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. Tantric Sex
  2. Underneath It All
  3. Making Music
  4. "Ulysses" on Audio
  5. Proportional Representation?

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

Friday, May 28, 2004

Tantric Sex
You can read a serious-faced, scholarly discussion about Tantra here. (Link thanks to ALD, here.) It's an interesting piece, I guess. But the question arises: if you're interested in Tantra, why would you want to read this kind of thing? Don't you want instead to read about sex, spirituality, and art? Don't you want instead to pick up some handy-dandy sex tips? The writer of the piece and the book under review both seem to think that Westerners don't take Tantra seriously enough. I'm hardly one to think that eroticism can be boiled down to "fun," as American pop cult too often does. Fun can be a component, but let's not limit ourselves, or our erotic experience. On the other hand, where sex is concerned, is what's needed really a gloomy, studious scolding, let alone a graduate degree in anything? As far as I'm concerned, that's an attitude that misses even more of the point than the pop-fun attitude does. I confess that I'm guilty -- and have been for years! -- of dabbling in superficial ways with Tantra, and with various other Eastern approaches to sex too. (Yes, thank you, I do know that Tantra isn't just about sex.) And you know what? Even if all you do is experiment with these notions and techniques in the most EZ kind of way -- and provided only that you keep a straight face and do your best to tune into the moment -- they work just grrrrr-rrreat. It's mystifying to me why more people don't take advantage of these approaches. Blissfully altered states and extraordinary erotic experiences, yours for the asking. Calorie-free too -- what's not to like? Taoist, Tantric ... Don't look to me to play the choosy scholar, because as far as I'm concerned it's all good. I find the Indian thing more dreamy and poetic -- and hence, for someone as impractical and suggestible as I am, sexier -- than the Chinese thing, which strikes me as a little harsh and direct. But that's just personal taste. Both approaches have a lot to offer. Here's a useful book about Taoist approaches to sex. I see here that there's a "Complete Idiot's Guide to Tantra." Here's a perfectly fine Westernized "Kama Sutra." Here's a book that, IMHO, does a great job of spelling out the general Indian/Hindu/yoga-ish approach to eroticism -- of this bunch, it's my fave. Here's a sumptuously visual version of the "Kama Sutra" that's full of images of sexy Indian paintings and sculptures. Here's a helpful-seeming Amazon reader's list of suggested books; here's another. My own reflection is that these mystical theories and codified techniques are to be respected and cherished. Like French cooking techniques or classical oil-painting techniques, they seem basic to the creation and experience of more complex kinds of pleasure than we're able, left to our own devices, to treat ourselves to. Hey, here's a likable, if rather scattershot, online guide to the Indian view of art and the erotic.... posted by Michael at May 28, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Underneath It All
I grew up in a sweet, provincial, middle-class, small-town/suburb-ish, vanilla-American part of the world. Bicycles, baseball, Boy Scouts, cheerleaders; parents with jobs, not "careers," whatever those were; nice kids who married high-school sweethearts and raised nice, vanilla kids. Granted that a little "Twin Peaks" and "Boys Don't Cry" could be found too if you looked hard enough. But this really was a fringe element. Horizons may not have been big, but on the other hand nine out of ten people were trustworthy, and nearly everyone meant you well. Parental ambition and my own curiosity blasted me out of that comfy universe and landed me on a very different planet, one of high-powered narcissists, glittering schools, big egos, money, vanity, connections, etc. A cold and vicious place -- yikes! But so long as I was still in school, I did OK for myself. I was tenacious enough to hold my own among these strange, ferociously highstrung creatures. I even had moments when I felt downright special: yo, look at me! I could continue to be a nice person yet still do well among the egomaniacs! I was so cool that I could balance on the edge of a cliff! Once that framework was no longer in place, though -- once I left the fancy schools yet remained among the fancy people -- I fell off that cliff. I had adventures and misadventures, a few of them enjoyable, a few of them even chic. I did fine in some respects. But I spent a lot of time in bewildered freefall. Good lord, how to cope? I'd do my best to get on top of things, or I'd give over and try to get Zen about my fate -- anything to find some kind of poise. But I always lost the battle. Aside from a few fantasies about making movies, I'd otherwise never had professional ambitions. But I did have a bit of a verbal knack, and I'd tumbled into a part of the media woods where that might serve ... So every few years I'd laboriously pull reluctant energies together and treat myself to a tense spasm of "trying," as in trying to make an impression. And every time, I'd give it up pronto. Having failed to make an impression on a field I didn't want to get ahead in anyway, I'd lie on my bed, stare at the ceiling, and mutter gloomy and pointless words. In my own mind, the only thing I'd ever really hoped to do in this anxious, pushy, free-for-all world was to have a good time -- or at least a snazzier and more interesting time than I'd have had if I'd stayed back in sweet, boring ol' vanilla-land. Downside of all this: frustration, tension, and a lot of time spent trying to pull myself together in all the wrong ways. Upside: primarily the Wife (and hooray for her). But also some very good friends, a ton of lost naivete, and a fair amount of hands-on knowledge... posted by Michael at May 28, 2004 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Making Music
Morton Subotnick's CD-ROMs Making Music (here) and Making More Music (here) are brilliant music-composition programs for kids that many adults may enjoy too. They're nursery environments for music-making; Subotnick has managed come up with music-making tools that are as simple, basic, and fun to manipulate as building blocks and finger paints. Subotnick himself is a longtime and terrific composer of electronic music whose best-known piece is probably "Silver Apples of the Moon." (It's buyable here.) You can read an interview with him here. Here's his own site. Here's a site he's organized where kids can play with music. It doesn't work very well on my computer, while the CD-ROMs work flawlessly. Fair warning: the view of music that Subotnick presents is a Modernist one. You don't learn or experience historical forms; instead, you explore music very abstractly, as sound arranged in time. As it turns out (and IMHO, of course), this is ideal for experimenting, and for taking your first music-composition babysteps. Subotnick describes "Making Music" as a "composing space," and that seems about right.... posted by Michael at May 26, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

"Ulysses" on Audio
I notice that 100th anniversary of Bloomsday approaches. Bloomsday, for those who dodged classes on James Joyce, is the name given to June 16, the day of the year on which the action of Joyce's "Ulysses" is set; Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus meandered overlappingly around Dublin on June 16, 1904. I wonder what kind of recognition this anniversary will receive. I could be wrong, but I'm anticipating a fair amount of noise: celebrations of the immortal genius, re-evaluations of the book's significance, all-night readings by charismatic actors with fine and resonant voices, etc. FWIW, the novel never meant to me what it seems to have meant to many people my age and older. For decades, "Ulysses" was the Everest of Modernism. You weren't a true Literary Person until you'd submitted to a thorough wrestle with the novel, which was taken to be so complete a masterpiece that no individual wrestle with it could ever be sufficient anyway. You were put in the position, as Modernism so often put people, of Failed Aspirant to Greatness. For true believers, "Ulysses" was the Modernist gospel, the One True Text from which all sprang and to which, as to a well, all needed to periodically return. I read the book back in '75, I think. Though I liked it, I haven't given it much thought since, at least until the last few days. Other books have meant far more to me; and whatever the secrets are that can revealed by repeat readings of "Ulysses," I seem able to spend this lifetime in ignorance of them. My attitude these days: I'm glad I got through it, and I'm glad I spent some hours being baffled by "Finnegans Wake" too. Well, I guess I am. I can't help wondering if I wouldn't have gotten even more out of spending all that time and effort on some other book. Or books, since, after all, in the same time it took me to read "Ulysses" I might well have finished a half-a-dozen other novels. What I genuinely value in retrospect was some straightforward reading pleasure. The book is a surprisingly funky, juicy and sometimes funny experience. The Leopold Bloom passages are, anyway. (The book is split between passages about the soulful, middle-aged Leopold Bloom and the self-dramatizing and hyperintellectual whippersnapper Stephen Dedalus.) On the other hand, I thought Joyce got carried away with the Stephen Dedalus stuff, and I spent many of these pages pleading for mercy: "I get the idea, dude: Stephen lives too much in his head. I'm not that dumb. Now, can we please get a move-on?" And of course there's the general lit-history, cultural-significance side of the matter. I'm a better-equipped culture fan for having read a decent amount of Joyce. I know what people talking about Joyce are talking about, and I'm even entitled to an opinion or two myself. "Ulysses" above all 20th century novels is one of those landmark culture-things no serious culturefan should miss, etc. But has anyone else... posted by Michael at May 26, 2004 | perma-link | (38) comments

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Proportional Representation?
The New York Times' Robin Pogrebin reports here that there are surprisingly few blacks on the boards of a lot of NYC arts organizations. He gives Asians and Hispanics a few mentions too. But the article is clearly focused on arts boards and blacks. I read the piece in an agreeable state of grumpy self-satisfaction, happily muttering to myself things like, "Those damn leftish elites can't even bring themselves to practice what they preach. Hell, they can't even practice what they love imposing on the rest of us! It's the New Hypocrisy!! Didn't you always know this would be the case? ..." Grump, harumph. But a few hours have passed and my thinking about the piece has grown a little ... well, the word "nuanced" certainly overdignifies it. "Confused" is probably closer to the truth. But maybe in a fun-to-rummage-around way. In the first place, while it's certainly true that people in the arts are generally ultra-left, it may also be true that the board members of arts organization aren't so leftish. Board members, after all, are usually people with tons of dough, and may well be rightish. So my grumpiness about hypocrisy may have no basis in fact, darn it. And hats off to Pogrebin, who refrains from mentioning the "r" (racism) word too, too many times. Still, I find myself wondering about a few Larger Questions. As is my wont, I'm going to dodge the immediate and obvious debate about whether or not fields (and boards) should be making big efforts to go out and diversify themselves in racial terms. ("It's up to them but shouldn't be enforced by law," is my general feeling, FWIW.) I'm going to plow into a few other questions instead. Larger Question #1: Why on earth should we expect every field or organization to look like a representative sample of the American population generally? What an odd presumption. If, say, we had ourselves a look into the oceanography field and we discovered that there aren't a lot of Latino oceanographers, should we instantly leap to the conclusion that something must be amiss? On what basis? Accuse me of working on nothing but raw hunch here, so be it. But I for one wouldn't be remotely surprised to learn that there aren't too many Latinos going into oceanography these days. I lift this point from the great Thomas Sowell, who has often argued that we look at the topic of racial representation from an entirely mistaken point of view. We shouldn't come to the topic asking, "Why are there so few people of Race X in this particular field?" The attitude we should bring instead is, "Why should any field be expected to look, racially speaking, like the population generally? How absurd." In his wonderful and helpful Ethnic America (buyable here), Sowell uses German-Americans as an example. This group arrived in America bringing, as you'd expect, a history and a culture with them, as well as a distinctive set of talents and skills --... posted by Michael at May 25, 2004 | perma-link | (25) comments