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  1. Rings and Fingers ... and Symbolism?
  2. Media Linkage
  3. "The Last Bolshevik"
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  5. Video Comments
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  7. DVD Journal: "Come Early Morning"
  8. Colleen Recommends
  9. Eternal Recurrence, American Style
  10. Fact for the Day

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Rings and Fingers ... and Symbolism?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- No anthropologist am I. For one reason or another I never took a course in the subject. That's why I'm about to start whimpering and pleading for information from you, our Noble, Learned, Sophisticated Readers. (Buttered up yet? Hope so.) As the title of this post suggests, I'm curious as to how much symbolism is out there regarding rings and which fingers they reside on. I've noticed various things, but have been too shy to ask people whether or not they have any meaning. To begin, in the USA married people tend to wear wedding bands on their left-hand "ring finger" -- the one between the middle and little fingers. But not all married people. When I was young, married men didn't wear wedding bands as much as they seem to today. (This was in Seattle in the 40s and 50s. I could be entirely wrong about this, but my very fuzzy recollection is that male wedding bands in those days tended to be an East Coast or perhaps a Catholic thing.) My father didn't wear one, for example. But I do. What about rings on other fingers? Some people -- usually women -- wear lots of rings at once, sometimes even on a thumb. Let's ignore that because it's likely a fashion quirk and focus on cases where only one ring is worn. Sometimes the symbolism is obvious. This is the case for signet rings which can represent a high school, college, fraternity, and so forth. You squint at the big thing and make out "Purdue University" or whatever. A less obvious to me case is a women wearing a simple band on the ring finger of her right hand or on the middle finger of her left. I can theorize as to meanings, but I don't know for sure because I never asked. Are there in fact meanings attached, or is the ring finger simply being avoided to prevent confusion as to one's marital status? There surely are other ring / finger combinations. Are any of these symbolic? I, and perhaps other readers, would like to know. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Media Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Times of London asks a sensible question about Italian wild child Asia Argento. I wrote enthusiastically about Argento's nutty "Scarlet Diva" here. I notice that Argento has just made a film with the brilliant Catherine Breillat, whose "Brief Crossing" I raved about back here. * Marc Andreessen tells the story of the first American newspaper. * Andy Horbal says that Pittsburgh is a great place to be a film buff. I raved about what a cool city Pittsburgh is back here. * Dark Party Review lists some hilarious pop-music guilty pleasures. * Before digital-distribution nirvana arrives for movies, a few elements still need to fall in place: faster downloads for one, and easier ways of charging for content for another. Anne Thompson lays out the big picture here. "We're in the transitional post-major studio pre-Internet era," once source tells Anne helpfully. Anne blogs here. * David Byrne also has a lot of interest to say about digital distribution. * More zany fun from an old J.C. Penny's catalogue. Ah, the '70s, source of so much unintended humor ... * Todd Fletcher points out what must be the swinging-est few minutes ever of The Lawrence Welk Show. Check out Todd's own -- very non-Welkian -- music. It's shimmering, rhythmic, full-of-wonder stuff. * Is it possible to live in the modern world without a cellphone? * Pre-digital special effects rule. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Joe Valdez sees a lot to enjoy in John Carpenter's version of "The Thing." * I have a fan! * Too bad that blogging is bad for your health. * MBlowhard Rewind: I mulled over some recent developments in graphic design. Lotsa visuals. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

"The Last Bolshevik"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to visitor Ron for pointing out that a wonderful but formerly hard-to-find movie is now available on DVD: Chris Marker's "The Last Bolshevik." FWIW, I'm a fairly serious Chris Marker buff -- back here I recommended a new-ish DVD that includes his movies "Sans Soleil" and "La Jetee" -- and I consider "The Last Bolshevik" to be one of Marker's very best movies. Now that I think about it, I also consider "The Last Bolshevik" to be one of my favorite artworks of the last 20 years. A rare photo of Chris Marker Chris Marker (a Frenchman who uses a pseudonym and who is now in his late 80s) is a unique figure in film history. He started out as a traveler, a journalist, a photographer, and a writer. When he turned to movies, he worked as personally and quirkily as he had done earlier, using the film camera as a poet might use a notebook, making notes and sketches, and inhabiting the editing room in a meditative spirit, not building dramatic points but instead taking note of (and bringing out) relationships and qualities. His movies are generally categorized as documentaries, or maybe "personal essays," and while that's helpful it also doesn't begin to convey how complex, subtle, and poetic they are. They weave together elements of letter-writing, music, fantasy, documentary, journals, and poetry -- they're the film equivalent of a belles-lettres approach to art-making. I don't know of any movies that convey the feeling of what it's like to think and imagine as thoroughly as Marker's movies do. In their effect the best of them are quite transporting. Like Oliver Sacks' best essays (start here), or like some of the books of (undoubtedly heightened) reportage of Ryszard Kapuscinski (try this one), Marker's movies deliver more of a sense of the marvelous than 99% of fiction does. In fact, his movies are rather like fairy tales for adults, with real life instead of fiction being what's marveled over. If your idea of a hip, adult, or advanced documentary is Erroll Morris or PBS, in other words, prepare to have your head explode. In truth, Marker's movies don't even seem to inhabit the world of movies, let alone documentaries. Instead, they seem to belong to the region of Culture inhabited by the likes of La Rochefoucauld, Baudelaire, Mme. de Lafayette, and Montaigne. A self-indulgent paragraph that might be best skipped ... So far as my own approach to nonfiction goes, I've taken a lot of inspiration from Chris Marker. Marker creates film-essays -- but they aren't essays in the usual driving-a-single-point-home sense. Instead, they're open, poetic, and exploratory. He works by association and analogy rather than by reason and logic. (For all of Marker's brilliance, when he speaks in interviews he often comes across as insubstantial and even rather silly; he's a poet and a philosopher, in other words, not an academic or a journalist.) In his movies, experiencing the getting-there and the spaces-in-between... posted by Michael at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of amazing facts for the day: Despite high oil prices that have most of the world's oil outfits rolling in cash, Pemex, Mexico's state-run oil company, is managing to lose money. Mexico is rapidly running out of oil -- and oil revenues supply one-third of Mexico's federal budget. Finding more reserves will require Xtreme offshore engineering and drilling stunts, and Mexico isn't technologically up to the challenge. Source. We're talkin', apparently, about the possibility that the Mexican government will collapse, and rather soon. Am I the only person who reads this article and thinks, "Oh, dear. As if Mexicans don't already have enough reasons to try to make it across the border into the U.S...."? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Video Comments
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dept. of Technology Marches On: Video commenting is now possible on some blogs. (Do a search on "Arrington" to get started, then scroll down further for more.) Video could add a lot to discussion theads, IMHO. Imagine Chris White vs. Shouting Thomas ... Roissy could speak from behind a mask ... Colleen could share some expressive improv ... Dearieme might upload tersely amusing 5 second clips ... Ian could prepare a raw and fermented lunch ... Hey, perhaps some of the ladies might see fit to make their statements by showing off their bellydancing skills. Bellydancing demos are always appreciated in these parts. As commenter Bwana says, "Text is so 2006." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Rightie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Daniel McCarthy doesn't think the neocons are going away anytime soon. * Ultra-rightie Lew Rockwell considers John McCain, and bemoans what has become of the right. * "Environmentalism is the quintessential conservative cause," argues Roger Scruton. * Jim Kalb teases out the difference between the cool cat and the gentleman. (Link thanks to visitor William.) * Inflation is back again, of course. But is it always such a bad thing? The Independent Institute's Robert Higgs points out that even activist government-lover J.M. Keynes considered inflation to be a disaster. Nice passage from Keynes: By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. * Rick Darby riffles through some of California's daffier government agencies. Which reminds me: What I really want to hear from candidates is a list of things they'll refuse to do, of laws and regulations that they'll toss or fix, and of government agencies and functions that they'll close down. I'm soooo tired of dynamic and exciting new government initiatives ... Don't the words "already" and "overextended" mean anything to these people? * Dennis Mangan does a good job with the Absolut vodka ad that handed the western U.S. over to Mexico. * Simon Heffer celebrates Enoch Powell. * Steve Sailer tries to puzzle out the economics of polygamy. * Rod Dreher wonders when it's OK for a crunchy-localism fan to go to Starbucks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DVD Journal: "Come Early Morning"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Come Early Morning. This small drama -- written and directed by the actress Joey Lauren Adams -- is a soulful, understated sweetheart. Set near Little Rock, it stars Ashley Judd as a contractor with issues. Her dad is beyond-uncommunicative; her mom’s in a bum marriage; and she herself is caught in a spiral of drinking recklessly and bedding whomever. The film has a lot going for it: tons of small-town/small-city Southern atmosphere; a first-class cast doing sensitive work; feelings and emotions — some of them harsher than contempo viewers are probably comfortable with — swirling this way and that; and Ashley Judd at her real-girl best. Fondly and patiently, it delivers heaps of what movies these days seem so often to have given up on: respectful and sympathetic observations of and insights into how real people really live. Extra bonus points for the way Adams and her cinematographer Tim Orr portray the flesh of the women characters, with all the little bumps, nicks, scars, and bruises alongside the smoothness, the translucency, and the curves. Why does female flesh bruise so easily? A vital question the film leaves unanswered: How does Ashley's character -- a woman in her mid-30s who smokes, drinks, eats any old thing, and takes no care of herself whatsoever -- still manage to have the nicest figure in town? But maybe that’s part of why we love the movies. "Come Early Morning" is a film for everyone who recalls early Jonathan Demme movies with pleasure. (Me, I really-really, triple-love "Citizens Band," which isn't available on DVD, and "Melvin and Howard," which is.) Fast-Forwarding Score: Not at all. Semi-related: I gloated over the time I met Ashley Judd. Here's an interview with Joey Lauren Adams and Ashley Judd. Here's a video interview with the two women. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 23, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Colleen Recommends
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few finds from the ever-spirited and flukily-talented Communicatrix: * A yummy bustier made entirely of pine nuts. * Danny Miller pens an ode to the 1950s-era "Mike Wallace Interview" show. "I’m here to say that Wallace’s show was far more incisive, authentic, and hard-hitting than anything on the air today," Danny writes. * A good question -- and some excellent suggestions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 23, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eternal Recurrence, American Style
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve been reading Sean Wilentz’s “The Rise of American Democracy,” a political and social history of antebellum America. I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m not done with it – I’m only up to Jackson or so – but I can make two observations: (1) American political and economic life seems to have certain patterns that repeat over and over again. It’s as though America is an instrument that only vibrates at certain pre-set frequencies. Sometimes we vibrate on one frequency, sometimes on another, but there’s a very small fixed number of notes that we can sustain for any length of time. (2) The way these apparently fixed patterns played out a couple centuries ago was, by and large, more entertaining than in our contemporary America. To see an example of this American ‘eternal recurrence’, take a look at the similiarities between our current economic impasse and the Panic of 1819. According to Wilentz: Under the financial stresses of [the War of 1812], state-chartered banks had suspended specie payments, which meant they could issue the equivalent of paper money in bank notes to borrowers without regard to the amount of gold or silver coin the banks actually held in their vaults. The suspension continued after peace returned, allowing established banks to make large dividends by extending loans and note issues far in excess of their specie reserves, and permitting new private banks to open with only tiny amounts of borrowed specie on hand and indulge in profligate lending of their own notes. Gee, it sounds a lot like modern day financial innovation to me! For the last decade or so, banks in modern-day America have made record profits by using tricks -- oops, I mean sophisticated financial techniques -- like securitization and off-balance sheet entities that allow them to do much more lending with much less capital. (And those new banks starting up in the latter 1810s and jumping into the game are clearly the forerunners of today's hedge funds.) In the 1810s, banks kept their capital in the form of gold and silver (i.e., 'specie'), and made their loans in the form of bank notes, essentially paper money. Today's banks no longer need to worry about keeping enough gold or silver in the vault but via financial innovation they've gotten us to exactly the same place -- an excessive expansion of lending which has escaped any prudent relationship with the bank's underlying capital, leading inevitably to borrowers indulging in wild speculative buying and selling of assets at ever increasing prices. Just like in 1817: With so much bank paper of dubious value forced into general circulation, the nation’s economic health was threatened by a large and growing bubble of speculation. Hey, it sounds like sub-prime mortgages and CDOs all over again! Wait a minute, I guess it's the other way around. Anyway, this orgy of speculation took place against the increasing global trade that sprang up at the end of the Napoleonic Wars: Britain’s warehouses... posted by Friedrich at April 22, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As L.A. goes ... In Los Angeles, immigrants make up half of the city's workforce. Most of these workers are unskilled; as many as 60% of them speak little English. A local official of some hard-to-determine sort asks an apt question: "The question is: Are we going to be a 21st century city with shared prosperity, or a Third World city with an elite group on top and the majority at poverty or near poverty wages?" Source. Steve Sailer notices a study trying to sort out the implications of the above facts. A nicely-understated quote from a news report about the study: "The looming mismatch in the skills employers need and those workers offer could jeopardize the future economic vitality of California and the nation, experts say." As Steve likes to say, "The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole is -- stop digging." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 22, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sculpted Jets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have the impression that artists tend to look down on engineers when they aren't completely ignoring them. Architects are a little more sympathetic, citing certain bridges and other structures as being "beautiful" in the simplified, Modernist sense. Industrial designers in the past tended to hold engineer-designed products as counter-examples to the beauty, sophistication and sales potential that the ID crowd could gladly produce. And it's true that cars designed by engineers almost always suffer by comparison to stylist-designed automobiles. Still, engineers are fully capable of designing beautiful objects. Well, some are. I offer for your consideration two jet fighters designed shortly after the end of World War 2, when jet planes were a new and exciting thing. Gallery North American F-86 Sabre The most subtly-formed part of the Sabre is the area around the air intake at the front. As a pre-teen I couldn't convincingly draw it, and it's not easy for trained artists to get it right. (Although it had other uses, that red thing in the opening is a plug to prevent museum-goers, in this case, from tossing empty soda cups and other trash into the intake.) What makes the nose difficult to draw is the small radar "dome" above and slightly forward of the intake and how it blends with the front profile of the fuselage. Here is a head-on view of a Sabre. Note that the fuselage takes the form of a rounded triangle in the sense that the widest point is near the bottom. This is what the radome had to blend into. The radar scanner had to be projected forward of the rest of the aircraft in order for it to function better. It's possible that the radar "nose nib" might have had aerodynamic advantages for the inlet at certain angles of attack, but that's pure speculation on my part. This picture of a Canadian-built Sabre is intended to give you a good idea how the plane looked. A really attractive aircraft, though a quibbler might mention that the tail surfaces seem slightly too delicate. Grumman F9F Panther This is a photo of a model airplane. I'm using it because it shows the surface sculpting better than did photos I found on the Web of actual planes. The Panther was tubby, unlike the Sabre. This was entirely due to the engines. The Sabre was powered by an axial-flow engine that is comparatively long and narrow -- tube-like. Modern jet-propelled planes are powered by axial-flow engines that are often fattened because of a bypass feature. Many earlier jets such as the Panther had centrifugal-flow motors. In this design -- based on turbochargers -- air smashed into a turning, spiral-flanged faceplate and was spun off to a ring of combustion chambers. Such engines were comparatively short and fat. Worse, for military purposes, they weren't suited for sonic and supersonic speeds. The fuselage of the Panther is round ahead of the wings. Air intakes for the engine are on the... posted by Donald at April 21, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Painted Classical Sculpture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, those Greek and Roman marble statues were (often? usually?) painted to look more lifelike. We know this because tiny traces of the paint can be detected. For some reason or another probably having to do with the fact that I'm a paint 'n' brush guy, I don't get worked up over classical sculpture. Not to the point that I've carefully studied such objects or read much in detail about them. So I didn't know that there have been attempts to recreate some statues, paint and all. Fortunately, the Getty Villa, where Pacific Palisades meets Malibu, currently has an exhibit titled "The Color of Life" which deals with colored sculpture over the years. I visited the Villa a week ago. Examples were brought in from such museums as the Munich Stiftung Archaeologie and Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek and Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Gryptotek. Besides examination of original pieces for information about pigments used, it was necessary to produce copies of the originals to use for reconstruction attempts. This article explains how the sculpted head of Emperor Caligula was reproduced. Below are some examples. Gallery The Peplos Kore - Greek, c.530 B.C. These are reproduction versions of a pre-Golden Age work (note alternative left arms, feet). I wonder if the original colors were really as intense as shown. Original sculpted head of Caligula Original with copy Attempted reconstruction of paint application The Getty had this head along with a second reconstruction. The one done a few years after the first try seemed more realistic, but still too stark and hard-edged to me. Sorry to say, I've already forgotten whether the head above is the first or second attempt. The results strike me as being too garish, but I wasn't around at the time and ought to defer to the experts. Still, I would expect better of the Greeks and Romans. On the other hand, from surviving evidence, the Romans seemed to be better sculptors than painters. This is odd, because lifelike sculpting requires good knowledge of human anatomy. If sculptors were highly knowledgeable, why weren't many painters? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments