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Friday, April 27, 2007

Women in Hollywood. Or Maybe Having Left Hollywood ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sharon Waxman is often a valuable and informed showbiz reporter. But her current piece for the New York Times -- "Hollywood's Shortage of Female Power" -- earns a 2Blowhards Award for Most Content-Free Piece of Showbiz Reporting of 2007. The urgent news that Waxman and the Times are peddling? (The piece is a looooong one, and is featured on the front page of the Arts Section.) As far as I can tell, it's that a bunch of rich and powerful gal execs have either failed, quit, or left the business. A whinefest ensues. We're supposed to care about "how some women in Hollywood are feeling these days." It turns out they're feeling "nervous." Say it ain't so! Waxman's determination to file a lengthy, important-seeming story despite having nothing to report is really awe-inspiring. Has the non-crisis she's non-describing been caused by sexism? Nope, not even according to the gals Waxman interviewed. Has it affected the films that are being made? Nope: "Hollywood has not stopped making films appealing to women." So what's the problem, exactly? Waxman generates some real jaw-droppers as she dodges her lack of anything better to say. My personal favorite: "Studio executives, both men and women, have shown themselves to be pragmatists above all, choosing movies that they believe will make the most money for their corporate parents." Hmmm ... Hollywood executives are paid to do their best to make money for their bosses, have I got that right? I don't know about you, but I'm feeling most enlightened. "Still," writes Waxman hopefully, "some long-time Hollywood producers feel that something has shifted." That may be a little vague, Sharon ... Still, why not assume the best? Why not assume that there's something to whatever it was that Waxman meant? Can we expect a little substantiation? It turns out that romantic comedies aren't being made as often as they once were. The explanation, though, has nothing to do with sex or gender. It has to do with the fact that romantic comedies are hard to sell overseas -- and that studios have grown wary of shelling out the $20 million that stars like Julia and Meg apparently demand. I've seldom watched a newspaper item self-destruct in such a variety of self-inflicted ways. Wobbling around in desperation -- having conked herself on the head while tripping over her own feet several times too often -- Waxman attempts to regain her focus: "While the shift in the hierarchy may just be the normal turning of Hollywood's fickle wheel of fortune, it is still worrisome to women here who are eager for role models and a mentoring system to compete with the well-established boys' club." As far as I can tell, Waxman's story boils down to this: Some ambitious Hollywood gal wannabes are "feeling nervous." Now that's certainly a matter of intense concern to all of us, isn't it? I'd love to have been present as Waxman pitched this story to her editor. "Tell me... posted by Michael at April 27, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

New Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good news for unorthodox architecture buffs: a new journal -- The International Journal of Architectural Research -- that looks to be far more sensible and open-minded than the establishment architecture magazines are. While the IJAR may be a wee bit austere for mere fans, those who enjoy technical and philosophical conundra should find a lot to chow down on. Don't miss "Restructuring 21st Century Architecture Through Human Intelligence" (PDF alert), a brilliant article in the IJAR's first issue by 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros, co-written with Kenneth G. Masden. One of many great passages in their piece: How can anyone believe that a "Dutch Design Demigod" [Nikos and Masden are referring here to the international superstar Rem Koolhaas] could know more about a place than the very people who were born and raised there? How can these starchitects espose to know what is best for the rest of the world? More importantly, how do we combat the aesthetic authority that such individuals now exert over our place in the world? My own preferred answer to this final question is: Hey, how about starting off by making fun of arrogant jerks and their silly buildings? And how about ridiculing the cowardly and slavish critical and academic apparatus that serves them? 2Blowhards did a long interview with Nikos Salingaros a while back: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Print and read: It's a mind-blower of a very pleasant sort, if I do say so myself. Nikos' own, very generous, website is here. He makes a lot of his work available for free. Some links for those who find the whole buildings-and-space thang fascinating but who stare in outrage and amazement at the way the topic is typically treated and covered: Whatever you think of James Kunstler's Peak Oil argument, in the unorthodox-architecture world he's a firebrand and a giant. His Eyesore of the Month isn't to be missed, and his books about American urbanism and sprawl (here and here) are rowdy and rousing eye-openers. Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and Tom Wolfe's "From Bauhaus to Our House" -- both of them great reads -- played huge roles in helping many people see the truth about modernist architecture. I wrote a links-filled intro to Jane Jacobs back here. Back in the late 1960s, the sociologist William Whyte had an inspired idea: Why not observe systematically how people actually use urban spaces? Whyte brought together much of what he learned about people and urbanism in this very enjoyable book. Here's a substantial article about / interview with him. Two comprehensive and fun introductions to the New Urbanism are Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck's "Suburban Nation" and Philip Langdon's "A Better Place to Live." The New York Times' architecture historian Christopher Gray is a reliably enlightening and informative pleasure; in his company you quickly start to get the hang of what it's like to experience the built environment. It isn't a matter... posted by Michael at April 27, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crying At the Office
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- First tattoos, then piercings. Now the WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger reports the -- to me, anyway -- bad news that it's becoming more and more permissable to cry at the office. "Today's young adults are more comfortable venting all kinds of emotions," she writes, citing a psychology prof, who says, "They were raised with the phrase 'express yourself'." Sounds about right to me -- and, as far as I'm concerned, there's too damn much venting going on these days. There's another element at work too. The psych prof goes on to explain that today's young people have no experience in taking criticism and often burst into tears when they receive negative feedback. Shellenbarger seems to approve of this new freedom to vent, by the way. Her piece isn't online, darn it. But she's hosting a WSJ forum on the topic, and I found it a lot of fun to read. My favorite note came from commenter "srosaaen": "First, we have to applaud their every effort; now, we have to listen to their crying. What part of this is behaving like an adult?" The freedom to cry at the office: a good development or a bad one? Best, Michael UPDATE: The WSJ's Jeffrey Zaslow writes a related article about how young people's expectations of unending praise are affecting workplaces. Zaslow is much less cheery about these developments than Shellenbarger is. Great passage: Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit. Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up ... Some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today's young adults feel insecure if they're not regularly complimented. One shrink estimates that "the average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982." Given how self-centered college kids were back in the early '80s, that's a frightening figure.... posted by Michael at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Bob and Gwen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another YouTube treat: Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse doing an informal presentation of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' "Whatever Lola Wants," from "Damn Yankees": I love the combo of salaciousness and innocence, of delicacy and obviousness. It's all so vulgar, so vaudeville -- so icy-hot, so sleazy-lovable, and so sweetly insolent. I love Verdon's confidence and mischief. And I love the fact that an artist as erotically-driven as Bob Fosse took a goofy girl like Gwen Verdon as his muse. Talent was what turned him on. Well, one of the things that turned him on. A friend of mine who adores doing Fosse-style dance tells me that the thing that surprised her when she started to do Fosse was how held-in his movements are. "The impact is big," she says. "But the hip thrusts, the pelvic wagging, and the shoulder rolls are actually physically very tiny. You clear out a lot of space around them. And the fun is in building up such a big charge beneath them that these little movements knock the viewer over." As far as I'm concerned, Bob Fosse was a genius. Does American art get any better than than the "Steam Heat" number from "Pajama Game"? Did Toulouse-Lautrec ever do anything as mockingly deadpan and juicy -- as exhausted yet provocative -- as "Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity"? The immortal song was written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. Not all that long ago, Fosse -- who died at 60 in 1987 -- was a huge figure, famous for stage and screen productions, as well as for winning eight Tony awards. These days ... Well, do young people even know his name at all? They might enjoy exploring his work. Much contemporary pop culture comes out of Fosse -- the choreography in music videos, for example, as well as the way music and dance are typically edited. The stop-and-start fireworks in "Big Spender"? The writhing ecstasy that slams into sudden languors? Movies had never moved like that before Bob Fosse came along. Some more glimpses of Fosse's work are here, here, and (oo-la-la -- corny but hot) here. Here's the Bob Fosse website. Wikipedia's entry on Fosse is first-class. The Fosse film to start with is "Cabaret." Here's Wikipedia on Gwen Verdon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sad Songs
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- What's your favorite sad song, and why? I'm not talking about weepers, but dry-eyed, unsentimental sad songs.Personally I would vote for: (1) Hank Williams' rendition of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, (2) Mr. Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, (3) Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons and (4) Goodnight, Irene in various versions. Okay, so my tastes seem to have congealed in the early 1950s. Deal with it. I should probably kick #1 out, because it may quite possibly be the best pop song in history, and thus it transcends any category. I might replace it with Elvis' Mess of Blues although the narrator of this one hasn't quite seen the light (darkness?) and still hopes that he can get on a train and "leave these blues behind." All these seem to capture the fact that many of the most important parts of life are the ones in which your heart's desires are ultimately frustrated, and not-ever-gonna-be-redeemed, at least not in this go round. About once a month I remember a conversation I overheard about 10 years ago in a coffee shop. A man sitting at a nearby table said in a loud, cheerful voice, "Well, you know Bob, when his son didn't come home from Vietnam he started drinking pretty hard." I mean, how does one deal with a situation like that other than (1) start drinking pretty hard yourself or (2) write a sad song about it? This consciousness doesn't seem to permeate pop culture much these days, although the energetic tone that replaced it seems motivated in part by repressed anxiety. Does anybody do really good sad songs today? Cheers, FvB... posted by Friedrich at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (42) comments

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DVD Journal: "Amelie"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I finally caught up with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 "Amelie." It's a French movie for people who prefer movie trailers to actual movies: an ad for itself, basically -- an overblown, synthetic collection of generic Froggyfilm high points, generic Froggyfilm Big Moments, and generic Froggyfilm swoopiness. In America -- where movies and their ad campaigns have been merging for years now -- we're semi-used to this. What's odd about watching "Amelie" is seeing this approach applied to the themes and tropes of traditional French entertainment -- quirky heroines, cigarettes, Montmartre, love, charm, food, accordion music. All that duly grumped-about, I also found "Amelie" surprisingly enjoyable. It's, y'know, a very effective and cheery 122-minute-long trailer-for-itself. Its overbright, pushed-up-against-the-screen approach may derive from rock videos and TV ads -- but (I found myself musing) perhaps that's the contemporary form of the musical comedy. And the film's tone of bittersweet, romantic rue isn't all that different than the tone of early Rene Clair. "Amelie" in fact is like an MTV remix of a Rene Clair movie. The film is also, as a production, a pretty stupendous piece of work. Good lord, the intricacy and scale of it! Entire Parisian blocks, entire train stations, and hordes of chic and picturesque extras were commandeered into service, and drilled into snapping-to with Rockettes-like precision. On the disc's commentary the full-of-himself, worldly, and amused Jeunet confides that he's a "control freak." I'll say he is. Which brings me to another thing. Like many of these new concept-over-content extravaganzas ("Run, Lola, Run," the Charlie Kaufman movies, "Moulin Rouge"), "Amelie" left me feeling buzzed but exhausted. There's something in me that can't help responding to what I imagine the circumstances of a film's production were like. In the case of "Amelie": All that energy ... All that stressful effort ... All that cleverness ... (I'm not a big fan of cleverness, myself.) How can the people involved in these movies get out of bed in the morning, facing the mountains of tricksily demanding work that they have assigned themselves? Every day must be the busiest, most head-achey day of their lives. I'd love to see easygoingness make a return as a value that movies peddle, and (even better) that audiences demand. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * We did it: Mencius is now blogging. Bookmark that sucka. * You have a Mac? So why aren't you podcasting? * Dani Rodrik wonders if the person who buys Fair Trade coffee is doing the world any good. * Steve Bodio thinks that the anti-gun team ought to do a little more research. * The history of architectural modernism in a very compact nutshell. (Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.) * Girish volunteers a list of new and newish movieblogs. * Cowtown Pattie rhapsodizes about one of her faves: the 1947 "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." Jon Hastings thinks that Kurosawa's "Red Beard" may be one of the greats. * I notice that MacWorld likes the writing program Scrivener as much as I do. * DarkoV -- who writes like a soulful comic poet -- visits Cincinnati and raves about the city. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Stuffy Vs. Po-Mo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a couple of good postings, Right Reason's Max Goss notices a connection between consumerism and post-modernism. I pitched in with a comment that I'm allowing myself to gussy up and re-publish here. Two additions to your thoughts? One is that I've known kids with degrees in Theory (ie., French post-modernism) who have gone on to careers in advertising. They've all told me that academic po-mo is in fact pretty good preparation for advertising work. Makes sense to me. The other is ... Well, can I offer a little semi-praise for post-modernism? Not for its academic / Theoretical side, which really is pretty hideous. But for its looser, more informal-attitude side? Academic and establishment views of art prior to the '60s and '70s in America were awfully stuffy -- as in "sneering at movies and jazz" stuffy. These attitudes badly needed shaking up. A looser, more appreciative and open attitude towards our culture was long-overdue. American culture in particular is, after all, not a centralized Official Thing but a kind of makeshift patchwork. It's a hodgepodge, an ever-scruffy, eternal work-in-progress. And our artistic/cultural greatness, such as it is, often arises from folk, oddball, and commercial (not just high-minded) fields and activities. These seem -- to me at least -- to be self-evident facts. Short version: Any account of American art that pretends to be comprehensive and sensible yet that doesn't take into account jazz, the movies, automobile design, Chuck Jones, Bette Davis, and Bo Diddley is a joke, at least as far as I'm concerned. I was in school in the transition years (early '70s), and it was an odd time. On the one hand: played-out, drunken old New-Criticism farts. On the other: dynamic, exciting (but, alas, politically-driven) young Turks who wanted a total revolution. Basically, as far as I could tell, it was about a new generation of young and greedy academics who coveted the tenure that the drunken old farts were abusing. But for someone in the midst of it, it boiled down to a stark A-or-B choice: between blindly defending the old-style loftiness or joining the politically-motivated young careerists in overthrowing it and leveling everything out. The option I favored (don't throw out the stuffy old canon -- it's pretty neat in its own right -- but do open it hugely up) just wasn't available. Proud to say I took the sensible course of leaving academia and never looking back. Anyway, the experience left me wondering about America, and about how we always seem to be generating these polarized, no-win situations. There seems to be an in-the-genes drive in our life to turn everything into a pro wrestling contest. Why do we find it so hard to achieve balance? Why does it always have to be A vs. B? What do we have against A+B? Could it be that we have something against balance? My own guess at an answer to this question is that 1) we're culturally insecure -- we... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ice Cream vs. Sherbet
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Eons ago -- call it 1950 -- I would bike over to the neighborhood over-the-counter grocery to buy myself a treat. For ten cents I could get a small (6-8 ounce) Dixie Cup of ... well, let me go through the process. The cardboard top had a little pull-tab. You would pinch the tab and then peel off the top. Then you'd take a peek at the under-side of the top because there would be a picture! Probably a picture the cowboy character Hopalong Cassidy as played by William Boyd. As the link explains, Hoppy became a huge hit on TV for a few years starting in 1949. So Hoppy stuff was everywhere, including the insides of Dixie Cup lids. The cup was filled about half-and-half with vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet. To view Bill Boyd in all his glory you first had to lick a film of ice cream and sherbet off the picture. The cups came with flat little wooden "spoons" so that the contents could be eaten. I found this indulgence lacking, but had to put up with it because there were few affordable alternatives. What was wrong? For one thing, I wasn't a Hopalong Cassidy fan. But my big problem was that orange sherbet. I felt I was being short-changed; an entire Dixie Cup full of vanilla ice cream would have been just swell. So I'd eat the vile, watery sherbet first, clearing the deck for the ice cream. I still don't care for sherbet. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Architecture & Morality's Corbusier watches a documentary about the recently-deceased economist Milton Friedman, and muses about Friedman's taste in homes. * The top ten naked people on Google Earth. * Is the word "slut" still an insult? Or has it flipped and become a term of endearment? (Both these links thanks to Daze Reader.) * The Man Who is Thursday takes a valuable look at different translations of Homer. Thursday's essay about art, taste, and politics is one of the most sensible I've ever read. * Here's a lose-yourself-in-it collection of commercial art by the legendary Robert McGinnis. (The site and collecting were all done by Graeme Flanagan, to whom I'd like to say Thank you.) Those over 45 will probably recognize a lot of McGinnis' work. He was responsible for some very famous movie posters -- "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a couple of Bond flicks -- as well as for many paperback book jackets for novels by John D. MacDonald. * Searchie recalls facing down a charge of racism. * A new Heritage Foundation study concludes that we may be spending $200 billion a year subsidizing our illegal-immigrant population. * Susan has been enjoying -- and giving a lot of thought to -- Flann O'Brien's wonderful comic novel "At Swim-Two-Birds" (here, here, here). * A student at Brooklyn Law School has stripped for Playboy. Will it affect her career chances, at least so far as the law goes? "I'm not that shy," she says at one point in a NSFW video. No kidding. Brian Sorgatz applauds her boldness. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Putting Duke in Perspective
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an appalling recent crime that puts the Duke brouhaha in perspective. How strange that the media establishment should devote oceans of coverage to something that never actually happened while pretty much ignoring an atrocity as horrifying as this one. Hey, here's another awful crime that also didn't get nationwide -- let alone Duke-scale -- attention. How to explain what strikes me at least as a really perplexing lack of perspective? I guess the general respectable-society feeling is along the lines of "black people do this kind of thing all the time, so it isn't 'newsworthy,' and besides we have decided as a society to cut black people a lot of slack, at least so far as how we talk about them goes, so mainstream people should simply ignore these kinds of crimes," or something. Given what a dramatic role the web and blogs have played in opening up certain discussions that were looooooong overdue for opening-up -- immigration policy, how full-of-it much contempo art is, etc. -- I find it bizarre that the "black people commit 'way too much of the violent crime that gets committed in the U.S." discussion is still under wraps. Don't you? So far the topic seems largely confined to white-nationalist sites, where hosts and visitors often wish black people ill. Yucko to that. I wonder why the topic is so danced-around by respectable people. Is it really that much more dicey a topic than all others? Perhaps it is. Perhaps as a society we've made "a concern for the feelings and self-esteem of black people" symbolic of "good intentions" generally. Perhaps we've talked ourselves into believing that saying something like "Good lord, did you know that a black American is 39 times more likely to physically harm a white American than vice versa?" isn't a statement of humane concern but is instead a sign that the speaker is a miserable and undeserving human being. (Here are some more startling broken-down-by-race American crime facts. Be warned: This document is lodged at a white-nationalist site. Two quick points about that: 1) To my knowledge, the facts contained in this document have never been seriously challenged. And 2) There's no place else where one can find these facts out. This is because respectable organizations -- the government, the foundations, the press -- simply refuse to examine and present these numbers. Which makes me at least wonder: If those who are curious about such facts wind up poking around sites they'd otherwise avoid, isn't this really the fault of the establishment that has suppressed the facts in the first place?) If it's true that we have collectively decided that it's a mark of decency to avoid these topics ... Well, it seems to me like such a bad convention / expectation / policy. As well as a destructive one. It's a terrible disservice to the facts of the matter, as well as an insult to well-meaning people of all races. How is... posted by Michael at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (91) comments

Monday, April 23, 2007

Seattle's New Sculpture Park
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The red, dinosaur-like object on the left that looks like it's about to attack the Space Needle over to the right is actually an eagle. Well, "Eagle" is the title of the 1971 Alexander Calder sculpture you're looking at. It was donated to Seattle's new Olympic Sculpture Park (a branch of the Seattle Art Museum) by Jon Shirley, retired Microsoft president, and his wife, Mary. The sculpture park opened in January, not without its share of controversy. Perhaps the most contentious item was the fact that the park wiped out the trolly barn for Seattle's popular waterfront trolly line featuring antique rolling stock from Australia. Until a new barn gets built, trolly riders get the thrill of a free transit bus ride along Alaskan Way and the docks. The site was difficult in that it straddles three sets of railroad tracks and is partly on a hillside and partly on the shore of Elliott Bay. Setting aside the trolly barn issue, my judgment is that the landscaping works pretty well. This is because, when the sky is clear and the Olympic Mountains are visible, visitors get a fine view. As for the sculpture, it's Modernist Establishment pretty much to the core. Let's take a look at some other pictures I took last month. Gallery The setting This is looking north along the Elliott Bay shore. Behind the people in the upper-right are the railroad tracks. Enjoying the view Across Puget Sound are the Olympic Mountains -- in a National Park. Sky Landscape I - Louise Nevelson, 1983 Oh, yeah. The sculpture. I'll show a few starting with this Nevelson. Typewriter Eraser, Scale X - Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998-99 My guess is that it isn't functional. And it's low-tech. Coming next, a giant Delete button. Love & Loss - Roy McMakin, 2005 Below the ampersand, in white, are the other letters in the title. Tom Wolfe was right -- this "art" is literally writing. Wake -Richard Serra, 2004 According to the Seattle Times, this weighs 300 tons and measures 125 by 46 feet. Something familiar Ah, a human figure growing out of sculpted stone ... how interesting! Oops. It's not in the Olympic Sculpture Park. I took this photo by an entrance to Vienna's Stadtpark last fall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 23, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mencius Vision
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Like many people who visit these parts, I've been fascinated and amused by the comments-fest contributions of the visitor who calls himself Mencius. What a buzzy brain! What a cheery -- if cheerily bleak -- spirit! Threading my way through his comments, I feel both bewildered and exhilarated, a little like I do when I read the offbeat sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. When someone's on this kind of high, why not find out a bit more about him? So I contacted Mencius and coaxed out of him first some personal info, and then a blog-contribution. The personal details first: He goes by the complete handle Mencius Moldbug. Having made a score in a recent dot-com boom -- though "I only made out like a thief, not like a bandit," he writes -- he has been treating himself to a sabbatical, reading, thinking, and writing. He confesses that his monthly book bill is around $500. In his own words: Mencius Moldbug lives in San Francisco, where he is temporarily retired from the software industry. His principal occupations are feeding ravens, reading old books, and working on his programming language, which will be done any year now. You can contact him at And what a distinctive point of view Mencius has cooked up for himself. Neither right nor left, it's its own out-of-the-mainstream thing. Everything seems to connect and make sense. Yet it's sense of such a -- to me, anyway -- unfamiliar kind. I recognize a lot of Ludwig von Mises in there. And -- since I happen to have read a bit of the actual Mencius, a big star in the Confucian tradition -- I assume that there's some concern-for-social-order Confucianism a-boil in the background too. But as for the rest ... I asked Mencius if he'd like to spell his point of view out a bit more clearly for me and for our interested audience. Bingo. He responded very generously. By popular demand, here's Mencius: A Formalist Manifesto The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology. What? I mean, am I crazy or something? First of all, you can't just build an ideology. They're handed down across the centuries, like lasagna recipes. They need to age, like bourbon. You can't just drink it straight out of the radiator. And look what happens if you try. What causes all the problems of the world? Ideology, that's what. What do Bush and Osama have in common? They're both ideological nutcases. We're supposed to need more of this? Furthermore, it's simply not possible to build a new ideology. People have been talking about ideology since Jesus was a little boy. At least! And I'm supposedly going to improve on this? Some random person on the Internet, who flunked out of grad school, who doesn't know Greek or Latin? Who do I think I am, Wallace Shawn? All excellent objections. Let's answer them and then... posted by Michael at April 22, 2007 | perma-link | (52) comments

Sexes and Plates
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still unpacking boxes from our move to Seattle. The process is more tedious than demanding and I have time to think -- sometimes about what I notice while unpacking. Today I'm thinking about dishes. For instance, I find that I've created a stack of 16 dinner plates with winter decorations around the rims. The glazing is green and the subject is alternating reindeer and fir trees. Sixteen plates. That take up a fair amount of cupboard space. That might be used three times a year at best. Simple male that I am, I'm thinking: Why not just use regular plates and trick things up for the holidays using seasonal paper napkins and table decorations? But apparently my wife finds a special plate collection to be much more appropriate. Another item. My wife is a total pushover for floral decorations on clothing, vases, plates -- you name it. Consequently, nearly all the china I find myself unpacking (those seasonal plates excepted) have flowers all over them. Me, I'm ignorant of and indifferent to flowers even though my mother was a gardner. Were I choosing plates, I'd get very simple decorations. Perhaps only a colored band along the rim or maybe a half-inch wide design or pattern near the rim. Is this too a male-female thing or simply another instance of personal tastes? I suspect sex is a factor. But I have no research grant to fund a study regarding this matter of vital importance. I don't even have a classroom full of college sophomores to survey. I do, however, have a fine blog readership that Michael has cultivated over the past nearly five years. So if you think that, once again, I'm all wet, let the comments rip. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 22, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments