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  1. Notes on What It's Like Being a Boss
  2. Hughes on Goya
  3. Age and the Web
  4. Rohmer and Rubio
  5. Jimmy Miller
  6. "The Maltese Falcon" Turns 75
  7. Another Elsewhere
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Saturday, February 5, 2005

Notes on What It's Like Being a Boss
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: Since I retired as a full-time contributor to this weblog, I’ve blogged a few times about all the history I’ve been reading. That’s been a nice and even a necessary diversion, to be sure. But what has really absorbed my time over the past 8 months was a crisis in my business, which ultimately led me to move my offices, refocus my business plan, lay off over half of my staff, master the jobs of several people I no longer employ, and keep my fingers crossed that it would all come out in the wash. At least so far, it has. I haven’t written anything about this episode yet because I haven’t yet been able to formulate any big life lessons from all of this…I’m still far too close to it. But at the behest of Michael Blowhard, I have tried to jot down a few notes on what it’s like to be a boss: I wasn’t raised to be a boss. In my birth family my role was the diligent second banana. I strongly suspect that I am a much better diligent second banana than I am a boss, but after the age of 30 I could no longer hack the second banana role anymore. A major downside of working for yourself is that you don’t have a moronic boss to bitch about. (Well, maybe you do, but it's just not the same, somehow.) People love to demonize greedy bosses who don’t care for their workers. However, after going through this bout of downsizing my company, I know that my surviving employees are not unhappy about the change, because it was accompanied by a renewed sense of discipline and focus. Employees—or, at least, my employees—have understood and responded positively to their boss’ determination to succeed financially. A boss who tolerates low financial returns will not deliver the wherewithal to provide raises and job security. In retrospect, my biggest sin was not in laying people off during my bout of downsizing—despite the pain involved—but not in demanding enough of them or myself previously. In short, I should have been more greedy...I would have been more socially useful. “Leadership” is really not something that comes naturally to me. I run my own business mostly so as to not get bossed around, not in order to boss others. (See discussion of ‘second banana’ above.) But employees hunger so visibly for leadership that it somehow you have to at least try to fake it. I’ve been working harder at faking it since my crisis. I’ve been around people from tech industry start-ups who are amazingly articulate about their business plans. It’s very impressive to hear such a level of verbal clarity, but it always makes me suspect. My business plans amount to: “Let’s start by making sure we actually accomplish the things we know (or at least strongly suspect) will make us money, and try to be alert to opportunities from there.” I’ve never been of the... posted by Friedrich at February 5, 2005 | perma-link | (28) comments

Friday, February 4, 2005

Hughes on Goya
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- FYI, a video documentary about Goya by the terrific art critic Robert Hughes will have its first airing on the Ovation network tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 pm EST. Other showtimes: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 - 4:00:00 PM Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 8:30:00 PM Friday, February 18, 2005 - 12:30:00 AM Saturday, February 19, 2005 - 3:00:00 PM Thursday, February 24, 2005 - 8:00:00 PM Friday, February 25, 2005 - 12:00:00 AM Monday, February 28, 2005 - 9:30:00 PM Tuesday, March 01, 2005 - 1:30:00 AM Ovation's site is here. A page about the documentary is here. I haven't seen the show yet -- but this is Goya, and this is Hughes. How can it not be worth watching? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Age and the Web
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For no good reason, I found myself wondering: up to what age do people take to computers? Up to what age do they embrace the web? Is there a cutoff? One man I know who's in his mid-70s manages the computer well. He emails; he stores information; he shoots and manipulates digital photos; he prints out cards and images. In many ways he manages better than I do. I'm not entirely sure, though, that -- despite his prowess -- he grasps the basic principles of the digital universe, the hyperlinked/tree-structure/database thing that networked computers work on. The idea of managing folders and files puts him seriously off, and he seems to feel no urge to hang out on the web. But he's an enthusiastic user of his computer anyway. By contrast, one very intelligent woman I know who's in her 80s barely turns her computer on at all. You'd think she'd love the capabilities that the machine offers; she's a creative and resourceful person. But all she uses it for is once-a-week email sessions and occasional games of solitaire. Otherwise she shuns the beast. Moving into and inhabiting the digital mind-space can be a hurdle even for someone who's middle-aged: me, for instance. Thinking in computer terms -- slicing-and-dicing, hyperlinking, chunking, seeing some of the ramifications of all this -- takes an effort. It's fascinating, and it's cool. But finding my way around is also like learning to speak a foreign language. And my brain is a long way from being as pliant and energized as it once was. I feel good about how well I do contend, given my age and my useless English-lit background. And I feel downright smug when I look at many of my friends. They gripe and they whine; they've chosen to hang out in the Old Media world and bitch about the direction life is going. But even I -- even I! -- sometimes find myself ruefully reflecting that I'm adapting to computers with a mind that was hammered into shape back in the Dewey Decimal years. Nonlinearity is bliss -- but wrestling a linear mind into taking advantage of nonlinear bliss does present some challenges. Here's a small example. One New Reality I often encounter is the way that writing as it was once understood is ... well, what? Receding in importance? Merging with visuals and sound, and becoming part of a more general media soup? Something like that, anyway. And I do have my moments when I think -- melodramatically -- "Sheesh, I went to a lot of trouble over the years to become OK at expressing myself verbally, using words alone. What a cruel joke it is that I'm reaching whatever prime I'm capable of just at the exact moment when this skill is becoming irrelevant." Mature Me knows that the new developments and opportunities are good things: you're no longer just a writer! Instead, you're a writer/editor/filmmaker/designer/publisher! You aren't limited to lining words up... posted by Michael at February 4, 2005 | perma-link | (35) comments

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Rohmer and Rubio
Francis Morrone writes: Dear Blowhards, I recently learned--where I don't know--that the Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill is married to--or perhaps is just the “s.o.” of--the Mexican pop chanteuse and sex siren Paulina Rubio. ( gives Paulina a 95 rating for sexiness: "Paulina, it can be argued, is the most sensual artist on the pop charts today. She's incredible to watch, with her sexuality oozing off every video clip, every photo shoot, and every television appearance. She's not only the bomb, but the nuclear kind, a one-woman wrecking machine of men's hearts." Makes you wonder what a girl's got to do to get a 96. Anyway, lest any of you think to be part of my regular Internet browsing, I swear I'd never heard of the site until I Googled Paulina Rubio.) Well, good for Ricardo Bofill. Do any of you remember him? He was quite a hot architect in the 1980s. During that decade of what the media labeled “post-Modernism” (which in this usage did not always have anything to do with that term as philosophers and literary theorists used it) the cultured public grew besotted with architecture, which took over the cultural mantel that film had occupied in the 1960s and 1970s. We got the cult of the celebrity architect--a cult that has only grown greater, though by now the freshness and excitement have worn off. Anyway, not all the big reps of the 1980s made it intact into the new millennium. Bofill, it seems to me, is seldom discussed these days, though perhaps I'm just out of the loop. I thought of Bofill recently when we undertook an Eric Rohmer festival. I know people who can't stand Rohmer's films, and I don't hold such a view against anyone. (Whereas I would have serious doubts about the sanity of someone who disliked Preston Sturges or Jean Renoir.) I, however, revel in the talky Frenchiness of Rohmer's world. Now, I have seen most of his films as they have been released theatrically. But over the years, it's occurred to me that I can't--not for the life of me--remember one from the other. So we conducted an experiment. We rented every Rohmer we could lay our hands on. We'd seen them all, some multiple times. Now, however, I'd take notes. I would master this oeuvre. I would tell one from the other. I'd make a Rohmer database. I'd quiz myself. I'd read up on each film and its performers. (We all have fun in different ways.) I had no trouble with the early cycle Rohmer called “Six Moral Tales.” My Night at Maud's is very distinct in my mind from Chloë in the Afternoon. And the historical films and literary adaptations stand out, too. It's the later cycles, “Comédies et Proverbes” and "Contes des quatre saisons" that are all jumbled up in my poor head. Now, Rohmer makes the talkiest films in creation. And, as I said, I like the talk. But I like other things as well. I like... posted by Francis at February 2, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Jimmy Miller
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I didn't wake up until much too late to the fact that pop music is created not just by writers and performers but also by producers. I was in college, enjoying some locoweed, and groggily inspecting the record jacket of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street," an album I must have listened to 500 times. The small print featured a name I recognized: Jimmy Miller. Why did that name ring a bell? Eventually it came to me: Miller's name was also featured on another album I loved, this one by the group Traffic. My mind started to make hazy connections. Both discs had a roughed-up, free-wheeling, wildass emotional quality ... The audio on both was complex, yet anything but oppressive ... Hey: maybe this producer-guy Jimmy Miller had something to do with it! So I looked into Jimmy Miller some more. What I learned was that Miller had served as producer on a number of the Stones' best records -- "Beggars' Banquet," "Sticky Fingers," "Let It Bleed" -- as well as on all of Traffic's best discs. As far as I could tell, both Traffic and the Stones in their post-Jimmy-Miller days put out much less interesting records. And finally I found myself thinking: hmm, maybe a producer-guy can be a creative and significant force in his own right. The other day I was feeling nostalgic, and was wondering whatever became of Jimmy Miller. Google didn't come to much of a rescue, alas: Miller died in 1994, pre-web. But this short All-Music Guide bio sketches out the basics of his life and his work. I wonder if a history of popular music that covered the field from the point of view of its producers would be enlightening. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

"The Maltese Falcon" Turns 75
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I first read Faulkner and Hammett, I read them side by side and loved 'em both. But I was also an impressionable, over-trusting kid, and I was content to accept the usual evaluation: that, while Faulkner's work stood for Real Literature, Hammett's was ... something else, and something unquestionably lesser. A few years ago, though, I re-read "The Maltese Falcon" -- and found myself gasping in admiration. I've now come to my senses: as far as I'm concerned, "The Maltese Falcon" is the equal of any 20th century novel I've ever read. My little contribution to the conversation: it may be helpful to think of "Falcoln" not as a conventional-novel-wannabe, but as epic vernacular poetry -- as a work more along the lines of "Beowulf" than of "Middlemarch." I just noticed that 2004 and 2005 are the 75th anniversary of the original serial publication of "The Maltese Falcon." Here's an interesting WashPost-sponsored online chat with Rick Layman, a Hammett biographer, and Julie Rivett, Hammett's granddaughter. William Ames' quick intro to Hammett and "The Maltese Falcon" is a good one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Another Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Many thanks to visitor "Saint-Exupery," who points out a rip-roaring new group blog, The Conservative Philosopher. What a cast list: Mr. What-is-Conservatism himself, John Kekes; the great Roger Scruton; Jim Ryan, fondly remembered from Philosoblog days; and many writers whose thinking I'm looking forward to getting to know. In my ideal world, Crooked Timber and Conservative Philospher would spend three weeks a month making civilized points and gentlemanly arguments -- and a week a month bashing each other over the head with folding chairs, World Wrestling Federation-style. * Whiskyprajer finds that the cost of living in California has been giving him second thoughts. * Warners is doing a firstrate job of moving their film library onto DVD. First there was the film noir collection; now comes a boxed set of classic gangster movies. How's this for a lineup: "The Public Enemy," "Angels With Dirty Faces," "Little Caesar," "The Petrified Forest," and "White Heat." Essential viewing at a great price. I haven't personally inspected either package, but all reviewers seem to agree that the discs are beautifully produced. "Top of the world, Ma!", at least for filmbuffs. * Google for video! * The stylish and witty blogger Martine turns out to be a stylish and witty amateur photographer too. * Here's more on how to stay slim while eating like a sensualist. * Sexed-up punk noir? Co-directed by the snappy entertainer Robert Rodriguez and the graphic-novel mega-talent Frank Miller? Starring Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, and Mickey Rourke? This is a case of: I don't care if the project works out perfectly, I just want to show up and see what it's like. Here's a taste of "Sin City." But why isn't the gorgeous Carla Gugino featured in the trailer? If Carla's footage has been cut, I'll be one very, very disappointed moviegoer. The film opens April 1st. * David Fleck reports what it's like when gals and guys face off in Trivial Pursuit. * This probably represents some kind of breakthrough, though I'm not sure whether to applaud or groan. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, January 31, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Who's "white" and who's not? Razib introduces a lot of useful complexity into the question. * To my shame, I only just now came across the web-mag of the American Institute of Graphic Artists. Edited by the great Steven Heller, AIGA Voice is an impressive and inviting publication, full of all kinds of goodies for those fascinated by visuals. I'm looking forward to doing a lot of catching-up. * Vesna Vulovic, a Serbian airline stewardess, was working in a jetliner at 33,000 feet when a terrorist bomb went off. She survived the explosion -- and she survived the fall too. Here's an interview with her. * What do we make of this resourceful playwright's sexual habits? * This audio clip of Orson Welles taping a radio commercial for peas (and not taking direction well, to say the least) was an underground legend for years. Now it can be listened to online. "The right reading for this is the one I'm delivering," he states, orotundly. As a good arts person, I should have felt heartbroken by the spectacle of a great genius reduced to squabbling over a trivial radio spot. Instead, my heart went out to the guys in the control booth. Imagine having to spend your working hours attending to Orson Welles' ego. (CORRECTION: Thanks to James Russell, who tells me that Welles' pea ad was meant for TV and not radio.) * I say, Give the kid a hundred-million-dollar contract now. * Some of the Cajun jokes at this blog made me laugh. Cajun jokes -- who knew? * Thanks to Pondblog for passing along a Swiss report about a new kind of solar-power collector that's not only flexible but highly efficient. Back in the mid-'70s, lots of smart people were confident that the world was on the verge of converting wholesale to solar energy. Has the time for solar finally arrived? Or is solar energy one of those dreams that forever entrances but never comes true? * Teenaged boys simply may not deserve to live. * Thanks to George Hunka for pointing out the blog of the interesting theater journalist Steve Oxman. And congrats to George himself, who has just seen a new play of his given a workshop production. On his own blog, George is doing some prodigious wrangling with the theater whirlwind that is Richard Foreman. I get more of what I'm looking for from discussions about the theater from George's blog than I do from the entire theater staff of the NYTimes. * OGIC has the odds on some literary books about poker. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments