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  1. Random Web Marketing Poetics
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  4. Kirsten Has Some Advice
  5. Women in Hollywood. Or Maybe Having Left Hollywood ...
  6. New Nikos
  7. Crying At the Office
  8. Bob and Gwen
  9. Sad Songs
  10. DVD Journal: "Amelie"

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Random Web Marketing Poetics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Readers who've tried to post comments here in recent months know that there can be delays ranging from a couple of minutes to several hours before the comment appears on the 2Blowhards site. That's because we sometimes get bombarded with spam comments. So we inspect prospective comments (when we happen to be on the computer) and only post those that are legitimate, relegating the others to the trash bin. Too bad my incoming e-mails aren't so carefully vetted. Actually my MacBook has software that tries to sort junk from okay e-mails, but I still allow the software to display the complete list of incoming rounds just in case there's a misidentification (and every week or so there is one). The war between spammers and scanners is interesting, each side innovating to try to get a step ahead of the other. One spam dodge is to include randomly-generated word sequences to cover the message about, say, "meds." (Well, that's the sort of spam I seem to get. Hmm. What do they know about me that I don't?) Sometimes those random-word blocs can be interesting -- almost poetic. Here's one I received today: and beaujolais some katz ! warfare the you're try quadrille the marketwise a retaliate it's eardrum it's criss and detest it dubhe a cameron a idol , lifelike may albrecht And one from a few days ago: be chile may glisten ! bloodhound may bank ! fluoridate ! pica , brothel some powerful it's chantey it derate some for but britannic and conglomerate be gigahertz try universe a crease some lennox try christie and saturater on instance or tuscarora the charm the birthday the cyclorama it's amerada may yea it astatine try implicit , barnacle a southampton a adhesion some zeroth some invariable , athlete on severe but wainscot but cochlea ! chromosome may abound or atop Who knows ... some day this stuff might get collected, published, and proclaimed as edgy, trangressive literature. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 30, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fact for the Day: Teens and Financial Expectations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From news story in the Contra Costa Times: American teens believe ... that when they get older they will be earning an average annual salary of $145,500. Interestingly, boys expect to earn an average $173,000 a year and girls $114,200 ... The fact is, only about 14 percent of U.S. households have incomes between $100,000 and $200,000, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income in the United States is actually $46,326. Gotta love the big dreams and expectations of the American adolescent ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Timing and the Digging of Pop Culture
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I wrote about Ice Cream vs. Sherbet and mentioned that the cowboy character Hopalong Cassidy's picture was on the inside lids of Dixie Cups containing an ice cream - sherbet mix. What I didn't mention was that I was not a Hoppy fan. I was a couple of years too old, it seems. Age differences can be a huge thing for many youngsters, me included. Moreover, age differences have effects in inverse proportion to one's age. For instance, I recall from Kindergarten days that first graders would taunt us on the playground by crying out "Kindy-garten BAAY-bees!!" And those first graders seemed a whole lot bigger and older than us, so we simply kept our mouths shut and put up with the taunting. When I was a first or second grader we once went up to the upper floor of the school and were walked through an eighth grade classroom. Those eighth graders (they were around age 13) seemed like adults to me. They were really big like my parents and the boys had hairy legs showing above the socks. As I noted, age differences seem to lessen as one ages. Though it wasn't until I was perhaps a Junior in high school that girls only a year younger became "interesting." As college Freshmen, Seniors seemed noticeably more mature than us. Matter of fact, it was the cooler, older heads in my frat house that kept initiation hazing from getting dangerously out of bounds. (See here for my post on Hell Week.) As for the title of this post, here's the deal with me and pop culture icon Elvis Presley. Elvis hit the national scene in a big way in 1956. I was a high school senior the fall of that year. Junior girls were going mad over the guy. (My wife, who was a high school Junior that year, just told me that yes indeed she was an Elvis fan.) But not suave, sophisticated 16 or 17 year-old me. I thought Elvis was kid stuff. You know what? I've never really cared much for Elvis. Had I been born a year or more later, I might have dug him. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 29, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Kirsten Has Some Advice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Kirsten Dunst thinks the world would be a better place if everyone toked up on a regular basis. Is her agent yelling at her right now for making this statement? And was Carl Sagan really the world's biggest pothead? Meanwhile, say hello to the iBong, the brainchild of a couple of computer geeks from -- where else? -- Austin, Texas. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, April 27, 2007

Women in Hollywood. Or Maybe Having Left Hollywood ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sharon Waxman is often a valuable and informed showbiz reporter. But her current piece for the New York Times -- "Hollywood's Shortage of Female Power" -- earns a 2Blowhards Award for Most Content-Free Piece of Showbiz Reporting of 2007. The urgent news that Waxman and the Times are peddling? (The piece is a looooong one, and is featured on the front page of the Arts Section.) As far as I can tell, it's that a bunch of rich and powerful gal execs have either failed, quit, or left the business. A whinefest ensues. We're supposed to care about "how some women in Hollywood are feeling these days." It turns out they're feeling "nervous." Say it ain't so! Waxman's determination to file a lengthy, important-seeming story despite having nothing to report is really awe-inspiring. Has the non-crisis she's non-describing been caused by sexism? Nope, not even according to the gals Waxman interviewed. Has it affected the films that are being made? Nope: "Hollywood has not stopped making films appealing to women." So what's the problem, exactly? Waxman generates some real jaw-droppers as she dodges her lack of anything better to say. My personal favorite: "Studio executives, both men and women, have shown themselves to be pragmatists above all, choosing movies that they believe will make the most money for their corporate parents." Hmmm ... Hollywood executives are paid to do their best to make money for their bosses, have I got that right? I don't know about you, but I'm feeling most enlightened. "Still," writes Waxman hopefully, "some long-time Hollywood producers feel that something has shifted." That may be a little vague, Sharon ... Still, why not assume the best? Why not assume that there's something to whatever it was that Waxman meant? Can we expect a little substantiation? It turns out that romantic comedies aren't being made as often as they once were. The explanation, though, has nothing to do with sex or gender. It has to do with the fact that romantic comedies are hard to sell overseas -- and that studios have grown wary of shelling out the $20 million that stars like Julia and Meg apparently demand. I've seldom watched a newspaper item self-destruct in such a variety of self-inflicted ways. Wobbling around in desperation -- having conked herself on the head while tripping over her own feet several times too often -- Waxman attempts to regain her focus: "While the shift in the hierarchy may just be the normal turning of Hollywood's fickle wheel of fortune, it is still worrisome to women here who are eager for role models and a mentoring system to compete with the well-established boys' club." As far as I can tell, Waxman's story boils down to this: Some ambitious Hollywood gal wannabes are "feeling nervous." Now that's certainly a matter of intense concern to all of us, isn't it? I'd love to have been present as Waxman pitched this story to her editor. "Tell me... posted by Michael at April 27, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

New Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good news for unorthodox architecture buffs: a new journal -- The International Journal of Architectural Research -- that looks to be far more sensible and open-minded than the establishment architecture magazines are. While the IJAR may be a wee bit austere for mere fans, those who enjoy technical and philosophical conundra should find a lot to chow down on. Don't miss "Restructuring 21st Century Architecture Through Human Intelligence" (PDF alert), a brilliant article in the IJAR's first issue by 2Blowhards fave Nikos Salingaros, co-written with Kenneth G. Masden. One of many great passages in their piece: How can anyone believe that a "Dutch Design Demigod" [Nikos and Masden are referring here to the international superstar Rem Koolhaas] could know more about a place than the very people who were born and raised there? How can these starchitects espose to know what is best for the rest of the world? More importantly, how do we combat the aesthetic authority that such individuals now exert over our place in the world? My own preferred answer to this final question is: Hey, how about starting off by making fun of arrogant jerks and their silly buildings? And how about ridiculing the cowardly and slavish critical and academic apparatus that serves them? 2Blowhards did a long interview with Nikos Salingaros a while back: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Print and read: It's a mind-blower of a very pleasant sort, if I do say so myself. Nikos' own, very generous, website is here. He makes a lot of his work available for free. Some links for those who find the whole buildings-and-space thang fascinating but who stare in outrage and amazement at the way the topic is typically treated and covered: Whatever you think of James Kunstler's Peak Oil argument, in the unorthodox-architecture world he's a firebrand and a giant. His Eyesore of the Month isn't to be missed, and his books about American urbanism and sprawl (here and here) are rowdy and rousing eye-openers. Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and Tom Wolfe's "From Bauhaus to Our House" -- both of them great reads -- played huge roles in helping many people see the truth about modernist architecture. I wrote a links-filled intro to Jane Jacobs back here. Back in the late 1960s, the sociologist William Whyte had an inspired idea: Why not observe systematically how people actually use urban spaces? Whyte brought together much of what he learned about people and urbanism in this very enjoyable book. Here's a substantial article about / interview with him. Two comprehensive and fun introductions to the New Urbanism are Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck's "Suburban Nation" and Philip Langdon's "A Better Place to Live." The New York Times' architecture historian Christopher Gray is a reliably enlightening and informative pleasure; in his company you quickly start to get the hang of what it's like to experience the built environment. It isn't a matter... posted by Michael at April 27, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crying At the Office
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- First tattoos, then piercings. Now the WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger reports the -- to me, anyway -- bad news that it's becoming more and more permissable to cry at the office. "Today's young adults are more comfortable venting all kinds of emotions," she writes, citing a psychology prof, who says, "They were raised with the phrase 'express yourself'." Sounds about right to me -- and, as far as I'm concerned, there's too damn much venting going on these days. There's another element at work too. The psych prof goes on to explain that today's young people have no experience in taking criticism and often burst into tears when they receive negative feedback. Shellenbarger seems to approve of this new freedom to vent, by the way. Her piece isn't online, darn it. But she's hosting a WSJ forum on the topic, and I found it a lot of fun to read. My favorite note came from commenter "srosaaen": "First, we have to applaud their every effort; now, we have to listen to their crying. What part of this is behaving like an adult?" The freedom to cry at the office: a good development or a bad one? Best, Michael UPDATE: The WSJ's Jeffrey Zaslow writes a related article about how young people's expectations of unending praise are affecting workplaces. Zaslow is much less cheery about these developments than Shellenbarger is. Great passage: Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit. Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up ... Some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today's young adults feel insecure if they're not regularly complimented. One shrink estimates that "the average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982." Given how self-centered college kids were back in the early '80s, that's a frightening figure.... posted by Michael at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Bob and Gwen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another YouTube treat: Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse doing an informal presentation of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross' "Whatever Lola Wants," from "Damn Yankees": I love the combo of salaciousness and innocence, of delicacy and obviousness. It's all so vulgar, so vaudeville -- so icy-hot, so sleazy-lovable, and so sweetly insolent. I love Verdon's confidence and mischief. And I love the fact that an artist as erotically-driven as Bob Fosse took a goofy girl like Gwen Verdon as his muse. Talent was what turned him on. Well, one of the things that turned him on. A friend of mine who adores doing Fosse-style dance tells me that the thing that surprised her when she started to do Fosse was how held-in his movements are. "The impact is big," she says. "But the hip thrusts, the pelvic wagging, and the shoulder rolls are actually physically very tiny. You clear out a lot of space around them. And the fun is in building up such a big charge beneath them that these little movements knock the viewer over." As far as I'm concerned, Bob Fosse was a genius. Does American art get any better than than the "Steam Heat" number from "Pajama Game"? Did Toulouse-Lautrec ever do anything as mockingly deadpan and juicy -- as exhausted yet provocative -- as "Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity"? The immortal song was written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields. Not all that long ago, Fosse -- who died at 60 in 1987 -- was a huge figure, famous for stage and screen productions, as well as for winning eight Tony awards. These days ... Well, do young people even know his name at all? They might enjoy exploring his work. Much contemporary pop culture comes out of Fosse -- the choreography in music videos, for example, as well as the way music and dance are typically edited. The stop-and-start fireworks in "Big Spender"? The writhing ecstasy that slams into sudden languors? Movies had never moved like that before Bob Fosse came along. Some more glimpses of Fosse's work are here, here, and (oo-la-la -- corny but hot) here. Here's the Bob Fosse website. Wikipedia's entry on Fosse is first-class. The Fosse film to start with is "Cabaret." Here's Wikipedia on Gwen Verdon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sad Songs
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards-- What's your favorite sad song, and why? I'm not talking about weepers, but dry-eyed, unsentimental sad songs.Personally I would vote for: (1) Hank Williams' rendition of I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, (2) Mr. Williams' Cold, Cold Heart, (3) Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons and (4) Goodnight, Irene in various versions. Okay, so my tastes seem to have congealed in the early 1950s. Deal with it. I should probably kick #1 out, because it may quite possibly be the best pop song in history, and thus it transcends any category. I might replace it with Elvis' Mess of Blues although the narrator of this one hasn't quite seen the light (darkness?) and still hopes that he can get on a train and "leave these blues behind." All these seem to capture the fact that many of the most important parts of life are the ones in which your heart's desires are ultimately frustrated, and not-ever-gonna-be-redeemed, at least not in this go round. About once a month I remember a conversation I overheard about 10 years ago in a coffee shop. A man sitting at a nearby table said in a loud, cheerful voice, "Well, you know Bob, when his son didn't come home from Vietnam he started drinking pretty hard." I mean, how does one deal with a situation like that other than (1) start drinking pretty hard yourself or (2) write a sad song about it? This consciousness doesn't seem to permeate pop culture much these days, although the energetic tone that replaced it seems motivated in part by repressed anxiety. Does anybody do really good sad songs today? Cheers, FvB... posted by Friedrich at April 26, 2007 | perma-link | (42) comments

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DVD Journal: "Amelie"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I finally caught up with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 "Amelie." It's a French movie for people who prefer movie trailers to actual movies: an ad for itself, basically -- an overblown, synthetic collection of generic Froggyfilm high points, generic Froggyfilm Big Moments, and generic Froggyfilm swoopiness. In America -- where movies and their ad campaigns have been merging for years now -- we're semi-used to this. What's odd about watching "Amelie" is seeing this approach applied to the themes and tropes of traditional French entertainment -- quirky heroines, cigarettes, Montmartre, love, charm, food, accordion music. All that duly grumped-about, I also found "Amelie" surprisingly enjoyable. It's, y'know, a very effective and cheery 122-minute-long trailer-for-itself. Its overbright, pushed-up-against-the-screen approach may derive from rock videos and TV ads -- but (I found myself musing) perhaps that's the contemporary form of the musical comedy. And the film's tone of bittersweet, romantic rue isn't all that different than the tone of early Rene Clair. "Amelie" in fact is like an MTV remix of a Rene Clair movie. The film is also, as a production, a pretty stupendous piece of work. Good lord, the intricacy and scale of it! Entire Parisian blocks, entire train stations, and hordes of chic and picturesque extras were commandeered into service, and drilled into snapping-to with Rockettes-like precision. On the disc's commentary the full-of-himself, worldly, and amused Jeunet confides that he's a "control freak." I'll say he is. Which brings me to another thing. Like many of these new concept-over-content extravaganzas ("Run, Lola, Run," the Charlie Kaufman movies, "Moulin Rouge"), "Amelie" left me feeling buzzed but exhausted. There's something in me that can't help responding to what I imagine the circumstances of a film's production were like. In the case of "Amelie": All that energy ... All that stressful effort ... All that cleverness ... (I'm not a big fan of cleverness, myself.) How can the people involved in these movies get out of bed in the morning, facing the mountains of tricksily demanding work that they have assigned themselves? Every day must be the busiest, most head-achey day of their lives. I'd love to see easygoingness make a return as a value that movies peddle, and (even better) that audiences demand. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * We did it: Mencius is now blogging. Bookmark that sucka. * You have a Mac? So why aren't you podcasting? * Dani Rodrik wonders if the person who buys Fair Trade coffee is doing the world any good. * Steve Bodio thinks that the anti-gun team ought to do a little more research. * The history of architectural modernism in a very compact nutshell. (Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.) * Girish volunteers a list of new and newish movieblogs. * Cowtown Pattie rhapsodizes about one of her faves: the 1947 "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." Jon Hastings thinks that Kurosawa's "Red Beard" may be one of the greats. * I notice that MacWorld likes the writing program Scrivener as much as I do. * DarkoV -- who writes like a soulful comic poet -- visits Cincinnati and raves about the city. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Stuffy Vs. Po-Mo
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a couple of good postings, Right Reason's Max Goss notices a connection between consumerism and post-modernism. I pitched in with a comment that I'm allowing myself to gussy up and re-publish here. Two additions to your thoughts? One is that I've known kids with degrees in Theory (ie., French post-modernism) who have gone on to careers in advertising. They've all told me that academic po-mo is in fact pretty good preparation for advertising work. Makes sense to me. The other is ... Well, can I offer a little semi-praise for post-modernism? Not for its academic / Theoretical side, which really is pretty hideous. But for its looser, more informal-attitude side? Academic and establishment views of art prior to the '60s and '70s in America were awfully stuffy -- as in "sneering at movies and jazz" stuffy. These attitudes badly needed shaking up. A looser, more appreciative and open attitude towards our culture was long-overdue. American culture in particular is, after all, not a centralized Official Thing but a kind of makeshift patchwork. It's a hodgepodge, an ever-scruffy, eternal work-in-progress. And our artistic/cultural greatness, such as it is, often arises from folk, oddball, and commercial (not just high-minded) fields and activities. These seem -- to me at least -- to be self-evident facts. Short version: Any account of American art that pretends to be comprehensive and sensible yet that doesn't take into account jazz, the movies, automobile design, Chuck Jones, Bette Davis, and Bo Diddley is a joke, at least as far as I'm concerned. I was in school in the transition years (early '70s), and it was an odd time. On the one hand: played-out, drunken old New-Criticism farts. On the other: dynamic, exciting (but, alas, politically-driven) young Turks who wanted a total revolution. Basically, as far as I could tell, it was about a new generation of young and greedy academics who coveted the tenure that the drunken old farts were abusing. But for someone in the midst of it, it boiled down to a stark A-or-B choice: between blindly defending the old-style loftiness or joining the politically-motivated young careerists in overthrowing it and leveling everything out. The option I favored (don't throw out the stuffy old canon -- it's pretty neat in its own right -- but do open it hugely up) just wasn't available. Proud to say I took the sensible course of leaving academia and never looking back. Anyway, the experience left me wondering about America, and about how we always seem to be generating these polarized, no-win situations. There seems to be an in-the-genes drive in our life to turn everything into a pro wrestling contest. Why do we find it so hard to achieve balance? Why does it always have to be A vs. B? What do we have against A+B? Could it be that we have something against balance? My own guess at an answer to this question is that 1) we're culturally insecure -- we... posted by Michael at April 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ice Cream vs. Sherbet
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Eons ago -- call it 1950 -- I would bike over to the neighborhood over-the-counter grocery to buy myself a treat. For ten cents I could get a small (6-8 ounce) Dixie Cup of ... well, let me go through the process. The cardboard top had a little pull-tab. You would pinch the tab and then peel off the top. Then you'd take a peek at the under-side of the top because there would be a picture! Probably a picture the cowboy character Hopalong Cassidy as played by William Boyd. As the link explains, Hoppy became a huge hit on TV for a few years starting in 1949. So Hoppy stuff was everywhere, including the insides of Dixie Cup lids. The cup was filled about half-and-half with vanilla ice cream and orange sherbet. To view Bill Boyd in all his glory you first had to lick a film of ice cream and sherbet off the picture. The cups came with flat little wooden "spoons" so that the contents could be eaten. I found this indulgence lacking, but had to put up with it because there were few affordable alternatives. What was wrong? For one thing, I wasn't a Hopalong Cassidy fan. But my big problem was that orange sherbet. I felt I was being short-changed; an entire Dixie Cup full of vanilla ice cream would have been just swell. So I'd eat the vile, watery sherbet first, clearing the deck for the ice cream. I still don't care for sherbet. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Architecture & Morality's Corbusier watches a documentary about the recently-deceased economist Milton Friedman, and muses about Friedman's taste in homes. * The top ten naked people on Google Earth. * Is the word "slut" still an insult? Or has it flipped and become a term of endearment? (Both these links thanks to Daze Reader.) * The Man Who is Thursday takes a valuable look at different translations of Homer. Thursday's essay about art, taste, and politics is one of the most sensible I've ever read. * Here's a lose-yourself-in-it collection of commercial art by the legendary Robert McGinnis. (The site and collecting were all done by Graeme Flanagan, to whom I'd like to say Thank you.) Those over 45 will probably recognize a lot of McGinnis' work. He was responsible for some very famous movie posters -- "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a couple of Bond flicks -- as well as for many paperback book jackets for novels by John D. MacDonald. * Searchie recalls facing down a charge of racism. * A new Heritage Foundation study concludes that we may be spending $200 billion a year subsidizing our illegal-immigrant population. * Susan has been enjoying -- and giving a lot of thought to -- Flann O'Brien's wonderful comic novel "At Swim-Two-Birds" (here, here, here). * A student at Brooklyn Law School has stripped for Playboy. Will it affect her career chances, at least so far as the law goes? "I'm not that shy," she says at one point in a NSFW video. No kidding. Brian Sorgatz applauds her boldness. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Putting Duke in Perspective
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an appalling recent crime that puts the Duke brouhaha in perspective. How strange that the media establishment should devote oceans of coverage to something that never actually happened while pretty much ignoring an atrocity as horrifying as this one. Hey, here's another awful crime that also didn't get nationwide -- let alone Duke-scale -- attention. How to explain what strikes me at least as a really perplexing lack of perspective? I guess the general respectable-society feeling is along the lines of "black people do this kind of thing all the time, so it isn't 'newsworthy,' and besides we have decided as a society to cut black people a lot of slack, at least so far as how we talk about them goes, so mainstream people should simply ignore these kinds of crimes," or something. Given what a dramatic role the web and blogs have played in opening up certain discussions that were looooooong overdue for opening-up -- immigration policy, how full-of-it much contempo art is, etc. -- I find it bizarre that the "black people commit 'way too much of the violent crime that gets committed in the U.S." discussion is still under wraps. Don't you? So far the topic seems largely confined to white-nationalist sites, where hosts and visitors often wish black people ill. Yucko to that. I wonder why the topic is so danced-around by respectable people. Is it really that much more dicey a topic than all others? Perhaps it is. Perhaps as a society we've made "a concern for the feelings and self-esteem of black people" symbolic of "good intentions" generally. Perhaps we've talked ourselves into believing that saying something like "Good lord, did you know that a black American is 39 times more likely to physically harm a white American than vice versa?" isn't a statement of humane concern but is instead a sign that the speaker is a miserable and undeserving human being. (Here are some more startling broken-down-by-race American crime facts. Be warned: This document is lodged at a white-nationalist site. Two quick points about that: 1) To my knowledge, the facts contained in this document have never been seriously challenged. And 2) There's no place else where one can find these facts out. This is because respectable organizations -- the government, the foundations, the press -- simply refuse to examine and present these numbers. Which makes me at least wonder: If those who are curious about such facts wind up poking around sites they'd otherwise avoid, isn't this really the fault of the establishment that has suppressed the facts in the first place?) If it's true that we have collectively decided that it's a mark of decency to avoid these topics ... Well, it seems to me like such a bad convention / expectation / policy. As well as a destructive one. It's a terrible disservice to the facts of the matter, as well as an insult to well-meaning people of all races. How is... posted by Michael at April 24, 2007 | perma-link | (91) comments

Monday, April 23, 2007

Seattle's New Sculpture Park
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The red, dinosaur-like object on the left that looks like it's about to attack the Space Needle over to the right is actually an eagle. Well, "Eagle" is the title of the 1971 Alexander Calder sculpture you're looking at. It was donated to Seattle's new Olympic Sculpture Park (a branch of the Seattle Art Museum) by Jon Shirley, retired Microsoft president, and his wife, Mary. The sculpture park opened in January, not without its share of controversy. Perhaps the most contentious item was the fact that the park wiped out the trolly barn for Seattle's popular waterfront trolly line featuring antique rolling stock from Australia. Until a new barn gets built, trolly riders get the thrill of a free transit bus ride along Alaskan Way and the docks. The site was difficult in that it straddles three sets of railroad tracks and is partly on a hillside and partly on the shore of Elliott Bay. Setting aside the trolly barn issue, my judgment is that the landscaping works pretty well. This is because, when the sky is clear and the Olympic Mountains are visible, visitors get a fine view. As for the sculpture, it's Modernist Establishment pretty much to the core. Let's take a look at some other pictures I took last month. Gallery The setting This is looking north along the Elliott Bay shore. Behind the people in the upper-right are the railroad tracks. Enjoying the view Across Puget Sound are the Olympic Mountains -- in a National Park. Sky Landscape I - Louise Nevelson, 1983 Oh, yeah. The sculpture. I'll show a few starting with this Nevelson. Typewriter Eraser, Scale X - Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 1998-99 My guess is that it isn't functional. And it's low-tech. Coming next, a giant Delete button. Love & Loss - Roy McMakin, 2005 Below the ampersand, in white, are the other letters in the title. Tom Wolfe was right -- this "art" is literally writing. Wake -Richard Serra, 2004 According to the Seattle Times, this weighs 300 tons and measures 125 by 46 feet. Something familiar Ah, a human figure growing out of sculpted stone ... how interesting! Oops. It's not in the Olympic Sculpture Park. I took this photo by an entrance to Vienna's Stadtpark last fall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 23, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Mencius Vision
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Like many people who visit these parts, I've been fascinated and amused by the comments-fest contributions of the visitor who calls himself Mencius. What a buzzy brain! What a cheery -- if cheerily bleak -- spirit! Threading my way through his comments, I feel both bewildered and exhilarated, a little like I do when I read the offbeat sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. When someone's on this kind of high, why not find out a bit more about him? So I contacted Mencius and coaxed out of him first some personal info, and then a blog-contribution. The personal details first: He goes by the complete handle Mencius Moldbug. Having made a score in a recent dot-com boom -- though "I only made out like a thief, not like a bandit," he writes -- he has been treating himself to a sabbatical, reading, thinking, and writing. He confesses that his monthly book bill is around $500. In his own words: Mencius Moldbug lives in San Francisco, where he is temporarily retired from the software industry. His principal occupations are feeding ravens, reading old books, and working on his programming language, which will be done any year now. You can contact him at And what a distinctive point of view Mencius has cooked up for himself. Neither right nor left, it's its own out-of-the-mainstream thing. Everything seems to connect and make sense. Yet it's sense of such a -- to me, anyway -- unfamiliar kind. I recognize a lot of Ludwig von Mises in there. And -- since I happen to have read a bit of the actual Mencius, a big star in the Confucian tradition -- I assume that there's some concern-for-social-order Confucianism a-boil in the background too. But as for the rest ... I asked Mencius if he'd like to spell his point of view out a bit more clearly for me and for our interested audience. Bingo. He responded very generously. By popular demand, here's Mencius: A Formalist Manifesto The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology. What? I mean, am I crazy or something? First of all, you can't just build an ideology. They're handed down across the centuries, like lasagna recipes. They need to age, like bourbon. You can't just drink it straight out of the radiator. And look what happens if you try. What causes all the problems of the world? Ideology, that's what. What do Bush and Osama have in common? They're both ideological nutcases. We're supposed to need more of this? Furthermore, it's simply not possible to build a new ideology. People have been talking about ideology since Jesus was a little boy. At least! And I'm supposedly going to improve on this? Some random person on the Internet, who flunked out of grad school, who doesn't know Greek or Latin? Who do I think I am, Wallace Shawn? All excellent objections. Let's answer them and then... posted by Michael at April 22, 2007 | perma-link | (52) comments

Sexes and Plates
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still unpacking boxes from our move to Seattle. The process is more tedious than demanding and I have time to think -- sometimes about what I notice while unpacking. Today I'm thinking about dishes. For instance, I find that I've created a stack of 16 dinner plates with winter decorations around the rims. The glazing is green and the subject is alternating reindeer and fir trees. Sixteen plates. That take up a fair amount of cupboard space. That might be used three times a year at best. Simple male that I am, I'm thinking: Why not just use regular plates and trick things up for the holidays using seasonal paper napkins and table decorations? But apparently my wife finds a special plate collection to be much more appropriate. Another item. My wife is a total pushover for floral decorations on clothing, vases, plates -- you name it. Consequently, nearly all the china I find myself unpacking (those seasonal plates excepted) have flowers all over them. Me, I'm ignorant of and indifferent to flowers even though my mother was a gardner. Were I choosing plates, I'd get very simple decorations. Perhaps only a colored band along the rim or maybe a half-inch wide design or pattern near the rim. Is this too a male-female thing or simply another instance of personal tastes? I suspect sex is a factor. But I have no research grant to fund a study regarding this matter of vital importance. I don't even have a classroom full of college sophomores to survey. I do, however, have a fine blog readership that Michael has cultivated over the past nearly five years. So if you think that, once again, I'm all wet, let the comments rip. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 22, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, April 20, 2007

Left? Or Right?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dept. of It's a Funny World: According to Christopher Hitchens, many of France's Communist Party members have defected -- straight over to Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme right-wing National Front party. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Amazing what miracles a cheapo computer paint program can be made to perform. * CyndiF links to some tasty foodblogs. * Michael Bierut raves about the new typeface documentary "Helvetica," and recalls those long-ago days when civilians knew nothing about fonts. * Alan Little observes how yoga people dress, and thinks yogis need to beware of inexperienced yoga teachers. A lovely -- and sensible -- passage: I've been though a lot of challenges and changes in [the decade during which I've studied yoga], and my yoga practice has been a thread of continuity and sanity through all of them. I've been content and inwardly at peace with myself for the first time ever in my life, largely due to the yoga. Why on earth would I consider trusting my valuable practice time to somebody who hasn't themself been through something at least vaguely similar? * Robert Nagle is one serious fan of sitcoms. * Those addicted-to (or just befuddled by) libertarianism -- and isn't it astonishing how much space libertarianism takes up online? -- won't want to miss this interview with Llewellyn Rockwell. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

A New Class of Writing Tools for the Mac
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There isn't much that'll prod me into acting all unpleasant and snobby, but a few minutes with Microsoft Word will do the trick. All due respect to those who like it as well as to those who have no choice but to use it, of course. Still: what an unhelpful beast I find it to be. The picky writer in me is beyond-offended. I rise up and say, huffily: "Why, that's not a tool for real writers. It's a program for the creation of" -- patooie -- "business documents." To be fair, my dislike of Word has a lot to do with the word processor category generally. I wrote back here about how much I dislike conventional word processors. (I notice that I cracked a few decent jokes and ventured a couple of potentially-amusing thoughts about writing too.) Short version: I find word processors to be unsatisfying compromises. Half text-slinging tools, half page-layout programs, they aren't particularly good at either task. And Microsoft Word compounds the basic conceptual problem with the usual Microsoft featuritis. God ... Word really does make me turn up my nose. In my previous posting, I extolled a couple of non-word-processor writing tools that I was then finding helpful in a sympathetic-to-real-writing kind of way. That was a few years ago, though, and those tools have since been superseded by yet better writer's tools -- by a whole new class of software, in fact. Since many people may not be aware of these new and newish programs, why not yak about 'em a bit and pass along a few links? My taste in writer's tools has first to do with something very basic and rooted in temperament. For some people, pulling together a piece of to-be-published material is a matter of integrating imagery, graphics, words, and editorial concepts. That's where they start, juggling all those different media elements. Dave Eggers and Chip Kidd, for example, are famous for composing their books -- right from the outset -- in page-layout programs. This approach makes sense for Eggers and Kidd because layout and design are so integral to how they think and work, as well as to what they want to produce. The Wife is someone else who likes seeing her writing in a page-layout sense as she's composing. She says it helps her bring her writing to life. I'm not like that. I'm a words-first kinda guy. Incidentally, this isn't to put people who aren't words-firsty down. I often I wish I shared their kind of talent-set and temperament-set. I love artist's notebooks and sketchbooks, for instance -- they're some of my favorite books. The combo of jotting, sketching, notes-to-self, captions, diary entries, watercolors, etc., can make my head spin in pleasure. I feel like I'm experiencing someone else's perceptual apparatus, and in a nice way. Unfortunately, working in such a way doesn't seem to be in the cards for me. No, when I want to pull together a piece of... posted by Michael at April 20, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Computer-Writing Bliss
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a great deal on some first-class writing tools: For the rest of today, Mariner Software is selling Avenir and MacJournal together for just $49.95. That's a fabulous price for two programs that I can recommend enthusiastically. MacJournal is a convenient way to maintain diaries and logs: I keep track of exercise in one journal, and of day-to-day activities, such as they are, in another. ("Monday: Blogged some. Tuesday: Blogged some more ...") But MacJournal will support many, many different journals. If you picture it as enabling you to create a bookshelf full of notebooks, you're in the ballpark. Avenir (brilliantly designed and constructed by Todd Ransom) is far more ambitious -- a suite of writing tools sleekly bundled together into one consistent and easy-to-understand environment. It's for determined writers undertaking larger-scaled writing projects: stories, articles, screenplays, books. Stash your research in it, develop your characters in it, fiddle with your outlines, keep heaps of notes, and do the actual writing in it too. (At the end of the process, you'll probably want to export the results to a word processor or page-layout program for final visual styling.) Given the rich array of functions it offers, Avenir is amazingly usable -- I was up and running in about 20 minutes. It's quite a treat to be able to manage an entire writing project in one program, and in one file. Compare that to the way writers usually get by: jumping between multiple programs, clicking between files-within-folders-within-folders ... In any case, writers with sizable projects may find, as I have, that Avenir represents as big a step forward over word processors as word processors did over typewriters. I'll be returning to the topic of writing suites in a bit; there are a number of other good ones out there in addition to Avenir. But I didn't want to let this opportunity at a bargain slip by without letting other people know about it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

According to Alan Rich ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The promising -- and much-needed -- new blog FineArtsLA interviews the classical music critic Alan Rich. At 82, Rich is in a what-have-I-got-to-lose? mood. LA is on its way up, New York ought to tear down Avery Fisher Hall (right on!), academics are too infatuated by Theory, and classical music may only have a few good years left in it. (Link thanks to George Wallace.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

For Altman Buffs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although the film director Robert Altman died a short while ago, Altman fans have a few new (or new-old, or newish) Altman treats in store anyway. * Altman's 1974 "Thieves Like Us" (from a first-class novel by Edward Anderson) has just become available on DVD. One of the least well-known of Altman's movies from his great '70s period, "Thieves" is small-scale, atmospheric, and gorgeous. (It's also one of my all-time favorite movies.) Although a Depression-era-set gangster movie, in feeling, tone and approach it has more in common with such patient, unwinding-naturally-through-time neorealist works as Jean Renoir's "Toni" and Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali" than it does with anything pile-driving and hard-hitting like "Little Caesar" or "Scarface." I once took a young friend to see "Thieves Like Us" at a New York revival in the 1980s; he was amazed that such a quiet, rich, and unhurried movie had ever been made in America. Carradine and Duvall inhabit the rural South The film has always been hard to find. Despite good reviews, it received a very small-scale initial release, and by the 1980s it had been all but forgotten. Over the years a few editions of the movie came and went, barely-noticed, on videocassette. But this is the first time that it has been issued on DVD. (I think it is, anyway. Please correct me if I'm wrong.) Though I'm sorry to see that the disc seems to have no extras, the price on it is very good. "Thieves Like Us" is a wonderful and very sensual movie, featuring an inspired (as well as an appropriately raw-boned and eccentric) cast of Altman finds and regulars: Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, Louise Fletcher, Bert Remsen, and John Schuck. Gould emerges from the Pacific in "The Long Goodbye" * On the occasion of a revival of Altman's 1973 "The Long Goodbye" at New York's Film Forum, the Village Voice's J. Hoberman recalls the early '70s years when Elliott Gould was king. (Altman's movie was a series of essayistic riffs on Raymond Chandler's luscious late-period detective novel, starring Gould as a very unlikely Philip Marlowe.) Although Hoberman spoke with Gould (who is now almost 70) for his piece, what he wrote is more nostalgic film criticism than a feature article. Still, it's also a vivid flash back to a very different movie era. I confess that I was such an unworldly rube at the time that I barely registered that Gould was/is Jewish. Hoberman makes Gould's Jewishness the backbone of his article, though, even referring to the era (during which Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, and Mel Brooks also emerged) as Hollywood's "Jew Wave." Interesting to read too that working with Ingmar Bergman on "The Touch" nearly drove Gould crazy. Literally crazy: He didn't work for 18 months after filming "The Touch," and when his name was floated for "The Long Goodbye" the studio demanded proof from docs that Gould was sane before they let him be hired. Those who can't make... posted by Michael at April 19, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crime Writing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bruce Grossman raves about novels by Charles Willeford, David Goodis, and Elmore Leonard. All three are among my own crime-writing favorites. Folks who casually assume that genre writing doesn't offer a lot of brilliance or much writin'-writing pleasure are in for some surprises if they try these guys. Between you and me, in my personal art-cosmos all three rate as entertainer/artists on a par with Duke Ellington, Ruth Brown, Count Basie, the Cord automobile, Robert Siodmak, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Cary Grant, Margaret Sullavan, and the Chrysler Building. Ie., they're among the very best that American culture has to offer. But let's keep that between us, OK? I wouldn't want the wrath of the Official Lit Set descending on me. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to jult52 for linking to this great Elmore Leonard 10 Rules of Writing. Read; memorize. You can now skip creative-writing school.... posted by Michael at April 18, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer links to a daring and frank piece about race, sports, and politics by AOL's Jason Whitlock. Whitlock's column starts with "I'm calling for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, the president and vice president of Black America, to step down" -- and then it gets even better. * Yahmdallah enjoyed "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." Nice quote: "But then I like self-referential movies that break the fourth wall. When it's done well, as it is here, it actually sinks me deeper into the movie because it feels like I'm in on the joke." * Cubs fans (and visual-arts fans) have a treat in store: Tim Souers' Cubby Blue, a mostly-visual blog by a gifted illustrator who loves his Chicago ball team. I think what I like best about Tim's art (and blog) is the way he makes the high-spirited, the sweet-natured, and the mischievous coexist. That's fandom at its best, IMHO. * Book-writers (and book-writer wannbes) owe it to themselves to read this NYTimes snapshot of the London Book Fair. That's book publishing, kids. * Have you ever wondered how tall female sex symbols and male daredevils tend to be? Agnostic has done the research. * John Massengale argues that -- while the chic set is enraptured with Theory -- the New Urbanism has arisen out of a respect for experience. * Kellogg, Idaho native Raymond Pert crafts a list asking "How Kellogg are you?" It's very evocative. I liked #13 best: "If you ever got to go to a big city, you explored it by going bowling." * Although ChelseaGirl and the b.f. have reached a bit of an impasse, CG will be reading some of her brainy and sexy prose tonight at Rachel Kramer Bussell's "In the Flesh" reading series. * Patrick Buchanan looks beyond the Wolfowitz scandals and calls for the World Bank to be shut down. Nice passage: Why, when the government is deeper in debt than ever in our history, is this Congress borrowing billions every year to send to the least competent, most corrupt regimes on earth? Why has the World Bank not been shut down, its 10,000 overpaid employees dismissed -- or the whole thing deeded over to Beijing or Tokyo? Let them play world banker to deadbeat nations. They've got the money. We don't anymore. * Two scholars are doing their impressive best to turn public debate into something as undignified as a pro wrestling match. * There isn't much that's more amusing than inadvertent sexual humor pulled from old comic book panels. Batman and Robin always seem to be prominent in these collections, don't they? * A new study concludes that women in traditional marriages are happier than women in modern-style marriages. Mark Richardson comments. * There must be a movie in this. * Tom Philpott thinks that ethanol is one big scam. What could our elites be up to, Tom asks, "beyond rigging public policy (and raiding the public purse) to generate huge... posted by Michael at April 18, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Warhol and Worthiness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I recently spent a few days in Pittsburgh where -- with the help of a group of talented and rowdy local actors -- we presented some of our co-written erotic fiction. The reading went well, thanks, and it was a treat meeting and comparing notes with some of Pittsburgh's young-and-creative set. The Wife and I were both struck by what a cool city Pittsburgh has become. (The locals tell us that this turnaround has taken place very recently -- in only the last five or six years.) The old-industrial-powerhouse basics of the city are great: lots of working-class brawniness and pride, and some impressively quiet and spacious, old-tycoonish stretches too. The city is blessed with mucho in the way of geographical variety -- hills, rivers, cliffs -- and is crammed with tons of character-filled neighborhoods, and an amazing stock of gorgeous old commercial buildings and houses. As well as -- of particular interest to Offbeat Us -- a couple of fizzy boho neighborhoods. It's great that housing prices are modest too. An offbeat, slacker-ish person, in other words, could lead a swell life in Pittsburgh. Small musing: As The Wife and I have visited cities in our quest for world erotic-fiction domination, we've often been struck by a big difference between now and when we were setting out. Back in the day, there simply weren't many American cities with lively boho and creative scenes. If that was the kind of life you wanted to lead, you had a very restricted set of places where you might settle. These days, wowee. The damnedest cities turn out to be home to crackling scenes inhabited by sweetly nutty people you can have crazy-fun conversations with. This is a great development, of course -- may a thousand flowers bloom. Do we owe it entirely to the decentralizing effects of the internet? I blogged here about how wonderful it is that we're beginning to see young films and young film-talent arising from places like, well, Pittsburgh. But this discovery has also left The Wife and me stealing shy glances at each other. After all, if it's possible to lead a rewarding creative life in a cheap and friendly place like Pittsburgh -- where people are welcoming, where the scale is human, and where intellectual pretentions don't weigh as heavily as they do in NYC -- then why are the two of us putting up with the trials of life in the Really, Really Big City? Maybe the time has come to move. Too bad I still have a few years to go before I can cash in the micro-pension I've worked so long for ... Anyway, a couple of highlights of our Pittsburgh trip occurred during a pilgramage to the Andy Warhol Museum. Worth doing, I guess, though I say that without much enthusiasm. (I blogged about Warhol here.) Surrounded by his paintings, what mostly struck me was how Warhol's art turns a gallery or a... posted by Michael at April 18, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Picturing Carmel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- About a year ago in my post Carmel Has Gone to the Dogs I poked fun at Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Dogs aside, Carmel is an interesting place to visit. Or even live, if you can spare more than a million bucks to buy a house. It has been an artist colony for the last century (Robinson Jeffers, Edward Weston, auteur Clint Eastwood, etc.) and these days seems to have almost as many art galleries as it does pooches. To atone for my doggie post, I offer you the following photo essay on Carmel. Gallery Although Carmel is already almost terminally quaint, with a little strolling you can stumble across buildings that represent quaintness-on-steroids: "storybook style" architecture. Even dwellings can be pretty quaint, though not many equal these. Ah Carmel! Interesting tree. Silver Bentley (parked curbside, no less -- brave owner!). And the KRML radio studio. It's all-jazz, befitting this jazz-festival-holding neck of the woods. Carmel can be whimsical, too. This shows a sign above the entrance to an underground parking garage. And as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell to quaint little Carmel-by-the-Sea, its charmingly affluent natives and the dogs they worship. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 17, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

What Kind of Helicopter?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few irresistable YouTube links courtesy of Charlton Griffin: * Here's a very endearing blooper. Nice to know that the MSNBC gal-reporter was enjoying a pleasant on-the-job daydream ... * Young men will perfect the most amazing -- and amazingly useless -- skills, won't they? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of lifts from the excellent Anne Thompson: * Here's an interesting Variety article about how the craft of movie acting is being affected by the changeover to digital technology. Short version: Some people believe we're witnessing the biggest shift in movie acting since the deveopment of The Method in the 1940s and '50s. I wrote a blogposting about The Method back here. * We all know what an absurd enterprise feature-film-making often is. Still, it can be startling to encounter hard facts. This L.A. Times piece by Glenn Bunting about the making of 2005's "Sahara" -- one of the biggest commercial disasters ever (it has lost around $100 million) -- made even my jaded old eyebrows raise a bit. $2 million for a plane-crash scene that wasn't included in the finished movie. An $8 million paycheck to Michael McConaughey. A cast-and-crew totaling 1000 people. A screenwriter-roster of ten people -- fun to see that David S. ("The Sting") Ward was among them. A bribery budget -- Morocco, you know -- of almost a quarter of a million dollars. The article's best detail is saved for last: "The production firm owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz got $20.4 million in government incentives to film and edit parts of 'Sahara' in Europe." Talk about government subsidies to the arts! * I kinda enjoyed Mel Gibson's 1997 film "Payback." Adapted from the same Donald Westlake novel that inspired 1969's legendary John Boorman / Lee Marvin "Point Blank," it was no-nonsense action absurdism with a gritty look, a lot of twisty velocity, and a cast of juicy actors playing brutal, far-out, sexy, and hard-bitten characters. DVD Spin Doctor brings news that "Payback" was in fact a tampered-with film. The studio took it away from its director (Brian Helgeland), subjected it to reshoots, and gave it a different third act than what Gibson and Helgeland had intended. DVD Spin Doctor also reports that a Mel-and-Brian-approved Director's Cut of the film has just been released on DVD. I'll be renting it. * I raved about Donald Westlake (and many others) back here. To be honest, I think Westlake isn't just one of the best book-fiction writers alive, I think he's a genius. Newsweek's Malcolm Jones reports that Irish lit-fict eminence John Banville considers Westlake one of the "great writers of the 20th century." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

England R.I.P.?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer reviews a new Bryan Sykes book that -- using genetic evidence -- claims that the British Isles have been far more racially homogeneous than is usually thought, and for at least 6000 years. * It appears that 85% of London's gun-crime suspects are black. * Meanwhile, a recent study shows that nearly half of all black children in England are now being raised by single parents. * Tony Blair has gotten people in a tizzy because he has blamed a lot of crime on aspects of black culture. According to the Guardian, Blair "said people had to drop their political correctness and recognise that the violence would not be stopped 'by pretending it is not young black kids doing it'." * Is the England of Olde already dead? John Derbyshire and Rick Darby both think so. My own musing: When will our silly, trendy elites finally learn that "diversity" isn't everywhere, always, and automatically a good thing? Incidentally, I like the fact that the world is a racially / ethnically / whateverly diverse place. Cool! Fun! I also like living in a diverse neck of the woods myself, a lot of bother though it often is. But I can't for the life of me understand why any of that should mean that all our micro-institutions and micro-places should be put under moral and political pressure to be as racially diverse as the world itself is. Boring! Not to mention "granting far much too much credence and authority to the diversity-crats." Besides, wouldn't such a policy pursued to its conclusion in fact ensure homogeneity, not diversity? Should Tibet, for example, be made as "diverse" as England's elites seem to want England to be? If the diversity crowd had their way, no matter where you'd go you'd find the same humanity-slush. So what I finally find myself wondering is: Do the propagandists for diversity in fact want to destroy real diversity? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2007 | perma-link | (61) comments

Monday, April 16, 2007

Are Captions Harmful?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Boston's Isabella Stuart Gardner (1840-1924) could be eccentric and opinionated. But she easily got away with it because she had gobs of money. Her legacy is the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum (also see here) in the Fenway area not far from the Museum of Fine Arts. Gardner was able to ironclad (how's that for making a verb from an adjective, folks!) things so that all works had to remain placed as she had dictated. Moreover, if a work had no caption, no future captioning would be allowed. I can't find a link to support this (sorry!), but I did read someplace that Gardner believed that captions could distract from the viewing and appreciation experience. So, while most works have information plaques, some do not in order to force viewers to appreciate art unaided. I was ignorant of this when I visited the museum a few years ago. I became puzzled and a little frustrated when I couldn't even find out who painted a painting and when it was done. [Pause for reflection] In theory I'm inclined to agree with her. When I'm zipping through the Louvre or any museum with more than half a dozen galleries, I tend to glance at the caption plaques to catch the name of the artist. So if I see "Umbriago"* rather than "Tiepolo," I'm likely to keep on zipping. It's brand-consiousness: an Aston-Martin versus Daewoo thing. (What I just described does not mean that I never pay attention to works by artists I'm not familiar with. A really stunning painting can indeed grab my attention. But it does have to be literally "stunning.") If Gardner thought this focus on the artist distracted from focusing on the merits of the work, then she was right if my behavior is any guide. On the other hand, when there is nothing said about a painting and it's one that I think merits further attention, I would have no way of discovering more unless a museum guard or gallery guide was there to help. Frustrating! (Did I mention that I hate frustration?) So I think there ought to be a caption for each work with name-rank-serial number type stuff: basic facts. Or, failing that, a small guide sheet listing what's on each gallery wall for reference. What can be safely dispensed with are extended captions -- especially interpretive ones. These run a strong risk of imposing invalid concepts in the minds of viewers. This potential for danger is more acute nowadays than in the past thanks to the politicization of the arts and intellectual fads such as deconstructionism in art criticism. See Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters for examples of this. Such styles of criticism tend to impute meanings to paintings that might never have occurred to the artist. Not that the artist even needed to know. After all, he was little more than an puppet of the culture and power structure of his time, the theories usually contend. I... posted by Donald at April 16, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Moleskine Videos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Showing off what you've done in your Moleskine sketchbook seems to have become a YouTube genre of its own. This guy has some serious drawing chops. I love this guy's illustration-style images. I wish I could draw like this guy, or paint like this gal. MattiasA is quite a talent. Here's his blog; it's a sketchbook in its own right, and it's full of whimsy and sophistication. His visit to a fondue restaurant gave me a good case of the giggles. Buy your own Moleskine notebooks here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 16, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

The Hunting and Gathering Instinct, New-Media Edition
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm a little bleary today from too much time spent surfing YouTube last night. Sigh: The male instinct to track down and drag home game is a powerful force that drives us to do a lot of dumb things. Still, I made a few finds! * Leaping shampoo! * Gay dolphins! * Kinky kitty! * The subtext of car-dealership TV ads finally rises to the surface! (NSFW for language.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 16, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Symmetry Preferences
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey gang! It's personality-testing time here at 2Blowhards!! I have no idea whether psychologists, pop or otherwise, have done such a thing as I'm proposing below. Moreover, I don't care. Since this is an arts (among other things) blog, I've concocted a visual test. All I ask is that you introspect briefly and decide if you prefer symmetrical architecture to asymmetrical or vice-versa. Here are examples: Symmetrical Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park. Asymmetrical Hill House, Scotland by Mackintosh. Okay? Figured it out? Because we live in an esteem-building, non-threatening age while at the same time favor free expression and candor, I offer the following: If you lean towards Symmetry, you are either... solidly-grounded and organized rigidly compulsive If you prefer Asymmetry, you are either... flexible and open-minded a disorganized mess So there you are! Happy to be of service. Enough fun. I imagine most readers really do have a general preference, though I have no idea if the root is personality or something else -- it's difficult to tease out and probably not very important. I happen to prefer asymmetrical architecture. Symmetry and classical, axis-based planning schemes strike me as being slightly cold. Or perhaps unnatural. I think that, in general, asymmetric shapes better reflect the functions of interior rooms better than symmetrical buildings where interiors are more likely to be contrived to conform to the exterior. And from an evolutionary standpoint, aside from living things that move about, the appearance of symmetry is essentially absent. Therefore I suspect that, down deep, we feel something is "wrong" when confronted by symmetrical, non-movable objects such as buildings. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 15, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Duke / Imus
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Imus ... The Duke case ... There's something that's just too damn coincidental about it all, isn't there? Fred Wickham solves the mystery. Doug Anderson brings a distinctive p-o-v to bear on the Imus brouhaha. Fine passage: I am raising a black son with my black significant other. I would hope that if, 11 or 12 years from now, he is a football player for a college ball team and some radio jock calls his team "a bunch of nappy-headed pimps" I would hope that my son would not go on national television, weepy and mournful, and saying that the comments will hurt and scar him for the rest of his life. I would feel like a failure as a father. I would hope that my son would laugh at the stupid shock-jock and scold his listeners for emulating such a jerk to a place of prominence in American media life. I think Doug may mean "elevating" instead of "emulating," but he's still making a great point. Interesting to learn from the AP that some legal experts think that the wrongfully-accused Duke lacrosse players may be allowed to bring suit against asshole Durham County DA Mike Nifong. Best, Michael UPDATE: Michelle Malkin compares Imus' faux pas with the lyrics of today's three top rap songs.... posted by Michael at April 15, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Whisky Prajer considers the case of geezer-rockers. * Dr. Weevil gives a class on the gruesome ancient-Athenian practice of "planking." * YouTube star Lasse Gjertson goes interactive. * The week's best movie premise. * I love the droll nonchalance of this Berkeley a capella singing group. (NSFW for language.) * On her 63rd birthday, Mary Lee Fowler hears her father's voice for the very first time. * Cowtown Pattie tells a tale of when her dad was a cop. It's a sad-sweet-funny charmer, as Pattie's tales so often are. But in this case an extra-special Bloggy goes out to her for using the word "hoosegow." More bloggers ought to use the word "hoosegow." * Pattie's story appears on a new blog organized by "elderblogger" Ronni Bennett. Ronni has had the wonderful idea of creating a place where people over 50 can come and swap stories. Go and enjoy. Ronni does her own blogging here. * Here's a handy new web tool: Mux. Have you just watched a webvideo that you'd like to save a personal copy of? Paste its URL into Mux, and it'll convert the file for you. * Jon Hastings enjoyed John le Carre's recent spy thriller "Absolute Friends" but wasn't crazy about Robert De Niro's movie "The Good Shepherd." * Baltimore Snacker is a person who loves to eat, but he's also a person who loves movies about zombies who love to eat people. Life can be funny. * Architect Philip Bess lists 50 reasons why ballparks built in the early 20th century are / were better than today's ballparks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 15, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, April 13, 2007

Displaying Two-Ton Objects
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Saturday, right before the flu nailed me, I finally got around to visiting the Blackhawk Automotive Museum in Danville, southeast of San Francisco. Blackhawk Automotive Museum This car museum is luxurious, unlike many. I visited Bill Harrah's famous collection in Sparks, Nevada back in the 70s where most of the cars were lined up in rows in warehouses. So how does a museum go about displaying automobiles? They can weigh two or more tons apiece and require at a minimum roughly a 10x20 foot area to occupy. And if they're valuable (as is mostly the case), there has to be some form of separation from spectators; can't have people hopping in, trying the driving position and perhaps snitching an item, as happens at automobile shows. As mentioned, the Harrah collection was mostly pretty basic. To accommodate the cars, they were lined up side-to-side and 90 degrees to the aisle. Museums with a little more spare space sometimes choose to echelon the cars. Sometimes cars are positioned nose to tail. And there are other possibilities, as I'll show below. The ideal, in my judgment, is to have cars well-separated so that spectators can do a walk-around. But most museums don't have the space to allow this. The result is that it can be hard to fully appreciate what's being seen. Gallery Schlumpf Collection - Mulhouse, France I've never visited this fancy museum, but would like to. Note all the Bugattis in the photo. Also note the fancy "street-lighting" and the lack of velvet ropes or other visitor barriers -- hard to believe that's museum policy. The cars are in rows, however. National Automobile Museum, Reno This is a fairly typical display area in the successor to the Harrah Collection. Cars are nose-to-tail, but to the right (hidden by the Tucker) they face the visitor track. National Automobile Museum, Reno Outside the display halls are faux streets, one to an automotive era. No viewer barriers, but the cars displayed in the "streets" weren't the most valuable in the collection. A nice aspect of this sort of display is that cars are in a "natural environment. Talbot-Lago at Blackhawk Museum The Blackhawk Museum chooses to display cars as art-objects. The walls and ceilings of the display halls are black, as is the stone floor, while the cars are spot-lighted. The effect is akin to a Cartier window display. Bucciali TAV- 8, 1930 The Blackhawk Museum tends to display rare, valuable cars, often previous winners of the Pebble Beach Concours. This Bucciali is rare indeed. The chassis to the right is that of the 16-cylinder model that was never built. The motor is a gorgeous mock-up. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Alexandra and Jim Blog Again
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to see that two blogging pioneers are blogging again. At Out of Lascaux, Alexandra made smart and freewheeling observations about art, and gave wonderful short art-history lessons. As one of the very first -- if not the very first -- culturebloggers, she paved the way for the rest of us, wrote with a lot of personality, and was always one of my favorite blog-addictions. I see that she has now taken up an interest in quilting. What fun: I'll be learning a little something about a great artform I know less than zilch about. Right Reason's Max Goss points out that Jim Ryan is blogging once again too. I started reading Jim's Philosoblog at about the same time that I discovered Out of Lascaux. Both weren't just delights but inspirations -- they helped me realize that real people could use blogs to be direct about what they had to say. Don't laugh: Only four or five years ago, blogging still seemed like an outlandish and dicey new development. Alexandra and Jim deserve lots of credit for, along with their other virtues, audacity and guts. Anyway, Jim combines brains and common sense in a way that I find hard to resist. He's a former philosophy professor who is also, and miraculously, a down-to-earth and intellectually generous guy. Michael Blowhard sez "Go visit! You'll get to know some lovely and insightful minds." Slightly off-topic, Michael Blowhard also sez "Go read this fab piece by Roger Scruton!" It's a response to the Richard Dawkinses of the world, and an attempt to make the case for religion. I think it's pretty brilliant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Moviegoing: "Black Book"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fast posting to take note of the fact that I enjoyed watching Paul Verhoeven's WWII thriller "Black Book," which is currently in theaters. The film centers on a Dutch-Jewish woman in the closing days of WWII, and is basically a thriller for adults. It has plenty of scares, surprises, twists, and chills, as well as a big cast of good guyz and bad guyz. But it has a surprising amount of depth, moral ambiguity, and complexity too. The film is an interesting challenge to digest. My impression is that we're used to adult thrillers being low-key -- detailed, thoughtful, and novelistic. I wrote here about "Enigma," an excellent WWII thriller scripted by Tom Stoppard and directed by Michael Apted; it's very much in the quiet, literary mode. "Black Book" surprises because there's nothing bookish about it. Instead, it's done in Verhoeven's usual intense, melodramatic, movie-movie way. This description may make the film sound less appetizing than it is, but Verhoeven -- a Dutchman who had worked in Hollywood for 20 years (often in action or sci-fi) before returning to the Netherlands to make "Black Book" -- seems to have wanted with this film to blend "Schindler's List" with a Garbo espionage thriller. It's like a Hollywood version of a large-scale foreign film, in other words. Some people might wince -- and apparently some critics have, finding the film over-the-top, artificial, even laughable. FWIW, I thought the approach worked great, and the audience I saw the film with certainly wasn't cringing or protesting either. But I'm someone who doesn't find melodrama and movie-movie-ishness automatically crass or degrading. "Black Book" is a very impressive production in terms of scale, costumes, design, and effects -- who knew that the Netherlands had the resources and the skill to pull this kind of Great Big Thing off? Mucho fabulous acting, especially from Carice van Houten, the foxy Dutch actress in the lead, who is phenomenal. She makes her character chipper, gallant, brave, bold, and earthy, but with a tremendous current of need and sadness underneath. (I used to date a lot of Jewish gals who fit that description.) One hyper-minor cavil: Many of the film's props -- the trucks, clothes, and magazines -- look old. I know that there's a movie convention that films set in the past should be full of things that look old. It seems to help set a mood. But, y'know, back in March 1944 a March 1944 magazine didn't look yellowy and wrinkly; it looked bright, snappy, and new. I remember an interview with Robert Zemeckis about his movie "Back to the Future" where he said something similar. He said that one of the things he wanted to do in that film was to make sure that everything in the '50s scenes looked gleaming -- because on that day in the past, those things were gleaming and new. But that's really of no importance. "Black Book" gets my enthusiastic thumbs-up. It'll make a... posted by Michael at April 13, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Which Culture-Things From Our Era Will Live On?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's a dumb game, it's even a pointless game. But it can be a fun game too. Which culture-things from our era do you suspect will have a long, long life? Will still be in circulation in, say, 2300? Here are the rules: We aren't listing culture-things because we love them, or are rooting for them, or because we feel they're worthy. We're listing the culture-things that we have a hunch will live on for practical reasons -- ie., given what we know of life, given what we sense about how culture is evolving, and where it's going. Hard-headed is good, sentimental is bad. My nominees: Led Zep: "Whole Lotta Love." It'll never stop playing. Jenni from Jennicam, because in 2300 everybody will be broadcasting themselves, and Jennicam will be celebrated as the "Odyssey" of the webcam form. The "For Dummies" books, because in 2300 all books will be books you can use. This kitty vidclip from YouTube, because it'll be recognized as the greatest example ever of the kitty-video genre -- which in turn will have become a major art genre. Screw magazine's Al Goldstein, because by 2300 culture and porn will have become indistinguishable. Pong, because in 200 years culture and games will be synonymous. The iPod and the Nike swoosh, because in 2300 everything will look like either an iPod or a Nike swoosh. Craig Stecyk and Glen Friedman, because everything in 2300 that doesn't look like an iPod or a Nike swoosh will look like a decorated skateboard. The Onion, because sometimes -- even if rarely -- history is just. "America's Funniest Home Videos," because the best-of-vidclip format will be acknowledged as the most influential culture-format that our era came up with. Your hunches? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 12, 2007 | perma-link | (82) comments

The NYTBR Section and Fiction 5: Literary Fiction and Literature
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's my widely-anticipated (small joke) new installment in a continuing series of postings in which I spout off about the New York Times Book Review Section's ka-razy over-emphasis on literary fiction. Previous installments here, here, here, here. Today's theme: "Literary fiction and literature." Let's examine this idea of "literary fiction" for a few minutes. I'm not concerning myself with any official definition, by the way. I'm interested in what's commonly understood by the term. As far as I can tell, the thing that most people understand by "literary fiction" has two main components. One is that the book in question is more concerned with the details and fine points of writing itself than non-literary writing is. The other is that whatever it is that the future will decide was the lasting literature of our era, it will be drawn from the "literary fiction" candidate-list. If you disagree with me about either of these points, please join in the commentsfest. Almost all pictures need complexifying. Still, I've met many people for whom the above pretty much summarizes what they understand by "literary fiction." So why not examine how these two assumptions hold up in actual fact? A self-conscious concern with writin'. There's no doubt that the lit-fict class makes a bigger show of fussin' with the writin' than the non lit-fict crowd does. 99% of the time, the prose surface of literary fiction is more heavily-worked and more aggressively manipulated than the prose-surface of non-literary fiction. Hooo-eee, how these people love to critique each other's sentences. But what a narrow idea of writing critiquing sentences is, no? After all, how big a part of fiction-creation does the specific act of fussing with words make up? (Incidentally, there are in fact some writers whose fiction arises from the energy they expend on fussing with words. I know that. But they aren't numerous.) Back here I made a quick list -- informal but maybe serviceable -- of some of the activities that are often involved in creating prose fiction. Writin' is just one item on it. Two of the others: the construction of a story, and the creation of characters. Dismiss me as a traditionalist, but I'd be happy to argue that these two activities are, always have been, and always will be more central to the creation of fiction than verbal fussbudgetry is. To heighten the contrast, let's look at "The Maltese Falcon" and Salman Rushdie. The writin' in "The Maltese Falcon" is of course a wonder to behold. But writin' per se is about 10% of what the book puts on display. How about that cast of characters, eh? Brigid O'Shaughnessy ... Joel Cairo ... Caspar Gutman (the fat man) ... And of course Sam Spade himself -- living, breathing people every one of them, or perhaps even better than that. And how about those moments of suspense, humor, surprise, and excitement? Pretty hard to shake, no? These things don't just happen any more than... posted by Michael at April 12, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Lovelace's "Retarded Animal Babies" represents a lot of likeably rude, "what has that guy been smoking?" skill and imagination. Once upon a time we had underground comix. (My own favorites: Gilbert Shelton's "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," Robert Armstrong's "Mickey Rat," and David Boswell's "Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman." Genius stuff, all of it.) Perhaps today's equivalent is the raunchy and lunatic Flash animation. Here's David Lovelace's own website, where the creativity is beyond-fizzy. There's no question that the man really likes keyboards. Best, Michael UPDATE: Shouting Thomas could use some links. Here's a note from him: I've been searching for good weblogs on a number of topics, but primarily: 1. The Philippines 2. Country Music 3. Blues It's so easy to find political weblogs. Tough to find well written, independent weblogs in other areas. The political stuff is beaten to death. I am fascinated by the culture of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Would love to be informed of well written weblogs that address these cultures. In respect to the music weblogs, I'd like to find those that are intelligent and honestly address the history of cultures of the music... no fanzines. Does anyone have any good blog-tips to pass along to ST? Shouting Thomas' recent posting about how unhealthy being a musician can be is well worth a read.... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Global Warming -- Or Not -- Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is global warming really happening? And even if it is, is it really worth worrying about? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Love It / Hate It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Francis Morrone takes a look at a poll of the public's favorite buildings. Result: Only one modernist building makes it into the top 20. Even Frank Lloyd Wright doesn't turn up on the list until #29. Otherwise: traditional, traditional, traditional. Yet on the architecture establishment goes, designing and constructing ever-more modernist buildings that the public is going to hate ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Richard S. Wheeler's Memoir
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm thrilled to see that the western novelist Richard S. Wheeler has just published his memoir. I've pressed the One-Click button myself, and am looking forward to reading the book. Some great p-r copy: "In his early forties, Richard Wheeler had never given a thought to writing fiction. By his early seventies, he had written sixty novels." Now that's an interesting and productive writing life! I raved about Richard's masterful novel "Flint's Gift" here. 2Blowhards re-published a speech Richard gave on the topic of book publishing here, and ran an article that Richard wrote for us about the Western writing scene here. Prairie Mary writes about Richard's new memoir here. Since I've ventured the thought on this blog that more writers ought to study acting, it's especially fun to learn that Richard and Mary both feel that they've profited as writers from taking years of acting class. Best, Michael UPDATE: Ed Gorman recommends Richard's memoir too.... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Prairie Mary lays out some of the differences between "print on demand" and "publishing on demand." You can buy Mary's wonderful POD book "12 Blackfeet Stories" here. Mary recently read and enjoyed Darrell Riemer's POD book "Youthful Desires" too. You know Darrell as the blogger Whiskeyprajer. One of these days Mary will learn how to create links at her blog ... * Chris Dillow wonders what economics might have to tell us about anorexia and obesity. * Hustle over to Megan and Murray's blog to enjoy visuals of "Channelbone," their latest video installation. * Too bad more movie reviews aren't in this one's class. (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Glen Abel writes a loving appreciation of Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and "Ran," and brings the welcome news that a new DVD edition of Robert Rossen's "The Hustler" -- a special favorite of mine -- will be going on sale in June. * BLDGBLOG interviews the legendary film editor / philosopher-of-perception Walter Murch. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Scully has a pottymouth. * Lester Hunt shows that it's possible to be a philosopher yet keep your feet planted firmly on common ground. * Razib may sneer at the evolutionist David Sloan Wilson (son of the novelist who wrote "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," btw). But much of what Wilson says makes a lot of sense to me. * CyndiF and the hubster celebrate the big day in the right way. There's no fear of food-pleasure in that family! (This last link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Russell Celyn Jones enumerates some of the absurdities of America's creative-writing industry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Women, Men, Dating
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve thinks that women in search of mates shouldn't spend so much on shoes. Tyler wonders why some women go for cads. The Communicatrix has some sensible tips for daters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

Shooting in Public
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever since getting a digital camera I've wondered what my legal rights with it are. Can I shoot anywhere in public? Who can legitimately -- let alone legally -- protest my picture-taking? Is, say, snapping away on the sidewalk one thing while taking pix in a store is another? Come to think of it: Is a store a public or a private locale? An example: Once when I tried to shoot some photos in a Whole Foods branch some staffers told me to put the Kodak away. Were they within their rights? Or was I within mine? This article from USA Today helps explain some of the ins and outs. Only some of them, though, darn it. Has anyone else run across a better, more authoritative source? Best, Michael UPDATE: Steve Kapsinow has a dust-up with the crew of "The Apprentice," and links to an informative article (PDF alert) by attorney Bert P. Krages II. Know your snapshootin' rights!... posted by Michael at April 11, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Roberts and Easterbrook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been taking a break from audiobooks and indulging in some podcast-listening instead. God, how I love a good interview. Say what you will about the Library of Economics' Russ Roberts as an interviewer (and I have, perhaps overemphatically), but he talks regularly with very interesting people, and at generous length. Here he chats with Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen, who proves to be as thoughtful, respectful, and open when he speaks as he is in his blogging. And, good god, is Tyler Cowen one heroic culture-consumer. In this interview, Roberts and Greg Easterbrook yak about the sunny side of economic developments: about how life has gotten better in many ways in terms of health, pollution, money, etc. Easterbrook -- the author of "The Progress Paradox" -- is a suave, articulate, and loose interviewee who has equipped himself with a lot of interesting facts. On pollution, for example: All forms of pollution except greenhouse gases have been in decline since the 1970s. Roberts has hold of some great facts of his own. For example: How much richer are we now than Americans 100 years ago were? (OK, OK: It's impossible to make an exact comparison. But why not try the experiment and see what comes of it?) Roberts reports that, when he asks his students to guesstimate, they generally figure we're 50% richer than Americans were in 1907. In actual fact -- and depending on how you shuffle the numbers, of course -- we're somewhere between 700% and 3000% richer than our great-grandparents were. Easterbrook responds with a few illustrations. In the 1950s, the average new American house was 1100 square feet. It contained 4.5 residents and one black and white TV. (Hey, that's a description of how my family lived in the 1950s.) The average new American house these days is 2300 square feet. It's inhabited by 2.5 residents and four color TVs. In the midst of the usual flurry of sky-is-falling headlines, it can be restorative to be reminded of these kinds of facts. I want to highlight two things from the interview. One is Easterbrook's evocation of how filthy, painful, and hungry life often was in the past, even in America, and even as recently as a century ago. A passage from Easterbrook's book is read by Roberts: In the first decade of the 20th century, city air in the United States was thick with choking smoke from unrestricted coal-burning; pigs roamed the streets of New York City and Philadelphia eating garbage that was thrown out of windows; there were three million horses drawing carts within city limits of American cities, meaning horse manure was everywhere. In Chicago, elevated trains pulled by steam engines rained sparks and cinders on pedestrians. In pleasantly pastoral small towns, only two percent of dwellings had running water, causing many women to be little more than serfs to the carrying of water or doing of laundry. Which reminds me to link to this piece about what a... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That musta hurt. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 10, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, April 6, 2007

Landscape, Movies & Modernism
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: Does it ever strike you as odd that movies focus so little on landscape? I know, some films engage landscape extensively, but by and large it seems kind of used as little more than a backdrop, or as symbolism. I wonder if that is at least partially because conventional movie language prefers to fragment space (to say nothing of time). Think how rare it is in a movie that the action takes place in any truly coherent space. By coherent space I mean, a situation in which it actually matters in what precise spatial relation people are to one another, or to things. Of the basic w-type questions, movies are big on who, what, why and how; not so much on when or where. I wonder if that's one reason I like Buster Keaton movies. Slapstick comedy definitely requires spatial coherence, and he takes this to a very high level in many of his films. His movies are among the few in which spatial coherence really counts for something. Of course, that may also explain something profound about modernism in art generally, for as we know, movies are the modernist art form par excellence. To wit, modernism claims to be rational (truth of materials, form follows function, no shenanigans about ornament) and yet modern art forces you to interact with it in a fragmented, chopped up way, forcing you to make it all add up in your head. Modern architecture notoriously photographs better than it feels in person, a very "cubistic" quality if you think about it; whereas walking through classical buildings makes sense in person, and requires very little conceptual fancy-dancing. Hmmmm. Any thoughts on this? Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 6, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

DVD Journal: "5x2"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Because I was such a fan of Francois Ozon's "Swimming Pool" and "Water Drops on Burning Rocks," I'd been looking forward to catching up with his recent "5x2," an episodic marriage drama that starts with a couple's divorce and then moves backwards in time. Verdict: it's a nicely-done exercise, no more. It has been discussed as being half Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" and half Pinter's "Betrayal," and that's about right: It's an analysis of one relationship's stages of romance, tension, arousal, misery, betrayal, and failure. What makes it distinctive is its determination to thwart interpretation and frustrate your desire for answers. The thing you anticipate with this kind of backwards narrative is learning how and why everything went wrong. (Mysteries often work this way too: They move forward by uncovering the past.) So why did the marriage come apart? And how did the relationship become impossible? How can you not want to find out the answers to these questions? But here, there's no way to tell what they are. You expect that the episodes being presented will reveal hints: they don't. You anticipate that the arrangement of the episodes will convey a larger truth: it doesn't. At first I watched the film wondering if I was just being dumb. Then the penny dropped and my dim brain awoke to the fact that "5x2" is one of those so-fis-ti-kated movies that isn't going to present a key to its mystery, let alone build to a revelation or (heaven forbid) a climax. So I shifted into appreciator-of-modernist-art mode -- hey, I can do that! -- and ... well, I still found the film unsatisfying. Though I often adore art that leaves a lot to the imagination, leaving everything open to intepretation was a little much even for me. The events the film portrays don't just seem barely-linked, but tenaciously (if hyper-subtly) arbitrary. It's all very tantalizing, and then it isn't any longer. If you were in an uncharitable mood, you could say that "5x2" is a gay man's -- Ozon's -- doomy view of straight marriage as a hopeless mess. Women and men will never understand each other; their drives are at such odds that it's miraculous they ever cross paths. Why does the husband seem so withholding? Why is the wife such a weeper? And what, in any case, did they see in each other in the first place? I was OK with the fact that the story and characters didn't come to anything, really I was. But I was less pleased by the fact that the nothing the film came to was as un-resonant as it was. All that said, I sat through "5x2" in a fairly pleasant state and even found the film piquant. That's because of the commitment of the actors (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi and Stephane Freiss), and because of the stylishness of Ozon's work. He makes the film a miracle of concision, design, wit, and paradox. It may be nothing more... posted by Michael at April 6, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Installation by Megan and Murray
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I see that Megan and Murray McMillan have created "Channelbone," an installation that will go on view in St. Louis starting today. A big thing -- with a ribcage and video screens -- "Channelbone" sounds somewhere between nifty and spectacular. Here's the gallery's info. But hurry: The piece will only be on display for two days. Megan and Murray blog here, and show off a lot of their art here. Megan wrote a Guest Posting for 2Blowhards here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 6, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fact for the Day: L.A.'s Illegals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 12 percent of the 10.2 million residents of Los Angeles County are illegal immigrants. Thirty percent of the county's public health patients are illegal immigrants. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Laugh as we will at the French -- and why not? But they sure know how to build and run a TGV (train a grande vitesse). Some previous postings about France and the French: here, here, here, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

More on Thom Mayne's Federal Building
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here I linked to a funny and smart Philip Murphy blast at San Francisco's hideous new Federal Building, designed by the disgraceful Thom Mayne, a favorite bete noir of this blog. What our betters want us to be grateful for... Quick recap of the pertinent points: The building is in a Deconstructivist style that flaunts Green credentials. That might sound attractive on many levels. If Modernism was overly rigid, and all about clean lines, blank planes, and right angles, Decon buildings are wobbly and zigzaggy. Whee! Problem solved! If Modernist buildings -- steel-and-glass cages, after all -- were inefficient users of energy, and were spectacularly inhumane in their treatment of their inhabitants and users, a Green building opens up, filters, and recycles. It returns power and respect to the environment and to the people. Green/Decon is Modernism transcended, in other words. Well, it is if you buy the propaganda. M. Blowhard doesn't buy the propaganda. The M. Blowhard view is that all these claims are (hilariously, tragically) spurious. The design problem with Modernist buildings wasn't just that they were rigid and grid-like, it's that they transformed our living and working spaces into abstractions. Decon's package -- exploding planes and lines -- is every bit as abstract as what Modernism was selling (clean lines and right angles). It seems to be a simple fact of life that many people feel lost and adrift in abstract environments. Many people in fact find the experience of wandering through faceless voids and double-back spaces to be nightmarish. What could be easier to understand? After all, these buildings and spaces offer people nothing for their feelings and their imaginations to nestle into or latch onto. The environmental / human problem with Modernist buildings was less a matter of raw BTU's than it was of top-down arrogance. Thom Mayne talks a good anti-establishment line, but he's as determined to play the genius-visionary, architect-as-god role as any pompous Modernist. You have a problem? He has the solution. And you will live in it. Totalitarian-corporatist environments that wear a coating of populist rhetoric aren't any more palatable than totalitarian-corporatist environments that announce their natures more frankly. Short version: Deconstructivist architecture is Modernism by other means -- it isn't an alternative to Modernism, it's what Modernism has become. As for the Green component ... Well, it's like the chaos-theory claims that Decon often makes for itself. Traditional architecture was already plenty Green; traditional architecture -- if your eyes and mind and imagination are really open to it -- already embodies plenty of chaos theory. Why do we allow our elite architecture world to continue getting us all worked up about attaining what's already ours? But these are generalities. What's the reality of the Federal Buiding like? I'm revisiting these topics because just this morning a comment was dropped on my blog posting by a woman who's actually familiar with the building. I reprint her comment here: Folks, As someone who's actually going... posted by Michael at April 5, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tony Blair's government has created 3000 new criminal offences in just ten years. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 4, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Culture / Biology
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Agnostic has put up a nifty posting about how cultural evolution might affect biological evolution. In a comment I dropped on his posting I managed -- in however scatterbrained a way -- to ask a question I've meant to ask for a while, namely: I think there's a lot to it. New niches crop up, and -- to everyone's surprise -- previously unnoticed creatures take them over. Geeks are a good example. Anyone old enough can remember when "the geek" wasn't a big or at least much-visible part of society. Computers caught on, and suddenly geeks were everywhere. Everntually even geek taste (sci-fi, Wired) became culturally important, alas. Another example: When a quirky beauty becomes famous, suddenly you find yourself surrounded by girls who look like her. The world is suddenly full of Meg Ryans, or Britneys, or Lindsays. Were they always there, and we didn't notice them because we had no template to stick 'em in before the star established the the template? Or did the star's success make it possible for the girls to assert their quirky looks with some confidence? I remember noticing this happen with Claire Danes, for instance. She became an It Girl, and suddenly the world was full of Clarie Daneses. Where had they been hiding until then? Any thoughts? Best, Michael UPDATE: Another GNXP commenter provided a link to a fascinating -- and NSFW -- page featuring and discussing some ancient Etruscan art.... posted by Michael at April 4, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Howard Gardner: Seven? Eight? And Now Five?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What a nice franchise Howard Gardner has. First he sells the idea that intelligence doesn't come in one flavor but in seven. (He later upped the number to eight.) Now he's back with a new book, this time arguing that the future will demand and value five different types of thinking . How do you suppose Gardner settles on these magical numbers of his? I find Gardner a strange case. I dislike much of what he stands for. He's one of those progressive educators who believes that it isn't important whether students learn any facts, for instance -- instead they need to know how to "solve problems." My personal bullshit alarm goes off extra-loud when I run across that particular opinion. I also find it telling where Gardner's approach leads him. He's now questioning freedom of speech: The cartoons of Mohammad that caused such a fuss a while back shouldn't have been published, he argues. While being skeptical of tradition and custom, he seems to believe that it's possible to create laws that will guarantee courtesy and respect. And I'm happy to agree that the science behind his eight-types-of-intelligence notion seems shakey at best. All that said ... Well, I do think it's clear that talents come in many flavors, and I do think that that's a fact well worth standing up for. I wish Gardner weren't arguing about intelligence per se. There does seem to be such a thing as raw intellectual horsepower, after all, and why not assign it a number if your measuring-stick seems trustworthy? But Gardner wants no part of such a project. Why not? Though kindness may play a role in Gardner's thinking, his main motivation seems perfectly obvious: He dislikes the fact that some ethnic groups score higher on IQ tests than others. He finds the fact unacceptably harsh. It's hard to avoid thinking, "This Howard Gardner is a bit of a 'if the fact hurts, then ban the fact' kinda guy, isn't he?" Still: nothing wrong with kindness. And nothing wrong with recognizing that talent comes in many flavors. (If life teaches us anything ...) IQ may be an important topic, but it's certainly possible to make too much of it. Physical prowess, craftsmanship, musical ability, loyalty, a gift for relationships, verbal pizazz, erotic attunement, a knack in the kitchen, emotional insightfulness, persuasiveness, social adroitness, humor, visual flair -- these are all talents as well, each one of which strikes me as eminently worthy of respect, and of nurturing and guidance too. No need to feel bad for Howard Gardner, btw. Though he seems to have a knack for portraying himself as a beleaguered rebel -- hey, that's a talent too -- he has a secure position at Harvard, some of his books have been huge sellers, and he has even won a MacArthur "genius" grant. He hasn't lacked for influence either. Harvard is re-doing its curriculum to come more in line with his thinking, and he... posted by Michael at April 4, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Java Joint Hangin'
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time -- call it 1980 -- shopping malls ruled the the American retail world. Then came the invasion of the Big Box Stores. Followed by village-style shopping centers. Even though customers are slipping through mall stores' fingers there is still one unassailable category of mall-denizen: teen agers hangin' out. Or is there? One mid-afternoon last week I was havin' my cuppa caffein at a Starbucks. Not long after I claimed a chair at a table and was scribbling blog-subject ideas on one of those brown paper napkins, in came some early-teen girls. Then more arrived. Pretty soon there must have been ten or so hanging out around the couches and tables. Then it dawned on me that the Starbucks was only a quarter mile from a middle school and it was around 3:00 p.m. -- basically dismissal time. I didn't notice boys of similar age, so maybe the gals were there simply for the beverages. Could this be a new social trend? Or am I late to the scene as usual. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 3, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Charlton / Juvenal
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently had a wonderful time going through Charlton Griffin's audiobook of Juvenal's "Satires." Amazing material, of course. Juvenal was a Roman poet given to wild caricature of the life he observed -- he's like the poet version of Hogarth, only for Roman times rather than for 18th century England. The poems are given a superbly-judged production and reading by Charlton, who presents them with a winning combo of dignity, lasciviousness, and merriment. The effect is like spending a sozzled, off-the-record evening with a dirty-minded senator. You can download the audiobook from Audible, or from the iTunes Store. Charlton -- no stranger to merriment or to witty observation himself -- has forwarded along some tasty links. * Cliff's Notes for "The Sopranos." * Enough already with the super-slow-mo shots of bullets. How about a slow-mo shot of a samurai sword in action? That's one sharp blade. * The immigration crisis, via The Onion. * Do men really like the hourglass figure best? * How to resist game-show bloopers? * When it's over, it's really over. Charlton is currently reading a history of Rome for XM satellite radio. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to The Man Who Is Thursday, who points out this Roger Kimball essay about Juvenal.... posted by Michael at April 3, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Creepy? * NZConservative thinks that conservatives ought to be more concerned about population growth than they are. * Tyler Cowen recommends his favorite Monteverdi. * The very idiosyncratic and droll Ilkka blogs again. * Although I've linked to and written about the phenomenal -- and much too-little-known -- gospel-blues singer-guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe a few times, I've only just now awakened to the fact that a biography of her was recently published. Hmm, Beacon Press ... Not good: an earnest, political publisher ... On the other hand, the bio does sound thorough and careful. And where else are we going to find the information? * Caleb Crain takes a shrewd look at some recent sales figures from the book publishing world. * Tokenblackchic is hoping to make it to NYC. Tokenblackchic is a resourceful and funny short-video maker. * The good news is that total income in America is rising like gangbusters. The bad news is that nearly all of the rise is going to the same tiny sliver of people. * Anne Thompson raves about "Grindhouse," links to a hard-to-resist Bollywood version of "Pretty Woman," and lists some of her favorite Hollywood book-fiction. * You can find podcasts with a lot of British authors here. I'm especially looking forward to a rare talk with the crime-novel genius Ruth Rendell. * Here's video from some really virtuosic jet piloting. * The biologist E. O. Wilson thinks there may be something to the idea of group selection. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

The Barriers Crumble
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- People continue to venture into all kinds of previously off-limits subject matter. * Steve Sailer thinks that high-school kids interested in college ought to apply to a lot more schools than they're usually told to. * A common good-liberal assumption is that human evolution stopped dead the moment some humans left Africa. Steve links to a report about a Gregory Cochran-John Hawks paper contending that human evolution has, if anything, speeded up in recent millennia. * In the Jewish magazine Commentary, the Scots-Irish Charles Murray surveys Jewish accomplishment and Jewish brains. (Link thanks to ALD.) The GNXP gang pile in here. * Jewcy's Joey Kurtzman tries to lure John Derbyshire into a discussion of Kevin MacDonald's theories about the Jews. Although Derbyshire mostly does a lot of sensible stonewalling, Kurtzman himself kicks over an amazing number of taboos, not the least of which is admitting to having enjoyed reading Kevin MacDonald. * Lovers of frank and vervey conversation generally should enjoy many of Jewcy's "Dialogues." In one of them, Daphne Merkin confesses that the gay-marriage issue annoys her: "It [strikes me] as a red herring, not to mention as some sort of baiting of the culture at large," she writes: Also, I think it's troublesome, at the very least, to both mock the very idea of marriage as a delusional and retrograde "straight" institution, as many gays have done, and then happily go and claim its financial/property benefits on behalf of the tiny minority of gay marriages that exist in this country. * Another Jewcy Merkin crack is at the expense of the literary world, which she describes as existing "in a self-inflated universe all its own, in spite of the fact that no one reads." * ALD also points out a links-heavy article in the Chronicle of Higher Education making the very forbidden argument that some college-prank videoclips are actually worth your time. * Doug Anderson wonders why mixed-race couples aren't more visible in the media. As one of the commenters on Doug's posting writes, "So many chances to be politically incorrect, I scarcely know where to begin." Un-PCness most definitely welcomed in the comments on this posting, but obnoxiousness strongly discouraged. Well, I take that back. Let's make all the obnoxious fun of the literary world that we care to. That's always good sport. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 3, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, April 2, 2007

Taking Pains
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sloppy is easy. Craftsmanship and taking pains have to be learned from a mentor or from bitter experience. When I was young my father and grandfather did small-scale woodworking projects. I saw that they took care in measuring and sawing, etc., but I lacked coordination and patience, never rising above wood-butcher status. I didn't learn serious craftsmanship until I started programming computers. If a program isn't properly constructed, it won't run. And even if it runs, it can be a nightmare to maintain if it isn't well organized and documented. I witnessed this on a more mundane level last week when I was keeping an eye on the moving crew packing up the California house for our move to Seattle. The moving company supplied them boxes of different sizes along with rolls of sticky tape and semi-sticky sheets of wrapping plastic. One item they had lots of was sheets of packing paper -- a newsprint-like material measuring a little more than two feet square. They went through lots of that paper. In many cases it was used simply as filler material, padding the inside of a box so that the contents wouldn't shift. For fragile objects such as glasses and china, each piece was wrapped, sometimes quite thickly. The crew worked steadily. Little waste motion, yet attention being given to each object while being wrapped and placed in the shipping box. That was last week. Now I'm having to reverse the process as I unpack. After cutting open the top of a box I have to remove and carefully unfold each piece of packing paper. Many sheets are simply padding; nevertheless they have to be checked for objects and then piled flat for later recycling. Presently the basement contains four or five piles of paper that are nearly two feet high each. I've found myself mimicking the moving crew's deliberate, steady pace. Yes, I could rip that paper off much faster and cram it into empty boxes. But items might get lost if I was that sloppy, and that wouldn't be good. Reminds me of computer programming. And doubtless other tasks such as automobile repair and hanging wallpaper. Fear of trouble creates discipline. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 2, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Thin Mustaches
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose they'll be back: that's the nature of fashion. But I hope it's not any time soon. What am I venting about this time? Why, thin mustaches of course! If you've watched many 1930s movies you'll probably have seen lots of them. Here are some examples: John Gilbert Melvyn Douglas William Powell Clark Gable In the Thirties those little mustaches -- some being almost pencil-line thin -- were considered quite masculine. Nowadays I suspect that they strike most folks as being fussy, almost sissy-like. That's how they strike me. The thin-mustache fashion faded in the late 40s for whites, but hung on for a couple of decades longer for blacks. If a man grows a mustache sans-beard these days it's likely to cover the area twixt lip and nose and might range from trimmed to bushy in style. Handlebars seem fairly rare. Waxed mustaches moreso. As I write this I'm trying to remember when thin mustaches where popular before the Thirties (that's the peak -- the fashion ran from 1920 or before until 1950 or thereabouts), and the best I can come up with is foggy images of riverboat gamblers in movies or TV shows. If such mustaches are indeed an historical rarity, it makes me wonder why they appeared at all and why they appeared when they did. Perhaps such speculation is fruitless. They were a fashion. Sometimes fashions occur in response to outside forces (World War 2 fabric restrictions killed the Zoot Suit, for example) other times they are reactions to previous fashions (the post-WW2 New Look long, full skirts) and sometimes they just happen (heavily-padded shoulders for women around 1990). Feel free to kick this around in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 1, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments