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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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Munchies and Politics
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod ("Crunchy Cons") Dreher and Michael ("In Defense of Food") Pollan agree on who the enemy of Food Goodness is: corporate ag, and the governmental regs and agencies that service big ag. But they scratch their heads over the politics of the good stuff. Funny passage: DREHER: I mention Slow Food in my work and find it ironic that it was started by an Italian Marxist … POLLAN: Communist. DREHER: Yeah. But it’s very conservative. POLLAN: It is. I always saw myself as being to the Left of center, although whenever I write about food or nature, I feel like I am actually to the Right. Good for Pollan for being willing to be interviewed in something called -- horreurs -- The American Conservative. I'd sure like to see more lefties open up to the right, and more righties open up to the left. But that would mean getting the whole politics thing in perspective, and the Primarily Political crowd would rather die than let the rest of us do that. Rod Dreher blogs here. Long ago, Friedrich von Blowhard and I swapped reactions to Rod's Crunchy Cons notion: here, here, here, here, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Friday, July 11, 2008

More on Disch
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of excellent memoir-appreciations of the novelist-critic-poet Thomas Disch, who died by his own hand last weekend: John Clute, Elizabeth Hand. (Links thanks to Dave Lull.) Disch was an amazing talent. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Waiting for the iPhone
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today Apple launched the new smaller, cheaper iPhone. So my daughter, who has a serious desire to own one, and I drove over to the local Apple Store. Apparently the place opened at 8 a.m. and we arrived a few minutes before nine. There was a line of perhaps 175 people stretching across the parking lot. My daughter surveyed the scene and said "No way!" or words to that effect, and we went home. I happened to be in the area again towards the end of lunch hour and noted that the line was almost as long as it was in the morning. The Apple Store was handing out water and Starbucks coffee to ease the pain of waiting. I must lack imagination, it seems. That's because I can't imagine why anyone would spend a few hours in line for a gadget that they could buy without waiting if they shopped after the initial surge was spent. What I can understand is being the very first customer in the door -- provided that local newspaper and television station reporters are there to take pictures and reward with Everlasting Fame. And what's the reward for being the second customer? Or even a first-day buyer? Yeah, bragging rights. But why stand in line for hours so that you might be able to tell about it to your grandchildren or even your sorority sisters in the fall? Surely there must be more to it than bragging rights. Whatever it might be, however, I don't get. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 11, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cutest New iPhone Application
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Janwillem Van de Wetering, R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Just a few days after Thomas Disch's suicide, word comes from Sarah Weinman that another genre-fiction giant has fallen: Janwillem Van de Wetering, dead at 77. I wrote a brief appreciation of Van de Wetering back here. Van de Wetering wasn't just an oddball creator of quirky police procedurals, he was one of my favorite contemporary artist-entertainers. His publisher is the excellent Soho Press. EuroCrime reprints the Radio Netherlands report of his death. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 10, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Major League and Not Needing It
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- They're gone. And I'm inclined to call it Good Riddance. Of course I'm speaking of the late and not universally lamented Seattle SuperSonics of the National Basketball Association who next season will become the Oklahoma City SomethingOrOthers. True, I was a big Sonics fan in 1979 when they won the NBA championship. That was almost 30 years ago and the team became increasingly disappointing since then. Plus, I got bored with basketball. There are people, my very own son included, who will argue that a city cannot be major league unless it has major league sports teams. To this I answer a decisive "Yes and no." Here are some thoughts, probably none of which is original. For a city to become "major league," whatever that might mean to the general public, it probably helps to have more than one major sports team in town. I say "more then one" because just one team usually doesn't provide the needed public relations heft. Green Bay, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah each have a single major professional sports team. None of those cities, as best I can tell, is considered a major city despite the team and other nice attributes of the place. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is without doubt a major city (or metropolitan region, which for our purposes can be considered the same thing). Yet LA does not have a national Football League team and hasn't had one in years. Perhaps getting the Sonics team in 1966 helped Seattle to become major. And the Mariners baseball and Seahawks football teams a decade or so later also probably helped its image. (I'll ignore the short-lived Seattle Pilots baseball club.) But now that Seattle is truly big-time, the loss of a franchise does little damage, as LA's loss of the Chargers, Rams and Raiders football teams proved. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 10, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The average goose deposits a pound of goose-crap every day. Source. And what a, er, relief to learn that geese don't do a lot of their copious crapping while in the air. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 9, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Current Events Becomes History
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was about to become a teenager I began to notice that the history textbooks we had in school "left off" several years before their publication date. That bothered me a little, because I really enjoyed history and wanted the whole thing. I now realize that the leaving off was prudent. I also am aware that besides History, there is a category that bookstores tend to label Current Affairs or maybe Current Events. So let's see. First you have News. That quickly mutates into Current Affairs which then ferments into History. These distinctions are useful. History ideally is a dispassionate, balanced account of past events. The closer events are to the present, the less likely they are to be described in a balanced, dispassionate manner. That's because current politics or ideological positions, along with associated strong emotions can get in the way of clear observation. Given this likelihood, it's a good thing to have a label for the transition period from News into History. I suppose there must be guidelines here and there regarding what point History kicks in, but I'm not going to research that. After all, I need to generate 2Blowhards content, don't I? Let's discuss this. Although Current Affairs or Current Events can easily be construed as happenings within the last year or two, I think History needs to wait about 20 years (preferably 30 years -- a generation) before passions cool. For example, we're just reaching the point where the Reagan presidency can be discussed without blood on the floor. This does not mean that defenders and opponents of George W. Bush, for instance, should remain silent. Personal accounts of White House life, Cabinet debates, bureaucratic and legislative maneuvering, diplomatics actions and so forth are necessary grist for later historical accounts. So how long do you think the period from News to History ought be? (And, for what it's worth, I think the argument that all history is biased is irrelevant. Taken to the extreme, it implies that there is no point in writing or reading history, and that notion is foolish.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 8, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Ready for Viewing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- About a year ago I wrote a series of postings about my adventures making a no-budget video webseries in collaboration with my wife and a gifted young director friend: here, here, here, here, here. (Short version: What a lot of work it is to make even a tiny movie!) I'm tickled to announce that our webseries is now ready for prime time. It's a cheeky, scrappy, and (we hope) amusingly audacious little thing. Online thus far is the website and trailer. Episode One (of six) goes public early next month. If you'd like to take a look at the trailer, shoot an email to michaelblowhard at gmail dot etcetera, and I'll send you the link. Thanks in advance for any interest. Press inquiries are encouraged, it goes without saying, and will be responded to with some p-r material and a DVD. The Wife, our director buddy, and I are all fun interviewees. Fair warning: The trailer is NSFW, though in a goofy and affable way. And a small hint to anyone considering making a gift of "friendly criticism": Skip it. When a friend or acquaintance goes to a lot of trouble creating an entertainment or an artwork, what the moment calls for is congratulations and applause. Best, and glowing with artistic-paternal pride, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thomas Disch
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A quick posting to acknowledge, with sadness, the recent death -- at 68, from suicide -- of the audacious, accomplished, and super-productive sci-fi writer and poet Thomas Disch. Disch, who was born in Iowa and came to New York City as a young man, was a real phenomenon, and a much under-appreciated artist. He was a prominent part of the New Wave movement in sci-fi in the '60s, which sought to take sci-fi out of the hands of 12 year old boys and introduce adult themes and sophisticated techniques into it. He wrote a popular children's book; an opera libretto; numerous volumes of numerous different kinds of poetry; excellent theater reviews; horror novels; and several volumes of poetry and genre criticism. Years ago I enjoyed a wickedly satirical Disch masque. He even wrote, back in the days of computer text adventures, one of the best of them (so it's said -- no experience in the field myself), "Amnesia." A giant, in my opinion. (Freakily enough, I was asked just a couple of days ago which figure from the field of sci-fi I'd most enjoy meeting in person. Thomas Disch was my answer.) Not that you'd have learned a lot about him by following the usual literary gatekeepers -- The New Yorker, for example. "I have a class theory of literature," he once said. "I come from the wrong neighborhood to sell to The New Yorker. No matter how good I am as an artist, they always can smell where I come from." The NY Times Book Review Section didn't make enough of him either, but it's nice to read this good Douglas Martin obit of Disch in the daily Times. Edward Champion writes movingly about Disch here, and shares a podcast of what seems to be the last interview Disch ever did. Ed Gorman's verdict on Disch: I can't say I kept up wth his novels. For all their skill, even genius, there was a bitterness in them that put me off. I'm sure this marks me as hopelessly square but so be it. He was easier to appreciate, for me, in shorter form and he wrote many excellent short stories from early on to well into his later career. Ed may not have loved the novels -- but you did notice that he used the word "genius," didn't you? Here's Disch's LiveJournal blog, where he published most of the writing that he did during the last several years. Last entry: July 2nd. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, July 7, 2008

Body Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * America's fattest states, 2008 edition. * Pin-up model, porn star, and producer Sarah Blake -- has there ever been a more cheerily entrepreneurial sex goddess? -- offers some tips for those who want to photograph themselves. Sarah has also finished her first book -- a how-to manual for those who want to enter the adult-film biz. Buy a copy here. * How do the Japanese stay so slim? And why do they put on so much weight once they leave Japan? More here. * Aimee Heckel reviews the workouts available in workout-crazy Boulder, CO, and decides that her favorite of them all is Gyrotonics. I'm a Gyro nut myself. "I don't remember ever feeling as good as I felt after I left this class. I felt like I'd just had the perfect massage," she writes. That's how I feel after Gyro too. San Francisco's Amy Moon gives Gyro a try and finds it good for stretching and posture. * "Vaginal rejuvenation surgeries" are becoming more commonplace. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about my discovery of Bikram yoga back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

More Toulmin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The LA Times profiles an inspiring, tough-love-style English teacher. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) Fun to see that he's influenced by the philosopher Stephen Toulmin, who I raved about back here. For the life of me I can't figure out why Toulmin isn't a zillion times better-known than he is. You can learn a lot about Toulmin and his ideas from this excellent Teaching Company lecture series. Unless you have money to burn, though, don't buy the series until it's offered on sale, when the cost will be less than half what it currently is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thomas Roche raves about Michele Soavi's philosophical / poetic zombie picture "Cemetary Man." As a huge "Cemetary Man" fan myself -- I do love it when trash, art, poetry, sex, and ideas coexist happily -- I found it pleasing to learn from Thomas that Martin Scorsese once called Soavi's beautiful, demented, erotic and funny film one of the best movies of the 1990s. * Michael Wade volunteers an excellent 10-Best-Westerns list. * Tony Sclafani revisits some of the lesser-known teen comedies of the 1980s. * A while back I wrote a blogposting praising the Joey Lauren Adams /Ashley Judd drama "Come Early Morning." The Holzbachian recently watched the movie and wrote me a wonderful email about it. A brief passage: I just watched it tonight. Excellent, excellent recommendation. There were so many delicate small moments; they added up to more than any big moment ever could. Damn, I haven't seen a movie this caring toward its subject in a long time. It also strikes you -- are people in the South really that god damned NICE? It seems like the kind of nice that would be scoffed at by the coastal dwellers. But, I'm old enough to realize it's real and trumps all of the poseurs any time. * In Paris, film director David Cronenberg has collaborated with Howard Shore to create a stage-opera version of "The Fly." * MBlowhard Rewind: I took a re-look at "The Passenger," Michelangelo Antonioni's early '70s arthouse darling, a chic and desolate study of alienation. To my surprise I loved it. You can buy what I hear is a good DVD of the movie here. (Used copies are available for $2.99.) Get out your hookah, put on your beret, and enjoy. Best, Michael UPDATE: The Daily Burkeman offers a conservative take on Anne Thompson's 10 Best Western theme. "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean"!... posted by Michael at July 6, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Shoot First, Paint Later
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently bought two books that happened to have a common sub-topic. They are: Richard Estes Jack Vettriano: Studio Life That topic is use of reference photography by painters. This is something purists have been declaring for years to be Avoided At All Cost, lest the artist be shunned (or some other dire fate). What you're supposed to do is hire models if you're painting people or gather up a bunch of equipment and supplies and head to the countryside and do the plein-air thing. Painters of a practical bent shrugged off the guilt-trip long ago. Edgar Degas is known to have been a photography fan. Alphonse Mucha routinely took reference photos of models. There are books about him that include his reference shots along with the finished art. This book is a collection of his photos. Illustrators tended to use reference photography extensively. This is partly to save expenses on model posing time -- an hour or so before the camera is a lot less costly than a day in front of an easel. Norman Rockwell, for example, used live models early in his career but later usually worked from photos. John La Gatta, on the other hand, preferred a model before his easel. The Richard Estes book cited above includes a partial transcription of a 1977 interview in which he holds forth on art (he doesn't much like Modernism) and the use of photography. (Note: The book is bi-lingual Spanish and English, so isn't as meaty at its 190-ish page count might imply.) Estes really has no choice but to work form photos because his depictions are mostly of transient conditions. He shoots lots and lots of photos and will return to the scene later to get more pictures if the first shoot was inadequate. He seldom or never works from a single reference photo, instead combining parts from several. One reason for this is photographic exposure: Most photos are exposed for a sunlit subject or a shady subject, and a scene combining both adequately on one image is hard to get. But his paintings usually demand both convincing lighted and shady areas, so different reference photos are needed. Vettriano is self-taught, initially working from stock photos in how-to-paint books or pictures from magazines and other convenient sources. He continues to rely exclusively on reference photos, most of which he takes himself. Although he can easily afford model fees, he doesn't like to paint from life because it makes him nervous, he claims. A shy man, he gladly switched from film to digital imaging because he felt embarrassed dropping off film rolls filled with images partly undressed women at the local Boots store (Boots is England's large drugstore chain). He saves some money by using himself as the model for male figures in his paintings. As for female models, he says he prefers older (say, mid-30s) women to younger ones because they show more character. He also admits to the occasional affair... posted by Donald at July 6, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments