Archive for the ‘favourite’ Category

Whither Moral Courage? By Salman Rushdie

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Rushdie on moral courage - Occupy Wall Street protester
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Police officers carried off an Occupy D.C. demonstrator in Washington, October 2011.

I’m reprinting this article here because I think it’s worth reading and I don’t think it should be behind the NYT paywall. The fact that it’s become uncool to stand up to power irritates me intensely. Anyone who thinks standing up to these lunatics is uncool has drunk the kool-aid. It’s also a sort of US-style libertarianism that has drifted north. Sure, the parties are all a mess, but that’s not to say they’re all the same, which is reductio ad absurdam. Let’s get Stephen Harper out of power before he does any more damage.

OPINION
Whither Moral Courage?
By SALMAN RUSHDIE
Published: April 27, 2013, New York Times

We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage — the courage of the life of the mind, or of public figures. A man in a cowboy hat vaults a fence to help Boston bomb victims while others flee the scene: we salute his bravery, as we do that of servicemen returning from the battlefront, or men and women struggling to overcome debilitating illnesses or injuries.

It’s harder for us to see politicians, with the exception of Nelson Mandela and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as courageous these days. Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the inevitable compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore. One man’s hero (Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro) is another’s villain. We no longer easily agree on what it means to be good, or principled, or brave. When political leaders do take courageous steps — as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, then president, did in Libya by intervening militarily to support the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — there are as many who doubt as approve. Political courage, nowadays, is almost always ambiguous.

Even more strangely, we have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma.

It was not always so. The writers and intellectuals who opposed Communism, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the rest, were widely esteemed for their stand. The poet Osip Mandelstam was much admired for his “Stalin Epigram” of 1933, in which he described the fearsome leader in fearless terms — “the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip” — not least because the poem led to his arrest and eventual death in a Soviet labor camp.

As recently as 1989, the image of a man carrying two shopping bags and defying the tanks of Tiananmen Square became, almost at once, a global symbol of courage.

Then, it seems, things changed. The “Tank Man” has been largely forgotten in China, while the pro-democracy protesters, including those who died in the massacre of June 3 and 4, have been successfully redescribed by the Chinese authorities as counterrevolutionaries. The battle for redescription continues, obscuring or at least confusing our understanding of how “courageous” people should be judged. This is how the Chinese authorities are treating their best known critics: the use of “subversion” charges against Liu Xiaobo, and of alleged tax crimes against Ai Weiwei, is a deliberate attempt to blind people to their courage, and paint them, instead, as criminals.

Such is the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church that the jailed members of the Pussy Riot collective are widely perceived, inside Russia, as immoral troublemakers because they staged their famous protest on church property. Their point — that the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church is too close to President Vladimir V. Putin for comfort — has been lost on their many detractors, and their act is not seen as brave, but improper.

Two years ago in Pakistan, the former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, wrongly sentenced to death under the country’s draconian blasphemy law; for this he was murdered by one of his own security guards. The guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was widely praised and showered with rose petals when he appeared in court. The dead Mr. Taseer was widely criticized, and public opinion turned against him. His courage was obliterated by religious passions. The murderer was called a hero.

In February 2012, a Saudi poet and journalist, Hamza Kashgari, published three tweets about the Prophet Muhammad:

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.” “On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.” “On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

He claimed afterward that he was “demanding his right” to freedom of expression and thought. He found little public support, was condemned as an apostate, and there were many calls for his execution. He remains in jail.

The writers and intellectuals of the French Enlightenment also challenged the religious orthodoxy of their time, and so created the modern concept of free thought. We think of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and the rest as intellectual heroes. Sadly, very few people in the Muslim world would say the same of Hamza Kashgari.

THIS new idea — that writers, scholars and artists who stand against orthodoxy or bigotry are to blame for upsetting people — is spreading fast, even to countries like India that once prided themselves on their freedoms.

In recent years, the grand old man of Indian painting, Maqbool Fida Husain, was hounded into exile in Dubai and London, where he died, because he painted the Hindu goddess Saraswati in the nude (even though the most cursory examination of ancient Hindu sculptures of Saraswati shows that while she is often adorned with jewels and ornaments, she is equally often undressed).

Rohinton Mistry’s celebrated novel “Such a Long Journey” was pulled off the syllabus of Mumbai University because local extremists objected to its content. The scholar Ashis Nandy was attacked for expressing unorthodox views on lower-caste corruption. And in all these cases the official view — with which many commentators and a substantial slice of public opinion seemed to agree — was, essentially, that the artists and scholars had brought the trouble on themselves. Those who might, in other eras, have been celebrated for their originality and independence of mind, are increasingly being told, “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat.”

America isn’t immune from this trend. The young activists of the Occupy movement have been much maligned (though, after their highly effective relief work in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, those criticisms have become a little muted). Out-of-step intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and the deceased Edward Said have often been dismissed as crazy extremists, “anti-American,” and in Mr. Said’s case even, absurdly, as apologists for Palestinian “terrorism.” (One may disagree with Mr. Chomsky’s critiques of America but it ought still to be possible to recognize the courage it takes to stand up and bellow them into the face of American power. One may not be pro-Palestinian, but one should be able to see that Mr. Said stood up against Yasir Arafat as eloquently as he criticized the United States.)

It’s a vexing time for those of us who believe in the right of artists, intellectuals and ordinary, affronted citizens to push boundaries and take risks and so, at times, to change the way we see the world. There’s nothing to be done but to go on restating the importance of this kind of courage, and to try to make sure that these oppressed individuals — Ai Weiwei, the members of Pussy Riot, Hamza Kashgari — are seen for what they are: men and women standing on the front line of liberty. How to do this? Sign the petitions against their treatment, join the protests. Speak up. Every little bit counts.

Tower of Babel

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

	Pieter Bruegel the Elder - Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel, 1563 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Bruegel painted a series of three pictures of the Tower of Babel; one, on ivory, is lost.

‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11:4).

“The workers in the painting have built the arches perpendicular to the slanted ground, thereby making them unstable and a few arches can already be seen crumbling. The foundation and bottom layers of the tower had not been completed before the higher layers were constructed.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563, detail

“Bruegel’s depiction of the architecture of the tower, with its numerous arches and other examples of Roman engineering, is deliberately reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum, which Christians of the time saw as both a symbol of hubris and persecution…

“The parallel of Rome and Babylon had a particular significance for Bruegel’s contemporaries: Rome was the Eternal City, intended by the Caesars to last for ever, and its decay and ruin were taken to symbolize the vanity and transience of earthly efforts.

….

“It is a fact that the story of the Tower of Babel was interpreted as an example of pride punished, and that is no doubt what Bruegel intended his painting to illustrate. Moreover, the hectic activity of the engineers, masons and workmen points to a second moral—the futility of much human endeavour… Bruegel’s knowledge of building procedures and techniques is considerable and correct in detail.”

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel, 1563

See also The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

Eileen Gray – Transat Chair

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Transat Chair, by Eileen Gray. Paris, France, 1926

 

Superb modern chair by Eileen Gray, featured in a Guardian list this this week. It’s the Transat Chair (1925-30).

“The Transat chair is from the late 1920s, when Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand were forging in tubular steel assertive icons of the machine age. Transat, with its spare timber frame and graceful curve of fabric, had more subtle ambitions. Gray, as her collaborator Jean Badovici said, was concerned with the “new ways of feeling” that came with their times, rather than with mass production. Transat – which is short for “transatlantique” – translates a deckchair from an ocean liner into a piece of indoor furniture. It is poised but relaxing, and came in pony skin and patent leather versions, among others.”

 

The largest clear-span wooden building in the world – Tillamook Air Museum

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

137  Just the sheer size of this hanger is incredible to behold. Tillamook Air Museum

The largest clear-span wooden building in the world, constructed entirely without glue wood, was built as a U.S. military air station hangar. It is now the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon. More info here and Wikipedia.

It’s nice to see communities saving these old military hangars. It is a tragedy that Vancouver lost its 5 vintage military hangars at Jericho Beach in Vancouver in the late 1970s. They were beautiful. I heard about the Tillamook hangar from Vancouver architect Mark Osburn who was, incidentally, responsible for the interior refurbishment of one of the Jericho hangars for UN Habitat 1976.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about wooden skyscrapers and large wooden buildings, as if it’s a new thing. The architecture of this hangar is an unsung feat far preceding these newer, much-hyped ideas.

There are different criteria for ranking wooden buildings by size; as noted above the Tillamook hangar is the largest clear-span wooden building. It is not the tallest, and it may not be largest when measured by square footage of usable floor space.

Other large buildings, based on various criteria:
Tōdai-ji in Nara, Japan
Metropol Parasol palace in Sevilla, Spain  (freestanding structure, not enclosed building)
Sutyagin House, Russia – largest wooden single family house, built by Russian gangster
Wooden skyscrapers are planned for Austria and Norway and more recently one has been proposed by Vancouver’s Michael Green. And of course there was the Wood Innovation and Design Centre to be built in Prince George, British Columbia, meant to be the tallest wood building the world, but so far unbuilt due to monies promised by the BC gov’t but not budgeted for or delivered.

Photos by hobbitcamera and Laurentiu Cristofor on Flickr and Mark Osburn.

Oregon military hangar

139 During WWII at Tillamook Air base Tillamook, Or

135 Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon

Hangar B interior view facing South

Hangar B West wall

128 Large hangars would hold blimps at Tillamook Air base during WWII

Everybody works but the vacant lot

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Condo artwork by artist Alex Grünenfelder
Everybody works but the vacant lot, Henry George as quoted by Fay Lewis

This is a parody artwork at Vancouver’s 221A Artist-Run Centre, parodying the “Micro Loft” building being erected next door to it in the current lightning-fast condo land rush taking place in Chinatown.

From their website:

221A is pleased to present Cube Living (Phase 2), a 4-week artist-in-residence with artist and designer Alex Grünenfelder, running from January 23 to February 25, 2013. Grünenfelder will examine how real estate developments operate as containers that capture living space as urban spatial commodities through the packaging of bodies, objects, lifestyles, identities, capital and politics.
Grünenfelder will begin a limited release of micro-properties measuring 1 cubic foot. This innovative product addresses the stagnation and endemic unaffordability of Vancouver’s real estate market. In developing a spatial commodity that can be purchased in very small units, Cube Living is able to offer affordable properties at prices under $50! Micro-properties are an accessible solution to the inflated real estate market crisis that threatens to push Vancouver’s economy into decline.

Many Vancouver residents find it difficult or impossible to enter the market. Despite government urban densification policies that have brought 10,000 new condo units to the city each year, [1] Vancouver remains the second least-affordable city in the world. [2]

Vancouver has experienced explosive real estate development since 1986. In the 2000s, then-mayor Sam Sullivan’s Ecodensity program initiated radical urban densification with the aim of promoting housing affordability and environmentally sustainable neighbourhoods. Pundits declared that flooding the market with new condos would result in more affordable—or at least stable—prices, so that new buyers could purchase small units and eventually trade up into a larger living space. Buildings got taller and condos got smaller, but prices have kept rising. Development and construction hasn’t been able to meet the goal of affordability and now the city is faced with a dire situation.

“The current property market is almost saturated. Sales are in decline because people can’t afford to lower their asking prices. We need to expand into new markets, and the only way to produce a lower tier of affordable entry-level properties is to create highly liquid, easily tradeable micro-spaces. This is the only way to address the affordability crisis within our market-driven real-estate economy.”

[1]RBC. “Vancouver’s housing market: moderation in store but vulnerable to a harsher outcome.” April 2012. Page 6. http://www.rbc.com/economics/market/pdf/vancouverhouse.pdf

[2]Demographia. “9th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survery: 2013”. Page 2. http://www.demographia.com/dhi.pdf

Ha.

221A website, twitter, Facebook event.

3D printing

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Above is the Eiffel Tower 3D-printed shoe by Continuum via Architizer. Below, 3D printed working models of Theo Jansen’s beachwalking strandbeests. I bought these for my nephews and am still trying to figure out how to assemble and attach the propellors. The main animal is printed in one piece, and yet its moving parts work perfectly. Watch Stephen Fry play with his here. Printed in New York by 3D printing house Shapeways. It’s interesting how many 3D printed objects have a sort of lattice structure, probably dictated by cost of material and laser use. And how many of the objects are miniatures.

Theo Jansen's strandbeest in miniature

Stephen Fry demonstrating it at 38:45: