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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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Entrepreneur and arts buff
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Media flunky and arts buff

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  1. Which Way to Go?
  2. Populatin' and Propagatin' 3 -- The Anti-Death Party?
  3. Keegan and His Zigzags
  4. Dept. of Belaboring the Obvious
  5. Too Much Glass
  6. Elsewhere
  7. Nutrition / Food
  8. Some FvBlowhard Linkage
  9. More from Mexico
  10. "Absinthe" 1: Performers

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

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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
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Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
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Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
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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, October 6, 2007

Which Way to Go?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you think the breeders vs. non-breeders debate brings out passions, how about the really fundamental divisive issue of our time: Macs vs. PCs? * iPods plus Vista equals the Perfect Storm: More Princeton students choose Macs these days than PCs -- 60% in fact, up from just 10% in 2003. * Steve Ballmer, hiphop star. Best, Michael UPDATE: Agnostic asks, Are Macs girly?... posted by Michael at October 6, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Friday, October 5, 2007

Populatin' and Propagatin' 3 -- The Anti-Death Party?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The awaited-by-no one final episode in my trilogy on questions of population and propagating. Episode one can be read here; episode two is here. Here's a short version. Episode one: Why the hostility between breeders and non-breeders? We're all in this together, no? Episode two: Why so much anxiety about birth rates among certain crowds? The world's population is currently growing every year by more than the population of France. (That's an increase of over 200,000 people every goshdarned day.) And though it will level off sooner or later, that will be -- by my standards, anyway -- at a very high level indeed. What? 9 billion people isn't enough for you? In this final episode I'm going to pick on the crowd over at Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog. Incidentally, this is a little ungallant of me. I like Dreher's work, I'm fairly Crunchy myself, and I recommend regular visits to Crunchy Con, the blog. So please let's understand that I'm not putting anything or anyone down. Instead, I'm scratching my head over a phenomenon that I encounter at Rod's joint from time to time. Here's the puzzling tendency I sometimes run across: people who have kids carrying on as though they're doing their kid-having and kid-raising in the face of considerable opposition. They portray having and raising kids as a defiant and heroic adventure, a stirring war story in which every small success is accomplished despite overwhelming and hostile forces arrayed against them. These people can get downright urgent and teary about what they seem to see as their noble crusade, namely childraising. It's all ... for the kids! Cue weeping and sobbing, blackslaps and high-fives, and intense frenzies of self-righteousness ... I don't think I'm exaggerating, by the way. Check out the comments on this posting, for one example among many. This attitude requires an enemy, of course. And by god, these people have one. They call it "the Party of Death." (Or sometimes "the Culture of Death.") They really do. I'm often unsure what's being indicated by this name. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to consist of aggressive secularists, sometimes of aggressive Muslims, sometimes of aggressive people who don't do everything in their power to keep population growth booming, sometimes of aggressive DINKs -- because those of us without kids spend our days, y'know, swilling cocktails, snorting cocaine, attending orgies, and making fun of breeders. Sometimes the Party of Death seems to include anyone who ventures the slightest bit of irreverence about the whole sacred having-and-raising-kids thang. Whatever the case, these wet-eyed child-raising devotees share a fervent conviction that there are Lots of People Out There who don't, just don't, want them to propagate. You have got to understand!!!! Now, in fact I do understand a few things about this position. For one thing, I understand that raising kids can be a struggle. For another, I certainly understand that most parents feel anxiety and concern about their kids. If... posted by Michael at October 5, 2007 | perma-link | (46) comments

Keegan and His Zigzags
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few questions for the history buffs among you? I'm making my way through the early pages of John Keegan's "The First World War." Despite Keegan's rep as Our Greatest Historian of War, and despite the book's generally good reviews, I'm not liking it much. It seems all over the place, even half-baked. Keegan seems to me to be riffing as he makes his way through a lot of not-very-well organized notes -- "OK, here's my pile of 'what led to the war' index cards, now let's get through that ..." He's breezing his way along as he connects some dot or other to another dot or other, doing what he can to give the impression that he's building towards saying something significant. But he never actually gets around to putting the significance into words. I recall having the same "this could really be better organized" reaction to his work when I went through his "A History of Warfare." But for some reason I had less trouble with the approach there. Maybe that was because that book was attempting something impossible ... Zig-zagging didn't seem like an unsensible approach when what he was taking on was all of human history. But here, with one finite subject ... Well, I find this book exhausting, bewildering, and off-putting. It seems accessible, and word-to-word it's certainly an easy read. But as the pages pile up it's feeling more and more like a jumble. I'd have thought that the book -- given its title and its easy language -- would be a good solid intro to the history of WWI, and I picked it up in the hope that that's what it would be. But it's coming across as a lotta chitchat about WWI for those who already know the story of WWI. So, three questions. 1) Is this an unfair appraisal of Keegan's work generally? Is he better than I'm making him out to be? 2) Should I plug away at the book anyway? Will the effort pay off? 3) Can anyone recommend a better, more to-the-point intro to the history of WWI? Hmm, I wonder if the Teaching Company offers a lecture series on the topic ... UPDATE: They do, though it isn't currently on sale. (Tip for those who want to make use of the Teaching Company's often-excellent products: Buy 'em only when they go on sale, and sooner or later they all go on sale.) In any case, has anyone been through it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 5, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dept. of Belaboring the Obvious
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is this a sentence that really needed to be written: "Sexual activity and orgasm have been shown to reduce stress (Charnetski & Brennan, 2001)." I found this humdinger in "The Science of Orgasm," by Barry R. Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer-Flores, and Beverly Whipple, a book published by the prestigious Johns Hopkins Press. I'm sure glad that Komisaruk, Beyer-Flores, and Whipple cited a source to support their controversial statement! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Too Much Glass
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Design experts often rhapsodize about the glories of huge, unbroken expanses of glass -- yet in common experience, large stretches of glass often prove cold, barren, and blinding. Katie Hutchison praises the virtues and pleasures of windows that are divided up into panes. (I wrote a little something here about the way many architects over-value glass.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Learn some fun personal details about Virginia Postrel, and wish her well as she starts her battle with breast cancer. * DVD Spin Doctor notices that many owners of High Definition TVs are confused. * Best TV ad ever? (Link thanks to Michael Bierut.) * Andrew Sullivan links to a brilliant and creepy stop-action animation. * John Massengale notices that many religious figures are finally starting to turn against the ugliness of modernist churches. John also puts his iPhone's camera to good some very good use. * Vince Keenan asks: If it has a happy ending, can it be a noir? * MBlowhard Rewind: I recalled some of the excesses of '70s feminism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Nutrition / Food
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Given how often scientists and nutritionists change their advice, Gary Taubes asks, why should we pay any attention to them at all? "Be skeptical," he writes. A question that often occurs to me when public-health debacles arise: Why shouldn't we be able to sue the experts and organizations who hand out advice that proves to be destructive? Gary Taubes points out that tens of thousands of women have died -- died! -- due to misguided enthusiasm about hormone-replacement therapy. Another example: The high-carb / low-fat diet that respectable docs and organizations urged on us for years resulted in many people growing much fatter than they otherwise would have, and even developing diabetes. That's a lot of damage that our experts have inflicted on us. I'm tempted to make a comparison between our nutrition- expertise industry and our architecture-and- urbanism-expertise industry ... * A refreshing antidote to the above is Yummy or Yucky, a charmer of a new foodblog. Vanessa, the proprietor of the blog, manages to combine expertise about eating and cooking, a lot of personality, and writing flair -- yet she never loses her frankness about the infantile energies that are the basis for all food-pleasure. Sophisticated, yet in happy touch with the bodily and emotional basics -- that's a combo I always find delightful. I like reading Vanessa's food writing as much as I enjoy reading Calvin Trillin's, and that's saying a lot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Some FvBlowhard Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Friedrich von Blowhard treated himself to a little websurfing and turned up some excellent stuff. * Naked Capitalism reports that even Republicans are turning their backs on free trade -- or rather, on what's laughably called "free trade." As Yves Smith writes: More open trade can be a good thing, but not if entered into naively. Our system is more accurately characterized as managed trade, in which we negotiate trade pacts to promote corporate interests. * Dean Baker thinks that elite (and corporate) self-interest explains a lot. * Oprah magazine, believe it or not, runs some relationship advice (based on, as you'd imagine, "new studies") that strikes FvB and me -- both of us Old Married Guys -- as very good. I especially like the one tip about "Don't get angry and demanding when you're unhappy with things. Instead, express what you need and ask for help in getting it." Tactical wisdom! * Guys who spend a lot of time on their grooming often do better economically, reports Bloomberg's Matthew Lynn. Lynn isn't cheery about what this may mean: "Within most large corporations," he writes, "showmanship is now rated more highly than ability or intrinsic worth." I ain't arguing with that interpretation. * Steve Sailer marvels at how large college endowments have become, and wonders whether many red-blooded Americans will want to see a new musical about Andrew Cunanen, the despicable nutcase who killed Gianni Versace. Thanks to Friedrich. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More from Mexico
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mexico's ruling party holds a convention in Los Angeles -- now that gives you a warm feeling, doesn't it? One of the get-together's themes was, as you might have guessed, how the U.S. ought to take in even more Mexicans than it currently does. A nice quote from Allan Wall, an American living in Mexico: This is utter hypocrisy. As I've pointed out many times, Mexico's own immigration policy is highly selective, ruthlessly and arbitrarily enforced, and absolutely not open to foreign meddling. * Speaking somewhat of which ... I just learned that California's population is now 50% larger than it was when I spent a year out there as a grad student in 1977; that it's more than 300% larger than it was in 1950; and that it's expected to reach 60 million by 2050. California is growing by around a half-million people per year, and water resources are under stress. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

"Absinthe" 1: Performers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of days ago The Wife and I attended a performance called "Absinthe" at Spiegelworld, a touring circus group that had set their tent up at Manhattan's South Street Seaport. In fact -- and despite the tent and the ringmaster -- "Absinthe" wasn't a circus performance at all, at least not in the usual three-ring, elephants-and-tigers, clowns-shot-out-of-a-cannon sense. It was instead ... a show. For adults. This was one evening that was definitely not meant for the kiddies. Full of bawdy language, sleazy glamor, campy drag performances, and outrageously filthy jokes, "Absinthe" featured ghoulish and obscene pranks, as well as some all-but-the-cork nudity. Yeah, baby. It'd probably be fair to describe the show as part burlesque and part cabaret, with a few circus elements mixed in too. You've seen the movie "Cabaret"? (If you haven't: Do!) Well, "Absinthe" was far, far closer to the decadent and lewd shows put on in the KitKat Klub than it was to Barnum & Bailey. It was loads of lowdown fun. I think I laughed loudest during a parody number spoofing the artsy pretentions of Cirque du Soleil. I've never even been to a Cirque de Soleil show, yet I was wiping laughter-tears away anyway. "Absinthe" was also an interesting show in an art-anthropology sense. For one thing, I was fascinated by how small-scale it was. There were no more than 10 performers in the entire show, and a mere 350 people in the audience. The "ring" in which most of the acts were performed didn't measure a dozen feet across. Very cool to be part of such an event. For another thing, I was surprised by how much the tent itself was a major part of the show. Outside was a casual beer-garden-like space. Inside, all was opulent-tacky beauty, full of wood, antique colors, and sexy mirrors, like something painted and lit by Toulouse-Lautrec. You can see the interior of the Spiegeltent here. Although I took my surroundings in and enjoyed them, I'm afraid that I could have done a better job of it. I didn't fully appreciate the tent until I researched the topic of "Spiegeltents" online after seeing the show. Spiegeltents turn out to be extraordinary cultural creations in their own right: showbiz and architecture melded into one spatial-material thingamajig. Hmm: I'll remember to be more aware of this the next time I go to one of these shows. Not for the first time do I feel sorry that my knowledge of circus lore and circus history is as beyond-thin as it is. I have so many questions. I'd especially love to know how the circus-circuit works. Who books 'em? How many weeks a year are they on the road? Do subsidies play a major role in today's circus economics? And I'd love to know how revues like "Absinthe" get cast and developed. Is a conventional director-figure involved? Are the various acts allowed to do entirely what they please so long as they stay... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Art Find for the Day: Erwin Haya
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A fast posting to note that in my websurfing-time today I've been enjoying Erwin Haya's quick-witted and high-spirited comix art. It's giddy, cheerful, and likably unpretentious. Erwin -- who bills himself as "OneSickIndividual" -- creates what seems to me like pin-up art for the skateboarding, "Ren & Stimpy" set. That's high praise in my book. I sent a link to Erwin's site along to Friedrich von Blowhard, who responded with the following fun set of musings: I love the title: My Artistic Commode! This guy is a gem. I wonder if "cartoony-ness" is a personality trait. In other words, cartoon artists basically develop a standard figural model, which they can then play with in different poses, with different clothes, etc. It makes what they do kind of analogous to a writer who has mastered an alphabet, and then uses it to tell a story. It also implies a certain solipsistic tendency, insofar as the cartoonist/writer isn't that concerned with what's going on outside themselves. It is, however, very different from, say, the paradigm of an Impressionist painter, who is trying to describe a given external reality.Not that one is better than the other, just pointing out how they're different. Hmmmm. You can buy prints, posters, books, and t-shirts by Erwin here. Semi-related: Donald wrote about traditional pin-up art here. Friedrich von Blowhard wrote about pin-up-paintin' titan Gil Elvgren here. Friedrich and I swapped notes about Edward Leeteg, the legendary father of painting-on-black-velvet, here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 3, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Econ Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Randall Parker wonders why more and more people are feeling like have-nots these days. * Left-leaning Dean Baker thinks that the Clinton / Rubin team deserve as much blame for our ballooning trade deficits as GWBush does. UPDATE: On the other hand ... * What to make of Radiohead asking listeners to pay what they please? * More likably geeky laughs from Yoram Bauman, the world's only standup economist. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Poetry, Fiction, Length, More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This piece by the NYTimes' Corey Kilgannon about Frank Messina, a Mets fan who writes poems about his team and about his feelings about them, is a sweetheart: amusing and touching -- "appreciative" in the best sense of the word. It also triggered off an email back-and-forth between FvBlowhard and me that, for better or worse, I'm copying-and-pasting into this blog posting. Hey, 2Blowhards started as an extension of the email exchanges FvBlowhard and I were already having. Every now and then we have to reconnect with our gabby-arts-buddies roots. FvBlowhard: The problem with modern poetry is that guys like the guy in this story are treated as laughable. He, not the poetry establishment, is the one in touch with the spirit of Homer. He may not be all that good as poet, granted, but that's really beside the point; he is marginalized not for how he does poetry but for the purpose he is putting it to. MBlowhard: That's a great article, tks. Nice catch by the reporter. And gotta love people who really do what they do for the love of it. My own current rant has to do with length. The Wife is back to working on another novel. She's really determined to be a pro and to make money doing it, and good for her. Me, I had a mini-crisis the other day. I have a short novel all sketched out, a good first draft of it down on paper, etc. And I was having hard time facing the next stage -- moving from "rehearsals are going well" to "let's get this baby up on its feet." The Wife looked at me, read my mood, and said, "Novel-writing's a job. You've got a fulltime job already. Why not let yourself do manageable projects instead, at least until you retire?" She was right. I set the novel aside and the gloom lifted. Anyway, my thesis about length and scale boils down to a few points. 1) Novels are the limit of what humans can do. 2) Doing anything on that scale isn't going to be fun-fun. Some exceptions allowed for, few novels have been written on a pure breeze of inspiration. Most have, to some extent, been ground out. 3) Most stories don't need to be more than 5-50 pages long. All of which means that most people who write novels are weirdos (because who else would inflict such a lot of loneliness and delayed-gratification on themselves?), and that most novels have a lot of padding in them. Exceptions (the work of professional writer-entertainers especially) allowed for, of course. Given all this, why on earth do readers expect or even want novels? And why on Earth would anyone -- or anyone from a normal range of emotion, drive, ability -- want to write them? I mean, really, compare a novel to a movie. A movie gives you a complete story, the energies and personalities of tons of people who are pitching... posted by Michael at October 2, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tom Wolfe visits Yale, debates deconstructionist god Peter Eisenman, and explains one of the basic cases against architectural modernism. * Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan says that the biggest discovery he made during his tenure was that real-life people don't in fact behave like homo economicus. Why do we put eggheads who are this dim about what human beings are like in charge of powerful institutions? * Raised Catholic in the San Fernando Valley, actress Mare Winningham has converted to Judaism. She talks to Jewcy about how she found her new faith. * Roissy bumps into some silicone, and asks the day's key political question: Are lefty or rightie girls easier? * Designer/illustrator/webguy Charley Parker is very generous with the computer tips at his blog. He's also a gifted -- as in organized and funny -- writer. * Fred Elbel thinks that it's likely there are 20 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. As many as 12,000 more might be entering the country every day. * Has this guy come up with a way to increase computer storage capacities by a hundredfold? I guess the computer revolution won't be slowing down any time soon. * Richard S. Wheeler wonders why some people love reading fiction that offers nothing but formula. * Fred Wickham works on his Indian accent -- then wonders if he should really be using it. * Alec Tabarrok notices a study showing that, despite feminism and progress, women's happiness is lower now than it was in 1970. * Rachael lets her attention drift and smacks into another car. * Shouting Thomas offers some apt words about a new Frank Gehry building, and performs a catchy tune on a theme he knows well. * Bargain DVD for the Day: Jean-Jacques Annaud's "The Lover", based on a Marguerite Duras memoir. It's a fancy-schmancey costume drama set in Vietnam in the 1920s, too high-toned to be soft-core pornography, yet too explicit to be your usual art-house fare. I thought it was a bit of a bore, but it's certainly easy on the eyes -- the Franco-Asian coupling was a mellow and exotic treat. And it's one of the rare frankly sexual films that chicks love. $9.99. * MBlowhard Rewind: I cracked a few jokes at the expense of the book-besotted. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Balint Zsako
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Art find for the day: Balint Zsako, who was born in Hungary and now lives in Toronto. Balint often works in ink and watercolor, and he seems to enjoy walking the line between fine art and illustration. His paintings and drawings are musing, dreamlike, poetic, and mucho preoccupied with branches and roots, fluids and orifices, and machinery. In their whimsicality and power, they're like a cross between Saul Steinberg and "Eraserhead." Here's Balint's very rewarding website; here's a very rewarding q&a with him. Great exchange: Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be? A. They generally have a good sense of humour with an appreciation of both the refined and the obscene. Don't overlook Balint's mindbending, brainstormy journals, which can be found on his website under "Gallery." I discovered Balint thanks to Drawn! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments