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.

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Saturday, August 23, 2003

Bad for Your Mental Health
Michael: Is there no end to the hypocrisy of American journalism aimed at young women? These glossy magazines seem to have an endless ability to sell girls utter conformity in the guise of “self improvement.” With two teenage girls in the house, as you might imagine, we have a lot of magazines aimed at young women lying around. I happened to glance at a copy of the September 2003 issue of Self yesterday, and noticed the beaming smile of Alicia Silverstone gracing the cover: Being a big fan of "Clueless," I’ve kept some fondness in my heart for Ms. Silverstone, so I picked it up and took a closer look. What I found, though, made me laugh out loud: My first reaction was, gee, what were they going to say on the cover of Self magazine? Alicia Silverstone: desperate, lost and guzzling M&Ms? I flipped through the magazine to read the profile on Ms. Silverstone. Like all such profiles, it conforms to the degrading female magazine ritual of forcing Ms. Silverstone to exploit her personal life, and especially her personal misfortunes, in order to plug her upcoming roles in the film “Scooby-Doo 2” and in a NBC series, “Miss Match.” The misfortune in question was Ms. Silverstone’s weight problem of the latter 1990s. As I recall, this pretty much derailed her ascent to Hollywood royalty. However, according to Self, she no longer has a weight problem, apparently as a result of becoming a vegan. Ms. Silverstone claims she adopted the vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons, which may well be completely true, but our friends from Self magazine immediately zoom in on what they see as the real payoff: Soon after she began living the vegan life, that commitment had a huge health payoff. “My skin started glowing, my eyes got brighter and I lost weight,” Silverstone says. This, incidentally, made her more marketable to Hollywood, but that was icing on the (nondairy egg-free) cake. “The way I love to eat and the way I love to live made me look the way they want me to look, so it works out,” she says. [Emphasis added] The magazine is working hard at making you think, of course, that the “they” mentioned in that last sentence is the evil patriarchy of Hollywood. But, come on, who’s kidding whom here? We have met the enemy and they is Self magazine! There are no fat or even pleasingly plump girls in Self magazine. No, wait, there are actually two, in an ad from One-A-Day WeightSmart, which asks: “You’re working on your metabolism. Is your multivitamin?” In the editorial portion of the magazine, the only women who are permitted to appear while being even slightly less than stick-thin are recovering foodaholics who have "gone straight", so to speak, and lost 50-100 pounds. They appear only in tiny little pictures. Sure, the magazine covers exercise and diet, but only for the ultra-critical purposes of permitting young women to fit into contemporary fashions, provide a worthy palette... posted by Friedrich at August 23, 2003 | perma-link | (34) comments

Friedrich -- * Relocating from Milan to England, Alexis of The Stumbling Tongue celebrates here with an amusing posting about Italian packing rituals. * We all know we're living in a re-touched media world. Still, it's useful to be reminded of the fact -- and Greg Apodaca, a San Francisco photographer, has put up a page of very effective demos here. Roll your cursor over a polished, finished photo and see what the original looked like. Link thanks to Brian Micklethwait, here. * Fred Reed spares no one's delicate feelings in this grumpy and mournful column here about the scorn he feels for the overprivileged and badly-educated. * For a long time, I've wanted to read the essay by Robert Nozick whose title asks, "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" An eternally perplexing question, no? It turns out to be a good piece, and it can be found here. * 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros has put more essential reading online. In his essay, "Understanding Deconstruction" here, Salingaros compares deconstruction (convincingly, IMHO) to both a virus and a cult. * One of my favorite book forms is the 18th-century miscellany -- it's a catch-all nonform, really. The organic opposite of the streamlined one-idea theme book, a miscellany can bristle with freewheeling energy and thinking. At his miscellany-like blog The New Companion (here), Peter Riis is showing off a rambunctious, omniverous 18th-century-style spirit and brain. * After following the publishing and new-books field professionally for 15 years, the last thing I'm interested in these days is lit-world gossip, let alone blab about hot books and hot writers. I'll be making an exception, though, for Kitabkhana (here), a droll, sophisticated new-books blog. It's written by someone who calls himself The Babu, and who manages the too-rare trick of being interested in his subject while being anything but starry-eyed about it. * Mike Hodges, the director of the film "Croupier" -- my fave of all the recent Brit gangster movies -- turns out to have had an interesting up-and-down career. Xan Brooks at The Guardian visits with the 71 year old director here. Link thanks to James Russell here. * I love the smooth, quietly absurdist bits of Flash poetry at Vector Park, here. Be sure to poke into the archives. Link thanks to S. Y. Affolee, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, August 22, 2003

Frank Lloyd Wright Isn't God
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Live here? Thanks but ... I know I'm committing art-fan-heresy if not actual art-fan-treason by admitting this, but I'm not a Frank Lloyd Wright fan. Yesyesyes, he was a giant and a mega-talent, and his buildings are often beautiful. (I'm not blind.) But while they're beautiful as structures, they're often absurd as buildings. Happy to admit that I'm semi-qualifed at best to make pronouncements about FLW; I've toured maybe a half-dozen of the houses, visited Taliesin East and West, have strolled through a few of the public buildings, and have read only a few books about him and his work. (I'm proud, on the other hand, to have had a few actual conversations with people who live and work in his buildings.) But what the hell: I'm not playing critic and 2Blowhards isn't The New Yorker. So why not be frank and honest, eh? An aside I can't resist: Why don't more opinions like "I don't like FLW" come along in the mainstream press? Do you think it's entirely because everyone, just everyone, loves FLW's work? Or might it also have to do with career and social anxieties -- ie., with people in the culture-opinion-and-ideas class being terrified of making fools of themselves and thereby losing social and career credibility? A question for a good sociologist to look into: What exactly are the outlines of the opinions-and-ideas mindset that you must, you absolutely must, subscribe to in order to find a comfy place within the culture-opinions-and-ideas world? But back to FLW. I do get fascinated by the way so many people worship him, as well as by the existence of the thriving FLW industry. He's become a kind of pop icon -- he and his work mean something to a lot of people that goes beyond mere architecture. What is it? I'm guessing it's something like: he's the real-American modern architect (an eccentric individualist, using natural materials, making forms well-suited to our landscape) you root for against all those geometric, rationalistic, borderline-totalitarian Eurojerks. He may be modern, grumble grumble, but he's still our guy -- cussed, down-home, rough-hewn. A poster boy for values we real people cheer, in other words. All of which is sweet and amusing. But how does his work actually measure up? The more I see of it (and the more I read about him), the less deserving of worship do I think he is. Granted that some of his creations are lovely things of one sort or another, most of the buildings I've visited have struck me as stiff, badly made, and close to unusable. Simple question: Would you want to live in one of his houses? I wouldn't, for two main reasons. Most important is the way a Frank Lloyd Wright house never becomes your home; instead, you move in and become the curator of one branch of the Frank Lloyd Wright museum. You're just the custodian in a monument to his genius. For the other, I wouldn't want... posted by Michael at August 22, 2003 | perma-link | (49) comments

Postcards from L.A.: Clouds
Dear Michael: Do you like clouds? I hardly remember noticing them as a separate aesthetic phenomenon until I moved back to L.A. in my early 30’s. I had just spent three years under far cloudier skies in Europe and on the East Coast, so it’s possible that in Southern California they became conspicuous by their absence. After all, unlike the perpetually overcast skies of my youth in the Midwest, in Los Angeles the sky’s “default option” looks like pretty much like this (with or without a helping of smog): F. Von Blowhard, Default Option L.A. Sky, 2003 Anyway, I started to notice clouds when the local weather pattern would dish them up. I know my children have long thought dad’s gone round the bend when I gesture out the window of the car and say, “Hey, will you look at that sky! Isn’t that amazing?” But the fear of being found eccentric seems to have gradually worn off over the years, and I drive around happily gazing at views like these: F. Von Blowhard, L.A. Cloudscape, 2003 Part of my fascination with clouds lies in the fact that there’s always a visual logic at work in a cloudscape, but in a good one it’s also too complex to be grasped consciously. I also love the way that cloudscapes seem to make sense at any scale. They’re infinitely detailed, with one dramatic piece of cloud-“terrain” emptying onto to another and yet another back into the fuzzy distance. They make the concept of infinity visible. I also get an amazing visual rush from the way figure-ground relationships continuously flip back and forth in clouds, dark against light, light against dark in a game of unmatchable subtlety. F. Von Blowhard, Enlarged Detail from L.A. Cloudscape, 2003 Finally, I think I love clouds because they seem to symbolize the translation of our human passions into a more rarified, empyrean realm. I sometimes think that after we pass on, the little vortexes we’ll leave behind us in the world will mount up to the heavens and be visible for a while as noble clouds glimpsed at sunset. Okay, okay, so it’s a goofy little idea; but I find it satisfying. Do you feel any personal connection to some particular part of the natural world? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at August 22, 2003 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Friedrich -- * Steve Sailer, as down-to-earth and fearless as ever, reviews current theories about what causes male homosexuality here. * You say you're curious to see what all the movies-being-projected-digitally fuss is about, but have no idea where to find a DLP-equipped theater? Click here. * Budget-busting Republicans? Deficit-hawk Dems? Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren at NRO marvel at the bizarre D.C. goings-on, here. * Edward Said (and cultural propriety generally) be damned: Orientalism is something to be savored and enjoyed, at least where cheesy, exotic, sexy paintings are concerned. Here's the best site I've found for fans of this kind of art. * What makes a work of art great? For some reason the question is in the blogging air. Tim Hulsey (here) and Terry Teachout (here) are of the I-know-it-when-I-feel-it school. Aaron Haspel most certainly isn't; he has a whack at the question with a scythe here. Blessed with no sense of timing whatsoever, I cranked out my own, much more pedestrian thoughts a zillion months ago here. Short version of the Michael Blowhard p-o-v: since it's got nothing to do with you or with me (it's something history, whatever that is, decides on and then may or may not change its mind about), why worry? * In the NYTimes here, Katie Hafner visits with three women tech geeks whom the paper first checked in with 10 years ago. What's become of them, their dreams, and their lives? Are they still world-slaying fem-geeks? Nope, nope, and nope is the answer: one's become a lawyer, one's a professor, and one came out of the closet and now works in "business development." Hafner never quite says it in so many words, but you're led to understand that if these women haven't had the careers the Times once envisioned for them, it's the fault of Evil Sexism. Much progress, as ever, remains to be made. Nonetheless, I found it an absorbing article. * Sometimes a blogger rides a beautiful wave of inspiration. Lynn Sislo (here), whose deadpan, soulful tone -- a mixture of calm and quirkiness -- I love, is showing what that's like at the moment; her recent postings have been full of ideas and feeling, and have been even more generous with links than usual. * Evan Kirchhoff (here) and Brian Micklethwait (here) have been mulling over digitization and art, money and copying, and the economics of CDs and DVDs. They're smarter and funnier than anything you'll read on the topic in the mainstream press. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

Disney Dads
Michael: I recently saw two children’s movies, “Finding Nemo,” (at the local cineplex) and “Lilo & Stitch” (on DVD.) This double-dose of animation got me thinking about the nature of “fatherhood” as described in animated film land (Disney division), and—I think—helped me to understand some of my own reactions to these two films. As I remember, fathers don’t come off too well in classic Disney animation. In “Snow White,” the father is absent (dead, presumably) but in any event has effectively abandoned his daughter to the tender mercies of her wicked stepmother. Threatened by the heroine’s beauty and virtue, this aging sorceress—entirely unrestrained by out-to-lunch Dad—plots Snow White’s demise. While step-mom fails to actually do in Snow White, she does succeed in putting the heroine’s sexuality into deep freeze until an impossibly perfect male suitor shows up. (Gee, how well do you think that marriage went after she thawed out? Can you say "trust issues"?). The father in Disney’s “Cinderella” is pretty much in the same position—AWOL on protecting his daughter from the hazards of an evil (step) mom. One must also infer that classic Disney dads were thinking with their johnsons when picking potential marriage partners as well as having a thing for “bad-to-the-bone” chicks. “Cinderella” goes beyond the formula of “Snow White” by introducing a second father in the form of Prince Charming’s dad, the King. This pint-sized monarch isn’t trying to squelch his son’s sexuality, exactly (he’s desperate for grandchildren) but he is trying to bully the boy about his choice of marriage partners. In short, he’s not exactly a model parent, either. In contrast, from the post-Walt era of Disney animation, we have “The Lion King.” This movie offers a perfect father figure: Mustafa, the Lion King. Even though his bratty son Simba is clearly a bit over-eager to inherit the mantle of kingship (implying an inappropriate enthusiasm for seeing Daddy go bye-bye), daddy Mustafa is willing to lose his life rescuing the little guy from imminent death. Growing up in exile full of guilt for his father’s death, Simba has a hard time feeling entitled to the kingship or even enthusiastic body language (his mane droops). This problem is miraculously overcome by a mystical reappearance of Dad from the spirit world (what a guy!). Dad urges Simba to return from exile and claim the "crown" of the lion pride...along with all the lionesses. Simba thus gets exactly what he wanted all along sans guilt. Meanwhile, the negative aspects of real world fathers and sons are all conveniently displaced onto a rotten uncle, who’s so peerlessly morally tainted that he somehow manages to degrade the local countryside from a thriving savanna into a slough of despond. (Despite having a load of presumably fertile lionesses around, the rotten Uncle mysteriously hasn't produced any offspring while Simba's been growing up, leading to inevitable if not very P.C. questions about this villian's "unnatural" sexual orientation. Where's the ACLU when you need them?) Given the competition, who could doubt that... posted by Friedrich at August 21, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Rick Poynor
Friedrich -- Bravely risking the chance that I might break my arm patting ourselves on the back, I'm tickled to take note of a piece in Eye magazine written by Rick Poynor (here) that makes appreciative mention of 2Blowhards. Here's the relevant passage: When it comes to reading blogs, I am strictly a dabbler. These constantly updated logs offer the same fascination and pleasure as diaries. They are direct and confessional and if they are done well, it’s possible to become absorbed by the musings of a total stranger. Too bad that any time you spend perusing blogs will have to be deducted from time reading other things. Blogs need to be unusually worthwhile to triumph in this Darwinian struggle of texts and justify your return visits. My favourite blog – for now, anyway – is Two Blowhards (perfect name –, a collaboration by a couple of scarily urbane ‘eternal amateurs’, which is beautifully written, invariably entertaining and almost indecently well stocked with useful insights. "Scarily urbane" -- I like it! Let's not neglect to tell the wives about that description. They'll scoff, but hey, there it is in print. The mention is a special treat because Rick Poynor is the best design critic I'm aware of. He's a fab thinker and writer, one of the most tuned-in observers of visual culture around, and one of the few who's as interested in the content as much as the visual impact of what he's discussing. Some years back, he was also the founder and then editor of Eye magazine, and during his time at the helm Eye (which is still first-rate) was one of the best arts magazines I've ever read. Poynor's praise also comes as a pleasing if embarassing coincidence, because shortly before leaving on vacation I'd spent time combing the Web for links to Poynor's work, eager to pass them along to you and to any visitors who might be interested. Unfortunately, time pressed, energy flagged, and I crapped out and let my little project go. Let me semi-correct that bit of injustice now -- do be sure to check Poynor's brain, eye and writing chops out. Here's a book he's written about contempo design which, to my shame, I haven't yet read; here's another. Here's a talk he gave to the AIGA, the graphic designers' organization. And here's a piece he wrote for Metropolis about the vogue for "magalogs" -- publications that are half magazine and half catalog. Many thanks to Rick Poynor, who I hope will set up up his own website soon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

James Howard Kunstler
Friedrich -- Mark Hurst does a short, helpful q&a with urban critic, New Urbanism advocate, and all-around firebrand James Howard Kunstler here. Sample passage: Kunstler: One of the other strange unforeseen consequences of the modernist movement was that it gave corporate America an excuse to build cheap and ugly buildings. When ornament has been outlawed and is deemed incorrect, you can just put up boxes. The more utilitarian the box, the less money you'll put into it. If you go back to a differentculture, the Beaux Arts period in America a hundred years ago, even a businessman would be persecuted for putting up a building that wasn't attractive. Look at any business building put up in 1905: a beautiful building, beautifully decorated and proportioned. Even the fire houses. But it was all thrown in the garbage in the post-war years. Michael Totten comments enthusiastically here. David Sucher, via whose blog I found this q&a, comments less favorably here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Moviegoing: "Freddy Vs. Jason"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- I'm back in Manhattan after a media and computer-free week's vacation in mid-America. (Main reflection: Hey, America, why can't you lose a few pounds?) Many thanks for taking care of the postings I left behind, and hats off to your own classy recent writings. Lordy, you've certainly done a lot to raise the tone of this blog. I guess it's up to me to drag things back into the mud. Have you been aware of the new horror movie Freddy Vs. Jason, the umpteenth sequel to not just one but a couple of different horror franchises? It pits two popular teen-slaying monsters against each other: Freddy (burn scars on the face; attacks you in your dreams; fingers with knives on them) and Jason (parka; hockey mask; sword). My horror-movie-lovin' Wife (raised a Catholic) dragged reluctant me (raised a Protestant) in to see the film. Surprise: we both had a great time. Fair (if, I hope, unnecessary) warning: we loved the picture not in a deeply-moved, "Grand Illusion" kind of way, but in a giggling-and-shrieking "Gremlins 2" kind of way. It's a mischievous pop blowout, in other words, made with a lot of satirical B-movie energy, humor and flair, and burdened with none of the corporate overprocessing that makes so many pop movies these days seem like mere extensions of their marketing campaigns. The picture may be nothing but a teen-slasher action gorefest, but it's inventively performed by a cast rarin' to go to extremes, and it's written and directed with tons of surprises in the effects and pacing. (It's the rare contempo horror movie that isn't just a series of dumb climaxes.) It's something like an early Joe Dante or Brian De Palma movie, but shot and edited with a flamboyance that may remind you of Robert Rodriguez. My language seems to want to go flat on me today, sigh, so let me try to get back on track by simply reporting that The Wife and I chuckled all the way through the movie, that we enjoyed being among a rowdy and responsive audience, and that we gave each other a lot of "Hey, this isn't half-bad" looks of surprise and delight. Then as the credits started to roll, we gave each other another look, this one of the "Well, no wonder" sort. Why? Because when the director's credit came up, it was the name of our current fave pop-moviemaker, Ronny Yu. I'm no student of Yu's, having only seen this picture and his earlier "Bride of Chucky." But "Bride" was also a marvel; it's clear that Yu's an original and a hoot -- bursting with talent and ideas, full of fizzy glee, and up to no respectable good whatsoever, god bless him. A few more ways of illustrating how much I enjoy Yu's work: I had a ball despite my general aversion to both horror and Hong Kong-style action. And: I had a great time even though, as far as I can remember,... posted by Michael at August 20, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments