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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Entrepreneur and arts buff
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Media flunky and arts buff

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  1. Still Time for Gold?
  2. New York City Movie Prices
  3. Derb, Steve, Game
  4. Some Hyper-General Digressions
  5. Slow Drying Acrylics: More Testing
  6. Newsless Newsweek
  7. About the Subject: Bouguereau vs. Currin
  8. Are We Cranky? Is it the Economy or ...
  9. Political Linkage
  10. Wealth Creation (?!) via Financial Engineering

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Still Time for Gold?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Newsweek's Lisa Miller visits with a few people who have been stocking up on gold. * According to Swiss banker Ferdinand Lips, gold is the money of the real people, where fiat money (ie., paper and credit backed by nothing) is the money that know-it-all, self-serving elites prefer to impose on the rest of us. Fascinating quote from this 2004 interview, concerning the decision governments made in the early '70s to decouple money from gold: Imagine a foreign company under contract to produce locomotives for export to the U.S. that doesn’t know what the dollar conversion will be when it finally ships its goods. That’s why industry and banks created derivatives and other financial tools. That was the birth of this industry and it has become -- because of the ingenuity of mathematicians –- almost like an atomic bomb. It is so dangerous. It is unregulated and nobody really knows what’s going on. It could be the most dangerous development in history if things get out of hand. Hmmm ... Things do seem to have gotten rather out of hand recently ... A fun fact from Lips about the impact of the Federal Reserve, which was created in 1913: "The dollar's purchasing power is now around 5% of its 1913 value." His conclusion: "I think central banks are detrimental to society." * Why doesn't the financial press do a better job? More. More. More. Vaguely related: What to make of Chuck Norris? Here and here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 14, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, March 13, 2009

New York City Movie Prices
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- And the movie was a great big bore too. The characters completely failed to engage me ... The story didn't really kick in until the movie was nearly over ... Tell me again what I was supposed to find interesting and fun about this experience? Semi-related: I wrote about another Zack Synder-directed movie, "300." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Derb, Steve, Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Derbyshire considers the Steve Sailer phenomenon. Steve Sailer asks a funny question about "Game." A great commentsthread ensues. As far as I'm concerned, Steve Sailer is one of the most interesting figures to emerge from the web era, and Game is one of the more fascinating sociological developments to come along in a while. Roissy's blog is where I usually go to learn more about Game. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (65) comments

Some Hyper-General Digressions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some recent discussions at this blog -- especially here and here -- have left me musing over some scattered and more-abstract-than-usual topics. No idea if the following reflections cohere into anything -- but why should they, eh? And maybe they'll prove useful to a few visitors, if only in a provoking-further-thought kind of way. At 2Blowhards we promote a lot of things. At the most specific level, we each have artists, entertainers, thinkers, and bloggers whose work we enjoy and want to call attention to. On a slightly more general level, we each have a bunch of gripes that we enjoy airing and points that we enjoy putting forward. Donald, for instance, would like to see the part of the world that appreciates visuals pay more respect to popular visual artists. Friedrich wonders why more isn't made of the political and economic matrices that art and culture arise from. My own preference is to peddle a Vedanta-ish "It's all culture, and tastes often change dramatically over time, so why get over-obsessed with judging and ranking? What's your personal reaction? What's your personal thought?" thing. But our overarching point here isn't to push any particular artist, thinker, topic, or point of view. It's to promote a better, richer, and more freewheeling cultural conversation than we're often offered by the usual institutions and outlets. Does the art (or book, or architecture, or music, or movie, or design ...) press overfocus on a handful of hot trends and chic names? Do the various art establishments deliver naive, fun-free, and narrow accounts of culture and art? We do our modest and amateur best to 1) point out how restricted the usual conversations are, and 2) offer examples of different, more spirited, and (we hope) more rewarding ways of talking about these things. I'm usually wary of speaking for my co-bloggers, but in this case I think it's safe: What we share here isn't a devotion to any particular artist, school, or point of view. It's to a conviction that the experience of art and culture is its own payoff. After all, if you don't find your life enriched by an engagement with the arts, why would you bother involving yourself at all? It isn't as though deepening your culture-knowledge, awakening your culture-responsiveness, or sharpening your culture-sensibilites is going to ensure you a secure retirement or win you more attractive lovers. In fact, for most people an involvement in the arts isn't going to deliver practical payoffs of any sort. What does "expertise in the arts" mean anyway? Can it be measured? How? If not, then what are we really talking about? Art isn't math, engineering, or science, after all. The changeable, vaporous stuff -- the cloud of tastes, quirks, preferences, and opinions that we all inhabit and that we bring to bear on all our culture-experiences -- is inescapable. The culture-adventure either enriches your life or it doesn't. (If it doesn't, that's cool, no harm done -- we'll... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Slow Drying Acrylics: More Testing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently I posted that to speed up my painting self-teaching progress, I was temporarily (probably) switching from water-soluble oils paints to a slow-drying line of acrylic paints from Golden. I posted the result of an early attempt. I'm still painting human faces ('cause it's pretty obvious when you get things wrong -- we know faces better than any other subject). And I'm reaching the point where I'll zoom back and include more of the body and perhaps add a little background. The acrylics have definitely improved productivity. I can complete a painting of a head in three days or so. But I'm encountering the acrylic color-shift problem. After couple of days of drying, the colors will have turned darker. This means one has to paint things a little lighter than what is desired and hope that the picture will darken just enough to yield the intended effect. Not good, which is why I'll probably return to oils after a while. I might add that I'm using regular acrylics along with the slower-drying variety. Sometimes this is when I already have a seldom-used color in a regular acrylic and wish to save money by not buying a slow-dry duplicate. Other times, I need to paint a small passage that I want to dry quickly, so using the fast-dry alternative is useful. Below are two more recent paintings. The surface is cheap, rather rough canvas board which isn't the best for portrait-type work. The photos are by my little digital camera using natural light. The results are not as good as the actual paintings. Colors are off, and the texture of the canvas board is more apparent than what one sees when viewing in person. At least they offer a rough idea as to how things are going. Both paintings used photo references, but are not slavish copies; I used photos mostly to get the facial lighting patterns and then altered the images as I saw fit. The top painting was done first. The subjects are actually the same actress and two photos were used. The reference photo for the lower picture was from a clothing catalog. I have quite a ways to go, but at least I'm cranking out stuff that's better than what I did when in art school those many years ago. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Newsless Newsweek
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Every year or so I wring my hands over the sad state of the weekly news magazine industry (for example, see here, here and here). Now that Spring is (almost) in the air again, I've noted articles such as this that prompt me to run to the keyboard and pound out more copy on the continuing drama. The problem is, there isn't much justification for weekly news magazines any more. For many years they successfully coexisted with newspapers, radio, newsreels and even television. But the Internet finally shattered the informational isolation of people living in news-deprived parts of the country. (Think small-town, small city locations far from the circulation zones of major papers with, in the good old days, large news holes. The main news sources were the local paper -- a hit-and-miss proposition -- and the thin gruel of TV news.) True, the Economist seems to be doing comparatively well. I suspect that its coverage of international news is its main selling point; even Internet users can be sketchy as to which overseas-based sites are worth bookmarking. At any rate, Newsweek seems to be planning to ditch much of the weekly news content and become more of an opinion-based journal than it presently is. How will this work out? I think long-term (ten years, say) success isn't very likely. Potential competition exists in the form of a fair number of opinion journals such as The New Republic, National Review, The Nation, Commentary and the Weekly Standard along with publications with a slightly softer opinion edge such as the Atlantic, Harper's, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and so forth. Then there is the name problem. The Newsweek brand has been around since the 1930s and is well-established in the minds of the reading public. But if it no longer dwells on the news of the previous week, then the title becomes non-descriptive, bordering on deceptive. Yet a name-change immediately wipes out more than 75 years worth of brand-equity. All things considered, if I were the publication's owner, I'd fold the thing and move on to something with greater potential. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 12, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

About the Subject: Bouguereau vs. Currin
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speakers and writers of English, unlike those of German, tend to opt for shorter, simpler words or labels. (I set aside academicians and bureaucrats. But then, I'm not sure what they write is really English anyway.) Consider that field of painting called "Abstract." Yes, it's often pinned down more tightly by the term "Abstract Expressionism" if the reference is to a school of painting centered in New York City 1945-1960 or thereabouts. As often happens, the labels that stick aren't always the best descriptions. The word "abstract" in one sense is a relative term, not an absolute. And it matters what is being "abstracted" and to what degree. A better term -- the one used by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1930s -- is Non-Objective Art. A long, not-in-keeping-with-English moniker, to be sure. What it translates to is "art with no object" or "art depicting nothing recognizable." All the rest of painting, therefore, depicts something that can be construed as one or more objects. These objects can be what exist or have existed in the world of experience, imaginary objects as in the case of some Surrealist painters or painters of Science-Fiction books covers, or objects from experience that have been distorted, but not unrecognizably so. And that's one of the things that can make an artist's fortune or get him in trouble with art critics or usually both, depending on the timing. Take William-Adolphe Bouguereau for instance. There is little debate on whether or not he was an extraordinarily skilled painter: he was. Highly successful in his lifetime, his reputation suffered greatly after his death. In part this was due to the Modernist revolution sweeping all non-Modernist art under the critical rug. Otherwise, it was Bouguereau's subject-matter. Sentimental subjects or subjects treated in a sentimental fashion were popular in the late 1800s and are thought icky today by those who consider themselves artistically sophisticated. But that's what he mostly painted. Among the kinds of Bouguereau subjects were children. Most were girls and many were waifs. Below are a few examples. Bouguereau is the big favorite of the folks at the Art Renewal Center, and I wish them well in their effort to restore his reputation. The guy did an amazing job of painting human flesh. And the background work in some of his late painting has, in contrast, lots of visible brushwork. Alas, I must have spent too much of my life in the second half of the 20th century, so I don't care much for his subject-matter even though I greatly respect his talent. John Currin is a currently active artist who was trained in what I'll call a classical manner and who could paint serious subjects well if he so chose. Instead, perhaps in an effort to build a reputation and avoid the starving artist role, his subjects are outrageous. They run the gamut from the pornographic (if you're curious, go to Google, type in his name and then... posted by Donald at March 11, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Are We Cranky? Is it the Economy or ...
Dear Blowhards -- "I used to enjoy this blog, but I find the dialogue has been getting crankier and crankier. " Thus began a comment to a recent posting of Michael's, but it might as easily have been attached to a posting by Friedrich or me. There might be something to the claim, and if there is, I'm wondering what the reason might be. One possibility, as the headline hints, is the nasty economic downturn of the last six or more months. Perhaps many or most of us are on edge due to concerns about money, job security and other issues that accompany recessions and depressions. Another factor might be the nature of the subjects of postings. We continue to write about arts, life and oddball stuff. But not all of this makes for comment-fest fodder. Michael has told me that The Wife believes that many of the essays we post are pretty complete in themselves. That is, they are read, understood and appreciated -- but there is little reason for readers to comment. What stirs up comment swarms seems to be postings about politics or lifestyle-related subjects such as sex or personality. Religion would probably be another hot topic, but that is seldom covered here. Basically, these are the sorts of subjects that polite hostesses of yore wished to avoid at dinner parties -- because they can easily provoke anger if there is disagreement. Usually disagreements hereabouts remain on a high plane. But sometimes commenters resort to name-calling; perhaps a therapeutic act, but nothing to advance an argument intellectually. A few months ago on comments to some of my postings I saw name-calling in the first sentence and got so fed up that I began deleting such comments, not caring who "started it." On the other hand, I almost always allow comments attacking me to be posted because it gives other readers an insight regarding the personality of the commenter. So what, then, is going on? Is it stressful times we're living in? A Blowhards self-inflicted problem? Something else? Or is there no problem at all. Comments welcome. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 10, 2009 | perma-link | (40) comments

Monday, March 9, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Maybe we should blame it all on Harvard. (Link thanks to Matthew Redard.) * John Stossel asks some good questions about how much credit politicians do and don't deserve. * Is California close to declaring bankruptcy? * Are there more reasons to worry about water than about petroleum? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wealth Creation (?!) via Financial Engineering
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Thank goodness that by a careful application of incentive pay, we have attracted the best and the brightest to their highest and best uses, throughout our economy. Bloomberg’s story, “Making $34 Million at Merrill Means No Bonus Escapes Subpoenas,” just brings one more piece of evidence from the world of finance to light: Andrea Orcel’s reported $33.8 million compensation for 2008, a year when his employer, Merrill Lynch & Co., had net losses of $27 billion, doesn’t come without a price. Orcel, 45, Merrill’s top investment banker, has been subpoenaed to testify by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who’s looking into the firm’s decision to pay $3.6 billion in bonuses to 700 employees just before it was swallowed by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp. on Jan. 1. […] Last year, Orcel advised Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc on its $19 billion acquisition of Dutch Bank ABN Amro Holding NV, which was completed in April. Royal Bank of Scotland, once the second-biggest U.K. bank by market value, is now controlled by the government after reporting the biggest loss in the country’s history. […] “ABN Amro and Royal Bank of Scotland are [today] both bankrupt and their leaders are disgraced, but the investment banker who put it together walks off with $30 million,” Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve and now head of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, said at a conference at New York University’s Stern School of Business last week. “There’s something the matter with that system.” Thank goodness for principal-agent conflicts! Where would our economy be without them! Where would the entire New Class expert-ocracy be without them! Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Rhythm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I guess everybody enjoys moving to The Gap Band! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 9, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Frank Frazetta, Colorist
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The era of mass-circulation magazines filled with illustration art was essentially over by the late 1960s. These days at Barnes & Noble, I see books of compilations of current illustration that contain mostly cartoonish, odd, ironic Postmodern-style graphics bearing little relationship to the work of the giants of illustration active 1890-1960. But people are funny -- perverse, actually. There is still a sizable market for well-executed, (largely) naturalistic commercial illustration. That market is represented by, among others, book covers, comic books, graphic novels (long-format, single-story perfect-bound comic books) and computer games. And speaking of computers, much of this art is done using computerized tools rather than traditional media. Those traditional media ruled during the period from 1960-65 until around the end of the century. Perhaps the leading illustrator during this era was Frank Frazetta, who I mentioned in passing here. Biographical information on Frazetta can be found here and here. Frazetta had little formal art training. What he got was during his schoolboy years; everything else he picked up from mentors or on his own. The first part of his career was in the field of comics, both book and newspaper (for a number of years he ghosted Al Capp's popular Li'l Abner strip). Such work was in the form of inking over penciled drawings with (for Sunday papers and comic books) flat-color fill-ins. After a falling-out with Capp, Frazetta scrambled for a few years until he began to make a mark painting covers for fantasy, science-fiction and superhero paperback books, comic books and, later, movie posters. He quickly became successful to the point that he is revered by a large body of fans. I suspect that most of those fans and others viewing his work focus on Frazetta's subjects. These include monsters, muscle-bound heroes and villains, and barely-clothed babes with bodies that don't quit. Those babes, by the way, have pretty much the same kind of caricatured face -- extra-rounded forehead and tiny nose -- that seems (to me) to be based on Frazetta's wife. I consider this constricted depiction of females to be Frazetta's main failing; more variety would have been better. But the subject of this post is not so much the content of his paintings, but his painterly skill and use of color -- subtleties one wouldn't expect given Frazetta's lack of formal training and a presumed lack of sophistication of his audience of paperback book buyers. I think that a good deal of Frazetta's appeal is subliminal. Yes, people probably mostly focus on the subjects and how they are drawn. But I contend that it's the color and brushwork embodied in the finished product that makes the fantastic subjects seem unexpectedly real -- even though it probably isn't noticed by most viewers. Let's take a look at some of Frazetta's art that I grabbed off the web. Gallery This violent character is typical Frazetta. But don't focus on the helmet, ax and so forth. Instead, look at the rocks... posted by Donald at March 8, 2009 | perma-link | (16) comments