November 16, 2018 in 2,398 words

In New York, $35 Million Will Buy an Apartment. Or Grand Central.

• The MTA board approved the purchase of Grand Central Terminal
• Purchase ends 280-year lease between MTA and holding company

Pictured above: Commuters walk through Grand Central Terminal in New York.


For $39 million, you could buy an eight-bedroom mansion in the heart of New York’s Upper East Side. Or if you’re the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, you could buy Grand Central Terminal, one of New York’s greatest icons, and still have $4 million to spare.

On Thursday, the New York state-run transportation agency’s board approved the purchase of Grand Central and Metro-North Railroad’s Harlem and Hudson line from a holding group, Midtown Trackage Ventures. The transaction is estimated to cost about $35 million, sum that stems from a centuries-long lease agreement the agency struck in the early 1990s.

MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber called the price “a no-brainier, from a financial standpoint.” He’s right. Especially in a real estate market that’s known for being among the most expensive in the world. There are 46 homes currently for sale in Manhattan for at least $35 million, including five at more than double the price, according to Zillow Group Inc.

It’s also a steal by commercial standards: 1 Vanderbilt Avenue, a new-construction office building next door to Grand Central, is projected to cost more than $3 billion.

Peter E. Stangl, who served as the chairman and chief executive of the MTA when the original lease was signed, said it makes sense for the authority to own instead of rent. Its option to buy the terminal expires in 11 months.


When Elon Musk Tunnels Under Your Home

The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.

Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.

So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.

Musk sees the future of American transportation in tunnels like this one. Inside them, electric skates would whisk cars and pods containing passengers to their destinations; eventually, tunnels could also be used for a “hyperloop,” which would transport people even faster through a network of low-pressure tubes. Musk has pledged to revolutionize tunneling technology, and says that digging 40 feet underground will make less noise than someone walking on the surface would. Musk fans and mayors love the idea—the Boring Company told me a new city makes contact daily—and municipalities like Hawthorne have been quick to approve the tunneling. But aboveground, where the poverty rate is 19.2 percent and the median household income is $45,089, people like Warren struggle to meet basic housing needs. They know nothing about Elon Musk or his dreams.

Even if Musk is building world-changing transportation underneath Hawthorne, and even if the residents ultimately welcome the technology, he is undertaking this project with strikingly little public input or oversight.


There’s no such thing as humane meat or eggs. Stop kidding yourself.

Many people think they consume humane meat, but only a tiny fraction actually do. The majority of consumers are totally wrong about what they eat.


Cage-free birds have around the same total space per bird; they just live in a large shed with thousands (often tens of thousands) of other birds.

A few years ago I wanted to visit the best egg farm I could find. I had been inside an egg factory farm. I had seen a dozen sheds, each with a dozen rows of wire cages stacked two high and 150ft deep. Those cages were so small the birds inside couldn’t even spread their wings. They were half-starved, diseased, and undeniably miserable.

Factory farming was clearly wrong, so I wanted to instead find a farm that represented an ethical and humane way to raise animals for food.

Fortunately some small farms, such as those who set up stands at farmers’ markets, are willing to let people visit their facilities. So in March 2016, I drove from my home in San Francisco up California’s northern coast, through towering redwoods and past crashing waves, to one of the best egg farms in the state.

The award-winning farm was nestled in a landscape of bucolic green grass and rolling hills. It looked like it came straight out of an advertisement. I saw a charmingly rundown-yet-functional mobile chicken coop standing in a football-field-sized pasture peppered with free-roaming chickens. I thought to myself, why couldn’t all farms be like this? I had seen what happened behind the locked doors of factory farms, but here I seemed to be witnessing a better way. I would soon learn just how wrong I was.

Americans care about farmed animal welfare. In fact, last week California passed a ballot measure for cage-free eggs with a whopping 61% of the vote, a rare level of agreement in these divided times. In 2016, a similar initiative in Massachusetts succeeded with 78%.


6 Unexpected Ways Being A Homeowner Changes Your Worldview

The internet is full of advice for first-time home buyers, ranging from “Get your credit in order” to “Hire an inspector to make sure it’s a house and not a giant scorpion shaped like a house.” However, what they rarely tell you is that owning a piece of property changes you in a variety of weird ways. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you gaze long into the moderately priced three-bedroom townhouse, the moderately priced three-bedroom townhouse also gazes into you.”

6. It Turns Your Relationships Into Competitions


Buying a house is like lighting a signal fire to all the world that says, “I’m here! I’m an adult now, motherfuckers!” However, know that when you hold up that beacon of maturity, you are effectively dividing everyone you know into two distinct categories: the house-havers and the house … not … havers.

When it comes to the first, there will be a natural compulsion to “keep up with the Joneses.” Yes, the phrase sounds super outdated in 2018, when we’re supposed to not care about how nice Rick’s new rug looks, or the fact that Amanda owns a smart fridge that could probably enslave humanity if it wanted to. But remember that the house isn’t just a box to keep the rain off; it’s a symbol of you and where you are in life. Thus does the game of constant one-upmanship begin.

It’s not like you cease to have friends or social relationships. It’s just that they just all seem to sit adjacent to the Adulthood Olympics you’re now competing in. The minute someone gets their bathroom remodeled in a way that you can’t really afford, you suddenly look inward. “Am I not THAT adult yet?”

Not that any of your renting friends will sympathize. Once you buy a house, any problems or difficulties you may have in your life, no matter how stressful, will come off to them as champagne problems — the rich family on the Titanic lifeboat complaining about the seats being cold. You find yourself on the other side of a cultural divide you didn’t even know existed.


A brief history of the kilogram, and why scientists are ready to revise it

MASSIVE PROBLEM


A replica of the IPK.

It was supposed to be the measurement system for all people, in all places, for all time—one which used the natural world as its basis. But in the centuries since king Louis XVI of France first tasked a group of scientists to help him develop a new system of measurement, many of the foundations of the metric system have been shown to be fundamentally unsound. Few features of the system have been more troublesome than the measurement standard for the kilogram, which may change for good after a vote coming up this week at the annual General Conference on Weights and Measures.

Delegates seem likely to opt for a new measurement system, defined in terms of an electric current, as the basis for the kilogram. To understand why, it’s useful to go back in history.

Before the kilogram, there was the “grave.” This, the king proposed in the late 1700s, would be a standard measurement based on the weight of a liter of water just above the point of freezing. (To find its “true mass,” it would be weighed in a vacuum.) This inalienable measurement was eventually renamed the kilogram, with the gram—one thousandth of its weight—the key unit.

But there were a few problems with the approach. To begin with, it’s essentially impossible to weigh an open vessel of liquid in a vacuum—and air pressure has a substantial influence on mass. When scientists attempted to reweigh a decimeter of water in 1799, the final result was just 99.92072% of the mass of the provisional kilogram made four years earlier. Such a margin of error required some other absolute standard as the core measurement, and one which would not be affected by anything, not least the vagaries of the air that surrounds it.

The solution came a century later, in the form of a small metal cylinder made of platinum and iridium. This, finally, was the ur-kilogram, the ultimate kilogram, the inviolable kilogram. It would be kept away from the hordes, placed beneath a Russian Doll-like series of bell jars and locked in a vault in the outskirts of Paris. (Dozens of copies would be kept elsewhere, and used to standardize individual nations’ weights and measures systems.)

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: The IPK seems to have lost mass.


Iceland’s president admits he went ‘too far’ with threat to ban pineapple pizza

Gudni Johannesson reflects on 2017 topping scandal that divided the internet and drew a rebuke from Canada.


Icelandic President Gudni Johannesson says pineapples become ‘mushy’ on pizza, but he supports people’s right to choose the controversial topping.

Nearly two years after the president of Iceland drew Canada’s ire with his disparaging comments about pineapple pizza, Gudni Johannesson says he regrets his off-the-cuff remarks.

During a visit to a local high school in February 2017, Johannesson responded to a student’s question about pizza by saying he was fundamentally opposed to the fruit topping and that he would like to ban it.

The comment sparked international debate about the so-called Hawaiian pizza, the invention of southern Ontario restaurateur Sam Panopoulos, who died in June 2017 at the age of 82.

“That’s where the influence of this office sort of, yeah, got the better of me,” Johannesson told As It Happens host Carol Off during an interview for the show’s 50th anniversary, in which he reflected on the divisive saga. “I went a step too far.”

#TeamPineapple

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in at the time, issuing a tweet in which he declared himself a member “#TeamPineapple” and stated his support for “this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation.”

Even Panopoulos himself entered the fray.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

New Yorkers worry about transportation and pollution issues after their elected officials offer more than $3 billion in incentives for Amazon to open its new headquarters in Queens. Correspondent Jaboukie Young-White plans to take to the streets in protest.


Jeffrey Wright talks about how he got involved in the veteran community, the problems former servicepeople face and what we misunderstand about veterans’ experiences.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.


According to an aide, the White House has reached a level of insanity unlike anything before. And that’s saying something.


White House aides say Donald Trump has been working on an insulting impersonation of his #1 fan from Fox News.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Seth takes a closer look at President Trump’s post-election funk as the Blue Wave that put Democrats in charge of the House keeps getting bigger.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s one for me mates up in Sri Lanka. I mock, but I hope everything is okay up there. Have a good one! O-Man.



FINALLY . . .

Axe throwing: would you toss a chopper on a first date?

Axe-throwing is now in vogue on the dating circuit, spawning several bars and a world championship contest in Chicago.


A customer throws an axe under the watchful eye of an axe-master at Bury the Hatchet in Brooklyn, New York.

It’s a test of nerve. Of accuracy. And of guile. And, apparently, hurling a sharpened axe around is now in vogue as a first date.

Axe-throwing, once the preserve of action film protagonists and YouTube idiots, is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in New York City.

“I’ve had three first dates,” says Joe, an “axe-master” at Bury the Hatchet, one of the city’s newest axe-throwing bars.

“One of them, the woman was really nervous.”

It says something for the normalizing of axe-throwing that meeting up with an axe-wielding man is not quite the folly it once would have been. Axe-throwing has quietly built a crowd of enthusiasts across the US over the past year – to the extent that December’s World Championship will take place in Chicago and be shown on ESPN.

The interest has been matched by the number of bars now offering the opportunity to lob an axe about, as long as it is aimed at a wooden target. And as long as the participants aren’t drunk – a common question people have about the wisdom of combining a sharp object with alcohol consumption.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?