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  1. Ted Schmidt at the New York Academy of Art
  2. Some Random Facts
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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Ted Schmidt at the New York Academy of Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- NYC artists and art-hobbyists are lucky to have the New York Academy of Art around. It offers visual-arts instruction based on Beaux-Arts approaches. From one point of view, this is the ultimate in stuffy, kaput art training. On the other ... Well, a couple of notes. One is that some of the Academy's founding money came from avant-garde immortal Andy Warhol, who was fond of classical approaches and didn't want them to die. The other concerns a modernist artist I know. Loosey-goosey abstractionist though he is, he still thinks all artists should master the traditional basics before launching themselves into orbit. He also thinks that the NY Academy offers the best basic art training around. I see that a firstclass NY Academy teacher and artist, Ted Schmidt, is giving a two-day workshop next weekend in The Art of Drawing the Head. I wish I were free to attend. I took a workshop from Schmidt a few years back and thought he was terrific: knowledgeable, passionate in a quiet and likable way, and painstaking. I can't imagine a better way to give your drawing skills a tuneup. (I'm a perpetual novice myself, and Schmidt was kind and patient with me.) Schmidt's own drawings are sumptuous beauties. One of the best things about taking a workshop with him is watching him draw. In his hands, drawing is both firm discipline and intense pleasure. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 16, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Some Random Facts
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I enjoyed noting down some of the interesting facts I ran across during the last week. So please indulge a cleaning-off-my-desktop posting. In America, between the ages of 50 and 64, there are 93 men for every 100 women. But in the older-than-65 category, there are only 70 men for every 100 women. "Fiscal conservative" President Bush has increased domestic discretionary spending by 25% in four years; nutty Democrat Bill Clinton increased it by only 10% over eight years. Bush, by the way, hasn't seen fit to veto a single Congressional spending bill, no matter how pork-laden. In an Economist poll of 56 econ profs, 70% said that President Bush's first term deserved poor or very bad marks. On the other hand, 368 economists have signed a letter to the effect that Kerry's economics program will lead to disaster. By Natasha Law Jude Law's painter sister Natasha Law makes images that look like illustrations for the Playboy Advisor, but they're real gallery-artworld creations. I've wondered for years about the effect our nutty immigration policies might be having on our poverty rates. After all, most newcomers are poor ... We get millions and millions of 'em, year after year ... Surely our poverty rates must be higher than they'd be if we ran a sensible immigration policy. Newsweek's daring economics columnist Robert Samuelson spells out some of the cause-and-effect:: The increase in poverty in recent decades stems mainly from immigration. Until our leaders acknowledge the connection between immigration and poverty, we'll be hamstrung in dealing with either ... Compared with 1990, there were actually 700,000 fewer non-Hispanic whites in poverty last year. Among blacks, the drop since 1990 is between 700,000 and 1 million, and the poverty rate—though still appallingly high—has declined from 32 percent to 24 percent ... Meanwhile, the number of poor Hispanics is up by 3 million since 1990. Well, now we know. By the way, I see that Latino teens are twice as likely as blacks to drop out of school, and three times more likely than whites. So I guess the poverty problem we're importing won't be going away anytime soon. I didn't realize until this week -- three months late -- that 2004 is the 25th anniversary of the first Sony Walkman. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the ruler of the African state of Equatorial Guinea, likes to kill his enemies and eat their testicles. Though Equatorial Guinea is rich in oil and low in population, Teodoro doesn't spread much of the wealth around: he's thought to be worth over half a billion dollars. Meanwhile, clean water and medicine are scarce in the rest of the country, and most Equatorial Guineans live on monkey, porcupines, and rats. Nonetheless, Nguema is considered to be only the sixth-worst of the world's current dictators. (Source: The American Conservative.) Are you thinking about buying a big, flat-screen television? Plasma TV screens tend to go dull and then burn out over time. On the other hand,... posted by Michael at October 16, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Rorschach o' th' Day
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, I have been puzzling over certain aspects of the latest cover of The New Yorker and thought to write you for your sense of the matter. Here's the cover: It's hard to tell when the image is small, but if you look carefully, you'll see what appears to be the shadow of a man with his arms outstretched superimposed on the image of an American flag. Given that we are getting close to the presidential election, I immediately recognized the relevance of the flag (having taken Semiotics 101) but have been struggling over the deeper meaning, if any, of the figure (not having taken Semiotics 201). After a time--aha!--the surface significance came clear. I'll try to show below what I think the illustrator had in mind. The illustrator has cleverly taken an image of a flag and superimposed on it the outline of a figure from the Abu Ghraib prison photos! Yes, that's it all right, I'm sure of it. But darn it, I am still having a hard time figuring out the meaning. The New Yorker has a long and storied history of witty and sophisticated covers and this one struck me--regardless of one's views on Iraq--as sophomoric and trite. Of course, I am not A New Yorker so maybe this is all one or more steps ahead of me. My non-ironic conclusion is that the cover does not aspire to humor at all, and is as post-ironic as the conclusion to this posting. That is, I suspect it does not aspire to sophistication and wit but rather down-home honesty, New York-style. At least that's the only way I can understand it. If it is trying to be witty, it fails. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at October 16, 2004 | perma-link | (17) comments

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Joke That Had to Happen
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Concerning the death of Derrida-- 1. Can there be any certainty in the death of Jacques Derrida ? The obituarists’ objective attempts to place his life in a finite context are, necessarily, subject to epistemic relativism, the idea that all such scientific theories are mere “narrations” or social constructions. Surely, a postmodernist deconstruction of their import would inevitably question the foundational conceptual categories of prior science — among them, Derrida’s own existence — which become problematised and relativised. The London Times 2. Jacques Derrida, the famous French philosopher, is ‘dead’. But as there is no straightforward, one-to-one relationship between the signifier (‘dead’) and the thing signified (the termination or otherwise of the actual person, M. Derrida), we cannot be entirely sure what has happened. We are faced instead with an endless multiplicity of truths, a string of infinite possibilities. I suppose it is entirely up to the reader to decide. The Spectator 3. It is tempting to say that Jacques Derrida's death has been greatly exaggerated. The French philosopher was so closely associated with nihilism and metaphysical absence that it's perhaps worth wondering whether he ever lived at all. National Review 4. (The BBC) purports to claim that Jaques Derrida, the father of deconstruction theory, "died" today in a "Paris" hospital at the age "of" 74. But what is the story really telling us? MemeFirst 5. "Monsieur Derrida bequeathed a magnificent legacy to the global intellectual community," said Mr. Chirac. "He has provided us all with the intellectual infrastructure to prevent us from seeking after truth. Thanks to him we know it is fruitless to assert anything with conviction, or to say that any ideology is less true than any other. They are all equally trifling. Their value, if any, lies only in the sport they provide for college professors." In lieu of flowers, friends of Mr. Derrida are urged to devote their lives to convincing at least one young person that there is nothing to which it is worth devoting one's life. ScrappleFace You say Derrida, I say derider. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at October 15, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Breillat Alert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bitter experience teaches you to avoid recommending some of the things you love most, doesn't it? I've taken three people to Bikram yoga classes, for example; while Bikram works magic on me, every single one of my buds hated it. And I've urged numerous friends to see the films of one of my favorite filmmakers, Catherine Breillat; not a soul has offered thanks. Still, though I've learned to shut up about it, I do love Breillat's films. So I'm happy to see that the next few weeks will be a boon time for NYC fans of her work. Surely there are other fans? Or perhaps not. Perhaps, and not for the first time, I'm doomed to be the Cinephile Who Walks Alone. Starting next Tuesday, Film Forum presents Sex is Comedy, a movie that's a couple of years old that I've been afraid would never get a commercial release in the States. Phew! The film seems to be the ultimate in erotic/modernist/philosophical self-reflectiveness. It's a staged, "fictional" recreation of the filming of a particularly difficult (ie., very naked, very disturbing) scene in Breillat's 2001 film "Fat Girl." It's a Breillat film, in other words, about the filming of an erotic scene in an earlier Breillat film. The actress from the scene in "Fat Girl" plays herself here; I wonder if the experience of reliving the previous, excruciating experience was doubly excruciating. I kind of hope it was. How do directors of arty-erotic movies do it? How do the performers get through their scenes? And what wonderfully pretentious musings will Breillat come up with this time around? Annie Parillaud plays the Breillat figure, which for some reason strikes me as a pitch-perfect bit of casting. If this film is like Breillat's others, it'll be perverse, distressing, high-minded, and delicious. Breillat's most recent movie, Anatomy of Hell, opens today at the Angelika. From descriptions and reviews, it sounds like the ultimate wallow in exhibitionistic ecstasy and feminine self-loathing, and let's hear it for that. Amusingly, if a little alarmingly, the film co-stars the real-life porn performer Rocco Siffredi. Judging from the fact that Breillat also used Rocco in her 1999 film "Romance," he seems to be Breillat's conception of an ideal man -- ie., a stud who can get erect at will. Don't ever say that a feminist can't crave herself some big, hard dick. Incidentally, if anyone wants to subject him/herself to "Romance" -- a film I'm both highly recommending and advising you to skip -- be sure to rent or buy the unrated version of the DVD. An R-rated version is available, too, and it's to be avoided. Given how extreme the sex in the film is, and what a lot of it there is, it's hard to imagine what would remain of interest in the film after being pruned to an R. I blogged here about Breillat's exquisite and intense 2002 chamber drama Brief Crossing. Fat Girl is just as memorable, and ends... posted by Michael at October 15, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Lifetime Learning Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More temptations for lifetime-learning junkies. I'm blessed with ears that crave Western-classical-music sounds, but I'm cursed with a mind that struggles to comprehend what the hell's going on in there. Sad to say, but while at a classical-music concert here's the kind of chatter that runs through my head: Hey, I think I recognize that tune! Which may mean that this is one of those "theme and variation" sections, right? Or was I daydreaming for a while there? ... Hey, I'm not sure I can tell which key this thing is in any longer! Which may mean that we're in the "development" section, right? Or was I daydreaming again? ... Hey, things are getting energetic around here! Which may mean that the climax is approaching, right? But I've only counted two movements so far, and don't most of these things have three movements? Or even four? Damn, I must have been daydreaming for a while there ... As a consequence, while I love plain ol' listening to the music, I also appreciate being taken through it by the hand. Lucky me, The Wife has a first-rate classical-music mind, zero snobbery about her knowledge and insights, and tons of patience. But I can't turn to her for coaching all the time. So I've found and developed a shelfful of history-and-technique resources. D. F. Tovey is Da Man where classical-music analysis is concerned; his many volumes of Essays in Musical Analysis are major ear-and-brain-openers. But they're also a demanding go, so I've spent more time with some accessible works. Robert Winter's CD-ROMs offer biographical and historical context as well as bar-by-bar musical analyses -- with visuals accompanied by straightforward English -- of how the pieces he discusses are put together. They're phenonemally good; they're also, as far as I can tell, all out of print, though I see that used copies of his Beethoven disc can be bought here. The Teaching Company's Robert Greenberg is sensational too, and his many music-history lecture series can be enjoyed as simply as audiobooks -- in the car or while exercising, for example. Richard Fawkes' Naxos productions, The History of Opera and The History of Classical Music, are also first-rate; I blogged about them here. A new addition to my shelf is Jeremy Siepmann's CD-based audiobook, Life and Works: Josef Haydn. Given that I didn't get much out of Siepmann's analysis of The Four Seasons, I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful and enjoyable I found this package. Perhaps Siepmann is simply more comfortable presenting classical music in historical context than he is presenting analyses of it. In any case, it's a lovely work. Siepmann delivers about as much Haydn biography as I needed to hear, spares us the usual scholarly digressions, quotes from a generous number of original documents (diaries, letters, reviews), provides a decent amount of historical context, and supplies first-class musical examples. He's a gentlemanly and gracious guide; The Wife, who listened to the discs with me,... posted by Michael at October 15, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Classical Symposium
Blowhard Francis Morrone will be hosting and moderating an Institute for Classical Architecture symposium this Saturday. The topic: "Changing Attitudes in Historical Preservation." The lineup: impressive. The place: the New York School of Interior Design, 170 East 70th Street. The time: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It's a great subject -- tricky, fraught, and controversial. The conversations and talks by participants should set off showers of brain sparks. You can read more about the symposium and sign up to attend here.... posted by Michael at October 13, 2004 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monkey Shines in Arizona
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, I was in the process of writing up an entry and then realized that it was somewhat germane to Michael's post below on the election, so let me launch this post with that political issue in the background. So, to start the ball rolling, here's my little quiz: If you ask the Park Service about the age of the Grand Canyon, what will its answer be? According to this press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsiblility (PEER), "the Grand Canyon National Park no longer offers an official estimate of the age of the Canyon." This curious stance is, according to PEER, the result of high level finagling in the upper levels of the current Administration that would seek to place "creation science" on a level playing field relative to geologic explanations. A book presenting a creationist explanation for the Canyon appears on the website of the Grand Canyon Association. And it is for sale at bookstores at the Canyon, this over the objection of the park superintendent, who attempted to block its sale. And in that regard, here's a succinct little memo making fairly clear that the Park Service is in fact obliged to employ "sound science" in its interpretive programs, and that the NAS itself has weighed in on the subject of creationism, arguing (no surprise?) that it cannot be deemed sound science because it is not based on empirical observation and cannot be verified. PEER argues that there's a "faith based parks intiative" a-brewing. Sounds like they may be on to something. So what to make of this? I tend to avoid hard-core ideologues of most persusasions. Truth be told, though, I've been harder this election year on lefty ideologues than righties. In part that's because I am a Blue Stater myself, and my strong desire to reform Blue excesses causes me to come down harder on political correctness than, say, prayer in schools. But it's also the case that--this year anyway--I thought the curdling of left ideology presented a dangerous aspect that was not immediately present on the right. That is, better Pat Robertson than Michael Moore--at least the former does not present a clear and present danger. So went my reasoning at any rate. But this kind of stuff gives me pause. It's one thing to nod silently when a school district somewhere pushes a creationist agenda. That's local politics, and it is hard to do much about it. But I sure don't think the Feds ought to get in the game. So what ho, Blowhards? Am I being a meanie by opposing the sale of one teensy little bookie at the Canyon to people who would appreciate its contents? Would a libertarianish Blowhard--even one who thinks creationism bad science--argue to let let the market sort this one out? Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at October 13, 2004 | perma-link | (24) comments

My Stance, and I'm Sticking With It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to do on election day? Good lord, what a pickle. Do I vote for Kerry as a way of punishing the Republicans for their arrogance and idiocies? What does it take for them to understand that they should be the party of modest government? But a protest vote against Bush would almost certainly be interpreted as a vote for Kerry, and I'd hate to give anyone the impression I'm sanctioning that zero. God only knows what he stands for anyway ... But maybe a Kerry presidency wouldn't be the worst thing imaginable. The combo of Democratic president and Republican legislature often creates gridlock, and gridlock seems to be the only way that brakes get applied to runaway government these days. Still, that's a risky strategy. What if differences get ironed out and laws get passed? Wouldn't want that ... I could stay at home on election day. But what are the chances that the political class will understand such a thoroughly thought-out act as a protest against the lousy choice they've coughed up? In their usual self-important way, they'd just think I was being "apathetic." What does it take to make the political class understand that they're doing a lousy job of serving the rest of us? And how can "sorry, no thanks, do better" be expressed in the American voting booth as it's currently constituted? ... I have to admit that what I'm really hoping to see is the nonvoting percentage of the electorate grow so huge that the political class is forced to ask themselves if maybe, just maybe, they're doing something wrong. If only dramatically tumbling CD sales can shake up the music business, perhaps only nose-diving voter-participation figures can wake up our political class. Too bad we aren't offered a "none of the above" option in the voting booth -- a reform I'd genuinely like to see enacted. So I guess I'm rooting for whoever steps to the fore and encourages us to express our political preference by refusing-to-vote ... But really, I've got no idea what I'm going to do on election day. I have made progress of a minor sort, though; I've finally come up with an answer to the inescapable "who are you voting for" question that I can live with. Here it is: "No matter who wins, I'm going to be disappointed." Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Tatyana, who links to this fun posting and commentsfest at Samizdata. OuterLife posts a proposal I can certainly get onboard with, as well as some more interesting links.... posted by Michael at October 13, 2004 | perma-link | (34) comments

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Energy and Politics
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker (October 11, 2004 issue) the other day while eating lunch at the mall, and read a piece by John Cassidy called “Pump Dreams—Is energy independence an impossible goal?” The article was an interesting for several reasons. One, it dealt with U.S. energy policy, which is both important and not sufficiently discussed. Two, it gave me some insight into the giant gravitational pull that politics has over discussions of this topic. (To be fair, this gravitational pull wasn’t entirely hidden, as the piece ran under the heading “The Political Scene” and I suppose the ideological slant of the New Yorker is hardly a secret.) Using the war in Iraq (which he seems to believe is “really” about controlling Mideast oil reserves) and the differing positions of the two candidates for the presidency as his launching pad, Mr. Cassidy summarized the current American energy situation. This is not so hot. In oil, the U.S. is dependent on foreign suppliers (especially those zany Arabs) and certain to become more so. If forced to rely purely on domestic proven reserves, America would run through them in a little over 4 years at current levels of consumption. (Of course, consumption levels would actually plummet in the case of such a contingency because prices would go through the roof, but never mind.). Even adding in Alaskan oil will only improve those reserves by roughly 33%. In natural gas things aren’t a whole lot better. Again, the U.S. lacks sufficient supplies domestically and is currently importing quite a bit of gas from Canada (which, although Mr. Cassidy doesn’t mention it, itself lacks sufficient reserves to supply North America for very long.) While natural gas is a pretty good (clean) fuel in a lot of ways, increasing our use of it would quickly return us to the problems we face with oil, i.e., dependency on possibly unstable foreign governments (including especially Russia, Siberia being the Arabian peninsula of natural gas, so to speak.) Coal, which the U.S. is swimming in, can of course be converted into gasoline, but has nasty global warming problems—as do all fossil fuels, of course, because their combustion produces carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide sequestration (essentially, storing carbon dioxide underground or in the deep oceans) which is the erstwhile “fix” for coal-fired electric power generation, seems to be more of a short-time than a permanent solution to this problem—although I’d like to be proven wrong here. Mr. Cassidy pretty much dismisses—reasonably, from my point of view—talk about the hydrogen economy. At least in the short term, hydrogen fuel isn’t going to save our bacon because (1) the technology required, such as fuel cells for transportation purposes, isn’t sufficiently mature, (2) a whole hydrogen delivery infrastructure doesn’t exist and would be hugely expensive to build, and (3) hydrogen is really more of battery than a power source, as no supplies of pure hydrogen exist and supplies would have to be manufactured... posted by Friedrich at October 12, 2004 | perma-link | (42) comments