Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New York and Los Angeles

Jane Jacobs, planning guru, died today. In her book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," Jacobs challenged the logic of 1950's planning, wherein entire cities were demolished, compartmentalized, and warehoused in "architectural masterpieces" (read: towers ringed with moats of grass and asphalt). With her adopted New York neighborhood threatened with annihaliation, Jacobs set out to prove its worth. With the daily life of her Greenwich Village neighborhood as her laboratory, and the utilitarian functions of its streets her proof, we now recognize that cities grow organically and in response to its residents. Though built by people, cities symbiotically respond to and reflect the functional lives of individuals. The mean existence of the student, the garbage man and the shop keeper were elevated above Le Corbusier's Brave New World architecture. Huge swaths of urban America owe their survival to Jacobs.

Ironically, Frank Gehry's proposed Magnum Opus shares today's New York Times with Jacobs. His proposed "downtown L.A." of homogeneous Gehry designed buildings will drop a 14 acre architectural freak-show in the epicenter of America's most un-urban city. Joel Kotkin, planning guru, noted the space is not in response to resident need (there are no residents), not in response to market pressure (there is no market), and not in response to the city's auto-intensive lifestyle.

Really, what the hell is this mess?

Cities are organic, and yet they are inanimate. Gehry's architectural renderings, like those of every other pompous architect, shows people as well as buildings. As Jane Jacobs pointed out, cities grow in response to residents' needs, not the other way around. Unfortunately for Gehry, you can't just draw residents into your architectural fairy land and have it be so.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Bush Tapes

In 2003, the IAEA, the United Nations's nuclear watchdog, publicly announced that Iran was developing a clandestine nuclear program, thanks in part to information obtained from dissident groups exiled in Europe. Iran has denied the claim that it is working on an offensive nuclear weapon, and maintains that its research is for peaceful purposes only. Recent aggressive pronouncements by the Tehran regime would suggest otherwise, however, and the US has found itself scrambling to develop a containment policy. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has stated publicly that the US would use every available resource in order to defuse a possible nuclear stand-off with the Middle Eastern country located between Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush has spoken repeatedly of a military "option" if Iran does not renounce all nuclear ambitions and submit to Security Council review. Yet, diplomacy continues and tensions remain high. Recently, The Darn News obtained a transcript of a telephone conversation between the two countries' leaders. The following is a record of that conversation, conducted on Thursday, April 20, 2006.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Hello?

George W. Bush, president of the United States: Hello, Mahmoud. George Bush here, of the United States of America.

MA: George, my main man! It’s been too long! What’s cracking, home slice?

GWB: Well, to be honest with you, Mahmoud, I’m calling ‘cause I’m a little concerned and …

MA: (sounds of loud music and laughter in the background) What? I didn’t catch that. Sorry, George, the music’s pretty loud here. Let me just close the door, OK my friend?

GWB: You go ahead, Mahmoud.

MA: (Pauses) There, that’s better. Sorry, broheim, but me and the guys were just having a party here at the palace and it can get a little bit crazy, let me tell you. (Laughs)

GWB: Ya’ll are havin’ a party down there? What’s the occasion?

MA: Oh, nothing special. It’s, um, Ahmed’s birthday. He’s 40. Yeah, big day for Ahmed, for sure. Anyway, what can I do for you, George?

GWB: Well, as I was saying, we’re all a little concerned about the recent developments in the news.

MA: Oh, totally. The Knicks want to re-sign Larry Brown as head coach? It’s like, Hello, do you even care about making the playoffs any more?

GWB: You know what I mean! I’m talking ‘bout your new-cu-ler ambitions. My country’s scared you’re gonna develop the bomb soon. Gettin’ pretty worried m’self, Mahmoud, I’m gonna admit. Heh, heh, heh.

MA: Oh, come on, man. Iran does not want a bomb; we just want nuclear power for peaceful energy purposes. Hey, even if I was really after a bomb, my country is still like five years away from building one, as far as you know.

(sound of door opening from outside and man’s voice shouting above party noise)

Man from party: Hey, Mahmoud! You’ve got to see this, my friend! Jafaari’s totally wasted and trying to ride the warhead!

MA: (yelling at partygoer) Shut the door, my friend! I’m on long distance here. (sound of door shutting) Oy, those guys have the worst timing.

GWB: What?

MA: Never mind. … So you see, George, you have nothing to worry about, dude. Take a chill pill with all this nuclear weapon stuff, OK?

GWB: Well, what about all those crazy things you’ve been saying recently about cuttin’ off the aggressor’s hand and wiping Israel off the map?

MA: What? You mean at Army Day? Come on, George, you know us. That’s just how we party, man. Army Day is harmless, just a bunch of marching and speeches about spreading the Islamic revolution to the rest of the world on the gleaming sword point of Mohammed. You would have liked it. Fall Out Boy played.

GWB: Yeah, well, what I don’t like is all this anti-Israel stuff, denying the Holocaust. You’re really scaring people, Mahmoud. They think you’re gonna launch a new-cu-ler strike against their country.

MA: Who, me? Launch a nuke against Israel? George, this is Big Mac you’re talking to here, my main man. First off, again, I don’t even know what you mean by this weapon bull jive. And second, I don’t hate Jews. I have no problem with Jews, man. I’m cool with everybody. My accountant’s Jewish, for Allah’s sake.

GWB: You’re telling me you have a Jewish accountant?

MA: Sure. You’ve met Gary: short guy, kinda bald, screwed up my refund on last year’s tax return. Remember? By the way, remind me to have his house burned to the ground.

GWB: There’s people here saying I should take you out, Mahmoud. They say you got a young population over there just waitin’ to overthrow an oppressive regime. See, I believe freedom is God’s gift to mankind. And these youngsters wanna see freedom on the march in the Middle East.

MA: We both know that’s not the case, home snack. Dude, my people don’t care about all that theoretical stuff. Just give them enough money so they can continue to buy the cool crap you Americans have, plus throw them a jihad every ten years and they’re happy with the status quo. My son watches beheadings on his IPod, for crying out loud. And besides, like I said, there’s no evidence we’re building a weapon.

(sound of door opening and loud music again filling the room)

Man’s voice: Broheim, what’s taking you so long? Hezbollah’s here and they brought Jell-O shots. Is it cool if they take a picture with the missile?

MA: (yelling at man) My friend, you are on my last nerve! I’ll be out in a minute, I already told you. (sound of door closing) And tell that fat ass Moqtada to stay off my trampoline unless he wants to buy me a new one!

MA: Look, George, I have to let you go, home snake. I have this party to get back to … for Ahmed, you know?

GWB: I understand, Mahmoud. I just wanted to call you and make sure we’re both on the same page. Because, you know, if it comes down to it, and I have to decide to use force I will. Because I’m the decider, and I decide what is best.

MA: Um, sure thing, George. …You know how dumb that sounds, right?

GWB: Just promise me, as a member of my Axis of Evil, you’ll limit your evil to strictly non-new-cu-ler activities, OK?

MA: My friend, I swear to you on the sanctity of the IAEA that Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon has ended.

GWB: I knew you’d see it my way, Mahmoud. I can’t wait to tell Dick about this. He’ll be so proud of me.

MA: Word to your mother. Hey – still on for golf this Sunday?

GWB: Heh, heh, heh. You got it, Big Mac.

MA: It was a pleasure as always, George. I’ll say hi to Qaddafi for you. Give my love to that infidel wife and those whoring prostitute daughters of yours. Peace in the Middle East, bro.
(Laughs) Just kidding!

GWB: (Laughs)

[End of phone transcript.]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rumor-Based Creation Entrances Rumor-Mongering, Third-World Society

Somewhere deep within the jungles of Malaysia a horde of hairy giants lurk unseen, stealthily eluding capture and keeping wildlife officials of the tropical southeastern Asian country on constant alert. But enough about the Armenian national basketball team's spring tour, let's talk Bigfoot.

A couple months back the government in Kuala Lumpur announced it was interested in apprehending one of the mythical monsters amid a spike in Bigfoot sightings; not for eating, as I erroneously first reported, but rather for scientific research ... and then probably eating. Naturally, biologists and other "experts" who rely on "facts" and "evidence" scoffed at the notion of an as-yet-undiscovered species of large ape inhabiting Malaysia, noting that a creature of Bigfoot's size could not possibly stay hidden for centuries. Well, guess what nerds: we got one!! Sure, the government's own Wildlife and National Parks Department denies capturing the beast; and, sure, there's no photographic record or actual proof to bolster the claim by locals that a baby Bigfoot was shot; and, sure, there would be no way for a third-party expert to actually examine the body if indeed they catch a specimen, but that's not important right now -- we finally killed a Yeti.

So, let's review. Bigfoot? Check. Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie super baby? Real. Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Umm.... Quick, somebody send the Malaysian forest patrol and a guy in a monkey suit over to Baghdad!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dirtbag, Party of One

Man. I was gonna let this one float through the transom untouched, honestly I was, but it's generated such heavy response over at the Times's Web site that I'd be remiss not to make fun of it.

Frank Bruni, the royal taster for the Old Gray Lady and author of books he'd rather you forget, takes up the pressing issue of unpressed shirts and baseball caps on his restaurant blog. The comments are a hoot! In a sociological twist, it appears the self-righteous jerks aren't the foodie snobs sneering at patrons not properly attired but rather those customers who refuse to yield to any dress recommendation/"code," no matter the restaurant or occasion.

This calls for a bit o' the old Canute-like wisdom from your humble blogger. Here's the deal: you can dress however you please at whatever eatery you choose, but show up to Per Se in a wife-beater and Hammer pants and I get to fart in your dinner. Sound fair? There's no rub like reciprocity, I'll tell ya.

Hooray For Boobies

It was reported that Hugh Hefner turned 80-years old on Sunday, so I guess now the American lexicon can more fully appreciate the expression “dirty old man.” Mr. Hefner was no doubt showered with gifts and tributes, followed by speeches and speechifying, for his entrĂ©e into octogenarian-hood and for all the good (but oh, so bad) work he has done on behalf of human sexuality. Consider: it was only 1953, a mere half century ago, when Playboy, the magazine Hefner dreamed of and founded, burst onto the publishing scene and stood athwart a Puritan society yelling Stop. He’s called the godfather of the sexual revolution. He’s called other things, too – visionary, businessman, and “boyfriend” to a revolving group of thoughtless young women paid to have sex with him. And he has had impact. It’s fair to say that every man reading this blog post, and many women as well, saw their first piece of pornography in the navel-stapled image of a Playboy bunny. Those of us who grew up under older brothers, and even some of us with equally messy dads, had Miss March and all her calendar girlfriends, it seemed, just an overturned mattress away. Hefner has slowed down considerably since then, placing operational control of his empire into the hands of Christie, his oldest daughter by his first wife, walking his mansion, viewing his film library, listening to music, and in general keeping up appearances on the set of his girlfriends’ fake reality series on the E! Channel, an eyes-wide-open look into the lives of three beautiful but irresponsible women and their quest to sleep till 11 o’clock in the morning. If he wasn’t obscenely well off, not to mention oversexed into his eighth decade, one could almost feel sympathy for a guy who genuinely appreciates the finer things in life trying to play Miles Davis for a group of girls more interested in J.Lo than jazz. But, having said all this, “Hef” has made a mark on the culture: the sexual revolution, if not started, then was influenced by, Playboy magazine; pornography is part of the American vocabulary, inter alia; and it’s time for Minerva’s owl to take wing and for the rest of us to look at where we are -- plus what, if anything, this all means.

Today, objections to pornography abound. Some decry the relaxing of community standards. Others call the business chauvinistic and exploitative. Many quote crime and violence statistics to support their claim that responsible censorship is in order. Women blame men; men blame women, after blaming themselves. The call to ban pornographic material is nothing new, as one can guess – why, even in Hef’s heyday the same concerns were raised and the usual figures trotted out. But now the surprise: after the free-wheeling and free-spending 1990s, the triumph of global capitalism, and the victory of limited government over the welfare state, the issue of pornography still hinges on that pesky and hidebound thing called culture. Computers and Internet access notwithstanding, the debate about pornography today has very little to do with privacy issues, instead focusing heavily on the relationship effects between men and women caused by a “pornified” world. The war of the “me” versus “we” it is now she against he.

The relationship issue is good strategy for liberal and conservative bedfellows because so many of the major indexes are against them. The 90’s brought about in the US a steady decline in the number of rapes, teen pregnancies, and sexual-related crimes that continues to this day. Abstinence is on the rise. Fewer teenagers report having unprotected sex than ever before. Thus, many commentators, stuck with the inconvenient truth, search for problems. The spanking new disease called pornography addiction is one of these. Feminists like Naomi Wolf and social conservatives such as Pat Buchanan have spoken out against online pornography for being too accessible, and therefore too tempting, for young men’s own good. These desiccated sex-zombies, we are told, view online porn up to ten hours a day in order to satisfy their cravings, forsaking the real world in favor of a virtual one where all their carnal desires are met. Ms. Wolf wrote such an article not long ago in which she spoke with a college-aged man about his daily porn habit. The man had been a good student, he explained, but his addiction to Internet porn was affecting his grades and straining relations with his girlfriend, a smart, pretty freshman he had been dating for several months. In short, this young man found the idea of jerking off in front of a computer more attractive than the soft embrace of a woman who actually cared about him. Unfortunately for Ms. Wolf and Patrick Buchanan, we have not discovered a new pathology so much as we have lowered our threshold for sickness: in the golden days of Playboy and other pornography accessible to most young men only through the occasional dirty magazine, a closet full of smut never revealed an addict suffering in silence -- it defined a loser in need of a date. We also have (though mostly from the conservative side, I’ll grant) an injunction against pornography for the harm it can cause women due to second-hand exposure. In 2006, even the dimmest among us can fully appreciate that this kind of neo-Victorian thinking is hopelessly retrograde and slightly offensive to the “fairer” sex. When the likes of writers like Matt Scully and the morally unimpeachable, never-did-a-bad-thing-in-his-life Chuck Colson posture as if women view porn as kryptonite, I wonder if they’ve ever actually talked to one. If the sexual revolution taught men anything, it merely illuminated, and did not discover, the female libido. Women enjoy pornography, yes, and denying this fact makes writers Scully and Colson look like half-baked prudes.

Any honest discussion of porn ought to properly concern us, not with simplistic psychobabble about addiction or chivalric pretense, but instead in what it means to be an adult, and more specifically a man in 2006. Say what you will about Hugh Hefner and his male-defined vision of sexual freedom; in his “Playboy Motto,” Hef spoke for the life of action, extolling men to better themselves in the hopes of one day living their boyhood fantasies. His was not a passive ideology: self-improvement, manners, the cultivation of a well-rounded personality, all were musts before that girl next door could be yours. The instant gratification that comes with so much explicit material today never asks this of you. Instead, men (and boys too) have been given all the benefits of a sexualized culture without any of the necessary trade-offs. Recently, VH1 aired the pilot episode of a show focusing on down-on-their-luck romantics called “Can’t Get a Date.” The television program involved a heavy dosage of self-improvement, character building, and honest, brutal reflection for the show’s male participant, a nice-looking young man who acted like a jerk every chance he got. At one point, the narrator, seeking to understand this 35-year-old’s prolonged solitude, asked him pointedly if he even liked women any more. His answer: “Of course I like women. I mean, I love women…. Isn’t that the point of this whole thing? Aren’t they the point in doing anything?” Indeed.