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January 26, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* One of the first and best of the culturebloggers, Alexandra Ceely has returned from what was looking like a permanent retirement. Alexandra has been busy with a lot of things, it seems, including some impressive quilting. Sad but true: blogging sometimes has to take a second place to other concerns, as I've been discovering over the last few weeks.

* Do you remember Robert Fulghum? Author of the zillion-selling "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" and several other bestsellers? Fulghum recently completed an innovative, one-of-a-kind new novel. Why hasn't it been published in America? Gerard Van der Leun's posting tells the fascinating story. Gerard, who has worked in trade-book publishing, is even more caustic about the business than I am.

* As Tivo and DVR users skip over TV ads, television-industry types are trying to figure out new ways to generate income. TV watchers: brace yourselves for product-placements galore.

* Tivo for radio, anyone?

* Do you think you might make a good scientist? Does the life of a physics prof appeal? It'll be worth your while to check out this Derek Lowe posting, which should interest even those who are merely interested in what the science-y fields are like.

* GNXP's David Boxenhorn muses about the very popular Myers-Briggs personality test. David's an INTP. Me, I seem to be an exception to whatever rule it is that the Myers-Briggs wants to prove. Some days I'm Extraverted Mr. Party-Hearty, while other days all I want from life is to hang Introvertedly with The Wife. So do I put myself down as an "E" or an "I"? I wonder if an M-for-Miscellaneous category needs to be created to account for will-of-the-wisps such as I.

* Looking over Steve Sailer's ten-best movies of 2004 list, I was amused to realize that the only picture on it that I've seen is "The Battle of Algiers," a film that was originally released in 1965. I guess I'm officially a Former Film Buff now.

* Steve's analysis of who-voted-for-whom in the recent elections is an eye-opener. Of course, it was a crowd of bigots, homophobes, and snake-handlers who put Bush back in office, no? The Washington Post's avowedly left-ish David Von Drehle gathers his courage together, and dares to take a drive through Red America. I found Von Drehle's reactions to life among the Bush voters refreshingly open-eyed.

* The Fredosphere supplies lots of first-hand info about Michigan's beautiful Traverse City and Leelanau Peninsula.

* "Dear Mummy and Daddy -- I'm having such a great time in college! And thanks so much for giving me a digital camera for my birthday!"

* Although copyright in America is good for approximately seventeen centuries, in much of Europe it lasts for only 50 years. Which means that, in Europe, many early pop-music songs are beginning to enter the public domain. This year: early Elvis. In a decade or so: The Beatles and the Stones.

* Mike Snider has a few tough questions for John Ashbery's fans. The commenters on his posting do a good job of standing up for their hero. How do you guys react to Ashbery? His poetry strikes me as empty virtuosity. On the other hand, if some people enjoy watching tricks-with-scarves and want to rhapsodize about the genius of the man handling the scarves, why deny them their fun?

* I avoided "The Polar Express" because of something I noticed in stills and trailers: the eyes of the film's hyper-realistic animated characters, which creeped me out. The Ward-O-Matic also noticed how nightmarish those eyes were; he noticed much else that was wrong with the movie too (here and here). Thanks to the Communicatrix for the link.

* Colleen's own posting about what life's like as she recovers from a nasty flu should elicit moans of sympathy. Why do we push ourselves to work out at the gym when we know damn well that we're fighting a bug?

* Are sexy dance moves built into the female organism, or are they the result of discipline and practice? Judge for yourself.



posted by Michael at January 26, 2005


I thought Myers-Briggs had gone the way of hoola-hoops. Geez, it's back again (or just hasn't left)! My first (and last) exposure to MB was at a seminar run by one of my kids' schools, about 15 years ago. The director of the school had thought it was a solid learning tool that we, as parents, should be aware of, as it would facilitate our parenting and our own relationships.
This school, a Montessori environemnt, attracted a lot of high-minded and forward-thinking people....Or so we all thought.

The full day session started with coffee, cookies, and open minds. It ended with mad dashes to the local beer empouriums and the gnashing of teeth. Within 6 months, roughly 20% of the attendees were seperated. I'm not arguing cause and affect, but there were an awful lot of comments at the session like, "I knew something was up with you, but now that I know you're an INTP, or ISFJ, etc., well it's obvious we're not compatible since I'm an ENFP."
Seemed that quite a few of the couples were happier NOT knowing the Myers-Briggs 4 letter description they or their partner were. For some folks, this just ended up as SHIT.

As an adult game though, I think Myers-Briggs should team up with that other MB, Milton-Bradley. A guaranted crowd-pleaser.

Posted by: DarkoV on January 26, 2005 1:30 PM

I took Meyers-Briggs three times, and wound up in a completely different quadrant on each occasion. I began to question its rigor.

Posted by: Brian on January 26, 2005 2:07 PM

I see that Steve Sailer places Sideways at #7 in his best 10 movies of 2004 list and calls it a nice little picture.

I have to respectfully disagree. I've been urging everyone I know to see it.

Maybe I'm over-reacting but it's the first film I've seen in a long long time that plausibly relates to real life as it's lived by real people. In other words at no point did I say to myself, "A movie moment but no way a real life moment."

There are so few films made like that...ever.

Posted by: ricpic on January 26, 2005 2:35 PM

Whaddaya need empty virtuosity Ashbery when you can have rough hewn....Me?!


I saw a kid getting off a school bus today
(I was in the car right behind the bus)
And he wanted to cross the street
But he wasn't sure whether I would stop, stay stopped.
He gave me that little apologetic look.
And then he tilted his head.
I think that's what did it --
The tilt of his head.
They break your heart sometimes, kids.
I'm so mad at the world I could kill everyone.
Some of them.
You see your whole life in their eyes.
They break your heart GOD DAMNIT!

Posted by: ricpic on January 26, 2005 3:27 PM

Gerard van der Leun wrote:

In due time, someone in American publishing will wake up notice that Fulghum's 'experimental' novel isn't all that experimental.

Not all that original, either, with British author B.S. Johnson having invented the book-in-a-box back in 1969. Although I'll grant he didn't include all the amusing additional artifacts Fulghum does. Perhaps Fulghum should approach Picador, who republished Johnson's novel—in box form—just a year or two ago.

Who the hell is John Ashbery?

Posted by: James Russell on January 27, 2005 3:08 AM

Not to try and apologize for the American trade press, but isn't just a little possible that this really isn't a book?

It may have book content in it, but if it isn't going to end up on bookshelves, then a publisher isn't going to be able to sell it, stock it effectively, etc. For example, would it have an ISBN? Probably not - the book inside the box would. There goes the ordering system.

Really, I suspect that the problem is that publishers publish books, and that's not what he's selling. Maybe he should look to some other manufacturer.

Posted by: Tom West on January 27, 2005 6:08 AM

DarkoV, Brian -- I wonder about personality tests generally, though I suppose that may only show how little I know about them. But how to nail down a personality? Most people I know have their up and down days, their in and out days. On the other hand, it's still possible to characterize them. Does that mean talk of personality is best left to fiction and in-person chitchat? On the sixth hand, shrinks and psychologists seem to know a lot. I've read some very good discussions of narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. I wonder if that means that they've sorted out what goes into certain "abnormal" personality types better than the more normal range. But what do I know in any case? Have you run across tests or discussions that seemed to you more sensible than Myers-Briggs?

Ricpic -- Get outta the way Bukowski, Ricpic is here!

James -- I hadn't heard about B.S. Johnson and his book-in-a-box before, tks. I'll have to do some Googling. There've been other box-of-stuff projects around before too -- didn't some Surrealists play around with it? And I know I've seen some Fluxus things. There have also been some unusual storytelling experiments, even published in America in fairly recent years -- Nick Bantock's "Griffin and Sabine," for instance. I'm curious about the Fulghum myself. I wonder what sort of twist he's given his project.

Tom -- Publishers create and market a variety of things -- calendars and trinkets, for instance, as well as many kinds of books. Devising a marketable way of presenting the Fulghum project would certainly be a challenge. On the other hand, you'd think people in publishing would get excited about unusual publishing challenges. Given Fulghum's track record, you'd think they'd feel good about taking a chance on him again too. So it's a mystery. Given what little I know about trade publishing, my guess is that the biz has slimmed and streamlined itself down so far that it's become ever more a biz that does what it does and markets what it markets, and less and less a vehicle for what creators happen to be making. (As Gerard hints, ain't it interesting that this development should have occurred at the same time as two other developments: the introduction of computers, and the domination of the editorial side of the biz by women and gay guys. Is there a connection? No idea.) I know this development has also taken place in the movie and magazine bizzes. Movie studios are simply in the business of turning out what they turn out -- the action blockbusters, the star vehicles, the cyber-extravaganzas. You've got some oddball project? God blessya, but go elsewhere. Magazines are similar -- each is a franchise and a product, and if you want to get on board with that, great. If not, start your own blog, I guess.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 27, 2005 11:28 AM

I always wondered if Myers-Briggs had much in the way of demonstrated predictive ability...what does a score on the MB really correlate to in real life? I remember it was originally developed by the mother-daughter combo under contract to the company that markets the SAT. The SAT publishers let it go because they couldn't figure out how to deal with a test that demands a "dumbbell" distribution--skewed, ideally to either end of each continuum (i.e., extroverted v. introverted)--when most statistical distributions are bell curves. I wonder if the mother-daughter combo really solved this problem, or like what? If it works, of course, then I'd be interested to use it to, say, offer movie reviews aimed at individual sectors, since presumably ENTJs should have different tastes than INTPs. (I may have that wrong, but hopefully you get what I mean.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 27, 2005 4:07 PM

I don't know if sexy dance moves, per se, are the property of young women, but sexy bodies in motion would seem to be common properties of young men and women.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 27, 2005 4:09 PM

Michael, I think you've nailed it. While publishers might have many different divisions, editors, who are the people agents deal with and the ones who would know about this author, generally have very narrow responsibilities. He might well be able to have approached the trinket section of the publisher but obtain 1/20th the price he was looking for.

As for this specialization, I'd say your speculation about where it comes from is wrong. This sort specialization has become stronger and stronger all over the world and is one of the reasons for massive economic efficiencies over the last several decades. The day of the generalist or even flexibility is pretty much over. (Mainly because if you can provide 90% of what the consumer wants at 50% of the price, you'll bury your competition.)

Companies have streamlined, and in general don't *want* workers to exercise judgement except in the company's very limited context. (Personally, I have yet to work on a computer system that was designed to give more flexibility to its users than they had previously.)

Posted by: Tom West on January 28, 2005 6:28 AM

Tom -- Actually I think we agree about that. Media-entertainment-culture companies are putting out the products that they put out and conducting biz as they see fit. As a creator, you either get on board or you go elsewhere. A lot of elements seem to go into explaining why this is: conglomerization, computers, financial pressures. I'd argue (not very insistently) that the prevalence of gals in the publishing biz is at least part of the picture, though you may disagree. Computers certainly play a role, though. You're either in the database or you don't exist. Scary. And thank heavens for the web.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 28, 2005 11:41 AM

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