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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fact for the Day -- Breweries in the U.S.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Number of breweries in the U.S. in 1983: 60. * Number of breweries in the U.S. in 2005: more than 1400. The food revolution rocks, no? Source: an episode on beer in the History Channel's consistently terrific documentary series "Modern Marvels." Hey, Wikipedia has an entry about "Modern Marvels." God, I love Wikipedia. I also notice that you can now download some episodes of "Modern Marvels" from the iTunes Store for $1.99 a pop. Of the shows on offer there, I can recommend ... well, every last one of them. "Modern Marvels" is that good. Other terrific episodes for those with DVRs to be on the alert for: "Balls," "Assembly Lines," "Brooklyn Bridge," "Paving America," and "Tea." I really think "Modern Marvels" is quite the great thing. I mean really-really. I've watched scores of shows. Only a few haven't been first-class, and many have been awfully damned good: not too jazzed-up, direct and informative, gimmick-free, substantial, and -- at an hour per episode -- about as much as I want to learn about most subjects. And what an achievement to maintain this level of excellence year after year. Something I can't figure out: Why on earth is that awful, slow, looooooong Ken Burns so much more celebrated a figure in the TV documentary cosmos than the team behind the crisp and to-the-point "Modern Marvels"? Small musing: Do we tend to overvalue the One Heroic Creation at the expense of equally wonderful creations that take episodic form? I think we may. We make a big deal out of Ken Burns' "Civil War," for instance, while undervaluing the ever-ongoing (since 1994!) "Modern Marvels." Similarly, does it make sense to enshrine Toni Morrison's "Beloved" as a Great Thing without also sparing a few hosannas for the 12 high-quality novels that Donald Westlake wrote during the same time it took Morrison to finish "Beloved"? Not that I liked "Beloved" myself, of course ... Well, OK, why not just say it? I think Donald Westlake is 100 times the fiction writer Toni Morrison is even though he's written no single novel that compares in colossalness and impressiveness with "Beloved." But he's written an awful lot of tiptop and high-spirited fiction. Why shouldn't that qualify as a genuinely great thing in its own right? But back to the topic at hand. I've recently been sampling other current documentary series from cable. Alas: I haven't taken a liking to a one of them. What to do? These days my old favorites are wells that have been pumped almost dry. I don't seem to be finding many "Modern Marvels" episodes that I haven't already watched, and The Wife and I have exhausted what those excellent true-crime shows "American Justice" and "City Confidential" have to offer. Can any visitors recommend current documentary series that they've been enjoying? I do like me a good documentary series. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 27, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, January 26, 2007

Darwin's Regret
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Art, beauty, feeling, sensation ... Curlicues on the fringes of reality, or central to the fabric of existence? And what did the original evo-guy make of them anyway? Here's a passage from Charles Darwin: Up to the age of 30, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds gave me great pleasure. I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. I have also almost lost my taste for picture or music. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts. If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature. I found this thanks to Poynter Online's Monique Von Dusseldorp. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 26, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

McWhorter on Language
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another winner from The Teaching Company: John McWhorter's lecture series "Story of Language." This is an overview of language -- and when I say "overview" I mean "from really far above." You won't learn lists of the major language families; etymologies aren't what's on offer either. Instead, McWhorter's focus is on processes: How languages grow, merge, change, twist, turn, and die. Along the way he of course touches on many of the basics: What are the differences between dialects, creoles, and pidgins? What can be known about early languages? And how about that Esperanto, eh? McWhorter's approach is far more descriptive than prescriptive. He has no apparent desire to tell people how to speak, for one thing. As he points out, what's considered to be proper usage inevitably changes over time -- and what really interests him is the "changing over time" angle. (He has a nice way of describing a language as being not one-thing-with-deviations but instead "a bundle of dialects.") Anyway, McWhorter's approach suits my own "far more interested in how things are than what they ought to be like" temperament to a tee. Much as I loved the series, I confess that I floundered for the first half-dozen lectures. The talks seemed to alternate between vague generalities and blizzards of examples. They were interesting and engaging right from the outset, but I felt lost. I couldn't discern the logic of the series. Then I finally caught on to McWhorter's method. What he's doing in each lecture is announcing a general principle or theme, then riffing on it. When I settled into his rhythym and allowed myself to be swept along, I left my confusion behind and had a swell time. I found myself thinking: "So what if I'll learn and retain few new facts -- I don't retain many new facts these days anyway. And so what if the series is short on conventional argument-structures? It has its own kind of beguiling organization." Besides, in most of the lectures McWhorter's riffing has the effect of deepening and broadening the theme. What's coolest about the series is the way that a kind of immense vision takes shape as it goes along. As McWhorter presents it, language is a huge, organic, ever-morphing, ecologically-opportunistic bio-something, like a gigantic fibrous Blob, rooted in nature (and in human nature) yet under the impetus of its own nature as well. The examples McWhorter supplies in abundance are fun too. A small sampling: Around 6000 languages are spoken in the world today. 800 of them are to be found on the island of New Guinea. Only one-fifth of living languages have words for both "a" and "the." Only 200 languages have a written component. What round-eyes tend to think of as varieties of Chinese -- Cantonese, Fujian, Mandarin, etc -- are really quite different from one another. So different in fact that linguists consider them to be separate languages, as distinct from each other as European languages are... posted by Michael at January 26, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was sorry to learn (thanks to ALD) that the Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski has died at the age of 74. A foreign correspondent with a knack for showing up in trouble spots -- he witnessed 30 coups, uprisings, and revolutions -- Kapuscinski wrote nonfiction books of a kind unfamiliar to most Americans. Neither of the "objective" sort nor of the New Journalism genre, they're a kind of hybrid of poetry and journalism. They remind me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's journalism, and of some of Oliver Sacks' writing too. Despite being based in fact, they're evocative and suggestive -- intense fairy tales for adults -- and they can really make the mind and the imagination take flight. "Everything is a metaphor," he was once quoted as saying. "It's not that the story is not getting expressed. It's what surrounds the story. The climate, the atmosphere of the street, the feeling of the people, the gossip of the town; the smell; the thousands and thousands of elements that are part of the events you read about in 600 words of your morning paper." "Shah of Shahs," "The Emperor," and "The Soccer War" were very high on my list of favorites from the years I spent following contemporary writing. I wrote a posting about Kapuscinski here. ALD links to obits and reminiscences from The Guardian, the WashPost, the NYTimes, and others. A standout is this obit from the London Times. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some great lines from Dean Baker: Why do reporters feel the need to constantly tell us about the philosophy of politicians? Isn't it obvious that the job of politicians is to get elected? This means making deals with the people who can give you the money and the political support to get elected. They don't get elected by writing great tracts on political philosophy. * Matthew Yglesias wrestles with the "anti-anti-Semites." A Jewish liberal musing about left / right, intra-Jewish feuds over the mideast ... I think I'll just play observer on this one. (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) More. Yet more. * This Peter Brimelow speech is an excellent quick intro to why immigration policy is one of the most pressing political topics around. * Taser'd for smoking. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Food Linkage
Michael Blowhards writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Would you like some cleavage with that latte? * Obesity rates in France have doubled in recent years. To blame: television, soda pop, crazy work hours, and junk food. * The snobs may sneer at her, but the real people back home think the world of perky Food Network star Rachael Ray. I'm a Rachael fan myself. She may overdo the grins and giggles, but if her show helps real people class their eating lives up a bit, why not be forgiving? As an eternal-beginner cook myself, I'm a special fan of her magazine, Every Day With Rachael Ray. The dishes I've prepared from the magazine's recipes have been tasty to eat and fun to make; they haven't taxed my very limited cooking skills either. And the magazine itself -- however middlebrow and friendly it may be -- is a gorgeously-designed and sweetly-edited thing of beauty. * Joseph Pearce explains why the agribusiness-vs.-organic debate is such a big deal for the Small is Beautiful crowd. * Niman Ranch is said by some reviewers to sell the tastiest and tenderest grass-fed meat available. Curious, The Wife and I ordered up some of their steaks. A quick sear on both sides ... Time in the oven till just not-bloody in the center ... And it was, it really was, some of the best steak we've ever eaten. I'd characterize it as luxurious yet light -- like filet mignon, only more informal. I'll be sending gift packs from the Niman Ranch out as birthday and holiday presents. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Non-Retro Jaguar Concept
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Late last year I wrote about Retro car styling. I mentioned that it didn't bother me and, besides, it could be difficult for stylists to avoid past themes and details because automobile evolution lost its steam nearly 60 years ago. But I wasn't being categorical. It's still possible to come up with designs that don't evoke those of decades past, though most "new" designs tend to be similar to those of contemporary cars. That's why it's pretty easy to guess when a car was built (and the same goes for houses, by the way). Ford's Jaguar subsidiary (for the moment, at least -- Ford might decide to sell it) apparently is trying to break out from a Retro mold, which makes for an interesting test-case. This was evidenced by the Concept XF (C-XF) sedan unveiled a few weeks ago. It's a four-door sedan ("saloon" in Brit) that is supposedly a slightly exaggerated version of the car coming out later this year as replacement for Jaguar's mainstay S-Type. Jaguar's problem is that its cars have always been noted more for their style than their engineering and (especially!) reliability and build-quality. This was the strategy of founder Bill (later, Sir William) Lyons. Jaguars and their SS predecessors were known for having the flair of cars costing far more. Readers might be familiar with the especially iconic XK-120 of the early 50s and the XK-E of the early 60s -- both were sports cars. Aside from the latest XK sports cars, current Jaguars are heavy borrowers of styling cues from Jags of years past. For example, the large XJ sedan's body was totally re-engineered recently, yet it looks very similar to the model it replaced which debuted many years before. A waste of development money, in my opinion -- if Jaguar was going to spend wads of money, more of it should have been visible to potential buyers. Having been criticized for going to the Retro well too often, management apparently decided that the next sedan would have to look thoroughly modern, yet somehow retain the Jaguar essence. Whatever that might be. A tough assignment for styling chief Ian Callum. Let's look at some pictures. Gallery Jaguar 2.4 (Mark I) This photo was snatched off the Web, so it might be a 3.4 (Mark II) which looked almost identical to the 2.4: that doesn't concern us here. The 2.4 appeared in 1955 and was applauded by Road & Track magazine as being a marketing milestone -- a semi-luxury car in a compact package. Jaguar S-Type The original S-Type of 1964 was a slightly enlarged (and less attractive) version of the 2.4, above. The S-Type shown here appeared in 2000 and shared its body with the Lincoln LS model, though that fact isn't obvious thanks to clever design work. The current S-Type is frankly Retro, evoking the 2.4. It has been criticized for being Retro by some and criticized for styling details by others who didn't mind the... posted by Donald at January 24, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Driving Lessons
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- T'warn't a fit night out for man nor beast in Portland last Tuesday ... Vidclip found thanks to Philip Murphy. "Fit night out for man nor beast" lifted from W.C. Fields. You can watch the great film moment here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

DVD Journal: Kenneth Anger
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I posted back here about Bernardo Bertolucci and his legendary thriller "The Conformist," a film that had been unavailable on DVD (and hard to find in any form) until very recently. Another rarity is about to go on sale in DVD form too: the short avant-garde movies of Kenneth Anger. Film buffs, as well as those simply interested in how our culture became what it is, might enjoy giving Anger's movies a look. Born Kenneth Wilbur Anglemyer and turning 80 this year, Anger might well be almost as big an influence on popular culture as Andy Warhol. He's perhaps best-known for his 1958 book "Hollywood Babylon," a volume of salacious and amusing "inside" gossip and fantasies about the American movie world. The book -- available in Europe for many years before it was finally printed in the U.S. -- helped make indulging in sleazy and bitchy gossip seem deadpan cool and hip. His almost-no-budget films have been just as influential. Not many filmbuffs would disagree with the statement that Anger has been one of the most important American film avant-gardists, along with Maya Deren, Bruce Connor, Stan Brakhage, and a few others. In his films, Anger barely bothers with narrative at all, cutting instead straight to the erotic chase. Typically, he fetishizes youth, bikers, blue jeans, hot rods, and Lucifer, and he sets the lip-smacking, montage-y, hyper-eroticized stew to rock and roll and opera. Don't say you weren't warned He was one of the first, in other words, to fixate in frankly seamy ways on the hot-'n'-throbbing quality that's such an important part of the appeal of pop music, opera, and movies. As the underground maestro of near-camp sensationalism and lasciviousness, he was a big influence on devil-tempted artists as diverse as Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese. I see that Scorsese has in fact has written an intro to the booklet that's packaged with the new Anger DVD, and fans of "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver" who watch Anger will certainly learn where Marty lifted a lot of his early moves from. (Other main early-Marty source: John Cassavetes.) And, yes, in case you haven't picked up the clues, Anger isn't just gay, but gay-gay-gay! The sensibility that he has brought to movies and to popular culture is gay-gay-gay! too. And no, it wasn't a coincidence that the French gay-gay-gay! genius Jean Cocteau was one of the first to discover and encourage Anger. In many ways, that's what Anger's movies are like, come to think of it: rock 'n' roll versions of Cocteau's freakier efforts. I look forward to watching Anger's work again. Do his films seem laughable these days? Do they retain their old power to disturb and upset? The movies are -- why not be honest about it? -- basically homoerotic hallucinations. I'm curious to see what they look like now that the homoerotic-hallucination approach to imagery and popular culture so permeates the mainstream. Will Anger's films still have their power to derange,... posted by Michael at January 24, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Watching Habits
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New York Times' David Cay Johnston reports that growth in the porn biz -- or, as Johnston labels it, the "sex-related entertainment business" (hey, isn't that all of show business?) -- is slowing down. In 2006, porn grew at slightly under the rate of inflation. Interesting fact for the day: "For every dollar Americans spent buying tickets to Hollywood movies last year, they spent about 90 cents viewing sex movies in various formats." I wonder what these ratios would be like if time-spent-watching were compared. For every minute the average American spends watching mainstream movies, how much time does he / she spend watching porn? And how would this change if you included surfing-the-web-for-porn in the "watching porn" column? According to AVN's Paul Fishbein, the most remarkable area of recent growth in DVD-style porn is in movies featuring older women -- gals who are in their 30s or even, gasp, older than that. It was evidently a scene in "American Pie" that set this "MILF" trend off. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 24, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Scary Airports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever fly into the Juneau, Alaska airport? Not me. Not yet, anyway. But friends of mine who've lived in Juneau tell me it can produce more than its share of sweaty-palm moments. I'm told that the reason it's scary has to do with the fact that it's partly boxed in by nearby mountains. Here is a link showing a small topographical map of the area -- the airport is hard to spot, but look in the lower center area. There is more than just the mountains. The weather is another important factor. The Alaska panhandle is a cloudy, rainy place much of the year. So, when on landing approach, you know those mountains are out there in the gray murk you're flying through. Probably nearby. Maybe closer than they should be. Hope and pray radar and instruments are working properly. A potentially scary airport I've yet to experience is San Diego's. The normal landing path is east-to-west near the hill where Balboa Park is situated and then over downtown. Back in the 80s an airliner on approach collided with a light plane and crashed. The airports I've flown into that make me nervous tend to be those in cramped locations. National Airport near Washington and New York's LaGuardia are two examples. National is tucked next to the Potomac River and its main runway is about 6,900 feet long (and seemed shorter the last time I used it, 15+ years ago). La Guardia's runways are about 150 feet longer, but the airport is boxed in by Long Island Sound. Unless you're landing to the north (and waving at friends in the Shea Stadium parking lot), landing approaches are over water. Another cramped airport is Chicago's Midway, where the longest runway is 6,500 feet. But I've never used it. I have flown in and out of the Albany, NY airport (7,000-foot runway), but mostly got to watch Mohawk and Allegheny airliners passing a thousand feet or so from my apartment window in Colonie. Other airports sited by water that can make passengers worry include Boston's Logan, Oakland and San Francisco. The landing path to San Francisco's airport is normally from the southeast, over the bay. Back in the 60s a Japan Air Lines DC-8 touched down a few hundred feet short; luckily the bay was shallow where it hit, and most of the fuselage stayed above the water. When I was younger and a more-nervous flyer, even long, flat approaches to airports far from water bothered me. I'm thinking of Chicago's O'Hare and coming in south-north where we seemed to be grazing roofs of factories and warehouses forever. I've flown into Seattle's airport more than 100 times and nearly always find myself wondering if the wheels will get clipped on a too-low approach. That's because the airport is situated on a hill with sunken roads and lower terrain just beyond each of the runways. Airports I find most stress-free are those in spacious settings with long... posted by Donald at January 23, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Mayhem junkies might want to explore Liveleak, a video-sharing service known for running the clips that YouTube deems too gruesome. For classier fare, why not visit the best-of-the-web-videos site The Daily Reel? (Link thanks to Cinematech.) An inspired home-made stop-action epic can be enjoyed here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Gerhard Riebicke photographed nudes back in the days when "nude" really meant something. * Some great lesbian-nurse pulp paperback covers can be enjoyed here. Some great Italian erotic-comic-book covers can be relished here. * Rachel thnks that too much has been made of classics coming off library shelves. * Prairie Mary once knew both Richard Stern and Richard Benjamin. * Neil Gaimen reviews Alan Moore's porno epic "The Lost Girls." (Link thanks to that saucey Cowtown Pattie.) * Half Sigma thinks that it's worth paying more money for better-quality tea. * Eroticism, avant-garde art, the '70s, trash movies -- if this is a cocktail that appeals, then Jahsonic may be your man. * Alice suspects that she won't be bothering with any more Martin Amis. * Thanks to Yahmdallah, who passed along a link to this hilarious list of reasons not to be a writer. * Yahmdallah dares to put into words what I suspect many millions have been keeping to themselves: "I have never felt 'white guilt'." Given that Yahmdallah is a good liberal, I wonder if his admission represents a major zeitgeist change. I certainly hope so. * Small-Is-Beautiful alpha dog Wendell Berry has a few things to say about local economies. * Small-Is-Beautiful revivalist Joseph Pearce is questioning the dogma of global free trade. The debate in the comments on his posting is a lot of fun. UDPATE: The yakfest continues here. * I enjoyed this charmer of an interview with the souful/sweet actress Valeria Golino. She's very perceptive (without being remotely "smart" in an intellectual sense) about directors, actors, and film. * Good luck / bad luck. * Why do our leaders so often seem so wet behind the ears? Another juicy and pithy Fred Reed column. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Gab vs. Info
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A posting for da guyz only. It concerns one of the eternal questions: How do you manage your woman? Well, a subset of it, actually. Namely: Given the female proclivity for nosing around people's feelings, for testing (and re-testing and re-re-testing) relationships, and for Just Generally Going On and On Until You Can't Stand It Any Longer About People and Feelings and What the Day Was Like and What Did She Mean By This and What Do You Suppose He Was Up To With That ... Well, given the female love for inane and endless relationship-babble, er, for insightful and in-depth exploration of inner experience, how do you get the information you need out of your woman? After all, god knows that a woman's feelings can get hurt if and when her man is a little abrupt, and god knows that we dudes have an inborn penchant for wanting to cut to the chase. I laughed in recognition, for instance, when a commenter at Marginal Revolution (on a thread I can't locate any longer), discussing women and men and marriage, wrote something along the lines of "I've had to learn how to let her rake over her day at great length without interrupting too often or offering advice. She's had to learn that not every question I ask her is intended to elicit a long, self-involved monologue." It can take a while to develop these relationship skills. My own interest in people's feelings and feeling-experiences is probably greater than that of most guys. Even so, by the time the five-minute mark has passed I'm ready to move on. Meanwhile, The Wife is just getting warmed up to her subject. And those tender female feelings ... Sheesh. Place a request for some information and a woman is liable to respond by giving you a suspicious look and asking, "What do you mean? What are you up to? Why do you ask?" At a moment when all you really need to know is the location of the checkbook, you can find yourself plunged into Relationship-Exploration / Depth-Psychology Hell. And why is it that women seem to gain energy from such scenes? I can survive 'em myself, but just barely and not without shellshock. Afterwards I need a few hours of downtime to recuperate. I wonder if my own info-eliciting techniques could use some tweaking. I've applied myself to the challenge and have managed to develop a few tricks that can serve. I might, for instance, go to the trouble of putting a lot of sugar-coating on an info-request. An example: "Honey, I love you dearly, you know that. Right now, though, what I need to do is find out where the checkbook is located. Can you give me that information in a direct and non-emotion-laden way that my inadequate male brain won't be overwhelmed by?" That sometimes works. But when it doesn't -- when my candied info-request results in The Wife launching enthusiastically into a potentially-endless... posted by Michael at January 23, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Steven Heller
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've just awakened to the fact that the designer and writer Steven Heller has a website. Heller is a super-bright, civilized, talented, generous, and creative guy, and anyone interested in visuals, the media, and design should enjoy a visit with him. He's also staggeringly productive -- a genuine "Where does he get the energy?!!!" phenomenon. He operates in many different dimensions and in many different capacities: as a designer, as a book author, as a curator, as an editor, as a teacher, and as an interviewer of other figures in the field. He and his wife, Louise Fili, have often worked with the brilliant San Francisco-based publisher Chronicle Books. You'll run into a lot of Heller's journalism at AIGA Voice, which he edits. (I especially enjoyed this interview with Eye magazine's John Walters.) I own a dozen books that Heller has written, co-written, or edited and I've enjoyed them all. While I've learned a lot about the visual universe from a lot of different people, I've probably learned more from Heller than from anyone else. Where Steven Heller is concerned, I'm always eager to read and look at more of his work. But what I'd really, really like him to do is give a seminar on energy and productivity. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 23, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- While the title of this post is "Blogging Note" the subject is more of a bleg. (For those of you lucky enough not to have encountered that word yet, "bleg" is cutesy blog-speak for begging for information via a blog.) From time to time such as here I mention a Modernist-centered art-history narrative that originated at the Museum of Modern Art. It was pretty close to what I was taught in art history classes back in the late 50s, and I still find it hard to shake the concepts fed to me when I was 19 or so. The course, once it departed the Middle Ages, became a who-invented-this-first narrative akin to Biblical "begats" with the begatting ending once art emerged from the sludge of academism and realism to reach the shining heights of Pure Abstraction. Now to confess sloth and ignorance. Because I find Post-Modern art generally not very interesting (there are exceptions), I don't bother to study it nearly as much as I do other art. My impression is that the historical "thrust" posited in the MoMA narrative shattered into a collection of mini-movements fueled by painters and sculptors desperately trying to be innovative. Although I did buy a book that attempted to list the noteworthy movements from the 19th century to the 21st, I'm still semi-clueless regarding the "narrative" angle. What I would like is for some of you to pass along references to any historical narratives that cover the period since 1960 or thereabouts. Especially welcome would be a narrative that proposes "thrust" rather than the apparent chaos of the mini-movements. And apologies if you mentioned such narratives in comments to previous posts -- please pass along the info again. Why? Because, after months of fruitless head-scratching, a possibly viable concept of a non-Modernist narrative just popped into my head. Something blindingly simple. So simple that it might be simple-minded. In any case, I'm ready to do some work on this to see if I can come up with anything worth posting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 22, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sparing the Rod
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that a California (where else) legislator has proposed a law to ban spanking. Sweden and perhaps some other countries already have such laws. The AFP article in the Yahoo link above quotes Sally Lieber (D, San Francisco) as stating "I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child three years or younger." Au Contraire, Ms Lieber. As the brother of a former girlfriend of mine once sensibly put it, very young children either do not understand words and concepts at all or understand them poorly. In other words, you can't reason with them. So there are times when a slap on the wrist or butt is the only way to inform the child that he did something wrong (such as pulling a plug out of a socket). This guy was an Army veterinary officer and the father of three or four kids. The word "beat" in the quote is obviously a loaded term. There's a huge difference between a light slap and turning someone into a proverbial (or even actual) bloody pulp. My guess is that nearly all spankings are much closer to the former than the latter. To my mind such a law would be yet another in a long line of legislation that, while attempting to prevent comparatively rare injustices, makes daily life more inconvenient for nearly everyone. Furthermore, such laws might cause worse problems than the ones they are attempting to fix -- the child playing with a cord and socket who gets a really nasty shock, or worse. And the Swedes? They used to go a-viking, pillaging and sometimes conquering around the Baltic Sea. Brutal, out-of-control barbarians they sometimes were. Now they are a placid people (who admittedly take care to maintain a good air force). But might their no-spanking law eventually lead to new generations of wild, undisciplined barbarians? Jes' askin', mind you. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 21, 2007 | perma-link | (29) comments

iPods, Rap, Teens and Sex
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lead news paragraph for the day: Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found. More here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 21, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Too Prudish?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- The familiar thing these days is for people to complain that biographies have become far too invasive, unkind, and salacious. Who needs to know all these seamy details, what's the world coming to, etc. But perhaps it's also possible for biographies to be too prudish. The Wife and I just watched an A&E Biography of the actress Vivien Leigh, for example. Intelligent, informative, well-done. Yet -- while perfectly frank about Leigh's mental troubles -- it ventured not one peep about Laurence Olivier's gay adventures (Sir Larry was the love of Vivien's life), or about Leigh's own compulsive promiscuity, which apparently rivaled that of one of her best-known characters, Blanche DuBois. Given that their marriage was the central event in Leigh's life -- she preferred to be addressed as "Lady Olivier" even after they divorced -- you'd think that two of the main reasons why their union experienced the tensions it did would have merited at least a quick acknowledgement. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 21, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments