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. Bill Kauffman on Secessionism
  2. Rock-Star Gadget
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  1. ricpic on Creativity and Personal Politics
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Friday, June 29, 2007

Bill Kauffman on Secessionism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Daer Blowhards --

Radical-reactionary eco-regionalist lyrical-crank / hometown-boy Bill Kauffman writes a beauty of an essay for Orion magazine. His subject is secessionism, and the American tradition of secessionism.

Great (and typical Bill Kauffman) passage:

The stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don't-tread-on-me libertarianism with I'll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism.

Reveling in variety and contradiction -- I like that.

Even for someone fond of America, it's hard not to fantasize about secession these days, isn't it? Hillary, Bloomberg, Romney ... Could we do any worse? Bill Kauffman makes a distinction that I find very useful: between the inhuman America of Empire (Bush, Hillary, Viacom, Halliburton, etc), and the human-scale real America (you, me, our friends, our communities). Since it makes perfect sense to me to love the latter while wishing ill to the former, I do sometimes find myself wondering: Well, why not just detach from the bastards?

2Blowhards did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman not so long ago. Here's my intro to his work; here's Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. I urge you to give 'em a read -- Bill is nothing if not big-hearted, super-smart, and fearlessly provocative.

Orion, the magazine running Bill's current piece, is a funny publication -- it's home to earnest eco-bores and brilliant whackjobs both. But it's well worth exploring. I notice that Orion features a page of short videos in which James Kunstler (another firebrand fave of mine) explains his view that we're about to hit the wall where oil is concerned. Kunstler blogs here, and makes irresistable fun of trendy-ludicrous architecture here.

Some more along these lines: Here's The Vermont Commons, a newspaper devoted to the secession movement. Kirkpatrick Sale spells out the appeal of decentralism here. Clark Stooksbury blogs from a Reactionary Radical point of view here. Here's an interview with the legendary curmudgeon, writer, and eco-anarchist Edward Abbey. Here's a terrific Shawn Ritenour introduction to the green-friendly free-market economist Wilhelm Ropke, a special favorite of mine.

I did some Small is Beautiful linkage here; wrote an introduction to Jane Jacobs here; blogged here about how various the eco-worlds are; and praised Nina Planck's book "Real Food" here.

Bill Kauffman's latest book is the very moving and interesting "Look Homeward, America."



UPDATE: Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy" here. Luke Lea's thoughts often run along these lines too.

posted by Michael at June 29, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rock-Star Gadget

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I dropped by the neighborhood Apple Store today to enjoy some corporate-strength air conditioning, to garner some new iMovie tips, and to indulge in some gadget-handling entertainment. Amazing how an Apple Store can become a real community center, isn't it? When I'm in the mood to get out of the apartment and kill some time, I'm as likely to visit the Apple Store as I am to see a movie or tour a museum. Judging from the happy crowds nearly always semi-packing the place out, I'm not the only person whose habits have been altered in this way.

Today was of course iPhone Day Minus One, and the Apple employees looked like they were girding for a combination of a party and a battle. And, yes, outside on the SoHo sidewalk, around 30 people were already camping out in line. Does Apple pay people to act this way? Or is excitement about the iPhone genuinely at this kind of pitch? I'm sorry to report that I didn't have the presence of mind to talk to any of the iPhone groupies, and that when I reached for my digicam, its batteries were dead. Me heap big bad blogger.

Is there any way the iPhone can live up to the hype? Perhaps so, if it really does work as well as it does in this Apple video. That's one miraculous-seeming device, and one superslick video. Apple does have a genius for portraying its machines as simple and beautiful headache-relievers and delight-enablers, devices that don't enslave people to the circuitry but that instead meet, serve, and tickle real people on real-people terms. Watching the video, I felt a few blinded-by-bliss shivers myself -- and I'm someone who hates cellphones and does my best to avoid them. These days, it seems to me, Apple does more to affirm and convey the importance (and the fun) of the aesthetic dimension than the arts community does.

The SoHo place was crackling with anticipation, in any case. Which got me wondering: Are there cultural events that can match Apple's best for bravura, glitz, and thrills? Is the iPhone the new version of a rock star? Is technology and gadgetry the new showbiz? (Do the releases of new computer games and game devices attract crowds batty with similar levels of enthusiasm? I'm not a games person myself, and know nothing about the scene.) Engadget, though, reports that excitement outside San Francisco's Apple Store is minimal.

Follow the great iPhone event minute by minute at iPhone Matters, a blog devoted to the iPhone. Here's a Wikipedia article about the history of Apple's ad campaigns.



UPDATE: Newsweek's Steven Levy says that the iPhone is almost everything you'd want it to be. Nice passage:

The iPhone is the rare convergence device where things actually converge ... As it did with MP3 players, Apple has made even its most stylish competitors look like Soviet-issue contraptions ... Even those who never buy one will benefit from its advances, as competitors have already taken Apple's achievements as a wake-up call to improve their own products.

I often like Levy's work, by the way. I've read three of his books -- one about early computer hackers; another about Apple; and one about the science of artificial life -- and found them rousing, fast, and informative. They were all, in fact, good enough to make me wonder if the real literature of our age might not be our popular-journalism books about business and technology.

In another recent Newsweek piece, Levy writes that the U.S. ranks no better than 15th in the world where broadband-access is concerned. Evidently many people in Japan and Korea already have internet connections that are 10 times faster than what we smug cable-modem subscribers enjoy.

posted by Michael at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Creativity and Personal Politics

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

[Kicks self mercilessly]

A few weeks ago during my daily tour of favorite web sites I followed a link to an item that proclaimed that major creative people historically have been "liberal." Names of artists, writers, scientists, etc. were named.

I should have bookmarked the piece, but [Sob] didn't.

Today I played with search features on some of sites, but couldn't locate the link. Which means you'll have to take my word that it existed.

I don't doubt that the majority of "creatives" in the USA nowadays are in the liberal end of the political spectrum -- publicly, at least. Part of this might have to do with life-cycle stage. Much of the rest might simply be because of a desire to go along with the herd or to conform with what they heard as children at the dinner table or in college or art school from faculty. And of course there are some who have given political matters a good deal of thought and are ideologically committed based on their studies.

But you can only push the "liberalism" concept a limited distance back in history. Most readers should know that "liberal" meant something quite different in the 19th century than is does in 21st century America. So let me substitute "leftist" for "liberal" to clarify matters. Even so, leftism as we understand it emerged in the 19 century, which suggests that claims about the modern-sense politics of Da Vinci or Velázquez don't carry much meaning.

(I realize I'm trodding on Friedrich's turf at this point. So please comment, Herr von Blowhard, to clarify and error-correct my ramblings.)

The thrust of the "missing link" [Har, har] was that conservatives were and are uncreative boobs who have done nothing to advance science, art, literature and such. I can contend that this idea is nonsense by simply citing the fact that most people aren't consistent when dealing with the world. For example, it's not hard to find folks who vote left, yet are quite traditional in their approach to family life, their profession, personal finances and so forth.

Not convinced? Consider the original Impressionist painters. I just finished reading a biography of Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who promoted and subsidized the Impressionists written by Pierre Assouline.

Assouline makes it clear that Durand was a monarchist, a strong Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard. Yet he championed a radical art movement and supported artists with quite different political views including Camille Pissarro, a quasi-anarchist Jew from the Caribbean colonies.

In the last chapter of the book, pages 253-54, Assouline characterizes the politics of the artists in reference to the l'Affaire Dreyfus. "Pissarro and Monet were supporters of Dreyfus ... as were Signac and Mary Cassatt. But that was all." "On the opposite side were those whose latent or declared anti-Semitism had been radicalized, notably Renoir, Puvis de Chavannes, Rodin, Forain, Cézanne, and above all Degas."

Presumably none of the latter group were "creative."



posted by Donald at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Two Sobering Articles on Immigration Reform

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards,

I came across two recent items that I thought cogently summed up two strong reasons for opposing the comprehensive immigration reform legislation currently being considered in the U. S. Senate.

The first is a discussion by Roger Simon of a key reason the current legislation will not stop new illegal immigration. You can read this here. For those who may not have time to read the whole thing, you should notice at least the following remarks by Mr. Simon:

This Sunday on a talk show, I made some comments about the need for real work-site enforcement to make immigration work. On Monday, I got an e-mail from an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the chief sponsors of the immigration bill, that said: "Not sure where you got your facts that the immigration bill doesn't have a lot on work-site enforcement, it certainly does, including a sweeping new employee verification system."

Sweeping? New? Maybe. But it is also nonexistent. It can never be created in time to meet the provisions of the law, and it will have glaring holes when and if it ever does exist. The bill requires that within 18 months of enactment all newly hired employees must be checked by something called the Electronic Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), and within three years every employer in the United States must check every employee in the United States using it.

But there are 150 million people in the U.S. workforce and some 60 million people who change jobs every year. And this system -- which does not currently exist and has to be up and running in 18 months and completed in three years -- is going to make sure everyone in the workforce is here legally? Not a chance.[emphasis added]

The entire article, which I urge you to read, explains exactly why without serious workplace enforcement, a current impossibility, illegal immigration will continue and probably grow under the proposed legislation, given that it is being coupled with another round of amnesty for everyone who has managed to sneak in.

The second is a discussion by George Borjas of who benefits and loses economically from large scale, low skill, low wage immigrant labor. This can be read here.

The "money quote" from Professor Borjas' critique of the President's Council of Economic Advisors' study claiming that immigration results in a net $30 billion benefit is the following:

The same model that generates the $30 billion net gain implies that [native] workers suffered a substantial wage loss. In fact, the total wage loss suffered by native workers is given by this other formula (p. 8 of my 1995 paper):

Wage loss as fraction of GDP = - "labor's share of income"
times "wage elasticity"
times "fraction of workforce that is foreign-born" times "fraction of workforce that is native-born"

Let's stick in numbers:

Wage loss = -0.7 times -0.3 times 0.15 times 0.85

which equals 0.0268, or 2.7% of GDP. Since GDP is around $13 trilliion, the implied wage loss is around $350 billion. We are not talking about change anymore!

Finally, if you add the wage loss of $350 billion to the net gain of $30 billion, you get how much employers benefit--almost $400 billion. Of course, some of the gains made by employers eventually trickle down to consumers. But surely employers must keep an important portion: why else would they spend so much trying to lobby Congress for a never-ending supply of cheap labor? [emphasis added]

At the end of the day, this bill is a very strange animal that not only primarily benefits "special interests"--chiefly, illegal immigrants and the people who employ them--but also fairly seriously misrepresents itself as a cure to a problem, when in fact it will essentially institutionalize the problem.

Lastly, am I the only person who sees a strong resemblance between the weirdly stage-managed buildup to the Iraq war and this piece of legislation, apparently being forced through via parliamentary judo and without public hearings?



posted by Friedrich at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Neo Hot Rods

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The ball's in my court.

Uh, check that. That's not a ball. It's ... a grenade!

The safety ring had been pulled out. And the lever is in the open position.

What's this nonsense? It seems I got an email from Michael (Himself) Blowhard passing along a message from one "zebic" in Australia who had a link to pictures of a Holden (General Motors) dream car with a hot rod styling theme. The subliminal hint was that it might be nice to do a post on this.

[Click heels. Give snappy salute.]

The subject of hot rods -- or more specifically, hot rods with customized bodies -- is one I've toyed with, but avoided writing about. That's because I've have this thing about custom rods. I suppose I should explain.

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had an exhibit a while ago featuring Kustom Kars from what they called the high point of hot rod custom building -- roughly 1945-1955. As it happens, I was an early-teen during the last few years of that golden epoch. Believe me, rods and Kustoms were the talk of junior high boys who were too young to drive and too broke to buy a car of any kind, let alone get the goodies to soup up the motor or pay a body shop to chop 'n' channel 'n' section the beastie.

Guys would go on and on about which car would be best (Ford and Mercury flat-head V8s were the strong consensus pick). Then the conversation would shift to how much the engine block should be shaved and what brands of hot camshafts and exhaust systems would be best. Along with this would be customizing: tweak the suspension to lower the front, the back or both? What grille to substitute. (Implicit was that nearly all the production chrome trim would be pulled off, the attachment holes leaded in and the car repainted.)

Me? I had much less of an engineering mindset than I do now, so the engine talk was largely lost on me. But the customizing subject bothered me.

Here it gets a little complicated. I was becoming knowlegeable about custom automobiles of the 1930s. These are a subset of what are known as Classic Cars. A Classic Car is usually a car that was expensive in its day and often had interesting or unusual engineering and styling features. (The Classic Car Club of America has a list of makes and models that are "officially" classic, but that's a side-topic.) A customized classic usually retained the production hood, dash panel and fenders. A bespoke-body firm (an outfit often literally in the "carriage trade" originally -- and certainly not a backyard panel-beater) would receive a chassis from the manufacturer with only the previously-mentioned body parts or, sometimes, a complete car from which much of the body aft of the hood would be removed. Then a special design would be constructed to replace the now-missing passenger area.

Fine by me. But for some reason I didn't like the idea of taking ordinary cars and playing games with their looks. I still don't, but can't really say why.

Much of the rest of the world, including many professional automobile stylists, take a different view. A popular production car -- the Chrysler PT Cruiser -- has the vibes of a mid-30s Ford with a dropped front end because the design honcho at Chrysler at the time it was hatched -- Tom Gale -- was a hot rod fan.

On the other hand, I don't object if a dream car like that Holden has a Kustom Kar theme. And it doesn't bother me if a new car is used as the basis for custom bodywork. (Kustom Kars normally were modifications of cars that were 5-25 years old and disappearing from the streets. Maybe that's why I wasn't happy with them: the historian in me.)

Enough prelude. On to the pictures.


1950 Mercury
Mercurys from model years 1949-51 in their original form disappeared from the streets far more rapidly than their contemporaries because they were prime Kustom Kar material: flat-head V8 motor and an interesting Bob Gregorie-styled body were key elements.

1949 Mercury as Kustom Kar
This Kustom goes beyond the superficial, yet dosn't achieve truly radical status. Simple modifications include a new grille, frenched headlights, trim changes and a flash paint-job. The big, expensive modification is the chopped top.

Holden EFIJY
Here's the Holden show car mentioned above. Holden is General Motors' Australian subsidiary and does a good deal of its own engineering and design work. Its web site's presentation on the EFIJY is here. Yes, it's Retro and Kustom. And fun.

EFIJY rear view
This is a corporate illustration showing what the back of the car looks like.

Holden FJ
EFIJY seems to be a riff on FJ, the model name of a post-war Holden that probably served as the basis for rodding and customizing in times past. Note that the EFIJY uses its grille theme.

Plymouth Prowler
This is the first of Tom Gale's production cars inspired by rods and Kustoms. It didn't have a large production run and isn't entirely practical, but from time to time you can seen one on the streets.

Ford 1936 Impression by Chip Foose
Chip Foose is a graduate of the Art Center and has done most of his transporation design work in the rod-Kustom field. Some of his cars become the basis for models and others are placed in very limited production. A one-off Foose can be worth well into six figures.

Hemisfear by Chip Foose
This Foose design was intended for limited production -- about 50 were planned.

Aluma by Boyd Coddington
Foose used to work for Coddington, but the Aluma is credited to Coddington and I'm not sure who was responsible for the styling. This and the Hemisfear are what hot rods might have looked like had modern technology, a trained designer and wads of cash been available.



posted by Donald at June 26, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Stacks

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Over at Querencia, Steve, Matt, and Reid have all posted photos of their book-heaps, those end-tables-full of books that you're in the middle of reading, or that you're maybe on the verge of cracking open, or that you're about to get back to. Amazing how many books a single person can consider "in process" at a given moment, isn't it?

Inspired by da boyz, I let myself get a little carried away: Lights, camera, video! After hours of frenzied wrestling with iMovie, I came away with a hot 'n' seething document about the movies and audiobooks that I'm in the middle of, or at least plan to get around to soon.

Check out the editing on this sucka. Marty Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, watch your backs.

During the final credits you'll notice a tip of the hat to The Wife. Therein lies a small tale. Proud of my initial storyboad for the project, I showed it to her. She looked at it and gave a laugh, if a fond and Wifely one. Where was the arc?, she wanted to know. What was being built-to? And where was the all-important final whammy?

Wounded, I responded by pointing out the many Kieslowskian complexities I'd woven through my masterpiece. This only made her laugh louder, and say that it was OK with her if I really wanted to make the only movie in all movie history that would put audiences to sleep despite being a mere 90 seconds long.

I writhed, I went on a bender, I gave an anonymous interview to the New York Times about dissension on the set. Producers, eh? Always interfering. And so crass. What about the art?

But, y'know, I finally had to admit that she had a point. The audience deserves its chance at pleasure too. I mean, for whose sake are we showpeople putting out all this effort? You! You! The great entertainment-hungry public! So I took The Wife's suggestions, being careful to figure out ways of doing so without compromising my essential vision.

I learned a lesson from the experience: Clashes can be creative things, so long as they're resolved in creative ways that move the process along in creative directions.



posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Marc Andreessen praises "Infernal Affairs" and lists a lot of reasons not to do a start-up.

* Ed Gorman recalls his days as the publisher of a sci-fi fanzine. Ed blogs here.

* Jewish Atheist whirls insightfully through a whole bunch of movies he's watched recently.

* It's great to see that Mary Scriver's book about her late ex, the Western sculptor Robert Scriver, is now in the catalogue. It'll go on sale in October.

* Half Sigma muses about sexbots.

* Mac buffs: Organize your life with iGettingThingsDone. It looks 'way too complex for me. I'm a happy Yojimbo guy myself -- Yojimbo is iPhoto for your brain, basically. But many people who like a lot of structure -- and who are willing to spend more time than I am mastering a piece of software -- rave about iGTD. Plus it's free.

* So perhaps we'd be healthier if our doctors went on strike?

* Clio does some subtle and canny thinking about artists, money, and making a living.

* Graham Lester (now blogging at a new address) collects some classic Spike Milligan silliness.

* Rachel Lucas and her dog Sunny are charged by a pit bull. In the comments on this posting, visitors offer Rachel advice about how to defend herself against dog attacks. (Link thanks to Tatyana.)

* MB Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the conundrum that was the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl back when she turned 100 years old.



posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Emissions Controls

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Given all the twisting, squeezing, and deep breathing that is encouraged in yoga classes, it's amazing that this kind of episode doesn't occur more frequently. Essential yoga tip from one who has learned from hard experience: Don't eat anything solid for three hours prior to class. Some earnest commenters debate what I guess we might call the etiquette of yoga-farting here.



posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are Big Conspiracies Easy to Pull Off?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I didn't notice many political bumper stickers last month while driving in the southeast; here in Seattle I see lots of them.

Most of the Seattle bumper stickers are the usual anti-Bush, anti-war variety with slogans ranging from "A village in Texas has lost its idiot" to "IMPEACH!" -- all coming from the sort of folks who used to have "Hate is not a family value" stickers on their Volvos and Priuses.

But that's not what I'm addressing here. Much more interesting stuff is cropping up on the back ends of vehicles.

Today I spotted a sticker-laden minivan where one of the stickers said something to the following effect: "911 was an inside job." And a day or two ago I was following a car whose license plate frame had a slogan asserting that no airplane crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.

Okay. I can understand partisan "humor" (the first sticker mentioned above) and even partisan wishful thinking (the second one). But the last two cases are in the realm of conspiracy-thinking that goes beyond common sense.

Obviously the people who placed those slogans on their cars believe that the Administration was able to pull off a conspiracy that, if real, was off the charts in terms of resources employed, complexity of tasks, and exquisite timing.

Real-world experience tells most adults that secrets are hard to keep if many people are "in the know" -- especially in an open society such as the United States where people are inclined to blab, blab and blab again. In other words, by this time somebody probably would have stepped forward to proclaim "Yeah, it was me who did the logistics for the Trade Center controlled-demolition, and I got the Ace Hardware receipts to prove I bought the stuff."

Then there's the command and control element. Organizing complicated tasks isn't easy, again something that those adults who have worked in large organizations know.

I'm not a student of conspiracies. Truth is, I normally find the subject boring due to lack of resolution. So I'd appreciate reader input regarding the largest, most complex proven successful conspiracy undertaken in a free society.

Military operations don't count: they might be secret, but they normally don't fall into the realm of what most people understand conspiracies to be. And just for the record, I recognize that it's possible for secrets to be kept by large numbers of people in a free society. The classic case is the secret of the Ultra code-breaking effort in World War 2. But Ultra was during wartime. And it was a legal activity of the British government.

It saddens me that some people are so attracted to conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially if those theories can be distractions when important issues are at stake.

And what damage does such theorizing do to the theorizer (I'm assuming a free society setting)? Common sense and Occam's Razor go into the recycle bin. A lifetime of experience dealing with others gets reduced to If event X might have benefitted Y, then Y must have caused X to happen.

I'm not saying that conspiracies don't happen in free societies. They do, but they tend to be small-scale if they succeed at all. Big conspiracies seldom work, and if they do work it's usually a short-term success -- word eventually gets out.

Okay, comments are now welcome. Please, please try to focus on conspiracies and conspiracy theories as objects of analysis. I don't want a bunch of "Bush and Rove are eeevil!" or "Rosie O'Donnell is an idiot" stuff. Thank you.



posted by Donald at June 24, 2007 | perma-link | (47) comments

Friday, June 22, 2007

Singing Along

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Is it fair to propose a category of song labeled, more or less, "songs that I've made a happy fool of myself singing along to"? I think it may be OK. In any case, high on my personal list of such songs would come this goofily operatic piece of inane cheerfulness by Jay and the Americans:

Listening to it, I'm a kid again, waiting until the house clears out, then cranking up our tiny stereo and bellowing along with Jay Black. Infantile pop bliss.

Oh, here's another song that deserves a high place on my list: Johnny Rivers doing the immortal "Secret Agent Man":

It's surprising how happy these silly songs still make me feel. In fact, they make me wish I didn't live in an apartment house. Even when The Wife is out and I have the place to myself, there are still neighbors around, darn it. One of the minor sorrows of my life is that I have such an appalling voice. If only I could really sing ...

Just as I sometimes think that the story of my inner life is inscribed in the pornography I've collected over the years, I sometimes think that the story of my emotional life can be inferred from the songs I've loved to sing along with.

Wikipedia is informative about Jay and the Americans as well as about Johnny Rivers. Interesting to learn that Jay and da boyz were discovered and shaped by the great Leiber and Stoller. Here's Jay Black's site. Here's Johnny Rivers'.

Of all the songs you've enjoyed making a fool of yourself singing along with, which ones have made you the most dizzily happy?



UPDATE: Lester Hunt rhapsodizes about Domenico Modugno's rendition of "Volare."

posted by Michael at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (46) comments


Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A while ago I wrote here about Akseli Gallén-Kallela, an important Finnish artist active around the turn of the 20th century.

Many of his paintings are in Finland and therefore inconvenient for most of us to view in person. This problem was somewhat alleviated thanks to a major exhibition of his work in Groningen, Netherlands. The bad news is that the exhibit ended 26 April. The good news is that a catalog, in English, is available. I saw copies at a nearby Barnes & Noble store, but it's available here at Amazon. No doubt there are other places it can be found, including museum shops. So you have the opportunity to get a pretty good idea about what he painted from the very good to the so-so.

One feature of the catalog that I found especially nice was two-page spreads containing a detail from one or another of his major paintings (illustrated in full on another page). The detail is good enough that an interested reader (such as me) could glean a decent idea as to how Gallén handled brushwork, color overlaying and other details useful to artists.

Another book I recently purchased is a biography of architect Bertram Goodhue -- its Amazon link is here.

Goodhue was an outstanding architect who died in his fifties, just as Modernism was starting its rise. So there is no way we can be sure what his final, mature style might have been, unlike the case for near-contemporary (and also short-lived) architect Raymond Hood.

Among Goodhue's best-known buildings are the Nebraska State Capitol, the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago and St. Bartholomew's Church on New York City's Park Avenue.

The book is interesting because its focus is on Goodhue's residential work, less known than his large projects (which the book does not ignore).

An interesting sidelight: I'm been seeking a decent book about Goodhue for a year or two. Apparently all the while I was wallowing in frustration, this book was becoming reality: how convenient.

Will lightening strike again? Are there any publishers readying books about Frans Hals and Jean-Léon Gérôme? Hope so.

(Note: 2Blowhards does not have advertisements, nor do we have deals with companies such as The Amazon links above are for informational purposes only.)



posted by Donald at June 22, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Steps in the Right Direction?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Gotta love those modernist improvements!



posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Going Live

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The Wife and I are coming off a long-ish spell of old-fashioned barnstorming. In recent months we've put our raunchy fiction up in front of live audiences all around the country. We've conferred our genius on San Francisco, Chicago, Phoenix, L.A., Austin and seven or eight more cities (/irony, of course). Or was it nine more cities? When you're on tour, where you are and where you've been can get to be a bit of a blur.

It has been an elaborate and exhausting procedure, mainly because we don't just show up at bookstores and read from books. That would be too easy. No, we arrange with local actors to semi-read / semi-perform our stories. We put on a real show, in other words. It's all very no-budget and catch-as-catch-can, but even so the process involves arranging a venue, buying advertising, trying to rustle up local press coverage, and auditioning actors and getting them to show up on time.

To be honest, this has all been The Wife's doing, not mine. For one thing, she's promoting a collection of her own stories that has just been published. (If you'd like an Amazon link to the book, email me at michaelblowhard at gmail and I'll email it back to you. And please do! The Wife's book is a super-fun read -- full of mischief, nifty hooks, lively characters, and hot and filthy sex scenes. Not that I'm biased or anything ... )

For another, The Wife just likes putting on live shows. She's that type -- I often tease her that she's more actress than writer, and I wonder sometimes if she wouldn't be even happier making movies than writing books. Performers, venues, applause, audiences, the crackle of electricity that's special to live performances -- for her, that combo is like the world's bestest-ever drug. Me, well ... Let's just say that I enjoy co-writing, lending moral support, and hanging out backstage.

Please don't feel impressed. We put our shows on at small clubs, even at sex-toy stores, not in auditoriums. At our level, the usual audience ranges from 40-60 people. (On the other hand: Be impressed! Most writers would kill to have 40-60 people show up to listen to their fiction.) We've also been doing the touring on our own nickel. What, you don't think book publishers actually promote the books they publish, do you? Please, grow up.

The fact is that, for 90% of book-authors, publishers do nothing besides turn the material into a book and place it on bookstore shelves for eight weeks. That's it. No ads, no touring, no support. The book either finds its audience or it doesn't. (It's an absurd business: How is anyone supposed to learn about the book's existence in the first place?) So The Wife and I -- darned proud of our kooky, nasty fiction, and maybe a little tougher about promotion than many tenderfoot writers are -- have been doing our best to give our fiction a fair chance in life.

In any case: After numerous months of encountering the Real America -- or at least that very special, tiny sliver of it that attends club performances of erotic fiction -- as well as experiencing what it's like to put on live shows, I have a few observations, tales, and reflections to share.

  • The Highs and The Lows. Putting on live performances requires brass balls and nerves of steel. (Either that or a really overwhelming love of performing, I guess.) The ups and downs can take their toll on a person. A few memorable downs: We had one show where the cast outnumbered the audience. It was actually a good show -- the actors were cooking. Too bad only four people were there to enjoy their good work. At another show, a fire in some nearby hills attracted ten police helicopters overhead and finally blew out the electricity at the club. Our gallant actors lit candles and finished the reading anyway.

    But some of the ups: We've done a number of shows that were sellouts. Yeah, baby! At one of them, the audience roared and cheered like the audience at a smokin' standup comedy act. Afterwards, people -- I guess you might even call them fans -- milled shyly around us, then requested autographs. Autographs! We've been asked to give creative-writing seminars in How to Write Erotic Fiction. A few of the articles written about us have claimed that we're among the leaders of today's edgy erotic-fiction-writing world. Who knew?

    Bragging and groveling to one side, here's my main reflection: No wonder many writers don't put themselves through this kind of touring. I'm not entirely a stranger to showbiz; I've taken acting classes and have spent serious time hanging out with actors; and several lifetimes ago I was a mini-impresario who put on dances, speakers, parties, etc. I enjoyed it all. Even so, on this tour of our own fiction my nerves were often both wrought-up and exhausted. Imagine what a trial such an adventure would be for souls more sensitive than I!

  • It's Fiction, People! OK, So Maybe It's Not ... I wrote back here about the way a surprising number of people in audiences feel that, because we write about sex, The Wife and I not only know something about the subject, we also lead a highly-adventurous sex life. At the beginning of our scamper through the country, we were both a little taken aback by what some people were projecting onto us. So we responded by fighting back genially, trying to enlighten people about the actual facts of the writing life. Namely: Writing time is scarce, writing is hard (if fun) work, and at the end of the day it's all we can do to switch on the TV for an hour. Hey, folks, it's fiction -- that means we make it up!

    By the end of our tour, though, we'd done a 180. These days we let people project onto us whatever they damn well please. For one thing, no one really seems to want to know the truth about how dull writers' lives are. (And why would they?) For another, fantasizing about the writer seems to be part of the fun of fiction for many readers. Why get in the way of their pleasure? If the audience listening to our sexy fiction enjoys imagining its authors as lusty reprobates who swill cocktails, toss off hot stories, and relax by doing exotic drugs and attending orgies, then by god that's who we are.

  • Live Audiences Aren't Workshops. I'm all for studying and mastering craft, of course. And I understand that for practical reasons many writers don't really have a choice -- for many people, it's a choice between a fiction-writing workshop and no feedback at all. Nonetheless ...

    What irks me is the way some writers mistake the workshop world for a real audience. Workshops can be great, of course. But your writing is being looked at by fellow craftspeople and aspirants, not by civilians. There's (generally) a big difference. Workshop buddies tend to judge and critique, and to fixate on technical challenges and problems. This often results in ingrown weirdnesses. Imagine what would happen, for instance, if chefs-in-training cooked for no one but each other. Within a few weeks, the food being served would grow bizarre, even fetishistically strange -- fascinating to in-group student chefs, no doubt, but repulsive to most hungry people.

    Live audiences are far less "critical" than workshop attendees are. They show up not to judge but to have a good time. It's remarkable how sweet they can be. You don't have to work hard to get them to give over to your fiction; they're already there with you, they're rooting for you. You have to work hard -- or screw up badly -- in order to throw them out of the fiction spell.

    It's not that real audiences aren't demanding -- in fact, they're far more demanding than workshoppers are. It's that they're demanding in a completely different way. They want the basics of involvement in fiction -- engagement, spirit, provocation, characters who seem to live and breathe, suspense, and situations that have spice and appeal. If the liveliness fades, so does their attention. But the finicky, writerly stuff that wows fellow workshoppers? That's stuff that live audiences -- ie., civilians -- don't care about at all.

    Besides, you learn a lot from sitting in a live audience as your material is being presented. You're right there with them. When jokes work, people laugh. When jokes don't work, the silence is painful. In the case of erotic fiction, when people are really enjoying a sexy scene the temperature in the room literally goes up. You really can feel all these things.

    I'm not sure that what I've learned is anything I can put into words. But I have the strong impression that my audience sense, whatever that is, has grown somewhat sharper than it once was. And isn't it better to cultivate an audience sense than a workshop sense? Who are you writing for anyway?

  • Literary People vs. Showbiz People. I wrote a blogposting back here comparing the typical book-person with the typical movie-person. Our barnstorming has only confirmed what I wrote. While The Wife and I do fine with a traditional books crowd, there's often a grudging quality to their enjoyment of our fiction. What we do may be funny and hot, but it isn't what booky people live for. It's too raucous for them, maybe.

    Showbiz people, on the other hand, really get us. Actors rhapsodize about how much they love playing our characters; filmmakers and theater directors have asked us to collaborate with them on projects. A week ago, The Wife took a meeting with an actual Hollywood producer who had come across our work. He told her that he lives - lives lives lives! -- to produce stuff like what we create. Even allowing for showbiz hyperbole -- discounting it by 90%, in other words -- this kind of reaction is still quite a contrast to the more subdued, quibbling reactions of the introverted booky set.

  • Books are a really hard sell these days. The old culture of books is completely shot to hell. It's gone, it's all over, it ain't coming back, period, paragraph, finito. Young people are able to read, of course. But book-reading plays a different role in their media-cosmos than it does in older people's. Settling down with a book at the end of the evening? Hard to imagine why, when you might be surfing the web instead. Sinking into a lot of linearly-organized text? What's appealing about that? Young people have so many media options, and so many of them are so twinkly and enticing, that books look drab by comparison. After all, they don't glow, they don't make noises, they don't move, and you can't click on 'em. While oldies tend to think of books as one of the acmes of civilization and automatically accord them respect, younger people see books as the low end of the media ladder, something to play with only when the Nintendo is on the fritz.

  • Uninhibited. In comments here and at his own blog, Shouting Thomas has argued that bigcity people have no idea how freely "squares" are enjoying sex these days. The old picture was that bigcity bohemians watch French movies and lead liberated lives, while the rubes are locked into CBS, NBC, misery, denial, and unhappiness.

    The Wife and I have certainly encountered more than our share of bluestockings in our swings through the country -- oh, how we have come to despise fretful soccer moms. But I think Shouting Thomas is onto something major. "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" are everyday viewing. The back shelves of Netflix's library are being rummaged through. Every high school has its own contingent of Suicide Girls. The web's delights, diversions, and ickinesses are never more than a click or two away.

    From people who have approached us after our shows, The Wife and I have learned about local swing scenes, have been invited to local S&M; clubs, and have received homemade DVDs of local people enjoying themselves in the most salacious ways. Meanwhile, many of our bigcity culturebuddies look anything but lusty and confident. Instead, they look haggard and dull, like people who haven't enjoyed sex in years.

  • New York isn't where it's happening any longer. Here's the culture-picture as New York City likes to imagine it: New York City is the country's intellect, and creativity originates in the brain. By dint of brilliance and determination, creativity of the hot-and-innovative sort starts in the big city, and only gradually makes its way to the hinterland.

    Um, no longer. That image exists now only to feed the big-city ego. It's contradicted by all kinds of evidence. In a YouTube world, anyplace is someplace. Thanks to digital tools, people all over the country are free to create, as well as to display what they make. Thanks to the web, people all over the country have access to 90% of what a New Yorker can get hold of.

    And New York City itself has changed. It's far more expensive, for one important thing. No more living cheap in the Village among the boho set. Prices in the Village are skyhigh; fizzy young people with art ambitions and limited budgets now have to live an hour away in far-flung neighborhoods I've never even visited.

    The mood in the city has changed since 9/11. It's a more cautious, stodgy place than it used to be. A theater director we know who works around the world tells us that he feels NYC has collapsed in on itself and gone glum. Though he has a big and worshipful audience in NYC, he's far happier these days working almost anywhere else.

    And people outside New York have a lot available to them that NYC-ites can only dream about: space, money, and time. Good vibes, too -- there's a lot to be said for living among people who are cheery, sweet, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Although life in the media / culture jungle does toughen you up and make you shrewd, it has its downsides too. Past a certain point, why cultivate ever more self-consciousness?

    People who haven't been through the big-city blast-furnace may look soft and doughy to us. But, really, what exactly is wrong with soft and doughy? Creativity may in fact be as likely to arise out of whimsy, leisure, cheeriness, and eccentricity as out of tension and intellectuality. No, New York City is too much about ego, about success, about prevailing over others and being a star. All too often things here mire down in ego wars and neurotic competitiveness. Meanwhile, the rest of the country is having a ball amusing itself and expressing itself. And it's doing so without any concern whatsoever for the likes of us.

Back here I linked to a fun and freewheeling Pittsburgh-based webseries called "Something To Be Desired." I notice that another no-budget Pittsburgh-based webseries has gone online too. Looking pretty slick and kinky! Does this mean that Pittsburgh is the new Hollywood? Or does it mean instead that Hollywood is losing its monopoly on the production of audiovisual- through- time entertainment?



UPDATE: Shouting Thomas begins what I hope will be a series of postings glancing off of this one here and here.

posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

This can't be good.



posted by Michael at June 21, 2007 | perma-link | (28) comments

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* David Chute posts some irresistable clips from Bollywood musicals.

* Anne Thompson thinks we needn't worry overmuch about women in Hollywood.

* Whipsmart chicklit author Jennifer Weiner is as peeved by the New York Times Book Review's disdain for genre fiction as I am. (My own postings on the topic: here, here, here, here, here.)

* Thursday comes up with a helpful mini-canon for world literature.

* Russian-Jewish immigrant Irina writes that she didn't really discover her Jewishness until she moved to the U.S.

* The Communicatrix 'fesses up to 8 things you probably didn't know about her. #7 represents the best use yet of Google Maps. For a good time, don't miss the last link in that particular entry.

* Prairie Mary pokes around the crawl space under her kitchen.

* Slow This and Slow That -- enough already. Anna Travis praises the speed of modern life.

* Vince Keenan raves about a recent Hard Case Crime Gil Brewer reprint. Vince seems as taken by the book's panties-bra-gun-money cover painting as he is by the book's content. Funny line: "This is what the inside of my brain looks like 24/7."

* Tyler Cowen lists some of his favorite things Quebecois. And here's a deal: Pre-order a copy of Tyler's new book and receive the key to his secret blog. I think all culturebuffs owe it to themselves to read Tyler's "In Praise of Commercial Culture."

* Raymond Pert turns over some moody memories of high-school basketball.

* 2B Rewind: Michael Blowhard reviews "Sex and Lucia," "Lost and Delirious," "The Good Girl," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."



posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

DVD Journal 7: "Open Range"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --


"Open Range." Kevin Costner's Western is about what happens when a group of "free-rangers" -- cattlemen with no fixed abode, who graze their small herd of cattle on open land -- are assaulted by frontier-closing empire-builders.

The film is over-long, slow-moving, mournful, obsessed by mortality, and underbudgeted -- you've never seen a cattle-raising movie with so few cattle. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the movie quite a lot. It delivers solid moral dilemmas of a perennial, man's-gotta-be-a-man sort; mucho powerful acting (of a restrained, minimal sort); and a lot of blue-green landscapes, magnificent horses, and guns, of a sculpturally beautiful yet deadly sort.

With her careworn beauty, her erotic daring, and her forthright emotionality, Annette Bening gives the film a strong and poignant sense of something at stake. And Costner himself is awfully good, in a dignified / introverted way, as a Civil War vet who has had to turn himself, with many regrets, into a killing machine.

And then there's Robert Duvall. As a shrewd old geezer who's tougher than he looks, Duvall is beyond-good; he's perfectly magnificent. Duvall is so reliably superb that it seems to me we may be in danger of taking him too much for granted -- "Oh, there he is, he's always amazing." He has got to be one of the least showy major actors ever. But, though he may play his cards close to the vest, he does so very resourcefully -- and they're some high-ranking, soulful cards. His ability to bring an idea to gritty, full-bodied life is awe-inspiring. His character here isn't some lovable old cartoon coot content so long as he remembers to take his fiber powder. Instead, he's a canny son of a bitch, full of gristle, and with a lot of ornery living and enticing plans left in him. Duvall gets my nomination for Greatest Living American Actor.

A couple of notes:

  • The film's climactic showdown struck me as awfully well-done, and brilliantly sustained. It isn't anything like what we're used to these hyperkinetic days; it isn't full of slow motion, tricky "Matrix"-like camerawork, or Joel Silver pyrotechnics. Instead, it's formal and distanced, almost stately (all of which makes it all the more terrifying). The guns pop, the bullets ricochet god knows where, the townspeople want to watch but need to hide ... Costner and his cast really make you feel how heavy and slow those beautiful old guns were. They also drive home the fact that the guys handling them aren't all in the best shape imaginable. These aren't athletes and stuntmen. They're aging businessguys and tired workers hauling around big guts and heavy limbs while fighting uncomfortable clothing.

  • I may not be the hugest fan of Costner-the-actor, but I confess that there are a couple of things Costner is drawn to that I admire, applaud, and root for. First: He wants to revive and depict heroism. This was true even in semi-comic, romantic turns like "Bull Durham." Though he doesn't do dashing, or beautiful, or noble -- his style is more bitter and regretful -- this strikes me as understandable. In a world where everyone is engaged in tearing everything down -- where irreverence is all -- it may take quiet conviction and lonely guts to assert as basic and constructive a thing as masculine heroism.

    Second: Thematically, Costner likes to play up the role of honor and shame in a man's life. There are some things, in other words, that no self-respecting man can stand for, and certain things such a man has to do. Real men know this; real women understand it. What this means in the universe of "Open Range" is that we're expected to understand that there can come a time when killing's the right thing to do. This is a film, in other words, that takes it for granted that there are some lines that can't be crossed and some bad guys who need to be put down. What to make of the fact that the film didn't attract a lot more criticism than it did for its near-"Dirty Harry" morality?

I wrote back here about the strange and wonderful claim that Westerns can stake on the male imagination. I wrote here about Richard S. Wheeler's masterful Western novel "Flint's Gift."



UPDATE: Ed Gorman recommends and reviews a lot of western movies.

posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Diabetes Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The New York Times reports that surgery to reduce "man-boobs" is on the increase, especially among boys and teens. Although some kids are genetically unlucky, it seems that the main reason for the higher numbers is increased levels of obesity. Boys are gettin' fat=boys are developin' boobies, in other words.

Which reminds me: On a recent flight The Wife and I found ourselves chatting with a doctor from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. According to him, people -- and children especially -- are growing fatter in that already-fat part of the country at a remarkable rate. Cases of adult-onset-style diabetes among kids are skyrocketing. When we asked our doctor what he thought might be done about it, this was his answer: "People would be amazed what cutting back on packaged food and taking three 45 minute walks a week can do."

The Times also reports on growing levels of diabetes in Mexico. Hmm, Mexico ... Texas ... You don't suppose that ... Yep: Hispanics have twice as high a rate of diabetes as non-Hispanic whites do. Small hunch: Whatever else it might accomplish, importing a lot of Mexicans won't be solving our health-care problems.

Greg Critser explains how we became such an obesity-embattled people. I don't think that The Guy From Boston will be following any of Greg Critser's advice, though ...



posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Mike Perry on Chesterton

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A while back I wrote a couple of postings about G.K. Chesterton. Visit them and enjoy, if less for my ramblings than for the tons of brainy and imaginative comments that accumulated on them. Who knew there were such a lot of smart Chesterton buffs out there?

And don't neglect to savor Philip Bess' musings on Chesterton. Philip is a very interesting architect and professor who has a deep and abiding passion for Chesterton's thought. Philip has recently been contributing some beautiful guest postings at Right Reason: here and here. Great -- and eye-opening -- passage:

"Modern space" is characteristically non-hierarchical, abstract, rational, universal and undifferentiated; i.e., shapeless, not purpose-specific, and not characterized by the specific formal and figural qualities found in traditional spaces such as public squares, streets, and rooms.

An interesting comment that unfortunately didn't find its way onto any of the Chesterton commentsthreads came from Mike Perry, the editor of a Chesterton volume called "Eugenics and Other Evils." Our blog's software was evidently misbehaving the day Mike tried to comment, and it refused to accept Mike's contribution. But Mike kindly emailed it to me instead, so I'm running his comment -- a response to a remark I'd made about "hyper-traditional Christianity" -- in its own posting. Here it is:

I'd be intrigued by how you define "hyper-traditional Christianity"?

In politics, if you go beyond a particular point of view, then you become a "hyper." A hyper-socialist, for instance, might want the State to own not just the means of production, such as factories, but everything from homes and cars to toothbrushes. But that's because we think of politics (not always accurately) as a line from right to left with different points labeled and directions implicit in the very meaning of terms. Moving toward capitalism isn't becoming more of a socialist, moving away is.

But traditional religious views and practices aren't points along a line. They're more like communities, so there's no particular way to become "hyper." They define their existence in all directions.

For example, traditional Catholics believe in the Trinity. You don't become a hyper-Catholic by believing in millions of God (like some forms of pantheism) or by believing in no God like atheists. Leave the Trinity and you leave traditional Catholicism no matter which direction you move.

That's why "hyper-traditional Christianity" seems to have no meaning. Someone can be very traditional, if they have many traditions they keep seriously or not very traditional, if they have a few beliefs they keep indifferently (like proabortion Catholic politicians). But neither the "very" or the "not very" is a 'hyper."

My thanks to Mike Perry. If anyone else has had trouble leaving comments on postings, please let me know at michaelblowhard at that gmail place.



posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Boomer Embarrassments

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

At the gym this morning, the music on the PA system was so whiney that -- try as I could -- I finally couldn't ignore it any longer. Damn!

When I allowed my mind to register the tune, I quickly recognized who was singing: James Taylor, sensitive bard of gentle melancholy, of nostalgic hopefulness, of sweetly Lincolnesque cheekbones, of sad and childlike loss ... Lordy, what a disgrace he is -- the Boomers really owe the world an apology for James Taylor!

(I confess that my sense of shame was amplified by the cringe-making recollection that, during one year of adolescent self-pity that I'd prefer to deny, I owned a James Taylor disc and even played it a lot. Adolescence, eh? What are those feelings all about?)

Which in turn got me thinking: What other culture-figures should the Boomers apologize for inflicting on the world? The man who sprang most quickly to mind was the awful architect Thom Mayne, a self-important buffoon we've done our best to expose to some ridicule on this blog: here, here, here, here, here.

After Mayne, though, I bogged down a bit, because the Boomers have supplied such an extensive set of riches to choose from. So with this blogposting I'm soliciting help: Which culture-figures deserve places on a short list of Boomer Embarrassments?

(Note to self for future blogpostings: Propose same game for other eras -- "Shame of the Greatest Generation"; "Disgraces of the Xers," etc.)



posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (33) comments

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Industrial-Style Upscale Housing

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A current architectural style fad is what I'll term "Industrial-Look Housing." It seems most commonly used for apartment buildings. Perhaps you've noticed such structures with curtain walls with vertical or horizontal stamped linear elements and perhaps painted using several bold colors.

That style also can be found in single-family houses, even some in upscale neighborhoods. Below is an example I came across in Seattle.


This is a house one drives by shortly after entering the neighborhood. It's a bit fancier than most of the others, but it does set the tone.

Another fine, traditional-style house. But kitty-corner from it is ...

... this Industrial-Look house.

Here's a picture of it looking uphill. I think the vertical-motif cladding on the top floor makes this house first-cousin to a pre-fab warehouse and not in keeping with its (likely) $2 million-ish value.

Granted, the site is awkward enough that a traditional-style house might be hard to design. (Most new houses in the neighborhood are traditional in various guises.) And perhaps the interior is well thought out and lovely beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, I don't find Industrial-Look houses attractive, and I think this one is an eyesore in the context of the neighborhood.



posted by Donald at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Dog-Training Video Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I blogged recently about a dog-training reality-TV show that I love, "It's Me or the Dog," starring the glamorous and expressive Victoria Stilwell. It's a wittily entertaining half-hour series that provides nifty clips of dogs learning how to behave as well as suggestive, touching, and hilarious footage of the lives and souls of dog owners.

TV's real dog-training hit, though, is Cesar Millan's "The Dog Whisperer," which runs on the National Geographic Channel. The two shows -- and the two stars -- make for quite a contrast. Where Victoria is theatrical and quicksilvery, Cesar is blunt and direct. Where Victoria's likely to make a toy-breed intervention, Cesar generally grapples with the hard cases, physically powerful and aggressive dogs that have taken over households.

Cesar is a bit of a street dog himself -- an impressively charismatic, tough, and insightful figure who masters difficult situations and dangerous animals amazingly quickly. If Victoria is like a slightly camp diva, Cesar reminds The Wife and me of a great, perhaps somewhat authoritarian, acting teacher. If his show is a little too souped-up for my tastes, and if it isn't quite as alert to household and personal dynamics as Victoria's is, it's full of its own kind of pugilistic drama. He does great dog impersonations too.

Cesar Millan turns out to be quite the controversial figure in the dog-training world. Are his methods sensible or cruel? Is he giving people the skills they need to live with their dogs peacefully and rewardingly? Or are his methods not only not-transferable, but even dangerous? But perhaps those who carp about him are just jealous ...

On this issue, I'm goin' with Terrierman -- a blogger I discovered thanks to the dog-lovin' boys at Querencia. Terrierman writes, "If a dog is going to learn anything it needs a calm, assertive and not-too-verbal person who consistently does the same thing over and over again. In fact, this is exactly what Cesar Millan offers and when he teaches -- along with a good dose of 'Your dog is not your child,' and 'this is a choke chain -- learn how to use it'." What possesses so many people to acquire high-energy, difficult, and belligerant dogs anyway?

You can watch some clips from "The Dog Whisperer" here.

* Train your whippet to slalom.

* Cowtown Pattie sent along an irresistable snap of her dog -- and you better spell that d-a-w-g -- Rusty:




posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Manzoni's Cans

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --


In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni canned some of his shit and displayed the cans as art. The gesture was an anarchist's joke at the expense of the artworld -- it was probably meant to be considerably more than that too. In any case, Manzoni's turd-tins eventually became expensive art-things in their own right.

Now the joke is getting another punchline -- it turns out that there's no shit in those cans. An artist who worked with Manzoni has revealed that the Manzoni caca-cans are in fact full of plaster. Will the art world take this revelation as further proof of Manzoni's canny greatness? We can only hope.

Here's the Piero Manzoni webpage. Wikipedia lists a number of Manzoni's other projects. FWIW, as zany conceptual art-world hijinks go, many of them strike me as pretty inspired.



posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Frum on Losing the Faith, Plus Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum started off a dewy-eyed neocon, enthusiastic about our no-enforcement approach to immigration policy. The more the better! And who cares who they are! Then real life started to intrude on his fantasies. He writes here about how he finally lost the no-borders faith. Nice passage:

I ... began to learn that you could hardly name a social problem without discovering that immigration was aggravating it to the point of unsolvability.

Health insurance? Immigrants accounted for about one-quarter of the uninsured in the early 1990s, and about one-third of the increase in the uninsured population at that time.

Social spending? The Urban Institute estimated in 1994 that educating the children of illegal aliens cost the State of California almost $1.5 billion per year.

Wage pressure on the less-skilled? The wages of less-skilled Americans had come under ferocious pressure since 1970. How could you even begin to think about this issue without recognizing the huge immigration-driven increase in the supply of unskilled labor over the same period?

Competitiveness? How could the U.S. remain the world's most productive nation while simultaneously remixing its population to increase dramatically the proportion of poorly educated people within it?

Good for Frum. Of course, the question does arise: Why do we have so many puffed-up, wet-behind-the-ears, know-it-all brats like Frum in positions of government and media authority in the first place?

Steve Sailer pokes some well-deserved fun at David Frum. Frum responds.

Mickey Kaus wonders why more lefties aren't protesting against the current (and still kicking) immigration proposal. Isn't the left supposed to stand up for the lower-class American workingperson? A Rasmussen poll finds that only 15% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of immigration questions -- yet still he presses ahead. What drives that man? Screenwriter "David Kahane" offers some humorous perspective on the immigration follies from L.A.: Go ahead and take care of our lawns, just don't start undercutting our screenwriting wages.



posted by Michael at June 19, 2007 | perma-link | (51) comments

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Real Are Tourist "Cultural" Events?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

One of the joys of overseas group tours is having the "opportunity" to fork out more cash for supplemental trips and "cultural" evenings. The latter might include a meal comprised of local specialties and a floor show featuring costumed folk dancers, musicians, singers and such.

I avoid this "cultural" stuff if possible.

Some of this has to do with eating habits: my agent tells me my ranking is 12th most fussy eater in the USA. (Lordy, I'm slipping. Must have been because I ate at Wild Ginger last month.)

What bothers me most is the other stuff, not the food. For reasons I won't go into, I have a strong aversion to folk-dancing and related activities.

Moreover, I suspect that nowadays most people in the country being visited do not dress, dance, etc. as portrayed in the floor shows. When I travel, I spend as much time as I can strolling streets and driving through the countryside. And when I do so, I almost never see locals as they appear in "cultural" events. (For what it's worth, I see local clothing most often in Bavaria.)

Or, consider this angle. Just what would an American "cultural" floor show include? Square dancing, for instance? Nah: only a tiny minority do that.

Overseas readers who have taken packaged USA tours: Do those tours offer "cultural" evenings? And if so, what goes on?



posted by Donald at June 18, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments