Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Small Cities

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To D,

Laconic version: City populations and city cultural influence can be seen as a exponential, rather than a linear, relationship.

Loquacious version: The weirdest conversations I’ve had as an urban planning major in college were with fellow student who had not come from the Center of the Universeā„¢* and thus were somewhat miffed that I expressed something of a cavalier disdain for their hometowns. Read the rest of this entry »

Manifest Destiny

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I wonder how deeply the commentators of this Times article on China’s handling the Uighur old city of Kashgar feel in their sense of liberal humanism.

I mean, on the one hand, it’s smack dab on the forefront of China’s reputation of bulldozing (oftentimes quite literally, at least when it’s not bombing them) the traditions and institutions of its ethnic minorities, most evidenced by making every city, town and village straight to Kazakhstan look like Newark, NJ. After all, Kashgar’s known for having a lot of Uighur dissidents to the Chinese Community Party.

This seems to be a lot of what the commentators seem to note, taking the architectural loss to be a parable of the destruction of the culture. But they keep heading back to the topic of tourism, and that irks me; like they care for the Uighurs only in the sense that their “habitat” might not be there for future visits – for them to look and leave.

It may be an unfair picture I’m painting of the commentators, but they first struck me as somewhat bourgeois humanists – like how the environmentalist movement was started by people who drive everywhere and run air conditioning, this movement to preserve the cultural and architectural heritage of these aboriginals is run by people who live in modern apartments. I did a double-take as Kituwah to read Americans decrying China for Manifest Destiny.

The story in this, to me, on the other hand, is not so much the loss of the architectural layout of the old city, but the inadequate compensation for its citizens. This isn’t an anthropological parable; this is a public advocacy piece. Cities get renewed constantly: Italy, as a first world country, has been trying to save its cultural heritage as well, what with a recent earthquake, but its people come first. The story might as well be set in Newark.

I’m not saying so much that the Chinese government is necessarily working in good faith with the Uighur citizenry – indeed, this sounds like an excuse to develop on cheap land – but at the same time at least they’re building apartment buildings, if boring ones, which is more than I can say for this government.

“Put Up or Shut Up”

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“yer blockin’ traffic, asshole!” Shove.

I should not be grinning as much as I am right now.

Bleeding Hearts

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When I read this revulsion towards US interdiction of pirates by, shocking enough, Salon, I was reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People’s Front of Judea got together and tried to hammer out a message of dissent against the Romans; one that got more ridiculous as the debate went on:

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

“Brought peace?”

“Shut up!”

The People’s Front of Judea (and its dopplegangers, the Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Popular Front of Judea, the Campaign for a Free Galilee…) was a dig on the Balkanized (practically atomized) infighting of left wing parties in the ’70s in the UK. Certainly anybody who’s watched the US Democratic Party repeatedly implode and fail to stay on message for the past 30 years can attest to the validity of such an observation, and the comments board for this Salon article certainly illustrates the point.

Now, I’m probably guilty of similar as I’m about to lambast both the article’s writers and its readers, but damn, people: Mao, Mussolini and Monroe probably wouldn’t agree on much, but one of the universal constants for any empire – nay, the very heart of authoritarian justification – is law and order. We hate the Romans for their slave trade and religious hegemony but love that they can patrol the roads. We hate the Mongols for their wartime brutality but love the trade that happens within their borders.

Both the US and China right now shoot pirates on sight, no matter how different their official views on Human Rights may be. Hell, even Jon Stewart, with the help of John Oliver, played the difference between interdiction of terrorism and interception of pirates. There is a universal constant – through time and space – that justifies governance, and that constant is in the suppression of banditry and piracy. Practically everything else can be (and often is) bullshitted with bread and circuses, slogans and propaganda, but damnit our roads and sea lanes must be clear or the government is bunk.

Now, for the “this article makes me ashamed to be a liberal” readers, suck it up and put your foot down. Bitchslap the writer and affirm your rational, thoughtful position by having done so. There are things so unequivocal that to not do them really does lay into question the point of the country. Our loftier goals of a more perfect union are predicated on the simple ability to be a prosperous and powerful country despite assiduously keeping to those goals, and this is one of those areas that proves our power.

Kill the Pigs

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While Obama rails against AIG thanks to yet another scandal with bonuses and payoffs and Bernie Madoff goes to jail (or not) smiling after having a last dinner (and seriously, what restaurant in New York City would serve him?) complete with white wine and aperitifs, I’m thoroughly disgusted with not only the level of corruption, which was as pervasive as, say, late Ming dynasty eyebrow-singing ridiculousness, but in the completely unrepentant attitudes of its participants.

Not only have they destroyed so much in their efforts to make a quick buck or line their own pockets, but even when they’re publicly branded and brought under close scrutiny they still take a mile with every inch. They’re rotten to the core, and disastrous to the well-being of, well, everybody.

Again, the more bloodthirsty of me harkens back a couple years to former China FDA head Zheng Xaioyu’s public apology and summary execution for gross corruption as head of a regulatory agency. Here, even jail time is rare for white collar criminals (hell, Madoff is appealing (!) his jailing) so a part of me must admire the straight-forwardness of China’s handling of white collar crime that hurts real people.

Now, I admired Jim Cramer’s gracious eating of crow even in the face of admitting to short-selling and other devious, underhanded practices in the art of making a quick buck, even though I know that cathartic feeling of watching him simper was irrational, but he proved to be – in the end – a somewhat conscientious man who knew he did wrong. I don’t get that from Madoff or AIG. It’s not “I did wrong,” it’s “okay, you caught me.”

So help me, when the revolution comes…

Pacific Hegemony

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Not that you’d know it considering the perspective of this article, but I can’t help but snicker as the flustered response the US Navy had at getting its nose trimmed.

It’s understandable – the guy with the wide angle lens and the shortwave radio standing on your front lawn snapping pictures of your living room may not be doing anything technically illegal, but it’s a stretch to sympathize with him when you trip him as he walks by.

Kinda reminds me of Bush’s boneheaded accusative response when a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over Chinese waters. (Thankfully without the boneheaded accusative response.) It’s a realpolitik situation and we’re no longer the hegemons.

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