Politics: January 2009 Archives

now that's office casual, and notice those treads

I have a hatred for the convention of suits and ties, for many reasons, but certainly partly because of my own experience. While I was still working in an office environment, conservative suits were mandated for all male employees, and jackets had to be kept on, regardless of the weather or the capacity of the air conditioning system. Yuck. Double yuck, because most of these uniforms were pretty ugly. Could it be that the decree had nothing to do with aesthetics?

Moving on to today, and on a slightly different bearing, my partner Barry tells me that he's absolutely had it with the proliferation of stories about how horrified people are, especially veterans of the previous administration ["Workers from the Bush White House are shocked" - NYT], about the informality of Barack Obama's office etiquette.

Barry shared with me his disgust just as I had begun to glance at the front page of the New York Times this morning, where there's another long story about what is surely the least important "change" the new administration can be expected to accomplish.

Yesterday I had been investing more time than I had originally expected in looking on line at information about the history, the architecture and the functioning of Hoban's President's House, and I had showed Barry the picture I've now uploaded above. Today he suggested I do a post about the etiquette fuss. He offered that if I didn't want to, he would to it himself - if I were able to find the image again. It was an incredibly slow site, so since I had to duplicate most of the labor today I decided to do the post myself, since the actual writing would be a comparative piece of cake.

If you've seen the item yourself, yes, you did see the word "tizzy" in the very first sentence of the Times piece:

WASHINGTON — The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

I'm so glad they found the "logical explanation", for it certainly couldn't come from a recognition that creative, real people will always be able to think and work better, alone or together, without a strait jacket or a uniform, and that they don't need a costume to have self-respect or the respect of others.

By the way, this table is one of the most historically-important pieces of furniture in the magnificent White House collection. It's importance has almost nothing to do with its New York provenance [Pottier & Stymus Manufacturing Co., New York], although I might be persuaded to take personal offense with Bush's crude insult to decorum, especially were I standing on the other side of the table - and above all were I raised in a Middle East culture.

It's Grant's Cabinet Table, and it stands today where it almost always has, in the Treaty Room, on the second floor of the mansion. The unofficial White House Museum site informs us: "Many important agreements have been signed on the table, including the peace treaty that ended the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, and one of the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] agreements." In addition, the Pact of Paris (Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact), which provided for "the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy", and a number of Middle East peace documents were signed on this table. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that 43 had so little respect for its surface.

Oh, about Obama's mellow approach to the small stuff in the job Bush 2 must have thought was something like that of emperor, I think it's terrific. The White House may be the people's house, but it's the President's home and office.

[image from the (unofficial) White House Museum]



(look closely at the borders within the drawing above)

NOTE: Yesterday I wrote a hurried and perfunctory post on the work Michael Mandiberg has produced while he has been associated with Eyebeam, because I had been told he would have an open studio last night. The information proved to be mistaken; the date of the formal viewing is instead going to be next Tuesday, January 27, at Eyebeam, from 2 to 4, or by appointment [michael at mandiberg dot com] through the end of that week, until January 30.

Mandiberg has assembled a body of work in a range of various mostly-paper forms using elements of both the old technology and the new. He's addressing the rapidly accelerating obsolescence of our established information systems; our experience of history and language; what we do with time; our direct participation in changing social structures and the disappearance of old political certainties; and old art subsumed in the new. He does it sometimes with ordinary words, and sometimes with the line of the artist. His tool in expressing both of these languages is the modern laser cutter.

His sitter may be the OED, the New York Times, the World Book, the National Geographic Society or Josef Albers. For these portraits he has cut through variously somewhere between one and several hundred pages of "dated" printed texts to produce dramatic, even ravishing negative spaces, words, which symbolize or articulate the contemporary, cutting-edge approach to words and information, and he carefully scorches surfaces of the artist's traditional paper medium to reconfigure for today some of the aesthetic icons and arguments of the past.

As modern as they are, these pieces are hardly accomplished just by push button. The mark of the artist's hand is in each. I don't know how much of it is a consequence of the process and the nature of the materials and how much of it comes from Mandiberg trying calculatedly to show imperfections; he may not know the answer himself.

Sometimes the machine itself fails to produce a perfect effect, and the artist has gone back to reproduce its desired machine perfection by hand. Sometimes Mandiberg seems to be trying to get rid of imperfections in the machine's work (to remove the hand), and elsewhere he is trying to make the work of the machine look slightly imperfect (to introduce the hand).

If it is anything like what I describe, this approach registers on this individual, personal scale the complex relationship with our machines which we have all shared - not just the artists among us - since the beginnings of industrialization.

I don't have the space to describe the individual work displayed, especially because they are all so conceptual, and because much of the work is still incomplete, but if you visit far West 21st Street during the next week, you'll find the artist is totally up to that task.

Mandiberg is currently a senior fellow in Eyebeam's R&D OpenLab facility. In a conversation Barry and I had with him there yesterday, we were discussing his art and his process when he avowed that, yes, "all of the work here lives in both the arts sphere and the nerd sphere". Yum. Members of both communities will find much to their tastes if they are able to check out his installation.

[final image from the artist's Flickr set]

1917 poster* by J.C. Leyendecker, successful, closeted [homo] designed to sell war bonds

Although I took huge delight yesterday in Rev. Joseph Lowery's contribution, because of his own history and the fact that its grace transcended religion, my experience of the joy of yesterday's inauguration of Barack Obama was marred by the number of genuine sour notes, all related, that piled up all day long and even into the night at the inaugural balls: Watching the glorious events of the day being soaked in all that god talk made me very, very uncomfortable. You probably know what I'm taking about.

By the way, after all the uproar over Obama giving the nod to Rick Warren's to deliver that, whatyamacallit, "invocation", I thought it was some "revelation" to hear the fat gentleman finally speak yesterday. As he rambled on like a Sunday school teenager in "church-speak" mode, Barry and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. Just then Barry saw on his feed that at 11:49 EST justinph had tweeted:

Wow, Rick Warren prays like shit.

I say, amen.

And I want to interrupt myself here with a point of information: In spite of what we have been led to believe, and contrary to the [Justice Roberts-flubbed] administration of the oath of office we witnessed yesterday, the Constitution includes a precisely-worded, prescribed text which absolutely does not include the phrase, "so help me god". Also, our founders made it very clear that you don't have to swear an oath, but merely affirm. [Article II, Section 1.]

As a part of all mankind I share the joy of people of every color in the triumph of Barack Husein Obama, but, as an American who knows and serves no god, today I probably feel more excluded than ever before. A black man can become President; we had already discovered that we can have and probably soon will have a woman as President; we can expect some day to find that it isn't necessary to be a Christian to become President; if absolutely nobody else shows up at the hustings, we might eventually elect a queer; The office is now open to every citizen [if natural-born, at least 35 years of age, and 14 years a resident in the U.S.], yet from where I'm standing it looks pretty certain that, if faking belief isn't an option, an atheist can never become President of these United States. She or he is more likely to be stoned in the public square.

When I look at the historic talent pool represented by that distinguished class of skeptics, I find that truth to be quite tragic, and I'm very sad for all of us.

When I first saw this image, on the About.com site, the medallion at the bottom had been altered to read "For a Christian America", and the sword was edited to bear the inscription, "Bigotry, Discrimination". I put at the top of this post before I realized that as originally published and as shown here the picture doesn't have anything overtly connected to a deity, but I've decided to keep it at the top, for the Boy Scouts of America's connection to god, country and straight-acting-boys - and men.

[image, in which the artist's male lover {they were to live together 48 years} modeled for "Liberty", from Library of Congress]


I have no illusions about the chances of my always being happy with the Obama administration throughout the next four to eight years, but I've been watching television much of the day (something I haven't done since 9/11) and my eyes have't been dry since some time shortly after I awoke.

Don't pinch me yet.

I found this faded 48-star flag in Rhode Island when I was going through the merchandise at a barn sale over thirty years ago. Thereafter, for several years, on each 4th of July I would hang it in the doorway of my pre-revolutionary house on Transit Street in Providence. Then came Reagan and the flag-waving crazies: display of a flag looked like a demonstration in support of everything I despised. I packed it away in an old camphor trunk and didn't display it again - until this afternoon. It's now hanging from the arch which separates two of our front rooms.

Looking at it no longer hurts, although I still think it is best honored as the symbol of an ideal we must all continuously pursue, and not as a boast.

"Maybe, if you think about the mental situation of the people under seige in Masada, you could get a better sense of what's happening in Gaza" - Udi Aloni

Some time ago I had set aside a blank, unpublished entry on this blog's admin page with this working title:
"Can someone please direct me to the Israeli refugee camp?"

I never completed the post.

I probably thought it sounded a bit too snide, even for me at my angriest, as I was then and remain now, anguishing over the never-ending insanity and horror of the tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, specifically in Gaza right now. But ultimately this cancer festers almost everywhere else in this world, as relations between peoples have increasingly putrefied because of the mess which resulted from the manner in which the state of Israel was created.

So, since some of my friends may already be staying clear of me in my absorption in the events of the past weeks, and since I wasn't prepared to assemble a long narrative on the origins of the conflict to substantiate what some might describe as my more provocative statements in this medium on the subject, I was almost totally relieved and very excited to get an email this morning which included a link to the text of an exceptional statement by an Israeli-American artist and activist I have met and whose work I have admired for years. The text of its sender's public letter manages to provide the perspective I didn't, and mercifully without the history lecture I would have delivered.

The film director, writer, visual artist and activist Udi Aloni answers a letter written by Israeli singer Noa [Achinoam Nini] and addressed to Palestinians in the Gaza strip and worldwide in which she called upon them to disavow fanaticism:

Dear Achinoam Nini,

I chose to answer you, and not the entire raging Right, because I believe that the betrayal of the peace camp, at this of all times, exceeds the damage caused by the Right a thousand fold. The ease with which the peace camp gives itself over to the roars of war hinders the creation of a meaningful movement that could [sic] a true resistance to occupation.

You roll your eyes, use your loving words in the service of your conquering people and call upon the Palestinians to surrender in a tender voice. You bestow upon Israel the role of liberator. Upon Israel – that for over 60 years, has been occupying and humiliating them. "I know where your heart is! It is just where mine is, with my children, with the earth, with the heavens, with music, with HOPE!!" you write; but Achinoam, we took their land and imprisoned them in the ghetto called Gaza.

We have covered their skies with fighter jets, soaring like the angels from hell and scattering random death. What hope are you talking about? We destroyed any chance for moderation and mutual life the moment we plundered their land while sitting with them at the negotiation table. We may have spoken of peace, but we were robbing them blind. They wanted the land given to them by international law, and we spoke in the name of Jehovah.

Who are the secular people of Gaza supposed to turn to, when we trample on international law, and when the rest of the enlightened world ignores their cry? When enlightenment fails and moderation is seen as a weakness, religious fanaticism gives a sense of empowerment. Maybe, if you think about the mental situation of the people under siege in Masada, you could get a better sense of what’s happening in Gaza.

The seculars in Gaza find it hard to speak against Hamas when their ghetto is being bombarded all day and all night. You would probably say that 'we would not need to shell them if they held their fire,' but they fire because they are fighting for more that the right to live in the prison called Gaza. They are fighting for the right to live as free citizens in an independent country – just as we do.

"I know that deep in your hearts YOU WISH for the demise of this beast called Hamas who has terrorized and murdered you, who has turned Gaza into a trash heap of poverty, disease and misery," you write. But Hamas is not the monster, my dear Achinoam. It is the monster's son.

The Israeli occupation is the monster. It and only it is responsible for the poverty and the sickness and the horror. We were so frightened of their secular leadership, which undermined our fantasy of the Land of Israel, that we chose to fund and support Hamas, hoping that by a policy of divide and conquer were could go on with the occupation forever; but when the tables have turned, you choose to blame the effect instead of the cause.

You write, "I can only wish for you that Israel will do the job we all know needs to be done, and finally RID YOU of this cancer, this virus, this monster called fanaticism, today, called Hamas. And that these killers will find what little compassion may still exist in their hearts and STOP using you and your children as human shields for their cowardice and crimes." It is the same as if your Palestinian sister would write: "Let us hope that Hamas does the job for you, and rids you of the Jewish Right."

So maybe, instead of ordering around a people whose every glimmer of hope we have surgically eliminated, you could help your brothers and sisters in Palestine rid themselves of the occupation, oppression and the arrogant colonialism inflicted by your country. Only then can you urge them to fight democratically and return Palestine to the mental state it was in before we pushed it into the corner of the wall that we built.

And if your brethren in Palestine choose Hamas, you have to respect their choice, just as the world's nations respected Israel when it chose the murderous (Ariel) Sharon. Hamas is theirs to fight, just like you fought him. That is what democracy is about. Only then can you and your brethren in both Palestine and Israel share – as equals – the joy of the land, the sky and the music; only then can we fight for equality together, for every man and woman living living in our holy land. Amen.

ADDENDUM: "What if it was San Diego and Tijuana instead?", an analogy which might be helpful to Americans who know nothing beyond the latest headlines, written by Randall Kuhn and published Wednesday in, yes, The Washington Times.

[image of 1730 French print depicting the siege and capture of Masada from preteristarchive]

Jews captured during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led by German soldiers to deportation

I'm normally not inclined to pay attention to the Vatican when it comes to statements on morals, but this BBC bulletin is hard to ignore: The Pope's justice minister, Cardinal Renato Martino, has sharply criticised Israel's actions and likened the Gaza Strip to a "big concentration camp".

The developments of the past two weeks make me want to pose a question closely related to that analogy: Can anyone say, "Warsaw Ghetto uprising"?

After the horrors committed in our name (and with the active or passive support of most of us) by our own government these past eight years, Americans of conscience can't easily point fingers at any of the peoples who suffer under immoral regimes whether these systems were historically discredited in the middle of the last century or are very much active in the present. However I still think it's fair to ask, where are the "good Germans" today [using the phrase sincerely, not sardonically], in both Israel and the U.S., and also in those countries which continue to support and enable the disastrous policies pursued by both.

My thanks for the news tip go to a friend who is with a group, "We are Jews who say 'Not in Our Name' to the Israeli Government", assembling at 5:30 pm this Monday, January 12, in front of the Israeli Consulate at 800 Second Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets.

[image from JewishVirtualLibrary]

(tell him it's not his to give away)

Nothing Michael Bloomberg has done yet has disgusted me more than his mindless support of the government of Israel's bloody insanity in Gaza while he's wrapped in the trappings of the high office of the cosmopolitan City of New York.

Some of us prefer to think before we act, and we don't pretend to represent an entire constituency when we do.

While he's talking about the right of a government to defend oneself, referencing a mighty military state allied with the most powerful nations on earth, a nation which actualized its people's 2,000-year old memory of a homeland only 60 sixty years ago, why can't the mayor of all New Yorkers bring himself to recognize the rights of an almost people who are almost powerless and have virtually no allies, whose memory of a homeland is more vivid and within living memory, going back, as it does, only those same 60 years?

Bloomberg may understand money and power (he bought his own political office and since then he's learned to emulate Putin), but apparently nothing else. His sympathies have always been with the guy on top, and that's where they remain today.

He's a damned fool, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous.

[image of the Great Seal of the City of New York from citizenarcane]

coming soon to your neighborhood

Change ain't happening.

Does Obama think we can turn this around with another tax cut? Or maybe he just thinks a few hundred dollars will make a difference to people who have already lost jobs and houses. Even George Bush can see it didn't, and doesn't, although he now has the satisfaction of welcoming his successor into the Republican party.

WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama, commencing face to face consultations with congressional leaders Monday, is embracing an unexpectedly large tax cut of up to $300 billion. Obama said the country faces an "extraordinary economic challenge." Besides $500 tax cuts for most workers and $1,000 for couples, the Obama proposal includes more than $100 billion for businesses, an Obama transition official said. The total value of the tax cuts would be significantly higher than had been signaled earlier.

[image, from the first Great Depression, from thereaction]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from January 2009.

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