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December 08, 2004


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Blogging wannabes who have been holding back might want to eyeball MSN's new "Spaces" feature -- free and easy blogging, apparently. DesignObserver's Jessica Helfand reacts to the "Spaces" templates.

* How do you guys respond to "Outsider Art"? Me, I even tend to like art that's merely in the Outsider style. I wonder if I find this kind of work so cheery because it has the DIY spirit. Garage-band rock makes me feel cheery in the same way.

* Intellectual megastars Richard Posner and Gary Becker have started their own blog here.

* The Village Voice's Wayne Barrett takes a peek behind the curtains of the showboating, charismatic charlatan that is Al Sharpton. Did Sharpton help take down Jesse Jackson, and how? Who is Marjorie Fields-Harris, and why was she able to buy both a new Cadillac and a new Mercedes? And has man-of-the-cloth Sharpton ever done anyone any selfless good? Sample passage:

Strangely enough, it was Falwell in the TV debate who boasted that he operated a home for unwed mothers, an AIDS hospice, an adoption program, and a clinic for drug addicts, all in tiny Lynchburg, Virginia. When he asked if Sharpton was "involved" in even one similar effort, the reverend who's never had a church, or run a substantive social program, changed the subject.

* Are you as amazed as I am by how often many leftists and libertarians refer back to first principles? I understand that we all need to check the compass from time to time. But there's a fanaticism about adhering to principle at all moments in some of the left and much of the libertarian world that gives me the willies. What are they afraid will happen if they stop policing their thoughts? I thought John Ray's discussion about the difference between always working from principle and ... well, the way life is usually lived was on the money.

* Thanks to Dave Lull for pointing out Susie Bright's reaction to Toni Bentley's memoir, "The Surrender." Bright is amusing and appreciative even though she isn't wild about the book. Don't skip the comments on the posting.

* Vdare's Bryanna Bevens delivers the bad (if predictable) news that Arizona's political class is doing its best to shoot down the state's recently-triumphant Proposition 200. Aren't our political elites supposed to be serving our interests, not defying them? The NYTimes reports that, despite being 10% of the population of France, Muslims are now in a majority in French prisons.

* Jesse McKinley's piece about the finances of Broadway theater is an eye-opener. Startling fact: "No new play that has opened on Broadway in the last two and a half years has turned a meaningful profit."

* I found these Flash ads at Nike's site amusing, and far more creative than most of what I see in movie theaters these days.

* OGIC has discovered Kenji Mizoguchi's masterpiece Sansho the Bailiff, and is impressed. "Sansho" is one of my all-time movie faves. I notice that Mizoguchi's almost-equally-great "Ugetsu" will be screening on IFC many times through the rest of December. Here's the IFC site. Sadly, very few of Mizoguchi's films are available on DVD.

* Construct your own real-time lightshow/avant-garde-music composition here.

* I just caught up with the ZoomQuilt, and found it trippy and amazing. Are there still people who argue that computers aren't (among other things) a replacement for hallucinogens?

* Filmnerds should have a blast exploring this archive of filmworld interviews.

* There can be no such thing as too many interviews with Ludivine Sagnier.

* In various commentsfests, a number of us have been wondering about how the fact of being a reviewer -- with all it entails of running around, keeping up, making a big deal of your opinion, etc -- affects the experience of reacting to art. I notice that Stuart Buck (here and here) has been wondering about this question too. And in a column for TCS, Stuart wonders how much educational silliness can be attributed to sheer boredom. I think he's on to something.

* Susan is enthused about Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics."

* Visitors who lived through the hippie era may remember Gilbert Shelton, the comix genius behind the "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" and "Fat Freddy's Cat." What has Shelton been up to since the glory days? You can catch up with him here.

* Randall Parker suspects that computers don't help kids learn what they need to learn. John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade think that the "gaming generation" is going to present its own management challenges. Meanwhile, Nintendo has plans to open a film-production unit.

* Jim Kalb's observations about Red and Blue states are very Kalbian -- in other words, concise and penetrating.

* It sounds like Japan has a bad groping problem. The Japanese seem to have some odd ideas about TV entertainment too.

* Good god: some people are really devoted to their fetishes and interests.

* Razib has some interesting words about Christmas; Godless seems to have Jared Diamond's number. I notice that Diamond has a new book about to come out.

* I should have mentioned in my recent posting about the blues that I've been getting a lot out of Rhino's Blues Masters CD series. I'm no scholar of the blues, and I most certainly don't want to become one either. But of the blues collections I've been through, Blues Masters is my fave: well-organized, and with terrific liner notes by Samuel Charters. I'm sorry to see that some of the discs in the series seem to be out of print.

* Here's a short and handy Amazon viewer's guide to recent erotic movies.

* Coming our way soon: a 3-megapixels-plus-optical-zoom cameraphone from Samsung.

* Thanks to Buffoonery for pointing out this online phonecam photo project. Overwhelming, to say the least -- but also happenin' and fun.

* Has anybody else found that, thanks to the Web, they've been enjoying looking at photographs more than ever before? This has certainly been the case for me, though I'm not sure why. Recently I loved exploring this site devoted to photographs made with "toy cameras."

* I don't read much contempo lit fiction these days. But back when I did, one of my favorite novelists was the Argentinian Manuel Puig, the florid, witty and lyrical gay fantasist who was best-known for "Kiss of the Spiderwoman." Other tiptop Puigs are "Heartbreak Tango" and "Betrayed by Rita Hayworth." Here's a long interview with Puig, who died back in 1990.

* Forbes magazine says that the top-ten fictional characters earned more than $25 billion in 2003, and that Mickey Mouse is still more popular than Harry Potter. And here's a dead-celeb-earnings report from the BBC.

* Does AIDS research need to be funded at a higher level? Michael Fumento thinks the answer is no. Sample passage:

Although AIDS cases and deaths are declining and the disease remains completely preventable, it nonetheless gets almost $180,000 in research funds per death from the National Institutes of Health. Compare that to its closest rivals: Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer, and diabetes. All of these receive about $14,000 per death. Alzheimer's gets about $11,000.

* Whatever the drawbacks of being gay in America, they're as nothing compared to the drawbacks of being gay nearly everywhere else on the planet, says Rex Wockner.

* Does everyone really need to avoid salt? GNXP's Jemima says it all depends on who you are.

* Could this be the next thing in art criticism: the intense visit with just one painting? If so, it's OK by me. The Guardian's Amelia Gentleman spends a day in the company of the Mona Lisa. Newsweek's Peter Plagens investigates Raphael's "La Fornarina."

* Here's a superb blog devoted to Prairie, Craftsman, and Mission architecture, some of America's best-loved styles.

* Jeff prefers to keep his religious beliefs a secret when he's teaching a lit class.

* Read John Massengale's three-parter about how Boston has changed over the years (here, here and here), and you'll start to get a feeling for how a real urbanist sees cities.



posted by Michael at December 8, 2004


Jim Kalb's comments on Red and Blue are concise and penetrating---and alarming, in that there are far more concrete choices that need to be made rather than "do you believe in policy or divine law?" Ayiyi. 'Specially since I always have the suspicion that the people who believe in divine law would never argue that it was God's will that the World Trade Center go up in flames. If they did believe that---they'd be the most anti-Iraq War people in the country, and they aren't. So "policy" becomes OK as long as its advancing God's will---and God's will always places them on the winning and righteous side---is that it?

Not that the Blue-eys don't have their own inconsistencies, but, according Jim Kalb, they at least admit that it's policy, and not divine law.

Posted by: annette on December 8, 2004 7:16 PM

Many thanks for the Mizoguchi heads up.

A favorite anecdote: Orson Welles loved directing films, but didn't really watch many. Nevertheless, at every film festival he attended, reporters would constantly ask him his opinions on other directors, and he felt compelled to give them - whether he'd seen the filmmaker's movies or not.

One day a Japanese reporter came up to Welles and asked him in a rather determined way "What do you think of Kenjio Mizoguchi?" Welles was a bit flabbergasted by a filmmaker whom he'd not only never heard of, but could barely pronounce, so - great faker that he was - he said simply: "Mizoguchi, ahhhhhh!" The Japanese reporter was very satisfied with this answer.

Whenever I'm asked for an opinion I don't have, I always remember "Mizoguchi, ahhhhhh!"

Posted by: Brian on December 8, 2004 11:34 PM

Huh, just saw this Waggish post where s/he mentions Mizoguchi...

Re: policy or divine law

I like how SDB put it: "The idea that law always derives from morality is a common one, and it's one I don't agree with. There are two theories for law (at least), and that's one of them, and it's true that it's been the one which has driven law historically in most of the world. (Not always; I don't believe that Roman law was based on religion to any significant extent) But there's an entirely different concept for law. If there's a standard term for it, I'm not aware of it. It more or less treats the entire legal code as a grand form of traffic law, kind of like rules of the game."

Posted by: grigory on December 9, 2004 12:48 AM

I found about toy cameras too, i even went on Ebay and got a Holga, but i havent had the chance to trick it out yet, (there's always someone else online to do it for you)

aside from having no idea whether you're focused or whether the lights right (i might get 3-4 decent shots out of 12 roll film) it's alot of fun.

Posted by: azad on December 9, 2004 1:13 AM

She's entirely correct about Mona Lisa, the Painting. It is a celebrity painting. Most people wouldn't really notice it if it weren't---I'm not saying everyone wouldn't, in fact, I'd be interested to know what greater experts on painting (FvB?) than me actually think of it as a painting. But most people would just walk past it if it weren't pop-culture significant---it IS dark and gloomy. And I agree with the teenager's remarks---this "the mystery of a beautiful woman" thing would resonate more with me if she really was beautiful, rather than, well, pretty darn plain. Go see John Singer Sargent's "Madame X" if you want more of the mystery-of-an-attractive-woman. (OK--I know--it a travesty probably to bring up Sargent and da Vinci in the same sentence. Sue me).

For me, at least, the David was an entirely opposite experience--you are overwhelmed by the actual art and how terrifically it is displayed, even though it is also familiar as a pop icon.

Having said that, I dutifully trouped to the Mona Lisa room and saw it while I was at the Louvre, just like everybody she describes in her article. Wouldn't have thought of missing it! A marketing triumph, to say the least.

Posted by: annette on December 9, 2004 4:31 AM

Annette -- I probably shouldn't try to speak for Jim Kalb, but I can't resist trying to anticipate what he might say ... I suspect he'd make two points. One is that all versions of politics are based in some vision of what it is to be human, whether or not that's openly acknowledged. Libaralism -- whether or the leftist kind or the libertarian kind -- likes to imagine that it's being "rational," but of course all that means is that they're basing their policies on the view that "rational policies" are a good thing. And where does their sense of "good" come from? I think that Roman Catholicism serves for Jim as a kind of deep, rich backdrop against which individual lives play out, and in front of which politics is a kind of theater. The idea being that politics that suit "what it is to be human in a deep and rich sense" are probably going to be (by and large) better suited to our lives than politics that are arbitrarily based on some abstract notion of "the good." I may be all wet here, but I think Catholicism for Jim is a little like what evo-bio is for FvB and me -- it's a better (more accurate, more realistic, more open) way of acknowledging what human life really is than the abstract notions that leftist/liberals often have. Better to grow our ideas and our policies out of that than to dream up abstractions and then impose them on humanity. But I think Jim would also be quick to agree with you, that there's a big difference between imposing a theocracy (which I can't imagine he has any desire to do) and grounding your politics in a deep and rich moral vision. I could be all wet, of course, and I'm hoping Jim happens to stop by and straighten me out.

Brian -- That's a great anecdote, tks. Nodding sagely is something I try to rely on to fake my way by sometimes, but I fear I don't have anything like Welles' gift for getting away with it.

Grigory -- Thanks for the links. I hadn't been aware of Waggish before. Do you buy Den Beste's traffic-rules comparison? I'm not sure I do, for multiple reasons. One is that I'm not sure they're just arbitrary, formal rules -- I suspect that traffic law is a more evolved, complex and organic thing. The other is that Den Beste's an engineer, and seems to have an engineer's view of things. God bless good engineers, of course. But they do tend to think of life as consisting of a lot of mechanical problems to be solved. I'm sure some of life is exactly that, but (though I'm a whole lot more pragmatically-oriented than many lefties) politics seems to me a much more gooey and shades-of-gray thing to me than I suspect it is to him. Could be my shortcoming, of course.

Azad -- 3 good shots out of 12: you do a whole lot better than I do! I'm not sure that having tons of control is what I need from a camera. Give me some control and I'll tend to screw things up. Which probably means I should get a toy camera too. Better that the camera screws me up than bends to my will.

Annette -- You're making me wonder who the Leonardo's of today are ... The better portraitists and glamor photographers, maybe? What's your hunch? And you ain't gonna find any disagreement from me where praising Sargent goes! He was phenomenal. As well as an interesting case in just the way you raise. He seemed to walk a line between glamor and "art," yet he seemed no less great for doing so. Although god knows it has made a lot of critics look a bit down on him. But screw them.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 9, 2004 11:56 AM

I am getting heartely sick of the red-blue paradigm or meme or whatever you call it. I can understand its use as a shorthand description of the political picture, but the simplifications involved distort that picture.

On the macro level for example, every red state had a large minority of blue voters and vise versa. I live in Vermont, one of the bluest of the blue states. Yet a little over 40% of the electorate voted for Bush. And on the state level we overwhelmingly re-elected a Republican governor. Take the monster state of California. I believe it fell Kerry 55% Bush 45%. That means there were a huge number of red voters in that blue state.

Then there's the notion that the coasts are effete and the heartland is manly. Need I say more?

On the micro level, which is even more significant, how many voters are complex mixtures of red and blue? I, for example, voted for Bush. I am secular, would be very uncomfortable living among "the religious," yet understand that conservative values, with which I agree, are essentially an outgrowth of our Christian religious heritage; and at the same time I am made very uncomfortable by the red-blue related assertions being made by conservatives that secular liberals must be anti-military, unpatriotic, untrustworthy just because they're not religious conservatives!

The whole red-blue thing has had a coarsening effect on an already cartoonish situation.

Posted by: ricpic on December 9, 2004 2:25 PM

When I lived in Chicago, I went to the Chicago Art Institut to see a Sargent exhibit with a female co-worker. We stood there looking at Madame X in silence (it's a big painting), and finally she said "Well, she does have a luscious bod." She's fully clothed, too (the painting, although my co-worker was, too, of course!). I figured that pretty much summed up a portrait most women would pay for!

Posted by: annette on December 9, 2004 2:29 PM

For those who want to go take a look at a cultural icon as great as the Mona Lisa, Raphael's La Fornarina (half-length portait of his mistress) is on exhibit at The Frick in NY through late January. It's probably equal in significance to the Mona Lisa as an example of Italian Renaissance art. And it's sexier too (seriously, a beautiful painting). Less famous only because its permanent home is a gallery in Rome, not the Louvre.

Posted by: ricpic on December 9, 2004 3:52 PM

ricpic, can I return the favor?
Contemporary photography and the garden-deceits and fantasies" on view in January practically in your backyard.
And in addition you have Frenchies on loan from Glasgow - running.

Posted by: Tatyana on December 9, 2004 5:59 PM

Oh, and thanks a lot for that Craftsman site - I even send then a link to an acquantance-furniture designer who works in CT (they've asked for links to businesses practicing the tradition).

Posted by: Tatyana on December 9, 2004 9:47 PM


Concise? yes. Penetrating? I'd call it a very dull blade.

M. Blowhard on lefties: disappointingly empty.

Posted by: David Sucher on December 10, 2004 10:14 AM

David -- You're not big on giving reasons for your assertions, are you?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 11, 2004 11:37 AM

I think you're shortchanging Den Beste. He does think "traffic law is a more evolved, complex and organic thing," and says so.

Posted by: grigory on December 12, 2004 10:51 PM

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