February 27, 2009

commentary by david simon, creator of the wire, for the he's just not that into you dvd

DAVID SIMON: I like to tell everybody that the real subject of this film is Baltimore. Its particular set of social problems drive the romantic conflict here. Baltimore is a medium-sized city, as East Coast cities go. It's a stand-in for every place like it, these ports whose economies were just hammered by the collapse of the New Deal. Even so, there's an appealing human scale to the place. To a certain extent, that old-school solidarity still characterizes the social life of the city, if not the culture of local institutions. In Baltimore, everyone is one or two degrees removed from everyone else, more or less. You have these characters' social entanglements interfering with weaker professional or institutional ties--but which tie really is weaker? Are people more committed to their partner or to their institution? And that uncertainty breeds a natural suspicion. It's a culture where people live with a fundamental lack of trust in the goodness of other human beings. So it's not like he's not calling because he isn't into you--it's not about you! It's not about anybody, specifically. You never know who's talking to whom, or what anyone is up to. It's about this idea that the personal needs of an individual are not worth as much of a time investment as they used to be.


February 25, 2009

eglin fps-85 radar building

As drawn by artist Leah Beeferman, in a series entitled "Imagining the universe as seen by a building used to track orbital debris" (via things magazine):


This particular drawing is "Dedicated sensoring/how to hear with clarity". The drawings are quite nice, managing to be both delicate and imprecise (a bit like Klee?); the title adds a lift1 of melancholy. Beeferman describes the motivation behind the series:

"The Eglin FPS-85 radar is a building used by NASA to track orbital debris. Rooted to the ground, yet gazing toward the sky, this structure epitomizes the persistence and limitations of human exploration. My latest series of drawings picture the universe seen by the Eglin: a rotating mass of detritus, rocks, dust and information streams. I imagined the Eglin's desire to project itself into this space alongside its radar waves, to experience the clutter first-hand."

For comparison, the building itself:


[1] In landscape construction, 'lifts' are a way of describing the process of laying imported or excavated soil in repeated, measured thicknesses (often eighteen inches) in order to arrive at a desired finished grade with even compaction.

February 24, 2009

nothing useful* can be said in one hundred and forty words or less

More evidence to confirm my opinion that twitter is overhyped (1. media misses out on the blogging 2. media swears it will get with the new media 3. twitter is the new media 4. media says twitter is 'important'):

"How do we hold back the tide? We must make a case that turns public opinion"
"Brought work home. My sister is here who is a huge dog person. That means one thing tonight. Westminister Dog Show on TV"
"Great lunch at mcdonalds-quarter pounder with cheese-off to nordstroms-valentines day."
"On way bk to frigid waterloo. Will my car start at airport."
"Ultimately, I think the whole debate over the NYT is silly. Op-ed pages are meaningless in the 21st century. We need to focus on raw info."
"I'm advocating a US goal of 100% carbon-free electricity in 10 years"

*I lied. You can say lots of useful things in one hundred and forty words or less. But the set of things you can usefully communicate in one hundred and forty words or less is considerably smaller than the set of things you can't usefully communicate in one hundred and forty words or less. The former set consists mostly of things like "Meet me at the 14th and U at seven pm", which are completely valid things to be communicating to other people, but unlikely to seriously affect (at least, for the better) the way that people write and think. On the other hand, twitter could help you hang out with Shaq in a diner.

February 23, 2009

ideology and fulfillment

I don't necessarily endorse the article that this quote is taken from, but I do think this bit is perceptive (italics mine):

If this is true, then ideology should flourish where education is widespread, and especially where opportunities are limited for the educated to lose themselves in grand projects, or to take leadership roles to which they believe that their education entitles them. The attractions of ideology are not so much to be found in the state of the world--always lamentable, but sometimes improving, at least in certain respects--but in states of mind. And in many parts of the world, the number of educated people has risen far faster than the capacity of economies to reward them with positions they believe commensurate with their attainments. Even in the most advanced economies, one will always find unhappy educated people searching for the reason that they are not as important as they should be.

[Theodore Dalrymple, "The Persistence of Ideology"]

Which reminds me a bit of architects, who seem to me a bit too frequently frustrated that architecture has not yet succeeded in reshaping reality (though the ones who are so frustrated are a good bit more interesting than many of the other cases, I will happily admit). Fortunately we landscape architects are constantly reminded that we are a marginal profession and so perhaps a bit less tempted by such grand dreams (though I would never issue a blanket indictment of grand dreams, I am happy to indict the expectation that they will lead to some kind of perfected state; cue forthcoming explanation of the relationship between infrastructure as an object/instrument of design and humility as a virtue for the designer).

February 19, 2009

kilmarnock's manuel pascali explains the spl

"Everyone at Kilmarnock drinks industrial quantities of beer and then they run around the pitch like madmen. It is frenzied stuff.

One time the whole squad went on a trip to Newcastle.

Everybody bought themselves animal costumes as though it was a carnival and we put them on to go on a pub crawl round the city. I was dressed as a cow."


I try to avoid commenting too much on politics, as I consider it a peculiarly unproductive endeavour (though not unimportant, if its possible to hold both those things at once), but I think this post from Ryan Avent slips right between politics and economics (a subject which I am even more ignorant of) to land on top of something I am very much concerned with, infrastructure. And so I will quote, approvingly, most of the post:

"These rescues are manifestly not about saving jobs with long-term viability. They're about protecting a certain institutional arrangement, and it's not clear why that should be a priority.

Even if we accept that the Rust Belt should be singled out for special assistance, it absolutely doesn't follow that that assistance should come in the form of massive government loans to the Big Three (or two, as the case may be). It would be far, far better to invest money in Rust Belt infrastructure, in early retirement assistance for older workers, and in re-training for younger workers. Just give them a salary and send them to school; that would be better than paying them to sit around and not make cars, and much better (given existing inventories) than paying them to sit around and make cars.

If, at the end of the day, there's still room for a thriving domestic auto industry, then it's difficult to see how better educated workers with better infrastructure, and reorganized firms free, thanks to bankruptcy, from their current burdensome obligations, would do anything but help relaunch the sector on a stronger footing.

But seriously, if we're going to throw money down this hole, we simply must add the condition that the Big Three immediately cease their lobbying against stronger environmental rules. It's bad enough to have one's money going toward production of the Chevy Cobalt; it's worse still to have it used to fight climate legislation.

I would also question the wisdom of dropping (another) double-digit-billions-sum on a subsidy for the car manufacturers least able/willing to adapt to the future while touting a smaller sum as an unprecedented commitment to high speed rail (which, sadly, it is).

February 16, 2009

i'm always checking my back for cars

42,836 number of people killed in US traffic accidents, 2004
16,137 number of people killed in US by murderers, 2004

February 12, 2009

a way of life


Highlights of the game:
a. Frankie Hejduk; Frankie is unbelievable. He is inhumanly fit, which is nice, but what separates Frankie from the rest is his passion. I would not be surprised to see him in Columbus in 2024, scything down Mexican wingers with outrageous and perfectly-timed two-footed scissor tackles -- at the age of 50. He would probably also score after executing a series of ridiculously awkward stepovers.
b. He would, of course, be scoring the second goal in Los Estadios Unidos' sixth consecutive two-nil win over Mexico in Columbus, because that is how it is.
c. As noted below, Rafa got his traditional red card. Salcido should have had one too. But I'll settle for Salcido twice missing tackles (if you can call crashing into a player several seconds after they release the ball "missing") that lead directly to the second goal.
d. Bradley, Kjlestan, Beasley, and Dempsey bossed the midfield. Precise one-touch passing (or dribbling, where appropriate) and the ability to find an open man who advances the play (as opposed to (a) who is under pressure and coughs up the ball or (b) who then backpasses to Tim Howard), plus solid marking. The best US midfield performance against Mexico since the US obliterated Mexico 1-0 in Houston in 2003 (yes -- it is possible to obliterate a team by one goal; particularly if you have Jonny Walker, Kerry Zavagnin, Conor Casey and Chris Armas on the field and still manage to retain the majority of positive possession).
e. Sanchez in goal, spraying goalkicks into the crowd with reckless abandon and letting the ball slip under him for Bradley's second goal; why Sven didn't play Ochoa instead, we will never know -- but we can be thankful.

obnoxious new york times article of the week

Is it:

(a) "Trying to Live on 500K in New York City", in which we read an apparently sincere account of the plight of executives forced to live with such meager compensation.


(b) "Wife/Mother/Worker/Spy", in which the bold host/obnoxious columnist (1) dares to invite (well, accidentally invites) both Republicans and Democrats to a dinner party and (2) congratulates herself for the monumental achievement of hosting this gathering of electrical engineers (you see, the dinner party is part of a long tradition and traces its proud heritage to "Greenwich Village bohemians, and salons").

As the appropriate response to (a) is "I hope the Grey Lady ends up living in a rusty Winnebago without windows in Upstate, shivering in her three $35,000 gowns" and the appropriate response to (b) is "Well, that's obnoxious", I'm going to say that (b) wins, as (a) is disqualified on a technicality (it goes far beyond obnoxious).

the type of desperation i feel


"It was the United States, though, who nabbed the game's final goal. Again, it was Bradley who did the damage as he fired a shot from distance that appeared to fool Mexico's Oswaldo Sanchez. The shot went right through a giant gap in Mexico's defense, one that may have been filled by Marquez."

February 11, 2009

February 6, 2009

roddy the body

I was never the biggest fan of analytic philosophy (unless you consider Wittgenstein an analytic philosopher), but this sort of word-parsing bothers me, as it isn't particularly competent parsing:

Williamson's present beliefs regarding the fate of the Jews in Nazi Europe are repugnant, the insistent demand that he change them (or else) is also repugnant."

The above quote betrays a common confusion that you, Andrew, and other believers suffer from. It's imperative to differentiate the term "belief" from "knowledge." The fate of the Jews is something to be known or disproved. It is absolutely not a belief. Your relationship with Jesus is based on a belief, not knowledge.

Beliefs can be changed, because they are not based on a means of knowledge by which facts are ascertained.

One doesn't ask a physicist to change his belief. One challenges his or her conclusions by challenging the facts upon which their conclusions are drawn. This is the way it's done in the thinking world.

The mistake here is the attempt to draw a clear line between knowledge and belief (knowledge = immutable, belief = mutable), which demonstrates ignorance of the most basic definition of knowledge1 used in philosophy (and being basic, there are plenty of problems with the definition, but its a much better definition than the belief != knowledge definition offered by Sullivan's reader):

A subject S knows that a proposition P is true if, and only if:
1. P is true
2. S believes that P is true, and
3. S is justified in believing that P

Or, in plainer English: "knowledge is justified true belief". The point being that knowledge and belief are not different kinds of things, but rather that the two are intertwined (you can't know something unless you believe it to be true -- its fairly easy to conceive of a scenario in which a person would be justified in believing that P is true and P would in fact be true, but that person would still not believe that P is true), which has always seemed like a valid insight to me, even given the myriad of problems professional philosophers have developed for the jtb definition.

Quickly: consider Newton. Newton developed a system of physics, which he believed was true (condition 2) and which he was justified in believing (condition 3). But the evaluation of condition 1 is contingent upon the evaluator's position in history and knowledge of physics: I would say that Newton's belief did not consitute knowledge, as his system was not true in the sense that he believed it to be; but an 18th century observer (or a modern observer without awareness of Einstein, quantum mechanics, etc.) would think that condition 1 was met and thus was knowledge. If Newton were still alive, I suspect he would tell us that he no longer believes the system of physics he constructed was accurate -- he would have changed his belief. Which is precisely what Sullivan's reader's arbitrary and artificial distinction would have us believe a physicist would not do. SR would of course say that Newton would do so based on "facts", but my point is not about the reasons for Newton's new belief about the veracity of his system, but that belief is a component of knowledge.

(Note also that the definitions of "belief" offered by Webster's dictionary include "conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence" -- which sounds a lot like the definition of knowledge which SR is trying to construct.)

Beyond the linguistic confusion, though, I suspect SR is also asserting that "the thinking world" = science (or that the only kind of belief which is justified is that which is justified through the scientific method). Which is a common mistake; logical positivism may have been quickly shown to be a dead-end for those who think a lot about such things, but the errors of the position are a bit harder to understand than the strengths (even though they are ultimately fatal), so it persists.

1 If you know why I titled this entry the way I did...

February 4, 2009

fog farming in luanda

the district of ingombotas, enhanced

assessing the global opportunities for urban fog farming

If, for some reason that I can't imagine, you are curious what I have been doing for the past couple months, this page will fill you in. On the submission to the new architecture journal [Bracket] (instigated by Mason White of Lateral Architecture, I think) which Stephen and I have been working on, that is. There was a bit of panic when we realized, about fifteen minutes before the submission deadline of 12:01 am Monday morning, that our jpegs were corrupt; but we fixed that and, even if I can't say its a fully realized project, are pretty satisfied with what we produced given the time constraints we had.