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

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  1. Blogging Notes
  2. The Archetypical Robert Rubin
  3. Fact for the Day
  4. Irina in New York
  5. More on Gal Performers, Exploitation, Etc.
  6. The Uncomfortable Position of Civilians in Wartime
  7. Elsewhere
  8. DVD Journal: "The Last House on the Left"
  9. Showbiz and Seediness
  10. Brenda, Buck, and Don

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm on the road again. Actually, a non-stop flight to one of those Mexican west coast tourist towns where Nancy is hosting a gathering for her sons and their families. I won't be taking my MacBook, so don't expect any posts from me while I'm away (I return Thursday evening). If it's convenient and not too costly, I might post something brief from an Internet cafe, but don't count on it. What I did do was plant a post in our queue that I'll publish on my return. It was fun to write and I'm hoping that some hackles will be raised. While in lovely Mexico I might have just enough time to throw myself at their generous welfare system. If I hide my passport I might be able to claim Undocumented status; they ought to be highly receptive to that ploy. Then I can request a drivers license. I ought to be able to parlay that into voter registration. Problem: how to vote? I suppose voting against the PRI is generally a good thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 22, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

The Archetypical Robert Rubin
Dear Blowhards, A week ago or so Dean Baker was a bit peeved at Robert Rubin. According to Mr. Baker’s post of March 14, “Robert Rubin Still Doesn't Know that People Warned About the Bubble”: Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was at a session at the Brookings Institution this morning at which [he] said that "few, if any" people anticipated the sort of meltdown that we are seeing in the credit markets at present. This should be newsworthy. Mr. Rubin is not only a former Treasury Secretary, he is in the top management at Citigroup and he is one of the top Democratic policy advisers. The failure to recognize the housing bubble and the danger it posed was an act of extraordinary negligence that would get people fired in most lines of work. The fact that he still doesn't recognize the enormity of this oversight even after the fact (economists did recognize the housing bubble and the dangers its collapse would pose to the financial system) is remarkable. In case you didn’t guess, Mr. Baker was one of the economists who not only recognized a housing bubble when he saw it, but also warned of the dangers its collapse would pose for the financial system. If you like, you can check out Mr. Baker’s prescience in two articles, “After the Housing Bubble Bursts” and “The Menace of an Unchecked Housing Bubble”, both from 2006. Mr. Baker’s remarks got me to thinking about Mr. Rubin’s very interesting career in finance, government and politics. It’s so interesting, in fact, I thought I would make him a case study of my “theory of everything.” As some of you may recall from my post of that name,I’ve suggested that the most important trend in American life of the past century -- political, economic and cultural -- is the profound alliance between the government and members of the New Middle Class, the New Class for short. These people are the technocratic-administrative elite of our society: financiers, professionals (lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc.) senior government and corporate manager-bureaucrats, university professors, etc. They occupy well-paid or highly prestigious positions but do not owe their status or wealth to personal risk taking, making them rather anomalous in what is often termed a capitalist economy. As I said in my post, these people are able to float above the standard risk-reward curve that governs the rest of American society due to their ability to bend the power of government to their will: The New Class control of government occurs through three channels: first through campaign contributions to, and lobbying of, elected governmental officials (who are often New Class members themselves), a process that was invented in its modern form by the New Class; second through capturing regulatory and administrative policy and turning it to their own benefit, another New Class specialty; and third through the revolving door between government and private-sector New Class occupations. The nexus of the risk-averse New Class with the coercive power of the state has proven... posted by Friedrich at March 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the past ten years the birth rate among unmarried Latinas in the U.S. has risen from 89 to 100 per 1,000. It is now much higher than the rate among black or white women. Source. A striking further fact: Last year, for the first time, half of all Hispanic children born in the U.S. were born out of wedlock. Best, Michael UPDATE: As for Ireland ... Hibernia Girl points out a study indicating that "by 2050, Ireland's population will consist of a multicultural and multiethnic mix in which the indigenous Irish will form a minority." Should the Irish be thanking their leaders for pursuing policies that lead to such results?... posted by Michael at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Irina in New York
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a writer / blogger / online-personality, Irina is a sweetie: woebegone yet hopeful; worldly yet childish; both Old World and New World. She's a clown, but a sexy and touching one. The fun of reading her has less to do with what she says than with accompanying her puppy brain and her womanly feelings as they zigzag loopily around each other, eyeing each other in fondness and exasperation. Here Irina ranks some American traits; here she inspires Agnostic to have another go at that age-old question, "Ass man? Or boob man?" American girls: Read Irina and learn about this mysterious thing called "charm." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

More on Gal Performers, Exploitation, Etc.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I can't let the topic go by without reprinting a couple of great comments that visitors have left behind. First, from PatrickH: I've gotten an enormous erotic charge out of pics of women from olden times...more or less pre '90, perhaps earlier. The dames of yore, you might say. The women of the seventies in particular still give me a real sexual jolt. The sight of imperfect teeth, maybe a blemish or two, breasts just ever so unpneumatic, and especially, some softness, some roundness, some juice -- all the signs of a real woman, alive and warm and breathing, ah, they got me going, those seventies girls, and they still do. (BTW,apparently the cast of LHotL was doing the seventies thing off-camera, what with massive drug use and apparently non-stop you-know-whatting.) The eighties saw the emergence of the type of female body I found utterly uninteresting, the manufactured hair, the harsh makeup, the growing trend to fake breasts, and above all, the increasing dominance of the hardbody aerobicized ultra-toned look...tense, harsh, unfeminine, and really really unsexy. The nineties and beyond have just made it worse, what with CGI manipulation of images, Photoshopping, and yes, the continued dominance of the over-exercised and under-feminine "ideal". The deadness, the anti-sexiness, the sheer unhumanity of the erotic imagery (of men and women) in today's pornogrified culture is one of its most interesting and troubling aspects. Odd, how America can somehow be so sexually overwrought and yet so utterly unsexy. Yeah! Next, from Ron: This post, along with Michael's post about down-and-dirty '70s pictures and PatrickH's related comment about '70s women (I love them too!) has put me in an exploitation-movie kind of mood -- which is a mood I like a-plenty. I had a nice email conversation with a friend not too long ago about the joys of '70s exploitation actresses. I spent most of it name-checking the many lovely, fearless ladies that have provided me with some low-down viewing excitement and pleasure over the years, as well as lamenting the fact that these types of actresses just aren't around anymore. Michael's comments regarding the effects of agents and careerism on current actresses has me thinking about this all over again. Hmmm...sad to think that movies today haven't given us anyone to take the place of Pam Grier, Roberta Collins, Barbara Steele, Edwige Fenech, Camille Keaton, Monica Gayle and countless others. Barbara Crampton is another good one. Has a cuddlier woman ever been assaulted by zombies? Even the more respectable actresses of that era, women like Susan George and Colleen Camp, could act in memorably unpredicable and vibrant ways--almost as though they were laying their sass, their verve and of course their bodies on the line in a winner-takes-all sort of bet. This sort of performing is sexy, of course, but there's something endearing about it as well. In fact, it's not off-base to say I feel genuine warmth and affection for all of these ladies. I feel... posted by Michael at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

The Uncomfortable Position of Civilians in Wartime
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I came across a very interesting blog posting, "You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss" (courtesy of Yves Smith at Naked Capital). It’s by Paul Graham, who is an essayist, programmer, programming language designer and a venture capitalist: A few days ago I was sitting in a cafe in Palo Alto and a group of programmers came in on some kind of scavenger hunt. It was obviously one of those corporate "team-building" exercises. They looked familiar. I spend nearly all my time working with programmers in their twenties and early thirties. But something seemed wrong about these. There was something missing… I think...that there's something missing in the lives of employees. I think [entrepreneurs who start companies,] though statistically outliers, are actually living in a way that's more natural for humans. I was in Africa last year and saw a lot of animals in the wild that I'd only seen in zoos before. It was remarkable how different they seemed. Particularly lions. Lions in the wild seem about ten times more alive. They're like different animals. And seeing those guys on their scavenger hunt was like seeing lions in a zoo after spending several years watching them in the wild. […] Watching employees get transformed into [entrepreneurs] makes it clear that the difference between the two is due mostly to environment -- and in particular that the environment in big companies is toxic to programmers. In the first couple weeks of working on their own startup they seem to come to life, because finally they're working the way people are meant to. As a small business owner, this is pretty much exactly my point of view on the world. Or, as I’ve put it occasionally, talking to other business owners: Capitalism is war. Employees are civilians. Being a civilian in a war zone ain't too comfortable. Cheers, Friedrich von Blowhard... posted by Friedrich at March 21, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Witold Rybczynski reviews some recent attempts at impressive new downtown libraries. * Bruce Grossman loves that new Charles Willeford reprint. * Michele Somerville thinks that what school kids need most is more gym. * David Pogue flips for the Flip. * Are European women better lays than American women? MBlowhard response: How I wish I knew ... * Clio puts in a good word for pacifism. * Dr. Michael Eades explains the thinking behind the low-carb diet. * This certainly has to be one of the more heavily-commented-on -- or at least enthusiastically-commented-on -- blogpostings in recent history. You go, self-pleasuring post-Riot grrls. * Richard S. Wheeler thinks that novelists who write about the American West should pay more attention to water issues. * Science looks closely into the question of when and whether to stretch. Before a workout? After a workout? At all? And science concedes defeat. * Yummy or Yucky writes amusingly and appreciatively about two trustworthy pleasure-givers: galangal and lemongrass. * Some downtown Woodstock stores prompt reflections about "the hippie philosophy" from Shouting Thomas. * Lester Hunt raves about the movie version of "Persepolis." * The brilliant young designer Maria Wagner of A Swiss String (NSFW) -- whose punkette micro-swimsuits I raved about back here -- predicts that the g-string and the thong will make comebacks in 2008. I hadn't been aware they'd gone away. Still, I'm feeling more cheerful about the year already. Fun to learn that Maria is one of the girls modeling the A.S.S. swimsuits. Go to this page and search her out. * Fred Himebaugh speaks up in praise of minor-league sports. Boy, am I with him on that. * MBlowhard Rewind: I gabbed about some enjoyable erotic movies here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

DVD Journal: "The Last House on the Left"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've just finished watching a couple of movies recommended to me by the talented and dynamic young dude who directed our own movie. For the sake of a couple of blogpostings, I'm going to take my young friend's tastes and enthusiasms as 1) interesting in themselves, and 2) indicative of what young guys who are hot to make it in the movies these days enjoy. In other words: As youngdudez like my buddy begin to find actual positions in the filmbiz, moviegoers may well be seeing more of the kind of thing these films represent showing up on their local movie screens. First up: Wes Craven's 1972 horror film "The Last House on the Left." This was Wes Craven's first feature, and to call it primitive would understate matters by a ton. For starters: lousy sound, nonexistent production values, amateurish acting, and a script no first-year screenwriting prof would allow to see the light of day. But -- for all its crudeness and cluelessness -- the film is also powerful and fascinating. Until the early '70s, horror films had tended to be theatrical, super-stylized, artificial contrivances: Think "Frankenstein," think Hammer horror. “Last House on the Left” was one of the early films to break that mold. (Another: George Romero's 1968 "Night of the Living Dead.") Like Romero, Craven avoided English accents and period settings, put recognizable people onscreen, and let in a lot of the real world. The story and images in "Last House on the Left" bounce off of the violence and slaughters of its time -- Vietnam, Manson, etc. Craven's distinctive contribution was to humanize both victims and killers; while the bad guys are most definitely bad, they aren't one-dimensional. He also threw in a couple of really big narrative jolts. The result was a film that felt raw and immediate to many people. You knew the characters onscreen; they were like your parents, your friends, and the scary hippies camping out in the park. You recognized the America up there; it looked both like your cozy neighborhood and like the carnage you witnessed on the TV news. And the pain onscreen took you by surprise, and in shocking ways. All that said ... For any of this to matter much to you, you probably do have to be a horror buff. I'm not one, and I fought sleep through much of the film. As far as morally dicey ’70s cult classics go, I’m more of an “I Spit on Your Grave” kinda guy, I guess. Here's a bit of what I imagine turns on my young director-buddy: "Last House on the Left" is scrappy, intense, and anything but respectable. It also doesn't fall into either of today's two familiar camps: It's neither a big, hygienic corporate theme park, nor is it an undernourished high-minded indie. Also, the '70s ... Wowee, what a kooky time. The huge and awful cars, the daffy hairstyles and clothes -- they all have their campy appeal.... posted by Michael at March 20, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Showbiz and Seediness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ah, Alexandra Dupre, my heart and my muse ... (Here's the website of the NY Post, where I found the image above.) I don't know about you, but Friedrich von Blowhard and I are both having an awfully good time following the news stories about the Jersey rapper-wannabe-turned-callgirl who was caught with NY's ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer. Here's the latest bulletin. It's the story that just keeps on giving, isn't it? Not since the Amy Fisher / Joey Buttafuoco case have I been quite as happy buying taboid newspapers. My favorite detail to emerge so far: On her MySpace page, Alexandra made reference to incidents of deprivation and abuse at home that prompted her to run away to the big city. In actual fact, Alexandra grew up prosperous on the New Jersey shore. So much for the deprivation angle. As for the abuse? 1) Alexandra was given a Porsche by her stepdad, 2) Alexandra proceeded to crash and total the Porsche, and 3) her stepdad then refused to buy her another Porsche. This appears to have been the incident that Alexandra transcoded into "abuse." Rough life! It's funny the way some people who want a sexier, hotter existence than they have in the 'burbs turn their biographies into melodramas that, funnily enough, just happen to justify running off and joining a fast crowd. Why do they bother mythologizing their backgrounds? Seems like a lot of bother to me. Still, as silly as she is, Alexandra is also pretty sexy. Apt FvB comment: "This girl really missed her era. She should have been a temple prostitute in ancient Sumer!" I wrote FvB a response I'm going to reprint here. Quick word of explanation: I'm not exactly responding to FvB's remark. Intead, I'm treating myself to a rant that was prompted by some recent adventures with performers. BTW, I like performers! What follows should in no way be taken as a diss. Sign me up for a spell in ancient Sumer! Somewhat more straightfacedly, I'd maintain that the temple-prostitute thing is a prominent side of showbiz. (And when it isn't, it should be.) This Spitzer girl lived out the hooker thing more than most do, god knows. But bits and pieces of hooker-ish-ness are commonplace in showbiz. The girl who comes to the city to make it ... And she can't stand living in a studio apartment in the boonies ... So she moves in with a director ... Or she works her way through a lot of young bankers ... Not uncommon! Sleeping with producers, sometimes deliberately to get roles, sometimes not so deliberately, but maybe it results in roles anyway ... Sometimes the bankers and producers and actresses actually like each other, and living together is convenient, and life seems to be taking a nice turn, so ... And somehow the bills get paid. Is it kind to look too closely at how that happens? Plus there are shadey guys everywhere (nightclub owners, haha; guys... posted by Michael at March 20, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Brenda, Buck, and Don
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of vids for no reason other than the joy that I'm feelin' in posting them. Brenda Lee (all 4 feet 7 seven inches of her) sets fire to some Hank Williams: Talk about pipes; talk about lungs; talk about energy -- you can certainly see why they called her "Little Miss Dynamite"! Let's face it: Some people were just born to be performers. But why (in an evo-bio sense) should that even be so? Here's Brenda Lee's website. Buck Owens and his buddy Don Rich do "Love's Gonna Live Here Again": Though Buck is often said to be the pioneer of the Bakersfield Sound (think: masculine, outgoing, rhythmic -- a working guy's cut-to-the-action rebuke to sappy Nashville), he always credited Don Rich as his co-conspirator. Buck may have been the Buckaroos' front man, but Don was every bit the creative force Buck was. (Don's "chicken-pickin" guitar sound has made quite an impact.) You can see them as co-equals in the video, no? Not many vocalists share the mic in quite as welcoming a fashion as Buck does with Don. In fact, Buck and Don were in day-to-day life best friends. Don Rich's death -- at 32, in a motorcycle accident -- threw Buck into a deep depression, and Buck often said that music was never again as much fun for him. Here's a website devoted to the Bakersfield Sound. With thanks once again to essential YouTube uploader Gatorrock786. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 19, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Linkage by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More finds by master websurfer Charlton Griffin: * "What on earth is going on?" the commuters passing through New York City's Grand Central Station asked each other. * Corny film but amazingly evocative art. The world really is full of bizarre and wonderful talents, isn't it? * Is getting a tattoo an edgy thing to do? Or is it maybe a very conservative one? * John Cleese has an announcement for America. (CORRECTION: Thanks to Julie Brook, who points out that this list wasn't actually composed by John Cleese. Here's a fun explanation of the piece's complicated genesis.) * Witness the Japanese way of finding the hottest girl in the world. * Learn a lot about the death of Jayne Mansfield. (Key point: not decapitated.) Interesting to see Mansfield referred to by the person who posted the video as "the mother of actress Mariska Hargitay." * Take-no-prisoners Vlogger Pat Condell certainly knows how to project a lot of personality, score points, and command the camera. * Here's a wonderful compilation of "What were they thinking?" vidclips, set to a very cute pop song. One of my own favorite Oops microgenres these days is the "Newsperson gets wiped out" category. Here's an excellent recent example. * "High-dynamic range" photographs certainly show the world as no photographs ever have before. * The song isn't a personal fave of mine, but it does seem to inspire and move nearly everyone else. * Time to relax and enjoy a bit of well-earned genuine popular-culture bliss. * And a few bonus links from that spirited and talented Communicatrix: You haven't had a real clown nightmare until you've seen this thing. James Finn Garner finds quite the vintage photograph. Humor with pie charts and bar graphs. David Lynch has a message for all of you who want to watch movies on your iPhones ... Charlton reads and produces some of the most satisfying audiobooks on the market. Go here and type either his name, Charlton Griffin, or the name of his production house -- Audio Connoisseur -- into the Search box, download, and class up your listening life. Here's Charlton's latest production. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 19, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Who You Hug -- And How
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't much like hugging. Maybe it has to do with my Northern European ancestry -- those reserved, cold people from 45 degrees latitude and higher. My parents pretty much stopped hugging me after I reached age 12. My wife, on the other hand, loves hugging and wonders about me. You see, her ancestry is Scandinavian and that means ... [End of ethnic stereotyping. Return to drawing board.] As I was about to say, hugging comes in many forms. The bear hug. The group hug of athletes when a goal has been scored. Sympathy hugs at funerals. Lovers' hugs. Then there are those odd, slow-motion semi-hugs. I saw one today while I was sipping coffee trying to come up with things to blog about. One of the donut shop employees was standing outside the doorway and an acquaintance of his walked up. They greeted with one of those hugs: His arms stiffened, his elbows locked as he swung his arms past her sides. I don't quite recall the form of her hug, though I have the impression that her posture was more normal. But both of them were in slow-motion. I took this to be a ritual hug of some kind, certainly on the guy's part. The girl wasn't exactly a babe, so I suspect that he was hugging her because he felt he had no alternative: she expected one. Of course I could well have gotten this all wrong. After all, as I mentioned above, I am not of the hug-culture. I sometimes see these choreographed hugs in business settings where, for some reason I don't quite understand, hugging is expected, but it dare not be mistaken for being something sexual (regardless of what the huggers are actually thinking). Twenty or so years ago I was looking up stuff at a college library when a female student walked into the area and was greeted by another girl who was studying there. They too performed one of those ritualistic, slow hugs, chatted briefly and then left. In this case, I suspected (because of other visual clues painting a gestalt) that they might have been Lesbians. Again, I can't say for sure. There seems to be a lot related to hugging, both manifest and hidden, and I am left confused by it all. Unfortunately, when I was in grad school there was no Sociology of Hugging class. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 18, 2008 | perma-link | (27) comments

"Early American Art"?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an example of something that 1) is all-too-common and 2) really irks me: the way many arty types take it for granted that the story of American art is the story of modernist American art. Yo, artworld: Calling Georgia O'Keefe an example of "early American art" is like calling "Reservoir Dogs" an example of "early gangster movies." It's overlooking an awful lot, and it's promoting a restrictive and stupid myth. I raved back here about what a wild and glorious free-for-all pre-modernist American art was. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, March 17, 2008

Seattle Seen
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Digital photos have been piling up on my computer's disk drive and it's high time the world got to see 'em. Herewith are some pictures of Seattle I've taken over the past month or so: no particular theme. I'll begin with the obligatory skyline shot. This was taken from West Seattle, across Elliott Bay. I forgot to ask that seagull to sign a photo release form. Hope it doesn't mind. Not far from where the previous photo was taken, I noticed this house. I wrote about architecural use of pebbles here, and was not pleased with the idea. The house shown above seems pretty old and has little sign of being anything more than builder-designed. So I present it as a curiosity, not an architectural statement. Speaking of Seattle houses, many modest-sized brick Tudor style dwellings were built during the 1920s. I suppose your town has something like these too. The house shown is nowhere nearly the cutest one I've noticed. I would like to do a posting on these sometime, but I worry about getting in trouble wandering neighborhoods snapping pictures of houses. Immediately to the right of the Tudor-style house is this. I'm not sure whether it is new or simply a major re-do. The glass brick near the entrance is interesting, but I don't like the industrial-looking siding on dwellings. Seattle is noted for airplanes. Here are two parked in front of the Museum of Flight located by Boeing Field. On the left is a Boeing B-47 and to the right is a Douglas DC-2. No, not a DC-3; the DC-2 came first and was a little smaller than the -3. Plane-spotters will notice that the fuselage of the -2 has a more squared-off cross-section than the -3. Note the lights under the nose; these are not found on the DC-3. I noticed this new tour bus parked on Main Street opposite Occidental Park. Hmm. Reminds me of ... ... those 1930-vintage tour buses that used to (and still) roam national parks in the Mountain West. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 17, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments