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Following up on the recent post regarding the apparent financial and social decline of the US, I’ve come across a report that the city of Detroit is so deep in dept and finding it so hard to raise money that it is planning to downsize vital public services, such as the police and fire departments. As harsh a measure as that sounds, one that is potentially frightening to the local population, it is only a symptom of the larger decay of one of the big American cities, home to the local car industries (or what’s left of them) and legendary home of Motown.

Looking at the larger picture, the city (with several others on their way to follow) is actually downsizing not only in budget and manpower but also in size – neighborhoods are actually being deserted  and left to nature. A Time report on this can be seen here.

A quick search on the topic brought me to this blog, the author of which is a Detroit resident who goes around the city armed with his DSLR and archives, among many other things, the widespread urban decay. The photos he takes are really depressing – a lot of boarded up houses, abandoned churches and schools, city blocks which used to be teeming with people and are now completely abandoned (except for wildlife, that is).

The pictures really best tell the tale (have a look at additional posts on this blog – there are a lot of really haunting pictures, especially the ones of schools):

Such a phenomena was truly unbelievable to me, coming from a country where the population is quite crowded and real estate prices booming, and living in Western Europe where while land is available, some areas (notably the Netherlands) are very crowded. In hindsight, though, urban degeneration is possible and ultimately likely when financials are taken into account – and that’s a clear sign that the American system is not well.

A few months ago I cycled down to “downtown” Strasbourg and got myself a spanking new HTC Desire. Now this baby (below) is a great phone, miles better than its predecessor which I had (the Magic) – but it came with two downsides.First was the need to change my contract to the local Orange franchise – that it, what used to be France Telecom. I thought I knew a cutthroat mobile company before but boy, was I wrong. These guys, as it’s emerged in the last few months, are amazingly good at finding new and innovative ways of fleecing you from your money. And no matter what snazzy package you choose, the costs will always surpass this, sometimes by a lot! And not due to excessive talking…

However, that is a well-known problem which seems to blight Orange affiliates in many countries. What I did not expect, however, was that after choosing a not-at-all affordable package and phone (on what is supposedly an open-source OS-based phone) I got a phone which was 1. filled with integrated, non-removable software from the mobile provider and 2. that I was forced to rely on the same provider for software updates, i.e. updates to the Android OS. Now, anyone’s frustration from being forced to have non-removable apps he or she didn’t ask for bloating their newly-purchased mobile is one thing. Being forced to rely on a local provider for important OS updates, while the same company has a clear incentive not to upgrade so you are forced to return periodically and get a new device – totally sucks!

And so, as ever, I dove online in search of a solution, only to discover a myriad of souls across many countries in the same predicament – apparently mobile providers are uniformly nasty! I was happy to discover that one can a. ROOT his/her device and gain complete control over it – using either simple, one click processes or complex ones which take hours or days to figure out if it’s your first time . b. having done so, FLASH new software updates without relying on any company’s generosity (replying only on the wonderful open source community).

Hallelujah! Viva the revolution 👿

I’ve since also rooted and upgraded my old Magic, upgrading to Froyo before handing it over to my sister so she joins the Android crowd rather than the monotonous self-satisfied Legion of Jobs zombies.

A few useful links for you if you’re setting out to reclaim your droid:

  1. The Unlockr: a great repository for numerous mobile how-to’s, including notably rooting and flashing HTC devices
  2. UnRevoked – if you’ve got a relatively recent Android phone, this is the easiest one-click solution for rooting and taking control of your device.
  3. Leedroid – a great ROM developer – currently on Froyo (Android 2.2):
  • This is the web repository for all the relevant downloads.
  • This is the latest (as of writing) thread on the ROM release. Naturally, it’s on XDA developers, a wonderful website which you probably know and use if you’re not an Android noob, or will if you’re in the process of learning the ropes like I was a few weeks ago.

Oh. And in any case, mobile bloatware, provider control of OS updates, etc. etc…I’d stillrather get an open source Android-based device than yet another iPhone every day of the week!

 

 

“We work day and night and try to save for our retirement.

But we are never more than a pay check or two from the streets.”


I’ve read a couple of articles over the last few days which paint a worrying picture about the state of society and the economy at large in the US of A. First was a piece in the FT called “The crisis of middle class America“, which describes how even families with a decent annual income are caught between high healthcare costs and mortgages which are several times more expensive than the house they live in, resulting in their not having any chance of conveniently retiring or leaving their kids with a reasonable inheritance.

 

“Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 […]. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. […] In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility.”


An strong article which paints a worrying picture, highlighted both by hard statistics and a couple of example families to drive the message home. This touches the bedrock of American society, and if it continues bodes ill for American society and its prosperity.

 

The second piece is an op-ed by Paul Krugman in the NY Times (“America Goes Dark“), in which he discusses the crumbling infrastructure and decaying education system and posits them as resulting from the government spending cuts of the last two decades, themselves in turn tied in his article to the enduring tax cuts for the American rich.

“Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.”

Now, I won’t go into whether his economic theory is correct or not – I’m sure that conclusion heavily depends on which side of the American political map you’re on, but there is no real argument that infrastructure and education in the states are no longer world leaders, far from it.

And combining this with the decaying middle class in the FT piece serves to paint a morbid picture on the future of “this great nation”. While America is still an innovation powerhouse which draws millions of poor and needy seeking a better life, such widespread decay of both infrastructure and socioeconomic classes is a cause for concern…of course there is no easy solution for such a huge problem. The question is, can something be done?


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