Samizdata's basic point is sound and I think unquestionable, if I understand it correctly:
You tend to get more of what you reward, and less of what you punish.
Even the most die-hard liberal should be able to accept that one.
Samizdata's basic point is sound and I think unquestionable, if I understand it correctly:
You tend to get more of what you reward, and less of what you punish.
Even the most die-hard liberal should be able to accept that one.
...stares up at me. I've inked in every oval except for the one concerning a proposal to establish "District Elections" for our City Council. Seattle now has an "At Large" system.
I am undecided, though I had been leaning "for."
But now I read in one of the two local dailies about The San Francisco experience: 5 lessons on districts for Seattle. And I am not so sure.
Anyone have any thoughts?
A few days ago (yes that is decades in blogosphere time and this link has probably descended well-below the horizon by now) Crooked Timber had a post on Crime and the new urbanism which referred to a Police Report on The Cost of Policing New Urbanism. The title suggest that a game is afoot. So beware.
Thanks immensely to Robert Smith for pointing out this superb, absolutely right-on article from The Guardian by Deyan Sudjic about Landmarks of hope and glory which seeks to puncture the whole dreary balloon of starchitecture:
"The search for the architectural icon has become the ubiquitous theme of contemporary design."
Please read it, though I fear Deyan Sudjic may end on a note far more positive than I possibly could. I hope I am wrong.
I am pretty much an optimist and one of my guidelines for this blog (and of course it's the central tenet of my book 'City Comforts') is to "accentuate the positive." A bit Pollyanish? Yes. But I think we all learn more by looking at successful examples than by focussing on failure. So I try to keep it clean and praise more than condemn, showing good things rather than bad things. That's why I like the left hand column of this site so much.
Unfortunately, the mass hysteria which has taken hold in relation to precious object buildings, now particularly in relation to the Disney Hall, forces me to rethink that approach and tell you about some very bad things.
Reactions to the Tranbay Terminal redevelopment plan released in August have been surprisingly positive --- but none more so than this, from the infamous height foe Sue Hestor:
BRICKS AND BROWNSTONE: The New York Row House 1783 - 1929
The Municipal Art Society's Urban Center Books
in cooperation with
An evening lecture
with author, CHARLES LOCKWOOD
Introduction by Paul Gunther, President, The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
Admission:$20 MAS and Institute members, students and seniors; $25 others
Location: The Urban Center 457 Madison Avenue at 51st Street New York City
Seating is limited
Tickets can be purchased by calling Urban Center Books 212.935.3595 or online at www.urbancenterbooks.org.
Thursday October 30, 2003
One county is discussing how to create architectural diversity but I think that perhaps they mis-understand the difference between site plan and architecture?
A letter in Commentary (about principles for rebuilding Ground Zero) offers this nice phrase:
Avoid "zoot-suit architecture." Over 2,000 years of architectural history teach that extravagant-looking buildings, like the Victor Emmanuel monument to Italian national unity in Rome, become embarrassments in the eyes of succeeding ages. Nobody should be cowed by criticism or ridicule of less flamboyant architecture --- even if it comes from the prestigious pen of the New York Times's Herbert Muschamp.
...and the confluence of politics, Hollywood, celebrity..ok even "acting"...you must watch the TV show K Street. I bumped into it by accident Sunday night and couldn't grasp what I was watching, whether it was fact or fiction, which is part of its point, of course.
Armed Liberal writes about L.A: Red Sun Rising.
"If I had to characterize myself right now, I'd say I'm a 'Pat Brown' liberal. This state has twice as many people as it was designed to hold - as the man-made infrastructure that supports our habitable bubbles was designed for - and that can't last."
I can agree with the first part about Pat Brown.
But I am not sure of the arithmetic, even without being overly literal. I'd be curious to hear Armed Liberal expand on "twice as many as designed..." I know that a lot of people say that we are already at a point of over-population but I am no longer sure at all that I agree.
I was just trying to find Sam Hall Kaplan's "City Observed" radio show on KCRW-FM (Santa Monica) but I can't seem to find it.
Does anyone know what happened to the show? Am I simply missing it on the KCRW pages? Have they changed the name? etc.
UPDATE: I just called KCRW to inquire. The response? The show was "replaced" about a month ago. (Well at least they didn't say that it had never existed.)
Is it just my paranoid imagination but might it have had something to do with Kaplan's criticism of the Disney? (See post here.)
I wouldn't normally stoop to such a conjecture but I was in LA last week and the media there and in fact in all of SoCal (and abviously we know the ailment has spread to NY) seems totally, comically, even heart-breakingly enraptured with the Disney. With so much invested in it, it's plausible that the local powers couldn't tolerate any criticism of it and so asked that the messenger be "replaced." Again, this is mere conjecture, of course. Perhaps Kaplan simply got bored with offering opinions on a subject he knows well and cares about to an audience of millions.
UPDATE: Some info without a whole lot of clarification on the matter from L.A. Observed: Less design, more music at KCRW
Disney Hall is a building, within a city, and the normal criteria for judging a building are not to be abandonded because the economic & political forces behind the building are powerful and the architect induces flutters amongst some self-described cognoscenti.
My overall impression:
I find it both fascinating and a little saddening that so many have such great expectations for Disney Hall, especially when they have not even been to it. Here's one example presented in delightfully zany fashion. With only elusive beauty as a criterion, discussion of a particular building becomes little more than a Rorschach test i.e. it says less about the supposed subject than it does about the speaker.
More cant for FLW buffs here, and you've probably read similar breathless prose somewhere else:
But about Fallingwater's breathtaking beauty and its deeply spiritual quality there can be no doubt, at least in my mind. I have been to Fallingwater three times, each trip a pilgrimage, each even more rewarding than the previous one. I am not given to spirituality and am not especially fond of most modern architecture, but I am far from immune to "the deep spirituality that people intuit in the house" and agree that because Fallingwater's "key allusions are to nature. . . . Every visitor and viewer seems to find in Fallingwater some echo of his own culture."
Ugh. "...breathtaking beauty...deeply spiritual quality...nature"
Is he saying that the structure is unimportant and that's why Fallingwater is important --- because it puts you in touch with nature? Or what is he saying? Part of the problem of treating a building as a piece of sculpture to be observed, like a painting, rather than a tool to be used, is that there is not a whole lot to say besides I like it or I don't like it. It leaves architectural criticism way up in the air because there are no criteria except opinion, your opinion or other people's opinions. So discussions have to be puffed up with words like "beauty" and "spiritual" which lead nowhere.
Fallingwater may indeed be a nicely-done house. I don't know; I hope to see it some day and I'll be able to judge it fairly then. But why can't anyone say anything solid about it by way of criticism? Yes, the sociology behind it is nice gossip and we all like gossip. I'll visit it soon. Wouldn't it be funny if I came back a FLW buff, sounding as vapid as the rest of them do now, to me?
There's something about this article about Bartlesville, Oklahoma which brings out the nature of "high architecture" as little more (or less) than fashion, which is simultanbeously profound in its reflection of human insecurities and pathetic in its harping on human insecurities.
THIS year, darling, it's Bartlesville.
Ever since the turn of the last century, when wildcatters and outlaws flocked to what was then Indian Territory, ambition has grown like bluestem on the tallgrass prairie here. Fueled by money and audacity, local tycoons — the Medicis of the prairie — hired renegade architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff to build some of the most eccentric structures in America, including houses with octagonal bedrooms and goose-feather ceilings. The most dazzling of all was the Price Tower, one of only two skyscrapers ever built by Wright, a thin, pinwheeling, cantilevered design with gold-tinted windows and copper fins that presides over this city of 36,000 with a strange totemic power.
The NYT asks can the Disney Hall help give Los Angeles a Genuine Downtown? (italics added)
The hope in LA definitely seems (judging by the establishment media) to be just that.
Los Angeles, a city of suburbs in search of a center, on Monday came one step closer to finding one.
The shimmering stainless steel Walt Disney Concert Hall opened Monday morning, a 16-year project designed not only to transform the cultural landscape of the city but also to be the cornerstone for the creation of a downtown area that already shows signs of reinventing itself.
"We never had a downtown," Richard J. Riordan, the former mayor who played an important role in reviving the once near-dead Disney Hall, said before the ceremony. "We finally have one now. And Disney Hall is a symbol of that."
And as I'm just back from touring parts of it and it's late, my answer yet later. (Though maybe the title of this post will give you a hint.)
Don't miss this article about a guy who thinks that
"If you can't leave your ego at the door, you can't work at the design office," Mr. Van Valkenburgh said. "You put on a different pair of eyes, and commonly agree what's the better idea, and not who did it."
I've never (to my knowledge) seen any of his designs but I'd like to.
2blowhards's post on Tom Wolfe and Transparent Buildings leads me to this excellent article about libraries and light. Here's the comment I left at blowhards (and now that's a funny one: quoting my own comment on someone else's blog) in immediate response to an adverse opinion written by felixsalmon:
Isn't this interesting. I just logged back to this post to urge others to read Ciaran Guilfoyle's article as I thought it particularly intelligent.
When the local Seattle Library was selling Koolhaas to our citizenry it went on and on about his design, which with so much glass, would be "light and airy." To me, the image was jarring: who wants to read in bright light? There are few things less conducive to pleasant reading than direct sunlight; I can never figure out how so many people can read at the beach, for instance; I much prefer shade.
My take is that library managers sense that books are a dying technology. Visiting a library to read a reference --- say the Value Line stock rating service --- is likely to be a thing of the past in not very many years, at least not many years in institutional terms.
So what is a library to become? Well, why not some sort of "community center." The Seattle Library folks said precisely that during their own sales pitch...that the new library would be more than a library...it would be a community center. And so the building needs to be open and transparent and light --- all things which are largely adverse, as I see it, to reading, much less protecting books from the ravages of ultra-violet rays. Some natural light, of course. But filtered and indirect and gentle. Windows are useful here; window-walls are superfluous. At any rate, I do an awful lot of my reading at night when electricity is more relevant than the sun.
UPDATE: Another element of a good reading room is a long sight-line which allows one to shift the eye's focus. It's relaxing. And the sight line doesn't even have to be through a window to the outside. As I remember (dimly --- I cannot claim to have spent an extreme amount of time there) there is a wonderful reading room at Columbia University (The University of Washington also has one --- probably every university does) with no windows at all until 30 feet or so off the floor, cathedral-like. The natural light comes from on-high and is soft. Reading lights at carrels are a necessity. But the room is quite big....perhaps 180' long and so there is a decent sight-line so that one can relax one's focus from a book 14" away.
So I'd say that a good library need not have an overwhelming amount of natural light nor even windows near the floor. And predictably, I'd say that the criterion on which to focus is comfort. If you focus on comfort, the decisions fall into place.
Of course I have to admit I don't spend a great deal of time in libraries anymore.
Here is an article by Allan Connery about Calgary, Alberta which mentions City Comforts. It ran in The Calgary Herald on Aug. 12, 2003.
The author offers a couple of footnotes in advance to set the stage for out-of-towners:
• Calgary has an unusually concentrated downtown core, with more than 20 per cent of the city's half-million jobs concentrated in about a square mile.
• About 45 per cent of downtown workers use public transit.
• The Stephen Avenue Walk is a six-block stretch of the main street, turned into a pedestrian mall in the early 1970s.
• The Plus-15 system is a network of enclosed overhead walkways (nominally 15 feet above grade) joining most major downtown buildings. It's still well-regarded, but skeptics say it has a deadening effect on public outdoor space.
Then, the article itself:
The best parts of Stephen Avenue Walk are the old ones, built before high-rise developments turned their back on the sidewalks. The section east of 1st Street S.W. is finally coming into its own, after the difficult decades that began when the first suburban shopping malls began to challenge the city core. Ironically, the core fought back by adopting the malls’ strategy. Most downtown retail space nowadays is built into block-sized high rise developments linked by the Plus-15 walkway system. The downtown retail area has by and large turned itself into another indoor shopping mall. As Richard White of the Calgary Downtown Association likes to point out, West Edmonton Mall – still the largest in North America – has less retail space than Calgary’s city core. This mallification did save the downtown from becoming merely an over-sized office park. There was a cost, however: the sidewalks outside these huge new developments lost some of their vitality.
should be preserved as is and that it has had an undeserved bad rap since it was trounced by a
critic who inflicted the cut that keeps on bleeding was Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic for The New York Times, with the never-to-this-day-forgotten comment that Mr. Hartford's museum reminded her of "a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops." The "lollipops" referred specifically to the columns and their inset dark-marble discs, but the quip had le tout New York sniggering over the entire building.
I don't know how many of you know this building. I remember it being built and it was awful back then and I didn't read Huxtable when I was 16. To me it's still just a blah, unfriendly, faceless thing, silly, really, and I don't care how many pretentious modernists Edward Durrell Stone shocked when it was built; the building is not my style.
But Tom Wolfe says that it is "one of the most important buildings in the history of 20th-century architecture." Good GRIEF, Tom! I'll take another look at it next time I am in NYC as Wolfe is fairly smart and I respect his opinions (at least as a starting point). But I don't know understand how he gets there except through some abstract scrapings such as this comment on the columns (referred to in the first quote, above):
The truth is, the columns constitute a highly sophisticated repetition of the arches of the loggias up above in the form of both solids (the black marble discs) and voids (the arched spaces between columns) down below. The student of architecture might wish to go over to Columbus Circle and take a look at the virtuosity of this extraordinary interplay of positive and negative space before it is destroyed.
"Interplay of positive and negative space?" Oh Tom, say it ain't so...archi-bable? Toi? How the mighty have fallen.
And Wolfe is not alone in appreciating this structure. (Shows you how out-of-touch I am.) For example, see The unofficial landmark rape of 2 Columbus Circle. Also Preservation Online on Modern Makeover .
UPDATE: But, FelixSalmonsays it better seems to have his hat on and says it much better than I did.
I love this fabulous idea from New York to "Turn Old Rail Line Into a Park":
The Bloomberg administration moved ahead yesterday with its plans to transform an abandoned elevated rail line into a 1.6-mile-long park and make it the centerpiece for new commercial and residential developments along the western edge of Chelsea.
This article from Boston discusses a similar concept in Paris:
The Viaduc was an abandoned, crumbling, decaying 19th-century railroad viaduct. It was scheduled to be demolished. Instead, it has been transformed into a rich 21st-century combination of shops and parkland. The shops are tucked into the arches that support the viaduct. The park is a strip of green that follows the old train bed, up on top of the arches. You get the life of commerce and the peace of greenery in the same place.
UPDATE: Don't miss this great post by Michael Jennings which includes pictures of the Paris project.
UPDATE 2: And definitely don't miss this one from Social Deign Notes.
Perry de Havilland of London, England visits America and is astounded by the absurdity of the regulatory state.
(Notice the model stationed in the parking lot to help people locate the curb cut.)
Oh, don't spoil the guy's fun, Dave...So the idiots who built such an ugly set of steps --- especially into what appears to be a lovely wall --- appear simply to have mismeasured....which could also make a biting post about the perils of arithmetic in America.
Seriously, the purpose of that apron is a bit unclear. What were they thinking? (Or drinking?)
My first take is that they miscalculated the number of treads needed on the stairs and had to make it up with... an 18' by 12' apron? Then, someone thought it was required to have a curb next to the "clear" area of a handicapped stall? I just don't get it; and I am always one to try to find reason in madness. But this one is a real brain-twister. Maybe I am not seeing genius at work?
I guess I would chalk up the whole thing simply to dumb design/construction as opposed to a bad rule, having lots of HC ramps around. Or maybe a contractor looking for change orders?
But we don't look too workmanlike in any case.
Thanks to acdouglas for tuning me in to Martin Filler's splendid paean to Frank Gehry's Disney Hall. Yes the paean is spendid but it raises as many questions as it answers. More later. (I hope to visit Disney Hall this coming weekend.)
OK, I can't resist; I do have an immediate comment on one of Martin Filler's extravagent remarks .... this one is choice:
He [Gehry] can now, in my view, be counted safely among the most talented builders of the ages, comparable to the great impresarios of inventive architectural form --- peer of the master masons of the Gothic as well as of Brunelleschi, Alberti, Hawksmoor, Borromini, Neumann, Soane, Gaudi, Lutyens, Wright, Le Corbusier, Aalto, and Kahn.
Where do these perceptions come from? What is this weird "group think" which annoints certain architects? Or am I so blind that I simply cannot recognize such much-trumpeted genius?
As one example, I just happened to see Kahn's Salk Insititute a month or so ago and I have not been as underwhelmed by any piece of matter in a long time.
Oh, it's fine if you like corporate suburban office parks. (And I do like them, btw.) But my reaction to the Salk Institute was a big fat so what..."People really consider this to be a work of genius?" I had to laugh. For one thing the site is so magnificent --- perched on the edge of the Pacific --- that you'd have to be a total fool to botch it. For another, it seems like an extremely limited design in terms of expansion, which should be an essential component of any institutional program. But overall my reaction was endless waves of puzzlement that such a cold, sterile place should receive so much praise for so many years. (Yes, I do like concrete so it wasn't the material which put me off.)
Here's another view:
I mean, as a purely visual object, it's not terrible or anything; it's just forgettable --- unless one knows the name of the genius who designed it; then it becomes a notch on one's cultural gunstock. "We bagged another piece of culture, dear!"
I hope to talk next week to a man who spent most of his career working at the Salk and I would like to report back about his impressions as a someone who used the place i.e. did it work? was it a fun place to spend time thinking about whatever scientists think about? did it encourage yet more great ideas to flow? Though maybe, once again, whether a building "works" or not doesn't count when it comes to assessing "genius?"
So to me, praising Gehry by comparing him to Kahn does him no favor.
[a] new study from NASA...suggests even more complexity by arguing that human changes to the land surface over the last 300 years may have already altered the climate more than would occur from human-produced greenhouse gases.
The NASA study itself confirms:
While many scientists and policy makers have focused only on how heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide are altering our global climate, a new NASA-funded study points to the importance of also including human-caused land-use changes as a major factor contributing to climate change.
But I fail to see how such study is the least bit reassuring. Yes, it adds a complexity to the matter (and it seems plausible). But it is a very wicked complexity and is akin to telling someone "Sorry, we misdiagnosed you. That's not a broken bone but cancer."
Limiting gaseous emissions is amenable to a technological fix --- better machines, better processes etc etc. But decreasing the albedo (the reflectivity) of the planet which has resulted from 300 years of urbanization etc etc is a tad more of a task. The problem is no longer isolated to machines with which one can tinker but go to the far more extensive form of human settlement. Out of a small frying and into a huge fire. I fail to see the cause for glee unless one is part of a 'wing.'
UPDATE: Philip Stott suggests that "... we will only be able to cope with climate change, hot, wet, cold, dry, or all at once, by flexibility and adapation." That's an interesting perspective but I cannot see why it is so. Yes, climate changes without human agency. But it appears undedniable that human agencyis also having an impact. So why we should assume that we cannot at least try to reverse changes which we believe are against our interests? There are of course practical issues of figuring out what is going on and what to do about it, but the idea that we should not attempt to reverse changes which we have ourselves instigated puzzles me. Our minds may not be up to the task, and we may make unwise decisions --- so yes there is much to debate. But I can't see why we should leave the future to "flexibility and adapation" when we are ourselves, in part, the agents of change.
We spilled the milk in the first place; maybe we can mop it up.
The fact that the very albedo of the planet is a factor in global warming troubles me far more than does the emissions from my (figurative) SUV.
Michael Jennings tells us (this was quite a while ago):
I am sitting in a branch of Easy Internet Cafe in central London. This is a chain of internet highly functional internet cafes that exist in many of the major tourist cities in Europe, as well as in New York. (They are owned by Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who is also owns the discount airline EasyJet). These are as automated as possible: you buy a ticket for a certain value from a ticket machine, and you then walk up to a PC and type in the number on the ticket. The amount of internet time you get is calculated dynamically. If the store is very busy, you get a shorter time for your money than if the store is empty. (Therefore the system charges higher rates automatically at peak times). These particular internet cafes have for some time had kiosks selling food and drink just inside the doors. Nothing fancy, just coffee, sandwiches, chocolate bars, that kinds of thing.
My only question is whether (and/or why not?) the food and drink also vary in price. One would think so as they are a fungible commodity i.e. the staff can always order up another haunch of venison for sandwiches. But they probably don't vary. And I wonder if such congestion pricing is still in effect and how the customers like it -- not being able to predict how much time they will have until they get to the cafe.
The sort of thing which seems to happen fairly often in discussions of the built environment ----airy, fairy, abstractions with nothing solid --- is now happening again (but this time very surprisingly by usually extremely grounded Chris at Crooked Timber) in a discussion about Compassion which links to several well-known bloggers (Natalie Solent and Stephen Pollard, for instance) neither of whom provide any solid ground to the discussion either.
Now I think compassion and government is a great topic. But I have no idea what it means. I have no i dea how a government can be compassionate much less whether it should unless you offer me some examples. But nowhere in the discussions does anyone say how this word compassion plops down to earth and becomes a real policy choice. Puzzling.
It seems to me that no one on the left who is in their right mind (well yes that may be a small club) really thinks we do things for poor people (as one example of what I imagine these bloggers are talking about) for the benefit of those we help. We help others because we have a particular ( even "aesthetic" in the largest sense of the word) view of the world and are fastidious in pursuing that vision. For example, we don't like beggars on the street, especially in front of our own house, because it is ugly and sordid to see people living that way. I don't mean the individuals, of course but the whole squalid scene is ugly and sad and depressing and we don't want things like that around. So we support government programs to help. (Hey we are also skeptical of young able-bodied 25 year olds with help signs, too.)
So I'd suggest that compassion is a sham subject to begin with as we don't do things for "compassion" but out of our own sense of how the world should be and in many cases that means spending money on someone else to change the world so it aligns with our own tastes. Ultimately, for example, we will support decent public medicine because the idea of people suffering (say, because they lack the money for an operation) because the alternative vision is just too ugly and we decide as a group to spend the money to create an alternative reality.
Furthermore, we can pretty much do anything we want without the use of the term "compassion" by very legitimately expanding the definition of a "public good" to, for example, include a city in which there are no beggars.
But, I'm a simple guy; and when asked for an opinion, I usually say that I am for good things and against bad things. But perhaps some bloggers might not agree.
UPDATE: Panchromatica states that I "argue" against compassion.
Fiddlesticks. I was hoping to be very clear but obviously I wasn't. Sorry. I neither argue for nor against "compassion." --- Though I imagine that stating that someone is "against compassion" --- what a silly high-schoolish topic in the first place! why'd I ever succumb? --- makes a good post. :) (Wish I had some of Brian Micklethwait's smileys here.)
"Compassion" is a nice word but what I am talking about is "motivation" --- what really gets people to act. My view is that self-interest is what is really going on. For example, if I want to persuade you to give to a charity, I think you'd respond better if I said "Do you really want to live in a world with ----------?" rather than "Show your compassion for -----------." A subtle but significant distinction. And as I said, probably not a big deal as either approach can get us to the same spot i.e. giving to charity.
My intention has been to merely observe what I believe human are like.
What appears to be "Compassion" is merely a special form of self-interest, the desire to live in a certain kind of world.
Tell me that you do something good for someone else because the idea sickens and depresses you that people should be sleeping on the street and I will believe you.
Tell me that you did it because of your great and generous heart and I will wonder what bridge you will try to sell me next.
Sorry if anyone is "shocked, yes shocked."
In discussing the software which Gehry uses to design his "goofy" buildings, it included two (to me) intriguing nuggets:
In many cases, architects hand over designs to builders, who often prefer to have as little contact as possible with them thereafter. Some contracts even prohibit architects from going to construction sites. This, they say, is the best way to prevent the architects from trying to make expensive changes, the cost of which is borne by the construction company. italics added -- DS
It's not a big deal and may have a ready explanation but there are two issues:
1. How does the contractor get paid if the architect is forbidden to go to the site? It's typical to have the architect inspect the work-in-progress to determine if the contractor is building according to plan. And that makes sense; the architectural firm designed it, they should know what is supposed to be built and are in the best overall position to approve the work and to authorize construction draws. Having another third party enter the scene to judge might be useful as a supplement for special matters (the quality of the steel, for example) but the architect is in the best position to have a comprehensive perspective. So if they can't see the work, how do they authorize the money?
2. Is there really a contractor still in business who would agree to absorb the cost of changes initiated by the architect? The self-destructive idiocy of such a deal hardly requires an MBA. Moreover, contractors are notorious for liking "change orders" because they are extras and build up the profit margin; and they also provide a useful excuse to adjust the schedule, which often very much in need of extension.
Admittedly, neither of these two issues are crucial to the gist of the Business Week article, which is a paean and puff piece to Gehry's "genius."
But when I see odd notes like the ones above, I wonder whether the whole piece is out-of-tune.
Oh, but there's probably some good explanation.
Unfortunately, my initial caution about Professor Stott's EnviroSpin Watch might have been justified. While there is indeed plenty of opportunity for debunking the hype, shuck and jive of the environmental left, this blog, while interesting, is not doing it so far.
This post on organic foods condemns them because some particular brands of maize had levels of mycotoxins (whatever they are) beyond the proposed but not adopted legal limits. Well and good; the regulator may be doing their job in spot surveys. It may in fact be that for some reason all brands of organic maize are inherently flawed. (Btw, I have no vested interest as I eat pretty-much everything and with no guilt.)
But from my reading of Professor Stott's underlying linked sources I can only conclude that some maize was indeed unsafe. I don't quite get how one can draw any broader lesson. Expanding a flaw in one particular crop into a blanket condemnation of organic foods is inexplicable. It's also worth noting that there is not yet anything more than a proposed standard in the EC for these bad chemicals.
Nevertheless, his point that the media appears to have ignored this maize/mycotoxin issue is worth considering. Of course the media ignores lots of stories; whether ignoring this one as so minor as to be insignificant is an example of mad-dog environmentalist bias, I do not know. I think you'd have to have a pretty subtle understanding of the whole GM/natural food debate; and I don't; I just eat what I want.
Has anyone noticed how many business cards are simply unreadable? Or at least with type so small that they are unreadable to the adults for whom one would think they are intended? i.e. middle-aged people with money to spend?
I received one a few weeks ago --- and I would post it except that I have no wish to embarrass any one in particular --- from a young (23-24?) sales rep. The card was so obscure and hard to read that I had to take out my reading glasses. And this card, btw, was from a printing company which presents itself as being particularly "design-oriented."
Obviously, such business cards --- and they all seem to come from firms which appear to pride themselves on being design-aware --- must be created by young people with 20-15 vision and approved by only slightly-older people who are forgetting who has the money: people who need reading glasses.
Hi everyone. This Weblog will monitor carefully the output of environmental and science journalists in the British media. The purpose is not to take up a particular position on a given subject (e.g., 'global warming'), but to assess whether the topic is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, it will focus on the science, and it is hoped to be able to bring to public notice good science that is being ignored by the media because it may be politically incovenient to government, to certain pressure groups, or, indeed, for the agenda of the newspaper concerned. The emphasis will be on the broadsheet newspapers, the BBC, and Channel 4, because these present themselves as providing serious reportage and comment on environmental issues.
I hope Professor Stott can do it. All too many debunkers don't start from the science but from their desire to debunk. Sorry, guys, it doesn't work that way.
UPDATE 2: Crooked Timber is also a skeptic but a skeptic of Professor Stott's post on Global Warming.
I can't find it right now but just a bit ago one of the Blowhards was mentioning that his own inclination to avoid the the mass media in favor of blogs was recently punctured by some terrific writing in The New Yorker. I had a similar experience --- the wise reminder that there is life beyond the blogosphere --- in reading a recent column (9/29 issue) by Hendrik Hertzberg about the California recall.
Since I am close to California (relatively speaking), have good friends there and like the place, I paid close attention.
The gist of the article --- and while this is not a political blog but an urbanistic one, my justification for this posting is that Arnold Schwarzenegger lives in a city of sorts, and is thus clearly fair game for an urban culture blog --- well the gist of the article by a writer who I have come to respect as extremely astute is that Ah-nold is actually a cultural figure of some real and positive significance. Ah-nold as a culture figure. Interesting.
Hertzberg observes, and it fits with my memory, that the body has become a vastly more important vessel in the past 30 years and that the Arnold, while hardly responsible, has been a significant part of that very positive change of consciousness. Arnold has in fact been a leading part of a major cultural change:
When "Pumping Iron" first came out, Schwarzenegger and his bodybuilder friends not so much strong and healthy as grotesque and misshapen. Today twenty-six years later, bodies like theirs no longer seem in the least monstrous, merely exaggerated. Schwarzenegger opened up our ideal image of the male body in his direction, as surely as the Beatles and their rock-and-roll colleagues opened up our ideas about the permissible range of men's hair styles. Today, a pre-Arnold toga-and-sandals movie star like Victor Mature looks to our Arnold-conditioned eyes like someone in need of a workout. Free weights and weight machines are now part of the exercise regime of tens of millions of people. People have become more relaxed and less fraught about the male body. Ideas of male have broadened. There is room for the Charles Atlases, and also for the ninety-eight pound weaklings. This is a kind of liberation and it is partly Arnold's doing.
OK, let's not forget Jane Fonda's tapes and Jack Lalanne before that (and probably many others such as Charles Atlas) who have contributed. But Ah-nold has done his part and is a far more significant cultural figure, even perhaps historical than Gray Davis. Think about it. What does Schwarzenegger stand for? It's OK and even good to care about your body. What about Davis? Who knows; his first name is eponymous. Schwarzenegger is a far more significant and positive contributor to our culture than is Davis. No?
Of course that does not mean that he should be a Governor, especially without, ironically, paying his dues. Were I Californian today, and there are worse things than to be a Californian today, I would with some regret vote NO on Arnold.
1. The recall itself . The recall, while perhaps a necessary tool, is misused in this instance. Davis may be an inept governor but not wicked as to suggest the overly-dramatic and politically-distracting step of recall.
Do the math. It cost Darryl Issa some million or so dollars to gather enough signatures to certify the recall for the ballot. That is chump-change. So the new math is that now ---- for a few million dollars (said with no irony) --- we can put any elected official (who is subject to recall, of course) in play. This is enormous political leverage and it can easily be misused to remove or more likely pressure someone with whom we simply disagree, as it is in this instance.
I think that's a bad precedent and so failing to see that Davis is an extraordinarily venal and corrupt man, I would say just leave him in office and if he is so ineffective then the Legislature will work around him and nullify him.
2. Ah-nold has to pay his dues. In fact I like Arnold, I think he is smart and I think I agree with him on a number of issues. (Yes, he's a bit coarse and reports of his attitude toward Ariana annoy and disgust me, assuming that they are true.) Former Governor Jerry Brown said that Arnold has the qualifications to be governor --- of course Brown did not set the bar very high but so what? And so what, I ask? I'm probably qualified, too, in some broad sense to be Governor. So are you.
But I don't see the Governorship of California as an entry-level position and I would like to feel more assured if Arnold had been present as a serious commentator/critic/participant for more than a few years. (From one perspective, his whole political effort could be nothing more than part of his super-star maintenance program, keeping him in the public eye.) It's been too easy for him and as a body-builder he knows that the effort is part of the process. His body-work has been an extraordinary example of focus and hard-work. He should apply such energy to politics and then I will vote for him, maybe, if he offers me more than pablum but some ideas with muscle behind them.
The NYT reports on Greater Environmental Awareness on Golf Courses:
LONG ISLAND'S newest golf courses are following practices of decades ago and creating layouts that require less irrigation and chemicals than the extensively manicured and heavily fertilized courses that players have come to expect in recent years, according to professionals in the business.
Sneaking Suspicions missed it too but went back to read the transcipt of a 60 Minutes piece on eminent domain i.e. condemnation or compulsory sale. It is indeed an outrage that one of the essential requirements of eminent domain --- "public purpose" --- can be so easily degraded to mere "it would be nicer this way."
I add Janet Maslin to my list of people who assume FrankLloydWright's magnificence but can never seem to get around to articulating why. Her review of a new book about Fallingwater mentions nothing about the house itself but only about the personalities and sociology surrounding its building. (I assume that Maslin's comments should, for the review to be a decent one, reflect the tone of the book.)
I've really got to get to the bottom of this.
Samizdata (Johnathan Pearce) offers some interesting reflections on a supermarket
"I say that if small stores are indeed being forced under, it has more to do with the burdens of regulation and tax which necessarily weigh more heavily on small firms than on larger, more established ones."
Possible explanation but from my experience I'd suggest that small stores with limited stock and higher prices cannot compete ---except on the basis of convenience --- that carton of cigarettes or milk --- with the marvelous display offered by some chains, such as the one described in the post. If there is a culprit --- and it escapes me why everything must have one, sometimes there is simply evolution --- it is the consumer who demands choice, convenience, style and amusement in even the most mundane matters such as shopping for mustard.
UPDATE: And don't miss Michael Jennings starting with supermarkets and ending with the productivity paradox.
The changing dynamics of shopping, should anyone wonder why I am linking, are directly related to urban form, the vitality of shopping districts etc etc. Food is one of the few daily essentials. The size of the store in which we purchase it has a direct connection, for example, to our use of cars etc etc. So acknowledgement of the structural superiority of the supermarket --- NO! the corner grocery has disappeared neither because of wicked government regulation nor because of wicked predatory corporations --- is an essential for neighborhood planning.
But that cannot be a surprise when:
"During its investigation, the board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA."(emphasis added - DS)
The idea that a PowerPoint presentation could substitute for a full technical narrative is so blissfully stupid and astonishing that I cannot believe that anyone would be blaming PowerPoint for what appears to be naive, irresponsible, stupid methods of presentation. A useful presentation technique would be to use a PDF of a complete paper and walk though it highlighting key sentences. But that could also be presented via PowerPoint software.
I don't remember reading about this aspect anywhere and it puts the criticisms of PowerPoint in a different and far less serious perspective. And makes me think that Tufte is just blowing smoke about PowerPoint per se.