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  1. Displaying Two-Ton Objects
  2. Alexandra and Jim Blog Again
  3. Moviegoing: "Black Book"
  4. Which Culture-Things From Our Era Will Live On?
  5. The NYTBR Section and Fiction 5: Literary Fiction and Literature
  6. Underground
  7. Global Warming -- Or Not -- Online
  8. Love It / Hate It
  9. Richard S. Wheeler's Memoir
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Friday, April 13, 2007

Displaying Two-Ton Objects
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Saturday, right before the flu nailed me, I finally got around to visiting the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, southeast of San Francisco. Blackhawk Automotive Museum This car museum is luxurious, unlike many. I visited Bill Harrah's famous collection in Sparks, Nevada back in the 70s where most of the cars were lined up in rows in warehouses. So how does a museum go about displaying automobiles? They can weigh two or more tons apiece and require at a minimum roughly a 10x20 foot area to occupy. And if they're valuable (as is mostly the case), there has to be some form of separation from spectators; can't have people hopping in, trying the driving position and perhaps snitching an item, as happens at automobile shows. As mentioned, the Harrah collection was mostly pretty basic. To accommodate the cars, they were lined up side-to-side and 90 degrees to the aisle. Museums with a little more spare space sometimes choose to echelon the cars. Sometimes cars are positioned nose to tail. And there are other possibilities, as I'll show below. The ideal, in my judgment, is to have cars well-separated so that spectators can do a walk-around. But most museums don't have the space to allow this. The result is that it can be hard to fully appreciate what's being seen. Gallery Schlumpf Collection - Mulhouse, France I've never visited this fancy museum, but would like to. Note all the Bugattis in the photo. Also note the fancy "street-lighting" and the lack of velvet ropes or other visitor barriers -- hard to believe that's museum policy. The cars are in rows, however. National Automobile Museum, Reno This is a fairly typical display area in the successor to the Harrah Collection. Cars are nose-to-tail, but to the right (hidden by the Tucker) they face the visitor track. National Automobile Museum, Reno Outside the display halls are faux streets, one to an automotive era. No viewer barriers, but the cars displayed in the "streets" weren't the most valuable in the collection. A nice aspect of this sort of display is that cars are in a "natural environment. Talbot-Lago at Blackhawk Museum The Blackhawk Museum chooses to display cars as art-objects. The walls and ceilings of the display halls are black, as is the stone floor, while the cars are spot-lighted. The effect is akin to a Cartier window display. Bucciali TAV- 8, 1930 The Blackhawk Museum tends to display rare, valuable cars, often previous winners of the Pebble Beach Concours. This Bucciali is rare indeed. The chassis to the right is that of the 16-cylinder model that was never built. The motor is a gorgeous mock-up. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Alexandra and Jim Blog Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to see that two blogging pioneers are blogging again. At Out of Lascaux, Alexandra made smart and freewheeling observations about art, and gave wonderful short art-history lessons. As one of the very first -- if not the very first -- culturebloggers, she paved the way for the rest of us, wrote with a lot of personality, and was always one of my favorite blog-addictions. I see that she has now taken up an interest in quilting. What fun: I'll be learning a little something about a great artform I know less than zilch about. Right Reason's Max Goss points out that Jim Ryan is blogging once again too. I started reading Jim's Philosoblog at about the same time that I discovered Out of Lascaux. Both weren't just delights but inspirations -- they helped me realize that real people could use blogs to be direct about what they had to say. Don't laugh: Only four or five years ago, blogging still seemed like an outlandish and dicey new development. Alexandra and Jim deserve lots of credit for, along with their other virtues, audacity and guts. Anyway, Jim combines brains and common sense in a way that I find hard to resist. He's a former philosophy professor who is also, and miraculously, a down-to-earth and intellectually generous guy. Michael Blowhard sez "Go visit! You'll get to know some lovely and insightful minds." Slightly off-topic, Michael Blowhard also sez "Go read this fab piece by Roger Scruton!" It's a response to the Richard Dawkinses of the world, and an attempt to make the case for religion. I think it's pretty brilliant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Moviegoing: "Black Book"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fast posting to take note of the fact that I enjoyed watching Paul Verhoeven's WWII thriller "Black Book," which is currently in theaters. The film centers on a Dutch-Jewish woman in the closing days of WWII, and is basically a thriller for adults. It has plenty of scares, surprises, twists, and chills, as well as a big cast of good guyz and bad guyz. But it has a surprising amount of depth, moral ambiguity, and complexity too. The film is an interesting challenge to digest. My impression is that we're used to adult thrillers being low-key -- detailed, thoughtful, and novelistic. I wrote here about "Enigma," an excellent WWII thriller scripted by Tom Stoppard and directed by Michael Apted; it's very much in the quiet, literary mode. "Black Book" surprises because there's nothing bookish about it. Instead, it's done in Verhoeven's usual intense, melodramatic, movie-movie way. This description may make the film sound less appetizing than it is, but Verhoeven -- a Dutchman who had worked in Hollywood for 20 years (often in action or sci-fi) before returning to the Netherlands to make "Black Book" -- seems to have wanted with this film to blend "Schindler's List" with a Garbo espionage thriller. It's like a Hollywood version of a large-scale foreign film, in other words. Some people might wince -- and apparently some critics have, finding the film over-the-top, artificial, even laughable. FWIW, I thought the approach worked great, and the audience I saw the film with certainly wasn't cringing or protesting either. But I'm someone who doesn't find melodrama and movie-movie-ishness automatically crass or degrading. "Black Book" is a very impressive production in terms of scale, costumes, design, and effects -- who knew that the Netherlands had the resources and the skill to pull this kind of Great Big Thing off? Mucho fabulous acting, especially from Carice van Houten, the foxy Dutch actress in the lead, who is phenomenal. She makes her character chipper, gallant, brave, bold, and earthy, but with a tremendous current of need and sadness underneath. (I used to date a lot of Jewish gals who fit that description.) One hyper-minor cavil: Many of the film's props -- the trucks, clothes, and magazines -- look old. I know that there's a movie convention that films set in the past should be full of things that look old. It seems to help set a mood. But, y'know, back in March 1944 a March 1944 magazine didn't look yellowy and wrinkly; it looked bright, snappy, and new. I remember an interview with Robert Zemeckis about his movie "Back to the Future" where he said something similar. He said that one of the things he wanted to do in that film was to make sure that everything in the '50s scenes looked gleaming -- because on that day in the past, those things were gleaming and new. But that's really of no importance. "Black Book" gets my enthusiastic thumbs-up. It'll make a... posted by Michael at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Which Culture-Things From Our Era Will Live On?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's a dumb game, it's even a pointless game. But it can be a fun game too. Which culture-things from our era do you suspect will have a long, long life? Will still be in circulation in, say, 2300? Here are the rules: We aren't listing culture-things because we love them, or are rooting for them, or because we feel they're worthy. We're listing the culture-things that we have a hunch will live on for practical reasons -- ie., given what we know of life, given what we sense about how culture is evolving, and where it's going. Hard-headed is good, sentimental is bad. My nominees: Led Zep: "Whole Lotta Love." It'll never stop playing. Jenni from Jennicam, because in 2300 everybody will be broadcasting themselves, and Jennicam will be celebrated as the "Odyssey" of the webcam form. The "For Dummies" books, because in 2300 all books will be books you can use. This kitty vidclip from YouTube, because it'll be recognized as the greatest example ever of the kitty-video genre -- which in turn will have become a major art genre. Screw magazine's Al Goldstein, because by 2300 culture and porn will have become indistinguishable. Pong, because in 200 years culture and games will be synonymous. The iPod and the Nike swoosh, because in 2300 everything will look like either an iPod or a Nike swoosh. Craig Stecyk and Glen Friedman, because everything in 2300 that doesn't look like an iPod or a Nike swoosh will look like a decorated skateboard. The Onion, because sometimes -- even if rarely -- history is just. "America's Funniest Home Videos," because the best-of-vidclip format will be acknowledged as the most influential culture-format that our era came up with. Your hunches? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 12, 2007 | perma-link | (82) comments

The NYTBR Section and Fiction 5: Literary Fiction and Literature
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's my widely-anticipated (small joke) new installment in a continuing series of postings in which I spout off about the New York Times Book Review Section's ka-razy over-emphasis on literary fiction. Previous installments here, here, here, here. Today's theme: "Literary fiction and literature." Let's examine this idea of "literary fiction" for a few minutes. I'm not concerning myself with any official definition, by the way. I'm interested in what's commonly understood by the term. As far as I can tell, the thing that most people understand by "literary fiction" has two main components. One is that the book in question is more concerned with the details and fine points of writing itself than non-literary writing is. The other is that whatever it is that the future will decide was the lasting literature of our era, it will be drawn from the "literary fiction" candidate-list. If you disagree with me about either of these points, please join in the commentsfest. Almost all pictures need complexifying. Still, I've met many people for whom the above pretty much summarizes what they understand by "literary fiction." So why not examine how these two assumptions hold up in actual fact? A self-conscious concern with writin'. There's no doubt that the lit-fict class makes a bigger show of fussin' with the writin' than the non lit-fict crowd does. 99% of the time, the prose surface of literary fiction is more heavily-worked and more aggressively manipulated than the prose-surface of non-literary fiction. Hooo-eee, how these people love to critique each other's sentences. But what a narrow idea of writing critiquing sentences is, no? After all, how big a part of fiction-creation does the specific act of fussing with words make up? (Incidentally, there are in fact some writers whose fiction arises from the energy they expend on fussing with words. I know that. But they aren't numerous.) Back here I made a quick list -- informal but maybe serviceable -- of some of the activities that are often involved in creating prose fiction. Writin' is just one item on it. Two of the others: the construction of a story, and the creation of characters. Dismiss me as a traditionalist, but I'd be happy to argue that these two activities are, always have been, and always will be more central to the creation of fiction than verbal fussbudgetry is. To heighten the contrast, let's look at "The Maltese Falcon" and Salman Rushdie. The writin' in "The Maltese Falcon" is of course a wonder to behold. But writin' per se is about 10% of what the book puts on display. How about that cast of characters, eh? Brigid O'Shaughnessy ... Joel Cairo ... Caspar Gutman (the fat man) ... And of course Sam Spade himself -- living, breathing people every one of them, or perhaps even better than that. And how about those moments of suspense, humor, surprise, and excitement? Pretty hard to shake, no? These things don't just happen any more than... posted by Michael at April 12, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Lovelace's "Retarded Animal Babies" represents a lot of likeably rude, "what has that guy been smoking?" skill and imagination. Once upon a time we had underground comix. (My own favorites: Gilbert Shelton's "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," Robert Armstrong's "Mickey Rat," and David Boswell's "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman." Genius stuff, all of it.) Perhaps today's equivalent is the raunchy and lunatic Flash animation. Here's David Lovelace's own website, where the creativity is beyond-fizzy. There's no question that the man really likes keyboards. Best, Michael UPDATE: Shouting Thomas could use some links. Here's a note from him: I've been searching for good weblogs on a number of topics, but primarily: 1. The Philippines 2. Country Music 3. Blues It's so easy to find political weblogs. Tough to find well written, independent weblogs in other areas. The political stuff is beaten to death. I am fascinated by the culture of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Would love to be informed of well written weblogs that address these cultures. In respect to the music weblogs, I'd like to find those that are intelligent and honestly address the history of cultures of the music... no fanzines. Does anyone have any good blog-tips to pass along to ST? Shouting Thomas' recent posting about how unhealthy being a musician can be is well worth a read.... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Global Warming -- Or Not -- Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is global warming really happening? And even if it is, is it really worth worrying about? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Love It / Hate It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Francis Morrone takes a look at a poll of the public's favorite buildings. Result: Only one modernist building makes it into the top 20. Even Frank Lloyd Wright doesn't turn up on the list until #29. Otherwise: traditional, traditional, traditional. Yet on the architecture establishment goes, designing and constructing ever-more modernist buildings that the public is going to hate ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Richard S. Wheeler's Memoir
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to see that the western novelist Richard S. Wheeler has just published his memoir. I've pressed the One-Click button myself, and am looking forward to reading the book. Some great p-r copy: "In his early forties, Richard Wheeler had never given a thought to writing fiction. By his early seventies, he had written sixty novels." Now that's an interesting and productive writing life! I raved about Richard's masterful novel "Flint's Gift" here. 2Blowhards re-published a speech Richard gave on the topic of book publishing here, and ran an article that Richard wrote for us about the Western writing scene here. Prairie Mary writes about Richard's new memoir here. Since I've ventured the thought on this blog that more writers ought to study acting, it's especially fun to learn that Richard and Mary both feel that they've profited as writers from taking years of acting class. Best, Michael UPDATE: Ed Gorman recommends Richard's memoir too.... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Prairie Mary lays out some of the differences between "print on demand" and "publishing on demand." You can buy Mary's wonderful POD book "12 Blackfeet Stories" here. Mary recently read and enjoyed Darrell Riemer's POD book "Youthful Desires" too. You know Darrell as the blogger Whiskeyprajer. One of these days Mary will learn how to create links at her blog ... * Chris Dillow wonders what economics might have to tell us about anorexia and obesity. * Hustle over to Megan and Murray's blog to enjoy visuals of "Channelbone," their latest video installation. * Too bad more movie reviews aren't in this one's class. (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Glen Abel writes a loving appreciation of Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and "Ran," and brings the welcome news that a new DVD edition of Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" -- a special favorite of mine -- will be going on sale in June. * BLDGBLOG interviews the legendary film editor / philosopher-of-perception Walter Murch. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Scully has a pottymouth. * Lester Hunt shows that it's possible to be a philosopher yet keep your feet planted firmly on common ground. * Razib may sneer at the evolutionist David Sloan Wilson (son of the novelist who wrote "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," btw). But much of what Wilson says makes a lot of sense to me. * CyndiF and the hubster celebrate the big day in the right way. There's no fear of food-pleasure in that family! (This last link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Russell Celyn Jones enumerates some of the absurdities of America's creative-writing industry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Women, Men, Dating
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve thinks that women in search of mates shouldn't spend so much on shoes. Tyler wonders why some women go for cads. The Communicatrix has some sensible tips for daters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Shooting in Public
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever since getting a digital camera I've wondered what my legal rights with it are. Can I shoot anywhere in public? Who can legitimately -- let alone legally -- protest my picture-taking? Is, say, snapping away on the sidewalk one thing while taking pix in a store is another? Come to think of it: Is a store a public or a private locale? An example: Once when I tried to shoot some photos in a Whole Foods branch some staffers told me to put the Kodak away. Were they within their rights? Or was I within mine? This article from USA Today helps explain some of the ins and outs. Only some of them, though, darn it. Has anyone else run across a better, more authoritative source? Best, Michael UPDATE: Steve Kapsinow has a dust-up with the crew of "The Apprentice," and links to an informative article (PDF alert) by attorney Bert P. Krages II. Know your snapshootin' rights!... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Roberts and Easterbrook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been taking a break from audiobooks and indulging in some podcast-listening instead. God, how I love a good interview. Say what you will about the Library of Economics' Russ Roberts as an interviewer (and I have, perhaps overemphatically), but he talks regularly with very interesting people, and at generous length. Here he chats with Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen, who proves to be as thoughtful, respectful, and open when he speaks as he is in his blogging. And, good god, is Tyler Cowen one heroic culture-consumer. In this interview, Roberts and Greg Easterbrook yak about the sunny side of economic developments: about how life has gotten better in many ways in terms of health, pollution, money, etc. Easterbrook -- the author of "The Progress Paradox" -- is a suave, articulate, and loose interviewee who has equipped himself with a lot of interesting facts. On pollution, for example: All forms of pollution except greenhouse gases have been in decline since the 1970s. Roberts has hold of some great facts of his own. For example: How much richer are we now than Americans 100 years ago were? (OK, OK: It's impossible to make an exact comparison. But why not try the experiment and see what comes of it?) Roberts reports that, when he asks his students to guesstimate, they generally figure we're 50% richer than Americans were in 1907. In actual fact -- and depending on how you shuffle the numbers, of course -- we're somewhere between 700% and 3000% richer than our great-grandparents were. Easterbrook responds with a few illustrations. In the 1950s, the average new American house was 1100 square feet. It contained 4.5 residents and one black and white TV. (Hey, that's a description of how my family lived in the 1950s.) The average new American house these days is 2300 square feet. It's inhabited by 2.5 residents and four color TVs. In the midst of the usual flurry of sky-is-falling headlines, it can be restorative to be reminded of these kinds of facts. I want to highlight two things from the interview. One is Easterbrook's evocation of how filthy, painful, and hungry life often was in the past, even in America, and even as recently as a century ago. A passage from Easterbrook's book is read by Roberts: In the first decade of the 20th century, city air in the United States was thick with choking smoke from unrestricted coal-burning; pigs roamed the streets of New York City and Philadelphia eating garbage that was thrown out of windows; there were three million horses drawing carts within city limits of American cities, meaning horse manure was everywhere. In Chicago, elevated trains pulled by steam engines rained sparks and cinders on pedestrians. In pleasantly pastoral small towns, only two percent of dwellings had running water, causing many women to be little more than serfs to the carrying of water or doing of laundry. Which reminds me to link to this piece about what a... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That musta hurt. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments