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Friday, February 29, 2008

Our Postmodern Economy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, It has occurred to me from time to time that shifts in a civilization probably show up more clearly in the arts than elsewhere. As one example, let’s look at the transition in painting from representation to more conceptual modes such as cubism and abstraction; this occurred in the first couple decades of the 20th century. This shift occurred at virtually the same time that the professions -- our technocratic elite -- emerged in their modern, self-regulated form. As Robert H. Wiebe points out in his book, "The Search for Order 1877-1920," practitioners of law, medicine, teaching, architecture, social work and other forms of administration seized the reins of their own professional status around the year 1900. During this era, members of various intellectual "guilds" got legal control over the education of their prospective members, over certification (who got a license and who was kept out), and over disciplinary proceedings governing their members. While Wiebe claims the critical decade for the development of the self-consciousness of the professions as social leaders was between 1895 and 1905, the complete consolidation of professional self-governance took a couple decades to complete. Let me be clear what it means when professions are able to control themselves, with full cooperation by the government. It means the recognition in law that these groups constitute a leadership class that can not be meaningfully directed by outsiders. Sounds like a pretty thorough endorsement of elite status to me. While these specific dates and examples come from the United States, the rise of a new class of experts (distinguished by their technical education, claiming to embody the power of advanced science and working in close communion with both industry and government while largely remaining formally independent of both) was common to all advanced countries at this time. Is it an accident that modernism, a self-consciously "advanced" art, distinguished by its focus on concepts rather than ordinary appearances, occurred at the same time as the rise of a conceptually-oriented class of technocrats? I think not. In fact, the so-called avant-garde of the early 20th century art world could be better described as bringing up the rear or hitching a ride on coattails of this social dynamic, which had been in train for a couple decades when the art world finally woke up and clambered onto the bandwagon. So if changes in the art world generally echo or reflect changes in the real world -- a proposition that can be illustrated by countless examples -- what do our contemporary arts show us about developments in the real world today? When you look at, say, a Frank Gehry building, with its billowing, twisted, slanted forms, what is being conveyed? I’d read it as saying, "These twisted planes are walls if I say they are. I (the architect, that is) have got the advanced materials and computer software to make them work (more or less) as walls, and I’ve got a patron with enough dough to disregard... posted by Friedrich at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

The Teleology of Facebook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm glad to learn that not everyone loves Facebook. I signed up for an account myself, spent a couple of hours exploring the site, and still don't understand what the point of Facebook is. I just don't get it. Can anyone enlighten me? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hot for teacher? * Henry Chappell's visit to the Texas branch of the Tallgrass Prairie is a gem of nature writing: a satisfying, vivid blend of poetry, precision, evocation, and knowledge. It's the kind of thing that I always hope to read when I open a copy of Sierra magazine or Natural History. Fun to see that Henry is a Townes fan too. * Mencius Moldbug and Larry Auster trade blows over the Civil War and the right to secede. TGGP adds his thoughts. * Balance gets to be a challenge. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Agnostic has a theory about why it is many Asian guys are such lousy pickup artists. Then he considers the ballet world -- and finds it pretty sexy. Sadly I have no personal experience to draw on here. But I can report that dancers are widely rumored to be the world's best lays. * Robert Sibley points out that one of the lessons of the great Michael Oakeshott is that we should be wary of losing our heads politically. * Diet Coke and Mentos changed their lives. * Steve Sailer gives a lot of thought to Michelle Obama. Fun to learn that "a couple of months after her husband was sworn in as U.S. Senator, Michelle's salary at the [University of Chicago's] Medical Center was raised from $121,910 to $316,962." * Anonymous confesses that she was always suspicious of her hubby's sexual orientation. "I wanted to have sex every day," she writes, "but he told me I was a nymphomaniac." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Things Really Are?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Barry Ritholtz gives expression to the words Ben Bernanke dares not speak. Short version: "The credit crunch is unprecedented, far worse than the S&L collapse and Long Term Capital Management -- combined." (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Harley Weekenders
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I need help. No, not that kind of help. You see, there's something that has sparked my curiosity for years and it would be nice to finally get the information I need to satisfy it. It has to do with those groups of (mostly) guys who meet up on weekends and go roaring along the freeways and byways on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. And no, I don't include the Honda Gold-Wing clubbers and other breeds of manifestly "nice" bikers. I'm talkin' Harleys, the black and orange crews. Within the Harley fraternity I'm excluding the ones who are obviously folks who work in offices during the workweek -- guys with glasses and short haircuts. I want to know about the ones with tattoos and long, graying hair worn in pony-tails. What kind of jobs do those guys have that provide the cash to shell out five-figure dollar amounts for a Harley with blinding gobs of chromium plating? I'm guessing that they're blue-collar types, maybe working in manufacturing or auto repair or something like that where gray pony-tails, mustaches and tattoos are acceptable. Hmm. Actually, quite a few kinds of work settings tolerate that kind of appearance. For all I know, those guys are college teachers, ad agency "creatives" or even computer programmers. As I said, I need help. ... Michael? ... Friedrich? ... Shouting Thomas? ... Anyone? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Your Opinion Wanted
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Everyone -- As a followup to my previous posting: Rape? Or just messy college sex? (Link thanks to Cheryl Miller, who comments on Heather Mac Donald's piece here.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (50) comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Campuses and Rapes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Heather Mac Donald reviews the status of Ivy League rape centers. Her article also functions as a review of just how nutso sexual matters became in the early '90s. Nice quote: The campus rape industry's central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years. This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. [Sorry -- couldn't resist highlighting that passage. Ed.] Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the "rape culture." A special rhetoric emerged: victims’ family and friends were "co-survivors"; "survivors" existed in a larger "community of survivors." An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the "undetected rapists" in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the "rape culture."... None of this crisis response occurs, of course -- because the crisis doesn't exist. During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results -- very few women said that they had been. So Ms. commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss’s method produced the 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published. It's funny, isn't it, the way some people claim that Political Correctness (or Sexual Correctness) never existed, isn't it? Of course it did. I'm reminded of the way some people, when thinking back to (or remembering) '70s-style feminism, say, "Oh, it wasn't so bad." Sure it was. I compiled some examples of how loony things got in this posting. Here's Mary Koss's page at the U. of Arizona's website. Christina Hoff Sommers reviews feminists' claims about rape. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (33) comments

We Want Your Business
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Out in California visiting with the in-laws. A routine business-solicitation letter arrives in the mail. Nothing special. A familiar style of envelope featuring a familiar style of special offer, or something: And inside, a familiar style of friendly-eager letter, featuring a familiar style of contest, or something: It's on its way to the shredder, in other words. But wait. Something has caught the attention. Let's take a closer look at that offer on the envelope: And what was that sweepstakes featured in the letter? Yup, that's right: Today the in-laws received a business-solicitation letter pitching the idea of buying cremation services now rather than waiting 'till the usual time. Some alluring passages from the Neptune Society's letter: More and more people are choosing cremation over traditional funeral arrangements ... The numbers are increasing every year! ... There are several advantages to making your arrangements now. First, you lock in today's price ... As the Neptune Society apparently likes to say: "Cremation just makes sense." Given that one reason that the Neptune Society gives to consider cremation is that "It has less impact on the environment," it seems fitting that the Neptune Society wants us to know that their envelope and letter were both I couldn't help wondering what the "ash" content of this recycled paper was. The reaction of my beloved stepdad-in-law, to whom this letter was specifically addressed? "How did they know where to find me?" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sports Tribalism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The blood flows passionately through those Obama fans who hope, hope and Hope that He will be the one to end the curse of that nasty old nation-stuff, leading us to the exalted realm of World Citizenship. Yes, that golden goal of everyone being equal, at last! ... aside from those Ivy League grads who will do most of the thinking and all of the deciding. But all that idealism eventually comes up short, confronting what seems to be human nature. You know, the in-group, out-group thing. That starts early in life. For example, when I was in grade school it was our third grade classroom versus those other rooms. Our Cub Scout den versus the other dens in the pack and our pack as opposed to other packs. This concept was brought home to me in college when, for the first time, I regularly read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) newspaper. In those days it was the morning paper and the Seattle Times (which my family took) was the evening paper. But the fraternity house subscribed to the P-I so I read it every morning at breakfast. Now, in those days the P-I had a sports editor/columnist named Royal Brougham. Actually he had been writing sports there since shortly after the earth started to cool, and was in his mid-60s when I was in college and still cranking out the content. I suppose almost every city with a daily paper had someone like him at one time or another; if you want more information about Brougham, click here. The point I'm creeping up to is that Brougham was a "homer" -- a super-homer, in fact. When it came to Seattle high school sports, he had no wiggle-room; he couldn't favor one team over another in a column. But when a Seattle team played a Tacoma team, the us-versus-them thing kicked in. It went into high gear when the University of Washington football team was playing any other team. But if the Huskies weren't in the Rose Bowl, then he'd cheer for the Pacific Coast Conference team that did get to play. And, in the Olympic Games, it was our Americans versus those foreigners. Brougham died with his boots on, so to speak. Well, make it that he died with the cover off of his Underwood typewriter. He suffered his fatal heart attack at a Seattle Seahawks game in 1977. Today, there's a street named Royal Brougham Way next to the baseball stadium. One can argue that this is ancient history, that today's sports writers can get away with being more cosmopolitan. And it's probably true, up to a point. Nevertheless, it's hard for me to imagine a sports writer holding his job if he showed contempt for local teams most of the time and favored out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-country teams. Human nature still rules. Just ask those sophisticated Ivy Leagers; their beloved football teams no longer play in the NCAA's Division I. Maybe they're... posted by Donald at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Late Boomers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer writes an enlightening posting about late Boomers -- people who are technically Boomers, but who were born too late to enjoy trashing the campuses, snagging the groovy jobs, and helping themselves to the cultural reins: the younger siblings of the crowd usually thought of as "the Boomers," basically. I wrote about the same group -- the gang FvBlowhard and I happen to belong to -- back here. Best Michael... posted by Michael at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * San Francisco, sunrise to sundown in hi-def. (Fast connection required.) * How bad is it? (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Robert J. Samuelson utters a word that those who lived through the '70s learned to dread. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite Spanish literary books. * JessiJaymes13 doesn't want to be anybody's ... Well, go there and find out. (NSFW) * Gil Roth flies in over Newfoundland, points his camera out the window, and snaps some spectacular shots of ice and mountains. * Just in case ... * A great idea from Robert Nagle: reviews of exercise videos. * Roger Scruton writes a beauty of a review of Richard Sennett's new book about craftsmanship. * "White flight" is so yesterday. Thanks to insane immigration policies, today's sociological phenomenon is "black flight." * Mark Sisson thinks that even unrefined grains should be avoided. * Tim Hauserman gives the short version of what Gary Taubes has to say in "Good Calories, Bad Calories," and also offers an interview with Taubes himself. * It looks like it's time for the ladies to pick up a vial of "bottom enhancer." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 24, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tiepolo's Hottie Madonnas
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I wonder how he got away with it. The Madonna, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God -- a devotional figure central to the Catholic Church -- traditionally has been depicted as a serene, perhaps somewhat distant, idealized, saintly woman. There have been countless depictions of her in painting and sculpture over many centuries, so there is no strict uniformity in what we see in museums, cathedrals, parish churches and on household walls of the devout. Still, I cannot recall seeing a intentionally ugly Virgin. My take is that she is usually shown as pretty, but in a restrained way. But one famous artist, the Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) painted Mary as a babe. Um, let me qualify that. He tended to pain her as an attractive women such as he could see daily on the streets, canals and plazas of Venice. Or like women we can see daily in the towns and cities where we live. Unlike stylized women that tended to appear in non-portrait paintings until the late 19th century, Tiepolo's Madonnas and female saints look normal. Plus, they have sex appeal. One would think that painting Modonnas with sex appeal would have led Tiepolo to the stake or at least a public recantation. But no, he was hugely successful, his paintings and frescoes appearing in churches in many Venetian neighborhoods and elsewhere in northern Italy as well as Spain, where he ended his career. And he's perhaps most famous for ceilings, the most noteworthy of all in the Residenz of the Prince Bishop of Würtzburg. Here are some examples. The original paintings are so large and full of figures that the Virgin's face can be hard to see on a computer screen; I strongly recommend that you find a book about Tiepolo to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. I notice that English translations or versions of titles can vary considerably, perhaps because some Tiepolo works might not have had formal titles in the first place (I'm speculating). So the titles I use here might not agree with titles shown in Tiepolo books. Gallery Immaculate Conception - 1767-69 Immaculate Conception - 1767-69 (detail) Out Lady of Carmel - 1721-27 Out Lady of Carmel - 1721-27 (detail) The Virgin Appearing to St. Philip Neri - 1740 Virgin Appearing to Dominican Saints - 1747-48 Alternative title: The Virgin Mary with Saints Catherine, Rose of Lima and Agnes of Montepulciano. Apparition of the Virgin to St. Simon Stock - c.1748-49 Alternate title: The Virgin Mary presenting the Scapular to St. Simon Stock. In all the paintings shown above (aside, perhaps, from the one of St. Philip Neri), Mary has a haughty look. And, with nearly closed eyes, see seems (to me, at least) sensual rather than spiritual. This seems most pronounced in the St. Simon Stock painting, which you will have to find in a book to get the full effect. In the painting of Mary with Sts. Catherine, Rose... posted by Donald at February 23, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Bailouts, Part II
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The competition for "most revealing anecdote about how the U.S. political economy really works today" is fierce, but this story in the New York Times may be the winner. Edmund L. Andrews writes: WASHINGTON — Over the last two decades, few industries have lobbied more ferociously or effectively than banks to get the government out of its business and to obtain freer rein for “financial innovation.” But as losses from bad mortgages and mortgage-backed securities climb past $200 billion, talk among banking executives for an epic government rescue plan is suddenly coming into fashion. A confidential proposal that Bank of America circulated to members of Congress this month provides a stunning glimpse of how quickly the industry has reversed its laissez-faire disdain for second-guessing by the government — now that it is in trouble. The proposal warns that up to $739 billion in mortgages are at “moderate to high risk” of defaulting over the next five years and that millions of families could lose their homes. The essence of the proposal is that Bank of America -- which, as you recall, just voluntarily increased its exposure to the home mortgage market by buying the nation’s largest mortgage lender, Countrywide -- wants the U.S. government to step in and buy some fraction, or possibly all, of these loans, thus providing the banking industry and securitized mortgage-backed bond holders with a sort of re-insurance stop-loss agreement. The industry and the investors would agree to take a modest hit today in order to get a much larger potential problem off their books. This would, of course, be a very, very good thing for the financial services industry and for its investors; perhaps not such a good deal for the rest of the nation’s taxpayers. (I was quite surprised not to see any mention of the banks and their employees voluntarily disgorging the salaries and profits they’ve made on originating and securitizing such potentially troubled loans as they pass them off to the government, but maybe that’s down in the fine print somewhere. And if Bank of America is really worried about "millions of families losing their homes" in any sense other than how that would impact Bank of America’s balance sheet, it could, you know, just decide not to foreclose on those families, but I didn’t see that option discussed in the story, either.) This proposal is supported by what the story calls "community advocacy activists" such as John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. I checked Mr. Taylor’s group out and found that it describes its mission thusly: NCRC creates, implements, and supports long-term solutions and strategies that build community and promote individual economic well-being. Through information, research, programs, training and service, we ensure that people in traditionally underserved communities are treated fairly and justly when applying for credit, opening a bank account, getting a mortgage, a loan, or other financial product or service. NCRC ensures that banks, mortgage lenders, and the financial community... posted by Friedrich at February 23, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, February 22, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Seth Roberts makes a supersmart point about what makes magazines such a great form. God, I do love a good magazine. * Jessica Helfand reviews the history of the design of poultry-industry trade magazines. These days, with so many of the mainstream magazines given over to trends, glitz, celebs, and kapow, I often prefer to leaf through trade magazines. They can be a little dowdy, but at least there's usually some substance there. Best Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Frozen Mischief
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another excellent large-scale prank from ImprovEverywhere. My favorite overheard remarks: "It's some kind of protest, probably." "Either that or an acting class." Very Dada, no? Here's a sensible look at a new Dada exhibition from the Times of London. Verdict: A fun moment of wild mischief -- but what kind of sense does it make to give Dada a lot of museum space? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Or iSpaceOut, at least. Which ain't nothing. Presenting the world's first iPhone band: Is that a Nintendo DS on rhythm? Fact for the day: "Google has found that iPhone users make 50 times more web searches compared with any other mobile." Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pollan and Taubes and Kunstler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael Pollan thinks that, where food and eating go, we ought to learn how to trust our instincts. I think that's good advice where art and culture more generally go too. * Gary Taubes discusses carbs, fat, and bad dietary advice at the Stevens Institute of Technology: * Standup intellectual James Kunstler takes a break from Peak Oil to deliver a fiery talk about American urbanism and suburbia: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 21, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Charles Siegel thinks that John Silber's new anti-starchitecture book doesn't go far enough in its condemnation of absurd buildings. * Charles Siegel is also the author of a small new book that I just finished reading with a great deal of pleasure, "An Architecture for Our Time: The New Classicism." In the first part of his book, Siegel brings us up to the present: How have we come to be living in a world where absurd architecture is the standard / accepted thing? Charles supplies the best short answer to this question that I've ever read. In the second half of the book, he offers an argument for reviving architectural classicism. It's the book's manifesto section, and it's stirring and stimulating --- you don't have to agree with Charles' every point to find a visit with his mind and his thoughts very rewarding. Let me add that the book is beautifully scaled: While it's a short, fast, and fun read, the amount of knowledge, experience, brains, and wisdom that Charles packs in per word is awfully impressive. As a writer / publisher, Charles is resourceful and entrepreuneurial. He offers a book of idiosyncratic length -- as long as it needs to be but no longer -- in hard-copy, HTML, and downloadable-PDF versions. Snag a copy here. Charles runs the Preservation Institute and blogs here. * Sigh: Some atrocious concrete-bunker-style high-rise apartment buildings a few blocks from where I live in Greenwich Village may soon be officially declared landmarks -- yet another example of how the preservation movement (which was founded in order to combat the depradations of architectural modernism) has been captured by establishment modernists. Benjamin Hemric, who often offers erudite and insightful commentary here at 2Blowhards, gets off a number of informed and sensible comments on the New York Times's blogposting about the brouhaha. * MBlowhard Rewind: Back here, I wrote about the hideosity of the modernist urban form known as "towers in the park," and included a couple of snapshots of the awful I.M. Pei buildings that may now be declared landmarks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 21, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 30-Minute Meal diva Rachael Ray gives the exercise system called Gyrotonics a whirl: Though I don't giggle quite as infectiously as Rachael does, darn it, I enjoy Gyro too. I've been going to a class or two a week for about two years now, and I love the workout as much as I love yoga, which is saying a lot. For one thing, I love the activity itself. At first the machines can seem bizarre, the movements can be hard to imitate, and lord knows Gyro has its silly side. (That's a bad thing?) But the Gyro scene is a lot of fun. One reason is that Gyro hasn't been as thoroughly discovered and exploited as yoga and Pilates have been, so it's still a small and friendly universe. For another, Gyro teachers (most of them ex-dancers) seem nearly all to be sweet-natured, helpful, and easygoing -- less mystical than yoga teachers but far less Nazi-drill-Sergeant-esque than Pilates instructors. My physique hasn't exactly been transformed into a Greek god's -- far from it. But I'm well past the age when that's a realistic possibility anyway. What I love-love-love most about Gyro is the way it leaves me feeling: stretched, toned, and mellow. It isn't a sweaty-grunty, gym-style, testing-your-willpower activity, thank god. (Lost interest in those years ago.) The weights on the machines aren't there to exhaust you, they're there to dramatize and heighten the movements you perform. Instead it's great at helping you get the kinks out; at expanding your range of motion; at fostering body awareness; and at reminding you of how much fun it can be to have a contented and alert body. You may walk into a Gyro class feeling distracted, alienated from your body, and full of aches and pains -- but you're likely to walk out feeling blissy and playful. The sensation is a hyper-pleasing blend of "I just had a workout" and "I just got a massage." Hours after a Gyro session, I often find myself savoring the sensations in my hip joints, my shoulders, and my spine -- not something I'm likely to find myself doing otherwise. Gyro hasn't replaced yoga in my affections, but it has become a wonderful complement to it. I dragged The Wife to a few Gyro sessions not long ago. Though at first she dismissed it as one of my loonier passions, she has since become a regular at the Gyro studio herself. She likes the scene and the teachers, and she likes the way an hour of Gyro makes her feel. I like the way Gyro leaves her an even sweeter-natured, kittenish thing than she usually is. Here's another glimpse of some basic Gyro moves: A warning: Private classes with a Gyro instructor can be very expensive. So, if you're tempted to give Gyro a try but aren't rolling in dough, let me make a few suggestions. Do spring for five or ten private lessons despite the cost. The movements and... posted by Michael at February 21, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A 27-Year Computer Diet
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The first significant portable computer debuted 27 years ago. It was Adam Osborne's Osborne I which weighed 24.5 pounds. It appeared not long after the launch of the famous IBM PC, when IBM compatibility wasn't an important sales factor. For the record, it had a Zilog Z80 processor and the CP/M operating system, both commonly found in early PCs. In the fall of 1982, Compaq unveiled its first personal computer, a portable weighing 28 pounds that had the virtue of being completely IBM-compatible. (To be fully-compatible, a computer had to have either an Intel 8088 or 8086 processor, run Microsoft's operating system and -- most crucially -- have a BIOS that worked exactly like the one IBM used. The BIOS is a hard-coded, chip-based operating system that mediates between the hardware and the main operating system.) By 1983, compatibility was becoming a Big Deal. Normally, it didn't matter much. But if a user hit an incompatibility when something really important had to be done, he was shafted. And today? Apple's new MacBook Air weighs all of three pounds! And it can run Microsoft Windows if one makes the effort and pays some extra money. Adam Osborne and Osborne computer Steve Jobs and MacBook Air computer IBM seems to be out of the personal computer business and Compaq was merged into Hewlett-Packard. And Osborne? It crashed in the fall of 1983, the first well-known personal computer company to do so. Adam Osborne, the man behind the Osborne was born in Thailand in 1939 to British parents. Following graduation from university in England in 1961, he emigrated to the USA, eventually becoming known as a writer and publisher of computer books. After the demise of his computer company he launched a software firm, Paperback Software. This venture failed when he lost a lawsuit by Lotus Development. It was alleged that Osborne's spreadsheet's user interface mimicked too closely that of Lotus 1-2-3, at the time a top spreadsheet program. His health starting to crack, Osborne left the Berkeley Hills for India in 1992, where he died in 2003. I crossed Osborne's path twice. Once was at a personal computer show in San Francisco where he was manning the Paperback Software stand hawking his products. We chatted for a couple of minutes but I didn't need any of his programs and continued on my way. In 1991 Osborne and I were on the same panel at the APL programming language convention. Before we went on stage he mostly grumbled about lawyers, this being a little more than a year after having lost the Lotus case. Osborne was born the same year as me. He flew far higher and probably fell a bit lower. Such is life. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * "I definitely think pageants define me as a person." (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * The greatest duets of all time. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * "Sweet Child of Mine" -- on the sitar. * The Beatles perform "Stairway to Heaven." (Both of these links from Will S.) * Michael Bay doesn't just blow shit up. Michael Bay is awesome. (Link thanks to Bryan C.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 20, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Urban Squeezing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's not yet Hong Kong. Or even Manhattan. Not yet, anyway. But I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle's planners and their political and media allies, deep down in their hearts, would like the city to resemble those places. When I was growing up, Seattle was a city of detached houses. There were a few areas with "high rise" (in Seattle's case, six floors and higher) apartment buildings. Other areas had lower-density apartments. But apartments were decidedly the exception, not the rule. For the last few decades, in the name of saving the planet, Seattle zoning has encouraged both high (including 30+ floors) and low rise apartment buildings. Detached housing is still allowed, but lots have been subdivided in halves or thirds and the new structures pretty much fill the available land. A new kind of housing hereabouts is the townhouse -- something I'd previously encountered in San Francisco and large cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Here are some recently-built examples. The lower photo shows the driveway and parking situation in greater detail than the top photo -- basically an "establishment" shot as they say in the movie trade. There seems to be a little problem here for many car owners: where is the room to maneuver a car into those garages tucked under the houses? I'm pretty sure my car (the blue one at the right of the top photo) could never make it. Therefore, I have to conclude that Our City Masters really want us to drive one of these: That's if we are so brazenly anti-Earth to own a car in the first place. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 19, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Guys: Maybe the time really has come to give up the soft drinks. * What should the experts require of us? It seems like it must be a lot of fun to be a nanny-state advisor ... * Why do you exercise? * MoonRiver runs some beautiful reproductions of four of Fairfield Porter's paintings. FvBlowhard and I are both Fairfield fans. Friedrich recently shot off this fun passage to me: I like some of his pictures intensely, others I’m pretty indifferent to. My reaction to him is quite a bit like my reaction to Bonnard, who was one of inspirations. In some pictures both guys are geniuses, in some they look like they’re 12-year-old amateurs.In any case, I always like the emotional tone, the investment in quiet everyday domestic life. I really like the high angle landscape of the parking lot; the generalizing of the color shapes is cool, as is the fact that he preserves the tonal relationships but suppresses most texture. I almost feel inspired to knock out a painting in response to this one! Here's a good Robert Hughes passage about Fairfield Porter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, February 18, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Herewith are two items on the internet that I found interesting and worth passing along. * Talk show host / movie critic / author / columnist Michael Medved mentions here that, of the 43 U.S. presidents, only five had brown eyes. They were Andrew Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Quincy Adams, Chester A. Arthur and Richard Nixon -- hardly a stellar cast, he notes. Medved wasn't able to find the eye color for briefly-serving William Henry Harrison. He points out that blue, grey and hazel eye colors are vastly over-represented in the presidency compared to the population at large at various times in our history. Fascinating, but I have no idea if it means anything. * Jeff Jarvis took a small, utterly unscientific poll of his readership, asking which daily newspaper features ought to be eliminated in these times of retrenchment. The results are discussed here (scroll down to February 17th). The top ten contenders for oblivion were: Financial tables 43.06% Sports section 21.65% Sports columnists 8.00% Entertainment section 3.76% Movie critic 3.76% Business section 2.59% Syndicated features 2.59% TV critic 2.59% Music critic 1.88% Book critic 1.65% The big surprise was the sports section vote. I always thought that sports was a major reason why guys, at least, bought papers. It's possible that the people who voted were elitist intellectoids who disdain sports. (Full disclosure: I voted, but not to zap the sports section.) Jarvis wonders if sports might be covered by sports-only papers in the future. Surprisingly, Web-booster Jarvis didn't mention that the internet is already crawling with sports sites. By the way, what would you zap? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 18, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Aiming Too High
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This isn't new news, but it's worth repeating every so often: An early success can create psychological poisons that inhibit further success. Terry Teachout does a nice job of illustrating this here in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Some exerpts: We begin after Teachout tells us about Leonard Bernstein's creative collapse following "West Side Story." What happened? Stephen Sondheim, Bernstein's collaborator on "West Side Story," told Meryle Secrest, who wrote biographies of both men, that he developed "a bad case of importantitis." That sums up Bernstein's later years with devastating finality. ... I'd like to put forward Teachout's First Law of Artistic Dynamics: "The best way to make a bad work of art is to try to make a great one." That law was inspired at least as much by Orson Welles as by Bernstein. ... Welles's story is one of the saddest tales in the long history of a hard profession. He became famous far too soon and was acclaimed as a genius long before his personality had matured. At 23 he made the cover of Time magazine. Two years later RKO gave him a near-blank check, which he used to make "Citizen Kane." By then he was convinced that he could do no wrong, and when the money dried up and he had to struggle for the first time in his life, he lost his creative way. ... Voltaire said it: The best is the enemy of the good. Ralph Ellison, like Bernstein and Welles, learned that lesson all too well. In 1952 he published "Invisible Man" and was acclaimed as a major novelist. The well-deserved praise that was heaped on him gave Ellison a fatal case of importantitis, and though he spent the rest of his life trying to finish a second novel, he piled up thousands of manuscript pages without ever bringing it to fruition. Why did he dry up? Because, as Arnold Rampersad's 2007 biography of Ellison made agonizingly clear, he was trying to write a great book. That was his mistake. Strangled by self-consciousness, he never even managed to finish a good one. ... Yes, it's important to shoot high, but there's a big difference between striving to do your best day after day and deliberately setting out to make a masterpiece. What if Welles had gone back to Broadway after "Citizen Kane" and directed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on a bare stage, with no expensive bells and whistles? Or if Bernstein had followed "West Side Story" with a fizzy musical comedy that sought only to please? Or if Ellison had gritted his teeth, published his second novel, taken his critical lumps, ignored the reviews, and gone back to work the very next day? Then all of those gifted, frustrated men might have spared themselves great grief -- and perhaps even gone on to make more great art. Teachout uses George Balanchine as a counter-example: an artist who kept cranking out ballets for decades. Contrast Ellison's creative paralysis with... posted by Donald at February 17, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some of the most undersung contemporary culture-heroes -- IMHO, of course -- are YouTube music-video uploaders. Just think of it: At no previous time in all history have we had anything like this kind of easy access to such a wealth of fabulous music performances. And we owe it to the voluntary efforts of a lot of amateurs, motivated by love, generosity and enthusiasm. It's enough to make a person believe in anarchist theory. (Incidentally, that's a first-class essay.) A few of the uploaders I rely on most heavily: rockabilly buff Gatorrock786; country-music lover Genewatsonfan2; Rolling Stones champion Ghostryder4067; StAlphege, surely in the top tier of the world's Emmylou Harris admirers; and the classical-music connoisseurs Judicaelp and Tbromley. Here's some footage of the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing Chopin: And a clip of the brilliant Maurizio Pollini performing Debussy: Pollini's Chopin is a modern legend in its own right, and there's a lot of it on YouTube. Here's one good example. A couple of recent discoveries have also been making me very, very happy. Oldtimer (456 vids uploaded so far -- imagine the time and effort!) Ultracoolsixties has an eclectic collection of '60s pop music clips that must be peerless -- it includes performances by Marianne Faithful, The Byrds, Francoise Hardy, and a longtime fave of mine, the high-octane, midwestern R&B group Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels: And doesn't that take you back to the glory days of AM radio! When I'm the mood for workingman's rock, I'll take Mitch Ryder and the boys over Bruce Springsteen any day -- in my value-set, raucous party spirit always prevails over mythos and bloat. Here's Mitch Ryder's website Why not spring for this best-of collection? Newcomer Musicfirstlove has been sharing a priceless collection of alt-country clips, including many I hadn't even known existed of someone I never tire of going back to, the angelically-gifted Texas depressive Townes Van Zandt: Well-synch'd-up-with-its-sound or not, that's some precious footage. I wrote -- OK, I raved -- about Townes Van Zandt back here. Here's the Townes Van Zandt website, run by his widow Jeanene. Jeanene sent 2Blowhards a very moving letter that we were honored to reprint here. Buy a copy of "Be Here to Love Me," Margaret Brown's evocative and poetic documentary about Townes, here. Do you have some favorite YouTube uploaders that you can pass along to the rest of us? It seems to me that the urge to share our pleasures is a lot of what makes the Web the glorious place it is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 17, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Wardrobe malfunction? This little Japanese item is nothing but. (NSFW) * Ward Six comes up with a hilarious list of crime-novel cliches. * Manuel Uribe, who was once the world's heaviest man, has lost more than 500 pounds in the last two years on a low-carb diet. * Alias Clio ponders the latest from British crime-fiction genius Ruth Rendell, and links to a couple of torch songs. Why am I not surprised that Clio loves torch songs? * Yummy or Yucky? tucks into some real Kobe beef. * Matt Mullenix stirs up his first gumbo. * Thursday watches "Juno" and makes a nice distinction between "Blanche characters" and "Stanley characters." I have no desire to see "Juno" myself, but for those in the mood for something quirky with an abortion angle I can recommend another very amusing movie: Alexander ("Sideways") Payne's first feature, "Citizen Ruth," starring Laura Dern at her daffy, flushed, over-impassioned funniest. I also loved "Sideways" and wrote about it here. Lots of visitors had a good time telling me I was wrong, wrong, wrong ... * The Rawness has cooked up a plausible Theory of Charisma: Part One, Part Two. * JV links to some trippy eye-candy. * Brenda Walker is convinced that multiculturalism is bad for women. * Scott Chaffin thinks that people should stop swooning at political speeches. * MBlowhard Rewind: I tackled one of the big ones -- how to handle yourself around that loaded word "art." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Whitepeople Funk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In recognition of Stuff White People Like Day, let me offer a little YouTube-ishness: Does it make me hyper-white to admit that I find "Play That Funky Music, White Boy" genuinely funky? Read about Wild Cherry, who never did score another hit. Bandleader Rob Parissi tells the story of his one-hit band here. Fun to learn that the band originated in Mingo Junction, Ohio. As I often say: America, land of the greatest place-names ever. Tapping my lily-white toesies happily, Michael UPDATE: My favorite response to the White People blog came from Brooklyn dude The Rawness, writing at Roissy's place: I think sarcasm should go under annoying stuff white people like. White people today think sarcasm, which is just really passive aggressive behavior for wimps who want to insult someone but wants the option of being able to pretend they were joking just in case the offended person wants to fight. White people reward sarcasm to ridiculous degrees. Even their comedy…Colbert Show and Daily Show are nothing but two guy being sarcastic…that is, just saying the opposite of what they really mean in a smug, condescending way…and they get hailed with words like “genius” “powerful” “thought provoking,” “speaking truth to power” “provocative”…’s FUCKING SARCASM. My 13 year old niece and her friends do it all day. It’s not a sign of comedic genius, and it’s really unattractive on fey, liberal, middle aged white men. Eat some red meat and grow some balls. The Rawness ain't no colorfree metrosexual, that's for sure.... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Paul Avril
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why didn't our college art-history profs tell us anything about Paul Avril? (NSFW.) I bet a lot more boys would develop an interest in the arts if only their teachers would introduce them to artists like Paul Avril. Here are some of Avril's illustrations for "Fanny Hill." Gotta love the strictness of his neoclassicism. Thwack! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

A Few Discoveries
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dark Party Review. Here's a cultureblog that's a rowdy joy -- an exuberant and enthusiastic publication full of mischief, zest, and brains. Who says that sophistication and showbiz, refinement and lust, can't boogaloo together? Read about Edith Wharton's "A Journey," then joyride your way through a collection of bad music videos from the 1980s. GFS3's "How to Be an Office Drone" made me laugh out loud. One funny passage: Skills to attending long meetings are the abilities to: fart quietly, disguise growling stomachs with coughing, pounce on food first to avoid soggy sandwiches, and to leave the meeting with absolutely no work. * The Philosopher's Zone. I've found Alan Saunders' radio show / podcast about philosophical topics very enjoyable. It's high-end yet accessible -- first-class intellectual entertainment. Saunders -- trained in philosophy himself but also a gifted, calm, and helpful interviewer -- brings on learned guests (mostly Australian) to discuss such topics as love, social justice, science, and the mind. I confess that I've never been entirely convinced that there's a point to Western philosophy; as fascinating and impressive as it can be, I often find myself wondering if it isn't just a weird and useless activity that a certain kind of person enjoys doing. But the mental- housecleaning aspect of it does have some appeal for me, especially when it's conducted in plain English. That's what Saunders specializes in doing. I wrote back here about how much I admire a good interviewer, and back here about Stephen Toulmin, one of the handful of Western philosophers whose work I really do love. * Stuff White People Like. A commenter at Steve Sailer's blog linked to this droll, deadpan, near-Onion-quality blog about things that the upscale paler-of-hue tend to go for. Do you enjoy expensive sandwiches? And Sunday breakfasts? How about dogs? And old stuff? And Apple products? Do you have a tendency to make unnecessary apologies? Were you an arts major? I'm guilty on all of those counts myself. Always fun to discover that you're a stereotype -- at least it is if you're a White Person. White People actually like stereotypes. (Hey, that's something that I just came up with.) Typical passage: It is a poorly guarded secret that, deep down, white people believe if given money and education all poor people would be EXACTLY like them. In fact, the only reason that poor people make the choices they do is because they have not been given the means to make the right choices and care about the right things. And a hilarious line in a posting about White People's love of natural medicine: "It’s weird that there are some white people who won’t take aspirin, but will take Ecstasy, Cocaine, Xanax and Vicodin." This posting about Film Festivals is a hoot too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: I just came across a very funny short posting by Michael “Mish” Shedlock. The portions that caught my eye were as follows: The list of those wanting a government bailout and/or bigger bailout than they have received so far keeps growing...Ambac (ABK) and MBIA (MBI) are both pleading for bailouts...MBIA wants cash, Ambac is blaming the rating agencies and wants guarantees of an AAA rating it does not deserve...The banking community is also looking for handouts, straight from taxpayers...Let's call it for what it is: A request for taxpayer funds to bail out lenders making stupid loan decisions...The national Association of Homebuilders recently announced that they have stopped all Congressional bribes…Obviously the NAHB was expecting a bigger bailout than it has seen so far for the bribes it has paid out. That first sentence made me laugh out loud. (Okay, so I'm easily amused.) This got me thinking that the term "bailout" (and all it signifies, including earlier ill-advised risk taking) is pretty much the meat of the problem of our contemporary political and economic life. This whole syndrome has been described by Martin Wolf, chief economic columnist of the Financial Times, and others as “privatizing the gains [of the economy] and socializing the losses.” If this seems unfair, just remind yourself how much money the credit insurers like Ambac and MBIA, the bankers, and the homebuilders have been making over the past decade or so, and notice how they respond to adversity caused chiefly by their own piggish greed and stupidity. (The little economic crisis we're going through has one major upside: it's a golden opportunity to see how things really work in contemporary America. The situation has gotten so screwed up right now that the government, a relatively slow moving and stupid beast, can’t keep up with all the requests to socialize losses in real time. A year or two ago when everything seemed right with the world all this was much less visible.) Why are we in this situation? Well, it’s more or less inevitable as a result of our political-economic system, which I would describe as "democratic Fascism." Sorry to use the F-word right out in the open like that, but it’s the correct one, at least according to the rubric they taught me in junior high school: "Fascism is public control and private ownership." (You know, in the sense that "Capitalism is private control and private ownership" and "Socialism is public control and public ownership.") The widely repeated notion that the U.S. is a capitalist country is hard to understand, when you consider the extent to which government controls all the commanding heights of the economy, certainly including Wall Street. (Note how much of the business press actually covers the activities of one level or another of government.) But that just pushes the issue up a level. The obvious follow-up question, although oddly obscured most of the time by people on both the left and the right, is "So... posted by Friedrich at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Linkage by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I notice that Charlton Griffin's recent audio production of "The Lady of the Camellias" (the source for "Camille") got a rave ("flawless") in the Boston Globe from the excellent Rochelle O'Gorman. Charlton, an enthusiastic websurfer, has sent in some terrific linkage: * Here's how to sell an unpromising movie with some creative trailer-editing. * Have you ever watched a musical-waterglass virtuoso at work? * Amanda Coggin lists the ten movies that get her hottest. "Chocolat"? Oh, right: It's a chick's list. * Many fascinating facts about lightning, as well as lots of fantastic photos. * This certainly puts it all in perspective. * Screw alphabetical order; the hell with the Dewey Decimal System. The design-savvy person lines up his books according to color. * Charlton has been getting fascinated by the late Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor whose creepy visuals of an imaginative world populated by sexy young girls has made him a star of the "outsider art" world. A novel that Darger wrote appears to be one of the longest ever written. Has anyone ever read the whole thing? * In 2009, Beijing will complete a 682-foot high Ferris wheel. * Reasonably-priced pocketcams are now showing up that can also take HD videoclips. * Charlton offers this a propos election-year joke: Electile Dysfunction. Def: The inability to become aroused over any of the leading choices for president put forth by either party in the 2008 election year. * Here are some great visuals that allow us to compare the tallest buildings as of the 19th century with the tallest buildings of today: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 14, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Lit-fict and Popular Fiction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a posting about the film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," the Western novelist Richard S. Wheeler gets off a great passage: "The novel of the same title, by Ron Hansen, dazzled readers, but the dazzle lay in the glittering word choices of the author rather than in the storyline or characterization," he writes. The Hansen novel, in other words, was of the "literary fiction" genre, not the "Western fiction" one. That sentence of Richard's says a lot more that's of practical use to readers than most of what you'll read in fancy magazines by big-name critics, IMHO. So far as literary fiction goes, I'd add to Richard's characterization of it a concern with trendy themes, and with fashionable writing strategies generally. But Richard's larger point is the key one: Literary fiction is generally concerned with writerly grandstanding, er, showing-off, er, prowess. The writer, finally, is the real show. Narrative fiction (which in the U.S. these days means genre fiction) is generally more concerned with suspense, involvement, and situations. The story and the characters -- and not the author -- are what the spotlight is trained on. (Which isn't to say, of course, that some lit-fict writers haven't created living-breathing characters, or that some narrative-fiction writers -- Richard S. Wheeler among them -- don't also deliver a great deal in the way of writerly pleasure.) In other words: If you like the emphasis in the fiction you read to fall on character, hook, situations, and story, then literary fiction probably isn't for you. 99% of the time, that's simply not what the lit-fict set is up to; it isn't the package they're selling. Instead, they're generally selling tone, themes, strategies -- striking and/or brilliant "moves." On the other hand, if character-creation and story-engineering don't speak to you while writerly games-playing does, then why not choose your fiction-reading from the lit-fict shelves? Nothing wrong with that part of the bookstore either. I share the taste for fancy writin' myself, if very occasionally, only to some extent, and less with each passing year. Back here, in fact, I listed the lit-fict titles that I enjoyed most during my years of following the new-literary-fiction scene from up close. Give it a read. If nothing else, it isn't the usual best-of list. All of this is fine by me. I think it's great that options exist and that people have them to choose from; I'm always eager to hear about what people enjoy and to learn about what they know. No, it's something else that bugs me, namely: Why should the package of values that the lit-fict crowd prefers be considered to be superior to the popular-fiction package? What case can possibly be made that fussin'-with-the-writin' is automatically more important than attending to matters of character, suspense, story, situation, and entertainment? It's a pointless argument to make, no? As pointless as arguing that vegetables are automatically better than fruit, or that candy is... posted by Michael at February 14, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm probably getting this all wrong. After all, I hardly watch television any more. And I wasn't particularly paying attention when Super Bowl ads came on. I was fixing dinner so that Nancy could watch the halftime show. Otherwise I was wandering back and forth to the room where the TV was. Despite the distractions, I thought I noticed something I hadn't seen before. It happened on some of those beer ads, as best I recall. For years now, such ads often have a bunch of guys hanging out, having a good time implicitly fueled by the sponsoring beverage. Way back when, they might have been all white. Then, for quite a few years it was white guys and some black guys. This year (and maybe earlier for all that TV-phobic je know), the white guys and black guys were joined by East Asian guys and what seemed to be guys from India! Not that there's anything wrong with this, mind you. I have nothing against a society that's truly color-blind from an opportunity standpoint. And when I was in the Army, the Some Of My Best Friends Are situation applied. Moreover, the sponsoring beer companies Have Their Hearts In The Right Place, wanting to Do The Right Thing and Fight For Social Justice. And yes, the scenes these commercials portray can be construed as an ideal situation towards which America is striving. But right now, I find them not quite believable. Where, in the real world, is one likely to find a bunch of white, black, East Asian and Indian guys hangin' out and swilling beer? The most plausible setting I can come up with would be a Friday afternoon decompression party at a Silicon Valley firm. Except there would be gals present as well. What we have seems to be a replay of those old World War 2 army movies where the platoon is filled with Iowa farm boys, an Italian guy from South Philly and a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. Except the movie had 90 minutes for character development and the ads only get 30 seconds. Now I'm wondering what race/ethnic groups will be added for next year's Super Bowl ad-athon. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 13, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Douglas Campbell and Denis Dutton agree to disagree -- but not to stop arguing -- about climate change. * With the traditional media struggling, has the time come for government subsidies to newspapers? * Fred Hahn tells Jimmy Moore that people eager to get in shape should skip the aerobics and focus instead on weightlifting-done-slowly. * Charlie Anders investigates the fate of science fiction at The New Yorker. * Burlesque queen Jo Weldon interviews corset-designer Garo Sparo. * Terrierman offers a brief history of dog food. * The Kirk Center interviews James Kunstler. That article is part of a very enjoyable and interesting magazine issue. * Roissy wonders why it's the Japanese who are leading the robotics revolution. * Vince Keenan flips for Christa Faust's dirty-minded new crime novel. * Kevin Carson offers a funny dissent to the usual libertarian worship of the Green Revolution. * Graham Harvey wants to see (and eat) more pasture-fed beef. * Richard S. Wheeler reports that it wasn't the 1960s that introduced sex into popular music. * Badboy fashion photographer Terry Richardson takes Josie Maran to the farm. (NSFW.) * Learn about Wilhelm Deffke, one of the fathers of the modern logo. * Hibernia Girl notices that immigrants drag down wages. * What a surprise: Color photos of America from the 1930s and '40s. (Link thanks to Greg Ransom.) * John McWhorter wonders what's meant when one African-American is said to be "blacker" than another. * MBlowhard Rewind: I liked John McWhorter's lecture series about language for The Teaching Company very much, and blogged about it here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 13, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Frenchwoman Revisited
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Arts & Letters Daily links to a good article by Pamela Druckerman about Frenchwomen, and about how they manage to be sexually vital and active creatures into their 50s, 60s, and (gadzooks!) even beyond. I find "the Frenchwoman" a source of fascination myself, and wrote a posting about the type here. A shrewd, informative, and blessedly fun-to-read book on the subject is Debra Ollivier's "Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl." It's a pop book, but it's, y'know, a really good pop book. Despite the pretentions of the lit crowd, such things do exist. Semi-related: I wrote about Catherine Millet's tres francais "The Sexual Life of Catherine M." as well as some other books about sex here. Here's a posting I wrote about the ultra-francais erotic classic "Story of O." Erotica fans, literature fans, and Frenchwoman fans shouldn't miss Toni Bentley's first-class essay about "Story of O." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Minor (League) Musings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fifty years after the cataclysm, it's baseball Spring Training time again. Cataclysm? I'll get to that. But first ... When I was a kid trying (and ultimately failing) to become a fan I got to watch the Angels and the San Diego Padres. No, not those Angels and Padres -- but the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. The Pacific Coast League (PCL) in my time was a near-major league, as the link above indicates. Its teams were the Seattle Rainiers (owned by the Rainier Brewery), Portland Beavers, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Acorns (who played in Emeryville), Sacramento Solons, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres. Back in the Thirties Ted Williams (Padres) and the DiMaggio brothers (Seals) were PCL standouts. Occasionally I'd be taken to a game. Otherwise I would listen to the radio broadcast. In Seattle, the announcer was a raspy-voiced gent named Leo Lassen who lived with his mother most of his life. We didn't know that detail at the time. Anyhow, Lassen had a distinctive style and his pet phrases, as most of the better-known announcers do. One of his was when there was a long-ball hit: "It's back, back, back ... and it's over!" -- over the fence. When the Rainiers were on the road, Lassen had to recreate a game from cryptic telegraph reports: no mean skill. Major league baseball was concentrated in the northeastern corner of the country where much of the nation's population also was concentrated. It extended from Boston (Red Sox and Braves) in the east to St. Louis (Cardinals and Browns) in the west. One reason for this geographical concentration was that teams had to travel by passenger train. If I remember correctly, teams played seven-game series over five or usually six days and traveled on Mondays. By rail, a long day's travel could get one from Boston to St. Louis or Chicago; the West Coast would be a three-day haul from Boston -- hence, no West Coast major league baseball. Besides Boston and St. Louis, cities with a team in each league were Chicago (White Sox and Cubs), Philadelphia (Phillies and Athletics) and New York (Yankees and Giants). New York also had the National League Brooklyn Dodgers who came into existence when Brooklyn was still an independent city and were never referred to as "New York Dodgers." One-team towns were Detroit (Tigers), Washington (Senators), Cleveland (Indians), Cincinnati (Reds) and Pittsburgh (Pirates). Like the West Coast, other parts of the country had to make do with minor league teams. This happy, traditional paradise was wrecked by the passenger airplane, which made coast-to-coast team travel practical. Propeller planes could cross the country a few hours faster than trains could get from Boston to St. Louis. Jets do it in six hours or so. And the cataclysm? That was when the traitorous New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers fled to San Francisco and Los Angeles and the world... posted by Donald at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Nikos on Deletaille
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Barry Wood isn't the only person who has been listening to music and searching YouTube for music vids recently. Nikos Salingaros has been making some finds too. *** NICOLAS DELETAILLE, A GREAT YOUNG CELLIST FOR OUR TIMES By Nikos A. Salingaros Just as I was trying to decide which one of two recent recordings of the Bach Suites for unaccompanied cello to buy -- by Steven Isserlis (Britain) or by Jean-Guihen Queyras (France) -- out of the blue I discovered the brilliant young Belgian cellist Nicolas Deletaille. So, naturally I bought his recording (aussi parce que ma femme est belge)! Geographically, this choice makes perfect sense, since Belgium is half-way between Britain and France ... Deletaille records on the small Contréclisse label in Belgium. Doubtlessly, these are available in CD stores in Europe, but here in the US we are fortunate that Deletaille's recordings are distributed by CD Baby. I recommend that readers not wait to read the rest of this review, but immediately order the two available double CD sets: the Bach Cello Suites and the Beethoven Cello Sonatas. There is something profoundly correct about Deletaille's playing -- emotional intensity, virtuosity, and perfection without ever becoming either mechanical or introverted. Total concentration in the service of the music itself and the composer. You do have to be careful in these days of self-indulgent virtuosos, or even worse, those "modern" interpretations that sap all the life out of the notes in a misguided attempt at "virtuosic impartiality". None of that here -- it's just a pure pleasure to hear someone playing for the sheer joy of playing! Deletaille's Bach CD came out in 2006, and his Beethoven CD, accompanied by the excellent pianist Jean-Michel Dayez, in 2007. The Bach suites I rate with the best ever interpreters: Casals, Rostropovich, Fournier, etc. His Beethoven sonatas are exquisite, again ranking with the classic recordings by Casals/Serkin, Rostropovich/Richter, and Fournier/Gulda. The only quibble I have is that the great Fugue that concludes Sonata No. 5 (Opus 102 No. 2) is not as deliberately paced as the interpretation of Fournier/Gulda, presented in this new recording as a very different though equally correct interpretation. But Deletaille/Dayez make it work within the context of their own vision of the whole sonata. Still, I would consider this a compliment rather than a criticism to be compared to Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda. Deletaille's Bach is fast-paced, but does not sound fast. Incredible virtuosity that presents the music at a speed that seems just right. Only when I compared his timings to other favorite recordings I realized that this is a great technical feat. Note that Deletaille uses a "Violoncello Piccolo" built in Belgium in 2002 for the Sixth suite -- attention to the music and the composer's intentions (which are here unclear!). Bach's Sixth suite is always a problem to perform since Bach did not write it for a normal cello. View and hear Nicolas Deletaille playing the Prelude from Bach's... posted by Michael at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Prog-Rock Linkage by Barry Wood
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I received a fun and informative email from rock fan Barry Wood the other day. It was so full of good info and resourceful linkage that I couldn't resist asking Barry if I could post it on the blog. I'm pleased that he agreed to let me. Here it is: *** Dear Michael Blowhard I’ve found a terrific way of enjoying YouTube. I’m a big fan of sixties and seventies rock music and there are a few personal websites which enthusiasts have set up to which they devote themselves to charting band history, analysing the music and rating the various albums. You have to be pretty devoted to do this but the quality of the best of it is surprisingly high. Foremost among these is George Starostin who must rank as one of the most astonishing web rock critics not just because of the superlative quality of his reviews and insights but also because he was so prolific. Sadly George stopped posting a few years back but his huge archive is still up and has a kind of cult quality among many fans, myself included. Here it is. The fun bit is in reading about the birth of some band you didn’t know about on Starostin then going over to YouTube and summonsing up archive footage. You can see a band’s entire development this way and some terrific material has come to light. The history of David Bowie on Youtube is fascinating. The earliest clip of him dates from 1964 when as a 17 year old schoolboy he appeared on the BBC complaining about being teased for having long hair. His first single at age seventeen after he changed his name from Jones to Bowie (audio only) First appearance with his first hit Space Oddity in 1970: Bowie singing "Rubber Band": Bowie mime from 1968 when he was 21: A 14 year old skiffle enthusiast from the London suburbs appears on black and white TV in the late fifties. Hard to believe that this lad grew up to be Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin: King Crimson also have a long and tortured past which Starostin documents well with the faithfulness of the true devoted fan. You can map out the King Crimson from their hippy precursor called Giles, Giles and Fripp: To their first big success in 1969 with Court of the Crimson King which can be heard here, and here. More: In 1970 came In The Wake Of Poseidon. With the big success of Larks Tongues in Aspic in 1973: The YouTube collection on them features an interview with the King Crimson leader Bob Fripp which has got to be the most unintentionally funny TV interviews ever carried out outside of Spinal Tap. It is both comedy and rock gold. It is four parts beginning here. Doesn’t get really funny till part two. Interested in Marc Bolan and T Rex.? As you might expect there is plenty of clips on this British glam... posted by Michael at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, February 11, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Pew Center predicts that by 2050 ... The population of the U.S. will pass 430 million people. That's almost three times the number of people the US had when I was born. Nothing like cramming 'em in, eh? White people will be in the minority. That's a dramatic development. It might also prove to be a dangerous one. People who are fans of this kind of thing: Please tell me how many times in history ethnic upheavals on this scale have occurred with good results. A reminder: All this is unecessary. It's happening entirely because of the zany 1965 Immigration Act, and because of lax enforcement of what immigration law we do have. Unprecedented levels of crowding ... Unwanted and potentially dangerous ethnic turnabouts ... That's quite a legacy Ted Kennedy will be leaving us. No doubt he had the noblest of intentions, though. Steve Sailer asks a good question: "How is affirmative action going to work when the beneficiaries outnumber the benefactors?" The New York Times Sam Roberts takes a look at the study's numbers. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 11, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Popular Culture Can Be Strange
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you know that Leonard Nimoy once recorded "I Walk the Line"? Or that Robert Mitchum once posed for the cover of a Calypso record? (CORRECTION: Dennis Mangan tells me that Mitchum performed the record's music too.) Both discoveries thanks to the inspired art-links blog gmtPlus9(-15). Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Lester Hunt, who reminds me that Robert Mitchum also created some music for his film "Thunder Road." I wrote a blog posting about "Thunder Road," a movie I liked very much, here. At his own blog, Lester asks a question about the Republicans that's on many people's minds: "Are these people totally insane?"... posted by Michael at February 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Senators as Presidents: Oh Dear!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the late 60s and early 70s, political conventional wisdom had it that the route to the presidency was through the Senate. In recent years, that road is supposed to go through a governor's mansion. In the first case, it was assumed that foreign policy was the most important presidential task, and that was the one thing governors didn't get to deal with. Nowadays, the theory is that management is the key task; governors have to administrate, assemble budgets, deal with legislatures, and so forth. Senators only have relatively small staffs to run (and have an administrator to handle that task, in any case). Guess what? Barring an Act of God, the next president will be a former senator. What does that portend? I dunno. Nor am I sure that history is a great guide. Nevertheless, why not take a stab at it. Here are the presidents, since 100 years ago today, listed by their highest elected office, not counting Vice President -- according to John Nance Garner "Not worth a bucket of warm sh*t." Senators Harding Truman Nixon Kennedy Johhnson Governors T. Roosevelt Wilson Coolidge F.D. Roosevelt Carter Reagan Clinton G.W. Bush Congressmen Ford G.H.W. Bush No significant elective office Taft Hoover Eisenhower And who were the most consequential and/or most effective presidents from this list? Every so often surveys of historians are taken, and the results are skewed according to whether the panel has a left or right bias. Let's forget about the presidents who served since Reagan to avoid injecting any more partisan bias than necessary. So drop Clinton and the two Bushes. Most surveys that I recall place the two Roosevelts at or near the top. Reagan seems to on his way there. Truman, highly unpopular when he left office, is now generally thought of as being one of the better ones. Eisenhower also is looking stronger than originally. Kennedy is starting to slip, and may drop further once historians who loved him pass on to the Great Library Stacks in the Sky. Among righties, Coolidge seems pretty good. And lefties are still high on Wilson. So if those surveys are meaningful, governors indeed tend to do better than senators. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 10, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, February 8, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost gets a rave from Clean Sheets, and interviews the versatile and fiery downtown actor Francesco Paladino. * Four out of every ten Mexican adults say that they would move to the U.S. if they could. * Gavin Andreson wonders what we get out of playing the world's numero uno superpower. * Jimmy Moore is worried about his brother Kevin's weight. * Steve Bodio muses about philosophies of animal breeding and includes photos of some dog breeds you've never heard of. * Cheryl Miller offers her take on the "child-man" controversy here and here. I sometimes find myself wondering if Maxim magazine might not be one of the defining cultural products of our age. Oh, and maybe the Victoria's Secret Catalog too. * Tokenblackchic responds to some viewers who have accused her of not being black enough. * Shouting Thomas continues his tour of Woodstock and offers some sensible perspective on the Presidential race. * Conductor James Macmillan describes how he lost his faith in the left. * Where did all the Russian hotties come from? * Fred Himebaugh seconds my enthusiasm for Paul Cantor's lectures, and beams with justified pride over his daughter's first compositional efforts. * The Google Monster is coming to get you: Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. Here's an interview with the dudez who made the vid. * Roissy has a prediction, and comes up with the best reason I've yet run into to vote for Hillary. * Melissa Katsoulis learns how to write a romance novel -- and gains a little respect for the form as she does so. * Former Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman says that he really should have been a librarian. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to film noir here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 8, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

A Quick Rant
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve wonders about the most important Americans where culture and art go. It's a fun and provocative posting. In my comment on it, I headed off at a bit of a tangent and babbled my way into incoherence. But I was pleased with myself anyway. Here's my comment Fun, as ever. Still, this phrase -- "There's an obvious high culture / academic orientation to the lists" -- makes me want to say, "Hell, yeah. And that's a major problem, particularly where the American arts go." Look (I'm addressing myself to Charles Murray, I guess, or to scholars, or something): America has *seldom* been fabulously strong where high culture is concerned. We've had a few moments and a few peaks. But our high culture has mostly been strained and tight -- it has mostly represented a striving in the direction of Euro ideals. And since we seldom feel as entitled to "culture" as the Euros do, we seldom enter into and flourish there in similar ways. Our market, if you will, for high culture has always been a skimpy and beleaguered one, and the art we've produced for it has almost always reflected that fact. In fact, we often seem to spend more time complaining about how Americans don't care about fine art than we do actually creating and enjoying the stuff. On the other hand, where the popular, commercial and folk arts go (as well as homegrown eccentrics, and one-of-a-kinds, and make-it-up-as-they-go types), we're perfectly amazing. The two biggest triumphs of 20th century art? In terms of oomph, scale, reach, and popularity, how can you beat Hollywood-style movies and African-American (and Af-Am-influenced) music? And it's (IMHO) quite something to open up a discussion of American culture while overlooking sitcoms, the blues, standup comedy, rock and hiphop, popular dancing, acting, commercial fiction ... (Incidentally, I'm obvoiusly ranting here, not addressing anyone in particular, aside from some academically-oriented snobs ...) But that's always a problem when you let academics and intellectuals define what's meant by culture, isn't it? They're going to tend to treat as "culture" what their idea of "culture" is. Which means that if they're intellectually-inclined (and what intellectual isn't?) they're going to show a preference for more-rather-than-less intellectual art. And if they're Euro-academically inclined, they're going to think of "culture" as something that's kinda-sorta French, or maybe German. Which results in the tangle we have: a class of gatekeeper-types who insist on applying Euro-intellectual standards to a culture-verse that doesn't actually have a whole lot to do with Euro-intellectual standards. And who mostly find us lacking. I like Charles Ives myself, but I also think Chuck Berry was a hell of a composer. Like it or not, we aren't a second-rate Euro-culture. We're our own kooky scene. Or bundle of scenes. An example of how applying-inappropriate-standards steers people wrong: Someone with a strong conviction that lyric poetry is the truest-purest kind of art there is could look at Ancient Rome and say, "Well,... posted by Michael at February 8, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Witold Rybczynski asks a sensible question: Are avant-garde architects really ahead of their time? "The truth is that buildings belong firmly to their own time," writes Rybczynski. "This is especially true of architecture that self-consciously attempts to predict the future." (Link thanks to Mike Snider.) * Speaking of absurd architecture, it's always good fun to check in with James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month. I complained back here about how blindingly shiney many modern buildings are. * Valerie Easton confesses that she was inspired to write about gardens when she read Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language." A lot of people have found "A Pattern Language" to be very inspiring. * Here's a hyper-condensed (as in, it shouldn't take you more than two minutes to flip through it) look at the Alexander approach. * Charlton Griffin turned up this haunting guide to some of the former Soviet Union's abandoned structures. * Thanks to Michael Bierut for pointing out an Esquire article about the worst building in the world. * Dave Lull turns up a good Noah Waldman essay for First Principles about the meaning of the classical-architecture revival. What's it all about? And why is it happening now? * Katie Hutchison pens an ode to a lovely porch, suggests tackling the infrastructure first, and researches Samuel McIntire, a Salem, Mass., neoclassical master. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Gold Standards
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Can anyone explain to me why putting the money supply on a gold standard is a bad idea? I'm aware that all right-thinking people know that the gold standard is laughable, and that anyone who expresses enthusiasm for it is a rube -- a "gold bug." But why is this what the smart set believes? And why do they believe it's so smart? I'm naught but an idiot, of course. But as far as I've been able to tell, the appeal of taking money off the gold standard is that doing so gives the expertise class near-infinite freedom to mess around with matters financial and monetary. Upside: Perhaps the experts know what they're doing. Downsides: Self-interest; temptation ("print more money"); rigging the game; stupidity; arrogance; outright mistakes; and "corrections" that only make things worse ... Paul Krugman sneers at gold-standard fans. This video from the Mises Institute makes the case for a gold standard. Plain English please -- and above all no math or charts. Well, except maybe those nice charts that show a squiggly line heading either up or down. I kind of like looking at those. Tks and best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Newspapers, R.I.P.?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The New York Times reports on the shakey state of the newspaper business. Nifty/scarey passage: “I’m an optimist, but it is very hard to be positive about what’s going on,” said Brian P. Tierney, publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News. “The next few years are transitional, and I think some papers aren’t going to make it.” * Marc Andreessen inaugurates a New York Times Deathwatch. Funny bit: "Sometimes it's darkest right before it goes pitch black." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For what it's worth, I almost always prefer women with shorter (but not crew-cut short) hair. Some guys seem to prefer long hair on women. I don't know why. But I'll at least speculate about myself. It might have had to do with what I saw when growing up. But not, please note, when I was really young. When I was a child and even into the lower grades in school, the fashion for women's hair was shoulder-length (I'm talking most of the 1940s here). My mother wore her hair shoulder-length in those years and even later. Here's the possible connection: When I reached puberty (1952 or 1953, say) the fashion had shifted to shorter hair. By shorter I mean a range between a couple inches above the shoulder to perhaps 4-6 inches long, sometimes combed back along the side of the head in a faux-DA style. Younger women are no longer my cuppa tea, but I've noticed for quite a few years that many (most?) like to wear their hair really long -- from the lower part of the shoulder blades down even to the small of the back. This does nothing for me. Something to do with poor face-framing? The possible imprinting at age 13 noted above? I dunno. Given my inability to deal with this vital subject, herewith are some questions for the rest of you to mull over and comment on: Why do some men prefer long-haired women? Could it be generational? Why do younger women seem to prefer long hair? Do they like it for its own sake? Do they think it flattering? Or do they wear it long because they think it attracts men? Older women (and men too) tend to wear shorter hair. Does this have to do with the changing nature of hair as one ages? Or is this also something to do with one's generation? Other ideas or personal experiences are also welcome, of course. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Finance Highs and Lows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The NYTimes' Jenny Anderson writes an article about studies showing that finance-biz-style wheeling and dealing can deliver a lot of drug-style excitement. Here's the, er, money quote: A small group of scientists ... say they are starting to discover what many Wall Street professionals have long suspected -- that people are hard-wired for money. The human brain, these researchers say, responds to high-stakes trading just as it does to the lure of sex. And the riskier the trades get, the more the brain craves them. Finance guys get happily high when they gamble irresponsibly with your retirement, in other words. And don't you feel good about paying with your money to support their habit? * FvBlowhard passes along a hilarious mock-disclaimer originally posted by Barry Ritholz: WARNING: THESE BONDS HAVE BEEN RATED AAA BY A MAJOR RATING FIRM. THESE RATING FIRMS HAVE PROVEN THEMSELVES TO BE CLUELESS, MONEY-LOSING INCOMPETENTS IN EXCESS OF A TRILLION DOLLARS IN LOSSES. THEY WERE PAID HANDSOMELY BY THE BOND UNDERWRITER, AND ARE HOPELESSLY COMPROMISED. PURCHASERS OF THESE BONDS ARE ADVISED TO IMMEDIATELY KILL THEMSELVES, THUS SPARING THEIR LOVED ONES EMBARRASSMENT IN THE FUTURE. ALSO, THESE BONDS MAY LOSE VALUE. I JUST WET MYSELF MERELY THINKING ABOUT THIS PAPER. WHILE PAST PERFORMANCE IS NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RETURNS, YOU SHOULD BE AWARE THAT PAST PERFORMANCE ALSO SUCKED. DONT BLAME US IF YOU LOSE ANY MONEY, AS WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE F$#@ WE ARE DOING ANYWAY. REALLY, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Silliness for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As wholesome as can be ... Sweet Jesus: Did nobody on the crew know what the song was really about? Link thanks to Boing Boing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 6, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fernsehen und Baumwolle
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The title of this post, Fernsehen und Baumwolle includes two German nouns that I'll translate below. Words are interesting. While I don't go out of my way to feast on the Oxford English Dictionary or other sources dealing with their history and usage, I do keep my eyes and ears open for interesting and amusing tidbits along those lines. From what I read, English is a kind of giant sponge that absorbs words from other languages when its users are not busy inventing words. Take "television" for example. It uses an English word for "seeing" (itself borrowed from French) and slaps on a highfalutin' Greek prefix having to do with distance. The Germans seem to be less highfalutin' and simply tack their word for distance (fern) onto that for seeing (sehen) to create fernsehen, or television. English is, at its core, a Germanic language. Germans love to build big, long words from two, three or more smaller ones. Other Germanic languages are less inclined to do this; a glance at a Scandinavian-language text usually reveals shorter words than typically are found in German writing. English is also less inclined to word-build than German. But plenty of example are created nevertheless: an instance being, well, "nevertheless." I find some German built-up words rather charming. One is baumwolle in the title above. The English equivalent is "cotton." Baumwolle can be broken into its two components, baum and wolle. Baum is the German word for "tree" and wolle means "wool." So the German word for "cotton" can be expressed as "tree wool." As I said, charming. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Roger on Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dave Lull for alerting me to this impressive New Criterion piece by Roger Scruton. In it, Scruton (a philosopher as well as one of the best writers on architecture around) reviews three books that share an anti-starchitecture stance. He likes them all, but saves his most enthusiastic words for "A Theory of Architecture" by 2Blowhards fave (and occasional contributor) Nikos Salingaros. Scruton writes: "No reader of A Theory of Architecture can fail to recognize the seriousness of tone, and the profundity of observation that went into the writing of this book, or to appreciate the many insights, both into the beauty of the old vernacular styles, and into the empty offensiveness of the modern." That's some high (and well-deserved) praise. Nikos is (IMHO) an important and much-underrecognized thinker, and it's very pleasing to see the world begin to take note. Buy a copy of Nikos' "A Theory of Architecture" here. His "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" is pretty damn great too (and features introductions by Jim Kalb and yours truly). Visit Nikos' very generous website here. To enjoy a wide-ranging five-part interview with Nikos, go to the top of 2Blowhards and click on "Interviews." Nikos is in the midst of delivering a stimulating online lecture series. Get to videos of his talks by visiting this page, scrolling to the bottom, and calling 'em up. Here's Roger Scruton's website. I loved this Scruton book about architecture, and found these short popular works of his about philosophy and culture terrific -- easy to enjoy and very brain-opening. Read an interview with Roger Scruton here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Lakis Polycarpou wonders why so many people think that the aesthetic and the practical are at odds. Lakis relies heavily on Christopher Alexander and Nikos Salingaros.... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

"El Cid" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Glenn Abel recommends the new DVD of Anthony Mann's costume epic "El Cid," and talks with the son of one of the film's producers. I love "El Cid" myself. It has pacing and focus -- I find it one of the few spectaculars from the '50s and '60s that are rewarding in non-ponderous, non-camp ways. But I love many of Anthony Mann's other movies too. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, Mann is a major and underappreciated movie artist. I recommended a few of Anthony Mann's movies in this posting about Westerns. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Anthony Burgess
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ricpic points out a first-class David Guaspari essay about the British writer Anthony Burgess, who was best-known for "A Clockwork Orange," the novel that was the source for the famous Stanley Kubrick film. Burgess, who died in 1993, was quite a force in the reading-and-writing (and film) worlds back in the '70s and '80s -- Friedrich von Blowhard was a major fan. About the Guaspari essay, Ricpic writes, The article is an appreciation of the work of the novelist Anthony Burgess and particularly the four books he wrote about a failed poet, Enderby. But it's more than that. Guaspari takes on, for lack of a better word, the dilemma of the artist in the world. Obviously I found it well written and utterly intriguing or I wouldn't be recommending it. Here's the website of the Anthony Burgess Foundation. Many thanks to Ricpic. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * YummyOrYucky posts a little peanut-butter porn. * More and more journalists are thinking of leaving their field. * Alan Little turns up a sensational map that shows the birthplaces of many American blues musicians. A nice passage from the text accompanying the map: Mississippi is the poorest of all states, but fortunately also has a happier distinction: it’s the place where most of the quintessentially American music genres originated, from blues and jazz to rock ‘n roll. An amazing accomplishment for a state that has under three million inhabitants ... * At his own weblog, Alan confesses that he has been growing more and more interested in yoga theory. I've poked around yoga philosophy and yoga theory myself, and I'm happy to second Alan's opinion. * Don Boudreaux thinks that the just-deceased industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost deserves attention and appreciation. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Laurence Jarvik enjoys 48 hours in Montreal. * The postmodern miaowing at the chickblog Jezebel can make me feel like I'm trapped in a TV showroom where all the sets have been tuned to "Sex in the City" and "Ally McBeel." But I found this posting by an anonymous model about what the modeling life is actually like very interesting. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * Did you know that there's a lost, abandoned H-bomb in the ocean just a few miles off the coast of Savannah, Georgia? Don't I remember that metal has a tendency to corrode? * Jim Kalb writes a lovely, short appreciation of Yasujiro Ozu's "Early Summer." Ozu is one of those landmark filmmakers whose work all filmbuffs should get to know, and "Early Summer" is certainly a good place to start. * Penelope Green thinks that the Slow Movement has been picking up steam. I blogged about the Slow Movement here and here. Fab factlet reported by Penelope Green: A 2005 study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard showed that the I.Q.s of workers who responded quickly to the constant barrage of e-mails they received during the day fell 10 points, more than double the I.Q. drop of someone smoking marijuana. * Bill Kauffman writes a memoir of the Rochester regional writer and novelist Henry Clune. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * MBlowhard Rewind: I watched a documentary about L.A.'s poet of grunge, Charles Bukowski. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, February 4, 2008

Faded Flaming
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I wrote here about my one experience with political bumper stickers. I've been meaning to write about bumper stickers I see on other peoples' cars. Especially about cars that are plastered with the things. That's easy to do because I live about three miles from the University of Washington, and I suspect that students, faculty/teaching staff and college-town groupies are more prone to festooning their cars with stickers than the rest of us. I know I seldom see political bumper stickers when I'm traveling on rural freeways and streets in smaller cities and towns. Even in a large, liberal place like Seattle I normally see cars sporting only a single die-hard Kerry/Edwards sticker from 2004 or perhaps a sparkling new Obama one. I said Seattle was liberal, so maybe that's why virtually all cars I notice having lots of stickers have lefty slogans. Only a few times a year do I spot heavy-duty right-wing sticker plastering. Could this be because righties are, uh, more conservative in their temperament and behavior? Anyway, from time to time I'd like to post pictures of cars I come across bearing lots and lots of stickers. Here are some shots of a car I recently spotted. The stickers are pretty faded, so perhaps the owner is satisfied his binge doesn't need up-dating. Gallery This is the rear of the car. Some of the stickers on the bumper are kind of hard to see, so the next two pictures have closer views. I tend to see some of the best examples of sticker covered cars when I've driving around and photography is impossible. But I'll keep my eyes peeled and camera ready in the hope of getting fresher, or at least more massive, displays of mobile political discourse. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 4, 2008 | perma-link | (34) comments

I Caught Maybellene At the Top of the Hill
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 1965. France. And Chuck Berry was in an especially exuberant mood: Have there been many greater lines written in America than "Rainwater flowin' all under my hood / But I knew that was doin' my motor good"? OK, maybe "As I was a-motor-vatin' over the hill / I saw Maybellene in a Coupe de Ville." But not many others. It seems to me that Chuck Berry's wordplay and rhythms have done a lot to shape American English. Hard to believe that Chuck Berry is now 81 years old. He's wearing it awfully well. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Alt-Erotica Linkage for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A brilliant young Swiss designer, Maria Wagner, hand-makes micro-bikinis for the goth and punkette set. Her work has all the narcissistic attitude and blase insolence that any fan of the scene could hope for. Choosing a favorite from among Maria's creations isn't easy, but if a gun were held to my head I'd have to opt for this beauty. Which size front panel do you prefer -- teeny-weeny? Or ultra-teeny-weeny? Although there is something about the back view of this racy number that makes my heart beat in a very special kind of way ... NSFW, as I really hope you didn't need to be told. Semi-related: I sort of blogged about neo-burlesque queen Dita Van Teese here. Wired's Regina Lynn expresses enthusiasm for the Australian amateur site Abby Winters, and for the chic and edgy BDSM company You can enjoy a lot of freebie samples from both outfits by typing their names into Google Images. Prepare for atypical porn -- er, erotic entertainment -- that actually has mood and personality. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Banks As Graphic Design
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another gargantuan blockbuster from that unstoppable movie-production titan ... Well, I blush. You do know to be kind, don't you? Previous efforts can be watched here, here, here, and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 3, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Only Funny Once?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowards -- "It's only funny once" was an expression I heard a lot when I was a kid. I haven't heard it much since then, for some reason. From one perspective, it makes sense. That's if humor results from some sort of surprise. In other words, in one way or another, you are led to expect one thing, then suddenly something else happens. It's early and I haven't had my coffee yet, so this shaggy joke is the best I can come up with at the moment. And I'll leave out the flourishes I'd use when telling it verbally. A man and a guy named Benny Schwartz are in a bar having drinks. Benny boasts that he know everybody. The man says "That's ridiculous!" Benny says "Wanna bet?" So the man bets Benny that he doesn't know ... [here the joke rambles on where two famous persons are named and the man and Benny travel to encounter the person who, of course knows Benny]. ... In desperation, the man says "I bet you don't know the Pope." So they go to Rome. The next morning Benny says "Be at the square in front of St. Peter's at noon." So the man goes there. Huge crowd. Has to stand on the periphery. Two figure appear on a balcony, but they are almost too far away to be recognizable. The man turns to an Italian fellow next to him and asks "Who are those men on the balcony?" "Well, I don't-a know about-a the guy in-a white. But the other guy, he's-a Benny Schwartz." If you've downed enough beers and the joke is told right, it's actually funny. But the point is the twist at the end. On the other hand, sometimes repeated humor can be side-splitting. When they were new, Road Runner cartoons had me in hysterics, almost rolling out of my theater seat. I was laughing at the same sort of thing that had happened in every other Road Runner I'd seen. This is a form of the running gag. In those pre-historic, pre-television days, Jack Benny had a wonderful radio program broadcast Sundays evenings featuring repeated items dealing with his stinginess. And then there was his ancient Maxwell car whose start-up was portrayed by Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny) in virtually the same slobbering way each time the car was in the script: the audience always howled in glee. A milder and more recent example of running gags was the Muppet Show where distinctive characters kept on doing the things they always did and always provoked laughter. Here's my problem: I'm having a tough time trying to analyze why running gags can be so funny. Yes, there usually is a slightly new wrinkle introduced which might offer a tiny element of surprise. Even so, the main element seems to be familiarity. Why should familiarity be funny? The audience recalls its previous happy experience with the joke/situation? What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 3, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Schoolgirl Musical
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that Koreans love the "schoolgirl" thing -- skirts, haircuts, uniforms, adorable knock-knees -- as much as the Japanese do. Or is the following clip simply referencing the Japanese fetish? Gosh, but it can be hard to know what's authentically "meant" these days ... "Dasepo Naughty Girls" -- Could be the movie of the year. Ain't It Cool News' Quint caught it at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and has this to say: "I don’t know what the fuck DASEPO NAUGHTY GIRLS is, but I do know that I love it." That's a rave! Here's the movie's trailer. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 2, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, February 1, 2008

I Am Not Worthy
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some excerpts from an email recently sent around by an organization called Americans For the Arts: One of our main objectives is to support and secure federal, state, and local education policies that provide students a balanced education and prepare them to compete in a globally innovative and creative workforce ... Americans for the Arts maintains that arts education develops the precise set of skills students need in order to thrive in a global economy that is driven by knowledge and ideas ... Formalize an incentive program to hire arts educators and strengthen the Arts in Education program at the U.S. Department of Education through revisions to the No Child Left Behind Act ... Now, I have tended to think of myself as a pretty committed culturebuff. But this email has got me thinking that perhaps I've been mistaken. After all, my hopes for culture have zero to do with the agenda of Americans for the Arts. Personally I'd love to see people free their experience of the arts from the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, and worthy-nonprofit types, 90% of whom seem to me to be devoted to bleeding the arts of everything I love the arts for. * Some headlines and taglines from recent issues of the highbrow lit magazines Bookforum and The Boston Review: Slave Trade On Trial Richard Locke on Pat Barker Jyoti Thottqm on Tahmima Anam's "A Golden Age" Matthew Price on Richard M. Cook's "Alfred Kazin: A Biography" Vivian Gornick: Hannah Arendt's Jewish Problem J.K. Bishop: The Art of Dying Peter Terzian on William Maxwell's Early Novels and Stories Now, I'm a big reader, and during one 15 year stretch I even followed the NYC publishing world -- and new literary fiction -- pretty closely. Yet I'm never, ever going to read any of those pieces. In fact, I look at Tables of Contents like these and think, "Isn't it amazing? Some people are still arguing about Alfred Kazin, Hannah Arendt, William Maxwell, and slavery." I also can't tell you how bizarre I find it that not a single word reflecting an interest in entertainment values appears in any of those headlines. Real intellectuals apparently have a hard time staying awake when topics like suspense, humor, characterization, plotting, sexiness, pacing, and identification come up. I guess I have no choice but to say it loud and say it proud: I am 1) not a Worthy Artsperson, and 2) certainly not a Serious Reader. Funny how good it feels to get these two admissions out there in public. Back here I wrote about what I called "the Arts Litany" -- the list of beliefs and convictions that arts people are expected to hold. FvBlowhard responded here. Do you keep up with any of the heavyweight art-or-lit mags? If so, what on earth do you get out of it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

It's Time For Some Music!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paying too much attention to politics makes me kompletely krazy. It makes me feel the need to ... to ... Well, goshdarnit, to do some semi-random YouTube music-linkage. First up, The Marvelettes, who are the easy winners of today's Cute, Sweet, and Sexy Award: The Marvelettes started out life in rural Inkster, Michigan. America: land of the best place-names ever! Read more about the Marvelettes here. Although The Clash sometimes leave me thinking that they're striving a little harder for "passionate and committed" than they need to, this live performance of "I Fought the Law" has real sizzle: It's 1977 forever, baby! Plus, 2:21 seconds is such a nice length for a rock song, isn't it? And doesn't Eddie Cochran show a lot of easygoing cocky charisma in this version of "C'mon Everybody"? Sing it together, people: "Whoo! C'mon everybody: We gotta keep the politics in perspective ..." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Ron, Bill, and Dan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Dan McCarthy for letting me know that 2Blowhards fave -- well, fave of this Blowhard, anyway -- Bill Kauffman has endorsed Ron Paul for President. Bill and Dan and some other wonderful cranks and curmudgeons blogged together for a time last year as the Reactionary Radicals. Bill's next book can be pre-ordered here. Dan blogs at his own blog as well as at the Ron Paul blog, and he also works as a contributing editor for The American Conservative. Here's a fun Ron Paul video. Writing for that leftie rag The Nation, Nicholas Van Hoffman says "There are times when Congressman Paul says things that are worth listening to." Ain't that the truth. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- We all know that many gay men go out "cruising." But what's involved? What are the rules of the game? What are the dance steps, so to speak? The CBC's Ben Aylsworth offers an introduction. (Seems to me SFW, but make your own call.) One comment on the page struck me as especially interesting: I'm gay. And I often make it a point to encourage people in general to fully experience their sexual desires. That these guys are having sex is not the problem. It's where they're doing it. It is a thoughtless imposition on the rest of us to assume control over a public space, by driving the rest of us out. And in the case of [Vancouver's] Stanley Park, it does damage that no other park user would think of doing or be allowed to get away with. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Britney, the Ballet
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- People are really quick to pounce on subjects these days, aren't they? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

2008 is Bad, 1988 was Worse
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- No, this isn't about lousy politics. Nor lousy architecture, pop music, Po-Mo art or any of the stuff we grumble about. It's about lousy handwriting. My lousy handwriting. Especially my inability to form a proper number 8. It began while I was in grade school. For several years I experimented with various ways of constructing a reliably readable 8. At some point -- I forget when -- I settled on a method. Unfortunately, that method does not work well for me. My 8s often tilt to the right, have flat tops or otherwise can be hard to decipher. Here's what I do. I start a little above what should be the vertical midpoint and make a stroke in a upper-right to lower-left direction. Then I do the curve for the lower loop, cross the initial down-stroke and construct the upper loop, ending about where I began. Much of it is sort of like printing an S from bottom to top. But as I said, the result more often than not is a deformity. Worse, I'm probably too old a dog to learn a new 8-making trick. So now that it's 2008, I'm doomed to writing sloppy 8s every time I write the date instead of the normal three days per month. Of course, 1988 was worse because I had to struggle with two 8s. Thank heaven I didn't live the the 19th century. 1888 would have been hell. Later, Donald UPDATE: My arm is little sore from MB's twist persuasion, but behold some 8s I just wrote.... posted by Donald at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments