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Daily Office:


2 December 2009


Matins: At New Geography, Aaron Renn looks at the outmigration of the middle class from "cool" cities, and attributes it, persuasively, to the failure of civic responsibility among "global" elites.

Many other cities have followed this strategy, but with differing success. Fearing to end up like the next Michigan and Detroit pair, many states and cities have invested heavily to build up urban amenities to cater to the global city firms and their workers: transit systems, showplace public buildings, art and culture events, bike lanes, and beautification. Cost fell by the wayside as a concern, as did investments in priorities of the traditional middle class.

This explains why, for example, not only have taxes gone up, but things like schools and other basic services have declined so badly in places like California. Traditional primary and secondary education is not important to industries where California is betting its future. Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and biotech draw their workers from the best and brightest of the world. They source globally, not locally. Their labor force is largely educated elsewhere. Basic education and investments in poorer neighborhoods has no ROI for those industries. With the decline of high tech manufacturing in Silicon Valley, even previously critical institutions such as community colleges are no longer as needed.

Clearly, the current models for organizing metropolitan areas are wholly inadequate. In our view, layers of government (state, country, local, school district) ought to be replaced by types of government: highly coordinated networking authorities (transit, power, hospitals) coexisting with highly localized service providers (schools, clinics, and parks). (via The Morning News)

Lauds: Cityscape critic Blair Kamin is surprised to be supporting the destruction of a shed designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The clunky box at 35th and Federal streets is coming down to allow the construction of an $11.7 million Metra station that will be built with $6.8 million in federal stimulus funds. Erected in the Cold War era of the early 1950s, it was called the "Test Cell" because it reportedly led to an underground testing facility for explosives. In its death throes, it led to an explosive debate.

Must we save every scrap of a great architect's work, as if it were a musical doodle from Mozart? Or should we acknowledge that there is a time when third-rate buildings by first-rate architects should make way for works of civic infrastructure.

The accompanying photograph is a bit of a tease: the shed hides behind a fence. (Chicago Tribune; via Arts Journal)

Prime: PIMCO's Mohamed El-Erian finds in the Dubai debt standstill "a reminder to all: last year's financial crisis was a consequential phenomenon whose lagged impact is yet to play out fully in the economic, financial, institutional and political arenas." We knew this, but it's great to hear it from an eminent fund manager.

At the global level, the Dubai announcement serves as a catalyst to take the froth off expensive financial markets. For the last few months, massive injections of liquidity (primarily by the US), aimed at limiting the adverse impact of the financial crisis on employment, have turbo-charged financial market valuations rather than make their way to the real economy. While many have worried about the generalised over-extension of equity markets, most have hesitated to take money off the table as there did not appear to be a catalyst to break the general "trend is your friend" mentality. Dubai is that catalyst.

In our own front yard, Wall Street's influence inside the White House needs to be muzzled, if not baffled. (Telegraph; via Marginal Revolution)

Tierce: Michael Bond briefly but lucidly reviews Eli Berman's Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism, a new sociological study that, notwithstanding its title, sees beyond the religious angle. (New Scientist)

Those whose job is to protect citizens from such attacks should note his conclusion: that the groups behind them are rational operators whose tactics are best countered socially, economically and politically, not with violence.

Sext: Nico Muhly, writing from Amsterdam, finds "a sort of childlike pornography" in Nederlands orthography. (This vanishes when you learn how to pronounce things.) He is also "obsessed" by the common digraph, ij.

Nobody knows how to talk about it, either; just as a sort of social experiment, I asked the concertmistress of this project (who has one of these fuckers in her name, Lidewij) if it was one letter or two and she couldn’t really answer. It’s fascinating. Also, look: the bougie place in Eindhoven (see my previous post about this) with the design budget can’t figure out how to kern it:

We had to look up "bougie." Of all things. (via Snarkmarket)

Nones: Predictably, Sunday's election in Honduras settled almost nothing, even though Porfirio Lobo appears to have won more or less fairly.

The United States issued a qualified response.

“The issue is not who is going to be the next president,” Arturo Valenzuela, the new assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters in Washington. “The Honduran people decided that. The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’état, will be returned to office.”

Brazil and most other South American countries had already rejected the vote, while European countries, which are important aid donors, acknowledged the vote but said that Hondurans had to find some form of reconciliation.

The Honduran Congress will vote today on whether Mel Zelaya will finish out his term in office. (NYT)

Vespers: In case the popularity of a current blockbuster has you wondering if you'd like to read the book, Jenny Turner not only reconsiders her review in the London Review of Books but also supplies a list of blogs that offer highly entertaining spoilers about the later novels in this peculiar series.

Stop reading now if you don’t like spoilers, but if you don’t mind knowing what happens later on in the Twilight saga, there’s better news coming in off the more homespun of the blogs. LDS Sparkledammerung analyses the Latter-Day Saints input to the Meyer oeuvre – the so-racist-you’d-almost-not-notice-it Native American stuff, for example, comes straight from the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Regretsy, the anti-crafting blog, lists a glittery paperweight entitled ‘Bella in anguish’, handmade from polymer clay (‘This reminds me of the time my dog ate a packet of crayons’). And of the many instances of nasty New Moon merch – sparkly dildoes, branded drugs bags, salt-and-vampire-flavour Pringles – catalogued recently on io9, the stand-out item is surely the hand-crafted felt model of what you may not want to know is going to happen to Bella’s uterus in Breaking Dawn, the libidinously organ-spattered, spectacularly autodestructive fourth and final instalment of the series – like a mushroom calzone smeared with tomato puree, a vampire foetus nestling in the middle like a blob of mozzarella cheese.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

Compline: Having got wind of special treatment for denizens of the eastern-most block of West 61st Street on Thanksgiving Day, Clyde Haberman investigated in person. His worst fears are confirmed.

At 62nd Street and Central Park West, a police barricade prevented people who gathered there from turning south and thus passing No. 15, even though there was ample room for them. Barriers were even more tightly guarded at the Broadway entrance to 61st Street. There, half a dozen police officers stood behind the sawhorses. With them was a uniformed doorman from No. 15 to provide guidance as to who could enter.

The absolute best-est part:

“It’s counterterrorism, sir,” the sergeant said.

“The doorman is a counterterror agent?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” he said.

Here’s hoping that he was putting me on, perhaps not liking the situation any more than his younger colleague did. It didn’t answer why barriers were in place on this one singularly gilded street.

As Mr Haberman concludes: let's see what happens next year. (NYT)

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