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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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Energy Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ethanol from sugarcane supplies 50% of automobile fuel in Brazil. * France gets 78% of its electricity from nuclear fission. Source: National Geographic. Best, if excessively oil-dependent, Michael... posted by Michael at August 13, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Ron Paul on Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Texas's libertarian congressman Ron Paul suspects that immigration (as in illegal-Mexican immigration) may turn out to be the sleeper issue of 2008. Sample passage: We can start by recognizing that the overwhelming majority of Americans – including immigrants – want immigration reduced, not expanded. Amnesty for illegal immigrants is not the answer. Millions of people who broke the law by entering, staying, and working in our country illegally should not be rewarded with a visa. Why should lawbreakers obtain a free pass, while those seeking to immigrate legally face years of paperwork and long waits for a visa? We must end welfare state subsidies for illegal immigrants. Some illegal immigrants ... receive housing subsidies, food stamps, free medical care, and other forms of welfare. This alienates taxpayers and breeds suspicion of immigrants, even though the majority of them work very hard. Without a welfare state, we would know that everyone coming to America wanted to work hard and support himself. Our current welfare system also encourages illegal immigration by discouraging American citizens from taking low-wage jobs. This creates greater demand for illegal foreign labor ... Our most important task is to focus on effectively patrolling our borders. With our virtually unguarded borders, almost any determined individual – including a potential terrorist – can enter the United States. Unfortunately, the federal government seems more intent upon guarding the borders of other nations than our own. We are still patrolling Korea’s border after some 50 years, yet ours are more porous than ever. Could the illegal-immigration issue be starting to make its way onto the agenda? Have we gotten near the point when it will be able to be spoken about in respectable company? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 13, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Dutton on Evo-Crit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For a long time now, I've gotten more out of what's been discussed and discovered in the sciences (especially in the biological sciences) than I have out of arts criticism and arts theory. Academic "Theory" especially seems vapid, arid, and sterile -- it strikes me as nothing more than narcissistic wheel-spinning. But fractals, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology? I'm happy to admit to being an innumerate dimwit who struggles with basic science and makes do with popularizations. But all of these fields and lines of thought make my head -- and especially the part of it that's devoted to the arts -- spin. I find it odd and sad that this kind of approach hasn't taken off more. Are most artsies too double-D dumb to sink their teeth into scientific material? Have the minds of the academics been destroyed by Theory? Why are culture-people so close-minded? Perhaps many -- civilians and artsies alike -- are content to view culture through lenses that have been shaped by romanticism and modernism. Perhaps the romantic/modernist p-o-v, however played-out and absurd, suits a lot of people. Sigh. There's always the chance that I'm an idiot, of course. Perhaps I'm flat-out wrong about how earth-shaking the new-science discoveries are in their implications for the arts. Perhaps I've put my money on the wrong horse -- maybe some other fresh approach is on the verge of taking off. Or maybe it's just quirky ol' me: Maybe these evo-bio/neuroscience discoveries that mean so much to me will never mean much to many other people. Still, I'm nothing if not weatherbeaten, cussed, and (shhh) arrogant: I'm deeply convinced 1) That the official arts discussion has dried up, 2) That the official arts reflect this sterility, and 3) That the best place for the arts to find some fresh juice to feed off of is in the new sciences. In fact, there has been some terrific work done that brings together the new sciences and the arts. It just isn't widely-known. Short version: Try Ellen Dissanayake's "What Is Art For?" and "Homo Aestheticus"; Frederick Turner's "The Culture of Hope"; Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language," "The Timeless Way of Building," and "The Nature of Order"; Geoffrey Miller's "The Mating Mind"; Leon Krier's "Architecture: Choice or Fate"; Joseph Carroll's "Literary Darwinism" ... The work of Nikos Salingaros should shiver some timbers too. Nikos' website, where he makes available a lot of terrific material, is here; 2Blowhards did a long q&a with Nikos, all five parts of which can be accessed from this webpage. And Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate" -- a discussion of the blank-slate/modernist thang, and of how recent discoveries in science have refuted this view -- has a first-rate, 20ish-page general discussion of the implications of the new sciences for the arts. This work undermines and contradicts much of contemporary art's orthodoxy -- and huzzah to that. But does any of it represent the Final Word on anything? Certainly not. The arts discussion is... posted by Michael at August 13, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, August 12, 2005

More on Digital Tech and Creativity
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We've often yakked about the impacts the shift to digi-tech is having on the various artforms. Despite how seductive the gadgets are and despite how mind-bending some of the effects can be, the results often seem ... a little artificial, even a little dead. More evidence comes from a conversation with the cinematographer Mauro Fiore: "Don't get me wrong, I love to use all the newest technology because it helps make a picture better. However, that said, some of the new technology makes us distance ourselves from creativity as well. Now that we are doing DI [digital intermediates], work print dailies are archaic and I don't know why. Today, everyone gets a DVD or HD of the dailies that are projected in a little trailer. People look at them solo on different monitors that aren't adjusted. Making aesthetic choices based on these versions can be wrong, or at least difficult. "I miss working with a lab. I would rely [on lab techies] to talk about how the negative looked -- about light and exposure. Now, digital printers make whatever they have look 'best' and we don't know about the exposure or the state of the negative. This makes it difficult to gauge or take a risk. You can't push the photography to interesting places, because you don't really know what you have. One of the things that I don't enjoy is playing it safe. And, sometimes, when you're looking at digital dailies, that's all you can do." That hollow, soul-less feeling you often get looking at (or listening to) digital media products? There are reasons why you feel that way. I found the Fiore quote in ICG magazine, published by the International Cinematogaphers Guild. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apologies for blizzarding you with links, but I'm just back after a few weeks away and can't resist pigging out on good, fresh web-stuff. Yee-hah. * We're all for piecemeal, small-scale ways of proceeding around here. Which means that those handful of largescale developments that genuinely work -- Rockefeller Center, Haussmann's remake of Paris -- can be especially fun to puzzle over. I spent a dreamy half-hour poring over this page, where Cyburbia's Ablarc has posted a lot of beautiful photographs of (and smart comments about) Haussmann's Paris. * The gang at Stephen Bodio's blog isn't expressing a lot of enthusiasm about that much-hyped documentary "March of the Penguins." I got a lot out of Stephen's posting about some of the authors who have influenced him too. * Dixie-dwellin' Randy Sparkman remembers what Elvis meant, not just to Southerners but to other musicians too. * MD visits her old Iowa stomping grounds and is moved by the countryside's beauty, as well as by some excellent sweet corn. * Larry Ayers' posting raises the eternal question: What would a man do if he didn't have a woman to tease? * Visiting New York City soon? Terry Teachout has some shows to recommend. * Mike Hill is feeling old: He can remember home deliveries of seltzer water. I'm feeling old myself: I can remember home deliveries of milk. (UPDATE: Heavens, home delivery of milk can still be had.) * Steven Wolfhard has a very charming drawing style. It's probably a hard-won, polished kind of casual-seeming style, though: Steven's a recent graduate of an animation program. * Thanks to Tatyana, who alerted me to this sly and sexy posting about the movie "Secretary." (FvB blogged about "Secretary" here; I expressed envy of James Spader here.) * Perhaps the moment has come to bow down before the penis-God. * Lexington Green's list of what he read in the second quarter of 2005 is an impressive one. It's also fun to read in its own right: Who else do you know who goes through (and enjoys) not just a lot of military history but also "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "Ravelstein"? I chuckled when I noticed that it took Lexington more than a year to make it through Henry James' "Princess Casamassima" -- that's about how fast I read Henry James too. Are the ChicagoBoyz deliberately doing more cultural blogging? Cheers to that. * Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out this terrific Robert Birnbaum interview with the invaluable Camille Paglia. Birnbaum's own site -- where surfers can enjoy tons of in-depth interviews with authors -- is here. * Why do so many architects fail to understand what a hostile face blank walls present to the public? David Sucher gives a fast lesson in what makes good and bad urbanism. Hey architects, hey builders, hey developers: While making great architecture may be ineffably difficult, being a good neighbor just ain't that complicated. So why not make your aims a little... posted by Michael at August 12, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michelle at Oberlin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Always fun to take note of instances of lefty illiberalism. Here's a nice one, from an interview with the conservative columnist Michelle Malkin in American Enterprise magazine. While a student, Michelle -- who attended lefty Oberlin College in the late '80s and early '90s -- had to buy subscriptions to Commentary and National Review because Oberlin's library didn't carry the magazines. Ah, how mind-opening it can be to attend college ... Michelle Malkin's website and blog are here. Shouting Thomas thinks that leftists just have it in for high-achieving Filipina immigrants like Michelle. John Massengale highlights another instance of elite illiberalism, starchitecture division. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Albany Mall
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Donald Pittenger recently visited one of the true follies of mid-century American modernism, the Albany Mall, aka The Empire State Plaza. If you're in the mood for grandiose bureaucratic planning, featureless buildings, and bleak "empty spaces" decorated with bits of "modern art," then maybe a trip to Albany, NY will prove just the thing. The Empire State's Imperial Architecture in Albany by Donald Pittenger Most New York City folks will be more than happy to tell you what year it was that the city Went To Hell. (I'm not a New Yorker, but I used to spend plenty of time there and can assure you with absolute certainty that the year was 1965. Or maybe 1968. Anyhow, whenever it was that the subway employees who got jobs during the Depression retired.) This game can be played regarding the point when New York State was no longer the Empire State. And I peg it at the start of World War 2. True, California didn't overtake New York in total population until around 1961, but the war effort accelerated the shift in population, industry and influence to the west and south; after 1945, New York was running on fumes and momentum. To glimpse New York in its days of imperial glory, dig up a copy of the old Federal Writers' Project guidebook for the state. (This was one of those Depression-era make-work projects. It employed writers and photographers and the goal was to produce a guidebook for each state and selected other areas.) The New York State book was first published in 1940 and I have a copy from the sixth (1955) printing. Besides reflecting the Depression zeigeist, cooing over unions and strikes, it reveals that even at the end of the Thirties the state swarmed with major companies and important industries, upstate as well as downstate. Nothing like the (relatively) nearly empty husk it is today. Rockefeller, Imperator I mentioned momentum a moment ago. There was still some of that left when I went to work for state government in Albany in the late summer of 1970. This was a couple months before Nelson A. Rockefeller's third and final re-election as governor. (Since Rockefeller has been dead for more than a quarter-century and some younger Blowhards readers might not be familiar with him, here's a brief profile. Nelson Rockefeller was a grandson of John D. Rockefeller -- a self-made man who became one of the richest men in America. Nelson, born 1908, attended Dartmouth College and until 1958, when he was first elected governor, worked in various public roles as well as for family-owned interests. For instance, fairly fresh out of college, he worked with his father on the Rockefeller Center project in New York City. Arts-wise, he was a champion of Modernism and served the Museum of Modern Art 1932-75 in a number of capacities including trustee, treasurer, president, and board chairman. He stepped down as governor of New York State in 1973 and... posted by Michael at August 11, 2005 | perma-link | (29) comments

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Communicatrix tried something radical at a recent commercial audition -- being herself. * Scott Chaffin explains how it's possible to mistrust the major media outlets and yet love your local newspaper. * Johnny Virgil sits down to eat a quick lunch. An ad in Readers Digest catches his eye ... * The only woman Helmut Newton was in awe of, reports his wife, was Margaret Thatcher. * A new Pew survey reveals that teens prefer instant messaging to email. IM is for friends; email is for communicating with institutions and old folks. * More key information about differences between the sexes: 71 percent of men read while on the can, but only 56 percent of women do. Cute word for such reading material: "Shiterature." * In his previous blog, James Russell showed edge, humor, taste, and brains -- a true filmbuff combo. After a break, he's returned with a new blog. No movie commentary, just photoblogging. It's fun to see that James hasn't shaken the filmbuff out of himself; some of his photos are images of film festivals. * Many in the modern West think of art as something special and of artists as beings apart. In this excerpt from his new book, John Carey spells out where these rather peculiar ideas and assumptions come from. * Graeme Hunter suspects that multiculturalism will always and inevitably lead to a general blanding-down of culture. * Keep this fact from your boss: Many people do their blog-reading while at work! Lynn Sislo confesses that, back in the day, she spent many of her own at-work hours playing computer Mah-Jongg. * Randall Parker lambastes GWBush for his insane stance on Mexican immigration. Great passage: I'm old enough to remember when it was considered a good thing and a sign of much desired progress when all classes of workers experienced rising salaries. Now a sitting President can organize a massive campaign to import millions of foreign workers to drive down native salaries and especially salaries of the poorest citizens. Times change. * James Kunstler thinks that the Bush economy is a fabrication based on hallucinations and dreams. * Blogsurfing junkies should enjoy exploring Forbes magazine's pretty-extensive Best of the Blogosphere. * Whether blogging about culture or politics, Brian Micklethwait has always been a model of modesty, intelligence, open-mindedness, and affability. So it's good to see that he's begun doing some more personal blogging too. * Is the Wiki vision a little bit too utopian? * Let's hear it for chicks feeling free to explore their physical potential. Color me impressed, if not exactly enthusiastic ... (NSFW) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2005 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

DVD Journal: "Abandon"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wonder if a new category of film is emerging: the film that isn't all that fabulous in its own right, but whose DVD package makes for a rewarding experience. So far, I've run across three examples. I blogged some time ago about "Scarlet Diva," a low-budget, DV, autobiographical fantasia by the cult actress Asia Argento. I liked the film-by-itself well enough. It's nothing if not outrageous, campy, vain, sexy, and far-out. But the film viewed conventionally and then viewed with Argento's commentary track over it is far, far more satisfying. In fact, Argento's commentary so enhances the experience that it delivers what the film promises: the full dose of narcissism; the canniness of borderline insanity; the shameless exhibitionism; the completely amoral and self-centered determination to be found fascinating � Gadzooks. "Scarlet Diva" with the commentary track on is like a compilation of best-of moments from Warhol's Factory films. Michael Radford's strip-club drama "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" is another such DVD package -- one that's far more interesting than the film viewed on its own is. (I reviewed "Iguana," along with some other movies, here.) The film itself is passably enjoyable, at least for those with a fondness for acting-workshop-style marathons. It's also intriguing as a filmmaking experiment. The film was made semi-improvisationally, in Mike Leigh fashion. Radford brought his performers together for three months; he had his actresses do research and take part in epic acting exercises. They worked characters and situations up from what emerged from their improvs; Radford and his cinematographer recorded much of these explorations on video. Radford then let the team scatter, disappeared back to England, edited the video footage into a two-hour-long sketch, then gathered his team together again and -- using the edited videotape as a kind of script -- put the movie together on 35 mm film. A genuinely interesting way to generate a movie, as well as an inspired way to incorporate digital and video technology into a creative filmmaking process. The movie has a lot of atmosphere and a lot of immensely-committed acting. It's like a Cassavetes film, only with a mostly-girls cast and a lot of nudity: Sandra Oh, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Sheila Kelley and Charlotte Ayanna all give it up for their art. Too bad that the film is also almost storyfree, and is often grueling and tedious. Confrontations go on forever; performers spend agonizingly long periods of time searching for words, motivations, and feelings � As a creative process, working on the film must have been very satisfying. But the film is more a record of that process than it is a snappy story picture in its own right. Cassavetes fans -- as well as people who have spent a lot of time in acting classes -- should have a field day, but those who don't share these tastes will probably suffer. (Before anyone is tempted to Go Political on the rest of us, let it be known that... posted by Michael at August 9, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, August 7, 2005

The Hot Tub Way of Wisdom
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been vacationing in California, where culture has been a matter of walks by the ocean; avoiding the news; Bikram yoga classes; being picky about sunsets, wine, and fish; and taking a daily hot tub. After two weeks of adherence to this rigorous discipline, I'm left wondering: "Tension"? What's "tension"? Which, of course, is the much of the point of spending a vacation in Calilfornia. As I was lolling in the hot tub earlier this evening, gazing out over the ocean and mingling my thoughts with the Pacific sunset, my mind drifted off into hazy musings about what I might write for the blog. A challenge! "No tension remaining anywhere in me" equals not just "Bliss" but also "Not much to say," after all. Then a very California blogging idea occurred to me: to dodge the coming-up-with-something-new burden by passing along links to postings that Friedrich von B and I have written over the years about the whole California thang. Not that we're experts or anything, but we each have our connections to the place. FvB has been a California resident for a couple of decades; I've been a regular visitor since the '70s, and am married to a six-foot blonde CA native. * Friedrich von B. celebrates the California woman. * FvB recommends a Peter Theroux book about L.A. * FvB wonders if a California initiative to reduce school class sizes was worth the expense. * FvB confesses that he's been known to break the California speed limit. * FvB muses about that eccchht-California building material, stucco. * FvB visits an exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams. * FvB thinks L.A. is heaven on earth for those with a taste for the sublime. * FvB visits San Simeon and wonders about William Randolph Hearst's parents. * FvB visits Simon Rodia's legendary Watts Towers. * FvB notices that a couple of California inmate-artists are making paintings -- and they aren't abstract paintings. * FvB thinks the California education establishment has a lot to answer for. * FvB reviews some of the ways large-scale Mexican immigration is changing California. He gnaws on the subject some more here. * FvB raves about the cloudscapes that sometimes gather above L.A. * Michael B. wonders why the literature of the West isn't more widely-known than it is. * MB thinks that there's a lot to be learned from Santa Barbara's carparks. * MB semi-enjoys Kem Nunn's surf-noir novel "Tapping the Source," and then uses the book as an excuse to bitch about the excessive emphasis the lit world places on "the writin'." * MB enjoys the paintings of California legend John Baldessari. * MB praises the informal architecture of an out-of-the-way Santa Barbara Mexican restaurant. * Michael B. visits California, Thinks Large Thoughts, and suspects he's a born Vedantist. * MB falls hard for Bikram yoga. * Michael B. fails to become a surfer. Now, please excuse me for a bit. I've been called to the next room.... posted by Michael at August 7, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments