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. A Gehry Monument to Himself for NYC
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  10. What I Learned From Richard Nixon

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Gehry Monument to Himself for NYC
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gil Roth at Virtual Memories called my attention to this article in today's New York Times about a Frank Gehry skyscraper under construction in Lower Manhattan. It includes a school on the first few floors. And is located in the Brooklyn Bridge approaches / City Hall area, according to the article by Times architectural writer Nicolai Ouroussoff. Even better, it will be a modest 76 stories tall and have a wavy, Expressionist exterior. But best of all, Just as important, the design suggests that the city is slowly if hesitantly recovering from the trauma of 9/11. Only a few years ago, as plans were readied for a bunkerlike Freedom Tower downtown, it seemed as if the Manhattan skyline would be marred by jingoism and fear. ... Mr. Gehry’s tower, by contrast, harks back to the euphoric aspirations of an earlier age without succumbing to nostalgia ... it signals that the city is finally emerging from a long period of creative exhaustion. ... A lesser architect might have spoiled one of the most fabled views in the Manhattan skyline. Instead Mr. Gehry has designed a landmark that will hold its own against the greatest skyscrapers of New York. It may even surpass them. Once again "creativity" trumps quality. Well, hmm. In fairness, I suppose we should wait until the thing is completed before we concur with Ouroussoff's implied contention that Gehry is The Second Coming of Raymond Hood. And as Michael Blowhard likes to remind us, we'll have the next 80 years or so to do that evaluation. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 31, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, May 30, 2008

Your Life Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Kids: Where putting it all out there on Bebo and Facebook goes, maybe it would be wise to use a little caution. But when have teens ever understood the meaning of the word "caution"? Hey, a Larger Thought: The new digital tools certainly make a lot possible and open up many fresh avenues. But maybe they also promote -- or encourage, or facilitate -- the irresponsible expression of immature impulsiveness. Why think before you act when blurting-it-out has become so easy and so fun? Is the remaking of the world via digital media that's going on being done entirely for the benefit of teens? And how will people who have become addicted to the convenience and thrills of instant-expressive-gratification ever mature? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More online finds by Charlton Griffin: * Does anything more than this need to be said about the Fed? * Virtuoso ranter Pat Condell wants you know that he has nothing special against religion. Can that man command a camera or what? * In celebration of the release of "Sex in the City": The 20 Worst Chickflicks of All Time. * Spend a few minutes inside the mind of the average male college student. * Who needs to visit Mars in reality when computer animations have become this good? * Here's an amusing math-wiz prank. Verizon thoroughly deserves this kind of treatment, IMHO. * Guilty as charged. * Beat this for tastelessness. * Good horsey. When he isn't busy turning up cool finds on the web, Charlton is a performer and producer who creates some of the best audiobooks available. Check out his offerings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

The Camera Was On
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I assume that you've already seen the infamous Sue Simmons outburst. But why not enjoy it again? I certainly have, and will again too. Her performance of the f-word -- such conviction! -- is a classic that gets me laughing every time. '70s and '80s anchorgal Jessica Savitch shows how meltdowns were done back in the day. The on-camera fun continues here. (Links thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Bulletin to TV anchors and reporters: Hencefoward, your every misstep will be immortalized on YouTube. But I suppose they're aware of that already. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another inspired video-news clip from The Onion: Bring Your Daughter to War Day. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Does anyone dispute the notion that The Onion is one of the premier culture-achievements of our time? Where contempo canon-formation goes, "South Park" gets my vote too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sensationally Traditional
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is the imbalance between Modernist and more traditional painting in the process of being redressed? I wish. Since any such redressment will probably be a long-term process, it's too soon to tell. Too soon for me, anyway. Nevertheless, I can grasp at straws as well as the next person. The most recent straw in the wind is Juliette Aristides' latest book Classical Painting Atelier. (She previously wrote a book about drawing that also can be found in bookstores or ordered via Amazon.) Aristides, according to the cover flap bio, trained on the East Coast and now is an instructor here in Seattle at the Gage Academy of Art. I am greatly embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the Gage until I read that snippet. Seeking atonement as well as trying to satisfy curiosity, I did a little Mapquesting and hopped into my trusty Chrysler to find the joint. And voila! It is housed in a former girls school on the grounds of St. Mark's Episcopal cathedral on Capitol Hill. According to their Web page, evening drawing sessions are available; I'd be tempted to sign up, but I travel too much to get my money's worth. Back to the book. It contains much useful information and serious art students should read it because Aristides knows (and demonstrates by her own painting) what she's talking about. For me, the highlights were the illustrations. Besides the Usual Suspects such as Rembrandt, Hals, Velázquez and Vermeer, she includes fine paintings by more recent artists including Cecelia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, William Bouguereau and Albert Handerson Thayer. And, related to the matter of a potential return to traditional painting, Aristides included works by living artists, some of whom who are established such as Andrew Wyeth and Odd Nerdrum, and others who are early in their careers. Here are some examples I grabbed off the Internet. The ones farther down might be dicey if you are at work, so use caution. Of course you can justify viewing them because, after all, they are Art. Gallery Transparent and Solid by Gary Faigin, 2000 Let's start off with two still-life paintings. The objects and eye-level viewpoint are contemporary, but the handling is Academic. Interesting mix. Mertz No. 11 by John Morra, 2006 Okay, this one wasn't in the book. I couldn't find an image of Mertz No. 2 on the Web, so this will have to do. Similar to what Faigin was attempting. Corner Window 2 by Daniel Sprick, 2001 A still life with a whiff of landscape. Plus a dab of Surrealism; it looks like those tulips are suspended in thin air. Flora by Nelson Shanks, 1994 Apologies for the small size -- it rated a full page in the book. What fascinates me is the light source that shines upwards at about a 60 degree angle from the horizontal and its effects on the subject. Carolina by Jacob Collins, 2006 I think this is Collins' best painting... posted by Donald at May 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Digital Divides
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's been a lot of earnest, worried public agonizing about the "digital divide" -- rich people are wired, poor people aren't. It seems to me not worth worrying about overmuch, at least so far as the U.S. goes. Anyone who can afford a decent TV and cable subscription can also afford an iMac and a cable-Internet hookup. Those people for whom such a package is out of reach have much more important things to worry about than Web 2.0. The digital divide in the U.S. that fascinates me more is another one completely. It's the one between people -- mostly young -- who expect to be surrounded by snapping cameras and switched-on videocams, and those (mostly older) for whom having a digicam or a videocam pointed at them is an event. Kids go to parties expecting that tons of photos of the event will be available for viewing online the following day. If cameras aren't whirring and files aren't being uploaded, then the event itself simply hasn't occurred. (Remember that line in the 1991 Madonna documentary "Truth or Dare" when Warren Beatty marvels at the way Madonna has no life except when she's being photographed? By the way, what ever became of Alex Keshishian, the film's wunderkind director? He was celebrated by many in the business and the press as a new Orson Welles. But IMDB indicates that he has made only two films in the last 15 years.) Of course, these kids have had vidcams trained on them their whole lives. Dad was probably zooming in on the blessed and bloody birth-event itself. Most older folks by contrast seem to resent the presence of cameras, and to dread the possibility that pix and vids of them will wind up in public. I recently whipped out a digicam at a party I attended with friends around my own age. In terms of the response I got and the behavior my digicamming elicited, it was like returning to the 1950s. People posed; they put on their camera faces. And then they let it go -- they wanted the camming moment to be over. When they learned that I was taking video too they were perplexed. Since there's no obvious beginning or end to video shooting, how to "put on" good camera behavior? And -- although we were all lookin' pretty good, if I say so m'self -- each and every one of my buds asked for reassurance that the pix and clips I'd taken wouldn't wind up online. Kids: Of course you're gonna put it all out there. That's not just fun, it's mandatory. Old-timers: The proper ultimate destination for a snapshot is a shoebox. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Quarter Century of Computing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Hey Gang! It's geezer time again! Yipee!! Yes folks, here's another past-blast from a graying Blowhard. You have my permission to skip to the next post, of course, but first consider this: For the history-minded, accounts by people who were there can have value. One more warning: there's lots of geeky stuff below. Today's post owes itself to the fact that this week marks 25 years that I've owned a personal computer. Not the very same one, thank heaven. Mine was a pretty early IBM PC, perhaps one of the first half million or so built following its 11 August 1981 debut. When I bought my machine, IBM had just introduced the XT version which had an internal hard-drive with a whopping 10 megabytes of storage capacity. I didn't buy one of those because it was out of my price range. I was a poor consultant at the time, and in desperate need of some computing capability. I had just landed a project with a major insurance company to develop a demographic projection system and could justify purchasing an adequate, but not top-of-the line model. In theory, I might have bought something like an Apple II a few years earlier, but it and other machines using 8-bit CPUs could not address enough on-board memory to suit my needs, whereas the 16-bit Intel 8088/8086 CPU family with 4.77 MHz speed used on the IBM PC and similar machines did. As best I recall, I spent somewhere between $3,000 and $3,500 for the computer and a dot-matrix printer. A box of ten 360Kb floppy disks cost just under $50 at that time. And these are 1983 dollars. I splurged for dual 360 floppy disk drives rather than getting one-sided drives with half that capacity; that proved to be a wise decision. I forget how much RAM memory I had at first, but it likely was 256 Kb. Over the next two or three years I upgraded a few times until it was "stuffed" to its 640Kb maximum. The monitor was monochrome -- a black screen with green characters. I later bought a Hercules graphics board that let the computer draw monochrome graphs on the screen. For mass-storage I eventually got a Bernoulli Box -- a very high density floppy disk system that was popular in the late 1980s. For financial reasons I kept that computer for about seven years, upgrading this part or that. CPU chip development was slow in those days so, aside from speed considerations, I had no strong reason to buy another computer. IBM came out with the XT 286 model in 1986, but this Intel 80286-based machine was still limited to 640 Kb addressable memory, no better than what my computer could do. I didn't buy a new computer until after 80386 CPU machine had been on the market for a year or two; this chip had drastically improved speed and addressing capability. My 386 computer was an Everex, a machine that... posted by Donald at May 28, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Film-World Decadence
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you can overlook all the tut-tutting, Liz Jones' Cannes Film Festival diary is an entertaining snapshot of the carryings-on of the glitzy filmworld set. Funny passage: But the most important fixture and fitting on a yacht off the coast of Cannes? 'Hot and cold running supermodels,' says my date. 'You cannot, as a man, turn up without a supermodel on your arm. They simply won't let you on.' Link thanks to Anne Thompson. Don't miss the photo of Quentin Tarantino that Anne includes in this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 28, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What I Learned From Richard Nixon
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I only voted for him once ... Er, check that. I actually voted against McGovern that year. Anyway, I can cite one positive (to me) influence from President Nixon. While he was in office I read an article about him someplace that mentioned that he was quite curious about how things worked. I can't remember whether those things were natural, mechanical or organizational. But that doesn't really matter. You see, at that time I wasn't especially curious about what made things tick. The article made me take stock of myself and realize that my happy ignorance was a deficiency. As a result, I began to pay more attention to details. I'm not obsessive about it, but I still take a quick peek "under the hood" now and then when I encounter something new. Otherwise, I've acquired enough background that I have an okay mental yardstick to help evaluate stuff I encounter in daily life. This is particularly the case for matters bureaucratic. I suppose most folks attain the same end simply by keeping their eyes open and living long enough. Me, I still have to fight the burden of having a Ph.D. and those years of having to honor Theory rather than experience. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 27, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Janwillem Van de Wetering
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Joe Queenan is pigging out on glum Scandinavian mystery writers. (UPDATE: Link fixed.) Of the authors he mentions I've only read a few. I do love the work of one of them -- Janwillem Van de Wetering, though he's anything but glum. Instead, Van de Wetering's tone tends to the whimsical, the playful, and the philosophical. He strolls through situations and personalities, musing about them as he meanders along. Mysteries are often spoken of as a closed form that questions but inevitably reinforces the status quo. That doesn't hold at all for Van de Wetering's novels, which are about as "open" as can be. Yes, a crime-conundrum is posed and is (usually) solved. But the final effect is searching and marveling -- anything but rote or formulaic, let alone status-quo-reinforcing. (Not that there's anything wrong with reinforcing the status quo!) Though he's working in the police-procedural genre, Van de Wetering's touch is far more akin to the spare and intuitive music of Basho's "Narrow Road to the Deep North" than it is to, say, the soulful drive of Ed McBain. I'd imagine that anyone who has enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut would enjoy Van de Wetering's mysteries. His novels are eccentric and delightful entertainments as well as fast easy-reading, but they're deep and rewarding experiences too. That's an awfully nice -- and quite addictive -- combo. His memoirs about some time he spent in Zen monasteries are also awfully good. (Here, here, here.) Read more about Janwillem Van de Wetering at Wikipedia. Here's a helpful list of recommendations by a fan who has read more Van de Wetering than I have. If you want to taste-test Van de Wetering before committing to a book, this very amusing review of a biography of the great Buddhism-diva Alexandra David-Neel should serve. It has the real Van de Wetering flavor. If I had any energy this morning I'd make the case that Van de Wetering is an under-recognized major artist, and that 99% of the lit-fict crowd is as fleas before his talent and achievement. I do indeed believe all that, but I'm a little short on combative zing today. Semi-related: I raved about Francis Iles' "Before the Fact," a brilliant British mystery novel that struck me as one of the best 20th century novels I've ever read. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 27, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Independent Crime turns up a hilarious old pulp-fiction cover. (Slightly racy.) * Sister Wolf provides amusing movie reviews of two movies she's certain she'll never see. That's a great new genre of writing, reviews of works you'll never see ... * Where men go, could "Sex and the City" be the least-anticipated movie ever? (Link thanks to FvB.) * This subtitled Bollywood "Nipple Song" gave me a good case of the giggles. * Randall Parker notices that social life has grown so dysfunctional in Mexico that some Mexican police chiefs are demanding that the U.S. grant them asylum. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wondered about the relationship between negativity and criticism in the arts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 27, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, May 26, 2008

More Raw Milk
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Reason's Jacob Grier wonders why the guvmint should be preventing those who want raw milk from buying it. * Culinate's Cindy Burke writes about how yucky it is to come down sick from contaminated raw milk, but thinks the product should be available anyway. * Harper's' Nathanael Johnson writes about something that's often overlooked in these discussions, namely how awful conditions sometimes are on conventional milk-producers' farms. After all, if the milk is going to be sterilized at the end of the process, what reason does the farmer have for keeping the farm clean? Memorable passage: Pasteurization gave farmers license to be unsanitary. They knew that if fecal bacteria got in the milk, the heating process would eventually take care of it ... After a century of pasteurization, modern dairies, to put it bluntly, are covered in shit. Most have a viscous lagoon full of it. Cows lie in it. Wastewater is recycled to flush out their stalls. Farmers do dip cows’ teats in iodine, but standards mandate only that the number of germs swimming around their bulk tanks be below 100,000 per milliliter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 26, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I enjoyed this retrospective by The Guardian's literary editor Robert McCrum, who is stepping down after ten years. (CORRECTION: Thanks to Britishreader, who points out that McCrum was actually literary editor of The Observer, not The Guardian.) One of the many striking facts from his piece: In 1996, Amazon sold just $16m worth of books to 180,000 customers. By 2007, sales had soared to $3.58bn in 200 countries. A satisfying companion piece to McCrum's is Robert Darnton's new essay about books and digitization. (Link thanks to ALD.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 26, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mickey D on Steroids
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some readers in the gray-or-dyed-hair demographic might remember the early McDonald's stands. The ones with golden arches bracketing a service counter, kitchen and storage area; there was no indoor seating. Some new McDonald's buildings have retro'd (howzzat for verbing a noun, folks) the bracketing arch style. But what I've noticed here and there was nothing compared to the McDonald's near our hotel in Chicago, just north of the river. Behold: Gallery Here's the set-up. Large parking lot, drive-thru, large but otherwise pretty conventional first floor as hamburger stand. It's the upper floor where things get interesting. Not shown is the coffee house cum gelato bar service counter. This shot gives a general idea as to what's there otherwise. Next, some details. Here are some of the booths. The large windows and second-floor location and viewpoint are about all that's different from ordinary McDonald's. This is one of the lounge areas. Nice furniture. Even nicer furniture. Those Barcelona Chairs don't come cheap. So what are you waiting for? No more sneaking into McDonald's or making excuses to spouses, friends or co-workers. At last, a place where you can have a Big Mac and power meeting at the same time. If you happen to be in Chcago, that is. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 25, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments