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  1. I Am Not A Plotter
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  3. Russian Women on the Make
  4. Charlton Goes to BEA
  5. Immigration Restriction Linkage
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  7. We got suckered...
  8. A Modest Military Proposal
  9. Hiding Behind Initials
  10. And the Award for "Best Trailer" Goes to ...

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Friday, June 13, 2008

I Am Not A Plotter
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I had a cold the first part of the week and, of necessity, resorted to light reading to pass some of the time. On the Internet or someplace else (I already have forgotten where), the name Mycroft Holmes came up. Mycroft was Sherlock's older, heavier, less-energetic, but smarter brother. Of course I knew of Mycroft, but realized that I had never read any of the stories where he was involved. So I checked out the Wikipedia entry in the above link, noted the names of the appropriate stories, grabbed my "complete works" Holmes book off the shelf and dug in. Having dispatched a couple of Mycroft entries, I continued with some other short stories, concluding (as of last night) with "Silver Blaze" -- the one containing the famous passage where Holmes and Inspector Gregory have the following exchange, Gregory speaking first: "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes. In case you haven't read that story I won't toss in any "spoiler" material. I will say that the yarn was entertaining in its way, as are most Sherlock Holmes stories, though the greatest draw for the reader is the personality of Holmes himself. It is for me, anyway. I should add that when I do read mystery stories (and I seldom read fiction of any kind, I'm semi-sorry to admit), I seldom cross wits with the writer, trying to guess who the guilty party is. I simply go with the narrative flow, especially if I have a cold and don't feel much like thinking about anything. Mysteries are a specialized kind of story-telling where grand plot themes such as "dealing with evil or misfortune" or "the transition to true adulthood," or whatever they actually are, seldom or never come into play. Characterization tends to be minimal as well -- especially in the space-limited short story form. There, the people the protagonist deals with are usually little more than one-dimensional "types" whose personalities can be selected by the writer to help distract the reader from other clues dropped along the narrative way. Even so, mysteries definitely do have plots. That means I can never be a mystery writer. Or a science-fiction writer or a Western writer. Or, for that matter, a writer of any kind of fiction. The reason is simple: I am all but incapable of concocting plots of any kind. Don't know why: I just can't. This isn't simple ignorance, mind you. I've even read a book about plotting, not that it changed anything one bit. I just [Sniff] don't have that gene. Still, I can almost imagine how Doyle worked out "Silver Blaze" before he set to writing it. He probably first thought of the conclusion and the guilty party. Then he must have worked up key clues along with distractions. After... posted by Donald at June 13, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The web brings us news of yet another fetish we had no way of expecting. (NSFW) * Anne Thompson fears the worst for the LA Times. * Chris Floyd loves the case that Roger Scruton makes for a conservative environmentalism. * That bad boy of the British cinema, Ken ("Tommy," "Women in Love") Russell, reads a biography about himself. Very amusing. * Artist, gallery owner, and queer feminist, BDSM model Madison Young tells how she became a "rope slut." "For me there is only hemp or jute," she confides. "I love the bite, the tightness of the rope, the smell, the taste, I’m getting excited just talking about it. I really love rope." (NSFW.) * A good passage from Vdare's Brenda Walker: "Illegal workers are part of that broader trend where Davos-style elites have quietly abandoned the nation-state and have morphed into One-Worlders with a bent toward commerce." * MDMNM and loyal canine buddy run into a rattler. Pix galore. * Sister Wolf wishes that more public figures would just speak their minds, goddammit. * David Chute gives a mild thumb's-up to "Cloverfield." * Joe Valdez thinks that Walter Hill's 1979 "The Warriors" deserves to be thought of as an overlooked classic. Sigh: I remember well when "The Warriors" was thought of as something exciting and new. * Reid Farmer has a giggle at the expense of city people who move to the country. * Free Vedanta talks. I suggest starting with Swami Prabhavananda, who is often really good. * Katie Hutchison shares some photos of a lovely Boston neighborhood. Katie has a great feeling for livable beauty. * MD watches a movie and is more struck by faces and decor than by the storyline. That's part of what's so great about movies, no? -- the way they can strike you on so many different levels. * Maybe red meat is the healthy choice. * Lemmonex supplies a wryly amusing FAQ about herself. * Tom Smith thinks that not only do intellectuals have nothing interesting to say, they're no fun to be around. * MBlowhard Rewind: I treated myself to a wrestle with G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 13, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Russian Women on the Make
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In their pursuit of rich hubbies, Russian women are taking courses in such subjects as "Oral Sex for Experts," "How to Marry in Three Months," and "VUM Building." "VUM" stands for "vaginally used muscles," and yes, there's an exercise machine involved. "Once a woman reaches optimal fitness, she can shoot a fountain of water up out of her vagina in the bath," boasts the founder of Moscow's School for VUM Building. Two quick reflections: 1) If men are perfecting Game, then why shouldn't women arm themselves with skills meant to help them triumph in the battle of the sexes? Still: Is it just me or is the dating life getting awfully Machiavellian? 2) Russian women, eh? These days they're often incredible beauties. Yet so many of them seem more materialistic and more predatory than women of any other breed. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 12, 2008 | perma-link | (25) comments

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Charlton Goes to BEA
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- So far as trade book publishing goes -- "trade book publishing" is the branch of book publishing concerned with the kinds of books that you run into in typical bookstores -- the main annual event is Book Expo America. BEA is a trade convention where publishers display their upcoming wares to buyers and to the press, and where agents and representatives dicker over publishing rights. BEA is always quite a spectacle. Around 2000 exhibitors show up; around 30,000 people attend. Authors shake hands and sign books, freebies are handed out, and parties aren't in short supply. I've been to around 15 books conventions myself, and I always enjoyed them. People wear badges, swap stories, catch up with gossip, and have adventures. The Expo floor is full of zany displays. Extra added attraction: There's no better antidote to the lies you may have been fed as a literature student. My main reaction the first time I attended a books convention? "Oh, I get it now. It's a business. Sort of." This year, BEA took place in Los Angeles, and frequent 2Blowhards visitor and commenter Charlton Griffin was there to capture some of the action with his digicam. Explore Charlton's record of the BEA here. Here's my favorite of Charlton's BEA vidclips: One of the best readers and producers of audiobooks out there, Charlton has just released his version of Polybius' "The Histories." Buy a copy and download it here. Charlton also points out that Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR's final Commie leader, has outed himself as a Christian. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Immigration Restriction Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Randall Parker points out that immigration reduction has the side benefit of reducing overall population growth. (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Hibernia Girl dares anyone to call her a racist, and notices a study reporting that righties have more sex than lefties do. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Naughty Tunes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yahmdallah celebrates some dirty songs. I'll humbly add this filthy David Allan Coe classic to Yahmdallah's list. If you're at work, use headphones. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

We got suckered...
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I came across a very interesting essay by Robert Cassidy, the former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Asia and for China (tip of the hat to Howard Richman at his blog Trade Wars.) Mr. Cassidy was the lead U.S. negotiator for China's 1999 Market Access Agreement that paved the way for China's accession to the World Trade Organization. Titled "The Failed Expectations of U.S Trade Policy" and appearing in Foreign Policy in Focus (June 4, 2008 edition), Mr. Cassidy’s essay begins with his current unease with his own handiwork: As the principal negotiator for the landmark market access agreement that led to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), I have reflected on whether the agreements we negotiated really lived up to our expectations. A sober reflection has led me to conclude that those trade agreements did not. Why didn’t the trade agreements work? Mr. Cassiday concludes that in the Clinton Administration’s haste to get China into the WTO, the 1999 Market Access Agreement didn’t address a number of critical issues. Specifically, he points out that the Clintonistas, um, overlooked the topic of currency manipulation (China deliberately maintains a significantly undervalued currency so as to encourage exports and discourage imports). They also chose to ignore a variety of tax and other internal commercial policies that continue to prevent U.S. exports from penetrating the Chinese market. According to Mr. Cassidy the power of these factors to distort "free trade" is obvious if you compare our economic relations with China to our economic relations with Canada and Europe: In order to join the WTO, China made unilateral concessions to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate barriers to entry for U.S. goods and services…U.S. exports to China have increased and, as the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) often emphasizes, at a higher rate than to any other country. But such claims distort the real truth that exports grew faster because they grew from a very low level. In absolute terms, the increase in U.S. exports of goods to the EU was almost 70% greater than the increase in exports of goods to China [. Likewise, the absolute increase to Canada] was 40% more than to China. Neither of those trading partners made any trade concessions to the United States during this period. Conversely, on the U.S. import side, the United States made no concessions to China, yet U.S. imports from China were more than triple the pre-accession levels; to $321 billion in 2007, almost matching imports from the entire European Union. In contrast, increases in imports from Canada, our largest trading partner, rose by $82 billion and imports from the EU increased by $134 billion. So it would appear that the formal barriers to free trade that China gave up to get WTO membership had a much lower impact on its trade balance than the informal barriers (currency manipulation and a series of internal barriers to both imports and consumer spending generally) that it kept. So why... posted by Friedrich at June 11, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Modest Military Proposal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time, before 1947, the United States had no Air Force. What we had were two air forces. One was the Navy's and the other was part of the U.S. Army. The Army's air force was taken away and became a separate branch of the armed services as part of Truman's reorganization that resulted in creation of the Department of Defense. Previously, defense needs were handled by the Navy Department and the War Department, each headed by a Cabinet-level secretary. The transition from being part of the Signal Corps to Air Force independence was a multi-step process that resulted in a quasi-independent air force when World War 2 was underway. (For some information about this, click here.) The doctrine favored by air officers during much of this gestation period can be encapsulated by the term strategic bombing which had its roots in the thinking of Italian general Giulio Douhet and others in the 1920s and 30s. The theory was that bombers were virtually impervious to attack and were fully capable of destroying an enemy country's armaments industry, infrastructure and the morale of its populace. By the time World War 2 got nicely underway it became obvious to military men (though not so much to the general public getting its war news filtered through censorship) that bombing accuracy was not very good even with the aid of the best bomb-sights available. And rather than being invincible, bombers proved to be highly vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and attack by interceptors alerted or guided by radar (a late-30s development). Further, the Battle of Britain and the later Blitz revealed that civilian morale was harder to crack than had been anticipated by the bombing enthusiasts. Air commanders continued to insist that strategic bombing was an important part of warfare. They were correct, though the fire-breathers among them probably continued over-stating their case when they claimed that such bombing alone could win a war. (True, Japan surrendered before it had to be invaded. But anti-shipping warfare by submarines and the failure of Japan to mass-produce advanced interceptors in 1944 contributed to their ultimate relative weakness in the summer of 1945.) The domination of thinking by "bomber generals" continued in the U.S Air Force well into the strategic missile age. This was probably mostly for the best while the U.S. and Soviet Union faced each other across the Arctic during the first 15 years of the Cold War because bombers were the only means of conveying strategic weapons in those days. By the 1970s the situation had changed. Land and sea-based missiles became the strategic weapons and B-52 "strategic bombers" were being used for tactical, Army-support missions. By the time of the Gulf Wars, air activities were largely in the form of ground support and transportation and communications interdiction; strategic attacks were a small part of the picture. So, I ask, since the Air Force is nowadays largely an Army-support service, why not simply make it a branch... posted by Donald at June 10, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hiding Behind Initials
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, it seems to be happening everywhere and has been happening for a long time. But I was reminded of the phenomenon last week when we visited Victoria, British Columbia and went looking for an ATM to get some Canadian money. Canada used to have five or so major banks whose names were familiar even to Yanks such as me who occasionally wandered north of the line. Instead of those grand old names, what did I see on bank buildings but BMO CIBC HSBC RBC TD Plus, there was something called "Scotiabank." To be fair, the "BMO" was followed by a small logo and the familiar words "Bank of Montreal." That was helpful, so I used their ATM. And Scotiabank isn't terribly far removed from Bank of Nova Scotia. HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company which wasn't one of the big five Canadian banks, but now is fairly strong in British Columbia perhaps because of the many Hong Kong residents who moved to Canada when the Sino-British treaty expired. As for the others. CIBC was Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, RBC was Royal Bank of Canada and TD was Toronto Dominion Bank. RBC still uses the words "Royal Bank" but I don't recall seeing them on the building signs (correct me if I mis-remembered). I'm pretty sure most Canadians know perfectly well what all those initials stand for. And I imagine that tourists with little experience in Canada have no idea what they mean. [Puts on just-for-fun conspiracy hat] Could it be that those Canadian banks are trying to hide something? Secrets from the dark days before the country became a paradise of political correctness? Let us delve. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce -- Clearly a double-whammy of evil!! I'm all but certain that those imperialist lackeys of capitalism and trade were also white males; how could they be otherwise? Toronto Dominion Bank -- The cowardly behind-initials-hiding scum at least recognize that Canada finally threw off the chains of empire to become a shining Trudeaupia [thanks for that word, Mark Steyn]. Nevertheless, could that "D" be nothing but a fig-leaf waiting to be peeled off when the forces of reaction opt to rejoin the empire and restore the hated Red Ensign to the flagpoles of Canada? Royal Bank of Canada -- Well. That tells us all we need to know. The hand on the lever behind the curtain has been revealed! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 9, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

And the Award for "Best Trailer" Goes to ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- ... this giddy and gorgeous teaser for the upcoming "Black Dynamite": Wow, is that well-done: It hits all its marks (and then some) while adding loads of fresh sweeteners, twists, and sparklies. Here's what the trailer has me hoping-against-hope: that "Black Dynamite" will manage a rare trick -- to be spoof, homage, and thing-in-it-own-right. Fond though I am of goofs, when it comes to entertainments that last longer than ten minutes it never hurts if a project has a little identity and excitement of its own to share. I enjoyed the blaxploitation spoof "Undercover Brother," though (like too many spoofs) it ran out of gas after a half hour. I majorly didn't enjoy the Tarantino / Rodriguez '70s-trash homage double-bill "Grindhouse." But Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" -- which had a '70s side as well as a blaxploitation side to it -- was my favorite of Tarantino's movies. I'm hoping that Tarantino will abandon the stylistic grandstanding of "Kill Bill" and "Grindhouse" and return to working in the the more straightforward mode of "Jackie Brown." But maybe I'm being a sap. Back here I panned Rodriguez' "Grindhouse" contribution and praised a Japanese genre gem: "Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs," which I loved. It's both a campy hoot and an exciting and beautiful piece of popular entertainment in its own right. I rolled my eyes at "Kill Bill" here. Hey, that's a pretty good opening line I came up with in that blog posting. Have I ever mentioned that one thing I'd love to do before I die is to play one of "the bad white guys" in a blaxploitation movie? I think that my beady, mean eyes and thin, snide voice would work perfectly. I wrote an intro to blaxploitation here. If you've never watched a blaxploitation movie, I suggest starting off with "Coffy" and "Cleopatra Jones." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Heterodox Thinking on Architecture
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is Leon Krier as great an architecture-and-urbanism thinker as Jane Jacobs was? Since I suspect that he may be, it's nice to see that Roger Scruton does too. If you've ever rolled your eyes in exasperation when reading a conventional piece of architecture history or criticism, Scruton's essay should come as a relief and a blessing. It's a great introduction to a way of seeing and experiencing architecture-and-urbanism that's helpful, down-to-earth, poetic, and moving. Here's a review of Krier's best-known book. Here's a long q&a with Roger Scruton. I wrote an intro to Jane Jacobs back here. In related news: Lakis Polycarpou conducts a discussion with James Kunstler and Nikos Salingaros: Part One, Part Two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 9, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments