” when loading the site. Yep, clicked on the wrong thing in the database and ruined the entire site. Took me a few hours to restore everything, but, hey, no useless ticket buttons anymore. The loss of data do to this crash is also why there are minor changes to how the site looks. Backup your data, people.

I’ve also started relying on a program to check websites for changes. This has been very helpful as my list of different philosophy-related groups has grown. So thank you to urlwatch by Thomas Perl.

image credit: http://www.ossomagazine.com/ARTE-L-antropomorfismo-monocromatico-di-Zolloc

Posted in news, NYC. Tagged with , .

public philosophy stories 2: Hitting Nirvana

screenshot-media oglaf com 2016-05-29 15-45-56A few weeks ago I was at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at Grand Army Plaza. Like many such institutions, it is littered with lecterns holding massive dictionaries. There was one next to a help desk open to a random page. As I walk up, the staff member looks at me expectantly, but I randomly drop my finger down on the dictionary. I look down at where my finger landed, blink in surprise, and say, “I hit Nirvana, I guess that’s it for today.” The staff member laughed, and I left the library.

Posted in NYC, pps, random idiocy, religion.

public philosophy stories, issue 1: Free Muffin

You only have so many skills when you’re 20. I was a few years past that when this happened, but didn’t look it.

The cashier at the Brooklyn coffee shop was 20, though, and was caught in a spot of trouble. Some guy in his late 40s took issue with her SNITCH tattoo — Harry Potter, not gangster. He was over-educated and enjoying himself denigrating the book series. She couldn’t abandon her post, less her skin, and while she was no fool, like I said, there’s only so much one can do at 20.

Harry Potter, of course, doesn’t need my help. But I do take issue with getting your jollies at the expense of someone who can’t defend themself. So I interjected a small remark that lead to his arguments stumbling. When he realized he had been stalled he quickly changed tack. Again the cashier had to give ground.

So I gently sharpened my previous comment. He kept up the pressure, but this time when he stumbled, his argument got impaled. He eyed me in silence.

‘I knew what I was doing when I opened my mouth,’ I smiled at him.

My coffee and muffin were free that day.

Posted in argumentation, NYC, pps, random idiocy.

winter/ spring 2016 calendar update

bbday_15

As per usual, lots of great philosophy talks. I’m still waiting on CUNY to update [updated Feb 1], which is unusual, since they are often first to publish their speaker list. Many departments and groups have been modernizing their websites, too, which is a step forward. Most are not quite there yet, and some departments, apparently, do not even control what goes on their webpage.

In this, the 9th(!) year of the NYC Philosophy Calendar, it seems that there has been greater professional interest in public philosophy: There has been talk about how to engage the public through the internet and new public philosophy awards. (Is the ivory tower starting to shake a little? Or just being dragged into the future?) I’d settle for a little more interdepartmental communication in terms of scheduling. We could have a mini-conference each week if we wanted to, and it could serve as a focus of outreach and community building.

Speaking of outreach — not that I’m actually an academic — traffic to the calendar has steadily risen over the last year. Manhattan has beaten out Brooklyn in calendar pageviews in the last few weeks, which is rare. I’ve even met people who found talks through my calendar. (No beer donations, sadly.) Also, for the first time ever, I rejected a request to be on the calendar: don’t write me a cloying email saying how insightful my blog has been in the last few months (when I hadn’t actually posted anything, and not that it has ever been insightful) and then ask to get your cult leader/ dvd seller/ pyramid scheme talk on the calendar.

One idea I had was to become a degree granting institution. That’s right, a NYC Philosophy Calendar Degree in philosophy!  I’ve been developing a way to register which talks you’ve been attending, and when you take enough talks, you get credit towards a degree. Enough credits equals a minor, then major, eventually all the way up to PhD. Yes, this will all be based off fake internet points, and you will have to self-report your attendence, but, hey, people love tracking progress and getting awards for it.

Have a great semester, all.

[image credit: oglaf.com. Often gleefully NSFW.]

 

Posted in news, NYC, philosophy.

NYC Area Philosophy Calendar Spring 2014 update

I’ve updated the NYC Area Philosophy Calendar for Spring 2014. As per usual, there are some great talks and conferences to check out.

I’d love feedback about the calendar, so please get in touch if you have any comments or suggestions.

From my website statistics Brooklyn, NY has the heaviest calendar users. Hello Brooklyn.

Posted in internet, news, NYC, philosophy.

NYC Area Philosophy Calendar Update

I’ve updated my NYC Area Philosophy Calendar, a listing of the philosophy lectures, conferences and events in the NYC metro area. As per usual, if one were to attend the huge amount of lectures and events, they would have a very good academic philosophy education for the price of a Metrocard and some late fees at the public library. Please leave me any comments and suggestions, especially if you know of events and venues that I don’t have listed.

With this update comes technical improvements: Events are color coordinated by location (school color usually) and are tagged by topic (ancient, Kant, epistemology, etc.). The calendar software has different ways to view the data (day/ weekly/ monthly calendar, agenda, poster-board). It also can do subscriptions based on filter, so if you only want to see epistemology events at Fordham, you can use the categories and tags to specify this, and then you can export only those events.

Fordham and CUNY have long lists of fantastic speakers lined up. Some notable events are Noam Chomsky speaking at Columbia’s Dewey lectures, and the 31st Annual Meeting of the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy (SAGP) with the Society for the Study of Islamic Philosophy and Science (SSIPS) at Fordham, which has a massive program.

Also, as per usual, Columbia is slow on posting events. Rutgers, too, has nothing listed yet. The New School for Social Research has some things posted, but it seems to be mostly cross-listings of other departments, so I expect that the more philosophy-oriented content is still coming. Sarah Lawrence College sometimes has public lectures of interest, but they too have very little posted. I’ll check back in few days and update accordingly.

 

Posted in news, NYC, philosophy. Tagged with , , .

Reflections on Frankenstorm

drugs

I don’t normally see cops smoke on duty, but lots of cops were smoking last week.

Beer was being sold for up to $30 a six pack.  Not good beer either.

I overheard a barista at Verb Cafe in Williamsburg say that Tuesday had been their best day ever.  They did twice their sales of a busy Saturday and closed early because they ran out of everything.  He also said he saw a lot more Nouveau Yorkers than normal.

I smelled no more weed on the street than I normally do.  Stoners are consistent.

zombie apocalypse

The Brooklyn half of the Williamsburg bridge had power, but crossing into downtown Manhattan was like regressing into a time before electricity, or more accurately, a time after electricity.  When it got dark at night, it actually got dark.  Anyone who has been to lower Manhattan knows there is a limit to how dark it actually gets: the sheer amount of ambient light prevents real darkness, even in places without street lights.  This no longer held for the few days after Sandy.  Walking the city was passing through endless empty black canyons, devoid of life and filled with remnants of once useful technology.

Every so often I’d come upon a person sitting on a stoop, looking haggard and sucking hard on a cigarette.  When this happened I wouldn’t notice the person till I was already upon them and walking by.  I couldn’t even muster a head nod, not that New Yorkers would be looking for the social interaction, and it was inevitably too late to bother anyway.

My mom called while I was walking back to the bridge a few blocks south of Delancey.  Surprisingly the cell phone coverage held for the duration of the call.  I could hear her voice drop as I described the situation:   The windows are empty and lifeless for blocks, and I can barely make out the sidewalk.  There are no people, or none that I can see.  Sometimes they would show up, but as I said, they were the strays, and would disappear just as quickly.  The cops, wherever they were, were just as cut off as everyone else.  She ended the call quickly.

They eventually got the power down to 14th street and east of Broadway back on.  This returned some of the ambient light to lower Manhattan, but not like normal.  Instead of the sad darkness, a weak, insubstantial haze took over.  It was like being in an old video game where they just colored everything dark, but there were no actual light sources.  You could see things, but it wasn’t like things were lit or had shadows; it was all shadows.  Unlike the previous nights, which hurt in its collapse of basic New York reality, this haze provided an unreality to the situation. It was a transient state, a purgatory, one where you could feel civilization trying to leech its way back.

My friends who live and work uptown were barely inconvenienced by the storm.

banks and power

A bank was robbed clean by Upright Citizens entering the building’s basement and then breaking up through the floor.

I told everyone that if I had a truck I would have ripped up and ripped off those ubiquitous street ATMs that charge $4 a transaction.  I’m actually surprised I didn’t see any of this.

Goldman Sachs had barricades of sandbags around their entrance ways.  Not sure if they were trying to stem the barrage of water only.

They moved the power lines in the city under ground after the 1888 blizzard, which was the last time the stock exchange had been closed for 2 days due to weather.  This was to prevent wind and snow from affecting the power supply.  So maybe the banks will ‘encourage’ our utilities to make the power supply more water resistant.  Cuomo (NY State Governor)  is threatening to revoke the electricity monopolies of ConEd and LIPA due to the power failures.  Floodproofing New York City would be an unimaginably huge project.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a proposal to actually raise the entire island of Manhattan.  If the banks don’t have battery backup security cameras in a few weeks, though, I will be shocked.

the birds

Fauna in New York is sophisticated.  The animals that live here are either well adapted to living with humans or well adapted to getting out of our way.  However, when I saw a pigeon standing very still near the curb in the street, I felt something was wrong.  A van pulled up and the front wheel missed the pigeon by not even a finger’s width, but the pigeon didn’t move at all.  Then the rear wheel ran directly over the stationary pigeon with muffled bone crunches.

I walked into Washington Square Park and a very obese man followed me in.  I sat on one side of the pathway and he sat across from me.  Often, though not generally, people hanging around in public parks who don’t take care of themselves have mental problems.  Then a large flock of pigeons, which is strange in itself, all descended upon this man.  Standing on him, walking up and down his arms, crowding as close as possible to his body. I saw his face, he looked confused, which I took to confirm my suspicion about him.  He noticed me looking and he spoke, completely lucidly:  “I don’t even have food. What’s going on?  I guess the birds are just as stir crazy as the rest of us…”  He wasn’t crazy at all: the birds went Hitchcock on him, and he was trapped.  I left Washington Square Park.

candles

I only type up my philosophy writing when it is being prepared for general consumption, that is, no longer my own notes.  Otherwise I write with a fountain pen, which I find to be the least intrusive and most versatile writing implement.

So I am at my brother’s place in Williamsburg as Sandy shakes the windows, hoping the power doesn’t go out — the internet and cable TV had failed, but not before we saw the footage of the 14th street power station explosion and cars floating on C.  I lit a candle just in case.

As I am getting ready to go to sleep on his shockingly ludicrous couch (not his fault) I turn off the standing lamp, leaving the candle the only source of light.  I think, “Hey, this is how people wrote in the past.  Every philosopher up till just recent has sat hunkered over a notebook with a bottle of ink, a pen and a candle.  Let’s see if there is anything to it…”

OH MY GAWD.

It is fantastic.  Modern lighting is excellent, but it sprays light everywhere.  Normally this is a good thing: one or two lamps can light an entire room easily.  But for focused concentration, the single flickering point light of a candle melts everything else away.  Romance is good for philosophy.

Posted in news, NYC, random idiocy, technology.

rip MCA

MCA of the Beastie Boys has died of cancer at 47.

Posted in art, news, NYC.

new york

Posted in news, NYC. Tagged with .