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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  1. Violating Laws You Approve Of?
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  3. Lit or Not-Lit?
  4. "Time" Marches On Ö Into the Ditch?
  5. Alone for Christmas
  6. Travel Tallying
  7. The Day TV Came to Town

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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 thatís just fun to read? Moore: I suppose, but Iíd 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 wasnít in his day. I have friends who really donít 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 itís not literature, then I donít 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 Ö 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