Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bruising the Hell Gate

Yesterday we made our way, via Whitehall gig, down the East River from 96th Street to Newtown Creek, the ultra-polluted dividing line between Queens and Brooklyn. Industrial blight abounded, but it was nature that proved to bruise so hard.

Minutes after my boat kicked off the row, manned by a mere three mates rather than four, the other boat faded off into the foggy distance. In the absence of our teammates, Rob Buchanan, adventurer and coxswain, decided to direct us on a "short cut." So we forded the Hell Gate, a patch of water where tides get as nasty as 5 knots. What would happen if we tried this little trip at top-knot? The water would push us backwards, because no rower could row that hard. Luckily, yesterday was a good day - and the three of us made it through alive.

Photo by Rob Buchanan.

Info on Boat Launch and Update, May 7:

There's a good chance - 70%, by Rob's latest estimate - of heavy rain come Friday, when we plan to pull our gig out of the window at 65 5th Avenue and roll it over to Pier 40 on West Houston Street, making some stops along the way. I'll keep whoever might be reading this posted as to whether or not Friday will be the day. Rob wrote via e-mail that Don, master-boat crafter, "suggests I'm being a bit of a pansy about Friday's weather. If we do decide to launch it then, maybe we should name it 'storm queen.'"

As for the boat we just built, it is so close to being done. The trouble is naming it. Ryan Wood, a fellow rower, just wrote in a proposal "To combine votes for Queequeg, Tashtego."

Dear readers, the bickering between loosely defined factions of the educated and progressive left has gone on long enough. This is why I propose that Hillary Clinton, I mean Tashtego, respectfully concede to Quequeg.

Let's put our minor differences aside and focus our energies on the most electable candidate. If we want to see our interests served in the long run, we must unite the base and mount a full campaign against the heir presumptive, John McCain. I mean sialia sialis.
Let's not throw the general election. A vote for Queequeg is a vote for Barack Obama.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Building or Bust

To be financially viable, administrators say, a university needs an undergraduate program. The New School never had one until long after it was founded in 1919. For instance, Eugene Lang College formed a full 66 years later. This is why, according to New School Provost Ben Lee in a presentation last semester, the New School has grown up "ass-backwards."

The insatiable hunger for a strong undergrad program also explains, to a certain extent, the purpose of The New School's new "flagship" building. The glorious tower, standing either 17 or 34 stories tall by the latest estimate, green certified, decked out with the latest A.V. capabilities, boasting a gym and, ideally, a fully-functional newsroom, will serve as the university's new undergraduate headquarters.

The flagship, naturally, will replace that old former-department store on 5th Avenue we affectionately refer to as the "GF." Senior administrators are eager to move forward with the plan. Last September, the history and philosophy departments of The New School for Social Research Departments, among others, were moved to their new homes, 80 5th Ave. and 6 E 16th St. Executive Vice President Jim Murtha wrote me over e-mail last week that the university expects to move more departments out of the G.F. next fall.

The building is the linchpin of Provost Lee's comprehensive 10-year plan for the university—a project to work with the deans and other school officials to overhaul dysfunctional budget rules, revise dysfunctional governance structures, and get a grip on a wide swath of resources once handled dysfunctionally. The university is also producing an innovative university-wide curriculum that will put scientists and scholars into the same classroom, to work on projects that will address contemporary phenomena like global warming and terrorism.

The university needs these comprehensive reforms, and a new building would be great. The problem is, well, that there are many problems.

Graduate students I've talked to bemoan what is perceived as a fading interest in the university's foundational powerhouse, The New School for Social Research. Last September, after the move, some observed that quite a few NSSR professors now ferry regularly between their offices and their classrooms back at the GF. Is that Lee's interdisciplinary vision in action, they wondered, or just a pain in the ass?

"We are losing," one NSSR grad student told me over e-mail, signing his note J. Dewey. "We have been for a while."

Lee wants everybody in the New School community to join in on what he's termed a vastly complicated "conversation." That's exactly what some undergraduates are doing, but the students aren't being cordial. A month ago, at the "Rally for the Responsible University," Lang and Parsons undergrads called for more student representation in the university's bureaucratic process—so popular professors don't lose their jobs and defense contractors don't serve on the board of trustees. Students for a Democratic Society have another rally scheduled for May 6.

As for the building itself, at least the one on paper, community groups are in an uproar. I'm not surprised. The flagship diagrams I've seen resemble the kind of shimmering eyesores that keep popping up in Manhattan and brutalizing the skyline. Only the flagship is more box-like.

"The Village is under siege," Elizabeth Adam, a local community activist, told me a few weeks ago as we walked through Union Square. Her friend gestured over at Fifth Avenue and said, "We don't want that building!"

The worst problem of all, it appears, is the money—or lack thereof. New School President Bob Kerrey told the Free Press in early April that the construction costs are estimated at about $500 million. Executive Vice President Jim Murtha said that the university has $75 million reserved so far for the flagship.

Over the past year, the university has planned to tear the GF down this summer. That won't happen. New School President Bob Kerrey told me last week that the building will go up, eventually, but officials soon intend to reevaluate the project in light of America's failing economy.

A few months ago, when I brought up Lee's 10-year plan to Jonathan Veitch, Dean of Lang, he looked almost irritated—probably at my naivete. "It's not like all of that is actually going to happen," he said.

The New School's changes are actually going to happen. They've been happening and they're happening right now. For better and worse, they are lasting and fundamental changes. But here is what's not going to happen: this project turning out exactly as the senior administrators tell us. Even Provost Lee knows that nothing this complex ever does.

Illustration by Samuel Denlinger. This is my final article for the New School Free Press. It's been a great and extremely dramatic four years, for everyone involved!

The Boat Launch is Nigh

The boat launch for our stupendous 26-foot, 7-plank, wine-glass-transom White Hall gig is next Friday - see my other post for more details. In the mean time, the debate over its future name continues. The Great Gary has four votes, tied with QueeQueg. Plus, there is a new contender: Sialia sialis. This is the scientific name for New York's state bird, the Bluebird.

Dayyan Armstrong sent the class a persuasive essay to argue his cause. The Great Gary still stands for me. Some of you would fully understand my reasoning for why. I urge the rest to explore this website. As for Sialia sialis, it's a good name. And Dayyan's letter is too good not to re-print in full:

** Proprietary **

Dear fellow yachtsman,

The naming of a boat is a difficult task that no sailor enjoys and no sailor should
take lightly. The burden of that decision affects not only the individual, but every
patron, friend and foe alike for many generations to come. A successful name for
a boat should represent first and foremost, the boat itself; however, the name should also
resemble its region, purpose, and craft of that vessel. That is why
I am asking each of you fellow yachtsman, woman, and children alike, to consider the
Our gig we have all labored over to be named: Sialia sialis, or Bluebird. Sialia sialis is the
scientific name for New York's state bird, the Eastern Bluebird. As we all know, the Whitehall
gig is a native New York boat and it would only give the history of this boat justice if we
named it after New York's finest bird, the Bluebird.
A well developed boat also should have its own unique insignia to distinguish their
boat from another. Given the already voted color schemes, the Eastern Bluebird is
quite similar with a blue and slightly orange coloration. Given the simple and unique
shape of the bird, I propose we brand this gig with an image of the Bluebird on the
gig itself. As you will all see, the Bluebird is a beautiful bird and a great name for a
native New York boat, the Whitehall gig.

Patrons of Rob's class, friends, and fellow boating enthusiasts, please take a moment
and envision the beautiful Bluebird rowing up the Hudson. I assure each and everyone
of you that you will be pleased with your choice of the Bluebird as the name for the
fall 07/spring 08 Lang on the Hudson's Whitehall gig.

With best wishes,
Dayyan J. Armstrong
dictated but not read

Update! Breaking news!

Rob Buchanan, skipper of the boat-building initiative, recently challenged others to "make a case for [their proposed name] to the group, a la dayyan." My friend Pip K. Francis just got back to me about why the Great Gary is such a great name:

Salutations. I've been asked to step in and explain the origins of the name "The Great Gary." Gary, my great-grandfather, was a strong rower - the strongest, perhaps, of all New York. Sad to say, he was not strong enough, for the heavy knots of New York's tidal straits were that which did him in.

It was a bitter cold day that December of 1842, when Reginald Gary Karp set sail against the tide along the Hudson tidal strait. He had the intention to row a 26-foot, 7-plank, wine-glass transom Whitehall gig all by his lonesome up to the orphanage off a rocky bank near Troy. Row it he did. His gig loaded up to the brim with apples, which had been frozen since fall in his cellar to remain fresh, he pushed through the most bruising of cruises. It all paid off once he arrived along the bank of the orphanage, where the poor little children were waiting for him. They had not eaten any apples - only tasteless gruel - for months! They called Gary Karp a hero, that day. Then he rowed home and died along the way.

It would be very important not only to my family but to the entire New York state to name this boat the Great Gary. Because Gary Karp is a great man - the greatest man who has ever rowed the great tidal straits that fork great Manhattan. Clearly, it would be greatly disappointing to forget so great a legacy.

All best,
Pip K. Francis