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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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of hotstuff new books are upon us. I'm looking forward to longer discussions about them, god knows. But for now, I'd hate to not take note. Nikos Salingaros' "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" should ruffle lots of feathers in the building and design world. But I suspect it'll also fascinate many who aren't generally architecture and urbanism fanatics. Puzzled by the prevalance of hideous buildings (and the kind of thinking that justifies and rationalizes such practices), Salingaros applies his powerful mind to such basic questions as: what is a theory? What might the difference be between an art theory and some other kind of theory? What are the ideas and aims of the current architectural elite? And what might explain why these flawed ideas have such a powerful hold on so many people? This is a stunning and deep book, as interesting for its analyses of psychology and politics as it is for its discussions of architecture. It's guaranteed to get the brain buzzing; what a treat too that it's a real reading pleasure, written in a voice that's both urbane and forceful. "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" can be bought here, as a conventional paper book and as a PDF download. I'm also looking forward to seeing how Toni Bentley's new book, "The Surrender", will be received. I'm hoping it'll be quite le scandale; it certainly deserves to be. I'm a big fan of the writing of Toni Bentley, who's a former NYCB ballerina and who has until now written about dance and performance. I blogged about her here and here; here's her own website. With "The Surrender," she shifts gears in a startling way. The book, which I got an early look at, is a spare and intense erotic memoir. Bentley encountered a man who, shall we say, possessed the key to her locked-up rollerskates -- and a new world of sensation, release, and fulfillment was hers. Many of the themes that fascinate in her previous books -- art, spirituality, sex, striving, beauty -- find embodiment here too. It's quite a story, delivered with Bentley's daredevil mixture of the funky, the intellectual, and the intuitive. (Camille Paglia fans will spot a kindred spirit in Bentley.) I was fascinated by the book in literary terms, too, because in it Bentley manages something rare, which is to present a convincing American version of the spare French autobiographical novella of pain and love. I found the book an intoxicating performance, informal and approachable, yet sophisticated and elegant too: the good parts of "American" plus the good parts of "French" -- what's not to like? Plus, hey, the book couldn't be sexier. "The Surrender" goes on sale in a couple of weeks, and can be pre-ordered here. Provocative reading! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, October 1, 2004

The Word (and World) Made Flesch
Francis Morrone writes Dear Blowhards, On my computer I have the word processing program WordPerfect 10. I don't use it. I think it came with the computer. (I don't often use Microsoft Word, either. For short documents, I use a text editor, NoteTab Pro, which I also use for HTML writing, such as this post. For long documents, I use Nota Bene.) Anyway, WordPerfect comes with a grammar-checking add-on called Grammatik. One of the things Grammatik does for you is analyze your style for "readability," based on something called the "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level." (The makers of Nota Bene, bless their souls, presume you don't want or need your grammar analyzed.) Do you write at a second-grade level, or a fourteenth-grade level? Grammatik also compares your style with anything else you wish to load in the word processor. It comes pre-loaded with the scores for a "Hemingway short story" (though it does not say which one), the Gettysburg Address, and IRS Form 1040EZ (i.e., the "short form"). Of these, the Hemingway story scores at the fourth-grade level, the Gettysburg Address at the thirteenth-grade level, and Form 1040EZ at the tenth-grade level (10.5 to be exact). Just for fun, I thought I'd run some Blowhards postings through the Flesch-Kincaid mill: Michael's recent posting "One-Click Addiction" comes in at 7.29 (without a single passive construction!). His "Morning Babble" post--don't know if you noticed this--is considerably more complex: 10.7. As for yours truly, my post on gentrification rated 11.2, but my post on Mark Helprin scored 9.2. OK. This is a silly exercise. Yet, as Ben Yagoda reminds us in his new book, The Sound on the Page, Rudolf Franz Flesch (the "Flesch" half of "Flesch-Kincaid") had an enormous impact on how Americans have communicated over the last half century or so. I had not thought of Flesch in years--in fact, had never really thought of him at all--when a Blowhards reader, the indispensable Dave Lull, sent me an essay by Ben Yagoda, from the Chronicle of Higher Education. I then learned that Yagoda had written a book from which that essay derives. Oxford's American National Biography notes Flesch's profession as that of "readability researcher and educational critic." He was born in Vienna in 1911, and came to the U.S. in 1938, after earning a doctorate in law at the University of Vienna. Shortly after coming to the U.S., he earned a Ph.D. in library science from Columbia. He established a Readability Laboratory at Columbia's Teachers College. In 1943, he wrote a book called Marks of Readable Style: A Study in Adult Education, but he truly burst upon the scene three years later, with a bestseller called The Art of Plain Talk. In his ANB bio, we learn: He advocated an unadorned style, with shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences, fewer prefixes and suffixes, and greater use of colloquial American English. He equated such plain talk with progressive politics, especially with the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.... Initially aimed at the teacher, librarian, or... posted by Francis at October 1, 2004 | perma-link | (15) comments

One-Click Junkie
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't generally seem to be someone who wrestles with addictions. I guess this is fortunate, although I do sometimes wish I were more compulsive than I am; perhaps then I'd be an interesting person. But no such luck. Food? I don't have much trouble staying, if not slim, then at least not-fat. My alcohol limit is two drinks a day, but only because at 50 anything beyond that flattens me. (Ah, the aging process.) Drug-taking became a thing of the past when the body announced that it couldn't take the strain any longer. The smalltown Republican in me dislikes throwing money away on anything as dumb as gambling. As for sex: I confess that I don't understand the whole "sex-addict" thing, do you? I mean, don't these people need their eight hours of shuteye afterwards? I certainly do. Yes, I surf the Web 'way too much -- but at least I manage to pass a few links along to fellow blogfans. But there's one temptation that I now realize has become a problem: buying media-things, especially from Amazon. Hello, my name is Michael Blowhard, and I have a One-Click Addiction. What a high it is: the hunt for just the right DVD/CD/book ... Spotting what you need ... And, click! -- bagging your game. I'll read it! I'll watch it! I'll listen to it! I swear I will! It got pretty bad. It got to where I was receiving three or even four packages a week from Amazon. I'm in no financial danger -- those small-town Republican genes aren't about to let me take anything resembling a financial risk. But the tortured, inward shame of it ... The looks the doorman would give me as he handed over yet another package ... The heaps of unread books and unlistened-to CDs ... It got to where I was hiding Amazon boxes from The Wife, opening them and hurrying them out to the trash before she knew they'd arrived. So I'm going cold turkey. Boom, whap, just like that: I've vowed to make no media purchases whatsoever for an entire month. No music, no books, no movies, not even a magazine, dammit. If I'm going to read, I'm going to read something I already own. Likewise with music and movies. Will I prove to have character enough? So far I'm five days into my new life, and I've worked out a few good ways to cope. Avoiding book, music and magazine stores has been a help. Amazon's tougher; I've almost succumbed a couple of times while surfing Amazon. But before I hit the One-Click button, I did manage to catch myself -- good for me! Hey, I've come up with a clever way of managing the lure of Amazon, I think. Instead of buying something that I've tracked down, I now put it in my Amazon Wish List. That way, I can still get the thrill of the hunt, even while avoiding making an actual... posted by Michael at October 1, 2004 | perma-link | (17) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Alice suspects that universities are dying. * Yahmdallah -- a Christian and a rocker -- watches "The Passion." * Thanks to Alex, who linked to this page of photos of a Berkeley parade. I think it's safe to assume that Berkeley won't prove to be a Bush stronghold. * Steve Sailer thinks Richard Dawkins may be a wimp. * Christopher Rhoads reports that, while cellphone carriers are doing their best to topload new phones with features galore, what most consumers really want is something basic and simple, and that works well. * Selma Blair found it difficult to dance go-go-style while wearing big breasts. * Have you ever put "straighten out my to-do lists" as an item on your latest to-do list? Jared Sandberg's article might be for you. * Europe's starting to feel alarmed about being overwhelmed by Muslims. * As far as Lynn's concerned, pro journalists who mock bloggers are only making themselves look ridiculous. * Jane Galt links to this John Tierney defence of automobile culture, and blasts away at Smart Growth. John Massengale brings out the big guns in response; James Kunstler rolls out the nukes. * James Morss alerted me to the good Asia Times columnist who writes under the name Spengler. Here's a page that links to all of Spengler's pieces. * Quote of the week comes from the refreshing Christopher Walken, who's asked about his acting method and techniques. Here's his answer: "Well, acting is pretending. I don't know how these things work. I study the script and I try to make it sound like I mean it." * You can watch Elvis Costello's new song and video online. He seems to be having a little fun with imagery from "This Year's Model." * Comcast is bracing itself for some major changes in the way we interact with TV. Meanwhile, Tivo and Netflix are teaming up to deliver movies to your hard drive. * Brad, a Democrat, has come out in favor of privatizing Social Security. Tyler expresses reservations. The world has indeed turned upside-down, and Economic Fanboy here couldn't feel more bewildered. * It seems that burlesque hasn't died, it's just gone online. * DesignObserver's Jessica Helfand wonders why you don't see more women bloggers, or even blogcommenters. * Linus wonders what becomes of John Cage's notorious "4'33" when it's performed on the Web. Like: which audio format better suits a performance -- MP3, or WMV? (Punchline, sort of: the piece is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence.) * Pierre thinks Eric Burdon, of The Animals, has grown tired of his classics. The Fleshtones still seem to have the magic, though. * This hilarious video clip has been linked to many times already, but in case someone missed it ... It seems to be a few minutes from a British children's TV show, and it features priceless double entendres galore. Is it a legit clip? Heck, if it's a straight-faced forgery, it's doubly impressive.... posted by Michael at October 1, 2004 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Moviegoing: "The Forgotten"; "Twisted"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How insistent are you that a work of art or entertainment be perfect -- or at least fabulous -- before you'll consent to enjoy it? Back when I was young and still getting the hang of the cultural life, I could be intolerant beyond belief. I wanted something special, something transformative, something that'd ... Well, frankly, I've forgotten what I imagined might follow. But life was going to change for the better somehow. What this insistence boiled down to was largely, I suspect, me trying to define myself via my tastes -- ah, youth -- and me trying to make my way from smalltown rube-itude to someplace that appealed to me a little more. So I made a big fuss out of art things; I was holding my breath 'till I got what I wanted, I guess. These days, I'm a lot more forgiving. I could argue that forgivingness is a better thing than pissiness generally, that's for sure. But what this change in my attitude probably really reflects is age and biochemistry, if not decay. It may also, if only to a small extent, be a function of a couple of other things too. For one: these days, I'm comfy enough as a bigcity culture person. I may be a sadsack and a loser in this world's terms, but I do know my way around. And if I haven't shaken off every last bit of my rube-i-tude, so what? I'm cool with enjoying my Inner Hick instead. For another thing: what do I have left to prove? I'm too old to believe that my tastes can define me, or that they might offer a clue to my inner soul (whatever that might be). And it's not as though, by enjoying or not-enjoying a given work, I'm demonstrating something of significance to anyone. The world isn't exactly awaiting my opinion about anything. These days, the art magic, when it's present, is no less potent a drug than it ever was. The change is in me: I've become much calmer when the magic isn't present. Perhaps because life itself now seems spectacularly magical to me, I find myself no longer making of art any kind of cause. Art will take care of itself -- or maybe it won't. But in either case, it'll do so as a part of life, and ain't that a grand thing? I've also discovered that the culture world itself is made up of actual people, however quirky and even loony they often are. And I've discovered that these actual people have their on days and their off days just like the rest of us. Who knew? Trust-fund narcissists aside, culture people wrestle with the same constraints and the same incentives (money, family, recognition, health, time) that the rest of us do. And they do so as they try to negotiate very uncertain and tricky fields. Hey: the people behind a poem, a painting, a website, a play, or a movie?... posted by Michael at September 30, 2004 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Morning Babble
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do all women love to gab first thing in the morning? Or only most? This may of course be nothing but an artifact of my limited experience, but I've been struck over and over by the way many women love starting the day with a long session of the usual female thing -- expressions (and "validations") of feelings, the pulling-apart of relationships, the mulling-over of all kinds of indefinite (to my mind) "issues" ... This whole chewing-over-of-the-emotional-and-relationship-dimension seems to be as much a part of women's desired morning routine as is the usual fussing with foodstuffs, the warming-up of coffee and toast, the gasping at the deliciousness of butter and baked goods. And, as far as I can tell, it's always to be conducted in that in media res way women are so fond of. Amazing, isn't it, how women expect their men to be able to get on board with their thought processes without providing the slightest introduction? Amazing too, how they feel irritated when you ask for a hint or two that might enable you to join in. Sigh. You'd think they'd appreciate the effort we make to tag along; instead, they feel annoyed that we aren't already right there with them. Men: never quite adequate to what women need them to be. What does this need for gab mean? Perhaps just that -- in the same way The Woman needs loving and feeding -- she also needs long episodes of being attended to while she digests and incorporates her experience. How do you guys contend? Much as I adore The Wife, I do sometimes find being plunged into the morning-babble a challenge. (I assume I'm taking note of a standard thing here, by the way; the breakfast-table scene showing the woman gabbing while the hubster hides behind a newspaper has been a cliche of cartoons for decades.) If I'm to be at my best in a conversation of the womanly kind, I need a little preparation; while I enjoy playing a gallant supporting role in The Wife's dramas, giving such a performance is something that requires real effort. And suffice it to say that I don't exactly roll out of bed already deep in the thick of such matters, as The Wife appears to. So, over the years, the two of us have negotiated some half-formal/half-informal agreements about how best to deal with the morning-babble thing. A degree of attentiveness is always required -- there'll be no hiding behind the newspaper for me. But I'm cut a little slack too. It's understood that I get to joke and tease a bit; a man who can't tease his woman is a sad thing. And it's agreed that reprieves from attending to morning babble will be granted on my busier days. Despite the general success of these negotiations, I find I still need to be vigilant. The Wifely love of morning-babble is an impressive force that's always doing its best to have things... posted by Michael at September 29, 2004 | perma-link | (19) comments