In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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  1. Anything For Your Vote
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  8. HoJo Byebye
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Friday, May 13, 2005


Anything For Your Vote
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As averse as I am to politics, I nonetheless expect to get a lot more interested once this generation starts running for public office. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 13, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments




Donald Pittenger on Flair in Art, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our friend Donald Pittenger's recent posting on illustration and fine art elicited a lot of interest as well as many interesting comments -- all of which has prompted Donald to do some musing about a classic art-question: what's the role of skill in art? I'm pleased that Donald has pulled together his thoughts on the topic. Here's Part One. *** Skill and Flair in Painting, Part One by Donald Pittenger In a previous post I perhaps rashly suggested that skill and flair were important factors in artistic quality. For example, whereas I found Norman Rockwell a technically accomplished painter, I couldn't categorize his work as being truly first-rate because it lacked what I called "flair." These notions of skill and flair inspired several comments to my article. The present post is an attempt to respond to these comments by dealing with the concepts in more detail. By Norman Rockwell What some commenters said. Billy Tantra noted: I've got a professor who says that it's only insecure people who want an obvious sign of 'skill' in the art they look at. According to him, people who are in the know have no need for that. By Jackson Pollack Miss Grundy states: Okay, as a total ignoramus about art, I'll bite -- if we're not appreciating some measure of skill, then what are we appreciating? Or are we somehow divorcing "art" or "artistry" from "skill"? (You see how ignorant I am.) This is what the evidently insecure, unwashed masses fix on when they scorn modern painting, right? "I could have done that!" "My three-year-old could have done that!" And then are able to dismiss Painting as a complete hoax -- "at least drawing and illustration shows some skill" "Someone help me understand this. I look at a Jackson Pollack and *do* see skill/artistry, because I know if I dripped paint on a canvas, in a million years, it would never look like his." By Edward Hopper Benjamin Hemric observed: I've always loved Norman Rockwell. In a way I'm surprised that he wasn't more popular with modernists because he seems to me to be a supreme "symbol" maker and creator of iconographic images (something that I imagine the modernists value highly). In my opinion, his paintings went beyond realism. They captured and communicated an "essence" (and were therefore similar to another favorite artist of mine, Edward Hopper). I think if his message had been more obscure (like, to an extent, Edward Hopper's), popular among fewer people (more elite) and had been a leftist one (rather than an establishment one), modernists would have hailed him as one of the great artists of our time I'm surprised that people feel that Rockwell lacked "flair." Are there examples to show what is meant by "flair"? Or, using another approach, how might his illustrations have been done differently if he had done them with more flair? I apologize to the commenters for leaving sometimes substantial parts out due... posted by Michael at May 13, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments




Seablogger
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was very sorry to read over at Alan Sullivan's blog Seablogger that Alan is facing some grave health challenges. Alan has always been not just one of the best writers on the blogging scene, but an inspiringly calm and mature presence. He's one of those all-too-rare creatures who makes "being adult" seem like an attractive state of being rather than a drudgery-filled obligation. How sad to be reminded in this way that physical vulnerability of scary sorts often comes as part of the "being an adult" package. Why not drop by Seablogger wish Alan the best? Me, I'm looking forward to reading many, many more Seablogger postings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 13, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments





Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Launchcast
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few weeks ago, with the usual apprehension, I forked over 48 bucks for a year's subscription to Yahoo!'s Yahoo! Plus service. Yahoo! Plus is like a free Yahoo! account, only on steroids. It supplies extra email-storage space, tons of photo-storage space, minimal ads, and some other goodies and frills. I'm pretty happy with my subscription: what Yahoo! Plus creates for you is a snug little room of your own on the web. Unlike AOL, Yahoo! Plus is part of the Web. It doesn't hide the larger world from you. But unlike a barebones browser, Yahoo! Plus gives you a homebase, as well as many ways and places to stash parts of your brain. Has Yahoo! shaken its post-Google grogginess and regained its edge? I'm impressed: the whole package works well, at least on my Windows 2000 work computer. My couple of cries for help were answered promptly and helpfully. As far as webmail goes, I find that I use my Yahoo! Mail account far more than I do my Gmail account. (Quick question? What's the big whoop about Gmail anyway? The way Gmail brings past messages up as groups and conversations is a nice innovation. But I'm not k.o.'d by Gmail otherwise. Is anyone else?) I'm in serious love with Yahoo!'s Notebook feature. (You don't need Yahoo! Plus to get Notebook; it comes as part of a free Yahoo! account too.) Notebook is nothing but a place to stash notes. But it's a well-done stasher, with better-than-adequate searching and categorizing abilities. Being a serious 3x5 notecard addict, I have a tendency -- OK, a drive -- to collect piles and piles of notes to myself. Stacks of scribbled-on cards -- little bits of my mind -- collect anyplace I settle into for longer than five minutes. Now that I can transfer these scribbles into Notebook, my stacks have shrunk considerably. Some have disappeared entirely, making The Wife very happy. Another benefit: my scribbles are now available to me anywhere I can get to a be-Webbed computer. I no longer go nuts looking for a misplaced 3x5 card. What's got me really hooked on Yahoo! Plus, though, is a feature I hadn't been looking forward to at all: Launchcast. Launchcast takes a moment to explain. It's a music service that enables you to rank and grade songs, artists, and genres. Based on the tastes and preferences you indicate, Launchcast creates an online radio station for you. You go on ranking and grading, and Launchcast goes on tailoring your listening. It's like a personal radio station, only one with no announcer and no ads. Launchcast is all music, all the time -- one song after another, broadcast in perfectly fine stereo. Unlike Netflix's absurd ratings-and-suggestions function -- in a year of subscribing, I don't think I've found a single one of Netflix's suggestions useful -- Launchcast's is a genuine mind-reader, even if it does seem convinced that I like Diana Krall much more than I... posted by Michael at May 11, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments




Nikos Reactions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Say what you will about 2Blowhards favorite, the architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros. But you can't say he leaves people cold. Cases in point: City planner, photographer and all-around civilized guy Konrad Perlman reviews Nikos' current book "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction." Verdict: thumbs emphatically up. Nikos' book is "the clearest description of the state of architecture and the destructiveness of the Decon movement." It's a lovely and appreciative review, by the way -- Konrad writes from deep familiarity with culture and pleasure, as well as mucho feet-on-the-ground professional experience. Meanwhile, San Francisco's well-known bookstore William Stout Architectural Books has seen fit, in their online catalog, to describe Nikos' book this way: "This book offers an hysterical right-wing analysis of post-modern architecture, warning us of the existence of the "Derrida virus", and crowning Christopher Alexander the new Albert Speer." Evidently determined to discourage sales, William Stout has hiked the book's price by eight dollars. I'm going to let down my usual mask of bemusement in order to ask a sincere question. Do you suppose that it has occurred to whoever wrote William Stout's catalog copy that he/she is calling Nikos, Christopher Alexander, and those who find their work enlightening and helpful not just "hysterical right-wingers" but fascists? In any case: What's not to love and admire in the level-headed and humane rationality of the architectural left, eh? You can buy Nikos's wonderful -- and controversial -- book here (and for eight dollars less than at William Stout's). You can access 2Blowhards' mindblowing, five-part q&a with Nikos here. Nikos' own site, where you can enjoy a ton of brain-expanding freebies, is here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Many thanks to David Sucher, who had the inspired idea of finding out what the facade of William Stout Architectural Books looks like. The very Nikos Salingaros-friendly answer:... posted by Michael at May 11, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments





Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Luke Lee marvels at the intolerance of some liberals. * Lynne Kiesling doesn't think energy subsidies are the way to go. * 32 formerly unknown Jackson Pollock drip-and-slosh paintings have been discovered in a storage facility in East Hampton. * Quiet Bubble enjoys the perfect meal at New York's 2nd Avenue Deli. * Newsweek's Peter Plagens finds that a new history of art since 1900 is actually a history of art-theory since 1900. * Will Duquette lists six "perfect songs." I'm certainly not about to disagree with any of Will's choices. * Jon Hastings notices that the people who like "Starship Troopers" the novel generally don't like "Starship Troopers" the movie, and vice versa. * Steve Sailer has been doing his usual -- ie., heroic -- job of blogging and writing on weighty subjects. But the piece of Steve's I especially enjoyed discovering recently was a little more casual: this report on a study of barroom bouncers. * Glenn Reynolds thinks videoblogging is the next hot blogtrend. * Have you heard about the Japanese game called Kansho? Strange country, Japan ... * Who needs nonstick? Mrs. Blessed loves her cast-iron pots and pans. * DesignObserver's Michael Bierut wonders how big a role "bullshit" plays in the design process. * Retail historians Peter Blackbird and Brian Florence run a fascinating site dedicated to the history of America's shopping malls. * Jim Barker's scans of pulp-fiction bookjackets should make illustration buffs weep with pulp happiness. * TinkertyTonk thinks that too many parents are using public libraries as free daycare centers. * Is it a building? Or is it, perhaps, a computer punchcard? David Sucher turns up an amazingly ... blech modernist building in Lisbon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2005 | perma-link | (24) comments




Media-Consumption Attitudes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Poynter Online's Rich Gordon, who linked to this fascinating study. It's a look at the "media consumption" attitudes of 18-34 year olds. Some factlets that should scare the daylights out of traditional-media owners (and traditional-media employees, too): 97% believe online is the same or better than magazines for finding information about products and music. In addition, 83% say reading a story on the Internet is the same or better than reading one in a newspaper, and 67% say that watching a short video clip online is the same or better than watching highlights on television. Longer-format videos compare less favorably online, with 63% sill believing that television is better for watching longer video programming ... Notably, the Internet is the only medium with net growth in perceived time spent. Forty-seven percent of respondents indicate that they spend more time using the Internet now compared to one year ago. Interestingly, 35% of respondents indicate that they spend less time playing video/PC games and 28% say they spend less time watching television. Not surprisingly, the Internet is used more for informational purposes, while television is used more for entertainment and relaxation ... 38% of 35 to 54 year-old newspaper readers indicat[e] that reading the newspaper is an important part of their day, compared to only 17% of 18 to 24 year-old readers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments




HoJo Byebye
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you guys know that Howard Johnsons is on its last legs? According to this amazing site (and this one too), there are now only nine Howard Johnsons businesses active in the whole country. Here's a list of the last orange-roofed hangers-on. I always feel like I must be the last person in the world to awaken to these facts ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments





Monday, May 9, 2005


Hinduism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago, I fretted some about the ethics of panning. When is panning a culturework appropriate and useful, and when is it better avoided? In a general way, I'm all for using positive reinforcement, and for encouraging generosity and pleasure. And -- given that I'm an artsyakker and a conversation-promoter, not a reviewer -- I don't have to go public with any negative reactions. So why not spend what little energy I have trading tips, comparing reactions, and thinking out loud instead? Still, still ... Maybe there are times when it isn't a completely bad thing to be honest about negative or impatient responses. In that vein, this pan: I'm currently going through a Teaching Company lecture series about Hinduism that I'm not crazy about. It isn't bad. It's quite decent, really -- solid and organized. It represents a lot of hardwon knowledge and eager effort. Despite its good qualities, though, I'm finding the series a dry bore -- a remarkable thing, given how colorful, juicy, and sexy a topic Hinduism is. For all I know, Prof. Mark Muesse has done his very best to present his material in a vivid and engaging way. Perhaps the Teaching Company helped him make his talks more direct and accessible than they might otherwise have been. And it's not as though Muesse has a lofty or dislikable persona, or an aversion to his subject matter. Still, the series strikes me as verveless. Like many academics, Muesse seems most content when doing the pedant thang: backtracking, splitting hairs, engaging in scholarly disputes, and footnoting himself. Once past his opening lecture, he doesn't in fact do a tremendous amount of scholarly throat-clearing; my guess is that the Teaching Company's editors stepped in here. Still, you can always sense he'd like to be doing a lot more hemming-and-hawing. The effort of speaking simply and clearly, and of moving on to his next useful point, seems to cost him dearly. And like many other scholars, Muesse seems under the impression that what an introductory course should do is introduce people not so much to the subject matter as to the academic field that studies it. He sometimes seems to think we're listening to his talks not to learn about Hinduism but to learn about Hinduism Studies. Sigh: Why is it so hard for so many profs to understand that what really interests us -- the general-public Us -- is subject matter? Are they so fascinated by their own field that they can't imagine that their audience might not care about the academic profession? Come to think of it: it took stupid-young-me much too long to realize that what the English Lit courses I was studying in college were really preparation for wasn't being a writer or an editor. They weren't really preparation for a busy lifetime that might include some reading-and/or-writing-for-pleasure either. No, what my Eng-lit courses were really preparation for was ... becoming an English prof! And who wants... posted by Michael at May 9, 2005 | perma-link | (30) comments