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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aerial Warfare Seen from 1910
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Forecasting -- make that serious forecasting -- isn't easy. That's because, even if you get the broad sweep of things right, many details are likely to be wrong. Or maybe you nail some details and blow the big picture. A safe (i.e., defensible) way to forecast is to extrapolate from the past. And when the forecast proves inaccurate, the forecaster can shrug his shoulders and blame history. Things become more difficult when a major new technology enters the scene. Because it's new, there's no history to extrapolate. In this case, the forecaster has little choice but to grope around for what he hopes is an appropriate analogy. That's what some people did at the dawn of heavier-than-air aviation when the question of aerial warfare came up. The closest analog they could think of was naval warfare. The naval analogy made sense because early airplanes were doing well if they simply took off, climbed a few hundred feet into the air, circled around for a while and then landed safely. While airborne, they pretty much stayed in a horizontal plane; aerobatic maneuvers came a few years later when comparatively light, powerful motors allowed heavier, stronger airplanes to be built. During the Great War fighter aircraft engaged in swirling dogfights, but that was the future observers around 1910 were scratching their heads about. Airships -- blimp-type craft and dirigible Zeppelins -- were even more constrained to a horizontal maneuver plane than aircraft. Given the horizontal nature of flight at that time, it was easy to look at naval warfare, fought on the essentially horizontal plane of the sea, as the analog. So we have aircraft armed with shell-type guns taking pot-shots at each other. Just for fun, here are two nicely done illustrations of future air war as seen circa 1910 by newspaper artist Henry Grant Dart. For more on Dart and his work, see here, here and here. Gallery Air-sea battle at night, 1910 Going Into Action - 1907 Exciting stuff! The aircraft are pretty much at the same altitude and the two in the middle-ground indeed seem to be firing back and forth. Note the men standing on decks in the craft at the lower right. It looks a lot like naval destroyers of that day. The dual-mounted guns on the lower, forward deck appear to be drum-fed rapid-fire cannon of perhaps three-inch caliber. Science fiction pioneer H.G. Wells wrote a book called The War in the Air in 1907 featuring dirigibles and airplanes. I read the book back when I was in high school and don't remember much about it. The link provides a plot summary but doesn't describe the aircraft and how Wells imagined them fighting. One hundred years later, we know how aerial warfare actually happened. This makes the early speculations seem quaint. But I'll bet that Wells' book and Dart's pictures excited a lot of boys back then; they would have excited me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, December 14, 2007

What's Wrong With Saturated Fat?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've linked to this piece before, but the information in it is still an eye-opener: As Nina Teicholz points out, despite what we've been led by many health authorities to believe no one has ever proved that saturated fat clogs arteries or leads to heart disease. Is our health-tips industry as full of it as our art-chat industry is? Gary Taubes (author of the new "Good Calories, Bad Calories") talks to Jimmy Moore. Taubes tells Moore, "It's pretty clear that saturated fat is almost assuredly harmless." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Researching a biography of the burlesque star Lili St. Cyr, Kelly DiNardo learns that Lili was a serious heroin user. Kelly blogs here. * So what is rockabilly? Hey, here's a dynamite example. * Preserve your favorite snowflake forever. * Jen Jordan recalls the early days of commercial hard drives. Now we're on the verge of terabyte thumb drives. * Curious Expeditions takes a look at some castles built by self-taught builders. * Barbara Fisher tries "minimally processed" organic milk and loves it. * Philip Murphy celebrates some sizzling Frenchwomen. * Their parents apparently didn't tell them not to play with their food. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * In a heroic posting, Mencius tries to separate out the quack economists from the real economists. * Get your upscale sex toys here. My favorite is a spanking paddle "ethically made by a fair trade project in India with wood from a substainable source." Despite my giggles, I do find this a beautiful and seductive site. (NSFW, of course.) * I like a girl with a great big Bible. * Glenn Abel pays tribute to the subtle and refined low-budget horror impresario Val Lewton. * Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out a good Steven D. Ealy review of a book about Michael Oakeshott, my favorite philosopher. * Dave also points out a Terry Teachout blogposting about John Silber's new anti-starchitecture book. Is the tide finally starting to turn against the starchitects? Here's a video interview with Terry. * You can listen to a lot of interviews with cultureworld figures here. I especially enjoyed the merry-spirited playwright Alan Ayckbourn and the Zen-Rabbi-troubador Leonard Cohen. The Howard Hodgkin talk is a letdown, though. * Culturebargain: The respectable press loathed Joel Schumacher's Angry-White-Man revenge melodrama "Falling Down," starring Michael Douglas. I found it very satisfying: irreverent and exciting, and with a hard-to-resist instinct for the jugular. Amazon is selling the DVD of the film for $5.49. * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Alberto Cavalcanti's brilliant 1947 British gangster movie "They Made Me a Fugitive." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Lester's Dad
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lester Hunt shows how to write a beautiful, clear-eyed tribute to someone who sounds like an irascible and challenging man. Lester doesn't shy away from the larger thoughts that accompany such moments either. Lovely passage: If only there were some way to just download all that experience and pass it on to others through a cable! So much of it just goes to waste. Lots of sympathy to Lester. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Donald's Art Book of the Year
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "I can resist anything but temptation." I'm not certain who first came up with that line, though I associate it with Mae West. Not many things tempt me, but I'll publicly admit that one of them is books. Notably books about art these last few years that I've been blowharding. Moreover, books about realistic/naturalistic art centered around the late 19th century, plus/minus 100 years. Especially books dealing with realist paintings of people done during that period. (That's because painting a person convincingly is one of the hardest things to do artistically, and that's what I attempt when I find the time to paint.) So I whipped out my credit card without hesitation when I spied this book at the Seattle Art Museum store. The cover is Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill by Giovanni Boldini, 1906. The subtitle "From David to Warhol" is, fortunately, not entirely descriptive. That's because only six pages are about post-1950 portraits, a merciful thing in my estimation. In fact, about 140 of the 205 or so basic content pages deal with the period 1795-1915 and 25 or so more are devoted to setting the scene. Even so, the book's point of view can be characterized by this chapter title: "The Belle Époque: Portraiture at the Zenith." Most of the major Western European portraitists are represented, along with a few I'm not familiar with. The 13.3x10 inch format is usefully large for studying the full-page reproductions. Better yet for artists, there are a number of full pages devoted to details of paintings; not as good as visiting a museum to study technique, but quite helpful nevertheless. Here's an example of a portrait and artist unknown to me: Portrait of Madame Leroux by Jean-Jacques Henner - c.1898 I suppose it can be taken as given that a society portrait is not likely to be brutally honest in its depiction of its subject. It can be interesting to compare portraits to photographs. Still, I'm not particularly curious about the exactitude of the portraits in the book. Most of the paintings are interesting to savor as art alone, not as some sort of social record. Speaking of things social, I suppose there are folks out there with a Social Conscience who would get in some sort of huff because the portraits were commissioned by rich folks and even royalty. To which I say: Get over it and enjoy the art. (Science fiction writer Larry Niven asserted to the effect that: "The word 'social' in a sentence negates the meaning of the word following it." Think Social Justice, Social Sciences, etc.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 13, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Cowtown Pattie gives "No Country for Old Men" a cowgirl nod of approval. * David Chute expresses reservations about the Coens' film here, and links to a molto fabuloso clip from Sam Peckinpah's wild-and-woolly 1973 "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." Now that's some real '70s filmmaking: half the purest bullshit, half the most heavenly, turbulent, emotionally-wrenching gorgeousness you could ever ask for. The fact that it's impossible to separate the bullshit from the beauty is very '70s too. Lordy, when Slim Pickens staggers off into the desert and sits by the water ... Did even Tinteretto hit these kinds of ecstatic / painful highs? I treated myself to a full-blown Peckinpah Moment back here. * The next "Jackass" movie won't be released to theaters at all. It will be distributed online instead. Does what used to be known as the "distribution bottleneck" exist any longer? * WhiskyPrajer confesses that he's addicted to Men's Health magazine. I buy it sometimes too. I wonder why. Tyler Cowen tries to figure out how to manage his magazine subscriptions. * Don't overlook James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month. Those daffy architects! How will they ruin our shared environment next? * David Chute's buddy Ramesh reports from Japan that Tokyo has become a "gay man's dream." (Note to DavidC: Move off of LiveJournal now! is free!) * Will the French ever be a world power in terms of culture again? (Link thanks to FvB.) * Ed Gorman flips for Joseph Lewis' "Gun Crazy" and has some smart things to say about how pacing has changed in recent decades. * Spaniards are eating more saturated fat yet suffering fewer heart attacks. * Low-carb enthusiast Jimmy Moore answers a question many low-carbers have asked: What kind of fruit should people on a low-carb diet eat? Jimmy talks with a "Biggest Loser" contestant here. * Stanley Coren offers a list of the five best books about dogs. (Link thanks to Terrierman.) Henry Chappell marvels at the way suburbanites can work themselves into a tizzy about the presence in the neighborhood of a single coyote. People really can overdo the "safe and secure" mania, can't they? That's a very sweet photo that Henry has taken of his dawg Cate. * Steve Bodio finishes his book and uncorks a barrage of links. * Tim Worstall has the goods on that NASA sex tape. * Scott thinks -- no, knows -- that there can be such a thing as too much healthy living. * Does Israel have a say in determining America's foreign policy? If you read the NYTimes it can sure seem that way. * Hibernia Girl does a beautiful job of spelling out some of the reasons why migration issues are a major political concern these days, as well as why people shouldn't be shy about raising the topic. * Culturebargain: Those of you who still own a functioning Walkman might want to pay a visit to Books on Tape,... posted by Michael at December 13, 2007 | perma-link | (42) comments

Ladies: Their Habits and Tastes and Feelings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tad Safran thinks that British women have a lot to learn from American women where the matter of "upkeep" goes. (Link thanks to ALD.) By contrast, Toby Young writes "Frankly, I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than go out on another date with an American woman." * The sassy young gals at Jezebel are starting to wonder if porn has ruined sex. Brace yourself for a quick lesson in how verbally uninhibited today's young women can be. (NSFW) * What happens when a callgirl develops some real feelings for a client? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 13, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John Stossel Interviews Ron Paul
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What to make of the fact that ABC's execs won't be broadcasting an interview that John Stossel has done with Ron Paul on TV, but will release it on the web only? Have they made a wise, considered, and responsible news judgment? Or are they demonstrating once again what enemies of freedom they truly are? Watch the first part of the interview here; read an opinion about what seems to be turning into a controversy here. Links thanks to Andrew Sullivan. Best, Michael UPDATE: I, Squub thinks Ron Paul is great -- but maybe only in theory.... posted by Michael at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

History Dud
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Big fan though I am of the Teaching Company, I haven't had a lot of luck with their history series. Exceptions: the fiery, brilliant Alan Charles Kors and the terse, super-organized Kenneth Harl, both of whom are among my Teaching Company faves. Oh, and the expansive, urbane, and amusing Patrick Allitt. He's great too. Hmm, that's three good history profs ... Whatever my disappointments with the Teaching Company, I've still had a better batting average with them than I had at the fancy and overpriced university I attended. In any case, my latest Teaching Company history-series let-down is Peter Stearns' "A Brief History of the World." I really thought this would be a course for me. As much as I've enjoyed a number of western-civ-centric Histories of Everything, I've always yearned to be marched through all of history from a decentered point of view. Gimme the big picture, baby! Or make that the big pictures, plural! And in his throat-clearing -- er, introductory -- lecture, Stearns announces explicitly that that's what he'll be doing. But I rapidly lost heart, and I put the series aside after only seven lectures. This is one of those cases where what a lecture series plants in your brain isn't the subject matter it purports to be presenting but the professional field that it's part of. To make my point a little more clearly: As I listened to the series, my brain didn't fill with History -- with images of and information about invasions, migrations, rulers, everyday people, etc. Instead, what filled my mind was a picture of the faculty meetings where the field called "World History" was hashed-out. (In this, I was reminded of another lousy Teaching Company series. While you might think that a series entitled "Peoples and Cultures of the World" would survey, y'know, some of the world's peoples and cultures, what the course delivers instead is an introduction to the professional field of academic anthropology. You learn far more about the history of this field -- about what anthro professors do, and about the positions profs and researchers have staked out -- than you do about, say, the Masai.) I have a seat-of-the-pants theory that the worth of a professor can be judged by the number of times he / she uses such words as "of course," "significantly," "obviously," "frankly" and "clearly." I think of these words as "pontificators"; they're words that profs use to puff themselves up in front of their colleagues and to lord it over their students. The more these words are put to use, the worse the course being presented is. Stearns? Well, he gives every one of these words a workout, sometimes cramming several of them together into the same sentence. But the real problem with the course is how general it is. Even granting that an 18-hour lecture series on world history needs to move like the wind, this one is still amazingly vague. It includes what must be... posted by Michael at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Walter Dean Goldbeck Illustrations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nothing profound here. Just a few illustrations circa 1910-20 from an illustrator no one seems to know much about today. His name is Walter Dean Goldbeck, apparent dates 1882-1925. An item about him can be found here (scroll down). The first two picture don't strike me as being anything special, but the two at the bottom seem nicely done. Enjoy. Gallery Woman as Deity From "The Bear's Claw" From "The Shogun's Daughter" The Light of New York - ad for General Electric, c. 1911-14 Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 12, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Best-Ofs, 2007 Edition
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tyler Cowen reviews some of this year's best-of lists. In this long-ago posting about best-of lists, I cheered 'em, but I also asked critics a few questions about 'em. It's that time of year again, ain't it? Grinchly, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Gender Question
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So now it's official American government policy to castrate young males? The poster in the photo reminds me of a question that I've puzzled over for a long time. If my experience is any indicator, our educational system is currently turning out hordes of competent, bossy (er, confident), and pulled-together young women. (Uninhibited -- or at least strangers to shame -- too.) Meanwhile, the new young men emerging from high-powered schools seem sheepish, beat-up, and confused about how they might make any kind of contribution. In other words, the post-'70s feminist effect on American education has been to "empower" girls at the expense of boys. But ... Well, has this been a wise policy? After all, by the age of 35 most of these dynamic, driven young women are going to want to have babies. Which will probably mean that many of them will be easing at least partway out of the workforce. Which in turn will leave America's public business in the hands of a generation of men who lack any sense that they're entitled to fight and lead. Is this a development that will work out for the general social good? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2007 | perma-link | (60) comments

Race and Evolution
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer looks at the stats and concludes that the U.S. is turning Hispanic a lot faster than anyone expected -- even faster than alarmists have predicted, in fact. Fun passage: "Half of all Hispanic women who gave birth in 2006 were unmarried." These are the people who -- and these are the policies that -- are going to be saving Social Security? It sometimes seems to me that the people we're importing in such droves can't even do a good job of cleaning our hotels. * Fred Reed thinks that it's time for the mainstream media to stop concealing the race of people accused of horrifying crimes. * The new Cochran, Harpending, Hawks, Moyzis, and Wang paper is a corker. This particular Blowhard has always been unable to believe the usual polite thing, namely that evolution stopped 50,000 years ago. Why should it have? But Hawks, Cochran, Harpending and their posse argue something far more radical: that evolution has in fact dramatically accelerated in recent years. Swallow that one, polite society! Steve reprints an informative press release here. John Hawks blogs here. Here's Scientific American's report. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 11, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Monday, December 10, 2007

Derriere Guard Alert
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The ever-useful Arts & Letters Daily site offers this link to a December 2007 New Criterion article by James Panero about a group calling themselves the "Derriere Guard." Apparently the poor fools want to bring back "traditional forms and techniques" to art: In the fine arts, that means Classical Realism, a movement seeking to reunite beaux-arts technique with classical ideals through a loose network of schools, ateliers, and apprenticeships. This year’s Derriere Guard festival brought together a weekend of talks with presentations of realist art and classical architecture, poetry, dance, music, drawing [...] Panero begins with a put-down on Tom Wolfe because Wolfe doesn't like Abstract Expressionism and considers Picasso a fraud. Then he goes on to mention some Guard events, bringing the name of painter and art school proprietor Jacob Collins who is striving to roll back the Modernist tide rather than simply complain about it. But much of the piece is about Wolfe and suggests that he is some kind of conspiracy theorist regarding the promotion of Modernism. The last part of the article focuses on the Classical Realists (the artists, not the activist group) in a more sympathetic -- though equivocal -- manner, noting parallels with the struggles of the early Impressionists against the Establishment of their day. Altogether, a rambling essay with no clear, take-away idea. Perhaps that's because of a sort of feud between Wolfe and The New Criterion's founder and present co-editor/publisher, Hilton Kramer. Panero naturally sides with Kramer, much as National Review writers tend to avoid strongly disagreeing with William F. Buckley. For this reason, I read Panero with a wary eye. (Full disclosure: I'm a New Criterion subscriber.) As the for Derriere Guard, this is the first time I've heard about it. Chalk that up to living far from New York City or perhaps my habitual sloth and ignorance. It was nice to learn about the group and its activities. Modernism and its spawn remain far too powerful for the good of what's left of Western culture and, until it is cut down to its proper size, I welcome just about any group willing to join the fight against it. Now re-read the last sentence carefully. I did not advocate complete elimination of Modernism. Some 2Blowhards readers seem to think that's my position. Perhaps that's because, even though I was educated to like Modernism, I no longer care for much of it and am not shy about saying so. But not caring for something is not the same thing as hating it and wishing for its destruction. In an ideal world, I would like to see Modernism and, especially, Post-Modernism held to the same level of importance and prestige as our present cultural elites regard, say, Thomas Kinkade. And Picasso. Was Tom Wolfe correct to consider him a "fraud?" I think that shoe doesn't completely fit. "Clown" seems more accurate. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 10, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

A Couple of Blogging Tools
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * If you're thinking of taking up blogging, I'd urge you to give a try. It's a service much like Google's Blogger. The main difference between them is that is far more solid and deep; it makes Blogger seem like a toy for kids. can take whatever -- well, a lot of what -- you want to throw at it and offer it up to the public attractively. If I were starting 2Blowhards today, I'd avoid Blogger, and I wouldn't go to the expense and trouble of having a blog custom-made either. I'd do it on A quick explanation for those feeling confused about the "WordPress" thing. There's a difference between WordPress and WordPress (without the ".com") is an open source blogging platform that requires major geek skills to manage. It's apparently powerful and wonderful. Geeks rave about it anyway. But for the mortals among us, it's a bear. You have to download a copy of WordPress, you have to install it on a server, you have to configure it. The term "CSS" has to make some sense to you. And you can't do any of this without first having lined up hosting, purchased and "pointed" a URL, and without knowing how to FTP. To this pathetic English major at least, the whole thing looks like an endless series of annoyances, frustrations, and headaches. By contrast, -- note the ".com" -- is a self-contained, hosted blogging service that is based on the WordPress platform. In other words: no worries about downloading / uploading / configuring/whatever. With, no geek heroics are required. All you have to do is go to and sign up. Once you've done that, you get many of the benefits of WordPress -- everyone's current favorite blogging platform -- with none of the headaches. You're blogging within minutes. Between you and me: A small but fun thing that becomes clear as you mess with is that it doesn't limit you to blogging. You can in fact use to create surprisingly elaborate multipage websites. It may take a little fiddling and a bit of trial and error -- but if I can do it (and I can), you can too. Did I mention that the service is free up to a point, and very cheap even after that point? Are you reading, Spike Gomes? * Though I've mentioned the microblogging service Tumblr before, I'll mention it again as an EZ alternative to Does conventional blogging tempt but seem like an awful lot of work? (And it can be a lot of work.) Do you want to take part in the give-and-take of online life but rarely find the time or energy to formulate actual, like, sentences and paragraphs? (And turning your thoughts, feelings, and observations into sentences and paragraphs does indeed take some effort.) Then running a blog might demand a little more of you than you have to give.... posted by Michael at December 10, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The 'Cuda That Couldn't
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This time the picket ships did what they were supposed to, spotting the incoming bomber fleet and reporting position, vector and velocity -- unlike the sequence of errors two weeks previously that left the east side of Providence, Rhode Island in flames. Within minutes, the squadron of long-range FM-1 interceptors was airborne from its Otis Field, Massachusetts base, slowly climbing and aimed for a point over the Atlantic that would be reached in two hours, placing them in position to attack the German bomber stream. If all went well, they would seriously thin the attackers who then would be largely finished off by shorter-range P-38s over Long Island a hundred miles short of their target, New York City. . . . . . Success! There were the Germans, about two miles to the south and 1,500 feet below, well away from any sheltering clouds. The FM-1 Airacudas banked right and assumed four "vics" of three attackers each -- but spread out more than the similar Hurricane formations that failed to successfully defend England two years earlier. The 'Cuda vics would attack in sequence and each aircraft would focus on its own target. The squadron commander swiveled his head from side to side, making a final check of the 37-millimeter cannons and their loaders positioned in the front part of the engine nacelles mounted over each wing. Then he refined his course slightly before handing control over to the gunnery officer seated behind him. He also involuntary tried to make himself a smaller target for defensive machine-gun fire from the bombers even though there was an armor plate just ahead of the instrument panel and the center cockpit glazing panel was inch-thick armored glass. The plane shuddered from the recoil of the cannons as each fired off ten rounds. A second later, the left wing of the target seemed to hinge upwards and then the aircraft rapidly dropped, the wings closing on one another like scissor blades. One of the cannon shells must have hit a wing spar. The second bomber they attacked showed no sign of damage. Better luck with the third target: this time, the central part of the fuselage seemed to vaporize into flame. The commander instantly wrested control back and tried to maneuver the heavy interceptor away from the cloud of airborne debris the German bomber was rapidly becoming. Close call, but safely through. And also through the bomber formation. Now it was time to climb a few hundred feet and slow a little to let the bombers pass below. Then another attack could be made. Firing ten rounds each per target, the cannons had enough ammunition for 15 attacks. Provided, of course, that the Airacuda didn't get shot down by the defenders. Well, that's the way I imagine how the Bell YFM-1 Airacuda was intended to perform. Gallery Bell YFM-1 Airacuda The aircraft in the upper photo is one of the last ones built. It lacks the "blister" machine-gun positions... posted by Donald at December 9, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments