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April 14th, 2018

The Curse Of Gentrification!

Dimitri’s, our little neighborhood hangout for the Thunderbird and Southern Comfort crowd has shut its doors, and the building’s owners are looking for new tenants. Gentrification happens.

Dimitri’s was pretty unapologetic about what it was. Its mascot on the overhead sign there and right on the doorways was a staggering drunk clinging to a lamppost while chugging a bottle. It was a legendary neighborhood dive bar long before I arrived. But if it was a trouble spot I never noticed it. I think I only saw the police there once or twice in the eighteen years I’ve lived here. I see them regularly by the 7-11 on The Avenue. Occasionally they’d have a barbecue in that parking lot next to the building and I’d walk by to the lovely smell of pork on the grill. But it wasn’t good for its clientele. Maybe it’s my Baptist upbringing: when I was a preschooler my bitter Baptist grandmother would take me by the hand as we walked to the grocery store, and whenever we passed by a bar she’d point at the door and say darkly, “the devil lives in there.” I laugh now, but there’s something to be said for that Baptist skepticism of drink. I’ve often told friends back in D.C. that between the crowd waiting for the methadone clinic down by The Avenue to open and the one waiting for Dimitri’s to open, the human decay on display in front of Dimitri’s seemed lots worse. 

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

May 4th, 2015

Not The Problem

Captain Jack on what the problem is…

the problem

For most of last week I was confined to quarters after 10PM, here in Charm City, aka Mobtown, aka Baltimore. I didn’t have it as bad as many here did…I have a small, but nice little Baltimore rowhouse to bounce around in and anyway I’m usually in bed by 10PM. I am not a service working trying to make ends meet on a job I suddenly can’t work because it’s closed during my shift. My income does not depend on tips from late evening revelers. And as the people of Hampden, a largely white neighborhood just down the street from me proved last Saturday, even if I strayed for a little while from the curfew orders, the police probably wouldn’t start beating the crap out of me. Unless I had one of my cameras and my press badge on me anyway.

And while I am completely sympathetic with the protestors, the frustration and anger generally with police unaccountability, and was greatly relieved when our State’s Attorney leveled what seems to me to be thoroughly appropriate charges against the policemen and women involved in the death of Freddy Gray (there was a joke going around about how, acting on a request by the Roman Governor, the Baltimore City Police determined that Jesus fell into a box of nails and accidentally nailed himself to a cross…), I was mostly in favor of the curfew. Human consciousness isn’t all perfect rational thinking even when it keeps telling us it is. When a mob gets started…and we are every single one of us vulnerable to getting swept up in one…then it’s the lizard brain in charge and the first thing is you have to break up the mob.

But on twitter the other day Atrios was saying that curfews don’t solve anything and that is absolutely true too.  A curfew doesn’t solve a problem anymore than a fire extinguisher does.  A fire extinguisher puts out a fire. The fire was the problem you didn’t solve.

Yes that extension cord keeps getting hot…yes it’s a little frayed…but it still works…

For a good overview of the problem Baltimore (and the nation generally), didn’t, isn’t, won’t solve, read this…

The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore

There is a difference people keep missing, conveniently or ignorantly, between excusing violence and explaining it.  Humanity didn’t fall from grace, we rose from the jungle and the hot African plains, seeking it. But we carry the jungle with us, and it lives within us…all of us…and any animal will fight back when it’s cornered. The problem isn’t the rioters, don’t be pointing your finger there, the problem is the attitude generally toward the neighborhoods that rioted, and the people who live in them. They are our neighbors, they are our fellow Americans, and look what we’ve done to them.

Look at what we are becoming.

marquette-march-comments

baldwin

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Not The Problem

May 2nd, 2014

Sliding Into The Trench Of Republican Governance

Baltimore got a little rain earlier in the week. And by a little I mean about half a foot over a couple days. It was the same system that spawned tornadoes that killed a bunch of people in western south, and it seems generally part of the same disturbed weather patterns we’ve been having here in North America, thanks to the energy companies and republican reticence to do anything about preventing ecological catastrophe that might take money out of the pockets of needy billionaires.  But lurking in the weather that’s been pummeling us is something else besides the looming effects of global warming.  Ironically, the pulpit thumpers are right, our civilization is crumbling. Well…in a manner of speaking…

baltimore-sinkhole

I point my finger at two culprits, but maybe they’re both one and the same: That Randian-libertarian notion that taxation is theft, plus that government regulation of the marketplace is also a kind of theft and anyone who advocates it is a moocher who wants a free lunch. I swam in libertarian waters for most of my twenties, until Reagan cured me of it, and I’m here to tell you there are a lots of useful tools in that pool who really believe the invisible hand of the marketplace will create a Heaven on Earth if we would only let it. Well…right up there is your Heaven.

My little village made the network news about this one! It’s not like other parts of the city aren’t falling apart too, or for that matter other parts of other cities all over the country, but you can see how something like this unnerves even people who don’t live in the slums. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, my God those things can happen to the nice neighborhoods too.  What strikes you listening to the chatter is how the little details that make things make better sense go missing from the conversation of people you don’t live in the vicinity. I saw several people talking about how Baltimore streets are sinking.  Well, yes and no.

One thing to understand about Baltimore is it kinda straddles the boundary between the coastal plains and the Maryland piedmont…those lovely rolling hills of Maryland.  (Our oddly shaped little state is very diverse in its geography, and there is beauty everywhere) Parts of the city are actually way higher up than other parts but you don’t really notice how big the elevation changes are because they are gradual in most places, unlike say San Francisco, and you don’t see the grade change until you get somewhere you can look a distance. The streets and sidewalks gently slope up and down, up and down and the walk isn’t difficult and you look back and you notice the city core off in the distance is now almost entirely below you. The north-western part of the city is in the hills and the rest of it is on the coastal plains. That’s how my house can be something like 60 feet higher than the Jones Falls River even though on the map I look like I’m right next to it.

Which all means laying tracks for a railroad through all this can be a tad complicated, particularly when your running stock are steam engines which don’t do steep grades all that well.  A little history…

In the 1890s what was the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, the first common carrier railroad company in the U.S., dug a bunch of tunnels and trenches through the city including one really big tunnel going under Howard Street, to connect with points north from its Camden station because that was actually the less expensive way to do it, compared with a surface line through the center of the city or going around the city. This is why now you might be walking along a city street and suddenly there’s this deep trench on the other side of a cast iron fence and it’s not one of our little rivers down there, it’s a set of tracks coming out of a tunnel.

Building those tunnels and trenches bankrupted the company shortly after the lines opened up, and it was in receivership for about three years because the economy tanked and all their profit forecasts went down the tubes. It’s tough to run a railroad in bad economic times. It costs money to cut the grades a train can run, and lay some tracks down, let alone cut tunnels and dig trenches out of the middle of a large city. And then you have to maintain all that.

But money is tight these days…for some reason…and everyone in the city who was here when the Howard Street tunnel caught fire in July 2001 knows what is going to happen now.  People were complaining about the retaining wall that collapsed last Wednesday, years before this, and CSX kept telling them there was nothing to worry about.  If it was ever inspected at all in the past decade I’m guessing someone didn’t want to tell the board of directors their yearly bonuses would need to be spent shoring up a hundred plus year old stone wall. Now CSX is probably going to sue the city for damaging its tracks and the city will sue CSX back for damaging its street…and so on and so forth.  And none of it needed to happen. But it did, because what was fifty years ago a reasonable rate of return on investment is woefully inadequate today.  We want our double-digit returns and we want them now.

So the factories close and there is less for the rail companies to carry. So the businesses close because workers don’t make enough to buy things like they use to and there is even less for the rail companies to carry. So the economic heart of the cities shrivels, and with it, the city itself.

Maintenance is expensive. The city has a hard time keeping its infrastructure in good shape because it’s lost the massive industrial economic base it once had like a lot of old east coast cities did.  But look around…the problem is Everywhere…

(Reuters) – More than 63,000 bridges across the United States are in urgent need of repair, with most of the aging, structurally compromised structures part of the interstate highway system, an analysis of recent federal data has found.

Meanwhile the banks and Wall Street keep demanding instant and ever higher returns on investment, and Grover Norquist wants to shrink government to a small enough size he can drown it in a bathtub.  But government is a communal thing as in Community, and what is being whittled down to size is that sense of community, that we are all fellow Americans…neighbors.  It is America Norquist and his pals are drowning in that bathtub, so they can feast without being presented a bill.  And everyone is putting off maintenance because the money done all trickled up and the rising tide didn’t so much lift all the boats as sink the cars. And nature doesn’t care why you didn’t shore up the wall and improve drainage around it.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Sliding Into The Trench Of Republican Governance

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