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

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  8. Free Reads -- Blogads?
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Saturday, February 1, 2003

Blog Surfing
Friedrich -- Is there no end to the good blogs? It's amazing how many people are both sensible people and good writers -- who'd have thought such creatures existed in such numbers? And even if, who'd ever have known, prior to blogging? Some of my latest finds: Jim Ryan at Philosoblog is finally getting around to his long-promised discussion of the work of John Kekes, and it's a multi-part corker, here. Paul Mansour runs The Scourge of Modernism, a blog devoted to giving modernist architecture a little what-for. Too bad he doesn't post more often, but when he does it's worth paying attention to, here. Alice Bachini, the Libertarian Parent herself, has kicked off another blog, Rational Parenting, here. At Cybrarian at Large, Liz L. does a little me-blogging, and writes about this and that. But she always seems to find her way back to cultural matters, especially what should be done with the WTC site, here. And a couple of amazing meta-blogs, sites that incorporate typical blogging material but much else as well -- total cranial environments, perhaps: Jeff Ward's brainily seedy and literary Visible Darkness (here), with a focus on writing itself, photography and (good for him) grotty bars; and Alan Sullivan's lyrical and contemplative Seablogger (here), all about Tolkien, the weather, sailing, life in the midwest, and more. Humbling! But in a good way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, January 31, 2003

Free Reads -- The Economist on Classical Music
Friedrich -- An unnamed writer in The Economist delivers a helpful review of Julian Johnson's new book, "Who Needs Classical Music?" Sample passage: For Mr Johnson, mainstream culture has become saturated with the youth values of immediacy and novelty. Geared to commodities and advertising, it dismisses the more deliberate and complex responses which classical music requires as outmoded, unsellable and elitist. The piece is readable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

These Kids These Days, chapter whatever
Friedrich -- I spent more art-going time than usual this past week out on the further edges -- oddball gallery art, a poetry reading, some performance art. A few quick observations: Young people these days must have grown up watching even more television than we boomers did. The old frameworks (whether fictional or not) are in tatters. Or perhaps it's just that the fashion ot the moment is post-ironic horsing around in a deconstructed (ie., blown to smithereens) media junkheap. Installation art? An MTV set. An MTV show? Half performance art. Which I take to mean that TV is the source and mother of all things to young people. A few years ago I finally noticed that, where the boomers loved to bitch about their parents, the new young people love to bitch about television. My theory? That the formative art experience for these kids was hanging out in front of the TV with friends, making fun of what was on while secretly fantasizing about being a star. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Blogads Redux
Michael: I’m shocked at you, even discussing the topic of blogads! As if I would ever subject the readers of 2blowhards to the pain and anguish of ads distributed around the borders of our lovely site. As I was just saying to Justin Timberlake the other day, while drinking a Coke and discussing the impact of TIVO on television revenues, advertising is just so bogus! I mean, it’s morally distressing to hear that Philip Morris, oops, I mean Altira, pays Hollywood producers money to have characters in films smoke! Not that our sophisticated readership would let themselves be distracted by the commercial aspects of material that shows up in our website. That’s why I know my integrity is intact when I present art photography like the samples below, knowing that the accidental tie in to a major motion picture starring Ben Affleck (who is engaged to Jennifer Lopez) won’t impact the pristine consciousness of our readers. Sensitive Lighting Studies of A Young Woman Who Is Playing Elektra in Twentieth Century Fox's Upcoming Smash Hit, Daredevil I hope you’ve learned your lesson, and you never raise this topic again. Sniff, Friendrich... posted by Friedrich at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Bob Rowthorn on Immigration
Friedrich -- It seems to me that one of the biggest victories of the thought police has been to place the topic of immigration out of bounds as a subject for intelligent and polite discussion. As things stand now, you're either anti-immigration, or you're pro-immigrant. What the thought police really want us to believe, of course, is that if you disagree with them you're a racist, and only by agreeing with them can you be a decent human being. Baloney. While intelligent arguments can certainly be made for the two extreme positions on immigration -- stopping it entirely, or throwing the borders wide open -- I suspect there are few people who would be happy with either position. People will move about some, for one thing. For another, even someone as economically liberal as Milton Friedman says open borders don't make sense so long as some countries have generous welfare states and others don't. Why? Because the welfare countries would be effectively subsidizing immigrants. Which leaves the middle ground, which is where the bulk of the conversation ought to be taking place. Inevitably, the two main topics are: what rate should be allowed, and one what basis should it occur? Ie., how many, and who? Yet it's verboten to raise such topics in polite society. This makes no sense. It seems clear that immigration should be one of a country's most-openly talked about subjects, right up there with defence, economic policy and the environment. Perhaps the web will help crack the topic open. Brave and informed souls such as Steve Sailer (here), the rowdy team at Vdare (here), John Ray (here), and Lawrence Auster (here) are busy gathering and organizing facts and hammering home arguments. My own opinion? It couldn't be easier to imagine why people would want to move to the U.S. How not to feel sympathy for people who want to come here? But that doesn't mean we're obligated to let them make important decisions for us. As far as I'm concerned, the rate of immigration is too high and the criteria for it are wrong. I stare in amazement at the pages of the Economist, which I generally enjoy, when they advocate opening the U.S. borders more than they already are. The Economist gang seem so in thrall to economic liberalism (which I generally favor too) that they've lost all human comprehension of how wrenching dramatic population shifts can be. How would Mexicans -- or Indians, or the Chinese, or Egyptians -- react if huge numbers of foreign Caucasions took it upon themselves to move into their countries? And -- ultimate forbidden topic -- gigantic shifts in ethnic balance may be something to be wary of. Much of history is the story of war and conflict between ethnic groups. So it's miraculous that such a large number of people from so very many backgrounds manage to live peacefully together in this country. It's an achievement, it seems to me, that ought to be treated with care and... posted by Michael at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

Artist Quote of the Day
Michael: I thought you'd appreciate this from Daisy von Sherler Mayer, the director of "The Guru": I like things that are fake. Theatrical acting, dancing. The dance numbers made me want to do the movie. I think it's because I grew up backstage with a lot of actors and a lot of showbusiness people and they were larger than life. Nobody was naturalistic in my world. So, do you hear anything about this movie? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 31, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Art Survival Tips
Friedrich -- I notice that as the years have gone by I've developed a certain number of art-going tricks. One I'm especially semi-proud of helps me get over some of the snottiness I can be prone to. A lot of people get pissy about art things, come to think of it. They read a new book or look at a new painting and think, sheesh, piece of shit, what the hell's becoming of the world, what is it here that's being foisted on the world, etc. I used to be prone to reacting in this way too. Actually, I still am: Your mind's on the greats, and you feel you're defending standards, and what's before you is so transparently ... not great. But why not be a little kinder? Though I'm not sure that "trying to be kinder" would have occurred to me had I not had to read lots of fiction by friends and go to lots of art and music by friends. And with friends, of course, you tend to be a little kinder. You make the effort. So it came to me: why not, at a concert or play or art show, pretend that the person behind it is a good friend? If, when I read or see something by an actual friend, I really am kinder, maybe pretending the artist is a friend can make me kinder too. And it works. I've found that, if I pretend the artist is a good friend, my mind will always relax and shift into a more open state. I start seeing the point of the work before me more accurately and generously. Instead of doing nothing but harumphing, my inner monologue might go something like this: "OK, what if she's a friend, what if she were a friend... Well, OK, she's doing something media-driven and didactic, and trying to update it with a kind of street rhythm that doesn't turn its back on rap. That's clear. I'm not crazy about this kind of thing myself, but she is, and why not? Plus, she's playing the contempo harsh-and-confrontational game. And why not? Me, I generally think this kind of thing is a pain, but hey, it's something some people seem to like to do. And I can certainly see a few new twists that she's making happen here, and the craft level's kind of impressive. I certainly don't know how she did it, in any case...." Etc., etc. So when I go to an art show or theater piece these days, I always remind myself to pretend a good friend did it. And I have a much better time than I'd have otherwise. Unless, that is, what I've gone to is a big corporate commercial thing, in which case I let myself razz it to my heart's content, if that's my reaction. Who cares about the feelings of a committee? Who even wants to bother seeing a committee's point of view? But if it's a performance? Or a poem? A... posted by Michael at January 30, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Free Reads -- Blogads?
Friedrich -- Is blogging ready for primetime? There are some dynamic, enterprising types who think so. Get ready for "blogads" (advertising aimed at bloggers) and "nanopublishing" (blogging itself). Jim McClellan's report in the Guardian is readable here. Sample passage: Though, for the most part, he is operating at the other end of the scale to Denton, Jarvis is optimistic about his approach. "Nanopublishing will not replace magazine publishing or mass media. It is a new opportunity. It won't make money for political punditry or for the diaries of college students. But it will work for gadgets and sex and special interests such as disease - imagine a great weblog for diabetics - because it is so cheap to publish." Time for 2Blowhards to start spinning off subsidiary rights? Link thanks to The Global Citizen, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Pic of the Day
Michael: For my pic of the day, I’m returning to Wayne Thiebaud. W. Thiebaud, Flatland River, 1997 In my posting earlier in the week, “Food as Art, Art as Food” I neglected to mention that Wayne was born in 1920[!], and he’s still knocking out pretty good paintings as we speak. So I hereby award Mr. Thiebaud a Blowhardy Award for pushing on against the winds of age—an accomplishment I appreciate more the closer I get to my own half-century. Wayne Thiebaud, Over 80 and Still Painting Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 30, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Cell Phone-less
Friedrich -- At dinner the other evening (a mini-bloggers' bash at an East Village nouvelle-Asian place, with the Wife, Felix Salmon and his charming g.f. Michelle), I set off a lot of laughter when I admitted that I don't have a cell phone. Everyone has one, I'm such a square, etc etc. Hardy har har. All fully justified, and for many reasons. But I wonder: is it really so rare these days to go without a cell phone? I can't imagine wanting one. I tried over dinner to protest that I enjoy my time away from telephones, but was drowned out by hearty uproariousness. I rather like the trouble I have to go to when I'm out in public and need to make a phone call, not that that happens very often. I'd even argue, with probably embarrassing earnestness, that I find that pleasure, art, personality and beauty are all easier to enjoy when at least a few barriers are set up between the reach of technology and one's privacy. But that may be yet one more demonstration of what a fuddy duddy I can be. (The Wife wants me to point out here that she has a cell phone, so that when we head off on car trips we're duly equipped.) Would you have a cell phone if you didn't absolutely need to have one? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Morning Detritus
Friedrich -- I suspect I'll never be a PPP (primarily political person). For better or worse, I seem more prone to contemplating and taste-testing the qualities of moments as they pass by than I am to joining in power frays and rooting for power teams. Is this, or something like it, true for you too? That said, even my brain spends a little time chewing over vaguely-political questions. A sampling -- lucky you! -- of what was rattling around today on this morning's walk to work: Much as I prefer the idea of a smallish and limited government, there's no way I'll ever be a hardcore libertarian. I've found some of them to be as dogmatic and utopian as Marxists, and as hopelessly unrealistic about human nature too. One for-instance. I'm listening on audiobook to Paul Johnson's "History of the English People." This morning he was telling the story of the reform movement in Victorian England, and focused for a while on chimney sweeps: young kids who were made to spend their days scrambling up and down dirty, narrow chimneys, often forced to do so by bosses who jabbed at their feet with pointed instruments or lit torches. The kids grew sick from the soot, and sometimes died young from it. A national disgrace, in other words, yet there was resistance against even the most modest kinds of reform; when a law was passed specifying that new chimneys had to be of certain dimensions, it was largely ignored. Finally, after decades of trying -- decades! -- Shaftesbury got a law passed protecting the kids. Is it possible to argue that this law was a bad thing? It seems to me that, even if a genius hardcore libertarian could come up with a persuasive hardcore libertarian argument against this law, such a hardcore libertarian would be missing a couple of key human points. One is that it's human to want to do something about such an awful situation. Another is that there are situations that are so terrible that it's probably human to want the government to do something about them, if only for symbolic, declaration-of-principles reasons. (Perhaps people need such symbols. More on that in future postings.) And if hardcore libertarians can't talk me -- someone who's strongly in favor of solving as many problems as possible in non-governmental ways -- out of my attachment to such a law, do they really think they'll ever talk the bulk of population into disliking such a law? But maybe the real reason I can't be a PPP is that -- yet another personal failing -- I tend to see and enjoy good points from all over. On his blog Junius (here), Chris Bertram, who writes from a modestly-lefty point of view, has made some arguments against going to war against Iraq that strike me as remarkably good. From what I take as a decent-rightish point of view, Thomas Sowell (here) argues for going to war against Iraq. He seems to me to... posted by Michael at January 30, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Free Reads -- Philip Murphy on Herbert Muschamp
Friedrich -- On his blog The Invisible Hand, Philip Murphy has posted a blistering attack on the latest ravings of the NYTimes' architecture "critic" Herbert Muschamp. Brilliant stuff -- though I'm feeling envious, I confess; for some years I've enjoyed hating Muschamp's writing and have fantasized about taking him down. But I have to admit that Murphy, who has let fly at Muschamp with both barrels before, has claimed the franchise decisively for himself. Let's hope this posting is just part of an ongoing series. Sample passage: The Muschamp Seven – with the notable exception of the Peterson/Littenberg team – are all of the radically pluralist school of architecture. To them everything but the past, especially the Western past, is valid. They believe in the Hetropolis, a vast interconnected multicultural urban landscape where the oppressive strictures of gender, morality, capitalism, culture and language melt away to reveal people in their common essence. Muschamp is disappointed that New York has taken so long to accept its role as the global Hetropolis. Instead, it has shortsightedly looked to its own vernacular tradition for cues about what to build next. Never mind that that vernacular includes some of the most beautiful buildings in the world – the Empire State, the Chrysler, Rockefeller Center – these are building that could only be in New York. Notice how Muschamp’s favorites would look more at home in Singapore or Shanghai. The posting is readable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Guest Posting -- Andre Hattingh
Friedrich -- Some comments came in from Andre Hattingh, whose email address indicates that he's in Africa. Imagine, 2blowhards is read (if occasionally) by someone who lives (as he informs me) "near Johannesburg"! Amazing. In any event, Andre's a brainy guy, as well as a world-class, and often hilarious, curmudgeon. Picasso? No way. Abstract art? Nope -- Andre makes you and me look like edgy progressives and eager-beaver scene-makers and wannabes. Here he is on the fad for "reality TV": Surely "Reality TV" is a gross misnomer. In my limited experience 'reality' comes somewhat tiresomely unedited, unpackaged and without an inappropriate marketing splurge or inconvenient ad breaks. Or do they do life differently in the States? (A double decaf latté?) The correct title for this sort of entertainment [sic] would surely be Prurience TV. Its content (?) appeals to those types who gather at the fringes of highway accidents to view the latest unedited road kill and Jerry Springer junkies. It used to be called 'bread and circuses.' Now it's Macs and reality TV. I've urged Andre to begin blogging himself -- clearly flair and point of view aren't a problem. But he's playing coy for the moment. Too bad: he's someone who can really dish it out. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Exclusive -- Salingaros and Hanson
Friedrich -- I'm pleased -- thrilled, really -- to present a 2Blowhards exclusive. We've been given an advance glimpse of a brilliant new essay on architecture by Nikos Salingaros, a University of Texas mathematician and architectural theorist (and frequent collaborator with Christopher Alexander), and Brian Hanson, an architectural historian and former advisor to Prince Charles. Their topic? Daniel Libeskind's proposal for the WTC site. Their topic is really much more than that, as anyone who has followed their work would expect. Along with Alexander and some other thinkers, Hanson and Salingaros are looking at building (and, implicitly, at art more generally) and urbanism in terms of patterns. What does this mean? To simplify drastically a set of complex and infinitely-suggestive ideas: much as there are biological patterns that give rise to life and biological patterns that go nowhere, so too are there patterns of building (and of urbanism and art) that give rise to something we experience as "life" and patterns of building (and urbanism and art) that essentially go nowhere -- that lead not to life but to death. "Beauty" is a word we use to describe the leading-to-life quality that some artworks have. It's something real, and something whose presence can be felt. Another way of looking at what these thinkers are saying is to consider the computer universe. There are some patterns (the desktop metaphor, for instance, or the Web itself) that lead to a flourishing, and many, many patterns that lead to nothing but dead ends (no matter how brilliant they may be). These kinds of ideas lie behind, for instance, the New Urbanism, one thrust of which is to attempt to harness the dynamism of developers and the market to more human ends by transforming restrictive zoning laws into algorithms that result in both beauty and growth. I don't know about you, but my thoughts spin happily off in many directions when presented with these ideas: chaos and evolutionary theory, the emergence and utility of traditional artistic forms, self-organizing complexity, the growth of language, the role of the individual artist in the midst of all this ... Whew. For my money, this is some of the most exciting thinking going on in the arts anywhere today. In any case, the full Salingaros and Hanson essay is much longer than the appetizer here. It hasn't yet been scheduled for publication; we promise to alert readers where and when the whole thing does become available. But the appetizer, which we've been given permission to reprint here, is itself pretty great. We're pleased to present it. Daniel Libeskind's Architecture of Death by Brian Hanson and Nikos Salingaros. We contrast two distinct threads in the architecture of Daniel Libeskind -- the geometry employed in his Holocaust Memorials, and the geometry of those buildings whose purpose is life and regeneration. We find no difference whatsoever between the two types, thus concluding that Libeskind's buildings cannot serve to bring architecture to life. Daniel Libeskind's participation in the World Trade Center project... posted by Michael at January 29, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The Unbearable Lightness of Stucco
Michael: As you know, I live in Southern California. What you may not know is this is the world capital for wood-framed, stucco-walled buildings. As a result of seeing so much of this style of construction, I’ve noticed two things: first, I find the framing for such buildings more interesting than the buildings themselves and second, I prefer the buildings when they are in the earlier, monochromatic stages of stucco than when they have their “finish coat” on. While I know these preferences to be a fact, I don’t know why I react the way I do. I’ve come up with several hypotheses to explain them: 1) My grandparents' house in Toledo Ohio was stucco, and I’m still suffering from a forgotten trauma connected to their choice of building material. 2) I’ve developed a case of postmodern blues, in which I prefer an unfinished building to a finished building for reasons of irony, or something. 3) The grey undercoat of stucco, known as “mud” reminds of the happy days I spent digging a moat around my childhood home. 4) Stucco, as a finished architectural material, appears so “weightless” that I’m subconsciously afraid that it will blow away, and I’m more comfortable with its earlier state, which looks like reinforced concrete. (You can never tell when the Big Bad Wolf will show up.) I considered, and rejected, the hypothesis that I have a hankering for Modernist simplicity, since I actually find the ornamentation on these buildings--in its monochromatic state--intriguing. Do you share my weirdo preferences? Can you at least explain them? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 28, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, January 27, 2003

Food As Art; Art As Food
Michael— I just spent a pleasant, if somewhat hungry, hour in the company of Wayne Thiebaud at an exhibit of his works from 1955 to 2003 at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University. This is the first time I have seen a large amount of Thiebaud’s art "in the flesh." Although I’ve long admired his work in reproduction, Thiebaud’s canvases, with his exuberant, almost gluttonous approach to applying oil paint, are much easier to read in person. Thiebaud puts his butter-creamy oil paint on very, very thickly, and then pushes it around with stiff brushes so the manner of its application is still visible, like frosting on a cake. Or he applies it thinly, in which case it is gloppy, drippy, so diluted with medium that it gleams out of the final painting like a glaze on top of a fruity desert. In short, Thiebaud is a kind of highly intellectual pastry chef of a painter. W. Thiebaud, Bread, Butter and Knife, 1962; W. Thiebaud, Rosebud Cakes, 1991-5 Since he evidently wants to eat his own paintings, he tends to be a bit fastidious, even when things get messy. The discipline in Thiebaud’s paintings—which they desperately need—is his confident and assured drawing, which is fortunately up to the task of organizing his “oral id.” Thiebaud began his artistic life as a cartoonist, animator, designer and commercial artist, and many of his drawings still have the relaxed authority of the noodlings of the more talented art directors I’ve known. W. Thiebaud, Cafe Flowers, Caged Condiments, Cream Pie, Java and Sinkers, etc., 1995 Since the “gut-level” aspect of his art is so completely unambiguous, Thiebaud’s conscious mind has been quite free to develop fairly complex rationales regarding his art. For example, he refers to his tendency towards inventive distortion in drawing as caricature. According to Thiebaud, however, he doesn’t mean caricature in the ordinary sense—i.e., mere disproportion of body parts, which has a deliberately comic effect. Caricature to Thiebaud means “specific formal changes in size, scale, etc., relationships that combine the perceptual with the conceptual.” Thiebaud opposes his idea of caricature on the one hand to “simple cartooning” and on the other hand to what he terms “taxidermy”: By taxidermy I mean the redundant visual recording of a dead image. The downside of realism is taxidermy. The way to escape that, it seems to me, is to collate a series of different perceptual responses into a single image. The horror of creating a dead image is fairly understandable if one assumes, on some level (as Thiebaud clearly does) that one is going to have to ingest everything one paints. While Thiebaud is clearly fascinated by the technical facility of great Baroque painting, one presumes that he would be physically ill at the thought of tackling Caravaggio’s subject matter. The dominance of “frivolous” subject matter—deserts, food, fashion, still life, pretty girls—in his work is obviously safe ground for an artist of his compulsions. Thiebaud’s artistic influences are an eclectic... posted by Friedrich at January 27, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments