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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Elsewhere
  2. Group Differences 5
  3. Whom to Laugh At?
  4. Flu Shots
  5. Which File Extension Are You?
  6. Used-Book Phobia
  7. It's Fuddy-Duddy Time
  8. Revivals
  9. Pokey Autobahns
  10. Movers and Stayers

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Our Last 50 Referrers

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