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  1. Long-Distance Driving
  2. Are YouTube's Wild West Days Coming to an End?
  3. Quantities and Overlords
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  5. Advertising to Kids
  6. A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Five
  7. A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Four
  8. A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Three
  9. A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Two
  10. A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day One

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Long-Distance Driving
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I drove 900 miles. Plus or minus 10 or so. It was from central California to Seattle averaging 60 miles per hour, including all stops, until I hit the Portland Friday afternoon commute and was reduced to a crawl. Total time was 16 1/2 hours, but if it had been a Saturday I would have missed the commute traffic and might have made the trip in 15 hours. I don't much mind long-distance driving, but other people hate it. My wife hates it. My father was ready to throw in the sponge after six hours behind the wheel. I've lost track of how many times I've driven between Washington and California. But I do know how many times I've driven between West Coast places such as Seattle or San Francisco and East Coast locales such as Albany and Philadelphia. Twenty times. All of that took place between 1965 and 1982. Nowadays I normally fly if the trip is more than 400 miles or so. Why did I do it at all, let alone so many times? Some of it had to do with fear of flying; until my children were born, I was a sweaty-palms flyer. Another factor was cost. In the days before deregulation, flying generally was expensive and my budget was limited, especially in the late 60s when I was in grad school. In at least four cases I drove because I was moving between coasts and had to transport my car as well as possessions. Thanks to the Interstate highway system drives of 500 and more miles a day are fairly easy for many drivers. At the 60 mph pace I maintained the first ten hours of Friday's trip I could have reached New York City in three 16-hour driving days. Things were tougher when I did most of my transcontinental driving. When I made my first trip in 1965 I was able to use toll freeways such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike for much of my driving east of Chicago. Farther west the Interstate system was pretty sketchy, but growing year by year. Because new Interstate mileage was being rolled out annually, I found myself buying a new road atlas each year to keep up. I recall spending hours planning trips -- looking at alternative routes in order to to find the optimal low-driving-time solution. A typical transcontinental trip would take me four, sometimes five days. In the 60s I was held back by having to share two-lane U.S. highways with trucks, travel trailers and other items that slowed things down. By the 70s, the freeway system was largely complete, but then the post-1973 55 mph speed limit kicked in. The difference between driving 55 and 70 matters little on trips of an hour or two. But on, say, a ten-hour driving day that 15 mph translates into 150 fewer miles covered. My experience is that the limiting factors for a driving day are hours driven and how difficult the... posted by Donald at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Are YouTube's Wild West Days Coming to an End?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The pruning has begun. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (0) comments

Quantities and Overlords
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dean Baker thinks that fears of slowing population growth are misguided. Nice line: It is silly to talk of threats of declining populations due to voluntary decisions by people not to have children. Any impact of rising dependency ratios on living standards can be easily offset by productivity growth. I like Dean's emphasis on the voluntary-ness of those decisions. By letting our overlords scare us into thinking that we're doing something that needs fixing, aren't we in effect letting them do what they so love to do -- top-downishly dictate our destinies? Why on earth should we let them get away with such a blatant power-grab? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen lists five economic policies he'd like to see put into effect. * Lex (and visitors) celebrate J-Pop. * So this is the way these things work ... * James Panero is flabbergasted by a dimwitted review of Jacob Collins' brilliant new show. * How do any teen boys make it through to adulthood? And then, when they do ... * Coming soon: Laser-lit TVs. * Al Minns and Leon James demonstrate how the Charleston was danced. * Social networks are shrinking and men may be suffering most. DadTalk offers some ways guys can increase the number of their male buds. My favorite: "Grill burgers or steaks ... and just wait. Men will smell the smoke and find their way to you." Testosterone says, Smoke is good! * Kirsten Mortensen muses beguilingly about why so many people want to write. * Bill Kauffman celebrates the Western novelist Elmer Kelton. * Bookgasm's Allan Mott shows a fun and appropriate way to write about movie books. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Advertising to Kids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A New York Times piece about a study indicating that junk-food and fast-food advertising is all over programming for children, even on PBS, has got me mulling over a poli-sci puzzler -- or maybe just a practical-politics question -- that has long interested me. Namely: What to do (if anything) about regulating advertising that's aimed at kids? I find the topic fascinating because I find myself endorsing both sides of the debate. They both make a lot of good points. On the one hand, my anti-nanny-state, less-interference-is-better, wary-of-slippery-slopes temperament is always inclined to let chips fall as they may. I'm deeply convinced that, where government action is concerned, the best policy 90% of the time is to do nothing. I'm on the look-out for candidates who will un-do and deep-six bad laws and regulations, not heap up new ones. Not only that, kids need to get used to life in a rough and dynamic market society. How are they going to make their way if they don't develop instincts and toughness? It's good for kids not to be over-coddled, dammit. Besides, we have a long history in this country of crafting expensive regulations and establishing expensive regulatory bodies, then watching system after system be captured by the industries they're meant to regulate. How many times do we want to watch this disheartening process occur? And how much money are we eager to chuck down black holes? On the other hand ... Well, kids aren't yet complete human beings. They're manipulable, dependent, unformed, and vulnerable (qualities that help explain why advertisers love 'em so). For that reason we give children protection of many kinds. So it isn't as though we don't already, and uncontroversially, put a lot of guard rails around childhood. And, practically speaking, young people these days, eh? I run into tons of young adults whose brains seem to contain nothing but TV cliches and TV catch-phrases. Spending childhood years in front of the boob tube really does seem to addle and jangle, if not actually destroy, the ability to think clearly and independently. It also clearly promotes a topsy-turvy value system, one in which advertising values reign philosophically supreme, and one that leaves the kids who internalize this attitude judging real life from the point of view of the world portrayed in TV ads. "What's wrong with real life," they seem to wonder, "that it isn't as shiney, poppy, clever, and energized as a TV ad?" They really can't figure this one out, and the last thing they'd consider doing is abandoning their much-loved TV-ad value-system. After all, it provides so much in the way of excitement, temptation, beauty, and stimulation! As far as they're concerned, the TV-ad value-system isn't the problem, and their own devotion to it isn't either. Life is the problem; life needs fixing. This isn't just a bizarre attitude. It's an alarming one. So I'm not sure where I come down on the question (hence my fascination with... posted by Michael at October 21, 2006 | perma-link | (15) comments

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Five
Michael Blowhard writes: It's Day Five of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards. I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Let me also recommend a couple of Kauffman resources that have turned up as these interviews have been running. An intelligent Caleb Stegall review of Kauffman's "Look Homeward, America" can be read here. Clark Stooksbury provides a discerning review of "Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette" here. Lee at Verbum Ipsum is level-headed yet sympathetic about "Look Homeward, America." And, for all those New York City partisans out there, here's a Kauffman essay about the city -- found, as you might imagine, by the wonderful Dave Lull. Part One of our interview with Bill is here. Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here. Now, on to Part Five, the final part of our interview. *** A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Five Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel 2B: So you think our involvement in WWII was a mistake too? BK: As for WWII, my sympathies are with the America First Committee and more generally the Middle American isolationists who wanted to stay out of the war, as they would want to stay out of any foreign war. They said we'd get a draft, curtailed civil liberties, confiscatory taxes, and a greatly enlarged centralized state that would never return to an appropriate size. They were right. The demonization of the AFC, which with 800,000 members was the largest antiwar movement in our history, is a crime. No one, outside the most noxious propagandists, regarded it as anything but wholesome at the time. Hell, its founding members included Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver, and Potter Stewart. Young John F. Kennedy sent in a check for $100. Its sympathizers ranged across the American spectrum: Sinclair Lewis, Norman Thomas, Edmund Wilson, Alice Roosevelt Longworth ... a long and honorable list. Eighty percent of Americans opposed involvement in the war as late as fall 1941. But you see, in the United States of Armaments we always go back and paint villain's mustaches on the antiwar side. The losers in historical debates either get flushed down the memory hole or demonized beyond recognition. Peace is patriotic. That's not a simpleminded slogan, it's the truth. The antiwar folks in '40-41 had seen how the First World War had trashed civil liberties, centralized economic and political power, fed a mass culture of conformity and obedience, and pissed all over traditional American liberties. War is the health of the state, in the great aphorism of Randolph Bourne. As it was the health of the state in WWII. That war -- like other wars -- did incalculable damage on the homefront: it served to uproot Americans, to separate them from their homeplaces, often for good, to destroy healthy manifestations of local culture, to intensify the industrialization of our country, to kill the vital spirit of local, human-scale democracy. The antiwar people were in no way, shape, or form pro-Hitler. They understood him... posted by Michael at October 20, 2006 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Four
Michael Blowhard writes: It's Day Four of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards. I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Let me also recommend a couple of Kauffman resources that have turned up as these interviews have been running. An intelligent and appreciative Caleb Stegall review of Kauffman's "Look Homeward, America" can be read here. And, for all those New York City partisans out there, here's a Kauffman essay about the city -- found, as you might imagine, by the wonderful Dave Lull. Part One of our interview with Bill is here. Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Now, on to Part Four. *** A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Four Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel 2Blowhards: How do people of the left receive you? People of the right? I notice that, although you're a Democrat, you mostly publish in rightie outlets. Bill Kauffman: I have a strong libertarian streak, and when I started writing for magazines in the mid-'80s the right had at least an ancestral memory of liberty. Many of the postwar political writers I admire were on the "right": Robert Nisbet, Murray Rothbard, the Michigan master of the ghost story, Russell Kirk. My work has appeared now and then on the left -- Utne Reader, The Nation, In These Times, The Independent of London -- but more often on the right. In the '90s I wrote frequently for Chronicles and Liberty; of late I've written up secessionist Vermonters and George McGovern and Frank Bryan, the great interpreter of town meeting democracy, for The American Conservative. The problem is so much of the DC-NYC right is bought off by the GOP and the neocons. A lot of the older cons are secretly antiwar but they long ago lost their voices, not to mention their balls. Loose lips bring pink slips. I still have friends on the right and publish, quite happily, in their journals, but what attracted me to the right 25 years ago -- its capaciousness, the willingness to entertain dissident views -- has vanished. I have friends on the left, too -- I spoke recently at Paul Buhle's "Antiwar Patriots Day" at Brown, and I'm very sympathetic to the decentralist wing of the Green Party. Mailer calls himself a "left conservative." I know just what he means. I am for place, family, liberty, peace. Is that right or left? 2B: Your version of U.S. history is nothing if not unorthodox. It sure wasn't what I was taught in school. How did you develop that? BK: "So let us think about the people who lost," said William Appleman Williams. That's what I do. I had a lost year once which wound up being fruitful. After I'd left Moynihan's office I rode the Hound to Salt Lake City. Lodged in a flophouse, wrote derivative poetry, thought on things. Then I came back for an ill-starred year in grad school at the University of Rochester. I was in the political science department... posted by Michael at October 19, 2006 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Three
Michael Blowhard writes: It's Day Three of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards. I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Part One of our interview with Bill is here. Part Two is here. Now, on to Part Three. *** A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Three Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel 2B: Why did you abandon fast-lane, big-city life? Was there a specific moment or event that made you pull the trigger? BK: I'd always wanted to go home. Life anywhere but in my natal place seemed fugitive, evanescent, meaningless. I don't mean that as a knock on other places; if I were native to them, I'd be in their thrall. But you play the hand you're dealt. I don't believe in "rising above" your origins -- without at least one foot on the ground you'll go floating off into the empty realm of global citizenship. I need anchorage. Mooring. Plus I despise modern urban architecture: in its scale and characterlessness it is intended to make people feel dwarfed, insignificant, powerless. But I guess it took my wife, an LA girl, to bring me back home. Lucine and I married in May 1987. Went to Salem on our honeymoon -- spitting in the face of augury? She laid her bouquet at Jack Kerouac's grave in Lowell. "He honored life." Great epitaph. We lived in DC for a while but finally I convinced her to join me in a "one-year experiment" in repatriation. A year to be measured in Old Testament terms, it seems. Nineteen years later I figure we've just passed Washington's Birthday. Or "President's Day," in post-republic zombiespeak. 'Course now we live five miles north of Batavia in Elba -- apt address for an exile! The Onion Capital of the World. Lucine is Town Supervisor. With Deukmejian on the sidelines in California she may be the highest-ranking elected Armenian-American official in America. At least until California sends Cher to the U.S. Senate. As First Man, I'm more Pat Nixon than Hillary Clinton. My advice is limited to urging her to be the first elected Republican to call for Bush's impeachment. 2B: How did your stay in big cities and your experiences with real-life politics affect your views of politics? I turn off politics and politicians generally. "Fuck 'em all, and let's vote for the least-bad" -- that's all I come up with. You seem to have maintained a more nuanced view of the field and of politicians generally. BK: Well, on the proper attitude toward politicians I'm of two -- or five, or 20 -- minds. Hey, I contain multitudes. I'm of the "fuck 'em" school, in part. Like Edward Abbey, I grow more radical with age. I still curse, execrate, and maledict the bastards as I read about them in the paper. (Hah -- that last line reminds me of something Thomas Wolfe once wrote: "I do not believe the writing to be wordy, prolix, or redundant.") National figures who exist mostly as... posted by Michael at October 18, 2006 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Two
Michael Blowhard writes: It's Day Two of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards. I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Part One of our interview with Bill is here. Now on to Part Two. *** A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day Two Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel 2Blowhards: What kind of a kid were you, and what led you to venture out of Western NY? I'm not a political person, but I can imagine that if you find politics intoxicating you might want to head to the big city. Bill Kauffman: l loved baseball and reading and football and astronomy. I grew up a block from Dwyer Stadium, home of the Batavia Trojans (now Muckdogs) of the oldest continuously operating Class A baseball league. 'Twas in my blood. We had lots of kids in the neighborhood and my brother and I and the gang would play ball from dawn to dusk. My parents were (are) terrific; my relatives all lived nearby. So I always had an intense attachment to Batavia. My dad used to point out the significance of spots that to outsiders would seem humdrum. That's where the town whore lived. That's where Donny Bosseler (Batavia's greatest athlete, later a Washington Redskin) used to practice. That's where a guy hanged himself. So I grew up with a sense that Batavia was a place of mystery, repository of every story you could hope to tell. It wasn't just a launching pad. I did leave home, though like Jack Kerouac I have always been homesick. Upon graduating from the University of Rochester I went to work as a research assistant and later legislative assistant for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, about whom I have written with an occasionally admiring ambivalence. Though Moynihan was rude to underlings -- an unforgivable offense; there is no bigger asshole than the sort of personal-parking-space executive who yells at the secretary, is there? -- he was not an oozing sac of liberal cliches in the way that Ted Kennedy was. And his staff was filled with bright, amiable folks. I enjoyed my two and a half years in the employ of the Senatron, but if I entered a liberal with a rural populist streak I left an anarchist. Still am 23 years later. (Though I'd also confess to being a Jeffersonian, a decentralist, a localist, a cultural regionalist.) Moynihan, by the way, was the only statewide politician in years to understand Upstate. He claimed to be the Senate's only dairy farmer, though I can't really see him at 4:45 a.m. squat on the stool coaxing milk from Bessie. That his seat is now occupied by the carpetbagging militarist Hillary Clinton is a disgrace. She has blood on her talons. 2B: What was the big-city, glam-job world like to you? Early in my life in NYC I had drinks with a young woman, a NYC native. We were swapping the usual biographical stories. When I revealed where I grew up she said, "Of... posted by Michael at October 17, 2006 | perma-link | (18) comments

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day One
Michael Blowhard writes: It's Day One of Bill Kauffman Week here at 2Blowhards. I introduced the political writer Bill Kauffman in a recent posting. Now, on to the interview itself. *** A Week With Bill Kauffman, Day One Bill Kauffman, photographed by daughter Gretel 2Blowhards: How far back do you and your people go in Western NY? How did they wind up there? Bill Kauffman: I'm a typical American mongrel. My English forbears came to God's country on neither the Mayflower nor a Mayflower moving van. They were farmers who settled around Churchville in the dim mists of time. (Speaking of Churchville -- I digress the way other men blink -- my wife, the lovely and long-suffering Lucine, was roped into coaching the Batavia High basketball cheerleaders a few years ago. BHS is the Blue Devils, a colorless French-derived militaristic nickname that we and 1,200 other schools ought to drop tootsweet. When BHS played the Churchville-Chili Saints, Lucine's girls chanted "Go Devils! Beat the Saints!" A chill ran down my superstitious Catholic back.) Anyway, the Kauffmans came to Batavia from Germany in the mid-19th century. Fought for the Union. John Kauffman, my great-grandfather, ran one of the first garages in town. The Garraghans, my Irish line, left the emerald isle in the 1880s. And the Stellas, responsible for my Italian quadroonhood, came over from Asiago to Lime Rock at the eastern edge of Genesee County circa 1900. As my 93-year-old grandmother, Mary Stella Baker, says, we're Northern Italian -- almost Swiss. So I ain't DAR and I ain't FOB. 2B: What kind of regional identity does Western New York have? I'm often surprised by how well people from the area understand each other, for instance, in terms of humor and political points of view. Your combo of isolationism, regionalism, humor, modesty, rambunctiousness, etc -- I suspect many people would find it a hodge-podge. But it makes a lot of instinctive sense to me. BK: Yeah, well, we're homeboys, right? We speak the secret Upstate code. So many parts of our country have faded into the Great American Nothingness, and Western NY is no exception. Television, school consolidation, the dislocations of empire, the fetish we make of "success" (which is often determined by mobility: the farther one moves from home the better one is thought to have done) -- we've been ravaged by the usual villains. But we retain a history, customs, accent, even sins all our own. The forces of homogenization, which is to say the forces of evil -- Dick Cheney, the "Vagina Monologues," Taco Bell, Katie Couric, the Department of Homeland Security -- have yet to entirely replace unpasteurized cider, volunteer fire departments, New York-Penn League baseball, and the front-porch anarchism that has animated such Western NY patriots as the Wyoming County abolitionists, novelist John Gardner, and the rural folk who kept the despised Mario Cuomo from siting a radioactive waste dump in lovely sylvan (and cash-poor) Allegany County. (Speaking of that sanctimonious bully, can you believe his... posted by Michael at October 16, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments