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« Email Humor -- Retrosexuals | Main | Food Notes »

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.



posted by Michael at May 19, 2004


Goodness, me. A link to nepotism (very interesting) and a rather scary picture of Alexandra Kerry in the same post does have one thinking.

Posted by: susan on May 19, 2004 7:32 PM

"Should tubby people really be showing off the tubbiness in low-riders?"

Tubbies can do what they like - though they should understand that what one does in public is not what one thinks it is, but what it is according to conventions. Showing off your tubbiness in low-riders is as fraught with peril as tipping 4% while behaving as though you are Rat-Pack slick. Perhaps your efforts will be greeted with sympathy. Perhaps not.

Men being men, women who parade tubbiness are likely to get nearly as much attention as the non-tubby. A willingness to be unclothed goes a long way with guys - metro- and retrosexual alike.

Though Dan may not be an Evil Person, I can't read his smack. Does he quantify tubbiness? Are we talking baby fat? (Pre-teen or post-baby) Women who have enough mass for two people? And what about not-at-all tubby women with awful posture and no muscle tone at all?

Posted by: j.c. on May 20, 2004 2:54 AM

Susan -- The conjunction of some of these topics really is pretty hilarious. I'd hate to think it means anything, though it may.

JC -- Good to see you again. 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.

Standards 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).

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 "an evening dress." But how do we have this sense? How do we settle on these things? And how do we renegotiate them?

For instance, I'm curious about how informal standards (office, sidewalk, etc) are going to change once the bellybutton generation starts to move into managerial positions. Will bare bellybuttons become OK office display? How about buttcracks? Will an age limit be put on these styles if they do become permissable? How will the change in what's allowed for women affect what's allowed for guys?

I've always found the diffs between what's understood to be OK for women and for guys pretty interesting too. In many offices, for instance, it's fine for women to wear sleeveless tops. Why isn't it OK for office men to wear sleeveless tops? (I'm not quarreling with whether or not gals and guys should do this, just scratching my chin a bit over how these understandings get arrived at.) We just kinda know this to be the case: bare arms and armpits for women are OK, bare arms and armpits for men aren't OK. But how and why do we "know" this? In what sense do we "know" this?

I think advice columns (and fashion mags) are pretty interesting in this regard; for many people, they're where we look for a little guidance. They may not set standards, or they may, but they supply a venue for such discussions and they might even steer the conversation a little bit. They're semi-informal channels for the semi-informal semi-discussion of informal standards. Which is all fascinatingly vague yet real.

Are there advice columnists you do have some patience with? I'm not a regular reader, but I do think Miss Manners is an interesting brain and a terrific writer ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 20, 2004 11:58 AM

"Miss Manners" also has a sexy laugh! Very Dyan Cannon-like..........

Posted by: Michael Serafin on May 20, 2004 1:44 PM

Michael, I appreciate your kind remarks, including that you met me and I was not grumpy. I thank God everytime I encounter someone to whom I have been courteous. It doesn't always happen that way.

Best, Christopher Gray

Posted by: Christopher Gray on May 21, 2004 12:58 PM

I've always been baffled as to why Guy Maddin is described as 'avant-garde' - so much so that I put it to him when I met him recently, and he was equally bemused. As he put it: what's 'avant-garde' about deliberately seeking to turn the clock back some 75 years?

Posted by: Michael on May 23, 2004 3:00 AM

How great that you mentioned Christopher Gray's column -- it's the first thing I turn to every Sunday morning. His writing makes NY architecture come alive for me.

On many occasions, I've sought out the buildings he has described and created my own private architectural tour. A most interesting writer.

The Chelsea Boys loved his column in today's paper, by the way :)

Posted by: Maureen on May 23, 2004 11:16 AM

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