Archive for August 10th, 2007

Book Review: The Architecture of Happiness

The Architecture of Happiness (2006) by Alain de Botton is as much a philosophy book as it is a treatise on architecture. Instead of the who, what and how, this book explores the rarely asked why of architecture. In a short, lyrical work that is a delight to read, de Botton questions why some types of building make us happy, what buildings say to us, what ideals and virtues are put forward by architecture, and the hardest question of all, what is a beautiful building.

This is a difficult book to summarize, or at least to do it in a way that does it justice. So I’m just going to share a few of my favorite passages to give you a taste of what I liked in this book. I’ll also mention that this book is richly illustrated with images of exactly what de Botton is discussing, almost always on the same page with the relevant text which is a logical improvement over how many art and architecture books often do not include relevant illustration or bury it several pages away.

Favorite Passages

Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better or for worse, different people in different places — and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be. – p. 13

At its most genuine, the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words, through the language of objects, colours and bricks: an ambition to let others know who we are — and, in the process, to remind ourselves. – p. 126

While a common reaction to seeing a thing of beauty is to want to buy it, our real desire may be not so much to own what find beautiful as to lay permanent claim to the inner qualities it embodies.

Owning such an object may help us realise our ambition of absorbing the virtues to which it alludes, but we ought not presume that those virtues will automatically or effortlessly begin to rub off on us through tenure. Endeavouring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love.

What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty. – p. 150-52

When buildings talk, it is never with a single voice. Buildings are choirs rather than soloists; they possess a multiple nature from which arise opportunities for beautiful consonance as well as dissension and discord. -p. 217

Book Review: 1776 by David McCullough

This week I listened to another good book while performing mundane tasks at work: 1776 (2005) by David McCullough.  Since the book was read by the author in his commanding baritone, it was a bit like having a Ken Burns’ film in my ears.

The book named for the most famous year in American history is strictly a military history.  The Continental Congress is barely mentioned and the civilian experience doesn’t appear at all except where it interacts with the military.  Views from both the American and British sides are presented, and while strategy is explained, McCullough wisely avoids dwelling on those tedious parts and focuses strongly on the human element.

The star of this book is of course General George Washington.  His character and leadership is given a lot of credit in keeping together the Continental Army and thus the chances of the Revolution.  Less famed, but given their due are Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, two New Englanders selected by Washington who prove to be wise and able leaders in their own right.  On the British side, Commander-in-Chief William Howe is given a lot of insight as well as his second in command Henry Clinton.  Towards the end of the book (and the year) Lord Cornwallis is given greater attention as he begins to play a greater role in the war, something McCullough presents as a good move by the British.

In near-cinematic description, McCullough breaks the year 1776 into three parts.  First, the siege of Boston, where the Continental Army by the brilliant stroke of fortifying Dorchester Heights with cannon from For Ticonderoga are able to force the British to evacuate.  McCullough provides evidence that this is paradoxically both more humiliating than the British are willing to let on, yet also not as great a victory as the Continentals contend.  In the second section of the book, the various battles of the New York campaign are explored.  Starting with the dramatic arrivals of ships in the British Fleet in New York Harbor and then the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee.  Washington tactical mistakes almost lose the war, yet a brilliant retreat of the main army and failure of the British to pursue them into New Jersey save the Revolution once again.  The finale of the book is Washington’s sneak attack on Trenton and victory at Princeton which prove to both tactical victories and necessary morale boosters.

I’m a history geek and particularly like colonial and revolutionary history, so none of this was new to me.  I enjoy McCullough’s lively writing (reading) style and how he focuses in on making it all a clear, concise and interesting story.

Views on Immigration

The debate over immigration is a major topic this summer.  I’ve been collecting articles about immigration the past couple of months and here are some of the many views expressed on the issue.

Previous post on this issue.

A Legal and Economical View: Why restrict immigration at all? By Becky Akers and Donald J. Boudreaux
Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2007

As technology and globalization continue shrinking the world, people and ideas move more quickly and freely. Political borders become increasingly irrelevant. But that’s fine because the qualities that define Americans don’t depend on geography. Rather, it’s their history of liberty, pluck, ingenuity, optimism, and the pursuit of happiness. Culture is a matter of mind and spirit. Why entrust it to politicians, border guards, and green cards?

The ideal immigration policy for this smaller world would harmonize with both the Constitution and common decency. It wouldn’t deny anyone the inalienable right to come and go.

A Catholic View: A Catholic View on Immigration Policy By Steve Bogner
Catholicism, holiness, and spirituality, June 12, 2007

The Catholic Bishops do not condone unlawful entry or circumventions of our nation’s immigration laws. The bishops believe that reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an authorized or unauthorized fashion.

Our nation’s economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realties.

A Political View: Why the Immigration Bill Died in the Senate — and Will Keep Dying By Joshua Holland
AlterNet, June 12, 2007.

The compromise’s unexpectedly swift destruction reveals a little-discussed aspect of the immigration debate today: It is not an epic battle between America’s two major parties, and it’s not a grand clash of political ideologies. It is a debate between a supermajority of pragmatic Americans in both parties who favor a comprehensive approach to immigration control, and a small but extremely loud group of immigration hardliners who want a predominantly punitive approach to the issue — with a focus on “enforcement” first and foremost — and have proven that they will do whatever they can to obstruct any bill that allows undocumented workers who meet certain conditions to come out of the shadows.

A Long View: Immigration: The Long View By Larry James
Larry James’ Urban Daily, June 12, 2007

The compromise’s unexpectedly swift destruction reveals a little-discussed aspect of the immigration debate today: It is not an epic battle between America’s two major parties, and it’s not a grand clash of political ideologies. It is a debate between a supermajority of pragmatic Americans in both parties who favor a comprehensive approach to immigration control, and a small but extremely loud group of immigration hardliners who want a predominantly punitive approach to the issue — with a focus on “enforcement” first and foremost — and have proven that they will do whatever they can to obstruct any bill that allows undocumented workers who meet certain conditions to come out of the shadows.

A Film View: Immigration’s beauty, and brutality By Wesley Morris
Boston Globe, June 15, 2007

A Biblical View: Immigrants and the Hebrew Bible By Larry James
Larry James’ Urban Daily, June 17, 2007

“The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

A Local View: Immigration debate reaches Somerville By George P. Hasset
Somerville News, July 6, 2007

Curtatone said he continues to stand by the resolution he proposed last year and that the documentation status of Somerville residents is not something city departments should be concerned with.

“I’m not going to break the trust we have built up with the immigrant community to enforce the misguided policies of the federal government,” he said.

View from the Sanctuary: Illegal immigrants find refuge in holy places by Emily Bazar
USA Today, July 9, 2007

Hundreds of immigrants have sought help from the church movement recently, but congregations typically give sanctuary only to those who fit a profile. They seek immigrants facing deportation who have children, parents or other close relatives in the USA legally, to emphasize immigration laws’ impact on families. Such immigrants must be willing to speak publicly to draw attention to the cause.

So far, eight immigrants across the nation are getting financial, legal and other help from the movement. Four of them, including Liliana and Jose, are staying in church buildings. Most speak to reporters on the condition their last names not be publicized, for fear their families would be harassed.

Sanctuary can take various forms. Congregations supply lawyers or medical care, provide financial assistance or offer moral support at immigration hearings. Immigrants who seek shelter – not all want it, and not all congregations involved can provide it – never leave church grounds.

Church leaders usually make a three-month sanctuary pledge to the immigrants but acknowledge it may last much longer. The immigrants say they will remain cloistered until their legal cases are resolved or until Congress approves a plan to help lead to their legalization.

A Library’s View: VA Counties Target Illegal Immigrants; Libraries May Be Put in a Bind by Jennifer Pinkowski
Library Journal, July 31, 2007

Asking librarians to deny services based on immigration status violates the American Library Association (ALA) Bill of Rights, ALA president Loriene Roy reminded Library Journal. Most U.S. libraries include the guidelines in staff or policy literature (as does Prince William County; LJ was unable to confirm by press time whether Loudoun does). Article V states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” In January, the ALA Council also passed the Resolution in Support of Immigrant Rights, which declares the organization’s opposition to legislation that seeks to limit anyone’s access to libraries, regardless of citizenship status.

A Day Laborers’ View: Laborers lining up on Mass. streets: Worker markets spread to East By Maria Sacchetti
Boston Globe, August 4, 2007

The attorney general’s office said all workers, even those here illegally, are entitled to wages if they work. The office does not question workers’ legal status if they complain.

Union officials and immigration-control activists have called on state and federal officials to crack down on unscrupulous employers. In February, Governor Deval Patrick said state contractors who hire immigrants here illegally will lose their contracts and face fines.

Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said the day-labor stands may have contributed to a spike in injuries among immigrant laborers. He said cash-only jobs deprive the state of millions in tax revenue and workers of health coverage and other benefits.

“It continues to feed an underground economy where everybody has to play by these race-to-the-bottom rules,” Sullivan said. “It’s really not good for anybody except for people who are worried about their bottom line.”

That’s it for now, but I’ll probably be adding more in comments as they come up.

Friday Sillies: Rock, Paper, Scissors

I’ve featured Found Magazine previously in Friday Sillies but today’s Find of the Day is so funny I had to share it.  The writer has a good point about paper.

Besides, I couldn’t find anything else good and silly to post today.

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