California

Apple CEO Tim Cook Says He's Gay, And It May Not Matter In China's Conservative Market

10/30/14

When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced on Thursday that he is proud to be gay, many in the U.S., where Cook’s sexual orientation has been somewhat of an open secret, were not surprised. But in China, where homosexuality was officially a mental illness until 2001 and where Apple is making a big push for sales growth, the news came mostly as a surprise. Yet, early reaction indicates that the revelation from Cook won't be a negative for the California-based company.

‘Take your Ebola ass and get out': L.A. confrontation highlights relationship between Zionism and anti-black racism

10/30/14

On 18 October 2014, a self-professed “racist” pro-Israel counter-protester at a Block the Boat action in Los Angeles told black Palestinian solidarity activist and radio personality Margaret Prescod to “take your Ebola a*s and get out.”

LA-based activist Taher Herzallah first tweeted the picture and quote:

This quote was corroborated by numerous activists who attended the demonstration. I asked several LA protesters personally, all of whom verified that the Israel-supporter indeed spewed such racism. I was told that there was even video of the incident. I asked I could get ahold of it, and an activist who goes by the name of Sanchez uploaded the cinematographic evidence to YouTube on October 26:

At 1:15 in the video, you can see Prescod begin to walk over to the group of Zionist counter-protesters. She holds a large yellow “Free Gaza” sign, in the shape of a hand, a common design used by Block the Boat activists. At 1:26, when Prescod arrives next to the counter-protesters, you can hear one tell her “Get the f*ck* out of the way, d*ke.” Prescod responds noting the First Amendment guarantees her the right to stand in a public space and protest. The pro-Israel protester replies “Maybe I don’t want any Ebola.” Another counter-protester, off screen, says “Take your Ebola ass and get out.” Prescod, aghast, asks “What kind of racist comment is that?” The counter-protester in the red shirt proudly replies “I am racist. Step the f*ck out; step the f*ck out!” (At 1:43, another counter-protester inquires, entirely relevantly, “Do you like Obama?”)

In spite of being verbally assaulted, Prescod stands her ground, insisting on the importance of her First Amendment right. Off to the side, a Zionist counter-protester, wrapped in an Israeli flag, argues with a Palestinian solidarity activist, rehashing popular myths and distortions about Islam (e.g., Muslims cannot be friends with Jews and Christians, the prophet Muhammad was a pedophile, etc.). Very often concomitant with diehard Zionism is not just racism, but also Islamophobia.

At 4:10, Prescod expresses her concern to this man, who appears to be at least slightly less pugnacious than his confrères. “Excuse me a moment. For your message,” Prescod politely says, motioning toward the Zionist who proudly identified as a racist, “your supporter said ‘Get your Ebola self outta here.’ To have a racist person—” The man cuts her off, promptly insisting “That’s not racist” and defends his companion.

The group of Israel advocates then, at 6:50, proceeds to accuse Palestine human rights advocates of being connected to ISIS—another popular Islamophobic tactic. At 7:00, the self-identified racist points over to Prescod and yells “How many black people have committed crimes, b*tch?” By 7:40, fellow Palestinian solidarity activists of color have joined Prescod and have begun chanting “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime.” This appears to prompt another Zionist counter-protester,at 7:47, to flail her arm at the peace advocates and violently yell “Uneducated!” six times.

Next on the list of racist stereotypes from which the Zionists draw is right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric, prevalent among the US Republican Party. A counter-protester refers to the people of color present as “anti-American.” At 8:48, she yells into the megaphone “Get outta here. All anti-Americans, get outta here!” and, at 9:40, “You’re all anti-Americans.”

In a mellifluous conclusion to to the Zionists’ chauvinist cacophony, at 11:00, the Palestinian solidarity activists begin chanting “Racists go home!” The counter-protesters take their leave. The counter-protester in red flips them off as she ambles angrily away.

Two Ugly Sides of the Same Coin

Margaret Prescod is well known in the community as a host on listener-supported KPFK 90.7 FM public radio. Four times per week, she hosts the morning show “Sojourner Truth,” covering local, national, and international new with an emphasis on “how those of us most impacted – women, communities of color and other communities are responding.”

After the counter-protesters left, Global Voices for Justice filmed Prescod as she addressed the crowd, recounting the incident and explaining that the struggle against Israeli apartheid is part of a larger movement against apartheid and racism around the world. At 0:20 she states:

I’m really glad to be out here, as a person of African descent, and to see some of my other brothers and sisters of African descent here, because we know that the apartheid practiced in Israel is the same apartheid that was practiced in South Africa, and the racism happening against the Bedouins and the Palestinian people in Israel is the same racism that we are facing here in these United States.

An incident happened this morning that I intend to report on the show on the air, and really to encourage more of my African-American brothers and sisters to be part of this effort. Our women’s group has been part of the Block the Boat coalition and we tried to get the word out as best we could.

But as I walked across the street this morning, to where the Israeli lobby and supporters were, I was the first person that walked over there. First, the police turned me away. I then stayed on the other side. And then I thought ‘Well why should they be able to occupy that corner?’. And I walked back across the street … and one of the women viciously said to me ‘Get your Ebola self outta here.” She did, and it was caught on video. And I said, ‘Because I’m black, you’re saying that to me? That’s racist,’ and she said ‘Yes I’m a racist and get your f’ing Ebola self off of my corner; get away from me.’

Now that tells us something, and that sends a message not only to all of us here, clarifying to many who may be confused about what’s going on with the occupation and the repression of Palestinian people, that level of racism, being out here, representing the state of Israel, is shameful.

I just wanted to report that to you. The police officers who are out there, you should know that as well. I reported it to one of the Long Beach police officers; he made no comment. But I really felt attacked, as a person of African descent. And that is bloody outrageous.

And also, just finally to say, that just didn’t fall out of her mouth. There are people that are now running around with this. And the guy she was with defended it saying ‘You black people want to be called African-Americans, and everybody knows that it’s Africans that are putting people at risk of Ebola.’ This is the level of racism going on, and this is the kind of racism that Zionism represents and that we stand against. So thank each and every one of you for being out here and supporting us.

Echoing Israeli Racism

That Zionists are open about their racism is not surprising. Their support for the ethnocratic state of Israel is doubtless, at least in part, motivated by this racism.

As journalist Rania Khalek has noted, Zionism “enable[s] Israel’s genocidal ambitions” by normalizing this racism within an ethnoreligious-supremacist political philosophy. Zionism’s hyper-nationalism inspires egregious stereotypes that lead to the demonization and subsequent dehumanization of entire peoples. The same racist (il)logic that leads to the generalization of all Palestinians as “terrorists” leads to seeing all people of African descent as having Ebola.

Muslims have been racialized through “race thinking,” so Islam, as a synecdoche, has come to represent, and to be iniquitously wielded against, these Arab “terrorists.” The sign the Zionist counter-protesters held read “Radical Islam is the new Nazi.” The anti-Palestinian and anti-black racism festering in these Israel supporters also manifests itself in a virulent Islamophobia. They presumably know that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but use the racialization of Islam to present themselves as brave warriors, combating “radical Islam”—this phrase, of course, meant, through this series of connections, to refer to the Palestinian people.

At an even more basic level, semiotics and cultural connotations aside, moreoever, this sign is too somewhat strange considering the recorded instances of Israeli actual neo-Nazis beating up Palestinians, African refugees, and Jewish leftists, often while police stand by, doing nothing.

It’s also strange considering journalist David Sheen has collected video footage of numerous rallies in which groups of Israeli fascists chant “Death to Arabs” & “Death to leftists.”

Israeli peace activist and Duke University professor Rann Bar-On was attending a demonstration in Haifa this summer, with “about three or four hundred left-wing activists demonstrating against the war, for peace between Arabs and Jews, refusing to be enemies,” when

well over a thousand … militant activists from the right, surrounded by police and others, screaming, ‘Death to Arabs! Death to leftists!’ As we were protesting, they moved towards us. The police allowed them to move towards us. The police allowed them to attack us, to throw stones at us. Later on, as we were trying to leave, … the police did not attempt to allow us to leave. They took over an hour to evacuate us while we were under heavy attack by stones and other missiles. Many were injured. We’ve had over 30 injured. Two women are still in hospital. There were gangs roaming the streets, beating up anyone they thought was an Arab or member of our demonstration.

During “Operation Protective Edge,” Israeli fascists roamed the streets, looking for Arabs and Jewish leftists, whom they would then harass and attack. There is video footage of Israeli mobs shouting “Death to the Arabs” and attacking Palestinians at a Jerusalem mall. Israeli fascists took the life of 17-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir, burning him alive, after forcing him to drink gasoline (which made his internal organs burn while he was still alive).

As if it was not enough to take a young, innocent man’s life, Israeli police then ransacked the home of Abu Khdeir’s family and arrested relatives in “revenge for the family’s role in publicizing CCTV footage of [Tariq, his cousin] Abu Khdeir’s brutal beating at the hands of Israeli police, and their public campaign to secure his return to the US.”

Anti-Black Racism in Israel

Events like these serve as regular reminders that Zionism is indeed a racist, colonialist ideology.

The racism of these California-based Zionist counter-protesters is symptomatic of a much larger culture of bigotry and hate. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has gone on record calling his country, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “a sick society that needs treatment.” Haaretz, the “Israeli New York Times,” has also shown that racism is getting even worse among younger generations, that Israeli teenagers are “Racist and proud of it.”

This racism manifests itself politically in the form of apartheid. In 2007, David A. Kirshbaum, of the Israel Law Resource Center, published a piece titled “Israeli Apartheid — A Basic Legal Perspective,” meticulously detailing the myriad ways in which Israel is an apartheid state, under its very own laws. Once again, Israel’s most-read newspaper has published pieces confirming this fact, admitting that “Israeli Arabs have never been equal before the law.”

And yet, as the aforementioned incident evinces, this racism is not only directed at Palestinians. David Sheen has been “carefully chronicling the racist attacks against non-Jewish African asylum-seekers in Israel for several years,” documenting “social media stories about the recent violence, footage from four years of anti-African rallies, and extended one-on-one interviews about opposition to the presence of Africans in Israel.” He writes:

In January 2012, an organization in Israel that aids African asylum-seekers, the African Refugee Development Center, asked me to author on their behalf a report to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). After receiving the report in text and video form, the UN committee urged the Israeli government to prevent racist attacks against Africans in Israel. The Israeli government ignored the UN’s call, and the following month, Israelis firebombed a kindergarten for African children in Tel Aviv, igniting a wave of violence against non-Jewish African people in Israel that is still ongoing.

Blumenthal and Sheen released a brief documentary titled “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” In it, they show video footage of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari, calling African refugees “infiltrators” and “cancer,” and openly using the n-word; of Israeli citizens harassing fellow Israelis for engaging in interracial relationships; and of some politicians even going so far as to propose the creation of concentration camps in which to hold African refugees.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also drawn attention to the vitriolic strain of anti-black racism in Israeli society. In its September 2014 report “Make Their Lives Miserable”: Israel’s Coercion of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum Seekers to Leave Israel details how “Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a ‘threat,’ branded them ‘infiltrators,’ denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.”

HRW writes that “Israel’s policies are well summed up in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai who said that as long as Israel cannot deport them to their home countries, it should ‘lock them up to make their lives miserable.’”

In the time since Blumenthal and Sheen’s documentary was made (mid 2013), Israel has in fact created what are effectively internment camps for African refugees. Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, reporting for the Real News, has documented these horrific practices.

Tarachansky notes that African refugees are imprisoned en masse in open-air prison camps in the middle of nowhere. They are told they are not prisoners, but they must sign in three times per day, and the prison camp is so far from any neighboring city that it is impossible to leave on foot. Moreover, when African refugees collectively decide to leave in protest of the concentration camp conditions in which they are involuntarily held, the army violently stops them. In response, African refugees are now going on hunger strike.

Israel’s modus operandi for dealing with this supposed refugee “problem” has been to trade African asylum-seekers with other countries in exchange for weapons. It goes without saying that such a decision bears striking and grotesque resemblances to slavery. (It might also, significantly, be herein noted that the US is complicit in this neo-slavery process, as the weapons Israel is exchanging for human beings may very well have been bought with the US’ over $100 billion of military aid.)

Even African Jews are not immune from this intense, unmitigated racism. Israel has admitted to forcibly sterilizing Ethiopian Jews, in an action that some argue constitutes the legal definition of genocide. Magen David Adom, the “Israeli Red Cross,” has refused to take blood donations from one of its own country’s Members of Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata, referring to it as “the special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood” they avoid.

Scholar Hanan Chehata has thoroughly detailed Israel’s “overt racism” against and segregation of African Jews, calling the ethnocracy the “promised land for Jews … as long as they’re not black.” The chief rabbi of Petach Tikvah (a “sister city” of Chicago) went to so far as to refuse to wed Ethiopian Jews, because he doubted that they were truly Jewish. Clearly, Israel’s white supremacist Zionism leads to its own despicable form of anti-Semitism.

The Palestinian Solidarity Movement Is an Anti-Racist Movement

Given the obscene levels and grotesque displays of racism in Israeli society, it should not be a big surprise that Israel’s supporters tell black Americans to “take your Ebola a*s and get out.” As Prescod noted in her speech, this Zionist’s (and her accomplices’) racism “just didn’t fall out of her mouth”; it’s a reflection of the racist ethnostate she (and they) support.

Racist Zionist protesters like these remind one that the Palestinian solidarity movement is a fundamentally anti-racist movement. In the words of Blumenthal, we are “principled” anti-Zionists because “we’re genuinely disgusted by any form of racism. It’s why we’re disgusted by the Israeli government and by the structure of Israeli apartheid.”

Palestinian solidarity activists—advocates for Palestinian human rights, freedom, and dignity—organize and fight precisely because they oppose racism, in all of its forms, and want to see an end to it anywhere and everywhere.

One Mapping Service to Rule Them All

10/30/14
Image
MapStory

A map that shows the growth of New York City from 1626 to the present day tells a lot of stories about American history. How the Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam became the English colony of New York, only to be recaptured and renamed Nieuw-Orange. How the great manors of New York were incorporated into cities. And how the cities of New York and Brooklyn (formerly Breucklyn) grew by annexation until they were consolidated as with Long Island, Queens, and Staten Island.

The graphic simplicity of MapStory's geographic history of New York City belies an incredible challenge. Collating city records that span centuries, colonies, wars, and states is no mean feat, but MapStory makes it look easy.

In fact, the purpose of MapStory is to make this work easier. Mapping out the growth of New York City over time—indeed, the growth of every municipality in New York State—is just a means to one end. MapStory aims to give users the means to map the development of every municipality on the planet.

That audacity earned MapStory an OpenGov grant from the Sunlight Foundation. "Our initial motivation was to support urban historians and genealogists who need to know this information but who currently spend inordinate amounts of time searching historic maps and city records for it," wrote MapStory's John Vincent and Karl R. Phillips on a post on Sunlight's blog. "In the digital age, citizens should be able to ask and immediately answer this simple question: How has the geography of my city/town/borough/village changed throughout its history?"

MapStory caught my eye earlier this week when someone passed along a MapStory map charting the growth of Portland over time. That means that users are taking MapStory beyond its initial goals of mapping the states of New York and also California, where they've collected data for a whole mess of that state's cities.

(MapStory)

Browsing the MapStories that are up and available yields some real finds. User Betsy Emmons, an environmental science student at Gettysburg College (and a MapStory intern), appears to be the author of an awesome map of Portland's network of bike lanes.

And another bike-lane map for San Francisco, using San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency data.

Does MapStory make things too easy? The goecoordinates for this map of D.C. murals look off to me, though the effort is impressive: I'd expect someone to need to hand-code this map. And a global map of rocket test-launch sites around the world that draws on Wikipedia needs a better data source.

But a map of changes in land use in Mesa, Arizona, over time—built using GIS data provided by Arizona State University—demonstrates how useful this could be to future historians and urban geographers.

The same goes for a map showing the spread of U.S. national parks over time, which was built by the same Arizona State University graduate student.

Mapping the entire world may be a ways off. But recent developments—such as the 2013 ruling by the California Supreme Court that California government GIS databases are public records—makes the data more accessible all the time. MapStory is a repository of examples of the uses those data can be put toward, from class assignments to deep history projects.








Why Middle-Class Americans Can't Afford to Live in Liberal Cities

10/29/14
Image
Wikimedia Commons

On April 2, 2014, a protester in Oakland, California, mounted a Yahoo bus, climbed to the front of the roof, and vomited onto the windshield.

If not the year's most persuasive act of dissent, it was certainly one of the most memorable demonstrations in the Bay Area, where residents have marched, blockaded, and retched in protest of San Francisco's economic inequality and unaffordable housing. The city's gaps—between rich and poor, between housing need and housing supply—have been duly catalogued. Even among American tech hubs, San Francisco stands alone with both the most expensive real estate and the fewest new construction permits per unit since 1990.

But San Francisco's problem is bigger than San Francisco. Across the country, rich, dense cities are struggling with affordable housing, to the considerable anguish of their middle class families.

Among the 100 largest U.S. metros, 63 percent of homes are "within reach" for a middle-class family, according to Trulia. But among the 20 richest U.S. metros, just 47 percent of homes are affordable, including a national low of 14 percent in San Francisco. The firm defined "within reach" as a for-sale home with a total monthly payment (including mortgage and taxes) less than 31 percent of the metro's median household income.

If you line up the country's 100 richest metros from 1 to 100, household affordability falls as household income rises, even after you consider that middle class families in richer cities have more income. (The graph below considers only the 25 richest US metros to keep city names moderately legible on a computer screen.)


Rich Households = Unaffordable Houses?

The line isn't smooth—and there are exceptions—but the relationship is clear: In general, richer cities have less affordable housing.

But there's a second reason why San Francisco's problem is emblematic of a national story. Liberal cities seem to have the worst affordability crises, according to Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko.

In a recent article, Kolko divided the largest cities into 32 “red" metros where Romney got more votes than Obama in 2012 (e.g. Houston), 40 “light-blue” markets where Obama won by fewer than 20 points (e.g. Austin), and 28 “dark-blue” metros where Obama won by more than 20 points (e.g. L.A., SF, NYC). Although all three housing groups faced similar declines in the recession and similar bounce-backs in the recovery, affordability remains a bigger problem in the bluest cities.


Super-Liberal Cities, Super-Unaffordable Houses

"Even after adjusting for differences of income, liberal markets tend to have higher income inequality and worse affordability,” Kolko said.

Kolko's theory isn't an outlier. There is a deep literature tying liberal residents to illiberal housing policies that create affordability crunches for the middle class. In 2010, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn published a study of California cities, which found that liberal metros issued fewer new housing permits. The correlation held over time: As California cities became more liberal, he said, they built fewer homes.

"All homeowners have an incentive to stop new housing," Kahn told me, "because if developers build too many homes, prices fall, and housing is many families' main asset. But in cities with many Democrats and Green Party members, environmental concerns might also be a factor. The movement might be too eager to preserve the past."

The deeper you look, the more complex the relationship between blue cities and unaffordable housing becomes. In 2008, economist Albert Saiz used satellite-generated maps to show that the most regulated housing markets tend to have geographical constraints—that is, they are built along sloping mountains, in narrow peninsulas, and against nature's least developable real estate: the ocean. (By comparison, many conservative cities, particularly in Texas, are surrounded by flatter land.) "Democratic, high-tax metropolitan areas... tend to constrain new development more," Saiz concluded, and "historic areas seem to be more regulated." He also found that cities with high home values tend to have more restrictive development policies.

One could attempt tying this together into a pat story—Rich liberals prefer to cluster near historic coastal communities with high home values, where they support high taxes, rent control, and a maze of housing regulations to protect both their investment and the region's "character", altogether discouraging new housing development that’s already naturally constrained by geography...—but even that interpretation elides the colorful local history that often shapes housing politics.

I asked Kahn if he had a pet theory for why liberals, who tend to be vocal about income inequality, would be more averse to new housing development, which would help lower-income families. He suggested that that it could be the result of good intentions good bad.

"Developers pursue their own self-interest," Kahn said. "If a developer has an acre, and he thinks it should be a shopping mall, he won't think about neighborhood charm, or historic continuity. Liberals might say that the developer acting in his own self-interest ignores certain externalities, and they'll apply restrictions. But these restrictions [e.g. historic preservation, environmental preservation, and height ceilings] add up, across a city, even if they’re well-intentioned. The affordability issue will rear its head."

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








Why Middle-Class Americans Can't Afford to Live in Liberal Cities

10/29/14
Image
Wikimedia Commons

On April 2, 2014, a protester in Oakland, California, mounted a Yahoo bus, climbed to the front of the roof, and vomited onto the windshield.

If not the year's most persuasive act of dissent, it was certainly one of the most memorable demonstrations in the Bay Area, where residents have marched, blockaded, and retched in protest of San Francisco's economic inequality and unaffordable housing. The city's gaps—between rich and poor, between housing need and housing supply—have been duly catalogued. Even among American tech hubs, San Francisco stands alone with both the most expensive real estate and the fewest new construction permits per unit since 1990.

But San Francisco's problem is bigger than San Francisco. Across the country, rich, dense cities are struggling with affordable housing, to the considerable anguish of their middle class families.

Among the 100 largest U.S. metros, 63 percent of homes are "within reach" for a middle-class family, according to Trulia. But among the 20 richest U.S. metros, just 47 percent of homes are affordable, including a national low of 14 percent in San Francisco. The firm defined "within reach" as a for-sale home with a total monthly payment (including mortgage and taxes) less than 31 percent of the metro's median household income.

If you line up the country's 100 richest metros from 1 to 100, household affordability falls as household income rises, even after you consider that middle class families in richer cities have more income. (The graph below considers only the 25 richest US metros to keep city names moderately legible on a computer screen.)


Rich Households = Unaffordable Houses?

The line isn't smooth—and there are exceptions—but the relationship is clear: In general, richer cities have less affordable housing.

But there's a second reason why San Francisco's problem is emblematic of a national story. Liberal cities seem to have the worst affordability crises, according to Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko.

In a recent article, Kolko divided the largest cities into 32 “red" metros where Romney got more votes than Obama in 2012 (e.g. Houston), 40 “light-blue” markets where Obama won by fewer than 20 points (e.g. Austin), and 28 “dark-blue” metros where Obama won by more than 20 points (e.g. L.A., SF, NYC). Although all three housing groups faced similar declines in the recession and similar bounce-backs in the recovery, affordability remains a bigger problem in the bluest cities.


Super-Liberal Cities, Super-Unaffordable Houses

"Even after adjusting for differences of income, liberal markets tend to have higher income inequality and worse affordability,” Kolko said.

Kolko's theory isn't an outlier. There is a deep literature tying liberal residents to illiberal housing policies that create affordability crunches for the middle class. In 2010, UCLA economist Matthew Kahn published a study of California cities, which found that liberal metros issued fewer new housing permits. The correlation held over time: As California cities became more liberal, he said, they built fewer homes.

"All homeowners have an incentive to stop new housing," Kahn told me, "because if developers build too many homes, prices fall, and housing is many families' main asset. But in cities with many Democrats and Green Party members, environmental concerns might also be a factor. The movement might be too eager to preserve the past."

The deeper you look, the more complex the relationship between blue cities and unaffordable housing becomes. In 2008, economist Albert Saiz used satellite-generated maps to show that the most regulated housing markets tend to have geographical constraints—that is, they are built along sloping mountains, in narrow peninsulas, and against nature's least developable real estate: the ocean. (By comparison, many conservative cities, particularly in Texas, are surrounded by flatter land.) "Democratic, high-tax metropolitan areas... tend to constrain new development more," Saiz concluded, and "historic areas seem to be more regulated." He also found that cities with high home values tend to have more restrictive development policies.

One could attempt tying this together into a pat story—Rich liberals prefer to cluster near historic coastal communities with high home values, where they support high taxes, rent control, and a maze of housing regulations to protect both their investment and the region's "character", altogether discouraging new housing development that’s already naturally constrained by geography...—but even that interpretation elides the colorful local history that often shapes housing politics.

I asked Kahn if he had a pet theory for why liberals, who tend to be vocal about income inequality, would be more averse to new housing development, which would help lower-income families. He suggested that that it could be the result of good intentions good bad.

"Developers pursue their own self-interest," Kahn said. "If a developer has an acre, and he thinks it should be a shopping mall, he won't think about neighborhood charm, or historic continuity. Liberals might say that the developer acting in his own self-interest ignores certain externalities, and they'll apply restrictions. But these restrictions [e.g. historic preservation, environmental preservation, and height ceilings] add up, across a city, even if they’re well-intentioned. The affordability issue will rear its head."

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.








A Visit to the Tomb of Hafez al-Asad

10/29/14

Christian SahnerThe following is an excerpt from “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present,” just out from Oxford University Press/ C. Hurst & Co. For further information on the book and the history of Syria, follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

The road from Latakia to Qardaha wound gently along the Mediterranean coast. From here, the blue waters seemed to race to an endless horizon, to a world still wider than crowded Damascus, over one hundred and fifty miles inland. But the beachside view obscured the intimacy of the moment. Plato referred to this sea and the cities perched on its shores as a pond crowded with frogs. In antiquity, as today, these frogs came in a dizzying menagerie of shapes and colors, yet their diversity disguised their essential unity. There was more uniting these far-flung peoples than dividing them. It was a sense of a common heritage held together by the relentless flow of merchants, philosophers, and missionaries across this small pond.

Latakia—ancient Laodicea—is Syria’s principal port. It is located along a narrow coastal strip in the northwest of the country, between the Lebanese and Turkish borders. With its beachside resorts, open-air cafes, and relaxed ambiance, the city was a salutary reminder that Syria—at least in these parts—was very much one of Plato’s frogs, a Mediterranean country with its eyes trained on the sea.

Mountains of northwestern Syria, with Mediterranean Sea, near Baniyas

Mountains of northwestern Syria, with Mediterranean Sea in the distance, Tartus Province (photo: author)

Nevertheless, not everyone who basks in the Mediterranean sun enjoys its riches. For just as Syria’s geography and culture are divided between coast and desert, there is an equally pronounced rift between the coasts and mountains, which rise mightily from the waters’ edge. Here, the rugged peaks shelter villages that form the once-destitute heartland of Syria’s ‘Alawi community, a region known as Jabal Ansariyya. One hot day in July 2009, I headed to one of the most important of these mountain villages—Qardaha—to try to understand how a once-marginal group came to control Syria during the course of the twentieth century.

About ten miles south of Latakia, the road began to climb steeply. I was riding in a rickety van that had crawled the streets of Beijing or Seoul in another life, but was now covered with kitschy images of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Asad. The van shook to the songs of a Lebanese chanteuse, but the volume waned as we hit a steep incline. I was the only foreigner in a cabin filled with locals, many of them chain-smoking and forlorn-looking. Between them sat crates of peaches, parsley, and what looked like bottles of arak, that alcoholic nectar of the Levant.

The road leveled off eventually and the electronic rhythms resumed their punishing pace. Amidst the rugged landscape, the Mediterranean became harder and harder to see. She appeared occasionally with a coquettish wink, her sparkling blue eyes disguised between olive groves and mountain wadis. Up here, the sea was only seven miles away, but it felt like hundreds. Qardaha and its people were born of a sense of isolation from Plato’s world, not of belonging to it.

Qardaha enjoyed little notoriety throughout history: it was one of many faceless farming communities that dotted the mountains of Syria’s northwest, whose ‘Alawi inhabitants made meager returns selling tobacco, lemons and other crops to coastal merchants. For centuries, poverty here was endemic. Families were sometimes forced to make ends meet by selling their daughters into servitude in the homes of Sunnis grandees down below. By all reports, Qardaha was not a happy place, or much of a place at all; as Gertrude Stein once remarked of a very different city, Oakland, California: “There is no there there.”

All this would change in the early twentieth century, when contacts between the mountain and the coast began to increase. Among the beneficiaries was a young man named Hafez al-Asad, born in 1930, destined to become Qardaha’s most famous son. He descended the mountain for schooling and never looked back. As an adult, he rose up through the ranks of the Syrian Air Force, Baath Party leadership, and the government, serving as defense minister. In 1970, he seized control of the state in a successful coup, ruling Syria with cruel determination until his death thirty years later. You can tell a lot about a man by where he chooses to be buried, and despite a career forged in the cut-throat government halls of Damascus, Asad wished his body to return here, to the mountain village where he was born.

The tomb of Hafez al-Asad, Qardaha, Summer 2009

Tomb of Hafez al-Asad, Qardaha, Latakia Province (photo: author)

After a forty-five minute ride, I stepped out of the bus: Asad’s mausoleum sat on the edge of Qardaha’s still-humble, even derelict looking downtown. The ragged streets improved as I approached his grave, with newly planted trees and flowers lining a wide boulevard. Despite the inviting entrance and luxurious appointments, the mausoleum was strange: an eight-pointed star surmounted by a flat, onion-shaped dome—reminiscent of a spaceship in an old science fiction movie. An intricate Arabic inscription ran along the façade of the building, and on a large wall facing the entrance hung a sepia-toned portrait of the deceased leader. In it, an elderly Asad wore a page-boy cap and a wry smile, with the Syrian flag billowing behind him. It conjured a sense of nostalgia for a bygone world—for your grandfather and mine—for the grandfather of all Syria, this sunny-looking dictator.

The otherworldly ambiance was undiminished inside the mausoleum. Asad’s grave lay in a shallow octagonal depression in the floor, beneath the main dome. The casket, draped in a rich green cloth, was surrounded by a wreath of fresh flowers, and a second band of green satin sheets. To the left was the grave of Basel, the dauphin of the house of Asad who died tragically in 1994 (after crashing his Mercedes on the airport road outside Damascus, for which he is remembered as a shahid, or martyr). There were other empty graves in the building, presumably awaiting the deaths of other Asad family members—including Hafez’s widow Aniseh and their son Bashar, who took over the family business in 2000.

The mausoleum of Hafez al-Asad was more of a cultic site than a grave. Here, ‘Alawi security officers dutifully tended the tomb when not oiling their pistols or sipping tea, and piles of flowers left by dignitaries and pilgrims lay strewn outside. It looked like the mourning had never ended. There was a strange dignity to the place: it was a memorial to a man of ferocious but incredible ambition, as well as to a community that had managed to emancipate itself from its mountain miseries and take center stage in modern Syrian history. The story of Hafez al-Asad—the Alawi peasant who would become king—has no parallel in its particulars across this country. But in its generalities, it sums up the experience of many minorities over the past hundred years. It is the story of the outsider made insider, of the particular who managed to carve out a place for himself by redefining the universal.

Christian Sahner is a historian of the Middle East. He is the author of the recently released book, “Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present” (Oxford University Press/ C. Hurst & Co). A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, he is completing his doctorate at Princeton, focusing on the role of non-Muslims in medieval Islamic societies. His essays have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

The post A Visit to the Tomb of Hafez al-Asad appeared first on Syria Comment.

Here Are Some of Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Best Photos From Space

10/28/14
Image
On a clear day, you can see forever (or at least from Havana to Washington, D.C.). (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 saw a sight hitherto unseen by human eyes: The earth rising over the horizon of the moon. The photo that lunar module pilot William Anders took that day became one of the defining images of the 20th century, and forever changed the way humans saw their own planet.

“In lunar orbit, it occurred to me that, here we are, all the way up there at the moon, and we’re studying this thing, and it’s really the Earth as seen from the moon that’s the most interesting aspect of this flight,” Anders said later.

Many decades after Apollo 8, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was up in the International Space Station, when his son, who was helping him get a handle on social media, suggested via email that Hadfield ask people on earth what they wanted him to take pictures of. "The resounding answer was, 'I want a picture of my hometown, of where I’m from,'" Hadfield told Quartz.

“To me, that was delightful. At first I thought, 'how narcissistic.' But then when I thought about it, it struck me for two different reasons: people are proud of where they are from. And they have an ache and a desire to see how they fit in with everything else. It’s a dawning self-awareness, like seeing yourself in a mirror for the very first time, but on a global scale.”

Last year, Hadfield became the most famous astronaut on Earth when his Twitter account went viral. He gained over 1 million followers, whom he entertained and educated during his stint on the International Space Station with beautiful photographs of our planet taken from orbit.

In all, Hadfield took some 45,000 images, most of which were beamed directly to NASA and stashed in storage. “I had never seen most of them,” says Hadfield.

“It occurred to me last year, ‘What is going to become of that treasure trove of self-awareness?’ It would be a waste if nobody ever saw it. So I went through all 45,000 and chose a few thousand. But I can’t publish a book with 3,000 photos, so I took this this as my precept: ‘If somebody who wanted to buy this book were at the window next to me, what would I show them if we were floating around the world once?'”

The result is “You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes,” an astounding volume of 192 full-color photographs covering every continent except Antarctica. Here are some highlights, along with Hadfield’s comments:

Detroit, Michigan, right, and Windsor, Ontario—two countries, one river. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“There is a fanciful notion that borders are manmade constructs and you can’t see them from space. But you can, because of agricultural use, municipal patterns, even national parks. I chose these two images [above and below] very deliberately. You can also see the history of the two nations and the history of the land use in those two pictures, such as the long thin patterns of settlement in the French agricultural colonies [top left]. To me there’s a wealth of human information in that photograph. I find it intriguing to look at how our culture, economics, the invention of the automobile, all overlay and become evident just for a casual observer flying in orbit.”

While the line drawn between Tijuana (left) and San Diego (right) may have been drawn arbitrarily, it is not imaginary. (Chis Hadfield/NASA)

“The border between Mexico and California almost looks like a clog in a drain. You have this great pressure on one side trying to go through a very narrow plug at the bottom. It’s almost like the will of the people is visible from space. There’s no difference between the geology or topography on either side of that line. That is just a straight line drawn by some politician or leader a century ago. Yet it becomes such a defining line of people’s dreams.”

The bright lights of Cairo announce the opening of the north-flowing Nile’s delta, with Jerusalem answering to the northeast. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“All we know of our civilization and history, everything from the Sphinx to what’s going on right now in Gaza, that’s all right there in one glance out of the window, brought to life by the lights of dusk. A fascinating part of the world to look at.”

Venice, floating, connected to the mainland by only the thinnest of umbilical cords. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield writes in the introduction to the book that he was struck by how different the photos looked on paper than on his screen. This shot of Venice is good example: “You don’t have time to think about the complexity of the image when you first take it. But when you get it on screen—or even better hold it your hand on paper, probe it with your finger, bring it to your eyes—you see it differently.”

The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark for astronauts. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“When you’re holding a camera, the process goes like this: You’re looking with your naked eye and seeing a vast expanse. And then something catches your eye because of color or a glint of the sun. So you grab a camera and do your best to take a picture. And then the image has disappeared. It’s somewhere in the camera and you can’t see it with your eye anymore. But you have a mental snapshot of how the picture looked. Then you open it on a computer and get a digital reminder of what you saw in your mind. Sometimes it’s a little different. A difference of colour, of perspective. You’ll often see things you missed, because when you were looking with your naked eye it passed by so quickly.”

Salt from evaporation ponds at the Great Salt Lake, Utah, attracts pastel-colored algae, brine shrimp, birds… and this one lone wolf. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield’s captions, both on Twitter and in the book, reveal a rich imagination. But maybe it is just experience, he suggests. “Most people have a sort of a fanciful vision of what an astronaut is. Choose your movie. But it is so very, very far from the truth. It’s a very disciplined and very highly educated and mentally agile group of people just because of the complexity of jobs we’re asked to do. There is a good mix of imagination but also a depth of experience and awareness. When you see one thing, you’re thinking of other things things you’ve had exposure to. So I don’t know if that’s imagination or just depth of experience.”

The majesty of the Himalayas. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield says that he didn’t want his pictures to look like satellite images. Rather, he wanted them to have a human element. “Some satellite images are good by chance. But it’s random. Who is it judging that the picture is OK? It’s not the satellite, it’s us. So it’s almost always better to cut out the middle man—or the middle machine. If you can put the camera in the hands of someone who is interpreting real time, not only will they be likely to take that [good] picture more often, but they will see things are are transient but will otherwise be forever missed.”

Much of the densely built-up waterfront around San Francisco sits on landfill, often a blend of rubble and sediment dragged up from the bay. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“I don’t want to tell people what to think. To me that is both transient and ineffective. I would far rather present people with the reality of something in widespread detail and and let them think for themselves. It would have been very easy to proselytize an hit people over the head with it, to say ‘Look you’ve got to think like I do.’ That is not my role.”

A twist of cloud near Arica, Chile. North of the equator, the spiral would turn counter-clockwise. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

The mission that shot Hadfield to fame was also his last. He is now retired. “I actually don’t miss it. I think it’s probably how what I did for a living is perceived. Most people only become aware of the main events of other people. And they think, ‘Wow, what a huge zenith of life. Boy, what a miraculous thing, everything else must be terrible. Or crushed into nothingness.’ It’s not like that at all. I don’t spend much time—actually virtually none—wishing that all of that was still happening. But there are a few people I miss, people who died before their time, pilots that I knew. The commander of Columbia who was a great friend of mine. I feel a great injustice that they aren’t still here.”

The area around Perereira Barreto in Brazil, was dammed in the 1990s to create a hydroelectric plant, submerging many farms and even a suspension bridge. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“The pictures belong to everybody. We’re donating the proceeds to the Red Cross. My motivation was not to get rich making this book. It was much more that I wanted people to see the world the way we see it from the space station and hopefully feel some of the change of perspective.”

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

It Only Took 45 Years For the U.S. To Completely Change Its Mind About Weed

The Real Reason Pop Musicians Die Young

Here's What Stands In the Way Of a One-Hour Train Ride Between Washington and New York








Here Are Some of Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Best Photos From Space

10/28/14
Image
On a clear day, you can see forever (or at least from Havana to Washington, D.C.). (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 saw a sight hitherto unseen by human eyes: The earth rising over the horizon of the moon. The photo that lunar module pilot William Anders took that day became one of the defining images of the 20th century, and forever changed the way humans saw their own planet.

“In lunar orbit, it occurred to me that, here we are, all the way up there at the moon, and we’re studying this thing, and it’s really the Earth as seen from the moon that’s the most interesting aspect of this flight,” Anders said later.

Many decades after Apollo 8, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield was up in the International Space Station, when his son, who was helping him get a handle on social media, suggested via email that Hadfield ask people on earth what they wanted him to take pictures of. "The resounding answer was, 'I want a picture of my hometown, of where I’m from,'" Hadfield told Quartz.

“To me, that was delightful. At first I thought, 'how narcissistic.' But then when I thought about it, it struck me for two different reasons: people are proud of where they are from. And they have an ache and a desire to see how they fit in with everything else. It’s a dawning self-awareness, like seeing yourself in a mirror for the very first time, but on a global scale.”

Last year, Hadfield became the most famous astronaut on Earth when his Twitter account went viral. He gained over 1 million followers, whom he entertained and educated during his stint on the International Space Station with beautiful photographs of our planet taken from orbit.

In all, Hadfield took some 45,000 images, most of which were beamed directly to NASA and stashed in storage. “I had never seen most of them,” says Hadfield.

“It occurred to me last year, ‘What is going to become of that treasure trove of self-awareness?’ It would be a waste if nobody ever saw it. So I went through all 45,000 and chose a few thousand. But I can’t publish a book with 3,000 photos, so I took this this as my precept: ‘If somebody who wanted to buy this book were at the window next to me, what would I show them if we were floating around the world once?'”

The result is “You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes,” an astounding volume of 192 full-color photographs covering every continent except Antarctica. Here are some highlights, along with Hadfield’s comments:

Detroit, Michigan, right, and Windsor, Ontario—two countries, one river. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“There is a fanciful notion that borders are manmade constructs and you can’t see them from space. But you can, because of agricultural use, municipal patterns, even national parks. I chose these two images [above and below] very deliberately. You can also see the history of the two nations and the history of the land use in those two pictures, such as the long thin patterns of settlement in the French agricultural colonies [top left]. To me there’s a wealth of human information in that photograph. I find it intriguing to look at how our culture, economics, the invention of the automobile, all overlay and become evident just for a casual observer flying in orbit.”

While the line drawn between Tijuana (left) and San Diego (right) may have been drawn arbitrarily, it is not imaginary. (Chis Hadfield/NASA)

“The border between Mexico and California almost looks like a clog in a drain. You have this great pressure on one side trying to go through a very narrow plug at the bottom. It’s almost like the will of the people is visible from space. There’s no difference between the geology or topography on either side of that line. That is just a straight line drawn by some politician or leader a century ago. Yet it becomes such a defining line of people’s dreams.”

The bright lights of Cairo announce the opening of the north-flowing Nile’s delta, with Jerusalem answering to the northeast. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“All we know of our civilization and history, everything from the Sphinx to what’s going on right now in Gaza, that’s all right there in one glance out of the window, brought to life by the lights of dusk. A fascinating part of the world to look at.”

Venice, floating, connected to the mainland by only the thinnest of umbilical cords. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield writes in the introduction to the book that he was struck by how different the photos looked on paper than on his screen. This shot of Venice is good example: “You don’t have time to think about the complexity of the image when you first take it. But when you get it on screen—or even better hold it your hand on paper, probe it with your finger, bring it to your eyes—you see it differently.”

The Richat Structure in Mauritania, also known as the Eye of the Sahara, is a landmark for astronauts. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“When you’re holding a camera, the process goes like this: You’re looking with your naked eye and seeing a vast expanse. And then something catches your eye because of color or a glint of the sun. So you grab a camera and do your best to take a picture. And then the image has disappeared. It’s somewhere in the camera and you can’t see it with your eye anymore. But you have a mental snapshot of how the picture looked. Then you open it on a computer and get a digital reminder of what you saw in your mind. Sometimes it’s a little different. A difference of colour, of perspective. You’ll often see things you missed, because when you were looking with your naked eye it passed by so quickly.”

Salt from evaporation ponds at the Great Salt Lake, Utah, attracts pastel-colored algae, brine shrimp, birds… and this one lone wolf. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield’s captions, both on Twitter and in the book, reveal a rich imagination. But maybe it is just experience, he suggests. “Most people have a sort of a fanciful vision of what an astronaut is. Choose your movie. But it is so very, very far from the truth. It’s a very disciplined and very highly educated and mentally agile group of people just because of the complexity of jobs we’re asked to do. There is a good mix of imagination but also a depth of experience and awareness. When you see one thing, you’re thinking of other things things you’ve had exposure to. So I don’t know if that’s imagination or just depth of experience.”

The majesty of the Himalayas. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

Hadfield says that he didn’t want his pictures to look like satellite images. Rather, he wanted them to have a human element. “Some satellite images are good by chance. But it’s random. Who is it judging that the picture is OK? It’s not the satellite, it’s us. So it’s almost always better to cut out the middle man—or the middle machine. If you can put the camera in the hands of someone who is interpreting real time, not only will they be likely to take that [good] picture more often, but they will see things are are transient but will otherwise be forever missed.”

Much of the densely built-up waterfront around San Francisco sits on landfill, often a blend of rubble and sediment dragged up from the bay. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“I don’t want to tell people what to think. To me that is both transient and ineffective. I would far rather present people with the reality of something in widespread detail and and let them think for themselves. It would have been very easy to proselytize an hit people over the head with it, to say ‘Look you’ve got to think like I do.’ That is not my role.”

A twist of cloud near Arica, Chile. North of the equator, the spiral would turn counter-clockwise. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

The mission that shot Hadfield to fame was also his last. He is now retired. “I actually don’t miss it. I think it’s probably how what I did for a living is perceived. Most people only become aware of the main events of other people. And they think, ‘Wow, what a huge zenith of life. Boy, what a miraculous thing, everything else must be terrible. Or crushed into nothingness.’ It’s not like that at all. I don’t spend much time—actually virtually none—wishing that all of that was still happening. But there are a few people I miss, people who died before their time, pilots that I knew. The commander of Columbia who was a great friend of mine. I feel a great injustice that they aren’t still here.”

The area around Perereira Barreto in Brazil, was dammed in the 1990s to create a hydroelectric plant, submerging many farms and even a suspension bridge. (Chris Hadfield/NASA)

“The pictures belong to everybody. We’re donating the proceeds to the Red Cross. My motivation was not to get rich making this book. It was much more that I wanted people to see the world the way we see it from the space station and hopefully feel some of the change of perspective.”

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

It Only Took 45 Years For the U.S. To Completely Change Its Mind About Weed

The Real Reason Pop Musicians Die Young

Here's What Stands In the Way Of a One-Hour Train Ride Between Washington and New York








New Podcast: Kriston Capps on 'The Architecture of American Literacy'

10/28/14
Image
Carnegie library in Bryan, Texas. (Texas State Library and Archives)

The latest CityCast podcast, produced in partnership with Southern California Public Radio's KPCC, features CityLab staff writer Kriston Capps as he looks at the architectural and social legacy of Carnegie libraries with host Ben Bergman. Click below to listen or download.

CityCast: "The Architecture of American Literacy"

CityCast is also available on Stitcher and iTunes








New Podcast: Kriston Capps on 'The Architecture of American Literacy'

10/28/14
Image
Carnegie library in Bryan, Texas. (Texas State Library and Archives)

The latest CityCast podcast, produced in partnership with Southern California Public Radio's KPCC, features CityLab staff writer Kriston Capps as he looks at the architectural and social legacy of Carnegie libraries with host Ben Bergman. Click below to listen or download.

CityCast: "The Architecture of American Literacy"

CityCast is also available on Stitcher and iTunes