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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  1. The Novelization Game
  2. NSFW Linkage
  3. More on Mortgages
  4. Movie Linkage
  5. Moviegoing: "300"
  6. Genius of the People
  7. Borderlinks
  8. Housing Goes Bust?
  9. Nudes in Nature
  10. Sex Machine

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Novelization Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bookgasm's Rod Lott talks to novelization writer Greg Cox, and asks my favorite question of the day: "When you finally see a film you earlier wrote a novelization for, what's that experience like?" A nice illustration of how zany -- and how ass-backwards -- the media-creating life often is, no? Incidentally, you won't catch me making fun of novelizations, let alone of the writers who write 'em. Fiction writers need to pay the bills too, after all, and I have the greatest respect for people who manage to write fiction for a living. Plus -- and not that I've spent anything like a Rod Lott amount of time looking into novelizations -- I've read a few novelizations that weren't just well-done, they were better than the movies they were based on. They were, in fact, darned good books. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 24, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, March 22, 2007

NSFW Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the Olympian tone! Enough with the detached culture-observing! Time to share where my mind's really at. * If I could pass just one law, it'd be one that would require all girls to study bellydancing from 9th grade right through college. We'd all inhabit such a happier world ... * This is emphatically not a kink that would have occurred to me independently. (Link deactivated at the request of the kinky site's webmistress.) * Nor this one. * I think I remember majoring in this subject my freshman year in college. Hard to remember through all the funny-smelling smoke, though ... * Why am I feeling a sudden desire to become a film director? Oh, it's because then girls like this one would be begging me for roles in my movies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

More on Mortgages
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * FvBlowhard points out a hilarious website called The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter. * Alex Tabarrok attacks the "credit snobs." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 22, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Shelia Whitaker writes a lovely obituary of the British cinematographer and director Freddie Francis, best-known perhaps for his work with David Lynch and Karel Reisz. * Three examples of hardworking Bollywood bliss, courtesy of David Chute, who has the Bollywood bug bad. * Speaking of Orson Welles, as we were, much of his radio work with the Mercury Theatre is now online. * The legendarily combative and grandstanding screenwriter Joe ("Basic Instinct") Eszterhas is now living the quiet life outside Cleveland. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 21, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Moviegoing: "300"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What does it matter if the cyberspectacle "300" makes my thumb point up or down? When you don't have any feeling or sympathy for the kind of thing that an artwork represents, it's usually best to shut up and try to learn from those who do. Yet "300," which has been a big and surprise success, clearly speaks to a lot of people. Who'd have guessed that a film about the Spartans' stand against the Persians at Thermopylae would conquer the contempo American box-office? And while popularity probably shouldn't be allowed to dictate much of anything beyond the results of popularity contests, "what works with the popular audience" is an interesting topic in its own right, as well as one that's an important element in the larger question of how culture evolves and develops. Besides, seeing a movie means that it's time for moviechat. It just does, dammit. Moviegoing (or moviewatching) without moviechat is like dinner without dessert. It's uncivilized. And I'll be gosh-darned if I'm going to miss out on dessert. So here are a few contributions to the yakfest ... * Michael Blowhard, the detached and educated observer, sez: While "300" certainly represents what big-budget studio-style movies are turning into, it doesn't have a lot to do with what movies have been. I found it helpful to think of the film less as a film than as a gigantic electronic-media-creation. That freed me to experience the film for what it really is -- far less traditional than "Alexander" or "Troy," a mashup combining "Gladiator"-style spectacle, videogames ("Halo" and "Age of Empires"), and the techniques of whooshy high-end car ads. It's a whole new / old language of in-theater, over-time entertainment. The soundtrack -- in a state of near-constant shuddering, Dolbyized ecstasy -- is like one long fanfare. Kaaaa-runch! Thwickthwickthwick ... Saaaaa-wooosh! Rumblerumblerumble ... The visuals are glisteningly hyperreal and completely fabricated, hallucinogenic in their overblown intensity as well as their morphiness. (The film was shot against green screens in studios, with the backgrounds later painted-in in computers.) Facial skin looks like the expensive leather you see advertised in luxury magazines. The mayhem takes place all over the screen, from top to bottom. Flames shower through the air and twinkle as they die. Clouds of arrows darken the sun. The big visual production numbers feature a lot of those shots (accompanied by deafening Thwacks! Zips! and Whooshes!) where the camera speeds up then suddenly slows down then speeds up again ... Does this technique have a name? Help me out here. I first took note of it in "The Matrix," and it's become a standard feature of TV advertisements ever since. I'd love to be able to refer to it by name. Anyway, the constant factor in these big-studio new-media creations is relentless stimulation by cyber-means. Something's always swirling or backlighting or twisting or roaring or de-saturating. In "300," even the quiet passages feel throbby and heavily processed. The rhetoric-dial, in other words,... posted by Michael at March 21, 2007 | perma-link | (54) comments

Genius of the People
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Isn't it great that the people no longer have to put up with what the big media conglomerates think they should be watching? Thanks to advances in technology, the people now have the tools to make for themselves the movies that they really want to see. Don't miss the sequel. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 21, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Say hello to chagas, a recent immigrant from Latin America that's currently causing alarm in L.A. * Tucson Weekly's Leo Banks spends some time exploring where and how illegals make their way into this country, and provides some remarkable snapshots of how absurd border matters have become. (Link thanks to Todd Fletcher.) * Steve Sailer wonders what's so great about diversity. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Housing Goes Bust?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- James Kunstler does the math and concludes that, where housing is concerned, Mr. and Mrs. Average American are screwed. Well, what Kunstler actually wrote was "fucked," not "screwed." But we don't use words like "fucked" at this blog. We're just too fucking respectable for that kind of thing. The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of people who bought homes in the last few years have already lost them. (Link thanks to Dean Baker, who has done a great job of hound-dogging the housing-market follies.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Bill for pointing out The Housing Bubble Blog. UPDATE 2: Kirsten volunteers some "I been there" testimony: Having once paired my fortunes with a person of questionable financial priorities (to put it nicely) I've had first-hand experience with the world of sub-prime mortgage lenders, and I can tell you, it's a bizarre place. There is (or was ;-)) an army of salesmen out there whose mode of operation is a perfectly legal bait-and-switch. Legal because in theory you *can* get a mortgage for a 1/2 million dollar home for only $600 a month. So they dangle the possibility of these wonderful deals in front of you. Then when you get down to the actual numbers, they begin introducing reality -- not all at once, they don't want to scare you off -- but a little at a time. The low interest rates they mentioned creep up a point or two. The monthly payment is a bit higher every time they talk to you. Fixed rate 30 year deals morph slowly into ARMs or shorter-term loans with balloon payments waiting at the end. They aren't switching, technically -- they're just moving from theory to reality as you provide documentable information about your financial circumstances. But before you know it, the deal that started out looking so sweet is a deal that puts you just as far behind as you were before. Because these guys are making their money by closing deals, they swarm all over anyone who has a relatively high rate mortgage or an ARM -- they know that the best customer is the person who has already swallowed the subprime bait. Of course what they don't point out is that every time you refinance -- which they position quite honestly as helping you take advantage of the low-interest-rate d'jour -- your closing costs gobble up a bit more of your equity. If you even have any equity -- also left unmentioned is the fact that the appraisers these lenders work with are referred by . . . the lenders. It doesn't take a genius to realize that if an appraiser doesn't consistently estimate homes' values such that a subprime mortgage will work out (on paper), the referrals will dry up. So the appraisers are invariably "generous" when they document your home value -- they know that the home's loan-to-value ratio is critical to setting your interest rate. An obviously inflated appraisal... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Nudes in Nature
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Just over two years ago I guest-blogged about my lousy art school training. An event I didn't mention was an oil-painting class assignment involving a nude and the grounds of the University of Washington campus. I'm bringing it up now because it makes a nice little hook for some observations. I just lied. That linked article did make passing reference to the model. In introductory drawing classes we had a fifty-ish woman who stripped down to her undies to pose. When we graduated from 100 to 200 or 300-level courses requiring a live model, she went "all the way" wardrobe-wise. The other models weren't much more appealing. Until one happy day when a really fine-looking young lady showed up to pose. Sadly, she wasn't happy with her work and managed to skip quite a few sessions. But we dabbed and smeared away regardless. Later in the term the teacher had us go outdoors to sketch trees, bushes, grass and other springtime backdrops with the idea that the finished painting would feature the nude in a natural setting. Nearly 50 years later, I now get what he was up to. I think. You see, nudes and nature don't easily mix. I suspect that was the Truth we were supposed to winkle out of our experience in this project. I need to explain more fully. If you read the linked article above you'll discover that instructors at the School of Art at the University of Washington towards the end of the 1950s were extremely reluctant to teach us anything for fear that some vital creative spark or another would get extinguished. A few times we got a cursory explanation of the color wheel, but I remember hearing nothing about how to mix skin color or the colors of grass, trees, and so on. I suppose a few students had taken the initiative to buy some how-to books, but silly me assumed that teachers would be teaching us what we needed to know. So I naïvely simply squeezed out green paints from some tubes to deal with foliage. I completed my nu dans la forêt effort and that was that. I finally threw the painting away when I stumbled across it while cleaning out my parents' house 16 years ago. I knew it wasn't very good, but wasn't sure why -- probably personal incompetence coupled with the lack of instruction. All true, but there was more to it. One reason why nudes and nature don't easily mix is because we seldom see naked people sitting on a lawn or wandering through meadows next to a woods. Seeing that in a painting tends to bring everything to a halt while we construct a reason for what we are seeing -- a story, if you will. Classical scenes tend to reduce this mental pause because (if one has a Classical education) the viewer reads the painting's title, says "Aha!" to himself and then takes in the scene. The artist... posted by Donald at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sex Machine
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- YouTube gift for the day: Jackie Wilson doing a switched-on version of his classic "Lonely Teardrops." Did that man have a lot of sly but robust elegance or what? If only I could wear a pompadour and a suit with a tenth the conviction and panache ... I don't know that I've ever seen a performer squeeze such a lot of studliness out of such minimalistic dancing. And, hey, go-go dancers sure provide a nice frame for a singer, don't they? Some biographical facts about Jackie Wilson, which I picked up from Wikipedia: He was a Detroit native. He converted to Judaism as an adult. A notorious womanizer, he was once shot and wounded by a girlfriend who was jealous that he was heading home with a girlfriend of Sam Cooke's. Wilson had a massive heart attack when he was 41. He lived for only nine more years, and in a mostly-vegetative state. His expenses during this sad final stretch were paid for by Elvis Presley. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Schwartz on Welles
Michael Blowhards writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not entirely sure what the "line" (ie., the argument) of Sanford Schwartz's NYRB piece about Orson Welles is. I'm also sorry to see that he has his reservations about Simon Callow's biography of Welles. (Though I've only read volume one of this projected three-volume work, I found it the most convincing of the books about Welles that I've been through.) And, to be honest, I'm not the world's biggest fan of "Citizen Kane," which Schwartz considers the greatest of Welles' movies. Count me as a "Magnificent Ambersons," "Touch of Evil" and "Chimes at Midnight" kind of guy. Still, some of the passages in Schwartz's piece are plain wonderful. For example: In their roller-coaster speed and the way one dynamic, startling image follows the next, in their highly individual sense of how a story is told on film, and in their feeling for shadows and mirrors, odd angles and voices that come at you in a rush or are oddly disembodied, his pictures are trickier, more artificial and abstract, even, than those of most other directors. Yet Welles's movies, with their sense of one man calibrating the effect of every split second of screen time, are unusually object-like, too. He makes it seem as if fashioning a film is as physical and sensuous an experience as playing with a piece of clay. And if that ain't what it's like to watch a Welles film, I'll rip up my former-film-buff credentials. Which reminds me: So far as criticism goes, I'm more than happy to settle for breathtakingly good descriptions. What critics say in the most direct sense often strikes me as complete nonsense -- or, to be a little more fair, as threads in a conversation that I find unappealing. I tend to be far more interested in down-to-earth observations about what's-going-on-here and far less interested in debating whether a work is good or bad than most critics seem to be. But the good critics -- by which I mean, of course, the ones I enjoy -- deliver many goodies anyway. Schwartz, who generally writes as a visual-arts guy, is freakly gifted. Though he seldom seems interested in discussing the external world and though he's far more willing to accept the art world's self-evaluations than I usually am, his evocations and explorations of what it's like to experience art are unmatchable. At his worst he tends to the solipsistic; he overfondles his own responses. But usually he's awfully good. And unlike the pro critics, who are obliged to deal with the market as it comes at them, Schwartz wanders about under his own motor. He isn't contending heroically with what the culture spews out; he's following his own responses and interests. And, in doing so, he makes his own contributions; he turns up unfamiliar artists, he comes at topics from fresh and very personal directions. He's a considerable literary artist in his own right. I've loved this collection of Schwartz essays and reviews, and this... posted by Michael at March 20, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Funny Furrin' Beddin'
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The first time I saw a duvet I thought the Stuttgart hotel hadn't finished making the beds. Such is ignorance. Bed with duvets in German hotel room This Wikipedia entry says that duvets evolved from peasants' bedding -- a handy one-piece sheet-plus-down-lining. It further states that duvets are common in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. I can't say anything about what German homes have, but I've seen a lot of them in German hotels as well as places farther east and north. Even though I've encountered duvets since 1996, I'm still not fond of them, preferring the sheets-and-covers combination used in France, Britain, America and so forth. Covers can be added or peeled off at will, which strikes me as being handy when adjustments need to be made to suit bedroom temperature. Am I making sense? Or is this one more instance of American insularity. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 18, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Planning War
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- From time to time news media get the vapours when finding that the U.S. military has plans for fighting one unlikely foe or another. Usually such spikes of moral indignation are followed by (1) lack of interest by the sensible public at large, and (2) hurried publication of yet another "scandal" in the continuing media effort to render the country nearly defenseless. Truth is, serious military organizations have always done planning. In the distant past, this was probably informal, sizing up potential enemies, pondering ways of dealing with them, and possible consideration of equipment and logistics needed to do the job. With the rise of the General Staff system in the 19th century Prussian army, planning became formalized. By the early 20th century most major powers devoted staff officers to the task of planning wars against numerous potential opponents under a variety of circumstances. The virtue of planning for a number of contingencies is that a good deal of time and effort might be saved at the start of a suddenly-emergent conflict. The filed plan is pulled out and quickly modified to suit actual conditions -- much simpler than starting from scratch. The United States was in some ways tardy in creating permanent staffs. But that did not inhibit planning by the Army and the Navy. Between the world wars numerous plans were drafted and periodically revised. Major powers and countries considered to be moderate threats were given code-names based on colors. The U.S. was called Blue. Germany was Black, France was Gold, Russia was Purple, Japan was Orange, Mexico was Green, Britain was Red and its dominions were Scarlet, Ruby and so forth. A war with Mexico, for instance, would be written up using the colors as tokens for the countries involved and might include sentences such as : "Blue fleet will proceed from Guantanamo to the Veracruz area around Day 10 and aircraft from Lexington and Saratoga will destroy such Green naval craft as can be found." I would be fascinated if I could read 1920s war plans against unlikely enemies such as France or the British Empire. (A plan for Britain and Canada is sketched here.) The most famous of these plans is the Orange series which has been fairly well documented. One of the books I re-read every few years is Edward S. Miller's War Plan Orange. It was first published in 1991 by the Naval Institute Press, and I see that a paperback edition is coming out in a few days. Miller observes in the Introduction: War Plan Orange, the secret program of the United States to defeat Japan, was in my opinion history's most successful war plan. In plans developed before the war, Japan was code-named Orange, the United States, Blue, hence the name of the plan developed over nearly four decades by the best strategic minds of the military services. As it was implemented in World War II, it was remarkably successful, especially considering the difficulties of... posted by Donald at March 18, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We move to Seattle this week. The movers will be pack Tuesday and load Wednesday. We start driving north Thursday. That's one reason blogging by me might be spotty for a few days. The other reason is that my MacBook has been acting up -- shutting itself off while booting or perhaps a few minutes later. I'm doing the remove-the-battety drill, but that's not always successful. I need to get to an Apple Store on arrival to get better instructions on resetting the firmware after shutoffs occur. In any case, one of these shutoffs might cripple the computer until I can take it in; tough to do while on the road. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 18, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments