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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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Video Everywhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The whole world is going video. YouTube ... Video comments on blogs ... For a while now it has also been possible to use video to review products at Amazon. If you haven't yet run across a Customer Video Review at Amazon, here's an example. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Peter L. Winkler is pretty sure that D.C. madame really did commit suicide. * Dennis Mangan is thinking about leaving California. Visitors offer many tips. * Alice is trying not to become a tiresome geezer-blogger. It's already too late for some of the rest of us. * Gotta love it when a girl finds a career that really suits her. (NSFW) * The worst cities in the country for hay-fever sufferers. * Have these guys figured out how to predict the results of the Presidential election? (Link thanks to FvB.) * Great motorcycle. (Link thanks to Graham Lester.) * Men eat more meat; women eat more fruit. (Source.) * Hey, a mammoth black vs. brown riot at an L.A. high school -- who could have anticipated it? Any bets on whether we'll be seeing more or less of this kind of thing? * Yahmdallah reached towards a bug that he thought was dead, and ... * Eyeball the pixel couch. * Who's the spanking-est of them all? (NSFW) * James Kunstler wouldn't be surprised if the economy falls apart in the next month or two. * Agnostic tries to figure out why beautiful girls from more traditional areas are more modest about their looks than beautiful big-city girls. * Derek Lowe takes a look at yet another anti-cholesterol drug flop and offers this: "For now, there’s no way to really know what will happen in humans without, well, using humans." Can someone please share Derek's wisdom with the entire field of economics? * Her new HDTV has reawakened Lynne Kiesling's interest in hockey. * I'll probably never get around to reading Yuri Slezkine's "The Jewish Century," praised by Steve Sailer among others. How nice then that YouTube carries a good hour-long Harry Kreisler interview with Slezkine. * MBlowhard Rewind: I ventured a General Theory of women's fashion magazines. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Weekend YouTube Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Speaking of art that lasts ... Did anyone in 1965 think that "Shotgun" (by Jr. Walker and the All-Stars) would still be enjoyed more than 40 years later? Read more about Jr. Walker here. Question: When he was creating "Shotgun," was Jr. Walker aiming for a place in the Western Civ canon? Or was he trying to come up with a way to get an audience dancing? Plus: Sigh, if I only had one-tenth the personal style of Willie Woods, the All-Star's guitar player, I'd do a lot better in life ... Here's another All-Stars track that's bursting with more than its share of funk. * Did you continue watching the clip above? If you got a kick out of the smooth moves of The Temptations, perhaps you might enjoy learning a bit about Cholly Atkins, the man who was Motown's house choreographer during the label's peak years. Yes, that's right: There was one guy who was responsible for giving Motown's stars their gorgeous and influential moves. Is there any way to argue that Cholly Atkins wasn't a major culture-figure? The man choreographed The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Supremes, for God's sake. Forgive me for thinking that Cholly Atkins deserves a place on the same shelf where Jerome ("West Side Story," NYC Ballet) Robbins has already been placed. Back here, I raved about a documentary focusing on the guys who played in Motown's house band. * One of the misleading things that's often said (or unconsciously maintained) about the arts is that they're automatically progressive. To make good art is to be progressive -- that's just how it is. Few fields are more infected with this loony idea than jazz, whose story is often presented as a series of innovators, one after another doing what they could to move the music in the direction of "freedom." Psychotherapeutic and political overtones have most definitely not been run away from. What then to make of a phenomenon from more than 50 years ago: the Dixieland Revival? In the midst of all the "progress," one of the most important developments in jazz from 1940 right through the '50s was a revival of the very earliest jazz styles. Here's one of the most prominent of the Dixieland Revival bands, Eddie Condon's: And don't they swing hard! Though that clip is from 1952, and though that's quality jazz, that most definitely ain't bop. Deal with it, dogmatists. RedHotJazz writes this about Eddie Condon: In 1938 he led some sessions for the Commodore label and he became a star. He had a nightly gig at Nick's in New York City from 1937 to 1944. From 1944 to 1945 he led a series of recordings at Town Hall that were broadcast weekly on the radio. Condon opened his own club in 1945, and recorded for Columbia in the 1950s. In other words, during a period when orthodoxy would have us convinced that what was going on in jazz was... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Booty-Shaking 101
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The University of YouTube, Continuing-Ed Dept., brings us a dancing lesson from Prof. James Brown: Good God! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Not Tonight, Honey. And Maybe Not Tomorrow Night Either.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ah, the pressures of modern living ... The Telegraph reports that more and more men are losing interest in sex. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Prissy / Decadent
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why are actresses and models willing to get so much more naughty and frisky for European magazines than they are for American ones? (NSFW) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, May 9, 2008

Crew Vs. Crew
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A cool new cultureform -- the YouTube dance-off: challenge, response, response-to-response. Lots of mischievous choreography, sharp-witted direction, cute kids, and hiphop acrobatics. (And that Lacey Schwimmer is one racey Mormon. Vavavoom!) Lots of work for chiropracters and surgeons around five years from now too, I'm guessing. Hey, has anyone else been following Bravo's "Step It Up and Dance"? God, I do love watching dancers. I managed to get through an entire episode and half. That's a new reality-TV-watching record for me. Here's a funny spoof of that Miley Cyrus / Vanity Fair photoshoot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nearly twenty five percent of Los Angeles County’s welfare and food stamp benefits goes directly to the children of illegal aliens, at a cost of $36 million a month. (My emphasis.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Responding to Thursday
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On an interesting thread over at GNXP, Thursday issued a challenge. I'd been goofing around, writing that "novels themselves were quite disreputable at the outset -- the reality TV and tabloid-TV of their day. It was only in the second half of the 19th century that some novelists started putting on airs." Here's Thursday: Bullshit. No less a "serious" personage than Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a novel and a very good one too. Novelists like Richardson, Fielding, and Burney were considered serious writers right from the beginning. Haven't you read Boswell's life of Johnson. I have a hard time believing Jane Austen didn't take her meticulously planned and written books as high art. Tom Jones is planned to classical perfection. Critics like Hazlitt and Coleridge took the novelists like Richardson, Smollett, Sterne and Fielding seriously right from the start. Stop trying to rewrite literary history as if no-one had any clue what was high art and what wasn't. OK then: Time to get serious myself. Here's my response to Thursday: You're making a basic mistake. You're projecting current-day critical rankings back onto past eras. You're assuming that what we now consider great was self-evidently Great at the time. No. Look, what a work's reputation is today often has zip to do with how it was taken (and what it represented) when it was produced. What we now consider great was often taken for granted at the time, or looked-down-on. Defoe's novels are just one example. At the time they were published they weren't taken to be novels in our current sense. They were made-up fantasies that pretended to be works of reportage -- in other words, they were aesthetically and morally dubious productions akin to today's scandal sheets and reality TV, or maybe even to those books that turn up every few years about alien encounters in Australia. It took more than a century before many people started wondering if maybe "Robinson Crusoe" wasn't a pretty good novel. Works often become "literature" in hindsight, not at the time of their production. No matter how great we recognize "Tom Jones" to be today -- and I'm a big fan myself -- the early British novel was a scrappy and aesthetically scorned form, far more akin in its time to what journalism and TV are these days than to today's "literary fiction." The early English novel was a middle-class market phenomenon, not a serious or intellectual or literary one. We've learned to see structure, complexity, grandeur, and depth in these books only in retrospect. From Wikipedia's "literature" entry: "Early novels in Europe did not, at the time, count as significant literature, perhaps because 'mere' prose writing seemed easy and unimportant." From an online resource about Jane Austen: "In Jane Austen's era, novels were often depreciated as trash ... In Jane Austen's day, novels actually had something of the same reputation that mass-market romances do today." No matter what your opinion of Austen's books these days, and no... posted by Michael at May 9, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shouting Thomas On Sale
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shouting Thomas goes public with his new CD. Down and dirty cover-band music, baby -- let the party begin. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Julian's Place
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- PatrickH and Benjamin Hemric are raving about the new place that painter / filmmaker Julian Schnabel has created in New York City's West Village. Thanks to Benjamin for turning up this page of info and pix. I haven't visited yet, but from the photos Schnabel's place looks like overripe decadent boho bliss of a very high order. (FWIW, I don't care for Schnabel's paintings, which I find bombastic and silly. But I think he's a very talented filmmaker. Start with his biopic "Basquiat," which features a great performance by Jeffrey Wright, and which does a peerless job of conveying the intoxicating / nightmarish quality that life in the NYC visual-arts world can have.) One non-fan has this to say about Schnabel's new place, though: "He's obviously trying to pretend that this looks somehow Florentine or Venetian, when, really, it looks like a Malibu Barbie house that exploded." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost confesses that she's just a "genre slut." * As though it wasn't bad enough to get cancer at age 33, the cancer that star Chicago chef Grant Achatz developed was on his tongue. Can you say "Beethoven" and "deafness"? Jennifer Tanaka has the story. * Did Roman gladiators eat too many carbs? * An excellent collection of interviews -- audio and transcripts both -- with James Kunstler. * Tyler Cowen volunteers a list of his country music faves. Commenters leap in with many more suggestions. * Daniel McCarthy takes stock of the Ron Paul campaign. * Is drinking fruit juice really all that healthy? * Jock Sturges: highbrow pornographer, or upholder of classical standards of beauty? * Lester Hunt watches Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will." * Does the Russian ballet establishment abuse its female charges? * Dark Party Review interviews Glenn Mercer, frontman for the legendary early-'80s punk band The Feelies. * A fabulously sexy NSFW link prompts a a not-bad question. * MBlowhard Rewind: I tried to make some sense of how best to approach the word "intellectual." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Personality Change via Stress
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- During the weeks leading up to Tuesday's presidential primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, there was scattered commentary that Hillary Clinton had been battered by the competition process into being a better grounded, more likable candidate. No links here 'cause I'm writing this in my Chicago hotel room and will need some sleep soon. In any case the true, or even perceived, persona of H.R. Clinton isn't the focus of this post. But let's begin by assuming that Hillary was indeed changed by her confrontation of reality on the campaign trail. The question is, would such a change be permanent? That is, if she got to be President, would she be the "old" Hillary we know and love from the Clinton White House years or the "new" Hillary that is actually even more lovable. I think we would have the old Hillary. That's because short-term stress in most cases isn't strong enough to create large-scale, fairly permanent personality changes. Especially if the subject returns to his comfortable pre-stress environment. Living in the pampered White House environment of servants and yes-men seems to be an excellent means of personality regression. Perhaps some of the campaign-induced changes might stick, but by "some" I mean "almost none." Here is an example from my past. When I was a frat-rat in college we ran Hell Week initiation rites. On a few occasions we had doubts about some of the pledges who might be initiated. Do we black-ball them or let them become members? One argument for letting them participate in Hell Week was that the experience would "shape them up." So through Hell Week they went. And for a few weeks or a month thereafter, they had indeed "shaped up." Then they regressed. By the end of the school term they were their own not-so smooth selves. This is not to say that hardship can have an effect. It can. But it probably needs to be exceedingly severe (short -term) or else a lengthy process. And the previous environment also needs to have been altered enough that regression is harder to do. Or so I think. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Steve on Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve is asking all kinds of Sailer-esque, so-basic-they're-dangerous questions about art and art history. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Human Touch
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little fun with comparing-and-contrasting. In our first pairing, the theme is outlines and shapes. The top building, the traditional one: Check out the variety and quantity of shapes. Trace the outline of the building with your finger -- takes some concentration and time, no? Incidentally: You may or may not know the names and histories of all the architectural elements playing roles in this composition. It really doesn't matter, unless you're (shudder) a scholar or a pedant. The important thing is to sense that they're embedded in western art history. And how is it possible not to do that? The bottom cluster of modernist buildings: a buncha shoeboxes covered with graph paper. One of them has been given a twist -- that's what too-often qualifies as "architectural creativity" these days. Trace these outlines with a finger -- it's fast, easy, and majorly boring. We're in a world of simple geometry and dumb abstraction, in other words, with no connection to anything of substance or depth, especially pre-1900 western art history. An analogy. Traditional architecture is to modernist architecture as traditional handmade art is to Adobe Illustrator images. In a handmade image ... ... you feel the presence of a person. There's subtlety, texture, depth. In many Adobe Illutrator images ... Well, they certainly pop. This image is what people in the media biz might call "a quick read" -- it's all edges, planes, gradient fills, and color swatches. But -- despite the whirliness and effects -- one glance at this image and you're done with it. Like the modernist buildings in the photo above, the Illustrator image has all the personality and lovableness of a bureaucracy. (Small aside: Doesn't it often seem that everything in our culture is doing its best to turn into spinning TV graphics?) Our next theme is color, scale, and texture: Top image: Warm colors. A structure that relates to your scale as a physical being, and that coexists easily with nature. Imagine reaching out and touching the stucco, the red tiles of the roof, the canvas of the awnings (awnings are architecture too): Nubbliness, weight, age ... It all makes me want to settle in, sip wine, and enjoy the day. Bottom image: So far as colors go, it's all neutrals. So far as scale goes: a kind of ballooning overwhelmingness. Put a tree in the midst of that scene and it'd look pathetic -- this world is a completely paved-over one. As for the materials ... Well, imagine reaching out and giving these surfaces a touch: slick and cold glass and metal; post-industrial surfaces made of god only knows what. To me, the scene resembles a loading dock full of computers and keyboards cast off by giants. It's one of the last places where I'd be tempted to take my ease. Hey, another analogy: The adobe-and-red-tile-roof building is like this pot: unmistakably hand-made, and redolent of character and culture. (In the case of this pot, Native American.)... posted by Michael at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Vacation Working
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you pack some work or even semi-work along when you go on vacation? I do, and I'm not sure why. That's because I almost never actually work on the work stuff I bring. Which is silly, because all I'm doing is dragging around an increment of needless weight. My "work" can take several forms. For instance, I usually bring some sketchbooks and possible reference material for planning paintings. Other times I'm likely to toss in a book that I think I Really Ought To Read. And for our 7-17 May trip to the Midwest (by the way, thanks for the travel tips, readers), I copied a book project file from my desktop computer to my laptop in the far-fetched hope that I might do a little writing or editing. Why don't I follow through on my intentions? I can't rule out laziness. Or to put it another way, Laziness Rules!! Besides that, travel is a busy time that's also costly. Given the investment, it seems foolish to hole up in a motel room and do stuff that can more easily be done at home; so why not actually sightsee and experience such exotic places as Springfield, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Moreover, travel can get tiring when one is in his geezerhood. That boils down to being too ground down to do much more than indulge in light reading in the evening. That's my sad story. Are any of you realistic enough to know that work and vacations don't mix and therefore leave work stuff at home? Or are you a stalwart who actually manages blending work and vacationing? As a parting shot, I really, truly, positively plan to blog while on this trip provided I don't have computer or other trouble. Honest. [Uncrosses fingers] Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

McCain on Hispanics
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John McCain, setting out to appeal to a certain much-coveted voting bloc, says: "Everything about our Hispanic voters is tailor-made to the Republican message … I know their patriotism, I know the respect for the family, the advocacy for pro-life, I know the small business aspect of our Hispanic voters.” Vdare's Marcus Epstein takes a look at the actual facts: * Only 34% of Hispanics eligible for US citizenship choose to take the necessary steps to take it -- less than any other immigrant group. Of that group, only a third of Hispanics who are American citizens consider themselves Americans first. * Respect for the Family: Half of Hispanic births in the US are out of wedlock. * Pro Life: Hispanics are 2.7 times more likely to have an abortion than whites. * Small Business: Hispanics make up 15% of the population and only 6.6 percent of all businesses. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Another Helping of Raw Milk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Raw milk: telltale issue of our time? (Link thanks to visitor Steve.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Dog Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Rawness shares a hilarious quick dog video. * Thinking of adopting a retired racing Greyhound? Here's an informative, 19-part guide. I wonder what Gil Roth -- who recently adopted a retired racer -- thinks of the advice. * Patrick Burns writes that dog owners don't need to haul their pets to the vet as often as they're being told to. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Iraq War Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The embassy that the U.S. is currently constructing in Baghdad covers 104 acres and consists of 21 buildings. It's the largest U.S. embassy in the world. When complete, it will have cost $740 million. It'll cost $1 billion a year to run. Just a hunch, but it sounds to me like we aren't in Iraq for a short visit. (Link thanks to Randall Parker.) * What could you buy for the cost of the Iraq War? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, May 5, 2008

Education Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Pres. Bush's Reading First program: a big bust that has had zero impact on kids' reading scores. The cost? A mere billion a year. * Since 1986, the price of public education has been rising faster than the price of gasoline. * Busing may be coming to an end in Milwaukee. It has accomplished little, and at a cost of $57 million a year, according to officials. * Charles Murray and Steve Sailer point out a basic fact that educators seem to have a hard time grasping: Half of all kids are sub-average in academic terms. Me, I think that Americans over-obsess about college, and under-acknowledge the value of vocational training. * MBlowhard Rewind: I argued that writing teachers make too much of the "show, don't tell" command. Best, Michael UPDATE: Mike -- whose wife works in special ed -- comments.... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (29) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Among my many failings is an imperfect command of the English language. But I won't let that small detail stop me from calling attention to failings and odd usage by others. Here goes ... * The local Presbyterian Church celebrated its 100th anniversary this past weekend. As part of the Morning Worship bulletin, the pastor included snippets from the 6 May 1908 minutes of the session that established the church. According to the minutes, the founding group of commissioners from the Puget Sound Presbytery met "for the purpose of affecting such organization..." Uh oh. That's effecting, not affecting. These were probably educated men, but those two words, often confused today, were clearly being confused a century ago. * No doubt you've heard and read the term "underdog." What is the term for its opposite? I contend that it is "top dog." But occasionally I see the word "overdog." I suppose that's logical, but I'm pretty sure that it's mostly used by people who can't call up "top dog" while they're scribbling or keyboarding away. No matter the source, "overdog" always annoys me when I come across it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Office Habits
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More studies ought to be done of how we inhabit our offices. My own contribution to this field is the observation: Certain kinds of stuff seems to accumulate. But perhaps I'm just a big ol' packrat. What piles up in your own office? I mean, besides work. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

The Personal Is Political?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Alice Walker: lousy mom? “My mother is very ideologically based, and her ideology is much more important in many ways than her personal relationships,” says daughter Rebecca Walker, who is no longer in touch with Alice. Another nice passage from Rebecca: Her circle were questioning power relationships and whether a mother had any more knowledge than a child. Some friends of hers were living on communes. I know those kids and they’re totally screwed up. Some were sexually abused, all kinds of bad stuff happened, but even those who survived intact don’t want to create communes for their children. They didn’t want to be raised by 10 different parents — again, it was this ideological thing trumping the maternal instinct ... I keep telling people feminism is an experiment. And just like in science, you have to assess the outcome of the experiment and adjust according to your results, but my mother and her friends, they see it as truth; they don’t see it as an experiment. So that creates quite a problem. You’ve got young women saying, ‘That didn’t really work for me’ and the older ones saying, ‘Tough, because that’s how it should be’. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (22) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is political correctness hobbling the fight against AIDS in Africa? Fact for the day: "In Africa, the incidence of HIV infection is highest in the richest households and the richest countries." More. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments