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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College administrator and arts buff

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Architectural historian and arts buff

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  1. Ralph's Rugger
  2. What All Kinds of People Like
  3. Lean and Fat Conveyance Aesthetics
  4. Star Wars by Saul Bass
  5. Federal Objectivity
  6. Random Video Finds
  7. Some Architecture Musings
  8. Political Linkage
  9. Seattle Central Library Revisited
  10. Roissy Sums It Up

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Friday, March 7, 2008

Ralph's Rugger
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards --- There currently are ten stores, one of which opened last year a couple of miles down the road from where I live. Others are in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Greenwich, New Canaan, D.C., Chicago, Boston, New York and Dallas. I wonder how many will be open two years from now; it's a retail concept that strikes me as pretty risky. What stores? Ralph Lauren's new Rugby stores and associated clothing line for college age and twentysomething guys and gals who are into Preppy. Let's look: Gallery Rugby store exterior Rugby store interior Rugby shirt Note the large crest and number. Other Rugby duds The pictures above don't show it well, but a fair amount of the decorations applied to the garments evoke Harvard and Yale clubs -- Skull and Bones, in particular. What I wonder is, just how many 18-29ers outside the Northeast know anything about Skull and Bones, Hasty Pudding, Porcellian and their ilk. I suppose somebody in Lauren's empire committed market research, but still ... Somehow I suspect Rugby is a pet Lauren project, driven more by hope and gut feeling than blocking and tackling marketing. And I'll be the first to admit that the gut often beats out the focus group. I've been a Preppy-ish dresser much of my adult life, and think some of the garments are kinda spiffy -- if it weren't for those goofy tacked-on numbers, crests and other visual junk that almost every item seems to be plastered with. I'm supposing that Lauren, who is only two weeks and a couple of days older than me, is nostalgic for Preppy togs too. And maybe the fact that neither he nor I were Ivy League undergrads has something to do with it: call it a kind of false-nostalgia. And as for those tacked-on things? Perhaps the market researchers insisted on those as being something that West Coast college kids who can't name more than three Ivy schools might consider cool enough to cement a sale. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 7, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

What All Kinds of People Like
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Via Ilkka and TGGP, a few fun and informative variations on Stuff White People Like: Stuff Black People Like; Stuff Asian People Like; Stuff Educated Black People Like. I think it's great when people are frank and funny about group habits, tastes, and preferences, don't you? Let's have a little more earthy, good-natured rowdiness and a whole lot less denial. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 7, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lean and Fat Conveyance Aesthetics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do humans have an innate tendency to find lean more attractive than fat? I don't know of any research results regarding this question, though I would think that studies have been made. Nevertheless, I suspect that people do indeed prefer lean to fat. This is despite the fact that I'm about 25 pounds over my college weight and in spite of the assertions from organizations claiming to represent overweight people that they are being discriminated against unfairly. Fighting human nature is a long, hard struggle. Just for fun, rather than dealing with humans, let's consider conveyances. They need to be at least passably functional, otherwise they couldn't be sold. But there remains a range in form and appearance within functional parameters. Below are some pairings for your consideration. The fat version is shown first, followed by the lean. Gallery Pan American Boeing Stratocruiser over San Francisco Bay Pacific Northern Constellation over Seattle The Stratocruiser was largely a B-29 bomber where the bomber's fuselage was chopped off just above the wing and a wide fuselage section for passengers was placed on top. That accounts for the odd shape. The justification was that, by using major B-29 components such as the wings, it would be cheaper to build than a totally new design. Also, the lower fuselage section could store baggage and incorporated a passenger lounge towards the rear. The Lockheed Constellation, on the other hand, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful transports ever built, and I agree. Modern cruise ship Profile view of Normandie SS Normandie - another view The Normandie, like the Constellation, is widely claimed to be a classic; it's certainly one of my favorite liners. Functional purists might flinch at the fact that the rear funnel is non-functional, its presence is for appearance only. Modern cruise ships will probably never be as graceful as the Normandie because customers prefer the multi-deck arrangement whereby each superstructure cabin has its own little patio. The result is a top-heavy appearance that makes me wonder how seaworthy such ships are. U.S. M3 tank German Panther (Panzerkampfwagen V) tank The M3 (known variously as the Lee and Grant) pre-dates the Panther by about three years. Combat in the North African desert demonstrated that it was too tall (too easy to see) and that the inability of the sponson-mounted 75mm gun to traverse placed it at a disadvantage once shooting started. The Panther lacked these defects and looks much better as well. 1949 Nash 1949 Chevrolet fastback Both cars debuted in the 1949 model year. The Nash was the postwar car that most embodied late-prewar notions about the car of the future. The idea was that cars would feature streamlining even to the point where the front (maneuver) wheels are enclosed in the cause of smooth airflow. The result was a car kids like me derided as an "upside-down bathtub on wheels." The Chevy shown here is also a "fastback" style to keep... posted by Donald at March 6, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Star Wars by Saul Bass
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to visitor Bryan for passsing along a link to this really well-done video: "The 'Star Wars' Title Sequence, Had It Been Designed By Saul Bass." There's a lot of humor, talent, and skill in the world, isn't there? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 6, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Federal Objectivity
Michael Blowhard says: Dear Blowhards -- Who says personal tastes and opinions don't play an important role in governmental rulings and judgements? Hmm: Who's cuter? Alyson Hannigan or Jennifer Grey? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 6, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Random Video Finds
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The only reason these two clips are making an appearance in the same posting is that I ran across both of them for the first time today. Standup comedian Demetri Martin has a silly-ingenuous schtick going on that's pretty irresistable: Demetri Martin Stand Up Presentation on For me, the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing" was 96 minutes and 15 seconds of cringe-making drivel inexplicably interrupted by 3 minutes and 45 seconds of bliss. Here's the bliss part: What a gorgeous depiction of a proper girl discovering how sweet wantonness can be. A big hat-tip to the dancers and actors, to director Emile Ardolino, to choreogapher Kenny Ortega, and to The Contours for their version of "Do You Love Me?" Just one big "But": Man oh man, why wasn't I invited to that party? OK, so I also enjoyed watching Jennifer Grey go around in those just-longer-than-knee-length blue jeans and white tennis sneakers ... Fashion at its best, no? Fun Facts for the Day: "Dirty Dancing" was the first movie to sell a million copies on video. And the song "Do You Love Me?" was written by Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. I wrote about Motown's immortal Funk Brothers back here. Best, Michael UPDATE: I'm sorry to learn this morning that Patrick Swayze -- who is only 55 -- is fighting pancreatic cancer. That's one of the toughest cancers to do battle with.... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Some Architecture Musings
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Inspired by Donald's posting about the Seattle Central Library, I was e-chatting with a friend about buildings, architecture, and modernism. I wound up dashing off a note that I was pleased with. Never one to forego EZ blogging, I present it here: I kinda like a certain amount of chic architecture purely as "design." Shrink a Frank Gehry building by a factor of 1000, put a 60 watt bulb in it, plunk it on my coffee table, and I'd enjoy it as a fun, kooky lamp. Mies van der Rohe had a much snappier sense of abstract design and proportions than I ever will -- he'd have been a great layout artist. It's absurd, though, to proffer their kind of thing as buildings. In Gehry's case: Asking people to live in a piece of swoopy sculpture? Whose dumb idea was that? In Mies' case: What kind of nutcase would maintain that people should live in the equivalent of a sharp-looking piece of magazine design? Plus there's all that awful "empty space" around so much modernist architecture -- dead plazas, streets that no longer work as living urban streets ... It's sterile, dead-end stuff. People tend to move out of a city that becomes too dominated by modernist (po-mo, decon, etc) buildings and spaces. Which is finally what clinches the deal for me: the "Modernism" thing is an experiment that just didn't work. People voted with their feet. So let's put a stop to it, and pronto. The forms of traditional-style building evolved because they served people's needs and pleasures well, or well-enough. You toss these forms out (or monkey with them too dramatically) at your peril. It's useful to think of traditional buildings and traditional urbanism as evolved things, much like biological creatures. They've evolved in the way they have for many reasons, almost certainly more than we'll ever be consciously aware of. Mess with 'em too heedlessly and something's likely to go haywire. Another fun way to think of traditional architecture: as akin to tonal music. Scales, chords, harmonies, rhythmic patterns ... For some reason or other, tonality speaks to people, where purely intellectual and abstract musical structures strike most people as bewildering and alienating. And of course musical tonality has a history that's similar to that of traditional architecture. Both evolved in a trial-and-error way, in relationship to people's actual (and very possibily biologically-based) tastes, pleasures, and preferences. Modernist architecture by contrast has always been a top-down, theory-driven kind of thing -- a cage imposed on us rather than a creature that has been nurtured and that has grown to take its place in a larger ecosystem. Modernist architecture never stops haranguing us about what we ought to like and how we ought to live. Traditional architecture -- well, it is what we like; it is how we like to live. Funny too the way that the "radical" (haha) architecture set has often claimed that they advocate what they do because they're... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hibernia Girl wonders why our elites so hate the idea of monocultural societies. * Lester Hunt confesses that he's basically an anarchist, and is hilarious on the topic of contemporary political moderates. * Fred Reed gives a talk to a gathering of the American Renaissance gang, and finds the experience not all that unpleasant. * As nuts as he has been about the mideast war, Victor Davis Hanson nonetheless does a great job of spelling out the basics where immigration issues in the US and Europe go. * It's one of the most taken-for-granted demographic/political assumptions around: that, because of the large number of soon-to-retire Boomers, the country simply couldn't go on without scads of immigrants. Well, it's also untrue. Dean Baker explains why. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Seattle Central Library Revisited
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of years ago I kvetched here about the then-new central branch of the Seattle Public Library. It was designed by red-diaper starchitect (hey! how's that for a double ad hominem whammy?) Rem Koolhaas and greeted with praise by the local media and cultural establishment. Some of the enthusiasm has cooled. The Wikipedia entry current when this post was written (see here, scroll down a ways) mentions that a Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer was rash enough to mention that not everyone was happy with the building. I happen to think that the library was a horrible aesthetic mistake that Seattle will have to live with for the next 40 or 50 years (that's how often central libraries seem to last hereabouts). Actually, it might be around much longer than that if the usual fools declare it a "landmark." Today I'll try to set aesthetics aside for the most part and deal with function -- how well the building works. I'm afraid this will be pretty superficial in that I only entered the place to do one task. Still, it might represent what other citizens experience if they aren't steady library users. Speaking of steady use, let me footnote that I went to the central library a lot when I was in high school. (That building was two generations removed from the present one, being a Carnegie-funded library that came on line about a hundred years ago. It was torn down and replaced by a conventional Modernist structure in the late 50s.) I would catch a bus near my high school, ride downtown, walk to the library and browse until it was nearly time for my father to leave work. Then I'd walk the block to his office and hitch a ride home. Much of my browsing was in the art / architecture areas (the low 700s, for you Dewey Decimal System fans). A couple of weeks ago Nancy was attending a big garden show in town and I had two or three hours to kill. The thought hit me: Why not go to the library and see what they have in those low-700 stacks these days. So I did. This was perhaps my third visit to the new building since it was opened and my first attempt at actually using the thing. Let's switch to Gallery mode. These are images I grabbed from the Web. Exterior view, daylight Seen from Fourth Avenue, looking northeast. X-ray diagram Same geographical orientation as photo above. The green colored part takes in the non-stacks part of the library -- children's room, reading room, meeting rooms, etc. Note the slope of the site indicated in gray. Fourth Avenue is to the left, Fifth Avenue is uphill towards the right. Entrances are on Fourth and Fifth avenues. The pink floors are the stacks that form a vertical zig-zag pattern: it's sort of like folded computer print-out paper. However, the north and south sides of these numbered floors are slightly offset... posted by Donald at March 5, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Roissy Sums It Up
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Never one to favor moderation or self-restraint, Roissy finally lays it all on the line. My main worry: Does he now have anything left to say? Roissy points out some videoclips -- here, here, and here -- that those who are curious about this whole "game" thing won't want to miss. That "Cajun" dude is good! I've got the hots for the female announcer myself. Best, Michael UPDATE: In celebration of Serge Gainsbourg -- an uber-player of a previous generation -- here's a video for his immortal "Je t'aime ... moi non plus." It was recorded in 1969 -- and I do mean "69": The Telegraph reports that at 61 Jane Birkin -- Gainsbourg's muse -- still has the magic. Nice line: "The less Birkin tried to do with her voice, the better she sounded." Did you know that Jane Birkin is the mother of pixie-sexpot actresses Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon?... posted by Michael at March 4, 2008 | perma-link | (31) comments

Hopes for Barack; Worries About Barack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Software genius Marc Andreessen meets Barack Obama and comes away with a good feeling about him. Steve Sailer worries that an Obama presidency will mean a lot more involvement in baffling Kenyan politics than we have now. Best, Michael UPDATE: FWIW, my feelings about day-to-day-style American politics: All politicians are guilty until proven innocent, which never happens. Nine out of ten times, nothing really needs to be done. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take it for granted that you'll be amazed, appalled, and horrified anyway. Here's a posting where I summed up my thoughts about American politics circa 2004. I can't see that a lot has changed since. UPDATE 2: Charlotte Allen wonders what makes women scream for and swoon over Barack.... posted by Michael at March 4, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Maybe there's a cheaper way...
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I noticed that on Bloomberg there's a story on Joseph Stiglitz, who has written a book on the cost of the Iraq war: March 1 (Bloomberg) -- Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, author of a new book that claims the Iraq war will cost the U.S. more than $3 trillion, said the final tally is likely to climb much higher than that. "It's much more like five trillion," Stiglitz said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. "We were trying to make Americans understand how expensive this war was so we didn't want to quibble about a dime here or a dime there." I guess I'm getting numb to bad news or something, as that didn't even get my pulse racing. No, what actually registered with me was a bit in the next paragraph of the same story, in which we got a justification for the cost that should go into the record books: The 2001 Nobel winner's initial estimate of $3 trillion drew criticism from Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who said that the number ignores the price the U.S. would pay if Iraq became a terrorist state. Hmm, let's see if I understand Senator Brownback’s logic. Assuming that any predominantly Islamic country is at risk of becoming a terrorist state, I checked Wikipedia and found this article that considers some 30-40 countries to be majority Moslem. If we invade each it’s gonna cost us, at the lower of Mr. Stiglitz’s estimates for the Iraq contest, between $90 to $120 trillion. But at least we'll be safe from terrorist states. Of course, sadly, this may underestimate the cost, as not all Moslems live in Islamic-majority countries. To come up with a more realistic estimate of our upcoming Brownbackian military expenditures, we need to consider the cost of pacifying the entire Moslem population, world-wide. Assuming the lower of Mr. Stiglitz's numbers, we have committed ourselves to spending around $109,000 per Iraqi man, woman and child to safeguard ourselves for the past five years. Of course, since only about a third of the Iraqi population could physically qualify as serious menaces, the number is actually more like $330,000 per adult male Iraqi--um, I mean, potential terrorist. (And if one assumes that only one adult male Iraqi in 10 is actually what you'd call an insurgent, the number we've committed to spending climbs to over three million dollars per serious antagonist. Gosh, we could have bribed them all with fully-paid-off houses in nice L.A. neighborhoods for a third that price. Well, fairly nice L.A. neighborhoods, anway.) Anyway, according to the same Wikipedia article, the number of Moslems worldwide may be as large as 1.8 billion. That means we might have to spend $196 trillion to keep ourselves safe from the threat of Islamic terrorism -- at least by our remarkably expensive military invasion methods. Safe for a few years, anyway. Of course, there are other threats as well that military invasion might not be the... posted by Friedrich at March 2, 2008 | perma-link | (51) comments

Pulp and Hardboiled Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * PJ Parrish has been lovin' "The Big Book of Pulps." * Dark Party Review interviews the great mystery-crime bookstore owner / editor Otto Penzler. * Joe Valdez revisits "Blue Velvet." You don't think there could have been a "Blue Velvet" without pulp fiction, do you? * August West recommends a couple of hardboiled noirs by Dolores Hitchens. * Classy genre writer Dan Simmons has been reprinting a book about the book publishing biz by literary agent Richard Curtis. I enthusiastically recommend it -- Richard Curtis is one of the smartest and frankest bookworld people around. I recommend the fiction of Dan Simmons too -- I praised a Buffalo-set hardboiled Simmons novel back here. * A great line from pulp writer and former peepshow girl Christa ("Money Shot") Faust, who has written some novelizations: I love tie-in work and have infinitely more respect for hard-working writers like Lee Goldberg and Max Allan Collins than I do for self-styled literary geniuses who are still sitting in mom’s basement polishing their unpublished masterpiece. Here's another interview with Christa Faust. Here's Christa Faust's very amusing website. * Scottish crime novelist Allan Guthrie offers a list of his 200 favorite noir novels. * The Telegraph runs a list of 50 Crime Writers You Should Read Before You Die. * Bill Crider recommends a new Stark House volume of Peter Rabe novels. If I remember right, the great Donald Westlake is also a Peter Rabe fan. * Ed Gorman thinks that crime-movie fans should keep an eye out for the Robert Ryan / Mary Astor vehicle "Act of Violence." Those with a few bucks to spare can buy the movie here. * Vince Keenan enjoys a couple of movies with Robert Siodmak's name on them. I raved about the brilliant Siodmak here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the pulp publisher Gold Medal Books. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 2, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

"Sleep With the Devil"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I just finished a superfine noir novel by a writer we'd never read before, Day Keene. It's a compact marvel with rock'em sock'em pacing, ingenious plotting, a satisfyingly cynical and embittered tone, and an inspired concept. The usual noir thing involves a normal guy who gets in over his head when he's tempted into crime. In Keene's "Sleep With the Devil," the putz is a criminal and a sociopath. Normalcy is what tempts him. Another bit of originality that the book features: Although the lead character is a megatwisted dude, the writing isn't expressionistic, or bizarre in any way. None of that "mirroring the disordered mind" stuff here. Instead, the writing is as straightforward as can be. Despite this, the pathology of the protagonist comes across clear and clean. That may mean that Day Keene will never attain the kind of cult status held by such hyperbolic and/or quirky writers as Jim Thompson and James Ellroy. Still, woo hoo: what a fascinating reading experience Keene's calm, plain-Jane strategy makes for. Download a copy of the book for next to nothing from this resourceful publisher. I do love a good novel that can be gotten through in one or two evenings. If someone wants to make a case for Day Keene as a neglected master, I'll certainly listen respectfully. Bill Crider introduces Day Keene here. Although Keene -- who was born Gunnar Hjerstedt, and who lived from 1904 to 1969 -- wrote dozens of novels, only a small handful are in print today. Hard Case Crime offers one of his best-known titles. I've ordered a copy. Semi-related: A wrote an introduction to film noir, mused about neo-noir here and here, praised Jack Kelly's "Mobtown," raved about a rediscovered hardboiled French film, and tried to figure out why I didn't enjoy the movie version of "Sin City" more than I did. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 2, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments