Saturday, June 01, 2002

Some thoughts on New York City

Regular readers will remember that Lileks has been praised and recommended in this space on previous occasions--and even has a link over on the links page--because, even though we are not on the same page, or even in the same novella, politically speaking, I find his musings on life and childrearing thoughtful and even sometimes wise, and I am in awe of his astonishing and ever-shifting collection of pop cultural ephemera.

In short, I've given the man his props before.

But--and you saw the "but" coming, of course--he wrote this bit last week, in a post about the HBO 9-11 documentary--well, here, read the 'graph, and then I'll rant a little:

I was also struck, again, by the variety of people standing on the street below, or holding out pictures of missing loved ones. A Hispanic woman and son; an Asian couple; a Black gay man - aren’t these supposed to be the people marginalized and oppressed and devalued by society and the media? What are they doing on a documentary made by a giant media conglomerate? Could it be they all worked in the same place and got along, and that every single interaction wasn’t shaped and defined by Race and Gender and Shoe Size and all other forms of polarizing identity?

You can read the whole Bleat for context here. Lileks can certainly write circles around me, and I'm not even sure I can specifically articulate what bothered me about this--but of course, having come this far, having dug myself this deep into the hole, it would be silly to stop now. The weird bit about an HBO documentary somehow defying leftist stereotypes of media conglomerates by filming Asians and Hispanics and Blacks on the streets of New York City, for starters. But more than that, I was irked by the cheap shot at that old reliable straw man, Identity Politics, the implication that since New York City is able to function on a day to day basis with people of different races and backgrounds actually coexisting relatively peacefully, then clearly this whole identity politics nonsense is just a bunch of hooey, that multiracial multiethnic America doesn't need that kind of hogwash to get along.

Now, I do want to give Lileks his due: he knows a lot about New York, a lot about the hidden bits of the past which constantly creep into the present, those small pieces of history which hide in the cracks and make living here so constantly fascinating. I have learned things about the history of this city thanks to the obsessions of this Minnesota-based writer, and I guess that's just one of the small ironies of the online world.

And mostly I think the whole notion of "identity politics" is something that probably belongs next to "political correctness," up on the shelf of conservative canards which have been blown out of proportion in order to deflect attention from those who actually have power, and toward those have none. It's just doesn't strike me as a danger to the republic.

But the fact of the matter is, this city is up to its damned wazoo in ethnic pride and identity politics. Just to give you one quick example, here's a short list of some of the parades which take place in New York City every year:

Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown
St. Patrick's Day Parade
Brooklyn Irish American Parade
Greek Independence Day Parade
Norwegian-American 17th of May Parade
Salute to Israel Parade
Long Island (Gay) Pride Parade
Puerto Rican Day Parade
Philippine Independence Day Parade
Captive Nations Parade
Lesbian & Gay Pride Parade
Brooklyn Pride Parade
Bronx Dominican Parade
Brooklyn Puerto Rican Day Parade
Dominican Day Parade
Pakistani-American Independence Day Parade
Bronx Caribbean Cultural Parade
West Indian American Day Carnival Parade
Brazilian Festival
German American Steuban Parade
Muslim Parade and Festival
Korean Harvest Day Parade
Pulaski Day Parade (Polish Heritage celebration)
Columbus Day Parade (Italian Heritage celebration
Hispanic Columbus Day Parade
Jewish Pride Parade
Nigerian Parade

And this is excluding, for simplicity's sake, the myriad block parties and neighborhood festivals which are essentially celebrations of ethnic and/or cultural pride.

It would be easy to write this off as a romanticized midwestern view of the big city, but it would also be utterly unfair. In reality, Minneapolis is--from what I've seen of it--a reasonably diverse city, the population of which, according to year 2000 census figures, is 35% non-white. (New York is 33% non white, according to those figures.)

But here's the difference: the citizens of New York City are not isolated from one another in the way that people are in most other places I have lived. We don't stare out at each other through the reflections of our car windows--we're all crammed into the subway together, united in our annoyance. There are no gated communities, at least not in Manhattan--you may live in an upscale building in what the real estate agents euphemistically term a "desirable" neighborhood, complete with a door staff guarding the entrance like knights before the castle doors--but the minute you cross that moat and go out into the city, unless you are very, very, very rich, you are just one more hue in a swirling multicultural mass of cranky overcrowded irritable human beings doing their best to stay out of each other's way and get where they're going. (Nobody in this country understands how to move through crowds like New Yorkers. You become used to the weaving and bobbing of pedestrian traffic, and when you go to a crowded tourist site in some other city, it is as if you have left the Grand Prix and are suddenly forced to drive among a cluster of young drivers who are barely qualified to hold learner's permits.)

In short, this is, in fact, a city whose residents enthusiastically and constantly celebrate the identities that define and differentiate them. But this is the point: people do not coexist here in spite of identity politics, nor as a result of them. People get along here, to the extent that they do, because there are too damned many of them crammed into too small a space, and if they don't learn to get along, they're going to start gnawing at each other like rats in a lab experiment.

It doesn't really provide much grist for ennobling rhetoric about the human condition--but it does mostly work.


Friday, May 31, 2002

A very long week

Work, work, and more work, hence the sparsity of posts. No apologies--that's just the way it goes sometimes. But, a question, as we head into a warm summer weekend: It's the year 2002--where the hell is my tricked out Ford Futura?

According to the back of the postcard from which I lifted this image (said postcard being from San Francisco's astonishing Quantity Postcards shop in North Beach, incidentally), this car "is painted with a mixture of pulverized fish scales to give a lustrous pearl finish." It is controlled by "five different independent steering systems...voice, radio, Unitrol, push-button and conventional steering wheel," and features tires of "gold color Neothane glass" which illuminate at night.

I'll tell you, the future just isn't what it used to be.


Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Your cheery thought for the morning

From Eric Margolis in the Toronto Sun:

The world is now facing the most dangerous nuclear confrontation since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Yet in the West there is little media attention to this enormous threat, and almost no public interest or concern. The crisis over Kashmir might as well be on Jupiter. The discovery of the body of a long-missing female intern in Washington has totally eclipsed news of a possible nuclear war in South Asia that could kill tens of millions and contaminate the entire globe with clouds of radioactive dust.

Just call me Mr. Happy. Complete column here.


Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The Goofball-in-Chief

Apparently George Bush asked the president of Brazil, "Do you have Blacks too?"

I don't read German, and neither does Atrios, from whom I'm lifting this--but one of his readers provides a translation of the final paragraph:

"Rice, 47, who noticed how the Brazilian was stunned by the question, saved the situation by explaining to Bush, 'Mr. President, Brazil probably has more blacks than the US; they say it's the country with the most blacks outside Africa.' Afterwards Brazil's President Cardoso judged that, as far as Latin America is concerned, Bush is 'still an apprentice.'"

This one seems to be legit, but even if it does turn out to be some sort of misunderstanding--if Ari Fleischer comes out tomorrow and tells us that the President was actually asking if Brazil had any anthrax, or LoJacks, or some damned thing--the thing is, it passes the smell test, and that's what's scary. It's not hard to believe that the current President of the United States could ask a question like that.

Which segues into this little snippet from the New York Times (I'm too swamped today to find the link to the full story, but you kids are resourceful and clever and I'm sure you'll manage):

A lesson for correspondents covering Mr. Bush: When abroad, stick to English in the president's presence.

Offenders might otherwise find themselves in the situation David Gregory, an NBC News White House correspondent, who appeared to raise Mr. Bush's ire Sunday afternoon at Élysée Palace when he asked a rather in-your-face question to a tired president, then broke into French to seek Mr. Chirac's opinion.

Perhaps Mr. Bush thought the French question was directed at him, or perhaps he thought Mr. Gregory was showing off. Whatever the case, Mr. Bush, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said "Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental." (Mr. Gregory offered to go on in French, but that only made things worse.)

"I'm impressed ? que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for "how wonderful." He added: "Now I'm literate in two languages."

I caught a broadcast of the exchange, and it was even more cringeworthy than it reads.

This just in: terrorists planning to demolish Tokyo

From alert reader Brian McConnell:

Americans prepared for their Memorial Day weekend amid a flurry of uncorroborated terror threats, some of which, sources told ABCNEWS, were inspired by the 1998 remake of the Japanese monster movie "Godzilla."

Complete story here.


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