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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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  1. Elsewhere
  2. Charlton on Audible
  3. Derbyshire on Betjeman
  4. Retirement: First Impressions
  5. Tip Jar Hitting
  6. Rewind: More on Books
  7. Books and Sales Redux
  8. Street Merchant Roulette
  9. A.W.F. Edwards and Overpopulation
  10. Dubious Runways

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Stephenesque's dad was an early electronic-music buff. You can wayback-machine yourself to the earlyish days of electronic music here, here, and here. * Is it really true that there's an epidemic of oral lovin' going on? Tim Harford says the answer is yes, and tries to explain why. The relevant numbers: Johns Hopkins University Professor Jonathan Zenilman ... reports that both the adults and the teenagers who come to his clinic are engaging in much more oral sex than in 1990. For men and boys as recipients it's up from about half to 75 to 80 percent; for women and girls, it's risen from about 25 percent to 75 to 80 percent. * Searchie tumbles for the one-book meme, and comes up with an inspired response to it. * In 1984, a British headmaster wrote an article wondering if multcultural dogma was in fact good for his students. As a reward for his frank musings, he was forced to resign, and was never able to teach again. These days, though, he's feeling vindicated. * Whisky Prajer says that being a little less hard on himself has been good for his writing. He also reviews some tempting-sounding books about rock music. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Charlton on Audible
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Visitors to 2Blowhards have almost certainly encountered Charlton Griffin, who has left a lot of informative and smart comments on various postings. They may not realize that Charlton is one of the most distinguished readers and producers of my favorite current media form, namely audiobooks. I notice that many of his productions can now be purchased at Audible for download. (Type "Charlton Griffin" into the search box.) I urge audiobook fans to start downloading now, and I urge those who have been hesitant to try audiobooks to start with Charlton's productions. This is some of the classiest work available: great material, beautifully produced and presented. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Derbyshire on Betjeman
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Derbyshire writes an appreciation of the English poet John Betjeman here. Although a man of the 20th century, Betjeman composed touching, funny, instantly-comprehensible -- ie., completely traditional and non-modernist -- poems. Needless to say, he has been almost completely overlooked by the American academic-media lit establishment. A nice passage from Derbyshire: Practically all Betjeman's verses rhyme, scan, and yield up all their sense at a first reading, if you can get past the Britishisms. He ignored the "modern movement" in poetry altogether ... It follows from this that Betjeman is not really the sort of poet you can teach, and he is therefore of no interest to the academic Eng. Lit. clerisy. It is hard to imagine anyone getting a Ph.D. by "interpreting" Betjeman. There is nothing to interpret. And what a lovely compliment that is. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 2, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, September 1, 2006

Retirement: First Impressions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards-- It's September 1st, and I'm retired as of today. And everybody seems to want to know how I'm taking it or how it feels. I'll tell you in a minute. First, let me mention that, oh, 30 years ago I couldn't imagine being retired. I couldn't even imagine why anyone would want to retire. You see, I was still in bushy-tailed career mode and could slog away at my desk for hour upon untold hour. Now? Actually I've been ready to bail out for four or five years. No real prospects for promotion. Few or no professional goals to try attaining. An enhanced desire to travel. And to have fun while I'm still fit. It's a cliche that one suddenly knows that it's time to retire, yet there's a lot of truth to it -- cliches don't appear out of nowhere. It was true for me, the guy who at age 36 denied retirement. Okay. Enough petty philosophizing; you Boomers and Gen-Whatevers wanna know what it's like. I'll probably give you a different answer in one year, five years, ten. As for today, the answer hit me as I was sauntering between the Bellevue Barnes & Noble bookstore and Bellevue Square mall: I felt just like I did back in the days before I got my first real, grown-up job. Just pokin' around. Yeah, I had a few things needing to be done, but no special deadlines. My time was what I would make of it. Also comparable to summer breaks when in high school or college. Or the summer when I was fresh out of college waiting to go into the military. In other words, as it begins, retirement is nothing new. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 1, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tip Jar Hitting
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Are you a cold-hearted, selfish, evil monster? I am, by one way of reckoning. You see, I don't hit the tip jar at Starbucks. There is more than one side to this issue. What propels daytime TV talk shows, political debates and other issue-driven controversies is that the various sides or points-of-view involved can claim a reasonable value as justification. Which is why such issues usually never get resolved. Back to that tip jar. One perspective is that Starbucks baristas are underpaid and, usually, friendly and helpful so they ought to earn tips just as waiters and waitresses in restaurants do. My perspective is that all that baristas are doing for me is (1) drawing a cup of drip coffee, (2) perhaps putting a doughnut into a paper bag and (3) taking my money and making change. If my drink order was especially demanding, then a tip might possibly be warranted. If they deserve a tip for this minimal amount of effort (compared to what a waitress does, for example), then so should the checkout lady at the supermarket who, besides the money handling, has to do a lot of bar-code scanning and perhaps some bagging. To which one might respond that checkers are likely unionized and get better hourly pay than Starbucks galley slaves. Perhaps it comes to this: Unless every kind of personal service deserves a tip, then where should the line be drawn? I'll tip at a restaurant, but not at a Starbucks. And you? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 31, 2006 | perma-link | (42) comments

Rewind: More on Books
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- On vacation in Lotusland, I'm finding the siren song of the hot tub sweeter this morning than the appeal of blogging. So, fond though I am of generating new posts, I'm going to baby myself and link to an old one instead. Since we've been comparing notes about books and publishing, here's a related post from a while back: my version of the future of books, book publishing, and book reading. Hey, here's another. A little repetitious, OK, but such are the perils of blogging ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 31, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Books and Sales Redux
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few postings ago, I wondered out loud why so many people are horrified when they discover that book publishing is a business, and that -- as with all businesses -- salesmanship is involved at many levels. Visitors volunteered many good reasons why this might be the case. Please take a look at the comment thread. The ideas and observations of our visitors got me pulling together a few more fresh, if mighty basic, thoughts. There are always far more book-writer wannabes than the book-publishing industry needs. Econ 101, folks: If supply is huge and demand is tiny, prices will fall and remain low. Translated in terms of the book-writing biz: So long as there are a lot more people around who want to write books than there are places for them on commercial-publishing lists, the prices/salaries given to book-writers are going to tend to be small, smaller, smallest. Are you a book-writer wannabe? It doesn't hurt to remember that there's always someone who can do the job as well -- or almost as well -- as you can, and who will do it for less money too. Wait, this item doesn't really have anything to do with salesmanship and books. Oh well, it's a basic fact of commercial book-writing and commercial book-publishing anyway. Maybe someone will find it interesting. As I mentioned in the comments on the previous posting, book-publishing has to be one of the few industries where the vast majority of the people who supply the industry's product don't and won't ever make a living at it. In the U.S., there are only a couple of hundred people who make a living from writing trade books. ("Trade books" are the kinds of books you might buy at a Barnes and Noble.) Meanwhile, the book-publishing industry employs (and pays living wages to) many thousands. If you want to make a living from books, do indeed go into the books business -- but don't go into it as a writer. Many book people are introverts. Actors love audiences; few pop musicians are shy; painters and photographers generally know in their bones that they have to play the game if they want to move some product. But people who work in publishing? And people who dream of writing books? What they often love most is spending quiet time with books. They like reading better than being with other people. Many of them would be happy, they feel, if only they could spend all their time inside a book. I feel divided about introverts and books. On the one hand, I sympathize with the introverts. God bless 'em, they're people too, and why shouldn't they have an art-medium of their own? It's understandable that they would dream of a place (booksville) where they could flourish, feel appreciated, and be taken care of. On the other hand: C'mon.. I mean, really. We all have to deal with the external world -- and, whatever else it is,... posted by Michael at August 30, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Street Merchant Roulette
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know about you, but I avoid street merchants. In theory, this might not be good. After all, there may well have been many fine, large companies that got launched via a pushcart. But I avoid 'em anyway. My wife is less rigid in this regard, bargain-hunter that she is. She bought some "amber" in Lithuania last fall and some "silver" bracelets in Mexico last week from vendors, and the items might not be exactly what she expected. Other stuff she's bought on the street has been legit, of course. The key element, I think, is how knowledgeable the buyer is. For instance, I know zilch about jewelry. So I go straight to Tiffany or Bailey Banks and pay the full shot; I regarded the price premium as insurance. I'm on firmer ground with soft goods. After all, you can inspect the stitching and other details (though the quality of the fabric might be harder to tease out unless you work with the stuff a lot). Years ago I got taken in by an ad for a cheap pocket "statistics" calculator. I suppose it could do statistics, but with a lot of keying-in and with more effort than it would have taken with calulators costing a bit more. I never used the thing. What I hate are in-your-face street vendors. I saw a lot of those near the border crossing at Nogales a couple years ago. Things were much better at Cabo San Lucas last week, no doubt because the local authorities are quite aware that the place lives and dies by the tourist trade. For example, beach merchants near the condo complex where we stayed have to remain behind a rope and thereby can't mingle with tourists on lounge chairs (see photo below). Beach merchants at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Note the rope barrier in the foreground; they aren't allowed to cross it. The "silver" items they were selling were often attractive and inexpensive. They even were "stamped." But anyone can fake a stamp. A jewelry merchant at the market in town claimed that the beach stuff was simply silver plated. Was this so, or was he slamming the competition? I have no way of telling. As for cautious me, I went to a store in the shopping mall and paid full-price for a gift for my daughter. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 29, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

A.W.F. Edwards and Overpopulation
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I loved reading GNXP's latest "10 Questions" q&a, this one with the British geneticist A.W.F. Edwards. Arty dude that I am, I confess that I loved the interview as much for Edwards'' clear and witty language as I did for the science he was discussing -- of which, despite his clarity, my dim brain was able to digest, oh, about 25%. But his focus! His language! The way he balances approachability with sophistication! If only all nonfiction were presented half so well. I even felt I grasped the diff between "probability" and "likeliness." OK, so the feeling lasted all of about five seconds. Still, what a high it was! One semi-passing remark of Edwards'' especially struck me. Here's the passage: In the early 1960s I was a founder-member of a body called, I think, the Conservation Society, which does not seem to exist today. Its main platform was that too large a population would be unsustainable. At the time there was much discussion about over-population which was seen as one of the greatest dangers facing mankind. Interestingly, the worse the problem gets, the less it is discussed. Yet the mounting dangers we face, such as the possibility of global warming, are all exacerbated by too high a world population, given its enthusiasm for motor-cars, aeroplanes, and environmentally-damaging activity generally. It seems that people fear the charge of racism if they comment on population growth. (Emphasis mine.) In a posting not long ago, I wondered why the major U.S. environmental groups have been so quiet on the topic of immigration, given that our current policies are leading to much higher population growth than we'd otherwise have. I ventured the thought that we should blame the silence on the fact that so many of the green groups are allied with the immigration-lovin' Democratic Party. (BTW, where immigration policies are concerned, a pox on the Republican Party too.) I think that Edwards'' hunch -- that the discussion of population has been silenced because of fears of charges of racism -- may strike closer to the real truth of the matter. Sigh: How many other important discussions have been shut off in this way? Down with racism, of course. But down as well with people and organizations who use our fears of the "racism" accusation to control the public conversation. Confirmation that a few other people may feel fed up with overuse of the racism-accusation card comes from Rod Liddle in the London Times, who writes that multiculturalism is now dead as an official UK policy. But the development, however welcome, may be coming a little late for those concerned about crowding and growth. The Guardian reports that the British population has now surpassed 60 million, is growing at its fastest rate since the 1960s -- and that 2/3 of this growth is due to immigration. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 29, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dubious Runways
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A major news story from yesterday was the crash of a regional jetliner at Lexington, KY. The death toll was 49, the last I checked. Newspaper ledes indicate that the pilot mistakenly was on a runway that was too short for the aircraft to take off. I also noticed that there might have been a case of runway confusion at Louisville in the past. Plus there were temporary changes in taxiing routes put in place quite recently due to construction work that might have added to any intrinsic confusion there. I'm not a pilot, so what little I know of runways and taxiways comes from looking out the window next to my seat. What I see seems pretty confusing to me, especially at night when most of what's visible is different-colored lights. I have to assume that professional pilots can "read" the light patterns easily. I further assume that airline pilots carry airport charts along with route maps and other reference material. Taxiing appears to be the trickiest bit because taxiways tend to be defined more by paint and lights rather than by the surface material. A runway is pretty clearly a runway. At major airports, it's made of thick reinforced concrete, probably with grooves to help traction and drainage. Then there are those big white stripes marking the ends plus lots of black rubber marks (visible in daylight) that result from tire contact from landings. Runway ends also have large painted "names" such as L24 or R18 having to do with position and compass orientation. Things were simpler at the Los Cabos airport at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula last week when I was on a trip there. After flying along the west shore of the Sea of Cortez -- mostly desert -- we came to a greener area as we made our descent. Then the plane touched down. Wing spoilers were raised, thrust reversers were activated, brakes were applied, all as expected. When we reached the end of the runway, the plane edged over to the right side and then made a U-turn. Huh?? Then we taxied back down the runway we had just landed on -- all the way to the other end -- before turning off towards the passenger terminals. Two departing airliners were impatiently waiting for us to complete our taxi. Now, Los Cabos gets a fair amount of traffic thanks to the tourist trade. Yet the airport has just a simple landing strip set in the midst of brush and Saguaro cacti. No parallel taxiways. There is a reasonable amount of concrete near the terminals where loading and unloading take place. But there are no jetways, just stairs or ramps. This runway-only business certainly surprised me and created a mixed introduction to Los Cabos -- just how primitive is this place?!? On the other hand, the Louisville type of incident couldn't possibly have happened at Cabos. I suspect that some of you have had far... posted by Donald at August 28, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sassy Gals
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lex turns up a clip of a self-possessed flapper demonstrating some convincing jiu-jitsu moves. Talk about confident and self-reliant! * The Patriarch alerts us to Monkey in a Suit, the blog of a young female Indian lawyer. Talk about frank and funny! Sample passage: I do like to push buttons when it comes to my boyfriends. That's the risk with brown men. Deep down on the inside I do think they're consumate misogynists, dying to bust out a palm and whop their women upside the head, but at the same time I feel white men are running around clutching the bloody stumps where their dicks used to be. It's a veritable conundrum, with men stuck between a wilten cock and a shrunken nutsack. Gals who can look out for themselves are hot. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Film, Digital Video, Effects
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've made two minute-long YouTube digital video masterpieces (here and here) ... I've just watched "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," an all-digital fantasy spectacle from 2004 ... Why, it must be time for some Immense Thoughts about the nature of film and the nature of digital video! Quick version: Film. The upside: The results, even when awful in many respects, often have something of mystery and eros about them. The downside: As a process, traditional filmmaking is beyond cumbersome, intransigent, expensive, and remote. Digital video. The upside: As a process and a medium, it's relatively easy, inexpensive, and convenient. The downside: The results tend to the flat, the literal, and the charm-free. Film has poetry in it. As we stare ever deeper into the light, bewitched by the crystalline organic nature of the medium itself, the experience can be like staring into a lover's eyes, or having a religious vision. Incidentally, feel free to laugh at my little prose rhapsody. But this characteristic of film has been noted since the beginning of film history. It can also be worth remembering that -- however tacky a thing a bad movie can be -- the 20th century is probably more likely to be remembered as the era of movies than of any of the more lofty arts. It can be fun to muse a bit about what it was about movies that so fascinated so many for so long. Despite its irresistable attractions, digital video delivers nothing but information. It's bizarrely literal-minded, registering nothing but the empirical facts, and oblivious to auras and inner lights. You might say that it's an autistic medium. Laugh at the generalization -- but as moviemaking goes digital, these are some of the issues that cinematographers and manufacturers of cameras, etc., are actually wrestling with. Is video's flatness a consequence of its restricted lattitude? Will tape shot at 24 frames per second (ie., at film-speed) cast more of a spell than tape shot at 30 fps (the usual speed of videotaping)? Or perhaps digital video should just give up the quest to deliver more film-like results and try to be itself instead? Yet even there ... Well, what to make of the fact that, while film grain has properties that many people find arty and attractive, almost no one finds digital-video "noise" anything but headache-making? These are all lively and current debates. Film often seems to pick up the ineffable -- the core of Being. Looking closer, you enter (for better or worse, btw) into the Self, into love, into the nature of film itself. With digital-video ... Well, you harvest a lot of pixels, then bring the information into your computer and start playing with it there. A word about "Sky Captain": I didn't mind it. Like Robert Rodriguez's "Sin City," the live action was shot in HDTV entirely against green screens; backgrounds and surroundings were composited and painted in digitally after the fact. The film (written and... posted by Michael at August 28, 2006 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm on my way back from Los Cabos. This is being written at Nancy's house in California as I await heading to San Jose to catch my flight to Seattle. I'm not sure if anybody really gives a fig about this, but I think I need to keep folks informed about my increasingly spotty blogging. While at Cabo San Lucas, my new Apple MacBook semi-tanked on me. It partly boots and then shuts off. So it'll be a trip to the Apple store for it and me in a day or two. My phone at the apartment was due to be disconnected last Friday, so that will further cramp my work. And the Seattle house won't have phone or cable service till after we're back from Europe in early October. This means much of my blogging will be brief, Internet cafe type posts over the next six weeks or so. This frustrates me, but that's about the best I'll be able to do till I get re-established. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 27, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments