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  1. Policy Break--Affirmative Action, Part I
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Saturday, May 17, 2003

Policy Break--Affirmative Action, Part I
Michael: After reviewing, as promised, the whole question of affirmative action, I believe we should replace race-based programs with programs targeting low-socio-economic students. I come to that conclusion as a result of finding most of the arguments for race-based affirmative action problematic. (Part I of this posting examines a number of such arguments; Part II will discuss my preferred option.) Argument #1: Racial preferences in college admissions give poor downtrodden black kids an opportunity in life. Race-based affirmative action programs largely benefit middle and upper-middle-class blacks and Latinos, not those mired in poverty. John McWhorter, a professor of sociology at University of California at Berkeley (who is himself black) lays out the facts: … [A]t selective colleges, black students from inner-city schools are vanishingly rare. …In the last class admitted to Berkeley under the racial preference regime, more than 65 percent came from household earning at least $40,000 a year, while the parents of about 40 percent earned at least $60,000 a year. Of the black students admitted in 1989 to 28 selective universities surveyed by William Bowen and Derek Bok [in their pro-affirmative action book, The Shape of the River], only 14 percent came from homes earning $22000 a year or less [$32,680 in FY2003 dollars]. Argument #2: Affirmative action just makes up for the fact that the SAT is biased against minorities. The charge that the SAT tests are biased against minorities doesn’t hold water. Analyses comparing minority SAT scores and freshman grades were published by Wayne J. Camara and co-authors in two papers, “Group Differences in Standardized Testing and Social Stratification” (1999--readable here) and “The SAT I and High School Grades: Utility in Predicting Success in College” (2000--readable here). The evidence suggests that SAT Verbal + Math scores over-predict freshman college grade point averages by about 0.2 grade points for male African-Americans and for male Hispanics, while accurately predicting the grade point averages of African-American and Hispanic women. In other words, contrary to what would happen if the SAT consistently under-predicted the performance of these groups, minorities do not “outperform” their test results in college. Moreover, the lower scores for minorities on the SAT are not unique to that test; very comparable results are seen from other admissions tests for undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, on national testing programs such as NAEP and NELS, and when using high school grades in order to predict college grades. Christopher Jencks, Professor of Social Policy at John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (and a supporter of affirmative action) makes the case in an interview with PBS Frontline (readable here) that whatever the problems faced by minorities, the SAT is not one of them: …I don't think we have much reason to believe that the SAT underestimates the academic skills that minority kids have acquired at the end of twelfth grade. I think they really are behind and that we need to do something about that… Argument #3: Minority students who go on to be doctors, lawyers, CEOs etc.... posted by Friedrich at May 17, 2003 | perma-link | (12) comments

Amazing Day at the Times
Friedrich -- I don't know about you, but I take it for granted that the NYT is in the business of peddling the usual media-leftist myths. So imagine my surprise this morning on finding three pieces in today's paper that speak straightforwardly about life as it's actually lived. (Two of them in the Arts and Ideas section!) What's the world coming to? * In an op-ed piece here, Samuel Freedman discusses what he sees as the demise of the special relationship between Jews and blacks: "[The] black-Jewish era, in many ways, is over. It can be studied and celebrated. But for reasons of demography and politics and the mere passage of time, it should be retired to the realm of history or mythology." Shockeroonie: I don't know if I have it in me to handle such frank talk coming from the Times. * Alessandra Stanley has a lot of malicious fun reviewing the new PBS series "Race: The Power of an Illusion" here. I generally think of the Times and PBS as two branches of the same PC tree. But check out these passages from Stanley: ...its larger message is overpowered by the intellectual timidity of the messenger...The series could more aptly be titled 'PBS: The Power of Self-Delusion,' a study of how a publicly owned television network with a mandate to challenge the mind can instead put even the most caffeinated brains to sleep ... Like the character played by Bill Murray in 'Groundhog Day,' PBS keeps reliving the horrors of slavery, segregation and discrimination without advancing to the more politically and culturally sensitive issues of race relations today. Hey, that's the kind of thing we Blowhards might have said! Actually, we have said similar things, here. Lordy, now we have the Times breathing down our necks. Who said it was easy being a Blowhard? * And here's a good piece from Gregory Jordan about the state of creative-writing programs that's full of up-to-date and useful information. (It's also -- shiver me timbers -- free of the the Times' usual moral grandstanding on literary matters.) It turns out that the creative-writing-school industry is booming these days: last year, 20,000 people applied for 4000 spots. (Jordan reminds us that while in 1967 there were only 13 creative writing programs in the US, today there are 330.) A surprise is how much of this is driven by Hollywood money, or the possibility of it anyway. Alice ("The Lovely Bones") Sebold is quoted saying, "I was stunned at how students talked about movies when we went out to dinner, when I was expecting them to talk about novels. There is big money in Hollywood, and it lures away really good minds." Another source tells Jordan, "Thirty years ago, students probably wanted to be the next great novelist. Now many want to write the next great screenplay." It's helpful as well to be reminded of one of the important reasons why universities are so enthusiastic about these programs. It's because -- what with... posted by Michael at May 17, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, May 16, 2003

Gloating over The Matrix
Friedrich -- On my morning walk to work this morning, I passed a couple of movie theaters showing the "Matrix" sequel. 9:30 a.m., and already there was a big line outside the box office window, which wasn't yet open. Lordy, how can any movie live up to such expectations? Quite a contrast with the first film. People seem to have forgotten that, before it opened, the first film was widely expected (to the extent anyone was paying much attention to it at all) to be a flop. A second here while I break my arm patting myself on the back. I remember the low expectations with which the original was greeted because I went to an early press screening of the picture. Even before the lights went down, I picked up that the film was expected to be a bomb. Nothing bizarre or worth analyzing about this -- it just seemed like the film was on its way to becoming one of those pictures grumpy press people love jumping on. I adored watching the film and was fizzing about it afterwards. But, to my surprise, nearly everyone who'd watched it with me disagreed. They came away from the screening convinced they'd been right -- the film was a bust. "But it's got certain qualities people may really respond to," I managed to say. (I'm crowing about this because my commercial-success prediction rate is generally so lousy that I have to prance around a bit when I do get it right.) To no avail, of course: I'm ignored in the mainstream, hence I blog. The press, in fact, didn't manage to overcome their aversion to "The Matrix" for a couple of weeks. It took them that long to recognize that the public had found something in the movie that they (the press) hadn't, and was responding like crazy. A couple of points that I don't think get made enough about the film: 1) Although the original "Matrix" was a big hit, it wasn't a big hit in the sense that something like "Independence Day" was a big hit. It was essentially a cult movie that connected with a mood and busted out of that category. (Which makes me worry about the sequels, which have been made and anticipated in the full glare of spotlights.) As a movie-biz phenom, in other words, it was more like "Blade Runner" (a resonant and influential pop-cult phenom) than a triumph of marketing like the recent "Star Wars" movies. And 2) Part of what people responded to in the original was eroticism, poetry and art. Film geeks and critics may go on (and on) about the film's "philosophy" -- but what's making them do so? That strikes me as the more basic and interesting question. I'd argue that the film has wonderful erotic qualities, and not just in the way the stars looked good in leather. It's in the film's whole way of seeing things: the sense of fate, the anguished-but-exhilarating retro-futurism, the sense of a... posted by Michael at May 16, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friedrich -- * Here's the transcript of a long Booknotes interview with John McWhorter, the Berkeley linguistics prof and author of "Losing the Race" and "Authentically Black." I find his thinking about racial issues very simpatico. Plus a 2Blowhards exclusive (I think): McWhorter has been an enthusiastic customer-reviewer at Amazon. You can read his reviews and get a sense of his tastes (musicals and '70s sitcoms!) here. * Not all architecture chat is incomprehensible and jargon-heavy. Here's a freewheeling discussion about urbanism, planning and money that has its feet on the ground and some provocative ideas up in the air: New Urbanists and libertarians discuss whether it's possible for them to find common ground. Some New Urbanists tend to the NPR/Al Gore/soft-socialist side of things, while others see themselves as working with the market. Some libertarians see New Urbanists as allies, but the more hardcover libertarians see them as new-style socialists. An absorbing discussion on topics that resonate. (Link via the always interesting Plenetizin, here) * The Daniel Libeskind WTC-site-winning proposal: admirers see it as grand and tragic yet up to date. To me, it's a trainwreck of soon-to-be-regretted fads, a videogame parlor with pretentions to gravity. So I was glad to read Catesby Leigh in the Weekly Standard (here) and Michael J. Lewis in Commentary (here), who both seem to dislike the design as much as I do. * Here's a fascinating comment thread from a discussion on Archnet that'll interest anyone who enjoyed our q&a with Nikos Salingaros. The excellent Lucien Steil (of Katarxis, here) checks in with some very civilized and tantalizing contributions. * Denis Dutton (editor of Arts & Letters Daily) has a well-argued column here about welfare and dependency in New Zealand. * Weird Flash genius, here. * I suppose everyone else has read this already, but for laggards like me, here's a q&a with the brilliant columnist Mark Steyn. Steyn, by the way, is a theater critic and historian as well as a political commentator. Here's a terrific piece by him about Bob Hope, who turns 100 later this month. * Did you get as fascinated by the Unabomber as I did? The bitter ex-grad student, seething with high-minded anarchist contempt ... Hmm, I have dim but definite memories of going through such a phase myself, funnily enough. Robert Birnbaum interviews Alston Chase about his new book "Harvard and the Unabomber" here. * Maggie Gyllenhaal, tastily adorable-yet-edgy in "Secretary," comes off in this interview (here) like someone much too eager to be taken seriously, alas. * I hadn't realized until today that dynamist-libertarian Virginia Postrel is writing a blog, here. * BBC Radio Four's website runs an engaging and informative five-part series on neuroscience, here. (Look for the "transcript" buttons on the righthand side, and you'll be able to print out a copy.) Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California (San Diego), is the very good and helpful lecturer. (Link thanks to Stumbling Tongue, here.)... posted by Michael at May 16, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Behind Every Celebrity...
Michael: Did you ever notice that famous people often have parents or other ancestors who are as remarkable as they but who never got the publicity? The most recent example I’ve run across of a famous person with perhaps even more remarkable parents was William Randolph Hearst. During our recent mini-hiatus, I drove up to see Hearst Castle at San Simeon. The tour took us through his private movie theater, which prompted a lecture from the docent on Hearst’s own activities as a movie producer, which were more extensive than I had realized. The docent also told us about Hearst’s ambivalent feelings regarding the film “Citizen Kane,” which was of course based loosely on his own life story. While owning a copy of the film that he would screen for guests (if they requested it), and being pleased with Orson Welles’ portrayal of himself, Hearst was nonetheless genuinely irritated at the film’s portrayal of his parents as a pair of “little people.” In reality, Hearst’s father had lived a more mythical life than his son. The old man started dirt-poor in Missouri in 1820, educated himself in geology, earned a living mining in the Ozarks, and went out to California with the gold rush in 1850. After modest success in the gold fields, he discovered a major silver-mine in 1860 that made him a rich man. Hearst’s father went on to build an international mining and cattle-ranching empire. Not content with a life in business, the old man got active in politics and made California a Democratic enclave at the height of Republican triumphalism in the 1870s and 1880s. He ended his life as a U.S. Senator. Not bad for a kid from nowhere. Hearst’s mother was a much younger school-teaching neighbor of his father's family whom he courted after he came back to Missouri a rich man. She was not only a beauty, but raised Hearst more or less on her own, took him to Europe to learn about and appreciate art and culture, and was obviously quite a sparkplug herself. I, for one, can see how the portrayal of these two as nonentities would have been offensive to Hearst. These were people who didn't need to bask in their son's light. In fact, San Simeon actually makes the most sense viewed as a kind of tribute to his parents by Hearst. It combines the California landscape that his father seems to have loved (it was the first property bought with silver mine money) and the "culture" that his mother was crazy about (Hearst Castle is an amazing, if crazy-quilt, collection of tapestries, carvings, sculptures, paintings and mosaics from Europe.) The sense of a tribute is heightened when you consider that it was begun immediately after Hearst inherited the land at the death of his mother in 1919. So now all I need is for my children to become world famous, and perhaps someday a credulous biographer will believe that I had something to do with it. Hey, I... posted by Friedrich at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (5) comments

Government Help for the Arts
Friedrich -- How to keep up an interest -- let alone some active participation -- in the arts once you're a grown-up? It's a puzzle, isn't it? The time constraints, the energy limitations ... It amazes me that the arts (especially the non-commercial arts) flourish at all. So far as I'm concerned, "how to find time for the arts" is one of the most important of all arts questions. I find it bizarre that it's so little discussed. Say you're a grownup arts nut. You've got a bit of a private life. You've got to make a living. (Trust-fund babies not welcome here.) The bills have to be paid, the laundry has to be done, home repairs have to be attended to, doctors have to be seen. There goes 90%, maybe 95%, of your time and energy. And who knows what you'll really feel like doing with that remaining 5%? Maybe you try to tackle the problem by getting a job in the arts: Combine the job with the passion! But you wake up to discover that you're support staff, getting paid to help people with family money or better connections look good. Perhaps you polish up your skills and go into commercial art -- design, copywriting, restaurants, clothing. Combine your moneymaking with your interest in the arts, this time as the creative one! But you wind up bitter from doing the bidding of sleazeballs, and the job pressures kill your pleasure in your abilities. (Why don't more graphics people spend free time doing their own fine-arts painting? Because they're burned-out at the end of the week, and need a break.) So you plug away at whatever half-assed job you've settled into, you attend to the friends and family and house and repairs and emergencies, and you dream fondly of those days in college when your hours were your own, when you could finish a book or two, and when you could see a foreign film and talk it over with friends afterwards ... You're a person with a fulltime job and an arts hobby, that's what you are. You read a bit, and you feel lucky to have one friend who you can swap a little email with about books. You take a writing or painting class every year or two. If you're musical and you have some discipline, you play with a local band or quartet. But weren't you once really serious about the arts? Jesus, how do other people manage? And, worse, you can't keep away an occasional nagging thought along the lines of: Sheesh, if I'd known my energies would be so totally consumed by making a living, I'd have ditched the arts long ago and gotten a sensible degree and entered a sensible profession and made some real money and then maybe I'd be able to take up watercolors once I retired. But you can't turn it all around now because it's too late, and because, well, you aren't really an arts hobbyist, you're an... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

New CultureBlogs
Friedrich -- Three more sharp new additions to the cultureblogosphere. *Dick Ranko (why do I suspect a pseudonym?) is only one real posting into his career as a solo blogger (here), but it's a corker, comparing the rock group The Band to the Robert Altman movie "McCabe & Mrs. Miller." *At his new blog Forager (here), JW is showing off serious writing chops and an obsessive involvement with all things movie and comic-book. JW takes the occasional break from treatises on the X-Men and Jack Kirby to indulge in reflections about such topics as Justin Timberlake and NASCAR. *Only a couple of issues into his kinda-blog/kinda-magazine site Cipher Culture (here), Paul Williams has already mused winningly about the antiwar Left, the vogue for the hairless-male look, and the changing nature of cultural criticism itself. All three of these brainy young Turks are enthusiastic participants over at Polly Frost's Forum, where the conversations have an even looser feel than blogging babble does. Shooting from the hip, or artchat at the Cedar Bar --that's what it's like over at Polly's Forum. You can join in the fun here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (4) comments

Guest posting -- Andre Hattingh on Salingaros
Friedrich -- Lots of responses, via comments and email, to our interview with Nikos Salingaros -- lovely to see the interest and to take part in all the conversations. We'll soon do a followup interview with Prof. Salingaros. Meanwhile, I want to pass along one of the most eloquent responses, which came in as email from Andre Hattingh, writing from South Africa. Andre gave me permission to post it here on the blog: Many thanks for the interview with Prof. Salingaros. He and his interlocutors have articulated my own long-harboured misgivings about the evident lack and/or denial of human scale and/or interests which have pervaded the field for much of the past century. We have tolerated the risible aesthetics of a despotic illiteracy for far too long. The recent competition for a WTC twin towers replacement has made that all too clear: the finalists and commission winner only serving to underline the prevalent denial of the humane dimension. I was relieved to find at the tail end of the interview a reference to “ … some truths that religion has to offer are inevitable." Why is it that the 'R' word brings out, if the not the worst; then an all too often negative or skewed response in intellectually active people? Most of what we admire in and from the past was often prompted and inspired by the religions of their artisan creators. Nowhere more so than in the twin fields of art and architecture. (And this while these skills were still considered crafts as opposed to professions.) The current position of our civilization has grown out of and is rooted in that inspired foundation. Why, in hindsight, deny it? If, when searching for simple solutions to Life’s mysteries, you omit religion -- in arrogance or fear -- from the equation, the result, though overtly convincing, seldom satisfies that search. In its long and arduous struggle up from ignorance, humankind adapted to, first, an awareness of and then an acceptance that the five empirical senses are not capable of explaining the questions that cloud our limited view of the horizon, let alone the universe. For some time biological scientists, in particular, have sought to remove those clouds and expose the mysteries of life and the nature of all things to the bright light of knowledge as a concatenation of accidental principles. Yet the brighter the light and the thinner the clouds, the deeper the pervading mystery extends. These fundamentalist high priests [sic] of science, however, continue in their efforts to lay waste to humanity’s concept of any universal mystery; in its attempts to replace faith with a prosthetic and self-replicating fallacy: man is the measure all things … each unto his or her forgone conclusion. In, namely, what is not empirically explicit cannot therefore exist. Least of all a God, whatever any reactionary dissenter might conceive it, him or her to be. Q.E.D. Any society without religion or at least a faith in transcendence inevitably disintegrates into a morass of... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (23) comments

Visitors may be running into problems with our "comments" function -- we certainly are. Re-opening-the-blog kinks that are being ironed out, basically. Our webhost tells us they're on top of it, that they're tweaking something incomprehensible having to do with something else incomprehensible called mySQL (???!!!), and that -- all we really care about -- everything should be working smoothly by this afternoon. Apologies for the inconvenience.... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Middle Age Again: How do they find the time?
Friedrich: I'm going through a complete history of science for the first time since I was a Sputnik-charmed kid. Fun to revisit the old landmarks, fun to run into the great old names: Galileo, Ptolemy, Copernicus. Seeing it all with the perspective of some experience, refreshing my familiarity with the basics, watching a few pieces of the story fall into a kind of place they didn't when I was a kid, etc. And pleasant to notice that a good part of my brain hasn't changed all that much -- it's like an older-kid version of its onetime younger-kid self. But there's a whole new part of my brain that's churning away too. And here's the kind of thing that it's wondering about: How did these guys find the time and the energy? How did they pay the bills? Were they born rich? Did they have regular jobs? If so, what kinds of arrangements did they make to free up a little time? Could they really have been pursuing the research as hobbyists? Weren't they exhausted by the effort? Not really looking to learn the answer to these questions. Instead, I'm marveling at the fact that I've developed such an intense interest in them. As a kid, you tend to imagine that factors like time, energy and money will take care of themselves -- at least I did. You hit middle age and you can find yourself almost entirely consumed by dealing with these factors. At least I do. Speaking of which, more or less, I was talking the other night with a young woman who's going through a touching, familiar phase. She's making the discovery that almost all starry-eyed people do who go into the fine arts, which is just how many artists (and writers and poets, etc) are living on family money. Questions of talent, motivation and skill put aside for the moment, it's amazing how many artists are able to be artists simply because they can afford to be. (It's also quite amazing that college profs don't inform you of such things.) It's a bitter moment when you make this discovery -- I remember it well. You think to yourself: You mean, in following the arts, to some larger-than-I-expected extent, we're just paying attention to the self-expression of rich kids? What point is there in that? And you wonder too: You mean, if we're going to make a living in the arts (as editors, journalists, agents, interviewers, photographers, designers, adminstrators, etc), we're basically going to be working as support staff, there to make them look good? I tried to give her a benign, patient, encouraging smile. I wonder if she'll be staying in the field. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2003 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Movies and Their Discontents
Michael: To contribute to 2blowhard’s ongoing discussion of movie-video-technology-and-economics, I’d like to cite a few facts and figures about movie budget trends from a story in the L.A. Times of May 13, which you can read here. To cut to the chase: for major studio releases the trend is up, up, up. More money than ever is being poured into a concentrated number of films, many opening only days apart. A movie budgeted at more than $100 million used to be cause for widespread concern; this summer more than half a dozen titles — from "The Hulk" to "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" — easily exceed that. The average studio movie budget climbed an eye-popping 23.3% in 2002 over 2001. The most expensive movie of the upcoming summer fleet will be "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," which cost about $200 million to make. The business rationale is that such monsters are—potentially, at least—not only a source of multiple revenue streams via ticket sales, DVD sales, theme-park rides, etc., but also have the delightful side effect of increasing the value of the rest of the studio’s products: If successful, these movies become bottom-line juggernauts overseas and in the DVD market, helping drive a studio's entire movie slate. One hit title can boost the sales price for an entire package of films sold in a pay-television deal… Things are, obviously, great for 15-year-old boy movie buffs around the world, especially if they have relatively mainstream tastes. For the 2blowhards reader, the artistic consequences of this trend are, perhaps, less happy. These consequences include more sequels than ever—25 sequels or prequels will show up on movie screens in 2003, sixteen of them during the upcoming summer. The consequences also include fewer modestly budgeted adult dramas—apparently even talent agents are complaining that they can't find many projects for their A-list actors. I feel like I’m watching a planetary re-alignment here—the major studios are unsurprisingly concentrating on the film genre in which they have a competitive advantage (the big budget effects-driven spectacular) and leaving an opportunity for filmmakers who have more creativity than money. Granted that may never be a very large population. One (somewhat lonely) example seems to be Robert Rodriguez, a 2blowhards favorite: His first "Spy Kids" movie cost $36 million and was a huge hit, grossing $112.7 million in 2001. But his next sequel cost only $3 million more, and July's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" also will cost just $39 million, even though 90% of the film is in 3-D. "I just have a whole different philosophy," says Rodriguez, who performs an array of jobs on his films, including sound mixer and costume designer. "I use having less money to force me to come up with better ideas. And when you spend less money, you don't have somebody looking over your shoulder. You are more like a child finger-painting. You do whatever you want. And that's how your movie gets energy and life. I say, bring on the digital technology, watch... posted by Friedrich at May 14, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

The Contempo Lit Galaxy According to Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I'm a literary enough guy, but I don't have much time for most of the contempo lit-fic writers who are generally thought of as important: Updike, Roth, David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, Louise Erdrich, Sontag, Amis, Rushdie, Toni Morrison, DeLillo ... Talented and important they may be, but as far as I'm concerned: Snoozola, man. I'm not trying to be perverse; it's just that I can always think of a million things I'd rather be doing. In fact, that whole scene has always struck me as made-up, an ongoing soap opera with a rotating cast of characters, an illusion conceived and maintained to please the class of people (critics, editors, gullible recent English majors, indie bookstore employees) who need to believe that something of urgent literary importance is taking place on a weekly basis. When I view the scene as such, I can sometimes enjoy the spectacle. But when it's boiled down to a recommended-reading list, it's not one I can sign my name to. But enough with the putdowns and grumpiness. It's too easy to score off people with big reputations. What lit-fict books do I recommend? Well, I've gathered a little courage and a few notes together, and I hereby present my list of lit-fict books from the last 20 or 30 years that I've been a big, big fan of. No genre books, and no books I simply enjoyed. Instead, these are the books that struck me as really terrif, the ones I'd press on friends and say, Hey, this is really something! Readers may not be surprised to notice that between my version and the offical version of the contempo literary world there isn't much overlap. * My favorite contempo American lit-fict writer is Lee Smith. She's from Appalachia herself and most of her books are about Appalachian people, but there's nothing drearily worthy about them. Instead, her fiction is lyrical, soulful, often funny, and big-hearted. Her books do what the best movies do, combining the directness and ease of popular art with the sophistication and gravity of high art. Black Mountain Breakdown is the funniest of her books (though it's also quite sad), and Fair and Tender Ladies is probably her most moving (though it can be quite funny). I have no idea why more people don't know her work, which is always satisfying, accessible, moving and entertaining, and often a lot more. * Tom Perrotta writes Lit Lite, but he does it really well -- his books are funny, sly, bemused, and blessedly un-messed-up by politics. They're good, quick reads that are also perceptive and moving. (He's like an American Nick Hornby.) Bad Haircut is a terrif collection of stories about suburban Jersey -- anyone who lived through the '80s should enjoy it. Election is the funny and malicious novel the Reese Witherspoon movie was based on. The Wishbones is a bittersweet romantic comedy about a 30ish guy who's still playing with a rock band and is struggling... posted by Michael at May 14, 2003 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Slimmer, prettier, faster
Hi everyone, Our redone site is back up and functional. Blogging resumes tomorrow. A grateful and happy tip of our hats to Leilah and Daniel of Westgate Necromantic, who did all the hard work of moving the blog, slimming it down and making it behave, as well as giving the look-and-feel an inspired goose. Dig the colors -- lively and rich, but not competitive with the general "thoughtful" (or so we hope) tone of the site. And that fab-to-the-max logo (a Leilah specialty) -- mock-pompous in just the right Blowhardish way. The site, thanks to Daniel, should be behaving a lot more snappily than it did, too. Links to blogs are still in the sidebar here on the main page, but links to other websites are now on their own page. Up near the top of the sidebar are a few new ways of rummaging through what's already been stored and published here. We're (shyly) hoping a few people will see fit to take the plunge into the archives, which can now be explored by subject matter as well as by date. Leilah and Daniel are a joy to work with. They're talented and fast, their prices are reasonable -- and they couldn't be more responsive or better-humored. (Very important to naggy and pest-y computer idiots like us.) We recommend them super-enthusiastically. You want a blog or a fullblown website, but can't face putting it together for yourself? Working with Leilah and Daniel, you'll be surprised how quickly (and how inexpensively) your site will be online, looking good, and functioning well. Leilah and Daniel were recommended to us by Polly Frost, who's also a big fan. Hey, check out the gorgeous and extensive site -- complete with blog, forum, pix and prose -- that Leilah and Daniel made for Polly here. Leilah and Daniel can be contacted at Here's hoping y'all enjoyed wrestling with our recent Nikos Salingaros extravaganza. And many thanks for returning to see if the Blowhards are still up to no good. Best, Friedrich and Michael... posted by Michael at May 13, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Our Evil Agenda
Maximum Leader Michael: I am writing to report on the recent incident in which a certain individual tried to alert the world to the vast danger posed by the writings on our website. Fortunately, it appears that so far he has merely claimed that we have a hidden political agenda, which he accuses us of trying to covertly put over on the architectural world. (His pitiful attempts to alert the Mandarins of Modernism, the Paladins of PoMo and the Dukes of Decon to the danger represented by 2blowhards can be read here, here and here.) Hah, if the pathetic fool only knew the full truth about our sinister plans! When your Supreme Maximalness gives the word, our minions will use our advanced mind control technology to brainwash university architecture faculty members and reprogram the editorial staff of every architectural magazine! I include a picture from a recent “test” of our mind control technology below, which, as you recall, was terrifically successful. Victim: Oooh, I feel so funny! Maximum Leader Michael: Remember, my dear, brick is the building material of the future! Once we have reduced all architectural authority figures to mere zombies like the young lady above, we will order them to plug our wildly reactionary philosophy, stressing that BRICK and only BRICK is the architectural material of the future. As a result the demand for brick will soar, and the value of our secret investments in the nation's brickyards will skyrocket, granting us vast riches! Bwah hah hah! While premature discovery of our plans could be fatal, I believe our cover story of being a harmless, wouldn't-hurt-a-fly culture blog will continue to disguise our fiendish plans. Yours in world domination, Evil Doktor Friedrich P.S. In groveling subservience to Your Supreme Maximum-osity, may I ask if you’re completely finished with our female brainwashing victim? (It’s only that I’ve been working so hard on our evil plans lately, and I feel the need of some relaxation.)... posted by Friedrich at May 13, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming...
Aside from a few minor database glitches during the export/import process, and the optimizing of images posted here - it is done. One change that may help many - the logo image up top, on every page except for the main page, is now a link back to the main page. That should save some people the monotony of clicking back, back, back..... I now return you to your regular hosts.... Daniel... posted by Michael at May 13, 2003 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, May 11, 2003

test #2
still testing, sorry........ posted by Michael at May 11, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments