Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Where Did the 262,080 Minutes Go?

Up there at the top of the page, it says this is July 1, a Tuesday. That means that Monday was June 30, a momentous day: The last day of the first six months of the year.

That makes the first day of the rest of 2008 the perfect time to ask: How’s it going? Are your New Year’s resolutions shot to smithereens? Are you better off or worse off financially than you were at this time a year ago? Are the azaleas and rhododendrons more colorful than they were in 2007?

There are lots of ways to measure six months.

When it comes to midyear stock-taking among stock market types, there may be some grumbling. The Dow Jones industrial average closed on Monday at 11,350.01, down 14.4 percent for the year. Corporate types with “finance” or “financial” in their titles, as in chief financial officer, will start now preparing quarterly earnings reports and announcing them over the next few weeks.

City officials who are keeping tabs on the year will now update the figures. As of Monday afternoon, for example, a city Web site showed construction-related incidents, injuries and fatalities through April. But that was before the May 31 collapse of a construction crane on the Upper East Side, which killed two workers. (A crane collapse on East 51st Street on March 15 killed seven people.)

The Police Department did its updating on Monday afternoon. Overall crime in New York City was down 2.98 percent through Sunday, compared with data from the same period of last year, the police said. But some categories were up, compared with the first half of 2007. The increase in murders, for instance, comes after a record low number of killings last year, and violent crime remained well below 1990s levels.

The police said there were 19 more murders in the first six months of 2008 than in the same period in 2007, an increase of 8.2 percent; 60 more rapes, an increase of 9.3 percent; and 431 more robberies, an increase of 4.4 percent. Decreases of large numbers in nonviolent crimes contributed to the overall drop in citywide crime. There were declines of 6 percent in felony assaults, 8.8 percent in burglaries, 7.8 percent in automobile thefts and 1.4 percent in grand larcenies.

Monday was the end of the fiscal year in New York City, and it was a big day for check-writing as some New Yorkers rushed to get in under the wire with property tax payments. Shortly before closing time, a line of 50 people wended toward the cashier’s windows at the Department of Finance, on the ground floor of the Municipal Building in Brooklyn.

The line was about four times longer than the line on June 30 a year ago, two security guards who were keeping their eyes on the crowd said.

Many people in the line said they were there to pay their property tax bills, which were due by midnight. Some, like Abby Aarons, 45, a condominium owner from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, had procrastinated, but not for the sake of procrastinating. She said she has been spending more than usual on other things — basics like eggs, cereal and milk, whose prices jumped in the first half of 2008.

“Things have never been worse,” Ms. Aarons said. “That’s why I put off paying as long as I can.”

Rumblings —

Time out. This is the midpoint of this story about the midpoint of the year. How’s the story going? Are your expectations for this story shot to smithereens?

— of economic concerns echoed through other conversations about the first six months of 2008. “Everybody’s gas bill has tripled, quadrupled,” said Jerry Tierstein, a semiretired cabdriver from Brooklyn. “Older people, they had years to save a little extra money. Younger people, they’re struggling, and a lot of people, they live for today only. We’ve got to get used to this new world we live in.”

Jason M. Apfelbaum, the president and chief executive of Chef and Company, a caterer in Manhattan, said business from January through June was down 8 percent from the same period a year ago. But he is undaunted even though customers’ budgets are tighter and they want more value — and even though business was down 8 percent from January through June, compared with the same six months in 2007.

“We’ve done 20 percent every year for the last six years,” he said. “Obviously the economy is different this year from last. But this is 2008. Our mantra in the second half is up 28 in 2008.”

Russell Bellanca, the owner of Alfredo of Rome, a restaurant at 4 West 49th Street, was more upbeat. “The other shoe hasn’t dropped like everybody was expecting,” he said.

He said he had recorded a 9 percent increase over last year’s January-to-June numbers. But the first half of 2007 was up 10 percent from the first half of 2006.

The middle of the year is traditionally when new laws take effect. In Virginia, that means legalizing sangria served in restaurants. In New York, that means increasing the state tax on little cigars from 30 cents to $2.75 a pack and on smokeless tobacco from roughly 79 cents and ounce to 96 cents an ounce.

Once June had given way to July, the second phase of the city health department’s ban on artificial trans fats took effect. It required restaurants to get the trans fats out of baked goods, frozen foods, cannoli and doughnuts. (The first phase required them to get rid of oils and spreads containing trans fats.)

As of Tuesday, the Health Department will also start levying fines against chain restaurants that do not post calorie counts. This is the latest and potentially last step in the department’s campaign to reduce obesity by increasing consumers’ awareness of things like that 460-calorie banana nut cake at Starbucks. One person’s indulgence is another person’s diet wrecker.

So what about those New Year’s resolutions? Steve Schonberg, a public relations executive, said he had built upon the big changes he began in the last four months of 2007. It all started on Aug. 12, when he turned 26.

“I quit smoking,” he said. “I went on a diet. I said, ‘I want to be under 200 pounds by New Year’s.’ I got to 185 by Jan. 1.”

That led to another goal. “In January I said, “Working out is one thing, but what about sports? I always hated sports. What about running? Running is for people who like to go like a hamster on a treadmill.’ But I decided I could try running in races, and I was accepted into the New York City Marathon, and I’m training for the marathon.

“My next goal is, I’d love to do modeling on the side,” he said. “Guess what? Somebody approached me Sunday”— at the gay pride parade — “and said, ‘Would you be you interested?’ ”
[Via NY Times]

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