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

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Elsewhere
  2. A Quick Rant
  3. Architecture Linkage
  4. Gold Standards
  5. Newspapers, R.I.P.?
  6. Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It
  7. Finance Highs and Lows
  8. Silliness for the Day
  9. Fernsehen und Baumwolle
  10. Roger on Nikos

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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