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

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Entrepreneur and arts buff
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Media flunky and arts buff

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  1. Art and Entertainment, Or Maybe Art Vs. Entertainment
  2. Elsewhere
  3. AIDS and Immune Systems
  4. Busted
  5. Quotas, Preferences, Scores, Admissions
  6. Political Dynasties?
  7. FvB on Foreign Adventurism
  8. Sorolla: Workaholic Painter
  9. Entrepreneurial
  10. The Price of Muscle-Flexing

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Friday, February 2, 2007

Art and Entertainment, Or Maybe Art Vs. Entertainment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I ran across this YouTube video showing a talented draftsman making drawings of various YouTube personalities. Fun drawings, fun watching the guy draw. And a fun concept, too: treating YouTube personalities as people-worthy-of-portraits, and then making his own product be 1) the process of drawing, and not just on-paper but as-videotaped; and 2) the YouTube broadcast of the process of drawing. That's a niftier bit of conceptual art than anything I've run across in a gallery recently. But was it even intended as such? Double-fun! I enthusiastically emailed a link to the video to FvB, who wrote me back this email: It is a cool idea. And his stuff is pretty interesting. I just spent a couple hours in a bookstore looking at a big art book on Italian fresco series of the High Renaissance-Mannerist era. Quite entertaining stuff from some people who don't have the biggest reps: Domenico Beccafumi , Il Pordenone, Pellegrino Tibaldi, etc. What intrigues me about it, I think, is that it's technically all about the drawing, and boy were these guys swaggering draftsmen. It wasn't mere realism, although clearly they could have been accomplished realists if they had wanted to go in that direction. It was about "figurative art" -- the nude in action, stylized, anatomized, exaggerated, but always with a sort of goofy energy and lotsa style. They don't have Michelangelo's depth, but they were surely highly skilled entertainers. And, as I saw a year-and-a-half ago in Florence, even slightly goofy stuff can knock your socks off when it covers hundreds of square feet up on a wall -- part of the oddity you get when you look at a book-size reproduction goes away when you see the work full scale and in situ. Always something to be said for entertainment, no? Which got me babbling back to FvB about art vs. entertainment thusly: The aversion that high-minded people have to entertainment always amazes me. Sniff, sniff -- it isn't aaaaaaart. Screw 'em. If I didn't have a weak spot for art myself I'd probably confine my activities (consuming and producing) to entertainment. At least showbiz people like money and sex and glitz. At least they have a sense that (as an actor friend of mine likes to say) they have to "sing for their supper." Art people on the other hand find all that ... well, embarassing. Painful. Humiliating. I kinda like the rough-and-ready, extraverted stuff myself. And I certainly like it much better than sitting around bitching about how vulgar the world is. As for the YouTube video -- I wonder if this combining-drawing-with-video thing is becoming or already has become a kind of genre of its own. I hope so! I love the lightly-edited videoclip thing generally: a dude and his buds practicing hoops, girls doing webcam stuff, kitty videos, that guy who plays songs by squeezing his palms together ... It's casual, anyone can turn a videocam on, and everyone seems to be doing... posted by Michael at February 2, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Click here and help celebrate some upbeat news from the Fredosphere. * MD muses her way serenely from politics to movies to handbags ... It works somehow. * Many Americans are now drinking soda pop for breakfast. * Keven Cure thinks that change can be overrated. * Air America wasn't able to sell one single ad in Santa Cruz. * California may ban incandescent lightbulbs. (Link thanks to Reid Farmer.) * Reid himself has been interested in the fabulous Western painter Maynard Dixon. * White-guy Doug Anderson writes about what it's like to have a black significant other and a black soon-to-be-adopted son. * Here's a man who really knows why he watches TV and movies. * Has popular culture neglected you for a few minutes? Courtney and Lindsay show how to steer the spotlight back to She Who Really Counts. (NSFW) * Yet another reason to feel old: Roman Polanski slipped out of the U.S. to avoid incarceration 30 years ago today. I'm OK with "a while ago." But 30 years? * Rod Dreher and commenters compare notes about eating greens. Is eating turnip greens, kale and such a black thing? A poor thing? A southern thing? * Tyler Cowen and visitors muse about a new study indicating that women are just as gifted for chess as men are. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

AIDS and Immune Systems
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Researching the late '70s and early '80s for a project I'm fooling around with, I recently found myself looking through Richard Berkowitz's book "Stayin' Alive: The Invention of Safe Sex." Despite its title, it's mostly a memoir of growing up gay in '60s Jersey, living wild during the frenetic Christopher Street years of the '70s, and smacking into AIDS in the early '80s. The book falls apart as it goes along, but it's valuable for its frankness and its tales. I found it useful too. The book did what I was hoping it would do, which was to bring back a lot about those days. I'm more or less Berkowitz's age; I made my first gay friends in the early '70s; I arrived in NYC in the late '70s. Berkowitz and I might well have bumped into each other. Although I'm straight and I hung around the filmgoing and punk scenes while Berkowitz was a gay Christopher Street thumpa-thumpa disco habitue, these worlds overlapped in many ways. Plus gay life was such a potent force in the city at that time that it was impossible to avoid. Curious about what was after all a gaudy sociological phenomenon, I treated myself to two tours of the gay scene, guided both times by gay college friends. First I spent a day at The Pines, the famous gay beaches on Long Island's Fire Island. Lord 'a' mighty: It was the meat market to end all meat markets! Herds of men in eensie-weensie swim trunks putting the pouches and pecs on display while cruising each other in the most cold-blooded kind of way ... Men doing the nasty on the beach and god knows what else back in the dunes ... "It can be really hard on the ego," my friend confided to me. "What do you mean?" I asked. "The cruising is so objective that you're instantly aware of where you stand on the ladder of attractiveness," he said. "There's no pretending, and there's no getting away with anything. You settle for the guys who are in your own league. And that can be hard to get used to." One evening the following year I made my second venture into this strange land. I accompanied a group of gay friends as they made the rounds of Christopher Street. For those unfamiliar with the name: Christopher Street is in Manhattan's West Village. During the pre-AIDS gay-party days, it was Ground Zero for homosexual cruising and partying. If Fire Island was acres of beef on the hoof, Christopher Street was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only with fewer inhibitions and without a female to be seen. One club or bar after another ... Each establishment, and the street itself, filled with exuberant gayguys in freaky costumes ... Music, drugs, and booze everywhere ... Carousing of a pitch that would put beer-drinking Spring Break jocks to shame ... As well as the most aggressive and direct sexual behavior I've ever... posted by Michael at February 1, 2007 | perma-link | (39) comments

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sean Sakamoto catches author T.C. Boyle giving a primo demonstration of lit-person snobbery and lit-person ignorance. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Quotas, Preferences, Scores, Admissions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Heather Mac Donald tells a tale of diversity follies in California. Steve Sailer's recent musings about anti-discrimination laws and quotas struck me as brilliant and sensible (a nice, all-too-rare combo). Anyone interested in California and / or education will want to read Steve's latest piece for Vdare. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Political Dynasties?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now that the 2008 presidential election is almost upon us ... What? It's the better part of two years away? Judging by the media coverage, I never woulda guessed that. Regardless, now we're starting to see a number of items noting that Bill Clinton's presidency was sandwiched between Bush presidencies and the whole string could be bookended by Hillary, should she win. Even Michael Barone has weighed in. I recognize that a seemingly endless Bush-Clinton chain is possible. But I'm not at all sure it's likely. I say this [adjusts gray beard] because I remember that the same sort of thing was being said about the Kennedy clan. After Jack will come Bobby and after Bobby it'll be Teddy's turn. That soaks up 24 years while the next generation matures to take over. (Some wags noted that after 24 years of Kennedys, it would be 1984 -- shudder.) Didn't happen. John and Robert were destroyed by others and Ted destroyed himself. Later generations seem to have lost whatever political magic ol' Joe's boys might have possessed. Granted, a "brand name" can be helpful, especially at the start of a presidential marathon. But voters, like consumers in general, often seem to get tired of the old and seek out something new. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

FvB on Foreign Adventurism
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lots of fun comments on my recent posting about the Iraq War, where I asked "How do we get into these messes?" Nothing quite like a political posting to up the comments numbers! Curious about what Friedrich von Blowhard's answer to my posting's question might be, I wrote him this note: The two things I'd raise where "why do we make these messes?" goes are a bit different than the usual, I guess. I'd tend to say 1) Foreign affairs (aka "swinging your dick around") seems to be more glamorous and appealing to many politicians than dreary ol' taking care of the chores at home is; and 2) There seems to be something in Americans that makes them think that we can either run the world or convert the world to being like us. We gotta go proselytize! Maybe that's part of America's famous religious enthusiasm. In any case, my own theory about why we stumble into these messes is that (2) makes us vulnerable to (1). What's your hunch about this? I was hoping to elicit some history and some thinking. Bingo! Here's what FvB responded with: Our involvement with foreign affairs stems from exactly the same moment in time that progressivism arose: the mid-1890s. During that decade there was a lot of social tension from industrialization, the creation of a single national market through the railroad revolution (and the exposure of agriculture to global markets), and from massive immigration. In 1896 W. J. Bryan, the Populist / Democratic candidate, ran against McKinley, who won big because he mobilized a lot of corporate-big business money and because people were scared by the possibility of radical social upheaval. Right at that moment, when left and right were fighting themselves into exhaustion, we find the upsurge of what is termed "the new middle class." (The old middle class being the American bourgeoisie, the small business owners.) The NMC were professionals (doctors, lawyers, journalists, social workers, teachers, college professors, government bureaucrats) and managers of corporations -- this was the moment when the huge businesses that had been thrown together over the previous quarter-century started trying to run themselves rationally. The politics of the NMC were weirdly off the continuum of the traditional spectrum from traditional left (populist, labor, farmer) to right (small businessmen, industrialists.) The progressives / NMCs (the two are virtually synonomous) very rapidly became more politically potent than either the traditional left or traditional right, in part because they also introduced modern-day lobbying to our system of government. They essentially embraced fascism (before it was ever named), that is, the governmental regulation/control of privately owned industry (with, of course, the NMC controlling the government). They quickly dispatched the small-is-beautiful thinking behind the Sherman anti-trust act, because they saw how useful big business was ... to them. They instituted social controls over the immigrant masses (see my old post on the development of the high school and of the use of the education system to... posted by Michael at January 31, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sorolla: Workaholic Painter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe being a Spaniard had something to do with it. No artist-as-genius posturing from Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923). The man some regard as Spain's greatest painter since Velázquez (others might peg Goya as the previous reference point) was a family-oriented, bourgeois (in the best sense) workaholic whose burn-out took the form of a stroke at age 57 and death three years later. Showy, publicly-egotistical artists were a 20th century commonplace and also could be found in the late 19th century as artists completed their Western social evolution from craftsmen to Independent Geniuses. For example, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), a generation older than Sorolla, played the new rôle to the hilt. Nevertheless, most artists were cautious, pre-1900. The ideal career path led from training at a reputable academy to winning prizes allowing a few years' study in Italy soaking in the masters to getting works hung in Academy displays to making contacts with people rich enough to commission portraits -- a painter's most reliable meal-ticket. Separated from mainstream artistic, cultural and political Europe by the Pyrenees and western Mediterranean, Spain was a conservative place well into the 20th century. Flamboyant Spanish artists such as Picasso and Dalí made their reputations in France rather than in their homeland. Aside from student years in Italy and business-related trips plus the occasional vacation, Sorolla dwelled in Spain his entire life. A fine new Sorolla biography by his great-grand-daughter Blanca Pons-Sorolla is a good place to familiarize yourself with the artist. I used it and an earlier (out-of-print) book by Edmund Peel containing an essay by grandson Francisco Pons Sorolla as source material for this post. Fortunately for art historians and Sorolla devotees, Sorolla left a considerable paper-trail in the form of letters to his beloved wife Clotilde who, unlike other spouses of the famous, saved rather than burned the correspondence. Since Clotilde's job was maintaining the household and raising their three children, she remained in Madrid, aside from family trips to the seashore, while Sorolla was away in various parts of Spain painting plein-air, his preferred method. And while away, he wrote his wife as often as he could, describing the sights that inspired him, telling her how much he missed her and, in the half-dozen or so years before his stroke, expressing worries about his health and stamina. The book includes many snippets from those letters. Sorolla was born in Valencia, which remained his favorite part of Spain. Orphaned before his third birthday, he was adopted by his mother's sister. He began formal art instruction as a teenager and began to win prizes before turning 20. By the time he was turning 22 he had been awarded a study grant and was off to Rome and elsewhere in Italy for the next four years with interruptions for visits to Paris and home. On one visit home he married Clotilde García del Castillo, daughter of photographer Antonio García Peris, Sorolla's patron while in his late teens. Sorolla... posted by Donald at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know about you, but I'm split on Dave Eggers. On the one hand, I can't read more than a few paragraphs of his writing without feeling overwhelmed by dismay and annoyance. Must it be so twee? On the other hand, his go-get-'em, hands-on, pluralistic, and inventive attitude towards publishing delights me; it strikes me as just what writers and readers need. Joe Hagen writes an appreciation of Eggers and his McSweeney's outfit from a biz point of view. I've recently been enjoying a snoop around the website of Wholphin, McSweeney's magazine / DVD of short movies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

The Price of Muscle-Flexing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're now spending money on the Iraq war faster than we ever spent money in Vietnam. The final cost of the debacle might well come to $700 billion; if I remember right, the Pentagon guesstimated early on that we'd get away with spending $50 billion. Off by a mere 1000% -- oopsie! Too bad about all those deaths too. Can anyone even remember any longer what our purpose in Iraq was meant to be? Who are the bad guys? Who are we fighting for? As far as I can tell, the only goal we're clinging to now is to continue pretending that we have a goal. Nonpartisan question (let's not forget that LBJ was to Vietnam what GWB is to Iraq): Why do we keep getting ourselves into these messes? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (50) comments

Tabloid-Style Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some webpages that amused me but that are to be visited at your own risk ... * Keely tells how her sex-tape scandal made her feel. * "Boxsinger" is saving her box just for you. * Gotta love crazy x-ray photos. * The famous groupies of the '60s and '70s all now seem to have MySpace pages. * Here's a woman who deserves to retire the Academy Award for Dumbest Car Accident. * Best Wikipedia entry yet. * This must be one of the stranger (and more gruesome) talents a human ever developed. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ladies, is your man giving too much of his attention to websurfing and not enough to you? Then this organization may suit your needs. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Molly and John
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can we call 'em or what? Long ago 2Blowhards featured irregular bulletins from the young artists John Leavitt and Molly Crabapple. John wrote about art-school shenanigans and sillinesses, while Molly told tales about her day job as an artist's model. So it's fun to see that John and Molly -- close buds, btw, in addition to being gifted and mischievous artists and writers -- haven't confined their activities to the blogosphere. Instead, they're entrepreneurial dynamos who have taken their acts on to bigger venues. Let's hear it for resourceful, cheeky, and open-minded kids. Have you read about Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School? Molly and John reacted to conventional figure-drawing classes as students often do, thinking "Wow, nude models! This is hot! Why's everyone pretending it isn't?" But instead of shrugging the question off, Molly and John kicked off their own monthly, open-to-the-public session that plays up the sexiness of the figure-drawing experience. They do this mainly by employing neo-burlesque artistes as models -- gotta love the stage names: Clams Casino, Little Brooklyn ... -- encouraging irreverence, laughter, and conviviality, and setting the hours spent drawing to funky music mixes. Figure-drawing sessions don't get more alternative than Dr. Sketchy's. Molly and John have had themselves a big hit. Dr. Sketchy events take place regularly in NYC, are popping up in Detroit, L.A., San Francisco, and have even started to crackle in Melbourne and Scotland too. And recently Molly and John have even turned their Dr. Sketchy concept into a book. You can read about it here, and buy it here and here. Check out the enthusiastic customer reviews on the book's Amazon page! Here's Molly's website. Here's John's. You can read Molly's columns for 2Blowhards here, here, here, here, and here. John wrote for us here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Here's the very lively Dr. Sketchy blog. Here's a New York Press article about the Dr. Sketchy phenomenon. Here's a videoclip from a Dr. Sketchy's event. Molly and John celebrate the publication of their book at the great NYC comic book store Jim Hanley's Universe. Those in the mood for a daydreamy few minutes should enjoy gazing on this page of modeling photos of the lovely and graceful Miss Molly. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, January 29, 2007

Musings About Civilization By One of Da Boyz
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's out there. It's huge. And Instapundit already linked to it. There's everything from a Japanese colonel riffing on the third-generation problem to the persistence of barbarian habits to what to consider when civilization unravels. If you haven't seen it already and have 15 minutes to spare, click here to read what's on John Jay's mind. He's one of the Chicago Boyz, and fellow-Boy and Blowhards commenter Lexington Green says he plans to print it out and give it a read. Truckloads of food for thought, a lot of which gets high scores on my plausibility meter. My only advice is to skip the first paragraph, which is more of a distraction than an introduction Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 29, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * This must have been some excellent TV! Can anyone find the actual video footage online? * John Tierney and commenters muse about a perennial puzzler: Given the affection that most men have for feminine curves, why do so many women try so hard to be thin-thin-thin? * Lynn Barber doesn't think the latest incarnation of Penthouse stands a chance. * Agnostic (bouncing off a posting by Steve) wonders if blondes really are sexier. * Shouting Thomas attends the motorcycle show. Pix of some of the wild and crazy mechanical beasts are here. * Claire goes abstract. * Rick Darby is amused by the alarm with which the MSM view the new media. * Jake Horsley raves about "The Libertine." * Do all our shiney, convenient new gadgets just make it easier for us to be untruthful? * Kirsten has learned to be wary of purple fringing and detachable lens covers. * Since we seem to have entered a world of user ratings for everything, why not user ratings for gurus? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How Much Does Species Genetic Commonality Matter?
Donald Pittenger writes Dear Blowhards -- I'm not a biologist -- just a foolish Blowhard. But I get irked when I see "news" articles gushing over how much genetic / DNA commonality there is between humans and other species. Especially when the article goes on to include a homily pooh-poohing our tendency to think of ourselves as being "superior" to other creatures. You know, our slavish devotion to that non-scientific rot found in the Book of Genesis. It is sort of a numbers game. Here Scientific American mentions a study asserting that chimps have only 94% overlap with humans instead of higher percentages proposed elsewhere. As for silly me, everywhere around me I see how immensely different humans are from the rest of the species. Just pop into a Subway shop, place your order, munch the sandwich. Then contemplate the totality of what it took to place you there with that food in your hand. Other species don't come remotely close. No matter how much DNA we share. Differences count -- far more than the similarities. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 28, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments