Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Gate of Heavenly Peace 30 Years Ago Today

A post that I wrote 5 years ago:




The Chinese Army massacred protesters in Tiananmen Square and in surrounding streets in Beizhing, and in cities across China, after 7 weeks of unprecedented protests led not only by students, but by Chinese workers.  Brute force won out over hope and courage 25 years ago today.
And now the Chinese government continues its effort to erase the memory of those events, or to change it into something totally unreconcilable to what really happened; for example, an "attack" upon the People's Army in which soldiers were "martyred" trying to put down an insurrection.
The Chinese regime came to power by violence.  Mao himself said that freedom comes through the barrel of a gun (a sentiment shared by many in the USA).  Older Chinese at the time of the protests warned that the regime would use violence to preserve their hold on power, and it did.

In many respects Deng Xiaoping was the creator of post-modern capitalism; the idea that markets do not need democracy to thrive, that they can flourish under conditions of autocracy.  And indeed, the last 25 years in China have proven him right.  China is now the world's second largest economy.  In 1989, it had an economy a fraction of the size of Taiwan's.  Now, it stands poised to supplant the USA in the role of global hegemon.  Other aspiring autocrats such as Vladimir Putin, Arab World despots, and ambitious oligarchs in the West bent on subverting democracy have certainly taken notice.  Liberal democracy is not necessary to get rich.  "Let part of the population get rich first" easily translates into hymns of praise to "job creators."
There are a lot of Westerners with business interests in China who would also prefer to forget the events of May and June 1989, a pothole in a road to success.

As Fang Lizhi notes, all that success was built on the backs of Chinese workers and on the blood of those killed on June 4, 1989.
Moreover, the claim that Deng “lifted” millions from poverty confuses the doer and the receiver of action. To the extent that economic “lifting” has happened in post-Mao times, it has been the menial labor of hundreds of millions of people—working without labor unions, or a free press, or a neutral judiciary, or protections like OSHA rules—that has done the heavy lifting. This workforce has improved not just the lives of the millions themselves but, even more, of the Communist elite, who in many cases have soared to stratospheric heights of opulence. World Bank figures show that in China the Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality in populations, has skyrocketed from 0.16 before Deng’s reforms to a current 0.47, near the high end of the scale. This dramatic change has much less to say about “hundreds of millions” than it does about one of the maxims that Deng delivered at the outset of reform: “Let a part of the population get rich first."
 --Fang Lizhi, from a review of a new biography of Deng Xiaoping by Ezra Vogel, 2011


But, while the history textbooks are written by the winners, it's the losers who have longer memories.
When I was forced to remove my black armband in 1989, I thought that would be the end of it. Bodies had been crushed, lives destroyed, voices silenced. They had guns, jails, and propaganda machines. We had nothing. Yet somehow it was on that June 4 that the seeds of democracy were planted in my heart, and the longing for freedom and human rights nourished. So it was not an ending after all, but another beginning.
--Rowena Xiaqing He




And today:






We risk far less than they did.  They tried to win democracy.
Remembering them, let us face down the plutocrats who rule us, the grifters who govern us, and the fanatics and demagogues who pit us against each other and work even harder to keep our democracy.





Friday, May 31, 2019

Open Studios




Yours Truly photographed today in my studio by Stephen Novak.  The event was building-wide open studios.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Walking in Williamsburg


We had a day of perfect weather here in New York yesterday.  I finished most of my grading that day and decided to head out and take a long walk down to the East River with my camera.
All of these are my photos taken with my cheap little digital camera with its schmutzig inner lens.  That camera must be over ten years old by now. These photos are freely available.


The Williamsburg Bridge



Here is the Williamsburg Bridge from near the ferry docks in Williamsburg.  As impressive as it is from above on the span, it's even grander from below.




The Manhattan Tower







I tried to capture some of the train, car, truck, and bike traffic crossing the bridge in these shots, but no such luck.  The bottom level is car and truck traffic with subway trains in between the lanes.  Pedestrians and bikes are on the level above.









The Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges viewed under the Williamsburg Bridge.






Ms. Liberty in the distance with the giant cranes of the Port of Bayonne, NJ beyond.








Downtown Brooklyn from the base of the Brooklyn tower of the Williamsburg Bridge.






Enormous arches under the Brooklyn side of the bridge.






The Brooklyn tower of the Williamsburg Bridge.  The bridge was finished in 1903 and became a path out of the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side for the Jewish population there.  This bridge made the Hasidic and other Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn possible.
I love the bridge, and I especially love the late 19th century beams and rivets on a grand scale.







My attempt at the under-the-bridge shot.  The sun didn't cooperate.







Another view of downtown Brooklyn from the base of the Brooklyn tower of the bridge.







A nice view of the bridge from just south of it.






Under the pedestrian walkway that I've crossed for years.  I had no idea that there was so little under it.




Manhattan Across the East River




Manhattan viewed from the new state park along the river front in Williamsburg.
It's amazing how much the skyline has changed in less than five years.




The slender towers of "Billionaires' Row" on 57th street dominate the midtown skyline.










432 Park Avenue, known locally as "The Cigarette" looms over the UN Buildings and the Citicorp tower.  Until very recently, it was the tallest residential building in the world.








This is the building that is about to top out 432 Park Ave., the Nordstrom Tower, or more officially, The Central Park Tower.  I think it is still going up. Officially, it will be the second tallest building in New York, just one foot shorter than One World Trade Center.  Unofficially, it will be the tallest building in the city since the ground it stands on is fifteen feet higher than the ground underneath the WTC.  The ground floor will be the biggest of all Nordstrom's department stores, the next level above that will be a very posh thousand-dollar-a-night hotel.  And then the rest of the building will all be luxury condominiums.  Most of the biggest and most expensive buildings going up in New York are luxury condo towers that in size and opulence make the Palace of Versailles look like an outhouse.  They are the ultimate in post-modern capitalism.  Few of these luxury condos will be occupied.  Most of them will remain uninhabited, purchased as investment property by some international plutocrat looking for places to park his money.  The whole point of these otherwise functionless buildings is to get more valuable.  New York real estate is about the safest possible investment for people looking to park a ship load of money somewhere.  The most valuable thing New York does these days is to simply get more valuable and expensive.  The real city where people live and work just gets in the way.






The slenderest of the slender towers in Midtown, Steinway Tower 111 57th Street.  It is already one of the tallest buildings in the city and still going up.  It is reputed to be the thinnest building in the world, shaped by a combination of new building technology and the very high cost of Manhattan real estate.






A huge new building, One Vanderbilt Place, goes up on the left just on the other side of Grand Central Station from the Chrysler Building whose spire slowly disappears in the forest growing up around it.  One Vanderbilt is still going up and will eventually have a spire that will make it the 4th tallest building in New York.








Recently completed, Hudson Yards, the biggest development project in the city's history looms behind the Metropolitan Life tower on the left, and the gilded roof of the New York Life building on the right.  To give you an idea of the size of this development, I am photographing a building complex on the Hudson river side of Manhattan from the east bank of the East River about 5.9 miles away.





Out of scale and tall as they are, nothing built right now will ever out class this great building, The Empire State Building.






The United Nations HQ, locus of many a conspiracy theory and a pioneering work of modern architecture, the first such building of its kind in the USA and in the world.






My old neighbor, the 14th Street power station.






A condo tower in Tribeca popularly known as the "Jenga Building."






Still officially the tallest building in town, #1 World Trade Center.






All of Midtown from across the East River.




A Sea Plane Lands on the River


I've watched sea planes land in the East River many times.  This time, I had my camera.  The planes fly regularly out to The Hamptons, to Newport RI, and Nantucket among other places on the East Coast, and to the Caribbean.




















The East River





Ferry service back and forth across the East River has expanded with demand as the subways continue to break down, get repaired, or get closed down for major reconstruction.  Here is the Williamsburg ferry dock.






A ferry boat arriving at the dock







A ferry headed for Midtown.







Letting off passengers in Williamsburg.






A small tanker ship that I think belongs to the city.  I've seen other city owned small tankers before on the East River.






A modern sculpture on the Williamsburg docks.






Seaweed on the rocks on the East River.  The East River is technically not a river at all.  It's an extension of the Atlantic ocean connecting New York Harbor with Long Island Sound to the north.  It is notorious for its dangerous and fast currents.






Sunlight on the water on the East River.






Huge New Buildings on the Williamsburg Waterfront




There's big new construction going on all over Williamsburg now, most of it luxury condos.  The biggest towers of all are on the waterfront.  Here are a pair of them.  They all stand in the middle of the worst part of the emergency flood zone.  As Michael says, the next hurricane will find them standing in the middle of the water.  I hope their emergency generators are not in the basements.







This colossal monstrosity is the biggest of them all going up right next to the old Domino Sugar refinery.  The Arc de Real Estate that would make the Arc de Triomphe in Paris look like a croquet hoop.  It's as big and brutal as anything Albert Speer ever dreamed up.





Here is the east side of the same building.  Apparently it is still going up, but I can already see it from all over Williamsburg.








The smaller Arc de Real Estate nest to Domino Park.





Domino Park

One of New York's newest city parks and among its most popular.  It was full of people when I visited.  It's built on the site of the old Domino Sugar refinery and incorporates surviving parts of the old sugar mill.









Cranes that once loaded and unloaded tons of sugar now house lounging chairs and fast food concessions.





The old Domino Sugar refinery with a crowds of people enjoying the weather.  This was the largest sugar mill in the USA for a long time.  It was also the oldest going back to the beginning of the 19th century.  It closed in the 1990s after a long labor dispute.  Today, the original building stands empty and presumably will be restored.










Old Williamsburg

Williamsburg was once an independent town, and as Brooklyn and New York grew they swallowed it up.  From the late 19th century to very recently, mostly poor and working class immigrant populations lived here.  For a long time, Williamsburg was a great place to be from, and a lot of famous people were born and grew up here like Mel Brooks, Bugsy Siegel, Winona Ryder, Joy Behar, Man Ray, Henry Miller, Gene Simmons, and Barry Manilow.  Now, Williamsburg transitions from being the hipster mecca to becoming a semi-gilded ghetto for affluent professionals, mostly from the financial industry, tech, and media.




Little bits of the grungy old waterfront neighborhood under the Williamsburg Bridge survive.




A center of South Williamsburg where Broadway and Bedford Avenues meet.






The old Williamsburg Savings Bank, their first building from 1875.





Long a landmark on the ramp to the Williamsburg Bridge, the old Williamsburg Savings Bank building is now restored and turned into a very posh nightclub that is no longer open to the public.  I have not seen the inside of it since it was restored.






Looking west from Bedford Avenue.







The bridge from Bedford Avenue.






A cast iron building.




A building that might be contemporary with the nearby Williamsburg Savings Bank.





The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration on Driggs Avenue.  It was begun in 1916 and completed in 1921 and recently restored and renovated.   The congregation here goes out of its way to shut out the neighborhood.  There are few Russians left in Williamsburg and most of congregants commute from other parts of the city.  The doors are always shut except once a year for Orthodox Holy Saturday.  I've seen the inside only once many years ago before the latest restoration.  I've never seen anyone coming or going from the church, and clergy are invisible, even though there's a rectory next door.




The setting sun striking the dome of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral later in the day.






Willow leaves on Driggs Avenue.







The fading daylight in McCarren Park.






Roses in McCarren Park.






A spire of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, the Polish church in Williamsburg/Greenpoint in the evening sunlight.