February 2004 Archives

Barry and I were stuck underground on the F train of the New York City MTA system for two full hours this afternoon and evening. Apparently a homeless person threw a rebar onto the tracks, hitting the third rail and wiping out a transformer. Fifty minutes after we were first stopped the spectacular fireworks we saw through the windows, and the smoke and fumes which immediately followed, changed everything. The big fuss just outside was pretty impressive - and very fightening if you are effectively sealed in a crowded tube already rendered immobile.

Shortly after, a very frightening announcement was heard over the speakers above our heads, "Everybody please move to the front of the train". We were no longer just waiting for the train to resume travel. The smoke and fire seemed to be largely just behind where we were sitting, so the suggestion immediately made sense, but it was no less frightening for that. We proceded through the cars and a large number of us ended up bunched at the front of the train. It was like rush hour, but nobody was rushing anywhere. Some people had hankerchiefs over their faces. Some began to cry.

At this point I was thinking, careful not to verbalize it, what was it we did not know, and would cause real panic if we did? We were never given any more information.

One hour and ten minutes after we found ourselves facing the closed door of the train operator's station, following the crew's repeated and identical announcements to the increasingly sceptical and exhausted passengers that police and fire department emergency crews were "on their way", we were finally led out of the crowded train onto a narrow ledge in the tunnel. We walked about 15 feet to an emergency stairway and ascended about three floors into the middle of Greenwich Village. Huh? We had been only steps from freedom all along.

Can someone explain to us why it took so long to rescue hundreds of people sealed in subway cars on account of a mischief somewhat-less-than-extraordinary, and one so easily predictable by anyone charged with emergency planning in a system so extraordinarily vulnerable to such mischief?

So the next question is obvious. Are we all expected to have any confidence in the city's vaunted security apparatus when it is measured against the threat of real terrorists? These days we can barely walk around our own streets without being assaulted by "security" devices and routines obstensively laid out for our protection and we can no longer readily exercise our freedoms of assembly and speech, yet we are clearly not even prepared for even the ordinary, pre-war-on-terror kind of threat. Real saboteurs won't give us two hours, or even 70 minutes.

When we finally emerged this evening through a small hatch onto the sidewalk in front of Da Silvano, A-list homosexuals were sitting outside in cafe chairs, seemingly unaware of the drama of the past few hours just below their tables, but clearly absorbed in admiring the firemen helping the dazed folks exit from the subterranean ladder. White-aproned waiters offered glasses of ice water to refugees from the underworld.

Our fellow passengers had been calm and magnificent throughout, behaving as we have come to expect our neighbors to behave when challenged by danger and the unknown.

We love New Yorkers! But we're very very concerned for New York.

Of course I took pictures, beginning with one from the early, more relaxed period during when we had been told we were only waiting for debris to be cleared from under the cars, and ending with our escape to the gentle ministrations of handsome firemen and cute waiters.

IMG_2825.jpg IMG_2828.jpg IMG_2833.jpg IMG_2837.jpg IMG_2838.jpg IMG_2841.jpg

So of course we immediately went to a late lunch, or early dinner, at Home, a block away, for almost all of the comforts of . . . .

When we finally left the restaurant, sometime after 10 pm, we went back to Bleecker and 6th Avenue where we found even more emergency vehicles and personnel [of virtually every description] than we had seen when we left the area hours earlier and five hours after the incident had begun.

Checking the web and NY1 on our return to the real home [after jumping right back on the saddle, this time that of the 1/9 train at Christopher], we were amazed to find there was absolutely nothing to be found about what I've just described. Nothing. Absolutely nothing, even when I checked again after midnight. It was as if nothing had happened, but try telling it to the frightened passengers on the late afternoon f train.

What's that all about?

Hyemi Cho Skin Shed (2004) oil on wood, 30" x 16"

Hyemi Cho Shed SuperHero (2004) oil and pen on wood, 35" x 18"

I'm following up my post describing our visit to the Riviera Gallery in Williamsburg with these images of two of Hyemi Cho's paintings in the group show. Cho is also the curator.

She's very good. Ultraman would be proud.

[images furnished by the artist]

So, would the NYTimes fire a reporter they discovered had once demonstrated on behalf of a cure for breast cancer? Would they fire a John Kerry when they found out he had once worked to end a disastrous and outrageously immoral war? Would they fire a former member of ACT UP?

We only know the answer to the last question. Perhaps it was too easy, but it still surprises us - we now know it's yes, certainly. In fact, after almost a quarter century, is AIDS still a shameful diagnosis and are an individual's efforts to end the plague of dubious merit, and even unethical? [If the answers were to be yes, neither I nor the overwhelming majority of my friends have merit or ethics, and we would never be able to get jobs honestly.]

"My motivation is expediency as well as ethics" the Times represenative told our friend Jay Blotcher when he asked why he had been fired from his position as a "stringer" reporting from his current home in upstate New York. The paper had recently discovered he had once been an important part of ACT UP, so they maintained he would necessarily be biased reporting any story.

This outrageous story has legs. Even though they've already kicked him out, it's almost certain to be the most important story Jay will ever give to the paper which once valued his contributions, but it's not one his editors will like. For more, see Bloggy ["What a crappy paper"] and Atrios["This is just fucking unbelievable"].

Now I remember why I go to live performances of symphonic music! Transcendence.

Also remembered only when we got there was why we had purchased tickets weeks ago for tonight's Orchestra of St. Luke's concert. Once we saw the programs at Carnegie Hall the poetry readings listed as intervals on a schedule of very serious musical stuff quickly reminded us why we decided to sign up.

Oooh, but good, political activism in a good classical music program, is it even possible? Yes, and in great performances as well!

We have to credit the New York players and the excellent conductor, Donald Runnicles, for the performances, but I'm not sure who was/were the heroes responsible for putting the provocative program together in the midst of our own wars and political terrors. This is only my footnote, and perhaps it was only a coincidence, but the day happened to mark the anniversary of the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

See the Carnegie Hall site for complete program notes [absent the poetry texts] and an audio link with comments from Runnicles.

Excerpts from leftist and antiwar poetry by Wislama Szymborska, Virgil, Bertolt Brecht, W. H. Auden, Siegfried Sassoon and Seamus Heaney, all read sympathetically by our favorite Abe Lincoln stand-in, Sam Waterston [who has also appeared as himself in ads for The Nation], were placed as lyric hinges separating major pieces, equally political, by Aaron Jay Kernis, Richard Strauss, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The orchestra was assembled, but both it and the darkened hall remained silent for the uncompromising reminder delivered in the first of the six readings. Syzmborska's "Children of the Epoch".[here in excerpt]:

We are children of the epoch.
The epoch is political.

All my daily and nightly affairs,
all your daily and nightly affairs,
are political affairs.

Whether you want it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political tone,
your eyes a political color,
What you say resounds,
what you don't say is also
politically significant.

The Kernis, "Sarabanda in Memorium", was very “New Romanticism” pretty, but less than halfway through the sixteen-minute piece described as somehow related to September 11, my attention began to flag. Kernis is a very good composer. I'm just never sure he really has anything new to say.

The performance of "Metamorphosen", which the aged Strauss composed in the midst of the physical and cultural ruin of his beloved Germany in 1945, seemed too slow, and it never really took off, the way it always seems to in my memory, or at least in the von Karajan recording we have at home. But I have to admit that any enjoyment of the piece was compromised by the constant chatter of a couple nearby for whom the evening's august program represented more an occasion for serious foreplay than art. So maybe it was just me - or them.

Ah, but after the intermission the orchestra finally showed what it was able to do as a large ensemble.

A reading of Auden's mournful "September 1, 1939" set the tone for the second half of the evening.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but now with the last two pieces as the number of players on the stage increased, first with Hartmann's melancholy 1939 [violin] "Concerto Funebre", and then to 60-strong, with Shostakovich's happy, end-of-the-war Ninth Symphony, the quality of music was phenomenal.

Vladimir Spivakov was the wonderful soloist in the Hartmann piece.

Waterston's last readings were Sassoon's "Everyone Sang", describing the end of the first Great War, followed by Heaney's "The Cure at Troy". These poems preceded the Shostakovich, and matched his music in its spirit of hope.

The Hartmann never sounded better, although I've only had the opportunity to hear it in recordings up until now, and the reading of the 1945 symphony in E-flat Major, with its toy soldier/circus music elements, was magnificent. Odd, that one, and especially odd to find, as Barry said, that any Shostakovich piece could be the lightest work on a program of symphonic music shared by three other composers.

My own thought as the piece made its way to its delightful conclusion? What a wonderful way to end a horrible war!

And a wonderful evening.

And for the record, and for our present times as well, this is the complete Brecht poem:


It is considered low to talk about food.
The fact is: they have
Already eaten.

The lowly must leave this earth
Without having tasted
Any good meat.

For wondering where they come from and
Where they are going
The fine evenings find them
Too exhausted.

They have not yet seen
The mountains and the great sea
When their time is already up.

If the lowly do not
Think about what's low
They will never rise.

Meat has become unknown. Useless
The pouring out of the people's sweat.
The laurel groves have been
Lopped down.
From the chimneys of the arms factories
Rises smoke.

The forests still grow.
The fields still bear
The cities still stand.
The people still breathe.

Every month, every day
Lies open still. One of those days
Is going to be marked with a cross.

The merchants cry out for markets.
The unemployed were hungry. The employed
Are hungry now.
The hands that lay folded are busy again.
They are making shells.

Teach contentment.
Those for whom the contribution is destined
Demand sacrifice.
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.

The common folk know
That war is coming.
When the leaders curse war
The mobilization order is already written out.

Are of different substance.
But their peace and their war
Are like wind and storm.

War grows from their peace
Like son from his mother
He bears
Her frightful features.

Their war kills
Whatever their peace
Has left over.

They want war.
The man who wrote it
Has already fallen.

This way to glory.
Those down below say:
This way to the grave.

Is not the first one. There were
Other wars before it.
When the last one came to an end
There were conquerors and conquered.
Among the conquered the common people
Starved. Among the conquerors
The common people starved too.

Reigns in the army.
The truth of this is seen
In the cookhouse.
In their hearts should be
The selfsame courage. But
On their plates
Are two kinds of rations.

That their enemy is marching at their head.
The voice which gives them their orders
Is their enemy's voice and
The man who speaks of the enemy
Is the enemy himself.

The married couples
Lie in their beds. The young women
Will bear orphans.

It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

[Brecht text from the Amherst Peace Vigil]


See yesterday's post, "he just can't stop", for more religion.

[image thanks to Wiley Miller and ucomics]

inside the Pernice show at Storefront, Anees bandited on the left

Last night we met our friend Anees at Storefront for Art and Architecture, for the opening of an exhibition, "Small Works, 1994-2004", by Manfred Pernice. Anees is an artist and architect, and Barry and I visit a lot of galleries, so we thought it would be a good ensemble.

one of Pernice's assemblages

It was, thanks also to the interesting crowd, but above all thanks to the somewhat baffling content but intelligent aesthetic of the stuff in the vitrines, all resting on wonderful, slightly-eccentric-shaped plinths. The work was assembled from found materials (paper, tin, cardboard, tape, magazine cutouts) cut and pencil-marked, and generally resting on or beside some pseudo-instructive text or diagram, and everything seemed to be attached to the virtually untranslatable German word, "Verdosung". I'll hazard the English, "canned", or "boxed-up".

To learn more, maybe we'll have to get to Anton Kern Gallery, where another Pernice show, "COMMERZBANK", opened a week earlier.

Riviera Gallery, still unidentified except for baby blue window paint spelling out the title of the show, "PROJECTS I WANT TO START & THE ONES I CAN'T FINISH"

Leaving Anees to his colleagues, and maybe some late study, we took the L to south Williamsburg where a relatively obscure, almost-new space, Riviera Gallery, was celebrating the opening of a small group show.

I was especially interested in the richly detailed paintings of Hyemi Cho and the enigmatic icons of Alex Lee.

Cho's work seemed to represent a personal odyssey through an alien world. Because they included work created over more than a half dozen years and because of their variety, all within an idiosyncratic style, the dozen or so wood panels would have represented a good mini-retrospective were they the work of an older artist. We met Hyemi last night and we were charmed, but that was after we had attached ourselves to the paintings.

Alex Lee showed work using cut-out magazine pages on which he carefully covered predictably beautiful faces of the [mostly] male fashion models with the flat baby blue paint used for the gallery's window text I mentioned in the caption above. Only their noses and the designer costumes they were selling remained. Each was beautifully enclosed by a pristine white, generic wood frame he had made himself. Do we ever ask what is really inside the pictures we admire? We've met Alex before, and last night he related an anecdote that reminded us that even the way we approach the simplest, most familiar of images is culturally determined. But it was probably a story from which the work we saw last night should stand independent. Maybe another time.

staff and guests smooze at Relish

We ended the evening by walking around the corner to go to dinner at our favorite Williamsburg boite, Relish. Minutes after we had arrived, crowds of people passed our corner booth heading for the back, the red room, where we never go. It very quickly became obvious that something was going on, and I finally hailed the hot waiter with the black outfit and studded belt who was regularly sneaking a peek into the room - even when he had nothing to carry into the room. In spite of the roar of that crowd and the music being played in our part of the diner, we had already begun to suspect that they were broadcasting "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" [yeah, in Williamsburg]. The waiter leaned in to us and seemed to be shy about answering.

Actually, while it turned out that our suspicion about the broadcast was confirmed, what we thought might be sheepishess was just his fumbling to explain that this particular episode was featuring the hair salon on the corner, which was called simply, "PUBLIC" [very cool, and just next door to Riviera Gallery], and that the crowd in the back room was made up of stylists, clients, neighbors and those who loved them.

It's about fame.

Barry here, as master of all things webbish.

For those who read James's weblog via an RSS reader, I've added a new full feed with comments.

Go here for more info.

"Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism"

Remember the three other nutty proposals?

In the White House our First Constitutional Scholar and Pontifex Maximus is reported today to be proposing an alteration to our fundamental law, but only oh, so reluctantly.

The NYTimes today reports, without comment, "In his remarks on Tuesday, [Bush] emphasized that 'an amendment to the Constitution is never to be undertaken lightly. . . .'"

It doesn't take much of a memory to recall the three other pressing purposes for which this preacher has already proposed dividing the nation and rewriting a Constitution which he would be unable to actually read himself: sanctifying the flag, declaring every fetus sacred and keeping god in our national oath.

The latest purpose, embodied in the proposed "marriage amendment" is described by its sponsors as necessary for essentially the same reason, to keep [one particular interpretation of*] religion a part of what is in this case fundamentally just a legal contract.

Bush is talking about his god, or at least the god of his constituency. There's always been an obvious pattern here, and it's one not generally described by the media, even this morning.

A secular state must not define sacred flags, oaths, wombs or marriages, but instead it should be very concerned when its head insists on doing so - whether he does so out of superstition or for political advantage.

Atrios recently reminded us just how much the Judeo/Christian idea of marriage has itself evolved - quite a bit, it turns out:

1. Marriage should consist of a union between one man and one or more women.
Gen 29:17-28. II Samuel 3:2-5

2. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to
his wife or wives.
II Samuel 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chronicles 11:21

3. Marriage will be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If she is
not a virgin, she shall be executed.
Deut. 22:13-21

4. Marriage to a non believer shall be strictly forbidden
Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30

5. Marriage is for life and no law shall permit any form of divorce.
Deut 22:19; Mark 10-9-12.

6. If a married man dies without children. His brother must marry the widow.
If the brother refuses to marry the widow or deliberately does not give her
children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a
manner to be determined by law.
Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10

7. In lieu of marriage (if there is no acceptable man to be found) a woman
shall get her father drunk and have sex with him in order to have children.
Gen 19:31-36

But then, today thoughtful people know that scriptures have always been social and political tools, designed to get other people to do what you want them to do

[image, a 1762 William Hogarth engraving belonging to Oxford's Ashmoleon Museum, from The Victorian Web]

he still has to figure his taxes, but now the real threat is to his social security

Stop taxing the wealthy; it'll be good for everyone, they said.

Now it's, omigod, we're out of money - we can't fulfill the promise of social security! [supposedly not funded by income taxes anyway, since that would be "socialism"]

Wealthy 78-year-old, not-yet-or-ever-to-be-retired Alan Greenspan's response to the crisis? Cut social security benefits and raise the retirement age. Just tell the masses they can keep working, even if the jobs are disappearing and nobody wants to employ older people anyway.

Not to depend too much on an ad hominum argument, but the Greenspan himself, like everyone else in this government of ours, will never need social security benefits to pay the bills. Besides, he obviously doesn't expect to retire anyway. He's far too useful to his bosses: He virtually excludes the possibility of reintroducing taxes to relieve the massive revenue shortfall.

"Tax rate increases of sufficient dimension to deal with our looming fiscal problems arguably pose significant risks to economic growth and the revenue base," Greenspan said. "The exact magnitude of such risks is very difficult to estimate, but they are of enough concern, in my judgment, to warrant aiming to close the fiscal gap primarily, if not wholly, from the outlay side."
Note to file: The U.S. now has just five tax brackets, and you reach the very top rate of 35% only on income over $319,000. That percentage remains the same regardless of whether you make $320,000. or billions more. Of course no one pays these percentages in the end, but even the base figures are so modest they would be unimaginable in the rest of the modern world, which actually gets something back for its tax outlays, including real social security.

[image is Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover from March, 1945, "Income Taxes", from Curtis Publishing; notice interesting content titles listed on the top right]

even Log Cabin Republicans.

And the Democrats are not blameless either.

Bush has just now officially come out in support of a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

[but I no longer think so]

First of all, the media has it wrong. Is their reading deliberately false? This report is from Reuters:

Bush did not endorse specific legislation as the vehicle for the amendment but the White House said the president approved of the broad principles offered by Republican U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado.

Her proposed amendment says "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman."

Bush left the door open to states to provide homosexual civil unions and other legal arrangements for the gay community.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said these arrangements could include hospital visitation rights, insurance benefits and civil unions.

Bush's decision to support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage means open war on faggots. It not just an attempt to make our fundamental, secular law define "sacred marriage" narrowly.

If successful, this amendment would virtually outlaw gay and lesbian relationships. The estimable Atrios writes that it would

. . . prevent states from establishing same-sex civil unions of any kind. The sweeping language could also potentially overturn anti-discrimination statutes with respect to housing and other things, allowing landlords to refuse to rent to same-sex couples, or government provided partner health benefits. Don't believe me? Call up some smart lawyers and ask them.
I consider neither the right to marry, and certainly not , for that matter, what I think of as the dubious privilege of performing military service, to be the first priority for gay rights activists when Queers still have no protection for the most basic rights of employment or residence in most parts of this benighted nation. [significantly, mainstream gays were already focused on marriage and military service, and that strange invention, "hate crimes", years before the Supreme Court recently "gave" them the right even to have gay sex!] I still regard both marriage and military service only as significant economic benefits which should be available to all, but I realize that sometimes events take a shape and a direction neither anticipated nor intended, and you then have to work with what you have. But let's leave the churches out of marriage, please, except as eccentric ritual.

Watching what has happened in the last ten days or so in San Francisco, I was first shocked, then pleased and then shocked again, the second time by my emotional reaction to scenes of joy and excitement surrounding the couples who have lined up to have their commitments registered formally by the state, er, city.

Are we going to see these [more than 3000 so far] unions declared dissolved, "divorced", when California's forces of reaction, led by an ex-terminator, are able to regroup? And will that be followed by the still more disastrous blow of a 28th Amendment to the federal Constitution, for the first time removing civil rights?

I think there's going to be a very big fight.

Even if the rights only now being exercised by a long-suppressed minority survive these threats, will the battles be won at the expense of the larger war against the so-called Christian Right and its cynical Republican enablers? Will the Democrats once again collapse this year in confusion and cowardice?

Nader is not the enemy, guys. Greed, ignorance, stupidity and fear, much of it "Democratic", is the enemy, as it always is.

For more on the mendacity of Bush and the media, see bloggy today. This is an excerpt:

Do not trust the mainstream media to tell you the truth about this.

One last thought. The Democrats' (including Kerry and Edwards but not Kucinich) position on this, one of "we don't support gay marriage but we don't support the amendment either" is bullshit. This kind of splitting hairs is revolting when we're talking about civil rights, and they're going to be painted as homo-loving liberals by the GOP no matter what they do. Why not take a principled position rather than some stupid focus group-created one? I will hold my nose and vote for the Democratic candidate, but I can't say I'm excited about it, unless a miracle happens and we get Kucinich.

[image from Princeton University]

modernist sawhorse worktable on 8th Avenue

The glasiers have to have something to work on, but these guys from Fordham Glass opt for midcentury modern design. Form seems to follow function here. Light, strong, beautiful. The piece would look good in a stylish apartment - as is.

Headline of lead story in current the Onion: Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced Tuesday that Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has "at long last been found."

"For more than two years, we combed the Middle East looking for bin Laden," Rumsfeld said. "Frankly, it was starting to be an embarrassment. You can imagine our surprise when we finally found him hiding deep inside the darkest recesses of each and every one of our souls."
For some of us, the revelation is no surprise at all; we're very good at creating our own demons.

installation view of, among other things, a giant clown nose

The work of Fernando Carabajal has haunted me since we saw it in Mexico City late last month. Fresh, charming, quirky, and each piece a beautiful, microsmic reading by a very interesting artist.

I wanted to post something about this young Mexican from the moment in late January when we saw his work at the beautiful Galeria Nina Menocal, but at first there were no pictures available on line, and then when there were, Barry beat me to it with his post eleven days ago.

Now we've gotten a few more images from the gallery, but none of them can say as much as did our visit to his installation in the gallery's project room on the roof. Fortunately we should all be able to visit his wonderful clowns, elephants and other serious fun - the real things - at The Armory Show next month.

the Lescaze ceiling fixture in the small gallery

The 16 inch in diameter chrome-plated brass lamp was designed by William Lescaze for his 1938 Garrett A. Hobart III house, now destroyed, in Tuxedo Park, New York. See yesterday's post, "scuttling a great building".

Billionaires for Bush at the 2000 Republican Convention

Count me in!

It's going to be a very interesting summer in New York.

We couldn't make it to last night's fundraiser, but we certainly want to catch up with this fabulous group. Politics, maybe it's not just for those other guys any more!

Karl Rove attended a moneyed Bush election event at a nightclub on 24th Street last night, and it wasn't always easy telling the hellfunders from the hellraisers. The NYTimes reports that even some of the demonstrators were confused for a while.

"Fabulous, fabulous," Mr. Rove said as he left after giving a 20-minute talk to several hundred people gathered inside [and collecting about $400,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign].

But while Mr. Rove was inside, more than 100 protesters were outside, standing behind blue police barricades chanting slogans, waving placards and offering a bit of street theater that confused the police.

At one point, as hundreds of guests with invitations waited to pass through velvet barriers to enter the club, a small group of men in bowler hats and women in gowns marched up, chanting, "Four more wars" and "Re-elect Rove."

As the group approached, a man who appeared to be a security agent of some type, was overheard whispering into a microphone: "We've got two groups. One for and one against."

Actually, it was two against. The person was confused by a group that calls itself Billionaires for Bush, a collection of activists who use satire to make a political point. Indeed, members of the Sierra Club, who were protesting on the other side of the street were also confused and began shouting at what they thought was a pro-Bush contingent.

" We want the truth and we want it now!" the Sierra protesters shouted.

The billionaires shouted back, "Buy your own president!"

It took a few minutes, but the police finally realized what was going on when they escorted the group behind the blue barricades as well. Still, the show was not over. A black town car pulled up and out stepped a man whom who the crowd assumed to be Mr. Rove. "There is Karl Rove," people shouted.

Reporters, photographers and television cameramen swarmed the man, but the police pushed them back. Another man lifted the velvet rope to let him enter. But the would-be Mr. Rove walked over to the crowd of protesters and began shaking hands, when finally, again, this was seen to be a joke. It was not Mr. Rove, but an actor playing the part.

Each of the groups has said it planned to stage similar events when the Republican National Convention comes to New York City from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2.

By the way, what's this thing with Bush, and now Rove, regularly waving the adjective "fabulous" around like only the good fairies have been doing for years. It's raising some fabulous eyebrows.

[image from Dru Jay at Monkeyfist]

William Lescaze's Fiterman Hall today

There were no tears shed, and no tears should have been shed, for the collapse of 7 World Trade on September 11, 2001. No one was killed or injured when it fell. We are left with the memory of a pretentious and ugly building which could only have been produced by the excesses of the 80's - that is, until the even less imaginative excesses of the aughts.

We will miss the elegant, light urban grace of Fiterman Hall however.

My office was in 7 World Trade, but I felt more at home in Fiterman Hall. I loved my brief lunch-time visits to the ground floor art gallery set up by the Borough of Manhattan community College shortly after it was given the building by its owner, Miles and Shirley Fiterman, in 1993. The work of emerging artists, and the passing student bodies, allowed me to ignore the surrounding neighborhood of empty suits, if only for a moment.

Fiterman Hall, originally built in the 50's to house the same kind of suits, specifically those in charge of some of the operations of the Guaranty Trust Company, was designed by William Lescaze, the Swiss-born, adopted American, International Style architect responsible for the groundbreaking PSFS Building in Philadelphia.

Late in the afternoon of September 11 the 47-story 7 World Trade building mysteriously succumbed to the fire raging out of control within its structure and collapsed, some of its weight landing on the side of 15-story Fiterman Hall. For two and a half years the emphasis has been upon restoring the half-century-old architectural landmark. Now it appears that the entire building will be scuttled, to be replaced by something new, although I'm not sure that decision has any element of inevitability. There's always more money to be made in building than restoring, or at least that is the case in the world we have set up in this country.

I confess to another, very tiny connection to the building and its architect. Several years ago I found a modernist chrome-plated brass light fixture for the ceiling of the one of the rooms in our apartment. It was very expensive, but I loved it and everythig that it represented. The beautiful, minimalist disc was designed by Lescaze for a daringly-modernist house, since destroyed, which he had created in Tuxedo Park outside of the city. Now it was going to grace a somewhat less bold art deco apartment built the same year in Chelsea.

In spite of its simplicity and its [misleading?] appearance of having been machine crafted, it is in fact unique. There could be no replacement.

There can also be no proper replacement for Lescaze's jewel on Barclay Street.

[image from Fred R. Conrad/NYTimes]

UPDATE See an image of the Lescaze fixture in Thursday's post.

I want my money back. No, I mean I want part of my life back. Actually, I want my civilization back, for all of us. Why did we have to endure institutionalized superstition for a thousand years? Why do we endure it again [still?] today?

I just read a short review in the NYTimes of a new theological and intellectual history of Europe, "THE CLOSING OF THE WESTERN MIND/The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason" by Charles Freeman. The book's author argues that classical rationality was deliberately destroyed by Christianity for its own political purpose. That is to say, the Dark Ages were a deliberate plan.

For at least a thousand years, from late antiquity until the Renaisance, the Church, which is to say the entire European world it controlled, shut down its minds, and for many the doors remain closed today.

Freeman's main thesis has two parts. First, that the Greek intellectual tradition did not simply fade away but was actively suppressed by the rise of Christianity, especially in the fourth and fifth centuries. Second, that the main reason this happened was political. The Emperor Constantine and some of his successors thought that by throwing the weight of the state behind Christianity, and institutionalizing it, they could turn it into a weapon of mass distraction: it would act as a unifying force, at a time when the empire was under threat from marauding invaders, and be an effective means of social control. It was, according to Freeman, because the bishops acquired political power, and were given a rich and powerful institution to operate, that dissent and the tradition of free inquiry were crushed.

. . . .

By the year 1000, all branches of science, and indeed all kinds of theoretical knowledge except theology, had pretty much disintegrated. Most classical literature was largely unknown. The best-educated people (all of them monks) knew strikingly less than many Greeks 800 years earlier. And the few mathematical writings from the time were for the most part downright stupid.

I was raised a Catholic, and in spite of some of the advantages available to me in Augustinian and Jesuit schools, my own mind was really opened only in the first weeks of graduate study in Madison. My dark age ended only then.

I am now an enemy to all superstition, but I look around and I can't help but fear that civilization may be losing the battle once again, and for the same reasons.

I don't even want to talk here about the relative merits of the various candidates for the club's nominee for the presidency, but I am pretty amazed that such a sense of inevitability became attached to John Kerry's name so early in the Democrats' process.

I know, some will say it's the invisible hand, the miracle of the democratic system, even the will of god, but I have another theory. I think it's the poverty of our minds and our imaginations. Early on Kerry had somehow been perceived as the The One, and everybody wants to be with the winner. It's the same phenomenon which creates blockbuster films, as Barry volunteered, or our mad obsession with SUV's, this year's Britney and the coolest camera cellphone of the month.

This time I'm not even sure that we've bought a bill of goods advanced by the market or the commercial media. It seems that we just don't want to be different. Americans are both too ignorant and too insecure to think for themselves. Kerry doesn't stand out much, but we understand that for some reason he just seems to be the one.

Who are we to argue with such evidence of virtue?

uptown no. 2 train, February 13

Drake University law professor Sally Frank

"a culture distracted into obedience by fear"
[from a press release for a show, Halliburton", of paintings by Adam Simon opening Friday at art Moving, 166 North 12th St. in Williamsburg]

Oh, I've neglected this followup until now.

The immediate crisis is over for this particular group.

Federal authorities retreated Tuesday in their investigation of an Iowa anti-war demonstration, withdrawing grand jury subpoenas delivered last week to four peace activists and Drake University.

The shift came as the investigation drew nationwide condemnation from civil liberties advocates, politicians and peace activists.

Also Tuesday, a federal judge lifted a gag order on Drake, where employees had been ordered not to discuss an inquiry into a meeting the anti-war activists held there Nov. 15. Federal authorities had asked for records of the campus chapter of the National Lawyers Guild - which hosted the anti-war conference - and for the impressions campus police had of the gathering.

Ah shucks, Barry.

But, seriously, it was the memory of the various surveillance authorities at all those old ACT UP meetings and demonstrations, including our own civil disobedience training sessions, that made this particular outrage so disturbing for me.

And we know the obscurants are even now regrouping for another opportunity to spread the fear with which they hope to preserve their power.

One reaction, picked almost randomly, appears in an editorial of The Examiner, where the outrage is much more restrained than that which can be found elsewhere, even among very reasonable people.

While it was good to learn the subpoenas had been withdrawn, the fact that they were ever issued raises some disturbing questions about why. An explanation put forward by many civil-liberties groups and peace activists is that it was a maneuver by the federal government to suppress antiwar activities by making potential participants afraid they could be arrested or prosecuted. Indeed, word the subpoenas had been withdrawn came as lawyers for Drake were preparing to fight the demands. They had intended to argue that the subpoenas would have put a damper on students' constitutional rights to free speech and free association.

We'd like to think that's not true. We'd like to think that partisan politics would not lead to abuse of the federal law-enforcement system. We'd like to think that public servants would not capriciously abandon their oaths to uphold the Constitution. But over the past few years, when the ability of the government to reach into the details of our private lives has been exponentially expanded without even the most basic oversight of a judge brought into play, it's become difficult to think that way. It doesn't help that everywhere the president goes, people who want to express opinions opposed to his are sequestered in distant pens insultingly labeled "free-speech zones."

No, it unfortunately appears that the Drake subpoenas were inappropriate and unnecessary at best, and quite possibly nothing less than callous political thuggery.

[image from Common Dreams]

Bilbao-ball in Brooklyn

More on the Brooklyn basketball boondoggle, this time from The Morning News.

But first a reminder of what this whole thing is all about.

Developer Bruce Ratner is responsible for both Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center and the Atlantic Center Mall. Neither of these ugly projects, finished in recent years and so heavily subsidized by taxpayers' money [$300 million is the estimate for MetroTech alone], has been a real success. The Mall stands virtually empty today.

One more project, a new stadium to house the New Jersey Nets, recently purchased by Ratner, is expected to guarantee enormous rewards for both of his earlier, failed, ventures. But not only will it destroy an entire neighborhood, once again it will cost the City a bundle.

In The Morning News Pitchaya Sudbanthad outlines the stakes for those unfamiliar with the taxpayers' role in the story.

The proposed plan for the stadium not only will involve the city’s giving up land to Ratner that could be worth hundreds of million of dollars but could also include hundreds of millions more to expand streets and utilities and to help pay off bonds for the complex’s construction.
But it's all for such genuinely good Brooklyn causes: pleasure for passive sports enthusiasts, and reward for a millionaire contractor who has been so wrong about the Borough at least twice already.

Still, Sudbanthad's piece is mostly concerned with what will be lost. He talks to longtime Brooklynite Joe Pastore, who lives in the neighborhood targeted for "improvement".

The Spalding building, a red brick, four-story factory, has been converted into co-ops. [Pastore] slaps the building with his gloved hand. ‘It’s a beautiful, solid building,’ Joe continues. ‘This building should be a landmark. How can he tear this down? How could you say this building’s no good?’

Joe, I love this building, too. I think it’s beautiful. I love the Pechter Bakery buildings down the block even better, with the clean towering white walls and Greek Revival touches. They would make great places to live. I can see the soaring ceilings inside. But these buildings aren’t made of audacious metallic curves and pop architectural whiz-bangs. Ratner has dangled Frank Gehry over Brooklyn, and almost everyone’s mesmerized. I remember being dazzled by Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao when it was first built. And after Bilbao made its splash, every city wanted a Gehry of its own. The architect complied with the demand, producing made-to-order variations of his titanium-sheathed design. It became a symbol of arrival for cities into the new millennium, an easy investment that endowed an image of artful taste to insecure politicians and businessmen. Gehry buildings became the corporate builder’s equivalent of Lladró and Hummel figurines, but where those figurines lend an air of harmless luxury and preciousness, Gehry buildings are Trojan horses for more sinister intentions: By design, Gehry’s recent buildings declare war against everything that surrounds them. They are places that spurn any notion of history and any idea of people. They look, simply, like silver alien fortresses.

[image from DANDA]

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide car bomb killed 47 people at an army recruitment center in Baghdad Wednesday, taking the death toll to about 100 in two attacks on Iraqis working with the U.S. occupation forces within 24 hours.
After the previous day's bombing, our guy Rumsfeld said this sort of thing happens in cities routinely.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about Tuesday's car bombing in Iraq that killed about 50 people, said there are murders in every major city in the world "because human beings are human beings."

What city does he lives in? And if he thinks the thousands being killed in Iraqi cities are just routine events in all civilizations [read, "Sodoms and Gomorrahs"], how does he and his Administration justify making those killed on September 11 the foundation of all U.S. domestic and foreign policy?

DANGEROUS [Brian Terrell, executive director of the Catholic Peace Ministry in Des Moines, had helped conduct nonviolence training at a November 15 forum on the Drake University campus. He received a federal grand jury subpoena last week]

I don't know why they're bothering with the small stuff, since we're not going to have a free election this November in any event, but the Administration's Department of Justice is trying to shut down ordinary protest, and in a very heavy-handed way.

In Des Moines, Iowa, that hotbed of revolution, the U.S. District Attorney's office has subpoenaed individuals and records related to the activities of antiwar protestors. The group had assembled in a forum on the campus of Drake University, a small private institution in the capitol, on the day prior to a pretty routine antiwar demonstration outside a National Guard base last November. The event was sponsored by the University's chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Officials at the University are unable to comment, since they are subject to an extraordinary "gag order" under a separate very broad federal grand jury subpoena directed at its relationship to the November 15 gathering.

The very public forum, atended by 21 people, was filmed by local television and the Des Moines police were invited. The program included the offering of personal safety advice for people who might decide to carry out non-violent civil disobedience the next day.

The school's subpoena called for detailed information on the lawyers guild and its members, including the names of those who are officers, and guild meeting agendas and annual reports since 2002.

The subpoena also focused on the Nov. 15 antiwar forum, asking for "all requests for use of a room, all documents indicating the purpose and intended participants in the meeting, and all documents or recordings which would identify persons that actually attended the meeting."

There can be only one explanation for this scrutiny from the Justice Department, a totally disproportionate response to the mildest of provocations: Silence all protest.
Some said it could send a chilling message far beyond Iowa, leaving those who consider voicing disapproval of the administration's policy in Iraq, or anywhere else, wondering whether they too might receive added scrutiny.

"I've heard of such a thing, but not since the 1950's, the McCarthy era," said David D. Cole, a Georgetown law professor. "It sends a very troubling message about government officials' attitudes toward basic liberties."

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he feared news of the subpoenas — which was spreading rapidly via e-mail on Monday among activist organizations — might discourage people from showing up to protests, attending meetings at universities or even checking out library books.

"People will have to be asking themselves: will this be subject to government scrutiny?" Mr. Romero said.

Yes, but we're already there.

[image by Mark Kegans for the NYTimes]

I've edited my gallery of images from our trip to Mexico City, adding captions to each image (other than those of the hotel).

I'm afraid the information on the archeological images is rather poor, but I took no notes. I was really recording only those pieces I found both beautiful as objects and suitable for recording with available light. Only now that I am at home do I feel that was insufficient.

If anyone can add to or correct my texts, please email me or comment.

A trip like this is humbling in many ways, not least for me in confirming my inability to properly record images of what I have seen and felt. I'm very shy about pushing my lens into other people's worlds, and when I am travelling with others I can't, or won't, take the time I would really need even to record inanimate objects.

It was a beautiful trip amid beautiful people and places. Even colds [both of us] at the beginning and at the end couldn't and won't take that away.

Barry regularly posted descriptions of our activities while we were there, starting here. You can use the navigation links at the top to go on to the other posts.

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