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  1. Successful Dynasties
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  8. What to Buy After the Bailout
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Friday, December 19, 2008

Successful Dynasties
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As I write this, no decision has been announced regarding the appointment of Caroline Kennedy as Hilary Clinton's replacement as a senator for New York. This raises yet again the matter of political dynasties in the United States. (When her father was President, there was a joke going around that JFK will hand it over to brother Bobby in 1968 who will pass the office to brother Teddy in 1976. After 8 years of Teddy, it'll be 1984!) There has been lots of U.S. political dynasty talk on the Web, and I won't add to it. Instead, why not back up a step and discuss dynasties in general. Any dynasty starts with an able person. "Able" in the sense that a skill set is present that is well-tuned to achieve a certain goal. The skills might not always be "nice" ones: Has anyone who came near cornering the gold market or conquering the known world been nice? The world of business offers a good empirical test of the persistence of merit across generations. Obviously, an offspring of the founder of a major, family-controlled business has a huge head start. So one measure of success might simply be keeping the concern going in a steady state even making modest gains. For instance, Frederick William Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius, was able to increase the wealth he inherited (though his brothers didn't). A major legacy of Frederick is his mansion in Hyde Park, New York, a few miles north of Franklin Roosevelt's home. Typically, business success does not inherit well; consider the old saying: "From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." In practice, it might take more than three generations. The Ford Motor Company is on its fourth Ford generation, though William C. Ford, Jr., Executive Chairman, and the rest of the family have tended to let non-family members manage the company with usually light oversight since the death of Henry Ford II, founder Henry's grandson (though Bill, Jr. did assume an active role in recent years). The Ochs-Sulzberger clan that controlled The New York Times since 1896 has been successful until recently. The Rothschild banking family has been hanging in there for nearly 200 years. I haven't researched them, but wonder if primogeniture was generally applied by them in terms of who would run the various branches. Actually, I'm inclined to think not, given the long time span. (Informational comments welcome regarding this.) Let's turn back to politics, this time in the form of royalty. I'll set aside hereditary nobility because many noble families have lost most of their power and even wealth over the centuries. On the subject of setting things aside, we might as well do that for constitutional monarchies such as are found in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Britain. If the monarch has no real power, his degree of competence matters little to the survival and prosperity of his country. Monarchies do have a way of hanging on, but some rejuvenation usually... posted by Donald at December 19, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Down and Dirty Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's that time of year again: Place your vote for the sexiest girl-geek of 2008. * Alexa recalls her first time with another girl. Great line: "I thought to myself, this is fun -– I see why guys like doing it." * Now here's a blog with a theme! * T./Ricky Raw shares a couple of great, as well as instructive, bar pickup yarns. * Polaroid declares bankruptcy. We oldies remember well the kind of photography that really made Polaroid's business. * Hmmmmm. Now that I think about it, I've always had my suspicions about pastry glazes ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Why should the bosses at places like Merrill Lynch get any end-of-year bonuses at all when they've done such terrible jobs? Fun fact: In 2006, Goldman Sachs paid more than $20 million apiece in bonuses to more than 50 people. Is it reasonable for us to expect the Goldman Sachs crowd to get us out of the troubles that they rewarded themselves so richly for getting us into? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Debbie Rochon
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you heard of the actress Debbie Rochon? She's one of the great figures of the current exploitation and cult cinema. Now 40, she has appeared in over 150 movies, none of which you've ever heard of -- at least, if you aren't a low-budget sleaze and horror fan. Sample titles: "Corpses Are Forever," "Playmate of the Apes," "Vampire Seduction." But while many of the movies she has acted in have been forgettable quickies, Debbie Rochon's talents and performances are anything but. In fact, she's a dynamite actress. (It's a tribute to the discernment of exploitation buffs that many of them recognize Rochon as the real deal.) In cheesy movie after quickie movie -- often working with directors who have no idea at all what they're doing, and opposite performers who are barely performers at all -- Rochon delivers balls-out, fully-felt, and surprisingly sophisticated and touching performances. (Not that there's anything wrong with sleazy and / or quickie movies, god knows! If there's one lesson movie history drives home over and over again, it's that movies that are dismissed as shallow popular trash when they're released sometimes turn out to have more staying power than movies that initially seem far more plausible. Some major examples: '30s monster movies, '50s sci-fi, film noir, and Italian giallo films.) Petite and spunky, tough yet vulnerable, Rochon has a stylized waif / gamine quality that reminds me of the French actress Elodie Bouchez, and a rueful, wised-up soulfulness that puts me in mind of Diane Lane. She combines a bruised, wild-child, rock-chick spirit with a European art-movie-diva aura -- she's half Skid Row bohemian, half "Jules and Jim" / "La Notte" tragedienne. Rochon also has a scrappy and amazing, go-it-her-own-way life story: She started out as a street kid in Vancouver, stumbled into movies, moved to New York for training, opted for the exploitation track rather than the mainstream career track ... Truly independent, she works without an agent, maintaining a close relationship with Troma mastermind Lloyd Kaufman ... She writes for exploitation-cinema magazines and co-hosts a Sirius radio show with the rocker Dee Snider ... Given that Debbie Rochon is one of the underappreciated treasures of contempo American popular culture, a major mystery to me is why the hipsters who work in the big-budget movie world -- guys like Tarantino, Rodriguez, Linklater, Fincher, etc -- haven't pounced on Rochon and turned her into a mainstream icon. Dudez: time to show a little of your canny-casting stuff, please. is spending the week running an interview with Debbie Rochon in short excerpts: part one, part two, part three, part four. In addition to her other virtues, Rochon turns out to be far more down-to-earth, articulate, and thoughtful than actresses usually are. Watch, listen, enjoy, learn. Here's Debbie Rochon's own website. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Choosing a How-To-Paint Book -- 2
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As long-time readers might recall, I majored in Commercial Art in college. Required courses included drawing, oil painting and watercolor -- the same ones regular art majors had to take. Actual instruction was almost non-existent, the students simply dabbed away and occasionally the instructor would offer a criticism. I never did practice art professionally, so when I retired I thought it might be interesting to take up oil painting just to get some idea as to how good I might have become if I had had better guidance. My schedule is too erratic and my income too reduced to sign up for studio classes at local schools that offer traditional training. I simply buy how-to books from time to time and do some dabbing when I find the time and inclination. In this post I mentioned that I prefer to buy how-to's by artists whose styles I like. My example was David Curtis who lives in England. Another artist with books and a nice (from my perspective) style is David A. Leffel. Internet-based biographical information is pretty thin. Some sources have him born in 1931, others say 1934; from circumstantial evidence, I'm inclined to accept the latter. He's from New York City, taught at the Art Students League, worked as a painter in the city for many years and now lives just outside Taos, New Mexico. This is the book I have. It contains a foreword by Leffel, but is really a compilation of class notes by the book's author, Linda Cateura. A few years ago, Leffel himself came out with a book, but it's pricey and I do not have a copy. Cateura's book is a mix of practical tips and philosophical musings. At first, I found the latter something of a turn-off. But a recent re-reading was much more useful; maybe I've made enough progress that Leffel's thoughts and instruction make better sense to me. If his work interests you and you're thinking about getting the book, there are plenty of readers' comments on Amazon that might help give you a more rounded picture; click on the first book link above. Below are some examples of Leffel's work that I found on the Web. They aren't necessarily his best, but indicate his style (influenced by Rembrandt and Chardin, among others). The book has plenty of good illustrations. Gallery David Leffel Millenium Portrait Apparently in homage to Rembrandt. Nude in White Chemise Harvey Peaches and Yellow Finches Of Rembrandt and Pushman Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 17, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Music critic Ken Tucker lists his favorite pop music of the year. * Health-and-fitness guru Mark Sisson lists his favorite books of all time. Pleasing to see that Mark has the same high opinion of Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" that I do. It's a showstopper as well as a paradigm-shifter. * MBlowhard Rewind: I shared some thoughts about 10-best lists generally. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tricycle's Katy Butler speaks with the architect and theorist Christopher Alexander, a hero of mine. It's a fascinating interview. Though I'm convinced that his recent four-volume mega-opus "The Nature of Order" is -- despite the fact that its apparent subject is architecture -- the great spiritual autobiography of our age, I've never seen Alexander speak so openly about religious matters. FWIW, I buy the wholeness / void / unfolding model entirely, and not because I'm making any willful effort in the direction of "belief," but because that's just what life has always seemed like to me. Related: Enjoy an eye-opening 2Blowhards interview with Nikos Salingaros, an associate of Christopher Alexander's and a major thinker about architecture in his own right: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Nikos' website is here, and is well worth exploring. The best place to start for those curious to try an Alexander book is, IMHO, with this one. Expensive, yes, but well worth the price. How often do you read a book that really turns your head around? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 16, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, December 15, 2008

What to Buy After the Bailout
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As I write this, the unending saga of a pre-Inauguaral, seriously temporary, only a few billions "invested in America's future" cash injection for General Motors and perhaps Chrysler still hasn't been resolved. But I won't let such uncertainty stop me. Gotta keep the content rolling, after all. Just for kicks, let's assume it's five or six months from now. Obama, Pelosi, Reid took the path of bailing out the domestic automobile industry. Let's posit that the plan voted by Congress and signed by the President imposes far fewer cost-cutting options than a Chapter 11 bankruptcy would. Finally, assume your faithful car is now running up repair bills that, annualized, are getting near what you might be spending on payments for a new car. That means you're ready to start shopping. What do you think you might do if the domestic car makers have been nationalized to some degree? Here are your main options: Buy a car from an American firm to help save the industry. Buy a car from a foreign-owned firm, but one assembled in the USA (or Canada) -- as a protest against government meddling. Buy a car from a foreign-owned firm that's not built here -- as an even stronger protest. Buy the car that best suits your needs and means regardless of who the maker is. I suppose that, at crunch time, I'd take option 4. But I'm no fan of government getting its fingers into the private sector and therefore can't rule out options 2 and 3 (with a preference for 2, depending on features/prices of what's on the market then). What would you do? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (30) comments

Odd Place-names
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Late last week we visited Victoria, BC, taking the Victoria Clipper high-speed catamaran from Seattle. This service is convenient, but not cheap. However, given the current recession as well as it being the tourist off-season, we were able to get good mid-week rates for the trip. Video is everywhere, including the passenger cabin of the Clipper IV. We saw a loop lasting 10 or 12 minutes, more than half of which was comprised of a number of promotional announcements. Mercifully, the balance was a computerized navigation chart showing the location and orientation of the boat. A fun byproduct of checking trip progress was seeing some of the place-names along the route. Two on Puget Sound that struck my fancy were Point No-Point and Useless Bay. I was able to look up their origins here. Apparently both are linked to the Wilkes Expedition that visited the area in 1841. Point No-Point, named after a feature on the Hudson River, isn't much of a point when seen on a map and apparently is hard to discern when sailing as well. Useless Bay is a real bay on the western shore of Whidbey Island, but lack of water depth at low tides makes it a poor place to drop anchor. Such candor is nearly impossible in today's world of marketing and public relation spin, making such names seem so refreshing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Online Writing Tools
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Paul Glazowski recommends 35 online tools for writers. Me, I'm using Google Docs as my main word processor these days. It's a nothing-special writing tool in many ways, but it's responsive, its filing system is swell, and I do love being able to get at my writing from whatever computer I happen to be at. I've also tried and liked Zoho Writer and Adobe Buzzword -- but, since there's such a thing as juggling too many logins and passwords, I've settled on Google Docs instead. As for the rest of Glazowski's tips, I can endorse Facebook (which I love), and Squarespace, which strikes me as really brilliant. If you want easy fun on the web -- commenting, linking, posting, etc -- Facebook is hard to beat. A visit to Facebook can be like a stop at the neighborhood bar, full of chance and casual interactions. And, recently, it hasn't just been the young 'uns who have been showing up on Facebook. The chances of a grownup finding old classmates, friends, and colleagues have in fact gotten pretty good. (Wired thinks that people who are thinking of becoming bloggers ought to forget it and take to Twitter or Facebook instead. I'm with Wired on this. I think that Facebook offers 99% of what most people are hoping to get from blogging while demanding about a tenth the work and effort.) If a complete website of your own is a goal, Squarespace is genius. Using drag-and-drop modules, you can create (and then revise to your heart's content) as elaborate a website as you could possibly want. It took me about an hour to become competent at using Squarespace, and within a couple of days I had myself a fun personal website that I continue to amuse myself with. Compare that to the effort involved in getting up to speed with HTML and/or Dreamweaver. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More Lloyd
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman finishes off a week of talking to with some thoughts about microbudget moviemaking, and about the future of movies. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Throwing Stones: From Inside or Outside?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently, in this post I passed along some thoughts regarding graduates of elite universities assuming top roles in the new Administration and about top performers while attending such schools. I concluded by mentioning, as a disclosure of sorts, that 2Blowhards contributors suffered from that same Ivied past. Naturally, the matter of 'Leaguers talking about fellow 'Leaguers raised a few eyebrows in Comments. In particular, the matter of Ivy Leaguers who criticized the Ivy League -- a kind of reverse-snobbery that understandably raises hackles of non-Leaguers. Which indirectly raises an interesting issue: Who should or shouldn't discuss certain things. No, that's not quite right. I personally favor discussion and opinion-flinging by anyone, provided the discussion is civil. The issue is more that of: Who should be able to discuss something without being subject to criticism pertaining to the discussant's ties to the matter under discussion That's quite a mouthful, a big bucket of pixels and bytes. So let me try to clarify with examples. Ivy Leaguers discussing the Ivy League have at times been dismissed as snobs. I won't deny that it's easy to give oneself a mental "attaboy" pat on the back now and then and even let slip your background into a conversation. (I sometimes call it "My fancy-schmancy Ivy League Ph.D." and thereby advance myself two-thirds of the way to a status hat-trick, coating the pill with a veneer of "aw-shucks" sugar.) I'll go further and suggest that it seems like a human nature thing; many people seem to have a social need to identify with (if not actually be a part of) something larger than themselves that is generally seen as successful. There are exceptions, but sports fans seem to turn out for games in greater numbers when the team they root for is doing well, for instance. On the other hand, outsider criticism of an elite or otherwise successful entity can be attacked as a case of sour grapes. So you can be attacked if yo' is or if yo' ain't. There seems to be no escape. Educational attainment in general can be another bone of contention. Is a Ph.D. expressing skepticism of advanced degrees showing some kind of reverse-snobbery? Is it more sour grapes if somebody with only a high school diploma complains that college graduates can be really impractical? All else being equal, I tend to value institutional criticism coming from one who is or was an insider more than outsider criticism, though I value outsider criticism if it seems well-informed. That's because the sour grapes problem tends to be minimal or entirely absent. For example, I know from personal experience some of the negative byproducts of Ph.D. training (in the "social sciences" anyway). And the Ivy League, as usually experienced by an insider spending years in a university eventually becomes reduced to the ordinary daily scene; it doesn't seem like such a big deal after a while. (Get up, washed and dressed. The same old boring breakfast.... posted by Donald at December 14, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Scam and Fraud Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Will the financial world's collapse be bringing ever more high-flying crooks down along with it? (Links thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Steve Sailer wonders if these scam-collapses will result in a more general kind of power-shift. * Steve also points out that China has its own decisive way of dealing with fraudsters. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments