Politics: January 2008 Archives

a silent cry from a witness across the street two days ago

Whatever the bureaucratic, commercial or political story which lies behind the human tragedy of New York City's dreadful and totally irresponsible eviction of over 200 men, women, children and their pets from their homes in the darkness nine days ago on one of the coldest nights of the year, if this doesn't radicalize New Yorkers, we deserve whatever we get.

But there is no acceptable outcome to this particular tale other than the quick return of these people and a proper accounting of the official malfeasance which resulted in their removal in the first place.

Bloomberg, Markowitz, Quinn, anybody out there? We do note that that very decent local member of the City Council, David Yassky, has been with this story from the beginning, was at the scene on Sunday, and appears to be very supportive of the vibrant and creative community which has lived and worked inside this massive, 11-story Williamsburg building block for ten years.

For more on the story of 475 Kent, see Bloggy and any number of other on-line sites.

The images below were taken this past Sunday night. They show tenants retrieving their possessions (boxes, art, bicycles, baby carriages, parakeets, etc.) in the last moments before the building was finally padlocked, for a painfully-indefinite period. A large crowd gathered across the street in the bitter cold to observe the sad scene.

If you go to Barry's flickr images, note the Police van parked on the sidewalk adjacent to the large crowd which was repeatedly pushed back from the parking lane onto that part of the sidewalk not occupied by an NYPD vehicle.




desperate people

Israel's blockade of Gaza is a war crime*, but the world will not say so.

Desperate Gazans themselves spoke out today when they blew up the wall separating them from Egypt. Tens of thousands have crossed the normally-sealed border to obtain both critical and ordinary supplies unavailable at home.

Much of the beleaguered territory's 1.5 million residents have faced critical shortages of electricity, fuel, food, medicine and other supplies for months, but in the last week the closure has been tightened dramatically by Tel Aviv.

But we all knew this already, didn't we? So . . . .

Article 54 of the additional protocol of the 1949 Geneva Conventions states that starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited, and that it is also prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, "whatever the motive".

[image by Abid Katib from Getty Images via NYTimes]

Ingar Krauss Untitled (Beelitz) 2006 gelatin silver print 40"x 33" [installation view]

Every year thousands of harvest hands come and go like birds of passage.

Indulge me on this one, as I really wanted to upload this image. No, on second thought, I'd rather bring you with me, and try to explain why I'm so taken with it and all the the others in Ingar Krauss's current show at Marvelli Gallery, titled "Birds of Passage".

Yes, the man is beautiful. In fact he's very sexy. The very direct, black and white photograph looks like it has the special legitimacy this medium sometimes acquires with age, although the modern knit boxers reveal that the artist is not trying to deceive us on that account.

But there is much more to see here than the man's own sad beauty and the beauty of the Brandenburg landscape which Krauss has gently draped around his shoulders and around those of most of the other eight men in these portraits. Every one of his workers, photographed here at the end of a long day, is distinctly beautiful. The range of their ages spans every one of the decades in which a fortunate man might expect to enjoy robust life, although several of them would not normally be described as particularly sturdy.

The gallery's notes tell us that women, and sometimes entire families, are also a part of this seasonal worker migration, but here we see only men, and I suspect that males overwhelmingly dominate the numbers of these seasonal hands. Even the sad subjects of Dorothea Lange's documents weren't usually fighting to survive alone in a foreign land.

Krauss makes me envious of the Germans, and happy for their guests. We need the artistry of a Krauss or a Lange here in the U.S. today, to show us the guest workers on whom we depend so much, visitors both documented and not. This show is a reminder of how much could be done, and what it might mean to us all.

Neither the aesthetic nor the storytelling in work like this can be isolated from the complex history and the simple beauty of the specific environment in which these pictures were captured, in Krauss's case the underpopulated farms of the former Democratic Republic of Germany, or DDR. It's also hard to ignore the combinations of personal tragedies and personal hopes contained in the situations in which these migrant Eastern European farm laborers have placed themselves.

There is also tragedy on a larger scale, but a larger hope as well. Even to someone like myself, with a long experience of Germans and Germany, these people look very German. I think about that because it's likely that no one they are near thinks of them in that way. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't think of themselves in that way either. And yet here they're laboring in Germany for long hours on someone else's land in an alien environment, struggling with an overseer's foreign tongue in large richly-tilled fields which were once held in common by the socialist brothers and sisters of their own Polish, Russian, Ukrainian or other communities. Will they become Germans some day, or become the proud and prosperous brothers and sisters of Germans, as part of a larger, flourishing European community?

Well, I just wanted to say that I found it pretty tough to walk away from this show, both literally and figuratively. Thus this post.

The show has now been extended until February 2.

Oh, I almost forgot. I've seen and admired Krauss's work at least once before, in a stunning, but heartbreaking show, "In a Russian Juvenile Prison", mounted in the same gallery in October, 2004.

For more on the current show, see Vince Aletti writing in The New Yorker.

from the gallery press release

(he's been split up, and works a little more subtly today)

I was originally just going to make this a comment on an earlier post of mine, but when I realized that if I did so I'd be directly following one of my own I decided to make it a post instead. Besides, this gives it much more visibility, and I suspect what I learned last night will be news to many.

When I saw this statement inside an on-line NYTimes story last night I couldn't help thinking of a comment from one of my readers to the post in which I touched on the peculiarities of what we choose to call our democratic way:

In the overall race for the nomination, [after the New Hampshire primary] Clinton leads with 187 delegates, including separately chosen party and elected officials known as superdelegates. She is followed by Obama with 89 delegates and Edwards with 50.
"Superdelegates"? By my accounting, Obama should still be ahead of Clinton, having clearly exceeded her number of delegates in Iowa. I quickly checked my handy Wikipedia, and found that the system which established superdelegates was a response to a 1970's change in the Democratic Party nomination process. Control had been taken out of the hands of party officials and entrusted to the more democratic (small "d") primary and caucus formats, but the traditional smoke-filled rooms survived, albeit in diminished form. The bosses quicky arranged for the creation of a class of delegates to the presidential nominating convention, made up of elected officeholders and party officials, which was not to be bound by the democratic decisions made by primaries or public caucuses. Superdelegates comprise approximately one fifth of the delegates/votes in the national convention.

My commenter of last week argues for the democratic virtues of the American system, saying that in the "European system", rather than go through what I might represent as an absurdly drawn-out presidential campaign and a motley series of public primaries,

The parties decide internally who will fill posts, and these decisions are made outside of the process of the election cycle, which is why the cycle runs only 6 weeks. They spend much longer posturing internally, outside of the public eye. Does that sound more democratic?
I would answer that the comparison isn't so simple as that which he outlines, and considering the incredible mess we have made of the tools of democracy which we have inherited, he may even be asking the wrong question.

There are many more important reasons why the American electoral system fails the democratic test, so I won't make too much of the impact of superdelegates, but being aware at least of their existence is one more small step toward dismantling the edifice of an unbearably selfish and destructive American exceptionalism.

[image of Boss Tweed, on an 1869 tobacco label, from Wikipedia]


Deutsche Welle, the English language on-line news site, reports that intelligent Europeans who study our political system essentially think the way we select candidates for office is, well, nuts.

National elections in Europe often last only six weeks and campaigns are publicly financed. That makes the details of the United States' prolonged primary season, the winner-takes-all Electoral College and campaign financing groups particularly murky waters for Europeans.

"Quite frankly the American democratic system is atavistic," said Frank Unger, an expert on US politics and a professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute, which is part of the Freie University in Berlin. "It's outdated. It doesn't really reflect democracy in a modern sense."

I think he's being kind.


[image from blog.kir]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from January 2008.

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