Monday, October 09, 2006

Street Theatre

On Monday I wandered over to BAM to check out The Science of Sleep. The movie was this occasionally sweet, but frequently obnoxious and self-indulgent mess. Nice animation, mind.

On the way there, I noticed that the entirety of Flatbush was closed off for what was by all accounts a rather lame street festival, and that the closing had sparked off a series of traffic jams on the avenues heading north to Flatbush and Atlantic. It was rather droll watching the South Brooklyn drivers lose it, and the cops yelling at them for a while. But walking the length of Fifth Avenue was pretty wearing, since one moves to the the neighbourhood in part because the traffic situation is normally pretty quiet.

Which brought me, yes, to the Atlantic Yards proposal, a subject about which I have written very little recently. The reason for this relative quiet lies in two recent events that demonstrated to me a) how little I really understood how this borough works and b) how much the debate over the Atlantic Yards is choreographed by forces we're reluctant to acknowledge.

The part a) came to me after the brutal, and decisive, victory that Yvette Clarke scored in the race for the democratic nomination for the 11th Congressional district. This was a candidate that made little concession to the fact that the district had gotten whiter and richer, and who romped home based on a strong base of support from unions and the West Indian community.

I don't think I was the only one who was surprised by the result - Yassky had obviously very little conception of the war for the nomination taking place outside Park Slope. Owens showed little inclination to cut the sort of deals that would have allowed him to vault ahead of the other candidates, even though he had a pretty inclusive platform, AY opposition aside. Still, Clarke had a reputation as a pretty diligent council member, even if she did fudge her resume.

I probably should not be too harsh on myself, a relative novice, for misreading the race. Although the idea that I'm as excluded from understanding the political process as I am from participating in it is a little hard to bear, I can always take comfort from the plight of the Working Families Party, which has built up a pretty formidable supply of political capital in the region, and was utterly unable to deploy it in the race for the 11th, so riven by internal divisions was it.

Which brings me to b). I was chatting to a colleague of mine, I'll call him Vade, because he's vaguely dark and vaguely evil, and not for any other reason, oh no. Vade serves a role in the following discussion not unlike that of Bobo the Pimp on p341 of St Hunter's Campaign book. Bobo, a valet at a Miami hotel, understood instinctively that Nixon, by ceding the platform at the 1972 Republican convention to the right wing of his party, had guaranteed a hassle-free run at the re-election, but left his party in the hands of its unelectable element.

Vade is a pimp and a hustler by nature, like his predecessor Bobo, and he understood the nature of all this farting around with DEIS statements and board votes and so on. He's always been pretty cynical about the whole process, a curious Nets fan that thought he would be well out of Park Slope by the time Ratner got his stadium built.

But he has a keen eye for insincerity and greed, and that's pretty much all that the Empire State Development Corporation, the city planning commission, and probably the Public Authorities Control Board are giving off right now. I feel, much as I did after the primary for the 11th, that events are moving according to a plan that bears no relation to what is happening on the ground.

Political blogger Digby was in the habit of calling the political posturing that surrounded the bogus compromise on permitting torture by US soldiers and agents Kabuki, after the highly ritualised and very formal Japanese theater. I'm not sure how apt it is, but the idea that 90% of the actors in the torture farce were going though motions designed to expose them to a minimum of electoral liability is hard to escape.

This is, then, to reduce city politics, maybe all politics, to a highly calibrated machine, one that reduces the possibility of outside influence to a minimum. Vade understood instinctively that the whole AY thing was scripted. I'm wondering why it took me quite so long.


At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

indeed it is. until we go before the judges.


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