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  1. Taking Jackie Collins Seriously
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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Taking Jackie Collins Seriously
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished reading a novel by the mistress-of-trash novelist Jackie Collins. I enjoyed it. It's the second Jackie Collins novel that I've read. I enjoyed the first one too. Collins -- who is in her 60s and is based in Los Angeles -- has been pumping out glitzy fiction since 1968. She was born in England, and is the sister of glamor-queen actress Joan Collins -- who, amusingly, starred in movie adaptations of Jackie's early hits "The Bitch" and "The Stud." (Joan is a trash novelist in her own right -- nope, I haven't read her oeuvre. But recently she has also been writing columns for London's Spectator -- they can be found here. I think they're pretty entertaining.) The maestra Needless to say, Jackie Collins' work is considered beyond the pale by most lovers of literary fiction. I know lots of lit-fiction buffs, for instance, who have never read a word of her, who know of her only to laugh at her, and to whom it would never occur to give her books a try. It's easy to see why. Her novels are sensationalistic, tacky, and outrageous. Her writing has a lot of crude drive, and not a lot of patience for the niceties of literary finesse. Sensitive, quivering-flower stuff it ain't; it isn't a carnival of sophisticated intellectuality either. Instead, it's extraverted, opportunistic, and dynamic. I'm not going to quarrel with the lit set; people can read to please themselves, of course. And, after all, what would be the point of feeling sorry for Jackie Collins? She has had more than 20 bestsellers, many of which have sold to movies and television; she's said to have sold more than 400 million copies of her books. One estimate puts her net worth at over a hundred million dollars. Jackie Collins could buy out the entire literary world and not notice a dent in her Beverly Hills checking account. Still, I'm puzzled by a few things. One is: Why aren't more lit-fiction types curious about non-literary kinds of fiction? I know a lot of lit-fict addicts, for instance, who sneer at popular fiction without ever having read any. Sneering at what you don't know seems like bad form. (I've had a couple of chances to witness what happens when a literary type is forced to read some popular fiction. Usually the sequence of reactions goes this way: horror, depression, reconsideration, and finally, "You know, it isn't Shakespeare, but there's real talent here, if of a beneath-the-likes-of-me sort!") Life may be short. But it isn't as though there's so immensely much unmissable contempo lit fiction around that you can't take a few breaks from it to explore the larger reading-and-writing world. Another puzzler: Why are many people's attitudes towards popular fiction different than their attitudes towards the popular arts in other fields? By now, most sophisticated and educated people can see virtues in rock and roll; in sitcoms; in action-adventure movies; and in barbecued... posted by Michael at August 20, 2005 | perma-link | (44) comments

Thursday, August 18, 2005

State of Emergency
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- New Mexico governor Mike (oops, make that Bill) Richardson has declared an illegal-immigration-inspired state of emergency. Richardson -- a Democrat who served in Clinton's cabinet -- claims that "The situation is out of hand," and that border enforcement is "literally nonexistent." Arizona's governor Janet Napolitano made a similar statement on Monday, and the Governator himself has gone on record saying that he's thinking of following suit. Meanwhile, Mexico itself estimates that more than 20 million Mexican nationals now live in the U.S. Vdare's Linda Thom notices that, up where she lives in Washington State, all those low-status jobs that Americans are said to be too uppity to take are in fact done by Americans. So much for the myth that we need millions of illegals. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (46) comments

"The Conformist"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paradoxical-seeming but true: One of the most influential movies of the last 35 years has been one of the hardest to get an actual look at. Bernardo Bertolucci's extraordinary political/psychological thriller "The Conformist" has had a double-H huge impact on the look of contemporary dramatic movies and television shows. (It was shot by the great Vittorio Storaro, then only 30 years old.) Yet it has turned up only rarely at repertory houses, and it has never been issued on DVD. New York City filmbuffs are in for a rare treat: New York's Film Forum is showing a restored print of the film through August 23rd. Here's a BFI interview with Bertolucci, Gilber Adair, and David Thomson on the occasion of Bertolucci and Adair's recent "The Dreamers." Here's an interview with Storaro. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * According to some estimates, by mid-2006 95% of all email will be spam. Judging by my 2Blowhards emailbox, that prediction may not be downbeat enough. * Thanks to Bluewyvern, who turned up a blog devoted to the snazziest color photographs from Flickr. Retina-searing stuff. * Nothing's more beautiful than Mother Nature at her best. But sometimes computer-enhanced is pretty amusing it its own right. * Thanks to Arnold Kling, who pointed out a new blog run by some prominent Austrian-school economists. * The Wall Street Journal's Tunku Varadarajan turns in a an urbane piece comparing English eccentricity to American exhibitionism. * Neil is in the market for some new friends. * The Communicatrix finally has that font-management problem licked. * Those who can't get enough of the evolution-vs.-Intelligent-Design wars should enjoy Frederick Turner's recent TCS piece. * Tacky old popular culture never dies, it just goes online. Here's the website for sea monkeys. Here's the website for bodybuilder Charles Atlas. * I'm not sure whether this new form of yoga would do more to ease tension or to create it. (NSFW.) * Here's a college-newspaper article I wish I'd run across during my college days. * Penises! Some days it seems like they're everywhere. (Thanks to Andrew for these finds.) And Jill writes some penis-centric words that many men would love to hear spoken. Time for the audiobook version of Jill's blog? * Here's some eyeball-popping art from a brilliant English street artist. * And just as eyeball-popping is this blog devoted to hyper-muscular chicks. * Here's what can happen if you charge too little for used iBooks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

"9 Songs"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I blogged here about how much I was looking forward to Michael Winterbottom's new film, the unrated, digital-video, art-porn experiment "9 Songs." I caught up with the movie recently and was glad I did. It's small, intense, poetic -- and, to be truthful, a little vague. The earth may not have moved, but still I wasn't sorry to have spent the time watching the film. A London-based scientist (Kieran O'Brien) who studies Antarctica meets a waifish American art student (Margo Stilley) at a rock concert and has a brief romance with her. We're given the story in a nonlinear, formalized, yet improvisational package: nine rock performances; aerial shots of Antarctica with voice-over musings; messy, spur-of-the-moment domestic and sexual scenes. I didn't find the results as memorable as Winterbottom probably hoped they would be -- the affair doesn't seem momentous enough to justify the case the film makes for it. But the film is still pretty haunting. The film is also remarkable as a DV experiment. The usual thing for directors contending with the challenge of trying to wrest some visual interest out of digital video is to try to make DV deliver film-quality beauty. Winterbottom took a different tack: He used DV to make a kind of project that probably can't be made these days using actual film. (What with budgets, experimentalism, and the difficulties of filming real sex.) Rather than elevating the technology to the level of "movie-ness," in other words, Winterbottom made a movie project that suits the DV medium. Smart one! Downside: the video imagery isn't very sensual. Still, the actors are attractive and game, and demonstrate a lot of conviction. They also give the film their all, in many senses. Although much of the sex is hyper-explicit, the most eyebrow-raising moment, art-porn-wise, comes when Stilley is on her knees, straddling O'Brian. Up and down she goes. The camera tracks around behind her ... And we get a clear view not just of the actors' genitals doing their hydraulic-copulating thing, but of Stilley's butthole. Could this the first time a legit, nonporn movie has shown off its lead actress's butthole? (A cute one, by the way.) Let's see ... There was that "almost" moment in "Two Moon Junction" ... And did Stefania Sandrelli and Tinto Brass grant us a similar view in "The Key"? ... Hmm. IMDB seems to have nothing to say about the question. This calls for further research and reflection. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

"100 Bullets"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you ever run across "100 Bullets"? It's an ongoing graphic novel written by Brian Azzarello and arted by Eduardo Risso. I've read and enjoyed a couple of episodes. They're in a downbeat-gruesome/nihilistic-noir mode that generally strikes me as juvenile and tiresome. But Azzarello is a witty and resourceful writer; there's an underlying expansiveness and a brutal good humor in the way he pushes the form around. And I find Risso's art hilariously pleasing: sophisticated yet slapsticky, droll yet dynamic, suave yet antic. Here's the official "100 Bullets" site. Here's a C.H.U.D. interview with Brian Azzarello. And here's Eduardo Risso's site, where he offers some original comicbook panels for sale. The prices seem very reasonable. What a tempting way to become an art collector. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Eminent Domain and the New York Times
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You may be aware that the New York Times is building a new office tower for itself in midtown Manhattan, near Times Square. You may also know that the Times received city subsidies worth tens of millions of dollars in order not to move its offices to New Jersey. Translation: The NYC government took tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers and gave that money to the New York Times to help the Times construct a building that will generate profits for the Times. Two questions: If I were to threaten to move from New York City, would Mayor Bloomberg give me a few million to keep me from leaving? Plus, hey: I've got some really, really good ideas about how to make myself some money. Would Mayor Bloomberg like to seize a few million from other New Yorkers and give that money to me so that I can make these investments? You may also be aware that the Times played some very ugly games in order to obtain the land on which it's building its twinkly, 52 story starchitect-designed skyscraper. (The starchitect explains his aesthetic strategy this way: "Each architecture tells a story, and the story this new building proposes to tell is one of lightness and transparency." As opposed to, say, comfort, utility, and attractiveness?) The paper got the state to condemn -- for no good reason -- the 16 story building that existed on the site before, and which housed a student dormitory, a business school, a hat shop, and a fabric store. What you might not know is that the Times' hijinks represent as flagrant an abuse of eminent domain as the recent Kelo case -- the New London, CT, case that was ruled on by the Supreme Court, and that created such an uproar. The Village Voice's Paul Moses -- who has done a first-rate job of following the story of the Times' real-estate shenanigans -- reveals some interesting points. * The lease on the new Times tower forbids the building to be used for educational, medical, or governmental purposes. Discount stores and Taco Bells are also verboten. * Yet the basis for condemning the site's previous building was "public purpose." As Paul Moses writes: At one time, "public purpose" usually meant a highway, bridge, or utility service—something the public was actually allowed to use. But now it's routine for the courts to declare it a "public purpose" for the state to seize privately owned land so that another private owner can erect a very private office building where the public can't even buy an inexpensive taco. In this case, the services many New Yorkers most need—health, education, job placement—are officially locked out of a building that will be heavily subsidized by city taxpayers. The excuse -- er, "public purpose" -- that was used to justify condemning the previous building? Helping de-blight Times Square. Which, as most people probably know by now, is an area that is no longer... posted by Michael at August 18, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Econ Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen responds (gently and informatively) to a recent posting of mine where I asked, "Is anything the matter with economics?" Tyler also provides a from-inside-the-beast evaluation of where economics stands today. * Virginia Postrel delivers what I take to be hopeful news -- sociologists are starting to look at economic life. "We cannot understand how people earn, spend, and invest their money, economic sociologists argue, unless we understand social relations," Virginia writes. "If, as economists contend, incentives and choice are everywhere, so are social conventions and personal connections." And ain't that the case. (Link thanks to ALD.) * Bryan Caplan wonders if Homo Economicus -- the basic, self-interested, "utility"-maximizing unit of neoclassical economic theory -- might in fact be a sociopath. * "Humans may be too multi-dimensional and hyper-complex to be usefully captured by econometric models," writes Sam Vaknin. * The chief economist at Lehman Brothers, John Llewellyn celebrates his 60th birthday by looking back at his 35 years of as an economist. Short version of what he's learned: Let's be a little more modest in our claims, folks. The New Economist comments on Llewellyn's piece. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Donate to Steve
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are lots of reasons why the mainstream media have the attitudes and stances they do. Some have to do with class, and some with political biases. But many of them have to do with the same forces and phenomena that nearly everyone runs into at no matter what place-of-work: ego and ambition, of course, but also inertia, laziness, going-along-to-get-along, feathering-the-nest, sucking-up-to-bosses, hoping-not-to-get-laid-off ... A consequence is that the professional news media often ignore (or soft-pedal, or misreport) dicey but pressing topics. Why volunteer to juggle a hot potato when it might mean alienating your peers, the people in whose world you want to succeed, or at least survive? Why antagonize the people who hand out prizes and promotions? Why play dangerous games with your career? Which does leave the rest of us in the lurch, alas: Where is the news about uncomfortable but important topics going to come from, if not from the people whose job it is to dig it out? It's going to come, if at all, from courageous independents like Steve Sailer. In recent years, Steve -- who writes for a number of outfits but is employed by none of them -- has done an amazing job of wading into turbulent waters. He writes informatively (and fearlessly) about genetics, race, sexuality, and disease. He has been courageous in calling attention to the insanity of our Mexican-border situation. He blew the whistle on the myth that the states that voted for Kerry were more intelligent than the states that voted for Bush, and he speculated -- correctly -- that Kerry himself is no more intelligent than Bush is. Yet Steve is no slave to either party; he's one of the most biting critics around of George W. Bush, whose policies he has brilliantly labeled "invade the world/invite the world." Not to mention his movie reviews, which represent some of the most original current writing I know of about the movies. I just noticed that Steve is running a fund-raising drive. It ain't easy going your own way, let alone speaking the truth as directly as you can. It also isn't an approach that makes it easy to pay the bills. Steve also makes a lot of his work available for free on the web. What a boon for the rest of us, and what a public service -- but, again, not the kind of thing that puts food on the table. The digital world is great in many respects, but it has made it far less easy than it once was for freelance writers to get paid for their work. Yet the rest of us depend on the work of people willing to take chances. If you value Steve's work anything like as much as I do, you'll join me in making a donation. Since I get more more intellectual meat to chew on from Steve's blog alone than I do from The Nation and The National Review combined, I couldn't... posted by Michael at August 17, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments