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. Roger Scruton and Oikophobia
  2. Elsewhere
  3. Sudoku Triumphant
  4. Technical Time Out
  5. New Hoops
  6. Bagatelles
  7. Kids Forever
  8. Four Facts About Neil Diamond
  9. Fact for the Day
  10. Razib Interviews Adam Webb

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

Friday, June 30, 2006

Roger Scruton and Oikophobia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards Thanks to Right Reason's Steve Burton for calling attention to this brilliant Roger Scruton speech. Scruton explores the touchiness of our ruling elites where the topics of immigration and integration are concerned: For a long time now the European political class has been in denial about the problems posed by the large-scale immigration of people who do not enter into our European way of life. It has turned angrily on those who have warned against the disruption that might follow, or who have affirmed the right of indigenous communities to refuse admission to people who cannot or will not assimilate. And one of the weapons that the elite has used, in order to ensure that it is never troubled by the truths that it denies, is to accuse those who wish to discuss the problem of 'racism and xenophobia'. Scruton discusses what it means to belong to a society: Every society depends on an experience of membership: a sense of who 'we' are, why we belong together, and what we share. This experience is pre-political: it precedes all political institutions, and provides our reason for accepting them. It unites left and right, blue-collar and white-collar, man and woman, parent and child. To threaten this 'first-person plural' is to open the way to atomisation, as people cease to recognize any general duty to their neighbours, and set out to pillage the accumulated resources while they can. Scruton also invents a nifty new word -- "oikophobia" -- to fight back against those who use terms like "racism" and "xenophobia" to stifle legitimate discussion of important matters. Here's how he defines "oikophobia": Its symptoms are instantly recognized: namely, the disposition, in any conflict, to side with 'them' against 'us', and the felt need to denigrate the customs, culture and institutions that are identifiably 'ours'. I call the attitude okophobia -- the aversion to home -- by way of emphasizing its deep relation to xenophobia, of which it is the mirror image. Oikophobia is a stage through which the adolescent mind normally passes. But it is a stage in which intellectuals tend to become arrested. Here's a Salon interview with Roger Scruton. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lexington Green (via Helen Szamuely) is reminded of an article on a similar theme by Kenneth Minogue.... posted by Michael at June 30, 2006 | perma-link | (31) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Why doesn't America treat itself to festivals like this one? Don't skip the slide show. (NSFW link thanks to the NSFW DazeReader.) * The modernist dream lost its spell over me long ago. But if I did still follow modernist architecture, I'd follow the kind of modernist architecure that John Hill follows. * Say hello to the new-style racial tension. It's something that -- thanks to our idiotic immigration policies -- we'll be seeing a lot more of. * Tosy and Cosh thinks that "Titanic" was a lot better than it's often made out to be. * Most Dutch now believe Islam is incompatible with modern Western society. * Thanks to GNXP's Coffee Mug, who points out that many episodes of "The Charlie Rose Show" can now be watched on Google Video. * A quarter of a million people in China commit suicide every year. * Here's a hilarious posting entitled Top Ten Stock Photography Cliches. You didn't know you knew these cliches, but you do. (Link thanks to Lynn.) * Dean Baker thinks we needn't be too awfully concerned about doctors' earnings. * Chelsea Girl makes the act she describes as much a literary as a sexual event. (No pix, but a lot of very evocative NSFW words.) * Why do some logos hold the public's attention? Why do some brand identities work and never let go? Michael Bierut speculates. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sudoku Triumphant
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In terms of popularity, Sudoku is blowing crossword puzzles out of the water. 40 of the top 50 books in the adult "games" category are now Sudoku books, and puzzle traditionalists aren't pleased. (Source.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Technical Time Out
Thanks to everyone who wrote in earlier to let me know that the blog seemed to have been hijacked. Scary! In fact, a domain name renewal wasn't executed as smoothly as it should have been. A few back-and-forths with our registrar, a couple of hours out of my life, and all was back to normal. Not that I'm bitter about those lost hours or anything ... Now, back to our usual programming.... posted by Michael at June 30, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, June 29, 2006

New Hoops
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yet another party that I'm very late to ... Did you know that Hula Hoops are once again cool? Actually, they seem to have gone beyond cool into downright edgy, even punk. Fitness, attitude, sex, daring -- you got it. * Here's a cute fire-hoop routine. * Miss Saturn starts her saucy burlesque hoop act at about minute four in this video. * Yoga hooping. * Fairy hooping. * Hoop therapy. * Arty hooping. * Naked hooping. * Even -- gadzooks -- virtuosic middle-aged hooping. Fun to see that a movie documentary about the New Hooping is in production. Hooping.Org seems to be media central for the hooping craze. NPR offers an audio report. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 29, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * My copy of the July-August Commentary arrived yesterday and what did I see on the inside-back cover but an ad for a journal titled The Objective Standard. Objective? Well, the headline said "At Last! A rational, principled alternative to the disastrous ideas of liberalism and conservatism." Hmm. So I hopped on the web and looked at their site. Turns out the Ayn Rand crowd is behind it. So they really ought to have named it The Objectivist Standard. 'Cause it sure ain't objective, if the web site's contents takeouts are any guide. * That same Commentary issue has a Terry Teachout article I found interesting. Heck, I find almost anything Teachout writes interesting. Rather than his usual music commentary, Terry riffs on a new biography of the late art critic Clement Greenberg by Florence Rubenfeld ("Clement Greenberg: A Life"). Greenberg famously championed the New York School of Abstract Expressionism and did much to launch the career of Jackson Pollock. Greenberg failed to appreciate the profound wonder and significance of most post-AE art and his career as critic sputtered to a crawl by the end of the sixties. To my way of thinking, Greenberg's most dangerous notion (assuming Teachout got it right) was that there was an historical determinism in art that inevitably led to AE. This is the garbage I was fed in art history classes back in 1958-59. So now I have a better idea where my instructor got it from. (Note to self: Suck in your gut and read more about art criticism of the 1940s and 50s. Yes I was alive then, but too young to read more than Time magazine's art coverage -- though they did regularly print color reproductions of what was hot in NYC at the time.) Right now you'll have to buy the magazine to read the article. But try to remember to check their web site later this summer to see if they post it. * And what have I been up to lately? Getting rid of books. That's what. Not to mention other stuff including file cabinets full of demographic data I Xeroxed over the years at considerable time and expense. Plus piles of really old (40-50 years old) issues of Time, Newsweek and car mags such as Motor Trend. And almost every issue of Road & Track from 1956 to 1990. (I haven't actually gotten rid of the magazines yet, but need to come up with some solution that doesn't involve keeping them.) Last weekend I hauled a pile of books to Powell's in Portland and got a couple hundred dollars, selling all but four. I figure I'll need to make two more trips in July to get rid of the rest of the saleable ones. And at the end of the road, I'll still have a ton of books. As attentive 2Blowhards readers know, I got married last month. Now I'm cleaning out my apartment so that I can move in with... posted by Donald at June 28, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Kids Forever
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve notices an article about a study concluding that immaturity is on the rise. A long-ago posting of mine entitled "Adolescent Nation" might be of interest to those who suspect (as I do) that there's something to the claim. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 28, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Four Facts About Neil Diamond
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * As a kid, Neil Diamond sang in a choir with Barbra Streisand. * Neil Diamond is now 65. * Neil Diamond wrote "I'm a Believer." * It took Neil Diamond four years of Freudian analysis to wake up to the fact that his song "Solitary Man" -- "I’ll be what I am. A solitary man" -- was about him. Here's his official site. Here's Wikipedia's entry on him. Neil Diamond is on MySpace! Here's the video for Smash Mouth's amusingly hardhitting version of "I'm a Believer." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 28, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Magazines are experimenting with new kinds of digital platforms, reports USA Today's Laura Petrecca. Which makes sense: As more and more advertising action moves online, magazine managers are following the money. The fact I found most interesting in Petrucca's very interesting piece (emphasis mine): U.S. Internet advertising will boom 27% this year to $14.5 billion, while spending in consumer print magazines will grow 3% to $13.2 billion, Merrill Lynch forecasts. It would be the first time that Web ad spending beat magazines. Merrill sees Internet ad spending at $17.7 billion next year, and magazines nearly flat at $13.4 billion. Interesting -- and make that interesting-scary -- times in the mediabiz! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Razib Interviews Adam Webb
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I enjoyed Razib's 10 Questions with traditionalist Adam Webb, whose take on modern liberalism reminds me some of John Gray's and Stephen Toulmin's. (Word of caution: "modern liberalism" in these discussions doesn't mean "America's current Democrats." It means the modern world in a more general sense, as in "post-Enlightenment Western society.") GNXP commenters applaud and cavil; Webb responds. Here's Webb's book. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, June 26, 2006

Local Voting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's a well-known paradox of the American political system. In theory, voters were supposed to be most knowledgeable regarding local conditions and local candidates as opposed to state and national issues and personalities. That explains the original notion that voters elected electoral college representatives rather than a presidential aspirant. (Technically, this is still the case.) And it's why senators for many years were appointed by state legislatures rather than holding office as the outcome of a direct popular vote. This kind of voter was just possibly the reality in the 1780s when the Constitution was framed. Communication was slow in those days; the fastest means of spreading news was via dispatch riders. Newspapers were largely a city thing, not part of the daily lives of rural residents. Those times and conditions are long gone. In general, voters are more familiar with national issues and candidates then with local affairs. It's certainly true for me now and has been my entire life. Now, I happen to think I'm a pretty good citizen. Not perfect, mind you, but maybe a teensy bit above average. I used to vote in every election that cropped up. And for every office and ballot issue to boot. So there. No longer. Over the years I became increasingly uncomfortable with the thought that I didn't know anything about most candidates for really local offices such as Port Commissioner, Coroner, School Board Member, and so forth. This wasn't quite so serious where candidates ran as political party members, because party affiliation served as a rough filtering mechanism. But here in Washington state, most local offices are non-partisan. And voting without knowledge was simply contributing random noise to election returns. Worse, I realized that I might well be voting for people whose positions were antithetical to mine. Nowadays I don't vote if I happen to be totally ignorant regarding candidates or issues. This means I sometimes don't vote at all in some local, off-year elections. I'm even less motivated to vote on local offices because, even though offices are technically non-partisan, the candidates who tend to get elected around here are in fact partisans of the party I oppose. That is, my vote doesn't affect the outcome, and I normally don't like the outcome anyway. All the same, I do vote on a number of offices. So, aside from paid political messages, how do I inform myself? Out here there are voter's pamphlets that display a picture of each candidate (though some don't submit a picture) along with a brief statement from the candidate. The statements can be helpful, but sometimes you have to work to tease out useful information. Usually all candidates claim to be in favor of children, a clean environment, honest government, etc., etc. Not helpful. So then I look for other clues. The fact that a candidate had once been a Peace Corps volunteer tells you one thing, 20 years service as a military officer or policeman might say... posted by Donald at June 26, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, June 25, 2006

When the Mountain Exploded
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are five volcanoes here in Washington and another just across the Columbia River in Oregon. Not to mention a number of others to the south, extending to California's Lassen Peak which last erupted less than 100 years ago. When I was young, the Lassen eruptions seemed a long time ago -- far away in time and place, nothing to worry about. Besides, my father, a man with scientific training, once said regarding our local volcanoes, "Aw, nothing to worry about -- they're extinct." My dad's training was not in Geology, I should add. As many of you know, Mount St. Helens (scroll down for lots of info) came to life again in the spring of 1980, adding another source of disaster to the earthquakes I wrote about here. Washington residents weren't much taken by surprise when puffs of steam started appearing atop St. Helens. Less than five years before, there was a steam episode on Mount Baker up north near the Canadian border. At the time, geologists had Baker pegged as the most likely volcano in the state to go off. So whatever surprise there was had to do with the fact that yet another volcano was acting up. As the steam spewed and ash began to darken the ice near the summit, local news media turned geologists into stars. We soon learned that rather than being "extinct" as my father thought, most of the state's volcanoes had been active in recent geological times -- even in historical times. The St. Helens link above provides a summary of known eruptive periods, and the most recent one was 1800-1857 when white men were exploring and settling the nearby lower Columbia River area. Why were eruptions taking place as late as 1857 forgotten by 20th century residents? I'm not sure, but suspect the fact that those eruptions were never photographed had something to do with it. Strato-volcanoes such as St. Helens are comparatively soft. When glaciers form, it doesn't take long (geologically) before the lava and ash layers become sculpted. Mount McLaughlin in southern Oregon looks almost perfectly conical from the direction of Medford. But from other angles, one sees that a huge chunk of its northern (shaded) side has been scooped away. Mount Hood seen from nearby Portland also shows a northerly scoop effect. But Mount St. Helens, being recently (40,000 years) created, was nearly conical all the way around and likened to Japan's Fujiyama. My mother grew up about 25 miles southwest of St. Helens and later was a schoolteacher in Longview, a late-1920s "new town" 35 miles west of the peak. She and her friends occasionally went on outings to St. Helens, picnicking by Spirit Lake at its base. Due to my laziness that made the slow drive from Interstate 5 to the mountain a good excuse not to go there, I didn't get around to visiting St. Helens until 1978 -- two years before the eruption. On a whim, I packed... posted by Donald at June 25, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Bollywood Comedy"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Chute reprints a good article by Lisa Tsering about non-Indians who have fallen under the spell of Bollywood films -- Chute himself is one of the smitten, and is quoted in the article ... And Tsering mentioned a Bollywood parody video that has been a hit on YouTube ... And I wound up laughing a lot watching it. Here's comedian Winston Spear: Don't skip the Tsering article, which includes the titles of many promising-sounding Bollywood films. I've put them on my DVDs-to-watch list, and I'm eager to hear MD's evaluation of them. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Americans and Preference
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- When I look over the many comments that accumulate on my various postings about immigration policy, what puzzles me most has nothing to do with people's thoughts about immigration policy. Reasonable people can/will disagree, it's fun and enlightening to compare notes with civil and intelligent acquaintances, etc etc. No, what puzzles me far more than the question "How can anyone fail to succumb to the brilliance of my arguments?" is another question entirely: "Why are so many Americans so very shy about expressing their preferences?" Preferences are important. Preferences help us decide how to live our lives. Without preferences, how would we prioritize? We need to connect with our preferences to help us answer important questions. What do we want our lives to be like? What are we hoping to get out of our lives? Perhaps preferences don't determine anything in an absolute sense -- but surely they deserve to be taken as respectfully into account as, say, predictions about the future. Predictions are nothing but predictions, after all. Where immigration policy is concerned: An infusion of tens (if not hundreds) of millions of Latinos might mean a glorious rebirth of American prosperity and optimism (Glen's view, I take it), or it might bring "Blade Runner"-esque crowding, pressure on lower-income natives, and lots of ugly ethnic horse-trading (my view). But both these points of view are finally nothing but predictions -- and who has ever proven to be any good at forecasting the future? Unlike predictions, which are almost always uncertain, personal preferences can be known. Yet when I throw out the question "What would you like your country to be like?," only a few visitors volunteer a response. Very quickly, most people turn back to the apparently more-fun game of dueling ideals and warring predictions. I've been so puzzled by the reluctance of many people to volunteer their preferences that I've put some thought into how I present these postings. With my last one, I thought I finally had it nailed. I would ask visitors what population they would be happiest for the country to be at. How to wiggle out from under that one? After all, where border policy is concerned, the one thing that we can be certain about is that a more-open regime will result in a larger population than a more-controlled regime will. So, "How big a population do you want your country to have?" I asked. Yet only a few visitors volunteered a preference where population totals are concerned. I know that I rely on France far too often for the sake of comparisons, but since it's the only other culture I know (or once knew) well, I'm going to turn to it once again. French people are anything but shy about expressing preference. They're tiresomely opinionated, really. Ask a room of Frenchies about their opinions and tastes, and they'll still be jabbering enthusiastically six hours later. As a friend who lives in Paris likes to point out, Frenchies... posted by Michael at June 23, 2006 | perma-link | (50) comments

YouTube Questions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Watching an old video of some yoga immortals that someone posted on YouTube, Alan Little wonders what kind of legal ground is being trod. Watching some videos of the Harlem Globetrotters posted on YouTube, Bill Gates wrestles with the same question. Great Gates quote: "Stolen's a strong word. It's copyrighted content that the owner wasn't paid for." I've been telling young people for years to go into copyright law. There isn't going to be a shortage of work in that field for a long time to come. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anyone whose blood pressure is a little low could certainly do worse than pick up a copy of today's Wall Street Journal, which features an excellent and outrage-provoking article by Ellen E. Schultze and Theo Francis. The article's gist: Even as many companies are pruning back or terminating conventional pension plans, pension plans for top executives are growing more deluxe and expensive. Though the rationale for cutting back trad pension plans is that companies simply can't afford them any longer, many of those same companies are piling up ever more in the way of financial obligations to their executives. Oh, and btw? These liabilities require supersonic accounting skills to tease out. Since I can't find the article online, I'll pass along some of its more gasp-inducing facts: While pensions for grunt-level employees generally replace 20-35% of the employee's final salary, pensions for top executives often replace 60-100% of the executive's salary. Schultze and Francis compare the financial fates of two AT&T people. CEO for a grand total of five years, David Dorman will receive a pension of $2.1 million a year -- 60% of his salary. Ralph Colotti worked as an accountant for AT&T for 33 years. His pension: $28,800 -- 33% of his final pay. Pfizer chairman Henry McKinnell will receive a $6.5 million-a-year pension -- 100% of his pay level, and an $85 million liability for Pfizer. Edward Whitacre of AT&T will receive $5.4 million a year for life on top of a lump sum of $18.8 million -- a cost to AT&T of $84 million. William McGuire of United Health can look forward to a $5.1 million-a-year pension on top of a $6.4 million payout -- a liability to the company of $90 million. Executive-pension liabilities make up a substantial portion of total pension liabilities at many companies. Some of the figures Schultze and Francis (and the accountants who helped them) dug up: "12% at Exxon Mobil and Pfizer; 9% at Metlife Inc. and Bank of America; 19% at Federated Department Stores Inc; 58% at insurer Aflac Inc." At some companies -- Nordstrom and Dillard's, for example -- regular employees don't even have pension plans, while high-ranking execs do. Companies are under no obligation to report executive-pension liabilities separately in financial filings. This can produce strange bookkeeping illusions. An example: TimeWarner's filings make its pension plans look underfunded by 7%. Yet the plan for TimeWarner's regular employees is more than fully-funded. According to Schultze and Francis: "The shortfall is entirely due to a plan for highly paid employees. That one has a $305 million unfunded liability." At Lucent, the pension plan for regular employees is so solidly in the black that earnings on it generated 82% of the company's profits last year. Yet an unfunded plan for Lucent's highest paid people had a liability of $422 million. The way Lucent's management is dealing with this puzzle? It has been cutting back pension and medical benefits for regular employees. For tax reasons,... posted by Michael at June 23, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Among Americans, average daily calorie intake "increased by 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, between 1970 and 2000." (Source.) Meanwhile, for the first time in 20 years, soft-drink sales are falling. (Source.) The category isn't expected to bounce back any time soon. According to a Morgan Stanley beverage-industry analyst, soft drinks are expected to continue "to lose their positive image as a popular, versatile, fun beverage choice as consumers are cutting back on sugar, drinking more water and watching calories." Could we be witnessing the beginning of the end of the Fat-American era? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 22, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Richard Wheeler Reports
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm delighted that I've been able to coax another piece of writing out of our new friend, the Wyoming-based (CORRECTION: whoopsie, make that Montana-based) Western novelist Richard Wheeler. Richard recently attended the convention of the Western Writers of America, and has generously filed this report about the event. *** Report From Cody by Richard Wheeler The convention of Western Writers of America, held here in mid-June, was remarkable for its size and vitality. There was an overflow crowd attending, the mood was upbeat, and the six hundred-member organization is in fine financial condition. This is a remarkable feat, considering that western fiction is no longer a significant part of mainstream publishing, and exists only as a niche market. Most mass market publishers have abandoned genre westerns, and the remaining ones concentrate on dead western authors. University presses have to some extent taken up the slack, publishing a little western fiction and nonfiction. The transformation of WWA from an organization struggling to survive as western fiction and film declined in recent decades, to its robust status today, is largely the result of remaking the organization. It began in 1953 as an authors guild, with membership confined to well-established professionals. In this respect it resembled its brother genre fiction guilds, Mystery Writers of America, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Some years ago WWA quietly began to ignore its membership bylaws and admitted people who did not qualify. Later this was legitimized by changing the bylaws to admit self-published authors, paving the way for the flood of members who resort to the new print-on-demand vanity presses such as iUniverse or PublishAmerica. Today, perhaps three-quarters of the members have no significant professional credentials. As traditional book publishers retreat from western fiction, that percentage is likely to increase. The Mystery Writers and Science Fiction Writers have gone the other direction, tightening membership requirements to preserve their professional status, and requiring applicants for membership to be published by an approved list of legitimate royalty-paying presses. WWA is also steadily expanding its Spur Awards. Two new ones were announced at the Cody convention, one for best original audio novel, and one for best western song. The latter is actually a major departure for WWA, the first move from literature to music, or to put it another way, a departure toward the performance arts. The new awards will draw WWA away from print and into other media. For an organization wrestling with its irrelevance to traditional publishing (New York editors and publishers and agents no longer bother to attend its conventions), WWA offers an amazing number of awards. With the new additions, it now offers seventeen Spur Awards, plus the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement. Some of these awards, notably the Best First Novel and Storyteller, began life as subsidiary honors, and were not intended to be Spur Awards, but recent boards have converted them. WWA hands out more awards than any other genre literature society. By way... posted by Michael at June 22, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Laurence Auster wonders why the cultural neocons at the New Criterion are so attached to modernism -- and comes up with a convincing answer. Some of Laurence's readers pitch in here. * Where did the absorption with the Self so characteristic of artists originate? We can blame it on the Romantics. * All that said, I do like a fair amount of modernist art just fine, including some paintings by the Brit Howard Hodgkin, who has a big new show up in London. Online repros of some of Hodgkin's work can be eyeballed here, here, and here. Dig the way those colors vibrate! * The sly and witty Bluewyvern has put up a a posting of links to some amazing photography sites. * Did you know that only two biographies have ever been published of the painter John Constable? He does seem to have led a very boring life ... * Rick Darby reads an article in the Orange County Register and thinks he may be seeing a little progress. Rick's blog now features a beautiful new banner headline, made for Rick by Daniel of Westgate Necromantic. Daniel is the sweet and heroic webguy who has been tech angel for 2Blowhards. Daniel's a joy to work with -- as well as (shhh!) very reasonable. * Although I've paid for Apple's .Mac service for a number of years, I have yet to make any real use of it. I see I'm not alone in wondering if .Mac is just a big waste of money. * In his explication of the Aussie slang word "bogan," Dirk Thruster lets fly with a lot of shrewd (and earthily-stated) good sense. * Design Observer's Adrian Shaughnessy raves about the German obsessive-mystic movie director Werner Herzog, one of The Wife's favorite filmmakers. DO's Michael Bierut links to a Wes Anderson American Express commercial that confirms me in my conviction that Wes Anderson deserves an Oscar for Most Annoying Filmmaker Ever. It's good to see that DO has given its own visuals a classy upgrade. * Lynn wouldn't mind living in a big Victorian house, or in a spacey bionic structure either. * Recently I put up an enthusiastic posting about the neo-Oakeshottian English philosopher John Gray. It's evidently his moment. * Pistol-packin', red-blooded George Bush has been the wussiest of weenies when it comes to his own country's southern border. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 22, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

San Jose Snazz
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: San Jose is like a pin-headed giant. Even though there are more than 900,000 residents within the city limits, the place has small downtown. There's a reason for this. The reason is that the city didn't develop "organically." I first laid eyes on San Jose in 1951 while on my first trip to California. We were probably driving along the Milpitas-Alviso road (state highway 237). In those days it was a country road, the first dry-land opportunity south of San Francisco to duck across to the east side of the bay. (We had breakfasted in Santa Clara and were on our way to Sacramento via Stockton.) To the south of the road were acres and acres of fruit trees. And I could spy way in the distance the tops of a few office buildings. That was downtown San Jose, basically an agriculture business center. Thirty years later the orchards were gone and San Jose was part of the Silicon Valley sprawl. Offices for high-tech companies were spreading from Sunnyvale and Santa Clara across the south end of the bay below the Milpitas-Alviso road to a point a few miles north of downtown. There were other office pockets, but not a large amount of development downtown. Today there are more tall buildings downtown, but not nearly as many as one would expect for a city of San Jose's population. You see, after around 1955-60, San Jose didn't expand from its center. Rather, it was flooded with largely residential growth from the northwest. Its downtown wasn't the economic growth-engine found in more isolated large cities. Efforts have been going on for some time to establish a viable downtown. As I mentioned, there are some new-ish office buildings (though their height and location are constrained by the fact that downtown is partly in the flight path of the airport). There is a nice Fairmont hotel and a fine, restored movie house that is now home to a lively opera company. What the city could use is a really snazzy retail development that would bring in lots of people and dollars. As a matter of fact, San Jose does have such a development. But it's not located downtown. The glitz capitol of southern Silicon Valley is Santana Row on Stevens Creek Boulevard across from the Valley Fair shopping center and near the interchange of Interstates 280 and 880. Santana Row is a mixed retail-residential area atop a street grid. It's three or four blocks long (though the blocks are of unequal length) and two or three blocks wide. The main street is lined with four story structures intended to evoke a European city street. The three upper floors house apartments and condos while street level is for shops and restaurants. Here are some pictures I recently snapped. Shopping is decidedly upscale -- Wikipedia notes that it was intended to be the Rodeo Drive of the north. Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Furla, Tod, Donald J. Pliner, Tumi, Brooks Brothers and Burberry... posted by Donald at June 21, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost recalls a dear friend of hers, the late film critic Pauline Kael, who would have turned 87 the other day. Another friend of Kael's, Craig Seligman, talks about Pauline with Julie Copeland. (Everyone who read Kael's reviews thought of her as "Pauline.") Funny and sad to think of that whole generation growing so old. It's funny too to encounter, as I often do these days, young film buffs who have never heard of Pauline Kael. * David Lynch thinks we should all take up meditation. Watch and listen to him here. * I'm one of the few people you'll ever meet who will say that one of his favorite filmmakers is Marco Bellocchio. Even among hardcore filmbuffs, Bellocchio's work isn't very well-known. Now in his 60s, Bellocchio emerged in the middle 1960s with an amazing first movie, "Fists in the Pocket." For a few years, he was celebrated alongside Bernardo Bertolucci as a brilliant young prodigy. Bellocchio grew more and more radical, though, and as he did his films grew prickly and ingrown. (I like a bunch of them anyway.) In recent years, he has emerged from this psychoanalysis-and-Maoism stretch, and has entered into a period of reflecting mournfully and ruefully on the costs of extremism. His film "Good Morning, Night," a small-scale chamber fantasia about the Red Brigades' kidnapping of Aldo Moro, is quietly devastating; it's also one of my favorite new films of the last five years. I saw it at a film festival, though, and thought it would never be commercially released in this country. So I'm surprised and happy to notice that it's now available on DVD. (Amazon, Netflix.) I wrote about the film when I first saw it here. I'm even happier to notice that Criterion has brought out a deluxe DVD version of "Fists in the Pocket" that has been embellished with some tasty-sounding extras. (Amazon, Netflix.) The film is often described as a savage and satirical attack on the Italian family, but it strikes me as more useful to think of "Fists" as a punk-rock-like frenzy of youthful movie talent. * New on DVD too is Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger." (Amazon, Netflix.) I wrote about this austere and slow-moving yet magnificent (in a backpackin'-hippie kind of way) film here. * Anne Thompson reports that Seattle-ites see more movies per capita than people in any other U.S. city, and that she loved the new Brazilian film "House of Sand." * Word comes from pulpier parts of the cinema universe that you can now buy or rent a freshened-up DVD version of the scrappy, funny, and sexy Italian zombie thriller "Cemetary Man." (Amazon.) Director Michele Soavi demonstrates that beauty, poetry, and audacious emotional effects can be achieved on a tiny budget. * I got half a kick -- and that ain't bad! -- out of Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects." (Amazon, Netflix.) The film is an attempt to do a wild-ass, hell-for-leather, ridiculous/absurdist, get-high-on-excess variant on... posted by Michael at June 21, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Interstate Turns 50
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Going somewhere? A remarkable anniversary is upon us: The US Interstate Highway System was signed into existence by Dwight Eisenhower 50 years ago, on June 29, 1956. Dull and dry as the Interstate may sound, it holds a firm place on my personal list of the Key Factors That Have Made America What It Is Today. Some of the others: the mechanization of cotton-picking; the Civil Rights movement; urban renewal; the corporate/government embrace of modernism; the mortgage-interest deduction; the Vietnam disaster; the GI Bill; the 1965 Immigration act; the birth of pop culture; and the embrace of adolescent values ... Partly inspired by Germany's Autobahns, partly out of a conviction that the country needed an efficient way to move its military around, President Eisenhower made the the Interstate one of his top political priorities. In his vision, it was key that the system should include no intersections and no traffic signals. Construction began soon after Ike signed the Bill in 1956. The System was officially declared completed in 1991. Some fun facts: For a long time, the US Interstate system was considered history's largest public-works project ever. The Interstate was enthusiastically supported by the automobile industry. Interstate lanes are as wide as they are and Interstate overpasses are set at the height they are to enable passage of trucks carrying missiles. All those in love with ambitious government initiatives please take note: The initial cost-and-time estimate for the system was $25 billion over twelve years. It ended up costing $114 billion, and took 35 years to complete. If that isn't a vivid illustration of one of my favorite general principles -- namely, "we oughta be wary of excessive ambition where government programs are concerned" -- then I don't know what is. One widely-acknowleged mistake was made: Interstates were often run right through the centers of urban areas. It was a disastrous move. When cities are chopped up, they never recover. I remember discussing the future of St. Louis with one of the city's planners. According to him, although there is much that can be done to improve the attractiveness of downtown St. Louis, the city will never come back very far. The main reason: In the '50s and '60s, downtown St. Louis had been sliced up into isolated islands by Interstates and other highways. Generally speaking, the Interstate system gets high marks for convenience and for enabling trade. It's also often believed to have contributed to anonymity and ugliness. "When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a thing," wrote John Steinbeck. Artery of trade? Un-scenic view? It can sometimes seem as though America's post-WWII elites were determined to wage merciless war on the country's cities. The building of awful office shoeboxes and housing projects ... Disastrous and ambitious "urban renewal" schemes ... The creation of the Interstates ... It's hard not to read this... posted by Michael at June 21, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Theatre, Cinema, Roles and ... Race
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- From time to time I stumble across the assertion that a good actor (regardless of his race) should be able (and be allowed) to play any role (regardless of any stated or implied race). I have no problem with having actors of any race playing characters of undefined race. That is, if a script calls for the part of a police inspector (with no other qualifications imposed) then it's okay with me if a white/black/Asian/you-name-it is cast in that role. But I would be troubled if the white/black/Asian/you-name-it actor was 17 years old. That would be unbelievable, because police inspectors normally don't get their job unless they have had a lot of experience: you don't find any 17-year old police inspectors in the real world. This potential tension between good intentions/political correctness/whatever and real-world believability became manifest for me a couple years ago when I saw an outdoor production of Hamlet on the campus of hyper-liberal University of California at Santa Cruz. The actor playing the king of Denmark was black. And the people playing his children were white. I suppose the actor did a good job as the king. While it's likely I can spot a really bad job of acting, beyond a certain point I lack the ability to distinguish "acceptable" from "great." Anyhow, so far as I could tell, the guy didn't muff any lines or do anything else to demonstrate that his performance was anything but competent. Still, casting him in that role was wrong because the man was unbelievable, and it took my (doubtless vile, racist) mind off the play itself. Empirically, kings of Denmark have never been black. And black males are highly unlikely to have natural children looking as white as the actors playing the king's children. I suppose an intrepid director might have taken one edge off by simply replacing the word "Denmark" with some contrived name. The remaining credibility problems might then be cured by casting blacks as the children. All a bit odd, but such changes might have allowed me to better enjoy the content of the play. Actors of one race playing the part of characters of different race are nothing new in theatre or cinema. But this was seldom like the Hamlet situation just described. Why? Because the actors usually were disguised as members of the other race. Blackface, whiteface -- all a matter of makeup. Here are some examples from movies. Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. This is a classic minstrel show type of blackface performance. Laurence Olivier in Othello. It's Shakespeare, but blackface all the same. Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in The Good Earth. Here two whites are cast as Chinese. Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. Oland is an interesting case. Yes, he was a Swede playing the famous Chinese detective. But Oland apparently appeared without special makeup. His heavy eyelids came naturally -- from Russia and possibly points east on his mother's side, he claimed. On the... posted by Donald at June 21, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apologies to George Orwell and Animal Farm for the title but, hey, I'm a sucker for word-play. I'm also probably a sucker for writing this post, as I expect readers bearing torches and pitchforks to storm my humble abode. Hmm ... maybe I shoulda petitioned Michael for a pseudonym after all. Bicycles. I used to ride a big, heavy, single-speed, fat-tired Schwinn when I was a kid. And I won't categorically rule out buying a bike in the future, though I'd have to be living in a fairly flat and relatively car-free environment before I'd do so. But, bicycle enthusiasts, I'm not of your faith. Sadly, sometimes you just have to choose sides. I'm a car guy. You can talk about pollution, resource-depletion, aerobic factors and the entire litany, but you won't change my mind. As I stated in the title, four wheels good, two wheels bad. My line is drawn. Sharing the road with bicycles makes me nervous. The speed, weight and protective differences between cars and bikes are profound. Simply put, I'm afraid a bike rider will do something stupid and I'll kill him by accident. Bikes belong on trails, not roads and most streets. The bicycles that really get my goat are the "recumbent" kind, where the cyclist is usually in a supine position. A Wikipedia entry on these bicycles is here. Scroll down for a discussion of pros and cons compared to conventional bikes where the rider is upright. (For me, the greatest disadvantage of recumbent bicycles has to do with dismounting. When I rode a bike I encountered many situations where I had to stop to dismount or reposition my bicycle. This is manifestly hard to do starting from a semi-supine position. Recumbent bicycles strike me a being most useful in cruise-mode out in the country as opposed to the herky-jerky city biking environment.) Here are a couple pictures of recumbent bicycles. The first picture is public-relations fantasy for a build-it-Urself vehicle. The second shot is closer to what you're likely to see on streets and roads. With one exception. My experience has been that, in almost every case, the rider of a recumbent bicycle is a wiry guy with a beard. I'm not kidding. I almost think that the factory making those bikes has a laboratory (over there, that cement block building halfway hidden behind the paint shop) where they clone those riders. Another thing about those wiry riders with beards is that they exude an aura of intellectual superiority over the socially-unconscious likes of me. And in fact they probably are smarter than me in raw-IQ terms. Then again, Einstein combined a stratospheric IQ with gaping holes in the common-sense department, so I don't automatically take such people seriously. Matter of fact, I regard recumbent bicycle riders as little more than show-offs. Sorta like Ferrari drivers. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 20, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, June 19, 2006

YouTube Update
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For those curious about what the world -- and the entertainment industry -- is making of YouTube ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Popular Artists (2): Mian Situ
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This Popular Artists series deals with painters whose work sells well and who have the potential of being rated as artists of note, if not lasting fame. The first subject was Pino and another is Jack Vettriano, but through oversight, I failed to use "Popular Artists" as part of the title of the Vettriano post. The present subject is Mian Situ. He has been featured on the cover of Art of the West magazine, and the biographical information below was culled from the March/April 2005 issue. Mian Situ. Situ was born in a small town in southern China in 1953 and didn't get involved in art until he was a teenager. The Cultural Revolution made it hard to learn about Western art or to get training. Eventually the Guongzhou Institute of Fine Art reopened and Situ was able to take classes from some instructors who had been trained in Russia. His training was in the classical academic vein, starting with intensive drawing. Following Chairman Mao's death, Situ was able to complete an MA in art. While working on this degree he decided that he was better at realism than abstract art, and dropped the latter. MA in hand, he continued at the school as an instructor. Caught up in the get-outta-China fever of the time, he moved to Los Angeles and, later, Vancouver BC where he worked as a street artist, thence to Toronto and finally back to the LA area. During this period his paintings began to win prizes. Now he is well-established and, from gleanings I find in art magazines, respected by his peers. Here are some examples of his work. Gallery What's Next The Word of God 1865 The Golden Mountain: Arriving in San Francisco John Chinamen in the Sierra Second Helping Evaluation Let me begin with my standard disclaimer that I tend to be a pushover for displays of technical (as well as artistic) skill. Mian Situ displays skill in spades. Besides being an excellent draftsman, his brushwork and use of color are impressive. All things considered, I believe that his color work is his strongest suit. Rather than using mostly pure colors, he often tones down much of a painting's surface by mixing in large proportions of complementary colors, this to help frame the areas of focus. And he maintains good overall color-key discipline. So far I've only been able to examine one of his paintings in person (at a gallery in Santa Fe). What struck me was his skill in defining objects using just the right colors in the right places. Linework is essentially absent in his paintings which are built using color in a kind of Post-Impressionist manner. As for subject matter, the Situ work I'm aware of falls mostly into three categories: (1) landscapes, (2) pictures of Chinese in rural Chinese settings, and (3) historical western American scenes wherein at least one Chinese is in view. The paintings featuring people tend to be "illustrations" in that... posted by Donald at June 19, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Moviegoing: "A Prairie Home Companion"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although I've never enjoyed the radio show, I loved -- and make that triple L-U-V'd -- Robert Altman's new film, "A Prairie Home Companion." I found it magical and transporting: touching, funny, engrossing, conceptually daring, and "alive" to the max. Rich in detail and filigree, full of seductively intimate golden-crimsons and emeralds, it has enough aural texture and visual sumptuousness for ten films. (Cinematography: Ed Lachman. Production design: Dina Goldman. Costumes: Catherine Marie Thomas. I'd like to list a sound person too, but IMDB is unclear on who was in charge of film's sound department.) For the Altman buffs out there: "Prairie" is like a warm-and-sweet, chamber-dramedy version of "Nashville," only with metaphorical-Americana touches resembling those in "Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean," and tonally in the retrospective, allegorical, fable-like mode of "Cookie's Fortune." Though the film -- half cultural anthropology about how Midwesterners deal with life's big moments, and half a melancholy backstage musical comedy -- is set almost entirely inside a theater, it's also a loving sweep through a lot of American art history: Twain, Fitzgerald, and the hardboiled dick; the western and the tall tale; Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper. Weak on storyline and action, it's nonetheless focused and controlled -- more a "Tempest"-like poetic picture of life than a narrative: We live among spirits and archetypes; death and beauty are never more than a few steps away; gallantry, generosity, humor, and belief carry us through ... It's a jewelbox and a metaphysical romance, yet it's fully inhabited and embodied, and it never stops rolling along. Lindsay Lohan and Meryl Streep Filmgoing tip: Watch how Altman gets you focused on his performers' flesh, and how he uses performance as his central metaphor -- he has his reasons for suggesting how much a theater can resemble a church. There are moments when Meryl Streep's face seems to have collapsed. Yet at other moments -- especially when she's belting out a song (who knew she was such a good belter?) -- her face is radiant and transformed by joy. Despite life's trials, most of us somehow find ways to keep moving forward, and even to give a little more than we take. Garrison Keillor -- with his bulldog head, his massive physique, and his out-of-it moonchild manner -- moves through the movie surprisingly delicately. He's like a benevolent visitor from another planet -- an Asperger-y Prospero, never blind to the depths below yet unable to understand why anyone should choose to spend too much time dwelling in them. I loved the film so much that I was surprised, when I caught up with its reviews online, by how many of them seemed grudging and condescending even when they were positive. Here's a typical example. It isn't "The Player," it isn't "McCabe" ... Do the reviewers think that, in his 80s, Altman should be making the kinds of movies they loved him for making when he was 50 and 60? Yet... posted by Michael at June 19, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Modernist buffs -- and modernist haters too -- should enjoy this package of stories from The Guardian. It's pegged to a show at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Robert Hughes is as full of caustic, blunt good sense as always. He visits Le Corbusier's legendary Unite d'Habitation (much doted-on by art-history and architecture profs when FvB and I were in college), and finds it to be anything but a modernist paradise: It was in pitiable condition. Corbu's beton brut couldn't be cleaned, the metal-framed windows were hopelessly corroded, the electricity kept shorting out, the brise-soleils or concrete sunscreens were permanently foul with pigeon shit, the "shopping street" halfway up inside was locked and shuttered because ordinary French people prefer to do their marketing on real streets (an obvious aspect of social behaviour that eluded the intellectual grasp of the formgiver, who believed that folk ought to behave in accordance with the dotty authoritarian notions of idealist philosophes like Saint-Simon and Fourier). Deyan Sudjic sneers at those who aren't enraptured by modernism's purities and austerities but has the grace to run a lengthy statement by the British New Classicist Robert Adam: Modernism was founded on a frighteningly arrogant idea that an elite group of people could remake society into something supposedly better, regardless of what the general public actually wanted. It was labelled 'true architecture' by people who believed they had found the gates to heaven ... Paradoxically, Modernism is still around today and in fact it completely dominates the architectural profession. So much so that if you meet an architect, you expect him to be a Modernist. Modernism ... can be seen as a style but I believe it is more than that: a historical theory, based on the idea that only the things that are different in each period are important. So in the engineering era of the Twenties and Thirties, everything had to conform to what was new in engineering, otherwise you weren't being modern. It's like saying that because we have the ability to produce blobby things with computers today, that's all we can do. In architecture courses now, if you do traditional work they fail you or recommend you go into conservation. It's like a cult and if an architect is to be recommended or chosen through a competition, you will invariably end up with a Modernist building. Simon Jenkins found the V&A's show "the most terrifying exhibition I have seen." The modernists were the neocons of 20th-century art. They took a sound methodology -- the questioning of conventional wisdom -- and made it a dogma that brooked no opposition, even from reality ... Modernists approached the past not as an aesthete does, respectfully building on it, but as an autocrat, destroying it and substituting his own values and rules. And ain't that the truth. All the best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Tall, who points out this hilarious, sensible, and well-illustrated James Lileks visit to Minneapolis' avant-garde, Jean Nouvel-designed,... posted by Michael at June 18, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to visitor Robert Holzbach, who found and passed along this beautiful online gallery of fantasy art. Amazing visuals, and stunningly presented: You can click in for very close views. As Robert writes, "With subject titles like 'Possession and Insanity' and 'Danse Macabre,', what's not to love?" * Peter wrestles with a moral dilemma on the LIRR. * I meant long ago to link to John Baker's blog but am only now catching up to doing so. An English writer, John is hilarious, well-seasoned, brainy, and very tart on any number of subjects, including book publishing and modernism. * A good line from Joseph Stiglitz: There is obviously something peculiar about a global financial system in which the richest country in the world, the United States, borrows more than $2 billion a day from poorer countries -- even as it lectures them on principles of good governance and fiscal responsibility. * I hang out in the wrong parking lots. (NSFW) * Mary Scriver turned up this amusing piece -- insightful and perverse both -- by the British art critic and artist Matthew Collings. I also enjoyed this talk between Collings and Julie Copeland about Robert Hughes. My own reaction to Collings is an odd one. I think he's brilliant, and I agree with about 80% of what he says -- a high ratio, especially given that I often find him very annoying. This page shows a couple of the paintings that Collings has made in collaboration with his wife, Emma Biggs. * Watching "Children of the Century" and "The Dreamers" has Prairie Mary herself asking one of those key questions: How did the idea of Romanticism seize us so deeply and thoroughly even way out here on the prairie? Is it the existential result of war? ... How did we get sex and violence so enmeshed with love and tenderness? Who knows what the answer is, of course. But how can you be an arts buff and not spend some time gnawing at that one? * Iran is now the nose-job capital of the world. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 18, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, June 16, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson tips us off to "Young American Bodies" -- a new (and popular, and NSFW) example of the latest audiovisual-through-time storytelling form: the ongoing webshort video series. I didn't love "YAB" myself, but it did leave me convinced that the webshort-series is a super-promising new format. Looking into the official Blowhards crystal ball, I see much ferment and excitement in the field, and I predict that great things will come of it. I was much happier watching Neal Medlyn's zany and sweet "Land of Make Believe," a free-associating, eerily-comic performance-art jamboree. Medlyn's imagination is something to behold; his show (also an ongoing webshort series) is like "PeeWee Herman's Playhouse," but on a billionth the budget and with the perversity worn on its sleeve -- and proudly so. Kinky! Bizarre! Fun! Speaking of web-video ... I continue to spend far too much time digging up old music-performance clips from YouTube. One of my favorite recent finds: the tough (look at that plaid shirt), hard-rockin' Big Mama Thornton doing her formidably funky/swampy version of "Hound Dog." You don't mess with Big Mama! -- who, by the way, recorded the song three years before Elvis Presley did. I notice that surfing for and watching video on the web is already beginning to seem natural to me, while the ritual of sitting down before the TV has begun to feel staid and archaic. I wonder if the suits at the networks are terrified of what YouTube represents. Here's Wikipedia's entry on Big Mama Thornton. Best, Michael UPDATE: Agnostic has been prowling YouTube too. You can enjoy what he's turned up here, here, and here. Don't miss this one, which pretty much embodies all of today's visual / conceptual language. It has everything: lip-synching, thong-flashing, mugging for the camera, cute Japanimation eyes, MTV cutting, with all the ingredients Cuisinarted together on iMovie ... It's a bedroom-webcam aesthetic. It's also a whole new world, one that doesn't belong to anyone over the age of 25. To be fair, the clip is also amusing, cute, and well-done. Small discovery for today: As far as I've been able to tell, the song that has been lip-synched more often than any other is "Hey, Mickey." I wrote a little item about Toni Basil here.... posted by Michael at June 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

They've Said What I Think I'm Thinking, I Think
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's always pleasing to run across people who have done a far better job than you could yourself of putting your thoughts and hunches (or something close to them) into words. It saves so much effort. I didn't find John Gray's thoughts about Iraq and Kosovo (in this interview with Jonathan Derbyshire) very interesting: current events, feh. But his analysis of the difficulties naive liberals often have with the persistence of religion was awfully sharp, and his presentation of his own kind of "naturalism" was fearless and helpful. Fun excerpt: I think the spirit of naturalism goes against secular theories of progress and hope. Yes, knowledge grows, technology develops. But the key insight of naturalism is that the analogy or metaphor, the undoubted fact of progress in science is extended by the positivists to ethics and politcs, the insight of naturalism is that that metaphor or analogy is misguided. The analogy between scientific progress and ethics and politics whereby there is a convergence on values just as, in science, there is convergence on a true picture of the world, is a myth we inherit from the positivists. I guess that I'm a "naturalist" myself, at least on some days of the week, and at least of the Gray-ian sort. John Gray is an interesting figure: a kind of neo-Oakeshottian conservative/liberal of a sort I often find simpatico, at least intellectually-speaking. (I've enjoyed the couple of books of his that I've read. They're super-smart, open-minded, and very accessible. Here's a Guardian profile of John Gray. Here's Wikipedia's entry on him.) As far as I'm concerned, he's also one of those eerie cases; when I check in on his work and his thought, I often discover that his brain has been gnawing on some of what my brain has been gnawing on. Fun, if also a little freaky. Here's a looooong piece by Gray about F.A. Hayek. How I wish that John Gray sometimes devoted his brainpower to the arts. God knows that the arts discussion could use some of his sui generis incisiveness and provocation. I just ran across some of that, though. This interview with the philosopher Elizabeth Grosz struck me as the best general (and short, and readable) piece of arts BigThink that I've read since Denis Dutton's last piece. Grosz combines a little Darwin, some French theory, a pleasing dash of empiricism, and some cultural anthropology. Nifty passage: I take it that all forms of art are a kind of excessive affection of the body, or an intensification of the body of the kind which is also generated in sexuality. So it's something really fundamentally sexual about art, about all of the arts, even though they're very sublimated. What art is about is about the constriction of the materials, so the materials then become aestheticised or pleasurable. The pleasure of those materials has to do with the intensification of the body. So this impulse to art is to not make oneself seductive... posted by Michael at June 16, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Immigration Visuals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the puzzles of the immigration debate is this: Where are the voices of the mainstream environmental groups? It wasn't so long ago that population growth was a major concern of the enviro set. Our current policies are on course to increase our population dramatically -- already, two-thirds of U.S. population growth is due to immigration. And a "reform" that's anything like the recently-passed Senate atrocity will make our population skyrocket. Yet the major environmental groups seem silent on the topic. Might this have something to do with the fact that many of them share bedspace with the Democrats, who like all those new, Dem-voting immigrants? Or perhaps it's a function of the power of the foundations that provide a lot of the enviros' funding? Brenda Walker reveals how one immigration-lovin', big-pocketed donor co-opted the Sierra Club in 1996. Eco-immortal David Brower resigned from the Sierra Club in 2000 specifically over the issue of population growth. "Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of the problem. It has to be addressed," he said. FAIR surveyed 20 of the country's major enviro groups and found that only six of them dare to make much of the immigration issue. Population growth is one of the reasons that the immigration question concerns me as much as it does. It seems clear that we can sustain a larger population than the one we currently have. But is there any reason we should want to do so? We're a rich country; we get to choose. As far as I'm concerned, population density that's twice what it was in 1970 -- and this is what we're likely to have by 2050 -- is a prospect that I find very unappealing. For one reason, all those new immigrants aren't going to be filling up the wide-open plains of North Dakota and Kansas. No, they'll be moving to where the crowds already are -- namely, to where you and I probably live. Do expressways and schools in your neck of the woods seem crowded now? Is sprawl eating up the cornfields? You ain't seen nothing yet. This morning I noticed an article in the NYTimes about how violent crime in many Northeastern cities is on the upswing. (I couldn't find this report online.) The cause: "the spread of gangs to smaller cities and suburbs." Any bets about whether gang problems are likely to become more or less severe as cities' immigrant populations continue to grow? For those who (like me) find that a few visuals can enhance their comprehension, here's an informative video clip presented by Roy Beck of NumbersUSA. You'll see simple graphics illustrating how current immigration rates look compared to rates from the period 1925-1965. (Takeaway lesson: There's nothing normal or inevitable about current policies.) And you'll see how the country's population future looks under a variety of scenarios. Good line from Roy Beck (paraphrased): Do we really want the rest of the country... posted by Michael at June 15, 2006 | perma-link | (43) comments

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hey Miike
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Over the weekend, the Wife and I were dazzled and amazed by Takashi Miike's beyond-brilliant, beyond-edgy yakuza thriller "Dead or Alive." If your experience of extreme cinema has been limited to the relatively-mainstream likes of "Natural Born Killers" and "Pulp Fiction," you owe it to yourself to sample Miike's best work, which makes Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino look like kids playing make-believe with nursery toys. Miike, by comparison, knows how to make a movie sting. The Wife and I are big fans of "Dead or Alive," "Audition," and especially "Ichi the Killer," which has to be one of the most galvanizing yet hard-to-take movies ever made. Friends who are even bigger filmgeeks than we are tell us that Miike has made more than his fair share of stinkers. (He tends to direct four to even eight movies a year.) But these are all buckle-your-seatbelt performances that are likely to leave you gasping. I wrote about other extreme movies here and here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 14, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Heading South
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Susie Bright points out a Washington Post article claiming that many college-aged men are having trouble getting it up. Assuming that there's something to the article's substance, how to explain this phenomenon? My own attempt at a possible account goes this way. We're living in a pumped-up, lascivious, sex-saturated culture. Our erotic centers are being massaged, indeed attacked, almost constantly -- so relentlessly that we're left feeling that if we aren't spending every instant of the day on the verge of orgasm then there's something amiss. Lacking sexual desire, in other words, has become a taboo. And -- as will often happen with taboos -- some young men are becoming obsessed with this one. Also, difficult though it can be to believe when you're 18, it's only human to spend the occasional nanosecond not thinking about sex, and not desiring sex. What happens to a young guy's psychology if he's made to feel that there's something wrong when he experiences these nanoseconds of nondesire? He might develop a complex. And complexes can indeed lead to droopiness. As for the female role in all this ... Yeah, I guess I do wonder if the gung-ho, ultra-aggressive, and completely unmysterious young women that we have been cultivating in recent decades might be a factor in the equation. An environment consisting of Maxim clones, thong straps, Spring Break, bellybuttons, take-charge gals, and online porno supermarkets might not be an erotic paradise after all. Instead it might be completely unmanning. As The Wife enjoys saying: Men like to have hurdles to leap over. So how do you explain the new non-stiffy? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 14, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Kapsinow attends that rare thing: a public presentation where snapshots triumphed over fancy computer graphics. * Here's a young man who knows how to savor his food. * For those who can never get too much sexy album-cover art ... * Women in Western countries can now pursue whatever career they choose to. Have the consequences of this development been all to the good? Alison Wolf -- a leftist and a progressive -- thinks not. She responds to critics here. * Also in the Prospect, David Goodhart makes a level-headed argument that the left needs to stop ridiculing those concerned about immigration issues, and to take these issues seriously. He cites factors that visitors to 2Blowhards will be familiar with: declining levels of trust and national cohesion, pressures on the least well-educated sectors of society, and the fact that stances on these issues don't divide up along predictable left/right axes. Nice passage: In economics and sociology the left embraces the idea of group interests and affinities. But when it comes to culture or national sentiment, the left switches to a rhetoric of individualism, implicitly seeing society -- or at least the dominant culture -- as no more than a collection of individuals with no special ties towards each other. This "blank sheet" individualism often employs the language of internationalism and universalism, increasingly the preferred discourse of elites (of both left and right) in contrast to the economic and cultural communitarianism of most ordinary people. Critics respond here. Steve Sailer takes some of Goodhart's points and runs with them. * Let it not be said that Steve Sailer lacks guts: Here's a posting where Steve dares to ask whether Jews are doing themselves a favor by shielding themselves from objective criticism in the media. I think Steve makes a very good point. How could such a strategy result in anything but self-delusion, and lots of backed-up resentment? * Jay Manifold finally catches up with David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America" and -- as his fellow ChicagoBoyz have done before him -- raves about the book. * Once again the porn business is out there ahead of the mainstream. Which reminds me of a question I've often wondered about: In America, is the porn business our real avant-garde? * Mentos plus Diet Coke equals a very good show. * Fans of tacky and colorful vintage paperback bookjackets ("She was every inch a hellcat!") should enjoy this page. * Grandma! Grandpa! Say it ain't so! (NSFW) * Those curious about Heather Mills' softcore past can eyeball examples of her work here. (NSFW) * Here's a helpful (and brief) discussion of megalomania and narcissism. I'm reminded of more than a few people I've known ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Women and Men, The Definitive Statement
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Brilliant and hilarious. As for whether it's true about why women put men through the endless, agonizing commitment-testing that they do ... Well, it's certainly one of the more entertaining shots at an explanation that I've ever heard. I was led to the page by a posting at Marginal Revolution. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 14, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Equilibrium vs. Jiggle
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where economics is concerned, I'm incapable of doing anything but dog-paddling around the shallow end. (I have a strong aversion to charts and graphs as well as a, er, small problem with any math that ventures beyond adding and subtracting ...) I'm not about to let my disabilities stop me from having strong opinions about the field, though. "Equilibrium," for instance: What in the world is that obsession about? (Wikipedia tries to explain.) Why would anyone think that it's in the nature of a market to tend towards an equilibrium? The preoccupation with equilibrium strikes me as such an odd thing that I find myself suspecting all of academic economics of being a species of mass self-delusion. My killer argument? Well, goshdarnit, life just doesn't seem to work that way. I have a hard time, in fact, thinking of anything in life that I'd be comfortable describing as tending towards equilibrium. Marriage? Nope. Health? Nope. Ideas? Feelings? Nope and nope. Life seems to me to be something that we sometimes lead, that sometimes happens to us, and whose nature is semi-decently characterized as being in a semi-constant, ever-evolving, highly-unpredictable state of disarray. Except when it isn't, of course. Steve Keen, one of the most articulate of the Post-Autistic Economics gang, gets in some digs at the equilibrium-obsession in this interview with the Yale Economics Review. He gets in digs at many other academic-economics assumptions too, but they're all over my head. (Thanks once again to Jimbo for introducing me to the Post-Autistics.) Keen may have a political agenda for all I know, and one that's worth being wary of. If so, I don't know what it is. I do like the one agenda-bit that's clear from the Yale interview, though: Keen would like to see economists become less arrogant. Let's hear it for that. A nice quote: "Economists meddle with the economy in a way that ecologists do not meddle with an ecology. Neoclassical economists -- and for that matter Keynesian economists before them -- act as if they not only understand this most complex of systems, but also know how to make it function better: just make it look more like the textbook models." Keen isn't shy about taking on the whole neoclassical-economics tradition: "[Adam] Smith put forward the notion that the market established a "natural order": in place of the rigid hierarchy of feudalism we would have the beneficent equilibrium of the market. This has been the organizing vision of mainstream economists ever since -- whether of Classical or Neoclassical bent. Only the Classical malcontents (Hobson, Marx, etc.), the Austrians, Schumpeter, and to some extent the Post Keynesians, have pushed the perspective that capitalist society is unstable; and only Schumpeter and the Austrians have seen this instability as a good thing. There has been a strong desire to prove preconceived notions of stability, optimality, equilibrium, welfare maximization, etc., and this has perverted the theory whenever it has transpired -- as it almost... posted by Michael at June 13, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: * Michael posted here about architectural awards, including one for the restoration of the interior of Washington State's Legislative (capitol) Building. The restoration was done in conjunction with repairs and structural upgrading in response to the 28 February 2001 earthquake I mentioned here. Said building lies but a couple hundred yards from where I work. It isn't new, construction being underway 80 years ago. I suppose I'm biased, but I consider it perhaps the best-designed of the state capitol buildings, most of which seem to sport rather anemic-looking domes. Here are two views of the outside. The first view is from the northeast, then second is from the south. * It seems to be World Cup time again. That means Certain People are in white-faced panic at the thought of Englishmen at "football" matches carrying/waving/flaunting the Flag of St. George. You see, it's all so ... nationalistic and that's, well, eeeevil!! Flag of St George This is the flag of England itself, and is incorporated in the more familiar Union Flag or Union Jack (its best-known, but unofficial name). Hope I didn't terrify you by showing it. * Now for a quick Bleg. Nancy and I plan to be in Germany in September. I've pretty well nailed down lodging for the non-tour group part of the trip. However, I'd like to spend a night in the vicinity of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Schwaebisch Hall or perhaps a tad west. These places are a bit small for big-chain hotels, so I'm wondering if any readers know of nice hotels there that might cost 100 Euros a night or less. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 13, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Aesthetic Ivy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am very, very sorry. We Blowhards (Michael, Friedrich and I, at least) are wretched non-egalitarians if for no other reason than several years of our dark pasts were spent in ... in ... Lousy Ivy Universities. One small way for me to atone for this sin is to initiate a Comments Pile-On. Subject for today is Ivy League campuses. For those suffering the damnation of getting an elite education, who is drawing, so to speak, the long and short straws? I'll start things off in a sec -- but first a (not necessarily representative, given what I could find via Google) set of pictures, one per school. Ivy Gallery Brown Columbia Cornell Dartmouth Harvard Penn Princeton Yale As for setting, I'd say Cornell's is most spectacular, being "high above Cayuga's waters" and all. Next would be Dartmouth, nestled next to not-very-large Hanover in the New Hampshire hills. Then comes Princeton, partly in the town, yet facing a greenbelt to the east that gives it some separation from the U.S. 1 commercial/office strip that has been a'building since the 1960s. The other Ivies are in cities, and that limits possibilities. Columbia in New York City fares worst, being crammed into its site with little expansion prospect except upwards. Yale does reasonably well in an urban context because its campus forms a sort of transition zone between downtown New Haven and a residential area. Penn wards off its city surroundings by virtue of having lots and lots of trees; the place strikes me as being lush twixt early April and the end of October. Architecturally I say Yale wins, hands-down. The quadrangles and their (mostly) Collegiate Gothic architecture using similar stone provide both structure and visual unity. Princeton comes close if you consider only its dormitory area and perhaps the Firestone Library, but the rest of the campus is a hodge-podge of shapes and styles. Penn has a variety of architectural styles, but imposes some unity by having many buildings faced with wine-colored brick and grey stone or concrete accents. Dartmouth, like all colleges built over a span of many decades, has more than one style, yet manages the aura of a New England town. Cornell has a number of nice buildings enhanced by a park-like setting. Otherwise, I say Columbia is the least-distinguished Ivy from an architectural standpoint. Harvard, having been through centuries of development, strikes me as non-descript. I'll withhold comment on Brown. I gave it a look-see back in 1965 when I was considering going there, but haven't visited since. Overall I rate Yale, Dartmouth and perhaps Cornell tops for a student seeking an aesthetic Ivy experience. Then come Princeton, Penn and Harvard (in that order) to form the middle range. Columbia rates last on all counts and Brown, as just mentioned, cannot be fairly rated by me. I have spoken. Now Pile On. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 13, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, June 12, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards - Have a look at what the American Institute of Architects deems the top buildings of the year. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 12, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Funny (Automobile) Faces
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The prime purpose of automobile styling is to sell cars. No doubt some stylists and academic design-groupies make the "art for art's sake" pitch, but in my book such talk would be public relations or wishful thinking from the respective sources. One sales-related aspect of car styling is brand image. Some brands feature well-established styling cues that carry over from model to model and year to year. Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz and Packard (all luxury makes) are/were notable examples. General Motors had strong brand cues in the 1950s, but failed to follow-up subsequently as I noted in a post dealing with Buick's "portholes." Other makes do little in the way of long-term cues. Ford, for example, has tried many styling themes over the past 70 years, but never stuck with one for very long. About the most consistent cue over the last 20 years is the blue oval with the word "Ford" in script, a trademark borrowed from the 1920s. A recent, and to me strange and ugly attempt to establish a styling cue comes from Volkswagen and its Audi subsidiary. A styling cue gone wrong, in my opinion. Let's take a look. Gallery This is a scene from a race in the late 1930s. The lead car is an Auto Union, followed by what appear to be two Mercedes and an Alfa Romeo. Auto Union was a company formed from previously independent makes including Horch. After World War 2 the Horch was revived as the Audi brand -- "horch" and "audi" being German and Latin forms of the word "harken." The Auto Union race cars were designed by Ferdinand Porsche's engineering firm, which also designed the Volkswagen. Volkswagen eventually absorbed Audi. This is a closer view of the grille of an Audi race car -- not the car pictured above. The grille shown here is supposedly the inspiration for the styling cue under discussion. To establish a benchmark, here is an Audi A4 from a few years ago. Note the conventional grille that Audi stylists decided to juice up. This is a current Audi. The rennwagen (race car) inspired grill splashes over the nose, engulfing the bumper. A functional-purist stylist or an academic critic might contend that this design does not express the functionality of the bumper. This is true. Functionality aside, the "face" presented by the car has crossed vertical-horizontal elements that are nearly-enough visually balanced so as to create a confused impression. Worse, the Audi styling cue has recently been passed down to Volkswagen whose connection to Auto Union is far more tenuous and harder to justify. Further, it blurs the distinction between the two brands -- likely an intentional result, but hard to explain from a marketing standpoint. Another car with a prominant grille is the Chrysler 300. The bumper is nearly invisible (worrysome to me and perhaps to my insurance company), but the vertical-horizontal conflict mentioned above is eliminated; the theme is more coherent. The dominant-subordinate grille bar theme, by the... posted by Donald at June 12, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, June 11, 2006

How I Helped Build an "Atomic Bomb"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: Nowadays, nuclear weapons proliferate and our Opinion Elite shrugs. Between 1949, when the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear device, and 1991 when the Soviet Union expired, the Opinion Elite was worried sick about nuclear war. During that period, American armed forces included nuclear warfare as part of training activities and I got a whiff of it in Basic Training. I joined the Army a couple months after the Berlin Wall was started. During training, the Soviets set off one of the largest hydrogen bombs ever detonated. The world situation was tense and there was a more-than-academic possibility that we trainees would have to fight on a battlefield with atomic bombs or even hydrogen bombs exploding. Whether we would have to fight in a nuclear environment depended upon (1) the chance that the USA and USSR would be at war, and (2) the chance that nuclear weapons would be used in that war. This was grist for Herman Kahn, too abstract and unknowable for me to bother with. So, in spite of the Berlin crisis and Khrushchev's H-bomb rattling, I wasn't really worried about an outbreak of World War III -- that fear became stronger less than a year later when the Cuban missile crisis hit, me being stationed not far outside prime-target Washington, DC at that time. Crises aside, I never worried about nuclear war back in the 50s and early 60s . Yet if you read some of the articles I sometimes come across, the country was supposedly living in terror of death and destruction. Moreover, I don't remember any of my friends being terror-stricken either even though we lived in a town where B-52 bombers were being built. But some people felt that way; I guess I never traveled in those circles. (By "worry" I mean obsessively stew over the matter. By the age of 10 or 11, I was quite aware of the destructive potential of nuclear war, and I assume most of my friends were too. But we didn't become permanently terrified, figuring there was nothing much we could do about the problem. So we went on with life, doing the mature thing for once.) And as for the nuclear battlefield, I (and for all I know, the rest of the trainees) weren't very concerned. No doubt if a war was underway we would have worried a lot. But we would have known that, in combat, there are many ways to get killed and that atomic weapons were only one means out of many that could accomplish that. One way nukes were looked at militarily was that they were simply very large explosives that killed or wounded you -- or didn't. Aside from "wounding radiation," a result of close exposure to a blast, radiation was not a combat factor. It might kill you years or decades later, but the main thing was to get the war won first. Sometimes one has to examine things in cold blood. Let me modify... posted by Donald at June 11, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Hasselhoff's Latest
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not entirely sure that the Master has succeeded in sustaining the inspiration level he showed in his immortal version of "Hooked on a Feeling." But not even Tolstoy was able to crank out nothing but masterpieces. And, if for nothing other than raw ego and shamelessness, Hoff's version of "Secret Agent Man" merits applause -- as well as close critical study. You can buy the original song (and more) here. Did you know that Johnny Rivers was born John Ramistella? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 10, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Fact for the Day: Cheerleader Injuries
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An item in Prevention Magazine informs me that "over the past 10 years, the number of cheerleaders sent to the hospital with an injury has more than doubled." (The fact isn't online that I can tell, but here's Prevention's website.) That's an impressive increase. Still, given how virtuosic -- not to say insane -- the stunts are that cheerleading teams perform these days, I can't say that I'm entirely surprised. Best, Michael UPDATE: Aha, here's an article citing the original research a little more directly: "In a study published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics, the authors conclude the number of emergency room visits for cheerleaders between the ages of 5 and 18 increased 110 percent from 1990 to 2002." According to the report, 16,000 cheerleaders are injured "seriously" every year. I notice that typing "cheerleading" and "stunt" into YouTube yields over 500 video hits.... posted by Michael at June 10, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, June 9, 2006

Manny Farber
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a big fan of both Manny Farber's paintings and Manny Farber's film criticism, I was thrilled to read that a new show of his visuals was recently on display in La Jolla, and that a new collection of his writing about movies will be coming along soon. (He has often co-written with his wife, the artist Patricia Patterson.) Duncan Shepherd's memoir of being a student and a friend of Farber's is a bit scattershot, but I also found it touching, as well as very good on the kind of boho, freeform lives many filmnerds and artnerds lead. Hard to believe that Manny Farber will soon turn 90 ... Best, Michael UPDATE: I just this minute stumbled across the blog of David Chute, one of the very best of the Boomer film critics. As a reviewer, Chute is supersmart and perceptive about movies; as a blogger, he's all that, plus frank about the pleasures and travails of the critic life. A few good passages: I've found myself wishing many times over the years that there was something else I had learned along the way that people were willing to pay me to do. (Folding socks? Reading detective novels?) ... If the day ever comes when I cobble togethr 40 whole hours of remunerative employment I imagine it will be sweet to pursue writing, if I decide to do so at all, strictly as an amateur activity in the best sense, as a labor of love. When I changed the course of my life in the mid-1980s by leaving a full-time job as a critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner I was moved as much as anything by disgust at the level to which second-string critics have to stoop, writing for weeks on end only about the purest, dullest trash. One's job in a case like this becames a mad tap-dance, trashing the film as entertainingly as possible so that at least the experience of reading about it wouldn't be a total loss ... I think only a bully could sincerely enjoy doing this work week in and week out. And there is likely some connection between the state of mind required to feel self-righteous while humiliating people, and how notoriously thin skinned many critics are when they find themselves on the receiving end.... posted by Michael at June 9, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I recently learned via Peter L. Winkler that the well-known showbiz personal manager Jay Bernstein has died. Bernstein, often to be seen on the E! Channel reminiscing about his glory days, literally started in the mailroom at William Morris, then later helped make the careers of Suzanne Sommers and Farrah Fawcett. Peter interviewed Bernstein once and liked him. * Did you know that Americans dispose of 472 billion pounds of trash every year? That's only 2 percent of the country's total waste stream -- industrial refuse accounts for the rest. Let's see ... 50 times 472 billion ... (Sound of awesome computer-brain crunching great big numbers ...) That's a whole lot of trash. Can this really be true? * James Kunstler wonders what a contemporarary Progressivism might look like. * So now we need to worry about milk? * Quiet Bubble confesses that he generally prefers novellas to novels. I'm with him on that. * I have no idea what a good Bollywood musical sequence would look like -- popular Indian movies are a weak spot in my film education. But I was amused by this one, especially when the chorus joins in and everyone sings and dances in unison. MGM meets Shiva and Ganesha! * Take your friends out for a cruise on this old/modern beauty. Cost? A mere 300 grand a week. * Swinging through on a visit, Colleen sees the Midwest for what it is. I found Colleen's #9 especially, even urgently, true: "When visiting land-locked states and given a choice between the fish or the beef, pick the beef. Seriously." * Ginny finds evidence of Hard and Soft America at the junior college where she teaches. * Steve is growing a little weary of the Wall Street Journal. * Anyone intrigued or annoyed by my recent musings about movie reviewing should enjoy exploring Andy Horbal's recent bouquet of movielinks. * Medieavalist Jeff pays a visit to Whole Foods and finds a little bit of Olde Iceland on a shelf. * How did I miss this when it first came out -- a Roger Scruton appreciation of Jane Jacobs. Fun to see that Scruton includes some praise for James Kunstler too. Scruton and Kunstler (and of course Jacobs) rank very high in my pantheon of writers about architecture and urbanism. I wrote my own love letter to Jacobs here. Scruton recently wrote a posting (and a followup) about the ethics of meat-eating for Right Reason. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Science Trivia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 4/5ths of what the brash young Einsteins at GNXP discuss sails right over my head. But every now and then something comes along that even my English-major brain can latch onto. For instance: Did you know that East Asians have less b.o. -- er, fewer Apocrine sweat glands -- than people of Euro and African descent do? (It's true, says Wikipedia.) Nice of them to put up with the rest of us. I also loved being led by a comment on this posting to this jaw-dropping article about one of the most isolated population groups in the world: the Sentinelese, a tribe of around 250 living (almost) undisturbed in Stone Age conditions on an island in the Bay of Bengal. A fascinating passage: It is not certain whether, outside the Andaman Islands, there still exists any community that has had as little contact with civilization as the Sentinelese. Pandit and his colleagues say there is none. Several American anthropologists I have spoken to agree with them. (But then, they had not previously heard of the Sentinelese, either.) The "Stone Age" tribes I read about in college, ten years ago, were - I now discover - already well acquainted with the outside world, and are now even more so. The Yanomami ("the fierce people," as the subtitle of one of my textbooks described them) prostitute themselves to Brazilian gold miners, while the !Kung San are chased off game reserves to make way for eco-tourism in the Kalahari Desert. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Film on Friday
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been playing with iMovie, Apple's mom-and-pop film-editing program. After a week of intense study, I've mastered precisely four skills: importing footage, splitting clips, arranging them on the timeline, and importing a sound file. OK, "mastered" may be overstating the case. And dig that zany score! Betcha can't guess who has been messing around with Apple's groove-based sound-editing toy GarageBand too. Danny Elfman, watch out. Blushing like a shy virgin, I hereby present my very first YouTube. The money boys back at the studio tell me that my masterpiece still needs trimming and punching-up. But screw them, man. Even if -- OK, sure -- there may be some longeuers, I'm taking a stand for the artist's creative freedom. There are some things you just can't compromise on. Anyway, I encourage my fans to consider this the Director's Cut. The Wife tells me that watching this video was exactly like walking around NYC by my side. I'm not sure she intended her remark as such, but I'm taking it as my first rave review ... A short list of iMovie skills that elude me: How to fade music out. How to shorten the black bit that comes after the white letters on a title card. And what on earth are those little strobey flashes doing in some of the cuts? Sigh: time for a visit to the local Apple Store for advice. Still, whatever my beefs with Macs and with Apple's software, I do keep in mind that they enable even the likes of me to have fun with computers. Roger expresses gratitude to a certain Mr. Jobs, reminding me of how much those of us born without the tech gene owe to The House that Steve Built. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Graduation Ceremony Etiquette
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Don those mortarboards! Flip those tassels! It's graduation time!! I hate graduation ceremonies. Don't like watching 'em. Don't like being in 'em. But when duty calls, I'm there. The last ones I attended were around 10 years ago when my kids graduated from high school. There were a few marked differences from the ceremonies I attended when my sister and I finished high school. In late 1950s Seattle the audiences were polite and disciplined, applauding at appropriates times, remaining seated for the entire event. Not so in late 1990s Olympia. There was constant motion. Worse, family groups whooped and clapped when their own little darling strode across the stage to snatch the diploma. I thought it was selfish, stupid, and undignified. What should (in my opinion) have been a solemn, important rite of passage was turned into a cross between a zoo and a daytime TV show audience. School officials did nothing to stop the behavior. And when the school principal spoke, much of his talk was a recitation of statistics supposedly demonstrating what a brilliant senior class it was (he did this for both my son's class and my daughter's). I forget the details, but he quoted astonishingly high shares of the class graduating with grade points exceeding 3.5 and 3.8 (where 4.0 is perfect). The phrase "grade inflation" kept buzzing in my brain. Fool that I am, I just couldn't quite believe that a massive genetic shift had occurred between my generation and the following one. As I said, I hate graduation ceremonies. And they seem to be getting worse. Can someone convince me I'm mistaken? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 7, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Quitting AOL
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just closed down a stray and useless AOL account. A small chore, you'd think -- but it took me an hour to accomplish: roughly 30 minutes figuring out how to do it (AOL's webpages and Help section are of no use at all), and then 30 minutes on the horn. What a dumb waste of time. Googling around, I've found that it's hyper-common for people to experience exasperation -- AOL rage? -- trying to leave AOL. AOL makes quitting AOL very difficult. Screw 'em for that. So in a frame of mind that's both vindictive and yet public-spirited, let me pass along the key phone number: 1-800-827-6364. That's 1-800-827-6364. 1-800-827-6364. Prepare to spend a lot of time wrangling with automated demands, wait time, and even (once you've finally landed yourself a live human being) many pushy offers and near-threats intended to keep you on board. But I'm pleased to report that, so long as you're persistent and have some time to kill, quitting AOL can indeed be done. Here's a funny account by Dave Taylor about his own efforts to leave AOL. That phone number once again is: 1-800-827-6364. Set yourself free! Best, Michael PS: I hear good things about this Firefox extension, which blocks Flash-powered content. All those zippy, wiggly, strobing ads that can make a computer screen so hard on the eye and the brain? They can now be things of the past.... posted by Michael at June 7, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Richard Wheeler on Book Publishing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Prairie Mary, I've recently had the pleasure of e-meeting the novelist Richard Wheeler. The author of dozens of published novels, Richard has had a serious lot of experience with book publishing. I asked him if I can publish part of a beautiful and informative talk he recently gave to a group of writing students, and he kindly agreed. Lucky us: Let's hear it for people who are generous enough to share the wisdom. I was going introduce his talk with a graceful paragraph of my own introducing Richard -- but the paragraph that Richard sent me about himself was so much more elegant than anything I'd be able to turn out that I've decided to simply reprint it. Please meet Richard Wheeler: I was born in suburban Milwaukee, 1935. I spent my early years as a newsman, but after assorted firings it dawned on me that news gathering was not my calling, so I became a book editor, working for two or three scholarly and public affairs presses in the Midwest. The oil recession of the early 70s put me back on the streets, so I wrote my first novels, which were purchased by Doubleday. I've made my living as an obscure novelist ever since, doing historical and biographical novels, as well as genre westerns. I count it a blessing that the New York Times Book Review has never heard of me and never will. I've written sixty-odd novels, 58 published so far and others are in process. I've won five Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, and have been a finalist numerous times. One of my novels won a starred lead review in Publishers Weekly. My wife, Sue Hart, is an English professor and writer/producer of PBS documentaries, one of them dealing with Ernest Hemingway's sojourns in Montana. I live in Livingston, Montana, which has a delightful literary and film tradition, and wilderness in sight from most every window. And now on to his talk, given last fall in Whitefish, Montana. Here's Richard Wheeler: *** I am pleased to be here today. Thank you for coming here and listening to an elderly novelist wend his way along the primrose path. Writing skills are largely self-taught, but perhaps I can steer you in a new direction, and maybe I will inspire you to try something different and promising. I am hoping to persuade you to look at literature in new ways. I am also hoping that you will find yourself writing more compelling novels and selling them successfully. We are all familiar with the idea that there is literary fiction, and there is popular fiction. Most of us choose to write in one realm or the other. Literary fiction is considered the more prestigious form of the novel, the more serious art, and is regarded as a higher calling than popular fiction. Literary fiction is usually defined as the examination of the human condition. The literary novelist sets out to depict... posted by Michael at June 7, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Fave Fairs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What ever happened to world's fairs? Well, they're still happening. I didn't realize that. Once upon a time, I thought world's fairs were a Big Deal. But I haven't paid much attention to them in many years and assumed most other folks didn't either. Nevertheless, enough people care about them that more are in the works: a big one is coming up in Shanghai in 2010, for example. Here is a web site with fair info, including dates and location of fairs going back to the 1851 London fair in Hyde Park that gave the world the Crystal Palace iron-and-glass structure that became a design cliche for several 19th century fairs. Without going into details, there are flavors of world's fairs: big and small basically, the smaller ones often having a regional or thematic focus. The big ones come along every decade or so and are the ones you're likely to hear about in the national news media. Large fairs are sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions (the major exception being the 1964-65 New York World's Fair). If you want more details, click here. I have visited four fairs: Seattle, 1962; New York (in 1965); Spokane, 1974; and Vancouver, 1986. It was the Vancouver fair that finally got me turned off on world's fairs. Plenty of exhibits -- but not all -- were the multi-media kind where viewers became packaged meat on moving walkways. Once en route one is trapped, having to look at whatever the exhibit designer wants one to see in the designated sequence with music and a carefully-scripted voice-over blaring in one's ears. I found I could take one or two of these exhibits, but after that I felt I was being driven crazy. Upon reflection, I think all the fairs I saw lacked the excitement of some previous fairs that I never had the opportunity to see. In my book, the "golden age" of world's fairs ended in 1939. Why haven't post-World War 2 fairs measured up? In part because architectural themes seem to be lacking; the buildings tend to be a hodge-podge of "Look at me!!" structures that cancel each other's impact. Another likely fair-killer is the demolition of distance caused by air travel and satellite-based communications. Much of the stuff displayed in fairs is already known to us via television, the Internet or personal travel, thus reducing its impact. Or so I think. I hope to blog about individual fairs, so for now I'll simply list the ones I wish I could have seen and suggest why. 1893 Chicago, for its architectural impact. I'd love to be able to personally assess the notion that it set back Modernism -- as historians have claimed. 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. This was not a sanctioned world's fair, but I think it was hugely important for the fields of Architecture and Industrial Design. 1933 Chicago. Another design-theme exposition of interest (like the 1893 fair and... posted by Donald at June 6, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, June 5, 2006

The Tattoo for You?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: I'm a pretty cautious soul. Even so, when I was in my late teens the thought of getting a tattoo passed through my mind a time or two. But the thought never stuck. It seems I had just enough maturity (or was displaying my normal caution) to realize that whatever tattoo I got might not seem so wonderful years later. Tattoos weren't nearly as common in the 50s as they are today. Yes, Life magazine once had a feature showing people sporting Chinese dragons and other elaborate images over most of their skin. Yes, there were tattoo parlors near Seattle's waterfront that catered to seamen and others who fancied being tattooed. And yes, there was even a club/gang at my junior high school whose members had crude, do-it-yourself tattoos of a scimitar piercing skin on the left shoulder to signify membership (shockingly to us, even one girl had one). On the other hand, the famous Marlboro cigarette Marlboro Man advertising campaign was launched in 1954. The original Man was, if I recall correctly, a cowboy with an anchor tattooed on the back of one hand. The concept was to connote a he-man with an interesting past. A side-effect was to add a dash of legitimacy to tattoos. Marlboro Advertisement, 1950s. Nevertheless, tattooing remained a lower-class practice until fairly recently. Nowadays I see tattoos on women known to be college graduates. Given that natural caution of mine plus my fashion-be-damned take on current culture, I'm not about to dash off to a tattoo parlor. But I'm willing to do thought experiments. If I were 20 years old and felt I just had to get a tattoo to be with-it, what would the subject be? The safest bet, of course, would be a heart with the word "Mother" on it. The name of a girlfriend on a heart would be risky -- there's an old New Yorker* cartoon of a sailor with tattooed names of six or eight girl's names, each lined through, who was getting yet another name tattooed on his arm. I suppose I might select a patriotic theme, perhaps and eagle and flag. But I'm at a loss as to what kind of decorative pattern to choose if I didn't want an image. And Chinese dragons are usually just too large; I'd want a small (less than two-inch) tattoo. Never having been a sailor or seaman rules out an anchor. Another possibility would be the crest of my college fraternity; once a member, always one. And if I had been a Phi Gamma Delta, I already would have been tattooed upon initiation with the Greek letters on the inside of my elbow. What about you? What subject(s) would you select if you decided to get tattooed? Oh, and where would the tattooing be? -- I'd have it done on an upper arm. Later, Donald * An alert reader reminds me in Comments that the tattoo joke was actually a Norman Rockwell illustration -- a... posted by Donald at June 5, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

2Blowhards Scores Again
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: Michael is either busy or modest, so let me note that 2Blowhards got linked by Arts & Letters Daily yesterday. The link was to Michael's post on movie reviewing. Look for it in the right-hand "Essays and Opinion" column. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 5, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Earthquake Hits and Misses
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wonder how many places on Earth are not at risk from the dark side of nature. I do know that every place I've lived has had a downside ranging from difficult weather to living with the possibility of disaster. Here in the Puget Sound area disaster can strike in the form of earthquakes. (We also have volcanoes. I suppose I should assemble a post about my doings the day Mt. St. Helens blew out its side.) There have been four major Puget Sound area earthquakes in my lifetime. Although I resided in the area when each happened, I only experienced two of them: I'll explain below. For what it's worth, two of the big quakes occurred in February, the other two in April. I was six when the 6.3 magnitude 14 February 1946 quake struck. It happened in the evening. My mother was away at a school function and my father hustled us under the doorway frame between the living room and the kitchen. I remember the house getting a good shake, but that was it. Nobody was killed. The next large earthquake I experienced was the 29 April 1965 6.5 magnitude event where at least three were killed. I was in grad school and stopped by the frat house that morning to kill some time. We heard a rumble and the building started to shake slightly. At first I wondered if there was furnace trouble. The shaking quickly got worse and we knew it was a quake. Then we did the "wrong" thing -- rushed out of the building. But I took care to glance up to be sure bricks weren't starting to fall. Safely on the front lawn, I felt the ground under my feet moving in a kind of wave motion; one of my feet seemed to be raised while the other was lowered. This sensation was familiar. The previous summer I had spent a couple of weeks on a troop ship crossing the Pacific following a tour of duty in the Far East. When the ship was in motion, I was constantly adjusting my leg muscles to the roll and pitch of the deck. So when I stepped ashore, my muscles continued to make their regular, rhythmic adjustments. The sensation was that of the ground moving beneath my feet. Well, when the earthquake struck, I felt that same motion, but this time it was real. The most severe quake was the 7.1 magnitude event of 13 April 1949 which claimed eight lives. I was on my way to a downtown movie with my Cub Scout den. We were in a city bus that had just pulled up in front of the theater (for Seattle fans, it was the Orpheum, where the Westin Hotel now stands) when the quake hit. Those of us in the bus never felt the quake. The reason we didn't feel the quake was because the suspension of the bus absorbed the shock. Sitting there, I... posted by Donald at June 4, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Camp? Post-Camp? Neo-Camp?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time, the word "camp" connoted an attitude -- a way of taking things -- that was in-group, sly, coterie. These days ... Well, doesn't it seem as though the media-creation that isn't knowingly self-parodistic is the exception to the general rule? Soon life itself will become just another media event asking to be laughed at while reveling in being paid attention to. Perhaps the time has come to decommission the word "camp"? That said, this zanily deluded rock video from the self-described "queen of Tampa public-access television" did make me laugh out loud. I do wish it hadn't, though. Wikipedia describes camp as "an ironic appreciation of that which might otherwise be considered outlandish or corny," and then goes on at considerable length. Hey, what kind of a role did camp play in the music of The Rolling Stones at their peak? I mean: pink satin! Yet there's something else going on there too, isn't there? But perhaps I'm deluding myself. Question for the day: What to make of it when irreverence-at-the-expense-of-the-mainstream becomes the mainstream thing itself? When everything in life has come to be a knowing put-on of itself, does that signify the End of All Good Things? Or reason to party like it's 1999? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 4, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, June 3, 2006

American Cities
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In his interview with Michael Phillips, Bernard Frieden conveys a lot of essential social history in a very short space. Cities, suburbs, "urban renewal," shopping, the interest in history, food ... It's a trustworthy and compact picture of what America has made of its cities since World War II. Key passage: In the course of knocking things down to try to rebuild the cities, the planners and the public officials were also very careless about other people's interests. They tore down a tremendous amount of housing, booted out hundreds of thousands of families around the country, evicted at least tens of thousands of small businesses, many of which never recovered from the move, and, in an effort to cure the city, many of these programs really made cities worse. They kicked out the people who would have stayed longer and the businesses that might have stayed longer, in order to create the makings of that clean slate. That's the way it was in the '50s. Frieden is the author of "Downtown, Inc.," which I've just put on my Amazon Wish List. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 3, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, June 2, 2006

Movie Reviewing and the Web
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm tickled pink to find that my name, er, pseudonym got a mention in Anne Thompson's latest Hollywood Reporter column. Her topic is film reviewing in the age of the internet, and it's an excellent piece. Which I say partly out of peacock pride and groveling gratitude, of course. But the truth is also that I've followed Anne Thompson's reporting enthusiastically for several decades now. She both delivers the goods and sets them in context. She's the rare business reporter whose movie-buffery is the equal of any critic's. She isn't just good at finding out what's happening, she's also terrific at puzzling out what it might mean. Movie-business reporting doesn't get any snappier, smarter, or better-informed. Anne Thompson expands on her piece a bit and provides a nice bouquet of links at her blog -- itself a real treat for film buffs and movie fans. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 2, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Provincial Gallery Scene (1): Kal Gajoum
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are parallel universes in the art market. For example, there is the tourist market. I've seen this along the Seine in Paris, in St. Petersburg in Russia and on Greek islands such as Mykonos. The artist (or someone representing himself as an artist) sells (often unframed) oils, watercolors or engravings directly to passing tourists. Then there are artists who motorhome around the country, flitting from shopping mall to shopping mall where a group of them will clutter the main aisle offering everything from hyper-realistic depictions of waves crashing on a beach to portraits of Elvis on black velvet. At the opposite extreme price-wise, if not necessarily in terms of artistic quality, are the ultra-fashionable galleries in New York and a few other cities where works are sold for prices in the six-and-up-digit dollar range. The "Provincial Gallery Scene" in the title of this post refers to none of what I just mentioned. My "parallel universe" of interest is the gallery that caters to clients willing to drop, let's say, five-digit dollar amounts for a painting. Such clients are probably fairly well-educated, though I'm not sure what proportion buys art based on their personal taste as opposed to relying on consultants, art critics or gallery staff to advise on purchasing. By "provincial" I mean that these galleries tend to be located away from New York. I have seen them in places such as Carmel, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico and Scottsdale, Arizona. My plan is to report from time to time on artists whose work I find in such galleries. This is art flying below the radar of the publicity/investment-driven gallery world noted above. But not far below. I consider this art to be more in tune with the tastes of educated Americans in general. Moreover, some of it might prove to be more enduring than what's currently hot in New York. This series differs slightly from my Popular Artists series in that these artists are less well-known. I need to add that I won't necessarily enthuse over what I'll write about, as you will see below. My self-appointed task is to report art that I find interesting, if not something I would buy. * * * * * Paintings by the subject of the present post were seen at a gallery in Whistler -- British Columbia's posh ski resort area that will be the site of outdoor events in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The blurb on a handout I grabbed at the gallery states: Born in Tripoli, Kal Gajoum lived for extended periods of time in Malta, England and Paris, France before moving to Vancouver, British Columbia. During these periods Kal earnestly studied fine art at the knee of some of the greatest teachers in Europe where he fell in love with the postimpressionist style. Painting in a style reminiscent of the postimpressionists, the master, Kal Gajoum paints with a passion. His unique and graceful style is refreshing. It embraces a warmth and... posted by Donald at June 2, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Puzzle for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to happiness guru Richard Layard, research shows that a belief in God is one of the six factors most closely linked to happiness. People who believe in God are far more likely to be happy than people who don't. (Layard is a progressive social democrat, by the way -- anything but a theocrat or a fundamentalist.) It also seems pretty well-established that the more ethnically diverse a neighborhood or region is, the less trusting and more tense it's likely to be. Yet doesn't it seem that one of the main thrusts of liberal society is to get its members to give up their belief in God and invest their hopes in diversity instead? I assume that's done in the interest of liberation. But liberation from what? Happiness? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (36) comments

Diet Books
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Eager to lose ten pounds, I've recently been spending time with diet books. (It's soooo much more satisfying to read and make plans than it is to take action, don't you think?) I've leafed through a bunch of them, and I've spent serious time with three. As someone who once followed the book-publishing industry closely, I enjoyed exploring these books as much for their characteristics as books as for their content. My general reaction: What an over-edited, by-the-numbers genre diet books have become! Start with a description of the crisis ... Devote 'way too many pages to the "science" of whatever your angle is ... Keep ringing and then re-ringing the alarm bells ... Finally volunteer the eating advice you've been withholding (it's usually worth about a dozen pages) ... Then finish with a small collection of recipes. Decorate the whole with bullet points, boxes, multiple fonts, quotes from authority figures, and bossy language ... Hey, isn't it strange how the business memo has become a model for books? In fact, isn't it strange how central the business memo has become as an organizing metaphor in American life? Note to self: Write heavily bullet-pointed blogposting about the business-memo form. And the length of diet books: Have there been many that really needed more than 100 pages? Yet few clock in at less than 350 pages. Why are books that are meant to guide us into living more elegantly themselves so overstuffed? Sad fact: Americans are impulse-buyers who love quantity, not quality. In the bookbiz this is widely felt to be the case anyway. Publishing efforts are forever being made to make books (especially pop and/or "bestseller"-style books) look thicker than they really should be. Check out how big the margins of thrillers are, and how very many chapters they're divided into. Publishers want the saps who buy their reading material from bins at discount stores to think, "Wow, for only $11.95 I can have myself a hardcover copy of a novel by someone whose name I've heard of! And it's really long! Now that's getting value for my money!" Hey, Americans: Grow up! Quit letting yourselves be taken advantage of by cynical big-city media operators who look down on you! Come to think of it, our preference for quantity over quality might be one of the main reasons we're so fat in the first place ... Some brief notes on the three books I looked at closely. Here come the bullet points! Although Joel Fuhrman's "Eat to Live" was my least-favorite of these books, I couldn't tear myself away from it. I found it transfixing in a gruesome kind of way. Fuhrman hits the ground running with a "You're gonna die if you don't take action now!" tone, and then cranks it up to a pitch of pure hysteria. And many of the recipes he supplies are recognizable by even a tyro foodie like me as awful. To be fair, there's probably some substance... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

More Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson notices that only 17% of Americans want legal immigration rates increased, and that the Senate just crafted a bill that would take current immigration rates and double them. Then Samuelson asks why the mainstream media aren't doing a better job of letting the public know how brazenly their preferences are being defied. Why indeed? Some interesting facts: No one can contend that the United States needs expanded immigration to prevent the population from shrinking. Our population is aging but not shrinking. With present immigration policies, the Census Bureau projects a U.S. population of 420 million in 2050, up from 296 million in 2005. Under the Senate bill, the figure for 2050 would expand by many millions. Another dubious argument is that much higher immigration would dramatically improve economic growth. From 2007 to 2016, the Senate bill might increase the economy's growth rate by about 0.1 percentage point annually, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. That's tiny; it's a rounding error. So much for the idea that we need more immigrants ... * Thomas Sowell argues that the Senate's bill will give illegals more rights than everyday Americans have. So much for the idea that the Senate's bill has anything to do with fairness ... * Labor Party loyalist David Goodhart thinks that sensible people need to recognize that governments should look out for their own citizens first. (Link thanks to Faute de Pire.) The interests of British citizens, of all colours and creeds, must come first. This may seem obvious, but it often conflicts with the assumptions of the internationalist left, the business elite, and the xenophobic right ... We may have obligations to all humanity but we have a much more special relationship with fellow citizens. We need borders to protect that specialness. So much for the idea that stances vis a vis immigration policy have much to do with traditional left/right divisions ... * Steve Sailer summarizes the policies of the Bush administration very effectively in only eleven words: - Invade the world - Invite the world - In hock to the world So much for the idea that the Bushies represent the real America ... Best, Michael UPDATE: John Derbyshire's reaction to the Senate bill strikes me as exactly what the bill deserves.... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Visual Delights
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Edmund Leveckis' near-monochrome photographs are moody, evocative wonders, with a kind of dense, slow-you-down presence that's rare in photography. In any visual art, come to think of it ... (Thanks to Howard Linton for the link.) * I linked before to Hugh Symonds' remarkably rich cellphone photographs. Who'd have thought that cellphone lenses could generate such a lot of otherwordly beauty? I was happy to notice that Hugh recently put up some new photographs. Check out this gorgeous micro-triptych for a quick example. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wind-Farm Aesthetics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ecology, modernism, aesthetics, and energy: How to resist a series of musings on these themes? Justin Good sorts through the ins and outs of people's reponses to wind farms at Design Observer. Savor the thinking and the writing, then join the DO crew at the Delancey Bar & Nightclub for some celebratory barbecue on June 13th. (The invite/announcement is currently the second posting from the top.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 1, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments