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

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Time Off at the Office
  2. Singers and Songwriters
  3. That Mel Thing
  4. Elsewhere
  5. Immigration and America's Working Class
  6. Common Sense and Social Science
  7. Tom Hart
  8. Rusting Car Porn
  9. "Flint's Gift"
  10. String Theory Online

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, August 4, 2006

Time Off at the Office
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An AOL/ survey reveals that American office workers spend an average of 2.09 hours a day slacking. Their number one distraction? Surfing the web. Older employees goof off less than younger ones. Gals and guys slack equally. People in insurance offices take it easiest; employees in Shipping and Receiving are busiest. Missouri is the goofingest-off state, South Carolina (!) the least. Nice line in the report: If you are guilty of wasting a little time at work, and reading this far may indicate that you are ... No information in the study about how many of these millions of slacked-off hours are devoted to blogging and blog-surfing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 4, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Singers and Songwriters
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On a page where they sell DVDs of their shows, the Austin City Limits gang offer generous samples of music performances. Adequate visuals, complete songs, excellent sound quality ... And the line-up! Just to mention a few of my faves: Fats Domino, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, Delbert McClinton. Don't miss Delbert's "Giving It Up For Your Love" -- soul-stirring stuff. I rhapsodized about the magnificence that is Delbert here. Some other recent sightings: alt-country god Guy Clark is caught on amateur camcorder performing his classic "L.A. Freeway" ... A young Bette Midler has a lusty, er, ball with double-entendres on "Dr. Long John" ... Here she zings home an exuberantly campy rendition of "Pretty Legs and Great Big Knockers" ... Have you ever seen a performer who loves, just loves, being on stage quite as much as Bette does? And Shouting Thomas can now be found on iTunes! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 4, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

That Mel Thing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to make of Mel's drunken anti-Semitic spoutings? For one very basic thing: Are we justified in assuming that what people say when smashed always represents their real views? For another: Do his remarks provide definitive proof for those who accused "The Passion of the Christ" of anti-Semitism? More generally: How much are we entitled to read into the art what we think we know about the artist? I'm not generally of the "alcohol-fueled ravings reveal the Real Truth about a person" school, are you? A nice passage from Laurence Auster: Alcohol not only releases the unattractive and disorderly sides of ourselves that we normally keep in check, it may introduce aggressive and belligerent impulses that we normally don't feel at all. To conclude that what a person says while in a state of extreme intoxication when his faculty of self-control has been suspended is what the person "really" believes is to cancel him out as a moral being. Judgment is part of what makes us human. It is wrong to judge a person for what he says when his judgment has been removed. I haven't watched "The Passion of the Christ" and may never do so (the story doesn't speak to me); and my main reaction to the brouhaha has been to think, "Wow, can you come up with many movie stars as handsome as Mel who have lost their looks as young as he has? Is that what booze can do?" So my views aren't to be paid attention to. Rod Dreher's ruminations, though, are well worth a wrestle: here, here, here, here, here, and here. Rod's visitors add a lot to the discussion too. Best, Michael UPDATE: Anne Thompson recalls meeting Gibson a few times.... posted by Michael at August 4, 2006 | perma-link | (27) comments

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * If you can't find Francis Morrone at 2Blowhards, then go read him where he currently is. Francis introduces us to the Roccoco sculptor Clodion, and to another fascinating character too: the intellectual/comic-book artist Pierce Rice. * Listen to a touching live recording of Townes Van Zandt. I wrote gushingly in praise of Townes and his music here. * Kirsten has been making her way through some very long books. * Anne Thompson thinks that Time's Richard Schickel should hang up the film-reviewing spurs. * Crisis time: Chelsea Girl's b.f. wants her to get rid of a piercing that she's very fond of. * Somebody has scanned a copy of Raymond Chandler's classic and essential essay "The Simple Art of Murder" and made it available -- PDF alert! -- here. * The Patriarch confesses that he's incapable of refusing free food. * Caleb Stegall makes the case for what he calls "folk populism." * Yahmdallah has been thinking about actresses, and recalling the early days of MTV. * James Panero urges everyone to make it to Tanglewood before summer ends. * There were certainly some zany architecture experiments happenin' in the 1970s ... * New interviews with comix guru Scott McCloud can be read here and here. McCloud has a new how-to-make-a-comic-book book coming out in September. * Well, if you're going to be famous for anything ... (NSFW) * Neil wallows in the glamor that is L.A. * Dave Munger has some sensible advice for blogging newbies. * The adventures of Chad Vader, Darth's not-too-successful brother. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 3, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Immigration and America's Working Class
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few postings ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed Dean Baker's "The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer." Today I've been thinking about immigration. Here's an interesting and a propos passage from Dean's book: From 1980 to 2005 the [American] economy grew by more than 120 percent. Productivity ... rose by almost 70 percent. Yet the wages for a typical worker changed little over this period, after adjusting for inflation. Furthermore, workers had far less security at the end of this period than the beginning, as access to health insurance and pension coverage dwindled, and layoffs and downsizing became standard practices. In short, most workers saw few gains from a quarter century of economic growth. Got that? 25 years of perky economic growth have resulted in few benefits for America's working class. How to explain this fact? Dean cites a number of factors. One of the major ones turns out to be, surprise surprise, our zany immigration policies: Immigration has been an important tool to depress the wages of a substantial segment of the workforce ... Meatpacking is an obvious example of an industry that did offer relatively high-paying jobs that were widely sought after by native-born workers, even though no one would be very happy to work in a slaughterhouse. This is less true today than in the past, because the meatpacking industry has taken advantage of the availability of immigrant workers to depress wages and working conditions in the industry. As a result, immigrant workers are now a very large share of the workforce in the meatpacking industry. Dean's view of developments in the meatpacking biz is confirmed by Eric Schlosser in "Fast Food Nation," btw. I summarized Schlosser's tales and facts about fast food, meatpacking, and immigration here. The principle is pure Econ 101: If we increase the supply (in this case of low-skilled workers), then prices (ie. salaries, wages and benefits) will decline. Why on earth would we wish lower salaries on our fellow citizens, especially on our working class neighbors? As Dean asks elsewhere in his book: If we're going to permit big waves of immigration, why not invite in droves of high-skilled workers instead of low-skilled ones? That'd depress some wages -- doctors', lawyers' -- that could use some depressing. Inequality would be reduced, social tension might be relaxed a bit, and all of us would be saved serious dough when we visit a doctor or lawyer. Instead, we -- or at least our elites -- put the screws to our less well-off neighbors. On what basis can such behavior be defended? In short: One of the best (as well as easiest) things we could do to reduce inequality as well as to benefit our own working class would be to run a more modest and careful immigration regime. Instead we seem determined to hand out benefits to 1) politicians who'll win the votes of Latin American... posted by Michael at August 3, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Common Sense and Social Science
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- All due honor paid to genuine advances and breakthroughs, of course, but ... Doesn't it sometimes seem as though the social sciences spend a lot of time patting themselves on the back for "discovering" what everyone already knows? Today's example: In an Economic Scene column in the NYTimes, Cornell economist Robert Frank informs us that "Economists increasingly recognize the importance of herd behavior in explaining ordinary purchase decisions." (The column is readable, if you're registered, here.) Citing the popularity of SUVs, Frank writes, "The conventional determinants of consumer demand cannot explain this astonishing trajectory." Gadzooks: A lotta people -- and perhaps all of us to one extent or another -- often mimic what everyone else is doing! Consider me newly enlightened. Making an effort to look on the positive side of this, I guess I'm glad that some eggheads have managed to abandon theory long enough to register a little bit of how people actually behave. Next: Economists discover that people shopping for groceries often don't bother to compare prices. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 3, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Tom Hart
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm a big fan of Tom Hart, a graphic novelist and comic strip writer/artist whose best-known character is probably the rebel-bum Hutch Owen. Hart is of the alt-weekly school of cartooning, and his work has a fizz and a quirkiness that I find impossible to resist. The stories and concepts have a brainstormy spaciness, while the grubbiness, directness, and informality of the drawing keep the material firmly of this earth. If ever a work could be said to be both whimsical and soulful, "Hutch Owen" is it. So I'm tickled to discover that Tom Hart writes a blog. It's a charmer -- as perceptive, goofily creative, and human as his comix. In this posting, Hart goes home to Missouri and reflects on how his old stomping grounds now strike him. Nice passage: The buffet was awesome for 6 bucks. I saw a young woman there who was so cute and dressed so urbanely it made me homesick. Girls like that are few and far between in the flat, rural midwest. People in the midwest really could not give a shit for Hollywood, or our New York culture, or anything. Strange how still the TV commercials reflect the culture of the coasts. The world between the coasts is so radically different. People drive to each other's houses just to sit in chairs, drink soda and say hello. Yeah they eat like utter crap, but they like it. They like keeping their tax money. They have jobs, they buy shit, they live and die. They like that just fine, too. They don't think about other cultures. They don't aspire to make great things. They don't get off on the fruits of their labor. They sit around and tell stories about their childhood, about mutual acquaintances, about illness and trauma and near-misses and shared opinions and advice. Now that's saying a lot with very little. Which, come to think of it, is what the very best cartoonists do, isn't it? I'm also tickled to discover that Tom Hart teaches cartooning. I'll bet he's a generous and terrific teacher. Now, if only I had some talent ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Rusting Car Porn
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are one too many kinds of car fans, I think. Well, maybe more than one. But I'm in a venting mood and can't be bothered to do the research. I can relate to classic-car aficionados. No way can I afford to buy, restore and maintain an old Packard let alone a Delage or Cord 812. But I do like dropping in at the Pebble Beach Concours every few years. And I am not now and never have been a hot-rodder. Matter of fact, I cringe every time I see a kustom kar that by all rights should have been carefully restored. (I ask you: When's the last time you saw a totally stock 1949 Mercury on the street? Case closed.) Still, I can understand the motivation of a hot rodder. Where I draw the line is getting one's jollies from pictures of abandoned, rusting old cars. It seems almost like porn. Only this porn doesn't come in brown wrappers. It's actually advertised in car magazines and takes the form of color calendars. Or editorial content. The late, lamented (well, I lament the magazine as edited by Michael Lamm -- not so much by other editors) Special-Interest Autos would sometimes devote two or three pages to black & white photos of a bunch of old Hudsons and Studebakers rusting away in an Indiana farmer's field or somesuch place. This is the sort of depiction: Yes, yes I'm probably the weird one. But I just can't understand why such pictures are appealing to enough people that magazine editors carve out part of the editorial hole for them and calendar publishers gin up press runs of the stuff. Dammit! those cars deserve a good home!! [Pausing in reflection] Could it be ...? Yes. It pains me to admit it. I'm sounding just like those people who have the urge to take in stray cats. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 2, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

"Flint's Gift"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I think it may be a common mistake to assume that you'll like the artist who has made work that you've enjoyed, and that you''ll dislike the person whose work you haven't cared for. How could this not be the case? That painter whose images click for you ... That musician who knows how to touch your heart ... That filmmaker who rouses your imagination so reliably ... The inner stirrings their work makes you feel can't just be tricks of art, can they? No, they must -- they simply must -- represent something real. Well, perhaps most people aren't as naive as I once was. But it took small-town, dreamy me a while to get over this particular fantasy. In fact, back when I was interacting regularly with authors, artists, and filmmakers, I found that the opposite was as likely to be true. Adrian Lyne, for instance: I don't care for most of his movies -- except for the magnificent "Unfaithful" -- but I got on with him (in an interview setting anyway) like a house on fire. On the other hand, Alice Munro: I worship much of her work, but in person we chatted agreeably like the polite strangers we were and then went on our separate ways. I still retain a bit of apprehension when I look at the work of someone I've met and liked. Good lord, is it so much to ask to enjoy both the artist and the work? So I'm not just happy but relieved to report that, midway through my first Richard S. Wheeler novel, I'm lovin' it. Not that Richard and I are buds; visitors to this blog know Richard as well as I do. (Prairie Mary did the honors of introducing Richard to the blog, and us to him.) Richard sometimes drops by and sometimes leaves comments, all of them urbane, helpful, and interesting. Richard gave us permission to print a couple of pieces by him -- highly recommended, here and here. And I'm hoping to coax him into contributing more to the blog. But we've never actually met. Still, what a likable, class act. Happily, I can say the same about his novel. The book I'm in the middle of is his western "Flint's Gift." It's a gem: spacious and leisurely yet full of understated drama, fragrant and atmospheric when it isn't exciting and tense ... Richard has a phenomenal intuitive sense of how to combine his ingredients as well as how to spread his creation out before us for our enjoyment and pleasure. He mixes just the right combo of the stern with the gentle, the impressionistic with the Biblical. Action, psychology, and history lie side by side, enhancing each other to the max. His narrative makes use of noble themes: honor vs. love, tradition vs. progress, the longing for home vs. the love of adventure, the ways wars play out in both public and private arenas ... The story setup: A... posted by Michael at August 2, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

String Theory Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not sure my lame brain is capable of imagining 10 dimensions even after watching this. But I sure enjoyed the nifty little Flash presentation. String theory: anything to it? Or just something a certain kind of hyper-brilliant mind is prone to dreaming up? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Retail Slaughter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll grudgingly admit that there are at least a few advantages to being a graybeard. Most folks past age 45 or 50 have been around long enough to see trends start and end, intellectual or policy fads that come and go and then come 'round again, etc. Can give one a bit of wisdom, if one bothers to think about the pattern. Something that has struck me over the years is how a new, "killer" concept in retail can come on the scene and seem to be in the process of utterly destroying older kinds of retail. Such destruction seldom is complete, though much damage to storeowners or stockholders (not to mention employees) is done. Then, at some point, another killer retail concept materializes to blow the previous killer into the ditch. What's interesting (among other things) is that during the time a concept is dominant, it is hard for folks to imagine that it will wane; we tend to take it as "forever." Here are some examples. Once upon a time -- up to the mid-60s or thereabouts -- discounting was seen as being a bit sinful. People were supposed to pay the posted price, look for the union label, be sure the product was "Made in USA" and so forth. Then along came EJ Korvette. Korvette was an New York area retailer specializing in soft goods that aggressively discounted. It was riding high in the mid-late 1960s when I often came up to NYC from Philadelphia where I was a student. I even bought a few things there and began to shed the idea of discounting being sinful. Then Korevette hit the wall a few years later. Another killer was the suburban shopping mall. By the 1980s malls were being built at a furious pace: Who could stand in their way? Today malls are wounded, seeking rejuvenation by tacking on outdoor "shopping villages" to attract folks jaded or turned off by the mall experience. Then there was Toys "R" Us. A reincarnation of the White Front discount chain, by the late 70s Toys was on a roll. My kids were young in the early-mid 80s and I spent a lot of time in Toys "R" Us. I liked the concept of huge selection and low prices; how could it ever fail? Nowadays, Wal-Mart and Target are wiping the floor with Toys. Apparently, extra-low prices on key items trumped wide selection. Current killers include Big Box stores, village malls, and aforementioned Wal-Mart and Target. They'll last forever, surely. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 1, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

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