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. Elsewhere
  2. Mary on Classic Writing
  3. Foreign Aid
  4. Bedtime
  5. The Future According to Me
  6. Decline and Fall of the Classical Face
  7. Bagatelles
  8. Another Technical Note
  9. La Ligne Maginot
  10. Actress Notes

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Digital photography now accounts for 90% of the photography market. Douglas Gantenbein wonders what we may be losing as photography shifts over to 1s and 0s. * Michael Oakeshott is one of my three or four favorite philosophers, yet he's a hard one to recommend. Many people find his writing style (which I love) as slippery, subtle, and hard to grasp as late Henry James. Joseph Sobran's short appreciation of Oakeshott is one of the best EZ intros to Oakeshott's work that I've run across. * Once upon a time film directors brought something more to their jobs than merely the desire to be a film director, and few directors brought more life experience into the business than the sometimes-great William Wellman. Here's a good Scott Eyman interview with Wellman, from 1978. * Bjorn Lomborg's view of global warming is that it's happening; that there isn't much we can do about it; and that the money we might spend holding global warming off for a few years could be put to much better use otherwise. Though Lomborg's view strikes me as hyper-sensible, many eco True Believers despise him. * Strangers sometimes email me, asking for advice about publishing a book. (If you Google "Writing a book," a blogposting of mine often shows up high on the list.) Because the experience of getting your work professionally published is often an unpleasant and unrewarding one, I always suggest that they look first into publishing their work themselves, whether online or via one of the new Print on Demand outfits. FWIW, I've heard some good things about the self-publishing outfit known as * Kenneth Harvey riffs very amusingly on the James Frey fiasco. * They're calling it "slivercasting": programming that is designed to appeal to a very narrow demographic. We may soon be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing. * Tatyana goes to the theater and wonders what's become of the art of the beautifully-placed pause. * Will there be sparks? I sure hope so. Naomi Wolf interviews Harvey Mansfield about manliness on CSpan2 this Saturday at 9 pm Eastern Time. * Steve Sailer makes some sense out of the Balkans. * Chris Gondek is making his interviews with business thinkers available via podcast. He blogs about his podcasting adventures here. * James Verini's piece about the raucous, exhibitionistic phenomenon that is is as hilarious as it is alarming. * How'd this one get by me? Robert Towne's long-planned film of John Fante's novel "Ask the Dust" opened last weekend. Has anyone seen the picture? I have to confess that, while I like the novel, I don't revere it in anything like the way many people (especially people from L.A.) do. * Those who can't get enough Crunchy Conservatism will want to check out this George Nash review, this parody site, and NRO's own dedicated Crunchyblog. Wow: There's something about the idea of Crunchy Conservatism that makes Jonah Goldberg carry on... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (65) comments

Mary on Classic Writing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Prairie Mary is delighted to discover Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner's wonderful writing guide, "Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classsic Prose." (It's buyable here.) Nice passage: I have a feeling that Transcendalists and those trying to transcend their circumstances are often writing in order to think things out -- to reduce or expand the inchoate to something intelligible. Thomas and Turner insist that this is NOT classic writing, in which the thinking is done beforehand until it is resolved and exact -- THEN the words and sentences are chosen in response to and as an accurate representation of those facts. Denis Dutton is just as enthusiastic. I'll add that, while Turner and Thomas' book is certainly one of the best things I've ever read about writing, it concerns a lot more than writing. I'm a big fan of Turner's "The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language," too. It can be bought here. Here's a webpage that shows off some of Turner and Thomas' thoughts. Fun excerpt: Those who teach writing today include many who attempt to teach some version of "the rules" and others who want to politicize such instruction because they think that teaching ideology is teaching writing. Neither of these strategies seems to work very well. How can learning to write be so difficult when learning to talk is so easy? Mary also links to a related website. Here's Mark Turner's website. Here's Francis-Noel Thomas'. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Foreign Aid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How much can the rich world really do to help the poor world? Former World Bank economist William Easterly has published a new book arguing that the answer is "not as much as many people hope." Excerpt: The West cannot transform the Rest. It is a fantasy to think that the West can change complex societies with very different histories and cultures into some image of itself. Here's Easterly in the WashPost setting forth his views. Excerpt: Economic development in Africa will depend -- as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world -- on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders. Development everywhere is homegrown. As G-8 ministers and rock stars fussed about a few billion dollars here or there for African governments, the citizens of India and China (where foreign aid is a microscopic share of income) were busy increasing their own incomes by $715 billion in 2005. Amartya Sen has some (long-winded, alas) quibbles. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 16, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bedtime discipline for kids has gone to hell over the years. But it might be improving for adults. Here is some rock-solid anecdotal evidence. (Before continuing, I want you to solemnly promise not to stop reading when you see the words "back when I was a boy." Got that? No crossed fingers either: I want a real promise. Good.) Back when I was a boy, maybe up to age 8, my mother would have me in bed by 8 p.m. Lights out, no radio. Except that when I did get a radio I'd play it at extremely low volume. Being a parent, my mother probably knew or suspected what was going on but tolerated it for some reason; in any case I'd be asleep by nine most of the time anyway. As I got older, I was allowed to stay up later and later. But I was sensible and never abused the privilege even when high-school age. I never was much of a night-owl. The latest I consistently stayed up was two in the morning. This was during the four months between college graduation and entering the Army. I'd stay up to watch Jack Paar on the Tonight show which aired from 11:30 till one. (In the process I got my fill of talk-show TV; Paar and his guests were good, but nevertheless became tiring.) After Paar was over, I'd go to my bedroom and read for another hour or so, turn off the light, go to sleep and wake up around nine in the morning. In the years following the Army I usually turned off the light around 11 and would be up by 7. When my son had a paper route I got in the habit of waking up at 5 or 5:30, a habit I continue because I arrive at work at 7:30, take a half-hour lunch, then leave shortly after four. With great difficulty my own children went to bed as early as an hour or two later than my childhood schedule. All the while they protested that their friends' parents let them stay up till midnight or whenever. When my son got through college and entered an endless period of job-hunting, he'd stay up until three or four in the morning and sleep in nearly to noon. As best I can tell, he was pretty typical of his generation. So much for kids. Why is it that I think it's different for adults? Traffic. In the late 1970s and early 80s I'd sometimes stay over at my parents' house in Seattle before a flight and my dad would drive me to the airport in the morning. At six o'clock traffic was light. Years before, the morning commute was barely underway by seven. Nowadays traffic on Interstate 5 through little old Olympia is flowing strongly by 5:30 in the morning, heading north to Fort Lewis, Tacoma and Seattle. By six, cars can be packed solid on I-5 between Tacoma and... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

The Future According to Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- October 5, 2005: Michael Blowhard praises Writely. March 9, 2006: Google buys Writely. Ever since this blog began: Michael Blowhard harps on the topic of immigration. March 11, 2006: Tom Wolfe announces that the subject of his next book will be immigration. Since the gods are taking close heed of my slightest brainwave, I thought I'd perform a a public service and pass along the rest of my predictions for the near future. Get ready for what's next. An actress desperate for a good role will create and star in a one-woman show. Bill Gates will convert Microsoft to a charity organization, appointing Angelina and Bono as co-CEOs. The health-tips industry will admit that it enjoys monkeying with our minds. "All it really boils down to is, don't smoke, get a little activity, don't get too fat, and prefer fresh food to packaged. Or maybe not. What do we really know anyway?" the industry's spokesperson will say. Research will demonstrate that happiness researchers aren't very happy. The pornography business will collapse. "I guess we've learned that there really can be too much of a good thing," one analyst will say. A Florida man will decide to relax about his potency. "It finally occurred to me that if my stiffy isn't as stiff as I want it to be, maybe all it means is that I'm not in the mood," he'll say. The Harvard liberal-arts faculty will admit that there are some differences between women and men, and that it doesn't make sense to get too politically worked-up about this fact. The Utne Reader will start running a lot of celebrity profiles. "A life spent wearing Earth shoes, worrying about pesticides, and protesting globalization -- well, it's just too depressing," the magazine's editor will say. New York City will become the world's largest flat-panel display. Richard Meier will convert to neo-classicism. "There's only so much you can do with geometry, empty space, glass, and white. It gets boring," Meier will say. "Besides, I've had it with imposing my highbrow preferences on the public. From now on, I'm dedicating my talents to helping regular people obtain housing that's a classy and satisfying version of what they already like." A libertarian living in Oklahoma City will take note of how the real world works. A woman in Indianapolis will throw out her collection of thongs. "You try spending the day with a string up your buttcrack," she says. "Besides, real men like panty lines." The Nobel Committee will award its first-ever Prize for Blogging. A graphic designer in Chicago will vow never again to use white-on-black print. "Serving the text and its meaning, and making the content readable and comprehensible, that's what it's all about," she'll say. An iPod will be elected President. NOW will open a swingers' club in Jersey City, the first in a projected worldwide franchise. Web 3.0 will emerge unbidden. Steve Sailer will be appointed editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. A woman in... posted by Michael at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Decline and Fall of the Classical Face
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time painters had this crazy notion that their goal was to create beauty. That was back in the 19th century. Today many painters think their goal is to create "edginess," but that's a post for another time. Let's say it's 1840 and you're an academic painter planning your next submission to the Salon. The subject matter will be historical and, if possible, uplifting. And the whole thing should be beautiful and "finished" (worked over so that brush-strokes are invisible, or nearly so). You want to include images of young women, nude or partly nude, because that will be fun to do and because it should please most viewers -- who don't mind a skin-show so long as the rest of the enterprise has a high moral tone. Of course those women must have beautiful faces. It's a virtual no-brainer regarding the general appearance: you will borrow from Greek and Roman sculpture. Why? Because such sculpture was Beautiful, and if the Academy and the public want beauty, then use a proven example. The fact that your subject might be a Classical theme is a further consideration. I should add that not all women in paintings looked like Greek statues, but it was a common enough practice in those days. Okay. I haven't exactly researched this using primary documentation and all that. But the expedient of simply looking at such art makes it hard to come up with a more convincing explanation why women in academic paintings of that era look a lot more like classical statuary than northwestern Europeans in 1840 -- half a dozen short generations removed from us. What interests me is that painters slowly abandoned Classical faces over the second half of the 19th century, even in paintings with Classical subjects. I have no solid explanation why this happened and will just wave my arms and shout something about zeitgeist and the progressive forces launched by the Industrial Revolution pushing aside previously held beliefs that Greece and Rome were unsurpassable. Friedrich von Blowhard's insights on this point are welcomed. Enough talk. Let's have a look. Gallery Venus de Milo. What could be more Classical than this Venus? Note the high nose and strong chin. "The Farewell of Telemachus and Eurcharis" by Jacques-Louis David, 1818. One of David's last works. Very Classical face on the woman. "Girl with a Basket of Fruit" by Frederic, Lord Leighton, 1863. Here the nose isn't so high, but the chin is strong. "A Vision of Fiammetta" by Dante Rossetti. Rossetti liked his models to have a Classical look even though he was a Pre-Raphaelite, not an academician. "Nymphs and a Satyr" by William Bouguereau, 1873. A Classical subject, but Bouguereau paints the Nymphs as though they were French. Note the facial expression on the nymph near the center. "Circe Invidiosa" by JW Waterhouse, 1892. Classical mythology, but Circe's face isn't very Classical in this late 19th century work. "Destiny" by JW Waterhouse, 1900. A... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- More trifles for your amusement and edification. And, in one instance, for mine. -- As part of the aftershock of the Knight-Ridder sale and likely divestment of a dozen papers, Jeff Jarvis takes a reporter-in-denial to task here. -- I recently got an agency-wide broadcast e-mail from an excercise-obsessive in the organization promoting something called a Fun Run. This is nothing new. Back in the 80s at the national demography meetings folks also promoted a Friday morning Fun Run. I hate to be a wet blanket (I'm lying -- I love it!) but to me the only thing "fun" and "run" have in common is the fact that they rhyme. Feel free to disagree. -- Now that I'm in a complaining mood, my office area has a room set aside for lunching. There's a table, chairs, a 'fridge, a small sink -- and two microwave ovens. Around noon, some of the weight watchin' folks pop frozen lunches in microwaves ... and the stench begins! I mean, some of those lasagnas and whatever must be 20% carbs, 10% meat 'n' sauce and 70% spices. -- The Centre Pompidou art museum in Paris was renovated a while ago and Theodore Dalrymple offers his acidic reactions over at The New Criterion. Click here to read, but be warned that what you see is only a segment (but a useful one) of the magazine version; to read it all, you'll need to be registered. -- Bleg ... is blog-speak for begging for information on a blog. And I have come blegging. You see, I'm doing a lot of catch-up on my art history reading. My current focus is late-19th and early 20th century painters and paintings. But to do justice to certain topics here at 2Blowhards I need to get a better handle on post-1960 art. I've read and printed out some Internet-based items, but I think it might be a good idea to read some books on the subject. Welcomed are tips on good books about post-1960 art that are illustrated, reasonably comprehensive yet concise, largely jargon-free, don't get hung up on academic fads such as gender theory or deconstructionism and that are authoritative. Am I asking for the impossible? Hope not. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 15, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Another Technical Note
Michael Blowhard writes: After 24 hours of feeling upset about being moved to a new server, our blog has calmed down and has begun behaving like its old sweet-natured self. Comments are working properly, and Blowhards are once again able to post. We'll be back in business shortly. Thanks for your patience.... posted by Michael at March 14, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, March 13, 2006

La Ligne Maginot
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to one scenario, World War 2 would have begun as follows: German poison gas and explosive artillery shells rained down on the French hillside peppered with hidden emplacements. At the appointed minute Panzerkampfwagen IIs and IIIs lurched into motion toward the fortifications accompanied by squads of pionieren and sturmtruppen. Encountering anti-tank ditches and rows of railroad rails embedded in the ground, the tanks swerved to an open area to continue their advance. In fact they had been channeled into a killing-ground. Pre-registered artillery in camouflaged casemates and retractable armored turrets opened fire at the poorly armored Germans. Soon the field became obscured by smoke from the flaming vehicles. Meanwhile the combat engineers and storm troopers scrambled up to the observation cupolas, pillboxes and casemates, explosive charges and grenades at the ready. But before they could begin disabling the fortress, 75s from the next fortress to the east began pouring registered fire on them, killing half the attackers on the first salvo. Less than an hour after the attack began, remnants of the assault force began straggling back to the German front line, crushed by the Maginot Line defenders. This alternative-history snippet describes how the French Maginot Line was intended to perform.* It is fantasy. It never happened (though it could have). There was a lot of fantasy associated with the Maginot Line in the years leading up to the war. It is interesting, but so is the history of the Line, not to mention the Maginot Line as it exists today. I experienced the fantasy, read the history and visited one of the fortresses. If this intrigues you, read on. The Fantasy Not long after I was born my father (or someone in my family) bought a Rand McNally "War Map of Europe." Besides a political map of Europe it has a lot of add-ons in the form of special-subject maps, data tables and other handy reference information related to the war that started on 3 September when Germany invaded Poland. Eight or ten years later, when I was old enough to begin assembling a picture of recent history in my mind, I came across that map and was astonished by the following illustration. New York Times artist's pre-war impression of the Maginot Line. When the drawing was made, details of the Maginot Line were military secrets. Even though the Germans had aerial photos of some of the fortresses under construction and might have had spies in the work crews, the public was told about the Line only in broad-brush form. For example, it was revealed that it was a system of underground fortresses placed near enough to one another that their artillery fire would be mutually-supporting. The fortresses were self-contained, troops living in underground barracks with support facilities such as command-posts, kitchens, mess-halls, dental clinics, operating rooms and recreation facilities. Each fort had its own electrical power generation system for use in case the national power grid (and its buried lines to... posted by Donald at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Actress Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Over the weekend I spent some time trying to pull together a deep, indeed definitive, posting about the economist John Maynard Keynes. In this epic, I'd have linked to this Paul Krugman intro to a new book about Keynes. I'd also have linked to Tyler Cowen's musings about Krugman and Keynes, and to a commentsfest at Brad DeLong's blog. I'd have recalled the JFK-era Keynesianism that poisoned economic thinking and policymaking (as well as economic teaching) in the 1970s -- "fine-tuning the economy," anyone? And I'd have mentioned how much I've learned recently from looking into the group known as the Post-Keynesians. (Thanks to Jimbo for pointing them out to me). But the posting ground to a sad halt as I ran up against a sad fact: I simply don't have much of anything besides links to add to the conversation. Still, may the conversation roar on! Me, I wound up watching DVDs and surfing showbiz websites instead. The results: I caught up with "A Mighty Wind," Christopher Guest's satirical mockumentary about a folk singers' reunion. As usual with Guest's movies, I wanted the film to be better: Would it have been so hard to come up with a couple of witty plot turns? But, as is also usual with Guest's movies, I had a good time anyway. The film is brimful with tonal touches and behavioral observations, and it features enough creative performing for ten movies. What especially caught my interest was one of the film's actresses, a comic knockout named Jane Lynch. Tall and blonde, and equipped with a killer mouthful of forthright and wholesome teeth, Lynch plays a squeaky-clean folksinger with a background in pornography. Lynch makes her character so over-vibrant that her righteousness becomes hilariously lewd. Watching Lynch's performance, I remembered that she played one of the lesbian lovers/dog-handlers in Guest's "Best in Show," and that her performance in that film k.o.'d me too. Here's an After Ellen interview with Lynch. A nice passage: I think if you can do comedy, you can do anything, because you can pick up the ironies in life better. It takes a little more investigation into your own heart with comedy; I think you can get away with a lot more in drama. I think youíll find that a good actor usually does comedy really well. Here's an interesting PlanetOut interview with Lynch. (Hmm, I guess Lynch won't be dating me any time soon.) Reading it, I learned that Christopher Guest directs a lot of TV commercials. Asia Argento is currently promoting "The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things," a movie she has directed based on a book by J.T. Leroy. She tells Daniel Robert Epstein that she had no idea that J.T. Leroy was a fraud/ put-on/ performance-art-piece/ whatever until, along with the rest of us, she read about the hoax in the NYTimes: I had to ask myself a lot of questions why I wanted to believe this so much. I donít... posted by Michael at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Technical Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Our webhost will be moving our blog over to a new server today, so please forgive some on-and-off technical issues. We should be running smoothly again by this time tomorrow. And, once we're comfortably ensconced on the new hard drive, we should have less downtime generally. Thanks for your patience.... posted by Michael at March 13, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments