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

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Elsewhere
  2. The Return of Ed Gorman
  3. Dumping Classical Art
  4. He Felt Good
  5. Milton Friedman
  6. Yahmdallah on Ebert; Darrell's Stories
  7. Out of Wedlock Birth Rates
  8. Elsewhere
  9. 1000 Words -- Gold Medal Books
  10. Airplanes and Celebs

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

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