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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Food Prep
  2. Immigration Landmark Reached
  3. Reno is Keno (Parrish the Thought)
  4. Me on Visuals
  5. Museum-Viewing Styles
  6. Ken Kewley Exhibition
  7. The Confession Line?
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  9. Words, Visuals, Sex and Girls
  10. Bad Pop

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Saturday, October 1, 2005

Food Prep
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have I mentioned that The Wife and I are taking a cooking class? Three sessions only, but full evenings on each of three standard techniques: sauteeing, roasting, and grilling. Learn-how-to-cook-without-a-menu stuff that's basic enough for me but that's focused enough so that The Wife (already an excellent home chef) is picking up some tips too. A fun and sexy activity. (Hey single guys: take cooking classes!) And, I'm finding, an amazingly engrossing one. I like food, I'm interested in nutrition and health, and the Wife long ago drew me into eating and dining as an orgiastic art adventure. Yet until a couple of months ago, I never found the idea of preparing food appealing. Digging in? Sure! But preparing the stuff? I was perfectly happy making my contribution by washing up and taking out the trash. Yet here I am today, squeezing veggies, scraping up pan drippings, and strolling with a critical eye around William-Sonoma. Who knows why our interests turn these corners? In any case, I'm finding the whole food-preparation thing very enjoyable. What's not to love? You use your body, your brain, and your senses; you experience the craft pleasure of making something; and then you get to eat it. Now that's a rewarding artform. A completely unexpected consequence is that I've lost a few pounds. Celebrity chefs may tend to the chubby, but I'm a little sleeker than I once was. At first I was baffled. Could those ab exercises I've been doing four times a week really be having such a dramatic effect? Then it occurred to me: It was the cooking. Involve yourself in food as creation and pleasure rather than as easy-to-grab fuel or convenient entertainment -- really pay attention to it -- and you simply don't need as much of it. Preparing a dish -- I'm a long way yet from being able to prepare an entire meal -- turns out to be a major food pleasure in its own right. Shopping, sniffing, tasting, and playing-with food provide a lot of sensory payoffs and creative satisfactions even before you commence with the chowing down. Hmm, I wonder if I'm discovering the food-and-eating equivalent of the difference between "making love" and "just boffing away" ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Immigration Landmark Reached
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A new study of immigration by the Pew Hispanic Center has turned up a startling fact that might give pause to supporters of current policies: We now receive more illegal immigrants than we do legal immigrants. According to Pew demographer Jeffrey Passel, never before in the history of the U.S. has such a thing been the case. "This is what differentiates this from 100 years ago," says Passel. "There really wasn't anything like what we call illegal immigration today." A couple of questions: If illegal immigration from Mexico is inevitable, as some make it out to be, then why was there so little illegal immigration from Mexico prior to the mid-1960s? During the era of immense immigration that took place circa 1900, no one country of origin dominated our immigrant population the way that Mexico dominates it now; the Pew report describes Mexico as "the largest single source of U.S. immigrants by far." Given this fact, why do so many fans of diversity defend current arrangements? That's right: Although today's immigration enthusiasts often pose as advocates of diversity, they're in fact advocating an immigration policy that results in nothing like immigrant diversity. Here's the Pew Hispanic Center's study (PDF). Here's a Washington Post article about the study. Best, Michael UPDATE: Randall Parker links to a Robert Samuelson column explaining that, since 1980, Hispanics have "represented almost three-quarters of the increase in [the U.S.'s] poverty population." If we're serious about attacking poverty, perhaps we might think twice about continuing to import ever more of it. UPDATE 2: Tyler Cowen explains some of the reasons why immigration from Mexico today is so much more of a problem than it once was.... posted by Michael at October 1, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reno is Keno (Parrish the Thought)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nevada has always been off my personal beaten track. Part of this is geographical: Living near Puget Sound, if I drive to the east coast (even to Denver or Salt Lake City) or down to California, Nevada gets avoided. Moreover, I've often consciously avoided the state. This is because (judgmentalism alert!!) I find gambling a sick, tawdry, destructive business. Casinos themselves were pretty sleazy, even the shiny new ones circa 1990. And since I've never been much into performing arts, the shows offered no enticement either. Things are changing. The Fiancée has a condo in Las Vegas and spends a week there every year. I've been for a couple visits now, and find that Vegas is okay nowadays even though I used to hate the place. Recently I saw a statistic that claimed more than half the visitors to Vegas don't gamble. I can't vouch for that, but it's plausible: after all, c'est moi. Vegas has really good shopping if you're into luxury goods; I tend to leave town with at least one Italian sweater that costs a lot and that I seldom find an occasion to wear. I've even gotten to the point where I can cruise through Caesar's, the Bellagio and the Venetian en route to their shops without being particularly distracted or offended by the gambling floors. One negative consideration for me, setting aside my tepid interest, is that the top shows tend to be overblown and over-priced ($150 seats, anyone?). My bêtes trop-noir are the Cirque du Soleil shows, but that can be the subject for another post 'cause I'm here to talk painting. And cars. Some of the fancier casinos (the Bellagio and the Venetian come to mind) have mini-museums of art (complete with gift shops) with entry fees that strike me as being 30 percent too high for the amount of art available -- I'm talking fees that aren't much different from those that'll give you an entire day at the great big honkin' Met. Last November we took in a display at the Venetian dealing with entertainment as depicted in classical paintings, many from the Hermitage. Over at the Bellagio was a Monet show that included some works by Pissarro, Manet and others to set the scene. Reno Reno ain't quite Vegas: never was, might never be. Las Vegas has always struck me as being an artificial place whereas Reno seems more genuine -- a cowboy town that served as a transportation hub for mining operations on the eastern slopes of the Sierras. Even the gambling seems more genuine. When I was a kid, the now-defunct Harold's Club used to pepper western highways with signs proclaiming "Harold's Club or Bust!" along with the mileage to Reno. Back in the early 70s, Harold's Club, at around eight stories, was one of the tallest buildings in town with a restaurant near the top where I dined once while on my way from San Francisco to Albany, N.Y. I recall... posted by Donald at September 29, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Me on Visuals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where the traditional visual arts go I'm no Friedrich or Donald, god knows. But darn it, I have my pleasures too. It just occurred to me to put together a posting linking to other postings that I've done about painters and artists. As with books, my list of painter-and-artist faves doesn't overlap much with the standard list. That may mean that I'm crazy or that I have no taste, of course. But it may also mean that a few visitors who feel perplexed or put off by the usual art-crit, art-history thang will find an artist or two among my faves who will suit them as well. (I'd love to be a gent and present a posting-full of links-to-postings by my co-bloggers about paintings and artists. But, y'know, given how tedious it is to pull together postings like this one -- copy, paste, link; copy, paste, link... -- my colleagues are just gonna have to fend for themselves.) So, herewith, a few of the painters and artists whose work stirs me deeply: The jazzy and sophisticated collagist Romare Bearden. The one of a kind avant-gardist known as Jess. A few modest, fan-ish words about the English colorist Howard Hodgkin. A few modest and fan-ish words about the erotic/freaky still-life painter Raymond Han. The LA conceptualist, wit, and teacher John Baldessari. A group of contemporary figurative artists, including Kent Bellows and Robert Cottingham. The onetime '80s bad-boy Eric Fischl. Almost no words, but -- what the heck -- an image by the austere British master Euan Uglow. The lyrical Canadian watercolorist David Milne. The group of loosey-goosey but sensual San Francisco painters known as the Bay Area figurative artists. The comic book artist Frank ("Sin City") Miller, who for reason made me muse about the French classicist Nicolas Poussin. A nod to and some links about Edgar Leeteg, the father of painting-pretty-girls-on-black-velvet. A long essay about the brilliant and now largely forgotten American Beaux Arts painter and stained-glass artisan, John La Farge. Some examples of (and links to) ultra-talented and ultra-accomplished contemporary realists, including Edward Schmidt and David Ligare. The poetic miniaturist and "postage-stamp" specialist Donald Evans. Hugh MacLeod and his "business-card art." The figurative-action painter (and legendary film critic) Manny Farber. And Ken Kewley, whose current show I visited today and found intensely pleasurable. Note to self: Blog about more of the artists whose work you love, dammit -- Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Eduard Vuillard, Aristide Maillol, Cecilia Beaux, Frederick MacMonnies, John Kensett, the Japanese Rimpa painters, Samuel Palmer, Correggio ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 29, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Museum-Viewing Styles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I can boast a pre-Sesame Street childhood, I suffer from a short attention span when visiting museums. Well, not always: last summer The Fiancée and I spent about five hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- a lot longer than the one or two hours I normally tolerate even in museums I like such as the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The Met held my attention because (1) I hadn't visited it in decades and it was interesting to see how much it had been improved, and (2) we broke up the visit by taking snack or coffee breaks at the cafes that had been added since my previous visit. A year earlier we were in the Louvre for nearly four hours and I recall feeling nearly brain-dead and almost crazed to get out at the end of the ordeal. (For some reason I immediately perked up once we got to the museum shop.) I find it interesting that The Fiancée and I have different approaches to museum-viewing. She is methodical, starting at a gallery's entrance then heading around it in the same direction reading each caption in its entirety. I, on the other hand, flit. If it's a museum dealing with something I'm familiar with, I'll head for specific objects that I especially want to see. Otherwise, I'll zip along until I notice something intriguing where I'll pause and soak things in until I feel I've learned or experienced enough. If the museum deals with something I don't know much about (such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum just west of Tucson) I'm more methodical, but not totally so. Our viewing styles result in the following: I spend a fair amount of time fidgeting at the door to the next gallery while she slowly makes her way along the walls. All of this probably has to do with personality type leavened by education and experience. Are there other museum-viewing styles? What is your modus operandi? Am I impatient, uncultured or simply weird? Please comment. Later, Donald UPDATE: Tyler Cowen spotted this post and offers thoughts on museum-going from an economics perspective, giving it a flavor that you might well find interesting. Check the comments too.... posted by Donald at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments

Ken Kewley Exhibition
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Long ago I wrote a short blog posting about Ken Kewley, an artist whose paintings and collages I love. I find Kewley's images modest, sweet, and gorgeous, as well as full of warmth, visual perceptions, and delight in form and color. They're wide-eyed but ornery. And they put me in mind of the work of David Park, Vanessa Bell, Elmer Bischoff, David Milne -- bloat-free, unpushy talents whom critics and historians seldom rank as modernist major leaguers, yet whose work often gives me far more yummy pleasure than does that of the recognized alpha-geniuses. Kewley: Chocolate Cake with Mango (2000) I notice that Kewley is currently having a show in New York City. It's at Lori Bookstein Fine Art, 37 West 57th Street, 3rd Floor, and it runs through October 28. I'll be visiting soon. You can taste-test some of Kewley's art at his own very generous website. (I lifted the image above from chez Kewley.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

The Confession Line?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a fun online conceptual-art project. It seems to me to be the descendent of a pre-home-computers, circa-1980 art project called something like The Confession Line. An artist rigged a telephone answering machine so that callers could leave personal confessions or listen to recordings of these confessions. I loved to listen in and often did. Anonymity gave confessors license to spill mucho guts, and the fact that listeners were hearing actual voices made these monologues startlingly immediate. Weird! Spooky! Arousing! Fun! But for the life of me I can't remember the actual name of this art project. Is anyone else's read-access memory in better shape than mine is? Best, Michael UPDATE: Hallelujah, my mind isn't completely gone yet. As I munched my lunchtime salad, it came back to me: The art project I'm remembering was called The Apology Line. Here's a site dedicated to it. I'm sorry to learn that Allan Bridge, the artist behind The Apology Line, died in 1995.... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Austrian economics biggie Peter Boettke denounces scientism among economists, and cheers to that. * Avian bird flu? Cholesterol? Global warming? Stephen Bodio thinks that we shouldn't forget to worry about malaria too. * Tosy and Cosh enjoys "Crash," and dares to wonder if Tony Danza might be an underrated actor. * Few bloggers generate as many terrific sentences as does Alice in Texas. Even so, this one struck me as especially superterrific: "What Westerners need to do is learn to recognise the difference between genuine human sympathy and patronising emotional parisitism." * Scott Esposito and Dave Munger respond very thoughtfully to a posting I wrote a while back about the future of long prose narratives. * Fred Himebaugh checks out a Fritz Lang sci-fi movie I'd never even heard of. It doesn't sound like much of a find, but still: It's a Fritz Lang. * JVC Comments wonders what kind of sense it makes for him to send his alma mater a donation when its endowment is huge and its president is being paid a fortune. * Magazines about everything and for everyone: Total180!, the magazine for the career woman turned stay-at-home mom. * Steve Sailer has some fun with an especially idiotic Times of London piece. * Is there any reason not to consider hot rods a wonderful American folk art? Shouting Thomas visits a huge hot-rodding get-together, the East Coast Nationals, and posts some photos of the event here. * The Communicatrix blogs amusingly and touchingly about one of those who-hasn't-experienced-it moments -- what it's like to find yourself amidst a heap of hard-to-get-rid-of personal junk. * Most readers think of books as by nature more serious, and certainly more reliable, than magazines and newspapers. In actual fact, many magazines and newspapers employ teams of reporters, fact checkers, and lawyers -- and are often pretty scrupulous about running corrections. Meanwhile, nearly all book publishers assume that factual accuracy is the sole responsibility of a given book's author. Nora Krug lays out the, er, hard facts. You may never look at books in the same trusting way again. * Brian Micklethwait wishes he could get his camera to bring out the details in skies and clouds the way that John Constable could get paint to do. * Howard Finberg notices a new study reporting that Americans spend nearly two-thirds of the typical day interacting with one medium or another. "We spend more time with media than eating, sleeping or any other activity," writes Finberg. * Perhaps they're recovering from drinking too much Fosters? Last year, more Australian men practiced yoga than played a game of Australian Rules football. * An extra on the DVD of Tarkovksy's "Solaris" prompts some lovely musings from Robert Nagle. * The film producer Samuel Goldwyn was famous for the inspired way he mangled English. Here's a page of some of the very best Goldwynisms. * Who'd have thought there would be a market for these products? *... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Words, Visuals, Sex and Girls
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you still cling to the idea that the printed word is central to culture, then I've got news for you. If you assume that boys are far more drawn to visuals and to comic books than girls are, think again. And if you believe that the taste some girls have for watching boys get romantic and have sex is a rare one, you've got another thing coming. The NYTimes Sarah Glazer writes about the success -- in America! -- of shojo, or manga for girls. Sample passage: Manga sales alone surged to $125 million last year, from $55 million in 2002, and girls and women account for about 60 percent of manga's readership. The strongest market right now is among girls aged 12 to 17 ... At the Brooklyn Public Library, according to one librarian ... four of the top five young-adult books on the current reserved list are shojo books ... But parents and teachers ... might be caught off guard by some of the content of the girls' favorite books. Among the best-selling shojo are stories that involve cross-dressing boys and characters who magically change sex, brother-sister romances and teenage girls falling in love with 10-year-old boys. Then there's a whole subgenre known as shonen ai, or boy's love, which usually features romances between two impossibly pretty young men. Coming in December: Harlequin romance stories presented in manga format. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Bad Pop
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Long ago, some visitors expressed surprise when I mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for music fans in the mid and late 1970s to think that pop music had run its course. Many of the punk rockers I hung out with, for instance, were convinced that punk rock was pop music's self-immolation, that the time had come for pop to die a natural death, and that new kinds of music would soon replace it. For an illustration of one major reason why this belief was so widespread, check out this list of the top 100 hits from 1976, the year FvB and I graduated from college. Man, that was one seriously bad era in pop music. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Lotsa Magazines
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I stumbled across a really nice bookstore magazine department recently -- in Helsinki, Finland. The previous sentence serves, Gentle Readers, as a preview (warning?) of what's to come now that I've been elevated from Guest Poster status to the nosebleed-inducing heights of Blowhard. It's no big secret that blogs are a lot like talk radio in that much of the content is event-driven. I didn't start reading blogs until shortly after the September 11th attacks when "milblogs" leaped to the fore, but I've read that many early blogs were "web diaries" -- accounts of day-to-day events by ordinary folks. I'm not planning to glaze your eyes with daily reports about my personal life. But my life, like yours, consists of a string of events, some of which will trigger subject ideas or even subjects themselves. Such as the fact that I was in Finland not long ago. And in Denmark, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Accordingly, expect a few Baltic-centered postings over the next couple months because I found some things there worth writing about such as that magazine department mentioned above. I'll write about other stuff too. Like Friedrich, I'm something of a history buff who's curious about Modernism and how it usurped other approaches to art and architecture. Don't expect as much profundity as Friedrich used to regularly deliver, but you can count on the subject being raised from time to time. And you'll be reading about painting, architecture, industrial design, media, advertising, "social science" bits, commercial illustration, transportation design and other arts-and-culture fields I tend to follow. What you won’t get much of from me are articles about performing arts, cinema and literature -- I'll happily leave those areas to Michael. Okay. What about that magazine department? It is in a bookstore owned by Stockmann, Helsinki's major department store. Stockmann also has stores elsewhere in the Baltic region, including Russia, and I was told that there's a saying that "If you can't find it at Stockmann's, you don't need it." The main Stockmann building is an early 20th Century architectural landmark (I might discuss it another time) and the bookstore is across the street. Stockmann store Actually, the bookstore itself is large, taking up at least three substantial floors. I didn't thoroughly case the joint, focusing mostly on the 3rd floor art & architecture section. A good share of the books I noticed were in Finnish, a slight surprise because most Finns seem to know English and their language is probably understood by fewer people than live in the five New York City boroughs, making for comparatively small printing runs and high prices. (In the three Baltic states, fairly large proportions of the books I saw were in English and not in the local language. This was particularly the case in academically-oriented bookstores, as might be expected.) The magazine department had a large number of English-language magazines, many from America and the rest mostly from Britain. The Fiancée was able... posted by Donald at September 27, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Blue is the Color of ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Interesting how the media world sometimes manages to associate a certain color with a certain product. I marveled here, for instance, about how many car ads feature silver-gray cars. Once upon a time, silver-gray cars meant "advanced German engineering," if not actually "Mercedes" and "Porsche." These days, silver cars seem to mean "high-tech" (and perhaps "grown-up") more generally. But color-coding isn't limited to cars. Another color-product correspondence recently caught my eye. Here's a standard example: An active young woman ... A spotless and serene environment ... And lots and lots of blue. In ad-world these days, blue seems to mean "feminine sanitary product." Here's some confirmation: Who knew that a feminine napkin could be folded into the shape of a Barcalounger, eh? But as far as colors go ... When I was a kid, the color that ad-people associated with tampons, napkins and the like was white. Ads for these products were full of women being active, feeling clean and unhindered, and lots of white. Lots and lots of white. In fact, so much white that the women in the ads seemed to be defying the viewer to spot a little errant leakage: "See? No red spots!" they seemed to be saying. I confess that I was a little traumatized by these ads. I looked at them and, blinded by spotlessness and whiteness, thought, "My god, what a horror movie a menstrual period must actually be!", and more or less passed out from fright. If in those days white meant "hygiene" -- and that was the hygiene-addicted era of the immortal FDS (Feminine Deodorant Spray) aerosol, after all -- then what does blue mean today? Blue, blue ... I suppose blue might be taken to mean "cleanliness," if not more specifically "the negator of red." What else? Hmm ... Chlorine pools, the sky ... So maybe blue also means "clarity" and "active fun"? I'm refraining out of delicacy from mentioning the blue of toilet-bowl cleansers. Interesting that, in the minds of ad-creators, blue seems to have a kind of all-inclusive "female-trouble product" embracingness. Here's an ad for something called Ortho Tri-Cyclen. I'm not sure I want to know what this product is good for; it sounds like a yogurt-starter, or maybe something that kills garden slugs. But the blue color in the ad for Ortho Tri-Cyclen is a surefire indicator that this product in fact has something to do with female hormones and moods. So maybe blue's larger meaning is "anti-ickiness"? Flipping through women's mags, I learned that a product doesn't need to be absorbent or taken internally to merit being blue-encoded. All it needs is to be destined for use on or around the female crotch: I'm taking the model's flash of spotless-white bikini-crotch to be a reference back to the classic white-obsessed years of '60s and '70s feminine-hygiene advertising. Come to think of it, will today's excess of blue affect impressionable young boys the way white once affected me? The current ad... posted by Michael at September 27, 2005 | perma-link | (37) comments