September 25th, 2016

Temps Perdu

I have this lovely set of rose-colored glasseware that I inherited from my grandparents. Twelve glasses in each of three sizes–for water, wine, and cordials–plus a similar number of small dessert bowls. They’re likely Bohemian and could be late-19th century in origin. All I know is: they were always there.

As with many people’s inherited objects, these glasses have a totemic power for me. They remind of special family events, Seder foremost among them, when I would help my grandmother set the table. Even as a young kid, she trusted me to carefully extract each glass from the cabinet, a responsibility I cherished.

rose-colored-glassesBut these glasses also remind me of something more basic and differently nostalgic: of a lifestyle that I can remember, and one that also feels long gone.

My grandparents used these glasses on other occasions, such as dinner parties with good friends or out-of-town guests. They were one set among a range of such objects, like the hand-etched pint glasses from Abercrombie & Fitch (yes, that A&F, in its original incarnation) from which my grandfather would drink his Tuborg at lunch. Or the white, porcelain, claw-footed “chocolate cups”: delicate little items that the average person might mistake for demitasse instead.

I suppose these are “housewares,” a word that feels so average in comparison to the objects themselves. As does “china,” or “stemware”: all things one can purchase at many retailers, or add to your wedding registry, etc.

But what I miss is making the time to use these objects, rather than leaving them sitting on a shelf. I miss the sense of style my grandparents had, in which as much care was taken with the table as the food that went on it. The sense of investment in these objects, which had to be treated delicately, but also used. And the making of time, perhaps the most important thing of all: the time to cook three course meals, to sit and leisurely eat and enjoy company, and the time to clean-up, too.

My parents cling to this, and I appreciate it. I aspire to it: to finding making the time, to taking things out of cabinets and off of shelves, to setting them gently on the table, to appreciating their beauty and fragility, and to enjoying their functionality surrounded by people whose lives enrich mine, and with whom I can make new memories with objects from a time that otherwise feels lost.

April 5th, 2016

The Power of the Puppy

Last week, walking home with Riley after dropping the kids at school, a taxi pulled to a stop 15 feet in front of us. The door slid open and Riley looked intently. Then she decided that she wanted to say hello to this woman, whom I did not know.

I tugged Riley along. It was 8am, and this well-dressed woman looked to be heading into the television office building in front of which we happened to be standing. But Riley insisted–and the woman, now out of her taxi, asked if she could pet Riley. I said yes.

We stood there for a minute, as the woman scratched Riley behind the ears. Riley pulled one of her signature moves and wrapped her paws and front legs around this lady’s wrist, holding her firmly in place. The woman smiled.

“Thank you for this,” she said to me. “I’ve had a rough morning, and this really cheered me up.

I guess Riley knew what she was doing.

Now Riley is spending the night at the vet, getting spayed. I can’t wait for her to be out, so she can wrap her paws around my wrist again–and so I can know she’s ok.

Sleepius Schmoopius

December 8th, 2013

Circus Maximus


It has been clear for a while now that we as a culture have embraced celebritism as a most essential element and vehicle of success. We chase, photograph, Tweet, talk about, and otherwise fixate on people who in many cases are famous just for being famous. Even worse, we give nearly unlimited veneration to people who pretend their life experience confers expertise and has relevance and value in any sphere in which they choose to dabble. The culture of celebritism risks taking over and toppling the culture of expertism, and much else along with it—all supported by a commercial model from which very few of us benefit.

Thus at the recent Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), one of the highlight events was rapper Kanye West taking center stage to discuss design with a famous architect, under the auspices of a famous curator. Yes, West says he was an artist as a young(er) man, but still: there is a difference between having an interest in architecture and being an architect or a critic prepared to attack or defend from a position of knowledge. Might Mr. West have interesting views or perspectives? Sure. But alas, what validates them is his celebrity as a rapper, which hardly seems like the right credentializing process. Gone, it seems, is even the vague glimmer of skepticism that followed U2’s lead singer Bono when he began exploring global economic issues more than a decade ago. Bono, meanwhile, has proven himself a terrific student of the subject, having invested copious time in the hard work of learning. So far, the evidence of similar behavior by Mr. West seems thin; it is more about grandstanding than impact.

I’m not here to criticize Mr. West, however. It’s hardly his fault that the rest of us are so willing to submit ourselves to such silliness. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

After a visit to ABMB this week, I cannot help but be more than a little depressed at the circus that it was–and the way the social imperatives overwhelmed everything else. Walking around, people seemed consistently more interested in the see-and-be-scene and celebrity sighting aspects than in the art. What could encapsulate the absurdity of that better than the story of Jeffrey Deitch apparently mistaking Sean “Diddy” Combs for Kanye West?

If ABMB and all of the attending brouhaha helps living, working artists sell art, then it is worth it. Free markets can be terrific, and this is no less true for artists than anyone else. I begrudge no artist the opportunity to sell their work for the best possible price, and gallerists or dealers make sense as supporting partners for these transactions. Moreover, the marketplace is a common point of entry for emerging artists seeking recognition: galleries present their work, patrons buy it, and word spreads. But it is a bit hard to believe this is really the case here, let alone to take ABMB seriously as a process. Walking around this and other fairs certainly does not suggest a culture of serious art engagement. Instead it feels like a fixation with fashionable art names—and fashionable prices—that is not much different in practice from our veneration of celebrities.

Some aspects of celebritism are unavoidable at a macro level; it might just be who we are as a species. Look back in The New York Times archives and a story from November 29, 1877 about a reception for 3,000 people at the Metropolitan Museum of Art hits the A List names as close to the start as just the third sentence. It’s a question of balance and proportion. Right now what we have is imbalance and disproportion, not just in the world of art and design but in almost every sector of society. The Kardashians and their ilk get as much attention even as celebrity business leaders, despite the fact that the business leaders actually run organizations that create new products and add value to our lives in concrete ways. Google’s Trends tool even bears that out; it took Steve Jobs dying for him to break through to the level of global chatter aroused by Kim Kardashian.


Interestingly, Times coverage for the granddaddy of ABMB, the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art (also known as the Armory Show), had reportage focused more on the artists on display than the attendees who came to see it. That seems a shocking and rare example of an ancient restraint, but then, there were fewer Kim Kardashian types in 1913—and fewer rapid-fire outlets to promote and glorify them. Yet that restraint is exactly what is needed all over again. We need to resist this imbalance, this misalignment between celebritism and expertism, and work towards a stronger focus on quality and depth of knowledge, and an appreciation for creativity, innovation, and inspiration that is not confused with simple and often undeserved notoriety.

October 14th, 2013


I am fascinated by algorithms. How can one not be fascinated by them? We live increasingly in a world driven by algorithms and defined by them, from the news stories that are “recommended” to us, to the movies/music/books we might like based on some mutual selections of others (whether those people are known to us or not), down to what washing machines or shoes could be right for us, again based on our own history of choices and those of others.

We also cannot forget social connections: the people we should like (virtually) or know (theoretically) again based on the massive, algorithmic mapping of our utterances (Twitter) or existing networks of friends (Facebook). Even this description is an oversimplification; much has been written about Google’s propensity for “guessing” what we are looking for, based on just the first few letters of a search query.

All of this matters, no question. We should be concerned, if not exactly afraid: along with the algorithms go massive amounts of data that power them, all of it data about us. I am concerned, and I do care, and consider myself to have taken a mid-level precautions. My browser’s “do not track” feature is enabled, and it is also set to reject third-party cookies. I’m running and AdBlockPlus, along with Flashblock (great for controlling what Flash content loads on a page). And I have various other security tools installed, too. All of this tries to balance the desirability of some algorithmic knowing-ness with too much invasion of privacy.

Blah, blah, blah.

The fact is that all these algorithmic systems are deeply flawed. For all the data, for all the computer processing power, for all the back-end and front-end systems, they still make mistakes or create connections that can only look humorous to an actual human brain. Over the last year, I have been collecting some of these–let’s call them creative connections. A sampling of them is displayed below. And if you don’t find them as obviously funny as I do, well: that may also speak to the capacity for differences between human well beyond the mere bits and bytes of computerized logic.