In which a group of graying eternal amateurs discuss their passions, interests and obsessions, among them: movies, art, politics, evolutionary biology, taxes, writing, computers, these kids these days, and lousy educations.

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  1. Living Through Gustav
  2. Is The Flu Vaccination Really Helpful?
  3. Choosing a How-to-Paint Book
  4. Out Where the Midwest Begins
  5. Boston, Heah We Ah!
  6. Andrew Bacevich, Reluctant Obamacon
  7. What's Your 'White People' Score?
  8. The Rawness
  9. Slideshows
  10. Quote for the Day

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Our Last 50 Referrers

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

Is The Flu Vaccination Really Helpful?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Does the flu vaccine really prevent deaths? The stats would seem to indicate such a conclusion. After all, a geezer who has had a flu shot is less likely to die during flu season than a geezer who hasn't had a flu shot. But a new study suggests that what we might really be witnessing is nothing but the consequence of the fact that the already-more-healthy are more likely to get a flu shot than the already-less-healthy. The geezer who gets a flu shot is already a more robust geezer than the geezer who fails to get a flu shot. FWIW: In my own case, I have had better luck, flu-wise, during years when I haven't submitted to a flu shot. Bonus point: What's in a flu shot. Yummy! Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 13, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Choosing a How-to-Paint Book
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- I've griped more than once on this blog about my lousy art training: here, for instance. The consequence when I decided to take up painting again as I was about to retire was that I ran out and bought a how-to-paint book. Then I bought another. And another. Must have 20 of the darn things now. Since it seems that I'm finally improving at little at painting, I've cut down on such purchases. Along the way, I discovered that they don't always agree with one another. This is understandable because painting, believe it or not, is an art, not a science. Another reason for cutting down on purchases is that there's a lot of agreement between the books (along with those differences), so any new purchase usually yields a large amount of redundancy. After all, painting can be as much a craft as an art, and the purpose of those books is to provide time-tested rules-of-thumb such as "thick over thin" for painting in oils. Nowadays, I tend to look for books that deal with specific aspects of art that I know I need to work on (such as clothing and how fabrics drape). Otherwise, I'll thumb through a book to look at the author's style of painting. If the style doesn't interest or impress me, I probably won't buy the book. But if I find the style interesting and wish that I could incorporate aspects of it in my own work, I'm likely to swipe the plastic through the card reader or call up the site and add the tome to my too-large collection. (Hmm. Next time I go to Powell's in Portland, I ought to bring some of the losers along and try to sell them.) This book by British painter David Curtis is an example of a how-to book I bought because the author's style impressed me. Here are some examples of his work I found on the Internet. Some are found in the book, but the book contains others that I find even more interesting. Gallery I don't have a title for this. Curtis is mostly a landscape guy, but does the occasional portrait. Moorings on the Chesterfield Canal Pembrokeshire Sea Cliffs, Port St. Justinian Rocky Cove, Lleyn Peninsula Rooftops and Cliffs, Staithes Fine Autumn Day, Clayworth Wharf Vintage Car Workshop Strikes me as an oils version of Frank Wootton's charcoal automobile drawings. You can't really tell from the sampling above, but Curtis tends to dramatize his paintings by selecting a sun angle that approaches backlighting. Neat trick, though it can become a crutch or habit. One dark secret he didn't reveal was how he does those thin lines needed to depict ships' rigging; I'd love to know that. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at September 11, 2008 | perma-link | (20) 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

Andrew Bacevich, Reluctant Obamacon
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Catholic conservative, West Point guy, and Vietnam vet Andrew Bacevich says that he will vote, if reluctantly, for Obama. "We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries," Bacevich says. "That's not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military." More from Bacevich here, here and here. Nice passage: There was a time, seventy, eighty, a hundred years ago, that we Americans sat here in the western hemisphere, and puzzled over why British imperialists went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We viewed that sort of imperial adventurism with disdain. But, it's really become part of what we do. Amy Goodman asks Bacevich "Who benefits?" Bacevich: "From the war? There are obviously corporations, contractors who benefit, and I would not—never want to dismiss that, but I don’t really think that that provides us an adequate explanation of how we got into this fix. I think who really benefits or what benefits is the political status quo." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (32) comments

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

The Rawness
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Rawness is one smart, fresh, and funny writer. Read here about how to have fun tormenting hipster "music Nazis," and here about some of the books that turned The Rawness into the raw kind of conservative that he is. This posting about ghetto black males struck me as really brilliant. Great passage: Even though they are doing their best to be supernigga, they still do things in a feminine way because feminine influences are most of what they know. Most of their role models and involved family members are women, and the few men in their lives were likely raised by only women too. And it shows in how they handle conflict: grudges are held forever, they never know how to let anything slide, they think primarily with emotion and are prone to outbursts, drama and confrontation and most importantly, they don’t know how to choose their battles. True male behavior isn’t being a drama queen, being highly prone to emotional outbursts and holding onto grudges; true male behavior is picking your battles, knowing when to fight and when to let things slide, analyzing things calmly and logically and having discipline over your moods and emotions and exercising emotional restraint. These are things that a true alpha male influence teaches you, and such influences have almost disappeared completely from the hood. That "these guys are modeling female behaviors" bit is an angle that I'd never given a single thought to before. Some of The Rawness' other postings about black issues can be gotten to here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Colin Mulvany -- who has produced over 75 online slideshows himself -- offers a lot of good tips for making better online slideshows. Colin really knows his stuff. Check out his visit with artificial-eye maker Kim Erickson. It's a new-media beauty that packs an awful lot of story, character, and information into a quiet and understated two minutes. Lots more here. Colin reviews the basics of visual storytelling here, and offers some anyone-can-use-'em tips for livening up your video footage here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Tom Conoboy, who has been thinking about American "metafiction," offers a sensible question: I guess this is the problem with anything experimental ... Eventually, the experiment has to either lead somewhere or stop. We've had metafiction for forty years (and more) from Auster, Barthelme, Barth, Pynchon et al. They've broken down the barriers. But is there anything beyond? Or do you, in the end, have to return to traditional storytelling in order to tell a story? Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (7) comments

Political Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Paul Farrell declares that the U.S. has a "war economy," and tries to figure out why we put up with it. * Charles Whelan explains some of the reasons why GWBush isn't a conservative. Nice line: "We're spending like drunken sailors, but we're not even getting the hookers and booze." * Libertarian Robert Higgs finds that he can agree with some of leftie Thomas Franks' complaints. It's only after the complaining is over that the differences kick in. * Paul Craig Roberts offers a different take on Franks' book. A nice bit: Why does Frank think that conservatives or liberals rule? Neither rule. America is ruled by organized interest groups with money to elect candidates who serve their interests. * Karen De Coster wants people to stop conceiving of their houses as "investments" and start thinking of them as "durable consumer goods" instead. * I enjoyed Justin Raimondo's funny and offbeat piece about HGTV. Raimondo makes the case that the home-and-lifestyle channel is TV's only real conservative outlet. "I’d much rather watch a few episodes of 'My Parents Home' than read, say, National Review," he writes. * Stephan looks at who's on the panel of the (government-sponsored, of course) National Cholesterol Education Program, and discovers that eight out of nine of them might fairly be described as statin-industry shills. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at September 8, 2008 | perma-link | (6) 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