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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