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Friday, October 30, 2009

American "Orientalism"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noted in some previous posts that I visited the Guggenheim Gallery of Western Art, part of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming in September. It's an impressive complex in what is considered the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Its Web site is here, and an article about its recent re-installation is here (caution: this page might take a while to appear). No surprise, what ties all the paintings and sculptures together thematically is the West -- that generally dry part of America extending from about the 100th meridian west to the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. Subject matter is landscapes, explorers, white settlers, the U.S. Cavalry, cowboys and other subjects. A major subject of Western artists from Montana to Arizona is American Indians. Below is a painting in the Guggenheim's collection. "Contemporary Sioux Indian" by James Bama - 1978 I wrote about Bama here. He was a Brooklyn kid who had good success as a commercial illustrator in New York. In the 1960s he pulled up stakes and went to the Cody area where he transformed himself into a Western artist. (Some illustrators made similar transformations when the market for magazine illustration dried up; others moved to portraiture and other fine arts areas.) Recently it suddenly dawned on me that the fascination American Indians hold for some American artists is similar to that of Orientalism for Europeans. As this Wikipedia entry demonstrates, the term "Orientalism" has different meanings to different observers. For our purposes, I'll restrict it to the label applied to a painting genre popular in the 19th century and a while beyond. From Napoleon's invasion of Egypt until the French gained control of Morocco, Europe became increasingly involved in affairs of North Africa and the Near East, ultimately controlling all that territory save post-Great War Turkey. In the wake of diplomats, businessmen, gunboats, European pashas and colonial administrators came artists who painted scenes of souks, harems, oases and whatever else struck their fancies. For example, a major artist who devoted a large share of his output to Orientalist subjects was Jean-Léon Gérôme. Some people become greatly fascinated with other cultures, though usually not to the point where they "go native." Gérôme and his friends would happily scoot off to Algiers or Egypt for months at a time but always returned to the comforts and pleasures of Paris. One reason they fixed on North Africa and the Near East was because those areas were indeed near. China was out there and so were India and Japan. A few European painters traveled to those countries in search of exotic subject-matter; but the exotica of the Orientalists was closer at hand. Given this, I'll hypothesize that American artists attracted to different cultures don't need to undergo the hassle and expense of flying off to Bali, Bhutan or Bangkok to find exotic subjects. All they need do is move to Great Falls, Cody, Taos, Sedona and similar places to paint the... posted by Donald at October 30, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Limbaugh on Third Parties
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The last "third party" to win the presidency was the Republican party in 1860 with nominee Abraham Lincoln; that was just about 150 years ago. Since then, parties such as the Bull Moose (1912) and Dixicrats (1948) have won states in presidential elections, but not nearly enough to claim the office. There are always enough people dissatisfied by or frustrated with the two major political parties to form new parties or support existing small parties. Some such parties are odd, single-issue groups while others operate on the belief that they actually can some day supplant one or the other of the major ones. As this is written, there is a Congressional election in far upstate New York where the Republicans nominated an extremely liberal candidate which resulted in a conservative Republican entering the fray under the banner of New York's Conservative Party. This has inspired a number of people to wonder if now is finally the time for the Republican Party to be replaced by something different for whatever reasons. Like him or not, Rush Limbaugh is a shrewd, well-connected political observer and I thought readers might be interested in learning his current take on the matter of third parties. The full transcript of the subject segment of his 27 October 2009 broadcast is here. It includes more background information on the New York 23rd Congressional District race. Here are excerpts that strike me as being most relevant: Let me see if I can explain this. NY-23 is a special election. There was no primary. Doug Hoffman would have challenged Scozzafava in the Republican primary had there been one. He would have had the backing of New York's Conservative Party as is often the case there. You have to understand that the Conservative Party does not look at themselves as a third party. Only do they get in gear when the Republicans nominate some liberal. Ronald Reagan opposed third party-races because he believed that conservatives needed to take back the Republican Party and not surrender it to liberals. He told the liberals, "Go your own way." He didn't go his own way and form a [replacement for the] Republican Party. It took a while. He narrowly lost to Gerald Ford in '76. He was the most popular Republican emerging from that convention, but Ford, the establishment Republican, the fix was in. Reagan didn't slink away and start a third party. He began to take over the Republican Party. Third parties lose. Speaking personally, I am not interested in creating another Reform Party like Perot did, like Buchanan did. It's a losing proposition. I want to defeat what's going on. ... I know the temptation for a third party is tempting, but right now conservatism is on the ascendancy, it's actually good to be a conservative, and this is the time to reassert control over the Republican Party. It's not going to be easy but the Democrats, the far left didn't go out and form... posted by Donald at October 29, 2009 | perma-link | (36) comments

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transcending Rotten
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently Zdeno, who not long ago attended University in Canada, presented his take on the state of things in higher education in North America. He promised a follow-up with his views on how to fix things, and here it is. * * * * * A re-introduction, for those just now tuning in: I have proposed a complete liquidation of North America’s institutions of higher education. Every University, College, Technical Institute and Sylvan Learning Centre that is owned by any level of government – give it the eBay treatment. (Throw in the entire K-12 system while you’re at it , but we’ll save that post for another day). I’ve spent the past half-decade in a couple of these venerable institutions, and I’ve seen how they operate. The things we should want in our Universities – education, honest scholarship, practical research and curiosity – I saw very little of. In their place were drugs, debauchery, alcoholism, academic dishonesty, and worst of all, course content of an indescribably bad quality. But before we pledge ourselves to the liquidationist cause, we need to be reasonably sure that the world we create is better than the one we currently inhabit. For a change as radical as this one, we need to be really, really, really, reasonably sure. As of this writing, I feel pretty good about the idea. But I’ll feel a lot better if I lay my case out for all you bright people to pick apart, and come out alive on the other end. Let’s discuss the various organs of the Beast in increasing order of difficulty – I’ll begin with what I feel are the most easily-recognized-as-crap aspects of the system, and proceed from there. This approach gives me a very obvious starting point: Business programs. About which: As your one-armed buddy says when you ask him what it was like back in ‘Nam, I can only say, “You had to be there.” Mountains of textbooks, lectures and PowerPoint slides, all repackaging whichever pseudo-scientific theories-of-week were published in this month’s Harvard Business Review. I won’t be so cruel as to recommend you actually peruse any of this material, but please spend a few minutes clicking through some Dilbert comics. There is a reason why Scott Adam’s caricature of the useless, pointy-haired business-school graduate resonates with so many. But let’s say we give every business school the axe. What will replace them? My answer: Nothing. Craters, hopefully. If a kid wants to learn about business, the best thing he can do is go work in one. Once he figures out what kind of role he’s best suited for, he can learn the skills required along the way. How hard is it to calculate a net present value? Not very. Next up: The Arts. This one’s not so hard either. Most of what is taught in Arts departments is either completely worthless - Gender, Ethnic, Post-Colonial, and Marxist-Leninist Studies – or so poorly taught that their inclusion... posted by Donald at October 28, 2009 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am dumbfounded. I do not know what to say. We were at Seattle's home show Sunday and one of the displays featured this: Which is a new product by a firm named Caroma whose Web site is here. I cannot imagine myself using the thing as intended. Or otherwise. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 27, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * We still want to post contributions by 2Blowhards readers. As mentioned several weeks ago, my interests in arts and culture are limited and this blog requires wider coverage than I can provide. I will welcome prospective articles about paintings, cars, planes, history and the stuff I like. But we do need solid material covering literature, music, movies and other fields that Michael Blowhard plowed. So drop me an email (a link is provided on the panel to the left) with topic ideas and a short autobiographical note if you think you might be interested. Please don't be shy! * Nancy and I hit the road to California Wednesday and will be traveling for about two weeks. Stops include: the Bay Area; Gilroy-Hollister-San Juan Bautista; Solvang and Santa Barbara; and the Carmel-Monterey area. As usual, I'll bring a computer and will have a camera handy. Posting will be as frequent as I can manage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Rains Return
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm sitting here in Barnes & Noble's version of Starbucks flailing away on my [crosses fingers] trusty macBook. Outside, it's nasty. Not seriously nasty. Not this early into fall. But not pleasant enough to be outside in either. Heavier than normal rain, a cold front arriving this afternoon, snow in the Cascades passes, highs for the next few days at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Puget Sound area had an exceptionally nice, dry, sunny, sometimes unseasonably hot summer. One perspective is that we're now paying the price for that good fortune. Actually, I welcome the change, though I'd rather have our usual light drizzle than the heavy stuff. And my position can be rationalized by claiming (correctly) that the West Coast, with its seasonal rain pattern, needs plenty of winter snowpack to provide water for the following summer. The weather brings memories of fall when I was a kid. In particular, I think of being trundled off to Cub Scout meetings: Climbing into those tall, solid post-World War 2 sedans in the dark, wet evenings. Reflections of street lights and light from windows on the wet streets. Fallen maple leaves plastering the ground. Sigh. That's a major part of Seattle for those of us who grew up here. It's a cliché, of course. In terms of annual inches of rainfall, Seattle is little different from New York City. Yet that's only a statistic, because Seattle's rain is concentrated in December-February with lesser slop-over for adjoining months; New York's rain is spread more evenly across the year. What gives Seattle it rainy reputation is the fact that it's cloudy here and for much of the time it seems like it might rain. That's why some migrants from sunnier states have trouble staying here; the climate is too depressing for them. Other parts of the country and world have their own weather clichés -- not permanent conditions, yet incorporating a strong element of truth. My image of Phoenix, Arizona is high heat. That of Los Angeles is perpetual sun even though I was there about this time of year a few years ago when it experienced drenching rains and even tornado conditions. My Gulf Coast image is muggy weather and foliage on the edge of decay. Florida means hurricanes, Kansas tornadoes. Other areas for some reason don't conjure up strong associations with weather or climate. North Carolina? Missouri? Pennsylvania? I could be mistaken, of course. I'm curious what weather associations readers have. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local Detail in Novels
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently wrote about a book dealing with Russian art and culture in the early 20th century where the focus was on Moscow and St. Petersburg. In passing, I mentioned that it was helpful to have actually visited those cities and viewed some of the works of art discussed in the book. Which got me to thinking about reading books containing details of places I hadn't visited. Basically, I had only a foggy notion of what was being discussed because I really couldn't visualize the settings. Given that lots of readers haven't been to all corners of the world, this presents a problem for writers: How much detail and geographical scene-setting should be included? Historians sometimes have no choice but to report such details. Consider the political maneuverings leading up to the 10 May 1940 replacement of Neville Chamberlain by Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister. It would be difficult indeed to not mention major actors entering, leaving, meeting at, passing through, etc. places such as Whitehall, the Admiralty, 10 Downing Street, the Thames Embankment, the Houses of Parliament, Pall Mall, Buckingham Palace and elsewhere. Arthur Conan Doyle (or was it Dr. John Watson?), writing about master detective Sherlock Holmes, includes references to many places in London as well as in surrounding counties and even more distant parts of England such as Dartmoor. His primary, magazine-reading audience mostly lived in the Home Counties region and could visualize many of the settings from personal experience. But most foreign readers would have trouble. If Piccadilly Circus was mentioned, some might recall photos of it. And if the action called for Holmes or Watson to stroll from there to Trafalgar Square, no one but those who had visited London could easily picture the relationship of the two places, let alone the sights between them. My memory of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is getting foggy and I don't have a copy at hand. That said, I think he referenced a number of Paris sites in the parts of the novel set in that city. This was hard to avoid if he wanted to evoke the place. Yet how easily could an untraveled 1928 reader in Dubuque picture Montparnasse and the cafe/bar scene there? Or the Right Bank, where other scenes were placed? Where the place is only a minor character, the author has the opportunity to be sketchy on local atmosphere, leaving it to the reader to create details from his imagination. But if a place is a significant character in a story, this poses a serious problem for a writer. Is there any decent solution to the place-characterization versus ignorant reader dilemma? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 25, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments