Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Random Photos

So many blog posts backed up like cars at a bottleneck. Instead, here are a few photos from recent weeks.

Barclay's Center, Brooklyn
The new Barclay's Center, in Brooklyn

Congratulations to President Obama, Fish's Eddy
Fish's Eddy's election tribute

"Why not overthrow capitalism"
An unknown New Yorker's political statement

Street fair sale, NYC
Street fair, West Village, at night

The line to get into the Maison Martin Margiela sale at H&M
The line at the Maison Martin Margiela launch at H&M

FEMA Recovery, Jersey City
FEMA pop-up office, Jersey City

A car ruined by Tropical Storm Sandy
One of many destroyed cars (a dizzying phalanx lines the far east
end of 14th Street in Manhattan)

Ice skating rink, Rockefeller Center
Skaters at the Rockefeller Center rink

Rockefeller Center tree rising
The Rockefeller Center tree rising

Interior garden near 42nd St.
An interior topiary

In the Vaginal Davis installation, LES
At the Vaginal Davis exhibit @ Participant, Lower East Side

New York, from Roosevelt Island
East Side of Manhattan, from Roosevelt Island
(UN tower visible on the left)

1st Avenue, Manhattan, from the air

Full tram
A packed tram or, New York, in a single image

The day after the day after meal
One of my favorite aspects of Thanksgiving,
the leftover meal (no turkey or ham for this vegetarian, though)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fiscal Cliff/Austerity Bomb/Phantom Crisis

There have been many excellent reports online about the alleged "fiscal cliff," which is not a cliff at all but more of a "slope," and which really merits a far better metaphor of the kind that Paul Krugman and others have devised, the "austerity" bomb. A while ago, I wrote about what was behind the push for austerity, and I urge J's Theater readers who have not already read Krugman's column today, "Fighting Fiscal Phantoms" to review it, because he not only names the chief player behind the "fiscal cliff"/"deficit scold" testeria, but summarizes why it is hardly what we're being told it is, including by the White House, with the complicity of one of Krugman's employers, the New York Times. His column crystallized for me what I've long thought about why we keep running into this crisis around taxes, the social safety net (i.e., "entitlements"), the government's role, and the establishment media's unwillingness to spell out what's really at stake (or its willingness participate in manufacturing consent by playing up the crisis). When you have multimillionaires like Goldman Sachs's chief, Lloyd Blankfein, hopping aboard Trojan horses like "Fix the Debt" despite the fact that his company has gorged at the government's troughs, the game and fix are clear enough to me. Here are my thoughts, adapted from an email I sent to some friends and broken down into numbered points, about what's really behind the current fiscal cliff crisis.

The GOP and conservative Democrats, agents of the plutocracy (or the 1%, or oligarchy, or billionocracy, whatever designation you like), seek to:

1) slash the social safety net now so that there will be less need later to keep marginal and capital gains tax rates, especially for the 1% and corporations, at even the current historically low levels--making it likely that any future necessary tax increases will disparately impact the middle and working classes and the poor;

2) under the rubric of "tax reform," steadily ratchet down marginal rates on the 1%, lower corporate rates, zero out capital gains taxes, eliminate estate taxes, cut all loopholes that do not benefit plutocrats, and allow various territorial tax schemes that allow the 1% and corporations to avoid US taxes and play other federal, regional or territorial tax regimes against each other;

3) lock in spending for the military and any programs (like Fed Reserve spending) that benefit the top 1%, Wall St., military-industrial complex beneficiaries, and if it takes a war or three to guarantee it, so be it; 

4) privatize as much of the remaining government as possible, so that those with the access and assets can feed off all the new revenue streams and what remains of a severely weakened, defunded governmental system;

5) rhetorically demonize government, via the corporate media (which has a stake in picking the bones of the government dry) to blame it for its failure to address the needs of the 99% (or 47%), while destroying and sucking every last dollar out of it.

Speaker John Boehner, President Barack Obama meet
to discuss the "fiscal cliff," November 16, 2012
(Carolyn Kaster/AP, csmonitor.com)

But it doesn't have to be this way at all. There was a Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that progressives in Congress have seemed incapable of championing, and the result is that the GOP, neoliberals and the establishment media see fit not merely to sneer but to bury it altogether. Even short of the Progressive Budget, though, the default of returning to the Clinton-era tax rates, which involve much more than the federal marginal income tax rates (the top being a relatively low 39.5%; top economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty recommend a much higher rate of around 70%), but also capital gains taxes, the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax, and payroll taxes, just to name a few, is a better option that the austerity push with safety net cuts we have before us. De jure austerity has been a complete failure in Europe, and de facto austerity here, in the form of government cuts over the last 3 years, has kept the US economy from growing as robustly as it could. Furthermore, there are fairly simple fixes for Social Security that do no involve raising eligibility or reindexing it, while Medicare's and Medicaid's problems, more difficult to resolve, need not entail raising or restricting eligibility; a single payer system or Medicare-for-all would do more to lower health care costs and ensure Medicare's future than the fixes the GOP and Democrats are proposing.

Krugman states very clearly what I learned in introductory macroeconomics. We are not anywhere close to the Federal Reserve's inflation target for full employment. Price stability is not its only mandate, and the people and corporations sitting on cash will put it to better use as we approach the 4% target. Additionally we will not go bankrupt or encounter the problems of Greece or any of the other European peripheral countries because we have our own central bank and control our own monetary policy and currency. US monetary policy over the last five years has had a beneficial effect on the economy, and the libertarian Republican Ben Bernanke is hardly about to turn into Andrew Mellon or Paul Greenspan. We will not encounter the problems South Korea did in its debt crisis because most of the debt is in our own currency, and primarily owed to the US or American creditors. The cries about a weaker dollar overlook the fact that even in a weakened global economy weak dollars help the US with exports, providing a necessary jumpstart for the economy, and improving our balance of trade.

One thing that Krugman has been begging the President and Congress to consider is the basic Keynesian principle of borrowing now, with borrowing costs at near historic lows, to underwrite a massive jobs and infrastructure bill. We can more than make up the costs by increased revenues from higher tax rates and increased employment, and we will set ourselves up for even greater economic prosperity in the future with an improved and expanded infrastructure, a better educated populace, and an economy that is powering forward. Lastly, cram down legislation, which the banks and Wall Street have fought, and which their agent Timothy Geithner has worked hard to prevent, would be the best plan for the housing crisis. It's unlikely to happen, but that coupled with all the other strategies above, and a vibrant safety net that protects vulnerable Americans, would really help the economy in ways all the tax cuts in the world to billionaires never could.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Normalcy + iPhone Portraits

It has been two weeks since the national and local elections, and three weeks since Tropical Storm Sandy, and I feel, at least in some ways, that life is slowly returning to something approaching normalcy, even if there are still many signs that everyone and everyone around me is still recovering, to varying degrees, from the devastation and trauma the storm wrought. I cannot complain and over all feel very thankful; we made it through mostly unscathed, but for the lack of electricity and heat for over a week. Three graduate students in one of the programs I'm affiliated with, however, lost a great deal of their personal belongings, and one of these students was completely flooded out. I know her, though not well, and feel great empathy for what she and so many continue to face. Every day I read about people who've lost their loved ones, homes and jobs, who are struggling to rebuild and recover, who are not sure how they are going to keep going on, beyond hope and perseverance and and prayers.

The physical damage is still present too, even in Jersey City: lights are still out at some intersections; many small businesses remain shuttered or, once you step through their open doors, have had to tear out walls, shelving, flooring, everything, in an effort to rebuild; and other businesses, having gone days without power and weeks without customers, are hanging on by the most gossamer thread. The garbage trucks have mostly hauled away the first few mountains of rotted drywall, spalted wood, moldy carpeting. Littler heaps nevertheless reappear at curbsides. One local restaurant on Grove St., one of the main commercial downtown strips, though reopened, was still unable to restock just a week ago, and its proprietor nearly started crying as she recounted the challenges she faced. Her emotion, just below the surface, is visible in the faces of so many.

I noted to C how last week, when in Manhattan, I noted a muted, almost wary, melancholy mood on the streets. Some people looked like I have felt: wrung out. I thought it was the rejiggered schedule, the hyperpacked PATH trains, the rationing date schedule, the sense that in the wider world, the storm and its damage have left the news for so much else. (There was the election, which was a burst of positivity in so many ways.) Then I read Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, and he committed to his blog a fuller portrait of what I've detected. Just a quote from his post "Post-Sandy Mood", which I felt could really be titled "Post-Sandy Blues" or "Post-Sandy Blahs," to give you a sense of what he says:

"Tired" is the predominant feeling--represented by the largest type in this word cloud (I collapsed synonyms like "exhausted" into it, as with others). This tiredness is a tiredness that seems to go on and on, for those hit hardest and for those barely impacted. Most of us are tired. 

Curiously, no one said they feel angry. They're frustrated and annoyed, resentful and cranky, but what about angry? Anger takes energy, and when you're exhausted, it's not easy to be angry.

Along with feeling exhausted, depressed, and worried, unmotivated and annoyed, many people are also feeling grateful and lucky--for not losing their homes or for just being alive in the midst of loss. Many feel hopeful. Several said they feel empathetic for those who are suffering. 

JVNY features word clouds that quite accurately reflect, at least to me, the malaise lying beneath the surfaces of things. Or perhaps not a malaise, but a disquiet. I'm not sure it could fill a book, as Fernando Pessoa once did, but it does feel worth mentioning. Soon enough, it too will pass, though the struggles of so many, Sandy-related and not, will go on, as they always do, without any notice or notation from the wider world. Helpfully he provides links to psychological resources for those still trying to cope.

The PATH trains are running irregularly; the World Trade Center and Hoboken stations are still being repaired after flooding that could easily have appeared in a 1970s disaster flick. One image from the Hoboken PATH station eerily recalled The Shining, though it was salt water, and not blood, that gushed through the elevator doors. (Is "thankfully" appropriate here?) The Exchange Place Station also remains closed. Whenever I envision the volume of water that rushed down its vertiginous stairs onto the tracks below, I get chills. Given the damage, the Port Authority has not offered any predictions on when any of these stations will open. The light rail trains, in Hudson County and in Newark, are running again following their regular schedules, but like the PATH, they are sometimes so full it amazes me they can advance down the track.

In those moments when I am not pressed like a piece of herring in a tin and the trains aren't seesawing around the bend I still try to get in a few sketches. Drawing is a deeply calming, centering, enjoyable activity for me, and has been since I was small. Here are a few very recent life portraits, all on my iPhone, using Sketchbook Pro. I got a stylus with the new phone, but I have yet to use it. I have gotten so used to my fingers working in favor of pen and pencil tips that they've become my default. At any rate, I'll take rocking trains and an altered schedule that requires a bit more pre-planning over having to get in a car and drive on the highway, even if it's a 15-20-minute trip, any day.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Quote: Jonas Mekas

Still from Andy Warhol's Empire(from Behindthehype.com)
Q: Earlier this year you selected films for a "Boring Masterpieces" series at Anthology [Film Archives].  A few of the 60 or so people that came for Andy Warhol's Empire, stayed for its entire running time of 8 hours and 5 minutes. You were the cameraman for Empire - what was the experience of making that film?

A: It was the spring of 1964. My loft was the Film-Maker's Cooperative office: Film Culture [the magazine Mekas cofounded with his brother Adolfas in 1954) magazine office; and a hangout of underground film-makers, poets, people in transit. Bob Kaufman, Barbara Rubin, Christo, Salvador Dalí, Ginsberg, Leroi Jones, [Gregory] Corso, George Maciunas, Warhol, Jack Smith.... I slept under the editing table while the parties were going. A new issue of Film Culture was out and I had asked John Palmer, a young film-maker, to help to carry bags full of magazines to the nearest post office, in the Empire State Building. As we were carrying our heavy loads, the Empire State Building was our Star of Bethlehem: it was always there, leading us...Suddenly we both had to stop to admire it. I don't remember who said it, John or myself, or both of us at the same time: "Isn't it great?" This is a perfect Andy Warhol movie!"

"Why don't you tell that to Andy," I said. Next day he calls me. "And is very excited about filming Empire. Can you help us?"

So on Saturday, July 25th there we were, on the 41st floor of the Time-Life building. I set up the camera and framed the Empire State Building. Andy was there to check framing. The premiere of Empire had to wait for almost a year. It was a very, very busy period of the Sixties, we kept doing new things, and we had no time to look at what we did yesterday. Ahead, ahead we moved!


In 1962 or '64, I met Andy on Second Avenue. I was going to a LaMonte Young concert. He said he would join me. LaMonte played one of those very, very long pieces, four or six hours-long variations on a single note. Andy sat through the entire piece. Andy was already doing serial pictures, repetitions of the same image. Stretching time. Jackson MacLow had already written his script/note about filming a tree for twenty-four hours. It was all in the air, Empire. Andy was very up-to-date with what was happening in the arts. One could say that Empire was his conversation with other avant-garde artists of his day, with minimalists, conceptualists, real-time artists and, at the same time, an aesthetic celebration of reality. As such, it will never date, it will always remain alive and unique.

--Copyright © Jonas Mekas, interviewed by Marianne Shaneen, SFAQ: International Arts and Culture, Issue 11: Nov. Dec. Jan. 2012-13, pp. 52-53.

Jonas Mekas (l) and Andy Warhol (r)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Obama & Biden Win Reelection!

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama
Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden
(Sept. 7, 2012, Portsmouth, NH (AP Photo/Jim Cole))
They did it, we did it! President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden won yesterday's national contest over Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, by a margin of 303 electoral votes to 203 for the Romney-Ryan ticket! Our 44th President and his Vice President will have 4 more years to continue the work they began in 2008, with a more liberal US Senate, including new progressive Democratic senators like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the first out lesbian senator in US history, Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin. Despite the Romney's campaign's head games, which beguiled the establishment media, the Obama campaign did enough to energize its DEMOCRATIC coalition, and won the majority of the swing states, including Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada, and VP nominee Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin, sealing the victory for the Democratic ticket. Despite the ongoing economic crises, enough voters felt things were turning around to give the President a second chance. Despite billions from secret Super PAC funders, many of them billionaires and multimillionaires, the outright plutocratic Republican ticket lost.

I sincerely hope President Obama will take a few more tips from his predecessor and campaign energizer, former president Bill Clinton, who despite all the gloomy predictions, especially from the right and mainstream media, modestly raised taxes in 1993 on everyone, including the rich, and went on to preside over the most successful economic expansion of any president in the last 50 years. I hope he--and voters, since the media are paid to be obtuse--realize too that as Bill Clinton, who repeatedly accommodated the GOP learned the hard way, there is only so far you can go. They will still try to destroy you, so negotiate from strength, not weakness. Ignore the Washington consensus, and push for what you believe in. Obama will have an increased Democratic majority in the Senate, led by the wily Harry Reid (D-NV), so if a jobs bill requires reconciliation, push it through. If smart-grid funding requires reconciliation, push it through. With bills that might merit bipartisanship, like immigration reform, extend an olive branch to the GOP. Otherwise, do no let them roll you, and keep pushing forward, especially on green technologies, a saner foreign policy, a progressive judiciary, and fiscal plans that shrink the income gap and increase job opportunities for the 99%.

But that all will be work to undertake after being sworn in a second time. With the victories for marriage equality in Maryland and Maine, the positive ballot measure victories in New Jersey and elsewhere, and the defeat of hatemongers like Republicans Joe Walsh of Illinois and Allen West of Florida, the country outside the deep South does appear to have rejected the politics of negation, dissimulation and aristocracy, and is showing it is willing to move forward. It's up to all of us now to maintain that movement, and keep pushing, as hard as it will often seem. Even the Clinton-era rates, set to return in January 2014, won't pry the cold fingers off the millions of those willing to spend everything to rewrite laws to benefit themselves and their elite class.

Congratulations to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. You did it, we did it. Now we need to really do it, and keep the country moving the best direction!

A Little of This, A Little of That

Today, after a false morning alarm, which involved the electricity surging on while I was in the shower,    only to shut off not even 10 minutes later, it finally clicked back on as I was scrubbing the refrigerator clean of its foetor, and there was easily enough within its walls and those of the little cooler that became a makeshift mini-fridge to supply biochemistry experiments at every local university and college. So far, it has held. We are expecting a nor'easter or some other serious storm tomorrow, with high winds and waterline surges, so I am praying that whatever the problem turned out to be, our local energy company, PSE&G, has resolved it for the future. We went nearly eight days without electricity, in the absence, at least in our area, of severe flooding or extensive pole damage. The capacitors (?) in the transformers, I heard someone say on the radio. PSE&G has said anything at all about what was wrong, instead referring us to a vague online article. Once the entire city and other towns, the worst hit of which will require many more weeks, perhaps even months, of rebuilding at every level, have power and are on the mend, I plan to suggest to every official I can find that they take into account the recommendations of the American Society of Engineers, who offered useful suggestions in 2009 on how to address the storm Hurricane Sandy turned out to be, with a push for greater regulation of the power companies, and for those at the federal level, I will do my part in renewed efforts to get them to pay attention to global warming and climate change.



Unlike many parts of New Jersey, our voting precinct thankfully was functional, so we didn't have to try either the provisional ballot or far more experimental email/fax options, and C and I went to vote first thing this morning. The building, a nearby senior center, had gotten electricity a night or two ago, and was buzzing when we arrived. I have never seen it that busy; perhaps it was in 2008, though because I had to be in Chicago to teach I voted by absentee then, with the benefit that I was able to head down after class to Grant Park, where then President-elect Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the First daughters Sasha and Malia Obama greeted the enthusiastic, festival-like crowd. Tonight I will be at home, I hope with working lights, TV and Internet, and remain cautiously optimistic that the president will be reelected and that the Democrats will not only retain the US Senate but gain a few seats in the bargain. My hopes for the US House are less expansive, but I would love to be surprised in a positive way (the departures of the likes of Michele Bachmann, Allen West, being more important than the lagniappe of Democratic control; or should I make that the reverse? etc.).

I've expressed my thoughts on the last four years on here before, but I do think the President has some real accomplishments, such as the Affordable Care Act, the bailout of the auto industry, Dodd-Frank (as weak as it nevertheless is), the righting (if not the less successful right-winging, i.e., austeritization) of the eoconomy after the debacle of Bush, the two new Supreme Court justices (Sotomayor and Kagan), his glacial affirmation of same-sex marriage and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the increasing greening of the economy. His record on  a range of other issues, warmaking and warmongering has been more mixed, with the Iraq War's end more of a mulligan and Afghanistan mostly a bloody wash, the horrendous National Defense Authorization Act, the normalization of drone warfare, the demonization of whistleblowers, the continuance of Bush's War on Terror and multi-decade War on Drugs, the magazine-wielding against Iran, and other deleterious policies that crush our civil liberties, extend the worst aspects of the military industrial state, and advance neoliberalism and neoconservatism all reasons to give a voter pause. As has tended to be the case in presidential elections, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, a hyper-secretive, ultra-rich Trojan Horse for the plutocracy, is far, far worse. In fact, he might be the worst Republican nominee I had the opportunity to vote against in my lifetime. Almost nothing he says is consistent with what he's said, let alone done, in the past, and his Vice Presidential running mate, Rand-roid Paul Ryan (R-WI), is so far to the right he's almost off the charts.

I don't think even they can steal this election, as occurred in 2000; but every election in the US is always a leap into the dark, with those running things the only ones with strike matches and a map at hand. Still, I think Obama will win reelection, and when that's certified, the real work begins again.


The transportation systems connecting the New York metropolitan area are still recovering from the hurricane and its aftermath. As of today, there is no PATH train service originating from the World Trade Center, which is one end of the line whose other is Newark. There is also no Newark Light Rail or subway train yet. Yesterday I took C to the NY Waterway ferry to NYC; the first departure point, at Paulus Hook, had a line easily a half-mile long. The second pier, at Newport, appeared more manageable, and despite his bus hitting a taxi, he got to work. I on the other hand had to drive to Newark, and picked up a colleague who also was teaching on Mondays. Gasoline is still scarce in many parts of this area, but I had filled up the car, which has decent fuel economy, and was able to ferry us to the university without a problem. Getting home was more a challenge; the traffic exiting Newark was slower than molasses in the cold, and I probably burned twice as much gas leaving as arriving. I am glad, though, that I did not get rid of my little car, which carried me, and my cousin when I wasn't in town, all over Chicago and the Midwest. I sometimes think I no longer really need it, and then an event like the hurricane occurs that reminds me how necessary it can be, even if, under regular circumstances, public transportation is a far more ecologically and financial sound option.

Many of my students are still dealing with the effects of the hurricane. Many also lost electricity and either had just gotten it back or were still waiting. One student who lives in Newark told me that her mayor, Cory Booker, had brought her family and others pizza to ensure they ate during one chilly, light-less night. Another who lives in Manhattan told me it took him four hours driving to school via the Lincoln Tunnel. Another is still without electricity and was so worried about his grade he sent me multiple pleading emails not to penalize him for not submitting an assignment. The university has asked us to be flexible, and one of the things I've learned over many years of teaching is that creating a syllabus that you can compress or expand depending upon circumstances--though with lots of notice especially for undergraduates--is the best plan. In the undergraduate Afro-Latin literature class we are now reading Mayra Montero's tragic novel The Messenger, which I trust will draw the students back into the course, and in the graduate class we're talking about Ray Kurzweil's interest in "the singularity" and the possibility of infinite life, or, as Jean-François Lyotard suggests in his famous article, of the survival of the mind after the death of the body, yet another point on the spectrum of the transhuman as well as the posthuman, which this hurricane's terrible effects held up as if under a magnifying glass.  In both courses we are working around the challenges the lost last week and the early part of this one have dealt us. Above all I sincerely hope every one of my students and their families, like everyone else affected by the storm, is on the path to recovery.


Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who won this year's World Series by defeating the Detroit Tigers in 4 straight games. The Giants, mostly unheralded all season and featuring a bevy of talented batters from Venezuela as well as excellent starting and relief pitching, took the final two games of the National League Championship Series from my St. Louis Cardinals, last year's Series champs, who had already knocked out the top NL team, the Washington Nationals, then proceeded to blank the Tigers in the first three games, allowing runs only in the fourth and final game. Many on this roster were also on the team that won the 2010 World Series, vanquishing the Texas Rangers, and they still have the talent and drive to return next year, though something tells me it'll be a new NL team vying for and winning the crown.


Rest in piece, Elliott Carter, after 103 years of innovative composing. An American original!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

By Candlelight

Because that, battery-powered lanterns and flashlights are all we have right now, nearly six days and counting.
(If you think you might find yourself in the path of a natural event strong enough to knock out the power, stock up!)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, November 02, 2012

Surviving Sandy

My apologies for all the errors in the post on the color "blue"! I wrote it after a long, busy teaching day, and only noted well afterwards how garbled it was. It should be less so now. There are no solid sheets of blue above us today, nor have there been for the last few days. Instead, it's been shades of gray, gray clouds, gray sky, all auguring what we're being told is the worst storm to hit this area in a year. I wasn't here last October when Hurricane Irene struck, but Hurricane Sandy, or the Frankenstorm, which blew through the Caribbean, leaving 60 dead and widespread damage, has begun barreling towards barreled onto the shore, exacerbated by a full moon's high tides, and preceded by terrifying winds, some as high as 90 mph, and one of the lowest recorded pressures in decades at 940 milibars.
UPDATED (The storm terminated my original post on Monday.)
The storm subsumed swaths of the Eastern seaboard from North Carolina north to Connecticut, battering coastal New York City, Long Island and New Jersey, where it touched down in devastating fashion. Whole shore towns, as well as inland cities along rivers, were underwater, yet even communities farther away from watercourses suffered flooding and sewer backups. Atlantic City, which finds itself near the eye of the storm, has suffered flooding all along its boardwalk and beaches, and other littoral towns are also drowning. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the evacuation of low-lying coastal neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, calling those who could not or refused to leave "selfish," and many of those areas, like Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Bay Terrace in Staten Island, New York City, ended up underwater. The MTA was shut down, as was the PATH and NJ Transit, the airports in Newark and Queens, and many major roads; subway tunnels flooded, the PATH line from the World Trade Center also turned into a swimming pool, and many train lines suffered damage or blockage from downed trees, strewn vehicles, and, in several cases, boats hurled up onto their tracks.  Lower Manhattan experienced a transformer explosion, which extinguished almost all of its power (save that of Goldman Sachs), and the NYU Medical Center had to be evacuated. So far more than 30 people are confirmed dead, and there are others whose whereabouts remain unknown.
Closer to home, the storm's anticipated and current destruction led to flooding all along the Jersey City waterfront, and nearby Hoboken was plunged almost completely underwater. Newark also suffered such extensive damage and flooding that the university was shut down until Monday.  Thankfully we suffered no flooding and no damage to the house or cars, but the storm stripped the siding off many nearby houses; knocked a huge limb into a neighbor's front yard, damaging one of their eaves; peeled the roof of an apartment building off like a sardine can; and removed an awning as if it were a baseball cap. Electricity went out around 7 pm Monday. As of today, Friday, November 2, four and a half days after the shutdown, we are still without electricity, though we thankfully do have gas in the car (and gasoline is scarce all over the bi-state area, not just in our city), hot water (because of a gas-powered water heater installed a few years ago), enough funds to get by, and non-perishable food. Because we did keep an analog phone and an old battery-powered radio we are able to maintain contact with the outside world. Because we had candles, batteries and flashlights in the house, we have light; because we own a cooler, we can keep food outside in the cold weather. Parts of Jersey City's downtown, especially where the financial firms are located, do have power, but large sections of the city do not, nor do large portions of the neighboring cities and towns of Bayonne, North Bergen, Union City, Harrison, Secaucus, Hoboken, and Kearney.
Driving around feels at times like being in a J. G. Ballard (The Drowned World) or Octavia Butler (The Parable of the Sower; The Parable of the Talents) novel. (Or my own novel set in 1804, Palimpsests!) As I said, gasoline is scarce, and many stations that have it cannot meet demand or lack the electricity to pump it. Meanwhile rumors circulate about where one can find it. The cash machines are mostly empty of cash, and since the electricity is still down in many places, stores cannot guarantee that they can accept debit cards. Unless you have access to analog devices, you may not be able even to contact the police or any authorities if something goes wrong. Streetlights remain out, and there are pockets of police in place, but in other areas, only a think veneer separates one from lawlessness. One neighbor confessed to feeling rage and desperation at the lack of contact with authorities, the lack of updates, and the failure of almost every system. She did fortunately have gas in her car and some cash on her, so she and her sons weren't stranded, but her husband and his brother are stuck somewhere and remained unreachable. A friend has lost his car and had to shelter his landlord, whose home was flooded. He is now living with his mother, who lives in a neighboring town, reaching her by walking to her home. Another friend, who teaches at Rutgers-New Brunswick, mentioned the Darwinian air now taking hold in Greenwich Village and other parts of lower Manhattan. Yet another colleague was fortunate to find a train now running to take him and visit his elderly mother who had taken ill while finding herself in the dark down in the middle of the state. And these are only a few of the stories I have heard.
Our light since the storm
What this storm has underlined for me is not just the urge to non-theological providence and prudence that my Depression-era late grandfather always urged, but also a rethinking of so much of my acceptance and internalization of the contemporary shift to the digital, to the electric and electronic, and to any credence I have placed in private companies, especially the large ones like AT&T and PSE&G, on whom so many lives depend, without a healthy dose of skepticism. As of today we continue to have spotty cell phone service, and the power company has been dismal about letting us know with anything approaching a reasonable estimate. Originally we were told that we would get service by next Monday, but as of yesterday the automated response was saying next Friday, November 9! Our voting station is nearby, at a local eldercare center, so will that be operative by Tuesday? Or are there other provisions that are being taken to ensure that we have electricity in this area and will be able to vote? Their actions make one of the best cases for active government regulation. So much of the local and regional infrastructure went kaput, despite assurances that it could withstand such a storm, and despite the prior warnings and the example of last year's Hurricane Irene, previous snowstorms, the 2003 Blackout, and the attacks of September 11, 2001. It seems that instead of taking into account the best science and spending the money to ensure future viability, corporate executives, unless forced to, stuff the money into their pockets. These are the people we are told daily we're supposed to extol. No thanks!
The local officials have been mostly decent; our governor, Republican Chris Christie, was on the air communicating with citizens proactively and has been visible since, even appearing with and praising President Barack Obama, who came to New Jersey to view the wreckage, on Wednesday. (Based on information that hasn't been shared with us, Obama said we would have electricity by yesterday, but so far, that hasn't panned out.) New York's Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, and New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, also displayed real leadership as the storm was approaching, and both also have spoken out about the need for the US to address the reality of global warming and climate change, an anathema subject among the GOP and many Democrats, and a topic about which the president has grown silent in recent years. Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, already a superhero in the eyes of many, not only was responding directly to requests his constituents tweeted to him, but even opened his home to feed neighbors and provide them a charging station.

Jersey City's mayor, Jerramiah Healy, has appeared to go missing, issuing evacuation orders and the curfew, but otherwise invisible. I have not heard him on the radio even once; his name appears only intermittently, except to be denounced, on online sites focusing on local news. Some downtown residents have even posted signs asking where "Waldo Healy Is?" and labeling the city "All On Our Own Again." He has waltzed into office each time he's run, so perhaps voters will get past the D (for "Developers'-Best-Friend"?) next to his name and give a challenger, a more progressive Democrat or a moderate, a chance. Whatever happens, I just hope the electricity returns sooner rather than later. C, I and the cats are holding up, but a cold house is a cold house. I'm not so ready to be off the grid--yet--but even if I were, I also know now what I've always been urged: be prepared.