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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. More "Brown Bunny"
  2. Enter Fenster
  3. Being Happy
  4. Dems or Repubs? Feh
  5. Serena at the Open
  6. Moviegoing: "Collateral" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore"
  7. Religion and Science
  8. Responses and Elaborations
  9. Say Hello to Fenster

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, September 3, 2004

More "Brown Bunny"
Michael Blowhard writes Dear Blowhards -- I'm looking forward this long weekend to hangin' with The Wife, taking some yoga classes, and seeing Vincent Gallo's movie The Brown Bunny, which has just opened. The film is famous for being hissed at Cannes, and is notorious for depicting a scene of unsimulated oral sex between the director-star and the actress Chloe Sevigny. No prizes for correctly guessing who's doing what to whom. There was an amusing exchange between Vincent Gallo and the film critic Roger Ebert that was reported this way: Roger Ebert called the "The Brown Bunny" "the worst in the history of Cannes" to which Vincent Gallo responded that Ebert was a "fat pig with the physique of a slave trader." Ebert paraphrased a remark of Winston Churchill's and responded that "although I am fat, one day I will be thin, but Mr. Gallo will still have been the director of 'Brown Bunny'." Gallo then put a "hex" on Ebert's colon, to which Ebert responded that "even my colonoscopy was more entertaining than his film." That's as good as the dialog in "All About Eve," IMHO. Chloe Sevigny, who recently saw fit to change agents, has made the following comments to the press: The scene is very tender and it's not gratuitous. He's a great actor and a great filmmaker. I knew it would be well done. I've known him since I was 17. ... We were intimate when I was younger a little bit, so I feel so comfortable with him. I could trust him 100 percent ... There are a lot of misconceptions about the film. Most of the people who have been writing about it haven't even seen the film. When people do see it, they will realize that the sex in the movie is not in any way gratuitous, that is a truly heartbreaking movie. I am proud of it. I found these quotes on the Internet Movie Database, here. More when I've actually seen the film. Oh, and The Wife and I are thinking about visiting the Metropolitan Museum too. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Jesse M., who found this Chicago Sun-Times talk between Gallo and Ebert, ">here.... posted by Michael at September 3, 2004 | perma-link | (8) comments

Enter Fenster
Thank you, Michael, for designating me a Blowhard, or even a semi-Blowhard. My friends think I am the real thing, and that gives me hope for the future. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in your conclave, along with Friedrich, Vanessa and your many regulars. As you said in your gracious intro, I run a little joint of my own under the sobriquet Fenster Moop. Due to a series of personal issues, including a job change, I'd been slowing down the rate of my postings recently and, frankly, was wondering about the best way to continue blogging. When I got the invite from you, I jumped at the chance. I've been a regular reader of, and occasional poster to, this site for some time. I've always liked several things about it immensely: the conversational tone, the mixture of firm opinions with a willingness to be persuaded, the eclectic melange of topics and the slight bias toward viewing many matters, from politics to aesthetics, through a cultural lens. The latter inclination suits me just fine, as I discussed here. I was at a Six Flags park recently and paid a couple of extra dollars (over and above the exorbitant entry price!) to sit through an alleged "4-D" experience--one of those helmet devices that supposedly puts you into a virtual reality. What a joke. To my mind, 2Blowhards does a far better job simulating a Viennese coffee house than Six Flags did simulating an Arctic roller coaster ride. So, as my nephew puts it, let the games start on! A word first about Fenster, though. As I wrote in one of my first posts, here, Fenster is just a nom de plume, and I blog anonymously. I do so reluctantly, since anonymous kneecapping is all-too-easy. But I work in higher education and a number of my posts have dealt with the zaniness of that august institution (say, here, here and here). And if you know anything about the zaniness of higher education, I think you can appreciate that my desire to blog under my own name might conflict with the urge for self-preservation, and that anonymity represents prudence rather than weasel behavior. If you are not persauded to that view, I invite you to visit some of the sites that I consider role models, such as Critical Mass and University Diaries and J.V.C. Comments. They are excellent. But while I started out with a slant in the direction of academe, I am interested in other topics too (Sharia law?, Cialis?), and have blogged accordingly. My own career is a melange--everything from academia to investment banking to government policy to political campaigning. So I am not afraid to be eclectic myself. Perhaps that's one of the reasons you've invited me to this particular coffee house. As to Fenster his self, he's just a li'l swamp animal. Actually just a very minor character in the old comic strip Pogo. I've always like the name. Not a lot more to it than that. But now... posted by Fenster at September 3, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Being Happy
Dear Blowhards -- I've had a good time recently reading up on what scientists and behavioral economists have learned about happiness. I'm a mere fan of this work and so have got nothing to add to what the pros say -- nothing much beyond, "Hey, it's about time you people looked into this," anyway. But I hope some visitors will enjoy a bouquet of happiness facts, tips, and links. Some of what happiness researchers now think they know: Everyone seems to have a pre-programmed "set point" for happiness -- a level of happiness they're genetically programmed for, and to which they'll always tend to return. There isn't much that can be done to change this set point. Genetics and inheritance seem to be responsible for as much as half your tendency towards happiness or unhappiness. Even huge positive changes in a person's life -- getting married, winning the lottery -- only affect happiness levels for about six months. The rich are certainly happier than the abject poor. But for most people, more money doesn't tend to lead to much additional happiness, at least once basic material needs have been met. Three of the hardest things to cope with emotionally are widowhood (or widowerhood), longterm unemployment, and caring for a sick loved one. The best way to deal with a case of severe, long-lasting unhappiness is to take a mood-boosting pill. In many cases, a six-month course of treatment will effectively jolt the depressed person out of his or her rut. Pursuing sex and status don't make people happy. They're things that we, being human, do -- but they don't necessarily lead to happiness. People who are forever chasing after happiness -- who crave blasts of euphoria -- tend to be much less happy than people who are willing to let life (and their moods) take their own course. Some tips for being happy: If your job isn't especially rewarding, pursue a hobby you love, one that delivers experiences of "flow." Don't focus too much on making money and buying things. Maintain a wide variety of friendships, and don't spend too much time alone. Cultivate gratitude and forgiveness, including forgiveness towards yourself. Don't try to feel great all the time -- that's not the way life works. Hey, why aren't these facts and tips better-known than they are? Geoffrey Miller has a hunch: Popular culture is dominated by advertisements that offer the following promise: buy our good or service, and your subjective well-being will increase. The happiness research demonstrates that most such promises are empty ... Some journalists may have realized that the happiness research challenges the consumerist dream-world upon which their advertising revenues depend — their failure to report on the implications of the research for consumerism is probably no accident. They are in the business of selling readers to advertisers, not telling readers that advertising is irrelevant to their subjective well-being. And a bunch of happiness links to explore: Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2004 | perma-link | (24) comments

Dems or Repubs? Feh
Dear Blowhards -- Since I've got zero to contribute where the Bush vs. Kerry foodfight is concerned, the election-season contribution I've decided to make is to suggest thinking about what's become of American politics these days less in terms of Dems vs. Repubs and more in terms of Them (ie., our political class) vs. Us (ie., regular people). How and why did our political class lose its sense of responsibility to the people whose interests it's supposed to be serving? And how can We make Them behave more responsively? Deep thinker that I am, it seems to me that the very first thing that's needed to rectify this state of affairs is for Us to whine, bitch, and complain very loudly about Them. I have trouble understanding why this isn't clear to more people. Is the fun of rooting for the home team so overwhelming that people are willing to forgo griping about how rotten the game has become? Yet how is the political class ever going to hear us if we don't yell real loud? The alternative to yelling would seem to be accepting passively the lousy products -- GWB, Kerry -- the political class serves up. But maybe I've got a finger, if only a small one, on a tiny part of the zeitgeist. Even in the midst of the usual election-season hoopla, it seems that points of view close to mine are beginning to surface. AEI's Karl Zinnsmeister, for instance, has written an op-ed piece for today's WSJ that addresses some of these questions. Ignore his heavy Republican bias and focus for a few secs on some of the information he provides. I couldn't find the piece online, so I've copied and pasted excerpts from an email distribution list. I'm going to indulge myself and boldface passages that I find particularly important. Democrats: the party of the little guy. Republicans: the party of the wealthy. Those images of America's two major political wings have been frozen for generations. The stereotypes were always a little off, incomplete, exaggerated. (Can you say Adlai Stevenson?) But like most stereotypes, they reflected rough truths. No more. Starting in the 1960s and '70s, whole blocs of "little guys" -- ethnics, rural residents, evangelicals, cops, construction workers, homemakers, military veterans -- began moving into the Republican column. And big chunks of America's rich elite -- financiers, academics, heiresses, media barons, software millionaires, entertainers -- drifted into the Democratic Party. The extent to which the parties have flipped positions on the little-guy/rich-guy divide is illustrated by research from the Ipsos-Reid polling firm. Comparing counties that voted strongly for George W. Bush to those that voted strongly for Al Gore in the 2000 election, the study shows that in pro-Bush counties only 7% of voters earned at least $100,000, while 38% had household incomes below $30,000. In the pro-Gore counties, fully 14% pulled in $100,000 or more, while 29% earned less than $30,000 ... The financial pillars for Democrats are now super-rich trial lawyers, Hollywood... posted by Michael at September 2, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Serena at the Open
Dear Blowhards -- Serena Williams, who's bringing out a line of clothes soon, is showing up for matches at the US Open in tinier and tinier outfits. Her trademark for the tournament: as she warms up, she wears black neoprene knee socks that look like dominatrix boots -- during last night's warm-up session, the stadium loudspeakers played "You Sexy Thing." Wimbledon this ain't! The Dominator Some quotes from Serena: I didn't consider [my outfit today] skimpy. It's really sexy and micro-mini ... I've always considered myself an entertainer. I've never been your normal athlete ... I just think I represent all females who believe in themselves ... It doesn't matter what you look like -- it's all about having confidence in yourself. That's not necessarily having to wear some short shorts or extremely small top. It's just about believing in yourself. I represent women who believe in herself and has confidence in herself to be unique. I love the way Serena resists the term "skimpy" but embraces "sexy and micro-mini." I guess for her the first has negative overtones, while the second has positive overtones. I wonder why. Insights from anyone here? In any case, Serena's hinting that she'll be wearing "a kind of see-through" tennis dress before the tournament's over. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2004 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Moviegoing: "Collateral" and "We Don't Live Here Anymore"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It had been four months since I last went to see a movie in a movie theater -- my longest stretch away from movie theaters since I became a moviegoer, back in the late '60s. Who needs movie theaters these days? DVDs are convenient and adequate, movie-theater audiences no longer know how to behave, corporate multiplexes make me feel like data that's being crunched ... I was feeling pretty smug about staying away from movie theaters, if truth be told. But over the weekend the August heat and humidity KO'd the apartment's air-conditioners, so the time had come: it was off to the multiplexes for The Wife and me, to see Collateral the first evening and We Don't Live Here Anymore the next. And y'know what? It wasn't so bad, really. There was some rude cellphone behavior, but not too much. The theaters' staffs were pleasant. The films themselves were beautifully projected, with sound systems that weren't too, too crushingly loud. The print of "Collateral" was so pristine that I watched it convinced that I was watching a digital projection. Imagine my filmbuff chagrin when I learned I was wrong. The pictures themselves? Well, the air conditioning deserved an Oscar. "Collateral," a Michael Mann thriller, wasn't half-bad ... for a Michael Mann movie. By which I mean that I enjoyed it more as something to analyze than as something to be enjoyed. I'm duty-bound to report that The Wife loved the film, and that the rest of the audience seemed perfectly content with it too. But for me, the movie was a case-study in how a good B-movie premise can be overwhelmed by production values, star power, and heavy-handed directing. Two movie stars, in a cab, acting. I have to admit that I have a problem with Michael Mann, none -- none! -- of whose movies I've liked; some voice in me screams "pretentious TV director" the moment his films begin. Though he's obviously talented and competent, I find his work studied and oppressive; I think of him as Michael "Watch me direct!" Mann. And I find his meanings and his approach as banal as what might be found in a car ad. I should have enjoyed his version of "Last of the Mohicans," for instance: sweeping romance, hurried and breathless sex, well-costumed history, and Madeleine Stowe in a major role. What's not to love? But I had a hard time sitting through it. I did find "Collateral" more bearable than the Michael Mann usual. Much credit goes to a shrewdly conceived and executed B-movie premise that you've probably heard about -- hitman (Tom Cruise) hires nice-guy cabbie (Jamie Foxx) to drive him around L.A. on a series of assasination assignments. Credit to the decent performances, too: Cruise did his demonically-charming baddie surprisingly well; he's like a roguish, human version of the Terminator. And Jamie Foxx gets some firstclass warmth and audience rapport going. But that ol' Michael Mann drear had me feeling under... posted by Michael at September 1, 2004 | perma-link | (11) comments

Religion and Science
Michael and Vanessa--er, at this point, all the Blowhards: By a coincidence, just after reading Michael’s posting on The Renaissance, I happened to pick up “For the Glory of God” a book by contemporary sociologist and historian of religion, Rodney Stark. In it, Mr. Stark—a perpetual debunker of received wisdom—debunks a number of notions held about the impact of religion in history. His second chapter, “God’s Handiwork,” takes aim at the notion that science and religion have been in perpetual opposition. Stark stresses the critical role that religion, and particularly Christianity, played in the development of modern science. He points out that only Christianity of the great world religions believed in a supremely rational Creator who governed nature via divine law. He argues that unless a society assumes the existence of divinely instituted 'laws' of nature—as Christian theology did, and according to Mr. Stark, did uniquely—it won’t go looking for such ‘laws.’ While a society without such a belief in 'laws' of nature may develop technology, it won’t develop that mix of empiricism and theory known as science. Hence, Stark is fairly dismissive of the notion that Renaissance Humanism—the ‘rebirth’ of classical learning—had much to teach Europe about science, as Greek and Roman society lacked this fundamental belief and interest in natural ‘law.’ (He also points out that late Medieval Europe was significantly in advance of the Classical world not only in terms of ‘science,’ narrowly defined, but also in terms of technology and general know-how.) But I particularly wanted to share one of his sub-arguments, to wit: that the ‘revolutionary’ nature of the Renaissance (c. 1400 – 1550) and perhaps even more, the Scientific Revolution (c. 1550-1700) have been wildly overstated, chiefly by polemical opponents of religion: In many ways the term “Scientific Revolution” is as misleading as “Dark Ages.” Both were coined to discredit the medieval Church. The notion of a “Scientific Revolution” has been used to claim that science suddenly burst forth when a weakened Christianity could no longer prevent it, and as the recovery of classical learning made it possible. Both claims are as false as those concerning Columbus [and his supposed heroic role in fighting against a Church-imposed theory of a flat earth]. First of all, classical learning did not provide an appropriate model for science. Second, the rise of science was already far along by the sixteenth century, having been carefully nurtured by devout Scholastics in that most Christian invention, the university… Since the beginning of the Scientific Revolution is often dated from the publication of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the solar system, Mr. Stark uses the Copernican example to lay out at length his contention that what has been described as a ‘revolution’ was more like a continuation of trends long in place. The following is largely a paraphrase of his material: 1. Greek speculative philosophy, including that of Aristotle, believed that vacuums were impossible, and that the universe was filled with a transparent substance. Hence, the continuing motion of the stars and... posted by Friedrich at September 1, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Responses and Elaborations
Dear Blowhards -- Although a little anxious that I may be breaking my arm patting my own back, I can't help feeling tickled to notice that some classy bloggers have taken up, responded to, and elaborated on some of my gab. Over at Artsblogging, George Hunka, some readers, and I had a few amiable back-and-forths about that eternal conundrum, government financing for the arts. The exchanges can be read here and here. Here, John Massengale approvingly links to my posting about American highways (which can be read here) -- very flattering, given that John's an established architecture-and-planning pro while I'm a mere fan. He adds crucial information to the interstate-highway story that shouldn't be missed. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2004 | perma-link | (1) comments

Say Hello to Fenster
A brief break from the usual format to announce that a new blogger will be joining the Blowhards team. You know him already -- or at least I hope you do -- as Fenster Moop, who has been doing terrific blogging for some time at his own place, here. Fenster will be bringing his own freethinking point of view to bear on many different kinds of questions. (He'll also be providing some much-needed variety -- even I can find my own voice tiresome after a while). He's got a wideranging set of interests, an inquisitive and knowledgeable mind, impressive writing chops, and an adventurous background; currently a college adminstrator, he has also worked in politics and finance. I'm awfully pleased that he's agreed to become a regular at 2Blowhards, and I know visitors will enjoy his writing. Please join me in saying "Hi, Fenster." By the way, Fenster tells me that he may or may not continue soloblogging at Fenster Moop. Up to him, of course, though I'm urging him to take as much advantage as possible of 2Blowhards. In any case, please do check out the writing and blogging Fenster has already posted, here. Good stuff. Now, back to our usual programming. And, yo, Fenster-dude: let 'er rip.... posted by Michael at September 1, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments