Sunday, March 11, 2007

Weekend Reading - Moses (Again) and Lotto Therapy

Moses Preposes - Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin takes on the current revaluation of New York superbuilder Robert Moses in his article on "How two urban Strongman got the job done" where he compares Moses to current Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. He asks whether every city needs a strongman, and in describing the "boon" Daley's reign has supposedly created for the city, he seems to gravitate towards a qualified "Yes."

The lust for strongmen, of course, is an infantile regression back to childhood, an admission that we're too weak to actually become adults, take responsibility for our actions, and work things out among ourselves, so let's bring back Daddy to tell us exactly what to do. And, surprise, surprise, even that doesn't kill off our compulsive sibling rivalry - we curry favor with Daddy against our rivals with incessant flattery and grab what we can when we think Daddy Strongman isn't looking. And as it goes on and on, Daddy just grows increasingly curdled and contemptuous of our fawning weakness.

Kamin almost gets it right, quoting Northwestern University urban historian Henry Binford. "I think you need strong leaders," Binford says, "but strong leaders need to be checked and balanced. The key to having a good city, in my view, is not having a strong leader, but having adequate representation for lots of different folks in the city. Then you need strong leaders to mediate and get things done."

But Kamin can't leave it there. An earlier comment demonstrates how much the aura of the Strongman is predicated on a mythology that draws its power on the ability to selectively reveal and hide basic facts, based on how much they feed or deflate the myth.

"The hole in the ground at ground zero," write Kamin, "remained a hole, for example, while Chicago converted a comparably sized hole into dazzling Millennium Park." Except that the analogy is hollow. The World Trade Center site is commercial and privately owned, Millennium Park is public and city-owned. Kamin ignores the more appropriate analogy. While Ground Zero has been vacant since September of 2001, Daley left his equivalent challenge, Block 37, an empty dirt pile for a decade and a half. Read it all here.

Lotto - Better Than Sex? - the Sunday New York Times has an article by Benedict Carley on how Lotto Makes Sense, Even for Losers, that quotes Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders “It’s not just winning the money," she explains, "but anticipating winning the money that is exciting, and the two experiences are similar neurobiologically."

"This sense of power," writes Carley, "infuses the waiting period with purpose. And the hope of a huge payoff, however remote, is itself a source of pleasure." [See, mythology, and infantile regression above] Read it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the Kamin/Moses article.

And what's with quoting Binford (for whom I have great respect) without giving him space for an illustrative historical example? As it stands, he didn't need Binford or Ebner in the story except for their cachet.