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Friday, March 31, 2006

Alexandra's Blogging Again -- or Still
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Alexandra, of the blog Out of Lascaux, was one of the earliest of the art-history bloggers, perhaps even the first. She put up a lot of fully-felt, informative, and wonderfully clear cultureblogpostings. But by the time blogging really took off, Alexandra seemed to have grown tired of blogging. Until tonight I hadn't checked in with Out of Lascaux for a long time. But I just discovered that Alexandra is in fact back to to putting up first-rate postings with a lot of first-class reproductions. Here are two about Mary Magdalen as a subject in art. If you haven't visited Out of Lascaux yet, please do. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Another cultural-history gem from Steve Sailer: a discussion of the iconic California labor leader Cesar Chavez. * Andrew Ferguson says that Charles Murray's proposal to replace welfare with $10,000-a-year grants isn't just provocative. * Geitner Simmons recommends some history blogs. * Scott Chaffin sums up his feelings about the immigration debate in characteristically rowdy and salty fashion. * Ah, tolerant old San Francisco ... * If earnest there must be, then yoga and Vipassana Buddhism are my kind of earnest. Phillip Moffit writes about happiness, and our tendency to cling to it. * Occasional 2Blowhards nude-modeling correspondent Molly Crabapple sponsors some very Downtown -- ie., bohemian/burlesque -- figure-drawing sessions in New York. The next one takes place tomorrow (Saturday), from 3 to 6 pm. Details here. Fun to see that Dr. Sketchy's is going nationwide too. * Right Reason's Max Goss has posted some thoughtful reactions to Rod Dreher's book "Crunchy Cons." * Fred Himebaugh is discovering the joys of baking his own bread. Is Fred going Crunchy? * Scott Wickstein thinks that the time has come to set aside politics and economics, and finally discuss a subject that really counts: pizza. * Today's outgoing, well-schooled, forward-looking adolescent girl evidently feels the need to master the art of booty shaking. * Richard North meditates on rogue environmentalists Edward Abbey and Doug Peacock. I'm not quite sure what North's point is -- he seems to have no grasp of how America works, for one thing. But it's good to see Abbey and Peacock given some attention. They're my kind of eco-freaks. * Here's a nice little lesson in unintended consequences. Birds perched in cypress trees deposit a lot of bird crap. City workers solve problem by cutting down cypresses. But birds still gotta crap ... * Lynn finds it outrageous that the people who publish the "For Dummies" books have been allowed to trademark the words "for dummies." * Lawrence Auster explains the fundamental problem that lies at the heart of liberalism. * Coming to you from Dubai and soon to be the world's tallest structure ... * Santiago Calatrava's new skyscraper in Chicago will certainly contain some of the world's most strangely-shaped rooms. * 9 out of 10 British women think that one-night stands are immoral. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What to do if movie-theater ticket sales are dropping while DVD sales are booming? Why not release your films straight to DVD? * Joi Lansing is trapped in the web of love. * Thomas Groh enjoys showing off tacky and sensationalistic movie posters from eras when movie posters were really movie posters. (Link thanks to Colby Cosh.) Check out this scandalous beauty -- now that's the kind of ad that can get me to a movie theater pronto. * Ilkka predicts -- convincingly, to my mind -- that in five years no more physical video stores will remain. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Heavens! The people you can meet on Amazon! Do a Google Images search (when the boss isn't watching, of course) to see examples of Chanta Rose's work. I'm tickled to see that "Mary Poppins" is on Chanta's Wish List. * Heavens! The things that can be bought (and ogled!) at Amazon! * Heavens! The things you can find in Wikipedia! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 31, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Be Here to Love Me" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I raved recently about the music of the Texas folksinger Townes Van Zandt, and about "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's moody and evocative documentary about Townes. I notice that the film is now available on DVD: Amazon, Netflix. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 30, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Ionarts on Bonnard
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As long as FvB has all our minds on French art ... Don't miss Charles Downey's beautifully-written and lavishly-illustrated visit to a show in Paris of the art of Pierre Bonnard. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 30, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Ugetsu" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just woke up to the fact that Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu" has become available on a Criterion DVD. That's a long-in-coming treat: Mizoguchi is one of the most underrepresented-on-DVD of the genuine filmmaking giants, and "Ugetsu" is one of his two or three best-known, and best-loved, movies. Me, I'm a bigger fan of "Sansho the Bailiff" than I am of "Ugetsu." But dickering over which is better is like arguing about whether "Hamlet" or "Lear" is greater -- a dumb waste of time. Why not enjoy both? In any case, "Sansho" isn't on DVD yet. Back in the days of Standard Film History, Mizoguchi was considered to be, alongside Kurosawa and Ozu, one of the icons of the Japanese cinema. Each director's work had its own distinctive style and flavor; together they were thought to define the range of Japanese movies. Kurosawa's movies were usually dynamic and hyperdramatic; Ozu's were quiet, still, and melancholy. Mizoguchi's movies typically merged the qualities of fables with those of women's pictures. They were painful but transporting, in a poetic and magical way. And, oh baby, those tracking shots! I watched a lot of Mizoguchi in college and found many of the films both beautiful and draggy. But "Ugetsu" and "Sansho"? Perfection/rapture/bliss. Criterion seems to have loaded the package with goodies, which is nice -- though, given the price Criterion is asking, maybe the film is better rented than bought. How does Criterion continue to get away with charging such outrageous prices? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 30, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Aspie Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've been enjoying the blogpostings of Astryngia, a British woman who wrestles with a heavy dose of Asperger's in her life. Her mom, her husband, and her son are all Aspies -- that has got to be seriously challenging. Astryngia is blunt, honest, and insightful about her struggles and frustrations. * Did you know that 2006 is International Asperger's Year? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 30, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Art and Narcissism
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: During the last week, I’ve been reading The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays by Charles Baudelaire. The title essay is of course a major landmark of Modernist art theory, being the very work in which Baudelaire introduced the term “modernity” to the world. It is also far more charming than most works of criticism and virtually all works of art theory. It may say something about modernism, of course, that Baudelaire’s description the ideal artist is essentially (and fairly transparently) a description of himself, although the essay is ostensibly devoted to the French draftsman Constantin Guys. I preferred another essay in the book, Baudelaire’s eulogy of the great French Romantic painter Delacroix, because it seems rather more objective about its hero. However, by some odd chance, on the same evening I read this essay I happened across a website devoted to narcissistic personality disorder. (Michael Blowhard wrote about narcissistic personalities and mentioned the author of this webpage, Sam Vaknin, here.) The website, which you can read here, lists nine characteristics that may be present in this disorder. (The true narcissist apparently possesses at least five of these.) Looking over the characteristic traits of the narcissist, it suddenly dawned on me that Baudelaire had described Delacroix as possessing several of them. To amuse myself, I went back through Baudelaire’s laudatory essay and pasted quotes from it underneath the list of traits listed by Mr. Vaknin, supplementing them in several cases with my own knowledge of Delacroix’s art or career. The following is my result: Narcissistic Trait #1: “Feels grandiose and self-important (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)” Baudelaire considered Delacroix his touchstone of artistic greatness, and would have been horrified at any suggestion that Delacroix’s feelings of artistic self-importance weren’t backed up by his actual performance with paint and canvas. Furthermore, Baudelaire never suggests in any way that Delacroix was a pathological exaggerator; in fact, he repeatedly emphasizes the artist’s aristocratic reserve in company. All this being said, however, the essay is quite explicit about Delacroix’s feelings of grandiosity and self-importance: One of our painter’s [i.e., Delacroix’s] greatest concerns during his last years was the judgement of posterity and the uncertain durability of his works. One moment his ever-sensitive imagination would take fire at the idea of an immortal glory, and then he would speak with bitterness at the fragility of canvases and colours. At other times he would enviously cite the old masters who almost all of them had the good fortune to be translated by skilful engravers whose needle or burin had learnt to adapt itself to the nature of their talent, and he keenly regretted that he had not found his own translator. Narcissistic Trait #2: “ Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love... posted by Friedrich at March 30, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Digi-Photo Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hugh Symonds makes what are without doubt the most beautiful cellphone photographs I've ever seen. Talk about a whole new aesthetic ... * What's real in the age of Photoshop? And does even National Geographic know for sure? Steven Kapsinow muses about some funny goings-on. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is your domain name secure? Dr. Weevil woke up one day to discover that his domain name had been hijacked by sleazeballs. Read the infuriating tale here, curse the name of Earthlink, and pay a visit to the good Dr. at his new web address. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Forever Fern
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have a fern in my apartment. I am not a fern fan. I am indifferent to plants of all kinds. Don't hate 'em, don't love 'em. Would just as soon not bother with 'em. Here's a picture of the kind of fern I have. Hares Foot Fern. Among other places, it comes from the South Pacific. So why do I have and care for something I don't especially care about? Let me tell you the story. During World War 2 my father worked for the Army Engineers. After the war ended, a lot of employees were let go including my father and a guy originally from someplace in New Jersey. The New Jersey guy and his wife decided to leave Seattle and return to New Jersey (the fools!! ... sorry, I just couldn't help it). And they had this fern they couldn't easily take with them. So they asked my parents if they would be kind enough to give the fern a good home. My parents agreed. That was in 1946. Sixty years ago. The fern has been in my family ever since, making good on that promise. My parents are dead and probably the New Jersey couple too. The fern lives. I have it and maybe a niece has part of it as well. Is this a case of pig-headed foolishness or one of principle and steadfastness? I dunno. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Charlton Griffin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let me alert visitors and Blowhards to the fact that one of our visitors, Charlton Griffin, is also one of the very, very best audiobook readers there is. Given what a loudmouthed audiobook fan I am, I feel very foolish, because I only recently became aware of Charlton's work. Downside: Damn, what a clueless fool I can be! Upside: A lot to look forward to! In any case, I recently loved Charlton's brilliant rendition of this collection of Maugham stories, and I'm hoping to get around to his performance of Xenophon soon. Charlton brings a lot of chops, dignity, and feeling to what he reads. He also has something very rare: a gift for bringing a listener into contact with multiple layers in the work he's presenting -- the words, the sentences, the characters, the story ... He has exquisite but never overbearing taste: There's a lot of lowkey beauty on the surface of his productions, but it's all in the service of taking you further into the material. You can tell that Charlton loves his craft, and also that he loves the books he's reading. The result, as far as I'm concerned, is something rare. These aren't audiobooks to be listened to in reluctant place of the great originals. They're beautiful works of art to be enjoyed ... OK, I'm hesitating but I gotta say it: to be enjoyed in preference to the originals. When I read Maugham on my own, it was a wonderful experience. But listening to Charlton read Maugham was even better. I encourage audiobook listeners to search out Charlton's work -- and I encourage those who haven't yet got the audiobook bug yet to come to their senses. Charlton isn't just the narrator of these books, by the way. As the sole owner and in-house one-man-band at his boutique publishing company Audio Connoisseur, he also selects, edits, and produces his recordings. Check out Audio Connoisseur's website, and drool over its classy and enticing list. Just think: You could be listening to all that great literature, beautifully presented, as you do your commuting or exercising ... As far as I can tell, Amazon carries nearly all of Audio Connoisseur's titles. You have no excuses not to start indulging and enjoying now. A quick Google sweep turns up this collection of terrific Amazon reviews by Charlton. I also enjoyed this appreciative and perceptive profile of Charlton. Click on the red "play" button to listen to Charlton's very silky voiceover reel. Best, Michael UPDATE: A convenient way to avail yourself of Charlton's work is to sign up with Audible, the downloadable-recorded-books website. Nearly all of Charlton's recordings are there to be purchased, and they play very well with iPods.... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is a question for the da guyz. You're going out -- for an hour, for a walk, to do some chores, or maybe longer than that. You have various items that you need to take with you: keys and wallet at a minimum, but possibly also cellphone, pen and paper, reading material, eyeglasses ... What do you do with all of it? I confess that I've never come up with a solution that has made me very happy. Pockets aren't sufficient for what I tend to take with me. (Note professional white terrycloth backdrop.) The minimum Not being a suit-and-tie kind of dude, I've never owned a briefcase. And, given my age, the backpack I often use is starting to look mighty silly on me. What to do? Men in Italy, preferring very tight, you-know-my-religion pants, and not wanting to distract from their man-curves, used to carry little leather man-purses. But I'm not a man-purse kind of guy, let alone a tight-pants one. The film producer Samuel Goldwyn favored expensive bespoke English suits; he had an assistant carry his keys and wallet so that they wouldn't "spoil the line" of his own attire. Alas, at the moment I can't afford an assistant. I'm happiest for a few weeks in spring and fall. Light jackets with a variety of zipper pockets suit my needs well. But then the weather changes. I hit my low spot when I head off to yoga class. The backpack is too big yet I do need something to contain the coins and doodads ... So I drop 'em into a plastic shopping bag. Good lord: I've become a shopping-bag person. Thanks to the mellowing effects of yoga, this doesn't bother me much. There's always cargo pants and safari jackets, I suppose. But cargo pants reek of college in the '70s, and safari jackets are little too nature-photographer/film-directorish for me. What's your solution? Or your favored way of contending? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (27) comments

Fast Food and Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- While 60-80% of Americans routinely tell pollsters that they'd like to see immigration better-controlled and immigration rates cut 'way, 'way back, our elites -- Dem and Repub both -- waltz ahead with their own plans. This year, immigration finally made its way into the headlines and onto the public agenda. It became something that our legislators could no longer avoid facing. Pulling their courage together and drawing on deep feelings of loyalty and service to their constituents ... the Senate Judiciary Committee has, in essence, recommended lifting many restrictions. If the Judiciary Committee's recommendations are followed, that could mean amnesty for as many as 12 million people. And won't that send a heckuva message to a Mexican peasant considering sneaking into this country? Namely: Come on in and help yourself! What a surprise to learn that Mexico is jubilant. Hey, American legislators: Great job of defying your own citizens' preferences while kowtowing to foreigners. Ah, representative democracy: Ain't it great when neither party represents the preferences of their nation's people? Hey, have I ventured my new theory to you? It's that we are indeed a nation of two political parties. It's just that they aren't Dems and Repubs. Instead, our two parties are our (clueless and self-interested) elites, and Everybody Else. The Dems love the new numbers, by the way: 12 million voters ripe for the picking. The Republicans love the cheap and easy-to-exploit labor. Meanwhile, many of the rest of us watch these nation-altering developments with apprehension and dislike. Jonah Goldberg rehearses the relevant figures: Our border with Mexico allows for levels of illegal immigration that have no historical precedent. In 1970, there were fewer than 800,000 Mexicans in America ... In 1980, there were 2.2 million. In 1990, the number reached 4.3 million, and by 2000 it had climbed to 7.9 million. In 2005, there were 10.8 million - a spike of 37 percent in half a decade. By coincidence, I just today read a passage in Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" where Schlosser writes about fast food, meatpacking, and immigration. Schlosser overdoes his "fast food is at the root of all evil" thesis, but he volunteers a lot of interesting facts nevertheless. A few unappetizing but a propos tidbits: The U.S.'s major meatpackers rely heavily on immigrants -- legal and illegal -- for their workforce. The turnover rate in many meatpacking/meat-processing plants is about 400%. In other words, the average worker stays at his job for a little more than 3 months. According to the INS, one quarter of meatpacking workers in Iowa and Nebraska are illegals. In some American meatpacking plants, 2/3 of the workers speak no English. One major meatpacking company maintains an employment office in Mexico City, runs ads on Mexican radio offering employment in the States, and operates a bus service that shuttles people between small Mexican towns and meatpacking locations in the U.S. I'm finding it hard to resist typing "Think about these figures the next... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (38) comments

Tyler Cowen's New Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm happy to see that Tyler Cowen's new book, "Good and Plenty : The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding," is about to go on sale. I'm a big Tyler fan. He's an intelligent and quirky arts enthusiast as well as a first-class economist, and how lucky it is for us that each side of Tyler enhances the other. He appreciates the head-turning qualities of the arts, yet he's able to be down to earth about how the works arise. He's clear-eyed about the benefits of markets, yet his brain is anything but the whirring computational device that the brains of so many market-oriented economists are. Tyler's always aware that what's being discussed is people, not utility-maximizing robots. If I were emperor, one of the first things I'd do would be to hand out copies of Tyler's book "In Praise of Commercial Culture" to all beginning arts students. That way, a few of them might be spared years of pointless wrestling with uninformed, unworldly, and often leftist arts thinking. Tyler's book about the cultural impacts of globalization is similarly informative, nuanced, and open-minded. So I'm very eager to see what he's been thinking about and researching recently. Judging from the excerpts Tyler has posted on Marginal Revolution (here and here), the book is lookin' informative, fun, and provocative. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy Tyler's combo of decency, smarts, and mischief? In any case, I've placed my pre-order already. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 29, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Impressions of Belarus
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Belarus has been in the news because of its recent controversial election and reactions to it in the West and on the streets of Minsk. The country has the reputation of being the last of the Communist-like dictatorships in eastern Europe. I won't go into the details of the political situation. Instead, I thought I should simply pass along my impressions of Belarus, which I briefly visited last September. I was there only a few hours. Our tour was in Belarus for the sole purpose of getting from Smolensk (in Russia) to Vilnius (in Lithuania). Because previous tours found hotels in Smolensk distinctly sub-par, our tour was timed to overnight in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, a city with a population of around 1.7 million. We arrived in Minsk at the end of a long day on the road. The bus left Moscow in the morning rush hour and rolled west to Smolensk. We drove into Smolensk for a brief visit to the cathedral, but it was Smolensk itself that interested me -- I had had my fill of churches by this point in the tour. Compared to St. Petersburg and Moscow, Smolensk struck me as pretty ratty. Most of the building we saw were in disrepair; I don't recall seeing any significant new construction along our route. A short while later we crossed into Belarus, leaving a conventional four-lane highway and entering a toll freeway that whisked us to Minsk. The freeway cut through the countryside, seldom getting near villages or towns. The ground had a slight roll to it, fields being punctuated by woods. From time to time I saw in the distance clumps of buildings that I took to be collective farms -- barns, outbuildings, possible dormitories or apartments. The overall impression was one I'll characterize as "tidy." This same tidiness carried over into Minsk. (For an overview of Minsk, see here.) Minsk was pretty well destroyed during World War 2 and the Soviet regime made no real attempt to recreate it. Aside from a small, semi-restored downtown, the city seemed to be mostly comprised of apartment blocks interspersed with parks and lakes. Our tour bus made a pass through downtown on its way to our hotel. There were parks, a McDonald's and some older stone-faced buildings. Young people were everywhere, conservatively dressed for the season. People-wise, the street scene was hardly Parisian, but not grossly different from what one would find in northern Europe. I didn't notice trash along the curbs or in the parks. There was a fair amount of traffic. The hotel (pictured below) was a modern-looking tower on the edge of a park. Its interior was less impressive, having been built perhaps around 1980-85 and experiencing no renovation since. Also of interest was that each floor had a desk near the elevators, the desk on our floor occupied by a pudgy, middle-aged woman with a big smile and (likely) direct phone lines to the police and internal... posted by Donald at March 28, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, March 27, 2006

Enough Rope: the Creativity Paradox
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The "bottom line" to this post is nothing new. But how I got to it might interest some of you, especially if you've had to do "creative" work at one time or another. Countless years ago when I was a commercial art student, our instructor always gave us assignments that included various restrictions. One time it might be the size ("two columns wide and seven column-inches deep"), another time color ("assume a two-color press run") or something or other else. After months of this, the class became restless. We began to badger Mr. Wellman to cast aside those pesky restrictions, to let us cut loose and be creative. And one day he did. We could do whatever we wanted for the next assignment. The only restriction was that the due-date was two weeks away. As you might expect, I soon found myself paralyzed. I found it very hard to come up with a subject and then had trouble deciding on how to do the art work. I met the deadline, though I've forgotten what I produced. I do recall that I wasn't pleased with what I had done: it wasn't very good. I might have done better if I'd had a fantastically great idea bubbling within me that would have burst forth when Wellman finally turned us loose. But I didn't, and that was a good thing indeed. Because what I got out of the assignment was a vital object lesson: The path to real creativity is usually shaped by constraints -- without restrictions there likely will be no path at all. Best of all was that this revelation hit me -- strongly -- then and not later. I didn't try to rationalize my way out of it. I knew that I produced a piece of junk and I knew why. This experience would not have happened to an Engineering student. They know from the start that everything they create is subject to various constraints, including economic ones in most cases. Liberal Arts students -- especially those in so-called "creative" fields such as writing, musical composition and art -- might think they are able avoid constraints or else simply do what they do without really being conscious that they are being constrained. An example of the latter might be painting in oils as opposed to watercolors. Most artists recognize that watercolor is a difficult medium whose constraints must be fought at every stroke of the brush. Oils, on the other hand, are much easier to use, their most obvious restriction being variability in drying time of different colors. Most experienced painters treat the properties of their medium as background factors rather than the constraints they are, and are mostly conscious of constraints exogenous to the tools of their trade. When I became a computer programmer I found myself developing an "engineering mentality." Constraints were everywhere and I found that I had to use a good deal of imagination -- and, yes, creativity -- at... posted by Donald at March 27, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Buck Owens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was sorry to learn that the country-western giant Buck Owens died the other day at the age of 76. Buck played a huge role in establishing something I'm very fond of: "the Bakersfield sound," a rough-edged and rip-roaring honkytonk style that contrasts with the genteel, sweeter music that comes out of Nashville. The Bakersfield sound endures today most notably in the music of Dwight Yoakam. It's aggressive music, masculine and raw -- a bar-band sound that arose to please an audience of oil workers and truckers, and the gals who loved them. Buck came by his grit honestly. He was the son of a family of Texas sharecroppers who really did flee the Dust Bowl for a better life. After some years driving trucks and working in the fields, he started performing music. Success didn't come overnight; it took Buck some time to pull his thing together. He worked as a DJ, learning a lot about how make music sound good on the radio. He found some supergifted collaborators, including Don Rich and Harlan Howard. He pulled together a lot of the popular and folk sounds around him -- rockabilly, polka, and Mexican music especially. One of Buck's greatest gifts was in the studio, where he was able to create studio tracks that had the crackle of live performances. Finally -- he was now in his 30s -- he had himself a career in music. And what a career it was. During one four-year stretch in the 1960s, every song he recorded -- 15 of 'em in a row -- went to #1. Buck's best music has the kind of lowdown, kickass wildness that you generally associate with an outlaw, misspent life. Yet, unlike a lot of the other top manly-man, working-class C&W stars, Buck was never a screw-up. He didn't drink; he didn't do drugs; he invested his earnings wisely; he remained based in Bakersfield instead of moving someplace glitzier ... He was a big ol' square, in other words. He even hosted "Hee Haw" for many years. I wonder if this combo of funk, gumption, and wholesomeness was part of what made Creedence Clearwater such fans of his. Buck's musical fortunes waxed and waned more than a few times over the years. Finally, in the mid-1980s, he decided that his moment had passed, and he began to focus on his investments. But country music's style-wheel was turning over once again. When Dwight Yoakam became a big star, Dwight was generous in praise of Buck, and he helped put Buck back in the spotlight. It's pleasing to read that, on the night before he died, Buck performed a 90 minute set of music at his own Bakersfield club. Here's Buck's own website. It features a good biography. Gary Kaufman's appreciation in Salon is informative and moving. A nice Kaufman line: "He was a rebel without a dark side." Wikipedia's article on Buck -- which I notice is remarkably close to Kaufman's Salon... posted by Michael at March 26, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Cecilia Beaux: The Almost-Sargent
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The rediscovery of late-19th century artists continues. One of the latest instances is a well-illustrated new (2005) biography of portraitist Cecilia Beaux by Alice A. Carter. This book is the basis of what follows. Beaux's father was a Frenchman who married into a Philadelphia family situated on the fringes of that city's deeply-rooted Society. For example, her uncle (by marriage) was William Foster Biddle. Although he was a Biddle, he wasn't one of The Biddles -- a slightly different branch of the family. One of Cecilia's nieces was Catherine Drinker Bowen, the author (Drinkers are another old Philadelphia family). Cecilia did not consider Catherine attractive enough to be the subject of any of her con amore family paintings. Instead, Cecilia favored Catherine's charismatic sister Ernesta Drinker, and in return was hated by Catherine. Cecilia was born in 1855, died in 1942, and lied about her age for much of her life. She even wrote an autobiography that included no dates whatsoever. She played this game -- and usually got away with it -- because she was attractive and aged more slowly than average. Snapshots taken of her in her fifties show little sign of sag around the chin and neck, usually the first places where aging shows in women. He birth was marked by the death of her mother days later. Her father was not too successful in business and eventually returned to France, leaving what was left of his family in Philadelphia. Family members had to scramble to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, but at least the family had practice, thanks to difficulties experienced by previous generations. Cecilia discovered art when a teenager and received some training. She practiced various kinds of commercial art including dish-painting and highly detailed scientific drawings of bones and seashells. By this point, she was both meticulous and driven to succeed as an artist though it was a while later that she decided that portraiture was her métier. She took up oils and developed such competence that her "Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance" (see below) was a prizewinner that launched her career. After saving enough money, she went to France early in 1888 to study art at the Académie Julian, returning a year and a half later. She had paintings accepted by the Salon while in France and after she returned to Philadelphia. During the 1890s Beaux established herself as a major portrait artist. By the end of the decade the well-known painter William Merritt Chase was able to state "Miss Beaux is not only the greatest woman painter [of modern times], but the best that has ever lived." Her career flourished in the early part of the 20th century, at which time she built a house near the shore in Gloucester, Massachusetts. However, she had no interest in the new kinds of painting revealed to Americans at the famous Armory Show of 1913, believing that such art was simply a fad. In 1924 while visiting Paris, Cecilia fell and... posted by Donald at March 25, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Friday, March 24, 2006

Architecture and Urbanism Buzz
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Massengale links to this excellent context-setting discussion of modernism. Robert Hughes adds to the discussion here. * John himself will soon be teaching what sounds like a terrific class on the Elements of Urbanism. Sign up now. * The whackily post-postmodern -- the word always used vis a vis his work is "fun" -- British architect Will Alsop has had to close up shop. Given Alsop's tastes and talents (check out this honey), I'm not feeling too sorry for him. * A new issue from the Project for Public Spaces is online, and its very interesting theme is "the public square." Why do some work while others flop? (A couple of small tips for those just getting into architecture and urbanism: The spaces between the buildings count for at least as much as the buildings. And parks and squares require just as much care and skill to create as concert halls and office towers do.) Here's a list of the best public squares in North America. Does your city rate? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Music Tips
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- WhiskyPrajer, Cowtown Pattie and DarkoV have been listing some of their favorite tear-jerkin' songs. WP also waxes enthusiastic about T-Bone Burnett, whose work (as a performer and a producer) I like a lot. The Patriarch is digging Neko Case. Elvis Costello has some music recommendations too. Best, Michael UPDATE: DarkoV lets me know that he'll be spinning and broadcasting the heartbreaker tunes that WhiskyPrajer, Cowtown Pattie and he have selected on the Internet this Sunday morning, from 9 to 12, here.... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * You hadn't heard of the Chinese city of Chongqing? Neither had I. Fun to learn that someplace so little known is so huge, as well as the fastest-growing city in the world. It's the unknown megalopolis. (Link thanks to New Economist.) * There's Alway Something is discovering the fun of singing. * 56Acrv reminds us of the inevitable cost of war. * It's funny what some people choose to put on display of themselves. But thank heavens for that gotta-put-on-a-show impulse! * Razib links to a BBC article revealing that at least 55% of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins. Razib himself leads a classic bull-session about atheism. * ChelseaGirl has found that she learns a lot about a guy from the way he kisses. * Did it all start to go wrong when Nixon unhooked the dollar from gold? Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. thinks so. * Michael Bierut is convinced that there's more to good design than just design. * Visiting Eleusis, Rick Darby gets a mystical tingle from the Mysteries. * Searchie takes her camera with her on some walks through Warsaw. * Dept. of Great Moves: Virginia Postrel will soon be writing for The Atlantic. Tyler Cowen will be taking over her Times slot. Virginia excerpts her final Times column here. Not content to be a first-class cultural commentator, Virginia recently donated a kidney to the excellent Sally Satel. * Lynn Harris and Chris Kalk have created "Breakup Girl," an online reminder of how fun popular magazines could once be. It's full of earthy advice, young-girl humor, and comic book style. * Whites are becoming minorities in a number of English cities. Meanwhile, the English are buying up France. * These are the girls that girls-who-prefer-girls prefer. * John Emerson shares some worthwhile ideas about how to fix the study of literature. * Derek Lowe ventures some down-to-earth and brave observations about women, men, and science. * David Foster wonders if the parents of young adults are becoming too protective. * One day, Waterfall sat down at a piano -- and something just clicked. * Colleen does SXSW! She reviews some of the movies here, and a number of the panels here. I suspect that she's still in recovery. * A new study suggests that American health care is mediocre, but is equally mediocre for patients of all races. * Union member Mike Hill thinks that the times they have a-changed for unions. * Tosy and Cosh reviews his magazine-reading habits. * Yahmdallah says that John Irving has done better. * As far as Larry Gross is concerned, "V for Vendetta" makes "Brokeback Mountain" look like "Red Dawn." (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Becoming Creative 1: I'm So Boring
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few months ago, I wrote about how The Wife and I co-ghostwrote a commercial novel. Happily, our fiction partnership hasn't stopped with co-ghosting. We've continued collaborating on pieces of fiction under our own names, and we're having a great time doing so. Part of the fun has been cutting loose together. Where the novel was a commission job -- a piece of mainstream (if very randy) fluff -- the fiction we've been writing since has been our own thing. Which isn't to say we aren't hyper-proud of our ghosted novel. We are. In the nine weeks we were given to write the book, we created a 300 page novel complete with characters, a plot, a lot of character-motivated sex, and even a few jokes and observations. But doing our own thing has been its own giddy high. Being as full of ourselves as any other artists, The Wife and I think that we've taken on an important question: humor and eroticism. (Now you know what our idea of "an important question" is ... ) The usual thing is to see laughs and heat as being at war with each other. As humor is usually used, it undercuts the sexiness of the moment. The joke pushes you outside the moment; you may enjoy the laugh, but the mood evaporates. (Unless we're talking about something like "Road Trip" ... ) And as sexiness and heat are usually used, they're so solemn that the merest hint of irreverence breaks the spell. Why should this be so? After all, don't well-matched sex partners often have a jolly time together? Doesn't having a laugh sometimes put you in the mood? And don't humor and heat both make contributions to the more general pleasure-thang? In our own real-life case, this has certainly all been the case. When The Wife and I met we discovered not only that we dug each other in a slow-dancin' kind of way, but that we were able on a regular basis to send each other into fits of giggles. Both of the these things played big roles in our sense of delight and discovery. Both were part of our attraction to/for each other. With questions like these on our minds, it's no surprise that the fiction we have been writing has turned out to be raucous, dirty, click-here-to-verify-that-you're-18-or-over comic fiction. We're co-writing a lot of satirical erotica: Terry Southern meets Jackie Collins, basically, or so we fondly imagine. We hope it's funny, and we hope it's hot. We also hope that the time is ripe for this kind of thing, and that a few people -- oh, heck, a ton of people -- will get a kick out of what we do. While The Wife has been a fiction writer forever, I'm a Creativity newbie. Genuine creativity, anyway. Before beginning to work with The Wife, I'd done my best for years to escape from my assigned role as a grown-up Smart Kid. (Smart Kid-ism... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a new q&a with Shelby Steele. Years ago I got a lot out of reading Steele's "The Content of our Character." I see that Steele has a new book coming out soon. A good passage from the interview: By accepting the idea that government is somehow going to take over the responsibility that only we can take, we relinquished authority over ourselves. We became child-like, and our families began to fall to pieces. Welfare—which promised a subsistence living for the rest of your days for doing absolutely nothing—provided a perfect incentive to not get married, yet still have babies. Then the babies will be state wards, and their babies, and so forth. The incentive is just to stay in that rut. And so the goodwill of America finally did do to us what slavery and segregation failed to do. It destroyed our family, destroyed our character, and now black America is in a struggle. We struggle to stand up like men and women and take charge of our lives, and become competitive with other people in the modern world. Here's an excellent interview with John McWhorter. Here's another. A few years ago, I got a lot out of reading McWhorter's book "Losing the Race." A good passage from the Salon interview: The problem is that a lot of what's considered to help black people doesn't. For example, affirmative action. If what comes out of this is that the White House decides to nudge the Supreme Court into agreeing with the University of Michigan, they're supporting a policy where black people of any circumstances are allowed into top universities with lower grades and test scores than other people. That's what affirmative action is. We say "affirmative action" and we get kind of rosy inside, but it's a euphemism for lowering standards for people with pigment. Here's an interview with Thomas Sowell. Years ago I enjoyed wrestles with many of Sowell's books. Here's the one I liked best. Or maybe it was this one. Well, this one was awfully good too ... In any case, for my money Sowell's a giant. A characteristically to-the-point passage from the interview: Many of the people on the left discuss things in terms of what they hope will be. They frame their discussions in terms of what they hope will be. Like affordable housing. We're all for affordable housing. But when someone says affordable housing, I like to mention the words "builders" and "landlords" and see them cringe. They hate those people. But how are you going to have affordable housing if someone doesn't build it, and someone doesn't rent it? Where politics is concerned I mostly dodge labels, although "skeptical of the whole ugly mess" is certainly something I can live with. But reading Steele, McWhorter, and Sowell, I sometimes think I wouldn't mind being labeled a "black conservative." Hmmm. I notice that Sowell doesn't like being called a black conservative, and that McWhorter doesn't vote Republican. OK,... posted by Michael at March 24, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ferrari Blind-Spot
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I confess I'm a Car Guy. When I was a kid I wanted to style cars when I grew up. I love to drive 'em. I have years of back-issues of Road & Track and Automobile Quarterly. So I'm really hard-core, right? Uh. I have this other confession to make. You see, I've uh, never exactly been a Ferrari fanatic. No. Not ever. Well, there goes my reputation. Maybe it's a case of having been born at just the wrong time. Although Enzo Ferrari was active in car racing between the world wars and began to develop his own cars, a Ferrari racer didn't appear until 1947 and it was two more years before a sports car was introduced. I began paying serious attention to European cars in the early 1950s when I was in junior high school. By that time Ferrari was already something of a cult and the reason why almost certainly had to do with the fact that Ferraris were powered by V-12 engines. So what's the big deal about V-12s? -- several luxury-car brands offer them these days. The big deal was that Ferrari was just about the only car with a V-12 in the early 50s. Such motors were found in a number of 1920s and 1930s luxury cars including Packard and Cadillac. Lincoln sold V-12s through the 1948 model year, but that was the end of it in America at least. Car Guys who grew up in the 20s and 30s were really excited about V-12s and got depressed when they went out of production. Then presto! here came this new Italian-built V-12 that powered both racing cars and sports cars. Time to fall in love again. However I missed the 1920s entirely, saw just the last two months of the 1930s, and only became car-conscious in the late 1940s. I had missed the V-12 experience. I hadn't lived the history that set up the instant mystique for Ferrari. For me it was "Okay, a V-12 is a nice thing. Yes I read that those fancy Thirties cars had 'em, and that was nice too. But sorry, I just can't get excited." Even though the engine was a non-issue for me, I did like the styling of many custom-bodied Ferrari sports and Grand Touring cars of the early and mid-1950s. Back then, several coachbuilders supplied bodies for Ferrari, and there was a lot of variety. Sadly (to me) this ended in 1957 when the Pininfarina (today’s name) car styling and body-building firm became essentially the sole supplier of Ferrari non-racing bodies. At the time Ferrari made the deal with Pininfarina, Farina was still a hot hand in Italian carrozzeria circles, but already slipping, in my opinion. Another reason for selecting Farina might have been because his firm could deliver bodies at a higher rate than his competitors. I think I’ll hold off on getting into detail on Italian coach building firms -- it’s a topic that could chew... posted by Donald at March 22, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Morning Routines
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New York Post included an amusing info-graphic amid a package of articles about people's morning-grooming habits. Let's contrast gals 'n' guys! Women spend 5 minutes on breakfast. Men spend 2. Women spend 8 minutes on bathing. Men spend 5. Women spend 15 minutes on makeup and grooming. Men spend 2 minutes on their grooming. Women spend 18 minutes getting their hair ready. Men spend one minute. Women spend 8 minutes choosing their clothes and donning them. Men get through this chore in 3 minutes. The total time spent preparing for the day's battles? Women: 54 minutes. Men: 13 minutes. (I wonder how many men kill the time they spend waiting for their women by surfing blogs ...) This being the New York Post, no source was given for these figures, but what the heck. I guess one message is: Women, if you want a little more free time in your day, get a crewcut, skip the makeup, and wear the same business suit you wore yesterday. I'm lucky: The Wife is not only a glam and sexy thang with a distinctive and fun look, she pulls herself together with less fuss (and in less time) than most gals seem to. Even so, I don't generally mind the energy and time women put into making themselves presentable, do you? In most cases, I take a woman's self-presentation to be an act of self-expression as well as a gift to the general culture -- as something to be appreciated and relished as a small act of poetry. That said, well, nearly everything can be overdone and made neurotic. And how nutsy are the gals who make an over-big production number out of preparing to face the world? Does the picture portrayed in the Post's info-graphic ring true to you? The New York Post's website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Morning Coffee With Blogroll
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Umm. [Stretch.] AhhUhh. [Yawn.] Torpor. Entropy. Sloth, even. It's setting in. Eyelids closing ... slowly. Must ... resist ... temptation ... to ... sleep. And I gotta ... come up with ... a subject for ... a blog post. [Slurrrp!] Coffee helped. What to do? What to do? I know. I'll do the assignment editors hand out when everyone is totally out of inspiration -- write a list-column!! Like the case of Automobile Magazine -- a publication whose subscription I'm increasingly willing to let lapse -- which just put out its 20th anniversary issue with 20-this and 20-that articles. Simple to research: just sit around the conference table and pitch ideas. What's the easiest list-thingy I can come up with? Hmm. Why not the blogs I visit most weekdays? My Daily Blogroll Terry Teachout gets a peek because he's always interesting even when he's writing about stuff I don't care much about. The Seattle Times is one of my windows on local events. I don't buy the paper so I scroll down the opening screen to catch the headlines and link to anything of interest. I usually check out the obituary link too. The Drudge Report is my next stop. I'll scan the top several headline layers and then move on to the following habitual links: Jewish World Review has handy links to syndicated columnists. I'll read any columns that appeal. Weekly Standard gets a quick inspection for articles and reviews of interest. The (London) Telegraph is my next stop, where I usually check the obits to see who's featured. They have really interesting obituaries, by the way. I used to link to Mark Steyn's columns, but he and the Telegraph (as well as the Speccie) have parted ways. Then on to to see what they're featuring up on top. I almost never scroll down because life is too short. Finally I see what's on the National Review Online home page and will link to selected pieces. The American Spectator is next, but I'm likely to read only a couple articles a week there. Instapundit is my next major launch-pad. After checking his items (and doing some linking) I'll use his blogroll for further delving: The Corner from NRO (above) is my first stop. I have no idea why I link to it from Instapundit instead of the NRO homepage. On to Hugh Hewitt. I'll read one or two of his posts and go to his blogroll: The Belmont Club is my favorite military/strategy blog. Wretchard (Richard Fernandez) has a writing style that intrigues me. He's a guy worth BSing with over some beers. Too bad he lives in Australia. Captain's Quarters by Ed Morrissey is prolific and solidly done. The guy has amazing general knowledge of matters political. Powerline Blog, nexus for the Dan Rather blogswarm, is another must-read. The three bloggers are each lawyers who attended Dartmouth as undergrads, and I try not to hold that against them. Tim Blair is... posted by Donald at March 21, 2006 | perma-link | (26) comments

Liz and Dick and Eddie and Liz and ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever notice that those tabloids and celebrity mags on the display racks near the supermarket checkout seem to mention the same people week after week in the headlines? That's nothing new. My initiation to celeb-hed journalism took place during the winter and early spring of 1962, back when New York boasted seven daily newspapers. Seven dailies? Yep. Count 'em: The New York Times and the Herald-Tribune were the quality morning broadsheets. Hearst's Journal-American was an afternoon broadsheet, but hardly "quality" (aside from in the imagination of Hearst management). The World-Telegram was another afternoon broadsheet. There were two morning tabloids, the Daily News and the Mirror. Finally there was the Post, a flaming-liberal afternoon tabloid that proudly proclaimed it had been founded by Alexander Hamilton, of all people. By the end of the Sixties only the Times, Daily News and Post remained. I was stationed at Fort Slocum (site of the Army Information School) from mid-January 1962 till mid-May. Fort Slocum (closed in 1965) was situated on David's Island in Long Island Sound. To get there one had to take an Army-operated ferry from New Rochelle. Good soldier that I was, I got a pass every weekend I was stationed there. Of course I went straight to New York City every time I hit shore. There were two reliable ways an automobile-less G.I. could get to Manhattan in those days. One option was to ride the bus to the north end of the Lexington Avenue subway line at 241st Street in The Bronx (it was an elevated line through much of The Bronx, going subway before reaching Manhattan if I recall correctly). The other option was to take the bus to the New Rochelle train station and catch a New Haven train (the Stamford Local). If you got the timing right, the train was faster. But the subway was cheaper and ran more frequently, so I suppose I mostly took it. Regardless of transportation mode, I always wound up in the same place: Grand Central Terminal. And I usually exited Grand Central onto the 42nd Street sidewalk, where I would confront a news stand or racks with Friday's newspapers. And Friday evening after Friday evening, nearly every paper save the Times, Herald-Tribune and perhaps the World-Telegram had a headline dealing with Liz, Dick, and Eddie. This went on for months! Liz? Dick? Eddie? Who were they? I'm referring to actress Elizabeth ("Liz") Taylor, actor Richard ("Dick") Burton and crooner Eddie Fisher. Eddie and Liz were married. Liz and Dick were filming the hyper-expensive eventual box-office disappointment "Cleopatra." Oh, and they were carrying on a torrid affair while Eddie was left twisting in the off-stage wind. The permutations of this love triangle kept New York headline writers on aspirin trying to avoid repeating themselves as the weeks rolled on. Since I basically saw this only on Fridays, I've always wondered what the headlines were about during the rest of the workweek. My best guess is --... posted by Donald at March 21, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, March 20, 2006

Salingaros on the Brahms Cello Sonatas
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was pleased to hear the other day from our friend, the mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros. Since he has been very busy recently, I was doubly pleased that Nikos also included an enthusiastic review of a classical music CD. It's a treat to present his review. Nikos has a sophisticated musical palate, and he's tuned into an important cultural phenomenon I know almost nothing about, the independent-recording-company world. I just clicked on the "buy" button myself, and I'm looking forward to what sounds like some very yummy music. Here's Nikos' review. *** THE BRAHMS CELLO SONATAS By Nikos A. Salingaros I wish to share my discovery of an extraordinary recording of these extraordinary works. Johannes Brahms created here, in these two pieces, an orchestral rainbow of sound using only a cello and a piano. The piano was Brahms's instrument, and he was a master at writing pianistic works, but the pairing of the cello adds a sensuousness to the very powerful pianism of the score. (This sonority is further developed in the better-known piano trios). For this reason, I prefer these pieces to Brahms's otherwise impeccable works for solo piano. The two cello sonatas are among his most moving creations, and indeed, of any other composer. It is a pity that they are not as well known as they deserve. Readers know that I am a champion of independent record producers, and I am delighted to have found the recording by the stunningly beautiful cellist Nancy Green. (here's her personal website.) She is joined in this rendition by the world-class (though vastly underappreciated) American pianist Frederick Moyer. Only words such as "sublime" and "majestic" can describe these performances. I strongly recommend immediate purchase of this CD, which couples the only two complete cello/piano sonatas that Brahms wrote: Opus 38 and Opus 99. One can order it online from JRI Recordings. Why is it that these pieces come closest to the greatest music that Brahms ever created; ranking alongside the Piano, String, and Clarinet Quintets? He also wrote the beautiful Violin/Piano and the Clarinet/Piano sonatas, yet the Cello/Piano sonatas are somehow special because of their tonal balance and dark, brooding sonority. If a cello is played well, or is well-recorded, it touches the inner self more deeply than the violin. Some questions now come to mind. (i) What about other recordings of these pieces? (ii) What about other recordings by this team? I'm happy to give my answers to both. (i) My second favorite recording of the Brahms cello sonatas is also produced by an independent label. David Finckel plays the cello and Wu Han the piano, in a very different but no less enjoyable interpretation. (David Finckel is the cellist of the celebrated Emerson String Quartet). This recording has replaced my long-time favorite by Janos Starker and Gyorgy Sebok. Finckel/Han share the same driven, powerful approach, this time much better recorded than the older Starker/Sebok account. I enjoy their interpretation immensely, even... posted by Michael at March 20, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- -- Jonah Goldberg reflects on his wiseguy past and growing "maturity" due to age, marital status and book-writing. He also notes that libertarianism should be the starting point when considering policy matters: ... I think it’s better for everybody concerned if we start from a foundation of libertarianism and build up from it. In public policy — as opposed to cultural politics — I think the default position should be libertarian and then arguments should be made for why we should deviate from libertarian dogma. I’m more sympathetic to arguments based on tradition and custom than your average libertarian. But I’m more hostile than I used to be to what you might call neo-traditionalism in the forms of “national greatness” conservatism, Buchananism, Crunchy Conservatism, and the rest.... ... Starting from libertarian assumptions puts you in a better place to identify nostalgic toxins. My problem with the so-called paleolibertarians is that they are often more nostalgic than the conservatives they denounce. -- Not long ago Michael told us about his bout with a cancer five years ago. It was a gripping narrative. And a while before that, Terry Teachout (scroll, if necessary, to "Time Off for Good Behavior") decribed his bout with congestive heart failure. Another gripping account. Give it a read if you haven't already. -- Some of you might remember my post about Pino, an artist whose work is a real eye-grabber compared to other gallery fare. Pino is the featured (cover) artist in the March-April 2006 issue of Art of the West magazine. The short article includes some informative quotes from Pino regarding his career. If my post on him interested you, the article offers added information plus nice reproductions of some of his paintings. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 20, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, March 19, 2006

End of Evolution: Airliners
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever notice that some kinds of objects don't change significantly over time? Examples include straight pins, buckles, coffee cups and drinking tumblers. Yes, buckles, cups and tumblers vary in detail, but they each embody a fundamental or Platonic shape that underlies the variations. Why is this so? It's largely a matter of function and technology. Once a function has been "elegantly" embodied at a given level of technology, the essential form will cease to evolve and changes will be cosmetic. Consider the buckle. Its basic form hasn't changed in centuries. Its function is to fasten together ends of one strap (usually made of leather) or connect separate straps (also usually of leather) in a way such that the amount of overlap of the connection can be varied. The buckle is normally made of metal or some other hard material. Attached to it is a "tongue," also usually of metal, that can be inserted in holes punched through the strap in order to secure the fastening and set the overlap. Nowadays buckles are being replaced on shoes and other objects by Velcro. The fastening function continues, but new technology has added the advantage of allowing the fastening overlap to take place over much smaller increments than is possible using a buckle. On the other hand, buckles allow a stronger binding than Velcro. The same sort of thing can be seen in more complex objects, especially those whose functionality is tightly constrained. Early versions tend to exhibit varied shapes. Over time, through trial and error, less practical shapes are discarded and technology advances to enhance configurations that are proving successful. Eventually, barring a major technological advance or other disruption, the object will evolve toward its fundamental form. Here I deal with commercial passenger aircraft -- airliners. My contention is that airliners first attained their fundamental shape in the mid-1930s. The advent of turbine (jet) engines allowed greater speeds and the need for adding back-sweep to wings and empennage, thus changing the fundamental shape a little. This happened in the mid-1950s and the basic shape of airliners has remained essentially unchanged. Since our main concern is appearance, it seems best to simply show you how airliners have evolved using pictures backed by captions. Historical Gallery 1925 -- Armstrong Whitworth Argosy. The Argosy was one of the first transports able to carry more than a few passengers. It has a long fuselage with windows for the passengers, features common to nearly all future airliners. On the other hand it's a fabric-covered biplane with fixed landing gear and has a open cockpit for the pilots, not to mention a motor mounted on its nose. Nevertheless, it's a great advance over early, kite-like, airplanes. 1930 -- Curtiss Condor. Although it was one of the last biplane airliners, the Condor has a fairly streamlined fuselage and retractable landing gear. 1935 -- Douglas DC-3. This is the classical piston-engine airliner -- a nicely-streamlined all-metal monoplane. The similar Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2... posted by Donald at March 19, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Digital photography now accounts for 90% of the photography market. Douglas Gantenbein wonders what we may be losing as photography shifts over to 1s and 0s. * Michael Oakeshott is one of my three or four favorite philosophers, yet he's a hard one to recommend. Many people find his writing style (which I love) as slippery, subtle, and hard to grasp as late Henry James. Joseph Sobran's short appreciation of Oakeshott is one of the best EZ intros to Oakeshott's work that I've run across. * Once upon a time film directors brought something more to their jobs than merely the desire to be a film director, and few directors brought more life experience into the business than the sometimes-great William Wellman. Here's a good Scott Eyman interview with Wellman, from 1978. * Bjorn Lomborg's view of global warming is that it's happening; that there isn't much we can do about it; and that the money we might spend holding global warming off for a few years could be put to much better use otherwise. Though Lomborg's view strikes me as hyper-sensible, many eco True Believers despise him. * Strangers sometimes email me, asking for advice about publishing a book. (If you Google "Writing a book," a blogposting of mine often shows up high on the list.) Because the experience of getting your work professionally published is often an unpleasant and unrewarding one, I always suggest that they look first into publishing their work themselves, whether online or via one of the new Print on Demand outfits. FWIW, I've heard some good things about the self-publishing outfit known as * Kenneth Harvey riffs very amusingly on the James Frey fiasco. * They're calling it "slivercasting": programming that is designed to appeal to a very narrow demographic. We may soon be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing. * Tatyana goes to the theater and wonders what's become of the art of the beautifully-placed pause. * Will there be sparks? I sure hope so. Naomi Wolf interviews Harvey Mansfield about manliness on CSpan2 this Saturday at 9 pm Eastern Time. * Steve Sailer makes some sense out of the Balkans. * Chris Gondek is making his interviews with business thinkers available via podcast. He blogs about his podcasting adventures here. * James Verini's piece about the raucous, exhibitionistic phenomenon that is is as hilarious as it is alarming. * How'd this one get by me? Robert Towne's long-planned film of John Fante's novel "Ask the Dust" opened last weekend. Has anyone seen the picture? I have to confess that, while I like the novel, I don't revere it in anything like the way many people (especially people from L.A.) do. * Those who can't get enough Crunchy Conservatism will want to check out this George Nash review, this parody site, and NRO's own dedicated Crunchyblog. Wow: There's something about the idea of Crunchy Conservatism that makes Jonah Goldberg carry on... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (65) comments

Mary on Classic Writing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Prairie Mary is delighted to discover Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner's wonderful writing guide, "Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classsic Prose." (It's buyable here.) Nice passage: I have a feeling that Transcendalists and those trying to transcend their circumstances are often writing in order to think things out -- to reduce or expand the inchoate to something intelligible. Thomas and Turner insist that this is NOT classic writing, in which the thinking is done beforehand until it is resolved and exact -- THEN the words and sentences are chosen in response to and as an accurate representation of those facts. Denis Dutton is just as enthusiastic. I'll add that, while Turner and Thomas' book is certainly one of the best things I've ever read about writing, it concerns a lot more than writing. I'm a big fan of Turner's "The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language," too. It can be bought here. Here's a webpage that shows off some of Turner and Thomas' thoughts. Fun excerpt: Those who teach writing today include many who attempt to teach some version of "the rules" and others who want to politicize such instruction because they think that teaching ideology is teaching writing. Neither of these strategies seems to work very well. How can learning to write be so difficult when learning to talk is so easy? Mary also links to a related website. Here's Mark Turner's website. Here's Francis-Noel Thomas'. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Foreign Aid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How much can the rich world really do to help the poor world? Former World Bank economist William Easterly has published a new book arguing that the answer is "not as much as many people hope." Excerpt: The West cannot transform the Rest. It is a fantasy to think that the West can change complex societies with very different histories and cultures into some image of itself. Here's Easterly in the WashPost setting forth his views. Excerpt: Economic development in Africa will depend -- as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world -- on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders. Development everywhere is homegrown. As G-8 ministers and rock stars fussed about a few billion dollars here or there for African governments, the citizens of India and China (where foreign aid is a microscopic share of income) were busy increasing their own incomes by $715 billion in 2005. Amartya Sen has some (long-winded, alas) quibbles. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bedtime discipline for kids has gone to hell over the years. But it might be improving for adults. Here is some rock-solid anecdotal evidence. (Before continuing, I want you to solemnly promise not to stop reading when you see the words "back when I was a boy." Got that? No crossed fingers either: I want a real promise. Good.) Back when I was a boy, maybe up to age 8, my mother would have me in bed by 8 p.m. Lights out, no radio. Except that when I did get a radio I'd play it at extremely low volume. Being a parent, my mother probably knew or suspected what was going on but tolerated it for some reason; in any case I'd be asleep by nine most of the time anyway. As I got older, I was allowed to stay up later and later. But I was sensible and never abused the privilege even when high-school age. I never was much of a night-owl. The latest I consistently stayed up was two in the morning. This was during the four months between college graduation and entering the Army. I'd stay up to watch Jack Paar on the Tonight show which aired from 11:30 till one. (In the process I got my fill of talk-show TV; Paar and his guests were good, but nevertheless became tiring.) After Paar was over, I'd go to my bedroom and read for another hour or so, turn off the light, go to sleep and wake up around nine in the morning. In the years following the Army I usually turned off the light around 11 and would be up by 7. When my son had a paper route I got in the habit of waking up at 5 or 5:30, a habit I continue because I arrive at work at 7:30, take a half-hour lunch, then leave shortly after four. With great difficulty my own children went to bed as early as an hour or two later than my childhood schedule. All the while they protested that their friends' parents let them stay up till midnight or whenever. When my son got through college and entered an endless period of job-hunting, he'd stay up until three or four in the morning and sleep in nearly to noon. As best I can tell, he was pretty typical of his generation. So much for kids. Why is it that I think it's different for adults? Traffic. In the late 1970s and early 80s I'd sometimes stay over at my parents' house in Seattle before a flight and my dad would drive me to the airport in the morning. At six o'clock traffic was light. Years before, the morning commute was barely underway by seven. Nowadays traffic on Interstate 5 through little old Olympia is flowing strongly by 5:30 in the morning, heading north to Fort Lewis, Tacoma and Seattle. By six, cars can be packed solid on I-5 between Tacoma and... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

The Future According to Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- October 5, 2005: Michael Blowhard praises Writely. March 9, 2006: Google buys Writely. Ever since this blog began: Michael Blowhard harps on the topic of immigration. March 11, 2006: Tom Wolfe announces that the subject of his next book will be immigration. Since the gods are taking close heed of my slightest brainwave, I thought I'd perform a a public service and pass along the rest of my predictions for the near future. Get ready for what's next. An actress desperate for a good role will create and star in a one-woman show. Bill Gates will convert Microsoft to a charity organization, appointing Angelina and Bono as co-CEOs. The health-tips industry will admit that it enjoys monkeying with our minds. "All it really boils down to is, don't smoke, get a little activity, don't get too fat, and prefer fresh food to packaged. Or maybe not. What do we really know anyway?" the industry's spokesperson will say. Research will demonstrate that happiness researchers aren't very happy. The pornography business will collapse. "I guess we've learned that there really can be too much of a good thing," one analyst will say. A Florida man will decide to relax about his potency. "It finally occurred to me that if my stiffy isn't as stiff as I want it to be, maybe all it means is that I'm not in the mood," he'll say. The Harvard liberal-arts faculty will admit that there are some differences between women and men, and that it doesn't make sense to get too politically worked-up about this fact. The Utne Reader will start running a lot of celebrity profiles. "A life spent wearing Earth shoes, worrying about pesticides, and protesting globalization -- well, it's just too depressing," the magazine's editor will say. New York City will become the world's largest flat-panel display. Richard Meier will convert to neo-classicism. "There's only so much you can do with geometry, empty space, glass, and white. It gets boring," Meier will say. "Besides, I've had it with imposing my highbrow preferences on the public. From now on, I'm dedicating my talents to helping regular people obtain housing that's a classy and satisfying version of what they already like." A libertarian living in Oklahoma City will take note of how the real world works. A woman in Indianapolis will throw out her collection of thongs. "You try spending the day with a string up your buttcrack," she says. "Besides, real men like panty lines." The Nobel Committee will award its first-ever Prize for Blogging. A graphic designer in Chicago will vow never again to use white-on-black print. "Serving the text and its meaning, and making the content readable and comprehensible, that's what it's all about," she'll say. An iPod will be elected President. NOW will open a swingers' club in Jersey City, the first in a projected worldwide franchise. Web 3.0 will emerge unbidden. Steve Sailer will be appointed editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. A woman in... posted by Michael at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Decline and Fall of the Classical Face
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time painters had this crazy notion that their goal was to create beauty. That was back in the 19th century. Today many painters think their goal is to create "edginess," but that's a post for another time. Let's say it's 1840 and you're an academic painter planning your next submission to the Salon. The subject matter will be historical and, if possible, uplifting. And the whole thing should be beautiful and "finished" (worked over so that brush-strokes are invisible, or nearly so). You want to include images of young women, nude or partly nude, because that will be fun to do and because it should please most viewers -- who don't mind a skin-show so long as the rest of the enterprise has a high moral tone. Of course those women must have beautiful faces. It's a virtual no-brainer regarding the general appearance: you will borrow from Greek and Roman sculpture. Why? Because such sculpture was Beautiful, and if the Academy and the public want beauty, then use a proven example. The fact that your subject might be a Classical theme is a further consideration. I should add that not all women in paintings looked like Greek statues, but it was a common enough practice in those days. Okay. I haven't exactly researched this using primary documentation and all that. But the expedient of simply looking at such art makes it hard to come up with a more convincing explanation why women in academic paintings of that era look a lot more like classical statuary than northwestern Europeans in 1840 -- half a dozen short generations removed from us. What interests me is that painters slowly abandoned Classical faces over the second half of the 19th century, even in paintings with Classical subjects. I have no solid explanation why this happened and will just wave my arms and shout something about zeitgeist and the progressive forces launched by the Industrial Revolution pushing aside previously held beliefs that Greece and Rome were unsurpassable. Friedrich von Blowhard's insights on this point are welcomed. Enough talk. Let's have a look. Gallery Venus de Milo. What could be more Classical than this Venus? Note the high nose and strong chin. "The Farewell of Telemachus and Eurcharis" by Jacques-Louis David, 1818. One of David's last works. Very Classical face on the woman. "Girl with a Basket of Fruit" by Frederic, Lord Leighton, 1863. Here the nose isn't so high, but the chin is strong. "A Vision of Fiammetta" by Dante Rossetti. Rossetti liked his models to have a Classical look even though he was a Pre-Raphaelite, not an academician. "Nymphs and a Satyr" by William Bouguereau, 1873. A Classical subject, but Bouguereau paints the Nymphs as though they were French. Note the facial expression on the nymph near the center. "Circe Invidiosa" by JW Waterhouse, 1892. Classical mythology, but Circe's face isn't very Classical in this late 19th century work. "Destiny" by JW Waterhouse, 1900. A... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- More trifles for your amusement and edification. And, in one instance, for mine. -- As part of the aftershock of the Knight-Ridder sale and likely divestment of a dozen papers, Jeff Jarvis takes a reporter-in-denial to task here. -- I recently got an agency-wide broadcast e-mail from an excercise-obsessive in the organization promoting something called a Fun Run. This is nothing new. Back in the 80s at the national demography meetings folks also promoted a Friday morning Fun Run. I hate to be a wet blanket (I'm lying -- I love it!) but to me the only thing "fun" and "run" have in common is the fact that they rhyme. Feel free to disagree. -- Now that I'm in a complaining mood, my office area has a room set aside for lunching. There's a table, chairs, a 'fridge, a small sink -- and two microwave ovens. Around noon, some of the weight watchin' folks pop frozen lunches in microwaves ... and the stench begins! I mean, some of those lasagnas and whatever must be 20% carbs, 10% meat 'n' sauce and 70% spices. -- The Centre Pompidou art museum in Paris was renovated a while ago and Theodore Dalrymple offers his acidic reactions over at The New Criterion. Click here to read, but be warned that what you see is only a segment (but a useful one) of the magazine version; to read it all, you'll need to be registered. -- Bleg ... is blog-speak for begging for information on a blog. And I have come blegging. You see, I'm doing a lot of catch-up on my art history reading. My current focus is late-19th and early 20th century painters and paintings. But to do justice to certain topics here at 2Blowhards I need to get a better handle on post-1960 art. I've read and printed out some Internet-based items, but I think it might be a good idea to read some books on the subject. Welcomed are tips on good books about post-1960 art that are illustrated, reasonably comprehensive yet concise, largely jargon-free, don't get hung up on academic fads such as gender theory or deconstructionism and that are authoritative. Am I asking for the impossible? Hope not. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another Technical Note
Michael Blowhard writes: After 24 hours of feeling upset about being moved to a new server, our blog has calmed down and has begun behaving like its old sweet-natured self. Comments are working properly, and Blowhards are once again able to post. We'll be back in business shortly. Thanks for your patience.... posted by Michael at March 14, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, March 13, 2006

La Ligne Maginot
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to one scenario, World War 2 would have begun as follows: German poison gas and explosive artillery shells rained down on the French hillside peppered with hidden emplacements. At the appointed minute Panzerkampfwagen IIs and IIIs lurched into motion toward the fortifications accompanied by squads of pionieren and sturmtruppen. Encountering anti-tank ditches and rows of railroad rails embedded in the ground, the tanks swerved to an open area to continue their advance. In fact they had been channeled into a killing-ground. Pre-registered artillery in camouflaged casemates and retractable armored turrets opened fire at the poorly armored Germans. Soon the field became obscured by smoke from the flaming vehicles. Meanwhile the combat engineers and storm troopers scrambled up to the observation cupolas, pillboxes and casemates, explosive charges and grenades at the ready. But before they could begin disabling the fortress, 75s from the next fortress to the east began pouring registered fire on them, killing half the attackers on the first salvo. Less than an hour after the attack began, remnants of the assault force began straggling back to the German front line, crushed by the Maginot Line defenders. This alternative-history snippet describes how the French Maginot Line was intended to perform.* It is fantasy. It never happened (though it could have). There was a lot of fantasy associated with the Maginot Line in the years leading up to the war. It is interesting, but so is the history of the Line, not to mention the Maginot Line as it exists today. I experienced the fantasy, read the history and visited one of the fortresses. If this intrigues you, read on. The Fantasy Not long after I was born my father (or someone in my family) bought a Rand McNally "War Map of Europe." Besides a political map of Europe it has a lot of add-ons in the form of special-subject maps, data tables and other handy reference information related to the war that started on 3 September when Germany invaded Poland. Eight or ten years later, when I was old enough to begin assembling a picture of recent history in my mind, I came across that map and was astonished by the following illustration. New York Times artist's pre-war impression of the Maginot Line. When the drawing was made, details of the Maginot Line were military secrets. Even though the Germans had aerial photos of some of the fortresses under construction and might have had spies in the work crews, the public was told about the Line only in broad-brush form. For example, it was revealed that it was a system of underground fortresses placed near enough to one another that their artillery fire would be mutually-supporting. The fortresses were self-contained, troops living in underground barracks with support facilities such as command-posts, kitchens, mess-halls, dental clinics, operating rooms and recreation facilities. Each fort had its own electrical power generation system for use in case the national power grid (and its buried lines to... posted by Donald at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Actress Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Over the weekend I spent some time trying to pull together a deep, indeed definitive, posting about the economist John Maynard Keynes. In this epic, I'd have linked to this Paul Krugman intro to a new book about Keynes. I'd also have linked to Tyler Cowen's musings about Krugman and Keynes, and to a commentsfest at Brad DeLong's blog. I'd have recalled the JFK-era Keynesianism that poisoned economic thinking and policymaking (as well as economic teaching) in the 1970s -- "fine-tuning the economy," anyone? And I'd have mentioned how much I've learned recently from looking into the group known as the Post-Keynesians. (Thanks to Jimbo for pointing them out to me). But the posting ground to a sad halt as I ran up against a sad fact: I simply don't have much of anything besides links to add to the conversation. Still, may the conversation roar on! Me, I wound up watching DVDs and surfing showbiz websites instead. The results: I caught up with "A Mighty Wind," Christopher Guest's satirical mockumentary about a folk singers' reunion. As usual with Guest's movies, I wanted the film to be better: Would it have been so hard to come up with a couple of witty plot turns? But, as is also usual with Guest's movies, I had a good time anyway. The film is brimful with tonal touches and behavioral observations, and it features enough creative performing for ten movies. What especially caught my interest was one of the film's actresses, a comic knockout named Jane Lynch. Tall and blonde, and equipped with a killer mouthful of forthright and wholesome teeth, Lynch plays a squeaky-clean folksinger with a background in pornography. Lynch makes her character so over-vibrant that her righteousness becomes hilariously lewd. Watching Lynch's performance, I remembered that she played one of the lesbian lovers/dog-handlers in Guest's "Best in Show," and that her performance in that film k.o.'d me too. Here's an After Ellen interview with Lynch. A nice passage: I think if you can do comedy, you can do anything, because you can pick up the ironies in life better. It takes a little more investigation into your own heart with comedy; I think you can get away with a lot more in drama. I think you’ll find that a good actor usually does comedy really well. Here's an interesting PlanetOut interview with Lynch. (Hmm, I guess Lynch won't be dating me any time soon.) Reading it, I learned that Christopher Guest directs a lot of TV commercials. Asia Argento is currently promoting "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things," a movie she has directed based on a book by J.T. Leroy. She tells Daniel Robert Epstein that she had no idea that J.T. Leroy was a fraud/ put-on/ performance-art-piece/ whatever until, along with the rest of us, she read about the hoax in the NYTimes: I had to ask myself a lot of questions why I wanted to believe this so much. I don’t... posted by Michael at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Technical Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Our webhost will be moving our blog over to a new server today, so please forgive some on-and-off technical issues. We should be running smoothly again by this time tomorrow. And, once we're comfortably ensconced on the new hard drive, we should have less downtime generally. Thanks for your patience.... posted by Michael at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, March 10, 2006

Peripheral Explanation
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is part of a comment-reply to this recent post. I decided to elevate it to post status because the same issues keep popping up in Comments. I (foolishly?) hope I can avoid endlessly repeating myself in comment replies by giving my position more prominance. Here goes: One reason I'm doing this "Peripheral Artists" series and gave it that name is because I got what was probably a typical late-1950s American art history education. Huge chunks of late-19th and early 20th century painting were ingnored if they weren't held up to ridicule. In recent years I've been coming across some of that work and realize that it can be very good indeed. Had I only known! That's the problem. I didn't know because no one taught me. And I suspect that a lot of art history courses since my time haven't been a lot better regarding representational art. So I've launched this little educational project here at 2Blowhards highlighting artists I used to know nothing about, yet on discovery are worthy of appreciation and study. The word "peripheral" (as I keep trying to make clear) is sort of a pun. Artists mentioned are peripheral to the history of painting as I (and others) received it in college. And it happens that these same artists (so far) come from what might be seen as Europe's geographical periphery. This does not mean that I regard them as lesser artists: in nearly all cases, quite the opposite. The artists I've dealt with thus far are famous in their home countries for good reason. Some were well-known elsewhere in Europe when they were alive, before Modernism in its various guises made its march from Paranoid Victimhood to Paranoid Establishment. I don't regard this as some sort of "national character" issue: it's really more of a power politics thing within the art world. Still, the fame of the Russian artists I've been featuring undoubtedly was held back by the Cold War. Many Americans were leery of all things Russian and the Soviet Union kept itself pretty well sealed off from Westerners and foreigners of all kinds save Party members and prominant fellow-travelers. (Yes I know there were plenty of exceptions to that sweeping statement. But the gist is true: think Intourist.) Nor do I think it fair to fall back on a kneejerk notion of "American insularity" to explain our relative ingnorance of the likes of Gallen or Vrubel. In fine arts, Americans strike me as being quite the opposite of insular. In fact, for much of our history, we've had a self-image of being second (or worse) rate in all forms of culture. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but let me assert that, for almost any museum, shows featuring Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh and Rembrandt will draw larger crowds than shows featuring home-grown Pollock, Motherwell or Warhol. As I said, the problem lies in the art world itself. Its history had become... posted by Donald at March 10, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, March 9, 2006

More Immigration Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Illegal immigration may be making it onto mainstream radar screens. Gary Becker suspects that "illegal immigration will constitute perhaps the major American Dilemma during the coming decade." Richard Posner's opinion is that "It is not at all clear that illegal immigration is on balance a bad thing for the nation. The only real concern is that if it continues at its present rate (which Becker estimates at 500,000 a year) we will soon reach a point at which the net benefits turn negative." Robert Samuelson thinks we oughta build a fence. Best, and very happy to see the issue beginning to receive some of the attention and discussion it deserves, Michael... posted by Michael at March 9, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Another Graphic Detournement
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've written before about the way graphic designers have appropriated parenthesis marks and brackets for themselves. Short version: Graphic designers have taken a typographical symbol (the parenthesis/bracket mark), and have turned it into a purely visual device. Once upon a time, the parenthesis and the bracket served the interests of those making use of words -- people for whom a page is primarily about making verbal sense, or about providing word-based entertainment. These days, parentheses and brackets often serve the interests and purposes of those who like visual jazziness -- people for whom the main thing about a page is that it should look snazzy. Design Observer's Michael Bierut explained the history of this development in a comment on my posting. You've seen a lot of play-with-brackets in recent years. Designers all over the place have been using parentheses and brackets not to indicate pauses or asides, but to provide visual kapow. Here's a typical example, from Fitness magazine. Click on the images in this posting for larger versions: Whatever it is those brackets are doing, it has nothing to do with serving a written-grammar/written-meaning kind of purpose. Whether or not you like the look, this appropriation of one field's symbol by another field is a classic case of what the Situationists called detournement. It's a matter of one group (visual people) taking a device that another group (writers) evolved for one purpose, and putting it to use for their own ends. The fad hasn't captured just the art directors of silly pop magazines, by the way. Here's part of a page from the sober (if glossy) publication Scientific American Mind: What in the world are parentheses doing around that pullquote? And why do they surround the rubric on the Further Reading box? (Scientific American Mind -- after some early trouble finding its bearings -- has become a very good magazine: substantial yet accessible, sophisticated yet clear. A 2Blowhards intellectual hero, V.S. Ramachandran, sits on the magazine's advisory board, and much of the publication seems to reflect his approach and his characteristically thoughtful tone.) In terms of designers making visual-impact use of brackets and pullquotes, we may in fact be entering a late phase. Things have gotten mighty baroque in recent months. Here, the art director of Fitness gets jiggy: But Scientific American Mind isn't to be outdone: Y'know: Why not flip brackets 90 degrees and stack them vertically? Why not use only one parenthesis mark? "Meaning" is so passe anyway. All of which prompts a question: Which typographical symbol are designers going to claim for themselves next? I have a feeling that the most likely candidate is quotation marks. (I sometimes picture designers as being like a pack of hyenas separating a gazelle out from its herd ...) Already we're seeing a lot of this kind of thing: OKOKOK, that's an ad. But part of what happens when digital tech sweeps through a media field is that the wall between editorial and advertising... posted by Michael at March 9, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Peripheral Artists (5): Mikhail Vrubel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Far from Paris, far from the mainstream art history narrative of the 19th and 20th centuries are what I call Peripheral Artists who, I think, deserve recognition beyond their native lands. Last September I was in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery and found a large, purpose-built room containing striking romantic-expressionist paintings and panels/murals by Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910). Vrubel was born in Omsk, Siberia to an army legal officer and himself completed law training at St. Petersburg University in 1880. After that, he went over to the Imperial Academy of Arts where he studied under Pavel Tchistyakov. He was commissioned to paint murals and do icon-related work for the St. Cyril Church in Kiev and visited Venice to study early church art as part of the project. His mural designs for Kiev's St. Volodymir Cathedral suffered rejection, however. During his Kiev stay he became interested in Mikhail Lermentov's poem, Demon, for which he began working up illustrations. Vrubel returned to Moscow in 1890, completing "Seated Demon," one of his most famous works. Although it raised controversy, the painting led to a commission from Savva Mamontov to decorate buildings. He also designed ceramic objects and was involved in stage design. Vrubel met and married opera singer Nadezhda Zabela in 1896 and they had a child who died in 1903, an event that further destabilized his mind which had been tormented by childhood deaths of a brother and sister (he was briefly institutionalized in 1902). But he continued painting until 1906 when he was losing his eyesight. According to one source, he finally became so depressed that he stood before an open window so as to catch a cold that evolved into the pneumonia that killed him. Gallery Mikhail Vrubel. "Demon Seated in a Garden" 1890. "Swan Princess" 1900. "Seraphim" 1904 Commentary Vrubel allowed himself to be caught up in the romanticist and spiritual/religious thinking that were current in his times, possibly excessively so if his mental state is any indication. Thanks probably to his study of mosaics and Christian art in Venice his paintings sometimes had a mosaic-like quality where paint was applied in different-shaped blocks varying in size by a factor of about two –- the background work in the Seated Demon painting contains a good deal of this. Like many artists who moved in the direction of Expressionism he wasn’t afraid to sacrifice accurate representation for effect. Note that the eyes of the Swan Princess are anatomically too large. Thanks to the large scale in which he often worked coupled with dramatic composition and stylized surface treatment, Vrubel’s paintings strike me as compelling to view, yet slightly disturbing –- perhaps a true reflection of his mind’s condition. In sum, an artist hard to forget once his work has been seen. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 8, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Illegal Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The illegal-immigrant population of the U.S. is growing by at least 500,000 per year, according to a new study by the (liberal) Pew Hispanic Center. As recently as 2000, there were only 8.4 million illegals in the country. Today there are almost certainly more than 12 million -- accounting for roughly 1/3 of the foreign-born population in the States. Steve Sailer and some of his correspondents ponder the figures. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 8, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Beloved Museum Shops
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I confess. I confess I put the word "beloved" in the title to hook you -- a writerly deceit I'm not above using. Truth is, I don't find any museum shop "beloved," though I really do like some of them. Which ones? Lemme see ... generally the ones with the most book titles, books being my intellectual drug-of-choice. Some of you might use prints, reproductions, calendars or other items as the yardstick. Herewith is a top o' the head listing of museum shops I liked as of the time I last visited. They are not in order of preference. Louvre, Paris. This is on two floors and has lotsa stuff which seems appropriate for a museum that has lotsa stuff. Yes the books are pretty much in French, but that's okay with me because I like to be forced to keep up my French. The shop in the Museé d'Orsay across the river is much smaller because it focuses on a limited period in art history. The last time I was there I wasn't studying Impressionism as seriously as I am now, so I might like it better than I did if I gave it another visit. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Not as large as the Louvre's shop, but plenty of books and other items. The Met also has a shop in Rockefeller Center as well as one at the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas and two in Thailand (32 stores in all, 13 overseas), but the satellites I've visited don't have large book selections. Getty Museum, Los Angeles. A good selection of books, especially (as might be expected) publications by the Getty research staff. But if your thing is art-related books and you're in the Los Angeles area, the place to go is the Hennessey + Ingalls bookstore on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, a block or so from the bluff overlooking the ocean. A nice little store with a tight focus is in the Mucha Museum in Prague, featuring (who else?) Alphonse Mucha, king of the Art Nouveau poster.. I like aviation, and the top shop for me is in the Air Force Museum by Dayton, Ohio. Second-best is in the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum on the Mall in Washington. Pretty-good is the shop in the Museum of Flight at Seattle's Boeing Field. My criterion for aviation books is the presence of specialized books not normally found in regular bookstores. But the store that tops my aviation heap isn't a museum shop: it's La Maison du Livre d'Aviation in Paris at 75 Boulevard Malesherbes in the 8th Arrondissement. As you might guess by the volume of posts on the subject, I'm also a car fan. But I can't remember any automobile museum shops that had a book selection that impressed me. This might be because my tastes are becoming highly specialized whereas the museum shops I've visited recently don't seem to have a lot more to offer than regular... posted by Donald at March 7, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I are once again visiting California. We flew out from New York City Business Class. The last time we flew out we flew Business too. The time before as well. Ain't we fancy. In fact, we're scrounging, just-getting-by, middle-class people who have to watch the bottom line more closely than we'd like to. But we're typical of middle-class people in another way too. Over the years, we have managed to pile up hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles. What to do with them? As far as I can tell, every U.S. airline company is going to go out of business sometimes within the next 12 months; we wouldn't want to simply lose our miles. Yet whenever we have tried to use our miles to pay for tickets, we've been completely stymied. Oh, sure, we can use our miles to buy plane tickets to places we want to visit -- provided only that we let the plane company pick which one, that we're willing to commit to an intinerary three years ahead of time, that we don't mind flying on Thursday afternoon, and that we aren't put off by the idea of taking prop planes that make seven stops to get from Cleveland to Chicago. Our solution to this dilemma is to use our miles for upgrades. We book our usual flights, then tell the agent to use our miles to put us in Business. This isn't a perfect solution. We still need to book well ahead of time. And we've sometimes had to take a slightly earlier or later flight than we'd have preferred. But we're at least getting some utility out of our miles. Not the least of the pleasures of flying Business is the entertainment factor. I'm not talking about the in-flight movies, which are as bad in Business as what's shown to the losers back in Economy. Though, come to think of it, Business passengers are at least spared "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- reason enough to spring for an upgrade. For me, what's most entertaining about flying Business is the way language changes. Shell out a certain amount of money (or at least miles), and you enter a realm where sentences and phrases that might be simple and to-the-point become hushed, circumlocutious, and elaborately discreet. I have one well-off acquaintance who refers -- straight-facedly-- to rich people as "high net-worth individuals." That's the kind of language-thing that is forever going on in Business, which does its best to mimic the kind of snobby country club you'd be crazy to want to belong to -- the kind of place where you wouldn't be surprised to hear a drive in a car referred to as "a motoring experience," or a pen as a "writing instrument." Here's how the menu on our most recent flight described one of the breakfast dishes on offer: Cheese and Vegetable Omelette Seasonal Fruit Appetizer Cheese Omelette filled with Vegetables, enhanced by a fire-roasted Pepper... posted by Michael at March 7, 2006 | perma-link | (26) comments

Monday, March 6, 2006

Ugly Box(-like) Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe there's such a thing as too much functionality ... in car styling, anyhow. I know, I know. If "form follows function" a designer would have to be a knucklehead if he tried to express function and not end up with a Platonic Ideal of beauty. Well, that's what I used to read in books about Industrial Design and Architecture when I was in high school and college. And then there was a saying back in those days to the effect that "a car stylist can do good Industrial Design, but an industrial designer is hopeless at car styling." How true. One of the projects the Industrial Design class worked on when I was an undergraduate (I had switched from ID to commercial art by that time) was to design a taxicab. After completion, some of the plans and renderings ended up on hallway display boards. What was revealed was a tall, stubby, ugly thing lacking any of the grace of even a London taxi. But boy, was it functional: space-efficient, short turning radius, chair-high seating and whatever else was in the design spec handed down by Frank Del Giudice (or maybe dreamed up by the students themselves). I can't show you that taxicab design, but vehicles in the same spirit are probably cruising a street near you right now. I wouldn't be surprised if ID-school grads didn't sneak into car styling studios under a flag of convenience to wreak aesthetic damage and play strange mind-games to induce good citizens to spend actual money for the results of their functionality-mongering. One such car (for lack of a better term -- my examples are more van-like station wagons) is the Honda Element. Honda Element. As you can see, the Element is, er, pretty vertical. And it's covered with lots of matte-finish panels that, if nothing else, minimize scratches and other damage from flying rocks and other cars: not a bad thing. The overall impression is that this vehicle isn't comfortable moving at any but the slowest speeds. But maybe that's the way they're actually driven. Another gift to NPR listeners from the land of the rising sun is the Scion xB from Toyota (Scion is a brand Toyota introduced to appeal to a younger clientele than aging buyers of Toyotas). Scion xB. The xB is cut from pretty much the same cloth as the Element. Only it's smaller and perhaps even less aerodynamic. Since aerodynamic efficiency is a factor in increasing fuel efficiency, does this bother enviro-friendly potential buyers? Unless you've been to Europe in recent years you have been spared from seeing what might be the ugliest of the lot -- the Fiat Multipla. Here are some examples. Gallery: Fiat Multipla Multipla 600. This came out in the late 50s. It had a rear-mounted engine and the front seat positioned well to the front. If there was any justice in this world Ralph Nader would have begun his anti-car jihad with this one instead... posted by Donald at March 6, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Support Steve
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know of any writer working today who does a better job of opening up dicey but pressing topics in humane and informed ways than Steve Sailer. Year after year, Steve has been bravely playing the role of the guy who's the first to bring up and examine loaded subjects -- subjects that I have a strong hunch we'll be hearing much more about in coming years. It's a heroic performance he has been putting on. (Steve's latest column is a topnotch example of his hefty and daring work.) Needless to say, it's also an approach to a writing career that is probably pretty thankless in financial terms. Meanwhile, the cautious corporate journalists who take up the subjects Steve initially raised are doing very well for themselves indeed, thank you very much. Which makes it all the more important that those who value Steve's work show their appreciation. Steve is running one of his occasional fund-raising drives right now. If you enjoy and learn from Steve's writing, and especially if you're grateful that he's out there taking the big risks, please visit his website, click on the PayPal button, and send him a donation. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 6, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Products in Fiction
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not much into fiction, but osmosis or delusion tells me that some writers drop product names into their books. I'll assume formal "product placement" hasn't yet made the jump from Hollywood and TV to Fifth Avenue and environs. Rather, my guess is that writers are simply trying to establish a "sense of place" or perhaps a sense of time and place -- usually "today." This is okay by me so long as the novel becomes fishwrap within five years. But what if the writer wants his precious effort to be "immortal"? Seems to me that immortality and naming things don't easily go together. Consider this passage: He gave his open luggage one last scan. What else might be needed on the Continent? Oh yes. He made a pass through the room, tossed in a few boxes of Pear's, Lucifers and Navy Cuts, closed the luggage, shut off the lights and headed downstairs to hail a cab for Waterloo. Did you get all that? Exactly what was added to the luggage at the last moment? And just where was the character heading via the cab? Given the quality of 2Blowhards readership, I'll assume a perfect "4." Just in case, here's a translated version of the nano-drama I concocted: He gave his open luggage one last scan. What else might be needed on the Continent? Oh yes. He made a pass through the room, tossed in a few boxes of soap, matches and cigarettes, closed the luggage, shut off the lights and headed downstairs to hail a cab for the train station. As you probably guessed, the scene was in the London of nearly 100 years ago. "Lucifer" was not a product, but a term used in England at the time for what we would call a "kitchen match." Pear's was a popular scented hand soap. Navy Cut was part of Player's cigarette product line. I suspect most younger Americans, even if college-educated, do not know these details; their inclusion in the first passage would only mystify. Even "Waterloo" could pose a problem to a reader who had never been to London and perhaps even to casual tourists who enter and leave England only by air. True, it was the most likely station to start a journey to France, but this detail adds nothing important to the first narrative, The second version suffices because the reader can assume the unnamed character would be taking the most convenient route unless that wasn't the case, which would then be a plot element. Using product names is dangerous because, over the span of decades, product lines can be abandoned and companies can go out of business (so much for the notion of all-powerful corporations). This is true for brands that seem unassailable. For instance, a Gatsby-like story set in a ritzy 1920s exurb might mention a character owning or being driven up in a Packard automobile. How many younger readers know that, in the 20s, Packards were at... posted by Donald at March 5, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Moviegoing Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Donald's recent posting about how he barely bothers with movies these days has got me thinking about my own movie-watching habits. I think it's natural for movie-watching rates to decline with passing years. Energy flags, for one thing. Plus, many people find that they lose some of their appetite for fiction experiences as time passes. My theory about this: To some extent, fiction is play -- it's both fun and rehearsal for life. The love of fiction is also, to some extent, a function of self-exploration. With age and experience, "fun" per se becomes less important, the rehearsal period comes to an end, and the self recedes in importance. Real life becomes more pressing, as well as more fascinating. Result: a lot of older people reading history and watching nature documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Still, even allowing for age-related changes, the advent of digi-tech is having a dramatic impact on my movie-watching life. Back in fizzy youthful celluloid years, FvB and I were college-buddy movienuts, in love with the medium, gobbling up its history as quickly as we could -- absorbing "the movies" the way a 3 year-old kid absorbs language. Most weeks we managed to see 5 to 7 movies; it wasn't unusual for us to take in two or even three movies in a day. (And this in pre-video days! We both owe a lot to college film societies.) During my young/mid-adult years, I was on screening lists, was buddies with film critics and journalists, and continued to make it to two or three movies a week. These days I'm in a different phase entirely. I love movies, but not in the old ravished-by-the-experience way. I'm curious and comfy where I was once passionate and headstrong. I'm off screening lists, and I'm barely in touch with the filmbuff world. The velocity of my moviewatching has declined a little. But the bigger difference is in where and how I watch. I barely go to movie theaters at all -- probably fewer than a half a dozen times a year. Instead, I rely on the DVR, on Netflix, and on finds from the bargain-DVD bins at Amazon, Blockbuster, and Virgin. (Once the price of a DVD I'm curious about sinks to lower than 10 bucks, I have a hard time resisting the purchase.) God bless big screens. If you're a devoted film-nut, a high-quality TV isn't a luxury, it's an investment. Donald's posting and the comments on it woke me up to a consequence of my new movie-watching habits. It's this: Because I no longer bother with seeing movies at theaters, I no longer follow movie coverage in the newspapers or in the magazines. Picking a movie to watch for me has become a matter of scanning suggestions, links, sales, and IFC schedules. I don't take my lead from what's being released. Instead, I follow my tastes, my interests, and my whims, and I pull the movies I might want to watch from... posted by Michael at March 5, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to The Straight Dope, "Per capita soft drink consumption has doubled since 1970; the typical American currently consumes 56 gallons per year." Pass me another Big Gulp, would you please? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 4, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, March 3, 2006

Art Links of Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- -- The current Weekly Standard has Paul Cantor's review and commentary on American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting by Steven Biel. Cantor has a lot of thought-provoking things to say, so click here and give it a read. Cantor devotes much of his space to political-social issues of the 30s and later, but also gets in some more purely art-oriented licks. For example: More is at stake here than one painter's reputation. In a conflict that Biel sketches but does not thoroughly analyze or try to adjudicate, American Gothic stood at the flashpoint of one of the great aesthetic debates of the 20th century. Attacks on the work were among the opening salvos in the relentless war of the modernist art establishment against representational painting and in favor of abstract expressionism. In the modernist view, this was a battle between a mean-spirited, narrow-minded regionalism and a generous, forward-looking internationalism. But for those, like me, who are skeptical of the preeminent value of abstract expressionism, the battle could be reformulated as an attempt on the part of a single brand of 20th-century painting to erect itself as the one and only authentic form of modern art, while condemning all alternative visions to the realm of inauthenticity and kitsch, to use Clement Greenberg's favorite term of reproach. -- Among the comments on my Isaak Levitan post (here) was one by painter Jacob Collins. Collins wields his brushes amazingly well. Although he attains what can be termed a "high degree of finish" the result is not the overly-painted hard-edge look that often results from straining to be realistic, by trying too hard. I haven't seen Collins' work in person, but if what's on display on his web site is any clue his results are very satisfying. Take a look. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 3, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Bookstores and Sex
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was nosing around a Borders bookstore, surrounded by other busy shoppers, when one of those basic realizations hit me: Book-shopping these days is an awfully ... hygienic affair. Indie bookstores tend to be virtuous, beleaguered, NPR-ish places, while the chain stores are about as full of mystery as a corporate headquarters. Why, back in the day -- OKOKOK, yesyesyes, before I embark on my tiresome nostalgia-jag, I hereby agree that it's a marvelous thing that books are cheaper and more widely-available today than they have ever been in all of human history. I've made exactly this point in arguments with friends when these friends have gotten soppy on me. There's no escaping the improvements. In the old days, for example, the big city near my beloved hick hometown had precisely zero good bookstores. These days, thanks to B&N and Borders, it has a half a dozen excellent bookstores. On balance, of course, this is a much-improved state of affairs. But, still, something important has been lost along the way. The mystery. The poetry, maybe. Something central to both life and art. I'm choosing to call it "sex." Books aren't sexy any longer. Books certainly were sexy when I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, and they still cut an enticing figure in the '70s, when I was in college and grad school. In arty fiction, there was Terry Southern, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, the many Beats, Celine. In the trashy-fiction realms: Mickey Spillane, Harold Robbins, Jackie Susann, Ian Fleming ... These were books that gave off heat, baby: volumes that promised the secrets of life and sometimes even delivered a few of them. When I was a kid, a visit to the library often turned into hours of enraptured reading. The thrill of the hunt (and the capture!) only increased once I was old enough to travel on my own. Now I was able to explore bookstores in big cities and college towns. Dusty, sagging shelves! Graying old Village types! Foreign literature! Art photography! Exchange students in smelly sweaters! The scripts of Off-Off Broadway plays! By the 1970s, the old publishing houses were being bought up by corporations and chain bookstores were starting to dot the landscape. Even so, books still had an allure and a mystique. They could still make the temperature go up and the heart pound. There was mucho dreck and vast oceans of mainstream tediousness to be waded-through or avoided, of course. And for many kids, reading and writing were activities taken part in only because the schools insisted. But for many other kids, books were a wonderland of semi-forbidden, often hard-to-obtain, exotic delights. I consumed trashy blockbusters, sex manuals, my dad's paperback thrillers, and French literature -- they all gave me a thrill. I read from hunger, and I felt grateful for the pleasures and the satisfactions that books delivered. Visual delight wasn't a minor part of this pleasure. Here's a not-unusual paperback book... posted by Michael at March 3, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Watching (Almost No) Movies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't need to convince you that it's very good that Michael set up this blog and churns out post after post after ... Better yet, he has a broad range of interests. Far broader than [ahem] mine. For those of you who don't keep score, I have not written a single post about movies. And for good reason: I almost never watch them any more. As best I remember, these are the movies I saw in theaters over the past two years or so: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire The Incredibles Master and Commander Spiderman 2 Not a long list. Thirty or 40 years ago, it would have been a lot longer. I was never what might be called a film fanatic, but my viewing habits were closer to the norm until I was in my mid-20s. As a kid I saw most Walt Disney movies and those classic John Ford/John Wayne U.S. Cavalry movies plus a lot of other age-appropriate stuff. In the mid-50s MGM released its pre-WW2 library to TV, and I was able to see The Thin Man and other classics on the tube. Towards the end of high school and into college I saw a fair number of foreign art films. This was easy because Seattle had a handful of art houses even back in 1960. One theater (the Varsity) near the University of Washington campus tended to show lots of English movies, which for me meant not-so-arty "Carry-On" fare and Alec Guiness comedies. And in other theaters I got to see some Fernandels along with the more intellectually-respectable Jacques Tati. Not to mention a lot more Ingmar Bergman films than anyone in his right mind should be subjected to. Maybe I figured art films were like distance-running; you have to break through a pain threshold (sorry, Bergman fans ... they were pretty boring to this 20-year-old, though I did sit through them till the end). I continued seeing movies when I was Stateside in the Army because (1) there wasn't a lot else to do and (2) post theater prices were dirt cheap -- 25 cents, I think, back in 1962. My spiral away from movie-watching accelerated during the 80s partly because I was was now a free-lance consultant and didn't have much discretionary money. On the other hand, my TV-viewing also tapered off a lot during this same period. Fast-forward to today. Why don't I go to see many movies and how do I select those I do see? Partly it's price. I'm not inclined to bet even $10 against a movie I'm not sure I'll like. So if I have some doubts, that's usually enough to nix the deal. Another factor is time. Like price, I try to weigh whether a movie is worth 2-3 hours out of my life to see. This means there are actually two costs -- a monetary cost and a time cost. Combined, they rule out nearly all movies... posted by Donald at March 2, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

"Basic Instinct"'s Commentary Tracks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The first time I saw "Basic Instinct" was at a screening in early 1992. What a different moviegoing era it was. At the time, Sharon Stone was a barely-known minor starlet. The movie itself had already, before its release, been the object of all kinds of unpleasant press. Because the screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, had made some multimillion-dollar deals, he was despised by the press as a bad-guy vulgarian who was degrading movie culture. (Between you and me, I think many people in the press were jealous of Eszterhas.) Paul Verhoeven, the film's director, had stirred up lots of strong reactions with his earlier films "Robocop" and "Total Recall." The PC gay and lesbian crowd had obtained "Basic Instinct"'s script, and had decided to protest what they thought was the film's unfair treatment of lesbians. They'd done their best to disrupt shooting in San Francisco, and were continuing to apply pressure as the film's release date approached. Perhaps most amazing of all, none of the media people going into the screening had any idea that Sharon Stone -- er, Sharon Stone's character -- was going to uncross and recross her legs in quite that way. It's safe to say that the people at the screening were primed to be appalled by the movie. They weren't disappointed. The film was outlandish, exciting, stylish, upsetting, and extreme. It was lewd and unrelenting yet sophisticated. Me, I loved it. As far as I was concerned, Michael Douglas had given the Michael Douglas performance to end all Michael Douglas performances. The Ezsterhas script had its holes and couldn't exactly be said to be about anything. But it also had tons of crude drive, and a sneaky and filthy mind. Verhoeven's direction married high gloss with trashy, amoral relish. And Sharon Stone! Who knew she commanded anything like that kind of killer poise and power? Her performance was a classic, one for the film-history books: the pornographic apotheosis of all the self-possessed, scary-erotic blondes who had ever stalked across a movie screen. The media people I chatted with after the screening didn't see the film my way. As far as they were concerned, the film was every bit the un-PC, horrifying and despicable thing that they'd looked forward to. And Sharon Stone? Well, surely I was kidding. I only enjoyed her performance because she had shown her pussy. So you can imagine my quiet pleasure when the film became a big hit. Picture me snickering in smug self-satisfaction as the much-anticipated lesbian outrage failed to materialize. I rejoiced particularly when word emerged that, as far as many lesbians were concerned, the reaction to the film wasn't indignation but rapture. "Butt out, protesting PC gayboys," the lesbians were saying. "Let us enjoy our movie. This Catherine Trammel bitch is one hot mama!" (Please indulge my self-congratulations here, btw. I don't get so many chances to gloat that I'm going to turn one down when it comes along.) I'd been eager for... posted by Michael at March 2, 2006 | perma-link | (28) comments

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael has his "Elsewhere" for miscellaneous items he finds on the Internet. So why not moi? Herewith is the first of occasional posts titled "Bagatelles," from the French bagatelle which can be translated as "a trifle." You have been warned. * Hitting the art section of bookstores is a fascinating book dealing with Bay Area art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The focus is on Arthur Mathews (yes, that's with one "t") and his wife Lucia. The Amazon listing is here but it's for the $65 hardcopy version due out 15 March. I bought the $40 paperback last weekend at a Barnes & Noble. * I'm writing this on Ash Wednesday, first day of Lent. You are supposed to give up something for Lent. Traditionally, I give up Lent for Lent. Feel free to do otherwise. * Ever notice those motorcycles with really high handlebars? (A quick Google session failed to turn up a picture to insert, so you'll have to rely on my description.) Anyway, the handlebars extend so far up that the cyclist's hands are about head-level or perhaps even higher. This strikes be a being highly uncomfortable; how can such a posture be maintained over, say, a 100+ mile trip? Moreover, it seems to me that control would be harder to maintain. I know absolutely zilch about motorcycles, yet those odd handlebars have sparked my curiosity for years. Can Shouting Thomas or other congnoscenti explain the phonomenon? * March 2nd 2005 was when my first 2Blowhards post appeared (see here). So in one sense I've been at it for a year. (The first seven months I was a "guest" and I've been full-time the last five months.) Thanks to Michael and all you readers for putting up with my blathering. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 1, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Gossip and Guys
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When did red-blooded American males become gossip queens? Was it six months ago? Two weeks? Between heroic wrestles with the Renaissance, early modernism, and Rome, FvBlowhard refreshes himself with visits to The Superficial. Another varmint -- the most brawny and swaggering bud I have -- regularly sends friends emails with links to postings that made him giggle at DListed. Me? Well, ever the classicist, I'm couldn't be more thrilled that Page Six can be found online. Where macho het dudes are concerned, is the Web empowering or is it emasculating? Does digital technology free us to do what we've always wanted to do, and to be who we've always wanted to be? Or is the Web like a sci-fi virus, something sinister that's transforming even the beefiest of guy-guys into metrosexuals? And what's your own favorite online gossip site anyway? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 1, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments