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. Bye-Bye LA
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  3. The Harder They Fall
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Our Last 50 Referrers

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bye-Bye LA
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Los Angeles' 2010 week of rainy winter weather is almost over and so is our stay in nearby Malibu. Once I download photos to one of my computers, I'll conjure up some pix-posts. In any event, it's evaluation time. In the past, I've made it clear that I haven't been a Los Angeles fan. The reason probably has to do with the short-term nature of previous visits -- having a hotel as the base of operations, putting in a lot of freeway time and frustration getting from attraction to attraction or sales call to sales call, and the rest of that kind of drill. House-sitting isn't quite like being an actual resident, but it does provide a different slant than the hotel-centric visit. So does being here 3 1/2 weeks rather than three or four days. One distortion from full residential mode is that we went out and visited places every day, something regular folks wouldn't be doing. Another variation from the norm is that our roost was in a nice part of town -- a part so nice we couldn't afford to live there. Shaking and stirring the above, I have to say that we enjoyed LA a lot more than anticipated. There is plenty of culture here, interesting places to visit and nice scenery. Finally, this week aside, wintering here is nicer than wintering in Seattle (which, in turn, is nicer than wintering in large chunks of the USA). Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 23, 2010 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mighty Kingdom Far, Far Away
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Not long ago I bought a book by Philip Matyszak with the charming title "Ancient Rome on Five Dinarii a Day" (Amazon link here.) It' a pretty painless introduction to life at the heart of the Roman Empire circa 200 AD in the guise of a travel guide. It even includes some Latin phrases that might be of use, for example: Scorpio sum -- quod signum tibi es? (I'm a Scorpio -- what sign are you?). One passage that particularly intrigued me was this one on page 67: The Romans do know of China. Chinese records speak of a visit of merchants from the emperor An'tun (probably Antonius or Marcus Aurelius), but trade between the two empires is done through intermediaries. Can you truly wrap your mind around the idea of a distant kingdom or empire about which you know almost nothing, yet that rivals yours in scale? My problem is that no such thing is possible in today's world and hasn't been for hundreds of years. It's simply not part of our life-experience. When I was a kid, there might have been a few undetected tribes someplace in the Amazon basin or New Guinea, but even that smidgen of geographical and cultural ignorance has been eliminated. One might raise the matter of civilizations on planets of distant stars, but these are presently hypothetical and not real as China was in Roman times. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 22, 2010 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Harder They Fall
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Consider: Barack Obama, Teddy Kennedy, Tiger Woods and, oh yes, Ingrid Bergman. And think about what was known long ago in the days of Greek theatrical tragedies and surely long, long before that. Namely, success reinforced by adulation can make the almost inevitable fall harder than it might have been otherwise. These thoughts are with me as I draft this post on the first anniversary of the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States. A year ago, Obama was treated in a number of media outlets as a kind of reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln and/or Franklin Roosevelt. I recall a few digitally modified images morphing him partway into one or the other of the two iconic presidents. The outburst of enthusiasm and high expectations for Obama was reaching the point where some opponents wondered if such Obama-worship might be a form of religion. Today Obama and his program are in serious trouble. He is "under water" (pundit-speak for below 50 percent approval) in most opinion polls. His party has now lost three important elections: the governorships of Virginia (a Republican, but recently leaning to Democrat state) and New Jersey (a strongly Democrat state) and yesterday a senate seat in Massachusetts, practically a Democrat fiefdom. A number of reasons are being advanced for this fall from grace, most having plenty of merit. But I wonder how much the adulation and lack of contsructive criticism by that "watchdog" media of a year ago contributed. It wasn't the most important factor, but still.... Media coddling helped make golf star Tiger Woods' recent windshield splat an 80 miles-per-hour affair rather than a 10 MPH matter. I haven't paid much attention to Woods, but from snippets I've read, he was a far rougher character than his media image suggested. Moreover, this was known in the professional golf fraternity for a long while. Woods' name is Mud for the short run. His golf skills probably will not harm his career on the links, but his "clean" image is destroyed and income from endorsements will probably be diminished for years. Perhaps Woods would be better off today if his public image had been more in synch with reality. Nowadays, transgressions of movie stars are proclaimed every week by gossip magazines and tabloid papers in racks near sup ... * * * * UH OH!! Rich Rostrom pointed out in an email that the comments link wasn't activated. I checked, and by golly it really wasn't -- for some reason unknown to me. So I fixed that, and then the last part of this post got zapped. (So that's how it feels to get bitten by a snake.) Herewith is a rough reconstruction of the last part: * * * * From the 1920s well into the 50s movie studios had stars and other performers under contract. Part of the deal was that the studios handled public relations to protect the stars' images, unlike now where stars are basically... posted by Donald at January 21, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, January 18, 2010

Maazel Tov
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Okay, so the title to this post can't possibly be original. And I'm writing about music, about which I know almost nothing. But the nature of blogging is that bloggers tend to write about what they encounter on the Web or in daily life. Yesterday, we ventured to downtown Los Angeles and the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry -- I'll have photos and an article about it one of these days) to witness the Los Angeles Philharmonic and guest conductor Lorin Maazel. The program began with a suite from Der Rosenkavalier followed by The Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome (the latter including singing by Nancy Gustafson) by Richard Strauss. After the intermission was the Second Symphony by Jean Sibelius. We went because my wife wanted to see the Disney and soak up some culture. "Arts buff" me was thinking that, for the price of my ticket, I could buy three classical CDs of my choosing to pop into the trusty little Bose in our living room while avoiding the stress and hassle of navigating a downtown LA I hadn't visited in more than 20 years. The main attraction for me was seeing Maazel conduct. The gent is pushing 80 really hard (his birthday is in March), yet was energetic enough for the 90 or so minutes he was on the podium. Actually, Gustafson proved a surprise attraction. She's in her early 50s and, as Salome, was wearing a slinky, semi-see-through gown: Bravo! quoth me. Oh yes. The music. I'm not a huge Strauss fan. We saw his opera Elektra a while ago, and I didn't care for it much. The two pieces Maazel conducted were okay, but I wouldn't buy a CD of them. The Sibelius was a waste of my time. Plenty of different sounds, but save for the last few minutes, no sustained melodic thrust. I never cared for Sibelius' work. But as I mentioned, I'm pretty ignorant of music, so do pile on in Comments if you wish. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 18, 2010 | perma-link | (12) comments