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Friday, August 31, 2007

New Orleans as Museum
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A blog I regularly visit is Jim Miller on Politics which can be found here. Even though he lives in the Seattle area, I haven't met Jim who, by the way, has 2Blowhards on his blogroll (and his is on ours). He writes about international, national and local issues in a calm, thoughtful manner. Since this is near the second anniversary of the Katrina disaster, New Orleans has been getting a lot of attention in the media, including the Internet. Miller has a short piece here titled "Should We Abandon New Orleans?" (it's near the top, but you'll have to scroll down) in which he links to an article by Steve Chapman (here) and offers a few observations of his own. Miller offers the following from Chapman Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane. "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says. "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads." Looking back, that actually sounds like a brilliant choice. If they were given the means to start over wherever they choose, a lot of people displaced by Katrina would embrace it. and then observes that, though people should live where they desire, if possible, he thinks that "parts of New Orleans are worth protecting, notably the port and the tourist area, but that most of it is not." I'm inclined to agree, though I admittedly haven't studied the issue. Moreover, I've only visited the place once -- around 20 years ago, for a Census Bureau meeting and a demographer convention. My impression was largely negative. The drinking water might have had something to do with it, but I felt a strong sense of decay along with a literal bad taste in my mouth that lasted for about two days after I left. I found the above-ground cemeteries, the Crescent and the levee area interesting. Ditto the French Quarter aside from Bourbon Street, which was off-putting to me. Those are my choices of what to preserve. But if a lot of money is going to be spent, why not spend it creating a New New Orleans that's above sea level and otherwise less disaster-prone. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 31, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Further Vids
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- My previous posting elicited some excellent listening-and-watching suggestions. Rick Darby tipped me off to this video of a physical and energized Natalie Merchant; Yahmdallah has gotten me interested in the quirky and foul-mouthed English sprite Lily Allen; Flutist sent me off in search of the exuberant Helen Humes, here with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. (A late addition courtesy of Tatyana: Portland's nightclub-suave Pink Martini go head-to-head with Rita Hayworth in "Gilda.") Thanks to all. Good lord but it's a great time to be a music fan. My own favorite recent YouTube discovery, though, is one I made myself -- a video I just ran across of Bette Midler horsing around with Mick Jagger, then ripping into "Beast of Burden." As much as I love the Stones' original version of this song, Bette shows Mick a little something -- make that a great big something -- about moves, lustiness, humor, and dynamism. (Not to mention acting chops.) Midler can be such an amazing performer, can't she? Such a lovable mix of power and delicacy, sweetness and forcefulness, schmaltz and funk. And talk about joy in performing. Have you ever seen anyone so switched-on? Who seems to be having such a good time? Fun to learn that ball-of-fire Bette is all of five feet one inch tall. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Music Clips for the Week
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Rod Stewart, "You're In My Heart." Embedding not allowed on this one, so click here. Has there ever been such an impish yet collected combination of working-class peacock, soccer fan, swish aristocrat, and camp queen? Rod's equal parts stud and diva. Part of what amuses me about the Rod Stewart thang is the way he usurps what we usually think of as the woman's prerogative. He's vain and irrational, hard-to-get, casually and charmingly insulting, and all the more attractive for being so self-centered, superficial, and thoughtless. If only more of us could get away with that particular act ... Jackie Wilson, "Lonely Teardrops." Performed live, unless I'm mistaken. Jackie Wilson was one of the most charismatic and most attractive of the early soul men. What a voice, what moves, what stage presence. A first-class finger-snapper too. And was that man a master of the craft of taking-off-a-suitjacket or what? Talk about a lost art ... Read more about Jackie Wilson here. "Lonely Teardrops" was written by Berry Gordy Jr., who later founded and ran Motown Records. Van Morrison, "And It Stoned Me." Most of Van's videos make me cringe -- he's one of the most uncomfortable stage presences I've ever seen. But I like this reggae version of "And It Stoned Me" a lot. Van's relaxed -- well, relatively relaxed. And the audacity of the idea and the peppy "up" rhythm injects some fresh life into a good song. I blogged a bit about Van back here. John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom Boom." Menacing and quiet yet hard-rocking -- here's a lesson in how one voice, one guitar, a couple of stomping feet, and a whole lot of personality can fill up your consciousness as completely as a symphony orchestra. Nobody can accuse John Lee Hooker of not having his own way with a song. Rick Nelson, "Hello Mary Lou." The era between Elvis' enlistment in the Army in 1958 and the British Invasion of 1964 is considered by rock purists to be one of the lowest points in pop music history, a wasteland of middle-of-the-road soullessness. Me, I have a lot of fondness for some of those ultrabland, homogenized, dreamy sounds. "Hello Mary Lou" was written by Gene Pitney. I can't resist linking to a little more whitebread smoothness, the Everly Brothers doing "Dream." That song is one of the great "let me see if I can sing harmony" songs, isn't it? (Sadly, I can't.) It was written by a legendary yet underknown songwriting team, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. According to Wikipedia, Felice and Boudleaux, a married couple, published more than 1500 songs, and their work was performed by the likes of Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Sarah Vaughan, and the Grateful Dead. Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee trade a lot of easygoing yet sultry phrasing on "Why Don't You Do Right": And Peggy Lee shows how to use understatement to turn up the heat in this performance from the late 1950s of the... posted by Michael at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Snooze Sports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Labor Day* weekend is coming up. That means it's likely that readership will be low for a few days. Which further means that I'm less likely to be lynched or tarred, feathered and run out of town for this post. So why not have some innocent fun -- in the form of reaming sports fans to the depths of their souls. [Clears throat, adjusts eyeglasses] I contend that sports were originally played by folks for interest and enjoyment . No doubt others gathered around to watch, but that was secondary. Nowadays the situation has flipped, especially for professional sports that can't exist without large spectator bases. Consider baseball. I was never much of a softball player as a kid. But when I was out in the field, I had to pay attention to what was happening. That is, I was engrossed in the game. By the time I was a teenager, I found that I couldn't get engrossed when in spectator mode. As an adult, I came to the state where I could pay attention for the first three innings, got fidgety for the second three and, during the final three I was so desperately bored I didn't care which team won; I was praying for batters to strike out on three pitches. Besides baseball, what professional sports do I find boring as a spectator? Here's a short list. Soccer ("Football" outside the USA) -- Not much scoring, just a bunch of guys running around a large, grassy field. Tennis -- Someone starts off hitting a ball over a net. Then it gets whacked back and forth over said net two or three times and Poof!! it hits the net or lands in an illegal area and everything stops, only to be repeated. Basketball -- Lots of running back and forth on a court and plenty (maybe too much?) scoring. But much of the time the outcome is decided in the final minutes. So why bother watching the first 90 percent of the game? Which brave (foolhardy?) readers want to offer their own lists of boring sports? Comment if you dare. Later, Donald * For non-Yank readers, Labor Day is a holiday held the first Monday in September. It marks the end of summer vacation season and, in many parts of the country, the start of school week. In other words, it's sort of a "last chance" holiday.... posted by Donald at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thomas Sowell
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you read any books written by the economist Thomas Sowell? I've read seven or eight of them, have found nearly all of them rewarding, and suspect that many people who haven't given Sowell a try would find him worth their time too. If you know Sowell only through his work as a syndicated op-ed writer, though, you might not feel inclined to cut him much slack. While I've enjoyed and admired some of his columns, he's unquestionably a combative debater, as well as far more of a Republican hack, er, cheerleader than seems necessary. But his work as an economist and a book-writer is quite different. When he isn't quarreling over what current policies should be but is instead organizing data, examining details, and analyzing processes and results, he's substantial, calm, and impressive. I've found his books -- which tend to focus on economics, ethnic questions, and immigration-and-migration matters -- to be thoughtful, info-packed, and open to the evidence. They aren't thrilling in a literary sense or mind-bending in a visionary sense. Instead, they're solid and informative -- driven, it seems, not by a passion for political battle but for straight facts and clear understanding. In the books, at least, political conclusions (if any) follow the evidence, and not vice versa. My mind is on his work because I've just finished reading another one of his books, the 1984 "Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality?" 20 years after the Civil Rights Act and 30 years after Brown v. Board of Education, how did matters stand? It's a short book -- yay to that -- and I found it a very helpful and interesting one as well: super-organized, and pushed along by a lowkey, rumbling, and unstoppable energy. As a book-writer, Sowell is whatever the positive opposite of "glib" is -- patient and methodical, able to herd huge numbers of facts without letting them overwhelm his narrative or his argument. He's even capable of the occasional touch of quiet and droll humor. He jokes about one proposed law, for example, that it was so badly written that it should have been called "the lawyers' full employment act." Sowell is sometimes known as a black conservative, though he himself says he's far more libertarian than conservative. (He's often grouped with Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, and John McWhorter.) He has been a controversial figure, as you might suspect, with some lefties and some in the race industry labeling him a traitor to his race and a dishonest scholar. Quite amazing how quick the racially sensitive can be to resort to name-calling, isn't it? (I haven't run across criticism of the factual content of his work that seemed to amount to anything.) In any case, where racial matters go, Sowell is both firm about the injustices that blacks were subjected to in America's past and pleasingly reluctant to play the racism card in the present tense. In this book, the main questions he wrestles with are "How did... posted by Michael at August 29, 2007 | perma-link | (45) comments

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Design Observer's Michael Bierut writes a lovely introduction to a charming designer, Charley Harper, some of whose work looks like a pop version of Paul Klee. * Prairie populist Caleb Stegall likes Bill McKibben's eco-critiques a lot more than McKibbin's eco-solutions. Fun to see both Stegall and McKibben citing the German economist Wilhelm Ropke, a favorite of mine. * The Best Sentence of the Day Award goes to Cowtown Pattie for this beauty: "Texas boys know that even a riled rattlesnake don't hold a light to a pissed-off woman who'd just had her personal space violated by a furry wild animal." * James Kunstler takes time out from ridiculing chic architecture to praise a modest, handsome, and restrained effort by New Urbanist Milton Grenfell. Explore some other work by Grenfell and his partners here. * Roissy thinks that today's young guys are becoming alarmingly unmanly. * Here's a pretty amazing optical illusion. * Yahmdallah enjoyed "Hot Fuzz." * Elvis Costello wants to know. (Nick Lowe, who wrote the song, does his own version here.) Funny to think that E.C. was once a lean and hungry young dude, isn't it? * OuterLife has an inspired idea about what to do with all that money he's been saving for his kids' college educations. * Rats prefer refined sugar to cocaine. * Charlton Griffin turns up a couple of beauties: a review of the worst cars ever designed -- I've owned two of them myself, can anyone top that? -- and an illustrated list of the top ten body-modified people. You ain't never seen such tattoos and piercings. * Creative fun with type -- but be sure to close the office door first. * Here's a clever remix of a classic. * People who eat prepared-food dinners (instead of preparing dinner for themselves) aren't actually saving any time. * Vince Keenan writes a hilarious appreciation of action star Steven Seagal. * Perhaps men are actually good for a few things? * Here's a hard-core libertarian -- ie., Mises Institute -- video view of the Fed. Does Mencius approve? * Ginger Strand passes along some enlightening information and thoughts about the changing meaning of pets over the years. (Link thanks to Andrew Sullivan.) * Dave Lull has discovered the Inappropriate Yoga Guy. * Raymond Pert forwards along an important video bulletin about the immigration crisis. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite things Pennsylvanian. Pennsylvania really is an amazing state, isn't it? * Here's that notorious 300 page AT&T/iPhone bill. * Prairie Mary reports that the Indian reservation she lives on is developing a middle class. * MBlowhard Rewind: I confess that I don't know what the hell's going on in a lot of modern poetry but I like some of it anyway. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

Moon Over Manhattan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I were walking home through the Village after a pleasant evening -- a pretty good Zen talk (given by this guy), followed by designer burgers to die for -- when I spotted the moon posing prettily above a glamorously-illuminated building. When you're a Manhattanite, it isn't often that you notice the moon at all -- tall buildings and bright lights are usually all-too-effective at concealing and / or drowning out the moon's beauty. Inspired by the moment, I pulled out the cheapo Kodak, braced myself against a tree, and hoped for the best. OK, so maybe tripods and expensive cameras have their uses after all ... Still, my snap struck me as a fun example of the inept-shakeycam genre. And that's a nice Arthur Dove-ish sky, no? Best, Michael UPDATE: Brian shows off his own, far more memorable, moon-over-Manhattan photo.... posted by Michael at August 28, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, August 27, 2007

Where's Snow White? We've got the Dwarves...
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Are you following the positions of the various candidates for President? I happened on a copy of Foreign Affairs the other day and noticed that the editors appear to have invited many of the front running candidates to submit summaries of their foreign policy proposals. I read the articles written (at least ostensibly) by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the July/August edition, and by Rudolph Giuliani and John Edwards in the September/October edition. My summary? There is more similarity than difference between them. All of them take it for granted that the U.S. should remain large and in charge on the world scene. As John Edwards remarks in his piece, "Reengaging with the World": There was a time when a [U.S.] president did not speak just to Americans--he spoke to the world. People thousands of miles away would gather to listen to someone they called, without irony, "the leader of the free world."...Even if these ordinary men and women did not always agree with our policies, they looked to our president and saw a person--and a nation--they could trust...We need to reach out to ordinary men and women from Egypt to Indonesia and convince them, once again, that the United States is a force to be admired. Rudy Guliani stresses our obligations to what he calls "the international system" in his piece, "Towards a Realistic Peace": The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges. First and foremost will be to set a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order. The second will be to strengthen the international system that the terrorists seek to destroy. The third will be to extend the benefits of the international system in an ever-widening arc of security and stability across the globe. Barack Obama chimes in on the not-to-be-shirked American burdens in his piece, "Renewing American Leadership": After thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent, many Americans may be tempted to turn inward and cede our leadership in world affairs. But this is a mistake we must not make... We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission. We must lead the world, by deed and by example. Such leadership demands that we retrieve a fundamental insight of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy--one that is truer now than ever before: the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders. Mitt Romney enlists us all in the front lines of a (yet another) clash of civilizations in his piece, "Rising to a New Generation of Global Challenges": In the aftermath of World War II and with the coming of the Cold War, members of "the greatest generation" united America and the world around shared values and actions that changed history...Our times call for equally bold leadership and for a renewed sense of service and shared sacrifice among Americans and our allies around the world...Many... posted by Friedrich at August 27, 2007 | perma-link | (52) comments

Craftsman A'Buildin'
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know what's the hot style in domestic architecture in your neck of the woods. But in mine, it just might be Craftsman or Bungalow or whatever one calls the style of modest houses that was popular around 1900-1920. Above is a Craftsman style bungalow in El Segundo, California, built in 1912. There are lots of similar houses here in the Seattle area. The ones I was familiar with when I was growing up were small, such as the one pictured and not to be confused with those large, wonderful creations by architects such as Green & Green. I first noticed a revival of Craftsman style houses in Du Pont, Washington back in the 1980s or early 90s. Du Pont, as the name suggests, was a town created by the company early in the 20th century near one of its dynamite plants. The town was comprised of less than a dozen blocks and the houses were in the prevailing Craftsman mode. When the new development was started by a Weyerhaeuser subsidiary, the decision was made to build houses using Craftsman design elements. In this way, the character of the old town was preserved, but on a comparatively massive scale. A photo of a house in the new Du Pont is below. Now Craftsman style is going upscale. Sunday, Nancy and I drove to Seattle exurbs north of the city of Monroe and found two developments featuring Craftsman style houses. Prices were in the neighborhood of $600,000 for around 3,000 square feet of house with yards ranging from about a quarter acre to nearly half an acre. These developments are the better part of an hour's drive from Seattle on a good traffic day and even farther from the airport, so buyers face a definite trade-off of convenience for better prices and more elbow room. Above is a photo I snapped of a nearly-completed house in one of the developments. The house I inspected was Craftsman on the exterior only, the interior being nondescriptly conventional rather than featuring the rich wood and carpentry of traditional and revival Craftsman / Bungalow style. Nevertheless, these houses serve as yet another indication that Modernism and successor styles are not what people usually choose when they spend a lot of their own money. (Though seriously rich Seattle-ites are more inclined to opt for Modernist syles, as I reported here.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 27, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Some New Pleasures
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been enjoying exploring the websites of some recent visitors to 2Blowhards: Matt Thorn, a cultural anthropologist living in Japan with an interest in manga (Matt certainly deserves an award for "best job title" -- he's an "Associate Professor in the School of Manga Production at Kyoto Seika University"); Rod McKie, an accomplished and very funny cartoonist who has had work in Punch, Playboy, and the Nation Lampoon; and Jonathan Schnapp, a student with a gifted eye and a lively mind who's studying art at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Jonathan's blog led me to something I should have known about before, given my interest (however amateurish) in neuroaesthetics, namely Jon Bardin's fascinating The Third Culture, a blog devoted to neuroscience and the arts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 27, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments