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  1. Whatever Happened to Geopolitics?
  2. Sex-roles Linkage
  3. Hiding a B-17 Bomber Factory
  4. Paris Museums: Which to Visit?
  5. Yet More on Art, Porn, Erotica, etc
  6. Prewar Shanghai Architecture
  7. More on Porn and Rock
  8. More on Greg and Henry

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Whatever Happened to Geopolitics?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Remember Geopolitics? Probably not unless you're, say, 60 and older or have delved fairly deeply into early 20th century history. A pretty good summary can be found on Wikipedia here. What I'll call "Classical Geopolitics" from the period 1920-1950 contended that whoever controlled or was based in an ill-defined area that included part of historic Russia and a chunk of north-central Asia extending from the Urals east three or four thousand miles had the potential for world dominance. This area was termed the Heartland by British geographer Halford John Mackinder who originated the idea of Geopolitics. By controlling this area it (the nation, imperial power, whatever kind of political entity might apply) could then control or dominate the surrounding belt of territory (different geopolitical theorists differed as to what constituted this belt or rim) and enough resources that would allow domination of peripheral lands. This line of thinking had some popularity in Germany thanks to thinkers such as Karl Haushofer, and might have been a factor in Hitler's decision to attack Russia in June, 1941. I should add that Hitler had been thinking of lebensraum and a drang nach osten (the Germanification of Poland, White Russia and the Ukraine) for years, both concepts having no necessary connection to Geopolitics. But Geopolitics was definitely in the air when he was formulating his ideas. As an impressionable kid during the first decade of the Cold War who had heard of Geopolitics, it was a bit scary to see all sorts of maps where Communist nations were painted in a swath of bright red extending from central Germany to the Bering Strait and down through China. Might the West be doomed by virtue of its geography? As the link to Mackinder indicates, his concept of Geopolitics was more subtle than pure determinism. Nevertheless, a deterministic interpretation could be easy to make, especially if one were a general such as Haushofer who would appreciate its relationship to the military concept of interior lines of communication. This is the presumed advantage a country has if it is fighting on more than one front; it can quickly move troops and other military resources from one front to another whereas its enemies, operating on exterior lines, are forced to make redeployments in a roundabout manner. I admit that I haven't studied Geopolitics more than superficially. Having said that, I'll assert that the theory has yet to prove itself. It is clear to me that geography indeed affects the fate of nations. Think of Germany and Poland with little in the way of defensible boundaries to their east and west. Or of Russia, whose vast land area has made it virtually impervious to outside subjugation since it became a unified state. But this does not validate Classical Geopolitics. In fact, most successful powers in modern times (say, since the Renaissance) have tended to be peripheral or island powers whose extraterritorial might was based on sea power. Examples include Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal,... posted by Donald at April 25, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sex-roles Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Welcome to the new monogamy. * Legal conundrum for the day: should "sexting" teens be charged with child pornography? I'm baffled by this one myself. * Whassup with these new "bromancing" young men? Gay? Bi? Or just metro? * Who needs men anyway? * Completely unrelated but hard to resist: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 23, 2009 | perma-link | (27) comments

Hiding a B-17 Bomber Factory
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of my childhood memories was the fake residential neighborhood that served as camouflage for Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle where B-17 bombers were assembled. From ground level, it looked odd, the faux houses being shorter than normal houses and sitting right on top of what clearly was a large factory building next to a runway. This camouflage remained until a year or so after the war ended. In 1945 or 1946 my father, who worked for the Army Engineers during the war, was able to get atop the factory and take some snapshots. I did a quick search but couldn't find them, alas. If they do turn up, I'll scan and post them. Below are some photos I grabbed off the Internet. Most likely, they were taken by Boeing or one of the armed services; during wartime, ordinary civilians would not have been allowed to do so. Gallery This vertical view shows the setting of Plant 2 and the camouflage. The top of the photo faces north. At the lower left is the Duwamish River, the dark area at the upper right is Beacon Hill and to the left of it are railroad tracks. Today the Interstate 5 freeway runs along the edge of the hill in the wooded area shown in the photo. To the left of the tracks is Boeing Field itself. The buildings on its right are related to the commercial aspect of the airfield, though Boeing did have a hangar there. To the left of the buildings and tarmac is grass, taxiways and the runway. The white area near the upper center of the photo is a concrete area where newly built planes are placed while awaiting delivery to the Army. To the left of this is probably a parking lot for Boeing employees. At the lower right in the photo is what seems to be another concrete-paved delivery area. My impression is that it was an overflow area to be used when the other one was full. Below the parking lot are two major streets. The one oriented diagonally is East Marginal Way which passes between Plant 2 and the airfield; it was closed to civilian traffic during the war, if memory serves. The other street, oriented more north-south and which is bridged over the Duwamish is First Avenue South. And the dark square partly framed by those streets is Plant 2, surmounted by its camouflage neighborhood. These oblique photos taken from, respectively, southwest and northwest of Plant 2 suggest what a low-level attacker might see. Such an attacker would be approaching rapidly -- perhaps between 200 and 300 miles per hour -- and likely would be dodging anti-aircraft fire. With only a few seconds to decide where to drop his bombs, it was the likely intent of the camouflage designers that those bombs would aimed at the clearly visible factory buildings to the south of Plant 2 and not what, at first and only glance, would seem... posted by Donald at April 23, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paris Museums: Which to Visit?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In about a month from now, we'll be off to France for three weeks. It's yet another trip set up last fall before the market crashed -- we cashed in frequent flier miles early to be sure of decent flight times along with the almost-free seats. So we're pretty well locked in. The first week is to be spent in Paris with friends flying in from Los Angeles. Nancy will try to see an early day of the French Open tennis tournament and I'll do my usual bookstore crawl. Since I know the town fairly well, there's no need to hit every four-star attraction. We won't feel guilty doing the flâneur routine or sipping a demi-tasse of strong coffee at cafés on or near the boul' St. Germain. While I mostly enjoy exploring cities, I don't rule out short visits to museums (I have about a two-hour, max, museum attention span). Therefore I plan to visit some in order to see some art that I've already written about or might write about here in the future. Judging from guidebooks, Paris has tons and tons of museums. On past trips, I've visited the Louvre (art up to about 1850), the Musée d'Orsay (art 1850-1905 or thereabouts), the Carnavalet (Paris history), Musée Marmottan (Claude Monet), the Orangerie (Monet water lillies) and the Musée de l'Armée (which has little in the way of art). Not being very interested in sculpture, I've never bothered seeing the Rodin museum. As for the Centre Pompidou, I think I'll check out its bookstore's postcard rack to see if there are any paintings worth viewing in person. (I visited the Museum of Modern Art enough in the 1960s to have seen much noteworthy Modernist painting, and I'm not sure Pompidou beats MoMA in terms of quality and relevance to art history.) While I admire Picasso's self-promotional abilities, I don't admire his art enough to want to visit the Musée Picasso. For similar reasons, there's a Salvador Dalí museum I can easily skip as well. So, art mavens and Paris fans, besides revisiting some of the above, what's worth seeing once I and any other Paris-bound 2Blowhards readers run out of bookstores and other points of interest? Oh. Speaking of such, are there any bookstores you know of that have out-of-print art books published between, say, 1970 and 2000. That is, books with fairly good color reproductions and that aren't expensive. Text can be French or English. Thank you for your tips. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 22, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yet More on Art, Porn, Erotica, etc
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I left a comment responding to Peter L. Winkler and Shouting Thomas a few postings ago that I was half-pleased with, so I've dolled it up a bit and am promoting it to its own posting here. Ah, the power of the blog-owner ... The general theme of the discussion was "Will porn ever be accepted as art?" Peter thinks that porn is too function-oriented a thing ever to be considered art. Shouting Thomas volunteered some observations and questions about sex's role not just in art but in reproduction. Peter L.W. -- People don't go to action movies who aren't in the mood for excitement. They don't eat a steak if they aren't in the mood for meat. They don't go to Lincoln Center if they aren't in the mood for a "culture-with-a-capital-C" experience. Wanting a culture/media/whatever artifact that'll suit and/or enhance your mood seems ... I dunno, sensible, likely, unremarkable, and commonplace. So what's different about wanting a culture experience that'll enhance and/or suit a nice erotic buzz? More generally, I think that part of what's happening these days where culture goes is that a certain kind of familiar expectation is being upended. It used to be that we reached out towards the arts, and that we assumed that this was normal and good. The arts were central and eternal; we individuals were transient moths circling the everlasting flame. These days, it's more about using the arts to suit ourselves. Don't listen to what you should listen to: instead, why not create a playlist or Bookmarks collection that suits you? The person and his/her preferences and whims are becoming central, while the art-things are starting to seem come-and-go. BTW, I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that it seems to be happening. If we are indeed entering a universe that's far more "suit yourself" than the old media universe was, that helps explain why porn is becoming more accepted: It's primary among the arts-that-get-used. And if we're comfy with the idea that the arts should suit us and our moods, then many objections to thinking of porn as just another artform dissolve. Incidentally, I'm a little puzzled by people who consider porn and erotica to be nothing but masturbation aids. Does no one else enjoy leafing thru erotic/sexy images, vids, and stories 1) out of curiosity, 2) just for the pleasant dreamy high of it? ST -- I'm all for connecting the arts to the basic urges, and I certainly think that if/when we don't the arts quickly become irrelevant. But this is a cultureblog, not a reproductionblog. Culture after all isn't about bare survival; it's largely a matter of taking basic needs and urges and whipping up artifacts and experiences based on them that have beyond-functional aspects and qualities. Hunger and nutrition, for instance: We could probably survive on dogfood and mulch. But we'd have no "cuisine." Hearing and sound: we could just listen to nature and grunt, but we'd... posted by Michael at April 21, 2009 | perma-link | (58) comments

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prewar Shanghai Architecture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've never been to Shanghai and I can't get there. Neither can you. I'm thinking of the Shanghai that ended with the Japanese occupations of 1937 (the Chinese city) and 1941 (the International Settlement and the French Concession). It was a heady mix of transplanted Europe and America plus native China, legal and illegal commerce, an island of modernism in a traditionalist sea. Having spent the better part of year in Asia -- here, actually -- I've seen my share of ox carts, rice paddies, thatch-roofed villages and old, gaudily-painted temples. That Asia is fast-disappearing: except for the temples, perhaps. So do see it if it interests you and you haven't yet done so. Moreover, I'm not strongly interested in seeing the new Asia either. Okay, if someone dropped a seriously cheap tour in my lap, I'd consider going. It's not high on my travel priorities, that's all. But the Shanghai of 1925-35, that would be different. I'm not obsessed with it -- just curious enough to read about it once every few years and wish I had a time machine available so that I might drop by for a few days now and then. A few years ago I read a history of Shanghai for the period 1842-1949 (the year it fell to the Communists) by Stella Dong. An entertaining book, though some Amazon commenters thought it too breezy and sensationalized. My reservation was that Dong (who grew up here in Seattle) relied exclusively on sources available in English. (I lied, actually -- one source is in French, but you get the idea.) A day or two ago I stumbled across a book titled Shanghai Style by Lynn Pan, a Shanghai native who has spent considerable time in Europe and other parts of Asia. Its subtitle is "Art and Design Between the Wars," specifically, 1920-39. Thus far I've looked at the illustrations and read the chapter on architecture and interior decoration. Other chapters deal with painting, books and magazines, comics and cartoons, and advertising. Her thesis is that Shanghai was unique in having a large number of non-colonialist foreigners mixed with a local population largely comprised of immigrants from elsewhere in China who, by that condition, tended to be more receptive to foreign and Modernist ways than most other Chinese. I had fun looking at Shanghai versions of the kinds of European and American cultural artifacts covered in the chapters noted above. Architecture was a bit different because the architects who designed most of the large commercial buildings were European. Chinese architects trained in Europe and in American universities such as Dear Old Penn were also active. Below are examples of Shanghai architecture of that era. And remember that in those days high-rise building were fairly rare outside the United States. Gallery This is The Bund, the commercial heart of Shanghai along the Whangpu River as seen in 1935 or 1936. Most of it was part of the eight-by-two mile International Settlement, though... posted by Donald at April 20, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

More on Porn and Rock
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while back I wondered whether porn might become the new rock and roll -- in other words, whether porn might not soon make the leap, as rock once did, from despised/beloved low-entertainment-thing to accepted/respected part of popular culture. Though most visitors scoffed, I continue to think that my hunch is a good one. The main reason for my stubbornness: the masses of evidence I see all around me. The urban and arty kids in their 20s I sometimes hang out with have already accepted porn as a legit form of entertainment and self-expression. And when creative and trendsetting youth turns a corner, mainstream tastes and attitudes often follow. Check out the blogroll on this hipster Brooklyn blog. (These days Brooklyn is more edgy than Manhattan is.) Along with gossip, comedy, tech, and music, there it is: a porn category, featuring five alt-porn sites. When Burning Angel CEO and star Joanna Angel wants to celebrate the 7th anniversary of her alt-porn company, where does she throw the party? At the popular East Village rock venue Webster Hall. The star of Steven Soderbergh's upcoming film "The Girlfriend Experience"? Alt-porn diva Sasha Grey. Here's an interview with Sasha, who tells Filmmaker magazine that she's in an art-film phase. Watch a trailer for the movie here. Here's an NSFW ad that Sasha did for American Apparel. Where trends go, are you really going to argue with American Apparel? (Just to be clear: I'm not celebrating this development, just taking note of culturelife as it streams by.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2009 | perma-link | (37) comments

More on Greg and Henry
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New Scientist's Christopher Wills expresses shock at some of the thinking in Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending's "The 10,000 Year Explosion." McClatchy's Robert S. Boyd views the book more sympathetically. The L.A. Times' Karen Kaplan visits with Cochran. But long before any of these mainstream pieces came out, visitors to 2Blowhard were enjoying our weeklong interview with Greg Cochran. You can access all five parts by clicking here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments