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

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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Friday, August 17, 2007

On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Always fun to highlight culture-bargains. * Wes Craven's "Red Eye" is now $5.99 -- I wrote about this clever, well-acted, and exciting thriller here. * "Cellular," an L.A.-set thriller that showcases a lot of ingenuity, professionalism, and bravado, now goes for $7.99. If you liked "Speed," you'll probably enjoy "Cellular." I raved about this resourceful and exuberant picture, which was directed by David Ellis, here. * J.S. Cardone's "8MM 2" -- which, amusingly, has zero to do with the original "8MM" -- is on sale for $5.99. I found "8MM 2" to be an inspired, moody, and sexy B movie; I wrote about it here. * Michael Bay's 2005 bomb "The Island" is nothing if not overblown, hectic, and pretentious -- a philosophical thriller for MTV-addled frat boys. I enjoyed it nonetheless, if in a half-camp way. Nothing wrong with enjoying a movie in a half-camp way, is there? I wrote about "The Island" here. * Will Farrell's NASCAR comedy "Talladega Nights" starts out slow but gets wilder and wilder as it goes along. And what a cast! I wrote about "Talladega Nights" here. * Annette Bening is perfectly amazing in the satisfying backstage period drama "Being Julia," from a novella by Somerset Maugham. My blogposting about the movie is here; I wrote about the masterly Maugham here. * The Berry Gordy-directed Diana Ross showcase "Mahogony" is a classic example of "perfectly awful and terrifically enjoyable." It's soapy / campy, over-the-top -- and non-ironic -- melodramatic bliss of a juicy and absurd kind that they really don't make any longer. * Mariner Software sells a first-class word processor for the Mac called MarinerWrite. Why hand hundreds to Microsoft for Word when you can download MarinerWrite for just $34.95, its current on-sale price? I blogged about some other excellent and cheap writing tools for the Mac here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 17, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Information, please
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I am just an ignorant small business owner who is many decades past his college economics courses. I am looking for information and instruction regarding the current credit markets flap set off by the problems in subprime mortgages. Nearly a week ago I read articles that discussed the injection of liquidity by various central banks. These stories are full of statements like: In a statement on Friday morning, the Federal Reserve said it was "providing liquidity to facilitate the orderly functioning of financial markets" and offered to provide reserves "as necessary" to promote a federal funds rate close to its target rate of 5.25 per cent. And It follows concerted action from central banks in North America and Asia to inject liquidity to calm fears of a credit crunch and allow borrowers to meet short-term lending needs. These particular quotes, by the way, is from a Financial Times article of August 10, which you can read here. These statements and others like them, repeated endlessly in the popular and financial press, strike me as Orwellian in their weirdly impersonal tone; they communicate almost nothing to me except that apparently I am not supposed to understand and I am not supposed to ask questions. Questions I would like to ask would include the following: (1) What, in concrete terms that even an idiot like myself can understand, in the present context, is meant by facilitating the orderly functioning of financial markets? (2) Exactly what types of transactions are we talking about? (3) What does orderly mean in this context? What would a disorderly functioning of credit markets look like? Why should I (Friedrich von Blowhard) care? (4) Who at this precise moment in time has their tail caught in a crack as a result of the failure of markets to function in an orderly fashion? (If possible, I would like specific names here.) (5) Who will profit from or be prevented from losing money by this injection of liquidity? (Again, names if you can manage it.) (6) Is it possible that these people are actually in trouble for reasons having little to do with orderly markets, and perhaps more to do with imprudent investments or unfortunate contractual commitments? Am I just being paranoid? (7) Whose interests are being served by the decision of the Federal Reserve to talk in this weird, imprecise, vague, euphemistic manner? (8) Most euphemisms are intended to cover for distasteful or troubling subject matter. Is something distasteful or troubling going on here? Please keep all explanations very concrete and simple; obviously, I am not smart enough to talk Fedspeak. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. In an update on this continuing saga, I read today (Friday, August 17) that the Fed made a half-percentage point cut in its discount rate on loans to banks. The Fed explained itself thusly: Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward. In these circumstances, although... posted by Friedrich at August 16, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pin-Up Masters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to see them on the walls of dirty, cluttered service station or car repair shop offices. I even saw some at the San Francisco branch of the appraisal company my dad worked for. Now they're gone. A victim of Political Correctness. Pin-Ups is the subject. No, make that pin-up artists, because it's the artist who gives the pin-up its character. There were only a few major calendar companies offering a pin-up line. They generally featured artists who were skilled in the genre and whose work sold well -- the pin-up buying public was not lacking in taste, apparently. Other, sometimes cruder, pin-up art could be found in magazines and on their covers: the publication Movies Humor is an example. 2Blowards has not ignored the pin-up. Friedrich von Blowhard has proved to be a devoted student of famed pin-up artist Gil Elvgren, as can be seen here, here and here. There are books about Elvgren; I'm most familiar with one that attempts to present all known examples ofl his pin-up art as well as examples of his regular commercial work. The original Taschen edition is here and the more recent Barnes & Noble reprint is here. Perhaps the most famous of all 20th century pin-up artists were George Petty and Alberto Vargas, both of whom gained their renown because they were featured in Esquire magazine for many years, whereas Elvgren's work was mostly seen on calendars. If you are interested in artists of the golden age of pin-ups, I suggest the book The Great American Pin-Up, which presents examples of work by dozens of artists who spent at least part of their career in that trade. I used that book as reference for this article, trying to identify artists whose work I thought was especially good. Unfortunately, most of the really good pictures in the book don't seem to be on the Internet, so the examples below are a shadow of the glory and tackiness of the pin-up world. The examples I selected are definitely on the prim side because that suits my public temperament. Besides, my intent is to show the artistic style of the artists, not the content. You can find plenty of content in the books cited in this post. Gallery By George Petty This World War 2 vintage illustration was subject of the wrath of the Post Office. By Alberto Vargas Also from the time of World War 2. Petty and Vargas used simlar techniques for their pin-up work because their work was both in vogue and in Esquire (yes, that small "v" is intentional). The archetype of this style is a illustration of an ultra-leggy girl with a white telephone tucked next to her head. By Gil Elvgren Elvgren cranked out lots of pin-up art. His challenge was to remain within the audience expectations of the genre while providing variety. Even a 12-illustration calendar could be challenging when coming up with subject-matter. And viewers would be familiar with... posted by Donald at August 15, 2007 | perma-link | (83) comments

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * You certainly can't say that he lacks conviction. * Tyler Cowen reads what sounds like a remarkable book about poverty. * Robert Sandall's survey of the collapse of the music CD business is essential recent-cultural-history reading. (Link thanks to ALD) * Katie Hutchison enjoys a visit to the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. * Irina thinks that cocaine can make people do stupid sexual things. * George Borjas considers a study that looks at productivity and age among artists. * French-Canadian Martine is just beginning to discover the glories of English-Canadian fiction. * John Williams marvels at the Times' ultra-confrontational interviewer Deborah Solomon. * Mencius tries to make some sense of anti-Americanism. * Take that, undercover reporter-girl! * Mark Barry writes about the fun of collaborating on a lithograph. * The Derelict has been taking a re-look at some of the movies he loved as a kid. * Randall Parker notices the difference that one sentence in an energy bill can make. * Now we're supposed to worry about cholesterol levels that are too low ... * Confirmed heterosexual Grumpy Old Bookman admires a collection of essays by John Preston, a successful homosexual writer of gay porn. * Alias Clio would like to see a little more balance in discussions about the differences between girls and boys. * Lester Hunt wonders what the difference between a "gourmet" and a "foodie" might be. * Kirsten learns that there are 2500 different kinds of cicadas. * MBlowhard Rewind: I took stock of Method acting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Before the Interstates
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- From time to time I'll post an article on life in the era circa 1945-65 -- the Fifties, with a little elbow room on either end. Why? Because eventually my generation will die off [Sniff] and I think it is useful for history that members of each generation leave some records of how things seemed to those living through the events they experienced. Moreover, I'm definitely excluding reports by journalists, other professional writers and academicians. I can't say with certainty how reports on eras such as the Twenties and Thirties have been distorted by such paid observers, but much of what I read about the Fifties doesn't ring true. For example, supposedly the decade was one of fear caused by rampant McCarthyism. Sure, there was the Cold War and the Korean War, but on a day-to-day basis, life was fun for many of us. When I mentioned this last point to an academic, he immediately retorted "But the racism! It was everywhere!" So I suppose life in the Fifties really was intolerable: I was a victim of various forms of false-consciousness, it would seem. One thing about those days that wasn't so hot and that did affect me personally was the highway system in its pre-Interstate form. First, some background. The Twenties and even the depressed Thirties were the time when most cities in the USA were linked by hard-surface paved roads for the first time. Most of these were two-lane roads (one lane for each direction), often with little or no shoulder. The situation in 1950 was roughly as follows. The population of the United States was about half of what it is now -- slightly more than 150 million, according to that year's census. The number of cars and other road vehicles was much less than half of today's count. Few families had more than one car back then and trucks were relatively fewer because long-distance land-based hauling tended to be by railroad. The legislation that launched the Interstate system was six years in the future. Population was more concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of the country than now. Although four-lane highways tied some cities in that region together, there was a perceived need for a more effective kind of highway -- the freeway. (The term "freeway" refers to free-flowing traffic -- no stoplights or other impediments -- not toll-free.) Germany and Italy had some freeways in place before 1940 and people such as industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes had proposed a national freeway system in the 30s. The need and the solution were first manifested here in the form of the turnpike freeway. Financing was by bond sales and revenue was furnished by tolls. The first major long-distance freeway was the Pennsylvania Turnpike, whose first section (along the route of an uncompleted rail line) opened in 1940. By 1950 other turnpikes were planned or under construction in New York, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and elsewhere in that region. It was different... posted by Donald at August 14, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, August 13, 2007

Me and the Snobs and the Little Guy
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in this posting, I took a gratuitous swing at the European concert-hall tradition. Challenged by Jult52 about whether that was necessary -- and of course he's right, it wasn't -- I responded with some thoughts that Donald has urged me to turn into a free-standing posting. So without further ado, although with a little additional dolling-up ... Well, "Suck on this" wasn't exactly meant to be taken as a considered (let alone defensible) critical position ... But, what the heck, to indulge in a little earnestness for a sec: I love the Euro high-art traditions. What I don't like (and what I think screws up a lot of American arts discussions and arts education) is seeing American art through a Euro-derived, high-art fixated lens. Sometimes it's helpful, but much of the time it blinds people to the riches we have, or makes them much too modest about them. A lot of our best art (it seems to me) is folk, popular, self-created, entertainment-driven, commercial, eccentric, and/or hard-to-categorize. Much of it wasn't even intended to be taken as art. Meanwhile, our high-art style work, while sometimes amazing, is often either thin on the ground (hard to make a living at it here) or embattled, stressed, and self-righteous in a way that can weaken its quality. As a result we have a culture that's very different from a Euro-ish one in many important ways -- it's scrappy, decentered, unofficial, making-itself-up-as -it-goes-along, and often coming at ya out of seemingly nowhere ... Work that wasn't intended as art -- movies, jazz -- becomes a hugely important part of world culture, while much of our self-consciously arty art goes nowhere at all. So why do many critics, profs, and even civilians insist on applying inappropriate -- or at least what I consider inappropriate -- standards to what we do have? (I think I have a hunch why, btw ... ) Like I say, this kind of attitude can blind us to much of what we have and can make us too modest about how rich our culture is. It can also kill pleasure, and by god I love pleasure. High-art-obsessed types tend to see things awfully hierarchically. One work is automatically more valuable than another simply because of the kind of work it is. A literary novel is automatically more valuable than a collection Dave Barry columns, for instance. Seriously: It isn't uncommon to run into someone in the books world looking at something like a Dave Barry collection and sniffing, "Oh, that isn't a real book" as though he's just seen a dog turd on a sidewalk. Yet Dave Barry has been around for decades, and so far his writing seems to be holding up better than 90% of the lit novels -- the so-called "real books" -- from the same stretch. Similar kinds of people in the visual-arts field view a gallery-style sculpture or piece of installation art as automatically more worthy of "serious" consideration... posted by Michael at August 13, 2007 | perma-link | (54) comments

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blogging Notes
Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to some unexpected publicity, there might be a few more new 2Blowhards readers than normal. So this is a good excuse to once again describe the Comments procedures and policies hereabouts. It seems this blog gets comment-spammed from time to time. This was a serious problem a year or two ago. Spamming is less now, but we still get hit from time to time. There are several ways of dealing with the problem, but we use the expedient of putting incoming comments into a holding tank so that spam can be identified and zapped without ever getting published. What this means to the legitimate commenter is that a comment might not appear on the Web for minutes or even hours. That's because, believe it or not, Michael and I aren't constantly logged onto this site; we clean and post comments when we find the time to do so. But we do the best we can. So if your comment doesn't appear on the site immediately, there's probably no technical problem. If you don't see it after the better part of 24 hours, then yes, something went haywire. Another thing newcomers need to know is that we definitely don't like unruly comments. No name-calling. No red-hot flaming. Preferably no profanity. Keep things gentle and civil even if you think another commenter is stark mad or a spawn of the devil. * I'll be off to California Thursday for a long weekend, so posting from me will likely be non-existent from then till the following Tuesday. The upside is, I'll be attending the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance classic automobile show Sunday the 19th. I'll be on high alert for interesting stuff and my digital camera will be at the ready. If the planets (well, make that the Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs) align correctly, I'll post a report on the event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 12, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments