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August 26, 2004


Dear Vanessa --

* One of my favorite Teaching Company lecture series is the very enlightening American Religious History, by Emory University's Patrick Allitt. (I blogged about this series here; it's currently on sale and can be bought for a terrific price here.) So I was happy to learn in a review by Philip Terzian in today's WSJ that Allitt has published a new book, I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester In The University Classroom. In his review, which can be read here, Terzian calls the book "charming and compelling" -- and, as a big fan of Allitt's, I'll bet that it is. The book can be bought here.

* Yet another Frank Gehry design wins an Eyesore of the Month Award from James Kunstler, here.

* Some eloquent Kunstler expressions of political disgust from his blog, here:

Kerry can't get any traction in this campaign because he is, as Kevin Phillips aplty put it, "a haircut in search of a brain." He doesn't have any more "vision" than Bush 41 or Bush 43. He lacks the moral courage to tell the public the truth about our futureless living arrangements. His position about the war against Islamic fundamentalism is incomprehensible. For all I know he distinguished himself in Vietnam, but he's mentally AWOL in the 2004 campaign for the White House. Am I supposed to vote for him just because he isn't Bush? As a registered Democrat, that's not good enough for me.

* I don't follow the Olympics much, but I've spent a lot of enjoyable time reading Steve Sailer's bloggings about the Games, here. Why isn't some pro publication paying Steve big money to write sports commentary? Hard to imagine he wouldn't quickly attract legions of loyal readers.

* I've enjoyed following the "should Olympians pose nude?" controversy. A few of these very beautiful photos -- those bodies! -- can be eyeballed here.

* Is anyone else as amazed as I am by how wholesome and normal some of the models in online porn appear to be? Here's an example: a webcam gal who looks ... well, like a very pretty example of the smalltown, all-American, cornfed girls I grew up with. Not a tattoo, piercing, or popped vein visible on her. Has performing for the webcam become a standard way young people accumulate enough money for the down payment on their first condo?

* As if Alex and Tyler don't provide incentive enough to keep regular tabs on Marginal Revolution (here), they've enlisted the excellent financial journalist James Surowiecki as guest-blogger this week. By the way, I hadn't run across this particular Tyler essay here for Policy magazine before; it's a good introduction to his thoughts about culture.

* Sho Yano scored a 1500 on his SATs at the age of 8. He graduated in three years from Loyola University, and he's now, at the ripe old age of 12, doing well in medical school. His IQ, which has been measured at "over 200," is one of the highest ever recorded. Read more about this amazing kid here and here.

* Some staggering figures about the scale of Federal spending and regulating can be found here. Amazing fact: "Regulatory costs ... exceed all corporate pretax profits." (Link thanks to John Ray, here.)

* Thomas Sowell thinks too much software is topheavy and complicated, here.

* I love visiting DesignObserver (here), where some graphics-and-design eggheads and practitioners discuss the field. Here's a terrific discussion of the California artist Ed Ruscha; here's an entertaining rant about that icon of good functional design, the paperclip.

* Graham Morrison's firstrate speech (reprinted in the Guardian) about how the vogue for buildings by starchitects is ruining cities can be read here.

* Have you heard of the "anchor baby" problem? It's a major contributor to immigration insanity -- a rule whereby any child born in the States automatically becomes an American citizen. As you'd expect, this is a rule that provides enormous encouragement to illegals to make a lot of babies. Howard Sutherland's VDare piece here is the best intro to the anchor baby thing I know of. Eye-opening passage:

This new “American” is not the end of the story, either. The U.S.-born child becomes an anchor in American soil that will permit his parents and minor siblings to remain and, later, his grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and all of their children to immigrate legally, not to mention any friends and acquaintances from home who may follow them illegally. All of their children born here will also be considered American citizens.

* A good interview with Public Choice brainiac and economist James Buchanan can be read here.

* Good lord, I guess it really does take all kinds, here. Once again my own erotic imagination -- which in pre-Web days seemed to me like such an infinitely imaginative and perverse thing -- is humbled by what the Web offers up. It turns out that there's an awful lot of erotic scenarios that would simply never occur to me freely.

* Steve Sailer tipped readers off to how good the LATimes' car critic Dan Neil is. He's right, IMHO. This review here of a new Lexus is some of the best -- the most insightful, daring, and fun -- new criticism of any kind I've read recently.

* The Guardian's John Patterson notices that American films are getting as fat and overstuffed as Americans themselves are, here. He also makes a point I've ventured a few times on this blog:

Hollywood has in the last two decades more or less entirely appropriated the outward characteristics and subject matter of old B-movies. They've co-opted sex and violence and taboo-breaking -- all the good stuff, in other words -- along with B-movie standards and staples like monsters, action, gore, noise, sci-fi and so on.

That's exactly right, as well as basic to understanding what's become of American movies these days: most of today's "A" movies are simply overscaled, corporate-style versions of exploitation movies -- glitzily overproduced examples of what used to be considered "B" movies.

* Cult horror filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis -- who made real exploitation movies, and who's revered by buffs for such immortal treasures as "Blood Feast" and "Two Thousand Maniacs" -- is interviewed here.

* Judging from this rhapsodic blog posting here, it seems to be true what they say about the sexual tastes of Frenchmen.

* Do you marvel at the actress Juliette Lewis as much as I do? What a strange creature -- sometimes daring, but sometimes so bizarre that it can seem as though she's determined to give Sean Young a run for the crazy-lady title. Here's an epic visit with the sex-kitten space-cadet from The Guardian.

* A quick lesson in what it was like being a woman writer in England in the 18th century can be read here.

* Theodore Dalrymple reviews the latest developments in British multiculturalism here. Here's a couldn't-someone-see-this-coming account in the Observer about more multicultural insanity. Those who suspect that the concept of "identity politics" is a myth promoted by rightie bastards might want to take a look at this article here on the subject, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

* There can be no such thing as too much Freud-bashing, at least as far as I'm concerned. How wrong could one brilliant man be? For a few enlightening and to-the-point demolition jobs, click here, here, and here. A fabulous, all-you-really-need-to-know quote from the great Frederick Crews:

The public is entitled to know which distinctive claims of Freud's, if any, have received significant confirmation outside the Freudian belief system. The answer is: not a single one.

* Stop the presses: a study has shown that teenaged girls who hang with older boys are likely to smoke, have sex, and do drugs. Read about it here.

* One of the big puzzles about recent church architecture is: how and why did such lousy churches start getting built? Can there be anything more banal and less inspiring than the typical American suburban/modernist church? Notre Dame classicist Duncan Stroik tries to answer these and a few more questions here.

* Have you ever watched Paul ("Basic Instinct") Verhoeven's early Dutch movie, The Fourth Man? I love it, and when I showed it to The Wife the other evening she loved it too. (The movie is buyable here and Netflixable here.) It's a very sophisticated, sly, black-hearted, and erotic work, full of the kind of literary gamesmanship (dreams, movies-within-movies, symbolism) that films don't generally manage very well. It's pretty creepy, very entertaining, and generally dazzling -- the equal, IMHO, of a good Nabokov novel.



posted by Michael at August 26, 2004


Wow. Great bunch of links! Thanks!

Posted by: Yahmdallah on August 26, 2004 6:23 PM

So what types of films used to constitute A films? I love so many classic Hollywood films but other than the musical, it's difficult for me to get the difference. My brain's been melted by Hollyweird. Sometimes I think it would be a very good idea to bring back a modified version of the Hayes Code.

I'm surprised that this article doesn't mention the granddaddy of all: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Posted by: lindenen on August 26, 2004 7:02 PM

" seems to be true what they say about the sexual tastes of Frenchmen."

Umm ... yeah. What he said. What he said. Umm ... must go now.

Posted by: Maureen on August 26, 2004 7:15 PM

Last year, when the motorcycle flick Torque came out, Ebert pointed out the A/B picture flip flop; in the sixties such a motorcycle flick would have been distinctly lowbrow fare, but in twenty aught three it opened on thousands of screens.

At the same time Torque was opening wide, there was a biopic about the painter Vermeer which was confined to a mere few hundred art houses. But in the past, a picture like Lust For Life (about Van Gogh) or The Agony and The Ecstacy (about Michelangelo) were mainstream big sellers.

Middlebrow was highbrow and lowbrow was nobrow. Or something like that.

BTW, "Herschell Gordon Lewis On The Art Of Writing Copy" is a very amusing book, especially if you share his low opinion of human nature.

Posted by: Brian on August 26, 2004 8:53 PM

Here isTheodore Dalrymple on the immigration mess:

A new mass immigration to Britain from every region of the globe, in which the differences between the immigrants and the host population are profound, has occured precisely at the moment when the multiculturalists have helped undermine the capacity of British culture to absorb them, in the hope that "a community of communities" would emerge: in short, that the lion of the Somali tribal ethic would somehow lie down with the lamb of the British law.

Isn't that what's happening in the States?

The thing I can't for the life of me understand is how the question of immigration, which is changing and will eventually unknit our society, has been kept off the table in the political debate. I have nothing brilliant to say on the matter, but can our society really choose to ignore THE central question of our time?

Posted by: ricpic on August 26, 2004 9:58 PM

Judging from the pictures of him Sho Yano is a good looking kid, which should help. But how he's ever going to find a mate who won't bore him after a week is beyond me.

One more thing to worry about.

Posted by: ricpic on August 27, 2004 6:51 AM

B movies ...

'Way back, before "Star Wars" and "Jaws" changed everything, Hollywood used to make, basically, two classes of movies: mainstream, standard, and prestige movies ("A movies"); and cheapo, lower-budget, and sometimes
exploitative quickies ("B" movies). If I remember right, the names come from the position of the pictures on the advertising playbill back in the days when most movie shows were double-features: the main feature was the A picture -- the one people were supposedly coming to see -- while the supporting picture was the B picture.

What happened in the mid-'70s was that this hierarchy got upended. (It's similar to what happened in popular music during the decade or two before that.) Boomers (and their kids) were now the main market; Boomers (many of whom had grown up loving TV, or preferring the B movies to the A movies) were beginning to run the movie business. And Hollywood learned that they could produce and market big-ass B pictures much more effectively than anyone had ever thought possible.

"Jaws" was basically a horror movie; "Star Wars" was a re-tread of "Buck Rogers" serials -- neither one was a prestige production in the traditional sense. Even the marketing changed. It was at that time that studios started flooding theaters with big action extravaganzas. Previously, pictures were released (generally) quite slowly: first in a couple of big cities, then (if they were a success) slowly trickling down to smaller cities and towns. A successful movie might run for six months, even a year. But "Jaws" and "Star Wars" showed that you could scarf up a lot of money in a very short time if you flooded theaters with prints, and saturated the press and TV with ads all over the country at the same time.

Hard to believe that not so long ago that wasn't the standard way of doing things, isn't it?

The critics played a bit of a role in all this. For years, many of them had championed some B movies and some B moviemakers as hot stuff, and as better than many A movies and A moviemakers. Film Noir, for instance, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, wasn't an A genre; those were all B movies when they were released. But critics got wise to them, chatted them up, talked about how excitingly subversive and moody they were ... And helped people get used to the idea that unpretentious, action-based pix could be considered legit entertainment, and maybe even art. So the critics deserve some of the praise or blame for the development.

In the years since the late '70s, the hilarious, if baffling, thing that's happened is that the B picture-thing has become the standard, central Hollywood product. We now take it for granted that sci-fi, action-adventure, chase comedies -- that these can be "big" pictures, and that this kind of movie is what the big studios should be in the business of making and marketing. In the old days, B pictures were often made by low-rent little studios, not by the more pretigious studios like Paramount.

What tends to happen, though, is that budgets swell, stars get cast, marketing costs skyrocket, computers get enlisted ... And suddenly some perfectly-good B movie idea is swamped by the scale and importance it's been given. It's a B picture in terms of its conception, but an A picture in terms of its "weight," if you will.

I find the mixture pretty disagreeable myself -- the worst of both worlds. But maybe that's just me. I do think a handful of the B/A movies have retained the fast-and-unpretentious spirit that people originally loved B pictures for. The original "Terminator," "Breakdown," "Speed" -- they're all fast, irreverent, and in their unpretentious way have some low-rent poetry. But the big B/A pictures generally seem as weighted-down as any prestige picture ever did, only with a cheapo-exploitation idea at the center.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 27, 2004 12:01 PM

Re: "anchor baby" problem

Is it really better to be like Japan (was?) and end up with people who have lived in the United States for generations, yet who are not citizens? Where exactly do you deport them to? Or do you simply intern them forever?

We've already had cases where young people who came to North America shortly after birth are to be deported to countries they've never seen with languages they don't speak. Without automatic citizenship, this could go on for generations.

The "anchor baby" problem is real. But it's real because all the other solutions are worse.

Posted by: Tom West on August 27, 2004 4:05 PM

I find the mixture pretty disagreeable myself -- the worst of both worlds. But maybe that's just me. I do think a handful of the B/A movies have retained the fast-and-unpretentious spirit that people originally loved B pictures for. The original "Terminator," "Breakdown," "Speed" -- they're all fast, irreverent, and in their unpretentious way have some low-rent poetry.

It's worth noting that the first Terminator was a pretty low-budget film considering its ambition - mid-seven figures if I remember rightly, which wasn't much for a special-effects packed sci-fi extravaganza even twenty years ago.

And one of the reasons it moves so fast - narrative demands aside - is that the special effects aren't that special on close examination, which I suspect is another reason why older B-features are more engaging: they fetishise their special effects far less, if only for reasons of modesty!

Posted by: Michael Brooke on August 28, 2004 2:50 AM

Aren't I jealous of the genius kids? Sure am. But it seems to me like they start off well and generally don't out-achieve the rest of us. If I were a hard worker I would take some comfort in this.

As far as the porn site you linked to... She doesn't look all that normal. Definitely looks like a porn actress to me, not some down-home girl paying the bills.

That said, there are a lot of girls doing the amateur porn thing to get money. I may post some links later but I'm not going to bother looking them up right now. A large number of these amateur porn girls are on the extremes of both vanity and low self-esteem (at the same time, no less). They get sort of a following of people, but don't really seem to be able to make their lives work out. At least that's the impression I get.

It's not entirely acceptable, but, unfortunately, I think it's getting moreso. Last year I heard a pair of girls discussing going to be in one of the Girls Gone Wild videos. And just today I saw a rather disturbing video of a girl stripping for the boy she 'loved' to try and get him to 'love' her. It was actually very sad, to see how even semi-normal high school girls have come to see the need to present themselves as porn stars to be attractive.

There have been a few articles I read in the past couple of months how the ubiquity of porn is affecting relationships... While no one really knows yet what will happen, our society is being a bit naive in accepting the constant sexualized imagery from the mainstream advertising/TV/movies/clothing and tacitly accepting pornography. Hopefully we'll be able to do something about it once we get burned... it may be too late by the time we realize it, and we may be too dependent on it.

Posted by: . on August 28, 2004 3:59 AM

Here in Germany there have been some very tasteful billboard posters showing ancient Greek sculpture or painting, and a modern nude (either male or female). I am not sure if the posers are Olympians, but I think that these are an excellent idea!

(This is why I am not leaving my real name on this comment!)

Posted by: Hack on August 30, 2004 9:53 AM

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