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  1. Digital Photography Linkage
  2. Two Great Insider Rants
  3. Bettie Page, R.I.P.
  4. Music for the Day: "My Boyfriend's Back"
  5. More Lloyd
  6. Ramesh on Bollywood 1
  7. Over-analyzing Art
  8. Self-Help Linkage
  9. Cultural History Linkage
  10. Coffee and Seattle -- Why?

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Digital Photography Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Digital Photography Review takes a look at some inexpensive-ish small digicams: here, here, here. So does David Pogue. * Is Kodak about to break up? * Mac owners may want to empty the iPhoto trash can. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 13, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Two Great Insider Rants
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, One of the more striking things about our current financial situation is that the most disgusted analyses come from people who work in finance and, um, know the score. Check out the advice of London Banker, a former central banker and securities market regulator in his post “Deflation has become inevitable” (hat tip Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism). A small excerpt: It’s this simple: I won’t invest in a country that bails out failure and punishes savers. I won’t invest in the US or UK until they change course and protect savers and investors, ensuring a reasonably predictable positive return. In the EU, I will be very selective, preferring those conservative states like Germany that never embraced the worst excesses, although sadly still have fall out from individual banks' stupidity in buying into foreign excess. I will know when it is safe to reinvest when [central bank] policy interest rates, bank/intermediary oversight and accounting standards give me confidence I am better protected than the corporate or financial elite. His suggested plan of action? Embrace deflation, stop investing in financial assets, withhold your savings from financial sector 'brigands' (his term) and wait patiently for economic disaster to force governments to stop coddling the guilty and the incompetent: I have quoted Mr John Mill before, but it bears repeating: "Panics do not destroy capital; they merely reveal the extent to which it has been destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works." The extent to which capital has been betrayed in the past quarter century under Bretton Woods II, bank deregulation and the Basle Capital Adequacy Accords is unrivalled in the history of fiat banking. The bankers, lawmakers, regulators and academics who collaborated in the betrayal still hold power, like the well-armed brigands in the fortress, and their continued collaboration to prevent accountability must inevitably discourage honest savers from risking further loss. Even so, it is the savers/peons who hold the ultimate power as they can starve the brigands. Likewise, in the field of elite education, we have the views of another "insider" critic, Chris Hedges, who speaks from the position of one who both taught at Ivy League schools as well as attending them. He lays much of the blame for our problems on the “meritocratic” educational-class system that credentials our New Class political, business and financial elite, in a piece you can read here . A selection: The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced-placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs... posted by Friedrich at December 13, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bettie Page, R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was sorry to learn that the legendary pinup model Bettie Page has died. She was 85 and had suffered a heart attack. The L.A. Times' Louis Sahagun writes a lovely obit. Sahagun was one of the last reporters to spend time with Page, back in 2006. He wrote up the visit here. I enjoyed "The Notorious Bettie Page," Mary Harron's recent biopic starring a brilliant Gretchen Mol as Bettie, and wrote about it here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Tributes from Jeremy Richey and Susie Bright. Charlton Griffin turned up this Bettie mashup. In this vid, Bettie shakes her tailfeather.... posted by Michael at December 12, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Music for the Day: "My Boyfriend's Back"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Gratifying to see a new generation applying their talents to the classics, isn't it? Stacie Orrico performs "My Boyfriend's Back," backed by Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies: A big part of the fun for me in watching the video came from the way the girls do such a good job of showing off their pastel-colored Capri pants. Are there many things cuter than teen girls in Capri pants? I'm hoping that that's one style that'll never go out of fashion. Here's the original (and much crisper, or perhaps pushier) 1963 version of "My Boyfriend's Back." God I love that one rhyme: "My boyfriend's back, he's gonna save my reputation / If I were you, I'd take a permanent vacation." From Wikipedia I learned that ... * One of the song's composers, Richard Gottehrer, later turned to record production, and produced the first albums by Blondie and the Go-Gos. * Capri pants were originally created by a European fashion designer, Sonja de Lennart, in 1948. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 12, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Lloyd
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today, Lloyd Kaufman talks to about the current movie trend known as "torture porn." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ramesh on Bollywood 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Filmbuff though I am, I'm a complete blank where India's Bollywood tradition is concerned. Not only do I not know the lore, I'm unsure of what the values are, and I have no idea where to start. So I asked Ramesh if he'd be willing to explain some context, and to make some recommendations. Here's the first of two postings that Ramesh has been good enough to write for us. It's always good to receive coaching from an expert. I see that both Amazon and Netflix carry a decent number of Bollywood titles. *** 2002 When Bollywood said “Yes We Can” (Part I) This is a tribute to the three years bordering 2002 (1 &3) when Bollywood had its global coming-out party. This essay is in two parts and I have hyperlinked to YouTube videos of songs from the films, and to other resources in case you are curious to explore further information about the personalities or films involved. In many respects, these years represent a creative and business peak that Bollywood films will need to strive to equal in the future. Devdas (2002) To watch a clip from "Devdas," click here Sanjay Leela Bhansali's extravaganza that featured Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit was a tribute to the largeness and over-the-top-ness of Bollywood in every way. The costumes and the sets were like never seen before (except in "Mughal e Azam," "Pakeeza," "Razia Sultan," "Anarkali" ...) and sparked jewelry and clothing sales all over the US. Men wanted to be with Madhuri Dixit, women wanted to be like Madhuri Dixit. And then there was Aishwarya Rai. It seemed the gift that was "Devdas" wouldn’t stop giving. The film went to Cannes and had a special screening (and birthed the Indian pavilion there), at which it is reported there was a stunned silence from foreign audiences that hadn’t quite seen anything like it since Satyajit Ray’s "Devi" ("The Goddess"), in a year when the exquisite corpse film "Sud Sneha" from Thailand won the Un certain regard and Elia Suleiman’s Yadon Illeha ("Divine Intervention") won the Jury Prize. Sanjay Bhansali went on to direct operas and a Bollywood version of Dostoevski’s "White Nights," produced by Sony Pictures; Shah Rukh Khan stayed the ruling monarch of all he surveyed in Bollywood; and Aishwarya Rai, after a brief Hollywood career, became Ms. Rai Bacchan (marrying the superstar Scion Abhishek), with a thriving Bollywood career. Lagaan (2001) Considered the "Seven Samurai" of Bollywood, this film can be credited with teaching the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (in the other film industry) the rules of Cricket. It won a foreign Oscar Nomination. To watch a clip from "Lagaan," click here "Lagaan" -- which was three and a half hours long and featured seven five minute songs in an eclectic movie soundtrack by superstar composer A. R. Rahman -- was not your grandfather’s Satyajit Ray art-house Indian film. The director Ashutosh Gaurikar went on to make... posted by Michael at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Over-analyzing Art
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I decided to take in a lecture at the Seattle Art Museum. The subject was their current exhibit of paintings of women by Edward Hopper. (A link to that exhibit is here.) The exhibit is small-scale (around ten paintings) in part because most major Hoppers were part of a major exhibition of his work that started in Boston, went to Washington and concluded in Chicago, where I happened to catch it just before it ended. The raison d'être for the Seattle show is Hopper's famous "Chop Suey" which has been designated to eventually become part of the museum's collection (the current owner is Barney Ebsworth). It was part of the traveling exhibition mentioned above and therefore unavailable for display at the museum until now. Chop Suey - 1929 More information on Hopper can be found here; scroll down to view "Nighthawks," perhaps his most famous painting. The lecture I attended was given by the show's curator and based largely on the catalog text she wrote. I don't think I'll bother to buy the catalog, even if its price is reduced after the exhibit closes. One reason is that reproductions of several of the paintings "bleed across the gutter" (to toss in printing jargon). That is, they occupy parts of adjoining pages, and this makes it almost impossible for a viewer to properly see the artwork. Shame! shame! shame!! Another reason I probably won't buy the catalog is the text. Assuming it closely follows the lecture material, the following points will be found: Hopper was a very shy guy, greatly influenced by a Victorian upbringing which held that "nice" women could only appear in public in certain well-defined circumstances. Due his shyness, he was something of a voyeur. He liked restaurants, where he could anonymously observe other people and perhaps sketch. She (the curator) made a big deal about the anonymity of New York automats, the setting of one of the paintings. There was a long discussion about women and how they gradually became able to eat alone in restaurants and go other places unaccompanied without comment. Somehow this ties into Hopper's shyness, Victorianism and the creation of his paintings of women in restaurant settings. This is pretty watery beer compared to other commentaries about artists and their paintings, where politically-correct conjecture is heaped on painters who worked centuries ago and never gave a thought about racism, sexism, imperialism and all those other isms so beloved of current academicians. I consider analyzing a painting in any time frame other than the one where it was created as being unfair both to the artist and the reader (an important exception being the placement of artists and work in the context of the history of art). Even though I'm as interested in gossipy details of a painter's life as the next person, psychology too is best avoided in analyses of paintings unless the artist was seriously abnormal and the abnormality is clearly reflected... posted by Donald at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Self-Help Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Edward Bottone writes a wonderful ode to fat. (Link thanks to Cranium Creek.) * Jimmy Moore interviews a health expert who strikes me as sensible and helpful, Dr. John Briffa. * Exercise-and-eating guru Mark Sisson thinks that there are some very good reasons why Oprah can't control her weight. UPDATE: Dr. Michael Eades contributes some hunches too. * Is Matthieu Ricard the happiest man on earth? * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the Slow Movement, here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Cultural History Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John McWhorter writes an impassioned introduction to the work and the life of an underknown giant, the early African-American composer Will Marion Cook. * Brooks Peters writes a wonderful and informative essay about two big 20th century American "personalities," Cornelia Otis Skinner and Ilka Chase. * MBlowhard Rewind: I ventured a few thoughts about Westerns. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Coffee and Seattle -- Why?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I never could figure it out. This business about Seattle being coffee-crazed, Seattle being the coffee capital of the Solar System, if not beyond. The first rumblings in the press way back in -- I don't remember exactly when -- the late 80s or early 90s or thereabouts took me by surprise. "Huh? Seattle and coffee? I never noticed that." And I had spent much of my life in the Seattle area. Given that Starbucks, the world's largest and best-known coffee chain, is Seattle-based, the connection between Seattle and coffee is now taken for granted. But back in those early days, Starbucks was pretty much local and reporters were wrinkling their brows about whether the company could successfully transmit their friendly, laid-back Seattle ambiance if they expanded to surly places such as New York City. Before that connection was taken for granted, there were articles in the press dealing with the subject. Sadly, lacking the skill and tenacity of a librarian, I can't quickly locate any such pieces. Nor, alas, can I remember any of their conclusions. That self-inflicted ignorance and uncertainty was swept aside this morning. I dropped off my wife at her tennis club in a suburban city on Puget Sound and had an hour and a half to kill. Rainy day. Mid-40s temperature (call it 6 or 7 Centigrade). Certainly not a nice day, but not so awful that many people would never want to venture out. I parked the car and wandered over to a Tully's coffee place. It was packed; no place to sit and I definitely needed to sit if my time-killing project was going to work as planned. So I hiked a couple of blocks over to the downtown's other coffee place, a Starbucks. Same story. Then back to Tully's where I ordered The Usual ("tall drip with a little room") and stood around until I could grab a chair. There you have it, my newly-hatched theory of why Seattle folks became known as great coffee drinkers: the weather. Betcha no one ever thought of that before. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 9, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Lloyd Kaufman Interviewed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- has been running an interview with exploitation filmmaker Lloyd Kauffman in very short chunks, an inspired way to showcase interview material on the web, IMHO. In yesterday's installment, Kaufman talked about how he dislikes the way the word "exploitation" is so often used as a putdown. In today's installment he complains that horror and humor don't get the respect they deserve. I don't know if you're aware of Lloyd Kaufman. If you aren't, perhaps you should be -- he's certainly one of the most influential popular-culture figures out there today. Don't think so? Consider this: his company, Troma, has produced around a hundred movies, including such inspired blowouts as "The Toxic Avenger," "Tromeo and Juliet," and "Poultrygeist." (As you might be suspecting, one Troma trademark is never to pass up a joke or a wisecrack -- especially the obvious and poor-taste ones.) Troma also distributes hundreds of mini- and micro-budget movies made by others. A good way for the greybeards among us to conceptualize what Lloyd Kaufman represents might be: He's a combo of Roger Corman, Rodney Dangerfield, and Mad Magazine's William Gaines -- a go-it-his-own-way, never-sufficiently-respected, full-of-mischief bomb-thrower. In fact, Kaufman works with a partner, Michael Herz. Herz, though, prefers to stay out of the public eye, where Kaufman is a born showman. He has developed a very amusing and effective public persona, which you'll get a taste of at's interviews. Here's one man who really really loves the camera and who isn't afraid of showing that love, whether he's behind the cameras or in front of them. Kaufman is also something that isn't rare in the movie world: a lowbrow trashmeister who's at least as smart as the respectable people he mocks and defies. He's a Yale grad who -- like many of his generation -- got biten by the art-and-trash movie bug while at college. Oops, there I go mentioning an Ivy League school yet again. Damn, I really gotta stop doing that. It isn't as though the Ivies play a discernible role in our cultural dramas or anything. Kaufman is such a hero in the micro-budget movie world that he has also made guest appearances in several hundred low-budget movies. Micro-budget filmmakers love Kaufman and want to show him off; they also hope that his presence in their movies will attract viewers. Kaufman makes a point of obliging whenever he can. While the usual movie press coverage refers to the likes of Miramax as "indies," Kaufman and Herz have been going their own Troma way, producing and distributing exactly what they have wanted to, for nearly 40 years now. They may well deserve the title The Indie-est of the Indies. "The Fold" is one ambitious and unusual webseries, by the way. Why not stick around and give it a try too? Click on an episode in the left-hand column and enjoy. Some passages of "The Fold" are NSFW, so consider yourself warned. I wrote about Lloyd Kaufman's excellent... posted by Michael at December 9, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, December 8, 2008

Contemporary Art: A Bursting Bubble?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Prospect magazine in the UK has an article titled "A second tulip mania" concerning prices and sales of contemporary art (tip from Arts & Letters Daily). The writers use economist Charles Kindleberger's classic analysis of speculation bubbles as a template for looking at that sector of the art market. You might want to read the entire article, but below are some out-takes in case the link goes bad. The bubble in contemporary art is about to pop. It has exhibited all the classic features of the South Sea bubble of 1720 or the tulip madness of the 1630s. It has been the bubble of bubbles—balancing precariously on top of other now-burst bubbles in credit, housing and commodities—and inflating more dramatically than all of them. While British house prices took six years to double at the start of this century, contemporary art managed it in just one, 2006-07. (Over the same period, old masters went up by just 7.6 per cent and British 17th to 19th century watercolours actually lost value.) ... The Chinese painter Zhang Xiaogang saw his work appreciate 6,000 times, from $1,000 to $6m (1999-2008); work by the American artist Richard Prince went up 60 to 80 times (2003-2008). The German painter Anselm Reyle was unknown in 2003; you could have picked up one of his stripe paintings for €14,000. Now he has a studio with 60 assistants turning them out for about €200,000 each. ... But this bubble is now deflating. Sotheby's share price has lost three quarters of its value over the past year, sinking from its peak of $57 in October 2007 to $9 in early November—close to its 1980s low of $8. The latest round of contemporary art auctions in London has gone badly. ... The way [that helped get the bubble started] was led by people like Charles Saatchi and the Miami property magnates, the Rubells. Saatchi laid down a blueprint in the late 1990s that others have tried to copy—he bought the work of young artists, established a museum in which to display it or lent it to public museums, and used the media interest that such shows attracted (by virtue of the outlandish works involved and the association of celebrities) to sell on part of the collection at auction at greatly inflated prices. Some of the proceeds would then be reinvested in the work of other new discoveries. Saatchi's famous 1997 show, "Sensation," demonstrated that this "specullecting" was a great way to make a splash as an arbiter of taste. ... Contemporary art turned out to be an ideal vehicle for speculative euphoria. The market is almost entirely free from state interference. Governments have had little interest in regulating the trinkets and playthings of the super-rich. Art works are a uniquely portable and confidential form of wealth. Whereas all property purchases have to be publicly registered, buying art is a private activity. And unlike old masters, which are often linked by history to specific... posted by Donald at December 8, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Music for the Day: Delbert McClinton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Whenever things in the world of American entertainment start to seem too damn unmanly, I know the time has come to post (and then re-post) some Delbert McClinton: R&B, country, jazz -- Delbert's music is as big as Texas. And this song even comes with a message you don't hear often enough in today's pop culture: "Love ain't no good until you give it away." Ain't that the truth, or at least a big part of it? I raved about the greatness of Delbert back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Name Changed, Guilty Protected
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed the following announcement in the latest issue of the University of Washington alumni magazine: Effective Jan 1, the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning will be renamed College of Built Environments [bold in original]. The Board of Regents approved the name change on Sept. 18. Dean Daniel S. Friedman says that the college is increasingly focused on sustainable practices and environmental quality, and that the new name is a way of making that official. "'College of Built Environments' better reflects our core responsibility to 21st century challenges -- urbanization, climate change and livable communities," Friedman says. Urban planning was always highly political. But now architecture has completed its transformation from art to politics -- at the University of Washington, in any event. "Hey Joe, what's your son up to these days?" "Well, he graduated from the U-Dub last spring and now he's a Built Environmentalist." One more reason to ignore the UWs pleas for monetary contributions from alumni. (State sales taxes provide core funding in any case.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 7, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Whither Italy?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Italy regressing or coming to its senses? Votes, please. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2008 | perma-link | (22) comments