My Architect

I just watched My Architect, courtesy of Netflix. The son of architect Louis I Kahn goes on a journey to know more about his father (whom he knew only a little at a time before Kahn’s death in 1974).

You know, I keep wanting to run down architecture that seems to be about the spectacle, the shape and light and mass, instead of the usefulness of the structure. But I think this is the first time it has really clicked for me how *useful* the spectacle can be.

When an architect from Bangladesh is brought to tears explaining what Kahn’s incredible design for the Bangladesh national assembly means to the people of that country, and when you see its image on their money and in the graffiti of their streets — somehow that makes it click.

Not that it’s always justifiable if it makes buildings unusable — thousands of poor Bangladeshis carried concrete on their heads to make that building. What if it had turned out to be hard to use for its purpose, and had gotten in the way of the people’s government instead of supporting it? Its visage wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

I think I’d just about fly to Bangladesh to see that thing. It’s phenomenal.

Flavia nicely disses the 9/11 movie.

Philadelphia Daily News | 09/12/2006 | Flavia Monteiro Colgan | ABC’s ‘9/11’: Clinton was right

The tragic events of 9/11 are not something to be trifled with. Putting words into people’s mouths and showing them doing things they never did is not acceptable.

The docudrama portrayed Clinton as a president who didn’t care about terrorism, but his record tells a different story. He had daily briefings on al Qaeda and meetings three times a week. Compare that to a president who couldn’t break away from clearing brush to read a memo that said, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack America.”

The fact is that Clinton proposed an additional $1.1 billion in anti-terror efforts. Clinton was acutely aware of the financial aspects of terror and wanted us not to do business with international banks that held al Qaeda money. A bill that would have mandated that was called totalitarian by some Republicans – and they gutted it.

It’s incredible to me how blatantly people can manipulate the record in the public mind and get away with it. I’d like to think that all the voices that have said this movie is wrong will keep most people from being affected much by it, but I’m not that optimistic. Narrative storytelling is always more powerful than logical exposition. Always. I even find myself sometimes believing a particular ‘fact’ that my intellect should know better than to think only because the story was so compelling.

David Cronenberg's Body Language

David Cronenberg’s Body Language – New York Times

Cronenberg is now a year older than his father was when he died. And while there is nothing “old” about him other than his shock of white hair, you can see in both “A History of Violence” and its predecessor, “Spider,” that his gaze as an artist is starting to turn backward – from the presumed horrors of the future to the permeability of the border between present and past, the invisible distinction between who we were once and who we think we are now.

Excellent interview/article on Cronenberg.

via jjg

Guerillas in the Midst

Last night I was reading this article in the Guardian, that was published in 2002, about the “Millennium Challenge” wargame, where the military was outfoxed by the ex-marine consultant they hired to play the bad guy: Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Wake-up call. I got the link from a post over on Antonella’s blog. She’d linked it because the story is also used in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.
I’ve been reading Blink as well, and I may have more to ruminate about that, because it’s remarkable (and everybody’s reading it, it seems, so others may have done the ruminating for me).
Anyway, what converged in my head when looking at this story was what I saw earlier the same night when watching a movie with my daughter. See, we were watching the last of the old Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi. And for years I think I undervalued the movie in general — I think it’s better than I remembered. Not great, but better. Still, it really is a sort of “Muppets in Space” flick and a little annoying at times. But I digress.
In that movie, we see brave rebel forces sacrificing their lives when fighting the overpowering Empire. Because the rebels don’t have the resources of their enemy, they have to be more clever, daring, and ingenious in their tactics.
Not only they, but also the cute little (evidently human-eating?) Ewoks, whose Endor is overrun as part of the clash, have to bring whatever means at their disposal to the task of dispatching the Empire forces.
As I was watching, I couldn’t help but wonder (and be pretty sure) that people like Bin Laden have seen this movie and others like it (because after all, Star Wars wasn’t especially original — it mainly repackaged a lot of tropes from previous Hollywood fare). Every time I saw an Ewok or a Rebel fighter use the Empire’s own destructive power against it, or crash a ship into an Imperial destroyer, I thought — hey, all it takes is a slip of perspective to see that other people could easily see themselves as the heroes in their own story, fighting the Imperial Americans. Would this be a fair perspective? Maybe not. But perception rules. If the US and the west in general are perceived as evil oppressors, it doesn’t take much to convince oneself that they should be brought down at all costs.
Anyway, that’s nothing new — the point’s been made plenty before. But what struck me was the ingeniousness of the ‘good guys’ in the battles of Star Wars, thinking outside the box and hitting the lumbering Empire in ways they don’t necessarily expect.
Then I read the Guardian article and am reminded of the tactics Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper used when imitating Saddam in the giant wargame:

As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal – not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks.

And I thought about how he essentially did the sort of things that we’ve seen the underdog do in movies for generations (or in books even before that), and you have to wonder: How the heck could the US military have such a major blind spot? And how can we, in general, invade countries whose cultures and point of view our leaders seem to so basically misunderstand??
Like I said … nothing new here. I’ve seen others ponder the same thing. But it was an odd juxtaposition that made it so clear to me — Ewoks and Arabs. Go figure.