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Monday, January 25, 2010

Forever Young
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Now that Michael Blowhard has willed me the Top Banana role here at 2B, I whine from time to time that posting reinforcements are more than welcome. Last week, longtime reader Rick Darby passed along the following thoughts. * * * * * Forever Young May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung, May you stay forever young, Forever young, forever young, May you stay forever young. — Bob Dylan The pace is picking up. “My” generation is dying off. I put quotes around “my” because it doesn’t necessarily mean exact chronological cohorts. Rather, people whose work affected me when I was young, or at least a lot younger than I am now, and left a lasting impression. It’s hard to imagine them aging, impossible to comprehend them dying. They and I will always be in the 1960s or 1970s when I think of them. (That’s not so long ago in my mind, although for young adults it’s the Pleistocene Age.) Just this week, two people I never met personally but with whom I connected with emotionally passed out of this life. The first was Kate McGarrigle, one-half of Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Their first album floored me when I heard it in the early ’70s; some 35 years later, it still does. Practically every track on the album sparkles. They were bilingual “English” girls from French Canada, blessed with splendid voices, individually and in harmony. I’m not sure which songs were written by which sister (the sublime “Heart Like a Wheel” is credited to Anna), but they were synergy in action. Kate and Anna released other albums over the decades. While they were of uneven quality, and none in my estimation surpassed that original effort, the craftsmanship was always there. They continued to offer consolation to those of us who were immiserated as popular music sank to ever-more artificial, and often cretinous, levels. The other loss this week that affected me was the detective novel writer Robert B. Parker. I believe I discovered him by way of his first book, The Godwulf Manuscript, about the same time as the sisters McGarrigle swum into my ken. He created the tough, wisecracking detective Spenser who was to Boston what Hammett’s Sam Spade was to San Francisco and Chandler’s Philip Marlowe was to Los Angeles. Parker has his detractors, and I agree with some of their reasons. After the first few novels, the Spenser series started to roll off an assembly line -- still entertaining enough to be good company on an airplane ride or for light reading, but successive titles did not grow in depth over the years like Ross Macdonald’s, for instance. But it was thrilling enough to my young self to learn that the Raymond Chandler tradition was alive and well, and the snappy dialogue probably influenced my own style, as it undoubtedly influenced many others. (I’m not, of course, saying I imitate Parker or comparing myself to him... posted by Donald at January 25, 2010 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Opening Soon: Psychic
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The title of this post is approximately what I read on what appeared to be a professionally painted canvas sign on the back, freeway-facing wall of a new strip mall someplace between Vacaville and Sacramento California. Maybe this is nothing new to you. For me, most of the psychics I notice seem to be in residences in transitional (residential-to-commercial) neighborhoods. Perhaps you've seen them: a house with a sign in a front window featuring a drawing of a hand and a short slogan with the word "Psychic" prominently displayed. The closest I ever got to psychic stuff was many, many years ago when my grandmother read tea leaves for a cousin of mine who was really anxious about finding herself a man (I don't remember what the leaves said, but ten or so years later she did get married). This means that I'm clueless regarding (1) what comprises the clientele for psychics and (2) what psychics actually tell those people. But that forthcoming psychic shop in the new strip mall intrigues me. Is that a sign the psychics are getting enough business to go mainstream? Please advise. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 24, 2010 | perma-link | (5) comments

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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Regional vs. Nationwide
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still in the Los Angeles area, and enjoying it more than I had expected. We buy groceries at a chain called Ralph's. No Ralph's in Seattle. Must be a regional outfit, right? Well ... yes and no. It seems that some of the items on the shelves are house brands for Kroger, a Cincinnati-based company. Moreover, the grocery where we usually shop in Seattle (QFC -- Quality Food Centers) also sells Kroger-branded items. It turns about that Kroger, once a regional company, has tendrils all over the place as can be seen here, (scroll down for a list of "local" outfits controlled by Kroger). Nationwide company, regional brand presence: interesting formula. Banks also used to be tied to areas. In Washington, statewide at most. In Pennsylvania, to a home county and contiguous counties. In Illinois, even tighter geography. Nowadays, some banks have branches over much of the country. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; as a customer I find it convenient when traveling. When I was young [Oh, no!! Not that again!] there seemed be many local and regional products. Consider beer. I grew up with brands such as Olympia (from Oylmpia, WA), Rainier (Seattle) , Sick's Select (also Seattle), Alt Heidelberg (Tacoma) and Lucky Lager (Vancouver, WA) -- eventually drinking the survivors when I got old enough. Later, when traveling, I'd make it a point to drink a local beer. I recall being disappointed in Rhode Island when the bar only had Bud and no Narragansett. There were local food brands, too. And not just dairy products, which remain largely local. In my case, it was Nalley canned goods such as chili (the brand still exists, but is no longer locally owned), Frye's meat products and Buchan's bread. I'm sure you can come up with examples from your own past. Given all the consolidation we've seen in recent decades, are local/regional products a dying breed? Not necessarily. Many nationwide brands started locally, and start-ups are, almost by definition, local. Consider coffee houses. Yes, there's Starbucks, a local Seattle firm that now spans the globe, as they say. Yet even in Seattle one finds stores from regional chains such as Tully (Seattle) and Peet's (Bay Area). Strong in Southern California, Las Vegas and Oahu is an outfit called Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. The old regional beers are largely gone -- crushed by Budweiser and Miller -- but now local microbrews are sprouting. Modern communications, including fast, relatively inexpensive transportation, has indeed "nationalized" a number of products -- look at advertisements in old newspapers to get a feel for which products were still local at various times. But as I noted, local is far from finished. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 14, 2010 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, January 11, 2010

Getting Lost in Big Cities
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever get lost in a big city? Or even disoriented for a few minutes? It probably happens to everyone. I have a fairly good sense where I am and how the surroundings are laid out. This is mostly because I try to get hold of a map and study it before entering unfamiliar territory. If nothing else, this prior knowledge alerts me when I begin to drift away from my mental picture of where I'm trying to head. This shouldn't be news to anyone, but it's pretty hard to get lost in grid-pattern cities. I should add that specific places might be a little hard to track down by address in Salt Lake City, Utah. (The Wasatch Mountains to the east make it difficult to get totally lost there.) You see, the street-naming system is partly based on the Mormon temple and major streets' relationship to it: "East South Temple," for instance. Street patterns based on cow paths or influenced by topography are where trouble can set it, especially in overcast weather or at night when the sun's position is of no help. Fairly flat cities with twisty streets and no tall buildings are the most trouble because there are few landmarks to help guide one. So what cities are the hardest to get around? Here are some of my "favorites." Stuttgart, Germany caused me trouble when driving. It's hilly, and hills and relatively flat areas determine how streets and roads are laid out. I wanted to head out of town to the northeast, but to do so it was critical that I make a certain street change. Despite having my wife holding a street map, I missed the turn and eventually exited to the south, which cost us a up to an hour of extra driving to get back on track. Bamberg, also in Germany, was difficult because we were trying to drive to a hotel in the center. But the presence of a river, pedestrian-only zones and one-way streets -- coupled with the fact that I had only a sketchy motel-brochure map -- resulted in 45 minutes of circling and circling until we finally struck the right route. Never try driving in Bamberg without a good street map. One year I had a terrible time trying to drive to our hotel in Montecatini Terme, Italy. I had been there a few years earlier, but didn't have a street map this time. The city has a large park-like area in the middle where health spas and related facilities are located, and the many of the streets are one-way. So, as I struggled to find the hotel, I realized that I was slowly working myself in the opposite direction. Once more, a high-frustration situation. As for walking, Venice in Italy gets the honors from me. For some reason I once wanted to walk from the train station to the Rialto bridge. Even though I had a map showing all the canals, streets, squares and... posted by Donald at January 11, 2010 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

LA Sux ... Or Don't
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- All things considered, it's probably largely a matter of scale. The Los Angeles region is huge. And expanding geographically -- though perhaps not so rapidly as in the past. That might be the main reason I never really cared for it and came to dislike it a lot back in the 80s and early 90s when I had to come here on sales calls or to meet with clients. In the first place, even with a comprehensive freeway system, it can take a long, unpredictable time to get around. One of my clients observed that the system was perpetually on the verge of breakdown, traffic-wise: this was in 1983. Secondly, the socioeconomic sub-areas are themselves large and exaggerated to the point where an observer might be tempted to think the whole place was ritzy/nondescript/scary/whatever. Once in the late 80s I had time to kill and drove Rosecrans Avenue all the way from Norwalk to near the coast. It was an interesting slice of urbanism. But the reality is that all places large enough to strike a visitor as being a city have similar mixes of neighborhoods and so forth. One difference is that, in a smaller city, one can live in one part of town and commute to the other side without chewing up lots of time. I shudder to think of folks who live in the San Fernando Valley, say, and have to work in Irvine. Obviously, it's best to live and work in the same part of the region. But jobs seem to change more easily than places of residence, so hellish commutes can be forced by unplanned circumstances. We are house-sitting in a part of town where we probably could not afford to live (just above the Getty Villa museum). We're handy to both downtown Santa Monica and Malibu. Drop by Rodeo Drive or UCLA? -- just a scenic cruise along Sunset Boulevard. As in other large cities, if one has money, life can be pretty swell so long as you avoid a serious commute. As a rule of thumb for LA, pick a spot to live that's in the hills or near the water or, perhaps best of all, both -- that's where we are for three weeks. Of course the hills do get the occasional fires and mudslides. And strong earthquakes are a threat everywhere. But the winter climate here sure beats that of Seattle, let alone that of Minneapolis, Chicago or New York City. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 6, 2010 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Santa Monica Confidential
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Santa Monica, California has a public restroom problem. That's not the actual problem, but I'll get to that in a bit. I need to admit that I don't know a lot about the town and only casually follow its fortunes. It was known for its beach, a carnival pier and in certain circles as being the site of RAND Corp. (For lots more info, click here for the Wikipedia entry.) As best I recall, civic leaders back in the 70s went into a tizzy of fear that Santa Monica might become too much like their next-door monster, Los Angeles. As a result, by the 1980s, Santa Monica struck me as a pretty drab place with a minimum of bright, new retail locations. That seems to have changed. The downtown area near the bluff above the shore is pleasant and bustling. One street has been turned into a pedestrian mall. It has the usual collection of medium-range stores, and seems to be doing fine -- many pedestrian malls are flops. There are street markets in the same area. Santa Monica also seems to be an arty place. On the way into town on Santa Monica Boulevard I noticed two large art supply stores a block or two apart. The downtown Barnes & Noble bookstore has a very good arts section. A smaller art book shop is down the block, and there's the huge Hennessey & Ingalls bookstore that features painting, design, architecture, photography, landscape and other arts; books are new and used. The Barnes & Noble has a sign on its front door stating that it, unlike most other B&Ns, has no public restroom; one is encouraged to look for one in a public parking garage or in the food court area of the pedestrian mall. There are public restrooms in the park along the bluff, but in town it seems one has to be a patron to get to use a store's or restaurant's facility. The reason for this almost surely has to do with street people and the homeless who have an easier life in balmy southern California than elsewhere. I noticed quite a few shabby, older males hanging around the sidewalks silently begging and can sympathize with business trying to maintain a pleasant environment. But I did find the situation inconvenient. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 31, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, December 28, 2009

Speed and the Breed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Racing improves the breed" is an old saying applied to cars and planes. Maybe even horses as well -- horses are almost entirely off my radar, so I'm not sure. Anyway, I finally got around to reading Race with the Wind cover-to-cover. Its author suggests that racing might have helped advance aeronautical technology during the first two or three decades of flight. But by the mid 1930s, American racing planes actually fell behind military fighter designs, effectively contributing nothing to the World War 2 generation of fighter aircraft. This was definitely the case for engines whose research and development costs went far beyond the means of the small companies specializing in racing planes. It was largely the case in the realm of aerodynamics as well, nothing particularly innovative appearing on racing planes after the very early Thirties. The same seems true for cars -- at first glance, anyway -- especially if the cut-off point is someplace in the late 1950s to mid 1960s. Early racing cars were not grossly different from everyday automobiles, and there surely was a good deal of cross-fertilization. Current Formula 1 machines, Le Mans racers and Nascar iron are far removed from what can be found at your local dealership unless, just maybe, that dealer can sell you a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Bugatti or something similar. Provisional conclusion: racing improves the breed only during the early evolutionary stage of development; once the basics get sorted out, racing becomes less relevant. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 28, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Traditional Holiday Tradition
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In my limited experience, families tend to work out traditional arrangements for gathering sites when traditional holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving roll around. I suspect the tendency, for Christmas especially, is to have the family celebration at the home of the most senior couple in the family. This persists until something extraneous disrupts the pattern and a new arrangement (which often then becomes the new "tradition") is made. I'll toss out some examples from my own past because I know that -- I seem to pay little attention to what other families do -- and you are welcome to contribute arrangements you're familiar with. My maternal grandparents were dead by the time I left infancy, and my father's parents lived across the state in Spokane. Plus, it was wartime and travel was difficult. So Christmas centered at our house. Christmas afternoon get-togethers with cousins across town alternated between our house and theirs. The years I spent in the Army, grad school and part of my time in upstate New York were without family on major holidays. Living in Olympia with my wife and children, we drove the 70 miles to Seattle to do Christmas at my parents' house. When they became too old to host the big event, Christmas shifted to my sister's house which was nearby. Remarried and living in Seattle, the focus shifted to Nancy's family. She has sons in the Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay areas, the latter where her grandchildren are. For the time being, we've been alternating Christmases in the two locales; it remains to be seen whether this arrangement becomes traditional. One of my sister's daughters has a husband whose parents live in Oregon. Every year they do Thanksgiving there and Christmas in Seattle with my sister. To summarize, my hypothesis is that families attempt to keep Christmas and Thanksgiving as family-traditional as possible. Aging, death, marriage, remarriage, becoming adult, moving out of town and other events are disruptive, but the tendency is to establish new traditional arrangements based on the new circumstances. I assume Jewish families and people of other religions tend to do something similar. Am I wrong? Or if I'm essentially right, what other arrangements do families work out besides the ones noted above? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 23, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More on Cruisers and Battlecruisers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last week I wrote about the cruiser type of naval warship, featuring the U.S. Alaska class, a late World War 2 cruiser as long as near-contemporary battleships. The post evoked some interesting reader remarks that don't deserve to be buried in Comments. Rich Rostrom writes: The first range finders were optical. Basically, two telescopes mounted at the ends of a beam of known length, with the views pulled together by mirrors. One adjusted the mirrors until the target was centered in both views. At that point, the angle of the mirrors and the length of the range finder's baseline gave the range. Later, of course, radar gave ranges - a huge advantage for the Allies. At the Battle of North Cape in 1943, HMS DUKE OF YORK opened fire on SCHARNHORST before the German ship even knew the British force was present. On the other hand, at about the same time, a U.S. task force off the Aleutians wasted a lot of ammo firing at radar ghosts - the "Battle of the Pips". The ALASKA class ships were an interesting group. Battleships (including battlecruisers) were defined as ships with a main gun battery of at least 6 guns of at least 11" caliber, all the same caliber, all in turrets, and at least 6 guns in broadside. By World War II, 12" guns like ALASKA's were considered undersized for battleships, though some old 12" gun battleships were still in service, including USS ARKANSAS. At 29,000 tons, ALASKA was as big as the U.S.'s WW I battleships (26,100 to 32,500 tons). ALASKA was thus almost a battleship. This was reflected in her name. All U.S. battleships bore the names of states: ARIZONA, IOWA, etc. (Cruisers were named for cities - PORTLAND, CLEVELAND, JUNEAU - and destroyers for naval figures - FARRAGUT, MAHAN.) ALASKA and her sisters GUAM, HAWAII, PHILIPPINES, PUERTO RICO, and SAMOA were named for U.S. territories, i.e. not quite states. Another difference between heavy and light cruisers was the size. For WW II, the U.S. chose to build "large light cruisers", with 12-15 guns, which were as large as the 8" gun "heavy cruisers". Ironically, this type was pioneered by Japan - and then the Japanese coverted theirs to heavy cruisers by replacing the 6" triple turrets with 8" twin turrets. However, the British navy built small light light cruisers of 5,000 to 8,000 tons with as few as 6 6" guns. The "battleship"-like design filtered down through warship classes across the first half of the 20th century. As early as 1906, USS SOUTH CAROLINA had a uniform main gun battery, all in multi-gun turrets on the center line. Some early battleship designs included a couple of beam turrets, but by 1915 only center line turrets were allowed. Meanwhile, cruisers continued to mount guns in single beam positions, often in casemates. This continued well into the 1920s. Destroyers also had beam guns. In the 1920s, both classed adopted the same layout as battleships,... posted by Donald at December 22, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, December 21, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The season for Christmas and the rest of the year-end holidays is upon us and many Blowhards readers will be hitting the trail to wherever they want or need to be. Blowhards too. Well, this one, anyway. Tomorrow we're heading south for six weeks!!! in California. First, Christmas in the Bay Area with Nancy's grandchildren. Then to Malibu where we house-sit the first three weeks in January. We wind up at Lake Tahoe for her annual ski week. I'll be doing some computer programming for my part-time post-retirement job, but otherwise I should have time to blog on days that I'm not driving up and down the coast or busy with holiday activities. Since bloggers tend to rely on day-to-day events for part of their inspiration for article topics, be braced for a Southern California flavor at 2Blowhards for a while. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 21, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Night Club Echo
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Remember night clubs? Those fancy watering holes and dining troughs where celebrities gathered to rub elbows with one another and, perhaps of more importance to their careers, elbows of newspaper gossip columnists such as Walter Winchell. Oh. You don't remember night clubs. Or that Winchell fellow, either. That's the curse of being young. I remember Winchell's radio show from my childhood. Night clubs? I never went to any, though I certainly heard about them via radio, TV, the newspapers and movies -- the latter in the 1930s-early 50s would sometimes concoct über night clubs on sound stages where glamor was shown, big bands blasted, dancers cavorted and movie plots were occasionally advanced when all the rest didn't get in the way. One night club I experienced in a very tenuous way was New York's famous Stork Club. I hiked around Manhattan a lot back in 1962-63 when I was in the Army and had a weekend pass. The Stork was on a side street east of Fifth Avenue and had a discreet entrance announcing itself to a world that already knew perfectly well where it was. In short, I occasionally walked past the Stork Club, but never dreamed of trying to enter. Blowhards reader Richard Wheeler has a closer connection to the Stork Club, as he indicates here: * * * * * The Stork Club, Manhattan's premier watering hole from the thirties into the sixties, is an American legend. No other night club has even come close to matching its glamour and excitement. It was the place to see celebrities, and not just the movie variety either. One could just as easily spot John O'Hara or Ernest Hemingway there as Humphrey Bogart or Greer Garson. The club was the topic of a dour social history by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times, who devoted himself to focusing on its roots as a speakeasy and its troubles with labor unions and its snobby exclusion of various people. What was utterly missing in Blumenthal's accounts was any sense of the sheer joy it evoked in its patrons, or a sense of its glamour. Sherman Billingsley's night club was the place to go for a great time, to dance or drink or socialize or have fun. It was the most glamorous spot in the nation; the place where Walter Winchell would broadcast from Table 50 in the Cub Room, beginning each program with his usual "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea." My sister-in-law, Shermane Billingsley, along with her family, has created a splendid cultural and historical website that catches the actual excitement and joy and fame of the Stork Club. It will be a curiosity to the young; but to others it will bring back the magic. It can be found here. * * * * * Wow. We have really interesting readers here. Thank you very much for your account, Richard. And be sure to check out the... posted by Donald at December 17, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Planes, Alternative Lives
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Boeing 787 transport flew for the first time yesterday. The only publicly announced problem with the flight of the innovative jet was that it was shorter than planned due to the lousy weather here on Puget Sound. I didn't see it fly because I was at work 40-plus miles south of where it was doing its preliminary stuff. But on my commute home I did see it on the tarmac at its Boeing Field destination (it took off from Paine Field near Everett, where it was built). I didn't see it this morning because it seems to have been moved to a hangar. Thanks to their increasing complexity and cost, new aircraft designs are a lot more scarce than they were from the time of the Wright Brothers through the 1950s. However, growing up in Seattle, I got to see a few prototypes tooling around the local skies. I missed the XB-29 (which eventually crashed while on a landing approach) as well as the Stratocruiser (these because I was too young to understand the significance of what I saw flying) and the XB-47 (which spent much of its testing period across the Cascades at the Moses Lake airfield). But I did witness the YB-52 flying low near our house, flaps and landing gear deployed, apparently on a long, low approach to its Boeing Field home. I also saw the prototype 707 and the initial 747 aircraft in the air. Which leads me to fantasize how great it would have been to have been a boy living in the western Los Angeles area sometime around 1937-1952 when Lockheed, North American, Douglas, Northrop, Vultee, Ryan, Consolidated and perhaps a few other aircraft firms in Southern California were cranking out prototype after prototype. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 16, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cruisin' Large
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- USS Alaska That's a battleship in the photo above, right? No, actually. World War 2 marked the beginning of the missile age, but it took a while before navies could fully adjust to them along with concurrent developments in electronics and computation. The result is that I no longer have a clear picture of the spectrum of naval combat vessels aside from aircraft carriers and submarines (yes, I could get off my duff and research the matter). Things were simpler in the era of the two world wars when heavy guns, torpedoes and, eventually, bombs comprised the main offensive weaponry. For instance, fighting ships could be classified by rank in terms of firepower and defensive armor. Setting aside aircraft carriers, battleships were biggest in terms of displacement tonnage, had the thickest armor and the largest guns -- shell diameters ranged from around 12 inches to slightly more than 18 inches for first-line ships in the period 1912-1945. Next were battle cruisers which essentially were battleships with less armor and therefore greater speed; armament was similar. Then came cruisers, a kind of intermediate class, followed by comparatively small, fast destroyers. Being an Army guy with a lot of interest in military aviation, for many years I didn't pay a lot of attention to naval vessels other than battleships and carriers. I knew what destroyers looked like and regarded cruisers as a kind of morph between them and battleships. Actually, that's not a bad approximation because cruisers were definitely larger than destroyers and often didn't look much like battleships. That's not the whole story. By the time of World War 2, the U.S. Navy had ordered cruiser classes of large vessels that looked rather battleship-like. They had only about a third of a battleship's displacement (very roughly 10-15,000 tons versus 30-45,000), but they were nearly as long as battleships. They were proportionally narrower, having a higher fineness ratio to attain faster speeds than (most) battleships. Cruisers were divided into two classes -- heavy and light. The distinction had to do with armament. A heavy cruiser had 8-inch guns whereas a light cruiser's main guns were 6-inchers. Effectiveness was a matter of debate in naval circles. Eight-inch guns obviously packed more punch. But they fired at a significantly slower rate. Advocates of light cruisers held that a light cruiser could smother a heavy cruiser with its fire. There are many other interesting cruiser issues, especially that of the mission of that class of ship. Since this is an arts & culture blog, let's instead focus on appearance. That ship pictured above is one of a class of two that served in World War 2. It's almost a battle cruiser. Some observers claim them to be battle cruisers and the Navy used a different designator for them: Light cruisers in Navy-speak are CLs, heavy cruisers are CAs and the Alaska class are CB -- for "cruiser, battle?" Even though the Alaskas are large ships, their main guns were... posted by Donald at December 15, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sporting Sports Figures' Names
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I see it often enough, but there was lots and lots and lots of it around when I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. Of course I'm referring to guys (and some gals too) who wear a team jersey with a player's number and last name on the back -- just like their sports hero wears on the field. I said "field" because it's football season and that's the sport being sported. Come to think of it, at a University of Washington game in October, some fans were honoring their favorite players in the same manner. Why this strong a degree of public identification? I'm having trouble here because this team jersey thing didn't exist when I was in college and for quite a few years later. At best we might wear a sweatshirt with team colors to a game, but even that was fairly rare. Mind you, I do understand hero worship. I've done it myself when I was young and idealistic (think youthful enthusiasm for John F. Kennedy). But that was mostly for political figures. While I recognized the importance of, say, the quarterback to my college team's success, I'm not sure I would have tried to quasi-impersonate him by wearing part of his uniform even if they sold such garments back in those days. I clearly need help in this matter. Is there an anthropologist in the house? A psychologist, too. Later, Donald ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention that most of the Las Vegas team jersey wearers were over 30. And most of the rest were their children.... posted by Donald at December 13, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jets: Freedom of Placement
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As noted from time to time here, the advent of new technology tends to create a burst of experimentation, the testing of new configurations in the hope of finding the best one. (That's "best" in terms of a compromise dealing with functional efficiency, ease of manufacturing, cost, customer acceptance and others.) Eventually a configuration evolves that fills the bill, though competing products embody small variations from the norm. Of course, small changes in technology will keep the "best" or "ideal" form changing or drifting over time. The exception is when a large technological shift occurs. Then everyone dealing with the product has to scramble. Effects of these sudden changes can be interesting to watch. Just for kicks, consider the early effects of the introduction of jet engines to aircraft design. In the propeller era, the arc of the blade was a significant factor in shaping the configuration of the aircraft. For instance, the propeller and (usually) the engines had to be placed so that the tips of the blades wouldn't touch the ground or other parts of the aircraft. This contributed to a lot of head-scratching by engineers regarding wing placement (high, medium or low relative to the fuselage center-line), length of landing gear assemblies and a number of other issues. Jet power eliminated the propeller (if turboprops are disregarded), so planes could now be designed without regard to propeller arc. Freedom!! Well, not quite. There was the matter of ducting air to the turbine while taking into account pesky details such as boundary airflow and the fact that long exhaust ducts tended to reduce propulsive efficiency -- that is, short tailpipes would be nice to have. Still, the comparative freedom created by the jet engine led to a good deal of experimentation in aircraft shapes from mid-World War 2 well into the 1950s, the greatest burst in the late 1940s. Some examples are shown below. Gallery Yak-15 In an effort to get a jet fighter into production, the USSR's Yakovlev design bureau used a piston-engine design with a jet engine placed in the front where the piston motor would have been. Actually, the jet engine had to be placed lower to allow for a short tailpipe. Front-mounted jet engine layouts proved to be impractical. (The U.S. firm Republic considered adapting its P-47 prop fighter to jet power, but didn't pursue this approach beyond the paper stage.) Bell XP-83 This is a scaled-up, long-range version of America's first jet fighter, the Bell P-59. The engines are tucked under the wings and have minimal ducting, a nice thing in the days when jet engines didn't create much power. On the other hand, the placement combined with the width of the engines added the the plane's frontal area and, therefore, drag -- resulting in lowered performance. McDonnell FH-1 Phantom The Phantom was the U.S. Navy's first operation jet fighter. Like the XP-83, it had two engines, but these were of the thinner, axial-flow variety, resulting in... posted by Donald at December 12, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zdeno on Materialism and Free Will
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here are some comment-reactions and philosophy from Zdeno: * * * * * In case anyone, for reasons unfathomable to me, skips the often-more-interesting-than-the-post-itself comment threads here at 2Blowhards, I’ll briefly catch you up to speed: At some point, the question of Ideological Inconsistencies was overtaken (in a good way) by a discussion on free will and strict materialism. My claims to soullessness, which would have resonated well with some of my ex-girlfriends, did not persuade PatrickH and Vladimir, who I feel got the better of the exchange. Fortunately, I have let guest-posting privileges go to my head (Le blog, c’est moi!) so I will use the cheap trick of responding above the fold. I have considered myself a strict materialist well before I heard the phrase, originating with a line of argument taken by my 10th-grade English teacher, a man I later learned was high his entire waking life. I’m not sure how he worked it into our discussion of A Separate Peace, but here it is, as I vaguely remember it: Imagine you were to smash a teacup on a concrete floor. The pieces would scatter throughout the room according to the strength and angle with which you had thrown the cup, the irregularities in the floor where it smashed, and every other material object that interacted with it, all the way down to the air currents and dust motes that nudged the shards of glass in their trajectories. We could not hope to predict the exact placement of each shard, lowly mortals that we are, but in the sense that the final distribution of glass is a function of the physical properties of the room, we can say that the outcome is predetermined. If we were to somehow recreate the exact physical properties of the room and throw the same teacup in exactly the same manner, we would get exactly the same result, perhaps with some variability resulting from quantum randomness. Now extend the analogy to a person walking into (say) his office first thing in the morning. He walks in, grabs a coffee, says hello to a co-worker, then sits down and fires up SPSS. All decisions made via free will, right? But how is the person any different from a teacup? We are all the products of our genes and our experiences. If we could recreate the exact same scenario for our hypothetical office worker – same physical office, the people he interacts with behaving in the exact same way, etc – what reason do we have to suspect that his behaviour would be in any way different from the first time we ran the simulation? Even if we posit the existence of a soul, would the same soul not make the same “choices” over and over again, if we regressed it through the same situation repeatedly? If this logic applies to everyone, than the outcome of any particular scenario we find ourselves in is predetermined – we are... posted by Donald at December 10, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hawaii Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It does add to trip expense, but it can be worth it. Renting a car. We had a car in Maui last spring and it was useful and fun getting us into town and to more distant parts of the island. My previous visits to Oahu were public-transportation-only affairs; this time we had a car because it was part of a package deal. As a result, I got to see a good chunk of the island. Oahu strikes me as being more scenic than Maui due to the rugged cliffs that apparently are residue from a volcanic caldera. The surfin' North Shore was interesting too, and we were lucky enough to avoid high waves and resulting large crowds for a meet currently underway. Another nice byproduct of the car trip is that I can re-read accounts of the Pearl Harbor attack with a better feel for the locations of military facilities and the terrain in their areas. * Hawaii sections of bookstores sometimes have books about Hawaiian history. Some of those books are by writers who (judging by book covers) seem pretty upset about how the United States came to possess the Sandwich Islands. Indeed the process had its messy spots -- but then, most things political can be messy. But so what? Would Hawaii have been better off under a hereditary-feudal system of the sort found on most of the islands for centuries? Or under the Japanese? Or as a weak, independent country? British rule probably would have been okay -- up till 1940 or so. My guess is that what happened was for the best. And it can't realistically be changed anyway. * Now I have to catch a plane for freezing Seattle ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 9, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Clothes Make the Cocktail Waitress
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Is it okay for a Down Syndrome victim to pilot the airliner you are about to board? You're not bothered if you son's career goal is Axe Murderer? And it's fine if a doctor with really shaky hands is about to perform brain surgery on you? One of the distortions being perpetrated on our society is that people have the right to hold jobs even if that goes against the best interest of employers or even society at large. I suspect all of you are not okay with the items noted in the first paragraph. So clearly there are limits to personal desire satisfaction in the job market. In other words, nearly all people probably agree that the right to a job is conditional, despite the "equal opportunity" onslaught of the past 40 years or so. The problem / issue / debate is where lines get drawn. What prompts this post is some of the cocktail waitresses I noticed at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas last week. A number of them were elderly or well on the way there. That is, elderly compared to the typical Vegas cocktail waitress whose age seems south of 30. One waitress appeared to be pushing 60 really hard and a couple of others looked to be about 50. All were wearing the standard Mirage skimpy cocktail waitress uniform. This, to me, was the greatest problem. Push-up bras and high-thigh garment cuts are not flattering to most women over age 50 or so. There are two issues here. One is the appropriate age range for Las Vegas cocktail waitresses -- the women who deal with drink orders for gamblers at their tables and slot machines. Casinos clearly prefer to have a waitress staff comprised of young (18 to 30 or maybe 35-year-old) women who are of average weight or less for their height and otherwise are "pleasant" looking or prettier. This probably enhances drink sales at the margin. I suppose casinos tend to think that women older than 45 or 50 seem too "motherly" or have simply lost their looks -- the assumption here is that sales will be lost on the margin where waitresses are older. The second issue, as I see it, is attire appropriateness. We older folks have bodies that sag, wrinkle, bulge and have other unattractive features. Which is why we wisely don't usually wear skimpy clothing. So it seems to me that the Mirage, having chosen to employ over-45 cocktail waitresses, would be doing both waitresses and customers a service by having an alternative uniform that is much more modest. For example, slacks to cover aging legs and tops showing a bit less cleavage would do. The comment thread to this ought to be fun. (Name-calling comments might never see the light of the Internet, however; so be thoughtful, please.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 1, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ain't Science Wonderful!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Charlton Griffin has been passing along links to "Climategate," as some call it. That's the impact of the appearance of emails from a major climate research center in England indicating that climate researchers were trying to silence opposition to "global warming" and perhaps fudging data used by policymakers. The situation has been evolving so rapidly that I'll pass over links Charlton sent a few days ago to feature this article from The Times (London). It deals with the fact that the research unit destroyed primary climate data, saving only data that had been processed in one form or another. So, unless other sites have copies of the original data, conscientious scientists cannot perform the necessary task of checking the "findings" of the East Anglia organization. I do not know whether or not "global warming" is real, but I've had strong doubts for years that we've departed from normal patterns of temperature swings. Moreover, the business about the warming being "settled science" has driven me to long rants (as my long-suffering wife can tell you) about the inherently tentative nature of scientific findings. I suppose there are others who are more into this and have documentation available, but for years there has been a consistent effort by the pro-warming crowd that dissenters were the equivalent of "flat-earthers" and attention to them should not be paid. This is not science. It is a religion trying to purge heretics. (Hmm. How many stake-burnings will it take to raise world temperatures 0.1 degrees Centigrade?) The fact is, government and academic climate researchers need grants and glory, and the best way to keep all that flowing is to juice up the panic levels. They're human after all. And so is Al Gore: Nobelist, fat and happy, profligate consumer of energy (think huge house, huge houseboat and jet trips everywhere to soak up the cash and adulation of the pious). I'm pleased the sordid truth about the warming movement is finally coming out. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 30, 2009 | perma-link | (33) comments

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Themed" Casinos and Entropy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I zipped up and down much of the Las Vegas strip; photos will appear here eventually. I noticed something. And that reinforced some impressions I was forming my last visit or two. You see, Las Vegas experienced a transformation starting around 15 or 20 years ago. Casino owners decided, perhaps because of competition for the gambling dollar from Atlantic City, Indian reservation casinos and elsewhere, to add casinos emphasizing themes and in many cases large shopping areas. Currently active themes in the heart of the Strip include Venice, the Italian lake country, King Arthur's court, ancient Egypt, New York City, Caribbean pirate islands, China, a desert oasis and Paris. Well on the way to phase-out are Aladdin's Middle East and Hollywood. (The MGM Grand dropped some of its Hollywood-themed decor. On the other hand, the Aladdin has been pretty much transformed into its new, Planet Hollywood guise.) Did I just mention "phase-out?" What I've been noticing are signs that that theme-purity is starting to diminish in the strongly-themed casinos -- places where even the shops originally tried to conform to the overall scheme. The majority of themed casinos wear their themes lightly, embodying them in the general decor, but not extending to most of the shops and restaurants. A case in point is the Paris. It has a Parisian-style shopping street where all (or nearly all) shops and restaurants were -- Parisian. Yesterday I noticed that one shop site had been taken over by (if memory serves) a Shooz shoe store. And there was a new restaurant that, at a glance, didn't seem particularly French. The Luxor casino began an image remake a few years ago. Its architecture (a hollow pyramid) is impossible to change, but the ground floor details are changing from ancient Egypt to Los Angles show-biz. The Luxor's change was by top management decision. The Paris' seeming shift is probably fed by the need to rent retail space, a need that will likely be enhanced by the current hard economic times. Or, as the title of this post suggests, it's possible that entropy itself kicks in where highly structured, low-entropic conditions exist. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 25, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't Know Jack
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Apparently this has been going on for a while, but I didn't notice it until I drove to California and back recently. It seems that the regional fast-food chain Jack in the Box (see here for details if you're not familiar with it) has changed its logotype. The old logo, thanks to years of advertising, has become strongly associated with "Jack" the company spokesman -- the ball-shaped head and yellow cap also having been part of store signage for periods of time. Logotypes, old (left) and new (right) Jack "himself" Okay, so the new logo is adult, sophisticated, clean and doubtless embodies a host of additional presumed design virtues. I think it's a mistake. This is a fast-food, mostly-hamburger joint and not some upscale veggie lounge, as the new logo suggests. Bright, brash and eye-catching are what's needed, and the previous logo supplied enough of that. What we have now looks like the result of some snobbish design consultant thinking too hard. Plus a corporate management that doesn't seem to understand the company's heart. For the sake of piling on, here is another unhappy observer's take. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 13, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boring Post About Cameras
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm back from California where, among other things, I gave my new digital camera a workout. As a result, you are hereby warned that what follows is one of those excruciatingly boring posts combining hobbyist navel-gazing and nerdy number references. If cameras don't interest you, please bail out before it's too late and you're sucked into The Quicksand of Geek. [Pause to the sound of scurrying computer mice] My old camera, a Nikon Coolpix S5, took good photos within the limits of its capabilities, but those capabilities proved to be annoyingly limited. Indoor, non-flash photos were usually blurred and the optical telephoto was on the order of 3X. For a while I was most interested in being able to get decent non-flash pictures and focused on cameras that did well on that task. Then I got to thinking that I used telephoto a lot more, so that had to weigh more heavily. With a budget limit of $400 dollars I finally bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1. Its lens capability in classical SLR terms is a zoom from 25 to 200mm. This approximates the range I had available (by switching lenses) on the Nikon F cameras I used a lot when in the Far East during my army days. All that capability fitting in a pocked contrasted to all the camera and lens cases dangling from my neck when I was traipsing through Tokyo: amazing progress! Self-portrait at Santa Barbara Biltmore This is a non-flash photo taken at the Four Seasons Biltmore hotel in Montecito in the Santa Barbara area. The lighting conditions were pretty contrasty and the focus zone was indefinite, but the camera did a fairly decent job, considereing. I am pleased with it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 10, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Incomprehensible Sports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I recently wrote about how silly many sports can seem to people disinterested in them. Today the subject is sports that are incomprehensible to ignorant spectators. Sports such as basketball, soccer and hockey are probably easy to figure out because an object has to be moved about until hit enters a target zone. For me, one sport I watched that made almost no sense is cricket. Without researching the rules, mere observation yielded only a sketchy sense of what was happening. Any other nominees? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 8, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Silly Sports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though some people become wrapped up into them to the point that the scene is almost indistinguishable from warfare, to a disinterested outsider, most (all?) sports can appear silly to some extent. Consider: Rolling a ball to knock over pieces of wood. Kicking an air-filled bladder up and down a field. Bouncing a ball across a floor and then trying to hit a target with it (the ball, not the floor -- though the latter prospect is intriguing). I could go on with such verbal twists, but you surely get the idea. This leads to the question of which sport seems silliest to outsiders. Golf was almost my first choice, but I got to thinking more deeply. The game seems to be an extension of the simple, happy act of swatting a small stone along a field using a stick. That I can related to, even though I don't golf. No, to me the silliest sports involve whacking something back and forth using a flat-surfaced object of some sort. Badminton, ping-pong, squash and tennis, to be precise. It's the intercession of the hitting device as an extension of the arm that pushes these sports into the "huh?" realm for me. Any other candidate sports? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 7, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Sunday, November 1, 2009

California Notebook
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm in California and will be on the road for another eight or so days and post when possible. Below are short shots about what I've noticed so far. * Despite a nice dose of rain a couple of weeks ago, it's still very dry here. Interstate 5 passes by the start of the lake behind Shasta Dam. Every other time I've passed through the Lakehead area (and I've done it dozens of times over the last 40 years) there has been lake water. Sometimes it's been up to the brim. Mostly the level has been down to a greater or lesser extent. But this trip there was no lake at all there. Just a lot of red soil in sloping banks with a narrow cut at the bottom created by the Sacramento River. Closer to the dam there was a lake surface, so it's not totally dry -- by drier than I've ever seen it. I hope California gets a rainy winter because it needs it badly. * San Francisco's tourist zones are holding up pretty well. One sign of slackness was that we were able to ride cables cars without much delay. (Sometimes, the wait is prohibitively long unless one is at a terminus; at intermediate stops you can't get on unless someone gets off in a full-car situation.) The Post Street - Union Square area looked good and there were few empty storefronts. Nancy's impression was that the square didn't have visible deralects, though there were panhandlers on corners a few blocks away. One clever fellow down by Fisherman's Wharf crouched on a sidewalk disguised as a bush. A happy fellow and surrounding crowd, especially when he confused dogs seeking a rest room. * I suspect most tourists regard the Bay Area as highly urban. And it is -- mostly. Yet there are places only a few miles from heavily built up areas that are home to horse and beef cattle farms. I'm thinking of valleys and canyons along the hills separating Oakland, Hayward and other East Bay cities from cities such as San Ramon and Danville in the next valley to the east. For the record, the horsey stuff I saw (along with rural dog kennels) was along Crow's Canyon and the cattle were in the Orinda-Moraga area. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 1, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Transcending Rotten
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently Zdeno, who not long ago attended University in Canada, presented his take on the state of things in higher education in North America. He promised a follow-up with his views on how to fix things, and here it is. * * * * * A re-introduction, for those just now tuning in: I have proposed a complete liquidation of North America’s institutions of higher education. Every University, College, Technical Institute and Sylvan Learning Centre that is owned by any level of government – give it the eBay treatment. (Throw in the entire K-12 system while you’re at it , but we’ll save that post for another day). I’ve spent the past half-decade in a couple of these venerable institutions, and I’ve seen how they operate. The things we should want in our Universities – education, honest scholarship, practical research and curiosity – I saw very little of. In their place were drugs, debauchery, alcoholism, academic dishonesty, and worst of all, course content of an indescribably bad quality. But before we pledge ourselves to the liquidationist cause, we need to be reasonably sure that the world we create is better than the one we currently inhabit. For a change as radical as this one, we need to be really, really, really, reasonably sure. As of this writing, I feel pretty good about the idea. But I’ll feel a lot better if I lay my case out for all you bright people to pick apart, and come out alive on the other end. Let’s discuss the various organs of the Beast in increasing order of difficulty – I’ll begin with what I feel are the most easily-recognized-as-crap aspects of the system, and proceed from there. This approach gives me a very obvious starting point: Business programs. About which: As your one-armed buddy says when you ask him what it was like back in ‘Nam, I can only say, “You had to be there.” Mountains of textbooks, lectures and PowerPoint slides, all repackaging whichever pseudo-scientific theories-of-week were published in this month’s Harvard Business Review. I won’t be so cruel as to recommend you actually peruse any of this material, but please spend a few minutes clicking through some Dilbert comics. There is a reason why Scott Adam’s caricature of the useless, pointy-haired business-school graduate resonates with so many. But let’s say we give every business school the axe. What will replace them? My answer: Nothing. Craters, hopefully. If a kid wants to learn about business, the best thing he can do is go work in one. Once he figures out what kind of role he’s best suited for, he can learn the skills required along the way. How hard is it to calculate a net present value? Not very. Next up: The Arts. This one’s not so hard either. Most of what is taught in Arts departments is either completely worthless - Gender, Ethnic, Post-Colonial, and Marxist-Leninist Studies – or so poorly taught that their inclusion... posted by Donald at October 28, 2009 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am dumbfounded. I do not know what to say. We were at Seattle's home show Sunday and one of the displays featured this: Which is a new product by a firm named Caroma whose Web site is here. I cannot imagine myself using the thing as intended. Or otherwise. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 27, 2009 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * We still want to post contributions by 2Blowhards readers. As mentioned several weeks ago, my interests in arts and culture are limited and this blog requires wider coverage than I can provide. I will welcome prospective articles about paintings, cars, planes, history and the stuff I like. But we do need solid material covering literature, music, movies and other fields that Michael Blowhard plowed. So drop me an email (a link is provided on the panel to the left) with topic ideas and a short autobiographical note if you think you might be interested. Please don't be shy! * Nancy and I hit the road to California Wednesday and will be traveling for about two weeks. Stops include: the Bay Area; Gilroy-Hollister-San Juan Bautista; Solvang and Santa Barbara; and the Carmel-Monterey area. As usual, I'll bring a computer and will have a camera handy. Posting will be as frequent as I can manage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Rains Return
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm sitting here in Barnes & Noble's version of Starbucks flailing away on my [crosses fingers] trusty macBook. Outside, it's nasty. Not seriously nasty. Not this early into fall. But not pleasant enough to be outside in either. Heavier than normal rain, a cold front arriving this afternoon, snow in the Cascades passes, highs for the next few days at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The Puget Sound area had an exceptionally nice, dry, sunny, sometimes unseasonably hot summer. One perspective is that we're now paying the price for that good fortune. Actually, I welcome the change, though I'd rather have our usual light drizzle than the heavy stuff. And my position can be rationalized by claiming (correctly) that the West Coast, with its seasonal rain pattern, needs plenty of winter snowpack to provide water for the following summer. The weather brings memories of fall when I was a kid. In particular, I think of being trundled off to Cub Scout meetings: Climbing into those tall, solid post-World War 2 sedans in the dark, wet evenings. Reflections of street lights and light from windows on the wet streets. Fallen maple leaves plastering the ground. Sigh. That's a major part of Seattle for those of us who grew up here. It's a cliché, of course. In terms of annual inches of rainfall, Seattle is little different from New York City. Yet that's only a statistic, because Seattle's rain is concentrated in December-February with lesser slop-over for adjoining months; New York's rain is spread more evenly across the year. What gives Seattle it rainy reputation is the fact that it's cloudy here and for much of the time it seems like it might rain. That's why some migrants from sunnier states have trouble staying here; the climate is too depressing for them. Other parts of the country and world have their own weather clichés -- not permanent conditions, yet incorporating a strong element of truth. My image of Phoenix, Arizona is high heat. That of Los Angeles is perpetual sun even though I was there about this time of year a few years ago when it experienced drenching rains and even tornado conditions. My Gulf Coast image is muggy weather and foliage on the edge of decay. Florida means hurricanes, Kansas tornadoes. Other areas for some reason don't conjure up strong associations with weather or climate. North Carolina? Missouri? Pennsylvania? I could be mistaken, of course. I'm curious what weather associations readers have. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 26, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Back to the Salt Mine
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I retired three years ago. Washed my hands of it all. Focused on new activities. And now they want me back. It seems that because of drastic changes in the way the Census Bureau deals with measurements of population characteristics for smaller political units (switching from items on the census schedule to a large, continuous survey), organizations making population estimates are having to reconsider their methodologies. For some reason, the folks down the road in Olympia think I might be able to help. So I thought I'd give it a whirl. It's not a full-time gig; I'll be putting in a couple of months of consulting effort scattered between now and the end of May. It'll mean playing road warrior and occupying a cubicle when I'm on duty, but I don't think blogging here will be seriously affected. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 15, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Friday, October 9, 2009

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Olympics: A Modest Proposal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today's earth-shattering news is that the 2016 Olympics are to be held in Rio and not Chicago. Unlike many commentators, I'll set aside the matter of the incompetence of Our Blessed Leader and his Crack Advisory Team in their public-relations-stunt effort to persuade the IOC to anoint the City of the Big Shoulders as the site. Instead, I express relief that some other nation has to scrape up the money to pay for that increasingly bloated monstrosity of a sports circus. Living in Seattle, I'm only a three-hour drive from the Vancouver, BC fringes of the 2010 Winter Games. That's way too close for comfort, especially because February is the one part of next winter that I'll be here and not in California. I grumble because I consider the Olympics to be too large, too expensive, too professionalized, too politicized and too televised. Turn the clock back to 1924 or even 1912 if it can't be turned all the way back to the 1896 Athens games. Which leads me to the Modest Proposal mentioned in the title above. For some time now, a host nation is allowed to add a new sport to the event roster. This has been one of the bloat factors. I propose that, starting with the 2012 Olympics, the host nation eliminates an event. Immune from this shaving would be the events staged in, say, the 1908 games. Therefore, by 2100, the Olympic Games will be small enough that each remaining event could be better appreciated. So that settles that. And it ought to help reduce the cost of hosting the games. Now we have to come up with ways to dial back professionalization, international politics and lousy TV coverage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 2, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When I was young, the primary Yellowstone National Park distraction/hazard/roadblock was bears -- sometimes mangy, usually begging, occasionally too insistent brown bears. On my trip to Yellowstone last year and again this year I didn't spy a single bear. Instead of bears, we see ... * I know 2Blowhards tends to be New York and Seattle-centric. But that has to do with where Blowhards are based. A fact of blogging life is that a good share of content flows from article ideas inspired by everyday life of the blogger. And speaking of Seattle (as I often do), I'll pass along a new blog dealing with architecture, planning and their ilk in the Puget Sound area. The blogger is "GW" and he contends here that in a few respects, Seattle is a conservative -- risk-averse, actually -- place. * While I'm in a Seattle groove, first is a photo showing the Seattle Seahawks football team's uniform as it was in recent seasons. Following that is a photo of the uniform worn in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. No wonder the Seahawks lost. With those uniforms, they deserved to. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 29, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alive and Living in Argentina
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today offered this link from London's Daily Mail regarding a finding that a skull thought to have been Adolf Hitler's actually was that of a woman, according to DNA tests. No doubt that revelation will set History Doubters, Conspiracy Theorists and Truthers of all sorts aflutter. I don't much care. Hitler was born 120 years ago 20 April, so I doubt that he's likely to magically appear anytime soon in Munich hale, hearty and rarin' to start the Fourth Reich. The likely explanation is that the Russians simply found the wrong skull when in 1946 they scoured the bunker site looking for remains. There is no reason as yet to seriously doubt the accepted version of the dictator's last hours. The reaction to the news might have been different in the late 1940s. In those days a tabloid called the Police Gazette regularly sprouted headlines asserting that Hitler was alive in Argentina. I was just a kid then and bought only comic books at the drugstore periodicals section, so I never read the doubtlessly compelling proof the magazine surely offered. And why Argentina? The Argentine president, Juan Peron, was friendly to refugees from Germany in the years following the war. For example, Focke-Wulf aircraft designer Kurt Tank went there to develop a jet fighter for Peron's air force. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 27, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

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

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

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm in Sun Valley, Idaho this evening and won't be back to Seattle until late Sunday. On Monday I hope to post some thoughts regarding the future direction of 2Blowhards now that Michael, the indispensable heart and soul of this place, will no longer be blogging regularly. Clearly, I cannot carry the content-production burden alone if for no other reason than my range of interests is too narrow; I have little to say about movies, music and literature, for example. Before I get around to doing the post mentioned above (which will be a solicitation for suggestions along with some of my own ideas), if any of you have immediate thoughts, either leave a comment here or else email me via the address link near my name at the panel to the left. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 18, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, September 17, 2009

End of the Line
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Everyone -- A fast note to let visitors know what I've already informed Donald and Friedrich about: I'm retiring from blogging at 2Blowhards. It's been a great adventure, as well as (in web terms anyway) a pretty long one -- Friedrich and I first put our feet in the blogging waters back in, gadzooks, 2002. But over the last year or so my energy for pulling together fresh blogpostings has waned, and I've finally concluded that the time has come to cede the stage. Although I'll probably be making occasional Friedrich-like guest appearances, Donald will be the main force driving the blog forward. He assures me that he has loads of topics in him that he's looking forward to sharing thoughts and information about, and I'll certainly be reading his wonderful work with avidity and pleasure. Many thanks to my fellow Blowhards, but special thanks as well to the many people who have visited the site, left comments, sent me emails, etc. When Friedrich and I were setting up 2Blowhards, I thought that our blogging would be a matter of telling the world what we thought. Instead, running 2Blowhards turned out to be far more social and participatory than that. I wound up not as some guy behind a microphone giving a lecture; instead, I became more like the proprietor of a cafe where many cool and interesting people stopped by to swap ideas and impressions, make jokes, squabble, and generally hang out. And you know what? That was a far more pleasing and rewarding activity than anything I could have dreamed up on my own. I hope never to lose track of the many nifty people I've met here. I'm puttering whimsically away with a personal website, and I love using Facebook to pass along goofy links. If you'd like to stay in touch, I would too. Send me an email at michaelblowhard at gmail, and let's swap real names and email addresses, and/or arrange to Friend each other on FB. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 17, 2009 | perma-link | (71) comments

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Geriatric Road Warriors
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm still on the road. This evening, it's Cody, Wyoming where tomorrow we'll check out the big Western museum named in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody, founder of this town. Yesterday at Mt. Rushmore the guide on our short walk to the base of the mountain made it clear that "buffalo" are not buffalo; the North American variety are bison. If true, then it surely must be Bison Bill Cody, Bison, New York and its Bison Bills football team. And the old bison nickel coin, ..., ad infinitum. One thing I've been noticing during the trip is how many retirees seem to be on the road. This is related to the fact that families with school-age children wound up their summer travel by early this month, and savvy retirees wait until after that before hitting the road. At any rate, in the Black Hills - Yellowstone region there are scads of travelers, if the numbers of cars in motel parking lots are any indication. Here in Cody, several motels had their No Vacancy signs lit by the time we were driving back to our digs after dinner. No doubt bookkeepers for the motels, filling stations, restaurants and tourist attractions see signs that the country is in a recession despite my casual observations above. Nevertheless, many (most?) retirees have predictable, steady incomes and might be feeling more free to travel than workers in iffy job situations. I should also note that, despite what news media and even history books say, even in depressions the majority of the working age population is employed: trips get taken, clothing is purchased. Even big-ticket items such as cars and houses eventually find buyers. True, sales levels might have plunged, but life does not stop and the economy staggers ahead regardless. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 16, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Remembering Regional Gasoline Brands
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So here we are in Sheridan, Wyoming. Two days and 965 or so miles into our journey through the cowboy part of flyover country. Once we got nicely into Montana yesterday, I started noticing Sinclair gas stations with the little green dinosaur trademark. Brought back memories, that dino did. I did a lot of coast-to-coast driving 1965-75 and experienced regional gasoline stations. Nowadays, thanks to mergers and marketing rearrangements, different gasoline brands still tend to cluster geographically, but it's not the same as it was. Going back to the early 20th century, Standard Oil was broken into several regional oil companies. In the northeast was the Esso brand ("Esso" = "S" "O" for Standard Oil, get it?). There was Humble in Texas (an arm of Esso), Sohio and Marathon in Ohio and the Midwest, Standard of Indiana in the Midwest and in the West, Standard of California which sold gas in Standard stations and Chevron stations. There were other regional brands. Gulf in the east, along with Atlantic, Sunoco and Cities Service. Out west when I was young were Richfield, Associated ("Flying A") and Union 76. The Plains and Rocky Mountain West were served (in various subareas) by Phillips 66, DX, Conoco, Skelly and the aforementioned Sinclair. There were a few brands that came close to or succeeded in being nationwide. These were Shell, Texaco and Mobil (actually, a Standard fragment -- the company was for a while known as Socony Vacuum, "Socony" short for Standard oil company of New York, but products were marketed under the "Mobil" name). From the 1950s into the 1990s gasoline companies had their own credit cards for making purchases. This could create trouble for long-distance drivers not wanting to carry a lot of cash for buying gas. So some companies worked out deals with others for cross-honoring credit cards. As best I remember, I had cards for Shell, Texaco and California Standard, figuring that I could get reasonably good national coverage from those alone. One nice byproduct of all those gasoline brands for a road map nut like me was having the opportunity to scoop up lots of maps from lots of different brands -- this was before oil companies stopped giving away road maps. For better or worse, I still have most of them. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 12, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're hitting the road again. This time, a ten day jaunt to South Dakota's Black Hills / Badlands area and points between, including Bozeman and Jackson Hole. As usual for domestic travel, I'll bring along a computer and post when I can. One potential problem in the Mountain West and the edge of the Great Plains is Verizon's coverage area. If I'm in a roaming zone, I can't use my Verizon connection to the Internet and this complicates blogging. So expect somewhat diminished content flow until the 21st or thereabouts. I'll also pack my digital camera in the hope that I find interesting subject matter for post-trip postings. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 10, 2009 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Does the "Peace Symbol" Symbolize?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The last thing I want to get into is a morass of deconstructionist, over-intellectualized claptrap. But the topic of symbolism can get one dangerously close. I'll simply state that symbols can range from images close to what they are intended to stand for all the way to abstractions that hold no intrinsic meaning. Moreover, symbols usually attain their symbolic powers through repeated use and resulting common agreement regarding their meaning. Which brings me to the matter of the "peace symbol." Peace symbol It clearly is a case where there is no intrinsic meaning whatsoever. The same might be said of white doves and olive branches, but they are real-world objects, at least. At any rate, I've wondered for years where the thing came from and who designed it. Finally shrugging off my habitual sloth this morning, I Googled and almost immediately found this Wikipedia entry. It seems that the designer was a British chap named Gerald Holtum (1914-85), a World War 2 conscientious objector who cobbled it together for the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War group which was planning a demonstration in 1958. As the entry shows, the odd pattern inside the circle is based on wig-wag (flag semaphore) designators for the letters "N" and "D" -- standing for nuclear disarmament. At root, the peace symbol just might have made sense to a 1920s boy scout or (gasp!) military signaler. For a while now, I've been amusing myself after coming up with a (probably unoriginal) alternative use for the peace symbol: Surrender symbol Given a 180, it resembles somebody with arms raised in surrender. Now that's symbolism! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 5, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On Becoming a Team Fan
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Football season is upon us (at last!!). I was at a Seattle Seahawks exhibition game a couple of weeks ago and was surprised how large and noisy the crowd was at a game whose outcome didn't much matter. I'm not a strong Seahawks fan. Ditto the Seattle Mariners baseball team. As for the late, lamented-by-some Seattle Supersonics basketball team, I did root for them when they won the NBA championship -- in 1979. I pay no attention whatsoever to the Seattle Sounders "football club" soccer team. Double dittos regarding whatever the women's pro basketball team is. Truth is, I never was more than a sometime-fan of Seattle major league teams. Why is this so? Some of it has to do with my preference for some sports over others. However, there is a common factor: All of Seattle's major league teams came into existence after I was well into adulthood. And I was in my mid-thirties when the football and baseball teams were established (I'm not counting the one-year wonders Seattle Pilots baseball team that hastily became the Milwaukee Brewers). Alas, Seattle took a long time before becoming a major-league city. I have this theory that fandom establishes itself most deeply in childhood. When I was a kid, from time to time I'd be taken to see Seattle Rainiers baseball games. The Rainiers were part of the old Pacific Coast League, a short step below the majors. I still have warm feelings for the Rainiers. The PCL that I knew died when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved respectively to Los Angeles and San Francisco. New York fans of the National League persuasion were in shock until the Mets began play in 1962. While I have the greatest sympathy for fans of the old Dodgers and Giants, I always wondered how they could become serious Mets fans. Nowadays, of course, the Mets have plenty of home-grown fans; a fourth grader who first saw the Mets play in 1962 would now be a 56-year-old getting AARP solicitations in the mail. You can tell me I'm full of it in Comments. But I probably won't believe you. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 2, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Morning Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost contends with some requests for money from the theater world. * Hope takes a look in the mirror. * Rod Dreher is thinking about quitting Facebook. Me, I'm a happy Facebook addict. * Enjoy a mouth-watering visit with a Singaporean satay man. * The Left continues its wrestle with sociobiology. * Steve Sailer thinks that we're entering a new era of racial quotas. * Just when you think that Detroit can't get any more corrupt ... * Why are recent immigrants from south of the border failing to assimilate? * Teddy, as he was. * Who does Ben Bernanke really work for? * Can Tantric lovin' mellow out a relationship? * Miss Maggie Mayhem started out as a professional dominatrix, but is now working as a fetish model. * The journalism biz is so bad right now that even editors from the Harvard Crimson are avoiding going into it. * A time-lapse video of the LA fires. More. A vivid collection of stills. * MBlowhard Rewind: I tracked the stages by which the U.S. has come to embrace adolescent values. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Patrick Courrielche wonders if the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is being politicized, urging artists to create works sympathetic to the Administration's programs (via Jude at the Hugh Hewitt blog). This leads me to wonder how much Franklin Roosevelt's employment programs for artists did something similar. There was a Progressive tinge to some government sponsored art in those days, but I haven't studied the subject enough to know whether it was something that bubbled up from artists with strong leftist beliefs (and was tolerated by administrators of the arts programs) or was actually encouraged by some of those administrators. * Even though some Progressives are really uncomfortable with advertising and marketing, others seem perfectly happy to push customers' hot buttons. Note the buzz-words painted on the wall PCC (Puget Consumers' Co-op) is a Seattle area food market cooperative (background info here) appealing to the Whole Foods and Trader Joe's crowds, but with the twist that it's non-profit. * Slogan seen on back of a lady's sweatshirt this morning: I didn't claw my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 26, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * How did superstar photographer Annie Leibowitz wind up $24 million in debt? * Why are Paul Krugman and Niall Ferguson lobbing grenades at each other? (I wrote a posting about Krugman back here.) * Thanks to Bryan for spotting this provocative look at health care in America. * Nearly twice as many Americans are on antidepressants as was the case in the mid-'90s. (Link thanks to Razib.) * The Primal crowd shows off their breakfasts and lunches. Read our interview with Primal guru Mark Sisson: Part One, Part Two. * There's a website for everything. Best, Michael * UPDATE: What the Western-guy love of Asian chicks looks like from the point of view of a Westernized Asian chick. (Link found thanks to Days of Broken Arrows.) The gabfest continues at Half Sigma. (Link thanks to Peter.) Yet more.... posted by Michael at August 25, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ears Are Ugly
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The punchline is the title of this posting. Have you ever given human ears a good, hard look? They're oddly shaped. Skin curling, folding, even drooping. All this concentrated into areas a couple of inches high and about an inch and a half wide. Tacked on the side of a smooth part of the head. And sometimes sticking out like air brakes on the sides of a F-86 Sabre jet fighter. I'll admit that some ears are less awful than most. Delicate ears that lie fairly flat against the head of a pert young woman can be tolerable -- especially in comparison to those of president Lyndon B. Johnson. Still, from a purely sexual-aesthetic standpoint, how did the human race survive with everyone sporting such seeming deformities? We should have become extinct due to mutual gross-out. I have a hypothesis: We tune them out. That's when they aren't explicitly hidden by being covered over by hair, as many women's hairdos do. When looking at someone's head we tend to focus on the eyes (especially), mouth, nose, chin and other features of the face itself. If one is within a couple of feet of the other person and focusing frontally on the face, features farther away, including the ears, fall slightly out of focus and therefore aren't being noticed. Hmm. Depth-of-field as a survival mechanism. Interesting concept. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 24, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Popular History = Drama
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Longtime readers might recall that from time to time I claim inability to create works of fiction: to plot, in particular. That doesn't mean I ignore the craft of fiction. Occasionally I'll thumb (or scroll) through a how-to book or article on the subject. One source on science-fiction writing I recall from many years ago stressed putting the protagonist into a dramatic situation right off the bat; this advice was primarily for short stories, but applicable to novels also. There is good reason for such advice. People like drama -- but usually if the drama applies to someone else, I might add. Personally experienced drama can be upsetting or even frightening while its outcome remains uncertain. For example, how do you feel when flying through turbulent air and the airplane is lurching and skewing while its wings flex alarmingly? You might also recall that I'm a history buff. When I was young, I gravitated to the exciting parts. This was pretty much the same experience as when I watched U.S. Cavalry movies such as "Fort Apache" or "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" -- I squirmed during the romantic scenes hoping the movie would quickly get to the Indian-fighting sequences. So my history reading focused on wars and other conflicts or adventures. For that reason, I've never paid detailed attention to U.S. political history between 1915 and 1898 except for the Mexican and Civil wars. If my interest concerns itself with science and technology, then other years and eras would apply. Nevertheless, I didn't get very far into Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830 because it dealt with a period I never really wanted to sink my teeth into. Please don't think my history reading focuses exclusively on 1861-65, 1914-18, 1939-45 and other strictly war-delimited periods. I've always been fascinated by the interwar (1919-1938) years, for instance. Moreover, I have read about plenty of non-wartime periods; it's just that this reading is comparatively thin compared to the action bits. And I do read biographies. But again, I tend to focus on important personalities associated with dramatic times. Examples include political personalities Louis XIV, Richelieu, Talleyrand, T. Roosevelt, F.D. Roosevelt and Churchill as well as military figures such as Napoleon, U.S. Grant, Foch, Eisenhower and Patton. I should admit that as I've gotten older, I've delved more deeply into nuts-'n'-bolts aspects of history. This is related to an increasing interest in what makes things in general tick. Too many people these days (I base this on anecdotal evidence) seem pretty ignorant of history. Biased me, I think this is a bad thing because history is what allows us to put current times into perspective, and lack of perspective likely leads to making more mistakes than otherwise. I think our president's current problems are partly due to his seeming ignorance of history (and economics). (Just what subjects did he take while in college? Does anyone know?) I might be wrong -- I'm relying... posted by Donald at August 23, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Great Jobs" That I Wouldn't Do
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I saw it embroidered on baby togs. And I've noticed that there's a beverage by that name. It's Rock Star. Got me to thinking. Thinking that just about the last so-called Great Job I'd want to have would be that of rock star. This assumes that I was young enough -- Mick Jagger's age, perhaps -- and had any musical abilities -- which I don't. Another Great Job I'd be happy to avoid would be White House Press Secretary. Yet another would be editor of Time magazine. Well, that's given the publication's current status of lacking any rational reason for continued existence. Forty years ago, and if offered a lot of independence, it really might have been a Great Job for little old me. Fine and good. But, Mr. Negative Wise Guy (so you are thinking), just what fancy jobs would you take? I wouldn't mind being a research director in a field I knew something about. Being a college professor would be okay too. What I really would like to be is a studio head in the styling department of a major automobile company. And you? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 22, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ilkka's back! Brainy, droll, and observant, Ilkka was always one of my favorite bloggers. I'm very happy he's blogging again. * Randall Parker lays out some objections to the Cash For Clunkers program. * The excellent libertarian writer Karen De Coster (here's her blog; she also posts at Lew Rockwell) does workouts that you might characterize as Primal, or maybe Paleo, or maybe Functional. * Richard Nikoley has a reason why you might want to avoid the sugar. * Should the director of the struggling LA County Museum of Art really be paid $1 million a year? * In what ways do politicians resemble psychopaths? * An interview with designer Rob Janoff, who -- back in 1977 -- designed Apple's logo. Talk about having an influence on our shared visual culture. * Here's a talk with the brilliant (and controversial) screenwriting guru Robert McKee. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the art of narrative fiction (and praised Robert McKee) back here. Best, Michael UPDATE: The ballerina-author Toni Bentley writes a smart and funny review of a new book about sex for pay. Nice passage: Why is sex supposed to be free? It never is ... While good girls require dinner, trips, “commitment” or even an engagement ring for sex, here is a book by those who simply get the cash upfront. Even better: This collection is a wonderful reminder that good writing is not about knowing words, grammar or Faulkner, but having that rare ability to tell the truth, an ability that education and sophistication often serve to conceal. Take that, fine-writing connoisseurs. I raved about Toni's writing back here.... posted by Michael at August 22, 2009 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cars Should be X Times Taller Than Tires
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I'm a frustrated, never-was automobile stylist, I do keep my eyes open. Or flatter myself thinking so. So I notice stuff. I also scribble car designs: been doing that since before I was in high school. Fairly early on, when blocking out the proportions of a dream car sedan or coupe I was designing, I hit on the proportion of the height of the car measured from the ground should be about twice the diameter of the car's tire. (Sports cars designs could ignore this ratio.) I've been using this rule of thumb ever since. Lately, I've been paying attention to photos of actual cars from various eras and checking that ratio. In general, the most attractive cars, other details aside, tend to have tire diameters that are half the height of the car -- plus or minus a small margin. American sedans for many years have tended to be a little taller relative to tire diameter than they "should be." During the late 1950s this might have been due to the tendency of stylists to ignore or de-emphasize wheels and tires, focusing instead on designs inspired by aircraft or even Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon space ships. Today's SUVs and Crossovers also tend to be a bit small in the tire relative to their height. To me, proportionally large wheels and tires suggest power and are appropriate for sports cars and performance sedans. Little tires I associate with small cars that are puny in the power department. Below are some examples to help me make my case. I'll start with some cars from the 1930s and then hop to recent cars with one significant detour. Gallery Bucciali TAV 12 - 1932 Bucciali was an expensive, low-production French car that, in its final guise, featured outrageous styling that I dearly love. The car is much shorter than twice the diameter of the tires, stressing power over theoretical beauty. Cord Beverly sedan - 1937 Cords for 1936-37 were heartstoppingly attractive -- for me, anyway. Like the Bucciali shown above, they demand an emotional reaction. Unlike the brutal Bucciali, Cords are sensuous beings tempered only by their "coffin nose" hood and moderne grille treatment. The Beverly pictured here is the least attractive Cord due to its bulging trunk, a feature added to counter complaints about lack of storage space in its Westchester sedans. I chose the Beverly photo because it allows one to check the height-diameter ratio -- which only slightly exceeds 2. Willys - late 1930s Willys retreated to small, inexpensive cars to ride out the Depression. The tire diameter is noticeably less than half the height of the car. Morris Mini - 1964 When the Mini was introduced, its tiny wheels and tires shocked me to the point where its other virtues (mostly in terms of its engineering design) escaped me. It seemed more like a toy than a serious car. If I were a rich car-collector, would I have an early... posted by Donald at August 17, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dealing With Divided School Loyalties
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For quite a while now some people have been foolishly trying to abolish human nature. Maybe they use themselves as examples by claiming to be "citizens of the world" and not of some grubby country. Perhaps they try to foster "noncompetitive sports" in the schoolyard. Or even promise, as did our beloved leader Barack H. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, that we would enter an era of post-partisanship if he were elected. Part of human nature is the tendency to create and join teams, and that tendency is hard to swat down. Poor us, this predisposition can be strong and has the potential to create problems when we are faced with a situation of competing loyalties. Or maybe team-choosing isn't much of an issue. While the tendency is there, its focus and intensity can be fleeting. Let's say you are a Chicago Cubs fan and that, by some strange circumstance, the Cubbies don't make it to the World Series. So what do you do? Forget about baseball till February? Root for the National League team (as a sort of extension of the Cubs)? Or cheer on whatever team happens to strike your fancy? My take is that while the potential is always there, it gets triggered by circumstances. Consider the matter of loyalty to a school, something that can range from strong to weak to even negative. Ordinarily this loyalty would be poised against a generic "other" or perhaps one or more traditional rival school (Michigan vs. Ohio State, Harvard vs. Yale, etc.). But if you attended more than one school (at the same educational level), which one do you root for most strongly? I'll have to go autobiographical at this point and leave it to commenters to add details. I had no conflicts until I was in grad school. I got a masters at the University of Washington (where I spent my undergraduate years) and then went to Dear Old Penn for a doctorate. So do I "bleed purple" for the Huskies or am I loyal to the "red and blue " of those ferocious Quakers? Tough call. I spent more years at Washington and live about three miles from campus, so the school remains pretty much in my face. Dear Old Penn, on the other hand, is across the country in Philadelphia, a town my wife loathes, so I seldom get there. Fortunately, the two schools don't play each other in football, the only sport I care much about; this means I don't have to make a choice regarding where in the stands to sit. Dear Old Penn has more prestige than Washington and I prefer its red-blue-plus-white colors to Washington's purple and gold. I suppose I favor Dear Old Penn slightly for reasons of snobbery, aesthetics, and perhaps because I attended there more recently. On the other hand, I'm not much pleased with either school and refuse to donate money because, like most of academia, they seem to be in... posted by Donald at August 15, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Panoramic Windshields
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- For reasons of safety and allowing a car's driver and front seat passengers to better enjoy scenery, automobile makers keep fiddling with the design of cars' windshields. One solution tried between the early 1930s and early 1960s was the panoramic windshield. There are practical considerations that have always tempered blue-sky windshield design-sketch features on stylists' drawing boards on their way to the production line and dealers' showrooms. For one thing, a car's passenger compartment roof has to be strongly enough supported not to collapse in most roll-over situations; substantial posts are required. Yet there must be adequate openings for windows and doors. And those doors should be shaped and positioned to allow for convenient ingress and egress for passengers. Then there is glassmaking technology. Producing curved glass is much more difficult than making flat glass. There is manufacturing breakage; too much breakage drives up the cost of the windshield and, by extension, the price of the car. Moreover, the curvatures should not create optical distortions for the driver and passengers, insofar as possible. Panoramic or "wraparound" windshields, as they were usually called, became an American styling fad for much of the 1950s. But practical difficulties eventually led to their abandonment. I mentioned production problems above. I also noted distortion. My father shopped for a new car during the 1956 model year, so we test-drove a variety of cars in the mid-price range. He discovered that fully-wrapped windshields created distortions (along the axis of greatest curvature) that he felt were intolerable, though they didn't bother me much at the time. As a result, he opted for a DeSoto which had a less radical curving than that on General Motors cars. I'll deal with one more problem in some of the captions for the pictures below. Gallery Hupmobile Aerodynamic - 1934 This Hupmobile was styled by Raymond Loewy, the famous industrial designer, early in his career. Creating curved safety glass for automobiles was extremely difficult in 1934; the only American production car with a curved windshield that year was the most expensive model in Chrysler's Airflow lineup. As can be seen, Loewy had to resort to a three-pane design to widen the windshield opening and slightly curve it at the sides. Panhard Panoramique - 1935 The car shown above is a 1935 model, but Panhard introduced its Panoramique windshield feature in the 1934 model year. Panhard's solution was to use double roof posts nesting a small, tightly curved window that served to transition a passenger's view from the windshield to the side windows. Panhard Dynamic (late 1930s) interior view Here is an interior view of a late-1930s Panhard Dynamic sedan -- a later body design that incorporated the panoramic feature. My guess is that those corner windows created noticeable distortion. I've never sat in a Panoramique or Dynamic, so I don't really know. However, the photo hints that there is indeed distortion. Buick XP-300 dream car - 1951 In 1951, General Motors introduced two experimental "cars... posted by Donald at August 5, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Beemer's Bewildering Cockpit
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some views of the options that my rental Beemer's steering wheel and stalks present: What an excess of bewildering-icon riches, eh? I suspect that somewhere in that thicket of clickers is a button that will take care of paying my electricity bill, and another that will set my DVR to record "American Idol." But which is which? Hey: Of the pictured absurdly-illegible icons, which is your favorite? I'm still trying to choose between (top pic) the "P" that appears to be shouting and (bottom pic) the sorta-clock that seems to be stuck at 11:30. Needless to say: After three weeks of using the car, I'm still iffy where basic turn-signaling and windshield-wiping go. My fault? Or BMW's? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 2, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Climate Models Written in ... Fortran?!?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I was surprised to learn that climate models used by the U.S. government were written in the Fortran programming language. My reaction was: Good Lord! No wonder the results are questionable. Actually, the results of almost any computer model used to forecast or predict should be taken with more than a grain or two of salt. I say this because I myself have designed and programmed a number of forecasting systems (for demographics). Normally the programming language used to write a model is not a factor in evaluation of the model's results. If it accurately transmits the modeler's intentions to the computer, then that part of the effort is fine. The problem with Fortran is that, while it was a major step for programming computers when it was first developed, it contained a number of features that made large-scale programs risky to use. More modern programming languages are built around the concept of what is (or was) called "structured coding" whereby various tasks are isolated functional units that are invoked by more general task blocs (what I just stated is hugely simplified). For many years, Fortran was an "unstructured" language. A Fortran program might take the form of one large unit incorporating line numbers and "GOTO" statements that would change the (top-to-bottom) execution order of the program listing. That is, the computer would be directed to hop and skip all over the listing if that was what was required. The result was that Fortran programs were quite hard to understand and debug if they had very much complexity at all. Structured programs are comparatively easy to deal with, though still subject to plenty of risk of programming error. The Wikipedia entry on Fortran is here, if you are interested in learning more about it. As it turns out, Fortan has been tamed over the years into a structured language. The climate models were done using Fortran 90. It is mentioned in the previous link. Program code can be accessed via links under the first linkage. Indeed, the Fortran used in the climate models seems pretty well structured in that I saw plenty of control statements that had no GOTOs. Even so, I'd be happier if the climate models had been programmed in something more modern than Fortran 90. This is probably irrational on my part, but I can't help it. After all, I'm an APL (and its descendants) snob. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 30, 2009 | perma-link | (24) comments

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Air Conditioning and Civilization
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed a headline that Chicago is having its coolest July on record. Here in Seattle, we've had an unusually sunny summer and right now are experiencing a heat wave; today's high is expected to be a record 101 degrees (F). It has to do with a combination of pressure systems and ridges that brought hot air from desert areas over us. The heat helps evaporate water from Puget Sound, Lake Washington and other large bodies of water; this creates non-desert humidity levels and a good degree of discomfort. Worse, most houses here lack air conditioning because it's really needed only a few weeks a year and doesn't seem cost-effective. As things stand, it's just about too to blog here at the house and the same will be true for the next couple of days. This reminds me of living on the East Coast back in the 1960s. Where I lived lacked air conditioning, but at least there usually was air conditioning where I worked. But what about the almost entirety of human existence where there was no air conditioning? Hot, humid air sucks energy out of one along with all that sweat. No wonder life in the old South was slow half the year. It must have been a struggle to accomplish those tasks that were essential, let along others. Of course, defenses against the heat were used: placing shade trees strategically, creating rooms with high ceilings, having comfortable porches where one could escape hot interiors -- those kinds of things. Nevertheless, I find it something of a wonder that civilizations sprouted in climate hell-holes such as India, Egypt, what is now Iraq, and Mexico-Central America. With heat slowing one to a snail's pace and sweat dripping off the nose, how did they even think of creating writing, arts, and other things we associate with civilized life? And to what heights might they have arisen had they invented air conditioning? Ah, the things we take for granted. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 29, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Walking the Dog
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this on a Friday, my day of the week when I forsake breakfast cereal at home for the delights of a restaurant breakfast with The Wall Street Journal as my companion. Tooling out of the neighborhood I spied three people walking their dogs. One man was in a white shirt (no tie at that point), clearly getting the chore done before heading off to work. And he was multitasking. Besides controlling the leash and walking, he was reading the paper; it's a talented neighborhood I live in. Another neighbor walks her dog two and sometimes three times a day. There surely are many others who do it more often than only the morning or evening. We had a dog when I was a kid. We never walked him. Never considered walking him. The reason was that there was plenty of open space next to our yard, so the dog could run free at will -- though the price he paid for this freedom was getting run over by a car a few years later. I'm probably too lazy and self-centered to put up with the tasks required of urban dog ownership, including that outdoors exercising that should happen even when the weather turns nasty in the dark winter days here. So far as I'm concerned, a dog has to earn his keep. It's fine if he hunts, helps herd sheep, guides the blind or warns if strangers approach. Otherwise, I consider them a drain on material and temporal resources. Some of my other thoughts on dogs can be found here. Conclusion: Dogs are for other people. Unless they bark too much. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, July 24, 2009

False-Functional Car Design Details
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Taken literally, the word "postmodern" refers to what happened or happens after modernism presumably ended. That covers a lot of territory and invites people who enjoy being analytical and or building taxonomies to come up with labels that might help clarify what has been going on these last few decades. Rather than getting into name-calling -- er, naming -- I thought it might be interesting to explore some odd details of the life-cycle of modernism with reference to its Industrial Design aspect. Not long ago, I dealt with refrigerators, a product that was a subject of ID from its earliest years. I also recently discussed that matter of form following function with reference to passenger liners. And I write a lot about automobile styling. When I was in college, industrial designers in general cast a skeptical eye on car stylists, not fully accepting them into the ID tribe. One factor might have been that car styling came into existence a few years before ID arrived on the scene. Another was the fact that transportation devices have always had a different, more romanticized, aura than other daily-used human creations: think ships, locomotives, airplanes and cars as opposed to toasters, desk lamps and refrigerators. Industrial designers had to decide whether to be coldly analytical and stand a good chance of coming up with an unappealing design for a locomotive, say, or else go for something sleek and futuristic that would create good public relations for their firm. This was the situation in the early, classical, purist days of the profession. A number of automobile stylists have had a tendency to think of themselves as somehow being inferior to and less pure than industrial designers perched atop the ivory tower of "form follows function." Not all stylists, mind you; the very best and most successful ones usually considered themselves better than industrial designers because they believed that they could do industrial design as well as cars, whereas an industrial designer couldn't do cars well. And they were right, for the most part. A number of car stylists successfully transitioned to ID, but hardly any industrial designers moved to the automotive field. (Only Raymond Loewy really succeeded doing cars thanks to his long-term Studebaker contract that resulted in several famous designs -- but he relied on staff members who were "car guys." Norman Bel Geddes' firm created speculative automobile designs and consulted for Graham-Paige and Chrysler. Brooks Stevens had a longer run as an automotive design consultant and even manufactured the Excalibur sports car for a few years. His car designs sometimes had an appliance look, sporting flat areas of chrome -- I'm thinking of his work during Studebaker's dying days.) So there can be low-level tensions in styling studios. There is the romantic aspect of transportation. There is the need for the product to appeal to potential customers. And then there is the siren song of form, function and design purity. Probably all stylists recognize the need... posted by Donald at July 24, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And That's the Way It Was ... Slow and Seldom
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "And that's the way it is" was the phrase the recently late Walter Cronkite used to sign off his evening newscast on CBS. Some of you are too young to remember that. Even more of you don't remember how news was delivered back around 1950, long before Cronkite became a news anchorman. I bring this up because Uncle Walter's death has triggered a good deal of reminiscing in various media about the Good Old Days of journalism, and who am I to stick up my nose and not join in. What I won't do is write about Cronkite, even though I saw him a lot even in the days before his newsreading gig. As hinted above, I think it might be interesting to sketch news delivery in the United States as it was around 1950. Compared to today, as the title of this piece says, it was slow and seldom. At the time, it seemed perfectly fine, and an improvement over news delivery in, say, 1920. Of course it's helpful to remind ourselves that the 19th century experienced a huge improvement in the delivery of news. Aside from semaphore systems in parts of Europe, news traveled at the speed of horse and sailing ship in 1800. By 1900, telegraph systems using a combination of overhead wires and undersea cables fed spread news around the world in minutes. That's not quite right. News could flash from an origin point to a receiving point, but it required further processing to deliver it to the population at large. That processing mechanism was the newspaper. At best, given the required processes of typesetting and printing (not to mention rewriting and editing), it might take a hour or more before even an "extra" edition with a new front page wrapper with a big headline and a few paragraphs of detail could hit the streets of a city. This system prevailed during the last decades of the 1800s and into the 1920s. Radio news took a while to develop, but was in place in time for World War 2. Television news was emerging by 1950, though in general was little more that a televised version of a radio news program. Here is how it was in 1950 for a typical moderate-to-large American city. There was more than one daily newspaper -- at least one each readied for delivery in the morning and evening. In Seattle, the morning paper was the Post-Intelligencer and the evening paper was the Times, which had a larger circulation. Back in those days, evening papers sometimes were dominant: I'm also thinking of the Bulletin in Philadelphia. Most papers had multiple editions that could be identified by a tag-line or a telltale (a number of black stars, say) atop the front page. Most of the content of the various editions was identical. What varied would be one or two sets of frontpage-endpage wrappers on the main news section and perhaps the sports section. These few pages could... posted by Donald at July 22, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cultcha in da Stix
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wall Street Journal's theater critic Terry Teachout has made it his policy to review as many non-New York productions as he can fit into his hectic schedule. (This month he's in Santa Fe for the pre-opening tuning of his opera "The Letter" -- he wrote the libretto.) His contention is that there's plenty of top-quality theater out there in what I and others used to call "the sticks" -- in these polite, non-judgmental times, the term "flyover country" seems to be the preferred term of art. I'm about as far as one can get from being a theater guy, but I find Teachout to be a sensible-sounding fellow and will take his word for it until someone conclusively proves that NYC is still top dog in terms of overall quality and those pretenders are third-raters. Lending support is the fact that there has been a good deal of qualitative decentralization over the last 50 years in all the arts along with other conveyors of culture such as publishing and academia. In part, this has been driven by the relative demographic decline of the northeast as measured by share of the national population. But that decline was related to strengthening economies in other parts of the country. Here's the dirty little secret: Arts are more likely to thrive where there is wealth. With growing wealth and population comes greater ability to support the various arts. Eventually, some of those arts efforts can equal or exceed the quality of arts in the formerly dominant arts centers. That's a hypothesis, anyway. So now we need to ask: just how big, quality-wise, are the former little guys? Also, which cities and metropolitan areas are well-balanced culturally and which fall into the one-trick pony category? For example, a pony candidate might be Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Here are some almost-top-of-the-head thoughts from me. When it comes to traditional painting and sculpture, the old centers still dominate thanks to donations made many years ago. Not many important Old Master works remain outside museums, so them's that got's 'em's gonna keep 'em. To put this more concretely, Los Angeles' Getty will never excel New York's Metropolitan unless the Met goes broke and has a fire sale of Old Masters. Many museums "out there" might have a stray Old Master or even some nice Impressionists. A few even achieve critical mass in selected areas. For example, the Delaware Art Museum supposedly has a very good Pre-Raphaelite collection (it was on tour when I visited) as well as a fine collection of 1890-1920 American illustration art. Modernist art is another story because it's still being produced, allowing any museum or donor with spare cash to buy dominance if that was the plan. Some arts are expensive: opera comes to mind. Santa Fe has an opera of good repute and it's also a center for region-oriented painting. I can understand how painting might be supported in a fairly small... posted by Donald at July 20, 2009 | perma-link | (22) comments

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Form Following (Commercial) Function
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I sometimes wonder if architect Louis Sullivan, perhaps busily spinning in his grave, regrets coining the modernist credo "form follows function." Taken literally, form would seem to be nothing more than a matter of good engineering. That interpretation won't do, of course, because aesthetic efforts by architects, industrial designers and their ilk would be ruled out. Even if a whiff of eye-pleasing by designers is added to the business of materials and engineering, the phrase still connotes form reacting to some dynamic requirement or another. Well, that's they way I always interpreted it when I was a student and for a number of years thereafter. More recently, I've become convinced that an important -- make that crucial -- function of a object is to be purchased. If not enough objects are sold to at least break even on the product's investment, then that product should be considered at least a partial failure regardless of its other qualities. This last point views things after the fact, and designers are ignorant of outcomes while they are in the design process. This means that, in addition to materials and engineering considerations, they need to think about an object's or product's commercial function and hope they get the details right. Take the passenger liner, for example. There have been all sorts of passenger-carrying boats and ships created over the past several thousand years. To keep this posting under control, I'll focus on some of the largest passenger ships created over the last 120 years, beginning with some winners of the Blue Riband for fastest trans-Atlantic speed. My Blue Riband information comes from this book. Here are a few requirements faced by naval architects charged with designing a Blue Riband contender. An important item was the operating environment of the ship. The run (as of 1935) between Bishop Rock lighthouse at the English Channel entrance and Ambrose lightship off New York harbor can get nasty. The waters aren't the world's nastiest, but they are both nasty enough and, most important, unavoidable. This means that a ship needs plenty of freeboard while not being top-heavy. More requirements were (1) enough power to generate high speed; (2) enough room for fuel storage to feed the powerful engines; (3) room for housing enough passengers, mail and other cargo to operate profitably; and (4) inclusion of attractive passenger amenities such as dining rooms and recreational spaces that would help entice travelers. A Blue Riband contender's commercial appeal would be its speed and perceived safety and luxury. Not all trans-Atlantic liners stressed speed, of course. A number of liners were successful due to their luxury or ambiance despite being a day or so slower than the speedsters. That said (and lots more can be said, for this is a fascinating topic), let's look at some examples. Gallery Dates in photo captions are those of maiden voyage. RMS Teutonic - 1889 The White Star liner Teutonic won the Riband in 1891, averaging 20.5 knots over... posted by Donald at July 12, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Platonic Refrigerators
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I spent the first year or two in college as an Industrial Design major and retain a casual interest in the subject. Besides a concern for ergonomics in product design, graphical interfaces for computer software as well as in problem avoidance during everyday activities, a continuing subject of interest is design evolution and the related concept of a Platonic-like ultimate general form dictated by a variety of constraints. I treated product evolution of passenger aircraft here and that for automobiles here. The present posting deals with the interesting case of a class of product that has varied comparatively little over time in terms of its general appearance -- the refrigerator. True, there have been important changes over the last century and more in terms of the means of refrigeration as well as the materials used in construction. Nevertheless, in essence, a refrigerator is simply a box with one, two or a few doors taking up most of one side -- pretty much what ice boxes were a hundred years ago. Information on the refrigerator's predecessor, the ice box, is here, and a history of the refrigerator is here. Jeffrey L. Meikle in his book about the early days of Industrial Design offers an amusing treatment of the refrigerator and its relationship to design salesmanship as practiced in the 1930s. On page 104 of the1979 edition, he notes that while Henry Dreyfuss' General Electric refrigerators remained little changed from 1934 to 1939, Raymond Loewy's Sears Coldspot refrigerators changed details from year to year during the late 1930s. He writes: A "case history" written later in Loewy's office rationalized the continued redesign of the Coldspot. Sears executives "might have been dubious about the possibilities of a new and better looking box" because Loewy had presumably designed "a 'perfect' refrigerator." But the designer himself did not see his design "as a masterpiece, but as a step in the evolution towards perfection." What Loewy failed to realize -- or was afraid to admit -- was that refrigerators already had essentially reached their ultimate general form and that he, Dreyfuss, and any other refrigerator designers were mostly playing around with incidental details. Such an admission would contradict a "perfection" sales pitch common in the early days of the profession when the concept of bringing in an outside designer was still controversial. I should note that the ideal of perfect or ultimate forms emerging on the basis of an item's function and component materials was part of the ideology of modernism during the early 20th century. Below are examples of refrigerator design. Gallery Ice box - ca. 1900 A block of ice -- typically 25 or 50 pounds -- would be placed in the upper compartment. Foods that needed to stay frozen or nearly so would be there too. The lower compartment would be for items such as milk or vegetables that needed only to be kept cool. G.E. Monitor Top - 1928 These were common in the 1920s. The... posted by Donald at July 1, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, June 26, 2009

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

Sunday, June 21, 2009

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In France, History is Everywhere
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Since World War 2, differences between Europe and the United States have been evaporating at the practical, everyday life level. Time was, you could distinguish European men from Americans by haircut and clothing. Nowadays, one sees European kids wearing jeans, baseball caps and Dallas Cowboys tee shirts while eating at the town's McDonald's . Cars there average a little smaller and motorcycles and motor scooters are more prevalent, but these are differences in degree, not kind. There is one large difference, however, and that is in what architectural academics like to call the "built environment." You know, man-made structures of all kinds. What you see in Europe is a lot of really old stuff. This is especially obvious to tourists such as I was a few weeks ago. But it's there for the locals to see as well. In much of the continent apart from postwar suburbs and glitzy resort areas where development pushed aside low-rise dwellings, it's hard to escape seeing buildings erected 200 and more years earlier. Here in the States, aside from scattered places along the eastern seaboard, buildings older than 150 years are rare or non-existent. It's hard to sense history on a daily basis here, whereas in Europe history in the form of structures is almost inescapable. That might induce a subtle difference in mindset from Americans even for Europeans born after the war (everyone less than age 65) who have grown up in a relatively prosperous, technologically modern environment. Just for kicks, here are examples of older structures that are right in a Frenchman's face or, failing that, perched atop that hill or over there in the next valley. For starters, here's a Paris scene not far off the boul' Raspail. At street level are pedestrians, cars and modern shopfronts. Above are buildings built in the late 1800s or early 1900s (though the brick-covered one just might be more recent). Paris has some really old structures (Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, etc.), but they don't dominate the local scene. That's not the case in some other places. Carcassonne, for instance. To the left is the new city and brooding above it is the old, walled city whose conical tower tops are part of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc's creative resoration. Another brooder is the chateau in Amboise with some newer, but not new, buildings below. Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years in Amboise, but in another chateau as guest of François Premiere. Or you might be driving along the Rhone River in Avignon and to the right are the grounds of the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace). That palace can be hard to avoid when navigating nearby streets and passages. Many cites have an old town district. Here is a Rouen street leading to its Horloge and, beyond, the cathedral that Monet famously painted at different hours of the day. Small cities also often have old districts. This is the market place in the touristy Norman port town, Honfleur. An even... posted by Donald at June 17, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Monday, June 15, 2009

People Pix -- France, 2009
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some of you thought I was simply going to France for a vacation. Well, HA!! I had my camera set to low pixel density specifically to capture images for our beloved blog. It was a working vacation. Got that? I insist. Honest ... Having cleared that matter up, I thought my first photo essay will be about people-related stuff I encountered. No theme other than that. And the photos are in nearly the same order they were taken. As usual, no cropping or other Photoshop alterations. Here are people who are either striking about hunger or are on a hunger strike -- the banner is obscured, so I'm not sure. The French, including immigrants, seem to love strikes. This was taken along the Quai d'Orsay near the Pont Alexandre III. We're on Paris' Montmartre, half a block from the Place du Tertre where tourist crowds head after visiting the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. Shown are street artists plying their trade. This business of sketching off a clipboard is something new to me, as is the large number of artists doing so -- and only near the Sacre-Coeur. I hadn't been to Paris in five years, and never noticed this before. Typically, a sketch artist or caricaturist will have a setup where both he and the subject are seated and he works off an easel. At any rate, I saw a dozen or more clipboard guys in action that morning; something to do with the economy? I was a few minutes late deciding to shoot this ironworker in action (he's the one with suspenders). Just before, he was shaping a cold iron bar on a portable anvil using only a hammer, eyeballs and skill. At this point, the iron has been shaped and he's making final adjustments before installing it as part of a handrail next to a few steps. The location? At a door to Claude Monet's large studio in Giverny where he painted his famous water lily murals for Paris' Orangerie. Market days are still popular in France. A large one takes place in Sarlat in the Dordogne; I show only a fragment of it here. Weather permitting, restaurants and cafes feature outdoor dining. This is in the picturesque hill town of St-Cirq-Lapopie above the Lot River a short ways southeast of the Dordogne. The diners are almost surely tourists. Cannes, near the beach. France's cities attract street vendors from the "former" colonies. I'm guessing the policeman is trying to determine if the vendor is licensed; from the look of things, he isn't. More al fresco dining, this time in the Place Rossetti in the old, Italian part of Nice. It's not yet seven, so the tables have yet to fill. Nancy liked this restaurant so much we ate dinner there three times. In the right background is a gelato shop with a large assortment of flavors, so we had dessert there. This is in Monaco near the entrance to the Monte Carlo casino's... posted by Donald at June 15, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm back from a three-week trip to France. My recent articles were written before I left and Michael was kind enough to post them while I was away. Now I have to work my way out of the memory-wipeout phenomenon associated with longer trips along with some jet lag while collecting whatever wits I had before I left. Be warned that I'll be downloading travel pix from my trusty little Nikon. The nature of blogging dictates maintaining content flow, and that flow is usually generated by what the poor, content-obsessed blogger happens to encounter in real life, the news, or other material on the Web. So you'll be seeing a fair amount of France-related stuff from me for the next few weeks. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 9, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Impolite Drivers and the Cars They Drive
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There are drivers who think they own the whole road. You've seen 'em, I've seen 'em. I'm wondering if there are any patterns related to that selfish, impolite behavior. There might be associations to geography, age, sex, condition of the automobile -- those sorts of things. But the one I'm interesting in right now is the make of car those people are driving. My politically liberal sister, ostensibly inclined to be a Volvo customer, won't go near the things. That's because she thinks many Volvo drivers are, well, selfish and impolite. Back in the 1950s and early 60s I had that the same impression regarding Cadillac drivers. No, not all Caddie drivers were piggish, but the piggish drivers I noticed tended to be behind the wheel of a Cadillac. Today? I don't notice a strong pattern. [Thinks] Well, just maybe Mercedes and BMW drivers under age 65 might fill the bill. Obviously it's trash-time here at 2Blowhards, so let's hear of your candidates. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 7, 2009 | perma-link | (25) comments

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gone to Airline Heaven
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I walk through a shopping mall and along center city sidewalks, or even when driving, I often spy a closed store, its show windows papered over, signage removed. Usually I can't remember what shop or store was there -- even in places where I go frequently (exceptions are usually stores where I did business). It's different with defunct airlines. One reason is that I maintain a database of my flights and wrote software to compile various kinds of summaries. Among those summary tables is one that shows the number of flights I made on various airlines, ranking them by flight count. Counting only commercial flights (that is, no military flights, chartered flights, joyrides, etc.) my list contains 28 airlines. For what it's worth, I've flown Alaska Airlines 104 times, followed by United (89 times) and Northwest (78). These numbers aren't surprising when you consider that 80 percent of my adult life has been lived in western Washington. Seattle is Alaska Airlines' headquarters area and they and subsidiary Horizon Air occupy nearly half the available gates at Sea-Tac airport. Furthermore, back in the days before airline deregulation, if you lived in Seattle and wanted to fly east, United and Northwest were your only reasonable choices. The four airlines mentioned in this paragraph account for a bit more than 60 percent of all the flights I've made. At the other extreme, I've only flown once on the following: Air France, Alitalia, Go, Hawaiian, Pan American and (believe it or not) Southwest. Of those, Pan American no longer exists and Alitalia might be on the way out. And from the earlier list, Northwest is in the process of merging with Delta. Other airlines I've flown that aren't flying now due to failure, merger, or other source of name-change are, in descending order of the number of times I've flown them: America West, Eastern, Western, National, Republic, Braniff, Air Cal, Pacific Southwest (PSA), TWA and Allegheny. All told, about 40 percent of the airlines I've flown are no longer in business under the name at the time of my flight. Do I miss any of them? Only in a nostalgic sense enhanced by whatever knowledge I possess of the history of airlines. I don't love any airline, nor do I (yet) have enough reasons to hate any airline, either. Some I sort of like, others I'm not sure of and most, I simply tolerate. Still, once an airline is gone, it seems more special than it was when it was alive and flying. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 7, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just Wondering...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Would Apple finally rule the world if it ever came out with an aggressively priced computer? * What would the federal government do if (fill in states' names) actually seceded? * Would academia, the mainstream media and the other usual suspects support him if Barack Obama proclaimed himself President-for-Life? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 6, 2009 | perma-link | (45) comments

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where the 300 Got Its Face
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I traded in my Chrysler 300 a few weeks ago, I owe it and its kin one more blog post. Hope you don't mind too much. It seems that I finally noticed what might well have been the inspiration for its grille and general front-end "face." I wouldn't be surprised that Mopar über-mavens already discovered it; if any such are readers, please use Comments to pass along links that confirm or deny my conjecture. I wrote about Chrysler 300 styling here, among other places. I'll go over some of the same ground so that newer readers get enough background before I get to the new stuff. Analysis Here is a photo of a 2006 bottom-of-the-line Chrysler 300 showing its face along with some side detail. I'll use this as the benchmark or reference point for commentary on this stylish and, for a few years, popular car. The grille has strong hint of Chryslers of the late 1940s. Note that its cross-bars are not on the same plane. The vertical bars are recessed relative to the horizontal ones. The horizontal bars, because they are not interrupted, subtly dominate because (1) as noted, they overlap the vertical bars, and (2) they catch and reflect overhead lighting such as from the sun more strongly and uninterruptedly. This is a 1947 Chrysler New Yorker coupe with the egg-crate grille theme used from 1946 through 1950. Here the mesh is much smaller than on the 2006 car and the vertical and horizontal bars are essentially on the same plane. (I'd have to examine an actual car to be sure, but this photo suggests a tiny bias towards the horizontals. But other photos I examined suggest the opposite.) At any rate, the three thick bars are definitely horizontal. The Chrysler "medal" emblem is incorporated in the badge on the front of the hood and the Chrysler wings (both brand symbols dating to the 1920s in one form or another) comprise the hood ornament. The 2006 car has the medal and wings attached to the grille opening surround. The 300 has comparatively narrow (measured vertically) windows all around. The front and rear passenger doors are almost symmetrical. Similar features can be found in some previous Chryslers as well as late-40s models from other companies. Here is a Chrysler Airflow from 1934, an early mass-produced exercise in streamlining. The doors are symmetrical, which helped reduce tooling costs. The 1951 Lincoln shown here also has doors that are nearly symmetrical. And it has narrow (vertically) windows, again like the 300. Mercurys for 1949-1951 shared this body with Lincolns, and many Mercurys were transformed into kustom kars, often with a "chopped top" that resulted in even narrower windows. Chrysler styling honcho (before the company was taken over by Daimler-Benz) Tom Gale was a hot rod fan, so it's possible that his influence persisted during the styling development of the 300. This is the extent of my analysis of Chrysler 300 styling up... posted by Donald at May 3, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Indifference to Flowers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My mother liked to garden. My wife loves gardening. Yesterday we drove up to the Skagit Vally Tulip Festival and walked around the tulips at Roozengaard's (lotsa Dutch in Washington's Skagit and Whatcom counties). When we visit Victoria, BC she normally squeezes in a trip to Butchart Gardens. Me? I'm indifferent to flowers. Don't love 'em, don't hate 'em. Just a part of nature. I suppose if I had taken a botany class and put my head into the taxonomy thing I might have more interest. But that's water that never got over the dam. Still, I find it interesting how deeply some folks go into flowers -- literally and figratively. (Hey, life without hobbies can be pretty dull.) At Roozengaard's I saw several guys and at least one gal hefting big Canon and Nikon cameras with telephoto lenses carefully snapping away. Me? I'm more into geology. Did you know that rock formations can be really interesting? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 2, 2009 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brand Loyalty
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that people like to choose sides, to team up. That includes the old 1950s business about in-groups and out-groups, a situational selection of an identity and the inherent opposition to people or entities not of that identity. In some cases, such identities can be formal (being a frat house member, an Army enlistee, an employee of a business firm or government agency, etc.) or informal (a Boston Red Sox fan). By "situational," I refer to the fact that an individual can define himself in terms of a number of memberships or affinities simultaneously, being aware of one or another as situations arise. For instance, if Martians were to land a flying saucer on the White House lawn and demand that Earth capitulate to their demands [oh, maybe that happened already], many people would start thinking of themselves as members of the human race in opposition to those cussed space aliens. Or when folks deplane at Heathrow airport near London and get in line for passport control check they are, for a few minutes anyway, acutely aware of their citizenship of the country whose passport they bear. Such identification needn't be to a group or organization. It can be to a product or product brand. This attachment can be due to satisfaction with the branded products in the past or identification with a brand perceived as being of high status (usually) or perhaps a combination of those factors and others. Extended identification with a brand in the form of repeated purchases of the product can be said to be a demonstration of "brand loyalty" -- something more tangible than simply wearing a tee shirt sporting a logotype. So brand loyalty exists. What I wonder is whether it is a kind of social constant or if it is a declining practice. Since brands do die off, it's clear that brand loyalty isn't forever. Yet brand names have value. They are a component of the "goodwill" aspect of a company's market worth. They are the basis for the marketing tactic of "brand extensions" -- New Coke, Classic Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke and perhaps others I'm not aware of instead of separate brands for each of these soft drinks. To be more specific, I wonder if there is less brand loyalty nowadays compared to 50 or 60 years ago when the USA was supposedly a hotbed of conformity, a seemingly fertile ground for brand loyalty. I know that market researchers devote a good deal of study to brand images and customer loyalty. What I'm not sure of is whether enough similar studies were conducted in the 1950s to allow a real comparison. (Readers who are familiar with research literature on this matter are encouraged to comment and present findings.) Since I lack data I'll do my usual routine, a mixture of speculation and personal anecdotes. When I shop for groceries I tend to be a creature of habit, buying the brands I'm comfortable... posted by Donald at April 28, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hiding a B-17 Bomber Factory
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of my childhood memories was the fake residential neighborhood that served as camouflage for Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle where B-17 bombers were assembled. From ground level, it looked odd, the faux houses being shorter than normal houses and sitting right on top of what clearly was a large factory building next to a runway. This camouflage remained until a year or so after the war ended. In 1945 or 1946 my father, who worked for the Army Engineers during the war, was able to get atop the factory and take some snapshots. I did a quick search but couldn't find them, alas. If they do turn up, I'll scan and post them. Below are some photos I grabbed off the Internet. Most likely, they were taken by Boeing or one of the armed services; during wartime, ordinary civilians would not have been allowed to do so. Gallery This vertical view shows the setting of Plant 2 and the camouflage. The top of the photo faces north. At the lower left is the Duwamish River, the dark area at the upper right is Beacon Hill and to the left of it are railroad tracks. Today the Interstate 5 freeway runs along the edge of the hill in the wooded area shown in the photo. To the left of the tracks is Boeing Field itself. The buildings on its right are related to the commercial aspect of the airfield, though Boeing did have a hangar there. To the left of the buildings and tarmac is grass, taxiways and the runway. The white area near the upper center of the photo is a concrete area where newly built planes are placed while awaiting delivery to the Army. To the left of this is probably a parking lot for Boeing employees. At the lower right in the photo is what seems to be another concrete-paved delivery area. My impression is that it was an overflow area to be used when the other one was full. Below the parking lot are two major streets. The one oriented diagonally is East Marginal Way which passes between Plant 2 and the airfield; it was closed to civilian traffic during the war, if memory serves. The other street, oriented more north-south and which is bridged over the Duwamish is First Avenue South. And the dark square partly framed by those streets is Plant 2, surmounted by its camouflage neighborhood. These oblique photos taken from, respectively, southwest and northwest of Plant 2 suggest what a low-level attacker might see. Such an attacker would be approaching rapidly -- perhaps between 200 and 300 miles per hour -- and likely would be dodging anti-aircraft fire. With only a few seconds to decide where to drop his bombs, it was the likely intent of the camouflage designers that those bombs would aimed at the clearly visible factory buildings to the south of Plant 2 and not what, at first and only glance, would seem... posted by Donald at April 23, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paris Museums: Which to Visit?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In about a month from now, we'll be off to France for three weeks. It's yet another trip set up last fall before the market crashed -- we cashed in frequent flier miles early to be sure of decent flight times along with the almost-free seats. So we're pretty well locked in. The first week is to be spent in Paris with friends flying in from Los Angeles. Nancy will try to see an early day of the French Open tennis tournament and I'll do my usual bookstore crawl. Since I know the town fairly well, there's no need to hit every four-star attraction. We won't feel guilty doing the flâneur routine or sipping a demi-tasse of strong coffee at cafés on or near the boul' St. Germain. While I mostly enjoy exploring cities, I don't rule out short visits to museums (I have about a two-hour, max, museum attention span). Therefore I plan to visit some in order to see some art that I've already written about or might write about here in the future. Judging from guidebooks, Paris has tons and tons of museums. On past trips, I've visited the Louvre (art up to about 1850), the Musée d'Orsay (art 1850-1905 or thereabouts), the Carnavalet (Paris history), Musée Marmottan (Claude Monet), the Orangerie (Monet water lillies) and the Musée de l'Armée (which has little in the way of art). Not being very interested in sculpture, I've never bothered seeing the Rodin museum. As for the Centre Pompidou, I think I'll check out its bookstore's postcard rack to see if there are any paintings worth viewing in person. (I visited the Museum of Modern Art enough in the 1960s to have seen much noteworthy Modernist painting, and I'm not sure Pompidou beats MoMA in terms of quality and relevance to art history.) While I admire Picasso's self-promotional abilities, I don't admire his art enough to want to visit the Musée Picasso. For similar reasons, there's a Salvador Dalí museum I can easily skip as well. So, art mavens and Paris fans, besides revisiting some of the above, what's worth seeing once I and any other Paris-bound 2Blowhards readers run out of bookstores and other points of interest? Oh. Speaking of such, are there any bookstores you know of that have out-of-print art books published between, say, 1970 and 2000. That is, books with fairly good color reproductions and that aren't expensive. Text can be French or English. Thank you for your tips. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 22, 2009 | perma-link | (15) comments

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Life Cycle Stage and the Automobile
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Sorry folks, I'm writing about cars again. That's because I have them on my mind. And the reason is, I just bought a new one. Yes, as I wrote a few days ago, my wife bought herself a new car too. We agreed that we'll each do our own car-buying with personal funds, not as a joint purchase. Her beloved 2002 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer (with every whistle plus toots beyond measure) was getting too expensive to keep up. The economy being what it is, dealers -- especially those for domestic makes -- are especially anxious to get inventory off their lots. And there are tax incentives and so forth. So she got a good deal. Her car-shopping triggered my action based on thoughts that had been simmering for the past year (when my Chrysler 300 was paid off). I enjoyed the Chrysler in many ways, but found that its constricted visibility was adversely affecting my driving. Plus, the car had less than 4,000 miles left on its power train warranty and needed a set of new tires and a windshield replacement. It was time for it to go. (I wrote about the Chrysler 300 and automobile styling here.) All of which set me to musing about cars, generations and life-cycle stages, a subject I touched on here with respect to sports cars. Lacking research data, all I can do is describe my thoughts and motivations and let you use them as a yardstick for your own situation. First, generational effects. Based on no data whatsoever, it's my impression that 20, 30 and 40-somethings aren't nearly as deep into car fandom as was my generation and other males born post-Model T through the Baby Boom that ended in the mid 1960s. Later generations were distracted by computer games and other technology-based focuses of attention. (Though many did become automobile devotees.) Even in my generation there were those who regarded cars as tools or appliances, not sex objects, objects that might attract other kinds of sex objects, status symbols and all the other pop-psychology hypothesizing that's been floating around since the days of Henry Ford. People like that are the target market for Consumer Reports, which, in the mid-1950s, favored cars that I preferred not to be seen in. So we're all different with respect to attitudes about cars. My own situation has been one of frustration. Given a large discretionary income to play with, I probably would have traded one hot and sexy car for a newer, hotter, sexier one every year or two. No, I don't mean Ferraris or other supercars. My choices might have been the Austin-Healy sports car, the first-year Oldsmobile Toronado front-drive sedan, early Datsun 240Zs, the 1957 Corvette -- stuff like that. Alas, I never made the kind of money to follow that path. Instead, when I felt it was time to buy a new car, I got the sportiest one I could afford and what I bought usually... posted by Donald at April 18, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What's Really Important About a Car
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My wife just bought a new car (a Ford Edge, if you're curious). Since she lets me drive it once in a while, I thumbed through the owner's manual to find out what was what. I discovered the following: The manual has 344 pages. The first nine are introductory material. This is followed by eight pages about the instrument panel. Pages 18 through 74 are devoted to "Entertainment Systems." Then it goes on to deal with climate controls, lights, driver controls, tire changing and the rest. That's 57 pages devoted to regular radios, Sirius radio, CD players, DVD players, MP3 tracking, headphones, remote controls and whatever other gizmos might be involved. And remember, this is covered before most information dealing with the operation of the car as such. Woe unto us. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 15, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'd Really Like to Observe ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever hanker for a fly-on--the-wall moment? Here are some of my nominations: An editorial board meeting of The New York Times. The jury for the final selection of the Pritzker Prize for architecture. The jury for the final selection of the Nobel Peace Prize. 2Blowhards frequent commenters Shouting Thomas and Chris White getting together for a beer/coffee/whatever. (Actually, they might hit it off pretty well in person: Ya never know.) I'll probably post some more later, but you can mention yours in Comments. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 13, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, April 10, 2009

Binary Stoplights
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- They were all (or nearly all) gone in Seattle by the time I started driving. But there were quite of few of them when I was a little kid being hauled around my my parents. In some respects, we were lucky to have survived. I'm speaking of something that I'll call the "binary stoplight", though in 1945 or whenever, it was simply a "stoplight." Early stoplights would show either red or green; it took years for the idea of amber caution lights to be implemented. So my Dad would be cruising down a street and Bam! the light would switch from red to green. The he would stop if he could or else continue through the intersection hoping that that figurative Bam! wouldn't be a real one. Drivers stopped at a red light would have to exercise caution before entering an intersection upon the light changing to green. So civilization can indeed progress at times. Here's a photo of one taken in New York City that I found on the Web. It might have been taken in the 1970s or early 80s, to judge by the cars. Binary stoplights are still found today, but mostly as freeway on-ramp control devices. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 10, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Announcing the 2011 Obama Sedan
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here's something to consider. Just for fun, of course. It can't possibly happen here in America, right? WASHINGTON, D.C. Sept. 14, 2010 -- Press Secretary Chris Matthews announced this morning that the new 2011 Obama brand sedan from Government Motors ("GM") will go on sale September 18th. The car, called "Chevy Volt" during its development phase, is powered by electricity and therefore eliminates combustion pollution. In his press conference, Matthews characterized assertions that the electricity to charge the cars' batteries often comes from coal or oil fired power plants as "an irrelevant distraction from President Obama's efforts to create a clean, green America." The car is nearly silent, eliminating noise pollution. Matthews quoted Vice President Joe Biden as saying "pedestrians in crosswalks will hardly know it's coming." The car features an "astonishing 40-mile cruising range" that can be augmented by other technology. The entry-level version is priced at $35,450 and comes only in the fashionable hue Hospital Wall Green, a nod to its environmental friendliness. Deluxe models ($47,250) can be purchased in one or another of the Obama Campaign Poster colors suite: Obama Pale Blue, Obama Pale Red-Orange and Obama Pale White. Matthews stressed that great efforts were undertaken to make the 2011 Obama affordable to all. One example he cited was use of chrome letter Os from leftover stockpiles of the former Oldsmobile brand for Obama brand-name trim. Matthews concluded his remarks by voicing the expectation of first-year sales of 2.5 million or more vehicles under the assumption that the Pelosi-Reid tax of $25,000 on all competing cars, SUVs, vans and trucks passes Congress and is signed into law by the President. On a more serious vein, the Volt does seem to have limited range and its likely price indeed might be around $35K. Would you buy one? I wouldn't. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 4, 2009 | perma-link | (87) comments

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cities Where Cars Are More Trouble Than Worth
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I love cars and have driven them in many of America's largest cities. But even I have my limits to this practice. There are some places where I try to avoid driving if possible. If I lived there and didn't need to leave town often, I wouldn't even own a car; I'd rent when necessary. Car-unfriendliness comes in two main flavors. One is the street layout; some cities are very hard to navigate. The other is parking; street parking is restricted or impossible to find and parking lots and garages are rare or expensive. In some cases a city will strongly offer both features -- central Boston, for instance. Back in the early 1960s I used to drive into New York when I had a weekend pass from Ft. Meade, Maryland or Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. I usually stayed across the river in Hoboken at the Theta Xi house at Stevens Tech and then rolled into the city to see a girlfriend who lived in Queens not far from Laguardia. I found street parking in the neighborhood, given some effort. On Sundays I usually could find parking in the east 60s or 70s in Manhattan if I got there early enough, say by 10 a.m. That was 45 years ago, and I'm not sure such stunts still work. (Manhattan driving tips from that era: (1) focus on the cars in front of you and ignore those behind; (2) never make eye contact with pedestrians.) Washington, D.C. was a much smaller metro area in 1962-63 when I was stationed nearby, and weekend street parking was still possible. Sunday mornings it was fairly easy to park in the Mall if I was in a museum-going mood. But the street pattern -- all those diagonals such as New York Avenue that L'Enfant sketched out -- made getting around town a long, frustrating chore. As you might guess, Boston, New York and Washington (their central parts anyway) are my three least-favorite driving venues. Philadelphia and Baltimore, on the other hand, weren't nearly so troublesome. Well, Philadelphia was a hassle if you wanted to traverse it southwest-northeast rather than simply get into or out of center city. That was because of the street-highway pattern. Nevertheless, I had a car when I attended Dear Old Penn. I'll also confess that I usually drove it only on weekends, leaving it parked on Pine Street otherwise. A borderline case is San Francisco. I drive in it when I visit California, but find the parking situation annoying. I find Chicago fairly easy to get around even though the going can be slow. The cost of parking in the center is pretty high, however. Cars are necessary in Los Angeles, Detroit, San Jose and Houston, but driving there isn't always pleasant. Looking over what I wrote above, I conclude that there are few American cities where driving isn't worth the trouble. There usually is trouble of some sort, though not the show-stopper variety. European cities... posted by Donald at April 2, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Maui, Plain and Fancy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I dragged in from Maui over the weekend and had a few days to recover. So now it's time for pictures! Maybe I should mention that Hawaii isn't all the glitz and spectacular natural scenes you're likely to have seen in advertising, magazine features and travelogues on TV. It was hardly glitzy at all back in the days when tourists were few because getting to the islands took a four and a half day cruise (each way) on a Matson Lines steamer or (1946-59, roughly) a nearly ten hour flight on a prop-driven Stratocruiser. These figures are for San Francisco-Honolulu; add more if one started from farther east. I first visited Hawaii in 1963 courtesy of the generous taxpayers of the day who, indirectly, saw fit to send me there by troop ship as part of a longer cruise to the Far East. We got to go ashore at Pearl Harbor and some of us opted for a short bus tour followed by a few hours of free time in the city and beaches. Along our route up to the Pali overlook of Kaneohe I saw lots of modest housing that was sketchily constructed by mainland standards. I knew that the building style was influenced by the mild climate, but it wasn't at all like the middle class neighborhoods I was familiar with growing up in Seattle. When in Maui last week I made a point to drive through the windward-side adjoining cities of Kahului (basically a working town where the airport and harbor are) and Wailuku (the scruffier county seat). While the jet age transformed the state over the last 50 years, it isn't difficult to find many remnants of Hawaii's agricultural, isolated past. With that in mind, below are a few of the snapshots I took. No Photoshop work of any kind on the following pix; what I shot is what you get. Gallery Apparently lounge chairs aren't forever. These were sighted on our way from our digs to the nearby Star Market. Down the road is an old neighborhood that hasn't yet been converted to hotels, condos or apartments. Modest houses in Hawaii can look similar to this. Others are single-story, but are raised off the ground a few feet; between the floor and ground is a breezeway that often is screened by crisscrossed lathwork. More beachside Maui scenery -- a vintage VW Beetle and across the road a Bad Ass Coffee Company outlet. They claim the name has to do with the donkeys that used to haul Kona coffee beans to market. Also old is Front Street in the former whaling town of Lahaina, for a few years the capital of the kingdom. Most of the commerce on this street consists of souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques and the like. Touristy, yet with its unique charm. A few blocks south is this view across the Lahaina Roads to the island of Lanai. The U.S. Pacific Fleet would anchor here... posted by Donald at April 1, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, March 30, 2009

General Motors and Me
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that Our Revered President has forced General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner to resign (and collect a lot of money on his way out the turnstile). The Great Administrator also outlined what the government (us, in theory) expects of GM and Chrysler over the next few months. While the ultimate fate of GM is for the future to reveal, this is as good a time as any for me to reflect on the corporation. After all, I did work for GM and over the years my family owned a lot of GM cars. Readers under age 50 are too young to have experienced the environment where General Motors truly dominated the nation's (and the world's) automobile market. True, GM still had a large U.S. market share through the 1960s and into the 70s, but the wheels were getting wobbly in preparation for their falling off by the early 80s. So let's go back 60 years to 1949. The Japanese car industry hardly existed. European manufacturers had never attained large production volumes in the inter-war period and had yet to reach breakout status (that would happen in the 50s). Around half the U.S automobile market belonged to General Motors and competing companies watched GM's engineering, product packaging and styling carefully, taking care to be different, but not much different from the General. In 1950 I knew that my father planned to buy a 1951 Pontiac when they were revealed (we showed up at the dealer that weekend), so I spent the summer and fall speculating how the 51s might differ from the 1950 models I was seeing on the streets and thinking about the best two-tone paint scheme for our future car. (I was hot for a two-tone green paint job, but my parents opted for dark gray and cream-gray -- a better choice, in retrospect.) GM had a very strong management team -- veterans of the post-Billy Durant restructuring and the voyage through the Great Depression. These included Alfred Sloan, Harlow "Red" Curtice and Harley Earl. Later executives were not so talented or, maybe, lucky. Perhaps the most disastrous was Roger Smith, who ran the corporation from 1981 to 1990. He came in as a supposed breath of fresh air, which probably was needed. Smith's problem was that his version of fresh air was toxic, as the link indicates. My direct association with GM began in the Smith era. In the fall of 1982 I was invited to a job interview at the Warren, Michigan Tech Center. I didn't get full-time employment and instead became a consultant / data supplier which at least had the perk of my getting discounts when buying new GM cars. (And I avoided getting a GM pension -- something that might become iffy in the near future.) What I supplied GM were forecasts of households by type, age of head and various income ranges. At first these were for the United States; later on I furnished... posted by Donald at March 30, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Japanese Tourism Follow-Up
Donald PIttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few days ago I posted about, among other things, Japanese tourists and how they seem to be found in a comparatively small number of places. This was in reference to a lack of them in Maui and scads of them in Oahu. In describing that contrast, I mentioned that "I always see two, three or more Japan Airlines 747s at the Honolulu airport". Now that I'm home from the islands and in the process of adjusting to a change of three time zones (and not really ready to resume normal blogging), I thought I'd pass along support for that statement. Behold: I took this photo late morning yesterday (29 March) documenting four such aircraft. One or two departed before we left at 1:20. And just for the heck of it, consider this. That's a Korean Air Lines ("Korean Air") 747. I'm not up to speed on Korean tourist habits, but guess that the Honolulu area is their main focus too. I'll assume that the fact that the JAL and KAL gates are widely separated is simple happenstance even though Koreans don't consider the Japanese to be pals. The previous shot was taken outside and this one was from inside the gate area (you can see some reflections on the window and the outdoor scene isn't quite in focus). Besides the plane, it offers a glimpse of the setting of the airport. That's Diamond Head on the horizon towards the right. And yes, in the foreground there are two people snoozing head-by-head on a ledge under the window. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 29, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Maui Notebook
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here I am in Maui (thanks for the local tips, commenters). Here are a few things I've noticed so far. * General Motors is alive and well on this island if low-profit rental cars are any indication. We and many other tourists are driving Chevy minivans. They are practical for folks in large groups (such as ours) with lots of luggage. We're also driving a Chevy HHR -- their version of a Chrysler PT Cruiser. One quirky feature is its power window controls: the buttons are on the center console. Chrysler is doing okay too, with their Sebring convertible line, anyway. Lots and lots of them, both ragtop and folding metal top. * Tattoos are plentiful on young adults. Many are quite elaborate with much green and blue shading. I hope hope their owners will appreciate the decision to have had them 20 years and 40 added pounds in the future. Like chewing gum, this deducts 10 observation guesstimate IQ points, or so I think. * Japanese. There aren't many tourists here, though I did see a group of about 20 this afternoon in Lahaina. Corroboration is the almost complete lack of Japanese language signage in stores and store windows. There's lots of that in Honolulu, plus I always see two, three or more Japan Airlines 747s at the Honolulu airport. This is not surprising. Japanese tend to spend their tourism budgets on four and five star attraction. In England, they're all over London and in evidence in Cambridge and Oxford, but not so much elsewhere. In Italy, they're usually found in places like Venice and Florence. I can't blame them. Given linguistic problems, they opt for tour group travel and tour bookers tend to aim for the famous destinations. Which Maui isn't, it seems. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 24, 2009 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're off to Maui for a week starting tomorrow (the 21st), so posting might be light or even non-existent if my cell phone Internet connection doesn't function where we'll be staying. This family trip was set up last September before the stock market cratered, but we're doing it anyway. I've only been to the Honolulu area, so Maui will be totally new for me. Nancy probably will be spending most of the time with her granddaughters. But we'll have two rental cars (there are eight of us), so I ought to be able to find time to explore the place, something I enjoy doing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 20, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dressing Up is Hard to Do
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It is for me, anyway. My wife, on the other hand, loves dressing up -- especially in "fun" clothes. And it doesn't bother her in the least to change clothes two or even three times a day. Not me. I'll change clothes perhaps once a day if company comes or we are going out to someplace fancy. Even then, I'll try to minimize the amount of changing. For instance, in the morning I'll put on the shirt that will be necessary later. And I'll wear black socks instead of the usual white crew socks of my crew socks 'n' jeans ensemble. Doubtless this demonstrates that I'm a creature of sloth and inertia. But, Honest!! I wasn't always this way. Back in the 1970s I used to wear jacket-and-necktie based outfits to work. Though that's because it was expected of us in those pre-casual days. And if I had a big date (or any date) on Saturday evening, I'd make a real effort to look spiffy. I suppose I should chalk that up to goal-motivation. Alas, even this proves that, left to my own devices, I'm a lazy, jeans-and-sweater-wearing slob requiring outside motivation to dress appropriately. Could it be [grasps at straw] that my behavior is, at root, simply one more case of boorish male-ness, so it isn't really my fault? I need to come up with some kind of good excuse to offer Nancy because I'm facing an evening at the opera in May. Later, Donald (By the way, the title of this posting is a take-off on the title of an early-60s Neil Sedaka song. You have my permission to sing it to the melody.)... posted by Donald at March 15, 2009 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, March 13, 2009

Derb, Steve, Game
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- John Derbyshire considers the Steve Sailer phenomenon. Steve Sailer asks a funny question about "Game." A great commentsthread ensues. As far as I'm concerned, Steve Sailer is one of the most interesting figures to emerge from the web era, and Game is one of the more fascinating sociological developments to come along in a while. Roissy's blog is where I usually go to learn more about Game. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2009 | perma-link | (65) comments

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ralph's Rugger: Game Over in Seattle
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Almost exactly a year ago I wrote about a Ralph Lauren store with a sort of rugby-cum-Yale Skull and Bones theme. The togs weren't all that bad. Aside from stenciled or patched on numbers, crests and other decorations that, to my mind, made the items a bit too odd to consider buying (and my taste runs to geezer-preppy). It seems [sniff] that the Seattle store has gone kaput even though it was located only a quarter of a mile from the University of Washington's Greek Row and a mile or two from a couple of Seattle's upscale neighborhoods (Laurelhurst and Windermere). Lauren is still flogging the brand as this is written. The website is up and indicating that 11 stores remain. And it seems like I've seen Rugby-like clothes in the Lauren area of the Bellevue Macy's. Given the present economy, it will be interesting to see how the concept plays out. I'm no fashion guru, so Ralph might not take my advice to eliminate the faux-1895 collegiate clutter on about half the line to broaden appeal. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 3, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, March 2, 2009

Do Hard Times Inspire Great Art?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I should have been paying enough attention to take the trouble to take notes or stash links. But it remained in peripheral vision status until this morning when I noticed a link on the Arts & Letters Daily site with its teaser caption stating: "Road novels, stories, and gangster films of the 1930s depicted American social mobility as a bitter cheat. We may now relive 1930s art..." (boldface in original). The linked article, on the Wall Street Journal site, was "Will this Crisis Produce a 'Gatsby'?" by a writer identified as "Sean McCann, a professor of English at Wesleyan University, is the author of 'A Pinnacle of Feeling: American Literature and Presidential Government.'" I didn't think much of the article, it using the slippery and often data-defective concept of income inequality as its peg. For instance, McCann asserts that creatures called "Republicans" caused a whole bunch of income inequality during the seemingly prosperous 1920s. As if there was no such thing when Woodrow Wilson was wheeled out of the White House for the last time. But McCann's article isn't my real subject. What I want to discuss is whether there is a link between economic conditions and quality in the various arts, roughly as traditionally understood. (Alas, that leaves out spray-can graffiti.) The point being, if indeed bad economic times are conducive to more high-quality art, then we might be in for an artistic renaissance of sorts if the economy stays in the gutter. My problem is that "quality" in arts is evaluated subjectively, unlike measures of, say, manufacturing quality in automobiles. Worse, I'm not a Lit Guy, not having the tools and reading experience to examine the quality of novels of the 1920s, 1930s, 40s, 50s and so forth to evaluate how literature of the Depression-ridden Thirties compared to other decades. It turns out that I can come up with one instance, though it's not in a field of traditional art. It's Industrial Design, which flourished during the 30s in part because of the depressed times. I recently wrote about that here. Another almost-traditional art that did well during the Depression was the Hollywood movie. Many observers consider the 1930s a "golden age" of American cinema, and I'm inclined to agree. A case can be made that there was a good deal of creativity in the arts during the years of the Weimar Republic in Germany (1919-33). French arts did well during the period 1868-1878 as the country stumbled through the final years of the Second Empire, defeat by the Prussians in 1870, the Paris Commune of 1871 and dealing with the burden of reparations to the German Empire in the years following the war. Post-World War 2 was tough for Italy, yet the country became noted for top-flight films and outstanding automobile styling between 1945 and 1955. Clearly, bad times do not necessarily mean bad times for the arts. On the other hand, good times do not mean bad times for the... posted by Donald at March 2, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wars Don't Matter, Some Say
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As is often the case for me and many others, what one should have said doesn't pop into one's mind until too late. For instance, a few weeks ago I was chatting with a gent who had been a Marine in World War 2 and fought on Iwo Jima. After mentioning that, he vaguely wondered whether the result was worth what he had experienced. What I now think I should have done would have been to ask him what difference it would have made if the United States had lost that war. But I simply let his remark pass. The USA usually wins its wars. So the aftermath strikes most citizens as something pretty much like the pre-war situation. The net result being not much change, it becomes easy to shrug off the episode as unnecessary. I suppose something similar can be the case for attitudes about wars fought centuries ago: What was all the fuss about? This is not to claim that all wars are both important and necessary. But some are. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 18, 2009 | perma-link | (32) comments

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Short Links
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Weird. * Naps. * More. * Taleb. * Ron. * Law. (Link thanks to Bryan.) * Big. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Graphic. * AltPorn. (NSFW) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 17, 2009 | perma-link | (6) comments

Short State Street Stroll
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's a song about Chicago ("that toddlin' town") that has the line: "State Street, that great street." State Street lost out to Michigan Avenue half a century or more ago and doesn't strike me as being worth singing about. Then there's an unsung (literally, as best I know) State Street that beats the Chicago version all to pieces. It's Santa Barbara's main commercial drag anchored on one end by the shore and Stearns Wharf and on the other more or less by the 101 freeway. The most interesting part for tourists is the segment extending from the shore for a mile or so, ending a few blocks west of the art museum. Since SB is sort of a college town (UCSB is actually in a neighboring burg), one finds the usual West Coast assortment of college kids, street people and the stores, restaurants and bars they find appealing. One also finds on or near State Street tonier places such as art galleries, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. What I like about the area is the Spanish-style streetscape, the result of decisions made in the wake of the 1925 earthquake that heavily damaged the city. (General information on Santa Barbara that briefly mentions the quake and aftermath can be found here.) Below are some snapshots I took 31 January. Most were taken near the art museum. It was a bright day, so the exposure meter had trouble coping with the strong light/shade contrasts; hope you don't mind. Here is an intersection view I'll use as my establishment shot. Half a block west. A bit farther west is the art museum. Around the corner from the museum is the public library. A sidewalk view. A view of the shady side of the street. Several passages can be found along State. Closer look at that passage. The window-cleaner at the left is a statue, by the way -- at first glance, most folks think he's real. Not shown is the fabulous county courthouse, a blog-post subject in its own right. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 17, 2009 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, February 16, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Roissy volunteers a shrewd analysis of a scene in "Hud," inspiring an even-livelier-than-usual commentsfest. * Rick Poynor and Adrian Shaughnessy compare notes about falling in love with movies in the 1970s. * Roger Scruton supplies a lot of perspective in this review of a social history of Western music. * GFS3 cringes at the memory of nine male-nudity movie scenes. * Thanks to Mexican drug wars, Phoenix has become the kidnapping-for-ransom capital of the U.S. * Randall Parker is wary of a recently-floated idea for a Fairness Doctrine for talk radio. * Is financial chaos in Eastern Europe about the take the rest of the world down? * MBlowhard Rewind: Convenient, safe and attractive parking can help revive a downtown. Santa Barbara has shown how. * And, just because I happened to be thinking, "Sheesh, imagine 20th century popular culture without 'the Bo Diddley beat'": Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 16, 2009 | perma-link | (19) comments

Friday, February 13, 2009

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Is the U.S. government using the financial crisis to make a power grab? * Is what the U.S. government is up to even remotely Constitutional? * Was the British government right to have prevented Geert Wilders from entering the country? * What is the Neanderthal genome going to teach us? * Is kinky sex on the rise? (So to speak, of course.) * Is this DVD set the best deal on Amazon, at least for those with a fondness for '70s trash? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 13, 2009 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Behave?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Enough with simply sniping at our corrupt-or-incompetent Keynesian class. Criticism is too easy. What would an Austrian actually do? * Gotta love our dynamic and driven new young women. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 4, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fortified Traffic Information
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose I should have noticed it sooner. No doubt the stuff was in place the last time I was in the Los Angeles area. But better late than whenever. It's the barbed wire. The concertina type, actually. Or as best I can tell when cruising the freeways at 65 miles per hour (lucky me, that day on good old California 60). And what is all that barbed wire protecting? Those large, green freeway information signs attached to overpasses or cantilevered over the roadway. You know, the ones announcing upcoming exits and that sort of thing. Apparently the barbed wire was placed to protect the signs from graffiti artists, taggers and other paint spray-can jocks. The signs attached to overpasses have concertina wire along their edges in the manner of a picture frame, making it hazardous to reach across the sign. For those affixed to frames anchored to a post on the side of the road, the post is wrapped with the wire near its top to prevent graffiti guys from getting to the sign. Small green signs attached to medial barriers and other places tend to be unprotected and are often liberally sprayed. Apparently Caltrans (the state highway department) hasn't yet gotten word that graffiti represents an important art form and avenue of cultural expression. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 2, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Government Supported Arts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I noticed this piece ("An Old, Bad Idea for the Arts" by David A. Smith) in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Its subject is the matter of creating a cabinet-level "arts czar." Towards the top of the article, Smith notes: But despite the severity of the troubles facing arts institutions, they're nothing new. Nor is the call for a cabinet-level office for the arts. In 1952 the head of the American Federation of Musicians said that "the sad and declining estate" of the arts required nothing less than the establishment of a Federal Department of the Arts. Shortly after, screen legend Lillian Gish appeared before a star-struck Senate committee and all but demanded a Department of Fine Arts. The calls continued periodically, even after the National Endowment for the Arts was created in 1965. Even absent an economic crisis, the "arts" (ranging from opera houses to art museums to local children's theater groups) seem to be figuratively and sometimes even literally at our doorsteps, tin cup in hand, begging for cash. Aside from the annoyance, I'm okay with that. It's when the tin cup routine involves governments I get queasy. Yes, there are many, many examples of government-supported arts and culture that benefit even capitalist-tool me; those museums all over the Paris tourist zone quickly come to mind. Still, I'd be happier if they weren't government-funded. That's because government involvement or ownership means bureaucracy and control, something I find antithetical the arts and culture. Consider all that lousy "public art" demanded by regulations and selected by committees comprised of an in-group of back-scratching arts mavens of the Culture Establishment. Under a crisis-generated spasm of government spending designed to emulate Roosevelt's public works arts projects, things likely will get worse. Actually, I wonder how much good the Post Office mural-painting and other artist employment activities of the 1930s did for the arts. If he hadn't done WPA murals or whatever and instead painted Post Office walls government pale green, Jackson Pollock might have gotten the idea of drip-painting a lot sooner than he did. So far as this graying arts buff is concerned, arts are not a necessity, and the government would be wise to focus on something besides a new WPA Federal Art Project, or arts czar concept mentioned in the article cited above. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 25, 2009 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Once a Bum, ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I see 'em in Waikiki and I'm seeing a few of 'em this week in South Lake Tahoe. Well, I think that's who I'm seeing. And who might that be? In the first instance, aged surfing bums and the latter, aged ski bums. In both cases, guys over 60 with lean bodies, unkempt hair and a lot of sun damage to visible skin. I admit that I have only a vague idea as to what makes such people tick. When one is young and athletic, spending a few years having fun while earning a little money on the side as an instructor can be an okay thing. Yet surely those youngsters see the same sorts of oldsters I do and I find it hard to believe that they can't wonder if a burned-out bumship might not be in their own future. Actually, most young surf and ski bums probably do come to such a realization and go on to life cycle-appropriate pursuits. But what about the few who do not? What could they have been thinking while they slowly aged from golden youth into middle age and beyond? Can any of you offer examples or explanations? I'm curious. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 21, 2009 | perma-link | (26) comments

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Conspiracy Report from Chicago Garage
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's frigid in much of the northern half of the USA this week. Perhaps that's why Iowahawk deposited a bit of frozen finger skin on the driver-side door handle as he climbed out of his hot rod, scraped the ice off the tip of his nose, warmed his trusty computer on a handy space heater and then posted this warning from the aliens amongst us. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 17, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When Did Western Civ Start Going to Hell?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm not sure whether Western Civilization is actually going to hell. In almost any era one can name, there surely were people who thought things were going to pot regardless of what history eventually demonstrated. We can easily determine how the West is really doing if we climb abord a time machine and hop 500 years, say, into the future to check things out. I happen to be basically an optimist. Yet I am troubled by the efforts in key institutions such as education, government and news media to ignore or even actively wreck the real achievements of Western Civilization. So let's assume, for the purposes of this post, that Western decline is real and permanent. If this is so, then when did the decline start? To kick off the discussion, I'll assert that the tipping or inflection point happened during the quarter-century 1890-1914. Politically, the Imperial powers -- especially the British -- began to lose their stomach for empire-building. (Yes, the Germans caught the building bug during this very period as did the Italians and Americans. Yes, the Great War's victorious powers acquired mandates and other colonial bits. But I regard this as mostly inertia which petered out during the 1930s.) Artistically and capital-C culturally, the period began with a kind of fin-de-siècle malaise (in France, at least) and generally corresponded to the rise of Modernism which by its nature was hostile to the past. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 13, 2009 | perma-link | (62) comments

Monday, January 12, 2009

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Michael posted more links about Donald Westlake immediately below. So I might as well join in with this link to Westlake comments by Bill Kristol. * It seems that Terry Teachout is a Nero Wolfe fan, having read every novel in the series. He explains why here. Among other things he tells us why he prefers the work of Wolfe author Rex Stout to that of Patrick O'Brian. And, speaking of Westlake, he mentions ... For my own part, I've never been much drawn to the mystery as a genre, perhaps because I have no interest in the puzzle-based plot mechanisms that drive the "classic" detective story. I no longer return to the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the only mystery novelists whose books I regularly reread for pleasure are Stout, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Laura Lippman, and Donald Westlake. (I also enjoy Georges Simenon's Maigret novels, but for some reason I rarely read them.) Blowhards readers might recall that I have written about Nero Wolfe too. * I might as well toss in a Blogging Note to round out this post. Nancy's annual Tahoe ski week is almost upon us, so we'll be on the road to there, the Bay Area and various bits of Southern California, returning early in February. I'll pack my trusty computer and post as frequently as I can manage. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 12, 2009 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When Flattops Encountered Jets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Well-rounded information takes time to emerge. This is especially true where government secrets are concerned. Then there is the need for perspective. In matters technological, once a problem has become well understood and a set of tested solutions is available, then the attempts to create that solution set can be evaluated fairly. Which is why I enjoyed reading this book (see cover, below). Actually, the publisher got the title wrong. "U.S. Naval Air Superiority" to me means something like the World War 2 struggle between the air arms of the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy; the Japanese held it in the early going and ceded it by 1943. In the time frame of the book, the United States always had the strongest naval air arm in the world. The publisher should have used something like the sub-title "Development of Shipborne Jet Fighters 1943-1962" as the title, because that's what the book is about. Why does all this ancient (in terms of aviation) history interest me? Partly it's because I have an interest in technological evolution. Mostly it's because the book covers an exciting era in aviation that happened to slightly overlap the time I entered Kindergarten to when I graduated from college. I would first see newspaper stories announcing this or that new Navy fighter and then find follow-up articles in aviation magazines and the Popular Mechanics/Science-type magazines. All such articles were essentially raw or rephrased public relations handouts. There would be a dramatic photo or two of the airplane, perhaps some solid technical information such as main dimensions and possibly some sketchy performance statistics. If the plane entered squadron service more information would seep out, though bad news would be covered up or downplayed unless it became a scandal such as the failure of the Westinghouse J40 engine program. Such secrecy and deception is understandable with respect to weaponry. Once the aircraft had completed their path from front-line serve through use by reserve units to an aircraft boneyard, real information began to emerge regarding capabilities and, especially, defects. Although much of the information in the book has been public for years, Thomason (who was involved in the industry for many years) has packaged the facts well. I find it fun to discover the real story behind those PR-generated news stories of my childhood and youth. The technical landscape during the late 1940s with respect to naval aviation included the following: Reciprocating (piston driven) engines driving propellers had reached the point of diminishing returns. Increases in power required increases in weight and complexity, more difficulty in cooling, and decreases in reliability. It was clear that the top level-flight speed for any fighter using such engines would never exceed 500 miles per hour. Meanwhile, German and British jet-propelled fighters easily surpassed that speed barrier. Early jet engines were unreliable. They had to undergo maintenance frequently. They weren't very powerful, either. Yet they burned a lot of fuel fast, requiring incorporation of large fuel... posted by Donald at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost offers a much-needed new service. * You mean you can't trust what you read on the Internet? Oh no! * Another deserving industry demands a bailout. Best, Michael UPDATE: Click the button on Shouting Thomas' inspirational Lard-Ass-O-Meter.... posted by Michael at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (7) comments

List of Lists
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The 150 best Flash games. (Thanks to visitor Nick.) * Ramesh describes some gadgets he's hoping to see soon. * Catch up with a well-selected sampler of current pop music. * 12 ways that porn has changed the web. * The ten biggest diet and health stories of 2008. * Finefantastic lists her ten favorite film melodramas. * Glenn Kenny recommends the best DVDs of 2008. * List-making virtuoso Colleen notes down 100 things she learned in 2008: part one, part two. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 7, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, January 2, 2009

Preserving Languages via Text Messaging
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Browsing today's (2 January 2009) Wall Street Journal, I encountered an article titled "How the Lowly Text Message May Save Languages That Could Otherwise Fade" by William Bulkeley. Its link is here. Since I don't know how long the link will hold, below are key quotes from the piece. Can a language stay relevant if it isn't used to send text messages on a cellphone? Language advocates worry that the answer is no, and they are pushing to make more written languages available on cellphones. ... But companies that develop predictive text say they have created cellphone software for fewer than 80 of the world's 6,912 languages cataloged by SIL International, a Dallas organization that works to preserve languages. ... "The idea of having your cultural identity represented in this technology is increasingly important," says Laura Welcher, director of the Rosetta Project of San Francisco's Long Now Foundation. Ms. Welcher, who says linguists fear half the world's languages will disappear in the near future, thinks at least 200 languages have enough speakers to justify development of cellphone text systems. "Technology empowers the poorest people," she adds. ... Michael Cahill, linguistics coordinator for SIL International, says, "There are cases where texting is helping to preserve languages" by encouraging young people to write in their native tongue. Predictive text is a technique that guesses what a word might be after a few letters have been keyed in on a cellphone. I'm not a text-messager in part because of the bother of using eight keys to represent 26 letters. While predictive text no doubt improves composition speed, I find it easier to simply dial through and leave a voicemail message if necessary. (I'll concede that a good use for text messaging is transmission of numbers such as addresses and phone numbers which sometimes can be misunderstood via voice.) I'm all for the free market, so more power to software and communications companies that spread the use of predictive text to less-spoken tongues. On the other hand, the business of language preservation as a kind of crusade leaves me cold, as you can read here. So having predictive text for a minor language is potentially a big deal in its preservation. And voicemail (by implication) isn't? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 2, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Seating Strategies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was in elementary school, the teacher assigned us seats. Our desks looked like these: One year -- might have been Third Grade -- the teacher had the desks side-by side in three rows rather than by themselves in four or five rows. The rub was, I had to sit next to a girl I didn't like for a good chunk of the school year. After elementary school, we usually were able to sit where we pleased. My preference is to sit about halfway or two-thirds of the way back from the front row. My wife likes to sit near the front when we go to church, which is a little out of my comfort zone. When I taught college classes or quiz sections, it was usually the gals who hogged the front row, distractingly crossing their legs -- something known to most male teachers. Hmm. I wonder what the seating pattern is for female teachers? I never paid much attention to that at the time, but my guess is that female students were still more likely to sit towards the front of the classroom. I'm not sure why I preferred to sit farther back. Perhaps it was a function of my personality, me being more of an observer than a participant, all else being equal. Or maybe it was because I liked to doodle cars and airplanes on the margins of my notebooks and didn't want the teacher to notice. What are your thoughts on this important psycho-social matter? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 21, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Music critic Ken Tucker lists his favorite pop music of the year. * Health-and-fitness guru Mark Sisson lists his favorite books of all time. Pleasing to see that Mark has the same high opinion of Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" that I do. It's a showstopper as well as a paradigm-shifter. * MBlowhard Rewind: I shared some thoughts about 10-best lists generally. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 17, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, December 15, 2008

Odd Place-names
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Late last week we visited Victoria, BC, taking the Victoria Clipper high-speed catamaran from Seattle. This service is convenient, but not cheap. However, given the current recession as well as it being the tourist off-season, we were able to get good mid-week rates for the trip. Video is everywhere, including the passenger cabin of the Clipper IV. We saw a loop lasting 10 or 12 minutes, more than half of which was comprised of a number of promotional announcements. Mercifully, the balance was a computerized navigation chart showing the location and orientation of the boat. A fun byproduct of checking trip progress was seeing some of the place-names along the route. Two on Puget Sound that struck my fancy were Point No-Point and Useless Bay. I was able to look up their origins here. Apparently both are linked to the Wilkes Expedition that visited the area in 1841. Point No-Point, named after a feature on the Hudson River, isn't much of a point when seen on a map and apparently is hard to discern when sailing as well. Useless Bay is a real bay on the western shore of Whidbey Island, but lack of water depth at low tides makes it a poor place to drop anchor. Such candor is nearly impossible in today's world of marketing and public relation spin, making such names seem so refreshing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Throwing Stones: From Inside or Outside?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Recently, in this post I passed along some thoughts regarding graduates of elite universities assuming top roles in the new Administration and about top performers while attending such schools. I concluded by mentioning, as a disclosure of sorts, that 2Blowhards contributors suffered from that same Ivied past. Naturally, the matter of 'Leaguers talking about fellow 'Leaguers raised a few eyebrows in Comments. In particular, the matter of Ivy Leaguers who criticized the Ivy League -- a kind of reverse-snobbery that understandably raises hackles of non-Leaguers. Which indirectly raises an interesting issue: Who should or shouldn't discuss certain things. No, that's not quite right. I personally favor discussion and opinion-flinging by anyone, provided the discussion is civil. The issue is more that of: Who should be able to discuss something without being subject to criticism pertaining to the discussant's ties to the matter under discussion That's quite a mouthful, a big bucket of pixels and bytes. So let me try to clarify with examples. Ivy Leaguers discussing the Ivy League have at times been dismissed as snobs. I won't deny that it's easy to give oneself a mental "attaboy" pat on the back now and then and even let slip your background into a conversation. (I sometimes call it "My fancy-schmancy Ivy League Ph.D." and thereby advance myself two-thirds of the way to a status hat-trick, coating the pill with a veneer of "aw-shucks" sugar.) I'll go further and suggest that it seems like a human nature thing; many people seem to have a social need to identify with (if not actually be a part of) something larger than themselves that is generally seen as successful. There are exceptions, but sports fans seem to turn out for games in greater numbers when the team they root for is doing well, for instance. On the other hand, outsider criticism of an elite or otherwise successful entity can be attacked as a case of sour grapes. So you can be attacked if yo' is or if yo' ain't. There seems to be no escape. Educational attainment in general can be another bone of contention. Is a Ph.D. expressing skepticism of advanced degrees showing some kind of reverse-snobbery? Is it more sour grapes if somebody with only a high school diploma complains that college graduates can be really impractical? All else being equal, I tend to value institutional criticism coming from one who is or was an insider more than outsider criticism, though I value outsider criticism if it seems well-informed. That's because the sour grapes problem tends to be minimal or entirely absent. For example, I know from personal experience some of the negative byproducts of Ph.D. training (in the "social sciences" anyway). And the Ivy League, as usually experienced by an insider spending years in a university eventually becomes reduced to the ordinary daily scene; it doesn't seem like such a big deal after a while. (Get up, washed and dressed. The same old boring breakfast.... posted by Donald at December 14, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cultural History Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * John McWhorter writes an impassioned introduction to the work and the life of an underknown giant, the early African-American composer Will Marion Cook. * Brooks Peters writes a wonderful and informative essay about two big 20th century American "personalities," Cornelia Otis Skinner and Ilka Chase. * MBlowhard Rewind: I ventured a few thoughts about Westerns. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 10, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Coffee and Seattle -- Why?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I never could figure it out. This business about Seattle being coffee-crazed, Seattle being the coffee capital of the Solar System, if not beyond. The first rumblings in the press way back in -- I don't remember exactly when -- the late 80s or early 90s or thereabouts took me by surprise. "Huh? Seattle and coffee? I never noticed that." And I had spent much of my life in the Seattle area. Given that Starbucks, the world's largest and best-known coffee chain, is Seattle-based, the connection between Seattle and coffee is now taken for granted. But back in those early days, Starbucks was pretty much local and reporters were wrinkling their brows about whether the company could successfully transmit their friendly, laid-back Seattle ambiance if they expanded to surly places such as New York City. Before that connection was taken for granted, there were articles in the press dealing with the subject. Sadly, lacking the skill and tenacity of a librarian, I can't quickly locate any such pieces. Nor, alas, can I remember any of their conclusions. That self-inflicted ignorance and uncertainty was swept aside this morning. I dropped off my wife at her tennis club in a suburban city on Puget Sound and had an hour and a half to kill. Rainy day. Mid-40s temperature (call it 6 or 7 Centigrade). Certainly not a nice day, but not so awful that many people would never want to venture out. I parked the car and wandered over to a Tully's coffee place. It was packed; no place to sit and I definitely needed to sit if my time-killing project was going to work as planned. So I hiked a couple of blocks over to the downtown's other coffee place, a Starbucks. Same story. Then back to Tully's where I ordered The Usual ("tall drip with a little room") and stood around until I could grab a chair. There you have it, my newly-hatched theory of why Seattle folks became known as great coffee drinkers: the weather. Betcha no one ever thought of that before. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 9, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Razib, Cosmos, Meat
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * GNXP's Razib has kicked off another provocative new blog. Its name -- Secular Right -- pretty much explains its theme: righties who have no religious feelings. The blog's high-powered participants include Heather Mac Donald, John Derbyshire, and Walter Olson. * Well, that's finally settled. * Thanks to Will S. for pointing out this fun Table Matters piece about the pleasures of eating meat. Scott Gold argues that meat-eaters are mucho sexier than vegans. Don't skip the linked-to video clip. * MBlowhard Rewind: I compared the magazines of 1970 to our current crop. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 3, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Apple Jam
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Have you been in an Apple Store recently? You know, the place where one can buy iMacs, iPods, iPhones, iThises, iThats and iEtceteras. To me, there's something curiously off-putting about an Apple Store. I take that back; I know exactly what it is that's a little off-putting so far as I'm concerned. It's that one can hardly get ten feet into the store before being accosted by a helpful sales rep. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, mind you -- especially if you walked in wanting to buy something and not knowing quite where to find it. But I normally stop by an Apple Store to browse, checking out prices of new computer lines, that sort of thing. In those cases, I'd just as soon not have to go to the trouble of explaining why I'm there. Altogether, Apple Stores skew in the same direction as Turkish markets where a slight glance at something will bring the salesman running up to you, article in hand, with a "Sir" or "M'dame" on his lips. Of course there's the other extreme. My experience for years has been that JC Penney stores are chronically understaffed. Sometimes one has to wander almost halfway across the store to even find a clerk to ring something up, let alone explain a product. My advice to Steve Jobs is to de-staff his stores by, oh, 30 percent and then cut prices on products by ten percent or so. Sounds like a winning solution to me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 30, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brochure Lit
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here we are in Las Vegas. Took a little 520-mile round-trip yesterday to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. The stash a park ranger handed to us upon entry to Zion included a glossy, fold-out, official brochure with some truly lousy (in my humble esteem) writing. Consider: Immutable yet ever changing, the cliffs of Zion stand resolute, a glowing presence in late day, a wild calm. Melodies of waters sooth desert-parched ears, streams twinkle over stone, wren song cascades from red-rock cliffs, cottonwood leaves jitter on the breeze. But when lightning flashes waterfalls erupt from dry cliffs, and floods flash down waterless canyons exploding log jams, hurtling boulders, croaking wild joyousness, and dancing stone and water and time. Zion is alive with movement, a river of life always here and always changing. Must have been a summer intern project for a Yale lit-major. All things considered, I'd prefer facts to froth. Here's more, having to do with the Indians over-hunting mammoths, giant sloths, camels and then smaller animals before turning to agriculture: As resources dwindled 2,600 years ago, people tuned lifeways to the specifics of place. Lowlights: a wild calm !!??! tuned lifeways to the specifics of place ??!!? God help the English language. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 24, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Re-Enacting: A Report from the Field
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the many oddball American cultural activities I know nothing about is "re-enacting" -- the world of guys who dress up in period outfits and recreate Civil War battles. So when Bill S. - one of my oldest and best friends -- emailed me that he'd taken part in a re-enactment, I bugged him to let me reprint his note here on the blog. I'm pleased that he agreed. Here's a link to some video of the event Bill took part in. Here's some more officially-endorsed re-enactment footage: And here's Bill's account of his adventure: A few weeks ago, my wife and I visited her brother and sister-in-law in Maryland. My wife’s brother has been a Civil War re-enactor for a while now, and he finally got me to join him for the battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Crazy stuff. 4,000 re-enactors on an actual battleground fighting it out. We drove down to Cedar Creek while the girls treated themselves to a shop-a-thon. We arrived around nightfall. Seeing hundreds of tents and campfires in that beautiful valley, I felt like I had come unstuck in time (to quote Uncle Kurt Vonnegut). I really had no idea what I was getting into but my brother-in-law has been doing this for 20 years so knew exactly what to expect. We slept (barely) in 38 degree weather in an open-ended Civil War pup tent with two wool blankets each. I got about an hour of sleep fearing frostbite on my toes, but it certainly gets you into the experience. (And you and I thought some of those old Boy Scout winter campouts were rough!) The next morning it was drills. Each division has a captain who calls, literally, the shots. Ours was from the PA regiment. He totally looked Civil War, complete with overgrown moustache. He trained us during the day. I learned how to march, stack weapons, shoot a muzzle-loading musket, and skirmish. The captains train the troops to reenact the battles in a historically accurate manner. They may tell you, "we need to take some casualties," if that's what happened in the actual battle. The battle started at 3:00 that afternoon -- historically accurate. It was off the hook. I felt like I was living the first 15 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” You can't imagine the period rush you get when you see 2,000 Confederates coming at you over a hill with muskets blazing. The Confederates are evidently still pissed about losing the Civil War, as three minutes into the battle they went off the historic script and kept coming at us. Quite the thrill to have two ranks/lines of Confederate soldiers blasting their muskets at you from 50 feet away. The guns we re-enactors used are historic replications of Civil War muzzle-loaders. To fire, you tear off -- with your teeth if you're a mensch -- a gunpowder packet half the size of a cigarette and pour it directly... posted by Michael at November 22, 2008 | perma-link | (23) comments

Friday, November 21, 2008

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I always thought it interesting that other people would fall into travel routines. For example, a couple my parents knew would regularly travel to Honolulu every year near Christmas time. Now it seems Nancy and I have the same disease (if that's what it is): her ski week at Lake Tahoe in January, Santa Barbara in early November and Las Vegas during Thanksgiving week. (The latter is because, when I was still working, I would only have to take three days of leave time while being away for seven days -- the balance being weekends and a two-day holiday.) We hop the plane to Vegas tomorrow. I'll pack my trusty MacBook and post as best I can. Otherwise, I'll keep my eyes open and have my camera at the ready for blog-worthy grist. I'll be visiting the new Palazzo hotel complex (part of the endangered Sands empire) and will check progress on the big glass 'n' steel project along The Strip between the Monte Carlo and the Bellagio. It was mostly steelwork a year ago. I read that there are financing problems, so I'll be interested in seeing where things stand now in terms of being completed. It's interesting in that "name" architects were hired and the depictions of the completed project suggest that the shebang will be the usual (yawn) Modernism -- and totally out of character so far as the rest of the 'hood is concerned. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Random Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What a luscious bundle of contradictions, doubts, and friskiness Helen Mirren is. She's too much woman -- but in the best kind of way. * More from Ron Paul. * The best camcorders of 2008. * Lesbians are more than twice as likely as straight women to get fat. Given the shape that many of today's straight women are in, that's saying a lot. * Genes are even more complex than you thought they were. * The only known audio recording of Virginia Woolf. * Does fashion goddess Heidi Klum owe Hindus an apology? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 21, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plain or Mixed?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In one of my more profound posts I observed that people eating corn on the cob tend to do their eating either typewriter style or lathe style. (Most commenters favored typewriter, by the way.) Now that holiday party season is nigh, I though I'd uncork another food consumption issue: Mixed nuts or plain? One school of thought is that mixed nuts provide people a choice; those who crave Brazil nuts, say, would not be slighted. I grant this. As host I might consider setting out a bowl of mixed. But a bowl of mixed nuts après-soirée quickly gets reduced to a collection of pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnut bits and whatever, once the good stuff has been picked out. Little old moi, I go for straight stuff, generally lightly salted peanuts or maybe cashews (which were a rare treat eons ago in my childhood). So I suppose if I were in charge of a party I'd set out a bowl of mixed plus one of my faves. And toss out the dregs of the mixed after the event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 20, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Short Distance Contrasts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We went to Yakima Friday for a visit with Nancy's kin and returned the following afternoon. Driving time from Seattle is around two and a half hours -- less, if you make no stops and push the speed limit envelope by ten percent. Less than an hour east of Seattle you are cresting Snoqualmie Summit at a little more than 3,000 feet above sea level and entering Eastern Washington. Douglas Fir trees begin to give way to pine as you descend from the pass. Then the pines become more scarce, tending to forsake lowlands for the wetter hilltops. By the time you've peeled off from Interstate 90 to I-82 and leave the agricultural Kittitas Valley, you are entering sagebrush country: a desert, essentially. And Yakima is still the better part of half an hour away. One of the things that comes with the territory if you live near the Pacific Coast is the contrast between a damp, forested coastal strip including bodies of water and, to the east, desert with mountains or high hills establishing the division. Down around San Diego, the verdant part is paper-thin, whereas up here in Seattle the wet, green part is more than 150 miles wide. Thanks to large, irrigated agricultural areas in central California and Washington's Columbia Basin, the desert is less visible to casual travelers. And of course trees can be found at higher elevations such as in the Sierras and Rockies as well as the hilly country around Spokane and the Idaho Panhandle. Elsewhere in the country, a two-hour drive will almost always yield comparatively moderate change. For example, you could begin at Port Chester on Long Island Sound and wind up someplace in the Catskills. You would have traded shore for mountains and hills, but the nature of the vegetation wouldn't be particularly different. There would be no transition from thick forests to desert. In pre-freeway days, the drive to see the contrasts would have taken longer. My rule-of-thumb is that intercity freeways cut driving time around 50 percent compared to the old two-lane highways with truck traffic days. Therefore the Seattle-Yakima run might have required five hours. I remember the pre-I-90 days when the route was called US 10. In the late 1940s the four-lane stretch petered out a few miles shy of North Bend and then it was two-lane road nearly all the way to whatever your Eastern Washington destination might have been. We would often take a lunch break in an old mining town 85 miles east of Seattle called Cle Elum. We usually lunched at an old cafe with wooden booths, a soda fountain counter and pressed metal ceiling. I'd have a hamburger or perhaps a grilled cheese sandwich. The restaurant had probably folded by the time the freeway opened, the freeway making Cle Elum less necessary as a resting point. As a matter of fact, I didn't bother stopping in Cle Elum for many years on the assumption that the... posted by Donald at November 16, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Thursday, November 13, 2008

California, Visited
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm back from two weeks in California and part of my unpacking took the form of downloading snapshots from the trip. Most of them are the usual tripe and wasted pixels. But a few might have turned out okay. Here they are: Gallery This was taken from a really posh winery near the road from Napa to Sonoma. It shows you what the area looked like before all those posh wineries came on the scene starting in the 1970s or thereabouts. Yes, those are vineyards in the middle distance. This area has been the heart of California's wine industry for decades; it's the fancy wineries that are relatively new. Here is the facade of the Santa Barbara mission. The towers were heavily damaged in the 1925 earthquake. Rather than using stone structure or facing on the repaired towers, what you see is probably plaster over reinforced concrete or some other base. And the "stonework" on the upper parts of the towers? ... It's painted. This tomb is on the mission grounds. I photographed it for two reasons: First, it was larger and more attractive than any of the other burial facilities. Second, the family name is the same as that of Miguel Covarrubias, a popular artist from the 1930s and 40s whose work I remember fondly. This neighborhood is opposite the mission, a nearly 180 degree pivot from the facade photo above. The Santa Barbara area has lots of lovely houses. On our way north we visited the Carmel area, another favorite California haunt. This is a view of Monterey harbor with a whiff of morning fog to provide atmosphere. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 13, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Airflow and Friends
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though national economies contracted during the Great Depression of the 1930s, companies fighting for survival launched a flurry of innovations in an effort to lure customers. Perhaps the most visible case is that of the automobile industry which began the decade offering cars that were boxy assemblages of hoods, fenders, headlamps, spare tires and so forth. By 1940 most of the surviving firms were selling smooth, streamlined-looking cars. The idea of making car bodies aerodynamically efficient was nothing new; a few prototype aerodynamic cars had appeared as early as the Great War and others followed during the Twenties. But experimental cars and racing machines are not everyday transportation. The first serious attempts to produce aerodynamically refined sedans had to await the mid-Thirties. The most famous of the first round of aerodynamic cars was the Chrysler Airflow. Production delays, quality problems and sniping by rivals blunted sales, so the car and its DeSoto Airflow sibling were market failures in spite of their introduction of engineering innovations that became standard such as placing passenger seating between the axles. Perhaps the greatest problem with the Airflow was the styling. From the windshield to the tail, the car looked different from others, but not unacceptably so. The problem had to do with the front end. Contemporary cars -- particularly higher-priced ones that the Chrysler competed with -- had long hoods covering "straight-eight" or V-12 motors. Customers had been trained during the 20s to associate long hoods with power and prestige. Airflows had short hoods and soft, nondescript grilles that didn't suggest much of anything. Nevertheless, other manufacturers came out with cars that looked similar to the Airflow. They probably started development after the glow of the Airflow's introduction but before the sales catastrophe became apparent. The only commercially successful Airflow-like car was the French Peugeot 402 and the later, smaller version of it, the Peugeot 202. One possible reason why Peugeot succeeded while Chrysler failed was because the 402's grille-hood ensemble was more gracefully shaped and longer relative to the rest of the body. Placing the headlights behind the grille simplified the design, eliminating an awkward feature of the Airflow. Gallery Chevrolet - 1934 This Chevrolet sedan displays typical 1934 styling. Surfaces are more rounded than those from 1930 and the the grille and windshield are slightly raked, reflecting that streamlining was on the minds of stylists in those days. Being a low-priced car, its hood was relatively short for that era. Chrysler Airflow - 1934 Besides the rounded front, note the raked, V'd windshield and mildly sloping tail. Side panels and fenders were fairly conventional, though not elegantly shaped. Volvo PV 36 "Carioca" - 1936 Volvo's version of the Airflow was introduced in 1935 and sales were slow during its production run. The body is a little more rounded than the Airflow's, the grille less so. Toyota AA - 1936 This was Toyota's first passenger car. Only around 1,400 were built between 1936 and 1943. The... posted by Donald at November 12, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stickin' Right
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Oh ye of little faith. Well, I'm assuming that some of you were probably skeptical when I mentioned that I'd post Righty bumper sticker-bedecked vehicles when found and in camera range. Lefty stickers were featured here and here. Behold!! Okay, it's not so great compared to the others but I [whine] really [whine] really [more whine] tried. This truck was spotted in a fast-food joint's parking lot near Paso Robles, California. I'll keep trying to find a seriously plastered Rightiemobile. Now that The Savior is on his way to the White House my odds might improve. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 11, 2008 | perma-link | (34) comments

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhward writes: Dear Blowhards -- Number of cellphones dropped in toilets every year in the U.S.: 7 million. Source: The History Channel's great documentary series Modern Marvels. Two of my favorite Modern Marvels episodes are "Bathroom Tech" and "Bathroom Tech 2." What an earthy way to do a little learning; what a fun prism through which to examine a little history. Small hunch: Kids would develop a lot more interest in history than many of them do if topics like bathroom habits and customs were included in the information they're given. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 9, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So here we are in the Santa Barbara area, this blog's fave vacation spot. No double-secret staff meeting with Michael this year, however. I haven't posted for a few days because we got hit with the flu en route. That and maybe coping with yet another of those nasty ol' birthdays. * The election is over and now the Democrats have nothing to get bitter about. No more BusHitler. No more paranoia. Camelot has returned. And as for whatever goes wrong in the next few years, well .... * When I was young (and even middle-aged) I got high hopes if the presidential candidate I supported won the election. For example, I figured that Ike would really straighten out that Cold War / Communist expansion thing that had happened on Truman's watch. I still have hopes that things will change in the direction I prefer, but in democracies no initiative can prevail for long before generating a pushback. Obamafans beware! * I just did the math: Of the 16 elections where I was old enough to have a preference, the candidate I favored was victorious 11 times. So I suppose I shouldn't complain too much about yesterday's results. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 5, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rudyard Kipling on Careers
Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, Michael Blowhard emailed me recently explaining that he went to a party with a bunch of youngsters in the arts, and found the whole experience exhausting. Even talking to a friend of his, a talented kid in his twenties, was difficult because the kid really is fixated on having a bigtime career in his chosen profession. I thought about this for a while, and contemplated where I come out on the topic of ambition (artistic or otherwise.) After all, I’ve had some success in life, and I get up and work hard every day trying to be there financially and otherwise for my wife and kids. But having stared all this in face as the gambler-in-chief responsible for some 30 paychecks for the past twenty years, the concept of having a big-time career as a goal seems like a distant relic of childhood. It is no doubt very old fogeyish to quote Rudyard Kipling, but here goes: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same… Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools… Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!" I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship to the Victorians (at least parts of Kipling, Tennyson, etc.) It’s odd how much some of their thought hits home as I wend my way through my fifties. My guess is that I couldn’t appreciate them when I was 20 because I simply didn’t have the life experience to know what the Victorians were really getting at. As a kid, I couldn’t see past the distancing rhetorical or moralistic flourishes to the underlying truth. That is, I just didn’t know the reality of the frustrations, the fear, the fragility of all ‘accomplishment’, the deadly earnest struggle of trying to make sense of life in a teleological vacuum that I encounter every day as a man in my fifties. I certainly didn’t get the appeal of (maybe better expressed as the need for) common tried and true life strategies -- of which 'be a man, my son' is one -- because it hadn’t dawned on me that there just aren’t any other viable ones. Basically, in short, I suspect that literary fashion, at least at the university level, is deeply suspect because, ahem, the kids know nothing and their literature teachers know very little more of life as mature people are required to live it. Speaking of life in maturity, I’d like to report that I’ve lost 75 pounds and I can do 65 pushups. A very modest accomplishment, I know, but then I’m stooping and building myself up with wornout tools. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at November 1, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Friday, October 31, 2008

Traveling to Buy Stuff
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- So here I am in San Francisco, typing away from about three blocks distant from its Post Street / Union Square glitz-shopping epicenter. Want some usual suspects? Try Neiman-Marcus, Saks, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Tiffany. And there's more. This morning I saw for the first time a store devoted exclusively to UGG boots and their other products. That's exceptional, actually. The UGG thing. Those other stores I named can be found in many major cities these days, so it's not that big a deal to stumble across them. But it wasn't always so. I can remember the times when if you wanted to shop at Brooks Brothers, there was no option other than going to New York City and roaming Madison Avenue in the 40s till you found the place. A few blocks south of Tripler's if I recall correctly. Even in the 1970s it could be a treat to visit New York, Chicago, San Francisco and a few other towns to shop famous stores. Maybe that's why my present visit to San Francisco is nothing special; I strolled the streets hoping for new and interesting places to check out and didn't find much of interest other than a store selling Barbour jackets from England along with nice sweaters and other togs. (Not that I actually buy much, mind you; window shopping and people watching are two of my top priorities when in flaneur mode.) No question (to me, al least) that it's nice to have the treasures of the world at one's fingertips. The price of this convenience is that one of the elements of enjoying travel is diminished. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 31, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on Constraints
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent post about design constraints I contended that engineering and other technical fields had do deal with constraints continually, whereas word and idea based fields didn't very much. It was a long post and I didn't have room to deal with wordy or arty areas that do happen to be subject to constraints. For the most part, such constraints aren't as rigorous as those a battleship designer or civil engineer regularly confront, but they bear mentioning. So, in case you didn't link to Comments in the post I cited, I thought I'd drop in the following exchange. First up is ricpic, a longtime reader. An exercise for you, Donald. Try writing a two stanza poem, each stanza consisting of four lines, lines one and three and two and four rhyming, lines one and three eight beats, lines two and four six beats. The poem can be about any subject that genuinely interests you (in your case that might be politics or American history or Seattle or architecture or classic cars). Lastly, the poem has to make sense and the rhyming has to be unforced. Then come back and tell me that only those on the technical side of the equation deal with constraints. To which I replied: I wasn't categorical. And if every poem had to have the structure you propose or else had to be a haiku or a sonnet -- and nothing else was allowed -- then indeed poets would have to ply their trade severely constrained. But that's not the way it is: Poets can do whatever they please these days (they aren't forced to write sonnets), while technical workers will forever remain shackled in many respects. But here's an example of constraints in the arts: stage set designer. He's only got so much real estate to deal with. There are sightlines to consider. Ease of set changing. Stage features -- any turntables, trap doors, etc. The play or opera itself and its minimal staging requirements. There is a budget to consider. And deadlines. Not to mention the whims of the director who demands that Die Fledermaus be staged in a Nazi concentration camp setting. In a later comment, frequent-commenter Tatyana suggested that what I said about set designers was a fair description of what architects and interior designers have to deal with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 23, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1991, the average bra size in the U.S. was 34B. Today, it's 36C. My source for this fact is an episode of the History Channel's great "Modern Marvels" series that was devoted to underwear. A fun and informative episode in many ways, though its failure to so much as mention thongs and g-strings struck me as a serious oversight. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 22, 2008 | perma-link | (19) comments

On Design Constraints
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I never studied engineering in college. This was realistic on my part because I lacked the mathematical skills and the temperament a good engineer needs. On the other hand, I missed something really important -- something it took years for me to attain willy-nilly as I experienced life. Too bad I didn't get it rammed into my skull when I was 19 or 20. I'm alluding to the matter of constraints. Sure, one deals with constraints from the time he's hatched. But most constraints are minor or simply part of the environment, so they aren't given much thought. It's not all that often that people have to think through constraints in a formal sense. But that's what engineers and others who do almost any kind of technical work have to deal with a lot. People whose trade is ideas and words face far fewer and less critical constraints than, say, the designer of a battleship. So to make matters more concrete, let's consider some of the many constraining factors for battleship design. The last true battleship was commissioned in 1946 (HMS Vanguard), only 40 years after the completion of the first modern (all big-gun) battleship HMS Dreadnought. That's a pretty short run, but a well-documented one. My favorite source on battleship design is this book by Norman Friedman. A highly important constraint is cost. Battleships were hugely expensive items in an era where the world was less rich and government shares of economies were much less than they are now. Politicians who had the responsibility of proposing naval budgets or voting on them were torn between adequately defending the nation and other demands on the treasury. As a rule of thumb, the better battleship is the bigger battleship in a number of ways including survivability. (For instance, the largest battleships ever built, Japan's Yamato class, were extremely hard to destroy.) But another rule is that cost is almost always proportional to size; at some point, even the most bellicose politicians will draw the line at more spending. Another constraint is the number and characteristics of battleships in fleets of potential enemies (and even allies). It makes little sense to build ships that would be quickly destroyed in a fight; your battleships should be superior to or, minimally, competitive with those of your foes. After the Great War ended, a naval race between the U.S.A., Britain and Japan loomed. Its potential cost was so high that politicians instead used the device of a treaty that limited the number of ships (via total tonnage by type of ship), their size (in terms of displacement) and how large their main armament could be. Regardless whether the ship's displacement was limited by treaty or budget, the designers had to honor that limit and essentially allocate various features of the ship according to shares of the total displacement weight. Friedman suggests that a good rule of thumb is that around 60 percent of the displacement of a battleship can... posted by Donald at October 22, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, October 20, 2008

New England Pictured
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- On my trip to the Northeast and Canada the resolution setting on my camera was mostly on low density because I hoped to use my photos as blog grist. I've already subjected you to several picture-centric postings featuring Canada and the Rochester, NY area. My hard drive still has a trove of unpublished views of Boston and bits of New England, which means ... Gallery Many of our readers are interested in urbanism, and so am I. My previous visit to Boston was in 2004 when the cleanup work was still underway atop the Big Dig project which transformed (at huge expense) a freeway on stilts to one in the nether regions. Here's what I saw in September. Far better than in the Chinese Wall days, but I think some buildings would be a nice addition (through probably impractical to build). Boston has lots of statues of famous people, mostly on pedestals in parks and squares. But not always. In the Quincy Market area one can find Red Auerbach -- not on the pedestal he deserves, but benched. Those shoes to the right are Larry Bird's, if memory serves (please correct me if I'm wrong.) Other non-pedestaled statuary includes this mother duck and her ducklings in the Public Garden. As almost any parent knows, they represent the main characters in Robert McCloskey's famous children's book Make Way for Ducklings. Copies of the book can be found in many souvenir shops, almost rivaling Red Sox caps. Since we're in the Public Garden, I'll toss in this arty shot of the lake. Toward the top you can see a pedestrian bridge and a swan boat or two, if you squint. Here's a fun bit of signage on Hanover Street in the North End. I forget where I took this one, but it might have been in the Harvard Medical School neighborhood. Regardless, it struck me as being quite an architectural mélange. The cornice itself seems unusual because I don't see them on newer buildings much. (Maybe that's because new buildings out West where I hang out need to conform to earthquake safety regulations that aren't cornice-friendly.) The etching on the underside of the cornice seems derived from Art Nouveau. The windows ... well, I'm not sure if they're derivative of anything important; feel free to set me straight. The main part of the building seems to be clad in Roman brick or something similar -- another oddity, at least for tall structures. Enough Boston. Out we go into 'burbs, Sub and Ex, approximately following Paul Revere's route of April 18-19 1775. Sign says it's a Green. The town is Lexington. Hmm. Lexington Green. Don't we have a Chicago Boyz based commenter with that moniker? So now I can say I've seen Lexington Green ... the blogging world can be so small, sometimes. That's the (reconstructed) Concord Bridge. On the far side came the Redcoats seeking Colonist cannons. Local militia stood on the near side and sent... posted by Donald at October 20, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Linkage by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A selection of recent webfinds by champion websurfer Charlton Griffin: * How stars are born. * A followup to Donald's recent "ugly car" posting: The seven ugliest cars. * Here's an ode to a genuine 20th century icon, the Citroen Deux Chevaux. * Learn about the exoplanets. * Baby star. * More mischief from Penn and Teller. * When empires go bad. * More scorchingness from Pat Condell. * Debussy in an unexpected venue. * Witness the 172 foot dive. * Spooky physics. * Happy dog. * Time to reconnect with the basics? * Demographics gone wild. * I don't think I want to know quite that much about what's going on inside my body. * Obama has a jobs plan. * New perspectives on well-known films. * Another reason to be careful in your public behavior: Google Street View may be watching. * Has celluloid cinema film finally met its match? * In the Philosophers World Cup, it's Germany vs. Greece. * Amazing panoramic (or something) photos of a yummy-looking and incredibly well-stocked restaurant in Peru. Be sure to zoom in on the buffet table. * Health care goes global. * Put this on in the background and you'll be calmer within minutes. * Submit to the doodle master. * Meet the one-armed guitar virtuoso. Check out Charlton's audiobook offerings at Audible. Charlton is one of the very best producers and readers of audiobooks. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 18, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Truly Ugly Car
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Designing safety into automobiles wasn't solely the result of federal government mandates influenced by Ralph Nader's crusade against the Chevrolet Corvair in the 1960s. One example was the Tucker of 1948. I don't remember what all the supposed safety features were, but it did have a little padding on the panel below the windshield and a large-ish open space directly below it on the front passenger side where, it was said, the passenger could hurl himself prior to an impact. For the 1956 model year, Ford Motor Company offered a safety package that included lap seat-belts, padded dashboard and a steering wheel with a recessed hub that would be less likely to impale the drive during a frontal collision. In 1957 my jaw dropped when I opened my copy of Motor Trend and saw photos of a safety car designed by Fr. Alfred Juliano. It was strange, looking like parts of it were going in different directions. For a fairly detailed write-up, click here. Fr. Alfred Juliano's Aurora safety car - 1957 To me, the oddest feature was the windshield which bulges outward sort of like a sausage balloon. The above photo doesn't show it as clearly as a side view might, but if you look carefully you ought to be able to get a sense of its shape. The probable reason for the strange windshield had to do with frontal collisions. If the people in the front seat have lap belts (lap/shoulder belts such as we are familiar with are not apparent in the photo), their entire bodies won't be flung forward by inertia. Instead, the trunk, arms and head will pivot forward from the hip and the head might well strike a conventional windshield. A drastically convex windshield, on the other hand, is too far to be hit; the driver's chest will be halted by the steering wheel and the passengers head might strike the padded dash. Well, that's the theory as I surmise it. The linked article draws a similar conclusion using different reasoning. The car never entered production, yet somehow avoided the scrap heap and is now in a museum in England. I won't categorically claim it's the ugliest car ever built, but it's surely a contender. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 17, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * What's your karma? * The secessionism issue is showing some legs: Matthew Cropp and John Schwenkler. * Where do you have to go to get some quiet these days? * One day he just started drawing on the walls ... * The complete guide to bikini waxing yields my favorite new term of the day: "Wahroongan waxing," described "as an Australian technique, whereby the hair is removed in a way to reveal a dollar sign. 'Give some bling to your thing'." * Speaking of Australian ... Model Elle Macpherson became famous for her beach-chick physique and her everyday-girl demeanor. But time has passed, and it sounds like she's friendly no longer. What happens to some people? Hmm, I wonder if Elle wears a Wahroongan ... * Stephen Rose collects a lot of provocative videos about buildings and cities. * Traditionalist philosopher Roger Scruton considers the art of modernist giant Mark Rothko. * Mandatory public education: A well-intentioned dream that has since gone awry? Or an attempt to dumb-down and regiment the masses right from the outset? * An NSFW labor of love. Small MBlowhard hunch here: Much of the culturestuff that many men really love is NSFW. * Ed Gorman flips for Chabrol's "Story of Women" and Jean Harlow in "Libeled Lady." * Why marriage remains popular. What would the Roissy crowd -- many of whom seem convinced that they'll never be able to get married -- make of this article? * MBlowhard Rewind: I confessed that I read philosophy at least as much for the sake of literary pleasure as for the ideas. Best, Michael UPDATE: Can you be both a punk rocker and a paleoconservative?... posted by Michael at October 11, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Sunday, October 5, 2008

They Say "Racist!!" Your Reply Is ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Many colleges and universities have had speech codes for years. Perhaps they were well-intended remedies to a perceived problem (though I'm not sure that there ever was much of a problem). But the result clearly is a restriction on free speech. If current polling holds, we are likely to be living in the paradise of an Obama Administration starting next January. From what I read, friends of the Obama campaign seem thin-skinned to criticism. Often enough, their reaction to such criticism is to suggest that it was racially motivated no matter its content. One of many takes on this is from Rich Lowry. Let's set aside the clearly chilling prospect of government-supported speech tribunals and deal with everyday political speech under an Administration likely to be populated by some people willing to shut others up by accusing them of racism. Such influence might well rub off on sympathizers. Consider this imaginary conversation (many others are possible, so don't fixate on the political issue I use): JOE: "I think President Obama was wrong to send massive military aid to the Palestinians." MIKE: "Y'know Joe, I think what you just said is racist. Both the President and the Palestinians are 'of color' and should be off-limits to that kind of smear." At this point, Joe might simply change the subject or do something equally submissive. Or he could choose to fight back. For example, he might push back hard, saying: "That wasn't racism: I was talking policy! Just what do you expect me to do in return? Fall on the floor quivering and then crawl over and kiss the toe of your shoe?" So what do you think Joe's reply should be? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 5, 2008 | perma-link | (135) comments

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hits and Misses: New York Forecasts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In a recent post I mentioned that in my dark past, I created population forecasts of counties in New York state. This admission might have been a mistake, because Benjamin Hemric and Michael B quickly appeared in Comments asking for more information. Since my back is now against the wall, here goes: In the mid-1960s Nelson Rockefeller was governor, a man who believed in big, bold government projects -- a trait not unheard of in other occupants of the governor's mansion in Albany. Among his other accomplishments were the transformation of a collection of teachers colleges and other schools into the State University of New York (SUNY) system and the building of the Albany Mall (which I wrote about here). Another initiative was the establishment of an agency named the Office of Planning Coordination (OPC). Perhaps not having read (or having forgotten about) Friedrich Hayek, Rockefeller and his advisers thought that planning was a Good, Rational Activity -- which it is in an ideal world. Elsewhere, such an agency would be yet another collection of over-educated bureaucrats who would pass their time awaiting retirement by writing studies whose destiny would be the oblivion of a state archives file drawer. Unfortunately, OPC was saddled with a slight problem: it was intended to hold actual power. In fact, the concept was that OPC would be co-equal with the budget agency, something almost unheard of. Poor Rockefeller: he didn't realize that no one was co-equal with Budget. So, on its creation, OPC faced a mortal enemy. Other enemies quickly emerged amongst other agencies that resented being dictated to as well as county and local governments long leery of the actions of higher-level governments. This soon translated into lack of support by legislators. Nevertheless, all went seemingly well. I was hired during the summer of 1970 to create regional and county population projections, a task formerly performed by the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo. All was jolly, state government cruising along, taxpayer money being spent and spent and spent. Until after the November election where Rockefeller had earned his fourth term. Then he jammed on the spending brakes. Cuts had to be made. Employees would have to be let go. This was something new to New York State employees. In the end, two agencies were targeted, one being OPC. OPC didn't disappear, but it lost about half of its staff (if I remember right); actually many dismissed people popped up in other agencies, so I question how much economizing actually happened. Even though I hadn't completed my six-month trial period, I was retained (to the displeasure of others who thought their jobs were secure). That was because the Office of Planning Services (OPS), the renamed, shrunken agency felt population forecasts were a key product. The first set of OPS forecasts appeared in 1972, about a year after necessary benchmark data from the 1970 census were released. At the time, New York was more of a major state than... posted by Donald at September 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Western New York Visited
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- As long-time readers might recall, I spent more than four years living in Albany, New York while working as a demographer at the then New York State planning agency. My task was to create county population forecasts. So, in addition to my usual weekend wanderings near the Hudson River and other destinations of choice, my job required occasional visits to all the major metropolitan areas to meet with planners and other data consumers. Aside from the eastern part of Long Island, I've been to most parts of the state. But I moved from New York in December, 1974 and seldom get the chance to visit it. When I do, it's usually the eastern part of Upstate. That means I've essentially lost touch with many places I had known and had a professional interest in. Happy me, I just returned from a trip from Boston through parts of Canada that ended with a drive from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, along U.S. 20 to Canandaigua and concluding in the Rochester area where a cousin of mine lives. The weather was fine (room-temperature and sunny) and the leaves were beginning to turn color here and there. I wrote about Buffalo here and was especially interested in seeing how it was coping with its long-term decline from being a prosperous, major city. We hopped off a freeway and drove into downtown from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (which was closed that day). After a quick turn through the center we got on Broadway and headed east, seeing what there was to see along that axis all the way to Canandaigua. Coming into town we spied several old, abandoned factories. Along Broadway out to around the city limits there were boarded up businesses, vacant lots that might well have had house at one time, and a strong sense of economic loss. Nancy mentioned that she had seen not one supermarket on that stretch (though surely there must have been a few lurking nearby). Downtown was in better shape; a few new office buildings were in evidence, though they weren't large ones. The most impressive structures were old ones on Niagara Square -- a grand hotel (formerly the Statler, now in seeming limbo status) and a fabulous high-rise city hall . completed in 1931 (the link has photos, including one showing the decorated dome top). By the time we were in eastern Erie County, what we could see from the road looked normally prosperous -- based on what I recall from Upstate in the early 1970s. On the other hand, I wasn't struck seeing many new structures other than the odd fast food joint or supermarket. So the impression I got was that rural areas were holding their own. (A word about impressions. They easily can be wrong. For instance, back in the 70s Utica was known to be on the skids, yet it looked okay in general and there were a few new (but small) commercial areas. One really needs... posted by Donald at September 25, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Monday, September 22, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The ten most bungled robberies. * The twelve most embarrassing photos on the web. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 22, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I am alive and well and traveling in Canada. But expen$ive internet service prevented me from posting this week. In the meanwhile, I've been snapping pix and absorbing the scene. Will return to regular posting the 25th, They are having an election up here as well (voting in mid-October), so the news is politics, politics, politics just as it is "below the line." The big difference is more major political parties leavened by regional differences. Sporty, but I don't think it's an improvement over a two-party setup. More anon. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 20, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Aging North America
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bloggers don't have an infinite store of information and thoughts to use for post grist. Much of what we write comes in the form of pointing out or reacting to stimuli from the world around us. All of which is to say that, since I'm in Canada this week, that's my main stimulus and I run a real risk of opening up another can of Canadian comments. But no "eh?" jokes here. No siree. That's because we're in Québec and I can't pick through all that French well enough to determine if an "eh" sound is an "eh" or actually an "é". Anyway. By chance, last year we were in southeastern Virginia where they were celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement. Here, they're celebrating the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Québec. Sometimes we forget how old Eurpean settlement in North America is. Well, we West Coasters can. French Canada lasted 150 years before the British took over. It was about 155 years for Massachusetts from Plymouth Rock to Bunker Hill. Tidewater Virginia was just over 170 years to the Declaration of Independence. That's about six generation, folks. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 14, 2008 | perma-link | (25) comments

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Living Through Gustav
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Matt Mullenix writes a vivid account of making it through Hurricane Gustav. Great passage: Our neighborhood ... seemed pulsed in a blender. Minced foliage made a seamless green drift that blurred the borders between homes and the line between lawn and street. Bonus: Steve Bodio links to a video of a sure-footed but creepy new robot. I wonder what robots would make of a hurricane ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Out Where the Midwest Begins
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We're on a swing from Boston to Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Buffalo and Rochester. The prospect of seeing Toronto, Buffalo and Rochester again dredges up a thought I used mull over back when I lived in the East: Where does the Midwest begin? Or to put it another way: Where does the East leave off? State boundaries being what they are, New York State is considered eastern. But to me, Buffalo and Rochester always struck me as Midwestern. On the other hand, Pittsburgh -- almost due south and a tad west of Buffalo -- strikes me as more Eastern. Toronto seems Midwestern to me, as does Ottawa. And in the Canadian context, they aren't Eastern. That has to do with the pre-Confederation areas of Upper Canada and Lower Canada -- roughly equivalent to Ontario and Québec, respectively. From the perspective of the core of eastern, original Canada, Upper Canada was "out west." What Ottawa and Toronto share with Buffalo and Rochester -- but not Pittsburgh -- is comparatively flat terrain. That is, the terrain can have hills, but mountains of even the smallest sort are absent. Many parts of the north-of-the-Mason-Dixon line East are hilly and cramped, making the region topographically different from the vast flat areas along the Great Lakes. There is another difference: the Midwest was settled later. A lot later. Boston, New York City, Albany, Philadelphia, Québec and Montréal were settled during the 1600s and were well-established cities by the late 18th century. For practical purposes, Midwestern cities (including Buffalo and Rochester) didn't get going until the 1800s. That, and the flatness and room to easily expand, seem to make a difference that I can sense. But maybe I'm wrong. After all, I spent the best part of ten years in the New York City, Albany, Philadelphia and Baltimore areas. That might have distorted my perception. I'm curous: Would someone from, say, Chicago, Indianapolis or Columbus consider Buffalo and Rochester Midwestern or Eastern? And what about Pittsburgh? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 10, 2008 | perma-link | (53) comments

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Boston, Heah We Ah!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We staggered into Boston on the red-eye. So, what's up? According to the Boston Toast: And this is good old Boston, The home of the bean and the cod, Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots, And the Cabots talk only to God. So far, I haven't seen a bean. Nor a cod, Lowell or Cabot. As for God, I'm not sure if the Democrat candidate will bother to campaign much in safe Massachusetts. But I'll keep my eyes peeled while I'm here. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 9, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, September 8, 2008

What's Your 'White People' Score?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Take Razib's Stuff White People Like test. I managed a mere 27 out of 107. I was expecting far whiter things of myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (33) comments

Sunday, September 7, 2008

1958 Corvette Stylist Tells All
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Robert Cumberford has been in the car styling game for more than half a century. He started out working for General Motors and then moved on to freelance design, design-school instruction and styling criticism/commentary for magazines. The October issue of Automobile magazine carries his latest "By Design" column. Usually the column deals with a new show car or production model. Cumberford writes several paragraphs of general evaluation and then does short comments on styling features he considers noteworthy for their high quality, mediocrity or failings. I find this the best part of each issue, styling buff and one-time wannabe that I am. What was unusual about the current column is that he comments on a car from 50 years ago. A car he had a hand in styling: the 1958 Corvette. Gallery Corvette - 1955 This is an example of Corvette styling in the earliest years of the marque. Proportions were derived from the Jaguar XK120. The initial motor was a souped up "stovebolt six," but by 1955, Chevrolet's classic V-8 had replaced it. Corvette - 1957 The 1956-57s are my all-time favorite Vettes, style-wise. It's a face-lift of the earlier design. Front and rear fenders were reshaped and a side indentation added to provide more visual interest. Corvette - 1958 So, naturally, I hated the 1958 face-lift. Before the 1958 model year, sealed-beam headlamps combined low and high beams. For 1958, high and low beams each had their own lamp; this change happened only after all state headlamp laws were changed to permit this arrangement. The result, in my opinion, was a backward styling step. Four headlights never looked right to me because the front end of a car is its face, and just about every creature aside from insects has only two eyes; four eyes are unnatural. Today's integrated lamp assemblages allow face-like looks again. In his general commentary, Cumberford reveals that The Corvette was very much [longtime styling director] Harley Earl's car. His deputy, Bill Mitchell, was not allowed to touch it. I was the only stylist doing sketches, closely monitored by Earl. With notions of aerodynamics in mind, I wanted to simply fair the two lamps into a wider front fender.... Earl wanted a visor, as on the sedan that the world knows as the 1958 Chevy, and actually made a shaky sketch, the only one of his I've ever seen. You never argued with Earl, but he sometimes could be deflected: "What if I put a chrome strip between them, Mr. Earl? Maybe a badge there, too?" ... I dutifully drew all those features [that Earl wanted] but thought that the car was too baroque and too fussy for a sports car. I never dreamed that the complicated front end would last five years, with only the teeth disappearing after Earl retired. I didn't like the car as much as I did the '56, to which I contributed nothing, but last year at the Art Center Car Classic, "my"... posted by Donald at September 7, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Game Time
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I live about three miles from the University of Washington football stadium. This seriously affects my life the five times a year when the Huskies are playing at home, especially when I need to get to the University Village shopping center that borders the athletic corner of the UW campus. Traffic gets nasty and parking difficult to the extent that fans ignore the "No Event Parking" signs by the Village's lots. During the football season other signs are posted warning of heavy traffic during certain hours on Saturdays. This week, we were warned that driving might not be fun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Hmm. That implies an early game. Sure enough, today's newspaper noted that game time today would be noon. And the Husky-Notre Dame game we'll be attending 25 October is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Noon? Five in the afternoon? Ominous signs that the World is Going to Hell. In my frat boy days, games started at 2 p.m. daylight savings time and then 1 p.m. when standard time returned. Mid-November, when the eight-game season ended, dusk would be approaching when the fourth quarter clock ran out. Thirty-some years later a regional sports television network installed floodlights at the stadium at its own expense -- that's how I remember my son's explanation of how they came to be. The result of having good field lighting is that the Huskies can play games whenever a TV network thinks it will fit its schedule, and the university, earning bonus shekels, happily goes along with the deal. So much for the student-athlete ideal of my mis-spent youth. Yes, I'm a self-confessed capitalist tool. But I'm also a conservative and therefore something of a traditionalist (provided the tradition isn't nonsensical or counter-productive). So I don't like my original alma mater turning into a two-bit street tramp. Oh well, I have enough other gripes about the place that I don't donate to them anyway. (BRIGHT NOTE: I noticed a gal on her way to the game wearing a tee shirt with the slogan "My quarterback is hotter than your quarterback" -- so maybe all isn't lost after all.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 6, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, September 1, 2008

More Self-Promotion
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Another enthusiastic and insightful review for the webseries that The Wife and I helped create has just appeared. No link, as I'm still being a little coy about my real identity, but here's a brief excerpt from it: The humour is bold throughout. The blend of sci-fi and sex comedy come together in a way that seems designed for the exciting new medium of the web serial ... And the homage to stylistic genres of art movies is cleverly compiled and adds another level of enjoyment to the whole experience. [Webseries title here] is already becoming cult viewing that needs to be seen. Campy, sexy, a little intense, funny, and seething with kooky ideas -- that's our webseries! Let me know if you'd like a link to the series' website, where three of our six episodes are now viewable. And -- ahem -- if you're someone who's interested in getting involved as a producer / financier in the low-budget movie world, don't be shy about saying hello. Me and my posse have some dy-no-mite ideas that we're raring to put into production. My email address is michaelblowhard at that gmaily place. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 1, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Peter Briffa isn't as cheered by a book celebrating capitalism as he'd expected to be. * Does any blogger write more evocative life-snapshots than MD? Examples here, here, and basically all over her blog. * Self-described "genre slut" Polly Frost writes in praise of short fiction here and here. Great passage: While it may not a good time in conventional book-publishing for short fiction ... "Maybe we creators of it need to be more entrepreneurial. Maybe we need to take more advantage of the online world, of Amazon's Kindle, of self-publishing, of audio, of doing live readings." * MBlowhard Rewind: I wondered about the relationship between negativity and criticism in the arts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 31, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cross-cultural Tidbit
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday while out for coffee I sat near a women reading a Peter Rabbit story to her daughter. The lady was wearing a tee-shirt with various writings on it including the URL for KosherKungFu dot-com, the School of the Macabees website. Seattle is such an interesting place to live. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 27, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Seeing Yellowstone Park ... Before it Explodes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Your Faithful Scribe is drafting this posting at the edge of Yellowstone National Park and will add photos when I get back to Seattle. And I plan to be quick about it because this place might be atomized and blowing east at 30,000 feet any old time between now and half a million years in the future. You see, much of the park is a gigantic volcanic caldera where several immense eruptions occurred within the last two million years or so. There's a "hot spot" under the Earth's surface that a continental tectonic plate has been sliding over for tens of millions of years, a dead part of it being Idaho's Craters of the Moon area. It's similar to the situation in the Hawaiian Islands except that the Wyoming rhyolite rock helps create explosive rather than lava-flow type eruptions. For more information, click here. I'm here because Nancy's treating her grand-daughters and son & wife to a trip to someplace they've never visited. I'm along to do the driving. Snapshots are below. Gallery There are various ways to get to Yellowstone, but we had to fly because we had four days of high school reunion activities immediately prior to the time we were scheduled to be there, so there was not enough time to drive. This photo shows a Horizon airliner (of the type we flew) pulling up to the Bozeman, Montana terminal. Nice little airport, nice terminal, nice weather. As for ground transportation, we had four adults, two children and a bunch of luggage to contend with, so a Chevy Suburban filled the bill. The Suburban was redesigned last year, which means it's the latest and greatest. Actually, it really was a good vehicle for our purposes. There was enough storage space and elbow room, and the big slug handled well as we wandered through the park. If you wish to tour the park in style -- 1938 style -- there are a few touring buses like this one back on the roads. There were several generations of such vehicles roaming Yellowstone, Glacier and perhaps a few other national parks circa 1915-50, the one pictured being of the last generation from the mid-30s. They were built on a modified White truck chassis and have a canvas top that can be rolled back, allowing passengers to enjoy the sun and lofty sights. The modernized buses have modern steering wheels, instrument panels and other features. I love seeing 'em, but didn't take a tour in one, alas. Backing off a few yards to show the bus in front of the classic 1904 Old Faithful Inn. View of same bus taken from the deck over the porte-cochère of the Inn. That white smudge in the background is Old Faithful venting steam during an interval between shows. Once you hit the road there are occasional impediments, so don't expect to breeze from site to site. When I first visited the park in 1953, the problem was bears... posted by Donald at August 23, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, August 22, 2008

Work / Life
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Speaking of retirement, attitudes towards work, etc ... Here's a nice passage from an email sent to me by occasional visitor Karlub: For the last two years I have a work-life which is ideal: About four hours a day from the house. It only works out because of lifestyle adjustments, the biggest being only having one car between me and the wife, and shelving any desires for grander housing. Still have enough dough, though, to eat well and hit concerts and plays every once in a while. Point is, I've done the 60 hour a week pace with more money. This is way better, and I would be happy to do it this way until I croak. Of course, that assumes my clients will let me. That's all to say I agree with your outlook. I am flummoxed by people for whom work is the key to their psychology. I'm a work to live guy. Not a live to work guy. It is inconceivable to me, in fact, that anyone would voluntarily have any other outlook. How about you? Are you a live-to-work person or a work-to-live one? Thanks to Karlub. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

The Retirement Process
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As has often been noted on this blog, it's tough times in the old-media biz. One after another, companies whipsawed by the digital revolution are reorganizing processes and shedding staff. Announcements about layoffs and other spasms appear in the press almost weekly. One recent victim of these developments has been yours truly. Or should I say "beneficiary" instead of "victim"? In brief: The company where I worked for decades recently ran a buyout program, offering a package of enticements to the aged and the deadwood (that'd be me) in an attempt to get them to leave voluntarily. Translation into English: My employer let its long-term employees know that they'd throw a bunch of money at us to go, and that such an offer wasn't likely to come around again for a long time. Not only was the writing on the wall, the wall was closing in. After treating myself to a good long think about the offer -- of the duration of, say, a few deep breaths -- I headed upstairs and handed in my acceptance. For a couple of months now, in fact, I've been a free man. Don't feel too envious of me. The dough thrown at me to go wasn't gigantic. It wasn't even big. And the benefits package given to me is certainly nothing I'm gonna sneeze at, but it doesn't really come to a lot. True, barring a worldwide calamity, The Wife and I will never have to work again -- and we're only in our mid-50s. But in order to maintain our freedom we'll be living like college kids. OK, now that you mention it, it is a little like winning a small Lotto jackpot, or maybe winding up with that small trust fund we all dream of inheriting. OK, now that you mention it, you can envy me a little bit. OK, now that you mention it: I wake up every morning, think to myself, "I don't have to go to the office today," and smile in deep self-satisfaction. I found the process of retiring quite interesting. From the first rumors of the buyout to now, it has been more than six months. It has been such a distinctive and weird stretch of time in fact that The Wife and I have decided that someone somewhere should make a movie about such a process. Easy, good, out-there-for-the-taking title: "The Buyout." It's an idea rich with opportunities for ensemble acting, for sociological and psychological observation, and for satire, let me tell you. And it'd certainly be timely. Robert Altman, where are you now that we need you? A few observations about the retirement process: Have you heard of the expression "short-timer"? A "short-timer" is someone who's still at work even though he has already made other arrangements. I believe the term originated in the military. Gustav Hasford used the expression as the title of his 'Nam novel "The Short Timers," which became the basis for Kubrick's "Full Metal... posted by Michael at August 22, 2008 | perma-link | (26) comments

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Apatoff Performing Arts Link
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose I ought to write about Performance Art. But, Hey!, I don't have to. That's because occasional commenter David Apatoff (who has a very nice blog dealing with illustration) has done so already. Here is the link to the relevant post from early this year. Preview: an "artist" who artfully decided to totally opt out of art for a year, presumably out of disappointment or spite over a performance project that failed to gel. And there are other examples of what's been happening in that line of "art." Enjoy. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 21, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reunion, One Step Removed
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once again, it's 50th high school reunion time. Not mine: that was last year. This time it's Nancy's, but I went to some of the events, including a Friday casual and the Saturday main show. Believe it or not, there are some high school sweethearts from the same class who got married and stayed alive and married; they go to one 50th together, and that's it. Much more often a class member is married to someone who didn't attend the same high school. So the spouse has the choice of not showing up and letting the side down or attending and being pretty bored. Well, I suspect a man is more likely to be bored than a woman; women, tending to be more social, are likely to start talking and making new friends on the spot. I happen to be in yet another category. Nancy and I attended the same high school, classes of 1958 and 1957, respectively. She knew a lot of my classmates and had a great time at my reunion events last year. I know some of her classmates, so I was at least able to visit with a few people. My rule of thumb is that high school kids are more aware of people in classes before theirs than in the classes behind them. That's because older students hold leadership positions or otherwise are in the spotlight while younger students are still learning the ropes and looking for role models. Whereas I remember some of the '58 guys by name, I found it hard to find common experiences to yak about. I suspect that's because we weren't in many classes together, unlike the case with my own classmates. The gals are a different matter. I was a pretty shy guy in high school and didn't date heavily until I entered college. But I did pay strict attention to the cute younger ones, including Nancy. My main gripe about her reunion is that many of the women I would have loved to have seen again didn't make it to the events. Some had died, others live too far away, and still others apparently had no interest in attending. In some ways, perhaps it's just as well that those cutie-pies didn't show up. Fifty years take a toll on everyone, and the very prettiest girls often seem to be the ones hardest hit. My theory is that's because the contrast is so stark. Less-attractive girls and most guys (who were never "pretty" in the first place) get the same sorts of wrinkles, saggy skin and rattier hair, but the changes seem more appropriate somehow. On the (inevitable) other hand, I noticed a few women who struck me as being more attractive than they were in high school. One seemed to have lost her facial "baby fat" revealing some nice bone structuring. Her smooth skin suggested a little surgical touching-up; but I can't prove that, and like to think what I admired was... posted by Donald at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maintainting Kinship
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm writing this from the Oregon Coast; regular blogging resumes on the 14th. Some cousins from my mother's side of the family decided it was time for a get-together, so some of us are doing just that. My mother had two brothers and the three of them produced a total of six children within a span of three years (the younger brother sired two more later on). Two of those six cousins lived in Seattle, so my sister and I saw them maybe half a dozen times a year. The bunch living near Portland, OR were harder to connect with, so we saw them once every two years or so (there wasn't an Interstate system in those days, and the drive took five hours). Upon reaching adulthood, most scattered. Me to the Army and then Philadelphia, etc., My sister to Sweden and Alaska for a while, the cousins to San Diego, Alaska, and elsewhere. Most of us are back in Washington state, but the only times I saw the out-of-towners in the last 30 years were at weddings and funerals. Anyway, the reunion is going well for the six of us and spouses who managed to make the trip. There is talk of doing it again. Funny how families can drift apart. Life itself -- jobs, children, whatever else -- can narrow kinship horizons. And geography can do the rest. I hereby publicly admit that I know nothing of the whereabouts of children of first-cousins on both sides of my family. Moreover, it would take serious digging to track down those on my father's side. This is conflicting. It's probably a good thing to keep track of family, but I don't do a very good job of it. And those cousins I lost track of, well, as far as I know, they've made no effort to locate me. C'est la vie. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 12, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, August 8, 2008

Whither Jaguar Styling
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A year and a half ago I wrote about Jaguar's "Concept XF" show car that was said to be a preview of a new line of sedans whose styling was to be forward-looking and not rooted in past Jaguar designs. The sedan -- officially named the XF -- is in production and I noticed one on a local street a couple of months ago. No, that's not quite right. I almost didn't notice that the car was the new Jag because at first glance (I viewed it from the side), I thought it was a new Lexus! Now some observers might think looking somewhat Lexus-like would be a nice thing for a lesser car brand; what could be wrong with getting a little enhancement by association? A sprinkling of Lexus pixie-dust might be perfect for a brand such as Kia, but does nothing for Jaguar. The whole point of the XF is to create a new visual image that will define Jaguar for, at a minimum, the next few product cycles. Let's pause to compare the XF with the Lexus LS 460. No, the cars are not identical. But they aren't grossly different either. Gallery 1: Jaguar XF and Lexus LS 460 XF LS 460 XF LS 460 XF LS 460 Generally speaking, the Jaguar has a racier, more-curved roof profile and those large engine compartment exhaust gills back of the front wheel wells. The grilles differ as well as the shapes of details such as headlamp and tail light clusters. But major features such as the side panels, passenger compartment glass and door shapes are pretty similar. XF view showing grille The only styling features besides the name on the trunk chrome strip that tell me the XF is a Jaguar are the jaguar head on the medallion attached to the grille (see photo above) and maybe the fairings behind the headlights. So what else is usable as a styling theme that can be carried over to future Jaguars, identifying the brand to casual viewers? Hmm. That's a toughie. Perhaps those cooling gills -- though other makes such as Land Rover already use them, so that's not an exclusive feature. Okay, then it'll have to be the headlight cluster arrangement. It certainly can't be the overall shape of the car, because that's already 2008-vintage generic. The grille hole's shape might be a faint possibility if used in combination with the lights cluster. Other current Jaguar models have different grille shapes, so some facelifting would be in order if the theme I just proposed is used to bring the entire product line in synch with what Jaguar stylists and product planners have in mind for the future. Although the XF is a nice looking car, too much of its styling is like other cars; it is thematically weak, a bad thing for a brand built on distinctive styling. My opinion is that the break-with-the-past idea was a bad one. Jaguar has a strong styling... posted by Donald at August 8, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

A Brand Extension Too Far
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- At my tender age I've become used to buying products that I'm familiar and comfortable with. Breakfast cereal examples are Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Life and Wheat Chex. Trouble is, it can take me a minute or so to pluck a Life box from a supermarket shelf. There are two reasons for this. In the first place, there are lots of cereal brands on the market these days and a well-stocked store will stock most of 'em, it seems. And then there are the brand extensions, a marketing ploy that's been in full force for 30 years or more. So once I find the shelf with boxes of Life, I then have to sort through the various Lifes to find the one I want. (For the record, there's the original Life and in addition are Honey Graham Life and Cinnamon Life.) But that's okay. I'm a capitalist tool who thinks lots of brands and confusion trumps highly constrained choice (Nanny State Brand corn flakes, anyone?). Even so, even I have a breaking point. Today in our cereals/crackers cupboard I discovered Multi-Grain Wheat Thins. (For all the varieties of Wheat thins, click here -- the multi-grain ones are shown at the top of the right-hand column of the ten pictured brand extension boxes as of today.) To my feeble brain, the concept of a Wheat Thin not being jes' plain ol' wheat verges on the Zen. The other grain ingredients, the box says, are barley, millet, rye and rolled oats (there's also cornstarch, but I'm not sure that counts as a grain). Nabisco really ought to name them something like Multi-Grain Thins. They won't, because they lose the Wheat Thins brand-name inertia they've built up over the years. But at some point, too many brand extensions will ruin the brand by making it stand for nothing much in particular. The present ten varieties is already a lot to deal with, and debasing the wheat part probably won't improve prospects. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympics Time, Rant Time
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- And just when did you wash your hands of the Olympic Games? For me it must have been the 1976 round held in ... gee, I forget where it was. I used to pay attention to the Olympics. Honest, I really did. That was in the dark ages when an Olympiad was pretty much a track-and-field deal with a little swimming and a dash of other stuff tossed in. And the media coverage was easier to take. As a boy, it was in the form of sports page articles and the occasional newsreel at the local Bijou. Early television coverage wasn't so awful either. One could actually see many non-American athletes perform. And the focus was the events and not the recent coverage focusing on individual athletes and the "problems" they had to overcome or possibly even their "victimhood." (I'm not sure of this last one because I avoid TV coverage of the Olympics. Given the seemingly pervasive sob-story angle TV and local papers give the news these days, I assume it's ditto for the Olympics. Correct me if I'm wrong.) And of course there's all the money poured into a locality to construct the various facilities considered necessary nowadays for a proper Games. Money that might have better uses such as staying the the pockets of the local citizens. To all this I modestly offer two solutions: Have the summer Olympics permanently held in Greece. Better yet, get rid of the Olympics. After all, they still have all those "world championship" events and there just might possibly be such things as a "world record" for some event or another. So it's not really a no Olympics, no glory matter for the athletes. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 4, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Motorama Showcars 1955
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of days ago I introduced the topic of General Motors' Motorama show that toured the country in the 1950s. From 1954 to 1956 special Motorama show cars were interesting because many of them had the potential to be produced, yet they weren't the sort of thinly-disguised ready-for-production jobs we find in recent automobile shows. Show cars for 1954 were treated in the link above and some for 1956 were discussed here. The present posting deals with 1955 Motorama cars, the most interesting set, in my opinion. Gallery Chevrolet Biscayne The Biscayne is a neat, semi-compact that was counter to the Detroit trend of the time for longer, lower, wider and bigger standard cars. Besides its "package" (car-speak for a set of key dimensions and characteristics), it has some interesting and odd features. Bring a show car, it has no visible front-end protection. In the 50s, most cars had big, solid, chrome-plated bumpers that were hung in front of the body shell. Nowadays, the bumper is typically a steel beam hidden behind a plastic material painted body-color; the effect is similar to the front of the Biscayne. But the Biscayne's front end is metal (or probably fiberglass pretending to be steel) with no hidden beams and several projections just waiting to be damaged. The windshield is wrapped in two directions (see the posting on 1956 for a little more about this), an extension of a wraparound style fad introduced by GM on earlier show cars and that was found on their entire line of '55 cars. The Biscayne is what was termed at the time a "four-door hardtop" -- no center ("B") roof post and no door framing around the side windows -- what a convertible would look like if it had a steel roof and didn't convert. This style was introduced on some 1955 GM production cars. What is interesting is that the rear doors are hinged at the rear and not on the center post as is nearly standard for four-door vehicles, making them what are called "suicide doors." Actually, four-door convertibles had rear-hinged rear doors up through the 1930s and they even appeared on Lincoln Continentals introduced in the 1961 model year. This feature might be present because it would have been too troublesome to engineer and fabricate doorpost-hinging for a mere show car. And yes, that bug-eye headlight treatment is a little odd. LaSalle II roadster LaSalle II sedan Apology for the quality of the lower photo, but it's the best I could locate on the Web for this car. The LaSalle was one of GM's "companion cars" -- brands launched around the end of the 1920s to offer more products for their basic brand dealers to sell. It was the most successful of the lot, a stylish, lower-priced companion to the Cadillac that was built for the 1927-1940 model years. That success statement might not be strictly true because another companion brand was Pontiac, originally sold by Oakland... posted by Donald at July 30, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, July 28, 2008

Self-Promotion Break
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A small pause to celebrate the fact that a well-known online alt-art/porn outlet has taken a look at the webseries that I helped write and produce. Verdict? "Enough plot twists to keep your head spinning for days ... A must-see for this season." Emphasis added by proud l'il ol' me, of course. Shoot an email to michaelblowhard-at-that-gmaily-place if you'd like to take a look at our R-rated preview. Episode one thrusts itself on a wet, plump, and eager world in early August. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Motorama 1956 Show Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I wrote about General Motors' big traveling Motorama exhibit and its show cars. I mentioned that some of the most interesting cars were featured in the 1954-56 Motoramas, the best of the crop appearing in 1955. In the previous posting, I dealt with the 1954 show and today I'll present three cars from 1956. I'll save the 1955s for next time -- why end with a whimper. Gallery Buick Centurion Glass-wrapping technology seems to have advanced since the 1954 Motorama because the Centurion's windshield wraps over into the roof as well as around to the sides. Double-wrapped windshields appeared on some production cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler for the 1959 model year. The Centurion's main Buick identity cue is the "sweep-spear" chromed paint-tone separator along the side. The windshield and backlight (rear window) pillars have complementary angles, a theme explored on some of the 1954 show cars. Chevrolet Impala The Impala (a name Chevrolet soon applied to production models) looks like it shares the same body as the Centurion, above. General Motors stylists in 1940s and 50s were masters at taking common body shells (typically three, shared in various combinations by the five brands) and applying style themes that identified each brand so strongly that many buyers might well have been ignorant that their hot new 1950 V-8 Olds Rocket 88 shared its body with the lowly "stove bolt six" Chevy owned by the next-door neighbor. The Impala/Centurion show car seems on the small side compared to contemporary production cars (I have no statistics to validate my hunch), but it was definitely small compared to standard Detroit cars from the late 50s to the mid 1970s. However, compact models began being introduced at the start of the 60s, so perhaps these show cars were anticipating that move. Oldsmobile Golden Rocket I mentioned in yesterday's posting that most Motorama show cars of the mid-50s were surprisingly practical. The Golden Rocket shown here pretty well fails that measure. True, the car was (or could have been) drivable. But the curious three-pronged front end would have paid for luxurious retirements for insurance adjusters had that motif actually been produced. The Golden Rocket seems to be yet another "What the hell" from the Olds styling section, though in a different vein from the F-88 created for the 1954 Motorama. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 28, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Motorama Class of 1954
Donald Pitttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When General Motors dominated the American car market it had plenty of spare cash to devote to public relations activities such as its Motorama show, an extravaganza that traveled to some of the larger cities around the country back in the 1950s. Besides its current production cars, GM also included a set of show cars for display. A few show cars were slightly customized production models such as the Pontiac Parisienne of 1953. Others were far-out experimental jobs such as the gas turbine powered Firebird of the same year. Nowadays, show cars that don't fall into the categories just mentioned tend to be slightly disguised versions of cars intended for production in the near future, the idea being to get the buying public acquainted with and accustomed to features that might seem radical at first. The GM Motoramas for 1954, 1955 and to a lesser extent 1956 featured show cars that explored styling appropriate for production yet that were not like cars actually planned for production. At most, future production cars might borrow the shape of windows, tail fins and the like. What makes GM show cars for those years especially interesting to me is that while they were definitely "futuristic" in the context of their time, one could easily imagine most of them driving local streets and highways. Ford show cars of that era tended to be much wilder and impractical for everyday use. I think the 1955 crop of Motorama show cars was the best, but will start with 1954 to set the scene. Reports on 1955 and 1956 will follow presently. Not all the show cars are mentioned; for example, early Corvette body variations. Gallery Buick Wildcat II The Wildcat looks like it might have been based on the Corvette Chassis. Well, the windshield and passenger compartment look Corvette-like. The flaired front fender openings and free-standing headlight housings are features we would term Retro, a concept largely foreign to Fifties American automobile styling. Those front fenders and exposed front wheels would be impractical for daily driving: Think of mud and road grime splashing behind the wheels, much of it caking that lovely contrasting surface in the front wheel wells. Cadillac El Camino The Motoramas never visited Seattle, so the El Camino was the only Motorama show car I saw in person when new; in 1955 it toured Cadillac dealerships around the country including a local one. The tail fins are similar to those used by Cadillacs a few years later. The top of the passenger compartment is interesting because its windshield and backlight (designer-speak for rear window) are similar in the way they wrap around. Wrap-around windshields and backlights were one of the major styling fads of the Fifties, General Motors leading the pack. The show cars of this era exhibit as many practical variations on the wraparound theme as stylists could come up with. Other wraparound ideas might have been considered, but anything really radical probably couldn't be built; as... posted by Donald at July 27, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Monday, July 21, 2008

Small-Car Styling
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Should little cars look quite similar to big cars? Nowadays most people would probably say No. But that wasn't always the case, as we shall see. Before we take a look, it's probably a good idea to mention a few engineering-related items that I hope will set the scene -- nothing very technical. By around 1910 most car makers standardized on the power train arrangement where the motor was near the front of the car, power was applied to the rear wheels and the linkage to the engive was a long drive shaft centered in the frame. About 1930, a few manufacturers began making cars where the engine powered the front wheels, eliminating the drive shaft at the price of added complexity. This arrangement was perfected and used in most cars by the 1990s. An arrangement that held theoretical appeal during the 30s and up to the mid-60s was rear-wheel drive with the motor also in the rear. Most of the time, engines were installed front-to-rear, the long axis in parallel with the long axis of the vehicle. Where there was the motor in front driving the rear wheels, this tended to result in a comparatively long car. Long, compared to a engine-front/drive-front arrangement where the motor was "transverse" -- its long axis at a right angle to the car's long axis -- this making for a very compact power train. Aside from the engine area, the major spaces in a car are devoted to the passenger compartment and the luggage area (trunk, in the USA). To make a car really compact, not much can be done with the passenger compartment because it has to be large enough to hold even fairly tall humans. So cutting luggage space to a minimum and using a transverse-mounted motor are the main routes to keeping overall length down. An ultra-compact car such as the Smart takes more radical steps including eliminating the rear seat and nearly all storage space. Gallery English Ford Model Y - c. 1935 This was E.T. "Bob" Gregorie's first production design. He worked at Ford from 1931 until the late 1946 with a year's hiatus following Edsel Ford's death. For much of that period he was styling director. Design-wise the Model Y was essentially a miniaturized standard car, vintage early 1930s. Fiat 500A - 1939 Topolino (Little Mouse) was the nickname given to the first version of the Fiat 500. Its small size was largely due to the elimination of the rear passenger seat, making it a small, Italian version of what in the USA was called a "business coupe" but without much storage area. Volkswagen - 1949 Although its design took most of the late 1930s to evolve, mass-production had to wait until after World War 2. The VW had a rear-mounted air cooled motor that drove the rear wheels. This configuration, along with a desire to make the car aerodynamic, resulted in an automobile that did not resemble standard cars of... posted by Donald at July 21, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Witness one legal defence strategy that didn't quite work out. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Republicans are feeling the passion. (Another link courtesy of that web-surfin' titan Charlton Griffin.) * The Onion offers some crucial election-year advice: How to pretend to care about politics. * Robert Sibley writes that, in London, it feels like the 1970s all over again. Robert provides some great descriptions of how bad conditions were in '70s London. * Onetime motorcycle rider WhiskyPrajer recalls why he gave the bikes up, and confesses that he still feels the lure. * I'd never thought of anteaters as promising pet material. Evidently I've been wrong. * Whiskey suspects that the economic downtown will mean the death of the niche market. * After disliking all the porn she sampled, Erika Lust decided that the time had come to start making it herself. Erika shares some NSFW photos of her process here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I praised James M. Cain's brilliant novel "Mildred Pierce." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 16, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 14, 2008

Linkage from DO
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some fab links from the observant crew at DesignObserver: * Watch a designer pull together a magazine layout. * The latest art-stunt from Improv Everywhere featured sets of identical twins. Is it wrong of me to notice that Improv'ing Everywhere appears to be a very White People thing to do? "Design" seems to be accounting for ever more of the world around us, doesn't it? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 14, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Most Narcissistic People Are ...
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The question posed by the title of this post is a toughie. Just what category of people is the most narcissistic? Movie/TV actors and actresses? Politicians? Fashion models? Those are strong contenders. Obvious ones, too. So I'll propose a not-so-obvious group, just to get your reactions. Marathon and other serious distance runners. It's bad enough watching them do their stretches and mental preparations just before a race. But what gets me is the measuring that some of them are into doing. They select practice routes and time themselves every time they run them. They strap on monitoring devices to get heartbeat and other measurements of their body's performance during such a run. Comparisons of the latest numbers with previous data are then made. In other words, they continually record and analyze statistics about themselves. Is this self-absorption, or what? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 14, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Credit to an anonymous passerby who noted the following juxtaposition: Get it? If not, here's some background information. The banner with the Renoir nude is in front of the Seattle Art Museum, advertising an exhibition dealing with Impressionist painters. Across First Avenue is the "Lusty Lady," one of the last of the girlie show theaters on the street. Immediately to the right of the Lady is a combination condominium-Four Seasons hotel that's scheduled to open later this year. Along with the art museum, it's an indicator of the neighborhood's transition. When I was young, Seattle's First Avenue catered to sailors from ships that used to dock a few blocks away (that function has moved) as well as various species of derelict men. Besides girlie shows, there were pawn shops, taverns smelling of stale chili and staler beer, flop houses, missions and theaters featuring third-run movies. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 13, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, July 11, 2008

Waiting for the iPhone
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today Apple launched the new smaller, cheaper iPhone. So my daughter, who has a serious desire to own one, and I drove over to the local Apple Store. Apparently the place opened at 8 a.m. and we arrived a few minutes before nine. There was a line of perhaps 175 people stretching across the parking lot. My daughter surveyed the scene and said "No way!" or words to that effect, and we went home. I happened to be in the area again towards the end of lunch hour and noted that the line was almost as long as it was in the morning. The Apple Store was handing out water and Starbucks coffee to ease the pain of waiting. I must lack imagination, it seems. That's because I can't imagine why anyone would spend a few hours in line for a gadget that they could buy without waiting if they shopped after the initial surge was spent. What I can understand is being the very first customer in the door -- provided that local newspaper and television station reporters are there to take pictures and reward with Everlasting Fame. And what's the reward for being the second customer? Or even a first-day buyer? Yeah, bragging rights. But why stand in line for hours so that you might be able to tell about it to your grandchildren or even your sorority sisters in the fall? Surely there must be more to it than bragging rights. Whatever it might be, however, I don't get. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 11, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Major League and Not Needing It
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- They're gone. And I'm inclined to call it Good Riddance. Of course I'm speaking of the late and not universally lamented Seattle SuperSonics of the National Basketball Association who next season will become the Oklahoma City SomethingOrOthers. True, I was a big Sonics fan in 1979 when they won the NBA championship. That was almost 30 years ago and the team became increasingly disappointing since then. Plus, I got bored with basketball. There are people, my very own son included, who will argue that a city cannot be major league unless it has major league sports teams. To this I answer a decisive "Yes and no." Here are some thoughts, probably none of which is original. For a city to become "major league," whatever that might mean to the general public, it probably helps to have more than one major sports team in town. I say "more then one" because just one team usually doesn't provide the needed public relations heft. Green Bay, Wisconsin, Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah each have a single major professional sports team. None of those cities, as best I can tell, is considered a major city despite the team and other nice attributes of the place. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is without doubt a major city (or metropolitan region, which for our purposes can be considered the same thing). Yet LA does not have a national Football League team and hasn't had one in years. Perhaps getting the Sonics team in 1966 helped Seattle to become major. And the Mariners baseball and Seahawks football teams a decade or so later also probably helped its image. (I'll ignore the short-lived Seattle Pilots baseball club.) But now that Seattle is truly big-time, the loss of a franchise does little damage, as LA's loss of the Chargers, Rams and Raiders football teams proved. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 10, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When Current Events Becomes History
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was about to become a teenager I began to notice that the history textbooks we had in school "left off" several years before their publication date. That bothered me a little, because I really enjoyed history and wanted the whole thing. I now realize that the leaving off was prudent. I also am aware that besides History, there is a category that bookstores tend to label Current Affairs or maybe Current Events. So let's see. First you have News. That quickly mutates into Current Affairs which then ferments into History. These distinctions are useful. History ideally is a dispassionate, balanced account of past events. The closer events are to the present, the less likely they are to be described in a balanced, dispassionate manner. That's because current politics or ideological positions, along with associated strong emotions can get in the way of clear observation. Given this likelihood, it's a good thing to have a label for the transition period from News into History. I suppose there must be guidelines here and there regarding what point History kicks in, but I'm not going to research that. After all, I need to generate 2Blowhards content, don't I? Let's discuss this. Although Current Affairs or Current Events can easily be construed as happenings within the last year or two, I think History needs to wait about 20 years (preferably 30 years -- a generation) before passions cool. For example, we're just reaching the point where the Reagan presidency can be discussed without blood on the floor. This does not mean that defenders and opponents of George W. Bush, for instance, should remain silent. Personal accounts of White House life, Cabinet debates, bureaucratic and legislative maneuvering, diplomatics actions and so forth are necessary grist for later historical accounts. So how long do you think the period from News to History ought be? (And, for what it's worth, I think the argument that all history is biased is irrelevant. Taken to the extreme, it implies that there is no point in writing or reading history, and that notion is foolish.) Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 8, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In 1987, Americans drank 5.7 gallons of bottled water per person per year. In 2006, we drank 27.6 gallons each -- that's a rate of a billion bottles a week. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 5, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Strategizing Summer
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My grad school training inculcated a strong respect for statistical data and reasoning. Alas, this is a low-budget blog when it comes to research, so cold reality dictates that when we absolutely, positively have to crank out some content, anecdotal evidence is king. Having spread my rationale as thickly as I might peanut butter on a sandwich [Yummmm!], I introduce the subject of vacation travel planning for summer 2008. The USA is being hammered by the double whammy [thank you, Al Capp, wherever you are] of high fuel prices and a weak dollar. That doesn't mean that the entire nation will hide under beds until fall, but there surely will be behavioral changes "at the margins" as economists are fond of saying. Behavior at the margins à la chez Pittenger takes the form of not going to Europe. Readers will recall that we were in the Great Lakes area in May for about ten days. In September we have a 12-day trip scheduled to Boston and then to Québec, Montréal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Rochester and points between. Flying for both trips is financed by cashing in frequent flier miles. There also will be our usual late-October, early-November trip to Santa Barbara and the week in Vegas shortly afterwards. Plus some short trips around Washington and Oregon. After all, we're retired and wish to travel while it's not much of a physical chore -- as it surely will be later. Our bottom line seems to be economizing by avoiding unfavorable exchange rates for pounds and euros along with some air fares. Automobile travel will be about normal, however. What money-saving steps, if any, are you taking this year with respect to travel? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 1, 2008 | perma-link | (15) comments

Monday, June 30, 2008

Stop Signs for Thee, Not for Me
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to hear the train whistles occasionally when I was young. The sounds came from over the hill, near the shore of Seattle's Lake Washington where there was a railroad line that wasn't heavily used. Nowadays along the rail route you hear conversational voices of walkers along with the low swishing sounds of bicycle tires. That's because the tracks and ties were pulled up years ago, asphalt was laid, and the route renamed the Burke-Gilman Trail. At a number of points the trail is pierced by arterial streets, two of which I drive frequently. Where a street and the trail cross, there are painted crosswalk stripes on the street. At the same point on the trail are regulation stop signs -- hexagonal shape, painted red with the word STOP in white. From this evidence I glean that vehicle drivers are to be cautious when approaching the crosswalk and should stop when pedestrians or cyclists enter it. Pedestrians should exercise normal caution, halting at the street and crossing when traffic permits. Cyclists should come to a complete halt and then treat the crosswalk as a pedestrian would. It doesn't always work this way. Fairly often I see cyclists zipping across the street at high speed, ignoring the stop sign. My impression is that these particular cyclists are mostly the Tour de France wannabe type who wear spandex garb and peddle expensive bikes. When I crank up all the empathy I can muster, my supposition is that these cyclists are frustrated at stopping every quarter mile or so and finally get a To Hell With It attitude. On the other hand they are breaking the law and endangering themselves. They cross the streets in the paths of cars traveling 25 or 30 miles per hour. And, due to vegetation, buildings, terrain and other factors, cyclists cannot be seen (at the crossings I use most frequently) until they are less than 15 or so feet from the street. They seemingly appear out of nowhere. Empathy aside, the non-stopping cyclists are jerks, pure and simple. If they get killed, they asked for it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 30, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Authors against Obama. * Steve Sailer points out that nearly everyone everywhere -- globalism-lovin' elites aside, of course -- dislikes high immigration levels. * Another good one from Steve, with smart and funny comments from the Steve Gang: Perhaps the authors of the Anti-Federalist Papers were right. Me, I gotta confess that I had no knowledge at all of something called "The Anti-Federalist Papers." Call me Mr. History. * Meet "ordo-liberal" economist Wilhelm Ropke, too-little-recognized and a special favorite of mine. Here's an excellent John Zmirak intro to Ropke. * A great passage from an interview with horror junkie / satirist Polly Frost: The thing about horror movies is they need to be made with utter conviction. So even if they go wrong and become camp hootfests, they still endure. The only horror movies I have contempt for are the ones made by meek committees, trying not to really offend anyone while cashing in on the appeal of the genre. Horror fans are often likable, unpretentious enthusiasts, aren't they? Buy a copy of Polly's collection of stories here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I looked at some recent trends in ad design. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 29, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Friday, June 27, 2008

Putting a Stop to Car Talk
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Next Tuesday, 1 July, it will be illegal to drive in Washington state while holding a cellphone to your ear while presumably talking on it. An exception is the case of an emergency. And it is a "secondary offense," which means that cops have to have another reason for pulling you over before hitting on the phone business. Cellphone use is okay provided both hands are free for driving. Some other states have laws prohibiting use of hand-held phones in cars, and details vary. I was reading a newspaper or Internet article dealing with the new law. It mentioned some studies indicating that driving while holding a cellphone is related to higher accident rates. What was interesting was that another study was mentioned (the source not cited) that concluded that even talking on a hands-off cellphone increased accident likelihood. I don't know if that's really true, but there seem to be studies that will "prove" almost anything a newspaper editor or politician wants to hear. Let's assume that talking on a hands-free cellphone indeed leads to higher accident rates. So I ask: What is the difference between talking over a hands-free cellphone and talking to a passenger in the car? I say there is no difference; both can present distractions. Therefore, in the name of public safety, I strongly urge -- no, demand -- that state legislatures immediately act to prohibit all talk in moving automobiles. There. I feel safer already. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 27, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Product Evolution Sweet-Spots
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I was young -- between 15 and 25 or thereabouts -- and read biographies, I tended to be bored when plowing through the formative years parts. I wanted to get to the interesting bits, when the famous person was doing the stuff that made him famous. As I got older I became more interested in the formative parts. But by then it was too late for the information to do me much good. When it comes to product types, my interest has always tended to focus on one phase of their evolution. Not an exclusive focus, mind you, but a preponderant one. Here's one way of looking at product evolution: Pioneering stage. This is when something gets invented and other pioneers get into the act. The challenge is getting the things to work at all. There is likely to be a good deal of experimenting with alternative concepts. For the automobile, alternatives included steering wheels versus tillers, engine placement (front, middle, rear), and power plant (steam, electric, internal combustion). Automobiles and airplanes were in this stage up to about 1915. Awkward stage. Concepts that didn't pan out well are discarded, though experimentation continues. In this stage, the emphasis is on improving reliability. Planes and cars were here roughly 1915-33. Refinement stage. Things work and are reasonably reliable. Now engineers and designers focus on bringing the product to its potential. Actually this process is never-ending, but in many cases there is a period when refinement is both obvious and rapid. For automobile styling, this was from 1934 to around 1950. It was different for airplanes because the introduction of jet propulsion in the mid-1940s introduced a secondary evolutionary cycle. Mature stage. Refinement continues, but mostly at the detail or "invisible" engineering level. Outward appearance can be essentially unchanged (commercial airliners) or edges into fashion cycles. Car appearance swings from purist to baroque and back again. There is increasing use of Retro themes because functional requirements are so thoroughly explored that true innovation becomes nearly impossible; previous solutions have to be recycled (think door shapes, windows, etc.). Each of the stages I listed has its interesting aspects, but the stage that attracts me the most is the Refinement stage. Here are examples of product types with my own (approximate) date ranges for that stage: Automobiles 1929-55 Airliners 1932-70 Ocean liners 1895-1935 Battleships 1910-40 Even though I'm usually most interested in the Refinement stage, I can understand the appeal of other stages. Do you look at product types from an evolutionary point of view? If so, have you a different set of stages? And which stages interest you the most? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 26, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Anniversary
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fifty-eight years ago this morning, ten-year-old me turned on the radio to catch some news. For once, the news was big. Surprising, too. North Korean troops were invading South Korea. China, save Formosa and a few small islands near the coast, had already fallen to the communists. Eastern Europe was in Russian hands. We had gone through the drama of the Berlin Airlift. South Korea had been a U.S. occupation zone after World War 2 and was now, for practical purposes, an American protectorate. So it was war, carried out under a United Nations fig leaf -- though I suppose Truman would have fought regardless of the U.N; he was a clear thinker who risked popularity for principle. Gallery These are troops of Task Force Smith arriving at the Taejon station, 5 July 1950. Taejon is about halfway between Seoul and the main southern port, Pusan. The U.S. had four occupation divisions in Japan, and few of their units were even close to being combat-ready. But to Korea many of them went, only to be pushed south by the North Korean army. This map shows the Pusan Perimeter, the American - South Korean defensive line that finally held during the summer of 1950. The solid blue line represents the communist highwater mark. It also encloses the part of Korea where I was stationed 1963-64. Taegu was 7th Logistical Command headquarters. Our offices, mess hall, clubs and so forth were in a former Imperial Japanese Army post near the edge of the city. A couple of miles away was a compound containing our barracks and family housing for Military Assistance Group personnel. To the northwest, where the blue line bends, is the town of Waegwan. When I was in Korea, we were contructing a large logistical depot there. East of Taegu, on the coast, is Pohang, South Korea's steel center; I went there to cover some training exercises. At the southeast corner is South Korea's main port, Pusan, where the 7th Log had facilities. The command also had a unit at Seoul's port, Inchon, and I would have to go there periodically on army business. This is me in the late spring of 1964 during an alert, when we had to carry weapons. This photo also appears on 2Blowhards here, where I do some reminiscing. When I was in Korea, the U.S. had a corps with two divisions -- the 1st Cavalry and the 7th Infantry. Now we are down to one division there, a 58-year presence. We will have had troops in Germany and Japan 63 years as of late summer. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, June 23, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Behold some seriously beautiful graphic design. * Critic David Sterritt tries to explain why Hitchcock's "Vertigo" continues to fascinate. * Painter Laurie Fendrich wonders why anyone should major in painting. (This link and the one above thanks to Matt Mullenix.) * Tyler Cowen doesn't think that new 3-D technology will save movies. * Isegoria notices that Alaskan Airlines has had some success redesigning its check-in process. Let's hope the other airlines take note. * Asians like techno. * One little shot of collagen and -- "Yes, yes, yes!!!" she cried. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Another find from Charlton: How to make a light bulb. * Steve Bodio riffs through a lot of books that he's read recently, including a "Zen Buddhist dog book." * Sister Wolf thinks there's no getting around it: Men are boring. * An especially nice couple of lines from Lester Hunt: "I have never had sex with a virgin and intend to avoid doing so for the rest of my life. Why someone would want to have sex with a completely inexperienced partner is literally beyond my comprehension." I find innocence overrated too, particularly where sex partners are concerned. * Anne Thompson notices yet more cutbacks at old-media shops. *MBlowhard Rewind: I tried to come up with a way to salvage the word "intellectual." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 23, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who Sez Rome Fell
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My radar must be aimed really high. Because lots of stuff is flying under it. A case in point is the fall of Rome. Naive me, I thought it just, er, fell -- the western part anyway. Apparently there's a pack of recent scholars who don't see it that way. Which prompted Bryan Ward-Perkins (yes, he's a Brit) to write this book as rebuttal. If Ward-Perkins is correct and not simply doing the intellectual grandstanding one sees all too often in academia these days, a number of historians have been claiming that the western empire more or less faded away and the former not-really-Barbarians simply stepped up to the palazzo, signed a few treaties and took over the show in various parts of the old realm. Less fuss, muss, bother and bloodshed than Gibbon and his followers had led us to believe, apparently. Ward-Perkins literally digs in with physical anthropological evidence of the collapse of the standard of living. This is measured by the presence (or lack of it) of pottery of all kinds, including items used to transport goods such as olive oil, as well as by coins and building materials such as roof tiles. His evidence indicates Roman Britain disappeared in a comparative flash while other parts hung on until the tide of conquest took out the last refuge when the Visigoths reached North Africa. He also cites contemporary written material to support his case that the end of Rome wasn't painless. I find it interesting that there were 27 customer reviews on the Amazon page linked above. That's a lot more that I'm accustomed to seeing, so perhaps the matter really is controversial. I read a lot of history, but not a lot of the Ancient variety. That means I'm not well qualified to pass judgments on to you. All I'll say is that the traditional version of Rome's fall in the sense that a lot of aspects of what one normally thinks of as "civilization" were seriously diminished or eliminated seems the most plausible description. And Ward-Perkins' contribution supports it. Please comment if you are better informed regarding the apparent controversy; I'm curious to learn what you have to say. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 17, 2008 | perma-link | (20) comments

Monday, June 16, 2008

Attics of the Skies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last month I visited the Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio. No, I didn't, actually. It seems that while I wasn't paying attention, somebody re-named the place; now it's called National Museum of the United States Air Force. I suspect the renaming has to do with the fact that installations besides Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have museums and that "Air Force Museum" might cause confusion whereas National etc., etc. makes it all perfectly clear. Yeah. Sure. Since I last visited, the museum added another large exhibit hall. This improved their ability to add more aircraft for public viewing as well as allowed better settings for some of the displays. For example, the B-25 Mitchell bomber I saw was painted to resemble the B-25s used in the famous Doolittle raid on Tokyo, 18 April 1942. Better yet, the plane was standing on a facsimile of a segment of the flight deck of the carrier Hornet. Here are some planes that I was pleased to see. I'll tell you below why I was pleased. Martin B-10 Seversky P-35A Curtiss P-36A North American O-47B Curtiss O-52 Owl I was pleased to see these planes because they are extremely rare; it's surprising that any examples of these types exist at all. Aside from the P-36, they were built in a few hundreds each, if that; not the thousands that were often the case for later aircraft of the World War 2 era. Moreover these 1930s planes were constructed mostly of metal. The museum has examples of World War 2 and subsequent aircraft that were retained specifically for museum display; no problem here. It also displays pre-1930s aircraft that were built using wood, fabric and perhaps some metal for framing. Not all these are original. Because the originals were built with common materials using comparatively simple techniques, it was and is possible to build replica airplanes, especially if original plans are available. But it isn't practical to build replica metal planes. You really need an original as a basis for restoration (not replication), even if it isn't in good condition and many parts are missing. The museum's B-10, the only one left, had been in Argentina; obsolete Army Air Corps planes were often sold to South and Central American air forces. The P-35 also is the last of its kind. The museum web page isn't clear where it came from, but I'll speculate that it was a hulk used by aviation schools for training mechanics -- a fate many aircraft suffer. The P-36 was donated to the museum by a private party, but it wasn't said how he had obtained it. P-36s and export version Hawk 75s were built in fairly large numbers for use by the Air Corps, Armée de l'Air and other air arms at the end of the 30s. The O-47 might have been from a maintenance school and the O-52's provenance wasn't given. These two "O" planes were part of a sequence of observation aircraft... posted by Donald at June 16, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Friday, June 13, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The web brings us news of yet another fetish we had no way of expecting. (NSFW) * Anne Thompson fears the worst for the LA Times. * Chris Floyd loves the case that Roger Scruton makes for a conservative environmentalism. * That bad boy of the British cinema, Ken ("Tommy," "Women in Love") Russell, reads a biography about himself. Very amusing. * Artist, gallery owner, and queer feminist, BDSM model Madison Young tells how she became a "rope slut." "For me there is only hemp or jute," she confides. "I love the bite, the tightness of the rope, the smell, the taste, I’m getting excited just talking about it. I really love rope." (NSFW.) * A good passage from Vdare's Brenda Walker: "Illegal workers are part of that broader trend where Davos-style elites have quietly abandoned the nation-state and have morphed into One-Worlders with a bent toward commerce." * MDMNM and loyal canine buddy run into a rattler. Pix galore. * Sister Wolf wishes that more public figures would just speak their minds, goddammit. * David Chute gives a mild thumb's-up to "Cloverfield." * Joe Valdez thinks that Walter Hill's 1979 "The Warriors" deserves to be thought of as an overlooked classic. Sigh: I remember well when "The Warriors" was thought of as something exciting and new. * Reid Farmer has a giggle at the expense of city people who move to the country. * Free Vedanta talks. I suggest starting with Swami Prabhavananda, who is often really good. * Katie Hutchison shares some photos of a lovely Boston neighborhood. Katie has a great feeling for livable beauty. * MD watches a movie and is more struck by faces and decor than by the storyline. That's part of what's so great about movies, no? -- the way they can strike you on so many different levels. * Maybe red meat is the healthy choice. * Lemmonex supplies a wryly amusing FAQ about herself. * Tom Smith thinks that not only do intellectuals have nothing interesting to say, they're no fun to be around. * MBlowhard Rewind: I treated myself to a wrestle with G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 13, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Modest Military Proposal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Once upon a time, before 1947, the United States had no Air Force. What we had were two air forces. One was the Navy's and the other was part of the U.S. Army. The Army's air force was taken away and became a separate branch of the armed services as part of Truman's reorganization that resulted in creation of the Department of Defense. Previously, defense needs were handled by the Navy Department and the War Department, each headed by a Cabinet-level secretary. The transition from being part of the Signal Corps to Air Force independence was a multi-step process that resulted in a quasi-independent air force when World War 2 was underway. (For some information about this, click here.) The doctrine favored by air officers during much of this gestation period can be encapsulated by the term strategic bombing which had its roots in the thinking of Italian general Giulio Douhet and others in the 1920s and 30s. The theory was that bombers were virtually impervious to attack and were fully capable of destroying an enemy country's armaments industry, infrastructure and the morale of its populace. By the time World War 2 got nicely underway it became obvious to military men (though not so much to the general public getting its war news filtered through censorship) that bombing accuracy was not very good even with the aid of the best bomb-sights available. And rather than being invincible, bombers proved to be highly vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and attack by interceptors alerted or guided by radar (a late-30s development). Further, the Battle of Britain and the later Blitz revealed that civilian morale was harder to crack than had been anticipated by the bombing enthusiasts. Air commanders continued to insist that strategic bombing was an important part of warfare. They were correct, though the fire-breathers among them probably continued over-stating their case when they claimed that such bombing alone could win a war. (True, Japan surrendered before it had to be invaded. But anti-shipping warfare by submarines and the failure of Japan to mass-produce advanced interceptors in 1944 contributed to their ultimate relative weakness in the summer of 1945.) The domination of thinking by "bomber generals" continued in the U.S Air Force well into the strategic missile age. This was probably mostly for the best while the U.S. and Soviet Union faced each other across the Arctic during the first 15 years of the Cold War because bombers were the only means of conveying strategic weapons in those days. By the 1970s the situation had changed. Land and sea-based missiles became the strategic weapons and B-52 "strategic bombers" were being used for tactical, Army-support missions. By the time of the Gulf Wars, air activities were largely in the form of ground support and transportation and communications interdiction; strategic attacks were a small part of the picture. So, I ask, since the Air Force is nowadays largely an Army-support service, why not simply make it a branch... posted by Donald at June 10, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hiding Behind Initials
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, it seems to be happening everywhere and has been happening for a long time. But I was reminded of the phenomenon last week when we visited Victoria, British Columbia and went looking for an ATM to get some Canadian money. Canada used to have five or so major banks whose names were familiar even to Yanks such as me who occasionally wandered north of the line. Instead of those grand old names, what did I see on bank buildings but BMO CIBC HSBC RBC TD Plus, there was something called "Scotiabank." To be fair, the "BMO" was followed by a small logo and the familiar words "Bank of Montreal." That was helpful, so I used their ATM. And Scotiabank isn't terribly far removed from Bank of Nova Scotia. HSBC stands for Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company which wasn't one of the big five Canadian banks, but now is fairly strong in British Columbia perhaps because of the many Hong Kong residents who moved to Canada when the Sino-British treaty expired. As for the others. CIBC was Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, RBC was Royal Bank of Canada and TD was Toronto Dominion Bank. RBC still uses the words "Royal Bank" but I don't recall seeing them on the building signs (correct me if I mis-remembered). I'm pretty sure most Canadians know perfectly well what all those initials stand for. And I imagine that tourists with little experience in Canada have no idea what they mean. [Puts on just-for-fun conspiracy hat] Could it be that those Canadian banks are trying to hide something? Secrets from the dark days before the country became a paradise of political correctness? Let us delve. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce -- Clearly a double-whammy of evil!! I'm all but certain that those imperialist lackeys of capitalism and trade were also white males; how could they be otherwise? Toronto Dominion Bank -- The cowardly behind-initials-hiding scum at least recognize that Canada finally threw off the chains of empire to become a shining Trudeaupia [thanks for that word, Mark Steyn]. Nevertheless, could that "D" be nothing but a fig-leaf waiting to be peeled off when the forces of reaction opt to rejoin the empire and restore the hated Red Ensign to the flagpoles of Canada? Royal Bank of Canada -- Well. That tells us all we need to know. The hand on the lever behind the curtain has been revealed! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 9, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Trip Report: Victoria
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Bloggers in our readership will probably confirm it when I assert that it can be hard to predict if a given posting will generate a lot of comments. So when I posted this innocent little article before sneaking out of town I had no idea that it would generate more than 80 comments, which is pretty close to being a 2Blowhards record. I appreciate the interest in the topic. And thank you for keeping remarks mostly civil for a topic that was potentially hackle-raising. As for me, I spent a couple of days in Victoria, British Columbia. Spring in these parts has barely sprung even though we're less than three weeks from the start of calendar summer. It was stormy enough on the trip up that the Victoria Clipper catamaran detoured to the lee side of Whidbey Island to avoid swells and rough water on northern Puget Sound. And we had no choice but to cross some rough stuff on the westerly shot from Deception Pass to Victoria. The weather improved little while we were in Victoria, though the return trip was smoother because of diminished winds. I'm giving you this long explanation to set the scene for the less-than-picture-postcard quality of the photo report below. Silk purses, sow's ears and all that. Gallery The Empress Hotel is the sight the greets most visitors to Victoria. It is the westernmost of the grand hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, having opened 100 year ago. It's currently part of the Fairmont group. Its architect was Francis Rattenbury who was responsible for a number of Victoria's landmarks and came to a sad end, being murdured by his second wife's young lover. Here are harbor taxis that are based near the Empress. This is the view of the harbor channel from where we were staying. Note the float-plane taxiing in. This is a closer look at a float-plane. It's part of the Kenmore Air fleet that flies passengers up and back from Seattle. Two Canadian airlines fly float-planes between Victoria and other Canadian destinations, Vancouver in particular. The aircraft shown has a radial engine, but most of the planes operating in the harbor are powered by turboprop motors. These small transports -- most of them built by de Havilland Canada -- have been out of production for many years; a Victoria company supplies parts and can do rebuilding tasks. This photo was taken the day we left, its location farther out the harbor channel. Those are houseboats in the middle-ground. They interest me because they are two-story structures; the modest houseboats in Seattle when I was young had only one story. The touristy stretch of Government Street is mostly comprised of old buildings. This chateau-style structure is fancier than most of the others. Spreading all the way from Government Street to Douglas Street is this atrium mall-cum-Bay store. Eaton's was the original anchor store, but that chain folded and the Hudson's Bay Company moved in. Back... posted by Donald at June 7, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Peter Brimelow lays out what he thinks libertarians ought to be making of the current immigration mess. Those who are curious about how we have come to this unfortunate, perhaps even disastrous, pass should find Brimelow's book "Alien Nation" an eye-opener. * Oxford U. Press has just posted a gorgeous passage from the Man Who Is Thursday's translation of Ecclesiastes. At his blog, Thursday has a fun go at proposing a sweetly non-comprehensive taxonomy of female types. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wondered if life without taboo is possible. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, June 2, 2008

An Okay Airline Experience
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The sport du jour seems to be airline-bashing. Lord knows there is no lack of cause. A particularly bone-headed item is American Airlines' plan to charge a fee for even one checked bag. Given the chronically too-full condition of overhead bins, imagine the chaos when a lot more passengers opt out of checking and into bin storage -- especially during winter months when heavy coats are headed for the same place. Apparently American can't do this sort of imagining. At least they did me one kindness today, sort of. Two months ago I cashed in frequent flier miles for a September trip to Boston, from where we'll loop up to Québec, up along the St. Lawrence River and on to Toronto and Niagara Falls. I told the American Airlines staffer that a return from Rochester or Buffalo would be fine -- pick one or the other. So it was Rochester. This morning I received an email from American advising me that there were some schedule changes -- flight numbers and times, etc. Glancing over the printout I noticed a tiny detail that I had missed in previous emailed itineraries: the return flight was originating in Rochester, Minnesota!! So I hopped on the phone to straighten out the mess. The lady on the other end of the line advised me that there would be a $150-per-person change-of-itinerary fee. Uh, oh. I had already booked hotel rooms and made arrangements to visit friends; too late to dump the trip. While the lady was off-line checking something, I remembered that the initial booking was done by phone and that the mistake was American's, not mine. Rochester, MN probably appeared on a computer screen above Rochester, NY so that was the one that got selected. When I got off hold I told the lady that the error surely was American's and that I didn't feel like paying $300 for their mistake. And if she couldn't fix this, then I wanted to talk to her supervisor. She put me on hold and returned a few minutes later to tell me that the supervisor agreed there would be no penalty for the change. Thanks, American, for doing something right. Now as for that luggage fee ... Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 2, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Low-Tech Zip
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A lot of attention is focused on high-technology progress from laboratory to prototype to production to refinement and, in the case of objects digital, to increasing performance at decreasing price. This probably has to do with the "glamour factor" of high-tech. Unnoticed can be progress in low-tech fields. For example, the common zipper. When I was very young, I don't think any of my clothing was fastened using zippers. Not that they weren't around; according to the history reported here, zipper technology had evolved to essentially its present form around 1914. Nevertheless, my clothing was fastened with buttons until I was at some point in elementary school in the late 1940s. When I finally started wearing clothing with zippers, I found the gizmos unreliable. That is, they could jam. Or part of the zipped-up part could come unzipped. Or it could be hard to get the zipper properly connected so that zipping might begin. These problems and others are still with us. However, slowly but surely, they happen less and less often. And rather than being wary of zippers as I once was, I give them little thought when I buy a garment. Here, for the record, are some of my current zipper gripes. A zipper on one of my Tommy Bahama sweatshirts is happy to zip up, but doesn't like to unzip unless it's in the fully zipped position. Zippers on a few of my other garments have a tendency to jam because the slider catches on fabric. I chalk this up to an unintentional error in garment design or fabrication. The zipper on a Brooks Brothers sweater is difficult to get started. I have to get the part opposite the slider inserted just so or nothing happens when I try to zip. Maybe that's why the sweater was on sale. A few of my garments have zippers where the slider is on the right-hand side and not the usual left side. This makes things awkward because I'm not used to working a zipper that way. For what it's worth, the garments are imported -- one from Denmark, the other from England. All this complaining aside, the many zippers I deal with over the course of the year are virtually trouble-free, unlike they were around 1950. I hope yours are too. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 1, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, May 30, 2008

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More online finds by Charlton Griffin: * Does anything more than this need to be said about the Fed? * Virtuoso ranter Pat Condell wants you know that he has nothing special against religion. Can that man command a camera or what? * In celebration of the release of "Sex in the City": The 20 Worst Chickflicks of All Time. * Spend a few minutes inside the mind of the average male college student. * Who needs to visit Mars in reality when computer animations have become this good? * Here's an amusing math-wiz prank. Verizon thoroughly deserves this kind of treatment, IMHO. * Guilty as charged. * Beat this for tastelessness. * Good horsey. When he isn't busy turning up cool finds on the web, Charlton is a performer and producer who creates some of the best audiobooks available. Check out his offerings. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 30, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What I Learned From Richard Nixon
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Even though I only voted for him once ... Er, check that. I actually voted against McGovern that year. Anyway, I can cite one positive (to me) influence from President Nixon. While he was in office I read an article about him someplace that mentioned that he was quite curious about how things worked. I can't remember whether those things were natural, mechanical or organizational. But that doesn't really matter. You see, at that time I wasn't especially curious about what made things tick. The article made me take stock of myself and realize that my happy ignorance was a deficiency. As a result, I began to pay more attention to details. I'm not obsessive about it, but I still take a quick peek "under the hood" now and then when I encounter something new. Otherwise, I've acquired enough background that I have an okay mental yardstick to help evaluate stuff I encounter in daily life. This is particularly the case for matters bureaucratic. I suppose most folks attain the same end simply by keeping their eyes open and living long enough. Me, I still have to fight the burden of having a Ph.D. and those years of having to honor Theory rather than experience. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 27, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Independent Crime turns up a hilarious old pulp-fiction cover. (Slightly racy.) * Sister Wolf provides amusing movie reviews of two movies she's certain she'll never see. That's a great new genre of writing, reviews of works you'll never see ... * Where men go, could "Sex and the City" be the least-anticipated movie ever? (Link thanks to FvB.) * This subtitled Bollywood "Nipple Song" gave me a good case of the giggles. * Randall Parker notices that social life has grown so dysfunctional in Mexico that some Mexican police chiefs are demanding that the U.S. grant them asylum. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wondered about the relationship between negativity and criticism in the arts. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 27, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The way things are going, it won't be long before today's unashamed, self-webcasting kids will be including clips like these on their resumes. (Strongly NSFW.) My guess is that the business world will find some way to adapt. * Good news for those with big cabooses. * Gil Roth notices an important European political development. * Michael Bierut recalls that, when he worked as a shoe salesman, he enjoyed measuring people's feet. A sweet and personal blogposting, if not as kinky as you might hope. * A catlike ease with contradictions, a juicy love of words, many instinctive moments of wonder ... MD is blogging again. * Wifezilla has trouble finding full-fat plain yogurt. America: Enough already with the fear of fat. * So maybe Rachel Carson was right? * As Boomers retire and Yers take on more responsibilites, how is the world going to change? * Sounds pretty tough, being a "nice guy" of Asian descent. * Ballet dancers: Talk about artists who suffer for their art. * Doesn't it seem as though a new market bubble appears every day? Eric Janszen doesn't think this pattern is going to end soon. "The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle," he writes. * Carla Thompson thinks that more black people ought to get as upset about black-on-black murders as they do about police brutality. * Sign up for Jimmy Moore's low-carb cruise. * Dave Milano explains some of the reasons why raw milk has come to be such a fascinating issue. * Welmer offers an eloquent examination of some of of the predicaments today's young men grapple with. * I enjoyed Pietro's album of snapshots of Leon Krier's new old town Poundbury. Me, I think Krier's an underrecognized major culture figure. Here's an appreciative piece about one of Krier's books. * Seth Roberts loves Mondoweiss. * Following Seth's Shangri-La Diet, Stephen M. has taken off 55 pounds, and has kept it off. * MBlowhard Rewind: If modernistic architecture is all about thrills and originality, why do so many of the most screamingly up-to-date examples resemble each other? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 20, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rust Belt Rust
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- They call the region surrounding the Great Lakes the Rust Belt because most cities, large and small, have examples of abandoned factories that had flourished during the period 1850-1950, roughly. The term also refers to an aspect of what some consider a "de-industrialization" of America. Factories aside, on my recent trip through the Midwest I noticed examples of Rust Belt rust that were disturbing. So I took photos. First are pictures of Chicago's elevated train line that runs around the part of downtown called "The Loop" (referring to the area circumscribed by or bordering the elevated line, or "L" ... not "el" is in New York). For more on the "L" see here. This is followed by photos of the suspension bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky that opened shortly after the end of the Civil War. Its designer was John Roebling, who cut his teeth on it before attempting the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York. You can read more here. Gallery: The Chicago "L" These are photos of the Quincy station near West Jackson Blvd. and the Sears Tower. Here is the interior of the station house and its ticket office. Basically early 1900s with modern items added as needed. What the station looks like from street-level. Hmm. It looks a bit rusty up there. More rust. This is at the station over East Adams. The undersides of the elevated lines showed rust in many places, though, to be fair, I did see a repainting effort near where this photo was taken. Gallery: Cincinnati's Roebling Bridge The bridge from the Kentucky side with Cincinnati in the background. This shows the suspension cable system. And there is plenty of rust on some of those cables and tie rods. Because it isn't a toll bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, it doesn't earn its own maintenance money. As I said, this is disturbing. And that's because, in the long run, too much rusting can result in loss of structural integrity. Sure, the "L" and the bridge are inspected and certified, but I suppose the same could be said for structures that actually did collapse. Since I'm not an engineer, I'd be really happy if a reader who knows about the integrity of rusty structures would offer reassurance. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 18, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, May 16, 2008

Trip Journal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Bowhards-- Tomorrow, as the sun sets behind the lovely O'Hare control tower, we will be bidding a fond adieu to Flyover Country and boarding our silver oiseau for the Left Coast. Herewith are a few more short observations regarding the curious country we have been exploring, a land apparently unknown to the Mainstream Media. * Nancy was impressed by the University of Illinois campus. And so was I, even though the Georgian(?) architectural style is not my absolute favorite. The quadrangles are large -- large enough that I wonder if they really relate to human scale. Moreover, the campus is huge. That makes me wonder if it's hard for students to dash from class to class if they only have a 10-minute break. The University of Washington was effectively about a half mile across in my student days, and getting from one end to the opposite could barely be done in 10 minutes. I also wonder about getting around during winter at Illinois. Those distances and large quads strike me as fodder for the occasional frozen corpse come January. Still, I liked the place so much I bought my son a University of Illinois baseball cap. * Indianapolis was nice. Nothing famous there save the Speedway, but I can see where it could be a pleasant place to live. One can take nice walks in the general area of the canal, the government center and the Memorial. * Cincinnati has the Roebling Bridge to Kentucky, opened in 1867, less than two years after the end of the Civil War. It was designed by John Roebling, who also designed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. We walked across the Roebling and I took photos of rusting. The town has the Netherland Plaza Hotel, a great Art Deco monument opened in 1931. If you go to Cincinnati, be sure to check out its Palm Court, which would not have been out of place on the liner Normandie. * The Air Force museum near Dayton has been expaned since I was last there. Another exhibition hall was added, allowing more breathing room for the planes. An interesting addition is a display of four Presidential planes: FDR's "Sacred Cow," Truman"s "Independence," Eisenhower's "Columbine" and the Air Force One where LBJ took the oath of office. * Near Detroit, we visited the Edsel/Eleanor Ford house on Lake St. Claire. Ace architect Albert Kahn designed the building to resemble a cluster of Cotswold cottages. I'll probably post some pix later. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 16, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Thinking person's rocker Brian Eno has turned 60. The Independent visits with Eno, who has collaborated with Bowie, Byrne, Cold Play, and Microsoft. (Link thanks to William Sauer.) * Life is sometimes good. (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) * BHH sometimes wonders if he shouldn't take up a manual occupation -- something useful, and that can't be shipped overseas. * It lives! Or seems to, anyway. (Link thanks to Marc Andreessen.) Marc also turned up a priceless clip of Bill O'Reilly showing how he gets his way. * Lots of tasty-sounding lectures and talks can be downloaded here. * Learn about China's fastest-growing city. (Link thanks to Michael Wade.) * Educated black people (at least in Atlanta) evidently like gated communities. * Stuff one black guy hates includes "stupid names." Chris isn't crazy about Isaac Hayes either. * Why shouldn't people be able to live in a yurt on their own land, Stephan wants to know. * MBlowhard Rewind: I took issue with the general view of Louis Kahn as a great architect. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 15, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Trip Journal
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Here I am in the Midwest, acting as sherpa for my wife who has never been here. Below are a few short thoughts that might (or not) get expanded into real blog posts. * The touristy part of Chicago is much nicer than it was 15+ years ago when I was last there. Clean, fairly friendly. Lots of really tall condo towers or hotels-cun-condos going up. The Daleys, despite other faults, know how to run the place. * Milwaukee was another matter. Hollowed out downtown. Some large blocks razed down to dirt. Everything has moved to the 'burbs. Call it a region without a center. * Madison, Wisconsin also disappointed. Here you have the state capitol building and the University of Wisconsin on each end of a half-mile street. I was expecting State Street to be nice. Instead, its highlights were the campus book store and Potbelly's sandwich shop. * Springfield, Illinois isn't much of a town, but has several places of interest. There is Lincoln's tomb and his house (the guide noted that the bannister of the main stairway is the one thing you can touch that Lincoln himself surely also had touched). And there is his presidential library and museum. The latter is overdone and I might do a rant about new museum displays. Not far are a nicely restored train station and a large Frank Lloyd Wright house that, unfortunately, was closed yesterday. Oh, and my father was born in Springfield 100 years ago minus two weeks. So it was high time that I got there. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 13, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Peter L. Winkler is pretty sure that D.C. madame really did commit suicide. * Dennis Mangan is thinking about leaving California. Visitors offer many tips. * Alice is trying not to become a tiresome geezer-blogger. It's already too late for some of the rest of us. * Gotta love it when a girl finds a career that really suits her. (NSFW) * The worst cities in the country for hay-fever sufferers. * Have these guys figured out how to predict the results of the Presidential election? (Link thanks to FvB.) * Great motorcycle. (Link thanks to Graham Lester.) * Men eat more meat; women eat more fruit. (Source.) * Hey, a mammoth black vs. brown riot at an L.A. high school -- who could have anticipated it? Any bets on whether we'll be seeing more or less of this kind of thing? * Yahmdallah reached towards a bug that he thought was dead, and ... * Eyeball the pixel couch. * Who's the spanking-est of them all? (NSFW) * James Kunstler wouldn't be surprised if the economy falls apart in the next month or two. * Agnostic tries to figure out why beautiful girls from more traditional areas are more modest about their looks than beautiful big-city girls. * Derek Lowe takes a look at yet another anti-cholesterol drug flop and offers this: "For now, there’s no way to really know what will happen in humans without, well, using humans." Can someone please share Derek's wisdom with the entire field of economics? * Her new HDTV has reawakened Lynne Kiesling's interest in hockey. * I'll probably never get around to reading Yuri Slezkine's "The Jewish Century," praised by Steve Sailer among others. How nice then that YouTube carries a good hour-long Harry Kreisler interview with Slezkine. * MBlowhard Rewind: I ventured a General Theory of women's fashion magazines. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost confesses that she's just a "genre slut." * As though it wasn't bad enough to get cancer at age 33, the cancer that star Chicago chef Grant Achatz developed was on his tongue. Can you say "Beethoven" and "deafness"? Jennifer Tanaka has the story. * Did Roman gladiators eat too many carbs? * An excellent collection of interviews -- audio and transcripts both -- with James Kunstler. * Tyler Cowen volunteers a list of his country music faves. Commenters leap in with many more suggestions. * Daniel McCarthy takes stock of the Ron Paul campaign. * Is drinking fruit juice really all that healthy? * Jock Sturges: highbrow pornographer, or upholder of classical standards of beauty? * Lester Hunt watches Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will." * Does the Russian ballet establishment abuse its female charges? * Dark Party Review interviews Glenn Mercer, frontman for the legendary early-'80s punk band The Feelies. * A fabulously sexy NSFW link prompts a a not-bad question. * MBlowhard Rewind: I tried to make some sense of how best to approach the word "intellectual." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 8, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Personality Change via Stress
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- During the weeks leading up to Tuesday's presidential primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, there was scattered commentary that Hillary Clinton had been battered by the competition process into being a better grounded, more likable candidate. No links here 'cause I'm writing this in my Chicago hotel room and will need some sleep soon. In any case the true, or even perceived, persona of H.R. Clinton isn't the focus of this post. But let's begin by assuming that Hillary was indeed changed by her confrontation of reality on the campaign trail. The question is, would such a change be permanent? That is, if she got to be President, would she be the "old" Hillary we know and love from the Clinton White House years or the "new" Hillary that is actually even more lovable. I think we would have the old Hillary. That's because short-term stress in most cases isn't strong enough to create large-scale, fairly permanent personality changes. Especially if the subject returns to his comfortable pre-stress environment. Living in the pampered White House environment of servants and yes-men seems to be an excellent means of personality regression. Perhaps some of the campaign-induced changes might stick, but by "some" I mean "almost none." Here is an example from my past. When I was a frat-rat in college we ran Hell Week initiation rites. On a few occasions we had doubts about some of the pledges who might be initiated. Do we black-ball them or let them become members? One argument for letting them participate in Hell Week was that the experience would "shape them up." So through Hell Week they went. And for a few weeks or a month thereafter, they had indeed "shaped up." Then they regressed. By the end of the school term they were their own not-so smooth selves. This is not to say that hardship can have an effect. It can. But it probably needs to be exceedingly severe (short -term) or else a lengthy process. And the previous environment also needs to have been altered enough that regression is harder to do. Or so I think. What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Vacation Working
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you pack some work or even semi-work along when you go on vacation? I do, and I'm not sure why. That's because I almost never actually work on the work stuff I bring. Which is silly, because all I'm doing is dragging around an increment of needless weight. My "work" can take several forms. For instance, I usually bring some sketchbooks and possible reference material for planning paintings. Other times I'm likely to toss in a book that I think I Really Ought To Read. And for our 7-17 May trip to the Midwest (by the way, thanks for the travel tips, readers), I copied a book project file from my desktop computer to my laptop in the far-fetched hope that I might do a little writing or editing. Why don't I follow through on my intentions? I can't rule out laziness. Or to put it another way, Laziness Rules!! Besides that, travel is a busy time that's also costly. Given the investment, it seems foolish to hole up in a motel room and do stuff that can more easily be done at home; so why not actually sightsee and experience such exotic places as Springfield, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio. Moreover, travel can get tiring when one is in his geezerhood. That boils down to being too ground down to do much more than indulge in light reading in the evening. That's my sad story. Are any of you realistic enough to know that work and vacations don't mix and therefore leave work stuff at home? Or are you a stalwart who actually manages blending work and vacationing? As a parting shot, I really, truly, positively plan to blog while on this trip provided I don't have computer or other trouble. Honest. [Uncrosses fingers] Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Dog Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Rawness shares a hilarious quick dog video. * Thinking of adopting a retired racing Greyhound? Here's an informative, 19-part guide. I wonder what Gil Roth -- who recently adopted a retired racer -- thinks of the advice. * Patrick Burns writes that dog owners don't need to haul their pets to the vet as often as they're being told to. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 6, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, May 5, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Among my many failings is an imperfect command of the English language. But I won't let that small detail stop me from calling attention to failings and odd usage by others. Here goes ... * The local Presbyterian Church celebrated its 100th anniversary this past weekend. As part of the Morning Worship bulletin, the pastor included snippets from the 6 May 1908 minutes of the session that established the church. According to the minutes, the founding group of commissioners from the Puget Sound Presbytery met "for the purpose of affecting such organization..." Uh oh. That's effecting, not affecting. These were probably educated men, but those two words, often confused today, were clearly being confused a century ago. * No doubt you've heard and read the term "underdog." What is the term for its opposite? I contend that it is "top dog." But occasionally I see the word "overdog." I suppose that's logical, but I'm pretty sure that it's mostly used by people who can't call up "top dog" while they're scribbling or keyboarding away. No matter the source, "overdog" always annoys me when I come across it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Office Habits
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More studies ought to be done of how we inhabit our offices. My own contribution to this field is the observation: Certain kinds of stuff seems to accumulate. But perhaps I'm just a big ol' packrat. What piles up in your own office? I mean, besides work. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 5, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hidden Front Wheels
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- In the very real world of engineering, you can't optimize everything. Putting it another way, engineering is a realm of trade-offs, compromises. For example, instead of text in that comic-strip balloon above your head, we see a glowing light bulb, and your mind is exploding with the word "Eureka!" You suddenly realized that one way to improve gas mileage of automobiles is to streamline the car's body. That comes from reading that aerodynamic resistance, at speed, is a function of a car's frontal area (the number of square feet/meters at the vehicle's largest cross-sectional point) and the coefficient of drag. For a given frontal area, the resistance can be reduced by improving the coefficient of drag by streamlining the car's body. A brilliant insight, but not exactly new. For example, Paul Jaray was investigating automotive streamlining in the 1920s and took out several patents. The Ill-fated 1934 Chrysler Airflow made use of wind-tunnel tested streamlining in an effort to reduce drag. One of the ways to cut drag is by eliminating or controlling sources of air turbulence. For instance, projections from the car's body such a rear-view mirrors can create turbulence. Since mirrors are essential to driving safety and cannot easily be eliminated, they are now housed in streamlined shields; when I was a lad, they were the shape of a dentist's mirror, presenting a nearly flat surface to the wind. Another source of turbulence is holes or gaps in the body surface. The largest such gaps are the wheel wells. Therefore, when engineers and stylists began to think seriously about streamlining in the 1930s, they set about eliminating wheels wells, both front and rear. Let's take at look: Gallery Boeing P-26 "Peashooter" Reducing drag of wheels was nothing new in the field of aviation. The P-26 fighter, first flown in 1932, was one of many designs that featured streamlined "spats" over the wheels and landing gear struts. This was a compromise. The spats improved streamlining over open struts and wheels, but a better aerodynamic solution was retractable landing gear. But retractable gear were heavy and complicated. So spats were acceptable for P-26s that had a top speed of a little more than 200 mph, but weren't the best solution four years later when Curtiss Hawk 75s could hit 300 mph. Most 75s had retractable gear, but the 75Ns that were sold to Thailand had spats. Norman Bel Geddes model, 1934 Pioneer industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes created several aerodynamic car designs in the 1930s. The copper model shown above has eight (!!) wheels and a body whose interior might have been a akin to todays' minivans. Note that both the front and rear wheels are covered by fenders. Panhard "Dynamic" 140 coupe, 1937 If you look closely, you can see that there are three windshield panes, a large one and small curved ones at each side. Panhard called this primitive wrap-around system panoramique; General Motors mass-produced single-pane wrap-arounds starting in 1953-54. What can't... posted by Donald at May 3, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, May 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Lynn is turning 50. Youngster! * Hey, baldness can be studly: Chris White points out the funny and informative Take It From the Head, self-described as "The Gallery of Shaved Head Musicians." Photos and info about tons of musical cueballs to be enjoyed. * Stuff Asian People Like explains that whole badminton thing. * Roissy turns up a study that reaches some depressing conclusions about marriage and sex. * David Chute confesses that he has a taste for melodrama. * Steve and commenters have a lot of shrewd hunches about why our lawgivers think insane immigration rates are such a great thing. * Dark Party Review picks 10 great teenflicks from the 1980s. Hmm: Cute as Molly Ringwald was, I could never really stand John Hughes' work ... So I guess my fave of the bunch is "Valley Girl." Or maybe "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." (UPDATE: Here's a 2004 interview with Molly Ringwald.) * Part of Thursday's translation of Ecclesiastes is going to be published. * Katie Hutchison celebrates some beautiful carriage-house doors. * How are dogs and children similar? How are they different? * Pants for geeks. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * A great line from Baldilocks: "Grown folks expect criticism; children in adult bodies mistake criticism for being dictated to." * Rick Darby speaks up in praise of the wonderfully eccentric jazz pianist Erroll Garner. * MBlowhard Rewind: In this posting I wrote about all kindsashit. The really interesting bit, though, is about the history of the director. Did you know that until the 19th century plays didn't have directors? To quote m'self: "The Greeks, Shakespeare, Mozart's operas, etc -- all were performed without a director." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Websurfing virtuoso Charlton Griffin keeps turning up gems: * Learn about the legendary American landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Don't miss the slide show. * Maybe a few lines and wrinkles aren't such bad things. Interesting fact: "Of the 11.8 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. in 2007, less than 10 percent were done on men." * As if the Marimba Queens aren't enough to make your eyes and ears pop, check out that slap bass player. * Also worth a listen / watch: the Wilford Brimley diabetes dance remix. * Here's a delicious true-crime story about new-style identity fraud, young-and-shallow edition. Here's a page of photos and details that will enhance your reading pleasure. Some more pix. * Thank god for a little truth in college advertising. * The worst of the worst -- and when the topic is musicals, that's saying a lot. * Penis snatching in West Africa is back. Be especially wary around taxi drivers wearing gold rings. *Japanese misuses of English can be a riot, can't they? Those with a taste for the raunchy will want to click here too. * The gas that will turn a grown man into a slacker. * What did Leonardo Da Vinci look like? * Pat Condell isn't a man you can hold back. Here he blasts Scientology. * 18th century England's working classes dressed nattily. Thanks to Charlton. As you may know, I'm a big fan of Charlton's work as an audiobook producer and reader. Help yourself to his new version of "Crime and Punishment" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at May 2, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chick Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost tells Dark Party Review that she thinks of "Dangerous Liaisons" as excellent erotic fiction. * More Bellucci gorgeousness. * Alias Clio has some tips for da dudez. Ian, Thursday, Peter, and PA offer disagreements, as well as tips of their own. * Postmodern burlesque queen Dita van Teese once made a sex tape. (NSFW) * Thousands of aging British women travel overseas every year looking for sex with young foreign men. Not all of these liaisons work out well. * Gwynnie loves gyro. * Johanna Soderlund thinks that a lot of people might benefit from reducing the quantity of carbs they eat. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 29, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Monday, April 28, 2008

Parachuting Into Flyover Country
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Next Wednesday (7 May) we fly to Chicago for 11 days in the Midwest. Nancy hasn't been there other than airport stopovers, so this trip is for her to get to know that part of the country better. My parents were born in Illinois and Ohio and I've visited the area many times while driving through or when consulting for A.C. Nielsen, General Motors and Chrysler back in the 80s and 90s. But I haven't been there since 2000 or thereabouts and am not up-to-date regarding what's worth seeing. For example, I haven't been to Chicago in about 15 years. I plan to visit the Art Institute. Friends say that a boat tour of the architecture is worth taking. And we'll of course check out the Loop and Michigan Avenue and perhaps one of the zoos. Nancy isn't that hot on technology so we might skip the Museum of Science and Industry and other Midway area attractions. Plus, we don't really want to spend all our time in museums anyway -- my attention span in them ranges between 60 and 90 minutes. Elsewhere, I plan to visit Ford's Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and perhaps take a peek at the Air Force Museum in Dayton to see what's new. Other than that, nothing very definite. We plan to be in: Madison, WI; Springfield, IL; Indianapolis, IN; Columbus, OH and perhaps South Bend, IN in addition to places previously noted. We probably don't have a large enough time budget for spending hours and hours in one place, but if any of you have suggestions regarding interesting places to see along the route I just sketched, let me know. I plan to pack a computer and will try to post when I can en route. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Shopping for cameras can be bliss, no? I spend far more time researching cameras than I do actually taking pictures. Camera store visits and cruises through sites like DPreview and Steve's Digicams strike me as valid entertainment options in their own right. Question: What is it about shopping for a camera or a camcorder that the testosterone-addled can find so deeply satisfying? Although I've become a fairly well-informed camera shopper, I haven't in fact purchased a new camera in more than three years. I suppose that's partly because the next generation of cameras always seems sooooo much more appealing than what's currently in the stores. Yet the appeal must go deeper than that. Sifting and sorting technical details, comparing and contrasting features, and of course handling machines and imagining what brilliant uses one might put them to ... OK, I guess I may have found my explanation. This is just the kind of shit that boys really like. Hey, where video is concerned: For years I was intimidated by the expert chitchat on various videocamera forums. How could one even consider picking up a videocamera without at least a PhD in electrical engeineering? Then I checked out what these tech wizards were actually putting their knowledge and machines to work shooting, and was able to relax a bit: footage of their kids, their dogs, and their vacations, mainly. Guys and machines, eh? I'm reminded of a charming joke in the film "Amelie." A voice-over introduces Amelie's father, telling us that his greatest pleasure was to spend time in his workshop -- not to build anything, mind you, but to clean and organize his tools. My current favorite online camera-researching resource is CameraLabs, the creation of a British technology writer named Gordon Laing. He's clear, enthusiastic, and crisp; he's opinionated without being obnoxious about it; he's informed without succumbing to total geekiness. He's smart and helpful, in other words -- an ideal camera reviewer, in fact: one whose expertise never blinds him to how we Normals are likely to make use of and react to a machine. And Laing's video walkthroughs of the cameras he discusses are something too. They seem to me to be masterpieces (if hyper-minimalistic ones) of expository filmmaking. It's a pleasing bonus that Laing seems to live and work in Queenstown, N.Z. When Gordon Laing shows off sample photographs, in other words, he's showing pix of some of the prettiest landscapes in the world. At the moment, I'm hesitating between four cameras: this one (great wide-angle lens but can't zoom while taking a video), this one (zooms during video, amazing telephoto lens, but bulkier than would be ideal), this one (fun, but how's the quality?), and this one (seems perfect but pricier than I'd like). Of course I could always put off a decision until next season's models come out ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 27, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, April 25, 2008

Rings and Fingers ... and Symbolism?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- No anthropologist am I. For one reason or another I never took a course in the subject. That's why I'm about to start whimpering and pleading for information from you, our Noble, Learned, Sophisticated Readers. (Buttered up yet? Hope so.) As the title of this post suggests, I'm curious as to how much symbolism is out there regarding rings and which fingers they reside on. I've noticed various things, but have been too shy to ask people whether or not they have any meaning. To begin, in the USA married people tend to wear wedding bands on their left-hand "ring finger" -- the one between the middle and little fingers. But not all married people. When I was young, married men didn't wear wedding bands as much as they seem to today. (This was in Seattle in the 40s and 50s. I could be entirely wrong about this, but my very fuzzy recollection is that male wedding bands in those days tended to be an East Coast or perhaps a Catholic thing.) My father didn't wear one, for example. But I do. What about rings on other fingers? Some people -- usually women -- wear lots of rings at once, sometimes even on a thumb. Let's ignore that because it's likely a fashion quirk and focus on cases where only one ring is worn. Sometimes the symbolism is obvious. This is the case for signet rings which can represent a high school, college, fraternity, and so forth. You squint at the big thing and make out "Purdue University" or whatever. A less obvious to me case is a women wearing a simple band on the ring finger of her right hand or on the middle finger of her left. I can theorize as to meanings, but I don't know for sure because I never asked. Are there in fact meanings attached, or is the ring finger simply being avoided to prevent confusion as to one's marital status? There surely are other ring / finger combinations. Are any of these symbolic? I, and perhaps other readers, would like to know. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Media Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * The Times of London asks a sensible question about Italian wild child Asia Argento. I wrote enthusiastically about Argento's nutty "Scarlet Diva" here. I notice that Argento has just made a film with the brilliant Catherine Breillat, whose "Brief Crossing" I raved about back here. * Marc Andreessen tells the story of the first American newspaper. * Andy Horbal says that Pittsburgh is a great place to be a film buff. I raved about what a cool city Pittsburgh is back here. * Dark Party Review lists some hilarious pop-music guilty pleasures. * Before digital-distribution nirvana arrives for movies, a few elements still need to fall in place: faster downloads for one, and easier ways of charging for content for another. Anne Thompson lays out the big picture here. "We're in the transitional post-major studio pre-Internet era," once source tells Anne helpfully. Anne blogs here. * David Byrne also has a lot of interest to say about digital distribution. * More zany fun from an old J.C. Penny's catalogue. Ah, the '70s, source of so much unintended humor ... * Todd Fletcher points out what must be the swinging-est few minutes ever of The Lawrence Welk Show. Check out Todd's own -- very non-Welkian -- music. It's shimmering, rhythmic, full-of-wonder stuff. * Is it possible to live in the modern world without a cellphone? * Pre-digital special effects rule. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Joe Valdez sees a lot to enjoy in John Carpenter's version of "The Thing." * I have a fan! * Too bad that blogging is bad for your health. * MBlowhard Rewind: I mulled over some recent developments in graphic design. Lotsa visuals. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 25, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Colleen Recommends
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few finds from the ever-spirited and flukily-talented Communicatrix: * A yummy bustier made entirely of pine nuts. * Danny Miller pens an ode to the 1950s-era "Mike Wallace Interview" show. "I’m here to say that Wallace’s show was far more incisive, authentic, and hard-hitting than anything on the air today," Danny writes. * A good question -- and some excellent suggestions. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 23, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sculpted Jets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I have the impression that artists tend to look down on engineers when they aren't completely ignoring them. Architects are a little more sympathetic, citing certain bridges and other structures as being "beautiful" in the simplified, Modernist sense. Industrial designers in the past tended to hold engineer-designed products as counter-examples to the beauty, sophistication and sales potential that the ID crowd could gladly produce. And it's true that cars designed by engineers almost always suffer by comparison to stylist-designed automobiles. Still, engineers are fully capable of designing beautiful objects. Well, some are. I offer for your consideration two jet fighters designed shortly after the end of World War 2, when jet planes were a new and exciting thing. Gallery North American F-86 Sabre The most subtly-formed part of the Sabre is the area around the air intake at the front. As a pre-teen I couldn't convincingly draw it, and it's not easy for trained artists to get it right. (Although it had other uses, that red thing in the opening is a plug to prevent museum-goers, in this case, from tossing empty soda cups and other trash into the intake.) What makes the nose difficult to draw is the small radar "dome" above and slightly forward of the intake and how it blends with the front profile of the fuselage. Here is a head-on view of a Sabre. Note that the fuselage takes the form of a rounded triangle in the sense that the widest point is near the bottom. This is what the radome had to blend into. The radar scanner had to be projected forward of the rest of the aircraft in order for it to function better. It's possible that the radar "nose nib" might have had aerodynamic advantages for the inlet at certain angles of attack, but that's pure speculation on my part. This picture of a Canadian-built Sabre is intended to give you a good idea how the plane looked. A really attractive aircraft, though a quibbler might mention that the tail surfaces seem slightly too delicate. Grumman F9F Panther This is a photo of a model airplane. I'm using it because it shows the surface sculpting better than did photos I found on the Web of actual planes. The Panther was tubby, unlike the Sabre. This was entirely due to the engines. The Sabre was powered by an axial-flow engine that is comparatively long and narrow -- tube-like. Modern jet-propelled planes are powered by axial-flow engines that are often fattened because of a bypass feature. Many earlier jets such as the Panther had centrifugal-flow motors. In this design -- based on turbochargers -- air smashed into a turning, spiral-flanged faceplate and was spun off to a ring of combustion chambers. Such engines were comparatively short and fat. Worse, for military purposes, they weren't suited for sonic and supersonic speeds. The fuselage of the Panther is round ahead of the wings. Air intakes for the engine are on the... posted by Donald at April 21, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * A couple of days ago I wrote about a Yale art student who claimed to have impregnated herself, then aborted, as an art project. I'm not sure why I bothered. I should have known that uber-satirist Iowahawk would pounce, offering an "advertisement" for the "Dynamic Transgression" method of art instruction. (If you're in the mood for potty humor, be sure not to skip the coupon at the bottom.) * Seattle's suburbs got upwards of six inches of snow last night. I've never experienced snow here later than April 3rd or thereabouts (though I heard that we got a late-April snow in 1972). I can visualize the forthcoming headline: New Ice Age Sign of Global Warming -- Gore Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 19, 2008 | perma-link | (60) comments

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been MIA for the last few days because I've been subjected to an MIA -- a Massive Influenza Attack. Went to bed Wednesday with a tickle in my throat; woke up Thursday with a 102 degree fever; and am only just now re-emerging into some kind of feeble consciousness. Not much has been going on in my brain besides registering aches and pains, marveling at the usual flu hallucinations, and vowing that I'll do a better job of remembering to be grateful for good health once I in fact have my good health back. Well, there has been one small question that has been on my brain. A usage thing. How do you use the word "flu"? When you're sick with it, do you say, "I have 'flu"? Or "I have the flu"? I understand that "flu" is short for "influenza," and that there's no reason to place the word "the" in front of it. But saying, "Oh, it was a little case of 'flu" just doesn't suit my mouth. I feel affected and pretentious if I use the word "flu" without "the" ahead of it. Where do you stand on this key question? Back with a tad more vigor, I hope, in a day or two, Michael... posted by Michael at April 13, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes blogging has been light at the good ol' 2B ranch the past few days. And it will likely stay that way into next week. Partly that's because I'm on the road. We flew down to LA and won't return to Seattle till Tuesday evening. If I can post something before Wednesday, I will. Comments also have been slow to appear. That's because I get to my computer about twice a day while on this trip. And Michael hasn't been vetting and posting comments at all for a few days. Several weeks ago he indicated that there might be times when other events would force him to cut back on blogging, and this might be such a time. Please have patience. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 13, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Brutal-Looking Airplanes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Combat -- and most other types -- of aircraft move through air at speeds where the resistance of air needs to be countered by streamlining the airflow around them; one result is that most airplanes tend to look graceful. I wrote about planes that were downright sensuous here. And here I dealt with French aircraft in the era of the transition from boxy flying machines to streamlining that looked pretty awkward. By the late 1930s, most airplanes looked sleek. But not all of them. Some warplanes, rather than being sleek as sabers were as brutal-looking as clubs or maces. Here are some examples. Gallery Consolidated B-24 Liberator The Liberator was basically a boxcar full of bombs. It sported a graceful Davis airfoil wing, but the rest of the aircraft was functional in an ugly sort of way. More B-24s were built than the earlier, sleeker B-17 Flying Fortress (which carried a smaller bomb-load). But the "Fort" was more famous and beloved. Several B-17s are still flying, but almost no B-24s remain, even in non-flying condition. I saw a flying example at Seattle's Boeing Field last summer and parts of another at the restoration shops of the Imperial War Museum facility at RAF Duxford a few years ago. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt One might expect fighters to look graceful, but American World War 2 fighters powered by 2,000-HP radial engines might charitably be termed "purposeful." The P-47 eventually served more as a fighter-bomber than a fighter. Grumman F6F Hellcat The Hellcat was the Navy's most successful fighter during the war. Note the high position of the cockpit; this was to provide better pilot visibility when making aircraft carrier landings. Martin AM-1 Mauler Too late for World War 2 and not quite as good as the rival Douglas Skyraider, not many Maulers were built. Some saw service in the Korean War. An attack plane, it looks more brutal than the fighters shown above. Focke-Wulf FW-190 Big, flat-faced radial engines tend to make fighters look pugnacious. But not always. The FW-190 was not only fairly sleek, but gave the Royal Air Force a lot of trouble until a new series of Spitfires with more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin motors re-tipped the performance scales. Hawker Typhoon Although it takes some doing, it's possible for fighters with in-line, water-cooled engines to look brutal. Though I should add that the Typhoon, like the Thunderbolt, was mostly used in the fighter-bomber role. Fairchild-Republic A-10 Warthog (Thunderbolt II) Maybe it has to do with that ground-support fighter-bomber role. The A-10 Warthog (officially, Thunderbolt II) is jet-propelled and brutal both visually and in capability. It served in the Kosovo and Gulf campaigns. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 9, 2008 | perma-link | (21) comments

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dave Lull spots the first review of Bill Kauffman's new book, and it's a positive one. * Joan Collins learned how to play a bitch by observing Bette Davis. * Perhaps Stonehenge was built by only one guy. * As I've said before and hope to say many times again: There can be no such thing as too many photos of Monica Bellucci. * A link meant specially for Peter. (NSFW, I guess.) * Roissy and crew fantasize about the perfect woman. * Fjordman proposes the creation of a European Indigenous People's Movement. Hibernia Girl signs up. * An Irishman is told by an academic that Irishness is nothing but a social construct. * Thanks to Barry Woods for pointing out this amazing collection of British public information films. That's one fascinating archive of material. * Coming off of a round of chemo, Alan Sullivan watches some costume dramas. * Steve discusses tribalism. * Agnostic visits a dance club and analyzes the sociology of "the grind." * Always on the alert for the role pathogens play in evolution, Agnostic should be pleased by a recent report claiming that the tendency some cultures have to promote individualism and the tendency others have to promote group-centric behavior might well be responses to local pathogen loads. * Dark Party Review lists seven excellent movie fight scenes. * Healthy people tend to be at their least-happy at the age of 44. * Stuff Asian People Like includes Dance Dance Revolution. * So maybe the globalization of culture does deliver some benefits: Link thanks to the Communicatrix. * MBlowhard Rewind: I offered a guide to understanding the French. Key lesson: Don't take their philosophizing seriously. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 8, 2008 | perma-link | (28) comments

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Comes to Manhattan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- If you keep your eyes open you can glean evidence that the vegetation is once again stirring. All of you who live in less urban settings: Now's your chance to gloat. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 5, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Editors
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Some people consider me to be a pretty good editor. Well, the folks at the government agency where I used to work did. I suppose that's because I was able to strip out most of the governmentese phrasing, get the logic properly oriented and call attention to phrases that might cause us trouble if published or otherwise read by the wrong people. I was less skilled regarding the mechanics of grammar, however. Spelling, too. And when I was in Korea, I was nominally the editor of the 7th Logistical Command's newspaper. I'm not very fond of editors. Editors are a necessary evil. I think that most writers really aren't very good at evaluating their own work, especially immediately after they finish a block of writing. Someone with a fresh eye is usually necessary. For works in progress, this is often The Long-Suffering Spouse. For scholarly works, the extra eyeballs come in the form of colleagues or peers. But, eventually, the writing meets up with an editor. I wrote a book 30-some years ago, and the editing was minimal. Maybe that was because the subject matter was technical and an editor with the required knowledge wasn't available. I think the book suffered thanks to that production defect. On the other hand, I used to contribute articles to American Demographics magazine and sometimes could hardly recognize any of my verbiage when the printed version arrived in the mail. I don't think what I had produced was all that bad -- a little trimming and polishing would have been good enough. What bothered me about the heavily-edited stuff was that it had my byline, and by that point it was barely my work. I didn't gripe much because I was running a tiny business at the time and needed all the publicity I could get. For many writers, an important joy of blogging is that one can write without having the copy vetted by an editor. The downside is that a lot of the writing isn't nearly as good as it could be: I sometimes cringe when I reread some of my 2Blowhards postings. Dean Barnett, who now writes for the Weekly Standard, mentioned that his policy was to wait at least 20 minutes before posting a blog item. I think that's a good idea, even for the political blogging Barnett does, when there is pressure to get commentary out the door as fast as possible while topics are still hot. For what it's worth, I try to give a piece as many re-reads as possible, even when I need to post something soon. But waiting is better, and I breathe more easily if I can let an article sit overnight or even for a few days before going live. I suppose that makes me my own editor. The quality of my copy probably suffers, but at least I don't take the criticism personally. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at April 2, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Whatever happened to John Hughes? (Link thanks to Vince Keenan.) Fun to see Kevin Smith calling Hughes the J.D. Salinger of his generation. Deal with it, English profs. * Genre-fiction writer Richard S. Wheeler wonders why people read fiction at all, let alone genre fiction. * Old-timer Shelly Lowenkopf lists some of the cultural signposts of his generation. That's a great reading / listening / viewing list for the rest of us to make use of. * African-American movie critic Mark Harris runs a website devoted to black horror movies. He's a funny, smart writer who deserves to be better-known by those who enjoy reading about movies. And the black angle on horror movies really does pay off. * David Lynch's "Lost Highway" is being turned into an opera. * Another blessing that globalization has brought our way: crime on a global scale. * Prairie Mary reprints the obit of a just-deceased friend who lived long and well. * French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier is one of those French artists who idolizes American popular culture -- jazz, noir novels, etc. So what has it been like for him to make his first American movie? Hint: too damn many lawyers ... * Would you like your serving of rotted shark before or after your serving of pickled testicles? * Somebody's still making Daguerreotypes! * The British government is now on Twitter. * MBlowhard Rewind: Women certainly adore baked goods. Why? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 1, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, March 31, 2008

NIMBY Forever
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems that the U.S. does not yet have a place to permanently store nuclear reactor waste material. Congress acted on this matter in 1982 and waste material has been sitting here and there in sub-optimal locations since then because the promised repository remains to be built. Matters could get worse if more reactors are built in response to a need for environmentally "clean" energy sources. (What sense does it make to charge the batteries of a totally electric car each night if the electrical power source is an oil-fired generation plant?) Seems to me that we've been in a "crisis" mode on this for enough time to have come up with a solution. But politics and interest groups have been working their usual magic. This interests me because I was involved (peripherally, in the extreme) with the repository issue nearly 20 years ago. The original plan was to have several repository sites scattered across the country to spread the risk, so to speak. Over time, the number of sites dwindled down to three, and then, finally, one. The remaining site is the Yucca Mountain site in southern Nevada near where atomic bomb tests were made in the 1950s. My task had to do with population projections of areas near Yucca Mountain -- in practice, this was mostly rapidly-growing Las Vegas and satellite communities; the rest of it is nearly uninhabited. As background, those of us on the consulting team were given a tour of the vicinity, including Death Valley. On our way back to Vegas we spied site-protesters near the Indian Springs entrance to the area. I could understand protesters waving signs if the proposed site was on the Berkeley flats, off Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge or along the north side of 10th Street in the Village ... but in the middle of a desert?!? Years later I raised this point to a liberal co-worker who assured me that the desert would be a perfectly awful place for a repository. But I couldn't pin him down as to what location might be better. One interesting part of the background touring was a visit to a test bore on the Hanford Reservation in Washington state. At the time, Hanford was still in the running as a repository site, so a tunnel was bored into the lava and other rock as sort of a sketch of an actual facility, including galleries for the storage containers. The layout was similar to that a a large munitions magazine, the rows of galleries isolating comparatively small amounts of dangerous material. We also got to look at an old reactor. Interesting to see the monitoring instruments that were highest-tech in 1950, but looking like old sci-fi movie props in the digitized late 1980s. This sounds (or even is) cynical, but the track record suggests that no repository will be built until there is a major nuclear leakage crisis at one of the many existing storage sites. Ain't government wonderful.... posted by Donald at March 31, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * In about half an hour from now (it's almost 7:30 Saturday evening, Pacific Daylight Time as I type this) something called "Earth Hour" will be upon us Left-Coasters. The idea is that we should turn off the lights in the house for an hour in recognition of something or other. Nancy is off attending cultural events with my sister, so I have the freedom to honor Earth Hour in the most appropriate manner. I'll be turning on every light visible from the outside. After all, we had an unusually late snow yesterday and the neighborhood needs all the warmth and cheer it can get. * What ever happened to hat etiquette? It probably disappeared along with the fedora, circa 1960. Just in case you forgot, let me mention that men are supposed to remove their hats when entering a building -- especially a church or a house. But these days, in the baseball cap era, guys leave their hats on everywhere except church. I notice this mostly in restaurants. And if there was a mirror handy, I might even notice myself wearing one in a restaurant. I assure you that I only wear a hat indoors occasionally. Hat-wearing places for me include airports, shopping malls and bookstores -- the latter because I need both hands free for browsing. I tend to wear a cap in fast-food restaurants, but not in fancier ones. Even so, I'm not sure Mother would be pleased. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 29, 2008 | perma-link | (41) comments

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Maybe it'd be a good idea to take the TV out of the kids' bedrooms. * Lester Hunt adds some shrewd thinking to Thomas Sowell's fab "A Conflict of Visions." * $179 will buy you a neoclassical dildo. And speaking of dildos ... * One the most common architecture-and-design mistakes these days is opening things up too damn much, and bringing in too much damn light. Katie Hutchison shows off a small house with large -- but not oversized -- windows. * WhiskyPrajer flips for "The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard." I love that collection too. * Is Globalization the best way to a prosperous future for all? (Link thanks to ALD.) Or the latest example of totalitarian-utopian insanity? * DesignObserver's Stephen Heller takes a look at the graphics that the Ron Paul campaign inspired. * Are the Dems once again throwing away the Presidential election? * Michael Bierut points out the online pocket-protector musuem. * Asian people apparently love nagging. * When David and Moira saw the Soweto Gospel Choir, the white people in the crowd managed to stay in their seats. Come on, white people. Even if you can't dance, you gotta do better than that. * So maybe there is a way that more money can increase your happiness .... * Home prices in California are dropping by $3000 per week. * Hyper-dynamic, self-empowered, alt-porn feminist / BDSM performer / gallery-owner Madison Young inks a deal with Girlfriends Distribution. (NSFW) * Youthquake in Chile. (Link thanks to Marginal Revolution.) * Slow Food, Slow Cities ... and now, Slow Parenting. (Link thanks to Alice Bachini.) * When a euphemism isn't euphemistic enough... * MBlowhard Rewind: I wanna be like this guy. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 26, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * PrairieMary wonders if the westerns she just watched were really westerns at all. * I'll bet they have questions. * Didn't the name Sony at one time inspire trust and loyalty? No longer. * Gil Roth and his wife adopt a retired racing greyhound. * Jim Kalb questions whether science will ever give a complete account of life as we experience it. * Gerard Vanderleun reports that San Francisco has lost a lot of its charm. * Now this is a hobby and a half. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 23, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Blogging Notes
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm on the road again. Actually, a non-stop flight to one of those Mexican west coast tourist towns where Nancy is hosting a gathering for her sons and their families. I won't be taking my MacBook, so don't expect any posts from me while I'm away (I return Thursday evening). If it's convenient and not too costly, I might post something brief from an Internet cafe, but don't count on it. What I did do was plant a post in our queue that I'll publish on my return. It was fun to write and I'm hoping that some hackles will be raised. While in lovely Mexico I might have just enough time to throw myself at their generous welfare system. If I hide my passport I might be able to claim Undocumented status; they ought to be highly receptive to that ploy. Then I can request a drivers license. I ought to be able to parlay that into voter registration. Problem: how to vote? I suppose voting against the PRI is generally a good thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 22, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Witold Rybczynski reviews some recent attempts at impressive new downtown libraries. * Bruce Grossman loves that new Charles Willeford reprint. * Michele Somerville thinks that what school kids need most is more gym. * David Pogue flips for the Flip. * Are European women better lays than American women? MBlowhard response: How I wish I knew ... * Clio puts in a good word for pacifism. * Dr. Michael Eades explains the thinking behind the low-carb diet. * This certainly has to be one of the more heavily-commented-on -- or at least enthusiastically-commented-on -- blogpostings in recent history. You go, self-pleasuring post-Riot grrls. * Richard S. Wheeler thinks that novelists who write about the American West should pay more attention to water issues. * Science looks closely into the question of when and whether to stretch. Before a workout? After a workout? At all? And science concedes defeat. * Yummy or Yucky writes amusingly and appreciatively about two trustworthy pleasure-givers: galangal and lemongrass. * Some downtown Woodstock stores prompt reflections about "the hippie philosophy" from Shouting Thomas. * Lester Hunt raves about the movie version of "Persepolis." * The brilliant young designer Maria Wagner of A Swiss String (NSFW) -- whose punkette micro-swimsuits I raved about back here -- predicts that the g-string and the thong will make comebacks in 2008. I hadn't been aware they'd gone away. Still, I'm feeling more cheerful about the year already. Fun to learn that Maria is one of the girls modeling the A.S.S. swimsuits. Go to this page and search her out. * Fred Himebaugh speaks up in praise of minor-league sports. Boy, am I with him on that. * MBlowhard Rewind: I gabbed about some enjoyable erotic movies here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 20, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Linkage by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More finds by master websurfer Charlton Griffin: * "What on earth is going on?" the commuters passing through New York City's Grand Central Station asked each other. * Corny film but amazingly evocative art. The world really is full of bizarre and wonderful talents, isn't it? * Is getting a tattoo an edgy thing to do? Or is it maybe a very conservative one? * John Cleese has an announcement for America. (CORRECTION: Thanks to Julie Brook, who points out that this list wasn't actually composed by John Cleese. Here's a fun explanation of the piece's complicated genesis.) * Witness the Japanese way of finding the hottest girl in the world. * Learn a lot about the death of Jayne Mansfield. (Key point: not decapitated.) Interesting to see Mansfield referred to by the person who posted the video as "the mother of actress Mariska Hargitay." * Take-no-prisoners Vlogger Pat Condell certainly knows how to project a lot of personality, score points, and command the camera. * Here's a wonderful compilation of "What were they thinking?" vidclips, set to a very cute pop song. One of my own favorite Oops microgenres these days is the "Newsperson gets wiped out" category. Here's an excellent recent example. * "High-dynamic range" photographs certainly show the world as no photographs ever have before. * The song isn't a personal fave of mine, but it does seem to inspire and move nearly everyone else. * Time to relax and enjoy a bit of well-earned genuine popular-culture bliss. * And a few bonus links from that spirited and talented Communicatrix: You haven't had a real clown nightmare until you've seen this thing. James Finn Garner finds quite the vintage photograph. Humor with pie charts and bar graphs. David Lynch has a message for all of you who want to watch movies on your iPhones ... Charlton reads and produces some of the most satisfying audiobooks on the market. Go here and type either his name, Charlton Griffin, or the name of his production house -- Audio Connoisseur -- into the Search box, download, and class up your listening life. Here's Charlton's latest production. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 19, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, March 17, 2008

Seattle Seen
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Digital photos have been piling up on my computer's disk drive and it's high time the world got to see 'em. Herewith are some pictures of Seattle I've taken over the past month or so: no particular theme. I'll begin with the obligatory skyline shot. This was taken from West Seattle, across Elliott Bay. I forgot to ask that seagull to sign a photo release form. Hope it doesn't mind. Not far from where the previous photo was taken, I noticed this house. I wrote about architecural use of pebbles here, and was not pleased with the idea. The house shown above seems pretty old and has little sign of being anything more than builder-designed. So I present it as a curiosity, not an architectural statement. Speaking of Seattle houses, many modest-sized brick Tudor style dwellings were built during the 1920s. I suppose your town has something like these too. The house shown is nowhere nearly the cutest one I've noticed. I would like to do a posting on these sometime, but I worry about getting in trouble wandering neighborhoods snapping pictures of houses. Immediately to the right of the Tudor-style house is this. I'm not sure whether it is new or simply a major re-do. The glass brick near the entrance is interesting, but I don't like the industrial-looking siding on dwellings. Seattle is noted for airplanes. Here are two parked in front of the Museum of Flight located by Boeing Field. On the left is a Boeing B-47 and to the right is a Douglas DC-2. No, not a DC-3; the DC-2 came first and was a little smaller than the -3. Plane-spotters will notice that the fuselage of the -2 has a more squared-off cross-section than the -3. Note the lights under the nose; these are not found on the DC-3. I noticed this new tour bus parked on Main Street opposite Occidental Park. Hmm. Reminds me of ... ... those 1930-vintage tour buses that used to (and still) roam national parks in the Mountain West. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 17, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, March 15, 2008

If Germany Had Won the Great War
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- "Alternative History" was a popular sport a few years ago for history buffs. It probably always will be around if for no other reason than politicians and pundits love to criticize and second-guess actions of other politicians. For example, "If only Clinton had resigned when the Monica thing went public, then Al Gore would have been President and would have won the 2000 election. Bin-Laden never would have attacked the U.S., the Palestinians and Israelis would have made peace, we would now have Global Cooling and Earth would be paradise." Or something like that. Fun stuff. And it's generally harmless because it's pure speculation -- certainly after about the second major pivot point is reached. For example, it seems that records show that the German army would have pulled back from the 1936 re-occupation of the Rhineland had the French army moved east to counter it. It's possible that this could have led to a chain of events that would lead to Hitler's toppling and no World War 2. But it's also possible that World War 2 would have happened anyway, at a different time, under different circumstances and possibly with a different outcome. I'm not sure Alternative History would have pleased Leo Tolstoy, who thought Napoleon was rendered a sock-puppet by historical forces. I happen to think that men and randomness shape history -- of the political and military kind, at least -- as much as such "forces" do. What brings this up is that I just read a fairly recently reissued 1935 book about the opening weeks of the Great War by Sewell Tyng. Plus, I have read and re-read Edward Spears' 1930 account of the same period, but from a liaison officer point of view. The Great War is known for its bloody trench warfare which indeed took up most of the four years it lasted. But its opening and closing weeks were marked by fluid campaigns, and the opening campaign very nearly resulted in German victory. Many writers of military history assert that if the Germans had only followed Schlieffen's plan to the letter, their right wing would have swept past Paris and caught the French armies in a huge trap. On the other hand, Martin van Creveld writes that the Germans didn't have the logistical capacity to maintain such an assault and that Schlieffen himself knew it. The Schlieffen Plan and the French Plan XVII aside, Tyng mentions a number of occasions where the tide of battle might have changed had some transient condition or another been in place. Certainly the Germans had the upper hand until the first few days of September 1914. But, as both Tyng and Spears indicate, the sometimes derided French commander Joffre was able to throw the Germans back after having his center and left retreat rapidly while moving forces from his right to create a new army based on Paris. Anyway, just for speculative fun, let's assume that the Germans did decisively defeat... posted by Donald at March 15, 2008 | perma-link | (16) comments

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Psychology Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Dennis Mangan and visitors have a good try at explaining why populations, as they get richer, start having fewer babies. * Rina confesses that she's pretty neurotic. * Roissy has a theory ... * Edward Hadas lists nine bad ideas economists have about human nature. * A yoga class triggers off some humane, helpful, and brainy reflections for Dark Party Review. Yoga will do that sometimes. * Henry Chappell wonders if it's possible to be crunchy and still shop at Amazon. * So long to one of Italy's more common hand-gestures. * Raymond Pert tries going without his mood meds. * Glenda Cooper recounts the history of English romance-novel publisher Mills and Boone, and reviews the way romance-novel storylines and heroines have changed over the years. * Prairie Mary muses about what it's like to have a "Pyrrhic Success." All of us have had a few of those, I suspect. You can now buy a copy of Mary's bio of her onetime husband, the western sculptor Bob Scriver, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 13, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, March 10, 2008

Didn't Do It ... and Glad!
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Joseph Epstein, for many years Northwestern University's pitcher of the wry, writes in the current Weekly Standard about the joys of not having done things. In his case, he mentions Never having owned a station wagon. Never having earned a Ph.D. "Some of the most deeply stupid people in the country have Ph.D.'s." Never having played golf. Not a bad list, that. I can claim two out of three. Unfortunately I let down my guard and got a Ph.D., and from one o' them fancy Ivy League schools, no less. I might never live that down. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at March 10, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, March 7, 2008

What All Kinds of People Like
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Via Ilkka and TGGP, a few fun and informative variations on Stuff White People Like: Stuff Black People Like; Stuff Asian People Like; Stuff Educated Black People Like. I think it's great when people are frank and funny about group habits, tastes, and preferences, don't you? Let's have a little more earthy, good-natured rowdiness and a whole lot less denial. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 7, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lean and Fat Conveyance Aesthetics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do humans have an innate tendency to find lean more attractive than fat? I don't know of any research results regarding this question, though I would think that studies have been made. Nevertheless, I suspect that people do indeed prefer lean to fat. This is despite the fact that I'm about 25 pounds over my college weight and in spite of the assertions from organizations claiming to represent overweight people that they are being discriminated against unfairly. Fighting human nature is a long, hard struggle. Just for fun, rather than dealing with humans, let's consider conveyances. They need to be at least passably functional, otherwise they couldn't be sold. But there remains a range in form and appearance within functional parameters. Below are some pairings for your consideration. The fat version is shown first, followed by the lean. Gallery Pan American Boeing Stratocruiser over San Francisco Bay Pacific Northern Constellation over Seattle The Stratocruiser was largely a B-29 bomber where the bomber's fuselage was chopped off just above the wing and a wide fuselage section for passengers was placed on top. That accounts for the odd shape. The justification was that, by using major B-29 components such as the wings, it would be cheaper to build than a totally new design. Also, the lower fuselage section could store baggage and incorporated a passenger lounge towards the rear. The Lockheed Constellation, on the other hand, is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful transports ever built, and I agree. Modern cruise ship Profile view of Normandie SS Normandie - another view The Normandie, like the Constellation, is widely claimed to be a classic; it's certainly one of my favorite liners. Functional purists might flinch at the fact that the rear funnel is non-functional, its presence is for appearance only. Modern cruise ships will probably never be as graceful as the Normandie because customers prefer the multi-deck arrangement whereby each superstructure cabin has its own little patio. The result is a top-heavy appearance that makes me wonder how seaworthy such ships are. U.S. M3 tank German Panther (Panzerkampfwagen V) tank The M3 (known variously as the Lee and Grant) pre-dates the Panther by about three years. Combat in the North African desert demonstrated that it was too tall (too easy to see) and that the inability of the sponson-mounted 75mm gun to traverse placed it at a disadvantage once shooting started. The Panther lacked these defects and looks much better as well. 1949 Nash 1949 Chevrolet fastback Both cars debuted in the 1949 model year. The Nash was the postwar car that most embodied late-prewar notions about the car of the future. The idea was that cars would feature streamlining even to the point where the front (maneuver) wheels are enclosed in the cause of smooth airflow. The result was a car kids like me derided as an "upside-down bathtub on wheels." The Chevy shown here is also a "fastback" style to keep... posted by Donald at March 6, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Federal Objectivity
Michael Blowhard says: Dear Blowhards -- Who says personal tastes and opinions don't play an important role in governmental rulings and judgements? Hmm: Who's cuter? Alyson Hannigan or Jennifer Grey? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at March 6, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Friday, February 29, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Hot for teacher? * Henry Chappell's visit to the Texas branch of the Tallgrass Prairie is a gem of nature writing: a satisfying, vivid blend of poetry, precision, evocation, and knowledge. It's the kind of thing that I always hope to read when I open a copy of Sierra magazine or Natural History. Fun to see that Henry is a Townes fan too. * Mencius Moldbug and Larry Auster trade blows over the Civil War and the right to secede. TGGP adds his thoughts. * Balance gets to be a challenge. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Agnostic has a theory about why it is many Asian guys are such lousy pickup artists. Then he considers the ballet world -- and finds it pretty sexy. Sadly I have no personal experience to draw on here. But I can report that dancers are widely rumored to be the world's best lays. * Robert Sibley points out that one of the lessons of the great Michael Oakeshott is that we should be wary of losing our heads politically. * Diet Coke and Mentos changed their lives. * Steve Sailer gives a lot of thought to Michelle Obama. Fun to learn that "a couple of months after her husband was sworn in as U.S. Senator, Michelle's salary at the [University of Chicago's] Medical Center was raised from $121,910 to $316,962." * Anonymous confesses that she was always suspicious of her hubby's sexual orientation. "I wanted to have sex every day," she writes, "but he told me I was a nymphomaniac." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Harley Weekenders
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I need help. No, not that kind of help. You see, there's something that has sparked my curiosity for years and it would be nice to finally get the information I need to satisfy it. It has to do with those groups of (mostly) guys who meet up on weekends and go roaring along the freeways and byways on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. And no, I don't include the Honda Gold-Wing clubbers and other breeds of manifestly "nice" bikers. I'm talkin' Harleys, the black and orange crews. Within the Harley fraternity I'm excluding the ones who are obviously folks who work in offices during the workweek -- guys with glasses and short haircuts. I want to know about the ones with tattoos and long, graying hair worn in pony-tails. What kind of jobs do those guys have that provide the cash to shell out five-figure dollar amounts for a Harley with blinding gobs of chromium plating? I'm guessing that they're blue-collar types, maybe working in manufacturing or auto repair or something like that where gray pony-tails, mustaches and tattoos are acceptable. Hmm. Actually, quite a few kinds of work settings tolerate that kind of appearance. For all I know, those guys are college teachers, ad agency "creatives" or even computer programmers. As I said, I need help. ... Michael? ... Friedrich? ... Shouting Thomas? ... Anyone? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 27, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Want Your Business
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Out in California visiting with the in-laws. A routine business-solicitation letter arrives in the mail. Nothing special. A familiar style of envelope featuring a familiar style of special offer, or something: And inside, a familiar style of friendly-eager letter, featuring a familiar style of contest, or something: It's on its way to the shredder, in other words. But wait. Something has caught the attention. Let's take a closer look at that offer on the envelope: And what was that sweepstakes featured in the letter? Yup, that's right: Today the in-laws received a business-solicitation letter pitching the idea of buying cremation services now rather than waiting 'till the usual time. Some alluring passages from the Neptune Society's letter: More and more people are choosing cremation over traditional funeral arrangements ... The numbers are increasing every year! ... There are several advantages to making your arrangements now. First, you lock in today's price ... As the Neptune Society apparently likes to say: "Cremation just makes sense." Given that one reason that the Neptune Society gives to consider cremation is that "It has less impact on the environment," it seems fitting that the Neptune Society wants us to know that their envelope and letter were both I couldn't help wondering what the "ash" content of this recycled paper was. The reaction of my beloved stepdad-in-law, to whom this letter was specifically addressed? "How did they know where to find me?" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 26, 2008 | perma-link | (1) comments

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sports Tribalism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The blood flows passionately through those Obama fans who hope, hope and Hope that He will be the one to end the curse of that nasty old nation-stuff, leading us to the exalted realm of World Citizenship. Yes, that golden goal of everyone being equal, at last! ... aside from those Ivy League grads who will do most of the thinking and all of the deciding. But all that idealism eventually comes up short, confronting what seems to be human nature. You know, the in-group, out-group thing. That starts early in life. For example, when I was in grade school it was our third grade classroom versus those other rooms. Our Cub Scout den versus the other dens in the pack and our pack as opposed to other packs. This concept was brought home to me in college when, for the first time, I regularly read the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (P-I) newspaper. In those days it was the morning paper and the Seattle Times (which my family took) was the evening paper. But the fraternity house subscribed to the P-I so I read it every morning at breakfast. Now, in those days the P-I had a sports editor/columnist named Royal Brougham. Actually he had been writing sports there since shortly after the earth started to cool, and was in his mid-60s when I was in college and still cranking out the content. I suppose almost every city with a daily paper had someone like him at one time or another; if you want more information about Brougham, click here. The point I'm creeping up to is that Brougham was a "homer" -- a super-homer, in fact. When it came to Seattle high school sports, he had no wiggle-room; he couldn't favor one team over another in a column. But when a Seattle team played a Tacoma team, the us-versus-them thing kicked in. It went into high gear when the University of Washington football team was playing any other team. But if the Huskies weren't in the Rose Bowl, then he'd cheer for the Pacific Coast Conference team that did get to play. And, in the Olympic Games, it was our Americans versus those foreigners. Brougham died with his boots on, so to speak. Well, make it that he died with the cover off of his Underwood typewriter. He suffered his fatal heart attack at a Seattle Seahawks game in 1977. Today, there's a street named Royal Brougham Way next to the baseball stadium. One can argue that this is ancient history, that today's sports writers can get away with being more cosmopolitan. And it's probably true, up to a point. Nevertheless, it's hard for me to imagine a sports writer holding his job if he showed contempt for local teams most of the time and favored out-of-town, out-of-state and out-of-country teams. Human nature still rules. Just ask those sophisticated Ivy Leagers; their beloved football teams no longer play in the NCAA's Division I. Maybe they're... posted by Donald at February 25, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * San Francisco, sunrise to sundown in hi-def. (Fast connection required.) * How bad is it? (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Robert J. Samuelson utters a word that those who lived through the '70s learned to dread. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite Spanish literary books. * JessiJaymes13 doesn't want to be anybody's ... Well, go there and find out. (NSFW) * Gil Roth flies in over Newfoundland, points his camera out the window, and snaps some spectacular shots of ice and mountains. * Just in case ... * A great idea from Robert Nagle: reviews of exercise videos. * Roger Scruton writes a beauty of a review of Richard Sennett's new book about craftsmanship. * "White flight" is so yesterday. Thanks to insane immigration policies, today's sociological phenomenon is "black flight." * Mark Sisson thinks that even unrefined grains should be avoided. * Tim Hauserman gives the short version of what Gary Taubes has to say in "Good Calories, Bad Calories," and also offers an interview with Taubes himself. * It looks like it's time for the ladies to pick up a vial of "bottom enhancer." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 24, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Guys: Maybe the time really has come to give up the soft drinks. * What should the experts require of us? It seems like it must be a lot of fun to be a nanny-state advisor ... * Why do you exercise? * MoonRiver runs some beautiful reproductions of four of Fairfield Porter's paintings. FvBlowhard and I are both Fairfield fans. Friedrich recently shot off this fun passage to me: I like some of his pictures intensely, others I’m pretty indifferent to. My reaction to him is quite a bit like my reaction to Bonnard, who was one of inspirations. In some pictures both guys are geniuses, in some they look like they’re 12-year-old amateurs.In any case, I always like the emotional tone, the investment in quiet everyday domestic life. I really like the high angle landscape of the parking lot; the generalizing of the color shapes is cool, as is the fact that he preserves the tonal relationships but suppresses most texture. I almost feel inspired to knock out a painting in response to this one! Here's a good Robert Hughes passage about Fairfield Porter. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 19, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, February 18, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Herewith are two items on the internet that I found interesting and worth passing along. * Talk show host / movie critic / author / columnist Michael Medved mentions here that, of the 43 U.S. presidents, only five had brown eyes. They were Andrew Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Quincy Adams, Chester A. Arthur and Richard Nixon -- hardly a stellar cast, he notes. Medved wasn't able to find the eye color for briefly-serving William Henry Harrison. He points out that blue, grey and hazel eye colors are vastly over-represented in the presidency compared to the population at large at various times in our history. Fascinating, but I have no idea if it means anything. * Jeff Jarvis took a small, utterly unscientific poll of his readership, asking which daily newspaper features ought to be eliminated in these times of retrenchment. The results are discussed here (scroll down to February 17th). The top ten contenders for oblivion were: Financial tables 43.06% Sports section 21.65% Sports columnists 8.00% Entertainment section 3.76% Movie critic 3.76% Business section 2.59% Syndicated features 2.59% TV critic 2.59% Music critic 1.88% Book critic 1.65% The big surprise was the sports section vote. I always thought that sports was a major reason why guys, at least, bought papers. It's possible that the people who voted were elitist intellectoids who disdain sports. (Full disclosure: I voted, but not to zap the sports section.) Jarvis wonders if sports might be covered by sports-only papers in the future. Surprisingly, Web-booster Jarvis didn't mention that the internet is already crawling with sports sites. By the way, what would you zap? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 18, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Aiming Too High
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This isn't new news, but it's worth repeating every so often: An early success can create psychological poisons that inhibit further success. Terry Teachout does a nice job of illustrating this here in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Some exerpts: We begin after Teachout tells us about Leonard Bernstein's creative collapse following "West Side Story." What happened? Stephen Sondheim, Bernstein's collaborator on "West Side Story," told Meryle Secrest, who wrote biographies of both men, that he developed "a bad case of importantitis." That sums up Bernstein's later years with devastating finality. ... I'd like to put forward Teachout's First Law of Artistic Dynamics: "The best way to make a bad work of art is to try to make a great one." That law was inspired at least as much by Orson Welles as by Bernstein. ... Welles's story is one of the saddest tales in the long history of a hard profession. He became famous far too soon and was acclaimed as a genius long before his personality had matured. At 23 he made the cover of Time magazine. Two years later RKO gave him a near-blank check, which he used to make "Citizen Kane." By then he was convinced that he could do no wrong, and when the money dried up and he had to struggle for the first time in his life, he lost his creative way. ... Voltaire said it: The best is the enemy of the good. Ralph Ellison, like Bernstein and Welles, learned that lesson all too well. In 1952 he published "Invisible Man" and was acclaimed as a major novelist. The well-deserved praise that was heaped on him gave Ellison a fatal case of importantitis, and though he spent the rest of his life trying to finish a second novel, he piled up thousands of manuscript pages without ever bringing it to fruition. Why did he dry up? Because, as Arnold Rampersad's 2007 biography of Ellison made agonizingly clear, he was trying to write a great book. That was his mistake. Strangled by self-consciousness, he never even managed to finish a good one. ... Yes, it's important to shoot high, but there's a big difference between striving to do your best day after day and deliberately setting out to make a masterpiece. What if Welles had gone back to Broadway after "Citizen Kane" and directed "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on a bare stage, with no expensive bells and whistles? Or if Bernstein had followed "West Side Story" with a fizzy musical comedy that sought only to please? Or if Ellison had gritted his teeth, published his second novel, taken his critical lumps, ignored the reviews, and gone back to work the very next day? Then all of those gifted, frustrated men might have spared themselves great grief -- and perhaps even gone on to make more great art. Teachout uses George Balanchine as a counter-example: an artist who kept cranking out ballets for decades. Contrast Ellison's creative paralysis with... posted by Donald at February 17, 2008 | perma-link | (24) comments

Friday, February 15, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Wardrobe malfunction? This little Japanese item is nothing but. (NSFW) * Ward Six comes up with a hilarious list of crime-novel cliches. * Manuel Uribe, who was once the world's heaviest man, has lost more than 500 pounds in the last two years on a low-carb diet. * Alias Clio ponders the latest from British crime-fiction genius Ruth Rendell, and links to a couple of torch songs. Why am I not surprised that Clio loves torch songs? * Yummy or Yucky? tucks into some real Kobe beef. * Matt Mullenix stirs up his first gumbo. * Thursday watches "Juno" and makes a nice distinction between "Blanche characters" and "Stanley characters." I have no desire to see "Juno" myself, but for those in the mood for something quirky with an abortion angle I can recommend another very amusing movie: Alexander ("Sideways") Payne's first feature, "Citizen Ruth," starring Laura Dern at her daffy, flushed, over-impassioned funniest. I also loved "Sideways" and wrote about it here. Lots of visitors had a good time telling me I was wrong, wrong, wrong ... * The Rawness has cooked up a plausible Theory of Charisma: Part One, Part Two. * JV links to some trippy eye-candy. * Brenda Walker is convinced that multiculturalism is bad for women. * Scott Chaffin thinks that people should stop swooning at political speeches. * MBlowhard Rewind: I tackled one of the big ones -- how to handle yourself around that loaded word "art." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 15, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Minor (League) Musings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Fifty years after the cataclysm, it's baseball Spring Training time again. Cataclysm? I'll get to that. But first ... When I was a kid trying (and ultimately failing) to become a fan I got to watch the Angels and the San Diego Padres. No, not those Angels and Padres -- but the Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League. The Pacific Coast League (PCL) in my time was a near-major league, as the link above indicates. Its teams were the Seattle Rainiers (owned by the Rainier Brewery), Portland Beavers, San Francisco Seals, Oakland Acorns (who played in Emeryville), Sacramento Solons, Hollywood Stars, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres. Back in the Thirties Ted Williams (Padres) and the DiMaggio brothers (Seals) were PCL standouts. Occasionally I'd be taken to a game. Otherwise I would listen to the radio broadcast. In Seattle, the announcer was a raspy-voiced gent named Leo Lassen who lived with his mother most of his life. We didn't know that detail at the time. Anyhow, Lassen had a distinctive style and his pet phrases, as most of the better-known announcers do. One of his was when there was a long-ball hit: "It's back, back, back ... and it's over!" -- over the fence. When the Rainiers were on the road, Lassen had to recreate a game from cryptic telegraph reports: no mean skill. Major league baseball was concentrated in the northeastern corner of the country where much of the nation's population also was concentrated. It extended from Boston (Red Sox and Braves) in the east to St. Louis (Cardinals and Browns) in the west. One reason for this geographical concentration was that teams had to travel by passenger train. If I remember correctly, teams played seven-game series over five or usually six days and traveled on Mondays. By rail, a long day's travel could get one from Boston to St. Louis or Chicago; the West Coast would be a three-day haul from Boston -- hence, no West Coast major league baseball. Besides Boston and St. Louis, cities with a team in each league were Chicago (White Sox and Cubs), Philadelphia (Phillies and Athletics) and New York (Yankees and Giants). New York also had the National League Brooklyn Dodgers who came into existence when Brooklyn was still an independent city and were never referred to as "New York Dodgers." One-team towns were Detroit (Tigers), Washington (Senators), Cleveland (Indians), Cincinnati (Reds) and Pittsburgh (Pirates). Like the West Coast, other parts of the country had to make do with minor league teams. This happy, traditional paradise was wrecked by the passenger airplane, which made coast-to-coast team travel practical. Propeller planes could cross the country a few hours faster than trains could get from Boston to St. Louis. Jets do it in six hours or so. And the cataclysm? That was when the traitorous New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers fled to San Francisco and Los Angeles and the world... posted by Donald at February 12, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Popular Culture Can Be Strange
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Did you know that Leonard Nimoy once recorded "I Walk the Line"? Or that Robert Mitchum once posed for the cover of a Calypso record? (CORRECTION: Dennis Mangan tells me that Mitchum performed the record's music too.) Both discoveries thanks to the inspired art-links blog gmtPlus9(-15). Best, Michael UPDATE: Thanks to Lester Hunt, who reminds me that Robert Mitchum also created some music for his film "Thunder Road." I wrote a blog posting about "Thunder Road," a movie I liked very much, here. At his own blog, Lester asks a question about the Republicans that's on many people's minds: "Are these people totally insane?"... posted by Michael at February 10, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, February 8, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost gets a rave from Clean Sheets, and interviews the versatile and fiery downtown actor Francesco Paladino. * Four out of every ten Mexican adults say that they would move to the U.S. if they could. * Gavin Andreson wonders what we get out of playing the world's numero uno superpower. * Jimmy Moore is worried about his brother Kevin's weight. * Steve Bodio muses about philosophies of animal breeding and includes photos of some dog breeds you've never heard of. * Cheryl Miller offers her take on the "child-man" controversy here and here. I sometimes find myself wondering if Maxim magazine might not be one of the defining cultural products of our age. Oh, and maybe the Victoria's Secret Catalog too. * Tokenblackchic responds to some viewers who have accused her of not being black enough. * Shouting Thomas continues his tour of Woodstock and offers some sensible perspective on the Presidential race. * Conductor James Macmillan describes how he lost his faith in the left. * Where did all the Russian hotties come from? * Fred Himebaugh seconds my enthusiasm for Paul Cantor's lectures, and beams with justified pride over his daughter's first compositional efforts. * The Google Monster is coming to get you: Link thanks to Charlton Griffin. Here's an interview with the dudez who made the vid. * Roissy has a prediction, and comes up with the best reason I've yet run into to vote for Hillary. * Melissa Katsoulis learns how to write a romance novel -- and gains a little respect for the form as she does so. * Former Rolling Stone bassist Bill Wyman says that he really should have been a librarian. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to film noir here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 8, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fernsehen und Baumwolle
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The title of this post, Fernsehen und Baumwolle includes two German nouns that I'll translate below. Words are interesting. While I don't go out of my way to feast on the Oxford English Dictionary or other sources dealing with their history and usage, I do keep my eyes and ears open for interesting and amusing tidbits along those lines. From what I read, English is a kind of giant sponge that absorbs words from other languages when its users are not busy inventing words. Take "television" for example. It uses an English word for "seeing" (itself borrowed from French) and slaps on a highfalutin' Greek prefix having to do with distance. The Germans seem to be less highfalutin' and simply tack their word for distance (fern) onto that for seeing (sehen) to create fernsehen, or television. English is, at its core, a Germanic language. Germans love to build big, long words from two, three or more smaller ones. Other Germanic languages are less inclined to do this; a glance at a Scandinavian-language text usually reveals shorter words than typically are found in German writing. English is also less inclined to word-build than German. But plenty of example are created nevertheless: an instance being, well, "nevertheless." I find some German built-up words rather charming. One is baumwolle in the title above. The English equivalent is "cotton." Baumwolle can be broken into its two components, baum and wolle. Baum is the German word for "tree" and wolle means "wool." So the German word for "cotton" can be expressed as "tree wool." As I said, charming. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * YummyOrYucky posts a little peanut-butter porn. * More and more journalists are thinking of leaving their field. * Alan Little turns up a sensational map that shows the birthplaces of many American blues musicians. A nice passage from the text accompanying the map: Mississippi is the poorest of all states, but fortunately also has a happier distinction: it’s the place where most of the quintessentially American music genres originated, from blues and jazz to rock ‘n roll. An amazing accomplishment for a state that has under three million inhabitants ... * At his own weblog, Alan confesses that he has been growing more and more interested in yoga theory. I've poked around yoga philosophy and yoga theory myself, and I'm happy to second Alan's opinion. * Don Boudreaux thinks that the just-deceased industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost deserves attention and appreciation. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Laurence Jarvik enjoys 48 hours in Montreal. * The postmodern miaowing at the chickblog Jezebel can make me feel like I'm trapped in a TV showroom where all the sets have been tuned to "Sex in the City" and "Ally McBeel." But I found this posting by an anonymous model about what the modeling life is actually like very interesting. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * Did you know that there's a lost, abandoned H-bomb in the ocean just a few miles off the coast of Savannah, Georgia? Don't I remember that metal has a tendency to corrode? * Jim Kalb writes a lovely, short appreciation of Yasujiro Ozu's "Early Summer." Ozu is one of those landmark filmmakers whose work all filmbuffs should get to know, and "Early Summer" is certainly a good place to start. * Penelope Green thinks that the Slow Movement has been picking up steam. I blogged about the Slow Movement here and here. Fab factlet reported by Penelope Green: A 2005 study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard showed that the I.Q.s of workers who responded quickly to the constant barrage of e-mails they received during the day fell 10 points, more than double the I.Q. drop of someone smoking marijuana. * Bill Kauffman writes a memoir of the Rochester regional writer and novelist Henry Clune. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * MBlowhard Rewind: I watched a documentary about L.A.'s poet of grunge, Charles Bukowski. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at February 5, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Only Funny Once?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowards -- "It's only funny once" was an expression I heard a lot when I was a kid. I haven't heard it much since then, for some reason. From one perspective, it makes sense. That's if humor results from some sort of surprise. In other words, in one way or another, you are led to expect one thing, then suddenly something else happens. It's early and I haven't had my coffee yet, so this shaggy joke is the best I can come up with at the moment. And I'll leave out the flourishes I'd use when telling it verbally. A man and a guy named Benny Schwartz are in a bar having drinks. Benny boasts that he know everybody. The man says "That's ridiculous!" Benny says "Wanna bet?" So the man bets Benny that he doesn't know ... [here the joke rambles on where two famous persons are named and the man and Benny travel to encounter the person who, of course knows Benny]. ... In desperation, the man says "I bet you don't know the Pope." So they go to Rome. The next morning Benny says "Be at the square in front of St. Peter's at noon." So the man goes there. Huge crowd. Has to stand on the periphery. Two figure appear on a balcony, but they are almost too far away to be recognizable. The man turns to an Italian fellow next to him and asks "Who are those men on the balcony?" "Well, I don't-a know about-a the guy in-a white. But the other guy, he's-a Benny Schwartz." If you've downed enough beers and the joke is told right, it's actually funny. But the point is the twist at the end. On the other hand, sometimes repeated humor can be side-splitting. When they were new, Road Runner cartoons had me in hysterics, almost rolling out of my theater seat. I was laughing at the same sort of thing that had happened in every other Road Runner I'd seen. This is a form of the running gag. In those pre-historic, pre-television days, Jack Benny had a wonderful radio program broadcast Sundays evenings featuring repeated items dealing with his stinginess. And then there was his ancient Maxwell car whose start-up was portrayed by Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny) in virtually the same slobbering way each time the car was in the script: the audience always howled in glee. A milder and more recent example of running gags was the Muppet Show where distinctive characters kept on doing the things they always did and always provoked laughter. Here's my problem: I'm having a tough time trying to analyze why running gags can be so funny. Yes, there usually is a slightly new wrinkle introduced which might offer a tiny element of surprise. Even so, the main element seems to be familiarity. Why should familiarity be funny? The audience recalls its previous happy experience with the joke/situation? What do you think? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at February 3, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Friday, February 1, 2008

2008 is Bad, 1988 was Worse
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- No, this isn't about lousy politics. Nor lousy architecture, pop music, Po-Mo art or any of the stuff we grumble about. It's about lousy handwriting. My lousy handwriting. Especially my inability to form a proper number 8. It began while I was in grade school. For several years I experimented with various ways of constructing a reliably readable 8. At some point -- I forget when -- I settled on a method. Unfortunately, that method does not work well for me. My 8s often tilt to the right, have flat tops or otherwise can be hard to decipher. Here's what I do. I start a little above what should be the vertical midpoint and make a stroke in a upper-right to lower-left direction. Then I do the curve for the lower loop, cross the initial down-stroke and construct the upper loop, ending about where I began. Much of it is sort of like printing an S from bottom to top. But as I said, the result more often than not is a deformity. Worse, I'm probably too old a dog to learn a new 8-making trick. So now that it's 2008, I'm doomed to writing sloppy 8s every time I write the date instead of the normal three days per month. Of course, 1988 was worse because I had to struggle with two 8s. Thank heaven I didn't live the the 19th century. 1888 would have been hell. Later, Donald UPDATE: My arm is little sore from MB's twist persuasion, but behold some 8s I just wrote.... posted by Donald at February 1, 2008 | perma-link | (8) comments

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Mercedes Mistake
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Car mavens will recognize this as five month old news. I planned to write about it sooner, but noted that my procrastination rating has fallen considerably since high school and college days and needed a serious boost. Anyhow ... Mercedes Benz unveiled the f700 experimental car at last September's Frankfurt automobile show. I suppose the important news had to do with its novel fuel-economy motor (see here if this interests you). To me, it's the styling that is noteworthy. The work was done in Mercedes' California design center; here are some photos with snippets of its development. Many show cars are future production automobiles with dramatized, distorted features; others are simply design exercises intended to elicit public reaction. Some articles speculate that the f700 indeed previews a Mercedes sedan styling. I hope not. Regardless, let's take a peek. Gallery f700 in profile Nowadays most body shapes are wind tunnel tested, so I assume this was true for the f700. As best I can judge, the inflection of the roof curve is about at the midpoint of the rear-passenger side window -- about 60 percent of the distance from the front to the rear of the car. A typical aircraft wing airfoil for a craft intended to fly at about the top speed of the f700 would probably have its upper curve inflection somewhere in the range 25-40 percent of chord. This suggests that the f700 profile is designed so that the car will experience downforce, rather than lift. Most current cars, especially those capable of high speeds, are designed with downforce in mind, but the f700's shape is extreme. Perhaps this is more a styling gimmick than an aerodynamic necessity. The pinched-looking front (from the rear of the wheel well forward) creates the psychological perception that the car might be under-powered. For decades, car designers have followed the axiom: big hood = big, powerful motor. Front three-quarter view Here we see a massive grille, which tends to soften a little the puny motor message delivered by the low hood. Still, the front end's relationship to the rest of the car strikes me as a design weakness. This is largely caused by the radical dip of the front side-windows and the shoulder-crease that follows it, coupled with the curve of the windshield. These curves, if extended forward, would converge near the front bumper. But they are interrupted by the massive sheet metal surrounding the front wheel wells. The visual effect is that the front of the car is "tacked on" -- that it doesn't really belong to the rest of the vehicle. Rear three-quarter view The rear of the f700 seems weak and nondescript, in contrast to the bold treatment of the front. Perhaps this was intentional; relief is needed somewhere. I find the rear spoiler (that ridge running across the trunk) particularly wimpy. The rear bumper seems too low for U.S. safety standards (as does the front bumper). If something like this car ever... posted by Donald at January 30, 2008 | perma-link | (12) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost interviews the entrepreneurial erotica publisher Tina Haveman. * Chris Johnson alerts me to the fact that the Deep Blues Festival will be held this July in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Tix go on sale in just a few days. * Lexington Green gives "Cloverfield" a rave. * It looks like the battle is all but over and Blu-Ray has won. * Boatloads of trippy bliss for Mandelbrot-set fans. * It's now official: Hello Kitty has conquered the entire world. * Is there really such a thing as a nerd who knows how to dress? I mean, besides Steve Jobs? (Link thanks to Tom.) Incidentally, a lot of guys could benefit from the advice at that site. * Grant McCracken muses on the significance of the demise of the dining room and the rise of "the great room." (Link thanks to The Communicatrix, who recalls the smelly process of giving up smoking.) * Gotta love the logic of Wall Street. * Girish reviews the film magazines. * Steve Sailer ventures some well-judged election-horserace commentary. * When you lose 180 or 200 pounds ... Er, well, your skin doesn't exactly shrink up tight around your newly-svelte figure, does it? Jimmy Moore and Kent Altena tell what it's like to deal with the dreaded "loose flesh." * MBlowhard Rewind: Back here, I visited a slaughterhouse and watched a carrot being picked. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 30, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fact for the Day: Wristwatches and Cellphones
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Wristwatch sales have been on the decline since 2001. The reason? People have taken to using their cellphones for timekeeping purposes. A great quote from a commenter at Lifehacker: I taught 55 students in 3 freshman biology labs last fall, and a couple of the class periods required timing an experiment. Only one student had a watch. I was blown away. Best, and evidently retro simply because I wear a wristwatch, Michael... posted by Michael at January 29, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Quick Word of Explanation ...
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few surfers may have noticed that, even as Donald and Friedrich have been writing meatier-than-usual blogpostings, I've been chipping in with lightweight stuff. Ultra-lightweight, really: linkathons, free-association binges ... A quick word about that. Jamais deux sans trois (never two without a third), the French like say about the way crises, disasters, and other intensities often arrive in clusters. Well, the last few months have delivered a big cluster of ups and down into my life. At the sad end of things, health problems have hit some people I care about hard. On the sunnier side of the street, a superduper life-change may be in the offing for yours truly. Fingers crossed! What all this has led to, needless to say, has been a lot of tension, anxiety, and racing emotions. While I'm enjoying the back and forth of blogging as much as ever, I've been less able than usual to pull together elaborate blogpostings. I sketch 'em out -- whee, it's always fun to make plans. But then I find myself too agitated to push them through to completion. My backlog of half-finished blogpostings has grown to impressive dimensions. Time for a decision, clearly. Here it is: Until my life calms down a bit, I'm going to let myself be a little scatterbrained, darn it. One thing I'm going to do for a stretch is treat 2Blowhards like a Tumblr blog -- a place to post quick little things: observations, links, pix. I'll have some fun. Love that blogging, of course. But it'll be quick, undemanding fun. Maybe some of my efforts will provide a little something in the way of entertainment and provocation for a few visitors. I hope to be back in the usual ranting and overwriting saddle again in a few weeks. Until then, please look to Donald and Friedrich for heft and substance. And please forgive some more nervous-and-superficial-than-usual blogging from me. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 25, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Generational Musings: Politics
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It's up to you readers to decide whether or not I've attained Geezer status. (Personally, I'd vote No.) Regardless, I know I've long since reached the point where I can't count on people conjuring up shared images when I mention something. So I think it's time for some musings, and to keep things simple, I'll focus on politics and related world events. In the same sense, a problem for politicians and political commentators is that their audience does not share the same set of experiences. By this I mean, for example, people who remember Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speechifying and circa 1980 "stagflation" might view politics and economics in a different light than those born later. My very own eyeballs have seen, in person, presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon. I was close enough to Truman (in 1960, I think it was) to shake his hand, had I not hesitated. I clearly remember the Korean War and all those that followed, though my memories of World War 2 are fuzzy because it ended when I was nearly three months shy of my sixth birthday. Readers age 50 have John F. Kennedy memories akin to my Second World War ones. Readers age 40 are ditto when it comes to Richard Nixon resigning the presidency. You get the idea. Of course, I was in the same situation regarding my elders. When I graduated from high school, it was only 40 years after the United States entered the Great War and there were plenty of men still in the labor force who had gone to France. World War 2's end was only 12 years past, so its veterans were largely thirtysomethings. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt, I knew his name and that he was "President" (the guy who ran the country or something like that). My only really strong memory of FDR was when he died. My mother told me that Roosevelt was dead and, when I got to school for my Kindergarten session, I would see the school flag at half-staff. And, by golly, indeed it was. Speaking of FDR, up through the 1950s and perhaps into the 60s there was a wooden news stand on the sidewalk near the southeast corner of Pike Street and Third Avenue (or perhaps Second) in downtown Seattle. Amongst the newspaper and magazine displays was one of those official government portraits of FDR. The old guy who ran the stand was clearly devoted to the former president. Other people were not. FDR was hated in his time, and the force of this still wasn't spent by my high school days. I hadn't yet read deeply about political and economic matters of the 1930s, focusing more on military matters. At any rate, there were plenty of books and magazine articles dealing with two major issues. One issue (which seems to be with us yet) is whether or not Roosevelt allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to happen. The other issue was in... posted by Donald at January 24, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Ultimate Career Move
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Ever-prolific Terry Teachout, in his 19 January "Sightings" column in the Wall Street Journal (a current link is here), deals with the effect of death on artistic reputations. Here is a sampling: Is dying really a shrewd career move? Cynics, art dealers and humorists seem to think so. ... [On the other hand] Arthur Rubinstein was one of the most successful classical pianists of the 20th century, but his recordings, unlike those of his arch-rival, Vladimir Horowitz, stopped selling soon after his death in 1982. It was as if his charismatic onstage physical presence had been necessary in order to persuade listeners of the artistic quality of his exciting but sometimes slapdash playing. ... What is it about the demise of an artist that so often triggers a reconsideration of his significance? In the short run, the Death Effect arises in part from the publication of obituaries that discuss the whole of his achievement, admiringly or otherwise. ... Not only can such articles stimulate renewed critical debate, but they may also have the unintended consequence of bringing a freshly deceased artist to the attention of younger readers hitherto unfamiliar with his work. [Teachout goes on the mention George MacDonald Frazer, author of the "Flashman" series.] ... Another aspect of the Death Effect is the undeniable but nonetheless macabre fact that an artist's death makes it easier for critics to sum him up -- and for dealers to set a price on his work. You can't trust a living artist not to lose his touch or change stylistic direction, much less to keep his output low enough to make it more valuable to collectors. ... I'll add that an obvious route to obscurity is to be an artist in a field where no permanent records are left once that artist has done his thing. Consider the performing arts in the pre-film, pre-digital video era. For instance, I strongly suspect that 18th century English actor David Garrick would be far less known today were it not for Boswell's account of Garrick's association with Dr Johnson. For artists such as painters and novelists who leave tangible products, there seems to be no surefire way of predicting posthumous reputations. The fickle hands of fashion and what group constitutes the arts Establishment at any given time determine this. Given that both fashions and Establishments aren't permanent, the likely result is a cyclical, roller-coaster reputation path for those artists who don't drop out of the picture permanently. In painting, it took Vermeer centuries to become famous. John SInger Sargent's reputation crashed right after he died, only to be revived circa half a century later. Andy Warhol's rep is still cruisin' without a speed bump 21 years after he went to that big Factory in the sky. My bet is that he'll eventually be rated as DaDa-like prankster -- not an important artist. But that's not likely to happen until the current Establishment gets pushed aside. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 21, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Men fart more often than women do, but women's farts stink worse. Source. Fun to learn that Michael Levitt, the world's leading expert on farts and farting, is also the father of Steven ("Freakonomics") Levitt. Semi-related: Back here I wrote a bit about Joseph Pujol, the 19th century French music-hall performer known as le Petomane, or The Fartiste. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 20, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, January 18, 2008

Guerilla Burger Wars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My wife isn't a fan of one of my peculiar activities, so I have to sneak off without her in order to indulge. Well, I did so today, anyway. And it's hard to do, I might add. Do what? Stop in at an In-N-Out Burger fast-food joint. (Here is a lengthy Wikipedia write-up and here is the company web site, if you aren't familiar with In-N-Out.) And why is it so hard to do? Am I that much under Nancy's thumb? The second question is debatable, but the first one can be answered clearly: there are no In-N-Outs in Washington state, where I live. None in Oregon, either. In fact, In-N-Outs can be found only in California, Nevada and Arizona. Nancy and I did stop at an In-N-Out perhaps three years ago on our way from the Bay Area to the Mendocino Coast. That was my first brush with it, and the place was jammed. There's an In-N-Out in Gilroy, California, not far from where we used to live, but I never ate there because the lines were huge at lunchtime. Today Nancy was skiing while I was snooping around the valley below her timeshare. On my way into a shopping area just south of Carson City, Nevada I spied an In-N-Out. Despite being on a post-holidays food-intake watch, I decided to indulge myself because I'd forgotten what In-N-Out burgers taste like and was curious why they seemed so popular. So I parked the car and walked over to the restaurant. The end of the line-up was just outside the door. In honor of my weight-watch, I ordered only a simple burger, catsup-only, plus fries. Perhaps a bigger burger would have been a better test, because the basic item has a pretty thin meat patty. The verdict? Definitely better than McDonald's and Burger King, a little better than Wendy's, and perhaps on par with Seattle's Dick's chain. (The Dick's comparison is an apples-oranges one because Dick's products are deliciously greasy and In-N-Out's are more dry.) I'm not yet sure that In-N-Out's products are ambrosia. For a more detailed analysis, we'll just have to persuade Michael to ask The Wife, who apparently is an In-N-Out fan (scroll down). Both In-N-Out and Dick's stress quality and taste, and they apparently deliver, as their local popularity indicates. Even though they necessarily must compete against their big-chain rivals, their guerilla warfare approach seems to work. Size isn't always everything. In fast food, anyway. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 18, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

The Australian Open, Co-Starring Ron Paul
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tennis season 2008 kicks off with the Australian Open. Keep up to date with the progress of the tournament the YouTube way. Best, Michael UPDATE: Dept. of For-Those-Who-Can't-Get-Enough: Justin Raimondo analyzes why the "beltway libertarians" have it in for Ron Paul. (Link thanks to the Man Who Is Thursday, who really ought to be blogging more often, nudge nudge.) UPDATE 2: Steven LaTulippe, whose writing I've only begun to explore but so far like very much, offers another take on the Ron Paul affair. Nice passage: Even if Ron Paul wrote every word in every one of those articles, how does that compare to the death and destruction the neocons have rained down on Iraq? ... If Ron Paul’s candidacy is now tainted for (allegedly) slandering people of color, what should be the political punishment for Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and others who supported mass death and dismemberment of a third world country? Here's a stirring Ron Paul moment that Fox News censored, er, chose not to broadcast, no doubt in the interest of fairness and objectivity. Fox's Sean Hannity pays the price. Links thanks to John Zmirak.... posted by Michael at January 18, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Steve Sailer wonders how and why so many Eastern European gals got so hot. Dennis Mangan ventures a theory. * Roissy is convinced that many men ought to think twice before getting married. * John Derbyshire loops together Ron Paul, Jamie Kirchick, and Flashman. Now that's one virtuosic columnist. * Formerbeltwaywonk starts a blog. Great passage from one of his first postings: "Political correctness is a very strong signal of statism. In the mind of a statist, something is either required or banned." * Hadleyblog's Mitchell allows himself to wax a little nostalgic for old-style political primaries. * Is lowering your cholesterol always a good thing to do? Perhaps not. * Speaking of which ... The Houston Chronicle's Ken Hoffman visits with Tom Naughton. Tom talked to me about his diet-and-food film "Fat Head" here and here. Tom's own website is here. * Low-carb blogger Jimmy Moore talks about food and exercise with weightlifting hottie-nutritionist Jean Jitomir. Jean herself blogs here. * Welmer thinks that those interested in new painting of the "skill and beauty" sort should look to Beijing. * Here's an amazingly informative and concise short video interview about typography with Michael Bierut. Michael blogs at Design Observer. * Virginia Postrel talks to filmmaker Gary Hustwit about "Helvetica," his documentary about typography. * A 1958 short movie about turkey courtship. (Link thanks to Guy, a commenter at GNXP.) * Bravo to the New York Times for gathering up the courage to pay a visit to the boogeyman himself, Chicago's Richard Driehaus, a major sponsor of today's classical revival in architecture. Is The Times -- which usually functions as the propaganda organ of the starchitecture establishment -- becoming a wee bit more open to what's actually happening in the world and a little less focused on what it thinks should be happening? Here's a Chicago Magazine article by the same writer about Richard Driehaus. * Oh dear. * The Derelict remembers the days when New York City seemed like the center of the universe to her. * Roosh visits the Third World and, unsurprisingly, picks up a parasite. * A venture capitalist tries to learn about the future of media by observing his kids. Me, I'm still trying to figure out what the purpose of Facebook is. * The Book Addict is pleased by the loony, perverse genius of crime novelist Charles Willeford. * Alias Clio wants to come back as a surfergirl. * "Hand over the money or I'll switch this vibrator on!" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 17, 2008 | perma-link | (17) comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A major reason to be grateful for living in a First World country, IMHO: More than 65% of India's rural population defecates in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields ... And about 70% of India's billion-plus population live in its rural areas. Wow, almost a half a billion Indians crap in the open every day ... Me, I say: "Praise the heavens for modern plumbing." Source. Link found thanks to Vdare. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 16, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Professor Weevil is having a book sale. * Polly Frost gets a rave from the classy new erotica review Lucrezia, and gives a funny interview to Foreward magazine. (Scroll down a bit.) * Jon Hastings has discovered the fun of Tumblr. * Richard S. Wheeler thinks that Jack Schaefer, the author of the famous western novel "Shane," deserves to be known as one of America's greatest novelists. * An apt (and very true) line from Vince Keenan: "Say what you will about the 1980s, but it was the last decade that knew how to deliver quality sleaze." Ah, for the days of Michael Douglas sex thrillers. I mean that seriously, by the way. * Excellent rant. * Videoblogging cutiepie. * Wondering how to dress the next time you go out? Here are some inspired suggestions. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin) * Charlton also points out this fascinating story about Soviet-era Russian cowboy films. Who knew? * HispanicPundit smartly sorts out how "ethnic poverty" is likely to be discussed by a liberal, a conservative, and a libertarian economist. * Marc Andreessen shows how one social-networking-service deals with the inevitable porn question. Hey, if it's what people are really interested in ... * Rick Darby suspects that Nicolas Sarkozy has good taste in women. * Marcia and Lorenzo review "No Country for Old Men." * I don't know which is funnier: The New Republic making a fool of itself attempting to smear Ron Paul via some old newsletters; or the spectacle of legions of apoplectic Ron Paul supporters standing up for their hero. Sigh: politics, eh? UPDATE: Ron Paul is interviewed by CNN. Tucker Carlson interviews The New Republic's Jamie Kirchick, for whom the term "wet behind the ears" might have been invented. Here's another interview with Jamie Kirchick. * MBlowhard Rewind: I marveled at how really strange and bizarre many people in the cultureworld are. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 10, 2008 | perma-link | (38) comments

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Amateur Sociology
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tyler Cowen visits a Costco for the first time. Commenters -- nearly all of them male -- tell him why they love to shop there. * Steve Sailer asks, Why do so few male golfers seem to be gay? Commenters try to puzzle it out. As for Costco, I've only visited a few times myself, but what has struck me most vividly is how much guys seem to enjoy shopping there -- and I mean guys of the "I usually hate shopping" kind. There seems to be something that feels right about the Costco experience to many straight guys. What could it be? I'm flailing, but it seems to me that guys may find the warehouse setting pleasing (no frou-frou) and the limited selection on offer a relief. (We like it when taste doesn't enter into the equation too vehemently.) And the possibility of bargains on "bulk" items may appeal to our underexercised Neanderthal mammoth-hunting instincts. As for gays 'n' golf: I wonder if the shortage of gayguyz in golf might have to do with the fact that golf has somehow become the last refuge of the big ol' square straight guy. No need to be in shape. No need to dress sharp -- anything but! Lots of dopey masculine ritual, dopey masculine joshing, and dopey masculine mockery. Zero gossip. A general "Lordy, I do appreciate a few hours away from the wife" atmosphere. And the food usually stinks. What's in it for a gay guy? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 8, 2008 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, January 7, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's National Football League playoff season and television is filled with even more hours of football talk than usual; on Super Bowl day, the pre-game blather goes on for hours. When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time watching such programs. That's because I was more emotionally involved with some of the teams than I am now. It can be easy for pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals who spent time in Ivy League schools (Who? Me?) to utter the dreaded cry "Tut-tut" about staring at the tube -- er, flat-panel -- through hours of speculations, game highlights and post-mortems. But I won't do that. Instead, I have come to praise the ex-jocks seated behind those long desks. What, you ask, is the redeeming feature of sports-blather? It's the analyses. Part of formal education is learning how to evaluate evidence and draw conclusions. For some guys, doing that in a classroom setting can be a chore. But voluntarily listening to the analytical ex-jocks followed by similar chat with buddies on the playground, in the dorm, at a bar, uses mental processes similar to those when trying to find three levels of meaning in a Robert Frost poem -- and it's a lot more fun. * This is a bleg (begging on a blog). As some of you might recall, I'm pondering writing a book about painting. I want to get an outline and related material completed so I can pitch the concept to publishers. An item I need to deal with is Western art history narratives that have been proposed since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism (the 1950s). I have seen bits suggesting that the Post-Modern era is considered a-historical. That is, things have become so fragmented that they cannot be encapsulated into a narrative. That seems plausible, but I need to document it (or its contradiction). I see plenty of art criticism books in bookstores, but I don't want to spend a lot of money and time dealing with what is a side-issue to my project. So, do any of you have any suggestions regarding good, solid sources on post-1960 art history narratives that I might be able to look through and cite? I'll greatly appreciate any help I can get. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 7, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Waikiki Report
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There seems be some kind of expectation that I post a photo report upon my return from a trip. I was in Honolulu for a week centered on New Year's Day. Even though the Waikiki section of Honolulu is probably one of the most photographed spots on Earth, I'll serve up the following images for your amusement. Gallery This was taken on Kuhio Beach, the main public beach at Waikiki. The weather was mixed the entire time we were in Hawaii; instead of sunshine and humid heat, we experienced showers nearly every day. Note that the beach area is in sunshine while the sky is mostly purple cloud with rain falling in the distance. Also seen along the beach were plenty of tattoos. I wasn't packing my camera the day I spied a man whose face was mostly covered by a greenish-blue tattoo. Looking northwest along Kuhio Beach. The low, pink building is the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Not seen are the high-rise hotels and condos across Kalakaua Avenue, which defines the landward side of the beach park. A closer view of the Royal Hawaiian. It's one of our favorite hotels on Waikiki. We don't want to spend the money to stay there, but do shop, drink, eat and admire the architecture and decoration. When I first visited Honolulu (1963) the Royal still stood out -- high-rise buildings in the neighborhood were rare. Nowadays, much of Honolulu near the shore from the harbor to the zoo in Waikiki is dominated by tall buildings. Waikiki and Honolulu's Ala Moana shopping mall crawl with fancy stores such as Hermès, Gucci, Prada and, as shown here, Louis Vuiton. The Vuiton building dates back to pre-war days when it housed a Gumps (from San Francisco) store. Although some modernization was done, much of the original character remains. Not all Waikiki shopping is upscale. A few blocks from Louis Vuiton lies the International Marketplace, a warren of shopping stalls where one can buy trinkets, aloha shirts and other tourist-oriented goodies. When I first visited Waikiki, most of the buildings were small, wooden structures such as the one shown here to the left. This house lies between Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues near the heart of the hotel / condo high-rise area. It's probably one of the last remaining houses in the neighborhood; even "low-rise" areas nearby are comprised of apartment buildings two or more stories tall. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 6, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Friday, January 4, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jimmy Moore comes up with a Presidential nominee I could get behind. * A blog's gotta have a theme, I guess. * Philip Weiss has a daring wrestle with that most taboo of thinkers, Kevin MacDonald. * DVD Spin Doctor lists his top 20 DVDs of 2007. * Kirsten Mortensen says goodbye to a loved but difficult dog. * Author Mark Lilla writes that commenters and bloggers have offered sharper responses to his recent book than trad book reviewers have. Who needs critics, eh? * Reviewing a poetry collection, Prairie Mary gets off some shrewd observations about autobiographical writing, and about relationships between older men and younger women. * Terrierman runs a gorgeous photo of an almost perfectly preserved baby mammoth. * Katie Hutchison praises Shaker blue and a modest beach boardwalk. Why does anyone ask for anything more from architecture? * Shouting Thomas recalls some lousy bands from the '60s. Man, there really were a lot of those around, weren't there? * Derek Lowe confides that some -- and maybe even many -- scientists just aren't made to be managers. * MBlowhard Rewind: I maintained back here that, where artchat goes, it's vitally important to distinguish between "modern" and "modernist." Don't let the bastards get away with claiming that modern has to imply modernist! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 4, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Marc Andreessen thinks that The Economist needs to go back to school. * Is Keynesianism a religion-like belief-set or a reasonable way to understand some of what happens in the world? * Alex Tabarrok wonders if it makes sense for the federal government to be subsidizing air transportation into and out of backwaters. * Steve Bodio's photos show how clear the air at 6500 feet can be in winter. * The 1990s saw the biggest population boom ever in American history -- thanks to, as you might have guessed, crazy immigration policies. This article includes a helpful reminder that back in the 1970s it was widely thought that America's population was leveling off, and that that was a good and desirable thing. * Steve Sailer suspects that maybe more kids should be dropping out of high school. An eye-opening fact that I found in Steve's piece: "Almost half of Hispanics in this [18-24] age group immigrated within the last ten years." * Roissy thinks that the girliness of girls' handwriting is biologically based. * The Neutralist is glad to see that John Derbyshire has wised up. * Riva Greenberg finds that eating low-carb keeps her diabetes under control. * Meet William Banting, the original low-carb dieter. * Multimedia journalist Tim Overdiek shows what "repurposing your content" is all about. * Hey, how about a career in television? (Link found thanks to Tim Overdiek.) * MBlowhard Rewind: I mused about the differences between one's tastes in sexual material and what a sensible public policy about the stuff might be. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at January 2, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I suppose I exaggerate slightly. But still ... Based on my wife's experiences in the Puget Sound area, all inexpensive hairdressers and manicure gals are from Vietnam. And they all are named "Linda." Later, Donald... posted by Donald at January 1, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Monday, December 31, 2007

Gadgets ... and Tools
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Christmas is over, sales have started, and I was wandering through Honolulu's Ala Moana shopping center this morning in a probably futile attempt to burn off some flab. In addition to Gucci, Prada and their Italo-ilk I noticed a Sharper Image store. I almost never shop at Sharper Image, but decided to go in anyway and see what they are offering these days. About a third of the way around the store I spied it: an electric necktie rack. That, my friends is a GADGET!! Which got me to thinking. I've never been fond of gadgets, but my father liked them a lot. He wasn't compulsive about it, mind you; he'd just bring one home every few months. And I would think "Why the hell did he buy such a silly thing?" Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was he bought in those days -- say, from 1955 to 1975. Nor do I know why he bought them. Perhaps they were a kind of toy. Or maybe because he was an engineer, he liked whatever cleverness there was in the design. As for me, I like tools. I don't have many tools, but if I have need of one and it's affordable, I don't hesitate to buy it. That's because a good tool can be used again and again. [Gives matter further thought] Some objects are clearly tools (a screwdriver, for instance) and others are obviously gadgets (what I saw in Sharper Image). They form opposite ends of a continuum of things that perform (or help people perform) tasks. To me, gadgets perform tasks to a ridiculously automated/mechanical and non cost-effective degree. Yes, pushing a button and having that electric tie rack display ties in rotation strikes me as silly because it didn't seem to be able to hold more than around 30 ties. But the gadget operates on the same principle as those gizmos (tools, actually) in dry cleaning shops that allow the clerk to find your stuff amidst a hundred other garments. Or consider an electric screwdriver. If you only need to place or remove screws occasionally, it borders on being a gadget. But if you work with screws a lot, then the convenience and saving of wear and tear on your body make it a true tool. Then there are wine bottle openers. The most basic tool-like opener has the curled metal point we're all familiar with along with some kind of lever at the other end. You can buy one of these for a few bucks. Then there are large, heavy, complicated devices that almost seem to suck corks out of bottles; some of these can cost a lot of money. At what point does gadgethood kick in here? Yes, it seems to be an eye-of-the-beholder thing. But I still don't care for (what I consider to be) gadgets. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 31, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holiday Air Travel Question
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Before the Christmas-New Year's season, the news media were full of speculative stories about how horrible air travel would be over the holidays. Christmas is over, so I suppose we're at least halfway through the process. And I'm wondering how things are going. Rather than dreary old data, and in the spirit of those news geniuses, I delcare that it's time for some serious anecdotal evidence! I'll start with me. Our December 21st flight from Seattle to San Francisco (Alaska Airlines) went well; we arrived on time. Our December 27th flight from San Francisco to Honolulu (American Airlines) arrived a tad early. The only bad thing was a nasty, unexpected bit of turbulence about 700 miles from the Islands. On the other hand, Nancy's cousin's family on a December 26th flight from Seattle to Honolulu (Northwest) had a six or seven hour delay because an improper flight recorder had been installed the night before and the error wasn't detected until the flight deck crew was running through their checklist. A correct part had to be flown in from Minneapolis. I'm not out of the woods yet. On January 3rd we fly to LAX (American) and then up to Seattle (Alaska). Until then, I'll relax and sip some Kona coffee. But how about the rest of you who've been flying during the holiday season? Any good / bad /interesting things to report? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 28, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Generic Heroism
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Slowly but surely, as they say, Seattle's Museum of Flight is becoming a major-league aviation museum. The tipping point was reached when it acquired the Champlin collection of World War 2 aircraft and built a special wing to display some of these and related planes. Naturally, every good thing (to Seattle airplane fans if not Champlin-less aircraft buffs in Southern California) can have a downside. To me, the downside was the name the museum gave to the wing housing Great War and WW2 planes. The call it the Personal Courage Wing. I'm not a pilot, so by my reckoning learning how to fly takes "personal courage." Going into mortal combat is a order-of-magnitude step higher in the courage department, I believe. So why didn't they call it the "War Years Wing" or maybe the "Aerial Combat Wing?" Beats me. But Personal Courage Wing strikes me as a politically correct gesture to suit liberal Seattle, even though part of the museum's funding came from Boeing. And didn't Boeing manufacture a few B-17s, B-29s, B-47s, B-50s and B-52s? Y'know, combat planes. Later, Donald BLOGGING NOTE: I'm writing this in the Bay Area and will be heading for Honolulu the 27th. I'll try to blog from there, provided that either (1) my cell-phone Internet connection is available or (2) our hotel has free Internet service ... though I'll have to buy an Ethernet cable to make that work, I suppose. And if all fails, I'll be back blogging January 4th or thereabouts.... posted by Donald at December 23, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, December 20, 2007

100% Cotton Art
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Michael Wade points out a gallery of mugshots showing suspects wearing wonderfully goofy t-shirts. Which reminds me of one of my favorite half-baked theories: that "the funny t-shirt" is one of America's most vital art forms, and that the people who create clever t-shirts may be America's most unfairly-overlooked artists ... Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 20, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Grinch Moment
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't know how you're contending with holiday season but, as for me, I'm (as I am every year) holding my breath until it's over. In NYC, holiday season extends from mid-November (what with Thanksgiving madness) through January 1. To my mind, that's a much-too-big chunk of the year. There are times when I don't mind humoring the general culture. Gotta go along with things, might as well be cheerful about it, life could certainly be worse, etc. And in the abstract I can even summon up some benevolent feelings. I approve of rituals, it's fun hearing from people, and I'm a big fan of parties. But the reality of America's holiday season just plain grates on me. Lordy, at the end of the year we really overdo it, don't we? By my lights, anyway. The sentimental feelings, the cards, the crowds, the shopping, the jiggered work schedules -- and especially the way the whole process drags out for week after week ... It's too damn much. It feels like a form of social bullying. And it does leave me feeling resentful. Why don't we confine the fuss to a single week, treat ourselves to one big party, and limit present-giving to children only? That would suit me, at least. The way we actually go about the holiday thang, though ... Well, sometime in early December I put my head down, do my best not to feel too irked, and try to stay focused on my real end-of-the-year goal, which is to survive the obligations without coming down with the flu. I suppose the holidays can be fun for very young kids, and maybe for parents of very young kids too. But for everyone else ... Why don't more people feel ashamed, even embarrassed, about the amount of emotional-physical-financial emphasis that we place on the holidays? Hey, Americans: What do you say we finally get around to growing up? And if I never hear any of the more-familiar Xmas carols again -- especially in "swinging" or "jazzed-up" versions -- I'll definitely die a little happier. Deep in Grinch mode, Michael UPDATE: Stephenesque recalls the exact moment when he lost faith in Santa.... posted by Michael at December 19, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Male Members
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Attention, dudes: Don't tick off a Thai woman! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 19, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Usability expert Donald Norman tries to make some sense of the washrooms in the New York Times' up-to-the-minute new headquarters. Back here, I asked what still strikes me as a key question: America, land of dynamic and exciting innovation, or country where you can never be sure how to use the faucets? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 18, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Friedrich von Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards, The scandal raised by former Senator George Mitchell's report on steroid and other drug use in professional baseball raises an interesting question: why exactly are sports fans upset by performance enhancing drugs? Granted, our society honors professional athletes and is worried about illegal drugs, so it's possible that this is ultimately an anxiety about making drug use seem glamorous or simply profitable. But I don’t think that any amount of recreational drug use by athletes would generate this level of social disapproval. After all, it is certainly possible to view steroids or epogen or human growth hormone as chemical training aids, like lifting weights or running sprints. Use of performance-enhancing drugs has associated dangers, but you could say that's an issue for the athlete to ponder. Are their benefits (fame, fortune, records, sexual opportunities) attractive enough to counterbalance their risks? We allow athletes to make their own choices about the possible dangers to their person and lifespan from bulking up to play football, for example. Likewise, we allow pitchers to risk permanent injury to their shoulders, elbows and wrists from hurling baseballs at more than ordinary human speeds. Why aren't we willing to let them make up their own minds about performance-enhancing drugs? You could also make the argument that because such drugs are either stigmatized or illegal, the people who do use them are getting an unfair advantage over those who are more law abiding. Of course, this could be resolved by making them legal and de-stigmatizing them. I don't think people want to do that; most fans seem to want to eliminate them altogether. Why is this? Not to dismiss the force of these other arguments, but the best answer I've been able to come up with is an evo-bio one. To wit, that most people unconsciously view sports as a display of reproductive fitness, not merely one more entertainment option among many. And those people don’t want their athletic displays of reproductive fitness being fiddled with by chemical means. If you make this assumption, it sorts out what is really different about performance-enhancing drugs from other training aids. It’s okay to allow athletes to train for competition, because the discipline and capacity for hard work are also sexually desirable, inheritable traits. It’s okay to build up your body with weights, because the ability to maximize your muscularity is again an inheritable trait. And being crafty about your training regimen is a tribute to the athlete’s intelligence, another capacity transmittable to one's offspring. Steroids, on the other hand, are clearly not inheritable and thus 'cheating'. A less reproductively fit athlete, one likely to produce less capable offspring but who is taking steroids can appear better than a more reproductively fit athlete who isn’t juicing. Granted, if you would allow all the athletes to juice, presumably the most genetically gifted would still shine through relative to the other elite athletes. But in that situation you would trample on yet another emotion inseparable from... posted by Friedrich at December 16, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Aerial Warfare Seen from 1910
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Forecasting -- make that serious forecasting -- isn't easy. That's because, even if you get the broad sweep of things right, many details are likely to be wrong. Or maybe you nail some details and blow the big picture. A safe (i.e., defensible) way to forecast is to extrapolate from the past. And when the forecast proves inaccurate, the forecaster can shrug his shoulders and blame history. Things become more difficult when a major new technology enters the scene. Because it's new, there's no history to extrapolate. In this case, the forecaster has little choice but to grope around for what he hopes is an appropriate analogy. That's what some people did at the dawn of heavier-than-air aviation when the question of aerial warfare came up. The closest analog they could think of was naval warfare. The naval analogy made sense because early airplanes were doing well if they simply took off, climbed a few hundred feet into the air, circled around for a while and then landed safely. While airborne, they pretty much stayed in a horizontal plane; aerobatic maneuvers came a few years later when comparatively light, powerful motors allowed heavier, stronger airplanes to be built. During the Great War fighter aircraft engaged in swirling dogfights, but that was the future observers around 1910 were scratching their heads about. Airships -- blimp-type craft and dirigible Zeppelins -- were even more constrained to a horizontal maneuver plane than aircraft. Given the horizontal nature of flight at that time, it was easy to look at naval warfare, fought on the essentially horizontal plane of the sea, as the analog. So we have aircraft armed with shell-type guns taking pot-shots at each other. Just for fun, here are two nicely done illustrations of future air war as seen circa 1910 by newspaper artist Henry Grant Dart. For more on Dart and his work, see here, here and here. Gallery Air-sea battle at night, 1910 Going Into Action - 1907 Exciting stuff! The aircraft are pretty much at the same altitude and the two in the middle-ground indeed seem to be firing back and forth. Note the men standing on decks in the craft at the lower right. It looks a lot like naval destroyers of that day. The dual-mounted guns on the lower, forward deck appear to be drum-fed rapid-fire cannon of perhaps three-inch caliber. Science fiction pioneer H.G. Wells wrote a book called The War in the Air in 1907 featuring dirigibles and airplanes. I read the book back when I was in high school and don't remember much about it. The link provides a plot summary but doesn't describe the aircraft and how Wells imagined them fighting. One hundred years later, we know how aerial warfare actually happened. This makes the early speculations seem quaint. But I'll bet that Wells' book and Dart's pictures excited a lot of boys back then; they would have excited me. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 15, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Friday, December 14, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Researching a biography of the burlesque star Lili St. Cyr, Kelly DiNardo learns that Lili was a serious heroin user. Kelly blogs here. * So what is rockabilly? Hey, here's a dynamite example. * Preserve your favorite snowflake forever. * Jen Jordan recalls the early days of commercial hard drives. Now we're on the verge of terabyte thumb drives. * Curious Expeditions takes a look at some castles built by self-taught builders. * Barbara Fisher tries "minimally processed" organic milk and loves it. * Philip Murphy celebrates some sizzling Frenchwomen. * Their parents apparently didn't tell them not to play with their food. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * In a heroic posting, Mencius tries to separate out the quack economists from the real economists. * Get your upscale sex toys here. My favorite is a spanking paddle "ethically made by a fair trade project in India with wood from a substainable source." Despite my giggles, I do find this a beautiful and seductive site. (NSFW, of course.) * I like a girl with a great big Bible. * Glenn Abel pays tribute to the subtle and refined low-budget horror impresario Val Lewton. * Thanks to Dave Lull, who points out a good Steven D. Ealy review of a book about Michael Oakeshott, my favorite philosopher. * Dave also points out a Terry Teachout blogposting about John Silber's new anti-starchitecture book. Is the tide finally starting to turn against the starchitects? Here's a video interview with Terry. * You can listen to a lot of interviews with cultureworld figures here. I especially enjoyed the merry-spirited playwright Alan Ayckbourn and the Zen-Rabbi-troubador Leonard Cohen. The Howard Hodgkin talk is a letdown, though. * Culturebargain: The respectable press loathed Joel Schumacher's Angry-White-Man revenge melodrama "Falling Down," starring Michael Douglas. I found it very satisfying: irreverent and exciting, and with a hard-to-resist instinct for the jugular. Amazon is selling the DVD of the film for $5.49. * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Alberto Cavalcanti's brilliant 1947 British gangster movie "They Made Me a Fugitive." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 14, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Cowtown Pattie gives "No Country for Old Men" a cowgirl nod of approval. * David Chute expresses reservations about the Coens' film here, and links to a molto fabuloso clip from Sam Peckinpah's wild-and-woolly 1973 "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." Now that's some real '70s filmmaking: half the purest bullshit, half the most heavenly, turbulent, emotionally-wrenching gorgeousness you could ever ask for. The fact that it's impossible to separate the bullshit from the beauty is very '70s too. Lordy, when Slim Pickens staggers off into the desert and sits by the water ... Did even Tinteretto hit these kinds of ecstatic / painful highs? I treated myself to a full-blown Peckinpah Moment back here. * The next "Jackass" movie won't be released to theaters at all. It will be distributed online instead. Does what used to be known as the "distribution bottleneck" exist any longer? * WhiskyPrajer confesses that he's addicted to Men's Health magazine. I buy it sometimes too. I wonder why. Tyler Cowen tries to figure out how to manage his magazine subscriptions. * Don't overlook James Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month. Those daffy architects! How will they ruin our shared environment next? * David Chute's buddy Ramesh reports from Japan that Tokyo has become a "gay man's dream." (Note to DavidC: Move off of LiveJournal now! is free!) * Will the French ever be a world power in terms of culture again? (Link thanks to FvB.) * Ed Gorman flips for Joseph Lewis' "Gun Crazy" and has some smart things to say about how pacing has changed in recent decades. * Spaniards are eating more saturated fat yet suffering fewer heart attacks. * Low-carb enthusiast Jimmy Moore answers a question many low-carbers have asked: What kind of fruit should people on a low-carb diet eat? Jimmy talks with a "Biggest Loser" contestant here. * Stanley Coren offers a list of the five best books about dogs. (Link thanks to Terrierman.) Henry Chappell marvels at the way suburbanites can work themselves into a tizzy about the presence in the neighborhood of a single coyote. People really can overdo the "safe and secure" mania, can't they? That's a very sweet photo that Henry has taken of his dawg Cate. * Steve Bodio finishes his book and uncorks a barrage of links. * Tim Worstall has the goods on that NASA sex tape. * Scott thinks -- no, knows -- that there can be such a thing as too much healthy living. * Does Israel have a say in determining America's foreign policy? If you read the NYTimes it can sure seem that way. * Hibernia Girl does a beautiful job of spelling out some of the reasons why migration issues are a major political concern these days, as well as why people shouldn't be shy about raising the topic. * Culturebargain: Those of you who still own a functioning Walkman might want to pay a visit to Books on Tape,... posted by Michael at December 13, 2007 | perma-link | (42) comments

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The 'Cuda That Couldn't
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- This time the picket ships did what they were supposed to, spotting the incoming bomber fleet and reporting position, vector and velocity -- unlike the sequence of errors two weeks previously that left the east side of Providence, Rhode Island in flames. Within minutes, the squadron of long-range FM-1 interceptors was airborne from its Otis Field, Massachusetts base, slowly climbing and aimed for a point over the Atlantic that would be reached in two hours, placing them in position to attack the German bomber stream. If all went well, they would seriously thin the attackers who then would be largely finished off by shorter-range P-38s over Long Island a hundred miles short of their target, New York City. . . . . . Success! There were the Germans, about two miles to the south and 1,500 feet below, well away from any sheltering clouds. The FM-1 Airacudas banked right and assumed four "vics" of three attackers each -- but spread out more than the similar Hurricane formations that failed to successfully defend England two years earlier. The 'Cuda vics would attack in sequence and each aircraft would focus on its own target. The squadron commander swiveled his head from side to side, making a final check of the 37-millimeter cannons and their loaders positioned in the front part of the engine nacelles mounted over each wing. Then he refined his course slightly before handing control over to the gunnery officer seated behind him. He also involuntary tried to make himself a smaller target for defensive machine-gun fire from the bombers even though there was an armor plate just ahead of the instrument panel and the center cockpit glazing panel was inch-thick armored glass. The plane shuddered from the recoil of the cannons as each fired off ten rounds. A second later, the left wing of the target seemed to hinge upwards and then the aircraft rapidly dropped, the wings closing on one another like scissor blades. One of the cannon shells must have hit a wing spar. The second bomber they attacked showed no sign of damage. Better luck with the third target: this time, the central part of the fuselage seemed to vaporize into flame. The commander instantly wrested control back and tried to maneuver the heavy interceptor away from the cloud of airborne debris the German bomber was rapidly becoming. Close call, but safely through. And also through the bomber formation. Now it was time to climb a few hundred feet and slow a little to let the bombers pass below. Then another attack could be made. Firing ten rounds each per target, the cannons had enough ammunition for 15 attacks. Provided, of course, that the Airacuda didn't get shot down by the defenders. Well, that's the way I imagine how the Bell YFM-1 Airacuda was intended to perform. Gallery Bell YFM-1 Airacuda The aircraft in the upper photo is one of the last ones built. It lacks the "blister" machine-gun positions... posted by Donald at December 9, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Brand for the Ages
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I used to pay attention to beer brands back when I was young and drank the stuff fairly regularly with fraternity brothers, army buddies and grad school chums. Nowadays, beers are flying well below my radar. That's why I was startled earlier today while cruising the freeway and passing a beer truck with an odd image plastered on the sides and rear. A country scene with a moose standing in a pool or lake or something. (Remember, I'm driving 60 miles per hour, the truck is in the next lane to my right, and I can't do more than glance its way.) And what's that just below the Moose's head, that white area there? A waterfall in the background? No. Could the moose be drinking from a fountain of some sort? No, again. Why, it's ... Moose Drool Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing Co. of Missoula, Montana. I am ashamed that I'd never heard of the brand. What a treasure! Okay. So it's not genteel. But if you're in the twentysomething-male demographic hotspot for beer marketers, the name is fabulous. Image some Gallatin Valley ranch-hands or University of Montana students near the brewery snorting with laughter when hearing "Hey! Let's swill some Moose Drool!" Guys can be gross. Gross can be fun. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at December 6, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * When should a traditional journalist credit a blogger? * Roissy thinks that a little attention to personal hygiene might be in order. (Extreme vulgarity alert, which should come as no surprise to fans of Roissy.) * Apparently it's true: Americans get the majority of their calories from soda pop. * Hibernia Girl shows how to express concern about immigration policy and demographic shifts in a civilized and nuanced way. * Kathy Foley reports that Facebook is big in Ireland, and that she has finally learned how to enjoy getting poked. * For the first time ever, DVD sales are declining. * GNXP's Herrick interviews James Flynn. Steve Sailer interviews himself. * PoddyMouth -- who isn't the old PoddyMouth -- offers a lot of zesty, informed, and helpful coverage of the print-on-demand scene. * Finland: land of very strange competitions. * MM vows to be more charming in the future. * Some guys have it and some guys don't. (Links thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * A list with almost too much of substance and wisdom in it, from Execupundit Michael Wade. My favorite is #11: "If you want to make something permanent, call it a pilot program." * Ira Levin, the brilliant author of "Rosemary's Baby," "A Kiss Before Dying," and "The Stepford Wives," has died. I rhapsodized about Ira Levin's writing here. * So has '70s-era hero / legend / joke Evel Knievel. Lexington Green evokes the man and the era well. * Dennis Mangan raves about dynamic young orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel, and links to a scorching video of Dudamel at work. * Polly Frost interviews a couple of wonderful Downtown NY artists: the cartoonist Tom Hart and the novelist Silvia Sanza. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at December 4, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lean Christmases
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It seems I've been AWOL the past few days. That's because I had the flu. Today we're having a severe storm and the garage is flooding. Oh, and the cold I was catching when the flu hit has been unmasked: I don't know if it was running parallel with the flu or was on hold, eagerly waiting to pounce. But I'll find out soon. At least I drafted one of those memoir pieces before I got sick and, for what it's worth, here it is: * * * * * I was fortunate enough to have been born into a middle-class family. Aside from the Christmas when my parents wisely did not buy me an electric train (I soon might well have become too old for it as a kid and was much too young to become a true grown-up train hobbyist), Christmases were satisfactory for me in the stash department. They were satisfactory because of ignorance, when I was little. It had to do with timing. And location. As long-time readers know, I was born about two years before Pearl Harbor. I have a fuzzy memory of Christmas season that year -- my father and uncle having a serious discussion, probably about the war, I now realize. But I don't recall anything about presents I received. A year later we were living in a thinly-settled suburb about a mile north of the then Seattle city limits. Wartime. No nearby kids my age. Gasoline rationing that might have prevented me from vising my cousins in town (I don't remember wartime Christmas visits, though we certainly visited that day, post-war). In other words I was celebrating Christmas isolated from other children aside from my sister when I was three, four and five years old; no basis for comparison, but that might not have mattered anyway. Besides gasoline rationing there were other shortages. Metal, for instance. I recall stomping on tin cans in the driveway (after my mother had removed the tops and bottoms) to flatten them for metal drives. So metal toys were scarce or non-existent. The one metal toy airplane I had looked a lot like a Seversky P-35, sort of like this one: Except mine was better. It had a propeller that would spin, the landing gear retracted, the cockpit framing was better-done and it even had little bumps indicating rivets, if I remember correctly. (Sigh. Wish I still had it.) But my P-35 was probably a pre-war present. Wartime toy planes were crudely-done plastic jobs. Another toy I remember was a wooden pop-gun type cannon painted olive drab -- just like genuine army cannons! Yes, I got Christmas presents. But not many and few or none made from "strategic materials." Mostly I remember the Christmas cards and decorations -- not toys. Christmas 1945 was still a bit meager though I didn't realize it. Revelation came in 1946 when there was a ton of stuff under the tree. Age seven, it dawned on... posted by Donald at December 3, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Stephen King has some thoughts about what ails the short story. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) * Cryptic yet satisfying, not to mention dependably provocative: OOCRadio, a blog by a guy who enjoys Antonioni, death masks, and Philip K. Dick. * Steve Sailer links to some pieces reporting that the excellent Shelby Steele is writing a book about Barack Obama. * Vanessa discovers her favorite Chicago pizza. * TerrierMan makes a heckuva case for gun ownership, and links to a hilarious video clip about Thomas Midgely Jr., history's greatest environmental troublemaker. * The state of Pennsylvania doesn't want you to know whether the milk you're thinking of buying was produced with the aid of growth hormones. * Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen figures out how many copies a book needs to sell to make it onto the bestseller list. Though the word "bestseller" certainly sounds impressive, the sales figure that makes a book a bestseller is amazingly small. I wrote about some other aspects of bestseller lists back here. * Thursday contrasts the "creative artist" and the "critical artist." * MBlowhard Rewind: I expressed the hope that the monopoly of the "taste mafia" should break up soon. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 27, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Friday, November 23, 2007

Visual Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I've just enjoyed going through the website of Gabriella Morrison, a Canadian artist who left a perceptive comment on Donald's recent Italian-painters posting. A little Wayne Thiebaud, a little Emily Carr, a little Philip Pearlstein ... I'm just describing, by the way. I have no idea if Gabriella considers these painters to be influences. She makes quiet, warm, relaxed work that's also witty and incisive, and genuinely bohemian. It's the kind of art that makes me want to go take an art class -- which I mean as a high compliment. * I'm also lovin' the funky wooden bas-reliefs of Dutch artist Ron van der Ende: satellites, photocopy machines, and old cars presented with a captivating combo of model-making, little-boy mischievousness and grown-up gravity. * Figure-drawing buffs won't want to miss this marvelous animation. * Thanks to Jonathan Schnapp for pointing out Sexy Losers, an online comic strip about arty kids. Much of "Sexy Losers" is really filthy in an old-fashioned underground-comix way, so be warned. Or be delighted. * Michael Bierut wonders what it takes to do "ugly" design properly. * Michael also points out a terrifying set of pages from a 1975 J.C. Penny's catalogue. The '70s, eh? It's the decade that keeps on giving. * Browsing bliss for fans of pulp art. * Tim Souers takes a look -- actually, a number of looks -- at Barry Bonds. * Brown eyes, blue eyes ... What kind of difference might it make? * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote about the one-of-a-kind San Francisco artist known as Jess here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 23, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Pie
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Daughter makes a pumpkin pie for our Thanksgiving here in Las Vegas. And then ... well, watch the whole thing. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Links by Charlton
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Virtuoso websurfer Charlton Griffin volunteers some recent finds: * Compare the vital stats of different Zip codes. I've already spent a couple of hours on this one ... * Do Japanese ads seem brilliant to many of us just because they're so strange -- or are they really brilliant? * Forget the big threats. How about the little ones? * Kitty says, "Hallelujah!" * Al Bundy finally goes to the dentist. * Finally, an easy-to-understand explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis. * OK, I'm impressed. But I'll be even more impressed if you can put them back in. * Become an expert on the architecture of New York City. * The real test of cowboy macho. * It's Mozart vs. James Bond. * Shall we join the Church of Tom Jones? * The winner of the "Salesman of the Day" Award. * If all our laws were thoroughly enforced, we'd all be in jail. * I wanna be a pop star. * Talk about an essential life skill ... * Yaaaay! Potting training!!! Here's a brilliant little put-on that Charlton either devised or has passed along that we'll do well to keep in mind as election season progresses: Recent hurricanes and gasoline issues are proof of the existence of a new chemical element. Research has led to the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years; It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. Thanks to Charlton Griffin. If you haven't been visiting this blog for long, you may be unaware that Charlton is one of the best producers (and readers) of audiobooks around -- I'm a major fan of his work. Explore the titles Charlton offers here; type his name into Audible's Search box and download a few. The iTunes Store works... posted by Michael at November 18, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Supposedly, during World War 2, if a sentry was confronted by someone claiming to be an American but who didn't know that day's password, the sentry would ask "Who's in first place in the National League?" or something to that effect. The concept being that only a Real American would know such things. Perhaps when I was of soldiering age I might have known: nowadays I'd be shot on the spot. The only sport I follow these days is football, and only casually at that. I'm following the fortunes of the University of Oregon team (Number Two, as I write this) and will pay more attention to the NFL as the playoffs get closer. Here in the dank Pacific Northwest the two big professional sports stories are (1) the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team will probably head to Oklahoma, and (2) Seattle has received a Major League Soccer franchise. To which I say ... [Yawn]. The Sonics won the NBA title in 1979, which created excitement hereabouts. But that was nearly 29 years ago, and I haven't cared about them in ages. So good riddance. The new soccer team (that's what we enlightened Yanks call football, overseas readers) is interesting mostly because of its ownership which includes Microsoft gazillionaire Paul Allen and TV personality Drew Carey. According to an article in this morning's paper, a few teams in the league are actually making money. We'll see about the Seattle effort. Isn't soccer played in the summer? That's when grass grows around here and it'll be difficult to decide which will be more exciting to watch. * The previous item ought to rank as one of my all-time dumb cliché and trite idea-fests. If this blog had lots of ads and a tip-jar I'd probably have a spot-the-varmints contest and offer a prize. But we don't. So I won't. * A favorite Las Vegas pastime is imploding outdated casinos. And they do it with style! Well, in Las Vegas style. Here is a link to The Daughter's video of yesterday's demise of the New Frontier. Speaking of Vegas, we'll be there next week. Posting by me will be lighter, and I'm hoping that the Thanksgiving weekend will distract you from heavy blog-reading anyway. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 14, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

All Those Horrible, Terrible Tourists
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My sorta-neighbor (well, we both live in the Seattle area) travel entrepreneur Rick Steves mentions in his guidebooks that this or that site is too touristy. He's not alone: other guidebooks and many travelers express the same lament. Unfortunately for him, my newly-minted but probably not original Iron Law of Travel Writing holds that, if a site is praised in travel books/films/videos/etc., the tourists will come. Lots of them, eventually. And local shops will begin stocking souvenirs and other trinkets. It certainly happened to Steves when he gave a huge boost to the five small Cinque Terre towns at the eastern end of Italy's Ligurian Coast by featuring them in his guide books and television show. The undertone to his treatment of Cinque Terre in his latest Italy book is that he wishes the place wasn't so overrun, but deserves to be a highlighted destination nevertheless. I don't consider myself a travel snob [pats his own back] but gobs and gobs of tourists in a limited area can get annoying. Here are some examples from my own travels. I visited Prague in July, 2000 and it was somewhat crowded. I visited it again on the last day of September 2006 and it was even more crowded; crossing the Charles Bridge (Karluv most) was a struggle. This was when the tourist season should have been over. I was in Cinque Terre early this October and the place still had lots of tourists -- again after the expected peak. This made me wonder how crowded the little towns were during the height of the season. The Waikiki beach and hotel area crowds are surely nearly all tourists. Florence is usually jammed. This is especially so on and near the Ponte Vecchio and in the squares near the Ufizzi Gallery and the Duomo. On Sundays, many tourists are Italians from nearby towns and smaller cities. This is because nowadays (more so than even a few years ago) stores in the tourist areas are open, whereas Sunday shopping is much more limited elsewhere. To be sure, London, Paris, New York and other tourist destination cities gather plenty of sightseers. But these places are so large that tourists can be overwhelmed by the even larger crowds of locals -- except around mecca sites such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and Tower of London. Travel writers seem to take pride in discovering the undiscovered: an Italian hill-town or a French village untouched by tourism until the next edition of the travel book hits Barnes & Noble's shelves. I was offered food for thought about this several years ago when visiting St. Cirq-Lapopie on a hill above the Lot River in southwestern France. The place had been "discovered" (which was why we were there) and already had its establishment of restaurants and gift shops. There were nearby towns, none of which were touristy. I got to thinking that St. Cirq probably looked much like the others a few... posted by Donald at November 13, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Monday, November 12, 2007

Armistice Day Musings
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yes, yes. I know it's "Veterans' Day" officially and that it's November 11th and not today, the 12th (even though banks, schools and government agencies are closed today in many parts of the country). But it was Armistice Day when I was a kid and I claim The Right of Whimsy to keep calling it that. And to call "Beijing" Peking and so forth. Anyway. Yesterday in Church the pastor had veterans stand to be recognized by the congregation. There weren't all that many of us and a fellow behind me wondered that so few younger people stood. He should have known it is a matter of history and law, along with other things. So this afternoon I got to musing about military service while driving back from an emergency trip to the dentist (part of a crown cracked off). I'll deal with my own family, because I know the details best. For some reason, my bunch skated through the wars of the past 150 years unscathed while some other families had entire generations of males wiped out. My father's mother's father either (1) bailed out of Germany in perhaps the 1850s or 60s to avoid conscription or (2) was wounded and left for dead on a pile of corpses during a war. My grandmother, who had some credibility problems when storytelling, provided me the second version when I was ten or so: other kin were inclined to favor the first story. Even at the time her story didn't ring true because I knew that she was alive at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. Moreover, today I'm inclined to doubt that he was involved in the two Prussian wars in the 1860s because that didn't give him much time to get to Chicago and start a family by 1870, when my grandmother was born. My father's other grandfather (born 1837) enlisted for the Civil War and served a year or two as a musician -- apparently musicians doubled as stretcher-bearers, so there was risk. He and his fellow Ohioans were first sent to central Missouri, a border state, where there was concern about Confederate sympathizers and raiders in 1861. Then his unit was transferred back across the Mississippi and was involved in early stages of the Tennessee River campaigns before he completed his enlistment. I have a copy of his diary, but it mostly notes what the weather was; army life can be pretty dull, even in wartime. My father's older brother (born 1894) enlisted for the Great War. He was in the Signal Corps because he knew telegraphy and did his training at Camp Lewis, just south of Tacoma. I remember seeing wide-format photos of his training company at my grandparents' house and at his place. Signals could be a dangerous field, especially at the height of the trench warfare phase on the conflict. There was nothing like World War 2 walkie-talkies; the speediest means of communication was via telegraphy. And telegraph... posted by Donald at November 12, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * So what drugs is Amy Winehouse on? Hmm, maybe the better question would be, What drugs isn't she on? (UPDATE: Viacom has put the kibosh on this particular clip, so the link I've provided is now a stale one.) * Marc Andreessen turns up some hilarious (if not exactly unexpected) facts about Boomers. Ning, Marc's own social-networking company, offers what many folks are sure to find an appealing and helpful service. * Terrierman thinks that biologists ought to get out into the field more often. That Cuban Almiqui is one weird-looking animal ... * Do you ever visit Luke Ford's blog? I find him brilliant and fascinating, if in a somewhat evil, blank-faced, Warhol-ish kind of way. * Are you tempted by blogging but put off by the way it seems like too damn much work? (And, y'know, it can be a little demanding.) Then why not try Tumblr, one of the new "microblogging" services? * Michael Eades tells the amazing story of Charles Tyrrell, the 19th century's enema tycoon. * Culturebargain: Bernard Rose's 1992 horror movie "Candyman" (from material by Clive Barker) delivers both as a scare picture and as something deeper, more cultured, and more mature. In the way it combines effective cheap thrills with a disturbing psychological dimension, the film reminds me of the David Cronenberg / Stephen King / Christopher Walken "The Dead Zone," also a richly emotional pop movie. Many bonus points to Bernard Rose for featuring a very touching, young, and beautiful Virginia Madsen in the lead role. A used DVD of the film can currently be bought for around five bucks. * MBlowhard Rewind: I discussed three books about sex by women authors. Best, Michael UPDATE: Sometimes the mainstream media do actually start to get it. Don't miss Amy Harmon's article for the NYTimes about the way genetics research is generating all kinds of new information that the "we are all alike" crowd is sure to find unnerving. How are we going to deal with "the inescapable message that people of different races have different DNA"? Half Sigma and GNXP's Jason Malloy win well-earned mentions from Amy Harmon.... posted by Michael at November 10, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Subway Nerd Nirvana
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Blogging will continue to be a little light from me because I'll be on the road most of this week. This afternoon's event was a 2Blowhards staff meeting during which Michael and I plotted world domination or better grammer in my blog posts or something or other. At the same time, Nancy and The Wife were having their meeting -- concerning what, I dare not guess. Following that, Nancy and I returned to downtown [CENSORED] where in a gift shop I spied the following book. Even though it was first published in 2003 (under a different title) I hadn't stumbled upon Transit Maps of the World until now; perhaps that's because the expanded, retitled Penguin edition appeared this year. So far I only thumbed through the book while Nancy was finishing her shopping. What I saw looked fascinating: page after page of those London Underground-style map/diagrams for transit systems in places ranging from Paris to Athens to Atlanta. In addition to the maps are text and some photos. Besides being grist for folks interested in urban geography and transportation, the maps might be helpful when doing preliminary trip planning. I'll dig into the book more deeply soon, and let you know if it fails to match these first impressons. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 4, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cameras for Travel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this November 1st, having survived yet another birthday. (I need to write my -- extremely liberal -- congressman regarding what happens when I subtract my birth year from the current year. For some reason that result keeps getting larger. That seems unfair. Clearly a Republican plot: heartless bastards.) I'm also on the road. In the Bay Area right now and heading to points south and a possible Michael Blowhard sighting. And today my sister is off to Bhutan, of all places. Nancy (my sister, not my wife) packs two cameras when she goes to exotic places. One is a pocket-sized digital and the other is a digital single lens reflex (SLR) type digital. I own a couple of film SLRs -- Nikon Fs that I bought 45-ish years ago while stationed in the Far East. Plus four or five extra lenses. Not to mention Dad's Nikon F, which I inherited. None of these cameras has been used in about 30 years. Nor are they likely to be used again (for one thing, they probably need reconditioning). The travel pix I post here from time to time are taken with a Nikon S5 pocket digital. It does a surprisingly good job, though telephoto shots are iffy even though the camera seems to try to stabilize the images while in that mode. On my recent trip to Italy, a tour group member was a woman who paints murals in houses. Apparently Tuscan scenes are a popular subject, so she thought it was high time to see the place in person rather than rely only on reference photos from books and magazines. She shelled out something like $1,400 for a Canon with a huge zoom lens to take her own reference photos. I took a picture of her and her husband with it, and the viewfinder, etc. were mighty impressive. I'm sure my photography would improve if I had such gear. Still, I'd hate to have it stolen: Lord knows one can't discretely hide heavy artillery of that sort. Which is why my little pocket Nikon is my weapon of choice on trips. But still ... Camera packin' readers: How do you deal with the digital camera convenience versus quality issue when you take a serious trip? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Speaking of rowdy and uninhibited ladies, as I recently was ... The blog Lust Bites features writing by some of today's most daring female eroticists, a smashing visual design, and a general tone of crisp and merry irreverence. Recently: Polly Frost celebrates being a "genre slut"; Madelyne Ellis praises the vamp archetype; and Janine Ashbless confesses to having a thing for men's beards. Oh, I do have a soft spot for risk-taking, wild women ... Hmm, well, maybe "soft spot" isn't quite the right way to put it. NSFW, as if you really needed telling. * A little Degas, a little Ashcan, a little East Village, a lot of talent and skill ... Fun. (NSFW, but classily so.) * Linda Thom connects the dots between immigration-driven population growth and California's recurring wilderness-fire crises. * The best camcorders of 2007. * What, if anything, can be done to save Western New York State? * "Reason can never be the absolute dictator of man's mental or moral economy," writes Theodore Dalrymple, bless his heart. (Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.) * Steve Sailer traces the evolution of pop music over the last few decades. * Culture-bargain: Before he turned to making straightfaced fantasy epics, the New Zealand director Peter Jackson was a wonderfully demented low-budget comic-horror specialist. At Amazon, you can currently buy his brilliant gross-out scare picture "Dead Alive" for a mere $5.49. * MBlowhard Rewind: I rhapsodized about the tres charmante French actress Sophie Marceau. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at November 1, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Copycat Car Styling
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Maybe they knuckled under to Management. That's the best spin I can put on the latest example of "copycat" automobile styling. Yes, they regard themselves as Designers, and the word Design is usually used to label their corporate administrative pigeon-hole. From public relations and advertising blurbs as well as books and magazine pieces, these Designers are supposed to be creative geniuses set apart from run-of-the-mill creative geniuses because they have gasoline flowing through their veins. Truth is, they're in the fashion trade. Back in the 1940s, General Motors had them in the Styling Department -- the label "Design" came later in a public image makeover. The nature of fashion is roughly as follows: (1) someone does something innovative, (2) the rest of the herd rushes in to produce close variations on the new theme, and (3) this continues until another innovation is produced. To what extent this is the fault of designers/stylists or Management, I can't say. But I suspect Management is more responsible because dice are being rolled for large amounts of money, and with large stakes the natural tendency is to play things safe. So much for speculation: now for some reality. Gallery 1949 Oldsmobile "fastback" style An automobile style popular from the mid-1930s till the early 1950s was the "fastback," illustrated above. This was related to attempts to make cars aerodynamic, though much such "streamlining" was cosmetic. Fastbacks represent a type of semi-false streamlining because tapered rear-ends require quite long bodies to be effective -- bodies much longer than that of the Oldsmobile. A better aerodynamic solution for conventional length cars is the "Kamm back," where the rear of the car tapers slightly and then is, in effect, chopped off vertically. Otherwise, fastbacks tend to be impractical because the sloping rear reduces potential luggage space. This is one reason why the style disappeared for decades. Honda Accord - 2008 This is a brand-new body for Honda's Accord line which is battling with the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima for the prize of being the top-selling sedan in the USA. Perhaps I'm delusional, but the new Accord looks suspiciously like ... BMW 5 Series This BMW 5 Series body has been in production for several years and therefore must have been known to Honda stylists. The 5 Series is a detoxed version of the BMW flagship 7 Series. The 2002 7 Series had controversial styling -- especially its awkward-looking rear where the trunk had a peculiar, tacked-on appearance. BMW styling supremo Chris Bangle took an immense amount of heat from the automotive press and BMW fans, but Management stood by him and he's still in charge of styling. When the 5 Series was restyled a few years later it was given the odd trunk design theme, though in milder, more refined form. The theory behind this look is shown next. Style analysis -- faux-fastbacks The style makes sense only when seen from the side, as in the two photos above and the... posted by Donald at October 28, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've been sick the last few days, but a mere bleary head can't keep me from passing along a few websurfing finds. * Who knew? * Yuck, and double-yuck. I just had my own flu shot -- and, as usual, promptly came down with a flu. * All those visits to the lap dancing club? They were done for the sake of science. * Cineris enjoyed the horror flick "Cube," and thinks that many horror buffs might find it a nice, even somewhat cerebral, alternative to current torture porn. * What you enjoy eating may well be influenced by your genes. * Attack of the Teenage-Girl Clothes Bullies. * Roissy is nothing if not direct. He also offers an analysis of what a woman's job should tell you about her that sounds pretty accurate to me. * "I am not driving that car, Dad! It's the wrong color!" Spoiled-brat-ism reaches a new high. * Excellent (and funny) dating and courting advice found on Craigslist: here and here. (Link thanks to the wonderfully NSFW Viviane.) * Prairie Mary approves of Robert Duvall's acting in the TV Western miniseries "Broken Trail." * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Duvall in "Open Range" here. Sniffling and sneezing, Michael... posted by Michael at October 27, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Technology and the Men's Dress Shoe
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The pace of change for men's fashions -- especially attire for formal or semi-formal occasions -- seems glacial. Look at a photo of, say, New York City office workers from 100 years ago. The men will likely be wearing suits. Those suits will not seem greatly different from today's business suits. Sure, shirt collars are not the same and the cut of the jackets is a bit different, especially for the lapels. But the gist of the attire is pretty similar -- more similar to today's suits than 1907 men's dress was when compared to that of 1807, 100 years away in the other direction. While men's dress-up clothing was changing little, technology wasn't. Wool and cotton have been supplemented by various "artificial" fabrics. One of the happiest days of my life was in the late 1960s when I bought my first drip-dry shirt, freeing me from the expense (as well as the wear-and-tear) of clothes cleaning shops. In recent years the most striking impact of technology on clothing has been for shoes. On my last trip to Europe I had only one pair of shoes -- the ones I was wearing. Those were a pair of Eccos from Denmark with cleated soles, running-shoe style rubber transition zone and tops made of leather and Gore-Tex. Very practical and comfortable. I could wear them in any weather and terrain I was likely to encounter. Their only failing was on the fashion front and that was because they didn't fit the traditional style expectations for men's dress shoes. This makes me wonder. Those Ecco shoes are superior in every non-fashion respect to shoes made using the traditional technology of leather uppers stitched onto leather or leather-rubber layered bottoms. So how long will it take for fashion-reactionary males (and that usually includes me) to get with the program and wear running-technology shoes with suits. When will we all dress like Ben Stein? Maybe never. As I've stressed, we males can be extremely conservative when it comes to dress-up clothing. Or maybe sooner than one might think. Men also love comfortable clothing. "Casual Friday" long ago became a week-long deal at high-tech companies in Seattle and Silicon Valley. I myself practically live in jeans now that I'm safely retired. (For the record, I draw the line at shorts and short-sleeved shirts of the Hawaiian variety -- much to Nancy's distress.) While researching this article I clicked through several men's shoes web sites and saw that traditionally-styled shoes still strongly predominate in the "dress" area. Nevertheless, there are inklings of a change: let's look. Gallery Louis XIV - Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701 He was the Sun King and could wear darned well what he pleased. In this case, silky, high-heeled shoes. Which demonstrates that men's fashions are capable of change. Allen Edmonds "Park Avenue" model This is to indicate what men's dress shoes tend to look like these days. Cole-Haan "Air Conner" oxford The Nike sports shoe firm now owns... posted by Donald at October 25, 2007 | perma-link | (24) comments

Monday, October 22, 2007

Finally ... A Nice Airport
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Last year I complained (scroll down) about the Frankfurt airport. Previously, I griped about Terminal 1 at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport. There are other airports that rub me the wrong way, but I'll hold my fire for now in order to save ammunition for future posts. Today, I'm pleased to note an airport I did like: Milan's Malpensa. Malpensa's main downside is its distance from central Milan -- nearly 30 miles, and the better part of an hour's drive in average traffic conditions. The trade-off for that is its park-like setting similar to U.S. airports such as Dulles (Washington, DC), Kansas City (when I was there 25 years ago) and Dallas-Ft. Worth. But it's the terminal that counts. Malpensa's Terminal 1 is nothing special architecturally -- just the usual Modernist boxes. What is nice are the amenities for travelers. For example, the ground floor (outside the secure zone) has several coffee shops, fast food outlets, a well-equipped news stand store and a place where you can check your luggage for a few hours or days. This last service was essential to us because we had to slough off most of our luggage for a four-day post-tour trip by train from Milan to Cinque Terre and Lucca. Another nice touch was the spaciousness; at almost no point were we and our luggage jammed in a crowd of travelers. Once through security there was the expected, but moderate-sized, duty-free shopping area where the tourist with a wallet bulging with unspent Euros might load up on a few items from Farragamo, Gucci or Paul & Shark. Out by the gates, which weren't the isolation-ward variety, were additional, smaller shops. Including another Paul & Shark (an Italian company, despite its name). (Did I mention Paul & Shark? If I didn't, allow me to say that they have really nice looking men's sweaters, jackets, etc. Except that even the least expensive of the nice stuff was close to $250 per item. Over my price point, but I still have a case of non-buyer's remorse. Oh well, there's a P&S shop in Sausalito and a store carrying their line in Caesars in Vegas, so I have two more potential temptation opportunities this fall.) All of this doesn't mean Malpensa is perfect. It's just that our experience there was a positive one. Your result might vary. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 22, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Face of Ford
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A while ago I discussed continuity of automobile brand styling cues. I used Packard as an example, but Rolls Royce and Mercedes would have worked just as well. They are among the exceptions. A few other makes use styling themes fitfully, keeping with cues for a few model years, discarding them and occasionally reintroducing some of them years later. I wrote about Buick's use of "portholes" and other cues here. Most often, themes are used for a few years and then are discarded for good. I suppose this can be justified/rationalized by claiming that obliterating old cues tells the public that the brand is progressive, continually reaching into the future for newer, better solutions to evolving conditions. While this might make sense for a brand with a miserable reputation -- erasing as many references to a shoddy past as possible -- I'm not convinced it's a wise policy for successful brands. Confusing the issue is the pressure of fashion. Car stylists seem to be about as prone as anyone in the fashion industry to herd behavior, so brand continuity often has to fight styles considered "trendy" or even "expected." And then there are management changes. Perhaps a new styling director or even a company president in true dog-and-fireplug fashion wants to make his mark. All of these factors seem to have affected styling of Fords for the last 60 years. In the examples below, I use as best I can the "standard" Ford model of the time. This didn't matter in the early years, but since around 1960 Fords have come in several sizes and bodies each model year, and I tried to select the model that would have represented Ford absent the extension of the brand to multiple "platforms," though that selection might be pretty arbitrary for some model years. To keep things simple, I'll concentrate on grilles, which are the "face" of a car. Gallery 1947 Ford Aside from Studebaker and the new Kaiser and Frazer brands, 1947 American cars were face-lifted pre-war models. Ford was in turmoil when the '47s were styled. Founder Henry was finally out of the management picture, having been succeeded by grandson Henry II and a newly hired corps of former General Motors hands aided by the famed ex-Army Air Force "whiz kids" who included Robert McNamara in their ranks. The company had been losing money, in part because of chaotic accounting practices, and was feverishly working on 1949 models that had to be good enough to stave off expected redesigns from Chrysler and General Motors and thereby save the company. The grille was a simple affair featuring horizontal chromed bars. 1949 Ford And save the company the '49 model did. Although its styling has an interesting history, I'll focus on what moved down the assembly lines. I like the 1949 Ford grille very much. It's simple. And the round "bullet" shape in the middle echoes the round headlights while providing a triangular subtext to what otherwise... posted by Donald at October 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Vanessa reviews the edible goodies at a party Saveur magazine threw for itself in Chicago. People who attend p-r events can sometimes eat pretty darned well. * You've probably already seen Snowball, the funky, BackStreet Boys-lovin' cockatoo. But if not ... * Lester Hunt celebrates the fiftieth birthday of "Atlas Shrugged." Have there been many novels as influential as "Atlas Shrugged"? * Razib puzzles over the way some dark-skinned Melanesians have blonde hair. * The man can breathe, there's no doubt about that. * LordSomber recalls the awful coffee, soup, and hot chocolate that was dispensed by old vending machines. * Who even knew there was such a thing as Canadian exploitation films? * Jon Hastings lists what he likes to see in a movie performance. * JewishAtheist wants to know how literally the Orthodox take it all. * Ed Gorman confides that many well-known authors have written porno novels. Curt Purcell is on the story. * Tim Worstall doesn't have a lot of patience with people who claim that there's a female / male pay gap. * According to Sam Jordison, the carefree, fun-loving Bohemian set can't afford Britain any longer. * I wonder if this guy is the world's spinning-on-your-head champ. Are there any challengers? * Glenn Abel raves about Criterion's DVD edition of Clouzot's classic thrller "The Wages of Fear." * Kirsten is hopping mad at NY's self-righteous, over-ambitious Governor Eliot Spitzer: here, here, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 20, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Italy Album, 2007
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When I returned from my recent trip to Italy, I got my orders from Michael: pictures!! That being the price I (and you too) have to pay for my nearly three weeks of lollygagging from blog duties, here goes ... Galleria Italia I'm hardly a day off the airplane in Rome and, by golly, who do I spy but Julius and some of his buddies/assassins/entrepreneurs. You'll see a few of these guys hanging out at the Colosseum end of the Forum. If you want to take a picture of your spouse or friend with them, they'll ask for a tip: we forked over two Euros each for a pose with Nancy and two of them. The photo you see here was taken using a telephoto setting, so I didn't have to pay them one red Euro-cent. I fugure the nearly $6 the previous encounter cost us was plenty for that crew. This is the Colosseum taken from the hill to its north. Yes, it really is big: note the size of the people nearby. Here is a view of the Forum. For some reason, ruins don't move me much. What I found most interesting, as with the Colosseum, was the scale of the place. Again, note how small humans are in relation to the structure elements. Another view in which I try to illustrate the scale. This was taken at an Autostrada rest stop. Along with normal travelers and some tour buses were a couple of vans with Italian soldiers (now volunteers, not conscripts). Yes, the fellow you see is packing serious heat. Eyecharts seen along the main shopping drag in Capri. (By the way, Italians pronounce it KAH-pree.) What? Chinese and Greek not enough to cover the touring throngs? Then try this. Milan doesn't strike me as being a comfy, touristy place, unlike many other Italian cities. The one really nice spot is the Galleria, charming visitors and locals for around 140 years. For the Venice part of the tour, rather than staying in Venice itself or at nearby Mestre, they put us up at a place more than an hour's drive south, at the other end of the Venetian lagoon: Chioggia. It's a quiet place with (unusual for Italy) lots of kids. It has canals, too. What's a trip to Italy without a visit to Florence and a visit to Florence without seeing the Ponte Vechio ("Old Bridge")? We were there twice -- once with the tour and later while on post-tour traveling. The Arno River was low and slow so I was able to get a lot of nice reflection-shots, but most of those were at higher densities than permitted for this blog. This is Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples, taken from the harbor area. The buildings perched on the cliff fascinate. Also note the motor scooters and cycles below. As a parting shot, here's Vesuvius at daybreak. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 17, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * National Review's David Frum congratulates neocon John Podhoretz on being appointed editor of Commentary magazine. Steve Sailer and visitors treat themselves to a lot of mockery at JPod's expense. * Tikkun founder Rabbi Michael Lerner thinks that Walt and Mearsheimer's characterization of the Israel Lobby is pretty much on target. Don't miss the q&a at the bottom of the page with Congressman Jim Moran, who explains how much weight AIPAC swings in D.C. (Link thanks to FvBlowhard.) * Jon Entine, whose courageous 2001 book "Taboo" dared to discuss racial differences in athletic gifts and achievements, has a new book coming out about the genetics of Jewishness. (Entine is Jewish himself.) Evo-bio expert Razib asks Entine "10 Questions." Entine's own website is here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 17, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Procedural Note
A pause in the action to note that a technical challenge has arisen here at 2Blowhards. No idea why, but as of around 10 pm Tuesday evening it's as though the blog reverted to the state it was in four or five hours previously. Unfortunately this means that some backstage work has been erased, and that some comments have been misplaced. I'll be speaking to our blog-hosts as soon as they're back in their office, or server-farm, or wherever it is they work. I hope they'll be able to recover whatever it is we've lost. Thanks for your patience. UPDATE: Problem -- er, challenge -- addressed and solved. Our wonderful webhosts (highly recommended) were moving our site onto a shiney and speedy new server. Since all elements have now been retrieved and aligned, we'll be off and running again shortly.... posted by Michael at October 16, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Perceiving Italy
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Italy takes some getting used to. It did for me, anyway. Other folks seem to cotton to the place immediately. Some make it their only serious European travel destination. A few even buy property and spend a good part of the year there. I've come to be fond of Italy. But, as suggested above, it took a while. A number of factors came into play, yet I suspect that a key one is generational. I don't remember when I was first made aware of Italy, though it might have been in the early post-World War 2 years (by the time I was conscious that "there was a war on," Italy was already out of it and, to me, the enemies were Hitler and Tojo). Post-war, Italy was one of those basket-case countries the Marshall Plan was set up to help, so I suppose I heard it mentioned on radio broadcasts and appeals from charity agencies such as CARE. As I became increasingly history-conscious while in elementary school, I learned that Italy's performance in the recent world wars was less than stellar. The pattern I was seeing was that Italy was a second-rank player in the European stage. I later became aware that lots and lots of Italians had left Italy because it offered them little, moving to the USA, Argentina and elsewhere: again, not a good advertisement. Italian-American had yet to strongly move into the middle class and, in Seattle, the not-so-many Italians lived mostly in the south end, not the northeast where I grew up. The image was of a bunch of poor who left a poor country and seemingly remained poor. In the early, pre-color TV 1950s, the local television station began boasting its new movies. Hollywood had yet to release its film libraries for broadcast, so we were stuck with seeing cheapo films from the 30s. Unfortunately, the "new" movies were equally cheapo. They were shot in Italy and dubbed into English -- perhaps the greatest expense in a low-budget production. Anyway, what I mostly saw were longish-haired (for the times) men wearing trench coats, wandering nearly-deserted cobblestone streets. Not very much of that expensive dialog; just a lot of sideways glances and puffing on cigarettes. And again, not very appealing. Perhaps Italy would have come off better had I seen Roman Holiday, but I'm semi-sure I missed that flick. Over time, my knowledge of Italy expanded while my perception remained that it was a second-rate place. Sure, Italians built Ferraris and other high-performance cars with classy bodywork. But the Fiats that I might have been able to afford and other makes such as Alfa Romeo had a reputation for unreliable electricals. Yes, Italy was the core of the Roman Empire and host to the Renaissance. But it wasn't militarily competitive in World War 2 and, post-war, has been unstable politically while experiencing a stronger Communist presence than in most other democratic European countries. People 15-20 years or more younger than... posted by Donald at October 14, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How Not to Create an Airliner
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- It helps me to fall asleep if I read a book with lots of break-points that enable me to set it aside when my eyelids get heavy. Potted items about cars, ships and planes work well for me. Not long ago I was, for the umpteenth time, paging through Back to the Drawing Board by Bill Gunston, my favorite airplane writer. This 1996 book has around 80 short essays (with photos) about aircraft that either (1) failed to fly, (2) had dangerously poor flying characteristics, or (3) fell far short of performance or other expectations. One case interested me in particular -- that of the Avro Tudor, a British Airliner of the immediate post-World War 2 era. Not only did the aircraft have prolonged developmental problems, its specification was seriously flawed. Avro Tudor Gunston asserts (p. 123): From fifty years on it is hard to believe that, at the end of World War II, we British thought we were world leaders in aviation. In fact, this merely betrayed our ignorance. At the same time, we fully recognised that for the moment we could not compete against properly designed American commercial transports, such as the DC-4 and the Constellation, with converted bombers such as the Halton and Lancastrian. Not to worry. Coming along fast were our own properly designed airliners, led by the Avro Tudor. Tudor happens to be my middle name, and so I particularly wanted this to be a really fine aircraft, worthy of its great forebear, the Lancaster. Avro's design team, led by Roy Chadwick, could surely be relied upon to produce a real winner? But when the Tudor prototype appeared towards the end of the war, flying on 14 June 1945, I was not especially impressed. Two giant main wheels and a tailwheel smacked of 1935 rather than 1945, especially as it meant that passengers had to board a fuselage tilted like the side of a hill. And for a big 7,000 hp aircraft to be equipped to carry just twelve passengers seemed to suggest that the tickets would be expensive. In fact the whole procurement set-up was ludicrous. The customer was the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which did not actually operate aircraft and knew nothing whatsoever about civil aviation. The airline, BOAC, was a government instrument which knew nothing about competition, or even whether its services were competitively priced. It carried mailbags for the Post Office, and government VIP and Service passengers whose tickets were paid for. Fare-paying passengers were a rare species. Thus, the Tudor was designed to carry twelve passengers in sumptuous comfort non-stop across the North Atlantic But this book is not greatly concerned with economics. The Tudor gets in on much more certain grounds. To be frank, not only was it not in the same class as its transatlantic rivals, but the makers made the proverbial 'pig's ear' of it. The third paragraph is particularly interesting as a cautionary tale regarding government trying to do things... posted by Donald at October 11, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm back from Italy. And I've been awake for [checks watch, tries to do calculation] 24 hours minus a five-minute catnap. Awoke at a hotel near Milan's Malpensa airport around 4:50 a.m. and, as I type this, it's just after 7:45 p.m. here in Seattle, nine time-zones away. I left a post or two in the queue and will start with that tomorrow after scrolling through what Michael has posted since September 20th. (Thank you, Michael, for taking up the slack.) While traveling, I made notes for potential articles and will get going on those. By the way, despite my skepticism, I did find yet another can of little-known (outside Italy) late-19th century painters to open up and write about. Gotta collect what's left of my wits. More later. Ciao! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at October 10, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * There's a website for everything. * Give yourself a little time to savor this one: Curious Expeditions has posted a lot of photos of beautiful library interiors. Now that's some amazin' architecture, and some heroic blogging too. (Link thanks to the Classicist.) * Steve Sailer takes note of this year's Nobels and comes up with a great line: "White males (six out of six in this case) continue to oppress the rest of humanity by discovering and inventing stuff." * Chimps are more patient than people are. Not only that, chimps resemble economics' idealized homo economicus more than people do. * The Manhattan Institute's Julia Vitullo-Martin brings Jane Jacobs up to date. * The Right Rev. James Bailey has a damn lot on his mind. * Alicatte thinks that New York magazine has come up with both the best and the worst of recent magazine covers. * Yahmdallah clicks onto Amazon's new MP3 store and winds up doing some major downloading. * By the way, you can now post reader-reviews in video form on Amazon. Weird. Can there be such a thing as Too Much Video? * DVD Spin Doctor reports that "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." will finally be appearing on DVD. Lordy, when I was a kid, did I ever love that show. * TGGP wonders what was so bad about Charles Lindbergh. David Boaz notes that FDR once praised Mussolini. * Hey, I've got a great idea! Let's bring a "hidden population" "out into the open"! * Jim Kalb is skeptical about the hundred-dollar-laptop initiative. * The Patriarch points out this hilarious bouquet of passages from reviews written by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is especially funny on "Finnegans Wake" and "Citizen Kane." * Even San Franciscans can get fed up with the homeless. (Link thanks to LlamaButchers.) A great quote comes from one local: "Maybe there has been an epiphany," says David Latterman, president of Fall Line Analytics, a local market research firm. "People have realized they can hate George Bush but still not want people crapping in their doorway." * Richard S. Wheeler has a question about porno novels. Ed Gorman confesses that he has written a few porno-Westerns. * Piercing as a lifestyle. * Did you know that a clitoral-hood piercing can be either vertical or horizontal? * Culturebargain: Angelina Jolie made her reputation playing a junkie-model in Michael Cristofer's "Gia," and it's no challenge to see what startled people about her work. She's both go-for-broke and perfectly-collected. She's also, at least in the unrated version of the film, frequently naked in expressive -- as in bold, vulnerable, proud, and touching -- ways. The film, based on a true story, is worth seeing for many other reasons too, among them Jay McInerney's shrewd script and Elizabeth Mitchell's daring performance as Gia's sometime girlfriend. $9.95. * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about Jack Kelly's terrific private-eye novel "Mobtown" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 10, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Learn some fun personal details about Virginia Postrel, and wish her well as she starts her battle with breast cancer. * DVD Spin Doctor notices that many owners of High Definition TVs are confused. * Best TV ad ever? (Link thanks to Michael Bierut.) * Andrew Sullivan links to a brilliant and creepy stop-action animation. * John Massengale notices that many religious figures are finally starting to turn against the ugliness of modernist churches. John also puts his iPhone's camera to good some very good use. * Vince Keenan asks: If it has a happy ending, can it be a noir? * MBlowhard Rewind: I recalled some of the excesses of '70s feminism. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Some FvBlowhard Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Friedrich von Blowhard treated himself to a little websurfing and turned up some excellent stuff. * Naked Capitalism reports that even Republicans are turning their backs on free trade -- or rather, on what's laughably called "free trade." As Yves Smith writes: More open trade can be a good thing, but not if entered into naively. Our system is more accurately characterized as managed trade, in which we negotiate trade pacts to promote corporate interests. * Dean Baker thinks that elite (and corporate) self-interest explains a lot. * Oprah magazine, believe it or not, runs some relationship advice (based on, as you'd imagine, "new studies") that strikes FvB and me -- both of us Old Married Guys -- as very good. I especially like the one tip about "Don't get angry and demanding when you're unhappy with things. Instead, express what you need and ask for help in getting it." Tactical wisdom! * Guys who spend a lot of time on their grooming often do better economically, reports Bloomberg's Matthew Lynn. Lynn isn't cheery about what this may mean: "Within most large corporations," he writes, "showmanship is now rated more highly than ability or intrinsic worth." I ain't arguing with that interpretation. * Steve Sailer marvels at how large college endowments have become, and wonders whether many red-blooded Americans will want to see a new musical about Andrew Cunanen, the despicable nutcase who killed Gianni Versace. Thanks to Friedrich. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at October 4, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Tom Wolfe visits Yale, debates deconstructionist god Peter Eisenman, and explains one of the basic cases against architectural modernism. * Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan says that the biggest discovery he made during his tenure was that real-life people don't in fact behave like homo economicus. Why do we put eggheads who are this dim about what human beings are like in charge of powerful institutions? * Raised Catholic in the San Fernando Valley, actress Mare Winningham has converted to Judaism. She talks to Jewcy about how she found her new faith. * Roissy bumps into some silicone, and asks the day's key political question: Are lefty or rightie girls easier? * Designer/illustrator/webguy Charley Parker is very generous with the computer tips at his blog. He's also a gifted -- as in organized and funny -- writer. * Fred Elbel thinks that it's likely there are 20 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. As many as 12,000 more might be entering the country every day. * Has this guy come up with a way to increase computer storage capacities by a hundredfold? I guess the computer revolution won't be slowing down any time soon. * Richard S. Wheeler wonders why some people love reading fiction that offers nothing but formula. * Fred Wickham works on his Indian accent -- then wonders if he should really be using it. * Alec Tabarrok notices a study showing that, despite feminism and progress, women's happiness is lower now than it was in 1970. * Rachael lets her attention drift and smacks into another car. * Shouting Thomas offers some apt words about a new Frank Gehry building, and performs a catchy tune on a theme he knows well. * Bargain DVD for the Day: Jean-Jacques Annaud's "The Lover", based on a Marguerite Duras memoir. It's a fancy-schmancey costume drama set in Vietnam in the 1920s, too high-toned to be soft-core pornography, yet too explicit to be your usual art-house fare. I thought it was a bit of a bore, but it's certainly easy on the eyes -- the Franco-Asian coupling was a mellow and exotic treat. And it's one of the rare frankly sexual films that chicks love. $9.99. * MBlowhard Rewind: I cracked a few jokes at the expense of the book-besotted. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 30, 2007 | perma-link | (16) comments

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Prodigiously polished young fogey Andrew Cusack makes suave fun of Renzo Piano's cheap-looking addition to New York's otherwise-beautiful Morgan Library. * Colleen and the b.f. discover that they've put on a few pounds. * David Chute's oddball buddy Tulkinghorn dodges the Toronto Film Festival and wonders if the British crime writer Derek Raymond is worth the effort. * Cineris points out a hilarious Garfield comic-strip randomizer. Now that's one inspired and well-executed piece of conceptual art. * John Williams revisits Ithaca, New York, and finds the town as pretty as ever. Ithaca -- set on the hilly shores of Cayuga Lake -- always reminds me of a miniature San Francisco. * Nate's ready for food pills. * The Sydney Morning Herald's Sam de Brito thinks that using prostitutes is often more honest than trying to talk a non-pro into the sack. (Some mostly outraged responses here.) * Searchie has awakened out of her depression. * The raw-milk debate reaches the pages of The New York Times. * Michael Bierut shares some work from his finding-his-way years: Snazzy designs, as well as commentary that's a fun way to learn about some of the major visual trends of the last few decades. * Lester Hunt points out that anti-slavery hero William Wilberforce was about as conservative as a politician can be. * Lester also takes a re-look at Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" (here and here), and concludes that it's one modern novel that deserves to be considered a classic. * I'm glad they found each other. * Thursday shares some shrewd thoughts about David Cronenberg. * Smokin'! * Country legend Guy Clark entertains some friends. * Growing brain-dead raising her young children, HaggisChick picked up a camera. She's certainly expressing herself now! * MBlowhard Rewind: I considered the cases of Carla Gugino, Nicole Kidman, and James Spader. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Mystery Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Care to venture a guess as to who wrote the following passage? "The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertions, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment." No Googling, please. I'll supply the answer in a couple of hours. It may come as a surprise. Well, I'm hoping it will anyway. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 26, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Friday, September 21, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Not what you expect. (Via Charlton Griffin.) * Charlton also sent along a link to a tasty collection of the worst tech ads of all time. * The Communicatrix tipped me off to an amazingly well-done homegrown fight sequence. Gotta love formalized Asian choreography set amidst suburban American backyards. * Speaking of cars and American car-industry troubles, Raymond Pert points out this hilarious Onion story. * This other Onion piece also had me laughing out loud. As did this deadpan Onion video, which you had better wait to watch until you're away from the office. * Claire pulls herself together and goes shopping for a bra. * Get some sleep. * Lexington Green sings the praises of garage-punk legends The Fleshtones. * It's when I read things like this that I realize that -- although I burn through a lot of books -- I must not be a serious book person. And, ah, how good it feels to say that. * Francis Morrone writes a terrific piece that captures many of the sides of the late, great Jane Jacobs. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.) You can read a lot more Francis here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 21, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blogging Note
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Nancy and I are off to Italy, leaving early September 20th and returning the afternoon of October 10th. Posting by me will likely be non-existent during that interval and for a day or so afterwards. The main reason is that I'll not be taking a computer on the trip. Were I to bring it, I'd have it in my over-the-neck-and-shoulder computer bag that I use to haul essentials which cannot be entrusted to others. Besides my blood pressure medicine and lesser pills, trip-related documents, camera battery charging connectors and so forth, that bag is useful for carrying street maps, newspapers, stuff I buy that day and even a rolled-up waterproof windbreaker if the weather is iffy. Adding a nearly six-pound laptop computer to this stash makes me feel like I'm hauling a load of bricks. There's a faint chance that I'll stumble across a free or cheap means of Internet access when I have the time to dash off a short post. But don't count on this happening. And be sure to give Michael some slack if he doesn't post every single day; he's amazingly prolific, but I don't want him pushing himself extra hard just because I'm off frolicking. Some readers were curious where I'd be in Italy. Well, we arrive in Rome a couple of days before the start of a tour. The tour group does another two days there before heading south to see Pompeii and Capri. Then to Ovietto and Assisi followed by a day in Florence, after which we loop down to San Gimignano and north to Venice. A day in Venice and on to the lake country, including a short stop in Lugano, Switzerland. The tour concludes at the Milan airport, but we'll catch a train south to the Cinque Terre villages where we'll spend a day. Also a day in Lucca and another in Milan before returning to Seattle. I'm familiar with the part from Tuscany on north, but the southern area will be new, which should make it especially interesting. As for blog fodder, all I'll promise is that I'll bring my camera and will stay on the lookout for interesting items to write about. When I travel I favor learning about today's cities, towns and countryside as opposed to lurking in the museums and palaces favored by other tourists and tour group planners: there are always a few exceptions to this rule, of course. So yes, I'll be seeing some art. But no, I might not write much about it because I haven't studied Renaissance Italian art enough to make things interesting. Moreover, unlike when I was in Finland, Russia, Poland, etc., most of the artists will have names you're familiar with. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 18, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Shock of Non-Recognition
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Whatever there is that has to be said about high school reunions has almost surely been said already. Good. That means I can write to my heart's content without straining for profundity. So raise those cliché-protection shields and batten down the banality-absorbers -- I just had my 50th high school reunion and I'm here to blather! Does anyone remember an illustration done around 40 year ago in response to the Beatles song "When I'm 64" where the artist tried to project how the Liverpool lads might look when they got that old? There might have been more than one such attempt because the one I turned up via Google doesn't seem familiar. The imagined 64 year-old Beatles were still recognizable, which is more than I can say about most of the 68-ish-year-old attendees at my reunion activities. Not a surprise for many of us: my reunion-happy class has now thrown five or six such events since graduation -- including the 40th and 45th -- so we were getting conditioned to the shock of non-recognition. Fortunately, we had an especially handy visual aid in the form of name tags with a 1.5-times blow-up of our yearbook portraits and names in really large type (see example below). My 50th reunion name tag At the 40th reunion the name tags had actual-size yearbook photos and type so small that our 58-year-old eyes weren't up to the task. There was a lot of leaning close to the wearer's chest to discern the fine print: hope the ladies didn't mind too much. We learned that using yearbook photos was a good idea and that small type wasn't. For the first time, I was involved in reunion committee activities and got an inside look at the process. Plenty of ideas were advanced during the first few years of what, for some of us, was an effort lasting more than five years. When the Big Event got close, new proposals tended to be rejected unless they were refinements of existing plans, and some side-events under consideration were rejected to keep an already busy weekend from fragmenting. Nevertheless, five reunion-related events were held: a Thursday golf tournament (about 20-25 participants); a Friday luncheon for women at the Women's University Club in downtown Seattle (nearly 60 signed up); a Friday evening "ice-breaker" event at a hotel not far from the main reunion site (nearly 200 showed up); a Saturday morning tour of the recently rebuilt Roosevelt High School (between 100 and 200); and the main-event Saturday evening dinner at a 1920s vintage suburban country club (400 attendees including a few surviving teachers). A committee co-chairman informed me that around 240 classmates attended at least one event. This was out of about 530 classmates for whom we have contact information, about two-thirds living within driving distance. It seems that there were a few people whose contact information was discovered but wanted to remain "missing." This is expectable, from a statistical point of view and... posted by Donald at September 16, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Friday, September 14, 2007

Time's 50 Worst Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- My mind freezes when asked to name my favorite this, the worst that or the best something-or-other. I'm seldom able to think in those terms. For instance, if asked "What was your favorite place to visit on your recent trip to Xxxx," I'd probably return a blank stare. This isn't to say I don't have likes and dislikes: I do, as Faithful Readers know. It's just that I tend to like or dislike things on the basis of multiple criteria whose importance can vary over time due to new information, maturity / aging, or even whimsy. On occasion I actually can provide a favorite: ice cream-wise, it's chocolate. But it was strawberry when I was little, and I can't explain why that preference changed. Which inevitably leads us to cars. For a reason beyond my grasp, Time magazine's staff and Dan Neil, "Pulitzer Prize-winning automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times" came up with a list of "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time" (see here). Maybe my problem has to do with the fact that I can't locate an introductory page -- something that lays out the task and mentions criteria used for making the list. Based on commentaries on the cars selected, a hodge-podge of reasons are included such as mechanical problems, styling/package-definition and marketing errors among other demerits. Worse, the list includes some prototypes and other one-offs along with production automobiles. I don't think one-offs should be included with production cars. That's because they are experimental in nature, tests of ideas -- not items one can buy and regret from personal experience. For what it's worth, while I agree with Neil that the Trabant, King Midget and Yugo are pretty sorry cars, I can't go along with many of the other selections. For example, most automotive histories I've read consider the Ford Model T as one of the most significant cars of all time. But Neil's caption states Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let's stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation's economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that's just the problem, isn't it? The Model T -- whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse's "disassembly line" -- conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers' boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day. So it seems that a car introduced in 1909 doesn't quite measure up to a Prius or whatever car he really liked on a recent road... posted by Donald at September 14, 2007 | perma-link | (14) comments

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Reunions 2: Guy-Happiness and More
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A few final reflections sparked off by a recent visit to my high school class's 35th reunion. (Class of 1972 -- gadzooks!) Earlier reunion reflections can be enjoyed, or at least found, here. Great seeing the old crowd; quite hilarious the way everyone instantly eased back into casual-kid-friendship mode (we know each other far too well to try to get away with putting on airs); and very, very pleasing the way so much of the sturm und drang of adolescence has been left behind. What was all that about? One of the things that struck me most about the get-together, though, was the way that a hierarchy of life-satisfaction has emerged among the guys. This was something new, it seemed to me. Perhaps it takes a few decades for the impact of the bigger life-choices to play themselves fully out. In any case, what seemed apparent to me this time 'round was that there was one group of guys who seemed content with their lives, as well as another group of guys who seemed far more restless and unsettled. Curious, I poked around a bit. I found that I couldn't discern any such pattern among the gals. I couldn't formulate any generalizations at all where gals and life-satisfaction went, come to think of it. (Aside from "Don't become an alcoholic.") Though some of the ladies certainly seemed more comfy in their lives than others did, I couldn't make out any pattern. Divorces, kids, jobs -- sometimes they were a positive, sometimes a negative. Where the guys clustered in easy-to-identify groups, for the ladies happiness seemed a flukier, one-by-one thing. Is this because guys are more black / white, on / off creatures than those ever-morphing, ever-complicated gals are? By contrast, the pattern behind the guys' life-happiness rankings stood out clear as day. Namely: Now that we're in our early 50s, the calmest and least-troubled guys are the ones who are working in technical fields. Without exception, these old classmates are now mellow and happy souls. They have the contentedness of people leading comprehensible, satisfying lives, lives characterized by finite obligations and dependable rewards. At the other end of the mood-spectrum are the angst-ridden bunch: namely, guys who long ago fell in love with the arts. (I count myself in this group, by the way. I'll talk about them / us in the third person for the sake of convenience, though.) The guys in this group are jumpier and more tormented. They may perhaps have known giddier highs, but they've also experienced darker and more frequent lows, as well as far fewer steady, count-upon-able stretches. Where the tech guys keep on a dependable plane -- they have routines, and they enjoy them -- the arts guys are still living like post-grads, moment to moment. Most are still caught up in the "doing my art" vs. "keeping up a day job" plight. Little has settled down for them over the decades. They've done what they could... posted by Michael at September 13, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Historical Note
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Courtesy of YouTube, here's a little archival footage of the great Ashley Whippet, the first Frisbee-catching dog. Hard to believe there was ever a time when dogs didn't catch Frisbees, isn't it? Here's the Ashley Whippet website, where I learned that you're supposed to refer to Frisbee-catching dogs as "disc dogs." Here's another cute Whippet video. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * While this TV-commercial parody struck me as no more than pretty funny, it may be the slickest TV-commercial parody I've ever watched. * Mick Hartley thinks that, where Jack Kerouac is concerned, Anthony Daniels is all wet. * Rick Darby looks at a few gaudily painted airliners and wonders if everything these days has to be turned into a billboard. * Jenny figures out where to put her ideas. * Witold Rybczynski's slide show about green architecture includes a few images from the '70s, another era when eco-architecture seemed to be the inevitable next big thing. Those were some seriously ungainly buildings. * I was planning to make fun of this NYTimes piece about an absurd new Bernard Tschumi building ... But John Massengale, bless him, has got there first and has done it better than I ever could. One especially amusing line: "Non-architects know that a blue glass tower that looks like it's falling over doesn't really fit into a low-rise neighborhood of hundred-year-old stone and brick buildings." * The term "public intellectual" makes Alias Clio shudder. * Michael Bierut wonders if the ditziness of Miss South Carolina might not illuminate a little something about the graphic design field. "Perhaps design is the field of mindless prettiness," he writes, daringly. * Irina has a wrestle with her ego. * Andrew Sullivan turned up this brilliant little action-comedy gem. * Dean Baker doesn't think things are so bad in Germany. * Jeff Harrell's account of living with borderline personality disorder is startling, moving, and very interesting. (Link thanks to Jonathan Schnapp.) * Tyler Cowen wonders if the government should really be subsidizing philanthropy. * Bruce Grossman celebrates a couple of brawny and hilarious football novels that I'm fond of myself: Dan Jenkins' "Semi-Tough" and Peter Gent's "North Dallas 40." I dig those books even though I'm not a football fan. * The Man Who Is Thursday dares to admit that he has never enjoyed "The Lord of the Rings." * Allan Wall -- an American living in Mexico -- watches a recent debate among our Democratic hopefuls, and doesn't like what it bodes for the U.S. * The pop ditty that I can't shake out of my mind today is this easygoing and ridiculously catchy thing ... * MBlowhard Rewind: I told the story of the creation of the American teenager. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 12, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Concours Touring
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Every couple of years or so I visit the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance automobile show. It's a pricey but interesting event for car buffs who are into automobile aesthetics. Since this is a blog written by arts buffs, I feel it's my sacred duty to pass along some of the more interesting items on display: recently I posted on a rare Voisin that I spied in the sales / auction area. Today I'll show you two examples of Italian styling at its best. Both cars were designed and built by Carrozzeria Touring, an important firm from the 1920s into the 1950s. The first car is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta. When it was designed, car styling was in the later stages of the transition from boxy, non-aerodynamic shapes where headlamps, fenders, trunks and other exterior components were separate forms to all-enclosing "envelope" bodies that were streamlined in appearance, if not quite in reality. The Alfa's components are still distinct, though partly blended. Many contemporary cars were at this same evolutionary point, but more awkward-looking. Touring created a car where everything fits into a pleasing, well-proportioned whole. The other car was built ten years later, though the evolutionary span is really only five years or so if the disruption of World War 2 is subtracted. Whereas the Alfa was a passenger car, the 1949 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta was a racing car -- the "MM" refers to Mille Miglia, Italy's long-distance road race that was run for decades until it was finally deemed too dangerous. As I reported here, I'm not much of a Ferrari fan. Nevertheless, the styling of early (up through the mid-1950s) Ferraris was generally very good, and the 166 MM is one of the outstanding examples. Here the transition to the "envelope" form is complete. The car is taut and purposeful. No extraneous detailing; the crease along the upper sides of the body adds visual length and probably adds some stiffness to the sheet metal. Here are some photos I took. Gallery Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport Touring Berlinetta - 1939 Ferrari 177 MM Touring Barchetta - 1949 I've been to three Pebble Beach Concours. The event is normally held the third Sunday in August, a time of year when the Monterey area can get foggy. My first two visits featured overcast -- not usually a good thing for picture-taking. This year was sunny, as you can see from the photos above. Nevertheless, even sunshine has it photographic downside. That's because the cars shown at Pebble Beach can be so shiny that one's photo might show more reflections than car; I certainly took a lot of reflection-filled photos. Despite that, I got enough good stuff for a few more posts. Hope you won't mind. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 11, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Friday, September 7, 2007

Tennis Hotties
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Enough with the high-minded chitchat about the fate of Culture. In honor of the U.S. Tennis Open, let's cut to the one topic that really matters: Who deserves to reign as Current Tennis Hottie? Since I'm agnostic so far as the dudes go -- although isn't it weird how much lantern-jawed Roger Federer sometimes resembles lantern-jawed Quentin Tarantino? -- I'm going to focus on las chicas. The three girls who seem to me to be vying most enthusiatically for the crown are: Bethanie Mattek Daniela Hantuchova and Ashley Harkleroad. Bethanie ... Ashley ... Gotta love those klunky, "distinctive" American names, no? Not for the first time, I find myself wondering, "American parents, what on earth do you think you're doing?" By the way, isn't it a lovely stroke of luck the way that female tennis players peak athletically at the exact same moment when they want most badly to show themselves off? I attended a warm-up session for the U.S. Open a few years ago, and most of the pro girls practicing their awesome volleys and terrifying topspins were dressed in baseball caps, jog-bra tops, and skin-tight hot pants. They didn't seem to mind the whir and snap of thousands of digital cameras going off either. Ladies: Can any of the guys compete in the Hotness stakes with Rafa? Capri pants and all? This Patrick Hruby piece about fashion faux pas of the tennis stars may be a few years old, but it's awfully funny still. Best, Michael UPDATE: Complaints and scoldings -- all of them legit -- have driven me to make apologies and amends. Maria Sharapova certainly deserves inclusion in any list of tennis hotties and wannabe hotties. Feeling properly remorseful, I gave myself a tough sentence: Dig up a worthy pic of Maria ... Gotta love look-at-me panties, er, tennis shorts ...... posted by Michael at September 7, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * I'm glad to see that Mike Snider is blogging again. Mike is a poet whose work I like very much. He's also as smart as can be about the debates surrounding evo-bio, traditional forms, and free verse. I interviewed Mike long ago: Part One, Part Two. * You can't say that this guy tries to hide his feelings. * Via Bookgasm and David Chute: Saddlebums, a classy and informative blog devoted to Western fiction. * The latest plastic-surgery trend: "cosmetic vaginal enhancement." (Link thanks to Rachel.) * Audiophile Rick Darby considers iPod users to be musical barbarians. * Susan's kitchen hasn't been lacking for color. * James McCormick takes an in-depth look at Bryan Sykes' ideas about the genetics of the Celts, Saxons, and Vikings. * The era of the big-budget music video is over. * Jim Kalb muses about the culture of multiculturalism. * Downloadable novels meant to be read on your cellphone are giving traditionally printed novels a run for their money in Japan. (Link thanks to Slow Reading, a blog I learned about thanks to Dave Lull.) * DarkoV travels to the big city, enjoys some double-fried potatoes, and takes in a couple of non-mall movies. * America's best restrooms. * Newsweek's Robert Samuelson is a rarity -- a mainstream columnist who understands the damage that our nutty immigration policies are doing to us. For instance: They're increasing poverty. * Bad boy film director Ken Russell rhapsodizes insightfully about what makes some actresses great. * The Catbird Seat offers down-to-earth political commentary as well as fun political-cartooning efforts. He won my admiration and loyalty with the following sentence: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." (CORRECTION: Thanks to Steve C., who points out that Catbird Seat was in fact quoting H.L. Mencken.) * La Coquette finally catches up with Godard's "Breathless." * Here's one of the stranger ocean-shore phenomena I've ever seen. * Lynn Sislo has been burning through some sci-fi novels recently. * Kirsten Mortenson took her camera along on a nostalgic visit to the small upstate New York town where she grew up. * I want that porch. * MBlowhard Rewind: I sang the praises of two of Francois Ozon's sly and sexy movies: "Swimming Pool" and "Water Drops on Burning Rocks." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 6, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Rod Dreher wonders why pit pulls aren't banned. The comments on his posting are full of interesting facts and provocative thinking. * Small-m passes along some fascinating stats about Scandinavia. * Now open for business: MarginalFoodie, offering culinary insights and tips for dining around the DC area. * Friedrich von Blowhard has been exploring the work of James Jean, a very talented, very young, LA-based artist and illustrator who works in a variety of styles: storybook, fantasy, and observational. I'm especially fond of Jean's sketchbooks myself. Here's his blog, here's his website. Check out how quickly Jean makes some of those drawings! Nothing wrong with a little facility, is there? * I've been enjoying the work of a French illustrator-designer, Marguerite Sauvage -- now that's a name! Sauvage's saucy yet sophisticated style makes me think of James Bond book jackets and Modesty Blaise comic strips, only given a lot of Riot Grrrl attitude. Wait: Modesty Blaise already had a lot of attitude ... Anyway: witty, sexy, full of spirit. * DVD Spin Doctor raves about the the quality of the new DVD version of the original "3:10 to Yuma." * Alt-erotica photographer Samantha Wolov wants your opinion: color or black-and-white? (NSFW) * I've found Jewish Atheist's wrestles with his faith and his identity moving and instructive. (As well as considerably more interesting and less self-important than this semi-similar piece of soul-searching by Philip Weiss. Which, by the way, is also worth reading.) JewishAtheist collects his postings on the topic here. * MBlowhard Rewind: I examined what a bestseller list tells us -- and what it doesn't tell us. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 5, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Not Quite Born to Write
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I did some rummaging the other evening. It seems that the gal in charge of the memorabilia display for our upcoming 50th high school class reunion needed some class photos from the elementary school I attended, and I thought I would be able to oblige. That's because my mother took pains to save just that sort of stuff. Sure enough, I eventually stumbled across the needed photos. But I want to dwell on something else that turned up. Stuffed into an envelope were results from two University of Iowa achievement tests I took in high school, one from my Sophomore year and another when I was a Senior. Things were kept simple in those early-computer days, so scoring was only on eight dimensions, namely Social studies background Natural science background Correctness in writing Quantitative thinking Reading - social studies Reading - natural sciences Reading - literature General vocabulary plus a composite score and something called "Use of sources of information." My percentile scores were okay. Except for one area. In both tests my lowest score by far (around the 75th percentile) was for Correctness in writing. But I suppose most of you have noticed that by now. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 5, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Monday, September 3, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * In his review of a new collection of essays about immigration, Steve Sailer explains why many black leaders are advocates of our current awful immigration policies despite the harm they're doing to black America. * Good news -- at least for the cottontops among us -- from Time magazine: Sales of hiphop CDs are down 44% since 2000. Hiphop's share of music sold generally has declined too. * GNXP's Herrick interviews economic historian Greg Clark, who has a new book out offering some ideas about why modern economic progress began in England. Get cozy with the concept of "the Malthusian Trap." As is often the case at GNXP, the commentsfest is half the show. * MBlowhard Rewind: I compared the MTV-style beach flick "Blue Crush" with Wong Kar-Wai's arty "Fallen Angels." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 3, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Friday, August 31, 2007

New Orleans as Museum
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A blog I regularly visit is Jim Miller on Politics which can be found here. Even though he lives in the Seattle area, I haven't met Jim who, by the way, has 2Blowhards on his blogroll (and his is on ours). He writes about international, national and local issues in a calm, thoughtful manner. Since this is near the second anniversary of the Katrina disaster, New Orleans has been getting a lot of attention in the media, including the Internet. Miller has a short piece here titled "Should We Abandon New Orleans?" (it's near the top, but you'll have to scroll down) in which he links to an article by Steve Chapman (here) and offers a few observations of his own. Miller offers the following from Chapman Historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in The Washington Post, fears the Bush administration is trying to do to New Orleans what was done to Galveston, Texas, after a terrible 1900 hurricane. "Galveston, which had been a thriving port, was essentially abandoned for Houston, transforming that then-sleepy backwater into the financial center for the entire Gulf South," he says. "Galveston devolved into a smallish port-tourist center, one easy to evacuate when hurricanes rear their ugly heads." Looking back, that actually sounds like a brilliant choice. If they were given the means to start over wherever they choose, a lot of people displaced by Katrina would embrace it. and then observes that, though people should live where they desire, if possible, he thinks that "parts of New Orleans are worth protecting, notably the port and the tourist area, but that most of it is not." I'm inclined to agree, though I admittedly haven't studied the issue. Moreover, I've only visited the place once -- around 20 years ago, for a Census Bureau meeting and a demographer convention. My impression was largely negative. The drinking water might have had something to do with it, but I felt a strong sense of decay along with a literal bad taste in my mouth that lasted for about two days after I left. I found the above-ground cemeteries, the Crescent and the levee area interesting. Ditto the French Quarter aside from Bourbon Street, which was off-putting to me. Those are my choices of what to preserve. But if a lot of money is going to be spent, why not spend it creating a New New Orleans that's above sea level and otherwise less disaster-prone. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 31, 2007 | perma-link | (22) comments

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Snooze Sports
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Labor Day* weekend is coming up. That means it's likely that readership will be low for a few days. Which further means that I'm less likely to be lynched or tarred, feathered and run out of town for this post. So why not have some innocent fun -- in the form of reaming sports fans to the depths of their souls. [Clears throat, adjusts eyeglasses] I contend that sports were originally played by folks for interest and enjoyment . No doubt others gathered around to watch, but that was secondary. Nowadays the situation has flipped, especially for professional sports that can't exist without large spectator bases. Consider baseball. I was never much of a softball player as a kid. But when I was out in the field, I had to pay attention to what was happening. That is, I was engrossed in the game. By the time I was a teenager, I found that I couldn't get engrossed when in spectator mode. As an adult, I came to the state where I could pay attention for the first three innings, got fidgety for the second three and, during the final three I was so desperately bored I didn't care which team won; I was praying for batters to strike out on three pitches. Besides baseball, what professional sports do I find boring as a spectator? Here's a short list. Soccer ("Football" outside the USA) -- Not much scoring, just a bunch of guys running around a large, grassy field. Tennis -- Someone starts off hitting a ball over a net. Then it gets whacked back and forth over said net two or three times and Poof!! it hits the net or lands in an illegal area and everything stops, only to be repeated. Basketball -- Lots of running back and forth on a court and plenty (maybe too much?) scoring. But much of the time the outcome is decided in the final minutes. So why bother watching the first 90 percent of the game? Which brave (foolhardy?) readers want to offer their own lists of boring sports? Comment if you dare. Later, Donald * For non-Yank readers, Labor Day is a holiday held the first Monday in September. It marks the end of summer vacation season and, in many parts of the country, the start of school week. In other words, it's sort of a "last chance" holiday.... posted by Donald at August 30, 2007 | perma-link | (26) comments

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Design Observer's Michael Bierut writes a lovely introduction to a charming designer, Charley Harper, some of whose work looks like a pop version of Paul Klee. * Prairie populist Caleb Stegall likes Bill McKibben's eco-critiques a lot more than McKibbin's eco-solutions. Fun to see both Stegall and McKibben citing the German economist Wilhelm Ropke, a favorite of mine. * The Best Sentence of the Day Award goes to Cowtown Pattie for this beauty: "Texas boys know that even a riled rattlesnake don't hold a light to a pissed-off woman who'd just had her personal space violated by a furry wild animal." * James Kunstler takes time out from ridiculing chic architecture to praise a modest, handsome, and restrained effort by New Urbanist Milton Grenfell. Explore some other work by Grenfell and his partners here. * Roissy thinks that today's young guys are becoming alarmingly unmanly. * Here's a pretty amazing optical illusion. * Yahmdallah enjoyed "Hot Fuzz." * Elvis Costello wants to know. (Nick Lowe, who wrote the song, does his own version here.) Funny to think that E.C. was once a lean and hungry young dude, isn't it? * OuterLife has an inspired idea about what to do with all that money he's been saving for his kids' college educations. * Rats prefer refined sugar to cocaine. * Charlton Griffin turns up a couple of beauties: a review of the worst cars ever designed -- I've owned two of them myself, can anyone top that? -- and an illustrated list of the top ten body-modified people. You ain't never seen such tattoos and piercings. * Creative fun with type -- but be sure to close the office door first. * Here's a clever remix of a classic. * People who eat prepared-food dinners (instead of preparing dinner for themselves) aren't actually saving any time. * Vince Keenan writes a hilarious appreciation of action star Steven Seagal. * Perhaps men are actually good for a few things? * Here's a hard-core libertarian -- ie., Mises Institute -- video view of the Fed. Does Mencius approve? * Ginger Strand passes along some enlightening information and thoughts about the changing meaning of pets over the years. (Link thanks to Andrew Sullivan.) * Dave Lull has discovered the Inappropriate Yoga Guy. * Raymond Pert forwards along an important video bulletin about the immigration crisis. * Tyler Cowen lists his favorite things Pennsylvanian. Pennsylvania really is an amazing state, isn't it? * Here's that notorious 300 page AT&T/iPhone bill. * Prairie Mary reports that the Indian reservation she lives on is developing a middle class. * MBlowhard Rewind: I confess that I don't know what the hell's going on in a lot of modern poetry but I like some of it anyway. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 28, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

Moon Over Manhattan
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Wife and I were walking home through the Village after a pleasant evening -- a pretty good Zen talk (given by this guy), followed by designer burgers to die for -- when I spotted the moon posing prettily above a glamorously-illuminated building. When you're a Manhattanite, it isn't often that you notice the moon at all -- tall buildings and bright lights are usually all-too-effective at concealing and / or drowning out the moon's beauty. Inspired by the moment, I pulled out the cheapo Kodak, braced myself against a tree, and hoped for the best. OK, so maybe tripods and expensive cameras have their uses after all ... Still, my snap struck me as a fun example of the inept-shakeycam genre. And that's a nice Arthur Dove-ish sky, no? Best, Michael UPDATE: Brian shows off his own, far more memorable, moon-over-Manhattan photo.... posted by Michael at August 28, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Optional Touring
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The packet of materials arrived yesterday from the tour company. Now we have our marching orders. (Nancy is a big tour-group fan. I am not -- at least where western Europe is involved. But this year we're doing it her way, meaning that we do the tour. And once it ends in Milan we'll be heading south to Cinque Terre and Lucca, doing this by train rather than by my preferred method, the automobile.) One item of major interest in the packet is the itinerary booklet. For each day, it tells where the group as a whole will be going and which meals will be furnished. For example, I now know that I have an entire day to knock around Florence on my own or with Nancy. That's because I've been there twice already and have seen most of the sites the tour group will be visiting. Another part of the itinerary gets scary: it's the section dealing with Optional Excursions. What's scary is how much extra money these activities can chew up. For example, our Italian tour averages one Optional Excursion per each of the 11 days available for sightseeing. If one were to sign up for all of them (and some people do just that), the total cost per person would be 482 Euros or $656 at an exchange rate of 135 cents per Euro. Cheap me, I'd take not a single Optional Excursion. But Nancy likes to do stuff and will probably sign on for several of them and shame me into taking a few with her. At this point, we might take the "Fountains by Night and Dinner" excursion in Rome for 59 Euros ($80) apiece. I can halfway justify the price because we'd otherwise have to eat out anyway. The other excursion on my horizon is the "Gondola & Serenade" in Venice, costing 32 Euros ($43) a head. I meekly mentioned to Nancy that we already did the gondola / serenade thing at the Venetian casino in Vegas. But she has this strange concept that doing it in Venice will be more authentic or more romantic or more something. More expensive, that's for sure. There. I've vented and am feeling better already. What's your take on Optional Excursions for tours that cost a lot in the first place? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 25, 2007 | perma-link | (13) comments

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Excellent Neighbor
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards --- Last Sunday we attended the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance classic automobile display where entrants come from as far as Seattle, the East Coast and, in the case of Nicola Bulgari's Packard, from Rome, Italy. I took a lot of photos and plan to use them as grist for future blog posts. For starters, I''ll show you a car that fascinates me: the 1931 Voisin C20 V-12 Simoun Demi-Berline. The photos are only so-so because the car was displayed in front of a tent and right beside a large, circular sculpture. Furthermore, it was in the middle of the pathway between the spectator bus arrival zone and the entrance to the show, so there were many passers-by when I was trying to get my shots. Voisin, by the way, is French for "neighbor" -- hence my tortured title to this post. The car's creator, Gabriel Voisin, started out building airplanes but switched to automobiles after the Great War. His cars were expensive and unusual; not many were made and few exist today. Voisin lost control of his company in the mid-1930s, but lived into his 90s. I might devote a post to him and some his most interesting creations later. (I wonder if, were Voisin alive today, the brash car press in the USA and Britain would dub him "Gabe Nabe.") Gallery The Simoun Demi-Berline is racy-looking despite the fact that it is in no way streamlined -- note the flat, vertical windshield, vertical radiator cover and the box beside the hood. Its élan is due to its height, which was extremely low for its day. The car was low because it had what was called an "underslung" chassis, that rode below the wheel axles, the springs being mounted above, rather than below it. The high placement of the headlights serves to enhance the appearance of being low; had they been lower, the car would have seemed taller. This Voisin is basically in three distinct sections: (1) the front "power package" area incorporating the motor, front wheels and stowage boxes; (2) the passenger compartment; and (3) a rear area where the trunk, spare tire and rear wheels are located. The styling thrust of the 1930s and 40s was to integrate the body into an envelope covering formerly discrete functional details. This shows the front detail in profile. The car has fenders that wrap around the tires closely, somewhat like motorcycle fenders do. However, they are not pure "cycle fenders" because they are fixed and do not pivot with the wheels when they turn. The right-side box is clearly seen. These boxes are located in the position where other cars -- usually luxury cars with long hoods and long S-shaped (ogive) front fenders -- often had spare tires; this adds to the Voisin's unique appearance. Note again that the windshield is flat and vertical -- no, it seems to lean very slightly forward at the top. Also of interest is the passenger compartment. Besides the virtually... posted by Donald at August 22, 2007 | perma-link | (1) comments

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Kids need fat. * The one time I saw Elvis perform -- in Vegas, about a year before his death -- he was awful: porky, dripping with drug-addict sweat, and so zonked that he couldn't remember the words to his biggest hits. Add about a million sweat-drops, and this is how he was. * Cowtown Pattie's mom has been struggling with some serious health challenges. Drop by and send some love. * Agnostic has a small nit to pick with Paul Fussell's "Class." * Happy fourth birthday to the ever-lively, ever-resourceful, and ever-enlightening Marginal Revolution. * Yahmdallah celebrates the voyeuristic pleasures that the Web offers. * Darby Shaw takes a hilarious look at the architecture of the building that houses the Portland Oregonian. * Should people on their way to see the new "Bourne" movie take some Dramamine first? (Link thanks to David Chute.) * Soon to be coming to your neighborhood too ... * E-book enthusiast Robert Nagle turns up some provocative e-book links. * The heads of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have been meeting, and Allan Wall is convinced that they've been up to no good. * Alias Clio sizes up two famous waif-neurotics, and disses Neil Strauss' how-to-pick-up-chicks epic "The Game." * Steve Sailer awards a failing grade to Karl Rove. Hard to imagine anyone taking issue with that evaluation. * MBlowhard Rewind: I marveled at how truly strange and bizarre many people in the cultureworld are. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2007 | perma-link | (25) comments

Sunglasses Follies
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We just returned from four days in dry, sunny California. Ah, yes. Sun. And glare. Which made me think about sunglasses -- the currently available variations. I'm pondering because I'll be getting my eyes checked in a few weeks and need to consider what I should do once I get the inevitable prescription-change. My wife is having her eyes checked the same day, being overdue for new glasses. She likes sun protection for her eyes, but doesn't like regular sunglasses. Instead, she opts for those lenses that darken in strong light, and will probably get another set of those. Three or four years ago she persuaded me to try them out, so I spent a lot of money for new frames and those fancy non-lines bifocals with the tint feature. Hated them. Here in the soggy Pacific Northwest we get a lot of overcast days. Often the overcast isn't terribly thick and the amount of light can be greater than one might think. I found my glasses darkening when I'd leave the office building to grab some lunch on such days. Besides feeling a speck foolish, the situation was complicated by the fact that my eyes were bothered because what I was seeing through the lenses was too dark. No more self-tinting glasses for me. Truth is, I've even had issues with conventional sunglasses for years. By "conventional," I mean those sunglasses with frames like everyday eyeglasses. I once ordered prescription sunglasses and discovered that my eyes were bothered most of the time; so I didn't use them much. They didn't bother me when I was driving, and this provides a clue as to why they caused me trouble. You see, when I was driving, the roof of the car prevented sunlight from coming over the tops of the lenses. And if I had been into wearing baseball caps then, a cap bill would have provided the same service. The fundamental problem with sunglasses of any kind that use normal frames is that sunlight can strike the eye from over the top of the lenses, and sometimes from the sides. This means that the irises have trouble adjusting: directly in front, things are darkened, but strong glare is coming from the periphery. So what to do? Relax in adjustment to the light coming through then tinted lenses or contract in reaction to the bright light of the sunshine coming from above? The solution is wrap-around sunglass lenses. When I was young, the closest one could get to this ideal was aviator glasses; these look really nice, provided one had the correctly-shaped face -- which I lack. Last year I bought some sunglasses that went a little beyond aviator-style. But I don't wear contact lenses, so I can't see things perfectly when wearing them. I have an artificial lens in my right eye, and my other eye is starting to edge back towards near-sightedness after a period of going the other direction. I suppose the... posted by Donald at August 21, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * You certainly can't say that he lacks conviction. * Tyler Cowen reads what sounds like a remarkable book about poverty. * Robert Sandall's survey of the collapse of the music CD business is essential recent-cultural-history reading. (Link thanks to ALD) * Katie Hutchison enjoys a visit to the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. * Irina thinks that cocaine can make people do stupid sexual things. * George Borjas considers a study that looks at productivity and age among artists. * French-Canadian Martine is just beginning to discover the glories of English-Canadian fiction. * John Williams marvels at the Times' ultra-confrontational interviewer Deborah Solomon. * Mencius tries to make some sense of anti-Americanism. * Take that, undercover reporter-girl! * Mark Barry writes about the fun of collaborating on a lithograph. * The Derelict has been taking a re-look at some of the movies he loved as a kid. * Randall Parker notices the difference that one sentence in an energy bill can make. * Now we're supposed to worry about cholesterol levels that are too low ... * Confirmed heterosexual Grumpy Old Bookman admires a collection of essays by John Preston, a successful homosexual writer of gay porn. * Alias Clio would like to see a little more balance in discussions about the differences between girls and boys. * Lester Hunt wonders what the difference between a "gourmet" and a "foodie" might be. * Kirsten learns that there are 2500 different kinds of cicadas. * MBlowhard Rewind: I took stock of Method acting. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 14, 2007 | perma-link | (17) comments

Before the Interstates
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- From time to time I'll post an article on life in the era circa 1945-65 -- the Fifties, with a little elbow room on either end. Why? Because eventually my generation will die off [Sniff] and I think it is useful for history that members of each generation leave some records of how things seemed to those living through the events they experienced. Moreover, I'm definitely excluding reports by journalists, other professional writers and academicians. I can't say with certainty how reports on eras such as the Twenties and Thirties have been distorted by such paid observers, but much of what I read about the Fifties doesn't ring true. For example, supposedly the decade was one of fear caused by rampant McCarthyism. Sure, there was the Cold War and the Korean War, but on a day-to-day basis, life was fun for many of us. When I mentioned this last point to an academic, he immediately retorted "But the racism! It was everywhere!" So I suppose life in the Fifties really was intolerable: I was a victim of various forms of false-consciousness, it would seem. One thing about those days that wasn't so hot and that did affect me personally was the highway system in its pre-Interstate form. First, some background. The Twenties and even the depressed Thirties were the time when most cities in the USA were linked by hard-surface paved roads for the first time. Most of these were two-lane roads (one lane for each direction), often with little or no shoulder. The situation in 1950 was roughly as follows. The population of the United States was about half of what it is now -- slightly more than 150 million, according to that year's census. The number of cars and other road vehicles was much less than half of today's count. Few families had more than one car back then and trucks were relatively fewer because long-distance land-based hauling tended to be by railroad. The legislation that launched the Interstate system was six years in the future. Population was more concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of the country than now. Although four-lane highways tied some cities in that region together, there was a perceived need for a more effective kind of highway -- the freeway. (The term "freeway" refers to free-flowing traffic -- no stoplights or other impediments -- not toll-free.) Germany and Italy had some freeways in place before 1940 and people such as industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes had proposed a national freeway system in the 30s. The need and the solution were first manifested here in the form of the turnpike freeway. Financing was by bond sales and revenue was furnished by tolls. The first major long-distance freeway was the Pennsylvania Turnpike, whose first section (along the route of an uncompleted rail line) opened in 1940. By 1950 other turnpikes were planned or under construction in New York, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and elsewhere in that region. It was different... posted by Donald at August 14, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blogging Notes
Dear Blowhards -- * Thanks to some unexpected publicity, there might be a few more new 2Blowhards readers than normal. So this is a good excuse to once again describe the Comments procedures and policies hereabouts. It seems this blog gets comment-spammed from time to time. This was a serious problem a year or two ago. Spamming is less now, but we still get hit from time to time. There are several ways of dealing with the problem, but we use the expedient of putting incoming comments into a holding tank so that spam can be identified and zapped without ever getting published. What this means to the legitimate commenter is that a comment might not appear on the Web for minutes or even hours. That's because, believe it or not, Michael and I aren't constantly logged onto this site; we clean and post comments when we find the time to do so. But we do the best we can. So if your comment doesn't appear on the site immediately, there's probably no technical problem. If you don't see it after the better part of 24 hours, then yes, something went haywire. Another thing newcomers need to know is that we definitely don't like unruly comments. No name-calling. No red-hot flaming. Preferably no profanity. Keep things gentle and civil even if you think another commenter is stark mad or a spawn of the devil. * I'll be off to California Thursday for a long weekend, so posting from me will likely be non-existent from then till the following Tuesday. The upside is, I'll be attending the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance classic automobile show Sunday the 19th. I'll be on high alert for interesting stuff and my digital camera will be at the ready. If the planets (well, make that the Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs) align correctly, I'll post a report on the event. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 12, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Parallel Universe
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Harry Potter books depict a kind of dual-universe Britain. There is the Britain we are familiar with. And then there is a hidden Britain, populated by wizards and witches, where technology is magic-driven. I recently discovered that there is something similar going on right here in the USA. Not witches, wizards and magic. What I found was a parallel universe -- namely, Whole Foods Market. Okay, I've actually been poking my nose into Whole Foods for a few years, in the form of their Monterey, CA store next to the Del Monte mall. But the parallel-ness didn't really hit home until yesterday when we did some shopping at their Roosevelt neighborhood store in Seattle. Up one aisle and down another we pushed the cart. We gazed at row after row of jars, cans, boxes, etc. Almost none of the brands were familiar to me. And there was that word ORGANIC. It was on almost every item. I didn't check, but it wouldn't have surprised me if the zip-lock baggies were labeled ORGANIC. At one point I gave a sigh of relief to see some French's mustard on a shelf -- next to mustard of an ORGANIC brand I'd never seen before. I suppose it's yet another character failing of mine, but I am not of the ORGANIC faith. I find Whole Foods weird, creepy. It was comforting half an hour later to be in a conventional supermarket looking for items Whole Foods didn't carry. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 11, 2007 | perma-link | (31) comments

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some Rich 'n' Yummy Geek Fodder
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Do you love airplanes? Do you like data? Are you curious about how things work? I say Yes to all three questions. And that's why I spent much of yesterday evening engrossed reading Ray Whitford's book Evolution of the Airliner. The material in the book seems to be based on articles written for a popular aviation magazine, which means that some chapters' most recent data are for the 1990s and not the present decade: but that's a fairly minor quibble, given the slowing pace of airliner product launches. I'm a visually-oriented guy and like the many pictures and, especially, the many graphs depicting various trends. Two photo quibbles: (1) there were no photos of the Convair 880/990 jetliners; and (2) no photos of American planes in the chapter on flying boats. (Whitford is British and otherwise plays fair with the modest Yankee contributions to commercial aviation history. But Really! -- none of the various Sikorsky flying boats Pan American few? No Martin model 130? No Boeing 314? Shame!, I say.) Some graphs I found interesting: NYC-LA flight times for various airliners from the Ford Timotor to the 707. Cruising speed plotted against year of first flight, 1919-1970 (when airliner speeds topped out ). Wing loading plotted against year of service entry, 1936-1993. Fuel efficiency in terms of seat-miles per US gallon against date of service entry, 1953-1993. And there are diagrams. One I liked illustrated flying boat metacentric height as formed by the center of gravity and the center of buoyancy. Another illustrated wing pressure interactions for biplanes, showing inefficiencies compared to monoplane wings. Wow! If this isn't insanely great (to quote Steve Jobs), then I don't know what is. Go geeks, go!! Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 10, 2007 | perma-link | (0) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Ed Gorman has some recommendations. * WhiskyPrajer wonders why the screenwriter and pulp-fiction author Leigh Brackett isn't better-known. * Scott Chaffin thinks that some people miss the whole damn point of blogging. * Alice found the "Transformers" movie a wow. * Derek Lowe takes issue with a review of a book about the drug industry. * Thursday counts three ways a value judgment can go wrong. * Cineris revisits "The Hobbit." * Berkeley's great Alice Waters sings the praises of farmers' markets and Slow Food. But local-foods advocate James McWilliams has begun to wonder if eating local is really the most eco-sound thing to do. (Link thanks to Reid Farmer.) * Now that's one smart greyhound. * Steve Bodio shows off a clip of an eagle o'er-mastering a deer, and shares some observations about Kazakhs. They sound like a seriously interesting and impressive people. * Kimberly recalls some of her more intense relationships. (NSFW) * MBlowhard Rewind: I stirred up a blogospherian tempest when I suggested that Frank Lloyd Wright might not have been God. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 10, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Idle Thoughts
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I saw a bumper sticker that said "Equal Rights for All Species." Um. Even cockroaches? Speaking of species and such, am I alone in finding monkeys not amusing? I hear tell that there are people out there who think government bureaucrats know how to run our lives better than we do. I used to be a government bureaucrat of sorts, but now am retired. Does that mean I knew how to run my life better then than I do now? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 8, 2007 | perma-link | (19) comments

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Damnedest Thing
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We went to Seattle's annual unlimited hydroplane race yesterday to catch the first "heat" and the air show by the Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic demonstration team. This brought back memories of one of the damnedest things I've ever seen -- something that took place at the same Lake Washington venue 7 August 1955. There was an airshow that afternoon between race heats, just as now. I think the Blue Angels performed that day also, though I won't bet my life on it. But that's not what I'm talking about. Approaching the race course, heading north over the center of the lake, came Boeing's 707 airliner prototype, the famous Dash-80 -- then about a year old. When it got to the race area it seemingly started to bank, but didn't. Instead it did a stately barrel roll, a sort of corkscrew maneouver, not a tight Blue Angels type roll. This was completely unexpected and those of us in the audience had a profound What In Hell Is Going On Here reaction. I won't swear it was the damnedest thing I ever saw, but it ranks highly. Below is a photo taken from the aircraft when it was upside-down. Piloting the Dash-80 was colorful test pilot "Tex" Johnston (who actually came from Kansas). An account of the incident is here. And here is a link to a YouTube video showing a not-very-clear film of the barrel roll and Johnston (who died in 1998) explaining what happened. Johnston maintained that what he did was perfectly safe: the stress on the airplane's wings was one "G," the same as in normal level flight. So it seemed pretty hairy, but really wasn't. Nevertheless, there were no other 707s (technically, the prototype wasn't one either -- it was simply Boeing design number 367-80) and if it were destroyed, Boeing would have suffered greatly. So as Tex explains in the video, Boeing chief Bill Allen gently told him never to repeat the stunt. Johnston never did. Me? I'm glad I was there to witness it. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 5, 2007 | perma-link | (4) comments

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Here's some irresistable porn for sportscar freaks. Bugatti, Porsche, Lamborghini -- now aren't those some sexy names? * I had a good time surfing through this gallery show of art inspired by William Shatner. * Agnostic remembers what he enjoyed so much about "Clueless." * Alias Clio considers women's power over men. * Glenn Abel wants you to start using active verbs. * Were Virginia Woolf's mandarin-socialist and feminist views dependent upon a staff of female servants? (Link thanks to ALD.) * Are you eager to build an outdoor eating space in your back yard? Architect Katie Hutchison volunteers a number of helpful tips. * Say hello to "El Pasco". * Literary critic Sven Birkerts persists in believing that the opinions of literary critics are crucial. How can such an intelligent and talented man be such a high-minded dimwit? * David Chute suspects that Chinese martial arts movies are the world's oldest action genre. * What to do with all the old sex toys? (Link thanks to Raymond Pert.) * Why are the English so much more frank than we are about the importance of migration as a political topic? * At Comic-Con, Anne Thompson interviews porn star and action-movie-hero-wannabe Jenna Jameson. "I'm a nerd at heart," Jenna tells Anne. (CORRECTION: The interview was actually conducted by Anne's colleague Erin Maxwell.) * Kevin Michael Grace found Microsoft's Vista 'way too moody a mistress. * DVD Spin Doctor suggests some DVDs to watch in celebration of the life of Ingmar Bergman. Lester Hunt offers a sensible response to Bergman's work. * MBlowhard Rewind: In honor of the recent death of film director Michelangelo Antonioni, here's my posting about his brilliant 1975 film "The Passenger." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2007 | perma-link | (30) comments

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reunions 1: Long Ago or Ever-Present?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The reason for my uncharacteristic silence over the last few days: I was in Western New York State, attending the 35th reunion of the public high school class I'd have graduated with had I not been sent off to attend a boarding school. So, the first of a few brief postings prompted by my 35th. Inevitable and overwhelming initial reponse: Good lord, where did all the years go? The funny thing, though, is that -- although childhood and school happened so long ago -- it all feels closer than yesterday. I didn't expect this to be the case, to be honest. As a kid, I imagined that older people experience past events as very distant things. And to some extent that is in fact what revisiting the past is like. Seeing the old neighborhoods and friends once again, I sometimes feel as though it all happened in a different lifetime. At other times, I even feel as though the events of my long-ago past happened to someone else entirely; they feel less like something I possess and more like stories a friend once told me. But there are many more moments when these events feel more real than today. Revisiting my past, time seems first to compress, then to dissolve entirely. It's as though at some point I got off a train that was chugging forward, and ever since have inhabited a loop-the-loopy, 4-dimensional continuum in which I'm forever stumbling across unexpected yet familiar versions of my life. When did this shift occur? In my late 40s, maybe? In any case, when I revisit the old haunts and rekindle the old friendships, 1964 and 1972 don't feel like ships that I passed long ago and that are now tiny dots disappearing over a distant horizon. Instead they feel like fullscale fellow creatures who share space with the current me in an eternal here and now. This is part of what I found great about a few movies made by old men, by the way: Luis Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire," John Huston's "The Dead," and Robert Altman's final movie "A Prairie Home Companion." Different as these films are, they all convey something of what the experience of living as an older person is like. In the Altman particularly, everything exists on the same plane. Linear time and conventional categories have lost their dictatorial powers. Fantasies, art, memories, the present, and history all mingle in the same consciousness-space. (I blogged about "A Prairie Home Companion" here.) Is this development a consequence of the organic brain deteriorating with age? Of what happens to perception when your mental RAM has maxed out? Or is this everything-shares-the-same-stage thing simply how life starts to look when some perspective on the whole mess has been attained? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, July 27, 2007

Closed Open Minds
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- What I'm about to say probably isn't one bit original; if I were a good scholar, I'd provide lots of citations and links to what others have written on the subject. Alas, I'm too lazy to be scholarly. Besides, I wanna vent, and scholarship gets in the way of that. My subject is people who claim that other folks are "closed-minded" and people who urge others to be "open-minded." The two groups undoubtedly overlap considerably because the assertions are implicitly two sides of the same coin. Truth is, most "mindedness" issues are subjective. In such cases evidence is contradictory, not overwhelmingly on one side of a matter. This means that taking one side and rejecting others can be intellectually defensible regardless of which side is taken. My gripe is that most of the times when someone says "Be open-minded about X" or "Don't be closed-minded regarding X," what they are doing is faulting others for not agreeing with the speaker's position. Simply put, it's a form a intellectual bullying. The irony is that the person who is "open-minded" -- favorably disposed to case-X -- is probably "closed-minded" to case contra-X. Here's a trivial example to illustrate my point (I'll be cowardly and avoid hot topics such as homosexual marriage, abortion, etc. to keep Comments calm). Joe and Susie were in Central Park when the 2005 Christo assemblage The Gates was on view. Susie expresses the thought that The Gates isn't really art. Shocked, Joe says "C'mon Sue, it is art. Be open-minded." Joe, it seems, might be "closed-minded" to the idea that The Gates is not art. So what Joe was really saying was: "My position regarding The Gates is obviously right and you, Suzie, are simply wrong. Get with the program and change your mind." The real issue here is how "art" is defined, and the definition of "art" is hardly a settled matter. If Suzie had never considered the possibility that The Gates might be art, then the "closed-minded" label might have justification. But if she had given the matter of the definition of art some thought and still rejected the idea the The Gates was art, then she wasn't being "closed-minded" at all: she was simply making an honest disagreement. People who accuse others of being "closed-minded" seldom seem to have considered the possibility that their targets have given a matter any thought at all. Nor do they bother to ask. As I said, they're basically bullies. I think a proper approach would be to say "I take position Y on issue X. If you haven't given the matter some thought, then please do so. Perhaps you might then come to agree with me." Sigh: probably wishful thinking in this bumper-sticker age. So when I hear or read someone assert "Be open-minded," my reaction often is: "Closed-minded bastard!" C'est la vie. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 27, 2007 | perma-link | (21) comments

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Yoga wants you to forget the six-pack. * Lester Hunt shares some enthusiasm for (and some smart reservations about) "Ratatouille." * Yahmdallah imparts a little too much wisdom to his 2 1/2 year old daughter. * Josh Oakhurst prefers to wait for the DVD. * The cat who can predict when people will die. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Do you need to know anything more than this about acting? * I heart ultra-slow motion. * Well, it sure beats pumping iron and organizing gang fights. (Link thanks to the Communicatrix.) * Katie Hutchison wonders what it is that makes a small building charming. You can ask Katie for architectural advice here. * Sylvia Kristel, who starred in the pioneer classy-soft-core movie "Emmanuelle," talks to the Telegraph about her roller coaster of a life. * Vince Keenan has some words of praise for Glenn Ford. * Jewish Atheist recalls what it was like to grow up Orthodox. "What I experienced was not a community courageously combining modernity with its sacred beliefs, but one threatened by reality," he writes. * Get to know Tyler Cowen a little bit better. Maybe he'll even customize a podcast just for you. Buy Tyler's new book here. * Steve Sailer wonders if the lefties who love immigrants know how macho Latinos can be. * David Pogue looks over his first AT&T bill for his iPhone and feels the bile rise. * Roger Scruton makes the case for a conservative environmentalism. * Thanks to Peter Winkler for pointing out this very amusing Joe Dante-sponsored "Trailers from Hell" website. * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the wonderful Mediterranean Revival architect and promoter Addison Mizner here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 26, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Stealth New-Product Announcements
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm drafting this article on 19 July. Two days ago I spotted a 2008 Mercury Sable rental car on Interstate 5. I knew it was a 2008 model because the 2007 guise of the same car had the name Mercury Montego. What I didn't know was that 2008 Mercurys had been announced and were on the road. So I checked the Web a few minutes ago and found this link to 2008 Mercury Sables and this link to its near-twin, the 2008 Ford Taurus. By golly, 2008 model Fords and Mercurys are here! Had I spotted a new Ford Taurus I would have known that it too was a 2008 model. That's because until now it was called the Ford 500. Ford Motor Company's new CEO Alan Mulally ditched the alliterative model names that FoMoCo's previous management was so (mistakenly, I think) enamored of and revived better-known model names that lapsed recently (a better idea, but not necessarily optimal). What's important here is the fact that I didn't know that the Ford 2008 model year cars had been launched. I'm interested in cars, but not to the point that I regularly read car-buff blogs to get the very latest fuzzy spy-photos of prototypes, industry rumors and press releases. I subscribe to Autoweek magazine but missed any reference to the 2008s had they existed. I don't recall seeing newspaper advertising heralding the resurrection of the Taurus and Sable. As for television, I almost never watch it any more, so didn't have a chance for a commercial roll past me. Am I that totally out of it? Or did Ford not even bother with more than a half-hearted publicity campaign? I suspect it's the latter. That's because car companies have gradually de-emphasized model year changes over the past 30 or 40 or more years. Time was, an automobile manufacturer would have been embarrassed if it had offered too-modest a styling face-lift for a new model year. Nowadays it can be almost impossible to distinguish a model's year simply by looking; my 2005 Chrysler 300 is virtually identical on the outside to 2006 and 2007 versions. Excitement was the order of the announcement day back in the 1940s and 50s. I remember when the 1949 Fords debuted. Searchlights at dealerships probed the night sky. There was a radio broadcast featuring the event (Seattle's first TV station wasn't yet on the air). I remember the thrill of seeing some uncovered 1956 Fords on a truck on their way to a dealer a few days before the release date. Back then, styling of the next-year models was a tightly kept secret, so those 56s I spotted should have been under canvas. By keeping styling secret, manufacturers whetted the curiosity of potential buyers. Car-buff magazines played along with this by printing "sneak-preview" articles containing suggestive, but not informative photos of different bits of forthcoming models. (Nowadays, pretty detailed views of cars a year or two from production are commonly seen... posted by Donald at July 24, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Not-So Central Stations
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I don't worship passenger railroads. Don't hate 'em either. Maybe I'm delusional, but I fancy myself pragmatic on the matter. There are some folks out there who think that inter-city passenger trains can cure a lot of America's transportation ills. They'll start off by asserting that if only those suckers who drive cars or fly between cities wised up and took trains, then highways would become less crowded, airports less noisy, fuel would be saved and the air would be less polluted. Then they would likely tear up in nostalgia for the transportation world of 1912 before pounding the table and claiming that our betters the Europeans know how to do things right. It's true that Europe's intercity passenger railroad system is far superior to what we have in the States. There are many reasons for this, including: slower population growth and less pressure to suburbanize; much later mass adoption of the automobile; and longer-term government ownership of railroads. While Europe now has a highly-developed intercity freeway system and recently has been getting low-fare airlines, many people continue to rely on railroads for traveling from city to city. Consider the Eurostar, known on the street as the "Chunnel" train. One terminus is the Gare du Nord in Paris, the other is Waterloo Station in London. Originally the trip took three hours, thanks to the French TGV (high-speed train) system. In 2003 a stretch of TVG-style track was opened in England, cutting the journey by 20 minutes. In November, the final English section is scheduled to open, the terminus being relocated to St. Pancras Station on the north side of central London. The result will be an even quicker trip. I like the Chunnel train. Whenever I travel between London and Paris I take it because it's faster and seems to involve less hassle than the alternatives -- flying or driving and taking a cross-Channel ferry. I've even taken intercity trains in the USA. As a kid I traveled several times between Seattle and Spokane and once from Seattle to Chicago and then on to Detroit. While in the Army I went from Washington, DC to New York City and from New York City to Baltimore when I was changing posts. Then when I worked in Albany I occasionally took the train when I had business in Washington. So I'm not utterly ignorant of the subject. One advantage claimed for trains is that they get into your destination city. Really? Sometimes they do, as is the case of New York City's Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station -- the former being reasonably close to many Midtown hotels and offices, the latter a little more peripheral. But New York might be exceptional. Let's assume one is traveling fairly light, perhaps with a briefcase and a wheeled piece of luggage about the size stowable in an airliner's overhead bin or a little larger. Further assume the weather is favorable and the traveler reasonably fit: fit enough to... posted by Donald at July 24, 2007 | perma-link | (23) comments

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Raise the IQ question and watch the number of commenters shoot up. * That Hitler sure had a nice way with home decor, didn't he? (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Claire couldn't resist temptation. * So there was this old barn on this guy's property, and when he finally got around to cracking it open ... (Link thanks to Susan, who has been enjoying a Friedrich von Blowhard favorite, Saul Bellow's "Henderson the Rain King.") * Say it ain't so: Sales of women's stockings have halved in Britain over just the last four years. Ladies, won't you please reconsider? * Marc Andreessen notices a neat wrinkle in the immigration issue: Our agricultural policies, especially the way we subsidize corn, are helping drive Mexicans north. * Learn some nifty facts about Terrierman, Matt, Reid, Steve, and Henry. * British feminist Fay Weldon seems to think that this gender-equality thing has gone a little too far. * Is this the YouTube equal of the opening shot of "Touch of Evil"? * David reports that time really does slow down when you get hit by a car. * Empires come and empires go ... * Alias Clio has some good words for the historical novelist Mary Renault. * MBlowhard Rewind: To celebrate -- haha -- the financial success of Michael Bay's "Transformers," here's my appreciation of his extravagant 2005 bomb, "The Island." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Cowtown Pattie reads a juvenile novel that strikes her as pretty darned good. Alexandra reads a sci-fi romance and thinks it's pretty good too. * Philip Murphy recalls the '70s. * Americans are consuming 23 percent more sugar than they were 25 years ago. * Roissy remembers his first encounters with porn. * It seems conclusive: Dieting will almost certainly make you put on, not lose, weight. * Amity Shlaes thinks that it's time to reconsider FDR. * John Powers praises Chris Marker, the one-of-a-kind French filmmaker I raved about here. (Link thanks to DarkoV.) * Vince Keenan discovers Elvis' '68 Comeback Concert. * Thanks to Bryan, who turned up this gorgeous clip of Cyd Charisse in Nicholas Ray's "Party Girl." Has any performer ever combined the elegant and the lewd in quite such nice ratios as Cyd Charisse? * Mexico is drowning in its trash. (Link thanks to Rick Darby.) * Colleen turns up a fascinating explanation of why pop CDs have been sounding crappier in recent years. * Skeptical materialist Alan Little discovers his chakras. * WhiskyPrajer tries and enjoys his first Tony Hillerman mystery. * Mencius wonders when and how we might go about beginning to abolish the U.S. * Marc Andreessen raves about William Grant Still's "Afro-American Symphony." Stuart Buck turns up some CDs of spirituals that sound awfully good. * Thursday thinks that French Canadians and English Canadians might do well to split up. * George Borjas buys an iPhone and likes it. "Despite all the hype," he writes, "it won't mow my lawn or bring my breakfast to bed. But it is truly an exquisite mix of hardware and software." * Kevin Cure visits some Arab lands. * Free market-fan Chris Dillow thinks that Karl Marx made some good points. * Anne Thompson reports that a group of webshorts produced by Glamour magazine have been hits. * Maclin Horton remembers unfiltered Kool cigarettes, and labels himself "a retired smoker, but one who keeps a hand in." * Gawain rhapsodizes over and muses about the gorgeous, mysterious floors of the Basilica of St. Mark's in Venice. That's some gorgeous, mysterious writing too. * Jim Kalb falls for Kieslowski's "The Decalogue." * MBlowhard Rewind: I wrote an appreciation of James M. Cain's novel "Mildred Pierce" here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 17, 2007 | perma-link | (10) comments

Friday, July 13, 2007

Big Cities for Strolling
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When encountering a large city that's new to me I try to learn it, provided I have the time. The first thing I do is get ahold of a street map ("plan" if on the Continent) and study the general layout -- locating the major streets, water features (if any), parks, government zones, museum / cultural areas and so forth. If I'm on-site, I'll locate myself and note where I am in relation to various landmarks. Then I'll set off exploring. Spread-out, automobile-age places such as the Los Angeles region, the Detroit area and Houston I usually explore by car. In the case of LA and Detroit I sometimes select a long street that cuts across a variety of neighborhoods so that I'm forced to see places I might otherwise avoid or neglect. (Just for the record, I drove 10 Mile Road in the Detroit area and Rosecrans Avenue -- if I remember correctly -- in the LA area.) Most often I do my exploring on foot and focus on the central area and sites that I think I'll find interesting. Usually I'll seek out the main shopping areas because I enjoy window-shopping and enjoy people-watching (shopping streets serve up a lot of grist for the people-watching mill). I make it a point to seek out sites of architectural importance. I'll visit museums with collections that interest me, but that's an indoor activity. I've been to only a few of the world's major cities, so what follows is limited. If any of you have your own favorites or blast me for misperception or bad taste, feel free to comment. What big city do I like best for exploring and for general strolling-around? Why Paris, of course. The curving Seine offers constantly changing views and viewpoints. The major boulevards and landmarks such as the Ile de la Cité, Louvre, Tour d'Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe make navigation fairly easy. And the tourist area (along the river roughly from the Eiffel Tower to the Gare d'Austerlitz) is not unwalkably large for a normal adult. People-watching -- be it of locals or tourists -- is fun and so is the window-shopping. I even enjoy reading shop names and other signs as a means of soaking in the French language. Other big cities? New York scores well in the window-shopping, people-watching and architectural departments. But I find the grid street pattern in the main part of Manhattan convenient, yet rather dull. London with the Thames has a curving central river like Paris does. This is a plus, but London doesn't exploit this resource as effectively. London has enough architectural sites to avoid embarrassment. It's also a great people and window shopping place. It's main problems, in my judgment, are (1) it's street system can let you drift off course unless you keep referring to your map, and (2) it's too big to take in by walking in one go -- it's best to cover a smallish area on... posted by Donald at July 13, 2007 | perma-link | (20) comments

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Crime Fiction Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Logical Meme thinks that "The Sopranos" embodied a lot of conservative values. * Alias Clio continues the conversation about loose women and Bohemia, and rhapsodizes about the brilliant British crime-fiction author Ruth Rendell. * Fred Blosser, a correspondent of Ed Gorman's, is a longtime reader of crime fiction. In a note to Ed, he lays out a lot of crime fiction's recent trends. * Vince Keenan praises noir-movie screenwriter Roy Huggins as "one of the stealth giants of popular culture." * MB Rewind: I expressed my enthusiasm for my favorite genre, psychological suspense, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Anne Thompson links to a collection of irresistable musical numbers. Kate Marie does some patriotic YouTube linking. * Doctors prefer Camels. * Do judges have dreams of ruling on cases like this one? Or nightmares? * The film director Joe Dante started off working for Roger Corman, hit a commercial peak with the "Gremlins" series, and has been getting by ever since. In this interview, he offers a lot of perspective on recent American film history. * Colin Stewart's "Arts of Innovation" blog is full of provocations and inspirations for those who enjoy the act of creating. * Yahmdallah's Top Ten Novels list includes a bunch of books I really should catch up with. * Time to check in once again with The Manualist. * What's the best way to use Whole Foods? * Tyler Cowen suspects that iPod-listening encourages "fun" music experiences more than deep ones. * Check out the new addition to the Akron Art Museum. I hope the people of Akron are pleased. * Are American men now making less than their dads did? * Robert Fulford sings the praises of Arts & Letters Daily. Here's a Salon interview with ALD's gutsy and brilliant founder, Denis Dutton. It's hard to recall how narrow the public conversation about culture, ideas, and art was not so very long ago. For my money, Dutton deserves more credit than anyone else for the way the culture-conversation has opened up over the last decade. * Has anyone ever been able to say "Unh!" and "Yow!" quite as convincingly as James Brown did? * The best sentence of the day comes from David Chute: "Once a wimp always a wimp, and never more so than when you are over-compensating for the deep-seated suspicion that you might be one." * How many ingredients does a fast-food manufacturer use to make a strawberry milkshake? * Theater prof Paul Kuritz talks about what it's like to be a Christian theater artist. * James Kunstler has fun mocking the clothing preferences of today's young males. * Can GWBush manage to become even more disliked than Richard Nixon, the most-disliked President ever? He's coming close. (Link thanks to Randall Parker.) * Do you ever worry about the techies who fix your computer? All those personal files on your hard drive, lying there so open and vulnerable ... It turns out you're right to worry. * Is belief in the everywhere-and-always goodness of "diversity" -- the official religion of the U.S. -- finally beginning to crumble? * MB Rewind: I praised the architecture of a small Mexican restaurant. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 12, 2007 | perma-link | (12) comments

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Links by Charlton and Dave
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- More linkage from those virtuoso websurfers Charlton Griffin and Dave Lull. From Charlton: * Imagine having this beat for a job. * What if the entire crew of "Star Trek" were Scottish? * Now that's a powerful zoom lens. * Some artists make some very strange things. * TV ought to provide this kind of running tab on everyone who appears on the tube. * Here's some modern animation that has some of the spirit and pace of the legendary old Warner Bros. cartoons. * Gotta love those classic game-show bloopers. From Dave: * Get to know Britain's biggest-selling female novelist. * Nathan Glazer does a good job of summing up the history (and failures, and conundrums) of architectural modernism. * Seth and Tyler wonder what the literary antecedents of blogs might be. * For the first time in history, more than half the world's people live in cities. Stewart ("How Buildings Learn") Brand explores what this development might mean for all of us. He also wonders about the aesthetics of "squatter cities." One-sixth of humanity now lives in squatter cities. * Slow Food, Slow Leadership, and now Slow Libraries. * Is the Texan writer Elmer Kelton one of America's best underknown novelists? * Bill Kauffman reviews a couple of memoirs about growing up in Iowa, and wonders if we might not be due for an Iowa renaissance. * Michael Allen, aka the Grumpy Old Bookman dismantles the snooties' contempt for romantic fiction. Let me second Dave's enthusiasm for Michael Allen -- if you've enjoyed my tussles with the publishing world and its pretentions, then you'll really enjoy reading Michael's blog. (He has made his no-holds-barred book "The Truth About Writing" available as a free PDF download. Read it, and save yourself a lot of heartache.) Fun to see that GOB admires the thinking of publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin as much as I do. And a funny / sad link that I'm proud to have turned up myself: * Let's hope none of us meet our end this way. Best, with many thanks to Charlton and Dave, Michael... posted by Michael at July 11, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Monday, July 9, 2007

Whither Highbrow?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Today Terry Teachout muses about the state of high culture these days, a piece triggered by the recent death of opera singer Beverly Sills. Among Teachout's musings are: If we want to see a revival of anything remotely resembling the middlebrow culture of the pre-Vietnam era, in which most middle-class people who were not immersed in the fine arts were nonetheless aware and respectful of them and made an effort to engage with them, then artists will have to shake off what I have called their "entitlement mentality" and go where the audiences are. Should they? There's a serious case to be made for not doing so, the case for elitism in the arts, and I don't need to restate it here. Clement Greenberg put it best when he claimed that "it is middlebrow, not lowbrow, culture that does most nowadays to cut the social ground from under high culture." True enough--but if you care about the continuing fate of museums, symphony orchestras, ballet, opera, and theater companies, and all the other big-money institutions that were the pillars of American high culture in the twentieth century, you're going to have to accept the fact that these elitist enterprises cannot survive without the wholehearted support of a non-elite public that believes in their importance. I remember that middlebrow culture, and it was nice. An especially memorable instance was CBS's Omnibus television program hosted by Alistair Cook that aired Sunday afternoons in the mid-1950s. Among the many interesting topics on the program was a re-staging of bits of Shakespearian plays illustrating the hypothesis that, under Cromwell's rule, continuity of performance was lost. As best I can remember from 50 yearas ago, the "reconstituted" performances were peppier than what we had been trained to expect. High culture struggles on, a zombie-like "living dead" creature in this age of irony, disrespect and autopilot bourgeoisie-bashing by "artists" in the sundry "arts." Will it return to its former power and glory? Assuming no disasters such as losing the war against radical Islam, I think high culture will eventually return. Of course it won't be what it was in 1850, 1900 or 1950; history never repeats itself exactly. But there are historical cycles and cultural pendulum-swings. The libertine post-Revolutionary Terror era in Europe where women dressed revealingly was replaced by Victorianism. Periods of atheism and "free thinking" alternate with religious revivals. Eventually crudeness in the form of Rap, Concept Art, mindless action movies and the rest of current popular culture will become boring because it will have been around too long. Not to mention the practical consideration that shock-based entertainment cannot be sustained when the pool of potentially shocking material has been depleted. Like it or not, the pendulum will swing. Eventually. Your thoughts? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 9, 2007 | perma-link | (49) comments

Monday, July 2, 2007

Saving a Dying Town
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- We got a head start on the July 4th holiday by driving across the Cascade Mountains for a few days visiting friends who rented a house for the long weekend. And I wasn't able to post because the place was not in the Verizon Wireless beam -- no cellphone connection, no internet service for my macBook. Where we were was Leavenworth, Washington, a town that was well on its way to semi-extinction 45 years ago. It reached its initial peak in the early 1920s when it was a railroad and lumber industry center. But the Great Northern moved its Leavenworth activities farther east to the much larger town of Wenatchee and the timber business in the area began a slow decline. When I was young I occasionally passed through Leavenworth via car or "milk train" (a passenger train that would stop at nearly every available station along a route -- very slow travel, and very boring for a kid). Nothing much there. Just a few two and three-story brick buildings dating to the turn of the century surrounded by smaller, wooden ones. The main reasons for stopping (if driving) were to fill a stomach or a gas tank. The situation was getting dire by the early 1960s with population declining and businesses failing. What to do? One local booster offered Solvang, California as a model. Solvang was settled by Danes and its business district buildings follow a Danish architectural theme. Many businesses are also Danish-themed. Leavenworth is right next to some fairly tall mountains, lying as it does on the eastern slope of the Cascades. So a Danish theme was ruled out by the topography. The pretty obvious solution? Go Alpine. And to sharpen the focus, make it Bavarian Alpine. And that's what was done. Within a few years several business buildings were modified to mimick a Bavarian village. Moreover, the crazy scheme worked. Today Leavenworth's entire business area is "Bavarian" right down to gothic script on signs. Speaking of signs, they're mostly in an odd mix of German and English -- the English label preceded by a Der, Die or Das. This makes business sense when you consider that not many Americans understand German. Even so, you also can see supporting verbiage such as Bäkerei or Herzliche Wilkommen. On Sunday, a fancy beer wagon (sans beer, I think) was parked by the little park on the three or four block-long main drag. In the park's gazebo was an accordion player belting out German songs. The overall effect strikes me as a little hokey and forced. Few shops offer anything even remotely sophisticated, and some of the souvenir stores sell stuff that seems pretty junky. On the other hand, we found German merchandise similar to what we saw in Munich, such as cheap cuckoo clocks, that were better buys here than there when the cost off shipping stuff home from Munich stores is factored in. Leavenworth had lots of visitors this last weekend. Most... posted by Donald at July 2, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Neo Hot Rods
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The ball's in my court. Uh, check that. That's not a ball. It's ... a grenade! The safety ring had been pulled out. And the lever is in the open position. What's this nonsense? It seems I got an email from Michael (Himself) Blowhard passing along a message from one "zebic" in Australia who had a link to pictures of a Holden (General Motors) dream car with a hot rod styling theme. The subliminal hint was that it might be nice to do a post on this. [Click heels. Give snappy salute.] The subject of hot rods -- or more specifically, hot rods with customized bodies -- is one I've toyed with, but avoided writing about. That's because I've have this thing about custom rods. I suppose I should explain. The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had an exhibit a while ago featuring Kustom Kars from what they called the high point of hot rod custom building -- roughly 1945-1955. As it happens, I was an early-teen during the last few years of that golden epoch. Believe me, rods and Kustoms were the talk of junior high boys who were too young to drive and too broke to buy a car of any kind, let alone get the goodies to soup up the motor or pay a body shop to chop 'n' channel 'n' section the beastie. Guys would go on and on about which car would be best (Ford and Mercury flat-head V8s were the strong consensus pick). Then the conversation would shift to how much the engine block should be shaved and what brands of hot camshafts and exhaust systems would be best. Along with this would be customizing: tweak the suspension to lower the front, the back or both? What grille to substitute. (Implicit was that nearly all the production chrome trim would be pulled off, the attachment holes leaded in and the car repainted.) Me? I had much less of an engineering mindset than I do now, so the engine talk was largely lost on me. But the customizing subject bothered me. Here it gets a little complicated. I was becoming knowlegeable about custom automobiles of the 1930s. These are a subset of what are known as Classic Cars. A Classic Car is usually a car that was expensive in its day and often had interesting or unusual engineering and styling features. (The Classic Car Club of America has a list of makes and models that are "officially" classic, but that's a side-topic.) A customized classic usually retained the production hood, dash panel and fenders. A bespoke-body firm (an outfit often literally in the "carriage trade" originally -- and certainly not a backyard panel-beater) would receive a chassis from the manufacturer with only the previously-mentioned body parts or, sometimes, a complete car from which much of the body aft of the hood would be removed. Then a special design would be constructed to replace the now-missing passenger area. Fine... posted by Donald at June 26, 2007 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, June 25, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Marc Andreessen praises "Infernal Affairs" and lists a lot of reasons not to do a start-up. * Ed Gorman recalls his days as the publisher of a sci-fi fanzine. Ed blogs here. * Jewish Atheist whirls insightfully through a whole bunch of movies he's watched recently. * It's great to see that Mary Scriver's book about her late ex, the Western sculptor Robert Scriver, is now in the catalogue. It'll go on sale in October. * Half Sigma muses about sexbots. * Mac buffs: Organize your life with iGettingThingsDone. It looks 'way too complex for me. I'm a happy Yojimbo guy myself -- Yojimbo is iPhoto for your brain, basically. But many people who like a lot of structure -- and who are willing to spend more time than I am mastering a piece of software -- rave about iGTD. Plus it's free. * So perhaps we'd be healthier if our doctors went on strike? * Clio does some subtle and canny thinking about artists, money, and making a living. * Graham Lester (now blogging at a new address) collects some classic Spike Milligan silliness. * Rachel Lucas and her dog Sunny are charged by a pit bull. In the comments on this posting, visitors offer Rachel advice about how to defend herself against dog attacks. (Link thanks to Tatyana.) * MB Rewind: I wrote an introduction to the conundrum that was the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl back when she turned 100 years old. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Emissions Controls
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Given all the twisting, squeezing, and deep breathing that is encouraged in yoga classes, it's amazing that this kind of episode doesn't occur more frequently. Essential yoga tip from one who has learned from hard experience: Don't eat anything solid for three hours prior to class. Some earnest commenters debate what I guess we might call the etiquette of yoga-farting here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 25, 2007 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are Big Conspiracies Easy to Pull Off?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I didn't notice many political bumper stickers last month while driving in the southeast; here in Seattle I see lots of them. Most of the Seattle bumper stickers are the usual anti-Bush, anti-war variety with slogans ranging from "A village in Texas has lost its idiot" to "IMPEACH!" -- all coming from the sort of folks who used to have "Hate is not a family value" stickers on their Volvos and Priuses. But that's not what I'm addressing here. Much more interesting stuff is cropping up on the back ends of vehicles. Today I spotted a sticker-laden minivan where one of the stickers said something to the following effect: "911 was an inside job." And a day or two ago I was following a car whose license plate frame had a slogan asserting that no airplane crashed into the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. Okay. I can understand partisan "humor" (the first sticker mentioned above) and even partisan wishful thinking (the second one). But the last two cases are in the realm of conspiracy-thinking that goes beyond common sense. Obviously the people who placed those slogans on their cars believe that the Administration was able to pull off a conspiracy that, if real, was off the charts in terms of resources employed, complexity of tasks, and exquisite timing. Real-world experience tells most adults that secrets are hard to keep if many people are "in the know" -- especially in an open society such as the United States where people are inclined to blab, blab and blab again. In other words, by this time somebody probably would have stepped forward to proclaim "Yeah, it was me who did the logistics for the Trade Center controlled-demolition, and I got the Ace Hardware receipts to prove I bought the stuff." Then there's the command and control element. Organizing complicated tasks isn't easy, again something that those adults who have worked in large organizations know. I'm not a student of conspiracies. Truth is, I normally find the subject boring due to lack of resolution. So I'd appreciate reader input regarding the largest, most complex proven successful conspiracy undertaken in a free society. Military operations don't count: they might be secret, but they normally don't fall into the realm of what most people understand conspiracies to be. And just for the record, I recognize that it's possible for secrets to be kept by large numbers of people in a free society. The classic case is the secret of the Ultra code-breaking effort in World War 2. But Ultra was during wartime. And it was a legal activity of the British government. It saddens me that some people are so attracted to conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially if those theories can be distractions when important issues are at stake. And what damage does such theorizing do to the theorizer (I'm assuming a free society setting)? Common sense and Occam's Razor go into the recycle bin. A lifetime of experience... posted by Donald at June 24, 2007 | perma-link | (48) comments

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute posts some irresistable clips from Bollywood musicals. * Anne Thompson thinks we needn't worry overmuch about women in Hollywood. * Whipsmart chicklit author Jennifer Weiner is as peeved by the New York Times Book Review's disdain for genre fiction as I am. (My own postings on the topic: here, here, here, here, here.) * Thursday comes up with a helpful mini-canon for world literature. * Russian-Jewish immigrant Irina writes that she didn't really discover her Jewishness until she moved to the U.S. * The Communicatrix 'fesses up to 8 things you probably didn't know about her. #7 represents the best use yet of Google Maps. For a good time, don't miss the last link in that particular entry. * Prairie Mary pokes around the crawl space under her kitchen. * Slow This and Slow That -- enough already. Anna Travis praises the speed of modern life. * Vince Keenan raves about a recent Hard Case Crime Gil Brewer reprint. Vince seems as taken by the book's panties-bra-gun-money cover painting as he is by the book's content. Funny line: "This is what the inside of my brain looks like 24/7." * Tyler Cowen lists some of his favorite things Quebecois. And here's a deal: Pre-order a copy of Tyler's new book and receive the key to his secret blog. I think all culturebuffs owe it to themselves to read Tyler's "In Praise of Commercial Culture." * Raymond Pert turns over some moody memories of high-school basketball. * 2B Rewind: Michael Blowhard reviews "Sex and Lucia," "Lost and Delirious," "The Good Girl," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (5) comments

Boomer Embarrassments
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- At the gym this morning, the music on the PA system was so whiney that -- try as I could -- I finally couldn't ignore it any longer. Damn! When I allowed my mind to register the tune, I quickly recognized who was singing: James Taylor, sensitive bard of gentle melancholy, of nostalgic hopefulness, of sweetly Lincolnesque cheekbones, of sad and childlike loss ... Lordy, what a disgrace he is -- the Boomers really owe the world an apology for James Taylor! (I confess that my sense of shame was amplified by the cringe-making recollection that, during one year of adolescent self-pity that I'd prefer to deny, I owned a James Taylor disc and even played it a lot. Adolescence, eh? What are those feelings all about?) Which in turn got me thinking: What other culture-figures should the Boomers apologize for inflicting on the world? The man who sprang most quickly to mind was the awful architect Thom Mayne, a self-important buffoon we've done our best to expose to some ridicule on this blog: here, here, here, here, here. After Mayne, though, I bogged down a bit, because the Boomers have supplied such an extensive set of riches to choose from. So with this blogposting I'm soliciting help: Which culture-figures deserve places on a short list of Boomer Embarrassments? (Note to self for future blogpostings: Propose same game for other eras -- "Shame of the Greatest Generation"; "Disgraces of the Xers," etc.) Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 20, 2007 | perma-link | (33) comments

Monday, June 18, 2007

How Real Are Tourist "Cultural" Events?
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- One of the joys of overseas group tours is having the "opportunity" to fork out more cash for supplemental trips and "cultural" evenings. The latter might include a meal comprised of local specialties and a floor show featuring costumed folk dancers, musicians, singers and such. I avoid this "cultural" stuff if possible. Some of this has to do with eating habits: my agent tells me my ranking is 12th most fussy eater in the USA. (Lordy, I'm slipping. Must have been because I ate at Wild Ginger last month.) What bothers me most is the other stuff, not the food. For reasons I won't go into, I have a strong aversion to folk-dancing and related activities. Moreover, I suspect that nowadays most people in the country being visited do not dress, dance, etc. as portrayed in the floor shows. When I travel, I spend as much time as I can strolling streets and driving through the countryside. And when I do so, I almost never see locals as they appear in "cultural" events. (For what it's worth, I see local clothing most often in Bavaria.) Or, consider this angle. Just what would an American "cultural" floor show include? Square dancing, for instance? Nah: only a tiny minority do that. Overseas readers who have taken packaged USA tours: Do those tours offer "cultural" evenings? And if so, what goes on? Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 18, 2007 | perma-link | (18) comments

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dream Cars Like Jets
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A tenet of industrial design theory is that the shape of an object ought to reflect the object's function. A purist might hold that there is a Platonic ideal form lurking out there that designers should strive to discover. But changing technology in terms of engineering and means of production can make such an ideal elusive -- if it exists, which I tend to doubt. Even if ideals are hard to attain, rough approximations usually aren't. Consider the automobile. Just what expresses "automobile?" A car normally has four wheels, the front ones steerable. So it might be a good idea if the front wheels were fully exposed (or nearly so) on the sides of the car to ensure a decent turning radius. Exposing the rear wheels is more a matter of aesthetics, though there are the practical considerations of ease of changing tires or chaining-up for snow and ice. A wide wheel track (placing the wheels near the sides of the vehicle) is helpful for preventing rollover, and this also suggests that exposed wheels are part of the nature of a car. Cars carry a driver and passengers, all of whom need to enter and exit the vehicle, ideally with some ease. The driver needs to be in a position to control the car, and so requires windows or some other nearly 360-degree vision system. Human sizes and shapes and the need for a certain amount of seating comfort dictate in part the size and form of the passenger compartment. The type, size, position (fore, mid or aft) and cooling needs of the motor as well as other requirements (such as carrying luggage) affect the look of a car, but this doesn't mean that cars need to look alike -- though they theoretically should look "car-like." But there was a time when cars began to look a lot less car-like. This was the mid-late 1950s when cars began to resemble jet fighters and sci-fi spaceships. And this tendency was most pronounced in the case of dream cars. By 1950 it was clear to automobile company management that style was a major factor in sales. So stylists, having proven themselves, were encouraged to cut loose and create things to excite potential buyers. By coincidence, this happened just as evolution in the appearance of cars essentially ended (see my essay on this topic here). With no place to go trend-wise, stylists thrashed around in search a new trends or themes. One such theme was aviation or space, already successfully tested by Harley Earl at General Motors. I'm thinking of a series of futuristic scale models that yielded the famous 1948 Cadillac tail fins. The success of Cadillac led stylists to go pretty wild exploring that theme -- wild to the point where dream cars (and to a lesser degree some production models) looked less and less like cars. As will be seen below, Ford stylists were the wildest of all. I recall a TV documentary in... posted by Donald at June 15, 2007 | perma-link | (8) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * One generation's nightmare becomes another generation's desirable address, I guess: Ilkka confesses that he has always wanted to live in the city portrayed in the movie "Blade Runner." I find huge glassy skyscrapers horrifying myself -- who would want to live or work in one, let alone walk around the base of one? But Ilkka finds the building boom that's happening in Dubai thrilling. * The lesbian Hot List differs in some interesting ways from the typical het-male hot list. * Here's a delicious Tory Atlas of the World. (Link thanks to Andrew Sullivan.) * Phearless philosopher Lester Hunt considers the case of a new movie on the theme of sexual relations between humans and horses. Lester contributes my candidate for the Best Sentence of the Week: "The anus was his, not the stallion's." * Laurie Churchman surveys the history of "boat graphics." (PDF alert. Link thanks to Michael Bierut.) * Use this well-done interactive map to find out how many illegal immigrants live in your state. (Link thanks to GNXP.) * If you can bear to revisit the event, this computer-graphic analysis of what happened when that jet hit the WTC tower makes the impact very vivid. (Link thanks to Charlton Griffin.) * Is your favorite soft drink harming your DNA? *Cowtown Pattie expresses a feeling many of us experience regularly these days: Damn! Why didn't I bring my digicam? * Architect Philip Bess makes his bow at Right Reason. Nice line: "I think both individual liberty and communal belonging are great and essential human goods, and often in tension." * Roissy's "Quick and Dirty Dating Guide to Foreign Girls" is certainly a fun, if very rude, read. It sounds like Estonian girls have a lot to recommend them. Roissy also links to a hilarious column by Fred Reed -- or did Shouting Thomas ghost that one for him? * Shouting Thomas writes that he has learned from -- and taken heart from -- the work of men's movement guru Warren Farrell. * 2B Rewind: Let Michael Blowhard introduce you to the underknown philosopher Stephen Toulmin. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 15, 2007 | perma-link | (27) comments

Hot Buttons by the Dozen
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When Nancy and I go grocery shopping she pushes the cart and looks for items for which she has definite criteria in mind. Me, I zip around the store shagging stuff I need or that she sends me off to fetch, returning to the cart periodically to unload my stash. This morning she dispatched me to get a dozen eggs. When I got to the dairy section I was confronted with so many alternatives that it took me a couple of minutes to find what I wanted -- a box of 12 plain ol' white eggs. Not very many years ago the selection might have been brown versus white, and then the white eggs by size. No longer. I could get eggs packaged in groups of 18 or 24, besides the standard dozen. Stores catering to single-person households sometimes sell packages of only six eggs. What snagged my attention were eco-variations. For instance: Organic eggs Eggs from vegetarian-fed chickens No hormones eggs Eggs from cage-free chickens Eggs from "free-range" chickens (same thing?) As a market-loving capitalist tool, I can't complain much about such product extensions. But I was amused, once I got over the annoyance of looking for what I wanted. Which I found, by the way, on the bottom shelf: the "green" eggs were at eye-level, as one might expect at a store serving a university community. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at June 15, 2007 | perma-link | (7) comments

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Island Travel
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I'm writing this on a southbound voyage of the Victoria Clipper, a passenger catamaran that runs between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. We were in Victoria for two nights with some of Nancy's relatives. The trip takes 15 minutes less than three hours and offers the convenience of having origin / destination downtown at both ends of the trip. The captain announced that our speed was 32.5 knots -- that's about as fast as the speedy inter-war fleet carriers Lexington and Saratoga were supposed to attain. When I was growing up, the Seattle-Victoria passage was via a Canadian Pacific "Princess" liner, and took perhaps four hours (I forget). I think faster is better, but you have to pay the price -- around $130 a head for a round trip. Off-season fares are a little less, so we might do more Victoria trips then. There are other travel options. One can drive from Seattle to Port Angeles (on the southern shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, due south of Victoria) via Tacoma and a cross-Puget Sound bridge. Or get to Port Angeles driving part-way and taking a cross-Sound ferry en route to cut the mileage (but risk possible long delays during busy summer weekends). Once at Port Angeles, a passenger-only or a car-passenger ferry can get you across the strait to Victoria. Doing a walk-on for the final leg keeps the overall cost significantly less than the Clipper. Another alternative is to take a Washington government-run ferry from the mainland through the San Juan Islands to Vancouver Island, but the dock is more than 15 miles from downtown Victoria. Or you could drive north up Interstate 5 into Canada and then catch a British Columbia ferry that docks even farther from town. With these options, it's probably better to take a car all the way. Passenger jet service is available, but Victoria's airport is near where the Washington ferry arrives. More convenient air service is by float plane. Small one and two motor turboprop passenger planes arrive in Victoria's Inner Harbour with astonishing frequency. But you have to be willing to fly in such small craft. I'm a little lerry about them in the first place. Then there's the fact that landing on water is generally considered trickier than landing on airfields. Even if there is no debris in the water. [Pause while I dash out on deck to watch a Trident missile submarine make its way north out of Puget Sound.] Victoria is a very pleasant place to visit. It's probably a fine place to live. But, being on an Island (albeit a large one), it takes time, money and effort to get to the mainland. The travel options mentioned above are the main ones. Others are private boat and plane. Many people are quite happy with the semi-isolation of Vancouver Island. Me, I'd prefer the mainland ... though Victoria is certainly tempting. Would you be happy in smallish,... posted by Donald at June 13, 2007 | perma-link | (6) comments

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Not that I even want to see the movie, but Quiet Bubble's reflections on "Knocked Up" were awfully smart and fun to read. * Visiting Mexico City, Corbusier shows how a sensitive, sane, and amusing architecture buff responds to what's before him. * Anne Thompson has zero interest in "torture porn." * Jim Kalb offers advice to a recent Haverford grad. * Prairie Mary lists her favorite blogs. * Unlike some of us, John Emerson has fond memories of the free-jazz and fusion-jazz eras. He volunteers some listening recommendations too. * Mencius' reasons for arguing that there's no such thing as liberal-media-bias aren't the usual ones, that's for sure. * Paul Boutin buys a classic '63 Avanti and writes an article sub-headed: "Thank god they don't make 'em like that any more." * Dept. of Hardly-Seems-Possible: Rachel turns up a ladies' undergarment that's even smaller than a g-string. And no, it's not (as we used to joke in Boy Scouts) a cork. * Fred links to some gorgeous "weather porn." * Why on earth is GWBush so devoted to his nutty -- and unpopular -- immigration schemes? Mickey Kaus thinks it's all of a piece with what has led Bush to embroil us in Iraq. George Borjas has some insights too. * That brainy and civilized filmgeek Girish rhapsodizes about South Indian food. He also links to a touching interview with Thiru Kumar, a guy who runs a vegan South Indian food cart in a park two blocks from where I live. I'll be checking Thiru's work out soon! * Bill Crider and his wife receive some unhappy news. Visit and send love. * Here's a very helpful list of overlooked crime novels. (Link thanks to Petrona.) Meanwhile, Maxine has archived her own (excellent) book reviews here. * Jon and Steve gab brainily about that notion of "transcending the genre." What does it really mean? Anything at all? * Alice offers some hilarious observations about men and clothes. One funny passage: Men are pretty good at being confident in the face of ignorance- all it takes is a little extra ignorance, ie. ignorance about your own ignorance, and everything seems fine! (I am not being men-ist here. This quality actually makes me quite jealous.) * Vince Keenan takes a look at the re-cut "Payback" and ... likes it pretty well. * Susan enjoys a wrestle with John Updike's "Rabbit, Run." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 12, 2007 | perma-link | (15) comments

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Congratulations to chemist and super-blogger Derek Lowe, who's once again gainfully employed. * Anne Thompson's blogpost about Sharon Waxman's departure from the New York Times is a priceless introduction to the politics of entertainment reporting. * Tintin's creator Herge would have turned 100 last week. * Daily Film Dose celebrates some of cinema history's greatest long tracking shots, complete with links to YouTube clips. * Has investment banker Bruce Wasserstein been good for Lazard? Matthew Lynn argues that the only entity that has done well by Bruce Wasserstein in recent years has been Bruce Wasserstein. Btw, did you realize that one of Bruce Wasserstein's siblings was the playwright Wendy Wasserstein? * The giddy and exuberant yet down-to-earth Alice Bachini gives her blog a sweet makeover and a cheery new theme. I had a couple of good chuckles reading this posting about getting a root canal ... * Tyler Cowen evaluates some of the heterodox schools of economics: Post-Keynesian, feminist. * Mystery writer Melodie Johnson Howe is sick of the way the lit snobs look down on mystery writing. * Charlton Griffin passes along a link to some appallingly beautiful footage of nuclear explosions. * Shouting Thomas recalls losing his beloved Myrna. * Maxwell Goss finds some indications that Webster's College Dictionary has gone P.C. * Lexington Green -- who is in the middle of a lot of heavier reading than I've attempted recently -- turns up a beautiful clip of cool-jazz diva Anita O'Day. Here she is from "Jazz on a Summer's Day." * Marc Andreessen confesses that he's addicted to "productivity porn" (Gina Trapani, David Allen, etc), then comes up with some good productivity tips of his own. * Slow Food, Slow Cities ... Now meet Slow Leadership. * Thanks to the "baby carrot" phenomemon, Americans are eating more carrots than ever. Given that fact, it's interesting to learn from USA Today that baby carrots aren't really babies at all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at June 6, 2007 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * That "we're a nation of immigrants" claim you often hear, justifying crazy immigration policies? John Derbyshire makes some important points in response to it. Oh, what the hell, I'm going to copy and paste the best passage: In fact, immigration to the USA has been spasmodic and regionally biased. For quite long spells, there was no immigration at all into quite big regions. (There was very nearly no immigration into New England, for instance for almost TWO HUNDRED YEARS between the Puritan settlements of the mid 17th century and the arrival of the Catholic Irish in the mid 19th). There was hardly any immigration into the entire USA from 1924 to 1965. If Americans are so strongly emotionally attached to immigration, how come they weren't periodically rioting in the streets of Boston and Providence all through those 200 years? Can you offer me some evidence of popular demand for more immigration in the 1924-65 lull? * Mark Krikorian says that what Bush wants is open borders. A nice comment from Krikorian: There's no excuse for any large guest-worker program. A vast, mobile labor force like ours -- willing to move, willing to change jobs, change occupations -- does not need to be supplemented by p