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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  1. Jim Kalb's Book Is Now Buyable
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  5. More on Constraints
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  7. On Design Constraints
  8. Finally, An Iraq Plan I Can Get Behind
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jim Kalb's Book Is Now Buyable
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've raved about the traditionalist conservative Jim Kalb many times. Finally I have the pleasure of pointing out that his book can now be bought. (Or buy it at Amazon.) Read Jim's blog here. Read my interview with Jim here. Taki's magazine runs an excerpt from Jim's book here. Best, MIchael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "When the Fed insists it has no choice but to print up hundreds of billions of new dollars and when the keepers of accounting standards bend in the face of criticism that market prices hurt, what they are really saying is the that financial truth is too awful to bear," writes the ultra-prudent James Grant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Radley Balko wants his fellow righties to vote for Obama. * The Northern Agrarian thinks that real conservatives should vote for Ralph Nader. * Nathancontramundi spends a few minutes with Ron Paul. Hey, a thought? Given what we've seen of (and learned about) Obama and McCain over the last few months, are we still pleased that it was Ron Paul who received a campaign-ending tar-and-feathering? Of these three guys, which one is the cleanest politician? Any opinions about whether it's a pure coincidence that the cleanest pol was the one who was driven out of the race? Hmmmm .... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 25, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Friday, October 24, 2008

Good, Bad, Carbs, Fat, Cardio
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dennis Mangan finds Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" not just impressive but persuasive. I found the book a paradigm-shifter too. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Of the many good low-carb, unafraid-of-fat advice-givers, one of my favorites is the Englishman Barry Groves, who has an affable and low-key style that I find irresistible. I warmly recommend this book of Groves', and am glad to see that he has recently published a new one too. Groves is profiled in the Telegraph, and is interviewed by Jimmy Moore. * At the other end of the spectrum from Groves' genial and mild ways is the pugnacity and fire of Anthony Colpo, the bad boy of the low-carb world and a current fascination of mine. I haven't read Colpo's magnum opus yet, but as a big fan of all kinds of self-publishing I'm thrilled that he pulled it together and published it himself. * Dr. John Briffa can't see many reasons why otherwise-healthy women should ever take statins. Since I like Briffa's style and find him a sensible and modest eating-and-exercise guru, I'm hoping that his latest book will arrive in the U.S. soon. * Healthcare Episetemocrat manages to draw connections between paleolithic eating and MBlowhard favorite, the localist "reactionary radical" Bill Kauffman. (Another Dave Lull webfind.) * Yet another reason not to shun fat. Besides, as good cooks like to say, "Fat is flavor." * Arthur DeVany lists 10 reasons not to run a marathon. Mark Sisson wants you to be wary of extreme aerobic training generally. (Hey, I knew Mark back in high school. He was an awesome distance runner.) Intermittent Fasting says that 35-40 minutes of cardio should be more than enough. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 24, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on Constraints
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent post about design constraints I contended that engineering and other technical fields had do deal with constraints continually, whereas word and idea based fields didn't very much. It was a long post and I didn't have room to deal with wordy or arty areas that do happen to be subject to constraints. For the most part, such constraints aren't as rigorous as those a battleship designer or civil engineer regularly confront, but they bear mentioning. So, in case you didn't link to Comments in the post I cited, I thought I'd drop in the following exchange. First up is ricpic, a longtime reader. An exercise for you, Donald. Try writing a two stanza poem, each stanza consisting of four lines, lines one and three and two and four rhyming, lines one and three eight beats, lines two and four six beats. The poem can be about any subject that genuinely interests you (in your case that might be politics or American history or Seattle or architecture or classic cars). Lastly, the poem has to make sense and the rhyming has to be unforced. Then come back and tell me that only those on the technical side of the equation deal with constraints. To which I replied: I wasn't categorical. And if every poem had to have the structure you propose or else had to be a haiku or a sonnet -- and nothing else was allowed -- then indeed poets would have to ply their trade severely constrained. But that's not the way it is: Poets can do whatever they please these days (they aren't forced to write sonnets), while technical workers will forever remain shackled in many respects. But here's an example of constraints in the arts: stage set designer. He's only got so much real estate to deal with. There are sightlines to consider. Ease of set changing. Stage features -- any turntables, trap doors, etc. The play or opera itself and its minimal staging requirements. There is a budget to consider. And deadlines. Not to mention the whims of the director who demands that Die Fledermaus be staged in a Nazi concentration camp setting. In a later comment, frequent-commenter Tatyana suggested that what I said about set designers was a fair description of what architects and interior designers have to deal with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 23, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1991, the average bra size in the U.S. was 34B. Today, it's 36C. My source for this fact is an episode of the History Channel's great "Modern Marvels" series that was devoted to underwear. A fun and informative episode in many ways, though its failure to so much as mention thongs and g-strings struck me as a serious oversight. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 22, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

On Design Constraints
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I never studied engineering in college. This was realistic on my part because I lacked the mathematical skills and the temperament a good engineer needs. On the other hand, I missed something really important -- something it took years for me to attain willy-nilly as I experienced life. Too bad I didn't get it rammed into my skull when I was 19 or 20. I'm alluding to the matter of constraints. Sure, one deals with constraints from the time he's hatched. But most constraints are minor or simply part of the environment, so they aren't given much thought. It's not all that often that people have to think through constraints in a formal sense. But that's what engineers and others who do almost any kind of technical work have to deal with a lot. People whose trade is ideas and words face far fewer and less critical constraints than, say, the designer of a battleship. So to make matters more concrete, let's consider some of the many constraining factors for battleship design. The last true battleship was commissioned in 1946 (HMS Vanguard), only 40 years after the completion of the first modern (all big-gun) battleship HMS Dreadnought. That's a pretty short run, but a well-documented one. My favorite source on battleship design is this book by Norman Friedman. A highly important constraint is cost. Battleships were hugely expensive items in an era where the world was less rich and government shares of economies were much less than they are now. Politicians who had the responsibility of proposing naval budgets or voting on them were torn between adequately defending the nation and other demands on the treasury. As a rule of thumb, the better battleship is the bigger battleship in a number of ways including survivability. (For instance, the largest battleships ever built, Japan's Yamato class, were extremely hard to destroy.) But another rule is that cost is almost always proportional to size; at some point, even the most bellicose politicians will draw the line at more spending. Another constraint is the number and characteristics of battleships in fleets of potential enemies (and even allies). It makes little sense to build ships that would be quickly destroyed in a fight; your battleships should be superior to or, minimally, competitive with those of your foes. After the Great War ended, a naval race between the U.S.A., Britain and Japan loomed. Its potential cost was so high that politicians instead used the device of a treaty that limited the number of ships (via total tonnage by type of ship), their size (in terms of displacement) and how large their main armament could be. Regardless whether the ship's displacement was limited by treaty or budget, the designers had to honor that limit and essentially allocate various features of the ship according to shares of the total displacement weight. Friedman suggests that a good rule of thumb is that around 60 percent of the displacement of a battleship can... posted by Donald at October 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finally, An Iraq Plan I Can Get Behind
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Where foreign policy is concerned, maybe we ought to rely more on that other Clinton approach: Found here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 21, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, October 20, 2008

Underground Puppets
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's been a paucity of what used to be known as "underground art" in recent years. Is this because access and electronics have rendered the aboveground / underground distinction useless? Have corporations rendered people stupid and life bland? Are taboos out of date? Beats me. Even Pedro Almodovar -- whose early movies combined casual surrealism, impish insolence, and beyond-camp absurdism -- has gone staid. The Wife and I caught up with his recent "Volver" and found it a stodgy (if elegant) yawn. But I've been bored by every Almodovar film that I've seen since "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." Almodovar seems to me a bottle of champagne that has gone flat. If his early films were topnotch Cole Porter, full of sparkle and fizz, his recent ones are like droopy dirges composed by Stephen Sondheim on a gloomy day. Maybe whatever it was that once made the idea of an "underground" meaningful has simply been lost. Still, I miss the racy, irreverent, drop-out spirit of much of that art. In fact, one of the motivations behind the webseries that I co-wrote recently was to revive the scrappy, sexy, woozily satirical spirit of the '70s "midnight movie." So I've been very pleased to catch up with FurTV, an MTV-UK series about three layabout puppets sharing a squalid house in some godforsaken part of London. Mervin's the clueless punching bag; Fat Ed is the beer-swilling, heavy-metal-lovin', American bully; and Lapeno (a frog with sunglasses) is a suave, ever-ready-for-love DJ from Brazil. Cue numerous bad jokes about "Brazilians." (Gotta love the human actresses who play romantic and erotic scenes opposite Lapeno, by the way.) Their adventures are pleasingly aimless yet enjoyably orchestrated; the action mostly veers between hanging out, grotty sex, and senseless violence; and drugs, alcohol, and profanity are insistently foregrounded. The characters are hilariously designed and wittily moved-about, and the camerawork and cutting are often inspired. These are fabulous furry freak brothers indeed. YouTube uploader piterr82 has done a heroic job of making a lot of FurTV accessible. "Fat Ed's Furry Fucking Guide to Metal" is a raucous little classic. Of the longer episodes that I've watched so far, this one is my favorite, particularly for its well-done '60s-esque drug-hallucination scene. I'm willing to concede, though, that "Hot Pussy" may prove to have more lasting power. I'm a lot happier watching this kind of thing than I am watching Pixar movies or "Shrek," let alone recent Almodovar. Is there a lot of underground-ish entertainment around that I just don't know about? "South Park" and AdultSwim seem to me to be the closest things we have to FurTV. Bonus point: Chip Smith keeps the spirit of the '80s 'zines scene alive at his blog Hoover Hog. Don't miss Chip's interview with the outrageous Peter Sotos. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

New England Pictured
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On my trip to the Northeast and Canada the resolution setting on my camera was mostly on low density because I hoped to use my photos as blog grist. I've already subjected you to several picture-centric postings featuring Canada and the Rochester, NY area. My hard drive still has a trove of unpublished views of Boston and bits of New England, which means ... Gallery Many of our readers are interested in urbanism, and so am I. My previous visit to Boston was in 2004 when the cleanup work was still underway atop the Big Dig project which transformed (at huge expense) a freeway on stilts to one in the nether regions. Here's what I saw in September. Far better than in the Chinese Wall days, but I think some buildings would be a nice addition (through probably impractical to build). Boston has lots of statues of famous people, mostly on pedestals in parks and squares. But not always. In the Quincy Market area one can find Red Auerbach -- not on the pedestal he deserves, but benched. Those shoes to the right are Larry Bird's, if memory serves (please correct me if I'm wrong.) Other non-pedestaled statuary includes this mother duck and her ducklings in the Public Garden. As almost any parent knows, they represent the main characters in Robert McCloskey's famous children's book Make Way for Ducklings. Copies of the book can be found in many souvenir shops, almost rivaling Red Sox caps. Since we're in the Public Garden, I'll toss in this arty shot of the lake. Toward the top you can see a pedestrian bridge and a swan boat or two, if you squint. Here's a fun bit of signage on Hanover Street in the North End. I forget where I took this one, but it might have been in the Harvard Medical School neighborhood. Regardless, it struck me as being quite an architectural mélange. The cornice itself seems unusual because I don't see them on newer buildings much. (Maybe that's because new buildings out West where I hang out need to conform to earthquake safety regulations that aren't cornice-friendly.) The etching on the underside of the cornice seems derived from Art Nouveau. The windows ... well, I'm not sure if they're derivative of anything important; feel free to set me straight. The main part of the building seems to be clad in Roman brick or something similar -- another oddity, at least for tall structures. Enough Boston. Out we go into 'burbs, Sub and Ex, approximately following Paul Revere's route of April 18-19 1775. Sign says it's a Green. The town is Lexington. Hmm. Lexington Green. Don't we have a Chicago Boyz based commenter with that moniker? So now I can say I've seen Lexington Green ... the blogging world can be so small, sometimes. That's the (reconstructed) Concord Bridge. On the far side came the Redcoats seeking Colonist cannons. Local militia stood on the near side and sent... posted by Donald at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Henry Cisneros, Housing Expert
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer turns up a fun NYTimes visit with Clinton-administration housing honcho Henry Cisneros. A dryly amusing passage: As the Clinton administration’s top housing official in the mid-1990s, Mr. Cisneros loosened mortgage restrictions so first-time buyers could qualify for loans they could never get before. Then, capitalizing on a housing expansion he helped unleash, he joined the boards of a major builder, KB Home, and the largest mortgage lender in the nation, Countrywide Financial — two companies that rode the housing boom, drawing criticism along the way for abusive business practices. And ain't that the way the game is too often played? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Gadget Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is the computer mouse facing extinction? * Which gadgets does tech reviewer David Pogue use in his real life? * Gadget lover Ramesh unpacks his backpack for all to see. Me, I take my cheapo Kodak digicam almost everywhere, but otherwise I'm usually gadget-free. Oh, OK, a cellphone may be along for the ride too, but I'm such a deep-dyed cellphone hater that I might as well leave it at home. To anyone who asks, I deny that I have one; I've given my number out to fewer than a half-dozen people; and I can go for days without turning the cursed thing on. With a Verizon pay-as-you-go plan, I keep my monthly cellphone costs to around ten bucks. How many electronic doodads do you carry with you when you head out for the day? Can anyone match Ramesh? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More AWOL Campaign Issues
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I was so taken with Donald's discussion of AWOL Campaign Issues that I came up with a few of my own. At least his issues were hot topics of discussion at one point, whereas most of mine don't seem to be on very many people's radar. My list of problems: 1. The U.S. trade and current account deficit that is forcing us to be ever more dependent on foreign central bank purchases of our debt. The kindness of such strangers as the governments or central banks of China, the Gulf oil states and Russia (uh oh) is essential to US plans to balloon its budget deficit for purposes of economic stimulus and financial-sector bailouts. If we had to raise the required trillions from domestic investors interest rates would skyrocket, making our current economic problems seem trivial. 2. The excessive U.S. household debt and lack of U.S. domestic savings (hey, we don't need to save, we've got all that equity in our dot com stocks and our, wait a minute...) and our closely related policy of subsidizing borrowers and intermediaries (banks, hedge funds, money managers, etc.) at the expense of savers and investors (have you looked at bank Certificate of Deposit rates lately?). This is, of course, related to #1. 3. Mercantilist trade partners who manipulate their currencies and have other peculiar economic rules and regulations that make a mockery of the notion of 'free trade' (and yes, I do mean China, but they ain't the only ones) while targeting various domestic US industries with the connivance of US trade policy (think the Clinton-Bush mantra: "Who cares about manufacturing, we'll sell the world financial innovations.") This is, of course, related to #1 and #2. 4. The completely dysfunctional U.S. health care system that is, even as we speak, bankrupting public finances, seriously reducing take home pay for workers and not delivering nearly the health-enhancing value that many other investment choices could bring at a small fraction of the cost. The sharply escalating cost of this system, of course,is one of the causes of #2. (I grant you, this has been discussed on the campaign trail, but only in terms of how to make the problem worse, i.e., how to get even more customers, money and jobs into the already grotesquely overinflated U.S. healthcare sector.) 5. Ways to better insulate public decision-making from the baleful influence of rent-seekers; note that the current worst short-term offender (the financial sector) and the current worst long-term offender (the healthcare sector) are #1 and #2 sectors in terms of money put into campaigns and lobbying over the past few decades. Remarkable coincidence, no? This is, of course, related to problems #1-#4. 6. The drying up of fundamental technological innovations (e.g., atomic power, jet air travel, computers, transistors, integrated circuits, fiberoptic communications, satellite communications and remote sensing, lasers, the Internet, major advances in material science, etc.) formerly provided to the U.S. economy in a steady stream by the military R&D... posted by Friedrich at October 19, 2008 | perma-link | (42) comments