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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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Kelly Jane Likes Rod
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Kelly Jane Torrance praises Rod Dreher's new book "Crunchy Cons." Nice line: "A free-market system may be the surest route to wealth creation. But the social ethos needed to shore up that system is another thing entirely." That sums up a lot, doesn't it? I'm enjoying the book myself: it strikes me as perceptive and first-rate pop sociology. And what's automatically wrong with pop sociology? Go tell it to Tom Wolfe. Here's Dreher's original National Review article on the topic. Here's a recent Dreher piece for the London Times. Kelly Jane's blog is here. What a hot and sexy "About me" photo. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 18, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Here's one man who really, really loves his hobby. * Wendy McElroy tries to separate the mythical Betty Friedan from the real Betty Friedan. * David Apatoff thinks that graphic-novelists/critics'-darlings Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman have been wildly overpraised. * Here's a real treat. Britain's brilliant first ladies of crime fiction, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, swap shop talk. As far as I'm concerned, James and Rendell are giants of contempo fiction whether you're talkin' genre or non-genre ... * Did you know that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of Rembrandt? Robert Hughes writes a smashing tribute to the Dutch giant. Nice passage: Certainly Rembrandt van Rijn did not feel an obligation to make his human subjects noble, let alone perfect. That is why, though not always a realist, he is the first god of realism after Caravaggio. And why so many people love him, since he was so seldom rivalled as a topographer of the human clay. * Imagine owning a dog who could outscore you on the SATs ... * I loved exploring the simple, moody, and poetic artwork and animations of Annika Bergstrom, a gifted young Swedish artist. Here's a conversation with Annika. * Razib kicks off a rewarding bull session about Life's Largest Questions. Fun and thoughtful contributions by the likes of Dan Dare, NuSapiens, John Emerson, Agnostic, and Luke Lea. * I notice that one of my favorite Teaching Company lecture series has just been updated and offered at a sale price. In "Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality," Robert Sapolsky covers a lot of ground clearly and enthusiastically. He explores how a single neuron works ... then a bundle of them ... then how a brain might work. He also looks at animals in the wild, at evolution, and at genetics. All very fascinating, of course. But, arts-dude that I am, I confess that I found the series most stimulating in terms of its implications for thinking about art and culture. * To be dazzled by some up-to-the-minute, commercial computer-graphics work, go here and click on "reel." Trippy to the max! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 18, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Women, Crime, Immigration
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Brenda Walker argues that ill-managed immigration can destroy women's progress. She also links to an astounding piece about crime and immigration in Scandinavia by Fjordman. Some of the scary facts that Fjordman reports about Sweden alone: The number of rape charges ... has tripled in just above twenty years. Rape cases involving children under the age of 15 are six times as common as they were a generation ago. It is four times more likely that a known rapist is born abroad, compared to persons born in Sweden. Resident aliens from Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia dominate the group of rape suspects. According to these statistics, almost half of all perpetrators are immigrants. Nice job, Scandinavian immigration-policy-setters! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 18, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

Gals 'n' Guys, Cont.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Trixie celebrates Valentine's Day with a funny and helpful gift to the guys. She explains what it is women really mean when they say the mystifying things that they say. Read. Memorize. * Tyler Cowen applies game theory to the old "should the toilet seat be kept up or down" question, then comes to his senses. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 18, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, February 17, 2006

Age, Energy, Exercise
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My cancer operation didn't just throw me for an emotional/spiritual loop, it also dramatically changed my experience of my body. Though I was 47 when I was wheeled into the operating room, I felt physically the same as I had at 32. I emerged from surgery-and-recovery in quite a different state. Five years after surgery, my body feels like anything but that of a boyish 32-year-old. These days it feels more than a little broken-down. Pretty much overnight, I went from having a resilient and eager physical frame to having equipment that is creaky and dilapidated. I don't know why this should have been the case. Did being scared and operated-on take something out of me in a once-and-for-all kind of way? Or perhaps at 47 I was simply refusing to admit to myself how old I'd actually grown. Maybe the scare and the surgery shocked me into letting go of a few self-delusions. I was certainly prepared to endure some significant disruptions. My surgeon told me it might take as long as a year before I'd feel like myself, and others who'd been through the same procedure warned me that full recovery would take much longer than that. (Expert techies though they often are, surgeons seldom seem to know what it's like to be the person going through surgery.) What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the fact that my body would change for good, and that it would never return to what it had been before. The main indicator of these developments was my energy level. During my first year post-surgery, I conducted myself as a near-model invalid. I was calm and self-protective, but I was also gently diligent about exploring and nursing my recuperating bod. And I was rewarded; recovery proceeded encouragingly. Six months after being cut, I was making it reasonably well through full workdays; nine months after the knife I was able to enjoy a real vacation. I was walking, sleeping, and eating comfortably. I'd even begun a very modest return to the gym. Hello, old ladies in aquacise class! God knows my emotions and my thoughts were all over the place: "I've been operated-on for cancer! Eeek!" But, where da bod and its recovery were concerned, I was content. I could feel my energy levels building back up, however slowly. I would be my fit and vigorous old self again soon, I knew it. Soon after the first anniversary of my surgery passed, though, my energy levels stopped creeping up. They'd returned to about 80% of the usual, and there matters stalled. Had I plateau'd? Surely it wouldn't be long until ... Maybe I was pushing too hard. Or perhaps I wasn't pushing hard enough. Maybe I wasn't getting enough sleep. I'd put on weight after surgery -- maybe that was a problem. (What good had years of being a food-and-health-nut done for me, after all? I'd come down with cancer at 47. So during my post-surgery year... posted by Michael at February 17, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Bugatti Bliss
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Ben Ladd -- one of the amiable and helpful techies at our excellent webhost, GlobalNet -- who sent in a couple of photos he took at a recent Detroit auto fair. Both of these beauties are Bugattis. Here's the classic Bugatti Royale, looking very royal indeed. And here's a revived edition, the Bugatti Veyron: Pretty glam, if a little too aero-cyber for my tastes. Be that as it may, I find both of these cars to be refreshing antidotes to the Chrysler prototype whose unfortunate styling Donald was recently deploring. Many thanks to Ben. Donald included photos of some other Bugatti beauties in this posting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 17, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Please Don't Build This Car
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are run-of-the-mill local automobile shows and then there are Important Automobile Shows such as those that take place in Geneva, Paris, Tokyo, Frankfurt and Detroit. Important Automobile Shows are where experimental cars, dream cars, show cars -- whatever cars -- are introduced. Some of these cars are exercises to keep automobile company styling staffs juiced up and serve the further purpose of generating publicity and the image of "progressive thinking" in what might well be a beancounter-besotted firm. Other cars contain design features that could potentially appear in future production models provided public reaction wasn't too negative. Therefore careful attention is paid to how the various styling details are received. Finally there are cars that are customized / slightly-disguised versions of automobiles slated for production in the near future. This is especially true where a new body is to be introduced (rather than a face-lifted existing body). The purpose of these show cars is to get the public used to new styling, particularly if the styling is a radical change; "softening the blow" is another way of putting it. The auto show held in Detroit this January included a Chrysler Imperial concept car from DaimlerChrysler. It's not clear whether this is simply a show car or if it might be a future production model -- I suspect the latter interpretation. (Links to show coverage are here and here.) And here's what the car looks like: Gallery 2006 Chrysler 300. The Imperial concept car seems to be based on the current production model. Chrysler's Imperial models were never quite accepted as luxury cars, possibly because the company was never consistent in defining what an Imperial was. In the early 1930s some fine-looking soft-top models were built, but the sedans were rather clunky-looking. Besides, they were powered by a pretty basic straight-8 motor as opposed to the huge straight-8s in Duesenbergs or the V-12s in Cadillacs and Packards or the Cadillac V-16s. From then until the early 50s Imperials mostly were top-of-the-line Chryslers, and Chryslers competed with Buick in the mid-priced to near-luxury markets. In the early 50s Chrysler made an effort to visually separate Chrysler Imperials from regular Chryslers and in the mid-50s presented Imperial as a separate make (later to be folded back into Chrysler when sales failed to reach Lincoln levels let alone those for Cadillac). Early and late-50s Imperials had mediocre styling, but the 57s were rakish and the 1955s were the best of all. 1955 Imperial. Chrysler Imperials over the last 45 years (when they were produced at all) were a mixed styling and product-planning bag, seldom reaching for (and never attaining) prestige-car status. Presumably this year's concept car is an attempt to gauge reaction of potential buyers to yet another stab at the luxury car market. Commentary The concept car is longer and taller than current 300s. The reason it is taller is that it is thought this might attract buyers who enjoy commanding road views from the driverís... posted by Donald at February 15, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Multicultural Britain
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Britain's population will be more than 50% nonwhite by 2100, reports Anthony Browne. (London will turn more than 50% nonwhite in 2010.) Startling quote: "It would be the first time in history that a major indigenous population has voluntarily become a minority, rather than through war, famine or disease." A development to celebrate or bemoan? Something to marvel over, in any case .... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Gay in America, Straight in Russia
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Part of what I love about the web is the chance it gives us to compare impressions and ideas unchaperoned by the usual do-gooders and busybodies. Steve Sailer -- never one to avoid a dicey topic -- raises the fine old question, "Why do so many American male ballet dancers and figure skaters turn out to be gay, while Russian male ballet dancers and figure skaters so often turn out to be straight?" Are arty and "aesthetic" activities inevitably suspect in the eyes of straight American boys? If so, why? And my own favorite question: Given how much easier it is to find eager and willing girls if you have some arty interests, why don't more straight American boys come to their senses? Are they, like, gay? (Er, I seem to have misplaced a link. But I do recall that a study somewhere recently concluded that arty straight boys score more often than non-arty straight boys do. Has anyone else run across this report?) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2006 | perma-link | (29) comments

Blogging, Money, Power
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It has always seemed to me that a big part of the fun of blogging and blog-surfing is the chance it gives us to leave behind the clamor of the dollars-careers-and-advertisements-driven media. That's the main reason I haven't run ads on this blog. Lord knows I'm often a fan of the commercial media, but non-commercial interactions have their place too. After all, I don't sell ad rights to the walls of my apartment either. Some people apparently don't see blogging this way. Here's -- wouldn't you know it? -- New York magazine reading the blogosphere in its own terms -- in terms, that is, of dough, careers, and ads ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * First modernism, then low-fat eating, and now this. Is there nothing left to believe in? * Ideologies and other crackpot-isms may disappoint, but there's always the SI swimsuit issue. I notice that this year it's possible to download a bunch of SI swimsuit video clips for your iPod. I also notice that most of them are about 8 minutes long. $1.99 for eight minutes? Hey, Wikipedia has an entry on the SI Swimsuit issue. That's my kind of encyclopedia. Check out the very first cover. * He recently finished a film and turned 80. Now Robert Altman is in London directing an Arthur Miller play. Whatever that man is on, I want some of it. * ChicagoBoyz's Jonathan Gewirtz isn't just a heckuva blogger, he's also a talented photographer. You can sample his witty and beautiful work here. * Spend a weekend in Iowa meditating with David Lynch. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2006 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What's My Favorite? I Dunno
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- You ask me what's my favorite movie, novel, painting, symphony, artist, food, composer, automobile, architect, etc. I give you a dull stare in return. Same deal if you ask about my least-favorite this or that. It's not that I don't want to give you an answer. My problem (if it is one ... please Comment) is that I find it really hard to single out things I love or hate above all others. This doesn't pose a problem in my daily existence. I most definitely have my likes and dislikes. My crisis occurs in social situations when, to make conversation, somebody asks something like "Who's your favorite science fiction author?" and others in the group quickly chirp out names. How do they do it? Out of hundreds of writers, most of whom produced their quota of gems and trash, people can select just one. Me, I get to thinking: "Hmm. Space Opera. Doc Smith? Nah -- classic, but pretty crude. Does Jerry Pournelle qualify? Time travel? Maybe Poul Anderson in his better moments. Is Anderson better than Pournelle? But one can never ignore Heinlein. Still, the later Heinlein isn't as fun to read as his earlier stuff. And Asimov maintained an even quality strain, so he shouldn't be ignored. Newer writers? Well, I just don't read much fiction of any kind these days". And so it goes. There are times when I actually can come up with a favorite, but that favoritism is usually fleeting. At one time I think "Gee that Offenbach is quite a melodist and listening to his music is sure fun." A month later I decide I prefer Schubert. After a while I'm back to Beethoven. But I really do like chocolate ice cream best. Except when I was young and preferred strawberry. One thing you can count on: 2Blowhards is my favorite blog. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 14, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Be Original! Do Like Me!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the more maddening and/or amusing characteristics of the academic avant-garde (and its apologists) is the way 1) They like to set themselves up as spokespeople for something called "diversity" yet at the same time 2) They insist that all good and progressive people must, simply must, think and act alike. A perhaps-too-easy example comes from the world of bigtime architecture. I was meandering around the east 70s over by York -- a huge, many-blocks-big medical area that's an architectural nightmare: a patchwork that never settles into any kind of agreeable pattern. Across the street rose a building approaching completion. Sigh: yet another shiney-milky, bent-folded-and-mutilated piece of torqued geometry. They're everywhere these days. Kodak digicam at the ready! The building's glass surfaces were nothing if not odd and attention-grabbing. Very "Terminator 2," and worth a couple of closeups, anyway: Snooping around, I found myself recalling something ... Surely I'd been here before, no? Or in its sister or brother anyway? Origami surfaces, weirdo semi-transparency, show-offy "we aren't square, no sirree" angles ... Ah, now I remembered. And off I walked, Kodak in hand, to 57th Street near Madison. Here are some snaps of the remarkably similar LVMH building, by the Pritzker Prize-winning Christian de Portzamparc. The New York Times' ludicrous architecture "critic" Herbert Muschamp was such a hyperventilating admirer of the LVMH building that rumor had it that all you had to do to make Muschamp pass out in ecstasy was to murmur the words "translucency" and "folded angles." Modernism, eh? Forever redeeming itself, if only in its own eyes. You say the problem with modernism is all that cage-like strictness? OK, then, we'll twist and turn it! You say that modernist buildings look too much like graph paper? OK, then, we'll make buildings that look like chic perfume bottles! There's too much transparency? Then we'll feature translucency! You'd think it would be so much easier to cut their losses and give up the modernist dream instead, wouldn't you? Incidentally, the copycat building in the East 70s isn't by some loser. It's by James Polshek, famous in his own right for the cubic zirconium Rose Center for Earth and Space, part of the American Museum of Natural History. FWIW and IMHO: the Rose Center is one of the worst-designed museums I have ever experienced. I found it about as interesting to explore as a Kenmore refrigerator. But it's famous, it's acclaimed, and it's widely recognized as "original" despite my judgment. So what we have here isn't a case of a meatball ripping off a genius. It's a case of two fashionable architects -- guys who specialize in originality -- agreeing about what must, simply must, be done in architecture today. Be different: Do like us. Anyway, a couple of small questions? How exactly is it that so many artists who set themselves up as the embodiment of innovation can all end up doing the same thing? And how can a group of cutting-edgistas... posted by Michael at February 14, 2006 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, February 13, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Peter Briffa's blog -- surely the cheeriest and funniest cranky-blog out there -- has turned four years old. That's one grand-daddy of a blog. Go and offer congratulations. * Have you tried the web-radio/music-recommendation service Pandora? I've found it a pleasant alternative to my iTunes collection. The recommendations aren't bad, and the sound quality is better than that. Free is nice too. * J. Cassian discovers that Saracens -- ie., Muslims -- once ruled the Swiss Alps. * And we think train travel in the U.S. is uncomfortable. (Link thanks to New Economist) * J.T. Kirkland has been doing some wonderfully entrepreneurial cultureblogging. * Colleen once acted with Chris Penn. * Lynn Sislo is annoyed with her cable company but loves "Modern Marvels." * The Libertarian Scientist isn't crazy about what computer simulations mean for the study of biology. * Alan Sullivan writes about what it was like for him and his co-worker, Tim Murphy, to put together their beautiful translation of "Beowulf." * Mike Hill marvels at those zany, passionate Hasids, and includes some ear-bending clips from the Klezmatics. * Another says-a-lot line from Steve Sailer: "Danes and Muslims don't agree on the basics of social organization and don't want to live under the same rules. That shouldn't be a severe problem. It's what separate countries are for." * Brian Anderson writes that, under the guise of fairness, wealthy lefties are trying to suppress political speech. * Yahmdallah's in storytelling/memoiring mode again! This time around he recalls his years as a part-time movie usher. I love Yahmdallah's wholesome-yet-offcolor yarns the way I love such other all-American gems as the films "Hoosiers" and "Breaking Away." * Donna Moore shrinks the crime-and-mystery-fiction worlds down into one very funny list. * The film of LeCarre's anti-big-pharma thriller "The Constant Gardener" hit Derek Lowe in all the wrong ways. Great line: "It's hard to enjoy yourself when you've just paid money to see the way you earn your living depicted as evil and destructive." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 13, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Vignettes of Early Television
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have mixed emotions about writing memoirs. One the one hand, I worry that readers will slap their foreheads while saying "Omigod! Not more of that tripe!!" On the other, I think it's a good idea to get personal experiences recorded so that future historians won't go too far astray in the What It Was Really Like department. For what it's worth, here are some remembrances of television in the early 1950s when things were so crudely done that it's considered a Golden Age. You need to bear in mind that TV in those days was broadcast in black and white and often viewed on screens that measured 14 inches diagonally. Videotape wasn't yet in use so programs were either presented live or on film. There was an in-between thing called a kinescope recording. Live programs would be filmed by pointing a movie camera at a TV monitor. The film would be reproduced and distributed for (days or weeks) later showing to stations not linked to microwave or coaxial cable networks. As you might imagine, image quality often suffered. Seattle didn't get linked electronically to the East Coast (via California) until the summer of 1952, so live TV was strictly local; all other programming was from film or kinescope. A significant share of live shows originated in New York. Los Angeles was the source of filmed shows such as Dragnet. But LA wasn't linked to the east until 1951 so it took several years before a lot of live programming originated there. Actually, the rise of LA TV roughly coincided with the advent of video tape which yielded images indistinguishable from live pictures. What this boiled down to was that many early drama and series programs had a New York City setting -- Manhattan for sophisticated themes and Brooklyn where the subject was blue-collar folks. Nowadays nearly everything seems to be non-stop LA. Live TV meant that if actors blew their lines, there were no re-takes. It wasn't like Broadway where there was a comparatively long time for a show to get shaped up before its debut. Consequently muffed lines could be expected fairly often. Oh, and it was fun to see the beads of sweat on actors' faces. Most of this was likely due to the hot lighting but some might have been related to the pressure of performing "without a net." Pressure was even worse for programs such as serials that had episodes broadcast 2-5 times a week. The actors had almost no time to learn lines and rehearse before going live. I remember a Life magazine article about a sci-fi kid-program (can't recall if it was "Space Patrol" or "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet") showing how scripts or dialogue cheat-sheets were taped to the visors of space helmets or other handy objects to prevent a complete acting melt-down. Another fun thing was seeing microphones accidentally appear on-camera. Standard practice was to attach microphones at the end of telescoping "booms" -- they were... posted by Donald at February 13, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments