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Saturday, April 19, 2003

Web Surfing
Friedrich -- William Shawcross is best known for his book "Sideshow," in which he made the case that Nixon and Kissinger were responsible for the destruction of Cambodia. So it's fascinating to read this recent speech of his here, which is full of admiration for America and even recognition that, like him or not,  GW Bush is some kind of effective leader. I guess the French still do wine, cheese and fashion pretty well, though a friend living in Paris tells me that French cooking has gone to hell. But do they matter on any other subject? Yet the French seem to be having an even harder time than the English getting used to the fact that they aren't playing in the majors any more. Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times makes some sense about the decline of France here. (Both of these links via the ever-resourceful John Ray, here.) Are there surfers who aren't aware that, "the conservative news service," provides and updates links to the work of a couple of dozen right-ish columnists here? Too much! But isn't that always the way on the Web? Denis Dutton (editor of Arts and Letters Daily, here) thinks that Theodore Dalrymple is one of the best essayists since Orwell. And, hey, I'm on board with that. It's a good week for Dalyrmple fans. In the Telegraph, he reviews a new Peter Hitchens book that attempts to explain why the crime rate in Britain has been on the upswing, here. For City Journal, he writes about Rhodesia and Zimbabwe here, and about Cairo here. An interesting old-media/new-media moment occurred a few days ago when I received an email from the editor of City Journal letting me know that the new issue of the magazine was available online. I was flattered that City Journal knew of the existence of 2Blowhards. But once I was done puffing myself up, I of course realized that he'd no doubt alerted dozens and dozens of other blogs too. What I wound up feeling was intense admiration for his marketing resourcefulness. City Journal (here) is an excellent magazine, by the way. Its ideas were behind the Giuliani approach to crime, it features some rowdy and brainy, fresh voices on politics and the arts, and it's one of the few places in America that publishes such first-rate righties as Dalrymple, Roger Scruton, and David Watkin. Tell a leftie friend about a great article you've read in City Journal and have fun watching her get really, really furious. The Stumbling Tongue has some provocative musings about computer games as art here. Movie buffs Ian Hamet (here) and Tim Hulsey (here) are both fans of Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator known for "Princess Mononoke" and the current "Spirited Away." Colby Cosh has been thinking about fast food and the decline of McDonald's, here, here, and here. April is Poetry Month, and Mike Snider has noticed (here) a few telling things about the poems that are being highlighted by Poetry Daily.... posted by Michael at April 19, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Free Reads -- "Theory" in crisis
Friedrich -- Good news from Emily Eakins in today's New York Times: the literary "theory" biz is in crisis. (You can read it here.) An academic journal invited a couple of dozen lib-arts professorial heavyweights to wonder out loud about the future of theory. Where can it go? What's its point? Has it, in fact, accomplished much of anything? The surprise is that these advocates and partisans of theory have serious doubts themselves. Stanley Fish is eager to "deny the effectiveness of intellectual work." Henry Louis Gates confesses, "I really didn't see it: the liberation of people of color because of deconstruction or poststructuralism." Too bad no one raised the obvious question: So, given the total ineffectuality of what you've spent decades advocating, have you decided to resign in shame? Anyone who ever doubted that the whole "critical theory" movement had a strong political basis might take note of the way the panelists at this meeting got sidetracked -- for more than an hour -- into lamenting GW Bush and the war in Iraq. Eakins reports that a student in the audience rose at one point and asked, "So is theory simply just a nice, simple intellectual exercise?" Well, maybe something more like a complicated, destructive and pointless intellectual exercise. Lovely, though, to watch the edifice start to crumble, isn't it? Lovely as well to see the Times giving it fair-minded coverage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 19, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, April 18, 2003

What I Owe to Peter Paul Rubens
Michael: Art of whatever stripe (paintings, music, movies, etc., etc.) can and often does infuriate, frustrate, bore and generally make me wonder why I bother, but I have to acknowledge that it has also saved my ass on at least one occasion. In my 20’s, broke, broken-hearted and generally feeling crumpled up and thrown away, I stupidly enrolled in law school. While the law may be some people’s catnip, I found the whole legal world to be completely soul-killing, an absolute wrong turn and, for me anyway, a dead end. But I felt so disempowered at that moment (being, among other things, utterly without dough) that I had no confidence in my ability to seize any realistic alternative. I was going to school at Wayne State University in Detroit, and my law school was a few blocks walk away from the Detroit Public Library. I wandered over one day out of boredom, and walked up a marble staircase to a room full of art history books. That room must have had a thousand art books in it. I soon started spending more time in that room than in the law library. Well, as you can easily guess, eventually this led to an emotional crisis. What brought this crisis to a head was a drawing, oddly enough. It was a study by Peter Paul Rubens of a single figure from an Andrea del Sarto fresco entitled “The Dance of Salome.” It was not a study of either Salome or Herod, but rather of a serving man seen from the back. Here is a thumbnail of it: P. Rubens, A Figure From 'The Dance of Salome' by Andrea Del Sarto, 1604 What intrigued me at the time, having done a small amount of figure drawing, was how Rubens could have simultaneously emphasized the rhythmic energy of the pose (it was more emphatic, in fact, in Ruben’s drawing than in the original fresco, which I had also looked up) while also pushing the three-dimensional volume of the figure up a notch. I was scratching my head over this conundrum when I looked at my watch and realized I had to go to lecture. As I walked through the halls of the law school, my spirits were at their lowest point. I was going to take notes in a subject I had zero interest in. For the first and only time in my life, I seriously thought, “I’ll have to kill myself—it’s my only escape.” After a few seconds of despair, I suddenly heard another voice in my head: “Ah, screw that—I’m going to live a long time and study Rubens!” I knew then that I was on my way out of that place and onto a more congenial life. A few weeks later I got the check for my second semester law school student loan and promptly signed it over—but not to the law school. Instead it went as a down payment on a very small car. I drove my new wheels to... posted by Friedrich at April 18, 2003 | perma-link | (8) comments

James Spader
Friedrich -- Showing each other they care The Wife and I just caught up with Secretary, which you semi-recommended some months ago, and semi-enjoyed it too. Many caveats and misgivings -- boy, you can really feel someone trying, and trying hard, to turn a short story into a nearly-two-hour-long movie, can't you? And not as dark or just plain weird as I expected, given the movie's theme. (A film along similar lines that I enjoyed more was Kissed, here, with the exquisite Molly Parker as a trainee undertaker who likes her duties a little too much. It's more poetic and less cute.) Still, "Secretary" is likably determined to play its premise out, Maggie Gyllenhaal is adorable and flowerlike in a suitably lascivious, desecrate-me-please way, and if the director can't get a sense of flow or rhythm moving through the whole movie, there are a decent number of scenes and sequences where he does manage to stir the senses ... But, to be honest, what I kept returning to was James Spader, who is my idol. Not in the sense that I think he's a great artist; I think he's no better than OK. But I'll see just about any movie he's in. Why? Because so many of them are naughty, perverse, or strange. His presence is a near-guarantee of much that I look for from movies. I've grown to enjoy his creepily fleshy/handsome face, his glistening and soulful eyes, the way he offers himself up to the camera as voluptuously as any female star. Watching him let the camera feast on his rotting babyface and doted-on flesh reminds me of how courtly most male actors are, and how courtly we expect them to be -- there's usually some bit of deference to the woman co-star. These are her tears, her feelings; this is her scene, really. With Spader, everything's always about Spader, and this for some reason delights me no end. (He's a hetero-male prima donna, like a solemn, camp-free Rod Stewart.) Did someone say "closeup"? Plus, lordy, is there any other legit film actor who has done so many naughty scenes yet retained his legit credentials? What a great gig it must be being James Spader. I'm full of admiration for the way he has created this ... this thing: the James Spader role. The James Spader movie. If you're having trouble describing a movie that he's in to a friend, you know perfectly well that all you really have to do is say, "Well, James Spader is in it," and that your friend will immediately know what you mean: a little arty, kinda pretentious, a lot of sex. I burn with envy -- this dude makes a living being James Spader, while me, I have to go to a job. The audacity! But somehow even my indignation -- where and how did my life go so wrong? -- makes me admire and enjoy him the more. I wish I had some tales out of school to tell about... posted by Michael at April 18, 2003 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Depressing Realities of Affirmative Action
Michael: I just got done going over “Myths and Realities About Affirmative Action” by Stuart Taylor Jr. on The Atlantic Online (which you can read here.) It lays out, rather depressingly, a number of dismal aspects of our national project of racial preferences. To give three examples: · Most white and Asian applicants rejected on account of preferences are not privileged. Indeed, the Century Foundation data suggest, they may well be less affluent on average than the black and Hispanic students who receive racial preferences. · Most of the students who lose out because of racial preferences are not white; they are Asian-American, The New York Times suggested in a February 2 article, based largely on surging admissions of Asians and largely flat admissions of whites since racial preferences were banned in California and Texas. · More and more preferences go to descendants not of slaves but of Hispanic immigrants. I use the word depressing because it would be so much more pleasant if the liberal narrative of affirmative action were accurate—if it really were a case of downtrodden minorities getting their chance at the big time despite lingering white racism. I mean, that’s a far better story, in Hollywood terms, than what appears to be really going on here. I’m not sure why, exactly, but the following item just seemed to smack even my lingering illusions right in the face (and, I’m well aware that many readers of this ‘blog think I’m well to the right of Atilla the Hun): Myth. The SAT and other standardized tests are culturally biased. Reality. It's true that there are large racial disparities in average SAT scores—1070 for Asians, 1060 for whites, 910 for Hispanics, and 857 for blacks among seniors in 2002, according to the College Board. But if these scores understated blacks' academic potential, then blacks would do better in college than whites and Asians with similar scores. The opposite is the case: Black and Hispanic students "have college grade-point averages that are significantly lower than those of whites and Asians" with similar scores, according to a 1999 College Board report. I guess the whole topic seems to be such a bummer (okay, so the word dates me) is because it forces us to admit we can’t simultaneously believe in “making up for the past” and “meritocracy.” If we want to make up for past ugliness, we have to create present ugliness—with that present ugliness amounting to a nod, a wink, and the cynical comment: “Hey, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Maybe wholehearted supporters of affirmative action never had any illusions of meritocracy. They long ago spotted the fact that whoever walks away from college with a degree is a winner, and the devil take the hindmost regarding whatever funny business it takes to get that diploma. But I guess I still cherish a few illusions—although it seems like they’re fading fast. Cheers, Friedrich P.S. An interesting alternative to affirmative action as it is currently practiced is... posted by Friedrich at April 17, 2003 | perma-link | (17) comments

Comedy for the Ages
Michael: Thanks for the link to Dave Barry’s column on taxes (which you can see here.) After reading Mr. Barry’s column, which is, as usual, very funny, I was struck by just how long I’ve been laughing at his work. And despite having been enjoying Dave Barry for at least a decade, it turns out I was relatively late to the Barry party: he’s actually been cranking this stuff out for 20 years. That means he’s produced roughly 1000 columns. Yikes! (Along the way he’s also tossed off some 24 books.) This got me to thinking about the nature of what might be termed “long-haul comedy.” What permits someone to keep being funny year after year? (And don’t bring up such tired theories as (1) drugs, (2) unhappy childhood, (3) divorce and (4) more drugs. We all know these things are useful inputs for comedy, but they can’t account for sustained comedy.) Seeking an explanation, I turned—as I often do—to the greatest repository of information on earth: Google. Simply typing in “humor longevity” (and then, after some hard thought, “comedy longevity”) I came up with the following explanations offered by various sages of the Internet. 1. The Blackstone AudioBooks Hypothesis: Avoid Shrillness Wodehouse’s longevity is found, like Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, in his ability to poke without being brackish or brutish. He shuns the shrillness that diminishes comedy and that is found too often in other dens of entertainment-such as American politics. 2. The Larry Wilde Hypothesis: Be Warm and Fuzzy The platform performances of Larry Wilde -- in addition to his books, television, stage and concert appearances -- have kept millions of people laughing for almost four decades. More than the humor, however, it is the humanity that has made him America's premier motivational humorist and earned him such enduring success. 3. The Kurt Kilpatrick Hypothesis: Use Detailed Research on Your Audience and Be Sure To List Your Educational Credentials: Kurt Kilpatrick has been a professional Humorist and Motivational speaker for twenty-five plus years. He is skilled at the Art of using Humor in Business and always works hard to relate his humor and message to the audience. It takes extra work and detailed research but the end result always pays off. Kurt Kilpatrick can add That extra spark at any meeting that will make the event fun, exciting, stimulating, memorable and extraordinary! Doctor of Jurisprudence, Cum Laude, 1978, Jackson School of Law at Mississippi College. Bachelor of Science, Cum Laude, 1971, Communications and Journalism, University of Southern Mississippi. 4. The Art Buchwald Hypothesis: Avoid Acknowledging Your Own Mortality, Especially To Yourself: For example, humorist Art Buchwald says he thinks less about dying than about his funeral, for which he hopes "everyone will get the day off and work very hard on their speeches." 5. The Chile Peppers, Sex and Football Hypothesis: Eat Right and Stay Fit : …Adam lived to a ripe old age and so did Able. Their recipe for longevity? Grow peppers, make hot sauce... posted by Friedrich at April 17, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Econ for Morons
Friedrich -- A young 2Blowhards visitor recently took note of a posting some months ago in which I made the claim that -- despite being a math-o-phobe, and a chart and graph-o-phobe too -- I'd finally managed to "get" economics. He wrote me and asked for some advice. Fool! Nonetheless, despite my inadequacies, I have spent a lot of time trying to crack the subject, and I do have moments when I think that, in some vague-but-pleasing way, I've gotten the hang of it. I'm certainly no one to pay attention to, but I may by now qualify (on a good day) as a decently-informed fan. So, thanks to our visitor's prompting (and the fact that I co-manage this blog and can do as I please), I've indulged myself and devised this little course of study: Econ for Liberal-Arts Idiots. It's now time for all of you who really understand math and econ to click over to another posting, preferably one where we aren't disgracing ourselves too badly. OK, it's just us idiots? Well, then, an introductory note: Economics is great fun once the light starts to dawn. It really it is -- and I say this as a wildly impractical, arty guy. It's like philosophy only with built-in real-world checks. (Which doesn't seem to prevent many academics from floating off into the nowheresville academics seem to spend most of their time in.) One key thing to understand is that "getting" economics isn't going to make you rich. Learning how to see things from the economic point of view is fascinating, but it ain't about predicting the future. Another key thing to understand is the distinction between econ as a general subject and what's called personal finance. Econ is like history or lit -- enlightening in its own right. Personal finance is about being not-too-stupid where your own checkbook is concerned. So: The Michael Blowhard Guide to Econ as a General Subject. Start with this Timothy Taylor lecture series on audio from the Teaching Company, buyable here. I know I've been sounding like a salesman for the Teaching Company in recent days, but this is another one of their first-rate efforts. It's a history of economic thought, told via the lives and thoughts of the major economists, with the ideas presented and explained in plain English. Super-well done, enthusiastically presented, and absurdly inexpensive. It's the best way I know of for a lib-arts mush-head to begin to get the hang of econ. Follow up with another Timothy Taylor/Teaching Company lecture series, this one about the subject of economics itself, buyable here. Just as well-done as the previous series. By the end of it, you'll actually understand what I consider to be the key economic conundrum: why do price controls lead to shortages? Think of Nixon's efforts to keep prices of oil low in the 1970s. Think of cities trying to keep housing affordable by passing rent-control laws. What's the inevitable result? In the first place, shortages of gas. In the... posted by Michael at April 16, 2003 | perma-link | (19) comments

Culture and Scale-Free Networks
Michael: In the May issue of Scientific American, there is an article by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and Eric Bonabeau on “Scale-Free Networks” that seems, to my mathematically ignorant eye, to have significant implications for the world of culture. According to this article, the traditional way of studying networks assumed that they were like the U.S. highway system—that is, each node (major city) tends to be directly connected via superhighway to roughly the same number of other nodes. A few nodes had only one connection, most had four or five, a small number had as many as ten, but the number of connections per generally fit a “bell curve” with the largest number of nodes having a middling number of direct connections. (This is known, for reasons beyond my comprehension, as a “random” network.) However, a different type of network (known as “scale-free”) has recently been widely studied, in which most of the nodes have a very low number of direct connections, and some of the nodes have a very large number of direct connections. This creates what is known as a “power law” distribution, as opposed to a “bell curve” distribution, and is the technical definition of what makes the two types of networks different. For us limited-math types, the key is the fact that the nodes with tons of connections function as hubs in scale-free networks. An interesting example of such a scale-free network is the World Wide Web, where some pages are hyperlinked to (and from) zillions of other pages, while the vast majority of pages have few links. Examples of scale-free networks that have been studied in biology include cellular metabolism and protein interaction. But what, you say, does this have to do with 2Blowhards and our penetrating study of culture? Well, it so happens than many social networks are also scale-free, as Mssrs. Barabasi and Bonabeau report: A collaboration between scientists from Boston University and Stockholm University, for instance, has shown that a network of sexual relationships among people in Sweden followed a power law: although most individuals had only a few sexual partners during their lifetimes, a few (the hubs) had hundreds. A recent study led by Stefan Bornholdt of the University of Kiel in Germany concluded that the network of people connected by e-mail is likewise scale-free. Sidney Redner of Boston University demonstrated that the network of scientific papers, connected by citations, follows a power law as well. And Mark Newman of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor examined collaborations among scientists in several disciplines, including physicians and computer scientists, and found that those networks were also scale-free, corroborating a study we conducted focusing on mathematicians and neurologists. [You've got to wonder how they divvy up the work in the social sciences, don't you? I mean, we've got a choice between studying the sex lives of Scandinavian blondes and the citation patterns among neurologists. Gee, which one would I chose?] Assuming that artistic influence and prestige work in a scale-free manner (a hypothesis based... posted by Friedrich at April 16, 2003 | perma-link | (6) comments

Idolatry Redux
Michael: I know you’ll be glad to hear that the “mainstream” press is slowly but surely following the lead of 2Blowhards. In the Wall Street Journal of April 16, David Freedberg (a professor of art history at Columbia University) makes many of the same points as my posting of January 6, Idolatry. (You can read the original in all its glory here.) J. Delay, Toppling Saddam, 2003 To wit, the fascination with the toppling of a heroic statue of Saddam Hussein last week reflects the fact that—as modern as we like to think ourselves—our appreciation of art has chiefly to do with very primitive notions about the links between images and reality. In other words, people all around the world reacted to the toppling of the statue as if it were the toppling of Saddam Himself. According to Professor Freedberg: For years it has been fashionable to claim that the modern multiplication of images by photography, by the computer, and now on the Web, have drained images of their force. The German cultural critic Walter Benjamin once implied that in the age of mechanical reproduction images lose the aura they had when they were at the center of religion and ritual. Susan Sontag implied this too in a famous essay on photography. Not surprisingly, especially in the light of the strength of our reactions to images of atrocity, even when multiplied by the million, she has revised her views. She too has come to recognize something about images that we all know in our bones: that statues, like pictures and photographs, become compelling because of our inesacapable tendency to invest images of people (and sometimes things too) with the lives of those they represent. Hey, what can I say? Another example of great minds running in similar paths. Of course, some of us run a little faster... Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 16, 2003 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

History Lecture Series Recommendations
Friedrich It's a bizarrely stuffy 80 degrees here in NYC. After a week of chill and damp, people look shellshocked by the good weather. By tax day, too -- but at least my walk to and from the tax accountant was made less painful by the audiotape lecture series I've been listening to. It's one of the good ones from The Teaching Company (here). Although I'm wary of The Teaching Company's history offerings -- here's one I couldn't get through, and here's one that's even worse -- I've got to admit that my batting average has been better with them than it was taking history at our Lousy Ivy University. Which gives me hope in a general sense: Even if schools go on getting worse, what's available for self-educators keeps getting better. Hey, fellow Web inhabitants -- let's swap tips about resources for self-education. In that spirit, I'd like to recommend the Teaching Company history series that I've enjoyed. It's been a while since I listened to Alan Charles Kors' two series on the Enlightenment, so I can't do them descriptive justice. But they were blazingly good -- well-judged yet impassioned. This one here is about the intellectual history of the 17th and 18th centuries -- it's the one to start with. This one here is about Voltaire, and is superb too, if narrower in its focus. (It's currently on sale for the beyond-fabulous price of $15.95.) My only beef with Kors is that he barely touches on the too-little-known Scottish Enlightenment. But for events and thinking on the Continent, it's hard to imagine anyone doing better. Kors, a history prof at the University of Pennsylvania, is a great figure, by the way. In addition to being a tiptop lecturer, he's founder and head of FIRE, an organization that fights PC attempts to limit freedom of speech on campus, and he's the co-author (along with Harvey Silverglate) of the excellent book The Shadow University (buyable here), about the excesses of PC and multiculturalism on campus. The Teaching Company series I'm finishing up just now is just as good: American Religious History, by Patrick Allitt of Emory University. Allitt does a first-rate job of explaining the various Great Awakenings, and of taking in the whole panorama. He discusses Native American religions, introduces us to amazing characters like Uncle Jack, an early black preacher, and lets us know why the stodgier Protestants looked down on the frontier-revival-meeting business. (Answer: Because the preachers worked worshippers into such a state of enthusiasm that the bushes just beyond reach of the campfires would fill up with a lot of the old humpy-humpy.) That's Miss Carrie Nation to you, buster. And take your eyes off my axe! Allitt has a nice way with the telling and memorable fact. For instance, I hadn't known that more women were involved in the temperance movement than in getting the vote. Carrie Nation -- she who chopped up bars -- was no dimwit when it came to p.r.; one of... posted by Michael at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (11) comments

The Internet and Social Memory
Michael: Thanks for sending me the link to the page on Rebecca Alzofon's website dedicated to Pierre-Paul Prud’hon and his life-drawing technique (which you can visit here.). Ms. Alzofon has carefully analyzed not only the technique of this master draftsman, but has identified modern art papers and chalks that can be used by contemporary artists to derive similar effects. In her quest for authenticity she has even developed a recipe for making black chalk, as commercially available chalks—according to her—do not allow for the same technique as used by Prud’hon. P. Prudhon, Female Academies In looking at this, I was struck by Ms. Alzofon’s generosity in posting this stuff on the Web, since she had evidently spent hundreds of hours researching and experimenting to develop her expertise on Prud’hon’s materials and methods. Make Your Own Black Chalk: It's Easy! It also reminded me of a comment that Degas apparently repeated throughout his life—that since the collapse of the apprenticeship method of art training, countless studio secrets, formerly handed down from one generation to another, had been lost. When I first read these comments in college, I thought they were just the result of a certain middle-aged crankiness of a fanatical art technician, but as I’ve gotten older it keeps dawning on me how much practical information has to be laboriously rediscovered, generation after generation. Naturally, this type of “craft” information is not confined to the world of art. But Ms. Alzofon’s website suddenly suggested to me that the Internet may eventually serve as a giant, yet accessible social memory for all sorts of information or technique that would otherwise fall through the cracks. So carry on posting stuff to the Web--especially stuff that you've laboriously figured out for yourself. Somehow the "we-all-live-in-one-big-media-village" trend downgrades small-scale, hardwon, localized, personal knowledge. So by memorializing the particular, the unusual, the specifc you’re performing a vital social function! (Be sure to tell your boss and/or your significant other how important this stuff is.) Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Ever Increasing Prosperity of the Public Sector
Michael: Today, of course, is tax day. Every year we got through the rigamarole of filing taxes, and the very familiarity of the ritual, I think, blinds us to the extent of the changes that have occurred during our lifetimes. So I did a little Internet research and came up with some figures. All are in constant FY 2000 dollars. Back in 1950—admittedly, four years before I was born—Federal and state governments were waging the cold war and the hot war in Korea on a crummy $2646 per U.S. citizen (men, women and children.) By 1960, while we were still waging the cold war and building the Interstate Highway system, the public sector was sucking up $4102 per capita. By 1970, while we were still waging the cold war and the Vietnam war and finishing the Interstate Highway system, the public sector was getting revenue of $6161 per capita. By 1980, the public sector was up to $7223 per citizen. By 1990, the number had climbed to $8364. By 2000, the public sector was struggling along on a paltry $10,637 per citizen. (Remember, inflation has nothing to do with the growth of these numbers.) Without putting too fine a point on it, from the time I began to become aware of such things until the present—that is, roughly 1960 through 2000, I do not think that the quality of services provided by the public sector to me or my family improved by two-and-a-half times. In fact, in many respects--public school educations, transportation, crime come to mind--such services seem to have declined over that time period. (I will grant the effectiveness of the military may have increased by more than 2.5 fold, but that seems to be a rather isolated example.) Possibly the taxpaying public should spend less time dutifully filling out their tax returns and more time inquiring as to exactly what they (as opposed to the manifold special interests with all four feet in the public trough) are getting for the ever increasing real resources they are providing to the public sector. Somewhat grumpy cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Web Surfing
Friedrich -- I remember liking the hotwired early books of Richard Price -- "The Wanderers," "Ladies' Man," etc. But, though I've enjoyed some of the movies based on Price's screenplays, I've lost track of his work as a novelist. Aaron Haspel writes a convincing appreciation of Price's recent books here. Steve Sailer has written a couple of articles about golf and race that are as satisfying and substantial as one of those New Yorker magazine reporting epics of yore -- but without the excess length and all the fussy writin'. Part one is here. Part two is here. A lot of wonderfully strange music and bizarre instruments can be listened to here. Nat Henthoff wrestles with some of the more bizarre consequences of affirmative-action law here. You'll probably enjoy exploring these two sites devoted to your namesake Friedrich Hayek, here and here. I don't think you've ever told me, by the way, when you first ran across Hayek's work. How did it strike you? And how did you discover it? It wasn't as though the profs back at our Lousy Ivy College were eager to tell us about Hayek. The good mystery novelist and screenwriter Roger Simon recently started a blog here, and he's a looser and more engaging blogger than most professional writers are. (Most of them can't seem to understand that blogging is as much about holding a conversation and being a party host as it is about traditional writing.) Here's a good short posting on why movie stars tend to be so antiwar. A study at the University of Rochester (here) has found that meditation seems to make people happier. John Ray (here) points out that while the world's been fixated on the war in Iraq, millions of Africans have been dying in a war in the Congo. Millions! And he asks, Why aren't the do-gooders carrying on at least as much about this as they have been about the Iraq war? He points to this article about the mess, here. I enjoyed many of the games at this site here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tax Time
2Blowhards regrets to announce that tax season has proved so traumatic this year that we have been temporarily unable to blog. We hope to sober up, er, resume our regularly scheduled blogging shortly. Best regards, Michael and Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 15, 2003 | perma-link | (3) comments