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  1. Re-Enacting: A Report from the Field
  2. Cheapo HD
  3. Blogging Note
  4. Who is Richard Duncan?
  5. Random Linkage
  6. Plain or Mixed?
  7. Camille's Back
  8. More on "Game"
  9. More Taubes
  10. More on IQ

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Re-Enacting: A Report from the Field
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the many oddball American cultural activities I know nothing about is "re-enacting" -- the world of guys who dress up in period outfits and recreate Civil War battles. So when Bill S. - one of my oldest and best friends -- emailed me that he'd taken part in a re-enactment, I bugged him to let me reprint his note here on the blog. I'm pleased that he agreed. Here's a link to some video of the event Bill took part in. Here's some more officially-endorsed re-enactment footage: And here's Bill's account of his adventure: A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited her brother and sister-in-law in Maryland. My wife’s brother has been a Civil War re-enactor for a while now, and he finally got me to join him for the battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Crazy stuff. 4,000 re-enactors on an actual battleground fighting it out. We drove down to Cedar Creek while the girls treated themselves to a shop-a-thon. We arrived around nightfall. Seeing hundreds of tents and campfires in that beautiful valley, I felt like I had come unstuck in time (to quote Uncle Kurt Vonnegut). I really had no idea what I was getting into but my brother-in-law has been doing this for 20 years so knew exactly what to expect. We slept (barely) in 38 degree weather in an open-ended Civil War pup tent with two wool blankets each. I got about an hour of sleep fearing frostbite on my toes, but it certainly gets you into the experience. (And you and I thought some of those old Boy Scout winter campouts were rough!) The next morning it was drills. Each division has a captain who calls, literally, the shots. Ours was from the PA regiment. He totally looked Civil War, complete with overgrown moustache. He trained us during the day. I learned how to march, stack weapons, shoot a muzzle-loading musket, and skirmish. The captains train the troops to reenact the battles in a historically accurate manner. They may tell you, "we need to take some casualties," if that's what happened in the actual battle. The battle started at 3:00 that afternoon -- historically accurate. It was off the hook. I felt like I was living the first 15 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” You can't imagine the period rush you get when you see 2,000 Confederates coming at you over a hill with muskets blazing. The Confederates are evidently still pissed about losing the Civil War, as three minutes into the battle they went off the historic script and kept coming at us. Quite the thrill to have two ranks/lines of Confederate soldiers blasting their muskets at you from 50 feet away. The guns we re-enactors used are historic replications of Civil War muzzle-loaders. To fire, you tear off -- with your teeth if you're a mensch -- a gunpowder packet half the size of a cigarette and pour it directly... posted by Michael at November 22, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Cheapo HD
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Pogue likes Flip's new $229 Mino HD. Andy Ihnatko thinks that the Flip delivers a more subtle picture than Kodak's $179 Zi6 does, but that the Kodak's sound is better. What I can't figure out is why people in the market for cheapo HD aren't buying this little Kodak camera instead. It does HD video; it's cheaper than both the Mino HD and the Zi6; it has an optical zoom; and it takes perfectly nice stills. But maybe there are good reasons why nobody's paying me to be a technology pundit. What do you lug around with you in the way of a small and cheap day-to-day snapshooter / videocam? Is now the moment to upgrade or not? Bonus link: Speaking of video ... One of the biggest differences between happy and unhappy people? Happy people watch less TV. Doing my manly best to resist buying a new camera because they're always getting better, Michael... posted by Michael at November 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I always thought it interesting that other people would fall into travel routines. For example, a couple my parents knew would regularly travel to Honolulu every year near Christmas time. Now it seems Nancy and I have the same disease (if that's what it is): her ski week at Lake Tahoe in January, Santa Barbara in early November and Las Vegas during Thanksgiving week. (The latter is because, when I was still working, I would only have to take three days of leave time while being away for seven days -- the balance being weekends and a two-day holiday.) We hop the plane to Vegas tomorrow. I'll pack my trusty MacBook and post as best I can. Otherwise, I'll keep my eyes open and have my camera at the ready for blog-worthy grist. I'll be visiting the new Palazzo hotel complex (part of the endangered Sands empire) and will check progress on the big glass 'n' steel project along The Strip between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio. It was mostly steelwork a year ago. I read that there are financing problems, so I'll be interested in seeing where things stand now in terms of being completed. It's interesting in that "name" architects were hired and the depictions of the completed project suggest that the shebang will be the usual (yawn) Modernism -- and totally out of character so far as the rest of the 'hood is concerned. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Who is Richard Duncan?
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I want to know if Richard Duncan has any good ideas right now. Who is Richard Duncan you may ask? I myself had no idea of his separate existence until last night, when I read a blog post that mentioned him. He turns out to be a financial analyst who in 1993 was one of the first people to warn of the impending collapse of the Thai economy and the Thai stock market (four years before it happened). Subsequently he worked for both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington DC as a Financial Sector Specialist. But more to the point, he turned out to have one heckuva crystal ball, accurately laying out (in considerable detail) our current economic problems in his book,“The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures.” You can order it here. What's remarkable about this is that the book was published back in 2003. That is, five years ago. And as the Financial Times points out here, Mr. Duncan’s predictive powers haven’t failed him; he also accurately predicted the course of current-day Fed policy (i.e., that the Fed would be forced to make massive loans to everyone and his brother) over a year ago. A little googling got me to this interview with him (presumably run around the time his book was published) that laid out his thesis. I would strongly advise reading it, as it accurately and pithily summarizes the financial problems we are seeing today in a simple, straightforward way. You can read it here. The key takeaway point is that the cause of our current financial and economic problems (if one ignores the hubris of our government and financial leaders who thought they knew what was going on but were really just being taken for a ride) was our persistent and immense trade deficit. (Which is, of course, in turn a symptom of a serious lack of US economic competitiveness and general malaise going back decades, despite what you read in the 1990s.) As Mr. Duncan said back around the time his book was published (in 2003): Many benefits are derived from trade between nations. However, the trade system that evolved following the collapse of the Bretton Woods System produces very serious side effects as well as benefits. In fact, the existing trade arrangements are destabilizing the global economy by creating economic bubbles, banking crises and deflationary pressures. These problems have arisen because international trade has become so unbalanced. The United States is buying $1 million a minutes more from the rest of the world than the rest of the world is buying from the US. Or put differently, last year the deficit was the equivalent of almost 2% of global GDP. To put that into perspective, global GDP grew by less than 2% last year. So, were it not for the US deficit, it is quite likely that the global economy would have actually contracted. The United States’ deficit makes the United States the world’s... posted by Friedrich at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Random Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What a luscious bundle of contradictions, doubts, and friskiness Helen Mirren is. She's too much woman -- but in the best kind of way. * More from Ron Paul. * The best camcorders of 2008. * Lesbians are more than twice as likely as straight women to get fat. Given the shape that many of today's straight women are in, that's saying a lot. * Genes are even more complex than you thought they were. * The only known audio recording of Virginia Woolf. * Does fashion goddess Heidi Klum owe Hindus an apology? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plain or Mixed?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In one of my more profound posts I observed that people eating corn on the cob tend to do their eating either typewriter style or lathe style. (Most commenters favored typewriter, by the way.) Now that holiday party season is nigh, I though I'd uncork another food consumption issue: Mixed nuts or plain? One school of thought is that mixed nuts provide people a choice; those who crave Brazil nuts, say, would not be slighted. I grant this. As host I might consider setting out a bowl of mixed. But a bowl of mixed nuts après-soirée quickly gets reduced to a collection of pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnut bits and whatever, once the good stuff has been picked out. Little old moi, I go for straight stuff, generally lightly salted peanuts or maybe cashews (which were a rare treat eons ago in my childhood). So I suppose if I were in charge of a party I'd set out a bowl of mixed plus one of my faves. And toss out the dregs of the mixed after the event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Camille's Back
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In her latest column, Camille Paglia manages to praise both Pres. Obama and Sarah Palin. Gotta love Camille: She goes her own way; she's no partisan-politics party propagandist; and she always calls it as she sees it. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

More on "Game"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- City Journal's Kay Hymowitz discovers the phenomenon of "Game" and the culture of PUAs (Pick-Up Artists). Hymowitz's piece struck me as fair, but Roissy thinks the bitch deserves a spanking. I overindulged in the comments thread on Roissy's posting. Related: The smart, interesting, and spirited Chris and Mu'Min are now sharing a blog. Roissy annotates a classic scene from "Gone With the Wind." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 20, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Taubes
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Dr. Michael Eades sponsors an ask-Gary-Taubes session. Taubes' paradigm-shifting "Good Calories, Bad Calories" is a fascinating (if exhausting) read for many reasons, including a number that have nothing to do with food and obesity. The tale he tells is, in a general sense, of experts (and their advice and guidance) going awry and becoming destructive under the sway of bad research, egos, p-r, and commercial and political pressure. This tale seems to me to parallel a lot of other tales that we've witnessed in recent decades. How did we wind up with building and space-making practices that so often result in sterile structures and dead spaces? How did we develop an un-nourishing "literary fiction" world that almost no one cares about? How did our financial, political, and economics elites create and lead us into our current mess? Taubes' long, detailed and meticulous dissection of how we wound up with a health-tips establishment that's handing out bad, even lethal, advice couldn't be more different in tone from Tom Wolfe's short, snappy and dazzling "From Bauhaus to Our House" and "The Painted Word." But, like them, it's a major contribution to the "How on earth did we get to this crazy place?" genre. It can help you make a whole lot more sense of the world around you. Related: Low-carbin' force of nature Jimmy Moore podcast-interviewed Gary Taubes here and here. Explore Jimmy's huge and valuable collection of audio interviews here. Steve Sailer shares some musings about the "What is art?" question. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 19, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More on IQ
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Rawness concludes his series on blacks and IQ. Great passage: I think rather than outright intellectualism, the mental skills slavery selected for were a high-level cunning. We still see this manifested in many aspects of modern black life such as creating slangs that nonblacks can’t understand, being extremely street smart, mastering high level con games, highly improvisational cognitive skills that can be seen in everything from off the cuff banter to improvisational jazz to freestyle rapping. Pimping “by the book” is another example of high level cunning. I don’t think IQ tests can properly test for these, but I think they’re very valid cognitive abilities ... I’ve seen plenty of high IQ people who are useless in a situation that requires street smart and ability to recognize when they’re being hustled. I’ve see socially inept high IQ people who would kill to be able to game women like many black players and pimps can. I think there are a lot of gifts and abilities that IQ tests can't measure. For instance: IQ-style intelligence and artistic talent have nothing to do with each other. As far as I can tell -- and, for what it's worth, I've spent three decades in the cultureworld -- brains and artistic talent are almost completely independent variables. It's a simple fact of life that there are 1) many intellectually brilliant people who are completely unable to create artistically, and 2) many people who are brimming over with artistic talent who are also real dimwits in an intellectual sense. It can be a lovely thing when IQ-style intelligence and artistic-creative talent coexist in a mutually-enhancing way in the same person -- but, c'mon, how often does this happen? As a culture-consumer, I'm too eager for enjoyment and pleasure to afford to be that choosy. And, as someone who has always done pretty well on standardized exams, I can testify to the fact that I've met many people less intellectually oomphy than I am who nonetheless know in their bones far more about life, people, and nature than will ever be mine to know. Semi-related: Back here I mused about G and the arts. T. shares some shrewd hunches about Pres. Obama here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 18, 2008 | perma-link | (48) comments

Monday, November 17, 2008

Controversial J.C. Leyendecker
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The latest addition to my art bookcase is this book about famed illustrator J.C. (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker (1874-1951), creator of the Arrow Collar/Arrow Shirt man and more Saturday Evening Post covers than Norman Rockwell. Both the book and Leyendecker are controversial. Leyendecker was almost surely (evidence is circumstantial, but strong) a closet homosexual who lived with Charles Beach, the main model for the Arrow advertisements (that's him in the book cover illustration, above). In this autobiographical book, his fellow New Rochelle resident Norman Rockwell devotes Chapter 9 to Leyendecker's odd living arrangement that included his brother, illustrator F.X. Leyendecker who died of dissipation in 1924, and never-married sister Mary who left the mansion shortly after F.X.'s death. Eventually Beach gained control of most household affairs, turning an already shy Joe Leyendecker into a recluse. As for the book, one Amazon reviewer felt that the narrative contained too much material about Leyendecker's sexual orientation and its implications. I agree. Perhaps Leyendecker material is lacking, so they had to pad the book with speculation and possibly exaggerated claims about homosexual subtexts in his art. My reaction was that this material was overly pro-homosexual. On the other hand, one Amazon reviewer characterized it as homophobic. Whatever. I would have loved more information regarding how he constructed his paintings. The authors, active in the illustration art gallery scene, could have contributed their views or else might have brought in professional illustrators to assess some of Leyendecker's finished works and studies. But that's just me; I'm interested in how stuff gets done. A possibly more serious problem is that the book contains some images that are not Leyendecker's. The double-spread on pages 98-99 has been cited in Amazon reviews and a painted sketch of a man's head on page 75 has been called into question, probably legitimately. On the plus side, the book has plenty of examples of Leyendecker's work. My main quibble here is that the authors tended to full-page too many New Year's magazine cover illustrations featuring baby 1934 or whatever. One or two would have been fine, but I wanted to see other subjects in full page rather than thumbnail format (many pages are of small images of magazine covers). My conclusion is that the book is worth buying, but only at the Amazon price, not the list price. More Internet information on Leyendecker includes this page by Bill Plante and David Apatoff's fascinating presentation of Leyendecker studies here (scroll down to June 17, 2007). Here are a few examples of Leyendecker's work for those of you who aren't familiar with it. Gallery Study of drum major - no date Arrow advertisement - 1930 Couple descending staircase - 1932 Matters of overt/covert homosexual symbolism aside, just how should an artist portray men in advertising? (I used the word "artist" in the illustrator/Leyendecker sense, but the issue is the same when selecting photography models.) A typical semi-slobby guy isn't likely to enhance a product's image, in most... posted by Donald at November 17, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Short Distance Contrasts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We went to Yakima Friday for a visit with Nancy's kin and returned the following afternoon. Driving time from Seattle is around two and a half hours -- less, if you make no stops and push the speed limit envelope by ten percent. Less than an hour east of Seattle you are cresting Snoqualmie Summit at a little more than 3,000 feet above sea level and entering Eastern Washington. Douglas Fir trees begin to give way to pine as you descend from the pass. Then the pines become more scarce, tending to forsake lowlands for the wetter hilltops. By the time you've peeled off from Interstate 90 to I-82 and leave the agricultural Kittitas Valley, you are entering sagebrush country: a desert, essentially. And Yakima is still the better part of half an hour away. One of the things that comes with the territory if you live near the Pacific Coast is the contrast between a damp, forested coastal strip including bodies of water and, to the east, desert with mountains or high hills establishing the division. Down around San Diego, the verdant part is paper-thin, whereas up here in Seattle the wet, green part is more than 150 miles wide. Thanks to large, irrigated agricultural areas in central California and Washington's Columbia Basin, the desert is less visible to casual travelers. And of course trees can be found at higher elevations such as in the Sierras and Rockies as well as the hilly country around Spokane and the Idaho Panhandle. Elsewhere in the country, a two-hour drive will almost always yield comparatively moderate change. For example, you could begin at Port Chester on Long Island Sound and wind up someplace in the Catskills. You would have traded shore for mountains and hills, but the nature of the vegetation wouldn't be particularly different. There would be no transition from thick forests to desert. In pre-freeway days, the drive to see the contrasts would have taken longer. My rule-of-thumb is that intercity freeways cut driving time around 50 percent compared to the old two-lane highways with truck traffic days. Therefore the Seattle-Yakima run might have required five hours. I remember the pre-I-90 days when the route was called US 10. In the late 1940s the four-lane stretch petered out a few miles shy of North Bend and then it was two-lane road nearly all the way to whatever your Eastern Washington destination might have been. We would often take a lunch break in an old mining town 85 miles east of Seattle called Cle Elum. We usually lunched at an old cafe with wooden booths, a soda fountain counter and pressed metal ceiling. I'd have a hamburger or perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich. The restaurant had probably folded by the time the freeway opened, the freeway making Cle Elum less necessary as a resting point. As a matter of fact, I didn't bother stopping in Cle Elum for many years on the assumption that the... posted by Donald at November 16, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments