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. Travel Tongues
  2. Bill Kauffman, An Introduction
  3. The Reviver?
  4. Ever-Expanding, Ever-Contracting
  5. Elsewhere
  6. Catholic to Orthodox
  7. David Koepp's Track on "Stir of Echoes"
  8. "Prairie" on DVD
  9. Scrambled (Egg) Secrets
  10. Weight-Loss As Will and Idea

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

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Travel Tongues
Donald Pittenger writes Dear Blowhards -- They say it's a good idea when traveling where other languages are spoken to be able to say things such as "good morning" or "thank you" in the local tongue. The theory is that it flatters the natives because you made the effort to learn at least a tiny bit of their language. Maybe so, maybe not. Not being bilingual, I don't know how I would react were I a shopkeeper or hotel clerk and someone helloed me and then immediately switched to Ukrainian. On our tour to Russia and the Baltic area last year, the tour director passed out phrase-sheets every time we crossed a linguistic border. Then he'd coach us with the pronunciation. On this year's tour of central Europe, the director went through the phrases but omitted the cheat sheets. I paid no heed to any of it. This is because I'm not a "quick study" when it comes to languages. I take care to pack pocket phrase books for use in emergencies. So am I one of those boorish American tourists? Yes and no. I don't go soft and slobbery over other cultures, that's for sure. If there's a folk dinner and entertainment offered as a tour supplement, I'll take pains to avoid it. But I do a few things in an effort to make travel smoother. For instance, if I already know something about a language I'll try to use it as much as I can. I used German quite a bit on my recent trip. I can buy stuff in stores and restaurants using French and order meals in Italian. I've even ordered items at McDonalds using Dutch, Russian and Czech -- the latter cases because I could pronounce the names of items on the menu boards. Which leads to the strategy I use outside the Germanic and Romance linguistic orbits. I try to learn how written words are pronounced. Not the same as knowing "hello," mind you. But it helps me recognize cognate words or to guess the meaning of other words next to the ones I already know. And by knowing a few nouns I sometimes can get by simply uttering the word for water or subway. I don't know any Russian to speak of, but know the alphabet. This allowed me to wander the streets of Moscow reading street signs and furtively correlating the names with those on a street map I brought along in a back pocket of my jeans. Were I to stay in a country for more than the two or three days tour groups give you, I probably would begin to learn the helloes and other common phrases. And if my stay was for longer then a month, I'd probably make a serious effort to learn the language, difficult though that is for me. What do you do when you pay a short visit to a country where you know zilch of their language? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 14, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Bill Kauffman, An Introduction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull, I've recently discovered the work of the political writer Bill Kauffman. With a few of his books still to catch up with, I've become a big fan. Kauffman's nothing if not contrarian, one-of-a-kind, and hard-to-categorize. He once worked for Reason and he publishes mostly in rightie outlets, yet he's a registered Democrat. Decidedly libertarian in most ways, he often votes Green. Drawn to the political scene, he's frank about the way that his own experiences in the political world turned him into an anarchist. Rock on! I like people who won't be confined by conventional labels. Kauffman's writing is just as hard to slot: prickly yet rambunctious, traditionalist yet gonzo, ornery yet extravagant. He generally works as an up-to-date journalist, but his books are ambitious in a pre-modernist literary way. Temperamentally drawn to the small-scale and the personal, he's also unstoppably outgoing, rowdy, and exuberant. He's an upbeat pessimist, both a nostalgist and a punk rocker. But encountering his work isn't just to be swept away by energy, talent, and brains, it's also to discover a fresh, unexpected, and fully-developed vision. In "America First!: Its History, Politics, and Culture," Kauffman rehabilitates the reputation of a mid-century antiwar group that, these belligerant days, is looked highly-askance-at. In "Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists," Kauffman celebrates a motley group of go-it-your-own-way cranks and dreamers that you're unlikely to hear praised by profs, let alone by partisan cheerleaders. His version of American history is the -- to me very convincing -- story of the Empire (and its supporters and propagandists) vs. Us Human-Scale Creatures. None of Kauffman's books are straightforward affairs. You'd be frustrated if you turned to them for clearly-laid-out arguments or encyclopedia-style information. Instead, they're fullblown reading experiences: part history, part personal essay. They're also big, heraldic, all-over-the-place prose poems -- patchwork, Whitmanesque, "barbaric yawps" set to driving rock, country, and blues beats. They're florid and funky, perverse yet open, bristling with deeply-felt exhortations and digressions, and full of comic but heart-busting praise-songs. To the extent that I'd want to categorize his work at all, I'd put it on the same rhapsodic / eccentric, full-of-contradictions-but-that's-the-point-dammit shelf as Edward Abbey, Henry David Thoreau, and H.L. Mencken. Kauffman's most personal book is "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town's Fight to Survive." It's about Kauffman's love affair with his hometown, Batavia, New York, a small place about 20 miles outside Rochester. In "Muckdog," he blends history, tales, autobiography, and ruminations. Kauffman grew up in Batavia, and Batavia has been the fulcrum of his work all along. His theme is almost always "home" -- he often describes himself as (among many other things) a "localist," and his devotion to Western New York runs deep. He studied at the University of Rochester, worked in D.C. as a staffer for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, spent some time in L.A. (where he met Lucine, his wife-to-be),... posted by Michael at October 14, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Reviver?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In yet another bit of wishful thinking, er, in yet another attempt to revive its ailing downtown, Rochester, New York is investing $270 million of taxpayer money in a gigantic Moshe Safdie-designed complex. (You can explore the project further here.) Offhand design critique: too white, too many swoops, too much glass, and 'waaaaay too big a helping of that modernist obsession, "natural light." (Modernists seem to dislike the idea of buildings as shelter. Too traditional, I suppose.) Whiteness, swoopiness, glassiness, excess dazzle ... There's a lot of that particular combo around these days, isn't there? Fast hunch about the complex's prospects: Ain't gonna work as planned. Quick question: Does it really make sense to be spending 270 million public dollars on this kind of thing? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Ever-Expanding, Ever-Contracting
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Uncle Patrick sees some virtues in hippie music. Nice, and suggestive, sentence: Jethro Tull "introduced me to jazz, classical and rock music all at once." That's something pop culture doesn't do any longer, it seems to me. Pop culture has grown more various, expansive, and inclusive than it once was -- no denying that. But at the same time it has also become more all-engulfing. A far-out piece of pop music isn't likely to lead an adventurous listener to the worlds of jazz, folk, or classical these days; it's much more likely to lead to other far-out pop music instead. Same in other fields. Time magazine once treated pop culture condescendingly and inadequately, for example, but did an OK job of providing glimpses of and intros to the worlds of classical music, dance, poetry, and fine art. These days -- though it's much more open to pop culture than it once was -- acknowledgment of other forms of culture can be hard to find in Time's pages. Sigh: does it always have to be one or the other? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen recommends his favorite books by new Nobelist Orhan Pamuk. I seem to remember that Tatyana read Pamuk's "Snow" not too long ago and enjoyed it. * Dr. Feelgood provides an anthology of opinion columnists in the form of one-sentence summaries. * Steven Heller and Charles Hively discuss "The Rise and Fall of Illustration." Here's the website of the beautiful magazine Hively edits and publishes. * Scott fixes the Mexico problem and the mideast problem with one masterstroke. * Tasha lets the mood of the music get to her. * Is it really wise for the Dems to be running this weirdo for Congressman from Minnesota? * I'm nominating Neil for L.A. Design Czar. * Thanks to Brian, who points out this mouth-watering collection of MP3 files and video clips at the Mises Institute on the theme of the economics of culture. I haven't sampled the fare yet, but Brian tells me that much of it is based on Tyler Cowen's wonderful "In Praise of Commercial Culture." * Boomers are once again joining communes. * Brian James makes documentaries about the San Francisco porn world. He talks to Film Threat about what he has witnessed and learned. * MD is in the running! * The Patriarch sums up 38 years of hard-won wisdom in two short life-lessons. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at October 13, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Catholic to Orthodox
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- After a lot of soul-searching, Rod Dreher converts from Catholicism to the Orthodox Church. I haven't taken a look at the Comments on his posting yet. 181 of them so far! I wonder how people are taking Rod's announcement. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

David Koepp's Track on "Stir of Echoes"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here and here, a bunch of us swapped recommendations of DVDs with worthwhile commentary tracks. I have a new one to add to the list, David Koepp's track on "Stir of Echoes." (Amazon, Netflix.) The film -- which Koepp wrote and directed from a Richard Matheson novel -- is well worth a look in its own right: an understated and gritty little horror movie, with effectively-sprung and resonant scares; scads of working-class Chicago atmosphere; and super-committed and first-class character work from all the actors, led by Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Erbe. Koepp's remarks and observations add a lot. Though he's a well-known and successful screenwriter who has worked with Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, "Stir of Echoes" was only his second time out as a director. He talks about the film from the point of view of someone who's still a learner, still unsure of himself. And he's open, frank, and articulate about his discoveries, successes and failures. Not yet a Recognized Master, Koepp keeps the pretentiousness to a minimum and instead wonders out loud about practical narrative-entertainment matters. Why do so many digital effects seem so weightless? What's the difference between shooting a two-person scene conventionally and getting it all in one shot? How to deliver the expected (and needed) genre elements with enough of a twist to make them feel fresh? When to jump into a character's point of view, and how to justify the move? What can a director do to keep the screen alive and the audience awake when he has an awkward chunk of exposition that needs relating? Where moviechat goes I usually love discussions like these far more than high-falutin' "criticism." Critics often seem to enjoy the fantasy that filmmakers have ideas on their minds. They want to think of their favorite filmmakers as philosphers, or as giants with visions. But as far as I've ever been able to tell, it's the mundane, "Good lord, how do we put this across?" questions that consume 95% of a filmmaker's brainwattage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

"Prairie" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that the Robert Altman / Garrison Keillor "A Prairie Home Companion" is now available on DVD. (Amazon, Netflix.) I loved the movie and wrote about it here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Scrambled (Egg) Secrets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't want to turn this into a foodie blog, but ... I do like to mix topics as best I can. And I have a long list of subjects plus a pile of digital photos from my Central European trip that shouldn't be dumped on you all at once. So I've been reduced to dealing with The Art and Science of Cooking Scrambled Eggs. My wife thinks I do a top-notch job of scrambling eggs. I simply thought I was just doing an ordinary task. What's my secret? Hmm. I don't get distracted. I'm not dashing around the kitchen, the rest of the house or even the yard. I'm not over on the family room couch reading the sports page. I'm standing right there by the stove keepin' those eggs movin'. That's it. Oh, I also keep the electric burner set at the high end of the "Low" range. And I stir with one of those rubber-tipped cleaning spatulas -- the curved part of the spatula allows me to sweep around the edge of the frying pan, avoiding egg-film build-up. Scrambled eggs are easy. What I need to figure out is how to do a decent job of frying three or so eggs at a time when the frying pan tilts due to the weight of the handle. Those #@*&&@! eggs just run into each other. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Weight-Loss As Will and Idea
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dieters and exercisers: Do you find yourself occasionally lacking the will to persevere? This promising new regimen may have something to offer you. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Formerly Writely
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I liked the online word processor Writely quite a lot back when it was still Writely. I found it very handy to have access to all my word processing documents from any computer (so long as it's connected to the web, of course). I had some reservations about the way that tags are superseding folders as a standard way of organizing and finding files. How many paradigm shifts can one person adjust to in a lifetime, after all? But Writely was a more-than-adequate word processor, it was pleasant to use, and it was free. Will I like the webapp's new incarnation? We'll see. Google bought Writely some months ago, and has just now re-launched it. Bundled together with a Google spreadsheet, it has a new name: Google Docs and Spreadsheets. First impressions: It's still free -- that's good. Microsoft ought to be worried -- that's beyond-excellent. The interface has been tweaked -- hmmm, was that necessary? Tags, sigh. And the app now looks very Google, ie., it's all white and blue and barren. That's not so good. You can read about Google Docs and Spreadsheets here, and you can try it out and / or sign up for it here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 12, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Digital-Movie Future
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Interesting thoughts about the digital-movie future from George Lucas and Matt Hanson. Time to get used to the term "Cinema 2.0," I guess. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Another Movie-List Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What's your favorite WWII movie? Link thanks to Anne Thompson, who comes up with some inspired candidates. Hmmmm: I'm offhand tempted to vote for Peckinpah's "Cross of Iron," or maybe Boorman's "Hope and Glory." Have you voted yet in Andy Horbal's "Best American Fiction Movie of the Last 25 Years" poll? Then go here. Or in my "Your Favorite American Fiction Movie of the Last 25 Years, Critics Be Damned" poll? Then go here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Diversity Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is pursuing "diversity" a policy that will automatically lead (as so many seem to think) to an egalitarian, everything's-cool utopia? Or are the real-life consequences of pursuing "diversity" a little more, er, complex than that? GNXP's Dobeln cites a new Robert Putnam study showing that "the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone -- from their next-door neighbour to the mayor." Just what America needs: less trust. A fun commentsfest ensues. * The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "diversity"-mania continues to rage on America's college campuses. "Nearly every university, it seems," writes Ben Gose, "is racing to appoint a chief diversity officer." * As we pass 300 million, our current immigration policies ensure two things about our future: continued, rapid population growth -- and ever-increasing "diversity." Nothing quite like a noble-sounding, demonstrably counter-productive policy for transfixing the academic / political imagination, eh? Related: Rick Darby thinks that Mark Steyn is all wet where population questions are concerned. Steve Sailer and his readers muse on the Robert Putnam diversity study. (Also here and here.) Laurence Auster comments too. Best, Michael UPDATE: Those unsure whether "diversity" has become an entrenched interest as well as a prospering business might want to eyeball this diversity-biz trade magazine. UPDATE 2: Steve Sailer points out a WashPost article taking note of the fact that some of D.C.'s most diverse (and "vibrant") neighborhoods are also surprisingly crime-riddled.... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Time to Practice Your Punk Arpeggios, Dear ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some may find this hard to believe, but Johnny Rotten, Chryssie Hynde, Billy Idol, and Joe Strummer all received vocal coaching. I'd love to have sat in on those sessions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Troubles
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 2500 police have been injured in France this year, and a police trade union leader says of the situation: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails." Randall Parker reports that as many as 70% of the people in French jails are Muslims. Meanwhile, guess who's preventing polio from being stamped out in India? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

How Can Brittanica Compete?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Someone has already done the research for you! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 11, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

[Every : where]
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A design fad that 2Blowhards visitors may be familiar with has gone global. Mr. Tall sends in this photo he snapped recently in Hong Kong: Dig those ca-razy brackets! But, as Mr. Tall observes, what really puts this particular logo over the top isn't the nonsense brackets, it's the nonsense colon inside the nonsense brackets. Mr. Tall and his partner Mr. Bald do a lot of first-class blogging here. I wrote about nonsense brackets here, here, and here. Punctuation marks: They aren't just about language any longer. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Airplanes Overhead
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- At our Seattle house I often hear sounds of airplanes overhead. Some folks hate the sounds of airplane engines. I rather enjoy them. I suppose my quirk is related to when and where I was a boy. That was in Seattle during the 1940s. Seattle has been an aircraft town for 90 years, thanks to the presence of Boeing. But when I was young, the greatest factor was the (now defunct) Sand Point Naval Air Station located a little more than an air mile from my house in northeast Seattle. Sand Point was hopping during World War 2 of course, but it stayed quite busy well into the 1950s because it was an important Naval Air Reserve station. The runway was too short for serious jet use (I recall seeing Navy versions of T-33 trainers there, but that was about all), so its value declined starting in the mid-50s. The most commonly heard (and seen) planes for me during and shortly after the war were DC3 airliners, PBY and PBM flying boat patrol bombers, TBF Avenger torpedo bombers and F6F Hellcat fighters. By 1950 or thereabouts, the F6Fs were replaced by F8F Bearcats that were so fast they sometimes outran their sounds when seen from a distance -- something one normally associates with jets. Patrol bombers were PB4Ys, the naval version of the WW2 B-24 Army bomber. I recall them making a huge amount of noise when a number of them were warming up their motors before morning flights. The plane I remember best was the PBY (see photo below). Being a flying boat, it had a broad belly. And its engines were closely spaced thanks to its raised wing. Seen from the ground, PBYs often looked like they had only one engine, one being obscured by the fat fuselage. Consolidated PBY Catalina. The planes I see and hear nowadays are mostly jetliners on takeoff and landing flight paths for SeaTac airport. They aren't nearly as various and interesting as what I witnessed in, say, 1948. Nevertheless I find them curiously comforting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 10, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, October 9, 2006

More Glass
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Stop the presses: Architecture critic praises glassy geometrical building-thing! The whole piece is a not-to-be-missed, unwitting and rich self-parody. But here's one especially hilarious passage: Minimalist architecture deserving of the name pares itself down not in the pursuit of style points but in an effort to frame the relationship between solid and void, nature and culture, and color and its absence -- and to explore how the eye sees and the mind understands those differences. I'll have two of those, fried and over easy! Where do these people get their brainwashings, er, educations? And what is it about a certain kind of architect (and architecture buff) that finds the idea of living in a department store's sparkly perfume-bottle counter so thrilling? More pix here. I wrote here about the kinky relationship many architects have with glass. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Raw Milk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Raw milk: risky food fad or good-for-you delicacy? And, in either case, should the FDA really be spending time and money chasing down people who sell and drink the stuff? The WashPost's Thomas Bartlett pulls his collars up high and infiltrates "the raw-milk underground." (Link thanks to Kirsten Mortenson.) Back here, I recommended Nina Planck's book "Real Food." Nina Planck likes raw milk too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Chute Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Chute swaps some emails with "Santeria" director Benny Matthews, and points out that the top-drawer film scholar David Bordwell is now blogging. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

YouTube Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Another new Oscar category that's needed in this age of mix-it-yourself media: Best YouTube Uploader. My nominee is "balansoes" from Spain. For one thing, he's heroic: 318 videos uploaded so far, many of them 5-9 minutes long. For another: Man oh man, does this guy have taste, as well as the collection of material to back it up. Vids I've enjoyed so far: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Dawn Upshaw, Bryn Terfel, Cecilia Bartoli, Marilyn Horne, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, John Eliot Gardiner, the countertenor David Daniels ... Vids I plan to get around to soon: Some hard-to-find documentaries, including an interview with Jorge Luis Borges and another with Vladimir Nabokov ... A series entitled "The Art of Conducting" featuring get-togethers with and long performance samples from the likes of Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, and Arturo Toscanini ... Any nominees from other YouTube junkies for the Best Uploader Award? * Did you notice that YouTube has just been bought by Google for $1.65 billion? * What will the consequences of the deal be? One widespread suspicion is that the lawyers will soon be swarming, with the effect that YouTube will no longer be the wide-open, copyright-defying playground that it has been. Or, as LAist bluntly asks, "Google Buys YouTube, Will YouTube Start to Suck?" Which might mean that the vids so lovingly uploaded by "balansoes" and others may not be around for us to enjoy forever. Oh dear, oh dear ... Oh phew: This good piece of software for Macs does a nice job of downloading YouTube vids onto your very own hard drive. Why live at the mercy of Google? Personal use only, of course ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Simon on Rupert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although Simon Callow thinks that Rupert Everett's new book is the best theatrical memoir since Noel Coward's, he doesn't fail to get in some sly digs too: We goody-goodies are inclined to believe that it is the audience's fun that matters more than the performers', but Rupert's commitment to his position is absolute and principled: in the end, for him, all that matters is that the actor should blaze with unfettered charisma. The moment he saw the film of Mary Poppins, a "giant and deranged ego was born" and he knew, he says, that he must find a new personality to express it. Miaow! Callow is an amazingly canny writer-about-acting, btw. There are very few who are in his class. Writing well about acting is a hard (and rare) thing to do. For Callow at his best, try his classic biography of Charles Laughton. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Queen Nefertiti Was ... Dumpy?!?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Any of you guys dig older women? Especially those you met in an art history class? A few trifling Greek statues aside (that Venus de something-or-other, etc.), the unquestioned (for me) pre-1400 A.D. Art Babe is Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, 18th Dynasty, circa 1340 B.C. Here are some views of the famous bust from the workshop of Tuthmosis. The current consensus is that the bust was created as a reference for stone statues and other, more permanent representations of her. Hence the missing left eyeball. Nefertiti (the bust) has been living in Berlin for the past 90 years or so, and I finally got the chance to meet her there last month. She was as stunning as I anticipated she would be. A group of students was surrounding the bust and taking in a lecture when I arrived at her gallery in the Egyptian Museum, so I strayed 30 or so feet away to other displays to wait for them to move along. There I noticed a case containing a statue of her. It was small -- 40 centimeters -- but a full-length, nearly nude figure. And my beloved Nefertiti looked -- how can I put this delicately? -- ready for a size 16 skirt at a Talbot's sale. Here are some photos of that statuette. I couldn't find a side-view via Google (perhaps a reader can do better: check the Comments) so you'll have to use some imagination. But my take of the statuette in profile was that she had a pretty large butt and tummy, not to mention the heavy legs you can see in the photos. This was disappointing. You see, from the bust alone I extrapolated the rest of her to be basically lean, yet sensually shapely. But she was what she was, and the artists depicting her added a good deal of individuality, going beyond the stylistic conventions we associate with Egyptian art. Furthermore, as a book I bought at the museum pointed out, even the bust showed Nefertiti as a mature woman. Note the incipient bags under the eyes. I'd take her for early 30s or a well-preserved 40. The statuette was probably made later because, if you look closely, you can see wrinkling at the corners of her mouth. My guess is that Nefertiti always had a stunning face and thin upper torso while being at least a little thick in the thighs and ankles. So she wasn't perfection after all. [Sigh] Later, Donald P.S. For general info on Nefertiti, click here.... posted by Donald at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For funky, semi-camp-but-genuinely-danceable, '80s bliss, does your vote go to Billy Ocean's inimitable "Get Out of My Dreams (Get Into My Car)"? Or to Rick James' never-to-be-equalled "Superfreak"? Mr. James is, sadly, no longer with us, though you can always explore the Rick James website. Interesting to learn that Mr. Ocean was born Leslie Charles in Trinidad; that he was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Westminster University; and that he recently converted to Rastafarianism. The Billy Ocean website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 9, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, October 8, 2006

My Grandfather's Necktie
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One day in 1963 my grandfather dressed himself in a dark suit with vest, striped long-sleeved shirt, gold pocket watch on a chain and a necktie held in place by a stick pin. Two things were unusual about that day. First, it was the day that he was going to move to a nursing home. Second, that morning he seated himself on his rocking chair to gaze out the window. And died. What was usual was how he was dressed. As long as I knew him, he tended to dress for business, though he was in business only briefly when he was young. I suppose the tie came off at times, perhaps during hot Spokane summer days. And he did wear woolen Pendleton shirts more often as he aged. But he never, ever dressed very casually. Why? My guess is that it was a status thing. In much of the USA -- and especially here on the West Coast -- many people dress casually all the time, even office workers. Before I retired I affected a preppy sweater-and-chinos look except when I had to appear "in public" where I donned jacket and tie. The important thing about this, so far as this essay is concerned, is that when nearly everyone dresses casually it becomes difficult to tell where they stand socially until you talk to them or get other information about them. Even more interesting, this phenomenon is pretty much voluntary. It's not quite the same thing as mandatory wearing of jump suits or overalls in a Japanese-owned factory. Things were different in the 1880s and 1890s, my grandfather's formative years. Back then, what we now call blue and white collar workers wore distinctive garb. As a young man, my grandfather worked in a glamorous, high-tech industry -- railroading. At least one of his early jobs was as a crewman on freight trains. I know this because, as the result of an unfortunate interaction with a coupling, he lost his left foot; the amputation was just above the ankle. Since you don't go gandy-dancin' on one foot, he had to change his trade. Wanting to stay in railroading, he learned Morse Code and became a telegrapher and pretty much remained one the rest of his career. I need to mention that he had only an average education for his time, leaving school after the eighth grade. Since the telegrapher job was an office job, he was able to claim white collar status albeit on a pretty low rung of that ladder. Okay, I never talked with him about this topic, so it's possible I got everything wrong here. But I suspect I'm essentially correct. Lord knows he kept dressing "white collar" for decades following his retirement when he had no strong objective reason for proving anything to anyone. For what it's worth, when he was alive I never thought about him and his dress in the terms expressed above. The suit, vest, watch, tie,... posted by Donald at October 8, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments