Monday, October 16, 2017


With prototypes of The Great Wall of Trump being built in California, I'm reminded of the words of mythologist Joseph Campbell: "You can tell what's informing a society by what the tallest building is." As with my usual synesthetic logic, the two ideas are not as unrelated as they seem. 

From the 13th century thru the 19th, the tallest building in the world were European cathedrals, built by the same kindly folks who sponsored The Crusades. In 1901, Philadelphia City Hall became the first secular building to hold the title of "the world's tallest," a fitting tribute to the founding of the U.S.'s democracy that, tellingly, was soon eclipsed by monuments to American capitalism: Metropolitan Life, Woolworth, Bank of Manhattan, Chrysler, Sears. (This 2:30 minute video visually demonstrates the rise.)

God was out; Mammon was in.

Since 1998, the U.S.'s symbolic height in the world has been challenged by the literal rise of buildings in the Middle and Far East, which now contain nine of the ten world's tallest buildings. But one in particular, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower in Saudi Arabia, reveals a sinister 9/11 story that I've not seen reported.

The degree of the Saudi government's support of the 19 terrorists (15 of whom were Saudi), is a developing story. What's missing from the discussion are these facts: 

1) On January 9, 2002, while workers were still hauling debris from the smoldering wreckage at Ground Zero, the Saudi government cleared a site in the heart of Mecca. 

2) They hired the construction firm Saudi Binladen Group, run by the brothers of Osama bin Laden, to construct what would become the third tallest building in the world, the Makkah Royal Clock Tower. 

3) That building now serves as a Fairmont hotel for Muslim pilgrims, re-uniting God and Mammon in way not seen since the Crusades. The tower features the largest clock face in the world. On two sides read the words, "God is Great"; on the other two, "Quran."

In other words, it's entirely possible that the Saudis destroyed an American monument to world financial power to then build a taller tower in the name of Allah. 

The message couldn't be clearer, the Islamic world announcing, "It's our time."

Tall buildings aren't necessarily an indicator of actual power, but they are an assertion of it. Paradoxically, skyscraper construction frequently signals an impending economic collapse, a phenomenon economists only half-jokingly call "the skyscraper index." Like the Empire State Building, many are planned during boom times, but don't reach completion until the inevitable bust. When the Empire State Building opened in 1931, it had so many vacancies, critics called it "The Empty State Building." 

So does size matter? And it doesn't take Freud to figure out that all these phallic buildings are an architectural dick-wagging contest.  Maybe it's a coincidence, but the tallest building designed by a woman, The Aqua in Chicago, is uncommonly curvaceous and 100% residential, the design equivalent of "barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen." Forget the glass ceiling; the Aqua doesn't even rank in the top ten tallest in Chicago or even the top 50 in the U.S. 

But since World War II, there has been an ongoing shrinkage in the U.S.'s erection of skyscrapers. In 1946, the year Donald Trump was born, 68 out of 70 of the world's tallest buildings were in the United States. As of today, that number has dropped to 19. 

So is it any wonder that, amidst the anxiety about our status in the world, we'd elect a real estate developer who promises to make us great again, in part by building a wall?

Consider this: to the best of my knowledge, out of the 500 tallest buildings in the entire world, only five are named for a living person. Four of them are Trump.

The other is Bloomberg.

And that, my friends, is The Gospel According to Marc

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