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Friday, June 22, 2007

Singing Along
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is it fair to propose a category of song labeled, more or less, "songs that I've made a happy fool of myself singing along to"? I think it may be OK. In any case, high on my personal list of such songs would come this goofily operatic piece of inane cheerfulness by Jay and the Americans: Listening to it, I'm a kid again, waiting until the house clears out, then cranking up our tiny stereo and bellowing along with Jay Black. Infantile pop bliss. Oh, here's another song that deserves a high place on my list: Johnny Rivers doing the immortal "Secret Agent Man": It's surprising how happy these silly songs still make me feel. In fact, they make me wish I didn't live in an apartment house. Even when The Wife is out and I have the place to myself, there are still neighbors around, darn it. One of the minor sorrows of my life is that I have such an appalling voice. If only I could really sing ... Just as I sometimes think that the story of my inner life is inscribed in the pornography I've collected over the years, I sometimes think that the story of my emotional life can be inferred from the songs I've loved to sing along with. Wikipedia is informative about Jay and the Americans as well as about Johnny Rivers. Interesting to learn that Jay and da boyz were discovered and shaped by the great Leiber and Stoller. Here's Jay Black's site. Here's Johnny Rivers'. Of all the songs you've enjoyed making a fool of yourself singing along with, which ones have made you the most dizzily happy? Best, Michael UPDATE: Lester Hunt rhapsodizes about Domenico Modugno's rendition of "Volare."... posted by Michael at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I wrote here about Akseli Gallén-Kallela, an important Finnish artist active around the turn of the 20th century. Many of his paintings are in Finland and therefore inconvenient for most of us to view in person. This problem was somewhat alleviated thanks to a major exhibition of his work in Groningen, Netherlands. The bad news is that the exhibit ended 26 April. The good news is that a catalog, in English, is available. I saw copies at a nearby Barnes & Noble store, but it's available here at Amazon. No doubt there are other places it can be found, including museum shops. So you have the opportunity to get a pretty good idea about what he painted from the very good to the so-so. One feature of the catalog that I found especially nice was two-page spreads containing a detail from one or another of his major paintings (illustrated in full on another page). The detail is good enough that an interested reader (such as me) could glean a decent idea as to how Gallén handled brushwork, color overlaying and other details useful to artists. Another book I recently purchased is a biography of architect Bertram Goodhue -- its Amazon link is here. Goodhue was an outstanding architect who died in his fifties, just as Modernism was starting its rise. So there is no way we can be sure what his final, mature style might have been, unlike the case for near-contemporary (and also short-lived) architect Raymond Hood. Among Goodhue's best-known buildings are the Nebraska State Capitol, the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago and St. Bartholomew's Church on New York City's Park Avenue. The book is interesting because its focus is on Goodhue's residential work, less known than his large projects (which the book does not ignore). An interesting sidelight: I'm been seeking a decent book about Goodhue for a year or two. Apparently all the while I was wallowing in frustration, this book was becoming reality: how convenient. Will lightening strike again? Are there any publishers readying books about Frans Hals and Jean-Léon Gérôme? Hope so. (Note: 2Blowhards does not have advertisements, nor do we have deals with companies such as The Amazon links above are for informational purposes only.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Steps in the Right Direction?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gotta love those modernist improvements! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Going Live
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I are coming off a long-ish spell of old-fashioned barnstorming. In recent months we've put our raunchy fiction up in front of live audiences all around the country. We've conferred our genius on San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Austin and seven or eight more cities (/irony, of course). Or was it nine more cities? When you're on tour, where you are and where you've been can get to be a bit of a blur. It has been an elaborate and exhausting procedure, mainly because we don't just show up at bookstores and read from books. That would be too easy. No, we arrange with local actors to semi-read / semi-perform our stories. We put on a real show, in other words. It's all very no-budget and catch-as-catch-can, but even so the process involves arranging a venue, buying advertising, trying to rustle up local press coverage, and auditioning actors and getting them to show up on time. To be honest, this has all been The Wife's doing, not mine. For one thing, she's promoting a collection of her own stories that has just been published. (If you'd like an Amazon link to the book, email me at michaelblowhard at gmail and I'll email it back to you. And please do! The Wife's book is a super-fun read -- full of mischief, nifty hooks, lively characters, and hot and filthy sex scenes. Not that I'm biased or anything ... ) For another, The Wife just likes putting on live shows. She's that type -- I often tease her that she's more actress than writer, and I wonder sometimes if she wouldn't be even happier making movies than writing books. Performers, venues, applause, audiences, the crackle of electricity that's special to live performances -- for her, that combo is like the world's bestest-ever drug. Me, well ... Let's just say that I enjoy co-writing, lending moral support, and hanging out backstage. Please don't feel impressed. We put our shows on at small clubs, even at sex-toy stores, not in auditoriums. At our level, the usual audience ranges from 40-60 people. (On the other hand: Be impressed! Most writers would kill to have 40-60 people show up to listen to their fiction.) We've also been doing the touring on our own nickel. What, you don't think book publishers actually promote the books they publish, do you? Please, grow up. The fact is that, for 90% of book-authors, publishers do nothing besides turn the material into a book and place it on bookstore shelves for eight weeks. That's it. No ads, no touring, no support. The book either finds its audience or it doesn't. (It's an absurd business: How is anyone supposed to learn about the book's existence in the first place?) So The Wife and I -- darned proud of our kooky, nasty fiction, and maybe a little tougher about promotion than many tenderfoot writers are -- have been doing our best to give our... posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This can't be good. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute posts some irresistable clips from Bollywood musicals. * Anne Thompson thinks we needn't worry overmuch about women in Hollywood. * Whipsmart chicklit author Jennifer Weiner is as peeved by the New York Times Book Review's disdain for genre fiction as I am. (My own postings on the topic: here, here, here, here, here.) * Thursday comes up with a helpful mini-canon for world literature. * Russian-Jewish immigrant Irina writes that she didn't really discover her Jewishness until she moved to the U.S. * The Communicatrix 'fesses up to 8 things you probably didn't know about her. #7 represents the best use yet of Google Maps. For a good time, don't miss the last link in that particular entry. * Prairie Mary pokes around the crawl space under her kitchen. * Slow This and Slow That -- enough already. Anna Travis praises the speed of modern life. * Vince Keenan raves about a recent Hard Case Crime Gil Brewer reprint. Vince seems as taken by the book's panties-bra-gun-money cover painting as he is by the book's content. Funny line: "This is what the inside of my brain looks like 24/7." * Tyler Cowen lists some of his favorite things Quebecois. And here's a deal: Pre-order a copy of Tyler's new book and receive the key to his secret blog. I think all culturebuffs owe it to themselves to read Tyler's "In Praise of Commercial Culture." * Raymond Pert turns over some moody memories of high-school basketball. * 2B Rewind: Michael Blowhard reviews "Sex and Lucia," "Lost and Delirious," "The Good Girl," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

DVD Journal: "Open Range"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Open Range." Kevin Costner's Western is about what happens when a group of "free-rangers" -- cattlemen with no fixed abode, who graze their small herd of cattle on open land -- are assaulted by frontier-closing empire-builders. The film is over-long, slow-moving, mournful, obsessed by mortality, and underbudgeted -- you've never seen a cattle-raising movie with so few cattle. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. It delivers solid moral dilemmas of a perennial, man's-gotta-be-a-man sort; mucho powerful acting (of a restrained, minimal sort); and a lot of blue-green landscapes, magnificent horses, and guns, of a sculpturally beautiful yet deadly sort. With her careworn beauty, her erotic daring, and her forthright emotionality, Annette Bening gives the film a strong and poignant sense of something at stake. And Costner himself is awfully good, in a dignified / introverted way, as a Civil War vet who has had to turn himself, with many regrets, into a killing machine. And then there's Robert Duvall. As a shrewd old geezer who's tougher than he looks, Duvall is beyond-good; he's perfectly magnificent. Duvall is so reliably superb that it seems to me we may be in danger of taking him too much for granted -- "Oh, there he is, he's always amazing." He has got to be one of the least showy major actors ever. But, though he may play his cards close to the vest, he does so very resourcefully -- and they're some high-ranking, soulful cards. His ability to bring an idea to gritty, full-bodied life is awe-inspiring. His character here isn't some lovable old cartoon coot content so long as he remembers to take his fiber powder. Instead, he's a canny son of a bitch, full of gristle, and with a lot of ornery living and enticing plans left in him. Duvall gets my nomination for Greatest Living American Actor. A couple of notes: The film's climactic showdown struck me as awfully well-done, and brilliantly sustained. It isn't anything like what we're used to these hyperkinetic days; it isn't full of slow motion, tricky "Matrix"-like camerawork, or Joel Silver pyrotechnics. Instead, it's formal and distanced, almost stately (all of which makes it all the more terrifying). The guns pop, the bullets ricochet god knows where, the townspeople want to watch but need to hide ... Costner and his cast really make you feel how heavy and slow those beautiful old guns were. They also drive home the fact that the guys handling them aren't all in the best shape imaginable. These aren't athletes and stuntmen. They're aging businessguys and tired workers hauling around big guts and heavy limbs while fighting uncomfortable clothing. I may not be the hugest fan of Costner-the-actor, but I confess that there are a couple of things Costner is drawn to that I admire, applaud, and root for. First: He wants to revive and depict heroism. This was true even in semi-comic, romantic turns like "Bull Durham." Though he doesn't do dashing,... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Diabetes Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New York Times reports that surgery to reduce "man-boobs" is on the increase, especially among boys and teens. Although some kids are genetically unlucky, it seems that the main reason for the higher numbers is increased levels of obesity. Boys are gettin' fat=boys are developin' boobies, in other words. Which reminds me: On a recent flight The Wife and I found ourselves chatting with a doctor from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. According to him, people -- and children especially -- are growing fatter in that already-fat part of the country at a remarkable rate. Cases of adult-onset-style diabetes among kids are skyrocketing. When we asked our doctor what he thought might be done about it, this was his answer: "People would be amazed what cutting back on packaged food and taking three 45 minute walks a week can do." The Times also reports on growing levels of diabetes in Mexico. Hmm, Mexico ... Texas ... You don't suppose that ... Yep: Hispanics have twice as high a rate of diabetes as non-Hispanic whites do. Small hunch: Whatever else it might accomplish, importing a lot of Mexicans won't be solving our health-care problems. Greg Critser explains how we became such an obesity-embattled people. I don't think that The Guy From Boston will be following any of Greg Critser's advice, though ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Mike Perry on Chesterton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while back I wrote a couple of postings about G.K. Chesterton. Visit them and enjoy, if less for my ramblings than for the tons of brainy and imaginative comments that accumulated on them. Who knew there were such a lot of smart Chesterton buffs out there? And don't neglect to savor Philip Bess' musings on Chesterton. Philip is a very interesting architect and professor who has a deep and abiding passion for Chesterton's thought. Philip has recently been contributing some beautiful guest postings at Right Reason: here and here. Great -- and eye-opening -- passage: "Modern space" is characteristically non-hierarchical, abstract, rational, universal and undifferentiated; i.e., shapeless, not purpose-specific, and not characterized by the specific formal and figural qualities found in traditional spaces such as public squares, streets, and rooms. An interesting comment that unfortunately didn't find its way onto any of the Chesterton commentsthreads came from Mike Perry, the editor of a Chesterton volume called "Eugenics and Other Evils." Our blog's software was evidently misbehaving the day Mike tried to comment, and it refused to accept Mike's contribution. But Mike kindly emailed it to me instead, so I'm running his comment -- a response to a remark I'd made about "hyper-traditional Christianity" -- in its own posting. Here it is: I'd be intrigued by how you define "hyper-traditional Christianity"? In politics, if you go beyond a particular point of view, then you become a "hyper." A hyper-socialist, for instance, might want the State to own not just the means of production, such as factories, but everything from homes and cars to toothbrushes. But that's because we think of politics (not always accurately) as a line from right to left with different points labeled and directions implicit in the very meaning of terms. Moving toward capitalism isn't becoming more of a socialist, moving away is. But traditional religious views and practices aren't points along a line. They're more like communities, so there's no particular way to become "hyper." They define their existence in all directions. For example, traditional Catholics believe in the Trinity. You don't become a hyper-Catholic by believing in millions of God (like some forms of pantheism) or by believing in no God like atheists. Leave the Trinity and you leave traditional Catholicism no matter which direction you move. That's why "hyper-traditional Christianity" seems to have no meaning. Someone can be very traditional, if they have many traditions they keep seriously or not very traditional, if they have a few beliefs they keep indifferently (like proabortion Catholic politicians). But neither the "very" or the "not very" is a 'hyper." My thanks to Mike Perry. If anyone else has had trouble leaving comments on postings, please let me know at michaelblowhard at that gmail place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Boomer Embarrassments
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- At the gym this morning, the music on the PA system was so whiney that -- try as I could -- I finally couldn't ignore it any longer. Damn! When I allowed my mind to register the tune, I quickly recognized who was singing: James Taylor, sensitive bard of gentle melancholy, of nostalgic hopefulness, of sweetly Lincolnesque cheekbones, of sad and childlike loss ... Lordy, what a disgrace he is -- the Boomers really owe the world an apology for James Taylor! (I confess that my sense of shame was amplified by the cringe-making recollection that, during one year of adolescent self-pity that I'd prefer to deny, I owned a James Taylor disc and even played it a lot. Adolescence, eh? What are those feelings all about?) Which in turn got me thinking: What other culture-figures should the Boomers apologize for inflicting on the world? The man who sprang most quickly to mind was the awful architect Thom Mayne, a self-important buffoon we've done our best to expose to some ridicule on this blog: here, here, here, here, here. After Mayne, though, I bogged down a bit, because the Boomers have supplied such an extensive set of riches to choose from. So with this blogposting I'm soliciting help: Which culture-figures deserve places on a short list of Boomer Embarrassments? (Note to self for future blogpostings: Propose same game for other eras -- "Shame of the Greatest Generation"; "Disgraces of the Xers," etc.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (33) comments

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Industrial-Style Upscale Housing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A current architectural style fad is what I'll term "Industrial-Look Housing." It seems most commonly used for apartment buildings. Perhaps you've noticed such structures with curtain walls with vertical or horizontal stamped linear elements and perhaps painted using several bold colors. That style also can be found in single-family houses, even some in upscale neighborhoods. Below is an example I came across in Seattle. Gallery This is a house one drives by shortly after entering the neighborhood. It's a bit fancier than most of the others, but it does set the tone. Another fine, traditional-style house. But kitty-corner from it is ... ... this Industrial-Look house. Here's a picture of it looking uphill. I think the vertical-motif cladding on the top floor makes this house first-cousin to a pre-fab warehouse and not in keeping with its (likely) $2 million-ish value. Granted, the site is awkward enough that a traditional-style house might be hard to design. (Most new houses in the neighborhood are traditional in various guises.) And perhaps the interior is well thought out and lovely beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, I don't find Industrial-Look houses attractive, and I think this one is an eyesore in the context of the neighborhood. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Dog-Training Video Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I blogged recently about a dog-training reality-TV show that I love, "It's Me or the Dog," starring the glamorous and expressive Victoria Stilwell. It's a wittily entertaining half-hour series that provides nifty clips of dogs learning how to behave as well as suggestive, touching, and hilarious footage of the lives and souls of dog owners. TV's real dog-training hit, though, is Cesar Millan's "The Dog Whisperer," which runs on the National Geographic Channel. The two shows -- and the two stars -- make for quite a contrast. Where Victoria is theatrical and quicksilvery, Cesar is blunt and direct. Where Victoria's likely to make a toy-breed intervention, Cesar generally grapples with the hard cases, physically powerful and aggressive dogs that have taken over households. Cesar is a bit of a street dog himself -- an impressively charismatic, tough, and insightful figure who masters difficult situations and dangerous animals amazingly quickly. If Victoria is like a slightly camp diva, Cesar reminds The Wife and me of a great, perhaps somewhat authoritarian, acting teacher. If his show is a little too souped-up for my tastes, and if it isn't quite as alert to household and personal dynamics as Victoria's is, it's full of its own kind of pugilistic drama. He does great dog impersonations too. Cesar Millan turns out to be quite the controversial figure in the dog-training world. Are his methods sensible or cruel? Is he giving people the skills they need to live with their dogs peacefully and rewardingly? Or are his methods not only not-transferable, but even dangerous? But perhaps those who carp about him are just jealous ... On this issue, I'm goin' with Terrierman -- a blogger I discovered thanks to the dog-lovin' boys at Querencia. Terrierman writes, "If a dog is going to learn anything it needs a calm, assertive and not-too-verbal person who consistently does the same thing over and over again. In fact, this is exactly what Cesar Millan offers and when he teaches -- along with a good dose of 'Your dog is not your child,' and 'this is a choke chain -- learn how to use it'." What possesses so many people to acquire high-energy, difficult, and belligerant dogs anyway? You can watch some clips from "The Dog Whisperer" here. * Train your whippet to slalom. * Cowtown Pattie sent along an irresistable snap of her dog -- and you better spell that d-a-w-g -- Rusty: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Manzoni's Cans
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni canned some of his shit and displayed the cans as art. The gesture was an anarchist's joke at the expense of the artworld -- it was probably meant to be considerably more than that too. In any case, Manzoni's turd-tins eventually became expensive art-things in their own right. Now the joke is getting another punchline -- it turns out that there's no shit in those cans. An artist who worked with Manzoni has revealed that the Manzoni caca-cans are in fact full of plaster. Will the art world take this revelation as further proof of Manzoni's canny greatness? We can only hope. Here's the Piero Manzoni webpage. Wikipedia lists a number of Manzoni's other projects. FWIW, as zany conceptual art-world hijinks go, many of them strike me as pretty inspired. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Frum on Losing the Faith, Plus Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Former Bush speechwriter David Frum started off a dewy-eyed neocon, enthusiastic about our no-enforcement approach to immigration policy. The more the better! And who cares who they are! Then real life started to intrude on his fantasies. He writes here about how he finally lost the no-borders faith. Nice passage: I ... began to learn that you could hardly name a social problem without discovering that immigration was aggravating it to the point of unsolvability. Health insurance? Immigrants accounted for about one-quarter of the uninsured in the early 1990s, and about one-third of the increase in the uninsured population at that time. Social spending? The Urban Institute estimated in 1994 that educating the children of illegal aliens cost the State of California almost $1.5 billion per year. Wage pressure on the less-skilled? The wages of less-skilled Americans had come under ferocious pressure since 1970. How could you even begin to think about this issue without recognizing the huge immigration-driven increase in the supply of unskilled labor over the same period? Competitiveness? How could the U.S. remain the world's most productive nation while simultaneously remixing its population to increase dramatically the proportion of poorly educated people within it? Good for Frum. Of course, the question does arise: Why do we have so many puffed-up, wet-behind-the-ears, know-it-all brats like Frum in positions of government and media authority in the first place? Steve Sailer pokes some well-deserved fun at David Frum. Frum responds. Mickey Kaus wonders why more lefties aren't protesting against the current (and still kicking) immigration proposal. Isn't the left supposed to stand up for the lower-class American workingperson? A Rasmussen poll finds that only 15% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of immigration questions -- yet still he presses ahead. What drives that man? Screenwriter "David Kahane" offers some humorous perspective on the immigration follies from L.A.: Go ahead and take care of our lawns, just don't start undercutting our screenwriting wages. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (51) comments

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Real Are Tourist "Cultural" Events?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the joys of overseas group tours is having the "opportunity" to fork out more cash for supplemental trips and "cultural" evenings. The latter might include a meal comprised of local specialties and a floor show featuring costumed folk dancers, musicians, singers and such. I avoid this "cultural" stuff if possible. Some of this has to do with eating habits: my agent tells me my ranking is 12th most fussy eater in the USA. (Lordy, I'm slipping. Must have been because I ate at Wild Ginger last month.) What bothers me most is the other stuff, not the food. For reasons I won't go into, I have a strong aversion to folk-dancing and related activities. Moreover, I suspect that nowadays most people in the country being visited do not dress, dance, etc. as portrayed in the floor shows. When I travel, I spend as much time as I can strolling streets and driving through the countryside. And when I do so, I almost never see locals as they appear in "cultural" events. (For what it's worth, I see local clothing most often in Bavaria.) Or, consider this angle. Just what would an American "cultural" floor show include? Square dancing, for instance? Nah: only a tiny minority do that. Overseas readers who have taken packaged USA tours: Do those tours offer "cultural" evenings? And if so, what goes on? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 18, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments