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  1. Collapsing Newspapers
  2. Walking the Dog
  3. The Skip Gates Case
  4. False-Functional Car Design Details
  5. Food Linkage
  6. And That's the Way It Was ... Slow and Seldom
  7. Impressionist Rule-Breakers
  8. LitFict and Sentences
  9. Cultcha in da Stix
  10. Eating and Fitness Linkage

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Collapsing Newspapers
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Onion -- sold to our creditors, the Chinese. The Daily Planet -- downsizing. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (0) comments

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

The Skip Gates Case
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- I figure that most visitors are 'way ahead of me where following the Skip Gates case goes. But maybe you haven't yet run across this blogposting by FeministX. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 25, 2009 | perma-link | (19) 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

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Food Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Mark Sisson offers the definitive Primal Guide to saturated fat. Buy Mark's superb guide to the Primal thang here. * In praise of butter -- at least the good grass-fed stuff. * Richard Nikoley thinks that you owe it to yourself to go see "Food, Inc." * MBlowhard Rewind: Reading Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" got me musing a bit: here and here. Best, Michael UPDATE: Frank Bruni, the New York Times' restaurant critic, recalls what was like to be a food-obsessed fat kid.... posted by Michael at July 23, 2009 | perma-link | (40) 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

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Impressionist Rule-Breakers
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There's the saying "Rules are made to be broken." It neglects to mention that it might be helpful to keep consequences in mind when considering breaking a rule. In painting, consequences can be hard to pin down. Breaking a painting rule might mean -- depending upon which rule it is -- (1) the result will be ugly or odd and the work won't sell, (2) the painting's surface might crack or flake as it ages, or (3) it will be hailed as a courageous, innovative masterpiece. In most cases, painting rules are bent, not broken, and the result isn't especially noticeable. These tend to be cases where the artist isn't paying total attention to what he's doing. But there are times when they are consciously broken if the artist seeks an effect he especially desires. Below are featured two well-known Impressionist paintings containing a violation or two of composition rules. My guess is that the artists weren't paying as much attention to composition as they might have. But it doesn't seem to matter because both paintings are very popular despite technical quibbles. "Girls With a Watering Can" - Auguste Renoir, 1876 Information about this painting can be found here. What's wrong with it? First, the girl is facing to our right and is also centered to the right; compare the distance from a point midway between her eyes to the right and left edges. According to a composition rule, she ought to have been placed left of center so that she would be facing a wider area of canvas. It's a question of visual balance. Given that imbalance, Renoir might have helped matters by placing a tall, narrow object of some sort at the right edge so as to block the passage of a viewer's eyes as they follow the gaze of the subject off-canvas. That would be the schoolbook solution anyway, though there really isn't much room for such a visual barrier. But Renoir helped retrieve things by placing a patch of flowering plants below and to our left of the girl. This creates an upper-right to lower-left diagonal from her head to the flowers, thus restraining eye movement to the right. Axes of the lawn edges to the right of her enhance this diagonal force. "Poppies Near Argenteuil" - Claude Monet, 1873 The Musée d'Orsay web page on this painting is here; it contains only data of various kinds. I might mention that there seems to be no settled English version of the title. One potential problem is that Monet divided the scene into two nearly equal areas, the sky and the ground. (Even splits are not recommended, though Caillebotte once famously got away with it.) The ground area is slightly dominant and the dark trees along the hilltop reduce the sky area some and help the balance. And then there's that odd, oddly-placed tree with the round ball of leaves jutting above the rest and into the sky. Did Monet add... posted by Donald at July 21, 2009 | perma-link | (4) comments

Monday, July 20, 2009

LitFict and Sentences
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- In case some visitors think that, in my many rants about the book-fiction world (sample one example here), I have overstated the intellectual set's commitment to literary fiction, let me present Yale's "The American Novel Since 1945." Take that course and you'd learn little if anything about postwar crime, horror, romance, or western fiction. You'd discover next to nothing about erotic fiction or humorous fiction. You'd remain clueless about the enduring influence of writers like Mickey Spillane and Jacqueline Susann. (I bet you also wouldn't wake up to the history of the postwar American publishing business.) Yet you'd emerge convinced that you'd "done" the postwar American novel. And you'd have Yale's imprimatur bolstering your confidence about that judgment. And, in case some visitors think I've overstated the intellectual set's commitment to writin' -- ie., fussing with words -- let me present The Teaching Company's "Building Great Sentences." Take that course and you'll be unlikely to discover much about how to create living-breathing characters, or how to come up with fictional situations that might conceivably pique a reader's interest. Your sentences will glitter, though. Best, Michael DIMLY-RELATED UPDATE: Sarah Weinman shares some welcome news about the recently-deceased crime-fiction giant Donald Westlake, a hero of mine. Rege Behe offers a well-judged tribute to Westlake.... posted by Michael at July 20, 2009 | perma-link | (38) comments

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 19, 2009

Eating and Fitness Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Jimmy Moore podcast-interviews Primal eating-and-fitness guru Mark Sisson. I'm crazy about Sisson's new book, which is full of startling information and helpful tips, and is the best intro I know of to the Paleo/Primal thang. Sisson's excellent -- and very lively -- blog is here. * FeministX could use some advice. * Scott Kustes offers a good intro to eating in the Paleo style. * Agnostic and the Times of London are asking the same question: Can eating sugar give you wrinkles? * Tom Naughton wonders why anyone would trust the health advice that's handed out by the federal government. * Yoga teacher Michelle found that a lot of her health problems vanished when she stopped avoiding fat. * Arthur De Vany thinks that you'd be wise to forget about running a marathon. By the way, De Vany -- a retired economics prof -- strikes me as one of the world's Really Interesting People. Those who (like me) are into both gene expression and nonlinearity may find him a real Pied Piper. I've subscribed to his private blog and have watched his DVD talks, and can recommend both. Read about him here. * Why do Americans seem so convinced that sterility is the answer to food-health problems? * MBlowhard Rewind: Back here I raved about Nina Planck's fab book "Real Food." Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 19, 2009 | perma-link | (5) comments