Tuesday, December 14, 2004

bush friend

Bush of Arabia

A fascinating story in The Daily Star (of Lebanon) gives a glimpse of one of the great underreported stories . . . the popularity of George Bush in the Islamic Middle East.

According to the author, a self-described left-leaning English teacher in Damascus, his students were not only knowledgeable about the recent US presidential campaign, they were vociferously supportive of Bush.

Abandoning my lesson plan for the moment, but curious at this sudden display of interest in the election, I ventured: "Who do you want to win?" "Bush," said Rahaf, while a number of others nodded in solid agreement. I pressed them further for a few minutes, asking individual students why they liked Bush. The same ideas came up again and again: he is a strong leader, an honest man, and, most of all, a believer. Like the winning margin of American voters this year, these Middle Easterners related to Bush's sense of religious conviction and his confident steering of a nation and culture they admired.

This is an insight people like Timothy Garton Ash have been talking about for quite some time.

Back in March, Ash wrote in The Guardian that Europe has the most to fear from Muslim extremism because, essentially, they are non-believers while the Americans still retain the language and “imagination” of religion. “You need a religious imagination to respond to the music of other religions,” he wrote.

Bush has that imagination in spades as his critics frequently remind the world. But it seems, this is one “criticism” that seems to appeal rather than repell in the Islamic world.

Ash goes further to suggest that far from being agnostic, the Europeans are “evangelical secularists” who’s fundamental belief is that “all other forms of belief are symptoms of intellectual backwardness.”

This sort of chauvanism makes European nations particularly bad at assimilating their more devout immigrants. If to be European means you surrender your religious beliefs at the door, then few Muslims are going to even try to fit in.

The United States, on the other hand, is founded on the notion of religious freedom rather than enforced secularism. Religious fanaticism is a recurring theme in American history. Yet religious absolutism is an alien concept.

How does this difference in religous imagination manifest itself. A recent example might be headscarve issue in France. Their solution was simply to ban them. Makes sense to them. Perfectly rational. Ban religion from the public sphere and all the unpleasant issues disappear from view. I have not met a single Amerivan on the Left or Right who thinks this a reasonable solution. In fact, such an approach would never even be considered in America.

Although terrorists acting in the name of Allah murdered thousands of American civilians on 9/11 there have been no firebombed mosques in America. And although U.S. military forces have killed Arab civilians in the course of operations in the past two years, there have been no churches burning in cities with large Arab populations such as Dearborn and Detroit.

Says Ash:

America has a rare combination of religious imagination and an inclusive, civic identity. Europe has a fateful combination of secular imagination and exclusive, ethnic identities.”

It’s undeniable that the Muslim world is angry with the West. But who in the West is best able to deal with that anger, alleviate it and transform it into constructive energy . . . is it the United States or Europe?

My bet is on Bush and the United States.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Living in New York City

I feel sorry for my colleagues living in New York City. It’s absurdly expensive and increasingly homogenous. New York isn’t so much a collection of neighborhoods as it once was, but a collection of meticulously studied film sets where extras live out their dreary anonymous lives. You often see actual films being shot there but you’re not the star. You’re nobody.

Nonetheless, the cachet of New York is such that there is always a steady supply of newcomers who will do anything and pay any price to live here. And New York will not disappoint them. If you’re willing to pay, New York is willing to charge. The cost of living in New York City is 240 percent of the national average – nearly twice that of Boston and Washington, D.C.

The average sales price for an apartment in New York City is now more than $1 million. The median price is $655,000. That’s a lot of money. But what sort of value do you get for that? Here is the kitchen of an apartment currently for sale in the fabled Dakota on Central Park West for $4.7 million.


I don’t know about you, but if I were ever to accumulate the means to spend $4.7 million on my living accommodations I would be pretty disappointed if I couldn't fit a turkey into my kitchen. For that kind of money I would expect everything to be absolutely ideal in every possible way.

New York City makes you compromise even if you’re spending $4.7 million.

Another example. Check out this apartment in The Eldorado, also on CPW although a little too far north for my taste. This place costs even more . . . $4.75 million. But look at the floorplan. Two of the bedrooms appear to be in the water tower and you have to climb a spiral staircase through one of them to get to the other. This seems less than ideal.

In a normal real estate market this “apartment” would be a place you store roofing materials and elevator cable. If you were to buy it for living space you wouldn’t consider putting down more than $100,000 and that’s just because the view is truly spectacular.

One of the poor bastards I work with has two kids just like me and rents a cramped one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. He’d like to buy a place but he’s waiting for the prices to come down.

The more I think about this strategy the more foolhardy is sounds. I well remember the days when real estate was cheap in Manhattan. And you know what? It was cheap for a reason.

Fun City of the 1970s was a dismal, dangerous, and fetid Petri dish filled with the most virulent strains of Aquarian social decay metastasizing at a soul corroding rate.

Mayor Lindsay.

For whole generations of New Yorkers the mere mention of the name Lindsay sends a clammy chill up the spine as disturbing scenes of strikes, riots, sweat, grime and dented green and white Chrysler police sedans with pineapple sized roof sirens crawling crumbling urban jungles flicker up from the darker depths of memory.

Want to imagine what it would be live to in an affordable New York City? Rent a movie like “The French Connection” and “Midnight Cowboy” and take a good hard look and be grateful they didn’t film these two in Smellevision.™

Gritty. Filthy. Devoid of anything so frivolous as irony.
Chock Full ‘a Nuts, instead of Starbucks. Food City instead of Food Emporium. and evening at Bowlmor Lanes? Better bring a handgun.

Things weren’t “vintage” in affordable New York. They were old and broken and decrepit. Of course, as a kid I loved the faded glory of it all. But I’m glad I wasn't doomed to spend the final 20 years of my life in a place like that.

When I listen to my work friend talk about his appalling living conditions I now imagine a guy in Detroit around 1963 waiting, hoping, and praying that property values decline in Motown so he can step in and grab his piece of the rock.

Buddy, you don’t want to live in a city you can actually afford.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Friends of iraq

Here's a Worthy Tax Deduction

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