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  5. Letter to Nikos
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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Food Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Odious and Peculiar has a few things he'd like recent Culinary Institute grads to know about. Link thanks to Steve Bodio, who recently wrote a posting that's key reading for meat-eaters. Great Steve line: "France may be in a decline, but any civilized person must be thankful for its food, wine, and shotguns!" Don't miss (also via Steve) this lovely LATimes review of Julia Childs' autobiography. Julia Child was, IMHO, a major figure in American culture. Like Jane Jacobs, she was one of those terrific midcentury oddballs who -- at a time when America generally was hurrying down the interstate to plastic-suburbia TV blandness -- helped us rediscover what "quality of life" means, and why it's worth paying attention to. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, April 28, 2006

"Fast Food Nation" 2: The Slaughterhouse and the Carrot
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few more musings prompted by my recent reading of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation." (For earlier musings, click here and here.) In France in the mid-'70s, I attended opening-day ceremonies at a brand-new slaughterhouse. I was doing an internship with the French national energy company. We'd been invited because the company had set up the gas and electricity for the plant. When I was offered the chance to attend the ceremonies, I hesitated for a few seconds. I don't generally do well with blood ... Would a visit make me ill? ... Perhaps it would leave me with nightmares? ... But I was also young, cocky, and curious. And when would I ever get a similar chance? Alongside executives and officials, I toured the shiney, empty plant (workers stood in their work positions as we passed by) and applauded as ribbons were cut. Then I followed the first pigs through the slaughtering process. It was a gruesome spectacle. The beasts were herded and prodded from an outdoor pen through a kind of fenced funnel and into the slaughterhouse. A guy at a gate released them one at a time. The next worker shot a bolt into the beast's head. The next hooked a chain around its back ankles, and the cadaver was hauled into the air, to be swung along from a kind of overhead conveyor belt. Lickity-split, another worker cut open the pig's throat. As the pig sailed along towards further processing, a gusher of ruby-red blood drained into a stainless-steel trough beneath. OK, I most certainly was feeling some queasiness. The order of subsequent events jumbles in my memory. At one early point, the pig passed through a kind of miniature carwash. It was flamed and flayed in other machines until bristles and hairs were gone. I can't remember when the head came off -- you'd think I'd have a recollection of such a moment, but I don't. I recall some other moments vividly, though. The removal of the trotters was, for some reason, especially hard to watch. But the big showpiece came when a worker slit the pig's belly open. The next worker reached inside and pulled out a big armful of slimey, warm guts. Plop they went onto a steel pan. Eventually the creature was flayed, gutted, dismembered, cut, sliced, and trimmed, and its parts were wrapped in plastic and ready for shipping. Executives, officials, and visitors congratulated each other, shook hands, and went their separate ways. The pigs kept filing into the warehouse. The workers continued slicing, stabbing, scooping ... Many years later, I spent an afternoon on an industrial farm in a dry part of the American west. It was, of course, about a billionth as gruesome an experience as visiting a slaughterhouse. Still. The boss gave me a tour of his business. He showed me carrot seeds. He showed me soil. He seemed proud of the fact that the dirt was unpromising; in fact, it seemed... posted by Michael at April 28, 2006 | perma-link | (41) comments

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Cowtown Pattie and Kman go to the Arts Festival and discover a smokin' band. * Guess why rates of AIDS among black people have grown so much in recent years. * Mad magazine's brilliant Sergio Aragones has a website. I especially enjoyed this page, where he answers questions from fans. Here's Wikipedia on Sergio. * Google is now offering a free webpage creator. The resulting webpages look pretty blah and are anything but dynamic. But they're certainly a snap to make. (Note: Some web-people are concerned that pages created with Google's service will allow spammers to lift your email address, so be warned.) Phillipp Lenssen looks at what people are doing with Google Pages. * The NYTimes' Katherine Zoepf reports that 25% of all Syrian wives have been beaten. * Fred has got the musical greats diagnosed. * Evoca, a new audio webservice, is certainly a cleanly-executed project. But for the life of me I can't imagine what I'd ever do with it ... * He has to. He's French. * Snoop Dogg, novelist. * Shyness can be charming, and (like any personality trait) it can also become a problem. But when does it deserve to be considered a disease? * How common is white-on-black rape anyway? Kathleen Parker rehearses the figures. * Bookgasm's Bruce Grossman is recommending some crime novels. One them is by Charles Williams, I was pleased to notice. I read my first Charles Williams ("The Hot Spot") a few years ago, and found it to be seedy-noir bliss, as well as smashingly plotted. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 27, 2006 | perma-link | (17) comments

More Immigration Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Immigration and migration challenges continue to rattle cages and demand attention. Nice to see the mainstream press finally take note of what has in fact been a very big story for a very long time. * Hey, let's invite some more of these problems into our midst. Whoops, consider it done. * Another transforming-America landmark has been reached. * Part of what I enjoy about following immigration questions is the way they (and responses to them) scramble traditional political categories. As Bush's team continues to defy his supporters' druthers, Howard Dean declares that border security should be the Dems' main concern in November. Meanwhile, an African-American group finds common cause with the Minutemen. * LA-area illegals are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in public assistance. * A British poll discovers that nearly 60% of Brits think that all immigration into Britain should be halted. * How did it all start? The Boston Globe's Colin Nickerson recounts the story of how, in 1961, the first 7000 Turks were imported into Germany. (Link thanks to Ziel.) Nice quote: Nobody grasped that the country -- and the continent, because neighboring nations soon undertook similar experiments -- was on the brink of a transformation whose effects are still reverberating across Europe ... In the 1960s, a few hundred thousand Muslims lived in Western Europe. Today, best estimates peg the number at more than 20 million Two small Michael Blowhard conclusions: 1) View the schemes of elites with skepticism. 2) Be wary of any and all new social-policy initiatives, except maybe those that correct past goofs. * Vdare's Alan Wall writes that the three major candidates in Mexico's upcoming presidential election all count on the US continuing to function as a safety valve for Mexico's problems. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Letter to Nikos
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The other day I had the chance to catch up with a 2Blowhards favorite, the mathematician and architectural/urbanism theorist Nikos Salingaros. I was thrilled to learn that "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction," his dazzling expose of chic French philosophy and its tragic impact on the built environment, has recently been published in French. When I asked Nikos how responses to his work have been going recently, he talked enthusiastically about a fascinating letter he'd received from Paul Grenier, director of The Common Task. A little nudging ... A few requests for permission ... And, voila, I'm able to reprint Paul Grenier's letter. Here it is. *** Thursday, 20 April 2006. Dear Nikos, I finished reading your book "Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction" some time ago, and have been meditating on it ever since. It was quite fascinating! At times heartwarming, at other times frightening. I hadn't ever read this kind of stuff that you found in Tschumi (and others of his ilk). It reads like something from a fictional anti-utopia; say, George Orwell's "1984", or C. S. Lewis's "That Hideous Strength". The anti-heroes of C. S. Lewis's brilliant novel were also opposed to organic life. I can't help wondering now whether Lewis hadn't already read (in 1947) the works of men like Le Corbusier. *Quelle horreur*! It was also a relief to read your critique of the way such architectural writers as Charles Jencks use words like 'fractal' and 'chaos theory' and so forth. Jencks seems a nice enough guy, well-meaning, etc. But when I skimmed a few of his essays not long ago, I found myself wondering why his use of these words seemed so odd, so ... incomprehensible. He's supposedly an authority ... was I missing something? Well, it turns out I wasn't. He just wasn't making any sense! Sad. Regarding post-modernism. I have long known of course that, as a stick-in-the-mud traditional Christian, I was guilty of the sin of logo-centrism; but, because my friends and I usually discuss post-modernist-related theory in the context of theology or literature or philosophy of language, I hadn't focused so much on the implications of deconstructive thought for the exact sciences. They are very liberated persons, these ultra-moderns -- liberated from logic, reason, nature. I think you are exactly right that this is all ideology, but I also think that underlying this ideology are two hidden ruling ideas: absolute freedom as the only value; and absolute despair. In other words, a spiritual crisis, even spiritual death. To understand where post-modernist ideology got its start, and from where it derives its power, one can do far worse than to read the great philosopher-theologian-chemist Pavel Florensky (especially the first few chapters of his masterpiece "The Pillar and Ground of Truth", written circa 1920, long before these young whippersnappers started spouting). If I were to interpret post-modernism in the light of Florensky's understanding of truth, I would say that its proponents see in language either *only* a rigid *order* (a self-enclosed definition... posted by Michael at April 27, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Smoke Awareness
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In Washington State it's against the law to smoke within 25 feet of an entrance or opening of a building open to the public. That means stores, office buildings, restaurants, bars and just about everything but private residences. This wasn't a legislative act, but the result of a popular vote on an initiative. The law went into effect last December. (I voted against the initiative for reasons having nothing to do with smoking, pro or con.) Washington was a pretty smoke-free place even before the initiative was placed on the ballot, and has been for many years. I find it interesting to be reminded just how much smoke there was when I was young. One reminder happened in the late 1980s or early 90s when I went to my college fraternity's "founders' day" celebration. After the usual schmoozing the doors to the frat house dining room were opened and all of us old alums seated ourselves around the tables just as we had years before when in college. And, just as it was years before, out came the cigarettes. Before long, the air in the room was hazy and the smell of smoke was pervasive. It was really noticeable. Then the thought hit me: It must have been just as smoky when I was in school, but I didn't really pay attention to the smoke back then. Smoke was simply part of the everyday environment. So were smoking-related things such as ash trays. Nowadays it's hard to get this kind of time machine experience in America. But you can in Europe. Three years ago The Fiancée (who hates smoking) and I were walking the streets Vienna and thinking about taking a break. We stepped into a cafe/pastry shop and encountered a wall of smoke. After a minute or two we agreed to retreat and look for a non-smoking place to rest our feet. If this post has a moral, it might be: One usually takes the everyday environment, whatever it is, for granted. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 26, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Jane Jacobs R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- You've probably noticed that the great Jane Jacobs has died at the age of 89. The web is full of intelligent and appreciative tributes: A Google News search on her name will turn up a lot of them. An obit by the LA Times' Mary Rourke is a good starting point. Martin Knelman writes a touching character sketch. Interesting to learn in Counterpunch that Jacobs, a Canadian resident since the 1970s, favored the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada, and thought that the Euro was a dumb idea. Curbed is sweetly running a "the most Jane Jacobs block in New York City" contest. Gothamist supplies many links. I recently wrote a long intro to Jacobs and her work. Don't miss a couple of wonderful interviews: one from 2000 conducted by James Kunstler; and one from 2002, done by Blake Harris. A final question: Why on earth was she never awarded the Nobel Prize? Best, Michael UPDATE: David Sucher has been blogging up a storm about Jane Jacobs. Mr. Tall brings Jane Jacobs-style thinking to bear on Hong Kong.... posted by Michael at April 26, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Movin' 'Mericans
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are you following the herd? The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a report (this is a large by blog link standards -- 5.11 MB -- PDF file) on domestic net migration trends in the United States down to the county level for the period 2000-2004. "Domestic" migration in demography-speak refers to migration involving moves from one part of the country to another; moves with foreign origins or destinations are not considered in the report. The Bureau defines "migration" as a change in residence where a county line is crossed. "Net" migration is in-migrants minus out-migrants, or the net effect of the migration process. There are two basic sources for the migration data. For the population age 65 and older, Medicare records are used. For the rest of the population, the Bureau uses IRS income tax records. Migration is measured by comparing addresses from year to year. A change in address represents a "move," and a move across a county line is a "migration" as noted above. One can nit-pick that the information is incomplete by citing people not reporting to the IRS or who are first-time filers. But there is nothing much that can be done about these defects, and they probably don't distort the overall picture. As for spouses and dependent children, these get picked up by the number of exemptions claimed on the tax form. So much for the geek stuff. What about the horse race? The decades-long mega-trend of net migration from the Northeast, Great Lakes and upper Plains states to the rest of the country continues, though there have been detail changes. During the 1990s Maine exported people, but in the 2000-04 period became the strongest migration magnet in the Northeast. New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island also were gainers. Massachusetts' annualized net out-migration numbers and rates increased from 1990-2000 to 2000-04 whereas Connecticut and former sick-man Pennsylvania, while still negative, were much less so. New York and New Jersey continued to have heavy out-migration. Out west, most of what the Bureau calls the Mountain division had net in-migration, paced by Nevada and Arizona. The Pacific division (the three coastal states plus Alaska and Hawaii) had net out-migration for both periods, though Washington and Oregon were in-migratory throughout. The state with the largest positive net migration count in 2000-04 was Florida, averaging 190,000 per year. This volume was almost three times greater than that for Arizona, its nearest rival. Moreover, Florida actually increased its pace; its annualized rate per thousand population went from 7.9 in the 90s to 11.4 in the present decade. Although southern states were generally in-migratory, exceptions were Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The only Great Lakes state with net in-migration was Wisconsin. The Census Bureau report includes a table showing migration patterns for the 25 largest metropolitan areas. (Metro area definitions are rule-based. But because being a metro area is a qualification for receiving Federal money from various programs, the definitions have been changed to the point... posted by Donald at April 25, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bill Forsyth's "Comfort and Joy"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Scrolling through the TV schedule, I noticed that a too-rare treat will be showing on the Sundance Channel at 7 a.m. Eastern time this Wednesday: Bill Forsyth's 1984 Scottish comedy "Comfort and Joy." Set the Tivo. The movie -- a small-scale but sweet and moving gem -- isn't available on DVD in this country, and hasn't been easy to find generally since its original theatrical release. It's a movie with a distinctive and unusual tone. The tone is, in fact, the real point of the movie. Where the entertainment business today is selling empirically-obvious, easy-to-categorize experiences -- effects, technology, star power, concepts, themes, edginess -- "Comfort and Joy" is a bemused tone poem with many loose ends. Another thing that makes the movie unusual by contempo standards is how hard it is to describe or capture the movie's tone. Bittersweet? Melancholy yet optimistic? In any case, the film is an oddball work, and maybe even a one-of-a-kind small classic: eccentric yet subdued, quiet and realistic yet full of beauty and mood. Part of the reason it's so hard to fix a label to the film's mood is that its mood is unstable -- it's a shifting mixture of many different moods. Back in the day, we filmbuffs often said about movies like "Comfort and Joy" that they were about "fugitive" moods and moments. By this, we meant to suggest tones, moods, and moments that were slippery -- ones that by their nature came and went. Robert Altman, for instance, often describes what he tries to do as "capturing lightning in a bottle." It was even thought by some buffs that this was part of the strange and marvelous nature of movies: that, despite the money, the clunkiness of the technology, and the egos, the occasonal movie still manages to capture and convey something of the slipping-through-your-fingers quality that's such a touching and essential part of life. (A question that has come up recently, during the computer years, is whether this magical ability is dependent on celluloid. I'm not alone in wondering whether video picks up and passes along poetry in anything like the same way that celluloid sometimes does. Video and computers are, of course, perfectly amazing where effects and information are concerned. But do they resonate to the very nature of life as celluloid once did?) In any case, it's this kind of of fugitive emotional music -- a music that happens as much in your imagination as it does on the screen -- that is what "Comfort and Joy" is selling. I hope a brief bit of reminiscing and pontification will be indulged. (I promise it leads back to "Comfort and Joy.") There was a lot to dislike -- as well as a lot that was ego-and-drug-fueled and plain crazy -- about the movies of the 1960s and '70s. I'm happy to join in the occasional bout of jeering myself. But there were some lovely things about the popular culture of the... posted by Michael at April 24, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Quest for the Perfect Shave
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The endless shaving war continues to escalate. Gillette introduced a five-blade razor last fall and Schick marketed a four-blade razor the year before. As for perpetually clueless me, I'm at three blades and holding (for now). For most people, shaving is a voluntary chore. I find the time it absorbs every morning small, yet annoying. But I can't avoid it because I can't grow a convincing beard and, even if I could, The Fiancée would not be pleased. Fortunately I don't have my son's heavy beard, sensitive skin problem or any other special shaving need. But over the years I've tried out different approaches to shaving, hoping to find that elusive sweet-spot maximizing convenience and cost-effectiveness. For what it's worth, here's my tale. My father was an electric shaver guy during the time our lives overlapped. When I was a child he had a black Sunbeam with a single small (inch to inch-and-a-half wide) shaving head. So when I started sprouting whiskers I too got an electric shaver and continued to use them until well into my thirties. The Army insisted that we have a double-edged "safety razor" to be displayed in our footlocker during inspections. I recall using that razor a time or two when I was in an Army hospital with Pneumonia, but shaving was uncomfortable: the blade "tugged" too much. What I don't remember is exactly why I stopped using an electric shaver and switched to a blade razor. Most likely, my electric broke down and I didn't want to spend the money on a new one. Or perhaps I was dissatisfied with the quality of the shave I was getting. So I went through the discomfort of transitioning. If you have never gone from using an electric shaver to a razor or vice-versa, the first week or so you'll probably experience discomfort. For some reason the skin or beard or both get "trained" for one kind of shaving instrument and need to "re-train" when you switch. In fact, I even bought another electric shaver after razor-shaving for a while and found that transition difficult. Thereafter when using the shaver I found myself using an electric shave lotion to make shaving more comfortable. But after several months of electric shaving I went back to a razor. The shave wasn't close enough to satisfy me. For many years I used shaving cream when razor-shaving. Then I discovered that it wasn't necessary -- for me, anyway. Besides, shaving cream (soap) is messy and applying it and cleaning up afterwards prolonged the overall task. In any case, those multi-blade razors have a little strip above the blades that, when wet, lubricates the skin to make shaving smoother. Running a wet hand across a bar of bath soap and then rubbing the soap film on your face yields about the same degree of lubrication when the on-razor lubricant wears off after three or four shaves. (Penny-pinching me tries to stretch a set of blades over... posted by Donald at April 24, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Standard Art History Narrative ... As Statistics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once every two or three blue moons or so, we Blowhards might grumble about something or other. One of the things we grumble about is Art History as Revealed by the Art Establishment. And when we do so we're sometimes inclined to shout and wave our arms and assume that you readers know why we're ranting. As someone with "social science" training, I sometimes think it would be nice to quantify what we're talking about. Now it can be done. Maybe. A few days ago I stumbled across of copy of Charles Murray's book Human Accomplishment on a bookstore's remaindered table and scooped it up for $6.98, hardcopy. Murray selected several fields of endeavor including Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematics, Western Literature and Western Art and sought what were thought to be authoritative books on the subjects that contained plenty of names of people prominent in the fields. He limited his coverage to people whose productive peak was before the year 1950. Combining citations from these sources and performing some other manipulations, Murray came up with indexes of prominance where the top-ranked person was given a score of 100 and others were assigned ratios to that 100 (i.e., 78, 41, 12) based on their number of citations. Then he went on to ask some questions about the settings in which accomplishment might be found. But that doesn't concern us here. (2Blowhards' friend Steve Sailer has a review of the book here and an interview with Murray here.) What interests me is that the scores for his Western Art category are based on authoritative accounts which, because they are considered "authoritative," in theory reflect the Art Establishment version of history. This notion can be tested by examining the scores for artists active during the final decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. (Most sources were 1990s editions and can be presumed to reflect late-20th century views.) Here are the top five artists regardless of era. Index Artist 100 Michelangelo 67 Picasso 63 Raphael 51 Leonardo 51 Titian We see that Michelangelo is top dog, so his index score is 100. Picasso is No. 2 with a score of 67, indicating that, after Murray's data manipulations, Picasso got just two-thirds as many citations as did Michelangelo. Now let's look at the top-ranked artists from the time of Impressionism to 1950. Thirty artists in that era had scores of 10 or greater. Index Artist Index Artist 67 Picasso 19 Seurat 44 Cezanne 17 Munch 35 Monet 16 Pissarro 34 Van Gogh 16 Toulouse-Lautrec 33 Gauguin 16 Whistler 33 Matisse 14 Ernst 29 Manet 13 Brancusi 27 Kandinsky 13 Leger 26 Degas 13 Malevich, Kasimir 25 Renoir 12 Dali 24 Braque 11 de Chirico 24 Duchamp 10 Chagall 23 Rodin 10 Kirchner, Ernst 20 Mondrian 10 Rousseau, Henri 19 Klee 10 Tatlin, Vladimir And here are scores for some other artists of the same period. Index Artist Index Artist 8 Klimt 3 Cassatt 7 Rossetti... posted by Donald at April 23, 2006 | perma-link | (27) comments