Tag Archives: Guantanamo Bay

Ten things you can learn about New York City from the subway

Newton’s little-known fourth law of motion states that all city dwellers shall complain about the transport system that gets them to work in the morning. Londoners have more reason than most to moan, with a Northern Line that resembles Calcutta on a bad day, and weekend engineering work that means any trip from Leicester Square to Covent Garden has to go via Cardiff.

But when it comes down to it, underground systems are a microcosm of the city above, and if you ask me, there’s plenty we can learn about the city above by taking a look at the teeming humanity below. Just one week on the subway in New York is enough to glean some valuable lessons about New York and its itinerant population:

1. New Yorkers have an attention span that is only marginally longer than the average gnat. As a result, the majority of the city’s residents believe that there is a danger of spontaneous combustion unless they are constantly stimulated. People used to prepare for their work day by reading a newspaper; now they watch Gossip Girl on their iPod.

2. The majority of New Yorkers take up at least 47% more space than they think they do. As a result, most commuters never believe that a train is full, even after seeing documented evidence that Norris McWhirter and his fellow Guinness Book of World Records cronies have declared the train the current holder of the award for most people crammed into a confined space in a subterranean environment.

3. Most New Yorkers are hard of hearing, and have to play music at volumes only previously heard in military noise torture tests, in camps that make the Guantanamo Bay experience seem like a day out in Disneyland.

4. At least one third of all the city’s residents are homeless, and are forced to carry around all their worldly possessions in rucksacksbackpacks the size of, say, Mongolia.

5. Aggravated bodily harm is not illegal once you are thirty feet underground. If you need to use an umbrella, a fist or a good old fashioned honest-to-goodness shoulder barge to get past people, that is perfectly acceptable. If you leave your victim cowering on the floor, all the better.

6. The credit crunch means that a lot of people can no longer afford paper. All notes have to be scratched onto the subway windows as a result.

7. 95% of New York men have never seen a pregnant woman. At least that’s why I assume no-one ever seems to give up their seat when they see a gestating female clinging grimly onto a subway pole. It’s either that, or every New York man has had their fingers burned offering their seat to a woman who turned out to be less pregnant, more a big fan of cakes.

8. In Salem, they identified witches by the onset of mysterious convulsions; in New York, the outsiders are the people you see on the subway who aren’t wearing a coat manufactured by The North Face. If you are not wearing a black coat at the very least, you will be chased out of town by men brandishing pitchforks. North Face-branded pitchforks, obviously.

9. The lack of public toilets in New York was made possible by the 1932 Subway Conveniences Act, which stated that at least one subway carriagecar on every train will be required to stink of piss. Any train found to be lacking such a stench is forced to find a homeless guy with a collection of four thousand shopping bags (none of which contain soap) and place him in a carriage as a deterrent to commuters.

10. From the age of 2, all New Yorkers are trained to seek out vacant subway seats by smell alone. It is physically impossible to beat a seasoned New Yorker to a seat, even if you are given a 10 yard start. And your opponent is on crutches.

Still, these sardine cans get me to work, so I can’t really complain. I mean, obviously I will complain. But until someone coughs up for a personal chauffeur for me, it looks like I’m stuck with it so I may as well make the most of it. Now, where’s my umbrella?

A jump to the left, a step to the right

When it comes to the media, I think objectivity is a little over-rated. I like the fact that certain newspapers – British and American – nail their colours to the political mast, and go out of their way to attract those of a certain ideological persuasion. It’s why The Guardian with its relatively socially progressive agenda will always be more appealing to me than, say, the Daily Telegraph. And if you ever see me with a copy of the Daily Mail, feel free to drive rusty nails into my eyes.

In the States, it’s probably fair to say that more media outlets attempt to claim that they are independent from political bias, but some just can’t help but have their true colours emerge. And of course, the best example of this is Fox News.

Don’t get me wrong, the Fox network has many things going for it. After all, any channel that features ‘House’, ’24’ and even ‘The Simpsons’ is alright by me. But their news coverage is world-renowned for its – erm – marginal right-wing bias. Infact, their political persuasion is so well documented that I’ve never actually turned on the TV or radio to watch or listen to the news for myself.

Until Friday that is, when my Obama-supporting cab driver was listening to the Fox News channel on his satellite radio. Now, as I said earlier, I’m all for a bit of open bias, but this was ridiculous. Despite there being 11 national polls published on Friday, all of which claimed that Obama’s lead was widening (bar one, which had the McCain camp gaining a point), one commentator claimed that McCain had narrowed the gap in the last week by 10 points in key demographics such as 18-30 year olds, to practically level things up.

In a debate about taxation, the host and a Republican analyst both expressed their opinions about possible tax raises in an Obama administration, before cutting off a Democratic spokesperson by playing music over the top of her as she tried to make her response. And as I left the cab, Joe the Well Driller was telling us how much an Obama administration would hurt him.

Now, some or all of this may turn out to be fair, although it still seems unlikely that millions of 18-30 year olds will suddenly wake up and exclaim “Wow, that little man with the grey hair is just the guy I need to stir me from my latent political torpor.” But what really shocked was the abject refusal to put both sides of the argument. One of Fox News’s taglines is “Fair & Balanced,” but to be honest I’ve seen more fair and balanced treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

My best guess is that Fox News isn’t actually a news channel, but some kind of warped reality TV show in which contestants compete to see who can make the most outlandish claims on a broadcast outlet. Mark my words, viewers will turn on later this week to find Ryan Seacrest proclaiming Bill o’Reilly “America’s Next Top News Inventor Idol.”