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. Fat Like Me
  2. The Man or His Times?
  3. Elsewhere
  4. Seasonal Standard -- 10 Best Lists
  5. "My Architect" and Louis Kahn
  6. Spammed, or Something
  7. Advice to Artsies
  8. DVD Journal: "Lost in La Mancha"
  9. Sons of the Midwest
  10. Salingaros on Gomez-Davila

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, December 13, 2003

Fat Like Me
Michael: My name is Friedrich and I’m overweight. At the moment I’m pretty seriously overweight (I’m 6’ 1” tall and I weigh just under 300 pounds.) But I’ve been overweight, if less overweight, most of my adult life, with only a few brief, shining moments of being in pretty good shape. I say all this because it seems to me that with the national epidemic of obesity and its ‘familiar’ spirit, dieting, 2blowhards can no longer ignore this major element in today’s culture. And I am just the man to take this blog where it has never gone before. I’m currently doing Optifast, which is an 800 calorie-a-day, doctor-supervised liquid diet. I am dropping weight at a blistering pace, as one might expect (I am one of the few overweight people I know who never maintains that my weight problem is the result of a slow metabolism: the speed with which I can lose weight—when I put my mind to it—would argue, I think, for a higher-than-average metabolism.) One element of the Optifast plan is a weekly Weight-Watcher’s-style meeting. My ‘group’ is composed of fairly obese people, most of whom are women. (From this as well as my days at Weight-Watchers—also overwhelmingly female—I’m left scratching my head: where are all the guys? It’s not like there’s any shortage of fat men out there.) Every last one of the people in my group, who are probably looked on with a certain degree of pity and contempt by the average passer-by on the street, turned out to be surprisingly intelligent, articulate and accomplished. They own their own companies, hold serious management positions, cope with both work and family life, or—if they’re young—are advancing their ambitions in a highly disciplined way. So…the question has to be asked, why are they fat? I can’t say for sure, but I did notice one factor that we all shared. The facilitator of the group passed out a form to all of us, asking us to rate how ‘balanced’ our lives are. By ‘balance’ they meant, do you take time for yourself? Do you rate your own needs highly? Can you say ‘no’ to other people? None of us in the room thought our lives were in any way balanced according to this definition. Not one of us was good at carving out enough time to tend ourselves. While this is certainly not scientifically definitive, it suggest a hypothesis: fat people are fat not because they’re greedy or gluttonous, but because they’re not good at focusing on their own needs. Of course, other factors are almost certainly at work here. I would like to raise one: the impact of high-calorie, pre-prepared food, whether for snacking or from fast-food restaurants. There was an interesting article on the Wall Street Journal editorial page a week or so back which considered both the epidemic of obesity and this particular trend as a contributing factor. The author, whose name I regretfully cannot remember, pointed out that the biochemical mechanisms of appetite... posted by Friedrich at December 13, 2003 | perma-link | (31) comments

The Man or His Times?
Michael: Do you ever wonder if we culture vultures put too much emphasis on the individual artist, and not the—for want of a better term—trend? I would never hold myself out as anything other than a classical music ignoramus, but as I drive around listening to my local station, I have noticed that I like 18th century music far better than 19th century music or 20th century music. Obviously, there are individual exceptions, but they remain just that: by and large, I know that I will enjoy just about anything written in the 18th century, and especially in its last third. Thinking about this in other arts, I would say that in painting there are whole eras that I particularly like and other whole eras that I have to work harder to enjoy. I will happily take a good long look at anything 15th century, for example, and anything produced in the first half of the 17th century (probably the apogee of Old Master talent: Rubens, Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Velasquez, among others, were all at work.) Whereas I find late 17th century and early 18th century painting to be of less interest. Granted that there were glorious exceptions, but to me the mighty river of art seemed a bit damned up during that era. (I’ll pass over 18th century sculpture in silence.) I find the same true even in pop culture. In my movie-buff days I remember working my way through the films of the 1950s and early 1960s and wondering what was responsible for the general collapse of quality. It was as if Hollywood—by and large—just forgot how to make movies somewhere in the early 1950s, or else it suffered a massive loss of self-confidence in the ‘tried and true’ bag of tricks it had developed. There are good films from this era, but the average movie is simply not as entertaining as, say, the average 1930s movie. And in pop music of the postwar era, I remain a man of the 1950s. I’ll listen to almost anything from that decade; I have to pick and choose in all other eras to be happy. Anyway, these are my choices, I’m sure they’re not yours or anyone else’s. What I’m getting at is that the habits, tastes and formal strategies of an era may have a lot more to do with how much one enjoys a work of art than we generally allow for when worshipping at the altar of genius. I remember reading somewhere a quote that ran roughly as follows: “What mysterious quality of Mozart raises every note of his music so far above the hackwork of his contemporaries?” I thought about that for a while and thought, ‘Maybe there is no mysterious X-factor. Maybe half or two thirds of Mozart was the simply the era, and can be enjoyed quite nicely in the hackwork of his contemporaries, thank you very much. Maybe another third of Mozart was superior ability to execute the common vision of the... posted by Friedrich at December 13, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, December 12, 2003

Dear Friedrich -- * Tyler Cowen turns up definitive proof that the presence of beautiful women makes men act like asses, here. Interesting to learn that the presence of a handsome guy doesn't make women lose nearly so much of their reason. * The economist Friedrich Hayek spent decades squaring off against large-scale planners and centralizers; he saw virtue in distributed knowledge and decentered decision-making. If chaos and complexity theory make your head buzz, and if the thoughts of Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs make intuitive sense to you, you'll probably groove on Hayek too. My (rather quirky) choice for best Hayek book to start with is "The Fatal Conceit," buyable here. But the curious can get a fast and free taste of Hayek's thinking by reading this Thomas Hazlett interview with Hayek for Reason, here. * S.Y. Affolee (here) turned up this mindbending Flash production here. Load it, use your keyboard's arrow keys, and pretend you're one of the Blue Angels. * A short but heartfelt tribute to the cultureblogosphere's best linker, Plep (here), who, day after day, makes amazing finds. What could be a more worthwhile and helpful way to use the Web? An essential site for culture fans, and a sensational ongoing performance that doesn't get nearly the applause it deserves. * In the NYTimes, William Hamilton writes that Sotheby's is having a hard time finding buyers for Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House here. The minimum bid is $4.5 million and no one has come up with anything more than $3.5 million. I'm not surprised: the glass shoebox of a house has always been a hard one to live in, and it's prone to being flooded. A 1997 flood led to a $10 million renovation -- yet the modernist take on the house is that it's a "brilliant response to the landscape." Ah, modernism, eh? One sensible statement comes from Christopher Robling of the Landmarks Preservation Council: "Honestly," he says, "I think that modern architecture is an acquired taste." Yes, and it's one that can be un-acquired too. Our own posting about the Farnsworth is here. * Steve Sailer's review of Jonathan Tilove's new book about contemporary African-American life, "Along Martin Luther King," is informative and moving, here. * Visitors who were interested or exasperated by the discussion of AIDS that cropped up a few postings ago may well find this Rian Malan piece about AIDS in Africa interesting, or maybe exasperating, too. Malan writes that he suspects that the figures that have been given for the number of the infected in Africa are extremely exaggerated. It's here. * Graham Lester, who has been reading Trollope and Dickens, makes sensible and persuasive cases for both of them, here. * JW Hastings (here) confesses that he likes a lot of commercial country music. A commenter on JW's posting links to the website of WDVX here, and calls it the best alt-country radio station in the world. I've only been listening to their webcast for a few hours... posted by Michael at December 12, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Seasonal Standard -- 10 Best Lists
[Note to visitors: I was so pleased with this posting I put up last year at this time that I'm going to put it up this year too. It's on a subject of the utmost, world-shaking importance -- end-of-year 10-best lists.] Friedrich -- Do you enjoy end-of-the-year best-of lists? I do. I have plenty of dignified intellectual and critic friends who disapprove of them. Their argument generally seems to be that such lists are (surprise!) undignified. For me, that's a good reason to like them; making up a best-of list, and making it public, humanizes the person behind it. Why? Because of the clip-and-save aspect, for one thing. But also because it gives the public such a good, terse look at the critic's tastes. There are people out there you're semi-aware of and are willing to feel semi-respectful towards. But what if, say, Louis Menand made up an end-of-the-year 10-best list? You could look at it and decide very quickly whether he's a guy for you. You might think, hmm, yes, yes, very good. But you might equally as well think, Lordy, why was I paying attention to this idiot? Or: What a priss! So I approve of these lists. But there's something about the typical 10-best list that has always bugged me, and I think I've finally figured it out. It boils down to this: "'Best' as in what exactly?" Using movies as an example, here are some possibilities: * "Best" as in "my personal favorite"? * "Best" as in, "in my professional opinion this is likely to be remembered as influential"? * "Best" as in, "in 50 years, there will be a get-together of all the best taste-makers, and they will vote on the best movies of this year. And with this list, I'm predicting the results of their poll"? Which is it, critics? Why is this a problem? Because, if a critic were to make up all three of these lists, and do so in all sincerity, it's quite possible that there would be no overlap between them at all. Perhaps the critic has a hunch that a certain movie will prove influential -- but didn't enjoy it personally. Perhaps a critic has the feeling that a given picture will one day be viewed as important, yet it put this critic to sleep. Perhaps the critic loved some oddball movie, yet it's already been forgotten. So which one is it that your typical movie reviewer is giving you when he supplies his year-end 10-best list? 2Blowhards, or at least this half of 2Blowhards, wants to know. My fear (conviction, actually) is that what we're getting from the typical reviewer is a list that combines all these elements and more. Something along the lines of: Here are some movies I enjoyed personally; here are some movies I guess I gotta resign myself to giving a nod to because everyone thinks they're important; here's a few respectable big-pop entertainments, because my bosses would kill me if I appeared too... posted by Michael at December 12, 2003 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, December 11, 2003

"My Architect" and Louis Kahn
Dear Friedrich -- A few discussions back, Annette asked an important question that I for one would like to see finally well-answered: if modernism is such a horror, and if its assumptions, methods and results run so counter to what people naturally prefer, why has it had such a good run? [Note to the curious and the quarrelsome: I know I know I know that "modernism" in the official playbook indicates an art movement that came to an end circa 1975ish, thence to be succeeded by po-mo, decon and other movements. I don't use the word that way. As far as I'm concerned, po-mo and decon etc are extensions of -- and not refutations of or alternatives to -- official "modernism"; they're the same beast, even if dressed in different clothes. That's a minority opinion, I know, but I think it's a defensible one. Some other posting, in any case.] I found myself scratching my head a lot over Annette's question the other night when I visited the Film Forum and watched the acclaimed documentary My Architect. Have you heard about the film? It was made by Nathaniel Kahn, the illegitimate son of the modernist architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974). Narratively, it's about Nathaniel's attempt to find out what his dad, who he didn't know well while he was alive, was like and to perhaps come to terms with the old man too. As an example of the art of documentary filmmaking, "My Architect" is mainly a triumph of persistence and intelligence. And if I roll my eyes when presented with the theme of "coming to terms with the monster parent," who cares? The audience seemed moved by the film, and gave it a round of applause. The film interested me mainly as a portrait of Louis Kahn, who was quite a character, talented-modernist-egomaniac division. (Once again I count my lucky stars that my own dad was a modest man and a sweetheart.) Kahn was a charismatic guy, despite being small and unattractive. His demise wasn't the stuff of a John Ford movie either; despite his reputation, Kahn -- who was found dead in the men's room of Penn Station -- died deeply in debt. Did you ever wrestle with Kahn's work? He's known as one of American modernism's almost-lost opportunities. He never got to build many buildings -- certainly nothing like as many as the competition (Johnson, Pei, etc). But it's generally agreed that some of the buildings he did build -- the best-known include the Exeter library, the Salk Institute, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, and the National Assembly Building in Dacca, Bangladesh -- are among modernism's great achievements. Kahn arrived in this country from Estonia when he was five and is generally thought to have hit his artistic stride around the age of 50. The quick version of what was wonderful about his work is that he put soul, texture and mysticism into modernism. It's also said that he created modernist buildings that have the qualities... posted by Michael at December 11, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments

Spammed, or Something
A plea for help or advice. All kind of ads are showing up in 2Blowhards' Comments section. Viagra, of course, but oh so much more too -- easy credit, drugs you've never heard of, even budget travel deals. Some of them are quite short, but others are enormously long and include dozens of URLs. I've had to spend hours combing through our entries and comments, and deleting whatever spam-comments I could find. It's terrifying that the scumbags have branched out from email spam and have figured out how to attack the Comments sections of innocent blogs. How long until these monsters bring the entire web to its knees? But, my own hysteria aside: does anyone have any advice about how we might best deal with, and maybe even put an end to, this plague? We'd be grateful for any and all suggestions.... posted by Michael at December 11, 2003 | perma-link | (10) comments

Advice to Artsies
Dear Friedrich -- I vote that we pass a constitutional amendment requiring that Alex Tabarrok's "advice to a liberal arts major" (here) be read out loud -- slowly and clearly -- to all lib-arts and fine-arts undergrads at the beginning of every school year. Hmmm: maybe to all arts classes of any kind and any size, occurring anywhere in the world. Oh heck -- let's just insist that arty kids commit the posting to memory. I take minor issue with Alex on one point. He suggests this: "Look for work that draws upon your artistic skills. A writer can be an editor, a poet can write great ad-copy, a photographer can photograph weddings (do not sneer it's a privilege to be trusted with recording one of the most important events of a person's life.)" I've seen many people wind up unhappy from trying to do exactly this. Not because it's an impossible goal -- it isn't -- but because achieving it leaves many people in miserable states: half-fulfilled artistically (at best), paid lousily, and (what's most important) out of love with the artform they originally cared about and around which they shaped their lives. The joy too often goes out of an activity when you start trading it for money. And frustrated, not-rich, and brokenhearted does not make for a rewarding life. So I'd make a slightly different suggestion: develop some sensible and marketable skill or craft for which you're well suited but that has nothing to do with the art you love. That way you'll be able to pay your bills doing something bearable, and you'll also be able to pursue your art passions in an unspoiled way. Otherwise Alex's advice strikes me as spot-on. How do you react to his posting? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

DVD Journal: "Lost in La Mancha"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- Looking back at it, why would you say you gave up on the dream of making movies professionally? [Note to anyone who happens to read this: Friedrich and I were college film-going and filmmaking buddies of a gleeful and maniacal type: we must have read every book about film in the college library, and we watched "Rules of the Game" -- really studying it -- at least 15 times each. FvB had "Clockwork Orange" and much of the rest of the Kubrick oeuvre down cold; I could storyboard out from memory long passages from Buster Keaton movies. After college, we both spent a few years trying to get our feet on the filmbiz ladder -- making short movies, taking acting classes, and writing scripts. Really awful scripts, in my case ...] My own moviemaking dreams started to evaporate when when I got a taste of what it is to make movies professionally. In NYC, I met filmmakers, spent a few days on film sets, and attended parties with ambitious young film geeks. That did away with about 80 percent of my desire to make features. A few years later, I spent a stretch in L.A. There I saw yet more of the moviemaking world -- and, oh, the nightmare that is a Young Hollywood Wannabe party! And with that visit, my remaining moviemaking dreams crumbled into cinders. Up to that point I'd thought, in true young-fool style, that making movies would be a matter of talent, brains, and the abililty to play well with others. Talent? Judging from a few months I spent at film school, I was one of the kids who had a little talent, not one of the kids who didn't. Brains? Sure: enough, anyway. Plays well with others? Heck, I'd enjoyed the occasional stint of ringleading. But what quickly made its way through even my thick skull was that succeeding in feature films requires all kinds of things that simply aren't in my range. It's a fantastically desirable field; tens of millions of people would love to have one of those thousands of jobs. Because the competition is ferocious, behavior leaves all traces of principle, trustworthiness and honor behind very fast. As far as I could tell, what the ambitious young filmperson needs is the hide of a rhinocerous, a lust for scheming and networking, pride in your ability to eat shit and then demand seconds, and the physical constitution of the Terminator. Talent, brains, sensitivity? Sure, those too. Dreamy, polite, raised-in-the-middle-class, mid-American kid that I was, I got a look at this world and concluded, Hmmm, y'know, I don't think I'm temperamentally suited for this life. I'm barely able to yell and scream, or to take being yelled and screamed at, for instance -- and there's a lot of yelling and screaming in the moviebiz. Unrelenting tension makes me take to my bed. Power-games make me want to step aside and hand the reins to whoever happens to be... posted by Michael at December 9, 2003 | perma-link | (15) comments

Sons of the Midwest
Michael: December 17 will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the first flight of the Wright Brothers. As a Midwesterner, I think I can justifiably point out this feat as probably the high point of Midwestern American civilization. Wilbur (left) and Orville Wright and Their First Flight As remarkable as the brothers were, they were also very much men of their time-and-place. They were born in Ohio (like me) within five years of the end of the Civil War (well, not exactly like me)—Wilbur in 1866, Orville in 1870. They came from a religious family, but of a recognizable Midwestern type. Their father was a bishop in the United Brethern Church; no mystic (we’re not really natural mystics in Ohio) but rather a tireless traveling evangelist, organizer and religious politician, whose faith gave him a firm sense of his own righteousness. In the opening days of the Civil War he wrote in a letter: The President does not want to end slavery. The Congress does not want to end slavery. But the Lord God Jehovah wants to end slavery, and slavery shall come to an end. And, by golly, the Bishop was as good as his word on racial matters; the Wright home in Dayton was in a racially mixed neighborhood (pretty much on the wrong side of the tracks) and both brothers grew up with black friends and classmates. (In fact, Orville wanted a black preacher whom he admired to deliver his eulogy, but the scandalized younger generation wouldn’t hear of this and ignored his wishes at the funeral.) I took a trip to Dayton a few years ago and decided to check out where the Wright home stood. It was actually a pretty depressing trip; today the lot sits in a grim inner-city neighborhood. As I drove around slowly looking for the exact address (there is, astonishingly, no marker or sign) I was constantly accosted by men on street corners trying to sell me drugs. When I got out to survey the now-empty lot where the Wright house stood (Henry Ford bought it and moved it to Dearborn), I noticed that the house immediately to its left, no doubt standing in the brothers’ day, had a hand-lettered cardboard sign in the window: We don’t sell crack. Please don’t knock. I came away thinking that it was time for the Bishop to rise up from his grave and reassert control over his turf. Even the guys selling drugs seemed pretty dispirited; it was as if everyone in the neighborhood was desperately looking for a dose of old-fashioned religiously inspired moral suasion (and the Bishop would have been just the man to supply it.) The brothers were from a large family which very much revolved around Dad. The older brothers rebelled, made inappropriate marriages, and struggled financially, while the three younger children (including Orville, Wilbur and their sister) gave up and stayed at home, never to marry or even have much in the way of significant others. (Actually, the sister eventually... posted by Friedrich at December 9, 2003 | perma-link | (25) comments

Sunday, December 7, 2003

Salingaros on Gomez-Davila
Dear Friedrich -- I was so taken by the aphorisms of Nicolas Gomez-Davila that I asked Nikos Salingaros, who turned them up and translated some of them, if we could run his piece about Gomez-Davila on 2Blowhards. Nikos graciously agreed. So it's my pleasure to present his introduction and translations. *** Annotations on an Implicit TextThe work of Nicolas Gomez-Davila By Nikos A. Salingaros Many persons of letters today consider the Colombian philosopher Nicolas Gomez-Davila (1913-1994) as one of the foremost intellectuals of our time. His work consists exclusively of brief comments, or aphorisms, which he called "Notes on the margins of an implicit text". Gomez-Davila published three different books (a total of five volumes) of aphorisms in Spanish. To the best of my knowledge, none of his work is available in English. My own interest in this comes from the extraordinary comments on artistic, architectural, and urban matters that Gomez-Davila's work contains, mixed in with observations about politics, religion, tradition, culture, and society. Until the literary world turns its long-overdue attention to the aphorisms of Gomez-Davila, I would like to make a few of his comments available to a general readership. Admitting at once that I am by no means qualified to present a scholarly translation of one of our age's great literary and philosophical figures, I have tried to do the best job possible. My selection of which texts to translate is motivated by questions of contemporary architecture and urbanism, and their underlying philosophical underpinnings. I need to warn the reader that Nicolas Gomez-Davila was unashamedly conservative, even reactionary. His political views do not concern me, but they do color his opinions on architecture and urbanism. They also go hand-in-hand with his deep religious convictions. Admirers of his writings have suggested that his political leanings were responsible for the neglect that his work received during his lifetime. I am presenting his work not for its political value, but for the insights it offers into humankind, society, and history. Gomez-Davila's aphorisms have been published as follows: [1] Nicolás Gómez Dávila: Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Volumes I & II, Bogotá, 1977. [2] Nuevos Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Volumes I & II, Bogotá, 1986. [3] Succesivos Escolios a un Texto Implícito, Bogotá, 1992. Reprinted, Barcelona, 2002. Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, a selection by Rosa Emilia Gómez de Restrepo from [1], [2], and [3], Bogotá, 2001. In Margine a un Testo Implicito, Italian translation by Lucio Sessa of a selection by Franco Volpi from [1], Milano, 2001. Les Horreurs de la Démocratie, French translation of [1] by Michel Bibard, Monaco, 2003. There are also complete translations of his work into German: [1] by Günther Rudolf Sigl, Vienna, 1987; [2] by Michaela Messner, Vienna, 1992; & [3] by Günther Maschke, Vienna, 1994. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ APHORISMS OF NICOLAS GOMEZ-DAVILA Selected from [3].   • Truths do not contradict each other except when they become disordered. • A properly civilizing task is to revisit old commonplace things. • The difference between "organic"... posted by Michael at December 7, 2003 | perma-link | (18) comments