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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Exploring Modernism: The Tribune Tower Contest
  2. When Flattops Encountered Jets
  3. Humor
  4. List of Lists
  5. Fact for the Day: Toothlessness
  6. George Lambert: Anglo-Australian Painter

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Exploring Modernism: The Tribune Tower Contest
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It can be interesting to look at examples of technology or aesthetics during the early stages of change. Lots of ideas are explored. Alternative configurations are tried out. Eventually the most appropriate solutions appear, the result being minor variations around that ideal until a large shift (especially in technology) occurs. I discussed the evolution of airliner design in this context here. In architecture, the emergence of Modernist design crossed paths with the American invention, the skyscraper. A fascinating example is the 1922 design competition for the Chicago Tribune (newspaper) tower. The Wikipedia entry for the building is here and a book about the competition (which I have not examined) is here. Many entries were simply odd, including one having the building shaped like a statue of an Indian (sorry, I can't locate a photo, though surely a copy is on the Web somewhere). Others were attempts to apply historical architectural styles to the structure. A few instances made use of Modernist concepts such as emphasis on structure and elimination of ornament. Below are some of the entries. Gallery Jens Fredrick Larson Here the architect grafts a design from a non-so-tall historical structural style onto a skyscraper format. The sensible base-column-capital formula is used, but I don't think it works here. Adolf Loos Modernist Loos submitted a literal takeoff on the columnar form. Given the amount of effort submission designs required for this competition, I have to assume that he was serious -- though the result certainly makes one wonder. Bernard Bijvoet and Johannes Duiker This is one of the few purely Modernist entries. The drawing shows an interesting juxtaposition of the vertical (the solid corner elements) and the more typical (of the time) Modernist horizontal motif emphasizing floors. The intended structure might be reinforced concrete. If so, the resulting building probably would not have aged gracefully had it been built. Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer Gropius was head of the famed Bauhaus School at the time of the competition, so it is little wonder that his version also is Modernist. The vertical-horizontal business is less contrasted than in the Bijvoet-Duiker design. The dominant pattern is individual office windows; a few horizontal extrusions are added apparently to provide some visual interest. It strikes me a a loft building writ large. Eliel Saarinen Saarinen (the Finnish architect and father of the better-known Eero Saarinen) submitted a design that many observers at the time believed should have been the winner; pictures of renderings of this unbuilt structure can be found in many books about the history of architecture. Gothic motifs were used to produce a handsome design that served as inspiration for a number of 1920s skyscrapers that were actually built. For that reason, it seems a bit bland or ordinary in retrospect. I do like it, as I do most other designs by Saarinen (Eliel) who I consider a better designer than Saarinen (Eero). John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood This was the winning design. It's... posted by Donald at January 10, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Flattops Encountered Jets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Well-rounded information takes time to emerge. This is especially true where government secrets are concerned. Then there is the need for perspective. In matters technological, once a problem has become well understood and a set of tested solutions is available, then the attempts to create that solution set can be evaluated fairly. Which is why I enjoyed reading this book (see cover, below). Actually, the publisher got the title wrong. "U.S. Naval Air Superiority" to me means something like the World War 2 struggle between the air arms of the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy; the Japanese held it in the early going and ceded it by 1943. In the time frame of the book, the United States always had the strongest naval air arm in the world. The publisher should have used something like the sub-title "Development of Shipborne Jet Fighters 1943-1962" as the title, because that's what the book is about. Why does all this ancient (in terms of aviation) history interest me? Partly it's because I have an interest in technological evolution. Mostly it's because the book covers an exciting era in aviation that happened to slightly overlap the time I entered Kindergarten to when I graduated from college. I would first see newspaper stories announcing this or that new Navy fighter and then find follow-up articles in aviation magazines and the Popular Mechanics/Science-type magazines. All such articles were essentially raw or rephrased public relations handouts. There would be a dramatic photo or two of the airplane, perhaps some solid technical information such as main dimensions and possibly some sketchy performance statistics. If the plane entered squadron service more information would seep out, though bad news would be covered up or downplayed unless it became a scandal such as the failure of the Westinghouse J40 engine program. Such secrecy and deception is understandable with respect to weaponry. Once the aircraft had completed their path from front-line serve through use by reserve units to an aircraft boneyard, real information began to emerge regarding capabilities and, especially, defects. Although much of the information in the book has been public for years, Thomason (who was involved in the industry for many years) has packaged the facts well. I find it fun to discover the real story behind those PR-generated news stories of my childhood and youth. The technical landscape during the late 1940s with respect to naval aviation included the following: Reciprocating (piston driven) engines driving propellers had reached the point of diminishing returns. Increases in power required increases in weight and complexity, more difficulty in cooling, and decreases in reliability. It was clear that the top level-flight speed for any fighter using such engines would never exceed 500 miles per hour. Meanwhile, German and British jet-propelled fighters easily surpassed that speed barrier. Early jet engines were unreliable. They had to undergo maintenance frequently. They weren't very powerful, either. Yet they burned a lot of fuel fast, requiring incorporation of large fuel... posted by Donald at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost offers a much-needed new service. * You mean you can't trust what you read on the Internet? Oh no! * Another deserving industry demands a bailout. Best, Michael UPDATE: Click the button on Shouting Thomas' inspirational Lard-Ass-O-Meter.... posted by Michael at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

List of Lists
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The 150 best Flash games. (Thanks to visitor Nick.) * Ramesh describes some gadgets he's hoping to see soon. * Catch up with a well-selected sampler of current pop music. * 12 ways that porn has changed the web. * The ten biggest diet and health stories of 2008. * Finefantastic lists her ten favorite film melodramas. * Glenn Kenny recommends the best DVDs of 2008. * List-making virtuoso Colleen notes down 100 things she learned in 2008: part one, part two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fact for the Day: Toothlessness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- People don't lose many teeth these days. Toothlessness has declined 60 percent in the United States since 1960. Baby boomers will be the first generation in human history typically to go to their graves with most of their teeth. Source. An old lady once told me that back in the 1920s, when she was a child, you just assumed that anyone over 40 was wearing dentures. A dentist recently explained to me that one reason teeth-whitening has become such a big business in recent years is that people's teeth are generally so good these days that dentists otherwise don't have many services beyond cleaning to sell to most patients. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 5, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

George Lambert: Anglo-Australian Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If possible, I write about artists whose work I've seen in person rather than in reproduction. That doesn't apply for George Washington Thomas Lambert (1873-1930), born in St. Petersburg of an American father and English mother, raised in Australia, studied art in Paris, spent much of his career (1902-21) in London and finally returned to Australia. One reason why I haven't knowingly seen his paintings is because much of his work is in Australia. I fact, I'd never heard of him until I bought this book, the catalog for a show at the National Gallery of Australia. Wikipedia, a source I usually use to link for biographical information is sketchy on Lambert, as you can see here. There is a book about him and his son and grandson who attained notoriety in other fields (see links towards the bottom of the Wikipedia entry for more information about them). For now, this link will have to do. Here are examples of his work. Gallery Self-Portrait - 1907 The Red Shawl (Olave Cunningham Graham) - 1913 The White Glove - 1921 Helen de Vere Beauclerk King Edward VII - 1910 Newcastle Sybil Walker in a Red and Gold Dress - 1905 Important People - 1914 Miss Alison Preston and John Parker on Mearbeck Moor - 1909 The Sonnet - c.1907 A few thoughts, keeping in mind that this is based on seeing reproductions and not originals. Given that most of the paintings shown above were done around a century ago, I find it interesting that they tend to be quirky from a psychological standpoint. They are almost the respectful society portraits and allegorical scenes one would expect of Edwardian era -- but not quite. Nor are they "edgy" in the 21st century postmodern sense -- yet there's a hint of it in some of the poses and settings. Lambert's style is crisp, but not fussy. For what it's worth, I'm not normally much fond of "hard edge" realism. But his work doesn't fall into that category; rather, it's "painterly" -- one can see the brush strokes, particularly in the backgrounds. A rule of thumb many painters follow is to slightly blur and strip details from most of a painting's surface, leaving sharper edges and details for a focus point. This is similar to how we see things; a small area is in sharp focus and the rest isn't quite. But note that Lambert reverses this formula in a couple of the works displayed here. Sybil Walker's face and the face of the woman to the right in The Sonnet (probably Australian painter Thea Proctor) seem smoother and perhaps a little more blurred than the rest of the surface. This contrast of sorts would be a reverse-means of focusing attention. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 5, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments