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  1. A Prediction That Panned Out
  2. The WSJ's Big-Bucks "Mall Artists"
  3. Irrefutable Proof that Civilization Declined Between 1964 and 1970
  4. Mags for Millennials
  5. You Tube-ishness
  6. "The Conservative Nanny State"
  7. More Than Once
  8. Elsewhere
  9. The Singing Nun
  10. DVD Journal: "School of the Holy Beast"

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Monday, July 31, 2006

A Prediction That Panned Out
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Most long-term forecasts are wrong if they're about non-trivial subjects. But once in a while, you can stumble across a reasonably correct prediction, as I recently did. Predicting is difficult for a number of reasons, some more obvious than others. It boils down to the fact that the human world is a complicated place. When asked to forecast or predict, most folks tend to extrapolate trends that are currently in place. (Economists have the saying, "the trend is your friend"' -- but that mostly applies to short-run forecasting.) Yet adults have lived long enough to see some trends end, so they make such extrapolations with a sense of unease if they have the sophistication to do so. Bold predictions involve both a change in trend and its timing, so they are risky propositions; that's why the term "bold" is used. I mentioned that I found a pretty good prediction. It happened last weekend while I was sorting through my stash of old magazines, making keep-toss decisions. I came across Part 2, "The Next 50 Years," of the "Golden Anniversary Issue" of Saturday Review World from 1974. The cover headline was "2024 A.D.: A probe into the future by ..." followed by a list of names of notables who contributed their predictions. ( Saturday Review -- originally, The Saturday Review of Literature -- expired 20 years ago. In its prime, and certainly when I was in high school, it was a respected magazine for upper-middle brow readers. By the time the 50th anniversary issue came out it was well on the skids, having tacked the word "World" to Saturday Review. I was never more than an occasional reader. I suppose I bought the issue partly because I was in the forecasting racket and partly because I'm a sucker for anniversary issues of magazines.) The prediction -- actually a set of predictions -- was made by Milovan Djilas, famously a Yugoslav dissident in the days of Tito, on page 25 in a piece titled "A World Atlas for 2024" which contained contributions by Djilas and three others. Djilas wrote For the world as a whole, the most significant change in the next 50 years will be the disintegration of the Soviet empire... [T]he crucial factors will be the domestic ferment and the pressure from China, and in this connection we cannot rule out either war between China and the U.S.S.R. or uprisings in Eastern Europe. China will annex Outer Mongolia and will occupy the territories east of Lake Baikal and the River Lena. The territories east of the Caspian Sea (Turkistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghiz, and Tadzhikistan) will secede into separate national states under Chinese influence. The Baltic states and the Ukraine will secede from European Russia and will form independent states. The Caucasian nations (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) will probably secede and form, at least initially, an independent federation. Belorussia will remain in federation with Russia... With the collapse of the Soviet empire, the Eastern European countries... posted by Donald at July 31, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The WSJ's Big-Bucks "Mall Artists"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Know of any below-the-salt artists who live well? The Wall Street Journal's 14 July Weekend section front-paged Kelly Crow's article "Shopping-Mall Masters" to help answer that question. The "Shopping-Mall" term in the title isn't strictly true, but the artists featured in the article tended to have modest starts and make a lot of their money from reproductions rather than from sales of original works. I'm pleased that the Journal published the piece because there is a "hidden" art market out there -- a market "hidden" to those who get their art news from the likes of The New York Times or art magazines that focus on the big-city gallery scene. One thing I don't know is how the artists mentioned in the article were selected. It might have been by the writer alone. Or perhaps the writer sounded out some art dealers. Despite the theme of the piece, there is a fairly wide range of top prices commanded (see captions below). Although lower top-prices supposedly are somwhat balanced by high sales of reproductions, annual sales totals from all sources aren't included in the article. As it happens, I don't care for much of the work by the artists presented in the article. Nor do I care much for the art that's considered "hot" in New York, London and San Francisco. Remember the 80-20 rule which, for painting, could be more like 95-5 -- 5 being the percent that's even halfway okay. Nevertheless, where seriously large (to me, anyway) numbers of dollars are being spent on art, attention should be paid. No, I'm not saying that attention should be paid because the art is good. My meaning is that it would be worth our while to think about Who is buying that art. Why they are buying that art. (And, perhaps, not buying other kinds of art.) The subject-matter of the art. The techniques used to create the art. The "meaning" of the art (if any). And so forth. In other words, we might learn something, though I can't predict what in any given case. Here are examples of art from the artists featured in the article along with reported top prices for their work. Gallery Howard Behrens Top price: $50,000. Peter Brent Top price: $5,000. Christian Riese Lassen Top price: $300,000. I saw some of his stuff in Honolulu last December. The images were large and had striking colors, so visual impact was high. But I don't care much for his subject-matter and for hard-edge realism in general, so I'd probably never buy any of Lassen's work for hanging on a wall of my house. Bill Mack Top price: $75,000. Thomas McKnight Top price: $45,000. Steven Meyers Top price: A $30,000 order for 23 prints, or just over $1,300 per item. Meyers' does print images based on X-ray (and perhaps other) technology. Diane Romanello Top price: $11,500. Discussion Other artists cited in the WSJ article were Thomas Kinkade (top price: $4 million for a... posted by Donald at July 30, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Friday, July 28, 2006

Irrefutable Proof that Civilization Declined Between 1964 and 1970
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Via YouTube, two dynamite performances by the great Bo Diddley. 1964: 1970: Both are full of throb, sweat, humor, and power. Man, did Bo Diddley ever have a lot of confidence and force! Watching him in action reminds me of looking at some of Picasso's more exultant bulls. But compare the audiences. The 1964 crowd is in a state of happy, shrieking frenzy -- good times! The 1970 crowd is a sluggish sea of solemn kids. Barely a one of them moves; they seem weighed down by something far more important than mere pleasure. Now: Which crowd would you rather be a member of? What happened between '64 and '70? Did the decade that had kicked off with such cheery, wriggling gusto collapse into a heap of introverted self-importance? That's what it sometimes felt like at the time. I'm pleased that, if we accomplished nothing else, my own, barely-post-'60s cohort (class of '76) at least brought energetic dancing back, and with a vengeance. We can die proud. BTW, when I grow up I want to be able to wear a suit as snazzily as Bo Diddley does. I'd love to be able to dance like Bo Diddley does too -- look at that footwork! But I know that's asking 'way too much. Related: I blabbed here about what it was like being a younger-than-hippie-age Boomer, and about the 1970s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

Mags for Millennials
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The "Millennials": They're between 14 and 30, and there are as many of them as there are Boomers -- which of course makes them prime targets for the advertising and publishing businesses. So what have these businesses learned about them? In brief, they want things their own way and they have stars in their eyes. According to Myrna Blyth, traditional women's magazines hold little appeal for Millennial females. The only kind of magazine that has been a wild success with this crowd is celebrity weeklies. Bonnie Fuller, an editor who has recently had a magic commerical touch, says that young women today are "practically obsessed" with celebrities and all aspects of their lives. "Nowadays there is a fine line between real life and being the star of a reality show," says Fuller. Another nice passage comes from mag-biz analyst Samir Husni: "Young women talk about celebrities like they are members of their family ... There is nothing iconic about celebrities anymore. They went from the big screen to television, and now we hold them on our laps in a magazine. Young women can laugh about them. They even feel they can bully them." One distinctive characteristic of the new Millennial-targeted celeb mags is that they offer no traditional advice columns. "Frankly, young women today don't want that much advice," says one pollster, who also notices that "this generation has a split-second attention span." Let's see: no patience ... strong preferences ... full of themselves ... living in their fantasies ... May I be permitted to say Eek! and Yikes!? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

You Tube-ishness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lex turns up a Ronettes video that's somehow funky and darling at the same time. He annotates it touchingly too. * God is in the house -- Art Tatum himself, making his grand piano look like Linus' (Correction: Schroeder's) toy keyboard: * What business model? Ilkka's predicting that YouTube will last for another year, tops. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"The Conservative Nanny State"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished Dean Baker's new book, "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer," and recommend it enthusiastically. It's full of well-informed analyses of dubious government programs and policies and well-presented challenges to them. (My only quarrel is with Dean's use of the word "conservative" when what he's really talking about is a certain class of fat-cat Republicans. Hey, world: There's nothing conservative about a lot of Republicans.) Whether you're of a right-ish or a left-ish persuasion, you'll find plenty in the book to work up a good head of indignant steam about. Generously, Dean makes the book available as a free download. Let's see more of that kind of publishing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

More Than Once
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Chute makes a list of the books that he has read more than once. I like many of the books David likes, but I'm not much of a re-reader myself. My own version of such a list would be very short: "The Charterhouse of Parma," and that's about it. (Read this translation.) Oh, and "Candy." And "The Long Goodbye." OK, and "Winnie the Pooh." But that's about it. How long would your own list be? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (32) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Investment banker turned escort Olympia gives the lowdown on what an escort's life is really like. Sounds like a challenging line of work. * Corbusier shakes his head over what the architecture establishment dreams of foisting on New Orleans. * Mickey Spillane may no longer be with us, but at least we have his novels to hold dear. Bookgasm's Bruce Grossman reads Mickey's final two Mike Hammer thrillers and reports that they aren't half bad. * Fred has the goods on how to become a great composer. * Whisky Prajer's Top 15 Films list climaxes in a real surprise. * Jon Hastings gives the once-eminent novelist William Dean Howells a try and likes what he finds. * I wrote a little blog-hymn to Western New York's Finger Lakes region back here. (I grew up nearby and love the place dearly.) What fun to discover a good and verve-y blog devoted to the area's wines. * And yet more, new-to-me eco and food blogs that I've been lovin' too: here, here, here, and here. (Thanks to Brian, and to Steve Bodio.) * James Bowman explains to Christina Hoff Sommers what has become of honor. * Pug bowling! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Singing Nun
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The things you run across when you research a topic! Nuns, for instance. Remember the Singing Nun, aka Soeur Sourire? "Dominique-nique-nique," etc? The song was not only the #1 pop hit in 1964, it prevented "Louie Louie" from getting to #1. It was also the only Belgian pop tune ever to make it to #1 in America. In 1965, Debbie Reynolds portrayed Soeur Sourire in a popular movie, "The Singing Nun." Swingin' Chicks calls Soeur Sourire "the unlikeliest pop star ever." I can't say that I'd given Soeur Sourire a thought in decades. But now I know her life story: Art school, then the convent. Urged on by fellow nuns, she recorded "Dominique." She left the convent and shacked up with a girlfriend -- there's apparently some controversy about whether the two women were sexually involved. Her record contract was canceled after the Singing Nun novelty-thing wore off. She started and ran a school for autistic kids. And -- when the Belgian government pursued her for taxes they said were owed on her Singing Nun earnings -- she and her girlfriend committed suicide. Here's the bio. Here's Wikipedia. Here's a site devoted to her. Here's an interview with a fan and author. Here's a YouTube video of Soeur Sourire in action. Here she sings her big hit to a disco beat. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

DVD Journal: "School of the Holy Beast"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the reasons that becoming a movie buff is appealing is that it's so easy. Especially these DVD days, watching movies doesn't involve the hard work of plowing through books, let alone making pilgrimages to museums or concert halls. Another appealing factor is that movie history is finite. With an artform like music: Well, who knows where it starts and ends? But movies have only been around for a little over a hundred years. It's a manageable field; it can be done. A couple of years of intense movie-watching enhanced by wrestles with a dozen-ish books of history and criticism, and you emerge a fully certified cinephile. Yet even an artform as recent as movie history has its oddball nooks and crannies, and even as longterm a moviebuff as I am can still encounter the unexpected -- even an entirely unfamiliar genre. The other night, tipped-off by a young friend who loves stylish movie schlock above all things, the Wife (also a longterm moviebuff -- talk about a marriage made in heaven!) and I watched Norifumi Suzuki's 1974 "School of the Holy Beast." (Amazon, Netflix.) Together The Wife and I have put in over 60 years of regular filmgoing, yet "School of the Holy Beast" was an entirely new one on us: our very first exposure to a trash genre known as "nunsploitation." As the name suggests, nunsploitation films focus -- in (it's hoped and expected) reprehensible ways -- on convents, novices, mothers superior, crucifixes, wimples, spiritual agonies ... corruption ... lesbianism ... flagellations ... horny priests ... pits of hell ... Yeah, baby! Gotta love those oversexed, exhibitionistic, and self-torturing Catholics. Where would movies be without 'em? Given my near-total inexperience with the genre, I'll refrain from generalizing any more about it. The curious can find out more here and here. "School of the Holy Beast" is cherished by nunsploitation aficionados -- ain't it great that such a thing as a "nunsploitation aficionado" exists? -- as one of the most extreme examples of the genre ever, and The Wife and I had a wonderful time watching it. Mainly we were experiencing camp/schlock bliss: The movie is nothing if not a straightfaced, overheated, peculiar, unselfconsciously zany piece of outrageousness. Its story involves a swingin' 1970s chick who enters a convent in order to discover the secret of her background. Nasty secrets are unearthed, believe you me. Part of the film's zaniness is a function of the 1970s: the fashions, the hairstyles, the attitudes ... The zooms, the lighting, the jumpcuts ... Is there a piece of '70s exploitation cinema that doesn't make you exclaim, "Hey, I bet Tarantino was ripping this off when he made 'Kill Bill'!" Another contributor to the zaniness is the film's Japanese-ness. The Wife and I stared at the Sony thinking, "A Japanese convent? A Japanese mother superior? What can Catholicism mean to the Japanese?" It turns out that there was a fairly successful Catholic movement in Japan beginning... posted by Michael at July 27, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

To Live Near Your Work
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- People ought to live near to where they work. So say planners, university professors and other folks who are far more intelligent and better-informed than I. (When I get around to it, I really must let such people dictate every detail of my life: it's the right thing to do.) This notion was kicking around the Seattle area recently, as Sound Politics, an indispensable blog for Puget Sound region political junkies, relates here and here. Blog honcho Stefan Sharkansky ("The Shark") slyly mentions that some of those urging us to live near work do not live very close to where they work. In the abstract, it indeed would be a good thing (in most cases) if people lived not far from their jobs. I happen to live less than two air miles from work, but the drive is closer to three or four miles. Yet I must confess that when I selected my apartment I was more concerned about safety and the quality of fellow residents than I was with commute distance. (Apartment-hunting tip: try to avoid places that have ratty cars.) In olden times as well as not-so-olden times in large cities such as New York, many shopkeepers lived behind or above their shops. Margaret Thatcher lived above her greengrocer father's store in Grantham; when I saw the place, the grocery had been replaced by a real estate office. My main problem with the notion that people should live near their jobs is that it often simply isn't practical. Buying a house and moving (or even renting a new apartment and moving) are not trivial tasks. Many folks, once settled into a house and neighborhood, are not very interested in moving again until life-cycle events demand it. Also, nowadays people tend to change jobs several times over their working career, unlike in the days when one might spend his entire career with one firm. Even when working for one company, job locations can change. In the Puget Sound area, a Boeing employee might find himself being transferred from Everett to Kent to Renton to Boeing Field and then back to Everett over a few decades. And he or his wife or his kids might strongly resist moving each time his place of work changes. What this boils down to is that planners, professors and editorial board writers seem to have a naive view of how we poor working slobs tend to deal with our lives in this era of fluid careers. As is so often the case, the theory is wonderful and gets ruined by all that nasty reality. Nevertheless, I wouldn't be totally surprised if one day someone tries to legislate commuting distance. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

Why Can't the Dems Win?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given what a loopily-incompetent bunch the current Republican administration has shown itself to be, why haven't the Democrats done better? Come to think of it, given what an unpromising candidate GWBush was in both recent presidential elections, why couldn't the Democrats defeat him? My preferred explanation: Most everyday Americans simply don't think of the Dems as being on their side. Further, most everyday American just don't like the Dems. Why not? The usual Democratic explanation is that everyday Americans are stupid, or else they're racist, or probably both. After all, the Dems are right about so many things -- why are so many Americans so incapable of seeing this? It can only come down to racism and stupidity. My own preferred explanation: The Dems don't actually want to be liked by a majority of everyday Americans. (They also seem incapable of understanding that there's a big difference between winning an argument and winning an election.) Proof: If the Dems did want to be liked by most everyday Americans, they'd quit accusing them of stupidity and racism. How exactly is blasting the people whose affection you need going to win you their votes? And the Dems call everyone else stupid ... In the new American Conservative, Steve Sailer goes considerably deeper into the "Why haven't the Dems done better?" question than I do. Nice passage: Imagine two cousins, one with a graduate degree making $50,000 per year in a creative industry, living alone in a small apartment in a "vibrant" (i.e., dangerous and expensive) metropolis. The other with a bachelor's degree earns the same income in an unglamorous business and lives with a spouse and children in a home on a quarter acre lot in a "boring" (i.e., safe and moderately-priced) suburb. Which one is more likely to vote Democratic? James Pinkerton adds some thoughts. Bill Kauffman contributes historical perspective. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (67) comments

10 for Charles Murray
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Matt McIntosh interviews the social scientist and libertarian Charles Murray. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Girl-Watching Notes: Tattoos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll be a much happier girl-watcher once the vogue for tattoos has passed. Despite the fact that today's girls and young women are unquestionably awe-inspiring physical specimens (big, rambunctious, healthy, etc.), and although they seem to feel driven to show off ever more skin-acreage, the presence on so many of them of tattoos means that all -- well, nearly all -- of my girl-watching pleasure is spoiled. (A few pre-emptive concessions: Who cares what turns me on? Young women certainly aren't performing for the likes of me. But who stops looking just because he -- or she -- is no longer in his 20s? And isn't having a reaction an important part of looking? As Debknits once wrote in a comment on this blog, more or less: "I'm middle-aged and married, I'm not dead.") It occurs to me to wonder, though: Will the vogue for girl-tattoos pass? As the years go by, tattoos have begun to seem less like a fleeting thing and more like a standard fashion requirement. Perhaps a corner has been turned; perhaps there's no going back. God knows that the tattoos themselves aren't about to be put on a closet shelf like last season's baseball cap. Why did respectable girls start thinking of tattoos as cool in the first place? The fact that respectable girls and young women now choose to wear permanent marks in their flesh has been one of the bigger, as well as one of the more surprising, culture changes that I've ever witnessed. I suppose that, among middle-class girls, tattoos started out as tribal markers of funky sexiness -- as a make-believe way of aligning themselves with the downtrodden. Interesting the way that "sex" and "the downtrodden" have become near-synonymous, isn't it? What's that about? And what does wearing a tattoo mean for the girls themselves? Er, the young women? I assume it means something along the lines of, "I'm doing what all the kids who are eager to be participants in the mating-and-dating thing are doing." But I might well be wrong. I have a general culture-gestalt theory too: The advent of girl-tattoos is directly related to the computer-ification of everything. The computer screen (unlike the movie screen) is changeable, malleable, permeable, interactive. The acts of tattooing and piercing make the body's flesh become changeable and permeable in a similar way. The person wearing tattoos and piercings is saying, in effect, "I am a CPU, and my body is my personal computer screen." Behold YouTube's catch-line: "Broadcast Yourself." The eternal feminine imperative to self-adorn is hard to underestimate. As the female body becomes ever more exposed, body-parts that were once considered intimate and private have gone public. These days, it seems, every square inch of a girl's body needs to be maintained in a state of camera-readiness. Yet, even in the face of these developments, girls are going to find some way to adorn themselves. If a girl can no longer adorn herself by covering... posted by Michael at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (40) comments

A Ton of Books
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have a ton of books to pack. Literally. One ton. Two thousand pounds. Plus. Well, I'm fibbing just a little. They're nearly all packed already. Boxed, actually. Boxed in U-Haul's finest "small boxes [that] are ideal for heavy items" that are 16 inches by 12 by 12. In order to stack the boxed books, I've had to fill each box to the top so that the folded top flaps don't sag. These filled boxes are brick-like. For the hell of it I weighed one and it came to 55 pounds. As of last night, I've filled 40 boxes with books. So if each box is 50-ish pounds, that means the pile of boxes in the middle of the apartment's living room floor must weigh a ton. So there. This ton of books represents roughly two-thirds of the books I had when I got married a couple months ago. Some books went to the dumpster. Census data books I "willed" to the office where I work. Others I was able to sell to Powell's book store in Portland for just under $700 total. Still to pack are lots of magazines. Some are 50-year-old issues of Time and Newsweek. Others are car mags such as Road & Track, Motor Trend, and various defunct titles. I also have quite a few aviation magazines and some early personal computer mags. A gal at the office suggested I try consigning them to an antique store. I won't even speak about the 24 or so file cabinet drawers, many filled with census data for the USA and other countries that I Xeroxed over the years. In case anyone is curious, I'll be retiring from work (but not from blogging unless Michael fires me) at the end of August. Most of my stuff will go to my wife's Seattle house, where we plan to live part of the time. And part of the time we'll live in her California house, so a few books will wind up there. Aside from all those books I don't have many possessions, so that aspect of the move should be pretty simple. Michael says he has no trouble tossing out books. I envy him. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 26, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When I was young -- call it high school or college age -- and read biographies, I wasn't much interested in the material leading up to the point where the subject got to doing what he became famous for. And by the time I reached my mid forties, say, I became a lot more interested in the subject's formative years. Nowadays I suspect it was a big mistake to have sloughed off the early bits when I was of an age where some of the information might have done me some good. [Sigh] * Last weekend I spied a young fellow wearing a Mohawk haircut of the greased-spike variety. I've been seeing the occasional Mohawk since I was a kid, so the act of getting one can't be termed an act of creativity. My take has been that it's a way of showing off or perhaps rebelling against adulthood or something. But I can't be sure. You see, I've never had a friend or acquaintance who ever wore a Mohawk, so haven't been able to ask with the expectation of getting an honest answer. * Before we went to Russia last year, Nancy read some Tolstoy to get in the mood. First she read Anna Karenina and later dug into War and Peace, finally finishing it a few months ago. Come September we'll be off to Poland, Budapest and Prague, amongst other places, and she's hoping to find equivalent reading material. So far, she hasn't had much luck. I've been of no help, that's for sure. Unlike Michael, I'm not a lit guy. But I suspect that even lit folks might have a little trouble coming up with a good read or two related to the places just mentioned. Oh, and Kafka doesn't count! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 25, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

Monday, July 24, 2006

Styles of Thought: Personal Evolution
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Blowhards think differently. From one another, that is. I suspect you already know that if you are a halfway regular reader. Take Michael. I'd characterize him as inquisitive. He's curious about all sorts of things. And, as one reader once pointed out, something he's really curious about is how his own mind operates. As for Friedrich, he strikes me as systematic and inclined to look for broad cultural forces as primary factors for explaining art-historical details. But he throws us off-balance from time to time by tossing in humorous or nyekulturny bits. Me? I find it difficult to peg myself. One reason why is that I've changed big chunks of my thought-style since, oh, high school days. I'd better explain. I don't have anything close to a "photographic memory," but nevertheless was able to get okay (but not great) grades in high school by "winging it." I was -- and am -- impatient and hate having to buckle down and master a subject by brute study. Matter of fact, I'm not sure that I ever consciously did such a thing. Except once, as I'll mention below. "Winging" began to wane as I progressed through college. By my sophomore year it had dawned on me that the key to survival in introductory and near-introductory courses was vocabulary-memorization. That is, if I knew a field's terms/jargon, I had a good shot at pulling at least a B. Variations on this strategy plus a good deal of luck got me through grad school. But I remained an unsystematic, undisciplined thinker who largely relied on "muddling through," as the English put it. Things began to change again once I got my first real job, at New York State's planning agency (the Office of Planning Coordination, now defunct). This was back before personal computers. To do research I found myself copying data and writing calculation results on analysis pad paper (the kind with blue-lined rows and maybe 10 or 12 columns separated by red lines) and drawing graphs on various kinds of graph paper (log, semi-log, lognormal, etc.) After a few months of this I realized that I'd generated so much stuff that I couldn't remember what work was recent or old, a serious matter in some cases. So then I made it a point to date everything. And thereby became a tad systematic. But the big change came when I bought my first personal computer, an early IBM PC, and had to learn to program it. The first thing I had to do was seriously study and master a programming language. Now, computer programs, when run, can spew out all manner of junk due to flawed design or faulty input. But before they can reach that happy state they must be able to run in the first place. Putting this another way, programs either run or they don't, so you have to keep working on the program until it runs all the way through. So the programmer's first... posted by Donald at July 24, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, July 22, 2006

More on Self-Publishing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- People interested in the evolution of the book and developments in the self-publishing field should get a lot out of Peter Wayner's piece for the New York Times. I've heard from friends that is an excellent service. (Here's an interview with a Lulu honcho.) Wayner passes along the names of a few more promising outfits. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 22, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, July 21, 2006

YouTube for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Much as I'd like to give this posting an overarching theme, I in fact have no way of theme-a-tizing these YouTube clips. Well, except maybe to report that each one of them made me think "Hallelujah!" * Iris Dement sings a raw and touching "Sweet is the Melody": * Professor Longhair gives a profound lesson in what it means to be New Orleans. * I listen to Nat King Cole's trio thinking, "I don't ask for anything more from jazz than this." I don't know if I actually stand by that statement, but it's certainly how his music makes me feel. * For smooth and suave stylings, it's hard to beat Sam Cooke:: * A short but hard-swinging "Blue Moon of Kentucky" by that country powerhouse Patsy Cline. Patsy wasn't subtle but she sure did deliver: * Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Harry James and the boys serve up a smokin' "Sing Sing Sing": * I want some of whatever faith it is that Sister Rosetta Tharpe is selling. (Did you know that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was Little Richard's favorite performer?) Marveling once again at the amazing resource that is YouTube, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- No more dodgeball? No more tag? What kind of adults are these kids going to grow up to be? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

In Slate
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jack Schafer muses about a recent Pew study of bloggers and blog-readers. Prudie gives some sensible advice to a skittish young wife. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Now It Can Be Told
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- FYI, the blogger behind most of the superb postings at The Classicist is none other than former/current/we-hope-future Blowhard Francis Morrone. Perhaps if we clap loudly enough, Francis will decide to indulge once again in some posting at this site. Meanwhile: go, enjoy, learn. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

DVD Journal: "8 MM 2"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's little I enjoy more than scavenging through the bargain and used bins at DVD stores. Any disc that costs less than $10 is something I consider fair game. My reasoning goes this way: If I watch a ten dollar DVD with The Wife, that's a movie we've been able to see for only $5 per person. Even if I watch my $10 disc alone, the experience has cost me no more than a NYC movie-theater ticket. Plus I then get to give the disc away to a friend or relative. Greedy, cheap, and generous -- hard to resist a chance to embody that combo of virtues. The other night, The Wife and I watched one of my bargain-bin finds: "8 MM 2: Unrated and Exposed." We put it in the player anticipating something cheesy, tacky, raunchy, and -- with luck -- hot. In other words, something to pick apart and to be catty about. In fact, the film turned out to be not only not-bad but pretty good. Despite what struck us as some goofs -- the main one being the unrelievedness of its somber tone -- we both watched the film alertly and with interest. We liked what the filmmakers were doing, and we liked that they were doing it with conviction. And, yes, it had a decent number of hot moments -- an achievement I have the highest respect for. Although a sex thriller, and despite its cheeseball title, the film (which stars Jonathan Schaech and Lori Heuring, and which was directed by J.S. Cardone) isn't what you'd expect: a zero-budget, talentless "Basic Instinct" ripoff. Amusingly, it turns out that the film wasn't even made as a sequel to the original "8 MM." Its working title was "The Velvet Side of Hell." It seems that someone behind the film decided at the last minute to market it as a sequel. Some of the angry reviews at Amazon indicate that this was in fact a dumb idea. Many of the reviewers pan the film simply because they were angered to discover that it isn't a genuine sequel. Fair enough. But, hey, the people who actually made the film (director, actors, etc), didn't know it was going to be marketed as a sequel either. The Italians do movie posters soooo much better than we do ... Despite some flubs and weaknesses, "8 MM 2" has a lot going for it: tension 'n' atmosphere, opulent Euro-cinematography, classy/sinister Eastern European locales (you can apparently get a lot for your production dollar in Budapest), daring performances and -- what's rare these days -- some commitment to the project on the part of the whole team, who cook up a handful of tangy and provocative situations and then present them with real heat. (If the plot sags ... Well, I cut any film that isn't afraid of quiet, anticipation, desperation, mood, and fear a lot of slack.) It didn't come entirely as a surprise to hear --... posted by Michael at July 21, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Video Highlights
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- ChicagoBoyz enter the very crowded videoblogging space with a rueful charmer. Four stars and two thumbs up. Emmalina, a recognized YouTube master, sets a dancehall tune repeating "Money, success, fame, glamor" to images of herself feeding her guinea pigs. Take that, David Lynch. This is certainly one of the weirdest and most irresistable teen-bedroom-webcam works I've ever watched. Take that, Tim Burton. Here's a supercute way to refresh the lipsynch-a-pop-song bedroom-webcam subgenre. 1,216,003 views so far! That's not a small audience. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Crunchy Film Criticism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher suspects that film critics are not like other people. I wrote on a similar topic here. In another posting about movies, Rod muses about how having kids has affected his thinking about popular culture. With all respect for Rod's experience, I ventured this in his comments-thread: All true and good points. At the same time ... I guess I disagree that sex 'n' violence are per se bad things in art 'n' entertainment. "Macbeth," Delacroix, etc ... And I don't think it's "aestheticism" (or at least aestheticism per se) that's to blame for much of the aggressive crappiness of popular culture. Er, commercial imperatives (crossed with a general licentiousness), anyone? Most of the aesthetes I know -- and I guess I'm one of them -- are as appalled by the aggression and intrusiveness of much popular culture as Jerry Falwell is. And I don't think it comes from a lack of respect or concern for kids. We're a culture that's obsessed with children, and with being kid-friendly. Seriously: I haven't traveled a real lot, but in my limited experience Americans put kids at the center of everything in a way most other cultures don't. In most cultures, the adult stretch of life is considered much more important than the kid stretch. And, good lord, look at the number of kiddie movies the filmbiz creates. I'd like to see Hollywood make more adult films. But genuinely adult, with a sense of weight and gravity (or a nicely-judged sense of levity). I'd be happy if they were serious about keeping under-16s from these films too. I dunno. I find it useful to compare popular culture to industrial foods. They're everywhere, they're (generally) awful, it's a real wrestle (though a worthwhile one) to avoid 'em. But what's behind junky popular culture is the same thing that's behind junky food: commercial pressure, political connections, technology, big money, career dreams, the hope of making a ton of dough. All of it "enabled" by our willingness to put up with it. If we'd stop consuming the crap culture that's being peddled at us, they'd stop creating it. I used the junk-culture/junk-food analogy to launch into a lot of musings here. Best, Michael UPDATE: And then I added this to Rod's comments-thread: Sigh: One reason I can't be a full-fledged Crunchy is that I kinda like titillation, exploitation (in the film sense), and the rousing of lower emotions for no particular reason than the sheer thrill of it ... Watched an erotic suspense movie last night whose sole entertainment purpose was to push a few boundaries, and to do so with some real commitment. Enjoyed it! A-OK adult entertainment. God, how I despise the kiddie-fication of American culture. That said, I also agree that it's a problem when the whole culture seems eager to participate in Guilty Pleasures, and I can certainly understand it when parents especially feel concerned about tackiness, raucousness, vulgarity, etc. My dream world: sensibly conservative... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Whole Milk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nina Planck thinks that whole milk's bad rep is undeserved. Nice line (from a related piece): "God did not create fats in order to raise or lower blood cholesterol. All fats ... have vital roles." I ran into Nina Planck's site thanks to a posting and commentsfest at Rod Dreher's blog. Tyler Cowen points out that educated people tend to be healthier people. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Rick Darby wonders if Sweden wants to commit suicide. * Tatyana recalls some of what made a recent trip to Portugal so pleasant for her. * A BBC producer wonders how much longer YouTube is going to be able to get away with it. * Steve admires a particularly poetic piece of spam. * The one, the only, OuterLife blogs again. * In his characteristically damn-the-torpedoes way, Fred Reed looks at boys, girls, and school. * Microtonal music will give your ears both a tune-up and a shakeup. * Tell me more. Tell me more. * Screenwriter John August describes himself as a "digital guy," yet he has witnessed some of the perils of working digitally. * More tension in the Middle East, eh? Now that's a shock. Steve Sailer offers one of his helpful history/culture lessons, this time on Lebanon. Great passage: God, how I hate the Middle East. Has anything worthwhile come out of the Middle East in the last 500 years (other than the oil that the Middle Easterners would never have noticed was under their feet)? While I'm sure it's emotionally satisfying to devote all your brainpower to figuring out how to get revenge on the tribe next door, it's not very productive. And how I hate poor naive America being so heavily involved in the Middle East, getting yanked around by interested parties (have I mentioned Ahmad Chalabi lately?) for reasons we dumb hicks can't begin to fathom. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This BusinessWeek piece by Ben Elgin about the spyware business isn't the comprehensive overview I was hoping for. Instead, it's an in-depth look at one particular spyware company. But it's fascinating anyway. Some names it seems safe to hate: Jesse Stein, Joshua Abram, Daniel Kaufman, Alan Murray, and Rodney Hook, the brains and drive behind an ultra-sketchy outfit called Direct Revenue. Why isn't the government withholding a few billions from its zany mideast adventures and using it instead to nail the people who trash our computers and destroy our time? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

M. Night
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson reports on a screening of "Lady in the Water" that didn't go too well. Nice line: "Most of them [bigtime film directors] are parented badly by Hollywood, coddled, indulged, and ego-inflated by agents, producers and studio executives into believing that they are, in fact, God's gift to filmmaking." She also writes about the prospects for the digital downloading of movies. (I like the way she refers to one source as "one Sony digital executive.") Key passage: The reality is that the studios are so invested in such brick-and-mortar video retailers as Wal-Mart and Best Buy and Target that they can't afford to alienate them. The big box retailers represent about 60% of the studios' $24.5 billion in annual DVD revenue. At the recent quarterly meeting at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., where the studios bid for positioning in their stores, Wal-Mart made clear to the assembled studio home video reps, according to sources, that it does not view digital downloading favorably. And the prospect of Wal-Mart ordering fewer copies of just a title or two sends a chill into studio hearts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Ring Tones
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Most days I'm content to gripe about cell phones -- the way they scatter people's attention, the way they destroy oases of peace and quiet, the way they contribute to a general mood of "I gotta have it now or I'll die!" Yesterday, though ... Yesterday I was walking through NYC's East Village, a neighborhood which, despite high rents and gentrification, is still a land of the edgy and the punk. I was walking a little faster than this one young woman who was talking loudly on her cellphone. What I heard as I passed by her was this, more or less: "I used to think they were gross, y'know? Until, like, I got my own. And now I think they're just the hottest things on the face of the planet. I mean, I can't get enough of it ... Uh-huh, it goes right through the hood. And then the jewelry part of it hangs over the you-know-what ... Yeah, you do kind of know it's there. It's not so much feeling it there as knowing it's there. And knowing it's there is, I don't know, enough to keep me wet all day long!" That's right: This young woman was talking -- out loud, on her cellphone, on a wide-open public sidewalk -- about genital piercing and jewelry. Hers, more specifically. Imagine: me, amused by a cellphone incident! Friends who commute to the city by train report that amusing cellphone incidents -- while far outnumbered by annoying ones -- aren't entirely unheard-of. One friend told me about sitting a few seats away from a woman who spent the entire commute on her cellphone, setting up a romantic assignation -- complete with tease-y promises and tantalizing details about what she had in store for her lover. Peter, who uses his blog to chronicle his own commutes on the Long Island Rail Road, has no doubt overheard some doozies too. I wrote here about how really, really uninhibited some of today's young boho adults are. If you're mystified by what my East Village gal was talking about ... Wikipedia to the rescue. Lots of NSFW visual examples can be ogled here. Check out the "Triangle," about halfway down that page. Eee-yowch. What's the most personal/ inappropriate/ embarrassing/ delicious thing you've overheard from a thoughtless cellphone yakker? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Lakeshore Luxe
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- House owners and 20th century design isms normally don't mix. A drive through almost any neighborhood with detached houses should confirm this generalization. But generalizations have a way of having exceptions. One important exception is expensive housing built since the end of the 1920s. If you want to find a Modernist or PoMo house, ritzy neighborhoods area good place to start looking. Lakefront property almost always (hmm ... generalizing again, am I?) commands a price premium. Seattle and suburban communities have more lake frontage than most cities. When I was a kid, much lakeshore land on the east side of Lake Washington and on Mercer Island (a large island in the lake) was undeveloped. That happy state had pretty well ended before the 1980s and today it's expensive indeed to own a lakefront house. This post has photos I snapped on a tour cruise. The houses pictured are all on the east side of the lake and not in Seattle proper, where lakeside real estate was gobbled up by the 1930s. I don't know who the owners of these houses are, and I'm not going to research and report addresses and so forth out of respect for privacy. Neither Bill Gates' (Microsoft) nor Howard Schultz's (Starbucks) places are shown, though we cruised past them. Gallery This one looks like it was snatched from Brno in Czechoslovakia (circa 1928). Similar. At least the left part of the facade isn't totally squared-off. Sorry that this shot is a bit blurred, but [whine] I was on a boat, after all. Anyhow, this house has gables and other pre-Mo features. What I find hard to judge from the photo is whether it's a new house or an old one that might have been modernized. A pair of houses. The one on the right is more classical Modernist. Its chimneys give this house a whiff of ante-bellum South. And there is a hipped roof. Interesting pairing here. The building on the left looks to be a classical Northwest Style house of the 1950-70 era -- low gables, vaguely Japanese, but with huge windows. The one on the right might be called Nouveau-Industrial Post-Modern. Finally, still another PoMo palace. Might be an interesting place to visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there. Commentary The houses shown above are not a statistical sample. I was simply snapping away at whatever struck my fancy that day. Plus, I was taking pictures of what could be photographed. Older houses tended to be more shielded by trees and other vegetation than newer ones. A question I can't answer is who the owners are. Clearly they have plenty of disposable income. So let's hypothesize that they're Microsoft Millionaires or that ilk. (There's lot of other money in Seattle thanks to Boeing, Starbucks, Nordstrom,, Weyerhaeuser, etc., etc. -- not to mention lawyers, physicians and owners of prosperous smaller businesses. But let's pretend the owners are techies.) A rich techie probably has a... posted by Donald at July 18, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 17, 2006

Hey Gang! ... Let's Invent a Society!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Sixties are about to return!! So is the pious/nostalgic hope I see expressed from time to time in various left-hand corners of the Internet and elsewhere. As for me, I hope and pray that the Sixties (circa 1964-75) are dead and gone forever. One trek through that wilderness was enough for my lifetime. A salient characteristic of the Sixties was dissatisfaction with society as it existed. Often this dissatisfaction was expressed by adopting a Bohemian lifestyle or other kinds of youthful rebellion. But not always. If one was on a college campus (as I was from late 1964 into 1970) there also was an intellectualized component. One vignette stands out in my mind. It was during the 1969-70 school year and I was cooling my heels at the Husky Den cafeteria in the University of Washington student union building. A few tables away was a group of students busily discussing something. What first caught my eye was a really beautiful girl in the group; the others ranged in looks and dress from average to scruffy (for the guys). Then I started to listen in on their conversation. They were hashing over plans for a utopian society, perhaps one of only commune-scale. Now, I don't know if this activity was a class assignment from a sociology/philosophy/political science professor or whether the group had to do with some sort of radical political organization. The impression I carry is that it was more likely the latter than the former. It doesn't really matter. At the time I thought their enterprise was rather silly, and nothing since has led me to change my opinion. As a matter of fact, I'm even more convinced that "designed societies" -- be they tiny communes based in a single house or entire countries -- are doomed to fail to live up to expectations. Actually they are doomed, period. This is because detailed, "rational" criteria for all-encompassing organizational structure and the behavior of members do not and cannot deal adequately with what is loosely termed "human nature." My impression is that social designers simply do not believe human nature exists. They tend (or tended, in those days) to take the tabula rasa view of humans; we are born as blank slates that are shaped by culture, Skinnerian Operant Conditioning or a combination thereof. So what a society designer has to do is come up with a rational organizational plan that includes a foolproof means of "socializing" (sociology jargon for training or conditioning) children or other entrants. A fundamental problem with this is that such "designs" are based on a narrow range of Big Ideas, maybe even just one Big Idea buttressed by a cluster of lesser ideas. Examples of such ideas include "equality," "each according to his abilities/needs" and radical "individualism." Such ideas are too confining for human temperaments and life-requirements. Which is why the plans never really work out. And when designed societies do fail, proponents tend to blame outside forces... posted by Donald at July 17, 2006 | perma-link | (79) comments

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher points out a couple of good pieces by the late Christopher ("Culture of Narcissism") Lasch. Here Lasch explains what's wrong with the left. Here he dumps on the right. Eviscerate 'em both -- now that's political commentating I can get behind. Great passage: The left, which until recently has regarded itself as the voice of the "forgotten man," has lost the common touch. Failing to create a popular consensus in favor of its policies, the left has relied on the courts, the federal bureaucracy, and the media to achieve its goals of racial integration, affirmative action, and economic equality. Ever since World War II, it has used essentially undemocratic means to achieve democratic ends, and it has paid the price for this evasive strategy in the loss of public confidence and support. Increasingly isolated from popular opinion, liberals and social democrats attempt to explain away opposition to economic equality as "working class authoritarianism," status anxiety, resentment, "white racism," male chauvinism, and proto-fascism. The left sees nothing but bigotry and superstition in the popular defense of the family or in popular attitudes regarding abortion, crime, busing, and the school curriculum. The left no longer stands for common sense, as it did in the days of Tom Paine. It has come to regard common sense -- the traditional wisdom and folkways of the community -- as an obstacle to progress and enlightenment. Because it equates tradition with prejudice, it finds itself increasingly unable to converse with ordinary people in their common language. Increasingly it speaks its own jargon, the therapeutic jargon of social science and the service professions that seems to serve mostly to deny what everybody knows. My own favorite Lasch book is this one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 15, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

"The Sicilian"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have many filmmakers had careers as peculiar as Michael Cimino's? Cimino started out with a bang. A degree from Yale ... A successful career making TV commercials ... A move to Hollywood that resulted in script sales and a job directing a Clint Eastwood movie ... In 1978, Cimino made a Vietnam epic entitled "The Deer Hunter." The film was a genuine triumph for him. Many people found it to be a beauty; they were moved by it; they took its themes as large statements. Journalists and critics debated the film over and over again. It was a sensation; organizations showered it with awards. Amidst all the respectful controversy and the genuine passions, one thing seemed indisputable: A new Major Filmmaker was among us, one who was set to go on to ever greater things. Move aside, Marty. Make room, Francis. Ever since, though, Cimino has done nothing but stumble. His overblown, cocaine-and-ego-fueled Marxist Western "Heaven's Gate" earned a place in the film-history books as a landmark fiasco. It was a critical disaster, and was so expensive yet unpopular with the public that its failure brought down the studio that produced it. "Heaven's Gate" is even sometimes said to have put the definitive end to America's '70s "personal filmmaking" era. Here's a clip from the film. That's a lot of large-scale, elegiac filmmakin' for the sake of very little in the way of story or character. Cimino licked his wounds for a few years. When he returned in 1985, it was with an Oliver-Stone-scripted Chinatown cop thriller, "Year of the Dragon," that was clearly intended to establish his bona fides as a filmmaker who could work on schedule and on budget. Yet, although the film did OK with the public and was nothing if not convincingly professional, Cimino himself didn't really bounce back. The mojo was gone. The critics stopped making a case for him. The public stopped caring. The movie world generally had moved on too, into the post-great-filmmaker era. Cimino -- nothing if not a great filmmaker wannabe -- has since dribbled out a movie every five years or so, to wider and wider yawns. When "Sunchaser" was released in 1996, hardly anyone noticed. Michael Cimino had been swept under the rug. As far as I can tell, Cimino these days spends his time accepting awards from the French -- the French think "Heaven's Gate" is a masterpiece -- and getting his body and face retooled. He hasn't made a film since "Sunchaser." Perverse creature that I am, my own feelings about Cimino have followed the exact opposite direction. I didn't care for "The Deer Hunter"; it struck me as a bloated, draggy crock. But I've grown very fond of his work since. I'm hardly a fanatic, but watching a Cimino film is something I really look foward to. They're so over the top and full of themselves that I watch them in a state of transfixed and awestruck happiness, much the... posted by Michael at July 15, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bum Bum Bum Bum
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Scott Esposito turns up a dynamite YouTube discovery: videos of the very commanding Herbert van Karajan conducting Beethoven's 5th (part one, part two). Great piledriving-yet-noble stuff, if not easy to make use of as background music. Scott himself recently turned in a smart and helpful appreciation of Nabokov's "Pale Fire," as well as a couple of other experimental works. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

WhiskyPrajer's 15 Faves
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- DarkoV issues the challenge and WhiskyPrajer steps up to the plate! WP is currently reviewing his 15 favorite movies. It's a good, idiosyncratic list -- "Star Wars" is right there, but it's next to "The Filth and the Fury," which is next to "Gidget." (If 'fessing up to loving "Gidget" doesn't take some courage, I don't know what does.) And it's a list that makes no boring pretence to be a best-of list -- we've had enough of those for a while, no? WhiskyPrajer keeps his writing modest and personal. "My only criteria for these fifteen," writes WP, "is their watchability factor -- in other words, these will be movies I don't hesitate to turn on and watch yet again." Which means that reading his postings isn't another wade through someone's opinions; it's more like reading a memoir, or maybe a passage from Nick Hornby. Great sentence (re "Gidget"!): "Think of those heady, crazy days when the two of you were so insanely in love, you were convinced you weren't just beating the odds but breaking the law." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The world's best pickup lines. * Thanks to Dave Lull for pointing out this absorbing Village Voice article by Kathryn Belgiorno about a Dahn yoga devotee who died in the desert while training to be a "master." Is Dahn yoga a cult? Sounds like it might be. I don't know why, but I love stories about cults ... * Rajeev has some bad news about Pakistan. * First Bill Clinton appears on MTV. Now German Chancellor Angela Merkel is interviewed by the Xolo videoblog. Fun to see that Merkel is a videoblogger herself. Even funner to imagine the networks squirming. * The history of Page Three girls. * DesignObserver's Michael Bierut -- a partner in the hot-hot-hot design firm Pentagram -- is enlightening, frank, and sensible in a two-part interview with Peter Merholz. * I confess that I never really knew what the Yiddish verb "to plotz" means. Humid Cedar enlightens. * Do you really have to strap on the Nikes to stay fit? Citrus wonders if keeping busy with chores doesn't make a lot more sense, and wouldn't be just as effective. * Talk about unintended consequences! * Half family tree-maker, half Flickr-like photo-album displayer, Amiglia is a piece of Web 2.0 magic that delivers a taste of what life will be like when, one day, we really are all connected. * Paul Asad links to a lot of Milton Friedman resources. * Camera in hand, Searchie takes a walk through Greenwich Village and is reminded of other great neighborhoods she has known. * Udolpho has just about had it with geeks. * Should pop music be more gay than it is? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- For all the thigh, tummy, tattoo-ink, and buttcrack they put on display, today's mid-American girls are apparently as prim (or almost as prim) as ever. A fun recent article in the NYTimes (not online) reports that -- although many middle-class girls get a kick out of dressing "skanky" and calling each other "slut" -- they worry as much as ever about how far to go, and about their reputations. But if the Anna K./Britney mall crowd is one thing, the bohemian set is another -- far more determined to explore possibilities, and much more eager to live their fantasies out. What with computers making porn well-nigh inescapable ... What with popular culture being as lewd as it has become ... What with everyone having grown tired of joyless, partyline feminism ... What with, in short, life having turned into one big sexual cornucopia, many of today's downtown arty kids are responding by pressing pedal to the metal. A few examples: The neo-burlesque scene. (Here's the website of Nasty Canasta, one of my fave neo-burlesque performers.) Natacha Merritt's photo project "Digital Diaries," which chronicles her sex life. Burning Angel, an outfit that makes boho, alt-porn movies. The alt-porn outfit Suicide Girls showcases self-motivated naked girls sporting tattoos and attitude galore -- 2Blowhards' very own Confessions of a Naked Model correspondent Molly Crabapple was a Suicide Girl for a while. (Here's one of Molly's columns for us; here's another.) Molly also takes part in the burlesque scene as a performer, and she sponsors a series of life-drawing evenings where no one pretends that the model's nakedness isn't hot. The main ideas behind a lot of this activity are 1) It's fun to be sexual, 2) Mainstream porn is borrrrrrrring, and 3) So long as I'm making my own choices, no one is being exploited. Setting aside worries about whether this activity represents a good or a bad development, I've often found myself thinking that some of today's most provocative edgy art comes from these fields, perhaps especially the post-camp performance-art/reality-video webprojects. The trailblazing webcam girls -- JenniCam, Anna Voog, and (my own favorite) Isabella@Home -- created happenings that raised many interesting (and maybe unanswerable) Warholian questions. The more recent Beautiful Agony is a fascinating project too: an ever-growing collection of videoclips of people (mostly young and pierced) masturbating to orgasm. Nothing is on explicit visual display -- the camera focuses on head and shoulders, no more. And -- since the self-pleasurers are videotaping themselves and there's no cigar-smoking smut-mogul around to make your skin crawl -- you watch the show feeling free to enjoy the eye-and-ear candy, and to let your brains play with arty questions. Can we call what these people are creating avant-garde art? God knows they're expressing themselves, and god knows they're creating something. But perhaps the "art" is more in the concept? ... Here's an interview with Richard Lawrence, the brains behind Beautiful Agony and its (equally brilliant, IMHO) sister sites, I... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Lab Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- According to MD, "pathologists are notorious for bad dressing." According to Derek Lowe, the labs chemists work in aren't glowy, colorful and glinty, or lit like a Jerry Bruckheimer tv series, the way they're so often portrayed in magazines and promotional materials. "This is addressed to all professional photographers," Derek writes: "Please, no more colored spotlights." A question for the professional-science types out there? Has there been a book or a movie that has done a good and fair job of presenting the science life as you've experienced it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Doin' the Dental Drill
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Buck up, pessimists. Life actually does get better at times. I returned from the dentist just before starting to draft this article. It was the first phase of putting in a crown. Many over-50 readers are familiar with that "drill" (har, har). The dentist grinds the tooth down to near the gum line, impressions are taken, and a temporary crown is attached. A couple of weeks later the final crown arrives from the lab and replaces the temporary one to complete the second phase. What I found interesting was how quick the procedure was. Based on previous crown-jobs, I figured I might be in the chair for an hour and a quarter. But I was there for only 45 minutes! My dentist seems to be one of those souls who keeps up with the times technologically, so I'm surprised by some new gizmo or procedure almost every time I visit. For instance, he had a headband-mounted spotlight to supplement the regular dental lamp. Okay, he'd worn those before. But this time it had a blue-ish beam like those European car headlights you sometimes see. The drill holder was a streamlined affair and short: perhaps four inches long. And little yellow lights came on when the tiny electric motor was running. This drill was what got me to thinking. I got to thinking about dentist's drills past. Back in the 1940s I had my baby teeth filled way more than once. (Seattle's water was soft as could be, coming from snow-melt. No minerals to speak of. No fluoride either, because in the 40s and 50s fluoride was a Commie plot to poison everyone. By the 80s fluoride became a right-wing plot. Conclusion: fluoride is the result of a plot.) So my teeth were lousy and I went to the dentist a lot. Dental drills in those days were also powered by electric motors, but motors that were many times larger than now. The drill motor was mounted several feet away from the drill itself, perhaps in the base of the drill contraption. Rotation of the drill bit was imparted via a series of thin belts mounted on wheels about an inch in diameter. There were two or three sets of belts, one per segment of an arm that allowed the dentist to position the drill and its approximately six-inch long holder at the patient's mouth. By today's standards, those drills were slow. I remember times when the dentist was using a large drill to rough out the hole; I thought I could almost count the drill's rotations. Awful. High-speed drills were on the scene by the 1960s and marked a huge improvement over the belt-driven variety. For one thing they cut vibration, making drilling less painful. Other changes in dental technology have been more subtle, and I welcome readers with dental training of any sort to hop into Comments with interesting details. One thing I've noticed is that rubber mouth dams seem to be used... posted by Donald at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

More Fat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On a plane flight back to NYC from a recent vacation, I read Greg Critser's "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World." Strangely, it was on another recent plane flight back to NYC that I read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation," which I blogged about here and here. Why do I read books about fast food and fat when returning via airplane to NYC? The only reason I can think of is that, when I'm outside NYC, I'm so struck by the fast-food-and-fat thing that I have no choice but to, er, digest my impressions on the way back home. Quick verdict: "Fat Land" is OK-to-pretty good. Greg Critser clearly wants to scare and mobilize -- more specifically, he wants Americans to be eating lots of greens and doing a lot of cardio-style exercise. Critser doesn't have quite the firebreathing flair that Eric Schlosser does, but he gets the job done. (A pause for a small rant. Like "Fast Food Nation," "Fat Land" would have been a lot better -- IMHO, of course -- as a long magazine article than as a book. How many readers really need all the "narrative" -- the scene-setting, the personalities, the on-sceners, the behind-the-sceners, the drama? Here's hoping we'll have to put up with less of this in the future. One of the great things about electronic publishing is that it's so much more elastic than print -- especially book-bound print -- is. An electronic project can be as long as it needs to be and no longer: three paragraphs is fine, and so is 70 pages -- no need for padding-out just to fill up a book. I'm avoiding all jokes about how overweight both Schlosser's and Critser's books are.) So how did Americans become so fat? Critser's argument is that it all comes down to the corn (as in high-fructose corn syrup) ... and the Nixon administration, which fought stagflation by loosening up food markets ... and, as far as I can tell, the free market more generally. If only corn weren't so darned plentiful and so darned cheap. And if only fast-food operations weren't quite so intent on making money. I oversimplify, of course, but that's roughly it. Parents grew more permissive about kids' eating habits ... Schools started making deals with fast-food chains ... TVs and computers seduced us into inactivity ... And here we are today, lumbering aroud in pyjama-like stretch clothes and wondering what happened to us. Some eye-catching facts: In the 1970s, Americans spent 25% of their food budget on what's known as "food away from home." By the late 1990s, that figure passed 40%. In 1977, fast food joints accounted for 3% of total American calories consumed. By 1997, that figure was 12%. Between 1966 and 1994, the obesity rate among kids jumped from 7 percent to 22 percent. The rate of overweight and obesity was relatively stable in the US for decades -- until the... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

More Egg on Harvard's Face
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen links to an in-depth, now-it-can-be-told Boston Magazine account of the Harvard/Lawrence Summers mess. This morning's WSJ (not online as far as I can tell) reports that Summers' resignation has had a big impact on the school's fund-raising attempts. So far, $390 million dollars in promised donations have been withheld by Summers-supporting fatcats. My own take on the whole affair has been to dodge the usual men/women/science debate and to let fly with a great big Yippee! Any time Harvard makes itself looks foolish, it's good for the nation. Best, Michael BTW, for anyone who was in the slightest doubt that the Ivies are, shall we say, overrepresented in the big-city media world ...... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

It Just Leapt Out of Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Communicatrix bravely 'fesses up to her preferred swear-words. Funny stuff, as well as sweetly personal. As Colleen notes about one of her goofier faves, "Honestly, I have no idea how I came up with this one." Which prompts a question that has interested me for years: Where do the expostulatives we're prone to use come from? How do we settle on the funny/sexy/absurd vocabulary we use when we swear? Or, for another example, during sex? God knows that we aren't usually taught how to swear or how to make erotic-passion grunting-gasping talk, at least not by the usual responsible authority figures. Maybe it's that we get exposed to these lexicons somehow ... Our emotions and appetites somehow zero in on a few ... Our imaginations somehow do their embroidery-thing ... And then, when the provocation arises and the impromptu moment comes along, these crazy, often unexpected words pop out of us. Is there such a thing as a vocabulary of the unconscious? I won't make anyone cringe by exposing my usual (and alas banal) erotic-passion vocabulary, but I will risk a little embarrassment by volunteering the words that my unconscious has settled on in another field -- as fond nicknames for the beloved Wife: Babypie, Sweetness, Sweetiepie, and Lovebug. Honeybunch and Cutiepie make the occasional appearance, but are definitely not first-string players. I didn't try to come up with these silly words; as I got to know The Wife, they just started leaping out of me, feeling completely appropriate as they did so. What are some of your own unconscious' preferred words and phrases? Do you have any idea where they came from? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

India? Brazil?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex is looking for a good, David Hackett Fischer-ish intro to India, and one to Brazil as well. I'll second him and add: I'd like good, short Fischer-ish intros to both countries. Oh, and it'd be nice if they were available as audiobooks. Abridged editions would suit me fine. And preferably read by Charlton Griffin. Can anyone offer recommendations? Those who enjoy ChicagoBoyz shouldn't overlook Lex's other web hangout, Albion's Seedlings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 13, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Glycemic Index and Diabetes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The BBC reports that early infections may affect your likeliness to develop diabetes. (Link thanks to Dave Lull and Mary Scriver. Check out Mary's recent posting about having her eyes examined; she gives a very convincing demo of how much a real writer can do with a little.) Dave Lull tells me that he has been having weight-loss luck by following a low-GI diet. Here are a couple of links that Dave has found helpful. The low-GI diet is often said to be helpful in dealing with diabetes. Wikipedia's entry on the GI diet seems responsible and helpful. I wrote about Michel Montignac's "French Diet" (basically a low-GI way of eating) here. I've found Montignac's plan easy to follow and very effective. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Steve on Economists and Extended Families
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer is on another one of his hot streaks. Here and here, he argues that economists undervalue how much people tend to behave like members of extended families. Here he dismantles a dumb piece by the NYTimes' Tony Horwitz and gives an informative lesson in California history while doing so. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

More on Lit Fic
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The whole "literary fiction" thing, eh? What a ... confounding phenomenon. Is the term "literary fiction" a sign that we ought to pay attention and offer respect? Or is it merely a label for pretentious books that are too high-falutin' to bother delivering engaging and absorbing plots? In a piece he shared with us not long ago, the western novelist Richard S. Wheeler noted that, when he was growing up, no such thing as a contrast between "literary fiction" and "genre fiction" existed. A fiction-book might be more or less refined, but they all existed on the same fiction continuum. So what's with this lit-fic thing anyway? Maybe it's all a great big ... Anyway, I was surfing Wikipedia the other day and was made very happy when I read their entry on literary fiction. Fun passage: Literary fiction is a somewhat uneasy term that has come into common usage since around 1970, principally to distinguish 'serious' fiction (i.e. work with claims to literary merit) from the many types of genre fiction and popular fiction. In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the 'pageturner') focuses more on narrative and plot. 1970 ... Hmmm. That would be right about when the creative-writing schools started to make an impact on book publishing ... England's sensible Robert McCrum (in a piece about BZ Myers' infamous anti-lit fic rant "A Reader's Manifesto") is similarly straightforward and frank: Nowhere has literary fiction been more fiercely entrenched than the United States. Here, the establishment I've described has been reinforced by a network of creative-writing communities, from Iowa to Yaddo, each devoted to turning out publishable examples of literary fiction. I just ran across another piece -- dating back to a 1993 issue of England's irreverent The Modern Review -- that points out another element in the equation: changes in the structure and makeup of the book-publishing biz. Characteristic passage: One useful way of thinking of this kind of literature [ie., "literary fiction"] is as a category that won't admit it's a category ... The fantasy is that the culture of books is guided by people of talent and taste, and that while decency may not always prevail, it has a fighting chance. But the fact is that trade publishing is now run almost entirely on the business' terms. The rout began about 15 years ago is now close to complete. Trade publishing is a thoroughly professionalized world. Publishing lists are constructed under the same kind of constraints and with the same kind of conceptualizing-editor guidance (and interference) that glossy magazines are, and the fiction writers who contribute their work to these lists tend to have an academic preparation comparable to that of contemporary journalists and business people. It appears that word may finally be getting out to the public at large that -- despite its intending-to-awe name -- "literary fiction" represents nothing more than another shelf in your local bookstore's... posted by Michael at July 12, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Help!! I Just Bought a Macintosh!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- After 23 years of owning Microsoft/Intel based computers I finally bit the bullet, er, make that the Apple. Time was I regarded Apples as hippy-dippy, non-serious machines. Which they largely were if your computing needs called for serious number-crunching and the ability to deliver data to corporate clients. But times and circumstances change. I dropped my data business after the Germans took over my then-biggest client, Chrysler (my contacts disappeared). Now I'm about to retire and don't see much reason to pursue demographics further. That means I don't need a big, honkin' number-smashing machine that knows how to speak APL and J. For its part, Apple Computer came to its senses and ditched their old CPU and went to Intel. That move means Macintoshes can run software with Intel-style byte-structure without having to emulate; the practical result is a big speed-up for such tasks. Moreover, Macs are getting the capability of running Windows as a separate, partitioned operating system. Furthermore, I now see the need for having a portable computer. Well, okay, I've seen the need for some time. But I couldn't justify the cost of getting one, especially if I needed a semblance of the power I required for my desktop machine. Powerful laptop computers have always been comparatively pricey. This consideration has been erased by my change in focus from demography; now I need a computer for blogging, other Internet use, and light writing and spreadsheet work. Finally, I had dissatisfaction with Dell and, by extension other Windows/Intel computers. Thus far this year I've spent $140 on virus-removal, half of it related to a short non-protected period when I had to rebuild my operating system and software following replacement of a defunct hard drive. And when I bought a flat-panel monitor (that proved to be slightly defective) I spent hours on the phone with Dell trying to straighten things out. (Now that Dell is a huge company, it is highly bureaucratized. Worse, its phone-tree system makes it difficult to get help with non-standard problems. In past years, I had been happy with Dell: no longer.) The Mac I bought was the bottom-of-the line MacBook. It won't replace the Dell, not at first anyway. The fancier Intel-based Mac portables seemed too expensive, and the MacBook, in theory, ought to be able to serve my modest needs. (I'm not into computationally-intensive activities such as video or gaming.) Besides the basic computer, I got an HP scanner/printer that should make it more convenient to get certain illustrations into this blog (till now, I had to plead with my sister to scan some stuff). I also bought a two-button mouse, thinking that I might need it if I get the Windows-partitioning software. Also, I think a mouse would be handier when a desktop was available, when not in literal lap-top mode. And I bought the Microsoft Office software package for compatibility with the Dell. I can download the J language to the Mac too, I think.... posted by Donald at July 11, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

On His Own, Man Lives Like a Beast
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why yes, the Missus has been out of town for a week. How did you know? (Actual unretouched photograph of the current state of the Blowhard family dining table. When The Wife is around, it's maintained in a state of perfect bare black.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to John Massengale, who points a piece that dares to ask the question, Whatever happened to Male Space in the home?... posted by Michael at July 11, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, July 10, 2006

Googling on Oneself
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- C'mon. Admit it. Once upon a time -- let's say it was at the office on a Friday afternoon when it was 20 minutes before quitting time and you were totally bored out of your skull -- you hopped on the Internet, called up Google and proceeded to Google yourself. Andy Warhol's famous remark about everyone getting their "15 minutes of fame" predates the Internet, so perhaps he was thinking of being above the fold on page A1 of The New York Times. Or maybe anywhere in People magazine (hope they spelled the person's name correctly -- that's what counts). That was then. Now our/your/their fame can be quantified (something that brings a sprig of joy to my data-loving heart). All you have to do after Googling yourself is look at the upper-right part of the report Google sends back for an approximate number of citations the system found for your query. Okay, not all hits refer to you. But you can skim through a couple of screens to get an idea as to what share of them were truly yours. Back before I was (ahem) raised to Blowhard-dom, I boasted 50-ish citations total from various permutations of my name. These were mostly from references to web-based government publications, some articles I wrote in reference to computer languages, and a few references to a book I wrote ages ago. As I started writing this I Googled on "Donald Pittenger" and got 739 hits. Most of the ones from the first few pages were indeed references to me, mostly having to do with blog posts. A check on a later page turned up a larger proportion of Donald Pittengers who aren't (or weren't) me. "Don Pittenger" turned up 104 hits, but not many had to do with me. On the other hand, "Donald B. Pittenger" yielded a princely 14 hits, nearly all mine, mine, mine. Excited by results of my quest, I Googled the other main Blowhards. Michael got an astonishing 52,600 hits. Then I tried his real name and turned up more than 800: the guy really gets around. Friedrich yielded 12,800. I suppose I should be jealous, but he's smarter than I am and writes (mostly) about weighty topics instead of the silly stuff I often churn out. So of course the Internet gives him greater fame. (Friedrich's real name is a fairly common one so it got almost 100,000 hits, none on the first page or two seemed to have to do with him.) Conclusions? Apparently the new path to world conquest, fame-wise, involves having a blog presence (though I suppose hiring a good public relations consultant still wouldn't do you any harm). But even (Internet-) innocent bystanders can get swept up by Google's tentacles. My wife and children got a few hits even though they don't blog (though my son has a Web site). What do you think about Web fame? Eat it up? Recoil in horror? Castigate it publicly yet... posted by Donald at July 10, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Peripheral artists (6): George Henry and E.A. Hornel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Continuing my series on artists at the edges of both Europe and the Paris-centric narrative of art history, we jump westward from Finland and Russia to Scotland. (For some reason, the phrase "peripheral artists" drives some readers nuts. My feeble defense is here.) Around 1885 (plus/minus 10 years or so) there emerged a group of artists with ties to Glasgow who tended to be anti-establishment [yawn] and influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-84), about whom I wrote here, and J. M. Whistler. These artists became known as the "Glasgow Boys." I plan to write about more of the Boys, but will start with two comparative latecomers to the group. Why two? Because they jointly worked on a painting that greatly interested me when I first spotted it in a book about architect Charles Rennie Macintosh and his milieu. I was so impressed that it became a reason to visit Glasgow a few years ago (the prime reason being to see Macintosh's Glasgow School of Art building). The artists are George Henry (1858-1943) and E.A. (Edward Atkinson) Hornel (1864-1933). Henry was born in Ayrshire, but said little about his early life. He went on to study for a while at the Glasgow School of Art. He met Hornel in 1885, Hornel convincing him to spend time at Hornel's Kirkcudbright, Galloway haunts. There they did a good deal of work including two paintings that were done jointly. Henry and Hornel visited Japan for a year and a half in 1893-4, subsidized by an art dealer. Unfortunately, most of Henry's oil paintings, not yet dried (the curse of working in the medium), were ruined aboard the ship on their return trip; his watercolors survived, however. After 1900 Henry moved to London and became a portrait painter. Hornel was born in Australia while his parents were briefly living there before returning to Kirkculbright. Not satisfied with his art school training in Glasgow, he went to Antwerp to study under Karl Verlat. Following his association with Henry, noted above, Hornel found prosperity painting increasingly innocuous pictures of young girls in woodland settings. For more details on his career and work, see here. The following observations are by Roger Billcliffe in his book The Glasgow Boys. In reference to a 1887 Hornel painting, Billcliffe states (p. 194): There is a stronger sense of design and pattern in the composition and the beginnings of Hornel's fascination with an enclosed subject. There is no indication of a horizon but a strong feeling of the claustrophobic enclosure of a dense wood. ... It is the beginning of a Glasgow School concern for pattern, colour and design in composition that was dubbed by several London critics in the 1890s 'the Persian carpet school'. On pages 236-37: ...the most common factor in their work of those years [Henry and Hornel, about 1885-86] is the creation of a confined space within which the figures and animals in these paintings exist. Using a woodland setting both artists dispensed... posted by Donald at July 9, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Men's Singles
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For the first time in decades I find myself more interested in men's tennis than in the women's game. That's because two great and attractive players, lots of drama, a galvanizing new rivalry, and a surprising amount of class are currently on display. The two greats are Switzerland's Roger Federer and Spain's Rafael Nadal, and the rivalry is between the two of them; they meet in tomorrow's Wimbledon final. Nifty fact: Though Federer is easily the world's #1, he has lost to #2 Nadal in six out of their seven matches. Hot stuff! Since, by god, if there's one thing I know about in this world it's how to watch tennis, I'm going to blab for a bit about it. The lowkey, dark-haired Federer isn't just a class act, he's an almost superhuman act. He seems to have descended to earth from another dimension where reactions, skills, perceptions, and wit are routinely 50% better than what we're familiar with here. When Federer is on -- and he's on almost all the time -- he makes amazing athletes look like lead-footed hacks. Check out, for example, this brief set of highlights of a match during which Federer dismembered the very gifted James Blake. He's such a wizard that he seems to observe his own triumphs and talents with a certain amount of dispassionate amazement. For all his prowess, though, Federer is a player of the cool-technician school -- which may mean, as a practical audience matter, that he's hard for anyone who hasn't played tennis him/herself to love. Unless you can tune into what he's up to in tennis-playing terms, what's to cheer for, except the occasional stunt-shot? The immediate question for Federer -- sometimes described as the greatest tennis player ever, and, in any case, in the midst of a four-year reign as king of the hill -- is: How will he do when he's tested? You can never know how a godlike winner will perform under serious stress until the actual moment comes along. (Some years back, when Martina Hingis had the run of women's tennis, it looked like she would go on to have a career as iron-clad as Steffi Graf's. But when the other women started rising to her level, she fell apart.) With Nadal turning up the heat, will Federer be able to retain his sang-froid? Perhaps he'll get even better. But perhaps he can only play well when he's challenged yet able to remain relatively unruffled. Being-above-it-all and operating-on-another-plane can look unbeatable. But it can also be a weakness. The man who is currently challenging Federer is the 20 year old Spaniard Rafael Nadal. While the 24 year old Federer is aiming for his fourth Wimbledon title in a row, Nadal has emerged as a force only in the last year and a half. Nadal is one hot piece of manhood: muscled, earthy, lithe, explosively athletic -- he's like a glam male equivalent of a Williams sister, making up... posted by Michael at July 8, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Breaking, Skipping, Killing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The very smart and savvy Anne Thompson breaks down the thinking (and the numbers) behind the new "Superman": thinks that she'll skip "Pirates 2,"; and notes that, in his new film, M. Night Shyamalan kills off a film critic named Farber. Hmmm: Would that be Stephen or Manny? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Faith and Politics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher was much-struck by a recent Barack Obama speech about faith. Obama was apparently intelligent and respectful. He seemed sincere. Might he prove to be the politician who will mend the left/right wound over religion and politics? Rod wrote a touching and thoughtful posting about Obama; many visitors pitched in with thoughtful comments of their own. I didn't see, hear, or read the speech, but I couldn't resist popping up in the commentsfest with the following: I dunno, I take a different view of the politics thing than the bunch of you do, I guess. Probably a more facile-y cynical one, but it works for me. It goes this way. They're all (all the pols, all the parties) gaming us. They're all basically driven by a love of power -- why else would they politicians? (Let us not be children about this!) And 90%-110% of what they do consists of gratifying their own egos, putting the screws to us, and sewing up their own careers and statures. Nonetheless, they're constrained by the knowledge that every now and then enough of us get riled up about their misbehavior and abuse to throw 'em out of office. And that keeps them in a little better line than they'd stay in otherwise. Their well-rewarded job is to run or pretend to run the political side of our country, and so long as they don't mess it up too bad, we tend to let them get away with a lot. After all, we have lives to lead. It seems to me childish to spend too much time on the search for that one true sincere earnest politician who really isn't like that. I mean, how much heartbreak can you take? And how long can you cling to your naivete, no matter how sweet? It's important to remember that every now and then a worthwhile political person or two comes along and a worthwhile political thing or two happens. But they're soooooo much the exception to the rule that living day to day in the hope of them is like wasting all your energy *trying* to be happy instead of just living your life and relishing the happiness when it does come along. It's self-defeating. Chase happiness and you'll seldom catch it. Stop worrying about happiness, lead life pretty fully, and happiness will likely happen along from time to time. JFK: power-driven megalomaniac. Cuomo: power-driven megalomaniac. Bush family: I don't know what, exactly, but I don't like them any better. Maybe Obama is the real thing, maybe not. But why spend too much psychic energy hoping for the best? Even if he's a "good man," the system's liable to crush that out of him anyway. Maybe not! But meanwhile I'll choose to get on with life. Politics is a kind of fun spectacle to check in on from time to time -- but why waste energy cheering one would-be "hero" after another? Unless that amuses you, of course... posted by Michael at July 8, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Friday, July 7, 2006

Long Life, and Quality of Life
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Brits may be living a decently long time, but they're also suffering more years of ill-health than the citizens of most other EU countries. The average British male now lives for over 76 years -- but he's healthy for only 61 of them. Meanwhile, Italian men spend, on average, almost 72 years in good health. An Italian journalist gives the Brits some tips. Some of his recommendations: Take it easy. Avoid jogging. Don't agonize so much about work. Eat your pasta al dente. Drink a little red wine. Have a nap after lunch. Take a little walk after dinner. And live in a nice climate, for heaven's sake. (Links thanks to NewEconomist.) Best, Michael Blowhard... posted by Michael at July 7, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhard s-- * Spengler laughs at the idea that "primitive" societies were the Rousseau-ian idylls of sentimental myth. * Alan Sullivan unlocks some of his feelings about friendships. * Comics fans will want to check out Heidi MacDonald's new blog. * Well, a girl's gotta take a break from her studies sometime, doesn't she? * Quiet Bubble squares off with the hottest hot sauce he's ever faced. * You might be an engineer if ... * Watching a major design project go for free, Michael Bierut is concerned about the future of his profession. * What was Stanley Kubrick like on the set of "The Shining"? Now you know. * Scott Chaffin gives the press some Texas what-for. * David Chute meditates entertainingly on "Krrish," a movie said by some to be Bollywood's first superhero epic. * Does prohibition always generate big sales? * Stanley Alcorn and Ben Solarz take a Post-Autistics (ie., disparaging) look at neoclassical economics. * Steve wonders if a coinflip is as good as a mogul. * Derek Lowe has some advice for chem grad students: Get outta the lab for a few minutes. * Cowtown Pattie spotted some beauties in Waxahachie not too long ago. * I've enthused about The New Yorker's art critic Peter Schjeldahl several times. Here's a good, lengthy interview with him. His vision of art and his vision of criticism are ones that I find very simpatico. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

GNXP Interviews Steven Pinker
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Darth Quixote interviews Steven Pinker. Pinker's "The Blank Slate" has a chapter that's the best intro I know of to the way evo-bio and brain science affect thinking about the arts. Culturefans can also learn a lot in a very short time from Denis Dutton's brilliant essay "Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

More YouTube Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Graham Lester discovers YouTube and turns up some beauties: a whole passel of gorgeous violin performances, and a bizarrely moving video that sets fragments of Japanese anime to Leonard Cohen's mournfully romantic "Suzanne." (Do we call such a creation a "remix"? A "mashup"?) Lexington Green unearths a montage of stills of Chet Baker accompanied by Baker's boyishly sexy and gentle "Let's Get Lost." BigTent points out some zanily endearing Bollywood funk, 'fro and all. 2Blowhards visitor Onetwothree volunteers a wonderfully zigzaggy performance by Thelonious Monk, while Brian zeroes in on the ultra-raw, old-time blugrass giant Roscoe Holcolmb, the man whose music inspired the term "a high, lonesome sound." If, after touring these sights and sounds, your ears, eyes, and brain aren't doing flipflops of pleasure, then the time has come to dial 911. Surfing YouTube (and swapping YouTube links with others) makes me feel giddy. It makes me feel like I felt when I first started to explore the web itself. Lex writes, "Let me be the nine-millionth person to praise the infinite awesomeness of YouTube." Let me be the nine-million and oneth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, July 6, 2006

New-Style Video Stardom
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As the video universe moves onto the web, we're seeing a new kind of video stardom emerge. Amanda Congdon and Rocketboom may have parted ways but, with more than 400,000 hits so far, YouTube cutiepie Emmalina is taking up some of that slack. Much-loved for her sweetly goofy overbite, her Tasmanian accent, her sincere Christian belief, and her tendency to "dance like a strippa," Emmalina posts a new videoblog around once a week. In my favorite so far she expresses her reservations about looking at pornography and confesses that amateur porn suits her tastes the best. I can't make sense out of MySpace pages -- they hurt my eyes -- but, fwiw, here's Emmalina's. I have no idea what this is about -- a dating site maybe? -- but there it is. (Does Emmalina's b.f. know about it?) Emmalina wants the whole world to understand that, appearances to the contrary, "I'm naturally a private person." On her LiveJournal blog, Emmalina confides a piquant fantasy that ran through her mind the other day ... I notice that Wikipedia has immortalized Emmalina, and that the Washington Post has covered the Emmalina phenomenon too. Self-described "YouTube loser" LazyDork made a hilarious rap video about Emmalina. He also sings an ode to "Emmalina time" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Duke or The Count?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Terry Teachout for linking to this ultra-suave Duke Ellington Orchestra performance of "Satin Doll": I confess that, where swing bands are concerned, I was always more of Count Basie fan myself: funkier, harder-hitting. Just see if you can sit still through this hoppin' small-combo version of "One O'Clock Jump." Does music get much steamier than this?: As the wise man often said, though: Why not enjoy both? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Cheeta at 74
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you realize that Cheeta, the chimpanzee star of many "Tarzan" movies of the '30s and '40s, is still with us? Having given up beer and cigars, Cheeta recently turned a distinguished 74. He's living (as all retired movie stars should) in Palm Springs, and -- under the care of Dan Westfall -- is doing well. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Cheeta as the world's oldest living chimp. The real attraction, with a couple of co-stars Art lovers can buy paintings by Cheeta at the Cheeta website. (I'm ordering one myself.) Here's a National Geographic article about Cheeta. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Corn Eating: Typewriter or Lathe?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Slaps forehead] It's upon us, and I almost forgot! Corn on the cob season is getting underway. I ate my first ear of 2006 on July 4th (it was grown in California). By August, locally grown sweet corn will be available nearly everywhere in the U.S. (For readers outside Anglophone America, I'm talking about Maize and not the grains you call corn.) Some folks can be pretty fussy about corn. I know a woman who grew up on a farm where they'd plant a couple rows of sweet corn next to the fence of a field of feed corn. When they wanted corn they simply plucked some ears off the stalks and plopped 'em right into the pot of boiling water. So to her, even two-day-old supermarket corn was impossibly old. Me, I don't even care if the corn is more starchy than sweet -- an interesting point of view from the world's seventh most fussy eater (I moved up a few places since the last time I reported my ranking). While munching that tasty ear on the Fourth, I happened to notice the eating techniques of those of us at the table. The two men ate the corn from side-to-side, about three rows at a time. I'll call this "typewriter style." The two women, on the other hand, ate around the cob, only moving along it once a circuit was completed. This I'll term "lathe style." Questions to readers: Are these eating styles sex-based tendencies as my n=4 sample suggests? Are you a lathe or a typewriter? And what about your friends and relatives? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Political Divisions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Citing Christopher Lasch, Caleb Stegall wonders if the key political division these days is really between Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps instead it's between "our self-interested and arrogant elites" and "the rest of us." I'm on board with that. It's the main reason why, in fact, I'm such a monomaniac about featuring the immigration issue on this blog -- it throws the "elites vs. us" question into dramatic relief. Link thanks to Rod Dreher. Caleb Stegall edits The New Pantagruel. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Two-Piece Landmark
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Finally, cultural news of real import: Yesterday, the bikini turned 60. Wikipedia supplies much-appreciated (and well-illustrated) background. The CBC asks, "What would pop culture be without the bikini?" Sometimes even hetero boys pay attention to fashion. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

A Boy Problem at School?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An interesting Rizurkhen posting at GNXP prompted a few lines from me that I'm feeling pleased about. The topic was, "Is there really a boy problem in education today?", because, y'know, girls -- although in PC myth supposedly discriminated-against -- are outperforming boys in nearly every sense in schools these days. If vulgar language makes you turn your nose up, then I suggest you skip the following. Anyway, my response: I always thought school was for girls anyway (and I'm an oldie, so I'm going back to the pre-feminist '50s and '60s for my grammar school and junior high memories). School wasn't easy for boys. Sit still ... Behave well ... Be quiet ... Pay attention ... Read boring, well-meaning books ... Do homework ... Turn it in on time ... This was all stuff girls seemed by nature to do well, while boys loved being physical, irreverent, and flashy, and (of course) crashing into walls and going down in flames. Imagine my surprise when the feminists came along and announced that school was a conspiracy against girls! If anything in life seemed to me to favor girls, it was school. Feminizing school yet further seemed like the last thing anyone really needed. I still think the feminists were nuts on this point. I also think that if we were to be serious about providing good schooling for boys, it would include 1) lots more male teachers, 2) lots more opportunities to be physical, 3) lots more in the way of reading and media material of the kind boys tend to prefer (why not more comic books, for example?), 3) and lots more opportunities to build shit and blow shit up. As an old fart who's been working in the same field for far too long, and who has seen the generations come and go, I can report that the current youngsters are a special breed. By contrast to the politicize-everything Boomer-divas and the spiteful Xers, they're very sweet, nice, and untroubled. (They also seem to be completely uneducated, except in computers and careerizing. Perhaps ignorance really is bliss!) But the young women are sooooo much more cocksure and confident than the guys ... It's really striking. They're dynamos: bright, competent, fit, pulled-together, going places, always with keys, waterbottle, and cellphone in hand. The guys by contrast look hangdog. They wear their shirttails out, are physically slack (or overbulked-up in a stupid-gym-rat way), have bedhead, and specialize in sheepish expressions and bitchy asides. I get the impression of a generation of dudes who have had the "guy" knocked out of them, who have no idea how to be men, who assume that the gals are automatically the stars, and who lurk around the sidelines hoping they'll score some nooky every now and then because -- after all and thank god -- most chicks still want boyfriends. School: Did it strike you as suiting girls or boys better? And what do today's 23-year-olds seem like... posted by Michael at July 6, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Modern vs. Modernist
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- John Massengale shows off a hilarious (and fast) Paris Hilton slideshow -- how much time do you suppose that girl spends rehearsing herself in the mirror? Then he points out that the Institute for Classical Architecture has begun its own blog. Don't miss this gorgeous posting about the fabulous American architect Arthur Brown Jr. A little Michael Blowhard input here: Feast your eyes on Brown's buildings (as well as others by such underknown giants as Paul Cret, Bertram Goodhue, and Bernard Maybeck), then remind yourself that these structures were all built in the 20th century. Where architecture-history is concerned, the establishment wants us to think of the 20th century as the era of glass, steel, concrete, and geometry; as far as they're concerned, anything else simply isn't modern architecture. Yet Brown, Cret, Goodhue, and Maybeck didn't do steel and geometry. Instead of glass boxes, these architects gave us what high-end architects have always given us, at least until the modernists (patooie) came along: pillars, domes, clocktowers, arches and arcades, etc., as well as ornaments galore. That's glorious -- as well as likable, comprehensible, and accessible -- stuff. Takeaway lesson: There's an important difference between "modern" and "modernist." Modern means nothing more than "current or recent." Modernist means "buying into the ideology of modernism." In the foreground, modern architecture (Goodhue's 1919 St. Bartholomew's); to the left, modernist architecture (who cares?) Do you need to know the theory behind it to be wowed and moved by Goodhue's modern church in the pic above? Yet what kind of sense does modernist architecture make -- except as Darth Vader-ugly -- if you aren't familiar with the justifications its apologists and propagandists have dreamed up for it? In any case, say hello to the kind of "modern architecture" that the schools and the critics don't want you to know about. Why? Because if too many of us woke up to the fact that we have the choice -- that we're under no obligation to love cold surfaces and sharp edges -- we wouldn't put up with modernism. Thought for the day: Traditional architecture is like tonal music -- instantly comprehensible and accessible to everyone. (And, yeah, sure, as with tonal music there's a lot of crap traditional architecture around.) Meanwhile modernist (and modernist-derived) architecture is the equivalent of atonal music. Each work is supposedly unique, each one is a closed system, and each one demands to be decoded on its own terms. Because they're all partaking of the same open language, pieces of traditional architecture tend to come together in harmonious, interrelated, and organic wholes -- ie, neighborhoods, blocks, towns. Because they speak only to themselves and/or insiders, when pieces of modernist architecture cluster, they almost always result in spikey chaos. The Classicist also points out a wonderful -- a typically wonderful -- Christopher Gray article about an architect completely new to me: Gaetan (sometimes Gaetano) Ajello, a Sicilian immigrant who designed many New York City apartment buildings. (Christopher Gray's... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Collaborate, Resist or ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you had been a Frenchman during the period June 1940 (when France fell to Germany) and June 1944 (the Normandy invasion), what would you have done with respect to the Germans and their Occupation? For many years following the end of World War 2 the French were cast (much of the time by their intellectual elite) into a cartoonish dichotomy. On the one hand were the noble, fearless members of the Resistance. On the other were evil collaborationists. The rest of the population was shrugged off, perhaps being sadly regarded as morally lacking for failing to be in the Resistance. During the weeks and months following the Liberation, many collaborationists were publicly humiliated (women fraternizing with German soldiers were stripped naked, had their heads shaved and were paraded through the streets) or were tried and, in some cases, executed. Some of this was pure public reaction. But both the Communists and the Gaullists had a large stake in claiming Resistance credibility in the early post-Liberation days as part of their maneuvering for power. So I wonder how much the anti-collaborationist spasm was political theatre. In reality, the French people formed a continuum. At the Resistance extreme were those who participated in guerilla warfare, blowing up German equipment or assassinating officers. Others didn't fight, but provided various kinds of support. Albert Camus, for example, edited the underground newspaper Combat while continuing his regular writing. Jean-Paul Sartre, after release from a German PoW camp, spent the war in Paris' literary circles though he did write articles for Combat in amongst his book-writing and teaching activities. The most extreme collaborationists were members of fascist organizations dedicated to the support of the Occupation. Not far removed were citizens who ratted on Jews. And then there were Frenchwomen who had German lovers. I'm not sure one can call this "collaboration" if nothing was done to materially support the Occupation. Coco Chanel falls into this group. She was spared public humiliation because she "had friends in high places" and moved to Switzerland for several years to lower her profile. As for the prostitutes who entertained German troops, I have to assume their interest was largely monetary. The extremes probably represented a small part of the population. The bulk of the French mostly hunkered down and coped as best they could. Robert Gildea wrote a book titled "Marianne in Chains" a few years ago that featured residents of the Loire Valley and their ways of dealing with the Occupation. I bought a copy of the book because I was interested in the subject. But I found it tedious reading and set it aside. Absent Gildea, I'll just have to resort to speculation based on what I've read elsewhere plus my take on human psychology. Resistance members who did physical harm to the Occupation tended to be young and idealistic. Many were committed Communists who followed Moscow's dictates; before Russia was invaded, the Occupation was tolerated, and thereafter force was necessary.... posted by Donald at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

300 Million
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 2006 is the year the U.S.'s population will reach 300 million -- with population growth due almost entirely to Hispanic immigration. A couple of amazing/sad (by my lights, anyway) facts: "In 1967, there were fewer than 10 million people in the U.S. who were born in other countries; that was not even one in 20. Today, there are 36 million immigrants, about one in eight." Since the original Earth Day, our population has increased by nearly 50%. I marveled here about the way most major environmental groups are dodging the immigration question, as well as avoiding the sheer-numbers issue. Hey, say hello to the new racial politics. I won't be surprised if we see a lot more of this kind of thing too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Relax, Honey
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe nobody's doing anything wrong. Maybe it's just in your genes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Kenneth Harl on the Ancient Near East
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I wrote about how much I'd enjoyed a Teaching Company lecture series by Kenneth Harl entitled "Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor." I recently finished another Harl lecture series -- "Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations" -- and I enjoyed it just as much. It's one of the Teaching Company's shorter programs -- twelve 30-minute lectures -- and it's clearly meant to serve as an introductory survey. It covers a huge amount of ground: around 3000 years, from the beginnings of settlements in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys to the Persian Empire. So it's a very speedy overview of the world out of which the old familiars (Egypt, Greece, Rome) grew. I can't say that I now carry around a vivid picture of these nations and tribes: among them, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, the Sumerians, and the Assyrians. But I've wanted to find out a bit about these peoples for ages, and I'm grateful that I now have a general, eagle-eye impression of them. (Back here I wrote about how much I love 101-style introductions to subjects.) With these two series, Harl has become one of my favorite audio presenters. His speaking voice is a long way from being the silken, clear, calm-yet-impassioned instrument that Charlton Griffin's is. (For my money, Charlton -- who I'm thrilled to say visits 2Blowhards occasionally -- is the best reader of audiobooks ever. You can explore the ultra-classy and mega-satisfying audiobooks that Charlton produces and presents here.) But Harl has lots of virtues of his own. He tempers scholarly zeal with a sense of perspective; his knack for doling out information in appropriately-scaled ways is really impressive. He respects the fact that, for many of us, he's delivering what's likely to be our one and only jaunt through the material; although he keeps the information coming at a cracking pace, he doesn't lose track of the larger movements and sweeps. He's modest about how much can be known about eras so very distant to ours, and -- for all his proficient-academic smarts -- he's down-to-earth about and even amused by how the real world works. (Bless him, he has no apparent political agenda.) And, unlike some profs, Harl seems to have no trouble with the idea that his listeners are grownups with busy lives. Instead, he seems to be thrilled that we're there, and that we're interested. In the Teaching Company's lineup, Harl seems to be the go-to guy for the-stuff-in-between-the-usual-ancient-stuff. (It's a sign of how smart and decent the Teaching Company is that they have such a go-to guy on their team.) Harl doesn't do Egypt, Greece, or Rome at great length. Instead, he discusses all those other tribes and peoples. In addition to the series that I linked to above, he also presents the barbarians who duked it out with Rome, Byzantium, and the Vikings. Interesting topics! -- as well as ones that my college history profs skipped entirely. A while back... posted by Michael at July 5, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Belts and Suspenders
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: What ever became of suspenders? A few years ago, they had a mini-revival. But it seems to have flopped. Larry King has been wearing suspenders probably since Franklin Roosevelt was elected for the first time. Plus, suspenders are his trademark, so he doesn't really count. But Dan Rather wore suspenders for a while, and what good did they do him? In theory, suspenders should be functionally superior to belts and therefore belts would be expected to be the rarity. Suspenders, provided they don't become detached, can be adjusted just so in order to keep trousers at a desired position. The crease is maintained and there is no piling up of the legs atop one's shoes as can happen wearing a belt that can work its way down an inch or two during the day. This is why men's formal clothes are worn with suspenders and not belts. My grandfather (1869-1963) wore suspenders. My father (1908-93) wore them with suits perhaps through the 1940s. My mother made me wear suspenders until I was seven or eight years old. I hated suspenders. Still do. For me, transitioning from suspenders to a belt was a milestone on the road to adulthood. Similar to the short-pants to long-pants transition for boys before, say, the 1930s. The suspenders I wore had clips with teeth to attach them to the front side of my trousers; I can't remember whether the backside attachment was a similar clip or a button-loop. In any case, those clips were troublesome -- sometimes being hard to attach and other times becoming detached without warning. Since childhood, the only time I've worn suspenders was when I rented formal wear. Not being used to them, they had an odd feel. The oddest thing was that the elastic allowed the trousers to do a mini-bungee jump with each step I took. My overall impression was one of insecurity: were my clothes about to fall off? I'd like to wrap up this post with a profound sociological observation, but can't quite do so. The best I can come up with is to observe that the fall of suspenders and the rise of the belt roughly coincided with the start of the transition from males being relatively formally dressed to relatively casually dressed. And belts triumphed about the same time that men abandoned hats (baseball caps excepted). Let me add that belts were commonly worn with casual clothing even when suspenders were pretty standard for suits. I suspect men perferred the apparently greater security of a belt and gradually stopped bothering with suspenders. A final quick observation. Between 1950 and 1980 (approximately) waistlines on men's clothing have dropped. Higher beltlines are suspenders-friendly, lower beltlines are belt-simpatico. I'm pretty sure that the switch from suspenders to belts was a causal factor in the beltline change. There was a lag, however. Although I and all the other guys in high school wore belts (this was the late 50s), waistlines were still about belly-button... posted by Donald at July 4, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Disappearing Middle?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Middle-class neighborhoods in urban and even suburban areas are shrinking at a very rapid rate. A Brookings Instition study "found that as a share of all urban and suburban neighborhoods, middle-income neighborhoods in the nation's 100 largest metro areas have declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000." More and more, neighborhoods are tipping either rich or poor. The most hollowed-out metro region in the country is Los Angeles, where "the share of poor neighborhoods is up 10 percent, rich neighborhoods are up 14 percent and middle-income areas are down by 24 percent." (Source.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 2, 2006 | perma-link | (27) comments

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Looking Through The New Yorker
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- After about six months of never once looking at it, I just spent a couple of hours grazing my way through a half a dozen recent issues of The New Yorker. How remote, underlit, unpressing, and unnecesary the magazine felt. Whether you loved or hated The New Yorker of previous decades, it was a distinctive (and maybe great) American-culture achievement. Under Harold Ross and his successor William Shawn, The New Yorker was sui generis, as well as genuinely eccentric and unpredictable. A bizarre combo of the sophisticated and the completely out-of-it, it was unlike any other magazine, and its arrival in the mailbox every week was a genuine cultural event. The magazine these days seems to me completely skippable. Why? It seems to me that two key things have changed since the old days. One has to do with the magazine itself. The old guard -- the people who really created The New Yorker -- is now almost completely gone. The magazine today, edited by David Remnick, is now populated by pro journalists, Boomers and Xers, many of them ambitious Ivy League brats of the "we must occupy the offices of the people we grew up admiring" sort. Smart and talented though many of them are, they're anything but originals. They don't even offer much of an alternative to the cast and voices at Slate and The New Republic. The other Thing That Has Changed has to do with media life outside the magazine -- and that, of course, is the advent of the web. Back in the days before online publishing, magazines, books, and writers often served as intellectual friends. Although you could of course hang out with, write letters to, and yak on the phone with your actual friends, what could you do about your cultural and intellectual interests? And how could you expand your horizons? For such functions, you often turned to writers. You looked forward to visits with them. You carried on long conversations with them in your mind. With the web, you no longer have no choice but to commune with writers in your head. Online, you can find kindred spirits and really commune with them, and in near-real time. People online are speaking about things they've noticed, and things that matter to them. They're bringing expertise and life-experience to bear. They're finding subjects months before the mainstream media do, and they're yakking about them in more open, freewheeling, and honest ways than pro journalists often can. Bloggers get too much credit for this, it seems to me; as far as I can tell, our most important function is as conversation-starters. In any case, the ongoing conversations are the point -- and links, commenters, and interview subjects all play important roles in keeping these conversations alive and rolling. In the to-and-fro of comparing notes and making connections, who has time to care about mere "articles," let alone bigshot magazine writers? Even so far as journalism goes, online journalism (and... posted by Michael at July 1, 2006 | perma-link | (33) comments