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  1. Turbokitty on "The Dreamers"
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Friday, February 20, 2004

Turbokitty on "The Dreamers"
Dear Friedrich -- I was thinking the other day of blogging about Bernardo Bertolucci's new movie The Dreamers. Problem was, I didn't feel strongly about the film one way or the other. Then I bumped into Turbokitty, who told me she enjoyed the film a lot, and, Shazam. I don't know about you, but these slowed-down middle-aged days, I often find it more interesting to find out what someone who loves something has to say about it than I do to opinionize myself. So I roped Turbokitty, a wonderfully zesty conversationalist, into doing a back-and-forth with me about the movie. Turbokitty will forgive me if I take advantage of the occasion to make a Blowhardish point, namely: One reason that art doesn't have to be great is because it's always part of something we might think of as "the art experience," and the art experience includes much in addition to the specific work of art. You can have a fabulous art experience even when the art itself isn't great. Such an experience might, for instance, include anticipation, study, fantasy, the out-in-public thing, the apres-discussions, the moods you're thrown into, the reflections it prompts, the place it takes in your life ... (Hey, reading a review, or writing one -- or even co-blogging with a friend -- can be part of the art experience too.) In any case, the art experience doesn't begin only when the artwork begins, and it seldom ends the moment the artwork itself does. And a given art experience can be a great one -- or a very rewarding one -- even when the work itself isn't great. It can also be flat and unsatisfying even when the work itself is great. I don't think either Turbokitty or I thought "The Dreamers" was great, but we certainly had a fun time rapping about it. It was the trigger for a terrific Art Experience. And art experiences are as much to be savored and treasured as works of art are. IMHO, as ever. But enough with the point-making and on with the show. A little info about "The Dreamers" to set things up. It's based on a Gilbert Adair novel I haven't read. Adair's a gay English novelist and film critic; I loved his idiosyncratic movie-history book Flickers (which is buyable here). Bertolucci is an Italian filmmmaker who made his name in the '60s and '70s with sexy political films like "Before the Revolution," "The Conformist," and "Last Tango in Paris." Since then, he's mostly moved back and forth between epics like "The Last Emperor" and erotic chamber dramas like "Stealing Beauty" and "Besieged." The film's action is set in '68 in Paris, and its tone might be described as hotsy-totsy rueful nostalgia. It concerns three teens, a French brother-and sister-twin team whose relationship may be a little too close, and an earnest but eager-for-experience American boy. The twins are arch and perverse in ways meant to evoke Cocteau's "Les Enfants Terribles," which Jean-Pierre Melville made into a... posted by Michael at February 20, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Livin' on Stockholm Time
Michael: Did you see in the Wall Street Journal of February 19 a column by David Wessel entitled “View From the Right: Tax Increases Ahead”? It is based on an interview with Bruce Bartlett, a confirmed believer in supply-side economics and tax-cutter from the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Rather unhappily, given that background, he is currently predicting that even if the Republicans keep the White House in this year’s election, they’ll have to raise taxes by more than $100 billion a year. He blames the necessity for these increases on President Bush: “These tax increases, when they come, are the result of conscious deliberate decisions this administration has made,” he says, scolding the president for failing to veto a single spending bill and, particularly, for acquiescing to a costly expansion of Medicare. The Republican’s freespending ways, while regrettable, wouldn’t be the end of the world, of course, except that with each passing year the fiscal tsunami of baby-boomer retirement draws closer. Even Bush’s recently released budget, according to Mr. Wessel, notes this problem (granted, on page 191 of the “Analytical Perspectives” volume): The budget is on an unsustainable path. If you aren’t aware of just how unsustainable a path the U.S. budget is on, consider some of the following, which comes from an article by Nathan Littlefield in the January-February Atlantic (the magazine formerly known as the Atlantic Monthly.): Under any reasonable set of assumptions about economic growth, the natural growth rate of health-care costs, and other important factors, the gap between what we expect to pay and what we expect to receive is enormous. How enormous, you ask? Well, based on the work of economists Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters, the size of the gap amounts to $45.5 trillion dollars. To put that figure in perspective: …[T]he entire U.S. economy generated only about $10.4 trillion last year, and total household wealth is currently only about $39 trillion. Though no single generation will have to cover the whole $45.5 trillion (and the generations that are already in or very near retirement may not need to cover any of it), ultimately some Americans will have to pay, through dramatically higher taxes or dramatically reduced government services or both. Wait a minute, you ask, how could we be in such a long-term situation and not notice short-term impacts? (It’s sort of like being told the ship is sinking and not noticing any water in the hold.) Well, according to Mr. Littlefield: The magnitude of this looming gap has been masked for the past several decades by a demographic blip—the Baby Boom, which for nearly forty years has provided a large base of workers who contribute payroll and income taxes while consuming relatively few government services. In 2012, however, the situation will begin to reverse: a large proportion of the population will begin drawing more heavily on government services, while the relative number of taxpaying workers will start to shrink…In short, if we don’t make policy changes soon, the government’s financial situation... posted by Friedrich at February 20, 2004 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, February 19, 2004

More on "The Company"
Dear Friedrich -- Just because I'm a diehard Robert Altman fan, here are a few pieces about his newish film "The Company." (Here's my own posting about the movie.) * A long Altman q&a with Amy Reiter in Salon, here. * Joan Acocella's largely-positive review of the film, here. * Robert Gottlieb's negative review of the film, here. (Links thanks to OGIC, here.) * And Toni Bentley's negative take on the picture, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2004 | perma-link | (1) comments

Is the Personal Really Political?
Dear Friedrich -- Remember that slogan, "the personal is the political"? Is there anything that brings back just how gruesomely un-fun the '70s could be? Lordy: a decade when everything had to be interpreted politically: how you dressed, how you ate, what you read, which movies you saw, how fond you were of oral sex. Thank god we're over and past that accursed compulsion. Well, maybe not entirely: I was surfing around and ran across a couple of "personal is political" webpages. Here's a Jane Fonda-esque feminist site. And here's an editorial from the ultra-lefty Z magazine decrying the ways in which the slogan is, in their view, being misused these days. Time to take it back from The Man, no doubt. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Dear Friedrich -- The quantity of good reading and looking to be found on the web is wonderful and overwhelming. It also leaves me feeling a bit apologetic when I cobble together one of these linkfests. For every good article or posting I point out, there are tons I don't find the time or wherewithal to highlight -- not that it's up to me to do so in the first place, of course. But somehow I can't help feeling sheepish anyway, like I'm being a bad friend. Which probably makes me an Old-Media (ie., someone from back when the problem was too-little rather than too-much) guy. Sigh. * Jim Kalb points out a first-rate Roger Scruton essay about Islam and politics, here (warning: PDF file). Jim comments here, and has posted some more of his own head-clearing thoughts about conservatism and liberalism here and here. * Speaking of Roger Scruton, George Hunka has been enjoying Scruton's new book about Wagner, here. George also announces (here) that he's finished the first draft of his play -- a play with no frontal nudity, and no references to George W. Bush (!!!) -- and points out here that Syberberg's zillion-hour-long Brechtian epic "Our Hitler" can now be watched on the web. Having made it through Syberberg's weirdo version of Wagner's "Parsifal," I suspect I won't be first in line for the webcast of "Our Hitler" -- but don't let my snideness deter you, no sirreee. * Lynn Sislo has been listening to and thinking about Bach, here and here. Good observations and tips, and as always Lynn makes her own, refreshingly free observations. Pro critics could learn from Lynn; there's never anything knee-jerk about her responses. * This speech-plus-q&a by the ABC newsguy John Stossel, here, should leave libertarians feeling mega-stoked. Kudos to David Theroux and the Independent Institute for running the piece. Gluttons for discussions about libertarianism -- you know you're out there! -- won't want to miss this posting-plus-comments fiesta at God of the Machine, here. * Too bad you've got to subscribe or endure a commercial to get to it, but Michael Hastings' look at Bill O'Reilly's novel -- yes, he wrote a novel -- is worth the inconvenience. Hastings has some not-so-delicate fun at the egomaniac's expense, here. * Hours can be wasted -- I can vouch for this -- exploring this page of links here. (Dutch? Danish? Hmm, "NL" -- stands for Netherlands? Well, some European micro-country or other ...) Many of the links are anything but office-safe, and many are super-amusing. * Tim Hulsey is certainly the most articulate Oscar-forecaster I've run across, here. Question: why's someone as smart as Tim spending so much brainpower on the Oscars? Have you ever been an Oscars fan yourself? Years ago I tried to work up some campy enthusiasm -- betting on winners, indulging in cattiness about outfits, attending Oscar parties with friends. But I couldn't sustain any enthusiasm. * Time to call 1-800-PETA? Here's a report on something called... posted by Michael at February 19, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments

Taunton Press
Dear Friedrich -- Have you ever noticed the books published by The Taunton Press? As a homeowner often caught up in projects and overhauls, you might enjoy them -- as might visitors intrigued by various discussions we've had on the blog about architecture, homes and neighborhoods. Taunton has its roots back in the hippie-carpenter, Whole-Earth-Catalog days, and they publish many beautiful, helpful books and magazines about homes. (They also publish books and magazines about carpentry.) Many of their books are ultra-simpatico with the principles of people like Christopher Alexander; they show, in other words, an aversion to avant-garde showmanship, and a love of (and respect for) comfort, utility, solidity and attractiveness. Taunton's books and magazines are themselves handsome examples of the craft of bookmaking. Taunton's a creative and distinctive publisher -- far more interesting and worthy of attention (IMHO, of course) as makers of books than many celebrated novelists are. Years ago I met and spoke with one of Taunton's most popular authors, the architect Sarah ("The Not-So-Big House") Susanka. It was pleasing to hear her talk about how rewarding she'd found it to publish with Taunton. It was also fun to hear her talk about how, even in architecture school, she'd never felt she really "got" architecture until she ran across Alexander (et al)'s great A Pattern Language (buyable here). I see on Taunton's informative and attractive website (here) that Susanka has a new book due out soon. (Her own equally-fun-to-explore website is here.) I hope it's a good one. There are a few new Taunton books I've spent time with and can recommend: Russell Versaci's Creating a New Old House (explorable here and buyable here), and Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson and Barbara Winslow's Alexander-influenced Patterns of Home (explorable here and buyable here). Both books are gorgeous, helpful, well-priced and full of ideas almost any homeowner should enjoy playing with. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The Low-Carb Economy
Dear Friedrich -- You and I have been marveling over the way low-carb-mania has taken hold of the culture, but we've been doing so in our usual lazybones, impressionistic way. Fortune magazine's Matthew Boyle has the down and dirty. Some fun facts from his recent story (pay-per-view but with a lengthy teaser, here): The wholesale price of eggs has almost doubled this year. "The stock of Cal-Maine Foods, the leading U.S. fresh-egg producer, was up over 800% last year." "Editors at the OED are considering adding an entry for 'Atkins'." There are now 250 low-carb specialty stores. A low-carb industry newsletter is guesstimating that the low-carb foodbiz should hit $20 billion this year. Michelob's low-carb Ultra beer was expected to sell a million barrels last year. Instead, it sold 3 million barrels. Bread consumption in America peaked in 1997, at 147 pounds per person. It's now down to 137 pounds per person. The bread industry's newsletter says that "40% of Americans ate less bread last year than they did the year before." Sales of the products of low-carb producer Keto Foods are growing at a 300% clip. Thank heavens for real journalists, eh? Fortune's reasonably-generous website is here. Best, Michael UPDATE: I notice in this morning WSJ a small piece about the vogue for low-carb eating. Richard Gibson reports that 11% of Americans currently say they're eating low-carb, and that another 20% say they're likely to try doing so soon. In this morning's NYTimes, there's an interesting and informative front-page article about the "low-carb boom" by Kate Zernike and Marian Burros. It can be read here.... posted by Michael at February 18, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Frederick Turner
Dear Friedrich -- I just discovered that the amazing Frederick Turner -- whose moving and beautiful poetry collection April Wind (buyable here) I recently read, and whose just-as-fabulous New Classical manifesto The Culture of Hope (buyable here) I'm treating myself to for a second time -- has also written some columns for TechCentralStation. Here's an archive of them. Have you run across his work yet? Turner's a very exciting figure. Teacher, poet, essayist ... He glommed onto the implications of the new science earlier than any other arts figure I'm aware of, and he has has led the charge for an evo-bio and chaos-theory-informed return to classicism ever since. He's talented, brilliant, eloquent ... I hope to blog about him at length sometime soon. No, I plan to, dammit. Until such time, here's Turner's own website to explore And here's a passage from an Edge q&a with Steven Pinker that should intrigue. EDGE: So what do you see as the appropriate role for art? PINKER: Good heavens, that's not for me to weigh in on! The most I can do is suggest ways in which the sciences of mind might pipe in with insights that could complement those of scholars in the humanities. Linguistics can help poetics and rhetoric; perception science can be useful for the analysis of music and the visual arts; cognitive science has a role to play in the analysis of literature and cinema; evolutionary psychology can shed light on esthetics. And more generally, the sciences of mind can reinforce the idea that there really is an enduring human nature that great art can appeal to. EDGE: Who are some of the people exploring the convergence of art and science? PINKER: Among novelists, Ian McEwan, David Lodge, A. S. Byatt, John Updike, Iris Murdoch, Tom Wolfe, and George Orwell are a few that I am familiar with who have invoked notions of human nature, sometimes traditional ones, sometimes ones from scientific psychology, in their work or their explanations. Among scholars and critics, the list is growing; here are some who pop into mind. George Steiner on biological conflict and drama. Ernest Gombrich on perception and art. Joseph Carroll, Frederick Turner, Mark Turner, Brian Boyd, Patrick Hogan, on literature. Elaine Scarry on mental imagery and fiction. Denis Dutton has been a catalyst for this convergence through his journal Philosophy and Literature and his web site EDGE: Does this portend a more general trend? PINKER: We may be seeing a coming together of the humanities and the science of human nature. They've been long separated because of post-modernism and modernism. But now graduate students are grumbling in emails and in conference hallways about being locked out of the job market unless they perpetuate postmodernist gobbledygook, and how they're eager for new ideas from the sciences that could invigorate the humanities within universities, which are, by anyone's account, in trouble. Also connoisseurs and appreciators of art are getting sick of the umpteenth exhibit on the female body featuring mangled... posted by Michael at February 18, 2004 | perma-link | (5) comments

Gay Ad Aesthetic
Dear Friedrich -- In a long-ago posting I can't seem to retrieve, I made passing reference to the way gay aesthetics have conquered a lot of pop culture. When a visitor, who seemed startled, challenged me to prove my assertion, I was a bit nonplused. I mean, where not to point? Who not to cite as a source? The way that gay styles, tastes, and fashions have conquered mid-America is one of the most striking and -- in my media-centric neck of the woods, anyway -- one of the most openly-discussed developments in pop culture in the last couple of decades. But I'm reminded of how un-clued-in some people can be whenever I visit flyover country, which I did recently. It's really amazing, the way so many mid-Americans ... well, just don't have a clue. Not only do they not have gaydar, they don't even know such a thing exists. Perhaps this article by Robin Finn for the NYTimes, here -- a brief visit with Sam Shahid, the advertising art director behind the notorious Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues -- will open a few eyes out there in Squaresville. Yes, there were indeed some bare boobies on display in those sexy catalogues; yes, there were indeed photos of boys and girls exchanging sultry looks with each other -- but the basic aesthetic behind the whole thing was gay. Gay, do you hear me? Everyone knows it!!! Wise up!!! Get a clue!!! Gay gay gay gay gay!!!! Not that my beloved fellow mid-Americans occasionally make me impatient or anything. Best, Michael UPDATE: A propos of not a lot, but very interesting anyway: here's Alan Sullivan on the A&F catalog and much more. And here's an amusing onscene report from a Swarthmore College online publication describing what it was like when the A&F gang visited campus for a photo shoot.... posted by Michael at February 18, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Two Souls, Alas, Within My Bosom Dwell...
Michael: Thanks for sending me Mark Lilla’s book, “The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics.” I was particularly intrigued by the story of Alexander Vladimirovitch Kojevnikov, better known as Kojeve, who took a single notion out of Hegel and built himself quite a career around it. (Apparently, Kojeve’s writings were the inspiration for Francis Fukuyama’s "The End of History and the Last Man" of 1992 which I certainly heard about but never read.) Kojeve’s hypothesis, derived from his reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit while teaching a tutorial in France during the 1930s, was that the central motor of history during the past two centuries has been the struggle by self-conscious minds for recognition from other self-conscious minds. According to Mr. Lilla: One step in [humanity’s] developmental ladder is the moment of “self-consciousness,” when the mind first becomes aware of itself as an active force, which realization leads to a bifurcation between simple consciousness and reflective self-consciousness. Hegel describes this moment allegorically as a struggle between two figures: a master (Herr), representing simple conciousness, who rules over and demands recognition from a servant (Knecht), representing the new self-consciousness. The relation between master and servant is necessarily one of conflict because, Hegel explains, it is in the nature of the self-conscious mind to want recognition from other such minds; this is its overriding desire. [emphasis added] According to Kojeve, the world, or at least its laboring and oppressed masses, achieved Hegelian self-consciousness during the French revolution. The Napoleonic wars then spread the bacillum of self-consciousness throughout Europe. According to Kojeve, there haven’t been any world-historical events since the Napoleonic wars. Post-Napoleonic ‘history’ has merely been the struggle of various self-conscious humans for mutual recognition. Hence, we are in a period considered considered by Kojeve to be ‘the end of history.’ Hey, don’t laugh at this little theory; it actually got Kojeve a long lasting gig as a postwar advisor to successive French governments. In position papers written for the French government immediately after World War II, he posited that the U.S. and the USSR were simply left- and right-wing variations of the same underlying world-historical trend. That is, they were both evolving toward technocratically administered egalitarian societies, because that is the type of society most conducive to the real action--the struggle for Recognition by other Self Conscious Minds. Hence, France could feel conveniently agnostic about who would ultimately win the Cold War, and, in fact, could legitimately create a third alternative to both in Europe. Kojeve actually seems to have played an influential role in the creation of the Common Market. Philosophically I have no idea if Kojeve’s reading of Hegel’s theory is on the money or not. To tell the truth, I've never been able to decode Hegel for more than a sentence or two, so I’m not the man to ask. (Are there any Hegel scholars out there willing to weigh in on the accuracy of Kojeve’s interpretation?) I obviously have a weakness for grandiose nuttiness like this. That's how... posted by Friedrich at February 17, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments