Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seasonal Reflections: No Matter How Fortunate or Not, We Are All Equal, Sharing a Common Journey

 The cusp of a new year and the winter solstice have arrived and it is again that time when, Noticing New York returns to its now annual tradition.  Since 2009, Noticing New York has annually offered a stocktaking of the decisions we are making in the public sphere that make it appear that we are veering off to a reality where a select few of our population revering money and accumulating “wealth” count for almost everything while the rest of us are treated with increasingly less regard.  I’ve done this in the context of two traditional Yuletide tales, both taking place in critical part on Christmas Eve, and both essentially the same story in many respects: Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” about the reformation of the miser Scrooge and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Both these stories frame the importance of free will and choice in terms of alternative possible realities, in order to contrast decisions about the bunching up of wealth and treasure with the benefit and spirit of shared community and giving.
(* You can find out prior annual essays here: Thursday, December 24, 2009, A Christmas Eve Story of Alternative Realities: The Fight Not To Go To Pottersville (Or Ratnerville), Friday, December 24, 2010, Revisiting a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, Saturday, December 24, 2011, Traditional Christmas Eve Revisit of a Classic Seasonal Tale: Ratnerville, the Real Life Incarnation of the Abhorred Pottersville, Monday, December 24, 2012, While I Tell of Yuletide Treasure, Tuesday, December 24, 2013, A Seasonal Reflection: Assessing Aspirations Toward Alternate Realities- 'Tis A Tale of Two Alternate Cities?)
With the arrival of the solstice hope is kindled during these longest nights of the year by noting that we have reached a turning point with light beginning to return.  In the darkest of days it is always important to give thanks for all that’s good and all that we have been able to achieve.  This 2014 there has been some good news to lift our spirits . . . . 

. . . .Governor Cuomo just recently announced that hydro-fracking is being banned in New York State.  That is a big win bringing what may be the end to a long fight and it prevents the ravaging of the environment belonging commonly to all of us for the financial benefit of only a few.

. . .  There were victories also in the fight to save our public libraries from sale and shrinkage for the sake of creating real estate deals, another struggles where the public commons has been in jeopardy, again for just a few benefit at the expense of the many.  The biggest of these successes this year was the defeat this spring of NYPL’s Central Library Plan that would have squandered more than $500 million of the public’s money and resources, the full extent of that loss being announced only belatedly after the plan was officially derailed.
Above and below from the Moyers report
. . . . The New York City real estate industry is increasingly recognized as increasing the city’s wealth and power inequalities and destructive of the public’s interests.  Just around Thanksgiving a Bill Moyers & Company report devoted to this theme made such points clear sounding very much like Noticing New York and a number of its articles.  In fact, that report started with and was keyed off a reflection of the damage to the city, Central Park another critical public commons being done by the series of super-tall towers at the park’s south end casting shadows across it.  That is exactly what Noticing New York’s annual seasonal reflection focused on this time last year.

But, not all is improving and there is much that remains to be done as some things get even worse.
In "It's a Wonderful Life": on left Lionel Barrymore (who played Scrooge in annual radio broadcasts) playing the Scrooge-like Henry Potter and on right Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey, the banker with friends who fends off succumbing to the Potter world
One matter these annual reflections have always tuned to is the way that Forest City Ratner’s takeover of a swath of Brooklyn constitutes a concentration of wealth and control that’s analogous to the way that in “It’s a Wonderful Life” the communally shared town of Bedford Falls became Pottersville in the alternate reality where unchallenged power was allowed to accumulate in the hands of Henry F. Potter, the bad town banker.  The unfortunate news to report this year with respect to Forest City Ratner is that its spreading power and influence in New York is continuing to grow like Potter’s did in that alternate reality. . .

George Bailey, the good banker of the "Wonderful Life" story, gets to see what the world would be like had he never been born, counterbalancing to make it better: everywhere he turns Potter's negative the influence of doing things only to dominate and make money pervades.
Just months ago the head and Chief Executive Officer of Forest City Ratner, MayAnne Gilmartin, was appointed to the board of WNYC, the city’s highly influential public radio station.  See:  Sunday, November 16, 2014, Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?- WNYC's Press Release on Appointing Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin to Its Board of Trustees, and Monday, December 8, 2014, With Big Bucks Out To Hijack Truth and Broadcasting Integrity- The Daily Show and Bill Moyers Set Models for WNYC Radio.

Does WNYC know better? 

Oddly, WNYC has its own annual yuletide tradition that ought to teach it better.  Every year the station broadcasts a radio play version of  “A Christmas Carol” in which the familiar radio personalities of WNYC appear performing roles.

This year, as I listened, I heard the principle declared that, however fortunate or relatively unfortunate any of us are, we are all equals, “one in the same.”  I believe that, but is that the message we would glean from the Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to the WNYC board?  Would those who would and could truly represent the interests of the general public in fashioinging the public radio station's mission have as equal a chance of being appointed to its board has as equal a chance of being appointed to the board?
Basil Rathbone on left playing the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's deceased partner, essentially a version of Scrooge  who doesn't get to reform and on right in another production playing Scrooge who does eventually reform  
Here is the portion of the of the WNYC play (by Written by Arthur Yorinks) where that point is made as Scrooge debates with his nephew what Christmas means, what its value is:
    Scrooge (To his nephew Fred): You keep Christmas in your own way let me keep it in mine.

    Nephew: But you don't keep it!
    Scrooge: Let me leave it alone then: Much good it has ever done you!

    Nephew: Oh I think there are many things from which I've derived some good, by which I have not profited financially, I dare say. There is more in life than money, Uncle.

    Scrooge: Humbug to that!  More in life than money!  Humbug!

    Nephew: And I've always thought of Christmas time is a good time, a kind, forgiving and charitable time when men and women seem to open their shut-up hearts freely, and think of people not as fortunate in life as their equals, for they very well are equals.  We're all one in the same.  And therefore uncle, although it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket I believe Christmas has done me good, and will do me good but I say God bless it.

    Cratchit (Scrooge’s cleark):  Well put Fred!
In the Dickens’ book Cratchit’s approval is actually silent, something hard to convey in a radio play.  In fact, in Dickens’ book the concept is not, per se, `equality,’ but “fellow-passengers to the grave” and fellow members of the same race:
"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it,"

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round-apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that-as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
The message, of course, is also that much of the good in the world simply can’t be measured in dollars.  That’s bad news for those who relentlessly look to “monetize” all and sundry and consider subjecting everything to the constricted and constricting measures of the Wall Street mentality.
Alistair Sim, perhaps the very best ever to play Scrooge.  On left, Scrooge the epitome of a miser at the outset of the film.  On right, the reformed Scrooge now a model of kindness and generosity.

Monday, December 8, 2014

With Big Bucks Out To Hijack Truth and Broadcasting Integrity- The Daily Show and Bill Moyers Set Models for WNYC Radio

October 29, 2014, Jon Stewart takes on the Koch's when they advertise on his show.
This October when the Koch Brothers ponied up $$$$ to muscle in on the Daily Show (broadcast on a commercial network- Comedy Central) to gain influence through paid-for advertising spots, Jon Stewart pushed back scathingly with a brilliant “adjusted” version of the Koch's own commercial, torpedoing the Koch ad by sinking it in proper context, i.e. the pertinent facts of what the Koch’s are actually up to.  (See: Democalypse 2014 - South by South Mess: Ad of Brothers, October 29, 2014.)


A Model for Public Broadcasters, Maybe WNYC Public Radio?

That raises the question of what happens when similarly objectionable sponsors hope their money plus messages will hijack the public’s reliance on the integrity that people expect from public broadcasting, integrity we expect partly because so many of us ante up our own contributions so that such broadcasting will be paid for largely by our own listener dollars.. . .   The fracking industry has been paying public radio to run its pro-fracking “think about it”campaign. David H. Koch, a heavy funder of climate science denial, sponsors, with mysterious intention ,“Nova,” a premier PBS science program. And David Koch has been put on public broadcasting boards!  Where is Stewart’s spirited, contextual, integrity-regaining push-back against such sponsorships on these non-commercial public networks?

Similarly, what does public radio station WNYC do when $$$$$ is flashed by an objectionable and powerful entity intent on selling fictions about itself?  Do they perhaps put that entity’s Chief Operating Officer on its policy-setting board and send out a press release that spiffs up that CEO’s reputation, if that, in fact, is the very least they do?  (Would that be a poor attempt to follow in the steps of the Daily Show to evoke laughter?). . .

. . .  At least $$$$$$ is the presumed reason that people believe that MaryAnne Gillmartin, the CEO of our local real-estate-subsidy-pursuer Forest City Ratner, was recently appointed as a WNYC trustee, because people can see no other explicable reason for her appointment other than $$$$$ and see lots a reasons why she should definitely not have been appointed to such a position.   See: Sunday, November 16, 2014, Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?- WNYC's Press Release on Appointing Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin to Its Board of Trustees and  Tuesday, November 18, 2014, Was Forest City's Gilmartin appointed to WNYC board because of "passion for public radio" or fundraising help?

The Message to Send Back

How does one push back effectively?

For the Daily Show the vehicle was humorous satire, but the “adjusted” Koch brothers commercial the Daily Show crew created provides a model for what to do when someone comes knocking at your door seeking to buy what will be perceived as true.  Such a response doesn’t necessarily have to be couched in satire. . . . And the essence of the Daily Show’s tactical response applies quite well to the ways that Forest City Ratner can be outed when it lies about itself.

The `adjusted’ Koch brothers commercial, with some helping emphasis from Stewart’s bantering introduction to it, let us know:
    •    Who the Kochs are really are behind this offered veil, a not so friendly giant that’s far too eagerly controlling far too many aspects of our environment.
    •    That their commercial is the facile purchase of a cheerily false veneer of happiness, a virtual “smile factory” to generate a “how bad could they be message.
    •    That, in a shadowy way, they deploy a spider web of dark money that buys our elections and politicians.
    •    That the ad is far more important for what it leaves out than for what it includes.
    •    The ad has a 180 degree from the truth message: We are making your (the listeners’) lives better, instead of, in actuality, destroying much of the essential environment and natural ecosystem around you.
    •    There is a scary ubiquity, omnipresence, inescapable dominance on the part of the sponsor, relegating or exiling the rest of us to potential non-entity status.
    •    That even our thoughts and basic understanding of the truth is at risk as these entities work to indoctrinate all, even our innocent children, to believe their manufactured falsehoods and seek to commandeer and rewrite our sources of knowledge.
    •    That, in their view, everything, every aspect of us, is up for their monetizing grabs.
    •    That they are unfair to the average worker they employ, offering low wage jobs.
    •    That they are: “The next generation of robber barons bending the democratic process to our will.”
(While the description above is generated from viewing the Daily Show segment about the Kochs, the hyperlinks are all set up to document the similarities to the Forest City Ratner organization.)

Another Choice Video, Another Model for WNYC

(Above: Democalypse 2014 - South by South Mess: Ad of Brothers, October 29, 2014, click through to Daily Show for best viewing).

If you haven't already watched this four-minute Daily Show segment I highly recommend that you do and I don't think that my analytic summary above will subtract from your chortles or appreciation of what an exquisitely structured piece it is.  . . .

I have another choice segment of exquisitely constructed video, 22 minutes, that I am going to urge you to watch that I will discuss here as a second model for where WNYC should want to head in dealing with Forest City Ratner and the New York City real estate industry in general.  This one is from another broadcaster, Bill Moyers.  I specifically cited it as such an example in an email I sent to WNYC president Laura Walker in follow-up to talking with her after the last WNYC trustees meeting.

(Above: Full Show: The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy, November 28, 2014- transcript available at this link- click through to Moyers & Company for optimal viewing.)
First let me set the scene a bit.

WNYC Community Advisory Board Meetings
November 18, 2014 WNYC Community Advisory Board meeting.  Attendance of New Tech City's  Manoush Zomorodi (facing, far right) was featured.
Some of us who considered absurdity together with danger to be inherent in Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to WNYC’s policy-setting board went to the last two WNYC Community Advisory Board meetings (October 20, 2014 and November 18, 2014) to comment and object.  By the second of these two meetings the advisory board was beginning to weigh and think about our objections.  Unfortunately, the advisory board is no more than advisory; it doesn’t run things and can only relay to the board of trustees that does run things the feedback gotten from the public.  Unfortunately, the Community Advisory Board’s reports to the WNYC trustees board are only annual.   The next report including these objections won't go to the trustees until October of 2015!
At the October 20, 2014 Community Advisory Board meeting there was a presentation about sister station WQXR's aspirations/ambitions
December 3, 2014 WNYC Trustees Meeting
December 3, 2014 WNYC Trustees Meeting
No matter, some of us then went to the December 3, 2014 WNYC trustees meeting, the first trustees meeting held since Ms. Gilmartin was placed on the board. Ms. Gilmartin sat in a seeming position of honor right next to Laura R. Walker, board member, President & CEO of WNYC who conducted most of the meeting.  Ms. Gilmartin sat somewhat sullenly without speaking, probably aware that objections had been raised about her appointment.  When I spoke with President Walker afterwards she said that, because seating at the meeting was not assigned, nothing should be inferred from who was sitting where, but she refused to say who sat next to whom first respecting Ms. Gilmartin and herself.
Second and third from left, Walker and Gilmartin seated next to each other
While the WNYC board apparently hadn’t heard from the Community Advisory Board, a number of the members, Ms. Walker included, were expecting us and knew why we were there.  Even so, apparently not all the members were similarly aware and the Noticing New York’s article about Ms. Walker’s appointment had not been distributed to all the trustees.

An opportunity for public comment was not part of the meeting, but Ms. Walker noted that the public could approach and speak with the trustees who lingered after the meeting's executive session (during which the public had to exit the room).  Returning afterwards is when I spoke with Ms. Walker and an assisting staff member.

I was told that Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment had been in the works for more than a year.  Although I pressed for an answer, Ms. Walker would not say whether anyone had raised the obvious likely objections to Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment other than to let me understand that there had been discussions about Ms. Gilmartin's qualifications.  I asked, and Ms. Walker said that she had known Ms. Gilmartin for a number of years.

At the meeting, and outside of it afterwards, there was discussion about a gala (including what to wear) and, outside the board meeting room, there was also some discussion about how there was a lot of money in the borough of Queens, as in Flushing, that was not and ought to be represented on the NYC board.  As we were there to say that representation of actual people and listeners ought to be represented in the composition of WNYC’s board, not Forest City Ratner’s money, I was sensitive to the phraseology that there was “money” in New York City that needed to be represented on the board.

This dispersal of board members after the meeting was rapid.  I did not get to have much in the way of conversation with very many, but one of the board members who said he was aware of the controversy about the Gilmartin appointment said that he did not have any problem with it because he thought that Ms. Gilmartin and her interests should be represented on the board as part of representing the interests of “all New Yorkers.”

My Noticing New York point of view is that WNYC and public broadcasting is intended to be an alternative to the relentless expression of commercial speech and is not supposed to be setting up a he-said/she-said balance on its board between all of the city’s commercial interests and those of the public.  There is also concern that with any such `balance' it will shift inexorably in the direction of the commercial interests represented.

Kurt Andersen Interview of  Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl

Left Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.  Right Studio 360's Kurt Andersen
As if to emphasize the intersection of NYC's coverage of news and culture in New York with governance and politics, a centerpiece of the publicly held  portion of the trustees meeting was a half hour interview of NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.  He was interviewed by Kurt Andersen, known for his "Studio 360" program broadcast in prime slots in the station's line up.  Andersen quipped that without the editing and typical winnowing of a typical "Studio 360" interview (talking for an hour but getting the best ten minutes) he and Mr. Finkelpearl were not going to sound nearly as good as what usually goes out on the air.  It was, indeed, odd to hear Mr. Andersen's familiar voice associated with a face I might not have guessed went with it.  Present in the room with him, he didn't sound quite so perky.  If you'd like to listen to Mr. Andersen, "Studio 360" did an absolutely brilliant, recently rebroadcast, 2013 hour about the Disney Company parks that included discussion of urban planning issues, but not in ways that would relate those issues obviously to NYC.
Agenda for Trustees meeting
Commissioner Finkelpearl, a pleasant, erudite fellow may be familiar to our readers as he has gone to bat several times to speak on behalf of "Spaceworks."  Noticing New York views the Spaceworks very differently since the private Spaceworks firm, formed at the end of the Bloomberg administration (and not covered by WNYC yet) albeit "nonprofit," seems to have a decided real estate bent and has declared as one of its primary missions the acquisition and shrinkage of New York City Library space as "underutilized."

The Finkelpearl/Andersen interview discussing how culture and economics interrelate generally got around to discussing real estate, specifically Hudson Yards, which, as it is a thematic sister to Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards, should have been reason for Ms. Gilmartin's ears to perk up.  Conversely, might Mr. Finkelpearl's perception of Ms. Gilmartin have gotten an adjustment from sitting across from her that morning?  Hudson Yards is fewer acres and in many ways not as bad as Atlantic Yards, but similar vintage, both being mega, single developer projects sired under Bloomberg.

The discussion of Hudson Yards came up in the context of the millions of dollars the city is spending in terms of "partnerships" with cultural institutions and how culture, in the likely form of a governmentally assisted institution ($75 million), could be integral to moving the huge, single-developer Hudson Yards project along.

Back to David Koch

Concluding the Finkelpearl session, trustees were able to put their own questions to the Commissioner and the first as about whether Mayor de Blasio cares sufficiently about the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Mr. Finkelpearl said this was not true, recounting that the department was actively involved with the Met and that he police commissioner had gotten involved with the issue of food cart vendors outside of the Met.  The issue has been exacerbated by the opening of the new (publicly protested) David H. Koch plaza outside the Met and is one that David Koch, living nearby, is speculated to be one he takes a personal interest in. Koch thought the old fountains outside the Met were "crummy" and  says of the replacement scheme "I suggested the whole project," reportedly getting into the "micro-details" of it.  We heard Mr. Finkelpearl explain that the Met gets $24 million a year from Cultural Affairs plus often getting "large capital investments."  City schools get $22 million yearly from the department.

Mention here of David Koch provides an opportune segue to discuss the Bill Moyers segment I recommend and the email I sent about it to Ms. Walker.

The Koch brothers represent the essential epitome of the fossil fuel industry and its outsized power.  In my email communication to Laura Walker about omissions that weaken WNYC’s coverage I cited, by example (you see how I detailed this in the actual email I sent below), the new episode of Moyers & Company that addressed itself to the outsized power of the real estate industry in New York City.  One point made during the Moyers show was the equivalency of the real estate industry  vis-à-vis New York City to the overbearing influence of the oil and fossil fuel industry nationally.

Putting Ms. Walker on the Spot
Compensation information for WNYC president Laura Walker from station's 2012 990 IRS filing
You may perhaps observe that my questions in my email below put Ms. Walker very firmly on the spot.  Before feeling too sorry for her consider that she is paid big bucks for these decisions and presumably to take the heat for it.  WNYC’s most recent IRS 990 forms on file with the Guidestar service (signed 05/14/2014) show that Ms. Walker’s reportable compensation for 2012 was $559,838 in addition to which she received from WNYC that year another $98,178 in the category of deferred compensation and non taxable benefits, for a total compensation package back in 2012 of $658,016 for her estimated 35.5 hours of work per week.  (Her salary, $486,688 in June 2007, was last noticed by Gawker in 2009, so it’s been going up a bit.)

In point of reference, talk show host mainstays Leonard Lopate and Brian Lehrer were paid for that reported year, $236,211 and $287,084, respectively (plus, respectively, $25,219 and $31,900 in the category of deferred compensation and non-taxable benefits).

My Followup Email to Ms. Walker
From Noticing New York's December 24, 2013 coverage (like Moyers) of the plutocratic towers casting shadows on Central Park- Slide promoting Skyscraper Museum Show-"View of Central Park from One57"
Here is my email to Ms. Walker:
Dear Ms. Walker,

When we talked after the WNYC board meeting yesterday you said that if there were ways I thought that WNYC could be doing a better job covering and addressing issues that I believe need to be addressed in this city I should let you know and that you would relay my thoughts to the WNYC editorial board assuring me that, notwithstanding the recent appointment of Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin as a trustee to WNYC's policy-setting board, that the listeners of WNYC will get the coverage of important issues that is deserved.

In that regard, I call to your attention a new episode of Moyers & Company: The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy, Aired: 11/28/2014.

Although Moyers & Company is an independently produced nationally syndicated program that deals with issues of national importance I think you will observe that the entirety of this particular 22-minute program focuses on a series of connected concerns that are all local New York City issues, the kind that it would be the natural province of WNYC, our city public radio station, to cover.

This Moyers & Company episode, in a connecting-the-dots fashion showing the interrelationships, zeros in and seamlessly addressees all of the following issues:
    •    Increasing wealth inequality in NYC with the ascension of a privileged elite buying power to create an increasingly unlevel playing field that's being taken advantage of to create more power and wealth inequality.  (i.e. the  "dark shadow of plutocracy")
    •    The invasion of a significant public commons with its sacrifice to privileged private interests.  In this case that public commons is specifically, but also somewhat symbolically, the example of Central Park.  It is important to remember that WNYC similarly represents a significant public commons.
    •    Reminders of how our collectively shared commons represent the experience of democracy and its effective functioning.
    •    An elucidating equation of the power of the real estate industry in NYC with the all too influential national oil industry centered in Texas.
    •    How this disequilibrium translates into bad urban design and degraded living conditions for the average New Yorker with developer greed driving that detriment.
    •    An analysis of how the "Swiss bank account money" fueling these subtractions from the public good (per New York Magazine's "Stash Pad" cover story) likely doesn't pull its weight in contributing to the local economy, notwithstanding former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's defense of the super-rich and his political urging that the NYC economy be channeled in this direction.
    •    That, because of political machinations and dodgy deals in Albany linked to questionable campaign contributions, democracy and the public interest is being sold out in these regards, which means that these wealthy luxury apartment owners who very frequently don't pay local income taxes also very dramatically escape a proper shouldering of their fair share of real estate taxes.
    •    How the Moreland Commission, set up to investigate abuse and corruption in Albany politics, was focusing on these exact city real estate industry issues when it was dismantled by Governor Andrew Cuomo as it got too close to his own conduct in regard to these particulars.
    •    How the imbalances in the way we are managing our public resources is resulting in a less diverse, increasingly exclusive city with the needs of significant sectors of the population being insufficiently or completely unsupported.
    •    Some thought about what makes for effective public protest and countering political actions in the face of these things.
I doubt that you would disagree that all of these concerns plus the way that they are interconnected are of vital interest to New York City's populace and WNYC's listeners.  I therefore invite you to submit this Moyers episode to your editorial board and ask them when WNYC has covered these issues and their interrelation with similar comprehension and vigor.  I also ask you and the editorial board to identify when WNYC has subjected the Forest City Ratner organization and its activities that very much affect the city to the same kind of careful scrutiny.

I recognize that pieces of much of the above have been covered in fits and starts from time to time by various WNYC programs.

Brian Lehrer, for example, has (almost unavoidably) independently covered such topics as "stash pads" and the luxury towers casting shadows into Central Park, and has also had some excellent discussion about Governor Andrew Cuomo's dissolution of the Moreland Commission. Still, given that WNYC intends to be a station that prides itself on long-format, in-depth and analytical, in-context reporting, where is the kind of in depth reporting from WNYC that, like the Moyers story, pulls these things together, interrelating them for the kind of comprehensive overview that begs to be made?

I've covered much of what the Moyers episode addresses in Noticing New York, routinely making most of the same connections, and I do so because it has been my priority to deal with what I believe is most critically in need of being addressed in terms of New York City development, governance and politics.  That NNY coverage has been possible despite the fact that financially Noticing New York is essentially a shoestring, zero-budget operation.  So it doesn't take money.

Yesterday I repeated to you the suggestion made by one of the public attendees at the last WNYC Community Advisory Board meeting, that if comes to a question money (one of the CAB members suggested money was at the root of certain practices in question) that WNYC should simply consider "doing less with greater integrity."
A side note before concluding:  I realize that in holding out to you the Moyers work as an example, I may be undermining arguments I have recently been making because: 1.) It involves commendable actions recently taken by the Municipal Art Society although I have criticized MAS to the extent to which they, with board changes of their own, have abdicated- or reversed- much of the core mission MAS once pursued, and 2.) the broadcast came to New Yorkers via WNET Public television which I have criticized for not covering the the real estate industry issues that beset the city.  Quite true, but: A.) MAS could hardly ignore the magnitude of the issue (even if it is interesting that after the 1980s TimeWarner building construction battle precursing this more recent tower shadows issue was not completely won, MAS appointed that questionable building's architect as its board chair), and B.) As a nationally syndicated program the Moyers show bypassed the local editorial board, and was not a product of it.
I am thankful for WNYC's coverage of such local development issues and associated politics whenever it is clearly good, which it can be, but I am taking you up on your offer to communicate what needs and ought to be better, gaps that need to be filled.   Please let me know and direct my attention accordingly, if I have overlooked WNYC coverage that would match up to the story that Moyers & Company just produced.  Likewise, do let me know if you think that there has been rigorous coverage of Forest City Ratner that is comparable.  If that's not the case, I'd be delighted to hear that you are communicating to the WNYC editorial board that there are standards toward which they yet need to strive with the expectation of beneficial results to follow.

Thank you for your attention.
Above and below from the Moyers report

 "Masculine" vs. "Feminine" News, What's Most Important To Cover

Years ago, I heard on public radio (I was traveling and I am not sure it was WNYC and cannot retrieve more facts) a fascinating speech by a prominent national female news anchor of the time.  I am guessing that the speaker might have been Diane Sawyer and that this was in the 1990s.  She spoke about what is perceived as  “male” or “masculine” news, which was considered “hard” news and more important than what was considered “female” or “feminine” news.  Political news was generally viewed as falling into the “masculine” news category that also frequently preoccupied itself with headlines about crises that might be covered with relatively short spans of attention from the media.  Conversely, “female” or “soft” news, often dismissively viewed, tended to focus on the very intricate texture and meaning of our daily lives, often in ways that might help foreshadow or help us comprehend and prevent crises.

I remember coming away from hearing the speech with a very deep respect for the importance of this deeper, more contextual, background kind of news often viewed as “feminine” and inferior.

Fluffy News to Put You to Sleep?

That being said, I am beginning to wonder whether there has been a programming shift at WNYC to the less substantial, less meaningful, the kind of stuff that life-style commercial networks already cover with more than sufficient adequacy.  I asked Ms. Walker what she thought the purpose was of including Ms. Gilmartin in a July 15, 2014 Brian Lehrer segment about how to get a better nights sleep.  At the time that of that broadcast Ms. Walker and her board were obviously, based on what she said, considering honoring Ms. Gilmartin with an appointment to the WNYC board.  Ms. Walker did not really have an adequate answer, except to say that Ms. Gilmartin was just there as another female executive although I pointed out that her appearance in that segment alongside Arianna Huffington, head of the Huffington Post and AOL was obviously burnishing for Gilmartin’s reputation.

Background IS Indeed Important News

I actually view politics as being deeply imbued in the fabric, texture and background of our lives, what might be considered the feminine, often dismissed side of the news cycle.  Ergo, Ms. Gilmartin’s appearance in the context of that segment has political meaning.  Similarly, the background urban environment in which we live and the meaning it gives our lives is important, part of what we pay attention to and the decisions we must make when we govern ourselves.  For instance: Aren’t landmarks an important part of the way we feel and emotionally connect to the city in which we live?  It appeared the real estate industry had inveigled the de Blasio administration to do a massive, wholesale “de-calendering” of all of the landmarks now before the city Landmarks Commission to preserve, a total of about 100, jettisoning years of work by preservationists. . . New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman posted to Facebook that it was “a sop to the real estate industry and the opposite of transparent, especially without a public hearing.”  

Indeed, done en masse under the vague “housekeeping” rubric, attested to an intention to hide exactly who was intended to be benefitted by whatever the juiciest handouts were in the group, but it was a safe bet that there were at least several really juicy ones, one of them perhaps the intention to build yet one more in the parade of supper tall towers south of the park at the site of the 57th and 5th Avenue’s Bergdorf Goodman!

