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Saturday, August 2, 2003

Pic of the Day
Michael: I was leafing through a book of Holbein portraits I own when I came across this picture of the French ambassador to the court of Henry VIII. H. Holbein, Charles de Solier, Sire de Morette, c. 1534 Hey, talk about not making ‘em the way they used to. Can you imagine a portrait painted in the past, say, 25 years having the same kind of impact this one has? Is it just that people in the 16th century dressed better than we do? Is it that we no longer consider it socially acceptable to display weapons, even ceremonial ones, in our portraits? Has the whole notion of masculine authority been rendered culturally unacceptable? (Admit it, isn’t this the ultimate artistic statement of the expression you used to see on grown-up men’s faces when you went to retrieve your ball from their perfectly manicured lawns?) Or is it simply an erosion in human dignity? This portrait actually has more expression than most of Holbein’s; he obviously considered a monumental presentation of the topology of the ‘composed’ human face to be sufficient subject matter for serious painting. Why is it that we don’t? Anyway, thought you’d get a kick out of the old Frenchman. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 2, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friedrich -- * Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber takes a break from politics and philosophy to post about some of the fiction he enjoys: crime fiction (here), and what he calls "philosophical romances" (here). Good observations from Henry, followed by many fun musings from commenters. I couldn't resist taking part in the crime fiction thread myself. * Aaron Haspel looks over a lovely Thomas Nashe poem with an appreciative, knowledgeable and beady eye, here. * John Derbyshire writes in NRO about the dangers of overanalysis and the bliss of not having to give something too much focused thought, here. His lucid piece reminded me of this long interview with Roger Scruton, here. * I own and and love a book of pre-WWII surfing photos by the dentist-surfer Don James called Surfing San Onofre to Point Dune (buyable here), and have leafed through a number of other such collections. But I've known sadly little about surfing photography more generally. Now, thanks to Sebastian Smee writing for the Telegraph here, I know a bit more. His subject is LeRoy Grannis, who's now in his mid-80s and is best-known for the photos he took in the 1960s, when he helped find and set the style for some of the original surf magazines. Here's Grannis' own site. Grannis, by the way, worked for Pacific Bell for 40 years. I wonder if he ever got an NEA grant. Heather MacDonald * Luke Ford interviews the City Journal reporter/writer Heather MacDonald here. She's impressive (in a pleasingly modest way), and thoughtful on some surprising topics -- eloquent about what it's like to come from L.A., and smart about what the decon-and-politics profs did to literature. As well as being straight-shootin' about how she stopped being an Ivy liberal and became a conservative instead, of course. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Oakeshott on Conversation
Friedrich -- After much too long an interval, it's time for another passage from my favorite philosopher, Michael Oakeshott. (His great book Rationalism in Politics can be bought here.) This is from an essay entitled "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind." In a conversation the participants are not engaged in an inquiry or a debate; there is no 'truth' to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought. They are not concerned to inform, to persuade, or to refute one another, and therefore the cogency of their utterances does not depend upon their all speaking in the same idiom; they may differ without disagreeing. In conversation ... thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another, responding to each other's movements and provoking one another to fresh exertions. Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present; nobody cares what will become of them when they have played their part. There is no symposiarch or arbiter, not even a doorkeeper to examine credentials. Every entrant is taken at its face-value and everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation... This, I believe, is the appropriate image of human intercourse, appropriate because it recognizes the qualities, the diversities, and the proper relationships of human utterances. As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but wherever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages. It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, to make discoveries about the world, or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian. Gad: makes my heart flutter and my eyes water with gratitude, pleasure, and delight. (Between you and me, 2Blowhards seems to me to be one the places where just this kind of conversation takes place. All credit and thanks for that goes to the many people who stop by, and especially to the handful who pause to comment.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Web Brilliance
Friedrich -- The time has finally come for traditional artists to give up the fight. To just lay down those clunky old analog tools. What's the point in carrying on a battle that's already lost? OK, so I'm raving and overstating. Still, thanks to links supplied by a friend in the ad biz, I've been looking at the websites of a couple of brilliant digi-designers, and my mind and eyes are dizzy from doing happy backflips. (I was struck so dumb -- in a good way -- by this stuff that I thought of titling this posting "Holy Fuck!!!!") Word to the wise: fast connections only. * Yugo Nakamura's site, here. Imagine a horizontal line about a half inch up from the bottom of your screen; there's a line of dots there. Run your cursor over them, click on a few -- and enter mischievous miniature universes that are like cyber versions of Mallarme poems. * And a page of trippy, gorgeous Flash (I assume) things by the British designer Daniel Brown (and some collaborators) here. Be sure not to miss my two faves, here and here. Lava lamps, only about a zillion times better. Whew: interactivity, beauty, wit, play, moods. And more art 'n' talent 'n' creativity on display here than in -- OK, I am raving. Still: pretty darn cool. Eager to know your reactions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, August 1, 2003

Friedrich -- * Philip Hensher thinks that the glory days of the French cinema are long gone, here. I find it harder than he does to sneeze at such current talents as Breillat, Ozon, Denis and Assayas. But he's written a drily funny piece that's well worth reading. * I managed to avoid the recent Matthew Barney extravaganza at the Guggenheim, so I've got no opinion about it myself. But I found this acidic NY Press review of the show (here) by Christian Viveros-Faune very amusing. He gets off some hard-to-resist cracks about Conceptualism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Education Reform and the Lessons of History
Michael: Have you come across Diane Ravitch’s book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform?” It’s a history of the internecine struggles over the curriculum and styles of pedagogy of public high schools over the past 110 years. I came away from the book feeling depressed at the eagerness of the upper reaches of the teaching profession to indulge in various forms of social engineering. I also came away angry at the arrogance of their disregard for many of the children they were supposed to be nurturing. However, since most of the people discussed in the book are long dead (if, in some cases, still quite influential) it was hard to get beyond thinking “a plague on all their houses!” and putting the book on the shelf. But a few months later I find myself thinking that my first reaction was a bit hasty. It dawned on me that understanding the various permutations of the high school (and the education theories embodied in those permutations) holds important lessons for those of us interested in trying to improve the performance of the public schools. So bear with me while I sketch out a little historical context. Public high schools were, in their first, Victorian incarnation, public versions of private college preparatory schools. The basic curriculum was derived from the college prep schools, and thus strongly academic. In the latter 19th century, high school students were largely children from urban middle- and upper-middle-class families, often admitted via entrance exams designed to screen out the inadequately prepared. These early high schools were elite institutions: in the year 1900, only 6.4 percent of the nation’s 17-year-olds were high school graduates. Drop out rates were high, in part because failure to graduate held no particular stigma. (In the 1880s, even the Wright Brothers, despite being academically gifted middle class students, never quite got around to getting their diplomas.) So what was the basic classroom paradigm of the Victorian high school? The teacher presented the material to the students, tested them to see if they had mastered it, gave them a grade and moved on. Frankly, this was a pretty reasonable approach, given the “social facts” of the surrounding situation—after all, the children had been screened to ensure that they were ready for and capable of handling this type of instruction, the use of grades would presumably motivate them to work hard and give them feedback about their progress, and if it turned out that high school was not working out for an individual, he or she could drop out without stigma. In short, high school was a way up the social ladder for those willing (and prepared) to endure its rigors, with no apparent “downside.” However, the Victorian-model high school did not last past the First World War. This was not because it was perceived as a failure; on the contrary, the model was adopted on a massive scale. (As Stanford education historian David B. Tyack has observed, Americans built one new high... posted by Friedrich at August 1, 2003 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Free Reads -- Toni Bentley
Friedrich -- Ah, the ballerina Toni Bentley! Sexy, passionate, brilliant -- and I've never seen her dance. I'm a huge fan of her writing, though. Bentley was a Balanchine ballerina, but began writing about dance even before she hurt herself and had to retire. To my shame, I've read only one of her books, Sisters of Salome (buyable here), but I thought it was one of the best new books I've read in recent years. From the opening chapter, I was full of excitement and admiration. I was thinking, "This is sensational!," and "Why aren't lots of people talking about this?" But, a few nice reviews aside, they weren't. A sign of ... what? How peculiar my tastes are? (Always a possibility.) How clueless the books press is? (My generally-preferred theory.) But maybe uptightness played a role too, because what the book is about is dancing and nudity. Really: it's a high-toned, refined, intellectual (though earthy) book about dancing and nudity -- one of the clearest, most level-headed and best-informed discussions about the connections between art and sex that I've ever run across. It's a study of the lives of four turn-of-the-century women (that's the 1800/1900 turn, youngsters) who danced the role of Salome in various productions, and who helped give birth to the striptease. What made them do it? What was it like for them? Why then and there? Fascinating stuff, and written about not only with brains and style but rare from-the-inside knowledge and insight. "Rare"? Well, if you look at most movie, theater or dance reviews, you'll notice that even the featured performers don't often get more than a sentence or two -- yet the performers are usually the real reason audiences go to shows. I've read entire biographies of performers that -- while often worthwhile on the lives and personalities of their subjects -- had virtually nothing to say about what made the performer an interesting one. Why should this be so? The answer, I'm convinced, is simple: because writing about performers and performance is hard. There aren't, and have never been, many people who do it well. A fair number of writers can do a decent job of evoking a performer or a performance; some, like Kenneth Tynan, do so beautifully. But being able to discuss the work of performers with the same kind of depth and respect that's often accorded painters and writers is a much rarer talent. The writers I'm aware of who can illuminate from the inside? Just a few: Steve Vineberg in Method Actors (here). Simon Callow in his biographies of Charles Laughton (here) and Orson Welles (here). Eileen Whitfield in her biography of Mary Pickford (here). And Toni Bentley. No surprise that one thing all these writers have in common is that they've been performers themselves. (Without having taken some acting classes, I'd be even less interesting on performers than I already am.) They know what the experience of performing feels like, as well as the kind of work, thought... posted by Michael at July 31, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Puzzle for the Day
Friedrich -- I was reading Ni Vu Ni Connu (here), the blog of a Montreal freelancer named Martine -- tres charmant, and highly recommended. And off the mind wandered ... A good sign, or so I like to think -- certainly, in my case anyway, an indication of a happy mind ... With verrrrrrry limited -- tiny, really -- experience, I have the impression that I rather like French-Canadians, who sometimes seem to combine what's great about the French (food, style, wordliness, charm, artsiness, sexiness) with what's great about North America (informality, lack of pretention). Another one from the Dept. of Overgeneralizations, I know -- but I'm fond of making overgeneralizations, so indulge me please. And now that I'm thinking about it, I realize for the first time that I don't know French-Canadian lit or art much. Barely at all, in fact, though I do like a handful of their movies --"Decline of the American Empire" and "Mon Oncle Antoine" are certainly standouts. Are you familiar with their writers or visual artists? The mind wanders further afield ... It's leaving Montreal ... It's thinking about women ... It's thinking about France ... It's thinking about French women ... Well, OK, not thinking but musing ... And it settles on something that has long puzzled me. Which first requires a bit of a setup. Setup: France is a more hierarchical, more socially conservative place than the U.S. is. Forget the damn nationalized health care for a sec, forget the radical posturing of French intellectuals, forget all the current headlines about immigrants and such. It remains a centralized, tradition-bound, bureaucratized society, anything but the freewheeling go-realize-your-own-destiny, make-of-yourself-what-you-will, land of opportunity that America kinda-sorta-almost is. (Oops: not "America" but "the States." Apologies. Time to attend to the sensitivities of our immense Canadian readership.) Fact: You don't know the meaning of the words "stuffy" and "bourgeois" until you've spent some time in France. One aspect of this -- the aspect that interests me in this posting -- is that France has much more strongly defined sex roles than we do. Men are supposed to do (and be) this, and women are expected to do (and be) that. OK, given all that, here's the puzzle: Why, then, have the States had a much more dynamic feminist movement than France has ever had? It's bizarre, non? American women have had much more open destinies than Frenchwomen for quite a long time -- Google tells me that French women couldn't vote until 1945, and that until 1964 they couldn't even open a bank account without hubby's permission. So where are the French bra-burners, the French lawsuits, the inescapable Women's Studies programs, the endless bulletins from H.R. about what is and isn't permitted? In the early-to-mid-'90s, the States went through a sexual-correctness phase; France laughed. Even granting the existence of the occasional celeb French feminist, the difference in attitudes between here and there is dramatic. Wouldn't you think that French women have a lot more to complain about... posted by Michael at July 31, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Moviegoing: "Bad Boys 2"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Guys' night out last night with Aaron Haspel, the God of the Machine himself (here). What better way to spend such an evening than at a testosterone-fest? So off it was to Bad Boys 2. Ka-boom! The MTV frat-boy movie equivalent of pro wrestling, heavy metal, and monster-car rallies -- I have days when I'm fond of this side of American culture (what are you gonna do, fight it?), and last night was one of them. Funny black-guy stars. Hardware to the max. Dolby to the max. A cop who, as movies cops will, manages despite a cop's salary to live in a nice house on the water in Miami. Chicks in thongs. Homo jokes. A comically exasperated boss. Choppers, car chases, computer-enhanced hyper-action -- all of it pumpin' pumpin' pumpin' to the max, of course. You might buy an issue of Loaded or you might go see "Bad Boys 2" -- no diff that I can see. It's all thwackathwackathwacka/shhhhblam/kapowie, all the time. Even when the movie wasn't living up to itself -- and the whole idea of the new blockbusters seems to be to live up to the hype and excitement of their own trailers -- the spectacle of the audience enjoying itself in a "Fuckin' A!!! Blow that sucker up!!!" way was fun. The movie is a slob's vacation from coherence and subtlety (even of the pop sort), and a perfect accompaniment to a meal of DingDongs washed down with Big Gulps. Like I say, a movie for people whose idea of movies comes entirely from movie trailers, and all in all, like getting in the ring for a few rounds with Mike Tyson, minus only some of the physical pain. My disappointment that the trademark Jerry Bruckheimer-production dialogue lines ("Let's go let's go let's go!!!") never got spoken was alleviated a bit by their inspired new replacement -- "Go go go go go!!!" Afterwards, New York City, despite its bustle, seemed as calm and peaceful as Peoria. Over Indian food and Israeli (!) wine, Aaron and I decided that one of the goals of such movies must be to destroy your finer sensibilities, nuke and pummel IQ points, and eradicate critical and evaluative abilities. And we frightened ourselves for a moment wondering inconclusively about what the rest of the world must think of America when they watch movies like "Bad Boys 2." There really wasn't much else to say about the movie. So we turned to a better topic: Who's the best writer in the blogosphere? Ignoring ideas, politics, etc, and focusing entirely on the writing. Is it Alice Bachini (here)? Brian Micklethwait (here and here)? Alan "Seablogger" Sullivan (here)? Topnotch, god knows, all of them. And, hey, Evan Kirchhof (here) has been even funnier than usual recently. Despite the competition, we finally managed to settle on a winner: Colby Cosh (here). What an energized, productive, funny, and brainy stylist. Why doesn't this man have a regular column at a... posted by Michael at July 30, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friedrich -- * I just noticed that all-around visual guy and occasional 2Blowhards commenter John Leavitt (a guest posting by John is here) now has his own website, here. Check out his illustrations and cartoons. John's got a striking way with Art Nouveau-ish lines and shapes; he's an artist who really knows how to make ink behave. * A brief, casual posting by Lynn Sislo (here) says just about everything that's ever needed to be said about why artists find the idea of socialism so appealing. * Did you know that Denis Dutton, the man behind the great Arts & Letters Daily (here), is an evo-bio/evo-psych fan, as well as an arts buff? As well as much else: philosophy prof, editor of the journal Philosophy and Literature (you can get a free copy here), author/editor of a fascinating book about forgery and the philosophy of art (here) ... Despite his obligations, he sometimes finds time to write, and when he does it's always a treat. Here's a recent essay of his discussing politics from an evo-bio point of view. Vigorous, brainy, organized, and funny -- hard to beat. Link found thanks to the Human Nature Daily Review, here. And here's a long Salon q&a with Dutton. * Do you follow Peter Briffa, who writes the blog PublicInterest (here)? He's one of a kind -- grumpy, goading, sarcastic, reactionary, brusque. Full of entertaining bile, in other words, and (he'll kill me for saying this, but so be it) sweeter and more affable than he probably means to be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 30, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Jeremy Shearmur on Sale
Friedrich -- Another good Teaching Company lecture series has gone on sale, Jeremy Shearmur's Ideas in Politics. I enjoyed the series, and got a lot out of it -- and I say this speaking as someone with a temperamental aversion to politics. Shearmur is an intelligent, organized and modest presenter -- about as helpful as a prof can be. Here, his goal is to take politics and make the subject intellectually interesting; as the series' title suggests, this isn't a course about backroom dealmaking or quarreling politicians, it's a course about ideas. In the first half, Shearmur lays out the histories and philosophies of what (as I recall, anyway) he sees as the three main currents in Western political thinking: conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. In the second half of the course, he discusses the ways these tendencies manifest themselves in the present-day world -- as feminism, for instance, or multiculturalism. Big-picture/small-picture: it's a great way to get some perspective on what so many people seem to love arguing about, god only knows why. Once again, a resource that'll leave you feeling a little less stupid than you usually do. Grab it now, because the Teaching Company is taking the course out of circulation soon. Why, I don't know -- it's one of their best. On sale, it's a bargain: 12 hours of terrific lectures for only $34.95. (A first-rate college-level course for $34.95!) Listen to it yourself, then pass it along to a friend or to a public library. Shearmur, by the way, teaches in Australia and is an interesting thinker in his own right. He worked with Karl Popper for many years, and has turned out books on Popper and Hayek. Here's a piece he wrote for Policy magazine discussing -- surprise, surprise -- the New Urbanism. The lecture series is buyable here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 30, 2003 | perma-link | (1) comments

Free Reads -- Felicity on Music
Friedrich -- One of the best blog postings I've read in a long time: an amazing piece by Felicity McCarthy of Goliard Dreams about music, here. What does it mean to us personally? How does this happen? How do we experience it, both as audience and performers? Felicity brings multiple, unfolding perspectives to bear in a spatial-yet-developing way that can only be described as musical itself. Sample passage: I am transported to a different state, to an alternate time-frame when I participate in music. How I feel and where I am transported depends a great deal on whether I am playing or listening, what time of day, where I am, and (no surprise here) what I am listening to. The rhythm and tempo of the music takes precedence over whatever clock I was previously measuring my existence to. When I listen to music, I am automatically counting my life in measures and beats instead of minutes and seconds. Whew -- great stuff: reflective, informative, helpful. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 30, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Upside of the Downturn
Friedrich -- Assuming that we're still living in the wake of the dot-com crash, and making all necessary noises about how much I'm on the side of economic growth, etc. Still, in some ways, life is more agreeable than it was when money seemed more abundant, isn't it? 1) Geeks. Five years ago, they were in a bullying, The-Rule-of-Geeks-Is-An-Inevitability mood, and it felt like the rest of us were doomed to live in a universe designed by and for weirdos. Do all geeks harbor superman fantasies, by the way? Does that help explain their love of sci-fi? Anyway, these days they're no longer so puffed-up, and it no longer seems likely that geeks are, any day now, going to assume their rightful position as Lords of the Known Universe. Thank god for that. These days, their fantasy lives seem under better control, and your typical geek is, once again, just an overweight guy with a bad haircut whose idea of style is a Ralph Lauren shirt. Hey, what is it about geeks and Ralph Lauren? Do they like horse logos? 2) The young people arriving in the NYC arts and media worlds. Five years ago, the newbie contingent was the worst I've ever seen: arrogant, primed for some serious throat-slitting, enraged at the slightest hint that you might not be eager to play along and be submissive. These days, young people seem more modest and agreeable -- even willing to entertain the possibility that it might take them, oh, as long as a year or two before they become billionaires. 3) Restaurant and retail-store employees. Five years ago? They almost defied you to place an order: get in line, buddy. These days, they're out on the sidewalk, wearing big smiles, urging you to come inside and examine their wares, offering deals. You might almost think they want to attract some business. Conclusion: Maybe the occasional chastening episode isn't such a bad thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 29, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Free Reads -- Chris Bertram on Stewart Brand
Friedrich -- An excellent posting by Chis Bertram at Crooked Timber about Stewart Brand's essential book How Buildings Learn, here. Sample passage: Most basically the book is about adaptation and flexibility and the need to design in ways that permit change. Most architects build to a conception of a building’s purpose. But two things are likely to happen after a building gets built: people start to use it in ways that the architect didn’t predict (will the building help or hinder their preferred ways of working or living) or the building gets sold and used for some quite different purpose. As Brand puts it “All buildings are predictions. All buildings are wrong.” Link found thanks to David Sucher (here). Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 29, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Ten Things I Like About Being A Parent
Michael: I’ve decided to (in my own small way) to imitate Charley B and do ten posts about things I enjoy as a parent. One of them is spending time with children’s books that I liked as a kid. No doubt as a tribute to the purchasing power of the boomer generation, it turns out that many of the children’s books that I read (or were read to me or to my little sister) are still available for purchase at your local Toys’R’Us or Barnes and Noble. So I’ve had a chance to shamelessly indulge in nostalgia for the world of my pre-school days as I read to my son each night. Once I find a route back into these long lost days, I am always shocked to discover how large a portion of my inner life they take up. A friend of mine once remarked that there are only three real intervals in our lives: the time before we went to school, the time while we were in school, and the rest of our lives—each of which is, subjectively, exactly the same length of time. I find it quite remarkable how reading these books can bring home the feeling of a whole era (in my case, the latter Fifties and very early Sixties.) It’s as though these books contain the DNA of a whole culture, which they distill down to—what? An attitude? A stance? A gesture? (Doesn’t the Cat in the Hat, balancing tens of items while balancing on a ball, summon up something terribly characteristic of America in the time of the Kennedy Administration? To say nothing of the Cat’s multi-armed “tidying up” machine that puts everything perfectly in its place seconds before the arrival of Mother? It’s as if the whole zeitgeist of the very early Sixties is being accurately yet gently parodied.) Anyway, I’ve also noticed that my interest in these books tends to be more in the illustrations rather than in the text. For example, in the 1958 classic, “A Fly Went By,” I’m only slightly amused by the clever but rather mechanical poetry of Mike McClintock; but I’m very intrigued by the illustrations, which are vigorously rendered by the illustrator, Fritz Siebel. The swing and gestural energy of his figures is rendered with a muscular rhythm that’s quite satisfying, and many of his compositions are remarkably gratifying. Every time I look at them my fingers start itching to grab a pencil and start doodling animation-style figures, a genre which hits one of the fundamental sweet spots of the graphic imagination. And I realize that my response is identical to the one I had when I read this book (was read this book?) over forty years ago. Now These Are Compositions! Of course, for me, this particular book is doubly rewarding because the main character could be a sort of cartoon portrait of my red-haired two-year-old son. Spiritual Portraits of Friedrich the Younger I’ve sworn to respect my son's privacy to the extent of not... posted by Friedrich at July 29, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 28, 2003

DVD Journal: "Another Day in Paradise"; "Scarlet Diva"; Joanna Pacula
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Is your film-viewing bad-boy still alive? Your inner Tarantino, the drunk-on-amoral-sensations moviegoer who wants crazy-edgy-daring-nutty filmgoing experiences -- extreme art and extreme trash both? Mine still stirs to life from time to time, although as you know the action end of the spectrum never meant anything to me. Hong Kong martial arts? That whole film movement might just as well never have occurred. It's actresses for me: talent and beauty, exploitation and art -- dramas I never seem to tire of. These sedate days, though, I confess that I do feel a little sheepish and chagrined when my inner filmgoing badboy lets his voice be heard. I feel like he wants me to do something unseemly, and that, pushing 50, I really ought to be comporting myself with more dignity. But then I cave, and it's off to the exploitation shelves at Kim's Video once again. Where I make the occasional pleasing discovery. Have you caught Larry Clark's Another Day in Paradise? I enjoyed it more than the movies he's better-known for, "Kids" and "Bully," both of which I found pretty dreary. (I haven't seen his new "Ken Park.") Do you know Clark's work as a photographer? I love his books "Tulsa" and "Teenage Lust." They're seedy, morally dicey, voyeuristic -- Robert Frank hangs with the hoods as they shoot up, kill time, and have stinky sex, basically. Clark doesn't produce arty, distanced, carefully-composed images; Clark takes the photos as though he's one of the kids, and he edits them in Beat/depressive ways that are offensive and eloquent in about equal measure. Kartheiser and Gregson Wagner explore the scabrous side of town As a filmmaker, though, Clark always seemed to me to come up short. He's got a nice feel for wasted lives and a near-porno appreciation for the restlessness of adolescents. But in "Kids" and "Bully" he didn't seem to have much to call on besides his eye and a few Cassavetes-esque ideas about the moment, man, and what's real, man. "Another Day in Paradise," though, is more of a movie-movie than his other films -- ie., it has some action, as well as a narrative arc. And being forced to deliver some relatively straightforward scenes didn't do his work any harm at all. The story? A bad-boy/bad-girl young couple hooks up with a middle-aged bad-boy/bad-girl couple, and moves from petty crime into harder and more dangerous territory. It's a kind of j.d. coming-of-age story, in other words. The visuals are swell in a tacky-America kind of way: bad strip malls, industrial neighborhoods no one should have to live in, the wood paneling and plush carpets in cheap hotels, late-'70s gunboat-style Cadillacs, all of it color-desaturated for that perfect drug-hangover feeling. What's really terrif about the film, though, are some of the performances. James Woods is the older Falstaff figure, and I wasn't crazy about him. Once in a blue moon Woods' gotta-be-a-domineering-son-of-a-bitch routine amuses me. This wasn't one of those times; he's... posted by Michael at July 28, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Free Reads -- Free Markets Good for Health?
Friedrich -- Free marketers, rejoice. Dr. Raj Persaud reports in The Scotsman (here) on research showing that people who yearn to be looked after by the state take worse care of their health (and in fact live less long) than people who favor the market. The catch is, alas, that this research was done in Russia, and may be a phenonemon unto itself. Sample passage: Pro-socialists are nearly one and half times more likely to be frequent drinkers than anti-socialists. Anti-socialists are also significantly more likely to take exercise, in fact, being pro-socialist decreased your chances of exercising regularly by almost 50 per cent. Furthermore, anti-socialists were almost 25 per cent more likely to go for preventive health check-ups compared to pro-socialists. The story is full of ain't-Russia-amazin' statistics. For instance, adult working class males, while only 25% of the population, consume 90% of the booze. The cliche in the States, of course, is that people in the Republican heartland are slobby widebodies while the urban and coastal Dems couldn't be more sleek. Link thanks to the Mises Economics Blog, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Grumbling about Econ -- Frank Knight
Friedrich -- Part of the fun of following economics, it seems to me, is trying to figure out your beefs with it. I'm no more than a tyro fan with a decent Econ 101/102 grasp on the topic, so I'm no one to be argued with let alone paid attention to. But what the heck; it's like following baseball -- you develop your own theories, your own faves, what you hope are your own insights. Or at least beefs. For some reason I've been chewing over two points recently. 1) The utility thing. Despite a few years of enthusiastic self-education, I still don't really know what "utility" is, and have a strong suspicion that economists don't either -- that they use the word as a place-holder. What are people really up to, what are they looking for, and how can it be represented? For one thing, and as tons of people before have argued better than I can, it's simply absurd to view people as rational income-maximizers. More's generally better than less, but there are so many other values that can take precedence; The Economist reported the other day that studies show that as many as a third of working Englishpeople would prefer working fewer hours to making more money. So what to measure instead: units of happiness? Too idiotic -- in the first place, it's a psychological truism that happiness exists only in relationship to other feelings. Units of self-interest? Huh? Wha'? Who can define one? Me, I often play with the idea of "units of life-is-worth-living-ness". When I'm enthusiastic about this idea, I tend to think it would help account for a bit more of life -- for example, all the things you live through that you probably wouldn't have chosen to live through had you had the option, yet you got a lot out of them anyway. It would allow for the fact that we stumble into a lot of experiences; not everything that makes life worth living is something we've actively sought out, god knows, and we often learn to value things only long after the fact. There's a practical objection, of course, as there often is to my ideas: how would one actually measure life-is-worth-living-ness units? But, perverse space-cadet that I am, I'm sort of pleased by that objection. I'd love to see economists confront a little more openly the self-contraditory mess that is a living human being. I'd love to see them wrestle less with how people make conscious decisions and more with how they actually muddle through. (I don't know about you, but my unconscious decisions outnumber my conscious decisions by about a zillion to one.) Plus, there's always the little issue you rarely see economists address: our self-defeating behavior. Our mistakes. Our fuckups. I'd love to see an economist develop a model of that. Which leads me to 2) Desire. There's a geeky tendency on the part of economists to assume that if we bought it, we wanted it -- that dollars... posted by Michael at July 27, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Grafitti and The Moving Finger
Michael: As a good Libertarian leaning right winger I am a strong defender of property rights, so I’m a bit torn by the pictures I’ve put up below. I disapprove of spray-painting one’s “signature” on walls, buildings and overpasses one doesn’t own. But at the same time, I have to say that the defacement of these two billboards seems weirdly appropriate. These two billboards are back-to-back on Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles. I don’t know if they were vandalized/enhanced at the same time, but it appears that two different taggers were involved. Say Thank You, Angelina The first, in effacing most of Angelina Jolie on a “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” billboard, seems to only be doing something that Ms. Jolie must, deep down, thank him for: obliterating her padded breasts as the visual cynosure of an entire movie publicity campaign. Say Goodbye, Sindbad The work of the second tagger is more blunt and to the point. Given the terrible financial results of “Sinbad” to date, I can’t shake the notion that this grafitti is a sort of message from Omar Khayyam to the folks at Dreamworks: The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Looking at these ads, don’t you think the advertising agency should seriously consider looking these kids up and offering them a job? You know, get them off the street and really spiff up their visuals at the same time.... posted by Friedrich at July 27, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments