In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Music Category
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It had been nagging at me for a while that we had no Music category in our blog's archives. So I created one -- and then subjected myself to the tedium of riffling through our past work and assigning the appropriate postings to my new category. Please Lord, don't let my hours of dull, dull work go to waste. Please steer a visitor or two to the blog's left-hand column. Please make him or her click on "Our blog archives by category." And then please, please have this visitor click on "Music," and spend a few minutes exploring the postings that turn up. Because you know that some good -- or at least offbeat -- recommendations and jokes are to be found there. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 30, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Image and Word
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Words come easily to me. They're my most direct form of expression; they're what I turn to first when I have something to communicate. Despite being a primarily-verbal guy, though, I cheer the fact that, these days, words are taking a beating. [Brief interruption for those who haven't run across this argument. We're said by many to be living at a time when the dominance of The Word is coming to an end. For hundreds of years -- the usual account locates the origin of this state of affairs at the time of Descartes -- words have held sway over all the other media. And modes of thinking that words are sometimes said to promote -- linearity, rationality -- have lorded it over other kinds of thinking. Nowadays -- what with computers, screens, recordings, email, advances in printing, etc. -- that super-verbal era is coming to a close. Images and sounds are turning up everywhere, and so are clickable buttons. We're moving into a less-authoritarian era -- one in which books, paper, and linearity become mere parts in a more-fluid, ever-turning-over, interactive, multimedia jumble. Such is the story anyway. Some people think this is a good development. Many people think it's a bad one. Most people seem to stare in amazement, and to feel bewildered and ambivalent ...] As far as I'm concerned, the de-throning of The Word is a great thing. Why shouldn't words take their modest place among the other media? Why shouldn't they stop carrying on so pompously and learn how to play nice? This attitude makes me a rarity among verbal people. I have many writer friends who feel very depressed about these developments. They trained themselves in and for a very different world, and they feel as though much of what they care about is dying. There's no question it's a tough time to be a writer. So many people agree that we're living at a time when, after a long period of subjection to The Word, The Image and The Sound are asserting themselves. And good for The Image and The Sound. Still, things can sometimes be taken too far. Graphics get used not because they work well, but because they're cool, or attractive, or punchy, or something. There's nothing wrong with words, after all. But Image-people especially seem to get carried away on a regular basis, choosing imagery and graphics when a printed word or two might have functioned far better. Perhaps they're a little drunk on their newfound power? Here's an example. The photo is a closeup of the side of The Wife's iBook: Can you tell which wire or plug is meant to be stuck into that hole? I certainly can't, and the cute graphic that Apple's designers have supplied isn't giving me any help. Would it have killed the designers to print the word "Power" next to the plug? Why topple one tyrant (words) only to install another (graphics) in its place? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 30, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Future of Entertainment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Edward Jay Epstein predicts that the near future will deliver dramatic surprises in the movie and TV worlds. Scary fact: Wal-Mart now accounts for 30% of DVD sales, and "the studios dance to Wal-Mart's tune." That can't be healthy for entertainment. Meanwhile, Friedrich von Blowhard alerts me to some happy entertainment news: Disney will produce a new season of "Kim Possible" cartoons. FvB posted about his own love of the series here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 29, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Women and Stress
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- American men are "catching up to women in life expectancy," reports Yahoo. The reason? "Medical experts say women are working harder, smoking more and undergoing more stress, which leads to the No. 1 killer -- heart disease." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 29, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dunking, gymnastics -- it somehow makes sense ... * I'm one happy Vedantist and yoga-newbie. Still, those Hindu-ish cults ... What's all that about? Here's a fascinating memoir about 30 years spent living with Yogi Bhajan. * Slate's Jill Hunter Pellettieri thinks foodies should go easier on that hyper-perky whirlwind, Rachael Ray. (Link thanks to a fluff-scoffing Steve Sailer.) * Somone has been giving Anne Hathaway's scenes in "Havoc" one heck of a close going-over. (NSFW) * Dudes: Have you ever wondered if you'd have been happier attending Florida State University? On the other hand, college life in Western Canada can evidently get lively too. (NSFW) (CORRECTION: Thanks to Intellectual Pariah, who points out that the Canadian party-heartiers aren't in "Western Canada." They're at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.) * Erotic blogging and podcasting: another match made in techno-heaven. (No naughty visuals, but the audio is very NSFW ...) * Functionality or aesthetics? Why should we have to choose, wonders Virignia Postrel. Nice quote: "Aesthetics isn’t a substitute for functionality, but functionality isn’t a substitute for aesthetics either." * Everybody -- even fictional characters -- is doing it: The immortal Nomi Malone (heroine of "Showgirls") is now a blogger. * Will a woman-run corporation be a more trusting place than an outfit run by men? Here's a book that has its doubts. * I'm even more of a former film-buff than I thought. Of the 21 movies and shows Anne Thompson includes on her year-end lists, I've seen exactly one. * Razib asks a lot of provocative questions about Christmas, Christianity, paganism, and culture. * Jill tells a sad story about getting used by a rich kid. Great passage: "He was a good-looking hippy boy, with pretty curls and a dimple. He also seemed kind of aloof, in that way that was completely alien to me, that way that only very rich kids are. A sense of entitlement, which I mistook for confidence." Rich kids often are kind of aloof, aren't they? * Here's a clever way to become a regular videoblogger: do your vlogging during your commuting time. * Why not become a vlogger yourself? * Are you interested in sampling French graphic novels? Zompist supplies a page of recommendations. * News comes from the University of Rochester that all of digital photography's problems have now been solved. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 29, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Women Who Convert to Islam ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An interesting article comes from the Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford, who notes that more Western Euro converts to Islam are female than male. What do these women find in Islam, he asks? Mary Fallot [one such convert] laughs when she is asked whether her love life had anything to do with her decision. "When I told my colleagues at work that I had converted, their first reaction was to ask whether I had a Muslim boyfriend," she recalls. "They couldn't believe I had done it of my own free will." In fact, she explains, she liked the way "Islam demands a closeness to God. Islam is simpler, more rigorous, and it's easier because it is explicit. I was looking for a framework; man needs rules and behavior to follow. Christianity did not give me the same reference points." Those reasons reflect many female converts' thinking, say experts who have studied the phenomenon. "A lot of women are reacting to the moral uncertainties of Western society," says Dr. Jawad. "They like the sense of belonging and caring and sharing that Islam offers." Others are attracted by "a certain idea of womanhood and manhood that Islam offers," suggests Karin van Nieuwkerk, who has studied Dutch women converts. "There is more space for family and motherhood in Islam, and women are not sex objects." Do we laugh at such women for finding modern Western life so difficult? Do we entertain the thought that modern Western life might be a little lacking in certain dimensions? Or, y'know, are broads just like that? (Link thanks to John Ray.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 29, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Violating Laws You Approve Of?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that swingers' clubs are legal. Since the ruling is considered a major rewrite of Canada's definition of indecency, the news should be prompting me to have deep thoughts on the topic of indecency. Instead what I find myself pondering is a series of questions, namely: When is it necessary to pass laws against things we disapprove of? How do we distinguish between those things we disapprove of but can live with in a legal sense, and those things we both disapprove of and are convinced actual sanctions are needed against? If and when we do pass such laws -- and even if we think they're good laws -- do we always have to obey them? I don't mean this in a general, legal sense. I mean it in a personal sense. For example: Perhaps I think recreational drugs should be illegal. Perhaps I enjoy toking up now and then anyway. Another for-instance is pornography. I'm not at all convinced it should be legal. In my view, pornography should at the very least be tightly regulated. (Not that there's a chance of this happening in the age of the Web ...) It's psychologically-explosive stuff, after all. At the same time, such laws or regulations wouldn't stop me from enjoying erotically-charged material. Rightly or wrongly, I consider myself capable of handling it. For many reasons -- among them a complete unfamiliarity with Canada's laws -- I have no idea where I stand on the Canadian group-sex ruling. I do know, though, that I'm less likely than many people I know to think that, just because I like something myself, it ought to be legal. Do you see any problem with combining an approval of official censure with a willingness to indulge privately? My stance could be called hypocritical, I suppose -- but what's wrong with a measure of hypocrisy? In any case, my general reaction is to shrug my shoulders and say, "La vie est comme ca." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 22, 2005 | perma-link | (53) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Sad to say, but I'm not sure that even this kind of coaching would have made me grasp calculus. * So much for my dream of one day taking a ride in a blimp ... *Professor Bainbridge thinks that the time has come to replace corks with screwtops for even the finest wines. * Grandma! Grandpa! Say it ain't so! (NSFW) * No wonder women live longer than men. * The moment is right to combat "labia shame." * Some people take their enthusiasm for "Fight Club" a little too far. * The world wants to know: Does James Kunstler hate suburbia? Here's Kunstler's answer. * Mike Hill recalls the silliness of a late '60s college "education." * Three things I've learned from prowling Flickr: 1) While guys like taking photos of girls, girls like taking photos of themselves. 2) A girl who displays photos of herself will almost inevitably call the the collection "me." 3) For a girl who displays a collection of photos of herself, lower-casing the "m" in "me" seems to be very important. * Someone has had the inspired idea of devoting a blog to Flickrbabes. * Here are some hard-to-resist Flickr toys. * The distinguished British academic Christopher Frayling single-handedly made the reputation of the spaghetti-western film director Sergio Leone, at least in intellectually-respectable circles. That's still an accomplishment worth applauding. Frayling talks about Leone here. * Wikipedia ain't like the encyclopedias I grew up reading. Surfing its pages, I just learned that nobody really knows where the term "g-string" comes from, and that the term "going commando" dates back to 1974. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 22, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Lit or Not-Lit?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There aren't many statements about "literature" I can sign on to. But, in an interview that Bookgasm did with the author Christopher Moore, I just ran across one: Bookgasm: Is there a difference in your mind between serious literature and stuff that’s just fun to read? Moore: I suppose, but I’d find it hard to delineate. Some of Steinbeck is awfully fun to read, some, not so much. Is "Grapes of Wrath" literature, and "Cannery Row" not? I find Mark Twain fun to read, but I have no idea if his work is considered literature. It wasn’t in his day. I have friends who really don’t enjoy a book unless it plows headlong into the problems of human existence, or explores some aspect of human suffering. I mean, they really enjoy that. Not my cup of tea, but they like it. On the other hand, I think "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a brilliant book, and if it’s not literature, then I don’t really want anything to do with literature. "I don't really want anything to do with literature": This fiction-lover has certainly had that feeling more than a couple of times ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 22, 2005 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Time" Marches On … Into the Ditch?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- To the hoots and sneers of a number of Internet denizens, Time Magazine recently unveiled its "Person of the Year" for 2005. Actually, it's a trinity: rocker Bono and M & Mme Gates of Medina, Washington. And my two cents say the choice was an emergency-room case of lameness, given what has been going on in the world in 2005. My second reaction to the selection was "Boy, Time has really been screwing up the PoY's in recent years!" Was I being fair? Well, as they almost used to say, "Let's roll the archives!" or videotape or whatever. A list and related links are here. I'll present the awardees by decade and score the results based on my (possibly warped) historical knowledge and judgment. The first "Man of the Year" ("Person" came later) was Charles Lindbergh, for 1927. His New York to Paris flight was huge news in that peaceful year and it had a considerable impact on the popularity of aviation and the future of the aviation industry in its various guises. The next two MoY's were businessmen -- Walter Chrysler and Owen Young -- the latter was chairman of the war reparations conference, an important issue in those days. Call it two out of three, lumping Chrysler and Young together as a "one." The 1930s MoY's were, in order, Gandhi, Pierre Laval, FDR, Hugh Johnson (of the NRA agency -- "We Do Our Part"), FDR again, Haile Selassie (king of Ethiopia, target of Mussolini's war), Wallis Simpson (King Edward VIII's flame), Generalissimo and Mme Chang Kai-Shek, Hitler, and for 1939, Stalin. I say Laval was a mistake and give half-points each to Gandhi and Wallis, so call the 30s eight of ten. World War 2 and the Cold War dominated the 1940s, and Time selected Churchill, FDR, Stalin, Gen. George C. Marshall, Eisenhower, Truman, Secretary of State Byrnes, Marshall (now Secretary of State, and author of his Plan), Truman again and, in 1949, Churchill as "Man of the Half-Century." Somewhere in my heap of stuff I have a copy of the 1949 MoH-C issue. I say Time had a hot ten of ten run here. The 1950s started with the Korean War "G.I. Joe", then Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran, Queen Elizabeth II, Konrad Adenauer, John Foster Dulles, Harlow Curtice of General Motors, Hungarian patriots (for their 1956 rebellion), Khrushchev, De Gaulle (for his return to power), and Eisenhower. My take is that Joe, QEII and Curtice were flat-out mistakes and that Mossadegh and Ike rate about half a point each, so my call is six of ten. The big question: Was Harry Luce asleep at the switch? "U.S. Scientists" started the 1960s with a judgmental whimper. MoYs for the rest of the decade were JFK, Pope John XXIII, Martin Luther King, LBJ, Gen. Westmoreland (in Vietnam), "Young People," LBJ again, "U.S. Astronauts," and the "Middle Class." I say the scientists, Westmoreland and the middle class rate zip. The "Young People" award might... posted by Donald at December 21, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Alone for Christmas
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I posted about family-centric holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas being potential emotional battlegrounds regarding which relatives were or were not visited. But what about the case where no one is visited -- where one spends the holiday alone. I have spent a few holidays either removed from family or totally alone. When some people (entirely women, for what it's worth) hear me mention this, they wonder how I survived the experience. I'm not trying to be funny or ironic here: these women were genuinely concerned about me. And they might have been imagining the horror they themselves might feel if placed in such situations. One woman even became slightly annoyed that I had allowed it to happen at all -- surely, I could have been taken under somebody's wing. No doubt there are a few people who make it a point to have a solitary Christmas, but I'm not one of them. My absences from family have been dictated by circumstances. Let me put them on the record. I was in the Army for about three years and only made it home for Christmas once. (They shut down Basic Training for the holidays and gave us leave time. I can't remember who paid for the trip, but I rode the Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Seattle and return, plus a local bus between San Francisco and Fort Ord.) Because my family lived in Seattle and I was stationed on the East Coast or Korea, I "celebrated" Thanksgiving and Christmas in army barracks or service clubs. My mother would mail me Christmas presents, so I had that holiday touch at least. My least-joyous holiday while in the Army was Thanksgiving, 1962. This was right after the Cuba Missile Crisis when the U.S. and the Soviet Union came about as close to a shooting war as they ever did during the Cold War. Thanks to some missile and hospital units being pulled out of Fort Meade (Maryland) and sent to Florida, post headquarters soldiers like me found themselves pulling guard duty. I was guarding an ammunition storage facility that day and had to have turkey dinner at another unit's mess hall. This meant that I knew no one and had to chow down alone. (The rank I held the longest time in the Army was PFC -- private, first-class -- the insignia being a solitary chevron on the sleeve. On discharge, I was the equivalent of a three-stripe sergeant. Nowadays strangers sometimes take me for a retired colonel. Go figure.) Later I spent three years as a graduate student at Dear Old Penn, a continent away from Seattle. This time, most family holidays were totally on my own, though I again got Christmas presents from home. Let me describe my first Philadelphia Christmas. I was living in a studio apartment (one room plus bath) on the top floor of an old row house converted to apartments. (For Philly phanciers, it was... posted by Donald at December 20, 2005 | perma-link | (19) comments

Monday, December 19, 2005

Travel Tallying
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- How many countries have you visited? Does it really matter? Well, it matters to some folks. On our recent Baltic area tour I discovered that some of our compatriots had been to lots and lots of countries and were even members of a club for folks whose tally was at least 100. I just did some Googling and turned up something called the "Traveler's Century Club" that seems to be that organization. Besides the usual organizational information, their web site has a list of what they considered "countries" -- that I found a little dicey in spots. There is "a total of 315 as of January 2005. Although some are not actually countries in their own right, they have been included because they are removed from parent, either geographically, politically or ethnologically" and a link is provided to a set of country-definition criteria drawn up in 1970. If nothing else, their generous definition makes it a lot easier to hit the 100 threshold than if countries were defined strictly in political terms. Some "countries" that make the list are the Balearic Islands (the island group off the east coast of Spain), Corsica (the large island where Napoleon was born just after it became part of France making him a Frenchman, a good career move), Crete, Rhodes' island group, the Isle of Man, Wales and Scotland. Alaska and Hawaii are counted separately from the Continental U.S. And Antarctica is rated as seven "countries" based on territorial claims. For what it's worth, I tallied my travels to see how I fared under Traveler's Century Club versus political-status criteria. I didn't count the United States. According to them, I've been to 32 countries. The alternative tally was either 25 or 26 countries. The uncertainty has to do with Okinawa, one of the Ryukyu Islands that were part of Japan before World War 2 and are part of Japan now. But when I was there, the islands were under American control. Although I do keep track of personal travel statistics, I've somehow been able to refrain from turning these numbers into a goal-related thing that might lead to taking trips for the main purpose of padding the stats. Life offers me too many other, more compelling, temptations. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 19, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Day TV Came to Town
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For most Americans under 50, television has been around as long as they can remember. But for those over age 60, say, there was probably a first-time experience of television. If you're curious what the first encounter between Blowhard and "idiot box" was like, read on ... Experimental television dates back to the 1920s, but broadcasting did not start in the United States until 1939 at the New York World's Fair. World War 2 and the high price of TV sets kept commercial television on hold until the later 1940s, when slightly more than 100 stations had been licensed by the FCC. In 1948 the FCC declared a halt to licensing that stayed in place until 1952, after which stations proliferated like mildew. One of those early stations was KRSC, channel 5, in Seattle. Programming debuted Thanksgiving Day (25 November) 1948 with a telecast of the state high school football championship game. For a screen shot and other information, click here. That first telecast took place less than a month after my ninth birthday, which meant I was old enough to be really excited about the coming of TV. Of course I had been hearing radio all my life and been to plenty of movies as well. So the idea of having something like movies in one's home sounded super-neat. Nor were television sets a complete mystery. I had been seeing advertisements for sets for a couple years in magazine as well as articles about television with photos in those same magazines as well as the newspaper. Still, I had never actually seen television and was eagerly awaiting the Big Event. Fortunately, my best grammar school buddy's dad owned an appliance store and was adding TV sets to his wares. Besides a set or two at the store, Mr. Stewart had installed one at home as well. For a few days before the big broadcast I had been seeing test patterns, which only whetted my appetite. When the telecast started, the appliance store had collected a crowd of about 30 people including me and my dad. As it turned out, the images were really awful -- not sharp, instead blotchy and snowy (see the link above for what it looked like). Besides the expected teething troubles of a new medium and an inexperienced broadcast crew, matters were made worse by reflections off water puddles on the playing field (this is Seattle, remember) that caused image "burns," forcing cameramen to keep panning even when there was no action to show. So TV was a Big Disappointment, at least for the afternoon of the football game. Once the football was done, the station switched over to broadcasting "kinescope" recorded shows that had somewhat better quality. But not really good quality because a kinescope recording was a fancy term for filming a TV monitor in 16-millimeter at the time of the live broadcast and then projecting the result before a live camera days or weeks later at... posted by Donald at December 18, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Latest Immigration Figures
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some highlights from the Center For Immigration Studies' latest report: 35.2 million immigrants (legal and illegal) now live in the U.S. That's the highest number ever recorded. Between 2000 and 2005, eight million new immigrants settled in the U.S., the highest five-year total in American history. Illegals accounted for about half of that total. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children account for almost three-fourths of the increase since 1989 of the population that has no health insurance. Immigration accounts for virtually all of the last couple of decades' increase in public school enrollment. Of adult immigrants, 31 percent haven't completed high school. Since 1990, immigration has increased the number of such workers by 25 percent. Immigrants now account for 12.1 percent of the country's total population, the highest percentage in eight decades. Thanks to current immigration policies, we have a poorer, more crowded, more welfare-dependent, and less-well-educated country than we'd have otherwise. Good work, lawmakers! The CIS study is summarized here. Randall Parker brings additional perspective here. Don't neglect to explore Randall's links. Best, Michael UPDATE: And here's an eye-opener from the National Center for Education Statistics. 11 million U.S. adults are incapable of reading a newspaper; many of them can't even converse in English. Yet over the last decade literacy levels among Asian-Ams, Cauco-Ams, and African-Ams have either stayed even or gone up. Meanwhile, literacy among Hispanic-Americans has declined 18 percent ... UPDATE 2: Please remember that no one around here is anti-Hispanic, anti-Mexican, or anti-immigrant. Bless 'em all, a few psychopaths and sociopaths excepted. The target here isn't people. It's destructive immigration policies.... posted by Michael at December 17, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

To iTunes, or Not to iTunes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wayne Bremser wonders if the iTuning of all recordings will have a good or a bad effect on the fortunes of jazz. (Link thanks to Design Observer's Michael Bierut.) Alan Little is exasperated with the way iTunes handles -- or doesn't handle -- classical music. I complained recently about what using an iPod Shuffle does to my experience of listening to music. Alan points out a fascinating article about the joys of high-end audio. Great passage: The difference between typical high-end audio imaging and the musical presence of a single-ended amp is the difference between listening to somebody type a manuscript and listening to them read what they've written. Still: iTunes and iPods are damned convenient, no? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

More Scruton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A week or so ago, Right Reason's Max Goss did a two-part q&a with the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, here and here. Now Scruton returns to elaborate on some of the topics that commenters raised: authority, and town planning. A certain M. Blowhard gets a little carried away in one of the commentsfests ... More Scruton resources and recommendations here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2005 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, December 16, 2005

Auto Yak
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study has found that, at any given moment, 10% of drivers on the road are talking on a cellphone. One British study suggests that a driver using a cellphone is four times more likely than usual to get involved in a serious accident. Interesting to learn too that female drivers are almost twice as likely as male drivers to be using a cellphone; that kids 24 and under are the cellphone-usingest group of drivers; and that, in safety terms, it makes no difference at all whether you clamp a cellphone to your ear or use a hands-free device. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

The Mona Lisa Algorithm
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Woman of no more mystery? Scientists at the University of Amsterdam had the inspired idea of scanning the Mona Lisa, and feeding the resulting file into cutting-edge "emotion-recognition" software. The computer made sense of her legendarily hard-to-interpret expression in this way, reports AP: 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful and 2 percent angry. She was less than 1 percent neutral, and not at all surprised. How long until a "Mona Lisa" Photoshop plug-in goes on the market? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Holiday Tug o' Wars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Does it matter where you go to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other family-centric holidays? Does it matter who shows up if you're doing the hosting? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, holiday visiting can be crisis-inducing. Husbands and wives fight over whose family is being favored or slighted. Others fret over feelings of the various hosts if children or grandchildren go elsewhere. This aspect of holiday stress is probably widespread. But, due to a set of historical accidents, I've pretty well dodged that bullet most of my life. What about you? 2Blowhards has lots of smart, aware readers with interesting life-experiences. I'm pretty sure you can come up with eye-popping anecdotes and shrewd analyses. To start the conversation (if any -- this will be posted right before the last pre-Christmas shopping weekend), let me tell why I managed to escape the tug-of-war scene. There were no problems when I was a child because my mom's parents were dead before my first birthday. My dad's parents were still alive, but lived in Spokane, nearly 300 miles to the east of Seattle. World War 2 and then the combination of age and distance meant that few Christmases were shared. On Christmas afternoon, either we drove across town to visit an aunt, uncle and cousins or they drove to our house. Thanksgivngs were nuclear-family only. After my children were born, we went to my parents' house in Seattle for Christmas; their other grandparents lived on the western edge of the Catskills in New York and were visited only in summertime. Thanksgivings were divvied up amongst us, my sister, my parents and, later, my sister's oldest daughter the Boeing engineer. After my parents moved to an "assisted living" apartment, my sister took over Christmas hosting and my parents dropped out of the Thanksgiving loop. Nowadays, I'm entering the tug-of-war gravitational pull via The Fiancée. She has a son with a family in the Bay Area and another son in the Puget Sound area who is married, but has no children. Causing more complications is the fact that the Bay Area son's wife is extremely tight with her nearby parents. In a nutshell: TF first has to choose whether to travel to Washington or stay in California. If she stays in California there is the question of where in California Christmas will be celebrated -- (a) at her house, (b) at her son's in-law's house, or (c) at her son's place. (If TF does not host at her house Christmas Day due to one of the other options prevailing or by going to Washington, she'll have her son's family and maybe the in-laws down to her house a week or so early. That's what's happening this year.) No real pattern here, but the grandchildren tend to weight Christmas to California rather than Washington. And Thanksgiving? Since we've been dating, TF and I have gone to her Las Vegas timeshare for that week. This year we celebrated with... posted by Donald at December 15, 2005 | perma-link | (11) comments

Another Holiday Gift Suggestion
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In her memoir "I'm With the Band," Pamela Des Barres recalls the adventures she had back in the '60s, playing groupie with the likes of Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison. When it was first published in 1987, the book was widely-loved both for its X-rated tales and for Des Barres' voice, which is a charming mixture of the frank and the hilarious. She's a dirty-innocent flower-child -- so credulous, unembarassed, and full of blissed-out delight as to be a camp hoot, yet wised-up and insightful too, if in a very dizzy way. An example: the book's first chapter is entitled "Let Me Put It In, It Feels All Right." If that doesn't jolt you out of your drowsiness and make you want to start reading ... well, then you were probably one of those kids in my English class who got better grades than I did, and the hell with you. The book, which I'm tempted to call a pop classic, has recently been reissued. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2005 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

More Cameraphone Hijinks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of UPenn kids have sex in a dorm up against a window. A passing student takes a digi-photo of the action and posts it on his website. Punchline: The girl who was in the photo feels upset and runs to the Dean to complain. Here's a news report, complete with one of the NSFW photos. Happily, FIRE stepped in and the kid who took the photo -- an engineering junior, we learn -- didn't get whacked. Still: the funny quandaries the new media make possible, eh? 30% of me thinks: Sheesh, imagine having sex all exposed to the public like that, then being so upset that someone took your photo and put it on the web that you go to the Dean to weep and wail. And 10% of me thinks, Well, maybe she wanted her fun to be visible only to passersby and not to the entire world. But most of me thinks: Pretty hot, and pretty funny! Where do your sympathies in this case lie? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Holiday Suggestions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * There aren't many musicians more purely Modernist -- as in difficult and austere -- than France's Pierre Boulez. That's no reason to shun him, though. A wildly-gifted conductor, he's also an ear-opening composer who puts to use one of music's most ravishing sonic pallettes. Why not give him a try? You may feel confused, you may fall asleep, you may listen once and never again. But my bet is that, no matter how you react, you won't regret giving yourself the experience. (Hint: precision plus lushness is a French speciality. Think of high-end French food. Now think of its equivalent in modernist-music terms ...) Besides, this first-class collection is just too cheap not to buy. * If Boulez sounds like a little much despite my praise, why not treat yourself (or a friend) to a different kind of out-of-the-ordinary music? I semi-recently recommended the work of a couple of downhome titans: the Bahamian genius Joseph Spence, and the Texas roadhouse giant Delbert McClinton. * You've seen a little David Cronenberg and a little David Lynch, and you think you know movie-creepy? You think you know movie-surrealist? Sorry: Amazing as Cronenberg and Lynch can be, you don't really know movie-creepy and movie-surrealist until you've watched the films of the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. I think his short movies are his best, and many of them are collected in this DVD. Attention: this is handmade, ultra-low-budget work, more akin to Claymation or to ancient dolls and puppets than to Pixar's slick latest. It's very un-cool. If you can get past that and synch up with Svankmajer's imagination and craft, though, watching his films can be like slipping into Western civ's very own icky dream world. * What's more book-fun than flipping around a good collection of quotations, enjoying the shafts of wit and savoring the fragments of wisdom? William Sauer's new "Hip Pocket Guide to Offbeat Wisdom" is my favorite quotation-collection yet because it has a personality of its own. It isn't just a reference book or a collection with a theme, though the quotations here -- from a surprisingly eclectic group of sources -- are plenty terrific. There's also a funky brain and a creative taste-set at work behind the scenes in the collecting and the arranging of the quotes -- in the actual making of the book. This isn't just another quotation-collection in other words. It's a quirky and intriguing work in its own right. * I wrote here about how much I loved Mike Snider's short poetry collection "44 Sonnets." At three bucks a pop, it's a perfect stocking-stuffer for lit-lovers. (It's also -- like "The Hip-Pocket Guide" -- an inspiring example for self-publishers). Go to Mike's blogpage and look in the upper-right corner. You'll see a "buy now" button. Click it. * Those who argue that the US today lacks a truly major literary artist may not have encountered the phenomenon that is Frederick Turner. As an essayist, he fuses cultural... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Whither cameraphones? Poynter Online's Steve Outing learns from some hard-at-work-on-it engineers what will going on the market within a couple of years: 8 megapixel cameraphones that use SD cards and take good-quality video. * Give teens a place to make their own and what kind of results would you expect? The Boston Globe's Matt Viser reports that MySpace is awash in titillation, semi-truths, and bad behavior. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite North Carolina culture-things. Visitors volunteer a lot of suggestions in the commenstfest too. Tyler then risks alienating all North Carolinians by dissing Lexington barbecue. * Pia Zadora and her hubby Meshulam Riklis have sold the legendary house they were living in -- Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks' Pickfair -- for $20 million. How could I missed this item when it was fresh back in May? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's common to picture "progress" as the consequence of a long-running battle: reason and science slowly defeating religion and superstition, thus freeing us of our chains of ignorance, and rewarding us with freedom and goodies. The nothing-if-not-provocative historian Rodney Stark sees this story differently. For him, the West didn't arrive at science, democracy, and the free market despite religion. Instead, the West was able to develop science etc. thanks to Christianity -- which in Stark's view was unique among religions in encouraging the cultivation of reason. Sample passage: At least in principle, if not always in fact, Christian doctrines could always be modified in the name of progress, as demonstrated by reason. Encouraged by the scholastics and embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason infused Western culture, stimulating the pursuit of science and the evolution of democratic theory and practice. The rise of capitalism also was a victory for church-inspired reason, since capitalism is, in essence, the systematic and sustained application of reason to commerce — something that first took place within the great monastic estates. The piece is excerpted from Stark's new book. Link found thanks to Arts and Letters Daily. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2005 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dueling Light-Painters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Envy is not a family value." Hmm. That sentence sounds almost like a familiar bumper-sticker -- might make a bumper-sticker itself. I can't prove this, but I strongly suspect that people in the art scene who have a "Hate is Not a Family Value" bumper-sticker on their car (or would have one if they weren't car-less in New York City) turn deep shades of green at the mention of almost any artist who manages to earn big bucks from his trade. Consider Thomas Kinkade. Or even speak his name at the next Po-Mo gallery opening cocktail party you attend: I hope you get out alive. For any Blowhards readers who never venture west of the Hudson, north of Spuyten Duyvil or east of Flushing, there are Thomas Kinkade galleries or galleries featuring Kinkade's paintings and reproductions in upscale, semi-arty malls and shopping areas all across the country. I wouldn't be much shocked to learn that sales of Kinkade keep some of the smaller independent galleries afloat. Kinkade styles himself "Painter of Light," claiming kinship to the 19th Century American landscape painters whose work was labeled "Luminism" by historians (see here and here for more information). He was born in 1958 in Placerville, California, studied art at the University of California, Berkeley and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. After a stint doing animation backgrounds at Ralph Bakshi Sudios he began selling paintings via galleries and became astonishingly successful. On the personal level, Kinkade married his childhood sweetheart and fathered four daughters. He is deeply religious and has used his art for charitable fund-raising. For artsy-intellectoids, what's not to hate? Here are some examples of his work: Gallery of Kinkade's art "Cobblestone Bridge" "Quiet Evening" "New York, Fifth Avenue" The best-known works are the twilight village scenes with glowing windows but, as can be seen above, he also paints occasional city scenes. And he does landscapes. Of the paintings shown, I prefer the New York scene. In the art business, as in any other business, success breeds competition and imitation. One painter of glowing windows to emerge on the scene is Russian artist Alexei Butirskiy, born in Moscow in 1974 whose work I've seen in Carmel-by-the-Sea. His paintings include: Gallery of Butirskiy's art "A New Day" "Cafe Luminar" "Evening Lights" I happen to prefer Butirskiy's art to Kinkade's. This is because Butirskiy's images are sharper and I've never liked paintings made from a series of dabs as is the case of Kinkade or, for that matter, many Impressionists. Discussion What interests me here is the problem of evaluating any popular artist. I don't like the reflexive negative reaction of the Art Establishment to popular, financially-successful artists such as Kinkade, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell. So far as I'm concerned, nearly all Establishment-anointed Post-Modern art is pretentious or silly, if it can be called art at all (more on this in future posts). This means I don't take Establishment criticism seriously. But... posted by Donald at December 13, 2005 | perma-link | (41) comments

Monday, December 12, 2005

Small Aircraft, Small Airports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's possible to view air travel in a Harry Potter-esque way. Instead of the Wizards and the Muggles, the parallel universe is that of larger airports populated by jet aircraft of major airlines and smaller airports served by turboprop aircraft of regional airlines. In my case, all but two of the 375 commercial flights I've made have been to larger airports, and all but six of those flights have been on standard-sized jet airliners. (Yes, I maintain an air travel database.) Many times, waiting for a flight, I find myself staring idly out a terminal window watching the activity. And I sometimes notice the small-fry. At Seattle's airport these are planes flown by Horizon, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines. Horizon has 19 Bombardier CRJ-700 aircraft (a twin-jet regional airliner carrying 70 passengers), 28 Bombardier Q200s (a turboprop that carries 37 passengers) and 18 Bombardier Q400s (a turboprop like the Q200 that has a stretched fuselage like the CJR-700 with passenger capacity of 74). Horizon Bombardier (formerly de Havilland) Q200 at Portland, Oregon airport. Bombardier CRJ-700. All of Horizon's planes have cabins with a single aisle and two narrow seats on either side. The aircraft sit close to the ground and boarding is done via a door with integral stairs that opens vertically. No jetway needed: you walk out to the plane and climb the steps on the inside of the opened door. Viewed from the terminal are passengers walking to or from these small airliners unlike the comparative hordes queueing in the jetways to board the usual 737s, 747s and 777s. And the smaller aircraft are different when they take off, especially the turboprop-powered ones. Although they cruise at slower speeds than pure-jet liners, turboprops are faster off the mark in short drag-races. They become airborne in less distance and climb faster, at least for the first few thousand feet. Then there are the places they fly to. Instead of Chicago, New York, London, and San Francisco, Horizon's planes head for Wenatchee, Pasco and Yakima. The passengers even seem a bit different. Actually, they probably are different from those flying to major airports. Flights between major airports seem to carry a larger proportion of business travelers -- or passengers in business dress, anyway. Folks flying to small cities seem to favor casual clothing almost exclusively. Small cities and small aircraft don't mean small fares. Regional airlines often charge surprisingly high fares for short flights where they have no airline competition. The "competition" for short-haul airlines is the automobile; a too-high fare will lead potential customers to say "Hell!: for that kind of money I'd rather drive!" Last weekend, after decades of flying big jets, I finally entered that parallel world of regional air travel. Due to a family matter, The Fiancée and I had occasion to round-trip between Seattle and Yakima. Yakima is over in dry, cold (at this time of year) eastern Washington. It's 103 air-miles from Seattle and the cost of our... posted by Donald at December 12, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Twist or Press?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do I push it or pull it? Does it go to the left or the right? Perhaps it's meant to be pressed, or maybe lifted. If it's spring-loaded, will it give me enough time to wash and rinse? Perhaps this is one that needs to be pushed and twisted. Is there any way to adjust the ratio of hot to cold? Or will the water come out scalding no matter what I do? Do we celebrate the dynamism and inventiveness of America's plumbing-supply industry? Or do we find having to puzzle the code out anew every time we confront an unfamiliar faucet a pain in the neck? Best Michael... posted by Michael at December 12, 2005 | perma-link | (20) comments

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Holiday Birthdays
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago in a comment, Michael mentioned that he had a birthday coming up "in a couple of weeks" which, if my math is halfway correct, means his birthday must be pretty close to Christmas. My sister is a similar case, having been born December 28th. My parents made sure her birthday was properly celebrated, but there was nothing they could do to have it be anything other than an also-ran occasion. In adulthood I annually run a serious risk of forgetting to make sure she gets a birthday card from me: There are distractions having to do with thinking to buy it in the first place and further distractions related to getting it mailed in time. Then there is The Fiancée's birthday, which falls on or about Thanksgiving Day. And possibly worst of all is my own birthday, October 31st -- better-known as Halloween. The upside is that the day is easy to remember. The downside was mostly a childhood thing. Besides tiresome jokes about being a "ghost" or "pumpkin" and such, there was the problem of my birthday party. Unless it was on a weekend, my party had to be squeezed in between school dismissal time and trick-or-treating, which usually meant that my pals would bail from the party as soon as the cake and ice cream were eaten. [Sigh.] Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 11, 2005 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, December 9, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dave Kehr thinks that Peter Jackson has bled the kitsch poetry out of "King Kong." * The Hispanic advocacy group La Raza -- which is known for standing up for illegals -- has received $30 million in federal funds since 1996. Strange. I'll bet that you won't be seeing Federal funds going to Vdare anytime soon ... * An LA lawyer has been accused of staging car crashes in order to win illegal immigrants millions of dollars in claims. * Camille Paglia shares her disco faves. * Who'd have predicted that having-fun-with-typography would become such a prominent part of our cultural scene? Here's some really Xtreme typography-fun. * Razib asks Warren Treadgold a few questions about Byzantium. * Mike Hill remembers meeting Tiny Tim. * Yahmdallah thinks you'd do well to skip the movie of "The Hours." * Stop the presses: PBS documentary is found to be biased against men. * Bruce Bawer thinks that most of Europe's leaders are running away from the challenge of radical Islam. Rick Darby agrees. * In 2005, S.Y. Affolee made it not just through "Gravity's Rainbow" but through 49 other books too. That's some seriously-committed reading-time. She gives Pynchon's legendary brain-buster an irreverent -- and, who knows, perhaps thoroughly deserved -- spanking here. * While our lawmakers dig us into ever bigger financial holes, the Australian government will soon be completely out of debt. * FvB turned up this fun interview with a woman who wrote pulp fiction during pulp's golden days. * Who creates the gorgeous illos and paintings that grace the pages of science magazines? You can meet one of these talented artists at his new blog. (Link thanks to Carl Zimmer.) * 85% of teens would rather listen to an iPod than to the radio. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 9, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Group Differences 5
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Boys, we've all been taught, have been socialized to be stoic, where girls are raised to express their emotions. An article in The Economist complicates this picture a bit. The topic of the article (which isn't online) is how women and men experience and process pain. There are differences, and the differences seem to run very deep. Some examples: Women feel pain in more bodily areas than men do, and feel it more often over the course of their lives. During childbirth, women prefer nalbuphine to morphine. Men in pain report the opposite preference. In fact, men often find that drugs like nalbuphine actually make their pain worse. It seems that women and men deal with pain differently too. Interesting passage: "Men tend to minimise their experience of pain by concentrating on the sensory aspects -- their actual physical sensations. But this strategy did not help women, who focused more on the emotional aspects. Since the emotions associated with pain, such as fear and anxiety, tend to be negative, the researchers suggest that the female approach may actually exacerbate pain rather than alleviating it." How much of this represents learned behavior? Some, no doubt. But it has also been established that boy and girl babies show different responses to pain as early as six hours after birth. Some scientists are so impressed by these and similar findings that they speculate that women and men process pain using different neural circuits entirely. Some even predict that it won't be long before painkillers are formulated differently for men and women. Soon to found on your local drugstore's shelves: "pink" and "blue" painkillers. BTW, does that bit about how guys focus on physical sensations while gals tune into the emotional realm remind anyone else of what it's got me thinking about? The Economist's website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 9, 2005 | perma-link | (12) comments

Whom to Laugh At?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A funny Steve Burton posting about Harold Pinter's Nobel Lecture left me wondering: Is it better to laugh at arties who make political statements, or at the people who look to arties for their political opinions and then broadcast the almost-inevitably risible results? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 9, 2005 | perma-link | (1) comments

Flu Shots
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- How's your record with flu shots? Until a few years ago, I was convinced they helped me. If I managed them properly, that is. Early on, I learned -- at the cost of some pain -- that I needed to take it easy for a few days after getting a flu shot. Otherwise: flu shot=instant case of the flu. Nevertheless I had the general impression that, thanks to flu shots, I was spending a little less time sick than I otherwise would. I seemed to come down with one bad flu a season instead of my usual two, and to spend fewer days laid out with colds. Recently, though ... Well, last year's an example. I was busy, scatterbrained, whatever -- and I overlooked getting a flu shot. Unexpected result: no flus whatsoever. I enjoyed a robust and delightful winter. This year, it was The Wife's turn to skip the flu shot. She hasn't had to endure a snuffle or a headache yet, at least not one that wasn't champagne-related. Me, I've been back to being health-diligent, and so lined up for a flu shot early on. Result: I'm now in the bleary depths of my second misery-making bad cold of the season. And it isn't even Jan. 1 yet ... Ah-choo, and best, Michael UPDATE: DarkoV gets his shot and promptly comes down with the flu. What's in those syringes anyway?... posted by Michael at December 9, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Which File Extension Are You?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The quiz itself is amusing enough, but the idea of of it strikes me as super-witty. Anyway, I laughed out loud. As for the results? Well, in my case they're probably pretty accurate ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 8, 2005 | perma-link | (15) comments

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Used-Book Phobia
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't like to buy used books unless I have no alternative. There. I said it. I feel better already because confession purifies. Or something. Maybe I don't like used books because they give me the feeling that they're not really mine. Or maybe there's another explanation. I'm not sure. Truth is, I have all sorts of bookish quirks that are inexplicable -- well, I can't explain them, and they're my quirks after all. Another quirk is that I don't believe in Freud, so no comments invoking him, thank you. (And my belief in Santa Claus is wavering too; I'll save that for another time. But the Easter Bunny rules!!) While I'm on a roll, here are more of my book-related quirks: I do read library books that are, by definition, (sometimes heavily) used. I don't throw away the dust jacket. I don't bookmark pages by folding over a page corner. Since completing formal education I've stopped marking passages with marker pens or ballpoints. When I mark at all (seldom), I pencil lightly. I sometimes (but rarely) pencil in notes on unprinted pages at the back of a book. I guess I must be a book-worshiper. What about your book-quirks? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 7, 2005 | perma-link | (33) comments

It's Fuddy-Duddy Time
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Blowhards -- at least a few of us -- are part of a very exclusive club: "Only 0.3 percent of the Internet's estimated 53.4 million bloggers are age 50 or older." (Source: AARP Bulletin -- where else? -- citing a Perseus survey.) Adding slightly to those unimpressive numbers, The Spectator now has a blog. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 7, 2005 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Aesthetically speaking, it's indisputable that much of what characterizes our age is a have-it-your-way, mix 'n' match, self-expressive avant-gardism. I'm often dizzied by how never-before-seen and one-of-a-kind many new-media creations are. All those "what is it?" websites, those interactive games, those conceptual podcasts ... All those butterflies and special effects ... All those pages full of video highlights, all that play with color, typography, and movement ... All those performance-art/reality hybrids ... It can be really exhilarating. It can also be a little empty and depressing, in a "so much energy and invention, yet so little impact" way. Much youthful new-media work seems unanchored and solipsistic. Although it's often dazzlingly clever, amusingly original, and mystifyingly accomplished, it seldom makes it to even "One" on the emotional-human scale. It stands in relationship to traditional art the way masturbation stands in relationship to sex -- a necessary and potentially fun part of the scene, but a long way from a full account of the mystery of it all. (Happy to admit that I'm a seriously-over-the-hill old coot, by the way. I'm nothing if not arthritic and envious. Still, I gotta make do with what's available to me and contribute what I can. After all, it's not like I have any choice in the matter.) The combination of electronics and contempo upbringings seems to have freed young people to toss their most fleeting urges and inspirations out there with polish and enthusiasm. (With, in fact, immense self-pleasure.) Yet at the same time, something has come unmoored. The film director Bernardo Bertolucci has spoken about the way young people today live in an "eternal present." All questions of talent aside, young people today seldom go into movies, for example, out of having fallen in love with the medium. Movie history and the evolved language of the movies are nothing to them; as far as the younger movie-set is concerned, "Pulp Fiction" represents prehistoric ages. They go into the field because ... well, something about it kinda appeals to them. It's glam. It's hot. Or maybe they just can't help themselves. Another example: I doubt that the kids who show up in the media and arts worlds these days are any less well-educated than my cohort was. But there's a difference nonetheless, and it's in the attitude towards the ignorance. People from my generation usually woke up to how ill-informed they were and then made some efforts to fill in a few blanks. When kids today register how ill-informed they are, they show no shame or embarrassment. Instead, they're sort of amused that anyone might be so stodgy as to think that a little background might count for something. It wouldn't occur to them to make the effort to fill in any blanks. After all, why should anything be allowed to come between Me and The Goodies I Covet? They're the cut-to-the-chase generation. Side note: As young people grow ever more ignorant of traditional culture, they seem to grow... posted by Michael at December 7, 2005 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Pokey Autobahns
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Autobahns (auf Deutsch, Autobahnen), the German superhighways begun decades before Congress authorized our Interstate system, have a reputation for being a playground for high-speed Porsche, BMW and Mercedes cars. 'Taint necessarily so. A summer Friday afternoon for an ultra high speed Autobahn. As the picture shows, you can't count on zipping from Stuttgart to Munich at 90 miles an hour. But before launching into my own impressions, here's a comprehensive summary of Autobahn history, driving rules, signage, and other items of potential interest and use. Actually, my first brief exposure to Autobahns conformed to expectations. Traffic wasn't very heavy and, yes indeed, those high-powered cars really did whoosh past us. What made the driving experience especially dicey was that I was driving a small, underpowered Peugeot 106. Peugeot 106. This was my first trip to Europe and I was trying to keep costs down by renting cheap. The 106 was fine in towns and two-lane country roads, but dangerous on an Autobahn. Yes, it could maintain an 80+ MPH speed, but only after spending an uncomfortable amount of time accelerating. Passing was especially trying because, at 70 or 80 MPH, it accelerated especially slowly which meant that it might take 20 seconds to get around a truck -- plenty of time for a BMW 7-series to appear out of nowhere and be rapidly closing on you, headlights furiously blinking. So my next trip to Europe I rented a Volkswagen Golf (Jetta in the USA) which had adequate power for Autobahn driving. Sure, it cost more to rent, but the extra expense was well worth it. As mentioned above, Autobahns can get clogged. I've noticed this especially on Fridays in July when people get an early start on a weekend jaunt, the sheer volume of cars and trucks causing everyone to creep along regardless of the lane being driven on. And then there are accidents which can snarl traffic out in the country dozens of miles from the nearest significant city. In my opinion, the dangerous Autobahns are those with only two lanes in each direction. They are most dangerous when traffic is flowing smoothly. Why the danger? It has to do with speed disparity between the two lanes. You see, the outer or slow lane is usually occupied by trucks, which set the pace for any cars in that lane. The inner or fast lane has those Porsches and Mercedes zipping along. So if the speed that feels most comfortable to you is somewhere between that of the trucks and the Porsches, you have the choice of moving aside whenever a faster car closes on your rear or creeping in the slow lane, passing when you get the chance. (Actually, you'll find yourself doing both, alternating from one mode to the other.) Or if you are driving rapidly yourself, you can suddenly come upon a slower car pulling in front of you to pass a truck. So you jam on the brakes, cursing and... posted by Donald at December 6, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, December 5, 2005

Movers and Stayers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Back in the 1970s fellow-demographer Peter Morrison wrote a paper that floated the idea that there were what he termed "chronic movers." A simple "push-pull" explanation of migration holds that areas with weak economies don't attract many in-migrants while at the same time exporting out-migrants at heightened rates of flow. And the reverse would be expected for attractive, growing areas -- lots of migrants being pulled in, not many being pushed out. If I recall Pete correctly, the latter condition wasn't always the case. He found instances of areas with growing economies and high in-migration that also exhibited higher than average out-migration rates -- one case being Santa Clara County, California (San Jose). His notion was that some people are more predisposed to migrate than others. A growing area, like San Jose was in the 60s, attracts a lot of migrants including plenty with the predisposition. This results in a population with an above-average share of migration-happy people, and further results in high out-migration rates thanks to such folks moving out because, well, because that's what they do. This struck an anecdotal chord with me. Eons ago when I was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland I dated a nursing student who lived up the pike in Baltimore. Whatever prospects our relationship had were abruptly cut short when I got orders transferring me to Korea. But the deal probably would have flopped in any event because she was perfectly happy in Baltimore and didn't ever want to live very far from her family. I, on the other hand, had no problem moving away from kith and kin. Between roughly ages 22 and 35, I spent about ten of those 13 years away from the Seattle area where I grew up and presently live. I was especially happy to have spent much of that time within striking distance of New York City, a true Mecca for many of us provincials before the 1970s. Still, I suspect that my mother wasn't so hot for me being away even though she was her usual supportive self. My sister, after a couple years of college and a couple more in Ithaca, NY, Sweden and Alaska, settled down in Seattle and now lives less than two miles from where she grew up. And her oldest daughter lives a little more than a mile farther. Living in Washington, a relatively fast-growing state, means I'm surrounded by lots of people who came from someplace else. Plus, I haven't been active in the dating scene since the early 70s. So the subject of willingness to make a significant geographical move doesn't come up often for me any more. Nevertheless, I suspect that there are still plenty of people who don't like the idea of straying far from their geographical roots. And if Pete was right, they ought to be more concentrated in places not having a large share of "chronic movers". Slow-growing parts of the Plains and Great Lakes areas, perhaps? Maybe economically-stagnant... posted by Donald at December 5, 2005 | perma-link | (16) comments

Roger Scruton at Right Reason
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Max Goss concludes his two-part interview with the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton today. Part One is here. I link to some other Scruton resources (and recommend some Scruton books) here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 5, 2005 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Tiresome Turtledove
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I haven't read much fiction in the last ten or 15 years because a good page-turner keeps me up too late, ruining my sleep. But when I did / do read fiction, it's often science-fiction. [Cast eyes to ground in shame, shuffle feet.] As for non-fiction, the bulk of my reading since age ten has been history -- especially military history. So it isn't surprising that my favorite sci-fi genres include "Alternative History" and time-travel stories. The current king of Alternative History is Harry Turtledove. His Wikipedia entry is here and his "official" fan website is here. For me, a key factor in time-travel and AltHist fiction is getting the historical details straight. Not the made-up stuff, the real stuff. I've read a few books where so many details were wrong that I either finished the book with a bad taste in my mouth or else simply abandoned it. Turtledove has a History Ph.D. from UCLA, specializing in Byzantium. So you would expect him to deliver the goods, and he does. Some of his earlier fiction dealt with alternative Byzantine history where Islam never happened, the empire continuing on its merry and, uh, Byzantine way. But besides being incredibly prolific, Turtledove found the time to be widely-read in European, American and military history as well -- Europe, North America and war being the grist for his fiction since the early 1990s. I've read perhaps six or seven of his novels and, as best I remember, haven't caught him on a false detail: pretty amazing. Turtledove's breakthrough novel was "The Guns of the South" wherein time-traveling South African white racists supply the Confederate army with AK-47s and ammo. The South wins the war and the second half of the book deals with the aftermath. His next important effort was the "Worldwar" series which has extraterrestrials invading Earth while World War 2 was going full-blast. Unfortunately for the invaders, their reconnaissance mission visited long before industrialization, so they were expecting to confront spears and bows and arrows, not tanks and early jet fighters. I really enjoyed the first three books in this series. More recently, among other things, Turtledove launched a lengthy South-wins-Civil War-aftermath ("Southern Victory") series (not using the time-travel ploy) that goes through the time of the Great War and beyond. I read the first two or three books, but then had a Hell With It experience and haven't read Turtledove since. My problem is that his books, despite the details, eventually proved too plodding and predictable. Items: Turtledove sets up four or five or seven or more character-sets and key characters, shifting from one to another in the form of chapter-sections. While I accept this as a reasonable approach when dealing with a broad subject, it can get repetitive and therefore tiresome. I think he uses more character-sets than necessary. For instance, the Worldwar series devotes a good deal of space to Polish Jews. Now Turtledove has every right to include that character... posted by Donald at December 4, 2005 | perma-link | (14) comments

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Peripheral Artists (2): Axel Gallén
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This is the second in a series of posts about painters who were figuratively peripheral to Established Narrative of the history of art and geographically peripheral in Europe. The first post, about Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt, is here. The subject of the present post is another Finnish painter, Axel Gallén (1865-1931), born to a Swedish-speaking family, who became a Finnish-nationalist icon, changing his name in 1907 to the Finnish form Akseli Gallén-Kallela (the appended name in reference to an ancestral farm). For more detailed biographical information than I'll present below, you can link here and here; the link to The Gallén-Kallela Museum is here. Should you find yourself in Helsinki with a few hours to spare and visit the Ateneum art museum, you'll see many paintings by Gallén. And as is almost always the case, they are more impressive in reality than they seem in illustrations such as those presented below. Gallén, like Edelfelt, received his early training in Finland (some of it from Edelfelt himself) and then moved to Paris, staying there for about three years total in two sessions between 1884 and 1889. Both times he was enrolled in the Académie Julien, a popular spot for non-French artists such as Childe Hassam and Robert Henri as well as French-born artists such as Matisse. While in Paris, Gallén was influenced by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), an artist who influenced many others in the 1880s including the "Glasgow Boys" (stay tuned for postings on Bastien-Lepage, some of the Boys and the painting scene in the mid-1880s). Unlike Edelfelt, Gallén turned from French influence as the 19th Century waned, drifting towards German Expressionism in the 20th Century. Mixed with this artistic change was an increasingly heightened sense of Finnish nationalism (Finland was part of the Russian Empire in those days) manifested in the desire to illustrate Finnish folk-myths such as the Kalevala. By the time of the Great War, Gallén was morphing into a traveler and "character." He was welcomed in Germany and Hungary -- the latter was satisfying, thanks to the kinship between the Hungarian and Finnish languages (though nothing I've read indicates how well Gallén actually spoke Finnish). He and his family spent months in what is now Kenya, where he met safari-ing former President Teddy Roosevelt. In the early 20s he spent more than two years in the United States, much of the time in Taos, New Mexico, still in its early years as an artistic Mecca. Upon Finnish independence in 1917 Gallén sided with General Carl Mannerheim, who emerged victorious in the post-war, post-revolutionary turbulence that swept over the former Russian Empire. He held some important positions, working on ambitious illustration projects all the while his artistic skills were withering. Gallén died of pneumonia in Stockholm 7 March 1931 while on his way home from giving lectures in Denmark. Gallery "Boy and Crow" -- 1884 Although painted before Gallén reached Paris and became influenced by Bastien-Lepage, this resembles contemporary... posted by Donald at December 3, 2005 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost is having a reading of her erotic/satirical fiction in Park Slope this Sunday. Smart woman: I suspect that we're on the verge of an era when adults once again allow themselves to enjoy classy erotic entertainments. * Stephen Bodio confesses that he's a Derb fan, wonders what's conservative about over-ambitious neocons, and announces that he's off to Kurdistan. * Poynter Online's Sree Sreenivasan reports that, while paper-newspaper readership has declined 2.6% over the last six months, online readership of newspapers over the same time is up 11%. * You'd think those things would get in the way of being a good athlete, but I guess they don't. (NSFW) * Dustbury celebrates the life and work of Joe ("You Talk Too Much") Jones. * In the Battle of the Steves, Steve Sailer has been showing Steven Leavitt (author of the bestselling "Freakonomics") no mercy whatsoever. UPDATE: The Economist comes out on Steve Sailer's side, not that they're about to mention Steve Sailer ... * Some people have a very peculiar sense of how to have fun ... * Scott Chaffin indulges in a a Texas-sized Thanksgiving, and ponders a low-carb future. * Here's a a disruption that ought to crop up on more news reports. I love the expression she makes when she realizes her moment of glory has been ruined ... * So what exactly is suburban sprawl anyway? David Sucher sponsors a lively discussion, featuring terrific comments by Brian Miller, Benjamin Hemric, and others. * Searchie visits the Neue Gallerie to check out an Egon Schiele exhibition, and recognizes something of herself on the walls. * One of Tyler Cowen's recommendations in "How to Choose A Charity" is "don't donate to beggars." A lively comment thread follows. * Your Lying Eyes attends a Steven Pinker talk, and reports that Pinker semi-sorta endorses the Cochran/Hardy/Harpending theory about Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence. * Fred Himebaugh can't see what's so special about Marilyn Monroe. * Well, at least this girl can console herself with the thought that the camera didn't catch her in an ungroomed state ... If that link doesn't work, go here and then Klik through. (NSFW) * For the first time ever, Lynn Sislo blogs in her p.j.'s. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 1, 2005 | perma-link | (6) comments

Crackberry, Etc.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Researchers in England have found that letting yourself be buffeted about by email, Blackberries, phone messages, etc., can destroy your concentration and lower your IQ even more than smoking pot does. Excerpt: Respondents' minds were all over the place as they faced new questions and challenges every time an email dropped into their inbox. Productivity at work was damaged and the effect on staff who could not resist trying to juggle new messages with existing work was the equivalent, over a day, to the loss of a night's sleep ... The average IQ loss was measured at 10 points, more than double the four point mean fall found in studies of cannabis users. Meanwhile, the New York Times' Sarah Kershaw reports that a new psychological dysfunction has been identified: Internet Addiction Disorder. Excerpt: Dr. Cash and other professionals say that people who abuse the Internet are typically struggling with other problems, like depression and anxiety. But, they say, the Internet's omnipresent offer of escape from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for anonymity can also lure otherwise healthy people into an addiction. Now, where was I? Oh, right: off to my Blogaholics Anonymous meeting. Tonight's Thursday, right? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 1, 2005 | perma-link | (8) comments