MUSIC MONOPOLY | JUDD APATOW | 15 TYPES OF SEX
THE HUFFINGTON POST MAGAZINE
DECEMBER 16, 2012
PUMMELED STATEN ISLAND
After Hurricane Sandy, A Community’s Battle With the Sea and Itself
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12.16.12 #27 CONTENTS
Enter POINTERS: Unbeatable Hillary, Fatal Prank Call, Adele’s Baby Woes MOVING IMAGE LIVE Q&A: Gary Ross
Voices BETHANY RUTTER: Why Fat, Plus-Size Fashion Bloggers Have Creative Style JASON LINKINS: Lots of Confused People Looked Up the Word ‘Socialism’ in 2012
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH BY SAKI KNAFO AND LILA SHAPIRO
BLAKE PAGE: Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate QUOTED
Exit FILM: Judd Apatow Turns the Camera on Himself LIFESTYLE: The 15 Types of Sex You Have in Your 20s
FROM TOP: ATISHA PAULSON; ALEX NABAUM
GREATEST PERSON OF THE WEEK: Jim Witt 25 QUESTIONS: The Hobbit TFU
BY ZACH CARTER AND JASON CHERKIS
FROM THE EDITOR: A Battered Borough and a Controversial Merger ON THE COVER: Staten Island, by
Atisha Paulson for Huffington
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
A Battered Borough and a Controversial Merger N THIS WEEK’S issue, Saki Knafo and Lila Shapiro put the spotlight on the borough of Staten Island, where 23 people died during Hurricane Sandy — more than half of New York City’s total deaths in the storm. The larger story of Staten Island and the storm — a story of the real estate industry’s deep political ties, of the borough’s history of flooding, and the inadequate post-Sandy emergency response — is brought to life through Pedro Correa, an Iraq veteran who made his home on Staten Island’s southern shore with his wife and two children. Correa’s story, and that of his house on Kissam Avenue, is like a capsule history of the American Dream. Years ago, he bought a fixer-upper on a third of an acre with an in-ground pool, just 50
feet from the beach, affording him a lifestyle he always thought would be out of reach for a middle-class guy working as a corrections officer at Sing Sing. In time, Correa put his carpentry skills to work, adding a deck with sea views, a front porch, a bathroom and an apartment for his mother in the basement. He also put in a new kitchen,
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
and that’s where he was standing on the night of Oct. 29, when the storm rolled in. Correa’s family had followed the city’s mandatory evacuation order, but he and a friend stayed behind. Looking out the window, Correa saw his car floating by in a surge of floodwater. Then he saw something larger floating toward him — the roof of a neighbor’s house. What follows is the amazing story of Correa’s escape, including the moment after he had climbed aboard the floating roof: “Correa imagined that the lights blinking on and off across the marsh belonged to rescuers. Then he realized with a sickening feeling that the SOS flashes came from people trapped in their homes. They must have thought he was a rescuer, too.” Elsewhere in the issue, Jason Cherkis and Zach Carter write about a potential shakeup in the music industry. In a controversial $2 billion deal, Universal Music is planning to take over EMI, which would give the com-
pany control of a staggering 40 percent of the industry. As the American Antitrust Institute warned, the Universal-EMI outcome could lead to “diminished consumer choice” and “diminished innovation.” Looking Cherkis and Carter out the place the potential window, merger in context, Correa saw revisiting the battle his car between big labels floating by and digital services in a surge of that goes back to the floodwater. 1990s, when the giants tried to quash Then he saw upstarts like Napsomething ster and innovations larger floating like the mp3 player toward him and CD burners. — the roof It’s a reminder that, of a neighbor’s while companies like house.” iTunes, Pandora and Spotify have led a digital music revolution, the big labels still have a great deal of influence on the ways we listen to, create and pay for music.
KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
NEWT: GOP ‘INCAPABLE OF COMPETING’ IF HILLARY RUNS IN 2016
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that his party would be outmatched if Hillary Clinton were to run for president in 2016. “The Republican party is incapable of competing at that level,” he said. “She’s a very competent person. She’s married to the most popular Democrat in the country; they both think [it] would be good for her to be president. It makes it virtually impossible to stop her for the nomination.” For her part, Clinton has repeatedly shut down any speculation that she will run for the nation’s highest office.
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THREE ARRESTED IN LIBOR PROBE British law enforcement authorities arrested three men this week as part of an investigation into the manipulation of interbank lending rates such as the Libor. They were the first arrests made in the investigation, marking a new phase in the scandal that has undermined public confidence in banks. The probe has until now largely focused on banks’ involvement, with Barclays agreeing to pay $450 million as part of the first settlement this summer.
STEPHEN COLBERT FOR SENATE?
Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert is South Carolinians’ top pick to replace Sen. Jim Demint when he leaves the Senate in January, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. Twenty percent chose the South Carolina native as a candidate, while his closest runnerup, Rep. Tim Scott, garnered 15 percent of the vote. But Colbert is far from the top choice among Republicans — his favorable numbers were fueled primarily by Democrats and independents.
ELMO ACTOR SUED BY FOURTH ACCUSER
A fourth man has sued former Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, claiming the 28-year Sesame Street veteran flew him from Miami to New York for sex when he was 16. “According to our lawsuit, Kevin Clash knowingly paid to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of satisfying his sexual interests,” the victim’s attorney said in a statement. Clash resigned last month after three other men accused him of having sex with them when they were underage teens.
RADIO STATION BEHIND KATE MIDDLETON PRANK CALL: NURSE’S DEATH ‘A TERRIBLE TRAGEDY’
The Australian radio station behind a prank call to Kate Middleton’s hospital will donate its advertising profits — about $524,000 at minimum — to the family of the nurse who was found dead after the hoax. “We are very sorry for what has happened,” said the chief executive of the station’s parent company. “It is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts continue to be with the family.” The DJs who initiated the prank offered an apology this week. “There’s not a minute that goes by that we don’t think about her family and what they must be going through,” said radio host Mel Greig.
ADELE FACES BABY FINE
FROM TOP: GREG WOOD/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; BEN STANSALL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
THAT’S VIRAL WE HOPE THEY DIDN’T LEAVE A TIP...
Famed singer Adele welcomed a baby boy in October, but she reportedly failed to register the birth with the government — and now it could cost her. The UK government’s website says that “all births must be registered within 42 days of the child being born.” It has been more than 50 days since the British soul singer gave birth, and she could face a fine of about $1,600. But as one of the world’s most successful pop stars, Adele may not be too worried about the bill.
A selection of the week’s most talked-about stories. HEADLINES TO VIEW FULL STORIES
YEAH, SNOOP SMOKES ABOUT AS MUCH POT AS YOU’D EXPECT
THE MORMON CHURCH CALLS FOR COMPASSION TOWARD GAYS
MAN WHO FELL FROM SKY STILL NOT IDENTIFIED
RENOWNED BEATLES INFLUENCER DIES AT 92
HAROLD CUNNINGHAM/GETTY IMAGES
The Week in Photos From Seattle to Sichuan, ahead find our selections of this weekâ€™s most compelling images. Stoos, Switzerland 12.3.2012 A couple walks past a church enveloped in snow. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES
London, England 12.3.2012 While the west wall in the the Old Royal Naval College’s ‘Painted Gallery’ undergoes a conservation project, a life-sized representation is assembled to hide the scaffolding. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
TED ALJIBE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Andap, Philippines 12.5.2012 Children in the Compostela Valley province look at a road destroyed by flash floods at the height of Typhoon Bopha. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
Enter York, England 12.5.2012
CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES
Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment who recently arrived from a tour in Afghanistan warm themselves on the radiators of York Minster cathedral during a homecoming service.
PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY IMAGES
Seoul, South Korea 12.8.2012 A diver dressed as Santa Claus swims with the sardines at The Coex Aquarium in South Korea, where Christmas is one of the country’s biggest holidays. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Yamanouchi, Japan 12.10.2012 Japanese macaque, or “snow monkeys,” gather by an open-air hot spring bath. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES
Las Vegas, Nevada 12.8.2012 Manny Pacquiao lays face down on the mat after being knocked out in the sixth round by Juan Manuel Marquez during their welterweight match. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Aleppo, Syria 12.9.2012 Men warm themselves by a fire in the neighborhood of al-Fardos, where the normally bustling community is cut off from power and a water supply. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Jerusalem 12.9.2012 An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man lights candles on the second of the eight days of Hanukkah, the festival of light. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
Enter Sichuan, China 12.7.2012
New army recruits hike the mountain where guerrillas fought their enemies in China’s history.
PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
AP PHOTO/NASSER NASSER
Cairo, Egypt 12.9.2012 Protesters push army soldiers standing guard in front of the presidential palace in opposition to President Morsi, who has refused to rescind a controversial draft constitution that will be voted on in the coming days. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
AP PHOTO/ELAINE THOMPSON
Seattle, Washington 12.9.2012 Writer Dan Savage, left, and his husband Terry Miller walk past well-wishers after their wedding at Seattle City Hall, where they are among the first gay couples to legally marry in Washington state. PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
FROM TOP: TARGET PRESSE AGENTUR GMBH/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES; COURTESY OF LIONSGATE
Director Gary Ross on the Common Theme of Youth in His Films “There are so many social impediments to becoming yourself that it’s a struggle to find your own individual identity and embrace it fully.”
The Hunger Games director (top) is also known for directing Pleasantville and writing the Big screenplay. His children’s book, Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind, is out now.
FOR THE FULL INTERVIEW, VISIT HUFFPOST LIVE
Why Fat, Plus-Size Fashion Bloggers Have Creative Style ILLUSTRATION BY MARTIN GEE
Bethany Rutter runs the plussize fashion blog Arched Eyebrow
Voices COMING AS A SURPRISE to absolutely no one, I tweeted a snarky tweet the other night. I was snarking about how the UK skinny blogger scene (and I here use the word “skinny blogger” to mean “not-fat blogger” or “not-plus-size blogger”) is ridiculously homogenous. Laughably, comically so. It was triggered by the fact I thought I’d seen a photo of one skinny girl blogger, when in fact I’d seen a photo of another; you could write a Shakespearean comedy of errors around these lasses. Yes, of course, there are some amazing, original bloggers, but there are an awful lot of girls who choose to dress exactly the same, with long ombré hair and floppy hats and Jeffrey Campbell Litas and mini “skater” skirts and American Apparel disco pants. Whichever way you look at it, there is a look amongst these bloggers. My best pal then pointed out to me that this just does not happen in the fat blogosphere. How had I not noticed this before? She is some kind of genius. There is no fat blogger look. You can’t point at something in Topshop and say “that’s so fatshion blogger” (and no, not only because most of us wouldn’t fit into their clothes).
The plus-size fashion blogger world is just not a homogenous one. I think the reason for this is clear: most of my fat girlfriends and I have always been fat. We grew up fat in a skinny world. What’s more, we probably grew up isolated in our fatness, without people to copy in our formative years. We’re used to being the odd one out, aesthetically and sartorially. We’re used to parts of fashion being closed off to
The UK skinny blogger scene is ridiculously homogenous. I thought I’d seen a photo of one skinny girl blogger, when in fact I’d seen a photo of another; you could write a Shakespearean comedy of errors around these lasses.” us. Before we got confident enough in own our style and put our photos on the Internet in the form of a fashion blog, we were used to being excluded from fashion. We couldn’t wear the clothes that made other girls cool and that constituted “trends.” We don’t see aspirational images. We don’t have “style icons” shoved down our throats (“stealing Alexa Chung’s style” doesn’t
Voices seem like much of an option when you’re literally three times her size). We’ve never had the option of fitting in, of looking like one of the “cool girls.” There has always been something keeping us apart, forcing us to figure ourselves out. In films and TV, fat girls are never stylish. They’re never cool. They’re there for a reason, and that’s usually to be made fun of. Most fat bloggers are cool and confident, and don’t see themselves in these portrayals. Once again we’re forced into a position where we have to construct our own identities. Even now, as women armed with confidence and a desire to show our looks to the world, it’s not like it’s easy. Plus-size clothing is pushed away and made to be a marginal branch of fashion. No one pays it enough attention or produces it in great enough quantities for us to be able to develop a cohesive “coolapproved-blogger look.” We roll our eyes every season at the hella average stuff that mainstream brands churn out. We’re dissatisfied with the majority of clothes marketed at us, so we have to find ways to make things work, on our own terms. There isn’t a “must-have” item every season. A bit from here, a
bit from there. Squeeze into something from a straight-size shop. Try out an online store. We don’t have one approved access point, one easy place to go to that, season after season, gives us “what girls want.” You could never essentialize the “fatshion blogger look.” So, now we all look different. I maintain that, to my knowledge,
Plus-size clothing is pushed away and made to be a marginal branch of fashion. No one pays it enough attention or produces it in great enough quantities for us to be able to develop a cohesive ‘coolapproved-blogger look.’” there are no two fatshion bloggers that have the same style. There’s a kind of punk girl, a kind of “elegant, gothic lolita” girl, a super classic girl, a girl who only does the pinup thing, a girl who rarely wears anything she didn’t make or thrift. Incidentally, I asked two of my best gal pals to tell me what style group I fitted into: the result was “ugly, clashing and green.” And for that I am truly grateful.
CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
Lots of Confused People Looked Up the Word ‘Socialism’ in 2012
CCORDING TO THE NEWS, two of the most looked-up words in the dictionary (or, at least the Merriam-Webster dictionary, anyway) in 2012 were “capitalism” and “socialism.” This is somewhat depressing, as I’d hoped that the runaway success of Fifty Shades Of Grey would lead people to look up a bunch of much, much more erotic words. But, as usual, the obsession with the 2012
Jason Linkins is a political reporter at The Huffington Post, covering media and politics
Voices horsey race seems to have trumped all, according to Charlotte Lytton of the New York Observer: Thanks to America’s heightened political curiosity during the election year, those two words have topped the list of the online dictionary’s most-searched items, beating out the likes of ‘touché,’ ‘Schadenfreude’ and ‘meme,’ all of which placed in the top 10. Editor at large Peter Sokolowski described the joint win as a ‘no-brainer,’ with the decision marking the first time the accolade has been shared since MerriamWebster’s rankings began in 2003. “Our research showed that people would look up one [of the terms] and then immediately look up the other, which makes perfect sense,” he told The Observer over the phone. “They are words that are clearly linked politically, rhetorically, culturally and, of course, economically.” Well, I think it’s safe to say that the top-10 placement of the
words “touché,” “Schadenfreude” and “meme” probably owes a lot to this presidential election we’ve just endured. But it raises the question: What made this election, in particular, one in which everyone was suddenly racing to figure out what the words “socialism” and “capitalism” meant? As this funny clip from the gang at NowThisNews makes clear, it’s probably because everyone kept referring to President Barack Obama as a “socialist.” And you know, it sort of stands to reason that people would want to brush up on the meaning of the word socialism, given the fact that despite being constantly accused of being a socialist sleeper agent by the tin foil hat crowd, the reality is that Barack Obama is really, really pretty bad at being a socialist! Steve Benen, in fact, calls Obama the “Worst Socialist Ever”: The New York Times reported yesterday, “United States corporate profits reached a record high in the third quarter of this year, even adjusted for inflation, according to a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.” Here it is in chart form:
Voices 1,800 1,600 1,400 1,200 1,000
Billions of Dollars
800 600 400 200 0 1940
You’ll notice in this image, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that post-tax corporate profits collapsed when the economy crashed in 2008, but then sharply improved after Obama became president, reaching their highest point ever this fall. Yes, it’s very hard to not notice that. It’s also hard to miss the fact that the wealthy have prospered during President Obama’s first term, but as Chris Lehmann wrote in The Baffler: The top 1 percent of income earners have taken in fully 93 percent of economic gains since the Great Recession, the numbers show. That share outpaces Bush-era figures by a mile; as the economy
emerged from the 2001-2 recession, the top 1 percent claimed a lousy 65 percent of the gains that followed. So, wealth has been redistributed on a grand scale since 2008, but it’s all been redistributed in the direction that die-hard opponents of socialism would deem preferable. (Lehmann adds, “Data from the IRS shows that the Obama years have achieved almost nothing to remedy the yawning inequalities in the economy.”) At any rate, this all explains why, when someone hears, “Obama is a socialist!” it necessitates a trip to Webster’s Dictionary, just to make sure that the definition of “socialism” hasn’t suddenly been changed to “an economic arrangement that favors having the wealthy rentier class make out like bandits, forever.”
< Corporate Profits After Tax (CP) Source: U.S. Department of Commerce: Bureau of Economic Analysis
LEE CELANO/GETTY IMAGES
Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate THE TITLE WEST POINT GRADUATE carries a great deal of weight in this world. Those who earn it are given a “golden ticket” and wear a “ring of power” which will certainly carry them to successful careers with doors flung open in the military, in business, even in personal relationships — as so many are seduced by the historic prestige of the United States Military Academy. All of these things seem enticing, but for me personally they are not worth it. As I write this, I am five months from graduation. After nearly threeand-a-half years here, there is no reason to suspect that I would be in any way incapable of completing the final requirements and walking across the stage in Michie Stadium with diploma in hand this year. Choosing to resign at this point also carries significant risk. The Army may seek recoupment in
the form of about $200-300,000 which I will personally owe, or an additional term of up to five years of enlisted service. What could possibly compel me to pass over this incredible opportunity in exchange for such harsh penalties? The tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. Some of these men and
Blake Page is president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) affiliate
Voices women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true. The following excerpt is from my official letter of resignation from West Point: “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same. Examples of these policies include mandatory prayer, the maintenance of the 3rd Regiment
Shield, awarding extra passes to Plebes who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, as well as informal policies such as the open disrespect of non-religious new cadets and incentivizing participation in religious activities through the chain of command.” I have been in a position to hear countless cadets recount their personal stories of frustration in dealing with the ongoing oppres-
I have [heard] countless cadets recount their personal stories of frustration in dealing with the ongoing unconstitutional bigotry they face for being non-religious.” sive and unconstitutional bigotry they face for being non-religious. Cadets often come to me to seek assistance, guidance and reassurance in response to instances of debasing harassment. Many here are regularly told they do not deserve a place in the military. They are shown through policy that the Constitution guarantees their freedom of, but not from religion. Many are publically chastised for seeking out a community of like-
Voices minded people because it is such a common belief that humanism and other non-religious philosophies are inherently immoral and worse. In response to having my complaints ignored by several members of my direct military chain of command, I initiated an Equal Opportunity investigation earlier this semester. I have received nothing but positive responses from certain members of the chain of command since then, especially the Commandant of Cadets himself, Brigadier General Theodore Martin. But the existence of decades of legal precedent and policies prohibiting this pervasive religious bigotry has not stopped it from happening in the past, and will most certainly not stop it from happening in the future so long as the many who oppose it remain too timid to stand up and be counted. I am making this stand in the hope that others will follow by whatever means they must. Perhaps with enough external pressure brought to bear by continued civil rights activism, America’s military leadership will one day soon be forced to realize that nonreligious soldiers are not enemies of the state to be shunned, ridiculed and marginalized, but rather
patriotic, honorable Americans to be respected as equals. I am proud to affirm that I am continuing in my public position as the Director of West Point Affairs for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which currently has 165 cadets, faculty and staff clients; a 21 percent increase in client load since I went public. Further, I have confirmed that officers at West Point have been given
The tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution.” a gag order by senior leadership to specifically not talk to the media about any aspect of my departure. Both the spike in MRFF clients at West Point and the silencing of its officers speak volumes about the very matters of disgrace that I have expressed herein. With thanks to Jason Torpy and MAAF, Mikey Weinstein and the MRFF and Lyz Liddell and the rest of the wonderful staff of SSA.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES; VP/STAR MAX/FILMMAGIC/GETTY IMAGES; REDDIT.COM/PMRHOBO; TOM WILLIAMS/ROLL CALL/ GETTY IMAGES
“Hello Manny. I ran for president. I lost.” —Mitt Romney,
to boxer Manny Pacquiao Saturday night before his fight, according to his publicist
“I’ve learned to delegate... I can’t miss the first week of kindergarten.” — Gwen Stefani to Marie Claire on not being hands-on when it comes to her fashion line
If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?
— Justice Antonin Scalia,
on why he equates laws banning sodomy with those barring murder
One cannot help but be touched by the story of ordinary humans acting human.
— Huffpost commenter dwedge, on the unlikely friendship between a young girl and homeless man
Science poses questions that may never be answered. Religion poses answers that can never be questioned.
— Huffpost commenter illinoisgun, on a new study suggesting volcanoes, not meteorites, killed dinosaurs
“The joke 100 percent was on us. The idea was never, ‘Let’s call up and get through to Kate,’ or ‘Let’s speak to a nurse.’ The joke was our accents are horrible, they don’t sound anything like who they’re intended to be.”
— Michael Christian,
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: GETTY IMAGES/FLICKR RF; INDIGO/GETTY IMAGES; GETTY IMAGES
one of the Australian DJs behind a prank call to the UK hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was treated that led to the death of the first nurse they spoke to
Claiming that someone’s elses marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you are on a diet.
on George Will saying the opposition to gay marriage is dying
The fact that something is predicted over and over again and then comes true over and over again isn’t PROOF. Oh, wait a minute, yes it is, never mind. OK
— Huffpost commenter pastgone,
on the possibility of Chicago’s snowless record being broken after 18 years
12.16.12 #27 FEATURES
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH MUSIC MONOPOLY
STATEN ISLAND’S BATTLE WITH THE GOVERNMENT AND ITSELF
PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK
By Saki Knafo and Lila Shapiro Photographs by Atisha Paulson
Pedro Correa surveys the remains of his home on Kissam Avenue.
N THE SOUTHERN shore of Staten Island, the remains of a street called Kissam Avenue stretch across the marshland, a trail of ruins leading to the sea. When Pedro Correa first drove down the street six years ago with his wife, their young son and a real estate agent, he was amazed that a street so secluded and serene still existed in a city of eight million people. It was early spring, and a cool, salty breeze was blowing in from the ocean, rustling the sixfoot-tall curtains of grass that lined both sides of the road. The house the Correas had come to
see was about 50 feet from the beach, and it was a wreck — it had been ordered in parts from a Sears catalog in the 1950s — but Correa was a practiced carpenter and he allowed himself to fantasize about “the possibilities.” He’d never imagined that his corrections officer salary could afford him a third of an acre, a deck with ocean views and an in-ground pool. It wasn’t until Correa began paying off the $375,000 mortgage on the house that his neighbor Charlie, a retired ferry captain, told him about the history of floods in the area. In 1992, a nor’easter had filled the homes around Kissam with more than three feet of black sludge, destroyed furniture and appliances,
Kissam has a hisory of floods ruining property in the area, sometimes with as little as high tide during a full moon.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
and pounded away at an old, wooden sea wall that ran along the shore. The storms of ‘94 and ‘96 did still more damage, and then there were the countless smaller floods caused by nothing more than the combined force of a high tide and a full moon. Still, Correa wouldn’t contemplate selling. When he was 15, he had quit high school for a job at a butcher shop to support his mother and three younger siblings after his stepfather died. In 2001 he drove his car into downtown Manhattan as the first tower fell, and in 2003 he drove a tank through Baghdad as insurgents mined the roads. When he came home a year later, some of the men who fought beside Correa in Iraq confided that they were taking medications to combat post-traumatic stress, but he didn’t want to see a psychiatrist. He took a job as a corrections sergeant at Sing Sing, where he trained to be able to protect his prison staff in the event of a riot or a fire. Correa felt he could handle whatever came at him. On the evening of Oct. 29, about three hours before a wave crashed over Kissam Avenue and tore 13 of the block’s 17 homes
from their foundations, Correa and his best friend, Bobby, stood in the kitchen cooking spaghetti and a sauce made from crabs they’d caught in the marsh the day before. Earlier that day, most of the people on the block, including Correa’s wife, Jen, and two children, PJ and Alyssa, had followed the city’s mandatory orders to evacuate, leaving only Correa
“SHOULD I HAVE BOUGHT A HOUSE THERE, SHOULD I HAVE BUILT THERE, SHOULD HAVE I PUT ALL THAT MONEY THERE?” and Bobby behind. At about 5:30 p.m., Correa looked out his kitchen window and realized that this storm was going to be worse than any he’d seen before. About 100 feet down the beach, whitecaps were curling over the top of the seawall. High tide would not arrive for another three hours, and already one of the block’s only defenses against the weather was failing. So he and Bobby decided to finish dinner and leave. They stayed just long enough to haul a generator into the basement and secure Correa’s tool collection. When they got back upstairs,
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
Correa saw his car rolling past the window and wondered if he’d parked it in neutral. Then he realized that the car wasn’t rolling, it was floating. Correa had always made it a point of pride never to run from danger, but as the surge ferried his car away, he knew that running was no longer an option. That night, the storm that had killed at least 11 people in Cuba and 54 in Haiti spun into the wedge of water formed by Long Island and the northern coast of New Jersey and struck the southern shore of Staten Island head on. Between 7 and 8 p.m., the wind pushed a 13-foot surge down the streets of the shore-facing neighborhoods and up the creeks that spread through them like veins, submerging them in seawater and slime. At least 23 people died on Staten Island, more than half of the city’s total deaths in the storm. The only other time in recent memory that a disaster of comparable magnitude struck the borough was on Sept. 11, 2001, when 274 residents, many of them cops and firefighters, died in the World Trade Center attacks. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, people on the south shore began referring to Oakwood Beach,
where Correa lived, as Ground Zero. Volunteer crews and government workers fanned out through the streets and picked through the debris, and snowplows created forlorn monuments to people’s personal lives (piles of mudspattered gym equipment, baby cradles, a broken cello, an upright piano). Meanwhile, residents in Oakwood Beach were surprised to find themselves coming to a consensus that would have struck many of them as unimaginable on Oct. 28, the day before the storm. For almost half a century, two generations of Staten Island’s generally conservative, independent and anti-government residents
The city allowed developers to build on the marshy wetlands that previously served as a barrier from the ocean.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
had petitioned the government to build and maintain a variety of barriers to defend them from the sea — and although elected officials had promised, on many occasions, to protect residents and their homes, authorities never delivered safety measures that the government’s own Army Corps of Engineers deemed worthy of serious consideration. The population simply continued to boom, and as real estate developers and their political allies pushed for growth, Oakwood Beach, like many other shoreline neighborhoods, morphed from a bungalow community into a modern suburb. Jonathan Peters, an urban planning expert and economist at the College of Staten Island, described the south shore as “the wild west of city development.” A fourth-generation Staten Islander, Peters is among a small circle of professors at the college who have repeatedly warned about the dangers of overdevelopment and flooding. Through his research, Peters determined that the city allowed developers to build throughout the borough with little consideration of the risks at hand. “The rules are very loose. Why? I don’t know. It could be the devel-
oper community,” he said. Randy Lee, a prominent Staten Island developer, dismissed the notion that development has trumped reason on Staten Island. “Everybody’s looking for a villain,” he said. In any case, Peters placed the lion’s share of the blame on the city
“WE NEVER TALKED ABOUT POLITICS. WE JUST WANTED TO GET THE JOB DONE.” government, not the builders. By allowing developers to do more or less as they pleased, he said, the city had basically behaved like an “absentee landlord.” Peters and some of his colleagues at the college also believed that Staten Island’s political culture propped up an attitude toward the environment that some residents are now beginning to question. Like the Republican Party in general, many local leaders have rejected the scientific consensus about climate change, and they’ve routinely voted against measures meant to combat it. Year after year, storm after storm, residents voted in relative lockstep for those leaders, and insisted on staying put, hoping that the government would make
good on its promises to provide aid, even as a real estate sprawl brought Staten Island ever closer to the Atlantic Ocean’s embrace. After Sandy’s onslaught, though, amid corpses and wreckage, many of Staten Island’s survivors have come to accept that they were living in a potential death trap. “Should I have bought a house there, should I have built there, should have I put all that money there?” Correa wondered recently. “This kind of event makes you question everything you’ve done in life.” Like nearly all of his neighbors, Correa now wanted out.
The Victims Committee
Staten Island is still the least city-like of New York City’s five boroughs, and until the 1960s, it was made up mostly of farmland and vacation homes. But after the Verrazano Bridge opened in 1964, thousands of working-class people arrived from crowded neighborhoods in Brooklyn, enticed by opportunities unavailable back in Bensonhurst and unaffordable in Long Island or on the Jersey Shore. On Staten Island, you could buy a home of your own, and if the home wasn’t big enough, you could expand it. By the 1990s, Staten Island was the fastest growing county in New York State, and even as the flow of Brooklyn Italians slowed, a new
In Staten Island, 23 people died as a result of the hurricane, more than half of the city’s deaths during the storm.
wave of settlers poured in from Brooklyn’s Russian areas. Decade after decade, new Staten Islanders built thousands of homes on wetlands that once had served as a natural buffer against the storms that blew in from the sea. As the houses went up, residents of Oakwood Beach pressured elected leaders to help protect them. The most recent of these efforts goes back to the winter of 1992, when a December nor’easter destroyed parts of the seawall, which the government had built in the 1950s. That storm led to the formation of the Oakwood Flood Victims Committee,
a group of mostly young, middleand working-class parents who tried to push the city, the state and the federal governments to do something. One afternoon, about a month after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the neighborhood, possibly for good, Jackie Nielsen, the former head of the committee, walked into Gennaro’s Restaurant and Pizzeria in Oakwood Beach and dropped a pile of newspaper clippings and documents on the table. “It’s all in here,” she said. A second-generation Oakwood Beach resident who, at 53, still had the wiry build and tough manner of a former star softball shortstop, Nielsen said that the neighborhood didn’t flood at all when she was a kid. A berm, or a
Residents of Staten Island helped each other with out on clean-up jobs and provided supplies for those who had lost it all.
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mound of rock and sand, ran along the beach, and a wooden seawall sat at the water’s edge, and that was enough. It was only after the ’92 storm knocked down parts of the berm and tore planks out of the seawall that she and her neighbors became accustomed to the sight of water creeping across their backyards and seeping into their homes. Nearly every week for four years, the Oakwood Flood Victims Committee met at a veterans’ post to petition the government for help, and every week, elected officials and their aides would come listen. Some might have seen the group’s courtship of the government as ironic. Staten Islanders have a long history of conservative-minded independence and have considered seceding from greater New York City on occasion. Through their elected officials, they’ve urged the government to be less present in their lives, and yet they were now seeking government subsidies to protect them from the consequences of the personal risks they took by living in a potential disaster zone. Nielsen, for her part, mostly voted for Democrats, she said, but if she had any objections to her neigh-
bors’ political beliefs, she rarely brought them up. “We never talked about politics,” she said. “We just wanted to get the job done.” Her group had two basic demands: First, repair the damaged seawall and berm, and second, come up with a long-term solution that would make not just Oakwood Beach, but the whole south shore of Staten Island, a safe place to live. Residents had been asking for a long-term solution since before Nielsen was born, and in 1965, when she was 6, the Army Corps of Engineers agreed to study the problem. Forty-seven years later, the agency’s experts are still studying it. Nielsen likes to say that if they printed out all of their studies
Donations of jackets, blankets and warm clothes pile up in the aftermath of the storm.
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and built a wall with them, they could do more for the neighborhood than they have done in all those years of studying. There was one big drawback to this more comprehensive approach: No one wanted to pay for it. Although Susan Molinari, Staten Island’s Republican congresswoman at the time, convinced Congress to set aside $330,000 for a study of the coastline in 1995, that study didn’t get started until 2000, and after a few years it ran out of money. Nielsen thought the difficulties came down to class
the Parks Department?” Nielsen asked. “I don’t know.” Then there was the short-term fix, which had its own problems. In 1993, the city repaired the most badly damaged part of the berm, and the next year, Molinari got the city, the state and two federal agencies to agree to sharing the cost of fixing the seawall. But half a year after that, the Army Corps scrapped the seawall plan, saying it was too expensive. As an alternative, the army proposed building a system of levees, mounds of earth and rock, which would guide water
“WHO CARES ABOUT PROTECTING THE HOMES OF A TEACHER, A PLUMBER, A GUY WHO WORKS FOR THE PARKS DEPARTMENT?” issues. A few days after Sandy, she pointed out, city crews began rebuilding the dunes on the beach in Belmar, N.J., where a 20-block boardwalk, restaurants and tourist attractions brought in millions of dollars last summer. But nearly a month after Sandy, people in Oakwood Beach still didn’t know if they’d ever be able to return to their homes. “Who cares about protecting the homes of a teacher, a plumber, a guy who works for
into a marsh a few blocks inland. This revised plan called for a 10-foot levee and a floodgate to be installed at the mouth of a creek that ran along the southern edge of the beach and emptied out into a 70-acre marsh wrapping around Kissam Avenue. When it rained, the creek would often overflow, joining the rush of water pouring in from the sea. By building the floodgate and the levee, the Army Corps hoped to divert water away from the homes, toward the inland marsh. It planned to build a second levee at
that site, to keep the water from overflowing the marsh there. But the Army Corps never fully followed through on that plan. By the time the agency broke ground on the project, in 1999, developers had begun building a complex of townhouses in the marsh. According to Nielsen, this may have had fatal consequences. Leaving the pizzeria, Nielsen drove through the neighborhood and stopped in front of a bungalow-style home on Fox Beach Avenue, one of the streets that leads through the undeveloped marshland all the way to the shore. She pointed to the plywood boards
covering the blown-out windows of a basement where her friend Leonard Montalto drowned on the night of the storm. Nielsen had assumed heâ€™d gone down there to pump water. Bunches of flowers still rested on the stoop. Farther down the street she stopped in front of another modernized bungalow, where John Filipowicz Sr., a 51-year-old school bus driver, and his son John Jr., a 20-year-old student at Staten Island College, were found dead in the basement the day after the storm, clinging to each other. There, too, plywood covered a large section of the basement wall. To an unsuspicious eye, there would have been nothing particularly unusual about either of the
A 13-foot wave tore 13 homes on Kissam Avenue off their foundations and swept them into a nearby marsh.
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homes, situated as they were in a flood-zone filled with plywoodcovered properties. But Nielsen felt that something about them warranted suspicion. In both cases, the damaged walls faced away from the sea. “If the water came from the ocean, how could it strike the walls with enough force to break them?” By her own reasoning, and by the accounts of several residents who stayed behind during the storm, the water rushed down the street from the area where the Army Corps had planned to build that second levee, before developers put up townhouses on the property. Nielsen now lives near Rutgers University, in N.J., at the top of the tallest hill she could find in the area; she went to the county clerk’s archive and took out a prospector’s map to research the local elevations. In 2000, right after the Army Corps finished building the levee system, she found a buyer for her Staten Island home. “We took a beating on it,” she said, “but we wanted to get out of there as fast as we could.”
Staring at the dark street from his back door on the night that
Sandy landed, Correa could see something massive moving toward him on the waves. The storm had swept his next-door neighbor’s home off its old foundation and sent it hurtling toward the side of his house. He heard a boom and
“EVERYONE IS SAYING WALK AWAY! YOU JUST CAN’T WALK AWAY WITH NOTHING!” felt a jolt as his house slipped off the concrete platform beneath it and tipped backward into his yard. The back of the house began filling with water. Within minutes the water was up to Correa’s chest. Correa and Bobby fought their way to the front of the house, where the water hadn’t yet climbed to their waists. Correa called Jen, his wife, at her friend’s house, but she didn’t pick up. He left a message: “I love you with all of my heart.” He and Bobby spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how to escape. When he’d trained as a corrections sergeant, one of his instructors told him that if should ever find himself trapped in a flood, he should always remember to “stay with the structure.” But now the structure was falling apart around
him. For a few minutes he and Bobby considered taking refuge in the attic, but they weren’t sure they’d be able to swim out if the water got that high. So instead they decided to take their chances outside. As a roof floated past his door, Correa jumped for it, breaking a rib as his chest smashed into the edge. He clambered up the side, and then reached down to help Bobby out of the water. As the current carried the roof into the marsh, Correa’s home faded into the night. In abandoning his home, Correa was doing something he’d never done before, despite having had good reason to do so on at least three previous occasions. In
2009, on Easter Sunday, Correa and his wife woke up from a nap to the sound of a fire roaring in the dried grass across the street. A wall of flames filled the view from their bedroom window. Jen grabbed the kids and drove away, and Correa and a neighbor broke into a third neighbor’s apartment to rescue a terrified rottweiler and pit bull. After driving the dogs to safety, Correa returned to his home and climbed onto the roof with a garden hose. He and a few other men on the block stayed behind to spray down their roofs with water as the fire spewed embers at them. A year later, Correa stayed behind to pump out his basement while a nor’easter flooded his street. And the year after that, he
Muddy, unsalvageable belongings line the streets in the city’s hardest hit areas.
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defied the city’s orders to clear out in time for Hurricane Irene. Like almost all of his neighbors, Correa had invested most of his life’s savings into his home, and except for a few trips to Disney World with his family, he spent all of his vacations improving it. Whenever he and Jen had an argument, she would throw on a pair of running shoes and take off down the street, and he would carve another railing for his deck or bang together another cabinet. In the past six years, he has built a front porch, a big deck overlooking the ocean, a kitchen, a bathroom and an apartment for his mother in the basement. Last spring, he built a chicken coop for seven hens and a rooster, attracting the attention of an eagle that perched on a neighbor’s tree. In his passion for home improvement, and in many other respects, Correa was a lot like all the other men on the block, and that was one of the things he liked most about living there. Adam down the street was a cop; Vinny was a mailman. They all had kids, and they all had tools. They all helped build each other’s decks and tile each other’s bathrooms, and they all subscribed to
an ethos that Vinny would later sum up by saying, “We took care of each other and we took care of ourselves.” What Vinny didn’t say at that moment, but what he and Correa and many others felt, was that they couldn’t count on the government to take care of them. Staten Islanders often attribute their political loyalties to the borough’s limited representation in the city government: Of the 51 members of New York’s City Council, only three represent Staten Island. And while that number is proportional to the borough’s population of about 500,000, Staten Islanders often point out that their borough differs from most places inhabited by
The area near the marsh where Pedro Correa and Robert Gavars rode out the storm on an improvised raft.
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half a million people — Atlanta, Sacramento, Tucson — in that most of those places get to create their own policies. On Staten Island, one policy in particular explains why residents view the city as the oppressor. In 1947, the city gave Staten Island the gift of the world’s largest landfill, spawning a secession movement that came to a head in 1993, when Staten Islanders voted by a measure of two-to-one to break away from New York City’s government. They were prevented from doing so only by a ruling of the Democratic leadership in the New York State Assembly. So the residents there tend to have little enthusiasm for what Correa politely called government “entitlements,” and yet as the vicious winds pelted Correa’s makeshift raft with pieces of his neighbors’ homes, he thought for one gloriously hopeful moment that two specific government departments had come to his rescue. Staten Island’s resentment of government has rarely, if ever, extended to police officers and firefighters, and for that one moment, Correa imagined that the lights blinking on and off across the marsh belonged to rescuers. Then
he realized with a sickening feeling that the SOS flashes came from people trapped in their homes. They must have thought he was a rescuer, too. As they signaled their distress, the roof drifted farther and farther into the marsh.
‘The Real Estate Party’
By the time Jackie Nielsen had left for New Jersey, John LaFemina, another Oakwood Beach community activist who had worked closely with her group, was one of the few people in the neighborhood still fighting for government help. After the Army Corps installed its tem-
“IF YOU CHECK OUT ALL THE POLITICIANS THAT RUN AROUND HERE AND LOOK WHERE THE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS COME FROM, THEY ALL COME FROM BUILDERS.” porary protections in 2000, concerns about flooding “faded away” from the public agenda, LaFemina said. But when LaFemina saw what happened to New Orleans in 2005, he tried to resurrect the fight. He said he held two meetings to dis-
cuss the issue and invited all of the government officials who represented the area to attend. Only one showed up, he said — a man named Anthony Licciardello. Licciardello was a low-ranking official in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s first administration — his title was “Staten Island director of the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit.” Before joining the Bloomberg administration, Licciardello had worked as a crime victims investigator for New York State. “If you look deeper, things turn up,” he said of the experience. In 2003, as a member of a City Hall task force, he and other officials had looked into the prob-
lem of overdevelopment on Staten Island, and they’d come up with a series of guidelines aimed at relieving traffic and preserving the borough’s suburban character. They required builders to raise living quarters above a certain elevation level, but they didn’t adopt measures that would have kept builders out of the flood plains altogether. After his meeting with LaFemina, Licciardello arranged for a group of city and state officials to accompany him on a tour of Kissam Avenue — where the Correa family had just settled. As the delegation walked down the street, Licciardello was shocked by what he saw. From the contrasting patterns of lawn and marsh, it was obvious to him that people had
According to eyewitness accounts, water rushed in from the same direction where the second levee was supposed to be built by the Army Corps.
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defied a New York State rule restricting them from filling in wetlands. But when he confronted a state official about this, the official told him that you couldn’t penalize transgressors unless you caught them in the act. Licciardello dug into the history of flooding in Oakwood Beach, and discovered a memo from the Army Corps saying that it had run out of money to pursue that longterm study first proposed in 1965 and later commissioned in 1993 — the one that Jackie Nielsen had unsuccessfully pushed it to complete. With the help of LaFemina, Licciardello assembled some documents detailing the residents’ failed attempts to get the protection they felt they needed. In 2006, Licciardello says, he sent a memo to his bosses in the Bloomberg administration urging them to take “immediate action” to help the neighborhood. He never got a response. Licciardello says he doesn’t have a copy of this memo, which he claims to have sent from a city email account that no longer exists. A draft of an email that Licciardello says he later sent to a supervisor while preparing the memo cited a 1999 report in which the
Army Corps had determined that federal protection of the area was “warranted.” But as Licciardello pointed out in the email draft, the study had run out of money. “There may be heightened concern among residents if the details of the Army Corps of Engineer reports become public knowledge,” Licciardello wrote. The Bloomberg administration replied to a request for the Lic-
“EVERYBODY’S LOOKING FOR A VILLAIN.” ciardello memo by saying that if a record exists, a copy would not be available until after the publication of this story. A spokesman for the Bloomberg administration didn’t respond to multiple requests for a confirmation of the memo’s existence, or to any other questions about Oakwood Beach. Vanessa Friedhoff, an attorney in New Jersey who worked as Licciardello’s intern at City Hall, said she remembers typing up the memo and recalled that it shed light on the fact that there could be “problems for the city in the case of a storm” and offered “some proposals to help fortify the infrastructure.” Some community advocates,
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echoing LaFemina, say they thought the study ran out of money because residents became complacent after the construction of the temporary flood barriers in 2000. The local congressman at the time was Vito Fossella, who served from 1997 to 2009. In a recent interview, Fossella said that the study had for some reason hit a roadblock, and claimed that he’d urged the Army Corps to “go back and figure out what the deal is.” The Army Corps, for its part, said that the only roadblock it encountered was a lack of federal funding. The funding came to “a complete grinding halt” in 2006, said Chris Gardner, an Army Corps
spokesman. In 2008, the funding resumed, though at lower levels than before, and in 2009, Democratic councilman Michael McMahon won the borough’s congressional seat amid anger over Fossella’s involvement in a sex scandal, and helped persuade the Obama administration to devote $550,000 of stimulus funds to the project. That was enough to put the Army Corps employees back on the job, but by then the study had been dormant for nearly three years and much of the data had to be reevaluated. Throughout those years, LaFemina, a long-time builder, watched with a growing sense of apprehension as multi-family homes continued to spring up all over the wetlands. One of the projects
A man begins the daunting task of removing muck from everything he owns.
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that troubled him most was the complex of townhouses built in the marshy area where the Army Corps had considered building a levee. In 1992, almost a year before the nor’easter hit Staten Island, developers had submitted an application to the city asking to buy the land, which the city owned. LaFemina says he raised objections to the sale in community meetings, arguing that if developers were allowed to build on that marsh, the community would lose another important buffer against flooding. But in 1997, after the Army Corps identified the area as a possible site for the levee, the City Council approved the deal. (Gardner, the Army Corps spokesman, played down the significance of this decision, saying that the Army Corps raised roads in the area as an alternative to building a levee. He also noted that the levee might not have done much to protect the neighborhood from a storm as big as Sandy.) Even after the City Council adopted the zoning guidelines recommended by the mayor’s 2003 task force, the city continued handing out waivers that allowed builders to go around the new rules. LaFemina had little trouble
coming up with an explanation for this. “If you check out all the politicians that run around here and look where the campaign contributions come from, they all come from builders,” he said. One Staten Island political player, Lawrence J. Hanley, a former Staten Island bus driver who now leads the Amalgamated Transit Union, put it even more bluntly. “There’s only one party on Staten Island, and it’s the real estate party,” he said. In the years that LaFemina and Licciardello were trying to get the government to help the neighborhood, the political establishment in Staten Island was dominated by
A flooded backyard in Midland Beach.
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two men, Fossella and Guy Molinari, both of whom remain influential in the borough. Molinari, who served as borough president from 1990 to 2001, has been described as the “Karl Rove” of Staten Island, a master strategist who essentially runs the borough’s branch of the Republican Party to this day. For years, aspiring politicians from all over the island sought his blessing, but in 2004, he had a falling out with one of his protégés, Fossella, and ever since then Molinari’s camp and Fossella’s have been at odds. Although Fossella left office in 2009, several of his associates continue to hold influential political offices, and there are rumors that Fossella is considering a run for borough president in 2013. Despite their ongoing feud, both Molinari and Fossella, along with many of their associates in Washington, Albany, and City Hall, have close ties to the real estate industry, which is one of the few sources of economic growth on Staten Island. By his own account, Molinari has personally invested in real estate — in fact, as a young man he gambled on an Oakwood Beach property investment that ended, like many other invest-
ments there, in a storm — and since leaving office he has lobbied elected officials on behalf of real estate and construction companies. In a phone interview, he denied that he and his political allies had ever catered to their friends and funders in the industry, but he offered the opinion that Fossella was a “different story.” Fossella’s father was a powerful architect and developer. “There was a kind of thing where you had to go through the father to be able to get your projects approved,” Molinari said. Fossella disputed Molinari’s characterization of him. “I think
“A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T REALIZE WHAT ANARCHY REALLY MEANS. IT DOESN’T REALLY MEAN CHAOS. IT MEANS A GROUP WITHOUT RULES OR RULERS.” he needs a check on reality,” he said, noting that many of his family members were personally affected by Sandy and that he had pushed for the rezoning process that led to the formation of the mayor’s 2003 task force. Although the idea of developers running rampant on Staten
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Island may bring to mind Donald Trump or Bruce Ratner, politicians and voters on Staten Island are more likely to be subjected to “the tyranny of small developers,” as a political scientist at the College of Staten Island put it. One Staten Island developer, Anthony Tucci, sits on the cabinet of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, an organization that promotes business interests on Staten Island and whose 11 person executive committee includes James Molinaro, the borough president. Tucci, a tax attorney, was involved in the construction of some of the townhouses built in the marsh area where the
Army Corps had planned to erect that second levee back in 1996. Asked to respond to the concerns of some Oakwood Beach residents about the possibility that the complex could have contributed to the destruction caused by Sandy, Tucci first tried to distance himself from the project. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he said, before putting the phone call on hold. When he got back on the call, he was angry. Asking him questions about real estate development on Staten Island amounted to a “witch hunt,” he said. The project in question “was lawfully constructed” and its developers complied “one thousand percent to every rule that’s out there.” He argued that “everybody is being hurt” by
The marsh where Pedro Correa and Robert Gavars rode out the storm.
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Sandy and said, “If you’re going to go ahead and develop a story like that, I’m putting you on notice.” After about 15 minutes, he asked where the concerns about overdevelopment on Staten Island originated. Told that various community leaders had brought them to light, he replied, “Community leaders have been creating problems from day one.”
‘I Never Liked Cold Water ’
Stranded in the marsh on their improvised raft, Correa and Bobby faced a fresh dilemma. The remains of people’s homes were piling up against the edge of the roof where they had hoped to ride out the rest of the storm, and Correa
could hear the roof creaking and buckling under the pressure. Correa was afraid that the roof would crack and sink. He and Bobby thought about jumping, but the silhouettes of the closest houses seemed far away and they weren’t sure they could make it through the churning debris. Later, when Correa recounted how they managed to get out, he specifically noted that salvation came in the form of a bundle of 2-by-6 planks. His neighbor Eric had been in the midst of yet another round of home repairs, and like any carpenter who cares about his work, he had chosen the finest materials. The planks proved strong enough for Correa and Bobby to construct a makeshift gangway from the roof almost all the way to dry land.
The remains of a home on Kissam Avenue.
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Nearly an hour after they’d deserted Correa’s home, Correa and Bobby were just a few yards from the houses on Mill Road, a street that ran parallel to the marsh. But a channel of swiftly moving water separated them from the nearest doorstep and Correa’s arms were so cold that it took all of his effort to swim. Making matters worse, about 20 pounds of firearms were hanging from a satchel around his neck. In his rush to get out of the house, Correa had grabbed them from his safe so that they wouldn’t wash up on a nearby street where anyone could find them. At about 9 p.m., Jen Correa received a call at her friend’s home in Brooklyn. Pedro had made it to higher ground, though not before running into a team of police rescuers who asked him to go back into the water to help them save an elderly woman from her house down the road. Correa gamely accepted the assignment, but he did not relish the prospect of going back into the waves. Just a year before, he had used a home equity loan to buy a $3,000 water heater for the pool. “I never liked cold water,” he later confessed.
‘The Forgotten Borough ’
After the storm, help was slow to arrive on Staten Island, and residents felt that their “forgotten borough” had been forgotten again. More isolated than ever from the rest of the city, with the majority of cars in the floodzone rendered useless, residents banded together to pump out each other’s basements, to provide the newly homeless with food, clothing, water and blankets, to rescue those still trapped, and to spread the word of their suffering on the Internet. One anonymous message making the rounds on Facebook invited outsiders to keep pretending that Staten Island didn’t exist. “We tell adversity to shove it and we take care of our own.” When he wasn’t helping his neighbors pick through their
Help was slow to arrive in Staten Island, which has a history of being an independent community. Residents helped each other with everything from daily tasks to search-andrescue efforts.
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ruined belongings, Correa made repeated trips back to Kissam Avenue, where he surveyed what was left of the house. The front steps now led to nowhere (Vinny called them the “stairway to heaven”), but the backyard deck had survived almost completely intact, which Correa attributed, half-jokingly, to his superior carpentry skills. The home itself was gone. One day, Correa and Bobby commandeered a rowboat that the police rescuers had left behind and carved a path through the tall grasses to the middle of the marsh, where they found the house sitting at an angle in a forest of weeds. Sludge covered every surface and filled the house with a nasty stench. Correa rescued his wife’s wedding dress and their children’s baptismal pictures from the top shelf of a closet. Three days after the storm, Correa saw his first newspaper reporter. On the fourth day, he was interviewed on Dateline. Over the following weeks, he and Jen met supermodel Christy Turlington and flew to Chicago to tape a segment for the Steve Harvey show. Like Correa, the “forgotten
borough” had suddenly become something of a celebrity, and thousands of dollars poured into the online account that Jen and Pedro had set up for donations. Correa shaved, borrowed a suit, and met with a landlord who agreed to let him sign a threemonth lease on an apartment. Every day, he went back to the plot of land where his house had been and contemplated his future. He
“WE TELL ADVERSITY TO SHOVE IT AND WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN.” thought about rebuilding. “With the carpentry skills I have, I could make it beautiful again,” he said a week after the storm. What he refused to do was place blame on anyone but himself. One recent day, as the sun sparkled across the calm surface of the sea, a white, six-seat Ford F-150 pickup truck made its way along Staten Island’s notoriously congested roads toward Correa’s street. Inside were three professors from the College of Staten Island, the borough’s branch of the City University of New York. On a block full of cops and contractors, the professors were like
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visitors from another world. One of them, geologist Alan Benimoff, wore a navy suit, rimless glasses, and a neat white mustache. Richard Flanagan, a public policy expert, had on a navy sports jacket and an old-fashioned wool cap, and Jonathan Peters, an economist and fourth-generation Staten Islander, looked less like a professor than an FBI agent gone rogue. He wore a black suit and black wrap-around shades, and referred to the white truck as his “military vehicle” and the south shore as a “war zone.” The three had been working together on various studies for about a decade, and in the last several years they’d turned their attention
to Staten Island’s shoreline. Using an advanced computer mapping system, Benimoff had shown that thousands of homes had materialized over the decades in flood zones designated dangerous by the New York State Office of Emergency Management. Peters’ research showed that the city had allowed most of this development to take place in a pell-mell way, regardless of risk. Flanagan had supplied research on the political culture that enabled the development. As they drove toward Kissam Avenue, Peters and Benimoff shouted over each other, arguing about everything from whether to rebuild in those areas to whether to make a right turn at the next intersection. Flanagan sat quietly in the back, chiming in every now and then to
Bobby Gavars helps Pedro Correa look for lost possessions in the marsh where Correa’s home ended up after the storm.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
issue some bleak observation about the state of affairs on Staten Island and in society at-large. As they turned onto Kissam, Benimoff, whom Peters had described as the “worm cutter and the rock breaker” of the bunch, gaped at the remains of what he considered the inevitable convergence of economic and geological forces. “This was a house, look,” he proclaimed, staring out the window at a square of exposed concrete blocks. “A gallon of water weighs eight pounds! It was like putting hammer to them!” They made their way down the street, passing Correa’s old property, and Benimoff continued to riff on an argument that he’d been pushing all afternoon. “They don’t think there’s a threat,” he said of the invisible residents, snapping pictures on his phone of the remnants of their homes. He did an impression of a naïve home-buyer: “’Its not going to happen to me!’” Peters cut him off. “It’s not that, it’s what else can they afford?” The low-lying areas of Staten Island are New York City’s “9th Ward,” he said. “This is an area where people can be homeowners. The question is: Does the housing go to the lowest common denomi-
nator? The city has to say what’s safe, what’s appropriate.” Flanagan spoke up from the back seat. “If you look at the public agenda, the flashpoint has been, ‘Man, that house just got torn down and those S.O.B. developers put up four townhouses in the spot.’” As a result, he said, the dangers of flooding have all but disappeared from public discourse. He waved his hand dismissively. “Getting hit by an asteroid is just as big a factor.” In the years before the storm, the professors had tried to raise alarms, but they struggled to capture the attention of anyone except for a handful of fellow scholars in their fields. Peters said their Staten Island status sometimes made it hard for them to earn the
The situation is bleak for those looking to rebuild and restore prestorm value to their homes.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
respect of high-up academics and administrators in New York City’s public university system. He also felt that his colleagues at other university systems had more opportunities to communicate with the city officials responsible for shaping policies. The College of Staten Island sits on the former grounds of the Willowbrook mental institution, the state hospital that was shut down after an investigation by a young Geraldo Rivera revealed widespread abuse, and as the professors pulled into that iconic site of civic failure, the conversation turned to what they, and Staten Islanders more generally, could do with all the attention they were suddenly receiving. In the past few weeks, the island’s politicians had found themselves in the rare position of speaking to a national audience, and yet, as they debated the merits of rebuilding and mulled over the question of who should foot the bill, one topic rarely came up. When it did, it was mostly treated as a bizarre or overly complicated footnote. “Me, personally, I don’t want to get into climate change,” said James Oddo, a Staten Island councilman. “Climate change is slow,” said the bor-
ough president, James Molinaro. “When I first heard about it, it sounded wacky, and it still sounds wacky,” said the Republican power broker Guy Molinari, adding, “Maybe there’s something to it.” Thomas Matteo, the official Staten Island historian and a Molinaro appointee, dismissed the scientific consensus on humankind’s role in climate change even more directly: “That’s total bullshit.” “The Republicans should wake up one morning and realize that you should be prudent,” said Peters, who describes himself as a Staten Island conservative. “And the prudent thing to do is to minimize your carbon footprint. Whether or not you’re buying in yet to global warming, whether or not you have your head in the sand, the reality is it can’t hurt to be prudent.” Benimoff interrupted: “Can I just say something? What do we do about China and India? Can we tell them to reduce—” Peters ignored him. “I believe that Republicans should be green,” he said. “I think it’s the right place for the future. Does Staten Island now lead that conversation because people are frustrated and they feel that they need to be greener to protect their community? Maybe. Maybe that’s the next step in all this. That might be a good outcome of this.” He turned to Flanagan in
the back. “Are the political winds changing that way yet, Rich?” Flanagan thought for a few moments before articulating his response. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I think that this issue will get lost in the weeds.”
‘Lost in the Weeds ’
With Jackie Nielsen exiled to New Jersey, one of her neighbors, Tina Downer, joined John LaFemina in campaigning for those long-awaited, long-term flood barriers. By the time Sandy hit, she’d come to believe that those barriers would never arrive. And by the time she gathered her neighbors in a church auditorium three weeks after the storm,
she’d concluded that there was a better option than staying put. “This has nothing to do with government, this has nothing to do with politics,” she said at the outset of the meeting — a welcome assurance, perhaps, to anyone in the crowd who shared her enthusiasm for the libertarian politics of Ron Paul. She’d brought the neighborhood together, she went on, to share ideas and perhaps come to some kind of agreement about how to move forward. She then invited the crowd to consider a term she holds dear. “A lot of people don’t realize what anarchy really means,” she said. “It doesn’t really mean chaos. It means a group without rules or rulers. A team needs players and everybody has to work together.”
Nearly a month later, residents wonder if they will ever be able to return to their homes.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
This opening elicited no audible reaction from the hundreds of people in the audience. But after she’d ceded the floor to some community leaders who said they could help residents get power tools and bleach to restore their homes, the crowd grew restless. One by one, the citizens began exercising their right to free speech. “I want to talk about the berm!” one woman shouted to cheers. “There is no berm!” a man shouted back. A city sewer-worker in overalls stood up and delivered a passionate plea. “Anybody who thinks that there’s a solution to this is out of their mind. I personally don’t want no bleach, no sheetrock, that’s not what we’re here for,” he said. “I’ve been told from guys high up there’s nothing you can do. That area was meant for doing what it did a hundred years ago: to take water.” Just as the room seemed on the verge of breaking out into the kind of anarchy that does not involve teamwork, a woman in tears stepped to the front of the room. “Everyone is saying walk away! You just can’t walk away with nothing!” “Do you think I can just pick
up and go?” asked Downer — and then she cast aside any intention she may have had of speaking only for herself. “We’re looking to be bought out. We want to be bought out. We want pre-storm value to our homes.” Applause filled the auditorium. Several people demanded a vote: Did anyone want to stay and rebuild? Of the hundreds of people in the room, three or four raised their hands. Some in the crowd later said they believed they were in a better position to sell their homes than people in other hard-hit
Of the homes that are still standing, residents are prohibited entrance, let alone occupation.
THE FORGOTTEN BOROUGH
communities, thanks to some of the same factors that had made it so difficult for them to get help when they wanted to stay. The neighborhood was small and cheap and surrounded by a complicated patchwork of lands under a variety of jurisdictions, and the city had already made plans to incorporate parts of the neighborhood into a network of ponds and creeks that serve as the borough’s natural drainage system. Among those who felt otherwise was Correa, who left the meeting halfway through. The confidence that had fueled his desire to live on a street surrounded by water, and that had kept him going on the night of the storm, had faltered. He’d never expected much of the government, and he didn’t think the government would swoop in to save him now. He’d come to the difficult conclusion that he’d watch his kids grow up in an ordinary apartment with none of the magic that he’d glimpsed when he first drove down Kissam Avenue. “I just don’t see it ending in any way except bankruptcy,” he said. A week later, in the hopes of cushioning the inevitable financial blow, he put on his waders
and led a group of men from the insurance agency into the tall, yellow grass along his old road. They followed the winding path that he and Bobby had cleared with the rowboat after the storm, and when they finally got to the house they climbed inside through a hole in the wall. Two of the insurance men took out cameras and measuring tools, and the third pulled out a clipboard and began taking notes. Correa slipped into his daughter’s room. A few years ago he’d painted it pink, and he’d stocked it with everything a little girl would need to imagine she was living in a Disney fairytale. Now the sea had painted the walls and the bed with sludge, and it had thrown her toys on the floor. Correa reached down and picked up a Tinkerbell doll and stood there looking at it for about a minute. He teared up and breathed in sharply through his nose. Squaring his shoulders, he returned it to its proper place on the dresser. Then he went back out into the hall to tell the man with the clipboard how much he’d paid for the family’s possessions. Daniel Lippman contributed research to this article.
D R O R EC I E S Y WH MPAN R CO B I G G E R E ARE BADD R E D V N A AN E TH
R E T R A CH C HERKIS A Z y B SO N C a n d JA
ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX NABAUM
ODAY, MUSIC LOVERS have more ways than ever before to access their favorite songs and discover artists they’ve never heard of. Can’t live another minute without the new Taylor Swift single? Download it on iTunes for just $1.29, or stream it over your smartphone with Spotify. Want to hear something different? Let Pandora Internet radio pick something for you, or turn to Grooveshark, a sonic Facebook, to hear what other music nerds are listening to. The digital revolution that the groundbreaking file-sharing service Napster heralded at the turn of the millenium finally seems to be bearing fruit. At the time, record labels decried the filesharing program as an existential threat to the industry. To protect record sales, they sued everyone from tech startups to children, and lobbied Congress for new laws to curb piracy. Now, though, digital music services have gone mainstream, promising listeners a world of perfectly legal possibilities and an
end to the major labels’ vice grip. If only it were so. The four largest record labels — Universal, Sony, Warner Music Group and EMI — are far from obsolete. Together, they control almost 90 percent of the music market. A decade ago, five labels controlled 80 percent. And when the Federal Trade Commission signed off on Universal Music’s controversial $2 billion takeover of EMI in late September, it approved a new behemoth that now controls more than 40 percent of the market alone — enough to make the company the dominant gatekeeper for sonic innovation from Silicon Valley to Sweden.
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The FTC, which approved the merger by a vote of 5 to 0, claimed that because each record label has a different roster of musicians, there is only “limited direct competition” between labels, making the prospect of anticompetitive behavior in the digital sphere a theoretical impossibility. Beyonce listeners don’t necessarily like The Beatles, so the FTC concluded that holding the rights to an enormous music catalog does not create antitrust problems. “Commission staff did not find sufficient evidence of head-to-
head competition to conclude that the combination of Universal and EMI would substantially lessen competition,” said FTC Bureau of Competition Director Richard Feinstein in a written statement. Consumer advocates were appalled. “It is incredible that the FTC has not taken any action whatsoever to protect consumers and competition in the nascent digital music market,” wrote Jodie Griffin, an attorney with Public Knowledge, a nonprofit that advocates for Internet freedom. “This merger will give UMG the power and incentive to burden new digital music services that benefit
Don Henley and Alanis Morissette during U.S. Senate Judiciary hearings on the future of online entertainment in 2001.
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actual artists and consumers.” Meanwhile, digital music companies are struggling to stay afloat. Over the past decade, major labels have used their market power to extract wildly expensive licensing agreements from new digital services — pricey enough to render almost all of them unprofitable. Pandora lost over $16 million last year, while Spotify lost more than $55 million. Artists are also worried about the merger’s consequences. “It’s all totally stacked against the creator,” says Casey Rae-Hunter, who heads the Future of Music Coalition, an organization representing independent and unsigned musicians. “And the Universal-EMI merger gives them even more leverage to do really scary things.” The American Antitrust Institute warned in August that the merger would lead to both “diminished consumer choice” and “diminished innovation,” and urged the FTC to block the deal. The European Union thwarted some of the merger’s effects abroad, forcing EMI to sell off 60 percent of its European catalog before greenlighting the merger. A Universal spokesman defended the deal, telling The Huffington
Post that opposition to the merger is “based on a lot of hypothetical assumptions and misconceptions that are not grounded in the realities of the music business today.” Sony and EMI declined to comment for this article. Warner Music also declined to comment, but in a recent Senate hearing, the company criticized the UniversalEMI merger as bad for big labels and independent artists alike, and claimed it was open to digital services, noting that it was the first
“We see now that the majors still dictate the terms,” said Casey Rae Hunter, deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition.
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record label to embrace iTunes. Today, the same giant record labels that attempted to outlaw both the portable MP3 player and the CD burner during the 1990s now have a stranglehold on digital innovation. They remain nearly as hostile to new services as they were to Napster and have bludgeoned less fortunate startups out of existence. Now that the FTC has approved the Universal-EMI merger, Grooveshark could be the next casualty. “This was supposed to look a lot different,” says Rae-Hunter, who also runs the tiny, independent record label Lux Eterna and records music under the moniker The Contrarian. “We were supposed to not just solve the access problem about reaching new audiences, but also to monetize that activity in a way
in which 99 percent of that activity was not captured by the major labels,” Rae-Hunter says. “But we see now that the majors still dictate the terms.”
‘NAPSTER HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING’
A decade ago, even at the height of the war against Napster, the writing appeared to be on the wall for the major labels. In the spring of 2001, Eagles singer Don Henley traveled to Washington to cheer on the digital revolution. To Henley and many other artists, the nation’s largest labels were little better than loan sharks. At worst, they were career saboteurs. “A typical artist could sell a half-million records and not see one dollar in royalties,” Henley told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was debating a congressional response to Nap-
A Senate Judiciary hearing on Universal’s merger with EMI Group Ltd. in June 2012.
ster. “It is as though you have paid off your mortgage and the bank still owns your house.” Nor were the major labels especially kind to their customers. A year before Henley’s testimony, they settled with the FTC for colluding to raise CD prices, a practice that had generated $480 million for the labels over three years. “Napster has changed everything,” Henley said at the hearing. By failing to establish a sustainable, standardized system for licensing digital music, “the record industry fiddled on the sidelines while the digital revolution went on without them.” In the years since Henley’s testimony, the music market has changed dramatically. According to data from the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing major labels, U.S. sales revenue peaked at $14.8 billion in 1999 (one of the years in which the FTC accused the labels of colluding to raise CD prices). That annual figure is now closer to $7 billion, a decline fueled by lower prices online, piracy and a sluggish economy. But last year, the industry’s slide finally stopped. Sales revenue actually grew, while the total
number of purchases reached an all-time high. A little over half of all music sales today are digital, not physical. One service above all others has been responsible for creating a viable commercial market for music online: iTunes. Since opening its music store in 2003, Apple has become the largest music vendor in the U.S. By 2009, it was responsible for
“THE RECORD INDUSTRY FIDDLED ON THE SIDELINES WHILE THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION WENT ON WITHOUT THEM.” 25 percent of all U.S. music sales, physical or digital. Labels take 70 percent of the retail sales from iTunes — a bigger cut than they take from traditional record stores. And by offering listeners a legal service that is as convenient as Napster was, and where songs cost as little as 99 cents, iTunes radically diminished the appeal of illegal downloading. When Apple CEO Steve Jobs prepared to launch iTunes, he did what every digital music startup has done since: negotiate licenses with the big labels. Traditionally, whenever a re-
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cord is purchased in a store or a song is played on the radio, songwriters and publishing companies receive a small portion of the proceeds. These royalties are set by Congress, which limits the amount that big publishing companies can demand from radio, while at the same time securing a stream of income for songwrit-
ers. Radio stations have never had an obligation to pay royalties to performers or record companies, however. For the most part, radio has served as a free advertising platform for the labels. On the Internet, by contrast, a new service must obtain a license from whoever owns a recording. There are no statutory royalty standards for recorded music in the digital universe, giving record companies the ability
Steve Jobs speaks at a product unveiling in 2010. Apple has consistently grown its dominance over the music industry with every new addition.
to demand any form or amount of payment they want from a new tech startup. Without buy-in from the major record companies, any new platform is limited to a tiny fraction of the music universe — a situation that isn’t very attractive to most listeners or to venture capitalists looking for a return on their investments. Apple needed the majors to get iTunes moving, and Jobs sought a licensing deal with one label that could serve as a template for the others. He eventually got Warner on board, then Universal and EMI. But as Walter Isaacson detailed in his biography of Jobs, Sony Music dragged its feet. From Sony’s perspective, iTunes wasn’t just Apple’s play for the digital music software market, it was a major bid for the hardware market, too, which would dramatically increase the appeal of Apple’s iPod and threaten Sony products like the Walkman. “The holdout was Sony, in part because Sony had Sony Electronics, thought Walkman should be the heir to the digital future, and didn’t want to license to a competitor,” Michael Nash, former head of digital music for Warner Music, told HuffPost.
Sony eventually decided to get on the iTunes train, however, rather than risk being left at the station. “After Jobs had other labels on board, Sony thought it would make them look bad, that they would lose out not being part of the launch,” Nash says. “And [they] knew there was a credible threat that iTunes could launch without Sony, that they’d get left behind.” No single company could hijack
“IT’S ALL TOTALLY STACKED AGAINST THE CREATOR. AND THE UNIVERSAL-EMI MERGER GIVES THEM EVEN MORE LEVERAGE TO DO REALLY SCARY THINGS.” the entire process if others wanted to play ball. According to Paul Vidich, a former Warner Music executive who closed the iTunes deal, the merger between Universal and EMI could put an end to that state of affairs. “Without a UMG-EMI license, they won’t have a business,” says Vidich, referring to new digital startups. “Within the new UMGEMI there will be only a handful of senior executives who make these key licensing decisions. So this small group will become the gatekeepers for music startups
that require these licenses. The psychology, pay packages and strategic interests of these executives will have an outsized impact on diversity and innovation in the entire online music industry.” The post-merger Universal could convert the current oligopoly effectively into an monopoly, with a single company determining the commercial viability of all innovation in the digital music space. “When you get to a position where you have a 40 percent market share, you can dictate the terms of new services, and that can be quite harmful to innovation,” says Martin Mills, founder of Beggars Group, which co-owns some of the biggest independent labels in the world, including XL and Matador Records. Not that tech companies are necessarily angels, either. Apple’s dominance of the music downloading sphere has led to separate antitrust inquiries from the Department of Justice, with some record labels complaining about Apple punishing them for marketing arrangements with Amazon, the second-biggest online music retailer. And many music industry executives have long blamed Ap-
ple’s low prices and popularization of individual song purchases for the decline in more lucrative sales of full albums. Apple and Amazon did not respond to requests to comment. “Whether there was any intelligent way to resist [the digital revolution] is an open question to me. It’s not like the newspaper and magazine business have done it any better,” says Danny Goldberg, former CEO of both Mercury Records and Warner Brothers Records, who now manages artists including Tom Morello. “I don’t think the music business is as venal as, say, Wall Street,” Goldberg says. “I also don’t think that tech companies and computer companies are populated by saints who only care about freedom.”
STICKING IT TO STARTUPS AND ARTISTS ALIKE
The iTunes talks demonstrated that a multibillion-dollar corporation running its own sophisticated legal and lobbying operations could take on the major labels and win. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs armed with a few million dollars in venture capital generally don’t fare so well. Neither do artists, especially independent ones with even fewer
resources at their disposal. In January of 1999, Rob Reid started Listen.com, with the goal of becoming the dominant online music source. But none of the major labels would license to him. For three years he held out, developing music databases to sell to search engines and licensing symphonies from Europe to give the business something to show investors. Finally, in the summer of 2002, the labels cut a deal. At the time, the Department of Justice was investigating the labels for potential antitrust violations, and labels felt enormous pressure to sign deals with independent providers. DOJ eventually dropped its inquiry, but Reid says that two separate major record labels sent his team contracts with identical typographical errors. Rather than attempt to take on Apple and Amazon in the market for music sales, most digital music startups tend to tackle online streaming. Listen.com became the streaming service Rhapsody and was sold to RealNetworks and Viacom in 2003. Digital licensing agreements for streaming services today still follow the same general terms of the deals that Reid signed, he
says. First, labels demand a large upfront cash advance, which is recouped through a complex royalty scheme. If the royalties never equal the advance, the labels still keep their original payment. Labels then get to calculate their royalties in one of two ways, whichever is more lucrative. They can take a small amount every time one of their songs is streamed — frequently about a penny per play
THE AVERAGE ARTISTS SEES JUST $23.40 FOR EVERY $1,000 IN MUSIC SOLD. — or just take a set percentage of the service’s total revenues. Typically, Reid says, the upfront advance is so high that the royalty regime is mostly academic: Digital platforms rarely generate enough money to send labels a check beyond the original advance. But if they do, he says, services routinely send half or more of their total income to the major labels. That’s an enormous amount of revenue for a startup to cede, and far more than FM radio, which pays the record labels absolutely nothing. Major labels control so much of the world’s music catalog, however, that new providers have to ink deals with them before turning to
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Rebecca Gates performs at Backspace during MusicFest NW in Portland in 2011. “I hate Grooveshark and Spotify,” Gates said. “I own two of my records, and if they are on Grooveshark or Spotify, it is without my approval.”
independent labels or unsigned artists. The bigger the label, the bigger the cut of the service’s revenue they can demand — and the worse the eventual deal for independent artists. “For a subscription service, there is a collective pot of money that can be divided up among record companies based on their market share,” says Beggars Group’s Mills. “If Universal’s market share is 40 percent, they automatically come in and ask for 55 or 60 percent of that pie. By the time these services get around to talking to small labels, the pie’s gone. And that, I think, is harmful to artists and to the market.” Indeed, while streaming services pay out millions to major labels, independent and unsigned artists are left with just fractions of a penny per play. “I hate Grooveshark and Spotify,” says Rebecca Gates, former lead singer of the band The Spinanes, which had been signed to the independent record label Sub Pop. Gates now releases her own music. “I own two of my records, and if they are on Grooveshark or Spotify, it is without my approval.” Gates received strong reviews for her latest record and has been
experimenting with selling digital versions directly to her fans. So far, operating outside the digital licensing world remains an uncertain experiment, but she’s been able to finance a European tour with the proceeds, which is more than most independent artists can claim for streaming proceeds. Labels now often demand equity in the new digital services as part of a licensing deal — a situation analogous to the labels own-
“THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO LOOK A LOT DIFFERENT … BUT WE SEE NOW THAT THE MAJORS STILL DICTATE THE TERMS.” ing stock in brick-and-mortar record stores. The major labels are all currently shareholders in Spotify, for example. When some of your biggest shareholders are major labels, your company may be in a good position to fend off competitors. But it also becomes very difficult to criticize the labels or negotiate a better deal down the line. Spotify and Grooveshark did not respond to requests for comment. But Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who now sits on Spotify’s board, has publicly praised the merger
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between Universal and EMI. “They’re all two-year deals, and the labels have full visibility into the financials, as shareholders and from royalty statements,” notes Reid. “So if a service is getting any kind of profit margin, the labels are going to come right back and negotiate a new contract that eats that margin. It seems impossible for these services to generate any kind of sustainable profitability.” Record labels would likely be
unable to make such extreme licensing demands if the music market were more diverse, however. If the world’s music catalog were more evenly distributed among more record companies, for example, new services could launch more easily, without the approval of a few big labels.
‘SEVERE HARM TO COMPETITION AND CONSUMERS’
Like other startups before it, Grooveshark, which launched in 2007, has been seeking licensing
Napster co-founder founder Sean Parker speaks during the 2011 Web 2.0 Summit.
deals with record labels of all sizes. In 2009, the company inked its first (and so far, only) agreement with a major label, EMI. But Universal has never been keen on Grooveshark. Instead of cutting a deal, Universal accused the new service of copyright infringement and repeatedly sued, most recently in late 2011 for $17 billion — roughly 850 percent of what they agreed to pay for all of EMI, and more than double the annual sales revenue of the entire U.S. recording industry. In January of this year, two months after agreeing to the Universal merger, EMI changed its tune, claiming that Grooveshark had missed a $100,000 payment on its licensing arrangement, and terminated the contract. EMI then sued the startup for copyright infringement as well. Grooveshark, which declined to comment for this story, noted at the time that it had paid EMI $2.6 million to date under the licensing arrangement. After settling the initial lawsuit, EMI filed new infringement cases against Grooveshark, and the two companies remain embroiled in litigation. Grooveshark is still functioning, but its days may well be numbered. And its current situation may be
a harbinger of what’s to come now that the FTC has approved Universal’s acquisition of EMI. “In simple terms, the postmerger firm would have a strong incentive and increased ability to exercise market power to undermine, delay and distort new digital distribution business models, in a market that has been a tight oligopoly for over a decade,” says Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America. And just as Don Henley pointed out to Congress in 2001, for musicians looking to make money in the digital age, the best hope remains new music services. The existing regimes are simply not profitable for artists. Only a tiny fraction of the money that labels extract from digital providers ever makes its way into musicians’ pockets. As The Root detailed in 2010, the average artists sees just $23.40 for every $1,000 in music sold. The convenience of downloading and listening to music online isn’t going away. You’ll still be able to download Taylor Swift’s new single — or whatever the next big major-label smash may be — with a single click. But while services like iTunes and Spotify have changed the music market, the next generation of innovation remains jeopardized by major label dominance of the digital sphere.
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Judd Apatow Turns the Camera on Himself BY MICHAEL HOGAN
Exit UDD APATOW AND Leslie Mann look like a happy couple, and why shouldn’t they be? She’s a beautiful movie star; he’s a successful filmmaker whose memories of being a geeky nobody have become the backbone of modern Hollywood comedy — Apatow directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People and has produced everything from Anchorman to Bridesmaids. If anything, their lives seem impossibly perfect, which is why it’s so strange that they decided to make a movie about how difficult it is for them to stay married to each other. Sitting inside an empty restaurant at the Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel on an unseasonably gray Sunday morning, Apatow dispels the notion that This Is 40 — which he not only wrote and directed but also populated with his immediate family, daughters included, with Paul Rudd standing in for himself — is rooted in real-life marital unhappiness. “There’s nothing fun about watching us get along for a couple of hours,” he says. “The things we talk about here, they only spark
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I am on the toilet a fair amount of time. Leslie doesn’t barge in, but she will check Twitter while I’m in the bathroom. And then if she sees a new tweet come up, she’ll say, ‘Get out of there. What are you doing?’” every couple of years for us.” But then why make the movie? Why show a person who’s pretty clearly based on yourself popping Viagra to get through a bout of birthday sex, locking himself in the bathroom for a quiet game
Apatow and Mann at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in February.
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of Words With Friends, stealing a glance up the skirt of a young shop girl (played by Megan Fox, for heaven’s sake), soliciting independent verification of a hemorrhoid sighting, lying to his wife and family about the dire condition of his business, and fighting like a hyena with his gorgeous but high-strung and demanding spouse? One answer may have to do with Apatow’s childhood. He was 12 when his parents divorced, and the experience scarred him — and left him determined to do better. “I never saw myself as one of those people who would have multiple marriages and com-
pletely different experiences,” he says. “‘Me and my third wife, we lived in Paris and had kids when I was 90.’ That was never something I dreamed about. I always wanted to be in one committed relationship for the rest of my life. But it does require a lot of communication and hard work between all the fun times.” Which brings us to the second answer: Husband-and-wife conflict is real, and Apatow specializes in a brand of comedy that makes you laugh out loud at situations that are almost too recognizable to bear. After all, there have been thousands of comedies exploring the battle of the sexes, but not many in which the director’s real-life wife picks up a
Lena Dunham, center, with Apatow and producer Jenni Konner at a Girls panel for HBO.
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Exit hockey player at a singles bar and his real-life daughter screams “I hate you!” at her parents. Apatow and Mann surely broke some parenting code or other by enlisting their daughters, Maude, 14, and Iris, 10, in this R-rated family movie (billed as a “sortof sequel” to Knocked Up) but he seems entirely comfortable with the decision. “The kids really enjoyed being a part of making the movie,” says Apatow. “They have a lot of fun acting out their hostilities with each other in front of people, and I think the process of making a movie has made them get along better, because they had to team up and accomplish this.” As for Mann, Apatow says she was positively eager to explore her own dark side. “Leslie wants the acting to be as truthful as it can be,” Apatow says. “She’d only be embarrassed if we didn’t go all the way. She feels like there aren’t a lot of honestly depicted relationships in film.” Apatow is currently working on a genuine sequel to Anchorman, and preparing for the return of HBO’s Girls, which makes its Season 2 debut on Jan. 13. In addition to serving as executive producer of the series, Apa-
There’s nothing fun about watching us get along for a couple of hours. The things we talk about here, they only spark every couple of years for us.” tow has functioned as a mentor to series creator and star Lena Dunham, helping her weather the backlash he says he knew was coming. “I anticipated every criticism and talked about it in depth with Lena for a year before the show aired,” Apatow says. “The show is supposed to be controversial. When people say, ‘Is the show about selfish, entitled kids?’ I would say, ‘Yeah, that’s the joke of the show.’ She says it herself in the opening scene.” Despite his many successes, Apatow is no stranger to criti-
Apatow with wife Leslie and children Iris, center, and Maude, right, at the ParaNorman premiere in August.
SUZANNE HANOVER /NBCUNIVERSAL / UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Exit cism. Early on, he suffered crushing blows when network overlords canceled his TV comedies Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. More recently, his third feature as a director, Funny People, was dinged for its excessive length and lack of focus. Some of the same complaints have already been leveled against This Is 40, but early reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have been largely positive, and HuffPost Entertainment placed it at No. 29 on its list of 2012’s 30 best movies. Whatever reception greets This Is 40 upon its Dec. 21 release, Apatow should have little fear of losing his comedy crown. He just guest-edited a special comedy issue for Vanity Fair (“It’s not that different from making movies”) that showcases the incredible stable of talent he has helped develop — everyone from Ferrell, Rogen, Jonah Hill and James Franco to Dunham, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy and Sarah Silverman. At the end of the day, though, he still goes home to his lessthan-glamorous life as a dad and a husband. “If Paul [Rudd] stood in for me, it would be months before my family noticed,” he
jokes. Does that mean he really does hide in the bathroom with his iPad? “I am on the toilet a fair amount of time,” Apatow admits. “Leslie doesn’t barge in, but she will check Twitter while I’m in the bathroom. And then if she sees a new tweet come up, she’ll say, ‘Get out of there. What are you doing? We’ve got things to do!’
This Is 40 Cast: (Top) Melissa McCarthy and Paul Rudd; (middle) Albert Brooks and Judd Apatow on set; (bottom) Maude, left, and Iris, second from left, Apatow.
The 15 W Types of Sex You Have in Your 20s GETTY IMAGES/VETTA; ILLUSTRATIONS: MARTIN GEE
BY EMMA GRAY
hen you received that copy of Oh! The Places You’ll Go! for your college graduation, the wellmeaning relative who presented it was probably thinking of your intended career path (or the four others you’ve tried since) or the cities where you might live. But as many 30-somethings looking back can attest, your 20s often involve experimentation of another variety as well. Between the ages of 20 and 30, your life is probably going to involve a decent amount of sex. And since this is the decade of exploring your options, that sex tends to be anything but uniform. Ahead, 15 types of sex that you probably have had (or will have) as a 20-something. DISCLAIMER: Some of the following can happen simultaneously.
4. ‘I COULD ACTUALLY DATE YOU’ SEX
1. BAD SEX Let’s be honest. When you’re in your 20s, you still aren’t necessarily sure exactly what you like, how you like it and who you like it from. In the midst of your sexual experimentation, there are bound to be a few less-thanawesome experiences. Your partner might have absolutely no idea what he or she is doing, or just be too self-involved to care. For an explicit example of said bad sex, see every intimate scene in the pilot episode of Girls.
2. ‘ YOU’RE CONVENIENT’ SEX Location, location, location. Maybe it’s the person who you’ve run into in your apartment building on occasion and shot a (you hope) seductive glance, or that friend of a friend who lives three blocks away and made out with you at that party a few months back. You’ll probably phone him or her after midnight and only when you’re
someone you met at a bar or a party or one of your classes. You may not have intended to, or perhaps this was your plan for the evening as soon as you laid eyes on the person. You’ll probably open your eyes after a night of moderately enjoyable sex seized with a desperate desire to grab your bra off the floor, high-tail it out the door and eat some brunch with people who you do want to hang out with for more than one night.
This type of sex means something emotionally, which might make it the scariest kind of all. You may feel vulnerable and overly aware of your body as you take off your clothing. Since you experience a flicker of a feeling about the person you’re with, you’ll probably take time to think about what they want in bed and how you can give it to them, worry that you won’t do a good job, and hope that chemistry will intervene to make it great anyway, and that even if it isn’t they might find a way to love you regardless.
bored. And you’ll hopefully enjoy yourself thoroughly once that call is made. If the convenient sex also happens to be “just plain bad” sex, it likely won’t happen more than once, which brings us to...
3. ONE-NIGHTSTAND SEX Some sexual experiences just aren’t meant to be repeated. At some point in your 20s you’ll probably find yourself waking up in the bed of a near-stranger:
5. CREATIVELY-LOCATED SEX The stacks. An airplane bathroom. A hostel hallway. Your parents’ bed. A bar. The park. An alley. Your car. The possibilities are endless, and while it’s fun to hope that you will still be this adventurous in your 30s, a carpe diem approach is probably advisable here. Also, these are not moments to hold back. This could also be called “do-it-forthe-story sex,” so do it for the story.
9. N ONEXISTENT SEX 6. DRUNK SEX Often combined with #1 and/or #3, this type of sexual experience is usually less than amazing. Great sex usually requires some amount of athleticism, and a bunch of uncoordinated flailing limbs, plus an alcohol-sedated nervous system, does not a mind-blowing orgasm make. On the plus side, you might be too sloshed to notice, care or even remember it the next morning. If you go in for this sort of thing (and you probably will), just make sure you’ve made a booze-resistant commitment to using protection before the first tequila shot.
7. FRIEND SEX
8. SEX FOR ONE
At some point during your 20s, you’ll likely reach a point with a previously platonic friend in which you both agree that it’s a great idea to sleep together. In most cases, it won’t be. (Unless you’re those uber-lucky, meant-foreach-other, When Harry Met Sally types.) If the sex is great, you’ll either become gray area “friends with benefits,” or just laugh about it a lot for years to come. If the sex is bad, you’ll probably never, ever speak of it again.
Sex by yourself is a great way to learn what it is you want from a sexual experience with a partner. It’s healthy, it relieves stress, and hell, women deserve orgasms in or out of relationships. Hopefully, by the time you leave your 20s you’ll know exactly how to make yourself feel good, sans assistance from another person.
There are times — during any period of your life — when you’re just not having sex at all. Let’s be real, we’ve all had a dry spell. It might be frustrating, but it’s also a great time to reflect on what you actually want from your sexual experiences when they inevitably begin again. Plus, just when you’ve become totally convinced that you will never have another non-self-bestowed orgasm in your life, you’ll be proven wrong.
10. MAKE-UP SEX If you find yourself in a relationship during your 20-something years, the odds are pretty good that you’ll get into some fights — possibly dramatic ones (your 20s are good for nothing if not theater). You’ll get extremely frustrated at your significant other for being inattentive or letting work consume him or her or being a jackass to your friends. You’ll scream at each other, perhaps shed a few tears... and then channel all of that anger into some really excellent sexual play. It might not actually fix the holes in a romantic relationship between two 23 year olds, but it is a good way to remind yourself of at least one way in which you connect.
11. V INDICATION SEX Everyone has those one, two, or 10 unrequited crushes. At some point during your 20s you’ll probably find yourself in the position to sleep with someone who previously rejected you or considered you below their notice. It probably won’t be all that great, and you may not feel great morally afterwards. You will, however, leave with the satisfaction that you didn’t peak in your teens years.
holidays each year. During these awkward — and delicious — few weeks, you’ll probably run into any number of people from earlier in your life, including one or more ghosts of friends-with-benefits past. You may find it uniquely satisfying to have a short, no-strings-attached fling (or just a night) with said person(s) each time you return. If you’re still living in your hometown, you’ll get to capitalize on everyone who’s in town. There’s bound to be quite a bit of overlap between this type of sex and #11.
14. BARTER-SYSTEM SEX Sometimes you just really want some help putting together your IKEA furniture. And sometimes a little bit of (purely) physical pleasure comes out of a day of Allen key usage. It’s really a win-win situation.
13. O NE-MORETIME SEX You’ve sworn this person off, but for some reason you can’t get him or her out of your head. Despite the fact that you and probably all your friends recognize that he or she is terrible for you, you may still fall back into bed with them... just one more time. This kind of sex can be absolutely fantastic physically, but the emotional fallout usually makes it one you regret (and hopefully learn from).
12. HOMEFOR-THEHOLIDAYS SEX During your 20s, you’re likely traveling back to your hometown for the November and December
15. ‘OH, THAT’S WHAT IT SHOULD FEEL LIKE’ SEX With any luck, you will have a moment at some point during your 20s (if not earlier), when you realize what truly great sex with another person feels like. Maybe it’s taken getting into a committed relationship to feel comfortable telling a partner what you really want sexually, or maybe you’re having a one-night stand with someone who you have no emotional connection with but who somehow really understands how to please you in bed. Regardless, after you do have that “ahhah!” moment, congratulate yourself. Then go try to recreate it as many times as possible.
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A Good Man in a Storm
BY EMMA DIAB
FROM A HOUSE atop a hill in Middle Village, Queens, a little boy hoped for a hurricane — and he got one. It was 1944, and 7-year-old Jim Witt was enthralled as the wind and rain relentlessly tore through New York. While the nameless storm passed over the city (“the names [began] in the 50s, you know,” he says) Witt was glued to PHOTOGRAPHS BY MOYA MCALLISTER
JOE DEUTSCH/COURTESY OF JIM WITT
the barometer. ‘That was a terrific hurricane,” recalls Witt, now an expert in longrange weather forecasting. “Oh my gosh, I was so so… excited!” Sixty-eight years later, Hurricane Sandy was busy slinking up the coast, watched closely by the top meteorologists in the country — some of whom, including the Director of Research of the National Hurricane Center — happen to be Witt’s own former high school students. Witt, a resident of Cold Spring, N.Y., has managed to use weather in numerous ways to help his community, setting up what has been declared by the U.S. Weather
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Bureau as the best high school weather program in the country, as well as establishing the Hope For Youth Foundation, which raises money for children’s charities. Since 1986, Witt has raised $2.3 million for his foundation through sales of his own long-range weather calendar, predicting the weather for the entire year.
THE HIGH SCHOOL WEATHER CLUB Witt perks up whenever he talks about the weather club at Lakeland High School, which he founded and led while he was chairman of the science department in 1962, until he left that teaching job in 1977. “Those kids would come in at 5 in the morning and leave at 8 or
A snowy image of the Hudson Valley is featured in the 2013 calendar for the month of December.
Exit 9 at night, spending their lunch period and every free period in the weather room,” he recounts. “We had about 150 kids in the weather club and about 150 waiting to get into it, which means if a kid was fooling around in any way, he’s toast!” Many of the students who stuck with the weather club throughout high school went on to become meteorologists themselves, which is not surprising considering it was the most wellequipped weather room in any high school in the country. After writing close to 400 letters to various institutions, hoping to get a weather radar donated to the school, he finally succeeded, and even managed to rope workers from the nearby air force base to do occasional maintenance work. That is, until the students learned how to fix the two-ton radar themselves, between learning both computer programming and how to use video equipment and teletype machines. “It was these kids who graduated and became real bigshots, I have ’em all over the place!” he says, launching into a story of how his former students secretly nominated him for an award from
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the American Meteorological Society last year, which he won, becoming the first high school teacher to ever claim the prize. Jim, who still lectures at events from grammar schools all the way through graduate schools says enthusiasm for weather studies has not waned. “A little girl said ‘oh this is better than recess!’” he says
Those kids would come in at 5 in the morning and leave at 8 or 9 at night, spending their lunch period and every free period in the weather room. We had about 150 kids in the weather club and about 150 waiting to get into it.” of one of the community afterschool groups he spoke to recently. “How’s that for an advertisement? The kids are still excited, but you still have to have a teacher that excites them.”
THE CALENDAR Since 1977, Witt has been lending his meteorological expertise to various radio stations, including Voice of the Hudson Valley,
Exit WOR in NYC and WKIT in Maine, which is owned by Stephen King, who based a character in his novel It after his friend Witt, naming the minor character, a meteorologist who announces a big storm, after him. It was at WOR that the idea for the calendar came about. Witt would provide a year’s worth of daily forecasts in the calendar, accounting for rain, snow, sunny days and wind — months in advance. Photographer Joe Deutsch includes his nature shots of the Hudson Valley as a backdrop for the calendar, and all the proceeds go to the Hope for Youth Foundation. The money is allocated to various charities that the group has working with almost 50 over the years, including Ronald McDonald House, Make-A-Wish and the local Friends of Karen. In exchange for the calendar, Witt works for the radio stations free of charge. “I told the weather stations if you promote the calendar, I’ll do all the radio weather forecasting free,” Witt says. “I do the radio stations every day for nothing.” The method for the calendar itself is impressive. Information is culled from weather maps of
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cities around the country, and a former student of Witt’s created a program to process the information and determine where the sun, moon and the other planets are at any instant in the future and past, given the various cycles of the planets. “If I want to make a forecast in the future, in 2016, I want the computer to tell me exactly where the planets, moon and sun are on that day, and then go back in history and tell me where they were closest to that day in the past,” he explains. “It brings up a weather map from the past, and shows me what it’ll be in the future. And that gives me the forecast.” And if anyone is wondering, Jim’s calendar does make it to Dec. 22.
“I told the weather stations if you promote the calendar, I’ll do all the radio weather forecasting free,” Witt said.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Will You Have to Learn the Names of 13 Dwarves? (AND 24 OTHER URGENT QUESTIONS)
What is a Hobbit? A hobbit is a creature that looks like a human, only a little shorter and with bigger feet.
Oh, does Tom Cruise qualify as a Hobbit? Though it’s true that Tom Cruise is shorter than the average male person, he’s still much taller than a hobbit. Also, according to the Internet, he wears a size-nine shoe, which is perfectly average for a human.
n Dec. 14, Peter Jackson makes his fourth cinematic foray into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three Hobbit movies planned for release between now and 2014. Does it live up to the standards set by the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Here, we answer every question that you could possibly have about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. — Mike Ryan
Rings trilogy, published in the mid-1950s.
When does The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey take place? The movie starts on the day of Bilbo Baggins’ birthday party, which viewers will recall from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo (Ian Holm) is writing a letter to Frodo (Elijah Wood) about a past adventure. The rest of the movie consists of a flashback to that adventure.
05 03 Where did hobbits originate? Hobbits first appeared in J.R.R Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit and returned in his The Lord of the
Really, just how unexpected was this journey, anyway? After the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it wasn’t that unexpected that we’d see this journey.
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In three parts? OK, yes, that was slightly unexpected.
Wait, is this one with the ring again? Sort of. The ring that we all came to know and love during The Lord of the Ring plays a role in An Unexpected Journey, but not a large role.
Then what is the main adventure in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? It seems that a dragon taking over The Lonely Mountain has left a group of dwarves homeless, because that’s where they used to live. The dwarves would like The Lonely Mountain back.
Why don’t the dwarves just ask the dragon for their The Lonely Mountain back? Dragons seem so reasonable in Pete’s
Dragon and in the lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary songs. Unfortunately, this is not a reasonable dragon, as its name suggests. It’s no surprise that dragons named Pete and Puff turned out to be fairly empathetic, but you can’t expect to reason with one named Smaug.
Gollum returns in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, looking more like an actual person this time.
How do the dwarves plan on taking back The Lonely Mountain? With the help of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Gandalf, in turn, recruits Bilbo (played in this younger version by Martin Freeman) as a burglar for the group.
A burglar? Oh, I know what a Hobbit is now. Short, with a striped shirt and red tie? You’re thinking of the Hamburglar. I thought The Lonely Mountain was from The Chronicles of Narnia? Now you’re thinking of The Lonely Is-
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land, who wrote a song about seeing The Chronicles of Narnia on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Should the plot of this movie sound as familiar as it does? It follows the same general outline as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Basically: a group of people walk from one location to another location.
Is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey better than The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring? No. What’s the difference? Though interesting things happen to the characters of both movies, The Fellowship of the Ring gathers a more interesting collection of personalities.
Does this have anything to do with Orlando Bloom’s handsomeness? Orlando Bloom is a very handsome man, but the characters in the earlier series — men, wizards, elves and dwarves who all bicker — were more varied than this group, which comprises one hobbit, one wizard and 13 dwarves who all know the same songs.
Thirteen? I have to learn the names of 13 dwarves? Well, not really. Luckily, we are really only introduced to Thorin (Richard Armitage) and a couple of the others in any real way. The rest are treated as background characters.
Director Peter Jackson on set with the actors and crew of The Hobbit.
There is a Gandalf reference in Zero Dark Thirty. Did The Hobbit return the favor with a reference to Zero Dark Thirsty? No.
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Wait, did you just accidentally write Zero Dark Thirsty in that last question? I did. And I decided not to correct it because I feel the world would be a better place with a soft drink called Zero Dark Thirsty.
Should I see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? This really depends on how much you enjoyed the three The Lord of the Rings movies. If you didn’t like those, you will not like this. If you did like those, you will like this, too, just not quite as much.
Is there a difference in tone between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy? The Hobbit definitely has a lighter tone than The Lord of the Rings — including a bit more slapstick than we might expect to see in Middle-earth.
What’s the best part of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Anything involving Gollum, who — especially compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy — looks like an actual person.
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, center, charges ahead.
Does this make up a large portion of the story? Unfortunately, no. But the scenes between Bilbo and Gollum seem like they are straight out of the The Lord of the Rings.
What about this 48-frames-persecond format? Should I see it in that or the standard 24-frames-persecond rate? If you are interested in new technology — even one that looks weird — see the movie in 48. If you just want to embark on a new adventure in Middle-earth without distractions, see it in 24.
Would any other movies benefit from a modified frame rate? Yes. For instance, a movie like Alex Cross would have benefited from a rate of zero frames per second.
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Published on Mar 31, 2014
In Issue 27 of Huffington, we tell the story of the forgotten borough of Staten Island and its battle with the government and the sea, focus...