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  1. Ellen Dissanayake, Again
  2. Anne Thompson Blogs Again
  3. Philadelphia Doppelgänger
  4. Steven on Leni
  5. The DVD Release
  6. Vollard on Art Trends
  7. A Short Introduction to Modern American Libertarianism
  8. Eye on Meat
  9. Kiddies' Serials - Late 1940s
  10. CyndiF Is a Blogger

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ellen Dissanayake, Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while back, I wrote a posting about evolutionary biology and the arts, and more specifically about Ellen Dissanayake, an independent scholar whose theories about art and culture I find useful and provocative. (See that posting for book suggestions.) The best intro to Dissanayake's work has long been an article about her that Caleb Crain wrote for the now-defunct magazine Lingua Franca. A visitor recently pointed out to me that links to Crain's article's previous online incarnation had gone dead, and passed along a link to the article's current online location. It's here, and I once again enthusiastically recommend it. I suspect that fans of such iconoclastic yet down-to-earth brainiacs as Denis Dutton, Geoffrey Miller, Christopher Alexander, etc, will have their minds enjoyably blown apart by Dissanayake too, and in semi-similar ways. Dissanayake's website is here. Caleb Crain's own blog is also well worth visiting regularly. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 17, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Anne Thompson Blogs Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When Anne Thompson, my favorite filmbiz reporter, recently left the Hollywood Reporter, I was afraid I'd lost one of my favorite bloggers too. At her Risky Business blog, Anne had been fizzy, informative, and freewheeling; she'd also been generous with gossip, opinions, and speculation. Visiting her was like spending dinner with an old friend who's smart, intuitive, and knowledgeable, as well as (even better) likably, rowdily indiscreet. So I'm super-glad to notice that Anne has re-surfaced. She's now reporting and writing for Variety; here's hoping a nice big pay-hike plays a role in that arrangement. She muses about the success of "300" here; she suspects that the film may prove to be "a shapeshifter movie for the new millennium." (Haven't seen it yet myself, but certainly won't miss it.) She has a new blog too, and she has hit the blog-ground running. The excellent Gregg Killday is now doing most of the writing at the Hollywood Reporter's Risky Business blog. Me, I'm breathing a big sigh of filmbuffy happiness and relief, and have re-set my links. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 17, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, March 16, 2007

Philadelphia Doppelgänger
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards-- You probably know about this. I just discovered it. After all, there's never been a curve I haven't been behind. Anyway, behold paintings by two well-known Philadelphia-area artists: An Arcadian - Thomas Eakins, c. 1883 Christina's World - Andrew Wyeth, 1948 Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 16, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Steven on Leni
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For film and art buffs, the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who died in 2003 at the age of 101, is a scab that it's hard to stop picking at. How to sum her up? If you care about beauty, it's impossible to deny her filmmaking ambition, talent, and achievements. If you care about cultural history, there's no getting around her importance and her influence. (Present-day sports and political iconography both owe a lot to her work.) Yet, if you care about humanity, how can you not be horrified by someone who made gloriously beautiful Nazi propaganda films? What kind of responsibility should she be made to bear? How harsh and relentless does our condemnation of her need to be? She was anything but a thinker; she didn't create Nazi ideology. She didn't run death camps either; she made films. She was one of the Third Reich's decorators and salesmen, in other words, not one of its trigger-pullers or financiers. Dreadful as her actions were, how hard do we owe it to ourselves to come down on such figures? And, among all the people who did aesthetic work for the Nazis, what's special about her? After all, if we're to spend many decades and many heavythink volumes exploring and condemning Leni, don't we owe it to ourselves to make similar efforts to denounce Hitler's favorite graphic designer, whoever that was? Where's that person's biography? Why isn't he/she debated-over repeatedly in the NYRB? As far as I've been able to tell, Riefenstahl was a talented, sexy, and narcissistic opportunist. She certainly appears to have been completely unprincipled -- something that, in my experience, makes her anything but unique among artists. But if it's true that her only real devotion was to herself, then it would follow that her attachment to Naziism was opportunistic, and not deeply-held. Could this have been the case? I wonder. Had she come of age in a different environment, perhaps she'd have made Communist films, or Catholic films, or Hollywood action-adventure films; perhaps she'd have done whatever it took to get to the top of those worlds too. So: Was Leni Riefenstahl really evil? Or was she an ambitious, self-regarding, talented idiot who happened to do her striving in the world the Nazis made? Perhaps the inner Leni Riefenstahl was no more (or less) evil than Madonna. But perhaps not. There's something unavoidably peculiar about the way Riefenstahl's love of dynamism, animal spirits, and physical beauty jibed with Nazi creeds. And cozying up to Hitler ... Not appetizing, to say the least. All the above statements seem to me to be true, and (in my view, anyway) none of them cancels the others out. Is there any one easy statement that can be made about such a person? I mean, besides "Fascinating! Horrifying!" Although I'm glad to see that the subtle and intelligent Steven Bach has just published a biography of Riefenstahl, Richard Schickel's review of the book makes me feel a... posted by Michael at March 15, 2007 | perma-link | (50) comments

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The DVD Release
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- DVD versions of movies are being released ever-more-quickly and movie-theater owners are worried, reports the LA Times' Claudia Eller. A fun set of figures from her good piece: "Box-office sales make up about 30% of a studio's worldwide revenue pie, with DVD sales accounting for 45% and TV 25%." Link thanks to DVD Spin Doctor, who adds a key additional point to the discussion: Exhibitors would rather beef about their shortened period of exclusivity with new movies than address the real reasons adults are fleeing theaters: soaring ticket prices, obnoxious ads, cell phones, dirty theaters, ripoff concessions -- and the existence of a clear alternative, the home-theater experience. Badgering the studios is a lot cheaper than cleaning up their own mess. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Vollard on Art Trends
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What generates new trends in art? Consider Ambroise Vollard the famous Parisian art dealer who championed (and wrote books about) Cezanne, Renoir and Degas. He also championed (but didn't write books about) Picasso, Rouault, Gauguin and Van Gogh. The Met recently had an exhibit keyed on Vollard. I haven't read the catalogue, but an International Herald Tribune article takes issue with apparent insinuations that Vollard took unfair advantage of some artists. But those are side-issues for this post. I'm interested in a passage I read in Vollard's book Reflections of a Picture Dealer (Souveniers d'un marchard de tableau). The book (1936 English translation by Violet M. MacDonald -- cast in a sometimes mid-30s-slangy Brit tone that might or might not have captured the sense of the original) is an interesting mélange of this 'n' that which included the following (pp. 230-31 of the Dover edition): For painting is not stationary, it cannot escape the urge to renewal, the incessant evolution that manifests itself in every form of art. At the same time it may be said with truth that each of these forms reacts upon the others, with sometimes one, sometimes another predominating, providing the impulse in some fresh direction. As a rule, literature heads the movement, furnishing at once the theory and the example from which music and the plastic arts draw draw their inspiration. But the period of which I am speaking [1894, when he opened his rue Laffitte gallery], music had taken the lead. And what is music? A sort of incantation. It does not define. It does not aim at direct demonstration or description. It captivates precisely by its flowing, vaporous, indeterminate qualities. It feeds at the sources of mystery, on myths, on legends; and with what it borrows from these it creates moods, an atmosphere propitious to passion or reverie. Under its influence, and by way of reaction against the brutalities of realism on the one hand, and cold Parnassian perfection on the other, the writers, and the poets especially, were attempting to capture the almost immaterial charm that resides in the vagueness of the subject. They were endeavoring to induce the same moods, the same enthusiasm, the same transports of sensibility into which they were thrown in moments of musical exaltation. They would no longer describe, they would evoke. They would not state precisely, but suggest. The poet would consider it his mission merely to open up vistas. The poem was to prolong itself in the free and emotional meditation of the reader. The fascination exercised by Wagner's work thus gave rise to the esoterism of Mallarmé, and the "music before all things" of Verlaine. It was the symbolic epoch. In the plastic arts, and particularly painting, the same influence was at work, an influence undergone directly by some, but propagated for the most part through the media of literature and criticism. Vollard was a smarter cookie than I am, plus he was on the spot. Even so,... posted by Donald at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

A Short Introduction to Modern American Libertarianism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago, I pointed out a Max Goss interview with George Nash that provides a good, fast introduction to modern American conservatism. Today I'm pointing out a Daniel McCarthy review of a new Brian Doherty book that's a good, fast introduction to the history of modern American libertarianism. Nice quote: American students and admirers of Mises such as Murray Rothbard, a Columbia University graduate student, extended the work of their mentor and converted others, so that today the Austrian tradition flourishes in the United States, with strongholds at George Mason University and the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama -- though even now, warns George Mason's Peter Boettke, "You get involved in it and you're like in the 'X-Files' of academics." Daniel McCarthy blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Eye on Meat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Smart Money lists 10 good reasons to be wary of supermarket meats. Short version: Livestock-raising and meat processing have changed a lot in the last 30 years. Good, if unappetizing, quote: Americans are consuming more meat than ever. In 2004 we ate over 221 pounds of meat and poultry per person, up from 199 pounds in 1990. In order for the industry to turn a profit on the low prices Americans have come to expect, most livestock are kept and slaughtered on factory farms, where animals eat corn- and soybean-based feed -- 10 to 30% of which is often radically different from what the animal would consume naturally. For example, feathers, poultry manure and bedding are all acceptable in cattle feed, according to the Food and Drug Administration. I blogged about Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" here, here, and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kiddies' Serials - Late 1940s
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Serials have been around a long time, but the genre strikes me as fading. Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Dolye in the 19th century were serialized in magazines. Today there are still some daytime television soap operas. Those were for adults. But what about serials whose audience is young children? I'm admittedly out of touch -- my kids were young in the 1980s -- but it's my impression that children's serials are essentially dead. The main medium is TV and for whatever reasons (production or re-run considerations?) episodes seem to be self-contained. (Yes there are Japanese multi-episode Anime animations, but aren't these aimed at people older than 10? I don't watch them, so could someone please help in Comments.) Though I'm ignorant of today's serials, I was plugged into that scene in the late 40s, when serials were still in their glory. Although there might have been print medium serials, I wasn't aware of them. Where one usually found them was in movie theaters, on the radio and to some extent television. Some theaters catered to the kiddie audience with Saturday matinees. Normally there would be a feature film -- perhaps a cowboy movie -- and the lead-ins would be a cartoon and a serial. Sadly, my parents seldom were willing to haul me over to the theater for the Saturday entertainment so I never got to see many episodes of Batman (let's say) in sequence. I'd be left hanging at the end of the reel with the hero or another important character in seriously serious trouble, seemingly with no possible hope of survival. And I seldom found out how they escaped alive. I'm more familiar with radios serials because I got to listen to them daily. ABC and, I think, the Mutual network had kiddie serial ghettoes filled with 15-minute programs that ran from around 5 to 6 in the late afternoon: after school but before dinnertime. Programs I recall hearing included Superman, Terry & the Pirates, Jack Armstrong (The All-American Boy), Captain Midnight (an aviation theme), Hop Harrigan (ditto) and Tennessee Jed (a western). Half-hour-format kids' programs such as the Lone Ranger, the Cisco Kid and the Green Hornet were aired after dinnertime, at 7 or perhaps 7:30. These half-hour shows ran weekly (I might be wrong on this) and normally had complete episodes for each airing, so they can't be classed as serials. As you can probably tell, these serials were aimed more at boys than girls. I have no idea what girls did if they didn't want to listen to Hop Harrigan, et. al. And I can't recall the sex split of the audience for Saturday matinees. The content of the radio serials included a lot of action and gunplay -- probably enough to make today's gender-blenders and safety freaks wet their pants -- but it wasn't hardcore. For example the Lone Ranger (okay, not a serial, but with the same kind of audience) would blaze away with the result... posted by Donald at March 13, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

CyndiF Is a Blogger
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just noticed that the visitor 2Blowhards regulars know as CyndiF has started her own blog. It's a wide-ranging delight. Check out Cyndi's terrific reading journal, for example. Fun to see that Cyndi is a Food Network junkie too. Why haven't the gayguyz turned the absurd "Semi-Homemade" specialist Sandra Lee into a camp icon yet? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Video-Biz Mayhem
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Does the advent of on-demand, online video spell the end of traditional audiovisual-through-time entertainment-providers? We can certainly hope. But we wouldn't expect the likes of Viacom to go down without putting up a fight, would we? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

DeLong on Friedman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Brad DeLong writes a lovely, short appreciation of Milton Friedman. (PDF alert. Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.) It's informative, elegant -- and an instructive contrast with Paul Krugman's recent New York Review of Books essay about Friedman, which I highlighted and had a wrangle with here. Krugman and DeLong are similarly brilliant and have semi-similar political points of view. In their pieces, both include much in the way of acknowledgment of Friedman's contributions and importance. Yet, once all that has been said, what a difference between them. In his piece, Krugman shows his usual inability to disagree without personalizing. When Krugman differs with someone, he seems to consider it a moral imperative to attack the character of his opponent. He and Friedman didn't differ; no, Friedman was "intellectually dishonest." (I've read a lot about Milton Friedman, including many bitter criticisms of him. Krugman is the only writer I've ever encountered to accuse Friedman of intellectual dishonesty.) Going aggressively on the personal attack is such a compulsive reflex for Krugman that I'm tempted to overdramatize and use the word "pathological" to describe it. In his piece, DeLong provides helpful information, sincere appreciation, and a few nudges to his companions on the Democratic neolibby-left. "Hey," says DeLong, "it's genuinely worth wrestling with this Friedman guy, much as you may think of him as a devil figure. If you let yourself confront the Friedman phenomenon directly instead of dismissing it out of hand, you'll wind up at the least a better and a smarter Democrat." But DeLong also doesn't hold back. He leaves you in no doubt about his disagreements with Friedman, which seem as substantial as Krugman's. He's also specific and direct about where he thinks Friedman's thinking comes up short. His piece is at least as forceful as Krugman's. Friedman and DeLong were opponents, after all. Yet DeLong, by contrast to Krugman, presents his differences with Friedman in a self-posssesed and urbane way. There isn't a word of personal attack in his piece, let alone any attempts at character assassination. He keeps the discussion on the plane of intellectual debate. Incidentally, two quick points in an attempt to forstall potential detours. First, my quarrel isn't and wasn't with Krugman's politics or economics, which I have some sympathy for, but with his manner, which I find appalling. Second: I rather enjoy the popular, pro-wrestling side of politics. Michael Moore vs. Anne Coulter? Give 'em both bazookas and let's relish what follows. It's trashy spectacle, and (occasionally) good entertainment of a junky kind. Besides, I'm almost always happy when the political class disgraces itself. But aren't we -- 99% of the time, anyway -- entitled to expect civilized behavior from our public intellectuals? Here's Brad DeLong's blog. Hmm, what to make of the fact that, at the top of his blog, he declares himself to be "A Fair and Balanced Economist Member of the Reality Based Community"? Is describing yourself in this way useful? Or kind of... posted by Michael at March 13, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, March 12, 2007

Arthur Mathews -- California's Best Artist?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I saw the show almost by accident. You see, I bought the book months ago so it slipped my mind that it was associated with the show and I also forgot when the show was taking place. By chance, we had to kill some time before Nancy's daughter-in-law's birthday party Sunday, so I thought we should go to the Oakland Museum of California because I knew that it had a collection of California Impressionist paintings. But its Web page reminded me that California As Muse: The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews was still on (it stared October 28th and ends March 25th). I found the show fabulous and regret that I failed to see it sooner and didn't give California Blowhards readers a timely heads-up to go see it. (A good many of Arthur and Lucia Mathews' works are in the Oakland Museum's collection, along with paintings by California Impressionists. Unfortunately, the museum normally doesn't seem to devote much viewing space to these works, which is why the special exhibit is especially important.) Arthur F. Mathews (1860-1945) was, in my judgment, the best California artist of the pre-Modern era and one of the very best ever. Certainly he was top dog in the Bay Area from the 1890s to around 1920. For many years he was in charge of the San Francisco School of Design. Later, he and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews operated an Arts & Crafts firm, the Furniture Store that built Art Nouveau and A&C furniture and picture frames for an affluent clientele. Many paintings in the show are framed by the Furniture Company and are works of art in themselves. He also was extensively involved with mural painting in important public buildings; his architectural background was probably of use in this. Mathews was trained in architecture for a while (relatives were in the trade) but then switched to painting at the School of Design. From 1884-89 he studied in Paris at (for Americans, where else?) the Académie Julian. The show included some early paintings with a decidedly Academic tinge, but within a few years of his return he had evolved his flat, muralistic style featuring colors partly neutralized by their complements. Below are some examples of Mathews' work. Unfortunately, image pickings on the Internet are still slim so what you see isn't as good as it should be. My advice is to look for the show-related book linked above at a Borders, Barnes & Noble, museum bookstore or wherever you can find halfway decent selections of art books. It's available in both hardcover and paperback -- same size, different binding. Gallery Youth (circa 1917) Mathews painted many pictures of women dancing. To the general public, these probably represent his "signature" pieces, and this picture is on the cover of the book/catalog linked above. Such dancing (think Isadora Duncan) was popular during the first quarter of the 20th century. If you can, take a look at some college yearbooks from... posted by Donald at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Many Loves
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Annalee Newitz introduces us to the Polyamorists. Fun passage: For some, poly may be more realistic than monogamy. Having multiple partners frees people from the process of trying to find "the one" who is perfect for them in every way ... Critics call poly self-indulgent and morally reprehensible. Yet it is hardly a sexual free-for-all. The freedom has limits - and managing emotions like jealousy becomes a central issue. "These are designer relationships," Cook says. "Every group decides for itself what's open and what isn't." It all sounds to me like what we used to think of as "young people's first year or two after college." But what do I know? The Wife and I know a few young people who play the polyamorous game. Here's the rulebook. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Andy Warhol died 20 years ago last month. Taki takes what strikes me as a sensible look back at the Warhol days. (Link thanks to Tory Anarchist.) I wrote about Andy Warhol here. * The Man Who Is Thursday comes up with a movie-list I was happy to spend quality time with: a list of films starring gorgeous actresses at the height of their beauty. * Here's a well-done profile of an extraordinary autistic savant. * Buddhism: philosophy or religion? Razib offers up some Razibian thoughts. * Randall Parker comments on a new study reporting that Americans are less satisfied with their jobs than they once were. *Steve Sailer has been taking a look at Barack Obama and his book. Excellent line: "Perhaps 'Dreams from My Father' should be read as an autobiographical novel rather than as an autobiography?" * Childhood, North Korea-style. * Which work fields would those with normal-range intelligences do well to explore? Diana and the GNXP crowd toss around a lot of ideas. My favorite suggestion: chandelier-restorer. * It ain't easy living up to a next-door neighbor like Endicott: Love those Cocoanuts! Is Kid Creole the present-day Cab Calloway? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

A Short History of Modern American Conservatism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you want to acquire an in-depth familiarity with how modern American conservatism became the thing that it is today, George Nash's "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945" is the book to read. (It's buyable here.) But if what you want to do is sketch in the basics, you couldn't do better than Maxwell Goss' Right Reason interview with Nash: Part One, Part Two. A while back (here), I wrote about how much I've gotten out of wrestling with rightie thought. And I interviewed Jim Kalb, who provided readers with an eye-opening explication of traditionalist conservatism: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Jim blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 12, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments