Monday, September 21, 2015

Success Story

In the early summer of 1996, I was in Sarajevo as part of the NATO peacekeeping forces.  I was at the headquarters and we had pretty much free rein to go around the city.  Actually, we were encouraged to.  Our boss believed that we were there to bring the peace, and that meant doing peaceful things, like going out to restaurants, shopping, and talking with locals.

One of the places I went was the library.  Before the war, this was a big, beautiful building that held irreplaceable documents, books, and artifacts dating back about a thousand years.  But sometime during the war, Serbian forces surrounding the city heard that military forces were using the library's basement, so they shelled the building and set fire to it and everything inside.  A group of us visited it one day and went inside.  It wasn't safe, of course - the building could have collapsed at almost any time.  Years later, I made this painting of the scened from just inside the front door:

Over the years, I've wondered what happened to that building.  I heard that they were trying to restore it, but hadn't heard anything else.  Until today.  Bosnia has completed the restoration of the old library and it is now reopened.  Here is what the library looks like now, from the same viewpoint:

Fantastic.  Just fantastic.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Truthiness in the Republican Debate

You don't listen to a debate of Presidential wannabe's and expect to hear a lot of the truth.  As the old joke goes, "How do you know when a politician is lying?  When he's talking!"  And debates these days are more about macho posturing than honest, substantive discussion.

So last night was the Republican presidential debate.  I didn't watch it as driving nails into my forehead would be less painful.  Political junkies suffered through it, though.  One of the more interesting junkies is Politifact, which fact-checks everybody's statements.  They published a report today that showed the number of statements each candidate made in six categories: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire.  It was interesting to go through their data.

Being a bit of a geek, I decided to do an analysis of each candidate's answers and find out how they scored on the truthiness continuum.  For each "True" statement, they got 5 points; for each "Mostly True" they got 4 points, and so on, with 0 points awarded for a "Pants On Fire" answer.  Then I added up their points and divided by the number of statements they made.  The result was an average score of how true their statements were.  Here are the results:

Bobby Jindal: 3.44 (ie: about midway between "Mostly True" and "Half True")
John Kasich: 3.28
Jeb Bush: 3.26
Rand Paul: 3.07
Chris Christie: 3.01
Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham: 3.00 (this is the "Half True" level)
Mike Huckabee: 2.65
Scott Walker: 2.62
Carly Fiorina: 2.55
Rick Santorum: 2.34
Ted Cruz: 2.11 (this is about the "Mostly False" level)
Ben Carson: 1.57
Donald Trump: 1.54 (halfway between the "False" and "Mostly False" levels)

Very interesting.  Remember, this is only a measure of how true their statements are.  It doesn't consider whether they actually believe the nonsense coming out of their mouths.  And it doesn't consider a lot of other things that have to be taken into account in choosing our next Supreme Leader.  All it indicates is how true their statements might be at any given moment.

I find it very interesting that three of the top four candidates in the current polls are at the bottom of the truthiness scale.  What they're saying is mostly false, but the Republican base loves them for it.  What can you expect from people who watch Fox News?  They're raised on falsehood, and seem to know quality falsehood when they hear it.

Another interesting thing is that Bobby Jindal is at the top of the list, but he made very few statements (9).  I thought that maybe keeping your mouth shut would be a good way to score well, but then, Ben Carson made even fewer statements (7) and scored only a tick better than the biggest liar, Donald Trump.

So there you have it.  According to Politifact, about half the Republican field scores in the "Half True" or better side, while the other half don't, and three of those are in the "Mostly False" or worse category.  Including most of the leaders.

It will be interesting to do the same analysis for the Democratic candidates, if the national party ever lets them have a debate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Plein Air Painting

With fall setting in, we have a window of really nice weather, perfect for going outdoors and painting onsite.  Today, I went out to the French Broad River.  This river runs through western North Carolina and into Tennessee, eventually flowing into the Tennessee River and then the Mississippi.  Here in Madison County, the river flows through the Appalachian Mountains, and it can get pretty spectacular.

If you're wondering how a river can cross the mountains, it's because the French Broad is one of the oldest rivers in the world.  It was here before the Appalachians were created 300 million years ago.  When the mountains grew, the river was already cutting its way through them.  That's one hell of an old river.

I went scouting yesterday to find some potential painting locations.  I found quite a few, actually - turnouts along the road where I could get down to the riverside.  Today, I left the dogs at home, loaded up the truck with my painting gear, and headed out to the first one on my list.  It's a gravel turnout only big enough for one car, with a very steep climb down the bank.  At the bottom, there's a flat area where people have built a fire pit and apparently had a couple of parties.  I set up my easel looking downstream and went to work.  After about an hour or so, I had one painting that turned out okay.

Then I turned the easel around so I was looking upstream and painted another.  It turned out okay as well.

I didn't sign either painting.  I need a bit of distance from them to do an impartial evaluation and modify as necessary.  That may happen tomorrow.  Or later - I may go to another spot on the river tomorrow instead!  Gotta take advantage of the great weather while you can, y'know?

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I recently set up an Instagram account for the studio.  Yes, I'm late to the party, but I'm not an early adopter of anything.  Hell, I still paint, by hand, with oil paints and brushes made from hog's hair.  That was trendy maybe 600 years ago.  Meanwhile, Instagram has only been around for five years.  I've still got another 595 years to go!

I started looking at Instagram after hearing an interesting discussion of it on a podcast.  (Podcast - that's so ... 2000's ...).  Instagram sounded like a great way to find new artists and to get my own work in front of new eyes.  So I jumped in last month, got an account, and starting poking and posting.  Not too much - one post a day is my max.  I found quite a few artists on there that I knew already.  Then I found out about this thing called "hashtags".  That opened the door.  I looked at what other artists were using for hashtags, poked those tags into a search, and started finding a lot of really good stuff.  And a lot of crap.  But hey, that goes with the territory when you're wandering around in a non-curated environment.  (And in a curated environment, too, unless you choose your curator carefully).  Then I started applying appropriate hashtags to my own postings and people started finding me.  Cool!

I'm still trying to figure out what works best for me.  Initially, I posted completed and signed artworks from a variety of series: paintings, life drawings, the "Faces of Afghanistan", and so on.  I've also added a few other things: shots of my palette (who's interested in that?  other artists) and detail snaps of works in progress, for example.  And I'm playing around, seeing what happens if I edit an older post, stuff like that.  So far, I have not yet crashed Instagram.

This system seems like a complement to my web page, studio Facebook page, and blog.  Instagram gets an image out to a wide audience quickly.  My studio's Facebook page is a running collection of artworks, interesting posts that I've found somewhere, and random comments.  My web page is like my professional portfolio.  Think of it as me with a jacket and tie, with a resume and business cards handy.  And this blog is a way for me to record things that I may find interesting and that only three people in the world will actually read.

So if you're interested in seeing my Instagram posts, you can find me at @skiprohde.