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Friday, February 9, 2007

Women's Mags, Men's Mags
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in 2004, the smart and funny Cathy Seipp wrote a piece for NRO about working as a freelancer for men's magazines. I just caught up with it and found it informative and entertaining. What made me laugh loudest, though, was a description not of working for Penthouse but of what it's like to write for women's magazines: To proper feminists who ask how I can work for a magazine that exploits women, my answer is always, go write for a women's magazine before you talk to me about exploited women. Lured by the prospect of what, ludicrously, always seems like easy money, I have occasionally over the years done just that. But after endless, snippy, sorority slambook-style negotiations-- "And FYI, the editor said, why does she think she should get that much?" -- and torturous rewriting until the correct women's mag tone (perky, smarmy, know-it-all, generic) is achieved, that fatally tempting $2 a word shrinks to something like $2 an hour. I've known many women who have published pieces in glossy women's magazines, and their descriptions of the experience match and confirm Seipp's. "There's always one more meeting to be had about your piece," one of them said to me. "Women editors will just committee you into exhaustion." Cathy Seipp herself is currently slogging through a rough round of chemo. Go here and send her best wishes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Gays and Sports
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not to be missed: a still-fizzing conversation at Marginal Revolution about gays and sports. It was sparked off by the case of John Amaechi, a former NBA player who recently came out of the closet. Lots of interesting observations and theorizing from lots of different points of view. Half the blogshow, as far as I'm concerned, is the fun of watching people negotiate the minefields a conversation like this one is inevitably strewn with. They're trying, if in often-fumbling ways, to talk about a touchy but fascinating subject in a freewheeling yet respectful way. I found the whole yakfest rather heartening. Five years ago, would anyone have even dared to try to have such a discussion -- and in public? Perhaps our sense of what's permitted in "the public conversation" is finally growing a little more open. Let's hope. Steve Sailer elaborates on some of his own contributions here. John Amaechi sounds like an interesting guy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 9, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The North American Union?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fun numbers for the day come from Arizona: In [Arizona in] 2005, more Latina teens got pregnant than all other racial and ethnic groups combined ...Latina teens are three and a half times more likely than White teens to become pregnant in Arizona and are about one-third more likely to get pregnant than Hispanics nationwide. This has helped keep Arizona's teen pregnancy rate one of the highest in the nation. And Arizona taxpayers are increasingly picking up the tab: 82 percent of all teen births in 2005 were paid for by the state's Medicaid program, up from 71 percent a decade earlier. Which makes me wonder: How much is there to the whole "our elites want to merge Mexico, the U.S., and Canada into one gigantic unit" thing? Given the populace-defying way our elites carry on, it certainly sounds plausible. Wikipedia even has an entry on the North American Union. And here's the Wikipedia entry on Robert Pastor, said by some to be the plan's mastermind. Doesn't he seem like a creepy figure? And here's the entry on the ominous-sounding North American SuperCorridor Coalition. But thinking about all this makes me feel like I'm in a '70s conspiracy thriller. So maybe these are just the ravings of paranoid maniacs. Still, a conspiracy or near-conspiracy would certainly explain a lot. So why isn't more noise made about it? And how would you feel if it turned out to be true that our elites are erasing the boundaries between Mexico, the U.S., and Canada after all? Best, Michael UPDATE: Rick Darby turns up some key evidence. Nice Rick quote: This is what "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people" has come to in our time: a multi-national group of appointed officials and corporate heavyweights meeting secretly to plan ways to continually slice off bits of national sovereignty while keeping the chumps, er, citizens in the dark.... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Guess Who Gets the Fanciest Valentine
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wives. I say wives get the fanciest, most-expensive Valentine cards. How do I know? Why, I just finished shopping for Nancy's card and noticed that the ones at the card shop with the "Wife" tags tended to be larger in dimension, had more pages or more elaborate folding, and had the fanciest tip-on stuff. And I imagine that they tended to be the most expensive as well. Okay, I'm talking tendencies or averages here. I don't doubt that some of you might turn up a super large / elaborate / expensive card for Mother, let's say. But still... If I'm correct, then why is this so? Because the last thing most sane husbands want to do is short-change their wives on Valentine's Day. So if they aren't quite willing to fork over big bucks on flowers or a gift, then the least they can do is produce a top-level card. And the greeting card companies are obviously on to this. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Dirty China
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- China's rapid industrialization has been very impressive. So has its record as the world's most heedless polluter, reports Der Spiegel. Some unappetizing facts: The country is home to 16 of the world's 20 dirtiest cities. The country's factories and power plants emit more sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide than Europe does. In a few years the country will surpass the United States to become the world's biggest carbon dioxide producer. The amount by which China increased its power production last year is greater than Britain's entire capacity. China uses more coal than the U.S., the EU, and Japan combined. Every seven days a new coal-fired plant comes on line. It's estimated that 400,000 Chinese die from air pollution every year. Particulates from China are causing sore throats in Japan. Link thanks to the Distributist Review. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Farewell Indies?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The LA Times' David Streitfeld sums up the sad state of independent bookstores. "I'd be really hard pressed to come up with a single social or demographic trend that is in favor of bookstores," says one former bookstore owner. "It's a lost cause." (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Duets With Emmylou
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Surfing music-performance videos on YouTube recently, I found myself musing about the numerous ways we can (and often do) enjoy singers. Some we like mainly for their voices and musicality, of course. But some we enjoy more for their personal style. Some are amusing divas while others we take to as though they're Real People. The country-folk singer Emmylou Harris is a case in point, at least for me. She's a legendary beauty and a terrific talent, of course. Even so, I've never enjoyed her work as a solo performer. Despite her many gifts, when she's at the center of the spotlight I find her ... I dunno, limited, narrow, monotonous. A bit too pure, a bit too much the frozen love-object. Unkind of me to say, but it would never occur to me to buy a solo Emmylou CD. At the same time, there aren't many popular-music singers I enjoy more than Emmylou as a backup vocalist or a duetist. When she's singing as part of a group and not as a star, she seems to free up. She ditches the self-consciousness, and something I love -- something sultry, low-down, and good-humored -- makes an appearance. That famously angelic voice of hers treats itself to a roll in the dirt. She stops being all refined spirit and connects as well with her soul, her guts, and her pelvis. She pitches in. And lordy isn't that some sexy fun to witness? So to celebrate Emmylou's work the way I prefer it, let me pass along a couple of terrific vids. First up is a raucous, swinging duet on "Two More Bottles of Wine" with the song's writer, the Texas bar-band genius Delbert McClinton. A nice combo of rollicking and easygoing, no? Relaxed and exuberant -- a ruefully lusty toast to what a messed-up thing life can be. Pretty thrilling, in fact: friendship, loveplay, and mischief all wrapped up in one -- that's what it looked, sounded, and felt like to me anyway. I celebrated the glory that is Delbert McClinton here. In clip #2, Emmylou shares "Black Diamond Strings" with the Texas alt-folkie Guy Clark, whose face wins the "lived-in" award and retires it once and for all. I love the metaphysical earthiness of the performance: the combo of mournfulness and joy, of dreaminess and informality. I'm also touched by the droney-waltzy remoteness, which somehow makes life seem so much sweeter than it often does. The performance is like an old Daguerreotype come to musical life right in your own living room. And Emmylou: Hippie goddess though she obviously is, doesn't she also come across as a pliable, sly, many-sided creature? She isn't just an icon to be admired and worshipped; she's someone you're sharing some tangy private / public intimacy with. She's got a pulse; she lets herself vibrate. Bizarre but there it is: In my personal canon, Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite singers -- so long as she's sharing a... posted by Michael at February 8, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Elitist Architects vs. The Rest of Us
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's Wall Street Journal's Marketplace section has a front-page article dealing with results of a recent American Institute of Architects survey of the general public's taste in architecture. The article's "hook" was that the Bellagio hotel/casino in Las Vegas was 22nd in the favoritism ranking, astonishing some architects who are not exactly fond of it. "The Bellagio is tasteless," according to Edward Feiner of the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Washington, DC office. The Harris Interactive polling firm surveyed 2,000 Americans, presenting them with photos of "247 buildings nominated by 2,500 architects in various categories." From the results a ranked listing of the favorite 150 was unveiled, the number 150 chosen because the AIA is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. One reason for the survey was that the AIA wanted to "get a dialog going with the American people." (The AIA Web page referenced in the article is here. In the fine print is a "news" item mentioning the survey; I clicked on it but the link failed. Perhaps your luck will be better.) The article points out that, aside from the Bellagio, no building constructed in the last 10 years made the list's top 30 and of the top 20, only two were built in the last 35 years. The favorite was the Empire State Building, followed by the White House, the National Cathedral, the Jefferson Memorial, the Golden Gate Bridge (apparently it counted as architecture), the U.S. Capitol, the North Carolina Biltmore Estate, the Chrysler Building and the Vietnam Memorial. Feiner pointed out that sentiment and familiarity might have over-ridden aesthetic judgment. While that's likely in some cases, I don't think it negates the fact that the public doesn't seemed to have warmed to architecture of the various Modernist schools. Another tidbit: Some architects are more dismissive. Mark Robbins, dean of architecture at Syracuse University, says the survey "reinforces one's sense that the general public's knowledge of architecture is still limited to things that have columns or have a lot of colored lights." He says the list reminds him a the Zagat guides to restaurants, which rely on customer submissions. "It's only as good as the people who send in reviews. When I lived in Columbus, Ohio, Applebee's was in Zagat's." Architect Richard Meier (who had five buildings on the list) said "many of these things on the list are places people go and enjoy themselves, but I wouldn't consider them works of architecture." He also wondered why buildings such as Van der Rohe's Seagram Building and Johnson's New Caanan, CT house didn't make the final cut. Best line of the article: "Some in the architectural establishment -- whose favorite building is often said to be an ivory tower..." My hope is that architects will finally stop dismissing the public as a bunch of yahoos (lord knows they've been doing so for as long as I can remember) and start to ponder why their buildings are disliked or even hated. Mainstream media... posted by Donald at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Charlton's Latest
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Charlton Griffin -- who sometimes shows up in the comments here at 2Blowhards -- happens to be one of the very best producers and readers of audiobooks. I've listened to a number of Charlton's productions, and they've supplied some of the classiest and most pleasurable culture experiences I've had in recent years. So I'm glad to notice that Charlton has recently issued two more productions: R.D. Blackmore's classic Victorian romance "Lorna Doone," and -- a book I've long wanted to read -- the Satires of Juvenal. These are downloadable files from Audible, meant to be listened to on an MP3 player or an iPod. I'm a big fan of the downloadable-iPod-audiobook thang myself. I've been listening to audiobooks on my iPod for about a year now and I love it. I've encountered few technical problems, the sound quality is excellent, and the convenience can't be beat. It seems quite miraculous to tote around entire long novels (or Teaching Company lecture series) on such a tiny device. Hey, maybe the iPod-playing-audiobooks is the e-book reader that many have been awaiting. In any case, let me encourage those who have resisted audiobooks to give them a try. If you take to them -- and many, many people do (it's one of the few flourishing parts of the book-publishing industry) -- you may be amazed by what a great resource they are. Reading no longer has to wait until the end of the evening, when your vision is shot and your mind is dozey. Commuting time and exercise time become reading time as well. I get through many more books these days than I did in my pre-audiobook years. Here's an additional benefit: In my experience, audiobooks don't clutter up the house like books-on-paper do. I don't know why, but books-on-paper accumulate while audiobooks don't. One reason may be that I'm simply more likely to read an audiobook I've purchased than I am to read a book. For another, once you're done with an audiobook there's no point in keeping it around. You can't thumb through it, after all. So if it's a digital file you might erase it. If it's on CD, you might give it to a friend. In either case, when you're done with an audiobook, it's gone. Books meanwhile gather dust. Here's the website of Charlton's outfit, the well-named Audio Connoisseur. Charlton has made audiobooks of many substantial volumes of history and mucho great literature, so be sure to type "Charlton Griffin" and/or "Audio Connoisseur" into the Search box at Audible and have a look at the titles he has made available. Thanks to audiobooks you don't have to wait until retirement to catch up with the classics you missed as a kid. Charlton's Maugham and Maupassant are extra-special gems, IMHO. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Future Literacy Rates
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If we continue on our merry way where immigration and illegal immigration are concerned, we'll soon wind up with a less literate population, reports the Christian Science Monitor's Amanda Paulsen. Key quote: "There is no time that I can tell you in the last hundred years" where literacy and numeracy have declined, says Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston and one of the report's authors. "But if you don't change outcomes for a wide variety of groups, this is the future we face." An expanding, increasingly illiterate and innumerate population -- now that's the way to solve our Social Security and Medicaid challenges. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Links by Lull
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Websurfer magnifique and thinking-guy extraordinaire Dave Lull has pointed out a number of pieces and postings that I'm eager to pass along. This is the electronic age, and information shall be free. * Gene Callahan praises a new book about the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Callahan's piece isn't just a good book review, it's a good introduction to the thinking of a provocative and brilliant guy. * Why are so few superstar designers female? Design Observer's Michael Bierut tries to dodge a "Larry Summers moment." * Someone has written up the history of sexiness in fragrance -- as in perfume and cologne -- advertising. That's some excellent (and short) social history. * You may find the new realism (aka the New Classicism) in painting dismayingly kitschy or you may celebrate it as a long-overdue return to real values. There's no question, though, that it's a happening thing. And ain't that an interesting fact? NPR broadcasts a short report about the new realism. * Maxine wonders if the moment has finally arrived for print-on-demand to replace the traditional book-publishing model. * Paul Collins writes about some seriously Slow Food. Paul also has a funny posting up about a new device called the iGallop. The iGallop may look NSFW but it isn't. * The Slow Movement is flourishing in its leisurely way at The Slow Review. * Lifelong learning buffs now have a blog just for them: Open Culture. Resources, many of them free, abound. * Prairie Mary explains why she blogs. Great line: "Blogging is halfway between dreaming and preaching." (Mary herself points out a story reporting on a new list of "additives, antimicrobals and agents" that has recently been approved for use as "processing aids" on meat and poultry products.) * "Why obsess over a few pounds?" asks Scientific American's Michael Schermer. The London Times' Jeremy Clarkson shares his own attitude towards keeping in shape: "What I tend to do when it comes to the business of being fit is not bother. I eat lots, and then I sit in a chair." * The U.S.'s top yoga teachers lead lives akin to those of rock stars, reports the LATimes's Jenny Hontz. Yoga remains mega-popular in LA, it seems. Where 20 years ago there were only three yoga studios in Los Angeles, now there are more than 200. Hontz refers to the L.A. yoga market as "saturated," which sounds like an understatement. Best, with many thanks to Dave Lull, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Geezer Hitchhikers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Saturday I did another one-day long-distance drive from Hollister, California to Seattle. (This time it took 14 1/3 hours total to drive 886 miles, and I averaged just under 62 mph, stops included.) I doubt I'll be making that run more than another time or two because the Hollister house found a buyer and we'll be living in Seattle for the next few years starting mid-March. I seem to do the Puget Sound - Bay Area drive in spasms dictated by circumstances. Around 1970 I had a girlfriend who lived in Cupertino. During the 1980s I made a lot of sales calls in California. Nowadays it's related to having two houses. Episodic though though my Interstate 5 road-warrioring has been, one thing about the journeys has remained fairly constant -- the hitchhikers. No, no. Not the fact that I see people hitchhiking whenever I do the run. It's that I suspect I've been seeing some of the same people all these years. I can't prove it, of course: it's just an impression. Nevertheless. Back in 1970, the hitchhikers mostly seemed to be pretty young -- in their 20s, let's say. My impression at the time was that they were happy-go-lucky dropouts. Dropped out of college. Dropped out of the labor force. And maybe dropped a bit of acid, too. In the 80s it seemed to me that the hitchhikers tended to be older, perhaps around 40. And male: not too many 40-ish females gathered along the on-ramps. Besides being older, the hitchhikers were shabbier than the 1970 version. The earlier crew's shabbiness struck me as being something of an affectation. The 1985-ish bunch's shabbiness was ingrained. And they seemed trapped in the hitchhiker role, whereas in 1970 hitchhiking had a voluntary sheen to it. Nowadays many hitchhikers look just about old enough to be on Social Security, though I wonder how many were employed long enough to qualify. And they are a sorry-looking lot, farther down the slope from where they were 20 years before. Time to clarify. I'm not saying that all the young hitchhikers I saw in 1970 never straightened out their lives. Most of them probably bummed around for a year or two and then got a job or returned to college. But a few strayed too far over the line and became the geezer-hitchhikers I've been seeing lately. A few remarks about the Pacific Coast might be helpful to readers from elsewhere. The climate tends to be mild west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon. This means that one can wave one's thumb or hold one's cardboard sign most of the year in the northern reaches of I-5. There are colleges along the route. In the far north is Western Washington University in Bellingham and at the other end of the freeway are UCSD, SDSU and USD in the San Diego area. Between are such "college towns" as Seattle, Olympia, Portland, Eugene, Ashland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa... posted by Donald at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Marriage Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Two Pakistanis suspected of being adulterous lovers have been stoned to death with bricks. * In Saudi Arabia, a wife's family can initiate divorce proceedings between her and her husband. (Link thanks to Tim Worstall. As Tim writes: "If mothers in law can legally insist upon a divorce is anyone's marriage safe?" Tim tells about making the classic mistake of trying to soothe an injured dog here.) * On the island of Orango off Guinea-Buissau, the women propose marriage and the men can't refuse. (Link thanks to Prairie Mary, who writes vividly about what it was like to witness open-heart surgery here.) * Is sexual liberation something the West should be proud of? (Link thanks to Piotr.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Video Resume
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suspect that most visitors are ahead of me on this, but I've just caught up with the case of Aleksey Vayner, a Yale business student infamous for sending out what has quickly come to be known as "the worst video resume ever." Here's the video, and it is indeed priceless. Aleksey has a considerable entry in Wikipedia, so immortality is his. Question: What does someone who makes an immense public ass of himself even before leaving school do with the rest of his life? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

The Krugman Show
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm normally pretty good about avoiding Paul Krugman, who is obviously a brilliant guy but who's also a grandstanding egomaniac. Life's too short, why not keep the blood pressure under control, etc. Occasionally, though, I do slip up. Intrigued by the idea of Paul Krugman writing about the recently-deceased Milton Friedman, for instance, I read this New York Review of Books piece. (Link thanks to ALD.) Could Krugman -- a Clinton-style Democrat -- really have found it in himself to write an appreciation of a legendary free-marketer? Maybe so, I thought. During a previous bout of weakness, I listened to a long interview on Radio Economics with Krugman and was surprised to discern some gentlemanliness in his conduct and language. Not that the usual compulsive showing-off was in short supply, you understand. But it was enough to let me think he might deserve another try. So I bit. Verdict: both sides of Krugman are on display. He does indeed frame his piece as a tribute and an appreciation, and he does acknowledge Friedman's importance and contributions: "By the century's end, classical economics had regained much though by no means all of its former dominion, and Friedman deserves much of the credit ... I regard him as a great economist and a great man." Generous! If a bit pompous: "I regard him ..." indeed. The world was waiting for Paul Krugman to deliver that opinion. Yet ... Well, let's just say that, although the corpse of Milton Friedman hasn't yet cooled, Krugman can't leave matters there. The usual thing in this kind of piece -- the kind one combatant writes about a worthy opponent -- is to slip a few reservations in along the way but let the whole thing stand as tribute. It's all a big debate, why not root for people who make great cases, etc. But that's not for Krugman, who doesn't just note down a few reservations, he turns the essay into something really poisonous. The signs are apparent early on. For instance: "This essay argues that Friedman was wrong on some issues, and sometimes seemed less than honest with his readers." That "less than honest" bit is going to bloom in the course of the essay. The portents quickly grow darker and stormier: "questionable logic ... serious questions about his intellectual honesty ... a bit slippery ..." Finally, the accusation itself: "Over time, Friedman's presentation of the story [ie., free-marketism] grew cruder, not subtler, and eventually began to seem -- there's no other way to say this -- intellectually dishonest." Gotta love that "there's no other way to say this" bit. Krugman isn't peddling mere opinion or disagreement. No, he's speaking because the gods and the fates have chosen him to deliver their judgment. What could Krugman possibly have in mind, I wondered. I've read many criticisms of Friedman's work and thought but I can't remember a one that accused him of intellectual dishonesty. I focused in on the piece... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (61) comments

Underwear Soundtracks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why not let La Perla select your listening for you? Or maybe Aubade should do the honors? Hmm: Brilliant upscale filmy French women's underthings ... Romantic mood music ... It's not as if it isn't a match. And if designers are going to leave no dimension of our lives untouched -- if such is our fate in the 21st century -- I can certainly think of worse companies to put my aural pleasure in the hands of. Classy-sexy, too-good-for-the-likes-of-you-and-me publications here and here. Baroooo! February is lookin' mighty hot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, February 5, 2007

To Affinity --- And Beyond!!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose I should explain the title to readers who might be baffled; the all-knowing rest of you (congrats!) can move on to the next paragraph. Okay. In the Toy Story 2 movie there's a spaceman-toy character called Buzz Lightyear who from time to time would call out "To infinity ... and beyond!!" So I was, er, sorta trying to make a play on that. Y'know, trying to be funny. But maybe it was kinda lame after all. Try not to hold it against me. I blame my joke writers. Fire them next week, I will. It's confession time once again. This time I need to publicly admit that I'm no longer hatless. The shameful thing is that, for the last year or so, I've been buying baseball caps. The ones with the adjustment strap on the back. With a logo do-dad on the front. First it was an orange Pebble Beach Golf Links cap. Then I bought two! Cabo Wabo cantina caps when I was in Mexico last August. After that I went up-scale and got a Porsche Design cap in Berlin. It's distinctive because it's black and has no logo above the bill -- just the words "Porsche Design" in tiny black letters on silver bill edging. And recently [sob!] when I was in Reno at the automobile museum I bought a Route 66 cap. But I do have standards. The caps I buy relate to me. I would never dream, for instance, of going to the Harvard Coop and buying a Harvard-logo cap for my personal use. That would be deceitful, because I never attended Harvard. But given that I got a fancy advanced degree from Dear Old Penn, I can imagine myself getting one of their caps: I already own a couple logo sweatshirts and a license plate frame. (For what it's worth, I relate to Pebble Beach because Nancy and I got engaged there. We had lunch at Cabo Wabo, so that justifies those caps. Porsche? -- I used to own one. And I drove parts of Route 66 in pre-Interstate days.) What to make of buying logo gear? Doubtless some sociologists would call it a mechanism whereby marginalized, low self-esteem people try to attain prestige in the eyes of passers-by. Other sociologists might term it a form of validation of group solidarity. Me? I dropped my American Sociological Association membership more than a quarter-century ago, so I have no grand theories to advance and take logo sightings on a case-by-case basis. Gallery Pebble Beach Golf Links cap This was the start of my sorry descent into affinity cap-wearing. Only mine was orange! University of Washington "Huskies" cap I have two degrees from the UW, but I'm not sure if I'll buy a Husky cap. In the first place, I never cared for the purple-and-gold school colors. Furthermore, it would be oh so much more snobbishly fun to wear a Dear Old Penn cap. United Nations key ring I... posted by Donald at February 5, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, February 4, 2007

YUP Hatches a Nope: Flawed Take on Norman Bel Geddes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I like a lot of what Yale University Press publishes on art. For instance, their series of books on John Singer Sargent is wonderful (too bad I can't afford any). Alas, even a high batting average includes misses along with the hits. And I say that YUP whiffed on this book: Designing Modern America:Broadway to Main Street by Christopher Innes, Canada Research Chair in Performance Culture at York University, Toronto. If I understand Innes correctly, his thesis goes something like this: Now largely forgotten, Joseph Urban (1872-1933) and Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) were important shapers of modern American design, and their skill and success were related to their experience in theater-related design. The book is his attempt to demonstrate this, and I'm persuaded that the theatricality angle is interesting and doubtless an important factor in the architectural and design aspects of their careers. I've always been fond of Urban's work and ought to set aside time to work up a Blowhards post about him. Briefly, he was an Austrian involved one of the 1900-vintage secession movements. He moved to America in the 1910s and had a successful career in several design-related fields before his death at age 61. A book providing good coverage of his career and work is here. Besides his theater work, Norman Geddes (the "Bel" was an affectation he added to his name in recognition of this first wife) was a pioneer industrial designer and masterful self-publicist. For a brief biography, click here. I believe Innes' book has two major flaws: In his drive to prove Geddes' originality and influence, Innes fails to place him in context. Previous and contemporary designs from others tend to be ignored. Innes lets too many errors slip in, casting doubt on the book's reliability. In many cases there are near-errors or slightly misleading statements. In a discussion or urbanism (page 180) Innes states that "President Roosevelt's New Deal, announced in the 1932 election campaign, included the redevelopment of ninety-nine communities and ultimately led to new towns like Columbia, Maryland." I don't know about the 99 number, but it is true that Columbia, Maryland exists though it didn't get rolling until the mid-1960s. And it was a private -- not federal government -- undertaking. Innes would have been on firmer ground had he cited Greenbelt, Maryland -- a true New Deal style project. I'll cut Innes a little slack on this because he's originally from the UK. On the following page he mentions Baron Haussmann and his "Parisian boulevards [that] converged on symbols of French national pride -- the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe"... I might be mistaken, but I don't know of any Haussmann boulevards going anywhere near the Eiffel Tower, let alone converging on it. (Besides, Haussmann was 20 years gone when the tower was built.) It gets worse when the topic is automobiles. Geddes indeed prepared a series of designs for the Graham-Paige company in the late 20s that attempted to predict... posted by Donald at February 4, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments