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  1. Fatal Football Frenzy
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  5. Buick Portholes Are Back (Again)
  6. French Riots
  7. Blog Indentity-Change
  8. Nonlinear Storytelling
  9. One Size Doesn't Fit All
  10. Airliner Boarding Fixes

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Fatal Football Frenzy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's a binary year for Seattle-area football fans. On the one hand the NFL Seahawks are doing well, and on the other hand the University of Washington Huskies are stinkin' out the joint over at Husky Stadium. The place smelled last year too. Twas not always so. Under the reign of coach Don James, the Dawgs (as they're known in these parts) were highly ranked, maybe even being the best team in the country one year. The Huskies over the years have tended to be in the above-avergage to good range, though they never won a Rose Bowl game until 1960, when I was a Junior. They won again the next year; I attended both games. Back in the late 50s and early 60s at many games the stadium public address announcer would request that would a doctor please report to such-and-such a place. The next day's newspaper might report that two fans had to be removed due to heart attacks. Sometimes the elderly fan (probably an alumnus with season tickets) was carried out feet first to the funeral home. I intensely followed football while in college and for about 20 years after. I bled purple for the Huskies, though my interest was only middling for Dear Old Penn's Quakers (the name struck terror into the hearts of Princeton's Tigers and Yale's Bulldogs, no?). As for the pros, I loved the Green Bay Packers in the NFL and was a huge fan of the Oakland Raiders in the AFL. I recall pacing the living room floor, agonizing each time the Kansas City Chiefs marched toward the goal line against Oakland. The second Super Bowl game created a huge dillema because the Packers played the Raiders. I finally decided I was more a Packer fan than a Raider fan (the Pack won easily, by the way). By the time I reached my mid-40s I came to realize that such emotional intensity was not a good thing. I remembered what had happened at Husky Stadium years before and decided that, while dropping dead when UCLA scored a touchdown wasn't the worst possible way to go, high tension in the vascular system might lead to premature check-out time, and where's the advantage to being premature. So now I'm a sang-froid guy when it comes to football. If the University of Oregon grinds Washington into a pathetic pulp, well it was interesting to watch the Ducks' skill. If the Packers get creamed, well, ... well that would just be the end of the world. Sorry, I'm still a Packer fam. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 11, 2005 | perma-link | (7) comments

Razib and Derb
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Razib interviews John Derbyshire. An excellent chat: Let's hear it for entrepreneurial blogging. Scatter-brained, impressionistic me especially appreciated Derb's comment that "Having a well-thought-out world-view can make a person narrow and arrogant." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 11, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

iPods and Viagra
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's an iPod universe; we just happen to live in it. The iPod Nano is selling out, and the video iPod has been a showstopper. Interesting fact: of the 30 million iPods that have been sold since the original iPod was introduced in October 2001, 22 million of them were bought in 2005. I finally joined the iPoddin' hordes a couple of months ago. Until then, I'd resisted for a quirky look-and-feel reason: I dislike the idea of carrying around a small device that's based on a hard drive. Those whirring disks … Those little magnetic arms ... A small electronic gizmo that is full of the kinds of delicate moving parts that have failed me three times already? No, I don't think so. Then the iPod Shuffle was introduced. The Shuffle doesn't have a hard drive; it's based on flash memory (which means no moving parts). It's also tiny -- the size of a pack of gum -- and it's relatively cheap. Drop a Shuffle and it'll survive. Lose it and you aren't out very much dough. I find it fascinating that the Nano -- which, like the Shuffle, is flash-memory based -- is such a hit. I wonder if lots of people have the same wary feelings about hard drives that I do. So I bought a Shuffle and became an iPodder. I'm not sure what my final verdict is on the Shuffle. It's tiny, it's easy to use, and it's no source of anxiety -- these are all good things. What I love most about the device is listening to audiobooks on it. Thanks to Felix Salmon for suggesting that I record CD-based audiobooks into iTunes and then listen to them on the Shuffle. (CD-based audiobooks have tracks, just like music CDs do.) The routine involves some tedium -- 30 minutes or so of feeding CDs into the computer, and then moving data onto the Shuffle. But the results are molto groovy. There's something pleasingly miraculous about carrying, say, an entire Teaching Company lecture series around in your shirt pocket. As a device for listening to music, though, the Shuffle has broken my heart. This isn't because the Shuffle has no screen and holds no more than a few hundred songs; neither of these facts bother me. It's more simple and basic than that. It's because I find the experience of listening to music on the Shuffle depressing. As far as I can tell, this has little to do with sound quality per se. The Shuffle's sound is nothing if not clear and rockin'. It seems to have to do instead with the way that the iPod compresses and presents music -- and especially with how the resulting soundwaves hit my brain and my soul. Someone at iTunes' technical HQ seems convinced that the way to overcome the deficits of severe audio compression is to crank the "effects" dial 'way up. The result is that music listened to on the Shuffle... posted by Michael at November 11, 2005 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen is reading a book that claims to have the final word on why Americans are carrying around so much more weight than they did a couple of decades ago: They're snacking more. * And is obesity such a health risk anyway? * It's often assumed that greater government spending will produce happiness. Here's a study that suggests that higher levels of government spending produce quite the opposite. * Two creatures who have made me feel a lot of happiness are the Italian actress Monica Bellucci, a great beauty in the tradition of Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale, and the one-of-a-kind French film director Bertrand Blier. What a treat to learn that Bellucci is starring in Blier's next movie. In a Guardian visit with Bellucci, Blier has this to say about his star: "She's completely relaxed with her image and with her own sense of modesty as well. Because she is so free and proud of being a woman and proud of her femininity, she has no problem with the fact that men look at her and desire her, and that is rare today with women." And here's a nice bit from Bellucci: "I'm not scared by nudity, because for me, nothing is more beautiful than a body. You can have such an amazing emotion from a body. In 'Irreversible,' I treated my body like it was an object and it's great when you can have this kind of relation with your body, it's a part of your job, an object you can work with. When you can have this kind of freedom it's the moment where you can give your best as an actress." Sigh: the art cinema at its best. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 10, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Buick Portholes Are Back (Again)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Good Ship Buick just got a new set of portholes. Unfortunately, it also seems to be taking on water and might even founder -- more on that towards the end of this posting First, let's talk portholes. 2006 Buick Lucerne. Here's the brand-new Lucerne, Buick's top-of-the-line model for 2006. If you look closely at the part of the side between the front wheel-well and the windshield pillar or rear-view mirror you'll see four little flashy spots with dark centers. These are the latest version of Buick's famous portholes. One area where General Motors is weak is design or styling. Back between 1930 and 1970, GM pretty much ruled that roost. However, in recent decades the company stumbled. By the early 1980s, cost-saving procedures resulted in a model lineup where it was hard to tell Chevrolets from Buicks, as was famously portrayed on a 1983 Fortune magazine cover. Since then, GM has tried hard to distinguish its brands, though not as successfully as it once did. The traditional means of establishing brand identity is through the use of styling details that appear year after year in changing, yet recognizable form. Back in the 1950s when it became the third-ranking brand in sales, Buick boasted three main styling cues: A grille with vertical chrome-plated bars or teeth A chrome "sweep-spar" on the car's side "Portholes" on the hood or front fender The vertical grille first appeared for the truncated (by World War 2) 1942 model year. It was continued on the post-war 1946 models and lasted through the 1955's. Buick has revived this front-end theme in recent years. 1942 Buick with vertical grille bars. The sweepspar and portholes both arrived on 1949 Buicks, though the sweepspar was only on Riviera hardtop convertibles, and even then only introduced part-way through the model year. 1949 Buick Riviera with sweepspar and portholes. According to legend, the portholes were the invention of ace stylist Ned Nickles who reportedly had round holes cut in the hood of his car. The holes were finished with chrome-plated surrounds. Inside the holes were lights whose wiring was linked to the distributor, the lights pulsating along with the motor's revving, mimicking flames emitted from the exhaust stacks or a race car or airplane. Buick managers thought the portholes looked nifty, but on production cars the ports were not actual holes (the centers were simply black paint) and there was no fake exhaust flaming. Hawker Fury fighter, 1930s -- note engine exhaust ports. Back through the 1930s cars usually had doors, louvres, or grated openings on the sides of the hood to help get rid of engine heat. Below is a 1935 Plymouth with such openings plus circular porthole-like trim, in some slight way anticipating Buick's portholes. 1935 Plymouth -- portholes? The 40s and 50s were the height of the practice of the annual model styling change. Nowadays the appearance difference between, say, a 2005 and 2006 model can be nil. Fifty or 60 years... posted by Donald at November 9, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

French Riots
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Provocative commentary about the riots in France comes from Peter Brimelow, Steve Sailer, Mark Steyn, Randall Parker, Fred Reed, Joel Kotkin, and Colby Cosh. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2005 | perma-link | (24) comments

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Blog Indentity-Change
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Many names of blogs strike me as pretty strange, but we can save that as a topic for a future posting. The subject for today is the matter of changing the name of a blog and (maybe) changing its Internet address (URL). What inspired this was a post a few days ago on Donald Sensing's blog "One Hand Clapping" in which he announced that he wants to change both the blog name and the URL and invited comments (worth reading). Just in case he goes through with his scheme and the link goes bad, allow me to tell you something about Sensing and summarize the post. Donald Sensing is a retired Army Artillery Lt. Colonel who now is an ordained Methodist minister living near Nashville. His oldest son enlisted in the Marines following high school and is stationed in Iraq. The blog deals with matters military, political and philosophical for the most part; once a week Sensing usually posts the text of his Sunday sermon. The peg used in the posting is the 1980s automobile brand name-change from Datsun to Nissan. Nissan was the name of the company and the cars it sold in Japan and elsewhere, but its cars were marketed in the U.S. under the Datsun label; management thought it best to tidy the matter up by dropping the Datsun name. Sensing notes that only recently have sales returned to pre-name-change levels, implying that the effects were horrific. Some commenters suggested that there was more at play than re-branding -- product mix, styling, engineering features and so forth have been known to affect car sales. My opinion is that the new name probably did affect sales for the first two or three years or so, but not much longer than that. Datsun was a well-established name associated with iconic products such as the 240Z sports car, and it was hard to stop thinking it. Furthermore, I found "Nissan" harder to roll off my tongue than "Datsun"; actually, I still find "Nissan" hard to spit out and tend to refer to their cars by model names, such as Altima or Murano. After using the Datsun/Nissan example as a downside for name-changes, he goes on to say This story matters to me not because I hold stock on Nissan (I don’t) but because I have been considering changing the name of my blog. I named it One Hand Clapping ... but I am not sure it’s a good name for what I want to do in the future. I have already reserved another domain name that does three things neither the OHC moniker nor the present domain name,, do. One, it more accurately describes what kind of web site it is than either my present domain name or site name. Second, it makes the domain name and the site name the same name. Third, it is friendly to team blogging, which I think is the wave of the future of blogging. Joe Katzman,... posted by Donald at November 8, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Nonlinear Storytelling
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I made it to the movie theaters a few times recently. First we took in Tony Scott's "Domino." The film is loosely based on the life of a woman named Domino Harvey. The daughter of a Vogue model and the dashing British star Laurence Harvey, Domino grew up angry and a little crazy, and became a bounty hunter. Yup, although it sounds Too Good to be True, she really did. The film is a frantic, hallucinatory, cyber-fantasia based on a few episodes in Domino's life. Before anyone asks what we were thinking, attending an obviously appalling movie like "Domino," let me say that The Wife and I sometimes enjoy seeing obviously-appalling movies. There's the fun of tuning into the zeitgeist. But there's also mucho fun to be had in gasping in horror at what the media have become, and where life generally seems to be heading. In the case of "Domino," we thoroughly enjoyed being appalled. I don't know when I've seen such a foaming-at-the-mouth commercial film. Always flashy and aggressive, Tony Scott seems to have spent time recently studying at the "Natural Born Killers" finishing school. Imagine a cable service whose every channel is broadcasting something about Domino Harvey: on one channel a documentary; on another a movie of the week; on a third the rock-video version; on the fourth a drug-trip account, etc etc. Now imagine spending two hours surfing randomly among these many stations. That's what watching "Domino" is like. It's more about the twitchy fun of channel-surfing than it is about its ostensible subject. There was some non-campy pleasure to be had watching the performers. Nearly all of them show enjoyable "what the hell?" attitudes, and nearly all pitch themselves into the punkish attitudinizing with likable ferocity. I'd never watched Keira Knightly before, but I'm a fan now. She's cute as heck, of course. But she also shows a lot of zest, and a lot of uninhibited and naughty-spirited avidity. As Domino's mentor, Mickey Rourke does his specialty -- seedy-and-bemused -- and he flexes a lot of reluctant charisma too. Keira and Mickey both do excellent jobs making the filthy bluejeans they wear seem recklessly glamorous. Playing their opposite number -- an opportunistic reality-TV producer in a business suit -- Christopher Walken is even more wackily Martian than usual. I felt very happy when the credits at the end of "Domino" visually showed the film's lead actors. I often wish that movies would all show images of the performers they name during their credits. It's a nice tribute to the performers as well as a service to viewers. Anyway, at the end of "Domino"'s credits, the actual Domino Harvey shows up for a few seconds. She's smiley, tough, careworn ... And her presence answers a lot of the questions that the film raises. All along, you've been wondering what kind of woman would become a kickass bounty hunter. The film tries to give the impression that the... posted by Michael at November 8, 2005 | perma-link | (25) comments

Monday, November 7, 2005

One Size Doesn't Fit All
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: Here at 2blowhards over the years we’ve argued a bit about the European economic model and its likely future. You can see one of our discussions from 2003 centering on France here. Michael Blowhard has, by and large, taken the reasonable position that French economic policy accurately reflects the desires of the French populace to favor leisure time and job security over maximizing economic output. My counterpoint was that it appeared that governmental policy might actually be foreclosing options for those members of French society who wanted to work more hours per week than they currently were doing. As I recall, neither of us managed to convert the other to our way of thinking. However, an article I just read by Michael Mandel in Business Week Online, “The Economics Fueling The French Riots,” (which you can read here) raises a point neither Michael nor I took notice of. To wit, while French economic policies may well reflect the preferences of a majority of Frenchmen, it appears that they certainly do not reflect the preferences of angry young men in France’s African and Moslem immigrant communities. As Mr. Mandel notes: …the outbursts were supercharged by an economic system that not only tolerates but actually fosters sky-high youth unemployment. In September, an incredible 21.7% of 15- to 24-year-olds in France were unemployed, compared to only 11% in the U.S. and 12.6% in Britain. France isn't alone -- other European countries, such as Belgium, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Finland -- also have persistent youth unemployment rates above 20%…The problem for Europe -- and France in particular -- is that no society can long survive when 20% of young people, with plenty of energy and no place to put it, are unemployed. It's not simply an immigrant problem. Romano Prodi, the leader of the center-left coalition in Italy, says living conditions are terrible in that country's suburbs, even in areas made up only of Italian citizens. This is, of course, a classic dilemma. To wit, that governmental solutions tend to be one-size-fits-all and, well, one size never fits all. Obviously, if the losers under such policies are also unified by race or religion or some equivalent unifying factor, things are apt to get ugly—as they have in France. This is yet another argument against big government solutions, or at least big-government solutions undertaken without building in a good deal of flexibility. I would say that is is especially true in countries that do not possess highly homogenous populations. Cheers, Friedrich von Blowhard... posted by Friedrich at November 7, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Airliner Boarding Fixes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- You find boarding an airliner a breeze, right? Apparently a few folks don't, and the November 2nd Wall Street Journal had two related articles dealing with how airlines are trying to speed the process; it seems that long boarding-times depress potential revenue because the risk of departure delay is raised. A page-one article was about a mathematician who worked on an efficiency-raising method now being rolled out by United Airlines. Then there was an article starting on the first page of the Personal Journal section that related the experiences of Journal staffers with various passenger loading modes. I'll summarize the second article, which includes the method covered in the first article. The United Airlines system basically boards from the windows inward as opposed to the traditional back-to-front procedure. Boarding is by section (1, 2, 3, ... or A, B, C, ... or whatever) and the change was that the computer had 1 or A be window rather than rear seats, thus keeping the instructions to passengers the same as they were previously. The supposed efficiency gain is that window passengers will have completed any overhead stowage and will be seated before the middle-seat cohort arrives. Otherwise, aisle and middle-seaters would have to climb back into the aisle so the window-seater could get to his seat (assuming he got on last). (The mathematician's solution was a slight elaboration, where some back-front adjustments were made atop the windows-inward scheme.) The Journal writers didn't find much, if any, improvement on their flights. They thought this was due to the fact that United preserved advance-boarding for travelers with infants and young children, elderly or handicapped passengers, First Class ticket holders and high-mileage customers, this leading to aisle-clutter as the window-seaters arrived. They found that there was line-jumping on most flights regardless of loading scheme and that airlines tended to be lax regarding the amount of carry-on baggage allowed. Apparently Continental Airlines started boarding 10 minutes sooner before scheduled push-back than other airlines and this helped avoid departure delays. An interesting factoid in the other article is that boarding rates as measured by passengers-per-minute have dropped over the past few decades: the current average is nine per minute. I fly Alaska Airlines between Seattle and San Jose a lot, so I found the Journal's coverage of especial interest. This year, I'm a high-mileage "MVP" (Most Valuable Passenger?) which means I get to board early unless the gal at the counter orders general boarding instead of by row. Sadly, I won't have enough miles or flights this year to be a 2006 MVP. Sometimes, Alaska can board and deplane with astonishing speed, (By the way, apparently the math-whizzes didn't consider the arrival end of the flight). Here is how it is done. Oops, one more detail. I only find it done at San Jose and not Seattle. You see, Alaska uses Terminal C in San Jose and Terminal C is a living fossil so far as large airports go. It... posted by Donald at November 6, 2005 | perma-link | (17) comments