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  1. Screens Everywhere (Cont.)
  2. An Episode of Subway Panhandling that I Wouldn't Find Annoying
  3. Bagatelles (Year-End Cheapo Visual Version)
  4. DVD Journal: "Writer of O"
  5. Some Un-Stylish French (Airplanes)
  6. Alley Oop, Mon Semblable, Or At Least Mon Frere
  7. DVD Journal: "Bukowski -- Born Into this"
  8. Not All Suburbs Are Alike
  9. Houses and Technology

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Screens Everywhere (Cont.)
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a posting not long ago, Donald bemoaned the way that TVs are becoming more and more common in public places. I'm 150% with Donald on this point. It isn't just that TV screens (and bad music and bad radio) are well-nigh impossible to avoid at many bus stations and airports these days. In New York City, where I live, it's even worse: TVs are beginning to appear in elevators and on sidewalks. Are some people so terrified of boredom that they need distraction via CNN while on the elevator? And out on the streets ... Where once you'd see a poster (over the entry to a subway, for instance), that space is now sometimes taken by a flickering video screen beaming advertisements. Is this fair? After all, there's little that can more perfectly exploit our innate tendency to look around in alarm than a flickering, beaming light. Now comes the sad news that TVs will soon be installed in New York City taxicabs. To my mind, the whole thing raises a variety of interesting econ / poli-sci questions about choice and freedom. To riff on one such: Although I'm grateful that that the option to turn the cab-TVs off will be available, cab riders won't be able to avoid encountering cab-TVs in the first place. The creation of one chioce-set (TV on or off) will completely eliminate another choice-possibility (avoiding TV entirely). How do econ textbooks cover this very common development? Small prediction: However free we'll be to interact with the new cab-TVs, one choice that won't be available will be the one I'd most prefer -- to pull the damn thing out by its wiring, dump it out the cab's window, and enjoy watching it shatter into smithereens. Here's a fascinating bit of info from the article I linked to: An earlier experiment with TVs in NYC cabs didn't go well. Taxi Commission polling revealed that most people were either indifferent to or downright hostile to the presence of TVs in cabs. Yet the upshot is that we're going to have TVs in cabs. Is the New York City Taxi Commission now in bed with the TV industry? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 23, 2006 | perma-link | (4) comments

An Episode of Subway Panhandling that I Wouldn't Find Annoying
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nine out of ten subway performers annoy me. I despise feeling like a donation is being coerced out of me; I'd simply prefer to kill the time in peace and quiet. But here's one interruption I wouldn't mind enduring. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 23, 2006 | perma-link | (11) comments

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bagatelles (Year-End Cheapo Visual Version)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here it is -- Late December -- and I figure a third-rate amateur writer such as this Blowhard can do no better than to imitate the practices of real professionals in the magazine trade at this time of year. That is, goof off and slap together a quickie with lotsa pix and negligible verbiage to keep the insatiable editorial "hole" filled with content. So here goes... Gallery: Cityscape Morning in the city. Skyscrapers... Boulevards... Grass... Funny sign with hand -- tee hee... Hmm. The building to the right sorta leans, doesn't it? ... Skyscrapers again, as seen from exterior elevator. (Yawn)... Yikes!!! What's this? Its ... its ... a Stalin-era wedding-cake skyscraper! Where are we? Why in Warsaw, of course. Didn't you notice that the words next to the Coca-Cola sign in the second picture were in Polish? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 21, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments

DVD Journal: "Writer of O"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Pola Rapaport's "Writer of O" -- a documentary about Dominique Aury, the Frenchwoman who, under the pseudonym Pauline Reage, wrote the 1954 erotic classic "Story of O" -- is a much more peculiar affair than the Bukowski documentary I wrote about recently. Peppered with filmmaker autobiography and staged tableaux vivants, it's part chic performance piece itself. And, even at its most straightforward, it maintains a tragic and solemn tone that suggests a collaboration between Ken Burns and Pina Bausch. Still, I found the story of Dominique Aury fascinating, and I'm glad to have watched the film. Are you familiar with the novel? Or with the meta-story about the novel? Those who are may want to skip the next few paragraphs. As for the novel, "Story of O" is about a young woman fashion photographer. Identified only as O, she's taken by her boyfriend to a mysterious chateau outside Paris where she is bound, beaten, and used, until -- it's presumed -- she becomes more truly herself. Or does she? On its publication, the book became an immediate bestseller and scandale. It won a French literary prize while at the same time being the object of obscenity charges. (Ah, the French, so much more comfy with paradoxes than we are ...) There are obvious reasons why this should have been the case, of course: sex, sex, and more sex. But there were more subtle reasons for the worldwide fascination with the novel too. (The novel has sold millions of copies and has never been out of print.) One was the way the precise, clinical, "objective" language contrasted with and brought out the vulgarity, brutality, and subjectivity of the experiences portrayed. Another was a simple sociological fact: The novel wasn't just the usual sex-book thing -- a sweaty tale for lonely guys to jerk off over. It had sophistication, style, and content, if of a hard-to-nail-down kind. It was also embraced and celebrated by modern women, who -- as far as da boyz could gather -- saw much of themselves in it. And what was the book's purpose anyway? Is O -- who is at every moment free to cast off her chains -- determined to prove her love? Or perhaps her boyfriend, in submitting her to these trials, is proving his love for her? Is the author arguing that masochism is at the heart of female sexuality? Perhaps. Yet there's no question that, despite her tribulations, O is in charge of her fate as well as the center of her own universe. It would have been hard in any case to persuade the crowds of dynamic women who loved the novel that they were identifying with weakness. Feminists were understandably baffled by the whole affair. Should they celebrate the woman author's triumph, and the way O managed to be both her own subject and object? But there was that awkward bit about the heroine being repeatedly beaten and violated ... Even the main character's name... posted by Michael at December 21, 2006 | perma-link | (22) comments

Some Un-Stylish French (Airplanes)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The French are known for style, non? And do they sometimes make the stylish faux pas? Mais oui!! Even the French are human. When their sense of style collides with demands of la logique, strange things might happen. And did, when it came to military aircraft they built in the early-mid 1930s. Admittedly the period from roughly 1928-36 was one of rapid transition for military aircraft designers in the most advanced countries. The typical 1927 fighter or bomber didn't look much different from 1917 Great War equivalents. Prototypes flying in 1937 heralded the sleek, powerful aircraft that fought in the first years of World War 2 and later. The Americans made the transition relatively smoothly. And I'd say that the Germans did too -- except that they didn't have an (official) air arm until 1935, after Hitler took power. Regardless, most of their mid-30s designs were better than the average for the times. The French look bad in part because their procurement process dragged longer than it should have. Like the Italians, they entered World War 2 with a lot of obsolescent and even obsolete aircraft. Another procurement-related problem had to do with the type specifications laid down by the army and (later) the air force. A noteworthy peculiarity was the multiplace de combat type -- an aircraft with a four-man crew that was supposed to perform the roles of (1) bombardment, (2) reconnaissance and (3) fighter combat. Resulting planes could manage the first two tasks, but were totally unsuitable for the last. By the end of World War 2 it became clear that if a bomber-recce-fighter was required, you had to start with a fighter and tack on bits such as bomb racks and cameras to do the trick. Gallery Handley Page H.P.50 Heyford. Setting the stage... This British bomber was ordered in 1928 and first flew in 1930. Heyfords were in service from 1933 to 1939, thus missing the war. They were considered "night bombers" and presumably needed to worry about flak, but not enemy fighters. At any rate, they were even more ugly than the following French designs. (But the English weren't renowned for chic in those days -- at least compared to the French.) Amiot 143M. A multiplace do combat built in response to a 1928 army specification. The prototype 140 (in the French numbering system, the final digit represents sequential subtypes of the basic model) first flew in 1931. Production was ordered in late 1933, the first delivery was in 1935, production continued into 1937 and 143s saw combat in 1939-40: keep these dates in mind for comparison. If you imagine away the fixed landing gear and observation bin on the forward underside of the aircraft, the Amiot 143M does not seem so archaic as it does in its entirety. But those features are there, so the plane is an ugly, clumsy beast. Farman F.222. The Farman 220 series comes from a 1929 night bomber specification. The first flight... posted by Donald at December 21, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Alley Oop, Mon Semblable, Or At Least Mon Frere
Michael Blowhard writes; Dear Blowhards -- The long-awaited paper by Greg Cochran and John Hawks arguing that it's likely we did the nasty with (and picked up some useful genes from) Neanderthals is now online. Was this the event that triggered the cultural Big Bang of 30-40,000ish years ago? You can download a PDF of the paper from this page. (Link via GNXP and Steve Sailer.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2006 | perma-link | (13) comments

DVD Journal: "Bukowski -- Born Into this"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The biggest surprise of John Dullaghan's excellent documentary "Bukowski -- Born Into This" is that Charles Bukowski appears to have been not-all-that-bad a guy. He was certainly capable of self-centeredness, misbehavior and testiness; he did his share of brawling; and the camera does catch one awful moment when Bukowski works up an abusive head of steam towards his wife. God knows that, for much of his life, Bukowski was one seedy, sad, and lower-depths figure. But most of what we see and hear suggests that Bukowski was a hyper-talented, go-it-his-own-way writer who -- despite the booze -- remained about as true to his muse as a writer can be. Friends show up from Bukowski's childhood, and from his years at the Post Office -- people who knew him when he was trying to get published and from after he'd become a cult star. They testify that he liked booze, that he was devoted to art, and that he worked on his writing really, really hard. That wife Bukowski mistreated? She tells the filmmakers that she never let her husband get away with crap like that again. Good for her, of course -- but good for Bukowski for taking it and shaping up too. Given how autobiographical much of Bukowski's fiction is, the film doesn't supply a lot of surprises. The fun and interest is in meeting and seeing the man himself, his haunts, and his people. Bukowski, who died in 1994 at the age of 73, was born in Europe, arrived in America in Baltimore, and grew up in L.A. His parents were strict, working-class Europeans; if Bukowski is to be believed, his father doled out numerous vicious beatings to his son. Young Hank suffered from horrendous adolescent acne, dropped out of college, wrote a bit, then bummed around the country, doing odd jobs and living a rooming-house kind of life. With his scarred face and his lousy education, he didn't exactly have his pick of the dames and the jobs. In the 1950s he returned to L.A. and took a job at the U.S. Post Office. A near-fatal case of bleeding ulcers seems to have turned him around. After recovering, Bukowski began writing poetry and trying to publish fiction. Still at the Post Office, he became a regional small-press regular. By the late 1960s, his reputation had grown a little. Among the people wowed by Bukowski's writing was John Martin, a businessman in the process of becoming a publisher. Martin felt that Bukowski was the real thing, a writer whose work would last for centuries, and he arranged to give Bukowski $100 a month, enough to enable Bukowski to quit the Post Office and write full-time. Bukowski, already 49 years old, delivered his first novel to Martin in less than a month. By the mid and late '70s, Bukowski had become near-legendary, especially on the west coast. Poets, actors, filmmakers, and writers revered him. His public readings were mobbed. Sexy chix were suddenly... posted by Michael at December 19, 2006 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, December 18, 2006

Not All Suburbs Are Alike
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- During our semi-regular yaks here about urbanism, sprawl, suburbs, and towns, it's likely that many of us allow stereotypical images to dominate in our minds. I know I do. For instance, where the 'burbs are concerned: Kris writes in to remind us that reality ain't always so simple, and to share a few snapshots of what the living is like in Carefree, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix: Kris informs me that the beastie in photo #4 is a bobcat. (!) A few more eloquent words from Kris: I'm an urban escapee, retooling my thoughts in the aloneness of dry mountains. I can't imagine serious thinking in a city. Cities turn thoughts inward, or toward human society/culture. Here, where the horizon expands, I ponder my future, the beneficence of God, love, what I'm going to write next, etc. You know, biggies. Many thanks to Kris for the lovely pix, as well as for the valuable corrective Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2006 | perma-link | (8) comments

Houses and Technology
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our Seattle house has been without power for 3 1/2 days and it might be another day or two before electricity gets restored. Last Thursday evening Seattle got one of those hellacious windstorms that come around every 15-30 years. More than a million people were affected as trees fell across power lines and transformers got zapped. Unlike some parts of the country, our storms come in the fall and winter, so it's fairly cold -- 30 degrees yesterday morning and 34 when I made my Starbucks run at 6:30 this morning. Fortunately, most days have been above-freezing. Nevertheless, given Newton and his entropy, the inside of the house eventually will reach the temperature on the outside. At least we've been able to stay with friends and family, so matters are simply inconvenient and no suffering is involved. And I now have food for thought -- my thought being that electricity-age houses are poorly equipped indeed for dealing with winter power outages. Until the early 20th century, most houses were designed for woodfire heat. They were multi-story, rooms were small and often had fireplaces or, better yet, Franklin stoves. Post-1950 ranch-style houses are horizontal in format and might even lack a fireplace. (I'm not a fireplace fan. The non-circulating types send most heat up the chimney. Once the fire is finished, you have to keep the flue open till the coals have burnt out, and that sucks a lot more heat outside. The benefits are more psychological than material in my opinion.) Perhaps the so-called "green" houses are better than ranch houses when power fails. But I suspect that almost any house built since, say, 1920 is ill-suited for power-out conditions unless special precautions (auxiliary generators, Franklin stoves) are taken. Modern technology-based civilization has many strengths, And weak-points. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 18, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments