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Saturday, May 22, 2004

One Blowhard
Visitors may have noticed that postings from Friedrich von Blowhard have been sparse in the past few weeks. In fact, life and business have dropped some extra-demanding challenges in his lap -- so much so that FvB has reluctantly concluded that the demands of regular blogging have become too great. Caution: FvB mind (and eye) at work The good news is that, by dint of gentle harassment, er, coaxing, I got FvB to agree to label his new blogstate "an open-ended sabbatical" instead of "outright retirement." I'm feeling pretty confident that he'll be making regular appearances in the Comments threads. More optimistically, I'm hoping he'll see the blog as an undemanding and friendly hangout, to be taken advantage of at whatever pace he chooses. So, shhhhh: don't let him know, because I don't want to scare him off. But I suspect we may not have seen the last of FvB's postings, even if they appear only very occasionally. To be honest, I marvel that he's lasted as long as he has. As a few visitors have no doubt noticed, FvB has been the Blowhard who supplies the blog's gravitas. While I've played imp, FvB has rolled up his sleeves, dug into messy and significant subjects, and delivered real goods. How'd he manage? I lead a streamlined bohemian life that offers a fair number of opportunities for mischief, while FvB leads a different kind of life altogether. He's an entrepreneur with his own business; he and his wife have a house and three kids; and he's his family's financial provider. I marvel at adults leading family-house-and-job lives: how do they find time and energy for Culture at all? (I mean, aside from the occasional DVD.) So I marvel doubly at FvB, who, despite his extra-heavy set of responsibilities, managed to write not just Posting #1, but hundreds and hundreds more. I suspect that the real reason he managed to crank out provocative writing for as long as he did is the fact that, like me, he's been having such a good time. For one thing, this digging-in-and-giving-heroic-thought-to behavior of his is something FvB does in the normal course of events. It's not some otherwise-hidden spigot he turned on purely for the blog; it's a basic part of who he is. He was rumbling along in this fashion when I first met him back in college, and he's never stopped since. He's got a mind like a diesel engine, made for eathworks and heavy lifting. Even the recent emails he's sent me about how Blogging has Become Too Much have been full of facts and thinking about early modernism, the meaning of the avant-garde in mid-19th century Paris, etc. Just between y'all and me, it wouldn't take much work at all to turn these emails into terrific blog postings. Too bad that isn't to be. FWIW (and as though anyone's interested), FvB and I did our best from the outset to make our blogging as direct an extension as possible of the... posted by Michael at May 22, 2004 | perma-link | (30) comments

Friday, May 21, 2004

Informal Arrangements
Dear Friedrich -- I wrote something in response to a comment by JC and wound up feeling pretty pleased with myself. (As well as with JC, of course -- thanks, JC!) And god knows I'm not one to deny myself the pleasure of opportunistically cannibalizing myself. So I'm copying and pasting it here. I know that what I'm partly doing in the passage below is rationalizing girl-watching. On the other hand, one does a lot of girl-watching on one's morning walk to work, and one has one's reflections while doing so. (Sigh: one does sometimes wish American English allowed one to use the pronoun "one" without looking like an ass.) Clothing, styles, food, presentation, sex roles, behavior, implicit understandings about what's allowed and what's not, etc -- interesting stuff! So here are a few ... well, not even ruminations, really, but questions: I think it's fun and even intellectually interesting keeping an eye on some of these topics, don't you? America's struggle with tubbiness, for instance. Not many people in history have lived in a culture of convenience and plenty, and we don't seem to be biologically programmed to deal with it well. Yet it's hard not to think of convenience and plenty as Good Things. Still, here we are, wondering about whether More is always Better -- few have ever had to wonder this -- and trying to come up with ways we can actually live with to control our impulses and intake. What's that like, to have to struggle consciously with topics that most people thru history never had to struggle consciously with? Is it always welcome? Perhaps on balance, sure, but is it without other consequences? I get a kick out of following the informal codes by which we live too. Clothing, for instance: how do we arrive at a sense of what's permissable? It generally isn't a legal thing, and most of us resent it when these issues are made legal and/or formal. Yet we arrive at informal understandings anyway -- we have to. And these are standards that are forever shifting under various pressures: fashion, generational turnover, kids who test limits, even the news -- people's dress sense got more modest for a while after 9/11, at least in NYC. Which makes the topic even messier, and (IMHO) therefore more interesting, not less. It seems obvious (but why?) to most people that it'd be wrong, whatever that means, to allow office workers to wear nothing but thongs. (Well, at least at the office.) But most of us these days also think it'd be wrong to require office workers to wear formal clothing. We have a rough sense that a permissable/acceptable stretch lies somewhere between "a thong" and "evening dress." But how do we have this sense? What's it based on? How do we settle on these things? And how do we renegotiate them? How do we even know when to renegotiate them? For instance, I'm curious about how informal standards (office, sidewalk, etc) are going... posted by Michael at May 21, 2004 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Food Notes
Dear Friedrich -- * Low-carb lookout: I notice that sales of bread and orange juice are both 'way down. (Check out this report here, and this one here.) The two industries are responding in similar fashion: with advertising blitzes, and with new lines of low-carb products. Krispy Kreme's stock price is off too. I wonder if they'll be advertising low-carb donuts soon. * Any idea what what low-carb OJ tastes like? I've had a couple of low-carb breads, and they were awful. The other night The Wife and I tried a soy-based low-carb pasta. Eating it was wet, unpleasant, and heavy work, like chowing down on the contents of a laundry hamper. Are whole-wheat pastas better than the soy/low-carb pastas? Have you -- has anyone -- run across a whole-wheat pasta that's better than bearable? * The Wife and I caught a documentary called Eat This, New York, harvested by the loyal DVR off the Sundance Channel. It's a likable, scrappy no-budget thing, definitely not-great but a modest triumph of pluck nonetheless. And it's got a terrific subject: the New York City restaurant business. The film follows the misadventures of two new-to-the-city midwestern semi-hipsters as they try to open a small bistro in Brooklyn. The filmmakers crosscut this footage with interviews with some of the city's great food figures: Daniel Boulud, Ruth Reichl, Danny Meyer, many others. Despite its skimpiness and flaws, the film kept us more than half-interested -- amazing what a great subject can do for a movie. What an all-engulfing life running a restaurant seems to be. Not so long ago, I used to be taken out to expense-account lunches at many of the city's best restaurants. (My three faves: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Park Tavern, and Danube.) So it was doubly fun to watch the talents behind these places tell their stories and offer their reflections. I see at the film's website here that it'll soon be available on DVD. I also notice that the film is airing on Sundance one last time, tonight at 10:30 pm. * Turkey burgers: healthy, handy, cheap, and about as pleasing to eat as scraps of plywood. The Food Network's ever-enthusiastic Rachael Ray to the rescue, here. The Wife found this recipe and has cooked it several times, and the results have always been wunderbar: an informal delight, full of taste and juice. The secret is mixing chopped apple and onion into the burger meat, and covering the pan as the turkey cooks. That way, the meat stays light and moist, and gets saturated with good onion-and-apple syrup. Rachael Ray urges you to serve the burgers with a cranberry relish, but The Wife has also served them with her own inspired tamari-garlic mushroom sauce. Yumsville. * French food alert: Marie Valla and Christopher Dickey report in Newsweek International (here) that French cooking no longer seems so special, and they explain why. The blame seems to lie with government tax policies, red tape -- and the fact that cooking elsewhere has... posted by Michael at May 20, 2004 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Dear Friedrich -- * John Kerry's daughter Alexandra seems determined to give the Bush girls a run for the wild-child trophy, here. (Link thanks to Daze Reader, here.) * The NYTimes' most-underappreciated arts writer, IMHO, is their architecture-history columnist Christopher Gray. He's knowledgeable, responsive, and civilized; he writes extremely well in a low-key way; he knows how to help you see and appreciate what he shows you; and he's pushing no bizarro agenda. I met him once and was amused by how quick he was to assert, "I'm not a critic." Indeed, he seemed to relish the fact that his column runs in the paper's Real-Estate section rather than its Arts section. (My interpretation: he's pleased to be where he is because there's less hysteria and egomania to deal with in Real Estate than in Arts.) He gabs in characteristically sweet and helpful fashion about the history and features of some first-rate NYC buildings in this show with WNYC's Leonard Lopate, here. Here's Gray's latest Times column. * Steve Sailer's piece about nepotism around the world, here, is an eye-opener, as well as essential understanding-today's-world reading. * I'm not a huge fan of the work of the Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin. But he sure talks about movies entertainingly, here. * Enthusiastic collectors for decades, the Japanese seem to have brought as much of their amazing aesthetic sense to postcards as they did to their well-known prints. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has mounted a major show of Japanese postcards, and has done a good job of representing them online, here. * More on the French Paradox -- eat well, stay slim -- can be read here. * This Washington Post piece here by the notoriously confident and aggressive literary agent Andrew Wylie will leave you with a pretty accurate impression of what the glamor-and-lit side of the trade-publishing biz is often like. (Link thanks to Kitabkhana, here.) * Kevin Holtsberry has done a terrific two-part interview with W. Wesley McDonald, the author of a new biography of conservative guru Russell Kirk. Both parts of the q&a can be accessed from this page here. * Should tubby people really be showing off the tubbiness in low-riders? The sex columnist Dan Savage (here) asks for mercy. Some of his readers, in true alternative-weekly fashion, think that makes Dan an Evil Person. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 19, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Email Humor -- Retrosexuals
Dear Friedrich -- Apologies for slow, er, nonexistent posting in recent days. I had my first real writing assignment in a few years and was surprised to find that blogging hasn't made on-assignment writing easier than it used to be. Instead it's become harder. Why should this be so? I suspect it's because of the freeform and easy nature of blogging. The writer gets used to having it his way. If one topic isn't working out, it couldn't be easier to slide over and yak about another one instead. Who's the wiser? Blogging length, of course, and for better or worse, is whatever you want it to be. And the blogpublishing process involves nothing more than clicking a button or two. Back in the real world of pro writing, topics and deadlines are given, lengths are dictated, and -- yuck -- there's often editing involved. Lordy, who wants to put up with that? I guess I'm plain spoiled these days. Blogging has turned writing into a form of self-indulgence -- just what I always wanted it to be -- and my attitude has become bratty and hard to control. If I can't have things exactly my way, then why should I bother at all? Nonetheless, by dint of heroic efforts I pulled through these grownup tribulations and have reverted once again to being a happy and egomaniacal baby. Look out, world: MBlowhard is back in the playpen -- and he's ready to coo, drool and romp. Are you the fan of email jokes that I am? I take email jokes as an electronic-era form of folk art, and am dazzled by some. The work, the cleverness, the tuned-in-ness, the un-PC-ness: good lord, what's not to love? This one, sent along by The Wife's very brawny personal trainer, is a reaction against the "Metrosexual" vogue. Have you been too busy with real life to bump into the Metrosexual? It's a term invented to describe straight men who have the more refined attributes of gay men. They fuss over themselves, they're cultured and body-conscious, they know how to ... Well, I'm not sure, really. I'm too butch to know, I guess. Metrosexuals, in any case, are said to be ever so Fab Five-ish, only they like sleeping with women. It's the latest cyber-era thing: men released from the traditional burdens of being male, and now free to float in blissfully narcissistic and solipsistic self-bemusement. This represents an advance, if I understand the argument correctly. Here's a semi-official definition of "Metrosexual." Here's the joke email: RETRO-MAN "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." --General G.S.Patton WHO -RAAA!! Ok folks, I have had it. I've taken all I can stand and I can't stand no more. Every time my TV is on, all that can be seen is effeminate men prancing about, redecorating houses and talking about foreign concepts like "style" and "feng shui." Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, trans-sexual, metrosexual, non-sexual; blue, green, and purple-sexual. Bogus definitions have taken over the urban and... posted by Michael at May 19, 2004 | perma-link | (24) comments