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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Last Political Word
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For my final attempt at political commentary this election season, I'll -- yawns, please -- return to my One Chosen Theme: how unresponsive to the rest of us our political class has become. Good lord, what a campaign, eh? While I've met plenty of people who are furious at Bush and many others who find Kerry beyond unappealing, I've met almost no one who feels any enthusiasm for either candidate. I'm hardly the first person to say that I feel like someone who's being offered a choice between a Coke and a Pepsi. Perhaps connoisseurs can taste a difference -- but, what can I say, I'm someone who isn't in the mood for soda pop. This is the first Presidential election I've experienced where my general rule of thumb -- vote for the candidate who seems likely to do the least damage -- isn't offering me any guidance. As far as I can tell, neither one of these clowns represents the lesser of two evils. Hey, did anyone else have a good chuckle when they saw the cover of the latest issue of The Economist? Click on the image if it's hard to make out at this size. A stroke of editing inspiration, no? I'm surprised that more TV shows, newspapers, columnists and magazines haven't jumped on this "what a lousy choice" angle. God knows there's a good chance such a theme would reverberate with a large audience. Incidentally, part of what this betrayal-by-the-political-class angle of mine represents is my own version of cheap journalistic thinking. How can a blog be of interest (and of service) this election time, when thousands of other blogs are already offering intelligent, pugnacious, and enthusiastic cheerleading for one candidate or the other? Since the political-cheerleading field is already such a crowded one, how to stand out? And how to be of a little use? I ain't too proud to 'fess up to my cheesy motives. In fact, I enjoy much about luridness and exploitation, and one of these days I hope to blog in praise of the cheap, the lurid, the exploitative, and the lowdown. What do the stars mean in the absence of the mud, after all? But if the Coke-and-Pepsi image doesn't work for you ... Well, how about Detroit in the '60s and early '70s? It seems generally agreed-on that, in that era, the American carmaking class turned on its market. With no real competition to speak of, and bolstered by tons of government help (highway building, cheap oil), the temptation to create and sell lousy cars to an essentially captive audience while feathering their own nests was too great to resist. It wasn't until Detroit got hit with some ferocious body blows -- the oil shock of '73 and the availability of good, cheap Japanese cars -- that the Detroit carmaking class started to pay attention to what its customers (ie., us) wanted from them. Or how about another analogy: Hollywood. The moviemaking business... posted by Michael at October 30, 2004 | perma-link | (23) comments

Political Aside
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, The bin Laden tape has gotten the usual gaggle of TV spinmeisters all twisted around. The job of the spinmeisters in the last days of the campaign is to interpret every interpretable event as advantaging their candidate. The problem is that if they position the bin Laden tape as helping their side, it suggests that bin Laden intended it to benefit their side, and that the bad guys therefore want their side to win. Kerry doesn't want the public to think bin Laden favors him, since that makes him look weak, and feeds the Bush argument. But Bush doesn't want the public to think bin Laden favors him, since it suggests a hardline approach breeds more terrorists, and feeds the Kerry argument. What's a poor meister to do? Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at October 30, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Taste of Video
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some people collect books, some collect ceramics, and -- now that digital technology is here -- some collect video clips. I've been exploring some online collections, and can report that the people who collect video clips share a taste-set; they're drawn to funny commercials, celebrity sex videos, skateboarder wipeouts, fistfights, and car crashes. This is not the Pacific Film Archives, in other words. A fast connection is required for optimum viewing, of course, and a few of the following are NSFW. Here's a reminder to wear your damn seatbelt. A former Miss New York can't have wanted this going public; Miss Venezuela at least keeps smiling. It's amazing that boys survive adolescence, isn't it? Some people sure do have a different idea of how to have fun than I do. In Prince Charles' immortal phrase, "There almost went the dynasty." The new, uninhibited young woman is free to act out as she pleases. Sometimes the subtitles are better than the action. Surely no one can deny that an inescapable connection exists between new technology and sex. Those little wisps of chic fabric the catwalk girls wear? They come off a whole lot faster than they go on. Today's Little Red Riding Hood is a Riot Grrrl. Hey, dude -- that's not the finish line. So I guess this one doesn't go in the record books? I'll spare you my rant about how today's avant-garde cinema isn't to be found at Anthology Film Archives, but on "America's Funniest Home Videos" instead ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 27, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Romeo, Juliet and Renaissance Urban Demographics
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Fellow Blowhards: Obviously, the artistic worth of Shakespeare’s plays hardly stands or falls on the basis of their historical accuracy. But the other day I came across an essay by urban historian David Herlihy on “Some Psychological and Social Roots of Violence in the Tuscan Cities” that seemed to me to illuminate aspects of “Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare, who apparently wrote “Romeo and Juliet” around 1595, based it on Arthur Brooke's poem “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” of 1592. This in turn was a translation of a French poem based on a short story by the 16th-century Italian writer Matteo Bandello. The pervasive violence of Shakespeare’s play clearly reflects the situation in urban Renaissance Italy. In the early 1500s, one observer of the Italian urban scene wrote that law and order had all but vanished from the Italian cityscape. “There is no other justice,” this writer affirmed, “but deceit, force, money and factional and family ties; all the other books of every law might as well be burned.” Although Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, the instability caused by young urban males with hyper-itchy trigger fingers, so to speak, seems to have been similar throughout the Italian peninsula. As Professor Herlily points out: The famous dispute between the Blacks and the Whites, which was the occasion of Dante’s exile from Florence in 1302…had its origins in a feud between two branches of the Cancellieri family of Pistoia…Probably in 1286, two young cousins of the Cancellieri house fell to brawling in a tavern, and from this small spark, struck by irresponsible youths, a war began which eventually engulfed the major cities of Tuscany. The prominence of the young in precipitating this battle is evident also at Florence. There, the Donati and the Cerchi families led the Black and White factions, respectively. At a public dance, held in welcome of the first of May, gangs of young men from the two factions traded insults and blows, and turned the rivalry into open war. Professor Herlihy is quick to point out that this pervasive violence wasn’t just a reflection of poor law enforcement (although that undoubtedly played a role.) Rather, such ultra-macho horseplay was pretty much what you’d expect in any place that shared the basic social arrangements of an Italian Renaissance city…such as the Wild West. Based on very detailed information available from the Catasto, a combination tax assessment and census conducted in 1427, Professor Herlihy points out that the sex ratio between Florentine men and women aged 18 to 32 was 132:100. This is the kind of oversupply of men and undersupply of women that is normally found only in frontier towns. In the case of Renaisance Florence, this sex imbalance was the result of two causes. The first was a continuing immigration of ambitious young men from the countryside. The second was the tendency of Italian urban families to ship any unmarried daughters off to convents by the age of 15 or so,... posted by Friedrich at October 27, 2004 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, October 25, 2004

Buy 'em Today
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, especially Francis, You too can watch the breaking of the Bambino's Curse, up close and personal, in Fenway itself, right by the dugout, the Sox dugout even, in the seventh game, if it gets that far. You can't get closer to history than this. Just click here, and you'll find two tickets for sale. A little over fifty thou will get you there with a friend. If you consider the accruals building up from 1918-2004, not such a bad deal, actually. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at October 25, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Rick James R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was saddened to learn that funkmeister Rick James has died at age 56. (I was also startled to learn that he died back on August 6th. How did I miss that? Lesson: don't look to 2Blowhards for your breaking news.) I never paid much attention to his music beyond the immortal "Super Freak," but "Super Freak" was more than alright with me. For a couple of decades, "Super Freak" has been Super Effective at getting people out of their seats and onto the dance floor, and at encouraging them to feel happy and goofy too. What a sexy party song it is. "Rick James was a brilliant, innovative singer/songwriter/producer," wrote the groupie-turned-author Pamela DesBarres, "a swaggering, strutting, pompous picture of decadence and dastardly obsessions." Bless his departed soul, eh? In any case, it's hard to think of many songs that do as good a job at conveying the silly, hyperbolic, cartoonish, absurd sensation of feeing young and all-sexed-up as well as "Super Freak" does. Some Rick James facts I learned while scanning the web today: He was the third of eight children. His mother was a former dancer who made a living running numbers. "She raised us strict Catholics," James recalled. But he always lived a wild life. By his mid-teens, he'd already tried marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. He joined the Army at 15, deserted, signed with Motown, got ratted out by someone, and spent a year in the brig. By the way ... Kids: DO NOT take Rick James as a role model. This way of conducting a life WILL NOT TURN OUT WELL. His album "Street Songs," which included "Super Freak," sold 3 million copies, and stayed on the American charts for over a year. "She's a very kinky girl/ the kind you don't take home to mother/ She'll never let your spirits down/ once you get her off the street ... She's alright/ She's alright/ She's alright/ That girl's alright with me -- Yeah!!!!" Sigh: lyrics to make me feel all warm and nostalgic inside ... During the "Street Songs" tour, James would light a reefer while on stage, and dare the cops to arrest him. Although he continued writing, recording, performing and producing, James's career never reached anything like that kind of peak again. He's generally considered to have fused the riff-based funk of James Brown with pop and punk. Onstage, he was the spangly, prancing embodiment of arousal itself, a combo of George Clinton and Little Richard, and as irresistable an image as Mick Jagger in his prime. Me and my punk friends were snotty about funk at that time, but even we thought "Super Freak" was so coked-out sexy/crazy you just had to love it. Many an evening otherwise devoted to Richard Hell, The Ramones, and Lene Lovich reached its climax when "Super Freak" was put on the turntable. But by the late '80s, Rick James's life had crashed. Hiphop had overwhelmed James's brand of funk on... posted by Michael at October 25, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Have any other bloggers upgraded to Movable Type 3? Is it worth the effort? Does it offer worthwhile new features? Input, opinions, guidance, and observations all appreciated.... posted by Michael at October 25, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments