Bits: Viva Egypt, Sinking Bengali Ferries and Romanian Traffic Cops/Ballerinas

Cairo, Egypt--1950. Photo from Slate.


"Egypt Independent" from Slate

In celebration of Egypt's independence from the British Empire, Slate posted pictures of Egypt through the years and it looks amazing.


Because of the recent ferry accident near Dhaka, Reuters decided to compile a list of all the ferry accidents in Bangladesh, which is sort of strange and interesting.


"All the jam's a stage for Romanian traffic police" by Kate Connolly, from the Guardian

So Romanian traffic cops in Timisoara have to take ballet lessons in order to become more graceful and to calm angry drivers, giving them something to enjoy while stuck in traffic or behind red lights. There really is nothing more to say about it.

Bits: East River Access, Anti-Koran Film and Luxury with Development


"East River's Edge" editorial from the New York Observer

I like the way the Observer thinks.


"Dutch lawmaker says anti-Koran film almost finished" by Alexandra Hudson, from Reuters

So Dutch politician and now filmmaker Geert Wilders created an "anti-Koran" film, which obviously offends Muslims around the world. Yes, he has freedom of speech and the right to create whatever he wants, but, think about it: if someone made an anti-Bible film, how would that go over?

And, on another note, it's interested to see that Turkey made a statement against the film, considering their struggle between remaining secular and non-secular.


"Pondering Public Uses for a Hall Named Great" by Terry Pristin from the New York Times

It's a good thing New York City is restoring and no destroying the Battery Maritime Building, which is in itself an interesting place (the ferry to Governor's Island used to dock there). It's an even better thing that New York City is looking for public uses for the building. But why are luxury apartments (and hotels, in this case) attached to every restoration and development project?

A Clean(er) Bangladesh

The street outside my oldest aunt's house in Bangladesh.

After reading this article about a plastic bag ban in Ireland (brought to my attention by my lovely Hannah), I thought about Bangladesh. And garbage.

Back in 1995, one of my clearest memories of Bangladesh was the overwhelming smell of garbage. The heavy heat of the summer plus the immense amounts of trash lying around in the streets created the deepest, strongest scent of rot. It felt like you were branded with that smell for days.

Afterwards, before we left for Bangladesh back in December, I read somewhere that Bangladesh banned plastic (polythene, as they call it) bags because of clogged drainage systems, in 2002. Instead, they have these neat netted bags and, of course, paper bags.

While the government thought ahead with the plastic bag ban, there is still no accountability for garbage in Bangladesh. The lack of garbage cans is to be expected. At my oldest aunt's house, I looked for a place to throw out a candy wrapper, but I couldn't find a garbage can. I asked my aunt where I should throw it. She took it and threw it off the balcony. This is where my mother picked up her habit from. Outside, the streets are filled with litter, just like in 1995, and every so often, as you drive, you see heaps of garbage along the roads. Poorer people pick through the piles, looking for anything that could be recycled, useful for themselves or sold for money.

On a similar note, in Dhaka, we were used to green-colored baby taxis, or autorickshaws. During an outing to Sonargon, I noticed more and more yellow-colored autorickshaws as we got further and further away from Dhaka. My cousin, Dola, pointed them out to me and told me that the government was going to ban them soon and replace them with the green autorickshaws. Why? The yellow autorickshaws ran on petrol, which contributed to Bangladesh's already horrible air quality. The newer, green autorickshaws run on compressed natural gas, or CNG.

These laws, along with the abundance of rickshaws and human-powered vehicles (walking carts, carrying cargo by hand, rowing boats (!!!)), would make you think that Bangladesh is well on its way to being a clean country, but you'd be wrong. Despite the CNGs and cycling in Dhaka, the streets were still clogged with cars and buses. The air was thick with smog and dust--I had a constant cough the entire time I was there. It took me a week to adjust to New York's cleaner air when I got back. Shocking, no?

Through the Viewfinder

While working on the Rail last month, Walter, Anna and I talked about cameras. I've been carrying my DSLR with me a lot lately and Walter just purchased his own DSLR. Anna mentioned that she wanted to take portraits and Walter offered her his other camera, a twin-lens reflexive camera from Seagull. The camera was in the office today, so I played around with it. This camera is, to me, a wonderful throwback to the old days of photography. There is no typical viewfinder; rather, you look through the top of the camera, using a sort of pop-up-box. The scene recreates itself on a flat surface by two lens. It's hard to explain, but the image through its viewfinder was amazing, so I decided to take pictures of those images.

Check out more pictures here.

Flying Over Maine, Early in the Morning

Jerusalem Without a Country

I'm surprised this story didn't get more coverage. I only stumbled upon it thanks to those handy Google alerts. So Monopoly is putting out a world edition and people get to vote on which countries and cities get placed on the board. These include Istanbul, Turkey; Cairo, Egypt; Paris, France; and Jerusalem.

Originally, Jerusalem was listed as part of Israel, but that caused a ruckus with Palestinian supporters who believe the city, or at least East Jerusalem, should be part of Palestine. In response, someone pulled the country name. This caught the attention of pro-Israel supporters who wanted to know why Jerusalem was the only city without a country. To appease everyone, Hasbro got rid of all the country names. Thus the boards would read: Istanbul, Cairo, Paris, Jerusalem, and so on.

While it's a smart move on Hasbro's part to please their customers, I still think it's unnecessary to not include ALL the countries' names. It is widely understood that Jerusalem is a disputed city so it makes sense to make it a country-less city.

Moving Cargo

Check out the guy on the rickshaw holding the long, long metal pipe.

Building in the West Bank

Why, why, why does Israel continue to expand settlements in the West Bank? Why? The Israel government declares those settlements as "illegal," but they don't do anything else about it. Yet, when it comes to Palestinian development, Israel refuses to cooperate. Looking at the statistics in this BBC article proves just that. If Israel really condemned the settlements, they'd evict the residents. It's as simple as that. If it were Palestinian settlers, Israel would have forced them out. If they were really pushing for peace and come to some sort of deal with Palestine, then the least they could do is respect the borders of the occupied lands, no? Don't settle on land that doesn't belong to you.

Roofs of Dhaka

the aspect of landing, or, the aspect of leaving

stomach knows as soon as plane
lifts off
            not grounded
            not touching earth

        in vehicle
            that somehow flies
        a mystery
            of science

dizzying landing
extending to my stomach

humans don't fly &
        we are not
to anything at that moment

& under flat rows
of clouds that look
like tissues
flat & rumpled, white
dim subdued lights
of the city glow through
hints of the bustle

everything is clearer
above the world

I am closer to
the starts than I've
ever been before

I want to be the leaver, not get left behind

see where the water ends and
the sky begins (at night it
all meshes together
like one
mess) & ships look like
they're flying



make the first move
before anything
can be

get away first
get away far
get away close
to change my way of mind
setting of my mind
being of my mind
being molded
infiltrated with settings of
these different settings while
sunsets stay golden they
have different tints different
angles different shading

clouds leave shadows
on the world I fly
to Florida and I see
all of New York displayed
to my right each skyscraper
ready to be picked up by my
hand and
those clouds above leave
gray spots all over New York
darkening those streets for
those few seconds as the
clouds slowly roll away
darkening everything in its path
but I fly ahead and
beat the clouds

Stuff of Fantasy

The early stages of the Quixotic last year.

Last Friday, I dropped by the boat shop and heard Adam Green, the founder and Executive Director of Rocking the Boat, a Bronx-based boat building and rowing program aimed at New York City youth. After showing a video about their programs, Green talked about how they build their boats (they go into the woods and cut down a tree, which is fucking awesome) and rowing in the Bronx River (something I need to do still). Then it was onto the Q&A.

Someone asked Green how he got pulled into he world of boats and the water.

"Boats are the stuff of fantasy," he answered. He went on to talk about how people feel there is a barrier between land and water and how he wants to get rid of that feeling. What a great quote.

Rowing in the Naf River

This was taken during our boat ride to St. Martin's Island, off the coast of Bangladesh. The Naf River acts as the border between Burma and Bangladesh.

Behind the New Domino

The New Domino. © Rafael Vinoly Architects PC.

I now hold two newspaper-related jobs: my job at the Brooklyn Rail as a layout editor/writer/photographer/all-round favorite person, and now, thanks to my friend Kevin, a new job at the Greenpoint Gazette, as a reporter, and layout editor as well.

So here's my first published piece:

Earlier last week, the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) released new plans for the New Domino, the site of the former Domino Sugar Refinery, in Williamsburg. The plans were presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and Community Board 1 (CB1) on Tuesday, February 6 for their approval. The groups failed to come to a final vote.

The New Domino is being designed by architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle. They have previously worked on the Coney Island Strategic Plan and worked with Atelier Jean Nouvel on the D.U.M.B.O. Waterfront Project.

The designs for the New Domino include retail on the ground floor, which will hopefully include a grocery store. The second and third floors will contain community facilities. There will be parking in the basement and the remaining floors will be reserved for mixed-income housing.

The newly designed features of the changes is the five-story glass-covered addition to the main building. "In order to have the entire site blend together in a contextual way," explained Richard Edmond, Senior Vice President of Beyer Blinder Belle's PR firm, "we're adding the glass to the refinery. By the same token, the towers are being made to look like the refinery."

Surrounding the former refinery will be four towers, two at 40 stories tall and two at 30 stories. These buildings will be designed by Rafal Vinoly Architects. Of the available 2,200 units, 660 will be allotted for affordable housing. Those units will be distributed through two lotteries: half reserved for those residing within CB1's region and the other half for the city. If the plans are approved, the affordable housing would be built first, with the glass additions financing that construction. According to Edmond, the New Domino will offer 30 percent more affordable housing than is required everywhere else in New York.

Although the Domino Sugar Refinery was designated as a New York City Landmark in September, 2007, plans to redevelop the area were already in place. The Refinery, built in 1884, was also deemed part of Brooklyn's endangered waterfront back in June, 2007 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

During Tuesday's meeting, Robert Tierney, chair of LPC, said the factory "celebrates a time when industrial Brooklyn was kind and Domino was its crown."

The landmark status, however, fuels the ongoing debate to preserve the factory as much as possible. The most noticeable missing element in the presented designs was the yellow Domino Sugar sign. The sign wasn't included under the preservation plan, but various groups insist on saving it.

The LPC was unhappy about the missing sign, according to Gerald Esposito, CB1's District Manager.

Esposito believes the sign should be saved and integrated into the facade of the building. It loses its status as a landmark if it is set up along the East River like the Pepsi-Cola sign, another proposed solution.

"The sign is more historic than anything else in the factory," Esposito said. "I remember riding the train over the Williamsburg Bridge and seeing it."

In response, Edmonds said, "We have not come right out to say we're going to save it, but we want to. However, there are a lot of engineering complexities involved."

The glass additions were another point of discontent. Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC), challenges Beyer Blinder Belle's and CPC's claim that the glass additions must be built in order to fund and build affordable housing first. Bankoff said, on HDC's blog, that rents from the luxury apartments and retail spaces would be more than enough to finance the affordable housing. She referred to the glass additions as "inappropriate on top of a landmark building."

Like Bankoff, LPC and others who oppose the new designs, Esposito is also displeased with the glass additions. Because some buildings around the factory are being destroyed and the factory itself gutted, he suggests reusing those bricks in the design of the addition. That way, the area would preserve its industrial look.

Esposito also finds the entire housing developments "overly ambitious. The developers are providing a lot of housing in an area devoid of services--no hospitals, no grocery stores." He continued, "They're just building houses, houses, houses under the guise of affordability."

Vinoly Architects' proposed plans for the surrounding area include a 1,300-foot long esplanade, which is reminiscent of the Battery Park City waterfront. In the center will be a three-fourth acre park and there will be water taxi service to Manhattan at the formerly-closed Grand Ferry Park next door.

The plans still need to go through the basic seven month ULURP process. After that, CB1, the borough president and the city council need to approve. Interestingly enough, the area isn't under the recent Greenpoint-Williamsburg Zoning Resolution but it is still being governed as such.

If given approval, Edmonds hopes to start construction in 2009. After that, the project would continue in phases. The entire project would cost approximately $1.2 to $1.3 billion.

The Betrayed World

"Beauty is the world betrayed."
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Sonargon was the first capital of Bangladesh. My cousin told me about these old, Hindi houses out there that are abandoned now, and the government can't afford to preserve them, so there they stand. Of course, people live in many of those buildings because, hey, it's shelter.

(One of) Moghbazar's Mosques

This was the mosque my father went to when he was a child with his father.

The Corals of St. Martin's

Traveling to Bronx Science

Riding the 4 train back in 2002.

Usually, I'm not impressed with the New York Times' Metro section, but I'm actually impressed with this series: exploring the different ways people get to work and school by actually traveling with them, by subway, walking, driving, tram, etc.

When I saw the words "Bronx Science" and "Long Ride" in the headline, I thought they decided to write about riding the Gagnon (some Sciencites called it something else, though), the yellow school bus service bringing kids from the five boroughs (or four, really, I don't think they serviced Staten Island) to the number 2 science high school in the city. The parents who wanted their kids to take the bus had to pay for it. Instead, Fairbanks wrote about the express bus. I've never actually been on an express bus, I know you have to buy a different kind of unlimited Metrocard if you intend to take the express bus, because it costs $3 more than the average pay-per ride. I knew one kid who took the express bus after he moved to Long Island (haha). He said the seats were nicer and there were no transfers, which was nice. I myself had to transfer twice on the MTA because the Bronx is out of the way. I'd take the F to the R at Queens Plaza (later, after the V train was created, I had to transfer at Roosevelt Avenue, which messed up my sleeping-on-the-train schedule), and then from the R to the 4 at 59th Street. The trip took about an hour and a half, which made it a three-hour round trip. And I'd stay late many nights working on the yearbook. After getting home at midnight, I'd do my homework and then have to wake up at 6 a.m. the next day and start it all over again. But if you missed the express bus, you were fucked and had to resort to the lovely MTA.

And after doing that for 4 years, any other commute seems easy. Forty-five minutes to Eugene Lang and the Brooklyn Rail office? No problem at all.

Though, it would've made for a better story if they found the lone Staten Islander who goes to Bronx Science. There was one kid like that when I was at Science and he had to take the Staten Island Ferry twice a day. I thought that was a cool commute. I wonder how long that would take, though.

A Look at Israel

At first, when I read the headline "Israel's Secret Success," in the New York Times, I thought the op-ed would be a typical New York Sun article: calling for more attention to Israel's horrible plight while ignoring Palestine's problems, and condemning anyone who opposes Israel's views and positions.

But I was mistaken.

The author, Daniel Gavron, an Israeli who had his bar mitzah the same year Israel was created, considers himself a Zionist. Yet, he is able to rationally point out Israel's flaws.

Peter Hirschberg of Israel's Haaretz wrote about Gavron. Back in 2003, Gavron was a big proponent of a one-nation state, as opposed to the popular two-nation state idea. Under the one-nation state, Israelis and Palestinians would live in the same country under one government. One of the major reasons as to why the two-nation state isn't viable is, to him, because of Israeli settlers. He said:

"Many Israelis, and other Jews, will argue that historic justice demands a Jewish state...there should be one place on Earth where the Jews can exercise their natural right to sovereignty. They are absolutely right, but, unfortunately, given the choice between sovereignty and land, we chose land. We have manifestly preferred settlement in the whole Land of Israel to a state of Israel in part of the land. It is irrelevant that the settlers are a small minority. The rest of us have permitted them to do what they wanted."

In Gavron's op-ed yesterday, he calls Israel out on what they've done wrong--something that, it seems, every newspaper has been afraid to do, or at least, publish. He talks about how unfair the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories are. He denounces Israel's restrictions of Gaza's electricity.

He also understands that Israel is, indeed, powerful and this get to their heads in the form of paranoia. After the recent suicide attack, Israel now wants to build a fence along its Egyptian border. (The reason being because of Palestinian terrorists, not Egyptian terrorists, so why is the fence along Egypt?) Instead, why don't they try to work it out some other way, showcase some diplomacy and be the bigger person in the situation (or the bigger country)?

Granted, Hamas, the elected Palestinian government, is considered a terrorist group and their actions do support that, and there are Palestinians and other Muslims that deny Israel's existence. But I'm sure there are those who view Israel in the same, violent light (Testing rockets? Right.) and those who want to eject Muslims from areas completely. But no one focuses on that.

And, trust me, I don't consider myself anti-Israel. (Though, I do agree that American funding should be cut back significantly, something Josh brought up earlier last night, but I'll get to that at a later time.) I believe there should be two states, though, to what borders the states should adhere to, I have no idea yet. And, hey, this is only what I know so far, I don't claim to be overly informed about these matters just yet. I've got more to learn about.

(P.S. The fact that Gavron decided to walk across Israel a la Robert Byron and Rory Stewart, though their's were in Afghanistan, and wrote about it makes him even cooler in my book.)

Bits: Peace on Paper, Obama's Grammy, International Learning, Modernizing India, Getting Those Step-Ons and Turtle and Elephant Tales

Unfinished highway in Mumbai. Photograph by Adam Ferguson, via Time.


"Virtual Peace Isn't Enough" by Zalman Shoval, from the New York Sun

Bush's new goal is to set a definition of the Palestine state, rather than creating it. Granted, though, that would be impossible to do in his remaining 7 months.

And Shoval does bring up a good point: on paper, peace means nothing; it's the actual implementation of peace and laws that create it that really mean something.


"Maine to Obama; Clinton Replaces Campaign Leader" by Katharine Q. Seelye, from the New York Times
Hahahaha, Obama won a Grammy and beat Bill Clinton.


"U.S. Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad" by Tamar Lewin, from the New York Times

Globalization is obviously big and now, instead of international students flocking to the U.S. for education, there is a new place for them in the Middle East and American universities are giving them those opportunities. Brian Baird, a subcommittee member, brings up an interesting point:

"Still, he said he worried that foreign branches could undermine an important American asset--the number of world leaders who were students in the United States.

'I do wonder," he said, 'if we establish many of these campuses overseas, do we lose some of that cross-pollination?'"


"Rebuilding Mumbai" photographed by Adam Ferguson, from Time

These pictures remind me a lot of Bangladesh, except that one picture of the brightly-lit streets at night. In Bangladesh, there was always a dark soft glow of light.


"Indonesia to spray train roof riders" from Reuters

I saw this a lot in Bangladesh: people cram into any space they can when using public transportation, even if that means sitting on the roof of a car, truck or train, without any fear. In this article, it says about 53 people died traveling that way in Indonesia. I wonder what the number for Bangladesh would be. And, come on Reuters, Indonesia isn't part of Africa...


"Turtle Swims from Indonesia to Oregon" from the AP

So he swam 13,000 miles. You go, turtle.


"Wild elephant stray into B'desh village, kill man" from Reuters

And another elephant, though nowhere near where I was.

The Living River

"...The living river and the living river alone gives coherence and significance and therefore beauty to the canyon world. 'I love all things which flow,' said the deepest of Irishmen."

--Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Bengali Working Day, take tin

Bits: Designing the Waterfront, Euros in NY, South Asian Accents, Iranian Magazines, Disappearing Islands, Disaster Relief, Lifeboats & Dead Dolphin

It's been a while since I've done one of these, since I don't have that office job anymore and all. But now's a good a time as any to start it back up again.


"Turning a Pier Into a Park," New York Times Editorial

I've been following the entire Pier 40 debates because I am invested in its outcome (hell Community Village Boating). There are three plans (Related's Las Vagas-izing of the Pier, along with housing Cirque du Soleil, Urban Dove's focus on sports and the Pier 40 Partnership's desire to maintain the Pier as is while creating more organizational space. Out of these, the New York Times favors the Related plans, and while it does make sense from a business point of view because the Pier needs to generate money for its renovation and for the Hudson River Trust, I was kind of disappointed. I thought maybe the Times would root for the underdog--the Pier 40 Partnership. Yeah, sure, they don't have a firm plan, but, come on, it's the perfect plan. Don't destroy something that already works, don't push stores and restaurants down our throats, we already have Seaport for that. Let Pier 40 live on as a pier for the people.


"'Euros Accepted' signs pop up in New York City" from Reuters

So the dollar is so, so bad that stores around New York are accepting Euros, and other foreign monies from tourists taking advantage of their monetary superiority.


"East River State Park" from A Daily Dose of Architecture

This blog posted images of the winning design concept for the East River State Park in Williamsburg. While it looks nice, it's hard to tell whether there is ACTUAL waterfront access. We don't need more railing along the rivers, right?


"An Ad With Talking Pandas, Maybe, But Not With Chinese Accents" by Stuart Elliot, from the New York Times

Elliot talks about the controversy over Salesgenie's Super Bowl commercials, one that featured animated pandas that spoke with Chinese accents and another that included Ramesh, a salesman. What caught me about this article is the description of Ramesh's accent:

Mr. Gupta [chairman and chief executive of InfoUSA, parent company to Salesgenie] said he planned to keep running the other Salesgenie commercial, featuring an animated salesman named Ramesh who speaks with an Indian or other South Asian accent.



"Shutting Down Zanan," New York Times Editorial

Because it's easier to get rid of any possible opposition than actually confronting them in a civilized way, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad closed Zanan, an Iranian women's magazine. The reason? According to the editorial, because "the magazine was a 'threat to the psychological security of the scoiety' because it showed Iranian women in a 'black light.'" This, of course, wasn't true. Ahmadinejad was just afraid of women empowerment, especially in an Islamic country where sharia law sets women apart from men.


"For some, climate fight is about survival," by Elisabeth Rosenthal, from International Hearld Tribune

Attention to drastic climate changes, all thanks to global warming, is growing constantly. Just look at all the havoc being wrecked throughout the world, like Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, the tsunami in Indonesia and of course, Hurricane Katrina. There is the constant push for new environmental laws that would limit greenhouse gases from major industrial countries, like China and the U.S. (two countries which refuse to do so). One of the areas of the world that is often overlooked, both for their size and their lack of international power: low-lying islands, such as Bali, Maldives and Granada, as Rosenthal points out. As sea levels rise, these islands are in danger of disappearing. Entire countries vanished. Can you imagine that?


"Anonymous donor gives $130m to cyclone-hit Bangladesh" from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Sort of along the same lines, this is really nice. And, just so you know, 130,000,000 Australia dollars (I assume that's what the article meant) is equal to 7,946,669,332.57 Bangladesh taka.


"Jan. 30, 1790: The Lifeboat, an Idea Whose Time Has Come" by Tony Long, from Wired

Because I'm a boat-nerd, I needed to share this.


"Rare Dolphin 'beaten to death' in Bangladesh" from AFP

This is sad, but strangely makes sense--if something isn't familiar, you're going to be scared of it.

Inside the Baby Taxi

When Winter is Worth It

I love 60 degree New York City winters where I can walk around without a jacket.

Port of Chittagong

Islam in Turkey

Reading this BBC article about Turks protesting a proposed constitutional amendment allowing women to wear head scarves in universities. The country, where 99% of the population is Muslim (according to wikipedia), is still considered a secular, parliamentary republic. During the elections in July, 2007, the Justice and Development Party won, despite being accused of holding secret Islamic agendas. To me, it's obvious that people should be allowed to wear what they want, especially when it adheres to religious rules. This reminds me of the French ban of religious attire, but their's included Sikh turbans, Jewish kippahs and Christian crosses.

The non-Muslim Turks are so suspicious of anything remotely Islamic--they protested the campaigns of President Abdullah Gul because of his religion and the fact that his wife wears a hijab.

Really, the governments are just letting down the students, if it is part of your religion to dress a certain way, and it's not in a risque manner or anything, then why shouldn't they be allowed to? By banning religious clothing, the students are left with no choice but to further their education somewhere else.

And what does that say about Turkey if the government isn't allowed to accommodate different religions?

Boat Dreams

At the port on St. Martin's, off the coast of Bangladesh.


The mother of a family of goats wandering the beach at Cox Bazar.