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  1. Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger 3
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  3. "The Kumars"
  4. Ponzi? Not-Ponzi?
  5. Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger Part Two
  6. Elsewhere
  7. Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger, Part One
  8. Moviegoing: "Sideways"
  9. Fun City

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Saturday, March 5, 2005

Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger 3
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another visit with Donald Pittenger. This time Donald recalls what an education in the arts was like in the '50s, and shares some reflections and ideas about how the '50s approach came about, and where the lunacy might have come from. Part one of Donald's memoir can be read here. Part two is here. *** Art Education in the 1950s by Donald Pittenger I wasn't taught much about art as an Art major back in the 1950s. Let me clarify. I was taught next to nothing about techniques and technology in drawing and painting (both oil and watercolor) classes. I'll speculate about why this was so in a bit, but first let me describe my experiences. Oh, and let me mention that I'm not going to subject you to a whiney-victim screed regarding the vile, oppressive "system" and how it ruined my life. Truth is, I was never good enough to support myself as a commercial artist, so I entered graduate school in another field when I left the Army. And better art training probably would not have made me "good enough" anyhow. My "stuff" wasn't quite "right". To begin, the reason I got into Art School in the first place was because I was a "good drawer" in elementary school, and in junior high, and maybe even in high school. In high school, for a reason I have completely forgotten, I was my school's representative at the all-city art class at the Seattle Art Museum. Each of the eight high schools in the Seattle school district sent one or two students for a one-day-per-week (I think it was) session at the museum. We were taught by Guy Anderson who, in the mid-1950s, was considered one of the big four "Northwest School" artists. Northwest modernism: Guy Anderson (For what it's worth, the most famous were Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, the fourth was Kenneth Callahan, who has generally ranked behind Graves and Tobey, but was and is better-known than Anderson.) More Northwest modernism: Morris Graves I can't remember what, if anything, Anderson taught us. Nor can I remember what, if anything, I was taught in art classes in junior high and high school; I remember drawing and painting a lot of pictures, but that was about it. Since I don't remember the teaching, I'll move along to college, which I do recall better. More Northwest modernism: Mark Tobey I wanted to be an automobile stylist, so I entered the University of Washington in the fall of 1957 as an Industrial Design major. (Yes, even at the time, I knew that the Art Center School in Los Angeles (itís now in Pasadena) was the place to go for transportation design. But it was too expensive and I thought it best to graduate from a university, "just in case." Plus, I probably would not have succeeded in transportation design anyway. In any sort of graphic art, I'm "pretty good", but not top-notch.) I switched from Industrial... posted by Michael at March 5, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, March 4, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * 2Blowhards favorite Nikos Salingaros' new book "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" has just received an appreciative review from The Architectural Review. The piece isn't online at the magazine's site, but someone has reprinted it here. Our five-part interview with Nikos can be accessed here. * WhiskyPrajer has begun to wonder if originality is overrated. * It pays to be polite, if only because the guy at the controls might not be having a good day. * Thanks to DesignObserver for pointing out that the film editor Walter Murch is posting some thoughts here. Murch is the one film editor I'm aware of who has made a place for himself as a kind of philosopher of perception. His book "In the Blink of an Eye" is a terrific short meditation on why film editing works at all. * DesignObserver also points out this first-class slide-show/essay by Virginia Postrel about the great Hollywood glamor photographer George Hurrell. * The early '90s were some of the loonier days of Sexual Correctness. Lawyers, opinionators, and politicos were prone to lecturing us about the evils of mixing work and romance. Dating someone you worked near? According to the experts, there was no way such a thing could take place without someone -- horrors! -- being exploited. I'd listen to these people and wonder if the world had taken leave of its senses. Where would adult life be without office romances? Do experts have no idea what it is to be human? But in the midst of the era's tiffs, I never had good figures to cite. Now I do: CNN/Money reports that "58 percent of respondents said they have been involved with a coworker and 22 percent of respondents said they met their spouse or significant other at work." Outlaw that, morons. * Exploitation alert: Nate Davis' dogs have been getting to know each other -- somewhat, it seems, to the larger dog's surprise. NSFW, I guess. * The Social Affairs Unit's Zenga Longmore tells the tale of Max Fleischer and his immortal creation, the animated character Betty Boop. Here's Betty's own website, where, if you're in the mood, you can buy a Betty Boop shot glass. * Dean Esmay wonders why the press doesn't report the good news -- or at least give the bad news better-quality context. * Luke Ford interviews Steve Sailer. You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of the page. * I've been enjoying a few new-to-me blogs: the fliply-amusing-yet-substantial Blithering Bunny; and Stephen Thomas' Harleys, Cars, Girls & Guitars, a blog devoted (very movingly) to acknowledging and celebrating both the good times and the bad. * This piece from Whap! magazine summarizes 99% of what women need to understand about men in a few short paragraphs. I'm not sure I can go along with the author's ideas about how best to deal with men. But her description of what we're made of certainly rings true. * Yahoo News reports that the world's oldest... posted by Michael at March 4, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

"The Kumars"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My quest for something worth watching on BBC America continues. Last night I sampled "The Kumars at No. 42," a partly-improvised high-concept sitcom about a quarrelsome/loving Indian-English family who run a TV talkshow out of a studio in their backyard. The episode I watched was energized, rude, and funny. I found it fascinating that nearly all the humor came at the expense of the heavily-caricatured family members: Mom is obsessed by weddings and babies, Dad tells pointless stories and thinks of nothing but money, Grandma embarrasses everyone, and the flashy talkshow-host son is grandiose and vain. The show doesn't hesitate to elicit laughs from Indian accents. I have no idea what the cliches of Indian-immigrant life are, but I roared at many jokes anyway. My main reflection on watching the show: how much I miss good-natured ethnic humor, and thank heavens for it when it does come around. Ethnic humor used to be -- for better and worse -- a rowdy staple of everyday American life, where it served not just as entertainment but also as a safety valve for the pressures generated by a nation made up of many ethnic groups. Then came the the '70s, the '80s, the '90s ... Ethnic humor was vilified as insensitive, and then as un-P.C. And publically acknowledging ethnic characteristics became something that only members of the ethnicity in question were allowed to do. Black rappers could make a show of their "blackness" and call each other "Niggaz," but everybody else had to watch their step. A hip Jewish publication could name itself "Heeb" -- but no one who isn't Jewish dares to speak the word in public. Awkward, awkward, awkward. The old arrangements had their crudeness but they didn't seem to leave everyone feeling touchily defiant, the way our new understandings do. Besides, what's the point? Like sex, ethnic humor will survive any attempt to suppress it. Attempts at suppression can make humor take nasty forms -- and it seemed to me that the ethnic jokes that people did tell (behind closed doors) got nastier and nastier. Perhaps -- and who could have anticipated this would happen? -- people resented the attempts at Thought Control; perhaps their resentment at PC boiled over into the jokes themselves. New York has been a fascinating place from which to watch these developments play out because the city is an endless parade of ethnic types, if not outright stereotyypes. There's no pretending otherwise: rapper kids use up too much sidewalk space; earnest Asian students ride the subways comparing SAT scores; Jewish children boss their kvelling parents around; WASPs stick their noses in the air and do their best to hide from everyone else ... Yet nicely-behaved people must, they simply must, act as though none of these highly-visible goings-on are in fact taking place. Like I say: awkward. But perhaps people are ready once again to loosen up about stereotypes and ethnic characteristics. (May we do so cheerfully, modestly, humorously,... posted by Michael at March 4, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Ponzi? Not-Ponzi?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems to be up for grabs whether Social Security in its current incarnation qualifies as a Ponzi scheme or not. Lefties who root against reform tend to say No; righties who root for reform tend to say Yes. I'm entirely unqualified to stake out a position on this vital question. (Here's Wikipedia's entry on Ponzi schemes -- decide for yourself.) But since I'm cheering for reform and privatization (although not Bush's proposed versions thereof), I've enjoyed learning that even some Social-Security-as-is cheerleaders haven't been able to avoid making use of the comparison. For example, Paul (Wrathful Prophet) Krugman -- Mr. Don't-Mess-With-Social-Security himself -- once made use of the word. Oopsie! But I was especially delighted to learn that the awful Paul Samuelson -- the voice of '60s Great Society deficit-spendin', as well as the author of a bestselling textbook that put me off econ for decades -- once used the P-word too. Here's a passage from a column Paul Samuelson wrote in a 1971 issue of Newsweek: The beauty of social insurance is that it is actuarially unsound. Everyone who reaches retirement age is given benefit privileges that far exceed anything he has paid in -- exceed his payments by more than ten times (or five times counting employer payments)! ... Social Security is squarely based on what has been called the eight wonder of the world -- compound interest. A growing nation is the greatest Ponzi game ever contrived. Only a true '60s Keynesian could call a program that he admits is actuarially unsound beautiful. By the way, can't you sense the self-pleased, I'm-an-all-powerful-magician smile on Samuelson's face as he wrote those words? BTW, I'm not remotely interested in taking part in the Social Security debate and will decline any invitation to do so. (I'm painfully aware of my lack of qualifications, not that that stops me from having a strongly-held opinion.) I'm not about to get in the way of those who do want to duke it out, though. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 4, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More memories and reflections from Donald Pittenger. Today: how architecture was taught in the 1950s, when Authoritarian Modernism was really something to behold. I wish I'd been aware of what Donald writes about here in the 1970s, when I cluelessly studied architecture history. I'd have had a lot less brainwashing to shake myself free of later. You can read the first part of Donald's memoir here. *** Observations on Architectural Training in the 1950s by Donald Pittenger As part of my wayward art training as an undergraduate at the University of Washington (1957-1961), I took two architecture classes. My freshman year, I took an Architecture Appreciation class (or was it History of Architecture? -- I forget the exact title). As a sophomore I took the year-long Beginning Architectural Design (I'm guessing about this title too) course that provided basic training for students in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial Design, and perhaps a couple other fields. At the time, I was transitioning from Industrial Design to Commercial Design (alias commercial art), but stayed in the course anyhow. Where it begins One incident sticks in my mind from the Architectural Design class. It was the winter or spring of 1959 and we were assigned the project of designing a low-house or town-house unit. We were given certain parameters such as square-footage and perhaps number of stories, but had aesthetic freedom. After the completion deadline, our floor plans and wash renderings (combined on a large piece of illustration board) were propped against a wall and critiqued by the instructors. (It was a large class, with more than 70 students and about three teachers.) Every design was in the T-square-and-Triangle International Style idiom -- except for one. Some naive soul produced a tidy looking traditional design that included a brick front and diamond-shaped window glazing. He was gently, but unmistakably, informed by the teachers that Such Things Are Not Done. Everyone got the message, even though all but the wretched traditionalist had already internalized the prevailing architectural ideology. One reason we knew the Standing Orders was due to the aforementioned Architecture Appreciation class that was a required course for Architecture majors. Architecture Appreciation was taught by a gent in his late fifties or early sixties, one Arthur Herrman, who also happened to be Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Planning. I just did a Google search on Herrman and found but one tangential citation, so I can't report on his background; all I can do is report on what I remember from the class. The class had a lot of students because it was open to non-majors and it was held in the auditorium of the old Architecture Hall that dated from Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (a mini World's Fair) days on the University of Washington campus. It was essentially a slide-show lecture where the slides were from black-and-white photos or illustrations. I also had to buy a copy of the current edition of Sir Banister Fletcher's book ďA... posted by Michael at March 3, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * "The Palm Beach Story" -- one of comic genius Preston Sturges' best movies -- is now available on DVD for a very reasonable price. Good to see viewer-reviewers reporting that the quality of the disc is first-rate. * Speaking about lives and the arts, I loved reading Cowtown Pattie's links-rich intro to Texas music, as well as her short "work in progress" memoir. * Steve Sailer thinks that the views of the much-praised bestselling author Malcolm ("Blink") Gladwell and the much-derided Harvard prez Lawrence Summers may have a lot in common. * By the time they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, none of The Ramones were speaking to each other -- now that's punk rock! I hear that this documentary about the boys, soon to go on sale as a DVD, tells the band's story well. * Poynter Online columnist Steve Outing thinks that the classified ads in traditional newspapers don't have much to offer in the era of Craigslist. * Jonathan has had it with '60s nostalgia. * But is it really true that Frenchwomen don't get fat? Slate's Kate Taylor points out that only 20% of today's French families sit down for traditional French meals. The French, in other words, have started to eat -- and grow fat -- like on-the-go Americans. Interesting to learn that French legislators recently "proposed launching a new government agency to fight weight gain, to be funded by a tax on high-calorie or high-fat foods." Paternalistic control from on high -- that's the French way. * The Superficial reports that Quentin Tarantino will direct the final episode of this season's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." The Superficial is one-stop shopping for those who enjoy occasional snarky wallows in the world of celebs. I mean that as a compliment. Well, to The Superficial, in any case. * In some countries, they still know how to keep up standards of good sportsmanship. * Randall Parker links to (and comments on) a remarkable new study of how much current immigration arrangements cost Americans. * Give The People video-editing software, and you just know that the creativity of The People will be released. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 2, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the great underdiscussed culture-topics that often comes up at this blog is what it's like to live a life that involves some involvement with the arts. The conventional press provides a torrent of info about the lives of the stars and the bigtime players. But how about the rest of us? What are our lives-with-the-arts like? We go about incorporating "culture" into our lives in a huge variety of ways. At one extreme are people who take no note of cultural matters at all. TV, design, food, storytelling, clothing, and music -- it's just stuff that's out there, to be leaned on, enjoyed, and griped about. But, really, what's the big deal? At the other end of the spectrum are people for whom cultural questions often get to be overwhelming -- those who make an actual living helping create culture: designers, writers, musicians, editors, acting coaches, technicians, production assistants, etc. (And let's not forget those Backbones of Culture, the arty trust-fund babies who write slim, sensitive, autobiographical novels and spend their days getting themselves photographed for downtown style magazines. A-hahahahahaha ...) Most people with a semi-substantial interest in the arts -- that would be most of us -- fall somewhere in between. There are so many questions that seldom come up, at least in print. What's it like interacting with the arts over the long-term? (My quick response: sometimes it's more rewarding, sometimes it's less...) How does one's relationship with the arts change over time? (My relationship with the arts has been like a love affair; it has its ups, it has its downs ...) To what extent is an involvment with the arts a positive? (It can enrich and deepen one's experience of life ...) In what ways can it be a negative? (It can derange and mislead ...) How do we jigger the givens of our lives -- money, relationships, time, etc -- to make room for our cultural interests? (I've given up promotions in order to have more free time ...) And how has all this affected how we experience the arts? (I respect the basics more now than I did when I was young. And I value the ability to put the Self and its needinesses aside far more than I once did ...) I've always enjoyed reading comments left at the blog by Donald Pittenger, who brings a lot of perspective, brains, and humor to bear on what he says. I've also had a great time swapping email with Donald. But I was eager to know more about his experiences and reflections too. So I recently asked him if he might be willing to pull together a few additional memories and thoughts. I'm thrilled that he has done so, and that he has done so in spades, writing what's in essence a short memoir -- a wonderful and informative look at a life spent in and around the arts. Donald has considerately broken his piece up into... posted by Michael at March 2, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Moviegoing: "Sideways"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You can count me among the fans of Alexander Payne's "Sideways," which I caught up with the other day and found very funny and very touching. I thought Payne mixed tones, balanced psychology and action, and used grace notes and indirection much more satisfyingly than he did in "About Schmidt," his previous movie. (What did that poor Schmidt do to deserve all the pain and humiliation that were heaped on him?) I enjoyed his witty ingredients list -- the washed-out, reddish visuals that suggested the overused print of a '70s road movie; the droll, carefree-but-wan "Pink Panther"-style score; the foregrounding of bodily and temperamental types (for all his emotionality, Payne's primarily a satirist); and the cross between sensitivity and physical rowdiness. The film's mood of satire, romance, and melancholy remained movingly open, and stayed with me for a few hours after the film was over. It's been a long time since a new American film's mood stayed with me. It's been a long time since a new American film (at least one that I've seen) had much of a mood to speak of in the first place. Look at the way the film has got me chatting -- like the film-pedant equivalent of the film's wine-pedant main character. I'm raving about the balance of this, the freshness of that, the bouquet of such and such ... OK, that's another thing I liked about the film: I enjoyed the way Payne had me experiencing his movie as a kind of gustatory creation. My favorite moment in the film [nothing but SPOILERs to come] occurred at Sandra Oh's house. Paul Giammatti and Virginia Madsen are comparing notes about one of Sandra Oh's rare wines. Giammatti, ferociously aggressive about his sophisticated palate and his wine knowledge (and displacing too much personal frustration onto his wine pride), starts to wake up to the fact that the sweet-natured Madsen has a good palate. A very good palate. And that she's articulate. Very articulate. There's a moment when you're apprehensive; Madsen's happy, direct, rich sense of pleasure might elicit something nasty -- some competitiveness -- from Giammatti. He might feel the need to take her down. But he's able to pause, let go of his pride, and open up to Madsen instead. He even starts to play with the notion that Madsen's palate may be better than his -- and he finds himself enjoying that possibility. He's surprised by Madsen, he's surprised by the moment, he's surprised by himself, and he's surprised to be experiencing pleasant surprise. A light goes on in him. He might not be the totally lonely and unappreciated person he imagines himself to be. And life might not be the totally sealed-up, bitter, and finito thing that he has convinced himself it is. One small movie-buffish reflection? I was grateful to be reminded by the film of how powerful movie closeups can be. Sandra Oh isn't in the movie as much as I hoped she'd be.... posted by Michael at February 27, 2005 | perma-link | (33) comments

Fun City
Francis Morrone writes Dear Blowhards, Here in New York, in January, we had a big snow, but that's all it was, a big snow. It wasn't the freakin' "Blizzard of '05." It was just a big snow with some windy gusts and low temps--winter, in other words. Is it my imagination or do people get wimpier about the weather every year? I'm no different from most people in my love of mild, sunny, gently breezy, fragrant days. But I also like snow. Old row-house neighborhoods like mine become achingly beautiful in the snow. I love how the snow drapes and outlines the sills and lintels and pediments and parapets of old buildings. I like going out at night on the streets made quiet by a heavy snowfall, before it all gets plowed up, before it all gets dirty and slushy. That said, a truly weird part of the snowy weekend was the subway situation. A relay-room at the Chambers Street station on the Eighth Avenue line burnt down. At first, the subway authority said some homeless dude tried lighting a fire to keep warm and, poof, the A and C trains stopped running. OK. Trains go in and out of service all day long every day. But then I watched the p.m. news and learned that the lines were going to be out of commission for three to five years. I don't think my jaw ever dropped so much. Wow, I thought. The subway sure is fragile. Well, the next day, after the city's tabloids had loudly called for the heads of some transit officials, the MTA decided it would actually take only a few months, not a few years, to fix. Then there was this, from the indispensable Gotham Gazette: Service on the A and C trains will be largely restored today--10 days after a fire destroyed a signal room near the Chambers Street station and transit officials predicted that service would be disrupted for three to five years. From five years to ten days. My jaw dropped again. And the homeless-guy theory of fire causation also evaporated. Now the official MTA line is that they don't have the slightest damned idea how the fire started. Great. (Here is a good piece from Gotham Gazette analyzing this weird story.) Well, the subway is fragile. In the wake of all this, reporters started probing the system for its fault lines--e.g. accessible drop-spots for terrorists' pipe-bombs and such--and had no trouble finding them. We all of us in New York have this persistent queasy feeling about the subway-as-sitting-duck. When I moved to the Big Apple a quarter of a century ago, we were also queasy about the subway. But back then the fear centered on muggers and bands of wilding youths wielding sharpened screwdrivers. Then subway crime, like crime all over the city, dropped precipitously. People just stopped being afraid in the subways, and for a while it was a lovely, refreshing feeling. Now the edge is back, thanks to nightmare... posted by Francis at February 27, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments