Archives for category: politics

So, about the crisis of confidence in the Albuquerque police department. A roundup to settle my thoughts.

1.
I am wondering if the peace officer who has charged David Correia with assault at the sit in at the mayor’s office is Chris Romero, the officer seen manhandling Correia in this video, and possibly the same Chris Romero dismissed from, but present at, an absolutely Soviet case of police harassment detailed by Joline Gutierrez Krueger. There appear to be at least two Chris Romero police officers in Albuquerque.
Video and screen caps of Correia’s take down by Chris Romero at the mayor’s office:

http://lajicarita.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/in-defense-of-

Krueger’s 2008 column on the unbelievable excessive force incident at which a Chris Romero was present:

http://www.abqjournal.com/upfront/26115988688upfront09-26-08.htm

2.
I am interested in the proposals by a retired policeman, Joe Byers, for the reform of the police department. It takes courage and love to come forward, and I’m glad he did. I want protesters to work on putting together a group of Joe Byers and his colleagues, as many as possible, to work together for plausible and real reform.

http://eyeonalbuquerque.blogspot.com/2014/06/degradation-of-apd-continues.html

3.
As beady-eyed as I feel about David Correia, he makes the perfect points in Mayor Berry’s oddly stoned, bubble boy response to the APD crisis — hiring dubious interlocutors, setting up toothless police complaint commissions. The idea that a photo op kind of charrette is reparation, rather than a.) PR control, b.) nut-cutting co-optation, c.) surveillance of citizens by notably violent and paranoid cops and d.) a veritably Dickensian Office of Circumlocution, is firmly planted in Berry’s mind as a form of proactive governance.* It’s not. Correia’s “press release” (um, no, it’s a polemic, although a good one; fighting spin with “press releases” strikes me as vying for the spotlight) on the topic of Berry’s spurious police complaint commissions is here. (If this is a movement and not a personal crusade, the good points about the police complaint commissions should have issued from protest HQ, not by the professor personally.)

http://www.apdprotest.org/2014/05/30/apdprotest-press-release-may-30-2014/

4.
The APD audio in the shooting of Ralph Chavez is here, along with a transcript.
http://krqe.com/2014/05/22/audio-released-in-apd-shooting-of-stabbing-suspect/

The video of Officer Pablo Padilla arresting for drunk driving, and smashing the testicle of a law student, is here.
http://progressnownm.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/video-misdemeanor-arrest-costs-abq-student-testicle-after-groin-strike-by-officer/

It seems to me both officers are performing for the camera. The audio of the Chavez shooting has the cop repeatedly saying I do not want to shoot you as he prepares and signals his intent to do so. Officer Padilla appears to discover a joint invisible to the camera, but pointedly described by Padilla — Is this a joint here?.

I think this is obvious to anyone who listens to or watches the (disturbing) tapes.

_____________

*I have to add, given, for example, Dinah Vargas and others’ detailed accounts of harassment by the APD as activists against excessive force, that community participation in police complaint boards is going to be minimal. The account in the Krueger column of the torture of a citizen by four police thugs at night is reason number one why no citizen with a real complaint against the police would ever show up and say anything to a police complaint board. Considering the fates of civil rights lawyer Mary Han, and Jerome Hall, shot dead six days after he won a police brutality suit against the APD, no sane person would show their face at one of the proposed police complaint commissions. You’d have to be crazy.

The mayor’s vision for the bosque from the first plan through this last one, of which the main feature is still the 10-foot wide surfaced trail, has always had a peculiar dissonance with the nature preserve character of the site. An eyewitness to a discussion with Hizzoner told me the mayor’s vision is pretty much based on his desire to ride his mountain bike through the bosque.

A battle 10 years ago in Washington, D.C. to keep the city, backed by the powerful Washington Area Bicyclists Association,  from stripping a 10-foot wide asphalt “trail” down the middle of a long and skinny neighborhood park taught me cyclists are the most entitled of athletes. And the least interested in, and the least scrupulous in protecting, the slow-moving amenities of pedestrians. It may be different in the land of enchantment, but in Washington, D.C. cyclists are the highway lobby dressed in green clothing.

Without going into the truly ferocious war stories of the battle between the dogs and the toddlers and the runners and the baseball players and jungle gym climbers and basketball players and tot lot occupants whose right to the public space they already occupied in the park carried no sway with the city or the cyclists, I have started to think about mountain bikers.

Only about 3% of all Americans participate in mountain biking, as opposed to the far greater number of pedestrian athletes — 12% hiking and 18.5% trail running, according to the Outdoor Foundation 2013 Outdoor Participation Report.  Outdoor recreation is a man’s world; women’s participation peaks early in life, with 60% of six-year-olds playing outdoors. The percentage of women playing outdoors is all downhill from there, coming to rest with under 20% of women over 66 playing outdoors — as compared to twice as many men — 40% of men 66 and over.

Mountain biking is a Hispanic and Caucasian man’s world. Here are the Outdoor Foundation demographics by race of mountain bikers and other outdoor recreationists:

African Americans

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 19%

2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 11%

3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 11%

4. Birdwatching/Wildlife Viewing 5%

5. Car, Backyard and RV camping 4%

Caucasians

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 18%

2. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 17%

3. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 16%

4. Car, Backyard, and RV Camping 16% 5. Hiking 14%

Asian/Pacific islanders

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 24%

2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 14%

3. Hiking 13%

4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 10%

5. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 9%

5. Cross-country, Alpine, Freestyle and Telemark Skiing 8%

Hispanics

Ages 6+

1. Running/Jogging and Trail Running 22%

2. Road Biking, Mountain Biking and BMX 17%

3. Freshwater, Saltwater and Fly Fishing 14%

4. Car, Backyard and RV Camping 11% 5. Hiking 9%
http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/pdf/ResearchParticipation2013.pdf

Hispanics are the biggest percentage of people who mountain bike (17%), with Caucasians at 16%, Asian and Pacific Islanders (of whom the 2010 census counts about 600 in Albuquerque) at 14%, and African Americans at 11%. About three percent of children do mountain biking, and 2% BMX (competitive dirt trail racing).

Mountain biking is not for poor people. The average cost of a beginner’s bicycle is $600-$800, according to Essortment. Minimum equipment recommended for the minimum bicycle — a maximum mountain bike can cost $3000 — is “…good helmet, gloves, good cycling gear, shirt, lightweight jacket, cycling shorts that are padded, a hydration pack with at least 50-ounce water storage, and good cycling shoes. ” The cheapest mountain biking shoe at REI is $70, bike helmet, $25, padded bike shorts,$48 — for a dangerous minimum of safety equipment total of $143. Total outlay, $743 for a mountain bike and minimum safety gear.

Here’s the problem.  As every pedestrian traffic engineer acknowledges, cyclists drive pedestrians away.

A 10-foot wide paved trail through the bosque would induce travel by cyclists at rates pedestrian traffic engineers have scientific formulas to calculate.

These cyclists would, as a matter of well-documented fact, chase pedestrians away. What would be left for outdoor recreation in the bosque is a path it costs $743, at a minimum, to access and use.

And what is the average income of the Hispanic communities closest to the part of the inner city bosque the mayor wants to close to everyone who doesn’t have $743?

In Barelas, the median per capita income is $16,118 a year. Households earn $29,194.

In Atrisco, the per capita income is $16,685 and household income is $43,052.

The Outdoor Foundation reports 35% of outdoor recreants — and remember, mountain cyclists are men — are cutting back on non-essential expenses in 2013. No one has done the statistical breakdown for Hispanics and their beloved mountain biking. But the user surveys show that everyone who recreates out of doors lists a pedestrian activity as their first preference.

It’s not hard to conclude that the mayor’s vision for the bosque,  the centerpiece of which remains a 10-foot-wide surfaced trail, would essentially close the bosque to most of the people who live near it and wish to use it. The imposition of a plan privileging men on bicycles, and dis-empowering pedestrians — the majority of users of outdoor recreation — has a political theory component. It is a disturbing unilateral exclusionary move via landscape architecture. It fits into the centuries-long history of the privatization of public space by minority interests. The Spanish broke the Indians’ backs and privatized public land and water by making them dig the first acequia. The river hasn’t been the same since.

No road through the bosque.
http://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-richard-berry-and-albuquerque-city-council-keep-the-rio-grande-bosque-wild

This is an excerpt from a report I wrote for another park 10 years ago. The dates but not the principles have changed, and some bosque-specific information has been added.

I. Multi-Use Trails

“Multi-use trail” is, in practice, a bicycle commuter highway that joggers and walkers shun. The asphalt surface injures joggers’ ankles, knees, and hips. Given a choice, they prefer to run on the earth alongside existing multi-use trails, according to the only recent survey on conflicts between users of  multi-use trails, done in Albuquerque, N. M.[i]

Two thirds of walkers on multi-use trails fear cyclists, according to a federal report on conflicts between users of multi-use trails. Bicycle traffic volume on weekends appears to outpace rush hour traffic all day, thus mimicking weekend auto traffic statistics.[ii] It also corroborates the Albuquerque survey finding that user conflict on multi-use trails worsens on weekends.

In the 10 years since the foundation of multi-use trails, there have been only two studies on conflicts between users, according to the 300-plus pedestrian traffic experts on the international e-mail listserv, Pednet.

The first study of conflicts between multi-use trail users was commissioned by the Department of Transportation when the funds were set aside nine years ago.[iii] User conflict was seen as the number one problem with multi-use trails. This prediction has proved correct. Recently, the city of Albuquerque, N.M. tallied the conflicts between the 368 respondents to a survey of users of their multi-use trails. The city trails coordinator concluded, “The only solution is either separated paths or wider paths, say 14 feet.  Otherwise it will forever be a problem.”

Lacking other precedent, four well-established principles of urban planning and traffic engineering are useful to inform speculation on the future of a multi-use trail.

The first is the certainty that widening induces travel. Senior researchers of the National Academy of Sciences (U.S. government academics, not the highway lobby, nor greens) have authoritatively concluded that every 10 per cent increase in the width of a highway leads directly to a 3.3 per cent increase in the number of vehicles traveling upon it.[iv]  This is a revolution in thinking previously formed by the highway lobby credo, “ease traffic congestion” by building more roads and widening extant ones. What actually happens is that gridlock is not eased, simply widened.

One career environmentalist and long-term observer of the bosque estimates 3 to 5 people an hour currently walk the main bosque path on a summer day.

 According to the city, “an average of 780 bike riders per day pass under I-40 on the Paseo del Bosque”. Given a 12-hour day, that’s 65 bicycle riders an hour, more than one a minute. If the proposed bosque path is connected to the existing Paseo del Bosque trail, pedestrian traffic engineers calculating the environmental impact of a 10-foot-wide surfaced multi-use trail through the bosque would need to take this high volume of use on a parallel path into consideration. As far as I know, no bosque path usage or environmental impact study has been done. But these figures, from 3 to 5 an hour to one a minute, suggest and can be used as ballpark parameters for estimating induced traffic on the proposed trail and its impact on pedestrians, including bosque fauna attempting to cross the trail at twilight, or those inclined to depart high levels of human activity.
Immanent calls by cyclists and bladers for future widening of what is officially designated “multi-use” will almost certainly ensue, as the Albuquerque survey suggests. Conflicts between users are intractable, as the federal report foresaw before there were any trails or users, and as the Albuquerque survey corroborates nearly a decade later.

Second,[v] an urban planning concept known as “eyes on the street” comes into play. A Jane Jacobs concept, the idea is that crime decreases as the number of pedestrians on foot increases. [I wrote this whole document about a proposed path through a neighborhood park in Washington, D.C.. I’m leaving this part in, because while specific to the D.C. site, it also explains in detail what will happen in the Bosque when pedestrians are chased out:

[The Rock Creek Park bicycle commuter path usage survey conducted by the Happy Trails Caucus shows walkers shun the bikeway. The bikeway which crosses west of the creek, and passes under the P Street bridge has sheltered repeated attacks. The first series of assaults were by an ice-pick-wielding bicycle thief (1994). The second series were by a rapist intent on assaulting lone female joggers (1996).  This crime zone was created – according to this rubric of eyes on the street – due to the fact that walkers shun it, and that it is out of the line of sight of motorists. Thus, the establishment of a multi-use trail in Rose Park would possibly create a crime zone by eliminating walkers from the mix, as they have been eliminated from the mix on the Rock Creek Park bicycle commuter path, for which a link is sought to Rose Park.

[If someone knows a similar crime zone on Albuquerque’s cyclist trails that demonstrably, with newspaper clips of the crimes, has become dangerous because pedestrians have been forced out of the area by cyclists, please do the research and make the point at the public meetings Sept. 4 and Sept. 18 on the mayor’s plan for the bosque. If you could give me your sources of info and corroboration, in a formal bibliography, I’d be delighted to include it here with a credit to you.

[In ABQ the Plan, city public safety authorities are quoted (p. 32) on this principle, saying an increase of visitors to the park will make it safer. They seem not to have taken into account that an increase of cyclist visitors, who are not considered eyes on the street, will run off all other law-abiding users of the proposed trail.]

 

Third, traffic engineers calculate that each pedestrian on foot requires only 1.5 feet of  what they term “shy space”. As speed increases, so does the amount of shy space required. Thus, two pedestrians walking very quickly side by side would each require 3 feet of shy space, for a total of 6 feet of shy space. A sidewalk of 6 feet wide would thus be recommended, under the best practices rubric, to accommodate just two fast-moving walkers. A multi-use trail would add even faster-moving cyclists and bladers to this mix. The proposed bosque multi-use trail is 10 feet wide. Given just two fast-moving walkers abreast, that leaves four feet of shy space for cyclists and bladers. Cyclists are usually calculated as needing six to eight feet of shy space apiece. No reasonable plan would increase bicycle traffic while expecting cyclists and bladers to confine themselves to four feet of shy space.

The fourth possible outcome for a multi-use path in the bosque is known to pedestrian traffic engineers as the “barrier effect.” As with Robert Moses’ Bronx Expressway,  a broad asphalt surface with induced traffic traveling upon it prevents pedestrians from crossing to the other side. The barrier effect creates dead space on the side of the highway to which people do not cross. Thus, a multi-use path could halve the space people use, could create a dead zone in the half of the park to which no one wishes to cross. In the bosque, amphibians like the soft-shell and painted turtles who live in the water and emerge to lay eggs on land have a low tolerance to lack of cover. A 10-foot paved trail along the river’s edge would prove a barrier to migration for reproduction that the turtles would be unlikely to overcome. According to one long-term scientific observer of the bosque, a 10-foot paved path would create a barrier effect which could drive amphibians from the bosque.

Click and scroll down for photographs and descriptions of the turtles of New Mexico. Save their species. No road through the bosque.
https://plus.google.com/u/0/108460088402018418673/posts

###



[i] Private communication from HNL.

Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico we have over 80 miles of paved multi-use trails.  The weekends are the worst times for user conflicts due to the varying speeds of users,i.e. rollerblaers and bicyclists  vs. walkers and runners.  The only solution is either separated paths or wider paths, say 14 feet.  Otherwise it will forever be a problem.

We recently completed trail counts and surveys. 368 surveys were collected and many of the comments were “please make the trail wider and smoother”, and this was from rollerbladers and bicyclists.  Most walkers and runners would actually prefer an unpaved surface, since it is easier on your hips, knees, and ankles vs. walking or running on concrete or asphalt.

This is obviously not a full blown study but I can assure you that the data

we’ve collected here over the past two weekends is indicative of the needs and conflicts which exist nationwide on trails whether they be in urban or more off-road/wilderness areas.

Hope this is useful and helpful.

Henry N. Lawrence III
Associate Planner, Trails Coordinator
City of Albuquerque
Parks and Recreation

[ii] Sipress, Alan. (February 19, 2000.)  Saturday Saturation; Traffic Volume on ‘Off’ Day Now Outpaces Weekday  Rush Hours in Region. The Washington Post.

[iii] http://world.std.com/~jimf/biking/conflicts.html

That’s a dead link from the original document I wrote 10 years ago. It may refer to this, but I doubt it.

A study of readers of Backpacker magazine found that over two-thirds felt the use of mountain bikes on trails was objectionable (Viehman 1990). Startling other trail users, running others off the trail, being faster and more mechanized, damaging the resources, causing erosion, frightening wildlife, and “just being there” were the biggest concerns (Kulla 1991; Chavez, Winter and Baas 1993). Keller (1990) notes that brightly colored clothes, a high-tech look, and the perception of a technological invasion can all be sources of conflict felt by others toward mountain bikers.

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/publications/conflicts_on_multiple_use_trails/conflicts.pdf

[iv] Sipress, Alan. (January 13, 2000.) More Lanes Better? Not Necessarily; Traffic Increases, Studies Find. The Washington Post.

Fulton, Lewis M., et al. (April, 2000.) A Statistical Analysis of Induced Travel Effects in the U.S.
Mid-Atlantic Region. Journal of Transportation and Statistics 3, 1. 
http:// www.bts.gov/jts/V3N1/vol3_n1_toc.html

Noland, Robert B., and Lewison L. Lem. Induced Travel: A Review of Recent Literature and the Implications for Transportation and Environmental Policy. Paper to be presented at the European Transport Conference, Sept. 2000. London: click Research, then Current Working Papers. Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College of Science and Medicine, 2000.
http://www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/

Noland, Robert B., and William A. Cowart. (August, 2000.) Analysis of Metropolitan Highway
Capacity and the Growth in Vehicle Miles of Travel, forthcoming in the Journal of Transportation and Statistics. London: click Research, then Current Working Papers. Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College of Science and Medicine, 2000.

http://www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/staff/wp1-noland.pdf

[v] For “eyes on the street”, “shy space” and “barrier effect” outcomes, see the most recent best practices guide recommended by the experts at Pednet: Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning: A Guide to Best Practices, Victoria (B.C.) Transport Policy Institute. Their director, Todd Litman, is thought by senior pedestrian traffic analysts to be among the most solid analysts now at work.

http://www.vtpi.org

Saul Friedlander has famously defined death kitsch as the bedrock of Nazi aesthetics, an effectively staged transfiguration by fire and klieg lights like the Gotterdamerung of Wagner’s imagining brought into life by Hitler, who was excited by fire and blood. Of death kitsch, Friedlander writes:

It as often been said that one of the characteristics of kitsch is precisely the neutralization of “extreme situations,” particularly death, by turning them into some sentimental idyll. This is undoubtedly true at the level of kitsch production, hardly so at the level of individual experience, when one has to imagine or face death. As I have just mentioned, whatever the kitsch images surrounding one, death creates an authentic feeling of loneliness and dread. Basically, at the level of individual experience, kitsch and death remain incompatible. The juxtaposition of these two contradictory elements represents the foundation of a certain religious aesthetic, and, in my opinion, the bedrock of Nazi aesthetics as well as the new evocation of Nazism.
— Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death
, 27

Though Friedlander does not say so, I have often thought the apex of death kitsch was the human skin lampshade on the human bone lamp base sported by the commandant of Buchenwald. This banalization of evil is at the heart of the popular support fascism seeks and finds.

Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who has died, aged 104, is arguably the avatar of the kind of sex kitsch widely practiced in Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, and Franco’s fascist aesthetic, as well as in the machismo aesthetic practiced by their brothers in Communism and Latin American caudillo culture. The little known, but essential criticism of Brasilia, the planned city Niemeyer, a lifelong Communist, started to design in 1957 is that no workers’ housing was built in the peoples’ Utopia then, or now. The planned city is surrounded by 60-year-old favelas and a proud and lively off-grid candango culture of three generations of the brown people who built the deserted central city. In this walkable neighborhood of low brick buildings, sidewalks, stores, bars and brothels, the Cudade Livre, did Niemeyer and his colleagues themselves disport when building the antiseptic city beautiful.

“We would sit in a club,” he writes, “and happily watch the social mixing taking place in this forsaken backwater. The liquor flowed while our colleagues — the architects, engineers and construction workers — danced together around the wooden-plank floor.There was a mood of nostalgia for home and the distant places where these men had come fromto work together in Brasilia” (Niemeyer, 72).

The modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, 1904-2012, who built an urban theory for Brazil based on his Stalinist, and not Marxist, principles. He arguably built Brasilia, the planned city which is the capital of Brazil, according to fascist, and not communitarian, aesthetics.

The outstanding work of 20th century Marxists — Walter Benjamin, Mike Davis and Marshall Berman — has been to establish, persuasively, that cities — if not the revolution itself — are for pedestrians, that modernity itself exists in the revolutionary mix of classes, sexes, genders, and races on the sidewalks of the metropolis. Berman defines

….modernism as any attempt by modern men and women to become subjects as well as objects of modernization, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it. This is a broader and more inclusive idea of modernism than those generally found in scholarly books. It implies an open and expansive way of understanding culture; very different from the curatorial approach that breaks up human activity into fragments and locks the fragments into cases, labeled by time,place, language, genre and academic discipline.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air
5

I’ve been chewing over Berman, the great Marxist humanist who is the urban theorist of the Bronx destroyed by Robert Moses’ expressway, of the skanky old Times Square Disneyfied by Giuliani, and the godfather of post-modern Marx studies in America, since I first read All That Is Solid Melts Into Air in the 1980s. Opening its now yellow-edged pages, I find an essay on Niemeyer, heavily highlighted by a forgotten me in pink — what else? — Berman fulminating on the soullessness of Brasilia. Like an old friend, it is a manifesto I had entirely forgotten.

Marshall Berman, of CCNY and CUNY, America’s leading Marxist scholar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Berman

Berman went to Brazil in 1987 to discuss his great book on urban theory, quoted above. Everywhere he went — including Brasilia — Brazilians told him that planned city, designed after Le Corbusier by Lucio Costa and Niemeyer, had nothing in it for them. Today, they call Brasilia fantasy island — “ilha da fantasia”. Berman writes

…one’s overall feeling — confirmed by every Brazilian I met — is of immense empty spaces in which the individual feels lost, as alone as a man on the moon. There is a deliberate lack of public space in which people can meet and talk, or simply look at each other and hang around. The great tradition of Latin urbanism, in which city life is organized around a plaza mayor, is explicitly rejected.
(Op. cit., 7)

And here Berman defined the clash of modernisms, if not precisely the fascist hand of sex kitsch, the anomaly for which Niemeyer and Brasilia must forever stand:

Brasilia’s design might have made perfect sense for the capital of a military dictatorship, ruled by generals who wanted people kept at a distance, kept apart and kept down. As the capital of a democracy, however, it is a scandal. If Brazil is going to stay democratic, I argued in public discussions….it needs democratic public space ion whcih people can come and assemble freely from all over the country, to talk to each other and address their government — because, in a democracy, it is after all their government — and debate their needs and desires, and communicate their will.
(Ibid.)

Niemeyer himself was appalled, and sputtered that Brasilia represented the hopes of the people of Brazil and any attack on its architecture or design was an attack on the people of Brazil. Like a good dialectician, Berman synthesized this antithesis to his thesis and decided that of course the people of Brazil desired modernity, but that the modernity Niemeyer and Costa had laid on them in the design of Brasilia was the sterile, techno engineered reality based on classical forms. He does not explore its connection, through the Brazilians’ co-optation of Le Corbusier’s city planning, to the tradition of proscriptive, coercive, explicitly imperialistic,  French colonial urbanism directly inherited by and subsumed by Le Corbusier. This French modernism — partly based in rational, explicitly racist and sexist French urban theory of the late 19th century entailing crowd control, according to the foremost scholar of French planned cities — was intended to perfect and complete the urban organism such that it might expand, in a clone-like fashion, but it would never change. The city of Niemeyer was perfect and complete; indeed in his 2000 memoir he says the city’s modernism represented “the importance of our country” (Niemeyer, 72).

“Niemeyer should have known,” writes Berman, “that a modernist work which deprived people of some of the basic modern prerogatives — to speak, to assemble, to argue, to communicate their needs — would be bound to make numerous enemies.” Those alienated from the sterile spaces of Brasilia would equally be alienated by the lack of sidewalks in America’s suburban developments and would, Berman wrote, in the ’60s and ’70s, begin to develop the alternate modernism “that would assert the presence and the dignity of all the people who had been left out.” There’s a reason the Mad Ave euphemism for the world-wide dominance of African-American culture — which, arguably, arose from hip-hop’s birth in the very south Bronx wilderness created by Moses’ murderous highway — is “urban”. It doesn’t take a village. It takes a sidewalk.

Indeed the riposte of Niemeyer — who joined the Brazilian Communist Party in the mid-1940s (Niemeyer, 46) — to Berman is found throughout Niemeyer’s autobiography. Echoes of his argument surface in the nationalist defense of Brasilia’s architecture all over the internet. This seemingly anodyne description of Brasilia’s charm is also its manifesto as a fascist city. Two professors and eight graduate students travelled to Brasilia in 2007 to take it in. The professors’ account is a retort to Berman, whose idea that Latin American urban space is a grid organized around a plaza is taken as an insult to Brazil’s much more organic Portuguese heritage.* Fernando Lara, a Brazilian architect and professor of Latin American urbanism, writes:

…its system of roads is efficient and rarely congested. In fact, it is a shining success when compared to many other highway-driven cities, such as Los Angeles. Brasilia’s success in this regard reveals a troubling assumption made by its critics, one that goes to the heart of western expectations of a Latin American city. For planners in the United States and Northern Europe, Latin American cities are understood as gridded cities, with a central plaza and streets filled with people selling their wares or enjoying outdoor cafes. However, many of these images are based on the evolution of urban planning in Spanish-speaking cities in Latin America. Portugal and its colonial settlements in Brazil never followed this type of urban development. Portuguese and Brazilian cities rarely had central plazas or gridded streets. Instead, planning tended to be organic, following access to ports, with the population centers hugging the coasts. Hence, to criticize Brasilia for not having central plazas filled with local inhabitants and streets filled with more pedestrians than cars, is to ignore Brazilian urban planning history and to level unfair expectations.

This geographic imbalance also relates to the criticism of monumental public spaces in Brasilia. These heavenly iconic spaces are not bustling with people like in the Zocalo in Mexico City, or the Huaycaypata in Cuzco, Peru. Instead, the major public spaces in Brasilia serve as expansive places to showcase iconic buildings. They are not meant to be inhabited by crowds, but to be seen through car windows by those driving by, or by small groups of people who have arrived with the sole purpose to view the architectural monuments to Brazil’s future, much as one stands to view an artwork in a museum.
http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=jii;view=text;rgn=main;idno=4750978.0014.214

Fernando Lara, Brazilian architect and historian of Latin American urbanism, UT, Austin.

Lara’s throwaway lines — that Portuguese colonial “planning tended to be organic”, that public space serves “to showcase iconic buildings” to be viewed from a passing car — are the central arguments that Brasilia is an anti-democratic, and in Berman’s rubric, an anti-Marxist, space. I suspect that Niemeyer’s sex kitsch buildings, set off in Costa/Corbu’s forbidding driveby spaces, make it a fascist space.

The widely-discussed effectiveness of fascist architecture depends on spectacle, creating a space in which architecture — or light effects, such as the iconic pillars of light at the Nuremberg Rally — transfigures, in a raptus-like emotional transaction, individual spectators into one. One strategy is dwarfing spectators, another applying the scientific principles of crowd control first invented by the French to contain the frightening crowds of women who emerged in the late 19th century on the newly-created sidewalks of Haussmann’s Paris to go shopping at the newly-invented department stores. (This social phenomenon of modernity, as Berman calls it,  is piercingly rendered by the magnificent social observer Zola in his 1883 novel,  The Ladies’ Paradise.) Later the French built cities in Morocco, Madagascar and Indochina deploying these anti-democratic architectural strategies.

This corsage pin by Lalique was chosen as the logo for a National Gallery exhibit of Art Nouveau. Depicting women as a pestilence was the explicit result of the fear of crowds of women unleashed by the creation of sidewalks in Paris and the invention of department stores.

In a 1975 essay, Fascinating Fascism, culture critic Susan Sontag  pinpointed the erotic nature of fascist aesthetics — “vivid encounters of beautiful male bodies and death”. In it, Sontag posits the fascist aesthetic checklist. So powerfully does it resonate with Umberto Eco’s signs of fascism, written 20 years later,  Sontag’s still stands as the best practices definition of fascist aesthetics:

— celebration of the primitive

— preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort

— exaltation of egomania and servitude, domination and enslavement

— pageantry of massed groups, turning of people into things, the massed groups of people and things arranged around a leader or  force [or iconic, monumental architecture]

— orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets

— virile posing vs. ceaseless motion in choreography

— glamorizes surrender, mindlessness, death

One becomes, as Berman establishes, in the spectator crowd fascism turns us into, the subject as well as the object of a modernism.

I’m cutting to the chase here of many important distinctions: one becomes the subject of fascist modernity if fascism is, as the seminal 20th century Marxists argue, the inevitable antithesis to the thesis of revolutionary modernism. Fascism is modernity, no matter how many cults of tradition — Kinder, Kuche, Kirche — it exploits.  No one has done the work of synthesizing Marxist and fascist aesthetics of spectacle, though the ground work in fascist spectacle has been persuasively established by such scholars as Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, who describes the anomaly of Mussolini’s own modernism in the exploitation of modern advertising and polemic sales strategies, media and technology, while adding an acrylic techno sheen to the powerfully transfiguring pre-modern strategies of imperial sized buildings, ritual, symbols, tradition, and the very demagoguery on which Greece and Rome were founded. Writes Falasca-Zamponi,

The erection of buildings and the remaking of the urban landscape, as well as the invention of new rituals and the establishment of pageant celebrations, were intended to contribute to the sacralization of the state under the aegis of the fascist government. The existence of the state depended on peoples’ faith in it. Faith in the state was assured by a mass liturgy whose function was to educate the Italians, making them new citizens and imparting a higher morality.
(Falasca-Zamponi, 7)

Let’s all throw our gold wedding rings into the cauldron for Benito’s war chest, and make the point that Benito’s own magnificent planned city, Asmara, in Ethiopia, is the only other modern imperial outpost to deploy Niemeyer’s beloved curves as its central motif. The Italians called those curves Art Deco, and there, at the end of the earth, Asmara slowly returns to the desert from which Mussolini brought it forth. I submit Asmara, like Brasilia, is sex kitsch.

Niemeyer was the favored architect of the Brazilian president who decided Brasilia should rise from the wasteland at the center of the 3.3 million square mile nation, the world’s fifth largest. He writes that he declined a commission and designed Brasilia on the salary of a public servant, 40,000 cruzeiros antigos a month (Niemeyer, 71). This can be seen as a sign of Niemeyer’s communitarian altruism, freedom from capitalist ideology, ambition of Ayn Rand proportions, or the subtle coercion of a government whose political police still called the president’s fair-haired boy in for interrogation on account of his membership in the Communist Party. In his account of the interrogation, Niemeyer uses the racist Brazilian term, negrinho, to refer to the typist (Niemeyer, 90).

That the oppression of women is the point man of fascism is the issue that renders me beady-eyed in Niemeyer’s curvilinear Brasilia. He keeps saying curvilinearity is pretty girls and Einstein’s universe. I think it is Brazilian contrarianism in the tradition of Nasser’s Third World, Communist intransigence, and fascist sex kitsch. In the dedication of his autobiography, The Curves of Time, Niemeyer writes

I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of a beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein.

The curves could well be seen — Niemeyer does see them — as a principled Einsteinian protest against Le Corbusier’s coercive city beautiful. But when the curves are only in the  monuments set one by one, by the Corbu rubric, far away in the center of a ritualistic empty space, one is not moving off the idea that the city is a perfected and completed (and therefore, possibly fascist) ideal form through which the movement of people is coercive and barely permitted. When, in a typical remark, Niemeyer says on one occasion the Brazilian engineers had taught the old world architects they had little to learn, I understood much of Niemeyer’s contrarianism. Building a city in the middle of nowhere is Faust’s own imperialist apotheosis — that’s when the devil shows up to claim Faust’s soul. It is as well, part and parcel of Brazil’s impetus to deforest the planet of the Amazonian rainforest and forcibly remove the aborigines from the site of the Belo Monte dam.

The traditional riposte of the Brazilians to world protest has as much to do with Nasser’s leadership of non-aligned Third World as it does with Brazilian nationalism. You can hear it in Niemeyer’s response to Berman, and in Lara’s 21st century playback. The U.S. old growth forests are gone, they argue, and no Yankee imperialist is going to tell us to stop the genocidal deportation of Indians or cap emissions you fail to do yourself. You can see this nationalism, or exceptionalism, in Fernando Lara’s truthful observation that Brazil is not Latin America, and its urbanism developed differently from that in former Spanish colonies. However, for Lara to assert that Brazil has no tradition of plazas, or democratic space, doesn’t mean Berman is wrong in saying Brasilia has no public space and is therefore not a city for democracy; under Berman’s Marxist rubric, it can also be seen as a tacit admission that Portuguese urban tradition is fascist. Lara’s ill-considered use of the word “organic” to describe the development of Portuguese colonial cities in Brazil can suggest the conflation by 20th century fascism of “organic” tradition — Kinder, Kirche, Kuche — with oppressive modern political tactics. Fascism is totally organic. Nothing could be more organic than genocide.

Nor is there anything more organic than pornography as kitsch. Gillo Dorfles, the pioneer scholar of kitsch — like Niemeyer, a centenarian — defined the terms of the argument in 1969.

Gillo Dorfles, the pioneer scholar of kitsch, who recently curated a show in Milan called “Kitsch”.
http://www.triennale.it/it/mostre/future/1118-gillo-dorfles-kitsch-oggi-il-kitsch

Setting aside the modernists’ problem inherent in the definition of “beauty” as a mandarin taste for elites, and “kitsch” as garbage art for the proles, Dorfles defines kitsch as bad taste. (Another awesome thing he does is finger Salvador Dali and fascist, caudillo Surrealism itself as kitsch, for which service to humanity he should be given a Nobel Peace Prize.) What’s wrong with it, Dorfles writes, is that it is a lie, a lie much more easily replicated in modern media (this would be part of Benjamin’s Marxist argument about replication), and that the cultural elite are extreme victims of it. There are a million more brain freeze zingers to live by in his 1969 masterpiece. The one which concerns the death and afterlife of Oscar Niemeyer is this one:

Bad taste in politics begins therefore with modern dictatorships, and for an obvious reason: in the past, people could accept the fact that a man was endowed — by fate or by the divinity — with super human powers….Nowadays, whenever art has to bow to politics — or generally speaking, to some sort of ideology, even a religious one — it immediately becomes kitsch.
(Dorfles, 113).

Dorfles goes on to publish the excerpt of Clement Greenberg’s 1939 essay, The Avant-Garde and Kitsch. Dorfles notes it was written during the rise of “blatantly kitsch movements in Nazism, fascism, and Zdanovian Stalinism.” Greenberg, one of modernism’s seminal art critics, scans fascist spectacle and  says Marxism is the only medium for high culture and the avant-garde:

Where today a political regime establishes an official cultural policy, it is for the sake of demagogy. If kitsch is the official tendency of culture in Germany, Italy and Russia, it is not because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the culture of the masses in these countries, as it is everywhere else….the main trouble with avant-garde art and literature, from the point of view of fascists and Stalinists, is not that they are too critical, but that they are too “innocent’, that it is too difficult to inject effective propaganda into them, that kitsch is more pliable to this end. Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the ‘soul’ of the people….Today we no longer look to socialism for a new culture — as inevitably one will appear, once we do have socialism. Today we look to socialism simply for the preservation of whatever living culture we have right now.
(Ibid.,
126)

When Niemeyer claims Brasilia represents the people and to attack his city is to attack the people of Brazil, he is sounding very much like the fascist Greenberg describes. For the city to represent of the people of Brazil — even though Brasilia arose from no referendum more popular than the election of the president who ordered its construction, and there was no peoples’ input into either Costa’s city layout or Niemeyer’s building blueprints — its makers had to claim to represent the peoples’ desire for modernity. Whether or not the Brazilian people desired the modernity Niemeyer gave them is still — as Lara’s 2007 defense of Brasilia suggests — entirely debatable. Is a planned city organic enough for Lara’s defense of Portuguese colonial urbanism in the first place? Is planned inherently fascist and “organic” inherently democratic? The proof is in the pudding. Are there large public gathering spaces in Brasilia which are not designed to compel spectatorship of Niemeyer’s state structures? No.

Having established that kitsch is basically a lie, and basically fascist propaganda, Dorfles and his culture warriors go on to discuss porn as kitsch. This is where the Niemeyer problem of sex kitsch gets good. In the teeth of pornography, Dorfles gets down to as good a definition of kitsch as there is:

Even ethics have their kitsch, and here one should consider two fundamental facts:

1.) that kitsch is essentially the falsification of sentiments and the substitution of spurious sentiments for real ones. That is to say real feeling becomes sentimentality; this is the moral argument against kitsch.

2.) that where ethics are in evidence the aesthetic component suffers.
(Ibid., 221)

Ugo Volli goes on to define pornokitsch as “false, sickly, sugary and slightly cold-blooded pornography adapted for kitsch-man” (Dorfles, 224) — kitsch-man being Dorfles’ rubber-necking spectator of modern life, the man of bad taste as he behaves when confronted by a work of art (Dorfles, 15).

Niemeyer  insists all his designs are based on the bodies of the girls he watched from his office window on Copacabana beach. It seems macho, it seems imbued with Brazilian contrarianism, it seems, with Niemeyer’s many Iberian pronouncements on the nature of life as a sigh, as a relentless fatalistic trivialization of the aspirations of the people of Brazil. Arguably, it’s not too far away from saying all the people of Brazil aspire to is the watermelon they’re all eating in Black Orpheus. Booty and bossa nova. It adds, perhaps, some credence to the suspicion of racism on Niemeyer’s part in the negrinho comment.

One scene from the bossa nova film, Black Orpheus, which has received troubled comment. It was released in 1959, at the time Niemeyer and Costa began to design Brasilia.

It has escaped the notice of no critic that the two domes of the National Congress he built in Brasilia are either breasts or buttocks.  When Frank Gehry visited, Niemeyer showed him a photograph of women sunbathing on the beach, alternately facing up and facing down. He told Gehry it explained everything. Years later, whe the New York Times architecture critic sees the National Congress buildings, he sees the girls from Copacabana again, in Brasilia: “They are beautiful and bizarre, isolated landmarks, marooned in the antiseptic environment, which they partly humanize by their erotic and symbolic charge. There in the distance is the National Congress, smartly off axis, with its vertical slabs balanced by two domes, half-melons, like Niemeyer’s female bathers, one facing up, the other down.” The BBC interviewer told the story of spending hours with Niemeyer in his office in front of a huge abstract photograph. Only later did the interviewer realize it wasn’t sand dunes, but female buttocks.

The National Congress buildings by Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, the planned capital city of Brazil.

So as the congressmen who represent the people of Brazil meet in a building representing beach bunny body parts, set in an enormous empty plaza that even a defender like Lara notes is designed not for democratic gatherings but for driveby viewing, how does Niemeyer symbolize a museum? Museums are the place where nations build their own myths. How does Niemeyer design the national cathedral of Brasil? With the same kind of trivialized and syrupy kitsch symbolism with which Niemeyer sexualizes federal buildings, thus trivializing and dismissing the democratic function of public space.

The 2002 Museu Oscar Niemeyer he designed in Curitiba he called “a sculptural eye”. It has a base tiled — in a modern take on the venerable Portuguese tradition of azulejos — with a naked woman,  frolicking with an arc which literally repeats the shape of the eye looming so panoptically above her.  Foucault says the panopticon represents modern surveillance society. There’s a lot to think about here about Surrealism, the fragmentation of capitalist trophies Berman mentions, and the fascist aesthetic inherent in museumizing an amputated and abstracted body part.

Museu Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil

The cathedral of Brasilia is either a crown of thorns or a flower. When Kimmelman visited in 2005,  it was empty. The glass windows were broken, it was full of the humid air of the vast bog that is central Brazil, birds nested in the upper struts and “A butterfly bumped against me, and I watched it zigzag toward the ceiling, into the sunlight.”

Oscar Niemeyer’s national cathedral at Brasilia.

To the candangosthe unaccommodated people of color who built it, back in the late ’50s, it must have looked like nothing so much as a rib roast.

________________

*For more on the Portuguese colonial urban tradition in Brazil, see this:

One Brazilian architect dicusses the anti-grid, anti-plaza Portuguese influence, and goes on blithely to pitch the many gated communities her firm has designed for urban Brazilians. The market demands them, she says. They are “permeable”, she says — architect-speak meaning pedestrians can walk through them. Gated communities, qua their racist, libertarian, tax revolt, and elitist origins, are anathema to the other great American urban theorist, the Marxist Mike Davis.

(c) 2012 Jeannette Smyth

Darmstadt

unusual silence, bright sunshine, cloudless cerulean sky and a high wind. at the corner of 18th and church, in the park they’ve made where the church burned down, two girls, one on the steps of the former altar, one stretched out on a bench looking up 18th street, listening to their earphones.

the dog and i walk over to saint matthews cathedral where nothing is happening. we cut back through the alley behind, and the strongest sense of eternity is there — nothing changes life in the alleys. they’re excavating a big hole in back of the church properties on rhode island avenue; earth moving equipment and the wind blowing the dust. red clay like the battlefields of virginia. the latino men are carrying heavy pails full. no shouting, no talking, no laughing, men bending silently to their work in the crystalline air. across the alley the rear entrances of the old brownstones soak up the sun and the branches and their leaves make the only noise i can hear.

on the front steps of the apartment building, the wind has shaken down a microscopic carpet of tiny twigs and dark brown dried calyxes and little green fruits from the crape myrtles. i have one of the perfect little calyxes here on my desk.

all over the city, from connecticut avenue to georgetown to arlington, unusually light traffic and silence.

on the way to the georgetown library, the marigolds and purple petunias in front of the romanian embassy are tossing in the wind. i can’t determine whether or not the romanian flag, like many others, is at half mast. the metro bus is sporting a small american flag on the drivers’ side, as was the rolls royce i saw at 18th and R. up on library hill, i get out and look down on the city, as far as rosslyn, the potomac, TR bridge and beyond to the pentagon. the sky fades out to palest blue on the horizon, the world is far below me, and the sun shines on the just and the unjust.the wind rises and there is a roar in the trees above me; the strong sunshine shines through them and the leaves glitter in the wind.

an old woman in the cherrydale safeway is talking about the firebombing of darmstadt, september 11, 194…something. “just for pure meanness,” she says. “and that was us.” the cherrydale fire department, founded in 1898, is swagged with red white and blue bunting and a god bless america sign. cherrydale very quiet. in my mother’s apartment, the breeze is blowing through the balcony doors, and the tree tops glittering and tossing outside. the wind is tossing the branches of the oak tree outside my window now as i write this.

back through georgetown, across key bridge. six skyscrapers in rosslyn have two story-long flags draped from upper stories facing the bridge. the potomac roughened by the wind and empty of any boats. traffic very light, pedestrians almost non-existent. a few flags in the shop windows. on connecticut, julia’s empanada has a flag leaning in the corner of the window; betsey fisher has beautiful flags as backdrops to undressed white mannequins and incriptions (“Imagine” by John Lennon) in white on the glass.

someone’s briefcase full of papers, some colored, blow across M street in the sunshine, no traffic to trammel them. at new hampshire and 20th the flashing red and blue lights of a police car marking a fender bender catch my attention. a very well set up middle aged man, good gold glasses, beautiful navy suit, immaculate starched shirt, gleaming bald head and firm belly, standing, looking like a stunned bull, waiting for the traffic light at 18th and P with three long-stemmed white carnations in his hand. the little blue and silver pin wheel on my shopping cart spins wildly.

there is no distant sound of traffic as i sit here. i hear someone hammering far away. the shadows of the oak leaves are oscillating on the building across the street, a dazzling optic version of the sound of the wind.

Originally posted September 11. 2002 14:35 at LiveJournal

Just War

i’m very pissed off at bush for using this emotion to float war.

i think i have to think about whether or not it’s a just war. i think it may be.

http://www.mindspring.com/~skazmarek/war/02Crit.htm

it meets three of five criteria — initiated by a duly constituted government (even if you didn’t vote for him),

with right intention, to promote peacewith reluctance.

still questionable:

exhaustion — all other venues, including discussion and negotiation, are not exhausted.

potentiality — does it have a reasonable chance of success, or will there be a pointless loss of life.

Originally posted September 11. 2002 18:54 at LiveJournal

For Bianca

Job, even Job, says

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold….

Originally posted September 11. 2002 10:15 at LiveJournal

I am all about a new profit model and  System D. My father was a big Green, and I grew up composting and recycling and worrying about the archipelagoes of pellets floating on the surface of the Atlantic, which he started talking about  in the 1950s, composed of shit and petroleum emulsified with detergent.

Me, my father, and the ocean. Puerto Rico, ca. 1950.

I am still researching the piece on Edward Espe Brown as the most influential cook of the 20th century. I am encouraged by my research into the source of his recipes — forensic evidence noone else has — that research into the ripoff use of his recipes by Waters, Tower, Katzen and Batali will reveal similar unarguable lines of descent, Waters being the alleged most influential chef of the 20th century, Tower being her main early influence and employee, Katzen being the east coast hippie chef who now serves on Harvard nutrition panels, and Batali the current rage of Manhattan chefs. Like Brown’s,  Katzen’s hippie chef/vegetarian books were and are massive best-sellers. Unlike Brown, she did not sign all her profits over to the Moosewood collective. (Maybe she did. I have to check that out. I bet she didn’t.)

Always been a foodie, worked in a restaurant for a couple of years, avid reader of a wide range of cookbooks. With EEB, I’m getting to the place where it’s all porn and what I eat is simpler. Last night I had cantalope, smoked local Tucumcari Gouda, artisanal sourdough and Costco butter for dinner. (Got to check that out and go for the humane butter.)

So I was very interested to see people I suspect of the punk, straighter edge, food distribution, Gen X Gordon Edgar  and Rainbow Grocery ilk, pace old hippies, featured in the NYT piece on small farmers. Some of them are now former migrant workers who have been taught organic microfarming by awesome organizations like Viva Farms. http://www.vivafarms.org/p/our-farmers.html

And some of them are Lena Dunham dead-end urban job Gen Z refugees, living in an RV without internets and television, doting upon the doggie their rural setting now permits them to keep. They’re 25 and they met in college.

Jenny and Alex Smith, Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times.

They remind me a lot of the permaculture hustlers blog of young Australians I read. They make a living by inviting people to come and learn permaculture on their farm — while paying to farm it.
http://milkwood.net/

Planting freedom is a burgeoning idea, and not just at Viva Farms, which seems to be specializing in training former migrant workers. Black Americans returning to the south and planting Juneteenth emancipation gardens is one thread. Another is the discovery, preservation, and promulgation of nearly waterless vegetable crops and techniques, like pre-Colombian water catchment structures, developed by Native Americans in the southwest and sold as Noah’s ark crops, standing tall and dry against genetically engineered, faraway, water rights war-inspiring, unsustainable agribusiness.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/garden/juneteenth-gardens-planting-the-seeds-of-survival.html?pagewanted=all
http://www.nativeseeds.org/

I keep wondering if I plant the Tohono O’odham garden, will they prosper? I did plant their melons this year and await them with pleasure.
https://nativeseeds.org/index.php/store/992/2/seeds/seed-buckets-and-collections/sc003/P-tohono-oodham-seed-collection
http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/

On the EEB research, one of the key pieces of the puzzle is Sibella Kraus, Alice Waters’ first forager, who was a line cook at Chez Panisse and went on to study agricultural economics and become a food activist.

This is one of the punk, System D, locavore jobs of the future. My father spent his life teaching sustainable fish farming in the Third World. Now it comes down to doing the same in the New World.

1. Is the left really the “working class”? And is that working class really liberal? Was it ever? Has the working class — qua organizable by unions — disappeared with smokestack industry?

2. Did the post-industrial economy, the Internet, create this finance economy implosion? (I was thinking of the industries it has decimated: newspapers, recording industry, network TV and I wish I knew more about how insta-trading created the financial implosion.) Has it gutted collective bargaining?

3. Read Chekhov and George Steiner’s “Proofs” for insights into the actual character of the Russian proletariat, which is different from Communism, and the Italian, which I think is perhaps closer to the 19th century Platonic concept of Marxism.

I think Gogol is also essential to the understanding of the mystic Slav dealio, which is also different from Communism (rather more than from Marx and his humanism). The mystic Slav’s amazing powers of abstraction, surrealism, modernity, explosive nihilism (all that is solid melts into air), apocalypse, and flame-colored satin tablecloths in the nightclubs along the Brighton Beach boardwalk — Russian orthodox bling.

Chekhov

Steiner profiles the fortunes of an Italian Communist cell at the fall of the Berlin Wall — the literate artisan class, the only U.S. parallel to which I can think of is the dear, departed International Typographers’ Union. They made hot lead type for — how you say in English — newspapers, I think they were called. Back in my Newspaper Guild shop steward days, when we argued for a week in the AME church at 15th and M whether or not we should cross the pressmens’ racist, sexist, violent Irish ahole picket line, the ITU, as I remember — basically, deaf graduates of Gallaudet — was the only one of the newspaper unions to be retraining their guys for the computer age.

Steiner

4. For forty years I have been encountering the educated serf class in socialist Third World countries. The waiter at Luxor has a degree in economics. The butcher boy in Havana was an Olympic basketball contender and has a Master’s degree in kinesiology.

5. When I was in Egypt, in the beginning of the 1980s, all the coeds were wearing black burkas and black wool gloves over their skintight jeans and silver lame baseball jackets. The average salary of a policeman was $9 a month.

6. The result of this is that the only economy which works is the back channel or Blade Runner economy. You go to the Cairo Museum and see many, many curatorial tragedies due to the world’s heritage objects being displayed in padlocked cases humidified with empty Petri dishes and fumigated with visible moth balls. The guard in the room where the Rosetta Stone — the Rosetta Stone, people — is displayed by itself has roped it off and permits no entry unless baksheesh is extorted.

7. I see us, that is Americans, now joining those Third World places who missed pre-industrial and went straight to post-industrial, as having been educated for a different economy. All the supermarket checkout people will be former reporters, punk musicians, and classified ad sales people. The black people, who have, for various reasons, been on to the back channel economy for the past 400 years, have already sewed up all the well-paying, post-industrial, “proletarian” but now upper middle class jobs, like UPS driver. I think the unions — who hate brown people the way the Irish pressmen hated everybody else — now call themselves “progressives”, having carefully chosen to avoid anything that smacks of “liberal”.

8. A friend, who is 37, just paid off the last of her med school loans. I’ve been talking about the university lately as the predatory lender who has landed the average college graduate with $25,000 in debt. Average means 50 per cent of them have more.

A professor, who labored both in the Ivy League and elsewhere, said, Oh yes! Those terrible predatory lender schools like the University of Phoenix! No, dude, that would include the predatory student loan officers at Princeton and the big fat state university at which one has spent one’s career.

9. What is a leftist? Someone who believes that there is a commonweal the government needs to pay for? A simple version of the social contract I like is, I pay taxes, you protect me. This strikes me as the social contract and not the position of a wild-eyed anti-capitalist anarcho slacker or The Communist Manifesto.

10. Is this a hint of what a leftist might could, for one brief shining moment, in the summer of love, have been? Someone who believed Love itself was to be found in the democracy of public space?

More and more young people were flooding the Haight, including four beautiful girls from Antioch College, in Ohio. A sexy anarchist movement, the Diggers, had sprung up, and the girls joined in. One day two of them, Cindy Read and Phyllis Wilner, “were walking down Haight Street,” Cindy recalls, “and Phyllis said, ‘Isn’t this how you thought the world would be, except it wasn’t? But now, for us, it is!’ ”

San Francisco Diggers poster, ca. 1968, from the Diggers’ Archive

….“The Summer of Love became the template: the Arab Spring is related to the Summer of Love; Occupy Wall Street is related to the Summer of Love,” says Joe McDonald, the creator and lead singer of Country Joe and the Fish and a boyfriend of one of that summer’s two queens, Janis Joplin. “And it became the new status quo,” he continues. “The Aquarian Age! They all want sex. They all want to have fun. Everyone wants hope. We opened the door, and everybody went through it, and everything changed after that. Sir Edward Cook, the biographer of Florence Nightingale, said that when the success of an idea of past generations is ingrained in the public and taken for granted the source is forgotten.” http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/07/lsd-drugs-summer-of-love-sixties

11. Still alive, after all these years. Go on, Joe.

There’s great confusion about what the role of the press in a democracy is. The majority of Americans in a recent poll think the role of the press is as a consumer watchdog. Pew regularly surveys people for their views of the press, and their results are always heartening.

Another scholar stipulates that the news in any country is shaped by four social imperatives: the role of the news in a democracy; the corporate structure of news production; the entertainment imperative of news; and the political behavior of news entities in the United States.
http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/culturalcon.htm

For the sake of clarity, I would like to define the news as the founding fathers saw it — an instrument of knowing so important to the democracy that journalism is the only industry mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Jefferson defined the news very simply. He said, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is the prize on which, as stories get shorter and shorter, and newspapers disappear, we need to keep our eyes. I’ve previously referred to this as the League of Women Voters value-neutral policy paper model of journalism.

As I am concerned here to define 21st century journalism, without proscribing it, I’d like to stick as close to the original, rather juridical definition of it, as the instrument of an informed electorate bent, pretty much, on revolution, with the truth and nothing else as their legal defense.

One of the many things that people don’t understand about newspaper journalism is how legal standards of evidence — will this stand up in court? — are deployed during the editing of every story that is published.  (Television news is different.) And, given the law’s long history of being argued and re-invented, I think its “interactive” standards of evidence are as close to justice as human beings are going to get. So we have journalism as the peoples’ instrument of knowing, and its bona fide practice based on legal standards of evidence.

Today I’m going to start to examine and review the ideas of two internet entrepeneurs about what the news is. LOL Cats founder Ben Huh has a “re-imagined” news startup, Circa, scheduled for launch this summer.
http://blog.cir.ca/

Huh is promising to re-invent news for the internet. Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell has interesting ideas about the “gamification” of the news and its interactivity (the whole subject of “citizen journalism” – unpaid content provision, Wiki researchers, the HuffPo’s uncompensated bloggers, and curated comment falls under the “gamification” rubric) .

I am taking their thoughts as typical — however unfair that may be — of the definitions that millennial entrepeneurs with agency have for news in the 21st century. It can’t represent the confusion millenials have about what news is, or their significantly good ideas about it. Hopefully the analysis of  Huh’s and Schell’s ideas will serve as the caveat emptor on their ideas, the warning that the majority of Americans thinks the news should be.

Young people think Jon Stewart is the news, that the mashup, hip-hop soundbite, satirical pastiche of events served up by Stewart – the latest in a series of television comedians, from Carson’s monologue through Saturday Night Live’s weekend news update – is what the news is.

They’re not wrong.

But they’re not right either, and I would argue that if making fun of the news alienates voters, which I suspect it does, a correction needs to be made. Comedians need to start registering ten young people to vote for every political joke they tell on national television. Hopefully having a government that represents the comedians’ constituency would put the comedians out of business.

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/829/the-daily-show-journalism-satire-or-just-laughs

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/arts/television/17kaku.html?pagewanted=all

But to bite the news, as the comedians would have it, requires a certain kind of news story. I was recently asked to write a 300-word story a week for the electronic newsletter of a public access television station.  I told the millennial editor in charge I had no access to 300-word stories. She was convinced a 300-word story was the précis of a 1500-word one, or a 13,000 word one (I chose that figure in honor of Norman Lewis, whose 1969 multi-thousand word story, “Genocide in Brazil”, was the longest ever published by the London Sunday Times. It resulted in the founding of Survival International and was later published as The Missionaries: God Against the Indians. You see where this is headed.)

Norman Lewis, journalist, author of The Missionaries: God Against the Indians, and a long-form news story, “Genocide in Brazil”, which helped found Survival International.

The young editor was entirely uninterested in,  and non-comprehending of,  the conceptual parameters of the 300-word story.

It is the crux of 21st century journalism.

News is not the promotion of your music video,  your comedy routine, or any other kind of advocacy. Still, Jon Stewart, Seth Myers, Johnny Carson, every comedian whose daily bread was political commentary is biting the 300-word story – and never the 15,000-word Pulitzer Prize winning series on violence in the Philadelphia public schools.

Among other things, the 300-word story needs to be about someone we all recognize. There is no space to describe and introduce anybody.  For the same reason, this well-known person needs to be in an instantly recognizable setting,  making a gesture – a soundbite isn’t as good – within the context of his celebrity and environment that is also instantly recognizable.  From this instantly comprehensible vignette, the comedians start their riff. Or apply, if you will, their meta political critique.

The perfect 300-word story — a recognizable person making a recognizable gesture —  is the crux of journalism for the 21st century.  (P. S. If Britney can make it through 2007, you can make it through today.)

The 300-word story requires access to celebrities doing stuff.  The medium — 300 words — ensures that celebrity news will probably be the cockroach, or the PVC shopping bag with a biological half-life of 500,000 years, that survives us all.

The only people who can produce 300-word stories are beat reporters – one reason I’m mesmerized by the TMZ paparazzi and their dubious, but incredibly hotttt, SUV enterprise journalism. I don’t blame Britney for falling for Adnan Ghalib. The great chronicler of Britney’s meltdown, Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, didn’t either:  Ghalib winds up begging Grigoriades to be gentle with the mentally unstable superstar.

The 300-word story is the medium for the 21st century. Our problem is that it is the message too, and that long-form print journalism which ends genocide, or, like the  Philadelphia Inquirer series which recently won the Pulitzer Prize for uncovering violence in the public schools, will disappear. Hip-hop soundbite news, the Afro pomo homo pastiche, is the only one which can compete for our internet attention. Our problem is how to package the 50,000 word story in three hundred, or 140 Tweet characters, for such information consumers as Joe Weisenthal, the finance blogger. A recent, 2,887-word profile of Weisenthal suggests him as my prototypical 21st century news consumer . He wakes up at 3:50 a.m. in his apartment just north of the Financial District in New York City and Tweets  What did I miss?
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/joe-weisenthal-vs-the-24-hour-news-cycle.html?pagewanted=all

To summarize the points of reference in the discussion of 21st century journalism, and to make a critical point: how to write the 300-word story, especially for television news, is no big secret. In 1965 they were telling us that the secret of writing a three-minute news story for television was to say what the story was you were about to tell, to say, now I’m telling you the story, and then to say, this is the story I just told you.

This is the story I just told you:

  1. As space for journalism decreases,  confusion about all its roles must be stripped away, and it is up to journalists to make this clear to their consumers.
  2. The role of journalism as government  and institution watchdog, meeting juridical standards of evidence, is the only prize we can afford to keep our eyes on. (Questions of monetization of internet news and truth police fall under this rubric.)
  3. LOL cats founder Ben Huh and Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell will be our models of millennial internet entrepeneurs defining news for the 21st century. They have the power, the motive, the opportunity. Do they have any clue? (The queer theory observation that the founders of TMZ and Gawker both are gay men fearlessly proselytizing gender equality and outing allegedly gay celebs, along with the gossip, the snark, the aggregated news, the curated comments,  falls under this rubric.)
  4. Joe Weisenthal, the 24/7 news vacuum, is our model consumer. (That the rush of megalo information, not just the surfing, is the medium of the 21st century news, and that Internet finance itself as well as finance journalism has created and valorized it, and will skew click-counting journalism values toward capitalism and the white boys, falls under this rubric.)

Joe Weisenthal, finance blogger, our typical 21st century journalism consumer. By Marvin Orellana for The New York Times.

Tomorrow:  Analysis of Ben Huh and Jesse Schell concepts of journalism

http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/cheezburgers-ben-huh-says-news-organizations-should-think-like-teenagers-if-they-want-to-survive/
http://www.niemanlab.org/2012/05/super-mario-cub-reporter-jesse-schell-on-what-the-game-industry-could-teach-the-news-industry/

In the 1970s, Sander Vanocur told me something I’ve been thinking about ever since. The political satire in Johnny Carson’s monologue, he said, defined the heartland issues.

So it came as no surprise to me that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are a primary source of news for the young. The people whose knickers get in a twist around that haven’t been paying attention, first of all, to many things about journalism, beginning with the fact that the New Journalism (invented at Esquire magazine in the 1960s), now half a century old, imparted new information about what was then the counterculture in a new way. Talese’ story on Frank Sinatra is considered the first wave of all the dreary j-school classes of what I now think they call creative non-fiction?
http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1003-OCT_SINATRA_rev_

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Sh...

Host Jon Stewart in the studio of The Daily Show in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t go to j school, was the advice the old reporter gave me when I set out for college. Study philosophy, history, phys ed, pottery. You can learn journalism in six weeks. So can its consumers, and so they do.

People whose knickers get into a twist about Stewart and Colbert being peoples’ primary source of news may or may not be professors of journalism, stuffed shirts, or white boys with a vested interest in the circle-jerk method of covering politics, of which Politico is the successful internet avatar. I think we know who the wedgie ones are:

Venise Wagner, associate chair of the journalism department at San Francisco State University, argues with her students over whether “The Daily Show” is real journalism. They think it is; she tells them it isn’t, explaining that journalism involves not just conveying information but also following a set of standards that includes verification, accuracy and balance.

But she says “The Daily Show” does manage to make information relevant in a way that traditional news organizations often do not, and freedom from “balance” shapes its success. “‘The Daily Show’ doesn’t have to worry about balance. They don’t have to worry about accuracy, even. They can just sort of get at the essence of something, so it gives them much more latitude to play around with the information, to make it more engaging,” Wagner says.
http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4329

I have no stats on this, but my nose for news tells me the boys-on-the-bus coverage is alienating to voters, and assists the unscrupulous right in its 40 year mission to keep voter turnout low, so they can win, by defining single issues like abortion or same-sex marriage as political matters, which they’re not. I submit to you not that women know better, but that what real political coverage is, is what the League of Women Voters does. The League of Women Voters writes non-partisan policy papers delineating issues without prejudice. I am not familiar enough with their work to say whether or not they add a one-sentence value neutral assessment of what place this issue takes in bona fide conservative (not party) philosophy, and in bona fide liberal philosophy. I suspect they avoid this. I think respectful attention to non-partisan political philosophy is central to the democracy, to political issues, and to what people want to know about the news.

The parsing of the political news for its real meaning is what Stewart and Colbert do. This is what political coverage of 21st century news should be doing, League of Women Voters issues analysis in a cellphone screen-sized format. Naturally Stewart and Colbert parse stories with LULZ value, and this is the bias of their news coverage. I learned from the hordes of people of every color watching Jerry Springer that yeah, people like freaks, geeks, and catfights. But they are absolute junkies for adjudication. The developmental psychiatrist Kohlberg based an entire sexist male template on little boys’ penchant for adjudication — you could say it was arguing over whether or not the ball was inside or outside.

Adjudication is a spectator sport.

Concentration camp survivors say the observation of injustice, of all the things one can suffer in extremity, is extremity’s most corrosive experiece. Primo Levi writes, in The Reawakening, of what has been called metaphysical guilt:

…the shame a just man experiences…at another man’s crime; the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist, that it should have been introduced irrevocably into the world of things that exist, and that his will for good should have proved too weak or null, and should not have prevailed in defense.

Having our noses rubbed in the shameless injustice of politics as practiced for the cameras and for Politico, for the jockeying social aspirations and tin soldier power plays of editors from Wauchula, causes the metaphysical guilt which keeps us from voting.

In any case, adjudication seems nearly instinctual, and the feral, thug-life version of it still forms the way newspapers, online and elsewhere, still cover politics. The competition between politicians is of no interest to us. We like competitive sports — I am noting the importance of soccer players and fandom in the Islamist Algerian wars and in the Egyptian spring uprising — we like freaks and geeks, but covering politics like sports keeps us away from the polls and empowers the heartlessly cynical new right puppetmeisters of the racist hegemony of the last 40 years. One old hippie I know says he doesn’t even think they’re racist. They just use it as a tactic. I respect a racist more.

The New Journalism method of covering these political issues would be to find somebody whose story illustrates the problem, and do a profile of that person. So what you’d have is not a horserace story about the cross-talk between loathsome selfish ideologues shutting down the government on the specious Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge, but, rather, a talk with Grover. A discussion about the tactics one guy uses every day to be powerful enough to single-handedly close down the U.S. government. Grover is the beat, all the rest of those people are ants on his melon.

Grover Norquist at a political conference in O...

Grover Norquist at a political conference in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You say Grover doesn’t talk to the media? I refer you to the Talese Sinatra story, a masterpiece of how to write a story about somebody who won’t talk to you. The political journalism lesson of Watergate that everyone seems to have forgotten is that the White House news does not exist at the White House.

Newspapers get all caught up in that basically because provincial editors want to be invited to the White House correspondents’ dinner and check out Lindsay Lohan’s, or Tim Geithner’s,  tits.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/27/AR2009042700891_pf.html

To have One’s Own Reporter at the White House is the mark of the publisher’s influence either on national policy or society; the reporter is not so secretly viewed as being the publisher’s lobbyist. And the game is on,  the game of political journalism in which news coverage is seen both as a prize and a critique. It leads to such perfectly logical apotheoses as the politician John Edwards’ consulting the actor Sean Penn and movie director Paul Haggis on how to spin his bimbo eruption. That essential rats-in-a-bottle perversion of politics was the other lesson of Watergate, in All the President’s Men — that Washington was Hollywood and Hollywood was Washington.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/features/dcmovies/postinfilm.htm

So, how to cover politics for the 21st century is no secret. The tools have been here for 50 years, whether you call it the New Journalism, Johnny Carson’s monologue, or the Jon Stewart effect.

End political journalism as we know it. It is literally destroying our world.

Technorati’s top ten websites 5.7.12.

The Washington Post lost $22 million in its last quarter, are aggressively buying out senior, rain-making, prize-winning reporters, and apparently turning the newsroom into a click-thru sweatshop, complete with a screen recording story hits in real time.

The bigfeet reporters are worried.
http://www.adweek.com/news/press/secret-meeting-has-washington-post-buzzing-140036

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting rid of expensive old reporters and replacing them with young ones.

I do think there is a difference between the clickhound journalism of Gawker or The Mail Online, however, and reporters.

News is curated for the public good. You need to keep your eyes on the prize. I think the public good is high, if not universal, voter turnout, and the journalism version of Friday Night Lights. Grassroots issues and community.

The Washington Post needs to figure out what that prize is, and cover the two local industries they have — U.S. politics and Chocolate City — with what I’m thinking of as Freakonomics Politico, a journalism paradigm for the 21st century. I think the old avatar of Freako Politico is Mike Davis, the Marxist. His City of Quartz is probably the very best Holy Shit Story of his generation, as Steven Levitt (I am still checking him out) may be of his generation.

Everybody knows from writing their own blogs what gets the most clix. Use the word porn in your headline and your clix will increase 20 fold.

I once posted a photograph to Flickr of the weird python-like process of creating and stuffing a cloth doll. I called it Getting Stuffed. It got nearly a thousand hits in two hours until I changed the headline. In 10 years of blogging privately, this Getting Stuffed photograph was my greatest hit in what we shall call, for journalism curriculum purposes, the Scandanavian Christmas Elf Tomte Syndrome:

Getting stuffed.

So the perfect capitalist tool of a newspaper, as WaPo president and general manager Steve Hills  seems to have told the senior reporters, to maximize the website, would be 10 rainmakers, 1,000 clix drones, and the words “Getting Stuffed” in every headline. Today’s lede stories in the NYT:

At Cusp of Major Power, Bo Xilai Gets Stuffed by Own Hard Tactics

A Scramble as Biden Gets Stuffed on Same Sex Marriage

Stock Trading Is Still Getting Stuffed After ’08

Hollande Calling for ‘Get Stuffed’ Amid Cuts in Europe

Even more trenchantly, for the clix hix, this minute’s top four most e-mailed stories from the NYT:

For the Hard of Hearing, Clarity Out of the Getting Stuffed

When Illness Makes a Spouse Get Stuffed

Those Getting Stuffed Europeans

Black Women and Getting Stuffed

Stephen P. Hills, ad guy, Harvard B School, former San Mateo, CA sports reporter. President and general manager of The Washington Post.

Good luck with that. Other newspapers are making it online, as the Technorati top ten screen cap shows. Why can’t the Post?

One, no one in the national and international audience a website is going for is interested in the politics they cover or the way they cover it. Stop being provincial.  Let Politico do that for the local wonk readership; they like it, they’re good at it, let the tiny niche wonk market go.

Two, The Root D.C. is not a substitute for covering The Post’s other great franchise, Chocolate City. Last I checked, the demographics for black people in the D.C. metro area were that they were the best-educated, richest per capita black people in the U.S. and probably in the world. The Post’s new Root D.C. website is attempting real time coverage of the grassroots issues for people of color the world over inherent in the local coverage of Chocolate City. There never was a story like the D.C. riots, which the late Bob Maynard, the founder of the Maynard Institute, covered for The Washington Post wearing his clogs. There never was a story like Marion Barry or the suburbanization into redneck Prince George’s County of D.C.’s upwardly mobile Talented Tenth.  I’d simply like to point out to you that Ron We’re-an-empire-now Suskind, one of the great Freako Politico reporters, won his Pulitzer prize in The Wall Street Journal, telling the story of one black kid trying to get though the D.C. schools and into the Ivy League. And The Wire, recently voted the best TV show of the last 25 years by New York magazine, was set in inner city Baltimore and written by a Baltimore reporter.

Eyes on the prize, Hills. You’re not from around here, are you? Get George Pelecanos to give you some story ideas.

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