The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

racing ahead

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Happy Birthday, Marine Parkway Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I first mentioned the Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge a few years ago, on its 75th birthday, in this post (I also lifted the shot above from that 2012 post). The post discusses the creation and opening of the vertical lift span (it was the largest specimen of this particular form of movable span in the world in 1937) and a bit of my personal history as well.

The Marine Parkway Bridge was one of Robert Moses’s early projects, and when it was built, it was constructed by the Marine Parkway Bridge Authority. An “Authority” was and is an unholy combination of private corporation and government which is allowed to issue bonds and keep its records away from private or press scrutiny (like a corporation) and also possesses the power of eminent domain and all the other stuff you’d associate with governmental agencies. The Authority was meant to be dissolved once it paid back its bonds, which were guaranteed by toll revenues, and the contractual relationship between lender and Authority was guaranteed by the State constitution as inviolable. This vouchsafed the “Authority” from circumspection by the public and press, and insulated it from the interference of Elected officialdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the Triborough Bridge Authority, was ruled over by Robert Moses. Moses ensured that whenever his various Authority bonds were about to come due a new round of financial offers would be tendered, and these bonds would be readily bought up by financial institutions which knew a “sure thing” when they saw it. Moses offered his bonds at a couple of interest points higher than Municipal bonds, and since the instruments were backed up by ever growing toll revenues and the Master Builder’s reputation, they were highly desirable. If Moses picked your bank as a lender, he also expected you to play ball with him on future projects. For more than forty years in NYC, Moses used this technique to control the building of highways, bridges, tunnels, and eventually housing in NYC. It took Nelson Rockefeller to break Moses’s grip on the system, and shatter the power of the “Authorities” by bringing them under the control of Elected officialdom.

Robert A. Caro called Moses “the Power Broker.” We all live in the aftermath of Moses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Marine Parkway Bridge is owned and operated today by an Authority set up by Governor Rockefeller back in the 1960’s – called the MTA. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, like the Port Authority, has the special government/corporate status that the Triborough Bridge (later the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority) and Marine Parkway Bridge Authorities enjoyed, but have little or no control over their own financing.

As Moses opined often, once the callow forces of the political parties and electoral politics got control over the Authorities, they’d reduce them down into patronage machines which would practice what was and is known as “good honest graft.” Of course, this is exactly what Moses did, and he never had to face the wrath of voters (except for a disastrous campaign for Governor, his one foray into “politics”). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moses had a system. When he was issuing a bond offer, or doling out insurance contracts, the sealed documents would go to favored financial institutions. These favored institutions often had silent partners who happened to be Borough Presidents, Aldermen, or later in the game – City Council members. When he received his bonds, whose terms extended the life of his Authorities decades beyond their anticipated longevity, he’d dole out contracts to “connected” companies who would then hire workers based solely on political patronage. Ever notice that highway and big infrastructure projects always seem to start during election years? That’s Moses’s legacy at work. The Marine Parkway Bridge Authority, like the TBTA, was folded into the black box that is the MTA Bridge and Tunnels division decades ago by John D. Rockefeller’s grandson Nelson, and the Authority bonds were handed off to and underwritten by his brother – who was the CEO of Chase Manhattan.

It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just the way that it is. 

Welcome to New York City, here’s our shit sandwich, so take a bite – and happy birthday, Marine Parkway Gil Hodges Bridge.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 3, 2015 at 11:00 am

mystery attacks

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Just a short one today.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recently, an excursion upon the fabled Newtwon Creek with the Anchor QEA folks (they’re the scientists studying the Creek for the Superfund process) and the Newtown Creek CAG Steering Committee (which I’m a member of) was cut short by threatening weather. Anchor has all sorts of frammistats onboard which warn them of the approach of lightning, and all the gizmos began to go off as a powerful thunderstorm was approaching. The shot above is from roughly 2.5 miles back from the East River, and depicts the DUGABO side of Brooklyn as the storm blew in. We made it back to dock, but not before the first curtain of rain and hail began to pummel the Creek.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

all signs

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All we have to fear is fear itself, and I’m pissing my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like many Queensicans, when it was announced that this year’s July 4th fireworks would be taking place in the East River just off the coast of LIC, a humble narrator grew excited. Then one began to read about frozen zones (pretty much from 11th street to the East River) and homeland security. My enthusiasm for the event began to wane as the Terror Warriors descended from their Manhattan aeries, discussed throwing down cordons, announcing entry checkpoints, and throwing a cage over the entire neighborhood. One “gets it” of course, as our enemies from “east austral Asia” specifically target public events that draw media attention, which is the very definition of what the July 4th fireworks show is.

The thing is, and I’ve been pointing this out for years, is that there is very little actual “homeland security” going on the rest of the year around these parts, and the Terror Warriors spend most of their time in Manhattan offices dreaming up scenarios which could only be accomplished by Nation/States with vast combined weapon system resources and functionally unlimited budgets. If we were at war with the United States or the People’s Republic of China, for instance, I’d be pooping my pants.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is not so irresponsible to point the actual vulnerabilities out in any detail, as some moron out there might decide to exploit them (do your own research), but if you see graffiti along a train track or in a subway tunnel – that’s called time and opportunity. It should be impossible, literally, to sneak into a train yard or even get close to a moving train nearly two decades into the Terror Wars.

Problem is that our security personnel tend to focus on the outlandish notion that non state actors, who are basically mafiosos, can not only maintain but deploy complicated weapons systems that most nation states cannot even hope to possess. Jackass sappers like the Boston Marathon bombers, whose presence and intentions are THE real threat, just don’t fire the imagination or finger the purse strings of Congress.

It’s all a show, ultimately, designed to assuage the nagging truth that some jerk pulling the pin on a dud hand grenade while riding on the 7 train would be sufficient to shut the entire Subway system down for weeks while the Terror Warriors installed metal detectors and biometric sensors on every turnstile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think I’m just going to go up on my roof this year on the 4th of July, photographing the fireworks at a distance from almond eyed Astoria. One is not interested in being part of a compacted herd of spectators, who are all potential suspects, in LIC. I’ll be out and about on the 5th of July, and will wager that I won’t see a single cop or security contractor protecting the vital infrastructure found hereabouts. To me, that’s terrifying.

The big show will be over by then, and the Terror Warriors will be worrying about space based laser systems at BBQ’s on Long Island and in Westchester County. They’ll muse whether or not ISIL has perfected a tractor beam that can pull asteroids down on targets (that’s called a mass driver, btw.) or developed a neutron bomb.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 1, 2015 at 11:05 am

tricky twists

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Part of America’s Maritime Super Highway, Newtown Creek is.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some of my friends in the “human powered boating” community (kayakers, but they prefer the “human powered” nomen, and trust me on this – don’t argue with the kayak people, as they are kind of like a cult) had an event a couple of weeks back. Long Island City Boat House and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and a few Queens based organizations including Green Shores, paddled from Anable Basin on LIC’s East River frontage over to North Brooklyn Community Boat Club on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint and they asked me to get shots of them doing so.

Me, I’m a maritime industrial guy. Kayak shots ain’t my kind of thing, but if a friend asks for a favor…

After capturing their departure from Anable Basin, I headed over to the Boat Club in Brooklyn’s DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) and along came the tugboat Dory. Whew, praise Superman.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A 1978 vintage tug, Dory is owned by Coastal Gulf and Marine Transport of Syossett, New York. You can find out all the details on her prior owners, tonnage, and onboard capabilities at the excellent tugboatinformation.com site. Dory was towing an empty barge eastward along the barge, and I would hazard the guess – based on the sort of barge unit employed – that they were heading for either Brooklyn’s Allocco recycling or Queens’ SimsMetal recycling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kayak Crew arrived, and the sun set over DUPBO. Pictured above is the Pulaski Bridge, and as the North Brooklyn Boat Club folks acted hospitably towards their guests from the North the sky grew dark.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, just as a humble narrator was packing up the lenses and camera, Dory returned and was towing a flat top barge while headed westerly towards the East River. Score!

As a note, it’s referred to as towing whether the tug is pushing or pulling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also, as a note, this whole environmental craze – epitomized by a tree growing from the Brooklyn side of the fabled Newtown Creek – tends to be ruinous in certain shots. Freaking nature, occluding the Empire State Building. Bah!

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 30, 2015 at 11:00 am

public building

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Sunnyside Yard, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Everybody always asks me how I get these shots, or about certain qualities in them. Simple answer is that I’m always experimenting with the camera, and when I come up with some protocol for “how to get this or that” my next move is usually to reverse it and see what happens.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, my friend, practice.

The setting: Recently, an evening meeting carried one up the hill from the elluvial flatlands of Southern Astoria to the heights of the ridge which Sunnyside was built into. Between these two neighborhoods, there’s a former tidal swamp into which the Sunnyside Yard was embedded back in the first decade of the 20th century. Once the largest rail coach yard on earth, the Yard still hosts the busiest rail junction found on the continent, the so called Harold Interlocking. The busy part is due to the frequent passage of Long Island Railroad commuter rail trains, which share the switches and rails with Amtrak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The conditions: Sunset to the west, which I was going to be shooting right into. The weather was humid, and a bit misty. The point of view is surrounded by steel plated chain link fencing whose purpose is to deny observation of vulnerable infrastructure (I’m told that this fencing was installed during the first decade of the Terror Wars). One such as myself has a vast catalog of fence holes and gaps which are dearly held, and since my meeting in Sunnyside would carry one past an entire series of these occluded viewpoints, a point was made to pocket one of my lenses small enough to fit into while leaving HQ. I also brought some chewing gum, but that’s not important.

My “good lenses,” which are used in particularly high rotation, have a circumference too large for these cracks in the walls around the Sunnyside Yard – so a “decent” lens which has a decidedly smaller diameter was employed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “decent lens” mentioned is the so called “nifty fifty” offered by Canon. It’s far and away my most inexpensive tool, and allows wide open apertures which would make it handy for night time shots but for its persnickety focusing mechanics. The term for what it does, autofocus wise, is called “hunting.” What that means is that it noisily rolls through the range of focus and never quite settles itself into a lock. My usual habit with this sort of thing is to use autofocus to “get it close” and then switch the thing over to manual focus for final adjustment.

The optic formula of the lens also renders things a bit less “contrasty” than I’d like, but you can’t really complain about camera equipment which retails for around a hundred bucks – especially when it fits through fence holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The methodology: For those of you not in the know, as to how cameras and lenses work – a “bright lens” will allow you to operate it at wide apertures (f1.8 in the instance of the nifty fifty). Wide apertures create a tremendous “depth of field” effect, which means that the area which is in focus will appear sharply delineated and everything else will be blurred. Higher aperture settings – the “f-stops” as it were – will create a hyperfocal range in which everything in frame will be sharply defined. The lower the “f-stop” the more light enters the camera, and the higher ones allow less light to get to the sensor. You balance the shot using shutter speed and ISO settings. Night shots and interior spaces require you to use the lens “wide open,” with slow shutter speeds, and higher ISO settings – all of which introduce certain quality issues to the captured image.

The shots in today’s post were consciously captured with the desire to have “everything” in focus, with a minimum of motion blur as well, and to record a full range of color and tone. Difficult to do with the sun behind the scene, and in a setting where everything is made of contrasting reflective surfaces.

My formula was to actually reverse my night shooting protocol on 2/3rds of the exposure triangle, using a very narrow f-stop and fairly fast shutter speed, but with a high ISO setting for tone and color sensitivity (f10, 1/1250th of a second, ISO 800). Sometimes, particularly during the summer, the problem isn’t that there enough light – there’s actually too much of it and some methodology needs to be employed to control it. Experimentation and failure often emanate from screwing around with your normal shooting habits, but sometimes it pays to mix things up a bit.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

haunted steep

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At the Maspeth Plank Road, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the same morning walk described yesterday, wherein one was heading over to East Williamsburg from Astoria to conduct a walking tour of My Beloved Creek, I found myself at the Maspeth Plank Road.

Whenever possible, an attempt to scout the day’s intended route is enacted, to ensure against any of the little surprises which are known to pop up in the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek. Bridge closures, road work, chemical spills – you know, the usual.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I ran into this family of Canada Geese, whom I’ve been noticing all over the Creek for the last few weeks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Not too much I can tell you about this specie, other than that like swans – you don’t want to get too close to them. Geese can be mean tempered and vast physical cowardice notwithstanding, who wants to get pecked?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The gaggle seemed to take some umbrage at their unwanted portraiture, it seemed, and they headed back to the loathsome ripples of that cataract of urban neglect known as the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My decision to scout the route was actually quite fortuitous, as the Grand Street Bridge was closed. The NYC DOT was conducting some sort of repair job here, something about fixing the deck plating on the pedestrian walkways so that it could accommodate bicycle traffic. This, of course, directs vehicular flow onto the sidewalks and directly into the path of pedestrians, but priorities are priorities for City Hall.

NYC MUST REPLACE ALL SURFACE ROADS AND PEDESTRIAN PATHS WITH BIKE LANES, AT ALL COST, INCLUDING SACRIFICE AND TORTURE.

Also, AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

idly digging

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Another odd occult altar encountered, this one in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Involuntarily marching about in Queensican DUKBO (Down under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp) recently, on my way over to East Williamsburg to conduct an iteration of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek” walking tour, an occult altar was encountered not far from the bridge. It was at the grade crossing of the Haberman rail siding, nearby the intersection of 49th street and 56th road in Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This area has been observed, in the past, hosting some odd activity. The very same spot is where the “3 Headless Chickens” described in this 2012 post were found.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ceramic plate was filled with what looked like corn meal or some other roughly ground grain. The liquor bottle was white rum, and there was a considerable amount of the stuff in the bottle. The fact that it hasn’t been scooped up and consumed is noteworthy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eight arranged dark shapes seemed to be yams or sweet potatoes. There was some sort of shape impressed into the “corn meal” which reminds me of some skinny or tiny person’s naked butt, or possibly those tablets which Moses brandished about.

Entirely likely that there’s a missing piece to this altar which was swept aside by rail traffic passing over it, imho.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

July 12th, 2015
Glittering Realms Walking Tour
with Newtown Creek Alliance, click here for details and tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

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