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, November 20, 2004

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * People in the midwest had the chance to see some extraordinary Northern-Lights displays recently. * The Scotsman Alexander Mackendrick directed three movies that have made their way into the movie-history books: the early-'50s Ealing comedies "The Man in the White Suit" and "The Ladykillers," and the wonderful (and influential) 1957 tabloid horror-comedy "Sweet Smell of Success." Then he decided he'd had it with the movie business and turned to teaching. A professor of filmmaking at CalArts for more than 20 years, Mackendrick was -- or so I've been told -- an amazingly smart and effective teacher. He died in 1993, but apparently not before pulling his teaching notes into book shape. The result, "On Filmmaking: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director," has just gone on sale in England; it'll go on sale in the States next year. Reviewing the book for the Guardian, Zoe Green says it's the real deal. * How'd that get there? * Bored and lonely men are prone to do very foolish things. * It doesn't look like "Waterfall" will be writing that romance novel after all. * People have certainly eaten some strange things. * A few years ago, the playwright Bryony Lavery lifted some words and facts from one of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker stories and used them in a play. When Gladwell learned about the borrowings, he was indignant. But why couldn't he sustain his outrage? His terrific New Yorker piece about the episode leads him into provocative musings about copyright, intellectual property, and how culture works. Henry Farrell sees an opportunity for the Dems to make some political hay out of the copyright wars. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, November 19, 2004

Turkey and the EU
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not sure why, but for the past few days I've been thinking about the European Union and Turkey. So I'm indulging myself, sorting out some of what's been rattling around my noggin. Are you up-to-date? Euro-elites are determined to admit Turkey into the European Union despite the fact that huge numbers of everyday Europeans don't want any such thing to occur. Turkey is populous, and full of relatively poor people ... Most of whom are Muslims ... European countries have already encountered scads of problems with their Muslim populations ... And, if Turkey is admitted to the EU, Turkey's inhabitants will be able to move and work wherever they want to within the EU -- no need for a passport or visa ... With a population that's now at roughly 70 million, Turkey -- if admitted -- would instantly become the EU's second-most populous country. Given its high birthrate, Turkey would likely become the EU's most-populous nation within a few decades. Any guesses as to how many millions of these people would do their best to move to more prosperous Euro countries? And any guesses as to how many Muslims from other countries would do their best to make it to Turkey in order to make their own way into Europe? Why on earth would any sensible EU-person even consider admitting Turkey into the EU? The elite reasoning appears to be that welcoming Turkey in will civilize Turkey; that this will be a good thing; and that the good-thing-ishness of it will ripple through the rest of the mideast in a beneficial way. It'll be good for European/middle-eastern relations. Here, for example, is a BBC account of how Germany's foreign minister is justifying his support. America's own Thomas Friedman puts the case this way: If we want to help moderates win the war of ideas within the Islamic world, we must help strengthen Turkey as a model of democracy, modernism, moderation and Islam all working together. Nothing would do that more than having Turkey be made a member of the European Union. Now, I may be nothing but a rube, but this kind of reasoning sounds ... Stupid. It may be brilliant in theory -- what would a slowpoke like me know about it? But it seems idiotic in basic human terms. Let me offer a rube's comparison. Let's say that you and your family live in a house. (That would be the EU.) And let's say there's a bunch of families a block away who don't seem to like you. (That would be the Islamic middle-east.) What to do? Well, hey: how about inviting your next-door neighbors (that'd be Turkey) to have free run of your house? Brilliant! Questions do arise, don't they? First off: why do anything at all about those problem-people a block over? (Except trade with them and defend yourself against them, of course.) Isn't it basic to human experience that trying to change someone will nearly always backfire?... posted by Michael at November 19, 2004 | perma-link | (27) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A busy week is making it impossible for me to pull together a posting with a through-line of its own. Hey, life's not supposed to interfere with blogging. But nothing's going to stop me from passing along a few links anyway: * Have you watched the latest Amazon short-movie presentation? Talk about the most advanced technological pizzazz being put at the service of nothing at all ... Wow: the colors, the editing, the sound -- dazzling, if also annoying to the max. But the story, the acting, and the psychology are on the embarrassing level of what I and my fellow 19-year-olds were doing when I spent a few minutes in film school decades ago. And those interactive end credits -- which have to be seen to be understood -- are freaky. Which came first: the movie or the product placement? * Thanks to ALD for pointing out this good Lynn Hirschberg rant about what's become of American movies. Hirschberg's useful and smart on how the need to appeal to a world market has affected the kind of product Hollywood makes. I'm hoping Tyler Cowen will see fit to respond; Tyler generally makes the case for the cultural benefits of globalization. * Jane Galt's posting about what can be done about the poor has attracted a lot of notice around the blogosphere. Tyler comments here. Arnold Kling comments here. * A with-it young friend alerted me to this new blog for gamers. * I love the site of the young graphic designer Tatiana Arocha. Her own art has a lot of hotsy-totsy flair and personality. But I also admire a couple of other things about Tatiana's site: the entrepreneurial way she's set her site up as a virtual gallery for the work of other artists and designers too; and her openness to all kinds of visual expression -- t-shirts, jewelry, photography, webwork, and graphic design, as well as the more traditional arts. Now there's post-modernism in its best possible form. * Note to self: think twice before wearing biking shorts. * Bryanna Bevins notes that the Arizona Border Patrol apprehended over 2000 illegal immigrants with criminal records in October alone. Greg Ransom argues that "illegal foreign labor is the force driving down wages and driving native born Americans out of a job." * If Britney starts wearing her pants any more low-slung they're going to vanish up inside her. * GWBush's war in Iraq has so far cost your household almost $2000. * Thanks to Steve Sailer, who pointed out this q&a with the Berkeley history professor Yuri Slezkine. Slezkine has just published a new book, "The Jewish Century," and is brilliant and to-the-point about Jewish history, the modern world, and how (in his view) we're all becoming Jewish. Bex Schwartz' posting about what it's like to be a "bad-girl Jew" is a whole lot less scholarly than Slezkine's q&a, but maybe even more fun. * Belgium's highest court has just outlawed one of... posted by Michael at November 19, 2004 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Sixties Stuff
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, To paraphrase Wilde on the weather, when people speak of The Sixties, they usually mean something else. They don't mean the nominal period, the decade 1960-70. And, heavens, they don't mean the complete set of activities that took place, from Jerry Rubin to Barry Goldwater and from Frank Zappa to Lawrence Welk. No, the term usually refers to a somewhat different period--roughly mid-sixties to early seventies, and the objects of study tend toward the countercultural and radical rather than the mundane and common. That's a bit one-sided, but it is understandable. There was something of a Great Awakening going on, and so it is only natural that attention, and historical memory, would dwell on those aspects producing the highest levels of fervor. If you lived through the period, you will probably recall that many ordinary events and phenomena were invested with some higher level of Meaning. Everything was going to change. Lawrence Welk--chuckle, sigh. The June Taylor Dancers--history. Political Parties--hardly necessary, pass the joint. The Rat Pack--these geezers think they're cool? In the moment, I am sure we conceived of the replacement of the old with the new as a kind of war, one leading to an inevitable Aquarian victory. But in real life culture wars, as in real life wars, it is not so simple to discern winners and losers in the long run. We've been greatly influenced by the cutting-edge elements of "The Sixties", to be sure. But life seldom takes a 180, even if it feels that way in the moment to participants in cultural conflict. The old lives on inside the new; they morph, co-exist and dance. So if you read your Arts and Letters Daily daily, as you should, you came across a link a while back to an interesting article by Bruce Bawer on The Other Sixties. Bawer does a splendid job in capturing the moment--the period just before the deluge. And while the dominance of the leading cultural objects of this period was seemingly neutered almost overnight, the era's allure did not die. Moneyed chic is all around us today. Heck, with the new Kevin Spacey film upcoming, expect a Bobby Darin resurgence, too. Things ripened awfully fast from 1963 to 1968. For those with an interest in the very ripe, full-bloom later years, here are some interesting sites. The first is devoted to the Diggers. The Diggers were one of the legendary groups in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, one of the world-wide epicenters of the Sixties Counterculture which fundamentally changed American and world culture. Shrouded in a mystique of anonymity, the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1649-50) who had promulgated a vision of society free from private property, and all forms of buying and selling. The San Francisco Diggers evolved out of two Radical traditions that thrived in the SF Bay Area in the mid-1960s: the bohemian/underground art/theater scene, and the New Left/civil rights/peace movement. The Diggers combined street theater, anarcho-direct action, and art... posted by Fenster at November 17, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Denis Dutton wonders what Darwin can teach us about about literature and storytelling. * Ken Goldstein tells what listening to Lite-FM can do to a person. * Does encouraging creative types make a city vibrant? Joel Kotkin thinks city governments would be better off letting creative types take care of themselves and attending instead to the basics: delivering trustworthy services, reasonable tax rates, etc. * James Panero offers a preview of the architecture of New York's soon-to-reopen Musuem of Modern Art. * Terry Teachout wonders whether Johnny Mercer's song lyrics, brilliant as they are, should be thought of as poetry. * Searchblog touchingly recalls what dance meant to her as a kid, and muses about what dance means to her now. * Convergence alert: a new British reality-TV program shows couples having sex so that an expert can offer tips on their performance. * Yet another magazine I was born to edit. (NSFW.) * I get more information and provocation from reading that dynamo Steve Sailer than I do from most of the magazines I subscribe to. Here's Steve on voters' IQs; here he takes stock of "The Bell Curve." * Many men seem to be more comfortable opening up to Google than to their girlfriends. * Is terrorism caused by poverty? A Harvard researcher says the answer is no. (Link thanks to John Ray.) * If I were mayor of NYC, I'd make sure that bright-eyed, Chelsea-bound new arrivals be handed Nate Lippens's advice to young gay guys. * Oliver Burkeman visits Pixar, which he says has become "the most successful studio in the history of cinema." * Tyler Cowen lays out his ideas about what a sensible tax code might look like. Tyler's recent WSJ debates with John Irons can be accessed from this posting here. Alex Tabarrok notices that the stock portfolios of U.S. Senators outperform the market by 12%. Should heads roll? * Yet another celebrity suffers a wispy-clothing malfunction. (NSFW.) * Mike Hill explains the why the Civil War -- and U.S. Grant especially -- fascinate him. * You know those diaper-like g-strings that guys in Japanese movies occasionally wear? Here's how to put one on. * GDP may be up, but are we better off in any significant way now than we were in 1959? Jim Kalb isn't sure that we are. * I learned from this article that Mozart may have had Tourette Syndrome, and that Touretters are famous for their love of fart jokes. * Can body-modification be taken too far? It seems these digital days as if many people want to Photoshop themselves. (NSFW.) * More info about how Frenchwomen manage to eat rich yet stay slim. (Link thanks to ALD.) * Judging from the amount of racy amateur video now on the Internet, I'm guessing that this may be the world's most-repeated lie. * I found this q&a with the porn star Savanna charming. For the sake of scholarly research, I plan to... posted by Michael at November 17, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments