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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Friday, June 17, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Fred Himebaugh's not just a terrific art-music composer, he's one of the most mischievous (in a brainy way) bloggers out there. Or should I turn that sentence around? Anyway, The Fredosphere recently celebrated its first birthday, so let's lift a toast to many more years of culture-blogging fun. You can sample Fred's music here. This linkathon provides access to many of Fred's showiest postings. * Jetski vs. surfer. * I thought James Gannon's response to Howard Dean's notorious crack -- the one about how the Republican Party is the "white, Christian party" -- was brilliant. Sample passage: If the Republican Party has become the "white, Christian party," as Dean charges, it's partly so because the Democratic Party has made white Christians feel so uncomfortable in its ranks. * Lynn Sislo has been doing a lot of inspired linking lately. I also enjoyed reading about some of Lynn's childhood memories. This one especially: "Coke bottles with the name of the city and state where they were made on the bottom." Talk about evocative! At least to those of us d'un certain age... * Every now and then The Fat Guy takes a break from pokerblogging to let some political opponent have it with both barrels. A smokin' show. * Jim Kalb has some typically smart words about "liberal tyranny." * John Derbyshire thinks the space shuttle is a grotesque and lethal waste of money. * Extensive research reveals that today's college girls are majoring either in kissing each other or in flashing thong straps. The same evidence suggests that the most popular major among college boys is taking phonecam photos of college girls. * Three quarters of Americans say that, when it comes to watching movies, they'd just as soon watch at home. Some interesting data about this year's movie theater business: Hollywood is in the midst of its longest box-office slump in 20 years, and 2005 is shaping up as the worst year for movie attendance in nearly a decade ... Even the blockbuster debut of 'Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith' last month couldn't arrest the slide. * Some bloggers aren't the wide-ranging, free-associating type. Some bloggers have strong, well-defined themes. * It's official: audiocassette tapes are on their last legs. * According to Derek Lowe, one thing that summer lab interns are good for is inadvertently blowing things up. * Vdare's Edward Rubenstein reports that almost 25% of the people who receive Supplemental Security Income are immigrants -- up from 3.2 percent in 1983. * A sensational and so-true paragraph from Theodore Dalrymple: Those future historians (assuming that an interest in the past survives) will be struck, I suspect, by the confusion in our society concerning sexual boundaries. On one hand, almost no sexual display is forbidden, and the most casual of liaisons is perfectly normal; on the other, university professors dare not be alone in a closed room with a female student for fear of accusations of... posted by Michael at June 17, 2005 | perma-link | (25) comments

Women's Brains, Men's Brains
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer linked to a terrific article by the LATimes' Robert Lee Hotz. Its pretext is a Canadian psychologist who dissects and compares brains named Sandra Witelson. But its real subject is the anatomical differences between female and male brains. First, a handful of basic facts: In the prime of life, the cerebral cortex contains 25 billion neurons linked through 164 trillion synapses. Thoughts thread through 7.4 million miles of dendrite fibers and 62,000 miles of axons so compacted that the entire neural network is no larger than a coconut. Now to the sexy stuff: [Men's brains are on average larger than women's brains. But --]Women's brains ... seem to be faster and more efficient than men's. All in all, men appear to have more gray matter, made up of active neurons, and women more of the white matter responsible for communication between different areas of the brain. Overall, women's brains seem to be more complexly corrugated, suggesting that more complicated neural structures lie within, researchers at UCLA found in August. Men and women appear to use different parts of the brain to encode memories, sense emotions, recognize faces, solve certain problems and make decisions. Indeed, when men and women of similar intelligence and aptitude perform equally well, their brains appear to go about it differently, as if nature had separate blueprints. As far as I can tell, what this basically means is that, if people were computers, women would be Macs and men would be PC's. Meanwhile, a Royal Society study concludes (among other things) that "men [are] four times more likely than women to be working in or studying science." Interesting info that someone ought to forward to Larry Summers' office. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 17, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Cops and Crime
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Virginia Postrel's latest Economics Scene column discusses a study that asks some fascinating questions: Does raising the number of cops generally reduce crime? And, if so, by how much? Fun to notice that the co-author of the study is Marginal Revolution's Alex Tabarrok, who has a brief posting about the study here. To relieve the suspense, here's a brief passage from Virginia's column: So far, the case for adding more police officers is strong. Professor Tabarrok said, every $1 to add officers would reduce the costs of crime by $4. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 17, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Adults and Moviegoing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The good showbiz analyst Anne Thompson provides some enlightening perspective on the movie audience in this Hollywood Reporter piece about adults and moviegoing. Sample passage: Through the late 1970s, [the frequent-moviegoing category] was dominated by adults. Movie critics wrote their reviews for adults. TV, radio and print ads were targeted at adults. Movies were constructed by adults for adults. Sure, there were always youth-market movies, but they were always ancillary, not primary. Then came the wide-audience marketing revolution. With each succeeding decade, the Hollywood studios, driven by the relative ease of selling their movies to the dominant demographic (young men under 25) that showed up on opening weekends, increasingly aimed their movies at less demanding kids. Slowly but surely, they decreased the number of movies for more discerning grown-ups, leaving that headache to the likes of Miramax Films' Harvey Weinstein, who specialized in building the drumbeat of year-end accolades that accompanies an Oscar campaign. Not so long ago, most movies were made for adults -- hard to believe but true. Which makes me wonder: what do movies represent to you? I don't mean generally speaking, but in terms of your own personal history? I wasn't a moviewatcher until I hit 14, the same age when I started to wake up to the charms of girls and French art. ("Claire's Knee," sigh.) And as a result -- surprise, surprise -- movies have never meant "action," "party-time," "spectacle," or "kiddie fun" to me. Instead, they've always meant adulthood, sex, art, and women. There isn't enough of that package around these days. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 17, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Stephen Bodio Blogs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Stephen Bodio is a beyond-excellent nature writer who manages the distinctive -- and too-rare -- feat of fusing the lyrical and rhapsodic with the harshly down-to-earth. (I especially loved his collection of essays "On the Edge of the Wild: Passions and Pleasures of a Naturalist.") Based in New Mexico, he's accessible yet sophisticated, full of curiosity and interests, and has a good sense of rueful humor about the ultimate absurdity (and beauty) Of It All. He also has a special affinity for raptor birds. So it's a real pleasure to welcome Stephen to the blogosphere. Here's his general website, where you can explore a lot of freebies and links. Here's his blog. As a blogger, Stephen's off and running with good stuff about nifty topics like fashions in Kazakhstan and the greatness of Frederick Turner. It's always interesting to see how pro writers handle it when they start blogging. Blogging simply isn't like traditional writing, and many accomplished traditional writers never quite find the rhythm. Stephen, though, is having fun with links, quick observations, and humor. He shows mucho evidence of having the blogging gene. BTW, if I write about Stephen in ever-so-slightly-familiar tones, it's because he was an early visitor to 2Blowhards. I even coaxed a Guest Posting out of him, a terrific set of thoughts and observations about what it's like to be a book-publishin' writer. You can read Stephen's Guest Posting here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 17, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Questions for Free Market Fans
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've noticed a certain kind of dustup -- or maybe a certain pattern of dustup -- that puzzles me. Here it is: Someone -- an economist, a sociologist, a trend-spotter -- will notice something about how we live. A much-remarked-on recent instance is Barry Schwartz, who in his book "The Paradox of Choice" argues that many people find the consumer-cornucopia conditions we live with these days bewildering, even paralyzing. Schwartz then goes on to make some policy suggestions. The book (or article) is received and argued-over almost entirely as a collection of policy proposals. People line up on one side or the other. In the case of Schwartz: "Lotsa choice is a good thing, and besides, arguing that it's not is the equivalent of wanting to control the market!" Vs: "Lotsa choice is mind-fogging, and a sign of decadence, and something political oughta done about it!" Meanwhile, an important part of what Schwartz has done -- the part that interests me the most -- goes neglected: Has Schwartz in fact noticed anything valid? If so, what's it like to live in these conditions? Do people -- do you? do I? -- find lotsa-choices overwhelming? In what ways? And what kinds of ways have all of us worked out, or not worked out, to deal with it? Why such an overemphasis on "What to do about it?" And why such an underemphasis on "Is it true? And what's it like?" Much of the blasting-away in these cases comes from free-market types -- people I'm a fan of and a cheerleader for. I seem to recall that Tyler Cowen and Arnold Kling -- both of them terrific -- have had goes at "happiness research." And Virginia Postrel -- also terrific -- has taken issue with Barry Schwartz. If memory serves, all three quarreled with their subjects less on the basis of perceptions and observations -- What makes people happy? Is choice a lot to deal with? -- than on the basis of the kinds of (often social-democratic) policies such findings tend to incline the authors towards. Confounding the observation with the policy-prescription seems like such an elementary reasoning goof ... In the case of Schwartz's book: Perhaps he's right where his observation is concerned. Perhaps many people do find it dizzying to have to sort through shelf after shelf full of toothpastes in order to find their tube of Crest. Perhaps these confounded-by-choice experiences are even a central part of our existence today. As for Schartz's policy prescriptions? Well, maybe they're great, maybe they're suck-ola. But they aren't the same thing as his observations and his studies. In any case: Demonstrating how stupid Barry Schwartz's policy preferences are does not invalidate Barry Schwartz's observations. A current example: at Asymmetrical Information, Mindles K. Dreck posted snarkily about a Stacy Schiff NYTimes column. Schiff's theme was the absurd boundlessness of consumer choice today. A brief pause to say that I really enjoy Asymmetrical Information, and that I think... posted by Michael at June 16, 2005 | perma-link | (48) comments

Facts of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigrants are arriving in the U.S. at a rate of about 500,000 per year. Since the 1990s, the number of new illegals in this country has exceeded the number of new legal immigrants. There are now about 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Illegals are showing up in large numbers in areas of the country where they've seldom been seen before: North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee now have considerable illegal populations. New York City's illegal population -- the fourth-largest in the country -- is overwhelmingly made up of Mexicans who arrived in the last decade. The last time American lawmakers attempted to fix the illegal-immigration problem was in 1986. Since then, the number of illegals in the country has nearly tripled. While in 1986 about a quarter of Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. illegally, these days around 85% do. Expert work, lawmakers! Although many Americans seem to think that massive illegal immigration has always been with us -- that it's inevitable and unavoidable -- the fact is that right up through the 1970s the U.S. experienced virtually no large-scale illegal Mexican immigration. It didn't really become a problem until the 1980s.Best, Michael UDPATE: Vdare's Randall Burns links to a surprisingly frank Christian Science Monitor piece. Alexandra Burns reports that even residents of the Northeast are growing alarmed at the numbers of illegals showing up in their towns and cities. The small city of Danbury, CT, for example, may have as many as 15,000 illegal immigrants living there. Sample passage: "What we see is a general failure of the federal government to control undocumented migration into the United States," says Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University. "At the same time, there's a growing momentum at the state level, county level, and in local communities to attempt to manage, in however faulty or problematic way, this elephant in the room in today's migration." UPDATE 2: Shannon Love proposes a clever way to make the Feds pay attention.... posted by Michael at June 16, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mike Tyson
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to make of Mike Tyson? Out-of-control nutcase we're well rid of, or introspective and thoughtful guy? One of the most surprising documentaries I've ever watched was Barbara Kopple's "Mike Tyson: Fallen Champ," made shortly after his conviction for raping Desiree Washington. A gifted filmmaker who's also about as NPR-Nation/lefty-feminist as it's possible to be, Kopple finally found herself arguing that Tyson is a rather touching (if also scary) character. The film doesn't appear to be available on DVD, but it's well worth searching out on videocassette. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 15, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Socially Responsible?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- To what extent should businesses be "socially responsible"? And what's meant by "socially responsible" anyway? Should a company be loyal to its employees? To the locale where it's located and where it operates? Or only to its shareholders and bottom line? ChicagoBoyz' Lexington Green -- who's generally very libertarian -- surprises in this posting about a recent Microsoft deal with China. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 15, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Movie Recommendations from Near and Far
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Communicatrix makes "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" sound like a classic chickflick. * Steve found "Batman Begins" perfectly respectable. * Martine enjoyed -- no, make that loved -- the kids-dance documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom." Me, I haven't been to a screening or a movie theater in months. The hot summer weather is starting to make industrial-strength air conditioning look mighty good, though. Best, Michael UPDATE: Cowtown Pattie found "Cinderella Man" involving and rewarding. She praises Russell and Renee, and was relieved not to be bombarded with excessive CGI effects. * Jon Hastings enjoyed "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," however "silly and shallow," and even thought Brad Pitt didn't do too badly.... posted by Michael at June 15, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Hard Questions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Whiskyprajer wonders why American animated films don't have the kind of emotional/imaginative weight that Hayao Miyazaki's films have. * Is this the most amazingly-trained dog of all times? * Are tan lines still considered sexy? (NSFW.) * Is illegal immigration one of the reasons that so few American teens have jobs this summer? (Link thanks to Vdare.) Are Californians pleased to learn that immigrants are arriving in the state afflicted by a "multidrug-resistant" version of TB? * Is this couple taking self-expression about as far as it can go? (Highly NSFW) * Does science deserve special treatment -- ie., subsidizing -- by government? Is subsidizing science a way of endorsing something called "the scientific point of view"? And, if this is so, why shouldn't evangelical religious people object? After all, it's unconstitutional for our government to subsidize the religious point of view. Right Reason's Steve Burton (and a variety of smart commenters) give these questions a good shake. * Should real men even think of wearing these thongs, er, things? * James Kunstler visits Seattle, Google, and L.A., and wonders why none of them have got a clue. * Could the advice many doctors give to lose weight be causing more harm than good? * Would we be better off if we voted for the baby-faced candidate? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 15, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Mike Hill on Acting
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I love checking in with Sluggo Needs a Nap, Mike Hill's blog. Mike offers a very agreeable and fun-to-attend-to combo: he's well-seasoned and skeptical, but an interested and curious free-thinker too. It's a treat too that -- as a writer and former actor -- Mike brings a lot of culture and experience to the table. I like spritzing about acting, but my rants are informed by little more than a couple of years of acting class and a bunch of friendships with actors. Mike's been there and done that many times over. When he talks and writes about acting, he's doing it from the inside out. Being able to do so intelligibly is a rare gift -- as anyone who's spent time watching "Inside the Actors Studio" knows all too well. I recently swapped notes with Mike about acting's relationship to story. I found Mike's observations and thoughts really interesting, so I was pleased when he told me that I could reprint them here. Here's Mike Hill: One of the reasons I love 2Blowhards is that whatever the topic -- architecture, graphic design or nude modeling -- much of the discussion centers around story, plot and character, the basic communicative tools we dragged out of the caves. The Blowhards and their commenters seem just as obsessed with how we communicate as they are with what and why. I was an actor for more than 25 years and I haven't been one for more than 10. This is the corner of the discussion I know a little about. Obviously, an actor is professionally interested in story and action. If a character's development has been badly imagined or constructed by the playwright or the overall narrative line is flawed, one notices; simply because if it's done well it's easy, and if it's not it's well-nigh impossible. The patches and pastework needed to invent a logic from A to B may get you through, but it's like running over the same speedbump every night, two inches higher than your clearance. People do astonishing things and people use their lives in the most outrageous ways, so the word "logic" in terms of character does not mean "reasonable." When you're moving characters from one set of circumstances to another the test of the choices you have your characters make is not "have you ever heard of such a thing?" It's what happens after they make the choice. In other words, it's like scoring a spare in bowling. You'll get credit for the most unbelievable event in a character's life to the extent, in the next frame, the character adjusts to the event in a recognizably human way. It's not the boom, but the echoes that make characters live. What, exactly, is a talent for plot? I know I can write prose all day, sometimes very well. But if you read my novel on my site you'd see that I'm not strong there. I think of poetry and physics as... posted by Michael at June 15, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Steve on Golf Courses
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have a pretty broad conception of what "art" and "culture" can mean: ads, TV, and magazine design as well as concert music and museum art. I like to think that I'm more about what culture is than what it ought to be. Even so, I was taken up short when I first read Steve Sailer's American Conservative article on golf-course-architecture as art. Silly me, I'd never given the topic a moment's thought. Yet there it is: landscape architecture, full of aesthetic qualities, there all around us, and in popular use. I'll take an eye-opener like Steve's piece over yet another run-through of conventional "what is art?" aesthetic theory any day. Steve has now put the piece online, and has dolled it up with lots of helpful photos and links. It can be read here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 14, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments