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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Oil Depletion Blog
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anyone whose interest was Piqued by recent Peak Oil discussions on this blog should check out Scott's OilDepletionDebate blog. Scads of facts, thoughts, and links. Scroll down to the bottom of the current page and you'll find ways to watch and listen to talks by all kinds of experts and authorities. There's more than enough fodder at Scott's blog to keep the conversation churning for a very long time. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 17, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Friday, May 16, 2008

Trip Journal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Bowhards-- Tomorrow, as the sun sets behind the lovely O'Hare control tower, we will be bidding a fond adieu to Flyover Country and boarding our silver oiseau for the Left Coast. Herewith are a few more short observations regarding the curious country we have been exploring, a land apparently unknown to the Mainstream Media. * Nancy was impressed by the University of Illinois campus. And so was I, even though the Georgian(?) architectural style is not my absolute favorite. The quadrangles are large -- large enough that I wonder if they really relate to human scale. Moreover, the campus is huge. That makes me wonder if it's hard for students to dash from class to class if they only have a 10-minute break. The University of Washington was effectively about a half mile across in my student days, and getting from one end to the opposite could barely be done in 10 minutes. I also wonder about getting around during winter at Illinois. Those distances and large quads strike me as fodder for the occasional frozen corpse come January. Still, I liked the place so much I bought my son a University of Illinois baseball cap. * Indianapolis was nice. Nothing famous there save the Speedway, but I can see where it could be a pleasant place to live. One can take nice walks in the general area of the canal, the government center and the Memorial. * Cincinnati has the Roebling Bridge to Kentucky, opened in 1867, less than two years after the end of the Civil War. It was designed by John Roebling, who also designed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. We walked across the Roebling and I took photos of rusting. The town has the Netherland Plaza Hotel, a great Art Deco monument opened in 1931. If you go to Cincinnati, be sure to check out its Palm Court, which would not have been out of place on the liner Normandie. * The Air Force museum near Dayton has been expaned since I was last there. Another exhibition hall was added, allowing more breathing room for the planes. An interesting addition is a display of four Presidential planes: FDR's "Sacred Cow," Truman"s "Independence," Eisenhower's "Columbine" and the Air Force One where LBJ took the oath of office. * Near Detroit, we visited the Edsel/Eleanor Ford house on Lake St. Claire. Ace architect Albert Kahn designed the building to resemble a cluster of Cotswold cottages. I'll probably post some pix later. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 16, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

De facto if not de jure
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, In a previous post, I asked what plans our presidential candidates have to address the sheer financial drain implicit in importing $120 a barrel oil. In the resulting comments, the discussion quickly turned into a debate over the reality (or unreality) of the Peak Oil hypothesis. Given that most oil reserves are now held by national oil companies that prefer to keep their production and reserve data secret or announce figures that cannot be independently verified, I know of no way to prove or disprove this hypothesis. (The whole question has become awfully metaphysical.) But there is some publicly available data that would seem to provide us with guidance here. As the blogger Hellasious remarks: Exxon is the world's largest non-state oil company and the largest publicly traded corporation by market capitalization ($478 billion). If anyone has both the incentive and the resources to find and sell more oil, it is them. But they can't. In the last five years, as the average price of oil more than tripled, their production has been flat[:] Data: Exxon Annual Reports, NYMEX And it's not as if they haven't been trying: their capital and exploration expenses for upstream operations have nearly doubled in recent years. Data: Exxon Annual Reports What do I take from this? Well, de jure peak oil may or may not exist, but de facto peak oil looks like our current reality. Some additional confirmation of this comes from a story by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the Daily Telegraph, "US-Saudi oil axis faces day of truth": When President George Bush went to see Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in January to plead for higher oil output, he was politely rebuffed.The rematch is likely to be a great deal more strained. If the Saudis deny help once again, they risk incalculable damage to their strategic alliance with Washington. The price of crude has rocketed by over $30 a barrel since that last fruitless meeting, briefly touching the once unthinkable level of $127. Why would the Saudis alienate their prime military protector? Well, maybe they aren’t increasing production because…they can’t. The article goes on to quote a source who is not exactly a raving extremist on the subject of peak oil: Chris Skrebowski, Editor of Petroleum Review, said the awful truth is that Saudi Arabia cannot raise oil output much even if it tries. "The myth of Saudi spare capacity is convenient for everybody: it gives OPEC leverage, and it gives the West hope. "But Saudi reserves are secret. They have never been verified," he said. Mr Skrebowski said oil is soaring because output is falling in Mexico, the US, and the North Sea. Russia stunned the markets with a 1pc fall in first quarter in Russia. "We are running the system flat out," he said. Could there be other explanations? Sure. It’s possible that producing nations are afraid that if the world tips into recession the price of oil may take a large tumble, and they’re reluctant... posted by Friedrich at May 16, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Patty's Website
Michael Blowhards writes: Dear Blowhards -- Star YouTube webcam dancer Patty Mayo now has her own website. (On the tab in my browser it reads "Patty Mayo -- Official Fan Site.") A cute bit from Patty's self-description: Ima small girl barely standin at 5 ft but i love it, im fun sized. Im single and crushin. Just give me a guy who likes me for me..and i'll stop wit this myspace bullshit and just be with him Here's some footage of Patty in action: I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that the level of teenaged booty-shaking virtuosity in the U.S. has skyrocketed since the birth of YouTube. Talk about having a stage. Talk about competitive pressures. Talk about feedback. I ran across Patty thanks to Agnostic, who writes that he can smell the difference between "older" (30ish) women and younger ones; and who -- speaking of "game" -- has come up with some "Facebook game." Best, Michael UPDATE: In the Comments, DOBA recalls a simpler time, or at least a time when he didn't feel quite so horrified by popular culture. It was the era of Cheryl Tiegs:... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (47) comments

McCain's Prediction
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Well, that's certainly a relief! But what if he's being optimistic? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

The Ideal, and What to Make Of It
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been thinking some recently about the difference between "what a person considers the ideal" and "what a person thinks might be useful in the here and now." One reason for this is that The Wife and I recently visited a show of paintings and drawings by Nicolas Poussin at the Metropolitan Museum, and Poussin will often get a person thinking about such things. Another reason is a small-t theory that I'm working on: It seems to me that people often get themselves in trouble because they scramble the two categories. Instead of doing what they can with what's available in the present tense, they try to impose their ideal regardless of what the actual situation before them really presents. Or maybe they too-regularly deduce their way to present-day behavior from the ideal, despite the practical fact that there's often not much connection between what idealism suggests and what's-needed-here-and-now. Still, there is that question of the ideal ... Whatever else it is, it's certainly a part of life. What to make of it? How to deal with it? Poussin shows how the ideal can be so near, yet so far To me, the question of the ideal is a little like the question of sex fantasies. We all have them. What to do about it? And what to do with them? (If anything, of course.) Sad experience suggests that imposing fantasies ("Hey, honey, let's me dress up like Batman and you like Catwoman!") can flop. Instead of delivering the expected bliss, acting on the desired ideal can instead spoil what might actually be magic about the present moment. Still ... It's impossible not to feel an attachment to your favorite dreams and imaginings. And maybe there are in fact some ways of indulging in them that can pay off nicely. For some reason, for instance, I'm especially vulnerable to topless-beach fantasies; they seem to represent some kind of erotic ideal to me. And damned if a week The Wife and I once spent on a French-Caribbean island wasn't one of the most pleasing things I've ever lived through. Of course, it took an enormous amount of practical real-world effort to arrange, execute, and pay for our week of ideal bliss ... (If anyone was wondering: The Wife enjoyed it too, or so she tells me.) My tentative conclusion: Our ideals and fantasies are resources that can confer much pleasure; that can sometimes serve as beacons and reminders; but that can also screw our lives up completely; and that are therefore perhaps usually best enjoyed at a bit of a distance. Rough rule for myself: Enjoy the fantasy -- don't impose it. If the moment's right, go ahead and enter into it -- but be prepared for the fact that even a week on a topless beach in the Caribbean will come to an end. But, generally speaking, do what you can to deal honorably and fairly with what's immediately before you. And don't be... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Peak Oil, Simmons, Kunstler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Those curious about the Peak Oil theory but perhaps a little tired of James Kunstler may enjoy this interview with investment banker, conservative dude, and Peak Oil believer Matthew Simmons. It would be hard to turn up a clearer, more concise presentation of the thesis than this one. If you haven't had your fill of Kunstler, here's an interview in which he brings together nearly all his themes. One especially nice passage: The ideas issuing from the highest circles of architectural education today are patent absurdities, such as the idea that novelty ought to trump the public interest, or the idea that ‘creativity’ (so-called) is a superior method than the emulation of forms that have already proven successful (meaning problems already solved). Personally, I view some of the leading architects of our time as being among the wickedest people in the world ... The record of their ideology in the cities and towns of America is there for anyone to see: abandonment, ruin, and the dishonour of the public realm. I know less than nothing about Peak Oil. But where Kunstler's evaluation of the high-end architecture establishment and its work goes, I'm with him all the way. Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to BIOH, who points out a blog that takes quite a different view of Peak Oil.... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thinking person's rocker Brian Eno has turned 60. The Independent visits with Eno, who has collaborated with Bowie, Byrne, Cold Play, and Microsoft. (Link thanks to William Sauer.) * Life is sometimes good. (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) * BHH sometimes wonders if he shouldn't take up a manual occupation -- something useful, and that can't be shipped overseas. * It lives! Or seems to, anyway. (Link thanks to Marc Andreessen.) Marc also turned up a priceless clip of Bill O'Reilly showing how he gets his way. * Lots of tasty-sounding lectures and talks can be downloaded here. * Learn about China's fastest-growing city. (Link thanks to Michael Wade.) * Educated black people (at least in Atlanta) evidently like gated communities. * Stuff one black guy hates includes "stupid names." Chris isn't crazy about Isaac Hayes either. * Why shouldn't people be able to live in a yurt on their own land, Stephan wants to know. * MBlowhard Rewind: I took issue with the general view of Louis Kahn as a great architect. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Question for our Presidential Candidates
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The blogger Hellasious raises an interesting point I haven't heard dicussed much by any of our presidential candidates: …at $120 per barrel, revenue from exporting crude oil and its products comes to over $1.85 trillion per year. The Middle East alone gets nearly a trillion and the former Soviet Union $300 billion - and that's before including natural gas. At current oil prices, this is by far the largest capital recycling and concentration pump in the entire history of the world. A dollar may not buy as much as it used to, but a trillion every year still buys plenty…Very plenty, in fact: [it buys] US and European banks, other resource companies like ore and coal miners, shipping and port operators, electricity, water and telecom providers and a host of other essential businesses. That's where all the SWF [sovereign wealth fund] and private oil money is going, most commonly channelled through secretive private equity funds. Obviously, the oil exporters are furiously planning for their post-Peak Oil future: sensibly, they don't want to ride camels again. And if this goes on much longer, by the time their oil wells start to decline they will own everything that matters and will be sitting - literally - atop all the money in the world. What are the rest of us - Americans and Europeans alike - doing to plan our post-peak future? Next to nothing, is the painful answer. If a few EU nations like Germany, Denmark and Spain are attempting to face the alternative energy challenge, the US as the largest oil consumer is making a momentous mistake by its absence. Stubborn reliance on imported oil is rapidly impoverishing the nation. That sucking sound we all hear in our pockets is money vacuumed out by the oil exporters, only to come back as foreign equity ownership of everything. I think a detailed policy response to this situation would be kind of reassuring from our future leaders, don't you? Cheers, Friedrich P.S. Is it just me, or is this whole campaign the most surreally irrelevant and, ahem, beside the point exercise you can remember? Surely somebody -- somebody at the DoD perhaps -- must be thinking hard about what the new world heralds and what we might do about it. Or is everybody just asleep at the switch?... posted by Friedrich at May 14, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Gay Gay Gay
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Palm Springs the gayest city in the U.S.? And did you know that the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament (officially the LPGA Nabisco Golf Tournament) is one of the country's premier lesbian gatherings? It's such a party that it's sometimes known as "Spring Break for lesbians." Buy an all-expenses-included ticket to what has become known as "The Dinah" here. A little late for 2008, but 2009 is just around the corner ... Semi-related: Don't miss this Steve Sailer classic. I wrote an appreciation of the gay Canadian pornographer Bruce LaBruce. Is Apple an especially gay-friendly company? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 14, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Girls, Details, Yak
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- An entertaining Roissy posting -- bouncing off of an Alias Clio blogpost -- about whether women and men can ever be friends has spawned a very entertaining commentsthread. New slang term to me: LJBF, for "Let's Just Be Friends." Coolly enough, "LJBF" can function as a verb -- a woman can "LJBF" a dude. Betas, I've learned, get LJBF'd all the time. Alphas know enough not to let the possibility arise in the first place. How do you react to the scene over at Roissy's, by the way? (Skipping over the fact that he's a very talented badboy blogger.) FWIW, I'm amused, if a little appalled, by it. I like the rowdiness, the lack of inhibition, the defiantly anti-PC exuberance ... Plus, visiting Roissy's is always an instructive keeping-up-with- the-zeitgeist experience. That whole Alpha-Beta-"game" way of thinking about and discussing romance and sex was almost entirely new to me when I first stumbled across Roissy's blog. Following the discussions there, part of me thinks, "Well, good. At least they're talking about courtship, if in their own raised-on-first- person-shooters kind of way." Another part of me thinks, "Hmm, back in the day I'd probably have done a little better for myself, bed-notch-wise, had I had some 'game'." But I confess that a third part of me listens in, gasps, and thinks, "Have relations between the sexes really come to this?" It seems to me like such an everyone-out-for-himself, seething-with-mistrust- and-antagonism scene that -- were I young -- I wouldn't want to take part in it at all. What can I say? That's just how I react to shark-tanks. What the to-and-fro on the current posting has mainly left me thinking about, though, is something unrelated -- and very basic: women and the way they chew things over. Here's my comment from Roissy's: What *do* women get out of endlessly combing over the micro-shit of their unremarkable day? Christ! Does it take them that much effort to digest what they've been thru? Do they do it for the pure girly joy of it? Like most men, I can’t help suspecting that they do it partly to drive men crazy with impatience. With The Wife (who I adore), I’ve gotten to the point where, when she swings into chewing-her-day-over mode, I tell her “OK, I’ll give you 10 minutes on this, but then we either move on or I start throwing chairs around.” Any insights or theories from anyone? When I ask The Wife what it's about she just gives me one of her patented "You'll never understand even though you clearly ought to" looks. And when I look at myself I find no such compulsion no matter how deep inside I plunge. At the end of my day, I may or may not need to indulge in a five-minute vent, but that's a purely functional thing -- a matter of gunning the motor once before shutting it down for the rest of the night. Because, at... posted by Michael at May 14, 2008 | perma-link | (39) comments

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Glass Staircases
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Thanks to visitor Bryan for pointing out this NYTimes article about the current fashion for glass staircases. Funny comment from Bryan: "Glass, glass, glass. You would think it's this mysterious brand-new material, architects love it so much." Please, can someone commission a nature-or-nurture study of modernistic architects? Is the tendency to worship transparency and geometry something that some people are born with? Or are they brainwashed into their fascination with it? Small point: Given that pre-modernist and non-modernistic architects aren't mesmerized by abstraction to anything like the extent that the modernistic crowd is, this can't have to do with architects and architecture per se. After all, some architects -- not the kind who get tons of coverage from the likes of the NYTimes, alas -- are actually concerned with such values as shelter, social life, solidity, and even coziness. Visit John Massengale and Katie Hutchison for glimpses of a world the NYTimes will tell you very little about. Gotta love this quote from Rick Mather, the architect who created the glass staircase featured in the Times' story: “I like the ambiguity of it, I like that it brings in light, and I like that it disappears,” Mr. Mather said. “I like to not show how it’s supported.” Yup, that's what we want our architects doing: not creating satisfying and solid spaces and structures, but dissolving our structures around us. At his website, Rick Mather shows off a lot of flat planes, geometry, glowiness, crisp edges, and glass. Mather shows off little but that, it seems to me ... But, heck, well, at least his clients know what they're in for. God, but it must be exciting for architects to imagine themselves to be not just humble service-people doing their modest best to contribute a little to our shared quality of life, but instead to picture themselves as gurus, philosophers, and experimental scientists. Let's rescue humanity from tradition, from brick, even from rooms (modernistic architects prefer "spaces" to "rooms") -- from any familiar sense of how we're being sheltered! Too bad about those people who are terrified by the experience of, say, glass staircases ... But (as always) sacrifices need to be made so that the "liberation" process can move forward. Bryan's note reminded me of some vidclips I'd collected of the glassy insides of one of NYCity's Apple Stores. So I threw them together and hit iMovie '08's "Upload to YouTube" button. Here's my latest production, already viewed by 12 discerning and fortunate viewers, I see: Not a complete surprise to learn that Mr. iPod is a transparency buff himself, is it? I wonder if someone might want to suggest to Steve Jobs that the values that make for a nice computer or music player might not be the ones that are appropriate for buildings. In any case: Some people sure have weird tastes in architectural thrills. Too bad so many of them are architects. Modernistic architects: Preening zombies we need to learn to... posted by Michael at May 13, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Trip Journal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here I am in the Midwest, acting as sherpa for my wife who has never been here. Below are a few short thoughts that might (or not) get expanded into real blog posts. * The touristy part of Chicago is much nicer than it was 15+ years ago when I was last there. Clean, fairly friendly. Lots of really tall condo towers or hotels-cun-condos going up. The Daleys, despite other faults, know how to run the place. * Milwaukee was another matter. Hollowed out downtown. Some large blocks razed down to dirt. Everything has moved to the 'burbs. Call it a region without a center. * Madison, Wisconsin also disappointed. Here you have the state capitol building and the University of Wisconsin on each end of a half-mile street. I was expecting State Street to be nice. Instead, its highlights were the campus book store and Potbelly's sandwich shop. * Springfield, Illinois isn't much of a town, but has several places of interest. There is Lincoln's tomb and his house (the guide noted that the bannister of the main stairway is the one thing you can touch that Lincoln himself surely also had touched). And there is his presidential library and museum. The latter is overdone and I might do a rant about new museum displays. Not far are a nicely restored train station and a large Frank Lloyd Wright house that, unfortunately, was closed yesterday. Oh, and my father was born in Springfield 100 years ago minus two weeks. So it was high time that I got there. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 13, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Again and Again"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards By The Birds and the Bees -- co-starring Mac OSX: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 12, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Marathon Writer I Ain't
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have Terry Teachout envy. No, I don't envy everything about him, though there is a lot to admire. Specifically, I envy his productivity as a writer. For example, he writes 1.5 columns a week for The Wall Street Journal. He has a monthly column in Commentary and posts an occasional book review on their web page. He has a blog (see the above link). He writes books -- biographies of H.L. Mencken, George Balanchine and (forthcoming) Louis Armstrong. What I find astonishing is his ability to crank out thousands of words over a few days on his book projects. And the results are good-quality writing. Teachout has even mentioned on his blog that he has the ability to estimate how many hours it will take him to produce copy of a certain length about a given subject: amazing! Me? I struggle. As regular readers know. I'm toying with the idea of a sort of art history book. I want to send prospective publishers an annotated outline, the introductory chapter and a sample chapter from the main part of the proposed work. And boy is progress slooooow. I started chipping away on things nearly half a year ago and I'm only now within striking distance of completing the first draft of everything. Then I'll have to polish, add more material, perhaps reorganize things. I'll be lucky if I start publisher-shopping by July. There are reasons for my snail's pace. Foremost is that fact that the project is speculative, and that means my motivation is less than it would be if I had a contract and deadline in hand. Then there is the matter of life -- the quotidian stuff and all the travel we do serves to interrupt and distract. And there is the blogging. I love blogging, and will post an essay before getting around to book work. By that point, my energy level can be a lot lower because writing can be tiring. Perhaps the most important reason why I'm making such slow progress is that I'm not a natural writer of book-length pieces. Some people like Terry Teachout and our own Michael Blowhard can sit down at a computer and words simply flow. Not me. The post you are reading now will probably take an hour to complete. My book-writing sessions yield 600 words if I'm doing well and half that if I'm struggling. I suspect that my "natural" writing length is on the order of 600 words -- around the size of a newspaper column. Moreover, I think that I can usually make the points I want to at that approximate length. I find it hard to elaborate or the keep tossing in new examples. Perhaps it would be different if I were writing a narrative of some kind, a biography or perhaps a history or description of a well-defined event such as a battle. In those cases, the what-comes-next problem is largely resolved once research and outlining are completed.... posted by Donald at May 11, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Lemmonex takes her tax refund and invests it wisely. A nice bit from Lemmonex's self-description: "I have become increasingly ambivalent regarding politics; it is all a lie and they are all the same. Really. DC has embittered me further. Save yourself some trouble, pick one or two issues that are really important to you and just vote along those lines." As far as I'm concerned, with that passage Lemmonex has shown herself to be a more profound and useful political thinker than anyone at The New Republic or National Review. How lovely that she's also a cheekily sweet and amusing blogger with her own earthy, frank, and insolent-yet-vulnerable tone. Knock on her door and you'll find a full-fledged person at home. I ran into Lemmonex over at Roissy's. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 11, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments