In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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  1. Elsewhere
  2. Balint Zsako
  3. Some Katie Opinions
  4. Jan's New Site
  5. Where are Cheech & Chong When You Need Them?
  6. Cochran on Iraq
  7. Some Publishing Phenomena
  8. Modern Yoga's Fountainhead
  9. Elsewhere
  10. Trad Meets New Kid

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tom Wolfe visits Yale, debates deconstructionist god Peter Eisenman, and explains one of the basic cases against architectural modernism. * Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan says that the biggest discovery he made during his tenure was that real-life people don't in fact behave like homo economicus. Why do we put eggheads who are this dim about what human beings are like in charge of powerful institutions? * Raised Catholic in the San Fernando Valley, actress Mare Winningham has converted to Judaism. She talks to Jewcy about how she found her new faith. * Roissy bumps into some silicone, and asks the day's key political question: Are lefty or rightie girls easier? * Designer/illustrator/webguy Charley Parker is very generous with the computer tips at his blog. He's also a gifted -- as in organized and funny -- writer. * Fred Elbel thinks that it's likely there are 20 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. As many as 12,000 more might be entering the country every day. * Has this guy come up with a way to increase computer storage capacities by a hundredfold? I guess the computer revolution won't be slowing down any time soon. * Richard S. Wheeler wonders why some people love reading fiction that offers nothing but formula. * Fred Wickham works on his Indian accent -- then wonders if he should really be using it. * Alec Tabarrok notices a study showing that, despite feminism and progress, women's happiness is lower now than it was in 1970. * Rachael lets her attention drift and smacks into another car. * Shouting Thomas offers some apt words about a new Frank Gehry building, and performs a catchy tune on a theme he knows well. * Bargain DVD for the Day: Jean-Jacques Annaud's "The Lover", based on a Marguerite Duras memoir. It's a fancy-schmancey costume drama set in Vietnam in the 1920s, too high-toned to be soft-core pornography, yet too explicit to be your usual art-house fare. I thought it was a bit of a bore, but it's certainly easy on the eyes -- the Franco-Asian coupling was a mellow and exotic treat. And it's one of the rare frankly sexual films that chicks love. $9.99. * MBlowhard Rewind: I cracked a few jokes at the expense of the book-besotted. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Balint Zsako
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Art find for the day: Balint Zsako, who was born in Hungary and now lives in Toronto. Balint often works in ink and watercolor, and he seems to enjoy walking the line between fine art and illustration. His paintings and drawings are musing, dreamlike, poetic, and mucho preoccupied with branches and roots, fluids and orifices, and machinery. In their whimsicality and power, they're like a cross between Saul Steinberg and "Eraserhead." Here's Balint's very rewarding website; here's a very rewarding q&a with him. Great exchange: Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be? A. They generally have a good sense of humour with an appreciation of both the refined and the obscene. Don't overlook Balint's mindbending, brainstormy journals, which can be found on his website under "Gallery." I discovered Balint thanks to Drawn! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Some Katie Opinions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Katie Hutchison celebrates a picket fence, but thinks that the aluminum siding has got to go. She also visits the house that Modernist hero-titan Walter Gropius designed for his own family, and gets a case of the giggles. The Wife and I reacted similarly when we toured Frank Lloyd Wright's legendary Fallingwater. I wrote about our visit here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 29, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, September 28, 2007

Jan's New Site
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent posting about website-making software I made quick mention of a wonderful culture-intellectual website known as Jahsonic. Word now comes that Jan, the inspired brain behind the site, is building a wiki version of Jahsonic. Go here and lose yourself in supersmart yet accessible pieces on irresistable topics like sex, film, art, and Camille Paglia. A reference book with a point of view -- as Rachael Ray might say, What's not great about that? Jan has already posted over 12,000 articles (many derived from Wikipedia) and is still at work. I'd love to see more people with powerful brains, info, and thinking to share build online wikis of what they have to say. (Friedrich von Blowhard, are you listening?) I think that my own version of an ideal website would be a cross between a blog and a wiki ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Where are Cheech & Chong When You Need Them?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This news story just sort of demands being turned into a "Up In Smoke"-esque movie, doesn't it? Or maybe a "Harold and Kumar" sequel? BTW, did I ever mention that I think Kal Penn ("Kumar") may be the best younger actor currently working in the cinema? The man is a genius: he is fearless and apparently utterly without inhibition. I would nominate him as the Rip Torn of the current generation. Penn was even great in the very modest vehicle of "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," where he plays Van Wilder's repressed but limitlessly horny assistant, Taj. Of course, I guess that means I can't ignore the original Rip Torn, who is also clearly a genius, as a million roles have proven. His producer in "The Larry Sanders Show" was a classic; and I will freely admit that I worship Mr. Torn for his role as the coach in "Dodgeball." Of course, comedic actors never get much recognition. I find that Mr. Torn has won an Emmy, a Cable Ace, an American Comedy Award, and a Bronze Wrangler award given out by Western Heritage. I guess, that is something in the way of recognition, but not exactly proportionate to his vast accomplishments over a very busy 50-year career. So far, it appears that Mr. Penn has had to content himself with a 2007 AZN Asian Excellence Award. Michael Blowhard has a fair amount to say about acting, but I've noticed that even he doesn't spend much time talking about comic acting. I would love to see a discussion of how comic and dramatic acting are similar and different from anyone who has some real knowledge of the subject. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 28, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Cochran on Iraq
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those who enjoyed wrestling with our recent two-part interview with Gregory Cochran about the U.S.'s mideast adventures (here and here) won't want to miss Cochran's cover story in the current American Conservative about how we should leave Iraq. (Answer: Quickly.) It's as bold and smart as you could want a piece to be. History prof. Paul Schroeder's accompanying essay offers a lot of perspective. Nice passage from Schroeder: "The war never went wrong; it always was wrong, in specific, basic ways." Gary "War Nerd" Brecher does a pretty funny demolition job on a new biography of Dick Cheney. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some Publishing Phenomena
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Talk about a professional! Western and mystery writer James Reasoner has published 200 books and is still going strong -- giants apparently do still roam the earth. Reasoner blogs very generously here; Saddlebums interviews him here. Ed Gorman says that Reasoner's recent southern-noir novel "Dust Devils" is a corker. * One of the more surprising publishing events of 1986 was a volume entitled "White Trash Cooking," by Ernest Matthew Mickler. It really was what it seemed to be -- a cookbook featuring recipes for dishes like Icebox Cake and Potato Chip Sandwiches. But it was more than that too. Full of humor, perceptiveness, and pride, it was touching and funny -- a poetic piece of popular anthropology: a genuine, if oddball, work of art, in other words. Though the book was controversial -- the term "white trash" was just not used at the time -- it also struck a happy nerve, and it went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. The Oxford American's John T. Edge recalls the book, as well as Ernest Mickler. * 50 years ago, Grace Metalious was a hard-drinking, poor New Hampshire mother with a feverish yen to be a writer. One of the novels she submitted to that strange and distant place, the New York publishing world, was accepted, was given a new title, and was then set loose on the world. "Peyton Place" became one of the publishing sensations of the 1950s. It sold skillions of copies, helped set the pattern for generations of soap operas to come, and scandalized Americans from many different walks of life. Within six years, Metalious -- a loose cannon on the best of days -- had spent all her newfound money, and had drunk herself to death. She was only 38. Michael Callahan profiles the case for Vanity Fair. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Modern Yoga's Fountainhead
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although the physical practices of yoga have a reputation as something ancient, even timeless, the historical fact seems to be that nearly all modern yoga stems from one man: Krishnamacharya, who lived from 1899 to 1989. Krishnamacharya not only brought together and revived what was around of yoga at the time of his youth, he developed most of the practices -- the postures and the sequences -- that people in yoga classes are executing today. Fernando Pages Ruiz does his best to sort out fact from legend. Best, Michael UPDATE: Alan Little, a real scholar of yoga history, offers a lot of helpful info and interpretation in the comments on this posting, and in this posting at his own website.... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Prodigiously polished young fogey Andrew Cusack makes suave fun of Renzo Piano's cheap-looking addition to New York's otherwise-beautiful Morgan Library. * Colleen and the b.f. discover that they've put on a few pounds. * David Chute's oddball buddy Tulkinghorn dodges the Toronto Film Festival and wonders if the British crime writer Derek Raymond is worth the effort. * Cineris points out a hilarious Garfield comic-strip randomizer. Now that's one inspired and well-executed piece of conceptual art. * John Williams revisits Ithaca, New York, and finds the town as pretty as ever. Ithaca -- set on the hilly shores of Cayuga Lake -- always reminds me of a miniature San Francisco. * Nate's ready for food pills. * The Sydney Morning Herald's Sam de Brito thinks that using prostitutes is often more honest than trying to talk a non-pro into the sack. (Some mostly outraged responses here.) * Searchie has awakened out of her depression. * The raw-milk debate reaches the pages of The New York Times. * Michael Bierut shares some work from his finding-his-way years: Snazzy designs, as well as commentary that's a fun way to learn about some of the major visual trends of the last few decades. * Lester Hunt points out that anti-slavery hero William Wilberforce was about as conservative as a politician can be. * Lester also takes a re-look at Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" (here and here), and concludes that it's one modern novel that deserves to be considered a classic. * I'm glad they found each other. * Thursday shares some shrewd thoughts about David Cronenberg. * Smokin'! * Country legend Guy Clark entertains some friends. * Growing brain-dead raising her young children, HaggisChick picked up a camera. She's certainly expressing herself now! * MBlowhard Rewind: I considered the cases of Carla Gugino, Nicole Kidman, and James Spader. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Trad Meets New Kid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newsweek points out that the hip, fun, and innovative traditional publisher Chronicle Books has forged an interesting deal with the newish POD (print-on-demand) outfit Blurb. MBlowhard tip: Expect to see lots more of this kind of thing -- trad publishers using POD publishers as farm teams -- as we move into the next phase of book publishing. We do live in awfully interesting times, don't we? Incidentally, I don't think it's a coincidence that both Chronicle and Blurb are west-coast outfits. It's a sad but solid fact that east coast publishers are stuck in deeper ruts than are west coast publishers, who tend to be far more open-minded and forward-looking. By the way, those interested in publishing their own books owe it to themselves to take a look at Blurb, which is a heck of a service. Blurb turns out beautiful books, gives away its well-designed and rock-solid book-making software for free, and has quickly developed a classy reputation among self-publishers. The one downside in Blurb's model that I can see: It's difficult or impossible to sell a Blurb-produced book on Amazon. But if your main goal in creating your book is to give it away or to sell it to friends and family, Blurb is hard to beat. Semi-related: I've blogged a lot about the self-publishing outfit Lulu, most recently here. And it's worth noticing that Amazon has entered the field with its own outfit, CreateSpace. Small musing: Blurb, Lulu, and CreateSpace may be to traditional book publishing what blogging software is to traditional journalism -- an acid corroding the very foundations ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Mystery Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Care to venture a guess as to who wrote the following passage? "The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertions, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment." No Googling, please. I'll supply the answer in a couple of hours. It may come as a surprise. Well, I'm hoping it will anyway. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Exercise and Weight
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gary Taubes discloses an unnerving fact about exercise and weight control. (Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.) So far as they show anything, the studies that have been done on the topic suggest that exercise -- whatever its other virtues -- does nothing to control weight. For most people, the harder they exercise the more they'll eat. Exercisers may wind up with a toned body, they may enjoy peace and relaxation, they may get a kick out of being active for its own sake. But few of them will lose weight. My personal experience only semi-confirms Taubes' argument. For example: When he was his late 40s, my dad was told by doctors that he had only a few years to live unless he reformed his sedentary, beer-guzzling ways. Scared into long-overdue action, Dad took up jogging. When he first started up, he could barely walk a quarter of a mile. But within a couple of years he was jogging a mile and a half a day and had lost 25 pounds. He also cut 'way back on the beer, which was no doubt a big factor in the weight-loss. But did he drink less beer because he'd resolved to live more healthily, or because (thanks to jogging) he no longer needed to? In my own case, as a car-free Manhattanite who prefers to avoid cabs and public transportation, I spend around six hours a week walking. When I moved for a summer to Los Angeles, where walking opportunities are hard to come by, I put on ten pounds. Once I was back in Manhattan and once again walking nearly everywhere, the ten pounds came right off. So, in my book anyway, activity does tend to equal weight loss -- or at least a little weight loss. Or at least contributes to a little weight loss. Still, I take Taubes' larger point, which is that the health-and-eating-and-exercise industry has probably done more to mislead us than to enlighten us. In this essay for the New York Times, Michael Pollan goes even farther; he argues that the very existence of a nutrition-tips industry has made us fatter. Long ago, after I wrote something about health and eating here at the blog, I enjoyed an email exchange with a doctor who had read the posting. The point he wanted to stress to me was that medical people don't know nearly enough to be giving us the kind of -- and the volume of -- specific eating-and-exercise instructions that they and their journalistic p-r people do. He was really indignant about the way the health-tips industry is forever coming up with new discoveries and new regimens. ("Green Tea For Your Joints," etc.) Are eggs bad for you? Or was that last week? "Maybe in ten or twenty years they'll know enough to be handing out lots of advice," he wrote me. "But not now. At the moment they really don't know nearly as much as they claim... posted by Michael at September 25, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Moviegoing: "Eastern Promises"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My first time to a movie theater in months and it's a dud: David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises." Set in a grimy present-day London, it's a crime melodrama about an earnest blonde midwife (Naomi Watts) who stumbles into an underworld of violent yet mysteriously attractive Russian (and Chechen, and Ukrainian, etc) thugs, played by Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassell, Armin Mueller-Stahl, etc. Viggo, Naomi: To trust, or not to trust ... The film's main purpose seems to be to showcase this seedy underworld -- to lift up the boulder of respectability and inspect the squirmy and slimy cosmos that thrives beneath it. To that extent -- as a piece of pop anthropology -- the film has its fascination. These dangerous and ambitious immigrants have their own rituals, their own pleasures, and their own business networks. Musings about globalization and its consequences are definitely being encouraged here. The film's main problem is its turgid and ponderous tone. In the creepy-crawly, trippy-erotic horror films that Cronenberg is best-known for -- "Videodrome," "Crash," "eXistenZ", etc -- the clinical, slow-motion, metaphysical-dread thing that is his specialty can hypnotize and horrify. Something appalling yet alluring always seems to be on the verge of being disclosed. Existence itself seems to be in the process of cracking open; the true horror that lies beyond pop horror will be there for us to inspect. Here, though, Cronenberg's tone just seems clunky, pretentious, and perverse. Although the material being presented (needy girls sold into prostitution, ancient vendettas between mysterious ethnic groups, etc) is certainly dark and scary, the script (by Steve "Dirty Pretty Things" Knight) doesn't have anything like the imagination or resonance it would need to justify the turgidity with which it's presented. The immigrant gangsters are sleekly repulsive / attractive -- Mortensen and Cassel have worked out a bizarre and sinister rapport, that's for sure. And Cronenberg and his art director are pretty effective at conveying the allure of tribal food and "ethnic"-style family rituals. But the film's only real bit of freshness is limited to one scene: a fight-in-a-Turkish-bath scene. The choreography, camera, and editing are effective at conveying the mass and weight of flesh and bone, the pain inflicted by knives and fists, and the unwillingness of bodies to die. The power and vulnerability of all this are heightened immensely by the genuinely brilliant idea of having Mortensen play the scene completely nude. But that's it for "memorable." The film generally is such a ponderous and earnest drag that I sat there getting ever more irreverent. "What is the big, dread-provoking deal anyway?" I kept wondering. (I also kept wondering: "Wow, can you think of a less-enticing way of using the wonderful Naomi Watts?") My guess is that the film's message -- because the film certainly feels like a solemn message-movie -- is intended to be something like "The children will pay for our sins," or maybe "Sexual slavery is a bad thing." Not exactly shocking news on either count. But... posted by Michael at September 25, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, September 21, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Not what you expect. (Via Charlton Griffin.) * Charlton also sent along a link to a tasty collection of the worst tech ads of all time. * The Communicatrix tipped me off to an amazingly well-done homegrown fight sequence. Gotta love formalized Asian choreography set amidst suburban American backyards. * Speaking of cars and American car-industry troubles, Raymond Pert points out this hilarious Onion story. * This other Onion piece also had me laughing out loud. As did this deadpan Onion video, which you had better wait to watch until you're away from the office. * Claire pulls herself together and goes shopping for a bra. * Get some sleep. * Lexington Green sings the praises of garage-punk legends The Fleshtones. * It's when I read things like this that I realize that -- although I burn through a lot of books -- I must not be a serious book person. And, ah, how good it feels to say that. * Francis Morrone writes a terrific piece that captures many of the sides of the late, great Jane Jacobs. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) You can read a lot more Francis here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 21, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Website-Making Tools for Non-Geeks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It becomes easier every year to put yourself up on the web, doesn't it? Where not so long ago the non-gearhead who hoped to join the online party had to hire a pro or rely on bad tools that resulted in trashy-looking websites, today's webcreature-wannabe has a number of appealing options to choose among. It seems fair to me to say that today's website-making-tools-for-the-masses are so good that someone who really wants to have a website no longer has a valid reason not to. A few years ago I recommended the outfit Squarespace, a service that enables you to create a complete and attractive website for yourself entirely online. But, since I'm the type who likes doing research, trying out software, and playing with organizational tools, I've continued poking around the field, and I've run into some other cool and valuable tools. Why not pass them along too? A preliminary note: It seems useful to divide website-making tools into those that operate entirely online and those that are individual-computer-based. In the first group, both the website you make and the website-builder you use to make it are online. All that's needed to accomplish what you'll want to accomplish is a browser and a fast internet connection. Advantages: no programs to buy and manage; you can tinker with your website from any web-connected computer; there's no need to endure the headaches involved in acquiring a domain name and lining up a webhost. Disadvantage: Online tools tend to be less quick and responsive than do ones that live on your hard drive. Tools that belong to the second group are ones that you buy and then install on your own computer. Once you've done that, you use the program to assemble and / or tweak your pages (photo galleries, blogs, freeform pages, whatever). Then you upload your creation to a webhost, where it's made public. Advantage: Some of these programs are terrific, as well as easy and and even fun to use. Disadvantages: You have to attend to all that offputting webspace-making crap (domain names, webhosts, etc). Why can't anyone make those procedures less annoying than they are? Plus you can only mess with your website from the one computer that has the program (and your files) installed on it. Life is indeed all about weighing trade-offs ... To the first group might belong such familiar products as WordPress, Typepad, and Blogger. All three services have their advantages and their partisans. But they also limit you to creating a blog, or at most a blog-with-trimmings. (Some people have recently been using WordPress to create websites that aren't strictly blogs, but no matter what direction you bend it in, WordPress is a tool that wants to make you a blog.) Some tools that I can recommend (or in one case semi-recommend): The online tool that I mainly want to focus on is once again Squarespace, which is even better today than it was when I recommended it... posted by Michael at September 20, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

How Virtuous Was Our Virtuous Cycle?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, As the captain of a small business boat trying to paddle through today's stormy economic seas, I have been spending a lot of time over the last month or so reading financial news online. This has led to my becoming acquainted with some interesting economic blogs. If you have an interest in such matters, you might find Econobrowser, The Big Picture, Calculated Risk, Alphaville and Naked Capitalism entertaining reads. You would even find some wit, I think; for example, Barry Ritholtz of The Big Picture had this to say in the wake of the Fed's recent 50 basis point (0.5% ) rate cut: The Fed now has a third problem to deal with: They have become Wall Street's bitch. They may find that's a difficult condition to wriggle out from . . .[emphasis original] The whole posting was entitled 'Bernanke Blinks' and you can read it here. But mostly I'd like to call your attention to a point that I didn't appreciate about our current economic situation. To wit, that our various economic crises are all closely intertwined. Although from the press coverage one would think that our main problem is a credit crunch caused by loose lending in subprime mortgages, I suspect it would be just as accurate to describe our problem as stemming from our tendency to import a whole lot more than we import, i.e., that we have a large negative current account balance. Okay, okay, I'm sure all you economic sophisticates already knew that, and I am obviously many years late to the party. Better late than never, I hope; I can only say that I woke up abruptly to the interconnectedness of things when I looked at a graph I discovered that compared the increase in mortgage debt outstanding (basically, the amount of new money loaned against real estate) with our trade deficit. Note the similarity in the two trends? You can say all you want about correlation not being causation, but I think it's safe to say that people have been using home equity loans and refinancings to treat their houses as ATM machines, and spending the money they take out of them on goodies, a significant and stable fraction of which are imported. This graph comes to you courtesy of Calculated Risk; you can read the whole posting from March 2005 here. (See what I mean about being years late to the party? Sigh.) The unity of our economic issues is explained quite a bit more eloquently than I could by Calculated Risk in another posting from September 18, 2007 called Fed Funds Rate Cut: Watch Long Rates. The money quote of this insightful piece is as follows: Lower interest rates led to an increase in housing prices. And those higher housing prices led to ever increasing mortgage equity withdrawal (MEW) by homeowners. A large percentage of this equity withdrawal flowed to consumption, increasing both GDP and imports during the boom years. There is a strong correlation... posted by Friedrich at September 20, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nancy and I are off to Italy, leaving early September 20th and returning the afternoon of October 10th. Posting by me will likely be non-existent during that interval and for a day or so afterwards. The main reason is that I'll not be taking a computer on the trip. Were I to bring it, I'd have it in my over-the-neck-and-shoulder computer bag that I use to haul essentials which cannot be entrusted to others. Besides my blood pressure medicine and lesser pills, trip-related documents, camera battery charging connectors and so forth, that bag is useful for carrying street maps, newspapers, stuff I buy that day and even a rolled-up waterproof windbreaker if the weather is iffy. Adding a nearly six-pound laptop computer to this stash makes me feel like I'm hauling a load of bricks. There's a faint chance that I'll stumble across a free or cheap means of Internet access when I have the time to dash off a short post. But don't count on this happening. And be sure to give Michael some slack if he doesn't post every single day; he's amazingly prolific, but I don't want him pushing himself extra hard just because I'm off frolicking. Some readers were curious where I'd be in Italy. Well, we arrive in Rome a couple of days before the start of a tour. The tour group does another two days there before heading south to see Pompeii and Capri. Then to Ovietto and Assisi followed by a day in Florence, after which we loop down to San Gimignano and north to Venice. A day in Venice and on to the lake country, including a short stop in Lugano, Switzerland. The tour concludes at the Milan airport, but we'll catch a train south to the Cinque Terre villages where we'll spend a day. Also a day in Lucca and another in Milan before returning to Seattle. I'm familiar with the part from Tuscany on north, but the southern area will be new, which should make it especially interesting. As for blog fodder, all I'll promise is that I'll bring my camera and will stay on the lookout for interesting items to write about. When I travel I favor learning about today's cities, towns and countryside as opposed to lurking in the museums and palaces favored by other tourists and tour group planners: there are always a few exceptions to this rule, of course. So yes, I'll be seeing some art. But no, I might not write much about it because I haven't studied Renaissance Italian art enough to make things interesting. Moreover, unlike when I was in Finland, Russia, Poland, etc., most of the artists will have names you're familiar with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 18, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

DVD Journal: "The Comeback"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by Mike Hill, who wrote the excellent blog Sluggo Needs a Nap until real life demanded his attention, I picked up a copy of HBO's Lisa Kudrow vehicle "The Comeback." Over the weekend The Wife and I opened the package up and dug in. We watched the whole thing too, I'm pleased to report, even though we aren't TV-series fans generally. We didn't make it through out of duty and curiosity, either, as we did with Joss Whedon's "Firefly." We were genuinely held, even though we found it a pretty painful experience, and not entirely in the painful-good way that the show's creators intended. Still, we genuinely loved a lot of things about "The Comeback." For one, we're both big fans of satire, which strikes both of us as one of the ultimate art challenges. (You're aware, aren't you, that Americans are notorious for having a hard time with satire? George S. Kaufman: "Satire is what closes on Saturday night." We're too square to enjoy stylish malice; we're too eager to identify with heroes to want to follow people who are being made fun of. Exceptions allowed for, of course.) And "The Comeback" is nothing if not a stylish high-wire act. But part of what kept us watching was trying to figure out where the show had gone wrong. (It never gained much of an audience, and HBO canceled it after just one season.) That may be a weird reason for finding a show compelling, but there you go. A small aside: This strikes me as an example of one of the kinds of culture-experiences that traditional criticism and reviewing aren't good at dealing with. The pro reviewer has to read or listen to or watch the work under consideration all the way through. We'd throw tomatoes at him if he didn't. Yet a lot of the viewing and reading and listening we do is half-assed, fragmentary, incomplete. Should it be off-limits to compare notes about these experiences? Let alone to treat them with some respect? I can't see why. It strikes me as a legitimate, and certainly a commonplace, part of culture life -- the book we leafed around in at the bookstore, the movie we fast-forwarded through, the music we half-listened to at the gym. Openly acknowledging and discussing this aspect of interacting-with-culture is one of the ways that the blogosophere has enriched the general culture-discussion. For example, Yahmdallah here does a good job of discussing a book he both disliked and felt some enthusiasm for. "Compelling yet boring" -- Yahmdallah's words -- is something certain artworks have struck me as too. Yet how many pro critics have taken such a reaction into account? Anyway. Created by the actress Lisa Kudrow (who stars) and the writer-director Michael Patrick King (well-known for his work on "Sex and the City"), "The Comeback" puts loads of virtuosity, brains, humor, perceptiveness, and talent on display. As well as daring. It's a far more audacious and... posted by Michael at September 18, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

DarkoV Recommends Some Richard Thompson
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I linked to a Richard Thompson performance that I'm fond of. DarkoV -- who knows Richard Thompson's work a lot better than I do (and who blogs here) -- left a recommendation-rich comment on the posting that I can't resist highlighting. Here it is: Mr. Thompson's been a favorite of mine since the early days of Fairport Convention and he only improved once he went on his own with his then wife, Linda. But, though an avid fan for a long, long time I am not a fan of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and as an apostle of Mr. Thompson, I never recommend this song. First couple of times? Great. But after that? Grating. I'd recommend I Misunderstood, Wall of Death, the humor of Tear Stained Letter, or the utterly gut-wrenching Dimming of the Day that he performs here with his ex-wife. But, any plug for any song by Mr. Thompson is a good thing, so thanks very much, Michael, for pushing his cause. He's not only an extraordinary composer and guitar-player; he's an engaging and considerate person when you meet him. So much talent, so little guile. It's a rare combination these days. I'm hoping Whisky Prajer is persuaded by the strength of Mr. Thompson's latest release Sweet Warrior to be completely drawn into the music and words of Richard Thompson. Thanks to the ever-enlightening, resourceful, and entertaining DarkoV, and good listening to all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 18, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Problem of Simplicity
Donald Pitenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "%$^**@&%#," I say. That's because my draft of this article in the blog queue disappeared into the Big Black Hole of Lost Blog Posts. So what follows is a stripped-down, less fancily phrased and structured version of what I had written a week or so ago. As I said, "%$^**@&%#." Part of Modernism's rejection of the 19 century was the introduction of a dogma of Simplicity. This did not affect painting to any great degree; a Pollock drip-painting can hardly be called simple. But Simplicity did take hold to a considerable degree for sculpture and triumphed in the fields of Architecture and Industrial Design where ornament was abolished in the former and reduced to "speed strips" in the latter by 1940. The Postmodern era has been slightly more tolerant of ornament. Geometry-based patterns are allowed on occasion as are repeated structural details that can give an ornamented appearance of sorts. Nevertheless, a small set of simplified shapes is expected to comprise the essence of the building or object. I have nothing against simplicity. Industrial-Designed objects, if they have smooth, simple surfaces can be much easier to keep clean than objects with lots of tiny places where dust and dirt can collect. And simple objects can be seem jewel-like if placed in contrasting settings -- for example, the newly-built Lever House building on what was then pre-Modern Park Avenue in New York. Even so, Simplicity -- if it is pervasive -- runs counter to what seems to be deep-seated, perhaps evolutionary, human visual preferences for nature-based forms. Such forms are definitely non-geometrical and tend to the complex as opposed to the simple. (Though contrasts such as rolling fields with copses of trees and background wooded areas might skew towards the simple, yet can be pleasing to view.) Furthermore, non-simple familiar objects probably hold viewer interest longer than greatly simplified or geometrical forms. I'm thinking of human faces and bodies as well as landscape scenes. But even complicated man-built landscapes can qualify. I can imagine myself studying a panorama of Paris for just as long as I might the Grand Canyon. To illustrate what the title of this post -- The Problem of Simplicity -- is about, consider two sculptures: Gallery Bird on Space - Constantin Brancusi - 1923 et. seq. This a one of my favorite sculptures. Despite its subtle forms I can pretty well assimilate visually it in two or three minutes. Monolith - Gustav Vigeland - completed 1943 I've never been to Oslo where a park has been set aside for Vigeland's works. But, because of the large amount of human subject-matter, I imagine that Monolith would hold my interest considerably longer than Bird in Space. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 17, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Shock of Non-Recognition
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Whatever there is that has to be said about high school reunions has almost surely been said already. Good. That means I can write to my heart's content without straining for profundity. So raise those cliché-protection shields and batten down the banality-absorbers -- I just had my 50th high school reunion and I'm here to blather! Does anyone remember an illustration done around 40 year ago in response to the Beatles song "When I'm 64" where the artist tried to project how the Liverpool lads might look when they got that old? There might have been more than one such attempt because the one I turned up via Google doesn't seem familiar. The imagined 64 year-old Beatles were still recognizable, which is more than I can say about most of the 68-ish-year-old attendees at my reunion activities. Not a surprise for many of us: my reunion-happy class has now thrown five or six such events since graduation -- including the 40th and 45th -- so we were getting conditioned to the shock of non-recognition. Fortunately, we had an especially handy visual aid in the form of name tags with a 1.5-times blow-up of our yearbook portraits and names in really large type (see example below). My 50th reunion name tag At the 40th reunion the name tags had actual-size yearbook photos and type so small that our 58-year-old eyes weren't up to the task. There was a lot of leaning close to the wearer's chest to discern the fine print: hope the ladies didn't mind too much. We learned that using yearbook photos was a good idea and that small type wasn't. For the first time, I was involved in reunion committee activities and got an inside look at the process. Plenty of ideas were advanced during the first few years of what, for some of us, was an effort lasting more than five years. When the Big Event got close, new proposals tended to be rejected unless they were refinements of existing plans, and some side-events under consideration were rejected to keep an already busy weekend from fragmenting. Nevertheless, five reunion-related events were held: a Thursday golf tournament (about 20-25 participants); a Friday luncheon for women at the Women's University Club in downtown Seattle (nearly 60 signed up); a Friday evening "ice-breaker" event at a hotel not far from the main reunion site (nearly 200 showed up); a Saturday morning tour of the recently rebuilt Roosevelt High School (between 100 and 200); and the main-event Saturday evening dinner at a 1920s vintage suburban country club (400 attendees including a few surviving teachers). A committee co-chairman informed me that around 240 classmates attended at least one event. This was out of about 530 classmates for whom we have contact information, about two-thirds living within driving distance. It seems that there were a few people whose contact information was discovered but wanted to remain "missing." This is expectable, from a statistical point of view and... posted by Donald at September 16, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, September 14, 2007

Time's 50 Worst Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My mind freezes when asked to name my favorite this, the worst that or the best something-or-other. I'm seldom able to think in those terms. For instance, if asked "What was your favorite place to visit on your recent trip to Xxxx," I'd probably return a blank stare. This isn't to say I don't have likes and dislikes: I do, as Faithful Readers know. It's just that I tend to like or dislike things on the basis of multiple criteria whose importance can vary over time due to new information, maturity / aging, or even whimsy. On occasion I actually can provide a favorite: ice cream-wise, it's chocolate. But it was strawberry when I was little, and I can't explain why that preference changed. Which inevitably leads us to cars. For a reason beyond my grasp, Time magazine's staff and Dan Neil, "Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times" came up with a list of "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time" (see here). Maybe my problem has to do with the fact that I can't locate an introductory page -- something that lays out the task and mentions criteria used for making the list. Based on commentaries on the cars selected, a hodge-podge of reasons are included such as mechanical problems, styling/package-definition and marketing errors among other demerits. Worse, the list includes some prototypes and other one-offs along with production automobiles. I don't think one-offs should be included with production cars. That's because they are experimental in nature, tests of ideas -- not items one can buy and regret from personal experience. For what it's worth, while I agree with Neil that the Trabant, King Midget and Yugo are pretty sorry cars, I can't go along with many of the other selections. For example, most automotive histories I've read consider the Ford Model T as one of the most significant cars of all time. But Neil's caption states Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? The Model T -- whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse's "disassembly line" -- conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day. So it seems that a car introduced in 1909 doesn't quite measure up to a Prius or whatever car he really liked on a recent road... posted by Donald at September 14, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reunions 2: Guy-Happiness and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few final reflections sparked off by a recent visit to my high school class's 35th reunion. (Class of 1972 -- gadzooks!) Earlier reunion reflections can be enjoyed, or at least found, here. Great seeing the old crowd; quite hilarious the way everyone instantly eased back into casual-kid-friendship mode (we know each other far too well to try to get away with putting on airs); and very, very pleasing the way so much of the sturm und drang of adolescence has been left behind. What was all that about? One of the things that struck me most about the get-together, though, was the way that a hierarchy of life-satisfaction has emerged among the guys. This was something new, it seemed to me. Perhaps it takes a few decades for the impact of the bigger life-choices to play themselves fully out. In any case, what seemed apparent to me this time 'round was that there was one group of guys who seemed content with their lives, as well as another group of guys who seemed far more restless and unsettled. Curious, I poked around a bit. I found that I couldn't discern any such pattern among the gals. I couldn't formulate any generalizations at all where gals and life-satisfaction went, come to think of it. (Aside from "Don't become an alcoholic.") Though some of the ladies certainly seemed more comfy in their lives than others did, I couldn't make out any pattern. Divorces, kids, jobs -- sometimes they were a positive, sometimes a negative. Where the guys clustered in easy-to-identify groups, for the ladies happiness seemed a flukier, one-by-one thing. Is this because guys are more black / white, on / off creatures than those ever-morphing, ever-complicated gals are? By contrast, the pattern behind the guys' life-happiness rankings stood out clear as day. Namely: Now that we're in our early 50s, the calmest and least-troubled guys are the ones who are working in technical fields. Without exception, these old classmates are now mellow and happy souls. They have the contentedness of people leading comprehensible, satisfying lives, lives characterized by finite obligations and dependable rewards. At the other end of the mood-spectrum are the angst-ridden bunch: namely, guys who long ago fell in love with the arts. (I count myself in this group, by the way. I'll talk about them / us in the third person for the sake of convenience, though.) The guys in this group are jumpier and more tormented. They may perhaps have known giddier highs, but they've also experienced darker and more frequent lows, as well as far fewer steady, count-upon-able stretches. Where the tech guys keep on a dependable plane -- they have routines, and they enjoy them -- the arts guys are still living like post-grads, moment to moment. Most are still caught up in the "doing my art" vs. "keeping up a day job" plight. Little has settled down for them over the decades. They've done what they could... posted by Michael at September 13, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dealing With Collegiate Gothic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Collegiate Gothic was the epitome of architectural fashion for American colleges and universities during the whereabouts of the first third of the 20th century. I'm very fond of that style and enjoy seeing it when I visit Yale, Cornell, Princeton and other universities with significant concentrations. But what do architects steeped in Modernist and Po-Mo dogma do when new buildings are added to a Collegiate Gothic core? There are three basic strategies for this situation: (1) ignore the past and build what you want; (2) grit your teeth and continue with Collegiate Gothic; and (3) create buildings that blend with Collegiate Gothic to varying degrees. The third strategy is the most interesting one because it shows what architects design when their hearts aren't completely in the game -- how much do they compromise and how do they go about compromising. The University of Washington is an interesting test case because, since a campus plan using Collegiate Gothic first emerged in 1915, architects have had to acknowledge the style. The remainder of this post is a gallery of photos I took recently along with captions in which I explain and interpret. I'm sorry that this post is a little lengthy, but the subject can't be dealt with using only four or five illustrations. Gallery This is the main quadrangle. Here and in many other parts of the campus vegetation is thick -- too thick, in my opinion. Major trimming is needed so that buildings are visible and free from potential damage to brickwork in the damp Seattle climate. The Japanese cherry trees in the photo have been in place for around 45 years and render the Collegiate Gothic classroom buildings nearly invisible when leaves are out. The "Quad" sets the style for the main part of campus. Bricks are a reddish-orange color and trim is a pinkish cream. My other alma mater, Dear Old Penn, standardized on Burgundy-colored brickwork to unify the campus. Here's a better view of a building done in Collegiate Gothic style. This represents the take-off point for architects working in the 1950s and later. The Mechanical Engineering building was built in the 50s in a nondescript style that nods to Collegiate Gothic only in its standard UW brickwork. At the center-left is an engineering school building completed around 1960. There apparently was a little pressure to compromise with Collegiate Gothic -- hence the fussy, abstracted-Gothic motif. The main campus plaza. A parking garage is below ground level and the towers are ventilators. The area was built during the early 70s when Brutalism was the architectural fad. No Gothic touches, but the brickwork is UW standard. Meany Hall performance center, sited on the plaza shown above, but completed in 1995. Note the odd little triangular windows along the roof line: the architect's reluctant tribute to Collegiate Gothic.. The engineering library and a classroom building dating to the 70s. Again the expected brick and no Gothic. On the left is the Business School... posted by Donald at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Whiskyprajer, Janiva, and Richard
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- WhiskyPrajer is learning to like Richard Thompson and is crazy about Janiva Magness. Here's a free taste of the souful Janiva. And here's Thompson's bizarrely stirring "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," with its witty reference to "Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme." Be sure to enjoy Thompson's droning / dancing virtuosity on the guitar too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Historical Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Courtesy of YouTube, here's a little archival footage of the great Ashley Whippet, the first Frisbee-catching dog. Hard to believe there was ever a time when dogs didn't catch Frisbees, isn't it? Here's the Ashley Whippet website, where I learned that you're supposed to refer to Frisbee-catching dogs as "disc dogs." Here's another cute Whippet video. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Cruising" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Peter Debruge notices that the dark and brutal William Friedkin / Al Pacino gay-sex thriller "Cruising" -- much maligned when it was first released in 1980 -- is finally being released on DVD. Peter thinks the movie stinks. I reacted differently -- I found it an imperfect film but also a very powerful one. It offers psychology, atmosphere, and suspense, as well as some frank glimpses of the more extreme edges of New York's late-'70s gay underground. (If you want a look at the kind of carrying-on that led to AIDS, you could do worse than watch "Cruising.") And Pacino was fab. Slate's Trenton Straube recounts the story of "Cruising"'s beleaguered production and controversy-addled reception. In its day, "Cruising" was quite the cause celebre. Semi-Related: I wondered what ever became of Extreme Faggotry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * While this TV-commercial parody struck me as no more than pretty funny, it may be the slickest TV-commercial parody I've ever watched. * Mick Hartley thinks that, where Jack Kerouac is concerned, Anthony Daniels is all wet. * Rick Darby looks at a few gaudily painted airliners and wonders if everything these days has to be turned into a billboard. * Jenny figures out where to put her ideas. * Witold Rybczynski's slide show about green architecture includes a few images from the '70s, another era when eco-architecture seemed to be the inevitable next big thing. Those were some seriously ungainly buildings. * I was planning to make fun of this NYTimes piece about an absurd new Bernard Tschumi building ... But John Massengale, bless him, has got there first and has done it better than I ever could. One especially amusing line: "Non-architects know that a blue glass tower that looks like it's falling over doesn't really fit into a low-rise neighborhood of hundred-year-old stone and brick buildings." * The term "public intellectual" makes Alias Clio shudder. * Michael Bierut wonders if the ditziness of Miss South Carolina might not illuminate a little something about the graphic design field. "Perhaps design is the field of mindless prettiness," he writes, daringly. * Irina has a wrestle with her ego. * Andrew Sullivan turned up this brilliant little action-comedy gem. * Dean Baker doesn't think things are so bad in Germany. * Jeff Harrell's account of living with borderline personality disorder is startling, moving, and very interesting. (Link thanks to Jonathan Schnapp.) * Tyler Cowen wonders if the government should really be subsidizing philanthropy. * Bruce Grossman celebrates a couple of brawny and hilarious football novels that I'm fond of myself: Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough" and Peter Gent's "North Dallas 40." I dig those books even though I'm not a football fan. * The Man Who Is Thursday dares to admit that he has never enjoyed "The Lord of the Rings." * Allan Wall -- an American living in Mexico -- watches a recent debate among our Democratic hopefuls, and doesn't like what it bodes for the U.S. * The pop ditty that I can't shake out of my mind today is this easygoing and ridiculously catchy thing ... * MBlowhard Rewind: I told the story of the creation of the American teenager. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Concours Touring
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Every couple of years or so I visit the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance automobile show. It's a pricey but interesting event for car buffs who are into automobile aesthetics. Since this is a blog written by arts buffs, I feel it's my sacred duty to pass along some of the more interesting items on display: recently I posted on a rare Voisin that I spied in the sales / auction area. Today I'll show you two examples of Italian styling at its best. Both cars were designed and built by Carrozzeria Touring, an important firm from the 1920s into the 1950s. The first car is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta. When it was designed, car styling was in the later stages of the transition from boxy, non-aerodynamic shapes where headlamps, fenders, trunks and other exterior components were separate forms to all-enclosing "envelope" bodies that were streamlined in appearance, if not quite in reality. The Alfa's components are still distinct, though partly blended. Many contemporary cars were at this same evolutionary point, but more awkward-looking. Touring created a car where everything fits into a pleasing, well-proportioned whole. The other car was built ten years later, though the evolutionary span is really only five years or so if the disruption of World War 2 is subtracted. Whereas the Alfa was a passenger car, the 1949 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta was a racing car -- the "MM" refers to Mille Miglia, Italy's long-distance road race that was run for decades until it was finally deemed too dangerous. As I reported here, I'm not much of a Ferrari fan. Nevertheless, the styling of early (up through the mid-1950s) Ferraris was generally very good, and the 166 MM is one of the outstanding examples. Here the transition to the "envelope" form is complete. The car is taut and purposeful. No extraneous detailing; the crease along the upper sides of the body adds visual length and probably adds some stiffness to the sheet metal. Here are some photos I took. Gallery Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta - 1939 Ferrari 177 MM Touring Barchetta - 1949 I've been to three Pebble Beach Concours. The event is normally held the third Sunday in August, a time of year when the Monterey area can get foggy. My first two visits featured overcast -- not usually a good thing for picture-taking. This year was sunny, as you can see from the photos above. Nevertheless, even sunshine has it photographic downside. That's because the cars shown at Pebble Beach can be so shiny that one's photo might show more reflections than car; I certainly took a lot of reflection-filled photos. Despite that, I got enough good stuff for a few more posts. Hope you won't mind. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those intrigued (annoyed, provoked, etc) by our two-part interview with Gregory Cochran might enjoy checking out some blogospheric responses to it: Randall Parker, ChicagoBoyz' Jonathan, Steve Sailer, Joseph Moroco, Susan, Burkeman1, a commentsfest at GNXP ... Please let me know if you've run across references to the interview at other blogs. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, September 10, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue with the second and final part of our q&a with Gregory Cochran. Part One, which includes an introduction to Cochran and his work, is here. *** A Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part Two 2Blowhards: So you don't think democracy and Iraq are made for each other? Cochran: I thought the "democracy push" in the Middle East was funny. Push for elections and you get Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood. I knew that would happen before we tried it -- why didn't Condi? Why didn't the White House? I could go on, but I think you get the picture. 2B: How important is it that we track down Bin Laden? Why haven't we been able to do so? Cochran: We should certainly kill him. It sets an important precedent. As to why we haven't, I think finding someone in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan is probably hard, and we're worried about upsetting the applecart there -- and I think we didn't want to, not much. Look at the resources committed. Judge them by their fruits. 2B: How could the USA more effectively protect itself from the danger of Islamic terrorists than it's currently doing? Cochran: Stop trying to get Arabs to become jihadists. Leave Iraq, for example. It's not that big a threat in any event. We could imagine appointing people with brains and some knowledge of the Moslem world to key positions in the FBI and CIA and such, but that seems to be utterly against the spirit of the times. Certainly against the spirit of Washington. I mean there's been no move in that direction, and nobody really minds. Except me of course and I'm probably just irritable. 2B: Speaking of terrorism more generally, how much danger is there of nuclear terrorism? And what if anything should be done about it? Cochran: Not much. No one is going to hand out nukes to terrorists and they can't build their own from scratch, that's for sure. Here I have to get technical. First, the first high hurdle in making a nuclear weapon is obtaining the fissionable materials. No terrorist group can make those materials -- it's a major industrial/scientific effort. Second, you have to make a bomb out of the fissionables, which are for all practical purposes either highly enriched uranium (with the percentage of U-235 increased from the natural 0.7% to something over 90%) or Plutonium-239. Making a Pu-239 bomb is difficult and no terrorist can do it: India took seven tries. Making a bomb out of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is relatively easy -- we didn't even bother to test the Hiroshima bomb -- and terrorists might be able to do it. Modern nuclear weapons themselves have so many inbuilt safeguards that the thieves would have to take one apart and build a new bomb from the innards -- they couldn't get it to go off if they wanted to, unless the maker gave them the code sequences. All... posted by Michael at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (69) comments

And Now a Word from Our Leaders
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: After the invigorating plain speaking of Part I of Michael Blowhard's interview with Gregory Cochran on Iraq and related topics, which you should absolutely read, I thought I'd see what officialdom had to say on the subject. A little googling got me the text of General Petraeus' testimony to Congress. Reading his "Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq," I couldn't help but be struck by the utter absence of any discussion of what the U.S. has at stake in this conflict. No discussion of what benefits we hope to obtain in Iraq nor any discussion of what dangers we are struggling to avoid by being in Iraq. If you think I am exaggerating, note his remarks (quoted in full) under the heading "The Nature of the Conflict": The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more--or less--violently. This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq. Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists, and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and, especially, by Iran fuel that violence. Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust, and various forms of corruption add to Iraq's challenges. [emphasis original] I have read that paragraph a number of times and I do not see the words United States, America, or even American anywhere. Likewise, zilch on the nature of American interests in this conflict, dangers to the U.S. from this conflict, benefits to America from this conflict, threats to key allies from this conflict, etc. He goes on to magnify the oddity of this omission with a later remark: My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations: - political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists; - long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course; - regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and - Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations. [emphasis original] What he terms strategic considerations do not look, um, all that strategic to me. Just to check, I looked up strategy and found this on Wikipedia: A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often "winning". Noticing the link on "goal", I clicked it and got: An objective or goal is a personal or organizational desired end point in development. It is usually endeavoured to be reached in finite time by setting deadlines. By golly, the General has managed to... posted by Friedrich at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the commentsfest on a recent Friedrich von Blowhard posting, a certain Gregory Cochran made some sharp and wittily-put points. I was tickled to see Cochran show up and to read his thoughts because -- in my hyper-amateurish and spotty way -- I've been aware of him and of his very impressive work for some years now. Some visitors might not have realized who we were hearing from, though. A professor at the University of Utah, Cochran is a physicist, an anthropologist, and a genetics researcher and theorist. He's well known for his belief that many ailments that we now think of as genetic might well be of pathogenic origin instead. With Henry Harpending and Jason Hardy, he authored a paper suggesting that the high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews -- as well as their pattern of genetic diseases -- might be an evolutionary consequence of their history of persecution and their emphasis on jobs involving lots of brainpower. The paper received extensive coverage in The Economist and The New York Times. Cochran has worked in defence and aerospace; he has speculated that homosexuality might be caused by an infection; he has written a number of articles for the American Conservative scornful of the Bush administration; and he shows up periodically at Gene Expression. Cochran is a formidable heterodox intellectual, in other words: not only legendarily smart and fearless, but blessed with a remarkable memory -- he was once a College Bowl contestant. The Economist called him "a noted scientific iconoclast." GNXP's Razib says of Cochran, "Information technology is a deadly weapon in this man's hands. Greg Cochran is a genius, and he's got the 'fuck you' money to prove it." Steve Sailer has written of Cochran: "I stay in touch with some quite smart people, but even among them, Gregory Cochran is legendary for the ferocity of his scientific originality ... I can attest that, although a physicist by education and the leading theorist of evolutionary medicine by avocation, Cochran also has memorized almost the entire political and military history of the human race ... When I'm reviewing a historical film such as 'Master and Commander' or 'Hero' and I need to pretend to actually know something about the Age of Nelson or China's Warring States era, a call to Cochran will not only fill me in on what happened, but, more importantly, why it happened." Not irrelevant to all this is the fact that Cochran has been right about Iraq. He knew Iraq hadn't been involved in 9-11, and didn't have the resources to build anything nuclear; he knew not just that the war would become a mess but precisely which kind of mess; he saw through the delusions of those who thought we could bring democracy to the mideast ... It's eerie how right his predictions have been, and it's impressive that he arrived at them not from some uninformed political point of view but from a practical, fact-driven, and down-to-earth... posted by Michael at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (96) comments

Bringing Children to Work
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It happens every spring. Yes, it's not even Fall, but it can't be too early to begin pondering the matter. What I'm referring to is Bring Your Child to Work Day. Originally, this was a Feminist thing and the word "Daughter" was used instead of "Child." Perhaps "Daughter" is still the operative word in some settings. But in the government agency where I used to work, it became "Child," probably because some leaders were afraid "Daughter" was too discriminatory. Whatever word is used, I think the concept is not a good one, on balance. In the first place, children are removed from school for a day. In the second place, it's a distraction for the organization hosting the event. In the third place, a whole day -- or even half a day -- is too much for the attention spans of the grade-schoolers who tend to show up at these things. Net result: a lot of effort for little result. The people who planned the event for my agency (the state budget office, an adjunct to the governor's office) were reduced to scheduling an ice cream party as one of the activities to keep the kids occupied. That was probably because what we did was mostly either (1) work at computers or (2) sit in on meetings. As I write this, I can almost visualize the kiddies' eyes glazing when confronting such excitement. Non-office jobs would be more interesting for children to see, but not necessarily interesting for long. That's because many kinds of work are basically repetitive with only small variations in detail from repetition to repetition. (Think waitress. Think delivery truck driver. Think assembly line worker.) I hope someday folks will wise up and get rid of this idealistic, but mostly ineffectual, event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, September 7, 2007

Tennis Hotties
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the high-minded chitchat about the fate of Culture. In honor of the U.S. Tennis Open, let's cut to the one topic that really matters: Who deserves to reign as Current Tennis Hottie? Since I'm agnostic so far as the dudes go -- although isn't it weird how much lantern-jawed Roger Federer sometimes resembles lantern-jawed Quentin Tarantino? -- I'm going to focus on las chicas. The three girls who seem to me to be vying most enthusiatically for the crown are: Bethanie Mattek Daniela Hantuchova and Ashley Harkleroad. Bethanie ... Ashley ... Gotta love those klunky, "distinctive" American names, no? Not for the first time, I find myself wondering, "American parents, what on earth do you think you're doing?" By the way, isn't it a lovely stroke of luck the way that female tennis players peak athletically at the exact same moment when they want most badly to show themselves off? I attended a warm-up session for the U.S. Open a few years ago, and most of the pro girls practicing their awesome volleys and terrifying topspins were dressed in baseball caps, jog-bra tops, and skin-tight hot pants. They didn't seem to mind the whir and snap of thousands of digital cameras going off either. Ladies: Can any of the guys compete in the Hotness stakes with Rafa? Capri pants and all? This Patrick Hruby piece about fashion faux pas of the tennis stars may be a few years old, but it's awfully funny still. Best, Michael UPDATE: Complaints and scoldings -- all of them legit -- have driven me to make apologies and amends. Maria Sharapova certainly deserves inclusion in any list of tennis hotties and wannabe hotties. Feeling properly remorseful, I gave myself a tough sentence: Dig up a worthy pic of Maria ... Gotta love look-at-me panties, er, tennis shorts ...... posted by Michael at September 7, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Pygmy Painters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the lamented pre-20th century world of Western art, there strode giants whose names were, and are, known to much of the public at large. Rembrandt. Da Vinci. Michelangelo. El Greco. Van Dyck. Vermeer. Goya. Monet. Van Gogh. As for the 20th century fame? Picasso, for certain. Ditto Dalí. Klimt, increasingly. Pollock, probably. Calder, perhaps. Warhol, maybe. Norman Rockwell, in the USA at least. Today? If you or I were to hit the street asking passersby to name a famous living painter, what responses would we get? I seriously doubt that many average people could name any currently active painter. And if they could, there's a good chance they would name Thomas Kinkade. Don't laugh and get smug thoughts about the lumpenproletariat. Those same proles might well recognize several of the names in the listings above if the living restriction were lifted. I believe it is a fact that there are no living painters (aside, perhaps, from Kinkade -- thanks to his gallery presence) whose names are widely recognized. This is because the art world has become highly fragmented. And it has become so fragmented because of the multitude of Mini-Isms left in the wake of the original Modernist thrust and its culmination in Abstract Expressionism. The past several decades have seen painters -- assisted by galleries, publicists and the art press -- desperately trying to be "creative" and thereby famed for creating a "movement" or art "ism." Sadly for the participants, the result has been the increasing generation of random noise, not clarity. Is there escape from this situation? Yes, there are possibilities. But many in the current art scene would not be happy with them. More on this another time ... Later, Donald PS: A reminder that I'm discussing fame and not artistic excellence, though the two traits tended to greatly overlap before the 20th century.... posted by Donald at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I'm glad to see that Mike Snider is blogging again. Mike is a poet whose work I like very much. He's also as smart as can be about the debates surrounding evo-bio, traditional forms, and free verse. I interviewed Mike long ago: Part One, Part Two. * You can't say that this guy tries to hide his feelings. * Via Bookgasm and David Chute: Saddlebums, a classy and informative blog devoted to Western fiction. * The latest plastic-surgery trend: "cosmetic vaginal enhancement." (Link thanks to Rachel.) * Audiophile Rick Darby considers iPod users to be musical barbarians. * Susan's kitchen hasn't been lacking for color. * James McCormick takes an in-depth look at Bryan Sykes' ideas about the genetics of the Celts, Saxons, and Vikings. * The era of the big-budget music video is over. * Jim Kalb muses about the culture of multiculturalism. * Downloadable novels meant to be read on your cellphone are giving traditionally printed novels a run for their money in Japan. (Link thanks to Slow Reading, a blog I learned about thanks to Dave Lull.) * DarkoV travels to the big city, enjoys some double-fried potatoes, and takes in a couple of non-mall movies. * America's best restrooms. * Newsweek's Robert Samuelson is a rarity -- a mainstream columnist who understands the damage that our nutty immigration policies are doing to us. For instance: They're increasing poverty. * Bad boy film director Ken Russell rhapsodizes insightfully about what makes some actresses great. * The Catbird Seat offers down-to-earth political commentary as well as fun political-cartooning efforts. He won my admiration and loyalty with the following sentence: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." (CORRECTION: Thanks to Steve C., who points out that Catbird Seat was in fact quoting H.L. Mencken.) * La Coquette finally catches up with Godard's "Breathless." * Here's one of the stranger ocean-shore phenomena I've ever seen. * Lynn Sislo has been burning through some sci-fi novels recently. * Kirsten Mortenson took her camera along on a nostalgic visit to the small upstate New York town where she grew up. * I want that porch. * MBlowhard Rewind: I sang the praises of two of Francois Ozon's sly and sexy movies: "Swimming Pool" and "Water Drops on Burning Rocks." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Architecture and Happiness: More Brick
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I wrote a posting about a small brick path that gave me some intense architecture-appreciation pleasure. A few of the many possible lessons I'd be happy to draw from this: The space between objects is just as important as the objects themselves; we endow objects -- central focus points -- with far too much importance; there's a lot of value to be found in modest, overlooked nooks and crannies; scale and ambition aren't everything ... In any case, ever since writing that posting my mind and my eyes have been dwelling on the topic of bricks and happiness. My snapshot finger soon caught on and followed along. Let me start -- for the sake of comparing-and-constrasting as well as for the fun of being cranky -- with some brickiness that I most emphatically don't like. A great big upside-down smiley -- a frownie? -- to this impersonal, glossy, bleak wall, for instance: It's no life-enriching experience to pass by that particular wall, that's for sure. It has about as much sensual-intellectual appeal as a cafeteria's floor. As for my usual reflex to blame everything on modernism ... Well, here's an example of brickwork from circa 1960, the height of the NYC version of High Modernism, when architects, designers, developers, and planners were peddling hygiene, clean lines, flat surfaces, right angles, and light, light, ever more light: Yes, yellow bricks -- and wasn't that a great innovation? Verdict: All the personality of a drawing made in MacPaint circa 1984, minus the sometimes likable goofiness. While we think of bricks as heavy objects full of personality laid in courses by handworkers called bricklayers, the fact is that these days most bricks for large projects are mass-produced to a striking degree of uniformity, are assembled into walls off-site, and are then applied to the outsides of buildings in huge blocks. It's a process rather like gluing a sheet of postage stamps onto the side of a cardboard box. And you can tell that's the case, can't you? These bricks are neutral. They don't seem thick or weighty; they certainly don't beg to be touched. They don't say "solid matter," let alone "made by the hand of man." They say something like "a designer thought this would be an appropriate surface treatment." What's with the red mortar anyway? Who thought that was a good idea? And why hasn't he been drummed out of the design field yet? Now, feast your eyes on some old-style beauties. Warmth, heft, irregularity crossed with regularity ... They're like a display in a bakery store. Let's zoom in. Would it be unfair to compare the modern brickwork far above to Wonder Bread and the trad brickwork to a high-quality baguette? To shift comparisons ... For me, experiencing this wall is like looking at a painting by someone like Bonnard -- it's all personality and touch -- while looking at the modern walls above is like leafing through a rather dull trade... posted by Michael at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Rod Dreher wonders why pit pulls aren't banned. The comments on his posting are full of interesting facts and provocative thinking. * Small-m passes along some fascinating stats about Scandinavia. * Now open for business: MarginalFoodie, offering culinary insights and tips for dining around the DC area. * Friedrich von Blowhard has been exploring the work of James Jean, a very talented, very young, LA-based artist and illustrator who works in a variety of styles: storybook, fantasy, and observational. I'm especially fond of Jean's sketchbooks myself. Here's his blog, here's his website. Check out how quickly Jean makes some of those drawings! Nothing wrong with a little facility, is there? * I've been enjoying the work of a French illustrator-designer, Marguerite Sauvage -- now that's a name! Sauvage's saucy yet sophisticated style makes me think of James Bond book jackets and Modesty Blaise comic strips, only given a lot of Riot Grrrl attitude. Wait: Modesty Blaise already had a lot of attitude ... Anyway: witty, sexy, full of spirit. * DVD Spin Doctor raves about the the quality of the new DVD version of the original "3:10 to Yuma." * Alt-erotica photographer Samantha Wolov wants your opinion: color or black-and-white? (NSFW) * I've found Jewish Atheist's wrestles with his faith and his identity moving and instructive. (As well as considerably more interesting and less self-important than this semi-similar piece of soul-searching by Philip Weiss. Which, by the way, is also worth reading.) JewishAtheist collects his postings on the topic here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I examined what a bestseller list tells us -- and what it doesn't tell us. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

The Font of Blog-Post Inspiration
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have no idea why Michael Blowhard is such a productive blogger. A Force of Nature, or something along those lines, I suspect. Me? I'm doing well if I can crank out posts at 20 percent of Michael's pace. At least I know why I post what I do and in what quantity. I've been at it nearly two years now, so the picture is pretty clear. Michael's initial marching orders were for me to write one longer and one shorter piece per week, with the unspoken hope that I do a little better than that to help reduce the pressure of being a one-man show, which he largely was at that time. I had the feeling that I could be productive for a while, though there were doubts. For instance, I figured that I could dredge up a dozen or so interesting articles simply by dipping into my memory. Yet I knew that it would be foolish to post all the supposed good stuff in one short spasm: showman Eddie Cantor's first television "special" was a knockout, but it chewed up a good deal of his best material from his previous decades in show biz, and his later appearances weren't nearly as great. So I've been careful to spread my "best" material, posting from that storehouse perhaps once every two or three months while posting at the rate of around four items per week. Where do I get the rest of my material? Michael has an interesting mix of long articles, shorter pieces and also posts several "link blogs" per week. I'm not much of a linker, tending to write essays. I try to avoid writing about the same subject in adjoining posts. That is, if I write about a painter I'll mix in two or three or more posts about other subjects before getting back to painters again. I've been doing a lot of reading about art history these last two years because I quickly realized that I was rapidly using up the material I'd received years ago in college courses. Once I finish a book or article I try to use the information as grist for a post as soon as I can, while it's still fresh. Otherwise -- and you readers who are bloggers yourselves will recognize this -- I try my best to be alert for things I encounter that might make for an interesting essay. I always carry a few small notepad sheets in my shirt pocket for note-taking. I also have a digital camera on my belt just in case I spy something that would make a good illustration for a post. There's one more thing I do. Three or four times a week I drive over to the local Top Pot doughnut shop (see photo below) for a cup of coffee and a Double Trouble doughnut. The Wedgwood Top Pot. Yes, tropical trees can grow in Seattle. The building is a converted gas station where the... posted by Donald at September 5, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Not Quite Born to Write
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I did some rummaging the other evening. It seems that the gal in charge of the memorabilia display for our upcoming 50th high school class reunion needed some class photos from the elementary school I attended, and I thought I would be able to oblige. That's because my mother took pains to save just that sort of stuff. Sure enough, I eventually stumbled across the needed photos. But I want to dwell on something else that turned up. Stuffed into an envelope were results from two University of Iowa achievement tests I took in high school, one from my Sophomore year and another when I was a Senior. Things were kept simple in those early-computer days, so scoring was only on eight dimensions, namely Social studies background Natural science background Correctness in writing Quantitative thinking Reading - social studies Reading - natural sciences Reading - literature General vocabulary plus a composite score and something called "Use of sources of information." My percentile scores were okay. Except for one area. In both tests my lowest score by far (around the 75th percentile) was for Correctness in writing. But I suppose most of you have noticed that by now. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 5, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

This Airport Is Sponsored By ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- During a recent bout of air travel I amused myself by keeping track of the ads I ran into -- more particularly, where they were physically placed. Microsoft, for example, had a big production number happenin' all around a lengthy stretch of moving sidewalk. No way for the air traveler to avoid a pretty intense encounter with that particular ad campaign. Out at the gates, Sprint's message was a lot louder than the gate information. My favorite -- "favorite" as in "Come on, enough's enough" -- ad-placement, though, was this one: That's an ad in the bottom of the tray used at the security and metal-detection bottleneck -- the tray you dump your change and shoes into before being scanned for liquids and pointy objects. Can you imagine being the person whose job it is to sell airport ad space? "Hey Eliza, it's Blake. Look, I want to let you in on a special promotion we're offering this week. We've finally got the go-ahead to sell ads on the customers' luggage. If your bosses pull the trigger in the next 24 hours, I'll give you an exclusive on the porcelain in the urinals too. I'll get back to you next week on that secret thing I'm working on. What? OK, but keep it just between us: What I'm angling to do is sell ad space on the backsides of the pilots' pants." How do you feel (and what do you think, of course) about the way ads seem to show up in more and more places? As for me, well, 2Blowhards deliberately doesn't run any ads. This is partly a matter of principle, I suppose, though we certainly have nothing against anyone else running them, particularly people who can genuinely use the money. (Not that any of this is any of our business, of course.) Mainly, though, and at least for me, it's an aesthetic judgment -- we do take aesthetics pretty seriously around here. For one thing: Aren't there enough ads around already? For another: Ads create clutter. And, especially when indulging in aesthetic and intellectual reflection, isn't it far nicer to do so in a classy and calm environment? Values other than money, efficiency, and convenience sometimes really do need to prevail. The whole debate about where ads can go is one that interests me a lot, not that I have much to add to it. Generally speaking I wish people would show more taste and restraint than they often do. All that said ... Lordy, give 'em the smallest opening, and commercial forces will weasel their way in everywhere. Besides, what's a free-wheeling yet aesthetics-oriented person to make of this perennial conundrum: Strict zoning and tight regulations can be an oppressive drag, yet complete free-for-alls quickly turn ugly. (Hey, did you know that Sao Paulo recently placed a wide-ranging ban on outdoor advertising? I wonder how it will work out.) The gray zone between public and private is an interesting one... posted by Michael at September 4, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Monday, September 3, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * In his review of a new collection of essays about immigration, Steve Sailer explains why many black leaders are advocates of our current awful immigration policies despite the harm they're doing to black America. * Good news -- at least for the cottontops among us -- from Time magazine: Sales of hiphop CDs are down 44% since 2000. Hiphop's share of music sold generally has declined too. * GNXP's Herrick interviews economic historian Greg Clark, who has a new book out offering some ideas about why modern economic progress began in England. Get cozy with the concept of "the Malthusian Trap." As is often the case at GNXP, the commentsfest is half the show. * MBlowhard Rewind: I compared the MTV-style beach flick "Blue Crush" with Wong Kar-Wai's arty "Fallen Angels." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 3, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Singular Multiplicity
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the dawning 20th century, Western painting's parting from traditional ways accelerated. Ideas filled the garrets, studios and coffee houses of Continental Europe, especially in Paris. As 1910 approached, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque invented the Analytical form of Cubism. Sabine Rewald of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art writes here that The Cubist painters rejected the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead to emphasize the two-dimensionality of the canvas. So they reduced and fractured objects into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow, relieflike space. They also used multiple or contrasting vantage points. In Cubist work up to 1910, the subject of a picture was usually discernible. Although figures and objects were dissected or "analyzed" into a multitude of small facets, these were then reassembled, after a fashion, to evoke those same figures or objects. During "high" Analytic Cubism (1910-12), also called "hermetic," Picasso and Braque so abstracted their works that they were reduced to just a series of overlapping planes and facets mostly in near-monochromatic browns, grays, or blacks. Here is one of Picasso's best-known portraits from his Analytical phase. Portrait of Amboise Vollard - Picasso - 1910 Picasso's Vollard was the 30 November 2002 Guardian "Portrait of the Week." The article by Jonathan Jones is here. Jones contends There is not a single aspect of his face that is "there" in any conventional pictorial sense. The more you look for a picture, the more insidiously Picasso demonstrates that life is not made of pictures but of unstable relationships between artist and model, viewer and painting, self and world. And yet this is a portrait of an individual whose presence fills the painting. Vollard is more real than his surroundings, which have disintegrated into a black and grey crystalline shroud. Donald Pittenger of 2Blowhards contends that the Guardian's Jonathan Jones' assertions are nonsense. I say that Picasso's Vollard is, at best, an interesting attempt at decorative art. The physical Vollard is barely discernible, the psychological or emotional Vollard even less so. If one strips away the Modernist false god of "honoring the picture plane" and the decorative aspects of Analytical Cubism, one soon comes to the matter of multiple perspectives of the painting's subject. Question: Is breaking the subject into bits seen from different viewpoints and reassembling those bits into a single object the best way of showing multiple aspects of the subject? I think not. This feature of Analytical Cubism results in visual confusion and a serious decrease in viewer understanding of what is being portrayed. If the goal is to show a subject in multiple guises or viewpoints, there are better solutions. And such solutions pre-dated Picasso and Braque. Consider the following pictures. The first apparently was a study to assist a sculptor and the second represents a long tradition of engineering and fabrication drawing.... posted by Donald at September 3, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments