April 24, 2005: Imagine it's autumn of 2001. The morning after 9/11. President
Bush is on TV addressing the nation. After expressing grief for
the victims and extending sympathy to families and friends, he
looks straight into the camera and says: "...and I promise you
Iraq will soon have a democratically elected government."
The impact of jaws hitting floors across the USA would have
caused a continental earthquake.
Four years ago, in the spring of 2001, I started "On The QT".
The bi-weekly email newsletter from whence the larger Mondo QT
project evolved. In those days, QT's scope was more limited.
Generally centered on events in a handful of northeast cities,
and largely influenced by new urbanism. PEEP, the art part of
Mondo QT didn't yet exist. Recently I began reformatting QT
Archive material, including those early newsletters. Which made
me think about how QT evolved and where it's headed. As did a
question posed recently by Homespun Bloggers: "How has blogging
changed your life?" So here goes. Ruminations re QT's past,
present and future.
Groves & Grooves
Charles Willeford was a great American pulpster of the 1950's
paperback original school. In the 80's, he wrote a series of more
mainstream crime novels set in South Florida. Willeford, a long
time Floridian, described a landscape increasing impacted by
public corruption, real estate bubbles, drug crime, illegal
immigration and a overall culture of grift. When I read Willeford
in the early 90's, I was living in cities in New Jersey and New
York. Yet it all sounded familiar. Looking around, it seemed
that except for the citrus groves, things were mighty Floridian.
Then there was HUD. Not the movie with Paul Newman, but the U.S.
Department of Housing & Urban Development. When local politicians
were caught with hands in the cookie jar, the jar so often said
"HUD". A similar phenom was observable in more intimate settings.
Such as when renting a condo in a building in a neighborhood the
federal government had declared historic.
The building was a former religious institution: a handsome
example of holy Victoriana. HUD helped with its financing and
conversion; a cob job done by undocumented Chinese workers who
didn't know a bearer beam from a bean curd. Crucial building
permits weren't obtained and city inspectors didn't notice their
absence. Maintenance followed the same high standards. In heavy
rains, water poured through the roof and ran down the interior
walls. The condo units were being flipped back & forth within
a circle of association members, realtors and lenders. The main
force was a family I'll call the "Fraudblatts". Joanie Fraudblatt
was their poor relation who lived on the premises and served as
inspector deflector. She was actually rather likable, despite her
crooked streak. But then-- that was a family condition. Joanie
enjoyed dishing the numerous sharp deals of her relatives. And
once dropped the line, "You know, there's a lot of HUD money
Joanie's words stuck in my mind and sparked my curiosity. Years
later they led to QT getting into the groove on topics such as
HUD pumped real estate frauds, FHA loan default clean-ups, and
the Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae mattress. As well as the housing
bubble these entities helped inflate in the name of creating
affordable home ownership. So QT owes something to Joanie and
the Fraudblatts. As it does to the players from the theater of
public corruption in various locations locations locations.
Main Street Grifters with Ubermensch Delusions (MSGUD) are a QT
staple. Morally speaking, MSGUD are a Counter Culture/Big 80's
hybrid. Since taxpayers increasingly pick up the tab for
government adventures in revitalization and our overall free
market, MSGUD can romp in fields of fraud and mismanagement
without ever taking a financial hit. If OPM is the drug that
buoys the MSGUD mentality, cocaine is the one that defines it.
Not all MSGUD do coke. Yet stories abound of X Mayor Joe Blow
of this or that city, or indicted developer so & so, ducking
into the washroom to emerge sniffling in an egomaniacal rage.
Scratch "sniffling" and you have MSGUD at their most typical.
As to how blogging has changed my life, well, Mondo QT isn't
really a true blog. Though I considered going in that direction
about a year ago. But I figured the format might lead me to write
only paragraph size pieces and snappy comebacks. That being said,
some people blog beautifully. And Mondo QT is bloggish enough
so I feel I can answer the Homespun Bloggers' question.
Aspects of QT that have changed my life for the better include
the times when I feel like I've held something up to a new light.
Or have preserved the story of some person, place or event that
might have been forgotten. Plus it's always inspiring to see how
many talented, determined people are out there slugging away at
their own local Soviet Unions. As it is to meet artists from all
over the world in free mental space. It's also fun to make people
laugh. Particularly at public servants who forget their place.
I mean-- if Jeeves came into your bedroom and instead of turning
down your covers, climbed under them and passed gas wouldn't
that deserve a larf?
Some might say a not-so-good result of doing Mondo QT is how
it's upped my cynicism about public servants. And government
institutions that claim to have the public interest at heart.
Along with skepticism about reformers who ride the other guy's
corruption to a place at the same trough and progressives who
think screwing over people for a buck is OK as long as you say
the right thing re gay marriage. None the less, I do think
nostalgically of the days when I bought more swampland in
Florida. It looked so nice in the brochures.
When I started QT I was considerably more enamored of new
urbanism. Though my faith was crumbling beneath the evidence
of day to day life in post industrial cities. Because of its
joined-at-the-hip relationship with real estate marketing and
reliance on taxpayer development dollars, new urbanism is unable
to speak the truth about street crime or wholeheartedly confront
public corruption. An anecdote: at one of the many public forums
I attended in several cities (the kind where citizens meet with
municipal administrations to air concerns about drug dealers yata
yata) my local Business Improvement District (BID) representative,
a proselytizing new urbanista I'll call Jack Janusteller, kept
claiming crime in the nabe was a matter of perception rather than
reality. Till the mayor and his entourage left the room. Then
Janusteller drew me aside and in a conspiratorial tone said:
"Believe me, if I could sell my house I'd be gone tomorrow."
Then there's the snob thing. Despite claims to value diversity,
most new urbanites have little sympathy for low income city
dwellers and are actively hostile to the idea of bringing
manufacturing jobs back to cities. Where they are sorely needed
by a mired underclass. As example, New York State recently
refused to allow the St. Lawrence Cement Company to open a
facility on the outskirts of the city of Hudson. A city with
an entrenched, violent drug scene and a large population of
poor people who need good jobs. But the area also has a large
population of affluent second homers from New York City and
antique dealers who prefer things picturesque. The battle over
the proposed cement factory raged for several years and many
yards and store windows sported signs urging the state to say
"yes" or "no" to the factory. Poor looking homes had the lion's
share of the "yes" signs. But the vision of revitalization that
ultimately won out was one based on leisure and consumption
rather than production.
The new urban vision of revitalization is an airless one of
movie set Yurrupeen cities and ye olde toy villages. With the
under-employed living in taxpayer subsidized reservations far
from zee sidewalk cafes. Except when they appear with broom
or baggies in hand. New urbanists don't seem to remember that
the great American cities whose decline they bemoan were the
product of industrialization. And that much of their cultural
vitality and social stability came from a solidly employed blue
I still believe the future of our cities is a matter of crucial
importance. In that context all roads still lead to places like
Springfield, Massachusetts, Camden, New Jersey and Buffalo, New
York. But New Urbanism is at best head-in-the-sand boosterism,
and at worst, part of the problem.
Next up in 4x4x4 Part Two: Tomorrow Land at Mondo QT. But
first, one last look back. Like most Americans, I see 9/11 as
a turning point in our national consciousness. And realize that
policy paradigms shifted. But like Lieutenant Columbo used to
say, one thing keeps bothering me. And my boss is a stickler
about loose ends. So please Mister Dubya, I just have to ask--
when will Osama Bin Laden be caught?
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"Be it ever so decadent there's no place like home!"
Tom Lehrer, Songs by Tom Lehrer, 1953
"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of
thing they like."
Abraham Lincoln's review of a book, Bad Press, Laura Ward, 2002
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