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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  1. Indifference to Flowers
  2. Taking Secession Seriously
  3. Linkage
  4. Obama in Popular Culture
  5. Living in Small, Weak Countries
  6. Brand Loyalty
  7. 1000 Words: Patrick Dennis
  8. Visual Arts Linkage
  9. Vote for the Prince
  10. Fact for the Day

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Indifference to Flowers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My mother liked to garden. My wife loves gardening. Yesterday we drove up to the Skagit Vally Tulip Festival and walked around the tulips at Roozengaard's (lotsa Dutch in Washington's Skagit and Whatcom counties). When we visit Victoria, BC she normally squeezes in a trip to Butchart Gardens. Me? I'm indifferent to flowers. Don't love 'em, don't hate 'em. Just a part of nature. I suppose if I had taken a botany class and put my head into the taxonomy thing I might have more interest. But that's water that never got over the dam. Still, I find it interesting how deeply some folks go into flowers -- literally and figratively. (Hey, life without hobbies can be pretty dull.) At Roozengaard's I saw several guys and at least one gal hefting big Canon and Nikon cameras with telephoto lenses carefully snapping away. Me? I'm more into geology. Did you know that rock formations can be really interesting? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 2, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Taking Secession Seriously
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Most lefties appear to be either angered or puzzled by the recent talk about secession. Bioregionalist lefty Kirkpatrick Sale isn't one of them. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2009 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Rawness does a lot of powerful, smart, and down-to-earth thinking about madonna/whore complexes: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. He has also made available for download what sounds like an intriguing out of print book. * After a hiatus well-spent perfecting Game, Thursday returns to blogging: How to find a virgin. Whassup with the men's movement? Who won the sexual revolution? * Who's in the right? The hubby who wants a tumble three or four times a week? Or the wife who prefers to enjoy some luvvvvin' once a month? As my own wife likes to say, galz and guyz are so different -- both in terms of what they're looking for and how they prefer to go about getting it -- that it's a miracle women and men manage to shack up at all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (37) comments

Obama in Popular Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Has there been a political figure since JFK who has had Pres. Obama's impact on pop culture iconography? Che, maybe? In New York City, Obama's face sometimes seems to be everywhere. You can buy a Warholesque framed portrait from an art gallery: Or you can keep it real, man, and make your Obama purchases on the street: Feeling a little sour? Freshen your breath with an Obamamint: My favorite recent Obama appearance, though, was on the over of a New Age/Yoga giveaway magazine. New Life editor Mark Becker said this in his editor's note: I want to thank my dear friend Peter Max for creating and donating his portrait of President Obama, who I affectionately call Om-Bama, to adorn our cover ... We are living in very exciting time since we finally have a president who realizes what is broken and is willing to go out on a limb and step up to the plate to make these changes to create the America that our forefathers dreamed of. "Om-baba" -- talk about hopeful! Meanwhile, back in the real world, Pres. Obama seems to be carrying on as you'd expect any well-connected, know-it-all, Ivy Keynesian to behave. Here's how financial blogger Doug Henwood -- a lefty who favors nationalizing banks, so don't look at me that way -- evaluates Obama's performance: So far, the Obama administration’s notion of change, when it comes to this bailout, is to replace the Goldman Sachs alum at the top of the Tarp apparatus with a Merrill Lynch alum. Wow, that’s change we can all believe in, eh? Henwood is always worth a read, I find. While I can't get on board with the solutions he favors, his criticisms and observations often strike me as smart and informed. What does Obama represent to some people? Best, Michael UPDATE: A good passage from anti-globalist lefty Naomi Klein: Wall Street funded Obama’s campaign. They funded his Inauguration. They paid huge speaking and consulting fees to some of his closest advisers. What I am calling corruption is better understood as “crony capitalism.” It’s the systematic trading of favors between corporate and political elites to secure wealth and power. And the truth is, most of the time the trading of favors doesn’t even need to be explicit. It’s more that this corporate-political nexus creates an impenetrable culture in Washington, so the hedge-fund managers and bank CEOs are the ones who are in the ears of the Washington policy makers — they are their constituency, their community, the ones saying whether or not a given policy will work. And, of course, the problem is that the voices of regular people are left out.... posted by Michael at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Living in Small, Weak Countries
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For as long as I can remember, the United States has been a large, strong country. At the time of World War 2 our major enemies, in combination, outnumbered us in terms of population if not in productivity. And of course we had allies. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union also had the demographic advantage even without factoring in China. Again, we had productivity and allies to redress the balance. But for the last 20 years or so, we have been supreme. In some respects, living in the USA is similar to what it was like in the heydays of Imperial China, and the Roman and British empires -- though we are not an empire of the classical 19th century variety, nor of the Roman or Chinese kinds. I find that being an American is just fine, thank you; we are indeed fortunate. But what about the rest of the world? What is the psychology of being a citizen of a country that isn't top dog? I haven't the slightest idea. To simplify, I'll set aside flyspeck island countries or tiny continental states such as Andorra, Lichtenstein and San Marino. Ditto African hell-holes and banana republics. What if you're a citizen of the likes of Uruguay, Lithuania, Greece, Belgium or Nepal? Your country isn't nothing, but larger and (at times) hostile neighbors are always present, implicit threats to your country's existence. So how do you view your country and the world around you? Probably not like an American would. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 29, 2009 | perma-link | (28) comments

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brand Loyalty
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that people like to choose sides, to team up. That includes the old 1950s business about in-groups and out-groups, a situational selection of an identity and the inherent opposition to people or entities not of that identity. In some cases, such identities can be formal (being a frat house member, an Army enlistee, an employee of a business firm or government agency, etc.) or informal (a Boston Red Sox fan). By "situational," I refer to the fact that an individual can define himself in terms of a number of memberships or affinities simultaneously, being aware of one or another as situations arise. For instance, if Martians were to land a flying saucer on the White House lawn and demand that Earth capitulate to their demands [oh, maybe that happened already], many people would start thinking of themselves as members of the human race in opposition to those cussed space aliens. Or when folks deplane at Heathrow airport near London and get in line for passport control check they are, for a few minutes anyway, acutely aware of their citizenship of the country whose passport they bear. Such identification needn't be to a group or organization. It can be to a product or product brand. This attachment can be due to satisfaction with the branded products in the past or identification with a brand perceived as being of high status (usually) or perhaps a combination of those factors and others. Extended identification with a brand in the form of repeated purchases of the product can be said to be a demonstration of "brand loyalty" -- something more tangible than simply wearing a tee shirt sporting a logotype. So brand loyalty exists. What I wonder is whether it is a kind of social constant or if it is a declining practice. Since brands do die off, it's clear that brand loyalty isn't forever. Yet brand names have value. They are a component of the "goodwill" aspect of a company's market worth. They are the basis for the marketing tactic of "brand extensions" -- New Coke, Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke and perhaps others I'm not aware of instead of separate brands for each of these soft drinks. To be more specific, I wonder if there is less brand loyalty nowadays compared to 50 or 60 years ago when the USA was supposedly a hotbed of conformity, a seemingly fertile ground for brand loyalty. I know that market researchers devote a good deal of study to brand images and customer loyalty. What I'm not sure of is whether enough similar studies were conducted in the 1950s to allow a real comparison. (Readers who are familiar with research literature on this matter are encouraged to comment and present findings.) Since I lack data I'll do my usual routine, a mixture of speculation and personal anecdotes. When I shop for groceries I tend to be a creature of habit, buying the brands I'm comfortable... posted by Donald at April 28, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, April 26, 2009

1000 Words: Patrick Dennis
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another installment in my occasional series of looks at underknown cultural phenomena. Today: Patrick Dennis, an American author of comic novels. For starters, let me pump up that description: Calling Patrick Dennis "an author of comic novels" is like describing "Gone With the Wind" as "a Civil War romance." It may be accurate but it doesn't go nearly far enough. Because in the 1950s and for much of the '60s, Patrick Dennis was huge. HUGE. At a time when writing, reading, and books really counted for something in our national life, Dennis was a star. Many of his 16 novels became bestsellers -- at one point he became the first person ever to have three books on the NYTimes bestseller list at the same time. He made millions of dollars. He was the toast of Manhattan high life. Not only were a number of his books adapted for the stage and screen, several of his characters became iconic. His madcap life-force creation Auntie Mame, for instance, was for many years as familiar a figure in America popular culture as Elvis Presley and Lucille Ball. Dennis was a larger-than-life figure himself -- an irreverent, live-it-all-out cutup whose nonwriting life, once he hit the bigtime, consisted largely of parties, balls, dinners, and sexual adventures, all of them enacted to the accompaniment of oceans of booze. You never knew quite what Pat Dennis was going to get up to next, to put it mildly. "I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind," he once said, and judging from his biography he might have been talking about how he approached every new day too. Despite all this, Patrick Dennis has these days been largely forgotten. If you ask a Greatest Generation person about Patrick Dennis and / or Auntie Mame, you'll likely evoke happy memories. But where his rep among younger people goes... Well, try Googling the name "Patrick Dennis." You'll turn up a helpful Wikipedia entry but very little else. He was so big once and he's so neglected now that it's a little peculiar. It's as though Frank Sinatra, say, had disappeared entirely down the memory hole. Until recently I knew little about Patrick Dennis myself. I knew of, but hadn't seen, the movie of "Auntie Mame." And I retained a memory of Camille Paglia declaring Auntie Mame a genuinely great creation. Here's Camille: "Auntie Mame" is the American "Alice in Wonderland." It is also, incidentally, one of the most important books in my life. Its witty Wildean phrases ring in my mind, and its flamboyant characters still enamor me. Like Tennessee Williams, Patrick Dennis caught the boldness, vitality, and iridescent theatricality of modern American personality. In Mame's mercurial metamorphoses we see American optimism and self-invention writ large. Anyway: For no reason that I can recall, I found myself curious. Over the last few months I've read a couple of Dennis' novels, as well as a biography of him. So... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Visual Arts Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Best to think of Picasso as a comic artist? * Tweets and Status Updates become works of visual art. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an intro to David Milne, a lyrical, quirky and underknown Canadian painter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Vote for the Prince
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Prince of Wales: A beneficial or a malign influence on architecture? Go here and vote. I think he's been a wonderful force myself. It's been 25 years since he made his crack about how a certain modernist proposal for London struck him as resembling "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend," and he's done a good and persistent job of keeping up the pressure ever since. I also liked "A Vision of Britain," his book in praise of traditional architecture, very much. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- 48% of Texas Republicans think Texas would be better off if it seceded from the U.S. Source. FWIW, yours truly isn't all that interested in a discussion about whether Texas seceding from the union is a good or a bad idea. Boring. A far more appealing-to-me line of thought might be one that went roughly this way: Wow. How weird that secession is being spoken about so openly these days. Didn't see that one coming. In fact, I can't remember the topic being spoken about like this in my entire lifetime. Bizarre and remarkable. How to account for this development? What might it mean or indicate? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 26, 2009 | perma-link | (38) comments