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  1. Free Reads -- Oakeshott
  2. Free Reads -- Samuel Brittan
  3. Bye bye France redux
  4. Bye, Bye France
  5. Non Negotiable Demands redux
  6. Free Reads -- Amiri Baraka
  7. Free Reads -- Porn 101
  8. If I Were an Editor 6 redux
  9. Fun With Flash
  10. Stereotypes redux

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Saturday, September 28, 2002

Free Reads -- Oakeshott
Friedrich -- One of the greatest things I've ever read is now online, readable for free: Michael Oakeshott's "Rationalism in Politics," here. Sample passage: Nevertheless, when he is not arrogant or sanctimonious, the Rationalist can appear a not unsympathetic character. He wants so much to be right. But unfortunately he will never quite succeed. He began too late and on the wrong foot ... Like a foreigner or a man out of his social class, he is bewildered by a tradition and a habit of behaviour of which he knows only the surface; a butler or an observant house-maid has the advantage of him. And he conceives a contempt for what he does not understand; habit and custom appear bad in themselves, a kind of nescience of behaviour. And by some strange self-deception, he attributes to tradition (which, of course, is pre-eminently fluid) the rigidity and fixity of character which in fact belongs to ideological politics. Consequently, the Rationalist is a dangerous and expensive character to have in control of affairs, and he does most damage, not when he fails to master the situation (his politics, of course, are always in terms of mastering situations and surmounting crises), but when he appears to be successful. Very eager to hear how you react to this mind-opening essay, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Samuel Brittan
Friedrich -- Samuel Brittan, an impressive British econ commentator, writes about Stephen Pinker's brilliant new book "The Blank Slate," here. Brittan also touches on John Gray's new "Straw Dogs," and does some profitable musing of his own. Sample passage: People embrace a morality that usually does not embrace all human beings but only the members of their own clan, village or tribe. History and ethnography suggests that people can treat strangers the way we now treat lobsters. In early societies between 10 and 60 per cent of men died at the hands of other men. Studies of warfare in primitive societies have confirmed that men do not have to be short of food or land to wage it. One factor in why some countries are more willing to wage war than others is that they have a much higher proportion of the population consisting of men in that wage group. Saudi Arabia is an obvious instance. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Bye bye France redux
Michael Napoleon to Sartre: What Happened to France? You might be interested in what Saul Bellow had to say on the decline of the French in "Ravelstein": ...Chick is a great skeptic when it comes to the French. He...thinks their cooking is all they have to show for themselves since the disgrace of...1940 when Hitler danced his victory jig. Chick sees la France pourrie in Sartre, in the loathing of the U.S.A. and worship of Stalinism and in philosophy and linguistic theory...But you have to admit you can't get a meal like this anywhere else. And this: [Ravelstein] took a special interest in Great Politics. In that line, of course, France today was bankrupt. Only the manner was left, and they made the most of the manner but they were bluffing, they knew they were talking twaddle. What they were still good at were the arts of intimacy. Eats still rated high--e.g., last night's banquet at Lucas-Carton. In every quartier, the fresh-produce markets, the good bakeries, the charcuterie with its cold cuts. Also the great displays of intimate garments. The shameless love of fine bedding...It was wonderful to be so public about the private, about the living creature and its needs. Slick magazines in New York imitated this but never got it right. Perhaps the decline of the French was underway long before but only became evident to the American eye in the 1980s. (After all, after World War II Americans thought of France half as an elderly relative after a stroke, and half as a cultural theme park--in neither case expecting anything terribly serious.) Cheers, Friedrich P.S. But I still want know why French women are so instantly recognizable as such. I'm guessing there is something about a distinctly French style of makeup, but I've never been able to quite work it out. Can anybody out there help me?... posted by Friedrich at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Bye, Bye France
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Some sociological phenomena seem to pass by completely unnoticed, and (for no good reason) I'd like take note of one of these: the way that France has grown to be of so little interest to Americans. I'm happy to mock France as a nation of underbathed, self-important cowards and showoffs; lord knows they ask for it. Still, I once spent a (miserable) year there, I was drawn to the arts via French movies, novels and painting... Anouk Grinberg in "Mon Homme" However pathetic those personal fact are, France for a very long time meant a lot to Americans. Many of the best American artists and architects of the 19th century went to Paris to polish off their educations. Throughout the 20th century, serious American artists, modernist division, took inspiration from early 20th-century French art. France meant love, food, beauty, fatalism, pleasure, wine, absinthe, unfiltered cigarettes. Oh, and sophisticated actresses who didn't mind disrobing, and who did so with a queen's gravitas. Everyday people took France seriously too. Wifeys and hubbies plotted out their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages to Paris. Anyone interested in taste and food bowed down before French cuisine. Kids studied more French than they did any other language, and college students flocked to spend a semester or two in Paris -- this seemed especially important to a certain class of girls, who appreciated learning "how to be a woman": ie., learning how to wear a scarf and boots, how to use makeup, how to conduct an affair, and how to use a bidet. Going to France was a way of symbolizing that you put such ooh-la-la values above (patooie) business, economic efficiency and convenience. It was an American's one stab at what Americans feel so divided about: Sophistication. Then the French lost their magic. When? How? And why? As far as I can tell, it happened around 1980. There was a micro-mini-genre of movies about American kids in France ("French Postcards" in 1979, and the immortal "Summer Lovers" in 1982). And, really, have we heard much about France as a cultural magnet since? Perhaps readers can fill in a few blanks here. Marie-France Pisier in "French Postcards" Why have Americans lost interest? Perhaps it's because we've made so much progress where quality-of-life questions go. Who needs France when American food has gotten better and American clothes have grown less dorky, and at a time when sex is, to put it mildly, not in short cultural supply? But perhaps the French themselves have blown it: A friend who lives in Paris tells me that even the food in Paris isn't good any more. What, in fact, does France have left to sell? I still find their fashions alluring, or at least the way they present them. I'd rather leaf through an issue of Marie-Claire than an issue of Playboy any day, and one fashion-crazy friend of mine still takes off for some serious Parisian shopping a couple of times a year. Camgirl, French-style Even on... posted by Michael at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Non Negotiable Demands redux
Michael As you may recall, yesterday I decided to go see “Barbershop” on the theory that it was my duty as a freedom-loving American to patronize any film that the P.C. patrol was trying to censor. Being the man of action I am, I took my mother-in-law, my daughter and her friend to see this dangerous work of art that very same night, contributing a cool $30 to the movie’s bottom line (when did they raise the price of a standard movie admission to $9.50?) Deeply Subversive Hit Movie The movie is a largely successful remake of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” set in a modern-day poor black Chicago neighborhood. The hero, portrayed by Ice Cube, inherits a not-very-profitable family business (the titular barbershop). He, of course, has big dreams of his own and wants to ditch this unwanted inheritance. In the course of the film he comes to realize how much the community depends on his family’s barbershop and why it’s essentially up to him to defend the weaker members of that community, already menaced by urban blight and poverty, from the forces of evil represented by a sinister businessman/criminal. The director, Tim Story, although not as polished with his camera, has much the same touch as Capra did with actors, getting a series of energetic, vivid performances in the service of an ensemble comedy. (Rapper Eve, in particular, is a stand out in her first movie role.) Talented Girl The screenwriters, Mark Brown and Don D. Scott, made a rather interesting change in adapting the story, leaving out Clarence the angel of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and substituting for him the eccentric and ambiguous character of the barber Eddie. Played by Cedric the Entertainer and obviously representing the folk character of the “Trickster,” Eddie first enters the shop pretending to be a hold-up man and continues to stir things up throughout the film with his subversive opinions. These include a lack of reverence for the heroes of the civil rights movement; he seems to imply that putting such people on a pedestal undercuts the sense of personal moral responsibility and self-respect of the black community at large, whose own everyday life has a heroic element to it. This refusal to genuflect towards the P.C. altar is ostensibly what has landed the film in hot water with the P.C. patrol, although I’m guessing that Eddy’s belief in the redemptive quality of even a humble profession (cutting hair) and his insistence on complete freedom of expression within the sacred precincts of the black barbershop (“our country club”) is even more threatening to the patrol’s orthodoxy. Eddy is a one-man political pluralism movement, and obviously certain leaders in the black community who want followers rather than thinkers feel he needs to be stamped out, and fast. (Jesse Jackson and the King family have demanded “apologies” and Al Sharpton has threatened a boycott of the film if the producers don’t accede to his demand that Eddy’s central speech be censored from... posted by Friedrich at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Amiri Baraka
Friedrich -- Amiri Baraka, the African-American who is poet laureate of New Jersey, has written a poem entitled "Somebody Blew Up America" which includes these lines: Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away? James McGreevey, the governor of New Jersey, has asked Baraka to resign; Baraka has refused. Matthew Purdy writes about the mess for the New York Times here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Porn 101
Friedrich -- In the Weekly Standard, Matt Labash looks at a series of how-to videotapes entitled Porn 101, here. A caveat: it takes Labash, who seems determined to achieve a tone of dry bemusement, a few tedious paragraphs of disclaiming any real interest in porn before he starts delivering the ever-interesting goods. Earth to Matt: your interest in porn is prurient, our interest in porn is prurient, and that's ok. No need to keep your hands quite so clean. Sample passage: Keep in mind that there's a lot of downtime between scenes. "Bring something to read or needlepoint or something," says [Nina] Hartley. Likewise, bring slippers. Nothing's worse than spending a hard day astride your fellow actor, then wanting to take your heels off after the scene, but not having any slippers. "You don't want to walk around barefoot in some of these places," warns Hartley. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, September 27, 2002

If I Were an Editor 6 redux
I made a major breakthrough today in my technological evolution which made me think of your posting, "The E-book Revolution." I actually ordered a book online from Amazon, and took delivery about an hour later. Well, actually, it was potentially ready for delivery an hour later; I had to download Microsoft "Reader" and then install and activate it. (Activating the software, by the way, involves telling lots and lots of information about yourself to Microsoft.) Anyway, after fooling around for about half an hour (and getting help from my staff computer professional) we got the Reader issue resolved, and then it only took a few minutes for the actual download. The book when it appeared came up on my screen formatted with really little pages. I guess that makes reading it on screen easier, but the result was that there were a daunting 756 pages to this rather short screed. Trying to skim the book, I got quite tired of hitting the "forward" button which takes a few seconds to operate each flip of the page. About page 168 I thought there must be a better way to read this, but I couldn't find any way to print the book out. I grant you, that's probably just my clutziness. And anyway, not being able to print the book out was for the best because I didn't really want to go through one-and-a-half reams of paper and three toner cartridges. It was a little frustrating when I actually found one useful sentence and I tried to block and copy it; the "copy" button appeared to be disabled. They could have just had a little sign pop-up at that point: Napster this, asshole! Ha ha ha ha ha. On top of that the book itself--"The Culture of Opera Buffa In Mozart's Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment"--turns out to have virtually no historical information on Viennese musical culture or even on Mozart. I mean, not even one funny anecdote about an opera singer. (How hard is it to dig up funny stories about opera singers--I ask you? The whole profession is an invitation to levity.) Let me sum up the book this way: I cannot imagine Mozart, despite a very healthy ego, managing to read this book all the way through, and it discusses more than one of his operas! I know, I know, I got what I deserve for disobeying Book Buying Rule #248--Never purchase any book with the word "poetics" in the title. Still, I'm feeling pretty "hip" and "groovey" about my technological prowess. That is, except for the fact that once I closed the Reader dialogue box the book disappeared and I can't find it on my hard drive anyplace. But hey, it was only $14.95--and it didn't cost me anything for shipping and handling! The Revolution Lives, My Techno-Brothers! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Fun With Flash
Friedrich -- In my amateurish way, I enjoy following commercial art: ads, book jackets, posters, etc. My current fave amateurish observation to make is that Flash animations are having more influence on the general visual culture than any other form these days. I may be right, I may be completely wrong, as the Wife never tires of pointing out. But there's no question that the Flash animation field is a hopping one. Weebl's Stuff is a British website run by a guy who makes Flash animations in his spare time. Sample his work here. I think Weebl's a hoot. Be sure not to miss "Kitty Bash," featuring kittens and a bloody hammer. Hey, if Weebl is making these things in his spare time, that means his animations aren't strictly speaking commercial art. But they certainly represent something more than just a hobby. So should they be considered a kind of art-for-art's-sake fine art? But some of them are interactive games, which aren't usually considered art... Hmm: Maybe the time has come for me to revise some fundamental assumptions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Stereotypes redux
Friedrich -- As a fan of stereotypes, I often find life hard these days, what with all the stereotype-bashing that goes on. Wouldn't life be a pleasingly looser thing if we could only take occasional note (within decent limits) of what caricatures-of-ourselves we all are? Still, I sometimes stumble across ethnic news (so to speak) that's heartening. Mexican-Americans, for instance, loved that TV ad with the talking chihuahua. A majority of Native Americans don't mind the way sports teams are sometimes named "Indians" or "Chiefs." An Italian-American friend of mine loves "The Sopranos" and says he'll "whack" anyone who disses the show. More such news this morning, via Tom King in the Wall Street Journal, who reports that, while a small number of Greek-Americans were offended by the way Greek-Americans were portrayed in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," the movie has not only been a big hit with Greek-Americans generally, it's now #2 at the box-office in Greece itself. Cheerily, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Non Negotiable Demands
Michael Have you heard of the latest target of the P.C. Patrol? It is the movie "Barbershop", the number one movie at the American box office and written, produced, directed by, and featuring blacks. As the L.A. Times reported on September 25: Although the film is shaping up as one of the most successful movies with a strong African American theme, leaders such as [Jesse] Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and members of Parks' and King's families are incensed over one scene that pokes fun at Parks, King and Jackson. They have called for a public apology from the filmmakers and demanded that MGM remove the scene from its eventual home video release. Sharpton has gone so far as to threaten a boycott of the film if MGM does not reply to their requests by Friday. Apparently Jackson, who has not even seen the movie, maintains that certain historical figures should never be “disrespected”—apparently starting with him. In a telephone interview quoted in the Times, he maintains: “While we support these [black] actors, we still must have some line of dignity. That is nonnegotiable." The “offensive” characterizations are included in one character’s speech which also criticizes numerous other black public figures, including Rodney King and O.J. Simpson. MGM, to its credit said the studio would not issue an apology and would not censor the movie. As the Times story notes, the film is playing chiefly to black audiences: [Barbershop] has begun to cross over to a broader audience, although as of last weekend 60% of the audience was still African American. What is it, exactly, that Sharpton doesn’t want the black community to see? Free expression of opinions among his chosen constituency? I’m beginning to feel a patriotic duty to go see this movie. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friedrich -- Do you marvel, as I do, at the paucity of cultureblogs? Political blogs are everywhere you look, me-blogs everywhere else. But cultureblogs? Not even enough to fill a screening room. Here are the pure culturebloggers I’m aware of: * The one-of-a-kind personality-kid and opera buff, Sasha Castel, here. (She does let fly on politics from time to time, but -- blush -- who doesn't?) * Kelly Jane Torrance, a newcomer to blogging and already the leader in the race for the year’s “most classy” award, here. That’s it, though there are other web enthusiasts who do something related. Pro writers, for instance, often include a blog as part of their personal site. An example: * The wittily resourceful and entertaining sci-fi novelist Neil Gaiman, here. And then there are the hybrids, bloggers who occasionally comment about the arts: * The fearless and ever-thoughtful A.C. Douglas, here, seems to split his blogging time about equally between politics and the arts. * Dave Trowbridge brings together his interests in sci-fi, German Shepherd dogs, religion, and poetry, here, showing a mind that's both mystical and down-to-earth, opinionated yet open-spirited. * The Canadian journalist Colby Cosh can give Andrew Sullivan some serious competition in terms of sheer volume of brainy-words-on-politics published daily. He pauses occasionally, though not often enough, to make an observation or a crack about rock and movies, here. * That impossible-to-categorize, multipurpose giant Steve Sailer (evo-bio specialist, immigration skeptic, movie reviewer), does what only he can do here. And there are the sites that might well be considered metacultureblogs. * Mobylives, delivering some of the best-informed inside-publishing chat available anywhere, here. * Arts & Letters Daily, here, for whom the “best of the web” Oscar has already been retired. Lord knows I’ve spent too much time surfing the blogosphere looking for fellow culturebloggers. But it’s still possible I’ve missed many, many sites. Do you know of any others? Do any readers out there know of any others? Culture fans: Don’t be such wimps! For god’s sake, stand up for your oddball set of interests! If you don’t, who will? Set down roots in the blogosphere while there’s still room! Don’t let the general culture pass you by yet again! Assert the importance of the aesthetic! Go! Go! Go! Culture fans, sheesh. Gotta love ‘em. Gotta kick ‘em in the butt occasionally, too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

New Lefty Ploy
Friedrich -- At a liberal-media-elite party I was for some reason asked to attend last night, I encountered a lefty argumentation ploy I hadn't run across before. Here's how it goes: A rightie was being discussed, and someone said of her that she just wanted to be respected as a rightie; she wasn't a homophobe, a fascist, an environment-despoiler, etc. She was just a conservative. One lefty-media-elite type said: "So who's getting in her way?" Another lefty-media-elite type shrugged and said, "A little paranoid, eh?" Of course the media elite lean left, and of course they type anyone to the right of them as racists/homophobes/etc. (And of course they'll never admit it -- less, in my experience, because they're devious and more because they aren't aware it's the case: Lefty-ness is simply the water these fish swim in.) Bernard Goldberg has them nailed good; and, loose cannon though she may be, Ann Coulter is spot-on when she describes their attitudes. Still, what a great rhetorical ploy: Undercut the right's case by accusing them, in a very bored-and-blase tone, of paranoia, and of imagining things. (For all I know, apolitico that I am, righties may indeed tend to be paranoid.) What kind of response to this move do you see righties coming up with? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Art and Markets
Friedrich -- Many thanks for the fascinating rundown on the economics of the Elizabethan theater. Why don't art-history professors tell kids these things? I'm still reeling, all these years later, from the shock of discovering that most art hasn't been done out of the sheer love of doing it. I have nothing like your background in history, but I did stumble across one book on the topic of the economics of art that I found very useful, In Praise of Commercial Culture by an econ prof named Tyler Cowen. (Buyable here.) A history of art and markets, it's a little once-over-lightly (which may suit me better than it suits you), and he isn't good on the actual art. But he's a zillion times more down-to-earth, shrewd and better-informed about such topics as "making a living at this" than the art history profs are. Cowen teaches at George Mason, which seems to have a lively department -- Walter Williams, the libertarian econ columnist I enjoy so much, teaches there too. Cowen's own website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Short Stuff
Michael Perhaps you noticed this in the Los Angeles Times of September 25: Alligator Bites Off Man’s Arm at Garden in Florida That’s got to hurt sales at plant nurseries around the Sunshine State. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

New Godard Redux
Michael I must publicly praise your Godard piece. It was better than I hoped, and I was hoping for a lot. Your review is, itself, poetry. Your sensitivity to fugitive meanings, colors, textures, etc., combined with your willingness to comb through intellectual gravel (and French intellectual gravel at that) for emotional gold is quite impressive, at least to this doggedly linear thinker. It is an honor to blog with you. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 27, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Moviegoing: "In Praise of Love"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Herr Doktor Friedrich Thanks for nagging me into catching the new Godard, "In Praise of Love." I had two completely different reactions to it. One was to vague out, doze, feel annoyed, and marvel that anyone should be expected to care (although I doubt Godard does expect anyone to care). The other was, here and there, to feel touched, moved and heartbroken. Most of the time, it's hard to imagine who'd be interested these days, apart from a handful of graying old '60s-relic film buffs. The film is divided (in a very fancy way) into two parts -- no three-act structure for Jean-Luc. The first half, mostly a snooze, is in a very sumptuous, solemn black and white akin to Bill Brandt's sooty views of London. (Though this was Godard's first time filming in Paris in 30 years, he certainly wasn't feeling joyful about it.) There's an estheticized melancholy everywhere Godard takes you. He turns the actors away from the camera most of the time -- I wouldn't recognize the actor who played the main character if he stood before me now. This main character seems to have a project of some sort in mind, though he doesn't know what he wants it to be: a cantata? A novel? In any case, he's interviewing actors and is very taken by one young woman who has an odd kind of beauty. There are scenes by the river, among train tracks, in cafes. It's all jumbled up. Noises cut in for presumably nihilistic/modernistic reasons. White-on-black intertitles interrupt the flow. There's a kind of placid acceptance of sadness. My attention wandered, and I dozed off. When I woke up, the girl the lead character was fascinated by had committed suicide. Cut to the second part of the film, shot on video. This part has its share of annoyingnesses, but it also has more beauty and poetry. It takes place a couple of years before the opening section. In it, the main (Jean-Luc-ish) character seems to be doing research for a project. He's in Brittany, meeting with old members of the French Resistance. Their granddaughter (or grandniece, or some such) shows up, and darned if it isn't the young woman who committed suicide in the first part of the film. Aha: Conceptual hijinks! The second section's in the past, but it's in color, which feels more present, but video's of the future, so everything feels flipped, or maybe like a sock being pulled inside out. A nostalgia-for-the-dream-of-a-future-that-may-never-be kind of effect. Je suis sorta impressed, M. Godard. As I'm not the first to observe, Godard's a rarity in this sense: while he seems to have lost all his verve and much of his interest in life and movies, his moviemaking technique has become, if anything, more delicate and refined than ever. But as a moviemaker, he's also become something of an empty shell, prone to dwelling on the empty-shellness of it all. No surprise, really; he may have burned up everything... posted by Michael at September 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Short Stuff 3
Michael In the New York Time's World Briefing of September 26: GREENLAND: U.S. TO RETURN A TOWN You know, you just shouldn't lend some people stuff. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Economic History of Shakespeare
Michael Given my previous discussion of cities and their artistic “golden ages,” I thought it might be entertaining to look at the economic underpinnings of a cultural high water mark. I chose Elizabethan London during the golden age of English theater. My discussion is largely based on Peter Hall’s book, “Cities in Civilization” (which I would definitely recommend.) Peter Hall London was Europe’s most dynamic city at the end of the 16th century. It had grown from approximately 120,000 people in 1550 to 200,000 in 1600. (In comparison, Paris had only 70,000 people in 1600.) And London's growth had paralleled that of England, which had doubled in population between the 1520s and the 1640s. The English economy grew even more rapidly: agriculture prospered because of the significant increase in demand for food, and London became the leading center of the international woolen cloth trade after Antwerp was sacked in 1576. The overall European money supply had grown rapidly as a result of the gold and silver being brought in by Spain from Latin America; the resulting inflation had proved good for capitalists because it lowered the cost of labor and debt. The great merchants had prospered mightily during this “Age of Exploration”--a prosperous London merchant could earn 2-3000 pounds a year, making him the financial equal of an aristocrat. The total volume of trade increased rapidly in the early 17th century, notably between England and the countries around the Baltic, the Mediterranean, India and the Americas 17th Century Globablization During this period the upper middle and middle classes were visibly prospering. Increased social mobility seems to have led to the breakdown of social tradition. Education was on the rise, with the number of students at Oxford and Cambridge growing from 450 a year to nearly 1000 a year between 1575-1642, far in excess of the growth in the numbers of the aristocracy. And this democratization of education happened despite the rising cost of a university education: 20 pounds a year in 1600. (For comparison, a common laborer earning minimum wage made about 8 pounds a year--in the unlikely event that he worked steadily throughout the year ) The number of active lawyers tripled between 1570 and the 1630s; the Inns of the Court where they were trained was a center of theatrical activity and the students were active playgoers. London was the epicenter of all the new economic activity. The city’s new affluent class demanded entertainment. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 had left the English with a sense of infinite possibilities and confidence. Continental travel became a fad, and the classical manuscripts brought back from Europe and translated into English were hugely significant for English culture generally, and, of course, its theatre. Acting troupes started putting on so many plays (using converted inns as outdoor theaters) in London during the 1560s that the city authorities took notice, fearing riots or the plague (not without reason--the theaters were shut down every ten years or so during outbreaks.) In... posted by Friedrich at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Hollywoodize Yourself
Friedrich -- If you have a snapshot and 25 bucks, you can be the star of your own George Hurrell production, here. Digital: be your own fantasy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

NEA Smackdown
Friedrich -- A reader from rural Arkansas responds to a comment I made a while back about how much I'd like to see the National Endowment for the Arts terminated: Yes, the NEA funds some crappy art, and down in the Never-Never-Land of the Village that's probably what it's best known for. But there are a lot of rural areas that would never encounter the arts (save through TV), were it not for the NEA and other publicly funded organizations of that ilk. I'm forever grateful to the NEA and its Arkansas equivalent for financing the ArtMobile, an art museum the size of a Winnebago which rolled into my high school when I was in ninth grade (and never returned, by the way). That was the first time I ever saw a Rembrandt in person. Granted, it was a very small Rembrandt, and a pencil sketch at that, but it still beat the hell out of those grainy slides from art class. A private company would never have done anything like that, because there was no money or publicity in it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Glenn Gould
Friedrich -- Arts & Letters Daily, pointing out that the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould would have turned 70 today, includes a pinata of links to Gould sources and sites, here. Among the offerings, Robert Everett-Green's short appreciation in the Globe and Mail is a standout, here. Have you ever gone through a Gould phase? It's hard not to become a Gould fiend once you catch the bug. He was intellectually brilliant (classical-music performers are usually about as intellectually keen as actors and painters are), was an entertaining and enlightening critic ("The Glenn Gould Reader" shows his brains and writing chops off well), and, according to people who know these things a zillion times better than I do, probably the greatest performer of contrapuntal keyboard music who ever lived. In his performing and his writing he was a real philosopher of music. His two versions of "The Goldberg Variations" are legendary. Of his other recordings (the Wife is a longtime Gould nut and has been my guide here), I especially love his version of Bach's English Suites and his album of pieces by the Renaissance composers Byrd, Gibbons and Sweelinck. The Canadian film "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," written by Don McKellar, directed by Francois Girard and starring Colm Feore as Gould, is a fab intro to Gould (it stays very close to the facts), and an interesting film in its own right. It attempts to give a multi-perspecitival, nonlinear, musical account of Gould's life -- ie., Gould seen entirely in Gouldian terms. Gould, by the way, died at 50, as complete a physical wreck as Elvis was at the end, and probably as drug-dependent (although Gould apparently used prescription drugs only). Amazon has a good intro-to-Gould page, with many links to books, videos and recordings, here. By coincidence, I happen this week to be leafing around "American Normal," a book about people with Asperger's Syndrome by Lawrence Osborne, which, despite its title, has a chapter devoted to Gould. (On sale here.) Did he or didn't he have Asperger's, which is often described (apparently semi-accurately) as a mild form of autism? Gould was a beyond-quirky character, with more than a little of the idiot-savant about him. He dressed in wool even in summer, abandoned the concert life as soon as he was able to, subsisted largely on arrowroot biscuits, hummed while he played, and preferred to interact with people over the phone -- a behavior package apparently highly suggestive of Asperger's. According to Osborne, the question has become a highly-charged one, with some Gouldians and members of the Asperger's community saying "no question," and many other fans (and even some Asperger types) saying "no way." In one passage, a Gould scholar named Dr. Tim Maloney, who is convinced that Gould indeed had Asperger's, says to Osborne: He was on his own planet. No one else really mattered to him. He was alone. He loved being alone. According to him, and he said it countless times, the artist had to be... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (5) comments

Free Reads -- Barnes Foundation
Friedrich -- What in the world is really going on at the Barnes Foundation (website here)? The great art collection, left in 1951 by Dr. Albert C. Barnes to be housed (and very quirkily displayed) in his mansion outside Philadelphia, is in bad financial trouble, and there's now talk of breaking Barnes' will in order to merge the Foundation with several others. Things have been bizarre in Barnes-land before. Dr. Barnes specified that the collection was never to tour, for instance, or to be displayed in color reproductions -- yet a large part of it was put on tour in 1993, accompanied by a color catalogue. No matter how bad the place's financial situation, these repeated violations of Barnes' will have got to be giving pause to anyone who wants to leave behind an art collection. Ralph Blumenthal writes about the mess for the NYTimes here. Roger Kimball gives a more opinionated view for the WSJ here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Walter Williams
Friedrich -- Week after week, Walter Williams makes succinct, snappy cases for libertarian positions. This week, here, he examines what's really meant by the word "right," as in a "right to this" or a "right to that." Sample passage: Decent housing, good medical care and decent jobs are not rights at all, at least not in a free society -- they're wishes. As such, I'd agree with most Americans because I also wish that everyone had decent housing, a high paying job and good medical care. Best Michael... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Scruton on Islam
Friedrich -- The brilliant Roger Scruton has a book on Islam and the west coming out shortly, onsale at Amazon here. This week, National Review Online is running a series of excerpts from it. Installments so far: here, here, and here. Sample passage: People in the West live in a public space in which each person is surrounded and protected by his rights, and where all behavior that poses no obvious physical threat is permitted. But people in Muslim countries live in a space that is shared but private, where nobody is shielded by his rights from communal judgment, and where communal judgment is experienced as the judgment of God. Western habits, Western morals, Western art, music, and television are seen not as freedoms but as temptations. And the normal response to temptation is either to give in to it, or to punish those who offer it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Short Stuff-2
Michael In the September 25 Wall Street Journal, a headline: Mexico's Crusade to End Corruption Stalls Government Sure, pick on poor Mexico. Like the same thing wouldn't happen anywhere else. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Maybe We Need a Sports Page
Michael My wife is a fanatical tennis player, and as a result we have lots of tennis-oriented publications laying around, none of which have ever brought even a twitch to my lips while reading them (chiefly, I admit, in the bathroom.) As a result, I was stunned to pick up a rag called Inside Tennis and discover, well, humor. In particular, the "Short Shots" column, also oddly known as the IT Notebook. One example: Justin Time: Just as our spirits were getting soggy due to all the mid-tournament rain [at the U.S. Open], Justin (low ranking, high entertainment value) Gimelstob came on the air to analyze how he defeated Edwin Kempes, No. 249 in the world. A yoga kind of guy, Gimelstob referred to himself as a "peaceful warrior" (think New Age writer Dan Millman) and confided that he sweats more than most human beings because of his "Jewish nerves." Gimelstob admitted, "The mainstay of my game is significant prayer," and added that "hitting a triple-bouncer to the net post is never a good strategy...[in fact], my game plan then was to sweat on the court and hope Kempes falls on a wet spot." Time and time again, Gimelstob referred to Brad Gilbert's curious forehand (e.g., "I greased that point and 'Gilberted' my way through.") Then Justin admitted, "I was one point from sick manic depression." When he started to cramp, he joked with the trainer, pleading, "Bring out the good stuff--the stuff the Spaniards use." Ultimately, Gimelstob admitted, "Like many things in my life that go wrong, I just blame my parents." Justin the Great If Gimelstob decides to hang up his racquet, I'd like to offer him a spot on our blog. Are you with me on this? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thong World
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Are you as amazed as I am by the culture's embrace of the thong? I'm surprised I haven't read more about this phenomenon. Lord knows we've seen a lot of thongs in recent years. But who has tried to make sense of the vogue for them? Camille Paglia is one. She argued somewhere, persuasively I thought, that the butt awareness of the last decade or so has to do with a couple of things: the way the American population has become less vanilla Anglo-German (ie., breast-fixated) and more dark and Latin (ie., butt-fixated), and the way the aesthetics of pop culture have become more frankly gay. I'm not sure I can do better than that. Can you? Sure fun to think about, however unsucessfully. Here's my attempt to initiate a conversation on this vital topic. Back in paleolithic days, thongs and g-strings were naughty-naughty, worn by strippers, or by obliging sex partners in the boudoir. In the '80s, thongs came to mean pumpy, muscular aggression, as some women began wearing thong-back ("t-backs," weren't they called?) leotards to the gym. And wasn't it about then that some European and South American women began to wear thongs and g-strings on the beach? About 10 years ago, visiting a friend whose daughter was then about 13, I was given a tour of the apartment. On the wall of the daughter's bedroom, she'd taped ripped-out pages from teen fashion magazines. One of them was a page of panties, and several of the panties were thongs. Heavens! Young teen girls were now thinking of thongs as everyday undie options. Thongs were becoming poppy, peppy, healthy. A couple of years ago I noticed my first thong line. (The upside of doing a lot of walking on crowded NYC sidewalks is getting to watch a lot of women's behinds.) This one crisp, confident woman striding along before me was wearing a clingy skirt that made it clear she was wearing a thong. There was no doubt about it, it was meant to be noticed. Up till then, I'd thought of thong undies as something worn to avoid the dreaded "panty line." This was the first time I'd seen the "thong line" as its own signifier. But of what? I'm struck these days by a couple of things: how ubiquitous thongs have become (the Wife just brought home a few that she picked up on sale at the Gap), and how, given the new, stretchy-smooth fabrics and cuts, it seems downright necessary for women to wear thongs. Traditionally-cut panties, worn under cyberstreamlined clothes, make even a pretty-good butt look like a lumpy sack of potatoes. In any case, thongs these days seem to be everywhere, which is bliss. But, then again, they're everywhere, which also means they don't have that old sweaty, prurient, uncomfortable, assholey-buttocky, naughty allure. The element of forbidden, wicked surprise is gone. Instead, thongs are now part of the well-prepared young woman's portfolio, along with the cell phone, the... posted by Michael at September 25, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

DVD Journal: "Fatal Attraction"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- A hundred years ago, when I was an even bigger hick than I am now, and I loved the arts but knew zero about them, I used to imagine that if I could only meet the artists whose work I loved most, we'd hit it off instantly. How could we not connect when their work affected me on such a deep, personal level? Then I spent years and years as an arts reporter, as well as living in the media and arts world, and I learned a sad fact -- that sometimes you like the artists whose work you like and sometimes you don't. Sometimes they strike you as real assholes. And that sometimes (even more of a shock) you hit it off really well with artists whose work you aren't crazy about, and maybe even look down on. My useless, grizzled-old-vet generalization: You just can't know in advance. Adrian Lyne: Drinking buddy I was thinking about this tonight because the Wife and I rented the DVD of "Fatal Attraction" and watched it with the Adrian Lyne commentary track on. I never liked an Adrian Lyne movie. I thought he was facile, silly, commercial, all surfaces, a symbol of everything wrong, blah blah, froth froth ... Then, doing a story about something or other, I interviewed him for a good half hour and found him perfectly charming. And, wouldn't you know it, on the "Fatal Attraction" DVD, he's once again charming -- diffident, appreciative of everyone else's contributions, generous to the performers, willing to laugh at himself and to confess to uncertainty. Maybe it's all an act, but I'd still rather have a drink with him than I would with many artists whose work I love. And thank god for "Unfaithful." Have you seen it? Really brilliant, I thought: adult, subtle and amoral, open-ended and "objective" in the French fashion, fabulously performed, with moments of surprising visual poetry. Better than (and quite different from) the Chabrol picture it was based on. Phew: now, if I ever do have a drink with him, I can tell him quite honestly how much I admire his work. And, hey, tonight "Fatal Attraction" looked pretty darn good. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Every Picture Tells A Story
Michael When I went to lunch today I lost my head and took not only one but two books with me: E.H. Gombrich’s “The Image & The Eye” and a book of reproductions of Gil Elvgren’s paintings. This sort of thing is always a mistake. I can never decide which book to read, and often try to look at both of them and get horribly dizzy. Anyway, I decided to start with theory and began with Gombrich’s essay on “Action and Expression in Western Art.” There my eye lit on the following passage: [T]here must be a great difference between a painting which illustrates a known story and another that wishes to tell a story. No history exists of this second category, the so-called anecdotal painting…It is likely, however, that the student of non-verbal communication would find a good deal of interest in these systematic attempts to condense a typical dramatic scene into a picture without any…contextual aids... Wow, I thought, I have an example of that right here. I opened the book of Elvgren’s paintings and my attention was immediately drawn by this narrative masterwork: Obviously Elvgren had decided to depict the intense drama of the witness facing the opposing attorney. Of course, space considerations apparently dictated the elimination of the opposing attorney, but Elvgren’s artistic mastery overcomes this by showing the young woman’s twisting posture as she writhes under his savage cross-examination. Of course, her expression is a bit ambiguous; why do you suppose she is smiling and batting her eyelashes? Perhaps she sees her brother in the courtroom crowd, and wants to let him know how well she is bearing up under the strain. Well, even if the context is a little unclear, I think Elvgren’s penetrating analysis of the human condition is quite powerfully rendered. I went back to Gombrich: One could think of other topics and social functions which have driven the artist towards the exploration of non-verbal communication. Advertising, for instance, frequently demands the signalling of rapturous satisfaction on the part of the child who eats his breakfast cereals, the housewife who uses a washing powder or the young man smoking a cigarette. To find an example, knowing that Elvgren had done advertising work, I again leafed through the book of his paintings, until I saw this example of what appeared to be art for a home workshop ad. I thought, this must explain why the woman in the advertisement is making such a kissy little mouth while feeling the edge of the axe blade—she’s surprised at how sharp her new grindstone has made her dull old axe! It was a little unusual, granted, to use a woman in the ad at all, of course. I mean, you’d think grindstones would be more of a guy’s thing—and sharpening axes, too. And her choice of legwear is a bit unorthodox for a workshop, even if it is at home—I don’t think my old shop teacher would have thought that sitting so close to a grindstone... posted by Friedrich at September 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Short stuff
Michael, I noticed the following item in the Wall Street Journal's "What's News" column for September 24: Dole shares surged on expectations of a...sweetened bid for the pineapple company. Well, that would only be appropriate. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Crunchy Cons rereredux
Friedrich -- Before letting go of the subject, can I point out a few things that I value in Rod Dreher's "Crunchy Conservatives" piece? * I celebrate it as a journalistic gesture. Dreher's a primarily political person (a PPP) daring to remind other PPPs that many if not most people aren't PPPs. Bravo to that. An unpolitical person myself, I favor (partly as a consequence of being unpolitical) smaller government, strong national defense, and freer markets, and I object to affirmative action and most social-justice meddling. These positions strike me as sensible and humane public-policy positions. But in my private life, I enjoy erotic French art novellas, edgy off-off-Broadway theater, Bertrand Blier films, well-preserved old neighborhoods and buildings, Kanda Bongo Man, Glenn Gould, Poussin, fusion cuisine, Son House, some crazy-lefty artist friends, and a few kinky web sites. A PPP might well have a hard time with this; I don't, and I don't see why I should -- my political views and personal pleasures are all, as far as I'm concerned, about leading the good life. Thanks to Dreher's piece, maybe a few PPPs will recall that politics is best when it serves the good life, not when it dictates it. M. Friedman, K. Bongo Man: Inconsistency? What inconsistency? * I wonder if you and I differ on one point. Your view seems to be that lefties are always useless and wrong. I take lefty criticisms of life-under-capitalism somewhat differently; I sometimes find them useful, and often agree with them. Pop culture generally is vulgar, the opening of everything to freemarket principles often does generate a lot of ugliness and resentment, people do pursue getting-and-spending as though it were a religion, we do seem to be living in something more and more resembling "the society of the spectacle," etc. (Hey, these lefty critiques sound like the criticisms of market liberalism that traditionalist-conservatives make! But I suspect I'm not the first to notice this.) What I find awful about leftyism isn't the perceptions and critiques, it's the remedies and solutions, as well as the dream that every problem has a solution, preferably a government one. In my view, lefties are like children: overexcitable and full of naive fantasies, potential little tyrants who ought to grow up and sometimes need to be spoken sharply to. We need to defend ourselves against their delusions and enthusiasms. But, like children, they're also sometimes able to see things in fresh and charming new ways. And their energy can be intoxicating as well as infuriating. So, like Dreher, I tend to react sympathetically to at least some lefty critiques. Like him, I also say, good lord, a little perspective here, please: even if some people are stuffing too much junk food into their fat faces, at least they aren't going hungry. And let's remember that on any sensible scale of evil, a dumb sitcom ranks mighty low. All that said, I'll be damned before I develop the habit of eating that shitty food or watching those... posted by Michael at September 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Social History of Advertising
Michael I believe you once expressed the opinion that advertising was the true offspring of the traditional visual arts, serving business today with the same subtlety and skill as painting, sculpture and architecture once served church and state. I got to thinking about this, and I guess there’s not much question in my mind that advertising is sort of the “essence” of all pop culture art forms, the way math is the "essence" of the hard sciences. So over the weekend I picked up a book by Philippe Lorin on “5 Giants of Advertising.” While this book reads as if it had been written to the publisher’s specs in about a week (and then translated into English), it did introduce me to a remarkable individual, Albert Lasker. Lasker is “the founder of the modern advertising industry” according to the website of the American National Business Hall of Fame. During his life he was a successful journalist, art collector, inspiration behind the creation of the National Institutes of Health, part-owner of the Chicago Cubs and, as you might expect, really rich guy. However, he is remembered in advertising chiefly for creating the first modern American agency, Lord & Thomas, and for playing a significant role in the launching of a whole series of products that changed the way Americans live. That's Mister Lasker to you Lasker’s first exposure to changing-the-world via advertising came at the turn of the century while he was a Chicago-based ad salesman and copywriter making a lot of trips to Battle Creek, Michigan. This diminutive city was the epicenter of the newfangled packaged cereal industry, in which as many as 24 companies fought out the “Battle of Battle Creek” for commercial dominance. Eventually Post and Kellog were the last men standing, but the true significance was that by the time it was all over, oatmeal and home-made grits had been replaced across America by packaged cereal. As Lorin observes, “[t]his experience taught him…that a good product supported by advertising could revolutionize consumer habits throughout the country overnight.” A few years later, Lasker got a chance to try his hand at this game when the California Fruit Growers Exchange (later known as Sunkist) became a client. The fruit growers were in the process of cutting down many of their orange trees, as the current market demand wasn’t large enough to justify the acreage in cultivation. This outraged Lasker (who didn’t like wasting natural resources like mature fruit trees) and led him to suggest that the growers needed to sell Americans on drinking orange juice in addition to eating the fruit. It’s kind of weird to realize that one guy was responsible for the mass consumption of orange juice. Drink an orange? No one-hit-wonder, Lasker went on to launch such consumer staples as Pepsodent (the first mass market toothpaste), Kotex (the first mass-market sanitary napkin), and Kleenex (well, you know.) He was also the guiding hand behind Lucky Strike cigarettes and tobacco advertising targeted specifically at women. And this... posted by Friedrich at September 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 22, 2002

If I Were an Editor 6
Friedrich -- If I were an editor, I'd commission a piece on the theme of: "The E-book Revolution Is Over, and E-books Have Won." Did you follow any of the publicity and press about E-books over the last few years? Big question: How will we be reading in the electronic future? A few devices got manufactured, some novels and nonfiction were issued in e-formats. Squabbles erupted over e-rights, which were assumed to be worth plenty. Publishers got terrified, authors' organizations waved flags, stories ran in magazines, segments ran on news shows. E-books were the next big thing; they were set to explode... And then: kerflop, or such is the conventional wisdom. No one really liked using the machines and few people bought them. Stephen King perpetrated an e-publishing stunt or two, then lost interest. So how could I argue that E-books have won? In fact, my headline is just a come-on. What I'd argue instead is that the discussion was always a little off the mark. E-books, E-books...What's this fixation on "books"? Why haven't we been focusing instead on the broader issue of reading and writing? When I do, I notice that I now do 99% of my writing electronically. I also notice that I'm doing more and more of my reading electronically. Last night, for instance, I spent a couple of hours surfing the web instead of reading the book that's on my desk (Machado de Assis' really amazing "Esau and Jacob," as it turns out). I'm certain that I'm reading more electronically-displayed words these days than I am words on paper. Even the world of on-paper reading has been transformed by electronics. Books and magazines are being created electronically -- in word processors, then in programs like Quark and Photoshop. (And if you don't think word processors, Quark and Photoshop have had a big impact on the look and feel, and probably the substance, of books and magazines, I'm pretty sure you don't work in the publishing business.) Let's not even talk about the impact of the databases that bookstores, distributors, warehousers and publishers nearly all rely on these days. It was 20th-century sentimentality to think that the victory of electronics wouldn't really be complete until books themselves had become electronic. In the 21st century, why let "the book" carry such symbolic weight, when, looked at more objectively, "the book" has almost no significance? It isn't even a cultural form, like a gangster movie or a dictionary. It's just a container, akin to a box or a cupboard; it just houses words, ideas, drama, images, whatever. Why use it as a standard by which to measure anything? Though, as it turns out, the transforming of nearly everything into data does seem to have a characteristic impact on how that everything is used and experienced. Once digitized, material will get sliced and diced; it becomes chunky. Users will tend to search out a one-blast-after-another experience. (Ie., click here, poke around a bit; then click there.) Digitized information is conveniently... posted by Michael at September 22, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments