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, February 14, 2004

Free Reads -- Texas Death Penalty Stats
Dear Friedrich -- Quite an amazing Adam Liptak article in today's NYTimes. Did you see it? A new study suggests two surprising things: that Texas sentences fewer murderers to the death penalty than the average state does, and that blacks are actually underrepresented on Death Row. The story is readable here. Sample passages: As a percentage of murders, Nevada and Oklahoma impose the most death sentences, at 6 and 5.1 percent. In Texas, the percentage is 2 percent. The rate in Virginia, another state noted for its commitment to capital punishment, is 1.3 percent. The national average is 2.5 percent; the median is 2 percent ... Using the same analysis, the study concluded that blacks are actually underrepresented on the nation's death row. Blacks commit 51.5 percent of all murders nationally but constitute about 42 percent of death row inmates, the study found ... What little effect the defendant's race appeared to have on the sentencing rate operated in favor of black defendants. I wonder if this will be much noticed, or much discussed. Your hunch? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 14, 2004 | perma-link | (11) comments

TV Alert
Dear Friedrich -- It's always struck me that one of the best uses people make of blogs and the web is trading tips. What a great way to learn and compare tastes. Terry Teachout (here), for instance, couldn't be more generous with recommendations -- and, for an arts fan, what could be better than having easy access to Terry Teachout's brain? Early on in our own blogging careers, it occured to me that, since there's little I like better than combing through the TV Guide for good-quality programming, I might be able to make my own contribution to this swapping-tips thing by recommending upcoming TV shows. TV -- what an underappreciated medium, at least if used right. I had a good time listing shows, but after a few months found that I'd let the pleasure become a burden, and so put an end to my project. Still ... hmm.... It was a nice thing to do ... It's not as if I've lost my passion for TV schedules ... It's great to be helpful ... TV's a cultural resource nearly everyone has access to ... Hmm, movies ... Too many youngsters these days have a lousy sense of movie history ... Movies pre-1990 have become a kind of classic art ... I love these movies ... Maybe there's a way I can spread the love ... Maybe there's a way to do so without getting overwhelmed by any oppressive sense of duty ... Hmm. Outcome of all these ruminations: I'm going to have another try. Here's hoping a few visitors find my efforts useful. This time around, I'm giving myself a theme and setting myself some limits: three items per posting, and all of them on the theme of movie history pre-1990. Which'll mean a lot of Turner Classic Movies, naturally, and god bless Ted Turner. So, some classic-movie recommendations for all you Tivo, DVR and VCR junkies. Three by Hitchcock. All personal preferences aside (I'm more drawn to some other filmmakers myself), it's useful to think of Hitchcock as the central figure in classic movie history. His work and career bring together more of the themes and (ahem) issues movie buffs wrestle with than anybody else's: entertainment vs. art (or is it entertainment as art, or even vice versa?); moral ambiguity and voyeurism; projection, in both the psychological and technical sense; the line, if such exists, between art and porn; the connections between violation and seduction. A Blowhard tip here: I've found that critics, fans and profs often oversell how thrilling Hitchcock's films are. They're sometimes pretty scary and they're sometimes pretty suspenseful. But I've found it best to take his films as meditations, as sex games, as philosophy puzzles, as sketchbooks ... All of them draped over suspense armatures. Taken as such, they're perfectly amazing and seldom disappointing. Watch how Hitchcock controls and manipulates point of view, and how he builds his movies out of shifts in p-o-v -- who's looking at whom? Keep alert to how he... posted by Michael at February 14, 2004 | perma-link | (18) comments

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Virtual Architecture?
Dear Friedrich -- Is it real or is it Memorex? Some facts about Time Warner's new headquarters, the latest glassy behemoth to open in Manhattan. It's located on Columbus Circle where Robert Moses' Coliseum used to be. Development of the site took 20 years. Construction was completed in about four years. It cost $1.8 billion, and has 2.8 million square feet of space. It's got twin 80-story towers. It was designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It is or will be home to CNN, some of the Time-Warner offices, a shopping mall, a supermarket, a health club, a hotel, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Ricky Martin owns a condo in the building. An Englishman paid $45 million for the building's snazziest penthouse. The building has three below-ground garages with room for more than 500 cars. Questions about the building: Will it suceed as a retail destination? Will New Yorkers take to indoor-mall style shopping? Will they do so even if the mall is seven floors up and down? "Vertical shopping" is what it's being called, and no one is certain it'll work. Will the building manage to draw pedestrians and shoppers to Columbus Circle? It's an area that for a long time has been a nowheresville -- someplace you hurried through to get elsewhere. Mary Reinholz in New York Newsday, here, does a good job of telling the whole story. For unintended laughs, the NYTimes' so-called "architecture critic" Herbert Muschamp never disappoints. (His piece costs money to see, so no link.) Here's Muschamp in full flight: It is good to see Skidmore, Owings & Merrill back in the business of piling up big chunks of quartz. Stone was never this firm's strength. Ten Columbus Circle does ample penance for the opaque minerals Skidmore deployed so extravagantly during its neo-Art Deco phase. There's some flame-pattern gray granite at the building's base, but it's there mainly for contrast with the giant cluster of glass crystals, which appears to have been quarried from the sky. Whatever he's on, I want some. Twinkle, twinkle, great big atrium Photo by Dith Pran My reaction: working in the neighborhood, I had a chance to watch the Time Warner headquarters go up. And under construction, the building looked awful; a friend of mine was in the habit of referring to it as "Death Star architecture." Now that it's open it doesn't seem offensive. I've visited the building a few times since it opened last week. I strolled around it, and I joined the curious mobs checking out the shopping mall inside. It isn't a nightmare, and it has its cyber-chic. Although the face it presents to 58th Street looks made of tarpaper and broken-bone-style beams, the building fronts Columbus Circle more invitingly than I expected. As a built objet d'art -- I think of these new torqued-and-twinkly office buildings as avant-garde perfume bottles -- the Time Warner headquarters is effectively shimmery. It's full of newish materials -- post-halogen pinpoint lights; metal panels that iridesce;... posted by Michael at February 12, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

For the past few months, 2Blowhards has been amazed and pleased to welcome a couple of thousand visitors on a typical day -- hi, everyone! But back when we were just setting out, we counted ourselves lucky to play host to, oh, a couple of dozen visitors a week, most of whom probably surfed off without reading. Yet Friedrich and I remain pleased with some of those early postings. They've got some youthful p-and-v (piss and vinegar) that our more recent blogging may lack, now that we've entered our mellow, sherry-sipping, senior-statesman phase. Still fond of some of this hotheaded youthful product yet certain that almost no one explores our Archives, we've decided to revive some of our early writing. So every now and then we'll run a posting like this one, linking to some of our early oeuvre. We hope a few visitors will have a read, and that everyone will forgive us for this self-indulgence. This week's Rewind: * Friedrich von Blowhard spells out The Economics of Shakespeare, here. * Michael Blowhard waxes nostalgic about middle America, here. TECHNICAL NOTE: Our 2Blowhards emailbox has been jammed and useless for the last 24 hours. It has evidently choked on the recent virus -- thousands of emails have been showing up every day -- and is in need of some expert Heimlich maneuvering. Apologies to anyone who's been trying to get in touch. We're hoping to have functioning email again real soon.... posted by Michael at February 11, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Dear Friedrich -- For no reason in particular, I've been surfing through some young-gal TV shows, flipping through some young-gal magazines, and musing a bit about the young gals I run into in my media-centric neck of the woods. As you'd imagine, I've worked myself up into quite a "these kids these days" state. Curious, as ever, to hear your thoughts on the matter; curious, as ever, about everyone else's observations and speculations too. Brief consumer alert here: I'm going to be indulging in wild over-generalizations. Plenty of exceptions are allowed for. If you're a 20-something woman and you read this posting and think, Hey, I'm not like that -- well, then, you're one of the exceptions. I'm not talking about you; I'm talking about all those other 20-something women. If you find yourself getting indignant anyway, take a deep breath and see if you can find it in you to pity an old man. Because if old coots can't be permitted to make over-generalizations about these kids these days, what's the fun of being old? Anyway. I'm struck by how healthy, big, and world-beatingly confident 20-something gals are. You go, girls -- and they do seem to go go go. I find much of this great fun and a great relief. Boomer gals could (and can) be terribly touchy about being gals. They can carry on like tragediennes, they can act like martyrs and saints, and god knows they're overprone to politicizing whatever can be politicized. Many Xer gals (hey, tons of exceptions allowed for) can be grabby and full of resentment. Today's 20-something gals, by contrast, are rowdy, uninhibited and rambunctious. I find them likable and companionable. I find it interesting to notice too how much less backbiting, hissy and feline they often are than women have traditionally been seen to be. The presence of an attractive gal doesn't make them snarl. They seem to like it when other gals look good; they seem to react as they do to so many things: "Whoa! That's hot!" They're hard to offend, they're refreshingly honest about the crazy things that turn them on, and they seldom take things amiss. And who's to argue with all that? I also find them graceless. Their body language is as lunky as a teenage boy's; they're jocky, or schlumpy, or bored and twitchy. (One of the things I wrote about in these postings here and here was how young women these days move their hips in ways that I'd only ever seen lesbians move their hips.) They seem to be entirely creatures of self-pleasure -- multimedia, nonlinear, pop-y, collage creatures, with everything about them out there on the surface if not actually leaping aggessively out at you. Women traditionally have been the keepers of the internal flames -- all mysterious folds and inwardness. These young women seem to have nothing internal about them; if it ain't on public display, then it doesn't exist -- that seems to be their attitude. I don't find that... posted by Michael at February 10, 2004 | perma-link | (43) comments

Visual Google
Michael: When it’s been a long, tough day—say, one on which I’ve had to make more than my quota of three impossible-to-rationally-analyze decisions on which large (to me, anyway) sums of money rest—I’ve taken to calming down by playing with Google image searches. I pick out some phrase, type it in and see what images pop up. For example, the other day I googled “clouds, mountains, shadows” (I’m a big fan of all three) and found the following images. BTW, each is from a rather interesting website. San_Bernardino From a website you can visit here. crater6.01.1 From a website you can visit here. 2000-WY-GT-Tetons2 From a website you can visit here. Not all my searches are so naturally visual. For example, I also tried googling “one for the money.” Not only did I turn up quite a few images of, well, money, but I discovered that Janet Evanovich’s detective story (“One for the Money”) must be really popular—I found at least four different cover designs. It may be an exaggeration to describe a Google search as “found art” but I generally like the results at least as well as a John Cage musical composition. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. When does the movie version of "One for the Money" come out?... posted by Friedrich at February 10, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, February 8, 2004

Dear Friedrich -- * Helen Fisher talks to Carlene Bauer about how to interpret romance, love and sex from an evo-bio point of view, here. (Link found thanks to the Human Nature Daily Review, here.) Do you know Fisher's work? I've enjoyed a couple of her books. She's down to earth and frank, and much less afraid of generalizing from her findings than many scientists are. Perhaps that means that she's more pop-y than she should be; but it also means that she's fun and accessible. Fascinating passage: I think we have a real misunderstanding in this culture of the intensity of male romantic love ... Three out of four people who kill themselves after a love relationship has ended are men, not women. Men are much more likely because they have fewer friends -- so they put more into relationships than women. Which reminds me of an exchange in one of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies -- "Top Hat," maybe. Fred's falling for Ginger; Ginger hasn't decided about him yet; he's sulking. She tells him something like "Oh, for pete's sake, stop pining." And he says to her, "Men don't pine. Men suffer." * Most stories about the music business and recent digi-developments -- piracy, file-sharing, downloading -- have focused on what might and will happen to the music corporations and the star acts. The Washington Post's David Segal writes here about the impact these changes are already having on retailers and record stores. A dramatic and engrossing piece of reporting. * Forager23 makes some useful and amusing distinctions between "left-ish" people and "leftist" people, here. * A new issue of the New Criterion is out, and the magazine has put a generous sampling of its contents on the web. I enjoyed -- to the max -- the two pieces I've gotten to so far: Anthony ("Theodore Dalrymple") Daniels on Somerset Maugham (here), and Denis Dutton on Charles Murray's new book about human accomplishment (here) -- Dutton's terrific on the question of what kinds of conditions promote creative achievement. For the Washington Post, here, Dutton reviews a new book about doubt and skepticism. Good line: "Freud may have claimed that a healthy, mature psyche needs to embrace disbelief, but he wasn't about to apply that principle to his own theories." Have you ever read Maugham, by the way? I've read only one of his novels, and I enjoyed it so much that I'm ashamed I've never gotten around to reading another. A clear and ironic writer, and a tremendous storyteller -- proof-more-than-positive that there was never anything necessary or inevitable about modernism in literature. A nice passage from Daniels on Maugham: He is not avant but arričre garde, a literary reactionary, though no one who uses the term “avant garde” as a term of praise in relation to art ever quite explains what the final goal of art is: victory, perhaps, but over what exactly? A liking for stories? * John Kerry has been railing against "special interests," it... posted by Michael at February 8, 2004 | perma-link | (10) comments