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  1. Political Linkage
  2. Preserving Languages via Text Messaging
  3. Donald Westlake R.I.P.
  4. The Best Swing Band Was ...
  5. Architecture, Insane and Sane
  6. Food and Health Linkage
  7. Science, Perverted
  8. Insider Paintball: Anders Zorn's Palette

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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Libertarian Thomas DiLorenzo ranks John Tyler as the greatest of American presidents, and Abe Lincoln dead last. * Texas Secession thinks that the U.S. is on the verge of falling apart. * Doug Bandow wonders if the U.S. wouldn't benefit from a little "disuniting." * Should Sean ("Milk") Penn apologize to gays for his political views? * Jim Kalb offers some thoughts about the future of conservatism. * Lester Hunt argues that, strictly speaking, Social Security doesn't qualify as a Ponzi scheme. * Peter Canellos thinks (as I do) that the 1965 Immigration Act has been a major -- and much under-recognized -- shaper of our country. * Re-read this whenever you find yourself becoming overly impressed by intellectuals and artists. * Here's an unexpected one: a Jewish case against gay marriage. * Thanks to The Rawness for turning up this great Thomas Sowell piece about educating minority and poor kids. * James Grant asks why we have economic policies that punish savers. * Dave Barry reviews 2008 in politics. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) Funny line: Obama, following through on his promise to bring change to Washington, quickly begins assembling an administration consisting of a diverse group of renegade outsiders, ranging all the way from lawyers who attended Ivy League schools and then worked in the Clinton administration to lawyers who attended entirely different Ivy league schools and then worked in the Clinton administration. Shhh. Calm down. It's OK for Dave Barry to crack that joke precisely because he himself didn't go to an Ivy League college. Of course, had he attended Harvard instead of Haverford, Dave Barry would never have dared to crack such joke, and (needless to say) we'd never have dared to pass it along. Best, Michael UPDATE: Michael Lewis and David Einhorn assess the madness. It's a terrific piece that makes matters vivid and clear in plain English, and that (to my eyes and mind anyway) doesn't collapse into partisan-politics bickering. One nice passage among many: Rather than tackle the source of the problem, the people running the bailout desperately want to reinflate the credit bubble, prop up the stock market and head off a recession. Their efforts are clearly failing: 2008 was a historically bad year for the stock market, and we’ll be in recession for some time to come. Our leaders have framed the problem as a “crisis of confidence” but what they actually seem to mean is “please pay no attention to the problems we are failing to address.”... posted by Michael at January 3, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Friday, January 2, 2009

Preserving Languages via Text Messaging
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Browsing today's (2 January 2009) Wall Street Journal, I encountered an article titled "How the Lowly Text Message May Save Languages That Could Otherwise Fade" by William Bulkeley. Its link is here. Since I don't know how long the link will hold, below are key quotes from the piece. Can a language stay relevant if it isn't used to send text messages on a cellphone? Language advocates worry that the answer is no, and they are pushing to make more written languages available on cellphones. ... But companies that develop predictive text say they have created cellphone software for fewer than 80 of the world's 6,912 languages cataloged by SIL International, a Dallas organization that works to preserve languages. ... "The idea of having your cultural identity represented in this technology is increasingly important," says Laura Welcher, director of the Rosetta Project of San Francisco's Long Now Foundation. Ms. Welcher, who says linguists fear half the world's languages will disappear in the near future, thinks at least 200 languages have enough speakers to justify development of cellphone text systems. "Technology empowers the poorest people," she adds. ... Michael Cahill, linguistics coordinator for SIL International, says, "There are cases where texting is helping to preserve languages" by encouraging young people to write in their native tongue. Predictive text is a technique that guesses what a word might be after a few letters have been keyed in on a cellphone. I'm not a text-messager in part because of the bother of using eight keys to represent 26 letters. While predictive text no doubt improves composition speed, I find it easier to simply dial through and leave a voicemail message if necessary. (I'll concede that a good use for text messaging is transmission of numbers such as addresses and phone numbers which sometimes can be misunderstood via voice.) I'm all for the free market, so more power to software and communications companies that spread the use of predictive text to less-spoken tongues. On the other hand, the business of language preservation as a kind of crusade leaves me cold, as you can read here. So having predictive text for a minor language is potentially a big deal in its preservation. And voicemail (by implication) isn't? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 2, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Donald Westlake R.I.P.
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was very sorry to learn that the crime fiction writer Donald Westlake has died. He was 75, and until his sudden heart attack on Wednesday evening had been as busy and active as ever. FWIW, Westlake was among my very favorite fiction writers ever -- and I do mean ever, as in "of all times." While the novels of his that I've read have ranged from fabulous to pretty-good, each and every one of them had a snazzy hook, a half a dozen fully-inhabited characters, a handful of fun plot twists, loads of satirical observations, and a big and mischievous spirit. Each and every one, in other words, delivered a generous heaping of talent and entertainment. And the man published more than a hundred different books! Though I generally avoid arguing over greatness and comparing rankings and such, let me say this in anticipation of those who would protest "How can you say that Westlake was one of the greats? Which of his books would you set up against 'Ulysses'?" I'm not saying that Westlake was one of the greats in any for-eternity, lit-crit way. I'm saying that as far as I'm concerned he was one of the greats. As for the immortality stuff: Well, history will take care of it ... I won't be around to agree or disagree anyway ... And then history may, or may not, change its mind ... So explain to me why exactly I should care? I will argue that Westlake was an awe-inspiring talent, that he was fantastically productive, and that he consistenly kept his output at a very high level. If we can't agree on this, then let's change the subject right now. The point of comparison here shouldn't be "Ulysses" anyway. No disrespect meant to James Joyce -- but aren't there plenty of reasons to grant a lot of respect to Westlake as well? After all, in the time that it took Joyce to write "Ulysses," Westlake produced dozens of hooks, scads of inspired plot twists, and crowds of lively characters. Let's get our terms straight. Westlake wasn't playing the literary set's sacrifice-it-all-for-one-masterpiece game. He was a hyper-gifted working-class writer who entertained everyday readers for a living. No, the point of comparison should be TV series. Can an episode of "The Sopranos" really be said to rival "Rules of the Game"? Obviously not. But perhaps it can be plausibly argued that "The Sopranos" as a series deserves the respect we accord the best movies and novels. My point: It's better to think of Westlake's work not as a rival to "Ulysses" but as something with a long run, something you tune into, something you can count on to deliver a lot -- something like "The Sopranos." Which maybe we can agree is plenty awe-inspiring in its own terms, and in its own right. Another good comparison: P.G. Wodehouse. Both of them tremendous entertainers; both creators of huge bodies of high-quality work. Hey, isn't it... posted by Michael at January 2, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Best Swing Band Was ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Although I was born at the height of the swing band era, I didn't become familiar with that music until I became a teenager. That's when a Seattle radio station (KJR) began playing a lot of classic cuts. The Wikipedia entry on swing is here. I don't agree with some of the details, including the list of bandleaders and sidemen. But that might be ignorance on my part; after all, I haven't paid a lot of attention to the history of swing since the days of my early enthusiasm. That small matter aside, I thought I'd toss out a sample list of swing band leaders for your consideration. I have my favorite, and swing-fan readers surely have theirs. In Comments, feel free to include other bands. For starters: Charlie Barnet Count Basie Cab Calloway Tommy Dorsey Duke Ellington Benny Goodman Glen Gray Woody Herman Glenn Miller Artie Shaw My favorite? Benny Goodman, of course. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 1, 2009 | perma-link | (27) comments

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Architecture, Insane and Sane
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The New Statesman publishes a ringing and defiant defence of Le Corbusier, in my book one of the most destructive and pernicious artists of all time. The writer, Jonathan Meades, can't resist accusing those who dislike Le Corbusier of being "tectonically blind anti-modernists"; "one wonders whether they had eyes to put out in the first place." Note the usual modernist strategy at play here: If you dislike what I like, it can only because you don't get it -- because, in other words, you're an idiot. The possibility that a person may "get it" yet dislike it anyway can never entertained; it's a simple item of modernist faith that "getting it" must equal "loving it." And does anyone have any idea what the hell Meades could mean by "tectonically blind"? An antidote to the madness is this terrific, if too short, P2P interview with architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros about "peer-to-peer urbanism." For a comprehensive interview with Nikos, scroll to the top of this blog's page, click on "Interviews," and help yourself to a mind-blowing five-parter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Food and Health Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lard: Food comeback of 2008? * The Top Ten Food Safety Stories of 2008. * Food Renegade shows the influence of some of the people I think of as the Good Food Guys: Nina Planck, Michael Pollan, Gary Taubes, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig ... * People who adhere to a religion seem to develop more self-control. * Men's Health wants you to eat some fat. * Health guru Mark Sisson says that cutting back on sugars and taking up walking may be the best way to start getting healthy. * Napping, the whole story. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 31, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, December 29, 2008

Science, Perverted
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's almost New Year's. Pretty quiet on the Web. Here too. Good time to sneak in a rant. The subject is science and how it's misunderstood and perverted these days. For example, Instapundit called my attention to this item from a left-leaning British newspaper about celebrities not quite getting it. And then there's Australian newspaper columnist and blogger Tim Blair who, in this post, tosses off the following jabs: Of course, for these people -- who’d struggle to explain the workings of a simple internal combustion engine but somehow know how to reorganise the entire planet’s energy supply -- “science” includes everything from feng shui and numerology to the healing power of crystals. Ignorance of science is something that, in principle, is curable by tweaking the educational system. One needed ingredient is a couple of hours dealing with the philosophy of science at the start of each high school level science course. More specifically, it would be helpful to present the thinking of Karl Popper, who held that science advances by disproving flawed hypotheses and theories, not by attempting to "prove" things. I happen to agree with Popper, so therefore grind my teeth in anger and frustration when Al Gore and other Global Warming True Believers assert that their beliefs on the subject represent "settled science." Popper would contend that nothing is settled in science; the best that can be done is, by testing a variety of falsifiable hypotheses, reduce to a minimum plausible alternatives to a theory. By making the "settled science" assertion, the Algore crowd is simply trying to stifle opposition to its political agenda. And any scientists who go along with that claim have become politicized to the point that they have betrayed their scientific calling. Or so I think. Commenters please note: Nowhere above did I say that scientists should never speak out on public issues. My concern is about some politicians and scientists who want to stop other politicians and scientists from speaking out on public issues. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 29, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Insider Paintball: Anders Zorn's Palette
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This post is intended for practicing or wannabe painters who are at the point where they're thinking deeply about color usage. Other readers are always welcome, of course. Often mentioned in the same breath with John Singer Sargent are the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla, who I wrote about here and the Swede Anders Zorn (1860-1920), who I dealt with briefly here. A 12-part Web-based biography of Zorn can be found here. In brief, Zorn was a highly regarded portrait artist, one of his subjects being President Grover Cleveland. Besides portraits, he painted country scenes and an extensive series of nude Swedish girls who would be far too buxom to land fashion model jobs were they alive today. Zorn etched and sculpted, but is best known as a painter. He began in watercolors (usually painting opaquely) and later switched to oils. Self-portrait - 1896 Note the palette Zorn is holding in this self-portrait. It seems to have only four colors, whereas most artists' palettes have a dozen or more placed around the edges. As best I can tell, those colors are white, yellow ochre, cadmium red light and black. Four colors: that's all -- and this set is often referred to as the Zorn Palette. According to one source (which, to my shame, I lost because I failed to write it down before I decided to write a post on this subject), Zorn would use other reds and yellows if he wanted to change the tone or mood of a painting from what yellow ochre and cadmium red light offer. Such an alternative might be alizarin crimson and cadmium yellow light. I haven't yet experimented with a Zorn Palette, but this painter did, and had difficulty. Even though Zorn himself showed four colors in his self-portrait, he probably used more when the occasion demanded. For example, this article states that a person associated with a Swedish museum devoted to Zorn asserted that Zorn also used cobalt blue because more than 30 tubes of it were found among his possessions after he died. The source further stated that Zorn often painted water, which is difficult to do without blue -- one of the three primary pigment colors along with red and yellow. (Green, normally a mixture of yellow and blue could be obtained from the Zorn Palette by mixing yellow with black. A blue could be obtained by mixing black with white, though some blacks are probably more suitable for this than others.) There is no consensus in how-to books for painting regarding palettes. At least one I have favors having black, white and a warm and cool version of each of the three primaries. Other books acknowledge that, in theory, all colors can be mixed from the primaries (plus white and black to lighten or darken) -- but the chemistry of paint ingredients makes this impossible in practice. Therefore, one should use a variety of colors because this can get you closer to the colors you... posted by Donald at December 28, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments