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  1. Hindu Art
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  4. Saturn Devouring My Children
  5. Free Reads -- Virginia Postrel on Panty Lighting
  6. Free Reads -- The Man Who Made the Interstates
  7. Prettyboys Straight Guys Like
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  9. Terry Teachout, Blogger
  10. Self-Deprecation and Ego

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Saturday, July 12, 2003

Hindu Art
Friedrich -- Ommmmmmmmm I've stumbled across an excellent book on Indian art, Alistair Shearer's The Hindu Vision: Forms of the Formless (buyable here). Well-illustrated and well-produced; terrific on the effects and the principles of Indian art; inexpensive, compact and snappily written. Altogether a treat. But I admit that if I'm enthralled it's partly because, as you know, I'm indulging in a little Hindu phase of my own. I've gotten intrigued by the meta-religion/philosophy known as Vedanta specifically, and have been curious about how to synch up what I'm reading with Indian visual art, about which I know nothing but which I've always loved. I'm seldom art-happier than I am when I'm nosing through the Indian rooms at the Metropolitan Museum. Part of why Vedanta has me hooked is that it discusses -- easily, forthrightly, modestly -- an awful lot of what's on my mind day-to-day but which I've always had trouble finding words for. (Let alone listeners tolerant and patient enough to put up with my fumblings.) Listening to, or reading, the Vedanta crowd? Goll-lee, these people must really be onto something -- such is my (probably primitive and laughable) response. This book's author, Alistair Shearer, also has the knack for making discussable what's usually deemed impossible even to name. As far as I can tell, it's a necessary skill if you're going to make any kind of verbal sense out of Indian art. What a book. Well, I'm enchanted, in any case, as well as learning much. So why not pass along some nice passages? Here's hoping I'm within my Fair Use rights. ... The role of the artist in this vast scheme of things is thus not to redraw the parameters of possibility in perception or expression, or to criticize the inherited tradition or society, but rather to create those time-honoured forms which reiterate, glorify and perpetuate the Cosmic Law that upholds all life ... ... The Sanskrit term used to describe creation and the journey of the soul is lila, 'the divine play,' using the word in both its joyful and its dramatic senses. In truth, the universe is nothing more or less than the Divine playing an elaborate game of hide-and-seek with itself ... ... [in the Hindu world] cultural life serves to bridge the gap between the relatively gross level of mankind, restricted within boundaries of time, space and causation, and the transcendent Divine, which is unbounded and eternally free ... ... Aesthetically, we in the West are the heirs of the European Renaissance and a Classical standard of beauty based squarely on the human figure ... However idealized the canon of beauty set by the Greeks may have been, it belonged squarely to the world of flesh and blood, faithfully recording the taut sinews of a daylight, human reality. Hindu art, by contrast, is in no way anthropocentric. It celebrates not the perfectibility of man, but the already perfect realms of the gods; it eschews the clear certainties of daylight reality and floats in... posted by Michael at July 12, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

Lecture Series on Sale
Friedrich -- A few of the Teaching Company's best lecture series have just been put on sale. * Two econ series by Timothy Taylor, A History of the U.S. Economy in the 20th Century (here), and Contemporary Economic Issues (here). * And one on contempo neuroscience, Robert Sapolsky's Biology and Human Behavior: Neurological Origins of Individuality (here). Terrific courses at amazing prices -- what's not to like? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Emily Eakin on Christopher Alexander
Friedrich -- Dept. of Wonders Never Cease: The New York Times, showing a little respect (if grudging) for Christopher Alexander -- who'd a thunk it? Emily Eakin meets with the great man and casts a very wary eye on what he's been up to, here. Sample passage: "Architecture is a very strange field," Mr. Alexander said over lunch here in the medieval town not far from West Dean Gardens where he grew up and has lately been spending much of his time. "It's almost as though they've induced a mass psychosis in society by introducing a point of view that has no common sense and no bearing on any deeper feeling." Credit where credit's due: at least they've taken note. I wonder how someone slipped this piece past Herbert Muschamp. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturn Devouring My Children
Michael: Speaking of epochal cultural shifts, does anybody other than me remember back in the 1990s that Generation Y types were pissed off about something called “generational equity?” As I recall, they had the nerve not to like the fact that by the time they got done making the Boomers’ Social Security payments, the cupboard would be bare, so to speak, for their own retirement. Washington insiders seem to have made all this go away by appointing a few commissions that made a few recommendations that never went anywhere—sort of the “stun ‘em into silence with sheer boredom” approach. Hey, it works. The only reason I bring this up is that I noticed something odd about the Medicare Drug Benefit bill that the House and Senate are arguing about. To the best of my recollection, both versions of the bill include $400 billion in subsidies for pharmaceuticals to be consumed by old folks over the next decade. Well, looking for something else, I stumbled across an interesting statistic on the website of the Congressional Budget Office (which you can see here.) From a memo dated February 3, 2003: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently updated its projection of aggregate spending for outpatient prescription drugs by and on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries. As shown in the attached table, CBO estimates that spending for outpatient prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries will total $1.84 trillion over the 2004-2013 period. Now, I don’t know about you, but I very much doubt that the senior lobby (all 40 million voting members of it) are going to let the government get away with paying for less than a quarter of their prescription costs…once they’ve gotten their nose under the tent, so to speak. So I would assume that the actual costs of the Medicare drug benefit will come out much, much closer to $1.84 trillion over the next ten years than a mere $400 billion (hell, that’s chump change to an interest group with that much clout.) Anyway, what’s odd is the deafening silence from Gen Y types (or anybody, much) about “generational equity” issues implicit in legislation like this. Looking for some sense of where all the hoopla had gone, I did a Google search on “generational equity,” which didn’t show much activity recently. But I did notice an interesting analysis that had been cranked out about 5 or 6 years ago by Jagadeesh Gokhale an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who I’d run across before. Mr. Gokhale seems to enjoy playing with these scary subjects. (You can read the complete essay here.) Mr. Gokhale brought a certain historical rigor to the discussion: A given generation’s lifetime net tax rate is the fraction of its lifetime labor earnings that it pays in net taxes to the government, where both numerator and denominator are present values at birth….Figure 1 shows that the generation born in 1900 pays at the rate of 23.9 percent. Lifetime net tax rates increase steadily for later-born generations,... posted by Friedrich at July 12, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, July 11, 2003

Free Reads -- Virginia Postrel on Panty Lighting
Friedrich -- Legislators in Texas hoping to conserve energy have passed a law that more or less mandates flourescent bulbs in commercial settings. Victoria's Secret isn't pleased; the scanties the company sells look their scrumptious and enticing best under fancier kinds of lights. Virginia Postrel reports on the tiff for D magazine, and does some brainy musing on the good ol' American theme of efficiency vs. aesthetics here. Sample passage: Sure, Victoria's Secret could save a lot of trouble, energy, and money if it just installed enough fluorescents to make the room bright. But neither the merchandise nor the customers' skin tones would look as good. The "immersive experience" of shopping wouldn't be as enjoyable. The unmentionables wouldn't move off the shelves. Pleasure and quality of life: worth an extra few bucks or not? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Free Reads -- The Man Who Made the Interstates
Friedrich -- David Sucher (here) spotted a US News and World Report special package on building and architecture here. I found this piece by David Lagesse (here) especially interesting. It's about Frank Turner, the engineer who guided the construction of the US interstate system, which is coming to final completion next year. Hard to underestimate the impact of this project, set off in 1956 by Dwight Eisenhower. Sample passage: Safety and efficiency were the guiding principles, says Frank Griggs, a transportation engineer who also worked on the New York State Thruway. "The engineers were trained in getting people from point A to point B in the cheapest, fastest, and safest manner." Cheap often meant through wetlands, only later recognized as valuable, or through slums, bulldozed before residents could organize. "We didn't realize that poor people might not want to move--even if we thought it was for their own good," Griggs says. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Prettyboys Straight Guys Like
Friedrich -- The handful of reviews of the new "Pirates" movie I've looked at all say that Johnny Depp gives a very perverse and bizarro performance. Neat! I'm ready for it! Realizing that I'm actually looking forward to seeing what he's done, I found myself reflecting: how odd that I can stand Johnny Depp at all. He's a prettyboy, and guys (at least of the straight-and-banal category I semi-belong to) generally dislike prettyboys (let alone prettyboys with cutesy names). Is it out of jealousy, a feeling that things are just too damn easy for them, or a suspicion of pansiness? Something else? But here I am, a Johnny Depp fan. Loved his performance in "Gilbert Grape," thought he was fab and hilarious in "Don Juan de Marco," and was even happy to watch him on "Inside the Actors Studio." Why? He has a little humor and class (even if he doesn't go in big for self-parody) -- is that it? There's something about the way he conducts himself as a prettyboy that I admire and approve of as a guy. But I'm not sure what. There aren't many other such. I squunch up my face, pretend to be a film encyclopedia -- boy, I sure can't remember the names and dates the way I once could -- and, and ... Hmm. Cary Grant. I'm not talking about the handsome brutes (Clark Gable, for example) guys dig, I'm talking about dreamboats who are so good-looking that they make your hetero-reptile male brain want to conk 'em one -- but you like 'em too much to do that. Who else? Would Val Kilmer qualify? I liked a couple of his performances (Jim Morrison, Doc Holiday in "Tombstone") a lot, though he seems to have gotten lost in some self-pleased, self-mythologizing egozone in recent years. Tyrone Power? Errol Flynn? I'm not sure I could say that I like Alain Delon, but there he is, awfully pretty and I don't dislike him. Mastroianni certainly -- he's so weary and impotent how can you resist? Offhand, I'd say that Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner wouldn't qualify -- there's something a little too beefy and roughed-up about both of them. Would you agree? I'm sure I'm overlooking lots of actors who qualify. But here's this morning's challenge: prettyboys who straight guys like. And how to explain the ones who qualify? Why do some prettyboys win us real-guy clods over and not other prettyboys? I mean, I'm not generally the kind of moviegoer who goes to movies just because a male star is in it -- I'm not your typical American Clint or Arnold fan. Yet I'll actually watch a movie just because Johnny Depp or Cary Grant is in it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2003 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Lynn Sislo's Back
Friedrich -- Very glad to see that Lynn Sislo's back blogging. After enduring a nightmarish stretch with an evil webhosting company, she's up and running again at her usual address, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Terry Teachout, Blogger
Friedrich -- I'm thrilled to discover that Terry Teachout, one of the country's best critics -- he writes about theater for the WSJ and music for Commentary -- has just started his own blog. Is he the first of the "real" critics to do so? I'm hoping we'll see more of the professional art-chat class open their doors to the public a little more than they've shown themselves willing to do thus far. I'm not surprised that Teachout is the leader here. He's a free thinker, not at all constrained by academic nonsense or media pomposity -- makes sense that he's written a biography of H.L. Mencken. He's generous with insights, discoveries and tips, and is also the kind of critic you get a lot out of even when you disagree with him. We need more such. We need more such running blogs, too. Take it to the people, critic-dudes and critic-dudettes. You can find Teachout's site here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Teachout is also contributing to the National Review's groupblog The Corner, here. Thanks to Sasha Castel-Dodge, here.... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Self-Deprecation and Ego
Friedrich -- Dropping my usual affable/genial/modest act for a brief posting, I'm here to confess that I have a pretty healthy ego. So why aren't I forever going on about it like the real big-ego people do? Ie., asserting it even when there's no need to, bragging tiresomely, buttonholing the unwilling, doing my obsessive best to impose my will, not stopping until you concede that I'm a really impressive guy, etc? Largely for two reasons. 1) I grew up in a smalltown culture where preening was frowned on and laughed at, and 2) most of the time it looks pretty pathetic to me. I can't help it. I can't help but have a "the more you make a big deal out of how good you are, the less I'm convinced" response. (Although I can be amused by the boastfulness of sports figures. We guys do feel that way sometimes, and it can be funny to see it acted out so cartoonishly.) I'm not saying I'm right, and I'm not advocating my outlook -- I've met some grandstanders and braggarts who were in fact pretty good, darn them. I'm just saying that I seem to be programmed to look skeptically on that kind of display. So much so, in fact, that I'm even suspicious of people who make a point of looking hypersexual in public. I can't help suspecting that they're lousy lays -- that they're burning up everything they have to give in public, and will have nothing left for when it really counts. Self-deprecation suits me far better than boastfulness. Partly because it makes such good sense as a self-defence tactic -- if you take the wind out of your own sails first, you're getting there before anyone else can do it to you. But I also find it a good way to assert things, myself included. Surprise people with a decent joke at your own expense. A few of them will laugh, if only out of politeness; there's also the chance that maybe, just maybe, someone will have the truly-hoped-for response -- "wow, if he can make jokes that easily about himself, and take himself so unseriously, he must really be deeply comfortable with himself." In any case, you'll have the stage to yourself for a moment or two, which is all the likes of me really asks for. It's all about hinting that while I have the same healthy ego so many others seem to, I also have the distance and self-mastery to be rueful and funny about it. Two mints in one, in other words. A reverse kind of showing-off: I'm not just well-endowed, I'm well-endowed with modesty about being well-endowed. People are notoriously bad at knowing how they affect others, so I'm almost certainly kidding myself. Perhaps I'm hopeless, and everyone's just indulging me. But even that's ok -- because I'm still getting the kind of indulgence I'm looking for. I'm admittedly guessing here, but over the years I also seem to have developed an... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (21) comments

The Empire Strikes Back
Michael: The struggle to make public elementary and secondary schools accountable for the education they dish out kind of resembles “Star Wars.” Right now, for those who have come in late, we’re in the episode entitled “The [Education] Empire Strikes Back.” Recent developments include the state of Texas relaxing its third-grade reading standards when it became evident that thousands of students would be held back, Georgia deciding to reschedule its End of Course tests for a year (and converting them to diagnostic tools from graduation requirements), New York State voiding the results of its math exam after a high failure rate and Alaska’s decision to delay its high school exit exam for two years because the state’s education system “needed more time to do the job correctly." The latest counter attack by the Education Empire occurred in my own state of California, where the State Board of Ed voted on July 9--unanimously no less-- to defer its high school exit exam for two years. (You can read a NY Times story on this here). The board’s decision was based on a study that suggested that as many as a fifth of high school seniors—i.e., a full 92,000 California kids—don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing this test and thus graduating from high school. According to the story: In California, the problem does not stem from the test itself, which independent researchers called an accurate reflection of the academic standards California children are supposed to learn. Instead, it is that so few students have grasped those standards that in half the state's schools, less than 50 percent of next year's seniors have managed to pass the math part of the exam. Those students cannot fairly be blamed for failing. "They simply haven't been taught all of the material that is being tested," Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent for public instruction, wrote in an op-ed article for The Los Angeles Times this week. Well, what does this actually mean in practice? Exit exams are, of course, nothing but a minor irritant for kids who are going on to college. (It’s not like you have to be Einstein or Shakespeare to pass these tests.) The idea behind exit exams is to motivate the bottom half of the academic distribution—the marginal or “at-risk” students—and their teachers—to greater efforts. Delaying the exams are, of course, an admission that the schools have utterly failed their marginal students up until this point. No mea culpa is on the lips of the California state education establishment, however. Their argument is that administering exit exams to this current cohort of 12th graders is unfair. Why? Many of the academic fundamentals, like algebra, that students should have learned years before being tested were never taught to whole swaths of the population, the state study found. Moreover, Mr. O'Connell said that the state's instructional materials were woefully out of date, reflecting little of the new curriculum that students are expected to master to pass the exit exam. This is,... posted by Friedrich at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Free Reads -- Business Week on Work Hours
Friedrich -- I never know whether to trust these reports, but this piece by Louis Braham from Business Week online (here) certainly feels like it's on to something. In a nutshell: The average European’s annual work hours actually declined in the 1990s to 1,629, compared to 1,878 here. American economists often point to all this “wasted time” as a sign of European inefficiency. But greater efficiency is often better for companies than it is for human beings. By traditional measures, Americans have a higher standard of living than Europeans do. But Europeans have longer life expectancies than Americans and spend more time with their loved ones. Perhaps we love our jobs. Perhaps we're incapable of coming up with something better to do than spend more time on the job. Perhaps we're being bullied into it. Your hunch? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (14) comments

Free Reads -- Alice on Punk
Friedrich -- Another inspired, merrily whimsical (and incisive, ballsy, etc) posting from Alice Bachini, here. Hippies vs. Punk is her theme. Sample passage: The Hippies had long drawn-out drugs of self-indulgence that made people think their most boringest ideas were worth droning for hours and hours. The Punks had amphetamines. Amphetamines evidently make you play a snappy tune several times while jumping up and down and wanting to kill people. I kind of appreciate this, as a sentiment; also it's very Eminemish, which is good. So, that's why everyone used to hate hippies. Punks were better, and changed the culture, allowing us to stop pretending we actually liked guitar solos. Now that's blogging. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sex Tips
Friedrich -- Do we love this here for its openness and matter-of-factness, etc? Or does it make us instead think thoughts like, "Hmm, maybe a little shame and discretion aren't always such bad things"? I'm not sure myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Video Game Blues
Michael: I want to announce a very minor milestone of contemporary cultural history. This is the first movie-style billboard ad I’ve ever seen for a video game: I must say I didn’t find the ad particularly alluring, especially since it appears at a suburban intersection within a few miles of my home. It also visibly recycles cliches about the gangster life which I'd rather not see reinforced, as there are quite active street gangs (responsible for a growing number of murders) operating within about a mile of this particular billboard. Granted, I’ve never played the game, but the descriptions on Rockstar’s website (which you can visit here) didn't exactly reassure me: Having just made it back onto the streets of Liberty City after a long stretch in maximum security, Tommy Vercetti is sent to Vice City by his old boss, Sonny Forelli. They were understandably nervous about his re-appearance in Liberty City, so a trip down south seemed like a good idea. But all does not go smoothly upon his arrival in the glamorous, hedonistic metropolis of Vice City. He's set up and is left with no money and no merchandise. Sonny wants his money back, but the biker gangs, Cuban gangsters, and corrupt politicians stand in his way. Most of Vice City seems to want Tommy dead. His only answer is to fight back and take over the city himself. From the decade of big hair, excess and pastel suits comes a story of one man's rise to the top of the criminal pile as Grand Theft Auto returns to the PlayStation®2 computer entertainment system this October. Vice City is a huge urban sprawl ranging from the beach to the swamps and the glitz to the ghetto, and is the most varied, complete and alive digital city ever created. Combining non-linear gameplay with a character driven narrative, you arrive in a town brimming with delights and degradation and are given the opportunity to take it over as you choose…For the action man, or outdoors type, there's tons of fun things to do and adventures to be had… guaranteed. For the secretive or creepy type, Vice City is full of surprises, a place where you'll constantly be surprised by the vivacious, fun-loving types who live there and the things you can discover. I acknowledge, the game may well be fun. But as an innocent bystander who came close to getting shot in a recent drive-by murder (the slug passed through my office where I normally sit; fortunately I took an early lunch that day) I find the game and the marketing campaign more than a bit cheap, cynical and irresponsible. I was intrigued to hear in the last year or so that video game sales passed U.S. movie boxoffice. Somehow I was hoping that this financial statistic would translate into a cultural development as well. In short, I had vague fantasies that this new medium would make a more interesting contribution to American culture than the movie industry, which in... posted by Friedrich at July 9, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Free Reads -- Bohemian Porn
Friedrich -- Remember Maurice Girodias? Legendary French publisher of porn novels? (As well as the guy who finally brought out "Lolita.") It turns out that the erotica he published was written by a small circle of arty bohemian friends -- ah, Paris back in the early '50s. John Preston tells the story and tracks down a few of the surviving authors for the Telegraph, here. Sample passage: But however easy he found it to crank out the books, the writing did soon lose its appeal. "You have no idea what it's like writing one sex scene after another," he says in a heartfelt voice. "Trying all the time for new permutations. Believe me, it can really get you down. Occasionally I found it erotic, when I was really getting into a scene. Most of the time, though, I just thought about the money." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 9, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- Female and Male Writing Styles
Friedrich -- I seem to be the last person on the web to run across this piece, but just in case you haven't ... A handful of scientists have developed a computer algorithm that can analyze a text and, with 80% accuracy, predict the sex of the text's author. The key seems to be that women use more people-y language where men use more thing-oriented language. Clive Thompson writes about the algorithm for the Boston Globe, here. Link found via Arts and Letters Daily, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 9, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Our Condolences
Michael: Our frequent commenter, Yamdallah, has recently endured great loss. (You can read his rather stunning post here.) On behalf of 2blowhards I'd like to wish him and his family our deepest sympathy and our hopes that they face easier times ahead. Sincerely, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 9, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

El Grullo
Friedrich -- I've noticed something, I'm wondering how to explain it, and I'm hoping you've got some ideas. What I've noticed is that people are more open-minded and adventurous where some art forms are concerned than others. Where music's concerned, for instance, it seems that almost everyone is comfortable with the idea that there are many different musics: western-art, rock, folk, rap, jazz, the infinite number of different "world" musics ... You may prefer one or the other, and you have have secret feelings about the innate superiority of the ones you prefer. But I'm deliberately dodging lots of important aesthetic/critical arguments here to focus on my main point, which is: almost no one, as far as I can tell, would argue that any of these "aren't music." You'd be laughed out of the room if you tried to. People seem supercomfy interacting with music as they see fit. You may (or may not) think that Pierre Boulez is the greatest living musical genius -- but, hey, that one Shakira song is silly but also pretty sexy, and that collection of Handel arias makes life seem a little sadder but richer. There's nothing like soukous when you want to dance a little, or Mahalia Jackson when your spirits need lifting, or Townes van Zandt when you want to wallow in the blues, or Barry White to put you and your sweetie in the mood. Many people are even familiar with the pleasures of sincere insincerity. I know serious people who adore -- I assume in a semi-camp way -- Britney, and as far as I know there are still downtown cool cats who dig lounge music. We all seem to know that we left school long ago, that we don't have to spend our lives aspiring to appreciate only the greats, and that it's up to us to pick and choose. As I say, we just go ahead and put it together for ourselves where music is concerned. We've got the confidence to do this; anyone who claimed that one, and only one, kind of music is "really music" and the rest of it "isn't music" would be dismissed as a superpriss. Yet we put up with exactly that kind of outlook where some of the other arts are concerned. Books I've blabbed about before and will no doubt return to in the future. (Comes from spending years following the biz.) People often seem to think that writing that appears in books is automatically more weighty than writing that appears elsewhere, and that some books -- by mere virtue of the kind of book they are -- are automatically more important ("more worthy of serious consideration") than other books. Often very bright people let themselves get blinded by the idea of the "real book" vs. all those books that apparently aren't real books, let alone all the other reading and writing in the world. How about the multitude of ways in which we actually interact with reading and writing? Nope,... posted by Michael at July 8, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Crooked Timber
Friedrich -- Some classy bloggers (including two of my faves, Chris Bertram and Henry Farrell) have just kicked off a new groupblog called Crooked Timber, here. They're off to a confident, entertaining start and I'm looking forward to lots more. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, July 7, 2003

Rethinking "Kitsch"
Michael: As I was glancing through the July-August issue of The American Scientist I came across an interesting article on “The Value of Positive Emotions” by Barbara L. Fredrickson, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Michigan. She points out that the study of negative emotions—anger, fear, sadness—has far outstripped the study of the positive emotions—joy, contentment, gratitude and love. Her explanation of the difference in attention struck me as having “cultural” implications far beyond the sociology of science: The study of optimism and positive emotions was seen by some as a frivolous pursuit. However, she summarizes the benefits that recent research has shown to accrue to positive emotions. Some are medical: Back in the 1930s some young Catholic nuns were asked to write short, personal essays about their lives…More than 60 years later the nuns’ writings surfaced again when three psychologists at the University of Kentucky reviewed the essays as part of a larger study on aging and Alzheimer’s disease…What [the researchers] found was remarkable: The nuns who expressed the most positive emotions lived up to 10 years longer than those who expressed the fewest. This gain in life expectancy is considerably larger than the gain achieved by those who quit smoking. The nun case study is not an isolated case. Several other scientists have found that people who feel good live longer. Some benefits are cognitive: Two decades of experiments of Alice Isen of Cornell University and her colleagues have shown that people experiencing positive affect (feelings) think differently. One series of experiments [involved] such tests as Mednick’s Remote Associates Test, which asks people to think of a word that relates to each of three other worlds. So, for example, given the words mower, atomic and foreign, [a] correct answer is power…Isen and colleagues showed that people experiencing positive affect [i.e., happiness] perform better on this test than people in neutral states. In other experiments, Isen and colleagues tested the clinical reasoning of practicing physicians…physicans who felt good were faster to integrate case information and less likely to become anchored on initial thoughts or come to premature closure in their diagnosis. In yet another experiment, Isen and colleagues showed that negotiators induced to feel good were more likely to discover integrative solutions in a complex bargaining task. Overall, 20 years of experiments by Isen and her colleagues show that when people feel good, their thinking becomes more creative, integrative, flexible and open to information. Finally, some of the benefits are social: Isen demonstrated people who experience positive emotions become more helpful to others. Naturally, being a Blowhard, my thoughts turned to the topic of happiness and positive emotion in art. Scanning quickly through my mental databanks of contemporary high culture for examples of positive emotion, I drew a blank. Granted, there is a fair amount of jokey art, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing. There are bushel baskets full of art loaded with a rather smirky self-satisfaction at how much... posted by Friedrich at July 7, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Kors Courses on Sale
Friedrich I've sampled a pretty good number of The Teaching Company's lecture series. Among the best are two by Alan Charles Kors: "The Birth of the Modern Mind," an intellectual history of Europe from 1600-1800 (that means Newton, Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Rousseau and the gang), and "Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment." Blazingly good, both of them, and far better than anything my poor parents almost went broke paying for at our Lousy Ivy University. I notice that the Teaching Company has just put both series on sale. "Modern Mind" (here) is now just $34.95 -- that's $34.95 for 24 30-minute lectures, an outrageously good price. And "Voltaire" (12 30-minute lectures, here) is now just $15.95. Commuting and exercise time don't have to be boring, and first-class edutainment doesn't have to be expensive. Best, Michael UPDATE: There's a goof on the Teaching Company's website -- they haven't yet indicated that "Voltaire" has gone on sale. If you want to buy the series, you might want to order it over the phone (at 1-800-teach-12), and tell them you saw the $15.95 price in their paper catalog.... posted by Michael at July 7, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 6, 2003

Moviegoing: "Swimming Pool"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Are you tempted to see the new French movie Swimming Pool? I caught it a few weeks ago at a screening (take that, rubes), and Michael Blowhard says: Go for it. Actually, what Michael Blowhard really does is experience mind-bending rapture and then passes out from sheer delight. The movie isn't entirely satisfying, and I can't say that I lovedlovedloved it in the way that I do a handful of movies in which I see my very soul reflected. But I care not one fig for passing any such judgments. Why? Because the film did such a great job of putting me in my favorite -- ie., eroto-aesthetico -- kind of art-and-entertainment trance. Had it gone on for another couple of hours, I'd have continued sitting there, dimly aware of this quibble and that misgiving but otherwise blissed-out to the max. I may take advantage of this long, slow weekend to see it again, even if I have to endure a regular ol' public (yuck, patooie) movie theater to do so. Much of what I responded to in the film is a simple matter of genre. The film is a hybrid of two of my favorites -- psychological suspense and literary/philosophical erotica. So the chances were better than fair that even had the film been a stinker I'd have been happy enough. It falls into the same high-end, sex-with-pretentions category as two other films I could also spend lifetimes watching -- "Year of the Jellyfish" (Valerie Kaprisky wreaking havoc on the Riviera), and the Isabelle Adjani semi-thriller "One Deadly Summer." Perceptive soul that I am, I notice that all three of these movies A) Are French, and B) Are set in the south of France, and C) Are what might be called vacation movies, in the sense that they take place in vacation-esque settings, or are about people actually on vacation. Hmm, I wonder what this means about me. Actually, no I don't. In fact, I'd rather not think about it. So, no insights here, please. I'd rather enjoy my quirks and tastes than analyze them. A quick note here to anyone who thinks I'm making a case for any of these films as great movies -- heck no. But am I saying that, as far as I'm concerned, they have their virtues and please me no end? Heck yes. Attention, world: Michael Blowhard will not be drawn into conversations about whether or not this or that movie is a "good movie." I leave that to the professional film press. Personal responses and reflections -- that's what I'm peddling here. In case anybody was wondering. Hey, my ego must really be getting out of control. I've already referred to myself in the third person three times. James Cameron, look out. But, really, flaws aside, "Swimming Pool" is pretty damn juicy, and is certainly a gorgeously-made thing. Here's the setup: a successful, middle-aged British woman mystery writer (we're clearly meant to think "Ruth Rendell" and... posted by Michael at July 6, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Free Reads -- Emily Bearn on Barry White
Friedrich -- The Telegraph's Emily Bearn once visited Barry White at his black-and-gold San Diego mansion. The legend, it's pleasing to learn, knew how to make the lady feel good: He plied me with sweet, Lebanese cakes (brought in on a gold plate by his son, Kevin); he invited me to touch his Steinway piano ("Feel it, sweetheart. It feels good"); and he frequently interrupted me to announce in a deep, syrupy baritone: "I like your questions, baby." Some of us can say, "Feel it, sweetheart. It feels good" persuasively, and some of us, alas, just can't. Bearn recalls the visit here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments