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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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hot Numbers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Diane Patterson likes a spicey read but wants the sex to mean something, dammit. Nice passage: I am one of those readers who is very, very happy about the boom in erotica in books. I don’t always want explicitness in my sex scenes, but when I do I prefer graphic. The problem has been, however, that erotica seems to mean, “As many combinations as possible, with a minimum of one per chapter.” (E.g. anything by Black Lace, which doesn’t publish novels so much as Twister games set in print.) I don’t want to see every character banging everyone and anyone; I want there to be some plot-worthy purpose to all this sex going on. It’s like black comedy: it still has to be comedy. Erotic novels still have to be novels. (Link thanks to visitor Julie Brook.) * Alt-porn starlet Sequoia Redd thinks that Abby Winters, I Shot Myself, and Beautiful Agony have added a lot to the eroticism and porn market. Nice passage: I did not make it to the AEE or the AVNs this year, but when I heard about what the team at Abby Winters were going to go there to do I felt like screaming “Hell YES, finally!”. A group of empowered, healthy, intelligent women challenging men to play speed chess, performing yoga, and engaging their fans in an arena where young women are usually exploited in an unhealthy way, how awesome?! This is exactly what the morons in the porno industry need to see. Peter especially should appreciate this Sequoia posting. (NSFW) Interesting to learn that Sequoia was inspired by the film "Dangerous Beauty." It's one of the rare straightforwardly sexual films that many women like. A few others: "Lie With Me," "The Lover," and "Sex and Lucia." * Semi-related: I blogged about a bunch of books about sex by women. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 24, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, May 23, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newspaper headline writing might be looked at as a form of blank-verse poetry -- incorporating a lot of meaning into the few words that available space and type size allow. A real art, when done right. On the other hand, everything can fall apart. This happened on page B1 of today's (23 May 2008) Wall Street Journal over an article dealing with the tribulations of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. The headline reads: Goal: To Make Fans Love Hockey Okay, using the word "Goal" is cute: no problem there for me given my own tendency to get cute. What bothers me are the words "Make Fans Love Hockey." For one thing, you can't "make" people love something. That implies use of force, but loving is something people do voluntarily. I suppose someone radically into operant conditioning might argue that love is simply a conditioned reflex and is thereby something that can be externally contrived. But I'm not a True Believer in that breed of psychology and dismiss that argument. Then there is the matter of "fan." The essence of being a fan is to be deeply, positively committed to something, a form of love, perhaps. So if fans are already in love with the sport, how can they then be forced to do what they are already doing. The headline really should have focused on attendance or TV ratings, not fandom. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 23, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Video for the Day: In-Grid
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a sweet-natured and cute-in-its-own-right celebration of French "ye-ye" pop, one of the most inane (if hard to resist) pop music styles ever. The performer is a contempo Italian pop star who goes by the name In-Grid: Now, there wasn't too much po-mo attitude and mockery in that, was there? In any case, anything that encourages young women to have fun with kooky clothes, great eye makeup, and early Catherine Deneuve hair-dos -- and to perfect some naive-but-sexy go-go moves -- is OK by me. Are you surprised to learn that the Japanese loved ye-ye music too? I don't know about anyone else, but when it comes to watching girls in minis dance, I'm happy to be there for hours. Read about In-Grid here. To sample the real ye-ye thing, search YouTube for "France Gall" and "Sylvie Vartan," two of the most successful of the ye-ye performers. Here's a contemporary band that features some ye-ye stylings. Here's a frighteningly well-informed list of recommended ye-ye recordings, and here's a website devoted entirely to ye-ye music. Be warned: Ye-ye fans these days tend towards the competitively hip and the neo-post-ironic. Doesn't make the music any less cute, though. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Surrealistic Dreaming
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Throughout recorded history some people have considered dreams to be really important. They would be a source of messages from God or perhaps were a mechanism for foretelling the future. More recently, they have been considered a window to deep aspects of one's personality. When I was in grad school I once stopped by the medical school library for a reason I no longer remember. Wandering along shelves carrying recent editions of journals, I happened to pause and look at the table of contents of a psychoanalytic journal. One of the articles was about Umbrella Symbolism in dreams. I gave the piece a quick scan and noticed that this contribution to science was based on three cases! Which is one of many reasons why I never took Freud very seriously. My own dreams are usually pretty ordinary. I seldom even dream about things that are current in my waking hours -- even important or stressful things. If Freud had analyzed my dreams, Psychoanalysis might never have been born. But I'm an arts buff (it sez so on the panel to the left), so what about connections between dreams and painting, say? Hmm. [Scratches head] Why of course! Surrealism! Some Surrealists bought into Freudianism (or claimed to do so). They supposedly painted what they had dreamed. The best known Surrealist of this school was Salvador Dalí who depicted drooping watches, people with window-like holes cut through them, ants crawling over stuff -- all sorts of weird scenes that were supposedly dream-driven. Other Surrealists painted other strange scenes. I have never dreamed anything like Surrealist dream-scenes. Things in my dreams are realistic even if they are not representing objects in my waking world. For example, a couple of times a year I dream about being back at my frat house. I might be younger or my actual age, but not an undergraduate -- the details don't matter here and I can't recall them in any case. Sometimes Greek Row and the frat house are as they are in reality. Other times its architecture has been altered as the result of a renovation. Sometimes Greek Row has changed somewhat; buildings are different, locations of houses might have changed a little. But the architecture and other setting details are entirely plausible. Nothing is weird. Cynical me, I've never been convinced that dream-painting Surrealists painted actual dreams. I think they simply came up with stuff that made for good public relations to entice buyers. Or maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps I'm a dullard who's lacking in the imaginative dream department. Will anyone out there step forward in Comments and admit that they actually dream stuff like Surrealists painted? Comments by folks who only dream about ordinary things are also welcome. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined. My source for this is Michael Wesch, a Kansas State University cultural anthropologist. A project that Wesch runs called Digital Ethnography can be explored here. Who says we aren't living through an astounding period in cultural and media history? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 22, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The way things are going, it won't be long before today's unashamed, self-webcasting kids will be including clips like these on their resumes. (Strongly NSFW.) My guess is that the business world will find some way to adapt. * Good news for those with big cabooses. * Gil Roth notices an important European political development. * Michael Bierut recalls that, when he worked as a shoe salesman, he enjoyed measuring people's feet. A sweet and personal blogposting, if not as kinky as you might hope. * A catlike ease with contradictions, a juicy love of words, many instinctive moments of wonder ... MD is blogging again. * Wifezilla has trouble finding full-fat plain yogurt. America: Enough already with the fear of fat. * So maybe Rachel Carson was right? * As Boomers retire and Yers take on more responsibilites, how is the world going to change? * Sounds pretty tough, being a "nice guy" of Asian descent. * Ballet dancers: Talk about artists who suffer for their art. * Doesn't it seem as though a new market bubble appears every day? Eric Janszen doesn't think this pattern is going to end soon. "The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle," he writes. * Carla Thompson thinks that more black people ought to get as upset about black-on-black murders as they do about police brutality. * Sign up for Jimmy Moore's low-carb cruise. * Dave Milano explains some of the reasons why raw milk has come to be such a fascinating issue. * Welmer offers an eloquent examination of some of of the predicaments today's young men grapple with. * I enjoyed Pietro's album of snapshots of Leon Krier's new old town Poundbury. Me, I think Krier's an underrecognized major culture figure. Here's an appreciative piece about one of Krier's books. * Seth Roberts loves Mondoweiss. * Following Seth's Shangri-La Diet, Stephen M. has taken off 55 pounds, and has kept it off. * MBlowhard Rewind: If modernistic architecture is all about thrills and originality, why do so many of the most screamingly up-to-date examples resemble each other? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Alcoholic fumes
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Someone, I can’t remember who, described The Economist as being an excellent economic indicator. Not because it accurately analyzes the real world, but because it accurately reflects the perceptions of the world shared by our economic elites and governmental decision-makers. So back a month ago, I read with some attention the April 3 edition’s leader titled "Fixing Finance." For me, the money quote was this: Finance is a brain for matching labour to capital, for allowing savers and borrowers to defer consumption or bring it forward, for enabling people to share, and trade, risks. The smarter the system is, the better it will do that. A poorly functioning system will back wasteful schemes and shun worthy ones, trap people in the present, heap risk on them and slow economic growth. This puts finance in a dilemma. A sophisticated and innovative financial system is susceptible to destructive booms; but a simple, tightly regulated one will condemn an economy to grow slowly...The notion that the world can just regulate its way out of crises is thus an illusion. Rather, crisis is the price of innovation, so governments face a choice. They can embrace new financial ideas by keeping markets open. Regulation will be light, but there will be busts. The state will sometimes have to clear up and regulation must be about cure as well as prevention. Or governments can aim for safety and opt for dumbed-down financial systems that hobble their economies and deprive their people of the benefits of faster growth. And even then a crisis may strike. I actually burst out laughing reading this in my family room, causing my dog and my children to look at me oddly. (Don't worry, this happens to me a lot.) According to the Economist, you can have an innovative financial sector and fast economic growth with a few bumps along the way, or you can have a tightly regulated financial sector and slow economic growth. Oh, and even with your tightly regulated system, you’ll have still have a few bumps along the way, because I guess it’s impossible for regulation to work. Or something. The oddest part of this diatribe is how it papers over the actual outcomes of our era of innovative finance. After all, in the paragraph above the Economist explicitly lays out the description of a poorly functioning system. It is one that will: #1) back wasteful schemes – like, say, that subprime mortgages can be carelessly written on the assumption that housing prices will always rise, that consumer spending can be juiced forever with money borrowed via home equity lines of credit, and that leveraged buyouts of deeply troubled companies like Chrysler make sense because the investment banks fronting the debt would make vast sums on the deals and they could quickly sell the high-risk loans to greater fools, um, to other investors #2) shun worthy ones – like our failure to invest in our manufacturing base, or in our overcrowded airports,... posted by Friedrich at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

More on Movies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Here's another visit with Marcia and Lorenzo, YouTube's cranky, smart, and amusing Reel Geezers. * Jon Hastings writes that "Speed Racer" doesn't deserve its bad reviews. * Patrick Goldstein thinks that Pacino and De Niro are disgracing themselves. * TUAW interviews Dennis Liu, the young filmmaker who made that OSX-besotted music video I linked to a while back. The facts that interested me most: It took Liu a month to plot out the vid; three months to execute it; and it cost him $100. * David Chute provides a funny look at "geeksmanship." * MBlowhard Rewind: I tried to figure out why Spy Mom Carla Gugino isn't a huge star. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

More on Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's a "demographic revolution" in Australia: 24% of the population in Australia is foreign-born, twice the proportion as in the U.S., and triple as in England and Wales. Well, why shouldn't Aussies share in the unwanted fun too, eh? * How are those millions of Mexicans assimilating into U.S. society? Not very well, says a new Russell Sage Foundation study that followed its subjects for nearly 40 years. Money quote: "Unlike the descendants of European immigrants to the United States, Mexican Americans have not fully integrated by the third and fourth generation." (Link thanks to visitor Scott.) * Learn more about the "Mexican family values" that our leaders are so enamored of. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

More on the Media
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Kenyon Review's Kirsten Reach thinks that print-on-paper has a lot more going for it than is generally acknowledged these digital-dizzied days. (Thanks to visitor Evan for the link.) * Gabriel Sherman looks into how new owner Rupert Murdoch may be changing the Wall Street Journal. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rust Belt Rust
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- They call the region surrounding the Great Lakes the Rust Belt because most cities, large and small, have examples of abandoned factories that had flourished during the period 1850-1950, roughly. The term also refers to an aspect of what some consider a "de-industrialization" of America. Factories aside, on my recent trip through the Midwest I noticed examples of Rust Belt rust that were disturbing. So I took photos. First are pictures of Chicago's elevated train line that runs around the part of downtown called "The Loop" (referring to the area circumscribed by or bordering the elevated line, or "L" ... not "el" is in New York). For more on the "L" see here. This is followed by photos of the suspension bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky that opened shortly after the end of the Civil War. Its designer was John Roebling, who cut his teeth on it before attempting the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York. You can read more here. Gallery: The Chicago "L" These are photos of the Quincy station near West Jackson Blvd. and the Sears Tower. Here is the interior of the station house and its ticket office. Basically early 1900s with modern items added as needed. What the station looks like from street-level. Hmm. It looks a bit rusty up there. More rust. This is at the station over East Adams. The undersides of the elevated lines showed rust in many places, though, to be fair, I did see a repainting effort near where this photo was taken. Gallery: Cincinnati's Roebling Bridge The bridge from the Kentucky side with Cincinnati in the background. This shows the suspension cable system. And there is plenty of rust on some of those cables and tie rods. Because it isn't a toll bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, it doesn't earn its own maintenance money. As I said, this is disturbing. And that's because, in the long run, too much rusting can result in loss of structural integrity. Sure, the "L" and the bridge are inspected and certified, but I suppose the same could be said for structures that actually did collapse. Since I'm not an engineer, I'd be really happy if a reader who knows about the integrity of rusty structures would offer reassurance. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 18, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Notre Dame Gothic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last fall I wrote about how the University of Washington dealt with the problem of Collegiate Gothic in the modernist era. My review was mixed. Yesterday I was in South Bend, Indiana and finally broke the inertia of driving south on the main drag to check out the Notre Dame University campus. It happened to be graduation day, but we were able to find parking and walked from the lot to the golden dome and back. Here are some of the buildings I saw: Gallery Yep, this seems to be the right place. Our Lady is to the left, and the dome to the right. Let's start at the dome and work back. This is the Main Building with the dome on top. It's the center of the campus and likely one of the first buildings built. Most colleges start small, with an Old Main or somesuch that initially housed everything. Here, the Main Building sets the campus tone in terms of brickwork (though it's slightly more yellow), if not in architecture. Some of the nearby buildings -- also a century or more old -- are Romanesque in flavor. Then the shift was made to a simplified Collegiate Gothic. I'll leave it to Notre Dame savvy readers to tell us when these were built. If I correlated correctly with my campus map, this is Alumni Hall. Note the color of the bricks and the green-gray slate roof: these are examples of the two main unifying elements. Not all is traditional. This is the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. It's Post-Modern in that it acknowledges its architectural environment. Could be better, could be worse than it is. The Center For Continuing Education is stark. So are many other buildings that are, unlike this one, away from the Notre Dame Avenue axis. Coloration ties it to the rest of campus, but it's out of place nevertheless, given its location. New construction just off the axis, and it looks like it will have a Gothic theme of sorts. Across Notre Dame Avenue from the Hesburgh is the Alumni Association Building which is simplified Collegiate Gothic. Behind it is the bookstore which contains the largest "logo" shop I've ever seen on a college campus. Apparently Notre Dame, besides having "subway alumni" also has "Boeing alumni." [Translation: In the glory days of Irish football, ND had lots of Catholic fans who never attended college. By "Boeing," I refer to the ease of transportation allowing alums and others to get to South Bend and scoop up sweatshirts, baseball caps, beer mugs, et cetera.] Finally, near the main entrance to campus is the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, a massive building that does a nice job of maintaining the architectural theme despite its bulk. Notre Dame strikes me as being far more successful than the University of Washington in maintaining a unified campus "look." Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the Fighting Irish have a School of... posted by Donald at May 18, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments