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. Evo-Bio Linkage
  2. Bumper Sticker Set -- One Year Later
  3. Discrimination in the Theater
  4. Textures of French Buildings
  5. Sex and Relationship Linkage
  6. Movie and Video Linkage
  7. Apatoff on Artists "Selling Out"
  8. The Consolations of Philosophy...and Detection
  9. Pontiac: A Qualified Lament

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Evo-Bio Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Razib wonders why the Andean highlands are still dominated by indigenous people. * Did modern humans eat Neanderthals? (Link thanks to ALD) * Richard Wrangham talks about cooking and evolution. (Link thanks to Razib) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 26, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Bumper Sticker Set -- One Year Later
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In this posting from about a year ago I included a photo of a bumper sticker clad Prius. Since then, a lot of political water has gone over the dam including a presidential election and the first five months of a new administration. I thought it might be fun to discover what effect these events had on that same Prius' sticker collection, so I swung by the street in northeast Seattle where it's usually parked and took an update photo. Last year's and this year's photos are shown below. 15 June, 2008 24 June, 2009 There seem to be three additions and no deletions from a year ago. To the immediate left of the license plate is a white square that probably once had a message but now appears to be faded away. Opposite the plate is a round "EU" (European Union) sticker with small member nation flags forming the outer edge of the circle. Below the yellow "War is Terrorism sticker on the bumper is a small, mostly red sticker for the Democrat candidate in the race for Washington's 8th Congressional District. The Prius' home is not in the 8th District -- that's mostly across Lake Washington in the Bellevue-Redmond area. But it was one race that was competitive for both sides; as it happened, the Republican won. My interpretation of all this? The Prius' owner is both satisfied with the state of the world and too lazy to strip off stickers that are politically obsolete. He's not alone. Nearly five years after the campaign, I still see "John Kerry" and "Kerry-Edwards" stickers a few times a week. I can understand leaving them on during Bush's second term as a form of protest. But why not remove them now that there's a Democrat in the White House. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 26, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Discrimination in the Theater
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Relatively few plays written by women are produced. Can we take this as definitive evidence of discrimination against women? Research has been done: More men than women write plays, and the men are also often more prolific. Taking these numbers into account, plays by men and women are in fact produced at the same rate. Plays by women do seem to need to be better (or at least more commercial) than plays by men in order to receive productions. But who enforces this state of affairs? As it turns out: women artistic directors and women literary managers. Ladies: Sometimes you do it to yourselves. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2009 | perma-link | (71) comments

Textures of French Buildings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A favorite sport hereabouts is bashing modernist architecture, which we do for reasons that make good sense to us, at least. Much of that glass 'n' reinforced concrete 'n' metal cladding strikes us as pretty sterile and not people-friendly. Aside from one brief jab, the focus of this posting is on an alternative: buildings and townscapes with lots of visual interest due in part to materials and ornamentation that creates a textured surface -- usually with a partly random pattern or effect. The following photos were taken on my recent visit to France. For starters, this is the ground floor lobby of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the museum devoted to art since 1900 or thereabouts. It's large, and the smooth, concrete floor sets the tone. Does it give anyone a warm, fuzzy, welcoming feeling? And this is part of the exterior. Perhaps having been inspired by a shirt emerging inside-out from a clothes dryer, we see here the architectural concept of placing much of the "mechanical" bits on the exterior. The result is textural in its way, so I give Renzo Piano credit for trying even though I loathe the thing. Since we're in Paris, let's check out the area above one of the entry door sets of the Notre Dame cathedral. Note the decoration on the indentation from the outer wall to the entry door plane as well as the relief sculpturing above the doors. It contrasts the plain wall, so that surfaces play off one another. This transition zone could have been simplified, but I'm not sure if that would have been better than what we see in the photo. This building on the rue de Rennes always intrigues me thanks to its odd, Art-Nouveau tower on one corner. The little balconies by the windows and other details provide surfaces that keep the eye interested, but not overwhelmed. Here's another big-city building, this in Lyon. It has a "flatiron" plan and is more ornate that the rue de Rennes structure. The bold, horizontal extrusions help clarify the structure and to some degree offset the ornamentation. I don't consider this great architecture, but it's interesting and doesn't bother me so I can't condemn it either. Elsewhere in Lyon is its opera house, shown here. It has been renovated and that shows. At least it contrasts modernist and traditional architecture in one convenient package. However, surface texturing is light in both cases. Dropping a notch in city size, this is Rouen and its famous Gros-Horloge or clock. Yes, it's interesting. But check out the surface materials of the buildings shown in the picture. The one on the left has half-timbering and the next one seems to have wooden shingles. At the right is cut stone with the seams emphasized. The clock tower itself has a smooth, stone surface that contrasts the ornamented clock and its setting. The clock tower in Aix-en-Provence's old town district. Aside from the very top, it lacks ornamentation. Yet... posted by Donald at June 24, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Sex and Relationship Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Toby Young wonders why he's become such a grump since he turned 40. * Meet the real 40 year old virgins. (Link thanks to Randall Parker) * Where does empathy come from? * Lily Burana reviews two biographies of the legendary stripper (and popular-culture figure) Gypsy Rose Lee. * Tony Comstock remembers that, back in the 1970s, New York City "smelled like sex." * Curious to hear what the "Game" crowd makes of this study. I have a hunch that Game doesn't take into enough account that there might well be a difference between the gals a guy enjoys fantasizing about and the gals he actually enjoys spending time with. But what do I know? * Tantric sex is back in the news. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 24, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Movie and Video Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Reid Rosefelt confesses that he tried to persuade his boss not to produce "My Dinner With Andre." Great to see that Criterion is bringing out a classy new DVD of the movie on June 23. That'd be today. Hey, Andre Gregory is one of the people who have given The Wife and me a blurb for our raucous and satirical audiobook. * Cool demo. * A time-does-pass note: "Purple Rain" was released -- get this -- 25 years ago. And I still haven't made up my mind about Prince ... * Good lord! * British advertising vs. American advertising, a comparison. * Jeremy Richey notices that Cinema Libre will be issuing some slick new DVDs of movies by Jean-Jacques ("Diva") Beineix. Check out that trailer for the director's cut of "Betty Blue." Mad love, baby! * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about the work of the filmmaker Robert Siodmak. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, June 22, 2009

Apatoff on Artists "Selling Out"
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- David Apatoff over at his Illustration Art blog posted some interesting thoughts on artists "selling out" to commerce. You should read the whole thing here. But I can't resist his discussion of Claude Monet, who refused to sell out during hard times early in his career. Instead, he begged and borrowed relentlessly. Eventually, as Apatoff notes: Because he couldn't afford medical care for his family, his wife Camille suffered through a long illness with tuberculosis before dying painfully at the age of 32. Some say she died of pelvic cancer, but others say she died of a botched abortion because she and Monet could not afford to have a third child. Don't think Monet's artistic dedication was compromised by Camille's tragic death; he told a friend that he was interested in the way Camille's face changed color after she died, so he recorded the change in a painting ... Now that's what I call principle. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 22, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Consolations of Philosophy...and Detection
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, I’ve written before about the role light entertainment plays as a stimulus in my mental economy. Given that I’m naturally something of a depressive, I use regular doses of light entertainment to keep me at an even keel. Over the years, this has often translated into a taste for detective fiction. Perhaps surprisingly, in the past six months or so, this has translated into a taste for reading philosophy. And perhaps more surprisingly, I find that I get very much the same sort of pleasure out of philosophy that I did out of detective stories. The pleasure I’m talking about does not lie in proving that I’m smarter than the authors of detective stories, at least if that implies attempting to figure out the guilty party before the book’s denouement. On the few occasions I’ve been tempted to do this, I’ve learned two things: (1) few authors are so dense as to fail to scatter three or four red-herrings about their plot and (2) few authors actually provide enough clues to logically (or in philosophical language, necessarily) eliminate all but one of the potential suspects. Hence, the actual solution often ends up striking me as arbitrary, being at the whim of the author. Occasionally, when dealing with authors who are fairly relaxed about their standards of plotting, I strongly suspect that the decision as to whether this suspect or that suspect is the guilty party wasn’t made by the author until the final chapter of the book was being written. Under these circumstances, my native laziness (or perhaps a spirit of methodological economy) bids me to abstain from such pointless problem solving, and to wait patiently for the solution to be revealed while sipping a glass of red wine. After all, I’m paying the price of the book for the fictional detective to do the work, not me! No, the pleasure I get from detective stories usually boils down to appreciating the interaction of the characters, often with some witty dialogue tossed in, as they attempt to solve a problem. When I decide to buy additional books by the same author, I inevitably ask myself if I care to spend more time in the company of the characters of the last book. Now, the situation in philosophy strikes me, being a seasoned consumer of light entertainment, as closely parallel. I’ve read enough philosophy books and encyclopedia-of-philosophy articles at this point to notice that the same basic problems keep coming up over and over again. Even when one philosopher explicitly argues against the views of another, they often share more ground than they fight over. Just today I spent a leisurely morning examining a case of this occluded commonality when I read that Kant, in his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic, trash talks his Scots contemporary, Thomas Reid, for failing to “probe more deeply into the nature of reason,” and for "putting on a bold face without any proper insight into the question, by appealing... posted by Friedrich at June 21, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Pontiac: A Qualified Lament
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently wrote about General Motors' Saturn brand, which appeared to be on its way to oblivion. Since then, ex sports car racer turned billionaire Roger Penske has begun negotiations to take over the brand name as the keystone for the strategy of creating a "virtual" automobile company. From what I've read, the concept is to market cars built by actual -- not virtual -- manufacturers and badge and sell them in the USA under the Saturn banner. This is a step beyond the 1920s practice of creating "assembled" cars whereby a company would buy most of a car's bits from companies specializing in chassis, motors, bodies, etc., and then assemble them at a factory, selling the result with the company's brand name(s). Examples are Moon and Jordan. Another GM brand on the extinction list is Pontiac, and all evidence to date suggests that it will go the way of its departed sister Oldsmobile, presumably at the end of the 2010 model year. The Wikipedia history of Pontiac is here I confess to having a soft spot in my heart for the Pontiac brand. That's because my family has had three or four of them (depending how one counts -- see below). The first family car I remember was our 1941 Pontiac that I wrote about here. My father bought a 1951 Pontiac the day they were introduced and I bought a 1995 model. Truth is, that '95 wasn't my first choice. But I was getting a supplier discount on GM cars at the time because they were buying my data. As a result I could get more car for the money by buying GM -- which I did on three occasions (the other cars were a 1990 Chevrolet and a 1996 Oldsmobile). Here are photos of examples of Pontiacs from those model years, the '96 shown being nearly identical to the one I owned. 1941 1951 Catalina -- we had a sedan. 1995 Grand Am The first Pontiacs appeared in 1926, the make being a "companion" brand to GM's Oakland line. My grandfather bought a used Oakland of 1920 vintage, so I suppose that might count as the fourth "Pontiac" my family owned. Oakland was named after a county abutting Detroit's northern boundary and Pontiac is its county seat. Since the city of Pontiac was named after an Indian chief, the cars were given Indian symbology (a chief's head hood ornament, for instance, and one model was dubbed "Chieftain"). All this was dropped in the late 1950s (before political correctness took hold, though for what it's worth I remain puzzled why it is shameful to honor ethnic groups by naming cars and sports teams after them). In the case of Pontiac, the brand was given a big makeover during those years, and the Indian connection didn't fit the performance image management desired to create. The Great Depression saw the end of weak car makers and the tightening up of operations for the survivors.... posted by Donald at June 21, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments