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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. A Week With Nikos Salingaros -- Part Two
  2. A Week With Nikos Salingaros -- Part One
  3. Coming of Age
  4. Hate and Minorities
  5. Link-o-rama

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Thursday, May 1, 2003

A Week With Nikos Salingaros -- Part Two
2Blowhards is taking a hiatus from the usual to devote a week to a conversation with the architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros. This is Part Two. Part One is here. PART TWO of FIVE 2B: How do you and your wife live? NS: We live in a small European-size apartment, and endure continuous criticism from friends, acquaintances and colleagues because we so flagrantly violate the life-style of living in a suburban ranch-style house. While I was single, I did own a historic turn-of-the-century Southern Mansion on a vast lot, whose spaces and carved wood, and trees I enjoyed. But it is not for long-term use. 2B: Have you always been an arts buff? NS: I started out as an artist. I was a painter. In high school, I competed with professional painters. I had commissions -- I did portraits, and rather successfully. I had one-man shows. But because of my very early success, I got involved in the field, and I found it was a dog-eat-dog field and not a very good profession. So I decided to go into science instead, which seems to be much more stable as a profession. 2B: I know a lot of people who looked into the arts and found it too nutty a place to spend a lifetime there. NS: As far as getting into architecture, I met Christopher Alexander about 20 years ago. He asked me to help him on "The Nature of Order," which he was writing and re-writing. So I let him bounce ideas off me, and I helped with editing. This thing sort of took me over. After 15 years, it had completely taken over my life. What I had been doing was working to develop a thermonuclear fusion reactor to give cheap electricity for mankind. And now I had the thought, Well, what Christopher is doing is more important than this. An Alexander thought being thought; an Alexander building being built 2B: How did you and Christopher Alexander happen to meet? NS: I was in Berkeley to meet a mathematician friend, and I had read Christopher's books "Notes on the Synthesis of Form" and "A Pattern Language." I had even given a talk on "A Pattern Language" when I was visiting Greece. So I called the great man. His wife answered and said, "He cannot possibly meet you." And I said, "But I'm a physicist and a mathematician." And she said, "Well, hold on ... Can you come tomorrow and have coffee with him?" I went to meet him, and he said, "I'm glad you came. I have many things I want to discuss with you. With my fellow architects, it's like talking to a blank wall. I cannot get anything across, and can't get anything useful out of them. So I want to talk to someone like you." That's how our friendship got started. 2B: What kind of attention had you paid to architecture before becoming friends with Christopher Alexander? NS: When I was a graduate student I went... posted by Michael at May 1, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

A Week With Nikos Salingaros -- Part One
2Blowhards is taking a break from our usual format. If you've surfed through this blog before, you may have run across postings devoted to Professor Nikos Salingaros, the University of Texas mathematican who has become, in our opinion, one of the world's most interesting and provocative writers on architecture. (You can see previous postings about him here and here.) We were tickled a few months ago to hear from Prof. Salingaros himself, who got in touch to say that he enjoys our blog. Shameless opportunists that we are (at least at our best), we took advantage of the moment to ask him if he'd consent to be interviewed. To our delight he agreed, and starting today and continuing for the next four days, we're devoting our blog to this conversation. Dr. Salingaros, 51, was born in Perth, Australia. He grew up in Greece and the Bahamas, got degrees from the University of Miami and SUNY Stony Brook, and has been teaching at the University of Texas since 1983. He lives in San Antonio with his physician wife, Dr. Marielle Blum, and their two daughters. He painted professionally – portraits, landscapes -- as a young man, and is also an avid classical music buff. Twenty years ago he met the architect and theorist Christopher Alexander, best known for his books "A Pattern Language" and "The Timeless Way of Building." They became friends and colleagues. Dr. Salingaros has worked with Alexander since on the editing and shaping of Alexander's long-brewing, long-awaited "The Nature of Order," a four-volume work on art, science, nature and beauty. (Volume One, which should cause quite a commotion, will go on sale soon here and here.) Over the years, Dr. Salingaros found himself more and more preoccupied with architecture, building, living form, and the foolishness of modernism. About five years ago he began publishing his own papers on these topics. We Blowhards have been fans since we first ran across his work. His tiptop website is here. You say you aren't all that interested in architecture? Well, please read this q&a anyway. We can pretty much guarantee that -- agree with Salingaros or not -- it'll get your head buzzing about any number of art-related topics. In all earnestness, and just between you and us, this is a hideously embarrassing time to be involved in the arts. What a bunch of preening stick-in-the-muds, still devoted to carrying on as though it’s still 1970. The worlds of physics, biology, computer science and technology are abuzz with fresh and useful new thinking, yet the world of the arts circles round and round about the same damn topics, and then presents itself as though it's onto something new. The geo-political Iron Curtain may have come down over a decade ago, but the art worlds are still doing their best to keep their own versions of the Iron Curtain up and in good repair. They seem to love walling themselves in. (Why? One might wonder -- and we do.) But, despite all... posted by Michael at May 1, 2003 | perma-link | (26) comments

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Coming of Age
Michael: The other night the wife and I saw “Raising Victor Vargas” a film written and directed by Peter Sollett. It’s a very, very, very small-scale film, shot entirely on location, which centers around the love life of the 17-year-old, would-be player Victor (Victor Rasuk), and especially his efforts to connect with neighborhood beauty Juicy Judy (Judy Marte). The ensemble coming of age story—even Victor’s 73-year-old grandmother seems to grow up a bit in the course of the film—largely works because the almost entirely teenaged cast succeeds in making the case that they’re all really “good kids” at heart. Their winning ways even triumph over the abominable hand-held camera work, and that’s saying something. (I would strongly advise Mr. Sollett to work with a real cinematographer in the future.) Victor and Juicy Judy looking to hook up But what’s weird about the story is its utter matter-of-factness about teenaged sex. I can understand how a group of teenagers may think of nothing but sex all day long, but in this movie there’s virtually no distance between the thought and its realization. I like you, you like me, and we’re doin’ it in one of our bedrooms or in a community garden five minutes later. After a number of these hook-ups, I’m starting to think—wait a minute, nobody seems to be using contraceptives here. Nobody’s worried about veneral disease. Nobody appears to have a job, nobody appears to be in school, nobody seems to have a terribly viable family giving structure to their lives. Nobody, in short, is anywhere near ready to be making babies, and sooner or later that’s exactly what’s going to happen to Victor Vargas or one of his friends. Maybe it’s the fact that I have two teenaged daughters, but this nonchalant attitude starts to creep me out while I’m watching the film. It makes me even more uneasy to look at the suburban, middle-aged audience after the lights come up, chatting happily about this winning little movie. And, of course, it makes me even crazier to read the glowing reviews for the film. In my head, I’m shouting: doesn’t anybody other than me notice the Russian Roulette aspect of this film and its characters’ lifestyle? Apparently not. Or maybe they think that would somehow be too judgmental for a movie about minority kids to expect some responsibility regarding their sexual activities. I don’t know. But I certainly hope the real Victors and the Juicy Judies of this world don’t take this film as a guide to how to conduct their personal lives. Their children will thank them. Somewhat grumpy cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 30, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Hate and Minorities
Michael: I recently read a paper entitled the “Political Economy of Hatred” (which you can read here). The author, Edward Glaeser, a Harvard professor, has also written papers providing economic analyses of such non-traditional topics as American obesity. (A survey of his papers, which you can see here, reveals Professor Glaeser to be fairly left-wing politically, e.g., blaming the lack of a European-style welfare state in the U.S. on American racism and praising the rise of the early-20th century regulatory state as a superior alternative to an all-too-easily-corrupted justice system.) In the “Political Economy of Hatred”—apparently inspired by 9/11—Professor Glaeser develops a mathematical treatment of the supply and demand for hatred based on various sociological insights. He takes these assumptions as facts for the purposes of his paper and doesn’t attempt to test or evaluate them with new data. The details of his model are hard for this non-economist to follow since the good professor is constantly attaching what are (to me, anyway) highly opaque mathematical conditions to the equations in his model. Glaeser treats these as more or less “obvious”—and hopefully they are to other economists. Exercises like this paper are, of course, highly susceptible to the problem of “garbage-in-garbarge-out,” as they essentially feed the model’s assumptions back to you in a mathematicized form. Their real value is creating fairly rigorous statements of various hypotheses that can then be examined empirically. None-the-less, if we assume Professor Glaeser’s assumptions--his own and those derived from the extensive research cited in the text--are reasonable, and they seem to be on first sight, his model provides some non-obvious insights into the nature of political hatred and what makes it grow and shrink. His most original insights, as best I can tell, derive from the fact that he, as an economist, incorporates not only the benefits of hating minorities but also the costs that hatred entails, because it restricts the number of beneficial transactions that are normally possible with the hated group: If hatred detracts from beneficial interactions, why do people listen to hateful messages about other groups? There are at least four different reasons why people listen to messages of hate. First, hateful messages, which tell about the crimes of minorities, may appear to contain useful information…A second source of demand is that messages of hate are often subsidized. …A third reason why people listen to hate is that these messages are frequently wrapped up in titillating stories…[Fourth,] [t]he demonization of minorities can provide an external explanation for catastrophes. The Germans could blame the loss in World War I on the Jews, and Arabs can blame their poverty on America and Israel. According to this view, people want an explanation (other than their own mistakes) for their problems, and the preachers of hatred provide a balm to their self-esteem. Professor Glaeser, reflecting what I take to be his politics, confines his examples to racism against blacks in America, anti-Semitism in 19th and 20th century Germany, and anti-Americanism in the contemporary Middle East. Being... posted by Friedrich at April 29, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friedrich -- I just finished Roger Scruton's new book The West and the Rest (here). I enjoyed it, and got a lot out of it. Scruton does an amazingly clear and vivid job of spelling out how different the West has made itself from the rest of the world, and reminds us that not only do the Islamic countries have no experience with democracy, they have no experience with any separation at all between church and state. In a startling article here (click on "Continue to message"), Steve Sailer points out one more challenge, which is the frequency of "consanguineous" marriages in the mideast -- marriages, that is, between first and second cousins. Remember "Deliverance"? Well, an Iraqi is twice as likely to marry his cousin as an American hillbilly is. "In Iraq, as in much of the region," Sailer writes, "nearly half of all married couples are first or second cousins to each other." No wonder tribal loyalties are so ferocious in that part of the world. Why hasn't the mainstream press made more of this? Polly Frost writes about the influential (and underknown) stage monologuist Ruth Draper here. Polly has also kicked off a "let's discuss art, books, theater and food" forum, which is off to a lively start. You can join the party here. Lynn Sislo takes note of and wrestles with the way she's an elitist so far as the arts that she knows well go, and a populist so far as arts that she knows less well go, here. A posting that'll ring bells with many arts fans. Aaron Haspel works up a good God of the Machine head of steam over the question of whether hetero marriage should receive any governmental privileges at all, here. The assaultively sexual play XXX (which does not star Vin Diesel) by the experimental Spanish theater troupe La Fura dels Baus has opened in London for a four-week run. Based on the Marquis de Sade's "Philosophy in the Bedroom," it's said to be the most sexually explict show ever to be produced in England. Quel surprise that there has been no shortage of coverage: you might start here and here. Here's a Guardian account of the play's original Spanish production. Sodomy, incest, rape and genital mutilation figure among the play's attractions. Did audience members really have sex in the aisles during one performance (here)? Via Daze Reader, here. Alice Bachini has developed an amusing and persuasive something that she calls the Common Person's Theory of Work (here -- you'll have to do some scrolling, but be sure to let yourself be tickled by Alice's prose and thoughts on the way down too). How many films has your opinion done a U-turn on? One of the films I came around on was Dziga Vertov's legendary Man With a Movie Camera, which I saw back in film class at our Lousy Ivy University and wasn't much struck by. Years later, when I saw a version of the film set to a... posted by Michael at April 29, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments