Thursday, October 25, 2007

City Life

By Therese Whelan

What would New York City look like without it’s 13,000 yellow cabs? It’s hard to imagine because taxis are as common a sight in New York as pigeons. Two hundred million people ride eight hundred million miles every year in New York City cabs. More than 40,000 drivers take part in this billion-dollar industry.

But it wasn’t always this way. Taxis have a very interesting history in New York. They have evolved through the years, from the first cars in the 1900’s to today’s SUVs. Taxi drivers have also had to adapt, surviving the violence of the eighties and adjusting to meet the new rules designed to fit the times. Gone is the day when taxi drivers were a source of wisdom and a few good jokes.Today, many shut themselves off from their occupants with the radio or cell phones.

Before there were thousands of cars giving New York it’s signature sound, people traveled by horse drawn carriage. Today you’ll find a few dozen lining Central Park South beckoning tourists. New York was a walking city. Automobiles came to New York at the end of the 18th century. Soon cars were being rented out as an alternative to horse drawn carriages. In the early 1900’s New York City became home to 600 gasoline-powered cars imported from France. These red and green cars were used as taxis.

The taxicab industry was privately owned. The largest company was the Checkered Cab Company, which was also the first taxi company to paint their cabs yellow. By the 1920’s the city began to see the economic potential of a taxi industry. Taximeters were introduced to avoid fights over fares and there were enforced regulations on prices. In 1937, the taxi medallion system was put in place and drivers were required to get special licenses. By the 1960s there were around 12,000 taxis in New York City, so a limit was set on the number of cabs allowed. And, all official taxis had to be painted yellow.

When asked what a demanding job is in New York, most people might say doctor, lawyer, or stockbroker. Not many realize the challenging life of a taxi cab driver. They sit through 12-hour shifts in some of the worst traffic in the world, and cannot succumb to road rage for even a minute. They face demanding customers who want to travel to the Bronx, drunks, fare-beaters, low-tippers, and annoying tourists. Most taxi drivers are not even acknowledged beyond being told where to drive.

“They think they know the way to go, they say turn here, and when we end up in traffic they get mad at me,” says Khan Khalid, 49, a taxi driver. Khalid has his fair share of difficult customers. “I’ve had people scream at me for going the wrong way. One man got in and said 115 Broadway or something, so I thought he meant 115th street. I got to the nineties before he realized and then I had to turn off the meter and drive him back. It turned out to be a building all the way by the World Trade Center. He gave me no tip.”

But many cab drivers have faced far worse things than no tips. In the 1980s, taxi drivers feared for their lives. Alii Mohammad, 53 began driving a taxi in the late 80s.

“I started out driving because I couldn’t find a good enough job. I figured this would be good money and I would always have a job if I needed one. That was almost 20 years ago. It was much harder then. I heard stories about drivers being robbed; my friend had a knife pulled on him just before he was ending his shift. He gave up his money, his watch, his rings. Never happened to me though. I stuck to good areas then. Upper East Side, Midtown. Sometimes, though the rich ones are the worst tippers. They look down on drivers, and won’t even talk to me,” Mohammad said.

There were more than 3,200 driver robberies a year in the 1980s. It got so bad that cops were posing as drivers to catch criminals. Bulletproof partitions were installed in every cab. Today, New York is the safest big city in the U.S., but taxi drivers still have concerns. Since there is a limit on the number of cabs allowed in New York, the price has the medallion has risen so much than hardly any drivers own their cabs. In 2004, a New York City taxi medallion cost about $293,000. Drivers work separately, hardly any drivers receive health insurance and there is no taxi union in New York. So, it is hard for the thousands of drivers to come together, even in protest.

“Things are different now,” says Mohammad. “It is much safer for the driver. I still drive because I have a son. I don’t want him to be a cab driver. And now it is so expensive and there is no health insurance. I was one of the drivers who striked.”

This year new laws will require every cab to be equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) and credit card machine. These systems also show a live map, news headlines and the keep a running tab of the fare. Drivers claim that this is an invasion of privacy, will increase the price to rent a cab, give away their driving shortcuts and are noisy. However, in late September when there was supposed to be a mass protest, only 25 percent of New York City drivers stayed home.

Revenues for the taxi industry are expected to increase with the new GPS and credit card system in place. Khalid can understand why the customers would like this new system. “The people will like the GPS maps because they think I’m taking them the long way. Now they can see. I’ve been driving for 15 years in New York I know all the shortcuts.” However not every taxi rider supports the new laws.

“I hate taking cabs,” says Christopher Miller, 22. “Not because I don’t like them. It is relaxing to sit back and not worry about missing your stop or transferring, its just so expensive. I can’t afford one unless I split it with a few people. It sucks though when its really late and you want to get back home from downtown, sometimes you have no options and you have to shell out 30 bucks.”

Miller doesn’t think the changes will increase his taxi usage. “I don’t need a to see a TV screen in the back or a map showing me where I am. It’s just gonna raise prices more. However, Miller thinks the credit card machines are a good idea for “when you’re out of cash.”

Change is inevitable for the taxi industry. The old Checkered Cabs of the 1920s look nothing like the hybrids, minivans and SUV’s of today. “Yesterday,” says Mohammad, “I drove a pink flowered van with a GPS in the back.” He says he does not like the GPS machines because everyone pays by credit cards and he cannot hear the radio when the news headlines play on the screen “Over and over, it gives me a headache.”

Recently, the city unveiled the results of a massive volunteer project by elementary school children in New York and New Jersey. Large painted flower decals adorn the hood and trunk of some cabs, and if the city has it’s way, all 13,000 plus NYC taxis will be flowered. This will certainly change the look of New York. But one thing that will never change is the need for taxis in this city. There will always be drivers who put up with the difficulties, hoping to make enough money to support their families, or buy health insurance. Maybe one day, the needs of the drivers will surpass those of the customers.

But for the riders, taxis are fast, fun and safe, salvation from downpours and snowstorms. Twenty-four hours a day in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world you can find a taxi and get where you need to go.

College Life

Campus Security: Are They The Real Threat?

By Priya Joshi

The line between protecting civilians and violating civil rights has grown thinner with time. With such laws as the Patriot Act, many Americans and others throughout the world are beginning to wonder if their government is helping or hurting them.

In a recent incident at Florida University, campus security detained, tasered and arrested Andrew Meyer, a student after he asked Senator John Kerry why he didn’t contest the 2004 election during a question and answer session. Kerry did not answer the student’s question, causing him to get emotional and he continued to question Kerry. Although Meyer never got violent or out of control, campus security seized, handcuffed and tasered him. Students across the nation were outraged at the reaction from campus security and demanded explanations.

Alan Cano, a 20-year-old sophomore at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., was one of the many angered by the situation. “It really makes you think that we’re actually living in a police state. Andrew Meyer’s rights were completely violated for the entire nation to see, and still no one did anything about it,” says Cano. “His fellow classmates even laughed it off when it first started happening. This kind of thing is serious, especially now. The powers that be need to know their limits and clearly the campus security at FU didn’t.”

Many young adults agree with Cano on the topic, stating strongly that Meyer’s freedom of speech was so blatantly imposed upon that it was insulting to their generation.

“It was as if the police just weren’t taking the kids seriously,” says Aimee Conover, a 19-year-old college student. “He asked an important question that a lot of people had been wondering since the 2004 election and his question deserved an answer. The police just shut him up to make things easier for John Kerry, which isn’t what a politician should be about. Kerry should be ashamed. Even I want to know why Kerry didn’t contest to the 2004 election when Bush won!”

Such a sensitive topic is bound to bring an immense amount of opposition. Surprisingly, some students don’t mind the fact that campus security has the authority to carry out such acts.

“Think about what happened at Virginia Tech earlier this year,” says Abigail Belford, a 23-year-old college graduate. “If that were to occur again I’m sure all of the people opposed to the tasering would change their minds. Security of any kind needs to be ready and able to take on anything at any moment and I think that the campus security at Florida University did exactly that. Who knows what could have happened. Andrew Meyer could have gone crazy in a split second and nobody would have been prepared. Our world isn’t that safe anymore. You can’t just put trust in everyone.”

Belford addresses a crucial topic. Is it possible to be too safe? “Tiananmen Square in1989 is a perfect example of how out of control something like this can become,” says Cano. “Countless innocent protestors were killed because they lived in a police state. They were not allowed to voice their opinions and had to give their lives to prove a point. Is that what our American democracy is aiming for? I know it’s not a great comparison and that Tiananmen was far more serious, but this is just the beginning of what could possibly be forming.”

It is scary to think that your rights could be completely stripped from you by authority, especially your right to live, but perhaps the issue lies a little deeper.

“I think it has more to do with when people of authority should be able to exercise their power as opposed to focusing on all of the times that they have done so incorrectly,” says Belford. “For example, campus security should be allowed to carry weapons such as guns or tasers to use when a Virginia Tech incident occurs, but they should not be used in situations such as Florida University. If people would address the appropriate times for action to be used instead of bickering about when it was used inappropriately, then maybe we would be a little safer.”

Belford’s approach to looking towards the future instead of the past may work for her, but for many people across the nation, especially those at Florida University and other college students, the time to demand their rights is now, not later.

City Life

Dance Agents: Proceed With Caution
By Kelly Lafarga

It is 7 a.m. The alarm goes off and it’s time to run in the shower. Once done, it’s time to pick out the perfect outfit. Is this too sexy? Does this add 20 pounds? Carefully the makeup is applied in just the right way as to not look too old. It’s 8:30. Time to get going to get to the front of the line. The trains aren’t running, but a cab is too expensive. A bus will do just fine. Arrive at 9:30. Already number 150 on the list. This is going to take all day. It’s tiring, it’s stressful, and it’s the life of a dancer in New York City. Actually, it’s the life of a dancer without an agent.

Many dancers come to New York with the dream of being successful. The first thing most dancers have in mind is that they must get an agent in order to get into the right auditions. Before this is achieved, dancers use resources such as Backstage, a newspaper featuring many auditions of different genres, in order to try to get some work. Most find this insufficient for many reasons. Twenty-one year-old Ricky Derenzis said, “It’s really frustrating having to go to these open auditions where anyone can go. There are hundreds of people and you end up having to wait for hours. I have a fulltime job and I can’t just spend a whole day waiting in the hopes of booking a gig. I have to pay my rent.”

Many other dancers share Derenzis’s view. They get up at early hours and sometimes don’t get out until five or six o’clock and those are the ones that aren’t even chosen. In order to bypass the waiting and stress, most dancers try to get an agent.

An agent does all the work for the dancer. They find the right auditions for them to go to and they simply call them with a day and time. Auditions can last anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Sometimes they don’t even start until the afternoon. There is still plenty of time for dancers to have jobs and do other things during their day.

This seems like the dream situation for any dancer. “Ever since I came to New York I’ve been trying to get an agent. I’ve sent my headshot and resume to at least five different ones and never heard a response,” Derenzis said.

It’s extremely hard to get an agent. A few hold auditions, but sometimes only choose one or two out of a few hundred. For the rest it’s just a face and resume. Most of the times these items are tossed to the side without even a second glance.

Sometimes having an agent isn’t as ideal as it may appear. Many dancers find themselves feeling very unhappy with their agents once they get them. Amanda Cohen, 23, said, “I hadn’t booked a job after my first few auditions and my agent just stopped calling me. I hear about auditions through my friends and wonder why I wasn’t called for them. When I confront them, they usually give me the excuse that I wasn’t what they were looking for. Clearly, I was when I know that there were two other girls I know that were the same type as me. It comes across as being shady.”

Some dancers feel they are often lied to and mistreated by their agents. “In the end I know how they make their money so they shouldn’t be treating me like this,” Cohen said. Dance agents receive 10% of any money that one of their dancers makes on the job. That can sometimes come out to a lot of money depending on the size of the check.

A lot of times the agents fall behind on getting the money to the dancers. Usually a dancer should get a check about a month after they finished the job, sometimes it can be two. Sometimes it takes a lot longer. George Jones, 23, said he finished a job more than four months ago and he still hasn’t received his check. “I’ve been calling my agent and they keep telling me that they’re working on it. It’s unacceptable. I finally had to contact the people that I did the job for. I shouldn’t have to be doing that, that’s what I’m paying my agent to do. They received 10% of my check when they didn’t even really get me the job. I knew the choreographer and that’s how I honestly got it.”

Agents have many clients and obviously can’t give their full attention to any one dancer. This can be a major downside in having an agent. They give the most attention to whoever is the “hot” dancer at that time. “Because I wasn’t booking jobs they weren’t calling me,” said Cohen. “The worst part was they kept lying about why I wasn’t getting called. Just be honest with me. I had to start looking at Backstage and going to the open auditions. The second I booked a job, all of a sudden they loved me and were overly nice and accommodating. They came across as being so fake. It makes me not want to have an agent at all anymore,” she said.

Former agent Debbie Reed says that it is really hard to deal with so many people. “There was no way that we could give the same attention to all of our clients at the same time. Dancers also don’t realize that the reason that they won’t get called isn’t necessarily our fault. We submit all headshots and whoever is casting it picks who they want to see. The dancer automatically thinks that we don’t like them and that’s why they’re not getting called for auditions. It’s a lot bigger than us,” Reed says.

The truth is no one knows whether having a dance agent is wise. On one hand there’s no more waking up at 7 a.m. and standing in a line for hours. However, you can end up losing money and being mistreated. Every dancer strives to have an agent because it’s known to make things a whole lot easier. What they may not know is possible added stress of having one.

College Life

City Or Country Living: Where Should You Go To School?
By Gina Mobilio

How important is a college’s location? Is it better to attend college in a rural community or an urban setting? These are questions that potential college students ask themselves when choosing where they will spend the next four years. Both settings have pluses and minuses, and examining the positive and negative effects of both could lead to better college choices.

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania is home to three popular schools: Wilkes University, Kings College, and Marywood University. All three are a part of a suburban community with rural features and have students attending who enjoy the small-town college life.

“I like that our campus is large enough to have a football team,” said Paul Tonacci , a 21 year-old Wilkes University Pharmacy Major. “And I also like that we have a greenway to walk to class on. It is kept really clean and beautiful all year long.” When asked if he could picture attending a city school, Tonacci laughed and shook his head vigorously.

“Absolutely not. I would feel claustrophobic and very confined. I mean, it’s probably full of more opportunity for theatre and dance and stuff, but I can’t imagine giving up the way autumn, winter, and spring look in the country. [City Life] isn’t for me.

Wilkes University has multiple buildings and classrooms that accommodate students year round including a three-floor library, a three-floor student union building, a seven-station cafeteria, a cafĂ©, and multiple mansions converted into functioning dorm rooms. The school also offers an on-campus workout room, and a basketball court used for the school’s Division III games.

“This school has everything I need to attend college comfortably. Anything less would not feel like a college to me. It wouldn’t feel as free.” Tonacci is scheduled to graduate in 2009 with a degree in Pharmacology.

Urban colleges, such as Marymount Manhattan College located in New York City offer an entirely different college experience with a variety of attributes and features. Marymount offers a vast and detailed theatre major program, such as majoring in acting, theatre studies, directing, stage management, and playwriting. The school also provides appearances nationally and internationally recognized speakers and performers as additional opportunities for learning.

Kara Thomas, 20, a Marymount student majoring in playwriting, believes that the education she is getting in an urban school is better than any she could receive in a rural setting.

“I couldn’t imagine it, I just couldn’t. At our school we are able to have access to renowned theatres and famous guest speakers that help us in our educational process. What do the rural schools have that we don’t? Dave Matthews performing? Give me a break. If you are going to [take school seriously] then you need to attend a serious college, Thomas said. "We may not have that “college feel” complete with football games and frat boys doing keg stands at mixers, but we have an education program that takes students far beyond the classroom. We are able to gain knowledge in our field outside of a classroom and mediocre teachers.” Thomas plans to graduate in 2010.

Although there are many benefits to attending college in the city, people affiliated with the smaller country schools beg to differ.

“There are too many distractions,” says Theresa Fallon, the theatre arts advisor of Wilkes University. “Students who attend school in New York and various other big-named cities view it as a place of immediate opportunity, and it just isn’t. The opportunities are there, of course, but the students begin to forget about their education and the importance of graduating.”

Fallon has been Wilkes University’s Theatre Arts advisor for three years and a theatre instructor for 10. “In a smaller school that is centered away from the distractions of alternate theatre options, the student focuses themselves primarily on their studies,” she said.

Monday, October 08, 2007

College Life

Vanity: Where Do We Draw The Line?
By Priya Joshi

Some psychologists have concluded that today’s generation of college students are far more vain than their predecessors.

However, in a recent Associated Press article, “Vanity On The Rise Among College Students,” what these psychologists have failed to mention are the key reasons for this outcome. They have confidently pinned the blame on the “Self-Esteem Movement” of the 1980’s, a movement that worked to build confidence in young adults, but that may have gone too far.

Alyssa Geddes, a 19-year-old college student disagrees. “We are living in a completely different world now. A self-esteem movement in the 80’s is irrelevant to our current decade. Nowadays, we are bombarded with gorgeous people everywhere. Each and every magazine has the face of a model plastered to the front. That is the reason kids these days care so much about looking good.”

Geddes makes a valid point. The pressures of society in 2007 are far different than those of the 1980’s. In fact, the pressures have sky rocketed. Nevertheless, Geddes agrees that college students are extremely concerned with their appearance and will go to great lengths to look acceptable. “It’s no longer a matter of just self-confidence,” said Geddes. “Looking good has become a way of life for a lot of young adults these days and I can’t say that it’s totally their fault. The world we live in shapes the people who inhabit it.”

The article, based on a study of 16,475 students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006, also states several benefits for having such a drastic rise in self-confidence. It can help with making friends at school or getting invited to parties. However, all of this extra attention can have dire consequences.

“I can’t stand people who are overly confident in themselves,” says Jill Mezey, a college student who says she has personally seen the downside of narcissism. “People need to know when to be modest and I think that is a trait that our generation severely lacks. I have seen friends go through boyfriends at an unhealthy rate due to the fact that they get too much attention and it goes straight to their head.”

Physical appearance isn’t the only problem that this article brings up. Narcissism can take the form of college applications as well. With an obscene amount of pressure to get a good job and make a lot of money in America, the self-confidence of high school and college students alike is at an all time peek.

Michael McCarthy , a 23-year-old college graduate remembers the pressures placed on him at an early age. “I attended a very rich and very smart high school in New Jersey. An unbelievable amount of kids in my graduating class went off to Ivy Leagues,” said McCarthy. “We had teachers and guidance counselors breathing down our necks constantly. The competition was almost unbearable. It’s not healthy for teenagers to have to go through that.”

The question then seems to be: where do we draw the line?

Perhaps the problem does not lie within the fashion magazines or the beautiful people on television. The problem with today’s college students and narcissism could have a direct relation to our constant rising economy. The demand for more money and power and better jobs seems to have students far more stressed than making sure they have this season’s shoes.

Betty Epstein, a 47-year-old mother of two current college students agrees. “I watched them go through the stress of high school and now I’m watching them go through it all over again,” says Epstein. “My kids have always been happy with who they are and never had trouble making friends, but they watch some of their classmates parade around with a smile on their face or join clubs at school that they don’t care about just to look good for job applications. It’s disappointing.”

A solution could be to stop shoving kids in one direction. Let the college students know that the path they pave is their own. Instead of having outside influences building their confidence, let them build it. Perhaps then the attitude will switch from feeling pressure to feeling ready and able.

College Life

Vanity, Vanity On The Wall
By Gina Mobilio

Five psychologists completed an extensive study on college students and concluded that today’s generation is more vain and self-centered than that of any other generation.

The article, “Vanity On The Rise Among College Students,” by the Associated Press quotes professor Jean Twenge, the lead author of a study of 16,475 students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) between 1982 and 2006, saying, “We need to stop repeating ‘Your Special’ and having children repeat that back. Kids are self-centered enough already.” The psychologists who recently presented their study at a workshop in San Diego, found that the student’s NPI scores have risen 30%; a drastic change over the last 15 years.

Some teachers say they have observed this behavior in children as early ages 11 and 12. Marisa Delacalse, a 50 year-old middle school teacher in Mendham, N.J., says she has seen the negative effect that over-praising a child can have.

“Children don’t understand the term “average” anymore,” she said. “Some (children) are so used to hearing from their parents that they are wonderful in every field, and can do anything they set their minds to because they are “special,” that they cannot function properly when failure does come their way. Children are more inclined to act out and be aggressive when they are not humbled at an early age. It’s the parent’s fault.”

Some people believe that narcissism can have a plus side, and can actually fuel a person’s confidence and comfort when dealing with situations that test their abilities. Marianne Difalco, a 48 year-old mother of three in Sussex, N.J,, concurs.

“I told my kids, and still tell my kids, that they are special every day. I might not have said it in those words, “you are special,” but I let them know they stood out in my eyes and in the eyes of God. My kids are not cocky or conceited at all. (They are always) helping out others and do, in fact, have self-esteem issues. I don’t think eliminating praise of children would solve anything.”

Difalco continued, “Although I believe praise is an essential part (of parenting), parents must also keep in mind that there is a fine line between praising their kids and spoiling their kids. When a child is shown that they are ‘special’ through gifts and treats, that child can grow up to expect treats and gifts for no reason at all because they are considered to be special by the word of their parents.”

The study shows that children who were constantly praised and told that they were special by their parents have a much stronger tendency to be unfaithful when in relationships, and they establish controlling behaviors towards others. The researchers believe that this trend dates back to the 1980s during the time of the “self-esteem movement.” They say movement has expanded and feel that it has gotten out of hand entirely.

“I don’t own a camera, I look in the mirror on average once a day, and I don’t have a MySpace page or whatever it’s called,” said 23 year-old NYU graduate Kati Lampa. “I feel that it’s a terrible craze. I don’t know who has the time to sit behind a computer and actually hope that someone is commenting on your pictures and saying how pretty and skinny you look. And frankly, I don’t want to know who is that shallow and conceited.”

Lampa added, “vanity within today’s society has even leaked into cell phones. The whole camera phone thing is just another way for self-centered people to click away at themselves. It’s terrible. Something needs to be done.”

College Life

Vanity Or Self-Confidence: That Is The Question
By Glenn Burwell

College students and recent graduates believe that a new study of narcissism in college-aged students jumps to conclusions and makes some harsh generalizations.

The article, “Vanity On The Rise Among College Students,” published by the Associated Press, June 20, 2007, about a new study of vanity leaves students offended, some even outraged.

Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University and her counterparts from various universities found in their study of narcissism that college-aged students steadily become more vain since the start of their research in 1982. The researchers fear that the rise in vanity among youth will be a detriment to relationships in American society.

Louis Marin, 25, a recent University of Florida graduate didn't agree with the article's generalization of college students. After reading it, Marin said, "It all seems incredibly questionable to me (the study). The questions they ask are leading and if you answer them one way you are diffident, and the other way are categorized as a narcissist."

Marin refers to questions like, " If I ruled the world it would be a better place," and "I can live life any way I want," taken from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory survey. Marin also asserted " Admittedly, I've only seen a bit of their research in reading the article, but still their assumptions lack merit."

Fashion Institute of Technology student, Molly Gunn, 20, didn't think the article was all wrong. " I think they're right about there being an increase in narcissism, just look around. People around my age are more self-obsessed than our parents ever were." Like other students, Gunn thought the problem with the article was that it didn't clearly differentiate between narcissism and self-confidence. Gunn concluded, " Yes we are a little into ourselves these days, but what is the problem with that? I am confident and I believe in everything that I do, call it what you will."

Caitlin Mager, 19, a Borough of Manhattan Community College student believed that what the researchers considered to be narcissism was simply a product of parenting. "People born into what is now considered the millennial generation, were raised in a time where parents were encouraged to preach self-worth and high-self esteem. I don't understand why people are trying to find negativity in building your children up. Maybe my relationships are short-lived. I am happy with who I am and I won’t settle for anything less than what I want," says Bryant. She said her mother was in an abusive marriage and she believes that the lack of coddling in her mother's generation led to a lack of self-worth, resulting in her staying in an abusive relationship.

Reasons for why students didn't like the article varied, but what was certain was that college-aged students disagreed with the generalizations made about their generation. Oddly enough, Prof. Twenge and her colleagues would likely attribute the fervent student's dismissal of their research evidence of youthful narcissism.