In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mad Gone Wrong?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My name is Donald. I am a packrat. But I'm doing better. Honest, I am. We finally got around to unboxing stuff that had been piled up in the basement rec room since we moved to Seattle. I weeded out a fair amount of books and other items, though what remains is still formidable. Among the things I still have is the last issue of Mad while it was a comic book. And I have the very next issue, its first as a magazine, along with a half dozen other early magazine copies. Besides those, I have a copy of Humbug, a magazine started by Harvey Kurtzman after he left his editor job at Mad and, later, Trump, a humor magazine that was briefly part of Hugh Hefner's Playboy empire. I don't have more copies of Humbug because it only lasted one issue. Trump didn't last long either, but I don't know how many issues were published. My collection includes two of them, so it went at least that far. But back to Mad. Gallery Cover of first issue of Mad comics, 1952 The artwork is by early mainstay Will Elder. Superduperman, from Mad comics This is the opening panel of the Superman satire drawn by ace cartoonist Wally Wood. Note the detail and micro-humor such as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval on Superduperman's chest and the "super" signs in the background. The stacked babe at the right is "Lois" (no last name provided) who looks like a Will Eisner sexpot raised to the third power. Wood's style here is pretty much extreme-Eisner with the addition of the detail byplay and Duotone shading. Jack Davis artwork: bottom panel from Mad Jack Davis was my next-favorite Mad artist after Wood. He was prolific, and eventually even did covers for Time magazine. Cover of first issue of Mad magazine, 1955 Besides Superduperman, satires in Mad comics included Starchie (Archie), Flesh Garden (Flash Gordon), Lone Stranger (Lone Ranger), Prince Violent (Prince Valiant), Gopo Gosson (Pogo Possum), Poopeye (Popeye the Sailor), Teddy and the Pirates! (Terry and the Pirates) and Manduck the Magician (Mandrake the Magician). Needless to say, I found most of these hysterically funny, being 13-15 years old at the time. In its comic book guise Mad also satirized the Captain Video, Dragnet and What's My Line television shows, cowboy movies, print advertising and other subjects. When Mad went to magazine format, it drifted over to satirizing movies and television, abandoning targets from comics. And it is this, I contend, that marked the demise of the publication in my esteem. This is heresy for many of you, no doubt. And I can't argue that Mad has been anything but commercially successful enough to survive for more than half a century as a magazine. But still ... I say Mad was at its peak when it was a comic book because it was essentially the same medium as the main targets of its satire -- comic... posted by Donald at March 1, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, February 29, 2008

Our Postmodern Economy
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, It has occurred to me from time to time that shifts in a civilization probably show up more clearly in the arts than elsewhere. As one example, let’s look at the transition in painting from representation to more conceptual modes such as cubism and abstraction; this occurred in the first couple decades of the 20th century. This shift occurred at virtually the same time that the professions -- our technocratic elite -- emerged in their modern, self-regulated form. As Robert H. Wiebe points out in his book, "The Search for Order 1877-1920," practitioners of law, medicine, teaching, architecture, social work and other forms of administration seized the reins of their own professional status around the year 1900. During this era, members of various intellectual "guilds" got legal control over the education of their prospective members, over certification (who got a license and who was kept out), and over disciplinary proceedings governing their members. While Wiebe claims the critical decade for the development of the self-consciousness of the professions as social leaders was between 1895 and 1905, the complete consolidation of professional self-governance took a couple decades to complete. Let me be clear what it means when professions are able to control themselves, with full cooperation by the government. It means the recognition in law that these groups constitute a leadership class that can not be meaningfully directed by outsiders. Sounds like a pretty thorough endorsement of elite status to me. While these specific dates and examples come from the United States, the rise of a new class of experts (distinguished by their technical education, claiming to embody the power of advanced science and working in close communion with both industry and government while largely remaining formally independent of both) was common to all advanced countries at this time. Is it an accident that modernism, a self-consciously "advanced" art, distinguished by its focus on concepts rather than ordinary appearances, occurred at the same time as the rise of a conceptually-oriented class of technocrats? I think not. In fact, the so-called avant-garde of the early 20th century art world could be better described as bringing up the rear or hitching a ride on coattails of this social dynamic, which had been in train for a couple decades when the art world finally woke up and clambered onto the bandwagon. So if changes in the art world generally echo or reflect changes in the real world -- a proposition that can be illustrated by countless examples -- what do our contemporary arts show us about developments in the real world today? When you look at, say, a Frank Gehry building, with its billowing, twisted, slanted forms, what is being conveyed? I’d read it as saying, "These twisted planes are walls if I say they are. I (the architect, that is) have got the advanced materials and computer software to make them work (more or less) as walls, and I’ve got a patron with enough dough to disregard... posted by Friedrich at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

The Teleology of Facebook
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm glad to learn that not everyone loves Facebook. I signed up for an account myself, spent a couple of hours exploring the site, and still don't understand what the point of Facebook is. I just don't get it. Can anyone enlighten me? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hot for teacher? * Henry Chappell's visit to the Texas branch of the Tallgrass Prairie is a gem of nature writing: a satisfying, vivid blend of poetry, precision, evocation, and knowledge. It's the kind of thing that I always hope to read when I open a copy of Sierra magazine or Natural History. Fun to see that Henry is a Townes fan too. * Mencius Moldbug and Larry Auster trade blows over the Civil War and the right to secede. TGGP adds his thoughts. * Balance gets to be a challenge. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Agnostic has a theory about why it is many Asian guys are such lousy pickup artists. Then he considers the ballet world -- and finds it pretty sexy. Sadly I have no personal experience to draw on here. But I can report that dancers are widely rumored to be the world's best lays. * Robert Sibley points out that one of the lessons of the great Michael Oakeshott is that we should be wary of losing our heads politically. * Diet Coke and Mentos changed their lives. * Steve Sailer gives a lot of thought to Michelle Obama. Fun to learn that "a couple of months after her husband was sworn in as U.S. Senator, Michelle's salary at the [University of Chicago's] Medical Center was raised from $121,910 to $316,962." * Anonymous confesses that she was always suspicious of her hubby's sexual orientation. "I wanted to have sex every day," she writes, "but he told me I was a nymphomaniac." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Things Really Are?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Barry Ritholtz gives expression to the words Ben Bernanke dares not speak. Short version: "The credit crunch is unprecedented, far worse than the S&L collapse and Long Term Capital Management -- combined." (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 28, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Harley Weekenders
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I need help. No, not that kind of help. You see, there's something that has sparked my curiosity for years and it would be nice to finally get the information I need to satisfy it. It has to do with those groups of (mostly) guys who meet up on weekends and go roaring along the freeways and byways on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. And no, I don't include the Honda Gold-Wing clubbers and other breeds of manifestly "nice" bikers. I'm talkin' Harleys, the black and orange crews. Within the Harley fraternity I'm excluding the ones who are obviously folks who work in offices during the workweek -- guys with glasses and short haircuts. I want to know about the ones with tattoos and long, graying hair worn in pony-tails. What kind of jobs do those guys have that provide the cash to shell out five-figure dollar amounts for a Harley with blinding gobs of chromium plating? I'm guessing that they're blue-collar types, maybe working in manufacturing or auto repair or something like that where gray pony-tails, mustaches and tattoos are acceptable. Hmm. Actually, quite a few kinds of work settings tolerate that kind of appearance. For all I know, those guys are college teachers, ad agency "creatives" or even computer programmers. As I said, I need help. ... Michael? ... Friedrich? ... Shouting Thomas? ... Anyone? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Your Opinion Wanted
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Everyone -- As a followup to my previous posting: Rape? Or just messy college sex? (Link thanks to Cheryl Miller, who comments on Heather Mac Donald's piece here.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (50) comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Campuses and Rapes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Heather Mac Donald reviews the status of Ivy League rape centers. Her article also functions as a review of just how nutso sexual matters became in the early '90s. Nice quote: The campus rape industry's central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years. This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. [Sorry -- couldn't resist highlighting that passage. Ed.] Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the "rape culture." A special rhetoric emerged: victims’ family and friends were "co-survivors"; "survivors" existed in a larger "community of survivors." An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the "undetected rapists" in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the "rape culture."... None of this crisis response occurs, of course -- because the crisis doesn't exist. During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results -- very few women said that they had been. So Ms. commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss’s method produced the 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published. It's funny, isn't it, the way some people claim that Political Correctness (or Sexual Correctness) never existed, isn't it? Of course it did. I'm reminded of the way some people, when thinking back to (or remembering) '70s-style feminism, say, "Oh, it wasn't so bad." Sure it was. I compiled some examples of how loony things got in this posting. Here's Mary Koss's page at the U. of Arizona's website. Christina Hoff Sommers reviews feminists' claims about rape. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (33) comments

We Want Your Business
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Out in California visiting with the in-laws. A routine business-solicitation letter arrives in the mail. Nothing special. A familiar style of envelope featuring a familiar style of special offer, or something: And inside, a familiar style of friendly-eager letter, featuring a familiar style of contest, or something: It's on its way to the shredder, in other words. But wait. Something has caught the attention. Let's take a closer look at that offer on the envelope: And what was that sweepstakes featured in the letter? Yup, that's right: Today the in-laws received a business-solicitation letter pitching the idea of buying cremation services now rather than waiting 'till the usual time. Some alluring passages from the Neptune Society's letter: More and more people are choosing cremation over traditional funeral arrangements ... The numbers are increasing every year! ... There are several advantages to making your arrangements now. First, you lock in today's price ... As the Neptune Society apparently likes to say: "Cremation just makes sense." Given that one reason that the Neptune Society gives to consider cremation is that "It has less impact on the environment," it seems fitting that the Neptune Society wants us to know that their envelope and letter were both I couldn't help wondering what the "ash" content of this recycled paper was. The reaction of my beloved stepdad-in-law, to whom this letter was specifically addressed? "How did they know where to find me?" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sports Tribalism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The blood flows passionately through those Obama fans who hope, hope and Hope that He will be the one to end the curse of that nasty old nation-stuff, leading us to the exalted realm of World Citizenship. Yes, that golden goal of everyone being equal, at last! ... aside from those Ivy League grads who will do most of the thinking and all of the deciding. But all that idealism eventually comes up short, confronting what seems to be human nature. You know, the in-group, out-group thing. That starts early in life. For example, when I was in grade school it was our third grade classroom versus those other rooms. Our Cub Scout den versus the other dens in the pack and our pack as opposed to other packs. This concept was brought home to me in college when, for the first time, I regularly read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) newspaper. In those days it was the morning paper and the Seattle Times (which my family took) was the evening paper. But the fraternity house subscribed to the P-I so I read it every morning at breakfast. Now, in those days the P-I had a sports editor/columnist named Royal Brougham. Actually he had been writing sports there since shortly after the earth started to cool, and was in his mid-60s when I was in college and still cranking out the content. I suppose almost every city with a daily paper had someone like him at one time or another; if you want more information about Brougham, click here. The point I'm creeping up to is that Brougham was a "homer" -- a super-homer, in fact. When it came to Seattle high school sports, he had no wiggle-room; he couldn't favor one team over another in a column. But when a Seattle team played a Tacoma team, the us-versus-them thing kicked in. It went into high gear when the University of Washington football team was playing any other team. But if the Huskies weren't in the Rose Bowl, then he'd cheer for the Pacific Coast Conference team that did get to play. And, in the Olympic Games, it was our Americans versus those foreigners. Brougham died with his boots on, so to speak. Well, make it that he died with the cover off of his Underwood typewriter. He suffered his fatal heart attack at a Seattle Seahawks game in 1977. Today, there's a street named Royal Brougham Way next to the baseball stadium. One can argue that this is ancient history, that today's sports writers can get away with being more cosmopolitan. And it's probably true, up to a point. Nevertheless, it's hard for me to imagine a sports writer holding his job if he showed contempt for local teams most of the time and favored out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-country teams. Human nature still rules. Just ask those sophisticated Ivy Leagers; their beloved football teams no longer play in the NCAA's Division I. Maybe they're... posted by Donald at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Late Boomers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer writes an enlightening posting about late Boomers -- people who are technically Boomers, but who were born too late to enjoy trashing the campuses, snagging the groovy jobs, and helping themselves to the cultural reins: the younger siblings of the crowd usually thought of as "the Boomers," basically. I wrote about the same group -- the gang FvBlowhard and I happen to belong to -- back here. Best Michael... posted by Michael at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * San Francisco, sunrise to sundown in hi-def. (Fast connection required.) * How bad is it? (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Robert J. Samuelson utters a word that those who lived through the '70s learned to dread. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite Spanish literary books. * JessiJaymes13 doesn't want to be anybody's ... Well, go there and find out. (NSFW) * Gil Roth flies in over Newfoundland, points his camera out the window, and snaps some spectacular shots of ice and mountains. * Just in case ... * A great idea from Robert Nagle: reviews of exercise videos. * Roger Scruton writes a beauty of a review of Richard Sennett's new book about craftsmanship. * "White flight" is so yesterday. Thanks to insane immigration policies, today's sociological phenomenon is "black flight." * Mark Sisson thinks that even unrefined grains should be avoided. * Tim Hauserman gives the short version of what Gary Taubes has to say in "Good Calories, Bad Calories," and also offers an interview with Taubes himself. * It looks like it's time for the ladies to pick up a vial of "bottom enhancer." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 24, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments