Sunday, June 1, 2014

Within the Law

The Metropolitan Playhouse is a cultural gem of the Lower East Side and it's latest show Within the Law by Bayard Veiller doesn't disappoint. I've had the pleasure of seeing a lot of great theatre at the Metropolitan and this is one of the best pieces I've seen. The cast is superb. The wardrobe is impeccable. And the play highlights this year's theme of Justice as good as any.

I say this with nearly every review but the attention paid to costume design makes a world of difference. Sidney Fortner did an amazing job of whisking us back to a more dapper time and it really enhances the work of these great actors and the story they are telling. 

Along with that are the really impressive sets that Alex Roe designs. Metropolitian Playhouse has one of the smallest stages you'll find in the Off-Broadway world and yet because of their incredible artistic skill it always feels immense. There were four major scene changes that were carried out nearly flawlessly and it really is amazing what they are able to do in that space.

The cast was superb. I'm continually amazed at the level of talent that comes through the Metropolitan Playhouse and this show was no different. It's a really big cast for such a small stage with thirteen actors. No matter how small the role each and every actor really brought their A-game. Deb Radloff (Sarah, Fanny, Thompson) stood out for her ability to transform between the various characters she played and even the changes within character from a tough street-talking young woman to a sophisticated and classy woman of the highest order. And funny! Numerous times she had the audience in stitches. Elisabeth Preston, in lead role as Mary Turner was also a joy to watch. She was simply captivating as Mary Turner constantly out-smarting people who thought they were better than her. I really could go on about every member of this cast and how good they were but suffice to say that in a theatre that constantly has great casts this is one of the best I've seen.

This was the opening preview and there were a few glitches but they were all pretty minor. The only thing that really stood out as needing attention is a scene in which Christian Rozakis (Joe Garson) is showing Elisabeth Preston (Mary Turner) his revolver with the silencer. For some strange reason he tells her to turn away and then points the gun at her back and fires. Ostensibly this was to show her how quiet the gun was so it was confusing why she had to turn away and even stranger that he basically shot her in the back. I'm guessing this was a small mix up with blocking that will be fleshed out in future shows but I thought I'd mention it nonetheless.

Metropolitan Playhouse has created yet another great show with a superb cast that keeps great American theatre alive and well. It's the one theater I always feel confident in telling friends and tourists about because so much love and effort is put into each and every performance.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Liberal Narrative is Dead

Amitai Etizioni's recent article in the Atlantic, "The Liberal Narrative is Broken, and Only Populism Can Fix It," highlights so much that is wrong with the so-called "liberal narrative" and really begs the question: Is it something we really want to fix?

Etizioni begins in liberal land where we are all either liberals or conservatives. There are, to be fair, people referred to as moderates, but they just haven't figured out whether they are liberals or conservatives yet and don't really count. More people self-identify as conservatives, according to Etizioni but they are "operational liberals":

...studies show that the majority only subscribe to conservative philosophies but they are 'operational' liberals. The majority support gun control, the social safety nets, climate protection, and many other liberal programs. As long as we remind the people of what the government really does, they will vote liberal.

Here's where it gets tricky for liberals. What exactly woudl qualify as "voting liberal" anyway? Our last liberal president was Richard Nixon, but that doesn't fit the liberal narrative where liberals are supposed to be Democrats. So Etizioni has to perform some mental gymnastics here:

This lovely thought does not have a leg to stand on, because people cannot vote for these programs. Instead, they must cast one vote that covers all the various programs and issues -- domestic and foreign -- before them.

In other words, it's complicated. No need for Etizioni to dwell on the fact that the Democratic Party has consistently betrayed it's working class base, gutting and destroying all of the liberal programs mentioned earlier. It was, after all, Bill Clinton who passed the union destroying North American Free Trade Agreement while destroying aid to dependent families. Now Obama has his site on the last vestiges of the New Deal: Social Security and Medicare. But nevermind that. It's just complicated.

Etizioni goes on to highlight the popularity of populist ideas found in movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. He even claims that 1 in 10 Americans support both the Occupy and Tea Party movement. So if so many people support these movements, particularly the Occupy movement, why did it do so poorly? Etizioni is kind enough to provide us with the answers:

First, because it had no clear narrative and was mainly an expression of a very diffuse sentiment; second, because it mixed populist with liberal messages; third, because it was unclear who the bad guys are -- Wall Street? The bankers? The one percent? The System?

Apparently Etizioni is big on narratives. Strangely absent from his analysis is the nationally coordinated crackdown of the Occupy movement. The eviction of Occupy Wall Street here in New York City was carried out in the middle of the night by a para-military force that aggressively kept journalists from even covering what was going on. According to Etizioni, however, all we needed was a better narrative to avoid being beaten and arrested by the police for excercising our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.

Like his first point the rest of it is complete nonsense. We didn't mix messages. Occupy Wall Street offered a place for people to bring their grievances and be heard. Rather than beg corporate politicians to fix things we took matters into our own hands, feeding each other, educating each other, and housing each other. In a few short weeks Occupy Wall Street was feeding more people than any soup kitchen in the City.

In response to Etizioni's last point the answer would be "all of the above." Yes it's the bankers and Wall Street and the 1%. But above all that--and this is the hardest thing for liberals to understand--it's the system. A system developed, in the words of James Madison, "to protect the minority of the opulent from the majority." In other words, to protect the 1% from the 99%. Our first Chief Justice, John Jay, was a little less eloquent when he said, "The people who own the country ought to run it."

That's what drives me crazy when liberals like Etizioni always talk about "returning the government to the people." When was that? From the very beginning only the propertied aristocrats (the 1%) could even vote. When was this mystical time in liberal land? Apparently it was far more recent that I'd realized:

The next step, a major first step to return the government to one for the people, by the people, is actually a relative easy one to outline: rolling back the negative impact of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

This is a popular meme with liberals. Somehow the relatively recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United is when we lost our so-called democratic government. Like most things liberals believe, it's simply not true. Perhaps the most well known scholar to tackle this problem is professor Thomas Ferguson out of the University of Boston, who developed the investment theory of party competition:

The theory states that, since money driven political systems are expensive and burdensome to ordinary voters, policy is created by competing coalitions of investors, not voters. According to the theory, political parties (and the issues they campaign on) are created entirely for business interests, separated by the interests of numerous factors such as labor-intensive and capital-intensive, and free market and protectionist businesses.

In other words, long before Citizens United, the 1% of been unduly influencing our government. As John Dewey famously quipped, "Politics is the shadow cast by big business." Citizens United didn't fundamentally change anything; it simply codified long-standing practices by the 1% to use their inordinate wealth to direct the state to attend to their interests.

The liberal narrative is not dead because it's too abstruse. It's dead because it's simply not true. It doesn't reflect reality. This system isn't corrupt. It's not broken. It's working just fine, in the interests of the 1%, the way our founding fathers intended. You could roll back Citizens United today and it would do nothing to mitigate the immense inequality in this country; and, as historian Howard Zinn often said, "political rights without economic rights is meaningless."

The Occupy Movement didn't "sputter out." It was stomped out by the heal of our so-called liberal president in a nationally coordinated atttack. Yes, the paramilitary goons managed to destroy our camps, but they didn't stop the movement. People all across the planet haven't given up fighting for a better world and there are plenty of examples like Occupy Sandy, Debt Strike, Occupy the Pipeline, and the current fight here in New York City to keep Cooper Union free. Does that sound like a movement that sputtered? Or does it sound like a movement that has grown and evolved despite the immense repression it has faced?

Liberals like Amitai Etizioni will never get this because their professional careers depend on it. The liberal narrative, if anything, is about celebrating this unjust system and convincing people that we can somehow reform it. Convincing people that voting will somehow fix this keeps them from actually engaging in important political work in their work place, homes and communities. But liberals are also realizing it's getting harder and harder to profess those so-called liberal values while your party systimatically dismantles them. Let's hope the liberal narrative is dead.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Open Letter to Car Owners in New York City

Car owners in New York City are still in shock over the new bike share program being rolled out. They are still reeling from the steady encroachment of bike lanes into "car territory." Their wasteful, selfish, inefficient and polluting way of life is being encroached upon and they don't like it! Reason completely slips from their minds as they attempt to defend their indefensible lifestyle choice: bikes cause more pollution than cars, bikes are more dangerous than cars, more cyclists will make New York City streets more dangerous! And their favorite: What about parking!

Did I miss something? When did the City guarantee every New Yorker a free place to park their gas-guzzling pollution machine? I know change is hard, but it's time to accept the fact that the roads are for all of us. How about a little perspective?

Putting the loss of parking claim in perspective, the Department of Transportation’s policy director cited that only 35 out of 6800 potential car parking spaces were lost (representing half of one percent), while 600 potential bike parking spots were created.

Imagine that? The same space that had been monopolized by just 35 car owners can now be shared by 600 New Yorkers! Instead of using one of the most inefficient machines ever developed, we'll be using the most efficient human powered machine ever invented!

Change is always hard. The fossil fuel party has been a lot of fun, but it's time to move forward to a more sane use of our City streets.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Citi Bike Scam

The new citi bike bike share program is being rolled out and it looks like a big scam. Of course anything that puts more bikes on the roads is welcomed by me, so there are things I like about the idea. But the overall pricing scheme seems set up to rip off the unsuspecting tourist more than anything. It's not all bad, though, so let's start off with some of the more positive aspects of the bike share program highlighted by the department of transportation:

“For less than the cost of a single monthly MetroCard, an annual
Citi Bikemembership gives you instant access to unlimited short rides 365 days a year,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “Citi Bike will redefine what it means to get around New York City, and now is the time to upgrade to this fun, fast and safe transportation option.”

Sounds great, right? It does and that's just the problem because what it sounds like and the way it actually works are quite different. First off for those more casual users getting a day or weekly pass are limited to 30 minute rides. I ride thousands of miles a year around New York City and I can say that 30 minutes isn't much time at all. Combine that with the fact that many of the people riding these will likely be tourists it's certain that people are going to get lost and incur overage charges that add up quickly.

For the 24-hour pass you'll pay $9.95 plus tax. That gives you all the 30 minute rides you can take but should you go over that the next 30 to 60 minutes will cost you an additional $4. If you have it over that hour you'll get dinged another $13 for the next half hour. Meaning a 90 minute ride on one of these bikes could well cost you over $30! Every additonal 30 minutes thereafter will cost you an additional $12. So if you were crazy enough to take the bike out for a whole 24-hour period you'd be looking at a whopping $566.95 plus tax.

Now to be fair, the program explicitly states it's meant for short trips. The website is very clear that if you want to tool around on a bike you should visit one of the local bike rental shops. But that's precisely the problem. The program seems purposefully designed to protect the existing bike rental shops rather than offer them real competition that might actually benefit the consumer.

Now if you're a local and opt for the yearly pass it's going to set you back nearly a $100 and with it you get the advantage of unlimited 45 minute trips. This is a step in the right direction but it's still going to be a tricky. I happen to live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is literally saturated with the bike docks. Every couple of blocks there are docks and I still can't figure out how I would use the program if I were so inclined.

Say you wanted to grab one of the bikes to go to the grocery. Unless there is a docking station outside the grocery it's all but impossible. If you wanted to use it for commuting to work or school it would be equally difficult given the time frame and the overage charges would easily mount.

That's what is so frustrating about this system. It's purposefully designed to hit you with overage charges. There's no good reason it couldn't be more like Zip Car where you borrow the bike for a specified amount of time with a per hour rate. Thirty and 45 minute trips are not very long in New York City. True you can get to a lot of places in that amount of time but with the bike share you have the added inconvinience of making sure your destination has a docking station nearby; otherwise you'll incur overage charges.

I'm glad there will be more bikes in the City. This will no doubt accelrate the push for more and better bike lanes. But the pricing scheme seems all wrong. It exhibits all the problems of capitalism where the things we create and the services we build are created for profit rather than people. A truly equitable system of bike sharing shouldn't be that hard to build in a city like New York.



Steven Kurlander's "A Lesson of the Boston Bombings: Stop Classifying Criminal Anarchist Violence as Acts of War" is a real exercise in ignorance. According to Kurlander, "The Tsarnaev brothers were nothing more than immigrant anarchists carrying on a tradition of political violence, this time framed in religious fervor." To be fair, Kurlander believes "anarchist" is just another word for "terrorist":

Back in the early 20th century, "terrorists" were referred to as "anarchists" (basically the same thing) and carried out what would be termed these days as "acts of war."

Absent from Kurlander's spurious attempt to conflate anarchism with terrorism is the fact that anarchism gave rise to one of the nation's most peaceful social movements ever: Occupy Wall Street. Other anarchist groups like Food Not Bombs have been feeding people for decades. What is typically and falsely regarded as violence by anarchists is nearly always some form of destruction of property: smashing a window, sabotaging an animal trap, or destroying machines used to destroy our forests. Perhaps the most thoughtful reflection on the use of violence by anarchists can be found in Alexander Berkman's autobiographical "Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist" where Berkman highlights the folly of his attempted assasination of the manager of Carnegie Steel. The act was largely repudiated by anarchists at the time and was a major source of growth for both Berkman and the iconic Emma Goldman.

More recently we have "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship" which was written over 30 years ago and yet remains as relevant as ever: "A clear explanation of why anarchists oppose terrorism, and why terrorism or propaganda by deed can be of no benefit to the working class, as capitalism is a social relationship, not a group of bad individuals."

In short Kurlander's nonsense is easily refuted by the long history of anarchism and anarchists working to create a better world through direct action, mutual aid, and solidarity. Thankfully many of the commenters pointed this out. One commentator pointed out the salient fact that Kurlander never mentions any of the numerous examples of state sponsored terrorism:

...yet never offers up examples of terrorism committed by the State and reactionary forces against its own population, most notably, the raids on IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) halls by federal and local authorities, as well as reactionary groups often hired by mill or factory owners; the assassination of prominent members of the Black Panther Party in the late 60s by local police forces; the bombing of the MOVE compound, in 1984, by the Philidelphia Police Dept.; the assassination of Martin Luther King, by a member of the KKK; the attack by local, state and federal forces of the Branch Dividians in Waco, TX in 1993; the atempted murder of Judi Bari by planting a bomb in her car for doing both environment and labor work, and lets not for get the killings of young, mostly, black males by police that have been so prominent over the last year its equating to one person dying every 28 hours.

We can't blow up a social relationship. No bomb or act of violence is going to destroy capitalism and the state. The men who bombed the Boston Marathon were not anarchists. And Steven Kurlander should be ashamed of himself.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Links & Stuff

Just enjoying a lazy Sunday morning and thought I would share some links that grabbed my eye.

I love my iPhone for photography. I use to make videos (see above), time lapse photography and it constantly amazes me what I can do with it. If you're a budding iphonographer check out this link for some great accessories for your phone.

Here's more fuel for the fire of the nutty conspiracy theorists who think the bombing of the Boston Marathon was the work of our government. According to the story the first suspect was taken alive. They even have video evidence!

At the other end of the crazy spectrum we have Steven Kurlander conflating terrorists with anarchists over at the Huffington Post. I'll be posting more about this tomorrow, but the comment section does a great job of refuting Kurlander's nonsense. You might also want to take a look at "You Can't Blow Up a Social Relationship," for a great read on why anarchists reject terrorism and violence as a means of social change. It's over 30 years old and just as relevant today.

Perhaps the day's saddest story was reading about how the San Francisco Pride festival rescinded its offer to name Bradley Manning the Grand Marshal. Common Dreams has a great article on this hypocrisy. Apparently corproate criminals are great while heroes like Bradley Manning are questionable.

Hope you're having a great Sunday wherever you are.



Monday, April 22, 2013

Look for the Helpers

The bombings at the Boston Marathon revealed just how good most people are. Despite what we are constantly told about human nature, it's events like this that reveal our inherent goodness, our natural inclinations towards mutual aid. As the bombs went off many people ran towards the blast to help people. As Fred Rogers famously said, "Look for the helpers." And the helpers were everywhere to be found.

There was the story of the " young surgical intern who had just finished a 14-hour hospital shift pushed his way through the police lines to treat victims at the end of a marathon route." Or the story of peace activist Carlos Arredondo who kept a complete strangers arteries shut with his bare hand. And who coudl forget the amazing tales of marathon runners continuing on past the finish line another 2 plus miles to donate blood at the hospital! Story after story of everyday courage and compassion emerged through the fog of terror to reveal just how much good there is in the world. No doubt most of them will never get printed, but for anyone paying attention people doing good far outnumbered the two cowards who sought to kill and maim.

As usual, Americans had to turn to comedians like Stephen Colbert to here the real news. As Colbert put it, "These people tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are." As my friend Nick pointed out in his wonderful Boston Recap:

This was the sort of reporting we should have seen more of on Monday and Tuesday. Reporting that honored the strength and power of the people of Boston, that made people in Boston, and around the country, feel strong and uplifted; rather than giving in to the fear and mourning that any terrorist would have wanted us to embrace. It seems trite to say it, but the point of terrorism is to inspire fear. Every moment we stand up straight and saying, "No, fuck you, we're going to keep living our lives and helping each other," is a moment where we prevail and keep our dignity against the monsters of the world that try to steal it from us.

So don't fret. Don't let the fear mongers win. We're just as likely to be killed by our own furniture as by terrorism. Remember the helpers. Share their stories. And the next time chaos descends upon us, look for the helpers; be a helper! Spread the love. Stop the hate.