How do you provide housing for an onslaught of urban refugees? According to figures cited by a recent article in The Economist, India’s cities require 25 million homes to accommodate massive growth. A number of firms have begun to construct massive low-cost townships in the suburbs to replace the slums of cinematic infamy.

Real estate savings aside prices are kept stable by cheap construction. Bricks have given way to concrete blocks manufactured from recycled waste material. The structures are restricted to a couple of stories to prevent the need for massive projects or elevators. Lodgings are small, some designed as single rooms with a sink and toilet. Plans for these low-income planned communities offer an assortment of designs to appeal both to individuals and families.

The great white flight of suburban migration which drained America’s cities in the 70’s and 80’s seems to have contracted. Looking at San Francisco and New York you can see long-term residents priced out by a monied invasion reversing the trend of inner-city decay and expelling lower income citizens to cheaper places outside the metropolises. I’ve been waiting and watching for a Parisian effect, wealth surrounded by run-down banlieues.

The thought of constructing high density communities of lower income residents causes pause. Have council estates in the UK really proven to be a good solution for affordable housing? Have the American projects provided people with the opportunity to join the fabled middle class? I’ve never been to England and I haven’t spent much time in projects but by all appearances concentrating poverty into spaces away from the jobs, amenities and opportunities promised by civic centers sounds like a disaster in the making.

A theory of ghettoes is that ownership inspires a pride and stewardship that prevents decay and crime from erupting. Public housing is a cesspool because no one owns their home and there’s no incentive for them to care for anything. While I’ve known many renters of many backgrounds who don’t mind a mess, but I’ve never met anyone who revels in crumbling walls, turf wars, broken elevators and no heat.

According to the Economist these recent building projects are the result of two nationalized banks funding finance companies to administer mortgages. Hordes of people can soon descend on their prefabricated dream homes only a short car-ride, moderate transit trip or impossibly distant bike ride from their jobs, the city shops and everything urbanites can expect simply by walking out their front doors. And if the economy has another reality adjustment and people begin to lose work, default on loans, have to make decisions between feeding the baby and repairing the cheap concrete wall behind the sink, well then what? Fenced off townships surrounding Mumbai? A slightly nicer slum pushed a little further outside the city?

Top image courtesy of Tata Housing and is from their Shubh Griha project. Bottom image is by Flickr user AK Foto who will probably get pissed about my not asking first. Defeating Global Poverty hipped me to it.

Propaganda has long been a staple for states in time of duress or war. Trying to convince people that they need to sacrifice their daily comforts or even their lives takes a lot of cunning manipulation that cannot be exposed as cunning manipulation. It should hardly be surprising that as communication has changed so has the nature of propaganda.

Israel probably has one of the worst international reputations due to the unresolved situation of Palestine. To cope with the growth of anti-Israeli sentiment permeating the annals of the internet the Foreign Ministry has begun to collect teams of students and demobilized soldiers to troll the chat forums, blogs, twitter accounts and comment threads of articles in search of criticism and to respond with positive Israeli sentiments.

According to an article published in Calcalist and translated into English on Occupation Magazine, recruits will be directed to hot topics and fed interesting arguing points. However it is pointed out that members of the “internet fighting team” will write in their own voices but will be employed by the ministry and will be towing the company line. They will not identify themselves as employed mouthpieces for any agency. (more…)

Sell Out and Wait

One of the more difficult things about trying to write articles for people other than myself is the amount of time it takes. Working with an editor is a challenge but one that I think has helped me figure out what exactly I’m doing and how it can translate into a real world piece which other people might care to read and find interesting or worthwhile. It helps that my editor Keith is talented, patient, understanding and a close friend.

The time it takes to think up a solid idea and have this validated by an editor is already double my usual approach to writing. Actually the thinking up an idea is already pushing the boundaries of my usual writing style. Anyways, add onto getting validation and ideas for clarity the process of collecting information and verifying that with additional sources. Time consuming in the best of circumstances and horrific when part of the research is learning everything you can about what you’re trying to write. Then throw in needing to solicit additional information from sources, taking that information and integrating it into your narrative, convincing your editor it’s necessary to include such source material, and then going back and cleaning up the mess you made.

That’s how far I got with this article on an interesting court hearing in San Francisco. Obviously you should read it on Wired so computers can tally my worth, but to summarize a photojournalism student lost his subject in a shooting, refused to cooperate with police on the grounds he was a journalist, then had his apartment searched under warrant and property seized. The city defended its actions by saying a student does not a journalist make. The student’s lawyers called bullshit. (more…)

Been meaning to post this short film for a while after reading about it on Shadow and Act. African Booty Scratcher was written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu, an Atlanta-born daughter of Sierra Leonean immigrants. It’s a very strong short which leaves you wanting more. In fact I feel it would be great as a feature length movie as Jusu touching on so many things with no time to explore them. HBO picked up the film for rotation and Jusu is continuing her education while working on other projects. Enjoy.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Azumi (2003)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring Aya Ueto, Yoshiro Harada, Jo Odagiri

A bloated epic of assassins against war mongers in feudal Japan, this movie shores its walls of straightforward plot against its staggering two-and-a-half hours duration with embarrassing diversions. We are all crushed underneath when the girl-bonding, first love and slapstick pillars yield, left to claw at our eyes in the vein hope of erasing the travesty witnessed. It remains unclear to me whether Azumi would have been more enjoyable as a simple action flick sprinting from sword fight to sword fight, but between the flying ninjas and modern score I think that the end result would remain the same: another wasted night.

Azumi 1
There is a little girl and her name is Azumi (Aya Ueto). Scooped from the corpse of her mother by a traveling ronin named Gessai (Yoshiro Harada) and raised amongst a motley collection of Lost Boys in a mountain retreat she excels at the art of mortal combat. The crisp days of laughter and sparring eventually end in a final test when the time of their mission comes– pair off with your best friend. Now kill them. The Koreans have created an entire genre of paranoia about their less friendly neighbors to the north with this exact same concept.

So we’ve learned that being an assassin is no joke, that it requires not only the skill but the mentality of a hardened killer. The graduates descend into the valleys where war is being waged between competing clans, driven by a higher ethos to end the violence by removing the various heads of state. The lesson of politics is taught by being forced to stand down and watch a massacre perpetrated by roving bandits.

Azumi 2

After one warlord is easily dispatched things get complicated. Their next target is a cunning old man who knows which way the wind is blowing and decides to engage his adversaries directly. Meanwhile the young assassins meet a traveling theater group which sparks love at first sight, then the ranks are divided when an injured comrade is left behind to die. Azumi, struggling to determine the righteous path, soon finds herself alone while pursued by a new terror, the sociopathic murderer Bijomaru (Jo Odagiri) who has been released from prison to hunt her group down one by one.

This all predictably builds to an epic battle pitting a handful of people against an entire army. There’s special-effects induced acrobatics, explosions, torrents of blood and the peculiar inability of people to coordinate their attacks on a lone swordsman to better kill them. Matters of pride, morality, loyalty and destiny are used like caulk to seal the cracks between scenes of absurd combat resulting in the world’s most expensive prefabricated motel shower stall. (more…)

I Got The Hook-Up

Rumors are swirling throughout the capital that President Obama will attempt to post-pone Senate’s August recess until legislation on national health care is hammered out. Medical associations are lobbying against any attempts to nationalize coverage and former PR flak cum Center for Media and Democracy pundit Wendell Potter is following the medical industry’s attempts to subvert change. Weak-willed representatives are hoping to establish a non-profit insurance company that will operate alongside private companies while millions of Americans continue to live their lives without any financial protection should they suddenly be stricken by disease or an errant bus.

A couple of years back my parents’ neighbor gave me a copy of Uncle John’s Curiously Compelling Bathroom Reader, a collection of short essays designed to occupy one’s quieter moments. Recently I read an entry on Thomas Douglas, the former Premier of Saskatchewan credited with creating Canada’s medicare system. Although there are many critics of what they’ve got going on up north, particularly in terms of waiting for procedures and tests, the country does manage to spend less while providing some form of basic coverage for every citizen of their country. How did it begin? (more…)

I Come in Early

A coworker is on the phone telling his friend Jerry it’s a bad idea to kill Paris Hilton and her husband. I didn’t even know she was married– I don’t think she actually is– but Jerry is enraged that she doesn’t wear his ring. He’s got a 10″ samurai sword and his friends want to drive Jerry down to wherever Paris Hilton lives so he can slay the Jezebel and boy toy.

My grandparents had samurai swords and I distinctly recall being told the shorter wakizashi is the suicide blade. These were not the particulars riding my co-worker’s mind. He was far more concerned telling Jerry that he would get caught and end up going to jail. He also didn’t think that these friends sounded like very good people.

Jerry had been calling my co-worker since before the days of Amoeba and somehow this fascinating relationship was born and persisted over the years. Every week Jerry calls to ask for advice, explain situations and basically be a good friend. He lives with his parents and has some obvious issues.

The next week Paris Hilton was no longer on the radar, we’ve moved on to Nicole Richie. It was mentioned that there was no way that his friends knew Lionel Richie, there was no way Jerry and his 10″ samurai sword could get close enough for the kill, and he was certain to be caught. I listened with rapt attention, marveling at how patient and ultimately caring my co-worker was with his weekly caller. There was never a condescending word and he never joined in with our snickering. Jerry obviously good use more friends like this.

Last week conversation began with Jerry professing his love for Lauren Conrad, who my co-worker didn’t know. It was explained that she’s on MTV’s The Hills, which is still a little removed from reality but at least she’s not slated to die. Death and dismemberment have given way to Jerry’s need to make space in his room. He has a friend who he would like to give his old Filipino porn movies to but seems unsure how to make this offering. There’s a backstory, thankfully filled in after the fact, that Jerry wanted to rent porn from his local rental place but everyone there knew his parents. He planned on wearing disguises, like dressing up as a doctor, to covertly rent his adult movies. There’s a major American opus in the works people, and I’m fortunate to be within earshot.