Cannibal Cop: It’s the Thought That Counts?

Guess who’s back in the news? The “cannibal cop.” Why should you care? Because his story shows how visiting an extreme website can change your life forever.

Fresh off its successful “The Jinx,” about alleged killer Robert Durst, HBO is poised to air “Thought Crimes,” a documentary about Gilberto Valle (“the cannibal cop”) on May 11 after premiering it at the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday.

What if someone accessed your computer and found perverted, kinky videos involving nuns? Sheep? Members of Congress? (OK, nobody’s that kinky). Should you be hauled away in handcuffs? You think our jails are crowded now?

“When you’re behind a computer screen late at night, no one knows who you are, where you are,” Valle says in the film. “I became part of this cybercommunity where people explore deviant thoughts. The anonymity makes you try and outdo the other person. Who can be the sicker one? Then you shut the computer off, and that’s it.”

But that wasn’t it for Valle. He took his obsession pretty far, arrested in 2012 after allegedly plotting online to kidnap, kill and eat women. After his wife discovered his fascination with fetish websites, she freaked out and called the authorities.

In 2013, Valle was convicted of conspiring to kidnap. The most damning evidence was his using a law enforcement database to collect information about possible victims. The conviction was overturned last year; prosecutors have appealed.

In “Thought Crimes,” Valle admits he is now “craving some companionship,” and even set up a Match.com profile (now taken down, according to New York magazine). His profile listed “cooking” as his favorite hobby, and his bucket list includes seeing Jerry Seinfeld do standup.

But as anyone who has visited a dating site knows, it’s often not what people say, but what they leave out. For example, ladies, how would this guy’s profile appeal to you? “Successful male, ambitious, animal lover, vegetarian, seeks blond goddess to help me conquer the world.”

Did you guess Adolph Hitler? If not, I’d stay off the dating sites for a while.

Meanwhile, Valle’s profile requested a “non-judgmental” woman who can “make the best of a situation that’s less than ideal.”

You think?

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Just Another Day in Our Crumbling NYC

As I wait at the mobbed Atlantic Avenue subway station after a Nets basketball game, the No. 3 train finally arrives and we all pile in. The train moves along, but after 15 minutes comes the terse announcement: “The next and last stop will be Wall Street.”

We swarm out and wait for the next train, which the electronic message board says will be there in eight minutes. It arrives and dumps its passengers as well. Last stop. OK, now the board says a No. 2 train will show up in 10 minutes.

Guess what?

Couldn’t that message board have informed us that trains were out of service uptown between Chambers Street and Times Square due to a major water main break that happened earlier that evening?

After we wait in vain for more than half an hour, two guys in MTA uniforms appear. One tells us that service uptown on the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 trains will be “running, but very slow.” The other says it is totally down and suggests we walk over to a Lexington line train. Hmm . . .

Other weary riders and I climb out of Wall Street station and into the damp darkness. As we trudge two blocks east to the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines, I trip over a badly cracked sidewalk and crash to the pavement. Another member of our ragged subway army helps me up. OK, no broken bones.

I take the No. 4 train to 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, wait for the crosstown bus, and arrive home more than two hours after the game ended, with a bruised arm and torn pants.

The city’s infrastructure has been crumbling for decades. The outdated subway signals, our ancient bridges and cracked streets cause agita for all of us. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined 60 other mayors nationwide Thursday to plead the case for more federal mass transit aid, saying the nation has been going backward in terms of investing in transportation infrastructure.

Hopefully, someday Congress will offer the help we need, before a disaster strikes.

But in the meantime, couldn’t the MTA have let us know about a water main break that happened hours earlier, and used its prized electronic message boards to clearly explain the situation to riders, instead of letting us roam downtown NYC in the dark?

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Are Unions Our Enemies or Our Protectors?

Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo right to demand changes in teacher evaluations, or is the union right in fighting him? Or both?

Cuomo pushed through a state budget deal that made it harder for teachers to automatically receive the highest possible rating under a new evaluation system, and charged state education officials with working out the details. Whatever you think of standardized tests, something is amiss with the current evaluation system. Only a tiny percentage of teachers are fired each year for incompetence. As many of our schools continue to struggle, 96% of teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” last year.

Unions exist to protect their members. It’s only when that mandate collides with the public interest that battle lines are drawn.

“The teacher evaluation system imposed by Governor Cuomo is a sham,” chided the NY State United Teachers. But Cuomo believes it’s the current system that’s “baloney.”

Do teachers, police and other public unions sometimes shield incompetent rank-and-file members? Absolutely. But students and civilians shouldn’t suffer because unions protect the unfit. This has led to a growing outcry against unions — now seen by many as another special interest group.

But while we hold unions accountable, we should not forget their value. Many people are unaware, as they take sick and vacation days, that unions were instrumental in getting those benefits. Eliminating sweat shops, establishing safety standards and a living wage? Ditto.

The rise in union membership after World War II was a huge factor in the growth of the middle class. It’s also no accident that its decline (from 20.1% of American workers in 1983 to 11.3% in 2013) has coincided with a surge in income disparity.

Bullying unions has become cheap sport for some politicians, perhaps reaching its lowest point when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker compared his fight to take away teachers unions’ power to bargain with how strong he’d battle Islamic terrorists if elected president.

Do the goals of unions sometimes clash with the best interests of the public? No doubt, and it’s up to elected officials to look out for the greater good. There’s also no doubt that weakening the labor movement weakens us all.

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Under the Concrete Slab? No Phony Coney!

OK, now spring is here. Coney Island officially opened Sunday, providing unexpected thrills when the Cyclone froze right before the big drop.

As opposed to Disney theme parks and other plastic playgrounds, Coney has always been the real deal: Luna Park, Nathan’s, the ocean, the boardwalk . . .

Did I say boardwalk? Not so fast. The city has been replacing the classic wooden boards that date to 1923 with some combination of concrete and recycled plastic. In late December, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a plea by community activists to designate the Coney Island boardwalk a historic site. It brushed off the request, with parks department officials insisting the new synthetic material is “sturdier and much cheaper.”

But those who treasure Coney Island kept trying, and last week the commission said it may review requests to keep the board in boardwalk instead of replacing it with a synthetic slab. “If significant new information is submitted, the commission will review it,” spokeswoman Damaris Olivo told the Daily News.

Significant new information? Maintaining the boardwalk’s real wood will never be a cheaper option — at least in the short run. But in the long run, the cost to Coney Island’s authenticity will be real, which may include a decrease in tourism. The boardwalk is a vital part of its charm. “Under the Boardwalk” is a classic song for a reason. “Under the Concrete Slab”? Please!

NYC has been over-homogenized for too long now. Mom-and-pop stores have been replaced by a glut of banks and drug chains. Forty-second Street has been Disneyfied. (Revitalization of Times Square was needed, but couldn’t we have kept a NYC theme?) Our city is losing its character and charm.

But if decision-makers insist on saving a few bucks at the expense of destroying what makes us unique, why not go all the way? Do flowers at the Brooklyn and Bronx botanical gardens all need to be real? How about the animals at the Bronx and Central Park zoos? Is that chimp real or animatronic, mommy?

Installing hybrid concrete planks at Coney Island will undoubtedly save a few bucks. But preserving its boardwalk and other iconic locations that make our city unique? Priceless.

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Lower Our Expectations? That’s Pretty Rich!

If we New Yorkers are anything, it’s blunt, and most of us have friends who have no problem calling us out when we say something stupid or arrogant. Apparently many of the superwealthy have no such luck.

“I am the only one who can make America truly great again,” ever-humble Donald Trump said last week when he announced his perennial fake run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Among his vows to restore America’s glory, Trump promised to fix our economy, which in GOP-speak means we working stiffs tighten our belts while the 1 percenters loosen theirs.

Much of the media played right along with The Donald. “He seems serious this time,” blared the online headline in the Detroit Free Press. Seriously? This isn’t about free publicity for the Trump brand?

While saving our great nation, Trump also graciously offered to make a pit stop in Hollywood to single-handedly save the “terrible, boring” Oscars next year, by hosting it himself. I’m not making this up.

But if you think such bluster is the exclusive domain of Republicans, think again.

Real estate mogul and former Florida Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene made a fortune betting that people would default on their mortgages. He recently told Bloomberg News at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high, and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence.”

Greene said that right after flying his wife, children and two nannies to Davos for the week on a private jet, according to Bloomberg.

Back here on the subway, you say your wages are frozen and fares went up again? Yet you still want to watch cable and eat three meals a day? Selfish! Why don’t you listen to Greene, the man who lives in a modest, 35,000-square-foot abode in Palm Beach, Florida, while trying to unload his 12-bedroom, 23-bathroom mansion in Beverly Hills for a mere $195 million?

Don’t you feel lucky such privileged jet-setters are so concerned with saving America that they take the time to explain that the best way is for us to think small?

Me neither.

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Who is to Blame for the Latest Fare Hike?

I was recently stuck on a crowded 14th Street subway platform endlessly waiting for the 1 train when someone screamed, “And they want a damn fare hike??” Riders on the mobbed platform cheered him as he stormed off.

After battling freezing weather all winter trying to get to work, often being late due to a rash of subway delays and crawling buses, the last thing millions of New York riders want to hear is news of another mass transit fare increase. But that’s exactly what we are getting on Sunday, when fares will go up an average of 4 percent.

Where do we direct our righteous anger? On the MTA, too often lax on the day-to-day operations of its systems and tone deaf to the legitimate gripes of its riders? On the State Legislature, which refuses to fund the $15 billion the MTA needs for its capital plan? Or the city, whose measly $100-million annual contribution to the plan hasn’t even come close to keeping up with inflation?

While the MTA justly complains about lack of leadership from state and local officials in funding the agency’s capital plan, where has the MTA leadership been all these years? After promising to stay for the duration and fight for funding to maintain the transit fare, former MTA chairman Jay Walder resigned four years ago and jumped ship for a million-dollar-plus job in Hong Kong, while Joe Lhota spent a year on the job before abandoning his post in a failed attempt to be elected mayor.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio posture as if they are on our side, but have clearly been lacking in leadership on this issue and keep passing the buck back and forth, with both refusing to accept blame for not adequately funding the MTA.

With no one taking responsibility for this mess, guess who winds up paying the freight?

Friday is the first day of spring. Unfortunately, according to the latest forecast, the only thing that will be heating up this week are transit fares. While our anger at the MTA isn’t totally unjustified, isn’t it about time we stop giving our mayor, governor and State Legislature a free pass?

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The Second Avenue Subway, Alligators and Babe Ruth

We have our fair share of urban legends in NYC. Alligators are thriving in our sewers. The Yankees wear pinstripes because Babe Ruth wanted to appear slimmer. The Second Avenue subway will run in our lifetimes.

The MTA recently said that if doesn’t get the funding it requested, the first thing to go will be construction on the next phase of the Second Avenue subway.

If you are reading this and are younger than 90, you may actually still believe the grand Second Avenue subway propositions and promises. But ask your grandparents and great-grandparents what they were told in 1929 and 1944. Yep, that the Second Avenue subway should be up and running any day.

The MTA and its predecessor have vowed for decades to end congestion on the East Side of Manhattan with this much needed project. And they start. And stop. And move forward. And pull back. For 86 years! Yes, Q train service may (or may not) soon be expanded to the Upper East Side’s 96th Street station. But sorry, that’s not the long promised Second Avenue subway.

In addition to possibly ditching this project, MTA chairman Tom Prendergast told Albany lawmakers that expansion of the popular countdown clocks to lettered subway lines would also be chopped if the agency doesn’t get the $15 billion it needs for its capital plan.

Perhaps the MTA is simply using the threat of abandoning the popular and necessary Second Avenue subway and clock projects as leverage to get funding it requested. But the MTA’s track record on keeping its promises, establishing priorities and satisfying the needs of riders is, to be kind, a bit lacking.

Meanwhile, MTA fares are going up an average of 4 percent on March 22. And that’s one promise you know the agency will keep.

So someday, when your grandkids sit on your knee and ask you whether they can take the first ride on the Second Avenue subway scheduled to be completed shortly, you can use the opportunity to disabuse them of other ageless myths, such as Santa Claus and the trickle-down theory of economics.

As far as the empty, abandoned Second Avenue subway tunnels? At least the alligators will have some place to live.

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Flying Robot Enthusiasts: Look Out Below!

Hooray! The Federal Aviation Association has finally released proposed rules for drone use. Seems like everyone and his mother now operates one of these flying robots, from Amazon and Domino’s Pizza testing speed-delivery drones to those owned by freelance freaks and geeks.

On March 7, the New York Drone Film Festival will launch at the Director’s Guild of America Theater. Thirty-five films on wide-ranging subjects will be screened. “People have never seen the inside of a volcano before, but drones have gone there,” festival founder Randy Scott told the Village Voice. “There are so many ways these technologies can be used for good.”

OK, I understand how helpful drones can be to wildlife conservationists and crop managing farmers. But a downside easily comes to mind, like that drunken enthusiast who recently crashed his drone on the White House lawn__and the possibility of terrorists doing much worse.

It is easy for any  numskull to buy a recreational drone. Call me old-fashioned, but I cannot accept the possibility of a 40-pound drone operated by a reckless nitwit landing on my head as I emerge from Fairway. I feel confident I’m not alone in this. For example, how would you like an errant drone delivering a book, coffeemaker or pizza to crash through your apartment window? Or used by some perv to peep through it?

“We all shudder to think that someone can send a drone peering into the window of our living room or bedroom” Senator Charles Schumer  (D-N.Y.) wrote to the FAA last week, in an effort to promote “positive and legitimate” drone use.

Until recently, the FAA’s efforts were limited to lame warnings on its web site, such as Super Bowl Sunday’s “Unmanned aircraft and NFL football don’t mix. The Super Bowl is a no-drone zone, so leave your drones at home.” Now the FAA wants to limit drones to flying below 500 feet and keeping them away from major airports. Excellent ideas!

“The FAA proposed rules on drones makes our airspace significantly safer; however, more must be done to protect the privacy of individuals and help build the commercial potential for this transformative technology,” wrote Schumer.

So all you drone geeks out there, keep it below 500 feet__but not too far below. And don’t drink and drone!

 

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Time to Rate Cab and Livery Drivers

Would you eat in a filthy restaurant with numerous health code violations?

How about riding in a cab with a reckless, dangerous driver?

In the first case, you have a choice. NYC restaurants are required to post letter grade ratings that reflect sanitary safety scores. But cabs and livery vehicles? You’re on your own.

When CBS News correspondent Bob Simon stepped into a Lincoln Town Car last week to go downtown, he had no idea what he was getting into — or that it would be his last ride.

How could Simon know that the car’s driver had nine license suspensions and two moving violations on his record? Not to mention a useless left arm due to a suicide attempt that caused him to drive one-handed.

If cab and livery drivers were required to post letter ratings on their car windows based on the number of violations, suspensions and accidents they’ve had, Simon would have never stepped into that car.

I don’t know anyone eager to dine in a restaurant rated less than an A or B and risk getting sick. Why should we enter a vehicle for hire and risk getting killed?

Much has been made of the fact that Simon wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Yes, we all should, but do you always use one when you step into the backseat of a cab? The Taxi and Limousine Commission doesn’t require their use! No one knows whether Simon would be alive today if he had buckled up. But he would be had he never entered that vehicle.

If a rating law were enacted, livery companies would quickly compete to have all A-rated drivers.

A year ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero, a safety program that lowered the NYC speed limit to 25 mph and increased the number of speed cameras. The City Council has since approved a package of 11 other bills, including increased penalties for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians or bikers.

But when you enter a cab or other livery vehicle, you are still traveling in the dark when it comes to your safety and the competency of your driver. A rating system would go a long way toward rectifying that.

Mayor de Blasio, what do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Those Alone on Valentine’s Day, Take Heart

Valentine’s Day is Saturday, and one group is extremely happy__the greeting card companies. As far as the rest of us, emotions range from eager excitement to quiet dread.

The day celebrates those in happy, fulfilling and passionate relationships, who anticipate a chance to affirm their undying love, a terrific dinner and evening. But for those who lament being alone, or worse, are involved with someone they have mixed feelings about, it’s a very different story.

A friend of mine recently discovered the guy she’s dating doesn’t “believe” in Valentine’s Day, so not to expect any cards, candy or flowers. I don’t believe he’ll be around next week.

Meanwhile, there are precious few cards for the mixed feelings crowd; those who really do love their partners, but also sometimes really do hate them. Or love them on Mondays and Wednesdays, but loathe them on Tuesdays and Thursdays__and Fridays and numerous weekends.

Or those poised to move on, but believe it’s never quite the ideal moment, waiting until right after Christmas, or New Year’s, or Valentine’s Day, or their birthdays, or the next Presidential election.

If you are somehow unsure where you fall in the spectrum, look at the card you select for your spouse or significant other. If you find yourself drifting toward the “We’re been through some rough times, but we always muddle through” variety, caution: yellow flag.  Or the “Sometimes I fantasize about running off with my office mate, then I remember everything’s in your name–haha”-type cards– red flag. Let’s not even mention those who think the perfect gift would be Cee Lo’s greatest hits.

So if you find yourself alone or in a less than an ideal relationship this Valentine’s Day, take heart: things can change rather rapidly. For example, every guy in my poker game who years ago was in a seemingly stable relationship is now alone, while those who were alone are all in happy relationships. Go figure.

And if you are in a great, enduring relationship, hopefully you realize what it’s worth.

Because the lucky minority—those in happy, healthy, long-lasting marriages or partnerships__take notice of their less-than-happy friends and realize that Valentine’s Day might not be the best name for the occasion.

Thanksgiving is more like it.

 

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