Sunday, March 22, 2015

Meet Me at the 18th St./ Lexington Avenue Station

I rode the subway a lot whenever I was in New York City. First time was in the mid-'50s, when I went up there as a guest of my buddy Bob Richardson's family. We rode the Lakawanna ferry across from New Jersey. The Richardsons had relatives in South Orange I think it was. One afternoon, while we were sitting around the South Orange house, they ordered one of the best deli sandwiches I ever had--still!--what they called in that part of New Jersey the "sloppy Joe." Anyways, we took that ferry over, and got on the subway and rode down to the Bowery stop, and walked Bowery and Canal looking for interesting industrial stuff that Mr. Richardson might want to buy. That was the first time I'd ever seen a falling down drunk homeless person. If any such persons lived in Raleigh I guess they might have been found in the park downtown.

Everytime I got to New York City I took the subway. When I was in the 10th Grade I went up there on the train with my journalism class. We went to a couple of plays, including Raisin in the Sun, and Carol Burnett's Once Upon a Mattress. I'd find bits of time to explore, and rode the train down to 14th Street from the Times Square hotel where we all stayed, where I had the good fortune to see Miles Davis playing in a little club. Another time, maybe I was in college by then, I went up for a few days with my friend Neal Jackson and we toured various spots in the Village, again riding the subway. In 1964 I hitchhiked up there mid-summer and stayed for nearly a month with a painter, Harold Bass, who'd been living in Chapel Hill. He lived down on 3rd Street, between B and C, with his girlfriend, in an old-timey tenement with a bath tub in the kitchen that served with its removable metal top as the kitchen food prep space. I slept on a couch in the living room and wandered the streets by foot and subway. I began to notice how beautiful the tiling was on the BMT line. I learned how to ride for entertainment, and understood the subway maps, and how you could simply ride as long as you wanted, transferring, going to the end and walking across to go back, seeing at least the underside of all the boroughs, noticing all the mysterious names: Myrtle Avenue, DeKalb, Far Rockaway, Chambers, Van Cortlandt.

When I was in Diamond Studs, in 1975, I had the chance to actually live productively in Manhattan for much of that year. I'd ride the train from where I lived, an apartment on 95th between 8th and 9th, down to the theatre, on 43rd. I'd take the IRT Seventh Avenue line. We did eight shows a week, with Monday off. That turned me into a professional performing musician. On Mondays I'd take the train different places, go to museums, just look at stuff. I wish I'd brought a camera. There was some graffiti in those days, but it didn't seem as insane as it's become since. I never felt afraid in the city. I had some street smarts about how to walk and where not to go. I was surely lucky too. Later on, when the Ramblers were doing occasional New York City gig stops, one of our band was mugged up on 110th street when a guy followed him and his girl friend (who lived there) into their building, then held them up and took all of his money. We were playing that night at the South Street Seaport Pier venue--a great summer gig we did several times. Jim showed up very bummed and broke. We'd divided up our money before coming into the City so we'd have some spending money. I think that's when Jim pretty much gave up on New York City.

The next big trip to New York was with Libby. We went up there on the way to Maine and visited one of my fiddle students and his family at their Brooklyn apartment. They had a son who was an early teen, and he knew the trains as only a kid growing up in the City can. We toured around the place with him as a guide one day, including walking through the plaza of the World Trade Centers, and a quick trip through the Met (shades of Godard's Band of Outsiders). Since that trip I've not been back. I miss the place. But it might be the place that I remember. Hard to say.

There's a whole lot of stuff on line about abandoned subway stations. The first link I hit had a picture of the abandoned 18th Street station. That resonated with a memory, of seeing the 18th Street station go past riding in an express train. At first I thought that was really an interesting thing, that in fact I could never have gotten off at that station, express or local. It was just sitting there, in view but not accessable. Then I realized after more reading that actually the 18th Street station I remembered was the one on the 7 train, on the west side, which was still open. I rarely rode the Lexington Avenue train, so I doubt I ever saw that ghost east side station, closed since the '40s.

This is what the 18th Street/Seventh Ave. station looks like. It's open, but you can't get off there if you're on an express train. I kinda liked the idea that there were these various abandoned places on the New York subway system, that you could in some cases see, but not actually visit. (I mean without doing fairly extreme things like walking down the tracks, which some people do, but you sure ain't talkin' to me, to quote Charlie Poole.) These abandoned places reflect a sense of lost connections and anger, when you look at their pictures. It's pretty shocking that in a place as grand and organized as New York City you'd find so much anarchic expression.

I began to think of this ruin as symbolic of our current political tangle. Can the people who "own" this actually be expected to make sensible political decisions about their own futures. I read this week that a poll of Tea Party people in Texas yielded the strange and contradictory conclusion that these people--winning election all around the country--do not understand that the government assistance they themselves use and depend on will be destroyed by the kind of policies the people they vote for are advocating. Somehow the connections have been lost. It's just like the joke posters: get rid of big government, but don't touch my Social Security. The cartoons are true.

But then I found some other, contrary evidence. Check this out:

There are many art installations in the New York City Subway system. The part that is operating at least. These birds are part of a large number of cast bronze grackles and blackbirds installed around the Canal Street station. I can't think of anything much more hopeful. There's a whole lot of information on this phenomenon too. Here's a link to a whole book about art in the subway.

Maybe they can even merge these two seemingly opposing trends. Here's the most amazing abandoned subway station, and it's been preserved apparently, although it's very hard to go there:

They closed this magnificent station when both the cars and trains were made longer, which made the curve too tight for the new trains to operate on. The ornate street entrance was demolished, and for decades the station sat dark and closed. But what the hell? The art of the station itself is as wonderful as the many art installations which the current subway system has deemed worthy of installation and maintenance. Maybe, instead of seeing a dismal trend towards entropy and anarchy, we ought to consider the possibility that we ride a tide. The red bud is out today. It's a good sign. Meanwhile, you can ride a train past that east side 18th street station. That's a pretty neat experience I'd think, and if I ever do get back to New York I think I'll make it a point.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Never Using Email

Quite a bit of derision has been aimed at Lindsey Graham of South Carolina concerning his assertion that he's never used email. (Of course the moving finger has even now moved on, since Graham has since his email confession asserted that he would hold Congress in session by military force to reinstate the cuts to the defense budget that he voted for--the public is fickle.) Yesterday I saw a long series of captures of Graham's incessant tweets. As though that proved that he did use email. Ha.

What Graham was doing by saying he never used email was invoking the famed "no privacy" rule which he himself helped to craft during the Bill Clinton Impeachment Circus. What the Impeachment of Bill Clinton established was that, in some circumstances, there is no such thing as privacy when it comes to a public figure. Once invoked, the rule tends to apply with some universality. Prior to its being invoked, a public figure may well assume that there is such a thing as privacy, such as in the President's Cloakroom, with the door shut and a willing and comely intern with a few minutes available. We may recall, however, that as the Impeachment ground its way through a once successful, capable, Presidential Administration making every effort to work for all of the American people, the privacy rule not only got Mr. Clinton impeached, it swept Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Livingstone from their august offices as well.

As Livingstone was leaving the building, Mr. Graham wrote a note to himself in invisible ink: Note to self, never email.

Mrs. Clinton has make a perfectly reasonable distinction, between the emails she sent as Secretary of State, and those she sent as Hillary Rodham Clinton, mom, daughter, regular human. She didn't want a bunch of Republicans reading all those personal notes about this and that and including preparations for her mother's funeral and her daughter's wedding, so she quite reasonably deleted them. One can hope that she ran a powerful magnet over the private server's hard drives before tossing the whole damn machine into the compactor down at the car crushing place in White Plains. One hopes she gets to say to Lindsey Graham sometime, up close and personal, in the Senate Cloakroom, "Fuck You, you raging asshole."

But Mr. Graham hints, in his nuanced South Carolina way, that there is no "private" when it comes to a public figure. He nips it in the bud and forgoes email entirely. Too bad Mrs. Clinton didn't do likewise. What's an inquisitive Republican to do? This is the current lay of the political land. And the media, generally, is climbing on board.

There has been far more coverage, this week, of Mrs. Clinton's email, than of a treasonous letter that nearly all the sitting Republican Senators sent to Iran with the aim of destroying critical negotiations, and, ultimately, of laying the groundwork for a war with Iran. Jennifer Rubin, who represents the far right on middle eastern affairs, said this week that what Republicans want is regime change in Iran. "Regime change" is another term for "war." Chris Matthews talked last night of Mrs. Clinton's being unprepared for the Presidency, and of the Democratic Party's fresh new problem: there's no one to replace her as a candidate. In the wings, the red carpet is being unrolled by all the media, right and right center. Jeb Bush, get ready. This would be the Jeb Bush who manipulated a Presidential election in Florida so's his brother could win without the votes, and a Jeb Bush who himself used private email systems and has self-sorted what he wanted the public to see. No problem. He's not married to Bill Clinton.

If Mrs Clinton is sold as un-ready, what's America to do? This is how Al Gore was unsold. And Howard Dean, for that matter. Jim Rome used the manufactured "Dean Scream" as a audio joke on his sports show for years after the non-event. Dean became an occasional pundit on MSNBC.

No one that I've heard has yet pointed out that there is actually no logical difference between what Mrs. Clinton did, in sorting after the fact the personal from the public emails, from what she might have done--kept two different email accounts, one for public, and one for private. That would in effect be sorting as you go. Is there any problem with that?

Only if you play, like Mr. Graham always does, with the no privacy rule. This is, of course, the rule that all successful gangsters use constantly. The phones may be bugged, count on it.


Saturday update: Mark Shields, on PBS last night, said more or less that while all the GOP candidates have almost exactly the same "issue" with email as Mrs. Clinton, that wasn't the point. As I suggested yesterday, the point is that the no-privacy card has been invoked for Mrs. Clinton, and she is to be flogged with this until she screams "what difference does it make!" Shields' GOP counterpart, David Gershon, was talking "destroyed evidence." Mrs. Clinton should just say, with a wry smile, thank you for throwing me in the brer patch, and have a nice private life as she enters her 70s. She's got the damn money to have a decent retirement. She, Bill, and the Obamas might consider all retiring to France and trying some of the excellent bread, cheeze, and wine the French have available in unlimited quantities. None of them need this shit.

I'm serious about the idea of retiring to France:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Arkansas Sheik

Well Mr. Smith's doppelganger has managed to replace the worst thing Congress has done in the last 100 years, which in my humble opinion was to reject Wilson's League of Nations. And I guess we can't say for sure whether Tom Cotton, so proud of his every thought and action that he can't manage to see past his own glare, really did upstage Henry Cabot Lodge quite yet. It took fifteen years or so for the absence of the United States in the first world body of nations to yield the sparks that set the whole world ablaze. The talks are still on. Possibly the Iranians, who are far more educated and sophisticated about these matters than Mr. Cotton and his 46 buddies (our two NC Senators are of course on the list, natch), will realize that getting a diplomatic solution to a very sticky problem with no good end game is worth ignoring the spitballs from the peanut gallery of know nothings that now passes for our senior deliberative body, and one whole half of the Legislative Branch.

I've never seen anything worse than this appalling letter, written as though the people who we're negotiating with were Mongolians living in tents. The whole Iranian government has graduate degrees from western universities, many in the United States. Iran is Persia. Persia is one of the places, like Greece and Egypt, where our civilization was born three thousand years ago. We were the ones in tents when the Persians were battling Alexander the Great. We hadn't heard about it. We were hunting firewood to cook a sheep the wolves had killed.

If you want to see what a diplomat looks like, take a gander at Mr. Obama, who could somehow manage a civilized quip in the face of the news that the Senate had tossed the biggest spanner they could find into the spokes of a delicate negotiation which is the last best hope of keeping the Israelis from nuking Teheran, or some such. There has, as Mr. Cotton seems to never have noticed, already been a clear and recent test of the "military solution." Mr. Cotton's party's last President launched a war of convenience against a middle eastern country which had nothing to do with a gigantic act of vandalism against the United States. Iraq at that time was already wounded from the previous encounter with the United States. After we "won" that adventure in short order--"Mission Accomplished, amirite"--we systematically managed the total destruction of a delicately constructed union of sects and tribes which to put a point on it, all hated each other as much as Serbs hate Albanians. When our last troops rolled back into Kuwait we had generously prepared the ground for this group of barbarians called ISIL. Today we are actually collaborating with Iranian troops and commanders in Iraq in an effort to stop ISIL's marauding. This, together with the current negotiations, is a good and hopeful sign of sanity amidst much that is utterly insane.

As Chris Hayes said the other night to Michael Steele, experts say that air strikes against Iran's enrichment facilities would set them back five years. This current negotiation is aiming at a ten-year respite. A lot can happen in ten years. It was a typically Republican response for Mr. Steele to say, "well, that's the new math." Hayes was right when he said nope, that's just math. Ten is still twice five. Duh.

But a military attack on Iran will not be just about such simple measures. The logic of nuclear weapons is this: if you have them, the world will take you seriously. This is why Iran wants nuclear weapons. They are tired of being pushed around by yahoos who don't respect them or their history. Iran is Persia. There are certainly those in Iran who see the down-side of joining the so-called nuclear club. They are at present in the government. They are at present seriously negotiating with our State Department professionals. They are or were close to a diplomatic agreement which may forestall untold death and carnage.

Yet the glib, arrogant Arkansas Sheik, only elected to the Senate a couple of months ago, can with aplomb toss a bomb into this. Mr. Cotton has no respect for anyone or anything. He is blinded by his own light. And his whole party, pretty much, joins him in this terrible adventure with other people's lives and fortunes. Somebody said this week--I think it was Col. Wilkerson, who's kept his head on straight through all the Republican adventures--we need to bring back the draft so everyone's kid will be vulnerable to military adventurism. Maybe so. It didn't save the 58,000 kids on the Vietnam Wall though.

I don't know if there is an answer. When Germany and Japan embarked on their big world adventures, as filled with arrogance and power as Mr. Cotton and his co-signers seem to be, it took consequences so terrible that we can't today imagine them to stop the destruction. Why do we, in our mythic exceptionalism, think we're immune to hubris? The New York Daily News was undiplomatic, but right on.

As usual and expected, the diplomats didn't want to say such inflamatory things. One hopes that the Obama Administration at least sees the truth. This is the Legislative Branch we have. God save us.

You might find this of interest as well:

There is no doubt that under every rock in the Republican garden lie the bones of the Old South and the racism that forms the historical underpinning of our so-called exceptionalism. When the Southern Strategy was hatched, the Republican Party became the party of racism. It was already pretty much the party of big business and isolationism.


Update: Mr. Kerry's appearance yesterday before the Corker committee was mindblowing. Rand Paul told him they'd sent the letter because they wanted to send a message to Mr. Obama. Corker said he hadn't signed the letter himself, so please shut up, Mr. Kerry. The fundamental ignorance of this Republican Senatorial majority is breathtaking. They are wrong on the facts, and willing to hold their breaths until they pass out. Upon revival they will surely claim that the President tried to kill them. It's The Stupids Die.