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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Friday, July 16, 2004

Adolescent Nation
Dear Vanessa -- A few of the big, general arts-life truths I've stumbled across over the years have been real godsends. They help me stay semi-oriented in an often-bewildering cultural world. A couple of examples: The importance of the GI Bill. By funding college educations (and stays overseas) for many WWII vets, the GI Bill not only helped create postwar American art (of the higher-brow sort), it also helped create what one cynical arts prof I know calls "the academic art-appreciation racket." The impact of movies on literary fiction. Not just as in what your English prof told you -- simultaneity, cinematic cutting, all that. But also in more down-to-earth terms, as in, "Good lord, now that movies are here, what are we gonna sell???" Movies after all offer an attractive, compact, intense, and accessible fiction-package that includes story, performers, visuals, and music. How can on-the-page fiction, mere ink and paper, compete? The response of certain writers to the advent of movies was to try selling something else entirely -- to abandon narrative and character in the conventional sense, and to try selling structure, pyrotechnics, experimentation, vision, poetry, whatever. The birth of movies, in other words, helped kick off Modernist literary writing. Here's another one of these helpful truths: The creation and triumph of the teenager. "The teenager" as a distinct category of person is of very recent vintage, yet teen values and teen experience have become central to our culture. What would you say are some of the values that are considered desirable in today's America? Here are a few that I'd suggest: bustin' out; pleasing yourself; impact; excitement; grabbiness; hot-hot-hot; gimme gimme gimme; go, man, go; self-expression; rebellion; sexy sulkiness; instant gratification; loudness; brightness; poppiness. Teen values, all of them. (These aren't values and attributes that a 60 year old is likely to value highly.) In fact, it's a historically bizarre thing that we make such a big deal of teenagehood. We treat adolescence as one of the biggest events in life. We speak endlessly about our teen traumas. We yearn for those sexy, free summers. We view life after adolescence as a slow downhill slide, unto the grave. Once we're done living our adolescence, we start re-living it. And our national ideal often seems to be ... being a happy teenager. Being someone who has all the bounce, resilience, and sunniness of childhood -- plus sex and a driver's license. What could be better? Though we consider it normal to never quite get over having been a teen, in reality putting teen values at the center of a culture isn't a normal state of affairs. Making a big deal out of teenagerhood on a personal level isn't normal either. Simple fact: as far as most people and most cultures have been concerned, there's no such thing as "teenagehood." Instead, there are "children," "adults," and -- OK, sure -- a brief and unfortunate period when children grow into adulthood. This stretch wasn't celebrated; no, it was thought to... posted by Michael at July 16, 2004 | perma-link | (42) comments

Denmark and Porn
Dear Vanessa -- Here's a short video documentary about the history of porn in Denmark. I was fascinated to learn a few things: Porn was legalized in two stages. The first, in 1967, lifted restrictions on print porn ("print" as in "text" -- novels, etc). The second stage ended restrictions on virtually all other kinds of porn. While the business of erotic novels and such had flourished under censorship in a modest and illicit way, once this work was made legal everyone lost interest in it. The market for it collapsed. Legislators took the second step -- making all other kinds of porn legal -- believing that the demise of text-porn was a trustworthy predictor of the move's consequences. Instead, demand for all these other kinds of porn (pictures, movies, etc) exploded. Unsure what to make of this but ever-curious, Michael... posted by Michael at July 16, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, July 15, 2004

"Unguarded Gates"
Dear Vanessa -- A widely remarked-upon mystery of recent-ish politics: when did lefties stop being champions of race-blindness and take up racial bean-counting instead? A much-less-noticed similar mystery: when did lefties stop championing wariness about population growth and start advocating more-or-less open borders instead? As a former radical eco-freak still sympathetic to environmental concerns, I'm very curious about this question. Recently, I've been learning a lot from reading Otis L. Graham Jr.'s new book Unguarded Gates: A History of America's Immigration Crisis. If it hasn't quite answered my question about changes in eco-attitudes, it's still an exhaustive and alarming work. Some not-so-fun quotes: Americans through their fertility behavior after the 1960s were choosing a demographic future of a stabilized population at around 250 million by 2050. That path to population stabilization was radically altered by politicians in Washington, who enacted expansionist immigration policies that proved to be population policies in disguise. Immigration's contribution to population growth (immigrants plus births to foreign-born women), which had been 13 percent in 1970, rose to 38 percent by 1980, and to 60 to 70 percent, and rising, by the end of the 1990s. With immigration pushing the throttle forward, the American population grew by 81 million from 1970 to 2000, 33 million in the 1990s alone -- the largest single-decade population increase in U.S. history ... [In 2000, the Census Bureau] projected U.S. population totals to 2100, and the medium assumption pointed to 571 million ... Slight increases in expected fertility along with longer life spans could push that number to 1.2 billion. Graham may not be a sparkling prose stylist, but he's awfully good at making statistics vivid. He points out, for example, that the U.S.'s population growth in the 1990s was "the equivalent of adding the entire population of Canada," and that 96% of California's recent population growth has been due to immigration. (96%!!!!) And how do everyday Americans think and feel about these developments? Here's a quote Graham includes from the Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks: "Apart from some business executives, I have never met anyone who favored doubling the population." (Note to self: when stuck in a discussion with someone claiming that those concerned about immigration policies are racist/inhumane/etc, be sure to ask this person, "Are you telling me that you're in favor of doubling or tripling the country's population?") As Steve Sailer (here), Randall Parker (here), the Center for Immigration Studies (here), and the gang at Vdare (here) often point out: Dems who want votes, Repubs who want cheap labor, and a bunch of (mostly) naive and gullible propagandists are putting a big one over on the rest of us -- the most dramatic demographic change in this country's history. It's something very few Americans want to see happen. Topic for discussion: Why is so little discussion of these developments and of these policies taking place? Oh, and how do you feel about the States having a population of 571 million? Let alone 1.2 billion? Graham's good and informative book... posted by Michael at July 15, 2004 | perma-link | (62) comments

Alice on "Kill Bill"
I'm a great fan of The British Blogger Formerly Known as Alice Bachini -- the gal who recently relocated to Texas and who now blogs as Alice in Texas, here. Alice is a wonderfully volatile phenomenon: flighty yet full of commonsense, larky yet incisive ... Alice mostly blogs about politics, from what I think of as a realistically-libertarian point of view: no loony visions of how we'd be settling Jupiter today if only it weren't for government meddling. But she's also a terrific cultural observer, with an impossible-to-predict set of free-range interests, a quicksilver set of instincts, and (for my money) the merriest writing style in blogdom. I'm delighted to have persuaded her to take advantage of 2Blowhards as an outlet for some of her cultureblogging. Please do check in with her own blog, Alice in Texas (here), for Alice on politics. And now, Alice on "Kill Bill 2." Five good reasons to see the Kill Bills: 1) Uma Thurman is the new Clint Eastwood, 2) The fight scenes are extraordinary, morally powerful, and often beautiful (in an extremely bloody kind of a way, obviously), 3) The music is as full of character as the characters (especially in KBI, although the cowboy signatures in II are as powerfully stylised as anything from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly); in fact some of them even use the same notes, 4) Kill Bill is the latest incarnation of the bounty-hunting warrior myth, which places it squarely inside an important movie and story-telling tradition, 5) Uma is cool. I want to be Uma. Where can I get that yellow jumpsuit? In martial arts, the big trick is to use your opponent's weight and strength against them. So, for instance, if they are rushing towards you with a sword at a hundred miles an hour, you just flick them gently into the air on contact, and they whack the ceiling then land crash on the glass coffee-table creating a beautiful shower of glass shards somewhat like cherry-blossom falling in the breeze. After that, being indestructible, they get up again, which is a bit of a pain; but anyway, the point is that this principle of intelligent re-direction of force, as opposed to head-to-head conflict of brute force, is what provides us with the idea that women Samurai can potentially be as good as, if not better than, men. In warrior console games, it's the same story. Women and men fight on equal footing. Little adolescent girls win at least as often as heavy hulking Hell's Angels, in fact their litheness is an advantage. It's all about the foot-work. There is an anime cartoon in which console games have risen to new heights, being fought-out by robots operated by telepathy, in which women are naturally superior. Me, I'd rather make a sponge-cake. But who knows. The superiority of the female sex in Kill Bill I and II seems to be part of a cultural trend of growing significance that harkens from Japan, and you... posted by Michael at July 15, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Dear Vanessa -- * In ongoing Latin-America-merges-with-the-U.S. news, John Kerry has now said that if elected he'll put in place a broad amnesty for illegals (here). Meanwhile, Latino populations in some Southern states have doubled or tripled in the last decade (here). * The BBC reports that North African neighborhoods in France have become downright ethnic ghettos, here. * Graham Lester delivers an eye-opening posting about Korean sex cults here. * Steve Sailer's on an especially-energized high right now -- but when isn't he? IMHO, Steve's one of the half-dozen most interesting journalists writing today. (I say that and then have trouble coming up with five others who are in his class ... ) Check out Steve's Olympics preview (here) and his blog (the righthand column here). * The great crime novelist Ed McBain is interviewed here and here. * I've raved several times about the crime novelist Donald Westlake, who for my money is America's greatest living fiction virtuoso. A while back, Tatyana gave one of Westlake's "Parker" novels a try on my recommendation and wasn't much impressed. So I was tickled recently when she sent me an email letting me know that she'd just finished Westlake's publishing-world comedy "A Likely Story," and had loved it. "That's really the brilliant one!," Tatyana wrote. "It's about the publishing business in NY (c.1983-4) and mix-and-match relationships in those circles; and it's hilarious and sad. I couldn't put it down till the end. My son found me giggling on the balcony with the book in my hands and he thought I had started on the cuckoo path." Westlake makes me pretty cuckoo too. The novel is out of print, but copies can be bought (for next to nothing) here. * Has "how to contend with the release of one of the sex tapes you made before you were a star" now become a regular topic of conversation between celebs and their press agents? Paris Hilton has agreed to let her X-rated tape be released provided she gets royalties (here). And Jenna Lewis, who's evidently a reality-TV personality of some sort, has issued a press release (here) stating firmly that she's hopping mad about the way her sex tape has gone public. A big "Attagirl" to both of them. Links thanks to Daze Reader, here. * What's Britney like in the sack? Find out here. See what Britney looks like on a bad-hair, bad-skin day here. God bless hairdressers, makeup artists, and costumers, eh? * R-rated alert: I ran across this very raunchy humor site here and found myself laughing a lot, especially at this piece here and this one here. So much for my highbrow cred, eh? But, to be honest, that vanished long ago, when I confessed in public that I find some of Andrew Dice Clay's routines pretty funny. So that damage has already been done. * Good to see that Danish eco-hippies are still keepin' it natural here. (Keep clicking on "Neste" for the whole series of photographs.) *... posted by Michael at July 14, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Writer's Block
Dear Vanessa -- Some of the reasons this blog enjoys throwing rotten tomatoes at Modernism: Modernism claims to be radical and progressive when it in fact couldn't be more elitist. I've got nothing against radical art or elitist art per se, and nothing against progressive art either. But I do get annoyed when elitist art stomps around justifying itself as radical and progressive -- "good for the people," or "good for the unconscious," or "setting people free," or whatever. Modernism is a secular religion-wannabe akin to Marxism and Freudianism. Secular religion-wannabes are always annoying and often destructive. Modernism's batting average is terrible. I know the idea that 95% of art is always crap is widely accepted; sorry to say I don't agree. It seems to me that traditional art-making has a pretty darned good batting average. A brief break to spell out a couple of assumptions I'm making: that Modernism descends directly from Romanticism; and that the styles that have followed on Modernism (po-mo, decon, etc) aren't the alternatives-to-Modernism they're usually made out to be but are instead extensions of it, attempts to keep the corpse alive. Now, back to the jeering. Modernism doesn't work by accepting tradition and context and then contributing what it can. Instead, it makes a point of violating context and tearing the fabric, all for the greater glory of showing off its own (supposedly redemptive) virtues. Like Romanticism, Modernism seems to have addictive properties. Discovering it, you at first feel exhilaration and pleasure; so this is what Reality, experienced fully, is really like!!! For many, the search for this sensation becomes a soul-sucking addiction. Quickly, though, the high becomes scarcer, and soon the search becomes everything. Many people manage to kick the habit, thank heavens. Too bad that some of those who don't wind up as profs, teachers, journalists and critics, and then do their best to pass along the addiction. Modernism has exacerbated the high-low clash that's such a tedious part of cultural life in America. While promising deliverance and transcendence, Modernism in fact creates a lot of misery. Forget lousy Modernist architecture for a sec and think instead about the thousands of people stuck in creative-writing workshops. Let's admit that there's something sweet about their desire to take part in the art life. Yet in most cases, what they're being sold are approaches that make art-creation difficult if not impossible. And in many cases they're being steered into creating work that they'll never be happy with. Why aren't they being given basic and traditional, "here's how you get an idea on its feet" skills instead? In a short-fiction writing class, for instance: why aren't people being shown how to project and develop their ideas into actual narratives? Forgive me for suspecting that that'd suit many students far better than being taught how to create the usual nonnarrative autobiographical/lyrical/non-epiphany-epiphany thing. Modernism has contributed a lot to the irrelevance of the fine arts to everyday people. Modernism promotes the idea that art should be difficult,... posted by Michael at July 14, 2004 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Lunch Emails
Dear Vanessa -- Friedrich and I chose the "Dear Michael"/"Dear Friedrich," epistolary form we use on this blog for a simple reason: we're lazy. Since we were writing each other long, art-gaga emails anyway -- we've been doing this for years -- and since neither one of us can ever see the point of doing more work than is absolutely necessary, we looked at our emails and thought, What could be easier than copying and pasting? Well, OK, we always made an effort to pretty-up our thoughts and words. But we also genuinely did want to promote a conversational and informal tone. We felt it was important. Let the pros and the profs take care of the formal essays and from-on-high lectures. Our small contribution to the artchat world would be to be proprietors of a place where the kind of email and cafe gab we both love might flourish. Friedrich is on hiatus from blogging, but he and I continue to swap emails as of old. Every now and then I persuade him to let me do the heavy labor of cutting and pasting. Here's a recent lunch-hour back-and-forth. I hope it's amusing. Michael Blowhard: I got back from vacation thinking Iíve got to get more serious about my, ahem, creative work. Those dozens of stories and novels Iíve got laying around Ö maybe thereís a way to finish them up after all. Turns out there is, actually -- I hand them over to the Wife. I was always confident and happy dreaming up projects, laying them out, polishing them Ö but never at bringing the characters and situations to life. At that one stage, Iíd always feel my projects go dead on me, and I could never figure out why. It turns out my wife is great at that stage. So sheís helping -- as in taking over 99% of the work. Itís going great. What fun to be able to offload what I canít do onto someone whoís great at it. (Shhh: donít let anyone know! Because if you let this cat out of the bag, I'll have no literary reputation left whatsoever!) And look out, world: now I get to raise from the dead every lousy little fiction project I ever dreamed up and then abandoned. Luckily, I seem to be of a little use to The Wife with her writing projects too. I make a few suggestions about structure and plots, both of which, to my surprise, I seem to have a knack for. Whatís up with your creative side? Friedrich von Blowhard: Iím thinking about doing some still life paintings. Iím also getting pretty serious about trying to write a book on art history that focuses on what paintings are really about. What were they intended to mean, at least in their original context? Iím thinking of a cultural history of art, with a fairly heavy emphasis on religion as the area of culture thatís most in tune with the visual arts. Obviously that... posted by Michael at July 13, 2004 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Human-Computer Interface, sort of
Dear Vanessa -- Cyber-age bliss: surfing the web and listening to Itunes while the Wife gives me a combo backrub/headscratch. High on endorphins, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments