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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Saturday, August 26, 2006

In Further Immigration News
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In other immigration developments: The LA Times profiles an illegal family with ten kids -- every one of them, by dint of our crazy "anchor baby" policy, now a fully-fledged, and fully-entitled U.S. citizen. None of the kids speak English well, and the family is making resourceful use of our social services. Nice passage: All the youngsters have had their healthcare bills covered by Medi-Cal, the state and federal healthcare program for the poor. Alfredo Jr. had been hospitalized all his life until recently. He's had three state-funded brain operations and will require several more, the family said. The couple receive $700 in monthly Social Security payments to help with his medical needs. "I thank this country that they gave me Medi-Cal," Magdaleno said. "There's nothing like that in Mexico." Steve Sailer comments. North Carolina jails are being "stressed to the limits" by DUI illegal immigrants. It seems that driving while smashed is a commonplace practice in Mexico. Are we wise to be importing the habit? I've argued before that, in allowing mass immigration from Latin America, the U.S. is doing a huge injustice to our black population. Now a new black organization has been formed to protest current immigration policies. Nice line from their homepage: Mass illegal immigration has been the single greatest impediment to black advancement in this country over the past 25 years. Blacks, in particular, have lost economic opportunities, seen their kids' schools flooded with non-English speaking students, and felt the socio-economic damage of illegal immigration more acutely than any other group. Hey, kids! Whaddya say we create a lot of unnecessary, and completely avoidable, ethnic tension? Hispanic family values? Arizona may have to spend $60 million to clean up the trash that illegals leave behind as they break into the U.S. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 26, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, August 25, 2006

Oil, Corn, Cows
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The fertilizer that's fed to corn is a fossil fuel product ... Cows these days eat an awful lot of corn ... So how much oil does a full-grown cow represent? The answer: 100 gallons. You can learn more facts about our beef industry's bizarre infatuation with raising cattle on corn and antibiotics in this interview with Michael Pollan. "When you learn about the industrial food system, certain foods become unappetizing," he says to another interviewer. I'll second him on that. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 25, 2006 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Cowtown Pattie has some new neighbors whose habits aren't doing the neighborhod, let alone the property values, any favors. * What's it like to give up TV? Steve Pavlina lists eight changes he noticed when he turned off the tube. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Robert Hughes' first marriage was a very '60s thing. (Link thanks to ALD.) Writing about the '60s, Hughes sounds rather like Shouting Thomas. Typical passage: It was a time of collective self-importance, which masked -- not very effectively -- a striking indifference to the way the world actually did and might work. I hardly met a single person in the "underground" context who didn't, no matter how sexually available or amusing, turn out in the end to be ignorant and rather a bore. The depths of tedium that can be plumbed by sitting around half stoned, listening to people chatter moonily about reuniting humankind and erasing its aggressive instincts through Love and Dope, are scarcely imaginable to those who have not suffered them. * Michael Bierut thinks that the graphic-design community might, just might, have itself to blame. * Broaden your mind and your culture at Famous Poets and Poems, where you can find and read more than 600 of the greats, from "Nothing Gold Can Stay" to "The Convergence of the Twain." * Finally, some haute couture fashion-show clips that the hetero boys can enjoy too. (NSFW, though of a very mild sort.) * Does he rehearse these things first, or do these epic raps just roll out of him? Thanks to Bryan for passing along this YouTube clip of Kevin Smith blabbing about his adventures on the recent "Superman" movie. * When Nick Hornby wanted to stop wrestling with boring books, the first thing he did was yank all the contemporary lit-fic books off his "to read" stack. * Florida is going New Urbanism-happy. Fun! But will NU work commercially? * Having done volunteer duty at the local Fringe Theater Festival, Random Kath has developed some strong feelings about theatergoers who arrive late. * The things some people get off on! (NSFW) * Searchie explains why she won't take drugs to help her contend with depression, and offers up a gorgeous cornucopia of architectural details. * Colleen made a Flickr find: a set of amusing and touching celebrity photos that were rescued from a garbage can. Colleen herself -- in the midst of an epic bout of housecleaning -- thinks there may be something to that feng shui thing. * Wow: In just the past five years, the Hispanic part of the population of Phoenix, AZ has gone from 34 to 48 percent. (Correction: Make that 41.8 percent, not 48 percent.) * A movie star settles in the neighborhood. OuterLife writes about what it's like for a development to receive "celebrity validation." * How much sense does it make for a guy to marry a career woman? Forbes' Michael Noer says "not much." Forbes' Elizabeth... posted by Michael at August 25, 2006 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Out of the (Design) Groove
Donald Pittenger writes Dear Blowhards -- Sitting here near the tip of Baja, cut off from civilization save by the thin, thin wire from the Internet cafe, I siesta and read. My current read is 747 by Joe Sutter, the engineer in charge of developing the Boeing 747 jetliner. When Juan Trippe of Pan Am insisted on a 400-passenger aircraft, the Boeing designers automatically assumed the configuration would be a two-decker 707, but scaled up a bit. At the time, Boeing was heavily engaged on a government-funded supersonic transport (the 2707), which most folk assumed would be the plane of the future. The 747 was seen as being an interim step with not much sales potential. And because they didn't think it would sell well, the engineers and product planners wanted a cargo version as well as a strictly passenger job. Lots of problems emerged working with the two-deck layout. Cargo could be hard to fget in and out and bulky items might not fit. On the passenger side, 90-second evacuation times would be difficult to attain. Plus there would be other emplaning-deplaning problems. Not to mention aerodynamic issues related to the (proportionally) stubby fuselage. Eventually it sank in the both the cargo and passenger-related problems would largely go away if the aircraft had only one deck -- but a wide one. With two aisles instead of one. Thus was born the wide-body airliner. Boeing went on to have the SST shot out from under them by Congress. So the 747 turned out to be the real future of airliners. But if Sutter hadn't dragged his feet at the outset regarding the two-level liner ... who knows? Oh, and now we have the troubled Airbus 380 slowly approaching. A wide-body -- with two decks. We shall see... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 24, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

If I Only Had a Voice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you ever wondered what it must be like to have an impressive and eloquent speaking or singing voice? The power that James Earl Jones must feel as he rumbles and enunciates! Having a tight little monotone of a voice myself, I'm afraid that in this lifetime I'll never be experiencing that kind of thrill. Here's another example of vocal prowess: Eric Burdon, the lead singer of the gritty, thrillingly-overblown (IMHO, of course) '60s British pop band The Animals. Ain't it a hoot the way that -- his voice aside -- Burdon looks like such a trollish, pimply little punk? He even moves badly. Yet watch how, when he opens his mouth, he morphs into a living megaphone-in-an-echo-chamber. He really revels in the spooky grandeur that his voice projects: To be honest, what he really makes me imagine is a particular kind of high school classmate. He's small, he's awkward, he's nothing special, he lives in the shadows. Yet there's always an annoying little glint of "I'm special" amusement in his eye -- a glint that helps explain why he gets beaten up on a regular basis. What is it that's so irksome about the little creep? Finally you learn what it is that explains that little edge of ego: Your nondescript, loser acquaintance has the biggest dick in class. Interesting to find out from some web-surfing that The Animals had only two good years; that they were cheated out of royalties and earnings even more flagrantly than most pop groups are; that Eric Burdon turned into a psychedelia-era flower-power type; and that, these days, one re-grouping of The Animals sometimes performs on a Color Line cruise ship. Here's Eric Burdon's own website. How's your own voice? Weak? Passable? A magnificent instrument of persuasion and seduction? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 24, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Immigration and England
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The London Times reports that "Foreign settlement is three times the rate it was when Tony Blair entered Downing Street, and the number soared by almost 30 per cent last year." The Times also reports that 3/4ths of Englanders think that their country's immigration laws ought to be more restrictive than they are. A point and a question: * One reason that economic arguments shouldn't determine immigration policy is that they don't take a lot into account. Large-scale immigration can create disruptions, resentments, and hostilities. Where do these factors show up on the economists' charts? * Is there a topic on which our political elites' policies and the preferences of everyday folk differ more dramatically than they do on immigration? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 23, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Books and Sales
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards - I just had one of those conversations with one of those people. You know the type. An intelligent, friendly person. A pleasant vibe. And then, whammo, the moment comes -- the moment when you discover that, so far as books and book publishing are concerned, this otherwise sensible person is completely out of his mind. Why is that so many down-to-earth people turn into delusional space cadets when the topic is books and book publishing? After all, they know from their own experience how the world works. Yet, magically, where book publishing is concerned, none of these how-the-world-works rules is supposed to apply. These people are OK with -- or at least not surprised by -- the way that politics, egos, money, ambition, and luck play important roles in life and business. Yet, magically, in book publishing, genius and worthiness always rise to the top. You can inform these people that, in the U.S., no more than a couple of hundred writers of trade books make a living writing books. You can let them know that the book publishing business generates somewhere between 50,0000 and 200,000 new titles every year. Dents are not made. (By the way, here's a fun mind experiment. Let's say you're a real new-books buff. You follow reviews, magazines, and bookstores. In a given year, you might be aware of a couple of hundred of new titles, right? If you're a real enthusiast, you might even read 50 or 100 new books. That means, in a busy publishing year, you're aware of 0.1% of the new books published that year. I take this as reason to be a little skeptical of anyone who makes pronouncements about such-and-such being the "best new book of the year.") The particular delusion that possessed the specific otherwise-sensible person I talked to the other day had to do with sales. To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure what it was. I don't think I can nail it down once and for all. For a minute, it seemed as though this person felt that an author shouldn't have to "sell" his book in any sense. At another point, I had the impression that this person felt that sales play no role in the "literary" process. (Or was it that they should play no such role?) At yet another moment, this person seemed to hold the strong opinion that an author's role is (or should?) be done when he finishes typing. It was hard to tell specifically what the dream was that this person was clinging to. The only thing that was really clear was that this person felt that "sales" (as in the act of selling) and book publishing should have nothing to do with each other, and that to the degree that "sales" enters into book publishing, that's too damn bad, and perhaps even worthy of grief and/or moral censure. Look: The business of books and book publishing is a business. It's an unusual business... posted by Michael at August 23, 2006 | perma-link | (30) comments

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

And Just What is "Regular" Coffee?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to Starbucks, its lap-dog Seattle's Best, and its competition such as Peets, coffee has become complicated. Before, say, 1990, things were simpler. One ordered a "regular" -- or something else. But exactly what is a regular? I grew up in Seattle back in the days before the place inexplicably became associated with coffee drinking. When I was 15 or 16 I had my first "adult" cup of coffee (not just a sip offered by a parent). Along with the coffee I had sugar and cream. When I had my second cup I dropped either the sugar or the cream -- can't remember which. Any my third cup (these cups were ordered days or weeks apart) contained black coffee only, which is how I've taken it ever since. Five or six years later I began working in the Public Information Office at Fort Meade, Maryland's post headquarters. The sergeant sent the new PFC (me) down to the snack bar to bring back some "regular" coffees. In retrospect, I should have either (1) asked what was meant by "regular" or (2) told the gal at the snack bar that I wanted "regular." But no. I scratched my head and decided "regular" was straight black because that's what most people I knew out west drank. Result: I got chewed out by the sergeant because everybody knows that "regular" means coffee with sugar and cream. Let me quickly add that the sergeant was from the New York City area. Having been chewed out, I kept alert and soon realized that folks in the northeast tended to take their coffee with cream and sugar, unlike those of us from western states. So what was an exception to me was the norm to them. Another New York City (and perhaps elsewhere nearby) peculiarity in those days was that hamburgers were cooked "medium" -- they were all pink and mushy inside [yuk!]. After discovering this, I had to make a point of telling the waitress that I wanted my burger well-done. I haven't been to the East Coast much since around 1990, so I'm probably out of touch. Is the normal hamburger still under-cooked? Is coffee usually drunk with sugar and cream? To some degree the coffee problem has been resolved by the emergence of Starbucks with its gazillion options; one is obligated to explain what is desired in some detail. And if you order drip coffee, they give you the option of "room for cream" and then you have to go over to the accessories stand and add the cream and/or sugar yourself. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 22, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Blogging Notes
So Michael is traveling. Et mois!! I fled the country and am now in hiding in Mexico. A couple hundred feet away is a condo complex where the spiff spot sells for $5 million for year-round use. Since that complex seems to be the only one 'round here with WiFi in the lobby it might be my only chance for serious blogging. (Note to self: Ask Michael to install a tip-jar to help finance this mad, yet curiously practical condo-blogging scheme). Meanwhile, I have to make do with five-bucks-per-half-hour internet cafe blogging. So this will be brief. If I have enough time I'll try to post something I drafted before I left. I brought my new Apple MacBook but failed to log onto WiFi at SeaTac airport. Clearly, I'm lacking at least one vital piece of info. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Still, I've beaten the wee beastie into good enough shape that I got a program I wrote to run. Plus, I'm writing trip notes daily. And I have some sort of virus-crud I picked up before leaving the States; can't blame Mexico for everything. Enough delerium-soaked mumblings. Just wanted to let you know I haven't disappeared. Ciao, Donald... posted by Donald at August 22, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

People in Public
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm having occasional fun messing around with Apple's mom-and-pop video-editing software iMovie. My latest creation, currently moving up the charts at YouTube: My previous effort can be watched here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On the Road Today
I'm traveling today. As I've also been remiss about getting a "Captcha" comment-authentication system installed on this blog, any new comments are likely to spend much of the day in a holding pen, until I can get to another computer and OK them. Apologies for the inconvenience. -- MB... posted by Michael at August 20, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tabbed Browsing
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am without a doubt the greatest design critic who has ever lived. Proof of my genius arrives on my doorstep daily. Long ago -- in fact, several times -- I blogged about crazy visual uses of brackets and parentheses. These days: How about parentheses around an entire magazine-article title? Long ago, I wondered what has become of Tables of Contents. Today's TOC's are more nonlinear and bewildering than ever. Click on the image and eyeball the order in which the page-numbers of the stories are listed: Back in the dark ages I discussed what I've called a "scanner aesthetic." In other words, the plane of the page is understood to be a piece of glass, through which you sometimes look but on which things are also piled. These days: Is the scanner-glass thing common or what? I even took early note of a very strange trend: women and their bodies being presented all chopped-off. These days, chopped-off female bodyparts are a standard part of our culture's visual decor: Now that my prescience and infallibility as an observer of graphic-design trends has been established: What's next? Er, OK, well, let me revise my self-evaluation. Like many other people, I like watching movies, TV, and ads, and I like leafing through magazines, books, newspapers, and websites. Occasionally I notice a little something that I haven't yet seen anyone else discuss. Um, that said ... And acknowledging that it's a whole lot easier to rip things out of magazines than to capture passages from movies or TV ... OK, got one: Isn't it interesting how the nouveaux psychedelia and the man-merging-with-the-cybermachine riffs are themes that are happenin' at the exact same time? Here's some contempo psychedelia. I don't know why, but I like to think of ads like these as having a case of the "blooming swirlies." In these ads, man becomes his own portable USB drive: If anyone wants to say "Computers are the new hallucinogens," it's OK by me. But you probably want some trend that's newer ... That's really fresh ... And that we're only going to see more of ... OK, here's a guess. You may have noticed on a lot of websites (and even in browsers themselves) something called "tabbed browsing." File-folder-like tabs at the top of a page that you can click on, and that will take you to another page. At its website, Apple has made a major design commitment to tabs: Here's an example I just noticed this very instant, from the screen of my blogging software. This is what's before my eyes as I type: Hilarious, no? The Movable Type tab -- and then coming down from above it, my Safari browser's tab. Online, it's a tab, tab, tab, tab world, let me tell you. In yet another proof that print design now follows screen design, the latest vogue in commercial magazines and print ads seems to be for tabbed browsing. Which, if you think about it... posted by Michael at August 20, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments