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  1. Guest Posting -- Tatyana on the Russian-Bard Scene
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  3. Teens Revisited
  4. This Summer's Fashions
  5. More Cell Phone Annoyances
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  7. Theme Song for the New Urbanism
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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Guest Posting -- Tatyana on the Russian-Bard Scene
Dear Vanessa -- Honest now: did you have any idea that there's a substantial Russian-bard scene in America? What's a "Russian-bard scene," you may ask? Why, Russian poet-troubador-singers who have a substantial, mostly-emigre fan base, what else? I know a tiny bit about this because 2Blowhards visitor Tatyana told me about it. Tatyana's an amazingly interesting person -- a Russian emigree with an engineering degree who works in Manhattan as an interior designer. I've been lucky enough to swap a lot of emails with her, and to spend a couple of lunches gabbing with her too. I've gotten a lot out of comparing notes; I've even managed to get her to do some personalized art-coaching. Up next on the Netflix queue, for example: "Masters of Russian Animation." Tatyana tells me that one of the animators whose work is included is really brilliant. I've badgered Tatyana a few times about putting some of what she knows into print. So I'm pleased she's taken the time to pull some info and thoughts toether, and that she's given me permission to run her words on the blog. [Editor's note: I lifted the images in this posting from this site here. I hope that's OK -- if it isn't, I hope someone from the site will let me know. I'll take them down pronto. Nice photos, though!] Here's Tatyana on the Russian-bard scene in America. It is all true, you see. There is a Russian conspiracy in this country. Thousands of people on both coasts (and between, in ever-increasing numbers) belong to the network. Old, veteran members form the compact organizing nucleus, and although they are not being paid themselves, they collect fees from the regulars for various organizational needs. What's more, Russians from other countries are involved. Networks in different parts of Europe, the Middle East, Canada and, I suspect, Australia know of each other and coordinate their activities. All right, I see you're sitting on needles. I want to introduce to you the Club of Self-Written Song of the U.S., aka the Bards Club Of America. Or: the Club of the Self-Created Song; or the Author's Song Club; or the Singing Poets Club, etc. See, there is a long-standing disagreement about of what the proper name should be. I’ll call it KSP, by Russian abbreviation. I am afraid that my pen is unable to present in compact prose the detailed history of the movement. There is plethora of available material on the subject I'm having a hard time organizing in a concise manner. I'm sure there are many erudite people out there who’ll be shocked by my grossly inadequate outline. Let's just say that I'm writing this as a first introduction to the subject. So, the history of the bard scene, or how I see it. In the country formerly known as the Soviet Union, everybody led a double existence. And in this multilayered world, songs by bards were part of the hidden, sincere, human, core side of our lives. Like contraband... posted by Michael at July 24, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Magazine Titles
Dear Vanessa -- Until today, I'd thought that the most vulgar/outrageous/naughty (depends on the mood, doesn't it?) nonporn magazine titles I'd ever run across were those of two hipster style/fashion rags: Wad, and Self-Service. "Self-Service" -- the perfect magazine title for a solipsistic, it's-all-about-pleasing-yourself age, eh? But there's a new contender. Browsing around the magazine racks this afternoon, I spotted a glossy called ... FaceFull. And, no, it's not oral-sex porn; it's not even a hipster style/fashion magazine. Instead, it's an edgy, snazzily-produced magazine devoted to the, er, sport of paintball. Splat! Here's FaceFull's website. Trekkies may enjoy the magazine's visit with William Shatner, paintball enthusiast. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 24, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments

Teens Revisited
Dear Vanessa -- Once again, I've missed my chance. Putting together my posting (here) about how bizarre it is that teenage values have taken over the general culture, out-of-the-loop me didn't pounce on the fact that July 2004 has been settled on by experts as the 50th anniversary of the birth of rock 'n' roll. 2Blowhards: always your first source for breaking news. In celebration of rock's big birthday, The Spectator's Michael Henderson has written an entertainingly cranky rant. (I'm tickled to notice that he mentions a few of the same sociological facts I wrote about in my posting.) Since the piece isn't online, I'll type out some passages from it. Henderson mentions Elvis' 1954 recording of "That's All Right, Now," and goes on in this way: The postwar world, increasingly obsessed by youth, needed a standard-bearer to sing its own songs, and anointed a gauche kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, whose gift was to transform the raw music of poor blacks into comforting, bite-sized chunks for white record-buyers. At a stroke, the teenager was born, an unsettling development for men and women who were still coming to terms with the fracturing consequences of a horrible war. Half a century later it seems that teenagers, and the people who cater for their easy, pliable tastes, have taken over the world. And don't imagine that being a teenager simply means awaiting the key to the door. Some people carry their teenage years into middle-age ... Let's spit it out. Pop culture may be 50, it may even have provided some innocent (and not so innocent) entertainment along the way, but it has never grown up and it never will ... With few exceptions, [pop music] is melodically obvious, harmonically non-existent and lyrically execrable ... With its manufactured sense of outrage, juvenile emotionalism, bogus egalitarianism and grotesque sentimentality, pop lacks the capacity to express any feelings other than the most basic: that by trying to be rebellious in some inchoate, let's-goad-the-parents sort of way, it has turned out a succession of illiterate chumps who are more conformist than the 'establishment' figures they find it daring to mock ... No form of entertainment, not even the film industry, has produced so many unpleasant people, addicted to drink, drugs, sex or self-regard, and no art form (if we can call it that) has been so indulged by the media. Far from it. Drug-taking and sexual excess are held to be an indispensable part of a rock 'n' nroll 'lifestyle'... How many thousands of young people seduced by the promise of 'liberation' have discovered instead that the road of excess leads not to the palace of wisdom but to a life of enslavement? ... Pop music can supply excitement, but not true joy. It cannot ennoble, but it can demean. It has no capacity for personal growth, and is hostile to the very notion of beauty. It lacks tenderness, compassion and forgiveneess, and without those qualities there can be no art ... Henderson confesses that as... posted by Michael at July 24, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, July 22, 2004

This Summer's Fashions
Dear Vanessa -- The weather in NYC was hot and humid the day after the Wife and I returned from our Caribbean vacation. "Good lord," she said when we got together that evening. "Did you see what the young girls were walking around in today? They looked like sluts!" Coming from a Wife who's no more of a prude than I am -- puh-leeze, we both enjoyed ourselves in the '70s -- that was saying a lot. I wonder: are this year's slutty fashions much different than last year's slutty fashions? What I'm noticing seems mainly like souped-up retreads: The Amazing Ruffled Mini. These are skirts that hug smoothly from below-navel to halfway down the hips, then flare dramatically for six inches before cutting off entirely. The stretchiness up top makes the hips go switch-switch-switch, while the ever-in-motion ruffles offer promises of paradise. Men all over the city are praying for breezes, because not much more than a breeze is required to flip up one of these barely-there hems. And the skirts have certainly made following a girl up the subway stairs a particularly suspenseful exercise. Clingier fabrics. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but it seems as though this summer's bellybaring tops are even more revealing than last year's. Not in terms of flesh displayed -- how could they reveal more flesh? -- but in terms of what they reveal about what's beneath. Last year was all about nipple-pokies. This year seems to be about giving away nipple-details. When bras are worn, the location of the label can be discerned, and the number of clasps can be counted. Stretch terry to the max. Who was the genius fabric-engineer who turned terrycloth into such an alluring thing? This year's stretch terry seems very, very thin, and especially stroke-able. I'm mostly seeing it in hotpants and lowslung sarong-like skirts. Slash-cut wraparound skirts. Some of them cut 'way up to the hipbone, if only on one side. Have you noticed how many of these fashions require a great deal of management? There's the tight grip that prevents buttcheek embarassments; there's the clutching and tugging meant to battle hem-creep. Perhaps these fashions really serve a purpose. Perhaps girls, who no longer smoke as much as they once did, simply need new ways to busy their hands. Has all sense of "appropriateness" gone out the window, do you think? Even last year, there was still a clear distinction between "clothes you'd wear at the beach, or to a party, or skanking around the East Village" and "clothes you'd wear in a respectable part of town." This year, that distinction seems to have vanished. It's very striking, for instance, the way that semi-see-thru white pants -- which last year was beachwear, a daring coverup to put on over your bikini -- are now a standard thing in midtown. The public/private distinction also seems to be continuing its long, inevitable decline. What with the current semi-transparent, gauzy fabrics -- and with the underwear-as-outwear thing now viewed as an... posted by Michael at July 22, 2004 | perma-link | (26) comments

More Cell Phone Annoyances
Dear Vanessa -- Those people who continue talking on the cellphone even while paying the cashier? How can anyone be so rude? And how's the cashier supposed to take their behavior? Nate Davis has been the cashier; he tells how fond he is of rude cellphone behavior here. Being one of Manhattan's few cellphone-free inhabitants myself, I see no upside whatsoever in the devices. As far as I'm concerned, all they've introduced into my life are a lot of unwanted externalities: madly-gabbing one-armed drivers; pedestrians who weave about erratically while waving their arms (a genuine nuisance in NYC, where sidewalks are narrow and crowded); cab drivers overexcited to be in touch with relatives in Nigeria. Worst of all: colleagues who leave work early because you can "reach them on the cell" after all -- but who, when you do call them, can't concentrate, struggling as they are with bad connections and screaming kids. At the doctor's today, I discovered yet another bummer: waiting rooms have been changed for the worse by cellphones. Perverse though it may sound, I used to enjoy the half-hour wait for the doctor. The air conditioning ... the magazines I'd never read otherwise ... the dozing and deep-breathing ... What with cellphones, though, the half-hour wait for the doc has become one long annoyance. There's the beeping and chirping to contend with, as well as the one-sided, overloud conversations. Today, I got to hear a business deal being hashed out; a Daddy being implored repeatedly to give his daughter more money; and train reservations get arranged. There was also the inevitable conversation about where exactly the cellphonist is located. ("Well, I'm in the doctor's waiting room right now. I got here about ten minutes ago, and blah blah ...") Not a single one of these cellphone gabbers made any effort to go out into the hall and leave the rest of us in peace. Are you any good at triumphing in these situations? I'm not. "Glaring," my usual weapon of choice, serves no purpose in NYC, where people make faces back at you and double their volume levels. I'm too polite a mid-American -- or maybe just too terrified -- to try scolding people for their bad manners. New Yorkers like nothing better than someone who's telling them to act decently; it gives them a target to heap abuse on. Shush someone, or (worse) tell them to be considerate, and the word "fascist" is guaranteed to be launched at you within seconds. Inside of a minute, you'll find yourself saddled with blame for slavery, various wars, and gas-price hikes. So I keep to myself, writhe impotently, and wind up feeling bad about my impotence. But, given that none of my companions in the doctor's waiting-room looked even the slightest bit peeved by all the cellphone rudeness going on around them, I guess the battle for quiet and civility has already been lost. And the BBC reports here that Europeans love love love their cellphones, and feel... posted by Michael at July 22, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Many thanks to everyone who offered tips and coaching about controlling commentspam. Being the weeniest of technoweenies, I'm dependent on the kindness of strangers, and so am doubly appreciative. Major thanks as well to Daniel and Leilah at Westgate Necromantic who, overnight, installed MTBlacklist and the MTCloseComments plugin -- I wouldn't have been able to accomplish such a task in a zillion years. (Any computer challenge more demanding than typing in a password is beyond me.) But Daniel and Leilah have left me feeling optimistic once again about this blog's chances of surviving the evil plague of commentspam. I enthusiastically recommend Daniel and Leilah, by the way, to anyone interested in setting up (or updating, or tweaking) a blog or a website. They're fast and good, their prices are fair, and they're a complete pleasure to deal with. Their own smokin' Goth website is here.... posted by Michael at July 22, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Theme Song for the New Urbanism
Dear Vanessa -- I've been enjoying the heck out of James McMurtry's tasty and rockin' alt-country CD Too Long in the Wasteland. His music works for me in a way many people say Springsteen's works for them. McMurtry's tone --cussed, sardonic, and bitter, if also careworn and companionable -- brings his stuff alive in a way that really delights me, while Springsteen's earnestness and myth-making almost always make me roll my eyes like a bored, disbelieving teenager. McMurtry's got the kind of sly deadpan you might associate with a bearded trucker; a hyperarticulate, steely mind; and a surprising capacity for the tender and the mournful. I find the combo a treat. I can't resist the pleasure of typing out some of the lyrics to his song "I'm Not From Here." Imagine them sung by a rough-edged, still-waters-run-deep kind of guy; imagine a loose-limbed and fleet-footed band playing flyin'-down-the-highway music. I'm not from here I just live here Grew up somewhere far away Came here thinking I'd never stay long I'd be going back soon someday It's been a few years Since I got here Seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go Crowds assemble, they hang out awhile Then they melt away like an early snow Onto some bright future somewhere Down the road to points unknown Sending postcards when they get there Wherever it is they think they're goin' I'm not from here I just live here Can't see that it matters much I read the papers and I watch the nightly news Who's to say I'm out of touch? Nobody's from here Most of us just live here Locals long since moved away Sold their played-out farms for parking lots Went off looking for a better way Onto some bright future somewhere Better times on down the road Wonder if they ever got there Wherever it was they thought they'd go Hit my home town A couple years back Hard to say just how it felt But it looked like so many towns I mighta been through On my way to somewhere else I'm not from here But people tell me It's not like it used to be They say I shoulda been here Back about ten years Before it got ruined by folks like me What a fab, jaunty-depressive evocation of the just-passing-through, ashtray-ish Nowheresville we've transformed so much of America into, and of the lost-but-in-a-hurry deadend that American adulthood so often turns out to be. Good lord, the bleary and clueless things we choose to do with our freedom and our prosperity. Come to think of it, I wonder if McMurtry has read James Kunstler's wonderful New Urban-ish jeremiads The Geography of Nowhere (buyable here) and Home From Nowhere (buyable here). McMurtry's terrific disk can be bought here. Here's McMurtry's website. Here's a good profile of McMurtry by Roy Kasten. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Dear Vanessa -- I woke up this morning to find hundreds and hundreds of new spam-comments deposited on this blog. It took more than half an hour to cleanse them away. When it gets to this stage, spam-comments become more than a mere annoyance; they start threatening to make blogging not worth a blogger's time. In recent months, I've had to spend hours and hours of my life on spam-comment maintenance to keep this blog in running order. I've got nearly 500 IP addresses on our "banned" list so far. 500! -- that's 'way too much banning, and 'way too much time spent on banning. But the worst was yet to come, because this morning I also discovered a scary and unwelcome new spam-comment twist, a new generation (I think) of spam-comments: spam-comments that appear on the public version of the blog -- a websurfer looking at a posting would see them -- but that don't show up from inside the guts of the blog. In other words, the spam-comments have been deposited on the blog in such a way that visitors can see them, yet I can't delete them. When I go behind the scenes to do my usual spam-comment maintenance, these new spam-comments are invisible, so I can't get at them to zap them. I'm not sure I'm being clear, so forgive me for trying again. The affected posting when viewed by a visitor is dotted with spam comments. But the same posting when viewed from within Movable Type -- which usually shows the posting's contents as well as all the attached comments -- doesn't show that any spam-comments are on the posting at all. Some examples of postings that from the public's p-o-v have tons of spam-comments on them but which from inside Movable Type don't: this posting here, this one here, this one here, this one here, this one here, and this one here. From within Movable Type, I can see none of the spam-comments visitors can see. So I can't remove them, and I'm having nightmares about watching the blog drown in tidal waves of spam-comments that I'm helpless to do anything about. Has anyone run across these newfangled spam-comments? Is there a sensible way to contend with them? Also: is now a good time to upgrade to Movable Type 3.0? I confess to feeling baffled when I look at Movable Type's webpage (here). I can't tell whether we're being told that geeks and only geeks should now make an early move, or whether the time has come for everyone to upgrade. Many thanks for advice and tips. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2004 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, July 19, 2004

More Politics
Dear Vanessa -- * The other day, The Wife -- who's usually even more uninterested in politics than I am -- made what struck me as an amazingly useful point about American politics. "The reason why politics in America is so infuriating," she said, "is because the only thing it's ever really about is business. It isn't about 'liberalism' or 'conservatism' -- there's never anything philosophical or political in the larger sense at stake. It's really just about where you stand on business. The Republicans are pro-business and the Democrats are anti-business. That's it. And what's deeply infuriating about that is that in America the only thing that's ever really at stake is business." I'm not sure her formula explains absolutely everything about the American political scene, but it seems to do an awfully good job of explaining about 80% of it. It also strikes me as a far more solid and defensible thesis than what many recent deep-think political bestsellers have peddled. ("The End of History," anyone?) Interested publishers are invited to make offers through my email address. * John O'Sullivan's excellent cover story in The American Conservative is readable here. It's an essay about Samuel Huntington's recent book, "Who Are We?", and it's thoughtful, informative, and hysteria-free. Those curious about American identity -- and especially the America's-always-been-a-multicultural-society crowd -- should enjoy giving O'Sullivan's essay a wrestle. They'd get a lot out of Huntington's book, as well as David Hackett Fischer's study of America's British roots, Albion's Seed, too. The Huntington can be bought here; Fischer's book is buyable here. A good passage from O'Sullivan's essay: America’s elites—both the corporate elites of the Right and the academic elites of the Left—do not share the opinions and tastes of the American people. Both elites have been, in effect, “de-nationalized” by the processes of economic and cultural globalization. They are more likely to share the tastes and opinions of their counterparts in other countries than those of their own countrymen in provincial and small-town America. They regard patriotism and national feeling as atavistic emotions that retard both economic rationality (in the case of the Right) and cosmopolitan ideologies of “democratic humanism” (in the case of the Left). And they see America not as a nation like other nations, if more powerful, but as the embryo either of the global market or of a new “universal nation” without boundaries or restrictive citizenship. As a result, on a whole range of policy issues—racial preferences, bilingual education, military intervention abroad, open borders —the American people are firmly on one side and the American elites are on the other. I'd argue that the same situation prevails in our cultural sphere -- but that's for another posting. * In a previous piece for City Journal (here), Heather Mac Donald called attention to high rates of immigrant crime. Sample facts: in Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide target illegal aliens; and 30% of inmates in Federal pens are foreign-born. In a new piece... posted by Michael at July 19, 2004 | perma-link | (42) comments