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

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  1. Meeting Reid
  2. Camille's Girly Side
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  4. Derek Lowe is On the Market
  5. Goodhue's Spanish Ornamentation
  6. "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"
  7. Perso-Indic Rap
  8. Interbred!
  9. Initial Confusion
  10. More Naked Youngsters

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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