However You Spell It, a Knaidel Tastes Good

Arvind V. Mahankali of Bayside, Queens, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week on the strength of his mastery of “knaidel,” a Yiddish word of German origin (and, it turns out, somewhat ambiguous spelling) for the dumplings that go into, among other things, matzo ball soup.

But never in his 13 years had Arvind tasted an actual knaidel. On Monday, he did, at the Carnegie Deli.

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Ask About the 17-Year Cicada

If you’re a 17-year cicada, chances are good that you’re having the time of your life right now. Enjoy it while you can — it will last only a few more weeks.

Cicada Brood II, one of the largest, has been emerging after 17 years underground to mate (and die), and from Connecticut to the northern tip of Georgia, the air has been abuzz and the woods and grass crunchy with one- to two-inch-long insects with big red eyes and transparent wings.

In the New York region, the cicada emergence is expected to peak this week and next, possibly into the third week of June. The bugs are not too numerous in New York City itself, except on Staten Island (and at an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History), but they are in abundance elsewhere, as you can see on several sites that map cicada sightings.

While the once-in-a-generation phenomenon is upon us, you may have questions about our cicada neighbors. Here to answer them is Louis N. Sorkin, an entomologist at the natural history museum.

Mr. Sorkin, who has worked at the museum since 1978, is known for his expertise in spiders and bedbugs, but he is no slouch in the cicada department. So submit your questions as comments on this article, and Mr. Sorkin will field them.

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Explaining things like housing and unemployment

Today we will focus on three articles from three different newspapers to explain where the economy is and what to make of news of our recent resurgence. The first article, Article One, is from the Delaware State News, “Chips are down, Dover Downs executives say” (  Delaware’s casinos have suffered heavy losses due to two main factors: high casino taxes at 43.5% (along with 11% for the horsemen at the racetrack and 7% to vendors) and, required by law, high payouts to slot-players.

“With $60 million in debt, declining share prices and consistently lower quarterly revenues, the casino can no longer produce enough income to weather state taxes, Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment Inc. President and CEO Denis McGlynn said.

Mr. McGlynn said the casino has had 150 layoffs over the past four years, frozen pension plans, pushed more medical benefit costs onto employees and lost its ability to pay dividends to shareholders.

“We’re left with nowhere else to cut,” Mr. McGlynn said. “You get in a death spiral where you can’t recover.”

In 2012, $118.9 million in gaming revenue went to the state, leaving Dover Downs with $74.4 million.

However, after net expenses for payroll and payout to stakeholders, Mr. McGlynn said the casino garnered only $4.8 million for capital improvements.”

Delaware’s economy will suffer if the casinos reduce services or shut down completely. Harrington Raceway in particular, which is smaller than Delaware Park and Dover Downs, is particularly vulnerable. Competition from other states has hurt business, but the main reason the casinos are struggling is directly due to government meddling. The problem is, the state spends so much money they cannot afford for the short-term to allow for tax cuts, and so Markell’s office has been on record stating they do not intend to touch the tax rate right now. Assuming nothing is done before June 30, that means if the casinos are being forthcoming about their losses, they may be forced to lay off more workers, reduce tables or slot machines, or cut hours, or do other things to reduce costs.

OK, so if employees get laid off, they can qualify for unemployment insurance from the state until they find work, right?

Not so simple. This brings us to Article Two, from the News Journal, “1-week waiting period, higher taxes proposed in jobless benefits reform” (

The state of Delaware took on a a lot of debt to give checks to unemployed workers in the state over the past few years, running up a deficit of about $70 million by borrowing money from the Federal government, which now needs to be paid. Seeing as how the Feds and many states are either broke, going insolvent, or running deficits (Delaware does, even if they insist by law they must balance the budget), Delaware is going to need to get the money from somewhere. Turns out it will be businesses and the unemployed who will pay. A bill will be circulated this week to increase taxes on businesses, and to ask the unemployed to wait 1 week before collecting benefits. The intent is to pay the bill before 2015, when higher Federal taxes would kick in to make up the pay. Although Delaware’s official unemployment is 7.2%, a study of DE’s employed in Delaware Today showed that 15% of workers are public sector, and another 15% work in health and social services, heavily reliant on public funds. There are now only 26,000 manufacturing jobs reported in the state.

OK, so working in Delaware is a toss-up, but not bad. At least housing is affordable, right? Well yes and no; Delaware has more affordable housing for residents, but the current resurgence in home prices may be a false alarm. Moving to Article Three Heidi Moore, a U.S. finance editor at The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., believes the current housing “comeback” is really a sham predicated on just seeing housing prices go up. ( and (

Basically what has happened is that the Federal Reserve is holding interest rates to record lows by printing money to subsidize purchases on things like cars, homes, student loans, and personal loans, all of which have seen an increase in volume moved over the last 3 years (this includes the fact that the government has bought many of these items with taxpayer money), that does not mean people have more money necessarily. What it means in housing, for example, is that “house-flippers” (those who buy homes, fix ‘em up, and sell ‘em quickly for profit) are driving up the cost as their bids become more and more ridiculous. Who is buying homes? The banks, using fresh money hot off the printing presses (literally) to buy homes to make even more money off future sales, and also who are collecting on foreclosed homes.

The point is, when the media tells you home prices are surging, the implication is that housing has recovered and people are finally looking forward to buying a nice home or property. In reality, the same sharks who made money off the last housing bubble are the ones who are making money off this one, set to burst at any time.


Later, we’ll address health care law and what you need to know. Stay tuned.



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A Hot Dog Condiment How-To

Dear Diary:

On our usual Mother’s Day outing, my mom, my sister and I went to Gray’s Papaya on 72nd before our trip to Harry’s Shoes in the 80s. We all ordered the usual, frankfurter with sauerkraut and mustard, a New York specialty that I grew up with. Next to us were two businesswomen ordering for themselves.

Now, before I relay this part of the anecdote, I would like to offer a disclaimer. I feel that as a lifelong New Yorker I have a natural-born right to be biased about two things: pizza and hot dogs. There is nowhere else where these delicacies are done better.

Dramatically, they ordered hot dogs with American cheese and a Coke on the side! Now I understand, to a degree, chili or maybe even ketchup, but shunning both the celebrated papaya and classic toppings? Unacceptable.

After the order, my mom, the counterman and I all shared a common expression of disbelief and disgust. Should we explain to these poor souls what a hot dog really is? Maybe they misunderstood and could be saved?

Unfortunately part of the experience of Gray’s Papaya is that the customer is always right, and the counterman had to grudgingly collect their order, quite possibly from an area of the grill that hadn’t been touched in months.

I now regret my decision not to interfere, knowing that one day a New Yorker far more aggressive than me will give them the lecture they deserve — the appropriate condiments to place on a New York hot dog.

Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via e-mail [email protected] and follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

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Weiner Gets Mixed Reception at Israel Day Parade

As he marched on Sunday in his first Israel Day Parade since resigning from Congress, Anthony D. Weiner encountered plenty of fans, as well as the first real sustained display of hostility toward his New York City mayoral ambitions.

Mr. Weiner, who is the only Jewish candidate running, was cheered by many marchers and onlookers, several of whom wished him luck in the race. But many also booed him or heckled him about the scandal that forced him to give up his Congressional seat, after he was discovered to be sending sexually explicit messages to women over Twitter.

“Tweet me a picture, Weiner!” one man yelled repeatedly, as Mr. Weiner marched by, ignoring the heckler.

One woman simply gave him a thumbs-down as he passed her. An older man shouting “Am Yisrael Chai” – a Hebrew phrase meaning, roughly, “The people of Israel live” – approached Mr. Weiner looking as though he wanted to shake hands with him. But as he got closer, he stopped abruptly, and asked, “Are you Weiner?”

The older man then shook his head, withdrew his hand, and backed away quickly. Mr. Weiner looked startled and let out a loud, awkward laugh.

Henry Gerber, an officer worker who was volunteering with the organizers of the parade, muttered as Mr. Weiner went by, “God bless morality – please don’t run.”

“He doesn’t have a tremendous amount of common sense based upon what he did over the Internet,” Mr. Gerber said when asked his thoughts on Mr. Weiner. “And if he doesn’t have enough common sense to control his own personal affairs, what is he going to do as an elected leader of the City of New York?”

He also said that he was concerned about Mr. Weiner’s in-laws, who are Muslim, saying that he believed Mr. Weiner’s mother-in-law had connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Last year several Republican members of Congress, including Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, accused Mr. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having ties to the Brotherhood through her father. Senator John McCain at the time defended Ms. Abedin on the Senate floor, calling the accusations “ugly” and unsubstantiated, and a spokesman for the State Department, Philippe Reines, called them “vicious and disgusting lies.”

Mr. Weiner, who was dressed in light blue pants and a white shirt, the colors of the Israel flag, said in a brief press gaggle before he started marching that he was “hawkish” on Israel and glad to be walking in the parade again.

“This is home for me,” he said.

Just then, a fellow marcher called out, “Best of luck, Anthony!”

“Thank you, sir,” Mr. Weiner responded.

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Spared Demolition, an 1889 Building Gets a Second Life

To create a modern subway interchange in Lower Manhattan, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority first had to contend with an exquisite antique, one that stood eight stories tall.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

Ten years ago, the dilapidated Corbin Building, completed in 1889 at Broadway and John Street, seemed destined for demolition. It was in the way of the authority’s planned Fulton Street Transit Center, intended to impose order on the chaotic convergence of subway lines at Fulton Street, thereby helping downtown recover from the 2001 attack.

Today, the facade of the Corbin Building is an ornament in Lower Manhattan. Cleaned and restored, it sits like a ruddy little gem in the Broadway canyon, richly decorated with terra-cotta flora and fauna, belted by alternating bands of varied sandstone, capped at either end by pyramidal peaks. Monumental arches march down John Street like an aqueduct, enlivened by carmine-colored cast-iron window bays.

Inside, it turns out, the architectural delights continue. The centerpiece of the building is a broad semicircular stairwell down which daylight streams even on dark days. Tiny copper-plated cast-iron squirrels (or snails), hundreds of them, look as if they’re poised to hop (or crawl) all the way to the top of the elaborate balustrade. Some floors have wood paneling, others have marble wainscoting. There are fireplaces throughout, though they no longer work.

And much of the ground floor will serve an entrance to the Fulton Center (the pared-down name for the subway interchange), which is to open to the public next year. The restoration project accounted for $67.4 million of the $1.4 billion transit center budget.

What stepped between the wrecking crews and the Corbin Building a decade ago were preservationists. They persuaded the authority that the old building, designed by Francis Hatch Kimball, was worth saving and would add value to the Fulton Center. It helped their cause that the Corbin Building basement offered a direct path between the transit center and an underground passageway known as the Dey Street Concourse, which runs all the way to the World Trade Center.

As the project emerged, 31,000 square feet of usable commercial space was created in the Corbin Building. There is a large corner storefront. The upper floors may be used for retail or offices. Under certain conditions, the building could also be transformed into a hotel and the rooftop could be opened for commercial use.

The space is being offered under a master lease to private developers, along with 30,000 square feet of commercial space in the abutting transit hall, a striking new structure at Broadway and Fulton Street. A request for proposals was issued last year, and the authority is negotiating with finalists now.

“We expect to generate enough revenue to maintain the whole complex,” said Michael Horodniceanu, the president of the authority’s capital construction division. Because that dollar amount is part of the negotiation, he declined to disclose it.

“It would be interesting if we could get a bank as the anchor tenant,” Dr. Horodniceanu said, given that the original occupant of the ground floor was the Corbin Banking Company, one of many pies in which the financier Austin Corbin had his fingers. In 1880, Corbin acquired the ailing Long Island Rail Road and built it up. “Under his wise management,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary on June 5, 1896, “the development of Long Island was very rapid.”

Rejuvenating the Corbin Building required much more than dusting off sconces. A secondary stairway was required for emergency exiting. There was no place to fit it within the existing building, so a small annex was constructed to contain it.

To install escalators that would move passengers between the Fulton Center and the Dey Street passageway, the Corbin Building had to be structurally underpinned. On such a tight lot, as little as 20 feet wide, mechanical excavators could not be used. The pits for the new foundation work were dug by hand — with picks, shovels and buckets. The building was rigged with motion sensors and other monitors to ensure that it did not begin to lean.

The foundations went so deep that workers unearthed a stone-lined well. In the well and around it, they found a clay pipe with an eagle carved on the bowl, a case for a pair of pince-nez glasses, two ledger books from the 1880s with handwritten accounts of stock trades in railroad companies, a 1915 invoice from the Jeweler’s Circular Publishing Company, and newspapers from 1889 with torn-from-today’s-headlines articles like: “A New Madison Square Garden.”

An unsolved mystery involves a pair of initials that appear in decorations around the building. The first pair, “AC,” is easy. The second is more cryptic. If it’s “MC,” it may stand for Macklot & Corbin, Austin Corbin’s first firm. If it’s “MG,” however, authority officials are stumped, though Dr. Horodniceanu has his own whimsical theory: My Girlfriend.

That might explain all the fireplaces.

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