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  1. Seeing Yellowstone Park ... Before it Explodes
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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

Music by Colleen
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That adorable, spunky, and thoroughly dirty-minded born performer Colleen finally makes an appearance on YouTube, singing a very 21st century kinda blues: "The Dirty Keywords Search Song." NSFW, as though you were in any doubt. Go here for a wee bit more, or visit Colleen at her usual webhome. Colleen writes about doing the gig here. Hey, The Wife and I have done In the Flesh too. Spanking fan, cupcake aficionado, and In the Flesh impresario Rachel Kramer Bussel is a culture-world mover and a shaker in more ways than one. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 22, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

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

The Alexander Effect
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- James Kunstler confesses that it didn't all come together for him until he read Christopher Alexander and Andres Duany. I've run into professional architects who have told me similar things -- that they were out there, practicing architecture for a living, yet they didn't really "get it" until they stumbled across Alexander's great "A Pattern Language" and / or his equally-great "The Timeless Way of Building." "Suburban Nation" -- by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck -- is pretty damn mind-opening too. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 21, 2008 | perma-link | (13) comments

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Genre Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Polly Frost bemoans "audio overload" in contempo horror films. One especially concise, "I wish I'd said that myself!" passage: "A person’s nerves can only take so much before they tune out entirely." * Vince Keenan is dazzled by a new Lawrence Block novel. * Andrew Klavan makes some good psychological-crime novel suggestions. As it happens, psychological suspense is my own favorite narrative genre. I wrote about the genre back here. * I see that New York's legendary Mysterious Bookstore has just started a blog. Many of the entries are written by crime-fiction dean Otto Penzler himself. * Listen to an interview with Otto Penzler -- who is, IMHO, a major figure in contemporary American book-fiction -- here. Is it a complete coincidence that the interview was published by a rightie outfit? Sigh: Why doesn't the leftie-arty set see more in genre fiction? It may be worth pointing out that genre fiction is, in the U.S. at least, the book-fiction of "the people." Hey, didn't lefties used to make a big deal out of their commitment to "the people"? * MBlowhard Rewind: I raved about two novels that struck me as genuine 20th century greats -- but that you won't find on any official canon: James M. Cain's mean yet fullbodied "Mildred Pierce," and Francis Iles' sly, creepy, and beyond-brilliant "Before the Fact." (UPDATE: Mr. Tall enjoyed "Before the Fact" too.) * A fab bit from a recent Robert Townshend comment about American crime writing: There are no grand moral backgrounds, no straining for hard-boiled glamour. The prose is level, which always helps. The evil is shabby and domestic. I feel relaxed-in-a-good-way when I pick up a Goodis or James M. Cain, also Woolrich, Fredric Brown, others. The quality is very uneven -- nearly all these guys died of the booze -- but I usually pick up their works with a sense of relief and refreshment. And ain't that well-said? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 20, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Homage to a Catalan
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- If I were ordered to produce a league table for nations with respect to Western painting as reported in standard art history narratives, the Big Three would be Italy, Holland/Flanders and France. At or near the top of the following rank would be Spain, largely thanks to Velásquez, El Greco and Goya in pre-Modern days. In more recent times, regardless of what one thinks of their work or personalities, it's impossible to deny that two of the most famous 20th century painters were Spanish: Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Dalí was Catalan, Picasso spent his mid-teen years in Barcelona, Joan Miró was from Barcelona, and Hermen Anglada (who I wrote about here) also was from Barcelona. Catalonia, in Spain's northeast, has been uncomfortably Spanish. Catalans have their own dialect, which causes friction with the rest of the country. The region's proximity to France helps make it more "European" than distant parts of the country. These matters and others are treated in the book Barcelona 1900 which deals with the tug of mainstream European avant-garde art and architecture on Barcelona's artistic community. An artist featured in that book is Ramon Casas i Carbó. I wasn't aware of him, but liked his work and thought I'd show you some examples. For biographical information, click on the link above. Gallery Après le Bal - 1895 Before Bathing - c.1895 Madeleine - n.d. From the name, it was probably done in Paris. Mujer Conduciendo - early 1900s This "woman driver" looks like it might be intended for a poster. Julia Peraire portrait - c.1907 Julia was his model, later mistress, and eventual wife. Julia sketch - early 1900s In 1906 he met Julia Peraire who was born around 1888. I wonder a little if this is the same Julia because the woman looks older than 18 and the style of clothing she is wearing was on the way out in 1906. Portrait sketch of Pablo Picasso I'm tossing this in just to show that Casas could depict males. Actually, he did a lot of drawings and paintings of men, but I like looking at his women better. Sketch of woman Lautrec-like, but not so caricatured. Sifilis poster Casas did a good deal of poster art. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 19, 2008 | perma-link | (10) comments

Movie Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * David Chute suspects that Asian Westerns may be the next hot movie thing. * Bay Area film buffs: Get thee to the Pacific Film Archives, where a series of films based on the writings of noir god David Goodis has a few more days to run. Kelly Vance writes a helpful intro to the series, and to Goodis too. * Supersmart Ramesh Ram enthuses about about "HellBoy II," and is lovin' his Kindle. * Anne Thompson notices that celebrity noses are growing smaller. Sigh: Must everything in America always evolve in the direction of corporate cookie-cutter blandness? Life needs more tang, not less, dammit. * Michael Bierut raves about a new documentary about Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers. * Costume-lovin' blogger The Costuminatrix loves the coats in "Brotherhood of the Wolf." * MBlowhard Rewind: I rhapsodized about the French actress Sophie Marceau. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 19, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Monday, August 18, 2008

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * It's almost enough to rekindle my faith in humanity: The percentage of people who think Congress is doing a good job recently dipped into the single digits. * Meet the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate, Bob Barr. Link thanks to the smart and interesting Nathancontramundi, who also reprints a great passage from one of my faves, Wilhelm Ropke: "The welfare state itself takes care of a sort of comfortable stall-feeding of the domesticated masses. Is this not bound to work to the benefit precisely of existing large firms?" * Dave Lull wonders if Peggy Noonan has taken to channeling Bill Kauffman. Hey, team: Politics in America isn't just a matter of Dems vs. Repubs, it also has to do with our rootless, centralizing elites vs. the rest of us. Nice passage from Peggy: OK, quick, close your eyes. Where is Barack Obama from? He's from Young. He's from the town of Smooth in the state of Well Educated. He's from TV. John McCain? He's from Military. He's from Vietnam Township in the Sunbelt state. Chicago? That's where Mr. Obama wound up. * Lester Hunt examines what sounds like a kooky new idea: the tragedy of the anticommons. * Agnostic wonders if porn really has gone mainstream. Don't skip the comments. Postmodern Conservative responds. * Randall Parker isn't thrilled by the way honor killings have begun showing up in American crime stats. * Orthodox Agrarian feels inspired by the folk culture of the Scandinavian peasantry. * Is what really drives many liberals a crusading, even zealous desire to achieve one world? * Thomas Fleming explains some of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In Iraq, Al-Qaeda leaders have attempted to prevent women from buying cucumbers. Source. Still, there's no getting around it: A woman handling a cucumber can be a suggestive thing. My suggestion: How about we enjoy the moment and maintain a decent amount of self-control at the same time? Hey, how about we experience that combo -- arousal, humor, and dignity -- as sexily worthwhile in its own right? Enlighten me please: What is it that fundamentalists find so threatening about contrasts, dissonances, multiple levels, ironies, paradoxes, provocations, and flirtations? I pretty much live for 'em myself. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (81) comments

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

Bryan Meets Arthur
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- "The Black Swan," complexity theory, the movie business, Gary Taubes, evolutionary thinking, behavioral economics ... and what all of them may be able to tell us about sensible eating and staying fit. Bryan Appleyard meets the fascinating Arthur De Vany, who's quite a phenom. Nice passage: Almost all dietary and fitness regimes are based on a homeostatic view of the body – meaning it is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in a continuous, stable condition. The average is the ideal. So we are told to eat regular meals consisting of a balance of the food groups and to take regular exercise, dominated by steady aerobic activity like cycling or jogging. This is all wrong. Link thanks to Dave Lull. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 18, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Less-Forgotten Painters
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Regular readers know that from time to time I write postings about painters who can be unknown to people who took Modernist-centered art history classes in college (myself especially included). My impression is that many of these neglected painters are beginning to be pinged by cultural gatekeeper sonar. Impressions are one thing and numbers are another, usually better, means of trend-tracking. And I have some numbers. Not great numbers, but better than nothing. What I did was grab a couple of "art and artists" "dictionaries" (I'm cribbing from two nearly identical titles) and compared the artists they covered with those I wrote about. The first book is the Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists, 7th Edition. It was first published in 1959 and the 7th Edition came out in England in 1997. Only Giovanni Boldini and Jules Bastien-Le Page have their own entries. The other book is the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art & Artists, 3rd Edition. The first edition appeared in 1990 and the latest in 2003. Artists I wrote about that were mentioned are Cecilia Beaux, Boldini, Albert Edelfelt, Axel Gallèn, Philip de Laszlo, Helene Schjerfbeck, Valentin Serov, Joaquin Sorolla and Mikhail Vrubel. The Oxford book has about 650 pages and the Penguin only 580, but that difference is too small to account for the disparity in citations. The Penguin edition is only six years older than the Oxford one, but the first editions are separated by 31 years, which might (or might not) be a factor with greater impact than the tastes of the compilers. A better test would be to compare various editions of the books to see how many of my "peripheral" artists were added over time. Unfortunately, I don't have earlier editions handy. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at August 17, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments