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October 03, 2003


Friedrich --

* My favorite new blog-discovery is George Hunka's Superfluities, here. George manages the too-rare trick of bringing together a lot of in-the-midst-of-it art-and-media sophistication with a free-ranging and personal point of view. Superfluities is already high up on my blog-reading list, even if my eyes do ache from the tiny typeface.

Nancy Lebovitz wrote in to point out a couple of very interesting pieces.

* Here's software-usability guru Joel Spolsky on what it was like to move his business into a new office. People intrigued by the interactions of software, architecture, art, usability, beauty and business will probably find the piece fascinating. BTW, one of Spolsky's products -- a roll-your-own website application -- looks very alluring (here). Although, dangnabit, it isn't available for the Mac. And, hey, am I the only person who hates the word "application"? What's wrong with "program"?

* Hereís an engrossing interview with the painter Michael Newberry. Objectivist art -- who knew? Certainly not me. Newberry's paintings look like a cross between New Classicism and sci-fi book-jacket art. Which about sums up Objectivism, at least so far as my understanding of it goes.

* Nancy's own site, here, is something Iíve wanted to link to for a while. Have you ever helped yourself to a browse? It's a delight. Nancy sells buttons and bumperstickers, and you've never seen such a large collection of good one-liners. Oscar Wilde would admire many of them.

* Alan Sullivan makes more sense (IMHO, of course) on the topic of gay marriage than anyone else Iíve read, here.

* Mike Snider makes the case for using rather than defying form and tradition here. Be sure to follow the links in his posting too.

* Lordy, identity politics, huh? Yucko: encouraging people to identify as this or that, to make a big deal out of it, and to join clubs and dorms based on it ... I'm probably not the only person who's wondered how long it would be before someone straight and white would say, "Well, since the game seems to be identity politics, why shouldn't I have a little identity-politics fun too? I mean, fair's fair, right?" Dennis Prager says itís happening now, here.

* Thomas Sowell responds to some dumb if all-too-typical remarks about civil rights here.

* Kevin Michael Grace wonders whether classical music is alive or dead, here and here.

* Does intelligence have survival-and-success value? OK, sure, but always? Iíve certainly seen a fair number of brilliant people make hashes of their lives. Hey, The New Scientist reports that experiments with fruit flies suggest that cleverness does indeed come with costs as well as benefits, here.

* Alice Bachini makes an eloquent defence of sleeping late in the morning here.

* A terrific blogging innovation from Yahmdallah, here, who MP3s and links to some of his favorite rock-guitar solos. Seems well within the bounds of fair use, as well as a first-class way to compare musical tastes. Yahmdallah likes the really far-out rock-guitar stuff, by the way.

* The British philosopher Simon Blackburn offers a helpful short essay on relativism here. He's very level-headed, and is willing to acknowledge the upside as well as the downside.

* I notice that Colin MacCabe has a biography of Jean-Luc Godard due out in a few months, here. (It's billed as the first real biography of Godard.) Just between you and me, I've already taken a look at a few pages, and they were good enough to guarantee that I'll be treating myself to a longer look soon.

* Godard, who now seems like little more than a played-out, defeated and grumpy old radical, once meant a lot to me, as well as to many other hardcore film buffs. That era doesn't seem so long ago, does it? Are there people who are still curious about Godard? Here's an essay about him that I can pretty much get with.

* More good reasons not to abuse drugs, here.

* You Californians must be thrilled that Gray Davis is doing his best to ram through a whole lotta legislation before the recall-election deadline. Here's a rundown of what he's up to.

* Another good q&a with Virginia Postrel is here. Technology, aesthetics, econ -- just like we like it. I can't resist copying and pasting a few of her comments:

Thinking about look and feel can actually improve functionality because it means you get in the habit of empathizing with the end user ...There's a difference between expertise and gatekeeping. Expertise tells you how to achieve what you find aesthetically pleasing. Gatekeeping tells you what you should find aesthetically pleasing. It's the gatekeepers who are upset-people who want to dictate the one true style, whether they're arbiters of fashions in clothing or in architecture.

I vote we make Virginia dean of every one of America's art and design schools.

* I've been lovin' this Smithsonian CD of music by the Mississippi delta blues guitarist/singer Honeyboy Edwards, buyable here. Great stuff: Honeyboy has a big, confident, roughhewn ease that's intimate and idiosyncratic too -- you never doubt he's doing it his own way, to say the least. And the CD's audio quality is fantastic.



posted by Michael at October 3, 2003


When same sex weddings got a fully legal status in the Netherlands, the only thing altered was that the clause "a man and a woman" in the marriage act got changed into "two people". This gave homosexual newly weds immediately the same rights as homosexual couples.

A problem is/was that most Western civil law systems don't consider the individual but rather the nuclear family/a procreating married couple as the center of all acts. Anything is done to protect their interests best. For the Dutch this meant it was easier just to change the marriage act, than to rewrite half of the civil code.

So, changing just one thing to allow gay marriages isn't enough; everything has to be changed to overcome the current discrimination. It's weird that this is hardly ever noticed or mentioned in discussion about same sex weddings.

Apart from that, there's that emotion that always creeps up when marriage as an institute is discussed. Just because from the 19th century everyone wants marriages to be based on love and all. But, before that they were most of all insurance policies; business agreements between families if you want. As is still reflected in law.

Posted by: ijsbrand on October 3, 2003 1:35 PM

Many thanks for linking to my site, but I don't sell t-shirts--just buttons and bumperstickers.

I wish there were sf artists who painted people as well as Newberry does--there's some good work

and (though the latter doesn't do the cover justice--the cloak is full of faces) but no one who's doing that sort of work with bodies.

A general point--sf publishers were trying to get away with digital art on covers. I hated it--even if the composition was good, the art was blurry photo-collage. I'm glad that they're back to paintings.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on October 4, 2003 12:55 AM

Oops. Sorry, Nancy, I'll correct that right now, and then go speak sternly to my fact-checker.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 4, 2003 2:03 AM

Godard has been a played-out has-been for a long time. He may be the most overrated filmmaker of all time; I even like more Bergman films than I like Godard films (there's exactly one Godard film I unreservedly like, that being [i]Contempt[/i]). Maybe you had to be there in the 60s or something (which I wasn't, by virtue of not having been born until 1974) to appreciate him properly; from my perspective I don't see much of interest going on, certainly not enough to make me want to see any more of his work.

Posted by: James Russell on October 4, 2003 2:34 AM

ARGH. Damn square brackets! I keep forgetting: web sites use HTML, message boards use UBBCode...

Posted by: James Russell on October 4, 2003 2:36 AM

That Ray Sawhill dude's essay on Godard is terrific.

Mr. Russell:

Maybe you had to be a movie-crazed kid in the 1960s or the 1970s to get past the more irritating parts of Godard (which are regrettably present in nearly every one of his films, even the best) but if you can tune them out, there are passages of genuine lyricism, sorrow, and frustration at how difficult it is for two people to communicate than I can remember in any other filmmaker. He is also, at times, extraordinarily funny--check out the fight sequences done as comic-book "stills" (the actors move somewhat because of physical tension) in "Alphaville."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 4, 2003 3:37 AM

It's funny, but I still kind of like Godard, even when I know he's not very good.

I also like classical music. Grace is right about the sorry state of classical recordings, alas. (It doesn't help that most American music stores had all but eliminated their classical section by the late '80s.) Fortunately, Naxos's budget recordings are quite good, the only bright spot in a dismal market.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on October 5, 2003 3:51 AM

P.S.: When marriage advocates talk about civil recognition of same-sex unions, we do talk about the 1300+ benefits that come with marriage. Those benefits are not contigent upon procreation, as any childless, heterosexually married couple can tell you.

Same-sex marriage wouldn't require the major revision of civil law that ijsbrand believes it would. Ideally, it would involve a far less drastic change than the Netherlands implemented: Federal and state governments would no longer prohibit the recognition of same-sex unions, so that if a state chose to recognize them, their same-sex couples could then and there receive all legal benefits of marriage.

We've actually come to the point that it takes more legislation to keep same-sex couples out of civil marriage than it would take to include them. "Defense of marriage" acts (the conservative response) or civil unions legislation (the liberal alternative) require a fairly elaborate revision of the legal code, and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act even pushes the limits of constitutionality (probably violating the Tenth Amendment).

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on October 5, 2003 4:11 AM

Your link made me laugh so hard that I've been crying for at least 10 minutes...

Posted by: turbokitty on October 5, 2003 11:05 AM

"More good reasons not to abuse drugs"

Posted by: turbokitty on October 5, 2003 11:07 AM

Re: Godard -- maybe you did have to be there (or almost -- FvB and I were '70s kids, not '60s). Friends who've gone back and looked at the "great" Godards tell me they've dated pretty badly, and flipping around the new bio was, while fascinating, also gloom-inducing: were people really that self-righteous, full of themselves and political back then? All these "artists" trying to out-radical each other -- I remember what a drag it was. Talk about posturing.

Still, I wonder what it'd be like to re-watch a few of my Godard faves: "Pierrot" and "Two or Three Things" especially. I'm sure James is over-familiar with all this, but just to rehearse a little film history, Godard did nail a bunch of things good: he brought essay qualities into semi-narrative film, he used natural light and sound in fresh ways, he caught what life can be like in a disordered, media-riddled pop universe, he put on screen some new images of "cool" and "Woman" ... Emotionally, if you respond to him, there's a lot of tenderness, absurdity and heartbreak in his movies. Also, unfortunately, a lot of self-righteous prickiness -- and apparently in his life too. From the bio, which is admiring, he sounds pretty insufferable. One funny thing the biographer is eager to point out is this: you know all those quotes and collaged, bookish references in Godard's movies? Well, the biographer wants us to understand, don't go thinking that Godard actually read all those books ...

Re gay marriage (and, believe me, this is IMHO and FWIW several times over), I don't focus on the rightness or wrongness of it. Bigotry's a Bad Thing, etc etc, and it's a Good Thing to knock it back. But I take the quesiton more practically. And -- obviously I could be 'way wrong here -- I think two things: one is that there's no way it's going to be made to happen in the states countrywide; and that if it is somehow made to happen, it'll be self-defeating because it'll cause so much stress and tension. Gays have made a lot of progress in the last few decades, and I'd prefer to see that progress go on, if in modest ways. I think that trying to put gay marriage over in places like Florida or Iowa would be likely to lead to a backlash, and I'd hate to see that happen. A gut-level hunch here: it feels more like time for a consolidation of gains than for radical new initiatives. I just can't see the general population A) thinking that the question is all that important anyway, or B) being eager to spend a lot of time and energy on legally redefining something as full of elemental feelings as marriage. Obviously, everyone's free to disagree with me and tell me I'm nuts.

Turbokitty -- I don't know about you, but I'm glad I made it through my drug-ish years without that particular regret ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 5, 2003 11:29 PM

Gays have made a lot of progress in the last few decades, and I'd prefer to see that progress go on, if in modest ways.

In other words, "Go slow."

It is true that the APA no longer considers Gays mentally ill -- although there is no shortage of psychotherapists who advocate heterosexual conversion. It is also true that Gays no longer enjoy the legal status of unconvicted felons. We're no longer officially sick (though the government still treats us as though we were), and we're even almost not illegal.

Still, these aren't exactly the sort of legislative gains we can "consolidate." How do you consolidate the fact that you're no longer a criminal? And considering that it took Gays a full half century of blood, sweat and tears to get even these miniscule gains, just how much slower do you want us to go?

I know you live in the Village, so I don't expect very much from you when it comes to questions of Gay and Lesbian rights. Heterosexuals who live among urban Gays tend not to understand the importance of these basic human issues, if only because these Gays seem to have everything they want with a little extra flair besides.

But you're also an American, Michael. As an American, you should understand that the principle of equality before the law is non-negotiable. Why, then, voice your resentment of people who refuse to accept less?

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on October 6, 2003 3:03 PM

Tim -- I can't see where I'm expressing any "resentment of people who refuse to accept less."

All I've said is:

* I wish gays well
* I haven't puzzled out any kind of coherent position on the gay-marriage question
* My hunch is that now's not the time for the pro-gay-marriage bunch to get too uncompromising. A strong possible-backlash-alert light goes off when I think about it.
* I could well be wrong about my hunch, and my zeitgeist radar might well be out of whack.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 7, 2003 2:26 AM

Well yes, too much datura can make you not feel pain. I've known of folks trying to hump a saguaro cactus while on it (the 'Angels Trumpet' in the linked article is datura).

But to say, as the story does, that it 'cannot be dosed (measured)' is hogwash, it's just difficult. You must titrate your dose by taking a little bit, then waiting and taking a little bit more, until you get to where you want to be (variability of plant potency is the issue. Its the same damned issue with any plant intoxicant, and how to do it has been know to those with the right skills for thousands of years).

But no, that shit isn't for the faint of heart, or those who do not know what they are doing. The man in the article is obviously in the latter category. It's one of those not very fun toxic hallucinogens, where the effective and harmful doeses are very close. (you know those wonderful geometric patterns acid can give you? crank things up to about a 1000 volts more in their intensity, and smash the geometric regularity, and add in a bit of nightmarish intensity. Not Fun. Even when it's only about a third to a half as high as this guy must have been, which is about as close as I'd ever want to get, and as far as I went in my reckless early 20's).

Totally different cup of tea from the non-toxic psychedelics (pot and LSD), and different yet again from the animal tranquilizer family of hallucinogens (PCP and ketamine).

Maybe I should start a second blog called 'The Straight Dope'

Posted by: David Mercer on October 7, 2003 4:55 AM

'What's wrong with "program"?'

In the computer field, 'applications' are that subset of 'programs' that people use to do real-world tasks. They are distinct from 'system' programs, such as Windows (an operating system), or the 'compilers' which translate source code to CPU instructions. Also from 'embedded' programs, such as firmware in a cell phone, 'game' programs, such as a Nintendo cartridge, and 'utilities', such as Norton Anti-Virus.

In the "old days" (circa 1975), there was a very distinct break between 'applications programmers', who worked on payroll or mailing list or inventory programs, and 'system programmers', who worked on the operating system, the device drivers, the telecom components, and similar esoterica.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on October 7, 2003 12:22 PM

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