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. Quote for the Day
  2. Rudyard Kipling on Careers
  3. More On Secession
  4. Software for NaNoWriMo
  5. Traveling to Buy Stuff
  6. Weight
  7. Please Explain: Cezanne
  8. Steve on Barack
  9. Payouts
  10. Fact for the Day

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, November 1, 2008

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the typhoon of commentary that's blown around the world a step behind the financial tsunami that's wrecking everything, two little words have been curiously absent: "fraud" and "swindle." But aren't they really at the core of what has happened? Wall Street took the whole world "for a ride" and now a handful of Wall Street's erstwhile princelings have shifted ceremoniously into US Government service to "fix" the problem with a "toolbox" containing a notional two trillion dollars. This strange exercise in financial kabuki theater will shut down sometime between the election and inauguration day, when the inaugurate finds himself president of the Economic Smoking Wreckage of the United States. What will happen? You may love him or you may hate him. But it's hard to deny that James Kunstler has his own hyper-vivid way of putting things. I suppose that, where judging Kunstler goes, it doesn't hurt that this time around the sky really does seem to be falling ... 2Blowhards visitor Ed From Malabar was wondering why we haven't heard more about angry retirees wreaking physical vengeance on disgraced financial honchos. Interesting to see -- in Kunstler's posting as well as in the comments on it -- that Ed From Malabar isn't the only person marveling about the restraint that so many of the screwed-over have shown. "How long before they go to the Hamptons with lethal intent?" writes one of Kunstler's commenters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

Rudyard Kipling on Careers
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Michael Blowhard emailed me recently explaining that he went to a party with a bunch of youngsters in the arts, and found the whole experience exhausting. Even talking to a friend of his, a talented kid in his twenties, was difficult because the kid really is fixated on having a bigtime career in his chosen profession. I thought about this for a while, and contemplated where I come out on the topic of ambition (artistic or otherwise.) After all, I’ve had some success in life, and I get up and work hard every day trying to be there financially and otherwise for my wife and kids. But having stared all this in face as the gambler-in-chief responsible for some 30 paychecks for the past twenty years, the concept of having a big-time career as a goal seems like a distant relic of childhood. It is no doubt very old fogeyish to quote Rudyard Kipling, but here goes: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same… Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools… Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!" I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship to the Victorians (at least parts of Kipling, Tennyson, etc.) It’s odd how much some of their thought hits home as I wend my way through my fifties. My guess is that I couldn’t appreciate them when I was 20 because I simply didn’t have the life experience to know what the Victorians were really getting at. As a kid, I couldn’t see past the distancing rhetorical or moralistic flourishes to the underlying truth. That is, I just didn’t know the reality of the frustrations, the fear, the fragility of all ‘accomplishment’, the deadly earnest struggle of trying to make sense of life in a teleological vacuum that I encounter every day as a man in my fifties. I certainly didn’t get the appeal of (maybe better expressed as the need for) common tried and true life strategies -- of which 'be a man, my son' is one -- because it hadn’t dawned on me that there just aren’t any other viable ones. Basically, in short, I suspect that literary fashion, at least at the university level, is deeply suspect because, ahem, the kids know nothing and their literature teachers know very little more of life as mature people are required to live it. Speaking of life in maturity, I’d like to report that I’ve lost 75 pounds and I can do 65 pushups. A very modest accomplishment, I know, but then I’m stooping and building myself up with wornout tools. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

More On Secession
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- This time from John Schwenkler for The American Conservative. Here's John's own blog. Semi-related: Jeff Fearnside interviews agrarian contrarian Wendell Berry, and libertarian luminary Lew Rockwell podcast-interviews lefty darling Naomi Wolf. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, October 31, 2008

Software for NaNoWriMo
MIchael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- National Novel Writing Month begins tomorrow. If you're nuts enough (or exuberant enough, or whatever) to want to take part -- or if you're just someone who sometimes puts together long pieces of writing -- let me suggest buying and using some software that can make your writing projects a lot more pleasant: Scrivener and StoryMill. They're first-class examples of a new kind of writing tool that I wrote at some length about back here. FWIW, I consider these new programs the first big advance in computer writing tools since the word processor. There's no reason to bother with them if you never write anything longer than a few thousand words. But once your projects grow bigger than that, these programs can be godsends. Imagine keeping all your research, your drafts, your notes, your revisions -- everything -- not in scattered folders but in one file. Lordy, if only the Wife and I had had one of these packages back when we co-wrote our trash novel we'd have spared ourselves numerous headaches. Scrivener is probably the more versatile of the two applications. It's good for any kind of writing, where StoryMill has been optimized for fiction writers. But they're both great, and are very reasonably priced. Scrivener is a bargain at $39.95, and StoryMill is on sale until Monday for just $29.95. Now, as for whether or not it makes any sense whatsoever to write a novel these days ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 31, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Traveling to Buy Stuff
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So here I am in San Francisco, typing away from about three blocks distant from its Post Street / Union Square glitz-shopping epicenter. Want some usual suspects? Try Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Tiffany. And there's more. This morning I saw for the first time a store devoted exclusively to UGG boots and their other products. That's exceptional, actually. The UGG thing. Those other stores I named can be found in many major cities these days, so it's not that big a deal to stumble across them. But it wasn't always so. I can remember the times when if you wanted to shop at Brooks Brothers, there was no option other than going to New York City and roaming Madison Avenue in the 40s till you found the place. A few blocks south of Tripler's if I recall correctly. Even in the 1970s it could be a treat to visit New York, Chicago, San Francisco and a few other towns to shop famous stores. Maybe that's why my present visit to San Francisco is nothing special; I strolled the streets hoping for new and interesting places to check out and didn't find much of interest other than a store selling Barbour jackets from England along with nice sweaters and other togs. (Not that I actually buy much, mind you; window shopping and people watching are two of my top priorities when in flaneur mode.) No question (to me, al least) that it's nice to have the treasures of the world at one's fingertips. The price of this convenience is that one of the elements of enjoying travel is diminished. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 31, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Obese people anticipate enjoying food more than lean people do -- but when they actually eat it, they enjoy it less. * Diabetes is 'way up. (A small immigration angle here: "Diabetes is two to three times more common in Mexican American ... adults than in non-Hispanic whites." In other words, one reason the U.S.'s diabetes problem is becoming worse is that we have growing numbers of people of Mexican descent in the country. Not that you'll find this fact alluded to very often in the polite press ... ) * Dr. Michael Eades reports that obese people these days tend to underestimate how overweight they are. Why? Because fat has become the new normal. To demonstrate his point, Dr. Eades runs some clips of famous fatties from previous generations: Oliver Hardy, Curly of the Three Stooges, and Jackie Gleason, who called himself "The Fat Man." It's quite amazing how not-very-fat-at-all they look to present-day eyes. Big guys, sure. But not fat -- let alone obese -- by contempo standards. I'm not entirely surprised to learn that, where weight goes, surroundings do count. A major reason a Frenchperson will tend to be slim is that other Frenchpeople tend to be slim, for instance. And when the Wife and I visit relatives in the midwest, we giggle over the fact that we could put on 30 pounds each and still pass for slim among those sweet-natured but full-figured heartlanders. * Learn about Intermittent Fasting from the experts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 31, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Please Explain: Cezanne
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I decided to start a short series about famous artists whose paintings I don't "get." The concept is for you, our Valued Readers, to step in (in Comments) and set poor, thick-headed me straight regarding the featured artist. Here's the deal: I know that the artist is famous and was to a greater or lesser degree influential in his own time and for at least a while thereafter. However, this fame and influence is mostly in the context of the history of Modernism and Modernist painting. At the extreme, the artist is venerated because he is seen as an evolutionary link in Modernism's progression to abstraction and beyond; he is an interesting fossil such as creatures emerged from the seas eons ago that were transforming fins into feet. But what about the art itself, absent its historical context? Seen in isolation from that context, is it really any good? In general, I don't think it's great. I actually find little appeal at all and scratch my head, wondering what all the fuss is about. Why am I wrong? The first artist is Paul Cézanne. He was an outsider in more than one respect for much of his career. Fame and veneration came fairly late in life, though some artists such as Camille Pissarro recognized value in what he was attempting fairly early on. This was despite the fact (in my judgment) that Cézanne was never better than a mediocre draftsman (in my skill league, in other words). Moreover, I find the struggle he shared with other artists to "honor" the flatness of the surface of the canvas to be an odd diversion akin to attempting to square the circle. Hey, gang, if you want to paint things flat, that's fine; so is attempting to create a feeling of depth. No big deal either way, I say. Here are some representative Cézanne paintings. Gallery The Card Players - 1890-92 One of his better-known paintings. I assume that getting the men right was one of his lesser priorities in this effort. Still Life with Apples and Oranges - 1900 I think Cézanne's best paintings were still lifes. I don't have a title or date for this one, but it's clearly one of the many landscapes he painted in the vicinity of Aix-en-Provence where he spent much of his life. Okay, have at me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 30, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Steve on Barack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Steve Sailer has been writing wonderfully informative and convincing articles and blog-postings about Barack Obama's story and character for many months now. Whatever you think about Obama politically, he's a fascinating creature, and Steve's musings about him have often reminded me of the kind of deep character explorations that great novels sometimes provide. It has been some of the most daring and stimulating writing that I've run across on the web in the last year. So I'm excited to see that Steve has pulled together his research and thoughts into a book. Download a pre-publication copy of it here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 30, 2008 | perma-link | (37) comments

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Newsweek runs a fun photo-feature about recent business admirals who have led their companies into ruin -- and the gigantic salaries and payouts that they received nevertheless. Wasn't it commenter Dearieme who wrote that what these CEOs should have done was to apologize to their families and to society at large, and then commit hara-kiri? Among the bastards, who's your fave bastard? Mine is Alan Fishman of Washington Mutual, who had been on the job for only 13 days when the feds shut his company down. Fishman's compensation for his brief tenure? Nearly $13 million -- a million smackeroos a day. And people complain about how much movie stars and sports heroes are paid ... Somewhat related: As the world economy caves in around us, the collapse in late 2001 of the Enron Corporation is starting to look a little unimpressive in retrospect. Still, it was a Very Big Event at the time. One of the biggest corporate failures in history, Enron's demise also brought down the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, and it left more than 20,000 employees out of work, many of them with their retirement accounts devastated. This is just a quick note to recommend the documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," directed by Alex Gibney and based on a book by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkin. The general story is well told, though for details about how the many bookkeeping stunts and shell-games were performed you'll need to go to the book. Movies aren't great for delivering accounts about accounting fraud, after all. But what makes the movie special is two things: Its portraits of some of Enron's swindling execs (Jeff Skilling -- what a character!); and the many, many instances of video and audio showing what creeps many at Enron were. Andy Fastow's pitch to Merrill Lynch is a gem, and a number of smug and triumphant phone conversations between Enron traders as they manipulated and swindled the people of California (remember the California energy shortage?) make you want to wring throats. I sometimes think of myself as a seen-too-much cynic, but the naked, fuck-everyone-else greed that's revealed in closeup by this film made me feel like an easily-shocked baby all over again. My god, there really are people in this world who have nothing but money on their minds, and who will do almost anything to get ever more of it! But I'm in the mood to end this blogposting on a positive note. So, because we could all use some silliness and high spirits in the midst of what feels like a dark and rocky season, here's Joey Dee and the Starliters shaking to "Peppermint Twist": Dance! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 29, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The U.S. is the only industrialized country where youths are less likely than their parents to earn a high school diploma. Source. Possibly related: According to one source, "hostility toward academic achievers is even higher among Hispanics than among blacks." Mark Cromer points out that in eight hours of televised presidential-wannabe and v.p.-wannabe debates, the onscreen m.c.'s "allowed the candidates to avoid even a single tough question about immigration policy." What a good job our political system does of offering us meaningful choices! And how terrific our free press is at holding politicians' feet to the fire! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Ron Paul Clip for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Opinions please: Is Ron Paul a crackpot? Or is he someone who's doing a good job of describing the world as it actually is? Bonus point: The Independent wonders if the derivatives market is going to take the world economy down. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Women, Men, Romance, Sex Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Does anyone else recall the old Ladies Home Journal feature "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" As a kid I gobbled those stories up. Grownup melodramas, eh? I found this feature from the Daily Mail (four women talk about discovering that their hubbies were cheating on them) similarly irresistible. Commenters on the story share some amazingly strong opinions. * Should the newest edgy French movies be called "porn" or just "explicit"? * Otherwise open-minded Blazing Shark discovers that she has a few reservations about guys who like trannies. (NSFW) * Is pornography adultery? * Men's movement activists in Sweden have a complaint: State-run pharmacies that sell sex toys hold a “misguided and untrue view of sexuality whereby a woman with a dildo is seen as liberated, strong and independent, while a man with a blow-up plastic vagina is viewed as disgusting and perverted." I'd never thought about that angle before, but I think they have a point. * Stefanie Marsh thinks that being single isn't just not-great, it really sucks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

His Opponents Are Stupid
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Timothy Egan has a column on the 26 October New York Times web site (I'm not sure if it's in the print edition) titled "The Party of Yesterday" in which he takes the position that Republicans and, by extension, conservatives are largely stupid and Democrats are smarter. The link is here, but might not be available for long, so below are some extracts that deal with the stupidity/intelligence parts of his argument (tactical and political points are left out because such details are tangential to my subject today and the copyright must be honored). Here are some snippets: Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities. But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic. If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday. . . . . . ... John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists. . . . . . Here in Seattle, it’s become a one-party city, with a congressman for life and nodding-head liberals who seldom challenge a tax-loving city government. It would be nice, just to keep the philosophical debate sharp, if there were a few thoughtful Republicans around. That won’t happen so long as Republicans continue to be the party of yesterday. They’ve written the cities off. Fake Americans don’t count, but this Election Day, for once, they will not feel left out. It's possible that McCain or Palin made a speech explicitly telling the world that folks in Denver were all effete bicyclists, but then I don't pay much attention to more than a few major speeches or appearances by any of the candidates and might have missed it. Conservatives do make fun of effete, egg-headed liberals but are perfectly happy for every urban vote they can get. Liberals trash Wall Street, yet Wall Streeters are heavy contributors to Obama (who indeed disparaged flyover country voters while making informal remarks in San Francisco). This is just politics, and the intelligent folks Egan discusses probably see through campaign verbage. I live in the Seattle he mentions and am not bothered when some talk show host gets going about over-educated, guilt-ridden issues-emotional college-town elites. I know perfectly well the subject is a bunch of my neighbors and not me. Seattle has that congressman-for-life "Baghdad Jim" McDermott who owes his safe seat to district boundary-drawers who take advantage of the fact that the city of Seattle... posted by Donald at October 28, 2008 | perma-link | (78) comments

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Anna Schwartz thinks that there are good reasons to let large firms fail. (Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.) * The Rawness demonstrates how to handle a condescending European. * Arnold Kling isn't impressed by the macroeconomists. "Macroeconomics can tell us nothing useful about the current policy environment," he writes. "All we know for sure about what is taking place is that there has been a massive shift of power to Washington, with much more likely ahead." * The rich may like McCain, but the super-rich will be voting for Obama. * Those glossy and iconic new buildings in Dubai are being built on the backs of near-slave laborers. * Bryan Appleyard meets with art critic John Berger, who is now 82 years old. Berger, a hard-core lefty, was a very big deal when Friedrich von Blowhard and I were back in college in the mid-'70s. Interesting to learn that Berger's still a true believer. Some people just can't let go of the dream, I guess. * Richard Ebeling writes a nice appreciation of a personal fave of mine, the German economist Wilhelm Ropke. * Modern Forager interviews Jennifer McLagan, author of "Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient." Nice quote: "All good chefs know the power of butter to add and carry flavour in a dish as well as deliver great mouth feel." * Steve Sailer points out that by 2006 more than 40% of first-time homebuyers in California were making their purchase with no money down. * And -- because politics is at best an unfortunate necessity while art can be a longlasting joy -- here's my music video find for the day: A sweetly cheery track by the brilliant Congolese soukous star Diblo Dibala. Listen to that guitar! Learn a bit about Diblo Dibala here. Here's another hard-to-resist track. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 26, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Save the Embassy?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that the days of the American Embassy in London are numbered. One article I read mentioned that some people would like to see the building preserved. It was designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1960, not long before the architect's death. His major works include the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the giant riverfront arch in St. Louis, the main terminal building at Dulles airport near Washington and the former TWA terminal at New York's JFK airport. See the link for more information. Deciding which buildings deserve preservation is a tricky business. For instance, 50 years ago many people, myself included, would have been happy to see all those old-fashioned brick office and warehouse buildings from the 1885-1905 period fall under the wrecker's ball. Today, such structures are treasured. So one should be cautious when advocating that certain buildings be destroyed. I have given the matter regarding the London embassy some thought. And I say it deserves to be smashed into the tiniest possible dust particles. The building is ugly. It utterly destroyed the ambiance of Grosvenor Square and should be replaced with buildings compatible with existing structures. It is not one of Saarinen's best designs (I'm fond of the TWA terminal, myself). So it should go. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments