Russian Film Week NYC, which took place from October 28th through November 4th in the (historically Ukrainian) East Village, opened, appropriately enough, with Slava Ross’s “Siberia, Monamour,” a feature of Chekhovian proportions. Ross’s bleak drama is grounded in the characters of a grandfather and his young grandson, unfortunate denizens of the Siberian village of Monamour, a no-man’s land where feral dogs run wild like a pack of Cujos, ruling the forest that surrounds and entraps the pair. As the two vainly await the return of the child’s father, other lost males – from a morally bankrupt soldier, to a cuckolded father, to a conniving thief – drift in and out of their lives, in turn finding their own subplots.
Two weeks after a small band of protesters set up camp in New York’s Liberty Plaza Park, deep in the heart of the financial district, our numbers have expanded to staggering numbers. This is true in two senses. Firstly, the size of the New York protest has virtually grown too big for the park – a rumor on Friday that Radiohead would play drew so many attendees that no one could move in the park, and those numbers grew so that yesterday, when no famous band was expected, every inch of the sidewalks all around the park were also swarming. Secondly, the solidarity protests around the country now range from thousands in Los Angeles to hundreds in Seattle to protests yet to begin in Portland. There are even occupations organizing in Tokyo, Sydney, Montreal, Tijuana, Stockholm, Hamburg and at the London Stock Exchange.
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. And we know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me and I welcome their hatred.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1936
The e-mail came from Patrick Madigan, a top lawyer in the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, on August 23. “Effective immediately,” it announced, “the New York Attorney General’s Office has been removed from the Executive Committee of the Robosigning multistate.” And just like that, Eric Schneiderman, the top law enforcement official in New York– the state where Wall Street is situated–was kicked off the nationwide committee of state law enforcement officials investigating Wall Street fraud.
In a sane society, Attorneys General would show themselves unfit for such a committee by exhibiting too close a relationship to the subjects of the inquiry. In this one, the opposite was true: Schneiderman has too upstanding a record as a corruption-gadfly for the establishment’s comfort. In the New York State Senate, Schneiderman took on the culture of corruption in Albany, passing tough ethics reform measures while campaigning for even tougher ones. This led him to do some kicking out of his own, when he chaired the committee to eject a crooked senator for the first time in modern history, and won unanimous support, at a time when political divides between Democrats and Republicans had essentially thrust Albany into gridlock, for a measure adding tax fraud to New York’s whistle-blower law, hailed as America’s strongest law to root out fraud against taxpayers (and Schneiderman, now Attorney General, at last finds himself in a position to use that law).
The United States’ desperation for domestically produced energy continues to lead to destructive decisions that decimate ecosystems and human lives. Mountaintop removal coal mining tears apart the West Virginia mountains; a recent study has connected mountaintop removal with a rise in birth defects. Coal industry lawyers responded by blaming the defects on incest. Oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has resumed after last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. Former petroleum company employees staff underfunded and demoralized regulatory agencies. In the face of nonexistent national leadership on clean energy, Americans continue embracing poorly tested energy technologies with reckless abandon.
Fracking is a process by which millions of gallons of fluid are pumped down a well into rock. The resulting pressure fractures the rock, allowing wells to bring up difficult to reach natural gas. Supporters say that it provides cheap, domestically produced energy that we need for economic growth. They claim that burning natural gas is less deleterious to the climate than coal or oil.
But environmentalists have strongly criticized fracking. We simply do not know the long-term effects of fracking upon nature or the human body. We do know that it has contaminated ground water supplies both in the United States and around the world. Drilling operations inject hazardous substances into the wells that can expose humans to danger. Environmental Protection Agency documents have shown increases in radium and benzene in water supplies near fracking sites. In an interview with Global Comment this year, Gasland director Josh Fox lambasted how we allow companies to do whatever they want, noting “You can’t just go, ‘Oops. Well, let’s do it over and fill the ground back up with clean water.’ Once it’s contaminated it’s going to stay that way and it’s going to stay that way forever.”
The battle for marriage equality in New York state has reached a crucial point. Also: A familiar one. The New York state assembly passed a bill legalizing gay marriage last Wednesday — one of three bills to do so, the other two having been passed in 2007 and 2009 — and the bill is currently stalled in the Senate, where the previous bills were defeated. Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked to rally tie-breaking Republican support, and conservative Christians are lobbying for language that would allow religious organizations such as adoption agencies to continue discriminating against same-sex marriages.
But, the situation feels new. And exciting: The bill has been characterized as a “tipping point,” not only for New York, but for the country. Its passing seems more than likely; Cuomo’s strategy of getting several Republicans to vote in favor of the bill, so that none of them has to be “the one who voted for it,” is apparently working. Even opponents of the bill are conceding that, if same-sex marriage does not become legal in New York now, it will become legal: It is, in fact, “inevitable.”
To understand why, it’s worth looking at the language of the opponents, in all its ridiculous, homophobic fury. Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been the loudest voice speaking against of the bill. He claims (as most opponents do) that this has nothing to do with being anti-gay, while also proclaiming that “not every desire, urge, want, or chic cause is automatically a ‘right.’ And, what about other rights, like that of a child to be raised in a family with a mom and a dad?” So, there you have it: Wanting to marry your long-time partner is more or less equivalent to wanting a pony, and war widows with children are an abomination unto the Lord. Unless, of course, they’re not, and this is just about the hideous threat of being raised by a loving same-sex couple.
Those terrorists are at it again. This time bigger, better, and ultimately deadlier. They are building a mosque on the ashen remains of the World Trade Center, giving a giant middle finger to September 11th victims, and ultimately destroying Western Civilization with their violent extremism.
Or so says the right wing.
In reality, the infamous “Mosque at Ground Zero” is a cultural and recreation center located two blocks away from Ground Zero. Officially named “Park 51” for its address at 51 Park Place, it will offer community classes, a performance art space, cultural exhibition space, library, child care facilities, fitness center, swimming pool, and 9/11 memorial space. The building will also be completely green and include a garden. Along with offering these services to people of all faiths in an increasingly residential area, the project will invest over $100 million in infrastructure and create over 150 full-time jobs and over 500 part-time jobs. Continue reading
As the ongoing fight about a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill rages on in the United States, a recent report in New York has raised questions about the effectiveness of such bills in tackling discrimination against transgender people in the workplace.
Undertaken by Make the Road New York (the “New York LGBTQ Justice Project”), the “Transgender Need Not Apply” report engaged in a rather stunning experiment. They investigated potential employment discrimination in New York by using the “matched pairs” methodology used in some social science experiments. The matched pairs of job applicants used were alike in every way (race, sex, age, qualifications, interview technique) except transgender status, thus attempting to filter out other variables in discrimination. Two pairs of job-seekers were sent out to the same interviews at high-end Manhattan stores like J. Crew, American Eagle and Virgin Megastore. The results were stunning. Continue reading
Last Wednesday, New York State Democratic Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer addressed the Orthodox Union, one of the United States’ largest Orthodox Jewish organizations, saying, “Since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.”
Despite the scathing quality of his words, Schumer received little media coverage, much less outrage. This is disturbing considering that just one week prior, former White House Press Corps correspondent Helen Thomas was not only condemned, but openly shamed away from her career for perceived anti-Semitism.
When Schumer’s video began circulating through the liberal media blogosphere, someone on Think Progress commented that he did not want to “jump all over Schumer with the condemnations too quickly.” Continue reading
One of the most astonishing theatrical productions this summer in NYC occurred at St. Ann’s Warehouse out in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, which hosted the Great Small Works 9th International Toy Theater Festival May 30th through June 13th. (Up next at St. Ann’s is the fantastical sounding Labapalooza! – a festival of avant-garde, works-in-progress puppetry June 23rd through June 27th.)
But to call “Kamp” from the Rotterdam-based troupe Hotel Modern a theater piece doesn’t even come close to describing their re-imagining of Auschwitz as a breathtaking scale model peopled by thousands of three-inch tall miniatures, looking like a European version of Mexico’s Day of the Dead figurines. Taking up the entire stage, the intricate and precise installation would fit right at home at the Whitney Biennial (in fact, there’s a temporary toy theater museum also set up at St. Ann’s) and includes not only rows of barracks and a railroad track but also the phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” emblazoned on a gateway.
Through this setting three company members, two women and a man dressed in drab grey outfits, manipulate the tiny, nameless and mute characters and project the results in real time upon a large back screen via equally miniature cameras. What better way to get at the essence of one of history’s most surreal events than by presenting the Holocaust in such a surreal fashion?
In this way “Kamp” runs closer to cinema than to theater, most notably the work of David Lynch. Hotel Modern has captured an almost Eraserhead vibe, in which everyday mundane experiences like performing carpentry work and drinking soup become horrific nightmares. It’s a full-fledged visceral experience designed to make us physically uncomfortable even as we’re too hypnotized to look away. There’s no air conditioning in St. Ann’s auditorium space so we sweat in the summer heat. The enormity of the predicament of the figurines that become larger than life onscreen is enhanced through sound design sometimes amplified to hurt our ears. Since “Kamp” has no dialogue nothing is lost in translation. Howling winds and roaring cattle cars speak louder than words.
And those tiny sculptures truly take on personal lives of their own as a series of haunted house-like tableaus play out underneath a cinematographic lighting design that even casts their shadows upon the dollhouse size walls. As a result the black and white imagery projected evokes those old World War II documentaries often shot by great Hollywood hands. A figurine wearing a gas mask dumps poison from canisters through a hole, his rhythmic huffing nearly melodious. An over-the-shoulder shot of a guard reveals a prisoner sweeping a floor with all his weak might. The gruesome thudding sound of a victim being beaten to death by a Nazi’s billy club actually made the woman next to me startle with every thump. The artists pass miniature-filled trays like cake pans to the beat of marching music, foreshadowing the ovens to come.
By the time the camp is lit up at sunset and an eerie stillness descends we’ve reached only the calm before the storm. The camera pans across pained faces of prisoners eating hungrily followed by a close-up on barbed wire that segues into a scene of electrocution upon it. The darkness of the gas chambers emerges into color images of clothing, hair, a menorah and various other objects in haphazard piles. From drunken Nazis in celebration to a moving overhead shot of a mountain of corpses that resembles a sculpture sprung from the mind of Brueghel, “Kamp” deftly shows the constant, sickening bipolar state of barracks life – and death as one lone figurine finally struggles and stumbles out of the heartbreaking carnage.