Broken Angel, Brooklyn
Superstructure of Broken Angel, seen from the southeast.

This will be slightly byzantine: Through Jenny Davidson’s post about my friend Lorin Stein’s excellent essay on Mary Gaitskill, I was led to an appealing blog titled Ben and Alice, among whose lusters was a photo of a strange building in Brooklyn I’d never seen before. Through Forgotten New York, I discovered that it’s located where Quincy Place bends and becomes Downing Street, and through Brownstoner, I found a link to a New York Times interview with the building’s designer and builder, Arthur Wood. The name of the building is Broken Angel. I visited this afternoon; here are a few pictures.

brok.ang.east: b.a.fac.det.2:

Left: Broken Angel, seen from the east (along Quincy Street). Above: Two details from the lower part of the eastern facade. Below left: Broken Angel, seen from the south (along Downing Street). Below right: Three details from the southern face of the superstructure.


Old signs, ailleurs


Subway wall, Paris, October 2005. A little fuzzy, because it was taken with a handheld Canonet, no flash. The wonder is it came out at all. I’m posting it in memory of an old sign, formerly visible in my neighborhood, of a snowman, whose photograph is here. The snowman was recently replaced by a large commercial billboard of rotating wheat-pasted posters—this week, of the Strokes’ new album. Oh well.

Rumors of war

Eliot Weinberger has once again listed what he has heard about Iraq—this time, what he heard in 2005. It’s a fascinating genre; it’s kind of like reading at one sitting a whole year of a laconic blog on the war. Even a news junkie may find a few things that he missed. For example, I had never heard of Bucky Bush, the uncle of the President, said to have won half a million dollars by cashing in stock options of a defense contractor, where he sat on the board of directors. And I missed the reports that the story of finding Saddam Hussein in a “spider hole” was made up.

But was it in fact made up? Maybe not. By design, Weinberger’s items are hard to sift: are they facts reported by the news media, facts neglected by them, misinformation purveyed by the government, misinformation concocted by U.S. enemies, or mere rumor? In some cases it is easy to categorize the level of Weinberger’s irony, as when he quotes Defense Department spokespeople contradicting themselves in successive press conferences. And in some cases, the undecidability seems to be his point, as when he lists the many conflicting claims about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and we’re left with the conclusion that it is likely to be years before we feel confident we have been told the truth about him. (Lest anyone should fear that by linking above to a government press release I have surrendered my powers of analysis, here’s a link to my favorite piece of government-authored misinformation from 2005, which happens to have been overlooked by Weinberger. On 17 January 2005, the Defense Department was so upset by one of Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker articles that they lashed out at him with a wild fabrication, accusing him of writing “an ‘alternative history’ novel.”)

At one point Weinberger writes, “I heard that the Senate, after an hour of debate, voted to deny habeas corpus protection to prisoners in Guantanamo. The last time the US suspended the right to trial was during the Civil War.” True and not true, as best I can tell. According to the Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court, “presidents invoked limited suspensions in 1871 and 1905,” and there was also a suspension in 1941, though it was ruled illegal. Perhaps it was during the Civil War that the legislative branch last suspended it; I don’t know enough to say. The specifics of the historical precedent aside, suspending habeas corpus is awfully significant, and it’s upsetting to me that there’s not a bigger outcry over it.

Habeas corpus, the writ that allows a person to challenge his arrest, derives from the Magna Carta. In 1769 Samuel Johnson called it “the single advantage which our government has over that of other countries,” and the young United States also considered it vital to liberty. Jefferson called it part of “the creed of our political faith,” and in The Federalist #84, Hamilton pointed to the Constitution’s protection of habeas corpus as evidence of that document’s respect for human rights. Its most notorious abrogation was by Lincoln, during the Civil War. At that time, a military tribunal went so far as to jail a former Congressman. (Jeffrey Rosen explicated the details with his usual fine touch in a book review for The New Republic, 10 May 2004.) In a special message to Congress, Lincoln pointed out that the Constitution allows for the suspension of habeas corpus “in cases of rebellion or invasion,” even though it doesn’t explicitly grant the power to suspend it to the President. Lincoln put his dilemma plainly: “are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” Lincoln didn’t expect the rights violations to last. They were unpleasant, like harsh drugs, and he didn’t “believe that a man could contract so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness, as to persist in feeding upon them through the remainder of his healthful life.”

In this he contrasts with the Bush administration, who, facing neither an invasion nor a rebellion, has built a brand-new, alternative judicial system, free of habeas corpus and apparently permanent, in an effort to hold indefinitely the people labeled “enemy combatants.” According to the New York Times, the Bush Justice Department will ask on Friday for federal trial judges “to dismiss more than 160 cases involving at least 300 detainees.” The issue may reach the Supreme Court, but it may not. Even if it does, it’s far from clear how the court would decide it. If habeas corpus has been successfully abolished for the detainees, then it’s a great step backward for human rights.

Out of the archive, and back into it

I was going to spend the last few hours of my holiday scanning in some photos I took in Czechoslovakia a decade and a half ago. But when I took the prints out, I had the suspicion that they had faded over the years. (The alternatives were that I hadn’t noticed a light leak in the camera at the time, or that my memory betrays me—both entirely possible.) I seem to be morphing into a serious photo nerd, and so I tried scanning both a negative and a print and comparing them. Here are the results, the print first, the negative second.

plzen-print: Plzen-neg:

Now, of course, there’s no way I can just scan the prints. And the negatives are still rolled up tight in the tissue paper that Fotografia Praha wrapped them in, and they’d have to be cut and flattened before I could get to them. So I’m afraid that for now there will only be this one, accessible because it happened on the end of a roll, which I left dangling over the edge of the scanner. For the record, it was taken the spring of 1991 in Plzen, at a celebration in honor of the U.S. Army’s 1945 liberation of the western Czech lands. (During the preceding 45 years or so, the Communists had ordered the history books to say that the Russians had liberated the entire country.)