Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yo, Joe

“Dressed as a G.I. Joe series character, Jessica Jaszczak makes a call outside the exhibit hall on the first day of the Comic-Con International 2008 convention, in San Diego.”
(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, July 24, 2008)

Those of us old enough to remember the first few series of small G. I. Joe action figures and the 30-minute weekly commercial that used to run for them will recognize Miss Jaszczak’s outfit as a somewhat slinkier variation on a standard Cobra footsoldier uniform. (The actual uniforms looked more like simple fatigues, and there were no female Cobra troopers, although the original figures were armed with AKs.)

It struck me as interesting, because the Cobra organization was labeled as an "international terrorist organization." In "reality" Cobra was more of a private army of witless minions (with a remarkable behind-the-scenes logistics organization supplying them with advanced military hardware), doing the bidding of the buffoonish Cobra Commander. They never managed to really endanger anyone, and never seemed to have any real political demands. It was all very "Dr. Evil," and a very different, and non-threatening, understanding of terrorists - idiotic clowns whose plots could be foiled in under half an hour by America's heroic defenders.

Dressing up like a modern terrorist, making terrorist action figures or putting terrorists in children's television shows would be considered almost an act of terror itself in today's paranoid environment. Which is a pity. If we put Al-Queada on a level with Cobra, we could get back to living our lives.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fifty Pictures

New pictures posted.

Or, you can check them out in the Slideshow on the right-hand-side of the page. This is one (and perhaps the only) area where Microsoft's Live Spaces is better than Blogger - you can have multiple slideshows, and the reader may pick between them. But it's a devil of a lot easier to load up large Blogger slideshows than Spaces slideshows.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Culture of Debt

David Brooks has a thoughtful commentary in the International Herald Tribune about how we, as a nation, drifted from a culture of thrift to a culture of debt. In it he draws a broad outline of how the social story surrounding money and buying things has changed.

"Each time an avid lender struck a deal with an avid borrower, it reinforced a new definition of acceptable behavior for neighbors, family and friends. In a community, behavior sets off ripples. Every decision is a public contribution or a destructive act."
David Brooks
But you could also say that each deal reinforces a new definition of required behavior, in that, once credit begins to fuel a certain class of purchase, that allows prices to move out of reach of most people's cash on hand, thus requiring that more and more people purchase on credit. While this allows for products (and perhaps services should be included in this as well) to become more feature rich, it also allows for a certain level of inefficiency and higher margins to creep in over time. Automobiles may be a good example of this - the fact that most cars are purchased on credit has allowed prices to increase much faster than incomes. Modern cars have all sorts of whiz-bang features, many of which would be too costly to include if people were to by cars with cash as a matter of course. By the same token most, if not all, large automakers have finance arms (Ditech, for instance, is part of GMAC, if I recall correctly) that allow them to derive revenue from financing the cars they sell.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Photography for the Masses

The great thing about digital photography is that it's accessible to everyone with enough money to buy a small camera. Granted, a half-decent digital camera is going to set you back more than a half-decent film camera, but you don't have the recurring costs of film and processing to worry about. It's also virtually free to experiment, and learn how to use your equipment. (When you've got to have film developed, sucking is a time consuming and expensive process.)

So guys can take glamor shots of their girlfriends down by the shores of Puget Sound on a bright sunshiny day. And I get to people-watch. Everybody wins.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008


The face of the Siren peeks out over the clock tower down at Starbucks headquarters.
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The Peak

Mount Rainier, taken from near the Seattle waterfront, at just about sunset.
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A Single White Lily

My buddy Ben doesn't understand flower photography. As in why people take pictures of flowers. To be honest, neither do I. But I do enjoy taking them. Once I owned a decent digital camera, I started noticing them a lot more, for one thing. Western Washington is practically lousy with Rhododendron flowers, but I never noticed them until I was walking around one day with my camera looking for something to shoot.

But this is a simple lily flower that I found one day at Marymoor park in Redmond. I'll admit that it's a pretty basic shot, but it still stands out for me.

Edited 21 July: At first, I thought it was a lotus flower, but have since learned that it is a water lily.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Home, Sweet Home

If you haven't figured out yet that the practice of pushing people that scare us out into the cold is one of my pet peeves, you haven't been paying attention.

These photos were taken one day when I went out for a drive, and found the location where one David Torrence had been sent to live with a rain poncho and a sleeping bag.
A state trooper came by while I was shooting, and I asked him if he'd heard anything about it. It had been his beat for some time, but no-one had ever told him that the state was thinking of using the bridge as its newest sex offender housing unit. He hadn't even seen the new stories.
Summer is starting now, which means that it will be dry for the next couple of months, until the rainy season picks up again this fall. None of this matters to Torrence now, who gave himself up after having gone to Arkansas, presumably to try and find a family member to take him in. But we'll see if any new tenants are moved in...
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Worth Every Penny

What could get near the estimated $11 million that Angelia Jolie and Brad Pitt are selling their baby pictures for?

"The only other photos that 'would possibly come that close is Britney Spears giving birth to an alien.'"
First photos of Brangelina twins will net fortune
I'd pay to see that...

It's Okay

In yet another election-year non-controversy, Senator John McCain is taking flack for the following statement:

"I think that we've proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don't believe in gay adoption."
Senator John McCain
But gays and lesbians should take heart, and not feel TOO put upon. After all, if it takes "both parents," then Senator McCain must not believe in single people adopting as well, mustn't he?

So while I empathize with gay and lesbian groups in feeling that McCain has singled them out for his hit list, if he really believes that adoption should be limited to "traditional couples" and has a "personal preference for children to be raised by a mother and a father wherever possible," then they aren't alone in the crosshairs.

I Love This Quote

"Only weak thinkers fear strong images."

Jack Shafer,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Lost Boy

Semaj Booker is at it again. Having seemingly given up on attempting to rejoin his grandfather in Texas, he’s turned to burglary.

One wonders what can be done to turn this kid's life around. On the one hand, the fact that Booker has developed a minor level of local infamy makes it somewhat more likely that an effort will be made to do something other than give him enough rope to hang himself. On the other hand, it shouldn't take a repeated media spotlight to spark some intervention.

Monday, July 7, 2008

More Important Things

William Saletan and Emily Yoffe have double-teamed Leona Helmsley for devoting her estate, valued somewhere between 5 and 8 billion dollars, to the care and welfare of dogs. For Saletan, the issue is that Helmsley deleted an earlier goal to help indigent people, and decided to focus entirely on dogs. He finds it bothersome, because to him, it shows that while Helmsley may have loved animals, she didn't "recognize or love the animals who matter most." Yoffe's point seems to be that since Helmsley was a bitter witch, the trustees of her estate should stick it to her by giving the money to the Gates Foundation, instead.

People who harp about what other people do with their own money give me a pain. We can complain about Leona Helmsley's priorities all we want, but who died, and willed that opinion commentators should be the final arbiters of who deserves the largess of rich people? My local PBS station runs spots asking people to leave money to the station in their estates. What great social ill does the existence of public television address? Wouldn't that money be "better spent" on poverty reduction? Or food security? Or public education? Or ending homelessness?

One we start deciding that we have the final say of the priorities of people leaving assets to others in their wills, you have to start asking yourself why the estate tax shouldn't be 100%. Why shouldn't we simply take the money of dead people (who won't miss it) and make ourselves feel better by letting them pay for our "generosity?" Why should we respect a "right" to let people choose who they are going to make financially better off, when there are other, needier, and by Yoffe's logic, more deserving people who would really benefit from even a small windfall? Hell, for that matter, why don't we just take "excess" money from rich people while they're still alive? When "Julie" had her housecat, Little Nicky, cloned, David Magnus of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University complained that for what she paid, "[S]he could have provided homes for a lot of strays." So why not just take the money from her, and do it? For that matter, Gates wouldn't miss a billion or five - you could chalk it up to a rounding error. Yoffe treads this path when she admits to "faint longings for the return of Marxism." She seems to have forgotten that while "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" looked good on paper, it was really hard to implement in the real world.

There are always "better things" that people could be doing with their money. I spent a couple hundred dollars buying miniatures (along with rulebooks, dice, paints, et cetera) to learn to play a wargame that I decided that I didn't care for. I'm sure that SOMEONE out there could give me a lecture on some noble cause that the money would have been better spent to support. Or that the hours I spent painting toy soldiers and leaning over a table with a tape measure could have been more productively used to help someone improve their lot in life. But you could say the same about the money I spent on my car, or the time that I'm using to write this weblog posting. When does it end? And who gets to judge?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ultimate NIMBY

The Mayor of Juarez, Mexico, has given up on thinking that there is a solution to the problem of violent drug cartels shooting up his town. His goal is now to simply get the fighting to move elsewhere. While on the one hand, this is classic NIMBY, the Mayor's attitude seems to be more one of resigned desperation than the self-serving obstructionism that American NIMBYs are often accused of.

What Do You Know?

There are things that people don't know, that you'd think they would know.

Dino Rossi, who wants to be the next (Republican) governor of Washington state has registered his partisan affiliation as the "GOP Party." It's been conjectured that this is because he's hoping that there are a certain number of voters who, not realizing that the "Grand Old Party" and the Republicans are one in the same, won't link him to the party (and presumably, policies) of the Bush administration. What seems like a dumb idea at first glance may actually have some merit - it seems that as many as 25% of the populace doesn't know what GOP means.

Then there are things that people do "know," and you wonder how.

According to this piece in Slate, a poll revealed that about 10% of registered voters think that Senator Barack Obama is a Moslem. I'm amazed that there are still people out there who cling to that notion. Although even more amazing is the idea that this somehow would disqualify him from being President, which speaks to the absolute terror with which a segment of the American population regards non-Christians.