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

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

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

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

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

Try Advanced Search

  1. Pejman on Nietzsche
  2. Missing Models
  3. Critics Vs. Bloggers
  4. Ed on George
  5. Non-Chocolate
  6. Immigration Linkage
  7. What's Dewing in Washington
  8. Japanese Hijinks
  9. DVD Journal: "Miami Vice"
  10. The Complicated Female Orgasm

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

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

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


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pejman on Nietzsche
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nietzsche buffs -- and that would certainly include Friedrich von Blowhard -- should have a ball wrestling with Pejman Yousefzadeh's musings about their ornery hero at Right Reason: here, here, here. Can I confess something? While I read a lot of Nietzsche and enjoyed it greatly, I've never taken his philosophy seriously. Shallow fellow that I am, I value Nietzsche for his brio, his irreverence, and his glee. I love him as a whacked-out, high-on-himself, over-the-top performer -- he's the Klaus Kinski of philosophers. But the substance of his thought? What he actually said? Hmm: it never occurred to me to pay much attention to that. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 2, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, June 1, 2007

Missing Models
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One part of the Smithsonian I almost never fail to visit while in Washington, DC is the Air and Space Museum. Until a week or so ago I hadn't been to DC and the museum in six years, so I was curious about any changes that might have been made since 2001. I turns out that work was underway in the passenger transport area and that some older military planes such as the Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" fighter were no longer on display at the west end of the main floor. One exhibit that hasn't (yet?) been moved is on the balcony of the room where World War 2 fighters are displayed in the southwestern corner of the second floor. Let me switch to photo / caption mode to tell my tale. This is where WW2 recognition models are displayed. These models were made of hard, black rubber and usually hung on strings or perhaps thin wires from ceilings of rooms on Army Air Force bases. The models were scaled so that relative sizes of the actual aircraft were preserved. Models were of both allied and enemy aircraft because pilots needed to be able to distinguish one from the other. Here is a section of the display of models of German planes. Note that there is an empty space: no model and no key number (25). A nearby wall plaque has both the missing number and the name of the aircraft type -- a Junkers Ju 86 bomber. The actual Ju 86 looked like this. Here and here are links related to the aircraft. The same situation is found over in the British section. Here the missing model is that of a Westland Whirlwind fighter. A nice, informative link dealing with the Whirlwind is here Interesting. Interesting because I know that those models used to be there. And I know this because I had good reason to pay attention to them. Here is a photo showing examples of the two missing models along with another recognition model, that of a Blackburn Skua (a British Fleet Air Arm plane). The Skua is on the left, the Ju 86 is in the center and the Whirlwind at the right. This photo was taken in my living room this afternoon . These models have been in my family for 61 years. My father worked for the Army Engineers during the war and had some business to attend to in Spokane early in 1946 when the war effort was rapidly winding down. Many things, including recognition models, were being disposed of or discarded because they were unneeded. There undoubtedly were other recognition models at the Spokane facility at one time, but the good stuff -- Spitfires, Messerschmitts and so forth -- had already disappeared into the hands of souvenir hunters, so all that was left for my dad were models of obscure, yet interesting, planes (go to the links above if you're interested). Why were the models removed from... posted by Donald at June 1, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Critics Vs. Bloggers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Critics sure can be pompous, can't they? I was recently enjoying (or rather "enjoying") a couple of pieces by or about critics linked to by ALD. In this one, Time magazine's Richard Schickel writes that webyak isn't real criticism, mocks an enthusiastic blogger / book-reviewer for having worked as a "quality-control manager for a car parts maker," and compares blogging to "yammering," "cocktail-party chat," and "finger-painting." This other piece quotes the Washington Post's Michael Dirda -- an excellent reviewer, by the way -- claiming that the traditional "book review section ... remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting." Well, I do declare. Hmmm, let's see: I really-really enjoy my life as a web-ified arts-gabber. I enjoy it in fact so much more than I ever did my pre-web artsgab life that I rarely bother reading professional reviewers at all these days. Which I guess means that I'm a bigger fan of finger-painting and shallow grandstanding than I am of "real criticism." So be it. I do understand that people will panic and say stupid things when paradigms shift and livelihoods are threatened. And I do sympathize with people who are caught in these predicaments, really I do. On the other hand ... While most of us have been sideswiped by history a few times, few of us have had the opportunity to fill up newspaper and magazine space with our outrage, exasperation, and self-regard. It all reminds me of the days when I hung out with critics and reviewers. Many of them were bright, lively, and interesting people. But more than a few were amazingly full of themselves. While reviewing always struck me as a groovy way to handle the moneymaking part of life for those who could manage it, it struck some of my friends as a religious vocation -- a calling. I remember one reviewer speaking about criticism as a form of "bearing witness." No surprise that these high-minded types also seemed convinced that the public -- or, if not the public then their editors and bosses -- owed it to them, or maybe to humanity at large, to support "real criticism." (Just to get this out of the way and be -- yawn -- fair: I can enjoy reading good reviews and essays; I admire people who can do criticism well; I've learned from some reviewers and critics; and I'm happy to agree that criticism is a branch of literature, if a minor one. FWIW, I once wrote a blogposting about why I never made a serious attempt to become a reviewer.) In any case, it seems to me that Schickel and Dirda are missing two key points. One is that the new state of affairs isn't best thought of as a contest between great thinking and mindless babble. It's better thought-of as a new participatory openness. The germane comparison isn't between... posted by Michael at June 1, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ed on George
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ed Gorman enjoys "Blackmailer", a nearly-50-year-old novel by George Axelrod that has just been republished by the excellent Hard Case Crime. Axelrod (who died in 2003) doesn't seem to be well-known these days. But he was a legend back in the '50s and '60s -- a wildly successful TV and radio writer; a celebrated playwright ("Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?", "The 7-Year Itch"); and a high-paid screenwriter who penned scripts for such movies as "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Manchurian Candidate," and the hyper-kooky "Lord Love a Duck" (one of The Wife's favorites), which he also directed. As far as I 've been able to tell, "Blackmailer" was his only novel. He wrote it for the famous Gold Medal paperback line, which I blogged about here. He was at his malicious and exuberant best doing dizzy, poppy satire. Ed Gorman describes Axelrod this way: "There were few cooler guys on TV in the Fifties than George Axelrod ... I always thought Now that's the kind of guy I wish I could be. Hip but accessible." Ed calls "Blackmailer" "larky ... pure escape," which sounds awfully good to me. I've just hit Amazon's One-Click button. I couldn't find much about Axelrod online. (Funny how little the web offers on some major figures, isn't it? How is our picture of culture being affected by this?) Axelrod dropped out of circulation in the late '60s, then did a few screenwriting jobs in the '80s: "The Last Protocol," "The Holcroft Covenant," neither one of which I've seen. Here's a short look at his life. Wikipedia is pretty informative too. Here's an AP obit. It's good to see that a movie based on one of Ed Gorman's novels has just gone into production. I'm looking forward to that too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 31, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've just now awakened to the fact that Big Chocolate -- Hershey, Nestle, and Archer Daniels Midland -- is petitioning the FDA to let them market candy as chocolate even when the candy contains little or no cocoa butter. Lordy, what's the world coming to? This campaign is obviously a disgrace and an outrage, and perhaps even something these firms should never be allowed to live down. What the event really has me thinking about, though, is something more general, namely: Why do American companies seem so prone to making these trashing-their-own-reputation blunders? Don't they realize that respect and trust play an important role in consumers' feelings about their products -- especially where luxury and pleasure goods are concerned? Hey, CEOs: People want a nice experience, from the marketing to the buying to the consuming. Let's hear it for the chocolate makers See's and Guittard, who have taken a stand against their competitors in the chocolate biz. Here's a "Don't Mess With Our Chocolate" website sponsored by Guittard. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 31, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Immigration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Democrat Glen Hurowitz thinks his fellow libs should be more wary of the Bush-Kennedy immigration proposal than they are. * Steve Sailer dissects the polls and concludes that a majority -- a big majority -- of Americans want immigration levels reduced, and the US-Mexican border enforced. * Which prompts the question: If this is in fact what most Americans want, why on earth are our elites so determined to defy our preferences? (If anyone wants to claim that it's because our elites know better than we do -- well, let me indulge in a hearty laugh.) The usual answer to this puzzle is that Democratic pols want votes and Republican pols want cheap labor. In a recent commentsthread, Moira Breen reminded me of a startling piece (PDF alert) in which Fredo Arias-King argues that another factor is involved too. King -- who worked for a time as an assistant to Mexico's Vincente Fox, and who interacted with many American legislators -- argues that what's really behind the U.S. political class's love of high immigration levels is a more straightforward lunge for power. The political class, he says, feels hamstrung by the rights the rest of us wield as citizens. The politicos want more of the country in their own hands, dammit; importing a lot of meek and grateful immigrants is a way of attaining that goal. It will negate the power of us citizens via dilution -- and via creating a lot of government clients -- and thereby allow the pols to have their own way. Yet another good reason to do what we can to block their plans, as far as I'm concerned. * William S. Lind thinks that the dogma of multiculturalism may be the death of the nation-state. BTW, he thinks that this would be a bad thing. * The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector says that the proposed Bush-Kennedy immigration bill may well prove to be "the most expensive bill the U.S. taxpayer has ever seen." We're talkin' trillions here, folks -- and all for what? * George Borjas catches New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg being an idiot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 31, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's Dewing in Washington
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- You can hardly find his paintings anywhere else, but they're thick as lobbyists in Washington, DC. That was the impression I got last week during my mad dash through our capitol's museums and galleries. I'm referring to Thomas Wilmer Dewing, of course. His work can be seen in the Freer Gallery, tucked away amidst all its Asian art next to James McNeill Whistler's famous Peacock Room. Presumably the Dewings here are from Charles Lang Freer's collection, Freer being Dewing's major patron. Another collector who bought a lot of Dewing's paintings was John Gellatly, and his collection forms the basis for a room full of them I saw in the Smithsonian American Art Museum a few blocks north of the Mall in the old downtown area. The following biographical sketch is based on Web material found here, here and here. Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) was born in the Boston area and, despite family financial problems, was able to study at Paris' favorite art school for Americans, the Académie Julian (under Gustave Boulanger and Jules Lefebre) in 1876-77. He returned to Boston, but moved to New York in 1880 where he married painter Maria Richards Oakey (1845-1927, a student of John LaFarge) whose connections helped him gain entry to its artistic world. One of his pals was architect Stanford White. The Dewings and their daughter went to France in 1895, spending time in Paris and Claude Monet's haunt, Giverny (the town was home to a number of American artists around the turn of the century). But the pull of America and the summer art colony in Cornish, NH was too strong for them to stay long in France. He was 62 when the famous Armory Show introduced modernism to America. But, unlike many younger artists, he refused to be seduced by the movement even though his paintings became less marketable during the remaining 25 years of his life. According to Susan A. Hobbs, in the second reference link above, Dewing was a physically large man with a prickly personality. Yet his favorite subject matter was wispy women, often in psychologically ambiguous poses that give a slight tension to what he portrayed. At the hight of his Tonalist period, he referred to his works as simply "decorations." Perhaps some critics might agree. Nevertheless, these paintings can fascinate. Would I buy one if it were on the market and I had the money? You bet. I'll let you judge for yourself. Gallery Photo of Thomas Wilmer Dewing After Sunset - 1892 In the Garden - 1892-94 Sylvan Sounds - 1896-97 Young Girl Seated - 1896 A Reading - 1897 Lady in White - 1910 The Necklace - 1907 An Artist - 1916 Why do I like Dewing's paintings? Firstly, because they are well-done, and I'm a pushover for technical expertise as most of you know by now. And I admit to liking pretty women, his main subject. Plus, I find his use of color both interesting and satisfying.... posted by Donald at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Japanese Hijinks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Those whacky Japanese, installment 7,592: You've heard about Air Guitar? How about Air Sex? * Those whacky Japanese, installment 7,593: Who needs "The Matrix" when you can rely on a dozen guys clad in black? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

DVD Journal: "Miami Vice"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Miami Vice. A slickly-done Michael Mann fiasco. His digital experiments -- Mann shot the film in high-definition video -- are much more pervasive than they were in "Collateral" (which I wrote about back here). The Caribbean is black; cars and flesh both have a silvery sheen; shoot-outs and facedowns are done in a strange half-film / half-video style that evokes both "Cops" and "Saving Private Ryan." But Mann seems to have spent all of his energy on production design and digital tomfoolery. The film's narrative is beyond-murky; the dialogue is thrown-away or muttered, and is deliberately swamped in background noise; and Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell appear -- though we're asked to take them as loyal buddies -- never to have bothered making each other's acquaintance. Visually and aurally the film is a twinkly miracle. But it makes no impact whatsoever on the emotions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Complicated Female Orgasm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A sex researcher who helped discover the G-spot back in the '70s now reports that three more nerve pathways are involved in female orgasms than previously suspected. Or at least can be involved, as it turns out. There are good reasons why not all female orgasms seem to be alike. According to Prof. Beverly Whipple, there can be clitoral and vaginal orgasms, but there can also be orgasms based in the uterus and cervix. ("One woman described these cervical-based orgasms as like a 'shower of stars'." Whee!) Plus there's the grand-slam-homer of orgasms, one that involves all of these nervous pathways. Let's hear it for the "blended orgasm." My favorite passage in Deborah Smith's good article: Men and women differ in their sexual responses. Men move in order from desire to arousal to orgasm. Women are more complicated, says Whipple. "They can experience sexual arousal, orgasm and satisfaction without desire, and they can experience desire, arousal and satisfaction without orgasm." Women's sexuality must be as baffling to women as it is to men. The article left me wondering about one particular question: Why was scientific sex research, and the pop-psych literature that it spins off, so fixated on clitoral orgasms for so many years? I mean, we've been told for decades now that all female orgasms are clitoris-based. All else was held to be self-deception, or (more likely) just a patriarchy-inspired attempt to flatter the pathetically insecure male ego. Since Smith's article doesn't mention the words "politics" or "feminism," I'll go ahead and do so. During many of those years, certain powers-that-be found it useful to claim that the penis can serve no particular purpose where female sexual pleasure goes. Men aren't good for much besides dragging home a paycheck and taking out the garbage, it was thought, and men usually don't show much aptitude for those activities either. Intercourse was portrayed as an act of raw male dominance, or a favor a woman does for her man, affording her at most the pleasure of knowing that she's desired. A woman was held to be a self-actualizing creature, with no real reason to need or even want a man. Well, so much for that picture! Whipple does mention one practical fact that played a role in the clitoris-fixation of the time. It's that the instruments that researchers use to poke and prod the female groin conceal the G-spot, while the clitoris is easy to have physical and visual access to. Smith writes: "And the G-spot has to be manipulated to be felt. 'Doctors can't sexually stimulate their patients. That's why they didn't find it,' Whipple says." Sigh: All those years of potential sexual pleasure spoiled, and all for what? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Meat, Movies and Mortality
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This morning Terry Teachout does a riff starting with Seventh-Day Adventist meat substitutes and winding up dealing with death. In the midst of all this he brushes past the film industry. Following a John Simon quote, he tosses off the following generalization. Simon got it on the nose: in Hollywood, ordinary middle-class life is a state to be escaped, not examined. The only thing missing from his pithy indictment was the reason why. Today, the answer is plain to see: even more so than in 1974, American movies, like Trix, are for kids. The business of Hollywood is business, and since teenagers go to the movies far more often than their parents, they are the audience for whom those movies are made. Grownups stay home and watch workplace sitcoms; teenagers go to the mall and watch films in which none of the characters is married or has a real job. That is the world they know, and they expect to see it on the screen. Michael is the movie maven hereabouts, so I won't offer my two cents other than to say that most of the previews I see when I'm in a theater (which is seldom) seem to fit what Terry's talking about. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 30, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Store Music As Public Service
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to gripe about the music stores play as "background" for shoppers. Matter of fact, I still twitch at the memory of some truly awful pop Christmas music from last December. Then there's the BOOM, BOOM BOOM sounds that vibrate the floor, walls and, yes, your very own spine. But I'm not complaining. Not now. That's because I had a revelation! I finally realized that the type of music a store plays correlates well with the type of goods the place sells. It's a planned image thing; my, my how savvy / cunning /devious those marketers are! How does this benefit me and perhaps you? When walking along a shopping street or through a shopping mall, you hardly need glance at the display window. If I hear BOOM, BOOM BOOM coming out the door of a men's clothing store I don't even have to look for giant photomurals of half-naked youths to know that the place isn't for me. But if I hear classical music wafting out, I have a fighting chance of finding a garment I might like. Très facile. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 29, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

DVD Journal: "The Aviator"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "The Aviator." I watched this Martin Scorsese biopic about the engineer, aviator, and tycoon Howard Hughes thinking "Good lord, but Scorsese seems like a spent volcano, doesn't he?" But I also didn't mind sticking with the film all the way through. Final verdict: dull but watchable. The film's main inspiration is to use the trappings of Hollywood period spectacle -- crowds, cars, costumes, etc -- in the service of what's meant to be an intense character study. Its main shortcoming is that the character study isn't very compelling. The film's primary drawback is that it has a narrative angle that imposes repetitiveness. The picture -- which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes -- confines itself to a relatively brief stretch of Hughes' life: from his early years in Hollywood making "Hell's Angels" to his triumph / failure with his giant wooden airplane, the Spruce Goose. (There's nothing of Hughes' later years as a legendary recluse surrounded by tissue paper and Mormons.) During the 20ish-year stretch that the film covers, Hughes achieves great things. He's also first touched by, then eaten-away at by obsessive-compulsive behavior. The film's dramatic idea is that, as Hughes' mental illness grew worse, he channeled more and more of his creativity and his brains into managing an ever-shrinking personal world. As valid or not-valid as this idea is in psychological terms, it means that the film has nowhere to go that you can't see coming. One after another, gorgeous new planes are wheeled out of hangars; one after another, Hughes' obsessive-compulsive behavior problems grow more dire. That cycle -- a new engineering triumph that's contrasted with a new pitch of madness -- repeats itself over and over until, you know, things finally get really bad. And that's all the 2 hour and 50 minute long film has to offer in the way of dramatic development. I'm sympathetic to the need filmmakers have to shape something narratively coherent out of the infinite bundle of facts that is a biography. But I wonder if in this case the filmmakers (the movie seems to have been mainly DiCaprio's project, with screenwriter John Logan and Scorsese coming on board along the line) didn't over-restrict their possibilities. They opt, for instance, to forgo spending much time on Hughes' romantic life, although he put a considerable amount of his energies into playing Hollywood Lothario. (Some of his conquests, according to Wikipedia: Billie Dove, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Gene Tierney, Ava Gardner, and Olivia DeHavilland.) More time spent on his luvvv adventures would have provided contrast, shadings, and relief from the cycle of plane / madness / plane / madness that bogs the film down. Even so, the film might have worked in some monomaniacal way had it achieved more intensity. It got me remembering Truffaut's brilliant "The Story of Adele H.", which told a similar, fact-based story of relentless drive and deterioration. (The Wife was reminded more of Rossellini's "The Rise to Power of Louis XIV," which doesn't... posted by Michael at May 29, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, May 28, 2007

Travel Anticipations and Realities
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards: I just returned from a trip to places in the U.S. I had never visited before. That's getting to be unusual for me because I'd already been in 48 states and know the West Coast, the Northeast and parts of the Great Lakes area fairly well. This trip's route was from Key West to Philadelphia via Miami. St. Augustine, FL, Savannah, GA, Charleston, NC, New Bern, NC, Kitty Hawk, NC, Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. Every bit of it south of Richmond, VA was new to me. Seeing all that new territory was great fun. But what I saw wasn't really new to me. I had "seen" many of those places while reading books, newspaper stories, magazine articles, watching television news and entertainment programs and, when I was a kid, viewing those short travelogues movie houses used along with newsreels and cartoons to pad the feature film. I'll sometimes spend time researching trips, but that's mostly when I'm going to Europe and plan to drive and book lodging before departing. Otherwise, I could seriously botch my time-budget, and I hate misusing time. I didn't do that for the last trip. I asked Nancy (who'd been there) how many days she thought southern Florida would be worth. We negotiated the Washington stay. Otherwise, we targeted St. Augustine, Savannah, Charleston and the Virginia Tidewater area as places to spend at least half a day in, and that pretty well defined the itinerary. I bought a few guidebook that we used to supplement AAA tour books, but I didn't do much more than flip through them before we left, preferring to save research for evening-before-visiting. What this boils down to is that my anticipations regarding various places were a random jumble of filtered impressions. How well did these match the "reality" I actually experienced? It turns out that I liked the coastal-Altantic south a lot better than expected. I'm old enough that the former Confederate states were seen by me as either "enemy territory" (one of my great-grandfathers wore Union blue in 1862-63), or as an economic and sociocultural backwater (as it might well have been, pre-1960). The place seems reasonably prosperous, given its history -- not that different from most other parts of the country -- and the people were polite and friendly. One nice change from Seattle is that few cars were sporting political bumper stickers. (Oddly, I saw not a single car with Washington license plates. I spotted two Oregon cars and three from Alaska!) I found Savannah to be quite interesting in city-planning and architectural terms, counteracting my "what the hell am I doing here" attitude as I was driving into town from I-95. Charleston had a reputation as a nice place to visit, and it struck be as being about as advertised. Perhaps I'll post some photos of each place later if they turn out okay. Florida also met expectations, but they weren't very high. Coming from Seattle, with water and high mountains... posted by Donald at May 28, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

DVD Journal: "Talladega Nights"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Talladega Nights. For the first 20 minutes of this NASCAR-themed comedy hit I was in agony. The filmmaking was so flimsy, cheap, and hectic that watching it was like being trapped in a big-box store on kiddie-special day. But then the improv-style comedy grew wilder, the ideas revealed barbs and fangs, and -- what the heck -- I gave over and had myself a good time. This was my first Will Ferrell movie, so I could be completely wrong in my view of him. But he struck me as midway between Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, goofily wholesome as well as unstoppably bullish -- he's likable, but he's a little frightening too. The inspired weisenheimers who make up the rest of the film's cast include John C. Reilly as Ferrell's worhipful / resentful best buddy and second banana; Gary Cole as Ferrell's never-to- be-tamed rapscallion dad; Leslie Bibb as a redneck honey whose eyes and chest always find their way to where the money is; and the weird Sacha Baron-Cohen as a gay Frenchman who conquers NASCAR -- he amuses himself behind the wheel reading Camus' "L'Etranger" as he suavely whips the uncouth Americans at their own game. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 28, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

DVD Journal: "Shaun of the Dead"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shaun of the Dead. This British take on the George Romero horror-zombie movies surprises by being a satisfyingly intense horror picture in its own right, as well as the expected well-turned spoof of the genre. The film's exuberant masterminds (and co-writers) are director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg. Pegg and his fellow performers (including Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy David, and Dylan Moran) deliver eccentricities, polish, energy, and droll humor galore. "Shaun of the Dead" is currently on sale at Amazon for $6.99. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 28, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

DVD Journal: "Wordplay"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In honor of an especially DVDish stretch around the Blowhard household, I'm treating myself to a DVD roundup. First up: Wordplay. Filmmakingwise, Patrick Creadon's documentary about crossword-puzzle fanatics is a competent exercise from the school of PBS. (Those damn solo-piano scores ...) But it's a very enjoyable -- moving, engrossing, and suspenseful -- look at a special kind of nerdiness anyway. The film's central figure is Will Shortz, the New York Times' crossword-puzzle editor, and the storyline builds towards a get-together / competition that Shortz hosts at a Marriott Hotel in Stamford, CT. Along the way, we meet celebs (Bill Clinton, Ken Burns) whose days aren't complete until they finish the Times' puzzle, as well as high-end competitors who are able to whip through the toughest crosswords Shortz can dish out in under ten minutes. What I found especially fascinating was the intensity of the relationship that puzzle buffs have with their puzzles. These people possess brains that are wired in very special ways, and Creadon does a good job of conveying the concentration and energy that obsessive puzzle masters bring to bear on their puzzling. (The film makes nothing of the fact, but it's clear that most of the freakishly gifted puzzlers are male.) It's interesting too what a wide range of personality and physical types are represented among the buffs -- as with child molestors, you apparently never know who's going to turn out to be a crossword-puzzle whiz. My least favorite celeb appearance was by Jon Stewart, whose evening comedy-news show I've never watched. What a disagreeable and overbearing beast he seems to be. Do people really find this guy funny? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 28, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments