Into Disorder

Things I like and things I'm trying to figure out


I forgot about tumblr for a while, but here is my latest sassy piece, a response to a poorly researched Atlantic article designed to shame ambitious women called “Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition.” It was filed under health for some reason, yet the author confuses the definitions of mortality and longevity. I mean…

Anyway, here is part of what I wrote.

Smith goes on to suggest that that ambitious people are worse off in life – that they are unhappy and die sooner. She cites an analysis by researchers Timothy A. Judge and John D. Kammeyer-Mueller of a seven-decade study on 717 “high ability individuals” to try to prove her point. But she gets the research wrong. She writes, “But when it came to well-being, the findings were mixed. Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller found that ambition is only weakly connected with well-being and negatively associated with longevity.”

A weak connection is still a connection. That means is that there was a slight indication in the data that ambitious people were happier than non-ambitious people, or at the very least, they weren’t less happy. Second, giving the actual study a quick read shows that ambition was not negatively associated with longevity. It was negatively associated with mortality, which means quite the opposite of what Smith has suggested. People who were ambitious were likely to live longer.

Her confusions in terminology aside, Smith’s real offense is that she seems to take Kammeyer-Mueller’s quotes out of context in an effort to demean people who are ambitious, and suggest that they trample relationships with others in order to get what they want.

You can read the whole thing here:

10 Deep Truths from the NY Transit Museum

This weekend my friends Kristin and Peter were visiting from DC, and after a hearty celebration that began mid-day Saturday and lasted until the wee hours, we were feeling a bit less fresh than daisies Sunday morning. We met Kristin’s brother for brunch, but after that we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves. Peter’s one request was “something not too active.” Kristin’s brother suggested we check out the NY Transit Museum, which I hadn’t visited yet, and it seemed like a good choice for a drizzly, slow Sunday afternoon.

It turns out, the Transit Museum is an excellent hangover cure.

The museum is in Downtown Brooklyn, built underground in an unused subway station. On the upside, it was only $7! On the downside, it was swarming with restless toddlers. We ended up getting there just at the beginning of a tour (museum tours are my favorite!!) so we got on board with that. Our very knowledgeable tour guide took us through the museum’s “Steel, Stone & Backbone” tour which covers the building of New York’s Subways from 1900 to 1925. Then we went over to the trains! They have a ton of old subway cars you can go in and pretend to ride on and learn about!

Ten Things to Learn

1. The first day subways ran in NYC was October 27, 1904.* From the very beginning, the NYC subway ran 24 hours per day and had both express and local trains.

2. The first ride cost five cents, and enabled people to move away from crowded, dirty, stinky, disease-ridden Lower Manhattan.

3. The first subways were the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) and the BMT (Brooklyn Manhattan Transit). The IRT trains were number trains and the BMT trains were letter trains (from J to Z).

4. In 1932, the City built it’s own subway line, the IND (Independent Subway System) which includes the letter trains now known as A through H. Soon after that, the City bought out the other companies and unified.

5. While the first subway ride cost a nickle, when it was time for fares to rise, the subway encountered a challenge, as turnstiles could only accept one kind of coin. That’s when tokens were introduced! By 1953, a token was worth 15 cents. Tokens were used until recently; the MTA began phasing them out in the ’90s, and they were completely discontinued in 2003.

6. The third rail is 625 volts.**

7. Attention, NOTE: THIS IS THE BEST FACT. There are all kinds of work trains on the tracks, like trash trains, vacuum trains (which suck up garbage off the tracks), and geometry trains (which make sure the tracks are straight). But there is a special work train. It was painted to make it look like a trash train. But it was NOT a trash train. It was, in fact, the opposite of the trash train, in that it was filled with money. Since turnstiles don’t accept coins anymore and cash from metro card machines is transported by armored truck, money trains don’t run anymore. But in the olden days, money trains would transport over 10 million dollars per day. Where did the trains take the money? According to our tour guide they delivered it to a building that was attached to the station at Jay Street. I haven’t checked this out yet, but supposedly if you go to the end of the platform on the Coney Island bound F train, you can see the gate to a secret elevator where the money train would deliver the loot. No money train was every robbed (despite what the 1995 film would have you believe); it was accompanied by 12 armed guards.

8. Some numbers: there are over 850 miles of track in NYC and 468 active stations. Fifty percent of all US subway stations are in the City. There are over five million rides per day.***

9. SECOND BEST FACT, attention. Letter train cars are one foot wider and five to ten feet longer than number train cars. Here’s why: when the IRT first came around, it was worried that greedy rail barons would steal its tunnels, so it made them smaller than standard railroad train size. But the tunnel theft didn’t happen. So when the BMT came onto the scene a few years later, it made bigger, roomier, more comfier tunnels (and cars) - yes, it was like the extra-wide lanes on Seinfeld, but without the flames (usually).

10. THIRD BEST FACT. Trains typically run for forty years (unless they get graffiti’d, in which case they are pulled from service immediately and cleaned). Decommissioned trains used to just get stripped and junked, but for a brief time (2001 to 2011), the City cleaned old cars up and dumped them in the ocean, to make artificial reefs. The program was really successful, but unfortunately modern trains now have so much plastic that they wont make safe reefs for the fishes.

All in all, I liked the museum very much, and learned a lot of other things that are not included in these ten deep truths, but maybe I’ll write some more about them another time. The best time to go, like most museums, is probably not when it’s rainy and probably not on a weekend. But those are the only times people really want to go to a museum, so…

*Bonus fact: the first electric streetcar system ran in Richmond, Virginia.

** Bonus fact #2: a standard household outlet in the US is 120 v.

*** Bonus fact #3: the second busiest subway in the US is the Washington DC metro, which has about 900,000 trips per day.

This week on Meet the Press, author Newt Gingrich will discuss the presidential race and Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will discuss his new book.
Who wrote this? How did they decide which titles to use?

This week on Meet the Press, author Newt Gingrich will discuss the presidential race and Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will discuss his new book.

Who wrote this? How did they decide which titles to use?

Thoughts to Myself on a Midtown Sidewalk: The Dollar

Hey look, that guy up there just littered - what a jerk. Wait, that’s not litter. That’s… that’s a dollar. Is it a $20? No, just a $1. Should I tell him? Should I pick up the dollar and bring it to him? He’s long gone now. Should I keep it? Why isn’t anyone else picking up the dollar? If I pick up the dollar will the man smoking a cigarette judge me for not giving the dollar back to the guy? Wait, why do I care about the man smoking a cigarette? That’s a dollar and this is New York City! Go get the dollar! But that would mean turning around - I’m already past the dollar. What, am I too good for a dollar now? Is a dollar not worth my time? Am I the kind of person who doesn’t care about a free dollar? Who am I? Now I’m in the subway.

At Least 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Franklin Pierce

Recently I went on a trip to New England and spent a few days in Concord, New Hampshire. I was car-less for a day while my travel-buddy and BFF Tiffany was at a wedding. But fortunately for me, I didn’t have to spend the day watching Shark Week programming and ordering room service (let’s be honest; I would have been just fine with that too). The cartoon map provided by the hotel concierge revealed many a nearby landmark. In particular, the hotel was in walking distance of the Franklin Pierce Manse, the home of Pierce and his wife Jane Means Appleton Pierce until shortly before he left for the White House.

Pierce was a one-term president wedged in between the illustrious Millard Fillmore and the even more illustrious James Buchanan. Ok, maybe not so illustrious. In fact, I think these guys kind of got a bum rap, because they were all commander-in-chief at a time when a members of Congress were arguably more powerful and better-known than the President (I’m lookin’ at you, Stephen Douglass and Daniel Webster and Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun).

Early in his career, he was a well-liked lawyer and gained a reputation for standing up for the underdog (for instance, representing the Shakers in court). But Pierce, our 14th president, is generally acknowledged as one of our nation’s worst leaders ever. Some of the legislation passed during his term is credited with fanning the flames of the Civil War. That’s not to say he caused it, but he definitely didn’t help matters by being a pro-South / pro-states’ rights Northerner, who had a hands-off policy when it came to the issue of slavery in the 1850s. His own party declined to re-nominate him after his first term.

You probably wouldn’t learn this at the Pierce Manse, though. While extremely knowledgeable about the life and times of Franklin Pierce, the ladies* giving tours of the place seemed to be – how shall we say – Pierce apologists. The group (known as the Pierce Brigade) won a hard battle** to preserve the building after it was slated for demolition in the ’60s and has filled the home with interesting artifacts of the early- to mid-19th century, many of which were owned by the Pierce family. Nowadays, they lead tours mainly for folks on a pilgrimage to visit all the Presidents’ homes (which apparently is a thing people do, and now maybe it’s a thing I’ll do). In fact, three different ladies asked if that’s what I was up to during my trip. I should note that I was the only person on the tour.

What I liked the most about the Pierce Manse is that it told a real story about a human life – and his was filled with human drama. He didn’t have a lot of money, his wife was extremely religious to the point of being hysterical, he struggled with alcoholism, all of his children died before reaching adulthood. And to top it all off, in the end, everyone wound up hating the poor guy, when all he was trying to do was emulate Thomas Jefferson, an anti-Federalist Founding Father who is almost universally beloved and respected.

I think Pierce’s real problem was that the country was changing in ways that his philosophy on government left him unable to approach. He truly believed in a limited government, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and states’ rights. This belief system – which many still view as virtuous today – also enabled him to morally absolve himself for supporting a system built on and perpetuating slavery. Personally, he didn’t like slavery – he hated it in fact. But he didn’t think it was legal to abolish it. This should encourage us to ask how current dogma on strict constitutionalism enables human rights abuses today.

But getting back on track, there’s a lot I bet you didn’t know about Franklin Pierce! In fact, I knew virtually nothing about him, except for a vague notion that people didn’t like him that much.

  1. Kind of a babe.
    “We call him Handsome Frank,” my tour guide said, wriggling her eyebrows in the way that grandmas do when they are talking about cute boys.
  2. He had a lot of closets.
    This is interesting, because, at the time, closets were taxed and most families just had wardrobes instead. Considering that he was a limited-government dude from New Hampshire, you’d expect him to have no closets, or perhaps the opposite of closets.
  3. War hero.
    Like many American Presidents, he gained notoriety through military service. He was a hero of the Mexican-American war, and you can take a look at the type of heavy wool coat he would have worn in Mexico at the Pierce Manse.
  4. His son Benny was crushed in a train crash.
    All of his children died before becoming adults and this one was two months before he was inaugurated as President. Jane Pierce witnessed Benny’s death, and some people believe it may have contributed to her nervousness later in life. She claimed it was a punishment from God for Franklin Pierce’s political ambitions. The Manse may or may not have Benny’s bed – the guy who sold it to them swears it’s authentic. Either way, it’s on display.
  5. Pierce was the first to “affirm” his presidency rather than swear it.
    According to Wikipedia, that means during his inauguration, he placed his hand on a law book instead of a Bible. (He was trying to be modern.)
  6. He was the first to memorize his inaugural address.
    No teleprompter for this guy!
  7. His wife Jane hated politics and didn’t want to live in the White House.
    My tour guide attributed Jane’s dislike of politics to her religion. When it was time for Franklin to go be President, she got off the train to Washington in Baltimore and stayed there for some time before eventually making her way to the White House. Her aunt Abby Kent-Means served as the White House hostess, while Jane confined herself to the upstairs of the house, apparently (according to Wikipedia) writing letters to her dead son.
  8. He opened trade with Japan.
    The country had been officially isolated from Western trade and diplomatic relations (except Holland) since the 1600s, but under Pierce’s support, Commodore Perry sailed on over and made friends – before the British managed to do it, and that was important. There is a lot of china and other Eastern-looking artifacts in the home.
  9. Signed many laws and compromises which led to the Civil War.
    There was the Ostend Manifesto, the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise, the Gadsden Purchase – all of these things made Southerners happy, which, at a time when the Union was engaged in a delicate balancing act of slave and free states, made Northerners unhappy.
  10. He was super-stubborn.
    Even when his policies were overwhelmingly unpopular, he steadfastly stuck to them. Some might say claim this as a virtue, but when those policies are causing bloodshed (as with Bleeding Kansas), it’s a little less admirable.
  11. Left the country after serving as President.
    It was common at the time for people to go on long tours of Europe. He conveniently did so after being ousted from the Presidency by his own party.
  12. Best pal: Nathaniel Hawthorne.
    They hung out together all the time, and toured Europe together with their wives, and Hawthorne wrote a biography of him.
  13. Was accused of Treason.
    During the Civil War he maintained contact with Jefferson Davis and criticized Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus. As a result, he was publicly accused of treason, but was never tried or convicted.
  14. Faced public indignation over lack of flag flair.
    This one I also learned from Wikipedia. When Lincoln died, an angry mob assembled outside his house demanding to know why he hadn’t put up a flag in mourning. He responded by saying that he was in fact saddened by the assassination, and didn’t need to prove how much he loved America by waving no stinking flag around. The crowd cheered and went away.
  15. He died of Cirrhosis.
    After his the death of his wife from Tuberculosis, he struggled with alcoholism and eventually died of Cirrhosis of the liver. Sads.

There you have it – I really enjoyed the tour and there was a ton of other interesting artifacts of the time – like a cool lantern that police officers would attach to their belts and an example of this weird braided human hair art that was popular in the 19th century that Jane Pierce collected her stray hairs for. There’s some pretty great campaign paraphernalia (although politicians didn’t campaign for themselves at the time – it was considered distasteful). There’s an informative video and exhibit and you can get pamphlets! And the ladies who run the place seem really nice and they have New England accents.

*These ladies made me realize that when I retire, the only thing I want to do is give tours of historic homes.

**In 1971, the Pierce Brigade finally succeeded in having the Manse moved a few blocks away from the urban renewal zone where it would have been demolished. In her pamphlet “The Pierce Brigade and the Crusade to Save the Home of Franklin Pierce, 14th President of the United States,” Polly B. Johnson wrote, “The day that the Manse was moved was an exciting time after all the many years of hard work. The building had been raised from its foundation and placed on a flatbed truck for its journey up Concord’s Main Street. Women were dressed in costumes of the period. Polly B. Johnson, dressed as Jane Pierce walked, and Ernest Freeman, as General Frank Pierce rode on his horse, following the building on its journey from Montgomery Street to Horseshoe Pond Lane. The Pierce Brigade’s dream of saving and restoring the Pierce Manse had been realized.”

Things I have cleaned in the last 16 hours that I was putting off…

1. The dishes.

2. My work inbox.

3. Two hand-wash only shirts.

4. Lappy (did a factory restore).

5. My apartment’s floor (it was sandy from the beach).

What will be nexxxt?? I’m like that mouse.

It was a macho thing to do. Computer macho.

Masters of Deception: The Gang that Ruled Cyberspace, by Michelle Slatalla and Joshua Quittner, 1995

Mets Fans, feat. Becca

—Take Me Out to the Ball Game

This Fourth of July, I spent the afternoon enduring the sweltering heat enjoying America’s pastime at Citi Field with my cousins Becca and Josh, second cousin Little James, and my Aunt Donna. Things started off looking positive with the Mets scoring a home run early in the game… until the dastardly Phillies pulled ahead, due, according to Becca, to the Mets’ bullpen woes.

Nevertheless! We stuck it out for the long hall, and enjoyed the seventh-inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It made me wonder… where did this song come from? Why do we sing it? And what’s that other song that comes on next? The answers, per usual, lie within the hallowed e-tomes of Wikipedia.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a Tin Pan Alley* song dating back to 1908 (older than the Mets, FYI, since the team was founded in 1962). Written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, there are two versions of the song - 1908 and 1927. The chorus is what we usually sing at games, but the other verses are about a gentleman asking a lady on a date (to Coney Island in the 1927 version) and the lady - who was "sure some fan" and would "root just like any man" - responding that she wants to go to the baseball game instead! The genius of the song is that it doesn’t call out any particular team by name, so you can sing it anywhere.

Here’s a cool vintage recording (of the 1908 version) of the song.

But after that song is over, there’s another mysterious song, which is not the Mexican Hat Dance, which apparently is the song that was played at Shea Stadium during the seventh-inning stretch from 1964 to 1979.

No, the song that comes on next is an Italian tarantella** called Lazy Mary by Lou Monte. You can see the lyrics here along with a phonetic translation for us non-Italian speaking rubes. According to this blog, the non-English lyrics are super dirty! It’s… perplexing. Why is this the song they play (besides it being really fun)? Yahoo Answers would have us believe the reason is New York’s sizable Italian American population (or that it perhaps has something to do with Mike Piazza, famed erstwhile catcher for the Mets).

Despite literally minutes of heated Googling, the Internet has not provided me with sufficient answers to this question. Becca, my source for all Mets history, was also uncertain. Rest assured, I will find the answer to this query! The truth is out there!

*Tin Pan Alley was the NYC home to music houses (communities of music publishers and songwriters) established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to purchase and sell the rights to popular songs, turning the musical copyright into a successful moneymaker.

**Tarantella means an Italian folk dance with an up-beat tempo and tambourines.

SECRET TREAT: Check out Lucy’s face about 2:33.