Today I’d like to talk to you about math.
Not “math” in the numbery, equationy, algebra-y way, but an ethical sort of math. Every time we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a moral conundrum, a little light flickers in our brain’s mathematical wing, weighing the heft of the pros against the heft of the cons. But is simplifying a dilemma into quantifiable terms really the best way to assess the situation?
Probably not. Each scenario has its own circumstances and personality, but that should never prevent us from making sweeping, knee-jerk generalizations – not to mention some judgy finger-wagging – to tell one another what we ‘should’ do. If ethics boiled down to nothing but math then the most soulless and sociopathic among us would have the easiest time at life. The heart always has its say.
But without the math, the heart would be the only one steering our moral ship and we’d never get anything done. No hypothetical ethical tightrope exemplifies this quite as well as the Trolley Problem. At least none that I found today, from the moment I decided not to write about the history of the mechanical pencil and instead opted to write about this.
The Trolley Problem starts out like this: there’s an out-of-control trolley racing down the tracks. No one knows why, maybe Daniel Tiger just decided he was fed the fuck up with King Friday’s tyrannical taxation and someone needed to pay – it’s not important. Five people are tied to the tracks and cannot escape the trolley’s path. They are facing certain death. Except you notice a switch within your reach. If you pull it, the trolley will get diverted down another track, where only one person will die. Do you do it? Read more…
Without question, Times Square is the center of the urban-tourist universe, and all other city cores are distant suburbs. The splashy lights and night-defying non-stop glow are mesmerizing, intoxicating… until you realize that most of the magic around you are advertisements. Even then, all those pleas for the pennies in your pockets blend together into a euphonic crescendo, a blast of visual tympani that will leave your rods and cones shimmying a jitterbug for months.
The neighborhood is also one of America’s safest – apart from the occasional terrorist threat, of course. It may be the pinnacle achievement of urban Disneyfication, but it is unparalleled as a tourist mecca. There’s nothing to do in Times Square, and therein lies its brilliance. Sure, you can shop at a couple stores, snarf back a McBurger or slurp up a margarita at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. But those options pop up around any major attraction, don’t they?
In Times Square you are there to look. Not at a specific building, just at the air around you, tickled to life by neon and the hot blue breath of LED signscapes. You may be one of thousands of pedestrians (or millions if it’s New Year’s Eve), but your feet are planted at the nexus of America, where corporate cash, glitzy braggadocio and our collective self-importance collide in a glamorous display. It’s hard to believe that not long ago, the area was astoundingly natural.
Don’t let the frilly collar fool you; John Morin Scott was a certified bad-ass, one of George Washington’s generals and ballsy enough to keep his heels firmly into the mud as British forces kicked Revolutionary ass in the Battle of Brooklyn. He was the last of Washington’s top men to argue against surrendering the island of Manhattan to the British in 1776. Was it his unflinching spirit? His weep-worthy patriotism? Or (more likely) the vast amounts of land he owned in what would someday be called Midtown? Read more…
When Samuel Lionel Rothafel first arrived in New York, he had big plans for the place. The year was 1912, and people had been cramming into nickelodeons and converted vaudeville theaters to watch movies for more than a decade. But to Rothafel, movies were more than globs of sideshow kitsch or passing carnival entertainment, like plate-spinners or turtle jugglers. He knew movies were going to be important.
Mr. Rothafel, or ‘Roxy’ as he was known by the world, managed shows, he produced shows and – once radio showed up and became a thing – he had his own show. But were it only for these accomplishments, he’d be little more than a footnote to a footnote in the history of movies, or more importantly, in the history of New York City.
What Roxy unleashed upon the world redefined theatrical architecture, and it redefined the experience of going to the movies, transforming it from a viewing experience into a full-on sensory event. His brilliance resonated in two historic theatres, one of which is still standing (nobly and triumphantly) today.
The Roxy Theatre on 50th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues was to be the flagship of a fleet of six monumental movie palaces in the city. Herbert Lubin, who had been producing movies but saw big money in theatres, was the money. Roxy was to be the brains. The aim was to build something more glamorous than Carnegie Hall, more regal than Madison Square Garden, and more astoundingly grandiose than any movie theatre in the country. Read more…
There’s something deeply magical about a skyscraper. It has the ability to transform the personality of a city, to allow its residents to survey their domain from within, and gives restaurants a reason to slowly revolve. When I was young, Edmonton used to have a 360-degree observation floor on the 33rd floor of the AGT Building, our tallest structure. Of course, that attraction has since been removed, and our city skyline has grown considerably (we now have a 35-floor building!), but my wonder at humankind’s vertical aspirations has never abated.
The Burj Khalifa is one of our species’ most exciting achievements. Taipei 101 is beauty in bulk. And my first trip up the sacred elevators of the Empire State Building in 2008 fulfilled a childhood dream on par with meeting Howard Hesseman or taking a ride in the General Lee.
But for each new monumental strike against our inherent vertigo, there are hundreds of grand schemes that never come to fruition. Today I’m looking at some of America’s skyline almosts.
If The Illinois had ever been built, it would have made the Burj Khalifa look like it had stunted its growth by smoking as a child. Proposed by the master of the organic and the horizontal line Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957, The Illinois would have towered a full mile above the Chicago soil beneath it. Wright believed that such a structure, with 76 elevators serving 528 floors, could be constructed using modern (now over 50-year-old) technology. Experts have combed through the possibilities and come to the conclusion that maybe – using today’s technology, mind you – this building could work. But probably not. Read more…
We are extremely fortunate to have acquired the private journals of Elias Quince-Brogels, the noted early 20th-century composer of such memorable operas as Tessitura di Spinach and Luogo’s Serenade To His Coffee Table. And while some of the journals allow us a tremendous insight into the man himself (it seems Quince-Brogels was really into latex balloons. Like, seriously – this stuff is disturbing), we are most pleased to have unearthed his ‘Libretto Sketches’ book, which details some of the concepts the master was working on shortly before his premature death in 1941 from drowning in tartar sauce at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown.
These excerpts demonstrate Quince-Brogels’ movement away from the political themed works that dominated his New York tenure in the mid-to-late 1930’s (such as Burletta mi Hawley-Smoot Tariff Negotiations and his poignant retelling of Weimar-era economic struggles, Puke-Sack). Indeed it appears Quince-Brogels had become enraptured by the Tragédie en Musique, exploring dark topics with a remarkably cynical eye for a man in his late 30’s. Also, his willingness to experiment clearly surpassed that of all his contemporaries. Let’s have a look:
Okay, I want to do a Verismo in the purest sense, something like Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier but without all that homo-erotic subtext. Also, it should take place on a zeppelin. I think we’re far enough away from the Hindenburg thing so that bitch reviewer for the New York Times won’t cry ‘Too Soon’. I’ll call it Ultima Corsa Torero – the Bullfighter’s Last Ride.
I want the stage to be elevated to the level of the first balcony, supported only by a large hydrogen balloon. Each scene will end with a fioritura, one of those happy, heavily embellished vocal lines that gets people clapping even if the rest of the scene was crap. Hey, maybe they can send the balloon-supported stage out above the audience. The New York City Center probably isn’t built for it, but maybe at Carnegie. Read more…