Category Archives: Urban Semiotic

A Skewed Semiotic: When a Picture Speaks the Wrong Thousand Words

Nicholas Kristof wrote a fascinating couple of opinion articles for the NYTimes over the last two weeks, and the reason for some reader dissent and confusion in the first story appears to stem from a core misunderstanding — purposeful or not — about the image.

Here’s what Kristof wrote on February 22, 2014:

As an infant, Johnny was deaf but no one noticed or got him the timely medical care he needed to restore his hearing. He lives in a trailer here in the hills of rural Appalachia with a mom who loves him and tries to support him but is also juggling bills, frozen pipes and a broken car that she can’t afford to fix.

The first error Kristof makes — but has yet to apologize for, or clarify — is labeling Johnny “Deaf.”  Deafness is a cultural condition from which one does not get “healed” so the proper term should have been “hearing loss” since the “Deafness” was not actual, but imagined, by Kristof.

The real outrage aimed at Kristof was not over his inappropriate use of “Deaf” — but rather the way some of his readers felt he was celebrating a degenerate lifestyle of poverty in this image:

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When Your Third Place Does Not Want You: Elderly Entitlement and Fighting the New Old Korean Queens Gang

I’ve been following an ongoing saga in the New York Times concerning a local McDonald’s restaurant in Queens and how elderly Koreans in the neighborhood have taken over the place as their community hub.

This new, “old,” gang doesn’t really buy anything and they stay all day long taking up space and not making any money for the business.  There’s a Senior Citizen Community Center nearby, with van service for those who cannot walk that far, but the retired don’t want to go there because it’s in a Church basement.

The one thing you take away from reading about this ongoing conflict between elder entitlement and the business needs of McDonald’s is that the old people — like the Millennials behind them — believe they have the freedom and the right to sit wherever they want, and linger as long as they wish, with no repercussion whatsoever. Asking them to leave to make room for others is a cultural slap in the face that will not be tolerated.

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Clench Your Fist, it’s Time to Play: “Knockout the Jew!”

Have you heard of the “Knockout” game lately happening in Brooklyn and Hoboken and Syracuse and St. Louis?

If you’re Jewish, or old and feeble — or female! — prepare yourself for a face-meeting-sidewalk event you’ll never forget, if you live to tell about it, as young strangers on the street punch you in the face without warning.

This horrible street game is called “Knockout” because the whole idea behind the crime is to see if you can be knocked unconscious, and left “lights out” on the pavement, with a single punch to the face.

The “knockout game” that outraged the Syracuse area earlier this year when two teenagers playing it attacked and killed Michael Daniels on West Brighton Avenue is getting renewed attention as reports spread about Jews being targeted in Brooklyn and the death of a homeless man in Hoboken, N.J.

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating reports that a group of men is playing “Knock Out the Jew” in Brooklyn. A 64-year-old man told CBS New York in a report posted Tuesday that he and his 12-year-old son were attacked. Video in the report also shows a 19-year-old Jewish man being sucker punched.

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Three Days of a Hundred Years of Darkness: Hurricane Sandy and 12 Months of Nothingness

One year ago today, 8.5 million people in the New York City area were without heat or power as Hurricane Sandy blasted the soft middle of our lives — thrusting us backward a hundred years behind a wall of water into at least three days of cold and darkness:

Monday night, at 11:00 pm sharp in Jersey City, New Jersey, the lights went out and stayed off until last night at 7:43pm.  That’s three days without power or heat.  Hurricane Sandy was a massively nasty beast, and we’re just now starting the recovery process.  We are hungry and scavenging for food.  Supermarkets are closed.  Few places have power.

For many of those directly touched by the floodwater a year ago, life has yet to return to normal, and many will never recover the good lives they once had before the storm; and that is a clear failure of the government safety net and the lack of any sort of real social fabric that meshes us together.  The King has no clothes, and we don’t, either!

When it is better, and more profitable, to cut and run and abandon than it is to stay and rebuild and recover — we all have a problem.

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Chasing Cobblestones: Underfoot and Smothered in Asphalt in the Jersey City Heights

When I was on my recent Red Squares walking tour of Jersey City, I happened upon some street construction that gave me a chance for an aesthetic and professional mulligan: Exposed cobblestones on their way to disappearing again for three decades!

I whipped out my new iPhone 5S and awkwardly began taking photographs to make up for a previously lost opportunity articulated here in a comments stream from two months ago:

I did not take photos of the cobblestones! Gah! I was always mesmerized by them and felt such sadness that the beauty would soon be covered up. I’ll have to look for another street in the area to document! …

Our cobblestones were like square granite bricks and they were put in the street end down — creating a long-lasting, and deep stone that would never wear away. …

I only know the cobblestones here are so massive because I tried to dig one out to keep! I couldn’t do it. Too massive. Too heavy. Too deeply seated in 1600 soil! …

They just covered up the old cobblestones again. They’ll be hidden for the next 30 years until they re-pave it all again.

Here we go!  Caught, in situ, exposed cobblestones half-dead under hot, new, asphalt — and a burning morning sun — but now also half-alive for forever and a half-life, exposed, and memorialized here in this article!

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On the Jersey City Heights Streets with the iPhone 5S Camera and Red Squares on Abandoned Buildings

With the arrival of our new iPhone 5S smartphones, Janna and I have been delighting in the new technology.  I can’t believe how lightweight the 5S is compared to my old clunker of a 4s.  Weight makes a mighty difference in the tote along tone and temperature of your day.

Here’s a caveat about the iPhone 5S camera:  When you shoot in bright sunlight — as I did on September 26, 2013 — you cannot see the screen, and you are basically taking blind photographs.  You rely on your iPhone to focus and try to frame what you’re hoping the camera is seeing.

There is also a new “slider set” of features on the  iOS 7 iPhone camera — “square” and “pano” and “video” and such — that, if you are not careful in your screen blindness, can change the way your iPhone shoots and frames the images.  Yesterday, my fingers tended to slide and select things on the new camera that I had no idea were being activated.

I like tall photographs for blog images, but some of the shots you’ll see here are the new “square” feature that I had no idea was a feature until I got home and saw the infuriating results.  I did not crop any of these images. With the iPhone 5S camera, it’s “live to live again!”

Here’s the first image taken with my iPhone 5S.  It’s a view of the Empire State Building in New York City and I am standing in Riverview Park.

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Vienna: Day One, Part One

We slept like kings!  We slept so well that the hassles of the previous night were temporarily forgotten, and we showered and took ourselves down to breakfast.

We went to reception to inquire about breakfast and the internet — not really having been in a fit state to do so the night before. Breakfast starts at a whopping 19 Euros for a continental breakfast and goes up to 28 Euros for the full Monty.  Internet usage is 35 Euros a day.  They could, however, offer us a daily package of 35 Euros per room to cover both. PHEW!  We thought we had better check on car parking while we were talking EXPENSE — 25 Euros a day !

We could take our breakfast outside, which we chose to do.  PANIC — where is my camera?  I want to photograph this. Mr P goes to the car and I check the room — then we do it in reverse to make sure the other has not missed it .  Still no camera!  Mr P suggests it might have been left at reception after the debacle the previous night.

We asked, they checked, and bingo — there was my camera!   I was able to give make and model, identify and name other objects in the camera case and, phew, I had it back.

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