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  1. Nikos' New Book
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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Nikos' New Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm delighted to pass along the news that a new book by my friend and intellectual hero Nikos Salingaros is now available. For people who have begun visiting this blog only recently, a word of explanation. A conviction that I think all Blowhards share is that the fine arts in America have gone badly off the rails in recent decades. Though I "get it," though I enjoy occasional examples of it (Joe Brainard! Jeff Koons' puppy!), and though I'm often eager to endorse weirdo-ness and experiments, it's just plain bizarre how specialized, antagonistic, and off-kilter fine-art-making generally has become. Who but brainwashed insiders can care about much of this stuff? And why shouldn't civilians throw mud while muttering bitterly about turncoat elites? How did this state of affairs come about? After all, the usual thing is for the fine arts to crown, extend, and complete culture more generally, not to outrage and betray it. One of many plausible explanations is that the fine-arts world has been led astray by politically-motivated thinking and theory, much of it of a seductive, French-derived, chic-academic, wheel-spinning nature. So one of the things we like to do at this blog is to celebrate the contemporary thinkers who seem to us to put the fine arts back on more solid footing -- from philosophers like Denis Dutton to literary types like Frederick Turner to anthropologists like Ellen Dissanayake to evo-bio cats like Steven Pinker to architectural thinkers like Christopher Alexander and Leon Krier. Even among this high-powered crowd, Nikos Salingaros is a standout and a special case. He's a University of Texas mathematician who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander and who has become a major architecture-and-urbanism thinker in his own right. A hyper-civilized guy, responsive to and knowledgeable about the arts, he's appalled by fraudulent and destructive culture-thinking. Nikos is urbane and witheringly funny when he examines what passes for contemporary architecture theory, for example. How can such utter nonsense possess and transfix so many? He has an intriguing theory about that too. But Nikos isn't just a devastating critic of folly. He has also made profound contributions. Though he's aligned in many ways with the New Classicists -- his book has an introduction by the New Classicism fan, the Prince of Wales -- Nikos's own urgings are, like those of Christopher Alexander, style-independent, and should be of great use to any designer, patron, or township. How can ornament be justifed, and why is it necessary? What are the ratios and hierarchies that promote neighborliness and beauty? What is it about our biological nature -- perhaps even about the nature of matter itself -- that makes us feel one thing in the presence of one kind of structure and something else in the presence of another? "A Theory of Architecture," Nikos' new book, is on its most basic level a textbook for architecture students. Slim, witty, and thorough -- as well as sophisticated-yet-accessible (a favorite combo of mine) --... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Francis on Manship, Columbia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some visitors may not know that occasional Blowhard Francis Morrone has a regular gig at The New York Sun, where he covers architecture, neighborhoods, and, occasionally, art. It's always worth searching out Francis' work, of course; he's one of the very best out there. But he's in especially good form in the current issue of the Sun. Here he writes a clear-eyed appreciation of the mid-century, kinda-modernist / kinda-traditionalist sculptor Paul Manship; and here he's eloquent and informative on the contributions of architect and planner Charles Follen McKim to the campus of Columbia University. Francis also writes for The Classicist, the blog of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America. In a current posting, he reviews Time Out's recent guide to the Best Blocks in New York City. A first-rate passage: What stands out is that the Time Out kids' choice of the best blocks included not one that is identified by modernist buildings -- indeed, scarcely one that even has a modernist building on it. This article was not written by architectural ideologues. In fact, the people who wrote it may very well think Zaha Hadid is cool, or they may very well, had they ranked 50 buildings rather than 50 blocks, have included plenty of modernist stuff. But the striking thing is that this is an article about where people actually, truly want to live. And isn't that a beautiful example of the kind of approach to the arts that welike to promote around here! Forget the eager fools who write propaganda for the chic-starchitecture industry, and for whom architecture and urbanism are little but excuses for "I'm more radical than you" design-chat. On a regular basis, Francis offers generous and rewarding heaps of the real thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Bad Cellphone Behavior
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another poll! Which is more reprehensible: The person who talks on his/her cellphone ... While at a busy ATM stop? While executing a transaction with a cashier? Or while in a crowded elevator? Nate Davis blogged about what it's like to be the cashier when your customer is on the cellphone. I wrote about the different ways men and women use cellphones here; I bitched about the ways cellphones promote self-centered behavior here and here; and I praised the cellphone thriller "Cellular" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Friday, November 3, 2006

Godard Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jean-Luc Godard -- earth-shaking genius or perpetually annoying loose tooth? The artist as a radical young pistol What remains today ... * Raoul Coutard, the cinematographer who shot many of the films of Godard's glory years, tells the Guardian that Jean-Luc was prone to temper tantrums. A talented boy, clearly, but also one seriously spoiled brat. (I've often wondered if Godard didn't spend the '60s on speed.) A funny passage from the very caustic Coutard: After finishing Weekend in 1967, Godard made a dramatic announcement. "Jean-Luc rang and asked me to come over," Coutard says. "When I arrived at his apartment, he said to me, 'I've had a revelation. I am a Marxist-Leninist so I can no longer make films with capitalist money.' Actually, it is the leftists who rip you off. If you want to get paid, you work for a good capitalist company, like Gaumont." * IMDB informs me that Coutard recently turned 82 years old. Godard himself will soon turn 76. * Here's a 1973 talk with Godard. Always a peculiar guy, he has a deranged and robotic quality in this interview. Related to the fact that he was in the midst of his Marxist-Leninist phase? * Here's some fascinating if choppy 1980s footage from an interview with Godard and his onetime muse / girlfriend Anna Karina. And doesn't she seem like a hyperdramatic handful! Even so, Karina looks rightly hurt and reproachful as Jean-Luc talks about their life and collaboration in rather callous terms. Finally she gets up in tears and leaves. Looking all too human -- like every guy who has ever stepped on a woman's toes, in fact -- Jean-Luc wears a frozen, defensive, and abashed expression. Asshole! * I wrote about Godard's recent "In Praise of Love" here. This guy's overview of Godard's 1980s work isn't too bad. * Anne Thompson points out that Godard's hard-to-find '60s classic "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" -- a film many Godard buffs consider his best -- will be screening in a new 35 mm print in Los Angeles in late December. * Unrelated but what the heck: Anne links to this hilarious remix of Babs' immortal "STFU." If there's justice in the world, it'll be Streisand's biggest hit in years. * If you've never had the pleasure but are curious about the Godard thang, let me suggest starting with this movie, and then moving on to this one. There's good reason for even squaresville film fans to taste-test Godard. His experiments, while often annoying, were often fascinating, beautiful, and moving too. And, highbrow and radical though he often is, he has been one of the most influential of filmmakers where popular culture is concerned. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a fan, and even named his own production company after this Godard movie. But exercise caution, please. Godard's movies can be like a seductive drug, one that feels blissful but that consumes your brain and transforms you into... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

More on Seduction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's GC has let himself be coaxed into further discussions of connecting-with-chix techniques. His remarks -- complete with tips, links, and scorecards -- can be enjoyed (and/or gawked-at) in the comments thread on this posting. Me, I tend to think that a close reading of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is all that's really necessary to begin enjoying the game of love. Even a whirl through the Stephen Frears film can help you find the rhythm. ($10.88 for the DVD -- how can you beat that?) OK, bonus points for every week you actually spend in France. But is anything more than that really needed? But maybe I've settled for too little ... Best, Michael UPDATE: You can get a little taste of The Game by watching the short video on this page. To my surprise, I find myself thinking, "It actually does seem kinda plausible and helpful. I'm offended by the idea of turning seduction into an aggressive, by-the-numbers method. But maybe that's just a stupid principle I'm hung up on. What the heck, y'know? Maybe most guys could benefit from a little seduction boot camp. Maybe many girls would appreciate it if we sharpened our skills up." How do you react? UPDATE 2: Glen Raphael links to a hilarious how-to (and how-not-to) video.... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Two Wheels
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some people are really good at balancing on two wheels! Hard to choose, but I think my favorite may be the guy with the big mirror. Or maybe the one carrying the car body. But the guy transporting the cage full of pigs is pretty impressive too ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Derbyshire confesses that he has given up on Christianity and become a Colin McGinn-style Mysterian. Rod Dreher, who experienced his own religious crisis recently, comments. * The well-groomed, everything-goes-with-everything-else modern woman needs this product. * Keely has a plausible theory about what has made her so popular. (NSFW) * Thanks to Scott Chaffin for pointing out these astounding photos. * Here's a lovely waste of good money: How about using Federal funds to try to prevent people in their 20s from having sex? * Jazz fans will be in pig heaven exploring the videos uploaded -- 556 so far! -- by Bob Erwig. Clark Terry, Bud Powell, George Shearing, Buck Clayton ... And I've only worked my way through the first 20 of them. I'm now Bob's 449th subscriber. * Larry Auster calls Tamar Jacoby a "liar." * QuietBubble turns 30 and treats himself to a special meal. * Helen can't see that "The Devil Wears Prada" is up to much. * Shouting Thomas has begun working out at a new gym. * If you don't record the act on video, then what's the point of doing it at all? (Extra NSFW) * One of the day's sadder ironies ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (30) comments

Patrick Allitt's "The American Identity"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote back here about how much I enjoyed Patrick Allitt's Teaching Company lecture series "American Religious History." It's a wild and eye-opening tale that Allitt delivers in a beguilingly calm yet amused way. I've just finished another one of his Teaching Company courses, "The American Identity," and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much. This is another zesty and offbeat cruise through American history. The course consists of 48 30-minute lectures. All but a couple of them are self-contained biographies of various American figures, beginning with John Smith in the 1600s and ending in the present day with Jesse Jackson. The subjects are deliberately all over the map. They range from textbook standards like Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass to less familiar figures like Edwin Ruffin (a defender of slavery) and Mother Anne Lee, an early religious leader. Small warning: I'm anything but a history nut, let alone the kind of he-man who who plows through fat yellowing tomes like a hungry prisoner through a banquet. If you want deep-think from substantial people, let me recommend the postings of my co-blogger Friedrich von Blowhard (use the Search box in the left-hand column of this blog), as well as many postings on ChicagoBoyz. James McCormick especially has a gift for heavy lifting. Me, I'm a happy lightweight. I can seldom understand why history books run as long as they do, and I don't retain a tremendous number of facts -- facts, pshaw, who cares about facts? And if a provocative point isn't being made, or if the material isn't interesting on a direct human level, or if the language starts to drag, I'm the first person in the room to start snoozing off. Yet I'm interested -- to a point -- in a lot of subjects. I just happen to be a 500-page-long book's worth of interested in very few of them. So Allitt's bouquet of mini-biographies hits the spot. At 30 minutes each, they're longer -- and far more engagingly presented -- than an encylopedia entry, but they're lots shorter than a fullscale biography. I can't imagine why this shouldn't make many people very happy. Be honest with yourself: Are you ever going to get around to going through a complete biography of William Mulholland? If you buy one one, it'll sit on your shelf unread. Yet Mulholland was a fascinating and influential guy: the water czar of Los Angeles, as well as a man who figured in "Chinatown." Allitt delivers more than enough to both satisfy and tantalize the curiosity. How lovely too that Allitt's mini-bios aren't primary-color, EZ tales for the kiddies. Instead, they're unapologetically adult -- each one a small miracle of concision, insight, and sympathy. Allitt is extraordinarily good at setting his subjects in perspective, at using them to illuminate larger trends and events, and at seeing life from the point of view of different times. He also makes few harsh judgments and indulges in... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Junk Snailmail
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wasn't the advent of email expected to reduce the quantity of junk snailmail we'd have to deal with? Anything but, reports the New York Times' Louise Story. Last year, more than 114 billion pieces of junk mail were sent, an increase of 15 percent over five years ago. For the first time ever, the volume of "bulk mail" exceeded the volume of first class mail. The explanation: Marketers have found that many people, feeling beleaguered by electronics, actually like junk snailmail. "As the world becomes more digital, there is a need for tangible experiences," one ad exec told Louise Story. Interesting to learn too that, while only 2.15% of mailed ads result in any customer action, that's a good enough batting average to keep the business profitable. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Movie Poll Results
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by Andy Horbal, I recently ran a "Best American Fiction Movie of the Last 25 Years (the Critics Be Damned)" poll. Results are now in and -- shamed into action by Annette -- I've finally pulled them together. Some technical notes. 41 different participants took part -- an excellent turn-out. So as not to give too much weight to the votes of those (er, those of us) who listed dozens of titles, I decided to grant each person a maximum of ten votes; I simply took the first ten movies each person named. I made one substantial ex-cathedra decision: that no movie by the Coen Bros., Woody Allen, or Tim Burton would be allowed. After all, the Coen Bros., the Wood-man, and Mr. Burton are nothing if not critics' darlings. Other judgment calls required finer discrimination. "Body Heat," for example -- was it enough of a popular/anti-critic movie to belong on this list? If so, then how about "Bull Durham"? I tried to err on the side of generosity, but in some cases lowered the boom anyway. Finally: How exactly do we count 25 years? Should the films of 1981 (the year of both "Raiders of the Lost Ark"and "Body Heat") be included or not? I decided to let 'em in. A few observations that occurred to me as I did my tallying: Boys love voting for these kinds of lists more than girls do. The top crowd-pleasin' auteurs of the past 25 years appear to be James Cameron, Tom Shadyac, and the Farrelly Bros. Many Americans aren't as fond of sex-themed films as I am. What's wrong with you people? Sci-fi wasn't as prominent as I'd have expected it to be either. Comedies especially are more highly valued by us Real People than they are by the critics. Action-adventure movies and romantic comedies are too. Are you listening, Critical Establishment? As Ron wrote in a comment: "One thing that strikes me as I look at these lists is how influential many of these movies have been. Internal Affairs, Basic Instinct, Evil Dead, Die Hard, The Terminator, Point Break, Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: for better or for worse, these movies have cast long, long shadows." The biggest surprise for me: "Ishtar" receiving not one but two votes. The Profile in Courage Award for most-embarrassing / revealing choice took a lot of consideration. It was nothing if not a close race. Annette's fondness for the Brat Pack special "About Last Night" was certainly a hard one to beat. But the very sensitive and cultivated Flutist loves "Meet the Fockers" ... Dan confesses to being a fan of "Con Air" ... And Jewish Atheist loves "Karate Kid." A tough set of competitors! J. Goard signed on for "Frankenhooker" and "Home Alone," and Dr. Weevil nominated "Cherry 2000" and "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." Striking choices -- but, shhhh, I suspect them both of amusing themselves making filmbuff-style mischief. Andy Horbal... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Cousin Marriage in the MidEast
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer has done heroic work alerting us to the fact that many marriages in the mideast are between close relatives. His sensible political point is that it's nuts to expect such a region to behave like a collection of modern, bureaucratic states, and far more realistic to expect quarrelsome tribal behavior from these people instead. Today Steve links to a WashPost article from 2000 about the marriage situation in Saudi Arabia, and reproduces a chart showing how common close-relative marriages are in the region. They're very common, in fact. 57.9% of marriages in Iraq are between what Westerners would consider close relatives! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Today's Alley Oop?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Razib is teasing us with hints that Neanderthal genes may not be entirely extinct. Neanderthal-ish creatures, it seems, may still walk among us. Startling but substantial announcements (from Greg Cochran?) to be made soon. Any bets of which contempo population group is really a bunch of Neanderthals? I've already placed my bet on heavy-metal drummers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Taking Chances
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- All due respect to the recently and dearly departed, of course. But really, Steve Irwin was lucky to last as long as he did, wasn't he? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Early Puberty
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Puberty is now hitting many girls by the age of 8. Scientists wonder why. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Really Permanent Advertising
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A charming byproduct of buying a new car is the dealer's effort to plug his business courtesy of the purchaser's acquiescence or negligence. Nowadays this is usually in the form of a license plate frame displaying the dealer's name, town and perhaps another brief item. A casual census while cruising along Bay Area freeways suggests that 50-60 percent of car owners don't bother to remove the frames after taking delivery, the dealer kindly having attached the frames beforehand. Up in Washington and Oregon, the percentage looks closer to 40. Some of the remaining cars have no frames at all and the rest have owner-selected frames. Capitalist tool though I am, for some reason I really hate those dealer-supplied frames. So I remove them. (Currently my car sports a frame I bought at Dear Old Penn's bookstore. This is baffling, because I have a lot of Penn issues -- a whole lot right now, having recently read the latest issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette.) Dealers in the Seattle area, where I grew up, always used frames to advertise (as best I remember). But matters were far more serious elsewhere. In the northeast back in the 60s and early 70s I saw a lot of cars with metal dealer plaques or medallions that were screwed onto the car's trunk lid. Did I just say "screwed?" You betcha. Both the new car owner and his shiny new metal steed got screwed. Royally, in my opinion. Possibly the worst offense, in my eyes, was that these plaques were usually ugly little things. Cheap looking. I take that back. The absolute worst part of the things was that they were essentially permanently attached. Proper removal would have to be done at a body shop -- the holes would have to be filled in, the lead buffed smooth and lid repainted. I remember buying a new car in the Albany area in 1974 and demanding that no dealer plaque be installed. Fortunately, they honored my wish. Do dealers still attach those vile things? I haven't noticed any lately, but I spend most of my time in the West where they were never as common as they were farther east. Can someone fill me and the rest of us in regarding dealer plaques? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 31, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, October 30, 2006

World's Fanciest McDonalds?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where is the world's fanciest McDonalds restaurant? I don't know for certain, never having come close to eating in all umpteen gazillion of their stores. Nevertheless, fearlessly armored in my ignorance, I'll offer my candidate for the title because it sure is the fanciest one I've ever seen. [Takes envelope from tux-wearing flunky] It's ... the McDonalds in Budapest's West Station!! Here is a photo it took of the interior when I was there in late September. McDonalds restaurant and coffee house, West Station, Budapest. The McCafe (coffee house) is on the upper level, the restaurant below. As noted in the caption, it's a two-story affair. The restaurant is on the lower level. Atop it is a "McCafe," McDonalds' answer to Starbucks. Although the company has experimented with the McCafe concept in the USA, it apparently was launched in Australia in the early 1990s. This information was turned up in a quick Google search which also unearthed a page extolling their coffee houses in Ireland. The only McCafe I've patronized was in Moscow in 2005, but I stumbled across one in Munich this year while desperately seeking a restroom. The West Station McDonalds was two or three block north of the hotel where we stayed. The station itself (noteworthy because it was designed by Gustave Eiffel's firm) is pretty run-down, as the larger East Station also seemed to be, judging from a quick look at its exterior. (The part of Budapest near the Danube River looked a lot more spiffy than it did in 1998, the last time I was there. But the drive along Rakoczi from East Station towards downtown revealed an area nearly as seedy as it was eight years ago. Okay, that's a large area. What puzzles me is why the West Station looked so ratty -- especially on the inside -- so many years after Communism fell.) The McDonalds is in a small wing adjoining the main station building to the south. The contrast between it and the main part of the station is stark. Here are some pictures of the station that I grabbed off the Web to show the setting. Main part of West Station, Budapest. Panning to the south. McDonalds is in the low structure to the right of the main building. Taller buildings on the right are not part of the station complex. Can anyone top my candidate McDonalds? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 30, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Pinnacle
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some performances simply can't be excelled, now or ever. One question? Why hasn't The Hoff covered this song yet? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 29, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments