29.5.08

Hawk-Dove

The United States presidential election, 2008:

The United States presidential election of 2008 was held on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 to elect the 44th President of the United States of America. It was the 56th consecutive quadrennial election for the president and vice president of the United States. Republican candidate John Sidney McCain III, the senior United States Senator from Arizona, defeated Democratic candidate Barack Hussein Obama, the junior United States Senator from Illinois - the first African-American presidential nominee in United States history. The domestic economic recession and downfall of the American economy was the focal point of the lengthy campaign season. Democratic control of the White House seemed inevitable until an "October Surprise" of unprecedented magnitude, The 24 Scenario, gripped the American psyche and handed the presidency to McCain in a landslide victory.

Background: The 24 Scenario

Named for its similarity to a situation in the popular American dramatic television series "24" The 24 Scenario came to public attention on October 3, 2008. With Barack Obama holding a 55-41 lead over McCain in nationwide polls, a news story broke with a purported Al Qaeda video. In it, Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed that Al Qaeda had smuggled and hidden a nuclear "suitcase bomb" into the United States and would detonate the explosive unless all "the sons of Islam were released from US run prisons and CIA Black Sites across the world by the 15th of November."

Response and the Lead-Up to Election

A furious hunt for the weapon ensued and the world's delegations at the United Nations were removed to a summit in Berlin to discuss a response to the situation. Americans fled urban centers by the millions; the population of New York City plummeted from approximately 8.5 million to 5 million just four days after the Al Qaeda tape appeared. This became the largest mass evacuation in United States history.

While the immediate focus turned to sitting president, George W. Bush, whose waning days as a "lame duck" president were reversed and thrust into an unprecedented international crisis once again, a sudden and drastic shift in American political sentiment was also registered in the only poll taken between the October 3 announcement and the November election. In it, John McCain leaped from a 14-point deficit, with seemingly little hope of victory, to an astounding 65-30 lead just seven days after the story broke.

The American public demanded an immense military response to the threatened attack and rallied to McCain's hawkish promise to "find them and destroy them." The moderation and promise of engagement with foreign nations, including enemies, that had characterized Obama's vision of diplomacy - and won welcome praise from many Americans, if not talking heads, after eight years of unilateral Bush policies - suddenly fell completely out of favor. Further, his proposed view to "look at the source of this antagonism - look at the lack of justice in these prisons" while, simultaneously, searching out the bomb, and Zawahiri in the mountains of Pakistan were seen by most Americans as "Doveish" and not of sufficiently retaliatory rhetoric.

On election day a record-low turnout ensued with most major urban centers emptied of voting ranks. The result was an enormous victory for McCain by a margin of 70-25.

The Fallout

On November 11, 2008, days after the election, it was discovered that the video from Zawahiri had been produced inside the United States and dubbed over with a computer generated imitation of Zawahiri's voice. Still, the public worried this did not necessarily mean there was no suitcase bomb. Yet November 15th passed and the prisoners remained in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere without incident. While many credited George Bush's "military manhunt" - which included cooperation from NATO and United Nations peacekeeping forces - in the mountainous Peshawar region of Pakistan for once again uprooting Al Qaeda manpower and disabling any capability to detonate, or deliver instructions to detonate, the weapon, others began to propose that the entire crisis was a hoax.

The Capture of Osama Bin Laden

In the mountains of Pakistan a British Special Forces unit detained a group of senior Al Qaeda officials after a two-day long firefight. Among them was 9/11 financier and mastermind Osama Bin Laden who claimed that Zawahiri had died the previous July and had produced neither a video nor a suitcase bomb before his death.

28.5.08

Great To Be White

I spent a few days over the Memorial Day weekend in Woodstock, New York for my friend's birthday. We walked a long, paved path up the side of a mountain in the Catskills on a beautiful, warm day. Hundreds of people along the path - a great caucus of whiteness; people with plenty of leisure time, everyone greeting the total strangers they passed on the trail with a big smile and a hearty "Hello!" What is it about a bunch of white people in one place, on a nice day, and the impulse to say hi to every person they pass?

I know the conventional wisdom is that New Yorkers are rude, brusque. They rush place to place, loathe to say hello to some schmucky stranger on the street. It's just not true. Well, it's less true in Brooklyn than it is in Manhattan. I think that's a safe generalization. Sure, during the rush hours, people are harried and don't stop for much. But then suburbanites driving to their Merrill Lynch headquarter in New Jersey don't wave to the people they pass in their Porsche Cayenne's either, do they? In my neighborhood there are plenty of nods and chin-chucks and "oh-right"s tossed about on the streets. I don't know these people, but you pass a dude sitting on a stoop and make eye contact: nod, "oh-right."

But the white greeting is a totally different creature. I remember growing up in Princeton, New Jersey and going out on Sunday afternoons in town. Thousands of families with kids and strollers, a vast sea of smiling white faces. I feel like there's a subtext to that brand of greeting: "great to be white." It's a detail worthy of a "Stuff White People Like" mention; "Other White People." It's cute really, a bunch of white people out and about in some affluent rural/suburban oasis all thrilled that every person they pass is white!

There's one! the white stroller-pusher thinks to him or herself "Hello! (Great to be white)" There, another, and with a stroller! "Huzzah, friend! (Great to be white)"

I don't think this kind of thing really happens in, say, South Dakota, because everyone there is white anyway. It's these little liberal enclaves like Woodstock, Princeton, Greenwich, Scarsdale (is Scarsdale still really white? I'm not sure) where our people are thrilled for the sunny day and waltzing unfettered by otherness through the downtown arches. A guilty pleasure for the limousine liberal.

When I arrived in Brooklyn, the "oh-right" greeting on the streets was a little odd. But now I understand it. "Oh-right" is just all the acknowledgment you need: "I'm here, you're there, we both exist, oh-right." That's it.

Yes, fellow white person, I know you exist. But everytime we acknowledge that, it doesn't need to be accompanied with a snarky little celebration.

20.5.08

Park Slope Hate

Lynn Harris wrote a fine piece in Sunday's NY Times chronlicling and investigating Park Slope hate among Brooklynites. But, I have to disagree with Josh Grinker, owner of Stone Park Cafe in Park Slope, who said people hate Park Slope because, "they're jealous they can't live here." As enticing Grinker's "cedar-planked salmon and quinoa pilaf" merchandise sounds (actually, it sounds like a description of the symptoms of a venereal disease), I think I'll stick with "sardines and chick peas." I'm about as jealous of people in Park Slope as I am of people in Greenwich, Connecticut.

That said, there are a couple of good points made in Harris' article that should be interrogated. The first is made by Jeff Sandgrund who's lived in Park Slope his whole life: "Hipsters and people who don’t have kids are terrified of becoming grown-ups and parents," says Sandgrund, "which is what Park Slope has come to represent. So you lash out against that as if it’s the worst thing in the world, when in five years, you know what? It’s going to be you."

Fair enough, we'll all be parents. But I think he's a bit off point. If us youngsters just hated the idea of being parents and "grown-up," whatever that means, wouldn't we hate young black and hispanic mothers in Bed-Stuy and East New York with vigor, as well? What makes the white, troll-mothers of Park Slope particularly reprehensible is their sense of arrogance and entitlement, as though they were the first person ever to have a child, So please, It is 1am on Friday night, I hear you down there on the street and I am calling the cops. As Chris Rock said, "even roaches have kids."

However, I'm sure there are many people for whom Sandgrund's critique holds water. But, for me, I don't think it speaks to what I find objectionable amongst that set.

Second point to look at: "This whole thing sounds like white people being annoyed by and jealous of other white people, which I find kind of funny,” said James Bernard, a union organizer and a member of the local Community Board 6. “I live in the Slope. I love it. I talk about it as much as anyone else does. But I founded a charter school near Brownsville and I don’t hear anyone talking about Park Slope over there.”

Well, duh, dipshit. If you'd been in Fort Greene or Gowanus or Clinton Hill twenty years ago you wouldn't have heard anyone talking about the Upper East Side, either. We're talking about real estate and money. If you're in Brownsville, you probably don't have the duckets to live in Park Slope, so why would you be a part of the conversation? You're just a human pinball waiting for the gentrification-paddle to move in and thwack you out of the way and into Canarsie. And never mind the cultural-imperialism and Conrad-esq tones of "civilized vs. savage" invective in the subtext of Bernard's statement.

There are plenty of good reasons to hate on Park Slope. The arrogance and entitlement inherent in a stroller the size of an Escalade betrays the ignorance of that vehicle's pusher and the role he or she plays in the socio-economic imperialism sweeping Brooklyn. Fine. But we should have all been on that page a long time ago, and we weren't.

What hating Park Slope is really about is white self-loathing. Hating Park Slope is lazy. It's so, so easy. If you want to hate on white people gentrifying a neighborhood, start with yourself in Fort Greene. Or, yourself in Clinton Hill. Or, yourself in Bed-Stuy. Park Slope was lost long ago, and who cares, fuck that place. I don't want your gonorrhea sounding fish spread anyway.

But looking out at others and criticizing is ignorant and unproductive. Start with YOU. Start with, What Does It Mean For Me To Live On Classon Avenue? Or Franklin Avenue. Or Gates Avenue. Just because you're in the minority now, just because you feel like you live in an "authentic" neighborhood now, don't mean shit. They'll all be Park Slopes in a decade.

So fine, let's all get behind an MacLaren Stroller Targeted IED Regimen for Park Slope. But you better look hard and deep at what you're doing to Gowanus. Because the mother in Park Slope is not the issue. The hipster in Bushwick, the 22-year old yuppie in Clinton-Hill, the artist in Bed-Stuy. We're the ones who owe up some answers.

19.5.08

"Goldeneh Medina" - Richard Price's "Lush Life"

"What we have here now is bars and college students vomiting on the streets. Nothing will rise out of it. It's all vacuous and lacking substance. When I go out my door now, I don't see anyone I know. I see the loss of a community." This is Clayton Patterson's take on Manhattan's Lower East Side in a 2005 interview with The NY Times. It is an opinion of the neighborhood that Richard Price's new novel, "Lush Life," might share.

Like Price's other heavy-hitter novels, like "Clockers," "Lush Life" uses a criminal investigation - a murder investigation - as the story's backbone. A trio of two friends and one acquiantance stumble home from a night of vomiting up alcohol on LES sidewalks when they are confronted by an improv stick-up duo from the nearby Lemlichs projects. One of the three, Ike Marcus, steps to the project boys with a "not tonight, my man." Bap. "Death By Mouth."

The rest of the story teases out the murder investigation set against a backdrop of young, educated hopes and dreams, 30-year old realizations of failure, the desperate, no-aim energy of young black and hispanic project life, and the dissintegrating grime of Clayton Patterson's Lower East Side. The frustrated New York Police Department holds all the cards, and none at the same time in "Lush Life." They are a club wielded by a public opinion that, as soon as it strikes its target, seems to let go and regard the weapon quizically with no regard for the hand that guided it.

Clayton Patterson said of his documentary, "Captured," that captured 30-years of LES history: "It's not an archive of the rich and cool. It's about the tragic, glorious, sometimes depressing history of the Lower East Side." Price's "Lush Life," unlike "Captured," takes that history of the Lower East Side and smashes it up against the "archive of the rich and cool." This struggle is the subtext of "Lush Life" and it is the book's motor. The only real direct confrontation of those two worlds is Marcus' murder. Beyond that, both spheres are warily aware of the other; one arrogant and dismissive, the other resentful and clueless of the forces bumping against their borders.

Nobody wins or loses in this push and shove, people just get hurt in different ways. The young and upwardly mobile gain ground, lose perspective (if they had any to begin with). The young and hopeless are pushed against, will be removed to some outer-borough eventually, but are already at rock bottom, have nowhere further to drop. The only thing that comes out worse in the end is Patterson's neighborhood.

Cafe Berkmann, a bar central to the action of "Lush Life" which is a clear stand-in for the real-life LES hip-spot, Schiller's, is the neighborhood's time capsule. Its basement is littered with century and a half old hearths where Jewish immigrants once huddled for warmth, carved their names into the hefty wooden I-beams that were the four-foot high ceilings of their lives, and became the subjects of Jacob Riis photography. Upstairs is the dining room of the beautiful and young, where 30 is well-past over the hill. Everyone on the verge of sex, high on each other, about to be great.

"Lush Life" is part of a giant sigh that the LES has been exhaling for years. Its breath is short, and when it's out, the contributions of Price and Patterson will join the work of people like Jacob Riis in the archives of a neighborhood stomped, crushed, and distorted by arrogance and entitlement.

Detritus

Monday morning. Well, at least our internet is back up at work. Friday was a pretty scary day. Here's a recap:

From Friday, May 16

I sat down this morning to check my e-mail and partake in the obligatory Friday morning two hour warm-up to doing any work – a practice which includes offering my roommates shitty trades in our fantasy baseball league that they won’t accept in an attempt to wrest away a star shortstop, reading the New York Times, Talking Points Memo, The New Yorker, checking Google Analytics, and posting something nasty on a message board somewhere out there in internet world. I opened my browser and the New York Times, my homepage, failed to load. I turned off my computer and tried again. No luck! Then, my phone rang. It was one of the IT guys, Chip:

“Alexander.”
“Yes?”
“Are you on the YouTube?” (Yes, our IT guy refers to YouTube with the same comprehension as George Bush who calls Google “The Google.” And yes, usually I am on YouTube at some point, but not today. My homepage wouldn’t even load.)
“No, I’m not Chip.”
“Well it says you’re on The YouTube on our computers.”
“Well I’m not.”

I hung up, and a few minutes later Chip sent out an e-mail: “Sprint says there is something wrong in one of their circuits in our neighborhood. We have no internet access. I will update you when it is fixed.”
It is now 3:09 pm. We still have no internet.

9:37: A half-dozen attorneys and partners wandered out of their offices over the past thirty minutes to ask if we, too, had no internet access. Yes. Read your e-mail. I haven’t seen the upper ranks so disgruntled since the time our coffee machine broke because someone poured water into the wrong hole. And that just got replaced forty minutes later.

11:08: I’m so bored I’m doing work. I can see my Gmail in basic HTML view. I have no new mail. Otherwise, still out of contact.

11:19: I have no more work.

12:48: I’m leaving for lunch. Usually, I am for 1:30-2:00 as the start of my lunch hour. My deli clears out and I’m pretty much the only person there to read and eat in peace and quiet. But today I need to get the fuck out of here.

----------

That's as far as the running log got before everyone freaked out and smashed their computers hoping to plug the wires directly into their brains for internet connectivity. It didn't work.

In further news, my friend Ike and I went to an LES favorite, Schiller's, last Thursday and met a couple of women who work for the UN. We asked them if John Bolton had been as big an asshole as he seemed. "Oh yeah," they said, "huge asshole, we all hated him." Then we asked what countries' delegations had affairs going on in-chamber. There were a lot! I'd tell you, but these people do have diplomatic immunity. We all saw Lethal Weapon 2. So I'm not tempting fate.

15.5.08

"The Sopranos has nothing on Friends"

Well, I was going to post a link to this new Ghostface and Raekwon track - "The Raw G Hide" - thereby staying ahead of your tastes in music (unless you saw the track posted on The Fader before me... let's not consider that) and proving that my tastes reflect independent judgment and not just my inevitable location on a chart where everybody's "favorite" music and books correspond exactly to their income level and education.

But then I went to n+1 to check up on the Intellectual Scene and I was informed that, "Staying ahead of other people's taste is how you show that your taste reflects independent judgment, and not just your inevitable location on a chart where everybody's "favorite" music and books correspond exactly to his income level and education." FUCK!

Why do I love hip-hop? Maybe n+1's argument deromanticizes my fascination, although I hope, and think, not entirely. Maybe, as a rich white kid, liking hip-hop is just a savvy play on my part. No more interesting than if I happened to get in on Google stock at $200/share. Not even groundfloor. High, but low enough and fortunate enough, for me, that I'd look like a genius, and be rich, when the shit started trading at $750.

I got lucky, had a good friend that got me hooked on 36 Chambers freshman year of high school and by the time every white kid junior year of college knew all about the lyrics to T.I.'s "What You Know About That" I cashed in: A hip-hop question? A word on a new album? "Where's that rich white guy from Princeton? He knows all that shit." My cultural tastes distinct, refined, and respected.

By the end of senior year I could pack 70 people in a classroom to listen to me talk for an hour about Nas, Scarface, and cultural imperialism like I was Frantz Fanon reincarnated in a vessle that would suggest Fanon had quite the sense of irony. I traded on the hip-hop hype cycle with the dexterity of Mike Milken in the junk-bond markets.

"The problem with hype," writes the n+1 crew in the Intellectual Scene, "is that it transforms the use value of a would-be work of art into its exchange value. For in the middle (there's no end) of the hype cycle, the important thing is no longer what a song, movie, or book does to you. The big question is its relationship to its reputation. So instead of abandoning yourself to the artifact, you try to exploit inefficiencies in the reputation market. You can get in on the IPO of a new artist, and trumpet the virtues of the Arctic Monkeys before anyone else has heard of them: this is hype. Or you issue a "sell" recommendation on the overhyped Arctic Monkeys: this is backlash. But there are often steals to be found among recently unloaded assets: "Why's everybody hatin' on the Arctic Monkeys?" says the backlash-to-the-backlash. The sophisticated trader is buying, selling, and holding different reputations all at once; the trick in each case is to stay ahead of the market. And the rewards from this trade in reputations rebound to your own reputation: even though the market (i.e., other people) dictates your every move, you seem to be a real individual thinking for yourself."

Well, shit.

Of course, by writing this, one could say I play even more craftily on the hype markets: "Nothing equals the pride of the self-lacerator." But I'm still gonna listen to Ghostface and Raekwon. And you can, too. I don't think I'm cynical enough, sociopathic enough, to simply trade on hip-hop. But I can't say it's not there either.

Damn. I'm hungry. Why do I want a steak from Ruth's Chris so badly? (Listen to the track)

14.5.08

Your Summer Guide to The Real World Brooklyn

If you haven't heard, or heard, or heard, or heard, the end is nigh, Brooklyn Bumpkins. Yes, that is The Real World that will be filming in Our Fair Borough this summer. How sweet it is, indeed! I've heard of this show before, I think, when I was one year old and The Real World was cool and novel, just like Crystal Pepsi.

How apropos for the show that started in New York City 21 years ago to come of drinking age in the borough those first participants all now inhabit, laden with Baby Bjorn carriers and associate positions at firms in the Financial District.

Of course, this isn't the end of the world for Brooklyn. The Real World taking on your town is post-apocalyptic - these are Brueghel's skeletons in "Il Trionfo della Morte" come to gather the earth's last souls and drag them into Lucifer's realm. The Real World in Brooklyn is no harbinger; it is so far past the end of the book it's the backside of the back cover.

The big question is in what neighborhood MTV's esteemed producers will decide to open the Hell Mouth. Most blog activity points to, duh, the Bedford L area. This is fine with me, and I'll openly lobby for it. If that's the locale, then when a critical mass for the Trash Bar accumulates it can be deflated with the hope of avoiding the film crews. Poor indie rock bands. Poor, poor indie rock bands. Your shows will be ruined. Unless you're into that kind of thing, in which case your shows were ruined long before.

As entertaining as it would be, I somehow doubt the execs will go for Dave Chappelle's "Mad Real World" model and stick the rubes in, say, Brownsville:

Chad: Tyree, you stabbed my dad! And you had sex with Katie.
Tyree: Hey man, you got that all wrong. I ain't had sex with Katie. Lysol had sex with Katie. I just filmed it.
Katie: No, Tyree, you had sex with me too.
Tyree: Correction: I had sex with Katie.

For my sleeper neighborhood pick, I'm going to go with the Prospect Heights region. Somehow I can't see a season of The Real World warping through Brooklyn without it ruining my weekend night at a Bar That Will Remain Unnamed So You Fuckers Don't Go There.

Of course, the benefit of all this, is our opportunity to visit physical harm on the bodies of Real World participants. Get your ice-picks and prison-yard shanks ready, Brooklyn. And like that dude in The Sopranos said, "Aim for the fleshy part of the thigh."

But keep in mind, while you sharpen that spork, that a shanking of a Real World cast-member, is really just a shanking of yourself. They're here, because you're here. We've visited this upon ourselves. As Mephistopheles said to Faustus in Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" when Faustus asked how Mephistopheles came to be out of hell if he'd been banished there for eternity: "Why this is hell, nor am I out of it./ Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/ And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/ Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?"

We've all got Mephistopheles in us, now.

Justice - "DVNO"

We've had our fill of serious discussions on music videos for the next minute here at The Skillman. For a change of pace, check out this kitschy Justice video for their track "DVNO". Gotta say, their videos sure can cover the whole spectrum. "Details make the girls sweat."

13.5.08

A Clockwork Grand Theft Justice - The Kourtrajme Crew and Justice's "Stress" Video

"Is it real?" A lot of people asked me that after they watched the Romain Gavras directed music video for Justice's track "Stress". The video for the French electro-DJ-duo's track has spread about the internet by way of Kanye West's blog* and is now surrounded by online chatter thanks to its graphic violence.

So, is it real? Who cares. Yes. That one dude puked on himself. It is real. The Kourtrajme Crew are guerilla filmmakers - Larry Charles ("Borat" director) with a chip on their shoulder. But that's beside the point. More importantly, let's talk about what, if anything, watching young kids in Paris beating people up accomplishes. Does it need to accomplish anything?

Might as well start at the beginning: The band and the song's title. A professor of mine once corrected a statement I made about the first sentence in a book being the most important by noting that the book's title might make a claim to that significance as well. In the case of Justice's "Stress" that is definitely the case. Those two words, "Justice" and "Stress," are so present during the track they may as well have been watermarked over the whole video's footage.

Whose stress does the title address? It is present in at least two forms; the stress of the group of kids, out of which comes the catharsis of beatings and robbery, and the stress which is felt by the recipients of that violence. The only moment when the kids feel stress - most of their action is cool and composed, effective and vigilant - is when they are confronted at the elevator by the police like a Roman legion and a Carthaginian horde meeting mid-battlefield. At that moment, the kids erupt in screams, push back on the police wall and then disperse. They are guerillas; hit and run tacticians effective when striking and disappearing quickly. When they get a cop alone, separate him from the strength of the group, they beat the shit out of him and take off.

Justice leaves a more elusive mark on the footage. Stress is fairly objective. The evidence is almost quantifiable. Justice is subjective. A very lazy person can make a case that will be widely accepted that the term "Justice" here is sarcastic, heretical. "There is no justice, they're just hooligans," they will say. But we are not lazy people. Watch the faces of the people in "Stress". What stands in starkest opposition is how calm the kids are as they slap a bewildered diner in the face, rough up a couple pedestrians (one of whom pukes on himself out of, what, fear? confusion?), and smash some Asian tourist's camera to the ground.

The black and white faces of the kids are placid, the faces of the people they encounter are wracked by confusion and dread. Language appears to fail these people. Their jaws hang slack. Their brows are furrowed as if they have just heard the voice of God and this is the moment before their over-matched brains explode like Matt Damon's in "Dogma".

Are those looks of shock, incomprehension, the "why me?" attitude, that far off from how it must feel to have the shit-dumb-luck to be born and raised in the notorious Clichy-sous-Bois to Arab or African or Arab-African parents who struggle to find work in Paris?

The catharsis in "Stress" is not the simple release of frustration through violence. The catharsis is in the familiarity of the twisted up I-don't-understand sensation that you have felt your whole life, manifested on someone else's face. Just for the few seconds the look is on that face, that person understands what it means to have shit-dumb-luck. The person knows how it feels to not deserve what you know you've got coming. The catharsis isn't for those kids. If they're willing to accept it, if we're willing to accept it, it's the first step to catharsis for the people they beat up.

We have no objective information that tells us that these kids come from French ghettos and are economically and emotionally depressed. Yes, the video starts in a Parisian slum that looks like Clichy-sous-Bois, but who knows, maybe these kids just go there to hang out and group up after their school day at some prestigious French high school ends. Maybe all their parents are computer programmers and lawyers. But I doubt it.

If we take our narrators - Justice and Romain Gavras - at their word, then the terms "Justice" and "Stress" are as sincere as the footage in the music video. We are watching Justice born from Stress.

"The only thing you need to understand is that there are only three ways out of the ghetto for people like us: sports, music or fashion," said Guy Diaz, a first generation son of Ivory Coast parents, who lives in Clichy-sous-Bois, to Frontline reporter Darren Foster in 2005, shortly after Paris' last big round of ghetto-born riots. Do those words sound familiar?

It was only - what, fifteen years ago? - that Notorious B.I.G. cemented into the hip-hop psyche that, "the streets is a short stop; either you're slingin' crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot." Bed-Stuy is different now. Not because the problems that plagued Biggie's upbringing were solved, or addressed, but because they were shipped upstate; to prisons, and towns like Schenectady (places that aren't dissimilar). The violence and riots in Paris' recent past betray similar problems there that were, and still are, unaddressed. Problems that take death and riots to acquire attention that is, at that point, reactionary and unproductive. Attention that seeks to meet out justice rather than address the causes of stress.

The end of the video shows the kids burn a car before turning on the camera filming them. Not the cameraman, but the actual camera. One kid spits on the lens while another brings a glass bottle down on the lens as well. The cameraman is not the subject of their rage, the camera is. How do we understand this? The camera is dangerous, the footage it contains is dangerous for the kids. But it also provides them with voice, an outlet; we are watching the footage after all. I think that the assault on the camera is an assault on us watching the video. It's confusing, why are they hitting the camera? And so you wind up with the same screwed up look on your face, "huh?" that every other victim in the video does. You've been met with random violence you don't understand. It's left, then, in your hands. Do you react to the action, or consider the cause?

When you ask "is it real?" to the video "Stress," you're asking the right question and you might not even know it. The answer, regardless, is yes.

*Bizarre, yes. But perhaps it was a bit of recompense on Kanye's part after he ripped off ODB's patented "Excuse Me While I Interrupt Your Lame Ass Acceptance Speech And Explain Why I Am Better And, Oh, By The Way, That Wu-Tang Is For The Children"-Move at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2006 when Jeremie Rozan accepted best music video award for Justice's track "We Are Your Friends" and Kanye begged to, publicly and at that moment, differ.

8.5.08

Ain't Nobody Dope As Me

What happened to you, Barack Obama? I had such high expectations, I thought you'd given me a promise of change, and hope.

Hope that I would never have to tie another goddamn Windsor Knot again.

Nicholas Antogiavanni, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, stated that, "Barack Obama -- unquestionably the hippest candidate for the presidency since John F. Kennedy -- may do to the tie what Kennedy helped do to the hat."

At the beginning of his presidential run, the tie hardly made an appearance around Obama's neck. Look at the cover of The Audacity of Hope - no tie. Out campaigning in Iowa, nary a tie. But as soon as the primary wins started rolling in, every victory speech was neatly circled with - admittedly dapper - neckties.
In August of '07, I went to a snooty Princeton, New Jersey fundraiser for Barack Obama to be attended by, among many others, Newark mayor Cory Booker, former Secretary of the Treasury, Michael Blumenthal, and, of course, The Man Himself. "Excellent!" I thought, "I'll have an immediate in with Obama. I'll eschew my Cam'ron-Pink DKNY, and we'll bond the moment he sees me, tie-less, around all the other tied-up blue-bloods!" But he arrived and there it was; a powder blue Gucci. Even Booker had one on!

What happened? Did the images of Ahmadinejad, collar open, at the UN give Axelrod and Co. the jitters? No flag pin, fine. But no tie? When we're about to nuke the dudes who shun the tie as a symbol of western cultural oppression? No go, Barack, lace 'em up.

It's really a shame. I was pretty excited about the idea of Obama not only changing the direction of American politics and policy but also getting us on-board his Chi-town style train. As long as it didn't include those damn Kanye "Stronger" shades...

Presidential fashion moves at a tectonic pace, true, but it's been 50 years since Kennedy did away with the hat - the man had no choice, it would have been sin to cover up that coiffe - I think we're ready for the next step. So I'm calling you out, Barack, inauguration day, let's get the shit to pop: No Tie Do Or Die.

7.5.08

Lurn Inglish Dum-Dum!

Thank you to Brad in Missoula, MT! His comment in reply to the "Ni****fication of Barack Obama" post - "Pat Buchanan hasn't said anything about black people that haven't been true" - proves once again that xenophobes can't speak English. Keep up the bad work at http://www.goodoleboybumperstickers.com/, yokel!

6.5.08

The Ni****fication of Barack Obama

It is now clear why America has been hedging its bets, keeping Hillary Clinton around, keeping Barack Obama at arms length - our first black friend and we're still not comfortable; wary of a yoking, a request for our lunch money. We've been waiting for the Michael Richards moment when the media could stand center-stage, point to the YouTube clip in the balcony and shout to the country, confirm what we suspected:

"Ni****!!! HE'S A NI****!!!"

Jeremiah Wright gave the media their opening and they ran with it like pitchfork-toting Dixiecrats to a Mississippi lynching. The calls for Barack Obama to distance himself from Wright were answered long ago. If distance from Reverand Wright is really what this is all about, then Barack's hilarious retort to Hillary's juvenile semantic quibble at a debate a couple months back - "If Hillary thinks 'denounce' is a stronger word than 'reject,' then I concede the point, I reject and denounce [Reverand Wright's words]" - should have been case closed.

But for CNN, MSNBC, Fox... it was never about allowing Obama to distance himself from Wright, it was about tying the two as close together as possible. "Look at the scary black men," whispered Wolf Blitzer's beard subliminally, "you were right, you still can't trust them."

MSNBC's disasters for analysts talked and talked and talked about the "Wright Controversy" (How apt a name? They should have just gone all the way; "The Right Controversy") while they sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat Buchanan.
Ol' Pat must be giddy on the inside; the white answer to Wright and instead of an end-of-the-line finale of embarassing YouTube clips, shunted by cable news, there he is. A daily fixture on cable news.

"How much time is the mainstream media going to spend castigating, dissecting, digging into Pat Buchanan for being the racial arsonist that he is?" asked Tavis Smiley on Real Time with Bill Maher. He continued later:

"What troubles me is that Jeremiah Wright gets dismissed as cuckoo, as being crazy, as being anti-American and now we want to poo-poo Pat Buchanan by saying 'oh, that's just Pat being Pat.' No, that doesnt work. If youre going to go after Jeremiah Wright the way they have, let's dissect what Buchanan has said."

Furthermore, let's discuss the apparatus that condones Pat's saying those things in front of a nightly, national audience.

But Buchanan is the authority here. The soothing fatherly voice assuring the good people of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio... that "...no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the '60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream." It's not you, assures Pat, it's them.

We knew it all along. We just needed a man in a dashiki to confirm our suspicion.

Justice - Stress

The video for Justice's track "Stress" is part Grand Theft Auto, part A Clockwork Orange. It's all mayhem. Those jackets. Badass. The video is directed by Romain Gavras, of the Kourtrajme Crew, around Paris. We might need to go into youth in Paris recent history on The Skillman pretty soon. For now, try not to break a sweat watching this.

5.5.08

A Burnt Out Case

I walked through "Boerum Hill" yesterday with a friend of mine who just moved to Park Slope from Manhattan. We joked about people who ask if The City is easily accessible from our Brooklyn digs. "Yeah, I guess." Or, "I sure hope not." Snarky and sarcastic. Fuck Manhattan, me Brooklyn. Bridge And Tunnel People And Proud Of It.

We stopped off at a few of the myriad antique stores that clutter Atlantic Avenue looking for furniture for my dude's still-bare apartment. All the stores seemed to have the same coporate distributor - all littered with the same weird crap store-to-store carrying the same $495 price tags. "Antique Crap Inc. - Supplying Brooklyn yuppies with a lot of whack shit."

The whole scene was only a step or two removed, repolished, and de-crackheadified from what the same block in Gowanus must have been twenty years ago when all those posh antique stores were pawn shops, probably stocking the same stuff as today with the decimal moved over a couple places: $4.95 - A lamp from a one-night stand picked off early the next morning and flipped for a fiver to score a rock. Brooklynites "on a mission."

We're the Axis force in the midst of its scissor grip on Paris in the spring of '40. We swing down the elite SS forces from Williamsburg - all answers and no questions, they may look, and be, malnourished, but they're ruthless; we pivot on the axis of disturbing DUMBO, and Tai-Chi-in-the-park-friendly Downtown Brooklyn; extend a reluctant arm south through Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, tip-toe into Red Hook. We've taken Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Park Slope... To the east is the Soviet front, a still insurmountable urban frontier armed for a war of attrition with apt and ominous titles like "East New York" (some sort of Bizarro Manhattan no doubt?) and "Brownsville." "What age is a black boy when he learns he's scary?" Asked Jonathan Lethem brilliantly, ruthlessly.

The girls in Manhattan are stuck up and cynical. With good cause? The targets of a hundred billion dollars of advertising focused on getting off their pants spearheaded by the fine chauvinists at Axe. Perhaps. Nevertheless; to greener pastures. In Brooklyn there is still room for freedom, a new patch to cultivate into something cool until the resources come to a boil, the money changes hands too freely, somewhere there's a reason to cash in: Scorched earth policy.

In Manhattan, there's no more space. 125th Street will be Disney-fied, too. The Dominican neighborhoods on 155th Street sure seem far, but haven't you heard? The South Bronx is the new Williamsburg. We've already forgotten the ghosts of 24-hour pornos, Kung-Fu movies, vibrant drug trade, and murder charges that littered Times Square just fifteen years ago, haven't we? I mean, Ghostface Killa, The GZA, Method Man, ODB... those guys weren't hanging out on 42nd street in the 80's to go to TGI Friday's.

I wear Brooklyn with pride. I love to say the word. Ask me where I live. Brooklyn. All pop on the front end and a garbled, Germanic crush of the middle consonants "kl" comes out something lethargic and phlegmy. Brukhcln. No time for prissy, syllabic annunciation like, "Man-hat-tan."

The Bronx is a vague idea. An itch that doesn't need scratching. Queens, you mean, like, where Frank and Estelle Costanza live? Staten Island may as well be Atlantis.

This is between us and Manhattan. "Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete."

2.5.08

"Turn your pager to 1992..."

I came home the other night in a cab, late, driven by an eastern European guy who, in retrospect, sounded a lot like Roman Bellic from GTA IV. Or maybe my memory has just cast him that way. Anyway, a block or two from my house my cabbie said, "This place, it used to be a jungle, my friend. I would not have driven you here a few years ago."

The refrain is nothing new and I've listened to Ready to Die enough times to know that, in Bedford-Stuyvesant of old, "****as is gettin' smoked G, believe me." But I wanted some specifics, so I trolled the internet for news stories about my street from back in the day. I woulda liked to have seen you, just for a minute, old New York.

Drug Ring Is Accused After Years Of Luxury
By JOSEPH B. TREASTER
Published: October 6, 1994

"After running one of the biggest heroin operations in New York for more than two decades, Charles Galletti tried slipping away to Puerto Rico three years ago to live a kind of early retirement, Federal law-enforcement officials said yesterday.... "I'd say if he was not running the major distribution group here, it was No. 2, and it was probably No. 1," said Carlo A. Boccia, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York.

Mr. Galletti started selling heroin on the Lower East Side in the late 60's, Federal authorities said. During his peak years, from 1985 to 1991, they estimated, Mr. Galletti was taking $800,000 in profits every month and living as lavishly as the Colombian drug lords who dominate the world traffic in cocaine....

Mr. Galletti spent another $50,000, she said, to build a private playground, complete with artificial turf, special high-intensity lighting and brightly painted fiberglass and metal swings, merry-go-round and jungle gym next to the Bedford-Stuyvesant house, at 69-71 Skillman Street. The only one who played there, unless especially invited, was his 8-year-old daughter, Christine."

Dealer Is Guilty In Gun Slaying Of Drug Battler
By ARNOLD H. LUBASCH
Published: January 30, 1991

"A man with a criminal record as a drug dealer was found guilty yesterday of the murder of a Brooklyn woman who had become a symbol of citizen courage in fighting drug traffic.

The victim, Maria Hernandez, was killed when she was struck in the head by one of five bullets fired from a car through a window of her first-floor apartment at 105 Starr Avenue in the Bushwick section early on Aug. 8, 1989.

The authorities described the shooting as retaliation by drug dealers for persistent efforts by Mrs. Hernandez and her husband, Carlos, to rid their neighborhood of drug dealing. At the end of a three-week trial in State Supreme Court, the jury convicted 28-year-old William Figueroa of murder in the case. The Brooklyn man, whose address was given as 253 Skillman Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section, faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison when sentenced Feb. 19 by Justice Francis X. Egitto, who conducted the trial."

Here's a bit of way back Skillman history:

From: "Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani"
By, Wayne Barrett and Adam Fifield

"Rudy Giuliani's maternal grandmother Adelina Stanchi came to America with her family from Naples in 1884 when she was two years old. Her mother died young, when she was thirteen, leaving her with the responsibility of raising her younger brother and sister, Andrew and Louise. Her father, Vincenzo Stanchi, who would eventually remarry, was a cigar manufacturer in Brooklyn. A tall, husky man, who favored pipes over cigars, Vincenzo owned the building at 206 Skillman Street where his family lived. He also owned a bar in the basement, as well as a stable in the backyard that housed ten horses, which he rented out to coach drivers."

From: "A History of the City of Brooklyn" - By, Henry Reed Stiles
Published 1869 - University of Michigan Press

"In East Brooklyn, were the whisky distilleries of Charles Wilson, Messrs. Wood & Co., and the Messrs. Bache. The first named was the oldest establishment of the kind in the city, having been in operation during a period of about seventeen years, and was located on the corner of Franklin avenue and Skillman Street. It contained accomodations for 800 cows, and consumed 120,000 bushels of grain a year, valued at $72,000 and 700 tons of coal, worth $3,800. Its products were 480,000 gallons of whisky per annum, valued at $120,000; and 165,000 barrels of swill were annually disposed of, for $9,150. The establishment had a capital of $50,000, and employed 18 hand, at an annual expense of $6,000, its works being operated by a 20-horse power engine."


More recently, this is the kind of press Skillman Street receives:

Taking the Two-Family Path
By JOYCE COHEN
March 9, 2008

"As natives of Seattle, where they paid $1,100 for a one-bedroom rental in a downtown neighborhood called Belltown, Brandon and Jette Starniri faced culture shock when they moved to New York three years ago and settled into a Brooklyn Heights walk-up.... After visiting open houses, they realized they needed help, so they made contact with Nahid Mollah, an associate broker at ReMax Today in Astoria, Queens, who had helped good friends of theirs find a house in Woodside....

Discouraged, Mrs. Starniri declared, “I am not looking at another house to fall in love with!” But Mr. Mollah insisted. He took them to a two-family house on Skillman Street in Clinton Hill [ed. note: it's Bed-Stuy, motherfucker], listed for $839,000. “Jette was so mad at me,” Mr. Mollah said. “I said, ‘Listen, this is everything you want,’ ” with original details and a big backyard. Mr. Starniri was still hung up on the neighborhood. “I am Google mapping it and saying: ‘No way. This is Bed-Stuy, five blocks away from the Monroe place,’ ” he said.

But, once there, they could see the beauty: plank floors, marble fireplaces, crown moldings. And this neighborhood was different. Construction was everywhere, even across the street. Though one house in their little row appeared abandoned, the rest were well kept. The day after closing, they noticed the back door was ajar. Inside, stray cats wandered. The place was empty, so there was nothing to steal. “I thought, this is good,” Mrs. Starniri said. “We are getting the break-in out of the way.”

A week later, it happened again. This time, the front door was open. “My heart just sank,” she said. The burglars had apparently entered through the roof hatch, a piece of wood with a hook. The kitchen counter and cabinets, which they had been planning to move upstairs, were gone. So was her toolbox and even her snacks: Diet Coke, Sun Chips and oatmeal cookies."

Finally, and most depressingly, we have this bit of brand-new news. This information comes from the folks at Brownstoner.com:

"Bed-Stuy Church Sold To Developer"

"The Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church recently sold off its big church on Skillman Street and Bedford Avenue, in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The property fetched $4,100,000, according to public records. A representative for the church said the only section of the property that it will retain control of is the parsonage, and that it hopes to continue to provide housing for priests there. One of the investors who purchased the property is Michael Lichtenstein, who is also currently involved with a planned development at 681 Driggs in Williamsburg, a building that may not happen as originally conceived because of the recent rezoning of Grand Street. The DOB hasn't issued any permits for work on the property. Let's hope that whatever's planned doesn't involve a wrecking ball."

-------

It is difficult for me to live on Skillman Street. As much as I love my neighborhood - from the stray cats, to the dead pigeons in our backyard, to the arabic spoken at our bodega, and the "Fuck College" tag on a nearby house - I know that I am not a positive force for Skillman Street. There's not much besides a wedding ring and a slightly higher salary separating me from those renovators who got busted into twice.

I want to be a part of this neighborhood and its culture, but I don't think it's possible to do so without actively destroying it as well. My mere presence, a white college grad who leaves every morning in khaki pants and a blue dress shirt, makes the street palatable to douchebags looking to buy black churches and flip them as condos. I abet the Daniel Rat"fuck"ners of New York City. Short of planting IED's designed to target McLaren strollers and tossing molotov cocktails into the renovation projects around us, I don't see how I can have an impact on Skillman Street that doesn't assist its transformation to "Clinton Hill Extension Part 1" or, as I mentioned in an earlier post, "Southwest Williamsburg."

The best I can do, I think, is know what I'm a part of, what I contribute to and detract from; the history and the people around me. The burden is on me to be a part of the neighborhood, not on everyone else to accept me. Which is why I kind of don't think that those suckers who had their house broke into get to complain. They are the others, they're the invading force, and they're not welcome. Nor am I. But you made the decision to live there so if you get yoked for cab fare, you got robbed... tough shit. You chose where to rest your head. No one needs to feel sorry for the white couple making $75 grand or the college kid commuting daily to the richest acre of real estate in the world. Like Chris Rock said, "White boy, you gonna be alright."

It wasn't Rudy Giuliani who cleaned up NYC. It was two things: abortions, and the shipping off of a hundred thousand black youths to human holding pens in Podunk Buttfuck, Upstate New York. People addressed this city's disenfranchised, unmotivated youth indeed; stripped them of their rights, and sent them away for 15 years for smoking a blunt while listening to Biggie on their stoop. You don't get to benefit from that silently, without understanding your context. "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."

1.5.08

Excuse Me, New York City, Where Do I Live?

New Yorkers have this thing about their neighborhoods; they're like brandnames. "Ooooh, Chelsea, nice," is only a degree or two away in the socio-economic psychology of a New Yorker from "Ooooh, Michael Kors, nice." Real Estate agents toy with this psychological tic by doing stuff like advertising apartments in "East Williamsburg" which is a location as fictional as Tatooine - it's just Bushwick.

Since I've been living in Brooklyn - on Skillman Street between DeKalb and Willoughby - I've been in a bit of a geographical phantom zone. Is it Bed-Stuy or is it Clinton Hill? Fort Greene might make a bid too. And those Williamsburg borders, ever extending, why not "Southwest Williamsburg"?

For the first couple weeks of my Brooklyn life, when asked, I went straight for "Bed-Stuy." After a couple dozen icy side-glances from my then girlfriend (who suspected, not incorrectly, that my desire for Bed-Stuy status was linked to the rapper/arts contributions of the neighborhood) I refined my response to "the Bed-Stuy-Clinton-Hill border." Since then, with the girlfriend out of the picture, my line has leaned back into "Bed-Stuy on the border with Clinton Hill," and I think that's the response my roomates use as well. But if I'm going to buy this E-Bay Radio Raheem "Bed-Stuy Do Or Die" t-shirt straight out Spike Lee's classic flick, I better be certain about my borders. So I did some research.

Until 1930, when Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights merged to form "Bedford-Stuyvesant," our street seems to have been in Stuyvesant Heights territory. The Wikipedia entry for Stuyvesant Heights reads, "Recently the area was again referred separately as just Stuyvesant Heights."

Indeed, the new Kick subway map labels the area as "Stuyvesant Heights" and encompasses the Bedford-Nostrand subway stop (our closest train) and everything around it, including our street. I don't know where else the Stuyvesant Heights name is being used (Rapid NYC real estate?), if anywhere, but maybe it's an "East Williamsburg"-like balm for the McLaren stroller crowd queasy about living in "Bed-Stuy". However the Stuyvesant Heights Wiki entry lists as zip codes for the hood "11213, 11221, and 11233." So it doesn't include our zip code, 11205. Odd.

Further complicating the Stuyvesant Heights scenario is this entry for the neighborhood in the 1939 "WPA Guide to New York City":

"Stuyvesant Heights, a flat region of brownstone fronts and two-story homes lying east of Nostrand Avenue between Fulton Street and Broadway, contains the city's second largest Negro population. A few imposing church structures, the homes of some old families, and St. John's University are all that remain of a once prosperous middle-class neighborhood. The poorer Negroes, many of them on relief, are largely concentrated in such business and shopping centers as Gates and Sumner Avenues, Fulton and Jefferson Streets, Flushing, Lexington, and Myrtle Avenues--districts which for poverty and squalor are as bad as the worst areas of Harlem."

This would leave us outside Stuyvesant Heights as we are about four blocks west of Nostrand Ave.

The Wikipedia entry for Bedford-Stuyvesant defines the region's borders as, "Flushing Avenue to the north (bordering Williamsburg), Classon Avenue to the west (bordering Clinton Hill), Broadway and Saratoga Avenue to the east (bordering Bushwick) and Atlantic Avenue to the south (bordering Crown Heights)."

The entry cites the New York City Department of City Planning, and the Brooklyn Community Board as its sources for the boundaries. That definition leaves our Skillman Street inside the Bed-Stuy borders; we are four blocks east of Classon Ave and four blocks south of Flushing Ave. Notably, the western-most border of Bed-Stuy, in that definition, leaves Pratt outside the Bed-Stuy limits - Pratt's campus starts at Classon and extends west. But doesn't Clinton Hill sound so much better on the brochure for the $30,000/year college? It makes you think of the nineties, Bill Clinton, the internet... rather than "Bring your paint set to Pratt: Bed-Stuy do or die, white boy."

So I suppose we're Bed-Stuy material. I can drop the whole "on the border with Clinton Hill" bullshit, finally. Or, at least, I can do it until the whole deal is re-relabeled "Stuyvesant Heights" for the stroller-and-small-dog crowd. Just like how they chopped up Gowanus to make space for the more cosmopolitan sounding "Boerum Hill."