A Reader Writes:


Re: architects whose works sound like their names, how could you forget Gaudi?

Good point!

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Wolfe on Status

T Wolfe

Reading this Jefferson Lecture from 2006, delivered by Tom Wolfe:

Within the ranks of the rich, including the “owners of the means of production,” there inevitably developed an inner circle known as Society. Such groups always believed themselves to be graced with “status honor,” as Weber called it. Status honor existed quite apart from such gross matters as raw wealth and power. Family background, education, manners, dress, cultivation, style of life–these, the ineffable things, were what granted you your exalted place in Society.

Military officer corps are rife with inner circles aloof from the official and all-too-political hierarchy of generals, admirals, and the rest. I went to work on a book called The Right Stuff thinking it would be a story of space exploration. In no time at all, I happened upon something far more fascinating. The astronauts were but part of an invisible, and deadly, competitive pyramid within an inner circle of American military fighter pilots and test pilots, and they were by no means at the apex. I characterized this pyramid as a ziggurat, because it consisted of innumerable and ever more deadly steps a fighter pilot had to climb to reach the top. The competition demanded an uncritical willingness to face danger, to face death, not once but daily, if required, not only in combat but also in the routine performance of his duties–without ever showing fear–in behalf of a noble cause, the protection of his nation. There were more ways to die in a routine takeoff of a supersonic jet fighter of the F-series than most mortals could possibly imagine. At the time, a Navy pilot flying for twenty years, an average career span, stood a 23 percent chance of dying in an accident and a 56 percent chance of having to eject at some point, which meant being shot out of the plane like a human rocket by a charge of dynamite under his seat, smashing into what was known as the “wall” of air outside, which could tear the flesh off your face, and descending by parachute. The figures did not include death or ejection in combat, since they were not considered accidental. According to Korean War lore, a Navy fighter pilot began shouting out over the combat radio network, “I’ve got a Mig at zero! A Mig at zero! I’ve got a Mig at zero!” A Mig at zero meant a Soviet supersonic fighter plane was squarely on his tail and could blow him out of the sky at any moment. Another voice, according to legend, broke in and said, “Shut up and die like an aviator.” Such “chatter,” such useless talk on the radio during combat, was forbidden. The term “aviator” was the final, exquisite touch of status sensitivity. Navy pilots always called themselves aviators. Marine and Air Force fliers were merely pilots. The reward for reaching the top of the ziggurat was not money, not power, not even military rank. The reward was status honor, the reputation of being a warrior with ultimate skill and courage–a word, by the way, strictly taboo among the pilots themselves. The same notion of status honor motivates virtually every police and fire fighting force in the world.


In the related interview, Wolfe gets going on fashion:

Cole: Why is fashion important? What does it tell us?

Wolfe: Every man and every woman is equally fixated on fashion. Men who would bridle at that suggestion are usually men who want to fit in in whatever milieu they want to be in. They do not want to stand out in any way, shape, or form. That’s just as true in the stands at the stock car races as it might be at Sullivan and Cromwell, the law firm.

Somebody like myself, perhaps, stands out on purpose with just minor variations on the conventional. My suits are conventionally cut. They just happen to be white. The same with shoes, everything else.

I feel it’s to a writer’s advantage, since he sells a mass-produced product called a book, to catch attention any way he can. This is not shared by my fellow writers, you understand. But you’ll notice how few writers are willing to appear on the back of a book with a necktie on. That’s a bohemian fashion that’s supposed to show one way or another you’re thumbing your nose at convention. Then it becomes a convention itself. If I saw one more writer with an open shirt, the wind blowing through his hair, I was going to stop buying books. They’ve calmed down a little bit, but still the tie is anathema.

Ironically, if you read a book such as The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, about the arts in Czechoslovakia under a Communist regime, the writers in the Writers’ Union were dressed like businessmen. They were on top. If you were in the Writers’ Union, your books were published automatically, even if no one read them. And I’ve just been reading Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages.

Cole: That’s a very great book, I think.

Wolfe: The attention to status detail and dress is absolutely fascinating. I forget the French nobleman who was found guilty of a capital crime, who insisted on arriving in his full regalia–an ermine-trimmed coat and the works–for his beheading. He just wasn’t going to show up looking like a common, vulgar victim. I liked that.

To this day, I think it hasn’t changed. It’s just more covert now. Style is always a window into what a person thinks of his place in the world or what he wants his place to be in the world.

Balzac often would start off chapters with a description of a room and the types of furniture. He might point out that the curtains on the windows were not really damask. They were half cotton. He would give you a whole picture of the inhabitants just through his status details.

And Saint-Beuve, who I guess was the leading French critic of the day, said, if this man Balzac is so obsessed with furniture, why doesn’t he own a shop and spare us these tedious novels. [Laughter]

Tissot, who has become my favorite painter the more of his work that I see, is a great example of that. For a long time, Tissot was written off as a sort of fashionista. He was in love with the look of women’s clothes. But I think now he’s being perceived as a great painter.

Cole: He’s a much more nuanced painter, I think, than people give him credit for.

The Captain and the Mate, 1873 (oil on canvas) by Tissot.

The Captain and the Mate, 1873 (oil on canvas) by Tissot.

Later the interview turns to architecture, and Wolfe gives a shout to Edward Durell Stone’s US Embassy in New Delhi:

new dehli

A Trip To Mars


Just kidding, it’s the Owens Valley where LA gets its water!


There’s more water up in the lakes behind the mountains:


California is amazing.


The Alabama Hills:


How great are these Tom Harrison topo maps?:


Scott Pelley, never stop being you!

Baby Carrots In American Politics


From an article called Why Baby Carrots Are A Nutritious Lie, click for link.

The first time the reality of baby carrots really settled in on me was in the back of a cab in New York City.  The driver, a Romanian, was telling me that before New York he’d lived in Bakersfield.

“Bakersfield!” I said, because I’m pretty interested in Bakersfield.

Bakersfield has its own country music scene:

and it has Basque cuisine:


Photo used without permission from Jordano’s Restaurant Supply, click for link.

and it has lots of almond farms.

What astounded the Romanian though was the carrots.  He had worked in a plant that processed carrots into baby carrots.  Until then I hadn’t thought much about baby carrots but I guess I just assumed they were small carrots.  Wrong.  Big carrots, sometimes deformed, are shaved down into baby carrots.  The shaved stubs (the driver told me) are then run through UV light to kill bacteria and packaged.  The shavings are put into bagged salads.

Huh, I thought, as the driver told me all this.   What he really couldn’t get over, the driver told me, was how many carrots came to Bakersfield.

“Twenty four hours a day, every day, there were truckloads of carrots.”  Then he changed the subject to his move to Orlando (“Why Orlando?” “Because I met a bitch who ruined my life”) and we reached our destination and that was the end of that.

Kevin McC

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Today I was reading about Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republican of Bakersfield who might become the House Speaker. Here’s a list about him from Time magazine, “5 Things You Need To Know About Kevin McCarthy,” published in June:

and here’s “11 Things About Kevin McCarthy You Need To Know, Or Might As Well Know”, a list about him from Huffington Post, published yesterday.

Here’s my smush of both lists:

  • Kevin Spacey shadowed McCarthy to learn about being a whip for House Of Cards
  • McCarthy is said to be cheery and affable
  • He opened a sandwich place with $5,000 from a lottery ticket
  • He once showed Republicans this scene from The Town before asking them for something:

  • He’s been running for office since he was like 20.

OK great, but what is he for?  For instance: since he’s from Bakersfield (I thought hopefully) maybe he will push for trains in California.

Nope, probably not, it turns out.  He also has a strong take on the drought.

Even as McCarthy was speaking, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was in Sacramento holding a press conference with Gov. Jerry Brown announcing a $50 million drought response program for the Western states, with the lion’s share headed for California.

McCarthy responded to the secretary’s visit, “Until the administration recognizes the underlying problem of federal and state regulations preventing our communities from getting the water we desperately need, no amount of spending will solve our crisis.  … I hope that, while Secretary Jewell is in the Valley, she will spend some time with our farmers who have been devastated by regulations that put fish over people.”

And, yes, the majority leader is still opposed to the high-speed rail project. When asked for an alternative transportation plan, McCarthy suggested California consult with Elon Musk.

(I think what he’s talking about there re: fish is how water flow from northern California to the southern part of the Central Valley is sometimes restricted by rules to protect the delta smelt, of which there are apparently only six, and steelhead trout. I can see how that can seem ridiculous.  But the fish are kind of a distraction, the real problem is there’s not enough water for every farmer who wants it.)

As far as I can tell what Kevin McCarthy is for is lower taxes.

Here are his top five campaign contributors, from OpenSecret.com:

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Zurich Financial is as far as I can tell commercial insurance.  California Resources is, duh, oil and gas:

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Blackstone is Blackstone.  Who is this Grimmway Farms?

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Looked around their website:

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Maybe someday I will try the recipe for Easy Carrots.

The Bakersfield-based company did not invent the so-called baby carrot, which starts as a mature root that is given a severe makeover through peeling and downsizing. But the tiny product helped transform the company into one of the largest carrot producers in the world.

Grimmway has been recognized for boosting sales of the baby carrot by positioning it as a healthful snack and packaging it in ways that make it easy to pop into sack lunches or serve on airplanes.

The 2-inch vegetable is considered one of the American food industry’s success stories: Carrot consumption grew by 33% throughout the 1990s, according to the American Marketing Assn.

When supermarket chains began clamoring for the product in the late 1980s, the business opportunity seemed too good to pass up, Grimm later recalled.

“Sometimes you just have to go on instinct,” he said in 2000.

That from an obituary of Rob Grimmway.

Discussing some of this via email with longtime reader GC., who reports:

Grimmway Farm is a disgusting organization.  Their mascot is a SUPER-SUPER-HOT RABBIT who is about to give a CARROT a BLOWJOB!!!!!




In my opinion, this is the architect whose stuff looks the most like his name sounds.






Second place?  Rem Koolhaas.


Although isn’t an architect called Cool House a bit on the nose?