February 13, 2017
I won’t make this about weak Democrats or evil Republicans, or even about Trumpism. As an architect and someone concerned about the environment, nothing could be more obvious to me than the need to rebuild America’s infrastructure, manufacturing capacity, educational system, and financial regulations to benefit everyone in our society. Could our leaders fashion a positive agenda from these pressing needs? Of course, and here’s a start:
- Create an infrastructure bank and tax breaks for corporations in the building industry to get our infrastructure back to where it was in the 1950s–the best in the world.
- Empower architects and engineers by funding the repair and rebuilding of government owned buildings, highways, railways, and other infrastructure, using taxpayer dollars, not private capital.
- Underwrite education in design, building, and technology to train the people to do these kinds of jobs.
- Create apprenticeships for inner city youth and young adults in the building trades, providing good jobs for years to come.
- Create manufacturing enterprise zones in rust belt cities like Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, East St. Louis, and Camden, NJ and invite tech companies to relocate in these towns.
- Rewrite the tax code to create incentives for companies to keep their manufacturing in U.S. cities in need of a boost.
- Direct the education department to address the gaps on high school STEM literacy.
- Get secondary schools back into vocational education so that young adults gain hand skills in industry and building trades. Use internships and on-the-job training in partnership with the corporate world.
- Push colleges and universities to broaden their scope to include more training in trades and industry, including agriculture.
- Create incentives for banks to lend money for infrastructure and construction, and dissuade them from pushing risky hedge funds and junk bonds. Enact strict regulations that force Wall Street to support the manufacturing and construction sectors.
Why don’t our political leaders–in Congress, the White House, the states and municipalities–talk about solving concrete problems like these? It’s time to ask the right questions and demand persuasive answers.
January 30, 2017
How presidents served the U.S. before taking office (prior to 2016):
- Franklin D. Roosevelt was secretary of war, governor of New York, and a loyal Democrat in New York City
- Harry S. Truman was an officer in charge of an elite artillery unit during World War I, served as a U.S. Senator, and audited military spending as chair of a congressional committee, weeding out corruption and waste
- Dwight D. Eisenhower attended West Point, became a career Army officer, and eventually presided over D-Day as commander of Allied forces in World War II
- John F. Kennedy served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, commanding PT-109 in the Pacific Theater, and served as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
- Lyndon B. Johnson served as a congressman, senator, and majority leader from his home state of Texas, and later vice president of the United States
- Richard M. Nixon served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II, later as both congressman and senator from California, before becoming vice president under Eisenhower
- Jimmy Carter was a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine commander before and during the Vietnam war, and later became governor of Georgia
- Gerald R. Ford served in the Pacific as an officer on the carrier USS Monterey, earning numerous medals for valor, before becoming a long term Michigan congressman and house majority leader, and finally, vice president under Nixon
- George H.W. Bush was a Navy pilot during World War II, once ditching his plane during a crash landing on a carrier, was head of the CIA, and served as vice president under Ronald Reagan
- Ronald Reagan served in the U.S. Army Reserve during World War II, was governor of California, and president of the Screen Actor’s Guild
- Bill Clinton objected to the Vietnam war and the draft, but entered the draft after two deferments during his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford; he served as governor of Arkansas for more than ten years
- George W. Bush served briefly in the Texas Army Reserve, then as governor of Texas
- Barack Obama served in the Illinois legislature as a three-term senator before being elected U.S. Senator from that state in 2004
Donald Trump is the first president of the United States never to have served his country in either government or military positions prior to his election. He has filed for bankruptcy six times, been sued for discrimination against minorities in his real estate business, bragged about not paying U.S. income taxes for more than a decade, and settled a class action suit for business fraud in connection with Trump University.
January 30, 2017
Let’s look at what our current president thinks he is presiding over, because it doesn’t resemble what most of us would recognize as the country we reside in.
- It has the demographics of United States in the 1950s, when our president was growing up: majority white, middle class, and prosperous in contrast to much of the world, which is recovering from a terrible war.
- Canada, Mexico, Central and South America are insignificant, off the radar screen. They aren’t part of America.
- There are heroes and villains, and things are black and white.
- And speaking of black and white: blacks are all but invisible: segregation is the rule that people of color live by, and suffer under. Racism is tolerated in both the north and the south, though in different forms.
- America is an equal opportunity society, where hard work matters and many in the majority are able to afford college, a house, and a nice vacation.
- The working class is a viable force in labor and politics. Politicians respect labor leaders and must negotiate serious contracts for workers in most industrial markets.
- Congress works according to political machines that distribute power among elite groups like banks, businesses, industry, and real estate, as long as alliances are maintained, often with money under the table.
- The media is a quiet, silent partner in maintaining this fictional order, reporting on what elite leaders do and keeping silent about their moral shortcomings.
- American industry stands atop the pyramid of world production and quality; it has no serious competition. The same is true with the military, agriculture, banking, education, and culture.
- America is an imperialist superpower, with no threats to its hegemony. Even the USSR is puny by comparison (though many U.S. politician fear its leaders).
Our president believes in this fictional version of the country we live in. No wonder he can’t govern or recognize the challenges we face. His press conferences are part of this fake universe, as are his fiats and executive orders. He deals with a fake Congress and a fake judiciary. The media are presenting an alternate truth, and one that he can’t tolerate. Even the earth isn’t cooperating: fake temperatures are a lot cooler than those we feel every day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could live in fake America? It would be fabulous, great, awesome, huge.
January 13, 2017
I know that neuroscientists scoff at the idea that our visual cortex receives all the information that would allow us to draw a picture of the scene in front of us–our visual field does not represent reality. I also know that physicists are positing alternate universes that exist inside black holes, and that space-time is relative to our location in our universe. I like to read fantasy stories because they take me away from the harsh “reality” that I feel around me. These things are part of being alive in the twenty-first century.
There is something malevolent about the shifting ground of “truth” in our troubled political and media spaces. After the president-elect’s surreal news conference, many commentators were talking about an alternate reality that is being manipulated through the media, forcing even honest journalists to come to terms with lies so transparent as to beggar belief. During the horrible campaign many simply felt that whoever shouted loudest, no matter his/her veracity, would be “believed” by the dumbfounded “public.” Of course, Russian hackers were fully aware of this new media arena and deftly used it to tilt the election toward their candidate.
The “Alt-Right” has indeed created its own “Alt-World.” Yet even that world seems outside the consciousness of the one human being who, as the most powerful leader on earth, needs to be grounded in a “reality” that acknowledges the dangers and opportunities we face as a nation. It is truly terrifying to realize that he is in a world of his own, and doesn’t want to leave.
March 1, 2016
Another victory for preservationists has many of my Save NYPL colleagues thinking that even the 42nd Street Library may be safe from developers. Charles Warren sent word that a fight led by Robert Hiller resulted in a withdrawal of plans to convert the wonderful First Church of Christ Scientist (1902, Carrère & Hastings) into residential condominiums. Mr. Hiller, a lawyer who also helped fight the Central Library Plan, remarked that “no church should become condominiums.” He is right. Churches become anchors to neighborhoods when they are around for as long as this one. The story is worth reading: http://newyorkyimby.com/2016/03/church-conversion-condo-project-abandoned-at-361-central-park-west.html
February 25, 2016
In the world of starchitects and big budget projects it seems that “faint praise” has become something of a badge of honor. Few blockbuster buildings get more than a nod from newspapers. So when my college classmate, David Dunlap, wrote tepidly about Santiago Calatrava’s new transit hub in lower Manhattan in today’s Times, he was forced to admit that the galleria inside the building would serve as a “selfie magnet” for tourists and other curious visitors getting off the PATH lines from New Jersey. Never mind that he found the rest of the building overwrought and fraught with problems.
David writes clearly and generally with a neutral demeanor, but he has been following the Calatrava project for twelve years and knows the tribulations endured by this former Spanish superstar of the design world. New York is a tough sell and poor Santiago has not fared well in Manhattan, especially after it was learned that his building would cost twice the budgeted amount and take seven extra hears to complete. I wrote about the project in this blog several years ago, noting some of these things.
The new shopping mall and PATH/IRT station is a needed amenity in lower Manhattan and should have been finished on time in order to maintain vital regional transit links. The fact that the Port Authority couldn’t keep its promises did not add to its already tarnished reputation. What should be noted, however, is that architecture such as this requires measured, well-planned, well-executed work by a team of experts who earn the public’s trust when they succeed. Those who built old Penn Station, and the present Grand Central Terminal, were exemplary. Why don’t we see similar efforts today?
David Dunlap’s writing provides some answers to that question, and more should be written to probe the issue. Perhaps you’ll see more in this blog.
February 27, 2015
There are many tragic ironies in the events playing out in Syria, Turkey and Iraq this month. For those who care about art and culture, the most horrific can be seen in an ISIS video now available on the New York Times website: the mutilation of precious stone artifacts in the Mosul Museum under the banner of an Islamic jihad. What we are really seeing is Arab cultural mutilation on a grand scale, but every human feels the blows and cuts falling on beautiful statues of our ancestors in Mesopotamia.
Times reporters suggest that the militants doing this damage are motivated by a need to be noticed, much as adolescent girls who cut their wrists want attention from distant parents, and they are not wrong. The same desperate emotions are at work. Young men volunteering to die with bombs strapped to their chests offer their own flesh. Men with hammers and chisels remove the flesh of effigies that symbolize the very identity of a great civilization whose genes they share.
Alas, many will look upon these barbaric acts as fodder for more hatred of the other, and more violence will ensue. Those seeking a different way, those whose empathy and sense of loss are touched, will feel a different pain. Nothing will bring back the lost treasures, but perhaps we can better understand the deep roots of this conflict, and our own part in its escalation after the Iraq wars. These young men are our children. The statues are part of our collective identity as humans. Their mutilation cuts at the very flesh of our quest for civilization in its highest forms in art, justice, equality, and peace.
We needn’t know the names of Hammurabi’s judges, the artists of Ishtar’s golden dragons, the Assyrian and Babalonian gods, or any ancient place name along the Tigris, to understand the stakes in this culture war. The earliest marks of human civilization are being erased before our eyes. Intervention can prevent this collective death wish among our Syrian brothers. Inaction will enable the mutilation to persist.
December 25, 2014
Pope Francis’ startling Christmas sermon to the Vatican elite has echoed across the world, bouncing from one critical listener to the next like a squash ball in a closed court. When I heard it I thought first of his courage and toughness, wondering how he would fare after the powerful and patently evil curia digested his metaphors and oblique references to their laziness and corruption. He has no fear of their power. They will fade before his visionary leadership. He had a much more ambitious goal with this humble speech to the assembled laity at St. Peter’s. He sounded the alarm to the entire world: a transformation is upon us; embrace it or get out of the way. Change is coming.
For more than a quarter century the world has needed a religious leader with the courage, moral authority and clear vision to take on the increasingly cynical power elites who have controlled political, economic, academic and theological discourse during these troubled times. When John Paul II helped to bring down the Iron Curtain Catholics cheered, but were soon disillusioned by his narrow moral vision and authoritarian tenure in Rome. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church endured its most corrosive crisis in more than a century: the cover up of priestly sexual abuses, particularly in North and South America. Reeling from this blow, Rome stumbled with Benedict, but then elected the unlikeliest candidate imaginable as his successor.
Francis, like his namesake, is a man of peace who sees the plight of the world’s poor as the inevitable result of crony capitalism, authoritarian regimes, and economic inequality. Poverty is not simply a condition of the least fortunate, but rather a pervasive moral issue for the world today. Poverty of vision, poverty of ideas, poverty of spirit, poverty of leadership. Francis called upon his flock to struggle against this pervasive abnegation in their midst. The world is listening, and his words will bring a new ethic to those who hear their truth.
March 15, 2014
Today’s New York Times put America’s biggest problem in the starkest of terms: naked truth; moral turpitude; the kind of language used by the far right to describe just about anything it deems distasteful.
According to Charles M. Blow, the income chasm is “an obscenity” that is pulling the United States downward and threatening the quality of life of nearly every American. All, that is, except the .01 percent who control over 10% of the country’s income, and the 10% who can claim a 48% share. Meanwhile, over 17% of Americans had trouble putting food on their tables last year. Millions struggled to maintain a “middle class” standard of living.
The U.S. now ranks number one in income inequality worldwide. I remember when our nation stood for fairness, opportunity, and self-sufficiency for all. I grew up during the 1960s, when most Americans believed in the common good, and aspired to the Americana Dream. Nearly everything in popular culture then was positive, future oriented, and confident.
Today popular culture is rife with the metaphors of greed, self-aggrandizement, and violent competition. When the American Dream is invoked, only the rich qualify for inclusion. Television is awash in reality contests that glorify money, fame, and screwing the little people in a race to the top.
The cultural landscape is changing dramatically and many Americans seem content to stand by while their core values erode. In so doing they open the doors to further exploitation by an oligarchy that hides behind prurient, conservative institutions such as the Heartland Institute and the Heritage Foundation. Remember that though Spanish Inquisition was an organ of the Roman Catholic Church, its obscenities were patent.
We can stop this downward slide toward poverty and cultural bankruptcy. But first we need to change our complacency toward ethical standards, truth telling, and the Golden Rule. These things make equality possible.
January 31, 2014
Pete Seeger’s death on Monday left me sad for the loss of a hero, but also hopeful that our country can recognize his life as one of exemplary moral and spiritual zeal. Pete was in many respects the last truly untainted force for change in a world gone mad with greed and narcissism. His music and his actions were America’s conscience during much of the 20th century. He paid a heavy price for his ethical stands on everything from freedom of speech to environmental degradation in the Hudson Valley. We can thank him by having the courage to follow his example, if only in the smallest and most modest acts of kindness or moral rectitude in the face of the violence and hypocrisy we see all around us.