. . . The Brian Lehrer show didn’t get around to covering the potential disaster but, thankfully, the plan was set aside after massive opposition anyway.  The Leonard Lopate show got around to it after the fact, almost too late.

Moyers Watching Stewart
Moyers commenting favorably on Stewart's treatment of his Koch sponsors
Will Jon Stewart’s bite the hand that sponsors you by assembling appropriate truth-telling adjustments catch on with public media?  Stewart’s push-back apparently did catch the eye of one public broadcasting veteran, none other than Bill Moyers himself.  Days after the Daily Show segment aired, the website put up a post with a link back to the Daily Show observing how Stewart had meted out his  honest helping of justice for the Kochs’ “series of treacly, feel-good commercials touting all the wonderful things the company does to make our lives better.”
The Goldman Sachs commercial that pops up links to more video promotion for Goldman, including its involvement with huge real estate projects in New York City.
There’s work for Moyers to do in this regard because the efforts of $$$$$ to encroach are everywhere. . .  It’s ironic, but when I clicked to watch “The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy” what I got first before it started to play was a “treacly, feel-good commercial” for Goldman Sachs and company “touting all the wonderful things the company does to make our lives better.”   As written about previously here in Noticing New York, Goldman, including a subsidy-abusive real estate manipulation to build its own NYC office tower, was squarely targeted by Moyers in at least one previous Moyers broadcast.

Does this go in the “you just can’t win” category?  I’d like to think that Moyers has dished out far better than he has been subjected to, that his integrity is as mightily intact as it appears to be, and that at this point he is miles ahead of those who spend to piggy-back on his message, hoping to neuter the truth he offers. . .  That he, like Jon Stewart, may still be thought of as setting a good example for WNYC.
PS:  Something for Noticing New York to do next?:  Look more carefully at the composition of the rest of the WNYC board to consider whether we can expect there to be adequate checks and balances to the kind of influences that come with appointments like Ms. Gilmartin's.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

BPL’s Bklyn BookMatch- A Match For The Human Race’s Book Future?: Electronic Books and Robot Librarians?

Brooklyn Public Library president Linda E. Johnson envisions staff reductions if her idea of a “new” state-of-the-art Brooklyn Library is ever built, not surprising since the “new” library she wants to “replace” the exiting one would be a mere fraction of the current library’s size.  Such staff reductions would follow on the heels of staff reductions at the BPL and a switching away from professional library staff that has been going on for a long time now. Librarians who once ran libraries have been replaced with “site managers” which sounds more like a real estate term. The BPL has also shifted away, in general, from hiring professional trained librarians, replacing them with lower-level clerks.

Ms. Johnson said that she did not know exactly how many fewer librarians would work at a smaller Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn, that “the numbers have yet to be determined," but that her hope is that when built the "new building will be a model of efficiency" with a reduced staff that would not have to compensate for the drawbacks of dealing with a library that was of an "improperly" large size.

But does Ms. Johnson (problematically not a librarian herself) even know what a librarian should be, what functions they perform by being on site?  At the BPL’s September 16, 2014 trustees meeting, Ms. Johnson and her staff proudly unveiled a way to replace on-site reference librarians with an electronic service substitute, a sort of virtual reference librarian system that can respond to a patron's inquiry, and by virtue of calculating "appeal factors" (BPL’s terminology to describe the service) will tell e-mailers what books they want to read with a week's turnaround time.

Here is a quote from the presentation given the trustees:
You don't usually get this chance to have such a conversation with someone at the reference library desk.
Of course, as you are not face to face with a live person this won't be exactly such a chance either, but it goes along with how we shrink libraries for real estate deals.  The  BPL says it's recommended that the responding e-librarians try to make these responses "as personable as possible."

How will this work?  You might stroll into your local library to begin this computerized interaction to help find and discover what books you want to read.  Linda Johnson’s vision of any library into which you might stroll is a place from which physical books will soon almost entirely disappear. Books take up space and, when they disappear, libraries can be made much smaller, facilitating selling off their real estate, like with the Brooklyn Heights Library, the Donnell Library or the NYPL’s Central Library Plan (derailed at the moment).

If you stroll into a bookless library for your computerized interaction you won’t have the other ways of selecting books available to you.  You won’t be able to browse the shelves or discover that a book you really want but didn’t know about is adjacent to the book you thought you wanted to find (“it’s never the book you want, it’s the book beside the book.”). You won’t find the book you didn’t yet know you wanted because it luckily attracted your attention by being  unusually and promisingly fat sitting on the shelf, because it was unusually thin, because it was lovingly worn out, and unusually old.  You won't find it because it was in sparkling just-arrived condition, or because it caught your eye on the reshelving cart or as a librarian reshelved it because somebody else hot on the trail of the same kinds of things you might be looking for might just have used it.  You won’t start up a conversation because you have bumped into someone else with your interests wandering in the same section.  There will be none of this kind of `serendipity’ (if that’s what one should call it). And it's unlikely you’ll take home a book home from that bookless library that same day.

You might not choose to go into the library at all for your computerized interaction, the benefit of ever visiting that physical library perhaps being minimal, unless you are one of the 27% of New Yorkers that the NYPL estimates are currently on the other side of the digital divide and are without broadband internet access.  If you don't have your own internet access you may still be impelled to visit a physical library.

But where does this vaporous e-relationship go from here (even as we might have to struggle to describe what “here” is):
    •    Maybe, the beginning is that the e-responding “reference librarian” is in some (central?) Brooklyn location from which all such inquiries from Brooklynites get answered.
    •    The three New York City library systems, the BPL covering Brooklyn, the Queens Library covering Queens, and the NYPL covering Manhattan the Bronx and Staten Island too, have been in talks to coordinate and consolidate operations.  Would this electronic service not seem a service high on the list for such consolidation of operations?  Where will the e-responses be generated from then?
    •    At the BPL trustees meeting it was noted that the BPL was only one such library in the country launching such a system now, that other library systems are doing similar things.  Maybe then, very soon, all these systems can consolidate.  Then the e-responses to Brooklynites can come from someplace in the Mid-West where the cost of living is cheaper and salaries lower.
     •    But we have seen such out-sourcing in the past and what has ultimately happened often is that the work has been outsourced to foreign countries like India where, while many people still speak and read English, the salaries are still even markedly lower.
     •    But, would our libraries still want to continue to run these contracted-out services themselves at all?  The New York City’s library system administrators are clearly bowing to the influence of money and money-influenced politics and elected officials when they plan to sell public libraries to benefit private real estate developers.  Isn't it likely that library system administrators of such a mind set would be convinced to simply contract out these services to the private sector?  Doesn’t Amazon have an an algorithmic advice infrastructure already set up to assist people in deciding what they want to read?  Wouldn’t Amazon be the perfect candidate to take over the whole system?  If that happened, the Washington Post, now owned by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who acquired that newspaper at a premium, could then write in the paper's style section a clever and cheeky little article about how state-of-the art and efficient this new Amazon service was.  Truly, mightn't Amazon know best that “Customers Who Read This Item Also Read. . . .”
     •      New York library administrators continue to push to overcome public resistance as they seek to shift patrons away from physical books and over to the electronic books.  Amazon can supply those books and that way Amazon can keep track of each page you read on your Kindle and how long you spend reading it and. . . . that way Amazon can make very good recommendations.
   •    Will it be actual professional reference librarians who provide these services in the future?   . . . Or will there be shortcuts?  Maybe even the obvious ultimate shortcut: Perhaps, after the system has made do for a time with workers in India (that did or, like Ms. Johnson, didn’t spend time in school to claim library degrees), the system will progress to what could be the inevitable next step. . .  the e-responders need not be human beings at all!  With a few of those Amazon-copyrighted algorithms mashed up with some Artificial Intelligence programs there could be a set-up that works beautifully with the “bots” that these days roam our virtual universe without our being able to tell the difference.
Is there anything wrong with all this?  Can’t we simply hail it as the marvel of efficiency that it probably and most certainly is?

The book collections of New York’s libraries used to be curated by librarians assigned to the different area libraries who got to know their communities and would attend book-fair events to assess, based on their familiarity with their patrons, what books should be added to that particular library’s collection.  More recently, decisions about what books will be made available in local libraries around the city are being made more `efficiently’ from a central administrative location. It's done based on call slip data that can be aggregated and then the frequency with which a book is borrowed stands in for its value.

When City Council member Ben Kallos met with Citizens Defending Libraries (as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries I was part of that meeting) he identified a pitfall with this approach: At one point he had been involved in efforts to substantially augment the supply of Japanese language books in the Roosevelt Island Library.  The library administration officials soon wanted to get rid of the books again. . .  Because there were no call slips showing that the community was borrowing the books.  The books were, in fact, being used, Kallos explained, but due to cultural difference they were being used by patrons visiting the library and reshelving the books after reading them, not thinking in terms of taking them out of the library.  The library was regarded as the place to do one’s reading of library books.

In what is now known as the slow food movement we speak increasingly and ever more universally of the importance of food being grown locally and as having a “terroir,” a term once more often used narrowly to describe how the taste of wine reflected the special characteristics infused by where the grapes used to make a wine were grown.  Is it possible that when it comes to the brain food of books and libraries that this concept applies as well? Could it apply to an even greater degree?   Or is the importance of `locality' reserved for other things?  As far as I know, location, location, location is still the motto of the real estate industry 

Let me drum up some gloom.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the first day of a two-day conference held at Cooper Union on the dystopian aspects and perfidious promises of technology (Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth).  The conference organizers managed to put together an impressive 24 hours worth of speakers (Bill McKibben and Ralph Nader were featured Saturday night) on subjects that were individually highly fascinating, but in the aggregate bleakly depressing, especially given the warnings being dispensed about everything from Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism strategies, to synthetic biology, to the Genetic Redesign of Human Beings. . 

.  Some of the themes and insights discussed were how techo-fixes are destined to disappoint and lead ever onward to the need for more techo-fixes (Michael Huesemann), and how illusory technicalprogress” has substituted as a distraction for what once was the goal of social progress (John M. Greer).

Many of the speakers came back to certain common refrains like how technology can lead to massive and rapid societal dislocations (corporate land grabs in Africa and third world countries- Anuradha Mittal- or replacing dairy farmers with factories that produce synthetic milk from vats of genetically altered yogurt- Jim Thomas) and how those in control and already at the pinnacles of power regularly forerun the game, steering the promise of technology (or often just masquerades of its promise- GMO’s that don’t really produce more food or are not close to being off the drawing board, “yellow rice” that does not actually supply vitamins better than alternatives) to seize and redistribute even more power and wealth to themselves.*  These two things, dislocations and increased imbalances of wealth and power, are often related.
(*  It is interesting to note that, according to one speaker at the conference, Clive Hamilton, the same companies that spend to heavily sponsor climate science denial are also investing in and promoting “geoengineering” schemes to artificially cool down a warmed-up planet like pumping sulfur into the upper atmosphere. . . Talk about the your techno-fixes coming with awful downsides and unforeseeable ramifications!-  You mean it's not just satire?)
The comparative superiority and reliability of the natural and organically evolved existing order of things was also frequently mentioned, together with observations of how technicians tend to ignore such superiorities with anthropocentric hubris.  Efforts to de-extinct the Passenger Pigeon, likely to be futile, are phenomenally expensive and resource-absorbing compared to preserving existing threatened species (David Ehrenfeld) . . .  Aquanautic swarming robots designed to chop up jellyfish that clog and shut down nuclear power plants around the world (Eileen Crist) are a side-show compared to the global warming and overfishing that cause these exploding populations that some fear may soon take over the oceans entirely.

As we ascend into the techosphere of an ethereal ethernet existence does the concept of place, physical existence and physical interactions fall by the wayside, no longer important?  That’s a hard question.

Last month I attended WNYC/WQXR’s Community Advisory Board meeting and Graham Parker, General Manager and Vice President of WQXR, spoke about his goal for WQXR, the New York classical music radio station, to succeed as a worldwide radio station:.  He referred to “grand ambitions” to be “the Number One brand in classical music” with many listeners already in Ireland, Japan, Korea and China.  He cited a recent 19% growth in international listeners, and a 34% growth in national users.  This is an example of “placelessness,” of, as Mr. Parker put it, succeeding “way beyond our terrestrial borders.” At the same time Mr. Parker expressed optimism about fulfilling that ambition because, based in New York (an example of “placeness”), WQXR was well-situated to do so:   "New York is the best place to launch yourself from, into a national or international market.  We’ve got the best of everything in this city, and we’ve got the access to it."
For better or worse, another aspect of this is that WQXR views itself as competing with every other classical music station in the world.  That competition may make for better quality and increase the variety of high-quality offerings that listeners who are able to roam an entire globe of offerings can choose from, but, conversely, it also can ultimately diminish who, on the other side of this equation, gets to participate in accessing the global audiences.  A classical listener listening to another classical music station is not listening to WQXR and, vice versa, a listener to WQXR elsewhere on some far away spot of the globe is not listening to their local station.

It is akin to the situation with what have been termed "Massive Open Online Courses" or "MOOCs"  These can be viewed as a tool for democratizing higher education, making the instruction of excellent university professors available to multitudes world-wide at little or virtually no seeming cost to the immediate beneficiaries.  But in “Who Owns the Future?” author Jaron Lanier raises concerns.  There are “qualms about mono-culture” tied in with the fact that you are playing a high-stakes winner-take-all star system game.  He also wonders whether:
. . .on-line efforts of this sort could create siren servers, even nonprofit ones, which could end up undermining the finances and security of academics. . .

. . .  Students at colleges ranked lower than Stanford would tune in to Stanford seminars, and gradually wonder why they’re paying their local, lower-ranked academics at all.  If locals are to remain valuable once a globalized star system comes into being over the ‘net, it can only be because they are present and interactive.

But online experts can also be made virtually present and interactive. . .  Artificial intelligence can animate a simulated tutor. . .
Why should we keep on paying for colleges?  Why pay [to support] a privileged class of middle-class people? . .
* * * * 
This is a pattern we’ll see over and over again. . . You get an incredible bargain up front. . , but in the long term you also face reduced job prospects.  In this case. .  fewer academic jobs. .
. . .Get educated for free. . But don’t plan on a job as an educator.
He also observes: "digital networks have thus far been mostly applied to reduce [the] benefits of locality," the ability to be a "local star" knowing, and locally serving with particularity a local neighborhood.

Notwithstanding, I have a certain love of technology so I don't want to be overly negative.

And It would be unfair of me to present theories about where the future of electronically accessed off-site reference librarians might take us without first finding out the experience that this service presents now.  Accordingly, I decided to try it out.

The Bklyn BookMatch site presents a form with the questions (bolded below) to which I responded as set forth below:
Are you looking for any specific reading recommendations? If so, please explain below. Otherwise, please share the titles, authors and/or types of books you enjoy, and why: *

I have found extremely enlightening books about how we collectively create value in society, culturally, economically, technologically, and politically, largely through what we share and the ways we interact, how the multiplicity and variety of those interactions accelerate and contribute to advancement, essentially why "civilization" and "city" as words share the same route.

I seek out books for insight about the world that will, hopefully, improve my instincts (escaping or countering pulls in wrong directions) and equip me with tools for my own participation in that dynamic, hopefully responsibly and justly. Reiterating somewhat, I am attracted to ideas about the importance of the public realm, the public commons, the need to respect and protect it, and the rules humankind makes up, democracy included, in efforts to shape our shared society even as the world organically self-organizes itself.

Though civilization may represent what humankind complexly unites to create, I have found terrifically consonant edification in books reminding us that the natural realm is foundationally shared too, communally by all the planet's species, with convincing analysis that economics and ecology, functioning with similar overlapping principles, ultimately meld to erase dividing lines when it comes to establishing the interactive balances essential to thrive or survive.

Topics of particular interest: Communications industry, concepts of property and forms of ownership, money in politics and reforms to address it, organic development, and checks and balances on power, hubris and imbalanced dominions.

        Titles and authors I enjoy:

"The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires," by Tim Wu. I enjoy its brilliant illustration of how, without corrective intervention, the communications industries bend toward monopoly or monopsony with probably detrimental cultural, political and societal consequence.

"Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership," by Lewis Hyde. It convincingly makes the case for the societal advancement and organic benefits that derive from knowledge that's shared as part of a broad and extensive commons.

All of Jane Jacobs' books, including the most obscure, "The Question of Separatism: Quebec and the Struggle over Sovereignty." Jacobs is more famous for a single book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," but I especially like most of her more developed work: "The Economy of Cities," "Cities and the Wealth of Nations," "Systems of Survival" and "The Nature of Economies." I enjoy Jacobs' rigor and preference to learn from the closely observed rather than through the received prisms of the theories of experts.

As more elucidation about Jacobs, I enjoyed the book by Jacobs' protege, Roberta Brandes Gratz: "The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs."

"The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," by Robert A. Caro. Caro's perpetual preoccupation with the intricate working of power was first addressed to this era of urban change.

"Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (The History of New York City)," by Mike Wallace. I live in New York, so knowing about its history informs what I observe around me.

"The Federalist Papers," by assorted Founding Fathers, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton. How important the understanding and thinking about the need for checks and balances on human faults and frailty and what mechanisms will work.

"Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It," by Lawrence Lessig. A study of how money in politics delivers bad decisions and outcomes and how the problem of that money can be counteracted.

"Who Owns the Future?" By Jaron Lanier. This book fascinatingly grapples with the anomaly of how wealth in the technological era is created, in a broad-based way, via the contributions of all of us, and yet technology concentrates wealth in a few, economically squeezing the middle class to an ever greater degree economically and in humanistic terms.

Examples: Accelerating technological improvements mean "that more and more things can be done practically for free . . . When machines get incredible cheep to run, people seem correspondingly expensive." and "If observation of you yields data that makes it easier for a robot to seem [like you and replace you] then you ought to be owed money for [that]. This is such a simple starting point that I find it credible, and I hope to persuade you about that as well."

"The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution," by Francis Fukuyama. Looking at how we evolve better, stable governance.

"The Wealth of Nations," by Adam Smith. A seminal work on how capitalism works all on its own and, also, how it doesn't.

"The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City," by Richard Sennett. Sennett builds on Jane Jacobs' theme that humankind's attraction to ordering the world can be unhealthy and stifle growth.

I also like books that provide insight into real people exercising important influences today, often finding them of increased interest when they are older and overlooked, perhaps written for a different intended purpose. In that category I would put-

"Bloomberg by Bloomberg," by Michael R. Bloomberg with help from Matthew Winkler. The book, released as Bloomberg prepared to launch into politics, contains an intriguing admission that when giving money to "charities" Bloomberg always considered what he was getting back in exchange.

"More Than They Bargained For- The Rise and Fall of Korvettes," by Isadore Barmash. A postmortem of how the once-successful Korvettes' chain devolved into the failure of a sell off of its substantial well-located real estate assets. Important because one of the characters in the saga is Marshal Rose, current NYC real estate magnate and simultaneously a trustee of the NYPL that is now looking to sell-off and shrink libraries as real estate deals.

Are there any authors and/or types of books that you don't like? Why?

“Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York,” by Hilary Ballon.  This “reexamination of Moses” comes across as too conveniently aligned with a suspect agenda to justify a return to large scale top-down planning.*

(*  Submitting this particular response was difficult.  The answer to the question had to be limited in length and I kept getting back messages I had to shorten it to be under the "maximum 255 characters long" even when I was under that character.  When I got down to 196 characters the program accepted my answer.)
Here is the response I got from the electronically available reference librarian.  Portions of it, as you likely can tell, were cut and pasted from elsewhere (usually text available in multiple locations on the internet including publishers websites) and I have highlighted those sections hyper-linking back to such other locations where the text can be found. Only one book description could not be found on Amazon, the one about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor.  Amazon's description was, in this case, a somewhat customized version.  I did not, as predicted, have to wait a whole week to get my response back from email address: `'.  I sent in my request middle of the day Friday and the response came back to me at the end of the day the following Monday.
Greetings from Brooklyn Public Library

Dear Mr. White,

Thank you for using Bklyn BookMatch! Based on your interests, I’ve created a customized reading list for you. The books I've selected cover a wide range of topics and interests, much like your impeccable reading taste.  In the list below you will find titles focused on technology, economics, the natural world, and more.  Please feel free to respond with any feedback.  Enjoy!
Based on your interest in economics and politics:

1.  Capitalism: A Ghost Story by Arundhati Roy
Based on your interest in economics and technology:
2.  Too Big To Know by David Weinberger
Based on your interest in important people and their impact in today's world:
3.  My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

With startling candor and intimacy, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her life from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench, a progress that is testament to her extraordinary determination and the power of believing in oneself. She writes of her precarious childhood and the refuge she took with her passionately spirited paternal grandmother. She describes her resolve as a young girl to become a lawyer, and how she made this dream become reality: valedictorian of her high school class, summa cum laude at Princeton, Yale Law, prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.'s office, private practice, federal district judge before the age of forty. She writes about her deeply valued mentors, about her failed marriage, about her cherished family of friends. Through her still-astonished eyes, America's infinite possibilities are envisioned anew in this warm and honest book, destined to become a classic of self-discovery and self-invention, alongside Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father.
Based on your interest in economics and technology:
4.  Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig
Based on your interest in the natural world and its connection to man and humankind:
5.  The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates by Frans de Waal
In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution...Rich with cultural references and anecdotes of primate behavior, The Bonobo and the Atheist engagingly builds a unique argument grounded in evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Ever a pioneering thinker, de Waal delivers a heartening and inclusive new perspective on human nature and our struggle to find purpose in our lives.

I've also made a booklist for you in our online catalog:  You'll notice a few more titles not mentioned above - these are just a few more recommendations.  Once you sign in to your account, you can easily place holds on any or all of these books. 

Please don't hesitate to reply to this message letting us know what you think about my suggestions and this service. Happy reading!
My response?  It's below.  I had to be honest:
I love these recommendations.  Thank you.

Interestingly, Sonya Sotomayor was a board member at one of the government agencies where I once worked, and, at one point, I wrote an article in the form of an "open letter" to her about eminent domain abuse.

As for the bonobos, that is relevant to some of Francis Fukuyama's discussion.  I recall, we currently believe that chimps and bonobos are both more closely related to humans than they are to each other-  Hmm.  Figure that out.  (Link below.) Francis Fukuyama focused in on the behavior of chimps and might have gone in a somewhat different direction in his thoughts if he'd focused on bonobos.
This librarian sounds like a nice and interesting person.  Wouldn't you like to meet her in person?
The email I got back gave her name and specified her title as "Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library."  Here are some other things I learned about her.  Her email told me something that I had not gleaned from BPL president Linda Johnson's presentation to the BPL trustees: She was responding using an OCLC ("Online Computer Library Center, Inc.") email address, not a BPL email address.  On the web page that popped up for OCLC it says about OCLC: "The world's libraries connected. . . . OCLC members make a collective impact, worldwide."

Disappointed, I thought that maybe my friendly assigned reference librarian wasn't a New Yorker and didn't work for the BPL.  But on Facebook I learned hearteningly that she lives in New York City (likely even in Brooklyn!- Williamsburg to be exact), came from Chicago, Illinois after studying Library Science at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  From Twitter I learned she is a poet.  A real person living in my city doing real things!  She is even a trained librarian working as a librarian, but apparently she doesn't work on staff for the BPL.  She works at Teachers College, Columbia University.  Maybe my quick response from her was by reason of her weekend moonlighting.

In promoting a just announced (but, like many others, very long in the works) plan to to redevelop the Sunset Park Branch Library into a "Mixed Use Real Estate Opportunity" the BPL is having conversations directed at the local community promoting this proposed redevelopment by telling people, in part, that the the development can be viewed as a jobs program (30-35 construction jobs during an estimated two years of construction) because construction means jobs.  But, think, if the administration of libraries can be conceived as a jobs program as the BPL was making the case, why not consider that the jobs that librarians do are important jobs to keep and provide. . . worth publicly paying for even when that means setting aside worship of technical efficiencies?

During the Great Depression the WPA (the Works Progress Administration) hired artists and theatrical performers to ply their trade, essentially almost to be themselves.  Mightn't it, in this day's challenging economy, make sense for the government to hire and pay people just to be smart, well read, informed and, without an agenda, informatively out and about and intermingling with our local communities, particularly with the goal of being in service to others, those most intent on self-educating themselves?

Would it be important to insist that these people focus on being "efficient" in their interactions, doing as much as possible with as few bodies as possibe?  Did we/should we have demanded this of the WPA artists and performers?

`Efficiency' may not be all that it's cracked up to be.  The great urbanist thinker Jane Jacobs, a proponent of the benefits if diverse, differentiating and naturally evolving development in books like "The Nature of Economies" looked askance at the "supposed efficiency" of monopolies and, with Detriot being one of her examples, she denounced specialized efficiency at the expense of diversity, considering it a prelude to economic stagnation.  Economies that sacrifice ample diversity, like ecosystems that do so, are less adaptable, less stable, less resourceful, less able to improvise, less able to develop and evolve.  To Jacobs, an economy with few sorts of niches for people's different skills, however efficient, is one that suffers impoverishment.

The proposed redevelopment of the Sunset Park Library weeks ago is the first time such an announced redevelopment of a library by the BPL has involved a proposed increase of library space rather than another shrinkage since Citizens Defending Libraries has been on the scene shedding light on the BPL's real estate ambitions.  It would be flattering to think that the increase in size as part of the proposal is even a reaction to knowing that Citizens Defending Libraries is on the scene.

Ironically, the BPL is hinting that it may give the Sunset Park community what it wants, a library that might well wind up being larger than the small size down to which the BPL is concurrently proposing to shrink the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library.  The Sunset Park community wants a new library that is two stories above ground, and for that space to be more than the 17,000 square feet the BPL initially proposed.  The folks in Sunset Park say they miss the two-story, above-ground Carnegie library the neighborhood once had that was larger than the box that has replaced it there now.  The BPL is responding that it sees the sense of what the community is requesting and is looking to accede if it can secure some increased funds.  By contrast the BPL is planning that the Brooklyn Heights Library would consist of only 15,000 square feet of such above-ground space with 6,000 square of ancillary below-ground space.

While the Sunset Park library is proposed to have more space, the BPL has not fully updated its sales pitch and is using many of the same words to describe why its hurried priority must be redevelopment of the Sunset Park library to make it `work better.'  (The BPL currently now rents out space in the library to Workforce1 that it could easily reclaim to expand without redevelopment.)   If you know the code words, the same words and overlapping phrases may hint at the same kind of staff and librarian reductions for Sunset Park as the BPL envisions for Brooklyn Heights:  "probably the most important issue . . .  this current layout. .  is not adequate to the services that are needed in the community today. . .  we need more technology."  The BPL spokesperson also again referred cryptically to existing space that "is not usable."  That phrase, used quite frequently in PR promotions for shrinking libraries, seems to refer often to space used by librarians and for them to exist in.

Said BPLs spokesperson to the community (emphasis supplied):
This branch isn't laid out in an ideal fashion.  I don't want to. . .  [He then named two Librarians by name], they deserve lot's of space, but unfortunately, in this branch right now, there's probably more staff space than is ideal.  So if we can start from scratch we can get that mixture, that balance of staff space and public space.  We can probably get a little closer to where we should be.  Again, we have the opportunity to create a modern, technology rich and welcoming library.
Well now that I have my book recommendations from my email pen pal of a librarian I'll have to plan to get the books.  But since books, like librarians, are disappearing from the library and are not available at the library until ordered (like Amazon), I'll have to order them to come in to my library from where the BPL now keeps its much smaller collection that mysteriously `floats.'  The BPL administration says the `floating' books not at the libraries you visit can be available with “usually a week’s turnaround”  (that's a week after the previous week's expected turnaround with the email reference librarian).  The time might even be less, but reports are coming in that it often takes nine to eleven days to get ordered books.

I'll try to wait as efficiently as possible.