September 30, 2004

A thought about the debates tonight

I am seriously looking forward to the Presidential debates tonight if, for no other reason, than because I am finally going to get to see the candidates square off against each other with no help from spin squads, partisan p.r. flacks, and web hit-men. No intermediaries to explain the positions. I am hoping for pure, unadulterated content straight from the horse's mouth. I want a hard hitting, no punches pulled debate. I do not want mealy mouthed equivocation or cheap shots. I want to know what each candidate's position is with no filter in place.

I am bound to be disappointed but a boy can dream, can't he?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:13 AM | Comments (4)

The Open Road Beckons. . .

Hi, all,

Just a quick wave to let you know that I am still alive. Just facing some deadlines here at work. Left the house to catch that horrid 5:56 train again and I left in full night. The moon was out, sort of hidden by the clouds but illuminating them completely. It was beautiful but I just can't keep doing this. I am over committed at work (where I can't keep up with the new business), at home (where I'd rather be taking care of my children), or with all of the non profit stuff (where I have to learn to start saying, no, when asked to do more stuff).

I am definitely having one of those days in which I wonder, fleetingly, how far I can get with my car before American Express wises up to the fact that I've done a runner and cancels my charge card. Mexico? Through Central America? Maybe Argentina? If I stay away from places where the hotels, such as they are, can check with American Express, maybe further? If my next dispatch is bylined, "From the Road", you'll know what happened.

All suggestions as to destinations are welcome.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:24 AM | Comments (3)

September 28, 2004

Battle of White Plains, 1776

If you've ever spent any time at all looking at the history of the Revolutionary War in this country, you know that it was a damn close thing. If Howe had taken Philadelphia that winter of 1776, if he had pushed across the Delaware and taken the city, that might have been the end of our Revolution. After all, Howe had chased Washington out of Long Island, off of Manhattan, and across New Jersey to Pennsylvania. In that time of loss after loss, not only battles and skirmishes, mind you, but supplies and wagon trains with clothes and food, there was only one bright spot -- the Battle of White Plains. There, the Continental Army stopped the British and the Hessians cold. The Army escaped intact with a victory, of sorts, under its belt and it retreated in good order. It was the first time in this campaign that the Continentals could claim a victory, even if they were driven from the field.

You can visit the battlefield, or parts of it, in White Plains, NY. Have you ever visited an historical battlefield before? It is a place that is made holy, consecrated by the deaths of the men who fought and died there. Sometimes they fought for good reasons and died simply because of the stupidity of the men who led them. Sometimes they fought and died because they had to. Either way, it is a solemn thing to visit a battlefield.

I took the kids and set off to find the last remaining Revolutionary War battlefield in Westchester County on Sunday. It was deserted. The children and I were the only ones there. It was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It is called, Miller Hill.

millerhillsign2.JPG

The actual monument plaque is:

millerhill2.JPG

I enjoyed the visit very much. It was transporting to stand in the the lines where our forefathers stood and waited for the Hessians to charge with bayonets fixed. The lines looked like this:

viewoflines.JPG

and like this:

viewoflines2.JPG

There is something transformative about the laughter of children. Even the laughter of children at a former battle field. I was happy to leave the past behind to watch the Girl Child and the Boy Child chase each other around the sun dappled field, stopping to hold hands and share pretzels. I think the kids had a good time, even if they didn't really understand what happened there. In fact, for more information generally about the Battle of White Plains, go here. The Girl Child, thanks to some of the historical fiction I have lying around the house, is familiar with the concept of Dragoons and was not a little bit disappointed when she didn't see any at the field. The Boy Child was also disappointed, but that was because we ran out of pretzels, I think.

After we left the park, we stopped quickly by Gen. Washington's headquarters, a national historic monument and park. I snapped a quick shot of it through the fence (the place was closed):

washingtonhq.JPG

All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a morning.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (5)

September 27, 2004

A Quick Story

I know it was very quiet here today. The thing is that I woke up this morning at 3:40 in a total sweat. I was absolutely convinced that every decision I've taken in the past month, or more, on every case I'm responsible for, was utterly wrong and I had totally screwed up millions of dollars of litigation. It was horrible and I was terrified. I also admit to worries that I had defaulted on a zillion different things. This is how stress manifests itself sometimes for lawyers; in night terrors. I could not get back to sleep and I was not awake enough to think about things rationally. It was pretty fucking horrible. I got up and I went to work. At my desk by 6:15 a.m. And I worked very hard today with no time outs for blogging. I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to do but I got enough done that I ought to be able to sleep tonight.

All that said, I wish I had had the Girl Child's career vision when I was younger. She told me the following tonight:

GC: Pappa, I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Me: What's that?

GC: A doctor. [Pause] And a super hero. Although, it's hard work being a super hero.

That may be, but it beats being a lawyer. At least, it does this week.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:55 PM | Comments (7)

September 24, 2004

The Lazy and Shiftless Have Rights, Too!

I stumbled across the following article and was both amused and a little shocked. The efforts the Brits will go to these days to protect the rights and easily offended sensibilities of those less fortunate than us is exceptional. If you advertise for help wanted, "hard working" may not be a requirement for the job, because you may be discriminating against the lazy:

A businesswoman has been banned from asking for 'hard-working' staff in a job ad because it discriminates against the lazy.

Beryl King was told by a Jobcentre that her advert for warehouse workers discriminated against people who were not industrious.

Beryl, 57, told the Daily Mirror: "I couldn't believe my ears. Has our world gone mad?

"I've been running my business for 27 years and it's getting harder to find people who want to do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.

"How long before someone says you can't pay people for working because it discriminates against those on benefit who are paid for not working?"

Beryl, who owns two job agencies in Totton, Hants, offered £5.42 an hour for "warehouse packers who must be hard-working and reliable".

The Southampton Jobcentre is investigating. A spokesman said: "Words such as 'hardworking' can be accepted if used with a clear job description."

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:46 AM | Comments (8)

Today will be a short day

As I noted below, tonight we begin the celebration of the end of the High Holidays, so I will be out of the office early today. I will be happy to have a couple of moments of peace at the end of this week.

First, sorry to all of you who have emailed me and/or left comments and I have not replied. This has been a very busy week and I'm going to try to catch up over the weekend. I am involved, out of work, with three or four different not for profit entities. I had board meetings for three of them this week and all of the meetings generated more work. I did not get home before 10:30 at least twice this week. Then, last night, my in-laws arrived to stay with us for the weekend.

In the meantime, I also squeezed in a visit to get the car serviced and I took my daughter to school one day.

Did I mention that I also practice law in my spare time? One Federal Court oral argument, one motion, one dispute resolved, one settlement negotiated, papers in opposition to a motion received, two new contracts to review and comment on, and, one new piece of substantial litigation offered to me by an existing client. Nothing done to hit next week's deadlines yet, but those are really on Friday.

And now it's Friday already. I wish I had the sense of control that this guy has (it's a great picture)!

Anyway, I'll be trying this weekend to catch up on my emails! Sorry about the delays!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:04 AM | Comments (7)

Day of Atonement

Tonight begins the end of the High Holidays which began with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and ends tonight with Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur.

I was going to write something about it. But Simon already wrote a great explanation of the holiday and Rishon wrote about the liturgical peculiarities. Both of these were fabulous posts and I have little to add.

I would add once again, as I did before, my hope that this is a quiet holiday and, for those who keep us safe from harm, a boring and uneventful tour of duty.

Let me also add a note about how my family marks the end of the penitential fast. After nothing crosses the plain of your lips for 25-27 hours, no water, no nothing, we break our fast. How? Since I have been about twelve, and old enough to join in the fast, I have joined in the breaking of the fast with a shot of Scotch. Have you ever tried this? It hits your stomach like an explosion and warmth spreads throughout your body like it was on fire. This is a great way to end the fast. However, you do find yourself in temple during that last service just wishing for a drink! That may not be completely within the spirit of the holiday, but, what are you going to do?

I wish all of those celebrating this holiday an easy fast! And to the rest of you here in NYC, I urge you to follow the example of some of my non-Jewish friends and go out to a nice restaurant since there is almost never a problem, according to my friends, in getting a reservation that night!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:29 AM | Comments (3)

September 23, 2004

A Joke, in lieu of a real post

My father sent me this joke and since I am very pressed for time today, I tender it in place of a real post. I hope you enjoy it!

Harvey and Gladys Goldman are getting ready for bed. Gladys is standing in front of her full-length mirror, taking a long, hard look at herself.

"You know, Harvey," she comments, "I stare into this mirror and I see an ancient creature. My face is all wrinkled, my boobs sag so much that they dangle to my waist, my arms and legs are as flabby as popped balloons, and...my butt looks like a sad, deflated version of the Hindenberg!"

She turns to face her husband and says, "Dear, please tell me just one positive thing about my body so I can feel better about myself." Harvey studies Gladys critically for a moment and then says in a soft, thoughtful voice, "Well...there's nothing wrong with your eyesight."

Services for Harvey Goldman will be held Saturday morning at 10:30 at Beth Israel Synagogue. Female friends of the family are invited.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:58 PM | Comments (5)

September 22, 2004

The Bronx, by Moonlight

There is something oddly beautiful about Bruckner Blvd. at 10:00 on a Tuesday night in the Fall. The cars go whizzing by as they pass by the scrap metal yards, building supplies establishments, gas stations, strip clubs, and mysterious boarded up lots with huge amounts of razor tipped barb wire. True, your quiet contemplation of this urban landscape may be disturbed by the shouts of the driver telling the gas station attendant that he gave him a ten dollar bill and not a five and that he better program the pump for ten dollars, all expletives deleted here. But you let that all roll past you since you left your house some 16 1/2 hours earlier that morning and you sit in the car sort of half dazed by lack of rest.

At this point, you may be wondering, with apologies to the Talking Heads, this is not my beautiful train. How did I get to this place? Metro North. Police activity. Shut down the New Haven line for who knows how long. Stranded in Grand Central Station.

So I called a car service. The car service assured me that they would have a car for me in 8 minutes. I must have misheard them. It took more like 40 minutes. I stood outside the Grand Hyatt on 42nd Street for 40 minutes and watched the Secret Service and Police cars fly by with the dignitaries and their hangers on. The UN General Assembly is in session and all kinds of world leaders are here to address the Assembly and do a little shopping. It was fun to watch the President of Kenya, surrounded by body guards and guys trying to sell knock off Rolex watches (I kid) and other guys in flowing white robes saunter into the hotel. I was still out there when one of the bodyguards came out and, in accented but idiomatic English, have a long, pleading cell phone conversation with a woman (I presume) who he was trying to convince to come out and give him some special international intervention. Highly entertaining. The doorman I was standing next to thought so, too. This was easily the high point of the journey home last night.

When we managed to tear ourselves away from the conversation with the gas station attendant and leave the Bronx behind, we journeyed on to Westchester and home. Where the son of a bitch driver tried to cheat me. First, I paid the toll at I 95 -- $1. Then, he asked me if I could pay the tip in cash and I said, sure and gave him a $10. The denomination may not have registered with him because when I gave him the $10, he told me that there was a mandatory 20% tip. Also, his math? Not so good. A 20% tip would have been $10.40. So I, at that point with no patience, lost my temper. I took the ten back. I told him that this was the first time in the many years I had been using this car service that I had ever heard that and I was going to call the dispatcher right now and ask if that was true. He told me to forget it. I then got the charge slip to find that he added $5 on for "tolls". At that point I crossed that out, told him that I wasn't tipping him at all, accused him of trying to cheat me and left. Not a great ending to a not great trip. I'm going to be calling American Express shortly to see how much the car service has tried to actually put through on my card. Then I'm calling the car service customer service people. Let the games begin.

What idiot said it was the journey, not the destination, that mattered? I have a number for a great car service for him.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:38 AM | Comments (6)

Coerced to Vote

Can you be coerced to vote? Should voting be a requirement for an English Lit. class? One professor seems to think so over at Drew University in New Jersey. Appalled by the low voter turnout among college students, Prof. Skaggs has made it a course requirement that her students enter the voting booth. Of course, once they go in they don't have to vote and non-U.S. citizens are exempt from the requirement. This requirement has provoked, according to the article, a lot of controversy. Care to guess where I come out?


Not in favor. I believe it is contrary to our system of government to require a vote. It is clear that sometimes a decision not to vote is a protest and is as much an expression of free speech as a decision to vote. In other words, we have the option of abstaining if we don't like either candidate and we want to send a message that a candidate may win, but that candidate lacks the popular mandate necessary to bend Congress to his or her will. That can be a powerful and important message and you send it by staying home from the polls. I think that this professor, will coming from crunchy good motives, lacks an appreciation of this aspect of our system.

What do you think?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:00 AM | Comments (6)

September 21, 2004

Not feeling the love, today

I appeared for a conference and for argument to oppose a motion this morning in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. I prepared most of the day yesterday for it and took the 5:56 train this morning so that I would arrive at the office with plenty of time to get my documents organized and be calm and happy. It was pretty damn dark when I left the house this morning with not even a hint of the sunrise. Winter's coming, no doubt about it.

This was a motion I expected to lose, by the way. It was to vacate a default judgment where the defendant had not filed an answer to a complaint and been out of touch for something like 9 months. Nonetheless, this is the kind of situation that a court will bend over to alleviate because the courts have a bias in favor of deciding a case on the merits, rather than on default.

And I did lose. But not before getting a rather nice compliment from the Judge who told me that my arguments were "forceful and skillful" and that I had been a "real gentleman". He also, even though I had lost, awarded my client $1,000 in costs in opposing the motion. Do you know how rare that is? To be awarded costs when you lose the motion? That's the first time for me. So the day wasn't a total loss. I walked out of the courtroom with the knowledge that I have a lot of credibility with the Judge and that is a fabulous thing for my clients. Credibility with the court is everything. If you have it, a judge will believe your representations and give you the benefit of the doubt. If you don't have it, you are in for a whole world of trouble.

So now, I'm pretty beat. Feeling a little drained. I have a meeting in 30 minutes and then a meeting after work. I'm just waiting for the Advil to kick in and I ought to be good to go.

I saw that Mr. Green has hung it up, or at least is taking a break. Blogger fatigue? I don't know. I think that some of this is cyclical for people. I feel a little burned out today but I feel that way about everything.

Last thing and this amused me. I was on the subway going down to Court and this young man looked at me up and down and asked me, "Lawyer?" I admitted that I was and we then had a very pleasant conversation.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:27 PM | Comments (7)

September 20, 2004

A Jewish Joke, as told by Jews

Some of you may have been following the Yankees / Red Sox games and rivalry. Most of you probably don't care. I care. Right now, the Yankees lead the Sox by 4.5 games and the two teams are scheduled to play another three game series starting on Friday night this week. Friday night marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, the culmination of the High Holidays and the Day of Atonement when we ask God to forgive us for the many sins we have committed during the year and to seal us in the book of life. Yom Kippur begins with something called Kol Nidre, which takes place that evening on Friday night. This brings us, with this background, to the joke, one of my favorites:

Mr. Goldberg calls his Rabbi and says, "Rabbi, I have a problem and I need some advice. This year, the Red Sox and the Yankees are playing in a very tight pennant race and the most important game falls on Kol Nidre. What should I do?" The Rabbi listens, thinks for a moment and responds: "Mr. Goldberg, what are you worried about? It is just for a situation like this that we have VCR's!"

And Mr. Goldberg replies, "You mean I can tape Kol Nidre!?!"

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:32 AM | Comments (3)

She Understands Me

I have clearly warped the mind of the Girl Child who, at 3 1/2, appears to understand me fully without need of translation. See, the thing is that I got into the habit very early with her of trying to say things in as many different ways as possible in order to build her vocabulary and the habit has become unconcious. This weekend we were in the car and had the following interchange:

GC: Pappa, can I put my window down?

Me: No.

GC: Why not?

Me: The control panel indicates that it is not appropriate for you to open your window.

GC: That means the lock is on, right? Maybe you could unlock it.

Me: [I laughed, bowed to her superior reasoning, and unlocked it]

It's fun with kids, to watch their vocabularies explode. I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:40 AM | Comments (5)

September 17, 2004

What we should learn from a funeral

I just returned from my friend's funeral. His death was not unexpected but the news still carried a shock. The speakers who chose to memorialize his life were very good. They knew him intimately, spoke with great love and conviction, and were moving. I sat there, listening and getting choked up and I began to think, gee, I hope they told him how they felt about him while he was alive. I hope he knew how much his friends loved him and appreciated him. Now we got the title of this post. I think we may all be guilty of not telling the people around us how we feel about them. I know I am. I also know how awkward it can feel to tell someone that you love them and that you appreciate them. Nonetheless, better to hear it alive then at the funeral.

My kids know they are loved. Sometimes my daughter just climbs up into my lap on her own, because she feels like sitting in my lap, and I'll say to her: "Hey, do you think you can just climb up into my lap whenever you want!" And she'll reply, "yes". I'll ask her why she thinks that and, without fail, she responds: "Because you love me".

So my wish today is that you, gentle reader, go and tell someone dear to you how much you love them.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:31 PM | Comments (6)

Highlights from Yesterday

Yesterday, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I should be doing the same thing today but I'm kind of backed up at work and, to top it off, I just got an email informing me that a friend has died and his funeral will be held this morning. I'm glad I happened to be wearing a tie today because I'm going to try to sneak out for the funeral mass.

I took the Girl Child with me to temple yesterday for the whole morning, armed with a bag containing snacks, a drink, and a small selection of books to look at for when she got bored. When I tell you that she looked exceptionally cute, you don't have to take my word for it. Two different policemen patted her on the head as we passed and she thanked them for stopping the cars for us.

After we made it in, we went to the tots service. It was very sweet and the Girl Child got to play the honey (literally, the honey jar) in the little skit about dipping apples in honey for a sweet new year. I think she had a good time and she picked up a couple of new songs. What was the best part? Easily the best part was sitting next to her and watching her face change from fierce concentration to curiosity to delight and back again. She had a good time for sure.

We then went upstairs to the main sanctuary and joined my father and my grandparents, so four generations in one row. That was sweet, too, and I enjoyed having her with me. As we left, we spoke to the rabbis to wish them a happy new year. We sit, with my grandfather, up at the front (the second row) of the synagogue. My grandfather was one of the founders of the synagogue and helped build it. The younger rabbi told me he was impressed by how well behaved the Girl Child was. He clearly did not hear us reading Little Red Riding Hood in Norwegian for a part of the service. I was very quiet.

As we left, the Girl Child turned to me and said: "Did you hear that, Pappa? Mr. Rabbi said I was very well behaved!"

I then returned home with the Girl Child to pick up the Boy Child and take them over to my parents for lunch. The Girl Child amused me by turning to the Boy Child in the car and saying: "BC, sitter du der og driter, vennen min?" She's speaking much more Norwegian now to the lad, which makes my wife and me very happy. A loose translation, is, "BC, my friend, are you sitting there and shitting?" She didn't seem to mind that she was wrong because she then said to him: "are you my little bean, studman?"

The day ended with a profound thought from my wife and I want to pass it along. We were talking about a job interview she has coming up in a couple of days and she was clearly not excited about the job or the interview and so I asked her why she was doing it. She replied that she wanted to meet the people she'd be doing the job with and for. She said that as she's gotten more experienced, she's come to realize that the people are at least and sometime more important than the job itself and if she really liked the people, she'd take a job that didn't interest her. She's a smart one, she is, my wife. I learn a lot from her when I pay attention.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:39 AM | Comments (9)

September 15, 2004

Scams, by phone or otherwise

I just had the phone ring through to my office and, being a responsible sort, I picked it up. It was Susan, from Customer Service. You know Susan, right?

Her: Hi, this is Susan calling from Customer Service about your photocopy machine. How are you today?

Me: Well, I'm fine, Susan, thank you for asking.

Her: I just need to update our records and need the model number on your photocopy machine. Could I ask you to go over to the photocopy machine and read it to me? It should be a 3 or 4 digit number.

Me: Well, sure, Susan, I'd be happy to. But first, tell me, exactly what customer service department are you calling from and who are you?

Her: click [as phone hangs up]

I wonder what the scam was.

Go to the EXTENDED ENTRY below for my all time favorite email scam, which I reproduce below.

SCAM WARNING!!!

Most of you know that I don't normally forward these types of emails, but this one looks important, and I got it from a reliable source. You may want to pass this info along to friends, or for their wives or girlfriends:

WARNING !!!!!

If a man comes to your front door and says he is conducting a survey and he asks you to show him your tits, DO NOT SHOW HIM YOUR TITS. This is a scam and he is only trying to SEE YOUR TITS.

I wish someone had told me this before. God, I feel so stupid.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:07 PM | Comments (7)

I narked on someone today

I pass through Grand Central Station at least twice a day every work day, sometimes more often. I pass through it during prime commuter hours, at least in the evening when I usually try to make the 6:00 train so I can get home early enough to play with my kids. That's why I'm at my desk by 7:30 every morning. The terminal is usually guarded by police and national guardsmen. I think that the guards are supposed to make us feel safe. Generally, I don't feel safe. My thoughts usually tend to the dark and the morose while walking through and I fixate a bit on some bad things. Today, coming off the train, there was some woman with a small camcorder taping the passengers as they exited the train and streamed up the platform. She wasn't in an MTA uniform. It made me nervous. I've never seen anyone do that.

So I found a policeman immediately, told him what I saw, and he went from relaxed and watchful to tense and in motion in a nanosecond as he went to investigate. He didn’t even take the time to say a single word to me after I reported to him. He was just on his way without hesitation.

The taping made me nervous, more nervous, I should say. I'm glad I narked on this woman, even if it was a perfectly innocent exercise on her part.

Because, what if it wasn't?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:28 AM | Comments (15)

The Jewish New Year

Simon, at Simon World, has an outstanding post today about the Jewish New Year celebrations and observances which begin today, at sunset, and mark the commencement of the High Holidays. I highly recommend reading it, it's better than what I was going to post about it.

I would add one thought, though. Traditionally, this is the time when Islamic fundamentalists and other freaks most like to attack Israel and Jewish targets outside of Israel, or even start wars. So join me, please in, if not praying for their safety, at least sending good thoughts to those brave men and women who during this holy period stand guard at borders and places of worship and in Iraq. May they stand a boring and uneventful watch and may God protect them.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:02 AM | Comments (3)

September 14, 2004

Pleased to meet you, Ice Cream

I just put the Girl Child to bed and I wanted to record this quickly, before I forgot it. We were going downstairs, after saying good night to her brother, to have some dessert and watch some Yankees baseball and we had the following exchange:

Me: Would you like some pudding?

Her: The green kind?

Me: No, the other one.

Her: The butterscotch?

Me: Yes. [Ed. Note: The sugar free butterscotch jello pudding is like crack for the low carbers. Pure crack, I tell you]

Her: No [long drawn out and contemplative]. I'm into introducing myself to some ice cream.

Me: What did you say?

Her: I'm into introducing myself to some ice cream. I think I'll share with Mamma.

I really had to ask her to repeat herself. I just could not quite believe what she said or how she said it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:13 PM | Comments (8)

Report Card: First Day

I am reporting in on the first day of pre-school and the parents' meeting we attended that night.

Pre-school was charming. There are about 14 or 15 kids and 3 teachers. The Girl Child bravely consented to the pony tail and the risk of not being recognized, but, no fear, her teachers remembered her. That didn't mean she wasn't scared. She made it halfway down the front steps when she went tearfully flying back up the stairs to give her little brother an extra hug and a kiss. Drama and tears over, we headed off to school.

No separation anxiety this year. Uh, I mean that there was no separation anxiety for ME, she was fine. She gave us a wave, called me back for "an extra hug and a kiss, Pappa", and she was off. It was that easy. I don't think she looked back after the extra hug and kiss.

We picked her up after the abbreviated session and, on the way out, grabbed a couple of pastries for her off the tray they put out for parents. In the car, we asked her how the morning went. She told us, "we read Tassen Sover Borte på engelsk!" Which is "Spot slept over" and which she has in Norwegian at home. She was pretty tickled to have it in English.

All in all, it was a good start. The parent meeting was fine, too. The group of parents we met seem significantly less neurotic than last year. Interestingly, out of these 14-15 kids, the following language are spoken primarily at home: Spanish; Turkish; Hebrew; and, Norwegian. There may be some Korean speakers too but we weren't sure.

Thanks to everyone for their kind wishes! Unfortunately, no pancakes were possible. Sorry!

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:15 PM | Comments (4)

University Architecture in New York

Andrew Cusack, who has a very interesting web log generally, has a great piece today on New York University's Architecture with lots of great pictures. Taken together with my Cooper Union piece below, it makes for a really great survey. Actually, even all by itself, his piece is a really great survey. Get thee hence and go check it out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:19 AM | Comments (1)

The Cooper Union

How many of you have heard of the Cooper Union in New York City? Its full name is the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, it is located in the East Village and is the only "private, full-scholarship college in the United States dedicated exclusively to preparing students for the professions of art, architecture and engineering".

It is also the site of one of the most significant speeches Abraham Lincoln ever gave. It was his coming out party on the Eastern Seaboard and many consider it to be what got him elected. The speech was intended to provide a platform for Lincoln and the Republican Party and was also intended to make clear that slavery was wrong and that its spread into the new states and territories was not constitutional. Harold Holzer just wrote a very good book about the subject entitled: Lincoln at Cooper Union : The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President. It's on my list of books to read.

The Cooper Union is, at its heart, a place for the study of architecture. And it is now going to build a new building, according to the NY Times. A new building for architecture studios is always fraught with difficulty. Sometimes the architect of the new building is over-tempted to produce a masterpiece, since he or she knows that it will be seen by budding architects for many years to come. I have to wonder if the pressure got to the architect here:


cooperunion.jpg

It kind of looks like it is going to slide and fall off the building. doesn't it? Still, it sounds extraordinary:

[T]he new building evokes a delicately calibrated machine. The ground-level lobby and retail spaces will be entirely sheathed in glass and set slightly back from the street. Above, the lab and studio floors are supported by V-shaped concrete columns that give the structure a more tenuous relationship to the ground. The screenlike facade, meanwhile, is composed as a series of horizontal metal bands that will open and close to control the flow of light into the building.

The screening system will be familiar to anyone who has followed the firm's recent work. It is a virtual copy of the facade of Morphosis's Caltrans District 7 headquarters, a state building currently under construction in Los Angeles, yet the differences are meaningful.

At Caltrans, the huge mechanical screens have a belligerent quality. Set on a computerized timer, they open and close in unison according to the position of the sun. Mr. Mayne says that the Cooper building's screens will be more delicate, like a woman's nylon stocking. What is more, students will be able to control the screens from inside their studios. The effect will be more varied and unpredictable - less a vision of bureaucratic conformity than of a vertical hive buzzing with activity.

That notion of a communal hive becomes explicit on the Third Avenue facade, where a large section is cut away to reveal a curved section of the interior atrium. A series of slender glass-enclosed walkways extend along the atrium's surface, where students will be seen crossing back and forth between the various labs and studios.

The web site for the architects is pretty cool, too: Morphosis.

The Cooper Union is an interesting place. Go check it out if you find yourself in the area.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:31 AM | Comments (1)

September 13, 2004

Off to Pre-School

Forecast: Light to very light blogging today.

Today is the first day of pre-school and I'm skipping the morning at work so I can take the girl child. She doesn't want us to put her hair in a pony tail because she's concerned that no one will recognize her if we do. She's otherwise very excited. I'm not as upset as I was last year when it was her first year but I am very mixed about how quickly she seems to be growing up. I'm not ready!

I expect today will be a lot of fun.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:19 AM | Comments (6)

September 11, 2004

R.I.P.: Those Who Never Came Home That Day

To those who never came home, three years ago today,

To those whose cars remained parked at suburban train stations in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey long after everyone else had gone home;

To those whose apartment doors had newspapers delivered but unread in front of them;

To those whose cell phones went straight to voice mail and were never picked up;

To those whose families never got to say goodbye and, even more heart rending, to those who's loved ones did speak to them in their final moments;

To those who charged into those dying buildings without regard to their own safety;

To those who stopped, in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, and never started again;

We remember. May God grant you peace.

And, Mary Joe? We remember you and we miss you. I hope it was really quick.

Today is September 11. Pause a moment and remember. Then go spend some time with people you love.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:15 AM | Comments (7)

September 10, 2004

A Quiet Friday

I will not be posting much this morning. My daughter has her visiting day at pre-school this morning and I worked like a deck hand this week to arrange my schedule so that I could take her. Also, the Boy Child seemed to spike a fever last night out of nowhere so I may be taking him for a quick visit to the doctors this morning before pre-school.

The Girl Child is not so much excited about pre-school as she is about the possiblity that I might take her out for breakfast before taking her to school. She informed me several times how it might be nice to go out for pancakes. Assuming her brother is well enough, I think she might be right.

If all goes according to plan, I will be at work around lunch time and may have a little time to post then. If not, I hope you all have a great weekend!

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:26 AM | Comments (3)

September 09, 2004

Jakarta Bombing

I want simply to refer everyone to Simon's site today, Simon World to go check out the analysis and collection of links he has posted regarding the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. If, for some reason, you lack the time, let me post this photograph here because, at the end of the day, it tells you all you need to know:

ausflagindo.jpg

Their flag looks quite proud, still.

My deepest condolences to the Australians and to the Indonesians.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:49 AM | Comments (3)

Clove Cigarettes

While waiting on the train platform this morning for the 6:43 local train to Grand Central Station, I was in that kind of half bemused totally automatic pilot state that comes from getting up too early and walking through the gusting winds and very hard rain, when suddenly I smelled a clove cigarette. I haven't smelled one of those for years. It smelled quite pleasant, a little sweet maybe, but certainly nicer than the cigarette the other guy was smoking.

I was mildly bemused when I realized someone was still smoking these things. Anyone else recall smoking these during college when you wanted to appear to be so sophisticated or because all of your dead head friends smoked them? Can you still taste the nasty, harsh taste of the burning clove oil on the tobacco? Growing up, and leaving that behind, is not all bad, I suppose.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:45 AM | Comments (6)

September 08, 2004

When did Norway start living the Jerry Springer dream?

(My wife is just going to love this post. Fortunately, she is at the dentist and may not see it until tomorrow).

When did Norway become such a ready-for-prime-time Jerry Springer player? This was the question I posed to myself after catching the following stories on the front page of Aftenposten's English edition:

1. Norwegian sexologists unveil "penis atlas" Publishers Dinamo will make a first presentation of an unusual book project, the Penis Atlas, on Thursday. The work of four sexologists a photographer and a designer, the volume uses photographs of 100 men in order to inform, demystify and correct many existing misunderstandings about the male sex organ.

2. Record number sexually abused by women
Never before have so many Norwegian men reported being sexually abused in their childhood by women. An increasing number of incest victims have stories to tell about female assailants, and experts say that women can more easily disguise such offenses as care, newspaper Dagsavisen reports.

3. Cannabis plants removed from palace park
A surreptitious patch of cannabis plants tended on the fringe of the park surrounding the royal palace in central Oslo has been discovered after an alert call from newspaper Vårt Land. The annual plants were sown in the spring but will not be completing their life cycle.


4. Children left alone while parents party
Norwegian parents who take their children on holiday overseas are increasingly leaving them on their own while they take off to drink relatively cheap liquor. The problem already has cropped up in Spain, and now Norway's ambassador to Turkey is sounding alarms.

Doesn't this sound like the next Jerry Springer episode? "On our next show, we'll be talking to pot growing, penis obsessed Norwegian women who abuse children sexually and then abandon them for drinking binges. Make sure you tune in!"

All kidding aside, I am disgusted to read about idiot parents who abandon their children without food or water in hotel rooms in Turkey while they go on drinking binges. I keep coming back to the old thought that you need a license to own a dog, but just about anyone can have a child. Whether they should or not.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:48 PM | Comments (4)

It's definitely one of those days

Walk to train station in torrential down pour.

Dressed nicely because 4:00 p.m. court appearance.

Discover on reaching train station that shoe has hole in it.

Spend the remainder of the day hoping for sun and with a wet sock because no time to go get the damn thing fixed.

Sudden realization hits that hole in shoe is high point of day.

Resist temptation to chuck it all and jump on tramp steamer headed to Spice Islands.

Definitely, one of those days. Yup.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:59 PM | Comments (3)

Don't Look For Me On Japanese TV

Coming out of Grand Central Station this morning onto 42nd Street, I paused, stopped in my tracks by the fury of the rain. It was coming down so hard and so straight that I was shocked into momentary immobility, a condition not normally known to regular NY commuters. I suppose that was what attracted the nice young reporter, that here was an actual NYer not in motion. She approached me from the side, just barely in my peripheral vision, which I thought was odd and is really not the best way to initiate contact with any stranger in a big city. Then she excused herself and told me that she was a reporter for Japanese television, accompanied by a cameraman, waved a copy of this morning's Newsday in front of me, and asked me if I would comment on the 1000 dead American soldiers.

I stood there as the fury of the storm broke around us and I declined to share with her my thoughts. Firstly, why did she want to know? What was she going to do with my little interview? How was it going to be cut by her editors? What kind of television station was this? So, I politely declined. Don't look for me on Japanese television.

That I declined does not mean that I did not have an opinion. I do.

First, I recoil in horror from the size of the number of our soldiers and civilian defense dept. employees who have been killed in Iraq. The number is so large as to be difficult to wrap my mind around. One thousand. I assume that many of them had families. I assume many of them were reservists who have left a hole in their societies as the jobs they filled and functions they performed are empty and undone. This is horrid and my heart goes out to the families they left behind.

Yet, this is also war. We are engaged in a war with a ruthless and horrible enemy. An enemy who will not shirk from targeting children. An enemy who regards air planes as weapons of mass destruction, who thinks civilian commuter buses are legitimate targets, and who kills pregnant women. This war is being fought right now in Iraq. I think it is better fought there than in the streets of NY or the fields of Pennsylvania again. Right now, the terrorists are drawn to the cities of Iraq where they can fight our soldiers. I believe that our soldiers are taking the fight to the enemy. That is not a bad place, from my perspective, to fight this fight.

I am grateful for the service of our men and women. I respect them and I regularly stop men and women in uniform and thank them. I am grateful for the families they've left behind who have to hold it together while their partners are gone.

So, while I am horrified by the sheer number of soldiers who have died in this fight, I can't help but wonder how many other World Trade Centers they have averted.

I guess where I come out is here: these people have not died in vain, they have died to protect us.

I honor their memory here today, even if I was not inclined to do it on Japanese television.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:34 AM | Comments (4)

September 07, 2004

My Inappropriate Phone Response of the Day

The phone just rang through and I picked it up. The voice on the other end asked, is "Mr. Smith free?" And I just could not help myself. I actually replied:

Mr. Smith is not free, but he is cheap.

Fortunately, the fellow on the other end of the line laughed. I wonder sometimes how I manage to keep this job.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:06 AM | Comments (7)

Everybody Out of The Pool: Summer's Over

I am sorry to say that summer is over. Here are a couple of pictures of summer I took yesterday to keep us warm during the coming cold:

summer1.JPG

-and-

summer2.JPG

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:53 AM | Comments (8)

A Last Meal

Things have been terribly serious around here of late but with good reason. That said, I feel the need to inject a note of frivolity into my blog. I will pose to you the question I discussed with my wife last night: What would you choose for your last meal?

It started with a traditional 3 course dinner concept. Then I had to add a soup course, salad course, and a pasta course. It's gonna be a loooong dinner if it's going to be the last one. My wife talked me out of the need to add a Jambalaya course but it took awhile and I still disagree with her.

Now I know that I have some foodie readers so I expect I'll see some pretty interesting suggestions. Let the feeding begin:

Aperitif: A Sidecar. Or a really good Martini with Bombay Sapphire Gin.

Soup:
Hungarian Sour Cherry soup

Salad:
One of the following:
Artichoke Vinaigrette
Classic Steakhouse of Tomatoes, sliced onions, and blue cheese
Classic Caesar with extra anchovies

Pasta:
There was this pasta I had once or twice at this little French place in the West Village, it was homemade tagliatelli with truffles, butter, and raw fois gras pieces that were cooked by the heat of the pasta and kind of dissolved into the dish. It was heaven. It should have come with a referral to a cardiologist.

Appetizer:
Either a miniature Fruits de mer or some wild mushrooms in a sherry cream sauce in a puff pastry.

Main course:
Now we probably have to have either:

Beef Stroganoff with egg noodles or

Chili cheeseburgers with chili cheese fries from this place in Portchester, NY.

Dessert:
Either a tarte au citron
or a black forest cake like my wife made for my birthday some years ago with homemade brandied cherries
or tarte tatin
or a root beer float
Or all of the above

Let's add a cheese course:
Explorateur for the triple creme
A ripe Stilton
A crotin (aged goat's cheese)
An aged Gouda that crackles when you bite into it
Something with truffles in it
Something with a washed rind

I reserve the right to come back and edit this post endlessly.

For instance, I have not put any wines in. I ought to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:40 AM | Comments (11)

Archeology in the News

I came across two stories today involving archeological finds and my interest was piqued.

The first was in Norway, where divers discovered the wreck of a 14th century ship. This fellow from the Norwegian Maritime Museum notes: "We don't know much about Norwegian vessels from the Middle Ages, except that they became bigger, wider and could carry more cargo over the years," he said. "Pictures have been found in churches and on stone monuments." That's quite cool, I think. They find a living example of something known only from depictions on monuments or in churches. Suddenly, bang, history lives.

The second was in England where six Viking graves were discovered, the first discovery of Viking graves ever in England. "Archaeologists spent months excavating the site in Cumwhitton in Cumbria, which had swords, spears, jewellery, fire-making materials and riding equipment as well as six graves of Viking men and women." Another news source also reported that the grave contained a drinking horn. You know they would not have buried a Viking without a drinking horn, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:20 AM | Comments (1)

September 05, 2004

A night at the movies

Ok, it was really a night on the couch with a DVD I bought over a year ago but never watched. But, before I get to that, may I tell you that there is a wonderful thing that happens when you keep the children up all day at the beach, playing with the sand and running in and out of the surf, so that they all miss their naps. They go straight to bed at 7:30 with not a peep of complaint and no singing in bed of, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen" (the tradtional lament of political prisoners all over this great land).

The beach was huge fun. We went with our old college roomie and his family. They have kids approximately the same age as ours and the two oldest kids, mine and his, get along like two peas in a pod. It was quite something to see our kids playing together. We stayed the whole day, said good bye to the roomie, threw the kids in the bath, and packed them off to bed after reading Mr. Jeremy Fisher and Tom Kitten to the Girl Child.

Then, it was adult only time. We opened a bottle of white Port which had been sitting in the fridge forever. Ever have white Port? I assume you are all familiar with the regular red Port, that yummy stuff you drink with walnuts and stinky cheese. A moment while we all applaud the coming of winter with the need to light fires in the fireplace and drink Port and eat copious amounts of stinky cheese. The white stuff is lighter and served chilled as an aperitif, mostly. It's heavier than the nice fino Sherry's, but still quite yummy and this one was no exception.

The film we watched was a Danish film, in Danish, called Italiensk for begyndere. You may have come across it in English where it was called:

italianmovie.jpg

It was billed on the back as a romatic comedy and appeared, according to its description, to mostly be set in Venice. It seemed a perfect choice to end the day. I don't mean to be picky about this, but I prefer my romantic comedies with less death, alcohol abuse, morphine killings, and angst. Perhaps that is what passes for comedy in Denmark. The romance part was not terribly believable, either, for that matter. But, it was of no matter. We actually still enjoyed the damn thing. It moved briskly enough and it was shot in such an odd style, perhaps a varient on that Scandinavian school that mandated just one camera and natural light only. I don't recall the name of that but I'm sure one of you clever people will (I have boundless confidence in the smarts of my readers, you see).

Now that I think about it, the only other Danish language film I can recall seeing was kind of dark, too. Anyone else recall Babette's Feast (Babettes gæstebud)? That was dark but an excellent film.

Today is not beach weather here in Southern New York, but it is a perfectly good day to make homemade peanut butter with the Girl Child and that is what we did. For anyone who wants to do it to, take 2 cups of salted, roasted peanuts, one tablespoon of peanut oil, put them all in the blender and blend until you get butter. You may have to stop and scrape it down from time to time. It's yummy. You can put it in the fridge and when you want it, stir the oil back in to the butter. It will keep, I'm told, for about two weeks or so.

Peace, y'all.

By the way, I am having problems leaving comments on other Mu.Nu blogs because it seems not to like the word m-a-i-l-dot-com. Feel free to send me an email if you have something you want to say until it gets sorted out. The information is on the side bar on the left.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (3)

September 04, 2004

Warping your Child

I probably have a lot to answer for. My daughter is in her little black and white t-shirt from Alcatraz and running around announcing to one and all what I told her to say to anyone at the beach if they ask her either where she got the t-shirt or why she's wearing it:

I'm a gangsta of luuuv.

Exhibit A in the case of why I should not be trusted to home school my children.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:20 AM | Comments (9)

I'm a liar.

I lied about something really important today. I told my daughter that there are no monsters in the world and that she is safe and that there really isn't anything scary. The thing is, she doesn't need, at 3 1/2, to know differently. But I know.

This woman knows:

mourningmother.jpg

Evil walks the earth and kills children for some perceived political gain. I don't know what it is. I sit, this morning, with my coffee and I look upon my daughter and I am so ineffably sad and I try so hard not to show it to her because she doesn't need that.

But I wonder, are we next? Will it be some pre-school in Tacoma or Miami or White Plains?

And so I sit there and I watch her and I know that I cannot keep her safe. And I lie to her. But I cannot lie to myself.

There are monsters and they bring terror in the name of Islam. I shy away from writing that last sentence because I know that muslim does not mean terrorist. I was raised to think differently and I like to think that I know differently. But something has gone terribly wrong somewhere if adherents to a creed or a cause or a system of beliefs think they are right and justified in shooting children in the back as they flee a burning building.

I lie to my daughter and tell her there are no monsters. But there are. And I fear. I am so very afraid.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (9)

September 03, 2004

The Children in Russia

I don't have much to say today. I am personally so saddened by the deaths of the children in Russia this morning that I feel a bit wrung out. Go visit this site for updates and photographs and translations from the Russian media sources.

This crime is beyond description for me. I keep coming back to the woman who had to choose between which of her two children she was going to send out of the school and which was going to remain as a hostage. The six year old or the two year old. How would you decide? She chose the two year old to go out, reasoning, or so I understand, that the six year old would be better able to bear up under the stress.

I am not a very religious person, but I feel compelled to ask: May God bless those children who died there in that school.

UPDATE:

Michael Darragh found the link to the story about the woman who had to choose between her children. Don't read this unless you really feel the need to break down and cry.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:53 AM | Comments (12)

Copyright Infringement

One of the reasons there has not been a lot of activity here is that I have spent much of my morning engaged in the research of the Fair Use Doctrine, an exception and affirmative defense to a charge of copyright violation. I have satisfied myself about what I have done generally and, in doing so, have created a 5 or 6 page single spaced memo summarizing my research. I am somewhat loath (typo corrected) to post it here because I have a horror of someone thinking I am giving legal advice on my blog because that's the last thing I want to do. What do you think? Should I post something?

UPDATE:

I've decided not to post my little memo. I found something on the web that treats the subject much more exhaustively than I do and I highly recommend going to read it: The Stanford University Libraries Section on Copyright and Fair Use. This appears to be excellent. I enjoyed it and found it informative and I get out of my problem of fearing to appear to be giving legal advice to the whole world on the net.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:59 AM | Comments (6)

Great Buildings of NY: The 65th Street Armory

Andrew Cusack, one of my Westchester neighbors (almost), posts some beautiful photographs of the 65th Street Armory on Park Avenue. They got me thinking that it's been awhile since I did a "Great Building" post. While I figure out one to do, go check out Andrew's page. He covers it very nicely.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:58 AM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2004

The Smell of Breakfast

I was walking to the train station this morning when I felt myself oddly suspended in some kind of nether state between morning and night. To my left, the sky was shot through with the pinks and oranges of a stunning sunrise, portending a spectacular day. To my left, I noticed an almost full moon still hung in the sky, like someone forgot to put it away from last night. One side, the sun. The other side, the moon. Where the f**k was I?

And then I was hit by the smell of someone cooking breakfast. I have never smelled anyone's cooking odors before on this walk. But it reassured me that I was still relatively grounded. And it got me thinking about cooking odors and cooperative living.

We used to live in an apartment house in New York City on the oh-so-posh Upper East Side, a ghetto for blondes. The first time over there from our Upper West Side apartment, my wife commented that she thought we were in Greenwich, Connecticut by mistake. We lived in a building with 6 apartments on our floor.

Apartment living is intimate, even in a pre-War apartment building like ours. You know when your neighbors leave for work, because the door slams. You know who favors stiletto heels, because you can hear it on the terrazzo or on the hardwood floors above you. You know what their reading habits are because you see their magazines when you go to recycle yours. And you pretend that you know nothing about anything when you actually see them face to face. That was the fiction, that you knew nothing about the different guys who were coming and going from your neighbor's apartment in the early morning hours. No problem. I could do that fiction. That changed, of course, when I was elected to the Board of the Coop, but that’s another story.

Another thing you learned about your neighbors is that no one cooked on the Upper East Side. I mean, why bother, right? Chinese food delivered in under 7 minutes. Seriously. And it was good and not much more than what you might spend to cook it yourself and way more efficient in use of time. One of our neighbors actually got a call from the local utility asking if she'd like them to turn the gas off to her apartment since they noticed that she had not once turned the stove on in the last eight years.

Well, I cooked and my neighbors had to learn to ignore my cooking odors. Unfortunately for them, I cook well. I like to cook things that smell really good, like slow braised beef with about 30 cloves of garlic that you cook for 4 or 5 hours on 250 degrees until you just cannot stand the smell of the yummy goodness any more and you have to tear the oven open and dip some bread into the cooking juices or you are going to kill somebody. Or roasted chickens. Or long simmering soups and pasta sauces. Things that just smacked you in the face when you got off the elevator. Yup, my apartment was that smelly cooking apartment.

No one ever said anything, but I know that they all wanted to come over for dinner.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:39 AM | Comments (4)

Wild World of Nature

From Simon comes this link and the suggestion that you admire the view from the window in the third picture down. Put your coffee down first, ok?

Thanks, Simon!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:29 AM | Comments (6)

September 01, 2004

Baseball Economics and the Girl Child

I just put the Girl Child to bed after watching the Yankees / Indians game. We watched Jorge Posada hit a home run and I remarked that he was pretty good. She then said that she was not such a good baseball player and I told her that she was not a professional and we had the following exchange:

Me: They are professionals and they get paid.

Girl Child: They get paid? Money? To play baseball?

Me: Yes.

GC: [Stunned silence for a moment] Well, I don't know . . . [More silence] Well, I don't know EVEN what to say.

Never too early to learn it is absurd to pay men to play a kid's game.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:40 PM | Comments (9)

A moment of disperception on the train this morning

I had a moment of disperception this morning on the train. You know, a moment during which you feel suddenly weightless, no longer held to the bounds of the earth by bonds of rationality or ordered thought. I am not shocked by these moments now. I get them all the time while reading the NY Times. This one came whilst (I enjoyed sneaking that word in, pardon the digression) reading a book review concerning a book that holds that Europe is eclipsing the United States in the "good life". The Times surprised me by not giving the book a good review but that was not the disperceptive moment. Here's the quote that brought me up short:

It would be foolish, especially after the recent report of an increase in poverty in the United States, for even the most committed proponent of the American way not to admire much in Europe these days: its reduction of grinding poverty almost to a vestige, its low levels of violent crime, the quality of its culture.

It would be too much to fisk the whole thing, but one phrase jumped off the page at me: the quality of its culture. What the heck does that mean?

Firstly, is there such a thing as a European culture? Other than Yogurt? Europe, as we can all agree, is a CONTINENT, not a country, not a unitary social construct to which we can ascribe common beliefs and expressions such that we can call any expression by its citizens a manifestation of a culture. Even for the US, it's hard to do, considering we, too, are a continent and yet there are substantial cultural differences between the coasts and breaking down among the regions. So that blithe assumption bugged me.

Secondly, the quality? The quality? Is he kidding? Clearly not, I suppose since the reviewer thinks that this proposition is so self evident that it requires nothing more than a languid flip of the wrist to insert it in the article, then a pause as the cognoscenti silently concur, and then we continue on, all happily flattered to be considered in the know concerning the quality (superior, implied heavily) of European culture. Please. I think I need a drink.

How do you judge the quality? Do we have agreed upon standards? Is there a time period we are talking about? What is culture, exactly? Is it art, literature and music all by itself? If so, I'd say that Europe was hands down the home of quality culture during the Renaissance. That can't be too controversial, can it?

Is it the marketplace of new ideas? Well, Europe gave us Fascism, the Nazis, and Communism, some of the worst ideas ever. That ain't quality culture. And we have left plenty of dead Americans in Europe to prove it.

Is it architecture? Is it cooking? Food? Wine? What the hell is culture anyway?

I have no idea what the reviewer is talking about anymore. Are you all as confused as I am?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:56 AM | Comments (22)

Architecture Obituary: Fay Jones

E. Fay Jones died in Arkansas on Monday. He was a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright and is credited with the creation of the Ozark Syle of architecture, a term he didn't like but which, according to the obituary in the NY Times, was important. The Times acknowledges that he was a regional architect but he was very influential just the same. The reason we are talking about him today is because of the Thorncrown Chapel, in Arkansas. The Times writes about it thusly:

His most famous chapel, Thorncrown in Eureka Springs, Ark., was a reverse play on European Gothic cathedrals. It was inspired especially by the 13th-century Ste.-Chapelle in Paris. The authors of "Architecture in North America Since 1960" described his method there: "At Thorncrown, he reverses the Gothic characteristic of a heavy compressive structure of stone and makes its inverse as a light tensile structure of wood."

In a biography, "Fay Jones,'' Robert Adams Ivy Jr., editor of Architectural Record, writes, "This harmoniously unified masterpiece is arguably among the 20th century's great works of art."

Thorncrown is tall and narrow, built of glass, wood and stone. Mr. Jones used a stabilizing device believed to be new at the time, crossed-wood bracing near the ceiling running most of the length of the building. Each brace is two lengths of two-by-four lumber joined by hollow steel joints that produce "a diamond fretwork of light'' that creates "the illusion of infinity," Mr. Ivy writes.

Ste. Chapelle is, to me, the most wonderous structure ever created by man. It is the embodiment of pure light. To see a splendid photo of it from Ken Rockwell, go here (image removed from site at request of artist after I checked with him).

This is my favorite building in Paris and I go visit it whenever I have the chance. It was built between 1246 and 1248 to hold the Crown of Thorns, as well as a piece of the True Cross and its steeple rises some 75 meters.

Throwncrown is clearly derived from it and here are a couple of photos I found. You can see the interior picture below and note the resemblance yourself:

Interior

ThorncrownInt.jpg

Exterior

Thorncrownchapel.jpg

R.I.P, Mr. Jones.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:34 AM | Comments (5)