“New York’s Sidewalks Are So Packed, Pedestrians Are Taking to the Streets,” by Winnie Hu, The New York Times, June 30, 2016
New York is indeed, as is stated in this article, a “world-class walking city.”
It’s kind of a fun article. The reporter, Winnie Hu — is there such a thing as a BAD reporter on the Times? – does a very good job.
But the supposed problem of overcrowded sidewalks in New York City is really not a problem, in my opinion — it’s a non issue.
I am always walking, practically everywhere, in the city, it seems (that’s admittedly hyperbole). I occasionally do step off the curb and walk in the street to avoid obstacles. Usually, it’s not pedestrians that are blocking the way. It could be cars or trucks illegally parked jutting out onto the sidewalk, or perhaps (often) a construction site.
Yes, certain areas are particularly crowded with pedestrians: Times Square; the Penn Station area; lower Manhattan (Broadway) in the vicinity of Houston Street and SoHo; Flushing, Queens.
But, most areas aren’t. Take Fifth Avenue, for example. It’s a major thoroughfare for locals and tourists alike with many shops and attractions and lots of pedestrians, but it’s almost always pleasant and not onerous to stroll on. This is also true of most of Broadway (with the exception of Times Square), particularly in the Upper West Side.
I walk everywhere and almost never experience pedestrian gridlock. Even on the most crowded streets.
The only such experience I’ve had in recent memory was a few months ago when the police roped off and shut down a stretch of 58th Street in Maspeth, Queens for a couple of days due to a criminal investigation. (There had a near abduction and robbery ant a local business establishment.)
The traffic engineers should turn their attention elsewhere.
Some people love to fret, complain, and worry about any and all perceived inconveniences, but, believe me, the walkers can and will continue to do just fine.
I observed that there exists an Asian quota in college admissions (affecting Asian-American students, that is), similar to a Jewish quota in college admissions that once existed.
It is an insidious and unfair that college admission officers won’t acknowledge or admit to — they deny the very existence of such policies or practices. It’s something akin, if I may paraphrase from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, to saying: “all applicants are equal, but some applicants are more equal than others.”
Listed below are some recent articles in the subject, in order of publication, most recent first.
Roger W. Smith, email to a friend, January 30, 2017:
I noticed an article in today’s Times:
“White Students’ Unfair Advantage in Admissions,” by Andrew Lam, The New York Times, January 30, 2017
which I feel is excellent and makes sound, substantiated points.
I am sharing it with you because a few months ago, we were discussing Asian American quotas in college admissions. At the time, you said that you were not aware that it was a problem or that this type of discrimination existed.
At that time, I said to you I was against affirmative action, which I feel is reverse discrimination. We kind of agreed to disagree.
For a long time, I debated with myself about affirmative action and wasn’t sure what I thought. I believe I was initially for it.
I took this photo in April 2016 on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Manhattan is a wonderful place.
The New York Public Library — a surprisingly uncrowded, peaceful facility that invites study and scholarship, that welcomes and affords pleasure to the user, and that is staffed by knowledgeable librarians ready to assist you — is to the left.
A beautiful photo of a rainbow posted on Facebook today (June 27, 2016) by my old friend Ella Rutledge made me recall a photo that my friend Patrice Petillot (whom I just traveled to Spain with) took in 2008 of a rainbow over Ballater, Scotland.
Columbia University president Lee Bollinger believes that diversity is essential to a liberal education. How essential he spelled out in the above oft quoted remark.
What a shame that Shakespeare didn’t think to write a play about it; that medieval theologians did not debate or write about it; that it does not tend to be a central issue in international relations or discussed by world leaders in summit meetings.
Just think, a student could be getting the benefits of Shakespeare’s undeniable “writing skills” (we must grant him that), for example; improve his or her vocabulary and diction while at the same time broadening horizons with respect to tolerance and understanding of “others” — of characters like Othello and Shylock, for example.
Shakespeare’s could have used his plays to impart hortatory lessons: racism in Othello, anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice, ageism in King Lear, sexism in The Taming of the Shrew, and so on. With an inventive mind like Shakespeare’s, the possibilities for politically correct instruction are huge.
Too bad Shakespeare never thought of it.
Does not speak well for Shakespeare. No wonder his status and desirability as an anchor in the curriculum (he used to be required reading in high schools) have been lowered a bit. Too bad he didn’t have the benefit of a twenty first century education. Come to think of it, he only attended grammar school! And, there was no diversity training then. So much the worse for The Bard and his benighted fellow students.
May I be permitted a few words about the professor and his course?
“Gem” is a good word for Prof. Gaehde. He was very dedicated and serious in class, but you could tell that he was a very warm person.
I learned things from his obituary that I never knew and about which, when taking his course years ago, I had no clue:
that he was a Jewish refugee from Germany;
that he had two children who survived him;
that his wife, Christa Gaehde (nee Christa Maria Schelcher), “was renowned in the field of conservation and restoration of art on paper, and worked for many of the top American museums.”
I took two courses with Professor Gaehde: one on early medieval art and one on the art of the high Middle Ages.
I loved the courses; they complemented the ones I was taking with Professor Norman F. Cantor on medieval history.
I barely passed. I got a C in one of the two semesters and a C- in the other semester.
Art history was never my strong point. I am especially bad at architecture (e.g., church architecture). I still can’t for the life of me tell what a flying buttress is.
But Professor Gaehde was a dedicated, enthusiastic teacher and a fine lecturer. He introduced us to much fine, rich, and beautiful art — particularly illuminated manuscripts, many of which are at the Morgan Library in New York City.
He would note that this or that illuminated book was at the Morgan Library, and I would be saying to myself, “that’s funny, wouldn’t they be in a MUSEUM rather than a LIBRARY?”
Professor Gaehde was not an easy grader, but I liked him and his course and got a lot from it, despite my subpar performance. It shows that grades can be a misleading indicator (sometimes) of the value of educational experience.
What I most enjoyed was the illuminated manuscripts that we learned about – mainly, the Carolingian, Gothic, and Romanesque manuscripts and the complex, fascinating Irish art, the former including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the latter the Book of Kells.
The following is a true story. I haven’t thought about it for a long time.
An obituary in the The New York Times of June 25, 2016 of Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham reminded me of it, indirectly.
One paragraph of the very interesting and well written obit struck me particularly:
As a teenager, [Cunningham] got a part-time job at the department store Bonwit Teller, then received a scholarship to Harvard, only to drop out after two months. “They thought I was an illiterate,” he said. “I was hopeless, but I was a visual person.”
I immediately thought that this was on an on target comment, a bit of perceptive self-analysis. And, I thought about myself.
Cunningham, the fashion photographer, was obviously right brained. He was not equipped — mentally, so to speak — for the Harvard curriculum. (Which does not mean he was stupid; intelligence is complex and multi-faceted.)
I am just the opposite. I am totally left brained. I can read and write very well, but at right brain tasks, I am hopeless. A complete idiot.
At Brandeis University, a liberal arts school which I attended, most of the work involved reading and writing. Heavy reading loads. Term papers. Essay exams.
At the end of the semester, there would be a three hour final exam. You were given a blue book and a few essay questions. It was like pulling teeth. You would scribble and scribble and hope to get a good grade or at least pass. I would usually fill up two or three blue books, would hand them in exhausted, would usually not finish until the three hours were up.
I tended to do well, often with very little preparation. The reason: I could write an essay on particularly any topic and spin it like a spider weaving a web, if given just a few facts, a grain of knowledge, to work with.
I also knew how to “protect” myself. Be clear, be succinct, don’t make wild statements you can’t back up, don’t stray off topic, answer the question.
In the spring of 1968, in my senior year, I took a course, Psych 132b, “Psychology of Emotions,” with Professor James B. Klee, who was a colleague of the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow.
Professor Klee was the typical psychology prof, it seemed – almost like a parody of one. He spoke in a high pitched, squeaky voice. He wore a bolo tie and causal sport jackets. He had a beard, of course.
He seemed like a nice guy, but I got nothing out of the course. Professor Klee would ramble on and on about various topics, theories, and books. I had absolutely no idea what the was talking about — he might as well have been lecturing in German. The only thing I can recall is that he spent a lot of time talking about ectomorphs and endomorphs. I could not for the life of me ascertain what the difference between the two types was, how it pertained to the lectures, or why it was important.
He worked into his lectures all sorts of theories that mystified me: religious thought as it pertained to human psychology, for example.
I never did the required reading.
The course came to an end, mercifully; the day for the final came.
As it so happened, I had no time to study. I was up all night writing a term paper for another course. I barely finished in time to pass it in and to get to campus in time for the Psych 132b final, which was at an early morning hour.
An important factor relative to all this was that three of my roommates – Ron Ratner, Tony Camilli, and John Ferris – were also taking the course. They thought it would be gut course. They had encouraged me to take it.
Ratner, Camilli, and Ferris spent the night before the final preparing for it in a joint “cramfest.” They had not done most of the reading, either. But, they did some last minute studying and pooled their slight knowledge.
We lived together in a house in Newton Highlands, MA, about twenty or thirty minutes away by car from campus.
Ratner drove me and the other roommates to campus. They told me just before leaving, “don’t worry, we’ll tell you all you need to know.”
They coached me in the car. They enumerated the books on the reading list and gave me capsule summaries of their content. I forget what most of the books were. But, one that I do recall that we had been assigned was a book by theologian Paul Tillich.
“Tillich,” they said (words to that effect). “All you have to know are three things: being vs. non-being, the concept of absolute faith, courage as an affirmation of being.” That’s not what they actually said, but their mini-lecture in the car went something like this.
I took the exam, scribbling furiously in my blue book, trying to remember what my roommates had told me. I had only that to work with. A kernel or two. A few concepts, buzzwords. But it was enough.
The grades came back. My roommates were disappointed. They all got worse grades than I did: a couple of C’s, a B minus.
I got the highest grade of the four of us: a B on the final exam and a B for the course.
Re affirmative action-related issues that have arisen since my father’s college days — and which won’t seem to go away — it seems that one can say, viewing them in a historical context, that:
Blacks traditionally have been accorded zero opportunities — including denial of opportunities for higher education (to say nothing of the abysmal education blacks have customarily been accorded at other levels). Of course, this is changing, but I am speaking here from a historical perspective.
There was a “Jewish quota” at elite schools for more than half of the twentieth century; it had eased somewhat by my father’s time.
An “Asian quota” seems to exist today. This is perhaps hard to prove, but no one seems to be talking about the need for steps being taken to overcome or reverse the effects of such an insidious (unacknowledged) policy.
Is there not an answer to discrimination in college admissions? May I make a “modest proposal”? How about admitting students based on academic ability without taking race into account?
Seems simple? Undoubtedly, it’s too simple for the PC types and admissions officers who go to great lengths to devise formulas for ensuring “diversity” on campus.
I can’t help but think of an analogy derived from the literature of another era and country: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen. The emperor was parading in public, naked. But no one dared to call attention to it. Until a child who didn’t “know better” spoke up.
Admitting students based on academic ability and/or academic promise without taking race into account.
What’s wrong with that?
Aren’t all citizens supposed to be EQUAL?
But then, that’s simple. I’m obviously not sophisticated enough to weigh in with an opinion about such a contentious and complicated issue.
After all, there’s something at stake here. Am I too stupid, you may be asking, to see that? Admission to the best colleges is desired because it is seen — has been, as long as I or anyone else can remember — as a ticket to advancement and privilege and as an engine of social mobility.
“In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy “said the University of Texas’s” diversity goals were not amorphous but ‘concrete and precise,’ satisfying the constitutional requirement that government racial classifications advance a compelling interest” (New York Times, June 24, 2016)
In a blistering dissent, Justice Samuel Alito “described those goals — concerning ‘the destruction of stereotypes,’ promoting ‘cross-racial understanding’ and preparing students ‘for an increasingly diverse work force and society’ — as slippery and impervious to judicial scrutiny” (ibid.).
The destruction of stereotypes … promoting cross-racial understanding … preparing students for an increasingly diverse work force and society.
What about goals such as (to pick a few at random, drawing mainly on my own experience as a college student):
teaching calculus: what pleasure I took from my freshman calculus course – it was so aesthetically satisfying and it wasn’t offered in my high school;
reading Shakespeare: I read half of Shakespeare’s plays in a course with a noted professor that I took in my freshman year;
learning foreign languages: I took French and Russian in college; Russian isn’t offered in most high schools;
stimulating students in terms of thinking for themselves and of strenuous intellectual endeavor.
Too high minded? I don’t think so.
I thought this is what college is supposed to be about. (Columbia University President Lee Bollinger would disagree.)
My wife made a remark to me last night. She said that when she was in college, a private university with high admission standards where she majored in mathematics, she was focused on the course content. Her parents had not had the opportunity to attend college. She was motivated both in terms of her intended career and because of her interest in the subject matter. As did I, she felt privileged to have good professors.
She said she didn’t care or particularly notice who was sitting next to her.
… I take pleasure from the fact that I can enjoy [books] when it pleases me to do so; my soul is satisfied merely with possession. I never travel without books, neither in peace nor in war. Sometimes whole days go by, even months, without my looking at them. But it might be at any moment now, or tomorrow; or whenever the mood takes me…. Books are, I find, the best provisions a man can take with him on life’s journey.”
I was watching a Ken Burns documentary the other day. There was a photo of FDR’s study in his home in Hyde Park, NY. The walls were lined with bookshelves. As often seems to be the case in such situations, the books were behind something or other: a mesh? glass?
J. P. Morgan’s library, in his residence (now a museum) on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, looks just the same. Books everywhere. Many, probably all of them, priceless.
It looks, however, as if most or many of the books in such studies did not get read by their owners.
I am definitely a bibliophile, but I do not collect books solely to be able to say I own them, or for money, as an antiquarian might.
If I “adopt” a certain author — add him to my all time favorites/must read list — I find that I then want to acquire everything by or about the writer that I can lay my hands on. This includes — with respect both to the acquisition of books and actually reading them — minor as well as major works.
I have found that sometimes, indeed often, reading a writer’s early works and ones considered to be minor can be very satisfying. And, I have found that works deemed “minor” can turn out to be among the author’s best and most revealing ones.
I am interested in the man and his life as well as the works. So, I will obsessively look for works of a biographical nature and books that provide ancillary information about the writer. It might be a book by or about someone with whom the writer was closely associated or by whom the writer was influenced.
I won’t stop once I have started. Which is to say, I will acquire every book by or about that particular writer that I can find.
This often seems to bear fruit. So that acquiring books as a sort of “futures contract,” based upon the idea that you may want to get back to the writer, seems propitious. This recently happened to me, for example, in the case of a Russian-American scholar Pitirim A. Sorokin, whose work I have long been interested in. I recently got an inquiry from a visitor to this site, based in Moscow, who was interested in my posts on this site about Sorokin. I was able to go to my storehouse of Sorokin books and found much valuable, pertinent information there to share with her. Many of the books are out of print, or hard to obtain even in libraries. Some of the out of print ones are obtainable on the internet, but at what are now expensive prices.
I can remember approximately what I paid for most of my books, going far back, and where and under which circumstances I bought them.
I once remarked to a therapist I was seeing that I had acquired many books in the manner described in my comments above and that I was unlikely to read a majority of them. I was thinking, ruefully, that it was perhaps foolish of me to be buying so many books without the likelihood that I would ever get around to reading most of them.
The therapist, an intellectual and writer, who himself had developed a private library in similar fashion — and for the same reasons — replied by saying emphatically (in so many words), “you’ll get around to reading them eventually.” He dismissed my concerns that I was overdoing it.
His comment made me feel better and less guilty about my sometimes extravagant book buying. And, I do realize that just having certain books on one’s bookshelf makes one feel good. There is a sense of security about it. You know that certain books, especially those of your favorite authors, are there waiting to be read. It’s a nice feeling. (I have had similar experiences and feelings in compiling a classical music collection.) And, I do get around to reading many of them.
It also surprises me that I turn to books on my shelf more frequently than I would have expected, to look up something or other or to remind myself of what a writer said about something (sometimes unearthing a pertinent quote).
My therapist also made the point that there is something very pleasant and cozy about having a book lined study. I myself feel this way. It is pleasant to be able to contemplate and, indeed, to admire one’s own book collection; to view one’s bookshelves; to peruse them and think about authors and their works, as well as thinking about what one might like to read next.
I actually like to feel books, to have them in my hands.
I have become a shrewd book buyer over time. You have to know when to “pounce.” If you see a book that you really want, and you can afford it, I have found that you should buy it without further deliberation.
An example of would be Walt Whitman’s Blue Book: The 1860-61 Leaves of Grass Containing His Manuscript Additions and Revisions. This is a two-volume boxed set that was beautifully and expensively produced. It was published in 1968 by the New York Public Library. It has tipped in pages which show revisions in Whitman’s own hand that he made in a copy of his of Leaves of Grass which he kept in his desk drawer while working in a government office in Washington during the Civil War. There is extensive editorial commentary as well.
I wanted to obtain a copy of this book, but they are quite rare. I found that there were — if I remember correctly — two copies for sale on the Internet, both priced at around $300 for two volumes.
Then, I saw that the Stand Bookstore in Manhattan had a copy. I went to the Strand to check it out — it was in their rare books department — and found that it was in perfect condition. The Strand’s price for the two volumes: ninety dollars. I bought the book without hesitation.
Another example is a monograph by Thomas M. Curley: Sir Robert Chambers: Law, Literature, and Empire in The Age of Johnson. I have wanted to obtain this book for some time — I read a previous book by Curley about Samuel Johnson and was greatly impressed. The more recent book by Curley — the one about Chambers (an acquaintance of Samuel Johnson) that I have been seeking — is for some reason very hard to find. If you look for the book from on line second hand booksellers, it is egregiously priced. The available copies that are in “good” condition (which means good, but not mint, condition) are priced at around $550 to $650 — this for a one volume book published in 1998.
I saw a copy on line the other day for around $200. I ordered it. I knew that I was not likely to find the book at this price again and that, relatively speaking, $200 — while it seemed very expensive — was a good deal. I know from experience that I will not regret the purchase.
The bookseller charged me over $200 for the book plus shipping. It never came. I had great difficulty with the bookseller, but was ultimately able to get my money back through arbitration. Then, I miraculously found an online bookseller who sold me the book — a beautiful edition, in mint condition — for $100 including shipping.
It’s like the eighteen dollars I spent during my senior year in college for a beautifully produced book comprising a facsimile of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. The book seemed very expensive then, but I had to have it. It was solely a question of did I have the eighteen dollars, never a question of would I purchase it. I do not regret the purchase — it seems that you can’t find this particular edition anywhere nowadays. Nor can you find other editions that are so beautifully produced with magnificent reproductions of Blake’s color plates.
And, it seems that, for cherished books that I have paid a lot for, there are many others that I was able to buy cheaply.
And, then you get lucky. On May 7, 2017, for example, at the Strand Bookstore, I purchased An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer (1904). Forty dollars. Two volumes, illustrated. Over 1,100 pages. Nice wide margins typical of books of those days and splendid black and white illustrations — books were well produced a century ago! In very good condition. A serendipitous, unanticipated acquisition. I was looking for a different book in the social science section. It’s the sort of purchase one makes in used bookstores.
Worth reading? Will I? I’m not sure. Spencer was once a widely read and influential social scientist; his books were very popular among the general readership. I have run across books like this before and am glad of having bought them. Given the condition that the book was in and its rarity, I knew I was a good deal. But, I don’t purchase such books thinking of possibly selling them. Would not purchase if I didn’t think I might want to read them.
You have to be persistent and continually on the lookout for books you want that may become available. An example is a nine volume work by Horace Traubel (sometimes referred to as “Walt Whitman’s Boswell”): With Walt Whitman in Camden. The book was originally published in 1906 in three volumes. Then, over the years, six more volumes were published posthumously, the last one in 1996.
I bought several volumes at random at the Stand Bookstore, whenever I saw one for sale. Then I bought the first three volumes, in mint condition, from an online bookseller for three hundred dollars. It seemed a lot to pay, but I was glad to have them.
I now owned eight of the nine volumes of Traubel’s diary cum biography. I checked an online global library catalogue, WorldCat.org, and it seemed that hardly any libraries — perhaps none — owned a complete set. I was missing only Volume 4. I found that only about seven libraries in the world owned Volume 4, including just one library in New York City: the Lehman College Library in the Bronx. They had two copies!
Finally, in June 2017, after several years of looking, I found Volume 4 for sale on line! I couldn’t believe my eyes. This completed my set of all nine volumes of With Walt Whitman in Camden. Probably some Whitman scholar has them, but I doubt that a library anywhere does.
An opinion I have long held is that books are a cheap commodity, comparatively speaking. When you consider how much pleasure you can get from them — their “entertainment value,” so to speak, compared to other things like movies — and how long that pleasure lasts (you can keep the book, you can reread it, often with profit and pleasure), they seem like an awfully good way to spend one’s money.
When you think of all the expense and effort involved in producing a book — research, writing, editorial, production, and so on — it seems remarkable to me that they are priced as low as they are. Yes, “expensive” books fifty years ago cost five or six dollars; now they cost thirty or thirty-five dollars, perhaps. But, when you consider their relative value, and how much prices have risen in other areas, the cost doesn’t seem prohibitive.
I have always had a nose for books and have made many serendipitous acquisitions. Among my best places to find books, currently, I would include:
(1) The Strand Bookstore at Broadway and 12th Street in Manhattan. I have been going there since the late 1960’s. It seems to be one of the few used bookstores left in Manhattan. I keep making finds there. Everything is reasonably pieced — underpriced (almost always) compared to the online used book market; this includes books just off the press. The books they carry are in excellent condition — they don’t seem to acquire books that are not. A great thing about the Strand is that the books are very well organized, alphabetically by author.
You have to get a feel for their system, to know what section to look in. For example, if you were looking for a biography of Walt Whitman by Justin Kaplan, you have to know to look under “Whitman,” not “Kaplan,” and you would have to know that it would be in the literary nonfiction section. Books are rarely where they should not be. Plus, the Strand now had an excellent web site so that one can buy books from them on line. I often order on line from them. You don’t have to worry about getting a worn, beat up book delivered to you.
(2) Amazon.com is good for most book buying. I find their reviews quite helpful — I have written quite a few myself. Their books are reasonably priced, often at a discount. They seem to have most books that are in print. I find them less useful for used books. I would say, avoid buying (on Amazon) from secondary sellers.
(3) abebooks.com is, in my opinion, the best site by far for finding used books, especially out of print ones. If it’s available and for sale, the book will be there, or not at all.
The search engine is great. Just now, I was looking for a paperback edition of Platero and I, , a book by one of my favorite poets, Juan Ramón Jiménez. An English translation was published in paperback in 1962; it is virtually unobtainable now. It happens to be an edition I like because of the translation (among other things). I couldn’t find it anywhere until I went to abebooks.com. There were several editions available on the site. Quite a few were expensive. But, there was one in excellent condition that was reasonably priced.
You can sort the search results by price, date published, condition, etc. The booksellers are very accurate in describing a book’s condition.
I do not like to buy a book with a torn or tattered cover, underlining, crumbling pages, etc. — I don’t want someone else’s beat up book. I am willing to pay more to get a book that is in mint condition.
This past month, I was able to purchase the original four-volume edition of Pitirim A. Sorokin’s magnum opus, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937-1941).
The books arrived yesterday. The thrill of now owning such a book was palpable.
There were only two copies of the set for sale on the internet: one priced at $500, and the other, which I purchased, for $150. As an experienced book buyer, I didn’t hesitate.
I have become personally acquainted with quite a few Sorokin scholars, most of them abroad. I know they would be thrilled to own this work of Sorokin’s, which is for all practical purposes only available at the present time in a paperback one-volume abridgment.
Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, New York, NY
Thomas M. Curley, “Sir Robert Chambers: Law, Literature, and Empire in the Age of Johnson” (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)
William Blake, “Songs of Innocence and Experience” (The Orion Press, New York, in association with The Trianon Press, Paris, 1967)
Juan Ramón Jiménez, “Platero and I,” Signet Classic
Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Social and Cultural Dynamics,” Volume One (American Book Company, 1937)