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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  1. Guerilla Burger Wars
  2. The Australian Open, Co-Starring Ron Paul
  3. Richard S. Wheeler Blogs
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  5. Fact for the Day
  6. Bischoff of California Impressionism
  7. Q&A With Tom Naughton, Part Two
  8. More Ron-ness
  9. When Political Conventions Mattered
  10. Q&A With Tom Naughton, Part One

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Guerilla Burger Wars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My wife isn't a fan of one of my peculiar activities, so I have to sneak off without her in order to indulge. Well, I did so today, anyway. And it's hard to do, I might add. Do what? Stop in at an In-N-Out Burger fast-food joint. (Here is a lengthy Wikipedia write-up and here is the company web site, if you aren't familiar with In-N-Out.) And why is it so hard to do? Am I that much under Nancy's thumb? The second question is debatable, but the first one can be answered clearly: there are no In-N-Outs in Washington state, where I live. None in Oregon, either. In fact, In-N-Outs can be found only in California, Nevada and Arizona. Nancy and I did stop at an In-N-Out perhaps three years ago on our way from the Bay Area to the Mendocino Coast. That was my first brush with it, and the place was jammed. There's an In-N-Out in Gilroy, California, not far from where we used to live, but I never ate there because the lines were huge at lunchtime. Today Nancy was skiing while I was snooping around the valley below her timeshare. On my way into a shopping area just south of Carson City, Nevada I spied an In-N-Out. Despite being on a post-holidays food-intake watch, I decided to indulge myself because I'd forgotten what In-N-Out burgers taste like and was curious why they seemed so popular. So I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant. The end of the line-up was just outside the door. In honor of my weight-watch, I ordered only a simple burger, catsup-only, plus fries. Perhaps a bigger burger would have been a better test, because the basic item has a pretty thin meat patty. The verdict? Definitely better than McDonald's and Burger King, a little better than Wendy's, and perhaps on par with Seattle's Dick's chain. (The Dick's comparison is an apples-oranges one because Dick's products are deliciously greasy and In-N-Out's are more dry.) I'm not yet sure that In-N-Out's products are ambrosia. For a more detailed analysis, we'll just have to persuade Michael to ask The Wife, who apparently is an In-N-Out fan (scroll down). Both In-N-Out and Dick's stress quality and taste, and they apparently deliver, as their local popularity indicates. Even though they necessarily must compete against their big-chain rivals, their guerilla warfare approach seems to work. Size isn't always everything. In fast food, anyway. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 18, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

The Australian Open, Co-Starring Ron Paul
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tennis season 2008 kicks off with the Australian Open. Keep up to date with the progress of the tournament the YouTube way. Best, Michael UPDATE: Dept. of For-Those-Who-Can't-Get-Enough: Justin Raimondo analyzes why the "beltway libertarians" have it in for Ron Paul. (Link thanks to the Man Who Is Thursday, who really ought to be blogging more often, nudge nudge.) UPDATE 2: Steven LaTulippe, whose writing I've only begun to explore but so far like very much, offers another take on the Ron Paul affair. Nice passage: Even if Ron Paul wrote every word in every one of those articles, how does that compare to the death and destruction the neocons have rained down on Iraq? ... If Ron Paul’s candidacy is now tainted for (allegedly) slandering people of color, what should be the political punishment for Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and others who supported mass death and dismemberment of a third world country? Here's a stirring Ron Paul moment that Fox News censored, er, chose not to broadcast, no doubt in the interest of fairness and objectivity. Fox's Sean Hannity pays the price. Links thanks to John Zmirak.... posted by Michael at January 18, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Richard S. Wheeler Blogs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm very glad to learn that the Western novelist Richard S. Wheeler has begun blogging. Go read, learn, enjoy -- and bookmark. Some great stuff is heaping up already. Richard finally finds an XM station that suits him; he shares some shrewd and rueful thoughts about the fate of copyright; and he expresses skepticism about the idea that fiction-writing is a craft that can be taught. As a novelist, Richard brings together many wonderful qualities: dignity and gravity; wit and experience; invention, sympathy, and imagination. Although he has only recently begun blogging, it's clear that he's bringing those same characteristics to bear on his online writing. It should go without saying that this combo is unusual and refreshing, especially in the buzzing and shallow electronic space that we all spend too much time surfing around in these days. It's a treat and a privilege to have easy access to such human, rounded, and warm-blooded writing. And did I mention brainy? If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out some essays that Richard wrote for 2Blowhards. He shared some wisdom about writing and publishing; and he filed a report from a convention of the Western Writers of America. I raved about Richard's marvelous novel "Flint's Gift" here. Richard recently published a memoir, which you can buy here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer wonders how and why so many Eastern European gals got so hot. Dennis Mangan ventures a theory. * Roissy is convinced that many men ought to think twice before getting married. * John Derbyshire loops together Ron Paul, Jamie Kirchick, and Flashman. Now that's one virtuosic columnist. * Formerbeltwaywonk starts a blog. Great passage from one of his first postings: "Political correctness is a very strong signal of statism. In the mind of a statist, something is either required or banned." * Hadleyblog's Mitchell allows himself to wax a little nostalgic for old-style political primaries. * Is lowering your cholesterol always a good thing to do? Perhaps not. * Speaking of which ... The Houston Chronicle's Ken Hoffman visits with Tom Naughton. Tom talked to me about his diet-and-food film "Fat Head" here and here. Tom's own website is here. * Low-carb blogger Jimmy Moore talks about food and exercise with weightlifting hottie-nutritionist Jean Jitomir. Jean herself blogs here. * Welmer thinks that those interested in new painting of the "skill and beauty" sort should look to Beijing. * Here's an amazingly informative and concise short video interview about typography with Michael Bierut. Michael blogs at Design Observer. * Virginia Postrel talks to filmmaker Gary Hustwit about "Helvetica," his documentary about typography. * A 1958 short movie about turkey courtship. (Link thanks to Guy, a commenter at GNXP.) * Bravo to the New York Times for gathering up the courage to pay a visit to the boogeyman himself, Chicago's Richard Driehaus, a major sponsor of today's classical revival in architecture. Is The Times -- which usually functions as the propaganda organ of the starchitecture establishment -- becoming a wee bit more open to what's actually happening in the world and a little less focused on what it thinks should be happening? Here's a Chicago Magazine article by the same writer about Richard Driehaus. * Oh dear. * The Derelict remembers the days when New York City seemed like the center of the universe to her. * Roosh visits the Third World and, unsurprisingly, picks up a parasite. * A venture capitalist tries to learn about the future of media by observing his kids. Me, I'm still trying to figure out what the purpose of Facebook is. * The Book Addict is pleased by the loony, perverse genius of crime novelist Charles Willeford. * Alias Clio wants to come back as a surfergirl. * "Hand over the money or I'll switch this vibrator on!" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A major reason to be grateful for living in a First World country, IMHO: More than 65% of India's rural population defecates in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields ... And about 70% of India's billion-plus population live in its rural areas. Wow, almost a half a billion Indians crap in the open every day ... Me, I say: "Praise the heavens for modern plumbing." Source. Link found thanks to Vdare. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bischoff of California Impressionism
Donald Pittenger writes: Last month I wrote an introductory post about a group of plein air painters known as the California Impressionists. Previously, I wrote about Arthur Mathews, one of the group. In the first article linked above, I tried to avoid including images from the best of the California Impressionists because I wanted to save that ammo for better uses, namely feature posts. So today, I offer Franz Bischoff, an artist who made his mark in two fields: ceramic decoration and easel painting. There doesn't seem to be a lot of biographical information about Bischoff on the Internet, but here is an item about him on the Irvine Museum's site. (By the way, the Irvine Museum is small, but has an outstanding collection of California Impressionist paintings.) Bischoff (1864-1929) was born in Bomen, Austria and studied applied design, watercolor and ceramic decoration in Vienna before emigrating to the United States in 1885. He began his career as a china decorator in New York City, continuing in this field while relocating in Pittsburgh, Fostoria, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan (1892). By the turn of the century he had gained fame in this line of work, at one point operating two schools. Bischoff's first encounter with California was in 1900. He was so smitten that, in 1906, he closed his business and moved his family to the Los Angeles area where he pursued a new career as a painter. Success in painting came as rapidly as it had in ceramic decoration, though he did maintain a small hand in the latter field. His California stay was interrupted in 1912 for an extended visit to Europe where he studied the art of Old Masters and French Impressionists. Gallery Franz Bischoff in his Dearborn studio, around 1900 Example of Bischoff vase Carmel Coast The reproduction of this painting I have in a book is less red-looking. Thr lightest surfaces on the big rocky areas are yellow. There are a few patches of tinted Indian Red in the foreground, the same color appearing in the clouds. Since it looks better, I assume the book version is more true to the original than the image I grabbed off the web. Clounds Drifting Over the Mountains Cypress Point Picking Flowers Bischoff didn't limit himself to flowers and landscapes. Here he adds humans to a country scene. The Yellow Dress Another painting featuring people; landscape is almost entirely missing. More posts on major California Impressionist painters will appear from time to time. But Bischoff, because he painted ceramics, plein air landscapes and human fugures, gets my vote as being the most versatile of the lot. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 15, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Q&A With Tom Naughton, Part Two
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back here, I introduced Tom Naughton's inventive, informative, and generally excellent diet-and-eating documentary "Fat Head." In that posting, I interviewed Tom about the film's subject matter. In today's posting, I talk to Tom about making the film -- which he did in total freedom, all by himself. *** The 2Blowhards Q&A With Tom Naughton, Part Two 2B: What was the impulse behind the movie? Was it more a matter of having a message you wanted to convey, or more of wanting to make a movie? TN: It was a mix of things. As a writer, I felt the need to sink my teeth into a full-length project, no pun intended. I was actually starting to work on a humor piece about the ridiculous prejudice we have in our society against fat people, and I watched “Super Size Me” as part of my research. When I saw how much bologna [Morgan] Spurlock was serving up in a film that attracted so much attention, I felt the need to reply. I don’t harbor any animus toward Morgan Spurlock. He took a simple idea and made an amusing film out of it, and I applaud him for that. He’s a talented entertainer. But I don’t agree with his point of view. In “Super Size Me,” he asked the question, “Where does personal responsibility end?” My answer is, it doesn’t. Ronald McDonald can’t make you eat anything. 2B: Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker? TN: No, I never set out to be a filmmaker. My plan was to write scripts and pitch them to real producers. But I was inspired by my sister-in-law, Susan Smiley, who made an acclaimed documentary about schizophrenia titled “Out of the Shadow.” Seeing her pick up a camera and make a film de-mystified the process for me. Suddenly it seemed possible to just produce my own work, instead of hoping someone else would. She also lent me her camera and her advice, which was a huge help. 2B: What was your budget? My wife and I took part in making a low-budget movie with a friend last year, and our budget was $8000. But to get the film done we've relied a lot on friends and buddies who aren't getting paid. Ah, the actual "economics" of low-budget filmmaking ... TN: I didn’t really establish a budget. I bought what I needed when I needed it. My two biggest expenses were flying around the country to interview people and paying an After Effects artist to do the animations. I also bought a wireless microphone, lights, a new computer, software, stuff like that. I think I’ve spent about $30,000 so far. 2B: What was your physical-technical setup for putting the film together? TN: I borrowed my sister-in-law’s Sony PD 150 camera, and I used Adobe’s Production Studio Pro for editing sound and video on a maxed-out PC that I bought just for the film. My wife posted ads on Craig’s List for an... posted by Michael at January 15, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Ron-ness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some red meat for those fascinated by the Ron Paul story. Lester Hunt -- who has followed Ron Paul's career for many years and who has met the man too -- has published some shrewd and tough-minded musings. Steve Sailer shines a light on the "Bizarro World" vision that drives New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz, the man who published Jamie Kirchick's article about Ron Paul's newsletters. Steve also reminds us of the average age of the New Republic's know-it-all political-news staffers. Me, I never fail to use the term "wet behind the ears" when referring to The New Republic. Nothing quite like taking the opinions of Ivy brats who are barely out of their teens seriously, is there? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 14, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

When Political Conventions Mattered
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't maintain a database about this, but it seems like nearly every U.S. presidential election cycle hits a pre-convention stretch where one party or the other finds itself with no clear frontrunner and speculation surfaces that this situation will pravail at convention time. As of the time this is being written (14 January, from high above Lake Tahoe), lack of a frontrunner seems to be the case for both parties. A few weeks from now, the situation might well have changed. At any rate, I've seen references on the Internet that the Republicans might find still themselves with no frontrunner this summer when their convention starts, but if there has been similar speculation regarding the Democrats, I've missed it so far. History tells us that the last conventions where presidential voting went beyond the first ballot took place in 1952, when it took Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson three ballots each to win nomination. Over the 56 years since then, national political conventions have evolved into public-relations packages intended to showcase the presumed (until balloting) nominee, unify and excite party members, showcase the party's platform and election talking points to a national audience and other assorted missions. It's pretty boring stuff. The 1952 conventions were exciting. I know, because I watched them on television. Let me quality that. The conventions were the occasion when Seattle was finally linked to national live TV via a system of coaxial cables and microwave relays up the coast from San Francisco. Before that, we had to rely on film flown up the coast or west from Chicago or New York. So live TV from anyplace besides the KING-TV studio (the only station in town at the time) was a big deal in itself. Also, I was three or four months shy of my 13th birthday and just becoming aware of politics. At that age, boys can easily get swept up in the crusading side of politics. In my case, I was a big Eisenhower fan. I really, really wanted him to be president, so I was keyed up for most of the duration of the Republican convention, my adrenaline fed by the uncertainty of it all. There were fewer primary elections in those days, so delegate collecting was a mixture of winning primaries, getting caucus votes and getting political bosses to, in some cases, deliver the delegate votes of entire states. Once the convention was underway, state delegations would caucus between ballots. Depending on rules, an entire sate (winner take all) might shift, otherwise the vote distribution for a state could change in one direction or another. This shifting process could take quite a few ballots (more than 100 in one case) as politicians and campaign operatives would scurry around making pitches, issuing promises, hinting at threats -- whatever it might take to influence even a handful of votes. I mentioned that the conventions were televised. But TV coverage in those days was far different from what... posted by Donald at January 14, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Q&A With Tom Naughton, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I read about Tom Naughton’s as-yet-unreleased food-and-diet documentary "Fat Head," I was instantly interested, and on two counts. In the first place, Naughton sounded as fascinated as I am by the way that the official health-tips class has put a lot of bad eating advice over on the public during the last few decades. How did this happen? In the second place, I was eager to learn more about Tom's experience as a first-time filmmaker. We're witnessing a major shift occurring in the world of audiovisual-through-time entertainment. As digital technology grows ever cheaper and ever easier-to-use, moviemaking has ceased being something that only fulltime professionals can afford and manage. Tom Naughton made his own feature-length movie almost entirely by himself. What was this like? So I contacted Tom and talked him into sending me a copy of his movie. I enjoyed it very much. Framed as a response to Morgan Spurlock's headline-grabbing, eating-all-month- at-McDonald’s film "Super Size Me," "Fat Head" is humorous, engaging, and informative. In only 80-odd minutes, Tom brings you up to speed with a lot of science and history -- and he does it all without strain, which is quite an accomplishment. Trust me on this, by the way: I've read a number of the books that cover this material, and I've done some professional writing myself. It's quite miraculous how efficiently and enjoyably Tom has conveyed the essence of a lot of very dense and dry work. Concision and easygoing-ness only look easy. But "Fat Head" is more than just sharp and entertaining. It's also resourceful, straight-shooting, and direct. Tom -- who has worked as a health writer and as a standup comedian -- is a very smart, droll, and agreeable host. As a filmmaker, one of his smarter choices was not to compete in the slickness sweepstakes. You might say that "Fat Head" is to the usual contempo documentary what a great blogposting is to a Vanity Fair production number: twice the substance presented with a tenth the clatter. And with graphics by his wife and a few appearances by his kids, "Fat Head" is nothing if not pleasingly handmade, and full of real-people personality and "touch" of a sort that we don’t often get from movies. Tom’s gimmick is that, like Morgan Spurlock, he too is going to eat at fast food places for a month. Will the experiment lead to a Spurlockian weight-gain and health-decline? At the end of the film, Tom caps this stunt by going on an Atkins-ish low-carb diet to see what ingesting all that saturated fat will do to his cholesterol profile. Not to give anything away, but ... Well, let’s just say that Tom’s doctor was surprised by the results. You may be too. I’m very glad that Tom Naughton has agreed to be interviewed by 2Blowhards. I wanted to ask him about the diet-and-health subject matter of his film as well as about his adventures as a first-time filmmaker in... posted by Michael at January 13, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments