Detroit Population Falling. Surprise.

March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

I subscribe to Detroit article alerts through the New York Times. It’s a good way to make certain I receive at least one email a day. These alerts usually follow with the headlines of some politician being under investigation or another school district failing to come close to their annual budget. I was forwarded (by the NY Times) their article last Tuesday where they reported census numbers for the city of Detroit. In Ms. Seelye article there feels an almost happy undertone to which they can again show that Detroit is still the ole trusty “failed city”. Even before finishing the article I was tired of this recent lack of insight and perspective and I went back to read some more of Jerry Herron’s work, a man actually living and believing in Detroit.

Sure, the NY Times over the years has a view of Detroit as a failure in process. A failure because it was the city that invented and defined the American middle class. A failure because it built the infrastructure for an explosion to the evil suburbia. Because instead of it promoting millions of autonomous economic bits the city nurtured condension into a few large complex systems of production lines and assembly plants.  It failed because it could not keep it’s best and brightest young people in the city. It failed because it didn’t follow the formula for city centers in the way every single major city does (at least east coast). It failed. It failed. It failed.

But……. isn’t the middle class kind of an important social invention? Is not Detroit extremely successful in raising up one of the most densely diverse and populated regions in the U.S? Didn’t it promote early efficiency in manufacturing? Shouldn’t we be grateful of the brain drain Detroit bought and developed? Wasn’t it the city where the African American families could make a good wage, buy a home and car, raise a family? Isn’t Detroit still in the heart of the single most productive and resource rich regions in North America?

The city of Detroit is still shrinking, we get it New York Times. But the Detroit metropolitan area is growing, and has been. I really am tired of the media’s creation “decay porn” industry that Detroit, Flint, Gary, etc. are the poster children for. And although I really like seeing the city in commercials and shows, I’m tired of being told by those same shows that Detroit is some cold wasteland of empty lots and rusted metal. It’s aggravating to watch that Chrysler commercial asit portrays  their all black tinted windowed urban tank speeding along in thumping silence as it blows along the familiar freeway signs and monuments of a freezing cold Detroit. Or the gritty cop show Detroit 187, showing a jagged camera bumping along Detroit’s potholed roads as its characters continually race after the young street kid or knock on the door of the rich baron’s home all the while bracing for the constant cold and gray. You would think this is hell unless a person had been there for a baseball game in August.

The sun shines in Detroit, and the city should be viewed as at the beginning of the next cycle rather than relic of what’s wrong with everything or a romantic decline of civilization. Don’t believe everything you read.

My good friend, a candidate in the urban planning department, has a terrific blog where he examines both Detroit and Wayne County in a much more indepth and insightful way.


Uncut, Mycoskie, Neon Glasses, and Pee Wee: My SXSW

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Austin’s South By Southwest officially kicked off last Thursday and goes full bore into the next Sunday. Of course I’ve known it from the music it showcases and all the bands that come in droves to play small shows to huge audiences. I’m in the midst of seeing some great bands and staying up too late to do so.

What SXSW is also becoming respected for is it’s Film and Interactive Presence that run prior to the music days. In order to get free access to all the music I volunteered to be a grunt for the Interactive Panels that met in the Austin Convention Center. It turned out to be a great experience, I met some really good people and was able to catch some of the topics and people who sat in on the panels. The job I had was akin to herding cats, setting the room for the panel, and trying to generally be as informative to the guests and participants as I possibly could. Some of my highlights were as follows:

Talking with Casey Pugh of StarWars:Uncut about Charlie Sheen

Wondering during Blake Mycoskie’s keynote how crappy shoes sold for triple digits is a great business model

The Blogger Lounge

Being happily surprised by the comedian panel: Chris Hardwick and Carrie Brownstein?! Yes.

Confirming the maker of is a smart kid, and definitely insane

The volunteer crew of 18ABCD!

Seeing the visual note-taking of Ogilvy

Having Paul Reubens outcrowd Robert Rodriguez. The line traced the entire fourth floor of the convention center.

Being asked if ” (I) want to know about urthoughts?” at the trade show

Felicia Day

I felt the theme I saw most during the interactive panel was this idea of crowdsourcing for information and content. There seems to be a huge desire to use social websites (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) in a more active way, not only as a passive tool but as an incentive program to invest in each other and our surroundings. This seems to really be driven by the advancement of the smart phone and the ability for people to not only receive information instantly on the activity around their location, but to contribute to that information. It’s a very exciting in concept – but do I really want people to know that I’m not home or that I’m home a lot!? and do I have to get a huge expensive phone that is more advanced than Apollo 13? Maybe next SX.

Diocletian Was Ahead of His Time

March 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Near the end of 2008 Mike Duncan started The History of Rome podcast, what I would like to consider the best crash course in the history of the Roman Empire next the Mr. Gibbon himself. The great part of his podcast is that there is no reading required. Mike has done all the leg work and assembled great podcast after podcast of this incredibly interesting story of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I say fall, because it does happen. As of this date his growing slate of podcasts has yet to reach the great fame of the Emperor Constantine, and I dread when the day will happen when Mike has to describe how the ancient Roman world was involved with the first World War.

I do this little explanation because we hail from the same university (go, ahem, vikings) and because he has come to the point of history where my favorite emperor has been introduced, described, and retired.  Yes, my favorite emperor is Diocletian.

Sure, Hadrian can be a close second and who can really dislike Trajan or Marcus Aurelius. But for me, Diocletian was so far in the future for his time that he single handedly shaped the transition from antiquity to the middle ages. I might be overstating my opinion, but if I won’t do the overstating no one will.

A little about why I believe Diocletian is incredibly awesome:

He was a great builder in for the Empire. His Palace in Croatia, his various temples in Egypt and the Middle East. He just had a taste for architecture, although not of strictly Roman styles as this article touches on.

At the middle of the 3rd century Rome was a mess, there were emperors rising up and getting killed left and right. If that wasn’t worse, the borders of the empire were being overrun by numerous tribes all over the the place. It didn’t matter what was on the seat of Rome, Egypt was ignoring rules, German tribes were doing whatever they want, and the British Isles were on their own most of the time. The presence and title of emperor had grown pretty meaningless since Marcus Aurelius. The emperor during the Crisis of the 3rd Century was usually some military general or snot nosed kid, a different manboy every other year who spent his time fighting disloyalty and enemy armies all over the place rather than dealing with what really was killing Rome: economic stagnation and infighting. Rome was a mess and, as Mr. Duncan puts it, on life support.

Enter Diocletian. The guy seemed to come from nowhere. He wasn’t from an illustrious family or a great military mind, he was, however, a brilliant societal observer and shrewd pragmatist. He began his reign as emperor like many of his predecessors, mainly by taking a bigger army that named him emperor and killing a man, Carinus, who also claimed to be emperor. Diocletian solidified power unlike his predecessor – he forgave those opposed to him in his fight with Carinus. He didn’t purge or burn, he let them go and let them keep their jobs.

Diocletian’s triumphs were many. He recognized no single man could do all that the office of emperor required, so he sliced off duties and handed them to men – he, *gulp*, shared power. In establishing the Tetrarchy rule, he constructed a new pecking order that fluctuated throughout his reign and yet allowed the emperor to do his job better and force stability throughout the Empire. He delegated and invested men offices that had at one time been done only by the single emperor. He kept this new power structure in line with several brilliant practical moves.  He never ruled or even visited Rome, moving the capital to the East. He began taxing Romans (yes, they didn’t have to pay taxes – at all) and all citizens more closely, neutering the old power families and holding all people to higher expectations (and returns). He grew the bureaucracy and the size of the army. He installed his own governors around the empire that were outside of the local power vacuum and listened to him.

Most interesting to me is Diocletian radically changed the image of the emperor augustus from “the first citizen of Rome” to “lord of Rome” and aligned himself as a divinity to the god Jupiter. This is incredibly ballsy for the time and for a Roman, a conversation with Jupiter and any speak of earthly divinity could only be found in death prior to this. It was likely he found his divine inspiration in the cultures of the East (Persia namely), and introduced it to Rome. Of course the French “Sun King” would famously take this to the amazing ends during the 17th and 18th century. He basically poured the foundation for what would harden and become the reign of the first substantial Christian emperor Constantine and the ensuing thousand years of the middle ages and their divine emperors and kings.

Diocletian, along with the new tax system, instituted what would become recognizable to the middle age practice of serfdom by taking a census of every citizen and requiring them to do the same job and to pass that job down to their sons. So, if on the day of the census you were busy being a potter – it was permanent. He also forbade families to move from the town where that census was taken. This move of permanence can been seen today, in our surnames. Find out what Smith or Tanner or Pitman or Leech or Hooper or Dexter or Mayer mean. Diocletian wanted economic predictability in the empire, and this is what he thought would work. And it did, for several hundred years.

Already this post is too long – boring! But I have to mention his role in the history of Christianity, and how I think Constantine ultimately benefited from Diocletian’s tract on this new upstart religion. Yes, Diocletian persecuted Christians. He did this because in several ways they were just too new – they weren’t like the ancient Jewish faith or the generational belief in Roman gods. They were new, and they had no single voice or presence. Everyone with an itch would be touting some new ritual or belief and Diocletian saw this as not only angering the Roman gods, but leading to societal chaos. I have not gotten the impression that he wanted the people who called themselves Christians exterminated, that would have been counter productive, he just wanted them to get the order right of who they pay taxes to (pay Caesar what is Caesar’s was kinda being ignored) and stop thinking they were entitled to be taken seriously because they were an immature belief. I’m not going to even care about what attracted people to the faith of Christianity in the Roman Empire, but there was a lot of new imperial rules being handed down by a large part of the population beholden to Diocletian. Besides, persecution mostly meant they couldn’t hold positions or they were required to do the traditional Roman rituals.

I wish I could convey how un-idealistic Diocletian was about religion – Diocletian was an ultimate pragmatist and not some religious zealot out to kill beliefs that weren’t his own. When Diocletian eventually retired (yeah, he retired!) and died Constantine would use the mythology card to harness this persecuted minority and ride it to his own power vacuum.

There are so many intricate things Mike goes into on his podcast. He has a new free podcast every week and I always look forward to hearing it. Except episode 46 and the whole assassination of Julius Caesar, that is just so played out in history.

If Star Wars Was Real (It’s Not?!)

March 3, 2011 § Leave a comment


Came across this site (Star Wars Was Real) via another site (The Cool Hunter) – down the rabbit hole – and had to write a blurb on it. I had to, because it’s well – cool.  The premise of the site is to use old photos, adverbs, celebrities, and events to then photoshop a touch of Star Wars iconography into the past. Not only crushing the two worlds of George Lucas and our own, but the whole time warping between our own 1940’s and a Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

It’s great, and clever. Some posts have Emperor Palpatine running the oil industry, Boba Fett involved in the JFK assassination, and the Imperial Army somehow being involved in the Allies victory over the Germans in WWII. They might have also been involved on the side of the Nazi’s, but it’s a little foggy (like the amazing image of the AT-AT phantom looming over a deserted freeway loop). Regardless, most of the posts are from three years ago – so once again I’m last to know what’s cool.

Good thing I have learned not to care about being cool. Really – I don’t care.

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