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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Alpha Psy
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Econ, philosophy, cog-sci, anthropology -- whee! Fans of the above combo will want to become regulars at Alpha-Psy, a smokin' and very civilized new interdisciplinary-brainiacs' blog that never forgets that culture is part of the human mix. (Found via GNXP.) Aesthetics and taste: you can run from 'em, but try as you may you'll never manage to hide from 'em. Alpha Psy's Olivier points to this good Nova segment about "mirror neurons," for example. Science, eh? On the one hand: Scientists discover empathy -- as though no one else ever knew about it before. Yawn. On the other ... Well, the implications for culturebuffs are pretty exciting. As V.S. Ramachandran, one of the segment's interviewees (and a fully-accredited 2Blowhards intellectual hero) says, "A lot of culture seems to have to do with imitation." After all, feeling what someone else is feeling is, to some extent, a matter of imitation. (I'd add that the imagination is probably involved here too.) But here's the question that occurs to me: In the light of this statement, what remains of the modernist obsession with originality? Although the preoccupation with originality is these days commonly thought to have everything to do with creativity, perhaps it actually erodes the functions (empathy, imitation) upon which culture normally depends. So perhaps the originality-fixation is anything but creativity- and culture-promoting. Perhaps it's actually destructive. Which reminds me of a wonderful quote from Leon Krier: "As is the case with all good things in life -- love, good manners, language, cooking -- personal creativity [by which Krier means self-expressive originality] is required only rarely." I loved this book by V.S. Ramachandran. This one, too. This book by Leon Krier struck me as pure genius. Check out the excellent Amazon review of it by our pal Nikos Salingaros. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, September 29, 2006

Screencasts Online
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Mac devotees in search of tips and guidance will want to check out Screencasts Online, Don McAllister's very helpful and generous site. Don offers numerous free videos (in formats suitable for the desktop and for iPods) on Mac topics: iWeb, RapidWeaver, the Dock, etc. Sign up for a membership and enjoy further benefits. I've watched a number of Don's movies and I'm a more proficient Mac user for having done so. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 29, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Agnostic on Men's Fashions
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Agnostic takes up the fashion challenge and demos some slick getups for modern guys. "Finding a Third Way between Liberace-ness and dullness isn't impossible," he writes. Let's hope! I'm not sure about the sweatervest -- I'm never sure about sweatervests, to be honest. But I think the black-t-shirt-and-black-pants combo is a definite keeper. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

1000 Words -- Coffee-house Culture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not the first observer of the web and of blogdom to be reminded of the 17th and 18th century coffee-house. "It's open! And everyone is having a say!" -- the parallels between now and then are striking. Even so, I haven't yet run across a brief blog-intro to coffee-house culture. What was this coffee-house phenomenon about anyway? Introduced to Europe in the 1600s, coffee took the continent by storm, and coffee-houses sprang up in many major cities. The caffeine high contributed to the fervor, of course, but the historical moment (which can be seen as a transitional era between the Renaissance and the modern world) was important too. The aristocracy was beginning to lose its grip; the middle-class was a-borning and wanted to stretch its wings. Wikipedia, for instance, calls the Paris coffee-houses "a major locus of the French Enlightenment." Nowhere did coffee-mania hit as hard as London, where the city's first coffee-house was opened in 1652. Within a couple of decades, coffee-houses had become the centers of London social life -- and that's "social" as in business, politics, art, and crime. By the mid-1700s, there were 550 coffee houses in the city. Wives complained that hubbies were spending too much time at the coffee-houses. (Women weren't allowed in them.) Coffee-house-going became so popular that for a time Islamic styles of dress and fashion became a fad. Established authority figures had bouts of paranoia about the coffee-houses. Surely conspiracies and other seditious doin's were being hatched there! What in fact was taking place in most of them was vigorous conversation. Partly thanks to the caffeine, it was an extraverted, dynamic time. People were out and about, learning how to be sociable. They were comparing notes and trying out ideas; there were deals to be made. The birth of modern English-language publishing was intimately bound up with coffee-house culture. Pamphlets, newsletters, and early periodicals (such as The Guardian and The Spectator) were distributed largely to and through the coffee-houses, and the writers and editors treated the goings-on at coffee-houses as part of their subject matter. Did you realize that the modern short story, British division, has its roots in the unsigned, semi-disguised nonfiction accounts run in these publications? That's right: "The short story," today often thought of as a super-specialized, la-de-dah form, is a direct descendent of the 17th and 18th century equivalent of Page Six. (Good lord: Anal-sex guru Tristan Taormina is Thomas Pynchon's niece!) Different coffee-houses attracted different kinds of crowds. The scientists of the Royal Society met at The Graecian. Other coffee-houses were patronized mainly by politicians; there were Whig coffee-houses and Tory coffee-houses. Still other coffee-houses attracted businessmen -- Lloyd's of London had its birth at Lloyd's Coffee-house. Says one source: "It was in such coffee-houses as Lloyd's, Garraway's, and Jonathan's that Britain's modern business institutions spent their infancy and that the foundation was laid which would lead them towards ascendancy in world commerce in the nineteenth century." Arty types... posted by Michael at September 28, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Nobel season is upon us, notices Derek Lowe. According to Derek, the smart money thinks it's a race between the green fluorescent protein folks and the organometallic crowd. * The only two movies Rachel has ever walked out on were arty sex films. That's my favorite genre! * Geeks in need of a few tips about how to approach girls might want to schedule a session with these folks. * Lewis Beale thinks it's too bad there aren't more hot-Jewish-dude roles, but celebrates what he thinks is an era of Hot Jewish Babes. * It seems that the Photoshopped-together ad parody is one of the premier art forms of the 21st century. * Reid Farmer testifies that, when encountered in sufficiently large numbers, bats smell like wet, dirty dogs. * Rod Lott can't play chess worth a damn, but he loves reading about the game. * Lynne Kiesling shares some wisdom about tea bags. * Is there a difference any longer between a pop show and a porn video? * I loved the reasons Cowtown Pattie gives for being a blogger. My favorite line in her posting: "Some of us are waiting for that big catch, but most of us just enjoy the fishing." That's for double-sure. * Being a Baptist is hell on the waistline. * Searchie decides that Crocs are beautiful after all. * Digital photos aren't going to yellow or fall apart. What does that mean for memory? asks Nate Davis. * Asiatown77 -- who has been around -- shares some national stereotypes with us less-traveled sorts. * On the road in the Southwest, Claire snaps some nifty shots of the spectacular Arches National Park. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 28, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

More on Immigration and Poverty
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I linked yesterday to a Steve Sailer article about a new George Borjas study linking immigration and economic inequality. Today's immigration and poverty facts come from a recent column by Robert Samuelson: The inflow of poor Hispanic immigrants, along with their (often) American-born children, has increased poverty. From 1995 to 2005, the rise in the number of Hispanics in poverty -- by 794,000 -- more than accounted for the entire increase in America's poverty population. Poverty among blacks, though still high, declined. Among non-Hispanic whites, it held roughly steady. Health-insurance coverage has also been affected. Since 1995, Hispanics account for about 78% of the increase in the uninsured ... [People] who support lax immigration policies across our Southern border should understand that these policies deepen American inequality. Call me blockheaded, call me unsophisticated, tell me I just don't get it. But I remain convinced that one of the easiest steps we could take to reduce both our poverty problems and our un-health-insured problems would be to reduce illegal immigration. Best, Michael UPDATE: From a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies: Between 2000 and 2005, the number of young (16 to 34) native-born men who were employed declined by 1.7 million; at the same time, the number of new male immigrant workers increased by 1.9 million ... It appears that employers are substituting new immigrant workers for young native-born workers ... The increased hiring of new immigrant workers also has been accompanied by important changes in the structure of labor markets and employer-employee relationships. Fewer new workers, especially private-sector wage and salary workers, are ending up on the formal payrolls of employers, where they would be covered by unemployment insurance, health insurance, and worker protections.... posted by Michael at September 28, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Andy and Me and Joe and Don
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you make it through the recent Ric Burns / PBS documentary about Andy Warhol? What a logy and dismal piece of filmmaking. Pacing-wise, Ric Burns makes Ken Burns look like an action-adventure specialist. And the apparatus that PBS loads on top of so many of their prestige documentaries drives me nuts. The mournful music is a particular annoyance. That noodling solo piano (or solo violin) seems meant to convey, "When did America go so wrong?" In "Andy Warhol," two hours passed before music with a discernable beat could be heard in the background -- and this in a film whose subject was a fantastically successful '60s pop artist. The surfeit of pointless, standard-issue PBS verbiage about what it means to be an American can drive me up a wall too. Warhol, you'll be shocked to learn, was "the most American of artists." In him and in his work, "we see ourselves." Actually I was too stunned by the banality of the narration -- delivered in the most banal way by Laurie Anderson -- to rush to my notebook to transcribe passages verbatim. Trust me, though: They were worse than anything you or I could invent on our own. (Long ago -- here and here -- I had some fun at the expense of what I called "the church of PBS.") But, y'know, documentaries ... Real subject matter, decent footage, interesting interviews, etc. I stuck the film out, all four hours of it. Although I've never been drawn to Warhol's work (rather the opposite), I did live through the '60s and '70s -- and what the hell was all that about? (Not as settled a question as it's sometimes made out to be!) Also, watching the film, it dawned on me that Andy and I have our own little history together. At college in the '70s, one of my suitemates was an arty Warhol worshipper. He painted affectless paintings; he spoke in a light, flat, odd voice; and he had a posse of outrageously camp friends from New York City -- he ran his own mini-Factory, in other words. In the '80s, The Wife and I did some writing for Warhol's Interview magazine. We've been to the Warhol Museum. I've read "Edie," as well as a couple of Warhol's own books, and I've gone through many essays about his work. I've watched a few of the movies and seen many of the paintings. The Wife and I live about six blocks from where Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas. As the credits on the PBS show came up, it didn't come as a total surprise to learn that one of the film's producers is someone I know, if in a very-long-ago sort of way. So, although I'm not a fan and I'm not a scholar either, and though I never encountered Warhol in the flesh, Andy and I have some history together. Interesting! If -- given what a smalltown hetero rube I am at... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (23) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ah, the NSFW fantasy lives of geeks ... * Francis Morrone is as unenthusiastic about glass boxes -- whether of the old-fashioned straight-sided kind or the new-fangled crumpled-up kind -- as I am. In a recent posting, Francis celebrates a handsome and very solid New Classical concert hall that has recently opened in Nashville. I'm sold. Designed by David M. Schwartz (well-known for his Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth), the Nashville concert hall is likely to look as good and to work as well in 100 years as it does now. * E.F. ("Small is Beautiful") Schumacher thought that our preoccupation with GNP (as GDP was then called) did damage to many other values. * David Chute is saving up his nickels in order to buy this beautiful-looking boxed DVD set. Shameful filmbuff confession: I've never seen "Judex." * Could the Muslim slave trade in Christians have exceeded the Atlantic slave trade in Africans? "The effect on the European coastal populations was dramatic," writes John Derbyshire. "Entire areas were depopulated." * 2Blowhards' very own "Confessions of a Naked Model" columnist Molly Crabapple is now on YouTube. And ain't she cute! * Ernst Poulson samples the newest versions of e-paper, and concludes that it'll be a few years yet until e-paper is a plausible product for everyday consumers. * Steve Sailer takes a look at George Borjas' new study of the impact of our current immigration policies on the fortunes of our working-class and poor population. Edward Rubenstein argues that our nutty current immigration policies don't just hurt the poor, they also contribute to growing inequality. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (5) comments

Best-Of Vids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's a nice resource: someone's list of the Best of Google Video. No webcam pole-dancers, no laser pointer/kitty clips, and no skateboard crashes, just real brain fodder -- Richard Dawkins, Amartya Sen, Milton Friedman, and Richard Feynman, among others. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Visual Memory
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Good lord: Talk about a visual savant! The wonderfully-gifted autistic Londoner Stephen Wiltshire is taken for a helicopter ride over Rome, and is then asked to draw what he saw. One helicopter ride over Rome! All I'd have come away with is a wowed general impression, wobbly knees, and a hunger for some good Italian food ... Here's Stephen Wiltshire's website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 27, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, September 25, 2006

Pedal Pushers X 3
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It was warm in midtown the other day, and danged if I didn't spot a trio of pedal-pusher-wearin' young American boys. (And yes, your faithful reporter did make a point of walking past these kids and listening to their voices and accents ...) Will this look still be with us next year? Will it perhaps be even more widespread? Ladies: What do you think of this get-up? Best, Michael UPDATE: Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal is a pedal-pushin' fashion leader.... posted by Michael at September 25, 2006 | perma-link | (25) comments