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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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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  7. More on Porn and Art
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  10. More Mendacity on Nationalizing the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Razib and Greg
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Razib and 2Blowhards fave Gregory Cochran show a lot of flair -- and share a lot of info and thinking -- as they make the leap to the little screen. World domination is nigh. Access all five parts of our recent interview with Gregory Cocrhan here. Buy the fab and provocative new book that Greg has co-authored with Henry Harpending here. This book's very generous website is here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Razib's review of the book is here.... posted by Michael at February 28, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1999, the U.S. government's total outlays were smaller than this year's deficit is expected to be. Source. Bonus link: "The President does not understand that consumption is made possible by production and that credit is made possible by savings," writes Peter Schiff. George Reisman argues that stimulus packages always reduce real available capital. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, February 27, 2009

Scary Sentence of the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- From Newsweek's Michael Hirsh and Evan Thomas comes this: The president has assembled a team of Harvard and Yale types whose SAT scores have not been equaled since perhaps the Kennedy administration. And didn't the best and the brightest acquit themselves just beautifully back in the '60s? Hey, a posting that I should probably get around to pulling together sometime would be my little contribution to the insights-and-guesses-about-Obama's-character genre. I'd argue this: An important aspect of his personality that has been underemphasized is that he's the product of a prep-school / prestigious-college formation. Your truly is too. (And, like Obama, I didn't enter this pipeline with a ruling-class, let alone prosperous, background.) When I look at Obama, what I mainly see is a generic example of a kid like many hundreds that I went through school with. Even his racial crises, dreams, and conflicts look to me like standard examples of the ones routinely experienced by the black kids who are fed into this system. Given that I may never manage to pull something semi-coherent together, I'll venture a few scattershot musings now: For many people from this kind of background, a belief in dial-twisting, "inspirational," top-down rule-by-the-right-people comes pretty darned easy. Your real dream as such a person? To install and lead a team that includes your buddies, mentors, classmates, connections, and favorite professors. Because, like you, they're the best. It's just an established fact. I mean, we all got accepted by, and flourished in, the "best" schools, didn't we? Bonus link: Thanks to Greg Ransom for pointing out this CNBC doc about our current economic travails. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2009 | perma-link | (34) comments

Greybeards Take Over Facebook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Oldies have discovered social networking bigtime. More. I love Facebook myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Eating and Diet Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jimmy Moore reports that Sweden is going low-carb. * Fat or not fat? (NSFW for the usual Roissy vulgarity.) * Lemmonex tells how she managed to take off 65 pounds. * Mark Sisson wants you to get more comfortable with broiling fish. * If the Mediterranean diet is so great, why are so many Italians fat? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Outline Style, 1890-1940
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Above is a detail from a Frank Brangwyn mural titled "Dancers" from around 1895. Brangwyn (1867-1956) was a prolific, largely self-taught artist whose popularity peaked in the early decades of the 20th century. Book on Frank Brangwyn that can be ordered via Amazon's United Kingdom site. Although he was productive in several media, Brangwyn is perhaps best remembered for his mural work, which was influential. One characteristic of his mural style was the use of outlines, a tactic to give the paintings more visual punch at the distances from which they were expected to be viewed. This is in contrast to traditional representational easel painting, where outlining is subdued if present or is absent altogether. Outlines were also evident in contemporaneous posters. On the wall facing my desk are two posters by Alphonse Mucha that I bought at the Mucha Museum in Prague a few years ago and had framed. In both cases Mucha relied on outlining as well as color and modeling for depicting his subjects. Below are more examples of outline style. Gallery By Dean Cornwell Cornwell (1892-1960) was one of the top illustrators in America during his career. He also painted a number of murals, including some in New York's Warwick hotel and the Los Angeles Public Library. (At the latter link, scroll down to find the Cornwell reference. Click on the thumbnails to see the full images. Note that the outlining is almost entirely in light-medium blue.) The illustration above is not from a mural, but shows the influence of Brangwyn, with whom Cornwell apprenticed and whose studio he rented while working on large murals. Illustrations by Dan Sayre Groesbeck Dan Sayre Groesbeck (1879-1950), another essentially self-taught artist, spent the first part of his career as a commercial artist and the last part providing film visualizations to Cecil B. DeMille. He also painted murals, in particular a set of murals for the ... Santa Barbara County Courthouse This section shows the building of the mission at Santa Barbara. River Bend No. 4 - 1938 Fall Landscape - 1923 The above paintings are by Iowa artist Melvin Cone (1891-1965) and typify a popular painting style of the 1920s and 30s, characterized by outlining and toned-down colors. I'm not sure who did this illustration. It looks like something Cornwell might have done, but the Properties info on the initial grab indicates Andrew Loomis (the treatment of the woman's face is suggestive of the latter). In any case, it's another instance of outlining (mostly in the foreground). Outlining interests me. Puzzles me, too. What puzzles me is the outline color selection logic used by artists practicing this style. It puzzles me because I can't quite come up with a consistent practice. At one extreme are the L.A. Public Library murals by Cornwell that featured blue outlines. Then there is the Brangwyn mural at the top of this posting, which is typical of what puzzles me. Starting at the top (I'm looking at a... posted by Donald at February 26, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

More on Porn and Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I still have a bad cold, but I've now got a quarter of my brain back, and I've caught up with the comments on my "Is Porn the New Rock 'n' Roll?" posting. So I'm going to venture a few musings and responses ... Let's at least admit that the "porn and art" topic can kick off a lively discussion. The comparison of porn to drugs strikes me as a good one. On the other hand, it's not as though rock music hasn't had its drug side, in several senses. Clearly some people use rock as a drug, if only an anesthetic. Clearly a lot of people have used rock to enhance sex. Clearly rock can addle the brain. Clearly for many people rock is addictive ... But has any of that prevented the culture generally from deciding that rock is an art form? Which opens up a topic I'm surprised we haven't made more of, which is: Part of the "art" thing isn't so much what the artwork is per se, let alone what its intention is. Part of it is the use we make of it. If a guy jerks off to Nabokov's "Ada," then he has used "Ada" as pornography. If a woman loves shall we say soothing her loneliness by watching Kevin Costner movies, then she's using mainstream Hollywood movies as pornography. Though these two particular people may be nothing but outliers, how about this: What if the culture generally decides to take "Ada" as porn? (Some critics have in fact deemed it porn.) Then it's porn, right? On the other hand, as soon as someone starts to take stuff that's routinely categorized as porn and considers it from an aesthetic point of view, interesting non-porny things can start to arise from the experience. You might wind up with, say, Bettie Page. In other words, how an individual or a culture chooses to take a given work is a big factor in how that work is considered. Once upon a time no one took burlesque performances as art. Now some people do. The first time I went to a pro ballet performance, my first reaction was "Woohoo, it's porn for the high-class set!" Yet ballet is about as high-art as culture can be. And before you dismiss my reaction, let me cite the respected ex-ballerina and ballet writer Toni Bentley on my behalf. For her, ballet both is sex and is about sex. Balanchine was turning himself on. Audiences are getting high. The splayed thighs, the ecstatic expressions, and the hefty baskets are a big part of what that art form is selling. Hey, Toni Bentley has not only written beautifully about strippers, Balanchine, and ballet -- check out some of her freelance pieces here -- she's written a wonderful arty-porny memoir of erotic awakening. (Look closely and you'll see my real name mentioned in the Acknowledgments.) I'm being a little presumptuous, but I think it's fair to say that... posted by Michael at February 25, 2009 | perma-link | (45) comments

Monday, February 23, 2009

Donald's Art Bookmarks
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael is the ace linker in these here parts, but I won't let that stop me from tossing in a link-post now and then -- especially right now. The theme for this exercise is the bookmarks tab on my web browser. It's a pretty lean 'n' mean drop-menu because I hate computer clutter. So I have only a few art-related bookmarks at present, a few of them in the experimental stage. Given that there must be somewhere between a bazillion and a gazillion web sites devoted to visual arts, I make no claim that mine is definitive. Rather, they mostly relate to a couple of my interests -- illustration and traditional painting. I'm reluctant to have a lot of such sites bookmarked. I gave one reason above; another is that I spend more time on the computer than I really ought to, and need to restrain temptation. If you want to build or expand upon your own bookmark collection, try these and then take a look at what's on their blogrolls and then the blogrolls of sites mentioned, ad infinitum. Here goes: * Illustration Art is David Apatoff's fine blog on, well, illustration -- though he sometimes strays into other art-related topics. He doesn't post daily, so I check in once a week or so to see what's new. * 100 Years of Illustration by veteran illustrator Paul Giambarba gets additions every so often, so I drop by once every couple of weeks to see if he has posted anything. His older posts are well worth looking at if you haven't visited his site before. * Today's Inspiration, is by Leif Peng, an illustrator in the Hamilton, Ontario vicinity. As the title implies, Peng somehow manages to provide a torrent of posts about (mostly) classical illustration at the rate of four or five items per week. * Another prolific site is Gurney Journey by "Dinotopia" creator James Gurney. He covers a wider range of art-related subjects than illustration, providing a good deal of information I find useful. Gurney posts on an almost-daily basis. * Art and Influence is another useful web site by a practicing artist, this being Armand Cabrera. Cabrera has a good knowledge of art history, so if you like the artist profiles I post from time to time, you might well enjoy Cabrera's site. He also offers instructional tips and other grist for art amateurs. Posting is generally Monday-Friday, though he does take breaks from time to time. * Lines and Colors by Charley Parker ranks high on frequency and interest. As is the case with the sites already mentioned, one has the potential for sinking hour after hour into reading previous posts. Parker more than the others is hip to computer-based illustration, so I found his posts on that field instructive, naïf that I am. I also have bookmarked a few sites containing reproductions of paintings; I might cover those another time. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 23, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to JV, who turned up this promising-looking collection of academic lectures-on-video. * Toby Young takes some nicely-judged jabs at David Denby. * Time for the west to stop throwing money at Africa? (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Copyright law tends to baffle those who haven't looked into it, but fascinate those who dare to take a peak. Daniel Grant evaluates some provocative recent art-world cases. * But will copyright be finito in a couple of years anyway? * Chief neocon denies existence of neocons! Philip Weiss takes note. * The crisis in the media business has led some former journalists to accept jobs with a new employer. * Damn, I shoulda been a cop. * Peter Schiff thinks it would be best for everyone if our foreign creditors would stop lending us money. And how about all those people who are attacking Schiff? * Taki is certain that bringing Turkey into the EU is a majorly stupid idea. * Frequent 2Blowhards visitor Peter has moved his blog. He's now recording thoughts, exercise routines, and Long Island Railroad observations on a very handsome WordPress theme. Check it out. Peter's Links list is a valuable resource too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 23, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Mendacity on Nationalizing the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, According to unnamed "officials" of the Obama Administration, we will shortly hear the new new plan to save the “too big to fail” banks. From a Sunday CNBC story, "Crafting a Bank Plan...No 'Lehman Weekends,' we get this choice tidbit: Officials would not rule out increased or even outright government ownership of large banks at the end of the process, but they say their intent is to avoid that outcome and that it is anything but certain. They say the government does not want to be running these companies. If the banks end up in government hands, officials say, the intent would be to get them into private hands quickly and do so in a way that is not much different from how the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. currently resolves bank insolvencies, which typically take place over the weekend. The extent of government ownership, they say, will depend on the size of the losses at the banks, the access of banks to private capital and how the recession plays out. Said one high-level official, “I think the market is missing that the whole intent of this process is to show that the banks have enough capital for even worse outcomes than we currently envision and to show there’s a program in place to give banks access to that capital if they need it.” [emphasis added] I hope you noticed the odd slip there, which is public admission that the so-called bank "stress tests" are not designed to actually find out anything. Rather, their purpose is to serve as propaganda, informing the U.S. taxpayer and stock market investors of the predetermined outcome that everything with the banks is hunky dory and handing over many more billions to them is in no way sending good money after bad. What sounded like the most (only?) valuable part of Secretary Geithner’s plan – that is to say, a pulling aside of the information iron curtain that has prevented the U.S. taxpayer from being able to get any accurate view of what condition the balance sheets of these extremely peculiar, must-be-bailed-out-no-matter-what-the-cost banks are – has now been revealed as bunkum. Actually, Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism back on February 17 had already pegged the impossibility of performing such stress tests meaningfully in the time span discussed by the Administration. You should read the whole discussion, "William Black:There Are No Real Stress Tests Going On." Mr. Black, a former high bank regulator, goes into far more detail, but in capsule, as I understand it, the issues preventing such an appraisal include: 1) You can’t perform a stress test on securitized loans (representing hundreds of billions of dollars on the too-big-to-fail banks’ balance sheets) unless you have access to all the paperwork of the original loans, and it is very unlikely that it is available to regulators. In fact, Mr. Black has dark suspicions that much of it (especially for loans originated by hundreds of now-bankrupt mortgage mills) may no longer... posted by Friedrich at February 22, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tantric Bliss
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Let's cultivate our erotic appreciation and polish our erotic techniques. I give you Roman Danylo, Tantric Sex Master: NSFW, but in a funny and good-natured, late-night comedy way. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Mickey for Best Actor
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I didn't see a single new movie in 2008. But, now that I've watched Mickey Rourke's acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards, I have a favorite for Best Actor anyway. NSFW for mucho-con-gusto dirty language. I would sooo love to watch this crazy bastard be set loose on the Academy stage ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 22, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments