- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Culture clash

Traditionalism [is] one of the things that makes Afghanistan so hard for Americans to understand. We Americans have so many traditions. For instance, our political traditions date back to the 12th-century English Parliament, if not to the Roman Senate.

Afghans, on the other hand, have had the representative democracy kind of politics for only six years. Afghanistan’s political traditions are just beginning to develop. A Pashtun tribal leader told me that a “problem among Afghan politicians is that they do not tell the truth.” It’s a political system so new that that needed to be said out loud. …

The Pashtun tribal leader was joined by a Turkmen tribal leader who has a Ph.D. in sociology. I asked the Turkmen tribal leader about the socioeconomic, class and status aspects of Afghan tribalism.

“No tribe is resented for wealth,” he said. So, right off the bat, Afghans show greater tribal sophistication than Americans. There is no Wall Street Tribe upon which the Afghan government can blame everything.

- P.J. O’Rourke, writing as “The 72-Hour Expert: Everything you always wanted to know about Afghanistan” in the Aug. 30-Sept. 6 issue of the Weekly Standard

Recruiting Hizzoner

With Richard Daley apparently ready to relinquish his long-held post of mayor of Chicago, it’s worth reflecting on the slight oddness of the American idea that the next mayor of Chicago should be some other politician who happens to be from Chicago rather than some other mayor who’s done a good job. They’re going to get some alderman or maybe a member of the House of Representatives or maybe Rahm Emanuel. My understanding of how they do this in China is that they’d promote the mayor of some other city.

Consider Boston, for example.

The metro area is about half the size of Chicago’s, but the city proper has only 645,169 people to Chicago’s 2,851,268. And incumbent Mayor Tom Menino has shown a Daley-esque ability to get endlessly re-elected. What’s more, in terms of crime and school system performance, Boston is clearly among the best-governed cities in America. Why not give him a chance?

And of course promotion needn’t go strictly in terms of upward size. Michael Bloomberg has been a good mayor of New York, but NYC has strong fundamentals, and it was clear from the last election that the voters there are getting a bit sick of him. So since he’s effective, why not have him bite off a more challenging city like Baltimore or Detroit? Obviously, “that’s not how we do things,” but the logic of relentlessly promoting from within seems pretty weak to me.

- Matt Yglesias, writing on “The Next Mayor of Chicago” for ThinkProgress.org.

City strife

The emerging class conflict in the great global cities ultimately could have many ill effects. Persistently high unemployment and underemployment in British metropolitan areas, for example, has spurred nativist sentiment and intolerance towards immigrants. This is true in America today as well. But views towards immigrants generally soften as an economy improves. Broad-based prosperity is a good antidote for intolerance.

Attacking the class gap requires a redefinition of current views about the overused term “sustainability.” This concept needs to be expanded beyond its conventional environmental definition to reflect broader social and economic values as well. It is one thing to consider how, in an era dominated by dispersed work, core cities might still attract those elite workers needing direct “face-to-face contact.” It is quite another to develop strategies so that the vast majority will be able to find work doing anything other than servicing the needs of the upper echelons.

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