Over in the UK, it\’s looking like there might be a coup within the currently at-large Labour party. That\’s fine and dandy in principle, but to do this with an election coming up will only further advertise the strife in the party. Voters notoriously dislike a heavily divided party– after all, who and what are they voting for if the group is divided?– which may hand the victory over to the newly strengthened Tory party. Brilliant, Gordon Brown and co., brilliant! Yes, it will get the country out of the mess in Iraq and get rid of the Blairites, but at what cost? I\’m not an expert at anything, let alone politics, but it sure seems like the UK system is a bit ridiculous; true, the USA are the ones with the outdated electoral college, but in the UK they don\’t even have elections for Prime Minister until the current PM says it\’s time to vote. That seems a bit daft to me, but what do I know, I\’m just an American who has always had the fear that Bush and his cronies might try and pull the same thing. Then, much like Singapore and Cuba, we could have a President-for-Life.
Funny, though, because according to the latest annual Transatlantic Trends poll by the GMFUS, 58% of USA responders disapprove of Bush\’s handling of foreign relations, while only 40% approve… and yet, 97% of those same American responders echo the Bush school of thought that \”terrorism [is] one of the most serious threats to security.\” 79% of the same USA people queried said that \”Iran\’s suspected nuclear weapons program elicits a shared concern,\” and \”that efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should continue.\” To avert the risk of Iran joining the nuclear weapon party, 28% of Americans want incentives, 36% want sanctions, and 15% said that military intervention is the best way to keep Iran from arming itself. Should non-military action fail in Iran\’s bid for atomic weapons, 53% Americans polled said they preferred military action to there ever being a nuclear-armed Iran. I\’m having a bit of dÃ©jÃ vu; 2003, Iraq, anyone? Look at Iraq so that you won\’t look at the mess we created in Afghanistan, now look to Iran (who has no atomic weapons, so far, but lots of oil) instead of paying attention to the already armed North Korea.
Head spinning about the priorities, yet? Then you have a lot in common with Australia\’s academic intelligentsia, who seem to be ignoring the problem in case it goes away. Of course, there are alternatives to this madness: reporter Peter Taylor is currently asking in a two part BBC2 documentary, Al Qaeda: Turning The Terrorists, the very radical question of \”Is it time to talk to al-Qaeda?\” [watch the television trailer] In the Guardian\’s Comment is free blogs, Inayat Bunglawala argues that while it might sound like a radical idea, it wouldn\’t be the first time terrorism has been \’negotiated,\’ sometimes even successfully. Food for thought.
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Poverty is a big problem that often shows itself in odd ways. This recent story is a hell of an example:
A WOMAN travelling by train across the United States with her ailing father waited up to 23 hours to notify authorities that he had died because she could not afford to ship his body home to Chicago.
Daniel Stepanovich, 80, died of natural causes in Colorado, on Sunday, but was declared dead on Tuesday in Illinois.
We\’ve got one hell of a social problem when shit like this is going on.
Conversely, there\’s the opposite of poverty: affluence, the permeation of which in my hometown makes me feel like I\’ve been drinking effluent. I didn\’t think very many other people agreed with me– let alone people with power and influence — but apparently, I was wrong, as there\’s a marvelous story in this past Monday\’s WaPo that explains exactly why I feel rage every time I go back downtown, and why I refuse to do so any time in the near future. Some golden nuggets:
\”This is what it [feels] like to be in Washington at the new fin de siÃ¨cle. It [i]s an uneasy age of condos mortgaged to the gills, gentrification, urban tribes of twenty-somethings drinking martinis at $35-a-plate eateries, and the quiet but deeply embedded fear of terrorism, housing bubbles and national implosion.\”
\”They\’re block-fillers and often very drab… the Web sites advertising these new homes emphasize a television idealization, or a suburban one, of what urban life supposedly means: youth, energy, power, elegance, nights on the town.\”
\”Politically and economically this is an urban success story. But look at the details of these buildings and they don\’t seem very urban at all. Yes, many of them have street-level retail — and the chain stores are moving in. And yes, these buildings will bring thousands of new residents to a once-empty area. But they also have an inexorable thrust upward, to rooftop pools and running tracks and common areas that give their denizens a view of the city from a 100 feet up, rather than an immersion in it. That doesn\’t mean the people who move in will choose a hermetic lifestyle, but the people selling or renting these spaces seem to believe that\’s what\’s appealing.\”
\”While developers and the city\’s planners have absorbed some of the basic insights of Jane Jacobs, they overtly and intentionally flouted one of her darker warnings. Jacobs distinguished between two types of money that contribute to the remaking of cities. There is \”gradual money\” that helps maintain existing properties and finance small-scale new building and evolution within neighborhoods. And there is \”cataclysmic money,\” which can mean either the devastating removal of dollars (through, for example, the blacklisting of whole neighborhoods for mortgage or equity loans) or the blitz of new capital for urban renovation. In 1961, when she published \”The Life and Death of Great American Cities,\” the cataclysmic influx generally meant government-sponsored slum clearance and housing projects. But her observation about the aesthetic effects of cataclysmic money — how the sudden flood of capital generally leads to a loss of diversity and a uniformity of urban building — still holds today, if Massachusetts Avenue is any evidence.\”
\”Although many of the buildings pay a bare minimal homage to the residential style of old neighborhoods in Washington, their surfaces scream: This brick lacks gravitas.\”
Yes, the developers have raped my city. They have mauled its very charm and chiseled away its eccentricities, much like they have done with Dr Maude\’s Manhattan… and many other cities, worldwide.
No wonder Jane Jacobs gave up and moved to Toronto– she was fleeing the Vietnam war and found Toronto to be delightful. There, she kept up the fight for good urban planning and healthy city living. I wonder how she felt about what her beloved Greenwich Village has become over the last thirty years. Maybe she, too, felt disgust and defeat; I\’ll probably never know, as she didn\’t write much about New York after leaving it. A clean break, in other words. That\’s what I\’m looking forward to when I move in May, though I\’m already disassociating as much as possible. Sometimes, you just have to let the pain go, even if it is over the death of one of the not-so-great American cities.