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  1. Charisma on Four Legs
  2. Symbolizing States
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  4. More Glassiness
  5. Do We Make Too Much of Adolescence?
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  9. A 1933 Portrait Painting Lesson
  10. DVD Journal: "Murder by Numbers"

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Charisma on Four Legs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You thought Travolta radiated "it" when he showed off the white suit in "Saturday Night Fever"? You knew, just knew, that Michael Jackson had "it" when he moonwalked through "Billie Jean"? Well, make way for a similar blast of charisma and exuberance -- this time from a 9 year old Danish mare named Blue Hors Matine. Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. When does web-surfin' Charlton find time to make all those audiobooks anyway? Best, Michael P.S.:Is anyone having trouble posting comments? I've heard from one would-be commenter whose comment kept being rejected for "questionable content." I'm baffled, I apologize, I love questionable content, and I'm trying to figure out why our comments function is acting so prissy and intrusive. Of course, if you're having trouble posting a comment, how would you be able to post a comment to let me know about it ...... posted by Michael at June 8, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Symbolizing States
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever design a flag? I suppose I must have when I was a child, and it would have been an easy task in those days. Easy because I wasn't carrying burdens of design theory, color theory, history, knowledge of symbolism, political pressures and bureaucratic inertia, just to mention a few factors an adult designer might have to deal with. One problem with flag-designing is that a lot of the best designs have already been taken: consider the French tricolor and the 18th century British Union Flag (the one without the red St. Andrew's type cross). As a result, some pretty awful examples can be found: consider the current flag of South Africa with its awkward design and too many colors. South Africa flag Since flags can assume an infinite number of guises depending upon atmospheric conditions (amount of wind, time of day, etc.), I'm inclined to favor designs that are bold, simple or both. Real-world conditions such as those cited above can make my ideal hard to meet. In general, most flags of U.S. states aren't terrible, design-wise. Most are mediocre, but a few are rather nice. Perhaps that's because they were created in simpler times, with fewer interest groups yapping at the heels of the committee in change of flag design. Nowadays, matters seem worse, if the state quarter (25 cent coin) program is any indicator. Most state quarter designs are disappointing in one way or another, in my opinion: only one is top-notch. Coin design is difficult for a host of reasons. One has to do with the circular shape. Another has to do with the fact that the image is normally in the form of a raised relief (though I suppose sunken patterns are possible). Perhaps the trickiest problem is related to the small size of the coin. For the state quarter project, perhaps the worst problem is that of having to crowd in too many images, often enough a map of the state along with one or more theme items. Let's take a look. Gallery Flags Oregon Oregon's flag is pretty typical in that it has one dominant color along with a centered state crest or seal. The Oregon design clarifies which state's flag it is by adding some words to the ensemble. Texas The Texas flag is both simple and bold, which I like. The red-white-blue color scheme and star-on-a-blue-field lead me to deduct a point or two on the distinctiveness scale. Maryland I like the Maryland flag a lot, even though one might argue that four colors is edging towards excess. Still, it's bright, bold and distinctive. The diagonal pattern in the black-gold quarters is interesting because it doesn't create a simple checkerboard. New Mexico I'm inclined to think that New Mexico's flag is best of all. The colors are distinctive and the design is simple. It's weakness might be in the boldness department. Coins Florida The Florida quarter is a case of symbolic overkill. Too many interest... posted by Donald at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Punk Visuals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- London's Barbican art gallery is taking a look at the visual side of the punk-rock years. Quick: Who designed the jacket for the Sex Pistols' album "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"? Answer: Jamie Reid. You can watch a couple of interviews with Jamie Reid here. The London Times has a package of stories that should inform, stir memories, and provoke thought. As someone who spent a little time around NY's punk-rock world -- I was no kind of punk myself but I had a number of friends who were seriously into the scene -- can I express a little surprise? Punk rock was never expected to last. It was meant by the people who made it and enjoyed it -- many of them anyway -- to take the whole pop scene down in flames. Instead it has turned into one of pop culture's most enduring styles. Life is funny sometimes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

More Glassiness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Taking note of the fact that Philip Johnson's famous Glass House is officially opening to the public, The NY Times' Christopher Mason collects quotes from Johnson's acquaintances and neighbors. They describe a charming man, some great views, and ... Well, when it comes to the gritty particulars of the House itself: leaks, crazy-high fuel bills, and floors so hot you couldn't walk on them in bare feet. As well as -- this is key -- a couple of inhabitants (Johnson and his companion David Whitney) who were, in the words of Robert A.M. Stern, "anal-retentives of the most incredible kind." In the Glass House, there was to be no mess, no rumpus, no trace of anything that wasn't spare, and stage-managed to the final millimeter. Hilary Lewis, a writer, recalls one visit: I was there for a photo shoot, and a photographer went to move a couple of objects on the Barcelona table -- an ashtray and a malachite box -- to better focus the shot on Johnson. David silently walked over and moved them back into their original position. Johnson nodded to the photographer and said, "I think it's better." Just to spell some of my own reactions out: It was Johnson's house and property to do with as he pleased, of course. And the Glass House evidently suited his finicky nature to a T. But... Would such a place suit your nature? How and why should such a peculiar structure have come to play such an important role in accounts of architecture history? Why does our architecture press (and academic establishment) continue to fixate on angles-and-glass modernism? One possible reason: Although it can be hell to live in and work in, glassy Modernism makes for pretty photographs and attractive magazine layouts. Another: Perhaps the people who swoon over glassy Modernism are the kinds of people -- "anal-retentives of the most incredible kind" -- who live for blankness, transparency, and crisp lines. If so, are these people the rest of us should be taking terribly seriously? Philip Murphy blogged -- in informed and down-to-earth terms -- about visiting the Glass House here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Do We Make Too Much of Adolescence?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I blogged long ago about how completely the U.S. has given itself over to adolescent values. Stuart Buck points out a very rewarding interview with Robert Epstein in which Epstein argues that we too often isolate our adolescents from adults. Nice quote: We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other "children." In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable. And another one: Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what's going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out. Stuart reports that he enjoyed Epstein's current book. I wrote about Young Adult fiction (in other words, novels for teens) here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

More Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * For those who enjoy being reminded what a filthy game politics generally is, this David Kirkpatrick piece should fit the bill. Alaska's absurd Sen. Don Young -- responsible recently for the infamous $200 million "bridge to nowhere" -- is now earmarking $10 million for a Florida road that no one in its neighborhood even wants. No one, that is, aside from Daniel J. Aronoff, a real-estate investor with Florida holdings that will explode in value thanks to the road. Aronoff happens to have contributed to heavily to Young's campaign. * A fun fact from Heather Mac Donald: "Welfare use actually increases between the second and third generation of Mexican-Americans -- to 31 percent of all third-generation Mexican-American households." (Link thanks to Steve Sailer.) * Where our immigration policies are concerned, bleeding-heart types might want to consider the fact that, according to Business Week, even the legendary Keynesian economist Paul Samuelson thinks that Wealthier Americans tend to benefit from the current wave of immigration while poorer Americans tend to suffer. A farmer in California may benefit from the inexpensive labor of illegal immigrants, while a construction worker in Texas sees fewer jobs and lower pay. A well-off suburban family may get lower-priced house cleaning or lawn care, while an engineering student has fewer companies offering positions. Let's not forget Nick Lowe's song "Cruel to Be Kind," eh? Link thanks to George Borjas. * And The Times of London reports a milestone in the making: "Muhammad is now second only to Jack as the most popular name for baby boys in Britain and is likely to rise to No 1 by next year." * Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's new book. * Agnostic has some thoughts about boys who fancy "exotic" girls. * DVD Spin Doctor reports that MGM's new "Sergio Leone Anthology" is a classily-done production. * Scott Kirsner wonders how fast digital downloading is going to replace DVDs as many people's movie-harvesting mechanism of choice. Is the porn industry -- once again -- showing the rest of us the way? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 7, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Congratulations to chemist and super-blogger Derek Lowe, who's once again gainfully employed. * Anne Thompson's blogpost about Sharon Waxman's departure from the New York Times is a priceless introduction to the politics of entertainment reporting. * Tintin's creator Herge would have turned 100 last week. * Daily Film Dose celebrates some of cinema history's greatest long tracking shots, complete with links to YouTube clips. * Has investment banker Bruce Wasserstein been good for Lazard? Matthew Lynn argues that the only entity that has done well by Bruce Wasserstein in recent years has been Bruce Wasserstein. Btw, did you realize that one of Bruce Wasserstein's siblings was the playwright Wendy Wasserstein? * The giddy and exuberant yet down-to-earth Alice Bachini gives her blog a sweet makeover and a cheery new theme. I had a couple of good chuckles reading this posting about getting a root canal ... * Tyler Cowen evaluates some of the heterodox schools of economics: Post-Keynesian, feminist. * Mystery writer Melodie Johnson Howe is sick of the way the lit snobs look down on mystery writing. * Charlton Griffin passes along a link to some appallingly beautiful footage of nuclear explosions. * Shouting Thomas recalls losing his beloved Myrna. * Maxwell Goss finds some indications that Webster's College Dictionary has gone P.C. * Lexington Green -- who is in the middle of a lot of heavier reading than I've attempted recently -- turns up a beautiful clip of cool-jazz diva Anita O'Day. Here she is from "Jazz on a Summer's Day." * Marc Andreessen confesses that he's addicted to "productivity porn" (Gina Trapani, David Allen, etc), then comes up with some good productivity tips of his own. * Slow Food, Slow Cities ... Now meet Slow Leadership. * Thanks to the "baby carrot" phenomemon, Americans are eating more carrots than ever. Given that fact, it's interesting to learn from USA Today that baby carrots aren't really babies at all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 6, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Lincoln Guidance Wanted
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a little email exchange I just enjoyed with Friedrich Von Blowhard. Me: Historical coaching needed. I just finished reading (OK, going through a severely-abridged audiobook of) Gore Vidal's novel "Lincoln," and it has me puzzling over Lincoln. I have no idea what to make of the guy, and the few sources I've looked at haven't been much help. I read one of the big fat bios of him maybe 10 years back and found it unenlightening. People seem to want to make such a big deal of the guy: freer of the slaves, savior of the nation, etc. The hero-worshipping gets overwhelming even when they admit to a few flaws, like, OK, he didn't actually like black people much. And then there's a tiny minority of guys who think Lincoln was awful -- had no right to try to keep the South from seceding, killed hundreds of thousands unnecessarily, arrogated powers to the federal government that it never ought to have had, etc. I find this view of Lincoln much more convincing, but 1) I hate politicians, and 2) the proponents of this view are so damn rabid ... Anyway, I'm suspicious of it too. So, as far as I can tell, there's the social-studies/civil rights crowd, who hero-worship Lincoln, and then there's the small-government types who despise him. Is that it? From the novel I'm not entirely sure what Vidal's take on Lincoln is -- Vidal seems pretty clear-eyed about Lincoln's power drive but he seems to feel that there was something noble about him too. I do hate it when I stumble into topics like this -- topics that are genuinely interesting, but that I'll never devote enough time to to make sense of to my own satisfaction. What's your p-o-v on Lincoln? Friedrich von Blowhard: Personally, I'm kind of fond of Lincoln, but of course that's only as an imaginary person I've encountered in books. God knows what the real guy was like. What do I like/admire about Lincoln? Well, he was obviously amazingly bright, although I'll grant you being intelligent is not exactly a moral character trait. He really did have less than one year of formal education and he really did write the Gettysburg address, not to mention that letter to the woman who had all five of her sons killed in battle that was read aloud twice in "Saving Private Ryan" and was more eloquent than anything a modern day Hollywood screenwriter could pen. Lincoln also did teach himself high school mathematics in his forties just for the hell of it, which has got to count for something. I also like, or at least respect, the fact that he seems to have been a pretty good power politician. All the people in Washington who thought they would push him around ended up getting theirs. I believe his law partner made the remark that anyone who took Lincoln to be the country bumpkin he presented himself to be... posted by Michael at June 6, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A 1933 Portrait Painting Lesson
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Want to paint a portrait? The way it was done just before Modernism kicked in? Then click here to link to The World of Painting site where a 1933 portrait painting demonstration by Philip Alexius de László (1869-1937) from The Studio Publications (that appeared in 1934) is reproduced. True, 1933 was nearly three decades after Cubism burst on the scene, so don't take my "just before Modernism kicked in" phrase literally. My justification is that László was trained in the immediate pre-Modern period and he did not adopt a Modernist style, unlike many artists of his generation. So what you'll see is pretty much year 1900 stuff. Below are some photos from the demonstration to whet your appetite. Preliminary sketch of actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies Beginning to paint Blocking in the background The completed portrait I offer no profound thoughts: just enjoy this opened time-capsule. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 5, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

DVD Journal: "Murder by Numbers"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I had a good time trying to figure out why "Murder by Numbers," a well-turned psychological thriller from 2002, didn't work. It occurs to me as I type that that's a strange way to enjoy a movie -- to have a good time trying to figure out why a movie wasn't working. But, given the genre, it also makes sense. Brief aside: For suspense buffs, a big part of the appeal of thrillers, mysteries, and suspense stories is that they have an intellectual, game-playing side, but they're also completely dependent on audience response. It's a nice chemistry, I find: The mind is engaged, but it mustn't be dominant. The intellect is under an obligation to submit to the gut's responses -- and that's a dialogue that can keep you interested even when the outcome is unfortunate. In this case, my mind was quite happy. The performers (Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Michael Pitt, Ryan Gosling) were excellent -- attractive, full of personality, into their characters, etc. Barbet Schroeder's direction, if not very energized or stylized, was intelligent, sophisticated, and well-paced. Tony Gayton's script -- which takes the Leopold-and-Loeb crime, sets it in a contemporary coastal California town, and pumps up the class-conflict angle -- hits its marks, and introduces a fair number of interesting wrinkles and twists. (I see on IMDB that Henry Bean did some uncredited work on the script too.) Sandra and Ryan: Is it guilt? Or lust? The film's strategy is to divulge whodunnit at the outset, and to let the suspense concern the revelations of character as the investigation proceeds. That's a characteristic psychological-suspense move; I wrote about the psych-suspense genre here. What this means is that you don't spend the movie trying to guess a factual solution; you spend it instead wondering about what's going on in the characters' heads and souls, and about how and whether these drives and needs will find expression. Yet, despite all the good work, my gut was unhappy; the effect of the film was to leave my reptile brain wondering, "What's this offering that I can't find cheaper on TV?" Some element of intoxication, bliss, or even sleaze wasn't there; if you can imagine a "Vertigo" that lacks any compulsiveness, or dreamlike allure, you'd about have it. But what was this missing element, exactly? I'm sorry to confess that I'm unable to do any better than to say things like, "Gosh, some spark or other was missing," and "I guess this is a case of 'well-done but lacking an indefinable something'." There's a more-general question I was left with too, which is: Why does Hollywood seem to have lost the knack for creating satisfying adult thrillers? There was an era not so long ago when the business came up with juicy suspense pictures on a regular basis: "Unlawful Entry" (which I blogged about here, and which is buyable for $6.98), "Basic Instinct" (which I blogged about here), "Single White Female" (directed by Barbet Schroeder),... posted by Michael at June 5, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * That "we're a nation of immigrants" claim you often hear, justifying crazy immigration policies? John Derbyshire makes some important points in response to it. Oh, what the hell, I'm going to copy and paste the best passage: In fact, immigration to the USA has been spasmodic and regionally biased. For quite long spells, there was no immigration at all into quite big regions. (There was very nearly no immigration into New England, for instance for almost TWO HUNDRED YEARS between the Puritan settlements of the mid 17th century and the arrival of the Catholic Irish in the mid 19th). There was hardly any immigration into the entire USA from 1924 to 1965. If Americans are so strongly emotionally attached to immigration, how come they weren't periodically rioting in the streets of Boston and Providence all through those 200 years? Can you offer me some evidence of popular demand for more immigration in the 1924-65 lull? * Mark Krikorian says that what Bush wants is open borders. A nice comment from Krikorian: There's no excuse for any large guest-worker program. A vast, mobile labor force like ours -- willing to move, willing to change jobs, change occupations -- does not need to be supplemented by peasant labor from abroad. A 21st-century society like ours doesn't need 19th-century workers to function. And another one: The fact is that much of our elite has become what I call "post-American." They've moved beyond concern for the national interest and become citizens of the world, if you will. * The rowdy, freethinking, and outdoorsy team at Querencia has come up with a fun new blog-game: They've been posting photographs of their reading stacks -- those towers of I'm-in-the-middle-of-them books that pile up on desks and end-tables. Here's Steve's stack, here's Reid's, here's Matt's. Time for me to post a photograph of my DVD heap. * Alexandra lists her nominees for the 7 New Wonders of the World. * Raymond Pert writes a moving posting about the day his dad died, and comes up with an excellent ongoing blog-theme too: 3 Things That Made Me Happy -- here, here, and here. * Henry Chappell passes along his favorite recipe for baked squirrel. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 5, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, June 4, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Experienced yogadude Alan Little shares some thoughts about what doing yoga postures ("asanas") is all about: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. * Suicide Girls prefer Macs. * I find it hard to believe that some of these stunts are physically possible, but I guess they are. * Jim Kalb has some excellent ideas about ways to improve the discussion about immigration policy. * I've heard that digital technology has brought down the cost of some kinds of moviemaking. But this seems ridiculous. * "Kim Possible" buff Friedrich von Blowhard has turned up a couple of well-done Kim Possible remixes. * Chris Dillow wonders why he gets paid. * Rick Darby links to an alarming report from a sober Tucson source. * Chelsea Girl is interviewed by sex-positive legend Susie Bright, and lists some other recent triumphs as well. * This Bollywood music-vid (or song-and-dance excerpt from a movie, I can't tell) suggests that India has an awful lot to teach us about eye candy. (Link thanks to David Chute.) * Lester Hunt thinks that "Catch-22" may be a wee bit overrated. * Yes sir! Anything you say, sir! * Steve Sailer tracks some of GWBush's attempts to merge the U.S. and Mexico. Meanwhile, in New York City, Mexicans -- who didn't begin arriving in town in substantial numbers until a decade ago -- are now among the area's top three immigrant groups. * Having finished up with Bad Boys, Alias Clio is now categorizing the varieties of Femmes Fatales: here, here, here. Boys: read, learn, protect yourselves. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 4, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Roger Kimball Gives Art a Big Yawn
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There he goes again, that Roger Kimball -- criticizing contemporary art. This time it's in the June issue of The New Criterion, the magazine he and Hilton Kramer edit. The link to the article is here (thanks to Scott Johnson at PowerlineBlog for providing the initial link). Read The Whole Thing if you can: it's not awfully long. His "hook" is an art show at Bard College, a little ways up the river from New York City. He calls attention to some of the nasty things that are being passed off as "art" these days, but notes that the Dada / Surrealism gangs were doing pretty much the same things to shock people 80 or 90 years ago. Much of Kimball's article covers old ground, but he makes some nice points. Here are two quotes. No, the thing to appreciate about "Wrestle," [the art show at Bard College] about the Hessel Museum and the collection of Marieluise Hessel, and about the visual arts at Bard generally is not how innovative, challenging, or unusual they are, but how pedestrian and, sad to say, conventional they are. True, there is a lot of ickiness on view at the Hessel Museum. But it is entirely predictable ickiness. It's outrage by-the-yard, avant-garde in bulk, smugness for the masses. And this brings me to what I believe is the real significance of institutions like the art museum at Bard, the Hessel collection that fills it, and the surrounding atmosphere of pseudo-avant-garde self-satisfaction. The "arts" at Bard are notable not because they are unusual but because they are so grindingly ordinary. Leon Botstein described Marieluise Hessel as a "risk giver." . . . Ms. Hessel once enthusiastically recalled her introduction to contemporary art as a young woman in Munich: "It was like entering a cult group." That cult has long since become the new Salon where the canons of accepted taste are enforced with a rigidity that would have made Bouguereau jealous. The only difference is that instead of a pedantic mastery of perspective and modeling we have a pedantic mastery of all the accepted attitudes about race, class, sex, and politics. Since skill is no longer necessary to practice art successfully, the only things left are 1) appropriate subject matter (paradoxically, the more inappropriate the better) and 2) the right politics. From the way Kimball described it, the show at Bard took the Shock The Audience approach. I agree with Kimball that it's very difficult to shock the art world or even much of the general public nowadays: that well is pretty dry. However I will, out of pure kindliness, offer a modest tip for artists with reasonably strong, but slightly fading reputations to juice up their audacity quotient and get a lot of free media ink and pixels. Do the following: (1) mount a large canvas -- say four feet tall and six feet wide -- and paint it white; (2) get a bucket of black paint and... posted by Donald at June 3, 2007 | perma-link | (29) comments