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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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Big Brother Bucky
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Terry Teachout, inspired by an exhibit about Buckminster Fuller, penned this article for this weekend's Wall Street Journal. As usual, I'll excerpt it in case it disappears from the WSJ site. Was modernism totalitarian? That's coming at it a bit high, but it's true that more than a few top-tier modernists were also one-size-fits-all system-mongers who thought the world would be improved if it were rebuilt from top to bottom -- so long as they got to draw up the plans. Just as Arnold Schoenberg wanted to scrap traditional harmony in favor of his 12-tone system of musical composition, so did Le Corbusier long to demolish the heart of Paris and turn it into an ultraefficient "machine for living" dominated by cookie-cutter high-rise apartment towers. So what if the rest of the world liked things the way they were? Send in the bulldozers anyway! It isn't that these artists were especially bloodthirsty. While some would gladly have sent their opponents to the nearest guillotine, most operated on the rosy-colored assumption that sweet reason would be sufficient in and of itself to usher in a kinder, gentler millennium. I always read that it was the house that would be turned into a "machine for living" but perhaps Corbu someplace or other extended that idea to the city as a whole; it isn't a long stretch to say the same thing about cities. Knowledgeable comments are welcome to set me, Terry, or both of us straight. That aside, modernism was never a cute, fuzzy little way of ordering the world: it was demanding. Later on [after the 1930s] he [Fuller] expanded his vision [from houses, cars, etc.] to encompass city planning on the widest possible scale, going so far as to envision placing a climate-controlled geodesic dome over the whole of Manhattan. If such schemes bring Frank Lloyd Wright to mind, there's a good reason: Fuller was a Wright-like figure, a high-octane utopian who believed in the life-enhancing potential of modern technology. The difference was that Fuller lacked Wright's ruthless determination. He was either incapable of or uninterested in following through on his ideas -- and he was, unlike Wright, the opposite of an aesthete. The Dymaxion Car and Dymaxion House are logical, even elegant, but not truly beautiful, and the closer you look at them, the less attractive they seem. On the other hand, Fuller's ambitions extended far beyond the creation of beautiful cars and houses. Not until the '60s did he find his footing as a public figure, and when he did it was not as a designer but a seer, a prophet of change who believed that "utopia is possible now." ... Not only did Buckminster Fuller think big, but he was sure that the only way to fix the world was by fixing every corner of it simultaneously. "We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully, nor for much longer, unless we see it as a whole... posted by Donald at May 16, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Wiley & Sons, a textbook publisher that also creates the "For Dummies" series, employs three full-time staff members to trawl the web for unauthorized copies. In the last month, the company has sent notices out on more than 5,000 titles -- five times more than a year ago -- asking various sites to take down digital versions of Wiley’s books. Source. I've been urging youngsters for some years now to consider going into copyright law. It's a happening field, and it looks like it'll continue being a lively one for a long time to come. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 16, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, May 15, 2009

Facing Pages
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was leafing through Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue when a juxtaposition caught my eye. On pages facing each other were this girl -- -- and this ad -- Of the many taste-changes that have most taken me by surprise over the decades, the preference that this illustration represents is high on the list. These are robot creatures ... for guys who find Lara Croft sexier than real women? Is that right? What shall we call this preference? "Unreal digitized Photoshop perfection"? Or -- a term I believe visitor Ricpic came up with -- "android sexiness"? Even the real girl in the comparison above has an unreal, android-ish, silvery flawlessness. It seems to me that, where sex and many other things go, the relationship to fantasy has changed. Adjusting to the reality of real women used to be considered part of becoming a man. Back in the day, there were plenty of jokes around about how boys setting out on sex lives expected to find staples in their girlfriends' tummies -- acknowledgments of how influential the Playboy centerfold was in shaping male expectations. But it was also widely understood that fantasy was something you had to know how to keep in its place. Real life was more complex -- as well as more moving, upsetting, disturbing, and rewarding -- than losing yourself in fantasy was. And that's what a woman could represent to a man: real life. Artifice and invention? They weren't mean to overwhelm life, they were meant to enhance it. Now, though ... By comparison to what's on the computer screen, real life apparently looks dim, inert, and depressing. Online experiences apparently hook some boys so young and so deep that many of them never recover. Real girls are never more than poor substitutes for Lara Croft, real life just a dim disappointment that can never be recovered from. Bonuses: Read a history of the Swimsuit Issue Friedrich von Blowhard wrote a posting comparing Schiele and the Swimsuit Issue Donald wrote about American pinup artists Just for the record: Jule Campbell is the name of the brilliant editor who turned the Swimsuit Issue into an American pop-culture classic. For 30 years Campbell put to work an unmatchable knack for combining athletic, sweet, a little sophisticated, and beautiful. Her girls represented a healthy and friendly alternative to the creatures that inhabited fashion magazines. However glitzily produced the Swimsuit Issue has been in the years since Campbell left the helm, her special magic is now missing from the publication entirely. I'm sorry to report that I can't find much about Campbell on the web. She makes a few appearances here. I'd love to interview her. If anyone knows how to contact Jule Campbell, please shoot an email to me at michaelblowhard at that gmaily place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2009 | perma-link | (29) comments

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're off to France for three weeks starting Monday 18 May on a trip conceived before the market crashed; I cashed in frequent flier miles early to get decent flights, so we're kinda locked in. I don't pack a computer on overseas trips due to weight, hassle and uncertainty about Internet connections. Normally, this would mean I won't be posting until after my return the evening of 8 June. Okay, okay, if you'll stop your cheering for a moment I'd like to add that you will be able to read some new posts by me during those three weeks. That's because I've drafted half a dozen of the critters and placed them where Michael can dribble them out at his discretion and convenience. One downside is that I'm probably not going to respond to comments requiring my attention. I don't plan to visit an Internet cafe while in France, but just might do so anyway to check email and 2Blowhards. If I do read comments, I'm not sure about replying because French keyboards differ from the American variety and not all Internet cafes there have computers with American keyboards. One thing I will do is keep some pieces of scratch paper in my shirt pocket so that I can note interesting things for future articles. Plus, I'll be carrying my trusty digital camera in the hope I can find enough grist for a photo essay or two. We'll be spending a week in Paris and then will rent a car ard visit places including Rouen, Mont-Saint-Michel, Amboise, Sarlat (in the Dordogne), Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Lyon and points between. If all that won't provide blog-fodder, I should seriously consider turning in my blogging license. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 15, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oldest, Firstest, Fake
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What to make of the world's oldest sculpture? * Was this Michelangelo's first painting? * Is Nefertiti a fake? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 14, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Health and Fitness Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mark Sisson offers some cheese tips, and lays out some seriously unappealing facts about conventional American beef. You can pre-order Mark's new book here, and read an interview with Mark by Richard Nikoley. * Mr. Henry enjoys some damn fine prosciutto. * The online medical-industrial establishment at work. * Scott Kustes wonders if eating Paleo and getting some exercise is all about vanity. * Here's a brilliant look at the kind of research and thinking that too much health advice is based on. My favorite line from the posting: "Sometimes I think we should say 'I don’t know' rather more often." (Link thanks to Dr. Michael Eades.) * Dr. Malcolm Kendrick recounts how he lost faith in the "lipid hypothesis" -- the theory according to which saturated fat in the diet causes high cholesterol in the blood, which causes heart disease. * Maybe the reason so much good food can be found in New York City is that the natives demand it. * Evolutionary Fitness guru Arthur De Vany recommends this podcast about how and why modern lifestyles tend to lead to depression and out-of-shapeness. I'm interested in anything De Vany thinks highly of. He seems to me to be one of today's Really Interesting People. I've joined his private blog and have watched his DVD set -- highly recommended. * Jimmy Moore takes a look at 30 eating-and-diet books. * Time to start doing some Orgasmic Meditation? * Does "artisanal" automatically mean "good"? * Are today's veggies pale shadows of oldtime veggies, nutritionally speaking? * Jonny Bowden points out a necessary but often ignored point: Though much of the exercise and eating advice we're given would suit a marathoner or a serious weightlifter, most of it is worse than useless for the rest of us. Carb-loading? Not a good idea. Best, Michael UPDATE: As the New Jersey Assembly considers whether to permit the sale of raw milk, Andrew Martin takes a look at some recent food-contamination cases.... posted by Michael at May 13, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Digital Interfaces and Analog Eyeballs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "It's exactly twelve forty-eight" a teen-aged guy announced after glancing at his digital wrist watch in 1985. This might have been followed by a trace of smug smile directed toward those of us wearing those old fashioned analog watches with hour and minute hands. Of course the time he announced wasn't really exact, especially if the display only provided hours and minutes perhaps along with a pulsating seconds indicator. Even assuming that the watch was set exactly, it couldn't show how far into the displayed minute actual time had moved. What I described above is from a half-remembered incident. But the prestige of digital displays was plenty real during the 1980s when personal computers moved from rarity to commonplace. Another digital affectation was the digital speedometer display for automobiles. If I remember correctly, the first American car sporting one was the Oldsmobile (correct me if I'm mistaken). There it would sit, centered at the top of the instrument panel. The miles per hour numbers were large -- perhaps as much as an inch tall. As one drove, the number would keep changing as speed varied. I once drove a rental car with this feature in the Bay Area and found myself annoyed, not impressed. Apparently potential buyers weren't attracted to the space age gizmos either, because they never caught on. Though in the late 1990s when I was in France, I happened to rent a Citroën Picasso (something like a crossover SUV) that had a digital speedometer. Instead of being in front of the driver, the Picasso's was mounted at the center of the car at the top of the dash. This made it more difficult to monitor and the distraction level was heightened because my eyes had to stray even farther from the road than in the case of the Olds. For me, the problem with digital speedometers is that they are distracting; every time the number changes (which is pretty often, even when cruising), I'm temped to take my eyes off the road to see what it says. Analog speedometers, the kind found in most cars, are positional. Small, seemingly random changes tend to be tuned out by the viewer. There is far less chance of unwanted distraction. (Another vague memory is of having read that some airplane control panels were designed so that the normal instrument position of the analog pointer would be up, at the 12 o'clock position. This allowed deviations to be spotted immediately on a quick scan of the panel. This ergonomic feature would be impossible if an instrument panel relied totally on digital readouts. And yes, in actuality warning lights would be added today, much like on instrument panels of modern cars.) As for wrist watches, most people don't need to know the precise time, so analog timepieces are handier to use than digital watches. A glance is good enough to spot the approximate time and a little positional reckoning indicates relationships to other times ("Hmm, about... posted by Donald at May 12, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, May 11, 2009

More Tom
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tom Naughton thinks you might want to skip those 100-calorie snack packs. I interviewed Tom back here, here, and here; his entertaining, brain-opening, and generally most-excellent documentary "Fat Head" can be bought here. Be sure to read the very informative Amazon Viewer Reviews of the film. And go ahead and hit the One-Click button, dammit. Like the Tom posting I've just linked to, "Fat Head" is smart, amusing, independent-minded, and surprisingly substantial -- the best intro I know of to the low-carb critique of conventional nutrition-and-eating advice. You'll actually watch the DVD, where a book on the topic is likely to sit on your shelf unread forever. And, when you're done with it, you can give the DVD to a friend. Who knows, you might even wind up a healthier and happier person. That's an awful lot of value for less than 20 bucks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 11, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Opera Subtitles
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am girding my loins. That's because on Friday I have to go see Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" at the Seattle Opera. In the movie "Amadeus" Emperor Joseph II tells Mozart that it was too long. Joe nailed it: it's a marathon performance. Back in 1982 I saw Marriage at the San Francisco Opera. I looked over a plot synopsis a few times before I went, but couldn't keep enough of it straight to be able to follow the events on stage. A huge problem was that it was sung in Italian and there were no subtitles. Fortunately, the Seattle Opera subtitles all its performances: without them I'd be lost every time I attended. This would be so even if the opera were in English. I lack the ability to fully understand sung words of any kind. When subtitling first arrived, snobbery and elitism kicked in. Major houses would not deign to soil their reputations by allowing the lumpenproletariat, who are inexplicably ignorant of Italian, German and French, to actually follow the plots, such as they are in opera. I'm not an opera fan and pay little attention to news about it. That, plus my laziness means I can't tell you if big-time houses such as New York's Metropolitan and the San Francisco have yielded to subtitles. Nor do I know if, say, German houses subtitle Italian operas. Any opera mavens out there ready to come to the rescue on this? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 10, 2009 | perma-link | (18) comments