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Train Station Music

Category : Uncategorized · (1) Comment · by Nov 22nd, 2008

I like train stations almost as much as I dislike the climate-controlled, fast food lubricated, homogeneous environment of Airport Land. There are some great things to recommend train stations:

  • Location: Because airports are unsightly, large and polluting, they are always found on the outskirts of a city surrounded by gas stations, long term parking lots, and bland airport hotels. If there is anything else around, it’s because things have sprawled out that far. In contrast, (most) train stations are in the middle of a city. Perhaps the only nice part of traveling through NYC’s Penn Station is emerging from the ground in the midst of the city.
  • Atmosphere: Airports are like holding tanks for people. No one wants to spend time in an airport if they can help it; anyone who has been there long enough to look around cannot still be in a good mood. The air is too dry, the food is too greasy, the seats are too uncomfortable, and the security announcements are more than sufficient to bring on serious insanity. Classic train stations are frequently among the most interesting and pleasant public spaces in a city (and frequently one of the only indoor places to go for free). Grand Central is so nice that the oyster bar downstairs is Zagat-rated. Even in small towns or cities past their prime, train stations are frequently quite classy.
  • Security: I hate the TSA; airport security always puts me in a bad mood, even when its managed by the Swiss, whose agents are fairly described friendy, efficient, and respectful. No one stops you in a train station. My bag stays packed. I can show up right before departure without having to stand in line for a useless charade.

If there is a punctum for me in any great train station, it is the departure board. As a child, I always loved the scene in front of the LIRR departure board in Penn Station. After work, everyone stands in front of the board waiting for their train’s platform to be posted. Businessmen are standing there sucking a 40 with straw, kids are slumped on the floor, and you never fail to see someone you know. In the moments before a train is posted, every-day commuters start inching towards their predicted platform. After the announcement, there’s a mad dash to the stairs that presents a real trampling risk.

What has always stuck with me the most, however, is the board’s sound. I love the sound of an analog Solari & C. Udine split-flap display flipping through the destinations and times. After a departure, there’s an avalanche of activity as the whole display is shifted up a line. I really missed the clicking sound when the MTA replaced the old LIRR board with a new digital one, I think about the sound every time I’m standing there waiting to (hopefully) flop down in a train seat.

Today I spent some time in Boston’s South Station, another beautiful 19th century relic, while going to and from the Boston Museum of Science.

Boston South Station

Boston South Station

I spent a lot of time in that station traveling to debate in high school, and I always looked forward to eating the blackened fish from Cajun Cajun, perusing Barbara’s Bestsellers, and hearing the split-flap clicks echo off the high ceilings.  The authorities there must have recently acquired a new digital sign, which they hung between the older MBTA and AMTRAK split-flap models. While the two older signs are frozen in place – there’s an 11.59 MBTA to Providence that’s still waiting to depart – the designers apparently didn’t want to sacrifice the sound. The new board has a speaker on the side that plays a recording of the classic clicks whenever something on the digital sign changes. It’s certainly not the same, but I appreciate the pastiche.

I Can't Wait for Barack Obama to be President

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Nov 18th, 2008

Last night I watched both sides of the pending transfer of power. First, I saw Jon Stewart’s take on Bush’s G-20 performance. Bush constructed some brilliant metaphors to explain his current thinking about free market fundamentalism.

Then I watched this:

I can’t wait for the Obamas to move in.

The bad really seems so much worse after I’ve watched Barack. It will take a while for this to get old, if it ever does.

PS: Don’t miss Andy Rooney’s closing thoughts on journalism, an impassioned plea to remember the irreplacable value of newspapers.

white supremacists' neuroses

Category : Uncategorized · (1) Comment · by Nov 16th, 2008

The conventional wisdom is always the most interesting when its totally counterintuitive. After months of fearing that middle America’s racism would prevent an Obama victory, liberals have quickly pivoted to embrace the anxiety of an assassination attempt. This is juxtaposed against (and encouraged) by an emerging narrative that white supremacists were rooting for Barack all along, hoping to use the moment to reinforce “race pride” and boost recruitment.

passing the torch to a new generation?

passing the torch to a new generation?

But there is more to this phenomenon than racist pamphlets and white supremacist server crashes. Reinvigorated white supremacy works on a more individual level; Althusser argues that racist ideology provides fuel for the unconscious, producing a much more powerful and insideous response:

the unconscious can exploit anything to its ends, but it still has to “find” something suitable to its ends. To say that the unconscious “functions with ideological imaginary” is thus to say that it “selects” in the ideological imaginary the forms, elements, or relations “suitable” to it. I have the impression that it is not by chance that certain ideological “situations” sustain certain defined unconscious structures marvelously well and that “affinities” exist between a specific form of neurosis, and even psychosis, with the result that a particular conjuncture “realizes” par excellence specific unconscious structures….

One would thus have to “read” against the grain of the meaning all too often proposed, the “unleashing” of “instincts” under… racist ideology as a general and official (and thus public and permissive) distribution of that ideological “fuel” needed by certain perversions to “function” in the open air.

The white nationalism Palin unleashed (and implicitly condoned) at her rallies is more than deranged raving. It’s the psychoanalytic “working-through” of the unconsciouses of America’s most regressive, (formerly) pro-American people. The white supremacists are right: the best thing for their cause is a moment when the conservatives’ discourse on race emerges from the alibis of “crime reduction” and “welfare reform.” In this conjuncture, racism has emerged as an avowed part of the dominant ideology, unshielded by the usual mystification. Thus, the election must be (and the campaign certainly was) almost as satisfying a jouissance for the right as it is for the left.

This speaks right to the myth of a post-racial America. It’s not that we’ve collectively transcended racism; instead, the unleashed racist ideology allowed a release of pressure as our nation’s most destructive perversions emerged into the open air:

electoral emotions

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Nov 4th, 2008

I was glad to go food shopping this morning because it was great to be out in the world (as opposed to on campus) and see the “I Voted” stickers on everybody. There has been a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation among (nearly) everyone i’ve spoken to for the last week, but I think it’s hard to evade those feelings today. The Times has some great interactive features on its site, but its election day version of we feel fine is the perfect feature for today.

NYT Emotions Tracker
NYT Emotions Tracker

It will be interesting to watch this develop throughout the day. I’m definitely feeling a lot of those things in blue.

On the way to the store this morning I must have passed 5 polling places in this non-swing state. I wish those resources were deployed to a more important spot (Florida perhaps). I’m obviously not in favor of the conditions that force voters to wait in 6 hour long lines, but all the same it’s inspiring to see footage of people engaged in our democracy.

More to come throughout the day. I don’t know how I’m going to sit through class.

the new poll tax

Category : Uncategorized · No Comments · by Nov 3rd, 2008

It’s rare to see the mainstream media’s pundits really demystify the hidden political motives behind “neutral,” technical, state decisions. Six-hour long voting queues in south Florida, which evoke images of a developing nation’s democracy, are not failures of preparation. They are class- and race-conscious attempts at disenfranchisement. Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s new post-Matthews counterpart to Kieth Olbermann, correctly identified these motives on her show last night:

This is an example of responsible journalism about an issue that can easily be supplied with an alibi. Here, Maddow reinscribes voting rights within the broader social context, reading the ideology behind these “technical choices.” Critiquing the alleged “objectivity” of the humble social servants at election boards nationwide is the only way to defend against the next Katherine Harris.

In his life-long project to read ideology, Althusser’s most powerful rhetorical moments are his exposures of ideology in the common features of our rythmes de vie. In Marx In His Limits, Althusser actively demystifies the motivations behind supposedly “technical decisions”:

Those who assist the ministers and government in coming to a decision that is ultimately taken by all the political personnel of the state make no bones about the fact that several different ‘technical solutions’ exist, but that a political choice always comes into play, so that only one solution wins out. It is then justified by bogus ‘technical’ arguments, notwithstanding its profoundly political nature…. Class struggle does not take place in the sky. It begins with exploitation… in matter. The matter of factory buildings, machines, energy, raw materials, the ‘working day’ the assembly line, work rhythms, and so on.

Assigning a specific (too-low) number of voting machines in a Florida library is neither a necessary nor a neutral decision. It should never be treated as one.

Yes We Can (stand in line)!

you can keep the vote off the internet, but you can't keep the internet out of the vote

Category : Uncategorized · (1) Comment · by Nov 2nd, 2008

After the last two presidential election fiascos, it’s hard to imagine what types of voter intimidation are too brazen and what barriers to access are too large for someone to attempt this time around. The electronic voting situation is rightly frightening. The problems with vote-switching are so rampant that Oprah made headlines discussing her electoral close-call. And even this important step, checking your vote, assumes that it’s counted by the shoddy technology!

For all of the cheapening of information begot by the Internet, there are some really intelligent, spontaneously developed organizations using new media to try to prevent the theft of the election. Video the Vote exploits voters’ digital cameras (or cell phones) to document fraud, intimidation, technological problems, and unreasonable waits at the nation’s polling places.

This kind of decentralized news gathering should provide great evidence of what is actually happening at polling places around the country. If the media are supposed to act as a deterrent force against corruption and fraud, how will the panoptic recording of the vote affect what people (mostly on the right) are willing to do? If there are questions about the legitimacy of the election, what will the tolerance be of video of intimidation and lines preventing the foreclosed, the poor, and the nonwhite from voting? Will CNN’s iReports be able to keep up? How quickly will these videos make it into the mainstream media.

But proof after the fact can only do so much. Both parties maintain teams of lawyers ready to act quickly to prevent abuses from continuing. But this requires the kind of real time information that can make a difference during the day. A group of users at Twitter – the Internet sensation that remains the most foreign to me – put together Twitter Vote Report, a project that uses guerrilla informatics to monitor the election in real time. If the project works as deisgned, it is possible that we will hear about problems before the polls’ close locks in the decision.

But what does this mean for the media consumer? Though Election Night television is already the most must-see event of the year, this year’s mediascape will be more informed by digital citizens’ journalism than ever before. Indeed, dramatic news coverage will probably continue all day, replacing the constant replays of candidates voting with their spouses.

I can’t wait.