Are automotive aesthetics in our genes?

A mostly political Weblog.
Jan. 10 2006 4:40 PM

I Can't Help Hating Chris Bangle

It's in my genes!

I hadn't realized the extent to which the debate on how to combat avian flu recapitulates the debate over American foreign policy, with some health experts (let's call them "liberals") arguing for reliance on multinational organizations to fight flu outbreaks in the poor Third World countries that are the breeding grounds for this natural terror. Others think this is a do-gooders' fantasy and argue for a more selfish, unilateral "moat" strategy. Here's Dr. Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution:

If national governments are incapable of appropriate, timely actions to prevent or respond to a potential pandemic of avian flu, to whom could we delegate responsibility? The World Health Organization, perhaps -- a component of the inept, self-serving, scientifically challenged, politically correct, unaccountable United Nations, which gave us the Iraq oil-for-food scandal and its continuing coverup ... Is there anyone so naive to believe that the UN can keep politics out of scientific and medical decisions?

One difference is that, in the flu debate, the "liberals" aren't asking us to rely on the distant prospect of Third World countries developing flourishing economies that lift them out of poverty. They're only asking for a limited infrastructure that lets health workers chopper in, distribute medicine and kill farm animals. ... And it's the liberal position, in this case, that draws on the natural human instinct to retaliate, tit for tat. "Fight the flu over there so we don't have to fight it over here!"--that's the flu-lib cry.  ... I don't see an analogue to the idealistic neoconservative position, though. Democracy--either of people or of viruses--isn't going to make the flu go away, right? Nor is anyone (as far as I know) proposing to overthrow governments in order to establish more sanitary conditions. ...  12:52 P.M.

Thefocus of evil in the auto styling world, BMW design chief Chris Bangle, lectured at the L.A. Auto Show last Thursday.  I knew I thought Bangle's cars were ugly--or, rather, unappealingly contrived. But what about the theory? Talking was obviously his strong suit.  Why not go?

Several hundred mainly industry types attended. Bangle seemed a pleasant enough fellow--either he's relatively laid back for a meticulous egomaniac, or he does a good job of faking it. He promised his slide show would "rock and roll," and it almost did. My notes aren't precise enough to allow for a lot of direct quotes, but he had four main themes:

1. Car design has closed the gap on architecture. Bauhaus modernism arrived in the 1920s, when cars were still in a near-baroque phase. Autos didn't get Bauhausy until the 50s. Bangle proudly noted that it  took only six years for him to echo the complex curves of Frank Gehry's Bilbao museum in the BMW Z4 sports car.

2. Car design is technologically driven--specifically by the tooling.  It's all about "what kind of shapes you can get out of tools." At the moment, the big tool is "multiple axis surfacing," which allowed BMW to create its previously "impossible" convex and concave steel panels."  Bangle was especially proud of the "digital" technology behind the wrinkles in a new BMW's hood.

3. Car design, and maybe appreciation of car design, is an elite occupation. Bangle noted that anyone with a computer and Photoshop could now alter BMW's designs.** But just because you can buy a cheap machine and bake bread at home "doesn't make you a master baker."  This was accompanied by lots of references to "professionalism," "skill level," the ability to understand visual grammar and reach the "highest audience."

4. We should see beyond the single car and see how each product fits into the broad sweep of aesth etic progress. Bangle ridiculed designers who just come up with something they think is "cool."  Instead each design has a place in the "biggest single aesthetic undertaking in human history."

To which kf responds: 

1. Why do cars have to follow buildings?  Bangle didn't seem like a cantankerous visionary as much as an insecure follower. Why be so proud that you managed to ape Bilbao in only 6 years?  (Later, in the Q &A, Bangle lamented that his team had difficulty designing a cell phone antennae for BMW because there were no "precedents" to follow from racing cars. Why does he need "precedents"?). You'd think auto design might lead architecture rather than the other way around, cars being a fresher development, in the broad sweep of things, than buildings.

2. Tools are tools: Just because you can make new shapes doesn't mean that they will always be appealing. Bangle interspersed his slide show with photos of beautiful and fashionable women, mainly Audrey Hepburn, which had the effect of subtly subverting his pitch. The design of women, after all, hasn't changed all that much over centuries. Yet they still retain their brand appeal! That's because the attraction is built into our genes. Maybe there are other aesthetic parameters in our genes--a preference for smooth and symmetrical shapes over pockmarked and asymmetrical shapes, for example. (In the environment of our evolution, pockmarks=disease, right?) Hence the smooth, voluptuous  Pontiac Solstice. Bangle seems eager to let changes in tooling technology lead him to rapidly create clever shapes that our nimble brains may appreciate on an intellectual level but that our relatively unchanging genes don't let us appreciate on an emotional level. Hence the BMW 3 series.

3. Cool is cool. Deskwork doesn't often produce beauty: Would you rather buy a design from a) sophisticated scholars who urge you to see how it fits into the broad history of aesthetics or b) blindered adolescents who say, "Hey, this is cool"? I'll take (b). It's mighty convenient for an executive who designs ugly cars to ask us to look at them in their grand intellectual context. ... And is aesthetic evolution the result of bold moves by self-conscious theorists like Bangle or the competition of lots of little, "cool" designs by people who quite unaware of how their work compared with that of Archimedes and Vermeer? I'd say the latter, which would make aesthetic evolution more analogous to actual, un-self-conscious Darwinian evolution.

4. Survival of the coolest! In this context, Bangle's loud professionalism seems more like the brittle defense of a man who doesn't want to be judged "fit" or "unfit" in a chaotic battle for popular and artistic survival--someone who'd rather be declared an aesthetic visionary mainly because he's got the job of chief of design for BMW--and who cares what you think anyway?

**--Usually for the better  (scroll down).

1:11 P.M. link

[F]or now at least, is that the recent hostility of left-leaning blogs is not evident among rank and file Democrats. 

I'd still like to see Edmund Muskie's approval ratings in 1970, just for comparison's sake. ... Update:MP has come up with some 1970 Muskie numbers, and sure enough he was popular too! Just a few anti-war types who were dissatisfied. ... P.S.: Back then, the anti-war movement split the Democratic party and could arguably be characterized as a large, dissident fringe. Today, the anti-war movement arguably is the Democratic party.  Doesn't that suggest, polling numbers being equal, that Hillary is in a lot more trouble than Muskie? ... 12:08 A.M.

Have you ever seen Jake Gyllenhaal and David Corn in the same room? I didn't think so. ... 11:56 P.M.

One of the people killed in the Zarqawi-planned bombing of a Jordanian hotel  last November was Moustapha Akkad, who directed a highly controversial (within the Islamic world) film version of the life of Mohammed, The Message--and who was the model for the protagonist of Richard Grenier's funny-but-possibly-offensive Waugh-esque send-up of the Arab Middle East, The Marrakesh One-Two. ... One wonders if it was really a coincidence that he was hit. ... 4:43 P.M.

Gabriel Snyder usefully  explains how those Sunday morning box office results--the ones obtained from the movie studios that suspiciously include the results for Sunday evening--work. Snyder thinks the studios have some room to fudge their results, but not as much as I'd thought. ... Even the studio-generated Monday figures dubbed the "actuals" aren't quite actual. ... A key question is whether Variety, for whom Snyder works (and where he once had the Sunday B.O. beat), gets actually actual reports directly from theaters--collected by Nielsen or Rentrak--against which to roughly check the studio claims. I'm told the answer is yes. Update: Snyder says the answer is no. But if Variety reporters suspect Studio A of fudging, they can get rival execs at Studios B and C to leak the closely-held hard theater numbers from Nielsen and Rentrak. ... 4:19 P.M.

Does the LAT know squat? Knowledgeable New West Notes newbie blogger Bill Bradley catches the Times--in the lede of their profile, "Abramoff Reached Beyond the Limits"--painting Jack Abramoff as a whole lot better weightlifter than he actually was:

At Beverly Hills High School, Jack Abramoff's weightlifting prowess was the stuff of legend.

As a senior, he became the first member of the school's 2700 Club, lifting a combined total of 2,700 pounds in the power squat, dead lift, bench press, and clean and jerk.

Bradley notes this total is way too high to be plausible, basically requiring Abramoff to out-lift Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. We Beverly Hills kids are strong, but not that strong. ...  Ben Zycher solves the mystery in the fifth comment to Bradley's item--the impossibly impressive weight total given by the Times was almost certainly for eight lifts, not four. ... It's not clear whether the Times was spun or just ignorant and mistaken! ... 3:30 P.M.

Abu Betelgeuse: Jim Pinkerton comes up with a solution to the problem of terrorism and privacy--colonize outer space!** ... Hmmm. Won't the same dynamic (greater lethality of available weapons and the need for more intrusive means of detecting them) take hold wherever man goes--on Mars and Jupiter, in other solar systems?  What about the Andromeda Nihilistic Brotherhood? ... Or is Pinkerton planning to just keep running and stay one step ahead of the terrorist posse? ... P.S.: I stole that point from my colleague Bob Wright, who nevertheless inexplicably holds out hope that we can reduce the general level of global hatred and grievance to such an extent  that it balances out the greater lethality of aggrieved terrorists and avoids the need for greater invasions of privacy. Good luck. ...

**--Isn't that always the solution? ... 3:45 P.M. link

Together, you can do it! Jonathan Zasloff has come up with a way for Democrats to send John Kerry a message. 3:16 P.M. link

Here's the most ludicrously amateurish major car design in a long time--the new Chrysler Imperial. A malproportioned pastiche of status cliches! A fake Rolls kit-car. If hip-hop appeal can sell this thing, it can sell anything. ... 10:38 A.M.

Conspiracy Central: Why might the Bushies believe in a Saddam-9/11 connection? Mark Hosenball has obtained copies of the slides used at the secret briefing given at the White House. They included some reports (perhaps bogus) on Atta-in-Prague I hadn't seen before.The implicit charge seems to be that these previously undisclosed tidbits (i.e., that Atta was seen in Prague by "several" airport workers) were "stovepiped" to the top levels of government without being vetted through normal channels, where they would have been discredited. ... It's always hard to believe top government officials actually make big war/no war decisions based on these simplified slide show briefings, as opposed to drilling down and assessing the veracity of the underlying raw intelligence. Did Cheney (who stuck with the Atta-in-Prague story) really not want to learn of any possibly-inconvenient doubts about what the briefings told him? Or are briefings less important than reporters tend to think they are? ... The actual slides can be seen here.  ... 8:10 P.M.

Is it really so savvy for Hillary Clinton to make a showy stand against violent video games? Sure, it appeals to centrist, family voters. But it also highlights the least appealing aspect of Hillary's persona--the moralistic nanny who knows best and will use the government to tell you how to live your life (and who has little feel for free speech, or freedom generally). ... P.S.: I'm not saying the legislation Clinton co-sponsored isn't in itself sensible, though it's hard to believe regulating video game sales couldn't be handled on the state level. I'm questioning whether glomming on to this issue will help Clinton politically. ... 7:34 P.M. 

OK, how about 45% slave, 55% free? So if only Polk had been more of a consensus president we would have ended slavery without a war?  ... 7:06 P.M.

Hillary vs. the Blogs, cont.: From David Perlmutter--

Politicians have always needed to balance the base and the middle. Blogs make this tension, if not more difficult, more public.

Emphasis not added, but appropriate. Perlmutter writes seriously and smartly about Hillary Clinton's dilemma in this regard, though:

a) He takes Kos rather too seriously, calling him "a political kingmaker." (Oh yeah? Name the king);

b) He underemphasizes the extent to which Hillary's character--specifically her innate and exaggerated caution, calculation, and need for control--makes her a particularly bad match for the blog age, maybe as bad a match as Nixon or LBJ were for the TV age in 1960. Perlmutter notes that blogs and blog readers reward risk-taking passion and honesty. That he then actually mulls over the question of whether Clinton herself should blog--treating her dilemma as the same dilemma faced by any frontrunner, as if there were any hope that her blog would ever be worthwhile--shows that he doesn't fully appreciate Hillary's characterological inhospitability to the bloggerly virtues. ...

1:40 A.M. link

It turns out that my auto industry predictions for 2006--Ford recovers, GM doesn't-- are the automotive press-corps' CW. Sorry about that. [via Autoblog] 2:29 P.M.

Is the Fourth Amendment the problem? Charles Fried raises the interesting issue: Whether the Constitution itself, with its "probable cause" requirement, is incompatible with the sort of Echelon-like "computerized scan of all international electronic communications" that's essential to preventing terrorism. The Constitution isn't always right! ... Fried urges "ingenuity" in interpreting it. ... P.S.: Today it's "international electronic communications," but of course if there's a credible threat of home-grown terrorism it may also become necessary to scan domestic electronic communications, in which case a lot of the Fourth Amendment loopholes currently being cited in the defense of Bush's FISA snooping (e.g., "border search") will not be available. 2:07 P.M.

Nine more lives for Chalabi? 11:32 A.M.

Strike three at the LAT? 11:22 A.M.

Do you think, like the NYT, that Democratic "Frustration Over Iraq Vote Unlikely to Trouble [Hillary] Clinton"? Think, with Ron Brownstein, that the main threat to Hillary from the anti-war left in the presidential primaries will likely come in the form of the little-known, noncharismatic Sen. Russell Feingold? Well, think again! 12:06 A.M. link

Maybe it would be good for Bush if Karl Rove were indicted--Rove seems to have given bad, conventional advice on how to turn the President around the polls, at least according to the aides who dished to WaPo (which, by the way, is unlikely to endear them to Bush):

Rove, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and White House strategic planning director Peter H. Wehner urged the president to dust off the 2004 election strategy and fight back, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. White House counselor Dan Bartlett and communications director Nicolle Wallace, however, counseled a more textured approach. The same-old Bush was not enough, they said; he needed to be more detailed about his strategy in Iraq and, most of all, more open in admitting mistakes -- something that does not come easily to Bush.

Although Rove raised concerns about giving critics too much ground, the younger-generation aides prevailed. ...

If I were a paranoid homophobe or a blogger locked into a rash prediction  I might be suspicious that BoxOfficeMojo has no figures for how Brokeback Mountain  did Tuesday, 12/27. They have Tuesday results for Kong! They have Tuesday results for Geisha. They have Tuesday results for the hapless Producers and tiny little Bee Season. But nothing for Brokeback. According to the B.O.M. site, this means the movie's "studio is no longer tracking it on a daily basis." But that begs the question ("Why?") doesn't it? If this universal love story is capturing the hearts of mainstream America as Frank Rich said it would, Focus Features should want to tell us! (Do they actually not know the results? Or are they just clamming up? [They might be on vacation--alert reader S. That's what they'd like you to believe!]) ... 12/30 Update: Estimates now  up, showing a non-huge 12/27 drop. 10:59 P.M. link

Das Gloat:

When I or virtually any other mainstream journalist writes something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things. -- The late David Shaw, Pulitzer-winning L.A. Times media critic, 3/27/2005

I almost hate to write this item--the LAT has been getting livelier recently, and if it goes into a fit of fact-checking in response to its latest round of screw-ups that will only put the bloodless twits back in charge. But you had to wonder where were those fabled four layers of experienced editors these past few days when a) the paper ran an April Fool's press release in a front-page story  as if it were actual news and b) publisher Jeff Johnson's Sunday opinion section ran a piece charging that "the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that Ellen DeGeneres played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina because she was the host of the Emmy Awards ceremony preceding both events," something the paper now admits Falwell didn't say. Update: Reader B.Z. notes that the bogus Falwell tale seemingly also started as a joke  on Dateline Hollywood--about Pat Robertson, not Falwell. And B.W. notes that April Fool's release  was pretty hard to not recognize as a joke. ...  [Maybe one of the four editors took a buyout, two were on vacation and the last was the sort of turkey that comes to roost in any large organization over the years--ed More likely the Times was faced with the standard end-of-year newspaper dilemma--it has to generate lots of stories to wrap around those lucrative Christmas sale ads, while at the same time everyone's taking time off for the holidays. The result is you publish a lot of junk. Blogs don't have that problem! We don't need to generate lots of copy during the holidays because nobody's reading us then anyway!] 10:35 P.M. link

Everybody wants to work for Mort! ...[via mediabistro] 11:27 A.M.

Charlie Cook (in his weekly email) has identified the person responsible for Bush's bounceback. It's the same figure credited by J.Po a few weeks ago. But Cook puts the case with exceptional clarity:

While few, if any, would question the right of Rep. John Murtha ... to call for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, or say he was acting for reasons of political expediency rather than principle, in retrospect, his move might have been strategically helpful to the president.

Prior to Murtha's well-publicized speech advocating an early withdrawal, the spotlight had been on the Bush administration's use of intelligence that led to the decision to go to war, with some questioning whether the administration either lied, fabricated or exaggerated evidence used to justify the United States' action.

Murtha's speech changed the debate, away from whether we should have invaded Iraq and whether the use of intelligence to make that decision was flawed toward the more problematic issue of "what do we do now?" [Emph. added]

Backward lean:Newsweek's Howard Fineman missed the pro-Bush implications a month ago when he hyped Murtha's "one-man tipping point," didn't he? 1:37 A.M.

Prolific but low-selling singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is really carrying his modest, aw-shucks routine too far. Here he responds to the suggestion that he should spend more time on each album:

"No, because this story's about me, and it's not about you. It's not about the listener; it's about me. It's like a book. If a book's moving too ... fast for you and it's too many words, put down the book and go pick up a book of the week from the Oprah club.

"You want to read a real book and, like, want to be involved in a real process, this is my process. I'm not going to change my story. People can come to my story when they want. But I'll ... make as many records as I want ... 'cause that's what I'm into.... I'm the best. No one else is going to work at this pace again for a long time with these results. ... " [Emph. added]

Hey, cool. All right then. ... 11:50 P.M.

Iraq the Model is telling me at least as much  about what's going on in Iraq as the New York Times these days. ... 10:12 P.M.

Easiest prediction of the year: They won't be able to make enough of this thing. 8:19 P.M.

So that's what he's been doing: One reason the warrantless eavesdropping controversy may help, rather than hurt, Bush in the polls has more to do with the character of his administration than popular support for eavesdropping. In particular, Bush's tendency to hide behind a carapace of formal, not-completely-apposite justifications (e.g. "we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror") leads voters to ask what is really going on behind the facade. The Katrina botch suggested not much--maybe Bush, as the left-wing caricatures always suggested, really was out to lunch, playing computer golf in the Oval Office while various Michael Brownian cronies held meetings to plan their wardrobes. That's why, if the Bushies have really had the energy to secretly do all sorts of illegal spying against terrorists, it's almost reassuring. At least they've been on the case, doing their job as they see it. The more thorough and secret the eavesdropping, the more reassuring on this score. ... 1:05 P.M. link

King Kong Will Carry Cuyahoga! Movie box office sales are now so eagerly watched and rapidly disseminated that they are reported before they actually occur. BoxOfficeMojo says (as highlighted on Drudge) that King Kong has regained first place by doing more than $10M of business on Monday, 12/26 which--unless I'm misreading the calendar--hasn't happened yet. ... I know the number is identified as an "estimate." But if you're going to "estimate," why stop at tonight? Give us tomorrow too, and the next six months! I thought the idea was that nobody could really predict which movie will catch and retain the fancy of people looking for something to do on any given evening. Isn't the appeal of sites like BoxOfficeMojo that they purport to give us the actual answers, the equivalent of election returns--not projections? The sites or (more likely) the studios are now blurring the line between what's happened and what's expected to happen, when the point is to see whether what's expected to happen actually happens! ... P.S.: And do you really trust the studio that made King Kong to accurately report that its movie will beat Narnia tonight? Isn't that like trusting John Kerry's prediction that he'll win Ohio? What if previously unknown pockets of semi-religious, exurban children suddenly demand to see a Christian allegory! ... 12:28 P.M. link

Books have long lead times (Exhibit A):

"[W]hich of your safe white men are going to excite the base the way Hillary does, so they can spend all their time in the middle? I'll answer: None."--Susan Estrich, "The Case for Hillary Clinton," as quoted in the N.Y. T. Book Review.

Hmm. Exciting the base is not something Hillary Clinton has been doing a lot of lately! I doubt that the Democrats' "base" will forgive her for her Iraq vote even if the war turns into a relative success. Suppose that happens--what's she going to do, run on a campaign of "I told you so"? That's always a turn-on for the die-hards! ... By Estrich's own logic, Hillary will have to spend an inordinate amount of time in the primaries camped out on the left on issues other than Iraq, in order to compensate for her pro-war stand. ... P.S.: Maybe she just can't win in the Democratic primaries and needs to run as an independent! Of course, I've said the same thing about John McCain (if, as is possible, he can't win the GOP nomination) and you could also say the same thing about Rudolph Giuliani. They can't all run as independents, can they? ... Right? ....... Hello? ... Update: Both emailer M.P. and the NYT note that Hillary's approval ratings among Dems (79% here) remain high. But are rank and file voters the leading or trailing indicators here? Weren't Edmund Muskie's approval ratings high a couple of years out? ... 11:44 P.M.

Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.

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Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Keller's Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]