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Friday, May 18, 2007

Multiculturalism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is multiculturalism a huge and destructive social experiment that's being forced on us by irresponsible elites? Fjordman certainly thinks it is. * Coming your way soon: some perhaps not-very-welcome new housing and sheltering patterns. * The number of illegal immigrants arriving in the European Union every year may be as high as 500,000. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to the Patriarch for pointing out this amazing Flickr photoset. Eloquent images, accompanied by commentary that's as dense and emotion-laden as any memoir or novel. * Jay Manifold reads Bryan Sykes' book about Britain's genetic heritage, "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts." A lot of well-summarized info, as well as many interesting comments from Lex, Shannon, and da boyz. * Here's one kickass cello hoedown. * Alias Clio attempts a taxonomy of bad-boy types: here, here, here, and (UPDATED -- Clio has got bad boys on the brain) here. * Michael Bierut's mom accuses him of being a font slut. Michael also points out an irresistable collection of Alvin Lustig bookjacket designs for New Directions. * Thursday connects the dots between G.K. Chesterton, literary criticism, and western monotheism. * Hong Kong resident Mr. Tall wonders about his environmental footprint, discovers Jane Jacobs, and tries to figure out why crowded Hong Kong works as well as it does. * Mr. Tall also links to a priceless Guardian guide to Britain's most hated buildings. Funnily enough, not a single one of them is in a traditional style. * How on earth did they achieve this effect? I suspect digital trickery. And, hey, that Kylie sure is a cutie, isn't she? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Lester Hunt is one philosopher who shows no fear of the Big Questions yet who also keeps his feet on the ground. Here he wonders about his feelings before nature: Are they religious? If not, why not? Here he ventures a lovely theory: "Nature can seem to have the sort of 'meaning' that a face has." * Chris Dillow's list of reasons why you should buy his new book is one of the funniest sales pitches I can remember. * Colleen recalls meeting Nancy Reagan's mother. * Tyler Cowen asks which novels might be helpful in teaching economics. What to make of the fact that many commenters volunteered the titles of sci-fi novels? * Tim Worstall wonders mischievously: If the original copies the copiers, is it still art? * Alice Bachini writes in praise of "in-sourcing." * Prof. Bainbridge volunteers a refreshing list of qualities he'd like to see our next President have. * Glenn Abel celebrates the great movie tradition of the madcap heiress. * S.Y. Affolee muses about Asian women, depression, and suicide. * The Econophysics Blog calls Nassim Taleb's new book about improbability "The Black Swan" "the most important book in social science since Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations." Here's Taleb's homepage. (Links thanks to Dave Lull.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 18, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Philip Bess on Chesterton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I received a very interesting response via email to my recent posting about G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" from Philip Bess, an architect, an author, and a professor of architecture at Notre Dame. It was too interesting not to share with others, so I asked Philip for permission to copy and paste it into the blog. Philip has kindly agreed. Here it is: Dear Michael Blowhard: Wow, thank you for the wonderful recent post on Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" (which John Massengale forwarded to me), especially impressive given your own existential caveats. While I don't agree with your characterization of Chesterton in all of its details (this owes, perhaps, to my being familiar with a larger part of the Chesterton corpus; though by no means a majority!), your review is nonetheless generously sympathetic. I appreciate too your gently-phrased advance warning to any would-be evangelists eager to think you may be on the edge of religious conversion, and hoping themselves to give you that just slight but decisive nudge. At the risk of appearing to be one of that type -- and advance apologies if indeed I am one of that type -- allow me nevertheless to give you my take on several of the interesting issues and questions your review has raised. 1) Several of your readers have already pointed out that "Orthodoxy" represents not Chesterton's apology for Catholicism (of which there are several later examples, to one of which I refer below), but rather simply for orthodox Christianity as summarized in The Apostles' Creed, which can be (and is) affirmed by Orthodox and many Protestant Christians as well as Roman Catholics. Chesterton states this almost in passing near the end of his Introduction: These essays are concerned only to discuss the actual fact that the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles' Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics.... When the word "orthodoxy" is used here it means the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed. And the rest of the book simply proceeds with this understanding of Christianity. It also may or may not help to understand 1908 "Orthodoxy's" relationship to his 1905 book "Heretics," one of whose subjects made the off-hand remark that he would worry about the alleged deficiencies of his own philosophy "when Mr. Chesterton has given us his." "Orthodoxy" followed from that challenge. 2) I think you are absolutely right that Chesterton embraced orthodox Christianity (and ultimately Catholicism) not because he reasoned his way through all the propositions of its creed/s and catechism but rather because he simply came to believe 1) that Catholicism was foundational for, inseparable from and part and parcel of western culture (including the best parts of the modern world, not least science and technology); 2) that he found that Christian orthodoxy suited his own temperament and intellect; and 3) that he believed points... posted by Michael at May 18, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Guerilla Filmmaking 5 -- Reading List
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since co-writing and co-producing an ambitious, independent movie short, I've treated myself to a few spates of musing about the experience. Previous installments here, here, here, and here. This time around: essential reading. Let me start by saying that I've tried many times to come up with an interesting or at least clever way to present this small reading list, and have failed completely. No attitude, no thesis, no argument, no cute concept, not even any bitching about modernism this time around. Still, it'd be a shame not to pass the info along, so I'm doing it anyway. Forgive the lack of dazzle here. Anyhoo ... The two books that the young filmmakers who worked as crew on our movie recommended as the books to read about microbudget moviemaking are Robert Rodriguez's "Rebel Without a Crew," and Lloyd Kaufman's "Make Your Own Damn Movie!" "Those are the Bibles," our filmgeeks said. Now that I've been through both books I see what they mean. Though different in many ways, both books convey both a sense of what making a low-budget movie is like, as well as a lot of "been there done that" information and tips. Rodriguez's book is a scrapbook / diary about making his first feature movie, "El Mariachi." It's a great yarn in its own right. Rodriguez made the film with a few buds, some borrowed video-editing equipment, and a lot of unpaid help for a grand total of $7000. Its intended destination was rental shelves in Mexican grocery stores, and its intended purpose was to give Rodriguez some practice so he could bring some skill and experience to a projected "real" first feature film. Instead, "El Mariachi" miraculously ended up on the desk of someone at a Hollywood agency and became a sensation -- the object of bidding wars, a phenomenon at Sundance, and written-up in laudatory terms in magazines and newspapers. Rodriguez has since gone on to a prolific career. What's sweet about the book is that Rodriguez doesn't stop at telling the tale. He really wants you to understand that if he could do it -- if he was able to make a feature-length movie for seven grand -- so can you. He genuinely seems to want filmmaking to be a more accessible, democratic artform than it generally is. So the book is full of tips and hints, as well as slaps at film schools (Rodriguez himself never got a film degree). And the stories and anecdotes are almost all shaped as demonstrations of how to wind up with decent-enough footage while spending minimal dough. Our crewguys were right: It's a fun and helpful little book. (Though I confess that I admire Rodriguez as much for getting a book deal out of his experience as for the book itself. That's a man who knows how to maximize his opportunities!) That said, I'll differ from my young filmbuds in one respect: I'd suggest skipping the book and renting the DVD... posted by Michael at May 16, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Poverty: Inevitable by Definition?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The minister of a liberal church I wrote about not long ago seems obsessive about poverty. In a sermon he criticized "hard-core capitalists" (his words) for believing that poverty was inevitable. Apparently he thinks it should (and, presumably, can) be abolished, and world-wide at that. This brings us to the matter of how poverty is defined. Hard-core capitalist -- well, make that capitalist tool -- that I am, I take poverty to be a relative condition as opposed to some kind of absolute. Consider someplace in eastern Africa. Manolo owns ten cattle whereas Jimmy has but two. Manolo considers Jimmy poor and Jimmy thinks Monolo is rich. But to most people in developed countries, both Manolo and Jimmy seem poor. Relative reigns. As for abolishing poverty, as that minister mentioned above desires, the only solution I can think of is the establishment of a "classless" society. That would neatly take care of poverty as a relative condition. All we need to do is sally forth and stir up the peasants and proletariat, then Bingo! the age of human perfection dawns -- right? (By the way: can the concept of poverty as an absolute be made operational? My formal training in economics is sketchy, so I'm curious if any readers can supply examples.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 15, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Quality of Life Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Sci-fi giant Orson Scott Card has caught a feverish case of the New Urbanist bug. Nice passage: I'm not urging that the government mandate any more absurd mileage requirements for cars, or ration gasoline, or any other absurd proposals ... In fact, all that I want government to do, locally and at higher levels, is to stop with the regulations that force us to use cars for everything, and replace them with regulations that permit us to walk or bike. Surveying some of the dumbass actions government has taken over the last 50 years, Card writes, "It's as if government looked at the beloved old neighborhoods that people drive through with yearning and nostalgia, and banned them." In this piece, he highlights a fact that isn't acknowledged often enough in debates about cars, transportation, and social policy: More than 40,000 people die in the U.S. every year in car accidents. That's almost as many Americans as died in the entire Vietnam War. We have evidently made a bargain with ourselves: Having cars and driving them as much as we do is worth 40,000 deaths every year. * In his short review of a new biography of Berkeley restauranteur Alice Waters, Fred Volker provides a fast introduction to an important moment in American cultural history: the birth of "California Cuisine." Waters (in my opinion, a major American cultural figure) was hit hard by a youthful visit to France -- her senses were awakened. But she wanted to preserve the informality that she loved about California life too. The result was California cuisine, a major contributor to America's food (and hence aesethetics and quality of life) consciousness. * Steve Sailer sifts through some fascinating demographic data and -- bless his heart -- doesn't neglect quality of life factors. Why are so many conservative commentators so dismissive of -- and even scornful of -- quality of life questions? Don't they realize how off-putting such behavior is? This piece of Steve's is, IMHO, a great snapshot of where we currently stand as a nation. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2007 | perma-link | (33) comments

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maugham Moment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Without intending to, I've stumbled into a Somerset Maugham phase over the last few months. I read Maugham's novella "Up at the Villa," I saw the movie that was based on it, and just yesterday I watched the film of Maugham's novel "The Painted Veil." Two out of three ain't bad. The dud of the bunch was the movie of "Up at the Villa." Its dudness came as a surprise partly because the novella was so darned good. Maugham's insight and command are extraordinary in the book, which is set in pre-WWII Italy and which concerns a young English widow in need of both a husband and some love. Although Maugham tells the story with nary a wasted motion, and using a calm and controlled surface, he generates tons of charged emotional drama. The other reason the dudness of the movie came as a surprise was that its makers Philip Haas and his wife Belinda Haas had made a very stylish splash with the 1995 "Angels and Insects." I didn't enjoy "Angels and Insects" much -- I don't care for conceptual / intellectual entertainments generally. But it certainly wasn't short on snazz or brio. "Up at the Villa," by contrast, has zero style and brio. It's conventional and unremarkable, a movie for the least adventurous of the arthouse / foreign-movie crowd. The Haas's open up the novella's story with some unncessary plot complications and with a lot of emphasis given over to the era's looming fascism. Were they imagining that they were saying something, or perhaps making some kind of statement? Or were they run roughshod-over by producers or moneypeople? In any case, the film (which features one of Sean Penn's more flagrantly bad performances, and that's saying a lot) doesn't come off at all, The only real reason to see it is for Kristin Scott Thomas, who's miraculous: womanly, daring, elegant, impassioned. That woman can veer back and forth between poised and desperate like no one else. Besides the novella, I also loved the film "The Painted Veil." Produced by and starring Edward Norton and Naomi Watts, and written by Ron Nyswaner, it's brilliant. Or perhaps I should just say that I found it involving, moving, and surprisingly intense. It's a romantic melodrama, centered on a spoiled upper-class brat (Watts) who lets herself be won and married by a middle-class doctor who's working in China. Once there, her egocentricity starts to find itself challenged in all kinds of unexpected ways. Let me list some of what's remarkable about the film: Its sense of scale. Though it's a period costume drama and was filmed in China, and though it certainly has its share of sets, landscapes, hairdos, and even a few crowd scenes, it's one of the least "sweeping" romantic costume movies ever. (It was directed by John Curran, who previously directed Watts in a movie I didn't care for, "We Don't Live Here Any More.") It's focused almost entirely on the psychologies and... posted by Michael at May 14, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Heavier Tipping
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last year I wrote about tip jars at Starbucks. Today I'm onto bigger game: restaurant tipping. This post is being written near the Daytona Beach, Florida shore as we wend our way north from Florida's Gold Coast where tipping was, uh, different from what I'm used to, Seattle-based hick that I am. It seems that restaurants here are starting to put suggested tip amounts on the bill. I suppose this is old news to many of you, so go ahead and mouse through some links on one of Michael's ever-interesting Elsewhere posts while the rest of the readership gasps in astonishment at what I'm about to reveal. It started at an Argentine steakhouse in Hialeah the evening we arrived in Florida. Near the bottom of the bill were three suggested tip amounts calculated from the sum of the prices of what we ordered. The first amount was based on a 15 percent tip, the second on 18 percent and the last was for [gasp!] 20 percent. The following night in Key West the bill's suggested tip was 18 percent. But it was noted that one might pay whatever seemed appropriate. Finally was the restaurant in Miami Beach (South Beach, actually) where the menu stated that an 18 percent tip would be assessed on the bill. I don't know about you, but I hope these kinds of tipping policies don't spread nationwide. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 13, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments