Monday, October 31, 2011

Bizarro New York City

Remember Superman comics' Bizarro world where everything is backwards? Well, I visited Bizarro New York City a couple of days ago. Here's what I saw:

The police are the criminals. They commit crime everyday as part of what they consider their job duties.
Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
Instead of arresting those criminals, the police support criminality; they gather in big protests to demand more criminality.
 Viorel Florescu
When Bizarro police see law-abiding citizens, protected by law, they promptly beat them and arrest them.
Bizarro mayor, concerned about the health and sanitation of these law-abiding citizens who live outside, confiscates their heat generators the day before a predicted snowstorm, so the citizens, for their own benefit, will freeze and disappear.
Lucas Jackson:Reuters
Bizarro mayor, elected by the people, sits in a mansion holding posh galas for the wealthy 1%.
The people of Bizarro New York City, who elected him, sit in a park, unemployed, homeless and cold.
Bizarro mainstream media don't inform the people, they try to deceive and divert them, which seems kind of pointless, since the people already know the truth. Bizarro.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The coming war over Tompkins Square Park

It'll be middle-class parents against the homeless, indigents & winos. All over a rodent. The winner? Guess.

The outcry on EVGrieve's comment box against Occupy Tompkins Square Park is only the latest sign of a gathering battle over turf that will likely gentrify the park beyond recognition. It is coming in increments, and the first struggle will likely play out over the rats.

The parents who use the Avenue A playground have organized to rid the park of rats. Sounds harmless -- no one likes rats, and there sure are a lot of them throughout the park and particularly near that playground.

But there's a problem with rat control. Rats reproduce really fast, so killing rats doesn't make a dent, unless every last rat is dead and no outside rats move in. There are only two ways to control rats effectively. One way is removing their food source. If you do that, you'll see at first the overpopulated community eating everything in sight, then eating their own new litters of young, and finally, a reduced population.

But how to limit their food source? Well, one way is to remove the soup kitchens around the park. The kitchens create a steady flow of discarded food on the lawns and over the garbage lids. But remove the soup kitchens, you remove their clients, an entire demographic in the south west corner of the park. The resolution of the rat problem will lead to a cultural and ethnic cleansing of the park, leaving it to the yuppies and the middle-class families in the park.

For now, the city administration wants to keep the local indigent population on site in the park. They are easy to observe and control in the park. Equally important, there are many social services that can minister to them conveniently in one place. So for now the city supports the soup kitchens in and around the park. But parents are adamant, narrow in their interest, focused, active and communal -- they network effectively and regularly and give each other mutual encouragement. If they don't see results to their satisfaction, they will press their interests until they win, regardless who is hurt. Parents don't mess around, especially parents with a sense of entitlement. 

The local indigents are not organized, they have no clout, and they have no support beyond themselves and the missions, which have their own institutional commitments in their relations to city administration. In other words, the locals at the southwest corner are at risk. And you know where it will end.

The other way to control rats is introducing feral cats to drive the rats off their turf. This was effective for many years prior to gentrification on my street, when we accepted cat waste on the steps as the price to pay for a rat-free building and street. But park users will object to the cat waste on the lawns, and neighbors around the park would lose sleep to their high-pitched cat-screeching. Feral cats are an effective solution, but it'll never happen in the park. 

I didn't like having rats in my apartment, when about ten years ago gentrification spurred my landlord to turn the basement into apartments and drove the rats there up into the rest of the building. But I don't have any trouble with the rats in the park. I see them every night by the parkour course and handball courts. I don't bother them, and they don't bother me.

For my part, I'd rather have either rats or cats in the park than the parents: the parents are dangerous to humans.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OWS Disturbs the EV Comfort Zone

A Voice reporter contacted me to ask me about the neighborhood comments on Penley's Occupy Tompkins Square Park at EVGrieve's blog, and what it means for the EV. I won't bother to rehearse the lamentable loss of historical memory over the illustrious history of TSP protests from the 1850's to the 1990's and their significance. What I find particularly telling is that the comments appeared on Grieve. Who reads and comments on Grieve now, and why? Here's my personal, angry take on them (disclaimer: none of this applies to the many thinking, socially aware newcomers to the EV) --

This new breed of Lower East Sider comes to enjoy a sense of urban authenticity in Manhattan. Of course, it's not authentic at all, but a kind of faux authenticity, pretend authenticity: the EV feels like it's hip, it imagines itself to be hip, it has lots of youth who style themselves as hip, but in reality, they are just children of wealth seeking $700 a month more hipness and urban pretend-authenticity than they would get in Queens. It's that measured thrill (the oxymoron is intended) they seek -- just enough for them to congratulate themselves for not living in a forgettable neighborhood like Kips Bay, but not too much to lose sleep over the noise of a late-night drum circle.

The mere suggestion of being arrested for a principle of justice arouses such unconscious fear that they respond with political condescension and smug personal disdain. Note how they fail to understand the OWS movement itself: they attribute to it whatever they disagree with, so that, conveniently, they can dismiss it, don't have to be bothered with it and don't have to confront its potential. It is, if you forgive another oxymoron, aggressive apathy. Call it proactive apathy, to use one of the redundant and useless epithets of their generation.

They read Grieve because reading some local foodie restaurant blog would show themselves in their mirror as exactly themselves, mere gentrifiers -- but Grieve is cool, Grieve is hip, Grieve is an insider, so they can feel insiders without ever getting inside anything in this place. That's who reads Grieve today. Bob Arihood died just in time. He'd have seen it as every good deed's punishment. Grieve has, no fault of his own, become the entertainment for the gawkers of authenticity. 

Grieve's readers consider themselves East Village old-timers if they've lived here for six years, long since gentrification settled in. They have no conception of the meaning of this once unique place, not a clue. It is beyond their capacity to imagine, let alone understand. They have lived all their lives with property values and social control. They have no sense of the freedom that follows property abandonment and its vacation of all ownership control, often described as anarchy. They are the children of entitlement. The great difference between the trustfund babies of the EV and the overeducated campers in Liberty Plaza is that the latter are unemployed and drowning in student-loan debt, while the former enjoy mixology at Death & Co.

The campers have been successful at keeping momentum and visibility by holding new events each day or so. The occupation of TSP sounds like a useful part of that program. I don't see it as unduly disruptive. If OWS has the potential to shift the balance of politics in this country, issues of local noise, garbage and crowding hardly seem worth mentioning in the broad narrative arc of history. Maybe we have become too accustomed to complaining about bars. But, seriously, barflies are not making history; they're just making noise. I mean, here is an opportunity to change the voice and profile of our polity, and the news media and the local residents are worried about noise? What happened to these poor rich people's values? What kind of sorry excuse are they for humanity? Are they so comfortable and jaded that they can't care about anything but their own comfort? Is this neighborhood truly no more to them than the latest ice cream parlor tasting? Is this what the LES has come to?

OWS has stepped into the muddy stream of American democracy, pronounced it a river of shit, which it is, and have called for a dam: enough. They have pointed to the naked emperor -- the wide disparity in both our politics and economy. They have as yet no program, no solution except the goal of obtaining a more equitable distribution of democratic power. They are not exculpating Obama by targeting Wall Street. They are not supporting any party. Unlike the Tea Party which began as an knee-jerk revolt against the color of the president, finding its libertarian justification after the fact to legitimize its acid racism, OWS started with principles. You can tell the difference by their resistance to any political party, while the Tea Party jumped quickly into Republican habit. Theirs was never anything but partisanship. OWS is, as many have suggested, something new. It's not a demonstration; it's not a third party. It's a social movement focused on the failure of American democracy itself.
I have no expectations, nor any predictions for its success, but I am not so ironic as to view every honest effort as naive, silly, childish or risible. Irony is the privilege of the abstract, the distant, the uninvolved. It suits the comfortable, the secure, those who can afford to be indifferent. If we all regarded our political process with irony only, there'd be no place for democracy at all. The OWS process is all about participatory democracy. It is so pure and purged of irony that its principled participation cannot close on its demands. That's one reason why it hasn't gotten involved with any party or against any party, why it hasn't projected any specific solutions. It is a movement discontented with our democracy. 
The only campaign poster I've seen at Liberty Plaza is for Ron Paul. Now, several of Grieve's commenters seemed to think that OWS should attack gov't rather than Wall Street. Well, that's Paul's message, and it's there at OWS, along with many other messages. You won't see any Obama posters there, that's for sure. So I think the commenters, as most ugly commenters are, uninformed, biased loudmouths. The content of their comments are of little merit but of revelatory sociological curiosity. Look at who they are, or what they are. I take them very seriously, but not what they think, if they think. It looks to me more like avoidance, complacency and self-congratulations than thought. And it's all so close to the sentiment summed up in Let them eat cake.

Le yuppie

Trustfund-baby hispter wannabe

Hope for Bialystoker Home for the Aged and its residents

 Photo: Julia Manzerova

A new group has formed to save the Bialystoker Home for the Aged, which is slated for closing, eventual demolition, and the displacement of its aged residents, scattering them to distant and unfamiliar neighborhoods as a result of one of the shadiest deals in the LES. Hoping to save the building and prevent dispersal, Friends of Bialystoker Home has applied to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for designation. Landmark designation would end all plans to demolish and would obviate the Board's need to vacate the residents in the home.

The building itself is an art deco inspiration, integrating futuristic modernism with Jewish history. If you are at all susceptible to the romantic idealism of the art deco movement, its bold reinvention of all images and designs shedding classical traditions for the experimental, the medieval and the mythical, on the one hand, and on the other its aspirations for a utopian, amalgamated new-world-without-class, then you'll appreciate the Bialystoker.

The Friends are asking LESers to write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, cc to Councilmember Chin (an opportunity for her to heal the wounds with the preservation community) urging the LPC chair to designate the structure as a city landmark.

Here's historian Joyce Mendelsohn, with details of where to send below:

Friends of the Bialystoker Home is a new group organizing a campaign for landmark designation of this important building constructed between 1929-31 to house the largest and most prominent of all the “landsmanschaftn” (mutual aid societies) on the Lower East Side.  The building survives as a major visual element on East Broadway symbolizing and recalling the Jewish history of the Lower East Side.  Designed in the Art Deco style with a golden brick fa├žade, the ten-story structure features a unique arched entrance framed by twelve medallions representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  [The Bialystoker Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing (formerly the Bialystoker Home for the Aged) is located at 228 East Broadway at Clinton Street.]
We need your support in our drive for landmark designation of this irreplaceable structure.  Please contact the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to urge them to calendar the Bialystoker Center as a first step in the process of landmark designation.  Time is of the essence, since it has been reported that the building is currently up for sale and the Bialystoker Board intends to vacate the Center by the end of October.
Send your letter to:
Hon. Robert B. Tierney, Chair                                                                                                         
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission                              

One Centre Street, 9th floor north                                                                                                     
New York, N.Y. 10007 OR e-mail:                              

Please copy all written messages  and Council Member Margaret Chin:

Photo: LuciaM

Monday, October 10, 2011

The relevance of the Bowery, the dishonesty of the NYTimes

The Times, reporting on efforts to preserve the Bowery, quotes Arun Bhati, the developer who demolished 35 Cooper Square, the 1825 townhouse, "Not all in this neighborhood are looking to preserve the past. Cities need to grow and make some changes to be relevant.”

Quite right, some just want to get rich on the destruction of history and character of New York. In quoting him, the NYTimes carefully hides the fact that he demolished a historical townhouse. Here's the full passage:

“Not all in this neighborhood are looking to preserve the past,” said Arun Bhati, a developer who owns a vacant lot at 35 Cooper Square, where an 1825 Federal house built by a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant was torn down this year, despite protests from preservationists. “Cities need to grow and make some changes to be relevant.”

Note the passive voice, "was torn down this year," not mentioning that Bhati himself tore it down turning it into that vacant lot he now owns.

To assess his quote, the reader needs to know that he demolished it himself for himself, not for the relevance of the city. Was he overwhelmed with petitions to "please demolish this 1825 townhouse so New York will be relevant"? Commercial developers demolish buildings with no regard for the relevance of the city, for its past or its future. The comment about relevance is a post factum excuse to pour perfume over his waste. He demolished the building for himself.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes turns him into a spokesperson for "the relevance of the city" by hiding his personal financial interest. Is this journalism, objective reporting, accuracy, information? It's journalistic fraud, and plain deceit. That's the New York Times I know. It's the Times acting as lickspittle for a developer. If you didn't already know this about the Times, now you do.

Am I the only person disgusted by it?
Compare the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors. They have no financial interest in the Bowery whatsoever. They want to preserve the Bowery because they know the history, appreciate it, and they love their New York. Even if you don't share their principles, you can't but recognize that their position is a principled position beyond any personal gain. It's not a self-serving motive, and they are not trying to hide their motives with lies and BS.

Which comes to my point. The neighborhood is now drawing people like Mr. Bhati, people who are there to prey upon the neighborhood for their personal, selfish gain, not for the benefit of anyone or anything else, relevant or irrelevant. They are there for themselves. They are not there to save the relevance of the city and certainly not for its history or its long-term commercial viability or its future. They are there for a fast buck today. What happens tomorrow? What do they care?

Same for the First American International Bank about to demolish 135 Bowery. In that case, the bank led Councilmember Chin by the nose who didn't even try to find a better deal for their air rights. This was a marriage of convenience -- for the bank, not for the neighborhood or for affordability. She could have gotten much more affordable spaces with the air rights shifted onto Chrystie Street if she exercised her vision, did her own work instead of doing the bank's work. Such a blatant case of the bank leading the elected official. This one belongs on a poster in Occupy Wall Street's Liberty Plaza. It's exemplary. That's relevant.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

no words

bob arihood is gone.
his incomparable blog