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

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher points out a couple of good pieces by the late Christopher ("Culture of Narcissism") Lasch. Here Lasch explains what's wrong with the left. Here he dumps on the right. Eviscerate 'em both -- now that's political commentating I can get behind. Great passage: The left, which until recently has regarded itself as the voice of the "forgotten man," has lost the common touch. Failing to create a popular consensus in favor of its policies, the left has relied on the courts, the federal bureaucracy, and the media to achieve its goals of racial integration, affirmative action, and economic equality. Ever since World War II, it has used essentially undemocratic means to achieve democratic ends, and it has paid the price for this evasive strategy in the loss of public confidence and support. Increasingly isolated from popular opinion, liberals and social democrats attempt to explain away opposition to economic equality as "working class authoritarianism," status anxiety, resentment, "white racism," male chauvinism, and proto-fascism. The left sees nothing but bigotry and superstition in the popular defense of the family or in popular attitudes regarding abortion, crime, busing, and the school curriculum. The left no longer stands for common sense, as it did in the days of Tom Paine. It has come to regard common sense -- the traditional wisdom and folkways of the community -- as an obstacle to progress and enlightenment. Because it equates tradition with prejudice, it finds itself increasingly unable to converse with ordinary people in their common language. Increasingly it speaks its own jargon, the therapeutic jargon of social science and the service professions that seems to serve mostly to deny what everybody knows. My own favorite Lasch book is this one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

"The Sicilian"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have many filmmakers had careers as peculiar as Michael Cimino's? Cimino started out with a bang. A degree from Yale ... A successful career making TV commercials ... A move to Hollywood that resulted in script sales and a job directing a Clint Eastwood movie ... In 1978, Cimino made a Vietnam epic entitled "The Deer Hunter." The film was a genuine triumph for him. Many people found it to be a beauty; they were moved by it; they took its themes as large statements. Journalists and critics debated the film over and over again. It was a sensation; organizations showered it with awards. Amidst all the respectful controversy and the genuine passions, one thing seemed indisputable: A new Major Filmmaker was among us, one who was set to go on to ever greater things. Move aside, Marty. Make room, Francis. Ever since, though, Cimino has done nothing but stumble. His overblown, cocaine-and-ego-fueled Marxist Western "Heaven's Gate" earned a place in the film-history books as a landmark fiasco. It was a critical disaster, and was so expensive yet unpopular with the public that its failure brought down the studio that produced it. "Heaven's Gate" is even sometimes said to have put the definitive end to America's '70s "personal filmmaking" era. Here's a clip from the film. That's a lot of large-scale, elegiac filmmakin' for the sake of very little in the way of story or character. Cimino licked his wounds for a few years. When he returned in 1985, it was with an Oliver-Stone-scripted Chinatown cop thriller, "Year of the Dragon," that was clearly intended to establish his bona fides as a filmmaker who could work on schedule and on budget. Yet, although the film did OK with the public and was nothing if not convincingly professional, Cimino himself didn't really bounce back. The mojo was gone. The critics stopped making a case for him. The public stopped caring. The movie world generally had moved on too, into the post-great-filmmaker era. Cimino -- nothing if not a great filmmaker wannabe -- has since dribbled out a movie every five years or so, to wider and wider yawns. When "Sunchaser" was released in 1996, hardly anyone noticed. Michael Cimino had been swept under the rug. As far as I can tell, Cimino these days spends his time accepting awards from the French -- the French think "Heaven's Gate" is a masterpiece -- and getting his body and face retooled. He hasn't made a film since "Sunchaser." Perverse creature that I am, my own feelings about Cimino have followed the exact opposite direction. I didn't care for "The Deer Hunter"; it struck me as a bloated, draggy crock. But I've grown very fond of his work since. I'm hardly a fanatic, but watching a Cimino film is something I really look foward to. They're so over the top and full of themselves that I watch them in a state of transfixed and awestruck happiness, much the... posted by Michael at July 15, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bum Bum Bum Bum
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Scott Esposito turns up a dynamite YouTube discovery: videos of the very commanding Herbert van Karajan conducting Beethoven's 5th (part one, part two). Great piledriving-yet-noble stuff, if not easy to make use of as background music. Scott himself recently turned in a smart and helpful appreciation of Nabokov's "Pale Fire," as well as a couple of other experimental works. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

WhiskyPrajer's 15 Faves
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- DarkoV issues the challenge and WhiskyPrajer steps up to the plate! WP is currently reviewing his 15 favorite movies. It's a good, idiosyncratic list -- "Star Wars" is right there, but it's next to "The Filth and the Fury," which is next to "Gidget." (If 'fessing up to loving "Gidget" doesn't take some courage, I don't know what does.) And it's a list that makes no boring pretence to be a best-of list -- we've had enough of those for a while, no? WhiskyPrajer keeps his writing modest and personal. "My only criteria for these fifteen," writes WP, "is their watchability factor -- in other words, these will be movies I don't hesitate to turn on and watch yet again." Which means that reading his postings isn't another wade through someone's opinions; it's more like reading a memoir, or maybe a passage from Nick Hornby. Great sentence (re "Gidget"!): "Think of those heady, crazy days when the two of you were so insanely in love, you were convinced you weren't just beating the odds but breaking the law." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The world's best pickup lines. * Thanks to Dave Lull for pointing out this absorbing Village Voice article by Kathryn Belgiorno about a Dahn yoga devotee who died in the desert while training to be a "master." Is Dahn yoga a cult? Sounds like it might be. I don't know why, but I love stories about cults ... * Rajeev has some bad news about Pakistan. * First Bill Clinton appears on MTV. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel is interviewed by the Xolo videoblog. Fun to see that Merkel is a videoblogger herself. Even funner to imagine the networks squirming. * The history of Page Three girls. * DesignObserver's Michael Bierut -- a partner in the hot-hot-hot design firm Pentagram -- is enlightening, frank, and sensible in a two-part interview with Peter Merholz. * I confess that I never really knew what the Yiddish verb "to plotz" means. Humid Cedar enlightens. * Do you really have to strap on the Nikes to stay fit? Citrus wonders if keeping busy with chores doesn't make a lot more sense, and wouldn't be just as effective. * Talk about unintended consequences! * Half family tree-maker, half Flickr-like photo-album displayer, Amiglia is a piece of Web 2.0 magic that delivers a taste of what life will be like when, one day, we really are all connected. * Paul Asad links to a lot of Milton Friedman resources. * Camera in hand, Searchie takes a walk through Greenwich Village and is reminded of other great neighborhoods she has known. * Udolpho has just about had it with geeks. * Should pop music be more gay than it is? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- For all the thigh, tummy, tattoo-ink, and buttcrack they put on display, today's mid-American girls are apparently as prim (or almost as prim) as ever. A fun recent article in the NYTimes (not online) reports that -- although many middle-class girls get a kick out of dressing "skanky" and calling each other "slut" -- they worry as much as ever about how far to go, and about their reputations. But if the Anna K./Britney mall crowd is one thing, the bohemian set is another -- far more determined to explore possibilities, and much more eager to live their fantasies out. What with computers making porn well-nigh inescapable ... What with popular culture being as lewd as it has become ... What with everyone having grown tired of joyless, partyline feminism ... What with, in short, life having turned into one big sexual cornucopia, many of today's downtown arty kids are responding by pressing pedal to the metal. A few examples: The neo-burlesque scene. (Here's the website of Nasty Canasta, one of my fave neo-burlesque performers.) Natacha Merritt's photo project "Digital Diaries," which chronicles her sex life. Burning Angel, an outfit that makes boho, alt-porn movies. The alt-porn outfit Suicide Girls showcases self-motivated naked girls sporting tattoos and attitude galore -- 2Blowhards' very own Confessions of a Naked Model correspondent Molly Crabapple was a Suicide Girl for a while. (Here's one of Molly's columns for us; here's another.) Molly also takes part in the burlesque scene as a performer, and she sponsors a series of life-drawing evenings where no one pretends that the model's nakedness isn't hot. The main ideas behind a lot of this activity are 1) It's fun to be sexual, 2) Mainstream porn is borrrrrrrring, and 3) So long as I'm making my own choices, no one is being exploited. Setting aside worries about whether this activity represents a good or a bad development, I've often found myself thinking that some of today's most provocative edgy art comes from these fields, perhaps especially the post-camp performance-art/reality-video webprojects. The trailblazing webcam girls -- JenniCam, Anna Voog, and (my own favorite) Isabella@Home -- created happenings that raised many interesting (and maybe unanswerable) Warholian questions. The more recent Beautiful Agony is a fascinating project too: an ever-growing collection of videoclips of people (mostly young and pierced) masturbating to orgasm. Nothing is on explicit visual display -- the camera focuses on head and shoulders, no more. And -- since the self-pleasurers are videotaping themselves and there's no cigar-smoking smut-mogul around to make your skin crawl -- you watch the show feeling free to enjoy the eye-and-ear candy, and to let your brains play with arty questions. Can we call what these people are creating avant-garde art? God knows they're expressing themselves, and god knows they're creating something. But perhaps the "art" is more in the concept? ... Here's an interview with Richard Lawrence, the brains behind Beautiful Agony and its (equally brilliant, IMHO) sister sites, I... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Lab Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to MD, "pathologists are notorious for bad dressing." According to Derek Lowe, the labs chemists work in aren't glowy, colorful and glinty, or lit like a Jerry Bruckheimer tv series, the way they're so often portrayed in magazines and promotional materials. "This is addressed to all professional photographers," Derek writes: "Please, no more colored spotlights." A question for the professional-science types out there? Has there been a book or a movie that has done a good and fair job of presenting the science life as you've experienced it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Doin' the Dental Drill
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Buck up, pessimists. Life actually does get better at times. I returned from the dentist just before starting to draft this article. It was the first phase of putting in a crown. Many over-50 readers are familiar with that "drill" (har, har). The dentist grinds the tooth down to near the gum line, impressions are taken, and a temporary crown is attached. A couple of weeks later the final crown arrives from the lab and replaces the temporary one to complete the second phase. What I found interesting was how quick the procedure was. Based on previous crown-jobs, I figured I might be in the chair for an hour and a quarter. But I was there for only 45 minutes! My dentist seems to be one of those souls who keeps up with the times technologically, so I'm surprised by some new gizmo or procedure almost every time I visit. For instance, he had a headband-mounted spotlight to supplement the regular dental lamp. Okay, he'd worn those before. But this time it had a blue-ish beam like those European car headlights you sometimes see. The drill holder was a streamlined affair and short: perhaps four inches long. And little yellow lights came on when the tiny electric motor was running. This drill was what got me to thinking. I got to thinking about dentist's drills past. Back in the 1940s I had my baby teeth filled way more than once. (Seattle's water was soft as could be, coming from snow-melt. No minerals to speak of. No fluoride either, because in the 40s and 50s fluoride was a Commie plot to poison everyone. By the 80s fluoride became a right-wing plot. Conclusion: fluoride is the result of a plot.) So my teeth were lousy and I went to the dentist a lot. Dental drills in those days were also powered by electric motors, but motors that were many times larger than now. The drill motor was mounted several feet away from the drill itself, perhaps in the base of the drill contraption. Rotation of the drill bit was imparted via a series of thin belts mounted on wheels about an inch in diameter. There were two or three sets of belts, one per segment of an arm that allowed the dentist to position the drill and its approximately six-inch long holder at the patient's mouth. By today's standards, those drills were slow. I remember times when the dentist was using a large drill to rough out the hole; I thought I could almost count the drill's rotations. Awful. High-speed drills were on the scene by the 1960s and marked a huge improvement over the belt-driven variety. For one thing they cut vibration, making drilling less painful. Other changes in dental technology have been more subtle, and I welcome readers with dental training of any sort to hop into Comments with interesting details. One thing I've noticed is that rubber mouth dams seem to be used... posted by Donald at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

More Fat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On a plane flight back to NYC from a recent vacation, I read Greg Critser's "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World." Strangely, it was on another recent plane flight back to NYC that I read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," which I blogged about here and here. Why do I read books about fast food and fat when returning via airplane to NYC? The only reason I can think of is that, when I'm outside NYC, I'm so struck by the fast-food-and-fat thing that I have no choice but to, er, digest my impressions on the way back home. Quick verdict: "Fat Land" is OK-to-pretty good. Greg Critser clearly wants to scare and mobilize -- more specifically, he wants Americans to be eating lots of greens and doing a lot of cardio-style exercise. Critser doesn't have quite the firebreathing flair that Eric Schlosser does, but he gets the job done. (A pause for a small rant. Like "Fast Food Nation," "Fat Land" would have been a lot better -- IMHO, of course -- as a long magazine article than as a book. How many readers really need all the "narrative" -- the scene-setting, the personalities, the on-sceners, the behind-the-sceners, the drama? Here's hoping we'll have to put up with less of this in the future. One of the great things about electronic publishing is that it's so much more elastic than print -- especially book-bound print -- is. An electronic project can be as long as it needs to be and no longer: three paragraphs is fine, and so is 70 pages -- no need for padding-out just to fill up a book. I'm avoiding all jokes about how overweight both Schlosser's and Critser's books are.) So how did Americans become so fat? Critser's argument is that it all comes down to the corn (as in high-fructose corn syrup) ... and the Nixon administration, which fought stagflation by loosening up food markets ... and, as far as I can tell, the free market more generally. If only corn weren't so darned plentiful and so darned cheap. And if only fast-food operations weren't quite so intent on making money. I oversimplify, of course, but that's roughly it. Parents grew more permissive about kids' eating habits ... Schools started making deals with fast-food chains ... TVs and computers seduced us into inactivity ... And here we are today, lumbering aroud in pyjama-like stretch clothes and wondering what happened to us. Some eye-catching facts: In the 1970s, Americans spent 25% of their food budget on what's known as "food away from home." By the late 1990s, that figure passed 40%. In 1977, fast food joints accounted for 3% of total American calories consumed. By 1997, that figure was 12%. Between 1966 and 1994, the obesity rate among kids jumped from 7 percent to 22 percent. The rate of overweight and obesity was relatively stable in the US for decades -- until the... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

More Egg on Harvard's Face
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen links to an in-depth, now-it-can-be-told Boston Magazine account of the Harvard/Lawrence Summers mess. This morning's WSJ (not online as far as I can tell) reports that Summers' resignation has had a big impact on the school's fund-raising attempts. So far, $390 million dollars in promised donations have been withheld by Summers-supporting fatcats. My own take on the whole affair has been to dodge the usual men/women/science debate and to let fly with a great big Yippee! Any time Harvard makes itself looks foolish, it's good for the nation. Best, Michael BTW, for anyone who was in the slightest doubt that the Ivies are, shall we say, overrepresented in the big-city media world ...... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

It Just Leapt Out of Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Communicatrix bravely 'fesses up to her preferred swear-words. Funny stuff, as well as sweetly personal. As Colleen notes about one of her goofier faves, "Honestly, I have no idea how I came up with this one." Which prompts a question that has interested me for years: Where do the expostulatives we're prone to use come from? How do we settle on the funny/sexy/absurd vocabulary we use when we swear? Or, for another example, during sex? God knows that we aren't usually taught how to swear or how to make erotic-passion grunting-gasping talk, at least not by the usual responsible authority figures. Maybe it's that we get exposed to these lexicons somehow ... Our emotions and appetites somehow zero in on a few ... Our imaginations somehow do their embroidery-thing ... And then, when the provocation arises and the impromptu moment comes along, these crazy, often unexpected words pop out of us. Is there such a thing as a vocabulary of the unconscious? I won't make anyone cringe by exposing my usual (and alas banal) erotic-passion vocabulary, but I will risk a little embarrassment by volunteering the words that my unconscious has settled on in another field -- as fond nicknames for the beloved Wife: Babypie, Sweetness, Sweetiepie, and Lovebug. Honeybunch and Cutiepie make the occasional appearance, but are definitely not first-string players. I didn't try to come up with these silly words; as I got to know The Wife, they just started leaping out of me, feeling completely appropriate as they did so. What are some of your own unconscious' preferred words and phrases? Do you have any idea where they came from? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

India? Brazil?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex is looking for a good, David Hackett Fischer-ish intro to India, and one to Brazil as well. I'll second him and add: I'd like good, short Fischer-ish intros to both countries. Oh, and it'd be nice if they were available as audiobooks. Abridged editions would suit me fine. And preferably read by Charlton Griffin. Can anyone offer recommendations? Those who enjoy ChicagoBoyz shouldn't overlook Lex's other web hangout, Albion's Seedlings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Glycemic Index and Diabetes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The BBC reports that early infections may affect your likeliness to develop diabetes. (Link thanks to Dave Lull and Mary Scriver. Check out Mary's recent posting about having her eyes examined; she gives a very convincing demo of how much a real writer can do with a little.) Dave Lull tells me that he has been having weight-loss luck by following a low-GI diet. Here are a couple of links that Dave has found helpful. The low-GI diet is often said to be helpful in dealing with diabetes. Wikipedia's entry on the GI diet seems responsible and helpful. I wrote about Michel Montignac's "French Diet" (basically a low-GI way of eating) here. I've found Montignac's plan easy to follow and very effective. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Steve on Economists and Extended Families
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer is on another one of his hot streaks. Here and here, he argues that economists undervalue how much people tend to behave like members of extended families. Here he dismantles a dumb piece by the NYTimes' Tony Horwitz and gives an informative lesson in California history while doing so. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

More on Lit Fic
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The whole "literary fiction" thing, eh? What a ... confounding phenomenon. Is the term "literary fiction" a sign that we ought to pay attention and offer respect? Or is it merely a label for pretentious books that are too high-falutin' to bother delivering engaging and absorbing plots? In a piece he shared with us not long ago, the western novelist Richard S. Wheeler noted that, when he was growing up, no such thing as a contrast between "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" existed. A fiction-book might be more or less refined, but they all existed on the same fiction continuum. So what's with this lit-fic thing anyway? Maybe it's all a great big ... Anyway, I was surfing Wikipedia the other day and was made very happy when I read their entry on literary fiction. Fun passage: Literary fiction is a somewhat uneasy term that has come into common usage since around 1970, principally to distinguish 'serious' fiction (i.e. work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction. In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the 'pageturner') focuses more on narrative and plot. 1970 ... Hmmm. That would be right about when the creative-writing schools started to make an impact on book publishing ... England's sensible Robert McCrum (in a piece about BZ Myers' infamous anti-lit fic rant "A Reader's Manifesto") is similarly straightforward and frank: Nowhere has literary fiction been more fiercely entrenched than the United States. Here, the establishment I've described has been reinforced by a network of creative-writing communities, from Iowa to Yaddo, each devoted to turning out publishable examples of literary fiction. I just ran across another piece -- dating back to a 1993 issue of England's irreverent The Modern Review -- that points out another element in the equation: changes in the structure and makeup of the book-publishing biz. Characteristic passage: One useful way of thinking of this kind of literature [ie., "literary fiction"] is as a category that won't admit it's a category ... The fantasy is that the culture of books is guided by people of talent and taste, and that while decency may not always prevail, it has a fighting chance. But the fact is that trade publishing is now run almost entirely on the business' terms. The rout began about 15 years ago is now close to complete. Trade publishing is a thoroughly professionalized world. Publishing lists are constructed under the same kind of constraints and with the same kind of conceptualizing-editor guidance (and interference) that glossy magazines are, and the fiction writers who contribute their work to these lists tend to have an academic preparation comparable to that of contemporary journalists and business people. It appears that word may finally be getting out to the public at large that -- despite its intending-to-awe name -- "literary fiction" represents nothing more than another shelf in your local bookstore's... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Help!! I Just Bought a Macintosh!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- After 23 years of owning Microsoft/Intel based computers I finally bit the bullet, er, make that the Apple. Time was I regarded Apples as hippy-dippy, non-serious machines. Which they largely were if your computing needs called for serious number-crunching and the ability to deliver data to corporate clients. But times and circumstances change. I dropped my data business after the Germans took over my then-biggest client, Chrysler (my contacts disappeared). Now I'm about to retire and don't see much reason to pursue demographics further. That means I don't need a big, honkin' number-smashing machine that knows how to speak APL and J. For its part, Apple Computer came to its senses and ditched their old CPU and went to Intel. That move means Macintoshes can run software with Intel-style byte-structure without having to emulate; the practical result is a big speed-up for such tasks. Moreover, Macs are getting the capability of running Windows as a separate, partitioned operating system. Furthermore, I now see the need for having a portable computer. Well, okay, I've seen the need for some time. But I couldn't justify the cost of getting one, especially if I needed a semblance of the power I required for my desktop machine. Powerful laptop computers have always been comparatively pricey. This consideration has been erased by my change in focus from demography; now I need a computer for blogging, other Internet use, and light writing and spreadsheet work. Finally, I had dissatisfaction with Dell and, by extension other Windows/Intel computers. Thus far this year I've spent $140 on virus-removal, half of it related to a short non-protected period when I had to rebuild my operating system and software following replacement of a defunct hard drive. And when I bought a flat-panel monitor (that proved to be slightly defective) I spent hours on the phone with Dell trying to straighten things out. (Now that Dell is a huge company, it is highly bureaucratized. Worse, its phone-tree system makes it difficult to get help with non-standard problems. In past years, I had been happy with Dell: no longer.) The Mac I bought was the bottom-of-the line MacBook. It won't replace the Dell, not at first anyway. The fancier Intel-based Mac portables seemed too expensive, and the MacBook, in theory, ought to be able to serve my modest needs. (I'm not into computationally-intensive activities such as video or gaming.) Besides the basic computer, I got an HP scanner/printer that should make it more convenient to get certain illustrations into this blog (till now, I had to plead with my sister to scan some stuff). I also bought a two-button mouse, thinking that I might need it if I get the Windows-partitioning software. Also, I think a mouse would be handier when a desktop was available, when not in literal lap-top mode. And I bought the Microsoft Office software package for compatibility with the Dell. I can download the J language to the Mac too, I think.... posted by Donald at July 11, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

On His Own, Man Lives Like a Beast
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why yes, the Missus has been out of town for a week. How did you know? (Actual unretouched photograph of the current state of the Blowhard family dining table. When The Wife is around, it's maintained in a state of perfect bare black.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to John Massengale, who points a piece that dares to ask the question, Whatever happened to Male Space in the home?... posted by Michael at July 11, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, July 10, 2006

Googling on Oneself
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- C'mon. Admit it. Once upon a time -- let's say it was at the office on a Friday afternoon when it was 20 minutes before quitting time and you were totally bored out of your skull -- you hopped on the Internet, called up Google and proceeded to Google yourself. Andy Warhol's famous remark about everyone getting their "15 minutes of fame" predates the Internet, so perhaps he was thinking of being above the fold on page A1 of The New York Times. Or maybe anywhere in People magazine (hope they spelled the person's name correctly -- that's what counts). That was then. Now our/your/their fame can be quantified (something that brings a sprig of joy to my data-loving heart). All you have to do after Googling yourself is look at the upper-right part of the report Google sends back for an approximate number of citations the system found for your query. Okay, not all hits refer to you. But you can skim through a couple of screens to get an idea as to what share of them were truly yours. Back before I was (ahem) raised to Blowhard-dom, I boasted 50-ish citations total from various permutations of my name. These were mostly from references to web-based government publications, some articles I wrote in reference to computer languages, and a few references to a book I wrote ages ago. As I started writing this I Googled on "Donald Pittenger" and got 739 hits. Most of the ones from the first few pages were indeed references to me, mostly having to do with blog posts. A check on a later page turned up a larger proportion of Donald Pittengers who aren't (or weren't) me. "Don Pittenger" turned up 104 hits, but not many had to do with me. On the other hand, "Donald B. Pittenger" yielded a princely 14 hits, nearly all mine, mine, mine. Excited by results of my quest, I Googled the other main Blowhards. Michael got an astonishing 52,600 hits. Then I tried his real name and turned up more than 800: the guy really gets around. Friedrich yielded 12,800. I suppose I should be jealous, but he's smarter than I am and writes (mostly) about weighty topics instead of the silly stuff I often churn out. So of course the Internet gives him greater fame. (Friedrich's real name is a fairly common one so it got almost 100,000 hits, none on the first page or two seemed to have to do with him.) Conclusions? Apparently the new path to world conquest, fame-wise, involves having a blog presence (though I suppose hiring a good public relations consultant still wouldn't do you any harm). But even (Internet-) innocent bystanders can get swept up by Google's tentacles. My wife and children got a few hits even though they don't blog (though my son has a Web site). What do you think about Web fame? Eat it up? Recoil in horror? Castigate it publicly yet... posted by Donald at July 10, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Peripheral artists (6): George Henry and E.A. Hornel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Continuing my series on artists at the edges of both Europe and the Paris-centric narrative of art history, we jump westward from Finland and Russia to Scotland. (For some reason, the phrase "peripheral artists" drives some readers nuts. My feeble defense is here.) Around 1885 (plus/minus 10 years or so) there emerged a group of artists with ties to Glasgow who tended to be anti-establishment [yawn] and influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84), about whom I wrote here, and J. M. Whistler. These artists became known as the "Glasgow Boys." I plan to write about more of the Boys, but will start with two comparative latecomers to the group. Why two? Because they jointly worked on a painting that greatly interested me when I first spotted it in a book about architect Charles Rennie Macintosh and his milieu. I was so impressed that it became a reason to visit Glasgow a few years ago (the prime reason being to see Macintosh's Glasgow School of Art building). The artists are George Henry (1858-1943) and E.A. (Edward Atkinson) Hornel (1864-1933). Henry was born in Ayrshire, but said little about his early life. He went on to study for a while at the Glasgow School of Art. He met Hornel in 1885, Hornel convincing him to spend time at Hornel's Kirkcudbright, Galloway haunts. There they did a good deal of work including two paintings that were done jointly. Henry and Hornel visited Japan for a year and a half in 1893-4, subsidized by an art dealer. Unfortunately, most of Henry's oil paintings, not yet dried (the curse of working in the medium), were ruined aboard the ship on their return trip; his watercolors survived, however. After 1900 Henry moved to London and became a portrait painter. Hornel was born in Australia while his parents were briefly living there before returning to Kirkculbright. Not satisfied with his art school training in Glasgow, he went to Antwerp to study under Karl Verlat. Following his association with Henry, noted above, Hornel found prosperity painting increasingly innocuous pictures of young girls in woodland settings. For more details on his career and work, see here. The following observations are by Roger Billcliffe in his book The Glasgow Boys. In reference to a 1887 Hornel painting, Billcliffe states (p. 194): There is a stronger sense of design and pattern in the composition and the beginnings of Hornel's fascination with an enclosed subject. There is no indication of a horizon but a strong feeling of the claustrophobic enclosure of a dense wood. ... It is the beginning of a Glasgow School concern for pattern, colour and design in composition that was dubbed by several London critics in the 1890s 'the Persian carpet school'. On pages 236-37: ...the most common factor in their work of those years [Henry and Hornel, about 1885-86] is the creation of a confined space within which the figures and animals in these paintings exist. Using a woodland setting both artists dispensed... posted by Donald at July 9, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments