Political Miscourse

The Man’s been calling
Says he wants my vote
I got down to stalling
I wanted his throat

The Man says the solutions are simple
Raise, cut, redefine, redistribute
I suggested problems and a couple of wrinkles
Class warfare and war warfare & crony tributes

I wanted him gone but it got me to thinking
How far apart we were but how we’re both sinking
How we both thought we needed some major tinkering
And how the state of the world could drive a man to drinking Continue reading


Top 15 Signs Your Loved One Is Becoming A Republican or Democrat

It’s always hard to watch someone you love get tossed about the rough and tumble seas of life—particularly when influenced by insidious others, substances, or forces.  Think of the budding terrorist, the alcoholic, or the online chat lover.  While there is always a neighbor or two available to confirm he “saw nothing out of the ordinary” and that the neighbor in question “was just a regular guy,” there are always too those left behind who blame themselves and only then recognize the missed early warning signs.  It’s no different with young Republicans and Democrats.  Below, the top fifteen signs (in no particular order) that your loved one may be on the brink of becoming a full-blown left or righty.

Donkey-esque Democrat Symbol: It Does Take Moxie to Adopt as Your Mascot, LITERALLY, an Ass

Elephant-esque GOP Symbol: Accurate in That Many are Old, Slow, Plodding, & Have Long Memories of Own Bad Policy Decisions









Continue reading

101 Reasons to Love Sarah Palin (Satire)

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Image via Wikipedia

1)     Perky, perky, perky

2)     Husband a world champion “snow machine” racer

3)     Fashionable sense in glasses

4)     Cares about her family more than you care about yours

5)     Most patriotic woman alive

6)     Penchant for exotic Christianity (Pentacostal)

7)     Opposes protection for whales, who have been hogging the spotlight for years

8)     Qualifications City, baby! Continue reading

The City as Organism: Have Urban Planners Become Latter Day Darwinians?

The city has oft been compared to a biological organism.  Like the simplest single cell organism, the emergence and growth of urbanity is a story of evolution, not creation, and just like our friendly amoeba, it can multiply, split, or become infected with bad DNA.  Despite best efforts to understand urban agglomerations, however, their origins, working features and adaptive strategies remain elusive and mysterious.

Never wont to let a good idea die, or, rather, to let any idea that can be mined and pitched for research dollars and parlayed into published articles, the urban research Academy has kept the comparative amoeba on life support (albeit a tiny, miniature system), and has expanded its vast analogical skills to include sexy biological spinoffs including fractal theory.  But where does this get us, exactly?

I recently read an interesting blurb on Seoul-based architect Lee Jang Sub’s “Complexcity” concept, which focuses on finding a “concealed aesthetic” in roadways “growing and evolving randomly through time.”   Sub provides as backing evidence satellite imagery that reveals a delicate lattice of roads, byways, and highways (though in this stylized vision perhaps we should refer instead to boulevards and parkways, quite possibly plated with gold) that reveal themselves unexpectedly and, in at least one case mentioned, is reminiscent of a gentle flower.  I presume that examples evocative of a lump of coal, or worse, some more valueless and amorphous lump-like mass, were omitted for convenience’s sake.

But the basic premise, that of a random evolution of roadways, is to me erroneous.  Continue reading

On the Topic of Eminent Domain

The recent Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain, which validated the authority of governments to take private property for the elusive “public purpose” of economic development, has been heralded as an important victory for city planners and political interests. The narrow 5-4 decision, however, underscores the justifiable decisiveness this issue provokes, as well as the careful balancing act faced by our courts, leadership, and citizenry.  Whether one believes that governments have run amok, obliterating private property rights, or that polities must have the ability to back redevelopment projects that promise considerable if peripheral benefits, the decision illustrates that this issue cuts to the bone of American liberties and ideals, justice and injustice, and, less seductively in an ideological sense, the inability or unwillingness of American markets to nurture our poorest urban economies.

Critics of eminent domain make an alluring appeal to the storied concept of land rights established long ago in Europe and imported to America.  The narrative holds that land justly acquired shall remain in private hands, and that governments or any other party will pay market or above market values if and only if owners are willing to sell. That cash-strapped municipal governments, and the communities they serve, are often unable to afford these rates or acquire these lands is incidental; under this “fair shakes” mentality, if the ideal is right, outcomes too are just. One inescapable reality remains, however—that capital, whether from the public, private, or nonprofit sectors, too rarely finds its way to those places that need it most.  In an ideal world of political, economic, and social relationships, where rags always turn to riches, no one would be displaced, and public and private investments would be spread evenly throughout our varied places.  In the real world, however, politics is politics, and business is business, and neither in isolation takes care of impoverished neighborhoods particularly well.  The ability to provoke large-scale change needs to be one tool in the government shed, rarely used but available.

These are questions, though, that need be continually raised, challenged, and newly answered.  Governments have unquestionably gotten bolder in their envisioning of the “public use,” expanding these from the provision of infrastructure and public facilities to the conveyance of land to private interests with the expectation of social benefits. While this enlarged logic does not open fully a door to a wild state where property rights are ignored wholesale, and where any property in any community is vulnerable, an onus must remain on governments, developers, planners, and communities to work through these issues thoroughly and through an open and evolving dialogue that seeks common ground. Beyond just compensation and the availability of legal recourse, the courts have been clear that takings should be carefully considered within the context of a comprehensive plan (significantly informed by the community in question), and with clear and quantifiable notions regarding the economic benefit to be derived. Further, to truly benefit communities, the planning process need be combined with stringent safeguards designed to include those displaced from their homes in any new development, or, at the very least, must include provisions for payment and relocation that does not damage existing social and economic linkages.  The take-home point is that this action should not be an isolated one—instead it should exist within a system of policies and plans that aim towards equity as well as progress.  Anything less is an affront to the decency intended by urban planning, and should be viewed with extreme suspicion.

The American political and social environments, however, encourage that one choose a side and defend it with vigor and certainty, regardless of the peskiness of context. No room is allowed for exploring the considerable gaps between grand ideological positioning and the complicated work of city building.  Yet while the bifurcation of the court and public are quite logical, as the questions involved are relevant and real, it is a careful balance that is sought, one where quality projects cannot be derailed by a single stalwart owner and where government cannot wantonly destroy communities.  The stark polarizations that our sweeping ideological endorsements create ignore on either side the fact that these debates are exactly and exclusively about particularized contexts and places, and in many cases regard sadly blighted and unchanging ones.

Trading the certainty of a known present, regardless of how seemingly undesirable, for an unknowable future is certainty a terrifying prospect, and the call from a property owner proud of his or her home, no matter how it is viewed by public officials or the private sector, should never be disregarded. Furthermore, the New London case should not be seen as cause for a newfound government boldness, where takings are presumed easy or beyond challenge.  Instead it should be a call for officials to recognize the importance of and dangers inherent with these powers, and a cause to install means for ensuring quality planning, substantial public input, and thorough analyses that use common metrics, all of which would support a clear vision of community direction and benefit.

The majority in the seminal case of Hadacheck v. Sebastian concluded that to not allow communities and governments the right to infringe upon the rights of private owners would “fix a city forever in its primitive condition.” [1] To choose too firm a side on the issue of eminent domain, where it is always defensible or indefensible, would require that the law too be fixed in a primitive and static condition. The scales of justice, while tilting subtly from side to side, must remain in motion, seeking always a proper and modern balance.

[1] U.S. Supreme Court.  1915.  Hadacheck v. Sebastian.  239 U.S. 394.  Retrieved July 19, 2005 from: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=239&invol=394  

New York: Part 2

Part two in a three-part series of writings done during my two-year stint in the world’s greatest city…

A Letter to My Friends and Family, September 10, 2006

As you, my family and friends, and most American and world citizens are aware, tomorrow is the 5thAnniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  I am writing this letter largely for selfish reasons—primarily that it may help me make sense of my feelings.  After finding myself improbably living in New York, employed by the City and in the service of New Yorkers, and traveling each day to my office mere blocks away from Ground Zero, I feel it important to pause and reflect on that day, what it meant to me and mine, but more importantly to think about what it has meant to those directly affected and what it has meant to the people of the world collectively.  It is cause to reflect on life, and its joys, pains, and sorrows.

Like the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger explosion, everyone has a story for where they were and how they heard about the planes and towers. I was on a city bus headed to the University of Minnesota when I first heard murmurs that something strange was occurring in New York.  In my first course of the morning, events became clear, and an announcement was made that classes were cancelled, we were welcome to return home, but that if we felt the need for fellowship and shared contemplation a forum had been arranged to discuss what occurred.  When I moved to New York and took a job with the City, I heard the tales of people who were in lower Manhattan that day.  In fact, my office building was used to temporarily house the injured until hospital space became available.  When I heard these firsthand stories, I felt guilty in discussing the event, as if my own sorrows were somehow illegitimate in comparison to the more difficult and complex experiences of my colleagues.  In some ways this may have been right, but mostly I think no; feelings are our own, and it is up to each of us to deal with them, ignore them, discard them, or explore and embrace them as we see fit.  The world can be as close to the heart or as far away as we want it to be.

On a bike ride around New York Harbor today I stumbled across a memorial service in Bay Ridge’s John Paul Jones Park.  Local City Councilman Vincent Gentile was there, as was Borough President Marty Markowitz. Reading the names of each and every Brooklynite who died that day, and referencing of course all of the firefighters, police officers, and innocent civilians whose lives ended inspired a string of thoughts in me that I couldn’t quite organize or arrange.  Overall, and counter intuitively perhaps, I felt thankful, particularly for the safety of my friends and family, and for the gifts that they have individually and collectively bestowed upon me.  I also felt philosophical, convinced that our lives are wholly insignificant and at the same time imbued with deep meaning.  This may be among the most significant and illogical beauties of our lives—in an infinite universe, on a tiny rock, with all those that came before and will come after us—we still believe in the importance of our individual lives and our collective times.  It’s a sham, really, but it is also wonderful, frightening, and meaningful to us as we work our way through it.

We can choose to be as pained by this anniversary or as immune to it as we like, and I say that not as a patriotic virtue of American life, but as a patriotic virtue of human life.  In New York, the most diverse city in the world, we often coexist as much as we get along, but today all New Yorkers look like my brothers and sisters.  And this, it’s true, can be praised as a great benefit of life in our particular country.  Yet I can’t help but think beyond my apartment, my neighborhood, my city, and my nation.  It is the people who died in those buildings, and our still real opportunity to be concerned and peaceful beings that we should celebrate, and our inability to conceive of our world beyond borders of races, ethnicities, states, religions, or other abstractions that we should mourn.

There are two sides to every coin (it’s true, pull one out and you’ll see).  While any reasonable American citizen or human being for that matter would find an attack such as 9/11 disgusting, unjustifiable, and reprehensible, there are those that believe it reflects uneven and distasteful aspects of American policy and action across the globe, and those that perceive it as a wholly unprovoked attack on unassailable American ideals.  Obviously this was a central moment in our modern times, sure to reverberate for a very long time.   But as much as it can be seen as a rallying point for war, or to call out the wars waged by ourselves, it can be seen as a rallying point for considering honestly and openly our place among others.  As citizens of a country, yes, but perhaps even more, and more simply, as people.

Recently, I was walking toward the R train on an everyday workday morning.   A young Muslim girl in traditional garb strolled along ahead of me, and paused while passing a bill posted on a storefront wall.  In profile, I could see her eyes light up, her mouth drop open, and a surprised smile emerge.  She moved on, and I curiously stopped to see what had caused her to pause.  The bill promoted a pro-Hezbollah, pro-Palestinian, and anti-U.S. and Israel rally set to be held at some future point.  My honest, gut reaction was rage.  How dare they come here, enjoy our fruits, and condemn us at the same time?  It took me half a block to scold myself and realize that this was exactly the point of American freedom—the liberty to discuss ideas in an open forum, and, importantly, to be freely critical of American policy.  Do not in any way read this as an endorsement of the ideals promoted by the groups involved with this rally, but do take seriously the concepts of freedom involved.  You believe in them or you don’t.  And you believe that there is good and bad in all stripes of people or you don’t.  And there is both good and bad in all countries, as only fickle, fallible humankind comprises them.

These are just my thoughts, and if they seem distasteful, oblivious, or otherwise that’s okay because I own them.  I am personally very sad heading into tomorrow, not for myself—though that would be fair—or even for my country—which would again be fair and reasonable.   Nor is it because American or other ideals or symbols have been questioned or violated, but purely because people that didn’t have to die did.