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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  1. Crazy Parens
  2. Are We Headed for Hyperinflation?
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  5. Obama, the Pastry
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  7. Wrapping It Up, Onion-Style
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  9. Political Elsewhere
  10. Architecture Linkage

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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Crazy Parens
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why are some design concepts suddenly everywhere? For all their talent and style, are designers the biggest sheep in the world? And why did this particular design idea become such a craze? My own small-t theory about why nonsense brackets and nonsense parentheses became cool is this: It's because they relate somehow to media irony, or quasi-irony anyway -- very Dave Eggers, very "making snarky comments about the TV while the TV is playing" -- and also because they make text look a little like computer code. And these days nothing's cooler than computer code. Does anyone have any other hunches about why this particular design trope just won't quit? Best, Michael UPDATE: Forget politics, forget graphics, forget making sense of the world. Monica Bellucci is here to give life a little meaning. Quote of the Day: "I love the idea that when a man pays to see one of my films, he’s paying me to feel pleasure." Puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? Now, forgive me while I let my soul tremble with poetic, religious, erotic, and refined-yet-earthy feelings.... posted by Michael at November 8, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Are We Headed for Hyperinflation?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Peter Schiff seems to think that hyperinflation is worth a worry: And as for the car companies ... Best, and mighty concerned about his meager savings and fixed income, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Eating Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Stephan thinks you might want to consider giving up wheat and eating the fat on your steak. * Time to start using lard? The Wife is one major lard-lover. "Lard is what makes a good pie crust," she says adamantly. * Low-carbin' force of nature Jimmy Moore names the Top Ten Low-Carb Movers and Shakers of 2008. * Enjoy a BBC documentary about the Atkins diet: Part One, Two, Three, Four, Five. * Mark Sisson suggests enjoying some "paleo snacks." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 8, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, November 7, 2008

15 Years of Bestsellers per USA Today
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- USA Today's Bob Minzesheimer takes a look at the last 15 years of USA Today's bestseller list. What would such a thing be without J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, and Dr. Atkins? USA Today's list may be the most trustworthy bestseller list in the country, by the way. It mixes up paperbacks and hardcovers as well as fiction and nonfiction, and it includes the genres (self-help, baby-raising tips, etc) that many other lists ignore. If you want to see what the U.S. is really reading -- or at least buying and intending to read -- look at the USA Today list. FWIW -- and make of this what you will -- there isn't a lot of contempo "literary fiction" to be seen on it. Back here, I reviewed some of the failings and quirks of bestseller lists. Did you know that it's possible for a book to sell millions of copies yet never appear on a bestseller list? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Obama, the Pastry
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Read about Zilly Rosen's Barack Obama cupcake project. If we're going to have to endure a lot of silly political euphoria, let more of it take the form of cupcakes. Slightly related: Bex wants to be the Obama family's puppydog. What was election night like where you live? In Greenwich Village it was Yanks-win-the-Series-style pandemonium. Men shouted, cars honked, women wept and hollered "I love you Obama!" ... There was a lot of "Change" -- whatever that means -- in the air. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 7, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Art Recession Datapoint
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was chatting up the owner of a Santa Barbara area art gallery this afternoon and turned up the following tidbit regarding one of the effects of the latest recession. It seems that some customers are trying to bypass galleries by dealing directly with the artists. Buyers would save most or all of the markup and artists would get as much or more than they would have otherwise. (This assumes no change in the gallery-market value of the art. Changes in that and auction prices are a subject for another day.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 7, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wrapping It Up, Onion-Style
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Onion offers the definitive word on last night's events. One of many funny and apt passages: Obama did especially well among women and young voters, who polls showed were particularly sensitive to the current climate of everything being fucked. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So here we are in the Santa Barbara area, this blog's fave vacation spot. No double-secret staff meeting with Michael this year, however. I haven't posted for a few days because we got hit with the flu en route. That and maybe coping with yet another of those nasty ol' birthdays. * The election is over and now the Democrats have nothing to get bitter about. No more BusHitler. No more paranoia. Camelot has returned. And as for whatever goes wrong in the next few years, well .... * When I was young (and even middle-aged) I got high hopes if the presidential candidate I supported won the election. For example, I figured that Ike would really straighten out that Cold War / Communist expansion thing that had happened on Truman's watch. I still have hopes that things will change in the direction I prefer, but in democracies no initiative can prevail for long before generating a pushback. Obamafans beware! * I just did the math: Of the 16 elections where I was old enough to have a preference, the candidate I favored was victorious 11 times. So I suppose I shouldn't complain too much about yesterday's results. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Political Elsewhere
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer looks at the exit polls. My two favorite facts: 1) 96% of blacks voted for Obama; 2) Obama took unmarried people by 65% to 33%. As far as I can tell, what that means is that the defining political division in the U.S. isn't between Dems and Repubs, let alone lefties and righties. It's between married people and single people. * Responding to the "well, everyone's just gonna have to work until later in life" solution for Social Security, Jenny makes an excellent point: "Not everyone ages well." I've known a lot of 70 year olds, and many of them weren't good for much beyond traveling, reminiscing, and worrying about inflation. Not a putdown, by the way: I like old people and consider them a much-underappreciated resource in youth-obsessed America. But they're a life-resource, not an economic resource. * Austin Bramwell proposes a "non-movement conservatism." * DailyBurkeman1 ventures some hilariously wry musings about local government. (For those who aren't aware of this: In conservative mythology, local solutions are nearly always to be preferred to national ones. That's my own preference, for what it's worth. Still: Local governments, eh?) Example: "Councilmen are like mini-senators, in that they know nothing about anything. Unlike senators, they are more than willing to admit this, in order to avoid responsibility of any kind." * Some political wisdom from Veronique de Rugy, in a piece reviewing the scandalously irresponsible spending habits of both parties: When it comes to out-of-control spending, conventional wisdom says the Democrats are most likely to bust open the coffers. That's why many fear an increased Democratic majority in Congress topped by a Democratic president. And we should be afraid. Democrats are indeed big spenders. Second only to the Republicans. * I don't find a lot to quarrel with in this recent Paul Craig Roberts rant, do you? * A fresh, brainy, independent, full-of-surprises political blog that I've just discovered: The Left Conservative. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Architecture Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * How do Americans really feel about the small towns they claim to revere? * Giles found Christopher Alexander's "The Timeless Way of Building" to be a life-changing work. A lot of people have reacted that way to Alexander's books. * The Ottawa Citizen visits with Sarah "Not So Big House" Susanka. Michael Blowhard heartily endorses Susanka's helpful and beautiful books and websites, which are very much in the Christopher Alexander tradition, and which offer tons of useful ideas and tips. * Roger Scruton blogs! Sort of. But still! If you didn't know: Scruton isn't just a philosopher, he's one of the most substantial and provocative writers about architecture around. * Are English towns and cities designed more for men than they are for women? Englishwomen's main complaint: not enough public loos. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * MBlowhard Rewind: Our federal government used to commission and create beautiful buildings. Why does it now sponsor such awful and repellant work? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 4, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

A Scary Graph and the X Factor
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, When Alan Greenspan said he miscalculated as regulator in chief of the banking system a few weeks ago, he was lying. If he had it to do over again, he would do everything the same way. This is not to praise old Alan as a particularly responsible, tough-minded, willing-to-take-the-heat-for-the-public-good individual. Clearly, he was never that. What I mean is, given that he wanted his good press, his reputation as a 'maestro' and Republican rule, he really had no choice but to keep interest rates low and mortgage lenders, however sleazy, unregulated. He needed the housing bubble. It was the only game in town. Take a look at this graph, which was originally published by John Mauldin and Barry Ritholtz in the December 29, 2006 edition of Thoughts from the Frontline, "Real Estate and the Post-Crash Economy" (registration required). It shows how important a factor Mortgage Equity Withdrawal (MEW) was to the economy from the late 1990s through 2006. The blue bars are the reported GDP growth numbers, which of course include the effects of people spending money they were extracting from their homes via refinancings and home equity lines of credit. The red bars are what the GDP growth numbers would have looked like without that juice from MEW. Pretty scary, huh? In that alternative but nearby universe where credit wasn’t kept excessively cheap and where mortgage lending was tightly regulated and option ARMs were outlawed, etc., etc., in other words, in a world without a housing bubble and consumption-boosting MEW, we would have seen five straight years of GDP “growth” at or below one percent. Given that two of those years would have seen negative GDP numbers, the average annual growth rate would have been 0.05%. That is to say, for that five year period, without relying on our real estate credit card to keep up its spending by consumers, the American economy would have stopped growing. It would have flatlined. Clearly George Bush wouldn’t have been re-elected in 2004. Alan Greenspan would not have gotten a fifth term as Fed Chairman in 2004. No one would have considered him to be the Maestro, or the greatest Fed Chairman ever. So Easy Al knew what he had to do, and he did it. And I’m betting, with no real regrets. I don’t have the figures to extend this graph for the past two years, but I’m guessing things didn’t exactly get a whole lot better. And as for MEW in recent months, well, it has cratered along with the fictitious housing prices that, in conjunction with greed-blinded lenders, let people use the 'equity' in their homes as an ATM. And, just about the time the MEW party ended, the whole economy slid into recession. Funny how that worked, isn’t it? But this raises a huge question, a question moreover that’s not getting a whole lot of airplay these days. What the heck happened to the American economy in the late 1990s or thereabouts... posted by Friedrich at November 4, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bonuses at the Banks
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know about you, but whenever I pass an investment banker on the sidewalk, I just looooooooove handing him a big chunk of my paycheck. Because, you know, he's unhappy and he's suffering. And because he has selflessly done so much for me -- and for society generally -- recently. And thank god for the way the government is holding a gun to my head, making sure I make regular contributions to needy Wall Street execs! Because otherwise y'know, I'd behave like such an inhumane beast. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

A Little Delbert for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Country / r&b / swamp music? That's a recipe that equals "Delbert McClinton": And the wisdom contained in that song! "Love ain't no good until you give it away" -- yes! If you run across anything more profound than that today, please let me know about it. There are mornings when I just can't get enough of Delbert's country-funk, and this is one of them. YouTube to the rescue: Delbert always gives away more than his fair share. I rhapsodized about the force-of-nature, big-as-all-Texas genius that is Delbert McClinton back here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 3, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What's So Liberal about Liberalism?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a comments-thread a few postings ago, JV tossed me this fun challenge: Michael, you're taking the literal meaning of the word "liberal," taking it to its extreme and applying it to a political philosophy. Liberalism does not mean being tolerant and accepting of everything. It means, at least to me and the liberals I know, being tolerant and accepting of how people chose to live their lives (even if it differs from your own), while fighting hard for the things you believe in. It's a game of semantics when you call hypocrisy on a liberal for not being intolerant of something he/she feels is wrong. I was sort of pleased with my response and didn't like the idea of leaving it buried in comments, so I've dolled it up a bit and am reprinting it here: JV -- It can sometimes be worth making a distinction between informal and formal uses of words. Loosely speaking, you and your buds are liberal -- pretty loosey-goosey where much is concerned. BTW, so am I, and so's Shouting Thomas, who has lived a much wilder and looser life than most of the people who give him a hard time. He's "liberal" even where his own reactionary instincts and feelings are concerned -- which means that he's more liberal in the informal sense than most liberals are. But "liberal" is also a strand in political philosophy, with its own history of recurring debates, issues, conundra, etc. Positive vs. negative rights, for instance -- is it more "liberal" to let things fall where they will, or is it more "liberal" to make efforts to ensure equality? No one's ever been able to settle that one out, and yet it keeps popping up, over and over. That's because it's some kind of weak point (or sensitive point) in the very nature of liberalism. The "how can you be a liberal if you can't be liberal about your opponents?" question is another one that continues to come up. We saw it in 2001, for example. How can we make "tolerance" an overriding virtue if it turns out that some of the people we're being tolerant towards genuinely mean us ill? (The question is a worthwhile one independent of whether or not Muslims are like that, btw.) Yet once we start making exceptions, we lose some of our status as tolerant people, and "tolerance" itself loses its status as an overriding, organizing principle. Another one: If you put liberalism and tolerance (ie., personal freedom) above all other values -- and that's in a political-philosophy sense what liberalism is about, not just being a loosey-goosey person -- how can you ensure that society runs fairly smoothly? Dismantle traditional ways of doing things and maybe what you wind up with isn't liberation and fulfillment. Maybe it's chaos. When traditional norms don't hold people and cultures together any longer, they tend to get replaced by top-heavy, ever-more-explicit legalisms and bureaucacies. So things like an... posted by Michael at November 2, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments