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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Watercolor vs. the DeYoung
  2. Elsewhere
  3. Sports Car Magazines: Great Writing or Solid Info?
  4. Are You Seeing True Colors?
  5. Facts for the Day
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  7. Teaching Company Update 1
  8. Popular Artists (1): Pino
  9. Canadian "Lord"
  10. Packaging Rage


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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Watercolor vs. the DeYoung
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The edgy-architecture world would have you believe that the only newly-built alternative to the off-center twinkliness they're peddling is strip mall/cul-de-sac hell. Not true. There are also places like this one. Aside from the awful name -- what were they thinking? -- Watercolor is the kind of quiet-and-lovely new-traditionalist development that I suspect many people would enjoy knowing about, and having access to as a housing option. The Wife and I have visited, by the way, so for once I'm not just commenting on pictures. Here's a decent page of photos. New house in Watercolor In other architecture news, San Francisco's flashy new DeYoung Museum opens this weekend. All infolding volumes, zigzagging angles, lighting effects, and weirdo materials, the DeYoung is the edgy world's latest darling. Expect approximately a thousand times more mainstream-press coverage of the DeYoung than of Watercolor, sigh. I haven't seen the new DeYoung in person, so I'm doing my mature best to reserve judgment ... Oh, the hell with maturity: A-ha-ha-ha-ha!! Suckers!!! In ten year's time, that'll look about as chic as shag carpeting. The new DeYoung Rio Rocket, who has actually been by, likes the design. He writes an appreciation of the new DeYoung, and he links to some photos that he's taken of the project. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 15, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've been putting up some postings recently rejoicing in what I take to be the fact that various groups have certain characteristics. (Here, here, here.) Some recent research suggests that I may be all wet. * Tatyana -- who's into design with a professional's knowledge and passion -- shares her reactions to some of New York's fanciest. * In so many ways a hard-headed skeptic, Razib 'fesses up to what he really believes in. * Are celebrities deliberately embarassing themselves with amateur sex tapes these days? (NSFW) * Whisky Prajer has been on a blogging rampage recently. (A "blogpage"? Does that work?) Here he responds to my recent drivelings about Christianity by linking to a number of his own religion-informed postings. Here he muses about James Bond. And he raves about crime novelist George Pelecanos and graphic-novel genius Frank Miller here. * The Communicatrix shares some hard-won (and, as always with Colleen, funny) wisdom about online dating. * Neil Kramer thinks that he's owed a refund for his college education. * Charles Siegel imagines what might result if Frank Gehry were invited to re-design D.C. * Thanks to Tyler Cowen, who points out a fascinating q&a with this year's Nobel winner, the game-theorist/behavioral-economist Thomas Schelling. Game theory and behavioral econ together? How is that possible? * Jill wonders why she feels the way she does about her man's roving eyes. * Judging from Total Film's list of the 50 best horror films, I have some major catching-up to do. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 15, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, October 14, 2005


Sports Car Magazines: Great Writing or Solid Info?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time long, long ago -- around the mid-Sixties, actually -- automobile-buff magazines were just as niche-entrenched as they are today. Except, like alliances between countries, magazine brands have shifted niches as circumstances dictated. Historical Sketch The title of this posting mentions the sports car magazine niche or category. Here's a quick post-WWII history of that category based on my sometimes-faulty memory. Another short, personal view can be found here. So far as I know, the mass-circulation car-buff magazine entered the periodical scene in the form of Robert E. Petersen's Motor Trend which appeared in 1949, about a year after his first publication, Hot Rod. Whereas Hot Rod was a niche-within-a-niche magazine, Motor Trend dealt with all kinds of cars; the main focus was American passenger cars, but hot rods, sports cars, classic cars and the European car scene were not ignored. The first important sports car magazine was Road & Track, started in 1947 but not regularly published until 1949. Editorial operations moved from New York to California in 1948. Motor Trend has always been based in California. When Road & Track finally proved viable, rivals appeared. The most important and longest-term rival was Car and Driver (originally titled Sports Cars Illustrated), launched in 1955 from New York City, but moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1977. Over time, Road & Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend have departed their roots and converged in terms of subject-matter. Each covers the American automobile industry, imported cars, sports cars, sport-utility and other sub-types. They also keep an eye on the world automobile scene. I should add that this convergence is not total; each magazine retains some of its original niche flavoring. In the places of Road & Track and Car and Driver, other sports car magazines have appeared, but these tend to deal with racing or the fortunes of a single car maker such as Porsche, and not the sports car spectrum. Identities Circa 1965 In the mid-1960s Road & Track (R&T) and Car and Driver (C/D) had distinctly different persona. Back then, this was my take: I was a R&T guy. I started buying it in 1956 and a few years later became a subscriber. (Until 1990. I'm too fond of the first five years' worth of issues to part with them, but I suppose I ought to try to sell most of the later ones -- you see, I kept every one except for one a cousin borrowed and never returned.) Around 1965 R&T was elitist and Californian. Elitist because it mostly dealt with cars from Europe, American autos being seen as mostly inferior. And California has been the prime car-nut What's Happenin' zone for decades: it was particularly trend-setting during the 60s. This gave R&T a certain caché, an exotic blend of snobbery and laid-back California-ism along with a kind of British car magazine attitude of diffidence (because British car magazine test reports showing lots of statistics served as... posted by Donald at October 14, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments





Thursday, October 13, 2005


Are You Seeing True Colors?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't buy or subscribe to health magazines. Nor do I set the oven timer to remind me to flick on the Five O'Clock News' nightly "health specialist" segment. Given this state of blissful ignorance, what I'll describe here was real news to me, if not to you. The latest part to fall off the ol' jalopy was the lens in my right eye, thanks to a cataract that developed over the last year. The lens replacement took place a couple weeks ago, and I'll spare you the details. A few days ago I was flying from San Jose to Seattle, gazing out the window at the California Central Valley. Suddenly, I noticed something. Seen through my left eye, the fields and hills had a nice, warm, gold-tinted look. But my retooled right eye revealed a harsher, more blue-ish landscape. Which view was real? My guess was that since I was looking through some synthetic material in my right eye and good ol' protoplasm in my left, that nice golden view was the correct one. Wrong. Back at the clinic for my two-week post-op checkup I mentioned the difference in color vision. I was told that it was my right eye that was seeing true colors and the left one was providing a yellowish tinge due to age-related discoloration of the natural lens. All of which has gotten me to wonder what I've been taking in regarding the world, painted representations of it, and colored man-built objects over the years that my lenses were imperceptibly changing. And what about the paintings I've recently done or am working on -- have I distorted colors in them? As for the paintings, both the reality and the paints on the palette were equally distorted, so that is likely a non-issue. And regarding what I'd been seeing? Well, it was pleasant and in some respects nicer (that warm, golden tint) than the reality that it wasn't so very distant from. What's interesting is that by shutting one eye or the other, I now can get two different color-perceptions of the world about me. What about your color perception? Take a look at a sheet of white paper (typing or copier paper, not newsprint) over by a window. Do you see a stark white? Or is it a slightly mellow white? This test is pretty rough, but it might give you a clue. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 13, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments




Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lest we be too, too impressed by the speed at which the Internet is changing life as we know it, some fun facts about early television: Number of TV sets sold in America in 1946: 10,000 Number of TV sets sold in America in 1949: 2 million Percentage of American households owning a TV in 1956: 73 TV advertising revenues in 1949: 12 million dollars TV advertising revenues in 1952: 300 million dollars Now that's one fast media-life transformation. (Source: a History International documentary about RCA honcho David Sarnoff. Has anyone else been enjoying History International as much as I have, by the way? What a resource. History International's programming is very different than the usual History Channel fare, and includes lots of low-key, informative British shows. I'm currently enjoying an excellent Melvyn Bragg series on the history of the English language, for example. Here's the book version of Bragg's work.) In semi-related news, USA Today reports that ads are eating up more broadcasting time on network shows than ever. A typical one-hour prime-time show today consists of only 42 minutes of actual show, down from 48 minutes in the 1980s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments





Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Large-Picture Books
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I like to browse remainder tables at bookstores. And if I'm at an outlet mall that has a store specializing in remaindered books, why I'm happy to browse it too. (Background notes for non-bibliophiles: The book business has charmingly antiquated distribution practices. One is that the publisher -- not the bookseller -- is stuck with the unsold merchandise. So, after having been returned, the publisher has the option of cutting the books' prices and sending them back to stores as "remaindered" -- otherwise, returned books are simply destroyed. Sometimes hardcover books are remaindered because the title has gone to trade-paperback and they are priced somewhat in line with the new, cheaper edition. More often, remaindered books are both hardcovers and trade paperbacks that failed to sell the first time they hit the shelves. A "trade" paperback, for readers who don't know the industry lingo, is a larger-format paperback that closely resembles a hardcover book; it's more of a "quality" item than the more pocket-size paperbacks found in drugstores and news stands. As best I can recall, this latter class of book is distributed differently; news stands used to rip off covers of unsold books and returned these to the publishers for credit, the books being disposed of as trash -- which many of them were.) For as long as I can remember, I've had a soft spot for car and plane books. And I often have an empty spot in my wallet following purchasing same. Over the years, I've accumulated so many car and plane books that I know a fair amount about the subjects and I can be fussy when I see new books dealing with them. My tendency is to buy books that use a comparatively large number of medium-to-small illustrations as opposed to books featuring illustrations that are full-page, two-page spreads, or even spreads with a fold-out. One theory of extra-large photo illustrations is that the reader is "drawn into" the subject and can savor the detail presented in the picture. For cars and planes, at least, I'd rather have a large variety of illustrations -- different planes, say, or several views of the same or similar aircraft. Big, showy photos strike me as a waste of resources when it's information that I want. I don't totally reject books with big pictures. Books about painters, for example, need some full-page reproductions. This is because large pictures can give the viewer a better idea of how the actual painting appears plus provide more information about its painting technique than smaller pictures can. I also like the "Above Dogpatch" sort of books with their horizontal page format and huge photos taken from planes or helicopters. For places I've visited, I find it fun to try to spot that hotel or restaurant I patronized. Anyway, recently I was bookstore browsing in Gilroy, California (of all places) and noticed that the remaindered car-and-plane books seemed to be of the vacuous, big-picture format. This easily could... posted by Donald at October 12, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments




Teaching Company Update 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Does Christianity make intuitive sense to you? Does it make your soul and your spirit sing? It mostly leaves me bewildered. I've tried fairly often to understand Christianity's appeal, and have fallen on my face each and every time. I certainly don't mean to be insulting; if Christianity resonates for you, then more power to you. I'm simply reporting my personal reaction. Face to face with Christianity's tales, its mythology, its disputes -- with the whole Christianity package -- I blank out. My reactions don't go much beyond muttering, "Huh? Wha'?" Attending to Christianity-inflected discussions, I feel like someone who's sharing a table with a group of "Star Wars" fans -- and I seriously don't get "Star Wars." Although I find the spectacle fascinating, I don't share the passion, the language, or the point of view. Even when I'm curious and alert, I remain on the outskirts, unable to take part. Still, Christianity works for many people: interesting! Plus, it's big, and it has helped shape the world we live in: doubly interesting! So I treat myelf to a wrestle with the subject from time to time. If the mythology, the imagery, and the disputes don't grab me, maybe its history and sociology will. I've enjoyed and learned much from Paul Johnson's "A History of Christianity," and from Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirt of Capitalism." Pascal and Nietzsche both made me say "Aha!" a couple of times. The History Channel ran a multipart series on the history of Christianity that I found worthwhile. One of these days I'll read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," I swear I will. What I'm hoping for and failing to find is a concise and enlightening explanation for Christianity's basic emotional/imaginative/spiritual appeal. I certainly can't find any incentive to believe in my own background. Brought up in iceberg-lettuce Presbyterianism, I've been left with little but pleasant memories of smalltown Jello-mold social events. Though the Teaching Company's lecture series on Christianity doesn't deliver the explanations I was hoping for, it was on its own terms perfectly fine. Written and delivered by a former Benedictine monk, Luke Timothy Johnson, the series presents Christianity as an ongoing series of doctrinal disputes; it's an account of Christianity as the working-out of its inner logic, the unspooling through time of its central DNA. Thomas speaks clearly and enthusiastically, and he has a lot of likable zeal and irreverence. As usual, though, I felt first unable to get on board, and then left completely in the dust. Well, not quite completely. Listening to the series did confer one "Aha!" moment on me. One thing I've often been struck by is how exhausting being a believing Christian seems to be. Buying into such farfetched concepts as the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the one redeemer seems like such a lot of work. Why would anyone bother? One thing Luke Timothy Thomas makes very clear is that, for enthusiastic Christians, the effort that believing demands... posted by Michael at October 12, 2005 | perma-link | (51) comments





Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Popular Artists (1): Pino
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This posting is the first of what I plan as an occasional series dealing with artists who seem to be important in the gallery scene yet tend to be ignored by the Art Establishment for reasons valid or otherwise. I'm not sure how this will evolve. I'll certainly include artists whose work I like, but my present plan also calls for presenting some artists I'm not sure about and maybe even a few of those whose paintings I can't stand. Here are some of my biases (which I'll probably repeat from time to time for future Blowhards readers): I'm an amateur painter with a degree in commercial art, and therefore I'm a pushover for artists who are also good technicians -- folks who can accomplish what I can't. This means I like representational -- especially figurative -- art. And I prefer paintings that fall on the side of draftsmanship as opposed to colorism. To give a rough example, contrary to how I'm "supposed to think," I prefer the early Monet to the late Monet. Heretical? So be it. Pino As I pursue my study of artists active since 1960 or thereabouts, I find it striking that many of what I consider the better ones were (surprise!) once commercial artists. An extreme case is Everett Raymond Kinstler who painted several official presidential portraits, yet got his start in comic books. This posting's featured artist followed such a path, making his name painting cover art for romance novels, then switching to fine arts when he (probably) got sick and tired of doing endless variations of babes in the arms of hunks. To set the scene, below is an example of the sort of art you're likely to find in a gallery that carries the work of Pino. (Actually the name is Pino Daeni. He was born Giuseppi Dangelico in Bari, Italy, 8 November 1939. I don't know when or why he changed his name, but his son Max (Massimo) retains the Dangelico last name.) "Contemplation" Pino's biographical information is sketchy. Most information on the Web doesn't go far beyond what's on his site. In a nutshell, somewhat against his father's wishes he went to Milan to study art, supporting himself doing commercial projects. When he was around 40 he moved his family to the U.S. where he felt there was more opportunity than in Italy. Much of his commercial work here was in the form of cover art for romance paperbacks, a kind of continuation of the book illustration he did before leaving Italy. Book cover by Pino The book cover shown above is from an Italian site. The hunk depicted might look familiar because the model was probably the well-known male model Fabio who Pino came across when Fabio was still an unknown; Pino used Fabio on lots of covers to their mutual financial benefit. He submitted some sample paintings to Scottsdale's May Gallery in 1992. This work was well-received and he was able to... posted by Donald at October 11, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments




Canadian "Lord"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The NYTimes reports that the government of Ontario province has sunk $2.5 million into the budget of a stage version of "Lord of the Rings." Next: the state of New Jersey produces Springsteen's next CD, and New York City bets the mortgage on a new Scorsese. Wait: "Lord of the Rings" ... That doesn't even represent Canadian content, does it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments




Packaging Rage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why do I suspect that many people have had similar experiences? (OK, so they're bad photos. The first pic shows me prying a new electric razor out of its plastic packaging. The second pic shows a bloody, bandaged finger.) It seems that freeing a device from its blister-packaging results in painful finger-slicing amazingly often, doesn't it? I understand that gizmos are packed the way they are to facilitate shipping, lower costs, and combat theft. Still: Why should I be expected to care more about the manufacturer-retailer's convenience than I do about "being able to open the package an electric razor is sold in without gashing myself"? I don't know about anyone else, but if I were given the choice between A) Paying $50 for an electric razor in packaging that's guaranteed to slice a finger, and B) Paying $51 for the same razor delivered in sensible and easy-to-use packaging, I'd happily fork over the extra buck. But where am I given the choice? Grrr, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments





Sunday, October 9, 2005


Tatyana Blogs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Y'all check in regularly with the very sharp and funny Rachel, of course -- that goes without saying. Now there's a fresh reason to surf over to her blog Tinkertytonk: While Rachel takes a break, Tatyana is pinch-blogging. As visitors and commenters here at 2Blowhards know well, Tatyana has got brains, enthusiasm, passion, and opinions to spare. While I've been babying my cold, Tatyana has been her usual dynamic self, taking mucho advantage of OpenHouse NYC. She also has good eyes, a fascinating background, and a pretty awe-inspiring set of life-experiences to draw on. So it's great to have this opportunity to check in with her. While you're at it, treat yourself to a read (or a re-read) of a Guest Posting Tatyana did for us last year about the Russian bard scene in the United States. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments




What We Eat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm down and nearly out with a bad cold. Since it's my first illness of any kind in more than two years, I'm not complaining. And, although I'm miffed that I'm spending weekend days rather than work days sick, I'm in fact having fun, if of a slow-moving, headachey kind: napping, blackmailing attention and sympathy out of The Wife, and solving Sudoku puzzles. Hey, free Sudoku puzzles -- including tons of the really, really easy kind that suit my mental capacities -- can be found here. I'm also having a good time subsisting on the kind of all-carbs, lousy food so many people seem to like eating when they're sick. In my case, I've gotten through the past two days on little but Wheat Thins and orange juice. Did you know that Wheat Thins now come in a "Whole Grain and No-Trans Fats" variety? Not to fear: They're as heavily salted and full of corn syrup as ever. My sick diet leaves me wondering: Do we eat the crappy way we do when we're sick because that's the way being sick makes us want to eat? Ie., is there some biochemical reason behind why we eat this way? Or do we eat the crappy way we do when we're sick because being sick gives us license to take a holiday from responsible eating? Searching my innermost soul at this moment, I have no idea what the answer to my question might be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments