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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Winning Artists
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The photographer Robert Mapplethorpe became so much of a political cause that the question of how good an artist he was rarely came up. (FWIW, I was never much of a fan myself.) Serena Davies pans his work, and shares a few unpleasant facts about his personality too. * The painter Amedeo Modigliani wasn't in the running for a "Best Personality" award either, it seems. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Kids All Over
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So spoiling-the-kids-while-pushing-them-too-hard has gone worldwide. Thanks to Prairie Mary for pointing out this Telegraph article about the child-raising habits of upper-middle-class English parents. * More babies are entering the world already overweight. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 12, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, August 11, 2006

My Zen Desktop
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- While life in front of the iMac is all quiet and spaciousness ... ... life behind it is something else entirely: I don't think wireless samadhi has been achived quite yet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

The Marketplace or the Theater?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Frederick Turner wants us to see Shakespeare as the poet of capitalism. Nice passage: Shakespeare's reasoning endorses the tweaking and readaptation of natural processes for human purposes. Those natural processes, however, are but precursors and simpler versions of the much more deeply self-referential and multi-leveled processes we find in the human world. The market is just such a complex system. The market is the drama of concrete human interaction, the theater of the world. Only highly nonlinear, turbulent, and far-from equilibrium processes, as the market is, could produce such complex and individuated entities as human personalities and cultures. As a huge fan of Turner's work both as a poet and a critic, I take him seriously. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Where's Ian?
Michael Blowhards writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where has Ian Hamet gone? Will Duquette deserves credit for asking this question, and for some serious followup too. Noticing a marked lack of action at Ian's blog Banana Oil, Will tried to contact Ian, who has been based in Shanghai. Nothing. Will pursued the matter, going so far as to ask the American consulate in Shanghai to look into the matter. They did, and couldn't find Ian either. There the matter currently rests. Perplexing and maybe even alarming. Perhaps a general blogosphere alert is in order? If anyone knows anything about Ian's whereabouts ... Well, I don't know exactly what that person should do. But letting Ian know that he's been missed would be a good start. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Lex on the Ramones
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lexington Green might -- might -- be an even bigger Ramones fan than Brian is. Punk junkies won't want to miss Lex's brilliant ruminations on what made the boys so great. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 11, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, August 10, 2006

More Kids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speaking about kids, families, and kid-centricity ... Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out a thoughtful and amusing Joseph Epstein essay in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein wonders about something that has struck many of us too: When was it first decided that children had to perform brilliantly at school and right out of the gate, that everything was riding on it, that not taking that physics course AP could affect one in a decisive and adverse way? He toys with a couple of possible answers to his question, then settles on one: Perhaps it set in with a vengeance when America became the insanely child-centered country it is. And child-centered we indubitably are, like no other people at no other time in history. A major enticement for parents to move, for example, is good schools. Private schools, meanwhile, flourish as never before, heavy though the expense usually is. Parents slavishly follow their children around to their every game: soccer, little league, tennis. Camcorders whirl; digital cameras click. Any child who has not been either to Disneyland or Disney World by the age of seven is considered deprived. Serious phone calls are interrupted because Jen or Tyler needs Mom or Dad now ... It's in the air, the culture: Children, in America, now rule. I admire the way Epstein allows himself to assert something as grand as "child-centered we indubitably are, like no other people at no other time in history." No scholarship, no evidence -- nothing behind what he says but a lot of impressions and confidence. That's how I like to write too! I'm especially eager to hear the reactions of our Desi visitors to Epstein's piece. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Hey, Ho! Let's Go!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was trying to coax visitor Brian -- a classical-music buff as well as a fellow YouTube addict -- into sharing his favorite YouTube clips. I failed, darn it: Brian turns out to be in anything but a classical-music phase. But I failed in a good way. Here's part of Brian's response: "I'm not listening to classical much at the moment. It's all Ramones all the time these days. Compare the audience at this '78 concert to your 1970 Bo Diddley clip of last week, and you'll find out who saved rock 'n' roll: [More here, here, here, and here.] Say, that ain't such a bad post in itself... Go ahead and put 'em up if you want to. Did you know Johnny Ramone was a Republican?" Ramones-wise, I can recommend "End of the Century," Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia's excellent documentary about The Ramones. (Amazon, Netflix.) And I'm eager to catch up with the Special Edition DVD of Allan Arkush's cheerfully tacky C-movie classic "Rock 'n' Roll High School," featuring The Ramones. (Amazon -- I wasn't able to turn up the Special Edition on Netflix.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * 15,000 Frenchies a year are moving to Britain, and Dr. Madsen Pirie can explain why. He has an especially nice way of posing the question, though: Now why do people leave a country with better food, more reliable transport, longer lunch breaks, and more generous social security? * Kirsten ventures a radical thought: that it's OK for a kid to not know what he/she wants to do in life. * I've been a regular visitor to Dave Taylor's computer-tips site for a long time. Dave's not just supersmart and eager that we non-geeks should be able to enjoy our computers, he's also cheery -- the site is good reading -- and has a rare knack for speaking plain English. Only recently, though, did I send my own first question in to him. To my surprise and delight, Dave sent me a personal email back within days, solving my problem. * Shouting Thomas thinks that live performances still have a lot to recommend them. * Just back from BlogHer, Colleen knows what it takes to make a convention a good one: "Food! Food! Food!" Great quote: I did not walk five feet from a session EVER at BlogHer without there being baskets of fruit or plates of cookies or dishes of something. It improved my mood enormously. * Here's a smart and funny list of stock characters. I wonder which one I'd be ... Hmm: I don't see an entry for "A lov-air, not a fight-air"... * Neil thinks that personal bloggers are more important than political bloggers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 9, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

3 Signpost Movies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- Girish's list of "signpost films" -- films that have been moviewatching turning-points for him -- got me wondering about my own. I chewed on the question for a while and came up with three: "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" -- sold me on movies as a great art and entertainment medium. Prior to seeing "McCabe," I was curious about movies but as yet unconvinced. Afterwards, I was one hungry moviebuff. "Claire's Knee" -- sold me on the foreign-film thing. Prior to seeing "Claire's Knee," I'd found foreign films disappointing. I think I was looking for them to be like American films, only better. Watching "Claire's Knee," I woke up to the fact that, no, they aren't the same only better, they're different. Okay, so I was a very dumb kid ... "Being John Malkovich" -- made me realize that I'd lost the pulse of new movies. Prior to seeing "John Malkovich," I was still keeping up with new movies, if at increasing personal cost. Watching the film, I realized that -- if this was what bright people thought was a cool and smart film -- the time had come for me to get off the bus. The winner for "signpost film" originality is Andy Horbal, who lists three surprising but plausible non-films. Alton Brown: auteur! Fun to see that Girish is every bit the Altman and De Palma nut I am. I wrote about "Femme Fatale" here. What have been some of your own signpost films? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 9, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Architecture by Braun
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I recently threw financial sanity to the winds and bought -- no, we invested in -- this gorgeous hunk of high-end blender. Although it whips up a darned good pesto sauce, its main role is to class up our kitchen. There it sits on the countertop, cool, stylish, and Euro-handsome. What gravitas. What dignity. That heavy, cast-steel gray ... That industrial-sculpture quality ... It's the BMW of blenders, both retro and forward-looking. Putting it to use as a mere smoothie-making device seems like a desecration of the higher aesthetic values. Our snazzy new blender has got me remembering another object too -- but which one? An object that I ran across not in a kitchen but on the street ... Ah, I recall now what it is: it's that Gwathmey Siegel condo building on Astor Place at Cooper Square that advertises itself as "Sculpture for Living." (Translated from the real-estate-ese, that means "overpriced housing for easily-gulled trendoids.") Here's how "Sculpture for Living" sees fit to meet the sidewalk -- ie., how it condescends to address passersby. (That would be you and me.) How lovely and thoughtful, the way it detaches itself so completely from its surroundings. (Scorn is pouring from my voice here, of course.) "I am no mere building," it says. "I am a work of art. Take me on my own unique terms. After all, I'm not meant to fit in. I aim for higher things. I aim to stand out." David Sucher likes to call this approach to buildings "precious-object architecture" -- the making of stylish buildings that sit there by themselves, turning their backs to their surroundings, insisting on being appreciated as self-sufficient objets d'art. Looking at these buildings, I often feel like someone moving among counters of ritzy, avant-garde perfume bottles. Sad to say, but new glassy/metallic objets are going up all over New York City these days. As John Massengale says, our builders seem determined to turn Manhattan into "Houston on the Hudson." I haven't snapped many of these atrocities yet, but here's one I did catch. It opened recently not far from where I live in Greenwich Village.: Full of character, no? The architecture class thinks that we should be thrilled with the projects they're foisting on us, by the way. A great and exciting new era in building is underway, etc. Me, I experience most of what our architecture class gets up to as vicious and unwarranted assaults on much-loved friends. In fact, part of me is convinced that what we're witnessing now -- the erection of acres of ripply glass, Gehrys everywhere, etc -- is going to prove as devastating to our cities as were the rectilinear corporate-modernist behemoths of the 1950s and the concrete-brutalist bunkers of the 1960s. The newfangled angles and surfaces may be a little zanier, and (perhaps) a little more beguiling. But the results -- ie., alienation, chic that quickly becomes Ugly, people losing interest in urban life... posted by Michael at August 9, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Shorter Days ... Oh My!!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I get up early, and I notice things. Right now I'm noticing that the sun is no longer up (or nearly so) at 5 a.m. Matter of fact, it's now pretty dark at that hour. Moreover, some hasty week-counting on my pocket calendar tells me we're approximately half way between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. That's important. You see, I block out the year in terms of solstices, equinoxes and how rapidly the number of daylight hours change from day to day. I could hop on the web and locate a daily sunrise-sunset table for my area and graph the results. And maybe I should, though I probably won't. Why not? I'm a data guy after all. Hmm. Can't come up with a rational answer. I was about to wildly claim that some of my ancestors were Druids who simply liked to synch with nature. But that won't fly high because those crafty Druids or some friends or rivals built Stonehenge, a giant calendar or sorts. Maybe I won't do it because it might take some of that satisfyingly primitive fuzziness from my mental exercises. Plus there's an emotional factor I like to hone and that data might dampen: I hate winter. Yes, yes. Hate is not a family value, quoth the bumper sticker. But I slogged through four Albany, NY winters and hated them all. Rather than looking at a year's progression in a calendar sense, I tend to view it in term of light and darkness. Which leads me to dividing the year into four parts: the six or seven weeks on either side of a solstice when the number of hours of light and dark are comparatively constant from day to day and the six or seven weeks surrounding an equinox when change is rapid. Right now we're entering the rush towards longer nights, and I'm not pleased. Six months from now, I'll have a sunnier attitude, if you get my drift. When I was young, I didn't think this way at all. I simply took the seasons as they came. Sure, I knew it was dark a lot in winter and twilight lasted till past 10 p.m. in late June (here in the land of the 47th parallel -- results may differ at your house due to latitude and how close you are to a time zone boundary). I doubt that I'll ever go back to those carefree days of letting the seasons roll by. And it's all Albany's fault. Which leads me to recall a fellow I knew who was totally oblivious to the kind of seasons I've been talking about. He was my contact guy at one of my automobile company clients, so we got to know one another fairly well -- went out to dinner with the wives in tow when they passed through town on the way to Australia -- that sort of thing. Anyway, once he told me his seasons story. You see,... posted by Donald at August 8, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, August 7, 2006

Dan Mieduch: From Cars to Cowboys
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Cowboys 'n' Indians interested me greatly when I was a kid. No longer. I'm not saying I dislike 'em, mind you. It's more a matter of indifference due to having gone on to other interests. So when I look at "cowboy art" nowadays, I don't pay much attention to how well the artist got details such as clothing, equipment, weapons and so forth. Instead, I react to how well painted the depiction is. And some of it is very good, in my judgment. That's why I thumb through each issue of Art of the West magazine when it turns up on the newsstand and wind up buying around two issues out of every three published. The current issue (July/August 2006) has a really flash cover. Which is saying something, because the majority of their covers feature paintings that are pretty flash. The cover guy for this ish is Dan Mieduch, a fellow I had never heard of even though he can command five-figure prices at auctions. (Lordy Lord -- there's a whole lot of art out there that I'm still ignorant of! Now that I'm about to retire, I should promise myself to use some of that time to visit more galleries.) One reason I find Mieduch interesting is that he was trained in Industrial Design and worked for General Motors for a while. ID students don't need to be able to illustrate humans convincingly; they basically need to do a good job on a product rendering. In some of my reference files I have examples of car design visualizations that included people, and in many cases the artists did a worse job then even I could have. But some ID guys, Mieduch included, are real artists and not simply designers. The magazine article goes into more detail, but here's the biographical blurb on Mieduch's web site to give you a little scene-setting: Cowboy artist Dan Mieduch was born July 18, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan. When he was ten, his family moved to the small town of Clinton, Michigan, where his father bought and ran a tavern and motel. In that farming community, Dan came to appreciate the beauty of the land around him, the abundant wildlife and especially the light of early morning and the deep hues of a summer sunset. Dan attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, graduating with a degree in Industrial Design in l969. He was drafted into the United States Army, where he served as Command Artist for the Southern Command, United States Army, Panama Canal Zone, Panama. While in Panama, he did several historical paintings for area museums. Returning to the States, he worked in several major commercial art studios in Detroit. There, he learned the discipline needed to succeed in the art business and met his wife, Rhonda. In l975 the Mieduch's decided to move west, settling in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dan's career has garnered a following all over the country as his art has been... posted by Donald at August 7, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Swaddling Clothes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a blogosphere inhabitant you learn things. One that has come as a surprise to me is that many people don't understand how kiddie-centric America has become. To me, this is one of the central givens of contempo American life. It seems so blazingly evident to me that I tend to assert it as established fact, and am amazed to encounter people who dispute it. What's my proof? Not a lot, I'm afraid. Mere impressions, really. I'm hardly a world traveler -- I've lived overseas for a total of a little more than a year, and I haven't visited any more foreign countries than most standard-issue, middle-class Americans. Nonetheless, what has jumped out at me most during my times abroad is the way that other cultures don't organize themselves around children to the same extent that the U.S. does. I spent a school year in Rennes, Brittany in the early 1970s. Here are a few examples of how their attitudes towards kids differed from ours. They never took vacations for the kids -- to visit landmarks for the sake of the kids' educations, or just because the kids were clamoring to go someplace. Theme parks were nonexistent, and the idea of devoting a few weeks of one's treasured time-off to a kiddie destination would have been found laughable. Vacations were to be spent where the parents could enjoy their well-earned leisure. Days and weeks weren't organized around the kiddies' obligations and plans: playdates, music lessons, soccer games, SAT-coaching appointments, etc. Life was organized around the parents' rhythms. Grownups didn't choose neighborhoods to live in strictly for the sake of the kids. They might (or might not) move someplace because they knew the schools there to be better. But that was rare. And, in any case, parents certainly wouldn't sacrifice anything in the way of their own dignity and pleasure for the sake of, say, a big backyard. I saw two assumptions being lived-out in France: One was that adult life has worth in its own right. The other was that the kids would make do. A self-centered American teen during this year abroad, I was often most struck by the way the French viewed adolescence. The teen years weren't viewed as Americans often see them -- as a sexy high and a big deal, however agony-riddled and pimple-filled. Adolescence was viewed instead as a fairly unfortunate 3-5 year stretch during which youngsters had to be cut a little more slack than usual. And then it was over. Come 20 or 21, you were expected to leave the silliness and the acting-out behind. Incidentally, one reason why French pop culture is so laughable compared to American pop culture is that the French simply don't take adolescence as seriously as we do. So their pop culture has nothing like the ringing conviction to it that ours sometimes does. Children, in other words, weren't seen as heavenly little creatures around whom all of life inevitably revolves. I... posted by Michael at August 7, 2006 | perma-link | (57) comments

Sunday, August 6, 2006

America: Open 24/7
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: As I was peeling off the freeway a few days ago on my way to my fave breakfast spot, I noticed that the Wal-Mart store next to the off-ramp was sporting a new sign. Open 24 Hours Well, I declare! I suppose it has to do with the fact that they recently expanded the place to add a supermarket. And serious supermarkets hereabouts are on the go 24 hours a day aside from Christmas and a couple more holidays when they are only open part of the day. I recall being slightly shocked the first time I saw a 24-hour supermarket. That was in Las Vegas in the early 70s, though I suppose it was nothing new there. When I was a kid back in the 40s and 50s, things were pretty much closed most evenings as well as all day Sunday. And it was even more grim in Pennsylvania as late as the 60s when, for all practical purposes, you had to cross over to New Jersey to moisten your lips with a good Pennsylvania Schmidt's, Ortlieb's or Rolling Rock. Perhaps the greatest inconvenience was when you needed to go to the bank. Banks were open from 10 a.m. till 3 p.m., typically. Okay, workers in the city could easily do a bank run over lunch hour. But where bank branches were thinner on the ground, one often had to do some planning to pull off the task. As for today, ... well, we all know how it is. But is it a good thing? Are workers being exploited? Is our society running amok, drunk on commercialism? Or do extended shopping hours make our lives easier? Me? I love the longer hours. But maybe some of you don't. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 6, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments