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  1. Death By Spam
  2. The Book-Person's Vision
  3. Caleb Crain on Ellen Dissanayake
  4. Immigration: Impacts on Southern California
  5. Moviegoing: "The Company"
  6. Bush and Immigration
  7. How to Adapt a Dick?
  8. "Killing Freud"
  9. High School Yearbook
  10. Do We Really Have a Market Dominant Majority?

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Death By Spam
Michael, Have you noticed that despite the recent Federal anti-spam legislation you're getting more of this stuff than ever? I certainly am. Since apparently I’ll be deleting it forever, I’ve actually started looking at the so-called ‘sender’ names on spam and wondering about the people who make them up. I suspect spammers enjoy coming up with these names—it must give them a brief respite from the daily grind of filling penis-enhancer orders and getting more copies of the Paris Hilton video in the mail. From the pseudonyms they use, I can only assume that spammers are all frustrated writers of British country house murder mysteries. Looking down the ever-growing list of names in my email in-box, I begin to have fantasies of one guest after another arriving at a little impromptu get-together at the manor house: We observe the tall, dark and handsome Tanner Lopez (in the low-cost mortgage game) sidling up to the lovely Alfreda Shearer (seller of cut-price meds). Meanwhile, the spooky Delmer Timmons (who offers covert opportunities to watch Jessica and Nick have sex) is quite taken with the rather vulgar Edna Jazmin (cheap software). In a corner three back-slapping businessmen trade stories of the old ‘penis’ game: Jerrod Santos (Viagra), Young Hankings (enlargement) and Tony Maloney (Super-Viagra.) The rather stuffy but fabulously rich host, Augustin Witherspoon (low-cost mortgages) is pursued by both blonde Vonda Roy (cable filters to let you see “everything” free) and brunette Augusta Roe (prescription-free tranquilizers). Who will lure him into her bed first? And why are the foreign twins, Dominique & Edgardo Curry (both in generic Viagra) keeping so much to themselves? Suddenly, a scream echoes through the great hall! Augustin Witherspoon lies dead, his throat cut by a CD containing 125 million email addresses. Who is the murderer? Okay, so I have an over-active imagination. Sue me. Don't pretend you never dream up little dramas like this. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at January 10, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, January 9, 2004

The Book-Person's Vision
Dear Friedrich -- The Wife and I just spent a happy evening watching the DVD of a 1980 Roger Corman horror picture, Humanoids From the Deep. It's full of tacky pleasures: shag haircuts on both the girls and the boys; lots of naked pre-Nautilus bodies (it was fun to remember that a certain amount of flop-and-dimple was once considered sexy); rubber-suited, seaweed-draped monsters; and a blessed absence of souped-up, computer-generated imagery. "Humanoids" is a likable hybrid of a movie, caught somewhere between a cheapo postwar monster pic and an '80s conglomerate-driven extravaganza -- which means in practice that the first thing the otherwise very '50s monsters do when they see a girl in a bikini is to yank her top off. (Very '70s). It's from an era when I was able to find contemporary movies a lovable medium, something I can't do anymore. Rather wistfully, I watched the film thinking: now this is a movie I can imagine going out with my friends and having a good time making. But, for probably quirky reasons, what the movie really made me chew over was the difference between the movie-person's view of the world and the book-person's view of the world. A quick word of explanation and qualification: by "movie people," I don't mean everyone who likes movies. I mean people who wind up in the field, whether as techies, execs, publicists, journalists, directors, designers, etc. Same for "book people"; for the sake of this discussion, I don't mean book fans. I mean people who spend a hunk of their professional lives in the books world -- as agents, retailers, critics, editors, writers, designers, etc. I'm going to make the daring assumption that we can all tolerate some wild overgeneralizations for the sake of a point or two. So, if you're with me ... As you certainly don't need to be told, the movie-person's view of the world swings happily back and forth between art and trash. It's a view that grows out of discussions of the movies and of popular culture that were pioneered by such people as Gilbert Seldes (here), the Cahiers du Cinema crowd (here), and Pauline Kael (here). It's a cartoonish view of their arguments, but nonetheless there it is. The movie person's conviction is that trash and art are closely and necessarily connected -- that, since movies have their roots in lowbrow entertainment, the ultimate movie is one that fuses the oomph and power of popular entertainment with the values, complexity, and pleasures of high art. Movie people aren't much different than many foodies, come to think of it. (I haven't been friendly with the kind of food snob who looks down on anything that isn't three stars and French.) The foodies I've known are pluralistic eaters: "I love food," they're prone to say. They adore cheap ethnic dishes, high-end fusion cooking, a good burger, a home-cooked plate of macaroni and cheese, exquisite sushi, etc. It's a kind of daredevil, whirling approach to food. Go for the... posted by Michael at January 9, 2004 | perma-link | (129) comments

Caleb Crain on Ellen Dissanayake
Dear Friedrich -- I've mentioned Ellen Dissanayake several times on this blog. The author of such books as What Is Art For? (buyable here) and Homo Aestheticus (buyable here), she was one of the first thinkers to start using evo-bio to help put the arts back on a firm footing. (She's also -- and I suspect this is telling -- not a fulltime, PhDish, official-academia-world person; she's an independent scholar.) Wouldn't it be lovely to pass along a link to some terrific online Dissanayake resources, I thought -- but none seemed to exist. Still, there was that first-class article that ran about her in Lingua Franca some years ago ... Pleased to report that I just stumbled across the article, which turns out to have been written by Caleb Crain, and which he has posted in two parts at his blog, here and here. I hope you (and interested visitors) will give Crain's article a try and let me know how you react. As you'd guess, I've found Dissanayake's work impressive, provocative and helpful. So why hasn't anyone read about her in the NYTimes, or in Film Comment, or ArtForum? Wouldn't you think that arty people would -- But that's for another posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 9, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Immigration: Impacts on Southern California
Michael: Given your recent posting on President Bush’s proposal for immigration reform, and the flurry of pro- and anti-immigration comments it aroused, I thought it might be useful to examine some of the impacts of large-scale immigration on Southern California. Not only is that where I live, but, because of its proximity to Mexico and Central America, Southern California may serve as an advanced example for people living in other parts of the country. IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DEMOGRAPHICS Along with economic information, the long-form data [from the 2000 Census] showed other population trends [from the 1990 Census]: The number of Latinos in L.A. County grew by 26.6% to 4.2 million. County residents of Mexican heritage climbed 20% to more than 3 million…The county's white population fell 18.3%, and its black population fell 3.6%…The number of adults with less than a ninth-grade education rose faster than the population growth, by 11.9%, to 955,000….Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties experienced increases of 36% to 70% in the number of foreign-born residents, while Los Angeles County's figure increased by 19%, to 3.5 million, or 36% of the population. More than half of L.A. County's residents--54%--said in 2000 that they spoke a language other than English at home, up from 45% in 1990. -L. A. Times, “THE 2000 CENSUS; Southland's Average Family Income Dropped in the '90s” May 15, 2002 Although [California’s] population continues to grow because of immigration, more people left California in the last half of the 1990s than moved in from other states, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today. More than 1.4 million people in the U.S. migrated to California from 1995 to 2000, while 2.2 million left -- the highest migration numbers in the country. That exodus is "unprecedented," said Hans P. Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent San Francisco research organization. - L. A. Times, “California is Seen in Rearview Mirror” August 6, 2003 IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON HOUSEHOLD INCOME IN LOS ANGELES The percentage of Americans living below poverty level decreased slightly from 13.1% in 1989 to 12.4% in 1999. (In the Los Angeles area, individuals below the poverty level increased, from 13.1% to 15.6%. …). Americans' median household income went up from an inflation- adjusted $39,008 to $41,994 during the decade [from 1989 to 1999]. In the L.A. area, it fell from $47,646 to $45,903. -L. A. Times, “Data Reflect Southland's Highs, Lows,” June 5, 2002 IMPACT OF IMMIGRATION ON SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA NEIGHBORHOODS The number of poor neighborhoods in the Los Angeles region has more than tripled over the last 30 years, with poor and very poor neighborhoods becoming more geographically concentrated in suburban areas, according to a UCLA-Brookings Institution study released Monday. The study, titled "The Trajectory of Poor Neighborhoods in Southern California, 1970-2000," reports that immigration and the region's economy are responsible for a steady increase in the area's poverty rate and a shift in the location of poor neighborhoods….In 1970, not... posted by Friedrich at January 8, 2004 | perma-link | (41) comments

Moviegoing: "The Company"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Friedrich -- To return to our usual lighter fare ... Are you as surprised as I am by how little discussion there's been about what the impact of screen sizes (and screen resolutions) on movies and TV is likely to be? High-end plasma televisions are growing bigger and cheaper while LCD TVs of a whole variety of sizes are showing up all over. Ipod-ish (but for video) gizmos are now available that have teeny-tiny screens and hard drives; Tyler Cowen posts here about one such device. It seems that we're going to be growing ever more used to watching audiovisual-in-time programming (whether movies, news, or reality TV) when and where we see fit. But we'll be watching it on lots of different, and different-size, screens. What's the problem? Er, challenge. Well, it's this: how to make programming that'll be visually effective on all those screens. A movie-theater screen needs a lot of information to hold our interest; it can lure us into quite a subtle and complex involvement with textures, patterns and detail. A small TV screen, on the other hand, thrives on clarity, brightness, and impact. How can both of these things -- density and simplicity, depth and kapow -- be achieved at once? I'm not sure they can be, and I sometimes pity people who work in the TV or movie business who have to wrestle with questions like these. The usual winner, alas, is dumbness. In the hopes of being watched by as many people as possible, you make imagery that works well on even the most low-quality machine. This can have substantial aesthetic consequences. As they've been made more and more with the TV screen in mind, movies, for instance, have lost a lot of their visual interest. When was the last time you were struck by a director's daring framing choices? A dumb example: how often these days does a director put one character far to one side of the screen and another far on the opposite side? Doing that would make it impossible to see both on a TV screen, so directors and directors of cinematography generally group the actors closer to the center of the screen. Yawnsville. Free-associating just a wee bit: the WSJ today has an amusing article by Emily Nelson about how HDTV, which is finally gaining acceptance, is affecting people's experience of the TV image. Lighting, decor and makeup specialists are scrambling to adapt. Nelson quotes Bruce Grayson, a makeup artist, who says that on HDTV "a blemish on a face becomes a volcano." I've been told similar things by a friend who works in TV news. Apparently many of the desks and walls that TV newspeople sit at and pose before are in fact in pretty tatty shape -- you just can't tell because the resolution of conventional TV is so bad. Watching HDTV, though, your eye would spot the tattiness easily. For the sake of HDTV viewers, then, detail and polish levels are likely... posted by Michael at January 8, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Bush and Immigration
Dear Friedrich -- In celebration of Bush's plans for illegal immigrants -- and because I seem to be in a quoting-from-books groove -- here are some passages from a new book about immigration: One in nine Americans is now foreign-born. The new immigrant groups are by far the fastest growing segments of the nation, with Latinos already the largest minority ... Between 1980 and 2000, 15.6 million legal immigrants came to the United States, and another 5.5 million entered the country illegally. The vast majority of these people -- 85 percent of documented migrants and 95 percent of those without documents -- were non-Europeans, mainly from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean ... A lion's share of these newcomers have settled in a few cities and states. Hispanics make up nearly one-third of the people in both California and Texas ... Together, immigrants and their children account for more than 60 million people, or a fifth of all U.S. residents. And by 2050, if today's projections are borne out, a third of all Americans will be either Asian or Latino ... The immigrant influx of the last forty years is a demographic shift of historic proportions. The percentage of the population that was born abroad is slightly lower than it was when the last great wave of immigrants arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century: 11 percent now compared to 15 percent then. But the absolute number of newcomers living in the United States today is the highest it has ever been: some 31 milion. Roughly 1.2 million arrive on our shores every year. One in nine Americans is an immigrant. And half the laborers entering the American workforce in the 1990s were foreign born ... Just over half the foreign-born are Hispanic ... Mexicans, by far the largest category, account for roughly one in three first-generation immigrants, almost ten times more than any other nationality... Contrary to popular perception, there is significantly less ethnic diversity among post-1965 immigrants than there was among early twentieth-century immigrants. In 1990, for example, Mexicans made up almost 30 percent of the immigrant population. In contrast, Germans and Russians -- the two largest groups of the First Great Migration -- accounted for only 15 and 12 percent of the influx. The relative lack of ethnic diversity in post-1965 immigration may greatly reduce the incentives for assimilation by allowing the largest ethnic groups to develop separate enclave economies with few links to the economic mainstream ... Welfare opportunities may attract immigrants who otherwise would not have migrated to the United States; and the safety net may discourage immigrants who fail here from returning to their home countries. In short, the welfare state may change the immigrant population in ways that are not economically desirable ... Punchline: these quotes are from a book that is pro-immigration-status-quo. I don't know about you, but what occurs to me when I look at these figures is, "Are we out of our skulls?" The writers of these passages, like... posted by Michael at January 7, 2004 | perma-link | (63) comments

How to Adapt a Dick?
Dear Friedrich -- I know you're a fan of the sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick, so you may enjoy this Frank Rose piece (here) for Wired. It's mainly about how little money Dick made from his writing while alive, and how in recent years Hollywood has been buying up rights to nearly all his work. Brief Dick aside: a few weeks ago, The Wife and I caught "Paycheck," the John Woo version of a Dick story that's now out starring Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. I didn't see many new movies last year, but I nonetheless confidently nominate "Paycheck" as Biggest Turkey of 2003. It sounded like a reasonably yummy evening at the theater: a hook-y Dick idea, and Woo doing some pretty action choreography. (I'm not a big Woo fan, but the man does know chases and explosions.) But the film is so bad -- like a lousy episode of "The Man from UNCLE" -- that you wonder how it could have gone so wrong. It even manages to make Uma look haggard, though I did enjoy her new haircut. As for Ben Affleck: perhaps the worst excuse for a real-guy action hero Hollywood has ever proposed. "Paycheck" made me wonder a bit about Hollywood's appetite for Dick's material. All due respect to "Blade Runner" and to "Total Recall," of course, both of which managed to turn Dick into something watchable. But "Paycheck," like "Minority Report," is a terribly awkward and halting viewing experience. There's ten minutes of action, then there's ten minutes of explanation; then ten more minutes of action, then another screeching-to-a-halt break for exposition ... I found watching both of these Dick adaptations to be like listening to stories told by someone with a terrible stutter. I found myself struggling so consciously with the basic sense of the narratives that the largely unconscious process of enjoying the movies never had a chance to get started. But I've only read one Dick book while you're a Dick expert. Dick's premises have brilliant-lunatic qualities that must make them irresistable to some filmmakers. Yet maybe they're a little too brilliant and a little too tricky to be ideal movie material. How do you think filmmakers might best think about handling his work? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 7, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

"Killing Freud"
Dear Friedrich -- Though Freud died in 1939, his reputation lived on and on -- despite the fact that good scholars repeatedly demonstrated how utterly unscientific his ideas were. Then, in the 1990s, the Berkeley professor and literary critic Frederick Crews trained his sights on Freud. Not much remained when Crews was done. Crews' book The Memory Wars (buyable here) is one of the most entertaining and brilliant demolition jobs I've ever read. Still, a few intellectuals persist in seeing value in Freud's work; most of them, of course, inhabit liberal-arts departments. (Film Studies is apparently still very hot on Freud.) For whatever quirky reasons, one of my micro-hobbies is following the flailings of the handful of remaining true believers. Their rationales can get entertainingly desperate. Harold Bloom, for example, just can't bring himself to let go of his hero. Instead, he's invented this justification for keeping Freud in the pantheon: "OK, so Freud wasn't a scientist. He was a great literary artist!" Bloom, greatness, genius and Freud, eh? But maybe the time really has come to write RIP on the tombstone of Freud's legacy. I just spent a couple of enjoyable hours with Todd Dufresne's new book Killing Freud (which is buyable here). Dufresne turns a few too many po-mo pirouettes, and I'll never get around to reading every word of his book. But I couldn't resist cheering the show he puts on anyway. Because what Dufresne sets out to do is dance on Freud's grave. "How did this awful man and his worse ideas ever get themselves taken seriously? What in god's name were people thinking?" -- these are a couple of the questions Dufresne asks. (For a scholar, Dufresne has a lot of nose-thumbing common sense.) I'm going to indulge myself and type in a few of my favorite passages from the book. Here's hoping they amuse. But, really, do we need Freud to tell us that people are aggressive? Do we really need the overblown theory of the death drive to explain the rise of Nazi Germany? ... We most certainly do not need Freud to help us describe the world -- inner or outer. If, on the other hand, there is a use for Freud and pschoanalysis, it is as a cautionary tale, or, if you prefer, as a case study of a modern politico-religious movement having just about run its course ... First of all, the unconscious: there is no reason to hang onto a theory inherited from the dubious baggage of mesmerism and hypnotism (and which has nothing to do with what is sometimes called the cognitive unconscious). Boogie-men and other unknown forces may make for excellent bed-time stories, but that does not make them true. As the case of Anna O. amply demonstrates, the myth of the unconscious is the direct result of a paranoid discourse bent on proving its own assumptions ... Repression is just another myth of psychoanalysis. It must be admitted, moreover, that even the commonplace notion of "repression"... posted by Michael at January 7, 2004 | perma-link | (27) comments

Monday, January 5, 2004

High School Yearbook
Dear Friedrich -- I mentioned in a recent posting how Aaron (here), George (here) and I did a little blogger-guy bonding when we found ourselves agreeing about how wrong it is that the immortal National Lampoon's 1964 High School Yearbook has been overlooked by the literary set. (A reissue of the book is buyable here.) Sigh: the lit set, eh? Why would anyone look to a such a bunch of killjoys for guidance where their reading and writing lives are concerned? But stars have come into alignment, and if the lit set declines to appreciate bookmaking brilliance when it hits them in the face, maybe another set will. Here's a sweet and informative appreciation of the book by Michael Bierut of DesignObserver, with special emphasis on the contributions of the book's graphic designers, Michael Gross and David Kaestle. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 5, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, January 4, 2004

Do We Really Have a Market Dominant Majority?
Michael: Thanks for the link in your post Elsewhere (which you can find here) to Amy Chua's article in the Wilson Quarterly on her notion of a 'market dominant minority.' (You can read Ms. Chua's article here.) In it she points out that when you combine globalism and democracy with the fact (extensively written about by Thomas Sowell) that certain ethnic groups are far more predisposed to participate actively in capitalism than others, you can get a flammable mixture of racism and envy. You also provided links to posts by Steve Sailer (here) and Vinod (here) that congratulate the U.S. on the fact that it has a ‘market dominant majority.’ What they seem to mean by this is that the upper echelons of our economy are dominated by individuals from ethnic groups that constitute a majority of our population. Frankly, this is only sort of true; the most casual observer will notice that there are ethnic or religious minorities that are greatly over-represented among the American business elite relative to their percentage in the general U.S. population. And, if we for a moment take off the ethnic, racial and religious blinders, what is blindingly obvious is that the U.S. does not have anything remotely approximating a market dominant majority. The great majority of individuals will never be self-employed nor start their own business nor employ anyone else. Their speculative investments will never go beyond owning a house and maybe some stock. In other words, although all Americans live in a world dominated by capitalism, the vast majority of us simply don’t play the game. Most of us are, in economic terms, awfully similar to 18th century 'civilians' in the middle of a war between rival princes and their mercenary armies—that is, keeping our heads down and waiting to see who wins (and how much they'll raise taxes). I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as weird, or even uncanny; in fact, it is one of the most uncanny things that I have observed about life as an adult. It even seems oddly ahistorical, as the evolution of society over the past five or six hundred years has clearly been in the direction of greater freedom and control over one’s fate. So why are so many people—no longer hobbled by legal or religious ‘disabilities’ and with so much access to capital—still loathe to grasp the reins of their own economic horses, so to speak? What causes this general sense of disempowerment? Is it, in some way, human nature? It would almost appear to be the case, except for the fact (as Mr. Sowell points out so eloquently) this sense of general economic disempowerment varies significantly from one culture to another. Clearly, among certain ethnic/religious groups, the notion of starting a business, lending money or making speculative investments is seen to be a far more natural activity than it is among others. (And I speak, personally, as someone who was brought up in a culture where to be anything other... posted by Friedrich at January 4, 2004 | perma-link | (35) comments