In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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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