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. Political Linkage
  2. Architecture and Shadows
  3. Gone to Airline Heaven
  4. Sex Linkage
  5. Just Wondering...
  6. DV Improvements
  7. Painter's Blasts from a Century Past
  8. Jane on Film
  9. Where the 300 Got Its Face

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, May 9, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Roger Scruton takes stock of what's becoming of free speech in Europe. * How much does free speech really count at the ACLU? * It turns out that home-ownership is something the federal government has often promoted. According to Steven Malanga, the policy always comes to a bad end. (Link thanks to ALD) * Razib wonders what's to become of free will as the Blank Slate thesis continues to crumble. * Bill Kauffman has some good words to say for American anarchism. * 2Blowhards Rewind: We did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman. Access all of it from this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, May 8, 2009

Architecture and Shadows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another in a series of postings designed to wake a few websurfers up to elements in the experience of the built environment that are simple, important, and too-often-overlooked. Listen up, America, goddammit. Today: light and shadows. And a fast comparison to kick us off. First, traditional brick and stone: Next, mid-20th century modernism (the UN building, in fact): Ignoring many of the worthwhile observations that could be made about this juxtaposition, for today I want to ask: What's the main difference between the above images in terms of light and shadow? Obvious answer: Traditional architecture-and-urbanism offers loads more in the way of light/shadow delight than modernist architecture-and-urbanism does. Another comparison. First up, some modest tenement apartment buildings: Look at the variety of shapes made here by the light and the shadow. Take note of the way the light and shadows emphasize mass -- those buildings feel solid. Don't let your eyes be shy about taking the ironwork -- the fire escapes -- into account. Those rungs, diagonals, slats, and verticals add a dimension that isn't to be ignored. They remind us not just of the sun but also (because they change so markedly as the day goes by) of the passage of time. You might say that, given the density, touch, and complexity of detail and texture, this view looks and feels like a painting. Now, a brand-new apartment building in the current wobbly / off-kilter mode recently erected just a few blocks away: What's the experience of light-and-shadow here? Not to be coy, let me suggest that the easiest answer is: "None whatsoever." I get "gleam," I register "glassy," and I certainly pick up on "swoopiness." What I don't get is any of this: solid, deep, substantial, calm, organic, complex. The whole structure in fact looks like it was extruded direct from a plastics factory. Or maybe it's a screencap taken off your computer's screensaver. But don't some modernist (and modernist-derived) buildings at least try to take the light-and-shadow thing into account? Sure -- not many, not often, but still. So what's the result? Let's take a look. Mid-20th century modernism: Hyper-recent: There's certainly some contrasts going on here between light and dark. No arguing about that. But what's the effect? What I mainly pick up from these attempts isn't "the human touch," it's "geometrical abstraction." In fact, let me go a little further with that reaction: What I really pick up is "rabid, monomaniacal devotion to geometrical abstraction at all costs." Human? Only if your idea of "human" is Arnold in the first "Terminator" movie. A reminder of something we can all recognize as human: Check out the patterns of light and shadow in that modest row of houses, and let the implications, suggestions, and meanings of those patterns ricochet around your brain a bit. Shelter ... The human touch ... Organic matter ... Evolved, near-biological shapes and forms ... A quick revisit with the values the architectural establishment prefers: The word... posted by Michael at May 8, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gone to Airline Heaven
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I walk through a shopping mall and along center city sidewalks, or even when driving, I often spy a closed store, its show windows papered over, signage removed. Usually I can't remember what shop or store was there -- even in places where I go frequently (exceptions are usually stores where I did business). It's different with defunct airlines. One reason is that I maintain a database of my flights and wrote software to compile various kinds of summaries. Among those summary tables is one that shows the number of flights I made on various airlines, ranking them by flight count. Counting only commercial flights (that is, no military flights, chartered flights, joyrides, etc.) my list contains 28 airlines. For what it's worth, I've flown Alaska Airlines 104 times, followed by United (89 times) and Northwest (78). These numbers aren't surprising when you consider that 80 percent of my adult life has been lived in western Washington. Seattle is Alaska Airlines' headquarters area and they and subsidiary Horizon Air occupy nearly half the available gates at Sea-Tac airport. Furthermore, back in the days before airline deregulation, if you lived in Seattle and wanted to fly east, United and Northwest were your only reasonable choices. The four airlines mentioned in this paragraph account for a bit more than 60 percent of all the flights I've made. At the other extreme, I've only flown once on the following: Air France, Alitalia, Go, Hawaiian, Pan American and (believe it or not) Southwest. Of those, Pan American no longer exists and Alitalia might be on the way out. And from the earlier list, Northwest is in the process of merging with Delta. Other airlines I've flown that aren't flying now due to failure, merger, or other source of name-change are, in descending order of the number of times I've flown them: America West, Eastern, Western, National, Republic, Braniff, Air Cal, Pacific Southwest (PSA), TWA and Allegheny. All told, about 40 percent of the airlines I've flown are no longer in business under the name at the time of my flight. Do I miss any of them? Only in a nostalgic sense enhanced by whatever knowledge I possess of the history of airlines. I don't love any airline, nor do I (yet) have enough reasons to hate any airline, either. Some I sort of like, others I'm not sure of and most, I simply tolerate. Still, once an airline is gone, it seems more special than it was when it was alive and flying. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 7, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sex Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Quit making that duckface! * Weak as my lesbian-dar can be, still I have to say that this doesn't come as much of a surprise. * Photographer David Steinberg drops by a couple of events and, despite all the extreme activity on display, finds the whole scene pretty civilized. * Don't let this happen to you. (Video that's very mildly NSFW) * Rolling Stone celebrates porn star Sasha Grey. Interesting to learn that Sasha is a fan of the French filmmaker Catherine Breillat. I am too. I blogged about Breillat's brilliant (IMHO, of course) "Brief Crossing" here, and about her not-so-successful (but still fascinating) "The Last Mistress" here. "Romance" strikes me as Breillat's most amazing film. Here's a lengthy essay about "Romance" that I largely agree with. * Nerve interviews Sasha Grey. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wondered if porn is becoming -- or has already become -- the new rock and roll. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 7, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just Wondering...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Would Apple finally rule the world if it ever came out with an aggressively priced computer? * What would the federal government do if (fill in states' names) actually seceded? * Would academia, the mainstream media and the other usual suspects support him if Barack Obama proclaimed himself President-for-Life? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 6, 2009 | perma-link | (45) comments

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

DV Improvements
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some more landmarks to take note of in the ever-ongoing digital-video story: The Red One (base price: $17,500) creates imagery so sharp and rich that stills drawn from it can be used as magazine covers. Here's the site for Red Digital Cinema. Here's a good hands-on report about what it's like to use the Red One. Here's some sample footage. Panasonic's recently-announced Lumix GH1 is a pseudo-DSLR (base price: $1500ish) designed to capture snappy video as well as dandy stills. The first reviews are now coming in, and the consensus is that the GH1 is wonderfully easy to use and creates video that is near-movie-quality. David Pogue calls the camera "the real deal ... The footage looks jaw-droppingly good, like a hi-def loop playing on the $4,000 flat panels at Best Buy." Here's some sample footage. Interesting to learn that some independent filmmakers are already shooting feature films with video-capable DSLRs. Incidentally: If there's a part of you that would love to play with these cameras and maybe assemble a little edited something from their footage, dream on. Digital-video formats are an as-yet-unironed-out nightmare, and editing footage that's as high-quality as what the Red One and the GH1 output requires a much more powerful computer than what you have on your home desk. Next year, maybe. Small MBlowhard reaction: Though I've found most movies shot on videocams to be sadly lacking when projected onto a movie screen, the latest high-quality footage when viewed on the HDTV in my bedroom looks darned good. It's more than up to the challenge of creating moods and casting a spell. Besides, since I do 99.9% of my movie-watching these days at home, why should I care about what this footage looks like on a movie-theater screen? Come to think of it, the last time I went to a theater wasn't to watch a movie, it was attend a Metropolitan Opera presentation in HD. Recommended: world-class productions and singers, big images, and Dolby sound, all for around 20 bucks. It's such a satisfying way to see opera (and it has been so successful an innovation) that you worry a bit about the fortunes of local theater companies. How can they compete? Check out the Met's schedule here. The Wife and I are seeing "La Cenerentola" this Saturday. Related: I bitched back here about that lousy "Star Wars" movie that was shot on video, and back here about a shot-on-video Robert Rodriguez western that looked like crap. Recently I confessed that I've been finding what amateurs are doing with home video these days more interesting than what the pros are doing anyway. My favorite source for news and thinking about movies and technology is the journalist and blogger Scott Kirsner. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, May 4, 2009

Painter's Blasts from a Century Past
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently James ("Dinotopia") Gurney posted on British painter Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927 -- Wikipedia link here). Two of Solomon's better paintings are shown below. Ajax and Cassandra - 1886 St. George - c.1906 Diploma Work for membership in the Royal Academy: accepted 1906. Gurney mentions that Solomon's 1910 book about drawing and painting can now be downloaded from this link. (If you encounter problems, an alternative is mentioned in comments to Gurney's posting.) Of course I printed out much the book and popped it into a ring binder for ready reference. At least one illustration seems to have been missing from the copy that was duplicated, but such losses are not too serious. Here are some excerpts that caught my fancy. Charming (if a bit hard to follow sometimes) is his Victorian way with words. Apparently some aspects of painting haven't changed in character in the century since Solomon wrote By the system of apprenticeship that obtained during the Renaissance and in those now regretted days when the decorative arts flourished in Europe, the knowledge of our craft was handed on from master to pupil. Those valuable traditions are to-day but a faded memory; but such is the spirit of the age, that even did the unbroken chain of tradition reach back to the fifteenth century, when oil-painting first came into general use, its sanction would probably be questioned and its teaching neglected. [Page 66] Moreover, Teachers have been too superior, perhaps too uncertain themselves about their craft, to do aught but teach and criticise aesthetically, and have left the student to shift for himself and learn his trade as best he might. [Page 67] This was my experience in the late 1950s. I didn't realize that the rot had started at least 50 years earlier. As for paintings themselves, probably in reaction to the advent of Modernism, he wrote: Let us now inquire into the effect resulting from our oft-recurring exhibitions of painting, and see how they influence the painter. So many of the qualities considered essential by our masters are sacrificed for effect. An obtrusive coarseness is now preferred to the velvety surface of the Dutch masters. Scene painting, effective enough on the stage, and perhaps telling on the great walls of out exhibitions, is taking the place of precious workmanship; and, worst of all, these exhibitions engender a never-ending restlessness and love of change. Anything with which to astonish the native! Fashions in painting come and disappear like Paris hats, so that last year's methods are as out of date as the headgear that went with them. Many bids for fame are made by men who, having nothing to say, invent a new language to say it in, and hope that their jargon may be mistaken for originality, as it not infrequently is by the immature critic and the modish amateur. There is no end to the possibilities of what is known as imagination -- that is, the power to make... posted by Donald at May 4, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Jane on Film
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little Jane Jacobs to kick off the week: I wrote appreciations of the great Jane Jacobs back here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 4, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where the 300 Got Its Face
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I traded in my Chrysler 300 a few weeks ago, I owe it and its kin one more blog post. Hope you don't mind too much. It seems that I finally noticed what might well have been the inspiration for its grille and general front-end "face." I wouldn't be surprised that Mopar über-mavens already discovered it; if any such are readers, please use Comments to pass along links that confirm or deny my conjecture. I wrote about Chrysler 300 styling here, among other places. I'll go over some of the same ground so that newer readers get enough background before I get to the new stuff. Analysis Here is a photo of a 2006 bottom-of-the-line Chrysler 300 showing its face along with some side detail. I'll use this as the benchmark or reference point for commentary on this stylish and, for a few years, popular car. The grille has strong hint of Chryslers of the late 1940s. Note that its cross-bars are not on the same plane. The vertical bars are recessed relative to the horizontal ones. The horizontal bars, because they are not interrupted, subtly dominate because (1) as noted, they overlap the vertical bars, and (2) they catch and reflect overhead lighting such as from the sun more strongly and uninterruptedly. This is a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker coupe with the egg-crate grille theme used from 1946 through 1950. Here the mesh is much smaller than on the 2006 car and the vertical and horizontal bars are essentially on the same plane. (I'd have to examine an actual car to be sure, but this photo suggests a tiny bias towards the horizontals. But other photos I examined suggest the opposite.) At any rate, the three thick bars are definitely horizontal. The Chrysler "medal" emblem is incorporated in the badge on the front of the hood and the Chrysler wings (both brand symbols dating to the 1920s in one form or another) comprise the hood ornament. The 2006 car has the medal and wings attached to the grille opening surround. The 300 has comparatively narrow (measured vertically) windows all around. The front and rear passenger doors are almost symmetrical. Similar features can be found in some previous Chryslers as well as late-40s models from other companies. Here is a Chrysler Airflow from 1934, an early mass-produced exercise in streamlining. The doors are symmetrical, which helped reduce tooling costs. The 1951 Lincoln shown here also has doors that are nearly symmetrical. And it has narrow (vertically) windows, again like the 300. Mercurys for 1949-1951 shared this body with Lincolns, and many Mercurys were transformed into kustom kars, often with a "chopped top" that resulted in even narrower windows. Chrysler styling honcho (before the company was taken over by Daimler-Benz) Tom Gale was a hot rod fan, so it's possible that his influence persisted during the styling development of the 300. This is the extent of my analysis of Chrysler 300 styling up... posted by Donald at May 3, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments