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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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  1. Time's 50 Worst Cars
  2. Reunions 2: Guy-Happiness and More
  3. Dealing With Collegiate Gothic
  4. Whiskyprajer, Janiva, and Richard
  5. Historical Note
  6. "Cruising" on DVD
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  8. Concours Touring
  9. Responses
  10. Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part 2

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Time's 50 Worst Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My mind freezes when asked to name my favorite this, the worst that or the best something-or-other. I'm seldom able to think in those terms. For instance, if asked "What was your favorite place to visit on your recent trip to Xxxx," I'd probably return a blank stare. This isn't to say I don't have likes and dislikes: I do, as Faithful Readers know. It's just that I tend to like or dislike things on the basis of multiple criteria whose importance can vary over time due to new information, maturity / aging, or even whimsy. On occasion I actually can provide a favorite: ice cream-wise, it's chocolate. But it was strawberry when I was little, and I can't explain why that preference changed. Which inevitably leads us to cars. For a reason beyond my grasp, Time magazine's staff and Dan Neil, "Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times" came up with a list of "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time" (see here). Maybe my problem has to do with the fact that I can't locate an introductory page -- something that lays out the task and mentions criteria used for making the list. Based on commentaries on the cars selected, a hodge-podge of reasons are included such as mechanical problems, styling/package-definition and marketing errors among other demerits. Worse, the list includes some prototypes and other one-offs along with production automobiles. I don't think one-offs should be included with production cars. That's because they are experimental in nature, tests of ideas -- not items one can buy and regret from personal experience. For what it's worth, while I agree with Neil that the Trabant, King Midget and Yugo are pretty sorry cars, I can't go along with many of the other selections. For example, most automotive histories I've read consider the Ford Model T as one of the most significant cars of all time. But Neil's caption states Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? The Model T -- whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse's "disassembly line" -- conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day. So it seems that a car introduced in 1909 doesn't quite measure up to a Prius or whatever car he really liked on a recent road... posted by Donald at September 14, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reunions 2: Guy-Happiness and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few final reflections sparked off by a recent visit to my high school class's 35th reunion. (Class of 1972 -- gadzooks!) Earlier reunion reflections can be enjoyed, or at least found, here. Great seeing the old crowd; quite hilarious the way everyone instantly eased back into casual-kid-friendship mode (we know each other far too well to try to get away with putting on airs); and very, very pleasing the way so much of the sturm und drang of adolescence has been left behind. What was all that about? One of the things that struck me most about the get-together, though, was the way that a hierarchy of life-satisfaction has emerged among the guys. This was something new, it seemed to me. Perhaps it takes a few decades for the impact of the bigger life-choices to play themselves fully out. In any case, what seemed apparent to me this time 'round was that there was one group of guys who seemed content with their lives, as well as another group of guys who seemed far more restless and unsettled. Curious, I poked around a bit. I found that I couldn't discern any such pattern among the gals. I couldn't formulate any generalizations at all where gals and life-satisfaction went, come to think of it. (Aside from "Don't become an alcoholic.") Though some of the ladies certainly seemed more comfy in their lives than others did, I couldn't make out any pattern. Divorces, kids, jobs -- sometimes they were a positive, sometimes a negative. Where the guys clustered in easy-to-identify groups, for the ladies happiness seemed a flukier, one-by-one thing. Is this because guys are more black / white, on / off creatures than those ever-morphing, ever-complicated gals are? By contrast, the pattern behind the guys' life-happiness rankings stood out clear as day. Namely: Now that we're in our early 50s, the calmest and least-troubled guys are the ones who are working in technical fields. Without exception, these old classmates are now mellow and happy souls. They have the contentedness of people leading comprehensible, satisfying lives, lives characterized by finite obligations and dependable rewards. At the other end of the mood-spectrum are the angst-ridden bunch: namely, guys who long ago fell in love with the arts. (I count myself in this group, by the way. I'll talk about them / us in the third person for the sake of convenience, though.) The guys in this group are jumpier and more tormented. They may perhaps have known giddier highs, but they've also experienced darker and more frequent lows, as well as far fewer steady, count-upon-able stretches. Where the tech guys keep on a dependable plane -- they have routines, and they enjoy them -- the arts guys are still living like post-grads, moment to moment. Most are still caught up in the "doing my art" vs. "keeping up a day job" plight. Little has settled down for them over the decades. They've done what they could... posted by Michael at September 13, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dealing With Collegiate Gothic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Collegiate Gothic was the epitome of architectural fashion for American colleges and universities during the whereabouts of the first third of the 20th century. I'm very fond of that style and enjoy seeing it when I visit Yale, Cornell, Princeton and other universities with significant concentrations. But what do architects steeped in Modernist and Po-Mo dogma do when new buildings are added to a Collegiate Gothic core? There are three basic strategies for this situation: (1) ignore the past and build what you want; (2) grit your teeth and continue with Collegiate Gothic; and (3) create buildings that blend with Collegiate Gothic to varying degrees. The third strategy is the most interesting one because it shows what architects design when their hearts aren't completely in the game -- how much do they compromise and how do they go about compromising. The University of Washington is an interesting test case because, since a campus plan using Collegiate Gothic first emerged in 1915, architects have had to acknowledge the style. The remainder of this post is a gallery of photos I took recently along with captions in which I explain and interpret. I'm sorry that this post is a little lengthy, but the subject can't be dealt with using only four or five illustrations. Gallery This is the main quadrangle. Here and in many other parts of the campus vegetation is thick -- too thick, in my opinion. Major trimming is needed so that buildings are visible and free from potential damage to brickwork in the damp Seattle climate. The Japanese cherry trees in the photo have been in place for around 45 years and render the Collegiate Gothic classroom buildings nearly invisible when leaves are out. The "Quad" sets the style for the main part of campus. Bricks are a reddish-orange color and trim is a pinkish cream. My other alma mater, Dear Old Penn, standardized on Burgundy-colored brickwork to unify the campus. Here's a better view of a building done in Collegiate Gothic style. This represents the take-off point for architects working in the 1950s and later. The Mechanical Engineering building was built in the 50s in a nondescript style that nods to Collegiate Gothic only in its standard UW brickwork. At the center-left is an engineering school building completed around 1960. There apparently was a little pressure to compromise with Collegiate Gothic -- hence the fussy, abstracted-Gothic motif. The main campus plaza. A parking garage is below ground level and the towers are ventilators. The area was built during the early 70s when Brutalism was the architectural fad. No Gothic touches, but the brickwork is UW standard. Meany Hall performance center, sited on the plaza shown above, but completed in 1995. Note the odd little triangular windows along the roof line: the architect's reluctant tribute to Collegiate Gothic.. The engineering library and a classroom building dating to the 70s. Again the expected brick and no Gothic. On the left is the Business School... posted by Donald at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Whiskyprajer, Janiva, and Richard
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- WhiskyPrajer is learning to like Richard Thompson and is crazy about Janiva Magness. Here's a free taste of the souful Janiva. And here's Thompson's bizarrely stirring "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," with its witty reference to "Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme." Be sure to enjoy Thompson's droning / dancing virtuosity on the guitar too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Historical Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Courtesy of YouTube, here's a little archival footage of the great Ashley Whippet, the first Frisbee-catching dog. Hard to believe there was ever a time when dogs didn't catch Frisbees, isn't it? Here's the Ashley Whippet website, where I learned that you're supposed to refer to Frisbee-catching dogs as "disc dogs." Here's another cute Whippet video. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

"Cruising" on DVD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Peter Debruge notices that the dark and brutal William Friedkin / Al Pacino gay-sex thriller "Cruising" -- much maligned when it was first released in 1980 -- is finally being released on DVD. Peter thinks the movie stinks. I reacted differently -- I found it an imperfect film but also a very powerful one. It offers psychology, atmosphere, and suspense, as well as some frank glimpses of the more extreme edges of New York's late-'70s gay underground. (If you want a look at the kind of carrying-on that led to AIDS, you could do worse than watch "Cruising.") And Pacino was fab. Slate's Trenton Straube recounts the story of "Cruising"'s beleaguered production and controversy-addled reception. In its day, "Cruising" was quite the cause celebre. Semi-Related: I wondered what ever became of Extreme Faggotry. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * While this TV-commercial parody struck me as no more than pretty funny, it may be the slickest TV-commercial parody I've ever watched. * Mick Hartley thinks that, where Jack Kerouac is concerned, Anthony Daniels is all wet. * Rick Darby looks at a few gaudily painted airliners and wonders if everything these days has to be turned into a billboard. * Jenny figures out where to put her ideas. * Witold Rybczynski's slide show about green architecture includes a few images from the '70s, another era when eco-architecture seemed to be the inevitable next big thing. Those were some seriously ungainly buildings. * I was planning to make fun of this NYTimes piece about an absurd new Bernard Tschumi building ... But John Massengale, bless him, has got there first and has done it better than I ever could. One especially amusing line: "Non-architects know that a blue glass tower that looks like it's falling over doesn't really fit into a low-rise neighborhood of hundred-year-old stone and brick buildings." * The term "public intellectual" makes Alias Clio shudder. * Michael Bierut wonders if the ditziness of Miss South Carolina might not illuminate a little something about the graphic design field. "Perhaps design is the field of mindless prettiness," he writes, daringly. * Irina has a wrestle with her ego. * Andrew Sullivan turned up this brilliant little action-comedy gem. * Dean Baker doesn't think things are so bad in Germany. * Jeff Harrell's account of living with borderline personality disorder is startling, moving, and very interesting. (Link thanks to Jonathan Schnapp.) * Tyler Cowen wonders if the government should really be subsidizing philanthropy. * Bruce Grossman celebrates a couple of brawny and hilarious football novels that I'm fond of myself: Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough" and Peter Gent's "North Dallas 40." I dig those books even though I'm not a football fan. * The Man Who Is Thursday dares to admit that he has never enjoyed "The Lord of the Rings." * Allan Wall -- an American living in Mexico -- watches a recent debate among our Democratic hopefuls, and doesn't like what it bodes for the U.S. * The pop ditty that I can't shake out of my mind today is this easygoing and ridiculously catchy thing ... * MBlowhard Rewind: I told the story of the creation of the American teenager. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Concours Touring
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Every couple of years or so I visit the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance automobile show. It's a pricey but interesting event for car buffs who are into automobile aesthetics. Since this is a blog written by arts buffs, I feel it's my sacred duty to pass along some of the more interesting items on display: recently I posted on a rare Voisin that I spied in the sales / auction area. Today I'll show you two examples of Italian styling at its best. Both cars were designed and built by Carrozzeria Touring, an important firm from the 1920s into the 1950s. The first car is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta. When it was designed, car styling was in the later stages of the transition from boxy, non-aerodynamic shapes where headlamps, fenders, trunks and other exterior components were separate forms to all-enclosing "envelope" bodies that were streamlined in appearance, if not quite in reality. The Alfa's components are still distinct, though partly blended. Many contemporary cars were at this same evolutionary point, but more awkward-looking. Touring created a car where everything fits into a pleasing, well-proportioned whole. The other car was built ten years later, though the evolutionary span is really only five years or so if the disruption of World War 2 is subtracted. Whereas the Alfa was a passenger car, the 1949 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta was a racing car -- the "MM" refers to Mille Miglia, Italy's long-distance road race that was run for decades until it was finally deemed too dangerous. As I reported here, I'm not much of a Ferrari fan. Nevertheless, the styling of early (up through the mid-1950s) Ferraris was generally very good, and the 166 MM is one of the outstanding examples. Here the transition to the "envelope" form is complete. The car is taut and purposeful. No extraneous detailing; the crease along the upper sides of the body adds visual length and probably adds some stiffness to the sheet metal. Here are some photos I took. Gallery Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta - 1939 Ferrari 177 MM Touring Barchetta - 1949 I've been to three Pebble Beach Concours. The event is normally held the third Sunday in August, a time of year when the Monterey area can get foggy. My first two visits featured overcast -- not usually a good thing for picture-taking. This year was sunny, as you can see from the photos above. Nevertheless, even sunshine has it photographic downside. That's because the cars shown at Pebble Beach can be so shiny that one's photo might show more reflections than car; I certainly took a lot of reflection-filled photos. Despite that, I got enough good stuff for a few more posts. Hope you won't mind. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those intrigued (annoyed, provoked, etc) by our two-part interview with Gregory Cochran might enjoy checking out some blogospheric responses to it: Randall Parker, ChicagoBoyz' Jonathan, Steve Sailer, Joseph Moroco, Susan, Burkeman1, a commentsfest at GNXP ... Please let me know if you've run across references to the interview at other blogs. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, September 10, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part 2
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue with the second and final part of our q&a with Gregory Cochran. Part One, which includes an introduction to Cochran and his work, is here. *** A Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part Two 2Blowhards: So you don't think democracy and Iraq are made for each other? Cochran: I thought the "democracy push" in the Middle East was funny. Push for elections and you get Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood. I knew that would happen before we tried it -- why didn't Condi? Why didn't the White House? I could go on, but I think you get the picture. 2B: How important is it that we track down Bin Laden? Why haven't we been able to do so? Cochran: We should certainly kill him. It sets an important precedent. As to why we haven't, I think finding someone in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan is probably hard, and we're worried about upsetting the applecart there -- and I think we didn't want to, not much. Look at the resources committed. Judge them by their fruits. 2B: How could the USA more effectively protect itself from the danger of Islamic terrorists than it's currently doing? Cochran: Stop trying to get Arabs to become jihadists. Leave Iraq, for example. It's not that big a threat in any event. We could imagine appointing people with brains and some knowledge of the Moslem world to key positions in the FBI and CIA and such, but that seems to be utterly against the spirit of the times. Certainly against the spirit of Washington. I mean there's been no move in that direction, and nobody really minds. Except me of course and I'm probably just irritable. 2B: Speaking of terrorism more generally, how much danger is there of nuclear terrorism? And what if anything should be done about it? Cochran: Not much. No one is going to hand out nukes to terrorists and they can't build their own from scratch, that's for sure. Here I have to get technical. First, the first high hurdle in making a nuclear weapon is obtaining the fissionable materials. No terrorist group can make those materials -- it's a major industrial/scientific effort. Second, you have to make a bomb out of the fissionables, which are for all practical purposes either highly enriched uranium (with the percentage of U-235 increased from the natural 0.7% to something over 90%) or Plutonium-239. Making a Pu-239 bomb is difficult and no terrorist can do it: India took seven tries. Making a bomb out of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is relatively easy -- we didn't even bother to test the Hiroshima bomb -- and terrorists might be able to do it. Modern nuclear weapons themselves have so many inbuilt safeguards that the thieves would have to take one apart and build a new bomb from the innards -- they couldn't get it to go off if they wanted to, unless the maker gave them the code sequences. All... posted by Michael at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (69) comments

And Now a Word from Our Leaders
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards: After the invigorating plain speaking of Part I of Michael Blowhard's interview with Gregory Cochran on Iraq and related topics, which you should absolutely read, I thought I'd see what officialdom had to say on the subject. A little googling got me the text of General Petraeus' testimony to Congress. Reading his "Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq," I couldn't help but be struck by the utter absence of any discussion of what the U.S. has at stake in this conflict. No discussion of what benefits we hope to obtain in Iraq nor any discussion of what dangers we are struggling to avoid by being in Iraq. If you think I am exaggerating, note his remarks (quoted in full) under the heading "The Nature of the Conflict": The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more--or less--violently. This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq. Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists, and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and, especially, by Iran fuel that violence. Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust, and various forms of corruption add to Iraq's challenges. [emphasis original] I have read that paragraph a number of times and I do not see the words United States, America, or even American anywhere. Likewise, zilch on the nature of American interests in this conflict, dangers to the U.S. from this conflict, benefits to America from this conflict, threats to key allies from this conflict, etc. He goes on to magnify the oddity of this omission with a later remark: My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations: - political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists; - long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course; - regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and - Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations. [emphasis original] What he terms strategic considerations do not look, um, all that strategic to me. Just to check, I looked up strategy and found this on Wikipedia: A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often "winning". Noticing the link on "goal", I clicked it and got: An objective or goal is a personal or organizational desired end point in development. It is usually endeavoured to be reached in finite time by setting deadlines. By golly, the General has managed to... posted by Friedrich at September 10, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Q&A With Gregory Cochran, Part One
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the commentsfest on a recent Friedrich von Blowhard posting, a certain Gregory Cochran made some sharp and wittily-put points. I was tickled to see Cochran show up and to read his thoughts because -- in my hyper-amateurish and spotty way -- I've been aware of him and of his very impressive work for some years now. Some visitors might not have realized who we were hearing from, though. A professor at the University of Utah, Cochran is a physicist, an anthropologist, and a genetics researcher and theorist. He's well known for his belief that many ailments that we now think of as genetic might well be of pathogenic origin instead. With Henry Harpending and Jason Hardy, he authored a paper suggesting that the high average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews -- as well as their pattern of genetic diseases -- might be an evolutionary consequence of their history of persecution and their emphasis on jobs involving lots of brainpower. The paper received extensive coverage in The Economist and The New York Times. Cochran has worked in defence and aerospace; he has speculated that homosexuality might be caused by an infection; he has written a number of articles for the American Conservative scornful of the Bush administration; and he shows up periodically at Gene Expression. Cochran is a formidable heterodox intellectual, in other words: not only legendarily smart and fearless, but blessed with a remarkable memory -- he was once a College Bowl contestant. The Economist called him "a noted scientific iconoclast." GNXP's Razib says of Cochran, "Information technology is a deadly weapon in this man's hands. Greg Cochran is a genius, and he's got the 'fuck you' money to prove it." Steve Sailer has written of Cochran: "I stay in touch with some quite smart people, but even among them, Gregory Cochran is legendary for the ferocity of his scientific originality ... I can attest that, although a physicist by education and the leading theorist of evolutionary medicine by avocation, Cochran also has memorized almost the entire political and military history of the human race ... When I'm reviewing a historical film such as 'Master and Commander' or 'Hero' and I need to pretend to actually know something about the Age of Nelson or China's Warring States era, a call to Cochran will not only fill me in on what happened, but, more importantly, why it happened." Not irrelevant to all this is the fact that Cochran has been right about Iraq. He knew Iraq hadn't been involved in 9-11, and didn't have the resources to build anything nuclear; he knew not just that the war would become a mess but precisely which kind of mess; he saw through the delusions of those who thought we could bring democracy to the mideast ... It's eerie how right his predictions have been, and it's impressive that he arrived at them not from some uninformed political point of view but from a practical, fact-driven, and down-to-earth... posted by Michael at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (96) comments

Bringing Children to Work
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It happens every spring. Yes, it's not even Fall, but it can't be too early to begin pondering the matter. What I'm referring to is Bring Your Child to Work Day. Originally, this was a Feminist thing and the word "Daughter" was used instead of "Child." Perhaps "Daughter" is still the operative word in some settings. But in the government agency where I used to work, it became "Child," probably because some leaders were afraid "Daughter" was too discriminatory. Whatever word is used, I think the concept is not a good one, on balance. In the first place, children are removed from school for a day. In the second place, it's a distraction for the organization hosting the event. In the third place, a whole day -- or even half a day -- is too much for the attention spans of the grade-schoolers who tend to show up at these things. Net result: a lot of effort for little result. The people who planned the event for my agency (the state budget office, an adjunct to the governor's office) were reduced to scheduling an ice cream party as one of the activities to keep the kids occupied. That was probably because what we did was mostly either (1) work at computers or (2) sit in on meetings. As I write this, I can almost visualize the kiddies' eyes glazing when confronting such excitement. Non-office jobs would be more interesting for children to see, but not necessarily interesting for long. That's because many kinds of work are basically repetitive with only small variations in detail from repetition to repetition. (Think waitress. Think delivery truck driver. Think assembly line worker.) I hope someday folks will wise up and get rid of this idealistic, but mostly ineffectual, event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 9, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments