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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  1. Facts for the Day
  2. Politics is Disgraceful
  3. Short Story Contest
  4. Trio Country-Western Documentary
  5. Virginia Postrel's Essay on Choice
  6. Older Than Mrs. Robinson
  7. Fischl on Art-World Changes
  8. Erotica Policies

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, June 24, 2005

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The gap in income between the college-educated and the non-college educated rose from 31% in 1979 to 66% in 1997. The proportion of students from upper-income families at the country's elite colleges is growing, after declining during the years following WWII. These days, only 3% of students in the most selective universities come from the bottom income quartile, and only 10% come from the bottom half of the income scale. (Source: The Economist) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Politics is Disgraceful
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Cheery bulletins about the people who run your government. Tyler Cowen points out the terrible news that the Supreme Court has ruled that it's officially OK for local governments to seize people's homes and businesses for private economic development. Which means that, if your town council wants to take your house away from you so that a developer can build a mall? Well, you no longer have a legal leg to stand on. Shannon Love and Randall Parker breathe fire. Alex Tabarrok spots a WashPost article reporting that the number of registered lobbyists infesting Washington D.C. has more than doubled since 2000. All by myself I noticed this amazing NYTimes account of how the New York City school system managed to "misspend" $870 million in Medicaid funds. $870 million: That ain't pocket change. "Special Ed" indeed. I wonder if I'm the only person who sometimes suspects that this whole government thing is little more than a conspiracy to rip off the public ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Short Story Contest
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems to me that the cheeriest and most enterpreneurial of the book-blogs is Kevin Holtberry's Collected Miscellany. The CM posse -- Kevin, David, Phil and Jeff -- are nothing if not devoted readers and book-lovers, and their reviews and tips reflect a lot of brainy experience and sensible thinking. Energy, too: Kevin and the boyz publish q&a's, for instance -- and they're open-minded and down-to-earth enough to recognize that the book-thang ain't just about the writers. Check out this talk with Kelly Hughes, who works in p-r; or this one with that dynamo M.J. Rose, who began as an ad-gal, self-published a novel or two, and who has turned herself -- willed herself, really -- into a successful author. Forget the English-major baloney; this is the way the book-making process works. I also can't help linking to Kevin's excellent two-parter with W. Wesley McDonald, the author of a biography of Russell Kirk. Kirk was a major -- perhaps the major -- figure in American conservatism, and Kevin's interview is very informative about this influential figure. At the moment, Collected Miscellany is even sponsoring a short-story-writing contest. Dogs are the subject, and 800 words is the maximum length -- now that's a short short story. We don't see enough of those, IMHO. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Trio Country-Western Documentary
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that the Trio network is throwing a country-western weekend, with broadcasts of concerts by that melancholic angel Alison Krauss, the rowdy wildman David Allan Coe, the touchingly canny and boobalicious Dolly Parton, Nanci Griffiths, and others. Even though I haven't seen any of these shows yet, I have seen another C&W show Trio is broadcasting this weekend that I can happily recommend: a four hour, four-part part documentary called "Lost Highway: The History of American Country." It's an English production narrated by Lyle Lovett, and it's intelligently informative, stylish in a non-obtrusive way, and helpfully organized. It's as full of vintage footage, sincere interviews, and heart-rending, real-people music as you could hope. Bluegrass, singing cowboys, big hair, honky-tonk, hippie-outlaws -- all are present and all are very well-accounted-for. Is there a better video overview of country music than "Lost Highway" available? I'm not aware of one. Film noir, hardboiled fiction, gangster movies, jazz, and now C&W: sometimes them furriners really do seem to know how to appreciate American culture a lot better than we natives do. Trio's online schedule isn't the most helpful. For showtimes, look for the titles of the series' episodes: "Down from the Mountain," "The Road to Nashville," "Sweethearts of the Rodeo," and "Beyond Nashville." All four episodes are being broadcast on Sunday. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Virginia Postrel's Essay on Choice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Virginia Postrel stopped by my posting on choice and left a comment. She thinks that I mischaracterized her Reason magazine essay taking off from Barry Schwartz' book about choice. Unsurprisingly, I don't think I did mischaracterize Virginia's essay. But the far more important question is: Why didn't I provide a link to it? Virginia's essay is certainly the most interesting and wideranging of the many pieces I read that took the "choice" topic on, and I recommend it highly. Be sure to check in with her blog regularly too -- Virginia's got a very sharp and clear head, as well as some of the best sociological antennae around. Tyler Cowen posts briefly on choice too. A wild commentsfest follows. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Older Than Mrs. Robinson
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Bancroft was only 35 when she played "The Graduate"'s Mrs. Robinson. As for me, when I saw the movie I was a teenager who was attending one of his first R-rated movies. To my very young self, Mrs. Robinson seemed both sexy and frighteningly mature. Now that I'm in my 50s, 35-year-old women look like they're barely out of girlhood. Yet at the same time, Mrs. Robinson seems forever lodged in my brain as the timeless and eternal, predatory and self-confident "older woman." This aging thing can be confusing. When Anne Bancroft's obituaries appeared recently, I wondered if I was the only person doing the adding and subtracting. My other small discovery: although in "The Graduate" he played a wet-behind-the-ears college kid to Bancroft's mature housewife, Dustin Hoffman is/was in fact only six years younger than Bancroft. I see that the resourceful Colby Cosh not only did similar math, he has also made a list of current female personalities who are older now than Bancroft was when "The Graduate" opened. Since I can't figure out how to link to individual postings at Colby's site, I'll copy and paste his list, thank him, and urge to you visit regularly. Here they are, contempo women who are older than Mrs. Robinson: Jennifer Aniston Christy Turlington Debra Messing Catherine Bell Lucy Liu Olivia Williams Jill Hennessy Parker Posey Naomi Watts Chastity Bono How interesting that none of them have yet begun to play "older woman" roles. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2005 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fischl on Art-World Changes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Eric Fischl was my fave of the American artists who made a splash in the '80s. His images of decadent suburbia cast a sinister-sexy spell, and the way he projected these sleazy/mundane moments in heroic-epic terms struck me as both amusing and artistically plausible. Fischl also showed some daring (and talent) in the way he was attracted to both edgy material and traditional figurative easel painting. No surprise that he eventually associated himself with the New York Academy of Art, the prissiest and most reactionary -- in a good way, if you know what I mean -- of the East Coast art schools. Eric Fischl: Bad Boy (1981) I ran across an informative interview with Fischl in, believe it or not, Hampton Jitney magazine. In it, Fischl muses about how the artworld has changed since the '80s. The piece isn't online, so I'll retype one passage here: What has changed over these last decades is the gallery system. Galleries are in transition now because of the art fairs, auction houses, and the internet. Primary dealers are becoming obsolete. Younger artists understand this implicitly and so don't tie themselves down to one dealer. They are generally more entrepreneurial than my generation was. Also, collectors are driving the art world more now than in the past. They are able to find young artists before daelers and curators find them. In fact, dealers and curators look to collectors to see who they should be paying attention to. That has been a big change. The downside is that the new collectors don't seem to know or care that much about the history of art and so approach art in much the same manner as they do their business. They look for trends. They try and corner markets. They buy low and sell high. They treat art as a commodity. It is what they know and what they best. Good for business, bad for art. Reminds me of many things we discuss here at the blog. Set a medium free from its traditional technologies and gatekeepers, and what you wind up with often seems to be both an explosion of art availability, and a de-sacralizing of the art itself. Funny how that works. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 22, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Erotica Policies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been reading about Gil Reavill's new book "Smut: A Sex Industry Insider (And Concerned Father) Says Enough Is Enough." Reavill is a writer who makes his living working for racy publications like Penthouse and Maxim. He started off his career thinking that sex must always and everywhere be liberated -- down with hypocrisy! But he has come to think that sexual material ought to be regulated. Reavill's website is here. The current paper issue of The American Conservative carries an excerpt from Reavill's book, but the excerpt isn't available online. Here's an excerpt that the National Review Online ran. The surfing I've done has left me feeling a little silly. Here I blog, yakking about ultra-daring French films and linking to amazingly out-there websites. Yet I've never spelled out my stance on sex-themed art and entertainment. I do so wish that I had something resembling a stance on the topic. Instead, I'm a mess of preferences, tastes, and hunches. Personally, I love sex-themed art and entertainment. I'm happy at the theater when a production features a talented actress contending with a sexual scene, and I'm annoyed with the current American theater because 9/10ths of the performers who strip onstage these hyper-gay days are guys. I watch even Balanchine ballets -- the highest-toned art-dance imaginable -- thinking, "Wow, this is really all about sex, isn't it!" At home, I have a couple of large shelves full of books on the theme of sex: fiction, how-to manuals, histories of the art, memoirs, collections of the photography, academic tomes on obscure subjects, etc. "Erotica" is probably my favorite movie genre, if it can properly be called a genre at all. Some people dislike the way that sex scenes force movie viewers to wrestle with the "is this real or not?" question. Me, I like walking that particular documentary/fiction line. Recently, Netflix has been delivering a lot of Radley Metzger and Jess Franco to my mailbox and DVD player. And le cinema francais -- well, we all know what that means, don't we? In the last year, I've even made the transition between being an erotica observer and an erotica maker; The Wife and I have taken to co-writing satirical pornography. We like to think our work is pretty hot and pretty funny. Art and eroticism are No Small Thing to me, in other words. It's considerably more than that, in fact: Give me a micro-excuse and I'll launch into a rhapsodic, cringe-making, sub-D.H. Lawrence-esque monologue about the deep-down connections between art, the erotic dimension, religion, and the mysterious Pulse that Animates All Being. But that's all a matter of personal tastes and private pleasures. There's also -- sigh and alas -- the question of public policy. Not being a PPP (Primarily Political Person) myself, I generally do my best to slither away from policy discussions. Why not leave them to those who enjoy debate, and who love imagining that laws emerge from rational discussion? Me, I'd... posted by Michael at June 22, 2005 | perma-link | (20) comments