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  1. Memorializing Defeats
  2. Vanity Fair's Disappearing Demographic
  3. The WSJ's Regional News Stand Pricing
  4. Foreign Misperceptions
  5. The Joy of Groupthink
  6. Bernie Fuchs, RIP
  7. Regional Clothing
  8. New Blowhards: How Do We Find Them?

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Memorializing Defeats
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I took the above photo at the site of Custer's Last Stand -- the Battle of the Little Bighorn that took place 25 June, 1876 in southeastern Montana. As many (40 years ago, I would have written "most") Americans know, Lt. Col. George Custer and all the soldiers and Indian scouts with him perished in the fight. Considering its isolation, the battlefield is a popular tourist site; at least one tour bus was there and the parking lot was pretty full in mid-September -- late in the tourist season. A very popular attraction in Hawaii is the battleship Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor. Some people visit San Antonio, Texas with the main purpose of seeing the Alamo. And then there's the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, yet another tourist attraction. Each of these sites has to do with a military or quasi-military disaster. I read that the British also reserve some of their patriotic sentiment for defeats or near-defeats. Is this an Anglo-Saxon thing? I don't know enough about other countries to speak with certainty, but I suspect that military victories get most of the attention. (One exception: the French Foreign Legion defeat at Cameron, Mexico in 1863 is a subject of supreme honor for that service.) Is it healthy from a national willpower standpoint to memorialize defeats? Maybe so. Britain and the United States have nearly always been winning their wars for the last 300 years, so the memorializing doesn't seem to have done any harm. Or perhaps the fact of being victorious has made it easier to shrug off defeats in campaigns that were ultimately won. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 26, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vanity Fair's Disappearing Demographic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My wife subscribes to Vanity Fair magazine, but I don't bother reading it. It has a rep as an upscale gossip rag, so maybe I'm missing something each month. Oh well, I don't read most magazines and surely miss a whole lot of really good stuff, so my Vanity Fair information loss falls into the statistical noise category. One thing that interests me about the magazine is how often it features members of the Kennedy family. Consider the current issue: Vanity Fair cover - October, 2009 Nancy tells me the Jackie article has to do with the trials William Manchester endured trying to write and get published a book about John Kennedy requested by Jackie. I imagine there's drama involved, but the matter is surely little more than a footnote to the Kennedy saga. Despite such barrel-scraping, editor Graydon Carter continues to include articles about the clan year after year. I suppose all those number-crunching folks at Condé Nast have reams of findings supporting the notion that Kennedys on the cover equal great news stand sales. Still, I have the oddball notion that the Kennedys are pretty passé from the newsmaking standpoint, especially since Teddy has gone on to whatever reward he merits. Furthermore, Americans who have even a borderline adult personal memory of JFK's Camelot administration are Carter's age and older (he turned 60 this past summer). In the TV biz, audiences older than 50 tend to be disregarded; so what's Carter up to? Reliving the passions of his adolescence? Obeying rock-solid market research findings? Beats me. Moreover [assumes jaded expression, flicks dandruff speck off shoulder] I can't quite bring myself to care. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 25, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

The WSJ's Regional News Stand Pricing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- You can learn a lot by traveling. One thing I learned on my recent trip to the Mountain States is that The Wall Street Journal's news stand price there is $2, rather than the $2.50 it is here in the Puget Sound area. I paid the two bucks in Wyoming and southern Idaho, but maybe that price isn't universal twixt the coast and the plains; I wonder about Denver and Albuquerque. Rupert Murdoch is indeed a sly fox. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 25, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Foreign Misperceptions
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bill Katz at Urgent Agenda posted some observations by overseas American Renee Nielsen (click here, scroll to bottom entry). Nielsen has lived in four countries (Denmark, Panama, India and, currently, Latvia) over the last seven years and is somewhat frustrated regarding news media perceptions of the United States. In her remarks in the link, she's upset that foreigners seem the think the USA is far more racist than she believes it to be. When I was in business for myself I subscribed to the Financial Times for a few years because I was producing demographic and income forecasts for the world's countries and needed to be better aware of the foreign scene. At the time (early-mid 1990s) I was struck by how distorted the FT's coverage of the USA seemed. The general impression was that the US was a weird, dysfunctional place held together mostly by the efforts of President Clinton. There was little positive (or even accurate) coverage of ordinary middle class life in flyover country. In short, the FT was simply parroting The New York Times, a newspaper I have long regarded as largely out of touch with this country. Reading the FT and NYT, one would think that America was typified by the nastier parts of The Bronx, Newark (NJ), and eastern Los Angeles. While there are indeed places in this country that are pretty awful, that doesn't strike me as being typical of the country at large (and I've visited 49 of 50 states). This brings up another matter. If foreigners view the USA through a Leftist media lens (lazy journalists assuming that The New York Times actually reports fairly, and lifting that paper's perspective for their own stories), then to what extent is the news we in the US read about other countries distorted in a similar way? Although I've spent about a year and a half traveling or living outside the USA, I don't have a good answer. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 24, 2009 | perma-link | (21) comments

