NYC Memorials, and Other Matters

September 4, 2013

A beautiful post-summer day in NYC, and I went for a walk during lunch.   Of course, I spent time in the cemetery of Trinity Church, where they’ve taken to putting up small informative signs for tourists, including one in front of the gravestone shown above.  It says Charlotte Temple on it, which is the name of a novel that was wildly popular in late 18th century America, but there is some doubt as to why it’s there.  (Reminds me of a recent article about the pseudo-grave of Nick Beef, next to Lee Harvey Oswald’s final place of rest.)

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A NYTimes article from several years ago says that a researcher got the church to lift the slab to see what’s under it, but there is no burial vault, however, that doesn’t mean that no one is buried there.  The little sign says that the inscription may have been carved by a bored stoneworker during construction work on the church.  I like that explanation – the artistically inclined skilled artisan class, and all that.

Further on my walk, I encountered a very odd place for NYC:  the sign in the window says as much – “It’s free.  We know that’s hard to believe in NYC!” The place is a nice modern storefront called Charlotte’s Place, and it has tables, computers, books, and spaces for sitting, talking, meeting, and other sociable activities. It is completely free, and is maintained as a resource for the community, by Trinity Church it seems.  An anonymous grave which might house no one and a free space for anyone, all from Charlotte.

Continuing, I walked past the souvenir shop for the 9/11 Memorial: I have visited the memorial site and walked around, but never been in the store.

In an interview a few years after the destruction of the WTC, Phillip Roth was quoted on the “kitchification” of the event and its victims.  I have commented before on what I feel is a rather ghoulish or morbid preoccupation with this horrible event, so I have not much to say other than that I found the store depressing and faintly nauseating, and, as that phrase I hate goes, “It is what it is…”  Seems appropriate for once.

At least while I was there I noticed this gem of a façade – sorry for the bad pic, but I didn’t have my camera, and only real estate firms had images online – which is at 125 Liberty Street.

Meanwhile, nearby, the slow, laborious work on Calatrava’s Faberge egg of a transit hub continues…  As the article correctly remarks:

It is important to note how the projects within the World Trade Center are unique in the sense that they were, and continue to be, fueled by emotions associated with the 9/11 attacks.

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The United States of Fear

June 20, 2013

Tom Friedman has outlined his latest installment in the ideology of fear, backed by his fellow mainstream writer, Bill Keller.  Friedman tells how us how he stops his worrying (or at least, worrying about the wrong things) and has learned to love Big Brother, and Keller says he is making an “important point”:

Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11. That is, I worry about something that’s already happened once — that was staggeringly costly — and that terrorists aspire to repeat.

I worry about that even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it. If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.

So, here in the Republic of Fear, we appeal to the best in our citizens,their abject terror of something bad happening.  The print by James Gillray at the top recalls an earlier historical episode of the Security State, the British effort to root out atheists, freethinkers, and revolutionists in its midst.  Gillray was paid by the Tories, but he couldn’t help seeing how ridiculous they were, despite his politics. 

Bad things do happen all the time, it’s true, although usually to other people, but surely those terrorists are targeting me!  It follows, that we must cast principles by the wayside and go all out to provide security.

This security apparatus doesn’t do a very good job, although it never ever makes mistakes.  A recent FBI review of 150 shootings by agents concluded that every last one of them was perfectly justified.  That beats the NYPD hands down!  The NSA, CIA, etc. did a great job of preventing the Boston bombing, and we all know how well the CIA did before 9/11 (See Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower).  Was a lack of data the problem?

The head of the NSA has testified that the snooping has foiled 50, yes 50 terrorist plots. I’m sure he has a list, and it seems to have grown since the uproar started.  Not many details offered, however.  All top-secret.  I wonder…  Another acolyte of the Security State has argued for the necessity of gathering all of our phone records by saying, “If you are searching for a needle in a haystack, first you need a haystack.”  Is this really the best way to protect our country?  It’s remarks like this that made the phrase “Military Intelligence” an oxymoron.

Once they have this data, mistakes will be made.  They have been made already.  Sometimes with dire consequences, such as rendering suspects to countries that are willing to torture them without limit (Syria’s no longer good for that, however.) or just upending their lives because a name appeared on a list somehow, like the lawyer in Washington state who converted to Islam after he married a woman from the middle east.  Ah…the price we pay for liberty!


The Moro ‘Affair’

April 25, 2012

The Moro Affair seems like an oddly lighthearted name for a book about the kidnapping of a prime minister that ended in his murder. I was dimly aware of these events when they happened in the late 1970s, but my knowledge of the violent fringe group, The Red Brigades, was limited to newspaper headlines, Anarchy Comics, and various hipster cultural references of the time.  Leonardo Sciasica’s examination of the case is weird, confusing, and not all that illuminating, adjectives that are frequently applied to the case and other tortured explanations of it.

Moro was at the helm of the Italian government when the Christian Democrats made historic overtures to the communists to form a stable government.  Kissinger was not happy.  Moro was on record as being in favor of swapping prisoners to save lives when confronted by terrorists:  Why did his own party refuse to save his life?  Was he sacrificed?  For what, by whom?  Was there CIA involvement?  Were the Italian police bureaus severely disorganized and incompetent, or were darker forces at work?


Ballet Russe, Zionism, and Terror

March 22, 2012

In my recent post of Richard Francis Burton’s translation of two short tales from Scheherazade’s 1001, I included a picture of Ida Rubenstein, a figure from fin de sièclela Belle Époque history who was new to me.  She was born to a wealthy family of Russian Jews, came to dance late, for a ballerina, that is, and made a big splash with Leon Bakst and Nijinsky.  Her début was a private performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, in which she danced through the seven veils to the nude.  She was denounced by the Archbishop of Paris for dancing as Saint Sebastian in a ballet scored by Debussy, with costumes by Bakst.  Sacrilege!  A Jew and a woman depicting the martyred saint!

During WWII, she fled France for England, where she helped escaped Resistance members, and was intimate with Walter Guinness, her sponsor and sometime lover.  He was assassinated in 1944 by members of the Stern Gang, a terrorist organization of Zionist Jews trying to dislodge Britain from Palestine.

Stern Gang is what the Brits called them, but they referred to themselves as Lehi, but also as ‘terrorists’ and, according to Wikipedia,  may have been one of the last organizations to do so:

An article titled “Terror” in the Lehi underground newspaper He Khazit (The Front ) argued as follows:

Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah,whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: “Ye shall blot them out to the last man.” But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier. We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.

There we have it.  Infatuation with The Cause, with Violence, with The Nation.  Sound familiar?  On the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Lehi made overtures to Nazi Germany, offering to assist in its war against the British in exchange for allowing the free emigration of Jews to Palestine to join the nation-building cause.

The more I learn about the history of Zionism, and its role as a foundation of Israeli society, the more disgusted I become.  Former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir, was a member in good standing of the gang.


9/11

September 10, 2011

I am very happy that the tenth anniversary of our humiliating victimization by a band of fanatical terrorists falls on a Sunday.  That means I don’t have to fight the crowds of visitors and dignitaries, security personnel, and media hordes to get to my cubicle where I toil for my salary. Other than that, the only observation I have is that the ‘remembrance’ often strikes me as morbid and a bit ghoulish.  Certainly, there are individuals who have tremendous losses to mourn, and I wish them the best, but that’s an individual drama and anguish.  I’m not sure that the articles, TV comments, speechifying and whatnot support and nurture that.

How admirably short and direct was Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Perhaps we will be lucky, and receive the same.


Batting 500

May 2, 2011

I thought he would never be captured or killed – I was wrong.  Oh, well, I was right about those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The reasons for my relative sang froid regarding this event are illustrated by this quote from the journalistic blusterer, Ross Douthat:

They can strike us, they can wound us, they can kill us. They can goad us into tactical errors and strategic blunders. But they are not, and never will be, an existential threat.

This was not clear immediately after 9/11.

As with his fellow windbag, Thomas Friedman, as well as many, many, politicians and talking-head wannabee pundits, he takes far too long to learn his lessons.  The sense of those two sentences that are in bold was very evident to me in 2001, and to John Kerry in 2004, and to the writer of an op-ed piece that I recall from the NYTimes shortly after 9/11 (citations, please, if anyone can find it![Here it is.]) that stated that Osama bin Laden’s was a form of ‘politics’ doomed for the dustbin.  Yes, there were plenty of reasonable people who understood what was what, but the hysteria of people like Ross and his fellow scribblers, not to mention GWB, made it hard to understand what they were saying.


War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Victim is Hero

April 10, 2011

Make a note in the George Orwell, 1984 collection of historical amnesiac incidents…or is it?

The NYTimes had an article a few days ago about the quotation that is to be prominently inscribed in stone at the 9/11 memorial taking shape below my office window:  “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”  As the writer showed, the text is grotesquely inappropriate, being a line taken out of context that celebrates the memory of two soldiers brutally killed in an ambush.  The Aeneid was not a pastoral!  The line sounds lofty and noble, but do we want to memorialize the deaths of thousands of innocent civilian victims of an atrocity with a line celebrating ancient warrior values? The author of the OpEd piece thinks it is a bit of intellectual laziness, typical of the Internet age, when people snatch quotations off of websites without doing the reading necessary to understand them fully.  Well, nobody reads the classics anymore, so who cares?

As I wrote in my probably-never-to-be-published letter to the Times (but you loyal readers, can get the scoop here!) I suspect something else may be at work here.  We want to remember the victims, but not as victims. That’s too painful:  it reminds us of how unprepared we were, and how vulnerable we can be.  Better to remember them as the first casualties in a heroic war against terror.

This fits with the current overuse of the word “hero” in our popular culture.  Heroes are supposed to be people who choose to face death and danger, but now everyone who dies is a hero.   Rush into a burning building and die trying to save a child – you are a hero.  Killed by a falling timber as you rush in a panic out of a burning building, you’re a hero too!  People terrified by death who just couldn’t escape:  they don’t exist.  We all know what we are doing, and we are all heroes.  So nobody is a hero in the end…