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November 17, 2004


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Denis Dutton wonders what Darwin can teach us about about literature and storytelling.

* Ken Goldstein tells what listening to Lite-FM can do to a person.

* Does encouraging creative types make a city vibrant? Joel Kotkin thinks city governments would be better off letting creative types take care of themselves and attending instead to the basics: delivering trustworthy services, reasonable tax rates, etc.

* James Panero offers a preview of the architecture of New York's soon-to-reopen Musuem of Modern Art.

* Terry Teachout wonders whether Johnny Mercer's song lyrics, brilliant as they are, should be thought of as poetry.

* Searchblog touchingly recalls what dance meant to her as a kid, and muses about what dance means to her now.

* Convergence alert: a new British reality-TV program shows couples having sex so that an expert can offer tips on their performance.

* Yet another magazine I was born to edit. (NSFW.)

* I get more information and provocation from reading that dynamo Steve Sailer than I do from most of the magazines I subscribe to. Here's Steve on voters' IQs; here he takes stock of "The Bell Curve."

* Many men seem to be more comfortable opening up to Google than to their girlfriends.

* Is terrorism caused by poverty? A Harvard researcher says the answer is no. (Link thanks to John Ray.)

* If I were mayor of NYC, I'd make sure that bright-eyed, Chelsea-bound new arrivals be handed Nate Lippens's advice to young gay guys.

* Oliver Burkeman visits Pixar, which he says has become "the most successful studio in the history of cinema."

* Tyler Cowen lays out his ideas about what a sensible tax code might look like. Tyler's recent WSJ debates with John Irons can be accessed from this posting here. Alex Tabarrok notices that the stock portfolios of U.S. Senators outperform the market by 12%. Should heads roll?

* Yet another celebrity suffers a wispy-clothing malfunction. (NSFW.)

* Mike Hill explains the why the Civil War -- and U.S. Grant especially -- fascinate him.

* You know those diaper-like g-strings that guys in Japanese movies occasionally wear? Here's how to put one on.

* GDP may be up, but are we better off in any significant way now than we were in 1959? Jim Kalb isn't sure that we are.

* I learned from this article that Mozart may have had Tourette Syndrome, and that Touretters are famous for their love of fart jokes.

* Can body-modification be taken too far? It seems these digital days as if many people want to Photoshop themselves. (NSFW.)

* More info about how Frenchwomen manage to eat rich yet stay slim. (Link thanks to ALD.)

* Judging from the amount of racy amateur video now on the Internet, I'm guessing that this may be the world's most-repeated lie.

* I found this q&a with the porn star Savanna charming. For the sake of scholarly research, I plan to rent one of her movies to see how much of her, ahem, personality comes across onscreen. This piece about Miami's notorious "Bang Bus" porn outfit makes them sound utterly repulsive. (Links thanks to Daze Reader.)

* The Teaching Company reprints an informative short Atlantic article about how ancient Greek classics -- what we now think of as plays and poems -- were actually performed and experienced. Sample passage:

The very idea of poetry, in fact, originally tended to imply music, and Athenian tragedy at its artistic peak, in the fifth century B.C., was a complex combination of poetic text, solo and choral song, recitation with instrumental accompaniment, and dance. This has an unsettling if little-recognized implication: watching a play by Euripides or reading poetry by Sappho is perhaps as incomplete an experience today as watching a "play" by Wagner or reading "poetry" by Stephen Sondheim would be.

* I always find Jared Sandberg's WSJ life-on-the-job column "Cubicle Culture" a good read. Sandberg's a helpful and resourceful writer, and he takes note of at-work phenomena and experiences that often go unremarked. Do motivational posters do anything but annoy us? How do most of us manage our to-do lists? How can office lighting affect mood? In his column today, Sandberg writes about mid-afternoon slump. Sample passage:

The main problem is that the mechanics of the human body don't mesh very well with a 9-to-5 work day. Researchers have found that when humans are fed at regular intervals and deprived of all sources of time ... they have the greatest tendency to fall asleep during two periods of the day: between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Sandberg also reports that new evidence indicates that people in the Middle Ages "napped all the time." Sounds plausible to snoozy me! I couldn't find Sandberg's napping piece online, but here's an archive of his columns.

* It seems that the work ethic in parts of Eastern India may not be as gung-ho as it is in America.

* Perhaps some cultural habits are better left back in the old country.

* Jeff (at JVC Comments) thinks "Catcher in the Rye" is a pretty lousy novel. Sensible man!

* To be filed under "takes all kinds": here's one sex toy whose appeal I really don't understand. (NSFW.)

* Having outraged much of the country with an idiotic immigration proposal, what does GW Bush do now that he's been re-elected? He revives the idea. What a bewildering obsession our president has with erasing the US-Mexico border. I noticed somewhere recently that about four times as many Mexicans now live in NYC as lived here in 1990. Edwin Rubenstein looks at the figures and concludes that job-growth in America last month was 6.5 times better for immigrants than it was for natives.

* Some lefties have convinced themselves that Republicans are turning America into a theocracy. What to make, then, of the fact that many Democrats are religious too? John Gray thinks liberalism itself is a kind of religious faith.

* Rightwing axman Grover Norquist may be a disgrace, for all I know. But in this interview about the election results with Newsweek's Michael Hastings, he makes a couple of terrific points. (OK, what I really mean is that Norquist makes a couple of points that I enjoy making too.) One: the U.S. isn't a Euro-style social democracy, and many Americans don't want it to become one. Two: what a lot of people who pulled the Bush lever were really saying was "up yours" to the know-it-all lefty crowd.

* In the wake of the Kerry loss, David Sucher thinks that Democrats would do well to embrace an unfamiliar principle. "We need environmental regulation," David writes. "But the Democratic Party needs -- as part of its self-examination and rebuilding -- to develop a principle of the least regulation to get the job done ... The Democratic Party has to start paying some real attention to the complaints of the regulated because not all the complaints of developers and landowners are just a matter of 'greed.' There is a lot of stupid and pointless regulation out there which serves no one but the government functionaries. Environmentalists and urbanists don't like to hear such talk. But it's true." More of that kind of thinking, and the Dems will come roaring back in '08. By the way, it's good to see that Ted Mills has discovered what a marvel David's book "City Comforts" is.

* The election did deliver one clear mandate, it turns out: voters want more control over the growth issues (development, Wal-Marts) that affect them directly. John Massengale notices that the city of Savannah is restoring one of its downtown squares; Savannah is famous for the civilized way its urban grid incorporates many lovely squares, so this is good news indeed.

* Reluctant Kerry-voter Jim Kunstler thinks that the economic shit is going to hit the running-out-of-oil fan sometime real soon. Perhaps in his next blog posting he'll tell us what we need to do to protect our retirement savings.



posted by Michael at November 17, 2004


About Jeff at JVC Comments on Salinger: I did an incomplete traversal of Salinger's works a couple of years ago and I agree with him that Salinger's best piece is that novella "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters." Charming. I like some of the other stories to a lesser extent. But I don't see Salinger as a major author, I'm afraid.

Posted by: JT on November 18, 2004 10:23 AM

"What a bewildering obsession our president has with erasing the US-Mexico border."

Not so bewildering. Cheap labor. Construction, agriculture, food processing, WalMart. They all need it. It's a big favor to those industries. Keeps wages low. Increases the size of the labor pool, keeping unemployment higher than it might be otherwise. I'm not even a lefty and this seems a pretty clear strategy to me.

Posted by: Brian on November 18, 2004 09:52 PM

Regarding your friend Steve's notes on race and IQ, I'm just wondering: if race and IQ are correllated, then wouldn't black people with more European heritage on average score better on IQ tests than black people with less European heritage?

Posted by: Maureen on November 19, 2004 12:47 AM

Although it does my blood pressure no good to talk about it, I agree with Brian's comment that Bush's push for no-borders-at-all with Mexico is essentially an economic strategery: big labor pool = wages kept low.

Cultural considerations (astoundingly) have nothing to do with it. Allowing in an unending stream of a cuturally-racially-linguistically different people: big deal! How could THAT effect our identity?

But who knows? maybe I'm just one of those naifs who continue to believe that America is about more than making profits, and still more profits, and still more prof.......

Posted by: ricpic on November 19, 2004 11:15 AM

JT -- I haven't looked at Salinger in years myself, though I was never much of a fan. I was amazed by the cult of Salinger, and by the press' fascination with him. I wonder if the cult still exists, and whether the press still cares, come to think of it. He strikes me as a historical curiosity now. How'd a writer of minor stuff (like it or not) become such a big deal? What was it about "Catcher" that so captivated people? It certainly helped kick off the young-adult novel market ...

Brian -- I think you're certainly right. But I also think that explains some but not all of Bush's determination. I mean, he's just been re-elected -- he doesn't need to suck up to anyone any longer. He's got this short period when he's powerful, he's number one (and then he'll become a lame duck) -- he can do anything he pleases. And opening the borders is wildly unpopular. Yet at this moment, when he could really accomplish what means the most to him, what does he choose to do? Try to open the borders again. How weird, no? Some people have speculated about the reasons for his attachment to Mexico, which seems as personally motivated as his determination to fight in Iraq. Some family-based psychodrama seems to be getting enacted.

Maureen -- I have strong reservations about placing too too too much importance on IQ-style intelligence as The Central Thing in life. But it's clearly a pretty interesting and important question too, and Steve and the GNXPers seem fair-minded and solid on the topic, as well as fascinating in their thinking about it. And yeah, from what I've read, you're exactly right: blacks who have more Euro in them (American blacks, for instance) do tend to score higher on IQ tests than pure-African blacks do. The general rule seems to be that pure-African blacks tend to score poorly on IQ tests; that some Jewish and some Asian groups tend to score highest; and that most Euro groups fall in between.

Ricpic -- You write: "Maybe I'm just one of those naifs who continue to believe that America is about more than making profits, and still more profits, and still more prof......" Great line! Silly me, I'm with you entirely on that.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 19, 2004 11:22 AM

I commented on the Mozart/Tourette Syndrome story a while back, as did Alex Ross. Sorry I'm too lazy to look up either post right now but to summarize, I think it's a silly notion cooked up by people who simply can't stand to think that Mozart was, aside from being an incredibly talented composer, was a fairly normal young man who, like millions of other normal young men, cussed a lot and liked to tell dirty jokes.

Posted by: Lynn S on November 19, 2004 11:47 AM

I guess I should have followed the link before commenting. McConnell makes a fairly believeable case. I'll admit it's possible but I remain skeptical. I think a lot of people are too eager to diagnose exotic disorders.

Posted by: Lynn S on November 19, 2004 11:56 AM

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