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Friday, December 15, 2006

Yoga Everywhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Musician and general rowdyguy Shouting Thomas turns out to be a yoga buff. "I can't live a pain free existence without Yoga," he writes. "If I practice my Yoga religiously, I don't even know I have arthritis." * Bishwanath Ghosh looks back slyly and amusingly on his own four-year-long experience with Yoga. "Coitus is a form of Yoga, to tell you the truth," he writes, "because sex is a combination of Yoga postures." (Link thanks to Alan Little.) * Robert Love reviews the history of Yoga in America here. (Link thanks to ALD.) * You can read an interview I did with the very talented Yoga teacher Margi Young here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four. My own current thought -- well, musing -- on the topic of Yoga is that it can help you create a much friendlier and kinder relationship with your body. And -- since your body is one of the things in the world closest to you, after all -- that means that Yoga can affect your experience more generally in dramatic ways. You can find yourself rolling with life more cheerfully and positively than you otherwise might. Nice! I don't know about you, but when I'm on bad terms with my body my whole universe turns in on itself. I get crabby. Of course, what this line of musing suggests is that ... you are not your body. Then what are you? One of the genius books of Yoga philosophy is Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras," and Patanjali has a lot to say about this "what are you?" question. (Many translations are available. Of the handful I've read, I've especially loved the one by Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda.) And in case you're wondering: Indian philosophy is quite the equal of Western philosophy. As far as I'm concerned, Indian philosophy is in fact generally much superior to most of what western philosophy has to offer. Don't look me at me that way: Western-philo biggies Emerson and Schopenhauer thought highly of Indian philosophy too. I blogged about my discovery of the Indian religion / philosophy known as Vedanta here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The best movie posters of 2006. (Link thanks to Design Observer.) * Does the whole "Web 2.0" thing still mystify you? Here's a list of Web 2.0 applications that you may want to test-drive. * Thanks to Tatyana for pointing out this fun little Pandora podcast. It's a quick and EZ intro to vocal harmonizing. * The "uncensored history of the blues," via -- what else? -- podcast. * So soy milk may in fact be bad for you? Did you know that most soymilk labeled as "plain" is in fact full of added sugar? * There are days when MD is in the mood for a little quiet, a little mystery ... * Dean Baker thinks that Larry Summers misses the point on inequality. * Rod Dreher thinks that news organizations should fret less about racial/ethnic/gender diversity in the newsroom. * Blog99 thinks that economists and sociologists don't pay enough attention to entertainment. * Kevin Kelly is as enthusiastic about publishing books the Lulu way as I am. * Thanks to Peter L. Winkler, who points out that the blog called Pod-dy Mouth is reviewing print-on-demand books. * 20 million years, and now this. * Yahmdallah tells another of his sitcom-worthy romantic-adventure tales. Converting to Mormonism for the sake of a girl -- now there's a premise and a half! * Yahmdallah also links to a terrific page where artists ... Oh, it's a little hard to describe. Anyway: there's a theme for the day, and a bunch of artists send in images on that theme. So the theme may be "Superman," and you'll get a page of 20 examples of Superman by various artists. In any case, it's a riot to see what they come up with, as well as a lesson in how visual people think and create. * Tyler Cowen calls three recent books his must-reads of 2006. * I raved about Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects" back here. Just now I ran across and enjoyed this terrific interview with Zombie, who's a well-known rocker -- as well as a very smart guy about the glories of '70s movies. (Link thanks to Polly Frost.) * So comets may indeed be the mothers of us all ... * Video interviews with Berkeley economists can be watched here. * Raymond Pert comes up with a brilliant and enlightening comparison between "Othello" and "Bonnie and Clyde." Raymond also puts up a podcast of himself (great voice!) reading a soulful, funky poem. * The artist Bill Wray -- best-known for his work for Mad magazine and the Ren and Stimpy Show -- has recently been turning his attentions to fine-art-style oil painting. Keeping it fresh -- I like that. I like what he's been producing too. (Link thanks to Sex in Art.) * A super couple of sentences from David Chute: "Try making a movie that boldy explores the sunny side of life and submitting it to Sundance. You'll wise up in a... posted by Michael at December 15, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hard-to-take video of the week: closeups of a circumcision procedure. I confess that I didn't make it all the way through the videoclip. I was sympathizing much, much too strongly with the unhappy baby boy's yells. NSFW to the max, by the way, and not hosted by an appealing website either. Still, if you've ever been curious about what the doing of a boy-circumcision looks like, this is a link for you. Best, if with knees close together, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Francis in Public
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey, I only just now woke up to the fact that The NY Sun maintains an archive of Francis Morrone's articles and reviews. Francis, dude, why were you keeping your stash a secret? My fave is Francis' account of New York's glorious Frick house. Francis blogs charmingly about Marianne (Katrina Cottages) Cusato here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sad News / Good News
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Massengale writes an eloquent eulogy for his recently-deceased mom. John also brings welcome news: that Boston's atrocious City Hall -- a mid-'60s Brutalist structure hated by the public from its debut but (surprise surprise) much-celebrated by the architecture establishment -- looks likely to be sold and demolished. The building was proudly featured in the architecture-history classes I took in the '70s as one of the recent glories of modernism. Wikipedia quotes a contemporary review from the august (cough cough) Ada Louise Huxtable: "What has been gained is a notable achievement in the creation and control of urban space, and in the uses of monumentality and humanity in the best pattern of great city building. Old and New Boston are joined through an act of urban design that relates directly to the quality of the city and its life." Wikipedia then goes on drily to note: City Hall is unpopular with Bostonians, who see it as a dark and unfriendly eyesore, and with workers in the building. The structure's complex interior spaces result in cavernous voids, a confusing floorplan, and the building is expensive to heat. City Hall Plaza has long been cited as a failure in terms of design and urban planning. In 2004 the Project for Public Spaces identified it as the worst single public plaza worldwide, out of hundreds of contenders. But we wouldn't want to hold critics -- let alone architects (in this case: Gerhard M. Kallmann, Noel M. McKinnell, and Edward F. Knowles, three Columbia University professors) -- responsible for their mistakes, would we? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Military Funds Go Poof!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anyone whose blood-pressure is in need of a boost should benefit from this brief CBS report about the American military's inability to keep tabs on its own funds. Grabber fact: $2.3 trillion is, essentially, MIA. $2.3 trillion! That kind of money could pay for a lot of holiday iPod cheer. Best, Michael UPDATE: Tim Worstall shows that it isn't just the U.S.'s government that knows how to throw away taxpayer money.... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

iPod Youngsters
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One-third of American teens now own an iPod. A great quote from Jim Taylor, of the group that directed the study: "Teen life has become a theatrical, self-directed media production." I'll say. All that handwaving and face-pulling and teeth-bleaching and crotch-grooming ... My own way of putting it is that "kids today behave like the videojockeys of their own MTV show," or else "kids today aspire to be Photshopped media images of themselves." Speaking of which, check out Katie, who has some tips for the boys. She's as mannered, "on," and full of attention-grabbing tics as Rachael Ray. Any hunches about Katie? Is she just a sassy youngster perpetrating some YouTube mischief? Is she a fabrication of some newfangled cyber-sort, something along the lines of LonelyGirl15? Or have we already transcended that stage and arrived at the point where real-life young women have become their own cyber-fabrications? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Self-Painted Pole
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I saw a number of nicely-done, interesting paintings when I was in Poland in September. The most intriguing work was done by Jacek Malczewski (1854-1929), an artist categorized as a Symbolist. One of Malczewski's conceits was making numerous self-portraits where he placed himself in unusual costumes or settings -- not the quotidian surroundings we expect. I haven't been able to find much biographical information on Malczewski in English, so what follows is sketchy in the extreme. He was born in Radom and spent much of his childhood on an uncle's estate at Wielgie where he witnessed events in the 1863 uprising against the Russians. He was trained in Krakow (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) where he eventually became a professor. At the outbreak of the Great War, he moved to Vienna, probably because Krakow was only a few miles from the Russian border. He spent his final years in Krakow, by then in the reconstituted Poland. Roughly speaking, his earliest work featured historical and patriotic themes. At the peak of his career he did allegorical and symbolic works. In later life he did a number of paintings based on his childhood (in my opinion, the weakest of the lot). The paintings I saw in Warsaw and Krakow tended to be thinly-painted: little or no impasto. Malczewski Gallery Melancholia, 1890-94. A rumination about partitioned Poland. Death, 1902. Self-portrait, 1892. Harpia We Snie, 1907. Another self-portrait, but with Symbolism. Self-portrait, 1918. Sel-portrait, 1919. Conclusion? I think Malczewski needs to become better-known outside Poland. And I hope a big, splashy museum show gets in the works soon. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 14, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

British Frankness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tony Blair announces that multiculturalism is finito in Britain. Why are the British elites so much faster and franker than we are in acknowledging what a big issue the combo of high immigration rates and obsessive multiculturalism has become? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 13, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Book Publishing Advice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Probably because I've written a lot of postings about book publishing, I receive emails asking for advice about publishing books on a regular basis. Most of these correspondents seem to have run across my posting "Writing a Book," which tends to turn up high on the hit list when "writing a book" is Googled. By dint of practice, I've come up with a semi-standard response to people who ask me about book publishing. Maybe some visitors will enjoy reading these thoughts and this advice too. Others may well feel that they've had enough of me on this subject already. First off: Who am I to yak about book publishing? I've published precisely one book, and even on that one I was a co-writer and not the full-credit author. Good point. But I was close to the book publishing industry (especially the New York City-based end of the trade-book publishing biz) for more than 15 years. While a lot of people know swathes of the book-publishing biz better than I do, few people have snooped around book publishing from as many different angles as I have. Some bookbiz trade reporters aside, that is -- and I was friendly with a number of them too. So when I generalize it's based on some actual experience. But the real reason I'd encourage you to pay a bit of attention is that I have no agenda. I really don't. When the usual crowd talks about book-publishing, they have something to sell. Agents peddling advice to wannabes ... Published authors conducting workshops for the eager-believer set ... Editors pontificating to credulous reporters ... They all have a vested interest in perpetuating the mystique of book publishing. They want you reading books, but they also want you dreaming about writing and publishing books. And they want you to be impressed. Sadly, that means that the book business is happiest if and when you're stuck in a state of yearning and aspiring and never-quite-getting-there yourself. Nothing wrong with this, of course. It keeps the faith alive, the congregation vulnerable, and the sales turning over. But, generally speaking, the usual suspects are about as frank about their business as a GM CEO is when he speaks to The Wall Street Journal. Ie., not very much at all. Me, I like reading and writing a whole lot, but I couldn't care less about the container I'm dealing with. Books can be fun, god knows, but so can websites and photocopies. And, unlike many in the biz, I didn't enter book publishing because I yearned to be close to The Greats. I'm not one of what I've called "the book-besotted." I happened to stumble into the field, I found it interesting, and I started taking note of what I encountered. Publish a book or don't publish a book, it doesn't matter to me. So even if I'm not perfectly objective (is anyone?), I'm at least sympathetic and agnostic, and I have some potentially useful... posted by Michael at December 12, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Did you know that more than 6000 people die in mining disasters in China every year? * Even pro-sex feminist Camille Paglia thinks that the young and the pantyless have been taking things a little too far lately. The mystery! What's become of the mystery? (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Slow Food ... Slow Cities ... Slow Travel ... Slow Exercise ... And now, Slow Painting. (I blogged about the Slow movement here and here. Carl "In Praise of Slowness" Honore's website is here.) One easy way to eat less: Eat slowly. * It's sad that diet and exercise -- and even slowness -- can't entirely thwart time, isn't it? Here's an all-too-vivid look at some of the things that happen to your body as it ages. * Do more megapixels always make for better image quality? David Pogue ran a little test ... * My YouTube music-vid find of the day features not just a great tune but some of the suavest suit-wearing I've had the pleasure of witnessing in a long time: Motown stylin' at its finest, no? Oh, to be worthy of singing and dancing backup for the Temptations! (That's David "Dead at 50 from a cocaine overdose" Ruffin on lead vocals. "My Girl," btw, was composed by Ronald White and Smokey Robinson, and was arranged by Alan Billingsley. I raved about the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" here.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 12, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

"Straw Dogs," the Board Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can you believe that people went to this kind of trouble? I'm glad they did, though. That's pretty well-done, as well as pretty funny. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 12, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, December 11, 2006

Santa Barbara Biltmore Re-Do
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Actually it's in the town of Montecito, adjoining Santa Barbara to the east. And, technically, it's now a Four Seasons Resort. (The Web page is here, and has a link to more photos than I provide below.) To me it's the Santa Barbara Biltmore and will remain so even if they put up a Motel 6 sign in front. Nancy and I drop by the Biltmore nearly every time we're in the Santa Barbara area. Sometimes it's just to see the place, but we've also done lunch and dinner there and once went to a New Year's Eve party the hotel put on. The hotel was designed in the Spanish style by architect Reginald D. Johnson and opened in 1927. Since then it has been modified, but for the most part, changes have been modest. Perhaps the greatest change to the main building was the conversion of the South Patio to an enclosed dining room, albeit with lots of glass to provide some sense of being outdoors. The Biltmore was re-done again over the winter of 2006. The patio dining room was altered to make it more outdoorsy and the bar was re-oriented to the lounge area, largely returning that area to its 1927 dimensions. So far as I noticed, other changes were comparatively minor. Here are two photos I took early in November. Gallery View across the lobby. Registration desk to the right. The latest incarnation of the former patio. The Biltmore's a lovely place. Now if I only could figure out a way to afford a room for a night... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 11, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Retro? ... Why Not!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Retro" automobile styling doesn't particularly bother me, yet it apparently does in some professional design circles. A while back I posted that styling lost its progressive thrust by the late 1940s. If that's the case, then borrowing themes or details from previous decades becomes a legitimate styling option. That is, if there's been no fundamental "progress" and if there is no clear view as to what might represent "progress," then anything that works -- functionally and in terms of appearance -- can be used. I suspect stylists (they tend to prefer the term "designer") proclaim dislike for Retro because they were fed the notion in school that their role was to thrust into the future fashioning ever-improved (stylistically) vehicles. I feel sorry for those who actually believe this. I also wonder how many stylists are like Hollywood Republicans and have leaned to either keep their mouths shut or mumble the sort of words expected by their peers. If I were a pop-psychologist I might even assert that, for young stylists, Retro is a self-esteem issue. It would be a sign of no new design worlds for them to conquer. Why, they'd be in the same league as those despised architects forever designing in the Classical style. Yes, I exaggerate. There are exceptions. Ford's J Mays has supervised a lot of Retro styling. And Freeman Thomas had a major hand in such Retro projects as the Volkswagen New Beetle and the original Audi TT sports car. In spite of the grumbling I see in car magazines, Retro cars keep appearing. An example that struck the fancy of long-time designer Robert Cumberford (columnist for Auto & Design, and design editor for Automobile magazine) was BMW's Concept Coupe Mille Miglia. The Concept Coupe (as I call it here) is a show car inspired by the BMW 328 aerodynamic coupe that won the (modified beyond recognition) 1940 Mille Miglia road race. For more information on the 328 coupe, click here and scroll down. Here are some views of the 1940 racing car and the 2006 show car it inspired. Gallery 1940 BMW 328 Mille Miglia Coupe 2006 BMW Concept Coupe Mille Miglia As can be seen, the show car is clearly similar to the racing car, yet no detail is identical That's what makes the Concept Coupe an excellent example of Retro done right. I suppose, in theory, the engineers who designed the Mille Miglia racer might have duplicated the show car styling had the technology been available. Which is another key: Good Retro can create what original designers might have created had they the materials and fabrication techniques to do so. Even though I've been making a case that Retro is not the spawn of the Devil, I'm not saying that styling must be Retro. My contention is, it's hard not to avoid Retro -- especially with regard to details. To cite one example, most practical shapes of doors have probably already been explored. If a few... posted by Donald at December 11, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments