Thursday, December 21, 2006

If only we could gloat

It was "Mission Accomplished" in 2003. Then, "A Plan for Victory," in 2005. This October, the most disastrous occupant of the White House ever, announced regarding Iraq: “Absolutely, we’re winning.” This week, two new ways to parse his nightmare: he is seeking "a new way forward," while also admitting, “We’re not winning. We’re not losing.”

Given an infinite amount of time, I wonder how long it would be until he'd finally say, "We're fucked and it's all my fault"?

New Jersey Governor Signs Civil Unions Bill,
It Will Destroy the Earth

So... — "New Jersey's governor signed legislation Thursday giving gay couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage allowed under state law -- but not the title. When the law goes into effect Feb. 19, New Jersey will become the third state offering civil unions to gay couples and the fifth allowing gay couples some version of marriage."

But, to keep things in perspective, a quotation from a couple of years ago... — "Homosexuals are not monogamous. They want to destroy the institution of marriage. It will destroy marriage. It will destroy the Earth." — James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family.

The Empire State Building is 75

From the New York Times: "...on St. Patrick's Day 1930, the journey upward began... The operation was so tight that the steel often arrived still warm from the forges."


For no reason at all, a photograph of a big tanker just sitting there, doing nothing at all.

Accepting the statelet

A Sinn Fein member of Northern Ireland's legislative assembly has been de-selected from standing as that party's candidate in the upcoming elections in 2007. David Hyland, who represents Newry and Armagh, said some ominous words:

If you accept policing you are really accepting the statelet."

It might be said, "if you took part in the peace process and agreed to the Belfast Agreement, you are really accepting the statelet."

Or, as someone else put it, far more succinctly, "Michael Collins, 26, Gerry Adams, nil."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Down Memory Lane

Do you mind the day? In honor of nothing in particular, a reminder of the good old bad old days in the wee province that I reluctantly home.

God love ye, Northern Ireland, you've come a long way since the day this British Army armored vehicle was cruising through Belfast in the direction of a cinema, where the film on show appears to be 'On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever.'

As George W. Bush might say, how ironical!

Bloomberg says he's going to target poverty

I reluctantly admire our mayor here, Michael Bloomberg, perhaps one of the most candid characters in public service right now. Far too often, I feel, Americans pay undue reverence to elected leaders, such as that creep in the White House, or alternately, pay no attention to them at all, so that politicians have free range to rampage, like that creep in the White House.

I met Bloomberg once, when he visited a relaunch party for a newspaper I worked for many thousands of years ago, where he impressed with a sharp sense of humor, and I also saw him speaking at a New York Times Times Talks event, where I was again impressed with his confidence and intelligence: he mentioned being 62 years old and in great health and at the top of his game, and at very least you felt that here was someone who really enjoyed heading for the office every morning to get stuff done — it betokened an honesty of purpose.

So now he says more will be done to tackle poverty in New York City. Blessed and privileged as I am, I have slight if any understanding of real poverty in New York, but I've walked around (stumbled?) parts of the city at all hours of the day and night, and occasionally I've glimpsed horror within yards of extreme wealth.

Last week on lonely Eleventh Avenue over by the Javits Conference Center, I saw a man lying on the sidewalk ahead of me. There is nothing over there on the extreme west side of Manhattan in the West 40s except enormous trucks parked while drivers snooze or screw local prostitutes. There's a huge rail yard (for the L.I.R.R.) and a heliport by the river itself. And also, this man, lying on the street. As I approached, he was sitting upright on one elbow, facing the glaring afternoon sun. As I passed, I glanced down, and saw that with his other hand he was picking furiously at a vast grey fungus-like mass that covered his forehead and most of his face.

Oh, I shuddered, and kept on walking. He was probably younger than he looked; probably quite a street survivor; and by every mainstream measurement of human beings in America today, totally fucked. During the last election campaign for mayor here in New York City, I was pissed off at what seemed to be the non-existence of a campaign, that all the local newspapers seemed to have decided in advance that Bloomberg should be re-elected without any real airing of issues or digging around to see if Mighty Mike was as shiny as he seems.

One person I argued with said that because Bloomberg is a billionaire, he is beyond corruption, therefore he had to be a good mayor. Yes, that's true — he doesn't have to work hard at bribery and corruption like other politicians, he could simply electronically wire you a brown envelope from his Blackberry. I tried to make the same person see the term 'billionaire' as not necessarily an innately good thing — or bad thing — but in this day and age it is like — bad analogy coming up — if humans were musical instruments, most of us would be tin whistles, whereas a billionaire is the Berlin Philharmonic.

Bloomberg's opponent during that election once raised the issue of there being two New Yorks, a rich, visible New York, and the poor, invisible one. The New York Daily News attacked him for being 'divisive.' As happened so often since 2000, I felt as if I was powerlessly watching people walking into traffic. So now, belatedly, I am heartened that Bloomie seems to be doing something new about poverty, but though I regret having to mention Him, Jesus did say: "Ye have the poor always with you." A simple statement, but one that today needs clarification: some born-again Christians in America recently went so far as to say that Jesus' words justifies telling the poor to fuck off and die — He was saying, there will always be poor people, no matter how hard anyone tries to help them, so why bother? I honestly don't think this is what He meant.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Youse have five minutes til have your perceptions challenged!

Former Loyalist paramilitary and class A nutter Michael Stone has defended his recent one-man attack on the Northern Ireland Parliament with handgun and bomb-in-a-bag as not the actions of a deranged extremist, but as... 'performance art.'

Said Stone's defense lawyer, Arthur Harvey, QC:
"My instructions are that these were not viable explosive devices and were improvised from the most basic household items, including a cardboard holder for a kitchen roll, candle wax and powder from fireworks freely available in shops."

"It was, in fact
, a piece of performance art replicating a terrorist attack," Harvey added, with a straight face, we hope.

In an open letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain and the Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde, Stone referred to himself as "an author and artist" and alleged that his "unfinished work", entitled 'Never Say Never', was aimed at exposing the "futility of the politically-motivated violence created in a political vacuum."

Ah yes. Incredible brushwork, such exquisite appearance of a loss of control at the edges. Stone also said that Picasso's Guernica had inspired his piece and he signed off his letter with words that must have made Hain and Orde pause abruptly — "political conflict is a crossroads for art, the art transcends politics" — before roaring with laughter.

Think about these words: "Political conflict is a crossroads for art, the art transcends politics."

Or, as another put it:

The same arts that did gain
A power, must it maintain.

My friends, we will ponder Stone's words for years to come. Could this mean that Bobby Sands was not on hunger strike but merely offering a commentary on the overbearing bourgeois obsession with food and eating? Or that the Enniskillen Memorial Day bombers were simply joining with local Protestants in presenting a vivid avant-garde reprise of the horrors of war? What if indeed, the entire Troubles were simply an elaborate piece of modern theater? Wake me up when all has been revealed but after everyone has forgotten...

[Photo above shows Michael Stone and his unwilling fellow performance artists, Mr and Mrs. Stormont Security-Guard of Government Subsidy Gardens, West-South-West Belfast.]

Monday, December 18, 2006

Free rent for sex in New York City

Bizarro, via Ananova:

Wealthy New Yorkers are advertising rent-free rooms to women in exchange for sexual favours.

The New York Daily News reports the trend and lists a number of ads on the popular website.

One, entitled "Take Care of My Needs and Live Rent Free," offers: "All you have to do is take care of all my urges, and I'll let you live in a one-bedroom apartment I own rent free."

Another ad reads: "All I am looking for is an attractive, playful, and submissive woman who is uninhibited to my proposal... substituting rent for sexual encounters."

In the posting, the 33-year-old man living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, adds that the room comes with a TV, DVD player, internet-ready computer and a phone line.

"I don't need the rent but would like to fill it up with a woman who would love to show her appreciation for my generosity," he wrote.

But Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne warned that the advertisements amounted to prostitution.

"It is illegal to trade or solicit sex for monetary consideration or other consideration," he said.

Sean Bell rests in peace

Above, the classic ghetto memorial wall to Sean Bell, the 23 year-old groom-to-be who was shot dead by police in Jamaica, Queens, hours before his wedding on November 25th. (The Museum of Biblical Art had an excellent recent exhibition on memorial walls around the city).

The Sean Bell incident, notorious because the cops fired a total of 50 bullets at unarmed Bell and his unarmed pals, prompted a surprisingly large protest on Fifth Avenue yesterday: as many as 40,000 people marched down Fifth according to the police, who normally low-ball public protests, especially if they are "kicking the cops' collective ass" protests. So there could have been as many as 60,000 or more...

New York City protests and Fifth Avenue are a minor interest of mine because the year I moved to NYC was an important one for the way in which the police here approached policing large groups of largely peaceful protests.

First of all, I have to point out that local newspapers here had quotes from tourists who were pissed off that the trifling, stupid protest about some dead kid yesterday, got in the way of their urgent need to shop unassailed by pesky police brutality nonsense. One woman from Maryland told the Times: "We just came here to go shopping at the American Girl store and go see the Rockettes. Now we can’t even cross the street to get our lunch." I hope she choked on her Xtra-Fat-Cheezee LardyBoy Obesityburger.

There were several large protests in the city in 1998, one of which I attended, the Matthew Shepard Rally of October 19th. Later, I wrote a very, very poor paper on the incident, a sort of badly-reported reconstruction. (More importantly, some of the attendees I interviewed for this piece ended up becoming reasonably good friends or at least acquaintances).

The Matthew Shephard Rally was refused a permit by the city, but protesters assembled anyway at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Neither the organizers nor the cops expected over 5,000 people to show up, and in 'quelling' the illegal protest, cops on horseback
caused something of a near panic, and the protesters set off as one down Fifth Avenue in a great melee with horses and cops giving chase.

I believe 5,000 people showed up because the year 1998 was the year when suddenly a lot of people finally started using email and the Internet, or perhaps for the first time had email access at work. (I started using email in 1995/6? at St Andrews, at which time it was still considered a rather quaint gimmick). I can recall complaining to someone that I had received email notices about the protest maybe six or seven times that day, from people who were forwarding the notice of the rally to everyone in their address folders.

Before I arrived in the city on July 31st, there had been an earlier incident involving ironworkers on strike, who allegedly (all this is hearsay as told to me by several people reminiscing) held a protest after spending most of the day in various bars. Ironworkers are known for their tendency to not flee from danger, nor pass up the chance of a punch-up; several ironworkers were arrested for punching, not police officers, but police horses.

Then on September 5th, came the Million Youth March in Harlem, organized by Khalid Muhammed and the Nation of Islam. 6,500 demonstrators showed up to find an almost equal number of cops in riot gear, and helicopters buzzing so low overhead that many locals were terrified. As the 4pm closing time arrived,... well, here's the Associated Press report from the day:

At the end of the event billed as a black empowerment rally, organizer Khallid Abdul Muhammad called the police names and told participants to "beat the hell out of them with the railing if they so much as touch you."

"We have a right, a God given right, a constitutional right to defend ourselves against anyone who attacks us," said Muhammad, dismissed as an aide to Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan after a 1994 speech in which he referred to Jews as ``bloodsuckers" and insulted Pope John Paul II, homosexuals and whites.

I wasn't at this event, but some of my peers at journalism school were, and I can remember how vividly they described the crazy scene. Remarkably, only one person was arrested, but everybody was pissed off, including Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose baleful presence was to loom over the city like a great big ugly pus-filled cyst until the fateful day in September 2001, when in running away from the collapsing World Trade Center, Rudy was rehabilitated to the extent that he now thinks he could make a run for President; if he does, the New York Times editors will yawn, and reach for a folder marked "Scores to settle, volume I, Giuliani, Rudolph W., unreported scandals A-D."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Poem: for anyone fearful of China's rise to global prominence

Chinamen Jump

At night Chinamen jump
on Asia with a thump

while in our willful way
we, in secret, play

affectionate games and bruise
our knees like China's shoes.

The birds push apples through
grass the moon turns blue,

these apples roll beneath
our buttocks like a heath

full of Chinese thrushes
flushed from China's bushes.

As we love at night
birds sing out of sight,

Chinese rhythms beat
through us in our heat,

the apples and the birds
move us like soft words,

we couple in the grace
of that mysterious race.

— Frank O’Hara