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Saturday, October 12, 2002

Times Square
Friedrich Times Square: The revolution is now I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that what the early Soviet revolutionary artists envisioned has come to pass. It's visible in the architecture of the new Times Square, and it's all around us in the form of the media-and-technology networks so many of us work and play in. This became evident to me some time ago when The Wife and I attended a show in L.A. of Soviet revolutionary architectural drawings. "It's Times Square!" we whispered to each other over and over. Bewildering that more people don't recognize that what radicals have dreamed about for centuries has arrived. We have critic acquaintances, for instance, who denounce the new Times Square yet carry on as though there's something subversive about pop culture. Er, guys.... How can they miss the fact that avant-garde-ism is all-pervasive these days? In the electronic and digital universe, everything connects, everything interpenetrates, there's no gravity, linearity is a beat-up old relic, the hierarchies that haven't yet been leveled are about to be, etc etc. Listen to a CD while surfing the web, take a stroll through a shopping mall while your VCR records a show at home... Zdanevich and Tatlin would keel over in amazement and delight. Early Soviet art: The dream was then Why don't lefties recognize their dream now that it has become a reality? (My suspicion: they prefer the dream because it is a dream.) Two answers occur to me. One is that the underlying realities (birth, death, scarcity, illness, frustration, etc etc) haven't changed and never will, and that what lefties have really been protesting are the basic facts of life. They always assumed these problems would evaporate once avant-garde-ism was installed in power. Basic facts of life haven't changed? Well, then, the revolution hasn't really arrived. The second is that lefties are so accustomed to thinking of their dream as a pure thing that they don't recognize it in a (necessarily messy) incarnated form. Oooooh -- money, profits, business -- nasty. That's not a revolution. But maybe there are better explanations. Do you have one? Funny how it never seems to occur to lefties that even the revolution has to be paid for. Utopia does too. I had lunch with a friend in the Frank Gehry-designed Conde Nast lunchroom the other day, and was struck, not for the first time, by the way that Times Square represents a bringing-together of international finance, media power, avant-garde star architects, and theme park whoopee aesthetics. These elements and values are no longer in conflict. They're playing on the same team. Not enough is made of the way the most mundane pop culture these days embodies avant-garde ideals. TV commercials and rock videos are as nonlinear and unbounded as anything Godard collaged together. What producers do with techno and rap is as far-out as anything Varese or Boulez devised. OK, the new-media artifacts are pumped-up, are determined to sell sell sell, and are set to throbbing dance... posted by Michael at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Eisenman/Oakeshott redux
Friedrich -- Sweet of you to take a look at Oakeshott's great essay, "Rationalism in Politics" (readable here) -- and you're right on the money to choose Peter Eisenman as a primo example of the "rationalist" type. (The New Urbanist Andres Duany has a go at Eisenman here.) I'm sorry I haven't been able to get more people to give Oakeshott a whirl. Reading him jolted my mind out of any number of binds I didn't know it was in, and lured me into an appreciation of many things I hadn't given enough recognition to -- evolved ways of being and doing, largely. My brain felt sharper, as it often does when wrestling with philosophy, but it also felt like it gave a series of great big yawns, and with each one settled into a deeper and more nuanced enjoyment of life. It would be hard to read the best essays in "Rationalism in Politics" (buyable here) and not get a lot out of the experience. The essays in that volume that this Oakeshott fiend recommends most fervently: "Rationalism in Politics," "The Masses in Representative Democracy," "The Political Economy of Freedom," "On Being Conservative," and "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind." Gems all, guaranteed to set the mind a-buzzing on many, many topics. Why not enjoy pornography in private while entertaining the idea that perhaps it ought to be outlawed? Why not combine a taste for liberal economics, smaller government, a humanely conservative social gestalt, and bohemian pleasures? Why not prefer to avoid interacting too much with popular culture even while recognizing its vitality and (occasional) genius, and that it serves its functions for most people pretty efficiently? Oakeshott fuses enlightening philosophy with a sophisticated and subtle "such is life" attitude. How to beat that? Though I do remember some critics dismissing him as a crank and a dandy -- they seem to think there's no place for the aesthetic point of view in political philosophy. Me, I find any political philosophy (or economic system) that doesn't take the aesthetic point of view into account beyond unappealing. A telling Oakeshott personal detail I'm fond of: though he wasn't a believer, he enjoyed attending church services, finding them poetic and deeply moving. Incidentally, I notice that many blog-surfers are puzzled (if not incensed) by some of Andrew Sullivan's stances; they seem bewildered by the way Sullivan's positions don't cohere in a familiar way. They might find his take on the world less puzzling if they were more familiar with Oakeshott, the subject of Sullivan's college thesis. Much of what Sullivan does in his thinking is exploring territory opened up by Oakeshott. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Google Searches
Friedrich -- Fun to keep track of Google searches that have led surfers to this blog. For every one earnest and arty search string (+bertolucci +besieged +moral +analysis), there are at least ten that are grotty (+young +boys +private +parts +gay +fuck +video). Are we aiming too low? Not yet low enough? Here are some others. +sexy +nose +art +for +world +war +2 +planes +my +wife +thong +public +libertarian +woman +pose +nude +for +calendar +PowerPoint +nude +miss +italy +digital +video +of +me +and +my +wife +having +sex +white +wife +fucks +only +blacks +images +of +underage +girls +having +sex +bikini +women +with +hotrods +hot +girls +in +bikinis +posing +with +surfboards +feeling +lousy +making +love Hey, it's an X-rated country-western song! I swear, some smart reporter is going to notice this trend of guys making porno PowerPoint presentations and score a journalistic coup.... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Knowledge Loss
Friedrich -- I was talking about books with an arty guy in his early 20s who's very bright and talented. He has a project in mind, and I was pointing out a few titles he might want to peep at to see how various problems of tone and voice can be handled. After a minute, I noticed that he had a strange, mirthful-foolish expression on his face. “What’s up?” I asked. “It’s about books, I was just thinking.” “Thinking what?” “Well, I haven’t read any of the ones you’re talking about.” “You haven’t?” “I haven’t read very many old books, actually.” “But you went to a fancy, expensive, exclusive Northeastern private college. Didn’t they have you read at least a few of the great old books?” “Well, one of the profs there told me that the canon was coming apart, and since this was probably a good thing, I didn’t have to worry about reading any of the great old books. He told me not to worry about it. So I didn’t.” Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads – Oakeshott redux
Michael I’ve been turning over the essay you recommended in your posting, Michael Oakeshott’s 1947 essay, “Rationalism in Politics." As I believe you pointed out somewhere, this “Portrait of the Rationalist as a Young Politician” describes a human type which has not limited its activities to politics. In fact, I came across a description of this human type in action while reading a story in October 10’s New York Times, “White Elephant in Vermont Reincarnated.” The individual in question is an architect, Peter Eisenman. What struck me, frankly, was the astonishing accuracy with which Oakeshott had described the life, work and mentality of a man who was only 15 at the time this essay was published. Peter Eisenman: The Rationalist The NY Times story depicts how a retired furniture manufacturer, John Makau, searching for a lot on which to build a summer home near Sugarbush, Vermont, spotted the unusual house, designed by Mr. Eisenman. Upon making inquiries, he discovered the house had been vacant and on the market for years. He bought it and began renovations, only learning by accident that it was rather famous in architectural circles. According to the Times: [The abandoned home] was one of a series of 10 designs [by Peter Eisenman], of which four were built…The four houses were legendary experiments in pure theory rendered on a domestic scale with notoriously mixed results. “This was Eisenman’s first freestanding building, and it was a kickoff project,” said Joseph Rosa, the Helen Hilton Raiser curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “He was helping architecture rethink itself and become self-critical [emphasis added].” Oakeshott: To the Rationalist, nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny. Consider the couple who commissioned House II, Florence Falk, now a psychologist in Manhattan, and Richard Falk, an emeritus professor of international law at Princeton. The Falks and Peter Eisenman started talking at a Princeton cocktail party in the late 1960s. Mr. Eisenman was then known for contentious, densely written architectural manifestoes. He had completed one project, an addition to an existing Princeton residence, which he called House I. Mr. Eisenman and Mr. Falk shared an interest in Noam Chomsky’s theories of language and mused about Mr. Eisenman called a Chomskyesque house. “I don’t know what it meant,” Mr. Falk said in a recent interview, “but it sounded good.” [Emphasis added.] Oakeshott: [The Rationalist’s] circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: he is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual. The Falks had purchased an old dairy farm in Hardwick [Vermont] for $22,000; Mr. Eisenman suggested they tear down the house and erect a Chomskyesque successor. [Emphasis added] Oakeshott: …[The Rationalist’s] disposition makes both destruction and creation easier for him to understand and engage in, than acceptance or reform. Mr. Eisenman said: “I worked... posted by Friedrich at October 12, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, October 11, 2002

New Cultureblog
Friedrich -- A delightful discovery, "Out of Lascaux," an art-history cultureblog run by Alexandra, whose last name I don't know, here. Sample passage: As a kid, I used to think medieval art was ugly because it wasn't "realistic". I think most of us think that way when we're young. Then, we grow up and learn why things are the way they are and we look at life differently. Well, most of us. But now I love medieval art, especially Gothic art. Alexandra's list of permalinks includes some promising-looking blogs -- more to explore! One of these days the 2blowhards, computer mediocrities both, will figure out how to add new blogsites to our own list of permalinks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friedrich -- A couple of terrific, oh-so-true pieces about Poussin: Karen Wilkin in The New Criterion, here, and Robert Hughes in Time, here. Sample passage from Wilkin: There’s a wonderful loosening of contour— without any weakening of form—in Poussin’s drawings, an invigorating openness quite unlike the sculptural, closed delineation of his paintings, that is especially appealing to twentieth-century eyes. Even more accessible to modern taste are the brushy drawings where tone all but drowns line and only a few, telling islands of untouched paper remain to suggest form and mass. Sample passage from Hughes: "Questo giovane ha una furia del diavolo," remarked Marino, introducing him to one Roman patron - This young man has the fury of a devil. Furia didn't simply mean rage; it suggested a state of inspiration, of contact with primeval forces that lie below the surface of culture...Poussin wanted to reconstitute antiquity in his paintings by grasping its root: energy. Always in his best work there are the signs of overflowing vitality, constrained by form's superego, the mode - tragic, idyllic, epic, sacred. I'm not crazy in seeing technical similarities between Poussin and Frank Miller, am I? The limited number of values, the relative absence of line and the almost-total dependence on tone and shadow to delineate mass and form, the way the areas of light and dark are so often, as Wilkin points out, open .... Of course, their work couldn't be more different in terms of feel. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Marriage
Friedrich -- Remember how common it used to be for people to claim that, while marriage was good for men (calmed 'em down, helped 'em live longer, etc.), it wasn't good for women? This has been conventional wisdom for 30ish years. It now turns out that this conventional wisdom is wrong. It was based on one book, Jessie Bernard's 1972 "The Future of Marriage." And a careful study of her assertions, using a wide range of Australian women, shows that marriage is as good for women as it is for men, and in exactly the same ways. Anne Manne explains all in The Age, here. Thanks to View from the Right, here, for the link. Sample passage: A new study for the Australian Institute of Family Studies, by sociologist David De Vaus, shows that almost none of the propositions about the toxic nature of marriage for women stand up in the light of contemporary data...Being single is the strongest risk factor for mental health problems for both sexes. Singles, whether never married, separated or divorced, have much higher rates of mental distress than married people. In related news, Steve Sailer (here) points to a new Gallup poll that highlights differences in voting patterns between single and married people. Sailer summarizes the findings this way: Gallup's new poll on the Congressional elections shows an enormous gap between unmarried women (who favor the Democrats 68%-32%) and married women (who favor the Republicans 58%-42%). Married women are now more Republican than married men (who prefer the GOP 54%-46%). Married people (of either sex) with children go GOP 59%-41%. Let's see: married women are happier, healthier, and vote GOP. Unmarried women are more prone to mental problems, and vote for Democrats. Hmmm. What to make of this? Say, do you suppose anyone has brought any of this news to the gals of "Sex in the City"? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Frank Miller
Friedrich -- I know I'm 15 years late arriving at this particular party, but: have you ever looked at the graphic novels of the artist/writer Frank Miller? He's probably best-known for "The Dark Knight Returns," an operatic Batman epic that was the visual basis for Tim Burton's "Batman" and is often said to be one of the best of all superhero graphic novels. I tried "Dark Knight" years ago and wasn't much taken with it. But the other day I read an installment of his "Sin City" series, and flipped for it. (By the way, does one "read" or "look at" a graphic novel? I wonder if it's best to say one "goes through" such a mixed-media thing?) The story was passable romantic-downbeat urban noir, but the visuals were beyond fabulous: lurid, and trippy-intense. And the pyrotechnics! The entire book is done in black and white (no in-between values at all), but the variety of effects he gets -- from the individual frames, as well as the page-compositions and sequencing -- is amazing. A breath-taking high-wire act; I was giggling and gasping all the way through. Sweet Dreams: Frank Miller, Poussin, "The Matrix" Despite the fact that I'd recently seen a wonderful museum show of French drawings from the 1500s and 1600s (mucho Poussin, who I adore), and despite the fact that the same day I read "Sin City," The Wife and I re-watched "The Matrix" (which we adore) -- despite competing with these two powerful visual experiences, Frank Miller's visuals dominated my dreams. That night, I dreamt in Frank Miller. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friedrich -- Are you a fan of the porn star Jenna Jameson? She's an interesting figure, very entrepreneurial and in-charge. Many women like her and her videos, especially "Dreamquest," which is full of fairies, elves, chiffon, and sparkly things. There's nothing about Jenna that suggests the victim, and she's mischievous and rowdy, but in a cute way. It may be key that, despite how explicit her videos get, she holds a little something back. She seldom takes it up the butt onscreen; she seems to prefer doing scenes with other girls; and she limits the number of Jenna videos released each year. In other words, she keeps her fans a little hungry -- smart girl! Jenna has become a kind of you-go-girl role model for the young and the sexually out-there; according to South Africa's Sunday Times, Britney Spears is such a fan of Jenna's work that the two have become friends. The story is readable here. Jenna's also the most popular porn star in history. If you look at her early videos, you can see why: she's very cute, has some sweetness and a lot of personality, moves like a dancer, and often seems genuinely into the sex (ie., not in the usual bored/over-enthusiastic way). Her more recent videos are less pleasing. Her skills and talents are what they always were, and her personality and responsiveness don't seem to have grown jaded. But she's gotten way too much plastic surgery, and these days looks like just another overly-Photoshopped flashy blonde. Physically, she's no longer as enticingly idiosyncratic as she used to be. But the Jenna phenom just keeps rolling along. She's become her own producer, and mentors younger porn stars. And now, this press release just in: New York, NY (October 11, 2002) -- ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, announced today that it has secured world rights to a new book by the world's leading adult film star Jenna Jameson entitled HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR. In a steamy, fun, and intimate guide, Jenna Jameson takes readers on-set, on-stage, in the bedroom, backstage at the strip club, and more, using her life experiences as the framework for an explicit how-to on achieving a love life like hers. HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR will bring Jameson's sexual education in the adult entertainment industry out from behind closed doors and into bedrooms everywhere. Whether you want to learn to make love to a man or a woman, Jenna will show you how. With detailed instructions for acts of love and lust ranging from strip tease to oral sex, HOW TO MAKE LOVE LIKE A PORN STAR leaves no pleasure unexplored. In the section, "The Wicked One," you'll learn everything from how to accommodate extra large penises to light bondage and how to properly drip candle wax on each other. In another section, "Silver Screen Confidential," you'll not only learn how to dress the part, but what scenarios to use to let your inner porn... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Crunchy Cons -- Redux unto exhaustion
Friedrich -- NRO is going hog-wild with the Crunchy Cons controversy. Who'd have expected the topic to generate any controversy at all? Jonah Goldberg, here and here, attacks; Rod Dreher, here, defends. The battle continues in The Corner, here, NRO's gangblog. National Review must be pleased -- we in the media biz consider it a triumph when tussles over an "issue" turn into a professional wrestling match. I do wish, though, that I could make sense of Goldberg's objections. If you can, would you enlighten me? Sample Goldberg passage: Crunchy conservatism reeks with the implication that mainstream conservatives really are the caricatures and stereotypes the left claims. Again, I don't think it was Rod's intent, but I can see many young and overly iconoclastic conservatives buying into this entirely superficial distinction between "crunchy" cons and "normal" cons and thereby join the chorus of critics who say conservatism is really just a bunch of slogans and lock-step tastes. And I think it was a mistake for National Review to make their job any easier. Sample Dreher passage: As Jonah points out, it's not exactly news that there are and have always been conservatives critical of the destruction capitalism wreaks on institutions. But that is not the impression you would get from the media (for obvious reasons), and that is certainly not the impression I think many rank-and-file conservatives have about the movement. Conservatives can be quite politically correct within their own circles. My intent with the crunchy-con article was not to restrict the definition of conservative, but to expand the popular understanding of it by highlighting a subset of conservatives who perceive themselves as different from the conservative mainstream, but still well within the same philosophical tradition. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Amiri Baraka rereredux
Friedrich -- John Derbyshire is dryly amusing on Amiri Baraka in today's National Review Online, achieving his effects by pretending to take Baraka's poem seriously as poetry, here. Sample passage: Mere historical truth is of course beneath the notice of a poetic genius like Amiri Baraka. If you actually try answering some of his questions, in fact, you get into some very confusing terrain. "Who killed the most Africans?" Other Africans, without any doubt. Tribal warfare has been endemic in Africa since remote antiquity, except for the few brief decades when European colonizers suppressed it. "Who bought the slaves, who sold them?" Same answer, mostly. Every single pre-colonial African society was slave-owning, and some post-colonial ones have resumed the tradition. "Who killed Malcolm?" Some black radicals he'd fallen out with. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Free Reads -- Vernon Smith
Friedrich -- Mike Lynch and Nick Gillespie interview the brand-new economics Nobelist, Vernon Smith, here. Smith is known as the pioneer of "experimental economics" -- testing economic assumptions and models by setting up experiments involving actual human beings. Sample passage: People work out exchange systems that are not necessarily related to formal law. If you read [economist] F.A. Hayek, you know that the early lawgivers were not people who made law. They just wrote down the existing practices.... It's "discovered law." "Made law" starts to come in later. Of course, not every transaction is local or face-to-face. That's why you need more formal markets and property rights. What's the old saying? "Everything for a friend, nothing for an enemy, and the law for strangers." Property rights and markets help to extend the gains from trade to strangers by ensuring payment or ensuring delivery. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Matt Welch
Friedrich -- Matt Welch in the National Post discusses globalization, politics, subsidies, tax breaks and film production. It's a good snapshot of some of the conditions under which movies get made, readable here. (Thanks to for the link.) Sample passage: Southern California, especially the commercial strips on either side of the Hollywood Hills, is overrun with freelancers who work on movies, television shows and commercials. They toil long hours in concentrated bursts, then are idle for weeks at a time. Once they gather the thousands of dollars necessary to join their relevant union, they make a handsome amount of money; until then, they chase after a shrinking pool of poorly paid non-union jobs, and make up the difference waiting tables or tending bar. It is a peculiar system, but it has worked fairly well for nearly a century. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Self-Esteem Redux
Friedrich -- Andrew Sullivan has a good time connecting Robert Torricelli's resignation from the NJ Senate race and the recent announcement that self-esteem can be a bad thing, here. Sample passage: Friends of mine who teach today's college students are constantly complaining about the high self-esteem of their students. When the kids have been told from Day One that they can do no wrong, when every grade in high school is assessed so as to make the kid feel good, rather than to give an accurate measure of his work, the student can develop self-worth dangerously unrelated to the objective truth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Philip Roth Reredux
Friedrich -- Funny rant about the incoherence of visual people, thanks. A professor I know who has to teach aesthetics to visual-arts majors tells me there's no way to get his students thinking intellectually in an even semi-organized fashion. "They're hopeless," he says, rolling his eyes. And a painter I know (that rarity -- a bright one) tells me the French have an expression, "Bete comme un peintre" ("stupid like a painter"). I find visual people to be in many ways like performers -- talented, rarely gifted with much in the way of intellect, and full of meaningless chatter, which is, however, interrupted now and then by brilliantly helpful, offhand observations and statements. Like performers, they seem to have no idea when they're being idiotic and when they're being insightful. Listening to them is a peculiar experience, something like this: babble babble bab AmazinglyInsightfulObservation babble babble bab. But I'm sometimes charmed by their silliness, their sense of style, and the way they feel so very strongly about how things should look. Even the babble, properly edited, has its pleasures. Degas, for instance: what an amusingly stylish gruff bastard. A couple of excerpts from Degas' letters: No art is less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament ... I know nothing. Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty. Cranky Bastard Is there anything to what he says? Maybe. What I mostly like is the way the words, the thoughts, the attitude, the pickiness, and the sheer Frenchiness all snap into place. Ker-thwam. I find his little sayings as pleasing as good jokes. On the other hand, phew, can visual people radiate "attitude" or what. Why are so many of them so prone to do this? The artier types in the media world, and the arty types in the art-gallery world, can out-disagreeable and out-snoot the worst country-club snobs. My best shot at an explanation runs along these lines: they aren't smart, they are stylish, there's a natural tendency to cluster with people who are kinda like you and once there to look down on outsiders...This line of reasoning suggests that visual people are very insecure -- perhaps about having such lousy verbal skills? Perhaps they deal with their vulnerability about not being very smart by over-doing the visual-style snobbery. What are your former-art-student thoughts about this? Complicating matters a bit, I notice that people who go into commercial illustration and graphics are often funny, bright, irreverent and pleasant -- they're like the kids in the back row who throw spitballs. I once asked a few of them about this, and was told that many of them grew up loving (and drawing) comic books, and either never went to art school or tried it and dropped out. So: An art school education equals "attitude"? Growing up on comic books equals "likable irreverence"? It's a theory, anyway. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Female Gaze
Michael I was driving down the road the other day when I passed a bus shelter and spotted the following Bebe ad. Eye Catching? (By the way, all the pictures in this posting are pop-ups, and it helps to click on them so you can see them in more detail.) From my not-very-well informed point of view, fashion ads seem to divide into two overlapping, but essentially independent camps: one aims at making women attractive to men, and the second provides fashionable women with firepower in their struggle to demonstrate superior taste. Frankly I look at ads from the first camp and ignore the ads from the second camp. Bebe, being emphatically in the first camp, tends to get my attention. But there was something about this particular ad that caught my eye. (And I assure you, the fact that the girl was managing to display her face, her breasts and her thighs had nothing to do with my interest. I am shocked, simply shocked that anyone would suspect me of such impure motives!) Regrettably, having only 1.7 nanoseconds to look at the ad, I couldn't study it at the length it so obviously deserved. It left me with an impression suggesting a narrative or dramatic context (i.e., the girl seemed a tad flustered getting ready to go out on a big night on the town.) But that didn’t entirely explain my feeling that I was seeing something relatively new here, something that had unusual echoes. So when I got back home I picked up some of my daughter’s/wife’s fashion magazines and started checking out the ads. They seemed to divide, relatively straightforwardly, into the following categories: 1. Direct Eye Contact Category #1 is the most common, with one or more models making direct eye contact. This replicates the effect of trying clothes on before a mirror. 2. Avoiding Eye Contact Category #2 involves a female model avoiding eye contact. Here you're supposed to look at something on the model, as if on a mannikin. Generally used for jewelry, skin care ads, hair care ads, etc. 3. Radiantly Happy In Category #3, we generally have one female model making direct eye contact, while looking radiantly happy. This foreshadows what a shopper will see in the mirror after she tries the product. (This is a sort of old-fashioned ad strategy and is never used by products attempting to create a high status impression. Apparently, very high status women are never radiantly happy or at least never allow other women to catch them at it.) 4. Everyone's Looking At Me (Including Me)! Category #4 involves one female model looking directly at the camera while other models (usually men) stare at her. This reproduces the common experience of fashionable women who constantly check themselves out in store windows and mirrors while in the presence of other people. 5. Love the Life You Lead, Lead the Life You Love In Category #5, a more rarely used strategy, we have multiple models (usually male and... posted by Friedrich at October 10, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Free Reads--Philip Roth redux
Michael In your posting “Free Reads—Philip Roth” you comment that “a gift for writing fiction has nothing whatever to do with the ability to reason and make sense of things.” I would guess that Roy Lichtenstein would agree with you, if you would extend your comment to the visual arts and to the ability to make sense of things—verbally. In Michael Kimmelman’s book, “Portraits,” he talks with Roy Lichtenstein as they walk around the Metropolitan Museum of art: Lichtenstein settles finally on a group of Ellsworth Kellys: a tall standing steel sculpture, nearly rectangular, and two shaped canvases, one of them all blue. Ellsworth Kelly (from nature?) [Lichtenstein:] ‘[The Kelly painting] is the ultimate in color intensity. It’s entirely about the relationship between color and shape. There’s no modulation of color. Modulation is usually read as atmosphere, it gives you a sense of recession. But here you don’t have that, there’s no illusion, which turns the picture into a thing, the opposite of a window. It’s like a sculpture that just happens to be on the wall. I know Ellsworth says it comes from nature. But I don’t know why you’d want to say this, because art relates to perception, not nature. All abstract artists try to tell you that what they do comes from nature, and I’m always trying to tell you that what I do is completely abstract. We’re both saying something we want to be true. I don’t think artists like myself, or Ellsworth, have the faintest idea what we’re doing, but we try to put it words that sound logical. Actually’—Lichtenstein grins—‘I think I do what I’m doing. But no other artist does.’ Roy Lichtenstein (pure abstraction?) An excellent example, I think, of why art needs to reference a tradition of meaning outside itself. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Been there, Done That Redux
Friedrich -- Many thanks for your rant about Paul Goldberger’s review of the Times Square Westin. Goldberger’s an odd critic (as I noted in a posting, here, about his review of the new L.A. cathedral), often on the verge of taking a shot at orthodoxy, then retreating straight back into it. He may believe what he writes; he may also suspect that if he were to blow the alarm on the hoax that is most new architecture he’d soon be out of a job. Like you, I enjoy sounding off about bad new buildings. (The Wife doesn't share my passion, but puts up with it graciously.) I wonder what it is that’s so satisfying about lambasting awful architecture. Its generally public nature? A bad building is an offense not just against individual taste, but against users, passersby, even entire neighborhoods. Is it the ponderous self-importance of the architecture establishment? Various malcontent architects have told me that there was a brief moment in the early 1990s when it looked as if the Kremlins of architecture taste were finally going to throw open their doors. Then the doors slammed shut once more, and they have been locked ever since. These days, I know of only three schools (Syracuse, Miami, and Notre Dame) that teach anything but mainstream modernist-postmodernist dogma. You write that you first saw through the propaganda of modernism when you wrestled with architecture in college. Sorry to say that I woke up somewhat later, but it was also while wrestling with architecture that it happened. I remember (to my shame) reacting indignantly the first time I read Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House (buyable here). Well, I huffed, he has some points, but he just doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, blah blah. I knew a bit about architecture history, see, and clearly Wolfe didn’t get it. Then I learned much more about architecture history, re-read the book, and realized that Wolfe had indeed gotten it. He’s deliberately provocative, and he cartoon-ifies everything he touches. But his main point isn't just perfectly valid, it's key to understanding what's happened to cities and buildings in this country over the last 50 years. The two cents that I’d try to add to the discussion is that it doesn’t hurt to be wary of the rhetoric of postmodernism, which poses as a playful rebellion against modernism but which in practice turns out to be an extension of it. Postmodernism can be just as academic and imposed-from-above as the worst modernism. I'm pleased, for instance, that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown (godparents of postmodernism) think architects should pay attention to the American strip. Big of them! But I find the buildings that they've built at Our Lousy Ivy College as stuffy and shallow as a building with lots of goofy brickwork can be. I mean, decoration's nice, but a shoebox is still a shoebox. Venturi and Scott Brown's Lewis Thomas Building The most entertaining and useful critiques of the modernist-postmodern mafia... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- John McWhorter
Friedrich -- Have you run across the writing of John McWhorter? A Berkeley prof of linguistics who writes commentary about black/white American racial issues, and one of the freshest voices on the topic I’ve encountered recently. He dares, for instance, to suggest that while racism hasn’t entirely vanished, it’s no longer the main factor holding blacks back. The civil-rights establishment isn't pleased -- what fun! McWhorter has written (for the New York Post) the best sum-up of the Amiri Baraka-9/11-NJ-poet-laureate debacle that I’ve come across, readable here. Sample passage: Stringing together visceral ejaculations does not make one a serious poet, regardless of race. This is clear to everyone when the writer is white. But a sentiment reigns, especially in academic and artistic circles, that the rules of the game are different when it comes to black people. He's best-known for his book "Losing the Race: Black Self-Sabotage in America." But there's lots of McWhorter to be enjoyed online. The Manhattan Institute's website provides a list of links here. I've stumbled across a side of McWhorter that I haven't seen mentioned any place else, which is that (unless someone's perpetrating a hoax) he's an avid customer-reviewer on Amazon, with a marked interest in musical comedy. You can check out his likes and dislikes here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Orchestras in Crisis
Friedrich -- Robert H. Hughes in The Wall Street Journal (online, but you have to subscribe) reports that big-city symphony orchestras are undergoing a terrible financial crisis. They're really feeling the current business crunch. "Nearly a dozen cities' symphonies are operating six figures or more in the red," Hughes writes. Programming and salaries have been cut, seasons have been shortened, and a few orchestras have closed up shop. All this, despite the fact that attendance grew 16% during the 1990s. Further interesting facts: income from ticket sales accounts for only 38% of the revenues of the big orchestras. (Other main sources of income: endowments, gifts, government funding.) Classical-CD sales are shrinking. And the number of commercial radio stations devoted to classical has shrunk from 50 to 32 in the last decade. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Ron Rosenbaum
Friedrich -- Ron Rosenbaum grew up reading The Nation, but these days he's feeling pretty disenchanted with the Left. In the New York Observer, he tells us why, here. Sample passage: It’s important that America have an intelligent opposition, with a critique not dependent on knee-jerk, neo-Marxist idiocy. And it’s important that potential constituents of that opposition, like Nation readers, be exposed to a brilliant dissenter like Christopher Hitchens. And the level of idiocy one finds in knee-jerk Left oppositionalism is sometimes astonishing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Philosophy and Literature
Friedrich -- I'm a few days behind on this, but I thought I'd let you know that the wonderful, indispensable, best-of-the-web, [enter superlative here] Arts & Letters Daily is no more, apparently done in by legal/financial/who-can-figure challenges. But I'm thrilled to report that the brains behind ALD, Denis Dutton and Tran Huu Dung, have kicked off a brand-new site that promises to be at least as good as Arts & Letters Daily. It's called Philosophy and Literature, and you can find it here. It's already looking like the [enter superlative here] thing on the Web. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Policy break
Michael Of course, just because I told you to check out "Prospect" doesn't mean I agree with everything in it. After browsing through it, I must admit I don't. Nonetheless, it is always interesting to have a look at the views of those on the other side of the argument. For example, take Anatol Lieven's article, "The end of the west?" Mr. Lieven argues that if the U.S. goes to war against Iraq in alliance with Israel, really, really bad things will happen, particularly to the "West"--i.e., the U.S.-European political alliance. Israel is something of a bugaboo for Mr. Lieven. He seems to take seriously the theory that Israel, through the Jewish lobby, controls U.S. foreign policy. According to Lieven: ...thanks to support from the US, Israel has become a kind of superpower, able to defy its entire region and Europe too. This is an untenable situation. Israel is not a superpower. It is rich and powerful, but it is still a small middle eastern country which will have to seek accommodations with its neighbours if it is to live in peace. I wonder what accommodations Mr. Lieven has in mind--jumping in the sea? Mass suicide? Conversion to Islam? He makes no direct mention of the three defensive wars the Israelis have had to fight with their neighbors during the time Europe has sat protected by American military power. He does, however, describe Israel's claim to the West Bank as a result of military victory as the sort of claim that "Milosevic and his henchmen" would have made, had they triumphed. Apparently the difference between Israel acting in self-defense and Milosevic performing ethnic cleansing is too unimportant for Mr. Lieven to take notice of. Arab Invasion Routes into Israel & Israeli Counter-Attacks, 1948 Do you suppose that for Mr. Lieven, Israel acting like a superpower is untenable because the damned upstarts won't bow to Europe? Frankly, the whole European-American "fight" over Israel seems to ultimately derive from European resentment of its own second-class citizenship in world affairs. As the French ambassador to Britain so eloquently put it, Israel is a "shitty little country" which should come and heel when Europe whistles. (I mean, if you can't order around a "shitty little country" then what are you, exactly?) I keep hearing that Europeans believe that America really needs Europe because it needs their troops as peacekeepers when the American soldiers are finished fighting. I've also heard threats (which are repeated by Mr. Lieven) that European countries could refuse to allow Americans to use the Nato logistical facilities (which the Americans paid for and built to defend Europe from the Soviet Union) to support their attack on Iraq. Both strike me as revelations chiefly of a massive European inferiority complex and its attendant hostility. As I've said before, it's always good (if not always pleasant) to know the score in these difficult international situations. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 8, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

A Prospect on Prospect
Michael I guess I gotta get down to my local magazine stand a bit more often. Hunting around for something to read at my dental appointment (don't get me wrong, my dentist is a great guy, but his taste in magazines is not mine), I came across a magazine I haven't noticed before called "Prospect." It's a U.K. mag (my copy came with a large and rather strange sticker marked "Printed in England" stuck on it) which carries the subhead: "Politics - Essays - Argument" and, rather astonishingly, delivers. All you hipsters who are on to "Prospect" can feel free to giggle at my insularity right now, but if, like me, you haven't tried this yet, I would recommend it. A sample quote from "Death of An Idea" by Julian Baggini: ...most of 20th-century Anglo-american analytic philosophy--perhaps the least postmodern alcove in academia--has been based on a rejection of grand systems, such as those of Kant, Hegel and Marx. In its place has been a piecemeal approach to philosophy that is as much opposed to grand narratives as post-modernism. Nor is the rejection of absolute truth the hallmark of a distinct philosophy. There are many ways to be a relativist, not all of them intellectually disgraceful, as Jonathan Ree has recently pointed out in these pages. We cannot locate a philosophy that lies behind these various postmodern positions because there isn't one. What is worse, when people do try to make the lead from postmodernism as a social or cultural phenomenon to post-modernism as a philosophy, they tend to make basic mistakes. If you want to check out the "Prospect" website, you can do so here. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 8, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Definitions -- "Liberal"
Friedrich -- However gloomy I can get about whither-the-modern-world, I sometimes remember what a great time it is too. One up-to-date thing especially worth celebrating is the way many of the old thought-and-idea-monopolies are breaking up. In honor of this process – and, in my small way, to hasten it along -- I want to kick off a new rubric, “Definitions.” There are words that various elites (many of them leftish) own, among them: art, architecture, environmentalism, feminism, beauty, pleasure. Why let that continue? For my first installment, I’m taking on the word “liberal.” There’s a lot of confusion around the word, and the Left profits from that confusion. Liberal, liberal… Many Americans think “liberal” and automatically think “Democratic.” Yet I suspect many of these people get dismayed when they look around the land of the Democrats. What a long list of policies you’re expected to endorse! And how nutty many of them seem – affirmative action, for example. What’s liberal about advocating racial discrimination? And how fervent and exacting the left can be! Sheesh: Fail to go along with their entire program and you find yourself anathematized, thrown out and told that you aren’t really a liberal. Yet you still feel like a liberal person… One of the tricky things about "liberal" is that it’s just such a damned attractive word. It’s nice to think of yourself as being a liberal person. “I don’t care if my neighbor’s gay” equals “Thus I’m a liberal.” Sure, why not? But there’s a tendency to extrapolate from that, and that's where the trouble begins: being a liberal person, you want to root for the team that calls itself the liberals. And you get sucked in, because “liberal,” in current American practice, means “Democrat.” And there you are, back in the world of racial quotas, love of bureaucracy and regulations, warring ideals, and dictated and policed outcomes. But lord knows you’re anything but a conservative, heaven forbid… The mistake here – one I was prone to for years myself – is to scramble the general sense of the word with its specifically political sense. Pry these two meanings apart, and -- ahhh -- the brain gives a big sigh of relief. What many people – who, bless them, have better things to do with their lives than fuss with this kind of nitpicking research – may not realize is that “liberal” in the contemporary American-politics sense means not just the opposite of what the word means in a dictionary sense, but more or less the opposite of what it initially meant in a political sense. In other words, if you have the impression that many of the Americans who call themselves liberal are mighty intolerant, you’re absolutely right. A brief examination of the word and its meanings. The dictionary definition of “liberal” taken in its non-political sense is exactly what most people assume it is: the word basically means broad-minded and generous. Then there’s the political meaning of “liberal.” And here’s the surprise:... posted by Michael at October 8, 2002 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, October 7, 2002

Been there, done that
Michael I was glancing through the New Yorker of October 7 when I happened to notice the headline: “Miami Vice: Is this the ugliest building in New York?” I was intrigued, as I keep a special place in my heart for architectural theory. It was in an architecture class that I first rebelled against the authority of Modernism, which in the early 1970s lay like a frigid, crushing ice sheet across the aesthetic landscape. The ugliest building in New York? So I checked out Paul Goldberger’s review, eager to see where ‘educated’ opinion had gotten to in the intervening thirty years. Did that headline promise a postmodern rave, or some new-urbanist critique? At the beginning, I couldn’t exactly tell: The forty-five-story Westin is the most garish tall building that has gone up in New York in as long as I can remember. It is fascinating, if only because it makes Times Square vulgar in a whole new way, extending up into the sky…This is less a building than a concept, and you can imagine it being pitched to the developer, Tishman Realty & Construction, the way producers pitch a television show to network executives… Yes, yes, Mr. Goldberger, but does that mean you like it or not? (I assume a postmodernist would think those were all good things.) I manfully stuck with the review, hoping to get my question answered. Goldberger was spending a lot of ink on the way the Westin’s tower was divided vertically into two parts by a curving white stripe, the taller half clad in vertical blue glass and a shorter half clad in horizontal pink glass. Finally he got down to brass tacks: [I]t makes no sense to design a single building to look as if it were two different, clashing buildings. The two parts aren’t different structurally and they aren’t doing different things inside…It’s all pretense—not the kind of pretense that brings us fake Georgian or fake Renaissance but the pretense that the hoopla is somehow connected to a meaningful architectural idea. Everything [the architectural design firm] Arquitectonica has done here is as superficially decorative as if the building had been sheathed in classical columns and pilasters. I sat up straight when I read that one. He was actually accusing the design of failing to obey the High Modernist commandment: Form Shall Follow Function. And it was not sinning venially (“the kind of pretense that brings us fake Georgian or fake Renaissance,”) it was sinning mortally by calling into doubt the True Faith (“that the hoopla is somehow connected to a meaningful architectural idea” [emphasis added]). He must be really outraged: he even compared the design to the perennial 'bad example' of modernism, Beaux Art classicism. Superficially decorative or just plain ugly? Just as I had pegged Mr. Goldberger as an unreconstructed Modernist (hey, there's no accounting for taste), he pulled a fast one on me. Moving on from the tower, he turns to the building’s “bustle”, the 13-story entertainment complex fronting on Times... posted by Friedrich at October 7, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, October 6, 2002

Short Stuff
Michael Two headlines from the NY Times of October 5: Jury Sets Punitive Damages at $28 Billion for Smoker I understand about the dangers of second-hand smoke, but it still seems a bit excessive. I.R.S. Offers Deals on Tax Shelters In a down market, you gotta do what it takes to move the merchandise. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Parental Discretion Advised
Michael You’ve asked me what it’s like to be a parent in today’s sexually saturated environment. Well, let’s just say it’s kind of tricky. My adolescence left me with decidedly ambiguous attitudes about how parents should deal with their teenage children’s sexuality. My parents tried to bravely overlook my very existence as a sexual being, although somehow they communicated that if I got some girl into trouble there would be hell to pay, mister. (They needn’t have worried: the spectacle of watching them fight regularly as clockwork every Sunday afternoon in combination with my own stupifying clumsiness with the opposite sex was the best birth control method ever contrived.) While the resulting lack of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases during my teenage years was undoubtedly a good thing, this approach did leave me mystified as to how they expected me to ever make them grandparents. So I have a certain inner tension when confronted with sexually charged material in the presence of my children—a confrontation that occurs every morning. I drive my teenage daughter and a friend to school, and they insist on listening to a Top-40 radio station that has some fairly explicit material on it. My mental advice to the musicians and the diskjockey tends to be: Hey, sex is great, guys, without it none of us would be here, but please remember that around adolescents this stuff is like high-explosive Brylcreem—a little dab’ll do ya. Dispenser of High-Explosive Brylcreem The other day my parental hackles started to rise when the lyrics from Nelly’s song “Hot in Herre” floated out of my radio speaker: Nelly: I was like, good gracious, ass bodacious Flirtatious, tryin’ to show patience Lookin’ for the right time to shoot my steam (you know) My trigger finger was itching to find the channel changer when the “hook” suddenly came on: Nelly: I said: It’s gettin’ hot in here (so hot) So take off all your clothes Which, I will grant you, is kind of funny; but the real kicker was the next line: Docile chorus of female singers: I am gettin’ so hot, I wanna take my clothes off At this point I relaxed—false alarm. It was obvious that we had crossed the line from discussing any aspect of reality and entered into the oldest male fantasy in the book: being able to control a woman and make her do just what you want her to, with no fuss or muss. I looked over at my daughter, who presents a placid, easy-going exterior to the world, while actually possessing a will of iron (which she inherits from her knows-her-own-mind-thank-you-very-much mother.) Platinum-selling artists the world over could try lines like this on my daughter for years without ever once getting her to coo obediently “I am getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off.” Frankly, once I listened closely, I realized that even the girls getting paid to sing this nonsense on the radio were managing to do it without a shred of... posted by Friedrich at October 6, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Arts in the Moonlight Re-redux
Michael In your posting, Arts in the Moonlight redux, you ask: I wonder how the NEA decides which artists who make little or no money at their art qualify to be called “professional artists.” Is it a matter of holding a degree of a certain sort? Of making a certain amount of money from art? If so, where is the line drawn? And why there? According to the NEA, their information came from the monthly Current Population Survey (“CPS”) data files. This survey is a joint product of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census; it is described on the CPS website, (which you can visit here): The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics...The CPS is the primary source of information on the labor force characteristics of the U.S. population…Estimates obtained from the CPS include employment, unemployment, earnings, hours of work, and other indicators. They are available by a variety of demographic characteristics including age, sex, race, marital status, and educational attainment. They are also available by occupation, industry, and class of worker. In short, for the purposes of the CPS (and thus the NEA study), a worker is a professional artist if he says he is. It appears that the CPS offers survey respondents a very long list of occupations to select among, including the following “artistic” categories: architects, designers, musicians and composers, actors and directors, dancers, announcers, painters, sculptors, craft artists, artist printmakers, photographers, authors, college and university teachers of art/drama/music, and artists not elsewhere classified (no doubt we bloggers could squeeze into this last category.) A “moonlighting” artist is a person who lists their “main” occupation as one of the above and also holds down a second job. This second job may or may not also be artistic although apparently the second job is more likely to be non-artistic today than in the past. Sorry if I was unclear on this significant point. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 6, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments