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« Michelle at Oberlin | Main | More on Digital Tech and Creativity »

August 12, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Apologies for blizzarding you with links, but I'm just back after a few weeks away and can't resist pigging out on good, fresh web-stuff. Yee-hah.

* We're all for piecemeal, small-scale ways of proceeding around here. Which means that those handful of largescale developments that genuinely work -- Rockefeller Center, Haussmann's remake of Paris -- can be especially fun to puzzle over. I spent a dreamy half-hour poring over this page, where Cyburbia's Ablarc has posted a lot of beautiful photographs of (and smart comments about) Haussmann's Paris.

* The gang at Stephen Bodio's blog isn't expressing a lot of enthusiasm about that much-hyped documentary "March of the Penguins." I got a lot out of Stephen's posting about some of the authors who have influenced him too.

* Dixie-dwellin' Randy Sparkman remembers what Elvis meant, not just to Southerners but to other musicians too.

* MD visits her old Iowa stomping grounds and is moved by the countryside's beauty, as well as by some excellent sweet corn.

* Larry Ayers' posting raises the eternal question: What would a man do if he didn't have a woman to tease?

* Visiting New York City soon? Terry Teachout has some shows to recommend.

* Mike Hill is feeling old: He can remember home deliveries of seltzer water. I'm feeling old myself: I can remember home deliveries of milk. (UPDATE: Heavens, home delivery of milk can still be had.)

* Steven Wolfhard has a very charming drawing style. It's probably a hard-won, polished kind of casual-seeming style, though: Steven's a recent graduate of an animation program.

* Thanks to Tatyana, who alerted me to this sly and sexy posting about the movie "Secretary." (FvB blogged about "Secretary" here; I expressed envy of James Spader here.)

* Perhaps the moment has come to bow down before the penis-God.

* Lexington Green's list of what he read in the second quarter of 2005 is an impressive one. It's also fun to read in its own right: Who else do you know who goes through (and enjoys) not just a lot of military history but also "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Ravelstein"? I chuckled when I noticed that it took Lexington more than a year to make it through Henry James' "Princess Casamassima" -- that's about how fast I read Henry James too. Are the ChicagoBoyz deliberately doing more cultural blogging? Cheers to that.

* Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out this terrific Robert Birnbaum interview with the invaluable Camille Paglia. Birnbaum's own site -- where surfers can enjoy tons of in-depth interviews with authors -- is here.

* Why do so many architects fail to understand what a hostile face blank walls present to the public? David Sucher gives a fast lesson in what makes good and bad urbanism. Hey architects, hey builders, hey developers: While making great architecture may be ineffably difficult, being a good neighbor just ain't that complicated. So why not make your aims a little more modest and let the whole "greatness" thing take care of itself? (I sounded off long ago about how destructive the common fixation on "greatness" can be.)

* Maria Sharapova fans should enjoy exploring this gigantic image-dump. No shortage of fist-pumps, Lycra shorts, or coltish yet Amazonian limbs. A few beach, nightclub, and cameltoe shots too.

* Is America really the worlds' biggest pollution offender? It seems to depend.

* Will Duquette thinks that many of those who criticize Intelligent Design are missing the point.

* Thanks to Rachel for pointing out this good guide to lefty bloggers. My own fave is Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum.

* What's conservative about a President who signs into law a "$286 billion transportation measure that contains a record 6,371 pet projects inserted by members of Congress from both parties"? (From the Washington Post, via Marginal Revolution guest poster Robin Hanson.)

* James Panero reviews the oeuvre of the NYTimes' youthful Arts & Leisure editor Jodi Kantor.

* David Thayer takes a look at some of the literary events of 1971, and considers some of the challenges middle-age presents to eager readers. (Think "weak eyes.") David: try audiobooks, dude.



posted by Michael at August 12, 2005


Funny you should end up on a forum full of Dutch adolescent nerds for some Sharapova. Some of the people frequenting that place are extremely weird, taking screen shots of almost any woman appearing on Dutch television, and even exchanging movies of them. Fascinating, if it wasn't so sad as well.

Posted by: ijsbrand on August 12, 2005 6:02 PM

Am I the only one who is not such a big fan of Haussmann's Paris? I mean, granted it is far superior to the post-WWII modernist abortions we have seen. But I have spent a lot of time in areas of France where the original medieval urban core and street "plan" is better preserved, and I really like the randomness and whimsy there. In Paris you can get a sense of that spirit in the Marais, or elsewhere in France the old city of Lyons.

Also, perhaps we should grudgingly give some modernists their due. If you want to talk about large scale modernist type urban plans that worked, don't you have to at least consider 6th Avenue in NY City (so-called Avenue of the Americas). Talk about a street wall, that parade of skyscrapers is impressive in how it carries the eye upwards. It makes for some amazing views and contrasts from within Central Park too, that wall of lower Manhattan looming above the forest.

Posted by: MQ on August 12, 2005 6:54 PM

P.S. to put it a little more strongly: every time I go to Paris I mourn what was lost when that tangle of medieval streets was razed and replaced by cookie-cutter boulevards.

Posted by: MQ on August 12, 2005 6:55 PM

Not at all impressed with the Will Duquette post about Intelligent Design. ID folks like Michael Behe (the 'irreducible complexity' guy...other ID folks like William Dembski don't take that approach) point to lacunae in the explanatory power of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis as proof of...what? Intelligent Design. But they in turn provide no explanation, or even description, of how ID produced the very phenomena they get so excited about.

So, ID folk seem to be saying, 'Wow! Bacterial flagellae! No way can Neo-Darwinian synthesizers explain how evolution produced this! It must have been the work of an intelligent designer!"

Then the fatal question: "Well, then, how did the Intelligent Designer do it?"

No answer. So the same evidence hole that supposedly punctures the pretensions of Neo-Darwinism is the very proof of Intelligent Design!

It's this kind 'Ignore that man behind the curtain!' manoeuvers that cause many opponents of ID, themselves no sympathizers with the likes of Dawkins, to throw up their hands and say, well, we're being snowed. ID is a con job. Will just doesn't seem to address that, IMO.

For many opponents of ID, me for example, the objection isn't that it's wrong. It's that ID is not even wrong.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 12, 2005 9:10 PM

Bush's transportation bill may be pork-laden, but it makes car leasing available to New Yorkers once again by superceding the state's archaic vicarious-liability law.

Posted by: Peter on August 12, 2005 10:56 PM

I don't speak for Will Duquette, but I can say that the whole point of Will's post to me is that ID is not scientifically opposed to evolution by any means. People keep trying to cram it into that box, for reasons I won't speculate on. There is nothing but a philosophical & theological answer to the so-called fatal question. And it would never satisfy a dedicated non-theistic agnostic or atheist. So...why bother? Thus, the silence.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't we already seen March of the Penguins? About 500 times? Maybe that's why it's not terribly interesting. We can always appreciate the new tech involved in making it, when it gets to cable.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 12, 2005 11:16 PM

What new tech? They don't use special effects or animation as far as I know.

Posted by: lindenen on August 13, 2005 1:05 AM

I was thinking of things like tee-tiny cameras, stabilised hand-helds, digital HD. I've no idea if any of that is in there, so don't hold me to it. New tech would also mean anything that allows them to be more creative and/or 'embedded' than past penguin pictures.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 13, 2005 8:41 AM

Intelligent design by whom? ID is just a big snipe hunt.

Oldnesswise, I can remember a blacksmith shop with a charcoal-heated forge with a foot pump, horsedrawn drays, plowing with horses (the latter is actually making a comeback with the Hutterite expansion), and an icehouse where lake ice was stored under sawdust.

Posted by: John Emerson on August 13, 2005 3:47 PM

MQ -- And think about how much the people whose lives Haussmann disrupted must have hated his work! Still, the Parisian boulevards seem to work in a way many large-scale projects don't. People gather there, tourists love 'em, etc. How are they different than the Albany Mall that Donald blogged about, for instance? I like the Marais a whole lot myself, but I do wonder what an entire made up of squirrely little streets would be like. A small town or small city of 'em, sure. But a cosmopolitian big city? Friends who have visited Tokyo, for instance, have told me that one of the shocks is that Tokyo has so little in the way of public space and grand boulevards. It's just a huge rat's nest. But maybe that's cool too. I've gotten a lot out of urban theory that argues that most cities will profit from a hierarchy of scale -- alleys/streets/boulevards, or courtyards/plazas/parks/public-monument. The idea is that the variety can help, and that the various functions can help knit a city together organically. Are there large-scale urban projects that do turn you on?

I.D. people -- I know nuttin', but I thought the point Will was making was that critics of I.D. are mixing it up unfairly with "Creation Science," and that they're really separate things, and deserve separate arguments. Am I wrong? Incidentally, there's a bit of buzz around about whether or not it's possible to buy evolution yet also buy some notion of "the divine" (however you want to name or package it). Kinda fun to check in. My own p-o-v is that faith and religious (or spiritual) feelings are inevitable -- everyone believes in something, and why not accept that instead of fighting it? I can't see why saying such a thing should mean that I'm obliged to reject the kind of knowledge that science kicks up. They strike me as two quite different (if occasionally overlapping) spheres. But I haven't looked into I.D. or Creation Science at all. I read about science and I read about Vedanta. (Actually, Vedanta temples often invite scientists to come and give the week's talk.) So count me out of that particular spat.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 13, 2005 4:40 PM

Will Duquette: "But to return to my main point, the equation of Intelligent Design theory with Creation Science is simply false, and it doesn't behoove honest men and women to keep repeating it."

Michael: "Will Duquette thinks that many of those who criticize Intelligent Design are missing the point."

My short reply is that defenders of ID are missing the agenda of its promoters.

Now the longer reply (sorry in advance):

Evolution theory, in the main, is science. That is, it arose from an iterative process of examination of the available evidence, theorizing, creating a falsifiable test, and running the test.

This process continues, and to the extent that some ID people point out weaknesses in the current iteration of the theory, they are doing science and making valuable contributions.

The mainstream of ID, on the other hand, is philosophy; being unfalsifiable it cannot be science. Like all philosophy, it is interesting primarily for its resonances (that is, for its subjective value). I know of no way to determine an inherent ranking of the value of different philosophies. Why is ID inherently better than solipsism (for instance)? Note that this isn't a question about why any person should consider it better, but rather why every person must consider it better.

Subjective rankings, of course, are personal to the ranker, and rather less likely to be of interest to anyone else. Why should the philosophy that you (or I, they're probably different) prefer be privileged in science classes?

I leave aside the "philosophy" of the scientific method. We use it because it produces measurable and consistently valuable results. In that regard it is just like any other tool, and equally discardable when it is shown to be inappropriate. (N.b., one such inappropriate subject is philosophy, at least in my opinion.)

None of this addresses the inherent merits of ID, and I'll not address those here. But whatever its inherent merits, I have seen ID used predominantly as a stalking horse for Creation Science and, more broadly, for government promotion of a specific religion. While I understand that it has its honest supporters, a group of which I take Mr. Duquette to be a member, the well-organized form pushed by lobbyists also has a large contingent of disingenuous supporters with a specific agenda.

For an example of this duplicity, see, for example the Intelligent Design Network. At that site's front page, we see both, "The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection.", and, "ID proponents believe science should be conducted objectively, without regard to the implications of its findings."

These statements are internally inconsistent. The first is quite explicit about the result to be obtained, a stance which is entirely at odds with the objectivity mentioned in the second. It may be that this inconsistency is inadvertant or that it can be explained away with a theory of sufficient complexity. I find these possibilities of low enough probability to be uninteresting; YMMV. Given that, I don't think it dishonest (as Mr. Duquette would have it) to conflate ID and a specific religious agenda in the main, though it may be mistaken in regards to any specific individual's understanding of ID.

ID isn't evil in theory, being simply a philosophy that has attractions to many (though not much to me), it is only evil in practice. (See also socialism.)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 14, 2005 6:55 AM

Blog-hopping this afternoon, I found this very reasonable sounding post combining two of the topics in the above links' waterfall, Intelligent Design and Iowa.

Also, I'm told by my spy on the wall in Portugal, they have a museum/gallery in this perfectly innocent looking picturesque town dedicated entirely to ceramic penises. I intend to check this info in the first half of September.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 14, 2005 7:18 PM

I never understand why some people need to use science to try and prove their faith.....or am I getting the whole argument wrong?

Posted by: MD on August 15, 2005 12:16 AM

Also, Secretary won me over with it's suprising sweet ending. Or, is it just surprising that an ending like that can seem sweet? Odd.

Posted by: MD on August 15, 2005 12:26 AM

"Bertrand Russell, John Dos Passos, John O’Hara and EM Forster died that year, and Robert Heinlein suffered a stroke. Maybe they’d all read Love Story."

That's hilarious.

Posted by: annette on August 15, 2005 4:03 PM

The penis-god also lives in Japan:


Posted by: Andrew on August 16, 2005 12:53 AM

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