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  1. Yet More Elsewhere
  2. "Envy," Immortality and Genes
  3. More Elsewhere
  4. DVD Journal: "Adaptation"
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  6. Free Reads -- Brian on Arts Subsidies
  7. Charlie B Part 4
  8. Always Drive the Speed Limit
  9. Free Reads -- Harold Bloom
  10. Free Reads -- Phillip De Vous on Portland

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Friday, July 25, 2003

Yet More Elsewhere
Friedrich -- Good god, but I'm in a happy, link-y mood this week. And why fight it, eh? * Virginia Postrel has been thinking about technology and aesthetics. Her new book on the topic is "The Substance of Style" and is buyable here. (I have a copy but haven't gotten into it yet.) She gives Wired magazine a sample of her thinking here, and I suspect that many 2Blowhards visitors will find her p-o-v attractive: All of us must give up the cultural baggage we've inherited from the romantics, who set art against tech, and feeling against reason; from the modernists, who treated ornament as crime and commerce as corruption; and from the efficiency experts, who valued function while disdaining form. You go, cyber-aesthete girl. She includes some interesting facts, too: "The number of graphic designers in the US has grown tenfold in a generation, to an estimated 150,000." You know, there is a heck of a lot of design around these days, isn't there. Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily, here. And here's a q&a David Womack did with Postrel for Gain magazine. * David Sucher, who took some time away from his terrific urban-design blog City Comforts in order to put finishing touches on a new edition of his book, announces that he's finally done -- with this edition of the book, anyway. In his I'm-back posting here, he includes a link to a PDF file that'll give you a taste of what the book is like. I recommend the book strongly. It's full of good perceptions and helpful ideas, all of which couldn't be more down to earth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

"Envy," Immortality and Genes
Michael: Have you heard of an essay titled “Envy” that’s causing some buzz in the literary world? Appearing in the U.K. magazine Granta, it is the work of Kathryn Chetkovich, who apparently for several years was the girlfriend of Jonathan Franzen. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit I don’t read Granta, and I learned of all this from a story in the L.A. Times, which you can read here.) The envy in question occurred when Mr. Franzen’s book, “The Corrections,” became a big success and Mr. Franzen’s writing career came to greatly outshine that of Ms. Chetkovich. Which is not to slight Ms. Chetkovich’s own career; she was the recipient of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award in 1998 and has published several well-regarded works. But one of Ms. Chetkovich’s comments quoted in the story caught my attention: I was 40, then 41, then 42 years old. I had no children, the husband I had thought I would be with forever was gone, the father I had always assumed would one day really want to know me was dead, and I had no career to speak of. A few years ago I read an essay on the topic of immortality. Its point was that while humankind’s hopes in this regard have historically rested on having children or on religion, today a new strategy—fame—is making a strong showing in the immortality sweepstakes. Ms. Chetkovich’s essay would certainly seem to be exhibit #1 for this theory. If you think I am distorting her motives, check out this passage: …as sections [of Mr. Franzen’s novel] were finished they flew almost immediately into print, and just as immediately, the phone would begin to ring with congratulatory messages, comparisons to dead writers and to living writers whose reputations were so established they might as well be dead.[emphasis added] I think there’s not much doubt Ms. Chetkovich has at least literary immortality in her gunsights. (Actually, what’s kind of amusing, given the flap this piece has caused in the U.K., is that by writing it she has successfully leveraged her envy into more fame and notoriety than she had previously achieved by writing fiction! Oh, well, any port in a storm.) Pondering over this little comedy, however, I found myself thinking about evo-bio. As you are well aware, I’ve been coming up to speed on the whole topic for the last year or so. It certainly gives fairly elegant explanations for a number of issues in history, politics, culture, etc. However, in some ways it is a very odd field, intellectually. It starts from the hard-to-argue-with Darwinian notion that genes that promote behavior encouraging their own successful reproduction stick around and spread through populations, while those that don’t, er, don’t. However, having put forth this notion, evo-bio goes on to spend a great deal of time attempting to explain situations that—on their face, anyway—seem to contradict this overarching observation. (One example from many: the persistence of homosexuality in the population, which one might... posted by Friedrich at July 25, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

More Elsewhere
Friedrich -- * Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes (here) points out that the first-rate (and largely jargon-free) British art magazine Modern Painters has a revamped website here. They don't give much away for free, that's for sure. But there's enough on display so surfers can do a little taste-testing. * Readers perplexed (as I often am) by the way the words "liberal" and "conservative" get used in America might find this passage from Jonah Goldberg's current column (here) helpful: In America it's true that conservatives want to defend traditional arrangements but our traditional arrangements are defined by classically liberal institutions. This is why Hayek admired American conservatives even though he distrusted European ones — because American conservatives are determined to defend the institutions which keep us free. American liberals are determined to protect the "advances" they believe keep us "progressive." * A new blog-discovery for me, Gerard Van der Leun's American Digest (here) has a freewheeling, recess-time quality that I find hard to resist. Long on brains, information and ideas, too. For fun displays of blogging fireworks, try this posting on the anti-war poets (here), or this one on what Gerard amusingly calls "media-induced ADD" (here) * In his Home Video column for the NYTimes (here), Peter Nichols includes some useful reminders about how important the DVD/videocassette markets are for moviemakers. In the first half of the year, video revenue was up 16% even while box office receipts were down by 4 percent. "Movies routinely make more money (sometimes twice as much) on video than in theaters," Nichols writes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

DVD Journal: "Adaptation"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Am I the only person in the world not dazzled by the two Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze collaborations, "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation"? Points conceded for originality, cleverness, and overall unusualness -- sigh -- lordy I found both of them tedious. "Malkovich"? I was amused by the set-up, then spent the rest of the movie wondering if they were ever going to get around to doing something with it. I just finished watching "Adaptation." Most of it, anyway -- by the final 30 minutes I was leaning heavily on the fast-forward button. Pretty cleanly executed, though I couldn't have cared less one way or the other. And there wasn't even a cute setup to be amused by. But I'm sure I'm not the movie's best audience; my appetite for smartypants conceptual hijinks is pretty limited, and the sweaty, insecure, anxiety-ridden genius-type protagonist almost always fails to charm me. (Haven't gone to a new Woody Allen movie in years and years.) But who is the movie's audience? My guess: McSweeney's fans ("Me? I wouldn't know how not to be self-referential!!!"), Upper West Siders, and suburban parents who still think of themselves as hipsters -- the new Woody Allen crowd, I suppose. But I'm being cruel and uncharitable, and should feel ashamed of myself for saying such things. And I do. Feel ashamed. Hey, did you notice my Charlie Kaufman-style move in those last few sentences? Being mean, then regretful, then repentant -- but leaving it all in! Because, you see, the usual thing is to take that kind of stuff out! Snicker snicker, snort snort. Ain't I a post-postmodern wiz? Are you a fan? If so, can you explain your enjoyment a bit? If not, any thoughts about why so many people seem to love the films? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Good News
Friedrich -- * I don't spend a lot of time surfing the (yawn) political blogs simply because I find (yawn) politics such a yawn. But when I do surf them, I'm often surprised how good many of them are. Jim Miller (here) is beyond first-class -- why doesn't he appear in my morning paper? Catallaxy Files (here) is always provocative and often jazzily written. Andrew Norton, for example, describes an evening spent at a university conference. "For people who insist on 'critiquing' and 'problematising' everyone else, they seemed rather reluctant to accept criticism," he marvels. * Paul Williams has a new issue of his minimagazine Cipher Culture up here. He's got an agile, musing, loop-the-loop mind that never seems to lose its poise. In an essay about tourists vs. travelers, not only does he not take the expected point of view, he pulls the whole question inside out: "The search for 'authentic' local cultures been rendered impossible, says Naomi Klein in No Logo, by global corporate capitalism. Oh - the irony - that No Logo has become the bible for English-speaking travellers searching for themselves! But wait - the belief remains that authentic cultures haven't completely disappeared." * Best of all, Yahmdallah is posting once again, here. He reports that his spirits are in OK shape, and as he tears through reviews of movies and books he scatters "plot spoiler alerts" all over the place -- always a good sign. I'm thrilled he's back. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Free Reads -- Brian on Arts Subsidies
Friedrich -- One of the innumerable postings I haven't yet been able to pull myself together to write is on the theme of "Government arts funding ought to be cut off -- and not because I dislike the arts, but for the good of the arts." The NEA has done some very fine things and it's also sponsored some very bad art, but in my posting I focus on neither of these facts. What I dwell on instead is the bureaucratizing of the arts; the spawning and feeding of a huge arts-administrator class; the politicizing of art. Funny how it's all happened during the exact years that the NEA has been in existence, no? Let's pull that feeding tube, and enjoy watching that awful beast die. Part 2 of this unwritten posting would argue that lots of arts support is inevitably needed -- while the market is great, it's still hard to dispute that much terrific art doesn't do so well in the market. So let's have lots more private-sector arts support. I picture myself teasing Hollywood especially. Imagine the arts foundation that Eisner, Streisand, Spielberg and Geffen could put together. Why don't they stop bitching about what the government doesn't do and start sponsoring the kind of art they themselves approve of? Identity-centric performance art? Go wild, avant-gardists. Not only could no taxpayer complain, it'd act as an incentive for art-loving righties to pull together a competing arts foundation -- bring on the nautical watercolors and duck paintings! If Latina lesbians think their own art isn't getting enough support -- well, start your own damn foundation. May the NEA die, and may a thousand competing private arts foundations flourish, in other words. Brian Micklethwait's 'way ahead of me on all this, I'm pleased to report. You can read his pro-art arguments against government subsidies for the arts here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Charlie B Part 4
Friedrich -- Ain't it always the way? The moment I pull my sorry self together and put up links to the first three installments of Charlie B's why-didn't-I-think-of-that-myself "50 Things That Made Me What I Am" series, he goes and puts up Part 4. (It's readable here.) It's a fascinating posting on the topic of the gay-porn artist Tom of Finland, whose work clearly means more than a little something to Charlie. Full disclosure: I admit that I'm a fan of Tom of Finland's too. Talk about an artist who did what he did once and for all, and made it his own. Even if the objects of my own desire are of a different sex, I find that there's very little art that's so direct and unapologetic about the way the male erotic imagination works -- its love of the exaggerated and the heroic, its dick-centeredness, the way raunch and rapture overlap and blend, the combo of sweetness and grottiness ... Has there ever been a straight artist who was so eloquent and direct about the male erotic urge? Bukowski, maybe. A couple of film directors: Bertrand Blier and Marco Ferreri. A few comic-book artists: John ("Horny Biker Sluts") Howard, especially. But many others? It seems that guys, and even guy artists, tend to moderate their tendencies when they have to take gals into account. Which reminds me of an exchange I once witnessed. A woman said to a gay friend of mine, "Why do so many of you gay guys tend to be so promiscuous? Is it something about gayness?" And my gay friend said, "No, it's something about guyness." Did I ever tell you that I once went to a movie theater to see a documentary about Tom of Finland? Being very careful to keep my eyes to myself. And not turning around to check out what all the creaking, groaning, and gasping was about ten rows behind me. A not-bad documentary, by the way, now purchasable as a DVD here. Fun to learn that Tom was drawing what moved him deeply -- he was doing what he loved -- and that he eventually managed to make a living at it. Imagine that. Tom's work raises some fun questions, too. For instance: why is "objectification" objectionable if it's done by men to women, but not if it's done by men to men? Tom of Finland's work is nothing if not flamboyantly, insistently objectifying. Yet you don't hear too many political complaints about it. Do we conclude that only gay guys are allowed to have the fun of objectifying? Or is it perhaps that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with objectification? (My own hunch is that objectifying is simply part of what the erotic imagination does, whether it's a question of the male or female, straight or gay erotic imagination. Indulge your erotic imagination, in other words, and there's going to be some objectifying going on. Deal with it. Or, even better, learn to enjoy it.) You can check... posted by Michael at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Always Drive the Speed Limit
Michael: There is something you should know before you get in a car with me. I have been officially designated as a bad driver by the State of California. I got a letter a few weeks ago from our friendly Department of Motor Vehicles pointing out that I had received four speeding tickets in the past year. They are keeping an eye on me. Now, I’ll grant you that I’ve been driving and speeding for 31 years. What I haven’t done over those years is harm anyone. (Okay, in three decades I had one accident that was my fault—I was following a 16-year-old driver through a yellow light when she was suddenly gripped with a bad conscience and jammed on the brakes; I ended up tapping her rear bumper. Minimal damage and no injuries.) But as the recipient of many, many speeding tickets I have made a handsome contribution to the financial well being of countless auto insurance companies. They smile toothily as they see me coming, knowing that they will be able to charge me premium rates without having to pay out for damages. In California they have an institution known as drivers’ school, which allows you to keep one ticket off your record every few years by doing roughly eight hours of penance. Twenty years ago I took advantage of this and attended a course taught by the former head of the L.A.P.D. motorcycle squad, the main arm of traffic enforcement. This guy looked and sounded like George Kennedy, and he had a very persuasive spiel. To wit, that under his regime, the tickets handed out by his minions had the very specific purpose of negatively reinforcing behavior that was leading to serious accidents. He would look at his police department maps, spot where fatalities were occurring repeatedly, analyze what violation of the law was causing these fatalities, and then consistently ticket that behavior to educate the driving public. It sounded great. The only problem is, over the intervening years, when I have questioned the officers handing me tickets—“Been having a lot of accidents around here, officer?”— the gendarmes tend to get a sort of glazed look in their eyes. Their answer, of course, when pressed is "no." Most traffic enforcement as it has been practiced on me can only be described as “lifestyle” enforcement. To wit, the locals have complained about speeding in front of their homes, it lowers their property values. On occasion, I have been the victim of out-and-out “speed traps”—like the one I blundered into while driving on a rural highway near the California coast. I guess my speeding must have endangered the local grape crop growing on the hillsides, since there was no foot or auto traffic to speak of and the police officer reported no recent rash of accidents as he very politely wrote me up. But I’m just a self-justifying loser, right? (I suppose that goes without saying.) Nonetheless, googling for something the other day I came across an interesting column... posted by Friedrich at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Free Reads -- Harold Bloom
Friedrich -- Harold Bloom: the Last Good Critic, or a tiresome old gasbag? Jennie Rothenberg interviews him for The Atlantic online, here. Sample passage: I left the English department twenty-six years ago. I just divorced them and became, as I like to put it, Professor of Absolutely Nothing. To a rather considerable extent, literary studies have been replaced by that incredible absurdity called cultural studies which, as far as I can tell, are neither cultural nor are they studies. But there has always been an arrogance, I think, of the semi-learned ... And, of course, we have this nonsense called Theory with a capital T, mostly imported from the French and now having evilly taken root in the English-speaking world. And that, I suppose, also has encouraged absurd attitudes toward what we used to call imaginative literature. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Free Reads -- Phillip De Vous on Portland
Friedrich -- Oh, it's a conundrum, isn't it? I mean, here I am, all in favor of strong property rights and more modest government. Yet here I am as well, a fan of two heavily-regulated cities, Portland and Santa Barbara. Too bad about all those drive-you-nuts rules -- yet they sure do have nice downtowns. Phillip De Vous at the Acton Institute warns that the New Urbanism is in danger of playing footsie with regulation-lovin' socialists. Why, just look at Portland! A few readers tell him to chill, and that Portland's a nice place. Sample De Vous passage: In recent years there has been no better example of the pernicious effects of the sustainable development and smart growth agendas than the city of Portland, Oregon. So bad are the effects of the smart-growth plan adopted by Portland, that in policy circles the term “Portlandization” has been coined as a shorthand reference for a set of policies that lead to increased housing costs, artificially inflated property values, lower rates of home ownership... Sample reader comment: I am having trouble understanding your objection to the Urban planning that has occured in Portland over the past few decades. You state that one problem has been the increased housing costs. I assume you are referring to the increased cost of housing in the city and areas within the land use regulation district around Portland. It seems to me that this could also be looked at as a positive development. Resolvable or not? You can read the article here. Link thanks to John Ray, here. The Acton Institute's publication Markets & Morality also features some other pieces on the New Urbanism here and here. Best, Michael UPDATE: J.W. of Forager23 reports from Burlington, here.... posted by Michael at July 24, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Free Reads -- Alexander Zaitchik on Romance Writers
Friedrich -- One of the many cuckoo notions college lit studies left me with was that the people who write literary fiction (instead of pop or genre fiction, let alone do any other kind of writing -- TV, self-help, technical advice...) do so because they're better writers, and maybe better people too. Not a matter of preference or choice, in other words, but an inevitable consequence of brainpower, taste, discernment and talent. Imagine my surprise when I met dumb literary writers and smart genre writers, and when I discovered the important role that family money (as well as networking and connections) plays in the literary world. Imagine my further surprise when I discovered that I often like genre writers as people more than I like literary writers. The mystery and crime-writing scene, for example, has got nothing to apologize for where brains are concerned. Neither has the romance-writing scene, which, the few times I looked into it, I found to be full of tough, smart, industrious gals doing their best to deliver some pleasure for your entertainment buck. Like many ex-English-lit types who spend time in or close to the publishing world, I wound up with 'way less respect for the lit celebs than I once expected to have, and 'way more for the low-key pros. So I was pleased to run across a good NY Press story by Alexander Zaitchek (with help from Adam Bulger) about the romance-writing scene. It's remarkably unsnarky, and full of up-to-date information and surprises -- romances have become popular in France, for instance. Sample passage: The biggest romance subgenre at the moment—and the one taken most seriously outside of romance fandom—is chick-lit, and Jennifer Crusie is one of its rising stars. As the RWA faithful ate strawberry cheesecake, Crusie delivered the conference’s keynote address, in which she recounted her flight from academia. "I’m an intellectual damn it," she remembers thinking. "I’m not gonna write a cheeseball romance." But write one she did. And she’s damn proud of it. "The world doesn’t need any more writers, it needs storytellers." At this, the crowd of storytellers erupted in cheers. Hey, I've read a Jennifer Cruisie book. I enjoyed it. Zaitchik's piece is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 23, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Free Reads -- City Journal
Friedrich -- Hard to believe, but City Journal, one of the very best magazines anywhere, puts all its content up for free on the Web. How did we get so lucky, what have we done to deserve it, etc etc. Due gratitude expressed: hey, there's a new issue out, and the table of contents is here. Hours of good reading. I've only been able to do some skimming so far, but already can recommend John McWhorter on hiphop, Heather Mac Donald on Homeland Security, Kay Hymowitz on Michael Moore, and especially Brian Anderson's piece on NY senator Charles Schumer's campaign to change the criteria by which judges are chosen. (Go to the table of contents and do a search on "Schumerism," or just click here.) There's much more that looks tantalizing too: Myron Magnet, Theodore Dalyrymple ... I'm sure you won't want to miss Steven Malanga's piece on how L.A. is making things tough for small businesses, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 23, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Friedrich -- * Steve Sailer is best-known for his brainy essays about race and genetics (here's a good recent example), but he's just as brainy and down-to-earth when he writes about movies. I hope he won't mind me lifting a long passage from his current UPI review of "Northfork":At age 31, Michael and Mark Polish are still in the extended prime of what novelist Milan Kundera calls the "lyric age." They possess the young artist's obsession with finding beautiful patterns in the world and revealing them with hallucinatory emphasis. There's something spiritual about their search for the perfect camera angle to show that even in the dingiest of diners, the ceiling lamps recede with a lavish regard for the laws of perspective that would have delighted Van Eyck or Vermeer. Nonetheless, audiences watch movies for plot and personality, not perspective.There's more worldly wisdom in that paragraph than in entire issues of Film Comment, and no shortage of film smarts either. You can read the whole review here. * Aaron Haspel has been up to some entertainingly malicious no-good again. Pull together a little courage and check out his "blogger's lexicon" here -- oops, I can see that I've transgressed more than a few times myself. Reading Aaron is like going in for a brain tuneup. * Charlie B. has said some awfully nice things about 2Blowhards on his blog Here Inside. So I hope I'm not embarrassing anyone by subjecting them to an overly-slobbery mutual admiration society, but Here Inside has been one of my favorite reads since I first ran across it a few months ago. At the moment, Charlie's big project is an ongoing series, "50 things that made me what I am." #1? Donna Summer. Followed by Penguin Books and Paul Tillich -- Charlie is one very interesting guy, to say the least, and the series so far reads like a classic small autobiography. Posting #1 in the series is here; posting #2 is here; and #3 is here * I also love reading View from the Foothills, Will and Jane Duquette's blog, which day after day demonstrates that sunny spirits and brains don't have to be strangers. (An assumption the NYC crowd I live among is much too quick to make.) Deb English, a first-class reader and regular Foothills contributor, has read Quentin Bell's bio of Virginia Woolf and passes along her thoughts about it here. She also reports that she's come around on Ngaio Marsh (here). Will, meanwhile, has released a new version of his software package Notebook v. 1.1 (here) -- if only he had a version for those of us still getting by with Mac OS 9. And he has finally licked the old how-best-to-backup challenge (here). * Have you heard that Penthouse is likely to stop publishing sometime soon? Felix Salmon, just back from holiday, compares the latest issues of Penthouse and Loaded and offers some reflections here. There isn't a smarter observer of the media scene around. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 22, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

East Meets West
Michael: Ever since you quoted from Alistair Shearer's The Hindu Vision: Forms of the Formless (in your posting Hindu Art which can be read here), I’ve been chewing over the contrast that Mr. Shearer draws between Indian and Western sculpture. Is Indian sculpture really so completely opposed to the Western sculptural tradition? I even made an hour-long trek from the wilderness of the western San Fernando Valley where I live to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to visit their collection of Indian sculpture so I could check out the evidence “in the flesh.” My conclusion after this visit is that while these two sculptural traditions obviously derive their content from different cultures, religions, etc., I would assert they are both governed by the same formal logic. In other words, good Indian sculpture is good for the same reasons as good Western sculpture. Sculpture is, of course, about images that actually occupy real three-dimensional space. Historically, sculpture comes in two main varieties: carved (usually from stone or wood) or modeled (usually in a soft substance which is eventually replaced with metal). As Michelangelo put it, there is sculpture that comes about from “taking away” and sculpture that comes about from “adding on.” Old Mike was in no doubt that the “taking away” variety was the dominant form. While this is a value judgment that we don’t have to follow, it derives from a logical view of how the two different traditions engage space and treat human flesh. Spatially, carved stone sculpture has to work inside the limits of the un-carved stone mass. Traditionally, this has set up a dialogue between the carved image and the shape of the block it was carved from. Why? The essence of a stone sculpture is the conversion of flesh-and-bone into stone. Thus the transience of human flesh is dignified with the weight and permanency of stone. But this sense of transubstantiation can only work if a sense of the original stone block survives in the final sculpture. This sense of "stoniness" is more or less the same thing as being aware, if only dimly, of the material has been removed to make the image. This awareness of the removed material creates a sort of charged space around carved sculpture--or, at least, in those carved sculptures that communicate a feeling for the size and shape of their original blocks. Sculpture as Boulder: Front & Side Views of a Ganeesha Sculpture These sculptures of the Hindu god Ganeesha above illustrate how a carved sculptural image, designed as a series of rectangular masses, can preserve the mental qualities of stone—mass, weight, permanence. Of course, many design elements are the result of the specifically Indian religious tradition. The basic symmetry and frontality of the image are intended to suggest the eternal being of divinity, while the slight deviations from symmetry (the trunk held to one side, the different postures of the feet, etc.) suggest life. The decorative treatment of the back plane suggests its symbolic nature as... posted by Friedrich at July 22, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Cars or People?
Friedrich -- For whose benefit are suburbs built -- people? Or their cars? Lisa Rein and Robin Shulman report in the July 19 Washington Post that Americans continue to buy more cars per family, creating ever-more-challenging design problems, and causing ever more changes in the way suburbs look. Sample passage: Having so many cars has changed the aesthetics of how people live. Builders say they now must design two-car-garage homes at a minimum -- though three is often preferred -- and allow for wider driveways for all those vehicles. "The real demand is around four parking spaces. Or five," said John Regan, executive vice president for the Christopher Cos., a leading developer of high-end homes. "There's a lot of frustrated Fairfax County people who bought homes and can't park [at] them." The additional concrete comes at a price: fewer trees and less grass. "You have a lot more impervious space," Regan acknowledged. "Instead of it being a garden, you have two concrete pads." The piece doesn't seem to be available online for free, alas. Best, Michael UPDATE: Felix, a more resourceful researcher than I am, found the piece online. It can be read here.... posted by Michael at July 22, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 21, 2003

"The Housekeeper"
Friedrich -- I wasn't expecting much of The Housekeeper, the new Claude Berri movie about a middle-aged, recently-dumped man and the young housekeeper who comes into his life, but I wound up having a pretty good time. As a film critic friend of mine used to say, "it ain't much" -- but the film works that "ain't much" territory very resourcefully. In story terms, what you fully expect to happen happens, and often in ways you can semi-predict too. But that's OK, because what the film is really about is middle-age, and part of what it's saying is that even if you're familiar with how things go and how they play out -- even if you've earned some worldweariness -- you're still likely to be encounter a few surprises. A few. I'll try to spare you the film-reviewer and plot-synopsis stuff. What kept me watching contentedly were the film's unforced bits of observation, and the open-endedness of the writing and the performing. Tiny moments of rue, grumpiness, humiliation and pleasure; scenes that may or may not come to a point ... You can take note or not. Most of the people in the audience seemed smiley and charmed; I laughed out loud quite a lot. Jean-Pierre Bacri, who plays the lead, is wonderful. His character may be balding and his face may have more than its share of character, but he wears it all suavely. He's got style (French men age differently than American men do) and he's no square. But he's hit an age when the creaks and pains are piling up; when it's grown hard to kick the tired butt into gear; when women decline politely but firmly to flirt ... Bacri's sneakiness is witty and touching; he lets the character have both his dignity and his vulnerability, which he shows us in microscopic flashes. Emilie Dequenne, who plays the housekeeper, is wonderful in a different way. Where Bacri is slyly skillful, she just is. Her housekeeper is half-plain, half-pretty -- as well as fervent, klutzy, beaming, desperate, passionate, and silly. (She's also a number of un-toned pounds heavier than any young American actress in such a role would be allowed to be.) She's a convincingly squirmy, unformed post-adolescent, both enchanting and banal. And she has a dewy glow -- she's rather egg-y. The moments of attraction and stress between the two characters are awfully well-done. He likes his jazz, his books, and his quiet time; she loves rap, dancing and the beach. He keeps up a kind of hipster courtliness; she's all about her youthful disarray, her unbleached roots, and her disobediant bra straps. The film has a lot of odd, stray elements -- it's rumpled, and it doesn't make too big a deal out of anything. Part of what's refreshing about the film is how un-punched-up it is. Even when some of the shots seem poorly exposed or incorrectly white-balanced, you like it for refusing to get too worked up. These moments feel as though someone... posted by Michael at July 21, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Why Entrepreneurs Make For More Inspiring Reading
Michael: Thanks for the link in your posting, The Contempo Trade Book-Publishing Biz, an Intro to The NY Times Magazine's July 20 profile on Bertelsmann’s Peter Olson. The profile lays out the dynamics of consolidation and cost control in a “creative” business showing little or no growth. However, as I pointed out in a comment, the story was a bit long on personalities and a bit short on notions of how to promote growth. (Or, failing that, even an insightful analysis of why such growth wasn’t happening naturally.) As a refreshing counterpoint, I would offer a link to a story from the L.A. Times (which you can read here) on a businessman in another creative industry suffering from static or even declining markets. Titled “Comics' Unlikely Hero” it profiles Mark Alessi, who has plowed a good deal of the fortune he made in software into a comic book startup. Mr. Alessi, a classic entrepreneur (in contrast to Mr. Olson, a classic manager) is bursting with ideas about how to bring new creativity and audiences into the fusty reaches of comicdom: CrossGen, in a bland office park just north of Tampa, Fla., stands as a lifelong fan's response to what he thinks is wrong with the comics industry. Alessi says there's plenty, starting with a retail network that in 50 years has shrunk from hundreds of thousands of newsstands and corner variety stores to 2,500 specialty shops, many of them "at the end of a seedy strip mall under a broken overhead light — no place any parent would want his kid going on his bicycle." At $2.95 an issue, many of today's monthly books offer more lavish art, color and printing than their 10-cent counterparts of the 1950s. But the price and the often adult-oriented content are barriers to new young readers. And so, Alessi says, the industry increasingly tightens its circle around a core market of young adult males and collectors. Beyond that, he notes that burnout is rife among the mainly low-paid and isolated freelance artists and writers who create the books, making for high turnover and a weak sense of professionalism. The CrossGen founder has said all this before in numerous industry forums, winning himself a reputation as a scold out of all proportion to his longevity in the business or his company's 5% market share. Wouldn't You Rather Be In Comics Than in Book Publishing, Anyway? Who knows whether Mr. Alessi can shake up the world of comics successfully but he certainly is an example of why entrepreneurs with a unique business vision make for more inspiring reading than do the Peter Olsons of the corporate media world. I mean, you gotta like this guy's style: "I am the worst loser you will ever meet," Alessi said during an interview this week in his cramped office at CrossGen. "You may beat me, and if you do, I hope I will be gracious. But we will play again." Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at July 20, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments