Wednesday, November 30, 2011

LOCAL: Fractured Atlas Event with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer

Fractured Atlas held a meet and greet last Wednesday evening at Topaz Arts featuring NY City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the Council  on Culture. (Official Press Release here).

Before I get into the notes of what Van Bremer said to the group, and the issues which were discussed, I want to spare a moment to say that if you're not already hip to what Fractured Atlas does, hurry the fuck up. They do more for independent arts in the United States than any major funding body, in my opinion, and the times that they have personally saved my skin are numerous. I literally can't imagine practicing art in New York without them. I'd probably just sell software for a living.

They're also really nice and approachable people, and it was great to meet them in person.


So, Van Bramer worked at the Public Library before getting a seat on the local community board (Queens CB2) and then winning a seat in the City Council. He's engaged now to be married, thanks to the legalization of same sex marriage (he fiddled with his wedding ring the entire time -- it was adorable).

Because I was livetweeting, my note-taking was a little broken up, but here are the important points that Van Bramer hit while he was talking:
  • Van Bramer, because of his position on the Committee of Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, sees himself as a "defender of the arts."
  • If you want to see what they do, here's a link to all of their meetings, along with agendas and minutes. Van Bramer acknowledges that city websites are not as transparent as they could be, and sometimes it's difficult figuring out when committee hearings and information are. He suggests signing up to Councilperson mailing lists, like his own.
  • He acknowledge that the economic times are such that it's "astounding" that we got "no cuts in the 2011 budget." A moment later he qualified that as "almost no cuts in the 2011 budget." Still, he acknowledged how unenviable it is that the best we can do right now is stop further cuts and bleeding.
  • On a question around Speaker Quinn cutting the arts out of her discretionary funds, he declined to comment on her decision-making. Spoke about her with respect, and said that each councilperson is responsible for their own discretionary funds. (I guess that's why they're "discretionary")
  • On the key question of the night, how do we arts advocates cause change, he says: "Politicians (for the most part) are human beings." Show up at meetings. If you keep coming and cropping up, we will remember you. You have to be present.
  • On getting money, he says, The money is at the city level, far more than the state or federal level. "But you have to ask for it." If you need $5,000, or $10,000, or finding a way to get a piece of legislation changed. If you don't ask, you can't get it.
  • On how arts advocates cause change: artists need to force questions on cultural policy during debates. There's no better time to put pressure on a politician then when they're running for office.
  • Also on that subject: community boards are critical, and people can actually get their voices heard on a number of important subjects. Councilmen have a certain amount of seats on community boards they can appoint, and they like to appoint people who are passionate about issues that they're passionate about (he appointed someone from Transportation for America to Queens CB2, because he's passionate about bike lanes).
  • One of the artists in the audience (a visual artist) asked about live/work spaces. It's hard enough to find affordable living spaces, but even when the city requires affordable housing, they don't focus on live/work spaces. Van Bramer acknowledged the need for more. He also mentioned that he and the director of MoMA have been talking about artists going and living in Far Rockaway. (The assembled artists did not seem warm to that idea.)
  • Another artist asked about doing work in public spaces, and how to negotiate that with the police if, for some reason, they decide its easiest to ask for forgiveness than permission. Van Bramer said that his office is always willing to serve as a go between artists and any city office (including Police Commissioner Kelly), to help them... and the earlier they're involved, the better.
  • Van Bramer spoke about his mission to make the city administration remember that the city includes Queens, not just Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. His example was the planned unveiling of bike-share to include just Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn -- he said "I'm confident that when bike-share is unveiled this summer, it will include Queens."
  • On a question about whether there will ever be a top-down arts policy, Van Bramer shook his head. The City has the best top-down, but when it comes to the state and federal governments, there isn't much. "If we have a country that refuses to ask the wealthy to pay more to support the arts, we will always have trouble."
  • Van Bramer paralleled our struggle for more visibility in the arts to his activism for LGBT rights. If more artists run for office, the arts will have more champions, and political training schools run by advocacy groups are invaluable.
  • On a question about the push for one percent of the city's funding to go to the arts, similar to the one percent of arts education that the Department of Education is recommended to spend, Van Bramer was pragmatic. Not under Bloomberg, who hates to ever have his hands tied on the budget. (He also raised concerns about unevenness in practice of the DoE's 1% for arts) Maybe if a Democrat wins the next election.
Overall, Van Bramer was enthusiastic (he says he was running pretty late to his next meeting), but also practical -- some things he was optimistic about, but he acknowledge that fighting for the arts in this economic crisis is a defensive game.

LOCAL: Not Funny. Don't Laugh.

"Student Maces Class at Academy for Social Action."

Don't laugh. It's not funny. Kids got hurt.

Really, don't think about the irony of a bunch of kids studying social action getting the full UC Davis protestor treatment. Because it was an accident, and people got hurt, so it's not funny.

It's not funny.

Why are you giggling?

It's not funny!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

HUMOR: The 99%

Very Philip K. Dick.

Quote of the Day II: Dumb as a Bag full of Newts

I try not to indulge in schadenfreude, but Newt Gingrich completely fails to evoke even the barest of sympathies. So I enjoyed this immensely:
"Language is supposed to be a package that carries substance, but Gingrich is sometimes so pleased with his uninterrupted stream of words, that he mistakes it for an actual flow of ideas…"

My Mind Lately

This race is HEATING UP:

Open more doors in life:
Because you'll find good things outside:
And because some are closing:

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Channelling Abbie Hoffman

This beautifully designed compendium contains all manner of whimsical scribblings, photographs and cartoons, together with some rock and roll music and vaudevillian ballads. 
Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire. All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless but rather than detain you with tedious arguments about morality, panache and book-keeping - when there are really bigger fish to filet these days - we are taking the following unusual step. 
If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can whole-heartedly recommend, “Ambassador Of Jazz” - a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name “Satchmo” but more importantly containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong. 
The box should be available for under one hundred and fifty American dollars and includes a number of other tricks and treats. Frankly, the music is vastly superior. If on the other hand you should still want to hear and view the component parts of the above mentioned elaborate hoax, then those items will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, assuming that you have not already obtained them by more unconventional means.


Previous installments: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, an update, and VII
The NYPD Disorder Control Memo leaked on Gothamist contains this point as point #1:
"A strong military appearance, with sharp and precise movements, is a force multiplier and a psychological advantage to us."
I wrote a long series of posts in the past about how rules of engagement are actually key to our culture, because:
Rules of Engagement are an under-examined but crucial aspect of a civilization. Every human being has the capacity for violence and destruction, but as societies we have slowly crafted a series of rules as to when we consider it acceptable to use that violence. A man beating another man to take his cell phone is banned by law; a man fighting off an attacker is presented. 
Usually, if you ask the question "Am I allowed to use force?" the answer is usually no. For the average civillian, questions of force and violence are simple, because we have removed most of the need for force and vested it in a number of uniformed force officials: police, agents, and soldiers. But having vested broader powers of force into police, agents, and soldiers means that those classes of individuals have a more complex relationship to force.
In terms of how we live out our beliefs as a country from day to day, these rules of engagement are more important than even the death penalty, because they are tested and tried every single day, and can be the difference between a brutal, detached dictatorship and a tolerant democracy.

Reading that memo recalled strongly to me a conversation I had with my father, which I recorded in an earlier installment:
[I]n the last story from the last segment, border agents used deadly force on a young boy because he was throwing stones. That's not an unfamiliar story, although the usual background is in Israel. It brought to mind (obviously) the recent shootings of protesters on the aid boat
I mentioned this to my father, after hearing the story, and he mentioned that Israel didn't used to shoot people with bullets. He said, "At some point in the last ten years, they simply stopped. They just started using bullets. Nobody talks about it, I don't know exactly when the decision was made."
I don't know much about the behind-the-scenes of the NYPD, but underlying the calculus of creating a "military" appearance and thinking in terms of force multipliers/psychological antagonism is the assumption that Occupy Wall Street is the enemy. 

Shorter Newt on Cain

"There but for the grace of God go I."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

CHANGE: Lessons in Effective Protest

Lesson #1:
The remaining students, who far outnumber the contingent of police, slowly start to encircle the officers while chanting "Shame on you!" The chants get louder and more menacing as the crowd gets closer, herding the police into a defensive huddle. Officers raise their weapons toward the crowd, warning them to back off, but at this distance and in these numbers, their riot gear would offer them little protection should the crowd suddenly charge. Sensing their advantage, the students change their chant to the more defiant "Whose university? Our university!" Tensions rise. One twitchy trigger finger and anything could happen. Then a lone voice initiates the familiar call and response of the human mic: 
Voice: "Mic check!" 
Crowd: "Mic check!" 
Voice: "We are willing..." 
Crowd: "We are willing..." 
Voice: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Crowd: "To give you a brief moment..." 
Voice: "Of peace..." 
Crowd: "Of peace..." 
Voice: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Crowd: "In order to take your weapons..." 
Voice: "And your friends..." 
Crowd: "And your friends..." 
Voice: "And go." 
Crowd: "And go." 
Voice: "Please do not return..." 
Crowd: "Please do not return..." 
Voice: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
Crowd: "We are giving you a moment of peace." 
The crowd then starts chanting "You can go! You can go!", and after a few moments the police turn their backs to the crowd and do exactly that, wisely taking advantage of the offered truce, and eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd. 
(h/t Mike Daisey)
Lesson #2:
UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi – the school official who OK’d the violent assault on students for peacefully protesting – was greeted by three city blocks of students on the way to her car, all of whom gave her the silent treatment. Click to watch. It’s an eerie yet powerful protest. 
A pretty remarkable thing just happened. A press conference, scheduled for 2:00pm between the UC Davis Chancellor and police on campus, did not end at 2:30. Instead, a mass of Occupy Davis students and sympathizers mobilized outside, demanding to have their voice heard. After some initial confusion, UC Chancellor Linda Katehi refused to leave the building, attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage. A group of highly organized students formed large gap for the chancellor to leave. They chanted “we are peaceful” and “just walk home,” but nothing changed for several hours. Eventually student representatives convinced the chancellor to leave after telling their fellow students to sit down and lock arms.
ME: Chancellor, do you still feel threatened by the students? 
One of the students pepper sprayed yesterday, a young man wearing a brown down coat over a tie-dye shirt, said he met with Kotehi and personally showed her a video of pepper spraying attack. Speaking to about a thousand students with the “human mic,” the young man said he personally asked for her resignation.
This protest, unlike the fuzzy, on-going protest at Occupy Wall Street, managed to throw its opposition to stark relief while still taking the high road. Part of it is luck - I don't know if you can plan for pepper spray. But from that moment forward, the students of UC Davis took the same approach my mother took in all her fights in life: calm, rational, straight to the point.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

POLICY: The "Internet Censorship" Bill

The current law (DMCA - which is already not a great bill), at least gives websites like YouTube or Facebook the ability to be legally safe so long as they respond to copyright take-down notices in a timely manner. For instance, if someone posts a movie that includes copyrighted content, the copyright holder can send a notice to YouTube, and YouTube can exercise discretion and either take it down, or respond to the request.

Now, if someone posts a movie to YouTube that has copyrighted content, the copyright holder can take the complaint to the domain registrants and demand that YouTube be taken off the internet.

This is worse than simply censorship. This is vigilante censorship -- censorship done outside of the courts, by self-appointed warriors.

If it passes, we go from all being criminals to all being felons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


From Jeremy at CultureBot:
Don’t be suckered. The idea of the critic that Kaiser laments isn’t the idealized public intellectual he tries to paint a picture of. This “serious” critic of “serious” art is, in the end, providing just another consumer report. This is a deeply important task in the world Kaiser imagines we live in–without a member of the cultural elite defining the value of a cultural good, how are the plebs supposed to know whether the ticket’s worth the cost?  
That’s why the thing Kaiser finds truly “scary” is the idea that audiences can now voice their own thoughts via the Internet. Because the audience, of course, isn’t supposed to have its own thoughts. It’s supposed to accept the value of what it’s consuming and, should it find itself out of step with elite opinion, worry about its ignorance, about why it’s so wrong.