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September 25, 2009

Condo math: Units unsold, combined.

Real Estate Accounting: Percent Sold

Today, the Meier building -- officially, On Prospect Park -- is a wall of windows into the real estate bust, in Brooklyn, NY.

Faced with anemic sales, the developers have slashed prices by as much as 40 percent. They combined units -- there were originally 114 -- to boost the percentage sold in order to ease the path to mortgages. But potential buyers have walked away from at least $20 million worth of contracts.

But 10 months after the much-publicized -- and much-debated -- Meier building opened, most of that stage remains devoid of actors. On the side of the building facing their terrace, Mr. Vader and Mr. Henderson said, there is not a single person living on the 9th, 10th, 12th, 14th or 15th floors. While the developers say half of the building's 99 units have been sold, the real estate Web site StreetEasy.com documents only 25 closings through public records. When the sun falls, the view from Mel and Bob's terrace -- or, for that matter, from the storied Grand Army Plaza -- is not unlike a Christmas tree stripped of all but a handful of lights.

"You see that there are people there," Mr. Vader said. "But you don't see the amount of movement that you would normally see."

When Seventeen Development L.L.C. announced in 2005 that Mr. Meier would erect one of his elaborate glass and steel sculptures on a $4.75 million parcel in Prospect Heights, it was seen as a test of New York's real estate boom. Could the starchitect best known for designing Manhattan condominiums for the likes of Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart sell $1 million one-bedrooms in a still-gentrifying zone without a reliable public school?

Today, the Meier building -- officially, On Prospect Park -- is a wall of windows into the real estate bust.

Faced with anemic sales, the developers have slashed prices by as much as 40 percent. They combined units -- there were originally 114 -- to boost the percentage sold in order to ease the path to mortgages. But potential buyers have walked away from at least $20 million worth of contracts.

And the handful of people who moved in have been left exposed not only to the perils of buying at the peak of the market but also to the stifled laughter of their neighbors following their every move.

These pioneers have formed an Internet chat group to trade information about the building's construction progress and ever-dropping sales prices. They have also organized a book club, a tennis team, basketball tournaments, billiard games and myriad individual play dates and cocktail hours in a campaign to create a community within the glass walls.

"Some people would like to see this building fail," said Betty Flynn, a California transplant who pressed her lips together tightly as she paused while describing her hopes for weathering the downturn. "We all have the same goal. We want to be in a great building."

At a July meet and greet in the building's fishbowl-like first-floor party room, Ms. Flynn and her neighbors joked about the challenges of living in a Richard Meier building -- about how Mr. Meier, who himself lives in a prewar Manhattan co-op crowded with 5,000 books, hides the microwaves in minimalist kitchens and favors pale walls that quickly grow covered with children's fingerprints. They swapped stories about having food delivery show up across the street at the Brooklyn Public Library, since their building took its address, 1 Grand Army Plaza.

One woman said that seeing a unit similar to hers on the market for 30 percent less made her "heart sink," while a couple apologized for negotiating more than $1.1 million off the $2.8 million asking price.

The residents have tried to maintain a sense of humor about the attention they have attracted for living in a glass tower, especially one that many local residents decried for changing the character of the streetscape.

One father sighed that he had probably been spotted chasing his naked toddlers through his apartment before bath time. Alan Fleischer, the bachelor seen with the female guest, clarified that she was there to clean the place, but said he had ordered curtains in case that special someone comes along.

Sometimes, the residents of the glass house wave at Mel and Bob enjoying martinis on their terrace across the way.

"Richard Meier has brought the outside inside for these people, but he's brought their interiors to everyone outside," Mr. Vader said. "I get to see more than they get to see."

Like many in their neighborhood, Mr. Vader and Mr. Henderson -- who have lived for 15 years in a grand traditional apartment with a sweeping circular staircase, period paintings and a shaggy-leaved ficus named Tina (as in Turner) -- at first staunchly opposed the idea of a totem of modern architecture being planted in the heart of their beloved Brownstone Brooklyn. They wrote to officials at the neighboring Brooklyn Public Library, botanical garden and Prospect Park, pleading for a design that blended better with the low-rise apartment buildings and the 11-acre oval plaza and arch designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1860s. Their pleas went unheeded. But the couple soon found themselves engrossed in the construction of what looked like a giant erector set in front of their terrace.

"It was a ballet," said Mr. Vader, 66, arms waving to mimic the dancing cranes. "That initial opening of the earth with those extraordinary mechanicals."

"Noise, noise, noise," piped in Mr. Henderson, 68, and retired from retail. "But it was fascinating."

Ruth Dropkin, who is 90 and has lived nearby for 31 years, was moved to write an ode to the building called "Narcissus Ascending," which she sent, unbidden, to The New York Times.

"The naked steel girders go/up in hubris steps," she wrote. "Gone the haven of brick and stone and wood,/gone the primal niche of interiority."

As the local residents debated the exterior, the developers and sales brokers were preoccupied with what was not going on inside as potential buyers struggled to obtain mortgages on apartments whose values were rapidly falling. Two Corcoran brokers handling sales at the building have not had an open house for months and repeatedly refused to let a reporter watch shoppers browse the empty units. Information supplied by the sales center to StreetEasy.com shows that even units that have gone to contract are taking extraordinarily long to close.

Louis Greco, one of the three principals in the development company, said in an interview that he could afford to wait to sell units because the money he borrowed for the project carried a low interest rate. "We're prepared to ride the storm," he said.

The person perhaps least affected by the emptiness of the glass house is Mr. Meier. He said that he had never met with the bankers financing the project until he was honored for the building's design this summer at the 2009 Building Brooklyn Awards, hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce.

At a sunset cocktail reception on the roof of Steiner Studios at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Mr. Meier, 74, said that he was not affected by the building's sluggish sales because the developer "cut the prices after it was finished." He said that On Prospect Park was hardly unique among new developments being stagnated by the recession, and that he "definitely" would be game to build in Brooklyn again.

"The people who live there love it," Mr. Meier added.

One of the first to gamble on the glass house were Edith Asibey and John D. Verlander, first-time buyers who signed a contract in March 2008 for a $950,000 one-bedroom on the sixth floor with 1,091 square feet and a 108-square-foot terrace. Three days before Ms. Asibey and Mr. Verlander closed on the apartment, in the back of the building, their bank, Wells Fargo, nearly pulled out -- despite their down payment of nearly 30 percent -- partly because of concerns over how few units had sold. They eventually closed in March 2009, amid new worries about the trouble buyers with less cash or worse credit could face.

"I can see it's going to be very difficult in the near term to get this building filled up," said Mr. Verlander, 30, a consultant for a major accounting firm.

For now they are relishing their relative privacy. Ms. Asibey, 39, a consultant for nonprofit groups, said she does not worry about leaving a pile of clothing before rushing out to appointments. Still, she showed off how much thicker her bedroom blinds were than the ones in the living room, proof that privacy is possible even in the glass house.

The apartment that caused them so much grief while they were trying to obtain a mortgage has started to feel like a home filled with memories. Ms. Asibey lovingly described the first major meal Mr. Verlander cooked for them in their new kitchen. It was April 11. Spinach salad with applewood smoked bacon, Valdeon cheese and a sherry vinaigrette, followed by braised beef brisket with truffle mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. Before a dessert of chocolate and strawberry ice cream from the Blue Marble shop down the street, Mr. Verlander got down on bended knee.

There, in full view of the neighbors, the pair of distant figures became engaged. "All the shades were up," Ms. Asibey said. "But I wasn't looking."

Ms. Flynn, 66, a retired school administrator, and her husband, Gary, a lawyer who is 64 and also retired, moved into a $1.45 million one-bedroom on the fourth floor in January after three years in the building where Mr. Vader and Mr. Henderson live (they knew the Flynns well enough to advise Mr. Flynn to shut the bathroom door when brushing his teeth). The Flynns had moved to the neighborhood from California to be closer to their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, who live in Carroll Gardens.

"It's a little disheartening to think we bought at the height" of the market, Ms. Flynn said. But, her husband noted, "we're living here for the rest of our lives. We know there are ups and downs in the market. It's not a time to panic."

They have tried to comfort some of their younger neighbors who are more apprehensive about surviving a real estate bust. Through years of buying and selling real estate, Ms. Flynn said, they figure it "all comes out in the wash."

Meanwhile, they have become pillars of the community growing in the building. Mr. Flynn has formed friendships playing pool with neighbors, while Ms. Flynn helped start a book club, which has already read "Arrowsmith" by Sinclair Lewis and "The Defiant" by Shalom Yoran, who happens to live on the fifth floor.

Mr. Yoran, an 84-year-old retired chairman of an aircraft company, and his wife, Varda, who is 80, moved into their $3.1 million four-bedroom in December, after deciding they were too old to care for their sprawling home in Great Neck on Long Island. He is a Holocaust survivor who fought as a partisan in the forests of Eastern Europe (his memoir should not be confused with "Defiance," a movie based on a similar story). She is a sculptor who said she was not worried about declining real estate values because her next condo would be a coffin.

Like the Flynns, they moved to be closer to their children and grandchildren, who live a few blocks up Flatbush Avenue. The apartment, which feels like a treehouse nestled among the leafy branches across Plaza Street, smells like coffee and has a studio with a cage of 15 chirping finches, and a spare bathroom with a tub lined with toys for a grandchild's sleepovers.

Born in China to Russian Jews, Mrs. Yoran moved at age 20 to Israel, where she met Mr. Yoran, whose parents died in the Holocaust, and who, according to his book, spent one winter in "a freshly dug, carefully constructed, and well-camouflaged hole in the ground secluded deep in the forest."

Mrs. Yoran said that she did not know how much value her glass house had lost, but that she trusted in her husband's "sixth sense," which had guided them through their lives. Mr. Yoran's eyes still sparkle as he watches his wife of 55 years move among her abstract stone artworks.

They do not mind if Mel or Bob or anyone else peeks inside the home that took their whole lives to find.

"What I like about this is, the inside out and the outside in," said Mrs. Yoran, gesturing toward the glass. "It's a matter of perspective."

Next Article in New York Region (3 of 39) »
A version of this article appeared in print on September 27, 2009, on page MB1 of the New York edition.

New York Region
Glass Half Empty: Richard Meier's Brooklyn Tower
Published: September 27, 2009
The handful of residents who live in a 15-story glass tower on Grand Army Plaza in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, feel exposed to the real estate bust and their neighbors.

September 22, 2009

We own them; we can sell them to you for this price.

"What the heck is the name of that place? Oh yeah, Tradition," said John Ollquist, who refers to his younger brother by his nickname, Moose. "It's a different kind of firm, you understand, from Lehman Brothers. People don't call Tradition. Moose has to go out and say, 'If you like these prices, I can get them.' At Lehman, he could say, 'We own them; we can sell them to you for this price.' I don't know if it's better or worse, but it's probably harder."

Tales From Lehman's Crypt
Published: September 13, 2009
A look at how some of the people who worked at Lehman have fared since the firm's sudden collapse a year ago.

September 18, 2009

tineye image duplicate search

tineye images search, updates.

Given an image file, find similar or identical images on the web.

September 16, 2009

HTC Hero brings Google Android to Sprint on 2009 Oct 11

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. & BELLEVUE, Wash.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sep. 3, 2009-- Sprint (NYSE:S) and HTC Corporation today announced the upcoming arrival of the much-anticipated HTC Hero™ from Sprint, the first wireless device offering the combination of the open and innovative Android platform with the high-speed connectivity of America's most dependable 3G network1 (EVDO Rev. A.) Offering a rich mobile Internet experience, the much-anticipated HTC Hero offers synchronization for built-in Google mobile services, including Google Search™, Google Maps™, Gmail™, and YouTube™ as well as access to thousands of applications built on the Android platform.

Beginning on Oct. 11, customers will be able to purchase HTC Hero through all Sprint retail channels including Web (www.sprint.com), Telesales (1-800-SPRINT1) and our national retail partner Best Buy for $179.99 (excluding taxes) after a $50 instant savings and a $100 mail-in rebate with a two-year service agreement. Pre-registration begins today at www.sprint.com/hero.

"The arrival of HTC Hero and the Android platform to Sprint's network is an important milestone for our customers and the U.S. wireless industry," said Kevin Packingham, senior vice president of product development for Sprint. "With the dependability and coverage of Sprint's 3G network, HTC Hero users will appreciate a much better experience than is possible now with any other Android phone operating in the United States. They will enjoy the robust potential to personalize their wireless experience as well as the best value in wireless with a Simply Everything plan from Sprint."

September 14, 2009

Health and Politics in the Oval Office, Blumenthal and Morone

Blumenthal and Morone's most provocative finding is that presidents who have been most successful in moving the country toward universal health coverage have disregarded or overruled their economic advisers. Plans to expand coverage have consistently drawn cautions or condemnations from economic teams in every administration, from Harry Truman's down to George W. Bush's. An exasperated Lyndon Johnson groused to Ted Kennedy that "the fools had to go to projecting" Medicare costs "down the road five or six years." Such long-term projections meant political headaches. "The first thing, Senator Dick Russell comes running in, says, 'My God, you've got a one billion dollar [estimate] for next year on health. Therefore I'm against any of it now." Johnson rejected his advisers' estimates and intentionally lowballed the cost. "I'll spend the goddamn money." An honest economic forecast would most likely have sunk Medicare.


THE HEART OF POWER: Health and Politics in the Oval Office
By David Blumenthal and James A. Morone

Illustrated. 484 pp. University of California Press. $26.95

Books / Sunday Book Review
Critical Care
Published: September 6, 2009
This history of health policy and the Oval Office shows that the presidents who made the biggest steps in the direction of universal care have acted despite their economic advisers.

It's not so much that presidential economic advisers have been wrong -- in fact, Medicare is well on its way to bankrupting the nation -- but that they are typically in the business of thinking small and trying to minimize risk, while the herculean task of expanding health coverage entails great vision and large risk. Economic advice is important, but it's only one source of wisdom.

Yet since Johnson, presidents have found it increasingly difficult to keep their economists at bay, mainly as a result of the growth of Washington's economic policy infrastructure. Cost estimates and projections emanating from the White House's Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, both created during the Nixon administration, have bound presidents within webs of technical arguments, arcane rules and budget limits. To date, Democratic presidents have felt more constrained by this apparatus than Republicans, perhaps because they have felt more of a need to prove their cost-cutting chops.

The book was written before President Obama began his push for universal health care, but he seems to have anticipated many of its lessons. He's moved as quickly on the issue as this terrible economy has let him, and he has outlined his goals but left most details to Congress. Nor has he been too rattled by naysaying economists (although the cost estimates of the Congressional Budget Office set him back). The question remains whether, in the months ahead, he can knock Congressional heads together to clinch a meaningful deal, and overcome those who inevitably feed public fears about a "government takeover" of health care and of budget-busting future expenditures. "The Heart of Power" suggests that the odds are not in his favor.

But even if Obama fails, the authors offer one large consolation. There is an art to losing, too -- in a way that can tee up the issue for future presidents. Truman lost but nonetheless redefined the terms of debate, setting the stage for Medicare (which is why Johnson honored Truman when he signed it into law). Compare him with Clinton, who walked away from the wreckage of his health care plan and rarely mentioned the subject again. According to the authors, this allowed opponents to gain control over the spin and history, so that the Democrats' signature cause slipped out of political sight for a decade.

This fine book also contains a subplot with a supporting actor who, although he never became president, is repeatedly heard from offstage -- goading, pushing, threatening and pulling presidents of both parties toward universal coverage. Ted Kennedy first introduced his ambitious national health insurance proposal 40 years ago, and he never stopped promoting the cause. A deal he reached with President Nixon was the closest this country has ever come to universal care. Even before Kennedy's death last month, his illness had tragically sidelined him just when his powerful voice was most needed. Yet when and if America ever achieves universal coverage, it will be due in no small measure to the tenacity and perseverance of this one remarkable man.

Robert B. Reich, a former secretary of labor, is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author, most recently, of "Supercapitalism."
More Articles in Books »
A version of this article appeared in print on September 6, 2009, on page BR1 of the New York edition.

September 12, 2009

New Canaan: Concentric larger, smaller lots sized ring the transact

The 22-square-mile town of New Canaan, CT, has concentric circles of one-third-, one-half-, one- and two-acre lots, capped by a swath of homes on four acres or more. About 1,200 apartments and condominiums mingle with roughly 6,000 single-family homes.

New Canaan was also known as a haven for book editors and writers, advertising executives and transient corporate families ("I'm with I.B.M.: I've Been Moved"). "Next station to heaven," it was called, but with an edge. Along with good schools and abundant tennis courts, there were more than a dozen liquor stores. Ang Lee's 1997 film "The Ice Storm" captured the ennui of the town's teenagers circa 1973.

Living In | New Canaan, Conn.
Wealthy Town Cools on Super-Jumbo Homes
Published: September 20, 2009
Nestled in the crook of Connecticut's southwest corner 45 miles from Manhattan, New Canaan has never been a bargain hunter's paradise.

September 8, 2009

Bernanke Saved The World ?

MSNBC: In hindsight was Paulson right? If Congress did not write that $700 billion check would banks have collapsed?

Warren: I have to say I think there would have been some real pain. There are some businesses today that are alive that would have been wiped out. However, I am just not convinced at all that we would have gone into a death spiral"

MSNBC: With the facts he knew at the time, was it the right call?

Warren: (struggling to be polite) "You know, let me say it this way. The question about whether or not the world as we know it has ended, depends on what you think the world is as we know it. If you think the world as we know it, are a handful of huge financial institutions, the dinosaurs that roamed the earth, then you're right. They are not going to exist without huge infusions of government money. On the other hand if what you really believe is that our economy and our world is 115 million American households you start to see it very differently. And you say, you know if the dinosaurs are gone there are still a lot of stuff to be done.

[Via Mish]

September 6, 2009

How big is UK cel / mobile phone market

BERLIN -- Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom said Tuesday that they were planning to merge their struggling mobile operations in Britain, creating the largest mobile phone operator there.

The companies said the 50-50 venture, combining Britain's third- and fourth-largest operators, would have 28.4 million customers and a 37 percent market share, according to Gartner, leapfrogging the market leader, O2, with 27 percent, and Vodafone, with 25 percent. The companies said they expected to sign an agreement by the end of next month.

Merger Would Create U.K. Mobile Giant

Published: September 8, 2009

Britain's popultion is about 61 million.

September 4, 2009

Democrat plan to stop private health insurance companies from providing benefits ?

After years of complaining about private health insurers denying care, the democrat plan
is now to penalize insurers who do provide full coverage.

Mr. Baucus's plan, expected to cost $850 billion to $900 billion over 10 years, would tax insurance companies on their most expensive health care policies. The hope is that employers would buy cheaper, less generous coverage for employees, thereby reducing the overuse of medical services.

The separate new fee on insurance companies would help raise money to pay for the plan. The fee would raise $6 billion a year starting in 2010, and it would be allocated among insurance companies according to their market shares.

The fees were first proposed by Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Until now, Mr. Baucus had not shown interest in the idea.

Mr. Schumer said, "The health insurance industry should pay its fair share of the cost because it stands to gain over 40 million new consumers under health care reform legislation."

Mr. Rockefeller said the fees were justified because insurance companies were "rapaciously, greedily and unstoppably making money by underpaying the patient, by underpaying the provider and by overpaying themselves."

Insurers and many Republicans in Congress oppose the fees, saying they would be passed on to families and employers who buy insurance. Robert E. Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said the fees would "make coverage less affordable."

A recent report by Oppenheimer & Company, the investment bank, said, "It will be very difficult for the Senate Finance Committee to structure the fees in a way that they won't be immediately passed on to customers in the form of higher premiums."

Another section of Mr. Baucus's proposal would help pay insurance premiums, co-payments and deductibles for people with incomes less than 300 percent of the poverty level ($66,150 for a family of four). It would also provide some protection for people with incomes from 300 percent to 400 percent of the poverty level (up to $88,200 for a family of four), so they would generally not have to pay more than 13 percent of their income in premiums.

Health / Health Care Policy
New Fee on Health Insurance Companies Is Proposed to Help Expand Coverage
Published: September 7, 2009
The proposal, circulated by Senator Max Baucus, does not include a government-run health care plan, which many Democrats want.

You 'solve' the problem of the uninsured by passing a law forcing them to buy health insurance which, by definition, most a) cannot afford or b) are gambling they won't need because they're young and healthy. Either you end up with low subsidies which still leave it onerous to buy, thus creating a lot of disgruntled people, or you get generous subsidies, which cost a lot of money.

-- JMM / TPM

September 3, 2009

Are safer smokes safer ?

The law also prohibits advertising that products carry a lower health risk than traditional cigarettes without F.D.A. approval, a provision aimed at ensuring that such claims are scientifically valid not only for individual smokers but also for the population as a whole, including nonsmokers who might be enticed to smoke if they thought a cigarette was low-risk.

Big Tobacco Strikes Back
Published: September 7, 2009
The tobacco industry has a long, sorry history of pretending to market only to adults while surreptitiously targeting young people.

September 1, 2009

You don't have to talk about the parts.

Harpyness asks why Obama's Department of Health and Human Services shows this ridiculous, shameful commercial ?

You don't have to talk about the parts.