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« True Art School Tales | Main | High Pitched Voices »

November 19, 2003


Dear Friedrich --

I've spent the last week with blogging crippled not just by in-law hospital challenges but by a dial-up AOL connection. How is blogging life even possible without broadband? More than ever I marvel at Lynn Sislo, here, who does some of the best linking of any cultureblogger and who does so via a 56K connection. Downright heroic.

* British scientist Mae-Wan Ho, reviewing Christopher Alexander's four-volume summa, "The Nature of Order" here, does an amazing job not just of describing Alexander's thinking and originality but also of conveying the impact reading Alexander can have on a person. Volume One is buyable here; volume Two, just out, is buyable here. Be sure not to miss the very interesting and informative Amazon reader reviews of both books.

* Laurance Aurbach passes along a link to a fascinating paper by Charles C. Bohl (here) about urban development in Europe, which doesn't seem to be proceeding along inspiring lines. The compare-and-contrast photos are very well-chosen. Nate Davis will appreciate some shots of the place where his own store is located, Mashpee Commons, an oldtime shopping mall that's been reworked along New Urbanist lines.

* Swapping emails, Laurance and I discovered that, in addition to being New Urbanism fans (Laurance a much more serious and well-informed one than I am), we're also genre-fiction buffs. I got a chance to lay a couple of my more tiresome theories on Laurance, the first one being that genre-fiction forms (crime, romance, etc) are the equivalent of vernacular and folk architecture, while contempo literature is best compared to the swoopy, jagged, anxiety-making bizarreness that the official architecture press tries to make us swallow. In other words, if your idea of interesting and worthwhile architecture tends more towards comfy houses, Adirondack cabins, roadside architecture, and neighborhoods that make you want to sit and have a coffee than to standalone, gleaming avant-garde jewelboxes, then you may well prefer the best genre writers to most of what contemporary "literature" is producing. My other theory is that genre-fiction forms are like such poetry forms as sonnets and villanelles -- rewarding both for writers (whose ingenuity and imaginations are stretched) and readers, who can have the fun of matching their knowledge and expectations against what the author is actually doing. Laurance responded much more sensibly, passing along a bunch of alluring-sounding tips and recommendations. I just finished reading one of them, Dan Simmons' Hardcase, a tiptop Buffalo-set hardboiled crime tale (buyable here). I loved the book: roughhewn and engaging, with tons of momentum, humor and brutality. Kurtz, Simmons' protagonist, is a dandy invention. If there's a hardboiled continuum ranging from Spenser on the more civilized end to Mike Hammer on the psychotic end, Kurtz certainly tends towards the Hammer-esque. He seems meant to embody an idea of Buffalo, really -- a creature from another time, burly and none-too-fashionable or suave, but with moxie to spare. Plus, man, can he take a lot of punishment; he reminds me of those old bunched-up, whiteguy football players from the '50s and '60s -- the ones who, with no finesse at all, just kept running at the line until it finally gave. Simmons is really first-rate; I feel ashamed I wasn't aware of his work before. Many thanks to Laurance for tipping me off to him.

* Felix Salmon has a lot more enthusiasm for the avant-garde idea of architecture-as-sculpture than I ever will. But he's got some very perceptive and sensible things to say about a new Birmingham department store and a plan for the New Museum, here, both of which seem like real bummers. Check out the images: the museum looks like a deconstructed bunker while the department store looks like an idea Frank Gehry left half-sketched on a cocktail napkin.

* I'm a fan of accounts of what happens when outsiders buy into the movie and mediabusiness -- Sony, for instance, or Canada's Edgar Bronfman Jr. It's almost always a disaster; the toughguy businesspeople, dazzled by fairydust and their own biz prowess, think they're up to contending with the charlatanry and egomania of showbusiness, and they're almost always wrong. (Presumably the sex and drugs have something to do with this; too bad they're seldom mentioned in these accounts.) For the LATimes, Dennis McDougal spells out what a hash Edgar Bronfman Jr., of the Seagram fortune, has made of his attempts to become a major media player here. (Requires registration.) Bronfman has lost billions of dollars -- billions! -- as well as control of the family liquor empire, all before turning 50. But he's apparently still eager to shine in Hollywood. Rich kids, eh? Why labor at the grubby industry that made the family its fortune? Why not help yourself instead to the glamor and the goodies? Hey, maybe you'll get to tell one of your prep-school classmates that you think of Jack and Julia as friends.

* I'm not sure where you stand on the war in Iraq. Me, I'm mezzo-mezzo, not that anyone should care. Being a partisan of a supermodest foreign policy, I wasn't enthusiastic about invading Iraq, but, being a patriot, once the invasion was underway I was happy to wave the flag. Downsides: deaths, costs, over-involvement in incomprehensible, no-win, mid-Eastern affairs. Upside: bye-bye Saddam, plus (IMHO, of course), heck, it's probably not a bad thing to give the Arabs, who seem to respect nothing but force, the occasional good scare. (I don't understand why I haven't seen this argument made in the mainstream press. Too basic? Too ... unsophisticated?) Anyway, here's a provocative assessment of the Iraq conundrum by Ivan Eland for the Independent Institute, nobody's idea of a bunch of lefty nuts.

* I've blogged before about the Indian yoga system called Vedanta, and I'm as enthusiastic about it as ever -- phew, a six-month enthusiasm: by my hummingbird standards, quite a long-lasting one. Is Vedanta a philosophy? A religion? A mystical self-help system? Beats me, but I find it head-clearing and stimulating at the same time. A couple of days ago, for instance, I dragged The Wife to a Vedanta service; afterwards, over lunch, we spent an hour and a half comparing notes about what the swami's talk had made us think. No Presbyterian service (religion of my youth) ever hit me that way. Anyway, Vedanta, the short version: it's like Buddhism, only less austere, and looser and sexier. I've read a bunch of books about it and can now recommend a couple of titles for anyone intrigued by the topic. Here's a good inexpensive introduction. And the book I'm reading now, How to Know God (buyable here) -- Patanjali's classic Yoga Sutras, translated and commented on by Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood -- is a beauty: unforced, free of mumbo-jumbo, and (important to aesthetes like me) wonderfully written.

* Many thanks to Andre Hatingh, who passed along a link (here) to a terrific article in the Telegraph by Andrew Graham-Dixon about the 18th-century Welsh painter Thomas Jones, whose work I didn't know at all. Cool, reflective, non-egomaniacal imagery: who says the Brits aren't visual? Jones wasn't known at all during his lifetime, painted oil sketches en plein air, and often chose out-of-the-way motifs -- here's one artist who truly was doing his art purely for the love of it.

* I'm crazy about the work of the French illustrator Loustal, many of whose images can be sampled here. You'll recognize a few from The New Yorker, but he's also done posters, ads, and many graphic novels. I find his work poetic, moody, epigrammatic and erotic in a precise-yet-hazy way I love. How do you respond to it?

* Have you run across the website of the George Mason economist Bryan Caplan (here)? It's an intellectual theme park, full of surprises and fun. Anyone who gets a kick out of Marginal Revolution (here) or Virginia Postrel (here) should enjoy it. Caplan is one affable, helpful and enthusiastic nerd. He's got a terrific set of interests and a bright and engaging writing style; for instance, Caplan seems to enjoying wrestling with both Objectivism and with Austrian economics (he's sympathetic to both without buying either's party line). I can recommend his paper "Libertarianism Against Economism: How Economists Misunderstand Voters and Why Libertarians Should Care," which is linked to on this page here. It's a 25 page PDF, well worth downloading and reading. But there's much else to explore on the site too, including papers about behavioral-vs-neoclassical economics, game theory, and other topics dear to hearts of at least a few 2Blowhards visitors.

* Thanks to Alan "Mythusmage," who passed along a link to this hilarious parody of the new "Matrix" movie, here. Have you caught the movie, by the way? The Wife tells me she found "Matrix 3" even worse than the appalling "Matrix 2," so I'll be skipping the new one myself. Sigh: and I really enjoyed the original "Matrix"...

* I'm late in tuning into Two Tin Cans, Rene and Kari's first-rate artsblog (here). They use a format like the one we use at 2Blowhards -- two long-distance friends emailing each other about what they're up to and what they've been thinking -- and they've got an enviable range of interests as well as an amazing amount of energy. (I dimly recall the days when I had some energy ...) Don't miss this virtuoso and innovative artsblogging effort here (though you might then need to scroll down a couple of screens), a back-and-forth, well-illustrated review of a gallery art show.

* Another wonderful cultureblog is DesignObserver (here), one of whose participants is the excellent Rick Poynor, an editor and design critic whose work I praised to the skies in a posting here.

* Jim Morrison has written an interesting article for The American Way magazine (here) about a number of musicians who are contending imaginatively and resourcefully with the new realities of the digital music world.



posted by Michael at November 19, 2003


Hey, Michael,

I can't say whether your conjecture about architecture and genre fiction applies in general, but it's sure got me and my wife pegged.

Posted by: Will Duquette on November 19, 2003 11:05 AM

(1) The parody of the Matrix is a scream. Everyone should read it. Too bad they didn't make this version rather than the one they did make. I wonder if the W Brothers have read this parody, and if they have, how long it will be before they commit suicide.

(2) Is "Hardcase" serious or Mickey Spillane insane-serious? I have always felt that Mickey Spillane never got credit for inventing his own genre, the hysterical hard boiled detective story. The only thing I've ever read that engaged this Spillanean genre was Woody Allen's parody, "Mr. Big".

(3) The link to Ivan Eland's piece on the Iraq war for the Independent Institute doesn't seem to work. I'll try again later.

(4) I've seen some of Thomas Jones' work before and always liked it, but never knew anything about him. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 19, 2003 12:21 PM

Apologies to all for bum links, which I think are now all fixed. The perils of putting together a posting on one computer, emailing it half-done to another, and then cutting and pasting ... If anyone spots another link that doesn't work, please let me know.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 19, 2003 12:36 PM

I've always been a fan of genre fiction (sf, fantasy, mystery, noir, military), largely because genre authors seem to be both interested in and adept at story-telling. But then I've probably already established my credentials as a Philistine. 8-)

Regarding Dan Simmons, you might be interested to know that he is one of the better-selling science-fiction writers around, and has won science fiction's highest award (the Hugo) for his novel "Hyperion". (He's also a fine person.)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on November 19, 2003 1:02 PM

Phew! What a lot in such a short post.

I too, am a genre fan - eclectic genres, to be sure, but genres nonetheless. I think you're on to something with the modern lit/architecture angle.

BTW, I've dug up some old Gould & Diamond articles if you've got some light reading time. ;) I don't suppose you have a copy of that '81 article Gould wrote for Discover, do you? I would like to add it to my collection. :) I remember reading an excellent Discover article on the Evolution & Religion both requiring faith thought-path in the early 90s and I can't for the life of me remember the title or author, and I'm thinking perhaps it was a reprint of that Gould article.

Are you actually taking yoga classes? American Swami has a typepad blog, btw. And limine has a blog you might like.

Also, did you see the article that David Sucher found on praising street furniture?


Posted by: Courtney on November 19, 2003 9:11 PM

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