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« Architecture and Happiness: More Brick | Main | Pygmy Painters »

September 06, 2007


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."



posted by Michael at September 6, 2007


RE: music vids downsizing, if the result is treats like Kanye's (link to vid via Chris Glass:, then maybe that's a *good* thing.

RE: Ken Russell, I have to say I don't find the list particularly astonishing nor the criteria particularly fem-centric. *All* great film actors are so because they make the private public, whether it's illuminating a condition or just sharing their "juice".

Besides, anyone who's cast his bad-actress wife in that many starring roles does not get to say what's good. Nuh-uh. Nope.

Posted by: communicatrix on September 6, 2007 7:25 PM

Re: Catbird seat. Great sketches and a great quote. But I think H.L. Mencken said it first!

Posted by: Steve C on September 6, 2007 9:59 PM

Rick Darby had me interested until the part about upsampling.

The first few products in his entry promote more accurate data transfer, by either improving the surface of the disc or stabilizing the motion of the reader. It makes sense that a poorly designed CD player will not be able to accurately read the CD and that a well-engineered one will give you better quality audio.

Those methods will bring you closer to perfectly accurate reading (never mind that there are error correction codes that make perfection unnecessary), but I fail to understand how a device that knows nothing about the original performance can somehow add that back to a CD.

When digitized, the practically unlimited amount of analog acoustic data near a musical instrument is reduced to a sequence of bits. There is nothing that can be done to regain lost data. All that you can do is ameliorate that loss through tricks of computation which is exactly the thing that he complains about.

MP3 encoding throws away sounds that you probably wouldn't hear anyway, while upsampling, has to make stuff up to be noticed.

Either way, the original performance is not there.

Posted by: Ed on September 6, 2007 11:26 PM

Yes, Mencken is the source of the quote. And I appreciate the plug.

Posted by: Ray Gardner on September 7, 2007 12:42 AM

From a 'burb mouse to an urban mouse, thanks Michael for the linkin' plug. It's always a good thing to sneak into the city to keep up with the rapid cultural currents.

Posted by: DarkoV on September 7, 2007 8:26 AM

Rick Darby is wrong.

MP3 files do sometimes sound, in a hard-to-pin-down way, less immediate than a CD. However, the only music where I have actually noticed gross distortion is classical music with high, pure sounds, as of voices or woodwinds. MP3s are entirely adequate for the vast majority of popular music and jazz, in my experience.

I'm suspicious of self-described audiophiles because I don't understand how anyone who loves music very much could fetishize the process of its reproduction. An MP3 sounds a bit worse than a CD, but a CD sounds vastly worse than an actual performance. The loss from CD to MP3, compared to the loss from performance to CD, is negligible. In fact, the difference between an LP (in good condition, on a good system) and a CD is much greater than the difference between a CD and an MP3.

When you listen to a recording, you are compromising a lot. You have already given up on hearing anything like a live performance. Why shouldn't you want to sacrifice a very small amount of additional sound quality for the convenience of an iPod?

Posted by: BP on September 7, 2007 9:38 AM

Thanks, Michael, for the links and the kind words. I'm slowly coming back!

Posted by: Mike Snider on September 7, 2007 10:26 AM

Meryl Streep has a wonderful name, and she bestowed awful names on her kids---Mamie Gummer? Henry Gummer? Did she want them to be nerds du jour, or what?

I've been sitting here thinking about what actresses' performances moved me the most. If I had to pick one...not dazzled me the most, but moved me the most. They are small moments. They will probably surprise most film buffs. In no particular order: (1) Emma Thompson bursting into uncontrollable tears when Hugh Grant finally asks her to marry him in "Sense and Sensibility", when she thought he was lost forever; (2) Melanie Griffith, when she finally tells Sigourney Weaver off at the end of "Working Girl"; (3) Audrey Hepburn, when she finally tells her handlers off in "Roman Holiday"; (4) Ingrid Bergman, in a very small moment in a very small film, "Cactus Flower", when Walter Matthau has just thoroughly insulted her sexuality and tells her its for "her own good" and she says "Why do people always say that when they are about to hurt your feelings?" (devastating moment, beautifully underplayed by Ingrid)and (5) Goldie Hawn, a thousand different times--even in films where she was a lot better than the movie itself. She has a gift for a sort of breathtaking transformation from silliness or shallowness to stunning truthfulness and maturity.

I think I have arrived at what I would call the most moving movie actress: Goldie Hawn. Who knew?

Posted by: annette on September 7, 2007 11:01 AM

I'm with Mr. Darby. The quality loss from CD to MP3 wasn't worth the initial outlay nor the wasted time of copying. Perhaps, with the ear buds usually used, one can put up with the loss, but I've used some mid-priced Sennheisers on my mid-range priced stereo for eons. When I use the Sennheisers on the Nano, well, it's disappointing. Someone told me I could copy the CD's a .wav files and the quality would be excellent but rather than storing 180-225 songs on the Nano, I'd probably be limited to 25-35 songs. That sounds more like a portable CD player to me.

Posted by: DarkoV on September 7, 2007 11:47 AM

Michael, I want exactly that porch too.

Annette, it feels as if Emma Thompson has provided me with a number of such moments -- in Love, Actually, when she weeps in the bedroom over the fact that her husband gave the bracelet to someone else, not her, for Xmas . . . and in Remains of the Day, I don't remember exactly the scene, but both she and Anthony Hopkins close together and displaying such emotion while saying almost nothing. Wonderful moments.

Posted by: missgrundy on September 7, 2007 2:02 PM

I think Mr. Darby is missing the point of ipods. They aren't intended to replace your home stereo system -- they're a portable device which most will use in an environment where they won't notice the difference in quality anyway. It's like complaining that Burger King doesn't make a Burger nearly as good as you can make at home, on a grill. This is true, but Burger Kings are convenient and many people quite enjoy their burgers.

Posted by: JewishAtheist on September 7, 2007 2:49 PM

Mr. JA,
Not trying to speak for Mr. Darby, but I don't believe he's missed the point at all. Having two kids, well, kids who are adults now, and being quite familiar with their bevies of friends, the iPods/Nanos/MP3 players that they have are their home stereo systems, or at least the driving engine behind them. They view, at least at this juncture in their young lives, the traditional stereo systems as too much of a hassle. They either wear the Ipods or they have them parked in the tinny iPod stereo speaker set-ups. And they're happy because convenience and a quick getaway are more important than sound quality.

I like your analogy about Burger King and backyard grill hamburgers. The only problem is that they're so used to BK-burgers that the backyard grill burger tastes strange and...well it is a hassle to set up the grill, the charcoal, the patty-making, get the idea. The mealy thin patties are more than satisfactoy for them now.

Posted by: DarkoV on September 7, 2007 3:45 PM

P.S.---Terrfic porch!

And---who is Ken Russell's "bad actress" wife?

Posted by: annette on September 7, 2007 3:46 PM

You want that porch?

Why? there are no doric columns! no multicolor bricks! no references to your bible, I mean C.Alexander's patterns!
Everything is plain, repetitious, monochrome, geometric. In fact, your latest architect obsession, Miss Hutchison, describes it in decidedly minimalist (even -oh horror! - modernist) terms:

The exposed framing and ceiling boards, tidy linear balusters, along with the building’s clapboards, all in white, set a straight-forward tone, suggesting a deliberate simplicity. Trivial minutiae have no place here. It’s about stripping away complication and artifice. The order of the geometry, down to the floor-board pattern that mirrors the rafter configuration above, reinforces a clarity of purpose...[bold is mine]

You better get back to the party line, Michael. What your co-religionists will think of you?

Posted by: Tatyana on September 7, 2007 4:10 PM

Re the porch: It's got the scale, it's got the size, it's got me!

Re actresses: The one who's bowled me over in recent times is Gong Li. Her performance in Shanghai Triad is pretty well matchless in any era.

Re the guy at Saddest Trekkie EVER.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 8, 2007 3:37 AM

Tat -- Nice try, but Katie's actually a former New Classicist, who's also a big fan of Christopher Alexander. And she works in trad and vernacular languages.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 8, 2007 9:38 AM

You're the one who wanted that porch. That surprised me, given your proclaimed preferences.

Don't change the subject, please. Whatever Ms Hutchison's work is (in whatever languages), is irrelevant to your liking that minimal, bare-bones, white porch. Or - is it? Maybe you like everything she points you to?

Then one day you we may be treated to a show of MBlowhard foaming at the mouth at enemies of modernism...Let me know, please, I'll buy the popcorn.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 8, 2007 10:10 AM

Thanks for the link to, Michael. Since then, the crabapples have been made into jelly, applesauce and wine. Have moved onto grapes and peaches will be soon.

BTW, I love that porch. It goes with the "homey" side of me.

Posted by: susan on September 8, 2007 8:53 PM

Now, since all the commentators seem to agree with Michael Blowhard in wanting that porch:
I like it, too. I can give you my reasons without falling on authority of Mr.Alexander or Mr. Salingaros, or Ms Hutchison.

I like it by the following reasons: that it is a spare, bare, no-artifice-added honest monochrome structure. Suites the purpose very well, the purpose being the counterbalance for the landscape around, a place to provide covered escape from fussiness of the interiors and a backdrop for the lush greenery.
In other words, a necessary contrast. An empty canvas. A piece of the collage.

Why do you like it? Can you say it in your own words?

Posted by: Tat on September 8, 2007 11:11 PM

Tat -- Thats' funny. I see the porch as a slightly geometricized version of New England vernacular crossed with Chris Alexander. You seem to see it as coming from geometry and engineering and being made to fit well into its function and context. I bet in this specific instance (ie., how Katie actually works) I'm right -- classicism/vernacular/Alexander is Katie's background. But it doesn't matter, does it? However it was arrived at , it's a nice porch, which from a user point of view is all that counts.

I take your point to be something like "You don't need pattern books or classicism or Salingaros/Alexander to make a nice porch. You can do it with geometry and engineering." You're obviously right, no quarrel on that. My argument is that the geometry-and-engineering approach *often* results in un-nice porches -- its batting average is very low, because human considerations often wind up taking second place to the geometry and engineering. While with the classicism/pattern-book/Alexander-Salingaros approach, nice results are pretty much guaranteed. The batting average isn't just much better, it's pretty much perfect -- even designers and builders who have only a bit of talent can manage very satisfying results every time out, because human considerations are built into the process.

But sure, you're of course right, geometry-and-engineering *can* result in very nice results. Too bad it's so rare.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 9, 2007 9:43 AM

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