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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  1. Clip for the Day -- Shane and Co.
  2. Guys -- Who Picks Your Clothes?
  3. Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity
  4. Cont.
  5. Financial Tsunami
  6. Immigration Elsewhere
  7. Nine Heads Tall
  8. Clip for the Day
  9. Publishing Elsewhere
  10. Razib/Heather

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Saturday, January 6, 2007

Clip for the Day -- Shane and Co.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Though I was never a huge Pogues fan, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" is a song that really gets to me. Its exultant, "rip it up, then take it down in flames" spirit reminds me of what I loved about some punk music, and about some of the punk scene. What a kick it must have been for the young Irish to hear Irish folk sounds put to a punk beat (and then set fire to!) by such a ragtag, wasted, and talented band. Dig the filmmaking job on that video too. Does anybody know who made it? The cuts to the surging, ecstatic crowd are brilliantly timed and placed. The contrast between the intricacy of the music -- the fingerwork and the counterpoint -- and the power and the physicality of the emotions is heightened very cannily. And the moment near the end when lead singer Shane MacGowan points inquiringly at some people in the audience, gives them a thumbs-up, then returns to his performance with a devil's shriek seems touched by genius. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker couldn't improve on it. Whoever shot and cut the video also does a pretty effective job of disguising the fact that the music wasn't recorded live. Unless my ears are 'way off, that's the original studio-LP recording of the song. I mean, sure, you can tell that you're watching a visual montage set to a musical track. But for some reason you don't care. I didn't anyway. Confection that it is, the video feels more like a live performance than most live-performance videos do. Some telling details about the defiantly self-destructive MacGowan courtesy of Wikipedia: MacGowan got his first taste of fame when, in 1976 at a Clash concert, his earlobe was bitten off by a girl he had previously been kissing. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood and it made the papers, with the headline "Cannibalism At Clash Gig", turning him into a local punk legend ... He was introduced to alcohol at the age of five by his aunt on the promise he would not worship the devil; she also introduced him to cigarettes at the same time. MacGowan first tried whiskey when he was 10 and continued to drink heavily from that point on. And a classic back-at-ya from the ever-unrepentent Shane: "The British press have been giving me six months to live for the past twenty years." I suspect that Shane has used that particular line more than once ... Long ago, I wrote about (and recommended) a very moving Sarah Share documentary about Shane MacGowan called (you got it) "If I Should Fall From Grace." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 6, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, January 5, 2007

Guys -- Who Picks Your Clothes?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The biggest fashion faux pas for men is to let their wives select their clothes. So said ex-Gucci designer Tom Ford as interviewed in the 4 January Wall Street Journal's "Personal" section (see sidebar). He might have a point. I know a number of guys who hate -- no, make that loathe -- shopping, even (especially?) for themselves. I'm in the opposite camp. Although I can't say that I love shopping for myself (especially if I must buy a certain item for a special occasion), I never let other people buy clothing for me. That's because I'm really fussy. The last successful outsider purchase was a necktie my mother got me about a dozen years ago. And what about my wife? I'll ask her opinion regarding items I'm leaning towards buying, but where I'm not quite certain. A recent example was a waterproof hat. I don't usually wear hats with brims, so I checked with her to find out if I looked okay wearing it. I also check with her on items I'm more sure of to find out if she really hates the thing; if she hates something, she won't allow me to wear it when I'm with her. True, one could argue that she "selects" some of my clothing, but a more correct take is that what she does is veto, or "negatively select" -- I'm the one who does the initial screening. Okay guys. What about you? And gals -- are you the fashion arbiter for the husband / boyfriend? Fess up, everyone! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 5, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few visuals to kick this posting off: And something I wish I had a visual for but, well, it would have been awkward: Over the holidays, I noticed two pre-adolescent girls who -- in the company of adults giving every indication of being their parents -- were wearing stretchy-glittery terry workout clothes. Victoria's Secret leisure-wear, basically. Across the butt of one girl was stitched the word "Juicy." Across the butt of the other girl was stitched the word "Pink." (Note to oldies not in the fashion know: I'm pretty sure that "Juicy" refers to a popular girls' fashion outfit called Juicy Couture. It also, of course, suggests "ripe and appetizing." Note to youngsters who didn't live through the '70s and '80s: the word "Pink" can make oldies give a start because the word was once used to signify hardcore, or near-hardcore, pornography. An extreme sex magazine didn't show pictures of girls who were just naked. It "showed pink" -- ie., it displayed images of exposed vaginas and anuses.) Looking at these two girls, I had -- I confess it -- a brief moment when I found myself thinking about their pre-pubescent butts in sexual terms. Which is bizarre, because I've never had the slightest sexual interest in pre-pubescent girls. But with all those hotsy signifiers a-glow -- St. Tropez fabrics, look-at-me buttpatches, provocative words -- perhaps it wasn't really that bizarre. With "Juicy" and "Pink" twinkling at me, how could the carnal part of my mind not switch on? Repeat after me: What were their parents thinking? Speaking of which ... The New York Times' Lawrence Downes recently attended a middle-school talent show. (Link thanks to Rod Dreher.) And what Downes found himself witnessing were 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls doing half-clad, gyrating, booty-shaking imitations of the lascivious dancers in rock videos. Downes writes: What surprised me, though, was how completely parents of even younger girls seem to have gotten in step with society's march toward eroticized adolescence -- either willingly or through abject surrender. And if parents give up, what can a school do? The discussion topic I'm proposing is obvious, I hope: What do we make of how trashy, flashy, and vulgar popular culture has become these days? My own first contribution is a qualifier. I often enjoy vulgarity and funkiness. Back in his brief heyday, for instance, I was a fan and a defender of Andrew Dice Clay. I also like more in the way of flirtatiousness and mischief than many Americans seem comfortable with. What can I say? Affable sexual banter gives the day a sparkle, and it puts me in a good mood. My general attitude: Why not enjoy whatever it is life has to offer in the way of pleasure and delight? I mean, so long as it doesn't lead to personal collapse and social decay. So what makes me wince in the examples I provide above isn't the earthiness, the carnality, or the provocation. I'm... posted by Michael at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * After scaring yourself to death reading FvB's recent posting about government accounting adventures, why not treat yourself to a visit to Malcolm Gladwell's blog? Gladwell has published a piece in The New Yorker semi / kinda defending Enron's Skilling and Lay. On his blog, readers explain to him why he's mistaken. Even in modern accounting, it seems that some things are still right or wrong. Gladwell's attempts to defend his point do seem pretty weak, at least to these completely unqualified-to-judge eyes. Steve Sailer thinks that Gladwell's New Yorker editor should do a better job of making sure the playful, enthusiastic (and, to be fair, very talented) Gladwell is on firmer ground when he comes out with pieces that court controversy. * Visitors who got a kick out of taking and / or arguing with the BBC's "What Sex Is Your Brain?" test are in for a treat when they visit this site. EQSQ is an outfit that -- with the guidance of male-brain / female-brain / autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen -- has elaborated these tests much more extensively than the BBC has. Are you an girly empathizer or a macho-man systemizer? (Me, I am a love-air, not a fight-air.) EQSQ's Weekly Whims column offers much of substance, with a fun emphasis on female / male patterns and preferences. A funny few lines from Katrina Boydon: Call me prejudiced, but I want the most qualified (education and aptitude) team of scientists and engineers to design and build, for example, my child's car seat so that it is as safe as it possibly could be. I don't care if the team comprises men or women, but I definitely want four systemizers. If that means 3 men and one woman, so be it. But I want an empathizer to choose the upholstery. And EQSQ's official blogger is the ever-excellent (and apparently very busy) Tim Worstall, who also blogs at his own place here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Financial Tsunami
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, As I understand it, the first moment you can directly observe the arrival of a tsunami is when the water along the beach is sucked out to sea. This is the prelude to the imminent arrival of the killer wave, and signals the moment when sensible people run like hell for higher ground. Well, a tsunami of sorts is headed for American public finances. According to a story from last May which you can read here: Taxpayers owe more than a half million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers, a USA TODAY analysis shows. [emphasis added] The same story notes that these liabilities increased a mighty 20% over the past two years alone. Because government provides more than half the funding for the health care sector, a medical-demographic tidal wave of red ink is going to wash over public sector budgets during the next three decades. But this all sounds so abstract and remote, so much like the perpetual refrain of death and taxes, that it is hard to take it seriously. It seems like worrying about a tsunami on a calm sunny day at the shore. However, by looking closely (at the public sector) we can begin to see the water running out to sea right under our feet. The same story continues, rather understatedly: Pension and retiree medical benefits for civil servants and military personnel are more generous than those for private sector workers. But government has not set aside as much money as private companies to pay the costs. [emphasis added] Say what? I read several newspapers every day and my impression was that private companies (at least some big unionized ones like GM, Ford and a bunch of utilities) have created a serious risk that they will need to be bailed out by the Feds by seriously underfunding their retirement plans over the past 15 years. I confess I had never given much thought to what the public sector was up to in this regard. The notion that the public sector as a whole was not up to private sector standards was rather unnerving. But hey, who takes what USA Today says seriously, right? But six months later I almost spit my morning Diet Coke out when I read a story on this same topic in my home town rag, the San Fernando Valley Daily News. Apparently, those zany accountants who oversee Generally Accepted Accounting Principles have thrown a monkey wrench into the otherwise smooth-running machinery of public borrowing. They have put in a nasty new financial reporting requirement for government bodies. To wit, that such organizations have to estimate and report the size of their unfunded liabilities for employee retirement pensions and health care benefits. The results, according to the Daily News on December 18, 2006, will not be very pretty, at least in California: SACRAMENTO - Already grappling with spiraling annual health costs, some... posted by Friedrich at January 4, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Immigration Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * "People should know that the border has been taken hostage by the cartels," says a Texas police officer. "So many officials try to cover up what's going on. Why? I guess they don't want the public to know the truth." Meanwhile, Mexican drug cartels are fighting each other for control of sections of the border with bazookas, grenades, and torture. "Silver or lead," says a man at a hotel bar in Laredo. "That's the code in Mexico. Either you pay up or you're killed." * One of the benefits we're reaping from our current immigration policies: a dramatic uptick in drunken driving. Try Googling "drunk driving" and "illegal immigrant" (or variations on same), and you'll find a wealth of articles like these. Would anyone care to explain to the relatives and friends of the people killed by these drunken illegals what the immense and urgent benefits of our current immigration policies are? Lower strawberry prices and lawncare costs? * Poor black Americans seem to be taking much of the brunt of our current immigration policies. And won't that help them get over their feelings of bitterness and alienation about how America treats black people ... Best, Michael UPDATE: "Illegal immigrants planning to cross the desert and enter the US on foot are to be given hand-held satellite devices by the Mexican authorities to ensure they arrive safely," reports the Telegraph.... posted by Michael at January 3, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Nine Heads Tall
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some commercial art careers are like meteors -- a brief streak of brilliance followed by ... nothing. Most commercial artists toil in the obscurity of the big side of the 20-80 rule, at best finding local notoriety. That prospect and a distinct lack of talent led me, after college, to totally different fields. For those on the 20 side of the split (actually more like the 2 side of a 2-98 "rule"), the best and likely worst thing that can happen is to become fashionable. The artist will earn buckets of money. He'll exhibit the distinctive style that viewers expect from him. Eventually his audience will tire of his schtick, commissions will dry up and he'll be fortunate if he didn't spend all those bucks he used to earn. John Held, Jr. was a "meteor." Famed for his "flapper" cartoons of the 1920s Jazz Age, his career slumped dramatically in the 30s and beyond. Not so the career of another flapper-monger, Russell Patterson (1893-1977). "Short skirts went out, long skirts came in. John couldn't draw long skirts so Russell Patterson took his work away from him." So said Al Hirschfeld. I had largely forgotten about Patterson in recent years (though I was familiar with his work) and was pleasantly surprised when I spied the following book at the downtown Seattle Barnes & Noble. (An oddity: I found links to an Amazon listing via Google, but could not locate it using Amazon's search tool.) Patterson was born in Iowa, raised in Canada, studied art for a while in Chicago and Paris, and at age 30 found himself doing commercial art drudge work while flopping as a Fine Artist. Seeing the success of Held and other cartoonists and recalling a certain Parisian model, he used her as the prototype for a different take on flapperdom. Success was rapid and long-term -- continuing at a high level for 20 years before tapering off in the 50s and early 60s. Long-term success in commercial art usually requires adjusting to stylistic modes. In Patterson's case, he switched from using pens for line-work to the brushwork that seemed nearly universal in the late 30s and into the 40s. One thing that didn't change was his subject-matter -- leggy women. His approach was to stretch the female form to 8 1/2 or 9 heads tall from the normal 7 1/2 or so -- proportions typically used by fashion illustrators. Another Patterson trait was using blocks of black to aid composition, tying the bits tighter. This was aided by the fact that, in the 20s, men often dressed in formal wear -- their dark clothing serving as the binder. I couldn't find a really good example on the Web that was shaggable, so here is a link to a picture associated with many dire warnings dealing with copyrights. True, Russell Patterson's work isn't in the same class as etchings by Duerer or Rembrandt. But I like his stuff. It's fun!! Gallery Patterson... posted by Donald at January 2, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Clip for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's only a little over a minute long. But, good lord: It's Louis, with Barney Bigard on clarinet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Earl Hines on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass, and Sid Catlett on drums. Giants really did once roam the earth. That may be "traditional" jazz but it's sure some far-out stuff. The song is the immortal "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." I recall a funny passage in Josef Skvorecky's "The Bass Saxophone" (highly recommended, btw) where Skvorecky -- recalling his youth as a young jazz fan in Prague -- does a literal translation of the song's title and tries to figure out what the phrase "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" might mean. "Looking for dinner," perhaps? Many thanks for the thousandth time to heroic YouTube uploader Bob Erwig. Bob's own website, which I've only just begun to explore, is here. Bob cuts loose on his own cornet here. Lovers of traditional jazz won't want to deny themselves the pleasure of reading Philip Larkin's wonderful "All What Jazz," one of my favorite volumes of criticism. Who says that reactionary can't also be brilliant, appreciative, knowledgeable, and insightful? Larkin gets in some swipes at bop and post-bop too. Justifed or not, they're pretty funny. Best, while snuffling away tears of happiness, Michael... posted by Michael at January 2, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Publishing Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael Hyatt explains some of the reasons why all bestseller lists are inaccurate. I wrote about the ins and outs of bestseller lists myself back here. I'm pleased to see that Michael thinks, as I do, that the best of the bestseller lists is the one compiled by USA Today. If you want to see what America is really buying, go there, not to the NYTimes. Michael shows what an even better bestseller list might look like here. (Link thanks to Joe Wikert.) * Richard Curtis -- not just one of the smartest agents I've ever met but one of the smartest people in publishing generally -- thinks that print-on-demand might save the publishing industry. * Thanks to Ed Gorman for turning up this good North Coast Journal article by Jay Herzog about the super-resourceful Stark House Press. Let's hear it for publishers like Stark House. Jay Herzog, a very interesting guy, blogs here. Fun to see that Jay's as big a fan of Sister Rosetta Tharpe as I am. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 2, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, January 1, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- GNXP's Razib interviews Heather Mac Donald -- clear thinker, tough gal, brainiac, and (IMHO) major cutiepie. One thing that makes Heather my kind of intellectual is her willingness to admit that she doesn't know everything, let alone have all the answers. Isn't that a refreshing change from the usual? Incidentally: What a coup for GNXP. And take that, mainstream media outlets. Don't you wish real-live magazines and newspapers would do things like gab with Heather Mac Donald? I wonder why they don't. Are the conventional media terrified of ideas? Are they just completely unresourceful? Once again, thank heavens for entrepreneurial bloggers. Journalism may need Razib more than science does. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 1, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Donald Pittenger writes Dear Blowhards -- * Cruising by the remainder shelves at Barnes & Noble recently, I spotted an historical atlas. No, no -- not an antique atlas, but an atlas with maps showing where the Scythians lived and neat stuff like that. I love such maps. (Lord knows where the cartographers got the boundary data, the nomadic Scythians not being noted as great bureaucrats: The poor souls probably didn't even have a Census Bureau, let alone digitized geographic files.) But that's not my point. The atlas I saw had lots of color pictures along with the expected maps. I have mixed feelings about illustrated atlases. My tendency is to be a map-purist -- just the maps, ma'am. Yet I also see the need to plonk in pictures to ease the path of users who are very young or otherwise have a lot of ignorance regarding history or geography. Moreover, real antique illustrated atlases can be pretty fascinating because the pictures show what places looked like 100 years ago or whenever. [Pause for reconsideration] Nuts to those wishy-washy thoughts I just expressed! Atlases are for maps. There are plenty of sources (current and historical) for pictures and other information about distant lands. * Here's hoping you all spent New Year's Eve in a satisfying way. For many years I simply went to bed early, perhaps in reaction to youthful disappointments from Eves that failed to live up to being The Greatest Party Ever With A Fantastic Date At My Side. That also reduced exposure to highway mayhem from alcohol-fuelled drivers. Nancy likes to party, so lately I've been staying up past my bedtime to do some New Year hailing. For 2006, we were at the Royal Hawaiian's outdoor cocktail bar. Last night the venue was Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. And the event was a concert featuring Doc Severinsen, best-known for his ultra-long gig as Johnny Carson's Late Show bandleader. After Carson retired, Severinsen kept up band-leading and branched out into conducting "pops" concerts for regional symphony orchestras, including Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Last night's concert, where Doc did double-duty as conductor and featured trumpet player, featured works by Strauss, Jr. along with medleys of Ellington and Gershwin. Oh, and Louis Prima's "Sing Sing Sing" as the finale. Severinsen turned 79 last July and admitted at the conclusion of the show that he'd be retiring in the near future. Nevertheless, he was wildly dressed as usual and played a pretty mean trumpet. Great show. I was halfway expecting the audience to be somehow different from the usual symphony crowd. But no, attendees looked about the same as they did in my previous visits to Benaroya so I can't accuse them of being classical music snobs even though more than a few looked the part. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 1, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, December 31, 2006

D.A. Justice
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- About time! Steve Sailer notes a, er, peculiar gap in Slate's list of the 10 Most Outrageous Civil Liberties Violations of 2006. James Fulford links to a satisfyingly droll Mary Katherine Ham video about the Duke case. Hey, why not donate a few bucks (or, even better, some serious cash) to the Steve Sailer writing fund? In the last five years Steve has done approximately a thousand times more in the way of groundbreaking journalism than the entire staff of the New York Times has. He doesn't have a mainstream post to rely on, though, and can use some financial help. Let's help keep those Sailer articles coming. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2006 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What sex is your brain? Disappointingly -- I was hoping for some kind of revelation, I guess -- my brain scores smack in the middle of the scale, neither particularly male nor particularly female. A few of my subscores did make me laugh a bit at myself, though. I'm surprisingly good at matching line-angles and at rotating objects in space, both apparently male-engineer-type aptitudes, as well as ones I'd have thought I was a disaster at, given my aversion to all things math and abstract. And I'm considerably better than even most women at verbalizing and at empathizing. Ladies, bring me your feelings; you know who loves ya. (And who loves to gab about it too.) Meanwhile, I have no visible interest in (let alone talent for) investigating how systems work. Ah, so that's why I didn't wind up in engineering ... Some interesting facts from the BBC test-givers: Did you know that, on average, women use 15,000 words a day while men use 7,000? Women took about twice as long as men to end their online instant messenging conversations in a 2003 study of US university students. The study, which was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, also found that women were much more likely to use emoticons (representations of emotions using punctuation marks). The most popular emoticon was the smiley face :- ) However girly I can be, at least I don't use smileys. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2006 | perma-link | (14) comments

Miss Nevada No Longer
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Katie Rees has had her Miss Nevada 2007 title taken away from her. Evidently Katie's taste for uninhibited partying has proven a little too much for the pageant's organizers. NSFW evidence here. Question for the day: Given how common flashing thong and playing tonsil hockey with other chix has become, where on earth is the pageant going to find its future contestants? Best Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2006 | perma-link | (12) comments