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  1. WTC Plans Redux
  2. Guest posting -- Chris Bertram
  3. Free Reads -- Kevin Michael Grace
  4. One Size Doesn't Fit All
  5. WTC Candidates
  6. Modern Art 101
  7. Progress
  8. 10-Best Lists
  9. Free Reads -- Wendy Perriam on erotic books
  10. Free Reads -- Velvet Crypt

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Saturday, December 21, 2002

WTC Plans Redux
Friedrich -- I won't I won't I won't I won't I won't --- OK, I will, but just for a few paragraphs. Sigh. Our resident provocateur, Felix Salmon, had a go at me in the comments section of my posting about the design proposals for the rebuilding of the WTC site. As always, I enjoyed Felix's brains, his writing and his hotheadedness. The easiest stuff first: At one moment Felix is sarcastic about me supposedly being a man of the people (me? living a Greenwich Village life surrounded by artists and intellectuals?); at another he's speaking in the voice of the people himself, letting me know that "New Yorkers" demand gigantic buildings. I'll let that go with a "Huh?" Next, Felix jumps on me for writing a review of the WTC proposals without having plunged as deep into the design briefs as he has. He also seems to feel that since I wasn't at the presentation of the designs, my opinion is invalid. But it was part of my posting to argue that it's irresponsible for anyone to write architecture reviews (except from a forthrightly strictly-design point of view) without having spent some serious time in and around the building or neighborhood under consideration. As for my utter unfamiliarity with the design specs and briefs and my non-attendance at the proposals' presentation: I don't have to have met the chef, reviewed his lease, interviewed his investors or scrutinized his recipes to know whether or not I like the food his restaurant serves. Felix may object that I'm simply excusing my own laziness, and he certainly has me there. But to my mind, it's often wise to avoid too much immersion in the artist/entertainer/architect's point of view. While it can be interesting to see what the people involved are contending with, you can also lose your grip on your reactions as a user/consumer/spectator. I don't doubt that Felix's reactions to the work presented are his own reactions -- which he does a brilliant job of spelling out on his own blog, here. Felix, like AC Douglas (who writes enthusiastically about some of the proposals at his blog, here), really does seem to have a taste for this kind of building. Hey, some people do, though I suspect that most people would admit they don't if they were pressed. But I think Felix might give a moment's reflection to the similarity between architectural presentations and movie junkets. In the movie biz, studios sometimes fly critics and reporters to glamorous places, hand out glossy production information, allow the journalists access to stars, serve up snazzily-catered food, and present their movies in luxurious conditions. Hey, Felix! Movie junkets, architects' presentations? They're trying to buy positive press! Bigshot architects, like film directors and producers, are among the world's best salesmen. Let me spell that out: S-A-L-E-S-M-E-N. They have to be great salesmen; they're trying to inspire someone to give them tens of millions of dollars. So they're putting the best face on everything, they're avoiding... posted by Michael at December 21, 2002 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Guest posting -- Chris Bertram
Friedrich -- Chris Bertram, whose classy blog Junius can be read here, emailed me an especially interesting note about my earlier posting "Art is Not Science." I asked for permission to reprint it here, and he gave me permission. So 2Blowhards is pleased to present the words and thoughts of Chris Bertram: Dear Michael I very much enjoyed your recent post on taste and the differences between science and art. I was surprised to find one of the commenters recommending Feyerabend: you had me scurrying off to consult David Hume's "Of the Standard of Taste". In particular, I was drawn to this paragraph, where Hume makes a nice point which is somewhat spoilt for us by his choice of poets: "Though in speculation, we may readily avow a certain criterion in science and deny it in sentiment, the matter is found in practice to be much more hard to ascertain in the former case than in the latter. Theories of abstract philosophy, systems of profound theology, have prevailed during one age: In a successive period, these have been universally exploded: Their absurdity has been detected: Other theories and systems have supplied their place, which again gave place to their successors: And nothing has been experienced more liable to the revolutions of chance and fashion than these pretended decisions of science. The case is not the same with the beauties of eloquence and poetry. Just expressions of passion and nature are sure, after a little time, to gain public applause, which they maintain for ever. ARISTOTLE, and PLATO, and EPICURUS, and DESCARTES, may successively yield to each other: But TERENCE and VIRGIL maintain an universal, undisputed empire over the minds of men. The abstract philosophy of CICERO has lost its credit: The vehemence of his oratory is still the object of our admiration." There is, as you probably know, much much more in there. No doubt you attribute your not getting Mahler and Dostoyevsky to what Hume calls "the different humours of particular men". I think there's still something to the idea that you are missing out on something when you don't appreciate, say, Mahler or Dostoyevsky and that comes out in the language we employ to persuade one another of the merits of some artwork. An interesting question - at least I think so! - is this: are there necessarily limitations of our sensibilities such that receptivity to some types of artwork precludes "getting" some others, and vice versa? Are there people who "get" both David Hockney (YUK!) and Burne-Jones (HOORAY)? Maybe, and maybe these aren't good examples, but I hope you can see my point. Best wishes Chris For what it's worth, I second Chris's high opinion of the Hume essay. I asked Chris to elaborate a bit on what he meant by the language question, and got back this reply: On the language thing I was thinking of a terrific paper I read this year by a philosopher called Mark Johnston. The paper, entitled "The Authority of Affect"... posted by Michael at December 19, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Free Reads -- Kevin Michael Grace
Friedrich -- Have you ever marveled at how little conventional singing gal pop singers do these days? And how much outright whooping, trilling, sliding and warbling they do? I sure have. "What is this? A contest to see how many notes can be hit, and how many vocal effects can be shown off?" -- that's how I tend to react. Kevin Michael Grace marvels at it too, and does so much more amusingly and articulately. Sample passage: Remember that woman who suffered seizures whenever she heard Mary Hart’s voice? I get like that whenever I hear any of the Melismatics—Christina, Céline, Whitney, Mariah. (When did emotion get conflated with trying to cough up a lung, anyway? I blame Barbra Streisand.) I don’t black out; I just want to vomit or howl like a beaten dog. (Much as Christina, Céline, Whitney and Mariah do, come to think of it.) Let's hear it for intelligent, amusingly grumpy conservative cultural commentary. (Which isn't, of course, to say that we shouldn't also cheer for amusing and intelligent lefty cultural commentary. Hey, this is the arts. Disagreements should be fun and enlightening.) Kevin's blog The Ambler can be read here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2002 | perma-link | (9) comments

One Size Doesn't Fit All
Michael— Going through the deluge of comments on my recent posting on Photography and Painting, what struck me most, other than the degree of passion aroused by the discussion, was the way in which many of the comments restated the drawing vs. color debates of the French Academy of the 18th and 19th centuries. (To ultra-briefly recapitulate the war of the Rubenistes and the Poussinistes: does color make a shoddy appeal to our base, sensual natures while drawing speaks to our nobler, intellectual selves, or is color a critical artistic means of avoiding our overly rational intellects and communicating directly with our deeper emotions? In actuality, this discussion was by no means new even three hundred years ago: I recall a remark by Tintoretto to his son in the 16th century: “While beautiful color may sell paintings down by the Grand Canal, great art is made by strong drawing, which can only be learned by laboring deep into the night.”) It was one of those great controversies that can go on forever—and will, because both positions are right, or can be for different people. There is a line of dialogue from Pulp Fiction which goes (more or less): “Which do you like better, Elvis or the Beatles? A lot of people like both, but nobody ever liked them exactly the same.” In the film two people who had been thrown together were using this distinction as a useful shortcut to learn more about each other. Elvis people, in other words, are a different subspecies from Beatles people. The same could be said about the two camps in the centuries-old Raphael vs. Michelangelo debate. I remember following one critic who was obviously intelligent, broadly knowledgeable about art and in love with the subject, and being puzzled because I never once agreed with his opinion over many years. It was all explained one day when he admitted to an instinctive preference for Raphael over Michelangelo (the reverse of my instinctive preference.) Eureka! I thought. He belongs to the other tribe of humanity! This principle is by no means limited to art. The Myers-Briggs personality test, for example, sorts people into some 16 different categories as a result of four polarities (introvert-extrovert, sensory-intuitive, thinking-feeling, judgmental-pragmatic.) What’s interesting is exactly how different, in terms of social behavior and motivations, the people in these different categories are. One of those ideas I’ve always wanted to pursue-–but never quite got around to—was figuring out if artistic taste corresponds to these Myers-Briggs categories. (I have a sneaking suspicion that some graduate student wrote his Ph.D. thesis on this subject back in 1958, but I can dream of having an original thought, can’t I?) It would make sense to extend this idea to politics. For a large chunk of humanity, the main motivation in their work life is a desire for security—beginning, middle and end. Others are driven to make their own ideas and thoughts (good or bad) a reality. Is it wise to have one “welfare state”... posted by Friedrich at December 19, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

WTC Candidates
Friedrich -- Have you looked at the new set of proposals for the WTC site? Viewable here. As for my opinion, I'll say "Ahem," lift an eyebrow, give modest voice to the question "Whatever happened to such values as neighborhood, human-scaled streets and workable office buildings?" And I'll leave it at that. And, leaving it at that, I decided to bypass the critic/intellectual/elite class and go directly, man, right to the people. Ie., I skipped away from the opinion-makers and content folks here where I work and went to hang out for a while with the production people. They were leafing through the local papers and eyeballing the WTC proposals. Here's some of what they said: "That's just goofy!" "It's horrible! Horrible!" "Can you imagine asking someone to go work in a place like that every day?" "This is what happens when too much money and too much self-consciousness come together on the same project." "They want us to choose between those?" "Hmm, let's see. A bullshit 'pound' sign. A bullshit bunch of twisted glass. A bullshit bunch of ropes of Christmas lights ... " "Oh, yeah, and I'll just bet you can really open those windows!" The conviction that the money/ego/avant (ha-ha) garde/intellectual classes are once again on their narcissistic way to putting over yet another outrage was unanimous. And, hey, the following question, which has popped up in my mind many times over the years, pops up again. Semi-unrelated, I know, because the WTC proposals are proposals and not actual buildings, but even so: Isn't it plain weird that architectural reviewers and critics feel that it's OK to review a building without a) talking to people who work or live in it, b) talking with people who work or live near it, and c) spending serious time living and/or working in and near the building themselves? I do understand writing about buildings entirely from the point of view of "the building as free-standing aesthetic statement" -- but only for limited-audience, specialist design publications. When writing for the general public, doesn't it seem not just key but absolutely essential to discuss such topics as the building's functionality, its civility (or lack thereof) to its neighbors, and whether or not the windows can be opened? How would a newspaper's readers react if they noticed that the newspaper's car reviewer wasn't taking the car under review for lots of test drives, was concerned only with discussing the car's aesthetic qualities, and looked down on the rest of us for not "getting" his judgments? Yet we let writers about buildings and architecture get away with something exactly analogous. Outraged, sputtering and overcaffeinated, though doing my best to regain my usual worldly Zen detachment, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2002 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Modern Art 101
Friedrich -- Modern Art, in a very cute Flash nutshell, here. Link thanks to Velvet Hammers, here. Best, Michael Update on Thursday afternoon: The people sponsoring the animation seem to have taken down everything but a few screen captures. Nice while it lasted...... posted by Michael at December 18, 2002 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Michael— I see from the NY Times of December 17 that one of my pet theories is being empirically validated: Dr. [Severino] Antinori, [an Italian fertility doctor] who became famous in 1994 for helping a 62-year-old woman become pregnant by implanting a donor’s fertilized egg in her uterus, says he has a clone pregnancy under way in an undisclosed country. The clone, he says, is a boy, due in early January. Panayiotis Michael Zavos in Kentucky, Dr. Antinori’s onetime partner and now his bitter enemy, says he does not believe Dr. Antinori, and anyway he is working on something even better. Dr. Zavos, an embryologist, says he has collected cells from seven people who want to be cloned, and in the first two weeks of January he will insert the cells’ nuclei into donated human eggs. He promises that, unlike his rival, he will offer DNA evidence that each of the babies born of this adventure is an exact genetic replica of its parent. And to add a little spice, there are the Raelians, members of a religious cult who believe the first humans were cloned by space aliens 25,000 years ago and who have taken on human cloning as a sacred mission. Acoording to their chief scientist, Brigitte Boisselier, the Raelians now have five clone pregnancies under way, the first of which is to be delivered by the end of this month. My pet theory? That no amount of banning or regulation is going to stop the more science-fiction-y outcomes of biotechnology and reproductive science from coming to pass. Before this is all over, you’ll see not only designer babies--genetically engineered athletes, scholars and fashion models--but cloning with the goal of harvesting the clone for, er, spare parts. If you can think such a possibility up, I suspect that somewhere, in the not-too-distant future it will happen. Dr. Antinori--What Kind of Future Does He See, Exactly? I am not an advocate of any of this stuff—to say I prefer making children the old-fashioned way is an understatement. But if people think buying a few score genes from Cindy Crawford will make their daughter more popular in high school, or buying some from Barry Bonds will make their son more athletic, they may well do it. (Think of it as throwing a few of your genes overboard to make the rest more reproductively successful.) And as for the more gruesome outcomes, human beings have long demonstrated that if they can get the upside of things without personally suffering from the downside they will rationalize their behavior one way or another. Fasten your safety belts, kids--we're in for a very weird ride. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at December 17, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments

10-Best Lists
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Do you enjoy end-of-the-year best-of lists? I do. I have plenty of dignified intellectual and critic friends who disapprove of them. Their argument generally seems to be that such lists are (surprise!) undignified. For me, that's a good reason to like them; making one up, and making it public, humanizes the person behind it. Why? Because of the clip-and-save aspect, for one thing. But also because it gives the public such a good, terse look at the critic's tastes. There are people out there you're semi-aware of and willing to feel semi-respectful towards. But what if, say, Louis Menand made up an end-of-the-year 10-best list? You could look at it and decide very quickly whether he's a guy for you. You might think, hmm, yes, yes, very good. But you might equally as well think, Lordy, why was I paying attention to this idiot? Or: What a priss! So I approve of these lists. But there's something about the typical 10-best list that has always bugged me, and I think I've finally figured it out. It boils down to this: "'Best' as in what exactly?" Using movies as an example, here are some possibilities: "Best" as in "my personal favorite"? "Best" as in, "in my professional opinion this is likely to be remembered as influential"? "Best" as in, "in 50 years, there will be a get-together of all the best taste-makers, and they will vote on the best movies of this year. And with this list, I'm predicting the results of their poll"? Which is it, critics? Why is this a problem? Because, if a critic were to make up all three of these lists, and do so in all sincerity, it's quite possible that there would be no overlap between them at all. Perhaps the critic has a hunch that a certain movie will prove influential -- but didn't enjoy it personally. Perhaps a critic has the feeling that a given picture will one day be viewed as important, yet it put this critic to sleep. Perhaps the critic loved some oddball movie, yet it's already been forgotten. So which one is it that your typical movie reviewer is giving you when he supplies his year-end 10-best list? 2Blowhards, or at least this half of 2Blowhards, wants to know. My fear (conviction, actually) is that what we're getting from the typical reviewer is a list that combines all these elements and more. Something along the lines of: Here are some movies I enjoyed personally; here are some movies I guess I gotta resign myself to giving a nod to because everyone thinks they're important; here's a few respectable big-pop entertainments, because my bosses would kill me if I appeared too snobbish; here's a couple of difficult movies I include to impress my critic colleagues ... I don't find the kind of list that results from such calculations very satisfying. I want something cleaner, and more revealing. What I'm most interested in finding out... posted by Michael at December 17, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, December 16, 2002

Free Reads -- Wendy Perriam on erotic books
Friedrich -- Have you ever run across the Bad Sex Award? It's a competition (for the worst passage about sex in a new novel) run by the British magazine the Literary Review, and it's apparently done very (or at least semi) straight-faced. There are judges, nominees, a final award dinner, and lots of press coverage. I sometimes wonder how I'd react if I were given such an award. Would I have enough toughness, bemusement and irony to triumph over the humiliation? I doubt it. I'd pout, my lip would start to tremble, I'd be fighting tears. I'd be a perfectly lousy sport, I'm afraid. In any case, this year's winner, Wendy Perriam (nominated three years running and finally making off with the prize) seems to be handling the honor nicely. She's written a short column for the Guardian where she recommends ten books about sex. It's readable here. Sample passage (about "Portnoy's Complaint"): The irrepressible sexuality of the theme is echoed in the exuberantly potent language, which seems to surge up and spill over on the page. And Portnoy's raging sexual desire is paralleled by the rage he feels towards his Jewish mother and the whole of Jewish culture. Roth has been called 'the historian of modern eroticism.' He's also hysterically funny. Link thanks to the blog Daze Reader (here), the best source I've found online for news about sex. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2002 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- Velvet Crypt
Friedrich -- A delightful new participant in the culture-blogosphere -- Polly Frost's Notes from the Velvet Crypt, readable here. Polly's focusing mainly on sci-fi and horror, though she promises to make occasional excursions into other interests too. So far, she's put up postings about such topics as Bruce Lee, Japanimation, and Philip K. Dick, and she's wondered out loud about such key questions as "Do you have to be Catholic to love horror," and "Where has the eroticism in mainstream fiction gone." Judging from what's on her blog, she has a remarkably free-ranging, insightful and intuitive mind. Sample passage: I found Philip K. Dick's “Ubik” spiritual and moving -- it’s spiritual standup. Like Terry Southern, he’s a romantic cynic -- a bebop nihilist, really. Admittedly, Southern is body-centric, pop, and Rabelaisian where Dick is mind-gamey. Dick's universe is so cerebral. It’s about the disembodied consciousness of our time, and people striving for that. He’s prescient -- he got virtual reality ‘way before it existed. You can see the freak show. And, like Anthony Burgess, he paints a world that’s very Jacobean. But it’s not a sensual world. I notice that Polly runs some other websites too -- she seems to be in the midst of a right little creative explosion these days. At Tantric Afterlife (here), she's writing and publishing erotic horror and sci-fi stories. Hot stuff! And at Scorpio Visions (here), she has some information about a play she's written on the theme of "a woman's obsessive love affair with her cell phone." That sounds like hot stuff too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Art is Not Science
Friedrich -- I was kicking around a few notions for the last week or so. Then this morning they came into focus and spilled out of me in the form of a kinda-essay. Ever have that happen? Strange, but fun. Rather than re-jigger it into a piece of correspondence, I thought I'd just run it as is. Forgive the length -- this morning I was too-much-coffee-man. Very curious to know your thoughts about it. In this country, many of us come to the arts through school. Thank heavens for the opportunity -- but there are downsides to this too. One is that we’re often left with an academic/professorial view of the arts that it can take years to shake. Another is that too many of us wind up feeling too deferential to the academic/professorial class. They were in charge when we learned about the field; why shouldn’t they continue to be in charge now? I take it that part of the mission (if you’ll forgive the term) of 2Blowhards is to contribute in some small way to the busting-up of the modernist/academic mafia. A quick aside to readers: you’re likely to encounter something called “postmodernism” being offered as a remedy. It doesn’t hurt to be wary of the claims made for it, because in practice postmodernism is too often just another academic theory. It bears the same relationship to actual freedom as a theory of humor does to a joke. One of the ways in which the taste mafia (the academics, the foundation people, the gallery owners, magazine editors, publishers, collectors and more) maintains its control is to present the arts as something like science -- deeply serious and very complex, and with a linear history leading to present-day theories and concerns. Their goal is to make contemporary art seem not just exciting, difficult and advanced (and thus in need of explicating and promoting by -- you guessed it -- the taste mafia), but also the inevitable consequence of a long and complicated history. We have no choice but to accept this vision -- to grovel, agree, and try to live up to its demands. We can be forgiven, I think, if we suspect that one of the arts mafia’s real goals is to maintain its own monopoly on taste. In fact, art and science have little in common. However much science is influenced by such factors as personality and culture, it’s empirically based; it’s testable. The powder goes ka-boom when a match is touched to it or it doesn’t. Actual progress is made; disputes between rival views are finally adjudicated. If you understand the science of today, you basically understand all of science. (And let’s set aside for the moment the kind of babble about “uncertainty” and “chaos” that art intellectuals love to indulge in. As far as I can tell, they’ve got no better a grasp on the scientific meaning of those terms than I do.) In art, none of this is the case. Testable? Well, the success... posted by Michael at December 16, 2002 | perma-link | (17) comments

New Ideas: Drawing Blind, Cheap Movies, Evo Lit Crit
Michael— About once a month I seem to spend a sleepless night caused by middle-aged problems too mundane to mention here. While this is a bit of a problem on several fronts, it does allow me to get some reading done. As a result I went rummaging through the Sunday New York Times about 3 a.m. last night looking for something to read in a hot bath, and was grateful to come across their magazine, which this week is given over to “The Second Annual Year in Ideas.” Several of their stories would seem to be of interest to our readers: The first story “Even Blind People Can Draw,” showcases the work of Professor John M. Kennedy of the University of Toronto, who has been asking blind people to make drawings. (The blind people in question have been blind from infancy, so they’re not relying on skills developed during a period of sightedness.) Interestingly, from the standpoint of various artistic arguments that have been waged over the years, they make line drawings. The lines are of two types—lines separating figure/ground interfaces (outlines) and “axial” lines where two planes come together (contour). Very interestingly, they also make drawings in perspective! I believe some blind people are better at this than others, but the same could be said about the sighted. As Professor Kennedy notes: Can blind people draw, using outline? Yes, often somewhat recognizably and at times quite well. Further, occasionally vantage points are explicitly noted. Familiar complex objects such as dogs are difficult for the blind—but they are for the sighted too. And at least one person can draw such objects quite competently. Granted, mathematical perspective isn’t technically dependent on vision, but it does require knowing where items are in three dimensions—the surprise here is that blind people are capable of determining such coordinates quite accurately by touch, something that appears to have caught the cognitive science community by surprise. For the comfort of the non-academic draftsmen among us, the blind are also capable of deliberate distortion, if they are trying to emphasize some element of the drawing (for example, by putting it in another location than it is “in nature”or to make it larger or smaller relative to the rest of the drawing.) You can read the NY Times article here and an excerpt from Professor Kennedy’s “Drawing and the Blind” here. The second story concerned the rise of digital filmmaking, headlined “Escape from Turnaround, The.” Of course, the chief attraction of such digital productions currently is their low cost, but—putting my business hat on—low cost is low risk, and low risk allows for a lot more experimentation. One firm profiled briefly in this story is InDigEnt, which produces digital films. Apparently their most successful production was “Tadpole,” which was made for $250,000, shown successfully at a film festival, and then sold to Miramax, which spent $5 million distributing the “film” to theaters. I never saw “Tadpole” and probably never will—for all I know it could be the worst... posted by Friedrich at December 16, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

TV Alert
Friedrich -- This week as usual, cable brings us more good movies and promising TV shows than a single Tivo can handle. First, our 2Blowhards Pick of the TV Week: The Bicycle Thief (TCM 2 am Saturday morning). In the middle and late ‘40s, some Italian film writers and directors abandoned spectacle, found their stories among real people, and created the style that has became known as Italian neo-realism. Emphasizing simplicity, directness and respect for lives as they’re actually lived, it has been one of the most influential movements in film history. Written by Cesare Zavattini and directed by Vittorio de Sica, this simple story concerns a poor man, his son, and their quest to find a stolen bicycle, and it's one of neo-realism's three or four peaks. And here’s just a little of what else a TV user can tune into this week: TV shows Intimate Portrait: Diane Lane (Lifetime, Monday at 7 pm). The “Intimate Portrait” series never fails to deliver estrogen overload -- feelings feelings feelings, relationships relationships relationships. And how do you reconcile a glamorous career with a satisfying personal life? But how often does a Diane Lane fan get a chance to see her profiled? Human Instinct (TLC, Monday 9-11 pm, and Tuesday 9-11 pm). The Learning Channel’s four-hour look at our deeper drives. I'm eager to see whether the show will dare to refer to them as "built-in," or "in the genes." The E! True Hollywood Story: Winona Ryder (E!, Tuesday at 8 pm). This glitzy, tabloid-style series has a surprisingly good batting average. Most of the episodes seem responsibly researched, the producers are tenacious and successful in getting key sources to talk, and, as for the brassy style... Well, do you really want to watch something sober on a topic like Winona Ryder and her shoplifting escapades? Movies The Five Senses (HBO, 2:15 am Tuesday morning). A child’s disappearance sets off quiet chain reactions in this meditative, Toronto-set film, the first film to be directed by Atom Egoyan’s producer. Organized thematically rather than narratively, lusciously photographed and recorded, it’s like “Short Cuts” done as an exquisite miniature. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (Cinemax, Wednesday at 3:30). The role that made Jim Carrey a star. Daring and far-out – Ace Ventura for me is as first-rate a comic creation as Groucho, Woody, and Curly. Speed (Cinemax, Thursday at 1 pm and 10 pm). Some people bemoan the fact that Hollywood isn’t making risky, character-driven movies any more. I bemoan the fact that the big corporate product that they do make -- with these budgets, how can they be expected to make anything else? -- is so seldom as good as it should be. But this bomb’s-about-to-go-off thriller shows the industry doing itself proud. With Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, a bus that can’t slow down, and just the right scrappy tone. Martin Scorsese on American Movies (TCM, Friday from 8 pm till midnight). Four hours of Martin Scorsese playing show and tell. Little of... posted by Michael at December 16, 2002 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Guest Posting -- Yvonne Harrison
Friedrich -- Yvonne Harrison, who lives in New Zealand and makes a living as a technical writer, got in touch a few weeks back. I asked her what it's like to work in her field, and I asked for her reflections about how it affects her experience of (and pleasure in) writing. She wrote a wonderful and informative note back, which she's agreed to let me reprint here. So, a guest posting, by Yvonne Harrison: Every writer dreams of earning their living as a writer. Getting paid for their prose is up there with the thrill of getting published for the first time. For many the lifestyle of the writer holds much appeal as well. The prospect of never setting foot in an office, of being able to set up your own writing schedule, of having your very own writer's study usually occupies a considerable chunk of the writer's romantic and long-held dreams about writing. If they're anything like me they discover that it's not that hard to make a good living out of writing. The only problem is that it's not creative writing. There are a myriad of jobs out there that involve stringing words together to form a sentence but as many a (non-creative) writer learns, the job of being a writer can quickly kill any ambitions to be another type of writer. Unfortunately being a non-creative writer also tends to scupper any illusions about living the solitary writer's life of writing for four hours in the morning at the local cafe while nursing a latte. The problem is that earning a living as a writer usually involves office politics, and a nine-to-five day in a Dilbert like cubicle all of your very own... Just take my career (job) for instance. I'm a technical writer. There are many good points to this job. I'm a contractor so I can happily pay my mortgage, buy food and other essentials of life as well as save for holidays or the new computer. I've just started working from home for a lot of my contracts, so I really am living the writer's dream of typing away within my very own writer's study. A big component of technical writing is analysis, so it forces me to think logically and clearly so this helps with plot construction in stories. Additionally, users don't have time to wade through stylish prose or convoluted sentences so it teaches writers to get to the point. Quickly. With as few words as possible. Unfortunately the big down side to the job is that it makes creative writing a tough challenge. I wrote a novel while I worked as a technical writer. The technical writing project was under some tight deadlines. So I would get to work at 5.30 am in the morning, write all day until about 3.00 pm then get home and try to work on my novel until about 8.00 pm. Quite frankly it was an idea born of stupidity. By the time I finished the... posted by Michael at December 15, 2002 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Reclining Nudes
Friedrich -- Are you fascinated by the way art and pornography quarrel, feud, and occasionally make nice? I am, so much so that I sometimes wonder how much of an art fan I'd be if it weren't for the dicey relations between and art and porn. I mean, a still life can be a mighty pretty thing, but even so ... The Guardian recently ran a crisp and helpful introduction to the history of the reclining-nude genre by Frances Borzello, readable here. Bizarrely, the online version of Borzello's piece is unillustrated. 2Blowhards is more than happy to correct that oversight. (These images are pop-ups, so click on them and treat yourself to bigger versions.) Giorgione's elegance sets the pattern; Manet and his riot grrrl break the fourth wall Sample passage: Its own set of conventions: historically, reclining nudes are presented in the guise of a classical goddess. Its own poses: she tends to lie with her eyes turned from the spectator, or even closed, offering no obstacle to his free-ranging glances over her body. Its own compositional devices: an impish figure may hold aside the drapery to frame the body and create a display for the viewer's delectation. Its own set of similes: she often stretches out in a landscape whose hummocks and valleys metaphorically echo her curves. Photography carried this to extremes in the 20th century by depicting female bodies as smooth-surfaced boulders in a landscape. And its own taboos: pubic hair stays resolutely out of the picture because it signified the woman's own demanding sexuality, which could be felt as threatening. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2002 | perma-link | (1) comments