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May 10, 2007


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Busy days at work mean no time to pull any thoughts together. But nothing, not even the need to make a living, shall stand in the way of a linkathon!

* Alexandra is hot for "Torchwood," a Dr. Who spinoff that sounds pretty hot itself.

* Some more beautiful work from cellphone-cam virtuoso Hugh Symonds.

* Beware the "man who is living to ejaculate." (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. The audio is hair-raisingly NSFW.)

* FilmFlap has some tips for microbudget filmmakers. Nice to know that I'm not alone in wishing that many directors would go back to using tripods ...

* Steve Sailer notices that the major presidential candidates all want to raise the military's budget. Great Steve line: "Why? We spend 48-49% of the world's military budget."

* Alias Clio is a huge fan of Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet."

* Since I've mocked the godawful designs of the starchitect Thom Mayne several times, it was pleasing to see him in action and learn that he's every bit the self-bedazzled egomaniac that his work suggests. Notice his ecccchht Boomer view of himself as someone who is trying, trying to get his vision out there, while other people are forever getting in his way. Some Boomers never stop being whiney children.

* Which Hoff vids have been the most popular over the last 30 days? (Link thanks to Reelpop.)

* Brains on Film reviews what they describe as the worst porno movie ever made. I'm convinced. (NSFW, of course. Link thanks to Robert Nagle.)

* Here's a painless way of learning some nifty facts about the online porn biz. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Hmm, I notice that most porn-surfing is done during work hours. Shame on you, America.

* Yahmdallah catches up with a boatload of movies. Great line about Sofia Coppola's work: "Sofia Coppola has that languorous, entitled attitude of a rich kid raised in the epicenter of a cultural hub, and it just suffuses her work. No one is better qualified to document the life of a woman-child with too much wealth and not much else to worry about." And doesn't that sum it up nicely?

* Sofia's dad Francis Coppola talks to Harry Knowles about his own new movie. Dad ain't done yet! (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.)

* Chesterton nuts won't want to miss visiting The Hebdomadal Chesterton, where Craig Burrell posts a Chesterton excerpt every week. Craig has also posted a brief audio recording of Chesterton's voice.

* The Man Who Is Thursday writes Charles Murray and asks him some questions about IQ and the arts.

* Brenda Walker notices that whenever a white American parent kills his or her children, it becomes a huge news story. Meanwhile, when an immigrant parent kills his or her children, you seldom hear a peep about it from the mainstream press.

* I was saddened to learn that we might be witnessing the demise of that very peculiar, guinea-pig-crossed-with-a-tiger creature, the Tasmanian Devil.



posted by Michael at May 10, 2007


I saw a TV show on the Tasmanian Devil and was astonished to discover that the noise they make is really much like that of the version by Warner Brothers. I would hate for them to disappear from the world.

Posted by: alias clio on May 10, 2007 11:01 PM

The Tasmanian Devil thing is very sad to me. I've read about this and it's a little scary thinking that such a cancer would be possible in human populations.

But, what I really want (need) to respond to is the Alexyss Tylor show "Vagina Power". I don't even know where to begin. Mostly true, even Buddhist. And all with mamma sitting right there. Wow. I wonder what her degrees are in.

I'm from a small town in Iowa. I'm a percussionist who plays a lot of Afro-Caribbean music and funk, jazz, etc. Black music. One of my first bands when I was about 22 was a hip hop funk band. It was three white guys (including me) and 5 black guys from L.A. and NYC who were going to school in the Mid-West. The band's theme was "porno-funk". The lyrics were very raunchy (to say the least). The whole experience was a culture shock to me. I was never a prude, but the way that these guys talked and rapped about sex just blew me away (I would literally become dumbstruck and blush--not something that happens to me often). Since that time, I've lived with several Nigerians and continue to have many friends and colleagues from Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, and other African countries. And I've made sort of an informal study of trying to figure out sexual attitudes of various cultures; I'm just not afraid to ask those risky questions. My conclusion? That it's almost impossible to understand something when you just don't have a category (intellectually or experientially) to put it in. That video blew my mind.

When it comes to all this multiculturalism stuff, I think we often miss something: It can be hard enough to get to know the human we sleep next to every night. But understanding other cultures (in whatever form they come) is near impossible. Yes we can study and try to experience certain aspects, but really the best we can do sometimes is just admit that we don't have a clue. I call this "the chasm" and sometimes the best you can do is just admit that it's there and try to get along anyways. Thanks for the linkathon!

Posted by: The Lock on May 10, 2007 11:04 PM

Over on Thursday, this got my goat:

I would dispute Murray's contention that there is no correlation between literary achievement and IQ above 120. It is true that while some poets, like Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Goethe, Blake, Browning and Dickinsen, were quite powerful thinkers, other major poets seem to have been pretty dim: Hugo, Whitman, Tennyson, Yeats. (Most major writers, the Popes, the Shelleys, the Wordsworths, would probably fall somewhere in between.) Perhaps Hugo and Whitman match Blake and Browning as poets (there clearly is no one to one correlation between poetic achievement and IQ), but they are clearly not of the eminence of Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe. To get to that elite elite level I think you do need massive intellectual horsepower.

I get very suspicious whenever someone places names like Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Goethe in a top echelon of poetic achievement, without a single more recent poet and without explanation. Clearly Thursday has expertise, so this isn't merely a Great-Books-leather-bound-in-the-study sort of ranking, but still... to my mind, Robert Browning clearly excels Milton, Rilke dwarfs the short poetic works of Goethe, Auden ranks right up there in mastery of form, and Frost (and even Borges) in concept. Although I can't really appreciate the original, The Divine Comedy feels like a tedious if useful academic exercise.

All of this name-dropping is just to make the point that the scales have to fall from your eyes before you can reasonably talk about the right tail of IQ or any other measure of ability. In almost any endeavor, an "elite" level high enough to include fewer than ten people is probably a measure of something other than quality of the product.

Posted by: J. Goard on May 11, 2007 1:14 AM

"Sofia Coppola has that languorous, entitled attitude of a rich kid raised in the epicenter of a cultural hub, and it just suffuses her work. No one is better qualified to document the life of a woman-child with too much wealth and not much else to worry about."

Quite true, I think. But it strikes me that is not a bad personality to make a good artist. It is precisely the pose and aesthetic of the neo-raphaelite and "dandy" types in the late 19th century, who were IMO a pretty appealing little artistic movement. American cultural anti-elitism may lead to us underestimating the creative potential of the aristocratic type. Plus Coppola is not herself lazy, which is the great personal downfall of entitled aristocrats. It's hard to direct movies; she could have led an easier and more hedonistic life.

Posted by: MQ on May 11, 2007 2:28 AM

Re Thom Mayne:

The giveaway is that word "organic". Somehow that one word encapsulates the misanthropy, beastliness and self-loathing of the Boomer elites.

You know, Michael, I have this theory that Will Rogers never met an architect.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on May 11, 2007 5:37 AM

A contagious cancer?! Dang!!! How do you deal with that? Is there a test for animals that have been infected? I wonder if the population could be isolated into groups to keep this thing at bay.

Now that I think of it, though, isn't there a whole school of thought that believes that many--even most--cancers are the result of infectious agents, and not just a sort of internal screw-up?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 11, 2007 10:33 AM

A.C. -- I wonder if I saw that same docu. Animal Planet ... Focusing on a woman scientist who has worked to save Devils? Anyway, fascinating. And like you I was struck by how semi-realistic the WB Tasmanian Devil really is. Bizarre animals. Weird the way they scavenge, too, isn't it? I mean, they apparently eat everything -- bones, eyes, everything.

The Lock -- That sounds like a great experience for you, it's certainly a great story, thanks. I think the whole "white kid who gets a chance to interact with black people" thing generally is really interesting. I'm sorry people are so touchy about racial matters these days that only comedians are allowed to talk about this stuff. How else are we supposed to learn? As for the lady in the video, I was walking around for hours afterwards trying to figure out what she was talking about. Seemed to make sense, but my poor inadequate mind had a need to translate it into white English. Something like, "Some women who are getting good loving lose their heads, because women are like that, and don't recognize what a dog the guy doing the high-quality banging is," maybe? If so: ain't that the truth? You're reminding me of a funny moment I once encountered. I knew a black guy who was a little paranoid about racial things. He thought he was being picked on by white people. But he got a white girlfriend at one point and spent some real time inside white life, and he came away from it saying something like, "You know, I always thought they were treating me like that [a little chilly and distant by his standards, was my guess] because I was black. In fact, they treat each other that way too. That's just the way white people are." I guess by the standards of many black people, many white people are kind of chilly, reserved, non-demonstrative, uptight, and certainly non-funky. Sometimes I think it's amazing that people manage to get along at all ...

J. Goard -- The whole IQ and the arts question is a ... peculiar one, isn't it? Fun to think about. Yet how seriously should it be taken? My own sorry brain tends to hang up on two points. One is the question of who selects the canon and the greats? Profs, monks, intellectuals, at least in large part. Of course they're going to tend to prefer complicated art that's more intellectual than most -- so of course it's gonna look like the Greats tend to be smart. The other thing I hang up on is: Why this fixation on the timeless greats? That just seems unfair. Why not discuss contempo people who are arts pros? After all, if IQ has anything to do with arts success, they should be smarter than average too. Certainly contempo pro engineers and scientists tend to be IQ-style smarter than average -- they have to be just to get into those fields. If you're talking about IQ and those fields, you don't need to make reference to Newton, you can just refer to any working bridge engineer. But in the contempo arts, I'm not remotely impressed by brains. I'm mostly struck by how many successful artists/writers/etc are quite dim. I once attended a PEN conference, for instance, and spent time listening to and yakking with international writing superstars. It was one of the biggest collections of ninnies I've ever encountered. So my conclusion tends to be that IQ-type brains have nothing to do with art talent, which is an independent function (like athletic or singing talent). If you have talent and you're smart in an IQ sense, you can use your IQ-brains to tease the talent up a little further, or add to complexity of your art -- assuming that (and this is a big assumption) you're able to put the IQ-style brains at the service of the art-talent, something many bright people can't in fact do. (The brains tend to take over, the talent tends to rebel ...) What are your own hunches about these questions? Anyway, I'm glad people wrestle with these topics, just unsure how seriously any of us should take them...

MQ -- I think those are all good points. I'm not sure Yahmdallah intended to put down Sofia, just to characterize her. But maybe not. Anyway, it's an interesting development in movie history, that the pampered trust-fund dandy/princess should be able to make feature films. Used to be that they'd paint a few pictures, or publish a small volume of poetry or stories, or just hang out and look good in bohemia. Now (with the right connections anyway) they can make feature movies instead. Lordy, it's still a lot of work, though. Why on earth would anyone who doesn't have some overwhelming need to make a feature movie bother at all? I wonder if, what with DV and all, the narcissistic aristocratic type wouldn't find it more congenial to videoblog, or at least to do far more modest video-things than full-scale movies ...

Robert -- That's very funny! I wish we could bring Will back and set him loose among the starchitects.

FvB -- That freaked me out too. Infectious cancer? Good lord, it's the end of the world.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 11, 2007 11:15 AM

I was just in Tasmania last week and can say that the possible demise of the Devil is very much on everyone's mind as it was mentioned repeatedly by most everyone I met.

I can say that the island has no lack of kangaroos and/or wallabees as I saw probably more than 20 dead by the side of the road and dozens of others running about as I drove through the country one night and in fact unfortunately killed one myself after it darted in front of my rental car.

Posted by: grandcosmo on May 11, 2007 1:11 PM

Why our military spending is so high relative to other nations. No country enjoys as much freedom and opportunity as we do. To the extent they (Europe, Australia, South America, etc.) have these things, they are beholden to our massive nuclear and convential weapons arsenal. We alone stand in the way of those that would deprive us of these things: Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, etc. So rather than seeing our budget as a half-empty glass, we should see it as a half-full glass.

On another but related issue, it is undisputable that we have a half-full military budget insofar as Iraq and Iran are concerned. This statement assumes that the use of nuclear weapons is not an option for us.

Posted by: Paul Henri on May 11, 2007 2:06 PM

Mr. Henri:

Your comment reminds me of something I read in "Foreign Affairs", to wit, that the U.S. justifies its global leadership by underwriting (that is, paying for) a number of international public goods, e.g., stable territorial boundaries, freedom of the seas, etc.

My question is, I can see very clearly what the U.S.'s global leadership does for people who want to be president, or more broadly for the people who write and read "Foreign Affairs" (in the way of jobs, prestige, various sinecures) but what does it do for, well, me? Or for many other portions of our population that pay taxes to provide all those international public goods? I sense a massive who-whom problem: who pays for the benefits which accrue to whom?

Remember, there was a time (the Gilded Age) when the U.S. had virtually no armed services and no international entanglements. Was it really a time of fewer liberties, of lower opportunity, or even of lower global capital flows (relative to the size of the economies of the time) than today?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 11, 2007 6:25 PM

Friedrich: I agree 110% with your implicit point, but I suspect most professional foreign affairs types would argue that the international order of the Gilded Age worked well because Britain, rather than the U.S., guaranteed international public goods and the U.S. benefited from that.

Of course, Britain's insistence on being the Top Dog guaranteeing the international order was one factor that helped lead to WWI, and that did not work out well at all. Perhaps it would be best if we did not rely on arrogant, armed-to-the-teeth hegemons to guarantee international public goods. It's not like you need a military anything near the size of the U.S. to, like, prevent piracy these days.

Posted by: MQ on May 12, 2007 3:14 PM

Friedrich: It was Pax Britannia back then, not Pax Americana.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on May 12, 2007 5:54 PM

On Devil Facial Tumor Disease

First seen on tasmanian devils in north-east Tasmania in 1996. It's what's known as an immortal cancer line, much like Sticker's Sarcoma (a contagious cancer of domestic dogs). DFTD appears around the head and mouth because tazzies love to bite and mouth. The Tasmanian state government in cooperation with the Australian federal government and zoological associations around the world are setting up breeding colonies in an attempt to save the species.

The is evidence that DFTD is somehow descended from Sticker's Sarcoma. Probably happened when a tazzie scavenged a dead dog.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 13, 2007 9:37 AM

May I suggest we find some sucker to hand Pax Americana off to at the earliest possible opportunity? This is one time I think we'd do well not to hog all the, er, fun.

Seriously, I'd love to see a good history of the selling of the notion that it is America's job-duty-responsibility-burden to run the world. If you took a poll today, I doubt one person in ten would object to this notion, although I think it would be quite hard to justify it on a cost-benefit analysis, at least for most people.

Historically, I think it's overwhelmingly clear that Pax Britannica did NOT pay off well for the U.K., and probably caused more problems over the long haul for the rest of the world as well than if Britain had stuck to its domestic knitting. (I'm not saying it was utterly without any positive impacts, just trying to be clear-eyed about both the benefits and the costs.)

P.S. If anybody seriously disagrees with me, I'd love to hear their arguments.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 14, 2007 2:27 PM

Well, no fun for you FB, because I completely agree with you.

Pax Americana really works for a small, incestuous bunch of foreign policy types who get to be armchair generals.

Also, of course, there's all the people on the military funding teat. On net, excessive military funding is a big economic loss (all that effort could be put to better use somewhere else), but if it's your livelihood then of course you are invested in its continuation.

Posted by: mq on May 14, 2007 2:45 PM

I'm a complete amateur in this field, so I'm jumping into this debate a bit nervously.

My understanding of "pax britannica" was that it began more or less by accident, "in a fit of absence of mind," as an attempt to create conditions favourable for trade.

It went something like this: Britain needed new markets for its manufactured goods; traders went in (to India, for example) and established trading posts in this or that region; the trading companies found that local conditions made trade difficult; they then demanded English firepower to "protect" them, or to remove some impediment to trade. Eventually, the original trading companies found that they had to set up what was in effect a civil service, to carry out the work of administering the government of territories they had originally entered and occupied solely for mercantile reasons.

So I believe the question should be, can any great manufacturing nation continue to function without doing something of the same kind, when either its markets or the raw materials needed for its manufacturing sector are threatened?

I'm inclined to hope that this approach is not necessary, but I don't know. Anyway, I think if you want to consider the whole issue of "America as world policeman," that's the question you need to answer.

Posted by: alias clio on May 14, 2007 7:25 PM

If you believe the "fit of absent-mindedness" line, perhaps you'd also be interested in purchasing the Brooklyn Bridge? Seriously, any inhabitant of North America should be well aware that the British interest in overseas colonies well predates India.

As for manufacturing countries "needing" imperial colonies: the opposite would be closer to the mark. Colonies and imperialism have been money-losers for quite some time, which is one reason why it is a less popular business than it used to be. When you manufacture good products, you don't generally need to force people to purchase them at gunpoint. When you manufacture good products and people purchase them, you then have the money you need to buy necessary raw materials from suppliers on mutually beneficial terms, instead of taking said raw materials at gunpoint.

Posted by: mq on May 15, 2007 4:57 PM

MQ - sorry for responding so late, but, yeah, what I said about Ms. Coppola was not meant to be a slur.

Posted by: yahmdallah on May 15, 2007 5:04 PM


The colonies of North America were themselves established by accident, in a manner of speaking. They were discovered when French and English ships were looking for a sea-route to the orient. And they, at least, were not money-losers, as far as I have been able to determine.

As for India, it certainly became a money-loser, but that was later in the history of the relationship between Britain and India. In the beginning, the situation was as I described it: it was settled not by true colonists but by traders seeking first to buy Indian goods not available in Britain (left that out before) and later to establish markets there. The East India Company's initial Crown Charter (1609) was valid only so long as the company was profitable; three years of loss meant loss of the charter.

Did they "need" these goods? Well, perhaps not, but surely they thought they did. They wanted things India had (cotton, silk and spices); they wanted to manufacture luxury goods there and sell them in Britain.

My point was not that English traders had to impose selling or buying at gun point, but that in order to establish trading posts in India, they found that it was necessary to establish a military presence, first to protect them from European rivals and then to administer the chaotic regions in which their new factories were located.

Even then, it was the East Indian Company, and not the English gov't, that handled the administrative work for decades, until the "Indian Mutiny," or Sepoy Rebellion, in 1857.

I'm not defending any of this as either righteous or necessary. I'm simply saying that it grew out of perceived mercantile wants and needs at that time, with gov't support of course, and not out of Britain's wish to protect or police the world. Those were later justifications.

Posted by: alias clio on May 15, 2007 7:34 PM

Whether it grew out of perceived mercantile wants and needs is a separate question from whether it was required by those needs. And as a question of motivations, it is also highly subjective. One can add that Britain's mercantile wants were hopelessly bound up, from the beginning, with its colonialist ones. For Europe, economic and imperial expansion were tied tightly together from the beginning of the age of exploration. Traders were financed by the national government in part for military reasons. The fundamental issue is that Europe prior to a certain point did not understand the concept of gains from trade from free capitalism, and instead had a mercantilist philosophy which emphasized seizing resources and setting the terms of trade by force.

Yes, traders may need protection from militarily hostile natives in order to trade. If one takes the notion of native sovereignty seriously (which Europe did not), one relies on the proper government of that nation to provide such protection, and if they refuse to guarantee it, one still respects their sovereignty.

As for whether imperialism is a money loser or not: I'm curious as to the research you have found or performed on the net gains to Britain of its American colonies. I think it is very probable that the American colonies in particular were a money loser to Britain, when one measures relative to the potential gains from free trade with a sovereign and independent United States. The American Revolution was a protracted war which was quite expensive for Britain to fight.

The key question for whether imperialism is profitable is whether the natives effectively mount violent resistance. When Europe had enough of a technological advantage to dominate militarily, and was willing to commit genocide on native peoples if necessary, then imperialism was cheaper.

Posted by: mq on May 16, 2007 1:16 AM

I agree with the whole of your first paragraph.

I'm not certain I understand the point of your second paragraph, or rather, I think I do, but you seem to be referring to different issues than the ones I spoke of in mentioning India's case. The native peoples there weren't militarily hostile, at least at first. The Mughal emperors actually encouraged the establishment of British trading posts there.

It was the chaos and absence of government in many parts of the sub-continent, as Mughal military power declined, that made it necessary for the East India Co. to become involved in administrative work. Or that's the excuse. I don't know what Indian historians say about this.

There are many modern parallels. Diplomats or company execs make friends with and support a local strongman in order to be able to work in a particular region (Idi Amin? Saddam Hussein?), only to discover in a few years' time that an alliance of local tribes/ethnic groups etc. has arisen against him and is threatening to slaughter your workers for supporting him. What to do?

Your third paragraph, regarding net profitability of North America: in my previous comment, I now realise, I was confusing two separate periods of history. I don't know about the profitability of American colonies prior to 1776. I do know that Canada was a loss for France. It was always expensive to run, as a colony - hostile natives, you know. The habitants here were always greatly outnumbered by Aboriginal peoples, and though some became allies, many did not.

I do know that in the nineteenth century, both Canada (still an English colony until 1867) and the United States were supposed to have been a far greater source of investment profit for Britain than India was. But I believe that the net profits from the East India trade were still quite high.

India gave Britain a place to get rid of middle-class citizens who lacked the business ability or skilled-trade qualifications to succeed in industrializing Britain. Sort of like law school in today's high-tech economy...

Prior to the late 19th century, as you hint in your first paragraph, mercantilist theories of economics led governments to believe that trade was a "zero-sum" game. (Am I using that expression correctly?) Only so much wealth in the world. What one country gains, another loses.

Posted by: alias clio on May 16, 2007 9:27 AM

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