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

Friday, April 29, 2005

Philosophers are People, Too
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Rutgers University has one of the top-ranked philosophy departments in the country--it's up there with Princeton as #1 or #2 in the estimation of some. So it came as a surprise that one of Rutgers' senior faculty members in the department announced he was leaving for the University of Miami, a school where the philosophy department is hardly top-ranked--probably not even in the top 40. Surely the departing professor, Colin McGinn, had it in mind to devlelop the department's assets in the future under a long-term plan to bring national recognition to his new home. Not exactly. According to McGinn, "I suppose the main factor is the weather. The weather has a particular significance because I like water sports. Miami is a year-round water sports place. You can be out on the water all the time. . . . [Miami] is definitely not as good as Rutgers is. But I have to weigh how much that matters to my daily life." I find the honesty refreshing. Best, Fenster... posted by Fenster at April 29, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Fact Attack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some facts that caught my attention from recent issues of The Economist: The computer game Halo 2 was launched in November of last year. It took in more than $100 million on its first day. This is a bigger first-day gross than any movie has ever managed. Gen Yers (people born between 1980 and 1994) are now old enough to be buying cars for themselves. "They make 40% more complaints than their parents do about the same car." 3/4 of people who show up in Ford showrooms have already done some car research online. 75% of American cellphone-buyers do their research online. Fewer than 5% actually make their cellphone purchase online, though. Digital video recorders (such as Tivos) have a dramatic effect on people's TV-watching habits. Owners of DVRs do more than 60% of their TV-watching off the hard drive, and skip 92% of the ads on the recorded programs they watch. In 1960, South Korea had only one telephone per 300 people. Today, more than 90% of Korean households have a fixed-line phone, and 3/4ths of South Koreans carry cellphones. America's national savings rate is at its lowest in 70 years. Americans now borrow from foreigners at a rate of more than 6% of GDP each year. 39% of Americans identify themselves as Independents. 31% call themselves Democrats, and 30% call themselves Republicans. The Economist's website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2005 | perma-link | (19) comments

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been drinking Volvic water a lot recently. Sometimes I think this is because Volvic is a really good-tasting bottled water. (Volvic is "drawn from deep inside the lush, green ancient volcanoes of the Auvergne in France.") I do seem to drink more water when the water in the fridge is Volvic. And The Wife, a fine cook with a sensitive and refined palate, likes calling Volvic "the vodka of bottled waters." So maybe Volvic really is a good water. At other times, though, I wonder if I'm fooling myself. Online I've run across an NRDC report indicating that Volvic has a little too much, ahem, arsenic in it. And The Observer's William Leith thinks the whole bottled-water thing might be a case of mass self-hypnosis anyway. Do you guys have favorite bottled waters? Do you ... believe in them? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 28, 2005 | perma-link | (38) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The mysterious and firstrate (if sporadic, darn it) J. Cassian is blogging again. He posts an excellent joke here, and thinks out loud about the mysterious Huns here and here. * One of the proudest accomplishments of the very accomplished Christopher Frayling -- Rector of Britain's Royal College of Art -- is making the spaghetti western films of Sergio Leone intellectually respectable. "I know this may sound vain," Frayling tells The Independent, "but I honestly think it's quite unusual to have almost single-handedly encouraged the world to take such a disreputable body of work seriously and to have pulled it off. Now it's a great cliché to say that Leone is a major director, but at the time I first made the case for him, everyone thought that I was quite mad, that these were just ersatz, and that Leone was utter crap." * Shouting Thomas has given his blog Harleys, Cars, Girls & Guitars a snazzy new look. He's dating again, and thinks he may have a thing for Filipinas. * Yahmdallah confesses to being that rarity: a computer geek who doesn't enjoy computer games. * John Emerson thinks the Swedes are to blame. * It doesn't seem all that long ago that chain bookstores were the latest blot on the face of literature. And the outrages kept coming: Chain superstores ... Books being sold in discount houses like Costco ... Edward Wyatt reports about the latest retail outlet to start aggressively selling new hardcover books: grocery stores, now responsible for sales of 3 percent of general-interest books. Ah, the dignity of literature -- what's become of it? * Razib wonders what role DNA might play in our food preferences. * Poynter Online notices that 26% of adults now prefer getting their news online. * Around a thousand new magazines are started up every year, writes Anne Field. Most will fail within twelve months. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 28, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Moviegoing: "Sin City"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I just caught the Robert Rodriguez/Frank Miller movie "Sin City." MB quick verdict: I was perfectly happy to be in the theater watching the movie. I like what the movie represents: Xtreme punk noir, with thrills, sex, and violence pursued for the sheer, rip-it-up thrill of them all. The film is dirty-minded, semi-experimental, and up to no good whatsoever -- and I'm happy just to be around such a movie. That said, I didn't find the film itself thrilling. I enjoyed checking the film out 'way more than I enjoyed what I thought it actually accomplished. For one thing, I found Rodriguez's ambition bizarre. He seems to have been motivated by awe for the Frank Miller comic books. I'm with him on that, by the way. But he seems to feel such awe that he didn't do the sensible thing. He didn't try to find a way of translating the comic books' appeal and allure into movie terms. Instead, he simply tried to make a movie that is the comic book, up there on screen. You were maybe hoping for "Touch of Evil" plus a lot of nudity? Tough luck: "Sin City" the movie offers what "Sin City" the comic books do -- and not just in terms of the occasional comic-book touch, but pretty much frame-by-frame. I had no trouble accepting this as an interesting filmmaking experiment, by the way. What happens when you try to reproduce a great comic book on the screen? Like most experiments, though, it doesn't work out well. For one thing, there's the question of story. The stories Miller tells in his comic books are sodden, juvenile gloom-noir. But Miller's visuals are so eye-poppingly brilliant that the stories don't matter; they're just so much mood music. On screen, though, the lousiness of the stories does matter, and matter bigtime. Watching a movie, you can't flip around inside it, and you can't read it at your own pace either. You're stuck paying attention to the story you're given, in the order and at the pace the director and editor have determined. Sad fact of filmgoing life: feature films generally need halfway decent stories in order to draw you along and keep you alert. And, strange as it seems, even the film's visuals are a problem. They're amazingly close to the comic books' visuals, and it's a fantastic look. But Miller's comic books are like deranged impressions of movie frames, edited for maximum retina-searing impact. Move that strategy back into an actual movie and it seems beyond-stilted. The movie stops seeming like a movie; there's no flow, and not much room for the actors either. The movie starts to seem like a trailer for itself. You may blink in amazement at the visuals, but your soul waits and waits for something to get involved with. I watched the movie with curiosity and sympathy, the way I watched Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake of "Psycho." What a silly... posted by Michael at April 28, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments