Friday, May 05, 2006

Ground Less Than Zero: 9/11 Memorial Blight

It was always a matter of time before September Eleventh (or “September the Eleventh, as President Bush insists on so plumply putting it the eleven times a week he calls on the 11’s twin towers to prop up his numbers) became an obscenity of memorializing and opportunism. In fact it took just three days: By Sept. 14, 2001, the National Cathedral was all 1812 Overture rendered as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and off we were on our vague new war on terror and distinctly less vague war on ourselves. At least back then we could still think that Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan would be one easy victory, a way to rebuild, move on, and up, remember but also live anew. New York City would show the world, right? Not a bit of it.

Ground Zero has become a symbol of the national failure that post-9/11 America has turned into—a hole in the ground literally, figuratively, politically. The nowhereness that Ground Zero plans have plumbed year after year parallel the nation’s projections abroad, and how it has managed, since 2001, to dig itself into holes economically and politically. Read the rest...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Quick Hit: The Moussaoui Verdict Press Coverage

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Where Sidewalks End: A Heartland Without Heart

Jane Jacobs’ mind was like those ideal city centers she advocated in “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” — vibrant, unpredictable, diverse beyond definition, full of surprises, always inviting. Her books reproduced the sounds of a city, of that “intricate ballet” she famously wrote about when describing the best city sidewalks, “in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.” She died last week defeated, as the title of her last book implied (“Dark Ages Ahead”): At so many levels, America is chopped up, subdivided into like-minded ghettoes, unequal, largely uninterested in bridging gaps of mind, money and power. What has made it so? Read the full column...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

All-American Seduction: Jean-François Revel’s Mistake

They’re dropping like philosophers. First Jane Jacobs, then J.K. Galbraith, and now Jean-François Revel, whose occasionally excessive gloom and desperate pro-Americanism was tempered by his gift for irony, his curiosity, his occasional fallibility. Here’s what he wrote in How Democracies Perish, a book published in the Year of Our George, 1984: “Democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.” The observation is correct. Democracy is as fallible as ever. The cause, as Revel sees it, seems less correct: “Exaggerated self-criticism would be a harmless luxury of civilization if there were no enemy at the gate,” he wrote. “But if it is repeated often enough, it is finally believed. Where will the citizens of democratic societies find reasons to resist the enemy outside if they are persuaded from childhood that their civilization is merely an accumulation of failures, and a monstrous imposture?” There are a couple of problems with Revel’s anxiety.

First, the self-criticism is not “exaggerated.” It may occasionally be loud and squeaky, it may be aggravating, it may be incoherent. But “exaggerated” implies an efficiency of numbers that has, if anything, been lacking in the West: what criticism exists here, in the mainstream anyway, is meek, cowardly, predictable, and conventional enough for the Babbitts of the world to sip it with their martinis. Read the rest...

When "Police Brutality" Is Putting It Kindly: Chris Penley's Fatal Bullies

On January 13, a 15-year-old boy called Chris Penley, an eighth-grader at an Orlando area middle school, took out what looked like a gun in class, threatened classmates, then ran through the school, threatening a teacher along the way. He ended up in a bathroom, isolated from the rest but within earshot of a negotiator and scoping distance of a sheriff’s sniper. Within an hour, the boy would be fatally shot. He died hours later. The gun was a fake. Penley’s father reportedly attempted to get into the school during the ordeal, and had told authorities that the gun couldn’t be real, but was kept outside. Reports in January described the incident as a rapid-fire sort of thing: a chase that ended with the boy in the bathroom, and a sheriff’s deputy going in and being faced with Penley pointing a gun at him. The split-second decision was to fire. In fact, events didn’t unfold that way. Read the full story...

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jurassic Press: Blogs vs. Mainstream Media

The Economist devotes its latest survey (reproduced in full here) to “New Media”—blogs, wikis, podcasts—and reaches this, among several hopeful (or dire, depending on where you stand) conclusions: “ The mainstream media are in a good position to get things wrong.” It’s a quote by David Weinberger, the blogger’s blogger. Case in point: “many people in the traditional media,” the Economist’s Andreas Kluth writes, “are pessimistic about the rise of a participatory culture, either because they believe it threatens the business model that they have grown used to, or because they feel it threatens public discourse, civility and even democracy.” It’d be silly to deny the torrential excesses of bad manners online, but just as silly to consider it any more or less torrential than the tenor of manners on the average city street. It’s more relevant to ask: who appointed the mainstream media the Praetorian Guard of manners online? But these media are being outrun by a corrective (and a collective) they’ve yet to grasp. The trouble with mainstream media of late is an excess of civility, and pseudo-civility at that. Read the rest...