Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

I have been in Berlin for 20 days so far. I have learned a lot. One thing I learned last Tuesday at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is that mass graves have flowers. A lot of flowers. In fact, if there is no sign or plaque nearby you would mistake mass graves for private gardens. Believe me, you would.

To get at this Soviet mass grave (the main Jewish one is in the front of the camp) I followed my map to the farthest corner of the camp. In order to get into it I had to pass through a revolving exit, like those that allow riders out of the El stations but not back in. I walked over to the flowery mass graves and sat under a shady tree whose leaves made enough noise with the wind that I couldn’t hear the street. I sat there mostly isolated, my only companions were the happy bees and the innumerable livelihoods at my feet.

Though I could not hear the street, I could see it, and from my bench I could also see the houses surrounding the camp. People actually live in these houses that surround the mass grave.

When I left the mass grave I realized I was locked out of Sachsenhausen. There is a black metal fence about 9 feet tall and the revolving exit is no entrance. So what could I do? I ignored the security cameras. I threw my bag over and I jumped the fence. I sort of escaped into a concentration camp. It was weird. But fitting for the whole paradigm. That is, that the black fence I jumped is the grandchild of one that kept prisoners (perhaps many that ended up in the mass graves) out of freedom, just as my generation is the grandchildren of survivors and victims. Times change.

In 2007 I jumped a fence to get into a concentration camp. I will never forget that. Times change. We need a new global Holocaust curriculum to find a fresh entrance into assimilating the Holocaust into our own experiences or else it will end up with flowers lined neatly in rows on top of the grass on top of the fertilizer on top of the soil we use to bury it.


The area around the camp is a middle-class borough of Berlin. There’s no way to explain to an American Jew the oddity of walking past perfectly normal apartments and houses on your way to a concentration camp.

I took the local commuting train to the camp. Imagine that. Imagine taking the El to a place where you can see execution trenches, parade grounds, electric barbed wire fences, ovens. Truthfully, I don’t expect any Jew in America to understand it. Chances are no American Jew who hasn’t seen it for him/herself can even imagine it—simply because of how we were taught to think about the Holocaust. It has become, for too many of us, an untouchable graveyard in the sky with a headstone for each and every one of us.

In order to understand the weight of this event, you have to remember my education. You have to remember the large Holocaust curriculum we as Private Jewish School students—and generally, all American students really—were put through every year leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I remember large assemblies for Holocaust Remembrance Day. I remember one year they put a computer in a main axis of the school that counted numbers so fast they were basically a blur on the screen and counted numbers this fast all the way up to six million. I think it took a few days—just to show how large a number that really is.

I remember also the engrossing sobriety we all felt that day, even from the earliest years of Elementary School.

Recently, in some of the research I’ve done on the creation of Israel and the discussions surrounding it after World War II, I’ve come face to face with the fact that the Holocaust contributed greatly to the formation of a Jewish state. This is no grand discovery. It is only important as a personal realization. I have had to make myself look as objectively as possible at the speeches of Golda Meir and wonder whether she invoked words like mass murder, Holocaust, etc. unfairly in front of various UN commissions and hearings. Whether she marred that untouchable graveyard in the sky with dogmatic graffiti. I have had to wonder whether it was a manipulation of history (like saying a specific event in South Africa that ended 15 years ago applies to Israel now) and whether it was, as many bogus thinkers have said, an example of finagling Jews maneuvering within the system while using their European background to make friends with the Western Powers in the UN just to get their, our
, my, way.

The point is, in all my studies from as far back as I can remember, up to this day, the Holocaust has been the pinnacle of Jewish existence. It is the example of persecution, it is the example of how being different in society has its price. It is the meaning of being Jewish without a Jewish homeland—it is heartbreak but strength, it is stories of courage and stories of tragedy, it is disunity and unity, it is history, discussion, love, family, knowledge of self, immigration…all these things which are central to the life of any Jew in any part of the world.

This heavy moment. I walked from the S-Bahn, through the tree-lined middle class street, towards the fulfillment of 20 years of being Jewish and at least 10 of knowing that being Jewish meant I could be slaughtered like cattle.

Killed like cattle. This is another important feature of Holocaust education. Trying to bring the scope of what happened into the student’s life. (The computer is a good example). It is of course the basic premise of Holocaust education: we mustn’t forget. At Schechter we saw survivors, old survivors, with tattooed numbers on their arms. My friends’ grandparents. The survivors are rare because they survived, yes, but also because everyday they manage to overcome what is the natural absolutely one hundred percent natural and expected and fair reaction to the Holocaust—be it individual, societal, whatever—to simply forget about it. Often, our mind can’t process it so it just forgets it. These survivors, besides being heroes and storytellers are also hard living evidence that we can succeed against the mind’s natural tendencies and keep the Holocaust pertinent. They are beacons of memory.

The problem is this: what happens when a superior tells an adolescent the same thing over and over again? Yeah, chances are he/she will quickly tire of the whole topic and will even reject against it. Clean your room. Do the dishes. Read about the Holocaust.

We are fighting a great war to remember the Holocaust. We fight to keep our minds from rejecting it, we fight to keep it from becoming mere homework, we fight to avoid an over-exposure of the issue, and we fight those idiots who defame and destroy evidence and memories.

But the biggest battle is with time and distance. We fight the fact that Eastern Europe is so far and the 1940s so long ago. We Americans are so comfortable talking about the Holocaust, it seems. But we are lucky. We are far from its epicenter. We have the luxury of not seeing buildings destroyed by World War II at every streetlight.

We feel comfortable speaking about the Holocaust because it is what we were taught to do. Keep the memory alive, discuss it, turn it over, learn the facts, see the documentaries, etc. etc. etc.

Our educators figure it’s the only way. They figure it’s the best way. And they’re well-intentioned, but wrong. They’re wrong to see it as something so impregnable. We learn about the Holocaust as an event that is impossible to gain perspective on. As something unimaginable. Incomprehensible. Unfathomable. And worst of all: Inhuman. But wait. Humans did do it, right?

Well I went to a camp. I was there. When I return to the States I will arrive as a new survivor. In a way, this email is an assembly and I am the survivor telling the story of the unimaginable horrors of the camps.

Yes, we the survivors. I’m not saying I went through their struggle or that my trip to the camp is the most unique event in the history all of American Jewry, I’m not that deluded. But I realize my responsibility to bring some of the personal experience of my trip back to the Jews I know, and who, like family members that got out before the War, are unable to see the camps.

I bring an important message: we are wrong. Dangerously wrong.

Our approach in trying to imagine the unimaginable is wrong. First of all, it’s pessimistic because it assumes that most will not be able to grasp the Holocaust, and that we shouldn’t even really try. Bull. Why can’t we understand the Holocaust? Why can’t we place everything we know about the Holocaust outside of old books and lectures and into personal experience?

For example, I walked from the train station to the camp through an outer borough of Berlin, perhaps not so different from an area like Wilmette or Evanston or any suburb of any city that can easily reach the city center. And I kept thinking to myself: How is it possible to buy an apartment on the same street as a freaking concentration camp??? In my mind, it is absolutely the same as owning a house on Moses’s beard, or in the Garden of Eden.

You see, we have elevated the Holocaust to an event so unattainable in experience (because we really can’t go back in time) that we lose any kind of personal relevance. And we lose the valuable fact of life that, you know, it continues. That life goes on. That there is grass where there was blood. That I may be a thread from the twine of a noose at the gallows in Sachsenhausen does not stop me from growing into something of equal impact, though not effect, to the world.

There is no doubt in my mind that we can learn to imagine and understand the Holocaust. That, when I found myself at the physical manifestation of the very soul of post-1945 Jewry, when I looked around and felt my fellow Jews’ tears on my own cheek, felt my fellow Jews’ fears in my own stomach, knew my fellow Jews’ hopeless hope as if it was all my own, I could imagine a concentration camp. Because I was there. I was in it. I stood where my tears had fallen and where I had lined up for roll call every morning beside fellow Jews who would not last the day or would survive until freedom and write me letters from an apartment in Jerusalem.

But through the whole camp I never forgot the inhabitants of the houses overlooking the mass graves, this generation of neighbors of the ghosts of my fellow Jews and their souls’ screeching. And that is when I knew I was understanding the Holocaust.

If we continue to elevate the Holocaust, we will succeed in making it something that is awing and impressive in the highest sense. Like a piece of art so valuable it must be kept behind closed doors. And it will be lost to us forever.

The Holocaust happened. But, despite what the educators will tell you time and again, it will never happen again. It, like September 11, 2001, like April 29, 1987, like any day or event, is unique to its actual occurrence. All we can do now is take as much of its soul as possible and implant it within our everyday lives. The Holocaust was the genocidal murder of the Jews and other groups by the Nazis during their reign. There was no Holocaust in Rwanda. There is no Holocaust in Sudan. These are genocides. That was The Holocaust.

But aspects of the Holocaust—political control, scapegoating, systematic murder—will and do appear scattered throughout history and in our time in various forms. The question is two-fold: First, how do we respect and honor the Holocaust as the enormous event that it was without elevating it beyond our experiences? How can each human install a piece of a gas chamber into their hard drive without crashing the system? Second, how do we extract the threads of the Holocaust that appear to this day in such a way as to inspire action?

For as long as the Holocaust remains so lofty in the clouds above us, as long as humanity waits patiently for another Holocaust to begin so it can swoop in heroically and stop it, as long as we expect something unimaginable to occur in our actual lives, we will never ever appreciate the Sudans of our time. They will be, simply, “not-Holocausts.”

We must take from the Holocaust that which makes us cry, but not that which makes us traumatized; we must take from it that which makes us see the world as it is. As a place where SS guards, humans, could be turned into freaking dogs. Where we can utilize the knowledge hat the human is a vastly workable medium—the same bottomless human possibility that intrigues my father and pushes him to challenge convention everyday in order to heal unhealable ills is also able to create monsters. But we are not appropriately using the knowledge that humans can act this way if we merely use the Holocaust as a reference or cliché.

We would do better to understand the Holocaust as something that actually happened, with evidence one can see and touch and smell and hear and taste (I don’t recommend it) for him or herself, so that one can become their own survivor. For he/she will survive the mind-blowing realization that innocent broken paled emaciated circumcised non-circumcised communist bodies once burned in those ovens.

With that knowledge, the survivors need not remember grainy black and white photos and movies with swastikas and marching. I can simply read the front page of the New York Times with the same fascination and awareness as I did looking around the Parade ground at Sachsenhausen. A simple look around will show where the disaster lays, to this day. Where there are people sharing our oxygen and recreating the actions of those who set-up and ran the camps. And while every year students around the world are made to sit patiently while speakers struggle and inevitably fail to make the “unimaginable” horrors of the holocaust comprehensible to 1st graders, people continue to die for no good reason.

Two nights ago, at dinner with my host parents and my host mother’s daughter (who is my age and studies here in Berlin) an argument broke out over Kristallnacht, about which the daughter was writing a paper. She told me that it is politically incorrect to say “Kristallnacht,” as it is to say “Third Reich.” Apparently, the proper term for that night is “pogrom.”

I didn’t make too much about it, but my host father got upset because he feels that by calling it a pogrom academia is removing the significance of that night in the spectrum of all the events after it. He feels as if it is yet another example of this generation of Germans avoiding the Holocaust.

One of the advantages of staying in a place as long as I am is that you get a sense of people’s lives, and more, the way they view their lives—besides just the buildings they live in or the history of their city. I have learned that in Berlin, where touching history is a daily occurrence, the Holocaust is not often a popular topic for discussion. My generation here feels as if they are made to feel guilty about it. Or they feel overly emotional towards it and tire of it (as would I if I lived on the same street as a concentration camp, imagine). Meanwhile, anti-Semitism lives, and racism towards Turkish and black is equally well-off.

And as I’m sitting at the table twirling my pasta, besides thinking “Man I wish I knew German,” I began thinking about how good it is, at least, that they were arguing about the Holocaust and, judging by their volume, being passionate about it. The two will remember that argument. It is entrenched in their personal experience.

And we as humans, we as Jews, we as Jews in the Diaspora, we as American Jews, must find a way to similarly overcome. We must overcome our distance from the days and the location of the Holocaust; we must find a way to extract the power of the Holocaust as a real event pertinent to our everyday lives. We must not allow its scope and size to choke our ability to act. We must remember the Holocaust, but more, we must live with it in our hearts lest it become, like the Spanish Inquisition, just another bold term in a high school history textbook destined to fleetingly pass in and out of our memories as it pleases.

[This week, on a trip to Poland, I go to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The education continues.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

2007 Gaza Crisis Study Guide

Here's my little 2007 Gaza Crisis Study Guide. Three things worth discussing on this blog or among friends:

--Who comes out looking better here? Fatah looks to be the major underdog, considering they got beaten down by Hamas and are currently accepting American aid. Israel has closed the checkpoints in/out of Gaza, which means there will soon be a food and medical crisis there. If Israel allows material in, it will (a) be the right thing to do as far as humanitarianism and basic human compassion is concerned; (b) give Israel points in Palestinian perspectives--and the world's eye--as perhaps not completely evil; but will also (c) help Hamas get settled, thereby basically assisting its most fundamental enemy. And Hamas gets to make fun of the US for going against democracy (Hamas was democratically elected) but now finds itself with more power than it has traditionally been used to. Also, many of its most effective techniques--political, social, and militaristic--have relied on being the underdog, on being one with the people. Now that they are officially and 100% in charge of Gaza, will they react in line with their stated goals?

--What does the US do? It has just unlocked huge funds for the Palestinians, showing support for Abbas's Fatah government. But in so doing it (a) condones a Palestinian group that hasn't always been the most compliant with US's desires and (b) completely contradicts the fundamental premise for the Bush Administration's foreign policy of the past 7 years--that democracy must be established all over the world.

--Of course, numerous unanswerable moral issues: How does the UN justify giving aid to a government with explicitly stated deadly goals while otherwise serving the world to maintain peace. In other words, there are civilians in Gaza that undoubtedly require essential materials but by giving it to them the UN is effectively recognizing and accepting Hamas's position of leadership. Also, how long can Israel refuse Palestinians basic materials once they start starving? Which is the more pressing? Individual (in this case thousands of individuals) and civilian life or state security? When should state policy--especially issues like embargo, for which civilians suffer far more than leaders--change due to sheer human loss?

--Most importantly, what now?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Israel Thoughts agin...Follow Follow Follow-Up

This is the latest on Israel.

Two important things to comment on:

(1) Practically, it is no coincidence that in less than 2 years after Israel pulled out its troops from Gaza a hostile government has been set-up. This would seem to prove its aggressive occupational policies are the most effective as for as keeping its citizens safe from Palestinian terrorists. This is no different than Israel's seizure of the Golan Heights--where, besides last summer's flare of violence, Israel's northern border has been more secure.

(2) Philosophically, we see yet another point for strength, aggressiveness, and non-peace. Hamas has taken over the government (something that is ideally meant to be fought over only ideologically) with nothing but sheer power. Likewise, Israel is not protected by anything except a like power.

A new reality may be fast approaching. It is one in which the West Bank (where Israel still has troops) remains mostly occupied and Gaza (now the Hamas-State) becomes a rogue state on Israel's border. Israel is screwed policy-wise. It has to do some serious locking down if it wants to secure the West Bank from a similar Hamas coup, and yet any strong action on Israel's part would do nothing except galvanize Anti-Israeli sentiment in the territories--at least theoretically contributing to Hamas's power.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

the Spurs are good, but discredit anyone who says that they aren't boring.

Before tonight’s NBA Finals game tips off, I just want to say something about the series: the Spurs are incredibly boring.
On my way home from work, I always listen to “The Sports Animals”, who don’t really know anything about sports (I’m not being sarcastic). These guys called Anderson Varejao “veeeery-jo”, “vaRAYhao” and “varehoaaaa”. One of them knows absolutely nothing about sports, and the other makes him feel bad about it.

Anyway, these guys were talking about how the Spurs are not “boring.” The less sports-wise one said that Tim Duncan’s bank shots were “beautiful” and that they were “like a surgeon carefully cutting open his patient”, and the other guy said that “only true basketball fans understand the Spurs. Others will say they’re boring.” Then, they talked about Lebron James and how he made the Finals not boring.

In the last 7 games, Lebron has had one great game, and everyone wants to crown him. He’s disappeared.

But really, the Spurs may be excellent at what they do, but they are boring. The argument that these guys make is that they aren’t boring because they’re blowing out the Cavs.

The Cavs suck. Our terrible intramurals team could beat them. The opposite of “boring” is “exciting”, and if the Spurs are not “boring”, they have to be exciting. These guys are missing the point. Fine, they’re great at what they do, but so are Chelsea and Manchester United. They get results. By no means are these teams “not boring” or “exciting.”

I’m not going to argue and say that excitement is more important than results, but these guys are just not thinking logically when they say that the Spurs are enjoyable because they win.

There is nothing exciting about bank shots. There is nothing surgeon like about them, either. They’re about as “precise” as cutting someone open with a hammer: sure, the job gets done, but it’s painful to watch--why submit yourself to it if you don’t have to?

“Surgeon-like precision” is Kobe Bryant cutting through the lane for a quick flush, or Ben Gordon shooting the lights out from behind the arc, hitting nothing but net, or Steve Nash or Jason Kidd threading the needle, or even Tony Parker on one of his patented quick drives. It’s not bank shots, though.

Then, they said that people wouldn’t appreciate a no-hitter or perfect game because nobody was getting on base. WRONG. The catches that fielders would have to make to prevent hits would be amazing, and there would be electricity in the air from feeling the landmark that the pitcher was about to achieve. A perfect game is the pinnacle of baseball--a bank shot is not.

This series was over before it started. The week lay-off before it started killed any buzz, and having the Spurs killed anything beyond that. Having the Cavs is terrible--even the Lakers are a better one-star, no-talent team.

The Spurs are winners, sure. They’re not exciting, and if they’re not exciting, they’re boring. Don’t give me this garbage about them not being boring because they play “fundamental basketball.” Fundamentals are fun to watch? Go watch a basketball ball-handling clinic, then. They’ll have all the drop-step, bounce passes and shuffle drills that aren’t featured prominently. The reason that the NBA is worth watching is because these guys are so athletic--so unnatural--that they make “fundamentals” absolutely worthless.

I’ll say this: the Spurs are an amazing team. They gel, they get the game, but there honestly is nothing more boring to watch than this series on television. Nothing. The Cavs have stunk, and the Spurs are always a bore.

And if you can’t admit that, then you’re the one that “doesn’t understand basketball.” The game has evolved, and the dunk, flash and sparkle is part of the repetoire. Anyone that says the Spurs are not boring is not a basketball fan--because they are clueless about the spark that Michael Jordan brought and have obviously never seen the Showtime Lakers.

Stop pretending you’re a basketball purist by saying that you’re enjoying this series and that the Spurs are “not boring.” You’re the same people that would pretend to watch soccer by saying that you love watching a Bolton v Blackburn match because these teams “can really kick the ball hard up the field” and that it’s more important to watch these teams than Arsenal because “soccer isn’t about flair.” Newsflash: IT IS (Pele, Maradona, Ronaldinho, blah blah blah), and so is basketball.

Flair and flash and dazzle are NBA fundamentals, and the Spurs are lacking in this department. Fine, they win games, but they ARE BORING and are NOT CAPTIVATING TO WATCH. Accept it, shut your mouth, smile and move on.

Burgwinkle vs. O'Reilly (a true story)

I was recently channel surfing when I happened across FOX News and the insightful commentary of Bill O’Reilly. It took O’Reilly less than a second to say something that made me want to chuck the remote control at his face.

Now we've done hundreds of Iraq reports on this program, as you know. But we don't do the carnage du jour. We don't highlight every terrorist attack because we learn nothing from that. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do. I mean, come on, does another bombing in Tikrit mean anything other than war is hell? No, it does not.
In my opinion, CNN and especially MSNBC delight in showing Iraqi violence because they want Americans to think badly of President Bush. And that strategy has succeeded.
So their Iraqi coverage is more political than informational, again in my opinion. Could be wrong about CNN. I'm not wrong about the committed left wing crew over at NBC.
(“Talking Points.” The O’Reilly Factor. Fox News Channel. 12 Jun 2007.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I promptly switched the channel in disgust after he said this. I re-checked the transcript on Lexis-Nexis to make sure Bill didn’t make a complete 180 and admit that what he just said was completely idiotic. He didn’t.

Now, this comment bugged the shit out of me so I’d like to take this opportunity to dissect what he said and discuss why it’s dumb as hell.

Bill’s first assertion, that his program does not do the “carnage du jour” (apparently we’re not boycotting France anymore, or at the very least, the language) is fair enough. Except that the day to day violence in Iraq which is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis and multiple American soldiers that he so condescendingly refers to as “carnage du jour” is in fact news. I want to know that 34 Iraqis were blown up in a market in Baghdad. I want to know when another American soldier is killed by an IED in a humvee that wasn’t properly equipped. I want to know these things because I’m an engaged citizen of a country currently embroiled in the conflict there. It gives me a sense of whether or not the day to day life of Iraqis and American soldiers is improving. I can use this information to evaluate how my elected officials are handling the situation and whether or not they’re lying to me about progress made. This is news. It’s called the Fox News Channel. They report, I decide. How can I decide if they don’t report?

The sad truth is I can’t. If the news media doesn’t tell me what’s going on in Baghdad, I can’t go there tomorrow and see for myself. Even sadder, many Americans use 24 hour cable news as their only source of information. Saddest is the fact that Fox News is the highest rated of the three 24 hour news channels. Thus, many Americans remained dangerously uniformed about just how bad things are there.

Bill goes on to suggest that we don’t learn anything from the reporting of the day to day violence. Of course we do! We learn that on a daily basis, people get blown up. We learn that things are going badly. It’s important to know that every day people are dying there so that we don’t wake up one day and just assume things are better because we’re not hearing about it. Remember New Orleans? They’re still screwed. Remember Afghanistan? It’s still not secure. When the news media stop reporting on things, people assume that things are going well. They drop off the political agenda and that’s the most dangerous thing of all. Now, obviously Iraq coverage hasn’t and probably won’t suffer the same fate as those other two stories, but Bill’s suggestion that we don’t learn anything from day to day reporting of Iraqi violence is repugnant. I won’t even go into arguing why his completely Orwellian suggestion that the terrorists wanting us to report on the violence is why he chooses not to is idiotic. I will say that that comment alone is proof enough that he is a completely blind follower of the Bush-Cheney White House and that the fact that he hides this behind a false façade of independent political views is cowardly and dishonest.

Now comes the best part. Bill thinks CNN and MSNBC report on the violence in Iraq because they want Americans to think badly of President Bush. Is this man for real? People think badly of President Bush because of the violence in Iraq, not because of the way CNN and MSNBC present it. What is he suggesting? That we shouldn’t report on it and if the situation is really that bad, people will just hear about it on the street? Furthermore, people should think badly of President Bush when they see the violence. He wanted this war and he promised something completely different than what he has delivered. If anything, O’Reilly’s decision to not cover Iraq daily proves that he doesn’t want Americans to think badly of the president.

He concludes that Iraq coverage is “more political than informational.” First of all, the news inherently affects people’s political opinions. That’s the whole point of having an independent and free press, so that people can make informed political decisions. As far as it not being informational, I’ve said why I think it’s informational and as far as I can tell, the only non-informational Iraq coverage is the kind that doesn’t exist.

Now it’s clear that I hate Bill O’Reilly. I’m pretty sure he’d be an asshole in person, too. Also, since his show is not a news program, he actually has no responsibility to report anything. He could (and does) just sit there and spread the Gospel of Bill all night and the show would be exactly as advertised. However, his comments reveal the fundamentally dangerous ideology of keeping the public uninformed in order to serve a political agenda that pervades Fox News Channel. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is now trying to buy the Wall Street Journal. I hope for everyone’s sake he doesn’t succeed. It would undoubtedly ruin one of the only legitimate, intelligent, and respected conservative voice in the American news market. The Journal towers above the usual conservative drivel found on talk radio and Fox News. For the sake of the country, Murdoch can’t get his hands on this paper.

-By Patrick Burgwinkle (and submitted by josh)


While you readers are going through the conversations on Israel-Palestinian stuff and contemporary architecture...don't overlook the link on the side to Amanda's blog from Poland ('Amanda's European Odyssey'). She is there teaching women's rights workers English and is a wonderful 'here's what I see' writer with hipster hues and female funk.

So, check it out.

Israel Thoughts, again...follow follow-up

This is the newest NyTimes article on the debacle in Gaza. For those who might not think their violent takeover is a big deal consider this:

Hamas states in its constitution that one of its goals is to remove Israel of the planet and Jews along with it.

Also, Hamas is an out and out terrorist organization that has taken credit for numerous bombings and attacks in Israel over the years. Although many say that it is a civilian organization, this must be taken with a grain of salt: it is actually an organization not far from the likes of that controlled by Pablo Escabar. So while there is a side of legitimacy (Hamas was, after all, elected in an election in the territories and has been in charge of numerous civilian operations like hospitals, etc.) there is also a dangerous, covert, and fundamentalist side to it that scares the living crap out of me.

Hamas is not willing to recognize, let alone live peacably alongside, Israel (because Jews are inherently the enemy) and is thus unwilling to cooperate in peace talks. Any hopes for a two-state solution are pretty much in the past tense at this point.

It is hard to imagine the Palestinian territories controlled completely by Hamas ever not engaging in some kind of war with Israel. It would not matter who fired the first shot--the two are fundamentally opposed to each other: it is in each's essence to destroy the other.

Someone needs to explain to me how Hamas's violent (and, it looks like, complete) political and military takeover of the territories is a good thing. It is bad for a two-state, placating solution; it is bad for the Palestinians whose political rights have been usurped (what if the democrats killed republican leaders, bombed their offices, and established complete power? surely there would be no republican voter feeling safe in his\her opinion); it is bad for the Israelis, who are forced to either act and be aggressive or not act and risk the appearance of weakness; and, of course, it is bad for the whole world's wish for peace.

Here's to a miracle awakening on the part of Hamas's leadership...may they see that political control needs not be used for monomaniacal thoughts of violence and domination but for a united front towards independence and peace.

Jhuff's architecture thoughts, further.

First of all, as neither of us study architecture, the actual legitimacy of the JJ Collective's comments on it must be taken with a grain of salt. I will say, however, that if there were degrees given for walking around cool cities looking at buildings and appreciating them, Jhuff and I would be serious candidates.

That being said, I have to respond to Jhuff's contention with Gehry's work: I do not think that any of his work has become stale or any less revolutionary than it was originally. I feel like Gehry has a disctinctive style and is able to create ever-new designs within a general archetype and just because his work is distinctive, just because when anyone sees a Gehry building they say, 'Shiza, that's a Gehry building!', does not mean his work is unoriginal.

I present a real life example: I was walking around Berlin, specifically around PariserPlatz, looking for this Gehry building I had heard about. I spent at least 30 minutes in 3 square blocks (where I had heard the building was located) trying to find it. I COULDN'T! I kept saying to the people I was dragging along, 'Just wait, you'll see, it's impossible to miss, you can't miss a Frank Gehry.' When one inevitably asked, 'How do you know?' I said, 'Please. You just know.'

Well, apparently, you don't. Er, I don't. Turns out Gehry's building in PariserPlatz had to comply with the general look\feel of the area, which with the Reichstag, Brandenburger Tor, and Unten Der Linden right there is quite historically significant.

So, Jhuff--you see, Gehry suddenly had to force his personal style (those curvy metal THINGS we all know) into a constricted space. This no doubt took an huge amount of ingenuity and a certain amound of departure from his comfort zone.

Here is what the building looks like on the outside.

AND HERE (!!!!!) is what it looks like on the inside.

The huge whale looking thing is actually a conference room--so it also responds to Jhuff's comments regarding the actual function of style, and the whole main center of the building needs hardly any electrical light during the day because of the reflections Gehry set up that utilizes light from above.

[I have to say that when I heard some people actually have apartments in this building I almost peed my pants.]

When I think about the Mies van der Rohe federal center in Chicago (I can't find a good pic), I realize how much more beneficial Gehry-type buildings are to society. Miesian buildings are meant to be huge black boxes--containing nothing but FUNCTION--and it is oppressive and depressing. That the buildings espouse efficiency, organization, etc. may be a strong statement...but that Gehry-type buildings inspire all those who pass is far more impactful.

I understand that there are many difficulties in Gehry-type buildings--everything from extra costs to engineering problems--but after seeing the Gehry Deutsche Bank for myself, after being instrinsically affected by its beauty, after being effectively inspired and filled with sublimity--I cannot deride any complication it may create...all is worth it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Israel Thoughts, again...follow-up

i don't mean to cut in on jhuff's post--which i think is worth extending on--but there was a follow up article in today's times on the palestinain infighting...because a couple readers commented on yesterday's post, i figured its worth putting up the link to make sure everyone is in on latest updates.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

do the pigeons know that they defecate on a koolhaas?

Recently, I’ve been reading a bit about Rem Koolhaas (who designed the Guggenheim in Vegas and whose work on the new CCTV I saw and enjoyed at MoMA), Taniguchi Yoshio (who redesigned MoMA) and Frank Gehry (you know, the Guggenheim in Spain and every other crazy building that people love/hate) and I got to wondering...

What do the people who live/work in these buildings think about them? Obviously, the people who paid these men to go to work like their work, but how do the regular workers regard the buildings that they work in?

Do they go to work, awed? Does the fact that they go to work in a building that people google make them that much more excited to go? I understand that many of these buildings are museums, but Koolhaas also designed the Seattle Public Library, where “regular” people work and read.

What do these men think about “regular” people utilizing their works of art. Do they regard their buildings as “works of art”, or have they come to terms with what they really are?
Everytime I visit Los Angeles, I am always amazed by the Disney Concert Hall, done by Gehry. The biggest critic of Gehry is a Hal Foster (who is seen prominently in the movie about Frank Gehry that I saw last summer). Foster says that the supposed acclaim on Gehry’s buildings “has been the result of attention and spectacle surrounding the buildings, rather than from an objective view.” Truth be told, when researching Gehry’s buildings, one sees that they heat cement sidewalks to 140 degrees and injure people when snow runs down their slanted roofs.

The old question of fashion vs. function comes up. Interestingly, so does the book “The Fountainhead,” by Ayn Rand. In the novel, the protagonist goes along and crafts buildings in his own way, while other architects go and do ornate buildings with doric columns. Surely, Gehry sees himself as a Roark (the individualist who suffers for his art) and not as a Keating (who buys into recent trends).

What Gehry is doing may have at one time been quite revolutionary, but I feel as if he is retreading his own work--mailing it in, if you will. He is becoming his very own Keating, and even though he takes on new projects (arenas), he is doing the exact same thing that he has before...except the curves are a little different and the angles may be a little less extreme and the color of the sheet metal may be a little less copper and a little more silver.

Just looking at pictures of Koolhaas’ Dutch embassy in Berlin made me wonder. I saw an overhang, which I assumed was a lobby or waiting area for an elevator of some sort, and I wondered if people waiting for the elevator looked out (they are on an overhang) and thought about how many people are thinking about the building that they work in (and it also reminded me of this building in LA that I always wondered about but never had an answer to).

Do they have a sense of the wonder and amusement that the rest of us bestow upon the buildings that they work in?

If they do, doesn’t that cut down on productivity? Are their own bosses aware of that? If they are, isn’t there some important meeting they should be preparing for or attending instead?
In the end, every time you point a finger, there are four pointing right back at you, and that’s where I stand. I’ve gotten quite a lot done today, but wondering always prevents you from doing that little bit more, doesn’t it?


stoler, check out that embassy and voice my concerns to the employees.

Israel Thoughts, again...

so i'm sitting here reading the nytimes and i see an article about factional fighting in gaza. apparently a fatah political leader was shot 40 times execution style by some hamas militants. my usual reaction to this storyline is something like, "how can they have their own state or gain any kind of political legitimacy when the two political parties, instead of fighting in the polls, actually shoot and kill each other." but this time it was different: this time i read the article 4 seconds after sending an email to a family friend asking whether i can stay at his sister's place in jerusalem, where i plan to do some research. and now i see the story was written in jerusalem.

it sets off a completely new line of thinking helping to explain the incongruity in my mostly liberal approach to politics when it comes to israel. how can i possibly think of (let alone look forward to) doing research in a city with as much violence in its environs as jerusalem? well, because i feel safe there. and that's the point. i realize that the often inappropriate actions of israel are made in order for that country to remain livable. i realize the wall, for example, has helped make israel safer and it makes me hesitant to blast it outright--even as i walk around berlin and witness firsthand the omnipotent damage a wall can cause.

of course, it would be absolutely absent of me if i didn't acknowledge how selfish this thought is, if i didn't recognize the opposing argument that israel shouldn't be livable for people like me, that it may never have been "mine" to begin with.

but that would blow this into the impossibly settled debate that dominates the whole issue. i don't care to get into any of that now. instead, i realize how unique a case israel is. it has fought for its borders numerous times in the 60 years of its existence and therefore has found plenty of reason to justify its most controversial and violent actions. it has done this while remaining a hotbed of innovation and culture and a state where a middle class thrives.

i realize that i don't feel afraid of going to israel because of its history of protecting itself. is the fact that i support the violent oneupsmanship a terrible realization?

or just the facts of life?

Monday, June 4, 2007

"Lebanese" Refugee Camps

I am interested by a couple things regarding the recent violence in Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps:

(1) Where are all the Palestinian-American protests against the Lebanese government? Many of the same factors--like that Palestinians are under attack, like that Fatah is involved--that are in Gaza and the West Bank can be seen in Lebanon but I have yet to see cries of injustice leveled against the Lebanese. What's with the inconsistency on the part of Palestinian advocates? As far as I can tell the Lebanese government attacked the camps with little provocation and many lives have been lost, yet there has been less outcry than when the Israeli Army conducts any operation in one of the territories.

(2) Why are they called "Lebanese" Refugee Camps and not "Palestinian" ones? What if Gaza and the West Bank were called "Israeli" Refugee Camps?

I'm not trying to hint at any kind of media conspiracy, I'm trying to highlight some intriguing non-parallels between what appears to be two similar ongoing confrontations between Palestinian refugees and their host country's government/military.