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  1. Taboo
  2. Free Reads -- Toby Young
  3. If I Were an Editor 4
  4. Prissy Art Classes Redux
  5. Godard
  6. If I Were an Editor 3
  7. Amazon Humorist Redux
  8. Amazon Humorist
  9. Policy Break -- Continuum, Reredux
  10. Policy Break -- Continuum, Redux

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, September 7, 2002

Friedrich -- We marvel at the way people deprived of traditional religion will promptly start believing (and in a religious way) in something else -- Marxism, say, or Freudianism, or modern art. But they do, and they will. A friend of mine laughingly says that we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that people have a gene for religion. It occurs to me that maybe people also have a gene for taboo. I find myself thinking this as I'm pondering today's young performers and today's styles of sexiness. Sex is everywhere; so is sexiness. And it's all, literally, out there -- porn, gayness, bellybuttons, discussions of anal sex. Underwear is outerwear. At the same time, sex seems to have stopped being something mysterious. When sex was taboo, it had radiance and power. Alluring experiences circled around it: religion, poetry, art, feelings of exaltation and bliss. (All that=eros.) These days sex seems to be about as fascinating as programming a macro, or as double-clicking on an icon. The de-sacralization of sex is a triumph or it's not. What I notice is this: that as taboo has come off sex, it hasn't simply vanished. Instead, it's landed somewhere else. To be precise, it's landed on race questions and sex-difference questions -- all the subjects P.C. prevents people from talking about openly. Perfectly nice vanilla kids adore rap, and Eminem is a huge star. How to explain this? Questions of talent aside, what strikes me about these stars is that they're acting out cartoonish fantasies of sexual and racial stereotypes. They're acting out what's forbidden (masculinity, heightened racial attributes), and they make use of what are today's dirty words: ho, nigga, etc. It gives the fans a thrill -- more of a thrill, as far as I can tell, than does sexual titillation. These, and not sex, are now the subjects that have a mystique, and an aura. Thus my conclusion: that something will always be taboo. Lift taboo off one area of life, and it'll simply settle on another. Taboo, like religion, is part of the basic and inescapable furniture of life. It's standard, unavoidable equipment. And, hey, wouldn't it be something if the gene for religion and the gene for taboo (and, hey, maybe the gene for art too) are all kinda intertwined, ya know what I mean? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 7, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 6, 2002

Free Reads -- Toby Young
Friedrich -- Toby Young, who has written a book about his years trying and failing to make it in the New York media world, marvels for the New York Observer at the thin skins and dreary souls of big-time journalists, here. An excerpt: I arrived in New York in 1995 with tales of the legendary bad behavior of Ben Hecht, Herman J. Mankiewicz and Dorothy Parker swimming in my head, expecting to find their modern-day equivalents in the offices of Vanity Fair. I imagined this zany, madcap community where no one stood on ceremony and everyone had a wisecrack at the ready. But that devil-may-care attitude, that sense of fun, was nowhere to be found. Instead, I was confronted with a regiment of pinched and hidebound careerists who never got drunk and were safely tucked up in bed by 10 p.m. In London, I’d seen chartered accountants behave with more abandon. If you want to find out what life is like in the NYC midtown-media world, you could do worse than to read Young's memoir, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." It's fast and amusing, like a nonfiction version of "Bright Lights, Big City." Young does a spankingly good job of bringing back to life the Conde Nast and Tina Brown '90s. (A nightmare time, believe you me.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

If I Were an Editor 4
Friedrich -- I've said it before, and you can be sure I'll say it again: if I were an editor, I'd be doing a much more aggressive job of covering immigration than most publications are doing. (Jeez, are bigtime editors just not listening to me?) The topic is on people's minds, the walls preventing discussion are starting to crumble, the foolish old dichotomy of pro vs. anti is falling apart -- yet mainstream outlets are by and large ignoring the subject. Spiked Online (formerly LM, or Living Marxism, magazine) to their credit -- because they're very pro open borders -- runs a good piece by Anthony Browne about why he thinks immigration should be slowed in Britain, here. Excerpt: Having resorted to intellectual dishonesty to hoodwink readers into thinking that immigration is at a lower level than it is, the pro-immigrationists tried another tactic: smear the opposition. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Prissy Art Classes Redux
Michael I was looking at a book I picked up on vacation, "Realism in 20th Century Painting" by Brendan Prendeville. I discovered that what I termed "structured" drawing (i.e., mapping out your image by measuring everything visually using pencil or paintbrush) was a central theme of the art of various postwar British painters. William Coldstream (1908-1987) insisted on painting from observation: "By systematically gauging vertical and horizontal distances on the person or object, seen against a brush held at arm's length, and marking his canvas accordingly, Coldstream sought to let his subject emerge as if by itself, without having been merely willed. Equally, he was intent on respecting the integrity of the painting's surface, its beauty." Coldstream set up something called the Euston Road School with a couple of other artists, Claude Rogers and Victor Passmore. The book, which is regrettably short on illustrations, does reproduce two intriguing canvases: one of Victor Passmore's paintings, "The Studio of Ingres," and another by one of Coldstream's students, Euan Uglow, "Curled Nude on a Stool." Passmore Uglow In both cases the reduction of three-dimensional data to a set of completely two-dimensional marks is very evident (the work almost becomes conceptual art), and yet its conceptualness (conceptualosity? conceptitude?) is in rather interesting tension to the fleshiness of the nudes. (Oddly, both renderings seem to focus on buttocks. Accident--or Hidden Meaning?) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael A long time ago I sent you my musings on having seen "Band of Outsiders." In it I ventured the theory that Godard's central issue (at least in his pre-1968 movies) was the fact that he just fit in better with books and movies than in "real life"-- that he had found art to be the only true home of love, tenderness, devotion, etc., while reality was just a place where people "playacted" such emotions and generally looked out for themselves. In short, the work of a brilliant, but really needy, guy. You never responded to this. You swine. I just read a review of Godard's "In Praise of Love" which I understand is now playing in New York. It is your DUTY to write up something brilliant about Godard. This new movie, which according to the review is gorgeous nonsense, is an obvious hook. Now, get busy. If necessary it is permissible for you to dismiss my theories on Godard with Degas' line about a critic: "Don't worry about HIS opinions. He arrived in Paris by way of the treetops." Dictatorial cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

If I Were an Editor 3
Friedrich -- If I were an editor, I'd run lots of pieces about the impact of evolutionary biology (and evo-psych) on thinking about the arts. I'd do more than that; I'd go out of my way to use the evo-bio crowd as standard sources for quotes and thoughts about the arts. It's where the best, or at least most useful, new thinking about the arts is coming from. Structuralism? Deconstruction? Postmodernism? They're, like, so five minutes ago. And thank god for that. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Amazon Humorist Redux
Michael Your posting "Amazon Humorist" reminds me of a Mark Twain story. On a speaking tour, Mark Twain was introduced by a local politician. This politician, as he walked around, waiting to make his introduction, never took his hands out of his pockets. Finally, he introduced the writer as "Mark Twain, a comedian who is really funny." Mark Twain stood up and replied: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a far rarer creature in our midst than a comedian who is really funny. We have a politician who keeps his hands in his own pockets!" Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Amazon Humorist
Friedrich -- A reviewer on Amazon who uses the "Amazon Reader's Comment" form as a comedy vehicle, here. Plus, he's genuinely funny. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Continuum, Reredux
Friedrich -- In our different ways we're both nibbling around the edges of an irksome question. Setup: Given that politics, like any other field, wants to expand; given that any individual or party that succeeds in the field will tend strongly to be one that is seen by the field to be promoting the field's own interests; given that, let's face it, anyone who goes into politics is likely to be driven by a taste for power (and whose attitude towards power, whatever the surface rationale, is generally "More!")... How then can those of us whose preference is to see the political realm minimized and the political grasp frustrated ever expect that anyone in politics (any individual, any party) should ever represent our side? In working for our best interest, he'd be working against his own. A subset of this question: how to explain that a few people over the years (G. Washington, for instance) seem to have done more or less that? (Ie., worked in the best interest of the larger organism, not his own particular component thereof.) Can political progress, if by progress you mean a freeing-up of individuals from the reach of politics, ever occur from within the political realm itself? I haven't the foggiest, myself. But I'd hate to have to depend on altruism and/or luck. All of which explains my general voting strategy: vote for whoever seems likely to do the least damage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break -- Continuum, Redux
Michael You ask a question about matters, as the Buddha remarked, which are truly questionable. I too have extreme doubts about politics. In essence, politics is about power, and power is about coercion: whether exercised by the ballot box or by dictatorial fiat, politics always involves "enforcement" by men with guns (or arrows, spears and rocks.) The Great and Powerful Oz The Japanese, who are notorious for pursuing decision-making by 'consensus' also have an expression that reveals the coercive underside to that pursuit: "The nail that stands up gets hammered down." Even so hallowed a concept in American life as majority rule, among other things is a great way to push minorities around. (If you had asked a black person in 1920 what they thought of majority rule, how fond of it do you think they would have been?) Clauswitz's doctrine about war being the continuation of politics "by other means" can just as accurately be turned around: politics is also the continuation of war "by other means." Military history is quite illuminating on this score: it reveals that Jericho, a fertile oasis, was fortified with mud-brick walls approximately 10,000 years ago, not long after the establishment of agriculture, the domestication of animals and the beginnings of long-distance trading. (And it was fortified with sophisticated stone defenses within a few thousand years after that.) Obviously, as economic advances have made some human communities highly productive, it has also made for a human "food chain"--human "carnivores" who prey on the productive labors of the human "herbivores." Perhaps I am unduly pessimistic on this score, but there are times when it seems to me that governments are just bigger and more successful versions of the street gangs that run many neighborhoods here in sunny Los Angeles. If war is the negative outcome of humanity's natural tendencies towards greed and aggression, the business world seems to me to be the positive outcome. As I go to work each morning I marvel at the scale and scope of the cooperation and trust I see around me. I have thousands of customers and hundreds of suppliers--our mutual interactions are voluntary and blessedly non-coercive (if occasionally fractious and always spiced with a degree of suspicion). They are based around a shared perception of fairly simple rules (essentially, the negotiation of deals and then sticking to them). The Grand Illusion I used to think that an element of coercion (i.e., the law) was necessary to keep the system humming, but after 16 years in business and a few experiences with our woeful legal system, I honestly no longer believe that. In the vast majority of cases, agreements that actually need to be "enforced" by the legal system are effectively worthless. I've found it pays better to walk away and try my hand at something new. And that "pragmatic" attitude is very general: the actual, real-world sanction against most "bad" behavior--as long as it is not violent-- is typically that people won't continue to do business with you.... posted by Friedrich at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

The Mind, Part 7,342,941
Friedrich -- Another sensible science column by Sharon Begley in the Wall Street Journal, again, unfortunately, unavailable online. This one's about how research is suggesting that we can know little about why we feel what we feel. Some excerpts: Introspection about the unconscious can be worse than useless...We don't have meaningful access to the causes of our feelings...If you have a gut feeling about love, work or life, it's probably best not to analyze it to death. The unexamined life has its virtues. All of which jibes pretty closely with some of Michael Oakeshott's arguments -- that, for instance, we're by and large creatures of habit, taste, and temperament, and that that's ok, it's what it is to be human. And that the determination to pick 'em apart -- to make sense of them -- almost always represents the agenda of the power-and-control-hungry "rationalizer." And beware of them. You'd think this sort of research would make arts critics question what they do, not that many arts critics follow science, even the more popular expressions of science. After all, isn't much of what critics are up to an attempt to explain why a given work of art or entertainment made them feel the way they did? After years of befouling the air with too many rationalizations of my own, I've come to think that we like what we like and dislike what we dislike just because we do. Education, discussion, adventure -- all these can open us to experiences and pleasures we might not have encountered otherwise. But our responses remain based nonetheless in temperament. Lord knows that a big part of the fun of following the arts is letting our tastes and pleasures guide us, musing (in my case ad nauseum) about what we encounter. Lord knows it can be fun to give our responses a poke from time to time just to see how they respond. But fancy explanations for what are basically temperamental preferences are usually just disguises for political or esthetic agendas. And are much to be mistrusted. Or so I've found. You? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

America the Goofy
Friedrich -- Priceless Americana, here. I ran across the above via another blogger, but I can't credit him/her because I neglected to keep track -- a gross violation of netiquette, I gather. Sorry and many thanks, Unknown Blogger! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 5, 2002

Policy Break -- Continuum
Friedrich -- I notice that Jim Kalb at "View From the Right" has a good "What Is Conservatism" essay, here. Where do you find you feel most comfortable on the political spectrum? Myself, I feel most comfortable off the political spectrum. I'm anti-political, and whatever politics I have comes from that fact. So I reason my way to political opinions this way: I'm not really political; which means that I like limits being put on politics; which means I'm wary of people who put great hopes in politics; and, besides, I like to be the one doing the picking and choosing whenever possible. I'll take "negative liberty" over "positive liberty" any day. And I spend much too much time gnawing at questions like these: Who are these people who put their hopes for redemption and salvation in politics? Haven't they read any history? But maybe that's just because I live in NYC. If I were forced to take a stand (Oh, please no! Not that!), I guess I'd wind up wearing this team's uniform: classical liberal with conservative social concerns and a deep-dyed hatred of any kind of fanaticism. But I want to live a bohemian life myself. I should come up with a name for my team. Something other than "Morons," I mean. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Prissy Art Classes
Friedrich -- Snappy work! John Singer Sargent, watch out. More artists should start making use of JPEGs, blogs and email as distribution systems. Smash the gallery cartel! How do you like prissy art classes? I took one that qualified: a couple of weekends, very intense. Everything we drew we had to measure and then measure again. We used plumb lines, straight sticks and other devices. It was the Art 101 equivalent of taking a really severe-and-precise cooking class. I wouldn't want to work like that all the time, but the process became rather absorbing; it was fascinating to learn about the techniques, and to let whatever was going to happen to your head and eyes just happen. I got more out of it than I did out of most of the "express yourself" art classes I've taken. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Mein Own Art
Michael I tried out your idea of shooting some art with an electronic camera over the weekend. Following are three of my drawings from the art class I took in the fall of 2001. They were done as "structured" drawings--that is, everything in them was measured (the face measured in "eye-width" units, the body in head-length units.) This turns out to be trickier than it looks; the body doesn't always give you landmarks where'd you'd like to have them. They were drawn with conte pencil on newsprint, a medium I don't pretend to have mastered, especially for modelling purposes--which is why these are rather low contrast, linear images. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Bebe, Musicals
Michael I saw a production of "Chicago" in London, but Bebe wasn't in it. Some German chick was the star. I really liked the music, but somehow--I don't know if it was the staging or the costumes or what -- it seemed like the girls' abdominal muscles were supposed to be the subject of the play. Great as those abs were, it was about as erotic as watching people strip down to get deloused. I suppose the idea was to throw the "meat" in your face, but was it supposed to be vaguely depressing? Maybe I was just in the wrong mood. But I find musicals a challenge. It always strikes me as a great idea going in, but never seems to have delivered as I shuffle out of the theatre. I heard the soundtrack album of "Rent" the other day which was painfully jejune. I mean, I need some guidance here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Columnist Shootout
Friedrich -- After much enjoyably self-important mulling and musing, I’ve decided that the best journalistic essayists now writing are John Derbyshire, Theodore Dalrymple, Mark Steyn, and Robert Fulford. Do you know their work? In case you don't, here are examples of each of them in fine form: Mark Steyn, here. Theodore Dalyrymple, here. John Derbyshire, here. Robert Fulford, here. Civilized, provocative, stylish and brainy, each one. Do you marvel, as I do, at the inability of Americans to enjoy examples of what they disagree with? It seems terribly difficult for an American to read or hear something he disagrees with and yet enjoy it. Why, do you suppose? Years ago, I spent a while writing for an English magazine. What a treat. There may be much to be said against the English, but in their favor is the fact that many seem to have no trouble enjoying provocation as a form of intellectual entertainment. It's a ritual and a game: the writer takes an extreme stance, the reader cheers or is annoyed by the point of view, but applauds the presentation if and when it strikes him as well done. In fact, without sufficient provocation the English reader seems bored. Americans, on the other hand, are often earnest beyond belief. If we don’t agree we go ballistic, in one way or another. Big-city types, I find, often go (ponderously, savagely) on the personal attack. Small-city and backwater Americans tend to feel hurt or enraged; they often look like they’re going to cry. I wonder if this is because we're so hopelessly mixed-up about sophistication. We either revere it and identify with it (the big city), or it ticks us off and makes us feel like we're being looked down on by snobs (mid-America). In any case: ah, for the chance to enjoy both sides of a debate. But maybe I'm perverse. Most people seem to want to root for a team; I usually find myself rooting for the game. (After all, it's not as though my opinion is going to effect the result.) Culture partisan that I am, I find myself wondering plaintively why there aren’t people writing (commenting, etc.) at a similarly high level in the arts. Though Steyn does write well about the theater, and Fulford checks in with the occasional good piece about cultural matters… Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Rightwing Babes
Michael Eyeball the Republican Babe of the Week, here. Very cheerful, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Have you ever read any Schopenhauer? I happened on this bizarre website called "Frownland: Pessimists speaking the truth," here., which has a couple translations of the old boy. He appears from these excerpts to be a German philosopher who could actually write (very surprising) and who possessed amazing 'tude (not so surprising, but still pretty amusing.) Following is an excerpt from "The Metaphysics of the Love of the Sexes": So then, after what has been called to mind, no one can doubt either the reality or the importance of the matter [i.e., romantic love]; and therfore, instead of wondering that a philosophy should also for once make its own this constant theme of all poets, one ought rather to be surprised that a thing which plays throughout so important a part in human life has hitherto practically been disregarded by philosophers altogether, and lies before us as raw material. The one who has most concerned himself with it is Plato, especially in the "Symposium" and the "Phaedrus". Yet what he says on the subject is confined to the sphere of myths, fables, and jokes, and also for the most part concerns only the Greek love of youths. The little that Rousseau says upon our theme in the "Discours sur l'inegalite" (p. 96, ed. Bip.) is false and insufficient. Kant's explanation of the subject in the third part of the essay, "Ueber das Gefuhl des Schonen und Erhabenen" (p. 435 seq. of Rosenkranz' edition) is very superficial and without practical knowledge, therefore it is also partly incorrect. Lastly, Platner's treatment of the matter in his "Anthropology" (sect. 1347 seq.) every one will find dull and shallow. On the other hand, Spinoza's definition, on account of its excessive naivete, deserves to be quoted for the sake of amusement: "Amor est titillatio, concomitante idea causae externae" (Eth. iv., prop. 44, dem.). Accordingly I have no predecessors either to make use of or to refute. The subject has pressed itself upon me objectively, and has entered of its own accord into the connection of my consideration of the world. Moreover, least of all can I hope for approbation from those who are themselves under the power of this passion, and who accordingly seek to express the excess of their feelings in the sublimest and most ethereal images. To them my view will appear too physical, too material, however metaphysical and even transcendent it may be at bottom. Meanwhile let them reflect that if the object which to-day inspires them to write madrigals and sonnets had been born eighteen years earlier it would scarcely have won a glance from them. Moreover, his theory of love is extremely sociobiological. Richard Dawkins of "The Selfish Gene" would have little to argue with in this account: That this particular child shall be begotten is, although unknown to the parties concerned, the true end of the whole love story; the manner in which it is attained is a secondary consideration. Now, however loudly persons of lofty and sentimental... posted by Friedrich at September 5, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Policy Break -- Social Security
Michael Are you nervous about the future of Social Security? As an aging boomer with my stock portfolio in the crapper, I know I am. I mean, I try to keep up with all this public policy stuff, but it’s not easy with all the contradictory information out there. For example, I checked out the website of “The Women & Social Security Project.” There I found a page on “The Privatization Debate.” Well, that sounded good—I mean, a debate sounds like a discussion of both sides of the issue, right? The headline made me a little nervous, though: “4 Ways to Win The Privatization Debate & Strengthen Social Security for Women.” Well, I’m all for women. My wife and daughters are women. My best times have uniformly involved women (along with, you know, the odd controlled substance). The Women & Social Security Project website was put up by the The National Coalition of Women’s Organizations, a group of more than 100 women’s groups representing over 6 million women! Hell, I’ve been married for 15 years, I know better than to argue with 6 million women! I carried on. The pro-privatization side of the debate apparently got the first word in. It read, in full: When They Say: "Social Security is going bankrupt.” That was it. I’ll admit, I often feel stupid when I talk to women, but this made me feel really dense. Not only was it short on information, but I wasn’t even sure it was a complete sentence (that colon had me a little worried.) And anyway, who was this “They” going around saying such nasty things? Fortunately, right next to it was what appeared to be the “We” side’s response: You Say: Fix it, don't scrap it…especially don't ‘fix it’ with a scheme that would destroy the intent of the program which is to provide a foundation of retirement/disability and survivor insurance. Well, I don’t know about you, but that STILL left me wondering: IS Social Security going bankrupt? I mean, after Enron and Worldcom and all, maybe somebody’s been cooking the books. So I checked out another website: “Social Security’s Treatment of Postwar Americans: How Bad Can It Get?” by a couple of fellas named Jagadeesh Gokhale and Laurence J. Kotlikoff from Boston University’s National Bureau of Economic Research. They were a bit more specific on the question, if not very reassuring: How large is the total present value imbalance of the [Social Security] system? If we discount all future taxes and benefits at a 3 percent real rate, we arrive at a present value imbalance of $8.1 trillion. This figure represents the difference between a) the present value of all future benefit payments and b) the sum of the present value of future payroll tax revenue plus the current [Social Security] trust fund.” Yikes! What did these Social Security bozos do, use Arthur Andersen for their accountant and Ken Lay for their budget director? Ken Lay: Architect of Social Security? And then Jagadeesh and Larry... posted by Friedrich at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Nozick
Friedrich -- I just ran across this: an interview the blogger Julian Sanchez did with the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick back in 2001, here. In my dilettantish way, I thoroughly enjoyed the 20% of it I understood. Sample: JS: Are Marxists less dangerous in the English department than they were in the politics and philosophy departments? RN: Well, I guess so in that their students don't go on to as many positions of power. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Surf's Up
Friedrich -- The Wife and I drove by a surfing beach recently. There were a few gals on surfboards and a few guys lolling about. But about 95% of the guys were strutting or surfing (ie., showing off their prowess), and about 95% of the gals were oiled, bikini'd and languourous (ie., showing off their desirable flesh, like juicy roasted chickens). I pointed this out to The Wife. She, a sexy, fit 6 footer who could probably bench-press me, laughed and said, "And so it ever shall be." One of many reasons we get along so well. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

DVD Journal: "The Sweetest Thing"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- The Wife and I caught up with "The Sweetest Thing" on DVD. Have you seen it? A painful misfire. Cameron Diaz, Cristina Applegate and Selma Blair in a slapstick, road-trip romance that wants to combine "There's Something About Mary" (charm, gross-outs) with "Sex in the City" (charm, satire, glamour). Almost nothing in it works. The girls twinkle and laugh, show off their underpants, wink at the camera, sing and dance a satirical song about the penis -- and almost none of it is funny, let alone charming. They Wish Fascinating to read viewers' comments about the movie, which generally divide this way: it's gross and raw and therefore bad (the "tut tut" reaction); or it's gross and raw and isn't that cool and it's therefore good (the "you go, girls" reaction). My own reaction: it's interesting to think about how to put across a chickflick that features guffaws and grossouts, but this particular team certainly didn't solve the problem. The actresses shriek, horse around, and seem to amuse themselves. But from minute one you're staring at the movie in disbelief as it lays egg after egg: How could it have gone so wrong? Cameron Diaz has nothing like the technique it takes to put over this kind of extreme, stylized material; Cristina Applegate is fine; Selma Blair I adore (that comic earnestness and overintensity!), and I was glad to see her manage a few droll moments. But all three seem terrified of not being found charming, and overcompensate wildly. More general musing: I'm glad girls and young women feel free to be more rambunctious than they supposedly used to be, although I wonder whether we don't paint earlier generations as more uptight than they were. (My mom had an out-of-the-house job, like many of the moms in my small town; and I recall being chased, beaten up, and outplayed by many neighborhood girls my age, lucky me. It's a funny myth, this idea that American women were until recently so repressed: I remember an article in Salon whose young-woman author had apparently been convinced -- by some women's-studies prof? -- that before the 1970s women didn't enjoy sex.) But it's about time, in any case, that some of that rambunctiousness started showing up in movies. Do you, by the way, as the daddy of teen girls, find the new girls much different than those of our generation? The Penis Song But girls seem in conflict in ways boys don't. A boy can be obnoxious, extreme, and gross and still semi-reasonably hope to be found entertaining. Girls still often want (biology or culture, I'll let others fight it out, although I know which side I vote for) to be found charming, and even cute. Allowing for that, has any female performer successfully brought together funny, gross. and charming? Margaret Cho, maybe? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friedrich -- More evidence (I learn slow) that TV is the center of the culture: on the cover of Book Magazine this month is the newscaster Peter Jennings. (Article is here.) No mention on the magazine's cover of Jennings' co-author, Todd Brewster... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friedrich -- Reasons to love actresses, part 326: a cute interview with Bebe Neuwirth in the Telegraph, here. Sample: "A magazine asked me to comment on an article called 'How to Be Sexy After 40'. What could I tell them? If you have to ask, you probably can't do it." Best Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

More from "Intellectuals"
Michael I can't resist posting another excerpt from Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals"--again on Marx. Why Are You Resisting My Theories? Chapter Eight [of Marx's "Capital"], 'The Working Day'...present[s] itself as a factual analysis of the impact of capitalism on the lives of the British Proletariat; indeed, it is the only part of Marx's work which actually deals with the workers, the ostensible subject of his entire philosophy. It is therefore worth examining for its 'scientific' value... The truth is, even the most superficial inquiry into Marx's use of evidence forces one to treat with skepticism everything he wrote which relies on factual data...[H]e uses out-of-date material because up-to-date material does not support his case. ... [H]e selects certain industries, where conditions were particularly bad, as typical of capitalism. This cheat was particularly important to Marx because without it he would not really have had Chapter Eight at all. His thesis was that capitalism produces ever-worsening conditions; the more capital employed, the more badly the workers had to be treated to secure adequate returns. The evidence he quotes at length comes almost entirely from small, inefficient, undercapitalized firms in archaic industries which in most cases were pre-capitalist-pottery, dressmaking, blacksmiths, baking, matches,wallpaper, lace, for instance. In many of the specific cases he cites (e.g., baking) conditions were bad precisely because the firm had not been able to afford to introduce machinery, since it lacked capital. In effect, Marx is dealing with pre-capitalist conditions, and ignoring the truth which stared him in the face: the more capital, the less suffering. Where he does treat a modern, highly-capitalized industry, he finds a dearth of evidence; thus, dealing with steel, he has to fall back on interpolated comments ('What cynical frankness! 'What mealy-mouthed phraseology!') and with railways he is driven to use yellowing clippings of old accidents ('fresh railway catastrophes'): it was necessary to his thesis that the accident rate per passenger mile traveled should be rising, whereas it was falling dramatically and by the time Capital as published railways were already becoming the safest mode of mass travel in world history... What Marx could not or would not grasp, because he made no effort to understand how industry worked, was that from the very dawn of the Industrial Revolution, 1760-90, the most efficient manufacturers, who had ample access to capital, habitually favoured better conditions for their workforce; they therefore tended to support factory legislation and, what was equally important, its effective enforcement, because it eliminated what they regarded as unfaircompetition. So conditions improved, and because conditions improved, the workers failed to rise, as Marx predicted they would. The prophet was thus confounded. What emerges from a reading of Capital is Marx's fundamental failure to understand capitalism. Gee, is it just me, or do I hear echoes of the today's professional-environmentalist-prophets-of-doom in that? Try re-reading this passage using "the environment" in place of "the workers" and making similar substitutions. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 5
Friedrich -- Another enticing front-page-of-the-NYTimes-arts-section headline: * "London Stage, a Social Mirror" Well, I'm sure curious to find out more! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 4, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

The Big Picture, Derbyshire Style & TV Into Movies redux
Michael As regards "alternative consciousness" and "art," one small anecdote: When I was in my late twenties, I was in art school and was working 14-hours a day, seven days a week. (I was also supporting myself via part time work in addition to going to art school full time.) More oppressive than the burden of work or school, however, was an obsessive idea -- almost unnoticed because it was omnipresent -- of being driven to accomplishments that were never quite within my grasp, but were nonetheless urgent, very urgent. Things were not -- and never had been -- just okay with me. I always had things to do, and they all needed to have been done yesterday. On a whim after classes one Friday, I visited a nearby natural history museum. It was at the end of the day and there were few visitors. I ended up sitting alone in a huge darkened room filled with dimly lit dioramas, listening to the echoing sounds of children shrieking as they ran around thefloors below. (Yes, yes, it was the exactly the echoing sound of childish laughter that is a cliché of the haunted house movie.) As the sound faded -- the only indication of human presence I could hear or see -- I had a strange moment. I was entirely at peace. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do; everything was (astonishingly) just fine. I was suddenly aware of another version of myself, which seemed to me to be my "seven-year-old" self. My seven-year-old self and I reviewed the 20-odd years that had passed since I had in fact been seven, during which I had struggled to impress teachers, employers, girls, colleagues, fellow students, parents. It came to me, very peaceably and with great calm, that this had all been a complete fucking waste of time. What became clear was that in fact, what I had liked and been willing to invest time in at seven was exactly what I still liked; anything I wouldn't have thought was 'cool' or 'neat' at age seven I still really had no interest in. I sat very pleasantly on that bench for another 15 or 20 minutes, and then realized that it was time to go back to my "ordinary" life. I knew I would have to continue to struggle with my own compulsion to impress the world, but that was just the way things were. My seven-year-old takes a very long view of things; the concept of time seems foreign to him. So what does all this have to do with interest in art? Well, my inner seven-year-old is definitely the part of me that cares about art. What my inner seven-year-old likes is the re-working or re-presentation of some aspect of the world so that it becomes a more meaningful version of itself (at least to me.) During my tour of the museum, just prior to this unusual moment, I had been inspecting the painted landscape backgrounds of the wildlife... posted by Friedrich at September 3, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

DVD Journal: "8 1/2 Women"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- My Sadist-within ran away with me last night (it happens occasionally), and I made the wife sit through Peter Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women" -- on DVD, thankfully, so we were able to riffle through the movie quickly. (Have you noticed how DVDs turn movies into something like books? Linear and/or nonlinear -- it's up to you. If you want to taste-test instead of submitting to the whole one-course-after-another process, go right ahead.) Have you checked out any Greenaway? He has his loyalists and fans; I find his films about as annoying as can be. He's theoretical and presentational, like a too-brilliant-for-his-own-good professor putting together an art installation. Here, he seems to want to fuse Baroque opera practice with Kabuki, and both with the most up-to-date (ie., incomprehensible) ArtForum theory. Baroque Kabuki? His fans love that he's "challenging" (he certainly is), find his imagery beautiful, and love his hyperintellectual approach to story, which they seem to enjoy as a stinging rebuke to the usual squaresville approach. (Do you understand the contempt a lot of semi-sophisticates feel for straightforward storytelling? I don't. Or rather, I do, and ain't it a pity.) There's a gaudily narcissistic quality to his movies. He makes you feel stupid (he's so smart!) and superior (because you're sitting at his table) at the same time, which I guess has its appeal. He lays on the grotesquerie (sudden, strikingly repulsive closeups), yet it's all very strict and controlled. "8 1/2 Women"'s story is about a rich father and son who, having lost the family's mother and having gone to see "8 1/2," set out to surround themselves with women (one is pregnant, hence the half). But mainly what you're watching are avant-garde hijinks, spiced with a slashingly-defiant and confident lot of nudity and sex talk. (It's set in the present, but it feels like everyone in the film is wearing a perruque, and overdoes the rouge and cosmetic facial moles.) Almost unwatchable, is my verdict, not because Greenaway isn't talented (he is), and his movies aren't impressive (they are), but because I hate his sensibility, which I find inhuman. He reminds me of a far-out academic architect, whose highbrow reputation is based on incomprehensible MIT Press-published musings and who impresses the likes of the Times' Herbert Muschamp. Ie., lauded and admired because he's so impossible and difficult. He makes Kubrick, to whom his work bears a little resemblance (presentational, intellectual), seem like a hustling, garrulous guy-next-door. A question runs through my brain as I think about Greenaway's movies: why do I find the kind of thing he does fairly easy to take at the theater? I don't mind sitting through the occasional (as in once every five years) Robert Wilson production at BAM. I'm able to sit there thinking, ahhhh, Euro-state-subsidized avant-garde theater, let's see what they're up to now. But when the same thing is given to me in the form of a movie, I find it offputting. I'm not sure how... posted by Michael at September 3, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

And That's Putting It Mildly
Friedrich -- From the British magazine Philosophy Today: The death of man, the death of the subject and the death of the author were celebrated rather than mourned in the 1960s, and brought in their wake the end of ethics, the end of agency, and the end of committed literature. The anti-humanistic hubris of the heyday of structuralism seems retrospectively not so much radical as suicidal. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 3, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, September 2, 2002

Readers and Writers
Friedrich -- A novelist friend who teaches creative writing at a local college tells me that she recently mentioned William Faulkner in class, and asked who in the class knew his work. It turned out that not only were none of the kids familiar with Faulkner's fiction, only a couple of them had even heard his name before. Another novelist friend, who also teaches creative writing at a local college, tells me that his students don't read much fiction (apart from a few big-name thrillers). So what makes them want to write? "They read news reports about the latest hot writers and the latest big advance," he tells me, "and it strikes them as a glamorous career possibility." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 1, 2002

If I Were an Editor 2
Friedrich -- If I were an editor, I'd run a cover story about today's 20somethings, focusing on looks and attitudes. I notice two contrasting types, flip sides of each other: the kids who favor stretchy synthetics, depilation, bare lower bellies, and sleek Gap-ad hair; and the other kids who favor a Burning-Man, neohippie, cut-and-paste gestalt. Both look like they just stepped out of a computer screen. I'd entitle my cover package "The Photoshop Generation." If Tom Wolfe uses this, he'll be hearing from my lawyers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

When Harry Met Alfonso
Friedrich -- It's just been announced that the third "Harry Potter" movie will be directed by Alfonso ("Y Tu Mama") Cuaron. A little visual magic, perhaps? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

DVD Journal: "Blue Crush," "Fallen Angels"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I recently watched the chicks-surf-too movie "Blue Crush," and then a few days later watched (on DVD) Wong Kar-Wai's "Fallen Angels." Worlds apart, of course, but also similar in a few ways that I take to be important, or at least interesting. Neither one's a movie in the sense I mean when I think "movie" -- i.e., neither uses classical movie language. Instead, they're long-form audiovisual vehicles that use the elements of TV and publicity as building blocks. They're jumbles, ragbags strung out linearly in the case of "Blue Crush" with a Simpson/Bruckheimeresque, love-or-trophies, you-go-girl storyline, strung together in the case of Wong Kar-Wai with downtown-style rawness and edge. When you and I were art-and-movie-struck kids imagining the movies we'd make, what we pictured (is it fair to say?) was bouncing our ideas and experiences off movie history, leaning on painting, poetry and lit, and setting it all to pop music. What many of the current movies seem to reflect is an idea of movies as, basically, big-screen TV. It used to be that TV tried to be like movies. These days all the effort seems to be going into making movies like TV and computers. In Hollywood's mind, a movie is TV made larger and louder; Wong Kar-Wai is doing something more collage-y and poetic. "Blue Crush" is for mall teens and 20somethings; "Fallen Angels" is for kids going into the arts. Even the Bikinis Disappoint Years ago I took a course in how to use the computer video-editing program Premiere. During the very first class something became evident to me. In Premiere, you can organize conventional footage in a conventional way; you can use the program as an aid to achieving traditional goals. But Premiere allows you to do much else: to process the images, to mess with wild effects, and to Cuisinart your supercharged elements together. It was clear, both from the jammin' way I found myself using the program and from the evidence of the much-younger people I was taking the course with, how computer-video editing was going to be used in the future. (Hint: not to make the classical thing more elegant.) Yikes, thought this lover of traditional movie language. A year or two later, reporting a piece about how the people who put together feature films had begun to edit them on computers, I visited with professional film editors. They were delighted with the new Avid systems. When I asked what impact the computers would have on movies themselves, the editors said, Oh, none at all. Sure you can mess around, but you just have to learn the craft and some self-discipline. Then I asked them if they really, really, really thought that young people coming along will do that take the time to study the art and learn the language before cutting loose. Wasn't it just a teensy bit more likely that kids would simply grab the technology and rock out? The editors all gave me the... posted by Michael at September 1, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments