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. Driving Around as Entertainment
  2. Blogging Notes
  3. Intelligent Presidents
  4. Zdeno on Social Clubs
  5. On Becoming a Road Warrior
  6. Satisfying Painting at Pebble Beach
  7. Neiman's Interior Space

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Driving Around as Entertainment
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time. Ages ago. Before television. Before movies on videotape and DVD. Before iPhones, Twitter and texting. Before the Internet. And before gasoline prices touched $4 per gallon (very roughly 70 Euro cents per liter -- yes, that's cheap by European standards). Before ... where was I? Oh yeah. Back when I was a kid. One thing my family and many others did for entertainment was the Sunday Drive. This was in the days when a four-lane highway outside cities was a big deal in the distant, forested, rain-soaked Pacific Northwest. This meant that trips were fairly short; not many miles because my father didn't like driving a lot in a day and the two-lane roads were slow. Short time-wise because we seldom would stop for a meal, normally accomplishing the trip between lunchtime and dinner. Years later, when I was in graduate school, I'd sometimes entertain myself on weekends by day tripping. From Philadelphia I sometimes ranged as far as New Haven and Washington, DC. Other drives were shorter: through the Amish country or up to Princeton. Today I still do recreational driving. For example, Nancy likes going to the Skagit Valley area to look at tulips in the spring and to browse the shops in the quaint town of La Conner. Actually, I'm pretty sure a lot of people still take recreational drives, this despite fuel prices and nagging from the Green crowd. It's just that you don't hear about it as much with all the other weekend activies available these days. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 21, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I'm entering a period of heavy travel, but will be packing my trusty [knocks on wood] macBook and expect to blog at not too much of a reduced pace. It's Las Vegas 22-29 November for our annual visit there. From what I read, the town has been hit pretty hard by the recession. But it might be hard to tell by looking; a ten percent drop (for instance) in crowds isn't easy to distinguish, but closed shops are unambiguous. How many Gucci stores does any one city need? Or can support? Then 3-9 December we go to Honolulu, taking advantage of a recession-inspired travel deal. This trip, for the first time, I get to drive and so will be able to explore Oahu beyond the Honolulu - Pearl Harbor areas I'm slightly familiar with. * I'm still looking for 2Blowhards article contributions from readers. Don't be shy about contacting me and presenting your topic ideas. Longer-term, I'll need to recruit one or two full-time Blowhards. That's a major step, and I don't want to rush things. But if you are interested in that prospect, the key is to submit consistently interesting work to prove your abilities and tenacity. I don't rule out interests that overlap mine, but the health of the blog demands greater diversity in subject matter than I can provide. Needed topics are movies, literature, music, theater, sculpture and other arts I have only superficial knowledge of. Later, Donald UPDATE: Got to thinking. Can some readers come up with articles about Steampunk? I don't read enough of that genre to do the subject justice.... posted by Donald at November 21, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, November 20, 2009

Intelligent Presidents
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Conventional wisdom holds that, for real-world dealings, it's better for a leader/manager to be pretty smart, but not a genius. Geniuses belonging in Physics departments at universities, presumably. Coming to this practical point of view can take a while for many folks up there in the top two or three percent of the IQ curve. After all, smart school age kids often receive praise from parents, kin and teachers for being bright. Although my IQ is south of 140 (based on Army testing), I was bright enough to get some of that kind of praise. It was almost as if intelligence was an accomplishment rather than an attribute. And it took some life-experience for me to fully appreciate the difference. Unfortunately, there are people who, regardless of their own life-experience, seem to think that raw intelligence somehow is a great thing for leaders to possess -- something transcending other characteristics. I suppose you have encountered news articles, opinion columns, remarks on TV show, etc. where President X is dismissed as a dummy and President Y shines by the light of his own genius. I recently came across this post on the Commentary web site by John Steele Gordon in which he muses about presidential smarts. A long-ish excerpt is below. (For his take on the current president, Read The Whole Thing.) But being “supersmart” is not only no help; it is, I think, often a hindrance. Six future presidents were elected to Phi Beta Kappa as college undergraduates: John Quincy Adams, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Of those six, only Roosevelt could be considered a great president. Three of them, Adams, Taft, and Bush, were defeated for re-election, and Arthur couldn’t even get nominated for a second term. (His presidential reputation has been improving of late, however.) And intellectuals, of course, are all too capable of thinking themselves into disaster. Remember George Orwell’s famous crack about “an idea so stupid only an intellectual could have conceived it.” One might think that engineers, trained to deal with real-world forces, might make better presidents. But the only two engineers to reach the White House were Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, both terrible presidents. So what makes for successful presidencies? It might be fruitful to compare what the two greatest presidents of the 20th century, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, had in common. Neither were intellectuals (Roosevelt hardly ever read a book as an adult), but both were very “savvy,” not the same thing as smart. Both were master politicians, able to assemble and maintain coalitions. Both had immense charm. Both were first-class orators. Both had a great sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Both were comfortable in their own skins and not given to introspection. Both had an abundance of self-confidence but no trace of arrogance. In both, the inner man was inaccessible, and no one felt he really knew what made either man tick. And... posted by Donald at November 20, 2009 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Zdeno on Social Clubs
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm eons away from the singles scene, but what Zdeno writes about below seems oddly familiar. * * * * * I don’t spend quite as much time in clubs as I used to, but I’m no stranger to loud music, overpriced drinks, and nubile young women drinking and rationalizing their way into sexual escapades they will later claim to regret. Today, let's talk about this strange world, the club scene. The primary function of a club is to act as a focal point for young men and women to converge and meet each other, whether for a one-night stand, phone number exchange, or some variant thereof. Yes, some people go to clubs to dance and see friends, but some people also go to the zoo to take a walk with their family, or to a movie because they like $10 popcorn. The exceptions do not disprove the general rule. Using the cynical, reductionist perspective drilled into me by extensive economic training, I view the chaotic mating dance of humans in clubs not as a mysteriously romantic exercise in locating serendipity, but as a meat market of assortative mating. The prime activity going on in the club is the display and ascertainment of mate value. In a few words, showing off how attractive you are, and judging how attractive another person is. In one word: Signaling. Everyone has a set of traits that make them attractive, or not, to members of the opposite sex – beauty, confidence, social acumen, wit, status, money, etc. Humans, in their L’il Wayne-soundtracked mating dance, show off the extent to which they possess these traits as best they can. We should expect clubs, profit-seeking businesses that they are, to maximize their mate-matching efficacy. But oddly, this is not what we see them doing. In fact, they seem consciously designed to minimize the ability of men and women to exchange information about each others' attractiveness. Darkness and flashing lights prevent accurate assessments of physical beauty. Loud music prevents anything more than the most rudimentary of conversations. All of it is masked in a haze of liquor that increases the noise-to-signal ratio all around. Why is that? I have my theory, which I had originally planned to include in the body of this post. But I think I’ll hold off on it and let everyone else take a crack at the question: Why do clubs appear as if they are designed to be as bad as possible at accomplishing their obvious goal? * * * * * Actually, the only unfamiliar thing is the word "club" -- something Canadian? Or am I out of it, as usual. In my day there were dance halls and there were singles bars, but they hadn't quite merged as completely as Zdeno indicates. Whatever they were called, I never really liked them and tended to meet women elsewhere. And you? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 19, 2009 | perma-link | (28) comments

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Becoming a Road Warrior
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I sort of realized it at the time, but now I know for certain that I was a pretty fortunate commuter during most of my working life. That's because I'm now on the road the better part of three hours a day on those days I commute to Olympia from Seattle on notoriously crowded Interstate 5. Door-to-parking-garage distance is about 65 miles, and I avoid absolute peak traffic hours on the return commute simply because I don't reach Tacoma until after 5:30 and Seattle until nearly 6:30. Plus, going north-south and then south-north, I'm mostly going against the main flow (though the counter-stream can be pretty heavy in spots too). For many years I either worked at home or else had a five-mile small-city commute to work, so you probably can understand how spoiled I was. Still, I can be something of a stoic, and do what I have to do -- even though my work days chew up 11-12 hours and leave me pretty well shot once I get home. It helps that I enjoy driving except when there are significant delays. There are no practical alternatives to my long commute. Car pools, buses and trains aren't in my picture. Moreover, were these conveniently available, time traveling would not be any less. This brings to mind an acquaintance from grad school days, a Ph.D. physicist who morphed into a Wall Street "quant." He lived in Yardley, Pennsylvania, caught a train someplace near Trenton, rode the thing to (I'm guessing) Newark and switched to the PATH train to get to Wall Street. Or he might have gone from Trenton to Pennsylvania Station and then caught a subway for downtown. I used to think his commute was ghastly, and it still might be worse than mine even though he didn't have to drive those trains. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 18, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Satisfying Painting at Pebble Beach
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A little while ago I wrote about what I called "satisfying paintings" -- works that were nicely done and that are a pleasure to view. And a few years ago I wrote about Pebble Beach and posted the following photo of the lounge at The Lodge at Pebble Beach (which overlooks the famous 18th hole). Lounge, The Lodge at Pebble Beach Note the painting on the back wall. It's one of several in the Lodge. The artist is Jerry Van Megert (b. 1938). I haven't found much about him other than he was originally from Oregon and does portraits as well as California coastal scenes such as those on display at Pebble Beach. Here is a slightly cropped photo of the painting noted above. The original is quite large, but my photo for once conveys a pretty good sense of it. I'd like to show more works by Van Megert, but information about him on the Web is sparse indeed, if my Google and Bing searches are any guide. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 17, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, November 16, 2009

Neiman's Interior Space
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My gut reaction is that modernist architecture is often ill at ease with grand spaces. Sure, it's easy to whip out t-square, triangle or architectural design software and simply specify a space for contractors and workers to actualize. The tricky bit, so far as modernists go, is humanizing such spaces. That requires making use of (ugh!!) decorative elements. One solution is to combine modernism with explicitly classical details. Consider the restaurant and entrance atrium of Neiman Marcus' store by Union Square in San Francisco. Here are photos I took a few weeks ago: Restaurant level Looking down at entrance by Union Square The site of Neiman Marcus for many years was the location of the City of Paris store that eventually became cited as an architectural landmark (details here). After City of Paris closed, Neiman Marcus razed the structure and replaced it with the present building. The centerpiece of the City of Paris was a dome with a glass image of a sailing ship, and this was restored and incorporated in the corner of the new building facing Union Square. It can be seen in the top photo, above. As the lower photo indicates, classical details are included at various levels of the atrium. Although I remember seeing the City of Paris building, I can't recall having been in it. So I have no opinion regarding whether or not it should have been preserved. The Neiman Marcus building is blah on the outside and okay-retail-space inside. Except for the Union Square corner shown above. That bit I like a lot. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 16, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments