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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pulling Our Weight
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Worldwide, overweight people now outnumber underweight people. In South Africa, 56 percent of women are now either obese or overweight, compared to fewer than 10 percent who are underweight. Health experts predict that diabetes will soon become a major health problem in Africa, and economists are concerned that obesity will be a drag on the world's economy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sensual Aircraft
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The first duty of an airplane is to fly. That rules out many possible shapes that might otherwise be attempted. Assuming a designated role or function (cargo carrier, bomber, interceptor, etc.), adequate power, a structural system, aerodynamic and other constraints, the aircraft designer still has some aesthetic freedom to shape the airplane. Therefore some airplanes appear pugnacious, some are fussy, some are bland and some are downright ugly. Others are beautiful ... sensual, even. Below are examples of planes I find sensual: 2Blowhards Airplane "Centerfold" De Havilland Albatross. The DH.91, first flown in 1937, was not a commercial success. It experienced serious technical problems, the final ones in service being written off due to wood-rot (they were largely of wooden construction). Lockheed Constellation. Shown is a C-121 military version of the famed civilian transport that served from the mid-1940s into the 1960s. Early "Connies" were shorter than the one pictured, and had round windows; they also had the most voluptuous fuselages. Later versions had lengthened fuselages and larger wings, making them a bit less attractive. Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne launch aircraft. Nearly all of Rutan's designs appear delicate, feminine. SpaceShipOne was the first non-government man-carrying craft to exceed an altitude of 100 kilometers. F-86 Sabre. America's first swept-wing jet fighter. Served from the late 40s into the late 50s. Famed for dominating Russian and Chinese piloted MiG-15s during the Korean War. The first three aircraft pictured strike me as being something like haute-couture models (for 7,000-foot runways). Slender. Delicate. Part of the slenderness has to do with the fact that all three airplanes have what are termed "high aspect ratio" wings. That is, long, narrow wings that are suitable for efficient long-range cruising and not for the violent maneuvering essential for a fighter plane. The final aircraft is a fighter and a lovely one indeed. Note especially the subtle shaping of the air intake and surrounding parts of the nose. Rather than fashion-model delicacy, the Sabre is more zaftig, but not too zaftig. Sort of like its 1950s contemporary, Marilyn Monroe Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some recent, and very NSFW, paparazzi shots of Britney prompt a few questions. For example: If you were going out on the town in a short dress, would you leave your panties behind? I know I wouldn't. And: Do the stars flash the photographers on purpose? It seems to be a very effective way of generating interest, after all. And if showbiz isn't about demanding attention ... The main question it leaves me wondering about, though, is: Has the pubic-grooming thing finally gone a little too far? It isn't just the gals. I notice in the gym's locker room that the young male set is now going in for shaving, waxing, and trimming. Not that I look, of course. Still, what a strange experience it is to be surrounded by male crotches that have obviously been fussed-over. God knows that upkeep is usually to be valued, and that novelty and variety are often appreciated too. But this whole "I am a plastic, Photoshopped version of myself" mania isn't even particularly sexy, is it? I mean, except maybe to a 14 year old. Back in the day, learning to find body hair alluring was considered a central part of growing up. It was a sign you'd graduated from kid-hood. Perhaps the obsession with total, overall smoothness is yet one more sign that we've handed control of our culture over to the tastes of 14 year olds ... Can I be the only person -- let alone the only veteran of the '60s and the '70s -- who's wondering, "Who declared body hair un-erotic?" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Three more of my favorite Teaching Company series can also now be bought for bargain prices: Patrick Allitt's American Religious History, Kenneth Harl's Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor, and David Zarefsky's Argumentation. I raved about Allitt's series here; about Harl's here; about Zarefsky's here; and about Zarefsky's inspiration, the philosopher Stephen Toulmin, here. I should add that I've received an email from a visitor who disagrees with me about the Harl series, which he found naive, and biased towards the Turks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Timothy Taylor on Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that Timothy Taylor's lecture series about Economics for the Teaching Company are currently on sale. I've listened to them all, and I've found them all to be superb: clear, enthusiastic, and hyper-informative. Taylor seems to see economics not as a hard science full of immutable and unbendable truths so much as an ongoing, open-ended conversation. He's no Aspergery fundamentalist, but he's no relativist either; in the course of the Econ discussion, a lot of smart, useful, and helpful things have been said. That's a view of econ I can get with. This is human behavior -- and not the properties of minerals and asteroids -- that's being observed, described, and analyzed after all. Economics as he presents it isn't physics. It's more like a blend of psychology, philosophy, and sociology -- only with far more reality checks than those fields sometimes permit themselves. Bless his heart, Taylor also presents his subject in non-techie terms. (Let's hear it for that underused resource, namely plain and vivid English.) Which means that his lectures are an excellent way for the math-phobic among us to crack this annoying but essential and finally fascinating subject. My humble suggestion: Start with his Legacies of the Great Economists. It's a fun history-of-thought survey that'll give you an overview of the terrain. Then move on to Economics for the real content. History of the American Economy in the 20th Century will bring you up to the present here at home, and Contemporary Economic Issues will help you make sense of the headlines. Back here, a bunch of us traded tips about a lot of intro-to-econ resources that we've found useful. Best, Michael UPDATE: Tyler Cowen points out an article that attempts to explain why most people don't get economics.... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Downloadable Bob
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Brian, who points out that Bob Dylan's Theme Time radio shows can be downloaded here. Brian writes: "They make great drive-time listening. Make sure you click on the "Archive" versions if you want them divided into tracks; otherwise it's just an hour-long file. I recommend Drinking, Jail, and The Devil to start off with. He gives the nod to Sister Rosetta Tharpe's YouTube video on episode 17, Friends And Neighbors, saying 'it'll blow your mind'. Who'd've guessed Bob was YouTube hip? But then again he's hip to everything, ain't he. Theme Time set lists are here, Theme Time forums are here. Speaking of His Bobness, have you seen this? Have mercy"! Mercy indeed! That's a clip that deserves a place in the same pantheon as David Hasselhoff's rock videos. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 30, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * To me, the Pulitzer Prize has become a negative indicator for journalism. The more Pulitzers a newspaper can claim, the more wary I am as a (potential) reader. Jeff Jarvis isn't so hot on them either, as this recent post indicates. * Now that I'm in rant-mode, kindly permit me to vent on television screens in public places. While I concede the need for TVs in sports bars, I am not amused by TV monitors surrounding non-bar dining areas of restaurants. I was really not amused last week in an Albertson's supermarket in Las Vegas where a TV placed near the vegetable section was blabbing away about recipes and food preparation. Is there to be no escape? Woe! Woe!! * Time was, to earn a Ph.D. one had to demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages -- this in addition to the doctoral subject-matter. At Dear Old Penn I somehow got away with only having to know a teensy amount of German. Other universities were allowing substitution of a computer language for French, Latin or whatever. The slide down the slippery slope continues. Apparently public schools in some states can now allow students to take sign language instead of French or Spanish and have that count as a "foreign" language. I have nothing against sign language even though I don't speak (finger?) it. Still, this strikes me as going a step too far. That goes for computer languages, too (and I've programmed in J, APL and Basic). Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 29, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some clever and funny totebags can be seen here. * Religious conservatives give more to charity than secular lefties do. (Link thanks to ALD.) * Searchie confesses to being a "flower nerd." * As far as Turkey's bid to become part of the EU goes, Rod Dreher can't see what's in it for Europe except disaster. Nice sentence: "Seeking peaceful coexistence in no way requires political union." * Alice confesses that, despite disliking the Beeb's politics, she still prefers the BBC's programming to American cable. * GNXPers (and commenters) yak about synaesthesia. * In the 1950s, Ann Bannon wrote lesbian-themed pulp fiction. She talks to WNYC here. (Link thanks to Michael Bierut.) * Are stop signs really necessary? (Link thanks to Design Observer.) * The usual thing to run into is atheists claiming that religious belief is irrational. Jim Kalb surprises by arguing that it's atheism that makes no sense. Thrasymachus responds. Dave Lull points out a review of a new book about the great Michael Oakeshott that specifically addresses Oakeshott's heretofore not-much-discussed thoughts about religion. * Brenda Walker wonders how the NYTimes can publish a piece about black people leaving Watts and not once use the word "immigration." * What are the worst-designed everyday objects? Blister-packs, napkin dispensers, and CD jewelboxes are currently in the lead. * Bluewyvern turns up some wacky hotel rooms. * Is the time right for adult, character-driven sex to reappear in feature films? (Link thanks to Prairie Mary.) * Steve Sailer has been wondering why so many great athletes come from the West Indies. * The Communicatrix once gave jazz great Anita O'Day a lift. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So when was rock 'n' roll born anyway? Perhaps the easiest way to take on the question is to look at the dates of some of the best-known early rock songs. Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" was released in 1954, the same year as "That's All Right Now (Mama)," Elvis Presley's first single. Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" came along in 1955: Chuck Berry is so impish and sly, isn't he? Could any other man make cardigan sweaters look sexy? And why do some of his lyrics deliver such intense pleasure? Lordy: "As I was a-motivatin' over the hill / Saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville / Cadillac a-rollin' on a open road / Nothin' out-runnin' my V-8 Ford" ... I don't know about you, but I feel a thrill every time I hear them. But these familiar early-rock songs were preceded by a lot of music that was awfully hard-rocking. Was it rock 'n' roll too? As Wikipedia notes, "The line separating late 1940s rhythm & blues from early rock & roll is not always clear." I'll say. Some examples: Roy Brown, who released "Good Rocking Tonight" in 1947, and Fats Domino, who was already making recordings in the full Fats mode by 1949. And no one should overlook the great jump-blues immortal Louis Jordan, who had found his style with songs like "Caldonia" by the early 1940s. If that music doesn't rock, then my pseudonym isn't Michael Blowhard. It's fun to realize how much the gals were caught up in the birthin' process too. I linked before to this amazing video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe shaking things up with her hard-rocking, funky gospel. But why not do it again? Not enough people know of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. If that performance doesn't give your spirits a big boost, then you may want to check and make sure you've still got a pulse. Among the many things I love about that clip is the way Sister Rosetta moves during her guitar solo. Talk about being over, above, behind, and in the beat! Talk about struttin'! It doesn't come as a complete surprise to learn that Sister Rosetta was one of Little Richard's favorite performers, does it? Hmmm, let's see ... Since there's an obvious continuity from Little Richard to Prince, would we be justified in seeing a line of descent that runs from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Prince? So her influence is still very much with us. Small American-music history lesson: Sister Rosetta Tharpe was already a popular performer in the 1930s. Here's a rare treat: Sister Rosetta Tharpe alone with her guitar. And then there was Ruth Brown, aka Little Miss Rhythm. To be frank, this whole posting is just an excuse to link to a Ruth Brown performance that I love. And isn't that part of the fun of asking questions like "When did rock and roll really begin?" I'm most definitely of the "it's the adventure, not the... posted by Michael at November 29, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Contrarianism Is Creative?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [The setting: Army barracks, South Korea, 1964] One of the more artsy guys in Seventh Logistical Command's headquarters company was showing us the new suit he had custom-tailored in Taegu. Since we GIs couldn't easily hop over to Hong Kong (at the time, a place noted for nice made-to-order clothing at reasonable prices), we had to make do with local tailors. This was when South Korea was a largely isolated country, commercially -- not quite yet having signed a normalization treaty with next-door Japan. Although Koreans struck me as being hard-working, what they produced seemed shoddy because they didn't often have the chance to see what world-class products were like. For example, I had two Harris Tweed sport jackets made, one of which had a botched collar. To return to the subject, the dark brown suit had a "creative" cut. The trousers had no cuffs ... but the sleeves did! Cuffed sleeves were hardly innovative; check paintings and artifacts from the 18th century, for instance. Unlike the large, showy cuffs from 200 years earlier, the sleeve cuffs we witnessed were just like contemporary pants cuffs. In other words, this guy's concept of creativity was to pull The Old Switcheroo. Yes, yes, styles can evolve via a contrarian dialectic. Skirts begin skirting the floor? ... then raise 'em (perhaps gradually) above the knee. Nevertheless, I sometimes think that many post-1900 artists strive too hard for creativity (and not quality). When being "creative," they often simply produce something that opposes what The Establishment favors. Never mind that it's often the Establishment of 1910 that they're still rebelling against. Blockhead that I am, I don't believe that art has to be creative to be good or even great. I think current art would be much better if artists placed creativity towards the bottom of their lists of objectives. Even if creativity is the top priority for a given art project, being blindly contrarian isn't a guarantee of success. And how did we react to that suit with cuffed sleeves? With mumbles of "Hmm. Interesting." Along with other noncommittally polite sounds. Far be it from us to stifle Genius. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 28, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Conundrums of the Web Age
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On her blog, Jackie Danicki writes that she was assaulted while in the London Tube. At the top of the posting, she includes a photo she managed to shoot of her assailant. Was she right to publish this photograph? Some of her commenters think she wasn't. Mindy McAdams is more alarmed by Danicki posting the photo than by the fact that Danicki was assaulted. Samizdata's Perry de Havilland, on the other hand, cheers Danicki's action. My own hunches / feelings run along these lines: "I can certainly see the potential for vigilante-justice-style abuse. But, really, screw the worrywarts. If someone attacked me or someone I care about and I managed to snap a photo of him, I'd certainly put it on the web too. What's really worrying is the state of crime and policing in London." Also, of course: "What a funny new era we live in." What are your own hunches and feelings about the Jackie Danicki affair? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 28, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Them and Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an interesting one to suck on: a review of an expansion at the Museum of Modern Art. What do you make of it? I find it interesting in only one way: the writer's total willingness to accept 1) that modernism is / was not just an art development but a genuine religion-replacement wannabe, and 2) that the International Style in architecture isn't just an attempt at a complete architectural language, but a potentially still-valid one. I find myself speechless in the face of this kind of thing. How can you accept these notions without digging into some other questions too? For example: Was it smart and / or productive for modernism to try to function as a replacement religion, and for people to look to it as such? For another: How about a simple acknowledgment that the International Style was the most destructive movement in all of architectural history? Me, I'd finally try to say something more or less along the lines of, "Well, if you're curious about this modern-art-as-religion thing, and if you want to see and experience yet another talented guy attempt the impossible, namely to redeem the International Style, you might consider visiting MOMA, the monomaniacally rectilinear, white-and-light high church of modernism. What a curious historical phenomenon, eh? And patooie on it." But that's the diff between me and a real art-world pro, I guess. They look at at modern-art-as-religion and think, "Gosh, what a great idea! I still share the dream ... " I look at it and think, "Well, I'm sure glad we've awakened from that particular self-delusion. Maybe, despite all the inevitable flow back and forth between them, it makes more sense to think of art and religion as separate if related things. And maybe it would be wise to remind ourselves that it's usually a mistake to displace our religious yearnings onto art and culture." The artworld pros look at the International Style and think, "Wow, abstract geometricism was so beautiful that it's worth sacrificing ever more humanity in order to make it work." I look at the International Sytle and think, "Lordy, what a misguided and disastrous experiment that was. Best to set it aside, and maybe even to put it under lock and key. The time's long overdue for us to get back to going about our building-and-culture schemes in far more modest and time-tested ways." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 28, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, November 27, 2006

Chocolate Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why eat chocolate when you can create works of art using it? What kind of art? Representational art, for one thing. Below are some examples I encountered during my travels this year: Here's the ocean liner Titanic at the Fassbender & Rausch store in Berlin's Gendarmenmark, a block or so off Friedrichstrasse. I wonder if the ship is solid chocolate or simply a layer spread over a form made of some other material. This is the Brandenburg Gate. There are more sculptures on display, including one of the Reichstag (pariament) building. The fancy chocolate shop in Las Vegas' Wynn casino displays this item. I have no clue how they did the drapery -- especially without getting finger prints on it Chocolate art need not represent anything but itself. Below are two views of what is claimed (if I correctly recall the sign I glanced at) to be the world's largest chocolate fountain. It's at the Bellagio casino / hotel in Las Vegas. It's more than six feet high... ...and features both dark and light chocolate. On the other hand ... why create art with chocolate when you can eat it? Suits me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 27, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

More Tributes to Altman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Garrison Keillor recalls Robert Altman. (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) Lots of sweet and heartfelt tributes and notes of sympathy can be read here. My favorite: "For everyone who really loves art (movies, books, whatever), there is always at least one person out there who means more to you than is rational. For me, Robert Altman was that person. He was a man I never met, yet I feel as if my father has passed away. I will miss him terribly and always." I feel that way myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I loved this combo artist's notebook / journal / scrapbook by a Vancouverite. * Bob recalls the days when he assumed that everyone would soon own a flying car. I remember those days too. * MD evokes a visit to Northhampton, Mass. * Blue-eyed men prefer to mate with blue-eyed women, while brown-eyed men have no preference in eye color. * Steve Bodio offers a heartbreaking tribute to an early love. * It's the latest YouTube thing: showing off your double-jointedness. Today's kids get to perform not just in front of their fellow junior-high students, but in front of the entire wired world. * Dan Santat's demo of how he created this year's Macy's Parade poster is a nice lesson in the kinds of constraints that commercial art is often produced under. Renaissance art was created under rather similar circumstances. * Lordy! Imagine getting in the ring with this Russian behemoth! * Progressive liberal Joel Hirschorn thinks that, where illegal immigration is concerned, super-rightie Pat Buchanan is onto something. * Nice pigtails! * A well-turned sentence from Toby: "I have come to the conclusion that much of the trophy art of the contemporary art world ... has a lot to do with dick size." * Speaking of dick size ... Rod Dreher recalls meeting porn king Al Goldstein. * John Massengale reviews Alain de Botton's "The Architecure of Happiness." John also provides a short summary of what the New Urb / Chris Alexander crowd is all about, namely always returning to the question: "How does the building (neighborhod, park, whatever) feel? How does it affect you?" * The Cranky Professor has some tips for those who want to learn Latin. * The new-style sex-education film. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * In a joint posting, Richard S. Wheeler has found what he considers one of the greatest of all western novels, while Ed Gorman raves about Harry Whittington. * The holidays, as they are all-too-often really lived. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Chateau Whimsy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time, every backwoods winery wrapped itself in a fancy brand-name -- usually French-looking. Take that back ... I remember Thunderbird from college days. But you get the idea. The grocery store wine shelves were creaking with bottles of Chateau This and Chateau That. Along with so much else from our lamented past, wine brand names have stepped down from the pedestal to become diluted by whimsy or sullied in edginess. Here are some brands I saw recently: Dynamite 3 blind moose Toad Hollow dog house white truck four emus Barefoot Red Bicyclette Smoking Loon Fish Eye Clean Slate [yellow tail] ... check out those brackets, Michael B! La Bastarda Fat Bastard Besides these, I've seen some seriously edgy names but, alas, failed to take notes at the time. Contributions from readers are welcome in Comments. So are any observations linking (or denying any link) between wine brand-names and The Death of Civilization. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 26, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the nicest consequences of the YouTube-ization of the broadcast world is the way that lo-fi animation is staging a comeback. Enough with network glitz and gloss, with committee caution, and with defensive overproduction. Let's use ever-higher technology to connect with the human touch once again. The Post-It Boogie: post-itUploaded by sabo-tage Whiteboard Dreamin': Some people have a lot of imagination, resourcefulness, talent, and patience. And, of course, time. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Fun Countries
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, I'm in Las Vegas this week. This is my third consecutive post using the town as a content hook (I'm pretty busy and have to dash off what's convenient to write about). Worse, I've been snapping low-res digital photos suitable for blog posting, so beware! -- more might be coming. Yesterday evening my wife mentioned that there were no German-themed casinos in Vegas. Hmm. None for Scandinavia. Or Russia, Poland, Belarus, Latvia, Rumania, Senegal, Paraguay and Korea. Not to mention a lot of other places shunned by the corporate bettors wagering hundreds of millions to create a three-thousand room hotel attached to a casino and shopping area. Seeing as how Las Vegas bills itself as a "fun" town (to distill the various advertised elements to the nub), it might be interesting to note the theme locales that are intended to appeal to Americans and tourists from all over the world. To simplify, I'll pretty much restrict my survey to (1) large Strip casinos that (2) I'm somewhat familiar with and that (3) have an identifiable theme. (Some casinos are gamblin' joints, pure and simple. The large Bally's on the Strip as well as nearby Harrah's fit that category.) Perhaps the most common theme is "tropical" -- Vegas is in a desert, after all, and water seems like a nice thing there. So we find Mandalay Bay. It has a (pay-to-see) aquarium and some Southeast Asian decor here and there, but essentially theming is downplayed. The Mirage has lots of palm trees and such, so I suppose it's a desert oasis despite the fact that it has a "volcano" that "erupts" to a schedule. Treasure Island has a Caribbean Pirates theme. Then there are historical/classical themed casinos. Luxor is in the shape of a pyramid and there are lots of ancient Egyptian touches including statues and a sphinx. Caesar's Palace is Imperial Roman. Excalibur has a King Arthur sort of storybook theme. This hotel-casino seeks the family demographic. Getting more place-specific we find Bellagio -- Lake Como villa themed, and my fave. Also Italian is The Venetian, reproducing Venice to the point of including canals, gondolas and singing gondoliers. Under construction is a huge extension that should also have an Italian theme. Paris recreates Parisian bits, including a half-size Eiffel Tower. The Tour d'Eiffel supposedly was to have been full-scale, but had to be stunted because of the proximity of the Strip to the airport. Otherwise, there is New York - New York. What else -- from Hudson Street to Central Park via Radio City. MGM Grand is a mammoth place that used to be Hollywood themed, but that is disappearing refurbishment-by-refurbishment. Aladdin is North Africa - Middle East, as the name suggests. Its shopping mall is decked out as a flashy north African street or souk. Wynn, the latest huge casino/hotel, is simply luxurious. Off-Strip are the Rio (I find little that seems South American) and The Orleans (New Orleans, that is), Other... posted by Donald at November 25, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, November 24, 2006

How's Your Pitch Perception Ability?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have Lake Woebegone ears: I scored 72 on this fun test, a couple of points above normal. Trying to remember and compare musical phrases is kind of absorbing, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sexy Movies Cheap
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Eva and playmates Amazon is currently selling Bertolucci's Paris-in-'68, movies-and-sex reverie "The Dreamers" for $4.97. $4.97!! Now that's a steal and a half. M. Blowhard verdict on the movie: Not really very good but sexy and enjoyable anyway, as well as an effective mood-setter. Must-see viewing as well for Eva Green fans. Jolie and Mitchell share a vibe I see that Amazon has also put the unrated version of "Gia" -- the 1998 HBO biopic about a coke-snorting, edgy model -- on sale, in this case for $7.47. This is the film that made Angelina Jolie's reputation, and there's no denying her power or her impact. Overflashily directed, but with a shrewd script co-written by Jay McInerny, and full of gutsy performances in addition to Jolie's. I've wondered what has become of Elizabeth Mitchell, for instance, who gave a daring performance as Gia's mustn't-go-there / can't-resist-going-there girlfriend. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

A Film Canon?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those who like bickering over canons should enjoy Paul Schrader's reflections about movie greatness, as well as his readers' responses. Schrader responds to his readers here. Me, I'm temperamentally averse to canon-warfare except when it's conducted in the most lighthearted kind of way. Where this particular discussion was concerned, I found myself rooting for David Chute's reaction: "I've never been this kind of critic, the kind who hands down value judgments from on high. In fact my career has probably been hampered by (among other things) my underlying 'who the hell am I?' frame of mind." I did some musing of my own about the greatness thang long ago. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Daniel Green takes issue with my recent posting about Gold Medal Books. * Insects are weird. * The Onion's A.V. Club movie critics come up with a smart and smartly-annotated list of movie flops that are nonetheless worth watching. * Rick Darby thinks that our elites have turned against us. * Target is marketing some very interesting fashions these days. * Seska recalls a few first times. (NSFW) * Peckinpah-buff alert: Amazon's current price on the DVD of the reconstructed "Major Dundee" is $7.49! * Seattle lefty John Moe dares to spend time in the GOP heartland. "I met a ton of nice people there," he reports. "They were warmer and more welcoming than most big-city Democrats." * Clark Stooksbury volunteers the names of some people we'd do well to ignore on the subject of Iraq. * Michael Bierut recalls growing up in a suburban "snout house." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

DVD Journal: "MPD Psycho"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Takashi Miike's Japanese cop show "MPD Psycho" is the most mind-bending TV series that I've watched since "Twin Peaks." On the literal level, it's a crime drama along the lines of "CSI": cops, murders, investigations, up-to-date visuals ... But that's where the similarity ends. Miike's show, adapted from a popular manga, is anything but slick and banal. Instead, it's a visionary, five-minutes-in-the-future, low-budget freakout that rolls together cellphones, reality TV, grotesquely beautiful murders, soul teletransportation, dream logic, touches of animation, dementedly commmitted performances, fakey but beautiful video effects, mind-reading, a barrage of inspired style choices, and poetic ultraviolence that'll make you gasp. I'm not at all sure I understood what was going on onscreen, but I was beyond-riveted anyway. Miike's got the best antennae in the movie business, IMHO. He's also a fireball of talent who seems determined to use moviemaking as a form of self-immolation. I don't know what he's on, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear tomorrow that he's turned into a cold lump of cinders. Yet what a show he's been putting on for the past 12 years. His films haven't all been fully successful, god knows. But The Wife and I haven't watched one yet that didn't strike us as crazily audacious, in an exciting way. When we watch his movies together, we sometimes dare to use the word "genius." I wrote a bit about Miike's wild-ass yakuza thriller "Dead or Alive" here. Those curious to sample Miike's movies might want to start with the insanely-brilliant "Ichi the Killer" or the quietly terrifying "Audition." I've written postings about a few other burn-it-all-up / rip-it-down / die-laughing artists too: Townes Van Zandt and Shane MacGowan. Where do these creatures come from? I wrote about some other X-treme movies here and here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been enjoying the Terry Jones TV series "Barbarian Lives," currently in rotation on the History International cable network. It's a multipart look at the people whom the Romans regarded as uncivilized barbarians: the Goths, the Germans, the Celts ... Jones, a former Monty Python team-member, wrote the shows and hosts them, and he's a terrific presenter of intellectual entertainment. He travels to spots that were important to the barbarians, and he prowls around Rome. He yaks with historians and archaeologists, and he makes superb use of maps and graphics. And he goofs and mugs in ways that I find both respectful of the material and entertainingly endearing. Highly recommended. The gist of the series is that we've been the victims of very effective Roman (and pro-Roman) propaganda. Jones wants us to see that the barbarians were much more civilized than we've been led to believe and that the Romans were much more barbaric. Being anything but a scholar of ancient history, I have nothing to add to what Jones says, and no way to judge how valid his argument is. Is the case he's making a worthwhile corrective to the usual? Or is he trying to put one over on the unsuspecting among us? In any case, I'm certainly looking forward to the episodes I haven't yet gotten around to. What the series has mainly left me musing about, though, is the question: How much is the U.S. like the Roman Empire? Or, more usefully asked, I hope: In what ways does the U.S. resemble the Roman Empire? In what ways are we different? In what ways is the comparison enlightening and helpful, and in what ways does it mislead? How legit is the comparison at all? I'm obviously the zillionth person to be struck by similarities between Rome and the U.S., and it's quite possible that Jones is doing what he can to plant the question in the viewer's mind. Maybe he has an agenda, and maybe I'm a rube to fall for it. Still: our preference for engineering over aesthetics ... Our unstoppable, too-often-unquestioned commercial drive ... Our love of bread and circuses ... The way we debate noble and stirring ideals while our leaders actually attend to raw power grabs ... Our bully-baby touchiness ... Our assumption that everyone really ought to be, or at least wants to be, an American ... Our conviction that we're the center of the world ... It isn't as though it's strange for the question to arise in a person's mind, is it? So: America equals Rome? Yes? No? An enlightening comparison to think about? A question not really worth asking? Friedrich von Blowhard volunteered some substantial thinking about Rome here. I'm looking forward to getting around to this lecture series about Rome and the barbarians from the Teaching Company's excellent Kenneth Harl. (Wait for the package to go on sale before clicking the buy button. On sale, its price will be about 1/3... posted by Michael at November 24, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Retro People
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: Broadway, thy name is Revival. And Las Vegas, thy name is Retro People. Show biz people. Dead ones, in many cases. Okay, I probably should have used the word "impressionist" or the word "impersonator" because it's that genre. Or perhaps not: it's not just some guy who's part of the evening's bill doing a minute of Jimmy Stewart and then a snippet of some other personality. Here in Vegas, they have whole shows built around impersonators sticking with one character. For example, two years ago I saw a Rat Pack show where guys did an hour and twenty minutes of Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis. (The Sinatra impersonator was pretty close, as was the guy doing Sammy -- though he was Hispanic, not Black.) That show is still playing. Skimming a Vegas entertainment magazine on my table I see the following other impersonation-based ("Tribute") shows: Neil Diamond (yes, he's still alive), a Frank Sinatra-Barbra Streisand concert (half alive), the Beatles (another halfie), Bobby Darin - Garth Brooks - Sting - Britney Spears - The Temptations - Elvis (more alive than dead), Liberace (defunct) plus the aforesaid Rat Pack. I'm not normally one to draw sweeping sociocultural conclusions from stuff like this. It might simply be targeting older audiences. Possibly it has to do with shallowness of current show business. Or maybe it's because such shows are easy to set up -- no new material to develop. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 22, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Robert Altman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was very sorry to learn that the film director Robert Altman has died of complications from cancer at the age of 81. Only last month he'd been able to attend a tribute in the Hamptons. Of all the people in the arts whose lives have overlapped mine, I've felt closer to Robert Altman (and to Pauline Kael) than to anyone else. Although I met him a couple of times, I never really got to know him. Far from it; I was just a lucky fan. But I was quite a fan. In fact, I'm one of those X-treme Altman nutcases you sometimes run into. The Altman doofus in this hilarious Onion piece, the one who's reminded by everything of an Altman film? That might have been me. Altman's early movies "M*A*S*H" and "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" turned me into a film buff; loving movies led me to explore the arts more generally. Whatever shape my life has taken on has been because of my love of the arts. The Wife -- flighty, goofily overpassionate, very L.A., and physically a blend of Sally Kellerman and Daryl Hannah -- is herself like something out of an Altman movie. You should have seen him light up when he set eyes on her! I even married an Altman woman. Where the arts and the bohemian life go, Altman and Kael were my guides, even my surrogate parents. Nothing special about this: I suspect that they played this role in many thousands of people's lives. Still, I've sometimes wondered what kind of life I'd have led had I not early on encountered those two Altman movies, and had I not read what Kael wrote about them. It certainly would have been a very different affair. I've loved many Altman films with a special fervor. For all their facetiousness, their bleariness, and their fleeting casualness, they seemed to me to have a resonant poetic texture -- to connect with, or evoke, or represent a level of existence where dream, fantasy, and daily life all intermingle. I suppose that what I'm describing was nothing more than an illusion that I experienced. But, hey, this is the arts. The feelings and the sensations that Altman's movies elicited in me were very real, and in the arts it's the experience that finally stays with you when everything else washes away. Altman's movies delivered many of the experiences that I've valued most in my culture-going life. Robert Altman's career was as long and as productive as any American movie director's (possible exception: John Huston). And, IMHO of course, he created as many art-entertainment triumphs as any other filmmaker too. While the Boomer movie directors nearly all burned out young, Altman had several slumps and numerous comebacks. He must have been a freak of nature in terms of resilience, energy, and stamina. While many film directors quit, exhausted, by 60, he continued creating rich experiences into his 80s -- and he did so despite... posted by Michael at November 22, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

More on Eating
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As far as Marion Nestle is concerned, the staying-not-fat problem is easily solved: "Eat less, move more, and eat your fruits and vegetables. It isn't any more complicated than that." So why do many people have such a lot of trouble with their weight? Brian Wansink has some thoughts about why we often eat more than we intend to. One of his findings: People eat 14 percent more of foods that are labeled "low-fat" than their full-fat counterparts. Wansink offers some eating strategies to help you survive the holidays here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 22, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

But Will They Ever Be White Enough?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Teeth-whitening is now the country's most requested cosmetic procedure, reports MSNBC's Diane Mapes. I wasn't entirely surprised to learn this fact. The radioactive-teeth epidemic of the last few years has left my own smile looking dingy -- nicotine-stained, despite the fact that I don't smoke. The success of the teeth-whitening industry has left me feeling like an old house in bad need of a fresh paint job. The demand for whitening continues to grow rapidly despite the fact that bleaching procedures can lead to hypersensitivity and even, in some cases, to a need for reparative root-canal work. One woman who overdid her treatment found six months later that her teeth had turned semi-transparent. "I thought if a little bleach is good, a lot must be really good," she told Mapes. "But it's not that way. Your teeth will never be porcelain white, like your toilet." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Amateur Gourmet falls hard for truffles -- and incidentally makes every visiting blogger dream about how cool it would be to do blog-postings in the form of fumetti, aka photo-comics. More on fumetti, a nifty popular art form, here. Comic Life -- the loads-of-fun, Mac-only software that the Amateur Gourmet used to create his blog posting -- can be bought here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Bond Figures
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is the Bond franchise the most financially successful one in fiction history? The Times of London estimates that Bond, James Bond has generated $10 billion in revenue. Question for the day: How many contemporary-fiction classes spend any time at all on Ian Fleming? Wouldn't you think a publishing phenomenon on this scale would merit a few moments of attention? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, November 20, 2006

Charles Williams
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The reason I was thinking of Gold Medal Books last week was that I'd recently read two novels by the Gold Medal suspense specialist Charles Williams: "The Hot Spot" (source material for the sexy and seedy smalltown Texas noir by Dennis Hopper) and "Dead Calm," a sailboat thriller that was turned into an early Nicole Kidman movie. I loved 'em both. A Texas-born high-school dropout, Williams knocked around a lot as a young man: Merchant Marines, electronics inspector, etc. He didn't publish his first novel, "Hill Girl," until he was in his 40s, but it was a big success. He continued to write popular novels, and he spent time working on screenplays in the States and in Europe. Yet he didn't wind up happy and comfortable. By the early 1970s, his wife had died of cancer and the kinds of books he knew how to write had fallen out of favor. While still in his early 60s, Charles Williams committed suicide. Williams has always been one of the lesser-known of the better-known Gold Medal novelists, if that makes any sense. While Jim Thompson's work was rediscovered in the 1980s, Charles Williams' books have remained far harder to find. You don't see downtown hipsters walking around with Charles Williams novels under their arms, for example. Yet those who have read him have always recognized how good he was. The great John D. MacDonald, for example, several times called Williams the Gold Medal writer who most deserved more recognition: "Nobody can make violence seem more real," MacDonald said. And such contemporary crime-fiction eminences as Ed Gorman and Geoffrey O'Brien have been generous with praise for Williams' work. Gorman called Williams "my favorite of the Gold Medal writers." The two novels I read were very different in most ways yet they shared a a few characteristics too: a grownup view of the world somewhere between hardboiled and John O'Hara; a tone that's both juicy and unsentimental; and a fascination with storytelling, especially (oh bliss!) the mechanics of tension and suspense. "The Hot Spot" (originally entitled "Hell Hath No Fury") is much the tangier, sexier, and more colorful read. It's full of sweaty, smalltown atmosphere, and is populated by no-good characters with a lot of shifty trouble and pleasure on their minds. If you liked the movies "Body Heat" and "The Last Seduction," well, this is those films' grittier, earthier, sexier grandma. And the storytelling! Good lord, what a tour de force. I don't know that I've ever read a better-plotted novel. Jaw-dropping yet plausible and "right" plot twists drop out of the blue about every ten pages. "Dead Calm" is a more impersonal, sleeker piece of engineering. Yet it's shrewd, nervy, and enjoyable -- a humdinger -- in its own way. A couple sailing the South Seas on their honeymoon sees a becalmed sailboat on the horizon. Is anyone on board? Williams -- a sailing fanatic himself -- gives the sailing and ocean-going a lot of convincing... posted by Michael at November 20, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Building Las Vegas, Slowly
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm posting this from Las Vegas. Nancy has timeshare condo and we've been coming here Thanksgiving week since we started seeing each other. That's because, when I was working, I could spend seven days in Vegas while only talking three days of vacation time from the office thanks to the two-day holiday the governor and legislature kindly gave us. Seeing the town at regular intervals is vaguely akin to stop-motion photography: some features remain constant while others flicker in and out of view. Taken as a whole, the Vegas metro area is growing like the proverbial weed. We visited Lake Las Vegas for the fourth year in a row and saw massive amounts of new construction. This is an upscale area containing Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton hotels as well as the homes of Vegas Strip stars such as Celine Dion. About a year ago, architectural restrictions were modified so that multiple houses with the same floor plan could be built, thereby lowering costs (from strictly custom-designed units) and stimulating demand. Southwest of Las Vegas, far less-expensive developments are being rolled out. Billboards in the area proclaim future new projects and forthcoming phases to existing projects. Along with new housing is new retail square-footage, usually in the form of strip-malls. Near the Strip itself, several high-rise condominium structures are rising to join others built in the last few years -- a new wrinkle in the town's housing stock. I should add that some high-rise projects have been put on hold or else scrubbed, demand apparently not strong enough to keep up with the supply surge. So if Vegas is growing like stink, why did I used the word "Slowly" in the title, above? It's the big casinos / hotels. Old casinos are being demolished, usually to make room for new ones. But the new casinos, which can cost more than one billion dollars, sometimes take years to build. For example, the hotel tower of the Wynn stood empty for two of our visits while the casino and shopping area at its base took shape. A shopping area next to the Venetian, across the street from the Wynn, has taken more than two years to emerge, and still wasn't open for business as this was written. There are all sorts of reasons why projects can take years to complete, including financing problems, labor delays, bad weather and design errors requiring fixing. But I suspect that the main reason for the seemingly slow progress experienced by some recent Vegas casinos has to do with opulence. Some Vegas casinos, as the saying goes, have to be seen to be believed. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to check out the Venetian, Wynn and Bellagio (among others). Save your pennies. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 19, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, November 17, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Kazakhstan expert Steve Bodio renders his long-awaited verdict on "Borat." Jane Galt thinks she'll be skipping the movie. * Software for nappers. * All you need to know about modernism, at least from the British point of view. * Mike Jones -- the male escort Ted Haggard did meth (and more) with -- tells Radar magazine, "We never discussed religion." I'll bet they didn't! Great exchange: What turned Reverend Haggard on the most about you? I think my body, for sure. Also, it probably didn't hurt that I'm pretty well-endowed. * '70s softcore queen Sylvia Kristel is interviewed by, of all people. * When I take photos with my cam-phone, the results look like an Instamatic was shooting through pantyhose. When Hugh Symonds takes photos with his cam-phone, the results look worthy of framing. * Alice posts an evocative, painterly photograph of Brighton. Writingwise, Alice isn't just participating in NaNoWriMo, she's speedblogging about speedwriting her novel. But then merry words do just seem to spill out of Alice ... * Mystery writer Sandra Scoppetone visits a B&N and discovers that none of her 18 books are on sale there. * Reid Farmer points out one of the perils of being an agriculturalist. * Someone at Rutgers is dreading what the school's administration is considering inflicting on that ancient campus. (Link thanks to Christopher.) Eloquent passage: Will visitors two centuries from now see something else? Something resembling the airports and shopping malls and urban ugliness of early-21st-century America? A campus that looks like a abandoned set from Star Wars? Or one built in the neo-Corbu "modern brutalism" of twentieth century penitentiaries? Or the bizarre personal fantasies of architects trying to imitate the postmodern "originality" of charlatans like Venturi and Gehry? * DarkoV won't forget to spin some good discs at his Thanksgiving dinner. * So maybe social interaction is more varied and rewarding in the 'burbs than it is in the city? Or maybe not? * Prairie Mary asks: In the middle of the culture wars, what becomes of the animals? * Thanks to Alan Little, who passed along this amusing survey asking the question we've all been eager to hear the answer to: Is attending yoga classes a good way to meet a romantic partner? * Those one-pic-a-day-of-myself timelapse-movies people were making? Here's an entertaining variation on them. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 17, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

The Return of Ed Gorman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to see that Ed Gorman -- brilliant editor as well as topnotch author of resonant, dark, and intense westerns and mysteries -- is back, and is blogging again too. Gorman has faced some health challenges recently, so it's an extra-special treat to see him making such a vigorous reappearance on the web. Don't miss Gorman's enthusiastic case for the great Ross Thomas. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 17, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dumping Classical Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why on earth should a well-known art museum keep a bunch of fusty old Greek and Asian objects cluttering their galleries when they can trade the junk in on shiny new stuff by ... oh, whoever seems hot his week. That's pretty much the subject of an article that appeared in yesterday's (15 Nov.) Wall Street Journal Personal Journal section by Tom L. Freudenheim titled "Shuffled Off in Buffalo." Freudenheim is identified as "a former museum director who serves as assistant secretary for museums at the Smithsonian Institution." Since I probably can't link to the article, I'll have to quote and paraphrase more than I like: bear with me. The museum in question is the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, Freudenheim's home town. He notes that as a child and youth he became inspired to enter the world of art history and museums by the many times he spent roaming the Albright Art Gallery (its name then). It seems that the Alright-Knox recently "announced it plans to sell some 200 objects from its permanent collection." Included on the hit list are a Greco-Roman bronze statue of "Artemis and the Stag," an ancient Chinese bronze wine vessel that the Buffalo News reports is one of only a handful in existence, and a 10th-century life size statue of the god Shiva that a Sotheby's specialist told the Associated Press is "without question the most important Indian sculpture ever to appear on the market." In addition, African, Pre-Columbian and Egyptian objects and Old Master paintings are to be sold. The sale, which Sotheby's will hold next year, is expected to bring in more than $15 million for the purchase of modern and contemporary art. The museum is best known for its collection of seminal works by Abstract Expressionists such as Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky. Albright-Knox director Louis Grachos argues that the works to be sold fall outside the the institution's historical "core mission" of "acquiring and exhibiting art of the present." Grachos' point does make some sense. And the items sold won't vanish from the face of the earth (though they might not be available for public viewing for a time). Moreover, it's not likely that every single one of those 200 objects is top-notch. So what's Freudenheim's problem with the sell-off? It's a problem that's become endemic to the [museum director] profession. Museums are devoting more and more resources to acquiring large amounts of contemporary art, work about which the judgment of history--supposedly what museums are all about--is far from settled. Such acquisition policies may be acceptable, but not when done by getting rid of masterpieces whose importance has been validated by time and critical opinion and that provide a context for the work of the present. Ironically, this plan is driven by perceptions about the notably erratic and currently inflated contemporary art market, rather than by any dire financial crisis. He notes that there was an advisory committee on... posted by Donald at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

He Felt Good
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Remember how impressed everyone was when Michael Jackson moonwalked? Well, children, here's a little history lesson. Slick and most-excellent though MJ's move was, back in the 1960s Mr. James Brown could moonwalk in four different dimensions, and at warp speed. Yow! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Milton Friedman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Milton Friedman has died at the age of 94. Alex and Tyler celebrate the achievements of Mr. Free to Choose. You can get a taste of Friedman's brains and thoughts at Google Video. Go there, type his name into the search box, and enjoy a few hours' worth of interviews with him. It's free, EZ, and convenient -- Friedman himself would approve. Best Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Yahmdallah on Ebert; Darrell's Stories
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Yahmdallah reviews Ebert's Top Ten from 1967 through 2005. WhiskyPrajer starts playing catch-up here. * Speaking of WhiskyPrajer (aka Darrell Reimer) ... Congrats are in order: He has completed not just the writing but the publishing of "Youthful Desires," his long-awaited collection of stories. You can buy a copy of the book here -- I've ordered mine already. Darrell's an excellent writer and a superperceptive guy; he's comfy around fiction of both the popular and the literary kind; and he's blessed with a very distinctive point of view. Also, he promises that the collection includes some "salty" material ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Out of Wedlock Birth Rates
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are we importing a lot of what we don't need? Heather Mac Donald points out that "nearly half of the children born to Hispanic mothers in the U.S. are born out of wedlock ... Hispanic women have the highest unmarried birthrate in the country -- over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women." Mac Donald's conclusion: Given what psychologists and sociologists now know about the much higher likelihood of social pathology among those who grow up in single-mother households, the Hispanic baby boom is certain to produce more juvenile delinquents, more school failure, more welfare use, and more teen pregnancy in the future. Why are we so determined to create problems where none are necessary? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Exiled YouTube diva Emmalina makes her return! Though in a very enigmatic way, it has to be said. * Jerome Weeks explains some of the economic hows and whys of journalistic arts coverage. * Woundings that endangered life nearly doubled in London between 1997 and 2005, a period of extraordinarily high immigration. * Every now and then the camera clicks at just the right moment ... * Kirsten Mortensen reviews the many impressive ways by which the city of Rochester is wasting her money. * Here's more medical-study-style incentive to eat your veggies. No word yet from the docs about how important it is that the experience be enjoyable and attractive, though ... * Some people may not have been born to be Air Force pilots ... * The lengths you have to go to to attract people to a serious music concert these days! (NSFW) * ChelseaGirl favors a Venus razor. * Tasha and Dishka are working in the new genre of girl-chum karaoke, and I'm not complaining. * Here's the latest skirmish in the war of the state vs. producers of raw milk. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

1000 Words -- Gold Medal Books
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another installment in my all-too-occasional series of looks at culturally-significant, underknown phenomena and events, "1000 Words." *** 1000 Words -- Gold Medal Books What if you could trace the French New Wave, Sam Peckinpah, cyberpunk, "Pulp Fiction," "Mulholland Drive," and "Sin City" back to one business gamble taken by a third-tier publisher in 1949? In fact, you can, and without being guilty of too much overstatement. A little, sure, but not that much. The publisher was Roscoe Kent Fawcett of Fawcett Publications, and his gamble was to try something no one else had tried before. He decided to publish original novels in paperback. In 1950, his new line of paperback originals was launched. It was called Gold Medal Books, and it became not just a tremendous commercial success but a culture-shaping one too. Before discussing the impact of Gold Medal Books, let me take a few paragraphs to situate Gold Medal in time. The immediate post-WWII era was an interesting moment in publishing history. A variety of vectors were in collision: One was the existence of paperbacks themselves. In 1949, paperbacks were still a recent innovation. The first large-scale experiment in paperback publishing had only taken place 1935 with Britain's Penguin Books; soon after in the States, Pocket Books began selling paperbacks. During WWII, soldiers developed the habit of carrying around, reading, and trading paperbacks. Tastes were shaped; new readers were reached. Another vector: the era of "the pulps" was drawing to a close. The pulps were cheap magazines that published sensationalistic fiction. They had their origins in the late 1800s; Frank Munsey's "Argosy" is usually cited as the first pulp magazine. The pulp magazines often specialized in male genres: adventure, sci-fi, war, crime, western. And they were often seriously popular. The most successful pulps often had monthly print runs of over a million copies. They also had their artistic achievements. The pulps were where sci-fi flourished. And, under the editorship of Capt. Joseph T. Shaw, the hardboiled detective fiction of Black Mask magazine developed into something remarkable. But by the late 1940s, the pulps had begun to run out of commercial steam. Even so, the demand for hard-hitting and juicy fiction persisted. Another: the new taste for comic books. Comic strips may have been around for a while; Fawcett Publications itself got started in the late 19-teens with a joke-book / comicstrip publication called Captain Billy's Whiz Bang. But comic books per se were an innovation of the 1930s (and Fawcett -- as much a distributor as a traditional publisher -- had had a major hit with Captain Marvel). Superheroes, adventure, crime ... Once again, fans were won over and expectations were affected. And a final vector: Mickey Spillane. Spillane (who died only this past July, aged 88) was the author of the Mike Hammer detective novels. As a publishing phenomenon, Spillane was like nothing ever before witnessed. His first novel -- the two-fisted, paranoid-macho, hardboiled "I, The Jury" -- sold only a... posted by Michael at November 15, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Airplanes and Celebs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Long airplane flights ... All that time to kill ... Hey, why not do some reading? Still, the constant on-board whooshing noise ... The cramped quarters ... Since concentration doesn't exactly come easy in such circumstances, going through the classics isn't a workable option. What to spend in-flight reading-time on? The Wife meets the cross-country-flight reading-material challenge by picking up a minimum of four celebrity-scandal magazines. Not all that expensive a habit, really: There are always new ones trying to compete, and the new ones all price themselves at $1.99. "But why buy so many celeb-scandal mags?" I asked the beloved as we settled into our seats yesterday. "Given that they all seem to package the exact same news-and-gossip bits, why not just buy one?" "They are all the same in many ways," she granted. "But I had to buy this one to get Reese's point of view, and this other one to get Ryan's. You get the idea." Flying between coasts yesterday, The Wife spent two hours snoozing and three hours happily immersed in her celeb mags. When she's thumbing through the trash rags, she's really immersed in them. What does she get out of the experience? "They give me everything that movies today don't give me," she told me. "Trash, glitz, craziness, and campy make-believe that I can pretend to have a little emotional involvement with. They're basically all about glamorous people making fools of themselves. If the movies themselves offered more of more of this kind of thing, I'd be a moviegoer." I'm sympathetic: God knows that it's been far too long since Hollywood turned out juicy trashfests like "The Betsy." Still, when I look at The Wife's celebrity-scandal mags I'm unable to lose myself in them. I spend my time instead wondering who in hell most of the people in the pictures are. George Clooney, Sharon Stone, and Jennifer Lopez I recognize, of course. But who in god's name is Mischa Barton? And why would anyone care about her? As far as I can tell, Mischa Barton radiates absolutely nothing. Though The Wife has a much greater appetite for celebrity trash than I do, it isn't as though I was able to look down at her airplane reading from a lofty perch. My own reading as we crossed the country yesterday was Karrine Steffan's "Confessions of a Video Vixen." I bought the book carelessly, expecting it to be an EZ-readin' look at the life of a rock-video backup dancer. What wouldn't be interesting about that? Instead it turned out to be a garish brag-session / cautionary-tale by an ambitious young woman who made a life for herself as professional arm-candy to the hiphop world. Yikes: The beatings, shriekings, pill-poppings, coke-snortings, booty-swivellings, Cristal-swillings, pole-dancings, dick-suckings, trick-turnings, and VIP-room-misadventurings never end. Well, almost never. Once in a blue moon Karrinne recalls hazily that she has a child, and stops in for a visit with the kid. I stared at the book in... posted by Michael at November 15, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Newspaper of the Future
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, I sometimes have to whisk off stray bytes and pixels from my sleeve, so no ink-stained wretch am I. My only brush with newspaper-type journalism was from the public relations side. Well, I helped put out the Fort Meade weekly paper and edited the monthly 7th Logistical Command paper while in Korea. But I doubt that those Army experiences count as "real" journalism. Nevertheless, I keep my eye on the field. This is easy to do because newpapering has been really interesting the last few years. And that's because newspapers are going to hell. Circulations are falling. Staffs are getting riffed. The Internet is starting to eat into classified ads, the ultimate cash cow of the industry. A take on the carnage that I especially like can be found on Jeff Jarvis' site, where former print media insider Jarvis offers several posts a day about industry woes and what might be done to salvage the situation. If I understand him correctly, he thinks that papers should stop trying to be general-interest publications. They should strip out features that appeal to small audiences and thereby waste print and ink that might have better uses. Papers should play to their strength -- local news. They should become better integrated with the Internet. Go to Jarvis' blog and scroll / click around through the last month or two of his posts, and you'll probably get a pretty good idea about his positions on media issues. Only the future will reveal whether or not he's on the mark, but what he writes generally seems sensible to me. Critics from the political right (Jarvis is moderately to the left, aside from the Iraq issue) claim that one reason newspapers are losing readers is because their coverage of events is biased. I don't know if this claim has been tested using solid data. But I do believe that most papers claim to be unbiased while definitely slanting news items by commission or omission. And that's one reason I haven't subscribed to newspapers in years -- I feel that I'm being cheated. Enough of my gripes. What about Jeff Jarvis? -- he's the professional. He claims that many publishers and editors are still so stuck in the past that they aren't willing to do what's needed to survive once revenue streams dry to the point where ledger ink turns red. He favors cuts in content. He favors retrenching to local news. He doesn't pay much (or any) attention to the political slant issue. And what do you think about newspapers and their future? Are you satisfied with the paper(s) you read? If not, what improvements do you think will appeal to you and readership in general? Do you think such changes will have a positive impact of profitability? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 14, 2006 | perma-link | (19) comments

Monday, November 13, 2006

Choice or Not?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Donald's recent posting about Wal-Mart has got me wondering about a question I often chew on. To what extent is what Donald aptly called the "freewayscape" life a product of people making choices? And to what extent are the people living freewayscape lives simply accepting what the government and the corporations are handing out? On the one hand: Nobody who inhabits a McMansion, who shops at a big-box store, or who spends hours a day on the freeway is doing so because a gun is being held to his head. On the other hand, in many parts of the country it isn't as though alternatives to the freewayscape life are handily available. A person who might prefer to live in a walkable urban- or town-like situation might very well be unable to find such an option. Similar questions seem to hold with food, don't they? To what extent are the food processors, distributors, and retailers serving wants and desires, and to what extent are they forcing crap on a herdlike and captive populace? After all, no one is being obliged to shop at any given store, let alone choose any given product. Yet isn't it beyond-naive to think that the food companies aren't doing their awe-inspiring best to get us to contribute to their bottom line, our health and our pleasure be damned? Sweeteners are one way to focus the question. Americans buy scads of sweetened foods. Sweet tastes good! Yet consuming too many sweets isn't, healthwise, the finest thing. Do we buy so many sweetened products because we're totally-free, well-informed people asserting our Real Preferences? Or are we, to some extent, a busy, distracted people letting corporations (and their government lackeys) take advantage of our biologically-programmed weaknesses? And what to make of the very awkward fact that corn-sweetener production in America is subsidized by the federal government? Here's a passage from an article by Eric ("Fast Food Nation") Schlosser that illustrates how messy these questions can become: Despite a fondness for free-market rhetoric, the country's large food companies -- ConAgra, Archer Daniels Midland, McDonald's, Kraft -- have benefited enormously from the absence of real competition. They receive, directly and indirectly, huge subsidies from the federal government. About half of the annual income earned by U.S. corn farmers now comes from government crop-support programs. Cheap corn is turned into cheap fats, oils, sweeteners, and animal feed. Nearly three-quarters of the corn grown in the United States is fed to livestock, providing taxpayer support for inexpensive hamburgers and chicken nuggets. On the other hand, farmers who grow fresh fruits and vegetables receive few direct subsidies. Emphases mine, mine, all mine! BTW, if you don't have time to read "Fast Food Nation" -- and it is, IMHO, a good and interesting book if, sigh, far too long -- this article is a swell intro to Schlosser's point of view and information. Are the food corporations a bunch of nice, hard-working people playing by the rules as... posted by Michael at November 13, 2006 | perma-link | (31) comments

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Wal-Mart: The End of Civilization As We Know It?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wal-Mart, it seems, is a Big Deal to some of our Loyal Readers as can be seen in comments to the second and others of Michael's posts dealing with a Bill Kauffman interview where there seems to be dislike of Wal-Mart expressed with varying degrees of passion. Me, I'm indifferent to Wal-Mart, and I can't quite get my head around the hate and bile directed at the company and its stores that I see on the Web and in the press. Doubtless this is a character flaw on my part. Setting aside pros and cons regarding labor issues, I see Wal-Mart as simply one example of the current fashion for big-box stores. And retail fashions change: who knows what concept will be hot in 2015. Where I live, some pretty big boxes are represented by Fred Meyer, Lowes and Costco. I seldom hear complaints about Costco. Could that be because Costco executives, unlike many at Wal-Mart, tend to donate to Democrats? -- jes' askin'. Lord knows their stores seem to occupy as much suburban real estate as Wal-Mart's do. And (gasp!!) I even shop at Wal-Mart. Not often, but at times when I have a list of items I'd like to save money on -- vitamin pills, disposable razors, those kinds of things. Got my blood pressure tester there too. Truth is, I like big-box stores. I like the wide selection of goods they offer, I like their business hours and I like their competitive prices. This beats the Good Olde Days when one often payed top dollar on a limited selection of items and more than sometimes had to wait for something not in stock to be special-ordered. As for being aesthetic blights, I'll admit that Wal-Mart stores and their ilk aren't pretty. But they're functional, particularly in the context of the freeway-scape. Uh oh. I just mentioned freeways. Betcha lots of our readers hate those too. Now to hunker down and wait for the incoming artillery. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 12, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Meeting Reid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Pre-flu, the Wife and I had a fine time doing a little over-lunch F-to-F with the very smart, interesting, and affable Reid Farmer -- archaelogy dude, project manager, Santa Barbara resident, and regular blogger at Steve Bodio's Querencia. (Have I raved about Querencia lately? I should have.) Reid also passed along some very amusing links that I can't keep myself from sharing. * You've heard of the "Twinkie defence"? Now someone's trying a "My GPS system told me to turn" defence. * Sometimes the LA area smells of something even more noxious than car exhaust. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Camille's Girly Side
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dave Lull points out a sweetheart of an interview with Camille Paglia. I've spoken to Paglia twice, and I was struck both times by how giggly and flirty she was when she was talking off the record. Her famous Warrior Woman routine didn't kick into gear until the tape recorder went on. The Bright Lights Film Journal interview captures some of this softer, less-determinedly-assertive Camille. Me, I dig both Camille-the- Warrior-Woman and Camille- the-girly-girl. Don't miss the interview with Bruce LaBruce that's linked-to in the Paglia interview either. I'm a Bruce LaBruce fan myself. Amusing, flamboyant, and sensible (in a hyper-perverse kind of way), he's like a Canadian cross between Larry Clark and John Waters. I wrote an appreciation of LaBruce here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nothing makes vivid the fact that life is unjust quite like coming down with the flu while on vacation. Feeling beaten-up by the fates, I'm going to let others do the heavy lifting for a day or two. It's linkathon time! * Is there any harm in indulging in some occasional economic nationalism? John Konop and Maximos (in the comments on this Rod Dreher posting) both do rousing jobs with the theme. * I, Squub's account of time spent in the voting booth on Tuesday rings all too many truth bells. Why should voting be such a dispiriting, even humiliating, chore? * It's fun watching the true conservatives rake the Republicans over the coals, isn't it? Peter Brimelow contributes one of the best of the right-on-right post-election denunciations. * Alicatte has some advice for French actresses hoping to age well. * The American enterpreneurial imagination marches on. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * All you really need to know about life on earth, from Fred Reed, and from the War Nerd. * DVD-extras package of the week: Adrian Lyne's "Unfaithful" -- amoral, cold-blooded, sexy, psychologically acute, and now available for less than 10 bucks. It's a beautiful film, IMHO, with extras that are well worth exploring. Lyne's commentary track is frank and amusing; he's remarkably upfront when discussing what he hoped to get on film and whether he thinks he succeeded or not. In some included interviews, Diane Lane makes some rueful / earthy / perceptive remarks, and various film-team members laugh about what a bullying-but-rewarding butt-pain Lyne is to work for. * Colleen has had the inspired idea of scanning old personal photos into the computer and posting them on her blog. One particular -- and not totally unexpected -- theme seems to be emerging ... * Slow Food celebrates its sixth. Tim Worstall thinks the Slow Food movement must be made up of idiots. And with that, I can feel the Nyquil starting to kick in. Best and good night, [sound of feverish, groggy head hitting Apple Wireless Keyboard] Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, November 10, 2006

Derek Lowe is On the Market
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Brilliant guy, first-class blogger, and scientist of note Derek Lowe could use a new job. Given that I read Derek with as much pleasure as I do any current writer about science, I'm rooting for major magazines and newspapers to shower Derek with offers to be a featured science columnist myself. For all I know, though, Derek might prefer to continue practicing science ... In any case, there's a hot property on the market, and if you're interested in availing yourself of a great opportunity you'd do well to move quickly. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 10, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Goodhue's Spanish Ornamentation
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Architectural ornamentation. Should it be verboten, as Bauhaus and other International Style purists would have it? Or should inhibitions be cast away for us to wallow in it, Rococo-fashion? Of course there's the vast middle-ground between these extremes, and that's where things get interesting. For example... A must-see stop on my recent visit to San Diego was the Fine Arts Building-California Building (it's now called the Museum of Man) designed by Bertram Goodhue, located in Balboa Park. He was supervising architect for the 1915-17 Panama-California Exposition, set in Balboa Park, and took that opportunity to do some designing in the Spanish or Spanish Colonial / Spanish Revival manner. Goodhue (1869-1924) had a spotty formal education and suffered mood swings, yet managed to have a successful career (including 25 years in partnership with Ralph Adams Cram). Above all, he was a master designer. That's my opinion, anyway, considering that he designed St. Bartholomew's Church on Manhattan's Park Avenue, the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Nebraska State Capitol, among other important buildings. And on the side he did publication and typography design. The Fine Arts (as I'll call it here) building has interested me for many years and I find it odd that, even though I've only been in San Diego (briefly) a few times, I never took time to visit Balboa Park until now. Here are some photos I snapped. Gallery Facade view. Tower detail. View of east side. The part of the Fine Arts that interests me most is the facade. Note how plain many of the surfaces are, yet where there's ornamentation, it is intensive. I find this combination of extremes strangely appealing, though it's hard for me to explain why. Maybe that's the nature of aesthetics. It goes far beyond description and analysis, which is why I normally can't be bothered by books or even short articles that are attempts to analyze works of art; a few brief calls to attention normally are good enough. Even so, let me hazard that, arrangement of elements aside, an important factor in Goodhue's design is the ratio of ornament to plain-surface. That too is a kind of balance the designer should strive for. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 9, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

"Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- After its strong showing in our recent "Your Favorite Movies from the Past 25 Years" poll, I figured the time had come to catch up with "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle." Enjoyed it! It's a remarkably sweet-natured entry in the raunchy-teen-boy / road-comedy genre, made fresher than most by its ethnic element. Harold and Kumar are both Asian-American -- a group that hasn't been as prominent as you might hope in American movies and entertainments. Harold is a Korean-American grind, chained to his laptop and anxious unto complete terror around girls; Kumar is a smooth, sly Indian-American dude, in full slacker rebellion against his family's success-and-profession expectations. Both have some deadlines that need attending-to, and both have some personal issues that demand facing. A few tokes, a case of the munchies, and the boys' adventures are underway. Watching the film left me with one observation and two questions. The observation: Did anyone else notice how the film portrays white Americans? Namely as sometimes sexily-attractive, definitely spoiled, often gross, and deeply committed to the process of throwing away their patrimony. It makes a lot of sense that that's how the children of immigrants might see us vanilla folks, doesn't it? My first question is simply: Are the Asian-American archetypes and predicaments that the film traffics in true to life? I'm sadly deficient in Korean-American and Indian-American young-guy friends, and I'm a little wary of taking the film as authoritative on the topic. Its creative team -- Leiner, Hurwitz, Schlossberg -- is notably short on Asian-seeming names. Can any visitors with some experience of Asian-American life let me know their opinion of the truth-content (comic exaggeration allowed for, of course) of the movie? My second question is: Was I the only viewer to be struck by just what good boys these two kids are? They may be raunchy screw-ups, they may have some acting-out they need to do, they may find some temptations all-too-hard to resist. But they're nothing if not good-hearted, nice kids, asking for little more than to be allowed to do well and have a pretty good time. As a fan of comedies, I'm not sure whether I found this authority-accepting thing slightly disappointing or refreshing and invigorating. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to visitor Not Gandhi, who left this very interesting and helpful comment: I'm East Asian (I prefer the term Oriental) and teach a fair number of top notch Asian kids in my classes. I would say that the film (taking into account exaggerations) gives a fair view of many of the central preoccupations of middle-class Asian-Americans, especially in the burbs. There's the tension between the need to do well in school and the fear of not being cool. There's dealing with the pressure from parents to go to the top 10 universities while fighting against the first generation immigrant view that anything other than doctor, lawyer, or Google engineer are not worthy careers. At the same time, I notice... posted by Michael at November 9, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Perso-Indic Rap
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Agnostic, who linked to this hiphop video by a couple of Muslims. (Agnostic's observations about the video are here.) Watching it, the main thing that occurs to me is that young people all over the world now seem to have grown up on the same flashy, lowest-common-denominator cultural diet: MTV, Victoria's Secret catalogues, hiphop, Simpson-Bruckheimer movies, and Maxim magazine. Am I missing any other key cultural markers? And is anyone else around here feeling suddenly old? In the comments on Agnostic's posting, GNXP associate Jakkeli links to this example of Finnish rap. Finnish rap, lordy. I wonder what Tyler Cowen, who has written a book mostly in praise of the cultural effects of globalization, would have to say about these developments ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So our direct ancestors and their Neanderthal neighbors did enjoy a little hanky-panky after all. What the culture-blogosphere wants to know is: Does grammie and gramps' naughtiness help explain the cultural explosion that led to the caves at Lascaux, "The Tale of Genji," and "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini"? Stay tuned for, apparently, much, much more. Best, Michael UPDATE: Razib has been putting up tons of cross-species luv-themed postings here.... posted by Michael at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Initial Confusion
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This subject has been bugging me for years and years. But fear not! ... I'll try to vent as gently as possible. You see, we were in the Nordstrom in Santa Barbara trying to locate gaucho pants for Nancy and a sales clerk told us to check over at "bp." Uh, "bp" -- whazzat? It turned out that "bp" was a sub-location of their Brass Plum department. And Brass Plum? It has been around for years and I have no clue what it's supposed to signify beyond simply being a department name. That's a side-issue; let's get to the meat of this post. Which is ... When I encounter initials I usually have no idea what they stand for. If I'm remotely typical of most folks, then use of initials ought to be counter-productive, No? This initial thing has been going on for quite a spell. For starters, consider SPQR. Or INRI. In 19th century America we had GAR and GOP. And in the 20th there were AAA, IRS and NRA (no, not that NRA -- the other one, dummy!). Hmm. Two prominent NRAs. One NRA is slightly dated, having to do with FDR. Still, cause for confusion, absent clear context. From the military we get AWOL, SNAFU and FIGMO. Although it might not be original to computer programmers, I associate FUBAR with them. The Internet has FWIW, OTOH, LOL and other abbreviations that can bring my reading to a halt if I'm not in the know. Some initials that really get my goat are MLB, ALCS and NLCS. I can see why sports page editors use them when the ink budget is tight, but they are still so new and unfamiliar enough to me that I can lose the thread of what I'm reading. Businesses can be some of the worst offenders. Okay, IBM is known to nearly everyone. But what about BNSF (or SNCF if you're thinking of going to France)? Sometimes I get marketing phone calls where the guy on the other end of the line identifies himself as being affiliated with [string of initials here]. Clear to him, but not to me or most others who are too lame-brained to hang up immediately if there's a one-second pause after you say "Hello." Some companies devote many years and many millions of dollars to promote a set of initials that will rival IBM. Sadly for most such efforts, the result is yet another example of insider jargon. Given the tendency of the English language to conciseness, all my complaining here will be wasted effort. I'll just have to continue to tough it. Oh. Did you notice that, aside from "bp" I didn't translate any of those initials I threw at you? Just my attempt to get with the program and play the game the way it's played these days. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

More Naked Youngsters
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given how uninhibited even respectable kids are these days, I've been wondering for a while now when they'd start making their own explicit porn, starring themselves. Because, like, well, why not? It isn't as though the culture is exactly discouraging them from doing so, god knows. Item #1: Columbia University now has its own nudie magazine produced by and featuring students. Item #2: So does Harvard. (Link now fixed.) What to make of the fact that both of these magazines appear to have been founded by (and are both edited by) chix, er, girls, er, womyn? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Bookgasm's Alan Mott finds Jewel Shepherd's memoir of her life as a Z-movie starlet "If I'm So Famous, How Come Nobody's Ever Heard of Me?" surprisingly tough, amusing, and touching. When I read the book a few years ago, I did too. * A mouthful of watermelon bubble gum sets Raymond Pert off on some romantic, Proustian musings. * Tosy and Cosh volunteers his list of Top Ten Novels. * Isn't life supposed to get better when you give up the booze and the drugs? Crafty Latvian shows that reforming your ways sometimes leads to even tougher challenges. * I'm having a good time catching up with "The Ordinary Adventures of Tomas, The Invisible Friend." This is an ongoing, one-page comic-strip that -- Oh, it's too hard to explain. But Tomas and his non-adventures have an oddball, droll charm. * Steve and Reid compare thoughts and impressions about some Central Asian Bronze Age petroglyphs. * Henry Payne's review of how California's anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209 has played out is full of eye-openers. For instance, did you know that black public-college graduation rates in California have gone up significantly since Prop. 209 was passed? How could anyone construe this as a bad thing? * ">Anne Thompson's visit with George Miller, director of the upcoming dancing-penguins movie, reveals how complex making computer-animated feature films is. It took Miller, for instance, two years just to get the workshop in which his team would work ready. Making these films sounds like an overwhelming lot of too-damn-much-trouble to me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Does Helping the Struggling Also Ruin Them?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to do, what to do? When poor Africans struggle, we often send them food. But when we send them food, they often not only become dependent on our largesse, they quickly forget the basics of how to feed themselves. A friend who spent a couple of years working for Oxfam in Africa told me stories similar to the ones in the linked BBC article. When I asked her what policy would be best, she (an earnest-lefty bleeding-heart if ever there was one) said that in her opinion we should simply cut off aid to struggling Africans. Otherwise they'll never learn how to look after themselves. Harsh, and I'm not sure I agree -- but, y'know, she's been there and I haven't. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Sexually Speaking ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The good news is that researchers are learning that sex is good for your health. The bad news is that they're thereby turning sex into yet another burdensome health chore ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Clark on Rod
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Clark Stooksbury surveys the political scene and stakes out his own position: Rod Dreher Is Bad. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Duke vs. Long Beach
Michael Blowhard writes; Dear Blowhards -- Funny how much national coverage the Duke "rape" case has received, isn't it? After all, no crime appears to have been committed. Meanwhile, this horrifying case in Long Beach, California -- which involved three young women being beaten by a crowd of 30-40 people -- has received little but local coverage. Now, I wonder what might explain the dramatic difference in the press's attitude towards these two stories ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Bolivia's Resourcefulness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Poor Bolivia, caught in a classic double-bind: eager to take part in the legitimate trading-and-bargaining of the modern world, yet cursed by the fact that the product in which they have their strongest comparative advantage is the coca leaf. Did David Ricardo anticipate this particular conundrum? So it's good to read Newsweek's Jimmy Langman reporting that Bolivian scientists and entrepreneurs have been busy figuring out fresh uses for the coca leaf. Interesting passage: In Bolivia, industrial production of coca tea began in the 1980s, and since 2000, small companies have put out some 30 different products -- coca bread and pastas, toothpaste and shampoo, ointments, candies, liquors. The Morales government recently set aside $1 million to further develop legal coca products. One company now has a soft drink called "Evo Cola" in the works. I wonder if we'll be importing Evo Cola any time soon. It sounds like a refreshing, indeed downright energizing, beverage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Immigration and Britain
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Britain is experiencing the highest levels of immigration in its history. Nearly five times as many people are immigrating per year now than when Labour took office in 1997. Meanwhile, large numbers of Britons are leaving their native country to move elsewhere. Coincidence? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, November 6, 2006

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Long-time 2Blowhards readers know that I'm fond of illustration, even though I don't write about it much. Fortunately, there are some blogs and Web sites that focus on the subject. Unfortunately, I've done a rotten job of directing readers to those sites. To atone for my sins of omission, here's what's happening on two sites I like: David Apatoff's excellent Illustration Art blog recently discussed Stanley Melzoff's 1963 paintings of ancient Greece that appeared in Life magazine. In two immediately preceding posts, he delved into abstract art. If I understand his position, it comes down to the oh-so-hard-to-define thing called "beauty." I agree. Some abstract paintings are indeed beautiful to my eyes too. And I suspect that David and I also agree that much current art is not beautiful. The same could be said regarding a fair amount of 1890-1965 illustration and most contemporary illustration. These are my opinions, and not necessarily David's; I need to write something more lengthy on this matter. One thing that bothers me about recent art and illustration is the denial of beauty as an objective of art. A primary artistic goal seems to be creating "edginess," which strikes me as being a form of anti-beauty. Also take a look at Paul Giambarba's 100 Years of Illustration and Design. Giambarba made of career of illustration and design, so he offers a true insider's perspective. Currently on the site is a presentation of packaging designs he did for Polaroid in the 60s and 70s. Scroll down a ways for presentations of illustrations by Al Parker and Jon Whitcomb. Giambarba admits he and other young illustrators (in the 40s and 50s) thought Whitcomb's work was a wee tad icky (my word, not his), but I get the impression he's reconsidering that. * Some comments to my last post (here) are leading me to ponder announcing my travel plans here on 2Blowhards. In one instance, I was gently called to task for bypassing a museum I easily could have visited. My plea was ignorance of the San Diego art museum scene. Had I been alerted in advance, my faux pas might have been avoided. What do you think? For journalistic (make that eyeball-grabbing) reasons we already include a lot of personal information in blog posts. Is more of this really called for? Or would knowledgeable, local tips in Comments improve the potential content of this blog? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 6, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, November 5, 2006

SoCal Art Museum Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There wasn't much blogging from me last week because I was -- what else is new? -- on the road. Down the California coast to Santa Barbara, San Diego and points between. I might choose to subject you to accounts of the Del Coronado Hotel, the aircraft carrier Midway and other items I found interesting. But let's focus on the museums I encountered. I'm not all that big on museums, zipping through the galleries faster than Nancy would like. If I go into a museum at all, I normally have a goal in mind. The Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach was a counter-example. I had nothing in mind aside from the fact that it has a collection of California Impressionist art. We had simply stopped at Laguna Beach to take a look at the town, so I peeked inside the museum's front door. Time was short and the main displays didn't interest me much, so I bought a book at the museum shop that, as it turned out, I could have purchased elsewhere for half the price: bummer. Two days later we toured San Diego's Balboa Park, partly because I strongly desired to view a particular Bertram Goodhue building in person. Not far away from the Goodhue was the San Diego Museum of Art which had (OhMyGawd!!) a prime example of the work of Joaquin Sorolla (see below). "Maria at La Granja" by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, 1907. This was in the San Diego Museum of Art's 1926 inaugural exhibit and later presented to the museum by Archer M. Huntington. Plenty of free brushwork and impasto; almost a (huge) sketch, but it is very nice. Of course I slapped down the cash and took in the museum. The Sorolla was, in my feeble judgment, the star of the place, which wasn't currently showing much that impressed me otherwise. Worse, their nice Bouguereau was on tour, so I missed seeing it. The museum I definitely wanted to visit was the Irvine Museum. It's tucked away on the ground floor of an office building not far from the Orange County airport. But it features California Impressionists, a long-ignored group of painters that I find increasingly interesting. The exhibition area is fairly small, yet contained a good representation of the movement. The tiny bookstore had an excellent selection, and it was hard for me to restrain myself from buying more books than I did. Even though I get to Santa Barbara once or twice a year, I've never visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Well, I always go into the museum store. But the museum never had exhibits that turned me on -- until now, with its Artists at Continent's End exhibit dealing with late 19th century painting from the Monterey Peninsula art colony. Some of the work shown at Santa Barbara pre-dated the California Impressionist period. And the exhibit featured a part of California that is foggier and more coastal than many of the... posted by Donald at November 5, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Nikos' New Book
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm delighted to pass along the news that a new book by my friend and intellectual hero Nikos Salingaros is now available. For people who have begun visiting this blog only recently, a word of explanation. A conviction that I think all Blowhards share is that the fine arts in America have gone badly off the rails in recent decades. Though I "get it," though I enjoy occasional examples of it (Joe Brainard! Jeff Koons' puppy!), and though I'm often eager to endorse weirdo-ness and experiments, it's just plain bizarre how specialized, antagonistic, and off-kilter fine-art-making generally has become. Who but brainwashed insiders can care about much of this stuff? And why shouldn't civilians throw mud while muttering bitterly about turncoat elites? How did this state of affairs come about? After all, the usual thing is for the fine arts to crown, extend, and complete culture more generally, not to outrage and betray it. One of many plausible explanations is that the fine-arts world has been led astray by politically-motivated thinking and theory, much of it of a seductive, French-derived, chic-academic, wheel-spinning nature. So one of the things we like to do at this blog is to celebrate the contemporary thinkers who seem to us to put the fine arts back on more solid footing -- from philosophers like Denis Dutton to literary types like Frederick Turner to anthropologists like Ellen Dissanayake to evo-bio cats like Steven Pinker to architectural thinkers like Christopher Alexander and Leon Krier. Even among this high-powered crowd, Nikos Salingaros is a standout and a special case. He's a University of Texas mathematician who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander and who has become a major architecture-and-urbanism thinker in his own right. A hyper-civilized guy, responsive to and knowledgeable about the arts, he's appalled by fraudulent and destructive culture-thinking. Nikos is urbane and witheringly funny when he examines what passes for contemporary architecture theory, for example. How can such utter nonsense possess and transfix so many? He has an intriguing theory about that too. But Nikos isn't just a devastating critic of folly. He has also made profound contributions. Though he's aligned in many ways with the New Classicists -- his book has an introduction by the New Classicism fan, the Prince of Wales -- Nikos's own urgings are, like those of Christopher Alexander, style-independent, and should be of great use to any designer, patron, or township. How can ornament be justifed, and why is it necessary? What are the ratios and hierarchies that promote neighborliness and beauty? What is it about our biological nature -- perhaps even about the nature of matter itself -- that makes us feel one thing in the presence of one kind of structure and something else in the presence of another? "A Theory of Architecture," Nikos' new book, is on its most basic level a textbook for architecture students. Slim, witty, and thorough -- as well as sophisticated-yet-accessible (a favorite combo of mine) --... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Francis on Manship, Columbia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some visitors may not know that occasional Blowhard Francis Morrone has a regular gig at The New York Sun, where he covers architecture, neighborhoods, and, occasionally, art. It's always worth searching out Francis' work, of course; he's one of the very best out there. But he's in especially good form in the current issue of the Sun. Here he writes a clear-eyed appreciation of the mid-century, kinda-modernist / kinda-traditionalist sculptor Paul Manship; and here he's eloquent and informative on the contributions of architect and planner Charles Follen McKim to the campus of Columbia University. Francis also writes for The Classicist, the blog of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America. In a current posting, he reviews Time Out's recent guide to the Best Blocks in New York City. A first-rate passage: What stands out is that the Time Out kids' choice of the best blocks included not one that is identified by modernist buildings -- indeed, scarcely one that even has a modernist building on it. This article was not written by architectural ideologues. In fact, the people who wrote it may very well think Zaha Hadid is cool, or they may very well, had they ranked 50 buildings rather than 50 blocks, have included plenty of modernist stuff. But the striking thing is that this is an article about where people actually, truly want to live. And isn't that a beautiful example of the kind of approach to the arts that welike to promote around here! Forget the eager fools who write propaganda for the chic-starchitecture industry, and for whom architecture and urbanism are little but excuses for "I'm more radical than you" design-chat. On a regular basis, Francis offers generous and rewarding heaps of the real thing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Bad Cellphone Behavior
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another poll! Which is more reprehensible: The person who talks on his/her cellphone ... While at a busy ATM stop? While executing a transaction with a cashier? Or while in a crowded elevator? Nate Davis blogged about what it's like to be the cashier when your customer is on the cellphone. I wrote about the different ways men and women use cellphones here; I bitched about the ways cellphones promote self-centered behavior here and here; and I praised the cellphone thriller "Cellular" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Friday, November 3, 2006

Godard Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jean-Luc Godard -- earth-shaking genius or perpetually annoying loose tooth? The artist as a radical young pistol What remains today ... * Raoul Coutard, the cinematographer who shot many of the films of Godard's glory years, tells the Guardian that Jean-Luc was prone to temper tantrums. A talented boy, clearly, but also one seriously spoiled brat. (I've often wondered if Godard didn't spend the '60s on speed.) A funny passage from the very caustic Coutard: After finishing Weekend in 1967, Godard made a dramatic announcement. "Jean-Luc rang and asked me to come over," Coutard says. "When I arrived at his apartment, he said to me, 'I've had a revelation. I am a Marxist-Leninist so I can no longer make films with capitalist money.' Actually, it is the leftists who rip you off. If you want to get paid, you work for a good capitalist company, like Gaumont." * IMDB informs me that Coutard recently turned 82 years old. Godard himself will soon turn 76. * Here's a 1973 talk with Godard. Always a peculiar guy, he has a deranged and robotic quality in this interview. Related to the fact that he was in the midst of his Marxist-Leninist phase? * Here's some fascinating if choppy 1980s footage from an interview with Godard and his onetime muse / girlfriend Anna Karina. And doesn't she seem like a hyperdramatic handful! Even so, Karina looks rightly hurt and reproachful as Jean-Luc talks about their life and collaboration in rather callous terms. Finally she gets up in tears and leaves. Looking all too human -- like every guy who has ever stepped on a woman's toes, in fact -- Jean-Luc wears a frozen, defensive, and abashed expression. Asshole! * I wrote about Godard's recent "In Praise of Love" here. This guy's overview of Godard's 1980s work isn't too bad. * Anne Thompson points out that Godard's hard-to-find '60s classic "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" -- a film many Godard buffs consider his best -- will be screening in a new 35 mm print in Los Angeles in late December. * Unrelated but what the heck: Anne links to this hilarious remix of Babs' immortal "STFU." If there's justice in the world, it'll be Streisand's biggest hit in years. * If you've never had the pleasure but are curious about the Godard thang, let me suggest starting with this movie, and then moving on to this one. There's good reason for even squaresville film fans to taste-test Godard. His experiments, while often annoying, were often fascinating, beautiful, and moving too. And, highbrow and radical though he often is, he has been one of the most influential of filmmakers where popular culture is concerned. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a fan, and even named his own production company after this Godard movie. But exercise caution, please. Godard's movies can be like a seductive drug, one that feels blissful but that consumes your brain and transforms you into... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

More on Seduction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's GC has let himself be coaxed into further discussions of connecting-with-chix techniques. His remarks -- complete with tips, links, and scorecards -- can be enjoyed (and/or gawked-at) in the comments thread on this posting. Me, I tend to think that a close reading of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is all that's really necessary to begin enjoying the game of love. Even a whirl through the Stephen Frears film can help you find the rhythm. ($10.88 for the DVD -- how can you beat that?) OK, bonus points for every week you actually spend in France. But is anything more than that really needed? But maybe I've settled for too little ... Best, Michael UPDATE: You can get a little taste of The Game by watching the short video on this page. To my surprise, I find myself thinking, "It actually does seem kinda plausible and helpful. I'm offended by the idea of turning seduction into an aggressive, by-the-numbers method. But maybe that's just a stupid principle I'm hung up on. What the heck, y'know? Maybe most guys could benefit from a little seduction boot camp. Maybe many girls would appreciate it if we sharpened our skills up." How do you react? UPDATE 2: Glen Raphael links to a hilarious how-to (and how-not-to) video.... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Two Wheels
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some people are really good at balancing on two wheels! Hard to choose, but I think my favorite may be the guy with the big mirror. Or maybe the one carrying the car body. But the guy transporting the cage full of pigs is pretty impressive too ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John Derbyshire confesses that he has given up on Christianity and become a Colin McGinn-style Mysterian. Rod Dreher, who experienced his own religious crisis recently, comments. * The well-groomed, everything-goes-with-everything-else modern woman needs this product. * Keely has a plausible theory about what has made her so popular. (NSFW) * Thanks to Scott Chaffin for pointing out these astounding photos. * Here's a lovely waste of good money: How about using Federal funds to try to prevent people in their 20s from having sex? * Jazz fans will be in pig heaven exploring the videos uploaded -- 556 so far! -- by Bob Erwig. Clark Terry, Bud Powell, George Shearing, Buck Clayton ... And I've only worked my way through the first 20 of them. I'm now Bob's 449th subscriber. * Larry Auster calls Tamar Jacoby a "liar." * QuietBubble turns 30 and treats himself to a special meal. * Helen can't see that "The Devil Wears Prada" is up to much. * Shouting Thomas has begun working out at a new gym. * If you don't record the act on video, then what's the point of doing it at all? (Extra NSFW) * One of the day's sadder ironies ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (30) comments

Patrick Allitt's "The American Identity"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wrote back here about how much I enjoyed Patrick Allitt's Teaching Company lecture series "American Religious History." It's a wild and eye-opening tale that Allitt delivers in a beguilingly calm yet amused way. I've just finished another one of his Teaching Company courses, "The American Identity," and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much. This is another zesty and offbeat cruise through American history. The course consists of 48 30-minute lectures. All but a couple of them are self-contained biographies of various American figures, beginning with John Smith in the 1600s and ending in the present day with Jesse Jackson. The subjects are deliberately all over the map. They range from textbook standards like Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass to less familiar figures like Edwin Ruffin (a defender of slavery) and Mother Anne Lee, an early religious leader. Small warning: I'm anything but a history nut, let alone the kind of he-man who who plows through fat yellowing tomes like a hungry prisoner through a banquet. If you want deep-think from substantial people, let me recommend the postings of my co-blogger Friedrich von Blowhard (use the Search box in the left-hand column of this blog), as well as many postings on ChicagoBoyz. James McCormick especially has a gift for heavy lifting. Me, I'm a happy lightweight. I can seldom understand why history books run as long as they do, and I don't retain a tremendous number of facts -- facts, pshaw, who cares about facts? And if a provocative point isn't being made, or if the material isn't interesting on a direct human level, or if the language starts to drag, I'm the first person in the room to start snoozing off. Yet I'm interested -- to a point -- in a lot of subjects. I just happen to be a 500-page-long book's worth of interested in very few of them. So Allitt's bouquet of mini-biographies hits the spot. At 30 minutes each, they're longer -- and far more engagingly presented -- than an encylopedia entry, but they're lots shorter than a fullscale biography. I can't imagine why this shouldn't make many people very happy. Be honest with yourself: Are you ever going to get around to going through a complete biography of William Mulholland? If you buy one one, it'll sit on your shelf unread. Yet Mulholland was a fascinating and influential guy: the water czar of Los Angeles, as well as a man who figured in "Chinatown." Allitt delivers more than enough to both satisfy and tantalize the curiosity. How lovely too that Allitt's mini-bios aren't primary-color, EZ tales for the kiddies. Instead, they're unapologetically adult -- each one a small miracle of concision, insight, and sympathy. Allitt is extraordinarily good at setting his subjects in perspective, at using them to illuminate larger trends and events, and at seeing life from the point of view of different times. He also makes few harsh judgments and indulges in... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Junk Snailmail
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wasn't the advent of email expected to reduce the quantity of junk snailmail we'd have to deal with? Anything but, reports the New York Times' Louise Story. Last year, more than 114 billion pieces of junk mail were sent, an increase of 15 percent over five years ago. For the first time ever, the volume of "bulk mail" exceeded the volume of first class mail. The explanation: Marketers have found that many people, feeling beleaguered by electronics, actually like junk snailmail. "As the world becomes more digital, there is a need for tangible experiences," one ad exec told Louise Story. Interesting to learn too that, while only 2.15% of mailed ads result in any customer action, that's a good enough batting average to keep the business profitable. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Movie Poll Results
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by Andy Horbal, I recently ran a "Best American Fiction Movie of the Last 25 Years (the Critics Be Damned)" poll. Results are now in and -- shamed into action by Annette -- I've finally pulled them together. Some technical notes. 41 different participants took part -- an excellent turn-out. So as not to give too much weight to the votes of those (er, those of us) who listed dozens of titles, I decided to grant each person a maximum of ten votes; I simply took the first ten movies each person named. I made one substantial ex-cathedra decision: that no movie by the Coen Bros., Woody Allen, or Tim Burton would be allowed. After all, the Coen Bros., the Wood-man, and Mr. Burton are nothing if not critics' darlings. Other judgment calls required finer discrimination. "Body Heat," for example -- was it enough of a popular/anti-critic movie to belong on this list? If so, then how about "Bull Durham"? I tried to err on the side of generosity, but in some cases lowered the boom anyway. Finally: How exactly do we count 25 years? Should the films of 1981 (the year of both "Raiders of the Lost Ark"and "Body Heat") be included or not? I decided to let 'em in. A few observations that occurred to me as I did my tallying: Boys love voting for these kinds of lists more than girls do. The top crowd-pleasin' auteurs of the past 25 years appear to be James Cameron, Tom Shadyac, and the Farrelly Bros. Many Americans aren't as fond of sex-themed films as I am. What's wrong with you people? Sci-fi wasn't as prominent as I'd have expected it to be either. Comedies especially are more highly valued by us Real People than they are by the critics. Action-adventure movies and romantic comedies are too. Are you listening, Critical Establishment? As Ron wrote in a comment: "One thing that strikes me as I look at these lists is how influential many of these movies have been. Internal Affairs, Basic Instinct, Evil Dead, Die Hard, The Terminator, Point Break, Dumb and Dumber, Speed, Fast Times at Ridgemont High: for better or for worse, these movies have cast long, long shadows." The biggest surprise for me: "Ishtar" receiving not one but two votes. The Profile in Courage Award for most-embarrassing / revealing choice took a lot of consideration. It was nothing if not a close race. Annette's fondness for the Brat Pack special "About Last Night" was certainly a hard one to beat. But the very sensitive and cultivated Flutist loves "Meet the Fockers" ... Dan confesses to being a fan of "Con Air" ... And Jewish Atheist loves "Karate Kid." A tough set of competitors! J. Goard signed on for "Frankenhooker" and "Home Alone," and Dr. Weevil nominated "Cherry 2000" and "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." Striking choices -- but, shhhh, I suspect them both of amusing themselves making filmbuff-style mischief. Andy Horbal... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments

Cousin Marriage in the MidEast
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer has done heroic work alerting us to the fact that many marriages in the mideast are between close relatives. His sensible political point is that it's nuts to expect such a region to behave like a collection of modern, bureaucratic states, and far more realistic to expect quarrelsome tribal behavior from these people instead. Today Steve links to a WashPost article from 2000 about the marriage situation in Saudi Arabia, and reproduces a chart showing how common close-relative marriages are in the region. They're very common, in fact. 57.9% of marriages in Iraq are between what Westerners would consider close relatives! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Today's Alley Oop?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Razib is teasing us with hints that Neanderthal genes may not be entirely extinct. Neanderthal-ish creatures, it seems, may still walk among us. Startling but substantial announcements (from Greg Cochran?) to be made soon. Any bets of which contempo population group is really a bunch of Neanderthals? I've already placed my bet on heavy-metal drummers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Taking Chances
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- All due respect to the recently and dearly departed, of course. But really, Steve Irwin was lucky to last as long as he did, wasn't he? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Early Puberty
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Puberty is now hitting many girls by the age of 8. Scientists wonder why. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments