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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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Sing It!
  2. Nanny-State Facts for the Day
  3. Bill Kauffman on Secessionism
  4. Rock-Star Gadget
  5. Creativity and Personal Politics
  6. Two Sobering Articles on Immigration Reform
  7. Neo Hot Rods
  8. My Stacks
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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sing It!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This may not be a posting for dial-up users ... When, back here , I linked to a couple of songs that I'm incapable of not singing along to, visitors pitched in with tons of their own sing-along faves. I've had a good time since seeing if I could find versions of these tunes on YouTube. Herewith my gleanings. The magnificent Louis Armstrong takes a swing through "Basin Street Blues": Kareena Kapoor does a slinky and exuberant Bollywood "It's Rocking": Janis Joplin drives her "Mercedes Benz" solo: Those offbeat party animals the B-52s join the "Deadbeat Club" ... ... and show the way to the "Love Shack": Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 are tropical yet cool in "The Look of Love": Who can resist when The Beatles open up with "Twist and Shout"? The Association performs their memorable, for better or worse, "Windy": Here's a brilliant teen-webcam-karaoke/hoodie performance to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Did you know that the song was first released in the 1930s? Read about the song's long and complicated history here. Here's Roger Millers' "King of the Road." Just watch that man's finger-snapping technique! "When You're Smiling" by that force of nature Louis Prima: Roy Orbison does "Only the Lonely" -- a performance for which the word "haunting" might have been invented: Little Richard shows off a lot of bursting-at-the-seams energy on "Tutti Frutti": The Ramones blast through "Commando": The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" certainly ranks as one of the definitive girl-group songs: Whoa-a-whoa-a-whoa-whoa-whoa! Why, it's Tom Jones singing "What's New Pussycat": If a TV theme song can be said to be immortal, Frankie Lane's performance of the theme song from "Rawhide" may qualify. (Sorry about the version -- this was the best one I could turn up on YouTube.) Here's some early-'70s proto-heavy-metal -- "Radar Love" by Golden Earring: Why not enjoy some easygoing gay-funk? In other words, here's "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club: Back from a time when she still had some spark, here's Madonna doing "Material Girl": Dalida's rendition of "Mamy Blue" is a strong dose of Euro-soul: "FjSllstorm" by Olyg was aptly categorized by Ed From Malabar as "Folk music/Viking metal": "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, who's one of a kind, and thank god for it: The Beach Boys' "Help Me Rhonda" gets my nomination for "Song Hardest Not to Try Singing Harmony To (Boys' Division)." What song would win the girls' division? Del Shannon shows off a spooky falsetto on "Runaway," a song that still brings out the doomy teen romantic in me. Flutist tells us that the wonderful instrument doing the solo is a Clavioline; Wikipedia tells me that this solo was performed by a musician named Max Crook. Yves Montand shows what Euro-cabaret style is all about in this rendition of "Les Feuilles Mortes": Tom Petty does a cheerily sardonic "Yer So Bad": Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman show that popular can also be classy on "Why Don't You Do Right": "Catchy" isn't a... posted by Michael at June 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Nanny-State Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When Tony Blair entered office, there were a couple of thousand surveillance cameras in the U.K. As he leaves office, there are now five million such devices. (Fact thanks to Brendan O'Neill in Reason magazine.) * Not content with banning cigarette smoking inside restaurants, Beverly Hills has now moved to prohibit smoking even at restaurants' outdoor tables. (Link thanks to Reid Farmer.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 30, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bill Kauffman on Secessionism
Michael Blowhard writes: Daer Blowhards -- Radical-reactionary eco-regionalist lyrical-crank / hometown-boy Bill Kauffman writes a beauty of an essay for Orion magazine. His subject is secessionism, and the American tradition of secessionism. Great (and typical Bill Kauffman) passage: The stream of secession is fed by many American springs: the participatory democracy dreams of the New Left, the small-is-beautiful ethos of the greens, the traditional conservative suspicion (fading fast under the Bush eraser) of big government and remote bureaucracy, and that old-fashioned American blend of don't-tread-on-me libertarianism with I'll-give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back communalism. Reveling in variety and contradiction -- I like that. Even for someone fond of America, it's hard not to fantasize about secession these days, isn't it? Hillary, Bloomberg, Romney ... Could we do any worse? Bill Kauffman makes a distinction that I find very useful: between the inhuman America of Empire (Bush, Hillary, Viacom, Halliburton, etc), and the human-scale real America (you, me, our friends, our communities). Since it makes perfect sense to me to love the latter while wishing ill to the former, I do sometimes find myself wondering: Well, why not just detach from the bastards? 2Blowhards did a five-part interview with Bill Kauffman not so long ago. Here's my intro to his work; here's Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. I urge you to give 'em a read -- Bill is nothing if not big-hearted, super-smart, and fearlessly provocative. Orion, the magazine running Bill's current piece, is a funny publication -- it's home to earnest eco-bores and brilliant whackjobs both. But it's well worth exploring. I notice that Orion features a page of short videos in which James Kunstler (another firebrand fave of mine) explains his view that we're about to hit the wall where oil is concerned. Kunstler blogs here, and makes irresistable fun of trendy-ludicrous architecture here. Some more along these lines: Here's The Vermont Commons, a newspaper devoted to the secession movement. Kirkpatrick Sale spells out the appeal of decentralism here. Clark Stooksbury blogs from a Reactionary Radical point of view here. Here's an interview with the legendary curmudgeon, writer, and eco-anarchist Edward Abbey. Here's a terrific Shawn Ritenour introduction to the green-friendly free-market economist Wilhelm Ropke, a special favorite of mine. I did some Small is Beautiful linkage here; wrote an introduction to Jane Jacobs here; blogged here about how various the eco-worlds are; and praised Nina Planck's book "Real Food" here. Bill Kauffman's latest book is the very moving and interesting "Look Homeward, America." Best, Michael UPDATE: Clark Stooksbury reviews Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy" here. Luke Lea's thoughts often run along these lines too.... posted by Michael at June 29, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rock-Star Gadget
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I dropped by the neighborhood Apple Store today to enjoy some corporate-strength air conditioning, to garner some new iMovie tips, and to indulge in some gadget-handling entertainment. Amazing how an Apple Store can become a real community center, isn't it? When I'm in the mood to get out of the apartment and kill some time, I'm as likely to visit the Apple Store as I am to see a movie or tour a museum. Judging from the happy crowds nearly always semi-packing the place out, I'm not the only person whose habits have been altered in this way. Today was of course iPhone Day Minus One, and the Apple employees looked like they were girding for a combination of a party and a battle. And, yes, outside on the SoHo sidewalk, around 30 people were already camping out in line. Does Apple pay people to act this way? Or is excitement about the iPhone genuinely at this kind of pitch? I'm sorry to report that I didn't have the presence of mind to talk to any of the iPhone groupies, and that when I reached for my digicam, its batteries were dead. Me heap big bad blogger. Is there any way the iPhone can live up to the hype? Perhaps so, if it really does work as well as it does in this Apple video. That's one miraculous-seeming device, and one superslick video. Apple does have a genius for portraying its machines as simple and beautiful headache-relievers and delight-enablers, devices that don't enslave people to the circuitry but that instead meet, serve, and tickle real people on real-people terms. Watching the video, I felt a few blinded-by-bliss shivers myself -- and I'm someone who hates cellphones and does my best to avoid them. These days, it seems to me, Apple does more to affirm and convey the importance (and the fun) of the aesthetic dimension than the arts community does. The SoHo place was crackling with anticipation, in any case. Which got me wondering: Are there cultural events that can match Apple's best for bravura, glitz, and thrills? Is the iPhone the new version of a rock star? Is technology and gadgetry the new showbiz? (Do the releases of new computer games and game devices attract crowds batty with similar levels of enthusiasm? I'm not a games person myself, and know nothing about the scene.) Engadget, though, reports that excitement outside San Francisco's Apple Store is minimal. Follow the great iPhone event minute by minute at iPhone Matters, a blog devoted to the iPhone. Here's a Wikipedia article about the history of Apple's ad campaigns. Best, Michael UPDATE: Newsweek's Steven Levy says that the iPhone is almost everything you'd want it to be. Nice passage: The iPhone is the rare convergence device where things actually converge ... As it did with MP3 players, Apple has made even its most stylish competitors look like Soviet-issue contraptions ... Even those who never buy one will benefit... posted by Michael at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Creativity and Personal Politics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- [Kicks self mercilessly] A few weeks ago during my daily tour of favorite web sites I followed a link to an item that proclaimed that major creative people historically have been "liberal." Names of artists, writers, scientists, etc. were named. I should have bookmarked the piece, but [Sob] didn't. Today I played with search features on some of sites, but couldn't locate the link. Which means you'll have to take my word that it existed. I don't doubt that the majority of "creatives" in the USA nowadays are in the liberal end of the political spectrum -- publicly, at least. Part of this might have to do with life-cycle stage. Much of the rest might simply be because of a desire to go along with the herd or to conform with what they heard as children at the dinner table or in college or art school from faculty. And of course there are some who have given political matters a good deal of thought and are ideologically committed based on their studies. But you can only push the "liberalism" concept a limited distance back in history. Most readers should know that "liberal" meant something quite different in the 19th century than is does in 21st century America. So let me substitute "leftist" for "liberal" to clarify matters. Even so, leftism as we understand it emerged in the 19 century, which suggests that claims about the modern-sense politics of Da Vinci or Velázquez don't carry much meaning. (I realize I'm trodding on Friedrich's turf at this point. So please comment, Herr von Blowhard, to clarify and error-correct my ramblings.) The thrust of the "missing link" [Har, har] was that conservatives were and are uncreative boobs who have done nothing to advance science, art, literature and such. I can contend that this idea is nonsense by simply citing the fact that most people aren't consistent when dealing with the world. For example, it's not hard to find folks who vote left, yet are quite traditional in their approach to family life, their profession, personal finances and so forth. Not convinced? Consider the original Impressionist painters. I just finished reading a biography of Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who promoted and subsidized the Impressionists written by Pierre Assouline. Assouline makes it clear that Durand was a monarchist, a strong Catholic, anti-Semitic and anti-Dreyfusard. Yet he championed a radical art movement and supported artists with quite different political views including Camille Pissarro, a quasi-anarchist Jew from the Caribbean colonies. In the last chapter of the book, pages 253-54, Assouline characterizes the politics of the artists in reference to the l'Affaire Dreyfus. "Pissarro and Monet were supporters of Dreyfus ... as were Signac and Mary Cassatt. But that was all." "On the opposite side were those whose latent or declared anti-Semitism had been radicalized, notably Renoir, Puvis de Chavannes, Rodin, Forain, Cézanne, and above all Degas." Presumably none of the latter group were "creative." Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (37) comments

Two Sobering Articles on Immigration Reform
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I came across two recent items that I thought cogently summed up two strong reasons for opposing the comprehensive immigration reform legislation currently being considered in the U. S. Senate. The first is a discussion by Roger Simon of a key reason the current legislation will not stop new illegal immigration. You can read this here. For those who may not have time to read the whole thing, you should notice at least the following remarks by Mr. Simon: This Sunday on a talk show, I made some comments about the need for real work-site enforcement to make immigration work. On Monday, I got an e-mail from an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the chief sponsors of the immigration bill, that said: "Not sure where you got your facts that the immigration bill doesn't have a lot on work-site enforcement, it certainly does, including a sweeping new employee verification system." Sweeping? New? Maybe. But it is also nonexistent. It can never be created in time to meet the provisions of the law, and it will have glaring holes when and if it ever does exist. The bill requires that within 18 months of enactment all newly hired employees must be checked by something called the Electronic Eligibility Verification System (EEVS), and within three years every employer in the United States must check every employee in the United States using it. But there are 150 million people in the U.S. workforce and some 60 million people who change jobs every year. And this system -- which does not currently exist and has to be up and running in 18 months and completed in three years -- is going to make sure everyone in the workforce is here legally? Not a chance.[emphasis added] The entire article, which I urge you to read, explains exactly why without serious workplace enforcement, a current impossibility, illegal immigration will continue and probably grow under the proposed legislation, given that it is being coupled with another round of amnesty for everyone who has managed to sneak in. The second is a discussion by George Borjas of who benefits and loses economically from large scale, low skill, low wage immigrant labor. This can be read here. The "money quote" from Professor Borjas' critique of the President's Council of Economic Advisors' study claiming that immigration results in a net $30 billion benefit is the following: The same model that generates the $30 billion net gain implies that [native] workers suffered a substantial wage loss. In fact, the total wage loss suffered by native workers is given by this other formula (p. 8 of my 1995 paper): Wage loss as fraction of GDP = - "labor's share of income" times "wage elasticity" times "fraction of workforce that is foreign-born" times "fraction of workforce that is native-born" Let's stick in numbers: Wage loss = -0.7 times -0.3 times 0.15 times 0.85 which equals 0.0268, or 2.7% of GDP. Since GDP is... posted by Friedrich at June 28, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Neo Hot Rods
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The ball's in my court. Uh, check that. That's not a ball. It's ... a grenade! The safety ring had been pulled out. And the lever is in the open position. What's this nonsense? It seems I got an email from Michael (Himself) Blowhard passing along a message from one "zebic" in Australia who had a link to pictures of a Holden (General Motors) dream car with a hot rod styling theme. The subliminal hint was that it might be nice to do a post on this. [Click heels. Give snappy salute.] The subject of hot rods -- or more specifically, hot rods with customized bodies -- is one I've toyed with, but avoided writing about. That's because I've have this thing about custom rods. I suppose I should explain. The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had an exhibit a while ago featuring Kustom Kars from what they called the high point of hot rod custom building -- roughly 1945-1955. As it happens, I was an early-teen during the last few years of that golden epoch. Believe me, rods and Kustoms were the talk of junior high boys who were too young to drive and too broke to buy a car of any kind, let alone get the goodies to soup up the motor or pay a body shop to chop 'n' channel 'n' section the beastie. Guys would go on and on about which car would be best (Ford and Mercury flat-head V8s were the strong consensus pick). Then the conversation would shift to how much the engine block should be shaved and what brands of hot camshafts and exhaust systems would be best. Along with this would be customizing: tweak the suspension to lower the front, the back or both? What grille to substitute. (Implicit was that nearly all the production chrome trim would be pulled off, the attachment holes leaded in and the car repainted.) Me? I had much less of an engineering mindset than I do now, so the engine talk was largely lost on me. But the customizing subject bothered me. Here it gets a little complicated. I was becoming knowlegeable about custom automobiles of the 1930s. These are a subset of what are known as Classic Cars. A Classic Car is usually a car that was expensive in its day and often had interesting or unusual engineering and styling features. (The Classic Car Club of America has a list of makes and models that are "officially" classic, but that's a side-topic.) A customized classic usually retained the production hood, dash panel and fenders. A bespoke-body firm (an outfit often literally in the "carriage trade" originally -- and certainly not a backyard panel-beater) would receive a chassis from the manufacturer with only the previously-mentioned body parts or, sometimes, a complete car from which much of the body aft of the hood would be removed. Then a special design would be constructed to replace the now-missing passenger area. Fine... posted by Donald at June 26, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, June 25, 2007

My Stacks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Over at Querencia, Steve, Matt, and Reid have all posted photos of their book-heaps, those end-tables-full of books that you're in the middle of reading, or that you're maybe on the verge of cracking open, or that you're about to get back to. Amazing how many books a single person can consider "in process" at a given moment, isn't it? Inspired by da boyz, I let myself get a little carried away: Lights, camera, video! After hours of frenzied wrestling with iMovie, I came away with a hot 'n' seething document about the movies and audiobooks that I'm in the middle of, or at least plan to get around to soon. Check out the editing on this sucka. Marty Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker, watch your backs. During the final credits you'll notice a tip of the hat to The Wife. Therein lies a small tale. Proud of my initial storyboad for the project, I showed it to her. She looked at it and gave a laugh, if a fond and Wifely one. Where was the arc?, she wanted to know. What was being built-to? And where was the all-important final whammy? Wounded, I responded by pointing out the many Kieslowskian complexities I'd woven through my masterpiece. This only made her laugh louder, and say that it was OK with her if I really wanted to make the only movie in all movie history that would put audiences to sleep despite being a mere 90 seconds long. I writhed, I went on a bender, I gave an anonymous interview to the New York Times about dissension on the set. Producers, eh? Always interfering. And so crass. What about the art? But, y'know, I finally had to admit that she had a point. The audience deserves its chance at pleasure too. I mean, for whose sake are we showpeople putting out all this effort? You! You! The great entertainment-hungry public! So I took The Wife's suggestions, being careful to figure out ways of doing so without compromising my essential vision. I learned a lesson from the experience: Clashes can be creative things, so long as they're resolved in creative ways that move the process along in creative directions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Marc Andreessen praises "Infernal Affairs" and lists a lot of reasons not to do a start-up. * Ed Gorman recalls his days as the publisher of a sci-fi fanzine. Ed blogs here. * Jewish Atheist whirls insightfully through a whole bunch of movies he's watched recently. * It's great to see that Mary Scriver's book about her late ex, the Western sculptor Robert Scriver, is now in the catalogue. It'll go on sale in October. * Half Sigma muses about sexbots. * Mac buffs: Organize your life with iGettingThingsDone. It looks 'way too complex for me. I'm a happy Yojimbo guy myself -- Yojimbo is iPhoto for your brain, basically. But many people who like a lot of structure -- and who are willing to spend more time than I am mastering a piece of software -- rave about iGTD. Plus it's free. * So perhaps we'd be healthier if our doctors went on strike? * Clio does some subtle and canny thinking about artists, money, and making a living. * Graham Lester (now blogging at a new address) collects some classic Spike Milligan silliness. * Rachel Lucas and her dog Sunny are charged by a pit bull. In the comments on this posting, visitors offer Rachel advice about how to defend herself against dog attacks. (Link thanks to Tatyana.) * MB Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the conundrum that was the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl back when she turned 100 years old. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Emissions Controls
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given all the twisting, squeezing, and deep breathing that is encouraged in yoga classes, it's amazing that this kind of episode doesn't occur more frequently. Essential yoga tip from one who has learned from hard experience: Don't eat anything solid for three hours prior to class. Some earnest commenters debate what I guess we might call the etiquette of yoga-farting here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are Big Conspiracies Easy to Pull Off?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I didn't notice many political bumper stickers last month while driving in the southeast; here in Seattle I see lots of them. Most of the Seattle bumper stickers are the usual anti-Bush, anti-war variety with slogans ranging from "A village in Texas has lost its idiot" to "IMPEACH!" -- all coming from the sort of folks who used to have "Hate is not a family value" stickers on their Volvos and Priuses. But that's not what I'm addressing here. Much more interesting stuff is cropping up on the back ends of vehicles. Today I spotted a sticker-laden minivan where one of the stickers said something to the following effect: "911 was an inside job." And a day or two ago I was following a car whose license plate frame had a slogan asserting that no airplane crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. Okay. I can understand partisan "humor" (the first sticker mentioned above) and even partisan wishful thinking (the second one). But the last two cases are in the realm of conspiracy-thinking that goes beyond common sense. Obviously the people who placed those slogans on their cars believe that the Administration was able to pull off a conspiracy that, if real, was off the charts in terms of resources employed, complexity of tasks, and exquisite timing. Real-world experience tells most adults that secrets are hard to keep if many people are "in the know" -- especially in an open society such as the United States where people are inclined to blab, blab and blab again. In other words, by this time somebody probably would have stepped forward to proclaim "Yeah, it was me who did the logistics for the Trade Center controlled-demolition, and I got the Ace Hardware receipts to prove I bought the stuff." Then there's the command and control element. Organizing complicated tasks isn't easy, again something that those adults who have worked in large organizations know. I'm not a student of conspiracies. Truth is, I normally find the subject boring due to lack of resolution. So I'd appreciate reader input regarding the largest, most complex proven successful conspiracy undertaken in a free society. Military operations don't count: they might be secret, but they normally don't fall into the realm of what most people understand conspiracies to be. And just for the record, I recognize that it's possible for secrets to be kept by large numbers of people in a free society. The classic case is the secret of the Ultra code-breaking effort in World War 2. But Ultra was during wartime. And it was a legal activity of the British government. It saddens me that some people are so attracted to conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially if those theories can be distractions when important issues are at stake. And what damage does such theorizing do to the theorizer (I'm assuming a free society setting)? Common sense and Occam's Razor go into the recycle bin. A lifetime of experience... posted by Donald at June 24, 2007 | perma-link | (48) comments