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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Questions
  2. Fact for the Day
  3. Ideal Speech Length
  4. Ropke Linkage
  5. Cross-cultural Tidbit
  6. Munich's Master Poster Artist
  7. Sex Relations
  8. Manny Farber, RIP
  9. DVD Journal: "Youth Without Youth"
  10. Demographics

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, August 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A line of questions for the day, prompted by this typically beyond-absurd Nicolai Ouroussoff piece from the NYTimes: Why are mainstream architecture critics so focused on such a narrow sliver of building-activity and aesthetic experience? And why are they so averse to taking note of life as it's actually lived? Translated into action, this latter question might lead a critic to -- oh, I don't know -- pass up the latest Gehry or Hadid and instead visit the malls, developments, schools, restaurants, and parks that real people really interact with, learning about and from them, and offering critiques and appreciations. A pretty radical thought, I know ... And -- further! -- why are civilians (and editors, who are supposed to represent the interests of their readers) so willing to put up with this kind of twee carrying-on? Funny how certain kinds of kooky behavior can become the expected thing, isn't it? For example, we take it for granted that an architecture critic should be spending most of his column inches pontificating about the likes of Steven Holl. Yet if the Times' food coverage only concerned the latest $500-a-plate chic eateries -- neglecting cheaper places, farmer's markets, home cooking, etc -- we'd all be having daily laughs at the expense of the newspaper's clueless and pompous twerpery. Further comparisons: What if a magazine's "music coverage" only took in the latest bits of spikey experimentalism? Of if its "movie coverage" paid attention only to the hottest expressions of post-avant-garde-ism? All of which makes me wonder: Where architecture and architecture criticism are concerned, why don't we have a more active (perhaps even a "vibrant") let's-ridicule-these- snobs-out-of-existence movement in the blogosphere? My hunch of an answer: Since many people spend zero time taking note of their environment, it never occurs to them to search out quality conversation about it. Too bad. Link thanks to the smart, funny, and quirky Gil Roth, who has recently been reading Montaigne and enjoying the company of Rufus the daffy and irresistible greyhound. For some reason, when I try to link to Gil's site, the effort torpedos this posting. Gil's site, which otherwise behaves perfectly well, is at: Get to know Rufus at: Go and visit. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The country most afflicted by spam is Switzerland, where 84.2 percent of all email is spam. (The percentage in the U.S. is 79.8.) Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ideal Speech Length
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's political convention time and, for some strange reason, I got to thinking about the length of speeches. As I write this, Obama has yet to deliver his acceptance speech. But the speechifying at the Democrat convention is nearly over and I'm pleased to report that most of the ones I heard were blessedly brief. Even Bill Clinton who, given ten minutes, went on for only around 20, discounting applause. That's a big improvement over his State of the Union speeches that seemed to soak up an hour or so. I suppose the ideal speech length is equivalent to Abraham Lincoln's (well, he's the guy I 've heard it linked to) quip that one's legs should be long enough to reach the floor. In other words, it should be long enough to do the job, but no longer. That, and the speaker should leave 'em wanting more. Nevertheless, I hark back to the monthly army "training" sessions I had to endure while stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland. Part of the drill was a "character guidance" segment given by one of the chaplains. The best of that lot was Father Nosser. He'd walk into the room. light up a non-filtered Camel cigarette, droop himself over the lectern and start talking. Eight or so minutes later, when the cigarette was about 3/8ths of an inch long, he'd grind it out and stop his lecture. Smart guy, that Father Nosser. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Ropke Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An underknown giant in economic thought -- or so it seems to me -- is the German "ordoliberal" Wilhelm Ropke ). An advocate of the free market, Ropke nonetheless spent much of his career gnawing over the question: "What if the activities of the free market undermine the social conditions that the existence of a free market depends on?" Many who argue that a society isn't just a marketplace turn out to be either boring ol' leftists or boring ol' rightists, of course. Considerably Crunchy (localism, federalism, respect for small farms and businesses) yet much preoccupied with the basics (soundness of currency, noninterference, ease of trading), Ropke seems to me to offer a refreshing alternative to the two-teams-and-only-two-teams shootout that we're used to (dogmatic "freemarketers" vs. top-down, dial-twisting Keynesians). He was anything but a True Believer, disliking Socialism and statist capitalism equally. "Good man!", sez I. There aren't many Ropke resources on the web at this point -- the fate, perhaps, of those who don't play along with the usual version of the usual story. But some of them are awfully good. * John Zmirak's short intro to Ropke makes a punchy and likable starting point. Zmirak's longer essay introduces some depth and complexity into the picture. * Zmirak's book-length intro to Ropke is a clear and fast read. (John Attarian writes a very informative review of the book here.) Zmirak himself is a very interesting guy in his own right, provided that your tolerance for being-interested-in- and-amused-by Catholicism is pretty high. He makes regular appearances at Taki's magazine. * Shawn Ritenour's article-length biography of Ropke fills in much of the personal story. * Note where these links lead: Vdare ... The Mises Institute ... Weird, isn't it, the way that someone as Small-Is-Beautiful and Crunchy -- someone as downright liberal -- as Ropke has these days become the property of what's currently thought of as the fringe Right? How to explain this? * Alan Carlson's brainy and handy-dandy intro includes this concise passage: Röpke once declared: "It is the precept of ethical and humane behaviour, no less than of political wisdom, to adapt economic policy to man, not man to economic policy." He was a fierce foe of both state socialism and uncontrolled capitalism. He advocated a market-friendly but socially responsible free enterprise economy based on widespread ownership of property and economic enterprises. Fun to see Carlson making a connection between Ropke and the New Urbanism. * Ropke may be one of those cases where you're better-off sticking with the secondary material. Though a magnificent thinker -- and nothing if not clear in his presentation of his perceptions, ideas, and arguments -- Ropke was a sadly boring writer, ponderous-old-Swiss-professor division. His "A Humane Society," "The German Question," and "The Economics of a Free Society" are great books, but if you're like superficial me and like prose that has some tang, zip, and spin in it, you may spend a lot of time in... posted by Michael at August 28, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cross-cultural Tidbit
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday while out for coffee I sat near a women reading a Peter Rabbit story to her daughter. The lady was wearing a tee-shirt with various writings on it including the URL for KosherKungFu dot-com, the School of the Macabees website. Seattle is such an interesting place to live. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 27, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Munich's Master Poster Artist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- He wasn't a professional painter. I don't even know if he painted as a hobby. So I can't call him a Peripheral Painter for that reason. Nor can I call him "peripheral" because his work is well known to poster-art buffs. On the other hand, even though New York's Museum of Modern Art has a few of his posters in its collection, his work wasn't avant-garde enough to satisfy modernist purists. That and the fact that he did posters for government agencies during Hitler's regime in Germany. The artist in question is Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) who began his studies as an architect, but made his career as a Munich-based poster artist. I haven't been able to find much biographical information about him aside from here and here. The second link is to Paul Giambarba's illustration site, which is well worth perusal. Below are examples of Hohlwein's work. The Giambarba link has some of these as well as other examples. Many more can be seen by googling on Ludwig Hohlwein and then linking to Images. Gallery Combination of a top poster artist and top automobile. Makes me want to dash off and buy that car. (Hope it has air conditioning, a six-speed automatic transmission, a GPS and good fuel economy.) "Spring in Wiesbaden" seems to be a travel ad from just before or after the Great War. Hohlwein was born in Wiesbaden, which might have provided added incentive to do a really nice job. Speaking of the Great War, this is an advertisement from early in the conflict (to judge by the helmet) for some kind of "strength and energy" confection. A portable typewriter advertisement, probably from the 1920s. Much of Hohlwein's work, including this, seems to have been done using watercolor washes. Note the skillful portrayal of facial and other planes. Advertising a line of mens' clothing. Another fashion poster, but probably late in his career if the dress is any clue.. The swastika tells us this was done during World War 2. I'm not sure why Hohlwein portrays what appears to be a bare-chested man wearing a stahlhelm (steel helmet) and holding onto a pole of some sort. The caption translates literally as "air protection" or "air security" which might refer to an air warden or air defense -- though wehr might be a better word than schutz for the latter meaning. This is a detail from a poster advertising a brand of cigarettes. I think this is an extremely skillful piece of work. My only quibble is the low spot on the hair above the forehead that seems to be too low to accommodate the likely shape of the woman's head. On the other hand, it's likely Hohlwein worked from a photo to get the facial shading, so who knows? Oh do I wish I had Hohlwein's drawing and watercolor skills!! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 26, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sex Relations
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few links for those who have been fascinated by what Roissy and F. Roger Devlin represent and say: * Expectations about office behavior seem a little different in Russia than they are here in the States. * A wiki devoted to spanking. The entry on "paddle" is very informative. * Kathleen Parker praises men and argues that they've been unfairly browbeaten for decades. (Link thanks to ALD.) Neil Lyndon writes that when he said similar things 20 years ago, "the response to my work was a torrent of abuse," he recalls. "I lost all my work and income and was bankrupted." * BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman says "The worst thing you can be in this industry is a middle-class white male. If any middle-class white male I come across says he wants to enter television, I say 'give up all hope'. They've no chance." * The world's best condoms. Best, Michael UDPATE: The Olympics ... Where the athletes are concerned, it isn't just about sports. "I am not implying, for one moment, that every athlete in Beijing is at it," writes Olympian Matthew Syed. "Just that 99 per cent of them are." A passage that should interest the evo-bio crowd: It is worth noting an intriguing dichotomy between the sexes in respect of all this coupling. The chaps who win gold medals - even those as geeky as Michael Phelps - are the principal objects of desire for many female athletes. There is something about sporting success that makes a certain type of woman go crazy - smiling, flirting and sometimes even grabbing at the chaps who have done the business in the pool or on the track. An Olympic gold medal is not merely a route to fame and fortune; it is also a surefire ticket to writhe. But - and this is the thing - success does not work both ways. Gold-medal winning female athletes are not looked upon by male athletes with any more desire than those who flunked out in the first round. It is sometimes even considered a defect, as if there is something downright unfeminine about all that striving, fist pumping and incontinent sweating.... posted by Michael at August 26, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Monday, August 25, 2008

Manny Farber, RIP
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was very sorry to learn that the painter and film critic Manny Farber has died. He was 91. I loved his art (a few examples are here) and his criticism. The Wife and I spent a little time hanging out with Manny and his wife, the artist Patricia Patterson (they often wrote together), and I can report that I found him a lovable guy: spikey, difficult, and maybe even a little paranoid, but brainy, funny, and soulful too. There can't be many critics who made as big an impact on a medium with a single volume of writing as Manny did on movies with his legendary "Negative Space." But, as far as I could tell, his heart was really in painting. Half of him may have been a wisecracking, off-center, neurotic intellectual -- but his bigger half was a color-drunk west coast sensualist. Some highlights from the press and the blogosphere: David Chute offers some personal reflections, a lot of quotes, and a sensible evaluation. A 2006 Duncan Shepard memoir of his friendship with Manny and Patricia is also a fine snapshot of an amazing era in American art. Michael Sragow recalls his own friendship with Manny. Carrie Rickey recalls Manny's influence, as well as his impact as a teacher. Robert Pincus offers an appreciation of Manny's art and supplies a good short biography of him too. Green Cine Daily rounds up many more links. In sadness, Michael... posted by Michael at August 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

DVD Journal: "Youth Without Youth"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tim Roth and -- inevitably -- a mirror Have there been many movie directors as obstinately wrongheaded in their evaluation of their own talents as Francis Coppola? As far as the world is concerned, Francis Coppola is someone who occasionally -- all-too-rarely, in fact -- delivers rounded, worldly, stately narratives that feature a moving amount of warmth, mass, and dignity. He's a grownup entertainer / artist -- William Wyler with some additional splashes of blood and tomato sauce. But as far as Coppola himself is concerned, Francis Coppola is an enthusiastic, inventive kid, amusing himself with dolls and toys -- a born innovator bounding between surrealism and the early New Wave, playing mischievously and irrepressibly with ideas and styles. Oh -- and not only that, he's also misunderstood. In the world's eyes, the first 2/3 of "Apocalypse Now" was pretty good -- too bad Coppola blew it in the final third. In Coppola's own view, the last third of "Apocalypse Now" was what the film was all about. Why doesn't anyone get that? His recent "Youth Without Youth" was the first film he'd made as a director in ten years, and it's the latest in a long string of movies Coppola has done in pursuit of his image of himself as a childlike visionary / charmer, a string that includes "You're a Big Boy Now," "One from the Heart," "Rumble Fish," "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," "Dracula," and "Jack." The main thing these films share -- in addition to an addiction to stylistic hijinks -- is an almost complete absence of emotional impact. As a style-noodler Coppola is unquestionably some kind of talent. Yet what's most striking about these movies is how little they convey in terms of human presence. Nothing counts, nothing takes; everything seems unanchored and arbitrary. They spin, they throw off a few sparks, and then -- pfffft. What? You were hoping for something more? In terms of its style, "Youth Without Youth" -- set in Romania from the 1930s through the 1960s, starring Tim Roth as a nerdish old scholar who's struck by lightning and regains a second chance at life, and taken from a Mircea Eliade novel -- is melancholy as all get-out. But it's basically as weightless as "One From the Heart." The '30s-ish title cards, the never-quite-a-melody old-Hollywood-style score, the self-conscious touches of movie magic ... They don't illuminate the material or promote engagement with what's onscreen. They register as mere style choices, which means they feel contrived, troweled-on, and about a quarter-inch deep. In the case of this movie, what Coppola mainly wants us to do is think about ideas. Our experience of time, mainly: cyclical vs. linear time seems to be what's fascinating him these days. Story, character, visuals, involvement -- these are there simply to get us thinking. I'm OK with playing with ideas, strangely enough. What I'm less OK with is the way that Coppola seems to have lost interest in "selling"... posted by Michael at August 25, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Did you know that the Census Bureau has revised its estimate of how many Hispanics will be living in the U.S. in 2050 twice in the last decade? Upwards in both cases, as if you didn't know. Current best guess: In 2050, the U.S. will be home to 133 million Hispanics. That's an increase of 100 million in just 50 years. Steve Sailer asks a wonderfully blunt, Steve-esque set of questions: Is adding 100 million Latinos to the U.S. population a good idea? Will it "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"? (That’s the first sentence of something called the "U.S. Constitution"—a once-celebrated document put together way back when by a bunch of long-dead white guys, some of whom were slave-owners.) We the people are supposed to have a say in such things. But how can we have a say when we're not supposed to talk about it? * Mexico is opening a full-scale consulate in Anchorage, Alaska. * The Irish Independant's Kevin Myers continues pointing out uncomfortable facts. For example: "Contrary to almost all predictions about the impact of immigrants upon an economy, a majority of Nigerians [in Ireland] are not economically active at all." He also continues asking hard questions: Why are so many people, from a country to which we have no moral or legal or historical obligations, living off this state? Why are they being allowed through immigration, if they have no jobs to go to? Why are they choosing to come to Ireland, when 20 countries or more lie between their homeland and ourselves? And finally, and perhaps most important of all, why is no one else asking why? * A round of applause, please, for Hibernia Girl, who's retiring from the blogosphere to return to school. Immigration restrictionists and skeptics are usually portrayed by the establishment as knuckle-draggers, haters, and (inevitably) racists. Ever cheerful, generous, and clear-eyed, Hibernia Girl didn't just supply regular shots of information and common sense, she showed that resistance to the establishment's immigration plans can be a humane and sophisticated stance. A fun fact that she passed along recently: 59% of Irish voters want "much stricter limits" on immigration to Ireland. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2008 | perma-link | (47) comments