Cellphones in Schools: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Hallelujah! As of March 2, cellphones will officially be allowed in NYC public schools. As Mayor Bill de Blasio said, it is “very, very important” that parents be able to contact their children at all times. Who could argue with that?

Does anyone blame the mayor for jumping the gun and allowing his son, Dante, to take his cell to Brooklyn Tech, even when it was still against the rules? I mean, how dare any authority set boundaries on a child — or a parent?

Sure, we’ve seen adults get so distracted by cellphone calls or texts that they crash into the car in front of them. But kids know better! When a teacher says it’s time to put away those cells and pay attention, can you imagine a child or teen disobeying that order?

Yes, we’ve heard from those worrywarts who think kids in schools may now use their cellphones to cheat. Or keep their eyes downward instead of on the lesson. Or go on Facebook. Or Instagram. Or Twitter. Or fashion sites. Or sports sites. Or porn sites. Or take selfies.

Other party poopers are concerned that students might use them to call or text friends in other classrooms. Or their own classrooms. Or play games. Or harass their teacher. Or set up brawls. Or steal them from other students. Or what will happen when a teacher requests that a 6-foot, 200-pound goof-off stop yakking loudly on his cell and pay attention. We all know the answer — he will immediately turn it off and apologize.

The mandate seems clear: Cells in school may be used only in emergencies, or for viewing educational websites and videos, and other high-minded activities. But does that placate the nervous nellies? Au contraire.

“This increases the potential for incidents,” a high school principal who requested anonymity insisted to The New York Times. But what is he worried about? His school already has metal detectors to screen for weapons, and now the school will have one less thing to be concerned with. No?

Meanwhile, most students and many parents eagerly count down the days until the cellphone ban is officially lifted.

Teachers? Not so much.

Gee, I wonder why.

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Betty and Veronica Make Their Manhattan Debut

Betty and Veronica are moving on up.

Actually, grizzly bears Betty and Veronica have moved down south a few miles, from the Bronx to Manhattan. After two decades of delighting visitors at the Bronx Zoo, the charming, hefty females settled into lusher digs at the Central Park Zoo last week.

The grizzlies moved into quarters formerly occupied by the late Gus, a polar bear who, after being diagnosed with depression, was callously referred to as the “bi-polar bear” (get it?) and responded by swimming endless, back and forth laps across his pool, largely ignoring zoo visitors.

But Betty and Veronica (Betty is the blondish one, as in the comic book) are friendlier and more engaging. They’ll stand up to get their bellies examined, sit to get their nails done, and yes, have learned to wave to onlookers, according to the Bronx Zoo website.

The new habitat has been upgraded, with more waterfalls and streams, as well as an impressive, rocky landscape that will give the grizzlies “more verticality,” according to Craig Piper, director of city zoos. The revamped pool is stocked with trout, and keepers scurry about each day scattering such delights as peanut butter smeared on a tree or buried sweet potatoes and berries for the grizzlies to discover.

So far, Betty and Veronica seem quite happy with their new accommodations. In fact, after spending only one week in Manhattan, rumor has it that Betty is already picking up a bit of an attitude, snarkily denigrating the food, lodging and animals in her old Bronx neighborhood. I even hear that when the zookeeper tries to keep her grounded by referring to her as “Betty from the Bronx,” the otherwise friendly female roars menacingly in his face. Probably just a rumor.

Will there be a red-furred Archie in the bears’ future? Zoo officials aren’t saying. Meanwhile, the new exhibit will “provide us with an opportunity to help people better understand how to safely coexist with bears when visiting or living in bear country,” Piper said.

Planning on living in bear country soon? Me neither. But a stroll or subway ride will take you right to Betty and Veronica’s lair. They bear watching!

 

 

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Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Do you remember the last time NYC was this polarized? How about America? Me neither. How do we reverse this? Here’s a crazy idea: Stop politicizing everything.

Respecting the police isn’t a conservative idea, and respecting the right to protest isn’t a liberal one. Bulletin: Most police officers, and most protesters over the Eric Garner case, have their hearts in the right place. If that statement angers you, sorry, but that means you’re part of the problem.

Bad apples in every group? You bet. But let’s not smear all because of the actions of a few. To my disgust, I have heard bigots call minorities “animals.” Calling cops “pigs” and worse is no different. Labeling any group as less than human is the first step in physically harming them, whether that be in Nazi Germany or on the streets of NYC.

Stop politicizing everything! Among the offenders are biased media of all stripes that draw viewers, readership or clicks by demonizing those who don’t follow their belief system.

But the worst are some of today’s politicians, answering the late Mario Cuomo’s question — “Do you want to help people, or do you want to be powerful?” — the wrong way. When millions of Americans can’t afford to feed their children or take them to a doctor, what is called for is empathy, not derision. When Republicans bash the Affordable Care Act without offering any realistic alternatives, they are playing politics with people’s lives.

But it’s not just the GOP. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently said Democrats should have ignored the health care crisis in this nation because those most in need of help rarely vote. He didn’t pretend that there wasn’t a crisis — just that “it makes no political sense.”

So my belated New Year’s resolution is to refuse to see issues as political but instead in more human terms. Perhaps Commissioner Bill Bratton, eulogizing slain Det. Rafael Ramos, put it best.

“We don’t see each other,” said Bratton. “If we can learn to see . . . that our cops are people like Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, to see that our communities are filled with people just like them too . . . then maybe when we see each other, we’ll heal.”

Amen.

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Guaranteed Not to Happen in 2015

New Year’s predictions are a tricky subject. Someone once said if we could truly foresee the future, we’d never get out of bed. I’m more optimistic, believing if you expect good things to happen, they usually will, and vice versa. One thing I’m fairly certain of is the following events will not happen in 2015:

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane, celebrate their anniversary with a romantic carriage horse ride around Central Park.

Taylor Swift ends her tenure as New York’s “global welcome ambassador,” and is replaced by Paula Deen.

The MTA announces a record number of riders in 2014 has created a surplus, therefore, they are rolling back fares to $2 a ride.

Jay Z declares Brooklyn no longer hip — real estate values plunge.

De Blasio shows up an hour early to the annual Groundhog Day event on Feb. 2. When Staten Island Chuck pokes his head out and recognizes the mayor as the man who dropped his cousin Charlotte on her head, the terrified rodent jumps back into his hole.

The Second Avenue Subway is completed ahead of schedule and opens for business, as riders cheer.

Sony Pictures proudly announces it is filming a new Adam Sandler comedy about the assassination of Vladimir Putin.

The Cronut (a croissant-donut hybrid) is replaced by the BagLady (a bagel-lady fingers hybrid) as 2015′s favorite foodie indulgence.

A few hours after Hillary Clinton officially declares her candidacy for president, a video mysteriously surfaces of Bill Clinton making out with Elizabeth Warren. The furious former New York senator quickly organizes a fundraising concert featuring Bono, Lorde, Usher, Pink and Adele, where she announces that she has legally changed her name to just “Hillary.”

In keeping with its recent history of renaming clearly designated bridges for politicians, such as changing the Triboro to the RFK, the MTA announces the Brooklyn Bridge will now be known as the Anthony Weiner.

Donald Trump says he’s never been qualified for nor had any intention of running for president, and is deeply ashamed to admit all such previous declarations were cheap publicity stunts.

Insisting that de Blasio is ruining his legacy, ex-Mayor Mike Bloomberg suggests that term limits again be suspended so he can run for a fourth term. Wait a minute, that actually could happen!

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Is the Holiday Season Worth the Weight?

Having trouble closing your pants? Climbing steps? How about breathing?

Happy holidays!

Now that we have finally worked off our Thanksgiving feast, here come the holiday parties and Christmas, with another 10,000 calories of yule joy.

I don’t know about you, but I celebrate these family food bonanzas on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On the former, I go to my brother’s house in Brooklyn to indulge in the annual Jewish Christmas Chinese food feast, and the next day take Metro-North up to Connecticut to partake in the Christmas baked ham, ziti and multi-dessert extravaganza prepared by my girlfriend’s family.

Whether with Christmas cookies, Hanukkah latkes or other fattening treats, the holidays present a wonderful opportunity for your family to kill you with kindness. At family dinners when I was younger, my Aunt Norma would serve enough appetizers to choke a horse, then bring out turkey, roast beef, countless side dishes, cookies and pies. When I’d leave, about to burst, she would chase me to the door in a panic, pleading, “Did you have enough? Are you sure?” — and lugging a 5-pound doggy bag.

The best holiday meals I ever had were when I was married. Although my ex-wife was perhaps the only Italian-American in New York who didn’t cook, her family made up for it. We’d go to her sister’s house in Queens for a gazillion-course Italian “feast of the seven fishes” that started at noon and ended after dark.

Even after we both realized the marriage was a mistake, I stalled an extra few weeks just to partake in one last Italian Christmas blowout banquet.

What do we do with the excess calories? Family squabbles offer an opportunity to burn off poundage. At Thanksgiving, we spent 20 minutes arguing about whether to heat up the apple pie, and if so, whether to put it back in the oven (takes too long) or microwave it (dries it out). And if you really want to shed holiday calories in a hurry, bring up Obamacare, Mayor Bill de Blasio or Fox News.

But even the family fighting somehow warms the soul. And if it doesn’t, another round of spiked eggnog, please!

So have a very merry Christmas and happy holidays. And stay off the scale.

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NYC Buses Aren’t Russian Anywhere

The heavyset woman beside me struggles to her feet from a small bench as the M86 crosstown bus approaches Central Park West. But it’s coming too fast. We see its “out of service” sign as it whizzes by.

“I think they go to lunch,” the woman confides in a strong Russian accent.

“Maybe,” I say with a smile. “Probably mechanical trouble.”

She wasn’t buying it. “Lunch,” she repeats with certainty.

I don’t know about that, but someone is definitely out to lunch. The latest Straphangers Campaign report reveals the M86 bus crawls along at a 4.5 mph snail’s pace, one of the 10 slowest bus routes in Manhattan. The group’s Pokey Award “winner” was the crosstown M79, which it clocked at a pathetic 3.2 mph at noon on a weekday — less than human walking speed.

Back at the bus shelter, about 20 people wait impatiently. Finally, an M86 bus pulls in with another on its tail, both packed.

“Why they always come two at time?” the Russian woman wonders.

“One of the mysteries of New York,” I reply.

“Da,” she agrees.

We board the first and squeeze by riders in the aisle. A scowling, 40-ish man in a power tie and jacket sits on an aisle seat, blocking the empty one beside him. The Russian woman gestures for him to move over. He acts like he doesn’t see her. She swings her heavy Fairway bag into his hip, and he jumps up. Oh, that’s how you do it. Mr. Selfish mutters a profanity, then angrily departs and hops a cab.

I grab the seat as the second bus whips by us. Ours remains frozen as the light ahead turns red, then green, then red again. We finally cross Central Park, only to idle at Madison Avenue and 86th for another 10 minutes. Just a few blocks from my stop, I decide to walk the rest of the way.

She grabs my arm as I rise.

“What you call a gassy Russian?”

I shrug.

“Vladimir Tootin’.”

I laugh aloud.

“You like?”

“Da,” I reply as I step from the M86. She waves goodbye as the bus remains immobile.

Spokesman Kevin Ortiz insists the MTA is “making increased dispatching efforts and using our GPS-enabled bus fleet to monitor real-time bus performance in order to make scheduling adjustments . . .”

Meanwhile, the woman is probably still sitting there. MTA, where do you get off?

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Sorry, But Life Isn’t Black and White

From Staten Island to Ferguson, Missouri, to Central Park, the battle lines have been drawn, and God help anyone who thinks independently.

You think the cop in the Michael Brown case may have acted in self-defense? What are you, a racist? You think the Eric Garner chokehold/death was unnecessary and unjust? What are you, anti-cop?

Even if you think carriage horses don’t belong on city streets, but are fine in Central Park, prepare to feel the wrath of extremists.

In our polarized society, anyone who keeps an open mind is suspect. In an age of Fox News, MSNBC and people who only talk to the like-minded, critical thinkers who take issues, people and situations one at a time are too often attacked instead of praised.

This tribal thinking has led to a split in our city, nation and Congress. Anyone who honestly weighs the merits of each case and issue without having a knee-jerk response, who has empathy and sees nuances, may be targeted as a sellout. Parents of all races who teach their children that kindness and compromise are virtues and to judge people on their merits and behavior, not on their skin color or background, too often don’t practice what they preach.

Charter schools. The Middle East. Name a complex issue, and there will be true believers ready to pounce if you don’t toe the “correct” line — theirs. But despite what these boorish ideologues would have you believe, most issues aren’t black and white.

People say they want an honest dialogue about race. Then let’s have one, without extremist bullies shouting down anyone who has the audacity to see two sides of an issue. White people who admit they tense up when they see a group of young black men approaching, or black people who tense up when they see a cop, both coming from their experiences, shouldn’t be chastised, but heard.

I have spoken with cops who feel misunderstood and underappreciated, as well as people whose life experiences have led them to doubt the criminal justice system and fear the police.

Do we really want to have an open dialogue about race and other issues? Then time to lower our voices, open our hearts and minds — and ignore the thought police.

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Married on the Subway: Where Do You Get Off?

Would you get married on the subway? Me neither. But Hector Irakliotis and Tatyana Sandler thought the idea romantic, and did exactly that on Friday. They decided to marry on the N train because they’ve spent so much time on it traveling together or to each other’s Brooklyn apartments, according to the Daily News.

Sure, it seems weird at first glance. But look at the upside. They got their wedding pictures in the paper. They didn’t have to rent a hall or worry about seating arrangements. And the wedding cost them a total of $5!

Subway weddings could be the solution for a lot of people, including us riders. The MTA recently announced plans for yet another fare hike. A possible 25-cent raise per ride might not seem like much, but for low-wage workers spending 5 percent or more of their weekly salaries just to get to and from work, it’s a backbreaker. By thinking outside the fare box and raising money in creative ways, the MTA might be able to avoid this increase.

Holding weddings on spiffed-up subway cars could be a good start. The possibilities are endless. Instead of having cops chase those intrusive “showtime” dancers from the trains, the performers could be hired as entertainment, along with some of the great underground subway singers.

Or perhaps a more prosperous couple might spring for a band of its choosing. Train, with its hit song “Marry Me,” would be a natural. It would be a win-win-win for the happy couple, the MTA and subway riders saved yet another fare boost.

But why stop at weddings? Imagine retirement or going-away office parties on the subway. You could rent a subway car, celebrate on board, then wave goodbye to your departing employee right at his or her stop!

While getting married on the subway might be your recurring nightmare, it was this couple’s dream.

“I’m originally from Ukraine,” Tatyana told the News, “and each time we’d come back here, I’d say to Hector, ‘It doesn’t feel like home until I see the skyline as we’re crossing the bridge.’ And he remembered that. He planned it specifically so that we’d see the skyline as we were married.”

Stand clear of the flying rice!

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Leave the Turkey, Take the Credit Card

Don’t look now, but the holiday season is upon us, and we’re starting off in style with battles about boozy Santas and stores launching their Black Friday sales on Thursday.

While retailers once opened at dawn on Friday or midnight after Thanksgiving, giving shoppers in the holiday spirit extra time to claw and trample each other to get to that bargain 60-inch TV, many are now starting even earlier. For example, Best Buy will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and Macy’s at 6 p.m. Will we now have to call Thanksgiving “Black Thursday”? Very confusing.

While some protest that this doesn’t allow employees to spend time with family, retailers say working on Thanksgiving is usually voluntary, and can pay time-and-a-half. Macy’s spokeswoman Holly Thomas (great holiday name, BTW) says many of its employees “appreciate the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they have time off on Black Friday.” You bet.

But getting an early start on ninja shopping is only the beginning of the holiday fun. On Dec. 13, the annual slobfest known as SantaCon will come to NYC bars, possibly near you.

Last year, the merry bar crawl centered in the East Village. This year, organizers targeted Bushwick until local barkeepers and politicians told them to get lost.

They still seek a lucky NYC neighborhood to host the festivities. Hey, how about yours? On the plus side, they donate to local food banks and other charities. On the minus side, they puke all over your stoop.

While organizers deny this happens often, the drinking starts at 10 a.m., according to the SantaCon website, which also claims, “Santa spreads joy, not vomit.” What a lovely Hallmark sentiment.

But hey, maybe we have these extra jolly Santas all wrong. According to their site, “SantaCon is a charitable, non-commercial, nonpolitical, nonsensical convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.” The site also treats you to such popular Christmas tunes as “Jingle Bells” by the Gay Robots and “Ol’ Taninz Da Bomb!” by DJ Blitz’N.

So as we celebrate our new holiday traditions of stampeding, post-turkey shoppers and drunken, marauding Santas, what’s left to say except: Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

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Yo Brooklyn, the British are Coming!

Guess who’s coming to town? Celebrity royalty!

Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton (but you can just call her Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), will visit NYC for the first time on Dec. 7. They’ll go to Brooklyn to take in a Nets-Cavaliers game at the Barclays Center on Dec. 8. Why? Maybe they want to see King James (aka LeBron) in person. Maybe they want to take a nostalgic ride down Kings Highway, named after William’s ancestor, King Charles II.

One thing’s for sure: The media will pant over the royal couple’s three-day visit because a large number of Americans go gaga whenever we host British royalty. I don’t get it. William is a descendant of King George III, the tyrant who ruled over us until we broke free in 1776. Ring a bell? Remember Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”? Anyone?

Anyway, these royal welfare recipients will be greeted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife and do the “just folks” rounds: Go to the game, the Sept. 11 memorial and a youth center, then a luncheon “to celebrate the achievements of a successful British community in New York from the arts and business sectors,” according to the royals’ website.

Kate seems to be the fun half of the duo. A fashion celebrity, she has titillated the British media with more wardrobe malfunctions than Britney Spears, including flashing her butt in a gust of wind, forgetting to weigh down her hem — or wear underwear. The Stir website gushed, “Let’s just say her derrière is even more perky and exquisite than we expected it to be.” Kim Kardashian, eat your heart out!

To his credit, William seems a bit less clueless than his brother, Harry, who once thought it jolly good fun to attend a costume party in a Nazi uniform. Speaking of World War II, Dec. 7 also happens to be National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Gee, I wonder who will get more media attention — those who sacrificed their lives for us on that day, or the telegenic royals whose every move figures to be tracked?

Before 1776, the British ruled in America. Right now celebrities do. I’m not sure which is worse. Meanwhile, the future king of England is coming to Kings County. Yo, Prince!

 

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