We have had too much God in America
In James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel’s protagonist Stephen Dedalus is listening to an argument his father and aunt Dante are having with a Mr. Casey about the place of the clergy in Irish society. The talk was prompted by the scandal surrounding Charles Stuart Parnell, an Irish nationalist leader who was condemned by the Catholic Church. This condemnation set back the movement for Irish independence considerably.
—God and religion before everything! Dante cried. God and religion before the world!
Mr. Casey raised his clenched fist and brought it down on the table with a crash.
—Very well then, he shouted hoarsely, if it comes to that, no God for Ireland!
The passage came to mind as Pope Francis, traveling in Mexico, commented that political leaders who wanted to build barriers to illegal immigration were not truly Christian. He was referencing Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination for president, who has made opposition to illegal immigration a central part of his campaign.
Who are we to argue what is Christian with the Pope? We’ll take him at his word: building walls instead of bridges is not the Christian thing to do. Trump is a big phony and a blowhard who is not a good Christian. Sure thing, Francis.
Let’s not jump on the Trump bandwagon, but let’s also be fine with giving Christianity the boot in the ass out of public life that it richly deserves. Let’s be absolutely fine with America not doing the Christian thing; we’ll be a better and stronger country for it.
Building a society around a holy book isn’t a recipe for success. And like many other religious documents, the Gospel of Christ is full of a lot of very bad ideas. Loving your enemies is masochistic. Turning the other cheek only gets you hit twice. The current Pope comes from the Kumbaya school of Christianity that holds that if we all just love everyone enough, we can create a just and peaceful world. Christianity has (in theory at least) been trying this for more than 2,000 years, I think it’s safe to say it doesn’t work.
Where are the secular social-justice warriors telling the Pope to butt out of our national debate on immigration and sovereignty? Where are all the self-proclaimed “male feminists” objecting to the import of thousands of the unenlightened?
The Christians who are promising love and world peace are just as delusional and self-righteous as the ones threatening fire and brimstone. Both camps will gladly lead us to ruin, if not by the Christian right’s aversion to science and obsession with gays and abortion then by the Christian left’s naïvely embracing those who would destroy us.
Donald Trump is a fraud and a buffoon, and he’s not the answer to our national question. But for all Trump’s idiocy, his campaign understands this simple fact: if you don’t have real borders, you don’t have a real country.
We cannot solve the world’s problems by inviting people from all corners of the world to come live with us. There are other ways to help that won’t harm our country. Any charitable efforts ought to be tempered with a measure of rational self-interest.
Our well-meaning religious friends think that they are doing God’s work and that the magic of their good intentions will somehow turn bad people good and make everything OK. I wish them luck with that, but these beliefs are not a basis for a responsible immigration policy. As a country we need to be the adult in the room.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his idea to put in a light rail that would connect Brooklyn and Queens. With the exception of Red Hook and Sunset Park, his light rail system would not be bringing public transit to places that need it but rather add additional tourist glut and uber-gentrifying cachet to areas already overpriced and tourist heavy.
The idea sounds great at first. The public transit system in New York is abysmal and the outer borough are woefully underserved. To get from Southern Brooklyn to Northern Queens would require a lengthy detour through Manhattan or an epic journey of Byzantine bus transfers that would see you grow old or give up on life before you were halfway there.
The proposed rail runs only along the East River waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens. Some of these areas, such as Astoria, Queens and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are already served by rail system and there are not too many people commuting between Sunset Park and Astoria.
With our subway dollar stretched thin and the MTA constantly cutting service while increasing fares, de Blasio says he’ll rake in the $2.5 billion he needs to build this light rail system from the increase in property tax that will result from the light rail being built. So he’ll wring money out of rich people who will somehow welcome this sorry trolley outside their homes and this will help the working class people of Red Hook and Sunset Park commute to Astoria where there are no good jobs waiting for them.
Whatever de Blasio’s motives or likelihood of the light rail system coming into being, the issue highlights two central problems of New York City transit: Our transit system is very Manhattan-centric to its own detriment and New York City does not have enough control over its own transit system.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority, though it generally serves New York City, is controlled by New York State. Whatever we need to do here in the five boroughs has to pass through several gatekeepers in Albany. The bureaucracy is twice-removed from the systems it operates, and it shows in every step of the system’s operation. The New York City transit system is among the most extensive in the country and it runs 24 hours, but that’s more of a remark about how sad the state of public transit is in the U.S.A. rather than a statement about how good New York City’s transportation is.
Every weekday morning I give myself an hour and a half to travel 11 miles, and I’m sometimes late. My first day back at work this year after the holidays, it took me more than two hours to get to work, even after I left the subway in disgust in Jackson Heights and took a cab the rest of the way to work.
New York City is comprised of 304.6 square miles and Manhattan comprises only about 33 of them. I have nothing against Manhattan and it makes sense for it to have a large transit infrastructure to deal with commuters going to work every week, but this leaves the most of the city underserved. Even many parts of Manhattan are not well served by the subway system – the Second Avenue subway has been a running joke for decades. They expanded the terrible 7 line so that people can go to the Javitz Center with greater ease – well not with greater ease since it involves having to take the 7 train. That the 7 train is an overcrowded clusterfuck in every way imaginable doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar to fix.
This latest proposal from the mayor looks like it will go the way of so many well-intentioned and poorly planned transit fixes. When it gets built, if it gets built at all, it will be way over budget and of limited usefulness.
I wish I could be more hopeful, but the line as planned will not go into any of the parts of the outer boroughs that are not served by a rail system, so the people still not served by our subways will still be out in the cold, waiting for the bus.
Chasing down the last vestiges of punk rock youth
The other night I left home to walk to the Parkside Pub in Whitestone, Queens to see an excellent hardcore punk rock show. I love punk rock music and this show was so close it took only a few minutes to walk there. I have loved punk rock for a long time and knew some of the bands that were playing from playing with my own band, Blackout Shoppers (currently on hiatus).
It was late and I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but as I set out I noticed an envelope that needed mailing, so I figured I could drop it in a mailbox on my way to the show.
Publisher’s Clearinghouse is a shitty lottery that only requires you mail back a form. Of course my chances of winning are next to zero, but instead of spending two bucks on Powerball I spend only the price of a stamp. That’s a very low-cost form of gambling, though it does come with the added humiliation of having your name on a Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope.
I didn’t run across a mailbox until I got the block that the Parkside Pub was on. How can I show up at a hardcore punk rock show with a Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope? Would that make me a horrible old poser? I had no choice. Those Publisher’s Clearinghouse millions are destined to me mine. If I win enough money, I’ll spend part of my fortune on starting a new non-profit arts venue in New York City that will feature punk shows. As I neared the show, I hoped no one would see me drop the sweepstakes envelope into the mailbox. No one did, or at least had the kindness not to call me out on it.
It was glad to see the show was packed. There were people there old and young and the bands were excellent. It was great to see friends from many different bands there. Some of them are my age or even older and many of them also have kids.
Being a parent with serious bills to pay and a job that requires long hours means I don’t get to very many concerts anymore. So any time I can steal away for a few hours and subject myself to the full blasting fury of as much aggressive music I can take.
The show at the Parkside did not disappoint. The bands were excellent. And even if they hadn’t been, it was worthwhile to see people you haven’t seen in a while. There are a lot of people that I know and love to see but only see them in the context of going to shows.
There are people like my friend Pete, who I ran into at the show. I have known Pete for years but don’t know his full name and couldn’t tell you what he does for a living. I’ve seen him at numerous shows for my band and others. I’ve spent hours talking to him at bars and on sidewalks outside of music clubs. I know he lives in Douglaston, Queens and used to have a girlfriend named Nicole and he loves punk and metal music, and that’s all I need to know. We love the music and the scene around it and so it doesn’t matter what we may or may not have in common.
Because while the band one plays in may not last, the friendships and the love of music will endure. People have been writing punk rock’s obituary since the 1970s. It’s still here. And as long as I can stand on my feet, I’ll make it to shows from time to time. No regrets. See you there.
Real New Yorkers root for the Knicks
There are now two National Basketball League teams within the borders of New York City. The Knicks have been here since 1946, the Nets moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey in 2012. Neither team is doing very well right now, but only one is worthy of your support.
The Knicks are the city’s loveable losers. We got to the N.B.A. finals in 1999 and lost in five games and haven’t come close to that level of glory since.
I was lucky enough to get to a Knicks game not long ago. It was for work and we had great seats. The baseball owner Bill Veeck said a fan’s knowledge of the game is inversely proportional to the price of their ticket and that holds true in basketball as well as baseball. Although Spike Lee probably knows – and I don’t think he was there that night – no fan within the first 20 rows could probably tell you who the Knicks all-time leading scorer is (Patrick Ewing—I had to look that up). These were valuable seats and I wouldn’t have sat there if they hadn’t been paid for by a corporate client that was footing the bill.
People showed up late and left early; that’s not how you should act when you can see the hypnotic pattern on Walt Frazier’s bold brown blazer and see the pained expression on Kristaps Porzingis’ face when he fouls out. If you’ve spent that kind of money on tickets, get there on time.
At any rate, we were lucky that night in that the Knicks actually won the game. It was in overtime and the game seemed to stretch on forever as the Utah Jazz repeatedly fouled the Knicks in order to get possession of the ball (this is a common basketball tactic that rarely helps a team win a game but succeeds in boring the shit out of fans). But the Knicks finished with the win.
The Knicks are New York’s loveable losers on the basketball court. They find new ways to break their fans’ hearts every year, but they are our team. Now some fair-weather fans are supporting the Brooklyn Nets. Since Brooklyn is trendy and the Nets play in Brooklyn, it is fashionable in some circles to support this farce of a team. That they have sleek black and white merchandise I’m sure helps.
Nowhere in sports, until ISIS starts fielding a hockey team, is there a better example of a team that deserves to fail than the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets play in the Barclays Center, which is part of the notorious Atlantic Yards project, a billionaire’s boondoggle that forced middle- and working-class New Yorkers from their homes. The State of New York invoked eminent domain to force people to sell their homes to shady real estate developer Bruce Ratner, who paid off local activist groups to support the effort. It’s a shameful chapter in the city’s history and the Barclay’s Center is an ugly eyesore that is a testament to our sordid age of corrupt politics and the worst kind of crony capitalism.
I don’t care how much the Knicks lose, wearing a Nets jersey is about the most un-New York thing you can do. The Knicks can lose every game between now and 2053, sacrifice puppies center court and I’ll still root for them over the Nets.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch a Knicks game on television and I’m confident you’ll be convinced of their authenticity. It doesn’t matter how much you lose, it’s how you keep fighting and show character that counts. That’s what real New Yorkers do.