Go to previous post:
Schism among the Anglicans.

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
Shut up.

Our Admirable Sponsors

September 24, 2003

Top pick. Slacktivist, one of my favorite weblogs, has moved.

I hardly know anything about weblogger Fred Clark. I have the vague sense that he lives in or around Philadelphia, and works for a living as a newspaper copyeditor. It’s evident from his writing that he’s an evangelical Christian (but not a “fundamentalist”), with a serious commitment to social justice issues. On his weblog, he writes with more vigor—and far more concision—than any number of pundits who get paid for this sort of thing. Recent entries cover such subjects as Bush at the UN, the distorting effects of slavery on American Christianity, the birthdays of Edgar Lee Masters and John Coltrane, and Blaise Pascal’s relevance to Ben and J-Lo.

I’m a lot more interested in what Fred Clark has to say every morning than I am in most of the opinion-mannequins on the op-ed page. [11:22 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Top pick.:

r@d@r ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2003, 12:34 PM:

i know this is worse first thing in the morning than finding a bug in your coffee, but merriam webster seems to think it's 'conciseness'. i looked it up, though, only because 'concision' actually sounded kind of cool. like a neologistic smash-up of 'concise' and 'precision'.

Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 12:20 AM:

Concision sounds fine. But what is it with Philadelphia? I thought it was supposed to be a shithole, but they have Rittenhouse, Atrios, and Slacktivist.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 08:06 AM:

Zizka: Obviously they have nothing to distract them from intensive blogging.


Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 12:18 PM:

Philadelphia is a city. As such, it contains millions and millions of people. That there should be some people from Philadelphia writing interesting blogs should not actually come as a surprise.

I'll grant you, Philadelphia doesn't have the cultural cachee of, say, New York, (driving between Baltimore and Philadelphia I was often struck how the I95 signs were labeled "New York" in one direction and "Washington" in the other - as though there weren't several other large cities in between) but I don't see where the impression of Philadelphia as the bottom of a septic tank comes from. We've (*) got all the cultural places you'd expect of a large city - an Ivy League university, large museums (even one with enough taste to decline the "honor" of a Rocky statue out front), historical interest destinations (if you're into American History, or the history of skater culture), big public-bond-money-funded arenas and concert halls. We've got our own stock exchange. We're one of the two cities in the country that mint coins. We've also got some of the problems of large cities - neighborhoods you don't want to end up in after dark, suburb-cities (Chester, Camden) that have been allowed to go to hell, the occasional trash pick-up strike, and old factories that are now just empty eyesores.

I am reminded when the WHYY radio program "Fresh Air" was first being syndicated; there were comments from the rest of the country along the lines of "that sounds too good to have come from Philadelphia". Get over it; Philadelphia is a place, not a cultural curse.

Be aware that a good part of the prevailing culture is filtered through a NYC distortion lens. It is for this reason that "New Jersey" conjures up images of factories, toxic waste dumps, and mobsters. (because the parts of NJ right next to New York are that way, even though 45% of the state is forrested and the pine barrens are as close to untouched wilderness as you're likely to find in any of the original 13 colonies) I'm certain that to New Yorkers, Philadelphia looks like a little, insignificant city - but it's the 5th largest city in the country.

So this wound up being longer than I'd planned, but you hit a nerve.

(*) I use "we" a little bit loosely, since I must admit that I've never lived in Philadelphia proper, just the PA and NJ suburbs. Still, Philadelphia is always what I mean when I refer to "downtown" or "center city", unless I'm being facetious and referring to the historic area of Burlington, NJ, where I currently live.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 12:51 PM:

Daniel: I apologize for having trod upon your toes. I was merely riffing on Zizka's comment. I think you might want to have a word with W.C. Fields too. Some of Philadelphia's poor image may be down to a couple of his sillier lines. For the record, I've been to Philadelphia twice and quite enjoyed myself both times.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 05:16 PM:

I've visited Philadelphia a few times in recent years, and I've always wished I could stay longer; I'd be delighted to get to know the place better. I live in New York and I love it here, but I wasn't born here and I don't have the deep-dyed New Yorker's belief that the rest of the country is an undifferentiated mass of insignificant suburbs.

That said, it must be noted that Philadelphia is within weeks or, at most, months of losing its "fifth largest city in the US" status to, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona.

Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 05:33 PM:

We also have Rebecca Ore, Michael Swanwick IIRC, and about half of Chip Delany; and we recently acquired one of the first Goth orchestra conductors. On the other hand, if "shithole" means we depressed and po', I can't dispute that. An immense percentage of our housing is abandoned and condemned, our population has shrunk by a third since the Truman administration, and 85% of the families who send their kids to public schools live below the federal poverty line.

But the majority of Philadelphia voters seem to be thinking that such problems can be ameliorated by electing a Republican mayor . . .

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 06:00 PM:

PNH writes:

"That said, it must be noted that Philadelphia is within weeks or, at most, months of losing its 'fifth largest city in the US' status to, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona."

Odd, when I was a boy, I was taught that we had that status in Detroit (1962-1967). Detroit seems to have slipped to tenth.

For 25 years last Tuesday, I have lived in the suburbs of the Second City, which is third largest. I probably picked up my taste for big cities in Detroit, though, and I enjoy return visits when I can.

Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 06:05 PM:

I've lived much of my life in places reputed to be shitholes, and none of them really were. Portland, Oregon whre I am now has actually been recently upgraded to become an important slacker destination, but it was a shithole when I first came here. No offense intended. Well, some, maybe.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 06:46 PM:

When you live in Central Jersey, Philadelphia is only a short drive away. We go there from time to time just for fun. There's a great Convention Center, a real Chinatown, I like the architecture of downtown, and oh yes, the Ben Franklin museum is pretty cool. The place seems gracious, with a sense of history. Like San Francisco, it's a city with a distinct personality -- more than Minneapolis, even, which is another city I like a whole lot. On the side farther from us, there's the memorable Longwood Gardens.

Umm. Are you sure, Zizka, that you aren't just mixing it up with Pittsburgh?

Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 07:59 PM:

For snark purposes, as a true son of Philly (almost) I'd have to say I'd rather be a derelict in Philly than mayor of New York.

In reality, I've lived in both of those cities, and Pittsburgh as well. I currently live in the Philly burbs, and am going to move to the rural Pa exurbs soon.

It's a great town, with a lot to offer. It's also IMHO more livable than NY. Less self-important pomposity.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2003, 11:18 PM:

wrt Patrick's link: I hadn't realized that Arizona still allowed cities to eat their suburbs; that stopped in Boston something like a century ago (possibly because the state legislature was still WASP while the city became significantly Irish (& Italian) and Catholic). Philadelphia was able to go this route longer (until 1954, says my wife, who was born there) because a lot of the neighboring land was farms (the parts that weren't may be why the city outline looks like the letter Y), and I recall reading in the 60's of Texas cities and suburbs fighting about annexation.

Rimsza has a good point about not letting peripheral areas become separate towns leeching off the central city, but the counter-question is whether annexation hastens the point at which the city becomes so cumbersome that it becomes too hard to manage. (If there is such a point -- anyone with a paratime traveler is encouraged to do a study of truly comparable cases. I wonder whether the absence of alternatives to run to makes people more willing to work out what needs to be worked out to keep all of the city going.)

Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 09:44 AM:

There's an anecdote (possibly apocryphal, I certainly have no source) that Houston, though publically against the laws that were being passed by the State legislature about cities only being able to expand their boundaries beyond a certain radius of their current borders, was surprisingly quiet about it all. Then, once said laws were passed, it was revealed that the city had quietly purchased the medians of every major road leading out of it, effectively extending its legal expansion radius far beyond what would otherwise have been allowed.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 10:10 AM:

"I would rather be living in Philadelphia."
--mock epitaph suggested by WC Fields, in Vanity Fair, 1920s

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2003, 02:52 PM:

wrt Patrick's link: I hadn't realized that Arizona still allowed cities to eat their suburbs; that stopped in Boston something like a century ago

It happened in most cities.

In Pittsburgh they're talking about doing it again -- annexing most if not all of the rest of Allegheny County. Then again, they've been talking about that on and off for the last 40 years that I personally remember, which means probably a long time before that! I'm not sure when the last time they really did annex a neighboring town. The most notable one I remember learning about was Allegheny City (now the North Side) which happened in 1907.

It would probably require referenda in all the dozens of little towns and townships in the county, some of which only have a couple of hundred people but are very independent-minded, so I really don't see the whole county uniting into one municipality (like Philadelphia County, which is coextensive with the city of Philadelphia, or Miami-Dade in Florida). It might help the city's budget, though, and would help the smaller communities with services like fire and police.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2003, 10:35 PM:

still testing, still ignore

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2003, 07:12 AM:

continuing the ignoring, sir