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  1. Elaborate Interiors, Vegas Style
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Elaborate Interiors, Vegas Style
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Important public interior spaces of yore (think railroad stations, opera houses, 1920s movie theaters, large libraries, museums, and so forth) were grand both in size and decor. The advent of modernism along with the decline in the number of skilled craftsmen who could create the architectural details resulted in the current situation where ornamentation is very costly to produce. One place where elaborately ornamented buildings are built is Las Vegas, where billion dollar construction budgets permit it. Not all hotel-casinos go fancy, but several built over the last ten or 15 years offer visual feasts. Below are some photos of Las Vegas interiors I took in November. New York, New York As a warm-up, here's what can happen in a strongly "themed" casino -- in this case, a purported New York City street. Paris Okay, one more before we get to architectural detail and interior decoration. The Paris casino tries to a create Parisian atmosphere. MGM Grand Some shopping and restaurant areas in the MGM Grand are starkly modernist. But part was designed to evoke elaborate movies houses of the past as can be seen here. Bellagio Parts of the Bellagio are done in Italian galleria style. Caesar's Palace Just inside the Vegas Strip entrance to the shops area is this view, if you choose to look up. Venetian And if you look up here and there in the Venetian, you might spy more than a few ceiling paintings such as this one. This Venetian hallway leads from the casino floor to the hotel lobby ... ... here. Palazzo The new Palazzo is attached to the Venetian. Here is one of the entry areas. The dark, twisty object by the statuary is some seasonal decoration. This is the gallery in Palazzo's shopping area. Wynn Steve Wynn created the Bellagio and then went on to build the hotel-casino he modestly named after himself. Perhaps that's why there is a touch of galleria in the main shopping section. This is just beyond the shopping. Outside is a pool and (not seen here) a waterfall, inside are escalators and a bar on the lower floor. Encore On the same grounds as the Wynn is Wynn's latest -- the Encore. Shown is a hallway near shops. Note the butterfly theme found over much of the public areas. A bit of Encore interior decoration to close our show. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 8, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

LA Sux ... Or Don't
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- All things considered, it's probably largely a matter of scale. The Los Angeles region is huge. And expanding geographically -- though perhaps not so rapidly as in the past. That might be the main reason I never really cared for it and came to dislike it a lot back in the 80s and early 90s when I had to come here on sales calls or to meet with clients. In the first place, even with a comprehensive freeway system, it can take a long, unpredictable time to get around. One of my clients observed that the system was perpetually on the verge of breakdown, traffic-wise: this was in 1983. Secondly, the socioeconomic sub-areas are themselves large and exaggerated to the point where an observer might be tempted to think the whole place was ritzy/nondescript/scary/whatever. Once in the late 80s I had time to kill and drove Rosecrans Avenue all the way from Norwalk to near the coast. It was an interesting slice of urbanism. But the reality is that all places large enough to strike a visitor as being a city have similar mixes of neighborhoods and so forth. One difference is that, in a smaller city, one can live in one part of town and commute to the other side without chewing up lots of time. I shudder to think of folks who live in the San Fernando Valley, say, and have to work in Irvine. Obviously, it's best to live and work in the same part of the region. But jobs seem to change more easily than places of residence, so hellish commutes can be forced by unplanned circumstances. We are house-sitting in a part of town where we probably could not afford to live (just above the Getty Villa museum). We're handy to both downtown Santa Monica and Malibu. Drop by Rodeo Drive or UCLA? -- just a scenic cruise along Sunset Boulevard. As in other large cities, if one has money, life can be pretty swell so long as you avoid a serious commute. As a rule of thumb for LA, pick a spot to live that's in the hills or near the water or, perhaps best of all, both -- that's where we are for three weeks. Of course the hills do get the occasional fires and mudslides. And strong earthquakes are a threat everywhere. But the winter climate here sure beats that of Seattle, let alone that of Minneapolis, Chicago or New York City. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 6, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, January 4, 2010

And Then There's the Huntington
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As promised, blogging has been a bit light lately because we're house-sitting in the Los Angeles area -- a little patch of Los Angeles County that intrudes between Pacific Palisades and the Malibu city limits. We're pretty well situated for seeing a number of interesting places, but there's no avoiding taking to the freeways to travel to sites deemed worth the hassle. Yesterday, it was Long Beach and the Queen Mary ocean liner which has been docked there for more than 40 years. Today we ventured to the Pasadena-San Marino area and the Huntington Library. As that Wikipedia link indicates, besides a research library crammed with rare books and related items, there are gardens and three art museum buildings. The link to the art is here; drill down for information on the collections. Although I had heard of the Huntington (and was even reminded of it in a comment to one of my posts here), I never had a clear picture of what it is. Therefore, I was amazed at what I found in the buildings devoted to European and American art. For instance there were scads (a term of precision measurement, I assure you) of portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds including an iconic Dr Samuel Johnson, and darn near as many by Thomas Gainsborough, including his famous "Blue Boy." Not to mention other portraits by Thomas Lawrence, John Singer Sargent (including a fabulous, flashy one of Pauline Astor), George Romney, William Hogarth, Henry Raeburn (a personal favorite), Cecilia Beaux, Robert Henri and George Bellows. Interior decoration fans might like seeing displays of furnishings from a Green & Green house, Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, patterns by William Morris' shop and stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones. Why wasn't I as familiar with the Huntington as I should have been? No doubt it has to do with the fact that late-18th and early 19th century British portrait painting hasn't been a hot art topic for a long time. I'm pretty sure I saw Blue Boy in my college art history class, but the instructor was in a big rush to go on to Turner, Ryder and the French Impressionists. Too bad for me. I should have experienced the Huntington years ago. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 4, 2010 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shifting Sands of Isolationism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The concept of America avoiding foreign entanglements goes back to the 18th century when such avoidance was comparatively easy to do. But Barbary pirates, Napoleonic wars and other inconveniences intruded even in the early years of the republic. Improved travel and communications (steam-powered ships, transoceanic telegraph cables) along with increasing population and economic power resulted in a 19th century drift from the Monroe Doctrine to a war with Spain that spanned nearly half the globe. Disgust with the Great War and the focus on dealing with the Great Depression led to the America First isolationist movement as Europe began showing signs of a new war. Isolationists tended to be Republicans, perhaps in part because Franklin Roosevelt (by the end of the 30s) began to support the cause of Britain and France, something that held the potential to leading the U.S. into war. The Pearl Harbor attack and American participation in World War 2 stifled isolationism and the advent of the Cold War and the efforts of Senator Arthur Vandenberg brought an era of "bipartisan" foreign policy that lasted for about 20 years. Since the late 1960s, the mantle of isolationism has drifted to the Democrat side of the political aisle. As with 1930s isolationism, some of this was a matter of partisan opposition. Part, at the fringe, was an actual favoring of military defeat for the United States. This is where matters stand today, broadly speaking. There remain some isolationists who claim to hold true to 18th century no entanglements doctrine and get upset because Congress has not explicitly declared war at any time since 1941 despite all the warfare the USA experienced over the last 60 years. Like all else in politics, the number of pure cases is probably small. But notable political figures who have isolationist tendencies include the increasingly marginal commentator Patrick Buchanan and the 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul. My take, for what little it's worth, is that Isolationism was never a practical policy in its pristine form; compromises with reality are unavoidable. And the requirement that Congress declare war also has never been a practical absolute in this nation's history. But ideas can have long lives and experience more than one fashion cycle. So we still have isolationists of various intensity and motivation in our midst. Some are ordinary citizens who see foreign relations as simply a big bother that ought to be ignored. Then there are the far leftists who criticize American involvement in wars they don't like, urging that troops be brought home while at the same time hoping to turn U.S. foreign policy over to the United Nations. (And much else: countries are such messy, nasty things, so world government would stop warfare forever.) Classical isolationists patiently keep restating their cause while bypassing the problem of defending the country in the presumed absence of overseas bases and foreign alliances (we'd have to get rid of those, wouldn't we?). Coupling that with the "requirement" for Congressional... posted by Donald at January 3, 2010 | perma-link | (19) comments