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  1. Policy Break: Legal Reform
  2. Free Reads -- Trowbridge on dogs and music
  3. Media Surplus
  4. A Conspiracy of Silence
  6. Free Reads—Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Age
  7. Movies--Sweet Home Alabama and Secretary
  8. Free Reads -- Righties and Pleasure again
  9. Philosoblog and Envy reredux
  10. Free Reads -- Theodore Dalrymple on Paris Crime

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Saturday, October 26, 2002

Policy Break: Legal Reform
Michael Knowing that you're a sucker like I am for stories of hard working young people who struggle despite adversity to rise in their profession, I would recommend an interesting story in the Los Angeles Times (which you can read in full here) on lawyers who gin up meritless claims based on California’s Proposition 65 against businesses, in the hope that the businesses involved will settle to make the claim go away. In case you haven't spent enough time in the Golden State to notice, Prop. 65 is responsible for all those little notices you see in California gas stations and other public businesses saying “Products Sold or Used on These Premises May Contain Chemicals Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer or Birth Defects." For years I’ve wondered what possible benefits such signs confer, since I’ve never seen anyone—pregnant women who won’t use aspirin included—jump back in their cars and roar away from gas stations where such signs are posted. The story focuses on Morse Mehrban, a Mercedes roadster-driving 33-year-old attorney who frequently sues on behalf of a non-profit organization Consumer Cause, which is run by his mother and his fiancé. This is not a uniquely smelly circumstance; of the over 5,000 such claims filed annually in California, most are on behalf of such nonprofit organizations that are, ahem, ‘linked’ to the lawyers filing the cases. Plaintiffs in Prop. 65 cases are not required to show personal harm and, if victorious, are entitled to attorneys fees—which, when Mehrban is representing Consumer Cause, are charged at $400 an hour. Mehrban and his mom (isn’t it nice, a boy and his mom in business together) rely on an annually published list of more than 700 chemicals known to the California governor to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Among his “greatest hits” Mehrban must include his successfully settled suit against a kosher market for selling imported cigars that didn’t have the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of smoking. His less successful cases have to include a decision by Superior Court Judge Brett C. Klein, who tossed out a lawsuit filed by Mehrban on the basis that Prop. 65 claims had to be brought in the public interest, while the attorney was obviously acting in his own private interest; the judge went on to describe Mehrban’s activities as “racketeering.” Unfortunately, Judge Klein is apparently in the minority on the California bench. The Second District Court of Appeals held that a business utilizing one of the Prop. 65 chemicals, in any quantity, bears the burden of proof of showing such usage is safe if it has not posted the relevant sign—a burden that probably would require millions of dollars in scientific studies. On that particular case, which concerned the presence of minute amounts of mercury in silver dental fillings, the dentists decided to settle for $20,000. But it’s a small price to pay to keep the public safe, don’t you think? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Trowbridge on dogs and music
Friedrich -- Dave Trowbridge at Redwood Dragon has been thinking about animals, in-born natures, and music, here. Not to be missed. Sample passage: While it may not make sense to characterize one kind of music as "better" than another, there does seem to be a sense in which some kinds of music are more "natural." That is, they seem to fit some basic sense of acoustic fitness that is shared by all human beings, and, it now seems, some higher animals as well. And paramount among these forms of music is the Western "classical" tradition, especially the baroque and classical periods. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 26, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Media Surplus
Friedrich -- Why are so many modern people obese? One helpful theory comes from evo-bio: because we evolved to survive in a world of food scarcity, we developed an inborn tendency to pig out whenever we run across some plausible eats. We pack it on when we can to help us get through the inevitable periods of scarcity. These days, though, those of us in rich countries are living in a situation of superabundance. Everywhere we look, there's food we might eat. And given such an inborn tendency to load up, it ain't surprising so many of us wind up fat. The challenge is no longer to feed youself and survive scarcity, and the inborn instincts are no help. They just get us in deeper and deeper trouble. Instead, you have to wrestle with the problem consciously and deliberately -- not an easy thing for most people to do. To go for it, or not to go for it -- that is the question It occurs to me that we're in the same predicament where the media and arts are concerned. Go back a few centuries and it was rare for a family to own more than a couple of books -- even a rich family might own only a few hundred. Imagery was in short supply too. The paintings in the church you attended, the signs over the stores and stalls and restaurants you patronized, might be all the imagery you ever encountered. Music? Live performances only. The mass press, photography and movies brought lots of changes, one of them the accessibility of imagery. In a book about how movies have treated historically-based subject matter (title to come as soon as my porous middle-aged memory revives), the novelist George Macdonald Fraser made a good point. It's common to grouse about how movie narratives mangle fact. But there's another side to it, Macdonald argues. Prior to the movies, most people didn't know what foreign cultures or distant historical periods looked like. The image bank was empty. With the movies, people's personal image banks started to fill up. Macdonald points out that the studios were able to do research into look-and-feel on a scale no university could match, and with onscreen results that were often accurate and stunning. Well, that was a heck of a digression. Back to my line of thought, such as it is. Even for us spoiled baby boomers: three channels of TV and no internet. Quark and Photoshop weren't around to make it easy for publishers to pump up the visuals in books and magazines. If you wanted to see a movie you had to go to the movie theater. Radio, records....But we were getting there. These days it seems like we're surrounded by beckoning arts-and-entertainment-and-media things all the time. It's become hard to get away from them. The magazine racks dazzle, the web's always there to play with, there's cable, radio, CDs, DVDs... Screens showing imagery in motion are everywhere. Things that twinkle, scratch, pop, and... posted by Michael at October 26, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, October 25, 2002

A Conspiracy of Silence
Michael As an entrepreneur I am always kind of bemused by discussions of capitalism, since by my reckoning relatively few people are properly credentialed to talk about it. Yes, yes, I know, 84% percent of Americans in the non-farm labor force work for capitalists, but that’s not the same as being a capitalist. Now I’m going to go out on a limb and define true capitalists as entrepreneurs. Obviously, many other definitions are possible, and I doubt this is the standard definition, but I think for experiencing the full, gut-wrenching excitement and terror of capitalism, you really need to own and operate a business. (I once overheard a conversation between two business owners where one of them said, "Yeah, employees just don't get it...they're, like, you know...civilians.") However, there is a sort of conspiracy of silence about entrepreneurship. Believe it or not, there is very little exact data on exactly how many people are currently owner-operators of businesses. As Andrew Zacharakis, Paul D. Reynolds and William D. Bygrave put it in their “National Entrepreneurial Assessment: United States of America 1999 Executive Report”: The United States has one of the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity in the world. Yet there has been little serious attention—either by the national government or other research institutions—to developing a reliable means for measuring and describing the level of entrepreneurial activity. In addition, scholars lack a general understanding of the cultural, social and economic factors that determine the level of activity. The result is a glaring knowledge gap. Lacking exact information, what kinds of estimates can we make? Well, there are around 6.2 million businesses with employees in the United States, and the great majority of those are small (under 500 employees) owner-operator businesses. Assuming that each of those businesses has two owner-operators, that would imply around 13.5 million such individuals. Since the U.S. workforce is roughly 131 million, that would mean around ten percent of the workforce is a business owner-operator. And, of course, that means 90% of the workforce isn’t. Of course, businesses come and go (around 14-16% are new every year, and 12-14% go away every year.) So it’s possible that more people have been business owner-operators at some point in their lives than are currently engaged in that capacity. According to Mssrs. Zacharakis, Reynolds and Bygrave, around one in 150 adults in the U.S. becomes a business owner-operator each year. Over a 40 year working career that would imply roughly a quarter of the adult population may have taken a hand in this game, although this estimate may be high (I’m guessing that people who start one business may well start another.) Nonetheless, even this high estimate implies that 75% of the adult population hasn't been the owner-operator of a business. For a variety of reasons, this level of ignorance is bad. Small businesses are an important part of the economy, employing 53% of the private workforce, accounting for 47% percent of sales and 51% of private sector GDP, and yet you... posted by Friedrich at October 25, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments
Friedrich -- Curious about who the brainy, party-hearty British libertarians at are (here, as though I don't link to them often enough), I emailed Brian Micklethwait and asked what their story is. Here's his reply: Samizdata happened for two reasons, as I understand it. One, there has long been a London libertarian scene based around the Libertarian Alliance ( which has been shovelling out pamphlets, essays, monographs, scholarly writings, call them what you will (I'm working on the next little clutch right now) since the early 1980s. Not that many people knew, but we kept at it. In connection with that, I and a friend, Tim Evans, who now has a swank job at the Centre for the New Europe (I can't remember the www of that, but google will tell you - its basic remit is to try to libertarianise the EU as much as that can be done), have been holding Friday evening speaker/discussion evenings. Tim on the second Friday, me on the last Friday of every month. (It's all a bit like Peter Hall's description in Cities in Civilization of the evenings that Freud used to run, but alas, without a Freud to make it so historical, or not that I'm aware of. I.e. not everyone who comes is as clever as some of the people who come. There's one tonight, on philosophical themes.) These friday meetings have been going on for a decade or more, like clockwork, and since email came along they have been pretty much automatic to make work okay. Okay, so there are these fridays. At them, some time during 2001, this character called Perry de Havilland shows up. He's already a libertarian, but not because of anything we in London said or did. He's a libertarian because of his time in America, which is where he picked up on it. Can't remember the details of how, but that's where he got it from. And Perry picks up various human pieces of the London libertarian scene, David Carr, Adriana Cronin (like many bloggers too busy to be writing huge great bits for the Libertarian Alliance, although she did manage a couple when she was at Oxford), me, Tom Burroughes (who works for the hated Reuters!), Antoine Clarke (bilingual in English and French, I wish we could persuade him to make more blogging use of that than he does), and probably some others I've forgotten. Well, yes, I forgot to mention Patrick Crozier and Natalie Solent, who run their own blogs but who are definitely part of our scene, and Alice Bachini who connected more recently through Sarah Lawrence and the T(aking) C(hildren) S(eriously) crowd. ( I think) The other thing I ought to mention is the Libertarian Alliance Forum, one of those email chat room whatsits that the Libertarian Alliance runs that I never could get with, where people with no sense of shame or style can call each other arseholes for the crime of disagreeing with each other. That turned up... posted by Michael at October 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads—Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Age
Michael A humorous note from the front in the Digital Wars: A musician, George Ziemann, was attempting to sell some CDs of an album his band had recorded via eBay, hoping to get some exposure. Unfortunately, in his auctions he used recordable CDs that he manufactured himself. Someone (it’s not entirely clear from my reading of the story)—either an eBay employee or an outsider who approached eBay via its Verified Rights Owner program—accused Ziemann of piracy and eBay shut down his auction repeatedly, despite the fact that the music in question was entirely his legal property. Less humorously, the story reveals that: ... eBay would not comment on its policing policy, but several companies scour the Internet looking for copyrighted materials. The movie industry uses Ranger Online...The recording industry has employed several search companies, including Media Enforcer and You can read the entire account here. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. George Ziemann himself is a pretty entertaining guy, and you can read about him here.... posted by Friedrich at October 25, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Movies--Sweet Home Alabama and Secretary
Michael You ask if I’ve seen any movies. The only movie I've 'been to' recently was "Sweet Home Alabama" which I can’t really claim to have seen. It was such a estrogen-fest that I kept passing out; every time I woke up, the fumes put me back under. I honestly could not bear to look at the screen much of the time. I was embarrassed--and not in a superior way--by what was going on there. (It just wasn't meant for my eyes.) Women seem to have some kinky fantasy about finding the perfect mate and then refusing to acknowledge this because of, er, pride or something. Then, of course, the perfect mate is so darn persistent that he wears down the heroine's idiotic preconceptions until she realizes her "error" and bliss ever after follows. Of course, anyone can see where this is all going long before it gets there (even while watching the screen no more than 20% of the time), but female viewers who are ordinarily intellectually demanding go into some kind of fugue state and sit open-mouthed and enraptured while the inevitable slides majestically onwards. Honestly, there is some kind of weird female pornography going on here. It's too bad that Reese Witherspoon got mixed up in this, because she's generally quite good (e.g., in "Election" and in "Legally Blonde.") Reese Witherspoon in Happier Days Oops, wait a minute, I also saw "Secretary." I went to see it with my wife because an old friend was involved in making it. Maggie Gyllenhaal, the lead actress, is just fabulous in the film. She gets more goofily human the more aggressively sexual the part gets. Eventually, at the end of the film, she achieves a truly unique distinction in my film experience: she emotes rapturously in full frontal nudity. For possibly the first time in screen history, the nudity is actually entirely justified (if only by her performance.) Ms. Gyllenhaal's character has become content with her lot in life at last and displays her stigmata--she has a thing for cutting herself--in the nude with total pride. James Spader, her costar, does his best with the role, but is directed in far too ka-thump, ka-thump a fashion to deliver an interesting performance. He seems to have no subtext--he's pretty much stuck being a plot device, really. As a matter of fact, the whole film is directed in far too "literal" a way--there's generally one and only one thing going on in each shot. The Radiant Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Secretary" A humorous note: the film, which revolves around the developing SM relationship between the secretary and her boss, involves a good deal of spanking, and Spader really whacks Ms. Gyllenhaal’s buttocks hard—you can see her flesh jump as he makes contact. That part of the film is not 'simulated sex' at all. What a girl—all that talent and a good sport, too! The only false note is early in the film, when for the first time, she cuts herself on camera, seeking... posted by Friedrich at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Righties and Pleasure again
Friedrich -- Brian Micklethwait at, here, has been following our gabfest about righties and pleasure, and has now entered the fray. If I understand him correctly (these Brits! So educated and articulate!), he's presenting the notion that while lefties tend to move from personal preferences to entire worldviews -- ie., they want to dominate with their tastes -- righties see taste and pleasure taking place under the auspices of more substantial activities, such as politics, economics and business. Sample passage: If you are a lefty, you believe in actively shaping the details of the big wide world out there. You and your friends are going to plan it, shape it, sculpt it, collectively and democratically if you are being nice about it. Therefore your opinions about everything, including art, are a public issue. If you prefer abstract impressionism to neo-realism, then you have a positive duty to say so, because when you have finally become the Benevolent Despot of Everything of Behalf of Everyone, your opinion is going to make a big difference to all those favoured or thwarted artists and art fans out there. Ditto your opinions about history, geography, biology, nuclear physics, literary criticism, sport, car design or car abolition. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Philosoblog and Envy reredux
Michael To make my own pathetic little addition to your brilliant discussion of the current alliance between notions of pleasure and Left-wing politics, I offer the following scattered observations: 1. Modern Lefties (in contradistinction to more Traditional Lefties) can be intensely materialistic and focused on conspicuous consumption--both in their personal and professional lives--without this interfering with their self-image as egalitarians and citizens of the republic of virtue. I'm convinced after much thought that the guys who run the New York Times Magazine were not being hypocritical (no matter how much it may look like this to a Rightie) by running a lengthy article by Op-Ed Columnist Paul Krugman on the evils of increasing income inequality--advertised on the cover as “The Class Wars Part I: The End of Middle Class America and the Triumph of the Plutocrats”--while simultaneously running a 48-page advertising section on "The Best of Luxury Homes and Estates" in the same issue. The ability to do something like this without hypocrisy is the very essence of the Modern Left-wing Attitude--and just because Right-wingers and Traditional Lefties don't "get" how it's possible doesn't mean it isn't real. 2. There is an affinity I can't spell out but I sense exists between people who are trying to mirror the masses back to themselves (TV personalities, advertisers, movie execs, magazine editors, politicians like Bill Clinton) and a left-wing point of view. 3. Ralph Nader's consumerism has become the dominant strain in modern Leftist thought, the key principle of which is making sure that the powerful corporations that deliver the essentials of life to the average consumer are policed in this activity by the Nanny State and the plaintiffs' bar. This movement is NOT at root hostile to corporate America, but is rather symbiotic with it (by which I mean that corporate America gets something out of this, too). 4. The current vogue of celebrity-worship and the hushed attention paid to their fabulous personal trappings is definitely tied in to all this somewhere. I think I'm on to something here. Do you agree? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Theodore Dalrymple on Paris Crime
Friedrich -- The British doctor who writes under the names Theodore Dalrymple and Anthony Daniels is one of the best essayists since George Orwell. City Journal runs a new piece by him on the way crime is on the upsurge in Paris, here. Dalrymple doesn't avoid discussing the aesthetics of the Le Corbusier-inspired housing projects where most of the criminals live. Sample passage: The cités are thus social marginalization made concrete: bureaucratically planned from their windows to their roofs, with no history of their own or organic connection to anything that previously existed on their sites, they convey the impression that, in the event of serious trouble, they could be cut off from the rest of the world by switching off the trains and by blockading with a tank or two the highways that pass through them, (usually with a concrete wall on either side), from the rest of France to the better parts of Paris. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Andrew Sullivan on the economics of blogging
Friedrich -- I just caught up with Andrew Sullivan's essay for London's Sunday Times about writing, blogging, and trying to make a living, here. Sullivan is amazingly good at catching the conundra and paradoxes that bedevil online life. The piece is also a nice complement to your postings about copyright law and electronics. Sample passage: It takes a few minutes to set up your own "blog" ... and you can publish anything you can conceivably want to a readersip that has no physical boundaries whatsoever. My own modest little venture, imaginatively called, is now around two years old. I've written tens of thousands of words; I've made hundreds of new web-friends; I get around 400 emails a day. I have to say I've never enjoyed myself as much as a journalist, had as much impact with my writing, or had as much sheer fun as a commentator on things large and small. But it's also true - and here's the catch - that this wonderful experiment has yet to make me any significant financial return. Despite what the New Statesman just called the "astonishing influence" of my site, it pays next to nothing... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Righties and Pleasure Forever
Friedrich -- It occurs to me that if I'm going to gas on about righties and pleasure, and if I'm going to make vague noises about how the web is allowing arty people of a non-leftie bent to make contact with each other, I should at least pass along some links. So here are a few places to begin. The curious can also explore the links we've supplied in the left-hand column of this blog. *Myron Magnet edits City Journal, a terrific, if New York-centric, city-life and politics magazine. It has a very complete online incarnation here. The very impressive and entertaining Roger Scruton and David Watkin often appear in these pages. *American Enterprise Magazine, here, does a good job of following developments in the New Urbanism, a movement of architects, builders, developers and planners who love and respect smalltown America, and who are determined to bring its pleasures back to life. *Frederick Turner is a British-born Texas professor, critic and poet who has developed a persuasive theory of what he calls "Natural Classicism." (His book by that title is buyable here.) It'll interest anyone who suspects there may be a connection between traditional artistic forms and recent discoveries in biochemistry, computing, chaos, and genetics. He has his own website here. *I have no idea what Christopher Alexander's politics are, but he's a fascinating and influential anti-modernist thinker on building and architecture. His "Pattern Language" website, here, is a beguiling thing to explore. The book of his to begin with (beware: they're addictive) is "The Timeless Way of Building," buyable here. *NewKlassical, here, is an online meeting place for artists and art fans interested in poetry that rhymes, music with tunes, and buildings that have comprehensible and enjoyable forms. *Lucien Steil's Katarxis, here, is a gem of an online catalog-magazine devoted to traditional and classical architecture. And that's just for starters. Persist, and you'll discover that the brilliant political columnist Mark Steyn is also a first-rate drama critic (an example here), that Notre Dame's School of Architecture (here) has been giving its students a traditional drawing-and-history based education for some years now... Rightwing political journalism and commentary have flourished because of talk radio and the web. Now, thanks to the web, the traditional and classical arts, and discussions about them, are finally starting to flourish in the same way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Politics and Cuisine
Friedrich -- In FrontPage, J.P Zmirak puts together an amusing political taxonomy of eating, then sets sail into deeper waters, here. (Link thanks to Sasha Castel, here.) A terrific piece on the theme of what a disservice it is to all of us to reduce political philosophy to a simple matter of left vs. right. Sample passage: What cuisine epitomizes the Right? Why French, of course. Rich, creamy, aristocratic dishes, replete with historically-derived inflections, baptized after kings and their queens (or mistresses), or more piously after saints, abbots and monasteries. (Coquilles St. Jacques, Dom Perignon and Chartreuse come to mind.) The French kitchen is replete with great names of great individuals, men who toiled in the kitchens of the rich, whose achievements “trickled down” to the ordinary fare of lady cooks in the provinces. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pleasure and Politics reredux
Friedrich -- A political staffer from the West Coast writes: The reason why conservatives seem more puritanical than liberals about pleasure (e.g., sex, drugs, outre art) is because they are. For every libertarian blogger cracking jokes about pot and porn, there are hundreds of people like my aunt, who hates movies with "bad language" and is horrified by the thought of legalizing marijuana. Remember Nixon's Silent Majority and GW Bush's pledge to restore dignity and honor to the presidency, i.e. no Oval Office blowjobs. Liberal pleasures: sex, drugs, rock & roll, art, porn. Conservative pleasures: tobacco, football, country music, Tom Clancy novels, SUVs. Alcohol is bipartisan. Feminists don't believe in any of these pleasures. Gay men believe in them all. (I've been to gay C & W bars). Great stuff. I've got a little caffeine in me, so I'm going to tease apart one aspect of our correspondent's note. It's all-too-common for righties as well as lefties to say that righties are more puritanical about pleasure than lefties are. I can't agree. They may indeed be more puritanical about leftie pleasures than lefties are, but they just as clearly have their own pleasures. Our correspondent, when referring to the pleasures lefties are open to that righties generally aren't, makes mention of sex, drugs, and outre art. Those are indeed, or at least can be, pleasures, whether or not you personally want to experience or recommend them. (And lefties often do.) But they aren't all there is to pleasure. Our correspondent lists, all on his own, tobacco, Tom Clancy, and country-and-western music. Potential pleasures, each and every one! To indulge in cliches of Republicans for a moment, here are some other, and not-uncommon, potential rightie pleasures: duck paintings, good Scotch, rumpled corduroy pants, reading the morning paper while sipping coffee, listening to swing jazz on LPs rather than CDs, old stone houses, quilts and window seats, Labrador retrievers, making fun of lefties.... These are all potential pleasures as deserving of recognition, appreciation and discussion as any art-porn novel or deconstructed building. Which is to say that, despite the thought-policing of lefties and the reluctance of righties, righties already have an aesthetic, if not many aesthetics. Righties: It's simply not the case that you have no aesthetic tastes or preferences. Everyone does, at least everyone who has a few spare dollars and a few spare minutes -- who isn't entirely consumed by the struggle for existence. Your aesthetic is there already; you don't have to come up with one. The challenge is to recognize it as such, and to assert it as such. Lefties will look at the old Victorian house (or the crisp new condo) you adore and say, "That's not architecture." Don't let them get away with that. Say instead, "It certainly is architecture. And it's a kind of architecture I much prefer to the kind that you advocate." Why do you think it is that righties have such trouble recognizing that they have their own pleasures and their own... posted by Michael at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Economics of Janis Ian
Michael One of our correspondents brought to my attention the following article by Janis Ian on the topic of intellectual property rights in the digital age. I, for one, take the opinion of someone such as Ms. Ian fairly seriously--she's got a tangible, financial stake in this issue. She chose to offer free downloads of her music on her website,, in July. An excerpt detailing her experiences: On the first day I posted downloadable music, my merchandise sales tripled, and they have stayed that way ever since. I'm not about to become a zillionaire as a result, but I am making more money. At a time when radio playlists are tighter and any kind of exposure is hard to come by, 365,000 copies of my work now will be heard. Even if only 3% of those people come to concerts or buy my CDs, I've gained about 10,000 new fans this year. That's how artists become successful: exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, and no one buys CDs. After 37 years as a recording artist, when people write to tell me that they came to my concert because they downloaded a song and got curious, I am thrilled. Her article, "Music Industry Spins Falsehood," appeared in USA today. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 24, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Moviegoing: "Far From Heaven"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I just caught a screening of the new Todd Haynes movie "Far From Heaven," starring Julianne Moore. Do you know Haynes' work? Very downtown-gay, hyper-artificial, theoretical and studied in a knowing way -- the knowingness, I suppose, meant to help transcend the studiedness, if you can imagine that. I managed to get through Haynes' early "Poison," a Genet derivative, but was out of the theater in about half an hour when I went to see his recent glam-rock epic, "Velvet Goldmine." During "Far From Heaven" I drifted off a few times. But I was semi-held by Julianne Moore's performance, and by the peculiarity of the project itself. Quaid, Moore: A not-so-perfect suburban idyll If you can imagine the John Stahl and Douglas Sirk women's melodramas of the '50s as one long movie, and "Far From Heaven" as a remake of all of them at once, you're in the ballpark. It's like "Imitation of Life" or "All That Heaven Allows," only with the racial and gay material openly dealt with. Dennis Quaid plays the embittered-handsome Robert Stack role, Dennis Haysbert the man-of-nature Rock Hudson role. Autumn leaves, soupy Elmer Bernstein score, color-coordinated everything, the occasional touch of pastel and spearmint, much focus on the anguish of the gracious leading suburban lady. Not quite as peculiar an act of movie-director karaoke as Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho," but almost. An exercise in (mostly) straight-faced affectedness -- ie., theoretical camp, parody with no zest. Everything's deadened. Even the sunlight has no sparkle, and the sounds are made thumpy and hollow -- the entire movie looks like back-projection. Film buffs seem to be wild about the movie, which has already been featured on the cover of Film Comment, but how is the mall audience going to take it? Will it seem to them just a civil-right/homosexual-rights period drama played in the most bizarre style? Being a longtime film buff and Village resident, I'm familiar with the gay art strategies at use here. I'm overfamiliar with them, actually, and tired of them. Here's how Haynes talks about the tradition in the press kit: "What happens in the best melodramas is that there is a sense in which you are observing it from afar and you're seeing what they're doing...But you can't help getting drawn in emotionally at the same time." He's hoping to achieve something similar. But Sirk and Stahl had real audience chops, and knew how to reach out with the women's-magazine material. Haynes seems a hollow, rather academic and postmodern soul, hoping that his post-camp strategies and P.C. themes will provide the spark that makes the whole deliberately-deadened thing leap to life. Julianne Moore, though, was terrif. I'm not usually that much of a fan, are you? She picks interesting projects, she's willing to go out on a limb, she'll let herself get naked and look unglamorous. But I often find her work self-conscious, as well as a little indistinct and blurry, and I keep... posted by Michael at October 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Viewing -- Clive James Interviews
Friedrich -- Online entrepreneurial arts-and-ideas flair: Clive James, the Australian novelist and journalist (remember how great his TV reviews were?), has set up a site devoted to video interviews of interesting figures, among them Jonathan Miller, Jung Chang, and Terry Gilliam, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Keats Redux
Friedrich -- Some helpful notes from readers about the poetry of John Keats. Tim Hulsey (from Virginia) writes: As for Keats, he's really not much in league with the Romantics, per se. He doesn't give you those grandiose, "change-the-world" fantasies you find in early Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelley (Percy, not Mary). He's interested more in his own consciousness than the social order, and he's much more aware of the limitations of art. You might say that Keats is more individualized, more conservative in his claims for poetry. In short, he's closer to the Victorians than the Romantics. And Peter Nicholson, an Australian poet (website here), asks: Keats - too full on? Not really. Just working close to the edge where people aren't comfortable going - Wagner, Dickinson, Mahler, etc ? A classy readership we have! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Dana Gioia
Friedrich -- Good news, as reported by Robin Pogrebin in the NYTimes: the poet Dana Gioia is a candidate to head the National Endowment for the Arts, here. Gioia is a terrific poet and essayist who's also a man of experience (ie., not an academic but someone who's worked in the private sector), and one of the people responsible for reviving rhyming-and-rhythming poetry in recent years. His excellent website is here. Be sure to sample his poetry, and to read his classic essay "Can Poetry Matter?", here. Sample passage from "Can Poetry Matter?" The poetry boom has been a distressingly confined phenomenon. Decades of public and private funding have created a large professional class for the production and reception of new poetry comprising legions of teachers, graduate students, editors, publishers, and administrators. Based mostly in universities, these groups have gradually become the primary audience for contemporary verse. Consequently, the energy of American poetry, which was once directed outward, is now increasingly focused inward. Gloria Brame did a long, two-part interview with Gioia, readable here. If we've gotta have an NEA, best it should be headed by someone like Dana Gioia. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Philosoblog and Envy redux
Friedrich -- Heavens! I go away on business for a couple of days and return to find all the neighbors having a party in my backyard. What fun. Did you read the comments left behind on my recent “lefties and attractiveness” posting? Good stuff! Little flurries of conversation on the topic even appeared on other blogs. What a sharp, civil and humorous bunch. Just try opening up such a subject in arty New York circles. “Civil and humorous” is not what you’ll encounter. It was fascinating that no one saw any need to dispute my central assertion that the left has succeeded in associating itself with attractiveness, and that the right has failed to keep up. Why this should be so, whether it has any real importance, and what (if anything) might be done about it -- all that’s up for grabs. But there’s a general acknowledgement that the left not only markets itself more attractively than the right does, but has made the topic of art-and-pleasure its own. I was impressed (as well as surprised and touched) that everyone who commented on the posting actually seemed to have read it and registered its argument. A few (perfectly civil) emails did come in from people who seemed under the impression that I was arguing something else entirely -- that lefties eat better, know what real art is, and probably fuck better too. For the record, no, I don’t think any of that. What I was hoping to say was that lefties own the discussion on these topics. There is almost no debate about such topics as food, sex, pleasure and art whose terms aren’t dictated by the left, which means that there is no real debate on these topics. How can there be, when one of the debating teams also sits in the judge’s chair? I was also, of course, hoping to say a few more things. One was that the left’s takeover of the topic of attractiveness is an accomplishment of some importance. Left policies and ideas have failed over and over again. How to explain the fact that, despite this, leftie-ism continues to do so well for itself? My humble suggestion? That “attractiveness” must be a large-ish part of the explanation. It was striking that even our brainy readers seem to accept the left’s definitions of art and pleasure. To them, “art” is Chris Ofili and his elephant dung, “cuisine” is the high-strung faddish restaurants the gals of “Sex in the City” hope to get tables at. As you and I know, contemporary visual art is and can be many things -- from Southern rural “yard art” to the neoclassical “toga painting” done by graduates of the New York Academy, from marine watercolors to the latest Flash’d corporate website. It’s striking too that our visitors don’t seem to realize that “cuisine” can be home cooking, barbecue, and corn on the cob as well as Latino-Asian fusion avant-gardism. The fact that what occurs to such a well-informed and open-minded... posted by Michael at October 23, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Getty vs. Acropolis
Michael I took my daughter to the J. Paul Getty museum complex in Los Angeles last weekend (she had a class assignment) and, once again, I realized how disappointed I am with this billion-dollar complex. So I got on the Internet and checked out another hilltop 'cultural' complex to see how it stacked up (all pictures are thumbnails--check 'em out for yourself): Acropolis complex reads well from a distance; Getty is visually incomprehensible from a distance. Running Score: Acropolis 1, Getty 0 Masses cleanly and clearly articulated; masses lumpish and illogically articulated. Running score: Acropolis 2, Getty 0 Entrance clearly marked, Propylaia creates dramatic yet dignified approach to Temple complex; entrance visually undistinguished, looks like approach to sports arena. Running score; Acropolis 3, Getty 0 Original--adaptation of temple design for a site with three different ground levels; copy--a staircase designed to display institutional bloat. Running score: Acropolis 4, Getty 0 Acropolis is a series of masonry buildings (real stones displayed); Getty is a series of steel frame buildings covered with stone veneer: Running score: Acropolis 5, Getty 0 And one other thing; the Parthenon was built faster (9 years) than the Getty (12 years from awarding commission to completion). Granted, it took the Athenians an additional six years to finish the sculptural decoration--but of course people are still fighting over that decorative sculpture 2500 years later. Thank goodness that won't be a problem at the Getty. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at October 22, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments