Friday, July 27, 2007

Looking at Buildings

Yesterday evening was a lovely time to walk through Manhattan. The air was fresh and the breeze cool and the ratio of beautiful to grizzled New Yorkers was favorable. On an evening like that you notice splendor on almost every block.

One of my favorite street views on such evenings is 42nd St. looking east. There you see the iconic Chrysler tower in all its exuberant Jazz Age spikiness.

Below it is Grand Central, another icon but of the turn of the century Beaux Arts style . . . a confident time when people built city structures to last a millennium.

What is our contribution to this heritage? An almost perfect example stands directly between the two icons. It’s the demoralizingly dull “Grand” Hyatt.

There is nothing Grand about it. Everything about it expresses mediocrity, carelessness, monotony, and expedience. It is not meant to last any more than the scaffolding around a real building is meant to last. Unlike the other two buildings, you could damage this one with a well thrown rock. Its transitory-ness dishonors everyone associated with it including its malevolently named “architect,” Der Scutt.

And what’s the worst part of it? It was once a prominant and fairly beautiful building and its skeleton is still there under the filthy glass panels. This isn’t the Hyatt or the Renaissance or the Hyatt Grand Renaissance . . . This is the Commodore Hotel. The same hotel where Richard Nixon and Whittaker Chambers confronted Alger Hiss . . . the same hotel from which Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were ejected.

It was designed by Warren and Wetmore who designed it as a complement to their masterpiece, the Grand Central Terminal itself.

Today it is a banal plate-glass placeholder for whatever significant building eventually replaces it. I can hardly wait.

Apologies for the negativity. I’m trying to live up to the high standards of 2 Blowhards and write something positive. How’s this: At least the Hyatt has the good sense to try to disappear between it's two more noble neighbors.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Oxford Union it Ain’t.

Is the combining of amateurish YouTube videos with presidential debates an advancement for our national dialogue or the equivalent of a Jimmy Carter cameo appearance on Joanie Loves Chachi?

I had a lot of faith in YouTube as a genuinely new development in communications technology and custom until this. Now I’m beginning to think of CB radio. Once what was underground becomes mainstream it loses all its mystery and the baffling intrinsic value it once had as an insider thing evaporates. CB, vblogging, it’s nothing new . . . just regular Joes talking to each other again.

The sad thing about the debates is that the YouTubers came off as far more human and authentic than the candidates themselves . . . with the exception of Mike Gravel who really belongs among the unhinged in unregulated cyberspace rather than among the coiffed and scripted in actual physical space. You want dignity and gravitas? Watch Letterman instead.

Thankfully, the hive wisdom of YouTube will always have the upper hand in any encounter with ersatz “leaders”

The Phoney War

Damn, Newt Gingrich is talking more sense than anyone out there. What this brain dead presidential campaign needs is fiendishly smart, silver-tongued devil like Newt. How come he's not running ... yet?

Love him for the enemies he's made.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Conscience of the Senate

It’s good to know that while the Earth may be heating up, the Global War on Islamic Extremism is spreading, and millions of illegal immigrants saturate and overflow our borders, the U.S. Senate is coolly and rationally deliberating on the most pressing of all issues now facing the Republic.

Fasten your seatbelts and listen to the 400-year-old Democratic Senator from West Virginia pour on the passion, pump up the volume, and speak truth to power about the deplorable injustices faced in the Canine-American community.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Explosion in Midtown

Yesterday’s steam pipe explosion sounded like a colossal jet engine operating at maximum thrust and people near the epicenter reacted as you would expect.

Confusion . . .

Followed by mild panic . . .

But the day after all is calm. The streets are crowed with equipment but the pace of work is decidedly unionesque.

As for Con Edison . . . don’t worry. They’re On It!

When No News Is Good News

Last week, UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer secured his spot in the media relations Hall of Fame by issuing perhaps the greatest holding statement ever written:

"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.”

The beauty of this is that, except for extraordinary situations, any spokesman for any organization can issue the exact same statement and mitigate whatever bad news is also being announced.

Try it.

"Sales of our most important product offering were down this quarter by 48% in the United States. But we categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

"We have failed in our attempt to cut funding for American troops in the field and secure an ignoble defeat for our nation thereby disgracing ourselves and the U.S. Senate. But we catregorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

Plus, the statement can be positioned as a potent but thinly veiled threat simply by adding the word "yet" to the ending.


(via things)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Humanity Prevails

It’s the possibility that life-altering experiences are taking place at any given moment somewhere in the city that gives New York its singular sense of excitement and promise.

Here’s an example. I took this photograph of the view from a high floor on the Pan Am Building looking north past the Grand Central Tower. Great vista.

Look closer and you can see the parapets and gargoyles of the tower in detail . . . details entirely hidden from view when the tower was constructed but built nonetheless because back then architects had an understanding of humanity’s romantic character and our deep desire for delight. (Something Thom Mayne will never comprehend).

But look even closer. There are people up there!

While everyone else is droning through the workday and possibly thinking about what to eat for lunch, there are three men clinging to the precariously steep side of the copper roof 40 stories above the city. Imagine what that guy on the ladder is experiencing. Bright sunshine, a stiff breeze, muffled car horns in the distance . . . and his heartbeat.

But they’re not really clinging at all. They’re totally at ease. This is something they’ve done before, maybe hundreds of times before. It’s no big deal to crawl out of a porthole at the top of a century old tower and climb down a fragile ladder to re-point the brickwork on a chimney no one will ever see.

Knowing that these things exist hidden from view is what makes life truly exciting. And compared to the monotonous glass walls that surround the tower . . . which architectural style best captures this essential human craving?
Stifle Debate. Allah Wills It!

I never thought unilateral surrender would be the sort of policy position that attracts voters but I'm not a professional politician.

Still, in their zeal to score points against George Bush, the Democrats have reached deeply into the darker recesses of geopolitics to the point where a simple prank e-mail address can make you think some rather uncomfortable thoughts about which side the Democrats are advocating.

Will this e-mail message from Howard Dean, for example, look prescient or prurient in 10 years?

So what if it’s addressed to Muhammad Atta. Just because you’re a notorious terrorist who happens to have killed thousands of American men, women, and children, and was willing to die in order to inflict maximum damage to American prestige at home and abroad, that doesn’t mean you’re a Democratic supporter.

Still, they ought to update their mailing list.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Le Freak

I’m sure I’m not the only one to recognize that Le Freak is the only disco song you’ll ever need to round out your music collection. It is the perfect example of the genre.

Does it have disembodied clapping? Yes.

Gratuitous references to Studio 54? Yup

What about absurdly simplistic orchestration and an exaggerated bass solo? Oh yes.

Utterly mindless and self absorbed lyrics extolling the benefits of a fictitious activity, one that exists in name only? Yeah man!

But there’s so much more. The name alone captures much of the despondent cheapness that characterized the mediocre age. It incorporates French which was considered at the time to be “classy” – a word, by the way, which cancels out its own meaning.

But it also includes a word devoid of meaning altogether. “Freak” takes the lazy way out, it means whatever you want it to mean. Everything is valid and absolutely nothing is authentic anymore. It says, “we give up.”

The simple title of the song expresses deeply the exhaustion and shame of the 1970s that drove popular culture to celebrate all that was base and ignoble. “Le Freak, c’est chic” says it all without actually saying anything.

Before the dismal Seventies is totally whitewashed by benign nostalgia I feel it is my duty to remind you of the profound half-assedness of what passed for creativity in a craptacular world of stagnation and moral decay.

I give you . . . Xanadu!