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

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Saturday, 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