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  1. An Astonishing Art Rediscovery
  2. Putting a Stop to Car Talk
  3. Product Evolution Sweet-Spots
  4. What It Was Once Like
  5. Reading Journal: "Gross National Happiness"
  6. An Anniversary
  7. Changing Reading Habits
  8. A Perl of a Critique
  9. Which to See?
  10. Elsewhere

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

An Astonishing Art Rediscovery
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Revolution continues to shake the art world. Well into the process of being overturned are the reputations of hegemonist white males whose corporeal forms long since flatlined to room temperature (or to express the thought more crudely, died). May maggots feast on their canvasses as well as their carcasses! We have come far, my friends. The atrophying of Abstract Expressionist painting (mere wall-decorations lacking any semblance to irony, intellectual content or political meaning) opened doors to bold new artistic concepts. First Pop Art. Then Op Art. Minimalism. Earth. Performance. Conceptual. Neo-Dada. Installation. The parade of our triumphs seems endless. Best of all, I now have the extreme pleasure of announcing the latest breakthrough in the war to stamp out that vile oppression known as Western Culture. Behold: Anthropomorphic Art!! His Station and Four Aces - C.M. Coolidge, 1903 This discovery -- in fact, a shatteringly important re-discovery -- is the body of work by the too-long obscure artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge who we have every hope was no relation of the foul, heartless Calvin of the same last name. His genre has been known as Dogs Playing Poker, but an effort is hereby underway to devise and popularize a more politically relevant label for this landmark series of paintings. The second link indicates that a pair of Coolidge's series were auctioned together for a sum greater than half a million dollars. Clearly, even the market (I spit on its name) has begun to recognize Anthropomorphic Art. Allow me to analyze the painting so that you may better understand how it will reshape the world of art. The use of anthropomorphic dogs is appropriate since the shared DNA of canines and humans is a very high percentage of each species' total. Indeed, this is the prime thrust of Anthropomorphic Art: driving home to viewers that human hubris is the acting-out of a profoundly unjustifiable genetic delusion. Its salient defect is the fact that all the subjects depicted are wearing male clothing. Grudging allowance should be made in consideration of the date of its completion; presumably, future Anthropomorphic Art will redress this grave imbalance. On the other hand, the possibility that one of the subjects is in fact transgendered cannot be entirely ruled out -- consider the standing figure grasping the umbrella, for example. Another defect is that three subjects are shown with pipes in their mouths. Since no actual smoke is seen, they clearly are not smoking. Nevertheless, the presence of the pipes is disturbing in a non-ironic way. Although the dress of the card players appears bourgeois, the game itself is proletarian (note especially that the playing-table is colored red). This presents us an ironic commentary on the imagery of self-presentation in a society shot through with falsehoods within falsehoods. Of special note is the authority-figure of the train conductor. His blue costume is in striking contrast to the ochres and browns of the others. His hat is clearly a képi of a design... posted by Donald at June 28, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, June 27, 2008

Putting a Stop to Car Talk
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Next Tuesday, 1 July, it will be illegal to drive in Washington state while holding a cellphone to your ear while presumably talking on it. An exception is the case of an emergency. And it is a "secondary offense," which means that cops have to have another reason for pulling you over before hitting on the phone business. Cellphone use is okay provided both hands are free for driving. Some other states have laws prohibiting use of hand-held phones in cars, and details vary. I was reading a newspaper or Internet article dealing with the new law. It mentioned some studies indicating that driving while holding a cellphone is related to higher accident rates. What was interesting was that another study was mentioned (the source not cited) that concluded that even talking on a hands-off cellphone increased accident likelihood. I don't know if that's really true, but there seem to be studies that will "prove" almost anything a newspaper editor or politician wants to hear. Let's assume that talking on a hands-free cellphone indeed leads to higher accident rates. So I ask: What is the difference between talking over a hands-free cellphone and talking to a passenger in the car? I say there is no difference; both can present distractions. Therefore, in the name of public safety, I strongly urge -- no, demand -- that state legislatures immediately act to prohibit all talk in moving automobiles. There. I feel safer already. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 27, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Product Evolution Sweet-Spots
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was young -- between 15 and 25 or thereabouts -- and read biographies, I tended to be bored when plowing through the formative years parts. I wanted to get to the interesting bits, when the famous person was doing the stuff that made him famous. As I got older I became more interested in the formative parts. But by then it was too late for the information to do me much good. When it comes to product types, my interest has always tended to focus on one phase of their evolution. Not an exclusive focus, mind you, but a preponderant one. Here's one way of looking at product evolution: Pioneering stage. This is when something gets invented and other pioneers get into the act. The challenge is getting the things to work at all. There is likely to be a good deal of experimenting with alternative concepts. For the automobile, alternatives included steering wheels versus tillers, engine placement (front, middle, rear), and power plant (steam, electric, internal combustion). Automobiles and airplanes were in this stage up to about 1915. Awkward stage. Concepts that didn't pan out well are discarded, though experimentation continues. In this stage, the emphasis is on improving reliability. Planes and cars were here roughly 1915-33. Refinement stage. Things work and are reasonably reliable. Now engineers and designers focus on bringing the product to its potential. Actually this process is never-ending, but in many cases there is a period when refinement is both obvious and rapid. For automobile styling, this was from 1934 to around 1950. It was different for airplanes because the introduction of jet propulsion in the mid-1940s introduced a secondary evolutionary cycle. Mature stage. Refinement continues, but mostly at the detail or "invisible" engineering level. Outward appearance can be essentially unchanged (commercial airliners) or edges into fashion cycles. Car appearance swings from purist to baroque and back again. There is increasing use of Retro themes because functional requirements are so thoroughly explored that true innovation becomes nearly impossible; previous solutions have to be recycled (think door shapes, windows, etc.). Each of the stages I listed has its interesting aspects, but the stage that attracts me the most is the Refinement stage. Here are examples of product types with my own (approximate) date ranges for that stage: Automobiles 1929-55 Airliners 1932-70 Ocean liners 1895-1935 Battleships 1910-40 Even though I'm usually most interested in the Refinement stage, I can understand the appeal of other stages. Do you look at product types from an evolutionary point of view? If so, have you a different set of stages? And which stages interest you the most? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 26, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

What It Was Once Like
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tim Appelo's interview with film journalist Peter Biskind is smart and amusing. It's also quite the reminder of a not-so-long-gone era in film-buffdom -- even two or three such eras. Maybe you had to be there yourself, but the following passage made me laugh out loud. Appelo asks Biskind -- who'd been pre-med as an undergrad -- what happened to his med school aspirations: Biskind: I liked English, and I got a lot of encouragement, so I went to grad school in English at Yale. I didn't like Yale much, and ended up doing yet more of what I did at Swarthmore: going to a lot of movies instead of going to my classes. I got into Russ Meyer films and drove into New York to see Juliet of the Spirits. There was a lot of that around. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 26, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Reading Journal: "Gross National Happiness"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arthur C. Brooks' book is a survey of happiness studies, combined with political-policy suggestions. Did Brooks write the book as a response to Richard Layard's "Happiness"? Where the British Layard -- a Labour life peer in the House of Lords -- uses happiness studies to bolster up a traditional social-democratic agenda, Brooks looks at the same (or similar) data and reaches mostly conservative conclusions: Economic opportunity raises people's happiness levels, where social-welfare taxing-and-spending lowers them. So let's promote opportunity and be wary of government programs. But Brooks isn't dogmatic, and he's responsive to the evidence. If marriage, family, and religion matter to happiness, so do job-satisfaction, professional success, charitable giving, and volunteer work. Short version: There's a lot to be said for solid values, and for living 'em. This is a pleasing point-of-view to me. But in the case of both books, I enjoyed the well-done happiness-studies surveys far more than the op-ed arguments. The main reason is dopily basic: I'm simply hyper-skeptical of using happiness studies as a basis for setting policy. I mean, happiness? Talk about a soft, still young, and easy-to-interpret-in-a-zillion-ways social so-called "science." Although I do think that "if a policy is clearly making us miserable, then why are we pursuing it?" isn't a bad argument. And I do celebrate the fact that economists are studying happiness. Anything that introduces a bit of humanity into the field, eh? Softness isn't just squishiness. It's also a big part of life, and well worth our attention. FWIW, although Layard's book is much the more fluent read, Brooks' book -- despite being a bit plodding and earnest -- strikes me as subtler, fresher, and more original. One especially nice passage comes in the midst of a look at the fact that, in the U.S., political conservatives are, as a bunch, markedly happier than political liberals. Why should this be the case? The American left has occupied itself for decades with the plight of victims -- victims of discrimination, of class, of circumstance, and of exploitation -- who lack control over their fate. In many cases, such as during the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, this focus was not only justifiable, but noble and important for America, and instrumental in giving victims more control over their lives. Bu inasmuch as the American left is now a coalition of groups that define themselves as victims of social and economic forces, and inasmuch as liberals encourage these feelings of victimization in order to mobilize votes, liberal leaders inevitably make themselves and their constituents unhappy. Not a bad shot at an explanation. Semi-related: Friedrich von Blowhard expressed reservations about happiness studies here. I mused at length about free-marketeers and happiness studies here. Richard Layard talks to -- inevitably -- the Guardian. Here's a video interview with Arthur C. Brooks; here's a text interview with him. Buy a copy of "Gross National Happiness" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 26, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Anniversary
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fifty-eight years ago this morning, ten-year-old me turned on the radio to catch some news. For once, the news was big. Surprising, too. North Korean troops were invading South Korea. China, save Formosa and a few small islands near the coast, had already fallen to the communists. Eastern Europe was in Russian hands. We had gone through the drama of the Berlin Airlift. South Korea had been a U.S. occupation zone after World War 2 and was now, for practical purposes, an American protectorate. So it was war, carried out under a United Nations fig leaf -- though I suppose Truman would have fought regardless of the U.N; he was a clear thinker who risked popularity for principle. Gallery These are troops of Task Force Smith arriving at the Taejon station, 5 July 1950. Taejon is about halfway between Seoul and the main southern port, Pusan. The U.S. had four occupation divisions in Japan, and few of their units were even close to being combat-ready. But to Korea many of them went, only to be pushed south by the North Korean army. This map shows the Pusan Perimeter, the American - South Korean defensive line that finally held during the summer of 1950. The solid blue line represents the communist highwater mark. It also encloses the part of Korea where I was stationed 1963-64. Taegu was 7th Logistical Command headquarters. Our offices, mess hall, clubs and so forth were in a former Imperial Japanese Army post near the edge of the city. A couple of miles away was a compound containing our barracks and family housing for Military Assistance Group personnel. To the northwest, where the blue line bends, is the town of Waegwan. When I was in Korea, we were contructing a large logistical depot there. East of Taegu, on the coast, is Pohang, South Korea's steel center; I went there to cover some training exercises. At the southeast corner is South Korea's main port, Pusan, where the 7th Log had facilities. The command also had a unit at Seoul's port, Inchon, and I would have to go there periodically on army business. This is me in the late spring of 1964 during an alert, when we had to carry weapons. This photo also appears on 2Blowhards here, where I do some reminiscing. When I was in Korea, the U.S. had a corps with two divisions -- the 1st Cavalry and the 7th Infantry. Now we are down to one division there, a 58-year presence. We will have had troops in Germany and Japan 63 years as of late summer. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Changing Reading Habits
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- About a year ago I wrote about how I no longer could get very motivated to read books by or about currently active politicians. Today I thought about Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, wondering when the paperback edition might come out and whether I should buy a cut-priced hardcover edition (they seem to cut prices when the paperbacks arrive) or simply buy a paperback. Or perhaps I should wait until the paperbacks go on the remainder shelf and pay even less. Then I began to wonder whether I should buy the book at all. Here is my dilemma: (1) I enjoy reading Jonah's stuff; but (2) I think that I pretty well know his basic argument and many of the supporting examples he probably used. Add that to the fact that, since retirement, my book buying budget is a shadow of what it used to be. Ah, the indecision. A larger issue is that it's no longer politician books that don't seem worth reading, it's almost any book about contemporary politics and issues. Why is that? One reason might be because I've been around long enough to have witnessed a good deal of what goes on under the political sun. Or maybe it has to do with the Internet. Thanks to political blogs and websites, it's easy to stay current with issues. And even issues that were current months back while a political book was being written are fairly easy to remember. So why pay good money for a book that about things you already basically know? Nevertheless, political issues books keep pouring off the assembly lines like those political biographies I grumbled about earlier. So there must be a market for the stuff out there, and I'm just not part of it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 24, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Perl of a Critique
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts & Letters Daily directed me to this article by Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, in which he lashes out at some new museums and big-name Postmodern artists. Among many other things, he mentions that: I wish more museum directors and trustees understood how hungry--and how disgruntled--museumgoers in America really are. Again and again, people are pointed in precisely the wrong direction. It is depressing to think how many people have visited LACMA in recent months to see BCAM without sparing a minute for the Ahmanson Building. They literally do not know what they are missing. From Los Angeles I went up to San Francisco, and it is more or less the same story. Everybody rushes to the Museum of Modern Art and the De Young, two overblown buildings with sporadically important collections, while the most beautiful museum in the city--the Legion of Honor, in which masterpieces by Watteau, Le Nain, and Seurat have been given a thrillingly elegant installation- -is hardly ever mentioned. It's my fault that I don't know if the assault is typical of Perl's criticism. I recently read his book New Art City, a sympathetic, if heavily padded, account of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. But that was it, until now. I simply assumed that he was in the tank for Modernism in all its forms. Clearly I need to pay him more serious attention, because his anti-establishment attack takes a certain amount of guts for a professional critic. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Which to See?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- N.P. Thompson posts a smart and funny wrapup of the recent Seattle International Film Festival. Movie he mentions that I'm most eager to see: Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues," which sounds beautiful. Or maybe Alan Ball's "Towelhead," which N.P describes as world-historically bad. I don't know about you, but I try to catch a good number of hyper-awful movies. Are you really a moviebuff if all you pursue is high-quality experiences? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Behold some seriously beautiful graphic design. * Critic David Sterritt tries to explain why Hitchcock's "Vertigo" continues to fascinate. * Painter Laurie Fendrich wonders why anyone should major in painting. (This link and the one above thanks to Matt Mullenix.) * Tyler Cowen doesn't think that new 3-D technology will save movies. * Isegoria notices that Alaskan Airlines has had some success redesigning its check-in process. Let's hope the other airlines take note. * Asians like techno. * One little shot of collagen and -- "Yes, yes, yes!!!" she cried. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Another find from Charlton: How to make a light bulb. * Steve Bodio riffs through a lot of books that he's read recently, including a "Zen Buddhist dog book." * Sister Wolf thinks there's no getting around it: Men are boring. * An especially nice couple of lines from Lester Hunt: "I have never had sex with a virgin and intend to avoid doing so for the rest of my life. Why someone would want to have sex with a completely inexperienced partner is literally beyond my comprehension." I find innocence overrated too, particularly where sex partners are concerned. * Anne Thompson notices yet more cutbacks at old-media shops. *MBlowhard Rewind: I tried to come up with a way to salvage the word "intellectual." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

DVD Journal: "Shoot 'Em Up"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This supercharged and hyperbolic action spoof is like a James Bond, showy-action-sequence extravaganza done to a punk-metal soundtrack. It exists in the same unreal gunplay-and-stunts universe as a John Woo movie, and features a hero-villain pairing deliberately reminiscent of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Yet despite the absurdity it's played with straight-ahead intensity. And a glamorous, mischievous, and skillful cast that includes Clive Owen, Monica Bellucci, and Paul Giammati gives the film a lot of grit and allure. You want quirky, kickass, dirty-minded, bad-boy hijinks, in other words, you've come to the right place. Written and directed by Michael Davis, who perfected his craft and his tricks in a bunch of no-budget indie pix before coming out blazing with this spectacular thing. Fast-Forwarding Score: Not a blam-blam-blam-blam frame. Semi-related: A couple of recent thrillers that I've loved were "Cellular" and "Red Eye." In this blog posting I wrote about a handful of edgy-crazy-sexy films. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Swiped Hymns
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- About every other Sunday my wife puts on my collar, attaches the leash, and then we go off to church. (Mind you, I have a good degree of sympathy for Judeo-Christian religion, but tend to drag my heels when it comes to actually attending services.) Hymns are sung in Presbyterian and Lutheran services -- the ones I'm most familiar with. And occasionally some of those hymns have melodies that seem curiously familiar. No, I'm not talking about familiar hymn-melodies such as that of "A Might Fortress is My God." In one instance, I grabbed my wife's hymnal before she closed it after the singing was done and scanned the page for information about the composer. Turned out that the music was by Brahms and I recalled that the theme was from his First Symphony. Now, it's just possible that Brahms might have used the same melody for a hymn as well as the symphony, though I'm inclined to doubt that. Another time, a hymn used Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" melody from the final movement of his Ninth Symphony, but the words definitely weren't Schiller's. Conclusion? Technically, copyrights no longer apply to Brahms and Beethoven. But still ... "Thou shalt not steal." Commandment says so. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Impressionism's Inspirations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It started in Denver, went to Atlanta and is now completing its run in Seattle. It's the exhibit titled "Inspiring Impressionism: The Impressionists and the Art of the Past." The Seattle Art Museum page describing it is here. From what I read, Impressionism is a hot box office item for art museums. So the trick is to devise new ways of packaging the paintings. The current show uses what I consider an under-recognized fact as its hook: Impressionism wasn't created out of thin air. That's the good bit. The not-so-good bit is that the effort was feeble. That said, it's only fair to recognize that assembling an exhibition from many different collections is not easy. I've never tried it, but I can easily image that it's a murderous process where frustration piles upon frustration. An example is the following juxtaposition SAM used to publicize the show. Lady in Fur Wrap - El Greco - 1577-80 Portrait of Isabelle Lemonnier - Éduard Manet - c.1879 Ann Dumas, of the Royal Academy of Arts, London and co-curator of the exhibit, mentioned in a talk to museum members that she really wanted to pair the Greco with a copy made by one of the Impressionists. The copy would not be lent, so she had to make do with a Manet painting that at least had a woman wearing a fur as its subject. The most unusual part of the show contained a number of drawn and painted copies of art in the Louvre by several Impressionists when they were young and learning their craft. An exception was a semi-copy by Berthe Morisot done when she was a mature artist. The point the curators were trying to make was that most Impressionists respected earlier art and didn't reject it utterly. The exhibit's force dwindled rapidly in other galleries where thematic juxtapositions with (mostly) 17th and 18th century paintings were placed. The themes included landscapes, nudes and children -- common grist for painters before and since the Impressionists. In other words, no big deal. To me the key painting of the show was this: A Young Woman Reading - Jean-Honoré Fragonard - 1776 Its significance was was largely ignored in the little plaque next to it, though it might have been featured in the recording doohickey some viewers opt to cart around. This Fragonard has to be seen in person. The various reproductions of it in the museum store (posters, postcards, the exhibit catalog, etc.) as well as the one shown above don't capture the color of the original. The red-orange areas on the subject's face are much stronger than what you see here. The cool areas of the face are a strong greenish-blue. The brushwork is bold. Even though one might call it proto-Fauve given its coloration, it's probably closer to Impressionism. Lacking are broken color and short brush strokes that Monet and Pissaro might have used. Hell -- it's practically an Impressionist work done a century early.... posted by Donald at June 22, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

DVD Journal: "The Seven Little Foys"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A squaresville musical drama (spiced up with many bitter wisecracks) about the real-life Irish-American vaudevillian Eddie Foy, and how -- despite being a tough-guy, driven loner -- he came to head an act consisting of him and his seven kids. It's material that seems to want to be something like "Gypsy" -- a horrified, semi-satirical homage. Given what we're told about him, Eddie Foy was almost certainly a self-centered bastard. But the film presents its story in a mostly heartwarming way, as the tale of a performer who, despite his failings, finally comes to embrace his fate as a family man. Disconcerting. All that said, I still had a pretty good time watching the movie. I love Bob Hope (odd choice though he is to play a tough, ever-embattled Irishman); Jimmy Cagney has a sensational scene playing (and dancing!) George M. Cohan, and sharing jokey insults and a duet with Hope; and the snapshots and glimpses of vaudeville -- one of the greatest American entertainment forms, IMHO -- are a treat. The more that Americans are aware of the richness of their vaudeville tradition, the better. Fast-Forwarding Score: Nothing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 22, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments