In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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  1. A Good Day's Handwringing redux
  2. Conservatives and Art reredux
  3. Women's Mags
  4. Crunchy Cons, Reredux
  5. Free Reads -- Film vs. Digital, rerereredux
  6. Time-stopping Redux
  7. Currin Redux
  8. Gombrich Redux
  9. Crunchy Cons, Reredux
  10. Crunchy Cons, redux

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Saturday, September 21, 2002

A Good Day's Handwringing redux
Michael Thanks for the tip regarding Robert Fulford's article in Canada's National Post. He examines how universities neglect what the public expects them to do--that is, educate students--to pursue their true priority: research. The article reviews a recent book by two political scientists at the University of Alberta, Tom Pocklington and Allan Tupper, "No Place to Learn: Why Universities Aren't Working." You can read the entire article here. A selection from Fulford's article: Pocklington and Tupper go so far as to question the principle that research and teaching are interdependent and that good researchers make good teachers. This is a sacred belief in academe, but no one has ever demonstrated it; the only evidence for it is anecdotal, the kind that professors reject when it's offered by students. Anyway, say Pocklington and Tupper, if that idea is valid, why do universities reward good researchers by lightening their "teaching load?" They also argue that professors, driven to justify themselves, often do research of no value to anyone. By the way, I'm not sure I ever mentioned a friend of mine who dropped out of our Lousy Ivy League university for a year and who took some classes back home at a very unprestigious local college (at best, one notch up from a community college.) When he returned, I asked him about how the classes were, expecting from what he had told me about the school that they would be a joke. His reply: "Actually, what was surprising was how much better the instruction was." Shocked, I asked him how such a rinky-dink place could offer better instruction than our august institution. "Well," he said, pondering that question, "I guess it's because they work at it. It's like their job, you know?" Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Conservatives and Art reredux
Friedrich -- A political scientist writes in to remind us that the two strongest grassroots constituencies for the Republican party are Protestant fundamentalists and small business people. The first have always been anti-urban and anti-intellectual, going back to the 1920s backlash against religious modernism (and earlier backlashes against what they saw as an effete, overeducated clergy). (Some of the more thoughtful religious conservatives have admitted that their movement has been hurt by a lack of intellectual candlepower). They're not a likely constituency to support art (unless you mean the "Left Behind" novels). The second have never been much interested in art, either. That's not to say there aren't plenty of conventional suburban Republicans who go to museums or attend concerts. And of course, it's money donated by Fortune 500 types (usually Republicans) that keep the arts afloat. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Women's Mags
Friedrich -- The magazine industry is going through what many say is its worst period in decades. All sectors are suffering -- except one. According to the Economist (online, but subscription only), the women's glossies are not just thriving but booming. Why? Two reasons. The first is that, in a gloomy era, advertisers seem to prefer seeing their ads run next to pretty pictures rather than downbeat stories. The other, and larger, reason is that, despite the recession, American women continue to buy and spend as enthusiastically as ever. Sample passage: Certain items, such as luxury watches, cars or mobile telephones, seem to be as content nestling next to articles entitled "I'm a monster in bed" or "The truth behind the Britney backlash" as they once were amid stories on corporate strategy. You go, girls! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Crunchy Cons, Reredux
Michael I got around to checking out the on-line version of "Granola Conservatives" by the National Review’s Rod Dreher which you recommended. I agree that it is quite interesting and I'd like to respond to it. For those of you who haven't read it, Dreher’s main thesis is that despite being a conservative, in some respects his life and values have "more in common with left-wing counterculturalists than with many garden-variety conservatives.” Garden Variety Conservatives? I have little to argue with Dreher's somewhat obvious (but true) point that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in anybody’s philosophy, and his more subtle suggestion that one should always look closely at what you can learn from your intellectual opponents. After all, these people spend a lot of time engaged with exactly the same issues that engage you--they're bound to dig up something you should think about. But Dreher takes his argument further, using two examples where he thinks lefties have a point that conservatives are not taking. The first is that capitalism, with its emphasis on economic growth, can be bad for the environment, and that conservatives often fail to support environmentally-friendly policies or will even actively oppose them. The second is that modern capitalist society creates a sort of relentless, debased, lowest-common denominator culture, leaving Dreher little choice but to--eeek!--seek relief from National Public Radio and PBS. (The horror!) Regarding the environment, I can only analyze my own feelings about this in detail. I would be lying if I denied that I constantly feel suspicious of environmentalism. Why? To be honest, it bothers me that the environmental "movement" is so clearly just a new vessel that has been filled with the same old anti-capitalist wine that used to slosh around in the socialist/communist winesack. I don't think it is unnatural to be suspicious of a movement that seems so frankly opportunistic and disingenuous about its arguments, if constant in its goals. But this is a sort of ad hominen argument; forgetting environmentalism, what of the environment itself? As a father and a link in a genetic chain that I hope will still be going strong many generations in the future, I think one would have to be insane to be indifferent to the fate of the environment. However, I still have reservations about the ways and means of current-day left-wing 'command and control' environmentalism. Let me give a real-world example of why I have these reservations. There is a land use dispute taking place in my home town. A large (3,000 home) residential development, backed by a major savings & loan, is stalled because of the presence of an endangered animal. Now, I live in a neighborhood which is in the next valley over and just as environmentally un-friendly as the proposed development but which got built before the Endangered Species Act was passed. Nobody in my neighborhood gives a damn about the threat to this endangered animal or pretends to; they oppose this development because... posted by Friedrich at September 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Film vs. Digital, rerereredux
Friedrich -- A conversation in ICG between the cinematographers Bill Bennett, David Darby and Allen Daviau, here. (It's a site with frames, so once there you'll then have to click on the feature on the righthand side that says "evolution or revolution.") Their topic is film vs. hi-def video. Sample passage: Bennett: In Hi-Def demonstrations, the manufacturers carefully select scenes where video does look like film. And you can, shooting in very controlled situations, create scenes where the image looks very similar. But, in other situations and in broader use, a child could tell the difference...In the piece that was shot digitally, the green outside the window was a bright green mass. Whereas in the piece that was shot on film, you could see individual blades of grass. There's detail there. The ferns blowing in the breeze were discernable. Darby: Video is great for documentaries. If you're all about gathering information, then shoot video. But if you're specifying the information and having control over it, for the time being, you absolutely have to shoot film. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 21, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, September 20, 2002

Time-stopping Redux
Michael Did you know there is a whole niche of er, erotic literature called "time stopping?" I'd tell you more but it's not my bag and I didn't poke into it. I'm always surprised to see how sexual fetishes and fantasies, which people usually consider deeply private, are almost always common to many. And, of course, since the Internet came along, shared among many. (Hey, you name the fantasy--furry people, shrinking or growing people, gender-switching, smoking, hypnotizing your hot schoolteacher into being a bit more friendly--there's a community for you online, with an associated literature.) I'm also surprised by the ways in which culture, whether "high" or "pop," seems to often be informed by "underground" sexual literature. Wasn't it Delacroix who commented that the arts of his time were covertly saturated with the influence of the Marquis de Sade? What was Delacroix reading? You could do a whole Ph.D. thesis on the meaning for modern pop culture of Betty Page, who modelled for Irving Klaw's (classic name!)rather furtive plain brown wrapper publications in the 1950s--I've given up counting the number of references I've seen to her in the past 10 years. A few days ago I was rather surprised to see Michelle Pfieffer on a woman's magazine cover wearing a black dress that overtly refers to rubber/PVC- fetish ware. (Although, thinking of her "cat suit" in Batman, I guess I shouldn't be so surprised.) Betty and Michelle--sisters under the skin? Ubiquitous pop culture and still-ghettoized erotic culture are only separated by a razor's edge--and it's gotten to be a very sharp razor indeed since the launch of MTV. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Currin Redux
Friedrich -- Thanks for tipping me off to John Currin. I enjoyed the interview with him that you linked to. I notice that at one point he says: I like things to be still, I'm interested in a still image...There's a pleasure in freezing movement, a voyeuristic pleasure in being able to see one moment and look at it forever. So true. Have you ever read Nicolson Baker's "The Fermata"? On the same theme: the hero can stop time. Baker: Time-stopper The only thing, it turns out, that Baker's hero can think of to do with the stopped time is to walk around undressing and feeling up women. A wonderful creepy/sexy/funny novel, the only Nicholson Baker book where I felt the obsessiveness and virtuosity got in synch and paid off. Plus some amazingly specific (and bizarrely convincing) descriptions of what time, when stopped, feels like. I wonder how John Currin and Nicholson Baker would get on. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Gombrich Redux
Friedrich -- I think you're really onto something when you bring Gombrich and evo-bio together. They're both useful; they both help explain the arts. They may not explain everything, but they get you in the ballpark, and that counts for a lot. Gombrich I don't think I ever encountered any explanation Marx-derived or Freud-derived that did me any good. Structuralism, decon -- fooey to all that. Back when we were in college, discussions of the arts were often discussions of greatness and transcendence. I found and find that kind of discussion almost useless. I may be interested in your opinion, or the Wife's, or for that matter a given professor's. But only because I know and enjoy and respect you. (Even so, I do have hopes that your opinion will then open out onto something further -- observations, jokes, musings.) Besides, discussions about what's great lead to stupid arguments ("X is better!" "No, Y is better!") and tend to get stupidly political ("X should be in the canon!" "No, Y should!"). Who cares? Well, someone probably does and should, but not me. And what's really to be said about "greatness" or "transcendence" anyway? Although I can enjoy critical and fannish rhapsodizing up to a point. For whatever dubious reasons, I'm more interested in what's helpful. And what I tend to find helpful is the study of artistic forms -- their history, their components. Narrative genres, visual genres, musical types and structures, etc -- these are the building blocks of art, as well as the grammar of it. Where did the various artistic forms and genres come from? That's where I think evolutionary psychology comes in useful. They evolved. From what? From innate structures, probably, as well as from what showed itself from experience to work over time. For instance, when I first read my favorite novel, Stendhal's "The Charterhouse of Parma," I read it in isolation from most of the lit and entertainment of its time, so I (dimly) had the impression that Stendhal made it all up. Wow, what a god of creativity he seemed. Stendhal Since then, I've learned that for content he was lifting from a particular kind of Italian romantic narrative, and for structure he was leaning heavily on the then-very-popular swashbuckler-romance form. My respect for Stendhal hasn't diminished -- hey, he was a human: good job! -- and my enjoyment of the novel hasn't either. This is simply the way art works. Nobody makes it all up. Structures and forms evolve; and, as they do, artists do their best to add their two cents to the mix. But, also, so much seems to be innate. I'm no scientist, but I can't see how anyone can argue that it isn't part of being human to try to read figurative imagery into anything we see; to try to read narrative and/or argument into anything long-ish that we read; to hear and/or look for melody into anything we're asked to listen to as music; and to try to... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Crunchy Cons, Reredux
Friedrich -- The debate over how to handle environmental challenges is a good one. (You go, free-market environmentalists, as far as I'm concerned.) I'd love to hear more of your ideas on the subject. I think Dreher's subject is a slightly different one, though. He's saying that it's possible to be generally pro-market, and generally conservative, yet like art, be glad that environmentalists have saved a few acres here and there, and care deeply about "quality of life issues" -- traffic, trees, food, the built environment, the fate of the media, etc. Righties Can Care About Nature This ain't news to you and me. But readers who are bored with the usual distinction between crunchy-hysterical-left and sensible-but-cold-right may find something fresh in his piece. I'd love to know if you think so too. As for me, I'm seizing on the opportunity to gas on for a sec about something related but slightly different, which is this: how can the conservative/libertarian/rightwing/sensible team let the lefties own such topics as art, beauty, poetry, and nature? Let's ignore the larger fact that a classical-liberal/conservative/libertarian mindset may in fact better suited to the arts ("freedom of thought+respect for tradition=potentially really good art") than a lefty ("brainwash, then police outcomes") mindset is. Simply from a p-r point of view, why don't righties understand what a problem it is to let the left lay exclusive claim to these issues? Why don't they understand that A) it's ok to care and talk about these questions, and B) their political fortunes might improve if they let themselves do so? Ie., instead of letting themselves be perceived as saying, "Fuck the environment, economic growth is everything," why not insist, "Hey, we care about the environment, and we think that private initiatives are the best way of ensuring a healthy environment"? Instead of letting themselves be perceived as saying, "Fuck the arts, profit growth is all," why not insist that "Hey, we care about art, and we think it thrives best under non-government-subsidized conditions"? By letting themselves appear to care only about business and money, righties are letting themselves look ugly, and ugly means that lots of potentially sympathetic people turn away. Righties Can Care About Art For instance, no one's going to believe that righties care about art -- although many do -- if, on the topic of art, they're perceived only as wanting to kill the National Endowment for the Arts, richly though the NEA deserves to be killed. Why not instead create a (sincere!) fuss about the arts, speak about how important they are, laud the cause, participate in the arts, honor artists, fund huge private endowments for the arts, challenge the left to do likewise -- and then kill the NEA? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Crunchy Cons, redux
Michael My problem as a right-wing Neanderthal is not with “tree huggers” or environmentalism per se. My difficulty is with the left’s method of distributing the costs of environmental protection. This is to stick private landowners with 100% of the costs, while the general public all shares in the benefit. (In the case of Superfund cleanups, the private party getting stuck with the cost may not—and in most cases, doesn’t—have any connection with the actual business practices that caused the pollution.) I’ve always wondered why the Sierra Club, with the extremely high average per capita income of its members, doesn’t just pass the hat and buy up endangered “old growth” forests, etc.? The same process is at work in affirmative action in college admissions. The benefits of a more diverse workforce and society are, presumably, general. But the cost is laid entirely on the marginal white and Asian applicants to universities, the people who get bumped to make room for the affirmative action candidates. I’m not aware of any data showing that such marginal white or Asian students bear any particular responsibility for previous racial discrimination, yet the prevailing solution is to say, “Tough luck guys, hope you applied to another school.” If the public benefits, then—ahem—the public oughtta pay. The left’s favorite criticism of markets involves externalities (that is, benefits or damages that are not included in the costs of the goods being sold through the market.) The price of electricity from a coal-fired power plant, for example, should (but doesn’t) include the cost of the damage it will do to the environment through its pollution. Fair enough. But the left doesn’t scream when it uses the government to create externalities. Forcing private landowners to undertake expensive endangered species protection without compensation—sounds like a governmental ‘externality.’ Kicking marginal white and Asian students out of a more prestigious university so they'll make less money the rest of their life—sounds like a governmental ‘externality.’ Make the wealthiest 10% of the citizens pay for half or more of the cost of government—sounds like a governmental ‘externality.’ Have you ever noticed that ‘social justice’ always seems to involve ‘us-them’ dichotomies in which the ‘them’ are ripped off to provide bennies for the ‘us’ group? (And these bennies are then presented as "free"?) Have you ever wondered at the constant use of dehumanizing language in leftist rhetoric—the evil Rich, the self-centered Yuppie bastards, etc., etc. (The funniest one is to describe lower middle class people as “Working Families”—like the wealthy don’t work longer hours.) Well, you can reliably follow the language—the people being trashed are being softened up for plucking.... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Crunchy Cons
Friedrich -- The National Review this week runs a good Rod Dreher cover piece on "Granola Conservatives." It isn't online, but an earlier version of Dreher on the theme is here. I'd be curious to know how you respond to it. I found it a refreshing piece. Dreher, with an openness rare in anyone primarily political, admits that while his own political preferences are conservative, he also likes organic vegetables, listens to jazz, mistrusts unbridled development, and dislikes his fellow conservatives' disdain for nature. I cheer virtually any attempt to show that life is more complicated than doctrinaire politicos make it out to be, of course. But, political naif that I am, I'm also forever amazed that neither major party ever seems to wake up to the fact that there's a fair number of people in the country who favor a package that roughly corresponds to this: freer rather than tighter markets and respect for family and most institutions, but also a reverence for art, history and nature. Business has to be able to do what it does, but let's not let it and its values run roughshod over what we personally care most about. Sample passage from Dreher: The music we like — jazz, hard country, bluegrass, Cuban son — is something you can only hear on, umm, public radio or see on public television. When we began talking about buying a house, we realized we wanted something old and funky, in the sort of neighborhood that your average Republican would disdain. We found that though the Shiite environmentalists drive us nuts, there was also something off-putting about the way many conservatives speak with caustic derision about environmental conservation. Two weeks ago, some conservative friends were driving me down the Pacific Coast Highway, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty, as they are. "I'm afraid we have to tip our hats to the tree-huggers," said one. "If it weren't for them, much of what you see would be covered with tract houses and malls." Let's see, would a similar piece from the reverse point-of-view go something like: "I love NPR and Greenpeace, but I gotta admit that I also love my paycheck, hot running water and my car, and, y'know, it's really thanks to business that we have them"? Funny: I'm not aware that such a column has ever been written. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Helpful Movie Ratings
Friedrich -- You know the little ratings boxes that run in the lower lefthand corner of movie ads? When did they become so specific? The ratings are still the ratings, but these days we also get details. For instance, we learn not only that "BarberShop" is rated PG-13, but that it contains "Language, Sexual Content and Brief Drug References." I know these details are supposed to help responsible parents choose their children's entertainment more wisely. But they sure help art-loving salacious types like me too. "Secretary"? The ratings box tells me it features "Strong Sexual Content, Some Nudity" and much else -- hmm, I might consider going. But I want yet more information. One of the cast members of the new French picture "8 Women" is Virginie Ledoyen, who I'm a big fan of. She's talented, and has a cheerful/tragic, chic baby-doll assertiveness I find almost irresistable. The film is probably dreadful, but I'd see it anyway if Virginie does something daring in it. So let's see... The film's rated R -- that's good. But the details for some reason only specify "Some Sexual Content." What sexual content, exactly? And involving who? Darn it, why isn't the MPAA telling me? Virginie: Worth Seeing Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Artist's Quote of the Day
Michael I found a great interview with John Currin, one of my favorite contemporary painters: You can find it in full here. An excerpt: You can't make a painting without embracing your own desire as something good…That's why I've always thought of myself as an expressionist artist. I think in terms of expressionism because it's involved with dumb ideas, really stupid ideas; and even if my strategy would seem to be mapped-out, some people would even say "smart," that's not what I mean when I say "stupid." I'm talking about stupid urges and stupid desires, things that don't involve any irony or anything intellectual… I think about things that are not ironic, like sexual desire, fear of death, basic things that are by no means new concepts. A semiotician would say that the entire world is ironic, that it's about understanding where the misapplied labels are, that the very idea of a label describing something is a lie anyway. It seems to me that great art always makes you feel like there isn't a misapplied label. Currin's "The Veil," "The Bra Shop" and "Jaunty & Mame" And they say breast men aren't smart cookies! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 10
Friedrich -- The Friday New York Times includes two arts sections, one about movies and theater, the other about what the newspaper calls the "fine arts." The headlines today in both show the paper's usual light touch. In the performing arts section: * Revival Works a Transformation * Maazel Shows His Firm Hand From the Start In the fine arts section: * The Face (and Soul) Of Africa * A Tower of Dentists Wears a Golden Crown Boogie down! I'll admit that that "dentists" touch is a nice, if bewildering, one. The tone of the story, though, disappoints. It concerns the history behind a monumental old Brooklyn landmark, the Williamsburgh Savings building, and it has a characteristic Times tone: semi-camp, semi-whimsical, a little bratty. "The basilicalike banking hall remains a pretty awe-inspiring place to fill out a deposit slip." Good gosheroonie! And so much for history and grandeur. Hmm, the Times never seems to use that tone for discussions of modernist buildings. I wonder why not? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Cultural Evolution
Michael I was reading “The Image & The Eye” by E. H. Gombrich last night and stumbled across what may be the common link between our interest in socio-biology and the arts. Discussing the development of what he terms 'the convincing image' in Western Art (a process by which any element of realism subjects the rest of the image to a critical process that will, in time, make it more realistic too), Gombrich offers a little tangential insight: There is a real Darwinian parallel here which should not be overlooked. For the evolution of convincing images was indeed anticipated by nature long before human minds could conceive this trick. I am referring to the wonders of protective colouring and mimicry, of deterrent and camouflaging forms in plants and animals. As we have learnt at school, and as we can see with amazement in zoological displays, there are insects that look exactly like the leaves of the tree which is their habitat…. Moth on Tree The eye and the brain of the bird from which protective colouring must hide the butterfly surely differ in a thousand ways from ours. And yet we can only assume that both for the bird and for us the butterfly and the leaf have become indistinguishable…[M]ight it not be argued that the shapes of art are also arrived at through adaptation to various functions…we may assume that evolution in art as in nature could also approximate other specifications than that of effortless recognizability. Maybe the immensely disquieting and expressive forms of those tribal styles we call ‘primitive’ also evolved step by step towards awe-inspiring or terrifying configurations… One might imagine that it was merely felt that certain masks, images or ornaments were charged with more potency, more mana, than others, and that those features that made for their magic power survived and increased in the course of time. Maybe the reason I like art history, in addition liking individual pieces of art (a combination of tastes that, when you think about it, is by no means necessarily automatic) is that I’m seeking a sense of functional development in art. I’m like a paleontologist, looking for fossils that document the evolution of artistic ideas. Or maybe my interest in art stems from the fact that it offers a handy, concrete manifestation of the processes of cultural and biological evolution which one can more dimly sense occurring around us every day. What do you think? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 19, 2002

The Oldenburg Story, Part II
Michael Have you heard of bad boy Belgian artist Wim Delvoye? He’s a sort of a latter-day Claes Oldenburg, but then I always liked Claes Oldenburg. Obviously a joker, he has gone in for such exercises as a full-sized wooden copy, elaborately guilded, of a cement mixer: Rococo Cement Mixer He revisited this theme more recently by creating a full-size, wooden replica of a cement truck, fussily ornamented like spooky Old World furniture in your Grandmother’s house. Grandma's Cement Truck What can I say, he seems to like cement. Changing media to photography, he took pictures of massive cliffs towering above villages and added (presumably by computer) what appear to be enormous, neatly incised messages to the rock face, like inscriptions carved into Roman buildings. Of course, these imperial, more-than-billboard sized messages are utterly banal in Delvoye's work: “SUSAN, OUT FOR A PIZZA, BACK IN FIVE MINUTES." Mr. Delvoye seems to have made quite a stir with his latest installation piece, entitled “Cloaca” in which food is pulverized, subjected to various enzymes, and comes out as something rather close to shit. While I wouldn’t hurry out to see this, I grant you that it is the kind of thing that will get you written about—and I suppose that’s the point. (Hey, I’ll forgive a lot in artists who have a sense of humor…so few do.) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

No Respect for L.A.
Michael As a Southern Californian, I am indignant that so little attention was ever paid to Translating L.A.: A Tour of the Rainbow City. It’s a great travelogue by Peter Theroux, who moved to L.A. in 1985 after 10 years in the Middle East. He finds it far better than advertised: At first glance, Los Angeles is such a spreading ethnic sprawl, and such a pretentious mess, that newcomers often compare it to the Third World—a sly insult that was immediately given the lie to me, after ten years in the Third World, by the simple fact that practically everyone was coming here instead of leaving. One of Theroux's more amusing adventures comes in a talk given to a group of professional translators (both multinational and racially mixed) by a corporate diversity consultant, Fred. After trying (and failing) to get a rise out of the translators by hinting that they are unwitting cogs in the mechanism of cultural domination, Fred changes his tack: “How are we supposed to treat others? How did our mothers tell us to treat others?” “The way you want to be treated. I mean, the way one wants to be treated himself. One is supposed to treat others in the manner in which oneself wishes to be treated,” offered Gaon Shabazi. “Three wrong answers,” marveled Fred, as if impressed. “I mean, that is what our mothers said, but Mother wasn’t on the money, was she?…[R]emember that the slow poison of prejudice at work in every American body,” he intoned, “begins with thinking everyone is like me. Everyone should be treated like me. Others want to be done unto the way I want to be done unto. This is our egoistic culture…Could it be—do you think—could it just possibly be that we should treat others the way they want to be treated? How about that, people?” The longish silence was broken by the gay laughter of Tillie Albright, a Dutch-to-English translator with a small agency… “You are very young, my dear!” She actually shook her finger at him gently. “Do you know how people want to be treated? Like kings and queens, if you please! Believe me, translators would love to be treated as if the words ‘hard work’ and ‘discipline’ were not in their dictionaries. Treat me as I wish to be treated? Lots of coffee breaks, and martinis at lunch! A little discreet harassment from the right person will not be a problem! Even some dancing!” "We will come back to this point when we get to our role playing," Fred announced, to cut off the laughter she had set off by winking at him. Check it out. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- L.A. Cathedral Redux
Friedrich -- Paul Goldberger of the New Yorker reacts to the new, Rafael Moneo-designed, Our Lady of the Angels cathedral in L.A., here. Though, to be honest, it's hard to tell quite how he's reacting. Praise-quickly-retracted follows on criticism-quickly-hedged, over and over. Give Me that Big-Box Religion Goldberger's a strange one. He's much more broadminded than most establishment architecture critics, willing not only to acknowledge that such phenonomena as the New Urbanism and the New Classicism exist but also to treat them semi-respectfully. But he seems terrified that if he goes too far -- either in lacing into the absurdities of late Modernism or in praising non-avant-garde work -- he'll lose his establishment membership card. (He's probably right.) I can only guess, of course, but my impression from his amazingly waffly piece is that Goldberger really doesn't like the new cathedral one bit. How do you read him? Sample passage: The new cathedral has more in common with the familiar Los Angeles megabox. It's a big, horizontal mass, like the Beverly Center, the vast shopping mall built atop a parking structure; and the Pacific Design Center, a beached whale in blue glass; and the factorylike Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. I don't say this to be disrespectful. I think Moneo has tried to take a particular kind of Los Angeles building and make it into something spiritual, although it's not a natural leap. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break: News Flash--Socialism Corrupts
Michael In the September 19, 2002 Wall Street Journal, leftist Albert R. Hunt in his column “Politics and People” notes approvingly: In a survey last month for Alliance for Retired Americans, Democratic pollster Peter Hart found prescription drugs are the main voting issue for seniors, who turn out disproportionately in off-year elections…Mr. Hart accurately described the more costly and generous Democratic prescription drug plan and the cheaper and less generous GOP plan without identifying the partisan sponsors. Seniors, by an overwhelming majority, prefer the Democrats approach. Gosh, that’s a surprise. The people who stand to benefit from a new income transfer plan (and who would pay no taxes to support it) approve of a more generous version of that transfer—overwhelmingly! Well, you know what they say: Transfer payments corrupt, and entitlement programs corrupt absolutely. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Sullivan on Sontag
Friedrich -- Andrew Sullivan takes on a Susan Sontag op-ed piece, and demonstrates what a ditzy sillikins she really is, here. By the way... Sontag: absurd caricature of an intellectual? Or all too common an example of such? Sample passage: [The war against terror] is not and never has been a metaphor. Metaphors didn't crash into New York, Washington and Pennsylvania a year ago. Metaphors didn't liberate Afghanistan. Special Forces troops, even now defending Sontag's freedom to write her Op-Ed, are not metaphorically trying to hunt down al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan. From our enemy's perspective, the war has been real for decades. The only people who didn't see it were those trying not to see it, or those who were distracted elsewhere. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Kors
Friedrich -- Two professors, Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, have formed an outfit called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (website here) to battle the P.C. thought police on campuses. Stanley Kurtz of National Review points out a stirring interview with Kors, here. Sample passage: Kors: Truth in advertising applies to universities. If you continue the current regimes, have the decency to advertise it openly in your catalogs: "This university believes that your sons and daughters are the racist, sexist, homophobic, Eurocentric progeny or victims of an oppressive society from which most of them receive unjust privilege. In return for tuition and massive taxpayer subsidy, we shall assign rights on a compensatory basis and undertake by coercion their moral and political enlightenment." And another: The last refuge of self is one's inner being, conscience and private thoughts. Decent people do not pursue other human beings there... Thoughts are free. What indecency to deny that innermost freedom. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Freund
Friedrich -- Eakins' "Four-in-Hand": Photoshopped? Charles Paul Freund of Reason magazine has been doing some venturesome thinking and writing about art. He's much more freewheeling and openminded (and also direct and to-the-point) than the art world's own writers are. Freund writes about Eakins, Vermeer, Hockney and technological helping hands here. Sample passage: What Eakins did with the photos was a laborious version of what many digital artists are doing today. Eakins didn’t merely create painted versions of photographs. Using a "magic lantern" to project a series of disparate images on a single canvas, he made composites. The final painterly conception is entirely his own, and is apparently what drove his creation of the photos in the first place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Homeland Security
Friedrich -- National Review talks to Michelle Malkin about why the term "Homeland Security" is currently a joke, here. Malkin tells some scary tales, and has some suggestions to make. Sample passage: Malkin: I would advise President Bush to stop pandering to pro-illegal alien ethnic groups and start treating immigration as a national-security issue. I would advise him to view immigration-related issues through the cold eyes of a terrorist killer like Mohammed Atta. I would advise him to ask at every turn: "What would Mohammed do?" How would he exploit our entry points, evade detection, and blend into the American mainstream? Then I would urge him to push for policies, like a moratorium on nonimmigrant visas to Middle Easterners, that will make it harder for the next Mohammed Atta to infiltrate our country. If the policy of preemption makes sense abroad, why not at home? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Pauline Kael
Friedrich -- WNYC interviews Slate's David Edelstein and the screenwriter Robert Towne about their late friend, the film critic Pauline Kael, here. Sample passage: Robert Towne: In the case of Bonnie & Clyde, when that was released. I don't remember a movie that got more systematically battered by prominent critics, and Pauline reviewed the movie and the reviewers, and a month later it was on the cover of Time Magazine which had dismissed it in a kind of small kind of anonymous paragraph as being in the vanguard of the new cinema. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 19, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Policy Break: Learning from Athens
Michael Donald Kagan, in his Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, describes a key element in the success of democratic government: For more than two thousand years, democracy has had many powerful enemies and few friends...Most ancient writers...called democracy unstable, a scene of devastating struggles between factions and classes, where the poor majority trampled on the better-off minority, careless of the rights of the individual...The facts about Periclean Athens, as we have seen, were very different. Through the horrors of almost three decades of the Peloponnesian War, military defeat, foreign occupation, and an oligarchic coup d'etat, the people of Athens showed that combination of commitment and restraint that is necessary for the survival of popular government and life in a decent society. This restraint is all the more remarkable when we consider how simple it would have been for the Athenian majority to plunder the rich and take revenge upon their enemies... Plato...blamed Periclean democracy for its excessive commitment to equality. Twentieth century critics, on the other hand, have largely complained of its inequalities, demanding not equality of opportunity for all citizens, but equality of result...Political equality was the cornerstone of Athenian democracy, but economic equality, as we have seen, was no part of the democratic program in the age of Pericles or after. Early in the sixth century, the Athenian peasantry had demanded a redistribution of land and isomoiria (equal portions) of the land of Attica, but the demand was not met; nor was it ever renewed. The experience of social revolutions in other states, where violations of the right to property had produced civil war, anarchy, tyranny, and poverty, showed that equality before the law, not equality of possession, was the only form of the principle compatible with prosperity, freedom and security. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

You Want Us
Friedrich -- I'm collecting the Google searches that have led surfers to this site. Here are some favorites so far: +naxos +gay +video +gymnastic +teenage +boys +PowerPoint +presentation +girls +sexy Are there people out there making porn versions of PowerPoint presentations? Hey, journalists: there's a story to be done here! My very favorite is one that'll be hard to top: +movie +girl +fucking +horse How do you suppose these surfers reacted to what they found on 2blowhards? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Genetics of Maleness
Friedrich -- In the Observer, Sean O'Hagan interviews geneticist Steve Jones on the topic of what scientists know about maleness, here. Sample passage: There are over 500 courses on men's studies in American universities. I mean, what the hell are they on about? This idea that if you understand how men work, emotionally or even biologically, the problems affecting men will simply go away. It's nonsense. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Modern Poetry Redux
Michael There you go again, making me read poetry. I thought I was over that, but your posting on “Modern Poetry” made me pick up my copy of John Donne to see what makes "Ancient Poetry" any different. A selection from a poem written during Donne's final illness: Since I am coming to that holy room, Where with thy choir of saints for evermore, I shall be made thy music; as I come I tune the instruments here at the door, And what I must do then, think here before. While my physicians by their love are grown Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown That this is my south-west discovery Per fretum febris, by these straits to die I joy, that in these straits, I see my west; For, though their currents yield return to none, What shall my west hurt me? As west and east In all flat maps (and I am one) are one, So death doth touch the resurrection. One major difference is that Donne can view his own predicament "from above" so to speak; he doesn't have to convince you that he's really writing from the bed of a dying man, or that he's scared of death, or that he looks to his religion for hope, etc. He doesn't need to, as the orthodox Christian framework simply incorporates all of this. Donne wasn't forced to invent a system of meanings for himself and then to educate his readers in it. Does this imply that the true reason for the rise of "difficult" modern art was the decline of religion as an intellectually respectable system in the last quarter of the 19th century? Lacking this supporting infrastructure places a lot more work on the backs of artists and poets. It may also make it nearly impossible to deal successfully with eschatological subjects. Who can communicate on any topic, let alone one like death, without a pre-arranged code book, a manual of shared assumptions? You can signal and signal, but can anyone translate your message? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Joshua Muravchik
Friedrich -- For a few years I've been boring Wife and friends with my theory that modern art, Marxism, Freudianism, and socialism are replacement religions -- that the whole modernist ball of wax is a credo for those seeking redemption but beyond the reach of traditional religions. But I can offer little to back up this argument beyond my years spent among the true (Marxist, Freudian, modern-art, etc.) believers. Joshua Muravchik can do a lot better. He has written a book, "Heaven on Earth," arguing that socialism was indeed a religion for many of its adherents/believers. It's a good, substantial work: mucho research, many facts, all of it professionally presented and thoughtfully argued -- it has everything my presentation of the theory doesn't have, in other words. American Enterprise runs a well-chosen passage from the book here. Sample passage: The pursuit of a life liberated from the “superstition” of religion proved surprisingly difficult. Even Diderot, whose Encyclopedia was the flagship of the Enlightenment, confessed that he could not watch religious processions “without tears coming to my eyes.” Perhaps such unbidden feelings explain why, as most anthropologists agree, religion is universal. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Rape in Australia
Friedrich -- Two years ago, over the course of several months, gangs of Muslim boys raped seven Australian teen girls in Sydney -- "pack-raped" is the term that's now used. View from the Right (website here) points out a long narrative and analysis of the crimes that ran in The Age, a Sydney newspaper, here. Sample passage: All the rape victims were from a different cultural world to their attackers, who did not touch girls from their own community. Why? Discussions with family members and other Lebanese Muslims and court evidence show that fear of retribution played a part. Their parents, or the girl's parents, would have killed them, perhaps literally. Some people believe the boys were also conditioned to divide women into the saints who are their mothers and sisters, and the sinners who inhabit the world beyond. You mean, multiculturalism isn't always and everywhere the hippie paradise it's sold to us as? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Times Arts Frownlines 9
Friedrich -- Headlines from the front page of today's NYTimes' Arts section: * China is Warming to Hollywood's Glow * Not All Sunshine for Teensy Set's Troubador * Decades After Their Pop Hits, 2 Singers Show What Else They Have * An Uphill Effort for World Harmony Who knew being interested in the arts could be such a burden? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Andres Duany
Friedrich -- American Enterprise magazine runs a good interview with Andres Duany, one of the ringleaders of the New Urbanism, here. Sample passage: The real problem is the impulse to be avant-garde, which severs our ties with the past. Avant-garde buildings can occasionally be quite beautiful. But the win-loss ratio is horrible; unacceptable. To get those very, very few successful, glorious, modernist buildings, you sacrifice an enormous percentage of failed buildings at every level, because each designer tries to reinvent the wheel instead of improving on established forms. Curious what a New Urbanist town looks like? Click here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

A Good Day’s Hand Wringing
Michael From his piece in today’s New York Times Op-Ed pages, we learn that Richard R. Beeman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania is concerned about the effect of the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of undergraduate programs at American colleges—deeply concerned. And this isn’t just sour grapes; U Penn is a top ten school again this year. But all is not well in UPennville. Beeman spends “most of every day working to improve the quality of educational opportunity that we offer our undergraduates, and I know that my counterparts at other research universities do the same.” But do Beeman’s students appreciate the Dean working his fingers to the bone (apparently, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-year) on their behalf? (Perhaps the Dean meant to say he spent most of every working day improving the quality of educational opportunity--those Times editors are pretty sloppy.) Apparently, the students are not nearly appreciative enough: [T]he rankings further exacerbate the rampant consumerism that is now so prevalent among entering students and their parents, encouraging an attitude that admission (and payment of tuition) to one of the ‘top 10 schools’ is somehow a guarantee of a ‘top 10 education.’ [emphasis added] He confides that …the most frustrating aspect of my work is seeing students respond passively, treating their education at Penn as something that is given to them rather than as something they must aggressively fashion for themselves. I mean, what do these kids expect for their measly annual tuition and fees of $38,830? Just because they could buy themselves a new Audi A6 ($35,700 MSRP) or Volvo S80 ($38,450 MSRP) every year for that kind of dough, they’ve got a lot of nerve expecting the college to actually, you know, do something for them. Don’t these students understand how low on the list of the University of Pennsylvania’s real priorities their education is, anyway? A quick look at the figures would set them straight. During the twelve month period ended June 30, 2001, the University recorded revenue of almost $3.2 billion—of which only a modest $531.8 million came from tuition and fees. In other words, the Trustees are running a big, multisector business here, and education only amounts to 16% of it (and not a particularly profitable part, either). The real bucks in the academic sector came from what the FY 2001 report refers to as “sponsored programs (primarily sponsored research)” which fortunately increased “in excess of 8.2%.” I mean, no wonder Dean Wormer, I mean Beeman, refers to U Penn as a research university--that's where the action is. The education business is really pretty much a loss leader for U Penn! Fortunately for those ungrateful undergraduate brats, Dean Beeman is on the job, working hard to keep that Top Ten rating. Why does he bother, you may ask? “I have found," he admits, "the task of keeping alumni and donors [read donors and donors] happy about Penn’s status has been made much easier by our rise to... posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Policy Break: The Iraqi Chessboard
Michael According to a NY Times editorial for September 17 on “The Iraqi Chessboard,” Saddam’s unconditional offer to allow U.N. inspection “could open the way to resolving the crisis peacefully and should certainly be tested.” Of course they admit that Saddam may just be trying to jerk the U.N. Security Council around on his program to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but they opine that “[i]t shouldn’t take long to tell whether Iraq will really give inspectors a free hand, or will follow its invitation with limitations that render it meaningless.” Really. We seemed to go on for years back in the middle-1990’s with an impotent game of cat-and-mouse inspection; how long d’you suppose the Times means by “too long” in this instance? After all, the 34 years that separate us from 1968 haven’t been long enough for the Times editorial staff (in the interests of full disclosure, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party) to abandon its knee-jerk opposition to the use of force by the U.S. Maybe we could throw a few cruise missiles at the Iraqis and then forget about them for a decade or so. We’ve got an unemployed ex-president who could serve as a crackerjack consultant for that sort of program. Cheers, Freidrich... posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Search Engines
Michael Since our blog seems to be developing into a tribute site to Euan Uglow,I went web-surfing and found some Uglow nudes, one of which is pictured below. Uglow's "Zagi" of 1981-2 Still, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling. How could somebody I like as much as Uglow never have popped up on my radar? I've spent a good part of the last twenty years when I should have been busy earning a living looking into the visual arts. Despite that, I have a nagging feeling that most (much? a largish chunk?) of the art world may well be lurking out of my sight, like the underwater part of the iceberg. Have you ever looked on a newsstand and spotted the magazines devoted to "Western" art (you know, cowboys, Indians, horses, landscapes)? There are a ton of these Western artists out there who seem to make a living at this stuff. They even have their own museums(!) It was quite a shock to me about ten years ago when I discovered that the art-world is divided into formats, like radio stations: oldies, alternative, Country & Western, etc. Why? Because it dawned on me that this sort of distinction made it even more unlikely that I would ever see the ULTIMATE PAINTING that would explain the world and my life to me! I'm not really ranting about class distinctions in art, as silly and pervasive as those are. It goes beyond that. There are great draftsmen of the nude who for one reason or another won't get big museum shows in my lifetime--does that mean I don't get to see their drawings, except by lucky accident? (I mean, check out Henry Ossawa Tanner's life drawings some time. Smokin'! )It was one thing when I went to our Lousy Ivy University and they spent four years talking around the really important stuff, but that was when I was just a young punk. I'm getting too old to be feeling like I'm gonna wind up a day late and a dollar short on good art. I want better art-world visibility, and I want it NOW. My suggestion is that we need a much better art world search engine. I want to be able to type in "Euan Uglow and his ilk" and find other artists who share his salient characteristics. This brilliant idea came to me while I was searching on "Google" for Uglow JPEGs. I looked at one art reproduction site and found an alphabetical list of artists whose art you could buy as a poster, and happened to notice that Uglow directly followed Uccello. That got me to pondering the similarity in feel of the two artists, which are considerable. Uccello's Chalice And this got me to thinking about the role of obsessive discipline in the visual arts--Michelangelo with his endless anatomical studies, Uccello with his perspective, Uglow with his structured drawing techniques. That's the kind of thing a good art search engine...or art history class...or art publisher...should be suggesting... posted by Friedrich at September 17, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, September 16, 2002

Times Arts Frownlines 8
Friedrich -- In case you enjoyed yourself too much over the weekend, Monday's NYTimes Arts section is here to wave an admonishing finger at you. Two of its front-page headlines: * Advice and Songs on Death Row, but No Easy Answers * A Cairo Storyteller With Time to Dream I don't know about yours, but my sense of fun just deserted me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Modern Poetry
Friedrich -- I spent my walking-around-the-city time over the last few days listening to poetry audiotapes: Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, Anne Sexton, and John Ashbery. (I work in the media; I get mucho arty toys for free.) How do you do with modern poetry? I tend to grumble in annoyance and laugh in scorn -- it brings out the rube in me. What a put-on! Hooo-eee, are these people having one at our expense! What are they doing, trying to impress other people in their class? If poets only write for other poets they're going to disappear up their own ass any day now! Have any of them ever worked for a living? And you know what? I'll take good country-western lyrics any day! Haw haw haw. But if I persist, I can start to slide past my resentment. I get to feeling not exactly benevolent, but tolerant. What the hell: it's just a specialized taste, a niche market. Where's the harm? Even the pretence that what they're doing has earth-shattering importance seems forgiveable -- people engaged in teeny-tiny, overlooked activities will tend to puff themselves up. I also got over some of my aversion to high-modern poetry when I took a how-to-write-poetry class. To my intense disappointment, the teacher didn't drill us in traditional forms, but instead immersed us in a modern-poetry bath. Annoying as I found that (and rooked as I felt of my tuition money), I went along. A few things came to me that I found helpful. Herewith my rules for appreciating modern poetry: Don't take a modern poem as "poetry," take it instead as a short piece of writing that has had some poetic techniques applied to it for effect. Don't even bother to read a modern poem unless you're ready to read it twice, the first time just to get through it, the second to look at it holistically, out there hovering in space. It's a little verbal, words-on-the-page, made thing -- try to see it as such. And (best Michael rule), pretend a good friend wrote it. I'm still anything but crazy about modern poetry, and I do root for the current rebirth of traditional poetic forms that's going on. But I'm not as clogged full of exasperation as I once was. And, once past some of my exasperation, I start to make distinctions. Randall Jarrell The distinction I award Jarrell, unfortunately, is that he has got to be one of the worst readers of poetry ever. He's got the whiney tone of a country pastor who's watching his congregation shrink with every passing year. I found the poems themselves ok but also embarrassing. This was an era when autobiography, psychoanalysis, and action painting -- picking open wounds, then keeping them from scabbing over -- was felt to be the royal road to truth. When Jarrell writes about his grandma killing a chicken (awww!) and then reads it in his wavering voice, you want to take him aside and suggest politely that maybe... posted by Michael at September 16, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments