While disagreeing with most of this New York Times editorial about the new World Trade Center plans, I realized something. Pessimists seem to be wrong more often than optimists.

Progress is not always perfect, but the very word itself implies that it is better than stasis. One of the things I love about cities, especially New York, is the accelerated chaos evident everywhere. Tiny narrow buildings squeezed between 40 story apartments, clusters of ethnic restaurants echoing past populations, rotting docks, movie theaters in old Synagogues, grocery stores in old theaters. Some places do result from grand plans, but those plans almost never align with one another and often contradict. The patchwork insanity of cities perfectly reflects the collision of individual dreams, social cooperation and a desperate grasping at immortality.

The editorial’s author, former architect now professor Witold Rybczynski, observes “Five teams proposed buildings taller than the original twin towers, in four cases taller than the 1,483-foot Petronas Towers in Malaysia, currently the world’s tallest,” but seems to cast that as a bad thing. To me, that is exactly what should be happening. Dreaming big. I started saying that two days after September 11th.

Rybczynski’s criticisms seem to focus on the need for a grand plan, which seems strange coming from an urban studies scholar. The whole idea of “Bright City” planning, epitomized by Robert Moses’ massive highways and grid-busting residential sub-cities, is generally regarded as a dismal misstep which almost killed American urban life. It’s only after more than half a century of urban reclamation and unplanned repurposing that those neighborhoods have recovered.

While his own work has focused on visionary dreamers like Frederick Law Olmsted, Rybczynski seems stuck between championing the spiritual importance of buildings (especially old ones) and arguing for practical restraint. He starts out with a celebration of Architecture then shrivels into reasons why the buildings should be shorter (60 stories would barely be visible behind the World Financial Center’s 51 and 53 story towers), finally ending with a bitter, groundless appeal to consequence. One gets the sense that no matter what gets built downtown, Rybczynski is ready to pan it in the Times or the Atlantic Monthly.

Comments like these really make my day.

There are currently 7 or 8 helicopters hovering over Manhattan Bay and/or Brooklyn. This qualifies as unusual but there’s nothing on the news as of yet.

update: Maybe it has something to do with contingency ferry service?

My 80Gb drive died earlier this evening.

It’s toast. When Disk Warrior says it’s dead, it’s dead.

30gb of MP3s were on there.

I haven’t seen my CDs since February. They were never unpacked after we moved and I’m not even sure where they are right now. Not to mention probably four years of great music filched from friends, Napster and GNUtella. That was one really diverse collection.


There were likely also some old projects backed up from my previous powerbook which might not be anywhere else. Thankfully I had everything else in multiple places and the important stuff backed up.

I was planning to do a big data cleanup/consolidation next month. Of course I probably would have used that drive to do it. Actually I’m taking a sigh of relief that I didn’t get around to that, who knows how much more would have been on there.

Should I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone? Here’s another dead Western Digital 80Gb drive, and another crashed Western Digital 80Gb drive. This Amazon page has a few user reviews of dead Western Digital drives. Western Digital’s forums are also filled with complaints about Western Digital hard drives failing.

And finally, Best and Worst hard drives from the data recovery company Drive Service Company. Guess which company is the worst. If anyone is going to know which drives are horrible, it will be the people who try to recover them. I wish I’d read that sooner.

I was supposed to get some work done tonight, that didn’t happen.

Update, May 2003: I was eventually able to recover most everything on the drive through a combination of Disk Warrior, Norton Utilities, Disk First Aid and FSCK. Not fun.

Another of the Western Digital 80gb drives has failed, meaning two of three in less than 18 months.

And in other news… It’s very strange to see someone you’ve met being interviewed about an international art theft. We met Van Gogh museum director John Leighton in October 2001 when we were in Amsterdam for the opening of The Photograph and the American Dream at the Van Gogh Museum. He was generous and soft-spoken, I imagine this is close to the worst thing that can happen to you as the director of an art museum (unfortunately, I can think of worse).

It seems that Venezuela is possibly on the brink of another coup, if not a full blown revolution. I wish I had more time to research this because I’m not sure what to think, though I’m leaning slightly against Chavez for a number of reasons.

This story is not getting much attention in the US media so far as I’ve seen, even though it has huge implications for the balance of power in OPEC and potential reverberations throughout the world.

Friday night a gunmen fired on a crowd of opposition protesters in Caracas, killing three and wounding 29. The government has accused the opposition of staging the shooting, however a video from a few nights before the shooting seems to show the confessed gunman alongside a Venezuelan government official who happens to be a Chavez supporter. There also appears to be a discrepancy between the number of bullets fired the number of people wounded.

Oil plays heavily into the picture. In the ill-fated coup back in April, the US supported the interim government, and was diplomatically embarrassed when that government lasted two days. Yesterday, the entire board of Venezuela’s largest (only?) oil company, PDVSA were apparently forced out by Chavez. This chart shows that, as of 1998 Venezuela had the third largest share of OPEC production. The previous third largest produce was Iraq.

I believe one long term goal of US strategy is to destabilize OPEC. Afghanistan’s proximity to the Caspian Sea oil fields was a side benefit and Iraq is a major OPEC producer, even with sanctions. A US friendly Venezuela could very well leave OPEC, allowing Venezuelan oil companies to increase production and sell more. Economically Venezuela is a mess, so more money has the potential to benefit Venezuela’s citizens. Currently Venezuela supplies 15% of the United States oil. (Note that figure is unclear as to whether that is 15% of all oil or 15% of foreign oil.)

Besides being bored with Bush bashing, I’ve come to realize that the US oil lobby probably had a much clearer picture of the direction the world was heading than many of the rest of us. If you want an expert on a foreign country, a good place to look would be in businesses which operate there. Assuming American oil companies knew of the state of unrest in Venezuela, the terror-funding and increasing ruling class isolation in Saudi Arabia, any number of things about Iraq, social unrest in Iran, terrorist threats in Yemen and any number of other places, it would make a lot of sense to push for domestic sources of oil in the near term. Drilling in Alaska still seems like a gamble and a mistake, but I understand the motivation.

I would love to see the US move away from dependence on oil, foreign or otherwise. However these things take time and the computers and machines which have the potential to make that happen still need oil to run. I also recognize that our first priority right now has to be doing everything possible to prevent anyone in the US or other countries from being blown up by terrorists. It’s like triage on a geo-political scale. Fix the immediate threat first, improve the status quo second.

Superficially, Chavez appears to have one leg in the bizarre “I wear a uniform” club. Lovely company that puts him in: Hussein, Castro, Kim Jong Il, Arafat and others.

Thank you to Miguel Octavio in Venezuela for writing about what’s going on outside his door. His brother Alfredo works at the Venezuelan e-commerce site Patilla which today has a page up saying simply, “Cerramos hoy para abrir mañana…en LIBERTAD!” That translates to something like “We’re closed today to open tomorrow… in freedom!” I really wish I had a more informed opinion of what to hope for.

Fedexing Santa.

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