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September 26, 2003
Open thread 6
Posted by Teresa at 09:37 PM *

Sorry about my quiescence. I’ve fallen ill, and am about to go teach at a workshop. I’ll still be around, but it won’t be a broadband connection and I’ll be sharing both connection and computer with Patrick.

September 23, 2003
September 22, 2003
The art of Yoshida Hiroshi, 1931
Posted by Teresa at 11:23 AM *

These are from the online collection of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian.

Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) was a Japanese artist who picked up and assimilated a lot of Western influences while still working within the Japanese printmaking tradition. In the decade before WWII he traveled in the Far East, making pictures of non-Japanese subjects. They’re beautiful. I’ve linked to the smaller versions of the pictures so you can see the commentary, but you should click through to see the larger versions of the pictures. Some of them required as many as 81 impressions to get the effects he wanted.

Kanchenjunga - Morning.
Kanchenjunga - Noon.
Kanchenjunga - Afternoon.
The Golden Pagoda in Rangoon.
Victoria Memorial, Calcutta.
Ghat in Varanasi (Benares).
Taj Mahal No. 1.
Taj Mahal - Night.
A Window in Fatehpur Sikri.
Jami Masjid, Delhi.
The Golden Temple at Amritsar.
Ajmer Gate, Jaipur.
High Gate at Ajmer.
Udaipur Palace.
Cave Temple at Ajanta.
Great Temple in Madura.
Morning at Darjeeling.
Moonlight of Taj Mahal No. 4.
Shalimar Garden, Lahore.
A Gate to the Stupa of Sanchi.
Island Palaces in Udaipur.
Snake Charmers.
Night in Taj Mahal No. 6.
Caravan from Afghanistan.
Caravan from Afghanistan - Night.
Outskirts of a Village.
No. 3 Cave Temple in Ellora.
Morning Mist in Taj Mahal No. 5.

Addendum: Yoshida Hiroshi does Mt. Fuji. Here’s the print in high resolution, 1:1 scale.

Go look
Posted by Teresa at 09:13 AM *

LanguageHat wrote an interesting post about Rdiaeng—that meme that’s going around about how

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe. ceehiro.
—plus a number of related subjects. That alone makes it worth going over there. But, oh my word, you should see the discussion that follows it. Gorgeous.

Open thread 5
Posted by Teresa at 08:51 AM *

Because who wants to have to scroll that far down?

September 21, 2003
Ohio man released pending appeal in “obscene” journal case
Posted by Teresa at 09:51 PM *

On the parole arguement there a whole other arguement about the nature/dangers of probation.
me I’m deeply ambivilant about it on one hand it does seem to work moderately well (work defined as keeping people out of prison)where prison is crap Utilatarian-benifit-wise. On the other there is an element rethe libedrtarian in me (Note the lower case ‘l’) it doesn’t sit well on my stomach. More or less explicitly we’re taliking about trying to ‘mould charcter’. Which at the very least needs to be limited to those aspects of the perp which violate other people’s real interests (A Forterie NOT including upseting theiir feelings). Have heard a few horror stories 3rd and 4th hand. Maybe its paranoid of me to think that its a 50-50 bet as to wether if I’m unfortionate enuf to get under his tender administrations my PO will demaND I dumpster my SF collection or burn my kinky Magazine collection

Look, let’s just pretend I’m not blogging this.
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 PM *

“All right, it’s a guilty pleasure. You don’t have to tell me. I already know it. Just—look, I already know it, okay? So I just ,,, do it, and get it over with, and that’s that. I’m a grownup, I don’t have to justify myself. Even though I’m taking this test. All right?”

Which West Wing character are you? (via Stet)

Subway outlaws
Posted by Teresa at 12:14 PM *

Subway Outlaws is a rich, complex site about the work and history of NYC’s aerosol graffiti artists. There’s a lot of sadness in it, starting with an RIP page for dead graffiti artists—the term they use is “writers”—that’s an appalling 130 names long.

The lifestyle was hard. Some writers were throwaways or runaways, living wherever they could. Almost all of them were out stealing paint, sneaking into subway yards and tunnels at all hours, and getting into fights with other writers over territory, real and imagined slights, and raids on each others’ paint supplies. They tell wild stories about escape attempts, successful and otherwise, when the police showed up. Although their joy was great when they saw a car they’d painted in use in the subway system, in effect a traveling billboard for their work, there was always a good chance that the cars they’d just gone to so much trouble to paint were going to immediately get hauled into maintenance and buffed straight down to the metal, so that no one would ever see what they did.

(Speaking as a subway rider, I think it would have helped if they hadn’t spraypainted over the windows, and written tags on the subway maps inside the cars. Back then, the MTA’s rolling stock was no prize to start with. You’d have to be a real grump to object to graffiti’s decorative aspect. It was the impaired functionality that was the problem. Okay, that plus the small-scale tags all over everything.)

It all got cleaned up eventually. Some of the guys who did it are still painting, doing murals or working on canvas, but the old wild days have been obliterated. All they have left are their memories and photos. Thus their interest in preserving their own history.

When you read their recollections, two things come through loud and clear: their abiding love for their close friends who shared their adventures and collaborated on their art, and their astonished sense of wonder and desire when they began to understand what they could do with a bunch of spraycans and a blank subway car. It would be beautiful. It would be theirs. And, if they were lucky, everyone in the city would see it.

Just to clarify things: I’m not sorry that it’s no longer possible to cover every available surface in NYC with pointless repetitive tags drawn in heavy magic marker. I am sorry that the city’s full of kids who don’t have better ways to express themselves. But whatever else you want to say about it, the work done by the best of the subway car artists was remarkable.

September 20, 2003
Get out your decoder rings
Posted by Teresa at 10:52 PM *

Imagines Italicae (via Phluzein, via LanguageHat), the Institute of Classical Studies in London, has posted a couple of mystery inscriptions and is asking whether anyone has any idea what they say.

Bearing in mind that I have no idea what I’m talking about, none whatsoever, I am nevertheless of the opinion that the first inscription, which a fellow named Antonini thinks is some kind of Greek, looks to me more like some kind of Egyptian. It’s that first character in the second row—looks like a stylized version of one of the determinatives signifying a human being or a god. That is: the hieroglyph that looks like a person sitting with knees drawn up, seen from the side.

And now, if Erik’s around, he can tell me it’s nothing like.

The second inscription is a rip. They say it’s from a cup with “erotic representations”, but all they give you is a picture of the scratchy little three-letter inscription, with none of the representations. Bah.

Briefing on the Investigation of Antiquity Loss
Posted by Teresa at 07:51 PM *

On Wednesday, September 10, Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos gave a Briefing on the Investigation of Antiquity Loss from the Baghdad Museum, with accompanying slides. Bogdanos has the sound of a man who’s telling the truth and cares about his subject; and the story he tells has the kind of unpredictable human complexity, overlapping motivations, multiple approaches to problems, unlikely factors coming into play, and moments of foolishness and ingenuity, that you’d expect from an event of this size. For instance:

Turning now to the chronology of events.a0Years before Iraqi freedom, most of the gold and jewelry that was kept at the museum was removed to the Central Bank of Iraq.a0It was moved in 21 separate boxes.a0 Sixteen of those boxes contained the royal family collection of gold and jewelry, approximately 6,744 pieces, placed in one of the underground vaults of the central bank.a0 A second set of five boxes contained the fabled Treasure of Nimrud and the original golden bull’s head from the Golden Harp of Ur. The vaults themselves were flooded prior to the team’s arrival in Baghdad, but with the assistance of Mr. Jason Williams and his National Geographic crew, we pumped out the water—took three weeks to pump out the water from the underground vaults—and ultimately were able to gain entry into the vaults.a0 And in a moment that can only be characterized as sheer joy, we opened each of those boxes and found the treasure of Nimrud completely there, intact.a0 And ultimately it was able to be displayed at the one-day opening we had on the 3rd of July.
And here’s a story about an attempted but only partially successful inside job in a basement storage area. I believe this one. They’d have to have a mad genius in the propaganda dept. to make this up, and a madder genius to have faked the evidence; and if they were of a mind to do such things, they could have come up with WMD evidence (or anything else they wanted to manufacture) by now:
Turning to the basement-level storage room, on the other hand, the evidence here strongly suggests not random looters, as in the other magazines, but rather the evidence here suggests thieves with an intimate knowledge of the museum and its storage procedures.a0 I have a diagram of the basement up here for you.

It is here, in the basement magazine, that they attempted to steal the most traffickable and easily transportable items stored in the most remote corner of the most remote room in the basement of the museum.a0The front door of this basement room was intact and unforced, but its bricked rear doorway, accessed only through a remote, narrow and hidden stairwell, was broken and entered.a0 This storage area actually has four rooms, three of which96-(talking to himself) that doesn92t work,a0 you can see the L-shaped rooms. (Showing slides.) On the far side, if you start from the far side and you count one, two, three, four, the L-shaped, it’s the second room that was entered.a0 The other three rooms, containing tens of thousands of priceless pieces, were simply not touched.

However, the fourth room was also virtually untouched, except for one remote corner where 103 small plastic boxes originally containing cylinder seals, loose beads, amulets, small glass bottles and jewelry had been emptied, while hundreds and hundreds of surrounding larger, but empty, cardboard boxes 96 (to staff) next, please—as you see there, were completely untouched.a0The thieves here had keys that had previously been hidden elsewhere in the museum, not the keys that were in the museum director’s safe; a separate set of keys that was established by the museum as a safety procedure to have a second set of keys for these cabinets.a0They were hidden elsewhere in the museum.a0That hiding place was known to only several people in the museum.a0Whoever did this had those keys.

These keys were to 30 storage cabinets that lined that particular corner of the room. It’s the brown storage cabinets that you see before you.a0Those cabinets contained arguably the world’s finest collection of absolutely exquisite cylinder seals and the world’s finest collection of Greek, Roman, Islamic and Arabic gold and silver coins.

Ironically, the thieves here appeared to have lost the keys to those cabinets by dropping them in one of the plastic boxes that lined the floor.a0There was no electricity at the time in the museum during this period, so the thieves lit the foam padding for light.a0After frantically and unsuccessfully searching for the keys in the fire-lit room, breathing in the noxious fumes from the foam and throwing those boxes in every direction, they were unable to gain access to the storage cabinets.

We ultimately found the keys under the debris after a methodically, fully lit and hours-long search.a0Upon inspecting those cabinets, and opening each one with absolutely bated breath, we learned that not a single cabinet had been entered and a catastrophic loss narrowly averted.

However, the contents of the plastic boxes were taken by the thieves.a0Those boxes, while—the contents, while not of the same caliber as the items in the storage cabinets, were nonetheless valuable in their own right.a0 All together from those boxes, there were 4,997 pins, beads, amulets and pendants, and 4,795 cylinder seals.a0An additional 500 smaller pottery pieces and bronze weapons from the shelves were also taken. So, from this room alone, 10,337 pieces were stolen, of which, 667 have been recovered.
Okay. Some losses. But I like the idea of the thieves dropping their keys into the litter of plastic boxes on the floor which they themselves had created, scrabbling around in the dark as they tried to find them again by the light of burning foam padding, all the while breathing in the increasingly noxious fumes … which I hope left them sick as dogs. The whole episode is utterly believable, in that dumb human way that’s so very hard to fake. (via Kathy Li)

Addendum: Happy news: the Lady of Warka has been recovered.

September 19, 2003
I gave my cat an enema, and other stories
Posted by Teresa at 08:14 PM * calls itself a weblog, but it’s more a collection of short stories, illustrated by the author with crayon drawings of stick figures. Titles include Toad Patrol, Cub Scout Confidential, My Neighbor Is Insane, Macrame Disaster, Grandma’s Been Kidnapped!, Drag Queen Traffic Mishap, and I Gave My Cat an Enema.

These are simple tales. For example, “Grandma’s Been Kidnapped!” begins:
I come from a long line of insane hillbillies. I say that because my relatives are all from Kentucky, and lots of them are crazy. There’s my uncle, Ray (NOT his real name), for instance. He’s my mom’s youngest brother. This is the story of the time he decided to kidnap my Grandma. I’m not a trained psychiatrist, but I would have to say Uncle Ray is more or less a bipolar schizophrenic paranoid psycho nutboy, to put it in clinical terms. …
(via Tvindy)

Posted by Teresa at 08:49 AM *

It’s International “Talk Like a Pirate” Day.

How to do it:

1. Rhotic, like, to the max.

2. The basic phonetic unit of pirate speech is the single long-drawn-out letter: R, I, A, etc.

3. Interpolate random piratical interjections: avast, belay, matey, me hearties, blow me down, bugger me standing, etc.

4. In a pinch, try the Pirate filter. If you’re fluent in Gangsta, you can also use the Pirate - Gangsta glossary.

5. Only to talk like a pirate. Not to make walk the plank. Not to sack the Accounting Department. For that is the law.


For additional joy, read Avast There!, a piece in—of all things—the Salt Lake Tribune. It begins:
Good evening, I’m Jim Lehrer. Tonight we are joined by several of the Democratic candidates for president. But, before we begin, some ground rules.

Today, Sept. 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, an annual celebration founded by a couple of community theater types from Oregon. In the spirit of this wonderful example of pointless American innovation, and in hopes of getting anyone to actually pay attention to them, the candidates have agreed to answer questions tonight in the manner of a pirate captain, or as near as they can get from their experience of watching three generations of Disney movies.

The first question is for Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. Governor, what do you propose to do about the high price of prescription drugs?

“Arrrh, Jim boy! Thar be tons of cheap pill up thar in Canada, all a man can carry, ripe for the takin’. All we need do is hoist anchor for Toronto! The Mounties won’t try an’ stop us, and those scurvy dogs from the FDA will taste the point of our grandma’s walker if they get in our way!”

Now we turn to Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. …
Arrrrrrrrrrh! And me thanks to Fearsome Beth Meacham, her wot they calls th’ Scourge o’ the Southwest, fer sendin’ it my way.

Posted by Teresa at 12:46 AM *

Earlier it was pleasantly cool and breezy, so we had all the windows open. Then, late this evening, there was a sudden gust outside, the curtains blew back from the windows, and our unlatched front door slammed wide open.

Looks like this one might amount to something.

September 17, 2003
September 16, 2003
At the foot of the Flatiron Building
Posted by Teresa at 08:50 PM *

One windy day in October 1903, cameraman A. E. Weed of the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company set up his camera at 23rd Street and Broadway and Fifth Avenue—that is, near the northernmost point of the Flatiron Building—and took this film.

The Flatiron Building (or, more properly, the Fuller Building) had only been completed the year before, but its north end had already acquired a reputation as the windiest corner in the city. Naturally, this led mashers to congregate there on blustery days, hoping to get a look at ladies’ inadvertently bared ankles. (If they knew where to stand, these degenerates could simultaneously watch the 23rd Street subway gratings, which would occasionally lift ladies’ skirts to even more dramatic heights. But I digress.) Police running off the area’s population of cads and mashers was supposedly what gave rise to the phrase “23 skiddoo”. I’ve never understood how that got started; still, that’s the story they tell.

I know that stretch of sidewalk very well indeed. I work in the Flatiron. The camera’s set up just a few feet away from the door where Patrick and I enter the building in the morning. For the record, the ground-level winds there can still be pretty intense, though perhaps not as ferocious as they were when the Flatiron was four or five times taller than any of the buildings around it.

What I like best about the film are the unselfconscious gestures. I, too, have clutched my hat and reined in my skirts when I’ve come around that corner on a windy day; but I’m a child of the late 20th century, and thus a dilettante about such things. The people in this film are confirmed lifelong hat-wearers. Their gestures when they hold their hats on are completely automatic.

An odd thing you see about halfway through the film is two different well-dressed women temporarily walking backwards down the sidewalk, keeping their faces to the wind, while they resettle and secure their hats. That took me by surprise, but after a little thinking I saw that it was logical. Facing into the wind would help keep their hair tucked up and smoothed back while they repositioned their hats and hatpins.

There’s a bit of ankle flashed at the right of the screen about a third of the way through, but it’s not until somewhere around the three-quarters mark that we get a substantial show. This is courtesy of a well-endowed young lady in a very tight bodice. Her skirt is significantly shorter and less voluminous than the ones the other women wear, and she has only one flimsy petticoat beneath it. That petticoat is nevertheless essential, since without it we would very nearly catch sight of her knees.

We first see the girl from behind, as she walks past the camera from left to right. Then she stops and turns around for no reason at all, and strolls back past the camera from right to left, only this time closer in. And for just a moment after she disappears off the edge of the screen, you can see a tall man in the crowd turn around to watch her go—the hussy!

This bit of film came from the Early Films of New York section of the Library of Congress’s American Memory site. There, if you’re interested, you can also see Buffalo Bill Cody parading through the streets of New York with his entourage of American Indian notables. Or you can watch a procession of aging Civil War veterans marching along, in their regulation forage caps and blue uniform blouses, on the occasion of the Funeral of Hiram Cronk—who, when he died at the age of 105, was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812.

But if you’re very, very brave, and have the bandwidth to spare, I recommend that you go to the Variety Stage Motion Pictures section and check out the 1907 three-parter called Fights of Nations. I’m not even going to try to describe it.

I love history.

What the world needs now…
Posted by Teresa at 12:03 PM *

…is some good mysteries and thrillers written by and for pissed-off centrists and liberals.

September 11, 2003
Mythic source material
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

I grew up along Route 66, the mother lode of tacky postcards. I collected them until people started producing deliberately tacky cards, which don’t have the same thrill.

One of the durable subgenres was the “exaggeration” or “giant object” postcard. These showed giant fish being hauled out of the water, with a caption saying that these were some of the small ones; or produce laid out on one of the flatcars from someone’s model railroad layout, with a caption saying that they raised ‘em pretty big here. Occasionally they’d turn surreal, with cards showing cattle punching on a jackrabbit, or successful hunters carrying home a string of giant grasshoppers.

My childhood exposure to these cards was the genesis of one of my basic theories, which is that if there is a collective unconscious, the things that arise from it aren’t dignified mythic archetypes. Those, people find because they want to find them; and when they do, they find them in books and paintings. The real collective unconscious (if it exists) is full of giant object postcards, drinking vessels shaped like footwear, paintings of animals engaged in human activities, and narratives involving the miraculous doings of either Jesus or Superman when he was a boy—all things which repeatedly pop up at widely separated times and places, with no justification for them beyond the fact that they exist.

Thus I was startled to discover an article about, and the existence of, the seminal giant object postcard-maker himself: William H. Martin (1865-1940). He did it all: fish stories, monster rabbit roundups, hunters making improbable hauls, and farmers bringing in their giant produce.

I’m sticking to my theory about the collective unconscious (if one exists). He may have been the first, but other postcard-devisers swiftly and enthusiastically adopted his tropes, as though the urge to make cheesy photocollage giant-object postcards had, until that moment, lain dormant within them.

September 10, 2003
Witness and response
Posted by Teresa at 02:46 PM *

The exhibit is called Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress:

Over the past year and in almost every section of the Library of Congress, staff have sought and received an abundance of original material including prints, photographs, drawings, poems, eyewitness accounts and personal reactions, headlines, books, magazines, songs, maps, videotapes, and films.
I expect that everyone will be struck by something different. For myself, I’ll mention the drawings by third graders in the American Folklife Center, the comic book art and political cartoons section, and the poster gallery.

I’ll be flying tomorrow. Shouldn’t be a problem. See you all later.

Earth Science Missions Anomaly Report: Really big owie
Posted by Teresa at 01:28 PM *

The NOAA-N Prime spacecraft being built at Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, CA has suffered an embarrassingly dumb accident:

Earth Science Missions Anomaly Report: GOES/POES Program/POES Project: 6 Sep 2003

DATE OF ANOMALY: September 6, 2003

LOCATION OF ANOMALY: Lockheed Martin, Sunnyvale CA


As the NOAA-N Prime spacecraft was being repositioned from vertical to horizontal on the “turn over cart” at approximately 7:15 PDT today, it slipped off the fixture, causing severe damage. (See attached photo). The 18’ long spacecraft was about 3’ off the ground when it fell.

The mishap was caused because 24 bolts were missing from a fixture in the “turn over cart”. Two errors occurred. First, technicians from another satellite program that uses the same type of “turn over cart” removed the 24 bolts from the NOAA cart on September 4 without proper documentation. Second, the NOAA team working today failed to follow the procedure to verify the configuration of the NOAA “turn over cart” since they had used it a few days earlier.


The shock and vibration of the fall undoubtedly caused tremendous damage. Significant rework and retest will be required. NOAA-N Prime is planned for launch in 2008.
Check out the photos. I regret to say that the aftermath looks like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon. (via Tim Kyger)

Creative marketing
Posted by Teresa at 10:47 AM *

Claire Eddy had the new Harriet Carter catalog sitting on top of her mail stack this morning. While leafing through it, I found this piece of creative marketing:

MISSING BOOKS OF THE BIBLE lets you read the books omitted from the Bible—in their entirety. Learn of the amazing stories and heroic acts of Susanna, Solomon, Judah Maccabee and others. …

Posted by Teresa at 01:07 AM *

Claude Muncey has very kindly referred me to Anders Bell’s Phluzein, a weblog devoted to archaeology. If you’re me, everything in it is interesting.

If you don’t particularly fancy archaeology, or you’re feeling lightminded this afternoon, try his inquiry into why Hollywood uses Aramaic for arcane inscriptions, or his piece on sexual innuendo in Sumerian poetry, and its follow-up post about Hittites and their horses. More seriously, Bell also links to things like Dr. Francis Deblauwe’s site on The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology, a sort of scholarly weblog that’s tracking the status of Iraqi antiquities and the way that story is being reported. This is from the site’s sidebar:
My best guess of the Losses & Damage at the National Museum (very approximate numbers based on all available info, my evaluation of the quality of same info, and lots of extrapolation and common sense; updated whenever new info changes the picture)
• 100 artifacts in public galleries: 30% missing, 21% damaged • 485,174 artifacts in storage inside Museum: 3% missing, 4% damaged
• 7,360 artifacts in storage in Central Bank: 0% missing, 3% damaged
• 8,366 artifacts in storage elsewhere outside the Museum: 0% missing, 4% damaged
501,000 artifacts in total, of which 3% (13,166) missing and 4% (17,633) damaged

• contrary to press and initial US military reports, the 39,453 manuscripts and scrolls found in a bomb shelter in western Baghdad were the Saddam House of Manuscripts (now renamed Iraqi House of Manuscripts) collection and thus not a part of the Museum holdings

• the frequently mentioned total figure of 170,000 reflects the inventory numbers; however, lots of individual inventory numbers cover large groups of artifacts

If you’re American, appeal to your US Representative.

To support H.R. 2009, the Iraq Cultural Heritage Protection Act, click here.
Below that in his sidebar is Deblauwe’s “Running tally of sites looted in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq War.” The site has also been collecting relevant pictures that’ve made their way out of Iraq. They won’t make your day happier, but you should get a look at them.

(Do you know, I still occasionally get nasty little notes from freepers in the comment threads of my old posts about the looting of Baghdad’s museums? If they’re not hooting about how only a few dozen artifacts went missing—a contemptible lie at this point, given how thoroughly that piece of disinformation has been exploded—they’re posting junk like “You are so gay.” I just delete them. Life is too short to deal with people who have that little respect for their own intelligence.)

In the same piece in which it links to Deblauwe’s site, Phluzein also links to’s Stolen Artifacts site, which consists of a single long page of links to “Stolen archaeological, ethnographic, or ancient materials: Listings & notices of stolen artefacts sorted by culture area.” I’ve followed my websurfing nose through sites like these before, but haven’t written about them becauses I find them too distressing. I know that’s wimpy, but this stuff gets to me.

Wandering off the subject of Phluzein —

This whole matter of artifact theft has given me a new appreciation of forgery. If all people want is a nice-looking unprovenanced object that’s indistinguishable from a real pre-Columbian pot or Roman mosaic or canopic jar, and they just want to set it on a shelf in their living room and feel cultured, why not give it to them? Or rather, why not charge them through the nose for it?

All kinds of fraudulent bric-a-brac gets sold in the Antiquities section of eBay. At first I was inclined to think poorly of the practice, but now it’s occurred to me that every sucker on eBay who’s paying inflated prices for fake Clovis points and Roman oil lamps is someone who’s not going to spend that money buying genuine illicit antiquities. They’ll like them just as well as they’d like the real thing—it’s more the idea of the object, rather than the thing itself—and it’ll do world civilization much less harm.

I like forgers a lot more than I like the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP). They’re a bunch of high-end big-money bad guys, antiquities collectors and dealers and arts lawyers, who talk about the “retentionist” policies of “source countries”, by which they mean “laws against paying desperately poor locals a pittance to loot major artifacts from inadequately protected archaeological sites.” Archaeological scholars view them with suspicion and dismay, and cherish well-founded beliefs that they exist primarily to lobby for the dismantling of pesky laws forbidding pot-hunting, looting, and the international trade in stolen antiquities. Here, now:
In the aftermath of these two devastating attacks on culture, attention has focused on the activities of the American Council for Cultural Policy. Even the British press that works under some of the toughest libel laws in the world has been willing to suggest that the ACCP may have influenced US government policy on Iraqi cultural artifacts.
The ACCP was formed in 2001 by a group of wealthy art collectors to lobby against the Cultural Property Implementation Act, which attempts to regulate the art market and stop the flow of stolen goods into the US. It has defended New York art dealer Frederick Schultz, who was convicted under the National Stolen Property Act, and opposes the use of the 1977 US v. McClain decision as a legal precedent in cases concerning the handling of stolen art objects.

In the McClain case a US judge accepted that all pre-Columbian art or jewellery brought into the US without the express consent of the Mexican government was stolen property. Mexican law regards all archaeological artifacts as state property and bans their export. Mexico is one of a number of countries that has such legislation.
The McClain decision can be made to sound unreasonable. It isn’t. It addresses the issue of the ownership of Mexico’s rich and varied archaeological heritage. Everyday property laws were never intended to deal with ancient artifacts whose owners and their heirs vanished centuries ago.

With a piece of modern art or jewelry, it’s simple: you either own it, or you have it in keeping for its owner under some well-defined arrangement, or you’ve taken unlawful possession of it. Normal laws can deal with all those things. But who’s the rightful owner of an artifact from a rifled tomb? That’s a lot trickier, especially if there’s no documentation saying which rifled tomb it came from—which of course there isn’t. This leaves you with two alternatives. If you assume that all such artifacts are legally held unless it can be proven that they were stolen, there’ll be no stopping the looting. You might as well expedite processing at Customs by setting up a separate lane for thieves.

The other alternative is to assume that any undocumented artifact is stolen property—which, by the way, it almost certainly is. If the person trying to get it across the border didn’t steal it personally, they bought it from someone who bought it from someone who did.

The market creates the theft. Dirt-poor campesinos wouldn’t spend their time pothunting if rich Norteamericanos weren’t there to buy their finds—for a pittance, too, compared to the prices they’ll bring in a showroom. Mexico, like Iraq, has a lot of cool stuff lurking in widely scattered archaeological sites. It’s impossible to guard all the sites. Interdicting undocumented artifacts is the only real solution. Unscrupulous international dealers hate those laws. Tough noogies. They’re the reason those laws exist.
Ashton Hawkins, a leading art lawyer and founder of the ACCP, regards such legislation as “retentionist”. He has condemned the archaeologically rich “source” countries for attempting to protect their archaeological sites and museums by such measures, and has argued that under the Clinton administration such “retentionist” policies came to dominate US government policy.
Hawkins is talking in code. “Retentionism” isn’t a policy, and it doesn’t stem from the Clinton or any other administration. “Retentionism” is what in first-world countries is known as “wanting to keep your stuff and not have it stolen.”

I’ll give you an analogy. Britain is full of churches: big ones, little ones, sumptuous ones, weird little old ones, et cetera and so forth. Some of them aren’t much used these days. And unless they’re in the middle of a built-up area, most of them don’t lock their doors.

Those churches are full of cool stuff accumulated over the centuries—mortuary monuments, stained glass, brass effigies, queer folkloric woodcarvings, ornamental romanesque figures chasing each other around the tops of stone pillars, old regimental battle flags hung up in the rafters—just all kinds of nifty stuff to make glad the heart of an antiquities dealer. With a little work, most of it could be had with a hammer and chisel.

Suppose economic conditions in Britain got really grim, adults dressed in rags, children starving, all that sort of thing. And suppose I set myself up in business in some hungry but architecturally rich area, saying “No questions asked, of course, but I’m a great admirer of fourteenth-century memorial brasses. And those seventeenth-century memento mori stone monuments? Simply irresistible. But of course, I’m interested in anything really special that happens along. Top prices paid.”

Under those conditions, it wouldn’t be surprising if unnamed malfeasants started gouging hunks out of the fabric of local churches. At that point I could claim, as the ACCP does, that the antiquities trade is the only way to preserve all this great old material that’s clearly in danger of being destroyed. And if the British government, noting a growing problem with vandalized churches, passed a law prohibiting the export of such artifacts, I could send out press releases, and complain to Georgie Boy and his cronies, calling Britain a “source country” and accusing its government of practicing “retentionism.”

Here’s the nub of the matter: Why are there all these nifty archaeological sites available for plunder? Because before the international antiquities trade got started, nobody bothered to plunder them, except maybe for building stone, plus the occasional chance-found tchotchke. Anatolian goat herders and Yucatecan campesinos don’t suffer from an inexplicable compulsion to dig up old sites. You can’t eat potsherds. The vandalism the antiquities dealers cite as justification for their trade happens because they’re there to buy the results.
Hawkins has his sights set on the great Middle Eastern museums. He has called for the Egyptian antiquities that are held in the Cairo Museum to be dispersed. “I would like to propose,” he said, “that the Cairo Museum offer museums around the world the opportunity to acquire up to 50 objects for their collections. In return, the museums would make a very substantial contribution for the construction of the new museum under the Giza plateau-$1 million each, for example.”
The ACCP’s inaugural meeting took place at the Fifth Avenue apartment of Guido Goldman, a collector of Uzbek textiles. Among those present were Arthur Houghton, the former curator of the Getty Museum at Malibu in California, which is notorious for displaying works of suspicious provenance. Hawkins himself retired in 2000 as vice president of the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, an institution that, according to its own former director, Thomas Hoving, holds many artifacts looted from Etruscan tombs.

Before the war began, the ACCP met with Pentagon officials, declaring their great concern for Iraqi antiquities. What that concern means is evident from the remarks of William Pearlstein, the group’s treasurer, who also describes Iraqi laws on antiquities as “retentionist”. The ACCP deny that they want Iraqi laws changed, but the looting of the museum and library will effectively circumvent that problem if US law on stolen art objects and archaeological material can be changed.

Professor John Merryman of Stanford Law School and a member of the ACCP has called for a “selective international enforcement of export controls” in US courts. In other words, it should be perfectly legitimate to import the objects looted from Baghdad if a US court chooses not to recognise Iraqi legislation.

Merryman set out the organisation’s principles in a 1998 paper in which he argued that the fact that an art object had been stolen did not in itself bar it from lawful importation into the US.
In the interest of remaining fair and balanced, you could read this article from The Art Newspaper, which thinks the ACCP is just ducky. But then, they would; the professional art world likes to see objects bought and sold. No matter who buys them or who sells them, they do the brokering and take their cut. You could also have a look here, where the subject got thrashed out with some vigor. But in my opinion the best place to go is The Threat to World Heritage in Iraq:
The original aim of this website, in February-March 2003, was to warn of the dangers to cultural heritage during and after a war in Iraq. In the event, the disaster was far worse, and happened far faster, than we ever imagined. …
In spite of their shock and despair, they’ve put together an excellent site. The only problem is the news it carries.

September 08, 2003
To put it bluntly
Posted by Teresa at 08:44 PM *

The Scarlet Pimpernel sent me these pictures of vox pop roadside signs, photographed a few days ago on Interstate 5 between San Diego and Los Angeles.

I should note that the third sign is not correct. Georgie Boy did mention Osama bin Laden once this past summer. It took a point-blank question at a press conference to do it, but he did actually allow the name to escape his lips.

dulce&decorum.jpg 32000.jpg 14mosOsama.jpg

Naturally, George doesn’t want people remembering that Osama bin Laden was the actual author of the 9/11 terrorism. His first-term agenda called for picking a fight with Saddam Hussein, not bin Laden. That way George could one-up his dad, chalk up an easy victory (Bush & Co. really did expect that), possibly use Iraq’s resources to help defray the cost of the war, and get himself re-elected. Meanwhile, with everyone distracted by the war, he’d loot the national economy on behalf of his rich backers.

Then some little Saudi radical had to make trouble by taking out the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. It was too blatant. George had to do the war-with-Afghanistan thing instead. But as early as he possibly could, he transferred all the emphasis to drumming up the war with Iraq. That’s why there was no provision made for the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan that would have made the war there worth something. The war with Afghanistan was never part of the plan in the first place. Bush & Co. simply weren’t interested in pursuing it.

It’s also why Cheney’s attention was already focused on pinning the attacks on Saddam Hussein by the afternoon of 9/11, long before the administration had answered questions like “what is going on,” “are there any more people alive under that rubble,” “what’s needed here”, or even “how are all those stranded people going to get home from the Maritimes.” 9/11 was a crisis only insofar as it had interrupted their agenda, and Cheney was trying to push things back on track.

And it’s also why Bush & Co., especially Rumsfeld, repeatedly and personally (and by all reports very uncivilly) insisted on overruling the Pentagon planners who told them how many troops and what kind of backup were going to be needed for the invasion.

How is it that you go in understaffed and undersupported when you’ve got the most powerful military on the planet? You do it when you were never really serious about the war in the first place. When it was only a means to an end, and that end only incidentally involved winning an actual war and securing your position in the aftermath of the fighting.

George W. Bush has achieved a worldwide reputation for not keeping his word. I’m constantly amazed by all you fellow-citizens who think you know what Georgie and his cronies believe. You have no idea. Neither do I. George and the Bushmen don’t talk to us little people unless they want us to do something right then. George absolutely doesn’t feel himself obliged to keep the promises he makes, or tell us the truth about what’s going on. Personally, I resent that.

I arrive at my judgements by keeping track of the things Bush & Co. remember to do when they’re not being prompted, or when they’re not being obliged to say the right thing in the wake of some awful disaster.

For instance, all that stuff about helping the victims of the 9/11 attacks? That was pure hooey. George was doing his President Routine for the benefit of the cameras. That’s the real reason he’s not coming to NYC this September 11. He wussed out on all those brave-sounding promises to help the poor and the needy and the sick and the afflicted, especially the bereaved and heartstruck FDNY and NYPD. He told a lot of lies, got his pitcher took with the big guys, and booked.

What stays on his personal agenda? Cutting taxes for the rich. Cutting capital gains taxes. Cutting estate taxes. Cutting deals for the outfits whose support got him into the White House. Getting re-elected. That’s it and that’s all.

I’m not going to call you a sucker for voting for him. I’m telling you that he thinks you’re a sucker. That’s when he thinks about you at all, which isn’t often.

Sorry. I’m ranting. I hope The Scarlet Pimpernel doesn’t disagree too much with my sentiments, given that I didn’t take the pictures that accompany them.

Thanks, SP. Good ‘uns.

September 07, 2003
The fabric of the city
Posted by Teresa at 10:15 PM *

The city is fascinating—perverse, complex, sometimes maddening, sometimes startlingly beautiful, full of the middles of stories whose beginnings and ends you never see. It accommodates the press of its population by doing what it does quickly. This is a big source of visitor interaction problems. They expect that slow newbie-friendly graphical user interface they’re used to from suburban malls, fast-food chain outlets, and the interstate highway system. What they get is a Greek immigrant who expects them to rattle off “butteredpoppyseedbagel coffeelightnosugar” and not need to be told that now is when you pay for it. We’re not unfriendly. We just know there are people in line behind us.

(The other big tourist problem is failing to grasp that most shouts, honks, and comments from strangers are meant to be informative: Pray notice that you’re doing the wrong thing in an expert system.)

The city’s all about maintaining flow at maximum capacity. The ceaseless passage of people and money and traffic wears away at its fabric. New structures are built on top of the not-entirely-obliterated ruins. I think that’s a lot of the fascination: the expertise, the complexity, the constantly renegotiatiated balance of infrastructure and capacity, and the visible history of how that process has worked out in the past.

It breeds passionate fannish interests. Consider the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s MTA Transit Page: fine in its way, but hampered by merely being official. What you want to dive into is the one done for love: It starts with the Subway Technical FAQ, a modest little display of transit-nerd street cred:
63rd Street Tunnel A Day in the Life…
Abandoned or Unused Subway Tunnels or Connections
Completed Portions of the 2nd Ave. Subway
Disused and Abandoned Stations
Early Elevated Lines
Early New York City Transit Tunnels
Beach Pneumatic - New York Times 2/4/1912
Beach Pneumatic - Scientific American 3/5/1870
Elevated Portions of the Subway
Evidence of Demolished and Abandoned Lines
Ex-BMT/IND/IRT Line Designations
Facts & Figures
How Subway Cars Are Delivered
How To Identify Car Types
IRT - BMT - IND: A Brief History of the Subway
Index of NYC Subway Map Versions
Interconnections Between IRT and IND/BMT Divisions
Line Assignments - Number of Trains for Rush Hour Service
NYC Subway Accidents
Number, Letter, Color Code Systems
Photography in the Subway
Photography on Transit Systems
Radio Codes
Subway Terminology Glossary
Three-Track portions of the subway
Touring the Subway
Train Marker Lights, 1976
Unused Express Tracks
Well Known Non-Connections
What is OPTO/ATO (One Person/Automatic Train Operation)
It follows this with links to its separate pages about every station on the IRT. And every station on the BMT. And the IRT/BMT Dual Contract portions of the system. And every station on the IND. And every kind of subway car. And subway maps, including fantasy maps which to my eye are indistinguishable from the real ones. Then it gets into the really technical stuff…

It’s obsessive. I have to respect that.

You might also check out The Other Side of the Rails, or the New York Subway Resources site, on the grounds that they might conceivably have some bits of information not available on Subway Web News is more a consumer resource than a history-and-tech site, but they do keep a great logfile of news stories involving the transit system. For the real newbie, there’s the New York Subway Finder. If you feed it a street address, it’ll identify the subway station closest to it. is about the old, sometimes vanished, sometimes persisting transportation infrastructure, organized as photographic virtual tours. It’s a good way to see the underlying logic of things. For example, you can follow tour #5, which maps the route of Robert Moses’ proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. The LOMEX project would have gouged a multi-lane elevated freeway across lower Manhattan, taking out chunks of Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Soho, and Tribeca. Pay particular attention to the “urban blight” Moses wanted to replace with a nice new freeway. Then follow tour #6, Gowanus Expressway Viaduct, and see what happened when Moses pushed a similar freeway through a series of formerly thriving Brooklyn neighborhoods.

The great and mighty site for lost and vanished pieces of the city is Forgotten NY. Nothing that I can say about it is as good as just going there and exploring the site. It’s one of the jewels of the web.

Joseph Brennan, now, is a specialist. His thing is abandoned subway stations—and station levels, and platforms, and uncompleted works. I’ve caught glimpses of those myself, and I see the attraction. They look exactly like the other parts of the NYC subway system, only with no people in them and no trains coming and going. It’s unnerving. It makes you imagine that the known spaces of the subway system might be contiguous with another universe of empty, unused, alternate stations and tracks; and to wonder where they might be, and who uses them. It’s no accident that so many fantasies have been written about underground New York.

Brennan has a page about the unused Myrtle and De Kalb Avenue platforms, home of a wonderfully strange work of art called the Masstransiscope, by an artist named Bill Brand. My memories have been shifting and resettling in recent years, so I’m not perfectly sure that what I’m remembering about the Masstransiscope isn’t Moshe Feder telling me about it, but it seems to me that on some long-ago subway ride, when I was visiting New York but hadn’t yet moved here, I had the Masstransiscope pointed out to me as we rode past it.

It’s a clever thing—a sort of giant linear zoetrope that plays an animated cartoon made up of 228 hand-painted images. As the train goes past the Masstransiscope, you see the successive images through a series of slits, which turns them into an animated cartoon. Happily, through the magic of the internet you can see the Masstransiscope animation in all its original glory, and read about its construction too.

On the subject of strange forgotten art in the subways, I have to mention the thing I ran across one night in the convoluted depths of Canal Street station. This was back in the bad old days of stalactites and TAKI 183 tags, when untended station areas were often sooty and murky, and had pools of standing water along the track lines on their lower levels.

This was in one of those areas, a long platform you had to traverse to change from the #6 Lexington to the N/R lines. The tracks nearest the platforms were still in use, but not the center section’s old express tracks. It was late. The lighting was dim. And when I glanced toward the unlit center track section at the end of the station, I saw what looked like a half-size Viking ship, lying at anchor in the pool of standing water that covered the tracks.

I stopped. I blinked. I looked harder. The ship didn’t go away. When we’d climbed back up to the higher levels, I asked a station employee whether I had in fact seen a ship down there. “Yeah,” he said; “they’re not using those tracks until they get them fixed up, and they’re not going to start working down there for a while yet, so they let some artist do that.” turns out to know all about it. The ship was supposed to look like a Venetian gondola. It was the last survivor of five gondolas installed there. Probably it looked more like one when the lights were on and it still had its little awning. But it was still carrying out its intended function:
New York, NY—New York City’s Canal Street subway station will be host to an elaborate installation of a Venetian canal created by Russian artist Alexander Brodsky from December 4, through January 31, 1997. … Artist Alexander Brodsky describes the viewer’s surreal experience of the installation as one walks through the subway as “one of the millions of strange things that happen to you in the city. Passing through the long space, you suddenly see across the tracks a mirage—lights, water, boats—you see a canal. It’s both real and unreal at the same time. You stop briefly trying to understand why it’s here and then you go on with your life, keeping the mirage in your memory. You might come back another day to check.—was it a dream or not?”
It worked.

A last bit from Joseph Brennan’s Abandoned Stations site is his page about everyone’s favorite ghost stop: fabulous City Hall Station. It was beautiful, but it never worked all that well as a station, and eventually the MTA closed it. You can read more about it here, here, and here.

Thus the subways. You can’t go any deeper than that without hitting bedrock, at which point you’ll want an overview of New York geology, with its many cool maps and diagrams. If you need a shorter, snappier explanation, try The Birth of Long Island, a.k.a. “How all your topsoil wound up in my neighborhood.” You can also contemplate the odds of NYC having an earthquake.

Back up to the surface, and another couple of devoted specialists. One is Frank Jump of Fading Ad Campaign, who collects old fading signs painted on the sides of buildings. The other is Jeff of Jeff’s Streetlights Site. There are many fine strange things on his site, but to my mind the best part is where he explains the personalities of different streetlight models. Also, Jeff thinks everyone should read Charles De Lint.

Fiborough Bridges is Transportation Alternatives’ guide to NYC bridges you can cross on foot, bicycle, or rollerblade. Their latest cheery announcement: As of Spring 2001, all of the Manhattan East River Bridges provide 24-hour bike and pedestrian access for the first time in at least 50 years. It’s like baseball stats.

Transportation Alternatives is very big on the rights of bicyclists, and has nothing, absolutely nothing, repeat nothing, to do with the purely spontaneous (yet recurrent) Critical Mass bicycle events. (Slogan: “We aren’t blocking traffic; we are traffic.”)


You should see the nighttime mass inline skating events. One skater is vulnerable. Twenty or thirty skaters own the road.

Another good site for river crossings is Justin JIH’s United States: New York, New Jersey: New York City Bridges and Tunnels. It’s a terse, functional site, much of it in four languages, and it’s so logical that a Martian could use it. It begins:
This web page uses UTF-8 encoding.

The United States uses right-hand traffic and the United States dollar (USD).
New York and New Jersey are UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) -04:00 from 02:00 on the 1st Sunday in April to 02:00 on the last Sunday in October but UTC-05:00 at other times.

ISO 6709 locates bridges and tunnels in the format of +DD.DDDD-DDD.DDDD/
(northern (+) latitude and western (-) longitude in decimal degrees). New York City is at +40.75-074.00/.

Postcodes are called ZIP (zoning improvement plan) codes in the United States.
Examples: New York NY 10002 and Jersey City NJ 07310 (NY = New York, NJ = New Jersey).
That guy doesn’t take anything for granted. is just what it sounds like it is. It’s great when you need to know stuff like:
No single-occupant cars are permitted on crossings entering Manhattan south of 14th Street during weekdays from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Bridges and tunnels entering Manhattan south of 63rd Street are OPEN only to passenger cars with two or more occupants (HOV use), buses and trucks. Vehicles with official, medical (including EMT), press, disabled, medallion taxi (including TLC and livery) and commercial plates are exempt from the HOV restrictions. Motorcycles are also exempt from the restrictions. Manhattan-bound HOV restrictions apply 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM Monday-Friday (except holidays) on the following crossings: Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (I-478), Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, Holland Tunnel (I-78).
And that’s not even getting into alternate side of the street parking regs. See what I mean about expert systems?

If you’re driving, there are two great sources of pertinent information. One is station 1010 WINS, purveyors of broadcast and online traffic alerts. You know these guys—“You give us twenty-two minutes, we’ll give you the world.” What they actually give you is just the top few AP stories du jour, repeated over and over, because they’ve only spent forty-five cents of their programming budget on news reporting and thrown the rest at Jam Cams and traffic-watch helicopters. They understand a great truth: nobody listens to them for pleasure. They’re the station you switch to right after saying “Oh, shit. Let’s see if we can find out what’s happening.”

The other source of immediately pertinent information is Gridlock Sam, the really great traffic expert with the really wonky website. Skip that. Go instead to the New York Daily News site and track down Gridlock Sam’s column. It’s easy. Just look in the left sidebar for the link to “Traffic and Parking.” Here are some excerpts from this weekend’s traffic forecast:
Today and tomorrow, all city parking rules are in effect. On Sunday, no parking and no standing anytime rules remain in effect. On Monday, all city parking rules are in effect.

Football season is upon us, and the Giants will open Sunday at 1 p.m. at Giants Stadium against the St. Louis Rams. Expect the usual game-related delays on Route 3, Route 17 and the western spur of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The Latinos Unidos Parade takes place in Brooklyn on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. along Graham Ave. from Broadway to Grand St., then Grand St. to Lorimer St.

Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Hoop It Up Basketball Tournament will close Water St. between Broad and Fulton Sts.; Front St. between Old Slip and Fulton St.; Fletcher St. between Water and Pearl Sts., and Gouverneur Lane between South and Water Sts.

Ninth Ave. between 23rd and 31st Sts. will be a no-go for drivers Sunday from 11a.m. to 6 p.m. so the Penn South Independence Inc. Street Fair can be held.

The Tomchei Torah Chaim Birnbaum Church Ave. Spectacular takes place Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Church Ave. between McDonald Ave. and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

E. Fordham Road between Morris Ave. and E. Kingsbridge Road and Valentine Ave. between 188th and 192nd Sts. is the location of the Bronx Council for Economic Development Festival, scheduled for Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The northbound Harlem River Drive at E. 155th St. (including the entrance ramp) will have one lane closed Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
That doesn’t give you the full Gridlock Sam experience. For that, you need his annual Thanksgiving column on how to get out of the city with the least amount of aggravation. Failing that, try Gridlock Sam Urges Fresh Start For NYC Tolls. It’s an article from Mobilizing the Region, the weekly bulletin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The TSTC is “an alliance of regional transportation experts, planning organizations and environmental groups working to improve transportation throughout the metropolitan region.” That doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but if you want to see how one policy tradeoff interacts with others in a complex system, this is the place to read about it. The site’s full of databits like “motorists [in NJ’s cities and towns] suffer a total of 1.6 million person-hours of delay in traffic jams every day.”

It also has a fairly honest reek to it. I theorize that this is because its members all hail from areas where issues like “excessive automobile dependence” aren’t theoretical, and because they’re all specialists in figuring out when some piece of sleek-sounding language actually translates as “Your neighborhood is going to get dumped on.” Here they are on a recent round of fights over the development of the old West Side rail yards—in this case, rezoning proposals (including that perfectly insane proposal to build a giant sports arena in Manhattan) that are being snuck in under cover of plans to extend the #7 subway line:
We agree with many others testifying here that the uncertainty of funding for the Number 7 extension project raises a strong likelihood that the project will end up competing with other major NYC projects for MTA capital funds and for federal mass transit aid. We believe the Number 7 project, which will underwrite new real estate development and possibly major sports facility construction rather than solve existing transportation problems, is a lower priority than projects such as the Second Avenue Subway, LIRR access to Grand Central Terminal, a Cross-Harbor rail freight tunnel, and a second commuter rail tunnel connecting New Jersey and Manhattan.

We ask that the DEIS contain a section on funding feasibility that takes these issues—the No. 7’s place within the MTA and NYC capital programs—into account.

We also especially urge members of the city Congressional delegation and state legislators to be on guard against the No. 7 project depleting funding and slowing this other essential work to expand our transit system and better balance our means of moving freight in and out of the city.

Traffic and parking: We appreciate that the scoping document for the subway extension and far west side development proposal emphasizes “transit oriented redevelopment” and sets one of the plan’s goals as “[minimizing] energy consumption, non-transit vehicle miles of travel and congestion on City streets…”

However, the parking and traffic sections of the scoping document do not give us confidence that this goal will be met, or will even be seriously considered beyond the extension of the subway line. Instead, the proposal seems to anticipate major increases in parking capacity and car trips within the study area.

The traffic and parking discussions in the scoping document heavily reflect the standard “predict and provide” school of traffic engineering that has done so much to foster and extend automobile dependence in our society. This is essentially a passive stance toward vehicle trip generation and parking requirements. Transit-oriented planning would accept that supplies of road capacity and parking will be major determinants of auto use in the development area, and plan accordingly to promote maximum use of transit and other alternatives. Instead, the scoping document appears to emphasize the anticipation of the likely maximum number of car trips and providing sufficient parking and road capacity for them.

For instance:
—The scoping document says the DEIS will “determine the general area’s capacity to accommodate additional parking.”

—It notes that street widening is a likely “mitigation” measure for traffic congestion.

—Zoning amendments described in the scoping document appendices state that developments in the area will be required to create a minimum number of parking spaces. For commercial development, “Accessory parking would be required for all commercial development based on a square footage rate. For residential, “Accessory parking would be required in high-density areas.”
Development of the study area will not be “transit-oriented” if parking supply sees a marked increase. Every study done on this issue has shown that parking supply is a key determinant of urban auto use. Major additions of parking to the area will inevitably foster a higher level of car use there and on connecting highways, avenues and streets.
—The current parking inventory should be compared and contrasted in detail to the forecasted amount of parking for the study area based on the recommended zoning changes and anticipated facility construction in the DEIS. —Capacity, congestion and pollution analyses for Route 9a and other streets in and connecting to the study area should emphasize the demand that development will induce based on the growth of parking within the study area, not base its estimates on generic “background” traffic growth factors.
Stadium construction: A west side football/Olympic stadium will likely require huge additions of parking in the study area and be a huge traffic generator. An 80,000-100,000 seat venue, even if it achieves an impressive 90% transit access rate, will require 8,000 to 10,000 parking spaces. Obviously, the DEIS road capacity, congestion and pollution analyses will have to account for this parking construction and traffic generation by sporting and convention center events. Traffic generation estimates for times when there are not sporting events or convention center events should also anticipate that travelers to the study area will base transport mode decisions in part on the availability of all of this parking. The DEIS should develop its traffic generation analyses accordingly.
If you can’t see why any of that is interesting, I can’t see why you’re trying to write science fiction.

There’s much, much more out there, but I have to stop now. That’s normal. I always run short of me before I run short of New York.

September 04, 2003
Dang! Somebody went and actually read the book!
Posted by Teresa at 09:38 PM *

From The American Prospect comes Divine Right, on an unlikely shift in conservative Christian sentiments in Alabama:

Montgomery, Ala. — For the first time since black ministers and some of their white brethren marched arm in arm in the civil-rights era, a group of Christians in the South are championing social and economic justice for the dispossessed as a matter of spiritual imperative. Curiously, or perhaps inevitably, the spawning grounds of this progressive movement are Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., those fiery stations of the civil-rights cross. But as if determined to defy the most cherished stereotypes and bedrock prejudices of enlightened liberals everywhere, the primary actors in this campaign are the kind of white, conservative, Billy Graham evangelicals to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed his Letter from Birmingham Jail — a missive that, in its day, achieved a resounding absence of effect.

On Sept. 9, Alabama citizens will vote on a proposal to reform the state’s regressive tax code. Whether or not the measure passes — and both opinion polls and Alabama history suggest it will fail — the story of how a progressive tax initiative became the subject of a statewide referendum, and how it came to be championed by a heretical faction of the religious right, including a conservative Republican governor, has political ramifications that will reverberate long after the vote itself.

Just outside Birmingham, on a proud hill overlooking a wealthy suburb, is Beeson Divinity School, the evangelical seminary of Samford University. It’s here that a perennial of liberal ideology was first grafted to the thick root of conservative theology.

Beeson, which teaches the inerrancy of Scripture, has generally been a Christian Coalition sort of place, a marketplace of ideas where southern-fried conservatism was often the only item on the menu. “We’re all conservatives here. We don’t have any liberals,” says Beeson Dean Timothy George. “We’re people who say we believe the Bible is the word of God. We generally agree with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell. We’re very conservative Christian evangelicals.”

But last fall, Susan Pace Hamill, a Beeson theology student, published a master’s thesis arguing that “Alabama’s tax structure economically oppresses low-income Alabamians and fails to raise adequate revenues.”

Hamill, a tax-law professor at the University of Alabama, spent her sabbatical studying Scripture at Beeson. Her 112-page thesis, published in the fall 2002 issue of the Alabama Law Review, is an attack not only on Alabama’s regressive tax code — which requires poor families to pay up to three times the percentage of income in state tax that wealthy families pay — but on the Christians who permit such an injustice to persist.

In her thesis, Hamill stakes claims more reminiscent of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Party than Pat Robertson and the religious right. Citing ancient precedents of land tenure rights and debt forgiveness, she says the Bible mandates a “minimum opportunity” for the poor. Lest anyone miss the point, she goes on to argue that “minimum opportunity” in contemporary America consists of a decent public education. Lest anyone miss that point, Hamill demonstrates that Alabama public schools fall so woefully short of adequacy that only a drastic increase in funds could fulfill the state’s moral obligation.

The novel combination of Hamill’s left-wing argument and Beeson’s right-wing reputation earned front-page coverage in Alabama newspapers. Her ironclad research, including 21 pages of data tables, won praise from editorial boards. And in a state that raises the least tax revenue per capita, Hamill’s thesis — reprinted as a book titled The Least of These: Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians — somehow ended up as a rationale for politicians to imagine and initiate the unthinkable.

In late May, Gov. Bob Riley, a conservative evangelical Republican who’d never supported a tax increase in his life, unveiled a plan to enact the largest tax increase in Alabama history. Riley’s plan lays claim to enough revenue to pay off the state’s $675 million deficit and still raise hundreds of millions more for public schools and social services. In addition, Riley’s $1.2 billion plan substantially shifts the tax burden from poor Alabamians to the wealthy.

“Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us,” Riley told The Birmingham News in May, echoing the same Gospel passage that supplied the title of Hamill’s book. “We’ve got to take care of the poor.”

In June, after Riley’s controversial plan was passed by a state legislature not previously known for political courage, Alabama seemed to enter not a parallel universe but an inverted one: As tax cuts for high-income earners rain down from Washington and social services are slashed by cash-strapped states everywhere, Alabama — of all places — was suddenly racing in the opposite direction.

“It’s not just historic,” says James Williams Jr., executive director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. “It’s a miracle.” (…)

Hamill began delving into the tax code along with her Bible studies. Under the tutelage of her Beeson professors — white, middle-aged, conservative, male evangelicals — she grew more conservative in her theology. And she became increasingly radicalized about the poor.

“I had come in as the greedy commercial pagan. Until this time I had spent all my professional career on the side of money,” Hamill says. “There were times when I was doing [research at Beeson] when I had to stop work because it was just too much. There were tears, despair over the injustice and my part in it.”

While the Bible is a famously supple text, allowing multiple, even contradictory exegeses on everything from the role of women to the death penalty, its message on the poor has an almost nagging consistency. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels has enormous respect and compassion for the poor and little regard for wealth.

Hamill is uneasy about her work’s immoderate political implications. “I’m not comfortable with liberation theology,” she says. But she couldn’t deny what she read in the Book. And with Hamill constantly in their faces about it, neither could her teachers at Beeson. “It wasn’t just about reformatting me. I came out of there very different, but I think the same thing happened to them,” Hamill says.

“Susan is right on this issue,” says Frank Thielman, a New Testament scholar whom Hamill calls one of Beeson’s “super-size” conservatives. “The Bible’s on the side of the poor. Jesus is on the side of the poor. I don’t want to be caught on the other side.”
This has got to be the Holy Spirit at work, because nothing else explains it. That bird gets around. (via Laura Mixon)

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