Pompidou and Circumstance

So, I can see the Centre Pompidou from our bedroom window. It’s a huge glass rectangle surrounded by tubes and steel cables, designed by Renzo Piano back in the 70’s. From the plaza side [I’ll explain in a minute] it looks like a giant hamster cage/ant farm; the escalator is on the outside in a glass tube, going diagonally from the 1st floor to the sixth.

At its scale for the neighborhood, it’s a bit of a landmark anyway, and we’ve spent a lot of time just sitting in the plaza on the non-street side of the building, where you can do everything from have an old vietnamese guy serenade you with Smells like Teen Spirit on the guitar to have another of many, very zealous portraitists try to draw your picture [“You have a good nose,” they say and while I can’t prove it I think they say this to everybody] to nothing at all. People just sit out in front of this monstrosity (in a good way), have lunch, make out, smoke, talk, whatever. It’s pretty awesome, as tens of thousands of people live right around here, rents seem to still afford a huge variety of shops and restaurants despite or maybe because of the old underground mall next door (Les Halles), and the Pompidou serves as a kind of pass through destination for all and sundry. We actually came to it often during the last stay here, just to take a pause and sit outside.

Yesterday, we went inside the museum for the first time and, without being too dramatic, it changed a lot of what I thought about the building. First it’s a great building from the inside; the tube escalator is better than it is even curious from the outside. But most of all, it’s a great modern art museum, my new favorite [drawing from a, needless to say, shallow well].

We saw two exhibitions, neither of which I particularly liked, and one I especially did not. Lucien Freud L’Atelier; I already knew I didn’t like his painting, now confirmed. But there were some things about it that were good, just not the people in his pictures, who he seems to loathe. Other buildings, rooms, plants, even a dog appeared several times… all remarkably well done. Then the other exhibit, Dreamlands. The program says the goal of this exhibition “of more then 300 works is to show how the World’s Fairs, international exhibitions and amusement parks have inspired significant developments in urban design and urban life.” An ambitious mouthful and you can partially imagine the building of the Eiffel tower, Dali on Coney Island, lots about Vegas, some about EPCOT. But there was the Rem Koolhas book, Delirious New York, that I’d never heard of and they had some images from that. Then two Philip Guston paintings, one I had seen before. But thing was, interspersed with all of this on the sixth floor galleries were… staggering views of the city. All the while, you never feel lost in the labyrinth that some museums exhibition spaces can be.

So, this is already really long but, the only reason I was writing any of it was because of the permanent collection on the 4th and 5th floor. Debouffet, Leger, Bonnard, but also a lot of Picasso and Braque, one room of their back and forth images in particular that was great, each painting practically the same thing. Sculptures by Brancusi throughout, it was great to see this stuff after a day of work. And when I say stuff, I mean like this.

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Green Away

An extended sabbatical is underway. Look for less writing, more pics, hopefully on topic.

Here’s RC checking out the bike share at Les Halles, not far from our apartment.

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StayGreen(tm)

Captain Obvious here with a report from the bridge: A connection has been spotted between this

In an example of Republican obstructionism rendered beautiful by its simplicity, the GOP yesterday killed a House bill that would increase funding for scientific research and math and science education by forcing Democrats to vote in favor of federal employees viewing pornography.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the ranking member of the House science committee, introduced amotion to recommit, a last-ditch effort to change a bill by sending it back to the committee with mandatory instructions.

In this case, Republicans included a provision that would bar the federal government from paying the salaries of employees who’ve been disciplined for viewing pornography at work.

and this.

Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say

Can we not just stop for a second and look at the long-tail of this form of stupid that seems to be on sale everywhere? Sweet baby in the manger, the short tail should even scare the crap out of us.

There is nothing to fear except but unless you can’t see the obvious.

Might As Well

Buffalo Buick Lesabres… Is anything not loaded these days?

If you haven’t noticed, the New York Times increasingly occupies some weird space. While still not the Kaplan test prep daily, what was at one time a very insular ‘paper of record’ has become a kind of de facto stamp of conventionality whatever the subject, whether congestion pricing, missile defense or Teabaggerism. I mean, think back to the role it played in the run up to the Iraq war. Stunning. The paper with a record.

But this article, what is it? It’s Earth Day as a concept, supply your own detachment! (Included at some subscription levels). As though it’s really not a place you live, a contradictory sphere where progress has led to peril, yet where these issues are just a bunch of ironic curios we find in a box in the garage that get more delicious with the passage of time. Former protestors against nuclear power are now supporters of nuclear as green energy! You don’t say! What does any of it mean? Why would you even ask that? How gauche! Only those who don’t already know.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.

“I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” Mr. Brand writes in “Whole Earth Discipline.” “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”

Can you even get more counterintuitive than that? Watch as we become our own nemesis. USA! NYT! It’s meta ambivalence for the generation too busy to hate care, one week per year where we care enough to care again. For a day. About something.

Untoward Digression into the Politics

As though a more graceful straying was at all an option. This little tidbit stuck out in an argument on the optimal number of Americans, which sounds loaded enough, but then:

Without more of a focus on the implications of immigration policy for population, there could be 600 million Americans by 2100, he writes. Depending on whom you talk to, that is a boon or a disaster. Mr. Chamie notes that the relatively enormous thirst for energy, food and other resources from Americans, when compared with that of the average world citizen, gives outsize importance to issues like global warming and to American trends.

Emphasis mine. Isn’t that the whole point of green, cloaking our climbdown in euphemism as though we want to curb our appetites for resources and are not doing it because of shame or peak stupid related to the “while supplies last” ironicality? Next up, discovered deep in the programmer sub-species of the Amazonian Huarani, startling new emoticons for “shrug.”

Then, just for kicks and speaking of idiotic discussions, extend the logical implications of the resistance to big-government takeovers to firefighting:

Yet if we had to have the “conversation” about the firefighting industry today, we’d have socialism-phobic South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint on the TV every chance he could get saying things like, “Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and the safety of your home?”

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio would hold press conferences and ask, “Do you want your firefighting to be like going to the DMV? Do you want Uncle Sam to come breaking down your door every time some Washington fat cat says there’s a fire?”

Oh the pain. via.

And then there’s the sedition network. It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if you were so inclined, to argue that Fox News was not created to destroy the Republican Party, and hence the two-party system. I guess we should always wonder whether we are and could be sufficiently virtuous to resist what seems like help but is actually designed to quicken our demise. Oh, maybe that’s what… Rrrgh. Hate. Lessons.

Cognitive Dissidents

Foreign fighters among the Taliban with Birmingham (U.K.) accents? NASA planning massive space explosions in search of water on the moon? Unrelated incidents to be sure, but what, exactly, is going on?

These sort of bizarre happenings in parallel occur all the time, of course, and they have become a part of living in our present day – as curious as horseless carriages must have once seemed. Unpacking them at all, they may become even more Byzantine as curiosities. The Aston Villa tattoos on the recently-killed Taliban fighter are as crazy/easy to explain as would have been the case had their accents been from Birmingham, Alabama. Okay, maybe not. That would have been crazy. But no more so than scientists preparing to fly a rocket booster into the moon in order to trigger a six-mile-high explosion.

The four-month mission of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will be directed from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, is to discover whether water is frozen in the perpetual darkness of craters near the moon’s south pole. As a potential source of oxygen for life support and hydrogen for rocket fuel, that water would be a tremendous boost to NASA’s plans to restart human exploration of the moon.

It is in this climate, where we have become nearly unable to differentiate the fabulous from the actual, where the words ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing’ have been displaced of their original meanings, where extraordinary measures of all sorts limbo beneath the radar, causing not the slightest flinch. Maybe it’s always been like this; or perhaps the volume of information bombardment itself is causing the greatest psychological displacement, such that we begin to allow for the unallowable. How else to explain this:

Using iron “seeding” to set off massive plankton growth in the ocean to slow climate change; creating artificial volcanic eruptions to release cooling sulfur into the atmosphere; increasing the solar reflectivity of clouds by adding sea-salt particles; building a giant space mirror to stop ice from melting in Greenland. These may sound like concepts straight out of a George Lucas film, but they are real ideas being proposed by scientists as part of the “geoengineering” movement — a school of thought based upon the idea that humans can engineer ourselves out of global warming on a massive scale.

How many people listened to this report on NPR driving home on Tuesday, looked around at the traffic and nodded their heads? Did they say to themselves, ‘that sounds like a good idea,’ or “I’m glad people are thinking about this’? Even the report hedged itself with a kind of reality check.

And experiments could create disasters. Alan Robock of Rutgers University cataloged a long list of risks. Particles in the stratosphere that block sunlight could also damage the ozone layer, which protects us from harsh ultraviolet light. Or altering the stratosphere could reduce precipitation in Asia, where it waters the crops that feed 2 billion people.

Should we be outraged* by these kinds of suggestions? We seem to be caught in an information spiral, where we’ve down-graded the importance of expertise in favor of a balance between opposing viewpoints. We lend credence to both and preserve the power to play Solomon, though we are greatly ill-educated and prone to believing in both our better impulses and the existence of an easy way out. Sitting in that car in traffic, we may need to first begin to agitate among ourselves, to regain control of what’s happening inside the car, first. Why shouldn’t we be able to counter the effects of climate change without driving less, wasting less, living differently? Do we even know?

* this can be a rather complex proposition in itself, e.g., toward what would the outrage be directed?