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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Which Way to Go?
  2. Raunch Culture
  3. Q&As
  4. Rachel Interviews Molly
  5. "Shag" on Sale
  6. Perfume Whom
  7. Elsewhere
  8. Primate Cities
  9. Foodstuff
  10. Polymonotheism

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, February 4, 2006

Which Way to Go?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hmmm. Shall I skip the fish-oil pills and die of heart disease? Or shall I take them and die of prostate cancer? Choices, choices ... Best, Michael UPDATE: Oops, I misremembered the article. Fish oil is still safe. It's corn oil you want to consume if you're eager to die of prostate cancer.... posted by Michael at February 4, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Raunch Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * As girls continue to take over colleges and med schools, they also seem to carrying on more and more like a generation of lap-dancers. The new Grrl-Power Culture seems to be one and the same as the new Raunch Culture. Did feminism lead to this state of affairs? Ariel Levy wonders. * Is porn culture now mainstream culture? * Is easy access to porn something to be celebrated? Is porn empowering or exploitative? Pamela Paul isn't sure. * Jon Mooallem reviews Paul's book here. Gaby Wood reviews Levy's book here. Judith Timson reviews both books here. * Meanwhile, the New Burlesque is booming in Nashville. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * New Perspectives Quarterly interviews Milton Friedman. (Link thanks to ALD.) * The American Enterprise interviews David Hackett Fischer, the author of "Albion's Seed," a book I've long meant to read ... (Link thanks to ChicagoBoyz' Lexington Green.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Rachel Interviews Molly
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Erotica doyenne -- writer and entrepreneur -- Rachel Kramer Bussell interviews that saucy pen-and-ink artist Molly Crabapple, who also happens to be the saucy author of our occasional series "Confessions of a Naked Model." Molly's columns for 2Blowhards can be read here, here, here, here, and here. Molly's own site is here. I notice that she has a show of her art opening shortly. Sounds like time for a downtown party to me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, February 3, 2006

"Shag" on Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just noticed that Amazon is offering the 1989 comedy-drama "Shag" on sale for $8.97. That's a very nice price for a sweetheart of a movie. Have you caught the film? It's a small-scale charmer with a lot of hard-to-resist fizz -- something light, girl-centric and touching, for the crowd that loved "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Mystic Pizza," "Dirty Dancing," "Valley Girl," and "Mermaids." It's set in the early 1960s and stars Phoebe Cates, Bridget Fonda, and Annabeth Gish as Southern college girls who head to Myrtle Beach for one last blow-out before settling down. Love, heartbreak, dance scenes (the film's title refers to a dance of the era), and showdowns ensue; the hairstyles, cars, and fashions are fabulous without being camp. All three actresses are in tiptop -- ie., eager and charmingly absurd -- form, and the direction, writing, and music provide a lot of buoyancy. It's one of those small-scale movies that lingers warmly in some people's memories. Small question? Why didn't Annabeth Gish become as big a star as Julia Roberts? Here's a page of screencaps from the movie. Here's an Annabeth Gish fansite; here's one for Phoebe Cates; and here's one for Bridget Fonda. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 3, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Perfume Whom
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Oh boy, am I going to catch hell for this one. Inadequate researching, sloppy logic, social tone-deafness, mounds of clichés, intellectual unseriousness, lousy writing -- they're all probably here (what else is new?). Worst of all, I'm likely to be stepping on delicate toes of self-esteem. (How's that for a clunky metaphor?) Anyhow ... I recently was on my way into the local monstermarket to buy a Wall Street Journal and a Starbucks ("tall drip with room, please"). Exiting was a twentysomething gal who was pretty well dressed -- knee-length dress, high heels, etc. And she was overweight. Not what I'd call fat, exactly, but noticeable. What I really noticed was that she was reeking with perfume. Let me clarify "reeking." I could smell the stuff from 20 feet away; it was sorta like there was a bow-wave of odor. Perhaps that's not quite right. The entry of the building had one of those air-curtains, so it's possible that the bow-wave effect might have been enhanced a trifle. Still, the stench ... er, smell ... was seriously strong at the point where we passed one another. Naturally this micro-drama got me to thinking, and here's what I came up with: I don't consider myself a perfume-fascist. If a perfumed someone enters a room I don't instantly gag and order that someone to leave, pleading one health excuse or another. I have pretty good manners, so I'll likely sit there and take it. After all, I don't think I'm allergic to perfume. Still, I can't recall any positive experiences related to strong perfume whereas I remember some bad ones; to wit: Ages ago at a frat house conference at another college I got fixed up with a date. I didn't find her attractive in the first place, and in the second place she was wearing strong perfume that had a slightly sour smell. Hmm, was she trying to tell me something? At Dear Old Penn I once had to attend an evening demography seminar (the prof couldn't meet during the day that week). Next to me sat a real babe who was wearing perfume, and over the course of two hours a lot of it wafted onto me. Arriving home, my wife immediately smelled the perfume and assumed I'd been hot 'n' heavy instead of taking notes about population statistics (if only!!). So we had a grand fight that evening. Which was nothing new since her favorite after-dinner sport was drinking a couple vodka cocktails and starting a fight. Did I mention that it was a brief marriage? My strictly non-scientific view is that women who fall into the less-attractive category, if they are perfume-wearers at all, tend to spray on too much of the stuff. I might be missing a deeper meaning, but I suppose they over-perfume in the belief that it will make them more attractive. Except when it's really noticeable, I'm indifferent to perfume but would rather that it not be used... posted by Donald at February 2, 2006 | perma-link | (28) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Newspaper and media buffs should enjoy this piece by Slate's Jack Shafer about technological change and newspaper publishing, as well as this Shafer ode to the visual glories of Joseph Pulitzer's The World on Sunday. * Steve Sailer thinks Woody Allen may be the Pete Rose of filmmaking. * Paul Worthington wonders what it means for a comic book to be "mainstream." * Interviews with film editors are all too rare. Here's a good (if too-short) one with the excellent Paul Hirsch, who has worked with Brian De Palma, Herbert Ross, and George Lucas. * European TV ads are often so snappy that I sometimes watch them feeling a little ashamed for being American. Do we really have no sense of style? In any case, here's a dazzling recent British advert. * I'm not fond of the mixture of pathos and whimsy in this short film from France. But the computer-animation work is certainly impressive. * Currently doing battle with breast cancer, Minerva lists Five Things She Hates About Cancer, and Five Things She's Learned From Cancer. An especially refreshing couple of lines: "I am NOT going to pander to the 'optimism' brigade. Cancer stinks." * Shouting Thomas captures a lot of cheery images -- happy people and brawny machines -- from the recent motorcycle show at the Javits Center. * Given how badly Princeton University has disfigured its lovely campus with chic new buildings in recent decades, it's a relief to learn that the school's administration has had the sense to commission some work from New Classicists too. Slate's Witold Rybczynski gives the thumbs-up to the first of these projects to reach completion -- Allan Greenberg's addition to Richard Morris Hunt's Aaron Burr Hall. * Michael Bierut thinks that the recently-deceased soul legend Wilson Pickett had some wisdom to share with designers. I think it's first-rate wisdom to be shared with all artsies. * Rod Lott suspects that we may be entering a golden age of zombie fiction. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Primate Cities
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's a concept that's been kicking around the fields of Geography and Demography for quite a while called the Primate City. No, this has nothing to do with the monkey house at the local zoo, though some might beg to differ. A Primate City is a city that is far larger and more important than any rival within (usually) a country or (perhaps) a sub-region such as a state. A short explanation is here. For instance, London, Paris, Tokyo and Mexico City are far more populous than other in-country cities and are the political, business and cultural capitals to boot. Some other examples are Athens, Dublin, Oslo, Buenos Aires and Manila. Vienna, Budapest and Prague are the primate cities of Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, respectively. But 100 years ago, all were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although Vienna was probably primate, the other two were worthy rivals. Not all countries host primate cities. The Wikipedia link above mentions Brazil, where the political capital is Brasilia, the economic capital is São Paulo and the cultural capital is Rio de Janeiro. In Germany the political capital is Berlin, but the financial capital is Frankfurt-am-Main while Munich rivals Berlin as a cultural center. Rome is Italy's political capital, but Milan is the business capital and arguably the cultural capital as well. If the United States hadn't decided to create a political capital, it's possible that New York, for a time the political capital, might have become a Primate City. Possible, but not likely: I think it would have worked only if the nation's boundaries stayed the way they were in 1790. Expansion across the continent assured that strong rivals would emerge. Today Washington is the political capital and New York is the financial capital. This situation isn't likely to change in the foreseeable future. What seems to be evolving is the position of cultural capital. Boston and Philadelphia could have made strong claims to being the nation's cultural capital at one time or another, but New York was clearly dominant by the late 19th Century. This dominance continued through the first two-thirds of the 20th Century. By the late 1900s Southern California essentially ruled the entertainment industry and was wresting New York's cultural capital claim. At the same time, other areas became culturally stronger -- their museums, orchestras, theaters and pop music styles attaining nationwide reputations. This is probably not news to 2Blowhards readers. And I doubt you are surprised that the Internet seems to be making the geographical source of cultural material irrelevant. In the case of blogs, it often doesn't matter where the blog is located. For instance, Terry Teachout's blog's content originates in New York and Chicago and 2Blowhards is written in the New York, Los Angeles and Seattle areas. So the United States is decentralizing culturally as its population decentralizes from the north and east to the west and south. It also seems to be decentralizing in terms of business (not necessarily... posted by Donald at February 2, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Alice compares the American and the British sandwich. Shanti has some expert tea tips. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is goal-oriented monotheistic Christianity the explanation for why the West developed capitalism and science? Rodney Stark certainly thinks so. The American Enterprise endorses his argument, but Razib has some nits to pick with it ... Speaking as an instinctively polytheistic/Om'ing kinda guy, I'm agnostic on this one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Surroundsound Blues
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I have been working our way through the Joss Whedon sci-fi/Western "Firefly" (buyable, Netflixable). The show, which aired on Fox for only one season in 2002, has a passionate cult of admirers. It has collected over 2000 five-star reviews on Amazon, and it inspired Whedon (and a movie studio, of course) to make "Serenity," a movie version of the same material. The Wife and I are 2/3 of the way through the series now. Not our cup of tea, but we're watching in order to observe and learn, not to judge. We're ever-curious about the state of long-form storytelling, and we enjoy trying to figure out what people get out of the TV-fiction that they love. There's much about the series to be admired. Whedon's ability to pace and vary a season's worth of shows is certainly impressive. He has a likable talent for creating a party-food cosmos consisting of of crunchy pop-cult refs and chewable pop-cult characters -- in this case, Harrison Ford meets "Starship Troopers" meets Tantric sex meets the new butt-kicking gals, etc. Whedon is Mr. Flair when it comes to cross-breeding genres. And he seems eager to feed Americans' insatiable appetite for workplaces presented as extended families. Does anyone have a theory about why Americans are so fond of the fantasy that the workplace should function as a kind of idealized family? My own theory: we expect too much of work, and we spend too much time at the office. But I could be wrong. We are family. No: make that co-workers ... Like I say: nothing that speaks to us, but intriguing nonetheless. Watching the show, though, the main thing that's hitting me is this reflection: Wow, are my sonic-environment tastes different than those of many Americans. "Firefly"'s soundtrack is the TV equivalent of what's so often marketed to us at the multiplex these days: an ever-throbbing electronic gumbo of growls, roars, rumbles, and shazaams, all providing a heightened audio backdrop to the "you're inside the instruments" score, and to the muffled and underplayed (and so, I guess, "real"-seeming) dialogue. And all those karate-chop sounds ... Watching kung-fu movies back in the '70s, would you have guessed that, as cool and funny as they were, the Bruce Lee sound effects -- the swishes, ka-thunks, and yee-hahs -- would still be such presences in popular culture come 2005? The only sins in these kinds of pop-Wagnerian soundtracks would seem to be simplicity, clarity, and silence. It's a kind of pinging/rumbling jumble that I suppose a lot of people like, or at least have come to expect. Perhaps this kind of sonic texture feels familiar to them. Perhaps it's comforting. Maybe it gives them a lift too. Maybe it signals "entertainment!" As we watch "Firefly," all these pinging-growling sounds are coming at The Wife and me impressively reproduced by our surroundsound home-theater system. I blogged here about how I'd had to equip our new TV with a sound... posted by Michael at January 31, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

"Professional" Journalism?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you're like me and use Instapundit at lot, you’ve noticed links to posts dealing with pre-Internet news media and how the practitioners are coping with the Internet in general and bloggers in particular. For example, Jeff Jarvis deals with this topic quite a lot. I get the impression that print (especially) and broadcast (somewhat) journalists are pretty concerned about the future of news and the role of their own medium. As well they should, given round after round of layoffs. (As I write this [30 January 2000] I see on Matt Drudge's site that Time is about to lay off 50 staffers.) One reaction is to beat their chests, proclaiming that it is only they themselves who are truly competent to gather, digest, and disseminate news. Bloggers are riff-raff, while we are professionals. (I exaggerate, but the gist holds, I think.) Is journalism a profession? Some think so. For instance, there's an organization called the Society of Professional Journalists. I'm inclined to peg journalism as a craft, not a profession. What, really, does it take to do journalism? For one thing, the writing mechanics are not demanding. The Army crammed the basics into me over a span of only eight weeks at the Army Information School. As best I remember, I got a smattering of history (actually, I already knew that stuff), a whiff of broadcasting (I was in the print end of things and the radio guys got a lot more of broadcasting), a bigger whiff of public relations practice ("full disclosure, minimum delay") and a daily session devoted to news writing. Oh, we also got a tour of The New York Times' digs on West 43rd Street. As best I can tell, most of the rest of everyday journalism is a matter of temperament (curiosity, initiative, tenacity), experience and mentoring. Aside perhaps from becoming, say, a science specialist, I see no strong reason why a journalist even needs to have a college degree, let alone a journalism MS from Columbia University. Lord knows reporters in the pre-World War 2, Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur "golden age" included few of the Ivy League guys that seem to have become prized in recent decades at the NYT and other elite rags. I'm not sure I want to get into detail about professions and professional licensing. Leaving aside "the world's oldest," there are classical professions such as law, medicine and, more recently, engineering. Medicine deals with life and death. Now that a good deal of scientific knowledge has become integral to the field, it makes good sense to license physicians. Much of engineering is science-based and relates to large health and financial risks (will the building stand up to a Mag-8.5 quake), so it too deserves license status. From this point, things get murkier. Each state has its set of activities requiring licenses, some making more sense than others. In many cases, lobbying for establishment of a license strikes me as little more than an attempt... posted by Donald at January 31, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, January 30, 2006

Ignorance and Bliss
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- From time to time the subject of the sheer emotional impact of a work of art gets mentioned here at 2Blowhards. It doesn't matter which field of art we're discussing -- painting, music, drama, cinema, writing -- the idea is that the person experiencing the art is "blown away" in one way or another. A toned-town, oblique version of this popped up in my recent post about Russian painter Valentin Serov and Michael's comment on it. But it more often comes up in everyday life when you rave about a play or maybe someone says to you "Oh, so you've actually seen Picasso's Guernica! How wonderful was it?" -- you get the idea. This sort of thing happens often enough that it got me to introspecting. And my introspection came up with the following: For me, the less I know about the nuts-'n'-bolts of an art field, the more likely I am to have a strong emotional reaction. And the more I know, the more likely I am to focus on how well technical aspects were accomplished. The fields where I have the greatest technical knowledge are painting, design (both graphic and industrial) and architecture. When I was young and (almost by definition) ignorant, I was able to react emotionally to seeing such objects as, say, Cord automobiles for the first time. This isn't to say I cannot have an emotional reaction to a painting or a new car design. Rather, if I have a reaction, and I do have them, it's likely to be a quick one: "Ooo, what a neat Serov portrait!! And look at the way he handled the shading under the chin." The field I know least about from a technical standpoint is music. So of course I'm more likely react stronger and longer to hearing an appealing work than I am when I spy a new painting. Plus, music being a time-dependent art, I'm compelled to have more time to experience a work and discover things to react to: paintings and objects can be quickly scanned. Maybe music isn't such a good example. After all, music is the most sense-specific of the arts, dealing exclusively with hearing if singing and words aren't involved. This might heighten any emotional reactions. Abstract painting comes close in the sense-exclusivity ranking, but I suspect people are more inclined to "read in" more meaning to an abstract painting than to a concerto. One more example. I know little about the craft of fiction, so I can get sucked into a novel while not paying a whit of attention to how the writer contrived to suck me into it. I think that if I had good knowledge of fiction-writing, I'd be likely to pause to mull over the mechanics of what I was reading and lose a lot of the impact of the story. It's possible that my introspecting can't be generalized to other folks: it might just be a personality thing. Except when I'm... posted by Donald at January 30, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Fake Memoirs
Fenster Moop writes: Dear Blowhards, Fake memoirs are getting to be a big deal. In fact I am figuring to set myself up as a feke memoirist. It's a growth industry. I got support from an unexpected place over the weekend: the DVD of Beyond the Fringe . In one sketch, Peter Cook addresses this issue of fake memoirs, in a roundabout sort of way. He does a monologue playing the part of a miner having a hard time getting anyone to pay attention to his memoir of working in the mines. Frustrated, he stumbles across a very simple literary device: the naked lady. Lo and behold, he finds interest in his mining memoir is piqued considerably with the addition of a naked lady, dancing down in the mine. And a simple addition it is: every now and again he has only to add a sentence like “meanwhile, the naked lady continued dancing”. In time, he figures if one naked lady is good, more must be better, so the next thing you know he has a million naked ladies wandering in a desert, until they come across a mine, which they then enter and dance. By now you may have guess the title to Cook’s memoirs: A Million Dancing Ladies. Does this make Frey a plagiarist in addition to a fabricator? Best, Fenster PS. While Beyond the Fringe has been available in audio form for some time, it is new to DVD. If, like me, you like Brit wit and are interested in the early sixties--post-beat but pre-hippie--you really ought to track it down. Like a lot of cultural product from that era, it's simultaneously dated and up-to-date.... posted by Fenster at January 30, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Peripheral Artists (3): Valentin Serov
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This continues the series about artists remote from both the main artistic centers of Europe and the Establishment narrative of 19th/20th Century art history. Previous posts are here and here. I own a couple illustrated booklets on Serov that I cannot read because they are in Russian (got �em for their painting reproductions). So I relied on Internet sites found here, here and here for the following biographical sketch. Portraitist Valentin Alexanrovich Serov, son of opera composer Alexander N. Serov, was born in St. Petersburg 19 January 1865. Following his father's death in 1871 his mother took him to Munich and, later, Paris before settling near Moscow at the Abramtsevo estate as guests. Besides taking art lessons from important artists (including Ilya Repin), the young Serov was able to come in contact with Russia's artistic/cultural elite and gain familiarity with their milieu. Trained at the Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, he exhibited "Girl with Peaches" (1887) which was warmly received and became one of his most famous works. Biographies mention that he was unaware of the Impressionist movement at the time, yet was painting in a semi-Impressionist style. I find this assertion hard to swallow given his links to the cream of Russian culture (which was highly Francophile in those days) and the fact that Impressionist works had been painted in France for nearly all his lifetime. Serov clearly was the antithesis of the proverbial "struggling artist," rapidly becoming a leading portrait painter whose subjects included the Czar (though he also painted landscapes and historical subjects) and being elected academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts before his 40th birthday. He married Olga Trubnikova in 1887 and they had children who became subjects for a number of his paintings. The 1905 mini-revolution politicized him and resulted in art sympathetic to liberal causes. His painting began to take on expressionist trappings. But how his art would have evolved beyond that is unknowable because, on 22 November 1911, while hurrying to work at a portrait setting, he collapsed from a heart attack and died, age 46. Gallery Girl with Peaches: Portrait of Vera Mamontova, 1887. Not a good reproduction, but the others I saw on the Web were no better. Portrait of Sergei Chokolov, 1887. Portrait of Maria Akimova, 1908. Abduction of Europa, 1910. This hints at expressionism. Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova, 1911. But Serov stuck to traditonal styles on commissioned works. Again, the reproduction does not do justice to the original. Commentary Serov was an extremely talented painter. His abilities were apparent in childhood. And his blazing debut in his early twenties was noted above. On the other hand, Serov was never an innovator of art movements unlike Manet, Monet or Picasso. This, plus the fact that he practiced in distant (from Paris) Russia, probably accounts for his footnote-status in art history. I missed seeing his paintings in my mad dash through St. Petersburg's Russian Museum last fall. But I tried... posted by Donald at January 30, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments