Thursday, November 27, 2008
They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.
Half the colony died on board the Mayflower, where they spent the first winter while they built their village in Plymouth.
After the jump — Massachusetts humor
I love New England, and I was very happy to go to college in Cambridge and the Hub. There was still a little too much ancestor worship* in Boston when I was in college, but I love New England's role in the founding of America and the growth of democracy.
Having ancestors on the Mayflower is not important. The people on the Mayflower produced a very important document when they wrote the Mayflower Compact.
I had a friend in college named Stanley who was passionate about the contributions of New Englanders to American history, and w spent some good times talking about them.
One Thanksgiving we went out to Plimoth Plantation. It was a cold and blustery day that made you appreciate what the Pilgrims went through the first winter, when half the colony died on board the Mayflower while they built their new home.
While we talked to a guide in one of the huts, the wind almost blew out the fire in the house. Someone closed the door, which made the house slightly less drafty.
There was a knock on the door. "May I come in?" someone outside asked.
"What church are you?" Stanley asked.
*I dwell 'neath the shades of Harvard
In the State of the Sacred Cod,
Where the Lowells speak only to Cabots
And the Cabots speak only to God
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Architecture of Hope, or A Bridge to Nowhere?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Way We Live Now (financial edition)
To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital--to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn't the first clue.
I'd never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous--which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable. Sooner rather than later, someone was going to identify me, along with a lot of people more or less like me, as a fraud. Sooner rather than later, there would come a Great Reckoning when Wall Street would wake up and hundreds if not thousands of young people like me, who had no business making huge bets with other people's money, would be expelled from finance.
The most famous financial crisis—the Wall Street Crash—is conventionally said to have begun on “Black Thursday,” October 24, 1929, when the Dow declined by 2 percent, though in fact the market had been slipping since early September and had suffered a sharp, 6 percent drop on October 23. On “Black Monday,” October 28, it plunged by 13 percent, and the next day by a further 12 percent. In the course of the next three years the U.S. stock market declined by a staggering 89 percent, reaching its nadir in July 1932. The index did not regain its 1929 peak until November 1954.
That helps put our current troubles into perspective. From its peak of 14,164, on October 9, 2007, to a dismal level of 8,579, exactly a year later, the Dow declined by 39 percent. By contrast, on a single day just over two decades ago—October 19, 1987—the index fell by 23 percent, one of only four days in history when the index has fallen by more than 10 percent in a single trading session.
This crisis, however, is about much more than just the stock market. It needs to be understood as a fundamental breakdown of the entire financial system, extending from the monetary-and-banking system through the bond market, the stock market, the insurance market, and the real-estate market. It affects not only established financial institutions such as investment banks but also relatively novel ones such as hedge funds. It is global in scope and unfathomable in scal
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I just came back from a walk in one of the most beautiful parts of Greenwich Village (updated)
Picture that in your mind.
I'll bet you $1,000 that no one pictured NYU's Silver Towers.
So why is NYU reinforcing I.M. Pei's anti-urban design, and why is the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation trying to prevent any changes to the block around it?
We need to understand that the practice of "historic preservation" is in many ways a creation of Modernists, who don't believe in the continuity of history or things like timeless principles of urban design.
I.M. Pei was a Starchitect of his day. He practiced what Jane Jacobs called "urban removal." An historic preservation society should understand that the urban blocks Pei destroyed are as important as the object he created, and that we can undo the harm he did.
A neighborhood is a terrible thing to waste.
UPDATE: On Tuesday November 18, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated their first urban-removal superblock development, citing the open space around Pei's towers as an integral part of the design. So much for the idea that NYU might re-urbanize the block with liner buildings around the perimeter of the block.
Preservationists continue to value the heroic building more than urbanism and the neighborhood.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
It's that time of year again, so I've been looking at the free agents the Yanks are supposed to be interested in. We know they've made a big offer to Sabathia, and they're supposed to have an interest in Derek Lowe too.
I'm not wild about Lowe. The Yanks used to hit him pretty hard, and I'd rather have Pettitte for one year than Lowe for three. Mussina would be a better choice than either, but Joe Girardi says Moose told him he's probably retiring.
Looking for info on Lowe I came across this video on Lowe's postseason in 2004. His regular season ERA against the Yankees that year was over 9, but he silenced them in game seven of the ALCS, and he won the title game in the World Series too.
WATCH THE VIDEO: WHAT A YEAR TO BE A SOX FAN!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Roger Rabbit Does Detroit?
LOTS of news today about Detroit, where the Big Three are sinking fast. So President-Elect Obama (my hero) and the Congressional Democrats are considering bailing them out. There are several problems with this.
- The leaders of the Big Three have acted incompetently for years — do we really want to trust them with our money now?
- We're not going to buy our way out of this crisis by coming up with exciting new cars, but that seems to be what the Democrats are talking about.
- What we really need is an alternative to what Detroit has been selling us — but maybe they can be a part of that. Big idea below.
A graph in today's Wall Street Journal shows how poorly American automakers have performed against their competition since 1995. Only high-margin, gas guzzling SUVs and pickups have kept them in the game.
Tom Friedman seems to concur in his column in the New York Times today. He has a dumb quote about the Prius from General Motors' Vice Chairman, who, speaking of dumb, also said that global warming "is a total crock of sh*t." The days when what's good for GM is good for America are clearly over.
Friedman has a new book out that advocates government policies to help make America the center of green innovation and technology. He says government intervention is necessary because the oil and highway lobbies are so strong that they successfully stifle green energy innovation, preventing a Silicon Valley type of bottom-up revolution. He may be right in general, but I think he's wrong about Detroit.
Friedman thinks that if we first fire all the Big Three executives, innovation and gizmos can solve the industry's economic crisis, but there are problems with that theory for this specific industry. First, we have almost one car per person in the US, and in the current economic crisis we're not going to go trading all those in on new models that lose 20% of their value as soon as you drive them home. Especially when they're like the Chevrolet Volt, which even with a big US subsidy will cost over $40,000 for a car that's not very good. Someone like me, who parks in a garage two blocks away can't even use one, because I'd have no way to charge it.
More effective than a putting all our Detroit eggs in a plan to exchange our polluting automobiles with clean green cars might be a plan to reduce our dependence on cars. The good news is that Obama and Congress have plans for that, and so does the American electorate. On Election Day, we passed 23 ballot initiatives that collectively authorized $75 billion in local expenditures on mass transit, like California's Proposition 1A. California's trains will be wind and solar powered and they are designed to drastically reduce both air and auto travel.
The bad news is that the trains will be bought from Japan or Europe. What if the Big Three go into the train and streetcar business instead?
In the early 20th century, America had thousands of profit-making streetcar systems. A GM-led coalition bought many of them and replaced them with bus systems (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Now places like Portland and New Jersey are putting back thousands of miles of streetcar tracks, and it seems that many more miles are coming. Could Detroit once again lead the way, positively this time?
Executives like GM's Vice Chairman might be too big a problem to overcome. but we shouldn't bail them out if they're going to make money losers like the $40,000 Volt.Transforming Detroit from a car, truck bus industry to a clean car, truck, bus, train and streetcar industry is the big idea. Some of the funding could come from the $100 billion already being talked about for new infrastructure and mass transit. And there's more money in places like the ISTEA bill (see T4America). Isn't it better to leverage other funds and include Detroit in the plans to reduce auto dependency than to simply bail them out?
Will This Kill That?
THIS is a picture of Zaha Hadid's Mobile Art Gallery, commissioned by Chanel to promote "the universe of Chanel." Sitting on a hill in Central Park, it's the second Zaha building I've seen. The experience was glum. As you walk around, creepy music comes out of speakers sitting on the ground, which has been covered wall-to-wall in an unpleasant black rubber.
In the face of environmental, political, economic and social crises, Americans are rethinking how we want to live. Let's hope this sort of ego-driven, throw-away global capitalism will be the type of thing we leave behind.
Strangely enough, Nicolai Ouroussoff seems to agree with me:
The wild, delirious ride that architecture has been on for the last decade looks as if it’s finally coming to an end. And after a visit to the Chanel Pavilion that opened Monday in Central Park, you may think it hasn’t come soon enough.
Designed to display artworks that were inspired by Chanel’s 2.55, a quilted chain-strap handbag, the pavilion certainly oozes glamour. Its mysterious nautiluslike form, which can be easily dismantled and shipped to the next city on its global tour, reflects the keen architectural intelligence we have come to expect from its creator, Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect who lives in London.
Yet if devoting so much intellectual effort to such a dubious undertaking might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional.
It’s not just that New York and much of the rest of the world are preoccupied by economic turmoil, although the timing could hardly be worse. It’s that the pavilion sets out to drape an aura of refinement over a cynical marketing gimmick. Surveying its self-important exhibits, you can’t help but hope that the era of exploiting the so-called intersection of architecture, art and fashion is finally over.
New York Times, October 20, 2008
Coco Chanel was an iconic figure of the 20th century, a symbol of French fashion, who designed classic items people still use.
French fashion used to be about classic design, great materials and superb workmanship. Now its about using branding and promotion to convince millions around the world that things cheaply made in China and sometimes designed by supermodels are luxurious, prestigious items worth thousands of dollars more than their material cost. Chanel is surprisingly still owned by Coco's family, but a lot of French fashion is now controlled by multi-national conglomerates with no allegiance to France or any other country. Their products have high-carbon footprints and are close to the opposite of current ideas like Slow Food, local economies and Small Is Beautiful.