Jan Yoors redux

By the grace of Google, Kore Yoors found my recent post about him and his father, Jan Yoors, and contacted me. It was wonderful to catch up, and it seems like our parents will also be getting back in touch. It turns out that he’s just gone live with JanYoors.com — a website dedicated to Jan Yoors’ life and art that gives a great idea of his versatility as an artist. (If I’m not mistaken, this is Kore.) It’s hard to capture the vibrancy of the tapestries in a picture, though.

Jan Yoors’ photographs from his time with the Roma also fill a newly published book, The Heroic Present: Life Among the Gypsies.

So it looks like it might well be time for a resurgence of interest in his work, especially in his native Antwerp. Stay tuned.

Christina Olsons hus

The translation, sort of:
Exactly 10 years ago this Easter Weekend, while I was at grad school in Washington DC, I was faced with a stark choice: Study for the final exams in May, or go for a road trip to Maine with a friend. The friend, Cole, had a car, and another friend needed a lift to Boston, and Cole’s girlfriend (you know who you are) was up in NYC for the weekend — so there were plenty of reasons to go, and it would certainly mean being able to avoid Clausewitz or Waltz for another 48 hours.
The trip began well. Four hours to NYC, where we spent the evening out on the town with friends. By 11pm it was time to drive on. We reached Boston by 5am and dropped off our passenger. By 7am, in New Hampshire, we were flagging, and decided to take a nap by the side of the Interstate, but were soon woken by state troopers, for whom old Volkswagen Jetta + Oklahoma plates + two plausible prison escapees was reason enough to check with HQ. Nothing came up so we were free to continue. (A few days later, another vehicle with Oklahoma plates would make world headlines.)
The goal was Acadia National Park, a beautiful peninsula halfway up the coast. As we crossed the state line, the Maine tourist center offered up something even more interesting (to me): The Olson farmhouse, past Portland, which Andrew Wyeth had painted so often. It’s the house in Christina’s World.

Precis för 10 år sedan på påsken, när jag studerade i Washington DC till min magister, stod jag inför ett val: Studera till sluttentorna i maj, eller göra en roadtrip med en kompis norrut till Maine, en delstat jag aldrig hade besökt. Kompisen, Cole, hade bil, en annan vän skulle behöva lift till Boston, Cole’s flickvän befann sig i NYC över helgen — så vi hade många orsaker till att åka dit; inte minst betydde det ju att vi inte skulle behöva läsa Clausewitz eller Waltz.

Resan började bra. Fyra timmar till NYC, där vi gick ut på kvällen med kompisar. Kl. 23 var det tid att fortsätta resan. Kl. 5 nådde vi Boston, där vi lämnade vännen. Kl. 7, i New Hampshire, sov vi lite i bilen vid sidan av motorvägen, men väcktes av polis, som misstänkte oss för vem vet vad, därför att bilen var jättegammal och hade en registreringsskylt från Oklahoma. Till slut var allt okej och vi var på väg igen. (1995 var påsken 16 april; Oklahoma City bombningen var 19 april — polis var verkligen förutseende.)

Målet var Acadia National Park, som är en mycket vacker del av Maine. Men på turistcentret vid delstatsgränsen upptäckte jag något ännu intressantare (för mig, åtminstone) som jag ville besöka: Bondefamiljen Olsons hus utanför Portland, som målades många gångar av Andrew Wyeth, en av mina absoluta favoritkonstnärer. Huset finns till exempel i Christina’s World, hans mest kända tavla.

Christina’s World, 1948.christinas_worldwebsmall.jpg

När jag var liten hade vi hemma hos oss en poster av en av hans tavlor, en fotorealistisk closeup av en sida av detta hus, badande i nordens ljus. Jag hade växt upp med detta hus, om du så vill, och kände till dess minsta detalj, som ett barn som läser samma barnbok för ofta.

Weather Side, 1965. Above, the actual poster in question, wrinkles and all, from the Metropolitan Museum’s retrospective in 1976.

I motsats till en barnbok, dock, existerar huset i verkligheten, men jag hade aldrig vetat det. Det blev självklart något jag var tvungen att besöka.

Och det gjorde vi. Det kändes verkligen som en vallfart. Jag tog några foton, inklusive ett från samma perspektiv som posterns. Vädret var mulet, så vi såg inte ljuset som Wyeth hade målat så bra, och som jag gillar så mycket. (Kanske var det därför jag kom hit till Sverige? Jag såg samma ljus på Sandön i helgen, när det var så varmt i fredags, från en fortfarande insnöad strand.)

When I was a child we had a poster of one of his paintings at home, a photorealistic rendition of the side of that very same house, bathed in the attenuated light of the Maine coast. I grew up with that house, aware of every detail, like a child reading the same book far too often.
In contrast to what’s in most children’s books, however, the house actually exists, but I hadn’t known this until that day at the tourist center. It was obviously something I had to visit.
And so we did. It felt a bit like a pilgrimage. I took pictures, including one from the same perspective as in the poster. The weather was overcast, so we never saw the house in the light that Wyeth had painted so well, and which I like so much. (Is that why I came to Sweden? I saw the same light on Sandön island in the Stockholm Archipelago this weekend, on Friday when it was so warm, from a beach still covered in snow.)
On we went to Acadia, where we ate far too many lobsters, ran up Acadia’s tallest mountain, froze on the summit, and then started on our way back to DC. But there was one thing left to do. Christina’s World is in NYC, so we decided to complete our pilgrimage with a visit to the painting. We drove straight to the Metropolitan, where I thought I remembered seeing the painting (it has other Wyeths) but in the end we had to head to the MoMA to find it. We took a picture, and were on our way again. In the meantime, I was coming down with something. By the time we reached DC, I had a fever. I ended up with a two-week bout of bronchitis as the price of our conquering an Acadian summit.


moma04websmall.jpgDärefter åkte vi till Acadia, åt för många humrar, sprang upp för Acadia halvöns högsta berg, frös, och var då på väg tillbaka till DC. Men det fanns en sak till att göra. Christina’s World kan ses i NYC, så vi bestämde oss för att komplettera vallfarten med att titta på tavlan igen. Vi körde rakt till Metropolitan Museet, där jag trodde mig minnas att tavlan fanns, men jag hade fel. Den fanns istället på MoMA, så vi körde dit, tog ett foto, och var på väg igen. Under tiden hade jag börjat må illa. Innan vi nådde DC hade jag en feber. Jag skulle komma att ha bronkit för två veckor darefter, tack vare vår expedition till toppen av Acadia.

(Visste du att “Christina” i Christina’s World inte är en ung flicka, men en vuxen, förlamad kvinna?)

Murder by numbers

Via Strang’s Blog: Olle Wästberg, until just now Sweden’s consul general in New York, returns to Sweden on the wings of an an article extolling New York City’s crime rate in comparison to that of Sweden. Favorite topic!

Before I go on to question the validity of the comparison, let’s assume for a while that the numbers are valid at face value, as reported by Wästberg (and I certainly accept that the statistics are for similar populations):

New York had 598 murders in 2003. Sweden had 189 in the same year, according to the National Council for Crime Prevention. New York had 1,875 rapes, and Sweden 2,565. Assaults: 18,764 in New York against 65,177 in Sweden. Burglaries: 29,207 in New York against 122,700 in Sweden.New York hade 598 mord år 2003. Samma år hade Sverige, enligt Brottsförebyggande rådet, 189 mord. New York hade 1 875 våldtäkter och Sverige 2 565. Grov misshandel: 18 764 i New York mot 65 177 i Sverige. Inbrott: 29 207 i New York mot 122 700 i Sverige.

I found myself asking the question — If you had to choose between these two crime rate options for your society, which would you prefer? The answer is not immediately evident to me: I don’t grow attached to possessions, and am not a woman, so I gravitate towards the murder rate as being the ultimate arbiter of my personal safety. As long as I have my life at the end of the ordeal, I can cope with the rest, goes my thinking. But then, it’s a fact that most murders are committed by acquaintances, and if there is anything I am proud of it is my ability to choose friends with a propensity not to commit murder.


Let’s chart these crimes by category, in order of severity. How to acccount for the comparatively gentle slope of New York’s numbers? Gun ownership would be an explanation, were it not for the fact that guns are outlawed in New York.

I can think of two reasons, off the cuff, that might explain New York’s favorable “yield curve” for crime, and neither depend on levels of crime prevention spending:

First off, it is damn hard to be alone in New York. Walk home along Avenue B at 3am on a Monday and you’ll still have at least 10 potential witnesses to any crime — quite a deterrent. There is safety in numbers, and I used this basic observation to ensure that I never even came close to being mugged in my 12 accrued years of New York living, including extensive expeditions into what were considered dodgy areas at the time. At an average Swedish location, on the contrary, you are hard-pressed to find witnesses, let alone victims (so I’ve heard).

Second, in New York, people live on top of one another, and across from one another, and down the hall. In Sweden’s cities, too, there is such a thing as the apartment, though far rarer is the doorman (read private-sector crime prevention) — but in addition, more Swedes than New Yorkers live in isolated communities, removed from neighborhood watchers. All else being equal, then, more opportunities for burglary exist in Sweden, if only because the same amount of people are forced to live in approximately 370 times the spaceFrom Wikipedia: NYC surface area: 1,214.4 sq km. From CIA: Sweden surface area: 449,964 sq km..

But now for the boring part: Sweden’s crime statistics are structurally overreported. I’ve already covered by how much, and why, the murder rate is overreported. And Sweden’s National Council for Crime Prevention weighs in with several further good reasons [Swedish] why its crime rates might be actual multiples of those of other countries.

To return to Wästberg (and Patrick at Strang’s) thesis, which is that Sweden could benefit from more crime prevention spending — If I care predominantly about not dying, then I have to disagree, and here is why: Take a look at the causes of violent death in both Sweden and the US, from current reliable statistics that involve the counting of actual bodies. In Sweden, the murder rate is around 1 per 100,000 per year, and the suicide rate is around 16 per 100,000, for a grand total of 17 per 100,000 per year. In the US, the murder rate is 6 times as high, at around 6 per 100,000, whereas the suicide rate is a bit lower, at around 14 per 100,000, for a total of 20 per 100,000 per year.

Clearly, these totals are in the same ballpark. But it is also clear to me that if Sweden wants to reduce the overall number of violent deaths without spending more money, it should start spending less on crime prevention and more on suicide prevention. In other words, more psychiatrists, fewer police. But even if we were not being glib, and even if we were running for office on a law and order platform and promising more spending, I’d be prioritizing investment in Sweden’s collective mental health.

Summers on the Jersey Shore

This is an exception to the two-week no posting promise. I promise.In this week’s Prairie Home Companion [RealAudio], a truly standout edition, including:

@ 01:25:30: A tribute by Garrison Keillor to Ray Charles: A wonderful monologue followed by a lovely rendition of “Hallelujah I Love Her So”.

@ 01:34:54: One of the best “The News from Lake Wobegon”s in years — a bittersweet remembrance of drinking and smoking days long gone that meanders towards a country song about Richard Nixon and ends with strident political commentary on current affairs. Hilarious and yet quite moving.

The whole show is worth listening to. It was recorded in Ocean Grove, an old Methodist settlement on the Jersey Shore that I once managed to visit with Anna and her Betty, a white 1984 Cadillac Coupe Deville that was then disintegrating gracefullyLater that summer, Anna and Anna manged to drive her all the way to Texas before she perished completely.. We were on a pilgrimage of sorts to Asbury Park, just up the shore, where Bruce Springsteen first played gigs at the now legendary Stone Pony, right by the ocean at the end of a dilapidated parking lot. Anna had spent many a teenaged Swedish winter locked in her closet listening to Bruce, so this trip had a very special meaning to her.

In Asbury Park, we learned that Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, old pals of Bruce, were playing at the Stone Pony that evening, so we went and listened for a while, but it was getting late and so we left before the end of the show. The next day, the papers screamed how Bruce Springsteen had joined Johnny onstage in a surprise ending, only the second time in 25 years Bruce had played at the Stone Pony. Anna was sick to her stomach. It ruined her summer. She has not listened to Bruce Springsteen since.

Commodifying Nick Denton

Greg Lindsay’s article in Business 2.0 on Nick Denton — an unauthorized mini-biography of sorts of blogging’s greatest living impresario — irked the object of its disaffection sufficiently into penning a barbed retort, to which born-again ethicist Felix adjoined his qualms about ratting on sources, which in turn prompted a Lindsay rebuttal (appended to Felix’s post), and fortuitously, a Young Manhattanite interview with Lindsay today. If we could just find a way to monetize these blogfights; put the ad in ad hominem, so to speakNote to self: Keep good ideas to self. And stop blogging notes to self..

Before I get to the original idea in this post, here are my two öre on Lindsay’s article. I do get the feeling that Lindsay wanted to give Denton a bit of his own snarky medicine, though I am not sure if he navigated with expertise the fine line between snark and whinge. Lindsay launches into a bloggy first-person narrative about being shut out by Denton, about no longer being mentioned by Gawker, and then about possibly being manipulated by Denton into writing about him despite every sign to the contrary. Denton must be a psychological genius, or else Lindsay is having an unrequited journalistic crush. This would explain the bitter flattery, and the outing of correspondence. Classic jilted-lover behavior. Still, that’s no excuse: reporters musn’t take a shut-out personally, especially if the subject later agrees to endure a round of questions.

But the Lindsay article does contain a nugget (which he puts in backets). It homes in on what effect I think Denton hopes the advent of negligible-cost mass publishing is having on traditional media:

[Denton] launched a company called Moreover, whose goal was to aggregate on one site all the world’s news, disintermediating most of his former profession. (This is a theme; when I first met Denton before working on this piece, he promised that Gawker would commoditize [sic] my then-job of media reporter.)

Update 2004-05-24: Doh, it’s commodify, not commoditize. And I went and titled the post wrong as well. All corrected now, both here and in the next post.If blogging commodifies reporters and disintermediates editors and publishers in traditional media — mainly by sampling, riffing on and linking to their original work exactly as this post is doing — then there is indeed a wave for Denton to ride.

The trouble is, why can’t the revolution eat its children? Why shouldn’t we bloggers in turn try to commodify Denton’s job as impresario? That’s the riddle Denton is still trying to solve. Compared to that, launching successful blogs must be easy.

Denton’s blog problem is that he is very good at creating something that is very hard to own: Buzz. His touch now guarantees a new blog 50,000 eyeball pairs on launch day. With that kind of send-off, an interesting blog — and those in Denton’s stable are certainly that — is guaranteed to ascend the blogpile. But this is where Denton’s indispensible contribution ends. The authors become niche celebrities and eclipse the brand while Denton tries to sell their readers to advertisers. And anybody can do this part of his job.

Officially, at least, Denton is banking on bloggers just wanting to be hacks:

I ask Denton what will happen to the next editor who decides he or she wants a piece. He explains that since he has no plans to take his company public, he won’t offer equity positions. “I’m a traditionalist: I believe that writing is a job and writers should get paychecks. It would be entirely bogus to offer people empty revenue-share promises or meaningless equity.”

But the evidence is that his authors quickly make their reputations, which they then cash in elsewhere: Elizabeth Spiers did so, Gizmodo’s Pete Rojas (now of Engadget) did so, and Choire Sicha is doing so (at the very least getting all manner of writing gigs on the side on the strength of his performance at Gawker).

Rival blog entrepreneur Jason Calacanis‘s approach attempts to sidestep the challenge facing Denton: Let the bloggers do their own clawing to the top, but run the stable and give them a cut of the ad profits. For those who have already made it, like Rojas, this proves to be a better deal. In his particular case, Denton’s heavy lifting is now being monetized by Calacanis.

Denton is trying to ward off these threats by strengthening the brand at the expense of the author, much in the same way Dick Wolf made the characters in Law & Order first and foremost plot devices, easily replacable and hence cheaper. His latest, Defamer, for example, is anonymous. We’ll see if it works. Otherwise, Denton will need to resign himself to a high turnover of talent that blogs for him for low pay but high exposure. Removing the personal voice from a blog is not an option.

It’s possible that as the business models adapt, we end up with the same compensatory solution as traditional media where names attract audiences: Iron-clad contracts that stipulate how long a blogger must edit a Denton-branded site, so that Denton gets his return on investment. Is it time for a dotcom era non-compete clause yet?

It’s also possible, however, that a third way develops, a better deal for bloggers than what either Denton or Calacanis can offer as their sites become popular. Calacanis asks 50% for what is essentially an advertising salesman’s job. Shouldn’t his percentage be closer to that of an agent? Why can’t several successful blog authors band together and employ the services of one advertising salesperson, working on commission? Or why can’t an advertising sales freelancer offer to sell ads for a site he’s had expressions of interest in?

Gothamist has a DIY version going, selling their own ads alongside Google ads, MarketBanker text ads, and merchandise, netting them $1,500-$2,000 a month, maybe, with a potential to double that. What they should really try to do is generate economies of scale by offering to sell ads on behalf of other, similar blogs, on a commission of, say, 25%. It would be like Google ads, but with banner ads by local companies aimed at a local market — a service Google can’t provide (yet).

Gothamist’s authors are clearly netting more than than they would under either blog entrepreneur. The disintermediation of Denton and Calacanis in this case could well become a popular model. But is this so surprising? Negligible-cost publishing was always meant to tip the balance in favor of the writing talent. Wasn’t this supposed to mean the talent would own the revenue stream?

PS. I am still curious as to why Denton does not believe in group blogs. Felix promised to ask him, but I have not heard back. Group blogs might offer several advantages over individual blogs as a marketable product: with many authors, quality is more consistent, vacations have little impact, and individual time requirements are far less, allowing for moonlighting by real professionals who actually have something to say, and who might appreciate some pocket money but are not expecting a proper salary out of it. Maybe, from Denton’s perspective, MC-ing a group blog would be too much like herding cats. That doesn’t dismiss group blogs as competitors, however.


The weather turned balmy this week, above freezing even, and so I shed layers and took the iPod to work yesterday, the extra spring in my step brought to you by early Björk, Danger Mouse and by the disappearance of the ice sheets that until a few days ago extracted regular Bambi impersonations from unwitting pedestrians.

Björk’s happy happy Big Time Sensuality [iTunes] was playing when I got off the subway at Gamla Stan, and then as I passed the turnstyles I got a sudden sense of deja vu. I’d done this before. More specifically, I’d heard this song before as I exited a subway on my way to work, but not here — in New York, Cortlandt Street Station, getting off the N/R line coming down Broadway and about to take my commute through the bowels of the World Trade CenterNot, of course, on my iPod, but on my Rio 600. iPods are strictly a post 9/11 phenomenon — they were introduced in Oct 2001. Since it is hard to imagine life before iPod, I predict we will soon be spotting anachronisms in period films set in pre-9/11 New York, with iPod-toting actors jogging past WTC-intact skylines..

Over the past two and a half years I have often thought back to the human geography of those buildings, especially the mall through which I walked twice a weekday for 4 years until September 10, 2001. I’d always be among the first passengers out the gate, having made sure to board the train at the right spot. Once on the concourse, I’d aim straight for the North Tower on the other end, which meant cutting obliquely across a wash of PATH train commuters brimming up from the depths along steep, wide escalators. They were from New Jersey, I knew, which is why it was tempting to think of them as living on some Dantesque level of hell below, being summoned to work for the day.

Every day, I’d pass the same stores: First, a newstand on the right, source of my weekly Economist, then a J.Crew, where I bought a turtleneck sweater I finally wore out a few weeks back. On the left, Chase Manhattan bank machines, followed by a slew of cosmetics stores. Then, past the PATH, on the right, a GAP, a science gadget store, a souvernir store, and a deli that sold obscenely large Bacci chocolate assortments, no doubt to guidos crawling home to the wife after some infidelity at the office.

I’d then take the revolving doors into the North Tower lobby, and cut across a corner to the footbridge to the World Financial Center, where I worked. Every time I crossed that bridge I marvelled at how tempting a target it could be to terrorists. Blow this up, I would think to myself, and you’d kill scores and block a major New York traffic artery. How spectacularly clueless of me.

Yesterday, as I walked the tunnel that leads from Gamla Stan station to the street, I also walked the old commute in my mind. Björk’s big brash voice led the way in both places. It was good to be there.

Marshall in The New Yorker

Joshua Micah Marshall, of Talking Points Memo fame, has what he calls “a review essay on the new literature of empire” out in The New Yorker today. Is this the first time a blogger gets to write for something so prestigious on account of a reputation made by their blogAndrew Sullivan doesn’t count — he made his name at The New Republic. Marshall did not make his name at The Hill.?

I think he makes some wonderful points. The whole piece is a deft rejoinder to the televised debate he had with Richard Perle last month. This in particular had me smiling:

What makes a state a state is its monopoly over the legitimate use of force, which means that citizens don’t have to worry about arming to defend themselves against each other. Instead, they can focus on productive pursuits like raising families, making money, and enjoying their leisure time. In the world of the Bush doctrine, states take the place of citizens.
In other words, if America has an effective monopoly on the exercise of military force, other countries should be able to set aside the distractions of arming and plotting against each other and put their energies into producing consumer electronics, textiles, tea. What the Bush doctrine calls for—paradoxically, given its proponents—is a form of world government.

I’m ambivalent about the actual writing, however, because, well, it’s a bit bloggy. I’m not sure if, despite all my cheering on of blogs, I am ready to see The New Yorker — or any magazine I want to read — adopt the shoot-from-the-hip breeziness of tone we know and love on a blog. Whenever Marshall mentions one of the books he is “reviewing”, you feel him wanting to link to it and be done with it, with the reader free to explore that particular nook should the fancy strike him. But of course Marshall can’t link in this article, not on the printed page.

Previously, I’ve lamented the book review as executive summary. Marshall’s approach veers too much to the other extreme: He comes to the task armed with a ready docrine to propound, then pecks at the books to illustrate a point or else raids them for interesting anecdotes. These books are not the subject of this review; his thesis is. This makes for great blogging, but a less convincing New Yorker piece.

Whining and dying in NYC

There is, of course, little sympathy from these quarters for complaints from New York about how damn cold it is. Why exactly kids can’t go to school when it’s -17°C or two feet of snow falls is a mystery to me. But the weather in New York City was cause for another interesting little debate with Anna about societal differences between the US and SwedenWhat else did you expect? You will also find gross overgeneralizations, but I think there is an interesting point to be made here nonetheless..

The thesis: That there is an inverse correlation between the level of social services provided by a society and the average minimum winter temperature.

The argument: Let us assume that both Sweden and New York, as societies, have the same tolerance for homeless death rates. It’s probably a very low number, near zero. Any spree of deaths would result in an immediate uproar.

Let us also assume that there is an exponential rise in homeless deaths as the temperature drops. Far more homeless are at risk at -20°C than -10°C, say.

New York rarely reaches -20°C, so being homeless in NYC rarely means you are at risk of dying from the cold. Not so in Sweden. If you were truly homeless in Sweden, good luck surviving the winter.

There are two possible solutions: The first is an ad hoc one, as implemented by Mayor Bloomberg: Go hunting for the homeless and bring them in from the cold, so they do not have to withstand these extremes in temperature. This is probably the cheapest and most efficient way to prevent homeless deaths if it is rarely this coldAnna recoils at my use off the word “efficient” in the context of managing human suffering..

Not so if you know it always gets this cold. In that case, it is more efficient to institute a system that alleviates homelessness in the first place instead of permanently treating the symptoms of homelessness on an ad hoc basis. In other words, both American homelessness and the Nordic welfare system are perfect examples of climatic adaptation. It explains why Canada has a more generous welfare system than the US. And it explains why the communist revolution happened in Russia. How’s that for a theory?

I’ve seen this kind of macro-economic measuring of opportunity costs elsewhere: In Washington DC, the one snowstorm that hits every three years completely paralyzes the city for a week, because there are no snowplows to speak of. The cost: a week’s worth of man hours. In Sweden, that cost is paid upfront. Highway driving in a snowstorm leads to an awesome sight: Huge snowplows, driving in tight formation at high speed (think chopper scene in Apocalypse Now, with the Ride of the Valkyries at full volume) scream through the falling snow, followed by a peloton of cars. Last year, I actually managed to drive from Norway (where it was damn cold) back to Sweden at near the speed limit in just this kind of weather.

Homework question: Why is the inverse not true? Why does the likelihood of extremely hot summers causing elderly deaths through heat exposure not seem to affect the level of social services? For the same reason that freak heat waves do not spur (French) authorities to create ad hoc cooling solutions for the elderly?

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower
First, read Felix’s detailed tour of Freedom Tower, unveiled Friday. He was my eyes and ears for this post. What follows is my take:

I’m cautiously pessimistic about this structure. It brought a whole range of associations to the fore, none of them really positive:

It could look meek: I perfectly understand that nobody wants to work on the 110th floor anymore. 9/11 changed the long-term future of urban landscapes by tragically demonstrating that huge skyscrapers collect too many eggs in one basket and thus make too tempting a target.

One solution is not to build more 110 story skyscrapers. It’s an honest response to changed conditions. But building a 110 story skyscraper and then only using the bottom two thirds of it is too tangible a nod to Al Qaeda. It begins to sound like a building with a chip on its shoulders, with the trellis outlining up to where we would have built if only it weren’t for the terrorists, who, in other words, have already won.

It could look unfinished: The trelliswork at the top looks suspiciously like scaffolding. What’s going to keep it from looking perenially unfinished? Buildings permanently left unfinished — like the Antwerp Cathedral — betray a certain lack of will to get the job done.

It shows no unity of purpose: Instead, it looks like design by committee, or by negotiation (not surprising, as that’s what it was), along the lines of “you can have your trellis if I can have my spire.” Now we have both, and the whole is less than the sum of its partsthink.jpg
Think’s World Cultural Center

About that spire: When a spire emerges as an inescapable conclusion derived from the internal logic of a building’s architecture, as with the Chrysler building, it makes for the most satisfying works ever. But if it just sticks out of the ground, as with the Dublin Spire, its purpose mystifies. The Freedom Tower’s spire, placed as it is now, tends to the latter, baffling kind. Libeskind original winning design had a much stronger logic for its spike.

I find myself wishing we could build something clearly better, more playful and optimistic, and I think back to the finalist that lost out to Libeskind, Think’s World Cultural Center (portrayed left). The twin towers pay homage to the World Trade Center but improve on its esthetics, and the entirety of the structure is made up of audacious architectural flourishes never seen before. But above all, the lattice work serves a purpose, as does the height. Dangling an opera house or similar cultural landmark 500 meters up in the air is an inspired move, because while we might not want to be there from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, we will all gladly play hero for a few hours at a time. And it’s a much better way of telling the terrorists that we have already won.