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

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Courtney Crit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Courtney and Kurt's daughter, Frances Bean, is now 13. And Frances Bean thinks that her mom really ought to dress in a more dignified way. The demands kids make, eh? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 10, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Whither the Feminists?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More on the theme of Where are they now? ... Do you ever wonder how the fiery feminists of the '60s and '70s are spending their time these days? Ah, the good old party-hearty names: Betty Friedan. Kate Millett. Shulamith Firestone. Gloria Steinem. Germaine Greer. Susan Brownmiller. Some now dead, and the others ... Well, what are they up to? Thinking about how much life has changed since this crowd came on the scene, I find myself reflecting, Gosh, we've made such progress, haven't we? Thanks to them, we've been able to move from a world where young women were oppressively seen as potential Playboy bunnies to a new, fresh world where ... Well, where self-empowered young women choose to wear belly-button-baring Playboy bunny t-shirts and pull their thongs down for the "Girls Gone Wild" camera crew. Hey, you don't think the whole "girls want to be found cute and appealing, and boys find them hot and want to impress them, and young members of both sexes are horny and wary and foolish, and very, very hormonally driven" thing could be natural, do you? Do the '70s feminists look at our Britney/Anna K./bald-beaver state of affairs and reflect contentedly, "A job well done. We accomplished what we set out to do"? Have they concluded with satisfaction that the progress justifies three decades' worth of mistrust, antagonism, bad sex, hostility, and lies? Not that I'm bitter or anything ... These questions sometimes make me wonder: What's Shulamith up to these days? And how about Gloria? I know that Germaine Greer wrote an all-fires-spent book not too long ago about being post-menopausal -- what she called a "crone" -- and celebrating the joys of gardening. I just ran across a little information about one of these bigtime '70s feminists: Susan Brownmiller, the author of the very successful '70s-feminist tract "Against Our Will." In this book, Brownmiller argued that the essential basis of male-female relations has always been the threat of rape. Really. Here's a quote: "Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear." I remember a woman once telling me how much "Against Our Will" had meant to her. She was so fervent in her appreciation of Brownmiller's genius that she was near tears. I just listened and nodded my head. How else could I respond? The woman who was almost crying was, after all, my boss. I sure had her intimidated! For some reason, in 1975 the masses didn't explode in giggles and tell Susan to stop being such a silly, vain girl. (They didn't tell her that she'd hit on a helluva good title for a porno novel either.) Instead, many people took her seriously. After all -- I don't know about you dudes -- but the threat of rape has always been my preferred way of keeping my women in their place. But those were the times, I guess. So what is... posted by Michael at September 10, 2005 | perma-link | (26) comments

Thursday, September 8, 2005

R.L. Burnside
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just learned, a couple of days late, that the ornery and very raw Mississippi Hill Country bluesman R.L. Burnside has died at the age of 78. Though I never saw Burnside perform in person, I've seen him in a couple of movies, and I've spent time addicted to a number of his CDs. I'm a fan, and I'm very sorry he isn't casting his devil-doll spell among us any longer. R.L. Burnside, 1926-2005 Burnside's music is harsh, guttural, trance-inducing stuff -- one-chord jam sessions that are like bulletins from a more primal, funky dimension than anything anyone living has ever known. If the music on this soul-blistering disc doesn't make you break out the hooch and throw your friends an all-night house party, then it can only be because you don't have a pulse. As one Amazon user-reviewer wrote: "'Too Bad Jim' will inspire you to drink bad bourbon and curse around children." High praise! Here's a recent interview with the growly, lowdown old man -- get a load of his drink of choice. Burnside's record company, Fat Possum Records, issues a lot of first-class rootsy blues. Fat Possum's Matthew Johnson tells CNN that Burnside never wanted a music career, and never practiced his guitar either. A fun, small detail: R.L. lived near the charming, out-of-another-era small town of Holly Springs, Miss. -- the same town that was the setting for the wonderfully soulful Robert Altman film "Cookie's Fortune." The Wife and I spent an afternoon in Holly Springs a few years ago, fell in love with the place, and have been plotting to make our way back ever since. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Epstein on Sex at the Movies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Slate's Edward Jay Epstein writes about the economics and the business arrangements that explain why sex and nudity are in such rare supply in American studio movies today. Some facts from Epstein's enlightening piece: In 2004, none of the six major studios' top 25 grossing films contained any sexually-oriented nudity. No studio has released an NC-17 film since 1995's "Showgirls." "As one Paramount executive suggested, because of their sexually-related nudity, movies such as Louis Malle's 'Pretty Baby,' Bernardo Bertolucci's 'Last Tango in Paris,' and Stanley Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange' would not even be considered by a major studio today." "If a film receives an R rating, many television stations and cable networks, particularly teenage-oriented ones, are not allowed to accept TV ads for the movies." How about those tie-ins? "An R rating—especially for sexual content—will preclude any of the fast-food chains, beverage companies, or toy manufacturers that act as the studios' merchandise tie-in partners from backing the movie with tens of millions of dollars in free advertising." And then there's the Wal-Mart factor. Wal-Mart (and its Sam's Club stores) accounted for over 1/4 of all DVD sales in 2004. No surprise to learn that Wal-Mart avoids offending mommies. Epstein: "It guards against this risk with a 'decency policy' that consigns DVDs containing sexually related nudity to 'adult sections' of the store, which greatly reduces their sales ... These guidelines, in turn, put studios under tremendous pressure to sanitize their films of sexual content." A bitter/rueful note here: The kinds of movies that the studios wouldn't consider making these days are the very kinds of movies that interested me in movies in the first place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Burlesque Benefit Tonight
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A reminder that a must-see burlesque benefit is being thrown tonight in Williamsburg. A good cause. Saucy performers. Raffles and prizes, including some by 2Blowhards' very own "Confessions of a Naked Model" correspondent Molly Crabapple. The details: 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! Boobies and buttskis; fans and boas; g-strings and tassles; and lots of po-mo attitude. Why resist temptation? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

What's He Got to Offer?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let me see if I've got this straight. What George W. Bush is selling -- apart from the fact that he isn't John Kerry -- is 1) fiscal responsibility, and 2) security. Nuts-and-bolts, important , no-nonsense values. That's the package that makes him an all-American Republican. No matter what your reservations about his manner or his background, at least he's modest, he stands tough, and he's One Of Us. Yet 1) GW has shown himself to be the most reckless spender since LBJ, and 2) he runs an open border with Mexico; he loves enraging Arabs; and he hasn't shown any talent for managing the New Orleans emergency. So bring me up to date, would you? What kind of case are his supporters making for him these days? I mean, apart from the fact that he isn't John Kerry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2005 | perma-link | (34) comments

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some eye-openers from a piece by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi in the current issue of The Boston Review: * In 1976, a married mother was twice as likely to stay home with her children as to work fulltime. In 2000, she was half as likely. * A mother with a three-month-old infant today is more likely to be working out of the home than was the mother of a five-year-old child in the 1960s. * In 1965, 21 percent of working women were back at their jobs within six months of giving birth to their first child. These days, more than 70 percent of working women are. * Cars are more expensive to buy today than they were in the 1970s, but they last longer. In the late 1970s, the average age of a car on the road was five and a half years. The average age of a car on the road today is more than eight years. Later in the same issue, Juliet Schor reports that it's estimated that Americans will discard 63 million computers this year. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 7, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Stephen Bodio writes an informative, well-arted posting about early rock art from Kazakhstan, and posts about what it's like to share a life with "primitive" breeds of dog. Guest poster Reid Farmer tells some unexpected tales about the Cherokees. * Thanks to Attu, who points out this entertaining Wikipedia list of films ranked according to the frequency that the word "fuck" is used in them. * Congrats to Lynn Sislo, whose blog was recently crowned Best Okie Culture Blog. Lynn rants entertainingly about how certain serious-music composers really ought to get a grip. * Edwin Rubenstein looks at the numbers and concludes that out-of-control immigration is contributing to recent bad economic news. * John Massengale thinks that some bigtime architects have disgraced themselves with their responses to Katrina's destruction. * Do celebs who go out in bikinis imagine that they're not going to be ambushed by the paparazzi? (Seemed SFW to me, but my office may be different than yours.) * Arnold Kling thinks Malcolm Gladwell's healthcare musings need some stern correction. And Arnold kicks off a fun discussion about who deserves to be considered the most influential of all economists. * Now 70, Donald Sutherland tells John Patterson some nifty anecdotes. * There's something about a girl and a snake ... * Tyler Cowen and Alan Wolfe both think that Barbara Ehrenreich's new book is a let-down. * Alex Tabarrok wrestles with some Jonathan Kozol arguments about public and private schooling. FWIW, I spent a little time with Kozol years ago and came away with the impression that he's quite brilliant and quite mad. * Chelsea Girl sees no reason why political disagreements should get in the way of hot sex. I discovered the snazzy writing of Chelsea Girl thanks to Jill, who has been squirming contentedly herself. * The online arts magazine Jerry Jazz Musician asks Terry Teachout about Louis Armstrong, the subject of Terry's next book. * Eloise suspects that people who are picky about the political correctness of those they buy from must have a hard time buying anything at all. * Shanti recalls some fraught and unkind moments from her primary-school years. * This list of the top-grossing movies of all times in inflation-adjusted dollars doesn't include as many recent films as you might expect. * Margot Kidder -- homeless and crazy no longer -- talks to the Guardian about her very public breakdown. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 7, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Speed Seduction?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Being published on Sept. 6th is a book that should get some attention: Neil Strauss' "The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists." Who even knew there was such a secret society? Haven't looked at it myself, but how can such a book not stir controversy? Strauss is a well-known former rock critic. He became a staffer at the New York Times while still in his early 20s, then segue'd into collaborating on books with flashy celebs; he co-wrote Jenna Jameson's bestseller, for instance. In interviews about his new book, Strauss says that he was a mousy, timid, frustrated guy before he studied with the master pickup artists. Now he claims to be an unstoppable pickup machine. Here's a Maclean's interview with Strauss. Here's a blog that seems to belong to one of the Strauss' masters. Here's an article about the "speed-seduction scene." This how-to-be-an-alpha-male site looks like it was put together by the character Tom Cruise played in "Magnolia." It occurs to me that this could all be a monumental put-on. On the other hand, maybe there really are tried-and-tested ways that enable you to have your way with the women of your dreams. At the age of 12, anyway, many boys like to think so. Being happily partnered-up with a far better woman than I deserve, I think I'll sit back and watch this particular controversy take its own shape ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

"Red Eye"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Brian for recommending Wes Craven's "Red Eye," which The Wife and I caught up with over the holiday weekend. It struck us both as a first-class B movie: a shrewdly-judged, unpretentious, and expertly-engineered piece of suspense, full of energy and surprises. Terrific performances from everyone; the movie heightens the male/female contrasts between its stars, Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams, very effectively. And while the film's portrait of McAdams' character is a long way from "King Lear"-deep, it's valid, and it's right on target. She's a type of young woman who's much in evidence these days: hypercompetent yet scared, girlishly anxious yet also extraverted and rowdy. What a surprise to see a Wes Craven movie that isn't teen horror; "Red Eye" is a psychological thriller. And what a surprise to see Craven working with such finesse. His camera partners the script and the acting with lickety-split alertness, and his pacing sweeps you past most of the unlikelinesses -- thrillers always have unlikelinesses -- wittily and effectively. And Craven and his performers and writers (Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos) play a cat-and-mouse game with the audience that's entertainingly unstable. There's daring and virtuosity in the way much of the first half of the film takes place in the confines of a passenger plane: It's a chamber thriller! And one that's full of subtle, even elegant, tonal shifts! As the film's credits rolled, I spotted a name that I'm fond of: Dey Young. In "Red Eye," she played such a tiny role that I'm sorry to say I didn't notice her. Back in the late '70s and early '80s, though, I noticed Dey Young a lot. She was a graceful, charming, and mischievous comedienne, appearing in "Rock 'n' Roll High School" and "Strange Behavior," among others, often as a nerdy good girl with a sexier-than-you'd-expect spark in her eyes. Later, she gained a little notice as the nasty shopgirl in "Pretty Woman," and she memorably gave her all in this otherwise-awful thriller. I always looked forward to Dey Young's appearances, and always wanted to see more of her. Dey Young in "Rock 'n' Roll High School" But her movie appearances seemed to grow more and more rare. What becomes of people? IMDB tells me that Dey Young has continued appearing in lots of movies, though mostly not of the type you'd take much notice of. Snooping around online, I learned that Dey Young is the younger sister of '60s and '70s hippie-sexpot Leigh Taylor-Young; that she's the aunt of Rebecca De Mornay; and that she married someone from the Ladd (as in Alan Ladd Jr.) family. I also learned that Dey Young is a very accomplished professional sculptor. Here's an interview with Wes Craven; here's another, and another. Fascinating to learn that Craven, the 66-year old master of teen horror, was inspired to become a director by the films of Ingmar Bergman and the French New Wave, and that he has experienced as much in... posted by Michael at September 6, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

The Way of All Reading?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've wondered out loud about the future of long, all-prose narratives. As the world goes more and more electronic -- and hence multimedia -- what chance do 400-page-long novels stand? That's a lot of words; that's a lot of gray stuff; that's a lot of eyestrain. Some visitors have found my musings absurd (or maybe depressing), and have written that there will always be a place for books. I certainly hope so; I've always been a big reader myself. Still, we're going through a period of major media transition, and sentiment can make our vision misty. Why not sweep the mist aside and take note of what's actually out there? A few points: "Books" and "long prose narratives" are not synonymous. Many books contain images and graphics; most books in fact aren't meant to be read straight through. Books in a general sense remain attractive in many ways. They're easy to carry around, they're easy to give and receive, they're easy to flip through. It's hard to imagine people abandoning them. But long prose narratives are a very special sub-sub-category of books. For some reason -- school? -- many people seem deeply convinced that the only books that qualify as "real books" (and hence worthy of serious thought and discussion) are long-prose-narratives. This is a sweet conviction, but it's also a slightly deluded one. I don't have a figure to volunteer, alas, but most books aren't "real books" in that limited sense. Most books are cookbooks, reference books, travel books, professional books, visual books, joke books -- books that are primarily meant to be used, and to be interacted with in short bursts at the user's convenience. Among books more generally, the long-prose-narrative is an oddball category: No images. No graphics. The demand that you start on page one and keep on keepin'-on until you make it to the finish line. Doug Sundseth argues that, while people haven't stopped reading, the nature of their reading is changing. I think Doug's point is a good one. These days, we tend less and less to chomp our way, Pac-Man-style, through endless yards of text. Instead, we tend to take in short chunks of prose. Our brains are largely engaged in sifting and sorting images, graphics, sounds, and moving images. What we turn to prose-chunks for is mostly orientation, narration, and information. Words, once the primary event, now play a supporting role to the central thing, which is the multimedia experience. The charm is already off long-narrative-prose. The young people I see -- many of whom are coming out of the most expensive liberal-arts colleges -- no longer have the same attitudes towards books that many older people do. They're free of the feeling that books are something special -- that there's something sacred about "the book." And they clearly don't feel that it's automatically a good thing to sit quietly and read your way from beginning-to-end, all the way through an all-prose book. As far as... posted by Michael at September 6, 2005 | perma-link | (26) comments