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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Back in Business
Michael Blowhard writes: As far as I can tell, the blog is now behaving as it ought to. Many thanks for patience, etc. Let the party begin anew. Many thanks as well to our excellent blog-hosts, GlobalNet. I've heard numerous horror stories about Evil Webhosts, so I count 2Blowhards as very lucky to have landed at GlobalNet. Reasonable rates; rare downtime; and quick, courteous, and effective responses to whatever problems do arise. Plus, they're based in Traverse City, Michigan, and how can you not love that? PS: Those fascinated by the Larry Summers girls/boys/science brouhaha will find a terrific collection of links and comments here.... posted by Michael at January 22, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Apologies if the blog is behaving strangely. I began hearing word about a problem early this morning, but at the time the blog was displaying normally on my computer. Now it has started to look weird on my computer too. It even seems that some comments aren't showing up as they ought to. Good lord, it's nerve-wracking when the digital infrastructre starts to misbehave. I'll do what I can -- this is also known as "calling the Help desk" -- to fix the problem as soon as I can. Thanks for your usual patience and humor.... posted by Michael at January 22, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, January 21, 2005

Some Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some terrific finds. First, three blogs that I'm new to, and that I'm having a lot of fun catching up with: * Luke Lea, who has been a brainy and unfailingly civilized commenter at a number of different blogs, has recently started his own blog, BornAgainDemocrats. Luke's got a heap of ideas that, IMHO, would do the Dems a lot of good to pay attention to. He also proposes an agenda that even I can feel some enthusiasm about. Luke's views are liberal in ways I find very appealing, and conservative in a just-as-attractive sense. It took dimwitted me a couple of seconds to realize that Luke has put up a multipaged website. Here's the blog; here's the homepage. Here's Luke in typically good form on a question I'm sure many who have encountered libertarianism in its more-dogmatic forms online have puzzled over: "Is Libertarianism the Socialism of the 21st Century?" Luke has a well-seasoned appreciation for life's complexities and contradictions, as well as the persistence and clear-headedness it takes to think through questions anyway. * Moira Breen, who has stopped by 2Blowhards a few times, has started co-blogging with David Fleck here, and it's hard to imagine a feistier or brighter couple. Both Moira and David are down-to-earth yet quirky too. Hey: smart, approachable people with many sides to their personalities -- you won't often run across that combo in the mainstream media. This wry Moira posting made me chuckle; she confesses that she once read a history of heavyweight boxing just because she needed something to read. Now there's a real book addict. David considers the pros and cons of Wikipedia here -- essential survival reading for anyone who does research on the Web. * I feel like a dolt when I run across a firstclass blog that's been a going thing for a while already. Why didn't I know about it earlier? Although too-much-to-keep-track-of-ness seems to be a basic fact of life in a be-Webbed world, my own emotional wiring seems to be a holdover from the pre-Web universe. Anyway: Dave Munger has been blogging since April of last year, but I've just started to read him. Like Luke, Dave displays an enviable combo of personal openness, respect for established ways, and wordly realism. I've especially enjoyed wrestling with Dave's recent musings about books and ebooks. (Here, here and here.) My own, rather offbeat, take on the ebooks/books question can be read here. Short version: since we're already doing a lot of e-reading and e-writing, why get stressed about what's a book and what's not? Isn't the reading and the writing more important than the book-iness? Dave makes a lot of less-kooky points. And here are some helpful web resources: * Thanks to visitor Barry Wood, who sent along links to a couple of BBC pages. Here's a series of conversations led by Melvyn Bragg that covers the basics of Philosophy 101. And here's one-stop shopping for many of the BBC's... posted by Michael at January 21, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let me see if I've got this straight: Harvard prez Larry Summers is being crucified ... because he dared to suggest ... that one reason some of the science-y fields are heavily-male ... might be that women and men differ a bit in cognitive abilities? Can this really be? And he has had to apologize? (Caution: PDF file.) If I do have this right, I'm chalking it up as yet another reason I'm glad I didn't land in academia, let alone politics. In a simple feet-on-the-sidewalks sense, does anyone -- anyone who drops by 2Blowhards, in any case -- really doubt that women and men differ somewhat in their abilities and tastes, and that this may have some basis in biology? As ever: generally speaking, and many exceptions allowed for. As far as I can tell, Regular People, bless 'em, never disbelieved that gals and guys differ somewhat, and on deep levels. Regular People know this from experience, and aren't about to let theory-spinners tell them otherwise. But I'd have guessed that even our academic elites -- however self-regarding, self-deceiving, self-important, and naive we know them to be -- had abandoned their attachment to the ideology of "everyone is alike in every possible way and the only thing that explains differences in outcomes is Pure Evil, except when it has to do with academic elites being smarter than everyone else." I'm surprised to discover that so many are still in such high-minded denial of basic facts of life, aren't you? God knows I wouldn't ever have expected Elite People to say, "We made a mistake. Sorry. We'll try to do better now." No, they're too puffed-up proud and full of grandstanding moral fury ever to eat humble pie, however much good that might do them, and however much good it might do the world. But I was under the impression that they'd moved on a bit -- that they'd let go of their Blank Slate insanity, if only to embrace some other kind of fashionable nonsense. I wonder if my cluelessness about these people has to do with the fact that I've given up having anything but passing interactions with them. Blank Slaters have nothing to tell me I haven't heard a zillion times before. And what's the point of dealing with fanatics more than is necessary? I don't know about you, but I find that trying to hash out (or even joke about) intellectual/artistic /political matters with Blank-Slate maniacs saps energy that I need for more important matters, like programming the Tivo and taking naps. Sigh: now I'm thinking about them again, dammit ... The move they make that's my favorite is what I think of as the "prove otherwise" move. Since they've got the state of the entire world fully explained, they feel entitled to carry on like prosecutors. Everyone and everything is guilty until proven otherwise, and "otherwise" is something they aren't about to let happen. Blank Slaters will cite a... posted by Michael at January 20, 2005 | perma-link | (35) comments

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The turn of the year seems to be a season for bloggers to ruminate on some of Life's Larger Questions. * Thanks to Searchblog, who alerted me to Nate Davis' thoughtful and powerful posting here. Nate's account of his relationship to his father and how it has affected his own view of men and women has the punch of a good novel. (Russell Banks, it's time to make some room on that sofa.) Nate's posting, IMHO, deserves some kind of special blog-Oscar. * Searchblog herself recently took a trip to a town named Entropy, and wore one far-out and stylish denim jacket. * It sounds like 2004 was a good year for Waterfall. She does feel sorry, though, for her decent Kerry-votin' friends, and wonders if some other Dems -- the ones who spew bile and carry on disgracefully -- have any idea that they're alienating the very people whose votes they need. * I enjoyed some musings and recollections from Whiskyprajer, a Canadian in whose life -- in whose real life as well as fantasy life -- California has played a big role. * Colby Cosh is a guy from a working-class family who works in journalism, a field where many people come from middle and upper-middle-class families. He writes a dazzler here about what goes through his head when privileged-background colleagues carry on about what's best for the working class. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 19, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Bryan on Digital Originals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent posting and commentsfest about photography, a bunch of us started wondering about photography and the question of the "original" work of art. What's the original of a photograph? The picture's negative? A specific print of the negative? And how does digital-photography -- based as it is on endlessly-reproducible electronic files -- change any of these notions? Visitor Bryan Castaneda noticed this discussion and wrote me an interesting email. I asked Bryan if I could reprint his note on the blog, and was glad when he agreed. Here's Bryan: I recently got into a debate on just this issue. Friends of ours are getting married and the bride was shopping for a wedding photographer. She figured that in this digital era she could find a photographer who would supply not only prints of the wedding, but a CD-ROM of the photos, too. Apparently among professionals this is definitely NOT standard practice. Just as in the era of film cameras a photographer NEVER gave out his negatives, now digital photographers NEVER give out the digitals files. When my friend protested, one of the photographers she was gonna hired gave her the "I'm an artist" line and that was that. Professional photographers, being artists, do not under any circumstances turn over their negatives. I brought this issue up with my photographer girlfriend. "But aren't digital photos significantly different than photos from film?" "No, the digital file is like the negative. You don't give up your negative." "But it's NOT like a negative. A film negative is unique, a digital file is different enough that they're not analagous. Why shouldn't someone who spends hundreds of dollars to hire a photographer get digital copies of the photos they paid for?" In the old days a significant revenue stream for photograhers was making additional copies of the prints. I mean, inevitably someone wants more copies of a handful of photos and since the photographer had the only negative, you HAD to go back to him. With a digital file and color ink jet, that's no longer the case. I understand that photographers have to protect their business, but it seems to me that they should just charge MORE for digital copies of their photos. Another issue that bothered me was the whole "I'm an artist" defense. I hire a photographer which means that I'm hiring them for their artistic eye, yes. But aren't they being suitably compensated? How is it they're allowed to keep the negatives that someone paid for? When Rockefeller hired Rivera to paint a mural, that mural became the property of Rockefeller. "What if they want to use that photo for their advertising or for their portfolio," my girlfriend asked. Now, I guess if only one negative existed that might be a problem, but that's no longer the case with digital. Perhaps I'm wrong, but this seems to be a case of an old business failing to adapt to a new technology. The digital... posted by Michael at January 19, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Encore Haydn
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Terry Teachout has written a lovely appreciation of the music of Joseph Haydn for Commentary magazine. As it happens, I'm going through my second audiobook biography of Haydn, this one by the Teaching Company's Robert Greenberg. For the moment -- and despite being burdened with lousy classical-music ears -- I feel like I've got a small purchase on this whole Haydn thing. Terry's essay zeroes in on one of the key things about Haydn: what a wonderful person Haydn was, and how his nature can be felt in his music. By all accounts, Haydn was that rare creature: an artistic genius of the highest order who was also one of life's Really Good Guys. Let us count some of Haydn's virtues: Hard working. Oh, man, was Haydn ever hard-working. He started out with next-to-nothing, and he wasn't anything like the youthful prodigy many musicians are; he seems not to have come fully into his artistic own until his 40s. It was persistence, discipline, faith, and luck that saw him through, as well as hard, hard work: according to Greenberg, Haydn didn't take his first vacation until he was 58 years old. Yet he became the most-celebrated musical figure in Europe. The English, who were mad for his music, often compared him to Shakespeare. Terry writes that there's reason to think that Haydn may have been the most popular classical-music composer who ever lived. Intelligent, modest, and confident -- yet grateful. Haydn never doubted his talent. Crises of confidence played no role in his life; he always had a sense of what he might be capable of. But he never claimed credit for his talent either. As far as he was concerned, his talent was a gift from God; it was Joseph Haydn's duty and mission to shepherd and deliver this talent as best he could. For Haydn, composing and creating were ways not to show off but to praise God. Cheerful and positive, yet solid and deep too. Haydn was a normal guy not in the sense of being emotionally limited but in the sense of having a full and complete emotional life. His feelings ran deep, but they were appropriate to actual circumstances. Death made him feel sorrow, good fortune made him feel joy. He was anything but a neurotic, or a mood-swinging manic-depressive, and he never went in for that post-Romantic ploy of trying to be fascinating by out-feeling everyone else. Grandstanding and narcissism were simply not his bag. Generous. Haydn was quick to give credit to others; he was the first to acknowledge others' talents and contributions; and he never neglected to recommend worthy others for jobs. How often do we run across topflight artists who are also healthy, outgoing-yet-sensitive, straightforward human beings? His patrons loved him; the musicians he led and cared for loved him; his audiences loved him; his friends loved him. It makes sense that the style he set the template for (this is his big music-history achievement)... posted by Michael at January 19, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Should History be Written in Hypertext?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: Have you ever noticed the sheer difficulty of writing history? I don’t mean this in the ordinary sense of literary effort, but rather in the sense of how difficult it is to physically and mentally organize the subject matter. Let me give a small illustration of what I mean. I’m currently working my way through a very interesting book, Judith Herran’s “The Formation of Christendom” (Princeton University Press, 1987). However, rather than being written chronologically, each chapter of this book focuses, essay-like, on a particular aspect of Late Antiquity (roughly, the period from Constantine to Charlemagne). This allows for a good deal of concentration and single-subject analysis that would be tough to deliver in a strict chronological treatment (e.g., on the development of monasticism around the Mediterranean). But it leaves me wondering about the interrelationships between one essay topic to another. For example, I came across several isolated observations that concerned roughly the same period of time. On page 45 we find: By the time of Augustus (27 B.C. – A.D. 141), Rome had incorporated the Hellenistic states of Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, and Pharaonic Egypt. As a result of these additions, the empire may have had a population of around 50 million, a figure that appears to have remained stable until the disastrous decline of the third century. [Emphasis added] On page 46: Under Diocletian (284-305), laws to fix prices, ensure the continuity of craft guilds, and guarantee the succession of sons to their fathers’ senatorial duties attempted to stabilize the economy on traditional lines. P. 46 [Emphasis added] On page 60: From a decision to abandon human company and withdraw from the world (called anachoresis in Greek, from which “anchorite” derives), the pursuit of ascetic ideals followed naturally. Disciples of the deity Serapis had developed this practice through the custom of becoming a recluse (katachos) dedicated to the god, and adherents of other pagan cults and of Judaism adopted similar techniques. But among Christians this sort of withdrawal became very widespread in the late third century. [Emphasis added] On page 65: It was within monastic circles that celibacy was first elevated to a commanding position, from which it came to dominate the Christian world. St. Ammoun (ca. 295-352) is known as one of the first Desert Fathers to have lived with his wife for 18 years in total abstinence. This occurred as the result of an arranged marriage from which Ammoun could not escape. Instead, he persuaded his bride that they should lead an ascetic existence as brother and sister, avoiding all contact. Ammoun, however, later felt the need to withdraw from the world completely and left his “sister” to settle in the Nitrian desert. There other young men fleeing from exactly the same tradition of arranged marriages…joined him in ascetic pursuits.[Emphasis added] I don’t know about you, but I began to wonder…gee, do you suppose these developments are interrelated? Let’s see…decline in population, military and economic weakness, imposition of greater state... posted by Friedrich at January 18, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments