I’m with Robert Zaller on this one. How will our technotopia end? Not with a bang, but a short circuit.
Thoreau saw it coming: When our first technoids went gaga over the Transatlantic Cable, he voted No! “What shall come into the broad, flapping American ear?” he asked. “That the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough?”
Kim. Kim, our quite often contrary Maralyn. Two nuts don’t make an edible salad.
I just sweated through an Al Jazeera documentary that reported how our tactical Agent Orange bombings from the Korean War are still afflicting both live and yet unborn North Koreans, almost 50 years on. For moral squalor, our McNamara domino foolishness easily matches the insanely sobbing funeral of North Korea’s Dear Leader.
We have let the military-industrial complex bring us to the brink of bankruptcy. They are starving their own masses. Who’s nutsier?
Patrick D. Hazard
January 3, 2012
Editor’s comment: Can I safely surmise that you’ve never lived in North Korea?
Who said recessions put innovation on the slow track? Don’t tell that to 29 year old Seattle “architect” John Morefield! (I put “architect” in quotes since he lost two jobs in 2008 and doesn’t yet have his license.) He decided to set up an advisory service at a farmer’s market in downtown Seattle.
Drop a nickel in his tin can, and you get his professional answer to any architectural question! (The nickels he’s collected in his first year go to a neighborhood food bank –1546 of them his first year at the booth, and 304 “digital” nickels at his website, Architecture 5 cents.com. 95% of his commissions come from his website. He made $50,000 his first year, after fielding his booth over Christmas Holiday. He spent some Architecture school vacations selling organic produce, which is where he got the booth idea.
His goofy booth got him a local news story. (What is more interesting and inspiring than a runaway economic and PR success in the middle of a recession?) All DIY done. He’s working on an international website now, Creative Commons. com, where architects can swap new ideas internationally, show off their new jobs, and in general be aided by a Washington business advice firm, C.A.S.H., which stands for Community Alliance for Self Help. It gives its clients basic business info: financing, taxes, profit forecasting, marketing (none of which essentials are taught in A School, Morefield notes bitterly.)
“It’s a lot of work,” he concedes, “it’s scarey, but I love every minute of it. If someone offered me $80,000 to sit behind a computer, I wouldn’t do it.” (Kristina Shevory, “Architect, or Whatever,” New York Times (1/21/10)p. D 1, New York edition. He has a lot of potential competitors: Kermit Baker, chief economist for the A.I.A. notes that architectural employment peaked in July, 2008 at 224,500 but fell to 184,600 by November, 2008.
Is your bathroom too small? Do you want more space, want to add a second story; or start that spring project. No matter what your needs, his advice comes for a nickel. The nickel leads after a conversation on the spot to his website where he turns out to be a very innovative thinker about architecture and the common man in our cultural democracy—at the opposite end of a trail that peters out with the spurious goal of starchitecture.
He deplores that only 2% of American homes are architect designed. Developers and contractor dominates the scene. He looks forward to the day when all homeowners turn to architects for counsel. The opening, ice-breaking conversation costs only a nickel. Professional counsel applies professional rates. Right now, he’s got 15 amazing clients eager for his counsel on a gig that began with a $100 booth (he says it needs a new paint job) and 8 Saturdays at $40 produce market fees.
It’s the promising egalitarian future of American architecture!
When my wife announced we would take the train to Kranichfeld (Field of Cranes)to hike around the mountains of Southern Thuringia—to look at two abandoned castles, my heart skipped a few boring beats, relieved only by the prospect of seeing another squadron of cranes taking their fall flight South. (My first glimpse of their annual migration in Germany almost made a birder of me, so majestic was their deployment.)
Actually, those two castles had enough history to appease my muscles strained by the semi-vertical hike. And the 360 degree ocular sweeps in the tiptop castle lookouts were tantalizing. It also seemed every dog within 20 kilometres barked themselves silly at our invading their terrain, pausing as we did to catch our breath. At one such pause the handsomest ram I’ve ever seen strode over from his distant “house” to check us out. Soon his ewe joined her ram to gawk too. Followed by a perky new lamb mewling happily. There the two friendly trios murmured and mumbled at each other: the sheepish trio-- and Hilly, Danny and me.
It was then that my wife’s vague allusions to “birds” began to make sense. One fiftyish autodidact falconer, one Herbert Schütz, had moved his birds and their perches to Niederburg Castle in 2005, because its heights and broad vistas there energized his birds. Paradoxically, ”the perfect” fall day, blazing sun and not a whisper of wind, is not “perfect” for them. They want to soar to windy heights.
Schütz explained that he found his first bird with his grandfather—a small buzzard in the woods, and carefully carried it home. He then succumbed to a passion for them, buying more and different species whenever he earned pocket money. He passed the falconer’s exam in 1975. His first choice was Dame Anja. His second he named Ralf, only to be embarrassed when Ralf started laying eggs!
His performance now exhibits six different species. Most interesting to my eye were the white or American eagle (my first!), a buzzard, a condor and an owl. The ten level bleachers faced a huge field on two corners of which were raised platforms for the birds to show off on. Schütz has the gimmick of identifying Americans in the audience and teasing them with his birds! I had the rare (and I fondly hope unique) experience of having a condor zoom at my head and settle on my shoulder!
We were worried that Danny (who sat alone on the first row) would panic when he got birded. Heh, Schütz chose a white owl to zoom at Danny. He bravely stroked the bird and got a white owl feather for his courage! He proudly displayed it on our train trip back to Weimar. It now holds a place of honor above his bed.
Schütz is a talented performer, explaining the diverse personalities of his avian tribe as he deftly toys with each breed that has its own character and then rewards them each with flesh or seeds. The elegance of these animals has to be seen to be believed.
I was curious to see how this entertainment began as a method of human survival. “Falconry” is defined as “the taking of wild quarry in its natural state by means of a trained raptor.”What is now an elegant entertainment began as a means of survival. It appears that the art probably originated in Mesopotamia or Mongolia. The story picks up about 2000 B.C. The Falcon was the symbolic bird of ancient Mongol tribes. And falconry figures in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The art was probably introduced into Europe around 400 A.D, when the Huns and Alans invaded from the East.
Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250) is generally acknowledged as the most significant wellspring of traditional falconry knowledge. He probably got his knowledge from the Arabs in a war between June 1228 and June 1229. He got a copy of Moamyn’s manual on falconry then and had it translated into Latin by Theodore of Antioch. Frederick II himself made corrections to that translation in 1241 for “De Scientia Venandi per Aves”. Toward the end of his life he wrote “The Art of Hunting with Birds”.
It became a popular sport and status symbol for European nobles. Not so with the nomadic Bedouins. They hunted small game in the winter months to supplement a meager diet. The genre flourished in Europe in the 17th century, but slowly perished in the 18th and 19th century when firearms became the weapon of choice. In the early twentieth century there was a revival in England and North America as a posh pastime. Veterinarian advances and telemetry (transmitters attached to birds) have lengthened the falcons’ life spans. But it remains with benign addicts like Herbert Schütz to bring the thrills of this ancient art to the masses.
Serendipitous juxtaposition is the joy of my intellectual life. No sooner had I finished reading William Smock’s simple but brilliant “The Bauhaus Ideal: Then and Now” (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2004), off the Bauhaus Uni’s new book rack than Time’s Person of the Year issue (December 26, 2011) dropped in my mailbox, with its story of how the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei became obsessed with architecture after investigating the deaths of students whose shoddily constructed schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
“I got involved with architecture,” he explained. To work in architecture you are so much involved with society, with politics, with bureaucrats. It’s a very complicated process to do large projects. You start to see the society, how it functions, how it works. Then you have a lot of criticism about how it works.” (Time, p.90.)
Sina (a Chinese internet company) inveigled him into becoming adept at blogging, to get some justice for those victims of incompetent architects. Smock chose the analogous task of seeking what the Bauhaus tried to do and explaining his findings with clear English and illustrative images. It’s first time I found explained how the Bauhaus grew out of a Gilded Age prehistory of Modernism, following through on how Postmodernism complicates the Bauhaus heritage.
"Most modern design ideas,” Smock shows, "predate the Bauhaus—sans serif type, skeletal furniture, flat roofs—but the Bauhaus wrapped the up in a compelling package.” (p.vii.) Indeed, a major weakness of the Bauhaus was ignorance of their forerunners, e.g the British wallpaper designer Christopher Dresser who spent some months in Japan studying their folk art after lecturing in Philadelphia at their world’s fair in 1876.
He liked to say that he went to Japan a mere decorator and returned an industrial designer, arguably the world’s first. Similarly Ernst Meyer was mass producing the so-called Frankfurt kitchen in the apartments he was multiplying as the city’s architect. You could excuse Gropius and company as they fought a cruel inflation and rightward drifting legislature, but they were also blind to obvious opportunities.
As he tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to harness his Star-artists in an experimental curriculum, two penniless immigrant autodidact German architects, Albert Kahn (Detroit) and Timothy Pflueger (San Francisco), innovated brilliantly—Kahn in automobile factory design and Pflueger in urban parks and multimodal transportation complexes.
The reputation of the Bauhaus architects and designers (or ignored!) was inflated to compensate for post-Nazi guilt. Marianne Brandt, one of the most creative Bauhauslerins, never had an exhibition during her lifetime. And the greatest architect to come out of that school was Mies’ Azubi, Bertrand Goldberg, who transformed Chicago architecture—and proudly remained true to the movement’s blue collar idealism to his dying day. We discussed the sadly superficial “successful” career of his mentor Mies at our last meeting in 1995, two years before he died.
Smock is especially good in describing how non Bauhaus designers like Charles Eames and George Nelson achieved what the Bauhaus “stars” merely promised to achieve. Smock gives short vignettes of all the major Bauhaus stars. And his bibliography is essential for serious students who want to quickly get up to date on the issues of mass access to good design. The Swede from Ikea did what they only gassed about. And Henry van de Velde’s ouvre, culminating in his Weimar buildings that are now the HQ of the Bauhaus Uni makes you speculate on what he could have achieved if his Belgian passport made him an enemy alien in 1916.
And Smock’s blast against Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown in their faux celebration of the idiocies of Las Vegas is as credible as any indictment of that false architectural maneuver I have yet read. Ai Weiwei’s serious program for coping with the grim effects of bad architecture in China makes their fancy academic ploys the intellectual flops they really are.
Louis Kahn’s protégé, Richard Saul Wurman’s "Man Made Philadelphia“ was designed to give students in the Philadelphia public school intelligent patrons of architecture. Smock’s volume complements it ably. Ricky went on to create TED, the intellectual movement to sponsor discussions over cultural crises like inadequate architecture. His series of volumes on the architecture of diverse American cities is also exemplary.
But the closest the newly thoughtful West gets to Ai Weiwei’s movement to use social media to promote adequate architecture in all our underdeveloped countries is in Cameron Sinclair’s “Design As If You Give A Damn”, his Bible of Architecture for Humanity. He expands Millard Fuller’s “Habitat for Humanity” to include professional architects to volunteer home builders. Gropius would be thrilled by their effective humanism. Anybody with a hammer is welcome!
Hedges is right in fearing and rejecting the Tea-Tweeters.
My hunch is that Casino Capitalism is much more insidious and dangerous. They are highly intelligent and very educated. They see that Ronald Reagan's conscious deindustrialization of America makes an egalitarian America no longer tenable.
And they want to get, and git it big, while there's still a lot to git. They couldn't care less about the deunionized they have defeated.
It was thrilling while it lasted. And downward mobility is all that is left for the masses. Too bad. Andy, alas, have no more bets to Hedges.
Mencken was prophetic: the Fox ranters are proof positive that a malingering boobisie is haunting American life. Palin as Weep? How low can you go? Obama's a Muslim, born outside the US of A? The Zillionaires who are financing the TeePeeWeeWee Parties will go down in our Hysteria as the dumbest Nuts who ever corrupted a democracy.
The current Der Spiegel's Halloween issue is truly scary: The Americans have given up on their Dream. I used to tell my AmLit students AL was the greatest unread lit in the history of mankind, and that a people who didn't read their great writers eventually lost their minds.
Alas, it came quicker than I feared. We "Exceptionally Blessed" Ams turn out to be exceptionally schitzy, veering too facilely between too much idealism (the Peace Corps) and a flabby materialism (making Iraq safe for demogoguery).
Maybe if they had taken Mencken more seriously. Oh well, it was frustrating while lasted--to Amerinds, black and white slaves, not to forget unemployed works whose bosses made 300 times what they used to make, after Reagan began his reign of error by breaking one union and advising the brass to break the rest by outsourcing.
For what it's worth, after ten years in Weimar, researching the Bauhaus in particular and modern architecture in general, Germany is now a far cry from Fascism: owners by and large support unions, invest sensibly in retraining out of work workers, as well as new high school graduates. They also are committed to raising workers salaries, something American megamillionaires must learn soon before they wreck our economy again and worse.
Grow up, soon, Reaganuts, or we'll all be in the soup.
Respect for the physical sciences by no means exhausts the secular humanist's wonder at the richness of life. Nonetheless, the curiosity and discipline associated with the natural (and I would add the better social) sciences surely compete with ethical conduct as the most remarkable attributes of our species.
And alas, the Humanities themselves attest to a deplorable tendency to self-corruption as in their deplorable infatuation recently with fatuous polysyllabic dead ends.
Corrupted reason is one of the greatest weaknesses of mankind. The ideal Humanities Curriculum of the only possible future (given the wasteful ways we've been heading) would honor the marvelous paleontology of Penn's Patrick McGovern in discovering what our less than rational forebears drank at King Midas' burial as much as a great poem. Both attest to the wondrous capacities of the human species to honor the truth.
I’ve been in Weimar since 1999 researching a book on the Bauhaus, motivated by reading in Nicholas Pevsner’s groundbreaking book on Modernism in which he said that Gropius wanted to fuse art and technology to bring good design to the working classes. I had been a homeless boy in Depression Detroit.
My research has destroyed all my illusions. Gropius was an incompetent architect who complained bitterly to his mother that he couldn’t draw! (And had a private partner, Adolf Meyer, who did the heavy lifting.) Mies was ashamed of being a mason’s son and created “art works” that were uninhabitable. He sucked up, unsuccessfully, to Rosenberg and Speer until Gropius got him a rich man’s commission in Wyoming in 1938. There was no architecture class at the Bauhaus until 1928, when Gropius gave up and fled to New York.
My friend Bertrand Goldberg is the only major architect to come out of the Bauhaus (last class, 1933) and they are so hagiographical about minor Germans that he has never even had a Bauhaus Exhibition. (Now, Peter Behrens was a great architect, and they ignore him! Another scandal!) Philip C. Johnson didn’t study architecture until 1938, all the while writing scabrous letters about how obsessed Grope was with the working class. PCJ polluted the dialogue about Architecture in America, arguing as an insecure parvenu that only ART mattered.
Hence the POMO crap like the Chippendale Sony. PCJ never saw a new architecture wave he didn’t want to surf on. I hope the new MOMA director learned from his Columbia colleague Herb Gans how central humane values are to architecture. Starchitecture is the biggest dead end in the history of the genre: Talkable Architecture for the easily snowed, newly wealthy. The Bilboa Defect. (I explore these intuitions on the website of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, where I just sold my lovely Louie Kahn house in Greenbelt Knoll for a 1784 villa at Seifengasse 10, Weimar 99423.) (Goethe lived at +1.)
Wish I could be there for the palaver. You are in good hands,though, with Witold Rybczynski, America’s best design critic by a mile.
I also didn't know William Carlos Williams had so exotic a youth, but I recognize TS Eliot's tight-assed crack about WCW's not knowing enough about America to write poems, relying as Eliot did on his first generation Puritan antecedents who burned witches!
As a certified cyberidiot, I ended up witlessly last night as a SMSer, when I was just trying to track down my hero Bill Siemering who gave me my first freelance gigs at WHYY-FM. He had sort of disappeared, so I Googled about, discovering he had been preaching local media as a cultural missionary in—Africa and Mongolia! (More of that later.)
I started my daily swipe at the Poynton state of journalism and discovered that Ken Auletta, the New Yorker media savant, had just commented on the USC study that the daily press would disappear in five years! It prodded me to put on the media history hat I had first worn as Gilbert Seldes’ Annenberg gofer as an assistant professor teaching media history at Penn.
So here goes! My media history was a souped up take on “From Cave Painting to Comic Strip”. I emphasized the McLuhan rule that newer media have always threatened the status quo ever since our ancestors discovered that the new medium language was more effective than billy clubs in settling arguments. And in the 1920’s radio threatened print media and in the 1950’s, TV threatened radio. Only the pace had picked up. It was the way our media worlds worked.
Then a funny thing happened. I realized that my doctoral dissertation ,”John Fiske as ‘American Scholar’: The Testing of An Native American Tradition”, namely, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Phi Beta Kappa oration of 1836! I had written this interpretation with the Doctoral Committee’s gun to my head. I had asked for permission to write on Marshall McLuhan’s new ideas. But in 1951 these fresh angles on communication only elicited a negative “Huh?” from these old fogies! So I complied and filed in the atic when it was accepted in 1957. Until last week when I read the last chapter for the first time in 54 years. And it made great sense.
Fiske was a very, very bright Harvard student, but he made the tactical mistake of noisily reading Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin as his No vote to required Sunday Chapel. The still theological brass noticed his apostasy and blacklisted him for the professorial job he would have been great at. And his family had no income he could fall back on. So he created a new kind of career that eventually did him in, physically: he traveled transcontinentally on the new medium of dependable rail as a roving lecturer, eventually publishing his talks about the newly invented genre of American History in popular books. It was a tough go, but he made do by innovating.
Alternative weeklies like the revered “Welcomat” could and should batten on the leisure-oriented ads of failed dailies. They should also maximize circulation by at first free copies at local high schools and colleges, generating student interest with accessible disputations on the discrete conditions that threaten the effectiveness of mass education. As the vagaries of unemployment become more and more threatening, free media can sponsor analytic discourse on related problems. Some of the money that businesses invest in bespoken institutes and paid for representatives could support more honest investigations as the Gates and Buffets of the ruling classes defect from the crudest Cashocracy.
At Annenberg we had an evening lecture series featuring media policymakers explaining their problems and decisions to a required audience of graduate students. The trouble often was professors sucking up to media brass rather than asking usefully tough questions. And I’ll never forget the first class complaining to me ,one by one in conference at graduation time about the paradox that sponsor Annenberg ran the worst TV and daily in town. The answer to that is tough: more taxes and less phoney charity.
And of course our public schools need a thorough introduction to the slippery new institutions of mass culture. When I outlined such a course at the Daedalus Conference in the Poconos (1959) as I had devised as a Carnegie postdoctoral fellow at Penn, the poet Randell Jarrell literally ended the conference by booming the inanities of “You’re the man of the Future, Mr. Hazard, and I’m glad I won’t be there.”
Well, he wasn’t, committing suicide some years later in South Carolina. That saddened me twice, since I relished teaching his poems. The Upper Westside New Yorkers there got off on such dumb inanities. Norman Podhoretz led the pack, mocking the promising young TV writers like Paddy Chayefsky and Gore Vidal as ”kitchen sink dramatists”. (Perhaps, but more intellectual than such “plugged toilet” critics.)
I believe more and more, from my experiences inside and outside Academe, that the copycat humanists who unthinkingly repeated each other’s un-truisms about the mass culture they judged inferior to their middlebrow nonentities are responsible for its slow and erratic maturing. These parvenus, we mustn’t forget, were scrabbling out of Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. We should empathize at their pain, but ensure that the next generation of humanists are not disgracefully off target.
The absence of Christian Charity in both conservative and progressive responses is astonishing! As a Jesuit educated Ph.D. ex Catholic, I would urge you to put priests and bishops allowing sexual abuse of children in jail where they belong. W's polysyllabic piffle doesn't obscure the fact that your Holy Mother Church is currently undergoing a despicable reBorgiafication. Shame on you pious frauds. Clean up your filthy act.God is ashamed of you.
Now if only the 90 percent of our designers serving the lucky 10 percent of our global population would only emulate the Cooper Hewitt trio who fixed that wheelchair, what a much better world we'd be living in. That evilly skewed 90/10 ill ratio I call Rawsthorn's Law, from the Wonderland Alice who concocted it. Democracy will only flourish when it matches demography.