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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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Jean Rollin
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Jeremy Richey's "Fascination" is a beautiful blog as well as a first-class introduction to the French filmmaker Jean Rollin. Rollin, who did his most memorable work from the '60s through the '80s, is a fascinating case: his pictures bordered on porn and sleaze, yet they were also poetic and art-aware. (There's a lot of Cocteau in his movies.) They're slow, gauche, silly, and pretentious, but many of them also cast a powerful spell. I like Rollin very much -- but Jeremy knows the oeuvre a lot better than I do. So, where titles to start with go, you'd do well to take Jeremy's advice. By the way: If in 1975 you'd asked the quality film critics if Rollin's movies would last and prove influential -- and, as it turns out, they have -- the know-it-all intellectuals would have called you an idiot. Moral: You can't predict with any kind of certainty which contempo culturethings will prove to have staying power, you just can't. So why fret over the question? Unless it amuses you to do so, of course. Related: Wikipedia's entry on Rollin is a good one. Here's the Jean Rollin website. Here's a posting I did raving about the semi-similar, inadvertently-brilliant-or-maybe-not, sleaze / art / poetry specialist Jess Franco. Some more arty and sleazy movies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Moving Images of All Kinds Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute gets off a lot of hilariously wry, understated, and apt-sounding lines in a short review about a gritty but bogus new youth film called "Fix." (Scroll down a bit.) * Stu Maschwitz is finding the video that the new SLR cameras capture very sexy. I'm such a huge fan of the mixed video-still camera ... * Joe Valdez gives Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" some well-deserved respect, and revisits 1978's moody and influential LA crime movie "Straight Time." * "Not There Yet", an excellent animated short. * Horror Yearbook lists the top 15 transsexual-killer movies. Not that I've given the topic a lot of thought, but it is a little weird, the way so many movie thrillers have made transsexuals the bad guys, isn't it? * The most influential wine critic in Japan is a cartoon character. * The Playful Painter has an active mind and eye, and posts very entertaining and educational time-lapse painting videos. That's a genre that I've been enjoying exploring recently. * The Half Life 2 version of a Rube Goldberg machine. * MBlowhard Rewind: By popular demand, a posting in which I recommended some rewarding recent-ish movies. No showboating editing of the kind Donald wrote about in any of these, except for "The Island." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, November 28, 2008

Infinite Cuts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As many of you know, I'm no longer much of a movie viewer. But yesterday my wife and daughter dragged me off to see Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond flick. Now I feel even older and more out of touch than usual. That's because I found the plot difficult to follow (something to do with my hearing?) and, especially, the many action sequences were chopped into teeny weeny itsy bitsy miniscule nanocuts. I'm guessing that young viewers who are used to fast-action computer games and quick-cut advertisements on television are able to grasp details better than I can. And for all I know, lots of action movies these days reduce things to a seqence of two-second scenes. (I don't know, 'cause I almost never see such films.) The link above mentions that the action stuff generally won praise from critics. This puzzles me. My take was that the quick cuts destroyed viewer orientation because the physical layout of the setting was poorly established in the first place and because the camera position often changed radically from cut to cut. In several places the cuts were between virtually unrelated events; one instance was the Palio horse race in Siena and Bond chasing a bad guy under, around and over Siena. For me, the action lost excitement because I was lost. I had a poor idea regarding what was where. I had little clue as to where the actors were going in chase sequences. I had found it hard to grasp, in some cases, the degree of danger Bond was in if the setting is part of the mix along with his antagonists. Worse, the action was just that: all action. No dramatic arc. No tension required on the part of the audience. So why really care what happens; Bond's gonna survive anyway. Let the guns fire, the roofs collapse, the airplanes crash. Compare this to the classic Goldfinger Bond film of 1964. The climactic seqence in the Fort Knox gold repository where Bond has to defuse an atom bomb plays out over many minutes and the tension rises scene by scene. No flurry of quick cuts here. The audience is totally in the picture, stomachs knotted as Bond overcomes obstacle after obstacle while the bomb's timer counts down to zero. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 28, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Political Divisions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * A Russian diplomacy prof is predicting that the U.S. will soon break up. * The Free State Observer offers a report from the recent North American Secessionist Convention. * Robert Lindsay gives some thought to ethnocentrism, and concludes that it's an inevitable and inescapable aspect of human life. Best, Michael UPDATE: Ramesh thinks that our wild ride isn't over yet. UPDATE 2: Greenland wants to secede from Denmark. Fact for the day: Greenland's population? 54,000 people. That's a lot of ice per person.... posted by Michael at November 27, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

DVD Journal: "Who Gets to Call It Art?"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Geldzahler, painted by Alice Neal Peter Rosen's 2006 documentary "Who Gets to Call It Art?" tells the story of NYC artworld taste-maker / power-broker / connoisseur Henry Geldzahler. A buddy of Warhol and Hockney -- and, yes, since you may have been wondering, most definitely Ivy, Jewish, and gay -- Geldzahler was curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum in the 1960s, and he played a major role in getting a ponderous NYC art establishment to embrace the whimsies and playfulness of Pop Art. A happy networker and politically very astute, Geldzahler was an outsized version of a not-uncommon NYC type: the gayguy who lives for his taste and his friends, and whose personality is as much a work of art as any actual artist's creation. The film? Well, it's more of an art-thing in its own right than I generally like docs to be. But -- if you don't mind the pretentiousness and can forgive some huge gaps in information and exposition -- it's there to be enjoyed as a fact-based evocation of an epic time in American art. All that said ... The inbred-ness of the NYC artworld, eh? What I mainly came away from the DVD musing about was this: Isn't it funny how someone like Geldzahler could make a huge reputation for himself as a savvy, open, daring and refined bad boy by getting the artworld to accept Pop Art? What's so impressive about that? To me, getting the fine arts world to accept a new kind of fine art is like getting the French cooking world to accept a new kind of cream sauce, or the fashion world to embrace a new trend in necklaces. It's some kind of achievement, I guess. But perhaps the people who find it a hyper-impressive one are also people who take life inside the Charmed Circle a little too seriously. Meanwhile (and please heed a grumpiness alert here) it isn't at all uncommon for civilians -- people like, say, the inhabitants of this blog and many of its visitors -- to gab happily and un-self-consciously about book jackets, suburbia, cars, movies, fine art, ads, magazine design, skateboard photography, and thongs. It's all visual culture, folks. As for which culture-things from our era will last: Well, Time will tell, and will then probably change its mind. And -- since we won't be there to enjoy its verdict anyway -- why over-stress the question? No disrespect meant to Geldzahler, who was certainly an impressive phenomenon of some kind. Still: Who really deserves the rep as the more open-minded, free-thinking, visually-aware-and-responsive creature: the guy whose twinkling eyes and mind inflicted a little snuggly mischief on the inner circles of the self-declared art world? Or the interested and enthusiastic civilian whose brains and senses are open to a far wider visual-culture field? Here's Paul Goldberger's good obit of Henry Geldzahler, who died in 1994 at 59 years old. Fast-Forwarding Score: A tenth of the movie. The... posted by Michael at November 26, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * iPhone cubism. * FvBlowhard turned up a rewarding visual blog by a Virginia artist named Duane Keiser. Duane uses his blog to show off an appealing project that he's in the midst of: making a thousand very small paintings. I find Duane's art and blog very civilizing and enriching. I can see and feel his interest in what he sees and how to get it down, and I love the way he applies himself to his micro-paintings with calm focus and purpose. * Cultural Offering is a big fan of album-cover art. * Meet Shawn Kenney, an insightful realist who also seems interested in casting spells and evoking moods. * James Morrison's sensational Caustic Cover Critic blog is devoted to the appreciation of book-jacket design. This interview with designer Geoff Grandfield is a special treat. * Bonus Points: If Donald's gorgeous posting on Canadian giant Tom Thompson left you with a yen to explore a little more Canadian art, why not give FvBlowhard's Group of Seven epic and my appreciation of David Milne a try? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 26, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What It Means When They Move Their Lips
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, When The Powers That Be bailed out Citibank (for the second, but certainly not the last time), the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC issued a joint statement, which you can read here. Apparently sensitive to criticism that they are just throwing money at Wall Street with no real plan except to keep the plutocrats in their limousines, the combined agencies inserted a paragraph at the end of their statement described their guiding principles in orchestrating such assistance to failing financial businesses. However, in the course of the day, some additional information came out from the Wall Street Journal (which I relay to you courtesy of Mish Shedlock at Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis - you can read it here.) This story seems to be quite helpful in interpreting the nuances of our new policy principles. So here are the four guiding principles, counterpointed with some excerpts from the WSJ story and some helpful comments from me, to help you interpret what officialdom means when they write high-sounding prose. Joint Agency Guiding Principle: We will work to support a healthy resumption of credit flows to households and businesses. WSJ: [Not included in the government’s bailout] are Citigroup's giant credit-card business, where defaults have been rapidly piling up, and its overseas lending operations, which also are showing signs of stress. While the government deal bolsters Citigroup's capital ratios, "we are concerned that losses may eventually exceed the government's backstop," said Standard & Poor's equity analyst Stuart Plesser. My comment: Who believes with those losses piling up that Citi will be doing a lot of new lending anytime soon? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? And who exactly benefits from such a bailout of a not-likely-to-be-lending-in-the-foreseeable-future financial institution? Joint Agency Guiding Principle: We will exercise prudent stewardship of taxpayer resources. WSJ: In exchange for covering hundreds of billions of dollars in potential losses, Citigroup is issuing the government a total of $27 billion in preferred shares, in which the government will receive regular dividends … My comment: What could be more prudent stewardship than getting $27 billion in preferred shares in exchange for hundreds of billions of future losses? Especially since those preferred shares are in a company which appears to be, um, bankrupt? WSJ: On Friday [November 21, 2008], Citigroup Vice Chairman Lewis Kaden and investment banker Edward Kelly spoke by phone with New York Fed President Timothy Geithner to discuss the worsening situation. Inside the government it was far from clear that action was needed. Citigroup's stock price was tumbling, but there was no sense the company was in danger of failing. But over the weekend, as they pored through Citigroup's books, it became clear to top officials that the company needed government help. My comment: It’s so reassuring to know that our ultra-prudent stewards ( including our newly appointed Treasury Secretary Geithner) who keep regulatory personnel stationed permanently inside Citi, finally took a personal look around as a result of a phone call from the... posted by Friedrich at November 25, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tom Thompson of Canada
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last month, in this post about Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada I mentioned that I visited it beause I wanted to see paintings by the Group of Seven. They, and some associated artists, are well known in Canada but all but invisible "south of the line." Not entirely invisible, because I've spotted copies of this book at some of the better museum stores here in the States. I first became aware of them two or three years ago when browsing bookstores in Victoria, BC. The Group of Seven was an association of artists who painted scenes of the wilds of the Canadian Shield; the Wikipedia entry can be found here. The artist who sparkplugged the Seven was Tom Thompson, who never was part of the group because he died before the founding. In 1917 he set out in a canoe while in the wilderness and a week later his body was found. The consensus is that he drowned accidently. But as is the case regarding deaths of many famous people, there is a conspiracy theory holding that he was done in. Tom Thompson Regardless, in his short -- approximately five-year -- career in fine arts, he produced a number of impressive paintings. His large ones are bright and energetic, features that are ill-conveyed by reproductions in books. So to appreciate Thompson, by all means go to Ottawa and the National Gallery to view some of his best work. Thompson paintings can be found elsewhere in Canada, if Ottawa isn't convenient for you. Below are examples of Thompson's paintings. Gallery Northern River In the Northland Decorative Landscape Birches - 1915 Jack Pine - 1916 Birch Grove - 1915-16 The Pool Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 25, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Federal Reserve lending last week was 1,900 times the weekly average for the three years before the current financial crisis. The source for this fact is Bloomberg, which estimates that the U.S. government has pledged almost $8 trillion to "rescue the financial system." "Most of the spending programs are run out of the New York Fed, whose president, Timothy Geithner, is said to be President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be Treasury Secretary," write Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 25, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winner Take All
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For The Guardian, GNXP's Razib surveys polygamy and monogamy, and wonders whether the increasing atomization of Western Civ since 1970 might be turning us into a winner-take-all society where sex goes too. That's a hunch that the Game crowd should find congenial. Nice passage: Hunter-gatherers are no angels, but the structural constraints of their economic system renders it impossible for an ambitious male to control all of a band's wealth and support dozens of wives. Many of the comments on Razib's piece are canny and thoughtful. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Brochure Lit
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here we are in Las Vegas. Took a little 520-mile round-trip yesterday to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. The stash a park ranger handed to us upon entry to Zion included a glossy, fold-out, official brochure with some truly lousy (in my humble esteem) writing. Consider: Immutable yet ever changing, the cliffs of Zion stand resolute, a glowing presence in late day, a wild calm. Melodies of waters sooth desert-parched ears, streams twinkle over stone, wren song cascades from red-rock cliffs, cottonwood leaves jitter on the breeze. But when lightning flashes waterfalls erupt from dry cliffs, and floods flash down waterless canyons exploding log jams, hurtling boulders, croaking wild joyousness, and dancing stone and water and time. Zion is alive with movement, a river of life always here and always changing. Must have been a summer intern project for a Yale lit-major. All things considered, I'd prefer facts to froth. Here's more, having to do with the Indians over-hunting mammoths, giant sloths, camels and then smaller animals before turning to agriculture: As resources dwindled 2,600 years ago, people tuned lifeways to the specifics of place. Lowlights: a wild calm !!??! tuned lifeways to the specifics of place ??!!? God help the English language. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 24, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Christopher Wood -- aka "the man who saw it coming" -- suspects that the gold standard may soon be making a return. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Fun facts: Under Chairman Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve balance sheet continues to expand at a frantic rate, as do commercial-bank total reserves in an effort to counter credit contraction. Thus, the Federal Reserve banks' total assets have increased by $1.28 trillion since early September to $2.19 trillion on Nov. 19. Likewise, the aggregate reserves of U.S. depository institutions have surged nearly 14-fold in the past two months to $653 billion in the week ended Nov. 19 from $47 billion at the beginning of September. A few questions for those smarter than I am? * How can these actions not result in tremendous inflation? * Why is deflation bad? * What's so bad about a gold standard? I have the impression that the Smart Set thinks that only rubes see virtues in a gold standard -- let's all have a laugh at the expense of "gold bugs" who see magical properties in gold, for instance. Yet I never run across explanations of why it's so rube-ish to favor a gold standard. * I'm under the impression that gold represents what people -- left to their own devices -- settle on as a basis for money. If this is so, why should anyone overrule people's expressed preferences where the question of what should back money is concerned? * Is it unfair to think of fiat money a representing a usurpation by the elites of control over money? * If so, what incentive is built into the system for our elites to behave responsibly where protecting the value of money is concerned? Do we really have nothing to depend on but our elites' expertise and goodness of heart? Ahahahahahaha. Sorry, I was just picturing my retirement savings going up in smoke. * What's the best way for a civilian to buy gold? Megan McArdle makes the case against a gold standard. A nice line from a Leonard Dickens comment on Megan's posting: "Fiat requires philosopher king-bankers. Commodity money requires mere humans." Best Michael... posted by Michael at November 24, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indian Music
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ramesh supplies a bachelor's-degree's worth of links about Indian music. Ah, the wonder that is YouTube. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments