We Are All of Us Irrelevant

Kips Bay Towers March 2015Out for a walk one afternoon, and this building just grabbed me. The way it filled the entire frame with faceless identical units, the way it towers over the block despite being set back quite a bit, overwhelming you with its sheer scope. I guess that’s why they call this style brutalist*.

*Apparently it’s not–it has something to do with the French for concrete–but fuck it. This building is brutish.

Turns out this is an I. M. Pei building, Kips Bay Towers, which house more than 4,000 residents on three blocks of the East Side and which were part of the condo frenzy in the early 1980’s.

A friend remarked that, “behind each of those windows are people who will likely never meet each other.” That seems to me like a pretty good symbol of life in New York City, or any really big city.

It’s like a human honeycomb, and in each cell is a family or an individual with a whole universe that revolves around them, a complex web of relationships and goals, desires and failures that feel overwhelming even though they’re surrounded on all sides by people who couldn’t care less. Each cell bears the decor that is the physical accumulation of a lifetime lived, but when somebody dies that will all will be moved out, and the space cleared so the next person can fill that blank space with their life and their mementos.

The longer I look at this photo, the less important I feel. I begin to understand why this was the chosen architectural style of fascist governments.

“From the outside I am thinking / I’m a number, not a man
From the outside I am thinking / What were they thinking?”

– They Might Be Giants, “Albany (The Egg)

 

Photo: A rather dramatic NYC sunset

SmokyNYCMarch262015A massive building fire destroyed three buildings in New York City’s East Village late this afternoon, including my favorite spot to get poutine–but that hardly seems important considering the number of people who were injured and put out of their homes. It took more than 200 firefighters to put out the blaze, and last I heard they were knocking all the buildings down rather than risk an uncontrolled collapse.

I happened to catch the sunset at just the right moment, as the rain clouds (which hung over us most of the day) cleared, leaving Manhattan awash in smoke from the fire and bathing the Empire State Building in visible sunbeams. I’ll refrain from waxing philosophical on this and just say it made for a nice photo. If you think there’s something more to it, feel free to say so in the comments.

Winter has been hard on all of us.

LongIslandCityPothole

This is the second such hole to show up quite suddenly outside of my apartment building, and I’m wondering if I should be concerned about the building’s foundation. What does one even call this? Pothole? Sinkhole? Abyss?

I looked in, and might have seen tiny claymation demons running around.

It’s been a long, hard winter in the Northeastern United States. If you live somewhere else, I envy you. And your traffic control devices.

 

Ted Cruz’s URL Fail

Declaring early to control the message, the Texas Republican doesn't even own his name.

ReadyForCruz

Twitter account @ReadyForCruz

As Senator Ted Cruz took the podium on Monday morning to announce his candidacy for President, rivals and critics were buying up the URLs he and his team failed to acquire in advance–a pretty basic and rudimentary first step in announcing a 21st century candidacy.

TedCruz.com, the most famous instance, is a black box that says “Support President Obama. Immigration Reform Now!” ReadyForCruz.com forwards to a mocking petition from activist group Left Action, and CruzForAmerica.com is parked and points to a blank page. Cruz’s team owns TedCruz.org as well as TedCruz2016.com, but failing to register prominent variations will cost the candidate in both traffic and embarrassment. [Read more…]

Ted Cruz, the Birther Movement, and Tea Party Hypocrisy

Ted Cruz's candidacy is tacit endorsement of President Obama's legitimacy by the birther movement.

Ted CruzToday, if all the predictions are correct, Senator Ted Cruz will officially announce his candidacy for President of the United States. Here’s my favorite thing about Cruz for President: He wasn’t born in the United States, but in Canada.

Now, you might be wondering: Doesn’t that mean he’s ineligible to be President? While the answer isn’t entirely clear (meaning the Supreme Court has never ruled) the consensus is that Cruz is eligible. His mother was a U.S. citizen, which experts say makes him a “natural born citizen,” the requirement laid out in the Constitution.

But if you’ve been paying attention for the last eight years, you might be asking yourself another question: Isn’t this exactly what the birthers accused President Obama of? Wasn’t there a three-year, Trump-funded hunt to find “the real birth certificate” because the birthers believed Obama was born in Kenya to a mother who as a U.S. citizen? [Read more…]

Compulsory or not, it’s time for Internet voting.

President Obama muses on forcing people to vote, but just making it easier would be a start--and it's time we used the Internet to do that.

It was just past 7 PM on Election Night, 2012. I was in front of my computer, a dozen browser windows open to various local news outlets and social networks, feverishly making memes for the ACLU. “Don’t Leave the Line,” they said in English and Spanish. “By law, if you’re in line when the polls close, you must be allowed to vote.”

479775_10150345243979953_388193148_nWith less than an hour until polls closed, and wind chills well below freezing, thousands of people across our state were still waiting in line to vote. We’d received word that some officials planned to lock their doors at the 8PM cutoff, so while some of our staff took calls to voting rights hotlines, our attorneys were on the phone with judges and election officials, and I worked the social networks, trying to spread the word so that no one gave up their rightful place in line.

This circumstance was not unique to Pennsylvania, or to the 2012 election, and while intentional attempts to suppress votes are at least in part to blame, the larger problem is a system and an infrastructure woefully inadequate to handle even the 60% of eligible Americans who choose to vote.

Our system of elections in the United States is a joke. Voters participating in the most vital core function of democracy must do so by visiting their municipal buildings, staffed by volunteers, often to fill out a piece of paper. In some states–including Pennsylvania–polling places might literally be inside private homes. This is not the system of elections one expects from a society where a person can order a yoga mat from their smartphone and have delivered to their hands 12 minutes later.* It’s past time for the United States to embrace electronic voting. [Read more…]

Here’s what I don’t get about the Brian Williams thing.

There has to be a difference between a news report and a personal anecdote, even for the NBC anchor.

Brian_Williams_2011_ShankboneNBC News anchor and managing editor Brian Williams has now served the first two weeks of his six-month suspension in the wake of lies (if that’s the right word–but we’ll get to that) about his experience in the Iraq war. His credibility seems pretty much demolished, his name has become a punchline, and even his daughter can’t get away with defending him.

What bugs me is that Williams has been branded, in most people’s minds, with “lying about the news,” when it’s not clear to me that’s exactly true. To be clear, I’m a very firm believer in journalistic ethics, and for a reporter to fabricate the facts of a story is wholly unacceptable. But I don’t think that’s what Brian Williams did.

Certainly, the version of the story he told to David Letterman in 2013 and again on NBC in January were false. Call them lies, if you will, but it’s hard to characterize a story told 10 years later on a talk show, or even on a news program 12 years after the fact, a “news report.” In 2003, Williams reported that he was in a helicopter just behind the one that took fire, and that his was forced to land behind its companion, not because it took fire. Williams repeated that version, in that form, multiple times between 2003 and 2007; it wasn’t until the Letterman show ten years after the fact, when Williams was recounting the story not in a news context but as a personal anecdote, that he shifted the facts.

There is question whether the story as he told it in March of 2003, when it was inarguably news, was true. Stars and Stripes and others spoke to soldiers who were there that day, and remember Williams arriving in a Chinook 30-60 minutes behind the one that was fired upon; if that is in fact true, then the smearing of Williams is entirely justified. It seems important, however, to consider that those soldiers are basing their statements on memories aged nearly 12 years, and that others who were there that day say they remember things as Williams originally described. [Read more…]

What Graham Moore’s critics get wrong about “Weird.”

Persecuted though they are, queer teens don't hold the patent on feeling bullied.

459167564Graham Moore, the screenwriter behind The Imitation Game, took the stage at Sunday night’s Academy Awards and delivered a brave, stirring speech acknowledging his own teenage depression and resulting suicide attempt, drawing a parallel to the gay protagonist of his film, Alan Turing, and encouraging young people watching the show to “stay weird.” His speech was one of several highlights of an otherwise dull Oscar night, and brought tears to the eyes of many, myself included, delivered by a writer many viewers–myself included–assumed was a gay man. Then Graham Moore went backstage and delivered the lede that launched a thousand thinkpieces: “I’m not gay.”

June Thomas at Slate called the speech “stirring but confusing.” J. Bryan Lowder, writing later at the same publication’s Outward LGBT section, says the speech “reveals a problem in how we think about gayness.” At Buzzfeed, Ira Madison III accused Moore of “simplify[ing] oppression into a hashtag-ready catchphrase,” an act he labeled “deceptive to the point of near cruelty.”

The central complaint seems to be that Moore, who has not self-identified with the LGBT community, cannot understand the pain and social exclusion LGBT kids feel. “The social force behind anti-gay prejudice is far stronger and more pernicious than the animus against social outcasts,” writes Thomas. Lowder adds, “Bullying may suck for everyone, but being a Trekkie or socially awkward or straight edge or whatever just doesn’t have the same weight in that regard as being a sexual minority.” Madison pointed out that gay and trans kids “don’t have the privilege of staying weird in spaces that are only reaffirming to white men.”

While all of these points may be true on a sociological scale, they are totally off-base when applied to the subjective experience of specific individuals–to the point, to borrow a phrase from Madison, of near cruelty. [Read more…]

On Fox, a Panel of Public School Graduates Debates Whether Public Schools Should Exist

Instead of basic education, kids get "meaningless liberal crap," says public school graduate, national TV personality and syndicated political columnist. No, really.

fox-education

On Thursday’s Outnumbered, a panel of five Fox News personalities debated whether public school is something that should even still exist in the United States. The discussion, which has generated a fair amount of controversy, was prompted by a bill from Oklahoma lawmaker Dan Fisher, who wants to ban AP History because it teaches too much actual history, and not enough propaganda.

(Okay, as Fisher phrases it, the course “emphasizes what is bad about America,” and doesn’t teach American exceptionalism.)

Now, Fox generates business by manufacturing controversy and liberal outrage, and I try not to support them too much here, but this time the hypocrisy was just too much for me to resist. Why? Because every single person on the panel debating the merits of public education got there by attending public schools. Two (arguably three) of them attended public high school and public university. [Read more…]