Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Murph lent me this awful book on urban geography by some guy named James Howard Kunstler, who is American and wrote this thing in 2001.

Chapter One of the book is an ode to Hausmann's Paris, which is more than fair enough, Paris is a beautiful place, though of course it wasn't all created by Haussman. Kunstler does debunk the myth that Hausmann designed his plan in order to more easily put down urban uprisings; he has enough evidence to prove the main points were slum clearance, installation of functioning water and sewer systems, improvement of traffic, and increasing real-estate value along the new boulevards. He also points out that Haussmann's plan certainly did not seem to help much in the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, which did have the long-term effect of eliminating the Paris mob as a political force. So Chapter One isn't bad at all. I actually learned something.

Chapter Two's on Atlanta, though, and boy, Kunstler sets the tone early: "...the system had clogged up like the porkfat-lined vascular system of a baby boom Bubba behind the wheel of his beloved suburban utility vehicle (SUV), and Lordy, the entire fretful coastal plain had become a united parking lot". And this: "pathogenic characters who fed off the metastatizing tumors of suburban sprawl". Or this: "It went against their current politics, their whole belief system, really, which boiled down to the notion that Atlanta was the ideal expression of democracy, free enterprise, and Christian destiny." Or this: "the people of the Sunbelt, U.S.A., a regional group who, culturally speaking, had crawled out of the mud about twenty-three years ago." Or this: "Saying there was anything wrong with Atlanta was like being against America". Or this: " was unlikely that everyone in the Sunbelt (formerly the Bible Belt) who subscribed to the fundamentalist Christian idea of heaven as a sort of eternal theme park was necessarily a genius. What it actually prompted one to think was how childishly incoherent Sunbelt theology was...".

The contempt drips off every word. Note to assorted American leftists: You are going to continue losing every election from here to eternity unless you stop treating everything from Sacramento to Newark as "the flyover". Scorn and disdain are not the best techniques for convincing people of your beliefs. I find it interesting that Kunstler does not bother to investigate why the people in suburban Atlanta more or less like it more or less the way it is. After all, if people didn't like it, they wouldn't move there, and there sure seem to be a lot more people moving into Atlanta than moving out of it. But Kunstler takes the easy out, chalking up the people's (most likely logical) preferences to their childish Bible Belt theology. Oh, yeah, note to assorted Europeans: You make a mistake when you take such examples of the bicoastal self-appointed cultural elite's opinions as anything resembling the actual state of events. Let me add, by the way, that Atlanta is probably America's largest metropolitan area in which blacks are powerfully influential.

Kunstler then offers up this story from the Saturday, September 9, 1999, Atlanta Journal-Record, which I've summarized below. Your job is, while reading through this, to think about what this news story means in the larger scheme of things, and then to guess what Mr. Kunstler's interpretation of the story is.

"Comfort and hopeful news are pouring in for the Brown family. Days after their son Michael, 3, was killed after a 14-year-old neighbor practicing driving with his father hit the toddler and his six-year-old brother Brandon, the Gwinnett County family has been deluged with offers of sympathy. "We've been showered with unconditional love and support," said Richard Brown on Friday...On Friday doctors removed (Brandon's) neck brace and hope to take him off an intravenous feeding tube soon. "He's doing very well," Brown said. "It's steady progress." The family has received encouragement and offers from family, friends, and business around the country, all anxious to help the family, whose van overheated on the way to the hospital and was still in the shop Friday...The Brown family has continued to maintain an attitude of forgiveness toward their neighbor, Dimitras Iliadis, and his 14-year-old son. Gwinnett County police say Iliadis was attempting to teach his son to drive when the teen pressed the accelerator and the car took off, striking the Brown children who were playing in their yard."

Take your best guess below; tomorrow I'll post Mr. Kunstler's interpretation. Whoever comes closest receives an eloquent testimonial he can put on his resumé; just don't tell anyone you got it from me.

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