Watering-hole Wednesday


We’ve lost a lot of good old-school bars over the years (RIP Milady’s, we loved you so). But Old Town Bar, located on East 18th Street by Gramercy Park, has been holding strong since 1892, having served over the years as a German-American salon, an alleged speakeasy, a blue-collar hangout, and a pivotal location in Whit Stillman’s film The Last Days of Disco. Last weekend Old Town celebrated its 125th anniversary, and in anticipation, we spoke with bar owner Gerry Meagher about Old Town’s history, Union Square in the Bad Old Days, and those famous urinals.
Can you tell us a little about the bar’s history? How did it get its name?
It started in 1892 and it was originally, like a lot of taverns in New York in the 1890s, a German-American place. It was originally owned by Jacob Berckel. [He and his manager] ran one of the original salons. We have a card that was sent to us by the manager from the 1890s, it was a business card they used in those days.

Jacob Berckel ran it, from what we understand, to the early part of the 20th century. And then it was taken over by a fellow named Viemeister, who was another German-American. It continued as an old-style German-American tavern up until Prohibition, around 1918, when it became Craig’s Restaurant. We don’t have it verified that they serving liquor in those days. There are some booths you pull out, and what we were told is that liquor was put underneath the booths whenever there was a raid, which the bar was usually told about in advance. So it seemed to operate as sort of a speakeasy in those days. After Prohibition, in 1933, it became The Old Town Bar & Restaurant, which was taken over by another German-American family, the Lohdens.

@ The Gothamist

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Gerrymander Tuesday


It is a political practice nearly as old as the United States – manipulating the boundaries of legislative districts to help one party tighten its grip on power in a move called partisan gerrymandering – and one the Supreme Court has never curbed.

That could soon change, with the nine justices making the legal fight over Republican-drawn electoral maps in Wisconsin one of the first cases they hear during their 2017-2018 term that begins next month. Their ruling in the case could influence American politics for decades.

Wisconsin officials point to the difficulty of having courts craft a workable standard for when partisan gerrymandering violates constitutional protections. Opponents of the practice said limits are urgently needed, noting that sophisticated technological tools now enable a dominant party to devise with new precision state electoral maps that marginalize large swathes of voters in legislative elections.


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Insurance Thieves Monday


The for-profit health care industry and its political surrogates were quick to criticize the sweeping universal Medicare legislation unveiled this week by Sen. Bernie Sanders and more than a dozen Senate Democrats.

“Whether it’s called single-payer or Medicare for All, government-controlled health care cannot work,” David Merritt, vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a lobbying group for health insurance companies, said in a statement to reporters.

The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, another insurance lobby group, released a statement declaring that it “adamantly opposes the creation of a single-payer regime, and our guard is up on these efforts.” The release cited the rising popularity of single-payer proposals in California, New York, and Colorado, and now Sanders’s effort in Congress.

“These are worrisome developments, and the increased volume on single-payer is setting off alarms on what Democratic priorities could represent following seven years of failed ACA repeal efforts,” the CIAB statement noted.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC funded by a number of health care interests — including health insurance giant Anthem, pharmaceutical firm Amgen, and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a lobby group for biotech companies — also sprung to attack the proposal.

The group called the bill the “latest radical and expensive plan for government-run health care” in an announcement on the CLF website.

@ TI

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Spaced Out Sunday

MORNING PLANETS ALIGN: Set your alarm for dawn. Three planets and the crescent Moon are gathering for a beautiful alignment before sunrise. Alan Dyer sends this preview from Gleichen, Alberta:

“This was the view on the morning of Sept. 12th, of Venus, Mercury (then at greatest elongation from the Sun) and Mars in the dawn sky, along with the star Regulus.” says Dyer. “With Earth in the picture, this was an image of all four rocky terrestrial planets in one frame!”

In the mornings ahead, the crescent Moon will join the show, hopping from one planet to the next.  Venus and the Moon will look especially lovely together on Sept. 17th and 18th, while on the 19th and 20th Venus and Regulus pass one another less than 1 degree apart. Look east before sunrise and enjoy the show!


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Saturn Saturday


Deep Space Station 43 is an imposing piece of hardware. It’s a 70-metre diameter radio telescope, the largest in the southern hemisphere, and on this cold Canberra Friday night, red lights were flashing to signify it was sending data to one of the space missions it monitored. It was the Cassini probe – for the final time.

DSS43 is located at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC). It’s a Nasa site run by Australia’s scientific research organisation, the CSIRO, nestled in a valley in Tidbinbilla, a treacherously kangaroo-filled 45-minute drive from the nation’s capital. The public are rarely permitted beyond the cafe and visitor’s centre, but this was a very special night.

Thirty people had been chosen via application to be present for the end of the almost 20-year odyssey of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, which ended just before 10pm (AEST) on Friday with the spacecraft plunging into the atmosphere of the giant planet. There it will be vapourised into its constituent atoms, a decision made by Nasa to avoid the threat of the probe and its radioactive power source crashing and potentially contaminating one of Saturn’s moons – and the life that looks increasingly possible thereon.

@ TG

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9/11 Truth Thursday


Thanks for saving my Presidency Mr. Bubdulla!

Over the years, successive administrations have made strenuous efforts to suppress discussion of Saudi involvement in the September 11 attacks, deploying everything from abusive security classification to the judiciary to a presidential veto. Now, at last, we stand a chance of discovering what really happened, largely because of a court case.

In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, which grew out of a suit filed in 2002 on behalf of bereaved family members and other victims of the attacks, includes a charge of direct Saudi government involvement in 9/11. It also claims that Riyadh directly funded the creation, growth, and operations of Al Qaeda worldwide. The Saudis, though scorning the accusation, have been striving ever more desperately to prevent the case from advancing through the legal system. To that end, they have employed to date no fewer than fifteen high-powered Washington lobbying firms.

The task is growing more urgent because the kingdom, long confident of essentially unlimited wealth, is facing money problems. Oil prices are in a slump and likely to stay there. The war in Yemen, launched in 2015 by Salman’s appointed heir, Mohammed bin Salman, drags on, costing an estimated $200 million a day, with no end in sight. To alleviate his cash-flow problems, the young prince is set on raising as much as $2 trillion by floating the state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, on international stock markets. That is part of the reason the 9/11 lawsuit poses such a threat — it raises the possibility that much-needed cash from the stock sale might never find its way to Riyadh. “They’re afraid they’re going to get a default judgment against them, and some of their domestic assets will be seized,” the former senior official explained to me.

Andrew Cockburn @ Harpers

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