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4x4x4: part one
April 24, 2005: Imagine it's autumn of 2001. The morning after 9/11. President Bush is on TV addressing the nation. After expressing grief for the victims and extending sympathy to families and friends, he looks straight into the camera and says: "...and I promise you Iraq will soon have a democratically elected government."

The impact of jaws hitting floors across the USA would have caused a continental earthquake.

Four years ago, in the spring of 2001, I started "On The QT". The bi-weekly email newsletter from whence the larger Mondo QT project evolved. In those days, QT's scope was more limited. Generally centered on events in a handful of northeast cities, and largely influenced by new urbanism. PEEP, the art part of Mondo QT didn't yet exist. Recently I began reformatting QT Archive material, including those early newsletters. Which made me think about how QT evolved and where it's headed. As did a question posed recently by Homespun Bloggers: "How has blogging changed your life?" So here goes. Ruminations re QT's past, present and future.

Groves & Grooves

Charles Willeford was a great American pulpster of the 1950's paperback original school. In the 80's, he wrote a series of more mainstream crime novels set in South Florida. Willeford, a long time Floridian, described a landscape increasing impacted by public corruption, real estate bubbles, drug crime, illegal immigration and a overall culture of grift. When I read Willeford in the early 90's, I was living in cities in New Jersey and New York. Yet it all sounded familiar. Looking around, it seemed that except for the citrus groves, things were mighty Floridian.

Then there was HUD. Not the movie with Paul Newman, but the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. When local politicians were caught with hands in the cookie jar, the jar so often said "HUD". A similar phenom was observable in more intimate settings. Such as when renting a condo in a building in a neighborhood the federal government had declared historic.

The building was a former religious institution: a handsome example of holy Victoriana. HUD helped with its financing and conversion; a cob job done by undocumented Chinese workers who didn't know a bearer beam from a bean curd. Crucial building permits weren't obtained and city inspectors didn't notice their absence. Maintenance followed the same high standards. In heavy rains, water poured through the roof and ran down the interior walls. The condo units were being flipped back & forth within a circle of association members, realtors and lenders. The main force was a family I'll call the "Fraudblatts". Joanie Fraudblatt was their poor relation who lived on the premises and served as inspector deflector. She was actually rather likable, despite her crooked streak. But then-- that was a family condition. Joanie enjoyed dishing the numerous sharp deals of her relatives. And once dropped the line, "You know, there's a lot of HUD money out there..."

Out where?

Joanie's words stuck in my mind and sparked my curiosity. Years later they led to QT getting into the groove on topics such as HUD pumped real estate frauds, FHA loan default clean-ups, and the Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae mattress. As well as the housing bubble these entities helped inflate in the name of creating affordable home ownership. So QT owes something to Joanie and the Fraudblatts. As it does to the players from the theater of public corruption in various locations locations locations.

Main Street Grifters with Ubermensch Delusions (MSGUD) are a QT staple. Morally speaking, MSGUD are a Counter Culture/Big 80's hybrid. Since taxpayers increasingly pick up the tab for government adventures in revitalization and our overall free market, MSGUD can romp in fields of fraud and mismanagement without ever taking a financial hit. If OPM is the drug that buoys the MSGUD mentality, cocaine is the one that defines it. Not all MSGUD do coke. Yet stories abound of X Mayor Joe Blow of this or that city, or indicted developer so & so, ducking into the washroom to emerge sniffling in an egomaniacal rage. Scratch "sniffling" and you have MSGUD at their most typical.

As to how blogging has changed my life, well, Mondo QT isn't really a true blog. Though I considered going in that direction about a year ago. But I figured the format might lead me to write only paragraph size pieces and snappy comebacks. That being said, some people blog beautifully. And Mondo QT is bloggish enough so I feel I can answer the Homespun Bloggers' question.

Aspects of QT that have changed my life for the better include the times when I feel like I've held something up to a new light. Or have preserved the story of some person, place or event that might have been forgotten. Plus it's always inspiring to see how many talented, determined people are out there slugging away at their own local Soviet Unions. As it is to meet artists from all over the world in free mental space. It's also fun to make people laugh. Particularly at public servants who forget their place. I mean-- if Jeeves came into your bedroom and instead of turning down your covers, climbed under them and passed gas wouldn't that deserve a larf?

Some might say a not-so-good result of doing Mondo QT is how it's upped my cynicism about public servants. And government institutions that claim to have the public interest at heart. Along with skepticism about reformers who ride the other guy's corruption to a place at the same trough and progressives who think screwing over people for a buck is OK as long as you say the right thing re gay marriage. None the less, I do think nostalgically of the days when I bought more swampland in Florida. It looked so nice in the brochures.

When I started QT I was considerably more enamored of new urbanism. Though my faith was crumbling beneath the evidence of day to day life in post industrial cities. Because of its joined-at-the-hip relationship with real estate marketing and reliance on taxpayer development dollars, new urbanism is unable to speak the truth about street crime or wholeheartedly confront public corruption. An anecdote: at one of the many public forums I attended in several cities (the kind where citizens meet with municipal administrations to air concerns about drug dealers yata yata) my local Business Improvement District (BID) representative, a proselytizing new urbanista I'll call Jack Janusteller, kept claiming crime in the nabe was a matter of perception rather than reality. Till the mayor and his entourage left the room. Then Janusteller drew me aside and in a conspiratorial tone said: "Believe me, if I could sell my house I'd be gone tomorrow."

Then there's the snob thing. Despite claims to value diversity, most new urbanites have little sympathy for low income city dwellers and are actively hostile to the idea of bringing manufacturing jobs back to cities. Where they are sorely needed by a mired underclass. As example, New York State recently refused to allow the St. Lawrence Cement Company to open a facility on the outskirts of the city of Hudson. A city with an entrenched, violent drug scene and a large population of poor people who need good jobs. But the area also has a large population of affluent second homers from New York City and antique dealers who prefer things picturesque. The battle over the proposed cement factory raged for several years and many yards and store windows sported signs urging the state to say "yes" or "no" to the factory. Poor looking homes had the lion's share of the "yes" signs. But the vision of revitalization that ultimately won out was one based on leisure and consumption rather than production.

The new urban vision of revitalization is an airless one of movie set Yurrupeen cities and ye olde toy villages. With the under-employed living in taxpayer subsidized reservations far from zee sidewalk cafes. Except when they appear with broom or baggies in hand. New urbanists don't seem to remember that the great American cities whose decline they bemoan were the product of industrialization. And that much of their cultural vitality and social stability came from a solidly employed blue collar population.

I still believe the future of our cities is a matter of crucial importance. In that context all roads still lead to places like Springfield, Massachusetts, Camden, New Jersey and Buffalo, New York. But New Urbanism is at best head-in-the-sand boosterism, and at worst, part of the problem.

Next up in 4x4x4 Part Two: Tomorrow Land at Mondo QT. But first, one last look back. Like most Americans, I see 9/11 as a turning point in our national consciousness. And realize that policy paradigms shifted. But like Lieutenant Columbo used to say, one thing keeps bothering me. And my boss is a stickler about loose ends. So please Mister Dubya, I just have to ask-- when will Osama Bin Laden be caught?

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"Be it ever so decadent there's no place like home!"

Tom Lehrer, Songs by Tom Lehrer, 1953

"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."

Abraham Lincoln's review of a book, Bad Press, Laura Ward, 2002

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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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