A Reader Writes:


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

Good point!

gaudi 2

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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?



Hoax job at Folkways?



Reader Vali C. writes:

In The Mayor of MacDougal Street:


Dave Van Ronk claims that this recording

was completely faked.  Instead of recording sounds of the south american rainforest, two of his friends made bird noises in the shower and sold it to folkways.  Even after Folkways realized it was a fake, they decided to keep it in the catalog.
Huh.  From the website:
Green sounds of the tropical rain forest: black howler monkeys, toucans and chachalaca dominate the dry season while tree toads, Bufo marinus(South American toads) and parakeets accompany the rainy season. Recorded in the Peruvian Amazon region called Montaña and possibly under the showerhead of a Manhattan apartment.
I’d definitely put track 110 on my “suspicious” list.

What’s going on in this photo?

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found it on a Pope roundup

An unhappy story with no winners

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Blog I Endorse

cuckoo gif

Tex Avery gifs


He turned to animated television commercials, most notably the Raid commercials of the 1960s and 1970s (in which cartoon insects, confronted by the bug killer, screamed “RAID!” and died flamboyantly) and Frito-Lay’s controversial mascot, the Frito Bandito.


Frito Bandito

dogs gif

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri

Karsten Moran for NY Times

Somebody or another on Twitter directed me to this NY Times article by Randy Kennedyabout Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri, Australian Aboriginal artist:

Until he was in his 20s, he and his family, part of the Pintupi Aboriginal group, lived in a part of the Western Australia desert so remote that even after other Pintupi were forcibly relocated into settlements in the 1950s and 1960s, his family remained out of view, hunting lizards and wearing no clothes except for human-hair belts, as its ancestors had for tens of thousands of years. When they were encountered by chance in 1984 and persuaded to move to a Pintupi community, they instantly became famous, known in newspaper accounts as the Pintupi Nine and described as the last “lost tribe.”

They moved to bustling Kiwirrkiri:


Here is one of Warlimpirrnga’s paintings at the National Gallery of Victoria:

dingo dreaming

The lines and switchbacks, painted on linen canvas while it is flat on the ground, correspond to mythical stories about the Pintupi and the formation of the desert world in which they live. Some of the stories, which are told in song, can be painted for public consumption, but others are too sacred or powerful to be revealed to outsiders. “My land, my country,” said Mr. Tjapaltjarri, the only English words he uttered during an interview, pointing at a painting with a circle made out of dots. He said it represented a group of ancestral women who appear only at night in the desert around Lake Mackay, a vast saltwater flat that is the primary focus of his paintings.

The way that the lines and curves tell the stories remains mostly a mystery. “I’ve been asking that question for 40 years, and I’ve never really gotten the same answer twice — it’s very inside knowledge,” said Fred R. Myers, an anthropologist at New York University who has studied the Pintupi and their art since the early 1970s and as a doctoral student helped bring attention to the Papunya Tula Artists cooperative, which is owned and directed by Aboriginal people from the Western Desert. “The paintings operate more like mnemonic devices than like representations of a narrative.”

Here’s another one:

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(gotta say I’m more into the newer stuff).

Here is a good article about the Pintupi Nine from The Australian:

The Pintupi Nine were certainly the last major group to come in, and enjoy a certain celebrity status in Kiwirrkurra that Warlimpirrnga in particular seems happy to trade on. During our interview in his front yard he told a fanciful story of going to New York and hunting rabbits with a boomerang; I was later assured he has never travelled outside Australia.

Welp, now he has:

Dressed in jeans, a checked shirt, Everlast tennis shoes and a black cowboy hat that would have been right at home at Gilley’s nightclub in Houston in the ’70s, Mr. Tjapaltjarri said through an interpreter that he was enjoying the attention his paintings were receiving but that the city itself was a little intimidating. He liked the subway, but the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center not so much.


Reading about all this led me to the Wiki page for Aussie anthropologist Donald Thomson, which has this great line:

Thomson lived with the Pintupi, and liked them, through much of the 1950s and 60s.

Maybe on their tour of Australia Dave and Little Esther will have a chance to check out Lake Mackay:

Lake Mackay

photo by “Viking” found here: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/100106

Office Life!

RED # 18355 64-NA-193

From the wikipedia page for “office” — The Division of Classification and Cataloging, National Archives, 1937. 

Embracing office life today.  Two episodes from lunch:

  • Kathy singing “What is lunch?” to the tune of “What is love?”
  • A guy in the elevator asking aloud, “is it Friday yet?”  I laughed way too hard.  Then he said “it is in Australia!”

Entrepreneurs in Italy


Photo of a Chinese restaurant in Venice by Peter Vistonay found here: http://www.earth-photography.com/Countries/Italy/Italy_Venice_Misc_Signs.html

from this convo between Tyler Cowen and Italian economist Luigi Zingales:

COWEN: Here’s an article from Quartz. Let me read you the headline. Maybe you saw it from a few months ago. “The most common surnames of new entrepreneurs in Italy are Hu, Chen, and Singh.” If you look at Milan, you have to go through 20 names, and at number 20 is the Italian name Colombo for the most common or most frequent names of entrepreneurs.

Is this sustainable culturally, or is this Italy’s future, in essence, to be economically colonized the way parts of Southeast Asia have been by Chinese, Indians, Sikhs, whoever it may be. Maybe Germans.

ZINGALES: One friend of mine was saying that the demise of the Italian firm family structure is the demise of the Italian family. In essence, when you used to have seven kids, one out of seven in the family was smart. You could find him. You could transfer the business within the family with a little bit of meritocracy and selection.

When you’re down to one or two kids, the chance that one is an idiot is pretty large. The result is that you can’t really transfer the business within the family. The biggest problem of Italy is actually fertility, in my view, because we don’t have enough kids. If you don’t have enough kids, you don’t have enough people to transfer. You don’t have enough young people to be dynamic.

Here’s more from Luigi, predicting the coming of Trump and comparing him to Italy’s Berlusconi:

Trump and Berlusconi are remarkably alike. They are both billionaire businessmen who claim that the government should be run like a business. They are both gifted salesmen, able to appeal to the emotions of their fellow citizens. They are both obsessed with their looks, with their hair (or what remains of it), and with sexy women. Their gross manners make them popular, perhaps because people think that if these guys could become billionaires, anyone could. Most important is that both Trump and Berlusconi made their initial fortunes in real estate, an industry where connections and corruption often matter as much as, or more than, talent and hard work. Indeed, while both pretend to stand for free markets, what they really believe in is what most of us would label crony capitalism.

Berlusconi’s policies have been devastating to Italy. He has been prime minister for eight of the last ten years, during which time the Italian per-capita GDP has dropped 4 percent, the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased from 109 percent to 120 percent, and taxes have increased from 41.2 percent to 43.4 percent. Italy’s score in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom has dropped from 63 to 60.3, and in the World Economic Forum Index of Competitiveness from 4.9 to 4.37. Berlusconi’s tenure has also been devastating for free-market ideas, which now are identified with corruption.

How can such a pro-business prime minister wreak havoc on the economy and on the idea of free markets? Because “pro-business” doesn’t necessarily mean “pro-market.” While the two agendas sometimes coincide—as in the case of protecting property rights—they’re often at odds. Market competition threatens established firms, which often use their political muscle to restrict new entries into their industry, strengthening their positions but putting customers at a disadvantage. A pro-market strategy, by contrast, aims to encourage the best business conditions for everyone. That’s in fact the opposite of what a real-estate tycoon wants: to keep competitors out and enhance the value of his own properties. By capturing (or more precisely, purchasing) the free-market flag in the same way one might acquire a business brand, Berlusconi likely has destroyed the appeal of the free-market ideal in Italy for a generation.


Reader Reax: Steve Albini

One reader writes:

You don’t like Steve Albini? You realise he made all of the best albums of the 90’s from
Nirvana to nick cave and he has own band that have been playing for 20 years for the love of it.

Their MO is that you can’t tap your foot along to any of their songs and then they fuck around. They play primavera every year for the love of it.

Listen to his band Shellac’s ‘prayer to god’, ‘squirrel song’ ‘dude, incredible’ and ‘end of radio’. Tap your foot. Listen to how much he takes the piss.

He made an entire album about surveyors for god’s sake.

I’m trying here.

Steve Albini


I have pretty much zero interest in the kind of music Steve Albini plays but whenever I come across an interview or something with him, he always strikes me as remarkably clear-headed about the realities of making money as an artist.

Take this profile in Psychology Today (what?) by Michael Friedman:

“There are kind of two perspectives on business. One of them is that a business exists to make money for the investor class that has a stake in that business. That’s one perspective. So, from a stock-market perspective, from a shareholder perspective, from an investor perspective, that from any publicly held company’s perspective, the company’s reason to exist is to make money for those people,” he explained. “And if you’re not making money, you’re a failing company. If its share price doesn’t go up, then the company’s failing, whether you’re making a profit or not. The idea is that the fundamental reason for that company to be there is to make money.”

Albini contrasts this approach to how he runs his business. “From an entrepreneurial standpoint, from someone like me — someone who builds a business for a reason — the reason my company exists is to make recordings of music. And in so doing, every now and again we’ll turn a profit. But that’s not why we’re in business. We’re not in business so that we can make money. And there’s a pretty strong argument that most businesses that are not part of the public sphere, not part of the investment transaction or equity management or whatever, most businesses operate on that level,” he said.

“Like a bakery opens because a guy wants to make bread. A tavern opens because a guy wants to serve beer to people. That’s why people start businesses. It’s because they want to do something with their time. They want that enterprise to be how they spend their days. But from an academic standpoint or from an analytical standpoint or from the standpoint of publicly held companies and investment class and everything, the reason the company started is meaningless. All they want to know is the share price going up. And for people like me that seems insane.”

“It’s like defining a marriage by the size of the house it occupies as opposed to defining the marriage by the love between two people and the life they build for themselves and the experience they share as part of the marriage. That’s the difference between the people who don’t get it (that you’re talking about), business people who can’t seem to buy into the greater culture of their business, and entrepreneurs, who started the business because the business itself means a lot to them.

“And there’s literally no way you can turn the second type of businessman into the first type. If somebody is hired to run a company and that company has investors who have expectations, then it is already impossible for that company to mean more to the employees as a concept than a paycheck. Because the value of the company has already been defined by the investor class. Now it is possible for somebody to start as an entrepreneur and then eventually sell off his company into the publicly held market and then he’s transformed from an entrepreneur into that second type of businessman. But it’s literally impossible to go the other way.”

I am a little baffled as to how this guy is, as he says, broke.  More:

“Selfishness and greed are among the first things that we are instructed against as children. Like, ‘Don’t be selfish; share with your sister’ or whatever. And I feel like abandoning that principle when it’s money rather than gummy bears involved is fucking ridiculous.”

Albini takes heart that he is not alone: Other artists who have followed in a similar path. He explains: “There’s a Dutch band called The Ex who are an absolute inspiration. They’ve been going for 30 years now. And they originally started as sort of a squatter punk band in the squats in Amsterdam. And they have since built a sustainable, durable career, extraordinary body of work. They’ve been all over the world. They’ve made records with pop musicians and traditional musicians from Ethiopia. They’ve toured every flat spot on the globe. And they’ve all bought homes and raised families and all that sort of stuff — and all of it done in a very natural, very sustainable, very ethical way. They’re not a household name.”

That’s the difference. If you want to be a household name, you kind of have to participate in the rock-star world of things where you’re either going to be a superstar or you’re going to be nobody. If you just want to play music for the rest of your life, that’s a completely attainable goal,” he said.


Tell me about it, brother

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from The Boston Globe.

They’d never checked for other henges two miles from Stonehenge?

See previous Helytimes coverage of prehistoric monoliths.


Reality can be hacky!

Reading this Jeffrey Goldberg article about Angola prison.

If you tried to come up with a name for a Louisiana prison warden, and you came up with Burl Cain, you would chide yourself for being a little “on the nose.”


Nothing to be ashamed about

A New England correspondent sends us this one:

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