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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