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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Are You Ready for Hillary in Brooklyn?

When you think of Brooklyn, which words come to mind? Hip? Cool?

How about Hillary Clinton? Word is Hillary is considering Brooklyn as headquarters for a presidential campaign. According to the Daily News, she is eyeing the Metrotech complex in Brooklyn Heights.

Yo Hillary, big mistake! Might as well be in Manhattan. If Hillary is serious about getting the borough’s cool, fun vibe to rub off on her, there’s only one Brooklyn neighborhood that would be a natural, in so many ways.

Clinton Hill! Not just the name, but the atmosphere.

Check out the neighborhood’s description by Airbnb: “Artsy but not over-the-top and cool but not unapproachable, this laid-back neighborhood deserves its amiable reputation.”

Isn’t that the very image Hillary is trying to project?

Clinton Hill. A thriving, ethnically mixed neighborhood that is also home to cool, artsy Pratt Institute.

OK, cool might not be the first word you associate with Hillary. But that’s why Brooklyn appeals to her. She’s trying to pick up the cool, young vibe that helped push President Barack Obama over the top in 2008. The only problem with that strategy? Obama (who once lived in Brooklyn) actually is hip and cool.

So if Hillary is truly serious about trying to associate herself with Brooklyn and its hip vibe, she needs to be authentic. Forget the limos, Hillary, ride a fixed-gear, raised-seat bike to campaign events. Get a tattoo. Make your own artisanal whiskey in the basement of campaign headquarters.

Sure, the decision could backfire. If she chooses the borough, she will be spending a lot of time with Brooklyn homeowner Mayor Bill de Blasio, who projects more of a leftist image than Hillary may be comfortable with.

The move also may seem a bit forced. I can’t help but recall the 2008 presidential campaign, when a grinning Mitt Romney posed for a photo with a group of young African-Americans in Florida, woofing and asking them, “Who let the dogs out?”

Talk about hip!

You can’t force cool. But if Hillary is ready to go all in with this Brooklyn idea, I expect to see her wearing vintage threads, hanging out at a craft beer garden and sipping organic, free-trade coffee at Café Grumpy any day now.

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Treacherous Weather Produces a Blizzard of Ignorance

NYC may have been spared the brunt of the latest big storm, but not the storm of ignorance that followed.

“Ten inches of snow? Sure sounds like global warming to me! Nyuk, nyuk!”

“I’m going out to shovel 12 inches of global warming. Nyuk, nyuk!”

OK, I added the guffaws. But the words are verbatim samples from thousands of Twitter twits proud to flaunt their ignorance.

But hey, look outside, you say. Another significant snowfall. More than two feet in some parts of Long Island. Doesn’t that make the overwhelming percentage of climate scientists who believe in global warming/climate change doubt themselves just a tad?

Uh, no. Because if you understand the science, it makes perfect sense. We have had 27 snowstorms of a foot or more since 1869. Nine of them have occurred in the past 15 years.

“You have to remember that there are two factors that result in heavy snow. It has to be cold enough, and the atmosphere has to be moist,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Global sea temperatures have gone up a full degree Fahrenheit in the past 40 years because of human activity, Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in climate analysis, told “Frontline.” He explained that higher sea temperature lead to increased moisture above the sea surface.

“If we have a storm that’s developing,” he said, “it reaches out as far as a thousand miles and grabs the available moisture; thus it snows harder.”

In other words, a similar January day fifty years ago may have been 24 degrees, with 5 or 6 inches of snow. Today it may be 28 degrees, but with more moisture in the air to draw from due to global warming, we could get twice the amount of snow__and do so more regularly. Kapish?

Melting icecaps. Endangered species. Shorter but more brutal winters. The evidence is in. How do the skeptics answer? The latest popular evasion is, “Hey, I’m not a scientist.”

Hmm. I’m not a cardiologist, but if I have chest pain and 10 out of 10 doctors say I have a severely blocked artery, am I going to get a stent put in to save my life, or chuckle, “Hey, I’m not a cardiologist” and go home?

Climate change deniers are descendants of those who centuries ago taunted, “Yo Galileo, see that bright yellow thing in the sky? That revolves around us, not the other way around, dummy. Nyuk, nyuk!”

When a nation stops believing in science, it is in trouble.

We are in trouble.

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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.”


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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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