Saturday, November 28, 2009

To Give Thanks

Yesterday was one of the greatest of American holidays: Thanksgiving Day.

Though it was originally similar to, and may in fact be derived from, European harvest festivals.  Its a day that has truly become a signature American Event.  Though Canada might try to claim the first Thanksgiving (I know, its just so adorable of them to think they're that big), lets be honest, America had the first real Thanksgiving and we know how to do it right.

First, lets look at the places who have an official, annual, State-Declared Thanksgiving Day.  Grenada celebrates their annual Thanksgivng Day holiday on October 25.  They have it to celebrate and commemorate the anniversary of the American-led invasion of the island in 1983.  Then, we sent in the military, along with some coalition forces, to respond to levels of unrest after the deposition and execution of Grenadan Prime Minister (though he actually rulled the country more like a dictator would - along the lines of 'free' Iran) Maurice Bishop.  There's still disagreement about whether we should have engaged, but the country has a holiday to selebrate that action, so you're welcome Grenada.

The Canadian version is the second Monday in October.  Before they had a regular date, they used to just declare it for whaterver reason they felt was appropriate.  Like if Canadia wins the Olympic Hockey Gold Medal, or scientists declare an overpopulation of moose and hunting season gets extended, or the national dealership says there's a sale on Zambonis, or whatever it is that floats Canadian boats.  Now, its just a nationalized harvest festival where you're supposed to be greatful for the bounty of harvest the lands of Canada yielded.  Weak.

Though there had been thanksgiving days and celebrations in America since 1619, and though what we modern Americans regard as the 'First Thanksgiving' was celebrated in 1621, it was quite some time before we got a National Thanksgiving Day.  Periodically, throughout the years, leaders of American colonial settlements proclaimed days of Thanksgiving - but they were not regular declarations, though often they were to commemorate some sort of victory in armed conflict, having survived and come out of a particularly harsh winter, or (of course) an especially bountiful harvest season.

The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving in America was given by the Continental Congress in the year 1777 to celebrate vicroty over the British in Saratoga (Suck it, England).  Since then, American Presidents would intermidently declare national Days of Thanksgiving until the year 1863.  That year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving Day.  From then until 1939, each American Presidant took time every year to declare the final Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving Day.

In 1939, because November had 5 Thursdays, President Franklin D Roosevelt declared, not the final, but the fourth Thursday of that month to be national Thanksgiving Day.  Then, in 1940 and 1941 he declared the third Thursday of November to be national Thanksgiving Day.  I'm sure that at this time they didnt have presidantial approval ratings, but FDR was just trying to stimulate the economy (how oddly relevant).  Because, at the time, advertising for Christmas sales was considered so crass and classless to do before Thanksgiving, FDR thought that by moving up the date of the Thanksgiving Holiday (seriously, where did those days go), retailers would experience greater sales due to increased time for Christmas marketing campaigns.  Apparently, there was such an uproar that on October 6, 1941, Congress signed a joint resolution making Thanksgiving Day the final Thursday of November starting the next year, 1942.  There was a little bit of unhappiness about that so in December, the Senate made it ammended the resolution so that the fourth Thursday of November (no matter whether the month had 4 or 5 Thursdays), beginning in 1942, would be Thanksgiving Day.  On December 26, 1941, the President signed the bill and since then, the occurance of Thanksgiving Day in America was federal law.  Dig that.

Over time, the celebration of Thanksgiving Day was morphed and become a sort of hybrid occurance that encompases and elevates many aspects of our daily indivudual and collective lives.  Thanksgiving Days used to be religious celebrations, often tied to being greatful for a bountiful harvest.  Now, the religious portion of Thanksgiving is almost wholly put to the side; the aspect of plentiful and delicious foodstuffs is still a primary aspect of the holiday; but the current methods of celebration would not be recognized by the settlers of Plymoth.

For out modern Thanksgivings, we have the build-up to Black Friday and the anticipation of the Chirstmas shopping season.  We have sporting events, where we watch athletes more skilled than most of us could ever dream of being, matched in battles of physical accomplishments.  We have Turducken, and I think that stands on its own.  But something that has not failed to carry through, which I think our settling ancesters would be tickled pink to still see, is that the idea of being thankful and greatful is still what makes the holiday.

I hope that everyone took some time yesterday to realize that even though all our days may not reach perfection, and though we may not always be satisfied with what we might have, there are usually many things we can and should all be thankful for.

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  Remember, you're supposed to give thanks and be greatful for what you have and what you've been able to attain.  Afterall, its been federal law since 1942.  Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder...

...but when a building is fugly, it doesn't matter who beholds it, it's ugly.  Let's just take this little diddy here:

This structurally broad-shouldered guy is the J Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington DC.   It is a consensus uggo.  The only beholders who could possibly allow their eyes to see beauty in this are the guy who designed the thing (Hoover FBI Building), Stevie Wonder, the guy who designed this quintessential piece of Stalinist-era stereotypically oppressive Russian apartment block (which I found here),

or Noel McKinnell and Gerhard Kallmann who designed the East Coast landmark that is Boston's City Hall (photo from here).

So why am I on about ugly buildings?  Well, talking bad about ugly buildings is one of my favorite things to do.  Its almost automatic when you have an architectural education like I did; where often beauty was prized over function, reason, and practicality.  But really, I was inspired by an article that came up on my Yahoo! homepage a few days ago.

The article was Bunny Wong's "The World's Ugliest Buildings" for the October 2009 Travel+Leisure.  Its a good enough compilation of 15 ugly, stupid, and generally bad buildings (certainly no list of 78, but good enough), but I'd like to point out my favorites.  Let's start with the buildings that are really just a joke that took structural form.
We start with the Page 6 Building: the Longaberger Home Office in Newark, OH. (photo source)

The company is a woven basket company...get it?!

Lets look at what Bunny said:  "’s as if, in 1997, a giant-size Little Red Riding Hood set down her seven-story hamper on a flat section of Ohio. ... True, the company purveys handcrafted baskets. And founder Dave Longaberger’s dream headquarters was a replica of his favorite basket. But hey, Crate & Barrel employees don’t schedule meetings in a 10-story sofa."

Nicely said, though I might be interested in working for Crate & Barrel's corporate office if they did meet in a 10-story sofa.  As long as it's right across the street from the Vizio headquarters - which would of course be a 12-story flat panel HD screen.  Sweet.

I'd work late on Mondays during football season.  Clocking out coincidentally right after the Monday Night Football game (assuming the Vizio building gets cable).

I love what reader/commenter adriannakaden said: "I live about 10 minutes away from this building, and I'm sick of having to look at it whenever I go into Newark. Yeah, I know, I know, people are going to say 'Well you don't HAVE to look at it,' but come on guys, it's a huge basket right beside the highway, you can't miss it! It's rediculous looking"

Exactly!  I mean, when you go to the Zoo, you don't HAVE to look at the monkey playing with himself in the middle of the primate cage.  But really, its so ridiculous, you can't help but look.

The next little mistake we talk about is the Page 8 building: The Fang Yuan Building in Shenyang, China.  (photo source)

Bunny said:  "This 25-floor office building, finished in 2001 in the northeastern capital of Liaoning Province, is a weird mishmash of ideas. One is a reference to old Chinese coins, which have square cutouts—just like the structure’s square center. Other parts of the design are like a garden-variety corporate building, with a concrete base and, on the sides, steel rims with glass grooves...Princeton-educated Taiwanese architect C. Y. Lee...wanted to meld East and West. In this creation, urban concrete-and-steel commercial structure meets ancient Chinese currency."

While not exactly a stinging criticism, it gets the point across - this building's design really doesn't exist to make much of a point.  Designing things in the shape of money or monetary symbols is for the designers and creators of Richie Rich (the American-created comic character).

Its a silhouette of ancient Chinese currency, extruded and put on a clumsy (that's being charitable) base that's a split mastaba beneath a stubby skyscraper whose wide faces were designed by Michael Graves in the mid-80s and and whose narrow faces wanted to be like a split Boston Federal Reserve Bank.

The only time a professional building designer should ever be allowed to design a crass, miss-mashed edifice like this one is if the thing is going in Las Vegas

or Dubai

Both these places of obscene carelessness are home to awful built things that must have been conceived in an inebriated, snarky, or practically joking state of mind (maybe all of those).

Now, let me tell you about the 'beauty' of our Page 4 building:  The Harold Washington Library in Chicago, Illinois.

A few years ago, when I was a student visiting Chicago, I was riding the train on Chicago Downtown Loop with a classmate.  As we were passing this visually jarring, huge friggin' building, I turned to take a picture of it saying, "I just had to get a picture of that crazy thing."  In a surprise move, a sweet looking old lady sitting in the seat in front of us turns around and says something along the lines of, “why do you want a picture of that ugly ass thing. Here in Chicago, we hate that piece of shit.”  Wow, tough town.  I'm not sure whether that anecdote says more about the people of Chicago, but its sure as hell says something about the way this building is held in the minds of the people who have the unfortunate luck to live with it everyday.

I guess Chicago's Washington Library is a little like I.M. Pei's Louvre pyramids in that way.

The locals either LOVE it or HATE it.  Its the same, except that all the locals HATE the Washington Library. On this little (a full city-block) mistake of the bull market 90s, Bunny said: "If buildings came with footnotes, this one...would have pages worth of citations.  Neoclassical references collide with a glass-and-steel Mannerist roof; throw in some red brick, granite, and aluminum—and a bad sense of scale—and you’ve got way too much architecture class for one day...The Chicago public library has a helter-skelter application of motifs and styles that’s [unfortunately, completely postmodern.]"

What this means is that the building tries so hard NOT to be something like this:

that it just doesn't have enough time to try and be more like this (i.e. the roof):

not enough time or money to be more like this (i.e. the massing of the base and the lack of distinct ornamentation, imagine about 4 of these in a row and you'd have a nicer base for the library):

and not enough time or class or gonads to be more like this (i.e. the middle parts of both this and the library building are similar but not - and that's not good for the library building, showing lack of vision, ability, and scale).

To sum that up, the Harold Washington Library in Chicago is just, flat-out not good.

And this brings us to the last, and my 'favorite' ass-ugly building.  The Page 2 show stopper: The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

A few months ago was when I first heard about this building.  I looked it up and I almost fell out of my seat at its bold, unapologetic ugliness.

This thing is like the ugly duckling that unwisely got out of the lake, got chewed up and spit out by a lawnmower, didn’t die because its guts and bones were just too damn strong, and hobbled around for a time while the other ugly ducks laughed and pecked at it.

Bunny said: "With its concrete sides sloping at sharp 75-degree angles, this stark 1,083-foot-tall, not-quite-finished hotel looks threatening and out of place on the Pyongyang skyline.  Its history is odd, too: the country ran out of money for the project in the early 1990s, and it was airbrushed from photos [for quite some] time. After a 16-year hiatus, construction began anew last year...Supposedly the 3,000-room hotel is an attempt to outdo South Korea when it comes to impressive skyscrapers. It’s undoubtedly emblematic of the ruling dictatorship’s hubris."


Truly, only an egomaniaicle dictator (as if there is any other type) with his own personal waterslide in the pool of his vast estate could ever imagine, sanction, start, stop, and after almost two decades resume building of this thing.  And now that they’re facing most of it in glass (which really doesn't help the looks at all) and trying to finish it, I'm so excited to see this once-damaged ugly duckling transform into a grown up, butt-ugly, cluster-flub of junkiness.  Maybe one day in the future, when Kim Jong Crazy-Leader III decides to have an open and non-hostile dictatorship like China has, I could stay in that hotel and see what it feels like to live in one of the imaginings of a certified nutter.

Well, I guess that's it for that.  Thanks for taking this trans-continental and trans-chronological journey through unfortunate buildings.

In the next blog post, I'll talk about Thanksgiving and why its evidence in the case making America better than any other country on the face of this Earth.


P(L)'s note:  (Edit 11/31/2011) The desire for marginal historical accuracy and cultural sensitivity have precipitated an edit about the Russian apartment block.  Thanks to the blog's commentors for keeping us honest.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Extreme Survival - My Man-Crush on Bear Grylls

When I talk Extreme Survival, I'm not talking about being in Southeast DC! (That was funny because SE DC, as a very unfunny fact, has a fairly high crime rate.)

I'm talking about Bear Grylls.  Yeah, the guy from that Discovery Channel series Man vs Wild - Bear F-ing Grylls.
He's a certifiable British Badass, emphasis on both British and Badass.  His show is like a cross between the Boy Scouts and the Army Rangers, on steroids...without the emasculating side effects (of taking steroids, not being British).  He's such a British Badass, he makes David Beckham look like Elton John.

This dude's been a badass from birth.  Really, his name is Bear.  Heck yeah!  A couple months ago, I saw him in an episode in Alaska (I think Alaska, I know there was alot of snow) and in the first half of it he had captured a deer, strung it around a tree, and tied its antlers to the trunk (Bear said that a deer with a free head could easily stab you with its antlers unless it is restrained.  "If you control the head, you control the beast.").  Then he leaned over, pulled his knife out, and drove it into the base of the deer's head, where its skull joins its spine, and killed the thing.  To start the butchering of his food, he cut the thing's throat and blood literally poured out.
Then he said how much nutrients fresh blood contains, and he stuck his face in there and literally drank the blood from the deer as it poured out!!

Now thats friggin' badass manly stuff!  Oh yeah!!

And as an example of his British-ness, read this excerpt from the Discovery Channel's bio on him:

  "In June 2005, Bear broke a world record by hosting a dinner party at a table suspended below a hot air balloon at 24,500 feet. He rappelled from the balloon's basket to the table, where in full naval uniform he ate a three-course meal before saluting the queen and skydiving to earth."

Hosted a dinner party?  Three-course meal?  Saluted the Queen?  Yeah, I call British on that one  I hope he ate with a splayd.

He's so British and Badass.  I mean, c'mon!  He even delivered his own child!!  Though maybe that's just a British man thing (though I suspect he did this for all 3 of his children).  Or, it could have been a '08-'09 Holiday Season fad in England.  Following is a news clip** from England that could (sort-of) support either theory:
Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

But enough of singing the praises of Bear Grylls.  If you get Discovery Channel on your TV, watch it (check your local listings, broadcast times and dates may vary).  Or find episodes on the internet (preferably in a legal manner).  And if all this didn't convince you, does it help that in just about every episode, he gets naked (or at least shirtless),

eats some sort of grubby insect thingy (or snake, or a fish he just pulled out of a river or some sort of other raw flesh),

or he drinks his own pee - as evidenced in this quote from his blog:

  "It made fighting a big pit viper rattlesnake interesting! (Although I did eventually get it. I then could eat it, and then use its skin to store my urine in whilst in the burning hot salt pan desert. (The cocktail of snake innards and pee was truly terrible!)"

And if those things arent enough to convince you, check out this quote from the same post from his blog:

  "I was then in the swamps - these are always the toughest shows to do- and I did end up having a pretty full-on encounter with a 6ft alligator. I came out on top, just, skinned it for cordage for my camp to sleep in, rubbed the alligator fat on me for mosquito repellant and then ate it."
The question is how could you NOT watch AND love that.

**The Bugle: Audio Newspaper for a Visual World
Issue 57 - Hats off to Obama, Shoes off for Bush
By Andy Zaltzman, John Oliver, Tom Wright

From Times Online, December 21, 2008

Thursday, November 5, 2009

About Government, Sans Politics

For all we receive from society (not necessarily the federal, but specifically the immediate and local governments) - roads and related infrastructure, usually clean water, museums, certain grants and scholarships, and a portion of public television and radio - we are compelled in a mandatory manner to give back few times. Once a year on April 15th when our taxes are due (admittedly, we might be compelled to relinquish a larger percentage of what we’ve earned for our talents and labours than we might like) and the dreaded but socially important jury duty. Can anyone guess which social compulsion I fulfilled today (Nov 5 2009, that should give it away)?

Now, I relish the privilege of paying back for my voice as a citizen, you used to have to be male, of the majority class, and landed; but now you just have to pay taxes and show up for jury duty. Its sweet! I hadn't served before today, but now I understand why many people don't like it. There's alot of nothing going on there. But the worst thing is that they shove you and an ugly ass building. Really, I think a prison hallway might be nicer than the courthouse hallway. And the courtroom - beige acoustic panels and honey stained wood slat paneling with some sort of hovering, halo like lighting system and white noise coming through the speakers. Man, it was bad, but it was my civic duty.

Ans speaking of civic duty, Tuesday was Election Day. I hope that if you are a registered voter you did vote. You know what they say: thumbs separate us from the other animals, our minds separate us from the apes, and the ability to democratically vote separates us from the Canadians. Or something like that. I'm pretty sure that's how it goes.

I met a fella on Tuesday and he said he was from Virginia and I didn't even wish him a Happy Election Day! What's wrong with me? My mother would be so ashamed. I was out of the area for a week visiting home and I turned back into a Texan, not caring about the tiny slice of the rest of the world that isn't in that state. It was so negligent and rude of me, but I'll take this moment to share Election Day wishes from a show that I've grown to like more, especially recently.

Once again, I can't speak either way about the ad at the front end of this video.

If you didn't vote or aren't registered, you have plenty of time before next November where there will be tons more things and people to vote on.  Its midterms!  Hell yeah!  What, you're NOT excited about that?  Odd.

And remember how we elected that new guy into the White House last year? (No matter how you voted, you voted for a new guy.)  Anyway he's been hosting alot of really sweet events at the White House.  It makes sense, I mean, think about it.  When you get your first big, sweet ass house, what're you gonna do?  Thats right, throw a bunch of big, sweet ass house parties.  And you'll keep throwing bigger and badasser parties until the neighbors finally complain and the cops show up and people scatter and hide in the closets and showers.  Now I'm not saying the White House parties are gonna get that big, but look at it this way, a few weeks ago they had an outdoor rock concert of Latin music!  Thats a helluva White House Party!  I guess its been a gradual progression to get to that point.  Check out this clip from a poetry slam they hosted a while back:

Now that's a sweet party!  I love that Miranda guy!  He's awesome.

That's all for now my friends!  Until next time!