Monday, May 29, 2017

Correspondence: Fanfare without Trumpets

By Moristotle

Oh my! This is good stuff! “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment” [Martin E. P. Seligman & John Tierney, NY Times, May 19]. The “mental health field” has been broken for so long. If this methodology is perceived well and expanded, it just might be what changes “the field” to actually being effective. Excerpt:
What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives.
    A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present....
    While most people tend to be optimistic, those suffering from depression and anxiety have a bleak view of the future — and that in fact seems to be the chief cause of their problems, not their past traumas nor their view of the present. While traumas do have a lasting impact, most people actually emerge stronger afterward. Others continue struggling because they over-predict failure and rejection. Studies have shown depressed people are distinguished from the norm by their tendency to imagine fewer positive scenarios while overestimating future risks.
    They withdraw socially and become paralyzed by exaggerated self-doubt. A bright and accomplished student imagines: If I flunk the next test, then I’ll let everyone down and show what a failure I really am. Researchers have begun successfully testing therapies designed to break this pattern by training sufferers to envision positive outcomes (imagine passing the test) and to see future risks more realistically (think of the possibilities remaining even if you flunk the test). [read more]
Listen to the Mayor’s speech, it is so inspirational! “Mitch Landrieu Reminds Us That Eloquence Still Exists” [Frank Bruni, NY Times, May 23]. Excerpt:
These are hard days of coarse language — of tweets and catcalls that appeal to the worst in us, not the best. Maybe that’s why a big, sweeping, old-fashioned speech delivered in New Orleans on Friday made such an impression on me. It was a reprieve. It was an antidote.
    But it also addressed matters that are forever tripping us up — race, history, healing — better than anything I’ve heard or read in a long time. It was the masterpiece we needed at the moment we needed it, and I fear that it was lost in the brutal whirl of news these days. It shouldn’t be.
    I’m referring to remarks by that city’s Democratic mayor[watch YouTube video, below], Mitch Landrieu, upon his removal of the last of several bitterly contested Confederate monuments there. And I’m thinking of the way his words responded to so much of what’s going on in this country without stooping to the rants that too many other Democrats are being drawn into and that represent a trap. [read more]

Not an obituary: “Roger Ailes’s Dream Was My Nightmare” [Monica Lewinsky, NY Times, May 22]. Excerpt:
This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.
    Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.
    It worked like magic: The story hooked viewers and made them Fox loyalists. For the past 15 years, Fox News has been the No. 1 news station; last year the network made about $2.3 billion [read more]
“The Best House in Paris ” [Nicolai Ourousoff, NY Times, August 26, 2007]. Excerpt:
PARIS. NO house in France better reflects the magical promise of 20th-century architecture than the Maison de Verre. Tucked behind the solemn porte-cochere of a traditional French residence on Rue Saint-Guillaume, a quiet street in a wealthy Left Bank neighborhood, the 1932 house designed by Pierre Chareau challenges our assumptions about the nature of Modernism....
    ...[W]hen I heard over dinner here with some friends a year or so ago that the family had sold the house to an American entrepreneur...[m]y dinner companion, an architect who had never met the new owner, lamented the sale as evidence of France’s cultural decline, akin to the construction of Euro Disney. Waving a dismissive hand, she invoked the cliché of the ugly American, pockets stuffed with dollars.
    s it turns out, although the buyer, Robert Rubin, made his money on Wall Street, he is far from a crass trophy hunter. After buying the house, he embarked on a painstaking renovation of its intricate — and for its time, ingenious — mechanical systems. He enlisted a corps of architectural historians and graduate students to decipher its secrets. With the first phase of the renovation completed, he plans to open it up eventually for limited tours. In his loving devotion to the house and its historical particulars, he has emerged as a role model for those who seek to preserve an architectural relic without turning it into a mausoleum....
    ...[N]othing Mr. Rubin had collected up to this point could compare — in scale or in the weight of responsibility — to the Maison de Verre. The house is often compared to another early-20th-century masterpiece, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Both houses were built in the brief period between the two world wars, the high point of classical Modernism. Both embody that movement’s obsession with hygiene, and the fiercely held notion that a house could function as a tool for physical and psychic healing. But while Le Corbusier’s masterpiece was intended as the expression of a broad vision — a philosophical rejoinder to the squalid disorder of the medieval city — Chareau’s ambitions were more humble. [read more]
The Presbyterian church called a meeting to decide what to do about their squirrels. After much prayer and consideration, they concluded the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn’t interfere with God’s divine will.
    At the Baptist church the squirrels had taken an interest in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a water slide on the baptistery and let the squirrels drown themselves. The squirrels liked the slide and, unfortunately, knew instinctively how to swim, so twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.
    The Methodist church decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God’s creatures. So they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later, the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the water slide.
    But the Catholic Church came up with a very creative strategy. They baptized all the squirrels and consecrated them as members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.
    Not much was heard from the Jewish synagogue; they took the first squirrel and circumcised him. They haven’t seen a squirrel since.

Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle


  1. This is a wonderful selection Morris! So much for "The Power of Now"! But most delightful to me is the mention of the Maison de Verre (Glass House) in Paris. This was my favorite modernist masterpiece when I was an architecture student. I own an old monograph of historical photos of the house in its original condition. It is so heartwarming to hear of its restoration. Much of the modern movement involved standardization (see S. Giedion's "Mechanization Takes Command"). Standardization could have followed the innovations on exhibit at the Maison de Verre (the artful gears, pulleys and levers that move the windows, interior partitions, bookshelf ladders, and even the main stair. Alas modernism adopted different solutions, all of which shape the current world around us. A visit to the Maison de Verre shows you a parallel modernist universe that might have been. If its details had won out and become commonplace, we might not find them so poetic today. But it's hard to even glance at a picture of one of the interiors and not be moved. Thank you Morris.

    1. Eric, I am delighted that you have this strong connection with Le Maison de Verre, which never even occurred to me as a possibility as I was preparing the column. When my wife & I were in Paris last April (2016) for our 50th wedding anniversary, we had not even heard of this building, but it recently came to her attention and she, of course, shared the article (from almost ten years ago) with me.