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Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Aussie Imperialism

(Tim Blair will be mentioned nowhere in this post. Er--doh!)

Mostly this is an excuse to tell you about my dream (see bottom of post).

Here's the story of a nice, ecologically-minded company which sought to keep a shopping center from being built on top of wetlands in suburban St. Louis.

Oopsie! Turns out that the company was so eco-friendly because the new development would compete with them. Gosh, I bet that's never happened before!

Almost a year after wetlands near the Missouri River were bulldozed to make way for a new mall in Hazelwood, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed suit to block construction.

Such suits are common, but this one has an interesting twist: Its financial backer is Westfield America Trust, part of an Australian conglomerate that owns six major malls in this region -- including two that will compete directly with the new $250 million mall, St. Louis Mills.

I don't know that St. Louis needs another shopping mall. It certainly seemed well-supplied with them while I was there (this was one of the good things about living there), but the more the merrier, I suppose. I predict, however, that the river will flood as it has done about five times in the past twenty years, cause a big mess and a lot of damage, and the mall developers---assuming they are not stymied here---will want the government to bail them out. Wetlands flood? Who knew!

But back to our story. The eeevuul Aussie interlopers are at least not being mealy-mouthed about it. No "genuine concern for the environment" horseshit here, no sir:

Westfield's billionaire chairman and part-owner, Australian Frank Lowy, defends his company's aggressive tactics as a way of protecting its investments and shareholders.

"Opposing rival developments has long been an accepted practice in the shopping center industry," he said at a shareholders meeting in April. "Any group Westfield funds or supports in any way is publicly disclosed."

And the eco-virtucrats don't see anything wrong with it either:

Lewis Green, an attorney who has represented the coalition since 1969, said it was not unusual for the coalition to appeal to rivals to fund a lawsuit. "It seems like the first thing you'd do is go to competitors, who might support a lawsuit. That's a natural thing to do."

I have an irrational grudge against Westfield, so I hope their nefarious plans are thwarted. Apparently they are taking over the shopping centers of the US as they did those of Australia, including the one nearest me in Sydney, the confusingly-named Westfield Eastgardens. I began to hate seeing their wiggly red logo everywhere.

In March of 2001 I came back to the US and was visiting my parents. I needed something-or-other, and they took me to Crestwood Plaza in St. Louis County to get it. As we approached the shopping center, I managed to get a few words in edgewise to tell them about my dream:

After a few months in Australia, I had a terrible nightmare. I dreamt that I was driving through country New South Wales, which means taking snaky, badly-maintained two-lane blacktops for three or four hundred miles. After a while my mind began to drift, as often happens; I was alert enough to drive on a deserted country road, but not really giving it the full force of my intellect. Then I turned the corner, and suddenly I was in the desert. I saw those white "shield" US highway signs: 66/40 (or it may have been 61/40, or 60/41 --- something like that). I pulled over at a wide parking lot that had been churned mud until the sun baked it hard. This was serving as a rest stop; there were quite a few other cars there. People were getting out and stretching.

I got out and looked around, took a closer look at the people and the cars. I was back in the US! Now, even in the dream, I stopped to wonder why this had happened. Surely, even if one could drive across the Pacific, I'd have noticed it? Big blue thing, full of sharks, marked lack of gas stations... Surely this would have been unmissable, yes? Hmm...

Perhaps, I thought, I'd never actually been in Australia. Perhaps it was Canada I'd been living in. They had awfully funny accents, though.

No matter. I was back home! Yeeee-haaaaa! I jumped back in the car, cranked the radio up real high and took off down that good old American four-lane highway, a song in my heart. I'm home! I'm home! I'm home!

After a while my mind began to drift again, as I drove that wide highway. I was concentrating enough to drive, but not really giving it my full cerebral effort. I turned a corner and was back in New South Wales.

I woke up screaming. The horror...the horror...

So anyway, just as I was telling my parents this, just as I was describing the awful sense of loss and disorientation I felt as I suddenly found that I was not back home, but in Australia still, we turned into the Crestwood Plaza parking lot and I looked up and saw, hanging over me, the giant WESTFIELD sign.

Aaaaaagggh! The nightmares! They begin again!

(That would make a good Twilight Zone episode.)

And I find they've taken over Northwest Plaza in St. Louis, down the street from where I used to live; and Valley Fair, where I used to shop in San Jose. They're after you! They're after all of us! They're here already! You're next! YOU'RE NEXT!!

(Via Christopher Johnson.)