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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Saturday, October 7, 2006


Films for Men
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I found Jeremy Knox's annotated "Top Ten Movies for Men" true to the Testosterone Within, as well as pretty fuckin' funny. "Fuckin'" is key, btw. Real men say "fuckin'" a lot. Nice passage: Women have never been able to accept that guys do stupid things. They've tried for centuries to reign in that mad energy and they've never been able to. Feminists say that women can do anything a man can do. Fine ... let's see Gloria Steinheim drive her car while lying on the hood and having to reach inside the car with her right arm to steer (after she flicked on the cruise control of course). No. Only men can do, and think up, shit like this. Women think it's crazy, men think its fun ... All real men are nihilists. We don't have causes and we don't believe in the future that will never come. If we fight it's only to show off how tough we are. Women plan for tomorrow, men blow shit up today! Cojones-clacking Real Men struggle with the apostrophe-thang occasionally too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 7, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments




New Oscars
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given that movies-watched-on-DVD now outnumber movies-watched-in-theaters by a factor of roughly ten billion, hasn't the time come to create Oscar categories for the likes of "Best Menu," "Best Extras," "Best Outtakes," and "Best Performance on a Commentary Track"? Yours, Michael... posted by Michael at October 7, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments




Arabs, Steve
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve points out a helpful list of "Observations on Arabs." * Steve himself is running a fund-raising drive. If you think, as I do, that Steve is doing as much to keep journalism vital and challenging as anyone around today, you'll head right over and toss some bills his way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 7, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments




Leaving Reason Behind
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Big-decision time: I'm letting my subscription to Reason magazine lapse. (The earth trembles ...) Reason can be a provocative publication, god knows, and Cathy Young and Charles Paul Freund are long-time faves of mine. But, whatever Reason's virtues, I've come to dislike it. The magazine annoys me too much, and in bad, not fun, ways. For one thing, its contrarian-ness has become knee-jerk and predicatable. You have reservations about legalized gambling? Hey, gambling is good! Strip malls strike you as ugly? Hey, strip malls are good! The way so many Americans have blimped-up in the last 25 years seems bizarre? Hey, fat is good! For another thing, too many of its articles and reviews, however bright, are completely un-nuanced. I didn't find Reason featureless and unnuanced when Virginia Postrel was editing the magazine, btw. She published a libertarian magazine that didn't feel monomaniacal and dogmatic. It had shading; it felt human. But under Nick Gillespie the magazine has become monotonous. A recent example is a review of Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma." According to Reason's reviewer, Pollan's book fails because it's snobbish. The review fails, according to me, because the reviewer seems completely unwilling to deal with such basic matters as the roles of snobbery, class, and taste in American food-and-eating history. Libertarians may find these facts displeasing, but there they are: Many of the developments that have led to the more rewarding sides of today's eating-and-food worlds originated with socialists, snobs, and cranks. Organic? Local? Fresh? The re-discovery and appreciation of folk cooking and folk eating? The creation of today's stunning and extensive food press? The informal merging of high and low? Sorry to say, but the card-carrying libertarian crowd didn't play much of a role in any of this. Meanwhile Berkeley people, hippies, regionalists, back-to-the-landers, anthropologists, Francophiles, Asia-o-philes, and artsies did. Snobs, to some extent, all of them. What's good about today's food-and-eating world has emerged, more generally, from a complex swirl of home cooks, local farmers and breeders, the Food Network, traditional people, high-end chefs, trade schools, handed-down recipes and techniques, chili virtuosos, editors and publishers, innovative retailers, funky lowdown / chow-down people -- and, of course, an enthusiastic crowd of audience / participants. (I'd love to see the other art worlds follow in the steps of the food world.) Scott Chaffin, for instance, might be a true populist as well as one of the world's most approachable people -- but that doesn't mean he doesn't have very strong opinions about the differences between better and worse barbecue. 2Blowhards lesson for Reason reviewer: Try moving beyond such simplistic ideas as "Snobbery is bad." Play with the idea that there might exist such a thing as "productive and worthwhile snobbery that doesn't sneer and destroy, but that instead contributes to the flourishing of the field in question." Taste-experts can serve the rest of us too. They sometimes don't, but they sometimes do, and it's far more interesting and useful to distinguish between helpful... posted by Michael at October 7, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments




Half-Assed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apologies for nonexistent blogging over the last few days. I've been sick, and every time I've sat down to pull a blogposting together I've been able to take the mini-project only about halfway to completion. Hard to believe, I suppose, but I generally try to give my blogpostings a little pizzaz, shape, and focus. Links, general thoughts, Big Questions, etc ... I love doing it, but it does take some effort. Over the last few days, though, what with the illness (I'll be fine soon, thanks), the will to pull together a typical "Michael Blowhard blogposting," whatever that is, simply hasn't been there. But I woke up this morning feeling a little less droopy, and thinking, "Why get hung up on such matters as will, focus, and concentration? Stuff rattles around the noggin whether I'm sick or not, god knows. Why not share some of it in a less gussied-up way? That could be interesting and fun too!" So, for the next few days, here goes: half-assed, un-dolled-up, illness-addled half-musings. Please take 'em in the spirit in which they're offered ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 7, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments





Thursday, October 5, 2006


How Significant Is It?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An excellent San Fran Chronicle article by Carolyn Lochhead sets out some of the basic current-immigration-policy facts in high relief. 10 percent of Mexico's population of 107 million is now living in the United States. 15 percent of Mexico's labor force is working in the United States. One in every seven Mexican workers migrates to the United States. Is this a favor we're doing Mexico? A proud instance of our generosity and humanity? Perhaps not as much as some might hope. For one thing, so long as we provide an escape valve, the Mexican elites have no need to reform. "Every day, thousands of Mexico's most industrious people leave their families behind," says one of her sources, "leading many to wonder why Mexico's political class is not capable of creating economic opportunity for its citizens in a land rich in mineral wealth, hydrocarbons, agricultural potential and human capital." Another non-favor we're doing our neighbors: "Migration is profoundly altering Mexico and Central America. Entire rural communities are nearly bereft of working-age men. The town of Tendeparacua, in the Mexican state of Michoacan, had 6,000 residents in 1985, and now has 600, according to news reports." How big is the movement from there to here, really? I mean, in broad-view historical context? Lochhead consults with the experts, who tell her that it's "One of the largest diasporas in modern history." Not a minor matter! Meanwhile, the U.S.'s population is on track to pass 300 million sometime later this month ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments




"Font" or "Typeface"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Allan Haley explains the difference between a "font" and a "typeface." He also argues that we should be more careful in how we use the words. I understand Haley's point and am sympathetic. I have my own streaks of language-usage persnickitiness -- back here, for example, I expressed my exasperation with the common misuse of the phrase "begging the question." But, practically speaking, where "font" and "typeface" are concerned? I suspect that Haley is fighting a language-usage war that was lost several years ago. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments





Wednesday, October 4, 2006


The Case of the Missing Insignia
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One recent afternoon while Nancy was visiting the Wittelsbach clan's downtown Munich digs (a.k.a. Residenz), I scooted over to the Deutsches Museum to check out the aircraft exhibit. Off near a corner of the lower floor was a Messerschmitt Bf109 fighter -- the Luftwaffe mainstay for most of World War 2, if you use production as the yardstick. Certainly an item well worthy of display. I noticed something odd. Something missing. It was the Nazi swastika insignia that Luftwaffe aircraft carried on their vertical tailplanes: nothing there but good old camouflage paint. Messerschmitt 109 in Munich's Deutsches Museum. What's wrong with the tail? Nearby was a set of models of other WW2 German military aircraft, and none of those sported swastikas either. The reason for this, if my dim memory has it straight, is that Germany has some law or regulation regarding displays of swastikas, and apparently the museum has to "edit" its display. (By the way, I tried a quick Google search on this matter, but the word "swastika" in a character string turns up some pretty strange stuff. Maybe a reader can post a comment clarifying the issue.) I think the swastika thing, at the museum display level, is silly. For one thing, it airbrushes out an objective historical fact. Furthermore, I saw plenty of books written in German in German bookstores that dealt with the war and many of those books were filled with photos of swastika-bedecked airplanes. Apparently swastika censorship only goes part way. Oh, and the WW2 Luftwaffe aircraft I've seen in museums in other countries have swastikas, politically incorrect though they might be. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments




Art? ... Who Sez So?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I posted on "sound-effects art" and one commenter claimed my "posting seems to be another salvo in a regular 2 blowhards series that follows the syllogism: "I do not consider this to be art, therefore it should not be considered art." The commenter has a point because I find it hard to consider sound effects as art. This raises a larger issue: Just who determines what is art and what isn't. I get the impression that, nowadays, "art" is often what the "artist" claims is "art." Though it helps if a journalist or some other party with a smidgen of respectability buys the claim. (And who defines who is an artist? Seems to me that these days this can be simple self-identification -- "I am an artist and who are you to deny my greatness?") But if seemingly just about anyone -- including the creator of an object or gallery owners who clearly have a strong self-interest in having that object considered art -- can claim things as art, then why can't just about anyone deny that something is art? It only seems fair. Ah, but that's no good because any old blowhard (or Blowhard) might well be a drooling ignoramus unfit to to pass judgment on anything, let alone art. But if it can't be just anybody, then: Whee!! We're on the edge of the slippery slope of credentialism! I don't want to go there. Not in this post, anyway. But I'll note that self-appointed establishments make me a little nervous. So how about this innocent li'l ol' talking point? -- Let the "market" (the gallery scene, public opinion, whatever) decide what's art and what's not. Yes, this can be a messy process and the results hardly clear-cut. Yet it seems to be roughly how art has been defined in practice in our mass-media age. The guy who makes something can call it "art." A writer for The New York Times can agree. A Blowhard can beg to differ. And innocent bystanders might sort it all out, eventually. Is this better than leaving things up to "experts?" Where do you stand? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments




Bizarre Animation
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This strange and brilliant computer-animated short is a little Pixar, a little "Triplets of Belleville," and a little Jan Svankmeyer: >Baginski - Fallen Art - video powered by Metacafe Thanks to Charlton Griffin for turning it up and passing it along. (Charlton also turns up a hilarious Bollywood spoof -- at least I take it to be a spoof -- of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.) Here's a website that was created for the film, which won a BAFTA award for best animated short. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments




Fun Quote of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This passage from a Rod Lott posting at Bookgasm had me cheering: There seems to be this unspoken rule in America that unless a book is either: a) literary, b) covered by The New York Times Book Review, or c) Oprah-approved, that it shouldn't be talked about, let alone read at all. In other words, genre fiction. It's weird, because our society has no problem talking to one another in public about genre movies or genre TV shows. But genre books? No one wants to admit they're reading it, for fear of being looked down upon. Unlike films or television, a book requires a degree of intellect to be experienced; therefore, they reason, books must be intellectual. Wrong! So there is sanity to be found among those who discuss books, even if not among the official bookchat class ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments




Book Meme-ing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The recent book meme has been taken up by some inspired bloggers: Kelly Jane Torrance, Anne Thompson, Andy Horbal. I have the nagging feeling that I'm neglecting some other snazzy bloggers who have given this particular meme a whirl. Lordy, I can be such a scatterbrain. Anyway, send in links, and I'll update as people let me know who I've been forgetting or ignoring. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments




India? Brazil?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex could use recommendations for some trustworthy and substantial books about Brazil and India. Go here to pass along suggestions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * In 1969, Monte Davis was looking for a guru. What he found instead was the legendary scholar of myth, Joseph Campbell. * Smart shoppers evidently know not only where to shop but when to shop. * Becky knows how to liven up an otherwise dreary suburban day, that's for sure. (NSFW) * Cartoonist Tom Hart tries to update some old rants and finds himself in a mental loop. * The mayor of Padua says that the wall he has built between an African neighborhood and the rest of the city is, y'know, nothing more sinister than a crime-fighting tool. * Do mixed-racial kids always grow up to be catwalk-worthy beauties? Mr. Tall encounters a lot of people who think so. * Meet the designers. Me, I think the short, self-contained video interview is a much-underexploited form. * And I thought it would be hilarious to live in Intercourse, PA ... * How to handle the callback, according to Colleen. * It's now official: Playing with Photoshop beats having in-the-flesh sex. * Kellogg, Idaho may have been a polluted mining town, but native son Raymond Pert still recalls the place with fondness. * That girl in all those '60s beach movies? The one who was Twisting like a maniac? She was played, most of the time, by one performer: Candy Johnson. Candy livened up the '60s in another way too: she was responsible for bringing back the fringed flapper-style mini-dress. * Was Pamela Green the Bettie Page of England? * Darrell notices that he's reading less fiction. Is it because of the web? Does age play a role? * DarkoV recalls the era when something called "record players" deposited stacks of Readers Digest compilations on something called "turntables." Another world ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments




The Polls
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you cast your vote in Andy Horbal's "Best Film of the Last 25 Years" poll yet? No? Well, then, get thee hence. Have you made some nominations yet in my alterna-poll, "Films You Enjoyed Most From the Last 25 Years, Critics Be Damned"? No? Well, then, head there now. Civic duty calls. It's crucial to let your voice be heard where important issues are concerned. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments




Net Non-Neutrality
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Net neutrality, feh. Here's the most convincing case for Net non-neutrality that I've seen yet. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments





Tuesday, October 3, 2006


Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm back. Sorta. Well, I'm in Seattle after just over three weeks in the Old World but it won't be until next week before I'm fully back in stride. Several of the hotels had internet connection gizmos so I suppose I could have blogged had I brought the computer. And I did notice the stray internet cafe here and there. But it made for a better trip not to be lugging a computer around or missing out on sights while trying to decypher foreign keyboard layouts. Nevertheless I tried not be be neglectful of Treasured Readers and took care to make notes on such subjects as (1) The Lousiest Major Airport in Europe and (2) The Case of the Missing Insignia -- of which you will read later. Plus I took lots of photos to illustrate some of my topics. And, finally, I resolved to do a better job of linking to interesting stuff on blogs dealing with illustration and other topics dear to me. Now that I don't have a day-job, I have more time to spare for that. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 3, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments




More on Fat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are we putting on the weight because processed foods have gotten cheaper? Because more of us are desk-bound at work? In a fun debate between Darius Lakdawalla and Carol Graham, the most unexpected fact, as far as I was concerned, came from Graham: For all racial and ethnic groups combined, women of lower socioeconomic status are approximately 50% more likely to be obese than those with higher socioeconomic status. Men are about equally likely to be obese whether they are in a low or high socioeconomic group. Why should poverty be more likely to affect the poundage of women than of men? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments




Teaching America
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Dreher writes a good column about teachers and parents, and receives in response many fascinating reports from the field. Related: Friedrich von Blowhard did a q&a with a Midwestern public-school teacher: Part One, Part Two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments




Why Aren't More Books More of a Turn-On?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If books people -- ie., librarians, publishers, profs, etc -- are serious about wanting people to read, why don't they publish and promote more -- and better -- sexy books? Erotica writer Polly Frost recalls being aroused into readerhood by "Lotta Drum and the 69 Pleasures." Nice passage: She had to endure lesbian love from her captors, as well as some highly detailed bamboo S & M ... The fact is, I can still remember passages from "Lotta Drum" that I can't remember from the books I'd been assigned in school. I slept through "The Red Pony," and even though it was a "classic" it had no impact on my life and today I can't recall anything about it except for a lot of tedious metaphors that my teacher wrote up on the blackboard. Lotta Drum, however, has stuck with me ... Librarians, listen up! Erotica writers are your best friends -- we're the ones who get people hooked on reading. That's for sure, at least in my case. As a kid, I spent a Lotta Time reading the sexy potboilers that Polly praises in her posting: Jackie Susann, Harold Robbins, Mickey Spillane. Those in fact are the books -- along with the comic books I was enjoying at the same time -- that turned me into a lifelong reader. One thing's for certain: There's nothing quite like a novel that's full of good parts to make a kid's reading-comprehension skills skyrocket. I can't imagine that there aren't, oh, a few million other people with similar stories to tell. Given this, why is the books establishment such a dreary, do-gooding, back-to-school thing? And what were some of the books that turned you into a reader? Saucy and dirty candidates especially encouraged. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments





Sunday, October 1, 2006


Andy Horbal's Best-Of Poll
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- At his movieblog, Andy Horbal is running a "What's the best American fiction film of the last 25 years?" poll. Lots of fun nominations in the comments. Anne Thompson muses a bit and finally casts her vote for "Unforgiven." I pitched in with a couple of semi-meant / semi-spoofy candidates: "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective" (because I couldn't think of another movie from this stretch that made me laugh as much, and because I think comedy is always undervalued), and "Basic Instinct," mainly because, critics be damned, I think it's pretty great. I wrote about "Basic Instinct" here. Go here to place a vote in Andy's poll yourself. I had two main thoughts on following the posting and the nominations. The first was how out of tune I've grown with the kinds of American movies that today's filmbuffs prefer. I nearly always don't care for them. It's really remarkable how consistently I diverge from typical film-buff opinion: the Coen Brothers; Steven Soderbergh; Todd Haynes; "Fight Club"; Todd Solondz; the Charlie Kaufman movies; most David Lynch (some sexy scenes excepted); all of Erroll Morris; 99% of Spike Lee; everything Wes Anderson has ever done, thought, or touched ... I just haven't had a good time at these movies. Well, perhaps the time has come to consider the possibility that I no longer qualify as a filmbuff. My second thought was the usual one I have when encountering such a poll: What's really meant by it? Incidentally, I like following such polls, and I'm a fan of arts-lists. But part of the fun of them for me is fretting over them, not to say nitpicking. So this posting is intended as an extension and elaboration of Andy's poll, not as a refutation or critique of it. Go, go, entrepreneurial bloggers! What's really meant when someone says, "This is the best film of the year?" Is some lofty Considered Critical Judgment being laid on us? That just makes me want to burp, fart, and throw mud. Or is filling out best-of lists simply another way some people have of saying "Hey, here are some films I enjoyed a whole lot"? If so, then why not be more direct about the fact that personal preference is at work? I find myself wondering about the psychology of critics. What on earth could motivate anyone to even want to elevate personal response into historical ranking? Doesn't scrambling the "Is it good?" question with the "Did I enjoy it?" question do a disservice to many other potentially rewarding culturechats? I can, after all, recognize that some films (or paintings, or symphonies, etc) are "good" or even "great" without caring for them much myself. That's a fun conversation I'd hate to see fail to take place. And isn't another super-common culture-life experience that of having a blast at a, say, movie that you can't imagine anyone calling "good," let alone "great"? For me, keeping in touch with the junk I enjoy (and musing... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (49) comments




More YouTube
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull, who passed along this excellent Terry Teachout piece for the Wall Street Journal. In it, Terry rhapsodizes about what a gold mine YouTube is for music lovers. 2Blowhards has, of course, been posting links to terrific music clips for a while now. (Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.) At his own blog, Terry has created what's unquestionably the ultimate music-lover's guide to YouTube -- in the right-hand column, about halfway down, you'll find a very lengthy list of links to music clips. I've watched and listened to mucho great stuff, and I've only just begun to make a dent in it. A sample quote from Terry's piece: By posting this list of links, I have, in effect, created a Web-based fine-arts video-on-demand site. The irony is that I did so just as network TV was getting out of the culture business. And isn't there a lot of valuable culture-watching behind those two sentences? In celebration of YouTube, of music-on-video, of Terry in the WSJ, and of a real nice autumn day, here's a YouTube discovery of my own: that hard-swinging, sweetly-eccentric keyboard gent Erroll Garner, performing "All the Things You Are" in 1972. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments




It's Chevrolet Time
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lex turns up a clip on YouTube that'll ... Well, if you spent any time during the '60s watching television, these are names, faces, and voices that will bring it all back. Now, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing ... And those "Jetsons"-era wheels! I remember owning a Corvair, and thinking a Chevelle was a pretty hot number. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments




Green Tea Moment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So I'm sipping my green tea this morning while surfing the web, and ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments




I'm Sorry. Why Aren't You?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Amusingly-exasperated quote for the day comes from a former president of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar. "What is the reason ... we, the West, always should be apologiz(ing) and they never should apologize?" he said to The Hudson Intitute. "It's absurd! They occupied Spain for eight centuries!" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments