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  1. More on E-Books and E-Book Reading Devices
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  6. Moviegoing: "Beowulf"
  7. Italian Efficiency
  8. Eroticism Linkage
  9. Elsewhere
  10. Natalie vs. Jennifer


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Friday, November 30, 2007


More on E-Books and E-Book Reading Devices
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Amazon's new Kindle, announced a few weeks ago, the debate is on once again about e-book reading devices. Bezos' Baby Everyone has an opinion about the Kindle. Half-Sigma thinks that the prices of e-books are out of line. David Pogue writes that this kind of device might make some sense for the textbook market; the comments on Pogue's column are worth scrolling through too. Tyler Cowen and visitors pitch in. Newsweek's Steven Levy visited with Amazon's Jeff Bezos and thought the Kindle had its virtues. Hotshot book designer Chip Kidd thinks that the Kindle is going nowhere fast. Meanwhile, Amazon quickly sold out of the device. Robert Nagle and I have a bet on about e-book readers. Robert thinks that e-book reading devices will catch on bigtime -- he makes a good case for this, by the way -- while in my opinion e-book readers will never become a hugely successful product. Let me offer two quick, very practical reasons why I think I'll win our bet: Who needs 'em? Books of the paper-and-cardboard sort are miraculously efficient, enjoyable, and affordable content-delivery vehicles. They're unmatchably pleasing in many ways. For one thing, in order to use them you don't have to do any thinking. Interacting with a book is all a matter of reach-and-grab. You get to reserve your mental power for the book's content. With an e-book reader, by comparison, you have to puzzle out how to use the thing, and then you have to keep relearning your lessons. "How do I make the device behave?" keeps breaking in on your experience of the book's content. Think of the consequences. While being able to store your entire library in one small device certainly sounds appealing, it also means: No passing along your books to family and friends; worries about what will become of your beloved collection should the electronic device it's stored on fail; and -- inevitably -- the nightmare of digital-rights management. You don't think that publishers are going sell easy-to-use, compatible-with-everything files, do you? Get real. They're going to do whatever they can to protect their creations from unauthorized copying, and they're unlikely to band together and settle on a single convenient format. In other words: Imagine the Betamax-vs.-VCR wars multiplied many times over. And then imagine contending with all of this: decoding the device, keeping it charged, not being able to rip out pages, and feeling annoyed that the book you want can't be read on the device you own. That's a lot of brainstrain. Now recall what it's like to interact with a book. You grab it off the shelf, and you settle in for a read. I could be wrong, of course. I find Robert Nagle's enthusiasm for e-book readers very winning, I think that David Pogue's hunch about the textbook market makes a lot of sense, and progress will march on no matter what my opinion about it is, darn it. And the designers of... posted by Michael at November 30, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments





Thursday, November 29, 2007


Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Immigration makes the news: Immigration into the U.S. over the last seven years was the highest in any seven-year period ever. Over 10 million new immigrants have settled in the U.S. since 2000. More than half of them are illegal immigrants. The majority of immigrants during this period came from Mexico and Central America. There are now 38 million immigrants living in the U.S. In the U.S., one in eight people is an immigrant. One third of immigrant families receive public assistance. Over the last 15 years, immigrant families have accounted for three-quarters of the increase in those without health insurance. 31 percent of immigrants over 25 years old, both legal and illegal, have not completed high school, compared with 8.4 percent of American citizens. Among adult Hispanic immigrants, nearly 51 percent do not have high school diplomas. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2007 | perma-link | (82) comments




Happy Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Two fab contributions from wonderful YouTube uploader Gatorrock786. A young Ray Charles performs a roof-raising "What'd I Say?": Goodness gracious: Did that man ever command a lot of sexual power. And weren't those go-go dancers doing an awfully fine job? Ricky Nelson keeps things swinging in a cornier, mellower, yet still toe-tapping way with "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" (Backup singing by -- yes! -- The Four Preps.) I do love a lot of easygoing, bland-o, whitebread, 1960ish crooning ... Was Ricky Nelson the Bing Crosby of '50s teenyboppers? Here's the Ricky Nelson website, and here's RayCharles.com. Wikipedia reports that one of the Four Preps went on to write the song "Tainted Love," and that another Prep created the TV show "Battlestar Gallactica." Best, Michael COMPLETELY UNRELATED: Don't miss the wrasslin' match over at Marginal Revolution.... posted by Michael at November 29, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments




Some New WebStops
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey, some high-quality bloggers you may already know but who I've just begun catching up with: * Jeff Sypeck. Jeff is the author of an excellent recent book about Charlemagne. Evocative, informative, and beautifully-scaled, it's first-class intellectual entertainment. As a blogger, Jeff loses none of what makes him a remarkable nonfiction book author: he's friendly, perceptive, and humorous; he puts on no airs; yet he's completely unapologetic about the pleasures and benefits of brains and knowledge. That's a nice, and all-too-rare, combo. Check out Jeff's very sharp thoughts about John Gardner's "Beowulf"-inspired novel "Grendel" -- "one of the most reactionary novels an English major will ever read." And on viewing the film "Beowulf," Jeff reverts to his 12 year old self to review it. Talk about an appropriate response! * Joe Valdez. Joe runs an ambitious-yet-relaxed blog about movies where he maintains a very high level of moviechat. Generous and sympathetic, he has an interesting conception of how moviechat should be conducted. He recounts the story; he nails the genre; he researches how the film came to be; he shares his own reactions; and he passes along the reactions of other fans and viewers. I'm pleased to see that he's no hero-worshipper of directors, but is instead alert to the many people (writers, producers, performers, etc) who contribute to movies. But my favorite aspect of Joe's multifaceted approach to the movie-thang is this: He doesn't let himself be tied down by studio release dates and instead follows his own muse, exploring new movies, movie history, and DVDs as the mood strikes him. That's movie-watching as a real movie-lover does it. For an especially good example of how rewarding Joe's approach can be, check out his beautiful posting about the 1978 Dustin Hoffman / Ulu Grosbard / Edward Bunker crime drama "Straight Time." Joe's site includes a very cool movie poster gallery. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments





Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Book It, Donno
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- At the ultra-secret 2Blowards staff meeting a few weeks ago someone -- The Wife, I think -- said something about me writing a book. I hear such remarks about twice a year, and my standard response is that I did write a book once upon a time: this one, actually. (Lord knows why Amazon even bothers to list academic books that went out of print more than 25 years ago.) To be honest, I sometimes do consider writing another book. If the book question pops up when I'm in one of those delusional frames of mind, I then usually say something like: "I might. But a really tough part is finding a publisher, and I'm not sure I want to go through that hassle." Then, after saying just that at the restaurant table, I mentioned that I was toying with the idea of building on those Peripheral Artists (and similar) posts. The concept would be to create a kind of alternative to painting history narratives showing an inevitable path from the Renaissance to Modernism. That is, if Establishment/Modernist narratives downplay or ignore artists and styles that don't fit those narratives, then why not create a narrative where Modernism is a source of ideas, yet a sideshow, an interesting experiment that ultimately proved unsatisfying. Since the meeting I've taken a few small steps. First, I've been fiddling with a provisional outline. Once that's done I'll probably have to write a sample chapter. The third task is coming up with a list of potential publishers (I'm doing that now, actually). Then I assemble a proposal and shop it. Given that such a book requires plenty of illustrations, I don't think self-publishing or electronic publishing will work; I almost surely will have to talk a going concern such as Yale University Press into backing the thing. An important consideration is that I don't want to turn this into a crusade; if I get turned down by a number of publishers I want to be able to walk away from the project with few regrets and a minimum of wasted time. Money? I'm not doing this for dollars. As Michael and others have repeatedly mentioned, the hourly wage for most authors is pitifully small. Yes, there's the little dab of glory and the larger surge of ego-satisfaction and pseudo-prestige (in some circles) of having a book published. But my main motivation, oddly enough, is idealism. I genuinely think that Modernism has received far too much honor and attention than it deserves, and needs to be cut down to its proper size: I want to do my part. Another thing I'm doing is writing little notes to myself while at my favorite donut shop. What I need is some sort of organizing scheme. Obviously, there's chronology. Then there's the matter of geography: a lot of important non-Modernist art was created someplace besides France and New York, and that must be be dealt with somehow. And at this point I'm... posted by Donald at November 28, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments




Moviegoing: "Beowulf"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I found Robert Zemeckis' 3-D "Beowulf" movie so lifeless that I'm too depressed even to bother cracking a few jokes about it, let alone saying anything helpful. To cheer myself up, I'm treating myself to a musing-a-thon instead. Funny, isn't it? Some people really do change. In the days of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "Used Cars" (a steal at $9.95), and "Back to the Future" (all three episodes for a mere $13.49), Robert Zemeckis was an exuberant satirist. But mucho time has passed since then. And where he was once a malicious entertainer, these days he just seems to want to play with machines. I skipped Zemeckis' previous experiment in motion-capture filmmaking, "The Polar Express," because -- semi-curious though I sometimes am about what Hollywood gets up to with its money and its computers -- the previews for the film freaked me out. Motion-capture=major creepiness, I concluded. Those wooden limbs, those near-featureless faces, all of it crossed with the fact that the awful creatures unquestionably bear some resemblance to real humans ... If I were a kid I'd have gone home after a couple of hours in motion-captureland and had myself a really horrendous nightmare. Thank heavens: The semi-digital / semi-real characters who inhabit "Beowulf" aren't nearly as disturbing as the ones that spooked me in those "Polar Express" previews. Some problems have clearly been ironed out. But the "Beowulf" humans are spooky enough in their own right. Instead of "Polar Express" devil dolls, the "Beowulf" beings are like overblown videogame creatures, their limbs and gestures showing no trace of where any physical (let alone emotional) impulse might start. Freaky! The weakest element in the mix seems to me to be mouths and teeth. A character's mouth seems to have a life apart from the face it inhabits. The teeth -- well, the best I can say about them is that the character designers are clearly hoping no one will take too much notice of their creatures' teeth. If you can't solve a problem, bury it. In any case: The "people" onscreen in "Beowulf" are still creepy-creepy-creepy. Since I guess there's no avoiding the fact that we're going to have this technology in our entertainment lives, I hope it'll become cheap and accessible, and very soon. Only that way will we get to watch a motion-capture movie made by a team that isn't weighed down by budget and strain. For one thing, the irreverent dirty-joke possibilities seem endless. Since the creature onscreen that looks like Angelina Jolie isn't really Angelina, why stop with having her be naked? Why not have her go porno-wild? There's a long tradition in cartooning of this, after all. The porno-cartoonists who made Tijuana Bibles had lots of fun with celebrities. In their crude drawings, they'd have Bogey, Hepburn, and Harlow -- as well as characters out of straight-world comics -- perform all kinds of X-rated actions. Why settle for a PG-13 mock-Angelina? But I'm ignorant of where the... posted by Michael at November 28, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments





Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Italian Efficiency
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The trains we rode during our recent Italian trip ran on time sometimes and only once were we seriously late on arrival. Otherwise, such delays as there were, were on the order of five or ten minutes. Il Duce Mussolini, wherever he is, must be displaying half a smile. Even more efficient -- or might I say dictarorial -- was the Galleria Borghese in Rome, home to such noted artworks as Antonio Canova's "Paulina Bonaparte as Venus Victrix." Paulina was Napoleon's wild kid sister who posed semi-nude for Canova. The Wikipedia entry for Canova is here (scroll to bottom for a Paulina picture). Nancy is a huge Canova fan, so a visit to the Borghese was a must. However, as we discovered, one doesn't casually bop into the place. Reservations are required. Luckily we were in Rome for enough days that we were able to get on the list. Things got even stickier once we arrived at the Borghese. It seems that visitors have a two hour time limit to see what they can -- half an hour in the paintings galleries and the balance viewing sculptures. I'm pretty fast when in museum-viewing mode and therefore didn't find out if, or how drastically, these time limits are enforced. In any case, we could linger in the museum shop/cafe area as long as we wished. Never experienced such a thing before. But rules are rules and not to be quibbled by foreigners. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments




Eroticism Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost swoons over her favorite sexy short story. * The Communicatrix discovers the upside of putting on a few pounds. Hint: boobage. * Finally: a Swedish-feminist cause a man can really cheer on. * Tristan Taormino reports that the edgy porn site Kink.com gets more web visitors than MSNBC does. Here's a NYTimes article about Peter Acworth, the British MBA-student-turned-porn-auteur who founded Kink.com. Here's an example of Kink.com's work. Be forewarned: That last link is NSFW to the max. * What's the relationship between Beauty in the elevated sense and what gives Roissy a boner? * Good to see that the old wedding traditions are still being honored. * MBlowhard Rewind: I meditated on the cultural significance of the thong here, here, and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Stephen King has some thoughts about what ails the short story. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Cryptic yet satisfying, not to mention dependably provocative: OOCRadio, a blog by a guy who enjoys Antonioni, death masks, and Philip K. Dick. * Steve Sailer links to some pieces reporting that the excellent Shelby Steele is writing a book about Barack Obama. * Vanessa discovers her favorite Chicago pizza. * TerrierMan makes a heckuva case for gun ownership, and links to a hilarious video clip about Thomas Midgely Jr., history's greatest environmental troublemaker. * The state of Pennsylvania doesn't want you to know whether the milk you're thinking of buying was produced with the aid of growth hormones. * Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen figures out how many copies a book needs to sell to make it onto the bestseller list. Though the word "bestseller" certainly sounds impressive, the sales figure that makes a book a bestseller is amazingly small. I wrote about some other aspects of bestseller lists back here. * Thursday contrasts the "creative artist" and the "critical artist." * MBlowhard Rewind: I expressed the hope that the monopoly of the "taste mafia" should break up soon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments




Natalie vs. Jennifer
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Natalie Portman certainly doesn't seem to enjoy being a movie star, does she? Well, the feeling is semi-mutual, if that makes any sense. The only film that I've ever really enjoyed watching Natalie in was the 1996 "Beautiful Girls." 15 at the time, she upstaged everyone else in the cast with her childlike transparency, eagerness, and impulsiveness. Since then, though ... As pretty and chic as Natalie has become, and as intelligent and worthy as she apparently is as a person, as an onscreen presence she has also grown more and more self-protective. She radiates nothing, at least nothing that my antennae can pick up. So I'm unable to follow her career with any interest. I tend to slot Portman in the same category as Jennifer Connelly. Like Natalie, Jennifer comes across as a bright, pretty co-ed type -- a dull good girl, attractive but remote, even wooden. But with Connelly the intelligence and the earnestness are accompanied by a spilling-over physical lushness, as well as by some appealing waywardness; both of these qualities keep me looking forward to her next performance. While most of Jennifer's films are a drag, every now and then she'll sign on to play the vamp or the bad girl, and she'll do her (admittedly clunky) best to put over the hot moments and the shock scenes. Vavavoom! In "Requiem for a Dream" Connelly gives a performance that's not only terrific (it's maybe her only terrific performance) but genuinely edgy. Where Portman is like a bright girl happy to intern for an anti-famine group, Connelly is like an employee of the same nonprofit, but one who on the weekend enjoys getting drunk and indulging in some sexy misbehavior. Why not have a little fun with life as it is, and with the gifts God has given you? If I'm to be stuck in the company of intelligent good girls, I'll choose to spend my time in the company of the one who has at least a streak of mischief in her. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments





Monday, November 26, 2007


Staging Opera
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I know next to nothing about opera. I know next to nothing about music, as my four years as a lazy grade school and junior high school band zillionth-chair clarinet player attest. Therefore, no one can truthfully accuse me of being an Opera Snob ... though I am more vulnerable to being tagged as a blowhard for some obscure reason. Nevertheless, I'm here to pontificate on the staging of opera -- from a near-Everyman perspective. So read on or tune out: your pick. ... Hmm ... anyone still around? My pathetic accumulation of experience is as follows: At the top end, I saw Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" at the San Francisco Opera in 1982. From 2003 into 2006 I saw several operas performed down the bay in San Jose. A year or two ago I saw a partly-staged Beethoven "Fidelio" at the San Francisco Symphony. Early this fall I saw Wagner's "Flying Dutchman" at the Seattle Opera. Most recently, in Rome, at the All Saints church (Anglican) on the Via del Babuino a few blocks northwest of the Spanish Steps, I saw an unstaged version of "La Traviata." The San Francisco Opera performance was the full deal. Large, purpose-built opera house with terrace upon terrace of seating. Elaborate sets with gauzy effects to evoke Spain's Mediterranean climate. No sub-titles. In the film "Amadeus" Emperor Joseph II complained that "Marriage of Figaro" was too long: he was right. Seattle's opera house was drastically refurbished recently. While it lacks the grandeur of San Francisco's, it has plenty of room for fancy staging. The first couple of years I saw San Jose performances, the operas were staged in a seriously small theater that limited the amount of scenery that could be deployed, so the contrast to San Francisco was considerable on most dimensions. At least they had English subtitles (as did Seattle) which I find to be a great help even though I have a smattering of knowledge of German, French and Italian. About two seasons ago the San Jose company moved to a renovated movie theater that provided a lot more seating plus a larger stage for more elaborate sets. The partly-staged "Fidelio" was performed in the hall where the San Francisco Symphony plays. So there was no stage, no curtains -- just a few platforms at different levels where the cast could move about to a limited degree. The Roman opera was, of course, basically a church setting for the audience. We sat on wooden folding chairs. A 15-20 piece orchestra (which performed well once it got over some raggedness during the overture) was also on the main floor of the church, in front of us. Ditto the singers for the most part, though they were sometimes able to take advantage of raised areas near the altar. The "Traviata" performers used a few props and moved around a little -- so it wasn't a static recital. In theory, opera is supposed to be a multi-pronged... posted by Donald at November 26, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments





Sunday, November 25, 2007


Las Vegas Goes Modernist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the Las Vegas Strip as we know and love it. But it changes moment by moment. Some of those changes are almost undetectably minor. Others have the potential to alter the character of the place. For instance, this is what I saw last week while we were on our annual visit: Hmm. No monster pyramids. Not a single half-size Eiffel Tower. Nor a 30-story Italian villa. I saw not a sign of fake pirate ships and toy volcanoes. No. It's, it's ... The Horror!!! ... Modernist Architecture! Modernist architecture in the form of the CityCenter project, a multi-billion dollar effort by our friends at MGM Grand that replaces a nondescript jumble of seedy stores and aging time-share condos. Here's what it might look like when completed: Here is the flashy official site -- but it might be handier to link here to its Wikipedia entry which contains under-construction photos and a set of views of projected final appearance. I have no idea what was on the minds of the geniuses behind CityCenter. Instead of letting Vegas be Vegas, a lesson that Robert Venturi famously urged architects to study, they opted to grace the strip with the artistic fruits of starchitects. The rogues gallery of architectural offices doing CityCenter buildings includes Cesar Pelli, Rafael Vinoli, Lord Norman Foster, Helmut Jahn and Daniel Libeskind. And I'm all but certain the results will be perfectly swell. If you love the sort of sterile, geometry-based glass 'n' steel structures that warms our hearts when we conjure images of New York City's Sixth Avenue -- with the switcheroo that some CityCenter buildings are curved! My head reels in admiration for such imaginative solutions. Will CityCenter wreck the Strip? Big though it is, it's still fairly small given the huge size of the place. So long as no similar projects are built, it won't fit in well, but might be tolerable. Tolerability might be enhanced if the owners pry loose starchitect hands at street level; lots of flash and pizazz for pedestrians would distract from the monster blandness of the tall, background structures. We Shall See. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments




The Long Run
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: In 1986, just back from a couple years abroad, I opened a copy of the Washington Post and saw a long article on healthcare spending. It made a convincing case (to me, anyway) that healthcare spending that exceeded the growth rate of the economy as a whole was a recipe for disaster in the long run. Welcome to the long run. A report that the CBO has just issued, "The Long-Term Outlook for Health Care Spending" points up how little has changed in the last 20 years: Spending on health care in the United States has been growing faster than the economy for many years, representing a challenge not only for the government's two major health insurance programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- but also for the private sector...In December 2007, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release new long-term budget projections, and spending on health care will play a central role in the [U.S. Government's] fiscal outlook to be described in that report...The goal of the projections in this study is to examine the implications of a continuation of current federal law, rather than to make a prediction of the future. Under [the no-change scenario], however, federal spending on health care would eventually reach unsustainable levels...[emphasis added] By the way, 'central role' means that any pretense of fiscal solvency of the U.S. government will turn almost completely on how we handle health care spending. How can I make such a ridiculous statement? Well, this is the one paragraph summary: Over the past 30 years, total national spending on health care has more than doubled as a share of GDP. Under the assumptions described above, according to CBO's projections, that share will double again by 2035, to 31 percent of GDP. Thereafter, health care costs continue to account for a steadily growing share of GDP, reaching 41 percent by 2060 and 49 percent by the end of the 75-year projection period... As a naïve kid, I would have thought that such a problem would be vigorously addressed by a nation that likes to think of itself as a can-do problem solver. Unfortunately, as a sadder-but-wiser adult, I now see that we’ve been conducting a philosophical experiment over the past twenty years. An immovable object, budgetary constraints and simple prudence, has met an irresistible force: health care special interest lobbying. Heck, the immovable object has failed to even slow down the irresistible force. (Granted, this is hardly the only sign of U.S. governmental sclerosis. Two families have run the country for 19 of the last 21 years, and with a little luck they can probably extend that run to a solid 28 years.) Perhaps immovable object will develop more mass when we start signing over our paychecks directly to our healthcare providers. But I’ve grown tired of speculating. It’s like Robert Heinlein said about life after death: "Why worry about it? Soon enough, you’ll know." Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 25, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Friday, November 23, 2007


Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've just enjoyed going through the website of Gabriella Morrison, a Canadian artist who left a perceptive comment on Donald's recent Italian-painters posting. A little Wayne Thiebaud, a little Emily Carr, a little Philip Pearlstein ... I'm just describing, by the way. I have no idea if Gabriella considers these painters to be influences. She makes quiet, warm, relaxed work that's also witty and incisive, and genuinely bohemian. It's the kind of art that makes me want to go take an art class -- which I mean as a high compliment. * I'm also lovin' the funky wooden bas-reliefs of Dutch artist Ron van der Ende: satellites, photocopy machines, and old cars presented with a captivating combo of model-making, little-boy mischievousness and grown-up gravity. * Figure-drawing buffs won't want to miss this marvelous animation. * Thanks to Jonathan Schnapp for pointing out Sexy Losers, an online comic strip about arty kids. Much of "Sexy Losers" is really filthy in an old-fashioned underground-comix way, so be warned. Or be delighted. * Michael Bierut wonders what it takes to do "ugly" design properly. * Michael also points out a terrifying set of pages from a 1975 J.C. Penny's catalogue. The '70s, eh? It's the decade that keeps on giving. * Browsing bliss for fans of pulp art. * Tim Souers takes a look -- actually, a number of looks -- at Barry Bonds. * Brown eyes, blue eyes ... What kind of difference might it make? * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the one-of-a-kind San Francisco artist known as Jess here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments





Thursday, November 22, 2007


DVD Journal: "Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael Winterbottom's take on the legendary 18th century Laurence Sterne novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" is nothing if not playful and spirited, and complicated in a fun way. Sadly, it's also not very compelling; it comes up short on the buccaneering exuberance and audacity you might expect from such a project. Some friends I was watching the DVD with had a perfectly fine time, then turned it off midway through and never gave the film a second thought. If I went back the following night and finished watching it without them, it's probably because the film is like catnip for filmbuffs. Thoroughgoingly silly and prankish, the film is both a film of "Tristram Shandy" and a film about a cast and crew making a film of "Tristram Shandy" -- it's "Day for Night" as remade by a cheery and loose version of Jean-Luc Godard, in other words. Where the novel starts with Tristram's birth and then nearly fails to work its way back up to that moment, the Winterbottom film starts with Tristram's birth and works its way backwards, right into the story of the people making the film in front of you. "Birth" and "creation" are major themes (and major jokes) in the film. Two examples of the film's humor, both of which you should imagine being tossed-off in the most casual of ways. In one, Steve Coogan (playing a character named "Steve Coogan," but also in costume as Tristram Shandy) is interviewed by a journalist, who is played by the real-life model for the character the real Steve Coogan played in Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People." In the other example, Coogan's "Coogan" character is hugged and kissed by a pretentious young female film buff who is overcome by lust because Coogan recognized the name of the German filmmaker Fassbinder. Coogan declines her advance with a line beginning like this, "You're incredibly attractive, and your knowledge of the German cinema is second to none, but ..." If moments like that give you a giggle, well, don't expect the film to deliver much that's better, but you might find the DVD worth a rent. The hyper-talented Michael Winterbottom is by far my favorite of the neo-'70s filmmakers who are around these days. I like his work sooooo much better than P.T. Anderson's, for instance. And he certainly keeps this film on the move, cheerily semi-parodic, beautiful to look at, and breezily postmodern. Postmodernism becomes a meta-joke in its own right, in fact: "Tristram Shandy" the novel is often celebrated as the first postmodern novel, though historically it was of course premodernist. Which means that this film is a postmodern game that's being played with a postmodern/premodern novel. "Tristram Shandy"the film throws off more involuted, spiraling jokes-about-jokes in a minute than Spike Jonze and Charlie Kauffman come up with in 90. But the film also falls into the trap of much postmodernism. Cut free from tradition on the one hand and from... posted by Michael at November 22, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments




My Biggest Thanksgiving Peeve
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Non-American readers have my permission to skip this post because it's about today's Thanksgiving holiday, a secular celebration that has its roots in the earliest days of colonial settlement.] This is no hit-piece on American history that some Howard Zinn-inspired writer might churn out. Nope, no complaints about injustices to "Native Americans." No rants about this annual exercise of over-eating -- wastefully pillaging the planet via depletion of everything within reach of obese, materialistic, mouth-breathing simpletons oblivious to the rest of the world's misfortunes. Nope. No ritualistic dissing of the usual targets from me. My complaint is truly serious. It has to do with New York's traditional Macy's parade. And how television ruined it -- for TV viewers, anyhow. Once upon a time, perhaps in the mid-1950s (I forget exactly when), television coverage was simply of the parade itself: the bands, the floats, the huge balloons. Then Show Biz crept in. Instead of showing only what spectators farther north on Broadway were seeing, the coverage tended to focus on Herald Square where singers, dancers and other entertainers from Broadway shows would sweep onto the street and do numbers from various productions. By the 1970s it got to the point that I thought that they might as well have skipped the actual parade and done the whole thing in a TV studio. Since then the network showing the parade -- besides publicizing Broadway musical shows -- took to publicizing its own lineup of programs. Actors on one show or another are somewhat awkwardly introduced in order to generate hype. The parade is on TV as I'm writing this. Since a Broadway stagehand strike is in progress this year, the stage content is down. So the audio I'm overhearing seems to be focusing on promoting the network's forthcoming offerings. And they had Mayor Bloomberg on and asked about his political plans. I suppose they'll cut to the occasional balloon if they run out of other, more important things to flak. Happy Thanksgiving. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 22, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments





Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Mystery Solved
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Great song, of course. But, as people have been wondering for generations now: What the hell are those lyrics about? Now we know. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments




Italy's Dabbers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once I started this gig as a full-time Blowhard I realized that the art history class I took eons ago was a flimsy basis for writing even halfway solid articles about art. So for the last two years the majority of books I've read have been general art histories and volumes dealing with individual artists and artistic schools or movements. For example, I'd never paid much attention to the Impressionists. That's because I thought that Monet, Pissarro and others using broken color and short, distinct brushstrokes produced paintings that seemed too "unfinished." To me that was Impressionism, a painting style I didn't (and still don't) particularly care for. Now I've learned what I should have known better years ago: The Impressionists were a loose association of painters who at times exhibited with one another, yet didn't share a common style. Yes, I knew Manet was an Impressionist and didn't paint like Monet -- but the meaning of this fact didn't sink in as deeply as it should have. Nor did I really understand that Degas considered himself a traditional painter who did his work in a studio and not plein-air, as did most other Impressionists. I have come to agree with the implication by some art historians that Impressionism (and Post-Impressionism, for that matter) is a term that is something of a roadblock to understanding the history of painting in the last third of the 19th century. It would be better to try not to use the word and instead focus on painting styles. For example, Manet, Degas and the early Caillebotte (along with a number of non-Impressionists) might form one group while Monet, Pissarro and the later Caillebotte (and others) could form another. Which brings us to a near-contemporaneous group of Italian painters called I Macchiaioli. There are explanations of the term to be found various places on the web. Wikipedia, for example, says that the term Macchiaioli originated in a hostile review in the 3 November Gazzetta del Popolo, though the artists themselves used the word macchie to describe what they were dealing with -- the effect of light and shade, according to the entry. Macchie and derivations can mean "spotted" or "speckled" as well as an alternative meaning of "outlaw." So the article cited above might have had a dual negative sense of "outlaw daubers." Some sources translate Macchiaioli as "spotters," but that doesn't convey much to me. Therefore I use the term "Dabbers" as I did in the title of this post. It strikes me as having a better artistic relationship than does "spotters" because it suggests a technique that some probably used. Both English words lack the light/shade meaning, which perhaps might be invoked by "dappled" -- which has little or no meaning in art. Apparently Macchiaioli is one of those untranslatable words we are more or less stuck with. The core Macchiaioli were a group of art students and young artists in Florence in the mid-1850s dissatisfied with... posted by Donald at November 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments





Sunday, November 18, 2007


Thanksgiving Pie
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Daughter makes a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving here in Las Vegas. And then ... well, watch the whole thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments




Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Virtuoso websurfer Charlton Griffin volunteers some recent finds: * Compare the vital stats of different Zip codes. I've already spent a couple of hours on this one ... * Do Japanese ads seem brilliant to many of us just because they're so strange -- or are they really brilliant? * Forget the big threats. How about the little ones? * Kitty says, "Hallelujah!" * Al Bundy finally goes to the dentist. * Finally, an easy-to-understand explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis. * OK, I'm impressed. But I'll be even more impressed if you can put them back in. * Become an expert on the architecture of New York City. * The real test of cowboy macho. * It's Mozart vs. James Bond. * Shall we join the Church of Tom Jones? * The winner of the "Salesman of the Day" Award. * If all our laws were thoroughly enforced, we'd all be in jail. * I wanna be a pop star. * Talk about an essential life skill ... * Yaaaay! Potting training!!! Here's a brilliant little put-on that Charlton either devised or has passed along that we'll do well to keep in mind as election season progresses: Recent hurricanes and gasoline issues are proof of the existence of a new chemical element. Research has led to the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years; It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. Thanks to Charlton Griffin. If you haven't been visiting this blog for long, you may be unaware that Charlton is one of the best producers (and readers) of audiobooks around -- I'm a major fan of his work. Explore the titles Charlton offers here; type his name into Audible's Search box and download a few. The iTunes Store works... posted by Michael at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments





Saturday, November 17, 2007


Back to the Seventies?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve been doing a little light surfing this morning, and have to say that the overall impression is that we’re heading back to those good old days of the 1970s. Not only do we have an unpopular war dragging on in the Third World, but the economy seems to be headed into an unpleasant combination of recession, prolonged slow growth and higher inflation. Remember "stagflation"? Well, don’t take my word for it. Let’s start with The Economist’s story from November 15, 2007, "America’s vulnerable economy": More timely signs suggest that the economy could stall in this quarter. By early next year, output and jobs could be shrinking. The main cause is the imploding housing market. Experts said that house prices could never fall nationwide. But fall they have, by 5% in the past 12 months. Residential investment has collapsed, but a glut of unsold homes means that prices have much further to drop. Americans' spending is likely to be dented much more by a fall in house prices than it was in 2001 by the stockmarket's collapse. Then follows a Bloomberg story by Kabir Chibber on November 16, “Goldman Sees Subprime Cutting $2 Trillion in Lending”: The slump in global credit markets may force banks, brokerages and hedge funds to cut lending by $2 trillion and trigger a "substantial recession" in the U.S., according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Losses related to record home foreclosures using a "back- of-the-envelope" calculation may be as high as $400 billion for financial companies, Jan Hatzius, chief U.S. economist at Goldman in New York wrote in a report dated yesterday. The effects may be amplified tenfold as companies that borrowed to finance their investments scale back lending, the report said. "The likely mortgage credit losses pose a significantly bigger macroeconomic risk than generally recognized," Hatzius wrote. "It is easy to see how such a shock could produce a substantial recession" or "a long period of very sluggish growth," he wrote. Chiming in, we have Nouriel Roubini (admittedly, a long-time proponent of the hard-landing school of thought) on November 16 on his blog: But the evidence is now building that an ugly recession is inevitable. Thus, the repeated statements by Fed officials that they may be done with cutting the Fed Funds rate are both hollow and utterly disingenuous. The Fed Funds rate will be down to 4% by January and below 3% by the end of 2008. I suspect that Mr. Roubini is correct, but if so the inflation rate is likely to rise to unpleasantly high levels. In fact, inflation already seems to have gotten a bit of a head start on our Federal Reserve inflation hawks, oops, I mean, interest rate cutters. Barry Ritholtz, author of The Big Picture blog, has been a long-time skeptic of official inflation data. On November 14th, he questioned the official line that the Producer Price Index was a benign 0.1 percent in October: 0.1% PPI ? Not according to the... posted by Friedrich at November 17, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments




Moviegoing: "American Gangster"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is there something in the air? A few days ago I watched and blogged about Robert De Niro's somber CIA movie "The Good Shepherd." Today I watched a very similar movie, Ridley Scott's equally somber "American Gangster," about a real-life 1970s black NYC drug kingpin (Denzel Washington) and the lawman (Russell Crowe) who took him down. It really is bizarre how close the two movies are in tone and approach. They're both slow, dark, and "Godfather"-ish in style and ambition. "American Gangster" even has the same running time (2 hours and 50 minutes) that "The Good Shepherd" does. What's weirdest of all is that I found both movies completely uninvolving, and for semi-similar reasons. In "The Good Shepherd," dramatic-narrative immediacy is sacrificed for the sake of telling the story of how elite WASPs made the CIA their own club. In "American Gangster," dramatic immediacy is sacrificed for the sake of ... Well, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what. An important statement always seems to be on the verge of being made -- the movie is entitled "American Gangster," after all. But what this important statement might be remains a mystery. Nonetheless, there are many, many cutaways to TV news shows reporting how badly things are going in Vietnam. Something is clearly being said. In any case, the film muffs basic storytelling over and over again. (At one point I whispered to The Wife, "I wouldn't have let this script in the front door, would you?" "No way," she whispered back.) Just a few of many examples: Because we see so little of his rise to the top, we're never sure what to make of the Denzel character. One face-off, one rival murdered -- and voila, it's settled. Denzel the chauffeur has become Denzel the king of Harlem. Since we never see his struggle, we never know whether to take him as a rousing but scary anti-hero or as a role model operating in a tough environment. But simple logistics don't play a big role in this movie generally. When Denzel wants some face-to-face time with his Southeast Asia drug connection during the very week Vietnam is collapsing -- hey, no problemo, he's there. I'd have loved to be told which airline he flew in on. The Russell Crowe character, meanwhile -- well, what on earth is he? There are times when he seems to be a cop and others when he seems to be a D.A. Yet if he's a cop, why is he acting as a D.A. at trials? And if he's a D.A., what is he doing with gun in hand leading on-the-streets investigations? Crowe's character's inner life is also a mystery. His honesty and passion for justice are remarkable -- yet where do they come from? We're given only a few shots of him in his working-class element, and almost nothing of him at home. It's hard to know what to make of the fact that the Crowe character... posted by Michael at November 17, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments





Friday, November 16, 2007


Spitzer Listens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The system works. Of course, why the system keeps generating so many politicians determined not just to defy the preferences of the general population but to smear us for holding the opinions we do is a bit of a mystery. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 16, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments





Thursday, November 15, 2007


School Board Platform
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Seattle is still a fine place to live for most residents. But the politics can be pretty weird for mindless right-wingers such as me -- especially within the city limits. I imagine San Francisco is even farther out, as might be student voter dominated places such as Berkeley and Santa Cruz, California. Just for the heck of it, consider the District No. 3 race for the Seattle School District board ("District No. 3" is practically meaningless, as all voters in the school district area get to vote for candidates in each "district.") The following is the candidate statement for David Blomstrom as it appears in the voters' pamphlet. The link is here, but I don't know how long it will be active. America is being destroyed by corporate corruption, and we must fight back. Yet how can we bring George W. Bush and Bill Gates to justice if we can’t even reform our own local school board? In other news, did you know this may be Seattle’s LAST school board election? The media, public officials and school board candidates are complicit in their stunning silence on this issue. A former Seattle Schools employee turned whistle-blower (see “The Olchefske Files” online), I’ve advocated an authentic audit of the district since my first campaign in 1999. (Our new superintendent hasn’t earned $250K!) Let’s replace the Seattle Education Association with a real union (e.g. the Wobblies) and ban the WASL, a tool used by corporations to keep children down. I also advocate socialism - not Soviet-style, but more in line with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ vision. The oil industry should be nationalized, and money spent on weapons used to murder civilians in Iraqistan would be better used to fund free medical care. (By the way, as a children’s advocate, I cannot support the troops who have slaughtered so many children in foreign lands. Shame on them.) Our schools should similarly be un-privatized, and the Alliance for Education given the boot. (How many schools have been ruined or closed since Bill Gates began “donating” money to the Seattle School District?) I say screw Seattle civility, and embrace children and democracy instead. Even if your only concern is rising property taxes, you ignore Seattle’s Education Mafia at your peril. Beware candidates who proclaim themselves “national education consultants” and avoid the issues yet are endorsed by our corrupt media. (Remember: The Seattle Times endorsed president AWOL.) (Continued at www.seattle-mafia.org; Bonus: My adventure with the privatized U.S. Postal Service!) Candidate David Blomstrom I assume Blomstrom's statement is not satire. And how did he fare when the November 6th votes were counted? As of yesterday, he had 24,785 votes, 22.85% of the total. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 15, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments




Older, Younger, Texan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ray Wylie Hubbard, grizzled offbeat Texas mega-talent: If my ears are to be trusted, "Snake Farm" is a sinister, comic, and lusty mixture of blues, country, and swamp pop. Another Texas singer-songwriter whose work I've been enjoying recently is an alt-country youngster named Hayes Carll. You can listen to four terrific live tracks of Hayes' on his MySpace page. "Wastrel" seems like an apt word to apply to Hayes Carll, doesn't it? I'm finding that "It's a Shame" is seizing hold of my brain in the same way that Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl" once did, and thanks to a similar combo of infantile catchiness, sweetness cut with melancholy, and poetry. Besides, the song's refrain -- "It's a shame / we ain't lovers" ... I mean, those are words that have been touched by genius. There's a goodly amount of Hayes Carll to be enjoyed by typing his name into the Search box at YouTube as well. Here are the lyrics for "It's a Shame." It sometimes seems like Being Texan can be an awfully fun and rewarding vocation, doesn't it? My all-things-Texas gurus are Scott Chaffin and Cowtown Pattie, both of them big-hearted bloggers with superb taste in Texas music. And no, since you asked, I most definitely did not record a copy of those Hayes Carll tracks for myself using Rogue Amoeba's convenient and easy-to-use program Audio Hijack. No sirree, no way. I'm shocked you'd even think I might do such a thing. Semi-related: I've linked before to some other memorable Texas music and musicians: Townes Van Zandt, T-Bone Walker, Guy Clark (performing with the beautiful Karen Matheson), Lightnin Hopkins, Delbert McClinton. That's a lot of grit, personality, and soul, baby! Here's a posting about Van Morrison. Speaking of Texas ... Here's the weirdly compelling Lyle Lovett doing his beautiful "If I Had A Boat." And here's Jimmie Dale Gilmore singing a moving version of Townes Van Zandt's "Buckskin Stallion Blues." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 15, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments





Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Bagatelles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Supposedly, during World War 2, if a sentry was confronted by someone claiming to be an American but who didn't know that day's password, the sentry would ask "Who's in first place in the National League?" or something to that effect. The concept being that only a Real American would know such things. Perhaps when I was of soldiering age I might have known: nowadays I'd be shot on the spot. The only sport I follow these days is football, and only casually at that. I'm following the fortunes of the University of Oregon team (Number Two, as I write this) and will pay more attention to the NFL as the playoffs get closer. Here in the dank Pacific Northwest the two big professional sports stories are (1) the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team will probably head to Oklahoma, and (2) Seattle has received a Major League Soccer franchise. To which I say ... [Yawn]. The Sonics won the NBA title in 1979, which created excitement hereabouts. But that was nearly 29 years ago, and I haven't cared about them in ages. So good riddance. The new soccer team (that's what we enlightened Yanks call football, overseas readers) is interesting mostly because of its ownership which includes Microsoft gazillionaire Paul Allen and TV personality Drew Carey. According to an article in this morning's paper, a few teams in the league are actually making money. We'll see about the Seattle effort. Isn't soccer played in the summer? That's when grass grows around here and it'll be difficult to decide which will be more exciting to watch. * The previous item ought to rank as one of my all-time dumb cliché and trite idea-fests. If this blog had lots of ads and a tip-jar I'd probably have a spot-the-varmints contest and offer a prize. But we don't. So I won't. * A favorite Las Vegas pastime is imploding outdated casinos. And they do it with style! Well, in Las Vegas style. Here is a link to The Daughter's video of yesterday's demise of the New Frontier. Speaking of Vegas, we'll be there next week. Posting by me will be lighter, and I'm hoping that the Thanksgiving weekend will distract you from heavy blog-reading anyway. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 14, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments





Tuesday, November 13, 2007


All Those Horrible, Terrible Tourists
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My sorta-neighbor (well, we both live in the Seattle area) travel entrepreneur Rick Steves mentions in his guidebooks that this or that site is too touristy. He's not alone: other guidebooks and many travelers express the same lament. Unfortunately for him, my newly-minted but probably not original Iron Law of Travel Writing holds that, if a site is praised in travel books/films/videos/etc., the tourists will come. Lots of them, eventually. And local shops will begin stocking souvenirs and other trinkets. It certainly happened to Steves when he gave a huge boost to the five small Cinque Terre towns at the eastern end of Italy's Ligurian Coast by featuring them in his guide books and television show. The undertone to his treatment of Cinque Terre in his latest Italy book is that he wishes the place wasn't so overrun, but deserves to be a highlighted destination nevertheless. I don't consider myself a travel snob [pats his own back] but gobs and gobs of tourists in a limited area can get annoying. Here are some examples from my own travels. I visited Prague in July, 2000 and it was somewhat crowded. I visited it again on the last day of September 2006 and it was even more crowded; crossing the Charles Bridge (Karluv most) was a struggle. This was when the tourist season should have been over. I was in Cinque Terre early this October and the place still had lots of tourists -- again after the expected peak. This made me wonder how crowded the little towns were during the height of the season. The Waikiki beach and hotel area crowds are surely nearly all tourists. Florence is usually jammed. This is especially so on and near the Ponte Vecchio and in the squares near the Ufizzi Gallery and the Duomo. On Sundays, many tourists are Italians from nearby towns and smaller cities. This is because nowadays (more so than even a few years ago) stores in the tourist areas are open, whereas Sunday shopping is much more limited elsewhere. To be sure, London, Paris, New York and other tourist destination cities gather plenty of sightseers. But these places are so large that tourists can be overwhelmed by the even larger crowds of locals -- except around mecca sites such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and Tower of London. Travel writers seem to take pride in discovering the undiscovered: an Italian hill-town or a French village untouched by tourism until the next edition of the travel book hits Barnes & Noble's shelves. I was offered food for thought about this several years ago when visiting St. Cirq-Lapopie on a hill above the Lot River in southwestern France. The place had been "discovered" (which was why we were there) and already had its establishment of restaurants and gift shops. There were nearby towns, none of which were touristy. I got to thinking that St. Cirq probably looked much like the others a few... posted by Donald at November 13, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments





Monday, November 12, 2007


Armistice Day Musings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, yes. I know it's "Veterans' Day" officially and that it's November 11th and not today, the 12th (even though banks, schools and government agencies are closed today in many parts of the country). But it was Armistice Day when I was a kid and I claim The Right of Whimsy to keep calling it that. And to call "Beijing" Peking and so forth. Anyway. Yesterday in Church the pastor had veterans stand to be recognized by the congregation. There weren't all that many of us and a fellow behind me wondered that so few younger people stood. He should have known it is a matter of history and law, along with other things. So this afternoon I got to musing about military service while driving back from an emergency trip to the dentist (part of a crown cracked off). I'll deal with my own family, because I know the details best. For some reason, my bunch skated through the wars of the past 150 years unscathed while some other families had entire generations of males wiped out. My father's mother's father either (1) bailed out of Germany in perhaps the 1850s or 60s to avoid conscription or (2) was wounded and left for dead on a pile of corpses during a war. My grandmother, who had some credibility problems when storytelling, provided me the second version when I was ten or so: other kin were inclined to favor the first story. Even at the time her story didn't ring true because I knew that she was alive at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. Moreover, today I'm inclined to doubt that he was involved in the two Prussian wars in the 1860s because that didn't give him much time to get to Chicago and start a family by 1870, when my grandmother was born. My father's other grandfather (born 1837) enlisted for the Civil War and served a year or two as a musician -- apparently musicians doubled as stretcher-bearers, so there was risk. He and his fellow Ohioans were first sent to central Missouri, a border state, where there was concern about Confederate sympathizers and raiders in 1861. Then his unit was transferred back across the Mississippi and was involved in early stages of the Tennessee River campaigns before he completed his enlistment. I have a copy of his diary, but it mostly notes what the weather was; army life can be pretty dull, even in wartime. My father's older brother (born 1894) enlisted for the Great War. He was in the Signal Corps because he knew telegraphy and did his training at Camp Lewis, just south of Tacoma. I remember seeing wide-format photos of his training company at my grandparents' house and at his place. Signals could be a dangerous field, especially at the height of the trench warfare phase on the conflict. There was nothing like World War 2 walkie-talkies; the speediest means of communication was via telegraphy. And telegraph... posted by Donald at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments




What Ever Happened to "First Do No Harm"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- MIT sues Frank Gehry. The school says that the goofily off-kilter Stata Center -- which Gehry designed and which has been lavishly praised by the architectural establishment -- is plagued by persistent leaks, cracks, and mold problems. Gasp: Bizarro-chic new architecture that garners critical praise yet that fails in the most basic ways as pleasant and effective shelter -- now doesn't that come as a surprise? From Wikipedia's entry on deconstructivist hero Peter Eisenman: [Eisenman's 1989] Wexner Center, hotly anticipated as the first major public deconstructivist building, has required extensive and expensive retrofitting because of elementary design flaws (such as incompetent material specifications, and fine art exhibition space exposed to direct sunlight). Its spatial grammar of colliding planes also tends to make users disoriented to the point of nausea, and Eisenman has been known to chuckle in lectures about making people vomit. Talk about high maintenance! Buyer beware, of course. But it's probably a good idea for readers of the architectural press to beware too. What on earth is this crowd trying to put over on the rest of us? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments




Best Line of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Where would our newspapers be without hysteria?" -- David Chute. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments




DVD Journal: "The Good Shepherd"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't think I've watched an American movie as slow, as solemn, and as hushed as Robert De Niro's "The Good Shepherd" since ... well, guess. A few hints: In "The Good Shepherd," beautifully detailed period homes contrast with beautifully-detailed period workplaces. Years pass while underlit men confer in hushed tones about sinister and dangerous things, and loyal but in-the-dark wives grow emotionally desperate and finally tip over the edge. Loyalties are tested. What ought to be kept impersonal becomes, inevitably, all too personal. That's right: "The Good Shepherd" is not only aiming for "Godfather" status, it's also using a "Godfather" strategy. Where in "The Godfather" Francis Coppola used the Mafia as a metaphor for American capitalism, in "The Good Shepherd" De Niro is using the history of the CIA as a way to talk about contemporary American politics -- the Bushies and their elite-WASP style of ruling more specifically. (Coppola is credited as an executive producer on the film.) The picture is certainly beautifully crafted in many ways, as well as acted with mucho conviction. And the lighting, costumes, and sets all contribute to a sumptuous, dignified realism of a type we haven't been able to enjoy in movies much recently. Bravo to all that. Even so, I found the movie a near-total snoozefest. Main complaint: What on earth is the film's story? Matt Damon plays a Yale poetry student who's recruited first into Skull and Bones, then into WWII-era government intelligence, then into the early days of the CIA, then into intrigue within the CIA. Some devious shit happens. Some more devious shit happens. Finally the deviousness and the shit hit home. And that's it -- that's all, storywise, this two-hour-and-40-minute long film gives us. Its energies, in other words, are far more focused on what's being said thematically than they are on telling us a crackling yarn, let alone with introducing us to juicy characters, or inviting us to explore charged situations. The film's "story" is so general and abstract that, for all the darkness and the brooding, little seems to be at stake. Well, scratch that -- "America" is what's at stake, we're meant to understand. Up on screen are a lot of preppy WASPs trying (in their chilly, controlling, proprietary way) to look out for what they feel is "their" country's best interests. It all slips out of their control just as it seems to have slipped out of the Bushies' control. The ruling-class blood not only runs thin; it runs out. But the film's characters? "Underimagined" doesn't begin to describe them. Although he seems meant to start off as someone with a few ideals -- a poetry student, etc -- the Damon character in fact plays onscreen as a near-complete cipher. Since he's masked and ungiving right from the get-go, we don't care if and when he loses the soul we've never seen anyway. As his wife, Angelina Jolie at least gets to cut loose in an early... posted by Michael at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments





Saturday, November 10, 2007


Giovanni Boldini: The Paris Connection
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the quirks of 19th century painting is that the greatest feather in an aspiring academic artist's hat was being awarded a Prix de Rome scholarship to study in Italy -- yet young Italian artists had to come to Paris in order to make their names known. Such was the case for Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). Starting his career in Florence, he moved to Paris in 1871 after a London sojourn. By the 1890s he was one of the most fashionable portrait artists in Paris, though he is not well-known today. Boldini's specialty was flashy, sketchy portraits of women. He married journalist Emilia Cardona in 1929, when he was 87: Cardona was 30. This was the same year Alaida Banti died. Alaida was the daughter of artist Cristiano Banti, who assisted Boldini's career after the young artist moved to Florence from Ferrara. Alaida was a teenager when she met Boldini and fell in love with him. Cristiano did not approve of the relationship. My Italian is too sketchy to pursue this, but apparently Boldini and Alaida maintained some sort of relationship even after he left Italy. He proposed marriage in 1903 but this was thwarted by Cristiano, who died the following year. I have no idea why they didn't marry after the death of her father. Nor do I have any idea what this might have to do with Boldini's art. But gossip can be interesting, don't you think? Rather than go into other, more relevant details of Boldini's life, let me offer some links for you to explore. Here the Wikipedia entry in English and here is the Italian version which offers more detail and illustrations. A biographical sketch can be found here, and it contains an assessment by Time on the occasion of his death. Finally, here is another Italian link which has a number of examples of Boldini's work. Gallery Giovanni Boldini Diego Martelli in uno studio pittore - c. 1867 Martelli was an influential critic and buyer of art. The original painting is smaller than it seems, but I can't find its exact dimensions. Place Clichy - 1872 Boldini painted street scenes, landscapes and still lifes in addition to his portraiture. Giuseppi Verdi in cilindro - 1886 This is one of Boldini's best-known and most-reproduced works. James McNeill Whistler - 1897 Although Boldini specialized in portraits of women by the 1890s, he also had male sitters. Lady Colin Campbell c.1897 Hmm. Seems I've been neglecting those female ritratti. So here goes ... Nudo - 1911 Well, I suppose it's a portrait of sorts. But who cares. Mademoiselle de Gillespie - 1912 This seems a little stylized, so I wonder what she actually looked like -- a non-exhaustive Web search drew a blank. La Marchesa Luisa Casati con uno leviero - 1908 One of Boldini's flashier efforts. What did she really look like? How much is Boldini fooling/teasing us? Photo of Luisa Casati - 1912 Maybe Boldini didn't over-dramatize too much.... posted by Donald at November 10, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So what drugs is Amy Winehouse on? Hmm, maybe the better question would be, What drugs isn't she on? (UPDATE: Viacom has put the kibosh on this particular clip, so the link I've provided is now a stale one.) * Marc Andreessen turns up some hilarious (if not exactly unexpected) facts about Boomers. Ning, Marc's own social-networking company, offers what many folks are sure to find an appealing and helpful service. * Terrierman thinks that biologists ought to get out into the field more often. That Cuban Almiqui is one weird-looking animal ... * Do you ever visit Luke Ford's blog? I find him brilliant and fascinating, if in a somewhat evil, blank-faced, Warhol-ish kind of way. * Are you tempted by blogging but put off by the way it seems like too damn much work? (And, y'know, it can be a little demanding.) Then why not try Tumblr, one of the new "microblogging" services? * Michael Eades tells the amazing story of Charles Tyrrell, the 19th century's enema tycoon. * Culturebargain: Bernard Rose's 1992 horror movie "Candyman" (from material by Clive Barker) delivers both as a scare picture and as something deeper, more cultured, and more mature. In the way it combines effective cheap thrills with a disturbing psychological dimension, the film reminds me of the David Cronenberg / Stephen King / Christopher Walken "The Dead Zone," also a richly emotional pop movie. Many bonus points to Bernard Rose for featuring a very touching, young, and beautiful Virginia Madsen in the lead role. A used DVD of the film can currently be bought for around five bucks. * MBlowhard Rewind: I discussed three books about sex by women authors. Best, Michael UPDATE: Sometimes the mainstream media do actually start to get it. Don't miss Amy Harmon's article for the NYTimes about the way genetics research is generating all kinds of new information that the "we are all alike" crowd is sure to find unnerving. How are we going to deal with "the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA"? Half Sigma and GNXP's Jason Malloy win well-earned mentions from Amy Harmon.... posted by Michael at November 10, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, November 9, 2007


DVD Journal: "Spider-Man 3"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Spider-Man 3" is the kind of calamitous misfire that makes you gasp, "What on earth were they thinking?" -- except that in this case it's all too clear what they were thinking: epic solemnity with a message, reluctantly enlivened with occasional special-effects firestorms. Say farewell to your hopes for an evening's fun entertainment and brace yourself instead for themes and lessons; unresonant villains; 134 plot turns too many; a complete absence of subtext; an almost two-and-a-half-hour running time ... Though they do come up with some beautiful and / or amazing special effects, the talented Sam Raimi and his team couldn't have done a better job of killing off my interest in their successful movie franchise if they'd tried. The love-interest character -- Mary Jane, played by Kirsten Dunst -- suffers worst. She comes across as a tedious, high-maintenance pain who's sooooooo not worth the effort. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments




Saturated Fat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Saturated fat is to be avoided whenever possible, right? It's the ultimate dietary no-no: Clogged arteries ... Heart disease ... Avoid saturated fats and you'll live forever. Although the conviction that saturated fat is evil must be one of the most basic beliefs in the modern educated American's mental toolkit, there's in fact nothing at all behind it. "Study after study has failed to provide definitive evidence that saturated-fat intake leads to heart disease," writes Nina Teicholz, whose article reads like a much-condensed version of Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories." Taubes' book, which I've now finished going through, really is startling. He details convincingly -- at enormous length and in devastating detail -- how today's health-tips industry took shape, how unhelpful its advice has proven, and how unsound the science the whole edifice is based on is. His judgment: It's "an enterprise ... that purports to be a science and yet functions like a religion." Pass the pork chops, please. Here's a good Frontline interview with Taubes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2007 | perma-link | (50) comments





Thursday, November 8, 2007


A Note From Jeanene Van Zandt
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've written numerous times about the late Texas folksinger Townes Van Zandt, one of my very favorite artists. My biggest posting about him is here. The other day I received an email from Townes' widow, Jeanene Van Zandt. Since I was very moved by her reflections and her memories, I asked her if I could reprint her email to me as a blogposting in its own right. I'm pleased that Jeanene has agreed to let me do that. Here it is: It has been almost 2 years since Michael wrote this beautiful piece on Townes and Margaret Brown's documentary "Be Here to Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt." A Google Alert led me to it. It moved me. It made me cry. I have been reading the remarks with a lot of interest, especially the ones that say they do not want to hear Townes’ music because he was a “bad man”. I am hoping that with this post I might change your minds. By now, the film is out on DVD. I am the girl in the story who asked God to "Please, don't let this be HIM!" However, the answer came back to me Loud & Clear, that it was "HIM". I knew that God wanted me to care for this man, His poet servant, and that our souls had known each other forever. You just cannot argue with that kind of stuff! We were perfectly suited for each other. Where he was weak, I was strong. Where I was dumb, he was brilliant. We loved all the same things and believed the same things. Yes he was difficult when he was drinking, but when you really love someone, it’s for better or worse. Townes used to say to me, “My soul loves your soul, and your soul loves mine. We’re just being taken along for the ride and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it!” I used to ask God all the time, “Why me? Why did you pick me?” I don’t ask that any more. I understand now. I do not regret one single moment I spent with Townes, and I spent 15 years with him. When the times were good and we were alone, no other woman felt so loved. I coped with the bad times by dividing Townes in half, Good Townes & Bad Townes. I just loved Good Townes so much that Bad Townes just couldn’t do enough to kill that. I have to agree with God. We were meant to be together. He needed me. He is gone, but I am still here with God whispering in my ear … Do not Stop. Never Stop. Do Everything you can do so that all people will hear these songs that I had my faithful poet servant write as on ode to me. And I never will. People need these songs. They have healing powers. You NEED to hear them. If I can... posted by Michael at November 8, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments




DVD Journal: "Hot Fuzz"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- With "Hot Fuzz," Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright -- the British cut-ups who were behind the zombie spoof "Shaun of the Dead" -- generate a few exuberantly silly, high-low comedy moments, but mostly come a-cropper. (I liked "Shaun of the Dead" and wrote about it here.) "Hot Fuzz" is an attempt to bust open the pokiness and eccentricity of an Ealing-style comedy with a lot of go-go-go, Simpson/Bruckheimer, MTV aggressiveness -- think of "Bad Boys 2" ramming into "Passport to Pimlico." But since the two tones never really come together, the film plays like an amusing-enough ten-minute skit that 'way overstays its welcome. With his lowkey deadpan, his pushy brashness, his old-man / little-boy face, and his compulsion to see his ideas and predicaments in comically overblown, American-movie terms, Simon Pegg is the Toby Young of actors. "Shaun of the Dead" can currently be bought for $9.49. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments





Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Wishful Projections
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fairly often I come across the assertion that "homophobes" are actually repressed homosexuals. I'm inclined to doubt that the claim is generally true, though there's no reason to doubt that it might be true for some individuals. But for the moment let's assume that it is true. Now let's generalize and posit that anyone with a strong dislike of some form of human behavior secretly harbors such behavior himself. Seems perfectly reasonable, right? Surely the case of attitudes regarding homosexuality can't be unique. Therefore, it would be perfectly correct to assert that people who hate Republicans are really repressed GOPers. I knew you would agree. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (35) comments




Healtharchy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, In a recent posting, Auctionocracy, I provided a very brief overview of money in politics and argued the thesis that we've adopted a system of public policy that's openly for sale to the highest bidder. I wanted to follow that post up with several showing examples of how an industry's cash spent on campaign contributions and lobbying has paid off handsomely for that industry, but perhaps hasn't worked out quite so well for American society at large. In the first of these follow-up postings, I want to consider the healthcare industry. To recapitulate, I would remind you of a piece of information from my first posting, to wit that healthcare providers were the second-most prodigal political spenders, having forked out $420 million in contributions during the 1998-2006 campaign cycles, and $2,043 million in lobbying during the years 1998-2006. (These figures were compiled from data at Opensecrets.org, which I wholeheartedly advise you to visit here.) In their generosity, the healthcare providers were only exceeded by the plutocrats of the financial services industry and they come in well ahead of the "political" donors, who scraped along in third place. I also wanted to re-emphasize that in my numbers above I left out the $255 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses of the HMO industry because their economic agenda at least occasionally calls for restricting healthcare spending. This of course differentiates them from the hardcore healthcare providers (doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, hospitals and nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies, medical supplies and equipment providers, dietary and nutritional supplement manufacturers) who are all united by a heartfelt and unambiguous desire for more healthcare spending, and whose campaign contributions and lobbying dollars are spent to bring that glorious consummation about. Simply talking about dollar aggregates may not suggest how much effort that the health care industry puts into its political arm twisting; this piece by Maureen Glabman from 2002 may provide a clearer impression. After noting that in that year there were 17,800 registered Washington lobbyists, she points out that: An estimated 40 percent of those 17,800 lobbyists promote health care agendas, according to James Albertine, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American League of Lobbyists. To put it another way, there are 13 health care lobbyists for each of the 535 members of Congress. Well, what has the healthcare industry gotten in return for its campaign contributions and its fleet of lobbyists? I am delighted to announce on behalf of those never-say-die influence peddlers that their hard work and determination has paid off better than hitting the Trifecta. The healthcare industry receives a gusher, a veritable Niagara of public subsidies, luxurious enough even to make the farm lobby or the military-industrial complex speechless with envy. As Maggie Mahar reports here, (based on figures from 2004): [T]taxpayers bankroll [i.e., subsidize] 51 percent of the nation's $2 trillion health care bill: this includes paying for private insurance for public employees (accounting for 6 percent of total health care spending), Medicare (17 percent... posted by Friedrich at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments




Watson, Population Groups, Etc
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Like many people, I've read the news reports about James Watson's comments about Africa and brainpower, and the other news reports about condemnations of Watson, about Watson's apology, about his dismissal from the institution he founded. Main reactions, not that my reactions deserve paying-attention-to: I'm as scandalized as many are by the spectacle of Watson being crucified. At the same time, I think you have to be a bit of a social-political retard not to realize that topics of the kind that Watson touched on and statements of the kind that Watson made carry a charge. You can't realistically say the kind of thing that Watson said and expect the world at large to act deferential and grateful towards you. Prick the giant monster that is political correctness and you will have a serious fight on your hands. Given that, once what was said was said ... Well, in the case of James Watson as in the case of Larry Summers, I felt let down. Both men tested a taboo -- yay to that -- and then both men backed down. (Boo, hiss.) Lordy, what wusses. To be fair, perhaps neither guy had any idea how badly he'd taunted the monster. Perhaps both men were taken by surprise by the reactions they provoked. Even so, once the fray was underway I'm sorry that Summers and Watson didn't grow a pair, find their inner "300" Spartan warrior, and put up a serious fight. Why? For a simple and practical reason. Some people I've met who work in the genetics field have assured me that tons of information about biological-genetic differences between the races is going to be emerging over the next few decades. Given that fact, it seems to me of the utmost importance that numerous discussions about how we're going to handle this kind of information get underway, and pronto. We seem already 'way past the point where denial, self-righteousness, and attempts to control the conversation will prove productive in anything but the shortest run. So far as getting started with these conversations go, Steve Sailer and GNXP's Jason Malloy have seemed to me to have a lot to contribute, agree with them or not. They also command about a thousand-trillion times the knowledge and information that I do. (Jason here, Steve here and here.) I also enjoyed scrolling through the comments on Jason and Steve's postings. The world is full of so many brainy, interesting people ... But, but ... Well, there are two things that emerge sometimes from the rightie side of the table that baffle me. #1. Some righties seem to feel that the West made a suicidal mistake when it let itself say, "All cultures are equally valuable." According to this crowd, the person who thinks that all cultures are interesting and valuable ensures that all values crumble. The culture that agrees that other cultures are nifty too succeeds only at paralyzing its own will and undermining its own self-preservation... posted by Michael at November 6, 2007 | perma-link | (62) comments





Sunday, November 4, 2007


Subway Nerd Nirvana
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Blogging will continue to be a little light from me because I'll be on the road most of this week. This afternoon's event was a 2Blowhards staff meeting during which Michael and I plotted world domination or better grammer in my blog posts or something or other. At the same time, Nancy and The Wife were having their meeting -- concerning what, I dare not guess. Following that, Nancy and I returned to downtown [CENSORED] where in a gift shop I spied the following book. Even though it was first published in 2003 (under a different title) I hadn't stumbled upon Transit Maps of the World until now; perhaps that's because the expanded, retitled Penguin edition appeared this year. So far I only thumbed through the book while Nancy was finishing her shopping. What I saw looked fascinating: page after page of those London Underground-style map/diagrams for transit systems in places ranging from Paris to Athens to Atlanta. In addition to the maps are text and some photos. Besides being grist for folks interested in urban geography and transportation, the maps might be helpful when doing preliminary trip planning. I'll dig into the book more deeply soon, and let you know if it fails to match these first impressons. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 4, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments





Friday, November 2, 2007


Stiglitz on Globalization
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nobelist (and former Clinton advisor) Joseph Stiglitz is bracingly frank about the failings of globalization in this talk to a Google audience. Despite a booming China and an on-the-make India, growth has been slower than expected in much of the rest of the world. Globalization was expected to lead to greater worldwide stablity. What it has resulted in instead has been dozens of financial crises. Globalization was supposed to encourage money to flow from the rich world to the poor one. In fact, money has been flowing in the opposite direction. Globalization was expected to be an equalizer of incomes. As things have played out, though, inequality has increased dramatically not only between countries but within countries. The income of the U.S.'s lower classes, for instance, has actually decreased over the last 30 years. Stiglitz is also more worldly than most professorial types are about the way that special interests warp arrangements to their own advantage. Despite all these admissions, though, Stiglitz still thinks that globalization can be made to work. How? Well, somehow "we" have got to get our incentives straight, for our political classes as well as for our trade-agreement set. I haven't yet found the passage where he names the planet on which such a thing might possibly be made to happen. Forgive me for suspecting that what he really means is, "I believe. I see the shortcomings, yes. But I can't give up my belief." Here's an AlterNet interview with Stiglitz. Stiglitz's books about globalization are buyable here and here. Am I wrong in thinking that part of what "opening world trade up" often means in practice is "giving greater license to the shrewd, the connected, and the powerful to take unscrupulous advantage of the rest of us"? I say this as a most-places / most-times fan of free trade, by the way. It's just that ... Well, how can "free trade" be made to happen at the global level? Who, after all, are we going to find who'll be able to officiate the game in a disengaged, fair-minded way? A Martian? Or perhaps ... Joseph Stiglitz? Don't miss FvBlowhard's recent analysis of lobbying and campaign-contribution money. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments




Computer Dis-Improvements
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the ooh-ing and aah-ing about how quickly computer technology advances. Really: Do massive hard drives, processor speeds, and memories represent anything but technological stunts unless they serve our purposes? So how well have computer makers done in terms of serving human needs? Hal Licino had the wit to go to the trouble of comparing a current Windows machine with a 1986 Mac Plus. A fair fight? Hardly. After all, the Windows machine is -- in technical terms, anyway -- 1000 times faster than the creaky ol' Mac. It was also equipped with 1Gig of RAM vs. the Mac's 4 MB. Yet, yet ... So far as the non-websurfing tasks that one most often uses a computer for (Word and Excel, basically) go, the prehistoric Mac beat the Windows powerhouse more than half the time. The test that really clinched it in the Mac's favor, as far as I'm concerned, is the time it took the computers to boot up. The Mac delivered a usable desktop nearly a minute faster than the Windows machine did. Can anyone say "too many bells and whistles"? How about "flash for the sake of flash"? Or maybe "marketing-department overreach"? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 2, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments





Thursday, November 1, 2007


Karaoke Smackdown
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Champ. The Challenger. Wait! What's that I see? There's another challenger! The world seems to be swarming with inventive and cute teens, some of whom have lips like Scarlett Johansson's. Read about the Back Dorm Boys on Wikipedia. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments




Blogging Smackdown
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's Clio vs. Roissy (in the comments). At stake: the future of the 21st century male-female thing. Is "game" a necessary survival toolkit for the new hetero male, or a cynical ploy that feeds ego and poisons relations? Clio's own blog is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (39) comments




Auctionocracy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, All our teachers taught us that we live in a democracy, or, perhaps more precisely, in a republic. In either case ultimate sovereignty derives from The People. And (eventually, at least) the Will of The People cannot be denied, because their votes call the shots. Right? Well, as we edge closer to an election year, I would have to say I've got my doubts about all that. Because, the way I see it, it's distinctly possible that we actually live in something more akin to an "auctionocracy" where people who want political influence write checks to purchase it. My guess is that dollar bills donated to campaigns or devoted to lobbying, rather than votes cast for candidates, constitutes the real action in terms of how America is governed and how Americans live. I did a little research on the total dollars donated at the Federal level on Congressional and Presidential elections, as well as those dollars spent on lobbying, at Opensecrets.org.(You can - and should - check them out here.) I totaled up all the contributions and lobbying expenditures for the years 1998 to 2006 (or the 1998 - 2006 election cycles). I excluded the 2007 numbers because they are still fragmentary. I excluded data on campaign contributions from before the 1998 election cycle because there is no corresponding data on lobbying. A drumroll please...the following are the leading sources of political money in modern America: #1. The finance industry, including commercial and investment banks, savings & loans, private equity firms and insurers (other than health insurers) made $933 million in campaign contributions and spent $2,077 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,941 million. #2. Health care providers, including medical professionals, hospitals, nursing homes and the pharmaceutical industry, made $420 million in campaign contributions and spent $2,043 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,463 million. #3. Ideological donors, single-issue donors and retirement-focused donors made $1,259 in campaign contributions and spent $848 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $2,107 million. #4. Agribusiness made $229 million in campaign contributions and spent $694 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $923 million. #5. The real estate industry including mortgage bankers made $358 million in campaign contributions and spent $549 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $906 million. #6. Electric utilities made $84 million in campaign contributions and spent $793 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $877 million. #7. Lawyers and lobbyists made $670 million in campaign contributions and spent $188 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $857 million. #8. The defense industry made $75 million in campaign contributions and spent $716 million on lobbying, giving them a grand total of $791 million. #9. The computer/Internet industries gave $124 million in campaign contributions and spent $625 million lobbying, giving them a grand total of $749 million. #10. The education industry gave $93 million in campaign contributions and spent... posted by Friedrich at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments




Cameras for Travel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this November 1st, having survived yet another birthday. (I need to write my -- extremely liberal -- congressman regarding what happens when I subtract my birth year from the current year. For some reason that result keeps getting larger. That seems unfair. Clearly a Republican plot: heartless bastards.) I'm also on the road. In the Bay Area right now and heading to points south and a possible Michael Blowhard sighting. And today my sister is off to Bhutan, of all places. Nancy (my sister, not my wife) packs two cameras when she goes to exotic places. One is a pocket-sized digital and the other is a digital single lens reflex (SLR) type digital. I own a couple of film SLRs -- Nikon Fs that I bought 45-ish years ago while stationed in the Far East. Plus four or five extra lenses. Not to mention Dad's Nikon F, which I inherited. None of these cameras has been used in about 30 years. Nor are they likely to be used again (for one thing, they probably need reconditioning). The travel pix I post here from time to time are taken with a Nikon S5 pocket digital. It does a surprisingly good job, though telephoto shots are iffy even though the camera seems to try to stabilize the images while in that mode. On my recent trip to Italy, a tour group member was a woman who paints murals in houses. Apparently Tuscan scenes are a popular subject, so she thought it was high time to see the place in person rather than rely only on reference photos from books and magazines. She shelled out something like $1,400 for a Canon with a huge zoom lens to take her own reference photos. I took a picture of her and her husband with it, and the viewfinder, etc. were mighty impressive. I'm sure my photography would improve if I had such gear. Still, I'd hate to have it stolen: Lord knows one can't discretely hide heavy artillery of that sort. Which is why my little pocket Nikon is my weapon of choice on trips. But still ... Camera packin' readers: How do you deal with the digital camera convenience versus quality issue when you take a serious trip? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments




Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Speaking of rowdy and uninhibited ladies, as I recently was ... The blog Lust Bites features writing by some of today's most daring female eroticists, a smashing visual design, and a general tone of crisp and merry irreverence. Recently: Polly Frost celebrates being a "genre slut"; Madelyne Ellis praises the vamp archetype; and Janine Ashbless confesses to having a thing for men's beards. Oh, I do have a soft spot for risk-taking, wild women ... Hmm, well, maybe "soft spot" isn't quite the right way to put it. NSFW, as if you really needed telling. * A little Degas, a little Ashcan, a little East Village, a lot of talent and skill ... Fun. (NSFW, but classily so.) * Linda Thom connects the dots between immigration-driven population growth and California's recurring wilderness-fire crises. * The best camcorders of 2007. * What, if anything, can be done to save Western New York State? * "Reason can never be the absolute dictator of man's mental or moral economy," writes Theodore Dalrymple, bless his heart. (Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.) * Steve Sailer traces the evolution of pop music over the last few decades. * Culture-bargain: Before he turned to making straightfaced fantasy epics, the New Zealand director Peter Jackson was a wonderfully demented low-budget comic-horror specialist. At Amazon, you can currently buy his brilliant gross-out scare picture "Dead Alive" for a mere $5.49. * MBlowhard Rewind: I rhapsodized about the tres charmante French actress Sophie Marceau. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments