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

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

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

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

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

Try Advanced Search

  1. Them That Knows Don't Talk, And Them That Talk...
  2. David Sucher, Day Two
  3. Was It Really Progress?
  4. David Sucher, Day One
  5. Art--An Extension of War By Other Means?
  6. Austrian LitCrit
  7. Contempo Figurative Art
  8. Made Me Think
  9. Cole, Gilpin, Burke & Romantic Evo-Bio

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

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

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


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Them That Knows Don't Talk, And Them That Talk...
Michael: Why is it that journalists really expect to learn remarkable truths by just walking around, flashing their credentials, and asking people to tell them things? And then believing what they’re told? A fairly humorous example of this is from a story in the August 18-25 Business Week. Titled “The Quest for the Next Big Thing,” it documents a series of such, er, candid conversations between Robert D. Hof and various tech insiders over the course of the last year or so. Eventually the intrepid Mr. Hof decides to consult a remarkably successful venture capitalist, Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital, two of whose investments include Apple Computer and Cisco Systems. Mr. Valentine informs Mr. Hof that the current depressed state of the technology industry is the result of what he terms “extraterrestrials” (i.e., goofballs like Mr. Hof) who are searching for the “Next Big Thing.” Undaunted, Mr. Hof asks the venture capitalist what he thinks the next big thing will be. The result: After a long pause, Valentine finally answers, very slowly, as if to a child: “I wouldn’t tell you that if you were my mother.” Ah, our Diogenes has finally found his honest man. And just remember, you read it all in a national weekly newsmagazine—so it must be true. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, August 15, 2003

David Sucher, Day Two
This is Day Two of our conversation with "City Comforts" author and blogger David Sucher. For Day One, click here. To visit David's site (highly recommended!), click here. To read his blog, click here. 2B: The town where I grew up was a small town that was in the process of being turned into a suburb. These days it's gone beyond that. And now it's really just a drive-through place with a bunch of cul-de-sacs. DS: Yup. I been there. 2B: How do these things happen? And once it has happened, what can be done to bring it back to something more livable? DS: I think it's a slippery slope. Take a traditional Main Street from the '20s or '30s or even earlier. Now it’s the 1950s. There's a vacant lot, and somebody says, I might as well set my new building back and use the front for parking. And no one gives it a thought. And it's probably benign because the rest of the block is traditional Main Street. Then over time, the State Highway Department comes along and says, We don't want on-street parking. It becomes busier and busier and they start to restrict parking hours. 2B: Or they broaden the streets. DS: It becomes a practical necessity to park onsite. I think it happens in a way that's invisible. We're like frogs in boiling water. Nobody realized it was happening. If you look at social commentary from the '30s to the '60s, to my understanding, nobody noticed. It was so subtle -- lot by lot, property by property. The way to reverse it, as with most important things, is to start with a consciousness change. But first, let's be clear about something: no one wants to give up their cars. They want both: they want the car, but they also want commercial areas that are pedestrian-oriented. That latter desire is a big change. It isn't universal, but compared even to 20 years ago, it's quite a difference. Today, you have people talking about pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Nobody was talking that way 20 or 25 years ago. 2B: Minds are changing. DS: There's the development of a large shared goal: changing cities. So now people are grappling with how to do it. They're talking about it at the most complex level possible: Let's develop a regional plan -- mass transit, growth management. I'm saying, You may want to do these things. You may decide that an urban containment policy is a good idea. And you may decide that you want good public transit. But those per se don't get you pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. The Washington D.C. transit system is a good example of that. Where there were dense neighborhoods, there are still dense neighborhoods. But where the trains go out into the suburbs? There's a huge parking lot. Out there, it hasn't created a dense neighborhood, it's facilitated suburban expansion. 2B: Not what was expected. DS: Not at all. We've associated high-density cities with public transportation -- trains, a subway.... posted by Friedrich at August 15, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Was It Really Progress?
Michael: Do you like looking at the juvenilia of famous artists? It’s a total weakness of mine. I love looking into all the little nooks and crannies that artists poke their heads into before they get a haircut and a real job, so to speak. For example, everyone knows Vladimir Tatlin’s famous work as a Russian Constructivist. But would you have guessed that he also could produce a tender nude like this one? V. Tatlin, Monument to the Third International, 1919 (Copy of 1967-8); V. Tatlin, Female Bather, ? And while Mondrian’s mature work is instantly identifiable, I find the styles of his earlier work to be in many respects more seductive: P. Mondrian, Tableau No. IV, 1924; P. Mondrian, Chrysanthemum, 1908-9; P. Mondrian, Still Life With Ginger Pot I, 1911-2 And of course everyone knows that the AbEx painting at the upper left is by Mark Rothko. But would you guess that he had earlier produced an urban genre scene or landscapes like this? M. Rothko, Untitled, 1953; M. Rothko, Underground Fantasy (Subway), 1940; M. Rothko, Untitled, Late 1920s It makes me wonder, frankly, if the categorical imperative of the 20th century artist—to develop a unique and fully realized style—is all that conducive to letting the full humanity of artists come out and play. I won’t deny that the early work of each of these artists contains the seeds of their later work (Tatlin’s evolution is a bit mysterious, I grant you, except for an evident interest in, er, male and female principles). But there are many, many other roads that could have been taken in the early work of each of these artists which were ultimately suppressed to create the final signature style. Is this really a gain—except for the artist’s reputation and pocketbook? (Is a signature style really a form of self-parody?) Anyway, I have my doubts. Where do you come down on all this? Do you see a similar sacrifice being made in, say, literature? Movies? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 15, 2003 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, August 14, 2003

David Sucher, Day One
Friedrich As you've gathered from some recent postings of mine, I'm a big fan of David Sucher and his website, book and blog, all of which go by the name City Comforts (the main page is here; the blog is here). David's a building and architecture buff -- but that's not quite right. He's an unusual and refreshing one, because he doesn't fixate on celebrity buildings, on what he calls "the building as precious object." And he doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the usual architecture-crit stuff -- building as self-expression, or as expression of its era. As the words "City" and "Comforts" suggest, what David's mostly concerned with is the background and fabric: neighborhoods, blocks. The first thing he'll do when confronted with a new building is ask if it contributes to or detracts from its neighborhood. (This should be the first question any commentator on architecture asks.) Here's a wonderful sentence from a piece David wrote about superstar Rem Koolhaas' in-construction Seattle Public Library: "We pay too much attention to how a building appears; the central question for every building is how it behaves." Can’t beat that for substantial and succinct. I love David's style and approach. He resolutely avoids the theoretical and the intellectualized; he's always dragging the conversation back to practical matters. He's an obsessive, but in the most agreeable and modest way. In the tradition of people like William Whyte and Jane Jacobs, he's fascinated by what works and what doesn't. The kernel of his advice is what he refers to as the Three Rules. (Read more about them here.) They're simple guidelines (with complex implications and consequences) that'll drastically increase the chances a retail neighborhood will be a lively, pedestrian-oriented one -- the kind of place people go a little out of their way to visit and enjoy. Readers who value pleasure and comfort more than brilliance and self-conscious style should be delighted by David's work. It's about the basics: why is this neighborhood popular, and why is that one not? Why do people use this park and not that one? Why is this sidewalk bustling and lively, and that one bleak and empty? You'd think architects and critics would be more concerned with such subjects, woudn't you? And would see their own jobs as beginning with these questions, too. David's been blogging now for a couple of months, and he's finishing revisions and tweaks on a new edition of his book. (I’ll run an announcement when it goes on sale.) He sweetly sent me a PDF of the book, and I'm mega-enthused -- copies ought to be given out wholesale to planners and local politicians everywhere. It's full of pictures, examples, and discussions of things and approaches that work -- benches, doorways, parking arrangements. Feet-on-the-ground, commonsense stuff, the architecture-and-building equivalent of basic good manners. Like his blog, the book is an easy-reading, attractive, casual-seeming thing that -- in a quiet way -- expresses an amazingly well-developed point of view. Which boils... posted by Friedrich at August 14, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Art--An Extension of War By Other Means?
Michael: Glancing over the newspapers of the past six months or so I've noticed an almost complete disconnect between the "arts" page and the front page--that is, between the arts and the war in Iraq. (I understand many artists have expressed opinions about the war, but I don't see much difference in the art being produced.) This got me to thinking about the relationship between war and shifts in “dominant” visual styles. The historical record would suggest that it's more accurate to say that it’s not war, per se, that alters visual styles, but rather losing a war. For example, there weren’t a lot of wars between 1815 and 1914 in Europe. By far the biggest was the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. Is it an accident that Modern Art first started to flourish in France (the loser country) during the era immediately following that defeat? The End of the Commune, 1871; C. Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1872 (NB: these two pictures show the same part of Paris) While Germany, the victor of that war, wasn’t exactly a hotbed of Modern Art until…after its defeat in World War I, when it took over from France as the leader of Modernity (think the Bauhaus, abstract painting, etc., etc.) German Battery on the Move, WWI; W. Kandinsky, On White II, 1923 And how about the “takeoff” of Abstract Expressionism in the U.S.—which didn’t happen in a big way until the Korean War and its aftermath? (To say nothing of how AbEx had been “fertilized” by European refugees from countries already defeated in WWII.) North of the Chongchon River, November 20, 1950; J. Pollack, Autumn Rhythm (No. 30), 1950 And the practitioners of Minimalism and Conceptualism would seem to owe a major debt to the Vietnam War--if the U.S. had been triumphant in that one, I suspect we'd still be looking at versions of Abstract Expressionism. (I’ll acknowledge, by the way, that the seeds of these movements were all around and struggling to grow before the war in question. But I would point out that they didn’t seem to find the soil in which to flourish until defeat in war.) Of course, the "losing war" theory doesn’t explain everything. The tie between visual styles and defeat in war seems, at a minimum, to have been weaker in the more distant past, which may well reflect the pre-democratic isolation of the mass of the population from the institutions, if not the effects, of war. Still, positive examples to support this theory can easily be found. The High Renaissance was clearly brought to an abrupt end (and Mannerism enthroned) by the Sack of Rome in 1527, which signaled the end of the autonomy of the Italian city-states in a world of competing European empires. Rococo painting seems to have replaced French classical baroque painting as a consequence of the disastrous wars at the end of Louis XIV’s reign. French Romantic painting seems strongly connected with the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. The much greater impact of... posted by Friedrich at August 13, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Austrian LitCrit
Friedrich -- Hey, it isn't just Marxists (and Marxoids) who do economics-based arts criticism. Here's a fun q&a with -- believe it or not -- an Austrian-economics-sympathetic literary critic named Paul Cantor. (Beware: PDF file.) Cantor says a lot of hearteningly sensible (and dare I say 2Blowhards-ish) things. I can't resist highlighting a few of them: The problem with economic criticism of literature is not that it takes account of economics but that it uses bad economics ... The real key to understanding why Castro is so popular with Latin American authors -- and why socialism attracts so many writers and artists -- is that these writers feel underappreciated by the market. They are looking for the Great Man, the dictator who will recognize their genius and exalt their talents above the petty bourgeoisie ... We are now in a situation in which the only arguments remaning for socialism are aesthetic ... That is why artists are drawn to socialism. They hope that socialism will liberate them from their greatest fear: being judged by the common man ... It is a Romantic myth that artists are not in it for the money. Many were and are, and that is perfectly okay ... There is a certain tension between the aesthetic and economic realms. The need of markets to apply standards of utility and rationality often rubs artists the wrong way ... What it comes down to is this: There is something aristocratic about great art. And artists in many ways have felt more comfortable with aristocrats than with the middle class ... I have a rule: Be politically conservative, but don't be intellectually conservative. The biggest problem on the Right vis-a-vis cultural criticism is this tendency toward fuddyduddyism. We need to recognize that new things come along in art that are very valuable and worthy of study. Why leave the exciting stuff to the Left?... I would be willing to take the twenty best movies of the twentieth century and match them against the artistic products of any other century, with the exception of William Shakespeare. I don't think there is another century that produced twenty dramas as great as the past century's twenty best movies ... Just think of all the capital that has gone into the motion picture industry. No royal court, no prince of the church, has presented the arts with as much capital as the free market has placed in the hands of the producers, directors, actors and composers who work to make movies today ... And here's a q&a that Stephen Carson did with Cantor, during the course of which Cantor predicts that videogames "will be the major art form of the 21st century." Best, Michael... posted by Friedrich at August 13, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Contempo Figurative Art
Friedrich -- I confess that I rather enjoy moaning and bitching about standards and the arts and how it's all going to hell -- and I'll defend this as a pleasure every arts person is entitled to enjoy. (You'd be a fool not to.) For a simple example: can't anybody really paint or draw anymore? Is a little recognizable technique and skill in art TOO DAMN MUCH TO ASK FOR???!!! And then I stumble into an art show that makes me eat my grumpiest words. I recently dropped by one such at New York's Forum Gallery (here). Dazzling stuff, even if most of it's in a tightly-focused realistic style that doesn't speak to me. But, hey: you want talent? You want technique? These artists got both, and in spades. The samples I'm passing along here aren't the exact works that were in the show, but they give a good taste of some of the artists' work. Be sure to click on these images, which will pop up slightly larger than they appear now. By Cesar Galicia By G. Daniel Massad By Kent Bellows By Robert Cottingham By Peter Greaves Don't miss sampling the work of another one of the artists who's in the show, Alan Magee, a page of whose paintings is here. That Massad image is a pastel, by the way. The textures and details he creates out of colored dust are really something to see live and up close. And the Peter Greaves? It's about the size of a postage stamp -- one intense little drawing. Well, feeling ashamed of being such a fuddyduddy and a complainer can be a kind of pleasure too. Best, Michael... posted by Friedrich at August 12, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, August 11, 2003

Made Me Think
Friedrich -- You get older. You run into things you didn't expect. You try to learn. * I was talking with a man who worked professionally with poor kids for many decades. According to him, it was the welfare programs of the '60s that created the underclass -- "underclass" in the sense of a population that relies on government help generation after generation. "It becomes their job, working the government for benefits. And they pass it along," he said to me. * I ran across a lefty woman acquaintance. She'd just gotten back after a couple of years with Oxfam in Africa. "How'd it go?" I asked. "Did you manage to do some good?" She gave me a look. "I'm not sure," she said. "What do you mean?" She explained. According to her, there's a terrible moral bind you get in when you try to help starving people. If you supply relief over and over, they not only start to expect it, they lose the ability to look out for themselves. "You'd be amazed how quickly they lose their skills," she said. "They forget how to feed themselves." Instead, they become specialists at getting themselves fed by other people. "And at that point, you're no longer doing good, really. You aren't helping them out in an emergency. You've simply become their regular food-provider. You've turned them into clients and dependents." "But if you don't help out, they die, right? So what do you do?" I asked. She shrugged. She'd thought about that too, she told me, and really didn't know what to say. * Another lefty woman came to NYC full of feminist idealism and went straight into a job at an abortion center. Within a couple of years, she quit, horrified. "They didn't tell me what it's really like," she said to me. "What do you mean?" I asked. She explained. Many women having abortions endure not just physical pain but emotional hell. Their bodies have been preparing hormonally for birth, and when the process is brought forcibly to an end, it can feel like a car crash. And what's swept out of the uterus physically ... "I mean, there were little feet and fingers," my friend said. "No one had prepared me for any of that." * An older man I know spent the '50s and early '60s as a hotheaded radical. In the mid-'60s, his moment came; he was thrilled by the announcement of the War on Poverty, and signed up to be a caseworker. Within a couple of years he turned on it entirely. Why? He told me that he found that the worthy recipients were outnumbered by the cheats, slackers and liars. He was angered as well by the huge bureaucracy he saw growing up. "They've got a vested interest in keeping the poor poor!" he thundered. * A lefty lawyer friend confessed that he'd never hire a black lawyer to defend him in a truly serious case. I knew this friend wasn't racist --... posted by Friedrich at August 11, 2003 | perma-link | (25) comments

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Cole, Gilpin, Burke & Romantic Evo-Bio
Michael: A few weeks ago I made a trip over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to check out the Indian sculpture, as you may recall from my posting, East Meets West (which you can read here.) While I was there, I was quite happy to notice that LACMA has been beefing up its collection of American art. In particular, I was pleased to notice that several California Impressionist paintings that the museum has parked in storage for decades have been re-hung. Also, LACMA has spirited up a number of Hudson River school landscapes. I vote a Blowhardy to whatever member of the curatorial staff is responsible. One of these newly materialized paintings, and a quite impressive one at that, is by Thomas Cole, the Godfather of Hudson River painters. (I was doubly pleased to learn that this delightful effort belonged to him because I had written on Cole’s place in American landscape painting in another posting, Hudson River School, Part I, which you can read here.) Since I was armed with my digital camera, I took a shot of it; given that it was taken in ambient light, I was quite pleased how the image came out. T. Cole, ?, Date Unknown Regrettably, however, not having pencil or paper with me, I didn’t get the title or date of this painting. Ergo, I know nothing about it, not even whether it is a topographical, a pastiche of various real places or just plain made up. But trying to penetrate a little deeper into the painting, I turned to my handy one-volume guide to American art, “American Visions” by Robert Hughes. In it, I found this rather intriguing quote: The idea of landscape, as distinct from mere territory, was imported from England and it appeared quite late in America; Thomas Cole, an English import, was its first bearer in painting. Through him, Edmund Burke’s theory of the Sublime, along with the ideas of the English school of picturesque landscape (William Gilpin, Richard Payne Knight), passed into America. Checking into William Gilpin (who was new to me) I discovered several landscape drawings by him online, which appear below: W. Gilpin, Landscape Cliffs and Trees and Landscape River Between Hills, c. 1790 Cole’s visual debt to Gilpin is indeed obvious; the composition of his painting visibly incorporates elements that appear in both these drawings—foreground trees, a river, steep hills rising cliff like near the water’s edge, and a stormy sky. But Gilpin’s influence was richer for Cole, I suspect, than merely providing him with compositional elements to rip off. Gilpin, an amateur artist, churchman, philanthropist and innovative educator, had worked out a practical methodology for creating “picturesque” landscapes, which embodied both Edmund Burke’s notion of “The Sublime” and which possessed a specifically English character. Gilpin’s program was based on rough subject matter—including, if possible, elements referring to England’s storied past like castles (he had been born in one himself). These subjects were painted in broad and simplified contrasts of value,... posted by Friedrich at August 10, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments