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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, May 25, 2007

Digital Organizers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've raved before about Yojimbo, a junk-drawer / database for the Mac that helps me keep my desk and mind a little clearer than they'd otherwise be. If such a program sounds good but you don't have $39 to spare, why not download and try xPad instead? It's similar (if, for me anyway, a little less intuitive to use), and it's free. Related: I recommended some new (or newish) writing-suite programs here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Alan Little reports that he has been getting a lot out of using Mori.... posted by Michael at May 25, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * There's more good health news for tea drinkers. * Prairie Mary has been mulling over Donald's recent posting (and the contributions made to the commentsfest) about sermons and poverty. * Thomas Sowell takes apart the claim that high levels of unskilled immigration are economically necessary. Great passage: "What can we do with the 12 million people already here illegally?" is the question asked by amnesty supporters. We can stop them from becoming 40 million or 50 million, the way 3 million illegals became 12 million after the previous amnesty. * Martin Hutchinson thinks that the proposed Bush-Kennedy immigration bill will have the effect of turning the U.S. into something like Brazil. Think "elites hidden behind walls" and "a teeming servant and under-class." * Today's Arab youth want music they can relate to -- which seems to mean pop music, Arab-style. * For research chemist Derek Lowe, Steely Dan is right near the top. Derek's always-worth-checking-out blog is here. * Fred Himebaugh -- who has had the inspired idea of creating a sci-fi opera -- is using Google Notebook as a way to organize his hunches and ideas. * I don't have any trouble with the idea of shutting down the World Bank, do you? Neither does Marginal Revolution guest-blogger Kevin Grier. * The Fat Guy links to some pick-me-up music vids. Great Scott line: "Maybe I'll buy a Telecaster and whip everyone's ass with my horrid playing. I'm old enough, and I sure don't care." * Quiet Bubble bravely takes in a hard-to-watch but rewarding Stan Brakhage movie. * Chris Dillow wonders why politicians and economists so often arrive at different solutions to the same problems. * Bluewyvern links to a lot of beautiful photography, and supplies a lot of apt language describing the work as well. * ReelPop turns up a perfectly amazing dice-art video. What I want to know is: Who are the maniacs who make these things, anyway? * Dr. Deleto describes how he started to lose his passion for modernist art. * Alan Kellogg has been thinking about homo floresiensis. * "I never knew a guitar could do that," writes Stuart Buck, linking to some YouTube videos of guitarist Kazuhito Yamashita. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 25, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Grade Well or Test Well: Some Results
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are those who consistently get top-notch grade averages in school or college. Then there are those who have a knack for doing very well on ability or achievement tests -- the SAT, GRE, etc. There can be overlap between these groups, but perhaps not as much as one might think. Even more interesting is the question of how far people in each group progress in the degree-chase, one possible test of what smart people do with their abilities. Well, I've got some evidence. It falls into the realm of anecdote rather than science, but I found it interesting nevertheless. First, some background. My 50th high school reunion is coming up in September and one of the projects related to the event was the publication of a 148-page book about the class by a retired Geography professor (a class member) with the help of several other interested members. Among the items it contains is a table with information on the 11 students with the highest grade averages and another table with information on the 13 Merit Scholarship finalists the class produced. That is, data on the two groups mentioned above. By the way, 13 is a lot of Merit Scholarship finalists for one school. But for Seattle's Roosevelt High back in the pre-bussing 1950s it wasn't that big a deal: the classes of 1956 and 1957 jointly produced 20 or more finalists and because of that got a mention in Time magazine. I should add that classes were in the 650-700 student range in those days. Plus, the school's attendance area took in some upper-middle or upper class neighborhoods where parents were college professors and business owners (think the Nordstrom family and the Gates family -- Bill's sisters attended Roosevelt many years after I graduated). In a word, lots of kids and lots of smart ones, too. And what do the data show? The overlap between the two groups was three people. Seven of the 11 high-GPA people were female. Ten of the 13 Merit Scholarship finalists were male. Only one high-GPA student received a doctorate. Five Merit Scholarship finalists got Ph.D. degrees. The one high-GPA Ph.D. was also a Merit Scholarship finalist. All in the high-GPA group graduated from college, but only five earned higher degrees (MA, MS, JD, etc.). Five of the Merit Scholarship finalists completed their educations at the bachelors level. One Merit Scholarship finalist did not graduate from college. He dropped out of Cal Tech to become a successful professional bridge player. As I said, my evidence is anecdotal in the extreme. Moreover, it deals with a generation that got its higher education in the late 50s and the 1960s. I'm just passing this along for fun. But for what it's worth, I find it interesting that those in my class who earned doctorates clearly were more likely to come from the group that tested well rather than the group that got good grades. Also note the differences that seem... posted by Donald at May 23, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Quality of Life Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Sales of organic foods rose 22% from 2005 to 2006. Hmmm: That would seem to indicate that there's a lot of underserved demand for organic food. Remind anyone else of the New Urbanism? And wouldn't it be lovely if our housing market were as responsive to customer preferences as our food market is? * Firebrand James Kunstler spends a weekend in Philly with the New Urbanism crowd. Here's the gathering's official website. * Is the Slow Food phenomenon nothing but elitist silliness? (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) I blogged about the Slow movement here and here. * Here's a gasp-inducing collection of images from a 1971 Sears catalogue. Lordy, but that's a lot of ugly. (Link thanks to Plep.) * With camera in hand, Steve Patterson has been checking out midwestern cities. He casts a perceptive and knowledgeable eye over St. Joseph, Missouri; Shenandoah, Iowa; Salina, Kansas, and others. * Cartoonist Tom Hart returns from France with some apt observations on French life. Example: "The middle class life there is unbelievably gracious ... They have a solid, direct and painless relationship with food and time, something that stresses out most Americans." Mock 'em as we may, the French do "quality of life" awfully well. * Why aren't American cities as bicycle-friendly as Copenhagen is? (Link thanks to Richard Layman.) Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Chris White for pointing out a well-done and informative Christopher Shea article. In setting the context for the new-style (ie., Michael Pollan-esque) food writing that we're seeing so much of these days, Shea does a good job of explaining how we arrived at this point. Key historical passage, as far as I'm concerned: The roots of the organic and local-foods movements are more intertwined with the spread of good cooking than we usually think. As American food industrialized over the course of the twentieth century (bringing such taste sensations as Miracle Whip and Crisco), immigrant chefs with impeccable culinary taste maintained oases of fresh ingredients, carefully prepared, in bistros and restaurants. Some Americans, like a young James Beard in the 1930s, drew connections between those chefs' close attention to their ingredients and their relationships with farmers, and the kind of home cooking their own mothers had done. During the heyday of the counterculture, a second generation of foodies pushed American food in an even more local direction. Alice Waters, who recruited her neighbors in Berkeley to grow greens for her restaurant, Chez Panisse (founded in 1971), is the best-known example. Other countercultural Californians headed north from San Francisco into towns like Bolinas to start organic farms, while restaurants like San Francisco's Greens and Ithaca's Moosewood imported a slice of that off-the-grid sensibility to city dwellers. Still, the organic movement remained fringe, and people who cooked with local ingredients were praised largely for their food, not their politics.... posted by Michael at May 23, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

More Jane Jacobs
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's an interview with the great Jane Jacobs that I just stumbled across. Although it's a conversation about mundane-seeming stuff -- the city of Buffalo and its plans to build a convention center -- it got my head vibrating in wonderful ways. Typical passage: INTERVIEWER: If these developments have to arise out of the efforts of individual innovators, what role can the government play in promoting the right sort of conditions to enable that? JACOBS: The government often needs to remove barriers of one sort or another, and certainly not destroy these things. That was the great tragedy of urban renewal, that so much was destroyed, and lots of cities simply haven't recovered from it. It's taken New York a long time to recover. It's healing itself now, New York City. Newark, not at all yet. Cities can destroy themselves beyond a point of no return, if they just become inert and dumb. INTERVIEWER: By trying to copy ideas from elsewhere rather than building on what's unique about them and growing their own ideas? JACOBS: And valuing the ideas of their own people. Small hint for those who have yet to wake up to the fun of thinking about cities: Cities equal consciousness, writ on a very big scale. Which means that when someone as insightful as Jacobs is talking about convention centers and neighborhoods, she's also being a philosopher of mind. And a tart and down-to-earth one she was: Reading this interview, you'll get a taste for how Jacobs saw cities and economies as evolved, organic things. (You may also get a sense of how exciting what was once thought of as "ecological thinking" can be.) Jacobs is forever setting her subjects in larger contexts -- yet she does so without resorting to religion. Not that I have anything against resorting to religion, of course. I wrote an appreciation of Jane Jacobs back here. Zompist does a first-class job of explicating Jacobs' vision of cities and economies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 23, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Borjas is Blogging
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Harvard economist George Borjas, who has spent a lot of time looking at our current immigration policy's effects on wages, has just started blogging. (Link thanks to Tyler Cowen.) His evaluation of the Bush-Kennedy proposal: "No bill is better than this bill. To paraphrase Woody Allen, this bill is 'a travesty of a mockery of a sham'." And a nice line about Teddy Kennedy's disgraceful record: "In the private sector, this kind of track record would probably make Senator Kennedy an inviting target for all kinds of malpractice lawsuits." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 22, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Immigration Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Some wise words from traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb, prompted by our current immigration disaster-in-the-making: The reasons for the difference of outlook [between the people and their rulers on immigration] are evident ... The people value the ties that make them a people and believe the country should be run for their benefit. Ruling elites in contrast are concerned with the power and efficiency of governing institutions, the status and security of those who run them, and maintenance of the liberal principles that support and justify their rule. It is in their interest to expand the human resources available to them, even at the expense of those who are already citizens, and weaken the ties that make it possible for the people to resist rational management and act somewhat independently. Also, they prefer cooperating with members of the ruling class in other countries to representing the interests of their constituents. * The leftist publication Mother Jones calls the Kennedy-Bush immigration bill "a turkey." (Link thanks to Kirsten Mortensen.) * Paleocon Steve Sailer quotes some more wise words, these from Harvard immigration specialist George Borjas. * It takes progressive leftie Dean Baker all of two sentences to destroy the claim that we need high levels of immigration in order to fill low-skill jobs. Dean: "If we have a labor shortage, then we should see rising wages. In fact, in most of the jobs where the country supposedly has labor shortages, wages are stagnant or falling." * Rightie Thomas Sowell offers some perspective. Unfortunately, what perspective alerts us to is anything but good news. OK, can we please now be done with thinking of our immigration question as a left-right issue? Best, Michael UPDATE: Rod Dreher says a lot in the following passage: It is clear to me that neither the Democratic nor the Republican party has the will or the intention to enforce the immigration laws as they exist. It does seem that the system is stacked against homeowners, who are effectively powerless. And for whom can they vote to change matters? Nobody. Nobody now, anyway. All you can do is pick up and move, severing bonds of community and friendship, all because business interests and ethnic activists and the government don't give a rat's rear end. This is not going to end pretty, I fear. You cannot tell people that they have to be prepared to abandon their homes because the government is unwilling or unable to enforce the law against illegal immigration, and expect them to sit back and take it forever.... posted by Michael at May 22, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Monday, May 21, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lesbians are twice as likely to be obese as straight women, a new study finds. (Link thanks to Miss Carniverous.) * Those provoked by Donald's recent posting about sermons and poverty might enjoy a look at this Robert Rector analysis of the latest poverty figures. * Bookgasm's Rodd Lott visits a used-books-and-remainders store in Austin, TX. * Emmalina has a couple of questions for you. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 21, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Meet Ed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ed Gorman has a tasty-sounding new mystery out. Haven't read it myself, but the reliable Bruce Grossman is enthusiastic. Ed Gorman runs a feisty, companionable, and smart blog here. Don't miss recent Ed postings about a couple of legendary gal fiction-writers: Margaret Millar and Marijane Meaker (aka Vin Packer). This posting about the haunting and poetic David Goodis is a special gem. Great Ed line: "The physical settings may change but usually you have the same man -- i.e., David Goodis -- trying to survive being himself for at least another twenty-four hours." Now that's some first-class literary criticism. Recently, Ed ran a two-part article about the amazing Charles Williams by Ed Lynskey: here and here. Lynsky reports in his excellent piece that, for Maxim Jakubowski, Charles Williams is "an American classic," and that, for Max Alan Collins, Williams is "the best-kept secret in ... noir fiction." I'll second and third those opinions. I raved about Charles Williams myself not so long ago. This may be nothing but gratuitous point-scoring on my part, but I can't resist mentioning that, while it isn't unusual to run into sweet-natured and big-hearted people in the crime-fiction field, I've run into much less in the way of generosity and directness during my explorations of the literary world. Best, Michael UPDATE: In the Prospect, Julian Gough asks "what's wrong with the modern literary novel?" (Link thanks to ALD.) For Gough, the answer has to do with writers' tendency to overemphasize the tragic vision at the expense of the comic vision. My own small contribution to this discussion: Perhaps it also comes down to goals and personalities. Writers of narrative (and genre) fiction are generally trying to craft accessible and rewarding entertainments that can be enjoyed by regular folks, while many creators of lit fiction are doing their best to show off for an audience of editors, critics, profs, and other lit-fict authors.... posted by Michael at May 21, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Why Read?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There I was not so long ago, flying Business class on American. (Thank you, Frequent Flyer miles.) Cruising altitude had been attained. I was leaning back, about to settle into the book I'd brought along, when a steward-person held out one of these to me: It took me a few seconds to make sense of what was was being proposed. My steward-person was wheeling a cart laden with a number of these devices, each one zipped into its own little gizmo-bag. The machines had hard drives loaded with movies, TV shows, and music. In other words: We ritzy biz-class types were being offered the chance to use a snazzy media device for the duration of our flight. Looking around warily -- surely there was a catch -- I accepted the gizmo and plugged it in. The device proved friendly enough; dimwitted me was able to find my bearings quickly. Wariness now allayed, I set my book aside and started surfing programs, music, and movies. I found watching a movie on the device to be a surprisingly satisfying experience. I'm film snob enough that I never, ever watch a movie on an airplane. I find the watery, dim, poorly-aimed video image that front-of-the-cabin airplane screens offer an affront. On this little gizmo, though ... Well, its six-ish inch screen was bright and clear, and the sound was luscious. There was no hope of being ravished by the kind of dreamy hugeness and engulfing hyperreality that actual movies offer, of course. Still, the film's moods came across, the framing was razor-sharp, and the performances were more-than-adequately conveyed. And the suit-yourself intimacy of the device was its own major plus. I loved being able to surf, start, stop, pause, and rewind as I saw fit. No passengers walked between me and the gizmo's screen. The gizmo was as convenient to use and as eager to please as the book that I'd stowed away and forgotten about. One final factor made the device seem plausible: It felt semi-important to me that the gizmo wasn't a mere DVD player, but that it instead contained a library of various media offerings. There was no need to exit the device's thought-space in order to fumble around with something physical, like a disc. Being able to select from among a bunch of already-in-there media options made me want to get to know the device a lot better. As you might be able to tell from my lousy photos, the device is about the same size as a modest hardcover book. Even so, handling it isn't quite the unself-conscious thing that handling a book is. The device is considerably heavier than a book, for one thing. For another, despite its ironclad chunkiness it still feels breakable. Maybe that's partly a function of having a screen; maybe it's also partly a function of me knowing that there's a spinning hard drive inside. (You can feel the battery heat up and the hard drive whirr... posted by Michael at May 21, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Money-Grubbing Surveys
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I can't remember if I ranted about this sort of thing before. But I don't care: I'm steamin'. What I'm unhappy with is an item I recently got in the mail. Above the address window were the words "CENSUS DOCUMENT CN-1217 RECIPIENT." Huh? Ain't no Federal census till 2010 -- that's one memory from my demographer days that hasn't totally faded. Inside the envelope were two items, one a four-page cover letter, the other a folded four-page "Free Speech Census" survey form tacked together by a "security seal" that's supposed to indicate whether or not the "census schedule" had been tampered with (the horror!). At the upper-right corner of the form was a bloc "CN USE ONLY" with fill-in lines for "Date Rec," "Rec by" and "Auth Code." Authorization code? -- who are they kidding? It's eyewash intended to make naiïve readers think this is a Big Deal. Below that it another bloc containing a "Registration #" and "Voting District Code." The latter was PMCC507, which strikes me as being arbitrary; it doesn't correspond to any geographical coding system I'm aware of. The next item down was the following statement, typographical format as shown: This official census is registered in the name above and is protected under seal. All census documents must be accounted for upon completion of this crucial project. If you choose not to participate in this survey, please return this document in the enclosed envelope at once. If your security tab was altered in any way, please make that indication in the box in the upper left-hand corner of this page. Good grief. The BS is overflowing my computer and soiling the rug. A census is an attempt to get a complete count of something. This is no census. As best I can tell, I got it because a magazine I subscribe to probably rented its mailing list. And I have no idea what's meant by the word "official" -- it's manifestly not governmental because the organization behind it is something called College Network, Inc. The survey items are largely "push" questions intended to get the respondent fired up over issues rather than to actually get information. Here are a few "questions"; 7. Professor Ward Churchill claims that those murdered in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks were not innocent victims. Do you agree or disagree with Churchill's statement. 15. Did you know that vandals routinely destroy entire print runs of conservative publications on campuses across the country? 19. Do you agree with the following statement? As stewards of freedom, we must stop America's university system from being overrun by politically correct professors who stifle free speech and ridicule the values of the Founding Fathers. 20. Will you help CN protect free speech and open debate on campus? Aha! Item 20 exposes all -- even to most of those who fell for the act up to that point. On the next page is a small bloc of optional "demographic" items intended... posted by Donald at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Our absurd, irresponsible, and answerable-only-to-themselves elites are once again doing their best to defy the popular will and transform our country in ways that promise, at the least, vastly increased population figures and fresh new forms of racial tension. This time they might very well succeed. Steve Sailer explains how this new outrage is being put over on us. Nice Steve passage: What we are witnessing is perhaps the most irresponsible and shameless attempt to hustle a pig in a poke past the public in recent memory. Of course, that's the whole point of the exercise -- to not let us simple citizens in on the process of deciding who our fellow citizens will be. It's only a modest exaggeration to call this an attempted coup against the American people. The New York Times thinks that the Kennedy / Bush immigration proposal doesn't go far enough. How has it come to pass that we're being led by people who are eager to kiss the nation they're ruling goodbye? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (55) comments

"The Man Who Was Thursday"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I just finished G.K. Chesterton's novel "The Man Who Was Thursday." It's certainly a brilliant book; it's just as certainly one of the most peculiar books I've ever read. Although you might call it a metaphysical thriller, the effect it produces is anything like that of conventional fiction, philosophical or not. In the way it combines debate and fantasy, as well as in the way it continuously -- and whimsically -- keeps reframing its own nature, it comes across like a cross between an Escher print and a medieval romance. Fascinatin'! All that said, the novel is also intensely and explicitly Christian in its concerns. Fine and dandy, of course. But once again I find myself confessing that Christian conversations not only aren't ones that I find very inviting, they're so foreign to what runs through my own mind and spirit that when I attend to them I feel like I'm listening to people speaking Chinese. Which means in effect that, reading "The Man Who Was Thursday," I felt curious and amazed, but shut out as well. But of course that's my shortcoming, not the novel's. Recently, I read and reacted to Chesterton's "Orthodoxy." Philip Bess responded to my posting here. Visit the excellent and thoughtful blogger who calls himself the Man Who Is Thursday here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments