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  1. Donald on the Pebble Beach Concours
  2. The Fat Man Lives
  3. Elsewhere
  4. Intro to Econ
  5. The Bush Ain't Back Yet
  6. Group Characteristics 3
  7. Group Characteristics 2
  8. Group Characteristics 1
  9. Burlesque Benefit
  10. Acting, Again

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Friday, September 2, 2005

Donald on the Pebble Beach Concours
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Car-styling buff Donald Pittenger files a report for 2Blowhards from the recent edition of Pebble Beach's legendary classic-car competition. *** Pebble Beach Concours D'Élégance 2005 Report by Donald Pittenger For a moment I thought I should ask Ralph Lauren if he needed help pushing his 1938 Alfa Romeo race car. But there seemed to be enough helping hands already, so I continued on my way towards the snack area where champagne flutes awaited dehydrated automobile fanatics. Such is life at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance classic automobile show. What it is I suppose a touch of background is needed for any Blowhards readers from, oh, New York City let's say, who feel nervous when out of sight of concrete, have no idea what a drivers license is used for and believe golf is a German geographical term. The French phrase "concours d'élégance" can be translated as "elegance competition" and has been used for meets where seriously fancy automobiles are judged on design and perfection of presentation. There are several shows of this kind that are well-known to car fans world-wide. These include the shows at Villa d'Este on Lake Como in Italy, Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne by Paris (click here and look for "Classic"), and the concours at the famed Pebble Beach golf course near Carmel-by-the-Sea on the California coast just south of Monterey Bay. The Pebble Beach Concours has been held annually starting in 1950, though it was cancelled in 1960 due to bad weather. (Travel tip: the central California coast has "lousy" weather during the summer -- plenty of fog banks and daytime highs in the low 60s Fahrenheit. Clear weather is more likely in the fall. I have fond November memories of doing push-ups on Fort Ord gravel while gazing on the sun-lit factories of Monterey's Cannery Row down the bay.) Cars are displayed around the 18th green of the golf links, directly in front of the Del Monte Lodge which serves as the reviewing stand for the awards presentation part of the show. Some of the illustrations for this article offer background glimpses of the fabulous setting. A controversial aspect of top-line classic car shows is the degree of restoration and polish on display. A number of critics say that the prize-winning cars are over-restored -- exhibiting a degree of perfection not even found the day they rolled out of the factory. Ditto the spit-and-polish of the display. For instance, owners proudly open hoods revealing gleaming, oil-smudge-free engines. One possible man to blame for this is the late J.B. Nethercutt, whose 1958 Pebble Beach winning duPont set new standards at the time. JB could afford it, being part of the Merle Norman cosmetics clan. Like horse racing, classic car showing is an expensive proposition, so most award winners are seriously rich. The folks who manage the Concours usually have a featured car brand ("marque" is the term of art here) along with a few subsidiary features. In 2003,... posted by Michael at September 2, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

The Fat Man Lives
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We interrupt our usual programming with a piece of good news that has emerged amidst all the devastation: New Orleans R&B legend Fats Domino, who was feared missing in the terrible flooding, has made it through. * Fats' very first record -- "The Fat Man," in 1949 -- is sometimes called the very first rock and roll recording. * It was through Fats' music that much of America first heard the New Orleans sound. * For those who haven't yet had the pleasure: Hop to! You might start with this bargain beauty of a CD. * Despite being a shy man who'd just as soon stay at home with friends and cook gumbo, Fats sold more records than any other '50s rock and roll figure but Elvis. * Here's a wonderful Rick Coleman list of 70 things that make Fats great. A few of them: 6. Fats was born in a shotgun house in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans ... Today, he lives in a (newly-remodeled, hump-backed, double) shotgun house in the Ninth Ward with the word "FATS" proudly blazing across the front. 27. Fats is a master of lyrical minimalism -- "Ain't That A Shame" has less than three dozen different words, "Whole Lotta Lovin'" less than two dozen; "Hey! La Bas Boogie" has only six French Creole words, and no one is quite sure what they mean! 42. He's a great cook, with two flavors designed to fit either taste: very spicy-hot, or yeoowwwwwwww! * Here's a nice USA Today visit with Fats, from 2002. * The jazz critic Tom Piazza (this is a terrific collection of reviews and recommendations) once told me about seeing Fats bring down the house at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival: "And in the middle of the final song, Fats stood up from his piano and, using his belly, he pushed that piano all the way across the stage. That was a big stage. And that was a grand piano!" * Here's Fats' own website. Sniffling with relief and gratitude, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Massengale highlights a couple of obscenely awful new building proposals. Terry Teachout thinks that the new MOMA might as well be a shopping mall. The Guardian reports on a neighborhood in Malmo, Sweden, that has the design and architecture worlds a-twitter. * Kris wouldn't mind a cigarette. * Robert Altman's rambling line of artist-director baloney never fails to entrance me. Here's a nice passage from a recent interview with him: I often wish I could make a new film and have it come out without my signature on it so that the critics couldn't open up and say, 'Well. This certainly wasn't Nashville.' But that's what happens - you get compared to yourself because you are yourself and, ultimately, so what? Indeed! * Zen-monk poet/troubador of depression Leonard Cohen is almost broke, evidently robbed of millions of dollars by his personal manager. Hmm: I just remembered that Cohen did the music for my favorite movie, Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller." * Neil Kramer opts for clitoral stimulation. * Connoisseurs of far-out movies will want to waste a lot of time at Exploitation Retrospect. * Essential skimming, at least for a certain set of film nuts: this page devoted to the nutcase-genius, ever-over-the-top German actor Klaus Kinski. Kinski's autobiography is pretty essential in its own right. It's one of the most whacked-out actor autobiographies ever written, more a riveting pornographic performance piece than a work of nonfiction. That's a recommendation, by the way. * Jill discovers an efficient way to relieve anxiety. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Intro to Econ
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Economist Robert Frank catches up with what seemed obvious to Friedrich and me over three decades ago: Intro-to-econ classes stink. Some excerpts from Frank's piece: According to one recent study, the ability [of people who had just completed an intro-to-econ course] to answer simple economic questions several months after leaving the course is not measurably different from that of people who never took a principles course ... What explains such abysmal performance? One problem is the encyclopedic range typical of introductory courses. As the Nobel laureate George J. Stigler wrote more than 40 years ago, "The brief exposure to each of a vast array of techniques and problems leaves the student no basic economic logic with which to analyze the economic questions he will face as a citizen." Another problem is that the introductory course is increasingly tailored not for the majority of students for whom it will be their only economics course, but for the negligible fraction who will go on to become professional economists. Such courses focus on the mathematical models that have become the cornerstone of modern economic theory. These models prove daunting for many students and leave them little time and energy to focus on how basic economic principles help explain everyday behavior. I'm ashamed to admit how long it took me to wake up to a similar fact in an arty field: The training you receive as an English major is of use only if you plan to become an English professor ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Bush Ain't Back Yet
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those who have been expecting that the bush would soon make a comeback have lost. The NYTimes' Natasha Singer reports that the pubic-hair-removal business is booming. Here's an on-the-scene report from Karyn Grossman, a dermatologist in Santa Monica, CA: "I do full-body exams to check for skin cancer, and I can think of almost no female patients who come in with natural pubic hair. Either they have nothing left, or they have a small patch that is two inches by half an inch, but the trend is toward having it all gone." According to Singer, the taste for an ever-more-denuded female pubic zone got its start over ten years ago. That's one long-term fad. Are all young girls now growing up expecting to do a lot of pruning once puberty has been attained? How do you react to the bald adult-female crotch? I find it off-putting myself. Something's missing; real-life women are having themselves Photoshopped. But then my tastes were formed back in the '60s and '70s. I sometimes feel sorry for today's women. It seems that every square inch of them is expected to be camera-ready, 24/7. Has life gotten easier for women since the bushy years? Or have the pressures and expectations only increased? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Group Characteristics 3
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few excerpts from a Wired piece about differences in the way Asians and Westerners perceive the world: Shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene ... "Asians live in a more socially complicated world than we do," [Nisbett, the researcher] said in a telephone interview. "They have to pay more attention to others than we do. We are individualists. We can be bulls in a china shop, they can't afford it." ... The key thing in Chinese culture is harmony, Nisbett said, while in the West the key is finding ways to get things done, paying less attention to others ... The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on the bottom and then mention the fish. The Japanese gave 60 percent more information on the background and twice as much about the relationship between background and foreground objects as Americans. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Group Characteristics 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tracy Austin, providing commentary at the U.S. Tennis Open, took note of a number of injured yet persistent Russian tennis players and marveled: "These Russians, they can play with a lot of pain." Tatyana, Alexei: Anything to this? Fair? Unfair? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Group Characteristics 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I like discussing group characteristics, darn it. Gals are like this, guys are like that ... The French are always so very such-and-such ... Isn't that just what a Middle-Westerner would do ... That kind of thing. I have no desire to box anyone in, of course. I just like feeling oriented in the world. Where's the harm? When such discussions are carried on in a friendly, rowdy spirit -- one that allows for exceptions and makes room for individuals and variations -- they don't turn me into a racist. Instead, they enhance my appreciation of other people. And why not? People do come in different flavors; types do exist. Pretending otherwise -- the approach official America has preferred for the last 30 or 40 years -- seems self-defeating. It also breeds a lot of ugly resentment. When people are told by authorities that what they notice day to day and what they know as a practical fact mustn't be acknowledged, they can get surly. Their ideas can harden. They can get over-insistent about what's being denied. And they inevitably lose whatever respect they might have for the authorities who are doing the denying. Not a good situation. Denial of group characteristics can also seem childish and naive. (And by "group characteristics," I don't mean just racial, ethnic, and national groups. There are all kinds of groupings. Professional, for example: In a very general sense, doctors tend to be different than actors. Our physical equipment plays a role: Tall people are often different than short people.) For one thing, people in cultures outside the U.S. generalize all the time about themselves and other groups. I have some Asian friends, for instance, who are clear, emphatic, and funny about what the Chinese, the Thais, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese are like. And, well, everyone simply knows about those Koreans, eh? Actually, I don't. But I wish I did. When I was a student in France many aeons ago, I was a colorblind, naive, vanilla American kid. The French shocked me with how unabashed they were about characterizing themselves and others. It seemed an important part of being a competent person, the knowledge of what "an Italian" was like, or what it meant that someone was "a Spaniard." (At the time, I genuinely had no idea.) The French, they are an exacting race: You were even expected to have a sense of regional differences. "A Norman" was known to be a very different creature than "an Alsatian," for instance. And those Provencals -- well, we all know about them. Bien sur. I never witnessed anyone go into theory or philosophy where any of this was concerned. Genes were never mentioned; neither was history. Explanations simply weren't needed. The world is as it is, and the important thing is to not be a fool about it. Another shock hit me when I moved to New York City. Although in many ways the city is a hotbed of... posted by Michael at August 31, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Burlesque Benefit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the more inspiring developments in the NYCity artsworld in recent years has been a flourishing and homegrown neo-burlesque scene. We aren't talking real burlesque here; this is burlesque more as an extension of artschool and performance-art than of showbiz. Still: daring chicks having fun and doing art while taking their clothes off -- what's not to applaud about that? There's raunch, humor, and personalities galore to enjoy, not to mention balloons, funny fake names, and feather boas. Oh, also knockers and buttskis. New Yorkers eager to sample this still-relatively-new (and therefore fresh and sweet) scene could do a lot worse than attend a benefit performance on Thursday evening, Sept 9th. A number of performers will be breaking out the g-strings and tassles for a good cause: helping Lola Ramona, one of their own, recover financially from an apartment malfunction. Among the performers is the snappy and talented Nasty Canasta, a particular fave of mine. A raffle will reward lucky participants with prizes created by up-and-(er)-coming artists, including 2Blowhards' very own glam-queen, Molly Crabapple, authoress of numerous installments of "Confessions of a Naked Model." (Here, here, here, here, here.) The essentials: Date: Thursday evening, Sept. 8 Time: 10 pm Place: The Lucky Cat Lounge in Williamsburg 245 Grand St. (Between Driggs and Roebling) Price: Cheap, cheap, cheap! Here's a page for the event (with charming and sexy art by Molly). Here's Nasty's site. Here's Molly's. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 31, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Acting, Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have an unwieldy set of small-t theories about acting. I'm not sure I can justify any of these theories, but there they are. Actors are the purest of all artists, for instance -- "pure" being understood in this case to mean something like "most genuinely driven by the need to express themselves and to give pleasure." Another is that acting is the most mysterious of all the arts. How are some people able to interest the rest of us so directly in stories, characters, and situations? What gift is it that enables them to insert themselves so completely into make-believe that the rest of us follow, and find ourselves involved in make-believe too? Another theory: Everyone ought to study acting for a few years. It can introduce you to such helpful-to-all-the-arts concepts as subtext and being-in-the-moment. Studying acting can be useful in many real-world ways too. It can help you learn how to read (and respond to) behavior. It can help you get a lot more comfortable thinking, speaking, and behaving on your feet. It can help you past a lot of uptightness and inhibitions; you learn daring, and how to trust your instincts. It can turn you into a more positive and appreciative person. And, of course, acting -- even in the most modest, going-to-an-acting-class sense -- can be a heckuva lot of fun, despite the humiliations and tribulations. Plus, hey singledudes: Going to an acting class is an unbeatable way to meet entertaining, sexy, and otherwise appealing women. I spell that t-r-o-u-b-l-e, and mean it in the best possible way. Small tip for anyone interested in giving acting a try: Start out with a good intro-to-improv class. You'll get a taste of what "acting" is all about a lot faster in an improv class than you will in any other kind. If you enjoy the experience, then think of moving into a more conventional intro-to-acting or scene-study class. Being a mysterious thing, acting is one of the hardest of the arts to write about. How many essays or books have you read that helped you understand what performers are really up to, or how they go about achieving their effects? So running across people who are informative, honest, and sensible about performing can be an especially rewarding culture-chat experience. I read some bloggers and I think, That's the spirit! I love it when Mike Hill, for instance, recalls his days as an actor, or discusses a performer friend. The way Mike processes his experience is the way a real actor does it. The Communicatrix doesn't just recount her adventures as a go-getting performer-about-L.A., she does so in the way a performer does. (That's a real writing achievement, by the way.) It turns out that Samizdata's Brian Micklethwait has heard the siren song of acting too. Not a surprise, come to think of it: Brian's postings are almost always performance pieces in their own right. Brian, who did some acting in college,... posted by Michael at August 31, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Eat Little, Live Longer?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you been feeling as though you ought to commit to drastically restricting the calories you take in? After all, don't you owe it to yourself to live to 125? Yet -- hard to know exactly why -- there's something about eating like a mouse that doesn't appeal ... A couple of scientists have just delivered some good/bad news that you may find interesting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 30, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, August 29, 2005

TV Alert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Time once again to do some Tivo-setting. * America's most self-consciously self-important moment in the artistic sun may have been the years following World War II, when some talented and ambitious artists, a few bossy and aggressive critics, and lots of media cheerleading combined to create (and put over) the style and movement known as Abstract Expressionism. What did AbEx really represent -- overblown, kiddie-Romantic nonsense? Or the glorious epitome of art-as-self-expression? The Biography Channel broadcasts an hour-long look at uber-Ab-Exer Jackson Pollock from 4 to 5 a.m. on Thursday morning. * I just caught up with "Heaven on Earth," a thoughtful and excellent three-part PBS documentary about the history of socialism. Adapted from the book by historian Joshua Muravchik, it's both concise yet informal, and comprehensive without being exhausting. It's also frankly conservative and skeptical -- ie., sensible -- in its assessments of socialism. But it isn't pushy about its point of view, and it's remarkably even-handed in its general attitudes: Everyday people are treated as the equals of leaders and thinkers. Robert Owen, Marx and Engels, Communism and Democratic Socialism, experiments in Africa, Israel, and Asia ... great stuff. Youngsters should appreciate the information -- context and background are good! -- while oldies should enjoy seeing this semi-familiar material brought together and made sense of. I note that even The Wife -- who generally falls asleep during any documentary whose subject isn't food or a serial killer -- watched "Heaven on Earth" with interest. High praise! Here's the documentary's PBS website. You can check for broadcast times in your area here, and buy a DVD of the show here. * The story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is a moving and exciting one, and the no-nonsense documentary series Modern Marvels tells it well. The History Channel rebroadcasts the episode from 7 to 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning. You can buy a DVD of the show here. Wouldn't it be lovely if the prices on A&E and PBS documentaries were half what they are? I'd buy tons of 'em. * I blogged enthusiastically about Wes Craven's 1987 Haiti-set zombie thriller "The Serpent and the Rainbow" here. Short version: cheesy exploitation-horror, yet hypnotic and provocative anyway. The Sundance Channel broadcasts the movie from 12:30 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. on Thursday morning. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Lynch Goes Digital
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * In digital-cinema news, I found it interesting to learn that naif-surrealist David Lynch -- who is making a movie entitled "INLAND EMPIRE" (all caps, if you please) -- has become a convert to Digital Video. "For me, there's no way back to film. I'm done with it," he told Variety. "I love abstraction. Film is a beautiful medium, but it's very slow and you don't get a chance to try a lot of different things. With DV, you get those chances. And in post-production, if you can think it, you can do it." During a documentary extra on the DVD of Robert Altman's "The Company" -- a film he shot on HDTV -- Altman says that using HDTV completely changed his way of working. What did he mean by this? The documentary doesn't follow up. Damn. (I blogged about "The Company," which I generally liked, here.) But David Lynch is feeling a similar new-media high himself: The change in media has completely altered Lynch's way of working (as it's wont to do). He says that Laura Dern has responded especially well to the differed demands of digital, and he even embraces the "bad" look of video. "Some would say it looks bad. But it reminds me of early 35mm, that didn't have that tight grain. When you have a poor image, there's lots more room to dream." * Many thanks to Robert Nagle, through whose very interesting blog I discovered some blogs devoted entirely to up-to-the-minute cinema technology, and what the switchover to digital might mean for the artform: Cinematech, HD For Indies, and FreshHDV. Robert himself has plans to shoot a documentary using HDTV -- I'm eager to hear what he has to say about the experience. And don't miss Robert's smart and frank discussion about what being an artist can do to your thoughts and plans about marriage. Talk about a great theme ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments