Monday, November 24, 2008

"Cashmas" or "Giftmas"???

Whether we're ready for it or not, the season of "Cashmas" or "Giftmas" - take your pick - is upon us. I remember writing here last year about the disturbingly early appearance of decorations in that interlude between Halloween and the onslaught of "the holidays." But this year the whole production seems to have started even earlier. No doubt the economic crisis has fueled the premature appearance of Santa and his elves. And "Sale" signs are already popping up at major retailers across the country. Santa has already appeared at local malls and the same is true in Virginia, according to my parents - more than two weeks before Thanksgiving!! What happened to the tradition of Santa making his appearance in those first harried shopping days after Thanksgiving? Even the big retailers like Macy's and Lord & Taylor have already unveiled their holiday windows.

I understand retailers' desperation at this point. Many smaller stores will barely survive into 2009. (Here in the city, many have beaten the January stampede and closed their doors already.) Several national chains have also announced that they will close all or many of their stores in the new year. Discount chains (ie. Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) will enjoy higher sales, I predict, simply because more shoppers are searching for bargains, especially bargains for toys and games.

We haven't even begun to think about Christmas yet. I'm normally very enthusiastic about Christmas and the holiday's trappings, but I'm already sick of the piped-in Christmas songs that echo in every store and bodega. (Who in god's name decided that "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is a song appropriate for Christmas?!) I may yet become a Scrooge!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Future of the Republican Party?

I saw this posted in Chelsea and couldn't resist sharing. Can you believe there are still people out there who honestly believe she is the future of the Republican party? If she's the future, we can just assume that the Republicans will be even more ill-informed and ignorant than they are now. As Bill Maher observed on Jay Leno last night, referring to Palin's failure to know that Africa is a continent: "That's some mighty powerful stupid."
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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Election

Obviously I haven't had a chance to use this forum to reflect on the election, and even now do not have the time to respond properly. Needless to say, I'm overjoyed at the result and relieved that we won't have to put up with four years of McCain and Palin - especially Palin! Nevertheless, I'm afraid we haven't seen the last of her, given her media whoring over the last week. She's determined to remain in the national spotlight and may just get the chance in the near future.

Yes, there is plenty to celebrate in President-elect Obama's victory. It represents a signal moment in U.S. history - a moment that is already prompting reconsideration of this country's direction around the globe. Nevertheless, I'm a political realist and understand that presidents are not "saviors" in the messianic sense, able to single-handedly lead a nation to salvation or some idealized, patriotic "promised land." The latest issue of Time casts Obama in the role of FDR, potentially offering a "New New Deal." As an admirer of the Depression-era New Deal, I fervently hope that Obama will succeed in changing the governmental paradigm of the last eight years. The country needs bold action and leadership that is willing to tackle fundamental problems - economic and social. Washington, of course, isn't the same place it was in 1933 when Roosevelt had a clear popular mandate to effect change. Obama will not have the opportunity to experiment in the same way FDR and his "brain trust" attacked the Great Depression. Still, we can hope that the severity of the current crisis prompts a unity of purpose between the White House and Congress in the coming months.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cat Antics

Ok, I'm a sucker for funny cats who can turn even the most mundane objects into toys. My cat, for example, loves the little plastic rings that one removes when opening a plastic jug of milk. The cat in this video clearly knows how to have a good time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In the "Found Photo" Department . . .

I found this photograph for sale at a weekend outdoor market in Soho. Although I didn't buy it, I couldn't resist snapping a clandestine picture. From the men's clothing and the trappings of Eastern Orthodoxy, it looks to be early 20th century, pre-revolutionary Russian. There's cyrillic text at the bottom but no date. What's the occasion? A wedding? I'm not really sure, but would appreciate input from anyone who is more familiar with Russian custom and dress. Is this photograph here in New York because a family member - even someone in this group - joined the immigrant tide to the United States? This would have been at the height of Eastern European/U.S. immigration, so it's entirely plausible. Like so many of these "found" photos, it tells so many possible stories - but answers so few of our questions as observers.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008


This cute little beagle puppy is Buster. He had enough energy for two or three dogs. Buster may only be a few months old, but he already has that distinctive beagle voice, which he demonstrates in the third photo.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Argus C3 Photos

I recently took these photos with an old Argus C3, usually known as "the brick" to camera enthusiasts because of its boxy shape and considerable weight. Not bad for an unexceptional 1955 camera that's entirely manual. (I used a Gossen Digisix for metering.) Film: Kodak 400CN.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Election

Where to start . . . Given my history on this blog one might have expected me to rant and rave about the election over the last several weeks. First, I guess I've been too shocked at the depravity of the McCain/Palin campaign to respond in any meaningful fashion. But if you've followed the race, you know what I'm talking about - thinly-veiled bigotry, the standard-issue Republican fear-mongering, and outright lies. In the end, McCain thoroughly compromised his ideals in an effort to secure the support of his party's right wing, aligning himself with the very elements of Republican intolerance and fascism for which he had expressed disdain just eight years ago. Rather than running on his more moderate record, he adopted the Rove playbook and thus firmly allied himself with the Bush/Cheney "axis of evil." The scariest part of it all is that he could still win!

Looking at a map of Republican support around the country, it's clear that there's still a substantial element of the electorate that is just ignorant enough to accept the Republican falsehoods. Although McCain and Palin liked to trumpet loudly the claim that these areas represented the most patriotic and thus the most "American" parts of the country, these districts are now distinguishing themselves for having evolved the least - politically and intellectually - over the last 40 years. Indeed, these Americans seem to celebrate their ignorance, and herald as a virtue their disdain for education, liberalism, and real democracy. And while they often align themselves with the principles of the "Founders," one is compelled to observe that the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison would have regarded them as the "mobocracy," barely capable of self-government.

Obviously I pray that Barak Obama wins this election. Yet I'm enough of a political realist to understand that even Obama will be no savior capable of reversing entirely the perilous course now followed by the U.S. But Obama does offer a more enlightened vision of how that can be accomplished. Nevertheless, even if Obama is elected, the forces of intolerance, anti-intellectualism, and bigotry will continue to rally, redoubling their efforts to create a theocratic, fascist state anchored by the Republican party's hawks and evangelical terrorists.

If the pollsters are wrong, and McCain pulls off an upset reminiscent of Harry Truman's 1948 victory over Dewey, I will not stand in "loyal" opposition to a Republican president and his "hockey mom" second-in-command whose foreign policy expertise is limited to a neighborly proximity to Russia. Indeed, with a McCain/Palin victory I would do whatever possible - and legal - to foment disloyal opposition in an effort to unseat these usurpers of the Constitution. Their continued strength in this country represents a cancer on the body of the commonwealth, a cancer that needs to be excised through a revolution in the ballot boxes.

Of course, over the last several days (and at this very moment), Republican operatives are engaging in illegal activities to steal the votes of ordinary citizens. As Paul Weyrich, one of their evangelical leaders, pointed out as early as 1980, they do not want a large voter turnout. They do not want an informed electorate. They do not want a truly participatory democracy. So they foment ignorance, misinformation, and fear, to keep people away from the polling places on election day. Don't let them steal your vote! Don't be a consumer of their ignorance and fear-filled messages. Don't let them further corrupt the Constitution and trample on the liberties that document protects. Turn back the tide of nascent fascism in this country. Cast a vote for rationalism and hope.


On Saturday I was down in Chinatown, visiting Pearl Paint, a multi-floor rabbit warren of art supplies on Canal Street. I enjoy the spectacle of Chinatown, but really dislike the pushing and shoving of the elbow-to-elbow crowds. And on this occasion the vendors hawking counterfeit movies, handbags and watches seemed more aggressive than ever. Perhaps with the current economic downturn they're desperate to sell their wares to dwindling crowds of tourists and bargain hunters.

Sam and I decided to walk home, taking Thompson St. from Canal, uptown to the intersection of Bleecker. Thompson St. is one of those great Soho arteries lined with cool shops and restaurants. With many small business already closing, one has to wonder how many of these doubtless under-capitalized shops will fare as the recession continues.

The first photo is of an old bank building at the corner of Canal and Broadway. I love the art deco relief, especially the stylized eagles. I'm sorry to see that the space for a clock is now empty. Unfortunately, the building has been chopped up and converted into a bazaar of little shops and trinket stands. The other three photos come from a building at 100 Sixth Avenue. All I could find on this 17-story gem is that it was constructed around 1930 - hence the art deco style of its reliefs - and was known as the Green Sixth Avenue Building. These images, vaguely suggesting "industry" in an idealized design idiom very typical of the 1930s, are repeated on the other sides of the building. For most of its history it has served as a home for lithographers, engravers, and printing shops. Indeed, many of the buildings in this neighborhood, located near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, housed printing works. The building is now owned by Trinity Church, which, like many other landlords in this section, has forced the printers and engravers out. Offering large renovated spaces, the property now holds more traditional office space - no doubt demanding much higher rents than older tenants had paid.

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