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Joy of Groupthink
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Management, like education and other disciplines, tends to go from one trendy concept to another. Call it a search for silver bullets. Carried long enough, the pattern comes closely enough to repeating itself that the description "cycle" can be applied. These concepts usually have to do with how to change ongoing processes in a direction that improves one or more outcomes -- having happier students plus better test scores, for example. On the other hand, there are organizational factors so perennial that one might even lump them into that ever-useful category, Human Nature. Today's case has to do with the tendency of people in groups to think and operate in similar ways. At the action level, this is usually a good thing. In an army, something called doctrine is established that serves to reduce confusion and allow commanders to give orders in the knowledge that subordinates will attempt to carry out those orders in a predictable way. At the very lowest infantry level, this consists of fire-and-maneuver tactics for squads. Doctrine-like behavior can be a bad thing at higher levels of management. This is what is sometimes called Groupthink, where certain ideas, information and courses of action are informally or even officially foreclosed. The danger here is that an organization will fail to notice a problem or danger and not act optimally when trouble occurs. David French at National Review Online unearthed a U.S. Army set of bullet-points from 1977 or earlier concerning Groupthink; his posting is here. Also from NRO is this article by Victor Davis Hanson that compares Groupthink that might be occurring in the Administration with Groupthink as it is often practiced in universities. Before emerging as a leading public intellectual, Hanson taught for many years at Fresno State University, not far from his family homestead near Selma, California. So he knows the academic turf. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 23, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bernie Fuchs, RIP
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bernie Fuchs, one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century, has died at age 76. I wrote about him here. The Washington Post obituary is here. But if you have time to click on only one link, please click here to read what David Apatoff has to say. Apatoff knew Bernie and was present as Fuchs lay dying. Below are two examples of Fuchs' early commercial art. His style evolved away from what you see. Today, these examples probably don't seem exceptional. But when they first appeared, just like the original Star Wars movie, they seemed sensational. I know, because I was was commercial art major in college at the time. Gallo wine advertisement Story illustration When someone like Bernie Fuchs appears on the scene, it makes one believe there's such a thing as genius. Later, Donald UPDATE: For a reaction from a commercial artist who was too young to have experienced Fuchs' initial impact, here are remarks by Leif Peng.... posted by Donald at September 22, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Regional Clothing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last week I was kickin' around places such as Cody and Jackson Hole in Wyoming, strolling the streets and checking out the shops as entertainment. No surprise, a lot of the male tourist-bait in clothing stores was comprised of cowboy gear. Some of this was actually working stuff such as leather chaps and wide-brim hats of various gallonage. But a lot of it was dress-up cowboy clothing. Examples include tooled, pointed-toe cowboy boots, leather jackets with Buffalo Bill type fringes, fancy belts with big, flashy silver buckles, shirts with two fabric patterns separated by swoopy cutlines -- you probably get the picture. As merchants know, tourists tend to have looser pockets than when at home; souvenir stuff becomes strangely appealing. Aside from a few baseball caps, I dodged the apparel bullet. One reason I dodged was that cowboy togs are rarely seen in the Puget Sound area -- county fairs and country-western bars and shows excepted. And I prefer to blend in rather that show off in public. That absence of cowboy clothing suggests that a lot of other people around here either feel the same way or else look down on that kind of apparel. Regional variation in clothing is dictated to some degree by climate, of course. Here in the Seattle area, waterproofing is an important consideration. Places with severe winters require clothing that conserves body heat. And so forth. Nevertheless, during the summer months there is no weather-related reason why cowboy clothing couldn't be worn around here. Aloha shirts are seen. (Believe it or not, the Tommy Bahama company is based in Seattle.) So is safari gear. But hardly any western stuff. Conformity? Prejudice? What do you think? And are there any clothing peculiarities (positive or negative) where you live? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 22, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Blowhards: How Do We Find Them?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When Michael got what I like to call his "anodized aluminum parachute" in the spring of 2008, he considered handing 2Blowhards over to me. Happily for all of us (me, especially), he continued blogging until last week's announcement that he would drop full-time posting. Michael's current intention is to remain the proprietor (i.e., pay the bills) for perhaps another year or two and maybe make further use of some of the articles he posted here. As for me, I know full well that 2Blowhards is truly Michael's blog and that it will be impossible to maintain the exact atmosphere he created and maintained over the last seven-plus years. What I will attempt is to continue 2Blowhards' reputation as a site with interesting, generally well-written observations on the artistic and cultural scenes along with occasional detours into history, politics and world affairs. You might have noticed that I tend to write essays instead of link-posts. I tend to write slowly and have other life-commitments besides blogging, which means that my production level is around three or four posts per week. I also travel, which interferes with blogging. When I'm out of the country, I don't pack a computer, so no blogging gets done at all. This is not a good bloggy thing, because content flow is king -- people will stop looking at a blog if new articles don't appear on an almost-daily pace. So more Blowhards must be recruited in order that posting levels are up to one or two per day on average. Another personal "problem" is that my areas of interest and knowledge do not come near to filling the spectrum of the arts part of 2Blowhards. I tend to write about visual arts (painting and illustration mostly), industrial design and architecture (though Michael tended to take the lead there). Michael mostly dealt with his areas of competence: literature, film, music and popular culture. Those are areas that new Blowhards need to fill, though there are no subject constraints; I sometimes write about things in Michael's areas and he would write about painters on occasion. There is no advertising on 2Blowhards, so potential Blowhards need to understand that blogging here is an unpaid hobby activity that could easily occupy an hour or more a day. At one point Michael brought in a professional writer "Vanessa Blowhard" who soon realized that she needed to (literally) make every word that she wrote pay for itself and couldn't adjust to writing for free. That experience makes me cautious about recruiting professionals unless they already have an employer providing a steady income. On the other hand, it's okay if a new Blowhard has his own blog -- I don't, but Michael maintains one under his real name. But the deal is, a Blowhard must agree to provide at least three postings here per week, on average. So if that's compatible with hosting another blog, that's fine by me. Speaking of that three (or maybe four) weekly-posting... posted by Donald at September 21, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments