On 9/11, Remembrance, but No Leadership

Come Sept. 11, when the city again relives its worst day, New Yorkers will be spared words written by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, John Donne and the biblical psalmist David. Great thinkers and writers from the past have effectively been banished from this year’s ceremony by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, whose chairman is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Readings from literary sources have been a tradition at the Sept. 11 ritual, performed by a few elected officials, who choose from a menu of passages built on a theme set by City Hall. None of them get to speak their own words, not even presidents, as Barack Obama and George W. Bush learned last year on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

A few days ago, the memorial and museum announced that even presidents no longer have a role. Any officeholders who show up at the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, the mayor included, will have to keep lips zipped. It is to ensure that the ceremony is “free of politics,” with the focus solely on the roll call of the dead, said Joseph C. Daniels, president of the memorial and museum.

No one should doubt that Mr. Bloomberg had a mighty hand in formulating this announcement. On Monday some 9/11 relatives struck back, describing the ban as a “vindictive decision.” They said the mayor specifically wanted to freeze out the governors of New York and New Jersey for having expressed concern, directly or through surrogates, about the rising costs involved with creating the museum.

“This is totally hypocritical,” said a group called 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and WTC Victims, “because banning the governors of New York and New Jersey from speaking is the ultimate political decision.”

City Hall elected not to respond formally, although officials noted that families of the Sept. 11 victims are not a monolith and that some have praised the no-politicians edict. It might also be noted that New Jersey’s blustering governor, Chris Christie, did his fellow politicians no favors by making a ruckus last year over the invitation list. (Mr. Bloomberg stirred controversy of his own by musing aloud at one point about possibly dispensing with the reading of the victims’ names. He came to understand soon enough that this idea was a nonstarter.)

The feeling here has long been that elected officials, guided by the mayor, repeatedly fail in their duty to seize a major occasion like the 9/11 anniversary to speak about where they believe we have been and are headed as a people. Sure, there is always a risk that some bloviating politician will deliver remarks that are pablum or, worse, utterly self-serving. But that doesn’t mean that leaders should be relieved of the opportunity — no, the obligation — to behave like, well, leaders.

Instead, City Hall has had officials do nothing more at the annual ceremony than read lines written ages ago, as if John Donne or the Book of Psalms covers all situations for eternity. Might as well hand that assignment to actors; they’d do the job better. To borrow from Michael Burke, whose firefighter brother, Capt. William F. Burke Jr., died at the trade center, imagine Gettysburg with someone handing Lincoln a poem and ordering him to read it.

Now, elected officials are being more than muzzled. They’ve in effect been exiled.

Actually, when it comes to Sept. 11, the political class in New York is worse than tongue-tied. It seems almost terrified of democracy itself.

This Sept. 11 was supposed to be Primary Day for state offices. With near-unanimity, the Legislature shifted the voting to Sept. 13, a Thursday, hardly a day of the week when New Yorkers are accustomed to voting. You may reasonably expect a turnout that is barely detectable. This was Albany’s idea of how to honor the 9/11 dead.

As for speeches on the anniversary, Sally Regenhard, an outspoken member of the 9/11 Parents group, agreed that leaders should do more than quote from, say, the Declaration of Independence. Ms. Regenhard’s firefighter son, Christian, died in the trade center’s north tower. “I’d like to see these people say something about where we are in terms of this country and protecting this country,” she said.

That’s not going to happen, not this year anyway.

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Chasing the Wrong Star

Dear Diary:

Reading the joyful reminiscences of one of the young autograph-seekers who roamed Shubert Alley in the 1950s reminded me of an experience at one of my first Broadway shows during the same era. When I was no older than 8 or 9, my mother and aunt took me to see “The Music Man” at the Majestic Theater. It was a special Sunday evening performance to benefit the Actors Fund, and celebrities were everywhere.

At intermission, my aunt spotted the French actor Louis Jourdan, the romantic lead in “Gigi,” sitting two seats from the aisle a few rows in front of us in the orchestra. Sticking a pen and a Playbill in my hand, she sent me on my mission. Leaning over the gentleman sitting next to him, I politely requested Monsieur Jourdan’s autograph, which he graciously provided.

But on returning to my row, I saw my mother and aunt slumped in their seats, cringing with embarrassment. It seems that in getting that prized autograph for them, I’d just leaned over Charles Boyer.


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Before Anyone Complained About the Air-Conditioning, an Idea

July 17, 1902: It was another scorcher in New York. The week before, seven deaths tied to the heat had been reported. The city’s public baths were jammed with people desperately trying to cool down. The newspapers, following President Theodore Roosevelt’s vacation on Long Island, said he had been out horseback riding when a thunderstorm rolled in. It was so hot, he did not mind getting soaked.

What the newspapers did not report was that something had happened involving the second floor of a Brooklyn printing plant — something that changed everything.

What happened was air-conditioning. Sort of. July 17 was the date on the blueprints for newfangled equipment to temper the air.

A junior engineer from a furnace company figured out a solution so simple that it had eluded everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to the naval engineers ordered to cool the White House when President James A. Garfield was dying: controlling humidity. “If you could keep humidity at a balanced rate,” said Marsha E. Ackermann, the author of “Cool Comfort: America’s Romance With Air-Conditioning” (Smithsonian Books, 2002), “it would not seem so sweltering and things would not be dripping all over.”

It was a world-changing innovation. “Air-conditioning, in the broad sense, had a profound effect on the way people lived and worked,” said Bernard A. Nagengast, an engineering consultant who specializes in the history of air-conditioning and heating. “It allowed industry to operate in ways it couldn’t operate before, in places it couldn’t operate before.”

It all but redefined Florida and Houston and the rest of the Sun Belt. “And Singapore, sometimes called the air-conditioned nation,” said Eric B. Schultz, a former Carrier Corporation executive and author of a recently published company history.

And, Mr. Schultz said, the Internet, because air-conditioning minimized dust, making possible the so-called clean rooms for computer manufacturers and electronics companies.

In time there would be window-mounted air-conditioners to drip on people on the sidewalk below (or fall out and cause injuries). And there would be brownouts in the summer as air-conditioners put a strain on power plants. But in 1902, there was a printing plant, and a problem.

The plant, on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg, had just been completed, Mr. Nagengast said. It was built for a company that printed the humor magazine Judge, which carried fanciful illustrations. The printing company had to run each page of the magazine through the press once for each color on the page. Sometimes one color was printed one day, and another color the next.

The problem was that paper would absorb moisture from the sticky Brooklyn air and expand by a fraction of an inch, enough so that the colors would not line up properly.

Worse, he said, “the ink refused to dry fast enough.”

And the printer could not wait. There was a schedule. There were subscribers who expected the next issue to land in their mail boxes, no matter what.

“They were doing an issue a week,” Mr. Nagengast said.

The junior engineer who tackled the problem was Willis Carrier, who went on to start Carrier Corporation. The solution he devised involved fans, ducts, heaters and perforated pipes. Mr. Schultz said the equipment, installed later in the summer of 1902, controlled the humidity on the second floor of a short building at Metropolitan Avenue and Morgan Avenue. That structure backs up to a taller building that the printing company, Sackett & Wilhelms, also used.

Carrier’s plan was to force air across pipes filled with cool water from a well between the two buildings, but in 1903, he added a refrigerating machine to cool the pipes faster.

American Heritage magazine called Carrier “a Johnny Icicle planting the seeds of climate control all across America.” A paper mill in 1906, a pharmaceutical plant in 1907, a movie-processing plant in 1908, a tobacco warehouse in 1909, a candy manufacturer in 1909, a bakery in 1911. As at the printing plant, humidity had made hot-weather work unpleasant if not impossible.

“Carrier was not happy with the pipes,” Mr. Schultz said, and a couple of years later he had a brainstorm that Mr. Schultz called “one of Carrier’s essential genius insights,” a system that worked far better.

“This is all leveraging off the work done at Sackett & Wilhelms,” Mr. Schultz said. “This allows him to say the principle is right. It allows him to say, ‘Instead of blowing across metal pipes which can frost, I can blow it through water,’ and that becomes the principle that they use at the Rivoli” — a movie theater on Broadway that was air-conditioned in 1925 — and “at Madison Square Garden.”

Carrier’s equipment is long gone from the Sackett & Wilhelms compound.

Since 2008, the Sackett & Wilhelms buildings have been the headquarters of the International Studio and Curatorial Program and home to 100 foreign artists and curators in residency programs. The second floor, where Carrier’s invention was tried out, has been divided into studios and gallery space.

There is no more central air-conditioning there now than there was on July 16, 1902, the day before Carrier dated his blueprints. More than a dozen air-conditioners stick out from windows on the second floor.

Andres Ramirez Gaviria, a conceptual artist, unlocked his studio one morning last week. The temperature inside was 82 degrees. His explanation was possible only because of what had happened in that place so long ago.

“My air-conditioning,” he said, “is not working.”

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Faulty Wiring Believed to Have Caused Fire at South Street Seaport

Faulty wiring underneath a pier is believed to have caused a smoky fire at South Street Seaport on Saturday that forced hundreds of people to flee the complex, officials said on Monday.

The wiring, under Pier 17 in Lower Manhattan, is used to provide power to vending machines and lighting. The matter remains under investigation.

Smoke from the three-alarm fire obscured the view of the Brooklyn Bridge, though the fire was brought under control in about an hour.

The fire was limited to a portion of Pier 17 that does not have stores or restaurants, and that section remained closed on Monday. But South Street Seaport, a popular destination for tourists, was open, according to Alex Howe, a spokesman for the Howard Hughes Corporation, which owns the complex.

Mr. Howe said there was no estimate for the amount of damage the fire caused.

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