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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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Conspiracy Report from Chicago Garage
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's frigid in much of the northern half of the USA this week. Perhaps that's why Iowahawk deposited a bit of frozen finger skin on the driver-side door handle as he climbed out of his hot rod, scraped the ice off the tip of his nose, warmed his trusty computer on a handy space heater and then posted this warning from the aliens amongst us. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 17, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Evo Bio Books
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A quick posting to let visitors know about two terrific new evo-bio books. In "The Art Instinct," philosopher Denis Dutton (of Arts & Letters Daily fame) tries to bridge the gap between biology and aesthetics. As a comprehensive evo-bio account of the arts, it's a heroic and (I hope) conversation-shifting work. Since it's also a book that nails many of the basics down in a way that the culture-world has been in bad need of for several decades now, I'm pleased to see that "The Art Instinct" is selling well and receiving numerous respectful reviews. Hey, the time may finally be right -- finally! -- for a sensibly down-to-earth yet sophisticated discussion of the nature of the arts. My favorite reviews of the book so far have been by John Derbyshire and Jonah Lehrer. The book's website is here. In "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution," Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending cheerily take on one of the most potentially explosive of all evo-bio topics: the fact of recent human evolution. So ... What if human evolution didn't stop 40,000 years ago? What if our social forms have placed evolutionarily significant pressures on us? What if the differences between population groups run far deeper than mere skin color? And what on earth might have been the cause of the cultural explosion that resulted in cave paintings and elaborate ritual burials? It's a mischievous, daring, and informative book that makes canny use of history, biology, and anthropology, and that teaches a lot about the way genes and alleles go about their business. It's also an exciting reading experience. Following the authors' minds as they reason their way (using vervey English and vivid imagery) through what's known now to explore possibilities and implications delivers a real buzz. I had many moments when I found myself thinking, "So maybe this is what being supersmart is like!" Fun. The book hasn't yet been released, but you can place a pre-order here. The book's very generous website is here. By the way: I notice that Cochran and Harpending created their book's website on the Squarespace platform. I'm a huge fan of Squarespace myself, and recommend it enthusiastically. If you want to build a website but would prefer not to devote your life to HTML, CSS, and/or Dreamweaver, Squarespace may be just what you're looking for. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, January 16, 2009

Charlton's New One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's the latest by the superb audiobook producer and reader Charlton Griffin. Talk about audacious, ambitious, and substantial! Have I mentioned before that audio can be a terrific way for those with gaps in their educations to fill a few of them in? Charlton has done many of the classics -- type "Charlton Griffin" into the Search box at Audible and you'll turn up numerous titles by giants. Among them: Dickens, Milton, and Polybius. At Blackstone Audiobooks -- another fab resource -- you can find many other bedrocks-of-Western-Civ, including Whitman, Tolstoy, and Kipling. There's no longer any excuse to remain an unlettered clod. Vaguely related: Back here I wrote about co-producing a raunchy and satirical audiobook with The Wife. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, January 15, 2009

R-Rated Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What makes for the perfect female behind? * Yes, fellas: it apparently is possible to be too damn big. * Quinn Martin has excellent taste in quirky-girl actresses. * Escort/model Alexa Di Carlo takes questions: part one, part two, part three. * LA-based photographer James Christopher has a fresh way with nudes. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 15, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When Did Western Civ Start Going to Hell?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not sure whether Western Civilization is actually going to hell. In almost any era one can name, there surely were people who thought things were going to pot regardless of what history eventually demonstrated. We can easily determine how the West is really doing if we climb abord a time machine and hop 500 years, say, into the future to check things out. I happen to be basically an optimist. Yet I am troubled by the efforts in key institutions such as education, government and news media to ignore or even actively wreck the real achievements of Western Civilization. So let's assume, for the purposes of this post, that Western decline is real and permanent. If this is so, then when did the decline start? To kick off the discussion, I'll assert that the tipping or inflection point happened during the quarter-century 1890-1914. Politically, the Imperial powers -- especially the British -- began to lose their stomach for empire-building. (Yes, the Germans caught the building bug during this very period as did the Italians and Americans. Yes, the Great War's victorious powers acquired mandates and other colonial bits. But I regard this as mostly inertia which petered out during the 1930s.) Artistically and capital-C culturally, the period began with a kind of fin-de-siècle malaise (in France, at least) and generally corresponded to the rise of Modernism which by its nature was hostile to the past. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 13, 2009 | perma-link | (62) comments

Another Newspaper Biting the Dust
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The decline of the American newspaper is coming close to home. My home, at least: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been put up for sale by Hearst, its long-time owner. Actually, the paper might well have been folded (if you'll pardon the expression) immediately if it weren't for rules governing its joint operating agreement with the Seattle Times. Those rules call for a 60-day period for prospective buyers to step in and save the situation. Probably there will be no such buyers. The P-I has been hanging around Seattle since the 1860s, and that longevity alone can be enough to bring a tear to one's eye. The P-I was the area's morning paper for many decades and did reasonably well. Seattle was a three-paper town for many years, but dropped to two papers in 1947 when the labor-friendly Seattle Star was sold to the Times, which immediately shut it down, cherry-picking a few comic strips and perhaps some other assets. But in 2000, the Times (for many years Seattle largest paper) switched from afternoon to morning delivery, removing an important marketing advantage of the P-I which was virtually never profitable since then. Both Seattle papers lean left politically, the P-I more solidly so than the Times. Even though the central Puget Sound area has a strong liberal political tinge, this apparently did little to help the P-I retain readership. Matters are still in flux and one possibility is that the P-I will continue as an on-line entity. I hope this proves to be the case, mostly because it would make for an interesting experiment. With drastically reduced production/distribution costs, far fewer employees would need to be supported by advertising revenue, therefore opening the possibility of profitability. On the other hand, once the P-I disappears from newspaper boxes, news stands and residential doorsteps, it will have little visibility unless it is promoted by TV or poster advertising. In conclusion, let me add that I only regularly read the P-I for a couple of periods. The first was when I was in college and my frat house got a copy every morning; a big fight for the sports section would follow. Then for a few years around 1990 my son delivered P-Is in our neighborhood, so we got a free copy each day as a result. I grew up with the Times, and my wife is a subscriber; otherwise I wouldn't read the incredibly shrinking thing. When I buy a paper, I get The Wall Street Journal. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 13, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's An Audio
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Michael Blowhard creativity onslaught continues. Back here I wrote about co-creating a trash novel in two months with The Wife. Back here I wrote about co-creating a webseries with The Wife and a young director friend. I’ve just finished another deeply satisfying adventure in co-creation: The Wife and I have co-written and co-produced an audio extravaganza. It’s a raunchy satire of the movieworld -- and, as we like to say to each other, it isn’t “just an audiobook.” Instead, we roped together more than 30 actors, we utilized real audio production values ... Episodic, satirical, and ultra-raunchy, it’s like an audio version of a Showtime or HBO series, or like a dirty-minded and up-to-date season of the kind of audio plays that used to be common on American radio. (I say “not just an audiobook” with the greatest fondness and admiration for good audiobooks, by the way. I also hereby acknowledge the masterful audiobook creator Charlton Griffin as the godfather of our project. Without Charlton’s tips and encouragement we’d never have known how to get started with our own project. In case you’re unaware of his work: Charlton, who often drops by 2Blowhards -- and who is now Friendable on Facebook too -- produces and narrates some of the best audiobooks out there. Check out Charlton's product line at Audible by typing his name into the Search box.) A handful of observations about the making-audio process. It’s a performance. When The Wife and I kicked our project off a couple of years ago, the plan was to emerge from the process with a novel, not an audio entertainment. Not having an actual book contract to enforce a deadline on us, we set up our own deadlines by arranging readings in downtown bars. The readings became our deadlines. We raced to complete sections of the project in time to put them up in front of live audiences. But something unexpected happened. As we did the readings, we found ourselves writing less and less in the way of on-the-page style prose and more and more in the way of dramatic/comedic material for actors. Writers reading on-the-page prose are usually a drag, after all, where actors reading dramatized comic material are often enormously entertaining. The Wife and I? Well, we’re opportunistic enough to go where the applause and the laughter seems loudest. By the time we’d rounded the live-presentation phase of our project off, what we had in our hands wasn’t a novel at all but instead a collection of related audio plays. We looked at each other and said, Hey, so far as setting-this-in-stone goes, what do you say we skip the turning-it-into-a-novel thing and produce it as a recorded audio entertainment instead? The performance side of the project had taken over. I wrote back here about touring our stories around the country. Why don’t more writers do audio? As everyone knows, reading time is diminishing; even interested and devoted readers are finding less time... posted by Michael at January 12, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael posted more links about Donald Westlake immediately below. So I might as well join in with this link to Westlake comments by Bill Kristol. * It seems that Terry Teachout is a Nero Wolfe fan, having read every novel in the series. He explains why here. Among other things he tells us why he prefers the work of Wolfe author Rex Stout to that of Patrick O'Brian. And, speaking of Westlake, he mentions ... For my own part, I've never been much drawn to the mystery as a genre, perhaps because I have no interest in the puzzle-based plot mechanisms that drive the "classic" detective story. I no longer return to the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the only mystery novelists whose books I regularly reread for pleasure are Stout, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Laura Lippman, and Donald Westlake. (I also enjoy Georges Simenon's Maigret novels, but for some reason I rarely read them.) Blowhards readers might recall that I have written about Nero Wolfe too. * I might as well toss in a Blogging Note to round out this post. Nancy's annual Tahoe ski week is almost upon us, so we'll be on the road to there, the Bay Area and various bits of Southern California, returning early in February. I'll pack my trusty computer and post as frequently as I can manage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 12, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

More on Westlake
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of good tributes to the late great Donald Westlake: from editor/bookstore-owner Otto Penzler (a pretty terrific crime-fiction figure in his own right), and from Cullen Gallagher. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 12, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments