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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  5. Flash! Moscow Unknown Lady Found in NYC
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  9. Web 2.0, I Think
  10. Editorial Page Personality Makeover: The WSJ

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, October 7, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mike Hill, a born storyteller, recalls a friend who became a junkie. * Another born storyteller, ChelseaGirl, recalls the day she discovered that she's kinky. * Young guys should do themselves a favor and become regular readers of Jill's blog, Introspectre. It isn't as though Jill makes any sense out of what it's like to be a woman. Who can? But she's fearless about putting it all out there. * Nate Davis has been enjoying the writing of Jonathan Lethem. * Steve Bodio thinks that women might do well to avoid beauty products made in China. * 2Blowhards' very own naked model, Molly Crabapple, explains to the NYPress why she has quit Suicide Girls. * La Coquette wonders if she has become a fashion veec-teeem. * The book-crazy bloggers at Bookgasm don't confine themselves to what the serious mainstream outlets have dubbed "real literature." They aren't reading to impress, and they aren't writing to earn good grades from their English prof. They're more adventurous than that, writing about what books really are, as well as what turns them on: horror as well as classics, movie tie-ins and anthologies. * Hard to believe but apparently true: Nielsen reports that Americans are now watching more television than ever, up 12.5% from a decade ago. How is this even possible? How many hours are there in a day? * Alice thinks that parents should stop blaming videogames for their children's bad behavior and start accepting some of the responsibility for it themselves. * Shouting Thomas has a tip for record-it-yourself musicians. * Yahmdallah gets off some hilariously apt lines in an omnibus posting about seeing a number of films. Nice passage: So far I've deeply deeply loathed all of Jane Campion's films, and when I hate a director that much, it's almost like loving them. * DazeReader, blogging once again after a break, delivers a fascinating posting about a popular young web-porn starlet who has quit the business. Is she right to complain about the way she was treated, or should she count herself lucky to have done so well for herself? * CookieBitch made me laugh a lot with a posting about how men can get a little too comfy with their women. * Tyler Cowen wonders if we'll be seeing nonfiction books grow shorter and shorter. * What makes a melody a great one? Fred has a hunch. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 7, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Moviegoing: "A History of Violence"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards I'm happy to report that my first trip in months to a movie theater -- to see David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" -- was a semi-success. I found the movie interesting enough. It was yummily projected, thank heavens. And for once the audience itself was a pleasure: absorbed, engaged, quiet-but-responsive. Viggo, solaced by Maria Have you caught the picture? It's a peculiar affair. Taken from a graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke (haven't read it), the storyline is the kind of simple, settling-accounts affair that could have provided a workable spine for a Roger Corman quickie. Cronenberg's treatment/direction of this material is something else entirely: somber, magnificent, timeless. So watching the film is a little like watching "Jackson County Jail" if only it had been directed by Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky. Cronenberg talks to Cinema Confidential about the film here. I was taken by the project as a kind of oddball moviemaking experiment, and I had no trouble watching alertly. David Cronenberg is peerless at establishing a tone of spiritual-yet-very-physical, modernist dread. He convinces you that something inconceivably awful is about to erupt while keeping you hoping that, despite everything, it won't -- and then he sustains that queasy, gut-and-brain sense of imbalance seemingly forever. Mystery, horror, and metaphysics all congeal into one pulsing heap of beautiful-repulsive unresolvable fascinatingness. Much of the story here is set in a small town in the midwest, but David Cronenberg's midwest looks and sounds like no midwest you've ever seen in a movie before. This ain't "Jack and Diane," sunny-cornfield, sock-hop territory. Instead, it's gray, it's quiet, and it's damp. It's also plump with a churning sensuality. With their fair coloring, clear faces, and plaid shirts, the characters look heartland-familiar, but messy sex and dark anger come just as easily to them as being-nice does. What's held at bay is made as palpable as what's openly acknowledged. And what might erupt probably will. I was only semi-convinced by the film, not that I minded this. After all, how often do we get to experience a real filmmaking experiment in a mainstream movie theater these days? Cronenberg adds to the low-key dissonance by casting those ecchht-Wasp actors Ed Harris and William Hurt in roles that seem meant for Italians or Jews. What the hell? Yet why not? And why should anything gel anyway? I was also thrilled that the film gave the heavenly Maria Bello a chance to show off her range. Despite her beauty, Bello is an amazingly frank and direct performer. She's got the acting gene (and the acting drive) in spades, heedlessly playing the extremes of anger, mischief, betrayal, and defiance as avidly and skillfully as she does desire and friendliness. (She was pretty stunning in "The Cooler," too.) Plus, as she nears 40, Maria Bello is hard to beat for careworn-but-fresh sexiness. She talks to MovieWeb about "A History of Violence" here. Nice quote: "Since I first started acting, I never separated... posted by Michael at October 7, 2005 | perma-link | (24) comments

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Jim Carrey/Tex Avery
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A brilliant golden-age cartoon, free for viewing on the web! Check out the character of the Wolf. Perhaps Jim Carrey should do the honorable thing and send a few royalty checks along to the estate of Tex Avery, the animation genius who created this little masterpiece. (Link thanks to Sex 'n' Fun. The cartoon is perfectly safe for work. Sex 'n' Fun is no such thing.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 6, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Giclée OK?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I blush to admit that I hadn't heard of Giclée (French for "squirt," pronounced zhee-clay) reproduction until about two years ago. My flimsy excuse is that I only paid casual attention to fine arts during the years I was focusing on demography, software systems programming, my business and other practical matters. A byproduct of that inattention was that I hadn't been to an art gallery in years. Anyway, a while back The Fiancée and I were in a gallery in Carmel-by-the Sea and I hesitated by a painting that interested me. Of course, the sales lady pounced. I managed to leave the place with my checking account intact and my mind buzzing with new information. It seems that the painting wasn't a real painting at all, but a Giclée reproduction -- a reproduction that looked just like the real thing. The "support" (as they say in the painting trade) was canvas, and there were impasto (thick paint) brush strokes. This convincing imitation sold for something like 2,500 bucks. Those impasto brush strokes, by the way, likely weren't Giclée, but probably were added later by hand using some sort of thick, transparent goo that makes the Giclée coloring look like heavy brushwork. But technology advances, and if it hasn't happened already, don't be surprised if impasto simulation can be automated as well as the color bits. What is Giclée? This explanation is going to be sketchy because I've never seen a Giclée being produced. I simply Googled on "giclee" and other permutations such as "giclee+impact" and "giclee+market" to get a rough idea what it was all about. Many of the sites Google turned up on their first display page were those of Giclée printing outfits, so you might have to dig deeper to get information from other sources. An example of a site with useful background material is here. At its core, Giclée is inkjet printing on steroids -- well, make that on archival paper or canvas. A Giclée printer uses more than the basic four colors used in ordinary printing, which helps account for the color-fidelity of the reproductions. The original work (painting, photograph, whatever source) is scanned and the data saved to a hard drive or (more likely) a CD. Later the support material is run through a Giclée printer where jets of ink or perhaps some other colored material are squirted at high speed onto the surface in the form of tiny dots. Finally the reproduction is numbered, framed, and shipped off to a dealer or customer. Giclée has been around since the late 1980s and an early complaint was that the inks would begin to fade after two or three years. Nowadays it's claimed that inks are good for 60 or even 100 years. Actually, no one knows for sure how long the inks will remain true; those lifetime claims are probably based on laboratory tests using exposure to intense lights and other forms of torture. (Keep in mind that original... posted by Michael at October 6, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Flash! Moscow Unknown Lady Found in NYC
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg a few weeks ago I zipped around some galleries looking for important late-19th and early 20th century paintings. But I didn't see everything I had hoped to find. I chalked that up to not hitting quite the right era during my time-limited gallery scrambles. (For example, in one museum I looked at the late-19th Century stuff but missed paintings from the early 20th that were on another floor.) At Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery I was halfway hoping to stumble across Ivan Kramskoy's popular Unknown Lady. "Portrait of an Unknown Lady" by Ivan Kramskoy In Russia, this painting is like Gustav Klimt's The Kiss is in Vienna -- reproductions seem to be almost everywhere (I even saw one in a Russian farmhouse). I never found Unknown Lady, and simply shrugged it off. But I also noticed that three galleries had been closed off in the general area where the painting might have been: shrugged that off too, but maybe it was a signal. Today in The Wall Street Journal's Personal Journal section I found a review of a new exhibit of Russian art at the Guggenheim in New York City with Unknown Lady glancing back at me. [Sound of scream of anguish here.] The exhibit runs through 11 January. My travel plans are locked in through then, so it looks like I'll just have to miss seeing her and maybe a couple paintings that weren't on display in St. Petersburg either. [End scream and cue sound of gnashing teeth.] Anyway [sob], if you happen to see her, ask Unknown Lady how she likes New York and wish her a pleasant stay. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Colby Cosh enjoyed "Serenity" -- but it ain't about to turn him into a Joss Whedon fanatic, dammit. Colby, as ever, gets off a number of energizing mini-rants in his posting. Here's my fave: Everywhere you look, movie theatres are either glitzy new installations with Taco Bell kiosks and stadium seating, or they are utterly neglected. Home cinema is the future. And somehow I suspect that this is not just because we will all soon have 50-inch high-definition TVs, but also because we can no longer stand to sit quietly near each other with our cell phones, our wireless laptops, and our iPods switched off. * Lynn Sislo, on the other hand, wasn't crazy about "Serenity." She links to a variety of other reactions to the movie here. I loved, by the way, the political self-description Lynn has written for her "About" page: "Disgusted with both Democrats and Republicans; haven't found a third party that doesn't creep me out even more than the Democrats and the Republicans." Hard to imagine summing it up better than that. * Rachel slips a welcome shiv into that self-adoring sillykins Naomi Wolf. * Jakob Nielsen's readers vote to choose the Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005. Right at the top is my own pet peeve -- "bad fonts," by which most people mean "type that's too small." Yo, bloggers and web designers: Show a little pity. Not everyone has better-than-perfect vision. * MD does some of her incomparable verbal scene-painting, then turns to the Table of Contents of "Pere Goriot." * Yoga Journal's Alisa Bauman reports on studies indicating that yoga can not only increase strength and flexibility, but can increase lung capacity too. Some words of wisdom from one of Bauman's sources: "The best form of exercise is whatever you enjoy most and will continue to do on a regular, almost daily, basis." That's the real yoga attitude. * Bryan Caplan ventures a few thoughts about that fraught subject, IQ, John Zmirak dares to stand up for Bill Bennett, Theodore Dalrymple suspects that The Guardian is racist, and Steve Sailer faces down the entire staff of Slate (here and here). * Those rambuntious new girls and young women? A study from San Diego State concludes that they really are as uninhibited as they seem to be. * Music-listening addict Alan Little puts into words what so many have thought: Is what I want so very far-fetched? I want to be able to get anything that is currently or has ever been released. I don’t care whether I get things from individual record labels or some kind of distributor, as long as I have a search engine that can easily and reliably find them. * Cowtown Pattie describes some of the bizarre ways your memory takes to having fun with you as you age. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Bad Catholics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Zmirak is one of the most surprising writers I know of. He's a self-proclaimed reactionary -- and how many people have you met who proudly describe themselves as reactionaries? He's an excellent explicator and appreciator of the great economist Wilhelm Ropke. I'm currently midway through Zmirak's book about Ropke, and I'm enjoying and getting a lot out of it. (I blogged a bit about Ropke myself, here.) And he's a first-rate essayist. John provides links to a lot of his online articles here. Now Zmirak surprises again with "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living," co-written with Denise Matychowiak. Buy it here, and enjoy a witty Flash promotional animation here. Catholics, eh? They're so much more dramatic than the whitebread/iceberg-lettuce Protestants I grew up among. The guilt, the anguish, the inability to just chill out and let it go ... I never cease to marvel at how addicted Catholics seem to be to their faith. Whatever the downsides of a Catholic upbringing, the nun jokes, the blasphemy, and the self-torturing guilt that pumps up sexual desire all look like a lot of fun. The Wife -- religion-averse today but raised a Catholic -- likes to say, "If they get you by the age of five, they've got you for your lifetime." My own theory is that America's whitebread founding Protestants chose to allow Catholics into the country because they were starved for entertainment. In any case, I'm looking forward to the new book -- to seeing what Zmirak has done now. And I'm fully prepared to be surprised. A sign of what an original Zmirak is can be found in the people who blurb his new book: not just a couple of theologians, but also a couple of celebrity chefs. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Rick Darby's Blog
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rick Darby has been a welcome visitor at 2Blowhards for a long time. So I'm very happy to see that he has begun doing his own blogging too. On his new blog, Rick is as smart, as genial, and as searching as ever. Here he reconsiders his former stance on drug legalization; here he bounces off of Donald's recent posting about museum-visiting to muse about museum-going more generally; and here he manages to give a little lesson in the history of rhetoric even while vividly describing a recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway. As down-to-earth as he can be, Rick is also exceedingly open-minded. Fans of psychical research and the paranormal will find a kindred spirit -- and a serious, even scholarly one -- at Rick's blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Web 2.0, I Think
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So far as adapting to new computer concepts goes, I like to think that I do OK -- at least for someone my age. After all, how many 50-somethings get anything whatsoever about the impact of digital technology on culture? I have arty Boomer friends whose entire response to recent tech developments has been to feel old and depressed. Meanwhile, on and on I blab about the transition the world is making from traditional to digital culture. Plus I do my blabbing online! I post images to my blog! I know the HTML commands for "boldface," "italics," and "indent this passage"! Do I rock or what? Still, I have my limits. For the life of me, I can't wrap my mind around what an "RSS feed" is, for instance. Apologies to anyone who wants a 2Blowhards RSS feed, by the way. I have no idea what such a thing might be, let alone how to provide one. But there's an even more mind-warping development than RSS feeds happenin' around us these days: "Web 2.0." I suspect that zillions of people understood this idea the moment they heard their first description of it. Me, I'm not only baffled by the concept, I'm dismayed by its existence. I'm starting to feel old and depressed myself. (Note to younger visitors: One earth-shaking paradigm shift per lifetime seems to be about what the human organism can contend with. When a second comes along, its effect isn't to make you feel excited and optimistic. It's to make you want to move to a quiet coastal community and spend your days deciding which Early Bird special to try out for dinner.) As far as I can tell, "Web 2.0" refers to the way the Web is evolving into a vast sea of data-chunks, to be mixed and remixed at every websurfer's will. Web 2.0 isn't a giant, free, combo library/magazine-store; nope, it's a happenin', ever-morphing, beeping-and-booping arcade to be interacted with. From the online creator/consumer's point of view -- and I guess it's now a given that we're all creator/consumers -- where Web 1.0 was about providing sites for surfers to visit, Web 2.0 is about serving the surfer's experience. I've taken a couple of timid steps out into Web 2.0 waters. The "social bookmarking" service is certainly amusing, and the photo-sharing service Flickr is plenty cool. Many people seem to enjoy 'em, and to know exactly how they want to make use of 'em. But for my own purposes? ... I dunno. Once I'd poked around and Flickr, made a little sense of what they were about, and experienced the inevitable "the very fabric of life is changing" cyber-rush, I haven't revisited them often. Call me 20th century, but my appetite for messing-with-the-web seems to be limited to browsing, writing, emailing, shopping, data-storage, and commenting. Well, mostly. Recently I've bumped into a couple of Web 2.0 services that I suspect I will be making regular use of.... posted by Michael at October 5, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Editorial Page Personality Makeover: The WSJ
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If I wasn't so lazy, I'd dig around and come up with a man-bites-dog story. But I thought this post up during my usual early afternoon down-time, so it's gonna be dog-bites-man. I've worked in a top-level government agency off and on for more than 15 years and have seen at least seven agency directors swiveling away on their fancy chairs (including one who went on to become president of Starbuck's). And nearly every one of them strongly influenced the tone and style of the agency, consciously or not. (This is the dog-bites-man angle I just mentioned. Some year I need to come up with a case of an organization changing the personality of the person in charge.) One director, for example, ran an agency cowering under a seemingly benevolent, yet highly politically-correct management style. Another director favored a kick 'em in the teeth approach -- the 'em being other agencies. And any sports fan can cite many cases of teams assuming personality traits of their coach. What this is leading up to is changes I've noticed in the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal since Paul Gigot took over as editor from (the now late) Robert Bartley. Bartley struck me as being a bright, intellectually-curious ideas-oriented guy. And I found his editorial page a joy to read. Nearly every edition delivered at least one or two especially snappy lead editorials plus an equal number of stimulating op-ed columns. Bartley liked to claim that his editorial page was one of those rare ones that actually sold papers. This was largely the case for me: I developed the habit of going out to breakfast and lingering with that third cup of coffee over Bartley's page. Gigot, on the other hand, seems to be something of a policy wonk -- I got that impression back when he was just a columnist and editorial writer. His heart's in the right place, but his op-eds are often written by (or ghosted for) Important People. My eyes, as the saying goes, glaze. The basic editorials are still pretty well-written, but I sometimes wonder how long that will continue. Plus, I'm less tempted to buy the Journal these days. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 4, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Tivo Alert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A short note to alert visitors that IFC is broadcasting Mandy Stein's terrific "You See Me Laughin'" many times throughout the month of October. The film, which I blogged enthusiastically about here, is a documentary about the Delta blues. It's specifically about some of the Delta bluesmen who form the lineup for Fat Possum Records: Johnny Farmer, Asie Payton, T-Model ("Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl") Ford, Cedell Davis, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside -- giant talents with raw, one-of-a-kind personalities. This is brain-scorching, category-dissolving stuff, music that seems to issue from a planet where there's no distinction between dreams and nightmares, and where the words "sex," "humor," and "horror" all describe the very same thing. It's also music that makes my jaw drop, created by artists who make my heart burst with pride and gratitude. And -- oh yeah -- don't forget to pass the whiskey bottle. Cedell; T-Model; R.L. Broadcast dates include: * Tuesday, Oct 4 2005 4:45 PM * Wednesday, Oct 5 2005 8:15 AM * Wednesday, Oct 5 2005 2:45 PM * Monday, Oct 10 2005 12:00 PM * Monday, Oct 10 2005 6:30 PM * Tuesday, Oct 11 2005 8:00 AM * Tuesday, Oct 11 2005 8:15 AM * Monday, Oct 17 2005 4:30 PM * Tuesday, Oct 18 2005 10:00 AM * Thursday, Oct 20 2005 12:00 PM * Thursday, Oct 20 2005 6:00 PM * Friday, Oct 21 2005 10:00 AM * Wednesday, Oct 26 2005 12:00 PM * Wednesday, Oct 26 2005 5:20 PM * Thursday, Oct 27 2005 8:15 AM IFC's website is here, Fat Possum's is here. You can buy the DVD of "You See Me Laughin'" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2005 | perma-link | (2) comments

Conductors You Can Count On
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I confess: I'm not a music guy. One less worry for Terry Teachout. Matter of fact, about all I can do musically is work (most of) the buttons on my compact CD player. And I'll take a pass on my career as a clarinetist in grade school and junior high. But why let trivial matters such as incompetence and incomprehension deter me from opinionating? You can’t get your head chopped off if you don’t stick your neck out -- right? Having dazzled you with my credentials, allow me to address the subject of classical music orchestras and the fact that the conductor, like a football coach, "sets the tone" as it were, and that some win more reliably than others. Actually, there's more at issue than conducting, and some of these other issues seem to be shaping the state of conducting today. I won't try to document it here, but over the last few decades I've noticed a parade of articles in newspapers and magazines stating the classical music appreciation has been experiencing a decline in America. Mostly this decline is measured by sales of classical music as a percentage of total recording sales (dropping, despite the fact that many new classical music recordings have been issued over the last 20-30 years) and the declining number of radio stations with a classical music programming format. As best I recall, these trends might be mitigated by the number of symphony orchestras in the country; surprisingly small places have boasted orchestras, including the 225,000-population county where I currently live. Another issue is the lack of new works entering the classical music canon. This is a huge subject offering grist for numerous Blowhards posts, so let me skirt the whys and wherefores and simply assert that the amount of classical music available for recorded or live performance has been nearly static, for practical purposes. So let's inventory: (1) lots of orchestras, (2) limited repertoire and (3) declining media presence in terms of radio play and sales. Now pretend you're a conductor with an orchestra, a recording contract and, yes, a huge ego. What to do? One option is to perform works in a traditional vein, assuming that advances in recording technology will make your output attractive to audiophiles who cringe at the thought of listening to re-mastered 1949 or even 1989 recordings. But that's just ... too easy. Besides, you're a genius, remember? No, the only serious option is to be creative. Do something different with those tired old compositions. Fiddle with the tempo a bit -- that'll wake up some of the audience. Better yet, after slowing down those allegros why not change the sound? Where brass predominated, cut that back and feature the woodwinds or strings. While at it, add or delete players from sections of the orchestra in order to enhance these emphasis changes. And this doesn't mean going back to that instruments-of-the-time-of-the-composer jazz -- that's old hat, and we're into new. Finally, there's... posted by Donald at October 2, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments