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. Politically Incorrect Ornamentation?
  2. Creativity Goes Amok Once Again
  3. "Mommie Dearest"
  4. Fake Names
  5. Obama Linkage
  6. Art in America
  7. Skip the Food
  8. DVD Journal: "I'm Not There"
  9. Who Sez Rome Fell
  10. Attics of the Skies

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Politically Incorrect Ornamentation?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The message "function good, ornament bad" is the best distillation I can come up with from my experience in architecture classes I took in the late 1950s. Time has passed, obviously, and Postmodernism marked the entry of the nose of the ornamentation camel into the tent of pure, Modernist architecture. Needless to say, architects trained circa when I was in school were unhappy with that development and controversy has continued till this day. I was glancing at the Harvard Design Magazine last week at the local Barned & Noble and stumbled on this article by Robert Levit titled "Contemporary Ornament: The Return of the Symbolic Repressed" that deals with this book: "The Function of Ornament" by Farshid Moussavi and Michael Kubo. I later located a copy of the book and skimmed it, but didn't buy it because, since I retired, my book-buying budget has taken a serious hit. I mention this because it means that I can't give an evaluation of Levin's take on the book. But that doesn't really matter. Whether the thoughts are from Levin or Moussavi or Kubo, a line of reasoning interested me. Here are some carefully cherry-picked quotes from Levin: If one may take The Function of Ornament as an indicator of an important vein of sentiment in the architectural community, it names ornament, welcomes it back, as it were, but only on condition: ornament must function. Ornament may be back, but only by putting behind what gave it its past notoriety: its position outside of instrumental need, which is to say, its openly symbolic nature. ... As Moussavi and Kubo make evident in their title, they will resurrect ornament on a functional foundation. The control of light and the assembly of walls, structural skeletons, light-diffusing walls and ceilings, are instrumental bases for exercises in pattern-making. Now rooted in function, questions of a purely symbolic or formal motivation can be put aside. With this move, a foundational polarity in Modernist architecture seems to dissolve—its distinction between substantive categories of material, structure, and space on the one hand, and ornament on the other. Moussavi expresses concern about the communicative goals of Postmodernist architecture with its applied ornament. Citing the pluralist nature of contemporary society, she doubts that a coherent system of signs capable of communicating with architecture’s varied publics can be made. ... Ornament does not pose a problem for our moment because it is superficial, added to the surface of buildings (as if after more important matters). It is a problem because, more explicitly than questions of type, structure, building arrangement, room distribution, and volume (all more readily seen as producing our sheltering environments), ornament remains more stubbornly a symbolic substance. ... So what is wrong with symbolic form? In Moussavi’s view, it cannot speak to today’s plural publics for whom the symbolic can only be opaque. ... Symbolic form requires levels of cultural familiarity (an erudition of sorts). Its limited legibility makes it undemocratic. (This is implicit in... posted by Donald at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Creativity Goes Amok Once Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Stuart Buck gives a convincing thumb's down to a proposed new piece of "blobitecture" in Prague. Though it doesn't qualify as blobitecture, Will Alsop's new arts center for West Bromwich is equally preening and silly. Has anyone else noticed that public funding is involved in both these projects? A century ago the buildings that governments erected were often sturdy beauties. Today they're often offenses. What changed? An a propos quote comes from the great Leon Krier: "As is the case with all good things in life -- love, good manners, language, cooking -- personal creativity is required only rarely." Best, Michael UDPATE: Rick Darby has a fun, smart and eloquent go at a current Chicago project. Is "monstrosity" too strong a description for it? How about "kinky dildo"?... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

"Mommie Dearest"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When Christina Crawford published "Mommie Dearest" in 1978 the book caused a sensation. Christina -- who had been adopted and raised by the movie star Joan Crawford -- accused Crawford of having been a drunk, as well as a physically abusive parent. The book was one of the first warts-and-all celeb-offspring memoirs, and it was soon followed by many others. (It was a major publishing event, in other words.) Christina had herself a bestseller, and was celebrated for her courage. She was also accused of exaggerating and even lying about events. On the 30th anniversary of its publication, "Mommie Dearest" is being reissued. Christina has given The Guardian's Elizabeth Day her first interview in a decade. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Fake Names
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hibernia Girl offers some welcome perspective on the use of pseudonyms, and its connections with free speech. Fun fact: In the course of his career Voltaire used 178 different pseudonyms. Hey world, there's a lot of worth that simply wouldn't get said if people weren't able to hide behind fake names. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Obama Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is Obama an alternative to the usual thing or just more of the same? * Randall Parker wonders how big a spender Obama will prove to be -- and will be able to be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Art in America
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I struggled to come up with a apt, succinct title to this note, but had to leave to catch the preview showing of an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. So I simply used Art in America, the name of an art magazine where "Art & Politics" is the theme of its current issue. Its puny web site includes the following contents list for the issue. In Times of Trouble – some recent films and videos provide a wide-angled look at a world of violence. Collateral Damage – in a gripping new monument, Siah Armajani traces parallels between the attacks on Fallujah and on Guernica. Global Warnings – the icecaps are melting, storms are increasing, species are dwindling. Several exhibitions ask, how can art help? Talking Politics 2008 – six artists whose work courts controversy exchange ideas about the common ground between politics and art. Rules of Engagement – a number of artists reexamine the evidence on documentary photography’s truth value. Written in Stone – using salvaged blocks, Michal Rovner assembled an imposing testament to the possibility of cooperation in the Mideast. Handforth’s Fallen Angels – Milton’s Paradise Lost, along with recent malfeasance and loss, frames Mark Handforth’s new work. Sticking It – a 40-year survey of Judith Bernstein’s drawings showcased her signature image: a phallus that’s also a very big screw. Front Page – the latest news and notes from around the art world. Based on this evidence, I suspect a fall issue will be devoted to Barak Obama campaign posters designed by artists ranging from students to jet-setters. Art in America claims to be "The World's Premier Art Magazine" (see link). Wait a minute. Art in America as The World's Premier Art Magazine? Filthy imperialists. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Skip the Food
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Will Intermittent Fasting be the next health craze? But perhaps it's having its moment already -- behold the Intermittent Fasting Blog. Whatever the case, this particular low-carb-believin', Shangri-La-followin' Gary Taubes fan is eager to give IF a try. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

DVD Journal: "I'm Not There"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An arty dud. Nothing so familiar as a biopic, Todd Haynes' film is like a John Ashbery poem on themes suggested by the life and music of Bob Dylan, especially Dylan's impossible-to-pin-down quality. It's about all the crazily ingrown and fancy things that Bob Dylan makes Todd Haynes' brain do. I wasn't annoyed by the effort. Hey, I'm someone who loves "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould," "Let's Get Lost," "The Color of Pomegranates," "Be Here to Love Me," and "The Last Bolshevik" -- unusual and subjective film biographies is my middle name. I just found myself wishing that Haynes had more talent. Ashbery has music and magic in his soul. Like 'em or not (I don't, much), his poems sweep you along. By contrast, Haynes is flat-footed and, for all his sophistication, literal-minded. The film feels terribly academic, gay-conceptual / po-mo division. Elusiveness for the sake of elusiveness, and very unentrancing. Fast-Fowarding Score: Nothing, but then I didn't finish watching the film ... Semi-related: I wasn't crazy about Haynes' neo-Sirk melodrama "Far From Heaven" either. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 18, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who Sez Rome Fell
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My radar must be aimed really high. Because lots of stuff is flying under it. A case in point is the fall of Rome. Naive me, I thought it just, er, fell -- the western part anyway. Apparently there's a pack of recent scholars who don't see it that way. Which prompted Bryan Ward-Perkins (yes, he's a Brit) to write this book as rebuttal. If Ward-Perkins is correct and not simply doing the intellectual grandstanding one sees all too often in academia these days, a number of historians have been claiming that the western empire more or less faded away and the former not-really-Barbarians simply stepped up to the palazzo, signed a few treaties and took over the show in various parts of the old realm. Less fuss, muss, bother and bloodshed than Gibbon and his followers had led us to believe, apparently. Ward-Perkins literally digs in with physical anthropological evidence of the collapse of the standard of living. This is measured by the presence (or lack of it) of pottery of all kinds, including items used to transport goods such as olive oil, as well as by coins and building materials such as roof tiles. His evidence indicates Roman Britain disappeared in a comparative flash while other parts hung on until the tide of conquest took out the last refuge when the Visigoths reached North Africa. He also cites contemporary written material to support his case that the end of Rome wasn't painless. I find it interesting that there were 27 customer reviews on the Amazon page linked above. That's a lot more that I'm accustomed to seeing, so perhaps the matter really is controversial. I read a lot of history, but not a lot of the Ancient variety. That means I'm not well qualified to pass judgments on to you. All I'll say is that the traditional version of Rome's fall in the sense that a lot of aspects of what one normally thinks of as "civilization" were seriously diminished or eliminated seems the most plausible description. And Ward-Perkins' contribution supports it. Please comment if you are better informed regarding the apparent controversy; I'm curious to learn what you have to say. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 17, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, June 16, 2008

Attics of the Skies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last month I visited the Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio. No, I didn't, actually. It seems that while I wasn't paying attention, somebody re-named the place; now it's called National Museum of the United States Air Force. I suspect the renaming has to do with the fact that installations besides Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have museums and that "Air Force Museum" might cause confusion whereas National etc., etc. makes it all perfectly clear. Yeah. Sure. Since I last visited, the museum added another large exhibit hall. This improved their ability to add more aircraft for public viewing as well as allowed better settings for some of the displays. For example, the B-25 Mitchell bomber I saw was painted to resemble the B-25s used in the famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo, 18 April 1942. Better yet, the plane was standing on a facsimile of a segment of the flight deck of the carrier Hornet. Here are some planes that I was pleased to see. I'll tell you below why I was pleased. Martin B-10 Seversky P-35A Curtiss P-36A North American O-47B Curtiss O-52 Owl I was pleased to see these planes because they are extremely rare; it's surprising that any examples of these types exist at all. Aside from the P-36, they were built in a few hundreds each, if that; not the thousands that were often the case for later aircraft of the World War 2 era. Moreover these 1930s planes were constructed mostly of metal. The museum has examples of World War 2 and subsequent aircraft that were retained specifically for museum display; no problem here. It also displays pre-1930s aircraft that were built using wood, fabric and perhaps some metal for framing. Not all these are original. Because the originals were built with common materials using comparatively simple techniques, it was and is possible to build replica airplanes, especially if original plans are available. But it isn't practical to build replica metal planes. You really need an original as a basis for restoration (not replication), even if it isn't in good condition and many parts are missing. The museum's B-10, the only one left, had been in Argentina; obsolete Army Air Corps planes were often sold to South and Central American air forces. The P-35 also is the last of its kind. The museum web page isn't clear where it came from, but I'll speculate that it was a hulk used by aviation schools for training mechanics -- a fate many aircraft suffer. The P-36 was donated to the museum by a private party, but it wasn't said how he had obtained it. P-36s and export version Hawk 75s were built in fairly large numbers for use by the Air Corps, Armée de l'Air and other air arms at the end of the 30s. The O-47 might have been from a maintenance school and the O-52's provenance wasn't given. These two "O" planes were part of a sequence of observation aircraft... posted by Donald at June 16, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Toe Jam"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Looks like a fun day on the rock-video set. In these thong-besotted days, the cuteness and sexiness of boy shorts are much underrated. NSFW or SFW, it's up to you. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 16, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sticker It To 'Em
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few months ago I posted about a set of political bumper stickers I noticed in the neighborhood. I am pleased to report that Your Obedient Servant is still on the case, Seattle and its University of Washington environs being a hotbed of printed paper and adhesives. While I really, truly would like to get photos of a car smeared with non-leftie stickers, alas I have thus far failed. But I'll keep my eyes peeled and digital camera hooked on my belt should I spot that prey. Meanwhile, here are two examples of citizens doing their best to educate passersby. Gallery I took this photo today, but see the decorated Prius often because it's usually parked near a street I drive every few days. The black and yellow sticker near the tail light says "Send our kids to college not Iraq!" I find this truly enlightening because I hadn't realized that college and Iraq was an either-or situation. Although this goes beyond the content of the sticker, it raised the question of the possibility that BusHitler might be sending press gangs to shanghai college students for shipment to Mosul and Basra. The owner of the Prius was kind enough to offer readers the remedy of voting for Obama. After all, criticism without proposing a solution is pretty vacuous. Oh wait! There even another solution. Over on the left I read the word "Impeach" in big letters. Wonder if that applies to Bush or if he's getting geared up for Obama; sadly, the sticker offers no clue. This vehicle hangs out a lot at the University Village shopping center, an upscale retailing paradise down the hill from the UW's Greek Row. These pictures were taken during the winter. The yellow sticker above the license plate reads "Killing one person is murder. Killing thousands is domestic policy. Investigate 9/11." That seems to set the scene. Close-ups follow. Okay, I misled you. It is a close-up, but of a sign inside a side-window. And this was one of the signs inside the rear window. The images are Photoshpped pictures of Adminstration officials upon whose heads are placed old photos of hats, probably mostly those of World War 2 Wehrmacht officers who, by the way, weren't necessarily members of the National Socialist German Workers Party. Anyway, that's Bush at the top left, and Condi Rice is at the center of the lower row. I spotted the vehicle recently and noticed that this sign had been removed. I don't know why, but will speculate that it suddenly dawned on the owner that here in fascist AmeriKKKa, he was running a serious risk of hearing a 3 a.m. knock on the door and being swept off to one of the many concentration camps the Administration surely has established. No sign of an Obama sticker, so it's unclear if this patriot has a solution in mind other than a trial under undetermined auspices. I'll be on the alert and will report... posted by Donald at June 15, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments