The Militarization of America’s Cities by Maj. Danny Sjursen

❝ I can remember both so well.

2006. My first raid in South Baghdad. 2014. Watching on YouTube as a New York police officer asphyxiated — murdered — Eric Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner not five miles from my old apartment. Both events shocked the conscience.

It was 11 years ago next month. My first patrol of the war and we were still learning the ropes from the Army unit we were replacing. Unit swaps are tricky, dangerous times…

❝ Officers from incoming units like mine were forced to learn the terrain, identify the key powerbrokers in our assigned area, and sort out the most effective tactics in the two weeks before the experienced officers departed. It was a stressful time…

Major Sjursen quickly learned to rearrange his response and definitions to war, honesty, actual military and political goals to the realities of the American War on Iraq. Short, worthy read on its own.

❝ Years passed. I came home, stayed in the Army, had a kid, divorced, moved a few more times, remarried, had more kids — my Giants even won two Super Bowls. Suddenly everyone had an iPhone, was on Facebook or tweeting or texting rather than calling.

Somehow in those blurred years, Iraq-style police brutality and violence — especially against poor blacks — gradually became front-page news. One case, one shaky YouTube video followed another. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and Freddie Gray, just to start a long list.

So many of the clips reminded me of enemy propaganda videos from Baghdad or helmet-cam shots recorded by our troopers in combat, except that they came from New York or Chicago or San Francisco…

The tactics, intent, goals began to more than resemble his life in an occupying army thousands of miles from home. And that’s what the rest of his article is about.

Surprised? NYC trans fat ban really did keep people out of the hospital

❝ In 2006, New York City passed a law banning artificial trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fats, in all restaurant foods. The law was first applied to fried foods — but not fried bread products like donuts — before taking effect for all restaurant foods in July 2008. A study released on Wednesday in the Journal of American Medical Association Cardiology found that the law, criticized by some as evidence of a “nanny state”, actually lead to a six percent decline in hospitalizations and strokes

❝ It’s been known since the 1950s that eating a lot of saturated fats is associated with heart attacks and poor cardiovascular health. Saturated fats are a kind of fat found primarily in animal products like lard and butter…and tend to be solid at room temperature. They get their name because, while all fats are made of long chains of carbon atoms, the carbon molecules that make up saturated fats share no double bonds—instead, they are “saturated” with hydrogen molecules…

Unsaturated fats, which tend to be liquid at room temperature, share double bonds between their carbon molecules and are often, but not exclusively, found in vegetables oils. Monounsaturated oils — like corn, peanut, and soy oil — have just one double carbon bond. Polyunsaturated fats (the so called ‘healthy fats’ like the omega-3 fats found in salmon or olive oil) have many double carbon bonds.

❝ The problem is that while unsaturated fats are healthier, they’re also tougher to use. They aren’t as versatile…And saturated fats, apart from being artery cloggers, also tend to go rancid…In the 1950s, researchers realized they could substitute animal fats with vegetable oils by using a hydrogen reaction to turn an unsaturated fat into a partially hydrogenated fat—one with many of the same properties as a saturated fat, but with less, well, saturated fat. Voila, they made margarine.

❝ Researchers didn’t invent trans fats—not exactly. Trans fats are naturally present in meat, but only in minuscule amounts. By finding a process to turn unsaturated fats into partially saturated fats, however, scientists set the stage for people to consume a lot of trans fats all at once for the first time…

❝ Artificial trans fats, as it turns out, are actually worse for humans than saturated fats. Not only do they raise our LDL (or “bad cholesterol”) just like saturated fats do, but unlike saturated fats, they also lower the HDL (“good cholesterol”), increasing the risk of heart disease. Trans fat consumption is also associated with development of diabetes and dementia.

❝ The JAMA study, which analyzed data from the New York State Department of Public Health from 2002-2013 and compared rates of hospitalization between the 11 New York State counties (five of which comprise New York City) which banned trans fat between 2007 and 2011, suggests that the research is right. Trans fats can be deadly.

Given the track record for our Federal Government in general and Congress in specific, we can expect them to climb on board with this science in, say, 8 or 10 years. Or more.

Even electing a reasonably sane government populated with a fair number of folks who comprehend as much science as a 6th grader – after we shove the Trumpkins and neo-cons out to pasture – it will take a few years just to undo the stupidity put in place during the reign of populist idiocracy.

NYC officials removed subway garbage bins in an experiment. Did you think it would work?

❝ Faced with too much trash in one of the world’s biggest — and arguably dirtiest — subway systems, New York transit officials tried an unusual social experiment. They removed garbage bins from 39 out of the more than 400 stations, figuring that would deter people from bringing trash into the system…

People who toss their soda bottles and potato chip bags onto platforms and tracks kept doing it, causing fires. And hungry rats kept scurrying through stations, drawn by garbage.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority run by New York state decided to put the bins back.

❝ “It took the MTA five years, but we are gratified that it recognized the need to end this controversial experiment that showed little to no improvements in riders’ experience,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who had released audits saying that fires started by trash thrown on the tracks system-wide didn’t decrease as a result of the program…

❝ In any case, the MTA has moved on to a more traditional solution for dealing with the 40 tons of daily garbage in the subways: an intense cleanup campaign.

Last summer, the MTA launched its “Operation Track Sweep” program. Workers are cleaning about 90 stations every two weeks, three times as many as previously. Portable track vacuums are being tested and the agency is purchasing more vacuum trains and cars that pick up the contents of 3,500 station receptacles more frequently.

The agency says the cleaning effort has resulted in the number of track fires dropping by 41 percent.

Providing services – which not so incidentally provide useful jobs – is likely to provide benefits faster than retraining the habits of millions of people. Works as well as the opposite. Want to get rid of bad habits. Make them more expensive, eh?

New Yorkers join together to remove Nazi Graffiti from subway car


Gregory Locke

❝ Lately, it seems like there have been more incidents of swastikas being drawn on subway train cars than there used to be. However, the latest swastika sighting came with a hopeful and inspiring story from one commuter who worked with fellow straphangers to get rid of the hate symbols.

Gregory Locke was on a 1 train in Manhattan when he saw numerous swastikas. He shared this story, and the photographs of this disgusting display as well as his fellow decent human beings, on his Facebook page:

❝ I got on the subway in Manhattan tonight and found a Swastika on every advertisement and every window. The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do.

One guy got up and said, “Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.” He found some tissues and got to work.

I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.

Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017.

❝ “I guess this is Trump’s America,” said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.

I’m consistent in my contempt for the dweebs whose egos are so lame they think they’re “making a statement” with graffiti. Immature, incapable of standing upright and actually working at communication and art. Include contemptible support for bigotry and you make it right to the top of my personal list for illegal direct action.

Feral cats deployed in war on rats


Click to enlargeRuth Fremson/NY Times

❝ Multitudes of feral cats roam New York City’s concrete jungle, and some now have a practical purpose: They’re helping curb the city’s rat population.

❝ A group of volunteers trained by the NYC Feral Cat Initiative traps wild cat colonies that have become a nuisance or been threatened by construction, then spays or neuters and vaccinates them. The goal is to return them to their home territory, but some end up in areas rife with rats.

Feline rat patrols keep watch over city delis and bodegas, car dealerships and the grounds of a Greenwich Village church. Four cats roam the loading dock at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where food deliveries and garbage have drawn rodents for years…

❝ About 6,000 volunteers have completed workshops where they’ve learned proper ways to trap cats.

The program is run through the privately funded Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, a coalition of more than 150 animal rescue groups and shelters. It estimates as many as half a million feral and stray cats roam New York’s five boroughs…

❝ The cat population is controlled through spaying and neutering, provided free of charge by the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA. In most cases, adoption is out of the question for feral cats because they are just too wild to be domesticated.

Thanks to the volunteers, says Marshall, “we’re protecting wildlife in the city, and the cats get a second chance at life.”

Interesting anecdotes in the article – and a common sense approach to feral urban animals. Spayed, neutered, and most important, vaccinated, they stand a chance for a complete lifespan.

Our Immigrants, Our Strength


Click to enlarge

Life jackets along the NYC waterfront — a reminder

❝ World leaders are gathering in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, and at the top of their agenda sits a refugee crisis that has reached a level of urgency not seen since World War II. The United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants and President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees represent a watershed moment that is putting a global spotlight on the need for an effective response to a growing humanitarian crisis…

❝ As the mayors of three great global cities — New York, Paris and London — we urge the world leaders assembling at the United Nations to take decisive action to provide relief and safe haven to refugees fleeing conflict and migrants fleeing economic hardship, and to support those who are already doing this work.

We will do our part, too. Our cities pledge to continue to stand for inclusivity, and that is why our cities support services and programs that help all residents, including our diverse immigrant communities, feel welcome, so that every resident feels part of our great cities…

❝ Investing in the integration of refugees and immigrants is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Refugees and other foreign-born residents bring needed skills and enhance the vitality and growth of local economies, and their presence has long benefited our three cities.

❝ Our cities are also on the front lines of helping those fleeing violence or persecution connect to critical, often lifesaving, services. Paris is one of the first major municipalities to open a refugee center in the heart of the city. Beginning in October, the center will provide services and basic necessities, as well as administrative support, to 400 refugees. New York has placed city representatives in immigration court to connect the thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America seeking asylum to crucial health, education and other social services. Last year London boroughs provided support to more than 1,000 unaccompanied, asylum-seeking children, and the city is now developing new ways of working with communities to offer support to resettled refugees.

❝ We know policies that embrace diversity and promote inclusion are successful. We call on world leaders to adopt a similar welcoming and collaborative spirit on behalf of the refugees all over the world during the summit meeting this week. Our cities stand united in the call for inclusivity. It is part of who we are as citizens of diverse and thriving cities.

RTFA for the details. This was published by the mayors of New York City, Paris and London. Not only cities for the successful – but, for the people of those cities trying to build anew.

Mapping a city’s microbes with bees

You share more than a zip code with your neighbors. You also share bugs — microscopic organisms (think bacteria, fungi, and viruses). These microbial communities are called microbiomes, and they seem to have an impact on everything from digestion to allergies. They also happen to be everywhere — from your intestines to your phone’s screen to the sidewalk beneath your feet.

But those bugs are tough to understand, because you can’t see them. “There’s like this whole other invisible planet,” says Kevin Slavin, head of the Playful Systems group at the MIT Media Lab. In a new project called Holobiont Urbanism, Slavin’s team is working to sample, sequence, and visualize the microbial makeup of New York City. Some of the team members are designers, engineers, and biologists.

Some of them are bees.

Bees typically forage no more than a mile and a half from their hives, but in their expeditions they come into contact with the microbes in their range, and those microbes stick. Slavin’s group worked with apiarists to build beehives with removable trays at the bottom that collect detritus from the bees, like a crumb-catcher in a toaster. Then they put those hives all over Brooklyn and Queens (and Sydney, Melbourne, Venice, and Tokyo).

Researchers can gather up all those bee-crumbs and sequence the DNA they find. Subtract the bee genes and what’s left represents the neighborhood microbiome. Slavin’s team mapped all those genes into a a circular evolutionary tree…but for specific urban areas. They also mapped microbes to their homes. New York City and Sydney, for example, both harbor the genera Polaromonas, Sphingopyxis, and Alicycliphilus, all of which feed on pollutants. But Venice has Meyerozyma guilliermondii and Penicillium chrysogenum, two dampness-loving fungi associated with wood rot.

What does that teach you about cities? Maybe not much. Cataloging bug DNA might not say much about the urban microbiome as a whole…just being able to see this invisible microbial world is at least a step toward understanding it…A city is about more than architecture and infrastructure and people; it’s about the bugs everyone shares, too.

Some of those little critters are harmful to us. Some aren’t. Many of them probably affect our lives in a number of ways which can’t be categorized in simple fashion. But, increasing knowledge also increases the likelihood of expanding understanding.