astoria feels incredibly small, very much like an australian country town, with a large number of pubs and empty shopfronts. i think i'd previously likened portland to newcastle but astoria is a lot more like newcastle. i went out walking this morning about 7.30, 8 o'clock and even at that time saw a few people sitting around, shiftlessly starting on the first alcoholic drink of the day.
it feels a bit strange to me that it's taken a trip to the consumerist centre of the world to really get a handle on just how the global financial crisis is affecting the first world. we really aren't seeing the effects of the gfc in australia at all, compared with the u.s. - if the gfc were a black hole, australia is, i think, a bit beyond the event horizon but still feeling the gravitic effects enough to notice, while the u.s. is well inside the event horizon and things here will probably get a lot worse before they get better.
it seems to me that there doesn't seem to be a lot of options for people who are out of work here. retraining courses all require payment in advance, i've seen heaps of people living on the street, or at least sleeping out in the street. i'm told that as bad as i might think it is in portland (and i wonder if it might not be a bit too cold here in astoria even in summer for it to be a very attractive option), the state capital, eugene, has it a lot worse, with homelessness and panhandling a serious problem that has no simple solution.
while it's not completely due to the global financial crisis, the flight of citizenry from the city of detroit is a good example of uncontrolled market forces at work. at its height in 1950, detroit had almost 1.8 million people; it now has almost half that number. many of its workers no longer live within the city limits but in satellite suburbs and while it's understandable that people will seek to improve their living arrangements as earnings and timing present themselves, the gaps left behind were/are not being filled. the more i see neighbourhood as status being played out, the more i think that people are just crazy. i don't think that many people want to move to a place because they think it's fashionable (paris hilton moving to sunshine (melbourne) or redfern (sydney) isn't exactly going to push those cities' glitterati to follow, i'm sure) but rather (i hope) because they feel that it's more convenient to their lifestyle, their workplace, educational opportunities for their children.
the very idea that a house should be bought more as an investment opportunity for wealth than a place to raise a family and make a home is one i'm finding progressively obscene. the idea that value should only ever increase is a nonsense, as we have seen in the last 18 months, an idea built on the premise that people will always pay more for something than you did. how ridiculous is that? when you go buy a new place, you're not looking for the most expensive one are you? maybe you are. i don't know. this is part of why i'm not interested in owning a house. not only does it seem that the house ends up owning you, it seems like the whole system ends up determining how you view the world.
...and i know that my own view is skewed by bitterness about the whole idea, believe me, i know. i just can't help feeling that if the way we've been doing things for the last fifty years has led to massive numbers of foreclosures on people who've been doing what they think they were supposed to - get a mortgage, buy a house, make a home - but who have lost their jobs and can't afford what they were led to believe they could afford, then how can we continue to believe that the way we've been doing things for the last fifty years is the right way???
it's the same kind of insanity that believes more cars on the roads or more people catching public transport can happen without cost to the infrastructure delivering those services! they are like a balloon, that has a nominal maximum volume, which can be filled to 10%, 50% 80%, 100%, perhaps even 110% without bursting... at first. Sooner or later, it will burst. that is simple logic! why is it so hard to believe that housing markets, job markets, share markets, public transport systems, sewage systems, power grids, similarly have maximum volumes? is it because they're not immediately obvious? "we can't see an end so let's treat it like there is no end"? it's that thinking that led to the poisoning of our planet by industry since the beginning of the industrial revolution! before!!! since the settling of vilages beside waterways...
while i was staying at the portland hawthorne hostel, i ran into an aussie guy from gunnedah. he commented that the last time he'd been home he ran into someone he'd not seen for about three years but who asked how he was going as if he'd seen him only the day before! gunnedah guy seemed surprised by this but i was more bemused. time and tide separate people through no fault of their own, necessarily. there is a sense that we are encouraged to think of ourselves first (there was an old insurance television commercial that said the most important person in the world was "you"), so why should we be surprised when people do exactly that? the little social impetus there is to keep in touch with people is on "tweets" these days! 140 characters to shout out to the world (or to whomever you've authorised to be able to hear you) what you're thinking. how is that communication? it's more like talking in burps.
argh! i can't help feeling there's too much information coming into my head that i don't have time to sort through before i have to move it to one side and take in more information. i guess at what's important and perhaps, like a fragmented hard drive, there will sometimes be information left behind that can still be accessed by accident and make sense somehow. i have neither time nor skill in defragmenting my brain.
in the last 24 hours i've been trying to make sense of:
- the millions of dollars spent on sydney's new year's fireworks displays that could be spent on education or health
- people without jobs when there's things that need doing
- storefronts that lie empty when there's people wanting to work
- corporations crying poor, cutting jobs, moving manufacturies, claiming net losses, yet who still give their executives bonuses
- the idea that if it only costs $22 (us) per month to feed, clothe, immunise and educate a child in a third world country, why is it not already being done?
- how could a city like detroit have half the people in it now than it had over 50 years ago?