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  1. Is Something the Matter With Economics?
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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Is Something the Matter With Economics?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is there something dramatically wrong with economics? No way for me to know, of course: I'm nothing but a fan with the most basic understanding imaginable of the subject. Still, a couple of books that I nosed through recently have left me wondering if something in the kingdom might indeed be amiss. "The Changing Face of Economics," edited by David Colander, Richard P.F. Holt, and J. Barkley Rosser Jr., is a roundup of interviews with well-established, mostly academic economists: Kenneth Arrow, Robert Frank, Deidre McCloskey, others. Most of them seem to be working and thinking at least partly in reaction against Paul Samuelson, the economist and textbook author whose Great Society neo-Keynesianism put Friedrich von Blowhard and me off economics back in the 1970s. About time people turned on Samuelson! Oh, was there ever a lot of arrogant talk around in those days about the possibility of "fine-tuning the economy" even as the actual economy was spinning off into previously-unseen whirlpools of stagflation ... The editors courteously give Samuelson space to reply at the end of their book. He handles the challenge in a gentlemanly fashion. Here are some of the interviewee's remarks. From Kenneth Binmore: "Economists traditionally promise more than they can deliver ... We certainly need to melt the boundaries between economics and psychology." From Herbert Gintis: "Undergraduate economics is a joke -- macro is okay, but micro is a joke because they teach this stuff that you know is not true. They know the general equilibrium model is not true. The model has no good stability properties, it doesn't predict anything interesting, but they teach it ... " From Robert Frank: "If you look at the Darwinian framework ... it would seem that you should care only about the things that promote your narrow goals. But the evidence was fairly clear that people did seem to care about more than that. ... You see the concern about status, or the concern about fairness, and then you ask, 'Well this seems to motivate people to incur costs that they could avoid. How is that consistent with our belief that people had a struggle to acquire scarce resources all through the eons?'" From "Buz" Brock: "I'd rather see less ideology and more careful reporting of the true level of uncertainty ... On the one hand I can understand when people remain tied to their model in the face of somewhat contradictory evidence. But on the other hand people who make policy statements when the data might equally well support two paradigms are not following good practice. I think we need more honest reporting of uncertainty." From the ecological economist Richard Norgaard: "My major problem is with the culture of economists and their use of the neoclassical model, not the model itself, because the model is no better or worse than a lot of other models ... Quite frankly, economists are like highway engineers who know how to make perfect roads but who are... posted by Michael at July 23, 2005 | perma-link | (23) comments

Athletes: Genetic Freaks?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There really are (in some cases) biologically-based differences between (some) people. Heavens, but it feels good to be living in a world where such a thing can be said out loud without everyone within earshot getting hysterical. So let me say it again: There really are (in some cases) biologically-based differences between (some) people. Wow, the sense of relief and expansiveness that I feel! I wonder if younger people have any idea what it was like to get an education in the '60s and the '70s, those decades of extreme Blank Slate-ism. We're all alike; all differences are purely cultural ... If you were trying to move in circles that fancied themselves to be "educated circles," you were obligated to bow down before these two claims. Anyone Who Was Anyone simply knew that they were true, after all. And Anyone Who Disagreed, ipso facto, deserved to be treated as a Nazi until he/she proved otherwise. So it's been fun -- and immensely satisfying -- to watch genetic and biological research pile up showing that biological differences can and do exist between individuals, as well as between population groups. God knows that it's a moment to be relished when scientific findings and common experience jibe. And an even more tasty treat when they contradict and confound the vanities and lies of privileged people. Great Steve Sailer quote: There are lots of important and popular people who don't seem to mind lying, and, indeed, think better of themselves for lying in a fashionable cause. In fact, the more blatant the lie, they appear to believe, the greater the moral credit they deserve. Some interesting data showed up yesterday in a good Wall Street Journal "On Sports" column by Sam Walker. It seems that, for a long time now, docs and researchers have been prodding elite athletes in order to determine if their athletic excellence has some biological bases. Answer: You betcha. As Walker writes: "While genetics is only one part of the formula for greatness, scientists agree that in order to be truly dominant, an athlete has to be -- to some degree -- a genetic freak." Some of the findings Walker cites: Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has flipper-like feet: size 14 monsters that are as flexible as a ballerina's. Andy Roddick, who owns tennis' fastest serve, can arch his back 44% farther than can the average tennis pro. The soccer star Mia Hamm produces half as much sweat as the average soccer player. While it takes a typical civilian 300 milliseconds to make a reactive decision, the average race car driver is able to react and respond in 270 milliseconds -- a difference that means a lot when your car is going 200 miles an hour. One of the most remarkable physical specimens in the world is the great bicyclist Lance Armstrong. Armstrong's heart is 20% larger than a normal person's, and his body produces one-third less lactic acid than do the bodies of other... posted by Michael at July 23, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Yoga Notes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Alan Little explains something key about yoga that many people -- including many people taking yoga classes -- aren't aware of: The practice of the physical postures (the "asanas") is only one part of what yoga is. Me, I'm an enthusiastic novice. Alan's a serious -- even scholarly -- yogadude. BTW, that Patanjali fellow Alan mentions? One of the fathers of yoga philosophy, and a major genius. Yoga philosophy, like the Indian school of philosophy known as Vedanta, makes me completely happy -- as well as completely happy to leave all Western philosophy behind. * Yoga classes in my neighborhood average at least 3/4 women. (Singleguys-eager-to-meet-chicks: Why aren't you taking yoga?) Felicia Tomasko asks, Is yoga different for men? Her general thesis: Yoga is a practice that creates more of a state of vulnerability, according to Miller. He, along with other teachers, hypothesizes that women tend to naturally have an easier time with the emotional vulnerability inherent in yoga practice. Miller finds that yoga practice, particularly the challenging forms like the ashtanga he teaches, is transformative by nature. The practitioner then has to navigate unfamiliar territory and states of being. While these were values supported culturally during the development of yoga, Western cultural ideas do not support male vulnerability. OK, so maybe that's why a lot of singleguys aren't taking yoga ... Still: Wusses. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2005 | perma-link | (22) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Excellent casting! * Thanks to Michael Gates for pointing out this beautiful satellite image of Niagara Falls. I don't think I've mentioned recently what a pleasure Michael's blog is, by the way. Michael has a deep interest in words and poetry, and takes wonderful verbal shapshots of moments that catch his eye -- they're haiku-ish prose poems. He's curious about the world, and he's OK with not knowing everything. Michael's brain inhabits a space I love visiting. * The most to-the-point commentary about the proposed "Freedom Tower" at the WTC comes from James Kunstler. * Michael Bierut writes a heartfelt and wonderful appreciation of Moss Hart's heartfelt and wonderful theater memoir, "Act One." * It seems that uncool -- or maybe noncool -- is the new cool. * Arnold Kling takes a mature look at what might be done to relieve African poverty. * For websurfers of a certain ilk, running across an open directory is kind of like striking gold, right? * John Horn's LA Times visit with uber-meatball film director Michael Bay is one to be savored. I cracked wise about a Bay movie here, and I linked to another profile of Bay here. I ain't gonna miss Bay's new movie, "The Island," are you? I'm sure it's almost as much fun as a demolition derby. Ka-boom! * Scott Esposito recalls the days when he thought authors were glamorous and rich. * Let's welcome Bluewyvern to the blogosphere. She has a very likable and confident voice, and she has been having energetic fun with her links. Unlike us oldies, who are forever struggling with the blogging medium, Bluewyvern seems like a natural. She has a freeform multimedia mind, but she can still focus. * All that talk about edible meat being grown in a Petri dish? Alex Tabarrok wonders what we'll call people who eat in-vitro meat but not animal-grown meat. Stephen Bodio thinks that everyone's been forgetting the most important question: How will it taste? * Tyler Cowen suspects that Hollywood's current business doldrums aren't merely cylical. * Kinky Friedman -- musician, detective novelist, and self-proclaimed "Texas Jewboy" -- wants to run for Texas governor. His campaign planks include abolishing political correctness, and (even better) "de-wussification." Enough: I'm on board. * I can't find fault with Shouting Thomas's political point of view either: "The American middle class way of life is great! There is nothing better. Enjoy it!" My own political philosophy, it recently occurred to me, boils down to, "First do no harm." * Marriage can be a challenge even when the two of you finally agree to get more sexually adventurous. (No images, but still NSFW.) * Ariel Levy's memoir about the ineffable Andrea Dworkin is a gem. A highlight of the piece is the revelation that -- although she made a loud point of proclaiming her lesbianism -- no one ever knew Dworkin to have an actual affair with a woman. Am I wrong in thinking that... posted by Michael at July 21, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Gavin Lambert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A moment of silence, please, for the under-recognized passing of Gavin Lambert, who died several days ago at the age of 80. Lambert was one of those brilliant, elegant, gentlemanly, and dapper-but-tough figures the arts can't live without. And, yes, you bet he was gay. As far as films went, Lambert was a critic; he edited Sight & Sound magazine; he worked as a flunky for Nicholas Ray; he wrote award-winning screenplays. But he was a beyond-excellent journalist, biographer, and fiction-writer too. I'm a huge fan of his book-length interview with George Cukor, of his biography of the exotic Russian diva Nazimova, and of his story collection "The Slide Area," which seems to me as good as the best of Christopher Isherwood, as well as one of the best-ever evocations of the movie life. Here's Lambert's entry on IMDB. Here's a nice photo of him. Here's an interview with him about Natalie Wood, the subject of one of his biographies. Dennis McLellan's obit in the LA Times is a nice one; so is Sharon Waxman's in the NY Times. The film critic David Ehrenstein, who knew Lambert, recalls his friend here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Girls in Their Summer Dresses, and Skirts -- and Thongs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How have you found women's fashions this summer? They've struck me as very enjoyable: sexy, relaxed, and even a little elegant, at least by today's hysterical standards. Nostalgia-inducing too, for those of us d'un certain age: The '60s and '70s seem back in a big way, what with the cowboy boots, the flower-power blouses, and the always-welcome denim miniskirt making strong comebacks. I've had girlwatching moments when I could almost hear The Byrds singing "Turn Turn Turn." I've been delighted as well by the vogue for low-slung, flowing skirts. They have a beautiful rhythm and sway. The patterns are loose and sinuous. They're very Gauguin; women walk real nice in 'em. And the newfangled, twinkly materials that are often woven into the traditional fabrics do a sharp job of refreshing the style. What with the sandals and the toe-rings, the effect is cyber-Hindu, or maybe Bali-goes-Silicon-Valley. Very flattering, and very female. Of course it's always fun taking note of the outrages too. The lower-belly and buttcrack exhibitionism seems less aggressive this summer than it was last summer. But this season I've noticed a lot of attention-grabbing, dumbass t-shirts. One shapely woman walked by me recently wearing a tight t-shirt with a legend on it reading: "These boobs are real." Was I meant to give them a squeeze just to make sure? Another gasp-inducer involved a tall, curvy blonde outside Whole Foods. There she stood, yakking on the inevitable cellphone, dressed in a skimpy top and in a spectacularly barely-there bottom: a pink micro mini of the kind a spring break sorority girl might slip on over her Wicked Weasels in order to go get an ice cream cone. Around her hips, in other words, this blonde was wearing no more than eight inches of stretchy almost-nothingness. If she'd bent over just the slightest bit, I'm sure that I would have seen some tanned (and, I'm sure, very smooth) pubic curves. But by then -- like every other straight man in the vicinity -- I'd already tripped over myself and slammed into a telephone pole. Oooh, was I ever outraged! Small historical question: When did it become OK for women to go out in the general public arena wearing what's basically boudoir or beach clothing? Was it Madonna who kicked this trend off? A pleasant development that I may be late in noticing has been lots and lots of semi-transparency. Have you taken note as well? Most of it seems to be part of a peekaboo-layering strategy: hip wraps, see-through blouses worn over spaghetti-strap tops, that kind of thing. Flirty! Fun! Fabulous! Thinking about semi-transparency, I find myself transported back to the late '70s ... Yup, there she is, floating before me once again: Naomi, a dark, voluptuous, moody beauty and fellow officeworker. We lusty young officedudes used to refer to Naomi as the "sexy Israeli army sergeant" -- we pictured her spending mornings cracking down on Palestinians, and afternoons oiling up her olive-skinned toplessness... posted by Michael at July 21, 2005 | perma-link | (41) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sometimes I marvel at how resourceful the media can be. A number of litbloggers, for instance, have been picked up by newspapers and magazines to work as reviewers -- good show! But there are other times when what amazes me instead is how clueless the media can be. Case in point: If I were a TV or movie person, I'd be spending big parts of my day scanning the web for fresh dramatic and comedy material. Why does no one seem to be doing this? God knows the blogosphere is full of promising stories and storytellers. Yahmdallah's dating adventures could be the basis for the next "Dream On," for example. Nate Davis and Graham Lester tell real-life tales that should be primo meat for indie filmmakers. And why haven't producers who want to exploit the endless appetite for chicklit-style romantic comedy been in contact with La Coquette? Some other bloggers whose stories are just as ripe for the picking: Neil Kramer, whose postings are often hilarious and touching performance pieces about the joys and woes of marriage and singledom (Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, can you hear me?); Searchblog, whose struggles with depression have a moving boho beauty; the Communicatrix, whose scrappy and out-there romantic and career stories are impossible not to relate to, and which she tells in the perfect voice; and Mike Hill, who (in between rants about New Jersey politics) shares cringe-making and perfectly-delicious memories of his years as an actor. What performer wouldn't kill for a part in a movie or sitcom based on these adventures? And what audience wouldn't be amused (and hooked) by watching these stories be enacted? Juicy and fresh material, all of it, and already well-told by excellent storytellers. Hollywood, would you puh-leeze get on the ball? Your material of late has been been striking a lot of us as awfully stale. Incidentally, should any mega-deals result from this posting, I'm more than open to the possiblity of a generous finder's fee ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 21, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Delbert McClinton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm having yet another "What kind of idiot was I?" moment. This one concerns the Texas blues/honkytonk legend Delbert McClinton. Decades ago, I read something rhapsodic about his greatness. I gave him a few listens, failed to get hooked, muttered something about how the press overdoes everything, goddammit, and that was it. Estupido! With that dumb judgment, I managed to miss out on 20 years of enjoyment. I don't know how or why, but tracks from a semi-recent Delbert CD showed up in my Itunes collection a couple of weeks ago. Ever since I stumbled into this music, I've been listening to little else. So here I am, a rabid new recruit, as eager to rhapsodize as any other Delbert fan. Have you ever had the pleasure? If you were in the kind of ungenerous mood I was apparently in long ago, you might say that Delbert (and his many talented co-conspirators) deliver a competent version of straight-up, flat-out country-blues. Well, that's not quite right. The sound and the voice are nothing if not flat-out, god knows. But Delbert's a natural-born eclecticist. He uses what he wants, and he works in whatever mode appeals. There's nothing in Delbert's music that isn't roots. But the way he brings the ingredients together is something else. Without making a fuss about it, he swirls together soul, blues, border radio sounds, and a whole variety of country musics -- swing, honky-tonk, Texas. Delbert's been around, and he has had more ups and downs than he probably cares to remember. He was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1940; he's just four years younger than fellow Lubbock native Buddy Holly. As a young man, he played backup for giants like Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins; on tour in England in the early '60s, he gave John Lennon some harmonica tips that resulted in the catchy harmonica sound on "Love Me Do." Although he has been nominated for a few Grammys (and has won one or two) and he has had one modest national hit (with "Givin' It Up for Your Love"), Delbert has never been a big star. Needless to say, he's had his battles with a variety of devils too -- booze, drugs, the taxman ... Delbert's an all-around musician: a confident and persuasive harp player as well as an inventive guitarist. As a band-leading vocalist, Delbert has classic Texas-country equipment -- more energy than range, and pipes well-corroded from too much diesel (and no doubt much else). But what he does with that equipment! Delbert is no beady-eyed, deadpan/canny, hold-it-in country singer. You never sense his brain hovering above his repertoire of tricks and stylizations, parceling them out one at a time. Instead, he's loose and out-there. He's also amazingly unapologetic about the soul-man thing -- one of the few white men I'm aware of who can holler "Yowwwwww! C'mon baby! Get on!!!" without looking like a fake, a wannabe, or an ass. At the same time, Delbert's... posted by Michael at July 20, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Governor With a Passion -- Oh, No!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- When a politician develops a hobbyhorse, watch out. New York's disgraceful governor George Pataki is determined to turn the Albany region into thriving technology hub, and it seems that nothing -- especially expense -- is going to get in his way. The New York Times' Michael Cooper reports that plans for a new microchip project have been announced, helped along by what's expected to be $180 million in state aid. How do residents of Troy, Syracuse and Rochester feel about state tax-money going to help out the Albany region? Cooper also reports that the Governor has already laid out $535 million in state funds to encourage a project called Albany Nanotech. The yield in jobs so far? 645 big ones. My arithmatic can be mighty shakey, but that looks to me like it cost taxpayers almost a million dollars for each new job that was created. Say, I have a thought. Instead of doing things so circuitously, why not just establish an annual $535 million New York state lottery? Take the money from NY taxpayers, then distribute it equally among 645 randomly-chosen, lucky residents. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 20, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just noticed (a few days late) that 2Blowhards has turned three years old. Three years of blogging -- hard to believe! I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of words of writing that represents. It's hard to tell -- wonderfully hard to tell -- because blogging tends to consist not of finite essays but of ongoing conversations. When Friedrich von Blowhard and I came up with the idea of running a cultureblog, we were dipping anxious toes in a blogosphere that was very sparsely populated where cultural commentary goes. The political bloggers were off and running, but it hadn't yet occured to many people that blogging can just as easily serve as a convenient outlet for sounding off about movies, music, books, and art. If memory serves -- and it often doesn't these days, so apologies if I goof here -- the only cultureblogs in existence at the time Friedrich and I started Blowharding belonged to A.C. Douglas and Lynn Sislo. I'm glad to see that A.C. and Lynn are still showing the stuff. They both deserve a lot of credit not just for being classy thinkers and writers but for being pioneers. These days blogging seems almost old-media, and cultureblogging has become a standard part of the blogging panorama. A huge range of people take part, from established pros like Terry Teachout (how does he do it? I mean, and make a living?) to Everyguyblogger, who writes a short posting about how he reacted to the latest "Batman" episode. Thank god for this expansion of the culture-commentary universe. The world of yakking-about-culture seems -- to me, anyway -- a much saner one than it did when the culture-conversation was run entirely by people with professional positions at institutions, publications, and networks. I think I can speak for Friedrich and me both when I say that the pre-blogging conversation about culture and the arts often seemed downright demented. Much that's basic about the experience of culture and the arts was going not just undiscussed but completely unrecognized. The official commentators often seemed to be off in their own la-la world, carrying on discussions with each other in some cloud cuckooland where only their own thoughts and impressions counted. Before we began blogging, Friedrich and I were in the habit of swapping innumerable emails about art, sex, and the movies. (We still do this, by the way.) These emails were continuations of conversations we had as movie/art/lit-struck undergrads three decades ago. Three years ago, we looked at what was on our minds; we looked at what was in the papers and the magazines; and we wondered: How could it be that so much of what we observed, perceived, and thought found zero reflection in the public conversation about the arts? Perhaps mistakenly, we didn't feel that the answer to this question was, "Because you're complete weirdos, that's why." We suspected that, if we took some of our email yaks public, we might play a... posted by Michael at July 20, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Reasons I'm Not ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dodging all question of brains and talent ... * The reason I'm not a philosopher is that much of what I want from philosphy is trustworthy life advice. * The reason I'm not an economist is that I spend zero time marveling that people aren't economically rational. I start with the conviction that people are multidimensional and often confused beings, and I marvel that they ever do manage to act in economically rational ways. * The reason I'm not a Literary Theorist is that what interests me lots more than my own thought processes is the experience of the arts as they're actually lived. * The reason I'm not a photographer is that photographic possibilities leap out at me only after I put the camera away. When I actually do have a camera in hand, no good ideas for photos ever, ever occur to me. See also: Life's Cruel Ironies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 20, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments