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.

E-Mail Donald
Demographer, recovering sociologist, and arts buff

E-Mail Fenster
College administrator and arts buff

E-Mail Francis
Architectural historian and arts buff

E-Mail Friedrich
Entrepreneur and arts buff
E-Mail Michael
Media flunky and arts buff

We assume it's OK to quote emailers by name.

Try Advanced Search

  1. Canadian Spaces
  2. Workers Needed
  3. Art Book Pictures Are Fine, But ...
  4. Anti-Cloud
  5. The Solution
  6. Jim Kalb's Book Is Almost Available
  7. A False Future Glimpsed
  8. Meet Sally Fallon
  9. It's Hank's Fault
  10. Hits and Misses: New York Forecasts

Sasha Castel
AC Douglas
Out of Lascaux
The Ambler
Modern Art Notes
Cranky Professor
Mike Snider on Poetry
Silliman on Poetry
Felix Salmon
Polly Frost
Polly and Ray's Forum
Stumbling Tongue
Brian's Culture Blog
Banana Oil
Scourge of Modernism
Visible Darkness
Thomas Hobbs
Blog Lodge
Leibman Theory
Goliard Dream
Third Level Digression
Here Inside
My Stupid Dog
W.J. Duquette

Politics, Education, and Economics Blogs
Andrew Sullivan
The Corner at National Review
Steve Sailer
Joanne Jacobs
Natalie Solent
A Libertarian Parent in the Countryside
Rational Parenting
Colby Cosh
View from the Right
Pejman Pundit
God of the Machine
One Good Turn
Liberty Log
Daily Pundit
Catallaxy Files
Greatest Jeneration
Glenn Frazier
Jane Galt
Jim Miller
Limbic Nutrition
Innocents Abroad
Chicago Boyz
James Lileks
Cybrarian at Large
Hello Bloggy!
Setting the World to Rights
Travelling Shoes

Redwood Dragon
The Invisible Hand
Daze Reader
Lynn Sislo
The Fat Guy
Jon Walz


Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Canadian Spaces
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today I'd like to toss out for your inspection two places I recently photographed in Canada. The only connection I'll make is that I liked one site and hated the other. Of course, you are free to make comparisons and contrasts. Here is some grist for such activity. The first site is Montreal's Olympic Park, built for the 1976 games. It's still used for sports events, but traffic has to be less than even a couple of years ago before the Expos baseball team decamped to Washington, D.C. One Olympic structure has been converted into a kind of wintergarden containing nature displays; it's now called the Biodome. The architetcure on the site is a sort of non-retro postmodernist -- there's lots of reinforced concrete, but the signature buildings are sculptural rather than geometric. The other site is the new (opened 2004) Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls. It's privately owned and managed, but the province of Ontario gets a cut of the profits. Las Vegas abandoned the gambling factory casino style about 20 years ago for semi-traditional architecture and lots of flash to wow the tourists and players. The Fallsview budget was probably less than that of the Bellagio, but the designers gave it a good try. Here are some photos. Gallery Olympic Park -- Montreal Perhaps the best-known structures in Olympic Park are the Biodome (left), the Olympic Stadium (hidden) and its tower (right) that supports its roof. A funicular car takes passengers to the top of the tower where there is an observation room. Looking down at the Biodome from the observation station. Another ground-level view of the Biodome. Its grounds are basically a large paved surface interrupted by those potted trees and the flag area. Looking towards the left we can see ... In principle, large crowds need to be accommodated on occasion, but these spaces are sterile. Fallsview Casino Resort -- Niagara Falls, Ontario Here is a view of the part of the exterior facing the falls. Near the street entrance is this sculpture evoking electrical power generation related to the falls, a heritage of the casino site. Those circular objects near the base aren't car tires; they do turn, representing dynamos driven by water turbines. At the top are cables representing power lines. Another view of the court near the sculpture. These design evokes late 19th century industrial Art Nouveau. This was taken just inside the hotel entrance indicated to the right of the previous photo. The theme shifts towards the classical. View of the shopping arcade. Note the dark band of Louis Sullivan-like Art Nouveau reliefs above the windows. The interior of the rounded atrium shown in the first photo. This is at the shops level; escalators towards the left-center lead down to a food court level and the exit to the falls viewing terrace. My verdict: given a choice, I'd much prefer to hang out at the casino (I don't gamble). And your take? (Comments on changing... posted by Donald at October 4, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Workers Needed
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In case your job in banking just evaporated and you're looking for a new field to conquer: Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Art Book Pictures Are Fine, But ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have a lot of books about art -- painting and illustration, actually. The quality of the reproductions in the newer ones is a lot better than it was for the old books. Even if the printer was in a back alley someplace in Ceylon, the quality seems pretty good. (Yes, I know the place is now called Sri Lanka or some such moniker. But my choice of place-names happens to be whimsical with a tendency to favor the names I learned when young. Bombay, anyone? Burma? Chungking? Peking or maybe Beiping? However, I much prefer St. Petersburg to Leningrad -- but hey! St. Pete came first, right?) Anyway, before I distracted myself I was about to make the point that I rely heavily on the color reproductions for understanding the works and to form judgments. That's because I have little choice. Seattle's far more big-time than it was when I was growing up, but its art museums aren't yet first-rate. So to experience lots of top-notch painting, I need to travel to Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington or major European cities. Those of you living in the BosWash corridor really have it lucky if you're art fans. When traveling, I prefer strolling city streets to museum-going. But if I have the time and there's a major museum handy, I'll step in and check out the galleries that interest me. On my recent visit to Boston, I finally made it to the Museum of Fine Arts. It's undergoing expansion, so I don't know how representative the displays were. My main goal was to see what they had in the way of John Singer Sargent's work, and I had a few other items in mind. Among the hangings were: Gallery Isabella and the Pot of Basil -- John White Alexander, 1897 This was one of those "other" paintings. I'm pleased that it was on view and not in storage. Promise of Spring -- Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1890 Boston was the first city we visited on a 16-day trip, and traveling tends to give me a memory-wipe. I definitely saw a Tadema, and I'm almost sure this was the one. A small painting, and not one of his best. Still, Bravo! to the MFA for displaying an artist whose works were laughed at 50 years ago. A Caprioti -- John Singer Sargent, 1878 I didn't have to travel all the way to Boston to see this one: a near-duplicate is in a Seattle collection and was on display recently at the Seattle Art Museum. This is one of a series of paintings Sargent made on a visit to Capri. Mrs Fiske Warren and Daughter Rachel -- John Singer Sargent, 1903 One of Sargent's later society paintings. It's a little high-key for my taste, but I was fascinated by his brushwork on the clothing. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit -- John Singer Sargent, 1882 In recent years, art critics and commentators have allowed themselves to get... posted by Donald at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As though "cloud computing" weren't a fresh-enough (and hard-enough-to-get-used-to) concept, now we have a "cloud-computing backlash" to contend with ... Previously: I gabbed a bit about my own cloud-computing experiences. Visitors volunteered far more interesting and informed reflections. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

The Solution
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fringe non-candidate and general annoying / amusing guy Sparrow proposes a sensible solution to the immigration quandary. I also liked a bumper sticker that Sparrow has created: Fun to encounter political POV's you can really get behind, isn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 2, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Jim Kalb's Book Is Almost Available
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb's new book "The Tyranny of Liberalism" goes on sale soon. Read an interview with Jim about the book here. I've long been a fan of Jim's. His thinking strikes me as deep, his writing as helpful and clear, and his manner as both calm and patient. He makes a great and humane case for traditionalism both in what he says and how he says it. This ain't Fox News conservatism, to put it mildly. Jim's blog is here. Long ago, I interviewed Jim at some length. You can get to all three parts of the interview from this posting. I urge you to give the q&a a read: provocations and surprises (of a gentle but trenchant sort) are guaranteed. Don't skip the very interesting commentsthreads that follow the postings. Jim writes eloquently in praise of nostalgia here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 1, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A False Future Glimpsed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Towards the end of my high school career I'd often hop a bus for downtown after school and get off near the Seattle Public Library's main branch, an old, gray Carnegie donation. Then I'd spend an hour or so browsing the art, architecture and some other sections before walking the two blocks to my father's office to hitch a ride home with him. Most of the architecture books I studied dealt with Modernism, and I had totally bought into its ideology/religion at that time. Maybe one reason I did so was because hardly any significant Modernist structures had been built in Seattle by the mid-1950s, so I had no idea of the visual damage they would cause. The International Style (the Museum of Modern Art's name for it) buildings I saw were in the form of drawings, models and photos in books and architecture magazines. They looked clean and exciting. Particularly seductive was the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Here is one of his proposals from around 1920. This sort of thing would give my college architectural history professor heart throbs. Form following function. Truth to materials. And you can see it all! Clearly!! Too bad for Mies and the Prof that real buildings almost never came off that way. Except at night when rooms are lighted, glass-clad buildings simply reflect stuff, a characteristic more recent architects have exploited. Nevertheless, once in a while one can glimpse in reality what van der Rohe and his kind had intended. Below is a recent photo I took of a building under construction in Toronto. Lighting conditions were just right to give it the effect Mies was striving for. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 30, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Meet Sally Fallon
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Organic lefties ... Burkean righties ... Eat-local hippies ... ... Leave-me-alone anarchists ... Big-government-hating Ron Paul libertarians ... The raw milk wars ... The New Urbanism ... The rediscovery of "good fats" ... Speculations about secession ... It all kind of comes together, doesn't it? It does in my mind anyway. Enjoy a visit with one of the hotspots in all this -- the Weston A. Price Foundation's director Sally Fallon -- and learn something about the whole Weston A. Price thing. Weston A. Price seems to be emerging as some kind of significant culture-figure. A quack? Could well be. But also someone whose ideas resonate in the present moment -- much as, say, Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan's ideas resonated in their time. In any case, interesting developments, all of them ... Bonus point: An interesting Primal Nutrition-style eating-and-diet experiment. Time to quaff a mug of bone broth. Best, Michael UDPATES: * Dave Lull points out a Salon interview with Jennifer McLagan, the author of the new book "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes." Jennifer McLagan tells the Carb Wars Blog: It took a long time for publishers to talk to me ... The opening chapter is all about the importance of animal fat in our diet and why in the last 30 years we have been (wrongly) convinced to cut it out....It gives us energy. It boosts the immune system and some fats have antimicrobial properties. Others can lower bad cholesterol. There are vitamins that are only fat-soluble. Your brain is mainly made of fat and cholesterol, as are the membranes of your cells. It helps you digest protein, which is why you should eat chicken with crispy skin or well-marbled steak. Here's another visit with her. Here's Jennifer McLagan's own blog. * Orthodox Agrarian weaves together some musings about philosopher Roger Scruton and a lot of enthusiasm for the art of John Constable. He also wonders why his parents think of him and his Crunchy-Con wife -- conservatives both -- as hippies.... posted by Michael at September 30, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

It's Hank's Fault
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Well, the Mother of All Bailouts went down to defeat yesterday in the House, to the obvious consternation of bankers and stock markets everywhere. Many have assigned blame to Republican politicians who took a look at the strongly negative response to the bill from the public and, facing very dicey outcomes in next month's elections, decided to surf a populist wave. While the Republicans are, indeed, in big trouble and like the desperate men and women they deserve to be (having blindly followed the lead of the most feckless president in history), they are probably feeling reckless. None the less, I think this explanation overlooks the real issue. Bryan Caplan examines the three national polls taken on the subject by Rasmussen Reports, USA Today/Gallup, and Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times. He concludes that they all tell roughly the same tale: The LA Times survey has the best-crafted responses - at least it mentions the main arguments for each side. But the USA Today poll, which gives an intermediate choice, probably tells us more about what the American public is thinking. Namely: They want government to do a lot, just not this. [emphasis added] I believe that it would have been trivial to pass a variety of bailouts, certainly a Swedish-style bank nationalization bill and probably a number of others as well. The public doesn't want the benefits of a functioning financial system to go away; they however (IMO correctly) don't want the current people who have profited immensely by steering that system into the tarpits to be further rewarded or protected from the consequences of their own actions. Unlike many 'pragmatists' the public may actually think that this would not only be annoying in the here-and-now, but a very dangerous precedent for the future. Is that really so astonishing or short-sighted? In other words, blame Hank Paulson for devising, and utterly refusing to part with, a bailout that is entirely painless for the bailees, or at least the bailees that Hank happens to like. He could have, with a little common sense, had a perfectly functional bailout bill passed by a unanimous vote already if that's all he wanted. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at September 30, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hits and Misses: New York Forecasts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent post I mentioned that in my dark past, I created population forecasts of counties in New York state. This admission might have been a mistake, because Benjamin Hemric and Michael B quickly appeared in Comments asking for more information. Since my back is now against the wall, here goes: In the mid-1960s Nelson Rockefeller was governor, a man who believed in big, bold government projects -- a trait not unheard of in other occupants of the governor's mansion in Albany. Among his other accomplishments were the transformation of a collection of teachers colleges and other schools into the State University of New York (SUNY) system and the building of the Albany Mall (which I wrote about here). Another initiative was the establishment of an agency named the Office of Planning Coordination (OPC). Perhaps not having read (or having forgotten about) Friedrich Hayek, Rockefeller and his advisers thought that planning was a Good, Rational Activity -- which it is in an ideal world. Elsewhere, such an agency would be yet another collection of over-educated bureaucrats who would pass their time awaiting retirement by writing studies whose destiny would be the oblivion of a state archives file drawer. Unfortunately, OPC was saddled with a slight problem: it was intended to hold actual power. In fact, the concept was that OPC would be co-equal with the budget agency, something almost unheard of. Poor Rockefeller: he didn't realize that no one was co-equal with Budget. So, on its creation, OPC faced a mortal enemy. Other enemies quickly emerged amongst other agencies that resented being dictated to as well as county and local governments long leery of the actions of higher-level governments. This soon translated into lack of support by legislators. Nevertheless, all went seemingly well. I was hired during the summer of 1970 to create regional and county population projections, a task formerly performed by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo. All was jolly, state government cruising along, taxpayer money being spent and spent and spent. Until after the November election where Rockefeller had earned his fourth term. Then he jammed on the spending brakes. Cuts had to be made. Employees would have to be let go. This was something new to New York State employees. In the end, two agencies were targeted, one being OPC. OPC didn't disappear, but it lost about half of its staff (if I remember right); actually many dismissed people popped up in other agencies, so I question how much economizing actually happened. Even though I hadn't completed my six-month trial period, I was retained (to the displeasure of others who thought their jobs were secure). That was because the Office of Planning Services (OPS), the renamed, shrunken agency felt population forecasts were a key product. The first set of OPS forecasts appeared in 1972, about a year after necessary benchmark data from the 1970 census were released. At the time, New York was more of a major state than... posted by Donald at September 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Toby's Movie
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been looking forward to the film "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." It's an adaptation of the British writer Toby Young's memoir of his wildly unsuccessful years in New York City, on staff at Vanity Fair. Though the book is nonfiction, it's personal, fleet, funny, and touching -- as engaging and easya read as "Bright Lights, Big City." These days Toby's book looks even better than it did initially; indeed, it looks as though it may be the definitive book about an era in the NYC media life that I think of as the Tina-and-Graydon years -- that's Tina as in Tina Brown and Graydon as in Graydon Carter. And if you don't think that nailing a big-city media era is a significant literary achievement, please recall that one of the ways we value F. Scott Fitzgerald is as a chronicler of the Jazz Age. I've been enjoying the warmup to the film's release in the States: one example, another. Have the filmmakers taken the material in the direction of character-driven, glam, and gritty, a la "Withnail and I"? I imagine that such would be Toby's preference. Or have they steered it in the direction of rom-com formula? Here's the movie's website. Simon Pegg: good. Kirsten Dunst? Hmmm ... But I'm really looking forward to Jeff Bridges as Graydon Carter, though the casting seems so dead-on that I'm also feeling wary of it. Toby's wife writes about what it was like to see herself played onscreen by Kirsten Dunst. So I was double-glad this morning to see that Toby has written a smart piece -- frank, provocative, and fun, in the Toby manner -- for The Guardian ricocheting off his experience as a movie journalist and movie reviewer as well as his more recent adventures in moviemaking itself. What has Toby learned about movies and moviemaking that he didn't fully comprehend as a reviewer? And how has it affected his attitudes towards and thinking about movies? A great passage that ought to be handed out to beginning film journalists and beginning filmmakers both: I now realise that describing someone as the "director" -- or "screenwriter" or "producer" -- is completely misleading, in that there are no clearly circumscribed areas of responsibility on a film set. Those official titles are, at best, starting points, guideposts that sometimes point you in the right direction, but equally often lead you astray. Film-making is a fluid, mercurial process in which power is constantly changing hands, not just between individuals, but between groups of individuals, creating makeshift alliances that can dissolve at any second. I was struck by much the same thing during my recent adventures in no-budget moviemaking. (Read one of my postings about it here.) Basically, we were all there to get the damn film -- er, webseries -- made. If an electrical cord needed plugging-in, then someone did it. If toilet paper needed fetching, then someone did that too. The titles that appear on... posted by Michael at September 29, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Are All The Animals Really Equal?
Friedrich von Blowhard: Dear Blowhards, Last week I noticed a sarcastic essay by Michael Lewis (author of "Liar’s Poker") on Blooomberg, headlined "America Must Rescue the Bonuses at Goldman Sachs." It reads in part: The total collapse of the global financial system is one thing -- everyone at Davos in January saw that coming. But the shrinkage of the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. bonus pool is another. Whatever else the Treasury achieves it must know that if the employees of Goldman suffer any sort of pay cut, it will be judged to have failed. And our country may never recover…. To its credit the government has thus far done pretty much all it can to prevent any suffering inside the firm. Its extreme sensitivity to Goldman's pain is the only way to explain its actions thus far. I thought this was funny here and there but a bit too exaggerated to be really wounding. Well, that is, until I read Gretchen Morgenson’s Behind Biggest Insurer’s Crisis, a Blind Eye to a Web of Risk in the New York Times. While the story is about how AIG’s credit default swap unit tanked the insurance empire’s holding company, a few paragraphs were focused on the peculiar role of Goldman Sachs in that imbroglio: Two weeks ago, the nation’s most powerful regulators and bankers huddled in the Lower Manhattan fortress that is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, desperately trying to stave off disaster. As the group, led by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., pondered the collapse of one of America’s oldest investment banks, Lehman Brothers, a more dangerous threat emerged: American International Group, the world’s largest insurer, was teetering. A.I.G. needed billions of dollars to right itself and had suddenly begged for help. The only Wall Street chief executive participating in the meeting was Lloyd C. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Mr. Paulson’s former firm. Mr. Blankfein had particular reason for concern. Although it was not widely known, Goldman, a Wall Street stalwart that had seemed immune to its rivals’ woes, was A.I.G.’s largest trading partner, according to six people close to the insurer who requested anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. A collapse of the insurer threatened to leave a hole of as much as $20 billion in Goldman’s side, several of these people said. Days later, federal officials, who had let Lehman die and initially balked at tossing a lifeline to A.I.G., ended up bailing out the insurer for $85 billion. Their message was simple: Lehman was expendable. But if A.I.G. unspooled, so could some of the mightiest enterprises in the world. A Goldman spokesman said in an interview that the firm was never imperiled by A.I.G.’s troubles and that Mr. Blankfein participated in the Fed discussions to safeguard the entire financial system, not his firm’s own interests. Yeah, right. Mr. Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and only Mr. Blankfein gets to consult with the powers that be (including his immediate predecessor) on the proper policy for the government to take... posted by Friedrich at September 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Puzzler
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's something that has long puzzled me. Polite Society (ie., our elites) does something ambitious. Something like, say, opening immigration policies insanely 'way up. Society at large (ie., many of the rest of us) reacts to this development by protesting, perhaps even strongly. Polite Society then looks at how the rest of us are carrying on and ... blames the whole problem on us for failing to behave well. They cause the problem; we protest; and somehow the fault winds up lying with us for being uncouth. Isn't this a little like stabbing someone, and then blaming the whole bloody mess on the shrieking of the victim? Best, Michael UPDATE: A hard-hitting posting from Robert Wenzel includes these nice passages: [The power elite] always take advantage of crisis to make a [power and money] grab ... Taking advantage of crisis and making things complex is how the elite play. The current crisis is the mortgage crisis ... We are in the midst of one of the greatest power and money grabs in the history of the world. I am stunned by the Russian style oligarch aggressiveness and boldness of the moves made this weekend, led by Paulson. Pierre Lemieux has a laugh at the idea that the current financial crisis is proof that capitalism doesn't work: The financial crisis opened last year with the meltdown of the American subprime mortgage market. At that time, half of the residential mortgages in the United States were already held or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two so-called "government sponsored enterprises" (GSE). Over the past year, the two GSEs have financed four out of five mortgages. Fannie Mae was created in the wake of the Great Depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt; Freddie Mac by Congress in 1970. Private investors happily bought securities issued by the two GSEs because they knew the federal government would never let these companies fail — which proved true last week when they were entirely taken over by Washington. Before the crisis started, the American mortgage market was a paragon of socialism, unparalleled in any other Western country ... The present financial turmoil is really a failure of global statism. Socialism has failed once again. Let's try capitalism.... posted by Michael at September 28, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Shrinking Newspapers Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This item appeared in today's Seattle Times editorial page. It seems that said page is about to go Poof! The editor mentions that on-line readership is up and believes that the editorial opinion-related material can be better handled on the Web, allowing blogs, lengthier articles and so forth. All of this is probably true. Not mentioned is the likely fact that print advertising had fallen to the point where two-page editorial sections (five days a week; Monday and Saturday got one page) cannot be economically justified. As for me, I will rue the disappearance of the editorial section (though a vestige might remain in print). That's because I stopped reading the comics section and relied on the editorial pages to provoke laughter. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 28, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments