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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  2. Technology and the Men's Dress Shoe
  3. Numbers and Tastes
  4. Yes! Yes! Yes!
  5. Flickr Huh?
  6. And They Have the Nerve to Call This Free
  7. The Best Adventure Comic Strip Artist?
  8. Facts for the Day
  9. Finally ... A Nice Airport

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been sick the last few days, but a mere bleary head can't keep me from passing along a few websurfing finds. * Who knew? * Yuck, and double-yuck. I just had my own flu shot -- and, as usual, promptly came down with a flu. * All those visits to the lap dancing club? They were done for the sake of science. * Cineris enjoyed the horror flick "Cube," and thinks that many horror buffs might find it a nice, even somewhat cerebral, alternative to current torture porn. * What you enjoy eating may well be influenced by your genes. * Attack of the Teenage-Girl Clothes Bullies. * Roissy is nothing if not direct. He also offers an analysis of what a woman's job should tell you about her that sounds pretty accurate to me. * "I am not driving that car, Dad! It's the wrong color!" Spoiled-brat-ism reaches a new high. * Excellent (and funny) dating and courting advice found on Craigslist: here and here. (Link thanks to the wonderfully NSFW Viviane.) * Prairie Mary approves of Robert Duvall's acting in the TV Western miniseries "Broken Trail." * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Duvall in "Open Range" here. Sniffling and sneezing, Michael... posted by Michael at October 27, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Technology and the Men's Dress Shoe
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The pace of change for men's fashions -- especially attire for formal or semi-formal occasions -- seems glacial. Look at a photo of, say, New York City office workers from 100 years ago. The men will likely be wearing suits. Those suits will not seem greatly different from today's business suits. Sure, shirt collars are not the same and the cut of the jackets is a bit different, especially for the lapels. But the gist of the attire is pretty similar -- more similar to today's suits than 1907 men's dress was when compared to that of 1807, 100 years away in the other direction. While men's dress-up clothing was changing little, technology wasn't. Wool and cotton have been supplemented by various "artificial" fabrics. One of the happiest days of my life was in the late 1960s when I bought my first drip-dry shirt, freeing me from the expense (as well as the wear-and-tear) of clothes cleaning shops. In recent years the most striking impact of technology on clothing has been for shoes. On my last trip to Europe I had only one pair of shoes -- the ones I was wearing. Those were a pair of Eccos from Denmark with cleated soles, running-shoe style rubber transition zone and tops made of leather and Gore-Tex. Very practical and comfortable. I could wear them in any weather and terrain I was likely to encounter. Their only failing was on the fashion front and that was because they didn't fit the traditional style expectations for men's dress shoes. This makes me wonder. Those Ecco shoes are superior in every non-fashion respect to shoes made using the traditional technology of leather uppers stitched onto leather or leather-rubber layered bottoms. So how long will it take for fashion-reactionary males (and that usually includes me) to get with the program and wear running-technology shoes with suits. When will we all dress like Ben Stein? Maybe never. As I've stressed, we males can be extremely conservative when it comes to dress-up clothing. Or maybe sooner than one might think. Men also love comfortable clothing. "Casual Friday" long ago became a week-long deal at high-tech companies in Seattle and Silicon Valley. I myself practically live in jeans now that I'm safely retired. (For the record, I draw the line at shorts and short-sleeved shirts of the Hawaiian variety -- much to Nancy's distress.) While researching this article I clicked through several men's shoes web sites and saw that traditionally-styled shoes still strongly predominate in the "dress" area. Nevertheless, there are inklings of a change: let's look. Gallery Louis XIV - Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701 He was the Sun King and could wear darned well what he pleased. In this case, silky, high-heeled shoes. Which demonstrates that men's fashions are capable of change. Allen Edmonds "Park Avenue" model This is to indicate what men's dress shoes tend to look like these days. Cole-Haan "Air Conner" oxford The Nike sports shoe firm now owns... posted by Donald at October 25, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Numbers and Tastes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer points out that part of what explains catastrophic Southern California wildfires is booming population growth. * Terrierman makes the case that part of what's driving increases in atmospheric CO2 is ... booming population growth. Terrierman -- who I discovered thanks to those brainy backpackers at Querencia -- strikes me as a real find, as well as one of the most substantial bloggers out there. Terrierman's overt subject may be working dogs -- and he's great on that topic. But his brain and his writing also set off all kinds of meaty, non-dog-related thoughts. Here's a characteristically vigorous and unsentimental example. Here's another. And a real beauty. Reid Farmer points out this extra-special posting, and I'm thrilled to see that Terrierman approves of Cesar "Dog Whisperer" Millan. The Wife and I love watching "The Dog Whisperer" -- which, like the Terrierman blog, ain't just about dogs. You can buy Terrierman's book about working terriers here. Fun to see that the go-it-his-own-way Terrierman has made use of the self-publishing outfit, which I've praised in numerous postings. Irascible and curmudgeonly people often seem to stumble across the same resources, don't they? (And speaking of population levels ... Querencia host Steve Bodio points out this report about mountain snowpack. Although ocean levels may be rising, the quantity of fresh water in America's snowpack is currently at its lowest level in 20 years. Is it wise to be stuffing -- er, inviting -- ever more people into our Southwest when supplies of fresh water there are actually on the decrease?) As a leftover '70s-style eco-buff myself, I find it weird that such questions as "How crowded with humans do we want the world to be?" and "How crowded with humans do we want our country to be?" are so seldom raised these days. You don't suppose that sanctimoniousness about multiculturalism and touchiness about immigration policies might have anything to do with this, do you? Hey, a visual that I'm fond of: Incidentally, if anyone should be in a combative mood: That's great, I look forward to your thoughts. But please take into account the fact that I haven't asked how many people the planet (or country) is capable of holding, but how many we'd like it to have. That's a conversation that strikes me as much too rarely raised. It's also one during which the question of preferences will inevitably come up -- and matters of preference inevitably connect to the slippery question of tastes. Where do tastes come from? How do they arise? Do they need to be justified, or are they just what they are? If that's the case, how can they be discussed? Is it even possible to win an argument where tastes are concerned? And if not, on what basis can policies that include a "tastes and preferences" component be made? As much as some people like to think (and argue) that the question of taste can be bypassed or dismissed,... posted by Michael at October 24, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Yes! Yes! Yes!
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The curators of the Barbican's new exhibition -- a history of how sex has been represented in art -- definitely want audiences to find the show arousing. More, more, more, more, more.... Semi-related: Gotta love the nickname of Seattle's new trolley line. Fun video report too. (Link thanks to Daze Reader.) Alias Clio flirts with open marriage. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Flickr Huh?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you "get" the wonderfulness of Flickr? Me, I've discovered that I lack the Flickr gene entirely. I didn't think this would prove to be the case. A few years back, I was as excited as everyone else was about Flickr. The world had never seen such a cool web-thing. Overnight it seemed that everyone embraced Flickr. Flickr was showing us a whole new way to interact with photos, even with the web itself. The mind boggled, the heart raced. I paid for a Pro account, I uploaded a lot of pix ... And I've barely used the service since. Wondering why, I come up with one thing only: I haven't discovered a single reason why I would use Flickr. I find its "Photostream" method of organizing photos confusing. I don't understand the difference between "Sets" and "Collections" -- and, hell, I don't want to understand it. Photos as Flickr displays them are rather small, and the service has been pokey-ish on all the computers I've tried it on. I tired very quickly of watching little pink and blue balls circle around each other above the word "Loading" ... What first appealed to me about Flickr was the idea of storing photos online. No more chance of losing them due to a home-hard-drive crash; easy to access them from no matter where. In practice, I've found that a combo of iPhoto on the home Mac and a weekly backup to an external hard drive suits me far better. I've also found that, when I'm away from home, one of the last things I feel a desire to do is to play with my photo collection. So much for my initial hopes and plans for the service. As far as using Flickr as a way to show off occasional handfuls of photos to friends and family goes, I've found Flickr to be a bust there too. My first preference is to email photos to family and buds. My second is to use Google's free Picassa Web Albums, which seems to me easier and faster to use than Flickr does; it also displays photos to better advantage than Flickr does. IMHO, of course. My own disappointment notwithstanding, Flickr and the impact of Flickr roar on, of course. Yahoo! bought Flickr for a rumored $15-$17 mill -- and Flickr at Yahoo! has been such a popular attraction that Yahoo! has junked their own old-timey photo service. Meanwhile, Flickr seems to be generally deferred-to as a pioneer of Web 2.0, if not Web 3.0. What is it that enchants so many about Flickr? Many people are evidently getting something out of Flickr that it doesn't even occur to me to look to Flickr for. What could that be? I have two hunches. One has to do with the idea of a website not as "a brochure with links" or as "a book with links" but as "a place to visit and play with." People don't just use Flickr... posted by Michael at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

And They Have the Nerve to Call This Free
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I saw this little item from October 18 while surfing the web last night; it is Dan Steinbock's "Multinationals Fear US-China trade wars.” (You can read the whole item here.) The part that caught my attention was: Some 119 leading multinational companies...including Boeing, Citigroup, General Motors, and Microsoft...have called on Congress to reject protectionist legislation against China, arguing that "imposing unfair barriers to trade in the name of currency valuation or product safety is not a solution to the underlying concerns". It was "a vote for free trade", reported the state-owned China Daily, which, as so many other Chinese observers do, argues that rising protectionism among some US lawmakers "seriously threatens the interests of China, the United States itself and the world at large". The story goes on to reference Wall Street's, er, I mean, our Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's view on this issue: During the past few weeks, US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has repeatedly warned Congress against making legislation aimed at punishing China over its economic policies. "When we look at taking unilateral actions aimed at another nation, this can have enormous repercussions to our economic well-being," Paulson said. "You know, we're playing with fire." Well, if we’re playing with fire, it just might be because we’ve already been burned. I had an especially hard time stomaching the notion that the U.S.-China trade status quo has anything to do with that venerable concept, free trade. My distaste for the way this buzzword is thrown around in current debates was reinforced by an item I noted on Brad Setser’s blog. Mr. Setser is no mere blowhard, opining on matters well beyond his competency. He actually worked for the US Treasury from 1997 to 2001 on international financial architecture, sovereign debt restructurings, and was the acting director of the US Treasury''s Office of International Monetary and Financial Policy. In a post from October 23, 2007, he discusses the very different responses we’re seeing from the "developed world" and the "emerging world" to the fall of the U.S. dollar and the consequent rise of other currencies, chiefly the Euro and the Australian dollar. (This revaluation is making exporters from Europe and Australia worried that their exports may get priced out of the market.) From Mr. Setser: The FT notes, in today’s leader, that the G-7 hasn’t been able to agree on the massive, co-ordinated intervention needed up hold the dollar up against the euro...The funny thing is that the emerging world has been able to muster support for massive, global intervention needed to hold the dollar up... He explains how the Asian developing countries have managed such unanimity without any formal organization, like the G-7 talks, to promote such cooperation. The chief element of this discipline appears to be fear of China’s export machine, powered in large part by a severely undervalued currency: long as China resists allowing its currency to appreciate--a policy that requires that China buy tons of dollars in the foreign... posted by Friedrich at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (11) comments

The Best Adventure Comic Strip Artist?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newspaper comic strips started off as humor and that's pretty much what the radically miniaturized versions of today offer. But during the 1930s, "adventure" strips came to the fore. Think Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Red Ryder, The Phantom, Smilin' Jack and Mandrake the Magician. This genre continued through the 40s and 50s, eventually fading as television and shrinking newspaper cartoon-panel sizes took their toll. Most adventure strips weren't well-drawn. In part this was because many of the cartoonists lacked extensive art school training. Perhaps more importantly, the pressure of cranking out panel after panel --- especially for a strip running both daily and Sunday -- is a punishing task. So most artists cut as many corners as they could to keep the product flowing. Successful strips, those with large syndications, generated a large enough cash flow for the cartoonist to employ assistants. Sometimes the assistants did the backgrounds or perhaps the inking over "roughs" drawn by the cartoonist himself. And there are instances where the assistant would do all the drawing, this being possible if the "author's" style could be exactly mimicked. Nevertheless, some adventure strips rose to a level that might reasonably be called "art," if indeed "commercial art" is Art and not simply "art" as a task or process. This is my favorite book about comic strips. First published in France in 1967 under the title Bande Dessinée et Figuration Narrative, it treats comic strips as art and contains an excellent selection of the best panels appearing up to that year (along with some mediocre ones to complete the coverage). If adventure strips are borderline or even actual art, then who were the artists doing that high-level work? Who was best? I don't have the digital space to be encyclopedic, so will focus on those active in the 1930s who I consider superior. The first is Noel Sickles, who for a time drew the "Scorchy Smith" aviation strip. He didn't do Scorchy for very long and quit to become a successful commercial artist. It's pretty shrunken, but below are sample panels. Noel Sickles - "Scorchy Smith" Note that Sickles was (1) skilled at drawing humans, an ability not common in the comic strip universe, and (2) employed large areas of black for reasons of design as well as for the occasional chiaroscuro effect. Due to his short stay in the field, I'll eliminate him from my "best" list. That list is comprised of Milton Caniff, Frank Godwin, Burne Hogarth, Harold Foster and Alex Raymond. Let's take a look. Gallery Milton Caniff - "Terry and the Pirates" Many observers consider Caniff the best "all-rounder" in the adventure strip field. He could plot and write well and his panels were powerfully done once he shifted from pen to brush. The only place I can fault him is that his humans tended to have a caricature-ish tinge: they aren't quite convincing. It's likely Caniff did this for dramatic effect. Frank Godwin - "Connie" --> Frank... posted by Donald at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Facts for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hillary Clinton, who as a candidate has promised "a return to transparency," hasn't encouraged much in the way of transparency at the Clinton Library, where only one half of one percent of the 78 million pages of documents that are stored there have been made available to the public. One half of one percent! (Source.) * The U.S. trade deficit in 1991: $31 billion. The U.S. trade deficit in 2006: $759 billion. $759 billion! But there's a sunny side to the news: the 2007 trade deficit looks to be down a bit. (Source.) * Nutty immigration policies and high birth rates among immigrants mean that the U.K.'s population may hit 77 million by 2051. 77 million! That's already one crowded island-nation. Do you suppose that most natives would vote for this development -- assuming they were, y'know, ever consulted about their preferences in such matters? * Another consequence of the U.K.'s current immigration scheme: The nonwhite population of the U.K. will grow by more than 300% during this stretch. 300%! In just a little over 40 years!! That means wrenching changes ahead, to put it mildly. Hey, elites: Haven't you ever heard of avoiding forseeable problems? (Source.) * Even Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has called for an end to multiculturalism, which he finds "inexorably divisive." (Source, thanks to Steve Sailer.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 23, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, October 22, 2007

Finally ... A Nice Airport
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last year I complained (scroll down) about the Frankfurt airport. Previously, I griped about Terminal 1 at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. There are other airports that rub me the wrong way, but I'll hold my fire for now in order to save ammunition for future posts. Today, I'm pleased to note an airport I did like: Milan's Malpensa. Malpensa's main downside is its distance from central Milan -- nearly 30 miles, and the better part of an hour's drive in average traffic conditions. The trade-off for that is its park-like setting similar to U.S. airports such as Dulles (Washington, DC), Kansas City (when I was there 25 years ago) and Dallas-Ft. Worth. But it's the terminal that counts. Malpensa's Terminal 1 is nothing special architecturally -- just the usual Modernist boxes. What is nice are the amenities for travelers. For example, the ground floor (outside the secure zone) has several coffee shops, fast food outlets, a well-equipped news stand store and a place where you can check your luggage for a few hours or days. This last service was essential to us because we had to slough off most of our luggage for a four-day post-tour trip by train from Milan to Cinque Terre and Lucca. Another nice touch was the spaciousness; at almost no point were we and our luggage jammed in a crowd of travelers. Once through security there was the expected, but moderate-sized, duty-free shopping area where the tourist with a wallet bulging with unspent Euros might load up on a few items from Farragamo, Gucci or Paul & Shark. Out by the gates, which weren't the isolation-ward variety, were additional, smaller shops. Including another Paul & Shark (an Italian company, despite its name). (Did I mention Paul & Shark? If I didn't, allow me to say that they have really nice looking men's sweaters, jackets, etc. Except that even the least expensive of the nice stuff was close to $250 per item. Over my price point, but I still have a case of non-buyer's remorse. Oh well, there's a P&S shop in Sausalito and a store carrying their line in Caesars in Vegas, so I have two more potential temptation opportunities this fall.) All of this doesn't mean Malpensa is perfect. It's just that our experience there was a positive one. Your result might vary. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 22, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments