CITYNOTESby Theodore Hamm
This Is It?
It was a hot afternoon in July when I first felt the sting. As I approached my destination on the D train, the conductor announced the stop’s new name, “Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center.” And sure enough, when I got off, the new signs on the platform were there to greet me. With little fanfare, a crooked bank had made its imprint on the most central subway stop in Brooklyn. Ouch.
The sensory impact of Barclays is just a bit larger above ground, of course. The choice of baby blue for the enormous sign on the new arena merely adds injury to the insulting use of rusty beams. In an unintentionally satirical piece in the Times, Elizabeth Harris managed to find a few admirers of the prematurely decayed aesthetic. Meanwhile, over the summer I asked at least a couple dozen folks to share their views regarding the new arena’s exterior. Rest assured that they unanimously offered variations on the immortal words of Ignatius J. Reilly: the design is indeed “a most egregious offense against taste and decency.”
Another Ratner eyesore has thus grown in Brooklyn. We don’t need Nostradamus to tell us that traffic and parking will be a nightmare, or that if everyone miraculously does take public transportation, the Atlantic Terminal and adjoining subway station will be complete chaos for the many thousands of people just going about their business. Coney Island was once seen as the preferred site for the arena by Marty Markowitz and many planners, and to this day Coney needs a year-round draw. If the Barclays Center turns downtown into a perpetual cluster-you-know-what, many folks will be longing for the road not taken.
Still and yet, I am conflicted. The arena ain’t going nowhere in the near future. My tax dollars and yours went into building it, so I’m trying to figure out how to come to terms with it. And though I’m not a Nets fan, I must admit that I find the black-and-white team logos and gear to be pretty cool. At the risk of sounding too bipartisan, I can thus understand why many folks are excited, and others dismayed, about the arena. I’m just hoping that everyone gets out of my way when I’m trying to get home.
Left Legends Lost
This summer saw the passing of three stalwart figures on the left: Gore Vidal, Alexander Cockburn, and Chris Marker. Of the three, the two writers were major figures in my intellectual development (such that it is)—although Marker’s documentary A Grin Without a Cat (1977) is one of my favorite political works of any kind.
Vidal, as illustrated by the interview he did with Jonah Raskin in the Express section of this issue, was a dissident who came from inside the establishment. His perspective is perhaps best described as that of a “left aristocrat” (or perhaps queen, a title befitting the author of Myra Breckinridge). While I much enjoyed many of his essays as well as his memoir Palimpsest (1995), what stands out most for me was Vidal’s quick-witted stage persona. When asked in Berkeley circa the early 1990s about the prospects for a third party, he replied “In order to have a third party, you need to have two other ones first.” Across the Bay a few years later, his answer to the concluding question—“Given all you’ve seen over the years, do you think truth is stranger than fiction?”—was “Probably.” Perhaps it was a set-up, but Vidal’s delivery was perfect.
Cockburn lacked the same level of theatricality at the podium, but he was always entertaining in print. I remember reading Corruptions of Empire (1988), a collection of his columns and essays, cover to cover as a senior at Rutgers. I found it to be a very fine introduction to the rich traditions of the Anglo-American left. As for Cockburn’s perspective, I would call it “libertarian Communist.” I can’t say that I always agreed with him—in my view, he was a bit too indulgent toward right-wingers like Ron Paul and Pete Wilson. But I much appreciated his willingness to remind Nation readers just how lame the Democrats can be.
In any case, please join us in commemorating Cockburn’s life and work, with the rather prominent dissidents of different stripes listed here. And many other fine and active minds (among them Chris Hedges, David Harvey, Mariana Sitrin, et al.) will be on hand at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday, September 23. Hope you can join us.
Last but Not Least…
On a personal note, I am very pleased to report that I have taken on the position as director of Journalism and New Media Studies, a new undergraduate program at Saint Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill. Expect good things.
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