Americana

James Kunstler, author of the thoroughly enjoyable (in a depressing kind of way) Geography of Nowhere, gives a mean TEDTalk.  He’s a polemicist, but a witty and well-informed one.  For a more measured (and more recent) discussion of suburban remediation, check out this TEDTalk by Ellen Dunham-Jones.  If they both seem to be making desperate pleas for the audience to care, I’d suggest that the reason is that place-making is often given short shrift in American culture and policy.  There seems to be some kind of consensus that discussions of place — of the humanity, civility, and sustainability of design — are an effete European concern, purely aesthetic, when in fact such planning decisions are often the cumulative result of zoning regulations, tax codes, developer subsidies, budget priorities, and environmental reviews (and, of course, election results).  Kunstler is absolutely correct to assert that we deserve better than so much of what we have built for ourselves — but for too many people, including politicians, problems of infrastructure and urbanism seem to be too complex to adequately address, and so instead get written off or shoved aside to be dealt with by neighborhood committees operating under some kind of rubric for ‘beautification.’  Without fundamentally reorganizing our physical landscape away from ever-expanding sprawl, we cannot hope to address issues like energy use, climate change, or even the financial crisis (largely wrought, of course, by the spurious frenzy of sub-prime mortgaging, most of it in the exact sort of exurban nowheres that Kunstler so abhors).  By refusing to acknowledge this most crucial element of structural change, we are doing nothing more than plugging our ears and hoping the whole thing just goes away.

While we’re on the topic of monumental self-deception, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones provides a concise summary of a new report about how some major American newspapers report on waterboarding as practiced by America versus foreign states.  Not surprisingly, the papers are much more hesitant to call it ‘torture’ when it’s an American doling it out — and it’s not because Americans are administering a kinder, gentler form of the stuff.  Sometimes irrefutable, universal American exceptionalism just demands a blind eye, I guess.

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