Monday, October 21, 2019

Who Controls The Narrative?

Hello Everyone:

Yours Truly is back after what turned out to be a very difficult week to even put together a quarter of a coherent thought.  For those of wondering if The Blogger Candidate Forum will have more to say on the impeachment inquiry, the answer is yes.  The Candidate Forum was hoping to say something about voter demographics but finds itself trying to make sense of what has become a scandal-palooza, of sorts.  In the meantime, Yours Truly wants to talk about cable cars.

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Cable cars over Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel
Cable Cars floating over Jerusalem, Israel is the subject for today's post.
Jerusalem is a city that is firmly rooted in both its ancient past and modern present.  The Old City remains exactly as it was during ancient times, set against the desert landscape.  The skyline is dominated by the glittering golden Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus is supposedly buried.  However, if Israeli authorities have their way, a planned cable car to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, will be built. by 2021.  The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman reports, "It's the first phase of what proponents envision as a fleet of cable cars crisscrossing the locus of sacred sites known as the Holy Basin" (; Sept. 13, 2019; date accessed Oct. 14, 2019).  Sounds like a great idea for transporting tourists and worshipers, right?  Maybe.

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Map of the Old City of Jerusalem

A total outrage against a fragile city,... An aesthetic and architectural affront.

Conservative Israeli leaders as the environmentally sound solution to the ongoing challenges growing tourism and the traffic encircling the Old City.  The plan had been condemned by Israeli preservationists, environmentalists, planners, architects, preservation-minded individuals who fear this World Heritage Site would turn into a religious theme park attraction.  Eminent Israeli architect Moshe Safadie told The Times,

During his second re-election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that "...if he returned to office he would annex [Ibid; Sept. 10, 2019] nearly a third of the occupied West Bank, reducing any future Palestinian state to encircled enclave" (Ibid; Sept. 13, 2019),  Critics and pundits regarded this announcement as a last-ditch election ploy, however Mr. Kimmelman is quick to note that " was in keeping with land-use policies by which Israel, for half a century, has devised an elaborate architecture of occupation" (Ibid).

The cable car scheme is an example of how Israel uses architecture and urban planning to wield its authority over Palestinian territory.  Before you all start howling, historically, nations have used architecture and urban planning to exert their authority over occupied territories.  Think about the place where you live and how it is laid out.  Los Angeles, for example, was once upon a time indigenous territory.  When the Spanish occupied the very place where Yours Truly is sitting right now, they used architecture and urban planning to exert their religious and secular authority.  They established a chain of missions which proselytized the Catholic gospel, military forts (presidios), and laid out cities--like Los Angeles--on a 45-degree angle in accordance in the Spanish royal dictates.  While this does not excuse Israel's land-use policies, it gives you some sort of context.

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The Old City of Jerusalem

 Michael Kimmelman points to the able car scheme as part of this historic trajectory.  He writes, "Whatever its transit merits, which critics say are negligible, the cable car curates a specifically Jewish narrative of Jerusalem, furthering Israeli claims over Arab parts of the city"(; Sept. 13, 2019).  He goes on to note that the cable car scheme is also an example of how the current Israeli government uses preservation in service of a specific political process, eroding heritage and landscape protections that make it the global icon of faith, culture, and history.  The politics of historic preservation aside, let us take a look at how the cable cars over Jerusalem are supposed to work.

The cable car scheme basically works like this: "Suspended from giant pylons, entered via elevated, glass-enclosed stations, the cable cars will swoop down from a Jewish neighborhood in the western part of Jerusalem to Mount Zion.  They will skirt, where possible, Jewish grave sites in acknowledgment of biblical prohibitions about passing over cemeteries" (Ibid).

The cable cars will touch down near the Western Wall, on the roof of the new multi-story center for the City of David Foundation, a conservative Jewish organization, in the middle of the East Jerusalem Palestinian district of Silwan.  The City of David Foundation oversees archaeological excavations on contested sites.  The digs have been co-opted for political purposes, as well, this time in service to further Jewish claims on the land.

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Silwan, East Jerusalem
The cable cars will pass through the Jewish version of Jerusalem's history.  After disembarking at the City of David building, visitors can tour the archaeological site, "...then proceed underground to the Western Wall via Herodian passageways walked by Jewish pilgrims during the era of the Second Temple and now partly excavate beneath the homes of Palestinian families in Silwan" (Ibid).

Never mind that several Arab homes maybe slated for demolition to make room for the cable cars, it effectively pretends that Silwan and and the other West Bank villages do not exist.  Thus depriving visitors to the Holy City some sense of historic and cultural context for understanding the complexity of Jerusalem.  The image of visitors winging their way over the West Bank and tunneling under the residents resembles Israel's by-pass roads: "...built to safely speed Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem without passing through Palestinian town" (Ibid).  Silwan resident Jawad Siyam spoke to The Times about the impact on the residents,

Arabs will supposedly benefit from use the cable car,... But the cable car is not about solving problems for us.  It's about creating them (Ibid)

Mr. Siyam's family members were recently evicted from part of their home to accommodate City of David settlers.

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Map showing the surrounding Arab villages
Silwan is in the lower center

Mr. Siyam continued, "...Israeli authorities really was to benefit Arab residents, they should repair the busy, rutted, narrow, dangerous, often impassable road that is the only way in or out of Silwan for thousands of Palestinian residents" (Ibid).  A prudent suggestion.  He said,

Silwan is huge and hilly,... Most of us don't even have an easy way to get to the cable car (Ibid)

Cable Car advocates do not seem to be interested in criticism.  Jerusalem's former Mayor Nir Barkat, now a Likud member of the Knesset, said the plan requires thinking out of the box (Ibid).  He envisions "a Jetsons-like future in which cable cars will eventually glide up to the Mount of Olives, down to the Garden of Gethsemane, and make a second stop in Silwan,..." (Ibid).  You guessed it, the plan does promote the City of David.  Mr. Barkat told The New York Times,

This is the Zionist element of the project,...The City of David is the ultimate proof of our ownership of this land,... "To go from there to the Western Wall is to follow the path where Jewish pilgrims came to worship God in the ancient city,...there were no Christian or Muslims (Ibid)

A couple of problematic issues with this statement.  First is the most obvious one, the denial of a Christian and Muslim existence in Jerusalem.  This was true during the days of the First and Second Temple.  Christianity began in the 0 century CE, following the crucifixion of Jesus and Islam began in the 7th century CE.  Regardless, each one has a stake in the city's historic and cultural past and present.  Second, why is the City of David organization proof of ownership of the land?  In fact, why is the City of David organization the only one that gets a say in the narrative visitors to the Old City will experience?

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Jerusalem skyline
Mr. Barkat believes that the cable cars will not be much of intrusion on Jerusalem's famous skyline.  He dismisses critics's concerns as a matter of taste and perception (Ibid).  Cable car station architect Mendy Rosenfeld concurs with this appraisal.  Mr. Rosenfeld designed the glass stations to appear as immaterial as possible, telling The Times,

There is no way you can hide a cable car system (Ibid)

He goes on to cite I.M. Pei's famous pyramids at the Louvre, a modernist intrusion in the historic courtyard of France's former royal palace.  Skeptics and purists called it an architectural blasphemy before for it opened.  Mr. Rosenfeld blithely said Now everyone loves it (Ibid).  Mr. Kimmelman rightly points out that "Jerusalem is not Paris" (Ibid)

Jerusalem-based architect and planner Gavriel Kertez recall a time when Israeli officials were sensitive to even the most minute intrusion into the sacred sites.  In recent times, the city, long defined by low-rise, stone-clad buildings, is witnessing the construction of high-rise glass towers more common in Singapore than in the ancient city.  The politics of settlement expansion is a factor in who gets to control the narrative both aesthetically and historically.

Modern Jerusalem, thus far, has been spared Disneyification, first to the British colonial period, then between 1948 and 1967 during the Jordanian period when it seemed like it was encased in amber.  After 1967, the late Mayor Teddy Kollek promoted the city as global melting pot, a reflection of Israeli confidence.  The cable car scheme appears to be a loud intrusion on the city that is home to the three Abrahamic faiths.  More important, it denies any full historic and cultural understanding of Jerusalem and its global significance.  


Never mind that several Arab homes could be demolished to accommodate the cable cars, effectively pretending that Silwan does not exist.  Visitors will be whisked over and tunnel under the Palestinian residents with ever encountering them.  Depending on your outlook, this can be seither a good or bad thing.  It makes Blogger wonder what would happen if, instead of speeding past the Palestinian village on a by-pass road, what would happen if the average Israeli or tourist actually saw the villages?  It is wishful thinking on Blogger's part because of real safety concerns but it is good to indulge in this kind of thinking once in a while.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Brutal In Morocco

Hello Everyone:

It is a lovely and warm early autumn Monday afternoon.  Just a quick program note: Blogger Candidate Forum is off this week because its human typist has a family obligation and there will only be one regular post, like today, on Moroccan Brutalism.  Really.  Shall we check it out?

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Thermal Baths
Fez, Morocco
Andreea Muscurel, photographer

Brutalism is a peculiar genre of architecture.  People either like or they do not, no in-between.  It exists in the canon of modern architecture.  What exactly it is?

Brutalism is a period style of architecture that came into the design conscious in the mid-20th century and peaked in the mid-seventies, when it was dismissed as an emblem of bad taste.  The word comes from the raw concrete--beton brut--its often mixed from.  Known for its use of functional reinforced concrete with steel and modular elements, giving it a utilitarian character.  Brutalist architecture was primarily used for institutional architecture, e.g. schools and government buildings.  Known for being imposing and geometric, Brutalist buildings have a graphic quality that make them appealing today. (; Dec. 4, 2018; date accessed Oct. 7, 2019)

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Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath (1960)
Fez, Morocco
Andreea Muscurel, photograher
Jean-Francois Zevaco

The photograph on the left, Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath, is an example of how a newly independent country adapted a Western design vocabulary in order to appear progressive and a break from the colonial past.  Morocco was not the only country that adapted Modernism in service of appearing progressive.  Turkey and Japan did this in the pre-World War II years.  In the post-War years, newly emerging former Europeans, like Morocco, adapted Modern Architectural styles, like Brutalism, for the same purpose.  Now the work of little known Brutalist architect Jean-Francois Zevaco is getting a closer look thanks to a long-ranging renovation program that will include an economic development and education component.  You are probably wondering who Jean-Francois Zevaco was?

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Jean-Francois Zevaco (b. 1918) was a French-Moroccan architect, born in Casablanca and educated at the Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  Following World War II, he returned to Morocco to set up his own office and gain local renown designing white modernist villas.  His first major commission came in 1960, when he and the members of GAMMA (Group of Moroccan Modern Architects) were commissioned to building new housing and public buildings follow the 1960 earthquake in Agadir.  He received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the 1978-80 cycle for his Courtyard Houses in Agadir (1965) (; date accessed Oct. 7, 2019).    Also, in 1965, Mr. Zevaco began his collaboration with the Fondation Caisse de Depot et Gestion, the pension fund responsible for the thermal baths.  However, the enthusiasm that greeted his design sifted away; by the end of the 20th century, the owners considered it ugly duckling and discussed selling it to private investors. (; Oct. 1, 2019; date accessed Oct. 7, 2019)

Sidi Harazem was built with "....faceted columns, deep overhangs, and a circular outdoor pool shaded by a disk of concrete that seems to float,..." (Ibid).  The late architect's (d. 2003) included baths, bungalows, covered markets and a hotel that mixed Brutalist materials with vernacular elements: bands of blue mosaic tile and copper work" (Ibid).  The Moroccan government wanted to attract Westerners to the newly independent country, while preserving its popular heritage sites.  Mr. Zevaco' design was to appeal to both sensibilities.  The bungalows and public spaces echo the traditional buildings while the elevated hotel and cantilevered shade structure represent the most advanced mid-century international architecture (Ibid).

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Aerial view of Sidi Harazem

As a child Aziza Chaouni, a professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto, shared with The New York Times how she used to go with her grandmothers to the thermal baths seven miles outside of Fez.  Ms. Chaouni said that one granmother loved the more modern complex.  She said,

She was born and raised in Fez, in the old city and she was very keen on alternative medicine...She was amazed by the new facilities.  We would stay in the bungalows that were modeled after the medina--as a child it was like a maze. (Ibid)

Ms. Chaouni's other grandmother preferred the pre-modern baths.

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Sidi Harazem, view from top of hill

Sidi Harazem is set in an arid mountain range and has attracted visitors since the Roman Imperial period.  In the 14th-century, Sultan Abu el-Hassan built a shrine to Sidi Harazem, a Sufi cleric, on the nearby plateau (Ibid).  Aziza Chaouni recalled,

They used to wake us up at 5 a.m. and walk from Fez, then simply camp... Locals would offer space in their own homes,... For people who lived in Fez, it was their green lung (Ibid).

She continued, Morocco wanted to appear as a progressive young country (Ibid).  Jean-Francois Zevaco's interpretation combined European modernism with the vernacular concept of space, "by organizing the project around an interior courtyard, with green plantings that cooled the air.  Narrow channels of water wove throughout the complex leading visitors along the circulation path" (Ibid).

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Stair detail from Sidi Harazem

By the time Ms. Chaouni reached adulthood, the thermal baths had fallen on hard times.  It was seeing fewer and fewer visitors, major portions of the complex including the markets and bungalows were shut down.  A renovation effort in 2000 attempted to make the still open portions of the site more traditionally Moroccan with green tile veneer over the concrete and carved wood panels.  By this point, Modernism had become outre.

In cities like Fez, Boston, Belgrade, and London, the Modern Movement was perceived as alien and alienating to tourists.  Brutalism, in particular, was the architectural equivalent of canceled, regardless of Mr. Zevaco's sensitivities to local traditions and his talents.

On a 2001 visit home, Aziza Chaouni went for a swim at Sidi Harazem and was shocked by the renovation.  As an Aga Khan Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School, she studied the architecture of tourism in post-independence Morocco, including the work of Jean-Francois Zevaco and the members of GAMMA.  She approached the CDG and convinced Rachid Karkari, that with proper intervention, Sidi Harazem could return to its former glory.  Mr. Karkari enthused.

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Plan drawings of Sidi Harazem
Jean-Francois Zevaco

We were amazed by the splendor of the plans drawn by Zevaco (; Oct 1, 2019).  One drawing, the rendering for the thermal station entrance, "The Signal," "plants and people climb up a hillside defined by ridges of concrete architecture, a building that rises up and spreads out at the time" (Ibid).  He continues,

We hope, through this project, to restore the image of Zevaco's work so that it regains its former glory. (Ibid)

With Aziza Chaouni at the helm of a team of architects, engineers, researchers, and photographer, won a $150,000 Keeping It Modern Grant (; date accessed Oct. 7, 2019) in 2017.  Their goal is "restore Sidi Harazem as an architectural masterpiece, building as before on the natural oasis that has drawn pilgrims since the 14th century, but also adding year-round facilities, creating local jobs and expanding the urban transportation network" (; Oct 1, 2019).  The grant allows Ms. Chaouni and her team to create a handbook for future restoration and development.

The Getty grants is not just about the architecture.  When Ms. Chaouni and her team went to work in 2017, she realized that they had to deal with the legacy of the people who lived in Sidi Harazem in the sixties and now.  She told The Times,

Something I discovered as I started working on the project, was that there was a village at the oasis,... All the people in that village were taken and moved on top of a hill, with a mud house for each family, and given one bag of flour each month.  Like everything, to do something visionary for the time, it had some causalities (Ibid).

Future plans for the complex include expanding economic opportunities for the local residents and a new Zevaco-inspired covered farmers' market.  Another thing Ms. Chaouni realized is that the area's current generation has no idea about the thermal bath's architectural significance.  To remedy this, additional grants-funded programs to trained local teens to act as architectural guides.  She said,

The challenge compared to other places is the informality,... In the developing world we very often have to deal with issues that very different, lack of funds, lack of expertise, how you raise awareness for heritage that is a double evil? (Ibid)

Aziza Chaouni's final report will address the current human needs and the complicated design history at Sidi Harazem with the hopes that the thermal baths will remain accessible for future generations. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Blogger Candidate Forum: What Will Impeachment Look Like In An Election Year?

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Impeachment inquiry
Hello Everyone:

It is a warm and lovely autumn Wednesday afternoon and time for the regularly scheduled Blogger Candidate Forum.  The Candidate Forum is never one to give unsolicited advice but since we are going to talk about impeachment and the 2020 elections, The Forum thought it would be a good idea to offer Mr. Donald Trump some friendly advice on how to navigate the next 13 months--yes 13 months until election day.  First, get rid of Rudy Giuliani.  Rudy Giuliani is the president's personal attorney who cannot seem to stop running his mouth to anyone with a microphone and camera.  He runs his mouth so much, that he dig the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Attorney General William Barr into a hole so deep that they cannot see up.  Second, go radio silent.  No Twitter, no impromptu phone interviews on Fox News, nothing.  Instead, huddle with your impeachment attorneys and develop a coherent strategy.  Finally, cooperate with the House of Representatives.  Be crystal clear transparent.  Give the House whatever documents they request and make whoever available to talk to the six committees, no minders, no strings attached.  You may not dodge impeachment but you may make easier on you.  Onward

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Democratic nominee candidate Tom Steyer

For the first time in American history, impeaching a president is an election.  Impeachment proceedings against a president have only been instigated on three previous occasions.  The first time was in 1868, when the House impeached the 17th President of the United States Andrew Johnson.  The second time was in 1999 against 42nd President Bill Clinton and now against Mr. Trump.  President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 ahead of impeachment hearings in the House.  In three of these proceedings, Presidents Johnson, Clinton, and Nixon were not facing an immediate re-election campaign, unlike Mr. Trump.  The question before us is will the prospect of impeachment help or hurt the president and the candidates for the Democratic nomination?

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Right now it is still too early to measure how impeachment will affect the presidential and congressional races.  No polling data was compiled and released on the whistle-blower's compliant following the announcement of the inquiry.  Nor can we divine how either the House or Senate will cast their votes.  We can consider how public opinion and elections functions in context to the vagaries of impeachment.

One thing is certain, before the infamous phone call that prompted the whistler-blower's complaint, Mr. Trump was unpopular but so was impeachment.  As of right now the president's approval ratings is 41.3% approve versus 53.8% disapprove (; Sept. 24, 2019; date accessed Oct. 2, 2019).  The key to understanding how Americans feel about impeachment is in how the question is phrased.  Fox News asked straight forward: Do you think President Trump should be impeached? (; June 21, 2019; date accessed Oct. 2, 2019).  A poll conducted by NBC and the Wall Street Journal asked: There has been some discussio nabout Congress holding hearings to consider impeaching and removing President Trump from office.  Which of the following best describes what you think... (Ibid)

There is no correct way to ask the question but the differences in the way it is phrased demonstrates just how the responses vary (Ibid), particularly since most people still have no clear idea of what impeachment is (Ibid; Feb. 12, 2013).

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Top Democratic nominee candidates

The top two tiers of Democratic nominee candidates are united in favor of impeachment and there is the growing potential that more Democratic and independent voters who dislike the president will lean towards impeachment.  It many not happen that quickly but judging from The Candidate Forum's social media feed and news feeds coverage has been on over saturation.  This means more and more voters are learning about it and forming their own opinions.

The president's popularity is not as likely to change although, the Institute for Supply Manufacturing released its report for September 2019, today, and the news is not good for the president.  To summarize: "New Orders, Production, and Employment Contracting.  Supplier Deliveries Slowing at a Slower Rate; Backlog Contracting.  Raw Materials Inventories Contracting; Customers' Inventories Too Low.  Prices Decreasing; Exports and Imports Contracting" (; Oct. 1, 2019; date accessed Oct. 2, 2019).  A strong economy is one of the president's key issues and the American factory gauge hitting a 10-year low because of his stubborn refusal understand that this ridiculous tariff war of his is the cause.  This is likely to lead to a further drop in his popularity and increase the likelihood that voters, particularly in the manufacturing and agriculture industries, will shift their support towards another (Democratic?) candidate.  However, Democrats should not get too comfortable.

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The top three Democratic nominee candidates
When Speaker Pelosi announced her readiness to proceed with an impeachment inquiry, outside of Washington D.C. there is a creeping sense of anxiety that it would only help the president clinch a second term.  Michael Ceraso, a the former New Hampshire director for Mayor Pete Buttigieg's campaign told,

Of course, I want impeachment from a moral perspective,... But from a political perspective, I don't want to spend a year talking about how Democrats tried to impeach him and couldn't pull it off (; Sept. 25, 2019; date accessed Oct. 2, 2019)

Which means that instead of to spending time campaigning on kitchen-table issues--eg. health care--the campaign could be condemned by the doomed effort to oust Mr. Trump.  Mr. Ceraso added,

The Democrats becomes single-issue candidates, which weakens them,... (Ibid)

The inquiry will only strengthen the president's base.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
From the start, the Democratic nominee hopefuls have carefully worked to frame the 2020 election cycle not only as a referendum on an unpopular president, but also as a way to present Democratic priorities from health care and climate change; gun control and criminal justice reform (Ibid).  The Special Counsel's investigation into Russian interference, after the release of the final report,  was barely a blip on the radar.  The queasiness over impeachment reflects the view of the party's political and professional classes.  Overall, Democrats consider the Ukraine scandal a straight forward and more persuasive matter than the highly intricate Russia investigation.  Democrats previously uneasy are now on board.

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VPOTUS Joe Biden (D-DE)

The creeping sense of dread over impeachment comes at a critical time for Democrats.  Today is October 2, 2019 and voting starts in January 2020 and the candidates are still sharpening their messages to the votes.  Needless to say impeachment upends months (or years) of careful planning and strategizing, sucking up all the oxygen from much of the field and shining a very bright spot light on VPOTUS Joe Biden's past.  Democrats can only guess or dread how this will end (Ibid).  A "Mueller redux" (Ibid)?

To borrow the words of Omar Little from The Wire,

If you come at the king, you best not miss (Ibid)

We will come back to this subject. 

A quick programming note: Blogger Candidate Forum will be off next week because of a family obligation and the regular blog will appear on Monday only.