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  1. California: Fading Lodestar
  2. Scraping Sky or Scraping Bottom?
  3. Camaro Style, Original and Retro
  4. Digging Ferlinghetti's Old Digs
  5. Avoiding Nemesis
  6. About "The Black Helmet" and More
  7. Link Pile
  8. McDonalds at the Louvre, Oh My!
  9. Nickname the Presidents
  10. Joe Valdez Guest Post

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

California: Fading Lodestar
Donald Pitttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'll be off to California at the end of the month, looking for signs of damage. Trouble is, the best way to spot economic and social damage is to examine reliable statistical time-series and comparisons. When I lived in upstate New York in the early 70s, we knew the Utica area was lagging behind a state already showing signs of economic decline. Yet when visiting the city, I saw a number of stores and new fast-food joints that seemed to be doing just fine. This suggests that California will probably appear pretty much as it has in recent years, the most striking negative visual marker along Interstate 5 being the emptiness of the reservoir behind Shasta Dam. When I was young, California was The Place To Be -- if you weren't totally into national politics (Washington, DC) or culture and mass media (New York City). In high school I idly considering going on to attend the Art Center School, then located in Los Angeles, or UCLA. Later on, I made unsuccessful stabs at getting a job in the Bay Area. I was not alone. Aside from gold rushes -- which are lousy indicators of long-term desirability of an area (think Klondike) -- America's fascination with California as a place to live and emulate began around 1900, picked up steam in the 1920s and 30s, and went full-blast during World War 2 and after. One of my minor hobbies is assigning dates when places start going to hell. In California's case, I say it was around 1960, just as it was about to overtake New York as the country's most populous state. After that, the Sixties literally and figuratively kicked in, with California bearing the brunt. By 1990 I lost my desire to live there. (Well, if I had gobs of money, I can think of a few places such as Carmel and Santa Barbara that I might find tolerable.) The movie and television industries remain and no doubt influence the country with California sensibility. Nevertheless, by almost any standard, the state has indeed gone to hell -- aside from its climate, of course. And I suspect that most Americans have come to understand that. Does this mean that California is no longer the bellwether for the nation? That California trends will fizzle a few miles beyond its borders? I hope so. But it's still too soon to tell. Some worry that California's political/governmental dysfunction is a preview of this country's fate under one-party dominance of the Left. Still, political and economic actions often create reactions, and it might take five or more years to determine if such reactions have truly taken hold. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 10, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scraping Sky or Scraping Bottom?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's time for me to start picking up the architectural slack now that Michael is a part-time blogger. Therefore, I give you Jean Nouvel -- please! Nouvel is is a French architect who has been awarded the Pritzker Prize (in 2008). Last year it was announced that he would be architect for an Eiffel Tower sized skyscraper in Paris' close-by La Défense district. Then there's a proposed 75-story (or maybe 82 or even 85 story -- read here) building he's designing to fit just west of New York's Museum of Modern Art (a favorable article about the project is here, another take is here.) Apparently, enough people have reacted in horror that the City Planning Commission voted to chop 200 feet off its top. I like tall buildings, if they're done right -- as was often the case in the 1920s and early 30s. I don't know enough about the proposed Midtown spire to form a strong opinion, but its neighborhood already has plenty of tall buildings of questionable aesthetic quality, so what's wrong with dumping yet another into the mix? Actually, my main reservation is that it might be a little too close for comfort to the old RCA Building in Radio City (I love using those archaic names!). The proposed Paris skyscraper strikes me as being a huge mistake. The city already has the despised Tour Montparnasse. Existing La Défense high-rises are not terribly obtrusive, but something about as tall as the Eiffel Tower would be as unsightly as the Montparnasse structure. I haven't heard if the Paris building is still set for construction; when I was in town in May, I saw no sign of it. Better-informed readers are encouraged to bring us up to date in Comments. Your opinions on both projects as well as about the issue of tall buildings in general are also welcome. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 9, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Camaro Style, Original and Retro
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not sure whether or not there's any light at the end of General Government Motors' tunnel, but there is a speck of sales light in the initial reaction of customers to Chevrolet's latest iteration of its sporty Camaro line. As this Wikipedia entry indicates, Camaros were phased out after the 2002 model year, but allowed to return for 2010. It remains to be seen if the initial buyer enthusiasm represents the start of long-term popularity or was simply nothing more than a short burst fueled by a small number of Camaro enthusiasts. I'm inclined to think the second hypothesis is the case, though I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Styling of the new Camaro was intended to harken to that of the original 1967 version. The question is, How many of today's drivers were enthralled by the original styling which last saw production 40 years ago? If you count teenagers alive at the time, the original Camaro crowd has to be around age 55 or older now. If to this might be added the teenage-boys-who-drive-cars-as-old-as-they-are group, the bottom age is pushed down to 40. Let's call it age 50. Fifty-plus-year-olds (if they haven't been hit by the recession) tend to have the kind of money to buy Camaros, and this works in the marque's favor for a while anyway. Marketing conclusion: We Shall See. Now let's look at the styling. Gallery 2010 Ford Mustang 2010 Dodge Challenger 2010 Camaro Above are the "pony cars" (a nickname inspired by the original, fabulously successful 1964/65 Ford Mustang) currently offered by U.S. based car companies. All evoke styling of the original versions (the Challenger first appeared for the 1970 model year). The cars share a number of styling themes. Each has two air intake openings, a short, wide one high on the front end and a lower one below the bumper -- the latter probably being the major source of radiator cooling air, the former more of a styling touch. The Camaro and Challenger have a proportionally large lower body compared to the relatively small top. This arrangement has the advantage of emphasizing the engine compartment and wheels -- features suggesting high performance. And the wheels/tires are large relative to the height of all three the cars, again suggesting high performance (see my article here on automobile proportions). Now for some comparisons of 1967 and 2010 Camaro styling. 1967 2010 Three-quarter rear views show that the 2010 model borrowed heavily from the 1967 even though body proportions are different. Note the shape of the back windows, the rear quarter windows, the wheel cut-outs, the horizontal crease midway on the sides, the shape and number of tail lights and the direction of the lower side-panel creases. A major difference is the flatness of the 2010's trunk that is emphasized by the aerodynamic spoiler mounted at its rear. This flatness -- from the photo, the trunk top seems almost scooped out or dished in (take your pick)... posted by Donald at October 9, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Digging Ferlinghetti's Old Digs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's guest article is by Michigan-based writer Edward Craig who reports on his recent visit to San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore in the North Beach area which was co-founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti who gained his greatest fame publishing Beat poetry in the 1950s. Edward's report: * * * * * I visited San Francisco recently and made a pilgrimage to City Lights, which is what’s known as a “destination bookstore.” Other examples are Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C. and Powell’s in Portland. These stores are marked by their size. City Lights in three stories tall and most of its square footage, including the staircases, is packed with books. More importantly, though, is the zeitgeist of these establishments. City Lights reflects the spirit of San Francisco, that being an in-your-face leftism. You can pick up books with titles like “The ABCs of Communism” and “Film in Post-Colonial Africa.” It made me almost ashamed to be a white male. I wondered how it made the other white males hanging out in the store feel. I might have asked them, but I didn’t want to disturb their leisurely reading. I could have sought the opinion of the one young woman of color at the store, but she was busy running the cash register. There are chairs set out in City Lights so you can take your time reading the books they offer. Which is good, since most of them are really expensive. There are no discount tables at City Lights like you’ll find at Borders or Barnes & Noble. I considered buying a two-volume set on the history of Southern succession. It seemed very interesting, getting into topics such as the eccentric character of South Carolina. But they would have cost me more than $50 and I would have had to haul them back to Detroit. I considered a number of books from the eclectic art section, which includes categories dedicated to graphic novels and graffiti. What stopped me was a growing sense of being ripped off. I kept wondering, “How much less would I pay for this on Amazon?” But you’re not buying books at City Lights, You’re buying into a heritage. The Beats used to hang out at this store. You pay for a connection to people like Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. You pay to support a stance against the establishment, against the corrupt system that keeps us down. In the end, I walked out with nothing. I guess I’m too cheap to be one of the people. * * * * * Thank you, Edward, for bringing us up to date on the post-Beat scene where the market somehow still manages to rule. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 8, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Avoiding Nemesis
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Victor Davis Hanson writes here about the Greek goddess Nemesis and how she seems to be doing what she does best with regard to Barack Obama (Hanson references some other presidents as well). This brings to mind the matter of whether there were any people who attained pinnacles in politics or government who avoided her retribution. One example might be George Washington. But as best I can tell, he never reached the hubris, let alone atê (destructive behavior) stage that triggers a Nemesis reaction. Washington was modest (he took plenty of knocks fighting the British) and his refusals to become king or serve more than two presidential terms were important factors in making the United States as we have known it. Then there is France's Louis XIV, an absolute monarch. Although he allowed splendor to surround him, accounts I have read suggest that he has a hard-working, fairly unassuming man, given his circumstances. He was a good ruler for much of his reign, but allowed France to get embroiled in a long, costly war in its later years. If Nemesis appeared, it might have been in the form of two hellish, pre-anesthesia operations he endured late in life. Churchill had his wilderness years and a defeat by Attlee in 1945. Reagan took a bullet in the chest in the opening months of his first term. No Nemesis here because they weren't very lordly and bounced back from these crises. Question for today: Who in history really deserved a visit from Nemesis yet beat the rap? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 8, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

About "The Black Helmet" and More
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Richard Fernandez (aka "Wretchard") writes here about the difficulty of maintaining lies. His primary subject is former senator John Edwards, sometime presidential candidate and vice-presidential nominee. The bit that interested me wasn't about Edwards. It was this snippet: Eric Bana, in an interview with TV show [host] Craig Ferguson, provided one of the clearest examples of the price of lying. Bana explained he did not dye his hair out of fear of becoming hostage to the dread Black Helmet, which is “the thing that men get when they decide to cover they [sic] grays,” Bana said. Nothing could be worse than wearing an unchanging slab of black hair as one grew older. The price of keeping one’s hair youthful isn’t the price of a bottle of dye, it is the cumulative effort of keeping the rest of the face in sync with the Black Helmet as the visage beneath it ages. That effort increases with time until it finally becomes prohibitive. Keeping reality from showing through the facade of fakery is a full time job. I believe Bana and Fernandez are right. That is, right so long as a noticeable share of the population ages visibly naturally. But if everyone who had ever begun graying dyed their hair, then in theory their appearance would eventually be perceived as normal. So many 50- 60- and 70-something women dye their hair nowadays that I'm almost beginning to think their appearance is normal. Or maybe that applies to women I'm acquainted with who get well-crafted dye-jobs; dull, jet-black or henna-purple hair seems fundamentally unnatural because no one with normal hair looks that way. Message to the under-50 crowd: Aging is no fun, even at the superficial level of getting a reality check looking at yourself in the mirror or admiring your latest passport or drivers license photo. I think men tend to be less appearance-conscious than women. But we are not immune. I am not fond of the sagging skin on my neck, but won't do anything to fix it through surgery. On the plus side, my hair still has more dark than gray -- the hair that remains, I should note. Then there is the (pardon the expression) gray area of surgery to correct medical conditions. My wife has been after me about droopy eyelids. They've been that way for the last five or ten years, perhaps longer. So I went to the eye doctor for an evaluation that included looking into an object about the size and shape of a basketball sliced in two. The task is to spot as many little light flashes projected on the inside surface as you can. My right eye scored three of 29, my left nine of 28; with eyelids taped open I spotted all or nearly all the flashes. I haven't received an official "go" yet regarding whether my medical plans will fund a procedure, but it seems likely and I'll probably have the work done some time... posted by Donald at October 7, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Link Pile
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael Blowhard, our main link provider, no longer blogs here full-time. Nevertheless, we'll do our best to carry the torch: Power Line's John Hinderaker understands how bogus so many rankings and ratings of places can be. He offers a UN country "ranking" as his example here. Righty movie critic Christian Toto comments on reviewers of Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" here. Los Angeles, a "nanny city," has banned new fast food restaurants in parts of town to fight fat. So RAND weighs in with a study. (Cats catch mice, lemmings run off cliffs, RAND does studies; it's their nature.) In the rest of California as well as parts of Arizona and Nevada, the In-N-Out Burger chain is doing just fine. Apparently even some serious chefs enjoy the product. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 6, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

McDonalds at the Louvre, Oh My!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- London's Telegraph reports that a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé coffee shop will be opening soon in one of the entry areas to Paris' famed Louvre art museum. A few highlights: Lovers of France's two great symbols of cultural exception – its haute cuisine and fine art – are aghast at plans to open a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum next month. America's fast food temple is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France with a coup -the opening of its 1,142nd Gallic outlet a few yards from the entrance to the country's Mecca of high art and the world's most visited museum. ... The Louvre has the right to protest against boutiques it considers fail to meet such criteria. However, the museum told the Daily Telegraph it had agreed to a "quality" McCafé and a McDonald's in place by the end of the year, which it said was "is in line with the museum's image". "The Louvre welcomes the fact that the entirety of visitors and customers, French or foreign, can enjoy such a rich and varied restaurant offer, whether in the museum area or gallery," the museum said in a statement. The McDonald's would represent the "American" segment " of a new "food court", and would be situated "among (other) world cuisines and coffee shops," it wrote. ... There was already an outcry last year when Starbucks opened a café perilously close to the Right bank museum's entrance. Employees and art aficionados sent management a petition in protest; the café opened regardless but was asked to provide a cultural corner of brochures and catalogues as a placatory measure. This interests me for two reasons. First, I take some of my meals at McDonald's when in France. Second, in May I had a cup of coffee at the Louvre Starbucks mentioned in the article. Even though I'm a fussy eater, I do eat in French restaurants most of the time when visiting L'Hexagone. Still, there are times when a McDonald's is called for. Breakfasts at our hotel cost around 13 euros. For that amount you get orange juice, a croissant, a small baguette, butter, jam, coffee and perhaps another small item. The alternative I opted for was a ten-minute walk up the hill to the corner of the boul' Mich and the rue Soufflot (which leads to the Panthéon) where a McDonald's can be found. My breakfast there was comprised of the French version of an Egg McMuffin (lots more protein than the hotel fare) and a cup of coffee. The prix? Two euros. I get the feeling that articles about McDonald's in France (or the headlines, anyway) give Americans the impression that an "Ugly American" operation is underway with hordes of uncouth, loudmouthed tourists from Flyover Country cramming every inch of every McDonald's while driving the French to seething hatred. Sadly to some, 'tain't so. Sure, Yanks such as me do indeed patronize McDonald's in France -- besides Paris, I breakfasted... posted by Donald at October 6, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nickname the Presidents
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There were Frederick the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Charles the Bald, John Lackland (or Jean Sans-Terre if you are French), Edward the Confessor and a host of other rulers who acquired nicknames that are better known than their formal names. For some reason, that hasn't been true for U.S. presidents.* That oversight can be corrected!! Corrected by none other than the 2Blowhards "community" (assuming we rate such a distinction). Just for fun, if you are feeling creative and clever, post a comment suggesting nicknames for American presidents. For example, "Chester the Replacement" for Chester A. Arthur who became president following the death of James A. Garfield. I hope you'll come up with better ideas than I just did. But be warned: I won't post vile, dirty, slanderous nicknames. Well, if they are incredibly funny I just might, but don't count on it. It will help if the monikers are historically apt and reflect the appearance, personality and character of the victim -- er, president. Have at it. Later, Donald * Though yesterday George Will noted in passing "Honest Abe and "Tricky Dick" with reference to Lincoln and Nixon. There are a few other presidential nicknames lurking here and there (such as "Old Hickory"), but in no instance has the moniker superseded the man's name. I'm not counting those short name replacements headline writers like to use -- Ike, FDR, JFK, LBJ and the like.... posted by Donald at October 5, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Joe Valdez Guest Post
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today we continue our guest-posting series. Our blogger is Joe Valdez whose name is in the Culture Blogs section at the left where you can link to his This Distracted Globe site. Below he writes about, uh, well .... Er, take it away, Joe. * * * * * The N-Word If -- like me -- you make an effort to see movies in a theater, you might have missed Surveillance, an American made serial killer thriller that was released in Portugal, France, Germany and Austria in the summer of 2008 and quietly ushered onto Video On Demand stateside in May 2009. Starring Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond as kooky FBI agents interviewing witnesses of a gruesome murder, the movie itself is ridiculous and in my opinion, barely worth the postage to send back to where you rented it from. What’s worth mentioning about Surveillance is that it was co-written and directed by Jennifer Lynch, whose only other picture was one you might have heard about. Featuring Julian Sands as an architect who abducts the object of his desire (Sherilyn Fenn) and amputates her arms and injured legs, Boxing Helena (1993) may be the most critically reviled movie of the Information Age. Its subject matter was never going to win over feminists, but a highly publicized lawsuit by Main Line Pictures against Kim Basinger (for reneging on a verbal commitment to star in the film) nullified any positive word of mouth the movie could have possibly generated. Ironically, the quality that helped draw attention to Jennifer Lynch would turn her into a target. Lynch is the daughter of David Lynch, cartoonist, amateur meteorologist and the Academy Award nominated director of The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet. The master filmmaker was not involved in the Boxing Helena fiasco, but when his daughter’s efforts to get a second feature off the ground faltered, Lynch lent his name -- as executive producer -- to help finance Surveillance. Some might see this as a clear-cut case of nepotism in an industry where this n-word has never inhibited anyone from career opportunities. Darryl F. Zanuck co-founded 20th Century Fox in the 1930s and late in his career, would name his son president of production at the studio; Richard D. Zanuck went on to win an Academy Award for producing Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 along with his wife, Lili Fini Zanuck. Wendy Finerman was married to Mark Canton, chairman of Columbia TriStar Pictures when she won an Oscar for producing Forrest Gump in 1995. Jon Peters got his foot in the door as the hairdresser and boyfriend of Barbra Streisand; Peters later produced The Witches of Eastwick and Batman. The list of goes on and on. Contrary to conjecture on the Internet, actors are the least likely group to reap the benefits of their family tree. Casting directors would rather not be accused of favoritism, one reason Nicolas Coppola -- nephew of director Francis Coppola -- became “Nicolas Cage”... posted by Donald at October 4, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments