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

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Entrepreneur and arts buff
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Media flunky and arts buff

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  1. Help Me
  2. Elsewhere
  3. The End of Flashman
  4. A Little YouTube Linkage
  5. A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part One
  6. Borjas on Immigration
  7. Elsewhere
  8. What Does "Plain" Mean?
  9. Bagatelle
  10. Gadgets ... and Tools

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, January 4, 2008

Help Me
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lifehacker invites visitors to name their favorite self-help books. Lots of interesting and funny contributions. Me, I've long wanted to write a blog posting in which I'd argue that the self-help genre is 1) unfairly scorned, and 2) an important American literary genre. Funny I haven't done so yet. Maybe one day I'll run across a self-help book that will give me the motivation I need to actually write this posting ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 4, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jimmy Moore comes up with a Presidential nominee I could get behind. * A blog's gotta have a theme, I guess. * Philip Weiss has a daring wrestle with that most taboo of thinkers, Kevin MacDonald. * DVD Spin Doctor lists his top 20 DVDs of 2007. * Kirsten Mortensen says goodbye to a loved but difficult dog. * Author Mark Lilla writes that commenters and bloggers have offered sharper responses to his recent book than trad book reviewers have. Who needs critics, eh? * Reviewing a poetry collection, Prairie Mary gets off some shrewd observations about autobiographical writing, and about relationships between older men and younger women. * Terrierman runs a gorgeous photo of an almost perfectly preserved baby mammoth. * Katie Hutchison praises Shaker blue and a modest beach boardwalk. Why does anyone ask for anything more from architecture? * Shouting Thomas recalls some lousy bands from the '60s. Man, there really were a lot of those around, weren't there? * Derek Lowe confides that some -- and maybe even many -- scientists just aren't made to be managers. * MBlowhard Rewind: I maintained back here that, where artchat goes, it's vitally important to distinguish between "modern" and "modernist." Don't let the bastards get away with claiming that modern has to imply modernist! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 4, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The End of Flashman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- George MacDonald Fraser -- author of the "Flashman" comic novels as well as much else -- has died at 82. (Here too.) Fraser was an unabashed reactionary who was also a hyper-gifted fiction writer. Hmmm: I wonder how many university lit courses have Fraser's books on their reading lists ... James Fulford takes a look at some of Fraser's political views. Here's a brief interview with Fraser from 1999. I've only read two of the Flashman novels but both of them bowled me over; I found them to be among the most flat-out entertaining novels that I have ever read. And I liked Fraser's nonfiction book about how Hollywood has treated history very much. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

A Little YouTube Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Philip Murphy thinks that British Conservative pol David Cameron is a master of online-video communication. * Philip also offers a lovely video tribute to recently-deceased jazz-piano giant Oscar Peterson. * David Blaine, that bitch, is back. * Here are some YouTube resources for lifetime learners. * The Communicatrix points out a sweetly funny and naughty song about a girl with a special kind of fetish. (NSFW) * David Chute links to a lot of scorching Bollywood clips. It seems fair to say that the Indian film industry has no fear of color, and even more of a taste for sexy navels than we do. * Thanks to Anne Thompson, who points out the-hard-to-resist filmchat duo ReelGeezers. Executive Marcia Nasatir and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. are both longtime filmworld vets, and are both as smart as can be about movies. It's as much fun, though, to observe their outsize personalities and their cranky-loving friendship as it is to listen to their observations about the films they've watched. Marcia and Lorenzo -- who were introduced to each other by the late New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael -- may be in their 80s, but they're definitely YouTube naturals. Patrick Goldstein calls ReelGeezers "the coolest new critics on the block," and who could take issue with that judgment? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

A Few Small Beefs with Paul Cantor: Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I recommended a free, downloadable audio lecture series by Paul Cantor about culture and the market. Today and tomorrow I'm treating myself to a few quibbles with Cantor. Let me say first that this is entirely unfair of me. Cantor is (IMHO) helpful, brilliant, accurate, healthy, and entertaining. He's undogmatic, streetwise, and (especially for a prof) amazingly respectful of actual experience. He's also sophisticated, nuanced, and appreciative -- of art itself and of life's many ironies. Besides, Cantor's point in his lecture series isn't to provide a Compleat Account of art and culture but rather to help culturefans cast off their usual anti-commercial bias. He means his lectures to be a corrective to the usual nonsense, and he achieves his goal wonderfully. But I'm going to treat myself to a few quibbles anyway. Please understand though that I'm not really quarreling with Cantor. I'm on the same team as he is. I'm taking issue with him only for the sake of making my writing challenge a little easier. In reality, I'm just adding my own two cents to the conversation. The first of my points: The art history thing. Cantor gives a fresh and realistic account of art history, one that's infinitely more true to the facts than is the one usually sold by schools and by the media. Bravo, excellent, superb, etc. My quibble: The "art history" that Cantor discusses strikes me as very narrowly defined. He accepts the usual list of greats, as well as much of the storytelling that connects the dots between them. In painting, for instance, the conventional art-history story goes: Renaissance- Baroque- Neoclassical- Romantic- Impressionist- Cubist-Surrealist-AbEx, etc etc. Cantor's evidently OK with that story; he just wants it told in a truer-to-life-than-usual way. Me, I'm not OK with it. I mean, there "art history" is, and that's OK with me, of course. But I'm also struck by the fact that there's so much more to the story of "visuals" than the "art history" version of it. In fact, the more I awaken to the actual facts of visual culture, the more I lose interest in the conventional "art history" part of it. Art history (in the usual sense) is a fine topic, but it's no more than one small chapter in the very large book that contains the record of how humans have decorated themselves and their world, have expressed themselves in visual terms, and have made life more lively and rewarding in visual ways. A few examples of what you don't often run across in "art history": erotic photography, food packaging, jewelry, typography, television graphics, greeting cards, automobile design, book jackets, movie posters, sports visuals, clothing, lingerie, computer graphics, glamor lighting, magazine design, makeup ... Not to mention how individuals decorate their homes, dress themselves, do their hair, etc. Did I mention lingerie? Oh, I see that I did. Well, I hereby mention it again. The people who design, manufacture, and promote lingerie... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Borjas on Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Harvard economist George Borjas discusses the immigration situation with Vdare's Peter Brimelow: part one, part two. Borjas, who has reviewed all the studies, believes that our current immigration policies are at best economically neutral in their effect, and that they certainly hurt our local less-well-off. Which means, as Peter Brimelow has often written, that we're putting ourselves through a wrenching and unwanted cultural transformation all for nothing. Nice to see too that -- unlike the more rabid libertarians and the more narrowminded GDP-obsessed types -- Borjas is comfortable with the concept of "cultural costs." After all, even if our kooky immigration policies do result in income going up 0.1%, why should we care if they also mean dramatic increases in crowdedness, ethnic tensions, and economic polarization? Hard to imagine that a crumbling sense of national identity and a feeling on the part of most Americans that they're being screwed is going to do life in this country a lot of good. George Borjas blogs here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Marc Andreessen thinks that The Economist needs to go back to school. * Is Keynesianism a religion-like belief-set or a reasonable way to understand some of what happens in the world? * Alex Tabarrok wonders if it makes sense for the federal government to be subsidizing air transportation into and out of backwaters. * Steve Bodio's photos show how clear the air at 6500 feet can be in winter. * The 1990s saw the biggest population boom ever in American history -- thanks to, as you might have guessed, crazy immigration policies. This article includes a helpful reminder that back in the 1970s it was widely thought that America's population was leveling off, and that that was a good and desirable thing. * Steve Sailer suspects that maybe more kids should be dropping out of high school. An eye-opening fact that I found in Steve's piece: "Almost half of Hispanics in this [18-24] age group immigrated within the last ten years." * Roissy thinks that the girliness of girls' handwriting is biologically based. * The Neutralist is glad to see that John Derbyshire has wised up. * Riva Greenberg finds that eating low-carb keeps her diabetes under control. * Meet William Banting, the original low-carb dieter. * Multimedia journalist Tim Overdiek shows what "repurposing your content" is all about. * Hey, how about a career in television? (Link found thanks to Tim Overdiek.) * MBlowhard Rewind: I mused about the differences between one's tastes in sexual material and what a sensible public policy about the stuff might be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 2, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What Does "Plain" Mean?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I think I'll buy me some soy milk. Lookie there: Plain soy milk. My kinda thing. Now that's some honest and straightforward soy milk. None of that vanilla or chocolate or chai stuff, all of it ridiculously sweetened ... I sure feel sorry for the suckers who fall for that ruse, ho-ho ... What could be more wholesome? Health and nutrition-wise, no question about it: Silk Plain Soymilk is one piece of good news after another. Man oh man, I'm gonna live forever ... Whoa, check this out: Drinking Silk Plain Soymilk is even good for Mother Earth. That's not win-win, that's win-win-win: Taste plus healthiness plus virtue. But hold on a second ... Evaporated cane juice. That means sugar, doesn't it? They've snuck sugar into Plain Soymilk. Health food bastards! So how much are we talking about here? Ouch. 8 carbs ain't nothing. (Sound of your humble bloghost rummaging through dozens of containers of soy milk until finally ...) Aha! Now, let's give the ingredients list a very close perusal. God only knows what Carrageenan is, but at least there's no cane juice in there. So what kind of diff does it make? Bingo. If a little hard to find. America, eh? Land where almost anything's available. But also land where "Plain" means "with sugar," and only "Unsweetened" means "plain." Best, Michael UPDATE: In the comments on this posting, Prairie Mary points out that the excellent Michael Pollan has a new book out. Here's an NPR interview with Pollan. "Don't eat anything that your great-great grandmother would not recognize as food," Pollan likes to say. I wonder where he stands on soy milk ...... posted by Michael at January 1, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose I exaggerate slightly. But still ... Based on my wife's experiences in the Puget Sound area, all inexpensive hairdressers and manicure gals are from Vietnam. And they all are named "Linda." Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 1, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, December 31, 2007

Gadgets ... and Tools
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Christmas is over, sales have started, and I was wandering through Honolulu's Ala Moana shopping center this morning in a probably futile attempt to burn off some flab. In addition to Gucci, Prada and their Italo-ilk I noticed a Sharper Image store. I almost never shop at Sharper Image, but decided to go in anyway and see what they are offering these days. About a third of the way around the store I spied it: an electric necktie rack. That, my friends is a GADGET!! Which got me to thinking. I've never been fond of gadgets, but my father liked them a lot. He wasn't compulsive about it, mind you; he'd just bring one home every few months. And I would think "Why the hell did he buy such a silly thing?" Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was he bought in those days -- say, from 1955 to 1975. Nor do I know why he bought them. Perhaps they were a kind of toy. Or maybe because he was an engineer, he liked whatever cleverness there was in the design. As for me, I like tools. I don't have many tools, but if I have need of one and it's affordable, I don't hesitate to buy it. That's because a good tool can be used again and again. [Gives matter further thought] Some objects are clearly tools (a screwdriver, for instance) and others are obviously gadgets (what I saw in Sharper Image). They form opposite ends of a continuum of things that perform (or help people perform) tasks. To me, gadgets perform tasks to a ridiculously automated/mechanical and non cost-effective degree. Yes, pushing a button and having that electric tie rack display ties in rotation strikes me as silly because it didn't seem to be able to hold more than around 30 ties. But the gadget operates on the same principle as those gizmos (tools, actually) in dry cleaning shops that allow the clerk to find your stuff amidst a hundred other garments. Or consider an electric screwdriver. If you only need to place or remove screws occasionally, it borders on being a gadget. But if you work with screws a lot, then the convenience and saving of wear and tear on your body make it a true tool. Then there are wine bottle openers. The most basic tool-like opener has the curled metal point we're all familiar with along with some kind of lever at the other end. You can buy one of these for a few bucks. Then there are large, heavy, complicated devices that almost seem to suck corks out of bottles; some of these can cost a lot of money. At what point does gadgethood kick in here? Yes, it seems to be an eye-of-the-beholder thing. But I still don't care for (what I consider to be) gadgets. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 31, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments