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  1. More Carb Linkage
  2. Elsewhere
  3. A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part Two
  4. Gym Observations
  5. Oh, Those Copycat Japanese
  6. Amateur Sociology
  7. Gizmodo Reports From CES
  8. Dutton's Doings
  9. Cities and Icons
  10. Bagatelles

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Carb Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Whole Grain Council and the Idaho Potato Commission want you to know that "carbs are back." General Mills does too. * Diet iconoclast Seth Roberts interviews Gary ("Good Calories, Bad Calories") Taubes. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Dave also points out this Corby Kummer piece about a newly-established Slow Food University. Readable only by subscribers, alas. But here's a free-for-everyone Henry Hoffman slideshow entitled "A Slow Food Tour of the Po Valley." Coffee fiends won't want to miss this Corby-hosted video about high-end brew. Slow Coffee sounds good to me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Professor Weevil is having a book sale. * Polly Frost gets a rave from the classy new erotica review Lucrezia, and gives a funny interview to Foreward magazine. (Scroll down a bit.) * Jon Hastings has discovered the fun of Tumblr. * Richard S. Wheeler thinks that Jack Schaefer, the author of the famous western novel "Shane," deserves to be known as one of America's greatest novelists. * An apt (and very true) line from Vince Keenan: "Say what you will about the 1980s, but it was the last decade that knew how to deliver quality sleaze." Ah, for the days of Michael Douglas sex thrillers. I mean that seriously, by the way. * Excellent rant. * Videoblogging cutiepie. * Wondering how to dress the next time you go out? Here are some inspired suggestions. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * Charlton also points out this fascinating story about Soviet-era Russian cowboy films. Who knew? * HispanicPundit smartly sorts out how "ethnic poverty" is likely to be discussed by a liberal, a conservative, and a libertarian economist. * Marc Andreessen shows how one social-networking-service deals with the inevitable porn question. Hey, if it's what people are really interested in ... * Rick Darby suspects that Nicolas Sarkozy has good taste in women. * Marcia and Lorenzo review "No Country for Old Men." * I don't know which is funnier: The New Republic making a fool of itself attempting to smear Ron Paul via some old newsletters; or the spectacle of legions of apoplectic Ron Paul supporters standing up for their hero. Sigh: politics, eh? UPDATE: Ron Paul is interviewed by CNN. Tucker Carlson interviews The New Republic's Jamie Kirchick, for whom the term "wet behind the ears" might have been invented. Here's another interview with Jamie Kirchick. * MBlowhard Rewind: I marveled at how really strange and bizarre many people in the cultureworld are. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I raved about a Paul Cantor lecture series about culture and commercial life. A few days later I treated myself to a niggle with one small aspect of Cantor's series. (Short version: Cantor's version of "art history" is more conventional than the one I prefer.) In this posting, I'm going to register another quibble with the series. A quick reminder not to take me seriously when I say that I'm quibbling. Cantor's series is sensationally good -- as in really-really, double-deep, better-than-anything-I-had-in-college good. Cantor is realistic, shrewd, knowledgeable, helpful, and provocative. His ideas and his facts ring bells and set off thoughts. And it's a really-really, double-deep great thing that he (and the Mises Institute) have made his talks available online for free. So these postings of mine aren't really disagreements with him at all. I love Cantor's series, and I recommend it highly. All I'm doing is riffing on themes that he has laid down. Quibble #2: The question of folk and amateur art. Cantor's main goal in his lecture series is to get listeners over any artsy-fartsy, romantic cultural snobbishness towards commercialism. He accomplishes this brilliantly, as far as I'm concerned. He points out that (for instance) such immortal titans as Shakespeare, Rubens, and Dickens were, in their time, butt-kicking, scrappy creativity-entrepreneurs who were doing their best to thrive in lively culture-market contexts. Cantor is just as insightful about his fellow intellectuals, profs, and culture-critics. He points out, for instance, that it took the intellectuals many decades to acknowledge that movies -- which are now generally felt to have been the dominant art form of the 20th century -- were an art form at all. "Cultural critics are usually a generation if not a century behind in terms of their responses and observations," Cantor wisecracks, and hats off to him for being so blunt about this fact. It's a big help to get the "experts" in a little perspective. Cantor is terrific, in other words, at exploring the relationships between creators, audiences, and evaluators, as well as between high art and popular art. Part of what makes his case so compelling, by the way, is that -- despite his openness to popular art -- he digs high art too. He isn't some defiantly uncultured populist doing his crude best to defile the finer things. He's simply a very educated and enthusiastic guy who is realistic about how culture works. And here's where I locate space for my little contribution. In the midst of the tensions between high art and commercial art that Cantor spells out and explores so well, what he leaves a little underrecognized is the question of folk art and amateur art. It's a dimension of the culture-thang that I think deserves recognition. Let me pass along a general snapshot of culture that I've found handy and useful. (I'm assuming that, like me, you sometimes find it useful to separate facts out into neat piles. Then -- whee... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Gym Observations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of general rules about life that I've learned from visits to the gym: From the locker room: The darker-complected the guy, the more likely he is to wear bikini underpants. Latin and Jewish guys are far more likely than the Northern Euro set to like 'em tight and small. As for black guys ... Well, let's just say that they seem to find the words "Italian" and "silk" amazingly hard to resist. Can these preferences be explained by biology, do you think? It does seem that guys from certain backgrounds are much more eager to present themselves as hot and desirable thangs (in a physical sense) than guys from other backgrounds are. I know that if the fair-haired, small-town guys I grew up with ever caught you wearing tight, tiny undies, they'd razz you mercilessly. Feeling scrumptious, let alone presenting yourself as an object of desire ... Well, that's for girls and gays. What might be the explanation? Do the bikini-underpants crowd grow up on the receiving end of lots and lots of an extra-special kind of mommy-love? And a crucial question: Do many women actually get a kick out males presenting themselves as hunka-burnin'-love dreamboats? (My guess at an answer: "Sure! But only when the magic is present. Otherwise it's ridiculous." Chicks, eh? It's always about the mood.) Before you laugh me out of the club: Remember the "Latin Lover" phenomenon of the early 20th century? It hit America very hard. Come to think of it: Wouldn't a history of the Latin Lover archetype make for a terrific academic study? I'd happily read a long review of such a book. From the hot tub / swimming pool area: The older the guy, the more likely he is to wear Speedos. And why should this be? Is it a generational thing? Perhaps for guys d'un certain age "men's bathing suit" automatically means "nylon," "small" and "tight." How things have changed. But maybe there's something about having a big belly, moobs, and a lot of grizzled, salt-and-pepper trunk-hair that drives the aging dude to tug on a teeny swimsuit. Do these rules hold out where you live? As usual, lots of exceptions duly noted. Best, and quite content being a baggy-boxers kinda guy, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oh, Those Copycat Japanese
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was younger, Japan had the reputation of not being innovative. It copied this, that and other things from Western sources. This is understandable, given the Meiji Restoration and the Westernization it entailed. By the 1970s, the Japanese had pretty well assimilated Western technology and acquired a new reputation as innovators, particularly in the realm of consumer products. In art, Japan never had a copycat image. Rather, Japanese influence was strongly felt in late 19th century Europe, mostly in term of certain compositional practices and in the use of flat or nearly-flat areas of color. When I toured Claude Monet's house in Giverny, I was surprised to see wall after wall covered with small, framed Japanese prints. However, Japanese artists did try to copy Western art, even in the years of isolation. A recently-closed exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, in cooperation with the Kobe City Museum, presented Japanese paintings, maps and other artifacts that drew heavily on Western examples brought by Dutch traders to their Nagasaki compound during that era. Below are some images from the Seattle Art Museum web site, furnished to it courtesy of the Kobe City Museum. Note the use of linear perspective, oil paints and other Western touches. Since the 18th and early 19th centuries many Japanese artists were influenced by or even wholly converted to Western-style painting. But I thought you might find these early examples interesting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 9, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Amateur Sociology
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen visits a Costco for the first time. Commenters -- nearly all of them male -- tell him why they love to shop there. * Steve Sailer asks, Why do so few male golfers seem to be gay? Commenters try to puzzle it out. As for Costco, I've only visited a few times myself, but what has struck me most vividly is how much guys seem to enjoy shopping there -- and I mean guys of the "I usually hate shopping" kind. There seems to be something that feels right about the Costco experience to many straight guys. What could it be? I'm flailing, but it seems to me that guys may find the warehouse setting pleasing (no frou-frou) and the limited selection on offer a relief. (We like it when taste doesn't enter into the equation too vehemently.) And the possibility of bargains on "bulk" items may appeal to our underexercised Neanderthal mammoth-hunting instincts. As for gays 'n' golf: I wonder if the shortage of gayguyz in golf might have to do with the fact that golf has somehow become the last refuge of the big ol' square straight guy. No need to be in shape. No need to dress sharp -- anything but! Lots of dopey masculine ritual, dopey masculine joshing, and dopey masculine mockery. Zero gossip. A general "Lordy, I do appreciate a few hours away from the wife" atmosphere. And the food usually stinks. What's in it for a gay guy? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Gizmodo Reports From CES
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those lovable gadget freaks are spattering out report after report from the big electronics show. Short version: You can't be too thin, or too big. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Dutton's Doings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm glad to see that the great Denis Dutton -- aesthetician, philosopher, and founder and editor of the indispensable Arts & Letters Daily -- is up to substantial mischief. Don't miss his contribution to Edge's 2008 World Question, "What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" In it, Dutton recounts how shook up he was, as a good Darwinist, to think through the consequences of sexual selection. As he says, selection reintroduces "purpose" back into the evolutionary equation: The revelations of Darwin's later work ... have completely altered my thinking about the development of culture. It is not just survival in a natural environment that has made human beings what they are. In terms of our personalities we are, strange to say, a self-made species. As I mull over his point in my dimwitted way, I find myself thinking, Hmm, that certainly puts an end to determinism, and reintroduces that nasty "mystery of it all" category all over again, doesn't it? Fine by me! (Which reminds me: Going through some of the other responses to Edge's inspired question, I was tickled by the number of brilliant scientists who confess to a common experience: waking up one day to to the fact that science -- as freakily impressive and powerful an enterprise as it is -- doesn't, can't, and never will Explain It All. Geniuses, eh? I mean, any guy who has ever dated a few women, let alone gotten married, could have told you that there are phenomena that will never yield to rational explanation.) Dutton has also created a new best-of, one-stop, digest site for those interested in the climate-change issue: Climate Debate Daily. Check out what the mainstream is saying as well as what the skeptics are taking issue with. Climate Change Daily looks brilliant, and is already a-fizz with much enticing linkage. Here's hoping the site will promote the kind of wide and open debate in the eco-bio-climate-sphere that Arts & Letters Daily has fostered in the culturesphere. I'm triple-thrilled to see that Dutton also has a book scheduled to come out soon. Its subject: evolutionary biology and the arts. From its description, "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution" looks to be the book that I've been waiting for for a very long time: a comprehensive survey of the way that evolutionary theory and neuroscience affect our view of the arts. I'm also hoping that Dutton's book -- which should go on sale in July -- will be the book that will stimulate one of the longest-overdue conversations that I'm aware of: the one about what kind of sense it makes to think of art as socially-constructed, let alone a progressive force. Really, I'm hoping that Dutton's book will topple the current artchat and art-thought regime entirely. I happened to tune into this scene early on, and its views and contributions clicked with me instantly. Evo-bio (and neuroscience) struck me as very effective antidotes to the politicized, substance-free, and unhelpful... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Cities and Icons
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I've traveled over much of the United States, that travel took place over such a long span of time that I haven't been to some cities in 20, 30 or even 40 years. Over that much time, their skylines change; 60 years ago cities with 25+ story buildings were rare and now they are a lot more common. But the key thing is that those modern skyscrapers usually look pretty much alike, and so do the cities that contain them. That's why, when I see a photo of a city in, say, an advertisement, I often have no idea what place it is. This isn't always the case, of course. Consider this photo that I took recently: Most of you will instantly recognize the setting as Honolulu because the famous Diamond Head volcano cone is in the background. This picture was taken from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, hence the pink accents on the beach gear. What you need to realize is that Diamond Head is iconic. Unless a city has some sort of icon -- be it a building, the physical setting, whatever -- it will be nondescript, especially to people not familiar with it. Here are some city photos for your consideration. How many cities do you recognize? Gallery City "A" City "B" City "C" City "D" City "E" City "F" City "G" City "H" The cities are: A = Charlotte, NC; B = Rochester, NY; C = Columbus, OH; D = Kansas City, MO; E = Denver, CO; F = San Francisco, CA; G = New York City; and H = Seattle, WA. I suppose most of you correctly guessed the last three cities -- San Francisco, New York and Seattle. San Francisco because of its setting and perhaps because of the pyramidal Transamerica building. The New York picture shows the famous Chrysler Building and Empire State Building, though the latter might be harder to recognize because many people aren't familiar with its night time lighting schemes. Seattle is known because of the Space Needle in the foreground, though a Needle-less photo that included Mt. Rainier in the background might have been equally useful for identification. I haven't been in the other cities (except Denver) for decades and probably would have failed to identify any except perhaps Columbus (thanks to the pre-WW2 tower towards the center-left of the photo). How about you? Actually, there's no truly important reason why a city has to be so distinctive that people from the other side of the country or even overseas can identity it instantly. Iconic status isn't a necessity for a nice lifestyle. Still, isn't there such a thing as icing on the cake? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, January 7, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's National Football League playoff season and television is filled with even more hours of football talk than usual; on Super Bowl day, the pre-game blather goes on for hours. When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time watching such programs. That's because I was more emotionally involved with some of the teams than I am now. It can be easy for pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals who spent time in Ivy League schools (Who? Me?) to utter the dreaded cry "Tut-tut" about staring at the tube -- er, flat-panel -- through hours of speculations, game highlights and post-mortems. But I won't do that. Instead, I have come to praise the ex-jocks seated behind those long desks. What, you ask, is the redeeming feature of sports-blather? It's the analyses. Part of formal education is learning how to evaluate evidence and draw conclusions. For some guys, doing that in a classroom setting can be a chore. But voluntarily listening to the analytical ex-jocks followed by similar chat with buddies on the playground, in the dorm, at a bar, uses mental processes similar to those when trying to find three levels of meaning in a Robert Frost poem -- and it's a lot more fun. * This is a bleg (begging on a blog). As some of you might recall, I'm pondering writing a book about painting. I want to get an outline and related material completed so I can pitch the concept to publishers. An item I need to deal with is Western art history narratives that have been proposed since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism (the 1950s). I have seen bits suggesting that the Post-Modern era is considered a-historical. That is, things have become so fragmented that they cannot be encapsulated into a narrative. That seems plausible, but I need to document it (or its contradiction). I see plenty of art criticism books in bookstores, but I don't want to spend a lot of money and time dealing with what is a side-issue to my project. So, do any of you have any suggestions regarding good, solid sources on post-1960 art history narratives that I might be able to look through and cite? I'll greatly appreciate any help I can get. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Waikiki Report
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There seems be some kind of expectation that I post a photo report upon my return from a trip. I was in Honolulu for a week centered on New Year's Day. Even though the Waikiki section of Honolulu is probably one of the most photographed spots on Earth, I'll serve up the following images for your amusement. Gallery This was taken on Kuhio Beach, the main public beach at Waikiki. The weather was mixed the entire time we were in Hawaii; instead of sunshine and humid heat, we experienced showers nearly every day. Note that the beach area is in sunshine while the sky is mostly purple cloud with rain falling in the distance. Also seen along the beach were plenty of tattoos. I wasn't packing my camera the day I spied a man whose face was mostly covered by a greenish-blue tattoo. Looking northwest along Kuhio Beach. The low, pink building is the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Not seen are the high-rise hotels and condos across Kalakaua Avenue, which defines the landward side of the beach park. A closer view of the Royal Hawaiian. It's one of our favorite hotels on Waikiki. We don't want to spend the money to stay there, but do shop, drink, eat and admire the architecture and decoration. When I first visited Honolulu (1963) the Royal still stood out -- high-rise buildings in the neighborhood were rare. Nowadays, much of Honolulu near the shore from the harbor to the zoo in Waikiki is dominated by tall buildings. Waikiki and Honolulu's Ala Moana shopping mall crawl with fancy stores such as Hermès, Gucci, Prada and, as shown here, Louis Vuiton. The Vuiton building dates back to pre-war days when it housed a Gumps (from San Francisco) store. Although some modernization was done, much of the original character remains. Not all Waikiki shopping is upscale. A few blocks from Louis Vuiton lies the International Marketplace, a warren of shopping stalls where one can buy trinkets, aloha shirts and other tourist-oriented goodies. When I first visited Waikiki, most of the buildings were small, wooden structures such as the one shown here to the left. This house lies between Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues near the heart of the hotel / condo high-rise area. It's probably one of the last remaining houses in the neighborhood; even "low-rise" areas nearby are comprised of apartment buildings two or more stories tall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 6, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments