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  1. Hooked on a Feeling
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  6. Has History Gone Soft?
  7. Accord's Impala Fanny-Lift
  8. "Fast Food Nation," Part 1
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hooked on a Feeling
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Best rock video ever? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 22, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Food Fight
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sometimes it's awful when people you admire disagree, sometimes it's fun. I'm enjoying this dust-up between Tyler Cowen and Steve Sailer. Tyler, a let's-have-a-lot-of-immigration semi-libertarian, writes in Slate that he thinks Latino workers should be allowed to turn New Orleans into a giant shantytown. Steve thinks Tyler is being starry-eyed. On a related note, Edwin Rubenstein looks at the high-school graduation numbers. Did you know that 26.2 percent of all male high school dropouts in the U.S. are Mexican-born? And Steve links to this hilariously wry piece by Fred Reed. Fred, an American living in Mexico, writes in praise of Mexico's strict immigration laws. Great passage: Why do Americans think they have a right to work in Mexico? As in most countries you need to get a work permit, and here they tend not to be issued if you are going to take work away from a Mexican. Perversely, Mexico does not believe that it exists to employ gringos. Gosh. That's saying a lot in very few words. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 22, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

The Sign on the Can
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Men sometimes wear sweat pants; so do women. We're alike in so many ways! Yet have you ever known a man to wear sweatpants that are lime-green? Let alone that have "PinkLove" stiched in screaming red over the seat? A few minutes ago, a young woman wearing just such sweatpants cut in front of me at a local takeout place. It may be one of those essential female/male differences: Men, at least heterosexual men, won't even consider wearing sweatpants that feature provocative words stamped across the butt. I suspect that this generalization holds true even among men from the more peacocky cultures -- Italian, African-American. I consider my observation here a major contribution to the field of evolutionary biology, by the way, and I look forward to scientific investigations into the question. My bet is that the amygdala plays a big role, but that's just an amateur's hunch. Propriety question for the day: Faced with attention-snagging behavior on the part of strangers, at what point does it become OK to take vocal note? The gal I saw today wearing the decorated lime-green sweats obviously meant to be calling attention to her behind. She was in fact working pretty darned hard to make her butt impossible to miss. So: Would it have been OK to say to this girl, "Hey, baby, nice caboose!"? I mean, in a friendly and non-threatening tone? And if not, why not? Not that I'm about to do any such thing, of course. But how do I know that it wouldn't be appropriate? I'm not sure. I don't think it's a completely absurd question. After all, if a guy were to dye his hair bright green, he'd probably expect people not just to notice but to vocalize their surprise (or delight or dismay). A girl wearing a large safety pin through her cheek might sulk if people took note -- but sullenly-shaking-off- "unwanted"-attention is part of the ritual she's ensuring takes place, isn't it? I find the conundrum even more puzzling than the challenge presented by vacation toplessness. Being surrounded by bare-breasted gals on a St. Barth's beach is both extremely pleasant and surprisingly easy to handle. I think this is because the situation is understood by everybody present to be a wonderfully-elaborate adult game. The beach is specially-marked-out territory ... The water, the sand, and the sun all contribute to a "natural" feeling ... You're shown up in the first place in order to look and be seen ... Whether you're a gal or a guy, you're lolling around a topless beach in full awareness that the scene is set apart from normal life, and that it's meant to be relaxed yet provocative. It's meant, in fact, to be relished as such. I always find it fascinating to watch the way women put their tops on in order to walk from the beach to the sidewalk to buy an ice cream cone. Once they're back on the sand again, off... posted by Michael at April 22, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Once again back on the boards, Colleen comes out with a beautiful posting about performing, energy levels, and more. * The country-music biz is having a harder and harder time breaking acts in the home of country music. Scott Chaffin thinks he knows why. * Should humans adapt to avant-garde fashions, or should architects learn how to serve well-established human needs and pleasures? Tatyana takes a look at the statements and the work of Rem Koolhaas. * The idea that architecture ought to express the "spirit of the times" was one of the doctrines responsible for a lot of the building-and-urbanism horrors of the 20th century. Alas, this silly contention hasn't died yet. John Massengale spells out the basics here and (at the bottom of the comments thread) here. * Nature-girl Searchie does battle with the Squirrel from Hell. * The Microsoft image editor on my work computer is not only lousy, it no longer works. Luckily, this online photo editor does the job well enough. * Dean Baker thinks that NAFTA hasn't done Mexico any favors, and that Mexico's economy is in the doldrums. A nice quote from Dean on another posting: Less-skilled workers in the United States have to worry about competition from undocumented workers, while the people who design and debate immigration policy (economists, lawyers, reporters) don’t have to worry about professionals from developing countries slipping over the borders and undercutting their wages. * Peter Brimelow rehearses the many reasons why Ted Kennedy should be jeered whenever he starts to talk about immigration issues. * Tyler Cowen writes that some economists are finally catching up with what marketers have always known. Welcome to "neuroeconomics." * This is great: The Hollywood Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to preserving and presenting great film and TV music. * Here are some cute and clever photos (NSFW). Posing for these shots must have been a real test of the models' patience. * Is the porn industry the media business's real technological innovator? (Link thanks to FvB.) * The Telegraph's Clive Aslet reviews the world's largest collection of erotic art, soon to go on sale at Christie's in Paris, and wonders if there's finally any difference between erotic art and pornography. Interesting to learn that the collection was put together by a Swiss department-store heir. * "Posh porn" may be the hottest thing since chicklit. As the co-author (with The Wife) of a recent erotic novel, I certainly hope so. * Was Hitler a Christian? The Straight Dope thinks the answer is complicated. * Will Duquette recommends a P.G. Wodehouse novel that sounds like a very unusual one. * Google now offers a snazzy-looking Calendar feature. * Random numbers are fascinating, aren't they? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Food-Prep for Newbies
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since this seems to have become Food Week here at 2Blowhards, why not enjoy the theme and indulge in a little food-linkage? Although I woke up to the fascination of food over 30 years ago, I spent nearly all that time completely uninterested in food preparation. One morning a couple of years ago, though, I woke up thinking, "Am I nuts?" And since then, I've been edging my way in. Doing a little boiling and sauteeing ... a little chopping ... a lot of tasting and sniffing and feeling ... risking the occasional run to Whole Foods ... even taking a few classes. (Knife skills are a must.) Verdict: It has all been rewarding. Tastes! Nourishment! The pleasures of craft! Where's the downside? Part of the fun has been swapping notes with visitor Bryan Castaneda. Although Bryan has raced far ahead of me, he started out along the food-prep path at about the same time I did, and it has been valuable and interesting trading impressions and tips with him. Perhaps some people who are thinking about edging into food-prep but who feel a little lost might enjoy checking out some of the resources that Bryan and I have found most helpful. After all, so much seems to be taken for granted by those already in the food-know that it can be difficult to find early footing. And the experts who have access to the conventional press often have no idea how bewildering it can be to set off in a new field. Hey, isn't that one of the great things about blogging? Real people getting the chance to compare notes with each other about what it's like being a real person? Anyway: Bryan and I bond tightest over our enthusiasm for the Food Network's Alton Brown. Not to be too evasive about this: Alton Brown is the food-dude for the typical American male. He's a regular, if geekish, guy who happens to love the whole enjoying-food thing, and who has gone out and learned a lot about it, darn it. He doesn't even claim to be the world's greatest chef. ("I'm not into fancy presentations," I remember him saying in one episode.) Let's face it: Much of what's off-putting to many hetero-American males about the world of food is the way the vibe can seem snobbish, or feminine, or (gasp!) European. Alton takes away all those curses. He's as all-American-boy as can be -- in his eagerness, his energy, his curiosity, and his unpretentiousness. Which makes me wonder if women are as prone to be Alton fans as many men are ... Alton's show is as remarkable as his vibe and his advice. He doesn't just tell you to repeat after him. He gives you the whys and the wherefores: a little history, a little chemistry. And he doesn't just stand behind a counter and cook. Alton delivers a real TV show. (It's called "Good Eats," by the way). Media guy that I... posted by Michael at April 20, 2006 | perma-link | (7) comments

Has History Gone Soft?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is history now a subject fit only for wusses? And is school now meant to serve only girls? Steve Sailer (and many readers) notices that these days the AP history exam includes almost no questions about war or battle. (Here, here, here.) They suggest some books and resources to fill in the blanks here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 20, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Accord's Impala Fanny-Lift
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Car makers usually keep the same body/platform in production for at least four years before going on to a total redesign. But the car-buying public tires of a design after a few years, so automobile companies will "freshen" the design by making changes here and there. If a car is doing well, such changes will be minimal (the Nissan Altima had only some little bumps added to the grille bars to keep sales flowing until a new body arrives at dealers later this year). And if the car is in trouble or the company is awash in spare cash, the changes will be more drastic and costly. Either way, these styling modifications are known in the industry as a "facelift." A recent facelift that interests me is the changes Honda made to its Accord sedan. Rather than changing the front end, modifications focused on the rear of the car -- which is why I put the term "fanny-lift" in the title of this post. (Years ago when the term "facelift" was first applied to cars, most automobiles had fancy front ends and rather plain rears; I'm thinking pre-1955. The styling focus was the front of the car, especially the grille. And it was the grille part of the car's "face" that tended to get changed.) I suppose the rear design of Accords was criticized by car shoppers. It was different from most other cars and Honda probably decided to bring the styling into line with industry practice. I found the result amusing, as we shall now see. Gallery Honda Accord sedan for 2003. This is the original rear end. Yes, it's a little fussy, but I think the slightly V'd shape of the lower tail light area is distinctive and attractive in its way. Honda Accord sedan for 2006. Here is the result of the facelift. It's a much cleaner design, which is supposed to be a Good Thing according to the ideology of Industrial Design. I find it bland. Moreover .... Chevrolet Impala sedan for 2006. Chevrolet's new Impala has a rear that's similar to that of the Accord -- note the tail-lights. It's also bland, of course, but it blends better with the rest of the car. I think the new Impala is the most appealing standard sedan Chevrolet has made in years. The general shape of the new Accord and Impala tail-lights is nothing new: some Mercedes sedans have sported something similar for a while. Whereas I like the Impala's styling, including the tail-lights, I find the fanny-lifted Accord disappointing. The revamped stern sucks all character out of the car. Worse, when I see a new Accord from the rear, I don't think "Honda" or "Accord." That's a marketing failure in my book, but maybe I'm wrong and sales will soar. This whole episode makes one wonder if Chevrolet and Honda stylists were meeting at the same bar (a Sushi bar?) while working on 2006 models? Probably not: my take is... posted by Donald at April 20, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Fast Food Nation," Part 1
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was staring at a posting I'd been laboring over ... I'd read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." While I have many reservations about the book, it had sure got me remembering, musing, and thinking -- to the point where the resulting blog-posting had grown much too long. Then it occurred to me: Why not break the posting into parts and run it as a series? So here it is: Part one of a series of postings prompted by "Fast Food Nation" -- the (whee!) thinking-about-myself part. I divide the story of my relationship to food and eating into three chapters. Chapter One: The Unconscious Years. The world of food-and-eating that I was born into was mid-America in the '50s-and-'60s -- a world of breakfast cereals, Cool Whip, packaged pancake mixes, Pop Tarts, Baco Bits, new supermarkets in new shopping malls, canned cake icing, Jello, Tang ... Funny how some of these tastes stay with you, isn't it? A for-instance: "Soft ice cream," no matter how suspicious I am of it these days, still makes me feel as happy to eat as it did when I was a kid. Despite the era, Western New York State offered some heavenly fresh bounty too, at least as far as produce went, and at least for some months of the year. Apples, corn, strawberries, lettuce, watermelons, and tomatoes were all plentiful and tasty. Farm stands were numerous, fun to visit, and a pleasure to patronize. The food-and-eating habits of my family had their own quirks. My dad was a congenial charmer, a salesman who enjoyed company, food, alcohol, and a modest expense account. His idea of the good life included plenty of beer, a big wooden bowl full of salad, steak with A-1 Sauce, and potatoes. He cared not a whit for sweets until he developed diabetes and was forbidden them. In his declining years, food-pleasure became even more important to him. Food and eating seemed to be -- by far -- his biggest remaining pleasure. During his retirement, it wasn't uncommon for my dad to spend a meal's conversation-time discussing past meals and speculating about future ones. My Mom was a different kind of creature. A loving person but also something of a robot, she was no fan of organic nature. If food needed to be consumed, then let it be as little trouble as possible. My mother dreamed of a day when people would subsist on astronaut food (pills, and paste in tubes, basically). She really did. Until then, as far as she was concerned, canned and frozen nourishment would have to do. Was it tasteless? Mushy? Oversalted? A small price to pay. Remember the restaurant dramedy "Big Night"? After the showpiece dinner, the camera tracks over blissed-out guests, groggy from rich food. One girl is whimpering and sobbing. She finally blurts out, "My mother was such a bad cook!" I can relate. Chapter Two: The Awakening. Well, actually two awakenings. One was triggered off... posted by Michael at April 19, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pop Music Clueless
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Fiancée got annoyed when I mentioned that I never listen to Top-40 music any more and have no idea who the leading "artists" are (unless they screw up and make the cover of the supermarket tabloids). To her, such ignorance is not a good thing -- a social defect, actually. And to which I say (sotto voce, naturally): "Pish!" 'Twas not ever so, however. I have pretty decent knowledge of the pop entertainment scene up to the early 1960s with a gradual falling off until the mid-80s, after which most of my information came second-hand. As for pop music itself, I listened a lot through the 1950s especially, but had pretty well abandoned it by the early 70s. You probably won't be astounded to hear me state that the 20-80 or 10-90 or whichever-whatever rule was firmly in place back in the Fab Fifties music scene just as it (probably) is today. I would have my radio on for hours listening through a lot of garbage in the sometimes-realized hope that the DJ would play some of the pop tunes I really liked. This was really a bad use of my time, and I knew it. One cure was to go to a record shop and buy some 45-RPM discs with the pieces I liked. And I did this, though I couldn't afford to do it a lot. But if I had abandoned listening to the pop music stations I would have been left in the dark regarding new songs, a few of which I might like, so I didn't give up on the radio. This went on for years, as I noted. But there was no real alternative because the technology of the time pretty much dictated that pop entertainment was quite centralized compared to what we have now. The big guns were the major-label record companies that had corralled most of the "talent" and decided which tunes to record and promote. Sheet-music publishers were marginalized by the mid-50s, though sheets for pop songs could still be readily found in music stores. The interface with the public was the radio station. At the start of the 50s, many stations had general-purpose formats. Network affiliates broadcast network programs along with a few local shows and recorded music when there were no network feeds. "Independent" stations tended to feature recorded music; some specialized in country or classical music, but most had an eclectic, middlebrow mix. By the early 60s network radio was effectively dead, aside from news broadcasts. General-purpose programming was well on the way out too. Most importantly, the Top-40 format (along with Rock) had been invented and it ruled the ratings roost (New Yorkers: think Cousin Brucie on WABC "chime time" radio 770). One major radio programming innovation of the 60s was the all-news station. If memory serves, when I started at Dear Old Penn in 1966 KYW in Philadelphia and WCBS in New York were all-news. And since I found such... posted by Donald at April 18, 2006 | perma-link | (30) comments

Monday, April 17, 2006

Under Fire
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For some reason my son was impressed when I happened to mention that I once crawled under machine-gun fire. No big deal. I was perfectly safe. Well make that almost perfectly safe. I'd better explain. It was part of Army Basic Training (do not call it Boot Camp -- that's what Marines do) back in the days when the Berlin Wall went up. There was still a draft, so training companies were made up of enlistees such as me and draftees. Regardless of type of service, everyone had to undergo eight weeks of Basic. Those destined for Infantry would move on to the "second eight," another two months of field training that would give them more experience with weapons and small-unit tactics. Soldiers going into other fields ranging from artillery to clerk-typing went on to specialist training schools after completing Basic Training. The first-eight Basic's purpose was to provide a minimum common grounding for all Army enlisted men; officers had similar training, usually in the form of a six-week ROTC summer camp. We learned how to dress, march, maintain the barracks and fire and take care of the rifle. We also got a smattering of small-unit tactics as well as some exposure to weapons other than the World War 2 vintage M-1 rifle we were issued. The machine gun came into play towards the end of Basic. One training area had two or three 50-caliber machine guns on a small rise or terrace facing a berm a few hundred feet away that served as the impact area for the bullets. Between the terrace and the berm was a lower area that had stake-mounted barbed wire crisscrossed about 18 inches above the ground; it was at least a hundred feet wide and maybe 50-75 feet deep in relation to the machine guns. What we had to do was get on our backs and push ourselves over the ground under the barbed wire in the direction of the machine guns. We were told to position the rifle trigger-upwards with the end of the barrel leaning against the visor of our steel helmet. This way, we could use the rifle to push up against the barbed wire to help avoid getting snagged. We were told this as we sat in bleachers next to the training area. It was late November or early December and the sun was already set. After the officer completed the instructions he signaled the machine guns to give us a fire demonstration. It was impressive. Of course it was noisy. But what really got our attention was the tracer bullets. They turned the area over the barbed wire into a sheet of yellow-red flame. When they hit the berm, those bullets not burying themselves into the earth ricocheted in random arcs over the berm. "Are you readddyyy?" asked the officer enthusiastically. "Ulp, ready" we weakly responded. One more detail. Those machine guns were not free to depress and, as best I recall, couldn't... posted by Donald at April 17, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Overrated Paintings (1): Picasso's "Guernica"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are paintings you are expected to like. No, you won't "get disappeared" or be sent to a "reprogramming" camp if you don't toe the line. Though there seem to be some colleges and universities that place a high premium on Groupthink and things might get a tad dicey there if you express some of the views that I'm about to present. For as long as I can remember, Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" has been described as "a masterpiece" that is an indictment of war and its horrors as exemplified by the evil Nazis, Fascists and Falangists of Nationalist Spain in the 1936-39 civil war against innocent, peace-loving, democratic, progressive Republican Spain. (For a personal report by someone who fought on the Republican side and barely escaped the Reds with his life, read George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia." Both sides were pretty bloodthirsty during the war and the Falangists carried this forward into the aftermath, for which they have been properly criticized. What's unknowable is the size of the post-war bloodbath the Communists would have inflicted had they won, for there surely would have been one. To Franco's credit, for whatever his motives, he kept Spain out of World War 2 and established the conditions that led to Spain becoming a democracy following his death. I'm pointing these things out because most reporting, commentary and even literary accounts of the Spanish Civil War were heavily slanted toward the Republican side at the time and since. The Republic wasn't as wonderful as has been depicted. And Franco, dictator that he was, paled in comparison to the evil of Hitler and Stalin -- whose minions had effectively highjacked the Republic before the war ended. A story: At a cocktail party in Spain back in the 60s an American asks a Spaniard what he thinks of Franco. The Spaniard places a finger to his lips and with his other hand beckons the American to follow him. They silently cross the lawn and climb into a rowboat. The Spaniard rows the boat to the middle of the lake and stops. He carefully scans the horizon, then leans close to the American and whispers, "I rather like him.") It's often stated that we art consumers should ignore the politics of the artist and focus on the work of art. Well, I'll do my very best to do just that in the rest of this post. But it might be hard, since "Guernica" is a political painting given the context of its creation. (Though not as political in its content as was the case of Diego Rivera's inclusion of an image of Lenin in a Radio City mural. The Rockefellers paid Rivera off and had the mural destroyed.) For some sympathetic background, here is an article on "Guernica" on the PBS web site and here is the Wikipedia entry about the painting. Let me add that I've seen "Guernica" several times. I saw it when I visited the Museum of Modern... posted by Donald at April 16, 2006 | perma-link | (45) comments

Telling France What to Do
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm often puzzled by the determination of some blogggers and columnists to go on about what France should do about its economy. Where does this bossiness come from? Two MBlowhard points. First: What business is it of ours? Second: C'mon, get real. France was a beaten-down wreck of a country as recently as 1945. These days it's a rich country. Whatever their current problems and flaws, they have certainly spent the last 60 years doing something right. The most recent controversy has concerned employment regulations that the French government proposed loosening. Students were unhappy with the proposals and protested; the French government caved. The let's-tell-France-how-to-conduct-its-affairs crowd takes it for granted that France badly needs to loosen its labor market. But is this even true? Do French employment regulations really adversely affect the French economy? Dean Baker thinks they don't, and he supplies a variety of surprising facts and figures. I offered some thoughts about France in the comments on this Shannon Love posting. On this blog, I gabbed a bit about France here, here, and here. Best, Michael UPDATE: The Franco-American blogger Corbusier wrote enlighteningly about France here and here.... posted by Michael at April 16, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments