The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for June 15th, 2011

down interminably

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent walk through Ravenswood, which is an ancient neighborhood found on the industrial western coastline of Queens, left an impression that the place has been undergoing some sort of siege for an interminable period. High masonry walls with imposing fences and warnings of 24 hour video surveillance admonish the passerby. At the crown of every barrier or at the angled corners of buildings one observes the “devil’s rope” with its wired barbs and razor edges. Everywhere dogs slaver at the end of long chains, hungering for delight.

What happens around here at night, which has made such armoring necessary, one is forced to wonder.

from barbwiremuseum.com

THE INVENTION OF BARBED WIRE

Joseph F. Glidden of Dekalb, Illinois attended a county fair where he observed a demonstration of a wooden rail with sharp nails protruding along its sides, hanging inside a smooth wire fence. This inspired him to invent and patent a successful barbed wire in the form we recognize today. Glidden fashioned barbs on an improvised coffee bean grinder, placed them at intervals along a smooth wire, and twisted another wire around the first to hold the barbs in a fixed position.

THE BARBED WIRE BOOM

The advent of Glidden’s successful invention set off a creative frenzy that eventually produced over 570 barbed wire patents. It also set the stage for a three-year legal battle over the rights to these patents.

THE FATHER OF BARBED WIRE

When the legal battles were over, Joseph Glidden was declared the winner and the Father of Barbed Wire. The aftermath forced many companies to merge facilities or sell their patent rights to the large wire and steel companies.

ACCEPTING THE DEVIL’S ROPE

When livestock encountered barbed wire for the first time, it was usually a painful experience. The injuries provided sufficient reason for the public to protest its use. Religious groups called it “the work of the devil,” or “The Devil’s Rope” and demanded removal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Take this snazzy little number, occupying a 2,500 square foot lot, the dwelling offers a princely 1,250 square feet of living space, 2 parking spots, and it’s historic.

It has a long history in Ravenswood- this structure was built all the way back in 1927, before Big Allis or the Roosevelt Island Bridge. When it went up, along with the rest of 9th street, this was the border of sanity and wholesomeness. Next stop after Ravenswood were the asylums and orphanages of Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island).

Futilely have I sought tales of escaped lunatics swimming here during escape attempts, but I’m certain that in 1927, the communal sounds of lament and madness would have been omnipresent.

from wikipedia

  • 1637 – Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller first purchases the island, then known as Hog Island, from the Canarsie Indians
  • 1666 – After the English defeat the Dutch, Captain John Manning seizes the island, which becomes known as Manning’s Island.
  • 1686 – Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell, becomes the island’s new owner and namesake
  • 1796 – Blackwell’s great-grandson Jacob Blackwell constructs the Blackwell House, the island’s oldest landmark, New York City’s sixth oldest house and one of the city’s few remaining examples of 18th-century architecture
  • 1828 – the City of New York purchases the island for $32,000
  • 1832 – The city erects a penitentiary on the island.
  • 1839 – The New York City Lunatic Asylum opens, including the Octagon Tower, still standing. The Asylum, which was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, at one point holds 1,700 inmates, twice its designed capacity.
  • 1852 – A workhouse is built on the island to hold petty violators in 220 cells.
  • 1856 – The Smallpox Hospital, designed by James Renwick Jr. opens; later, when it falls into disrepair, it will be known as the “Renwick Ruin”
  • 1858 – The Asylum burns down, and is rebuilt in the same location.
  • 1872 -The Blackwell Island Light, a 50-foot (15 m) Gothic style lighthouse now on the National Register of Historic Places, is built by convict labor on the island’s northern tip under Renwick’s supervision.
  • 1889 – The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, opens.
  • 1895 – Inmates from the Asylum are transferred to Ward’s Island, and patients from the hospital there are transferred to Blackwell’s Island. The Asylum is renamed Metropolitan Hospital.
  • 1909 – The Queensboro Bridge, which passes over the island but does not provide direct vehicular access to it, opens.
  • 1921 – Blackwell’s Island is renamed Welfare Island
  • 1935 – The penitentiary on Riker’s Island opens, and the last convicts on Welfare Island are transferred there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One common remark, whether it be from Charles Dickens or Nellie Bly or the host of sensationalist writers who described the island of asylums and orphanages in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commented on the chorus of sobbing and madness which arose from the populations of lunatics and (what we would describe in modernity as developmentally disabled) retarded children imprisoned there. The fate of such unfortunates in early modern times was not a happy one, and analogies to both the German writer Kafka and the English asylum known as Bedlam are appropriate.

Of course, just as it is today, having such an institutional neighbor enriches the local economy. A mental hospital needs workers, and employs a vast supply chain to bring the necessities of life. Everything from vegetables to gurneys must be brought in, maintenance of boilers and the machinery of such places must be performed, and a vast staff of quasi medical workers are required. In many towns and cities across modern America, the local prison has replaced the industrial mill as the principal employer, and the prison industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the United States economy.

from pbs.org

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government’s trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

“The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous,” Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

That nameless thing which has never drawn a breath, whose queer intelligence lurks within the spire of the sapphire megalith and gazes hungrily down upon the world of men, encourages and makes such a prison economy viable. It will ensure that new laws and restrictions are put in place by an army of loyal acolytes that suck at it’s poison teats, and its many servants in the media conglomerates continue to propagate a general aura of fear and loathing of “the other” suggesting the presence of a predatory element amongst the populace which makes the existence of such institutions seem not just necessary but prudent. More importantly, this prison industry is extremely profitable, and above all else that thing in the megalith encourages profit.

In the early 21st century, prison technologies now adorn private homes of substance and taste, and Orwell’s Big Brother need not surveil the streets for the private citizenry has already installed video security systems and razor wire which accomplish the goal for it. The gaol needs no walls, for terror has made us all inmates.

from wikipedia

In 1984, there is a perpetual war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, the super-states which emerged from the atomic global war. “The book”, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, explains that each state is so strong it cannot be defeated, even with the combined forces of two super-states—despite changing alliances. To hide such contradictions, history is re-written to explain that the (new) alliance always was so; the populaces accustomed to doublethink accept it. The war is not fought in Oceanian, Eurasian or Eastasian territory but in the arctic wastes and a disputed zone comprising the sea and land from Tangiers (northern Africa) to Darwin (Australia). At the start, Oceania and Eastasia are allies combatting Eurasia in northern Africa.

That alliance ends and Oceania allied with Eurasia fights Eastasia, a change which occurred during the Hate Week dedicated to creating patriotic fervour for the Party’s perpetual war. The public are blind to the change; in mid-sentence an orator changes the name of the enemy from “Eurasia” to “Eastasia” without pause. When the public are enraged at noticing that the wrong flags and posters are displayed they tear them down—thus the origin of the idiom “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia”; later the Party claims to have captured Africa.

“The book” explains that the purpose of the unwinnable, perpetual war is to consume human labour and commodities, hence the economy of a super-state cannot support economic equality (a high standard of life) for every citizen. Goldstein also details an Oceanian strategy of attacking enemy cities with atomic rockets before invasion, yet dismisses it as unfeasible and contrary to the war’s purpose; despite the atomic bombing of cities in the 1950s the super-states stopped such warfare lest it imbalance the powers. The military technology in 1984 differs little from that of the Second World War, yet strategic bomber aeroplanes were replaced with Rocket Bombs, helicopters were heavily used as weapons of war (while they didn’t figure in WW2 in any form but prototypes) and surface combat units have been all but replaced by immense and unsinkable Floating Fortresses, island-like contraptions concentrating the firepower of a whole naval task force in a single, semi-mobile platform (in the novel one is said to have been anchored between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, suggesting a preference for sea lane interdiction and denial).



– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity looks back on Blackwell’s Island, with its snake pit asylums and communal poor houses as some sort of anachronism. Left behind in the starry past, along with witch hunts and bad science, we have evolved past such childish attempts at mercy and embraced a more open and kind philosophy toward our challenged or confused or socially unacceptable brethren. This is a new age, enlightened and informed by scientific reason rather than instinct and custom. Right?

Ever wonder how they’ll describe us in 100 years, when some unborn academics perform their dissertations on the “age of terror”?

Remember, in a war of terror, whichever side scares the other more is the winner. A decade in, which side has become more terrifying to you, the nuclear armed super state with a well armed and paranoid population or the dusty mafiosos of a failed desert empire?

Incidentally, today is the anniversary of the General Slocum disaster, which was the greatest disaster in the history of New York City prior to the events of 2001, and which bears mention at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

from wikipedia

Some analysts, such as Noam Chomsky, posit that a state of perpetual war is an aid to (and is promoted by) the powerful members of dominant political and economic classes, helping maintain their positions of economic and political superiority.

Some have also suggested that entering a state of perpetual war becomes progressively easier in a modern democratic republic such as the United States due to the continuing development of interlocking relationships between those who benefit directly from war and the large and powerful companies that indirectly benefit and shape the presentation of the effects and consequences of war (i.e., the formation of a military-industrial complex).

There has been some criticism from anti-war activists and Bush critics, for example, that the Bush administration’s ties to Halliburton influenced the decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These claims have been denied by the George W. Bush White House.

However, the concept of a military-industrial complex was first suggested by President Eisenhower and the idea that military action can be seen as a form of market-creation goes at least as far back as speeches beginning in 1930 prior to the publication of War Is a Racket in 1935. The economic make-up of the 5th century BC Athens-led Delian League also bears resemblance to the economic ramifications of preparing for perpetual war.

With the advent of perpetual war, communities have begun to construct War Memorials with names of the dead while the wars are ongoing. See Northwood Community Park’s memorial which has space for 8000 names (approximately 4,500 used at time of construction) and plans to update it yearly.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2011 at 6:39 am

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