Friday, April 24, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Yep, one year of trying to entertain, share and have a good time online. I started the blog last April for a few reasons. Among them, I've spent the better part of 40 years soaking up information and experiences...helping form a lot of opinions and, hopefully, some useful knowledge to pass on. With that in mind, I just figured it's time to start putting something back out there instead of mostly just absorbing it.
Another reason was that in my job I am increasingly using online social media to communicate, and I figured that diving into blogging would help me better understand that world.
In any case, based on my experience so far, I'm going to keep going.
To celebrate this first anniversary, I've put together a "best of" set of articles from the 117 posts to The Western Front blog over the last 12 months. I've grouped these into the categories of Music, Politics, Travel/Food, Photography, Opinion/Observations and Movies. I hope you enjoy reading or re-visiting some of these posts...
- Bad Economy = Better Music?
- Glasvegas Concert Review
- 2008 Concert Reviews
- Five Albums You Should Get
- Three Songs You Should Check Out
- Creating A "Genesis-Neutral World"
- How I Know Obama's Plan Will Work
- Tea-Baggers: Hypocrites, Rubes or Both?
- Who Is To Blame For the Current Crisis?
- What You Can't See in Shanghai Is What You Can See at Wal-Mart and on Wall Street
- McCain Dusts Off "Socialist" Charge
- May the Best Perception Win
- Goodbye to the Worst U.S. President Ever
- A Link to My Flickr Photostream Sets
- The Seattle Times Runs One of My Photographs
- The Spookiest Picture We've Ever Seen
- Wine Pictures
- New Mexico Pictures
- Vietnam and Cambodia Pictures
- Educational Publisher to Use One of My Pictures
- Of Football, Fans, the Flag and a Guy Named Tits
- It's Not A Sport If...
- Time for Pirate Radio Again?
- Is Pollution An Olympic Sport?
- There's An A-Hole In Every Crowd (Sometimes Two)
- 20 Things I Am Thankful For
- My Un-American Fourth of July
- The Passing of a Great Man
- Marc's 2008 Year In Review
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The tea reference alludes to the Boston Tea Party in which wealthy white aristocrats dressed up as Native Americans and went "tea-bagging." In the parlance of the times, this means they dumped bags of British tea into Boston Harbor in protest over the notion that American colonist should not be forced to pay a tax on tea by a government in which they had no representation. That, and, the tax in question was also part of the larger Tea Tax law that actually made British tea cheaper overall...cheaper than the previously low price Dutch tea that many in the Americas bought from smugglers. That had something to do with it too, but you don't hear much about that.
Anyway, the phrase "tea-bagging" that protesters initially used for their actions this week has a more modern sexual connotation. So, it's kinda funny for a bunch of conservatives to openly be participating in "tea-bagging." But, there's been plenty to chuckling over that already. So, lets set that aside.
Lets also set aside for the moment that overall, income tax rates are lower today than they were when Republicans ran things in the Regan era...and certainly lower than the Eisenhower or Nixon administrations.
Lets set aside the fact that one of the key contributing factors to the economic crisis our nation now faces is exactly the supply-side, deregulation/small government, deference to corporate America, tax cutting economic religion that conservatives so love to talk about.
And finally, lets set aside the fact that unlike Colonial tea partiers, today's Americans do elect their government representatives.
No, instead, to measure the credibility of these modern day tax protesters, lets do a little experiment. Lets look at the front page a newspaper from a city in a conservative area - one that has covered the tea-partyers festivities recently. Lets look at the Charleston Post & Courier from April 16.
From their featured story, you can see that there was quite a turnout in Charleston, SC to "protest" taxation overall and government investment to save or salvage key industries. OK, now, lets see how many other stories on that front page include or relate to services provided by public tax money. There are a lot actually, but here are just four:
- There's a story here about a student arrested for trying to stab his teacher. Do tax protesters like the fact that there were police who could intervene here and arrest the suspect? How about the fact that there was a school in the first place, not to mention roads for the teacher, students and police to get to and from the property?
- And oh, over here there's another story about a chili cook off to raise funds so a local middle school can afford computers for its classrooms. So....right. Don't tax me, but why is it that I have to throw a chili cook off to make sure my kid can learn some computer skills in school?
- And, here's one about the state senate having to cut $202 million from the budget - a move that will mean significantly cutting police, social services and environmental and economic development programs. And why? The governor won't accept Federal stimulus money.
- And, perhaps most telling, here is this story about a Charleston high school student who has filed a lawsuit in attempts to force the governor of South Carolina to accept $700 million in Federal stimulus funds to help keep government services, most importantly schools, up and running during the financial crisis. Parents are holding chili cook offs to raise money for computers in their kids' classrooms while the state government contemplates gutting major social services...and the governor is un-accepting of Federal funds to help in all of these areas because of some conservative small government belief that the Feds shouldn't be spending money on states' matters? Wow.
In either of these cases - the protest is fake. It's not real. If followed through upon it would mean more financial ruin for the very people holding up the signs and shouting out the slogans at rallies this week...but also spectacular wealth for a very, very few people and corporations.
Look, I don't like taxes just as much as the next person, and yes I know there are certain taxes that could be done away with that would make our lives a little better. No argument. But, I think many people - and certainly the media - is missing the boat here. These protests are manufactured events created to try and generate a perception that Americans are over taxed and don't want the government "interfering" with anything. The truth is, we're not over-taxed compared to our history or to the rest of the world today.
Another truth is that, just like the original "tea-baggers" of 1776, the rallies this week were orchestrated by a bunch of wealth aristocrats and business owners who don't want to pay taxes - and who don't like the way the government now is trying to bring back some sanity and equity to society.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
My above average attraction to this group is a direct result of their ability to write articulate, realistic and heart wrenching lyrics backed with a powerful sound that I feel is quite different, if not unique, in today's rock scene. I mean, who sings songs about social workers, the possibility of getting stabbed, the realization of one's "own cheating heart" being the problem in life, the loss of a father, the murder of a loved one, the beauty and purity of an ice cream van in our all too "F-ed up" world?
(Below: Glasvegas on stage at Nuemo's)
Nobody but Glasvegas. And who in today's scene is hip enough to have lyrics like that paired with music that rocks and much as it wails, rolls as much as it soars, and drives as much as it touches? Nobody but Glasvegas.
You are moved by these songs. At least in my opinion.
Which is why I gathered up some buddies and went to see their performance last January at Chop Suey in Seattle. My review of that gig is here.
Based on what we heard and saw at that concert, as well as meeting the band afterwards at a bar, I decided I wanted to see them when they around again - which luckily happened to be this past Monday at Neumo's in Seattle's Capital Hill neighborhood. Along for the ride this time were my buddies Sean and Levi. A set of pictures I took during the show are here.
As we drifted into Neumo's, the sounds of opening band Von Iva could be heard throbbing through the hallway. I have to say that this band was a pleasant surprise.
A three-woman outfit out of San Francisco, Von Iva features a singer who can really belt out bluesy-style rock - along with a powerful, hard-hitting drummer and a keyboardist who doubles as "guitar" and "bass" (among other instruments) by laying down thick, heavy and aggressive lines of thud/buzz sound. Sounds like a racket, right? Not so. Very cool and good to see a unconventional lineup. Anyway, the band impressed our little crew and I'd recommend checking them out live or on iTunes. (Right: Von Iva opens the show)
Questions Take Shape
After Von Iva wrapped up its set - and after talking to their lead singer for a moment - a few questions about Glasvegas began to form in my mind. Would a group that's been on the road non-stop for months put forth a genuine and compelling effort as they neared the end of their tour? Would singer James Allan's voice sound OK given how many shows he's performed so closely together? Would they perform and encore - something they glaringly omitted at their Chop Suey gig? Would we hear any new material?
At this point I also assessed the crowd. I estimate that on this Monday night, the club clocked in at about 80% full as there appeared to be empty space at the back of the main room while the rest of the floor and balcony were full up. In terms of who attended, it was about 70% guys, about 95% white and varying in age. I was impressed that a few men and women certainly older than my 39 years were plastered right up against the stage. I salute them and hope that I'm as hip in 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile, the youngins were in the house too. As I turned from the bar after buying my crew a round, a kid (to me a 21 year old is a kid) knocked into my arm and spilled a bit of one drink. He looked at me and said, "I'm sorry sir." Well, that made it official. I'm old. But, not too old to have a good time.
The Main Event
Recharged with a fresh beer and back in place near the stage, I watched as the lights dimmed again and a faint set of notes could be heard and then rose into a melodic noise as the band came on stage to cheers.
They quickly launched into their single, Geraldine. After that it was a steady run-through of most of the songs from their debut album, plus a couple off their Christmas-time CD, A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss). Beyond Geraldine, the set included fan favorites Flowers & Football Tops, Daddy's Gone, Go Square Go, It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry and others. The PA system sounded right on the money. I've seen shows at Neumo's at which the mix proved horrible - making it hard to hear the singer or overpowering you with one instrument or another. Not so with this gig...and no ringing ears afterwards. I also thought the light show added to the ambiance, although the fake fog might have been a tad overdone.(Above: Glasvegas on stage at Neumo's in Seattle)
So, how did the band do? Could they answer my questions through their performance?
In my estimation, Allan and Glasvegas performed each of their songs with decent yet not spectacular energy. Allan's voice sounded fine as he modulated between smoothly delivered verses and throat straining choruses. Meanwhile, guitarist Rab Allan put in the effort as he spun around, moved about the stage raising his guitar high and dropping it low all the while. The other two band members delivered solid if not overy flashy performances.
Also, James Allan was a bit more interactive with the crowd than he was at the January show when he mustered maybe one "thank you" at the end. While you'll never mistake him for a stage-front chatterbox, after shedding his leather jacket about a third of the way through Monday's gig he did thank the crowd several times. At the end of the show he made a point to shake hands with each guy within reach of the front of the stage and delivered polite kisses to the hands of the women.(Right: James Allan belts one out at Nuemo's in Seattle)
We did not hear any new material this time. While songs such as Fuck You It's Over (yep, that's the name of the song and it says it all), Ice Cream Van and Please Come Home made the set, those are previously released songs. So, nothing new - despite that I hear the band is working on songs for a follow up album.
The band did come back on for an encore. This was a glaring omission at their January show and it was good that after a few minutes of fans stomping feet and clapping that Glasvegas came back on stage to perform a few more songs - topped by Daddy's Gone. While I know there are other songs they could have performed, I think building in an encore section of their show proved a smart move and left the crowd pleased and wanting more.
Not much from me, although the "arts editor" over at the Seattle Fine Arts Examiner was not too impressed with either Von Iva or Glasvegas. This just shows you that two people can see the exact same show and come to different conclusions. It happens. Usually the difference lies in what the expectations are. At any rate, I'll stake my observations on having seen Glasvegas twice within three months, meeting each member in person and the ability to compare and contrast their style with the many other good and poor rock performances I've seen in person going back to the mid-1980s.
Anyway, for me, I like a band that interacts a bit more with the audience - it just helps make more of a connection and adds to the experience. Given the subjects Glasvegas sings about, you might think they would say some more about the songs. It also might endear them more to fans over the long haul. As nice and approachable as the members of Glasvegas are in person, their on-stage personas don't seem to lend themselves to much interaction during the gig. This is a band on the way up, so their approach may be on purpose to create some sort of image, or it could just be honest shyness or personality. All this is not too big a deal to me. I've been to a lot of shows and seen all different types of performers. I realize that just because I want the band to talk to the crowd means they will.
The Big Sum Up
This was a good show - up and coming band, small venue, close to stage, quality sound, good support band, $20. What's not to like? Our three-man party had a great time. I'll continue to follow Glasvegas and check out their next offering. But, that might not be for a while as they are the opening band for U2 at a number of shows this summer. At any rate, you can currently get their CDs on iTunes and Amazon if you haven't heard them yet. And finally, if they ever come to Seattle again, I'll be looking for Glasvegas to up their game even more with some new songs, more interaction with he crowd and...who knows what else.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
I think I've taken some great pictures over the years and that I've grouped the 557 I've uploaded so far into sets that make sense. But, most days I get somewhere between 20 and 40 views. Occasionally there will be a spike in views up to 100 or so, only to return back to the normal 20, 30, 40 range within a day.
Yesterday, however the view totals shot way, way up. By using the Flickr stats tool, it appears that people were looking at all kinds of pictures - so no discernible patterns. Pictures I took in China seemed to have a few more views than others, but again, pictures of all different subjects and locations were viewed.
It also looks like most people came to my Photostream through searches on Flickr itself, with a few more coming in via Yahoo! and Google.
Anybody have any theories? Could it be that randomly an abnormally high number of people found my photos on Sunday? Or, could there be a reason? Someone or some group specifically looking at my pictures? Or, looking at subjects that I have well represented?
I welcome any guesses or insights from people who know the ways of search engine or Flickr.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
This got me thinking about a conversation I had once with a buddy about what is a sport and what is not. He summarized his feeling on the subject by saying, "It's not a sport if you can do it while smoking a cigar and wearing a pinkie ring." I think that does very nicely.
A sport, to me, is something that requires athletic ability. You need to exert yourself in a physical way in order to play a sport. You need to be up, active, moving and performing athletic actions as part of the activity to be a sport. This can be in an individual or team situation, and certainly mental abilities are important too. These are things like basketball, track and field, football, soccer, hockey, baseball (but see my note below), tennis, skiing, skating, boxing, etc. You get the idea.
Using the cigar and pinkie ring test as a guide, here are some of my thoughts on the important matter of what is not a sport...
Rock solid, not a sport
- Target shooting
- Hunting and fishing
Most of these are games. They are not sports. No discernible athletic ability is required to perform them. Put them in the category of Monopoly, checkers and pie eating contests. They can be as difficult or as easy as you want them to be, but one thing that is not required is athletic ability beyond what your average everyday person can muster - a person smoking a cigar and wearing a pinkie ring to boot.To be clear, I'm not disparaging the games. They can be really fun, social and competitive activities. They can also be quite difficult. And, I realize that some people who excel at them can make money by playing these games in tournaments or via wagers. All I'm saying is, these are not sports and I'd appreciate it if we all just recognize that.
In terms of fishing and hunting, those are now pastimes based on the need in times now long gone to secure food to eat on a daily basis. You don't need to be athletic to sit in a boat or stand in a stream and catch fish. Similarly, walking around the woods with a rifle is not athletic.
Barely a sport, very questionable
Golf - that's right, you heard me. I question if golf is a sport. Up and until a few years ago, I would have squarely put golf into the not-a-sport category. However, since Tiger Woods came on the scene it's clear to me that some athletic ability does elevate this leisurely rich man's game to another level that we can tenuously place inside the "sport" category. His example has inspired a new breed of golfer, at least at the top levels, who is more athletic and it shows.
Take Tiger out and, well, you've got a bunch of everyday people walking around on the grass with a stick (and usually a beer) in hand who occasionally whack at a ball. Add in cigar and pinkie ring and, there you have it, not a sport. Again, I'm not saying golf is easy. Far from it. Lord knows I am horrible at it. Golf is hard. But to swing a club at a ball and get it to go a distance and direction you want is not something that requires athletic ability - just lots and lots of practice.
Motor "sports" such as NASCAR, Indy car, hydroplane racing, motorcycle racing and the like. Driving is not a sport. The end. If it was, then virtually all Americans play a sport every day...and I think you'd agree that most people aren't exactly up to playing a sport every day.
The only reason that I've pegged it in this category instead of the game-oriented "not a sport" category is that for what most people think of as the "sport" of racing, there is probably some amount of athletic ability needed to deal with the speed to control whatever vehicle you're sitting (sitting!) in. But, mostly, driving is a mental activity rather than an athletic one. So all you NASCAR fans out there, you can take pride that what you like to watch is compelling, competitive, difficult, dangerous and indicative of what you'd really like to do in your own car...but please, do not delude yourself into thinking that driving is on par with running, lifting, jumping, throwing sports.
Baseball - Baseball is a sport. Indeed, to play it requires athletic ability and effort. Running fast, being strong enough to hit a hurtling baseball out into the field of play or throw it quickly and accurately to teammates and hand-eye coordination are all required. So, for baseball fanatics reading this and my comments below...I'm not saying baseball is not a sport. It is.
What I am saying is that it's suspect. Here are two reason why:
1) At any given time in a baseball game, everybody involved is doing absolutely nothing. There is a LOT of standing around doing nothing in baseball and, well, doing nothing is not very athletic now is it? Plenty of time for that cigar and the pinkie ring doesn't get in the way. In basketball, hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, tennis or any other sport there is a lot of action pretty much at all times. For those of you who might be tempted to say, "but in football they huddle after every play and there are time outs," I say, "Do you really want to compare how much down time there is in football with baseball?" I think not. It's not even close.
2) You don't necessarily have to be fast, strong or in shape to play baseball. For example, if you for whatever reason just happen to have a good arm for pitching...that's all you need. You literally can be a fat, out-of-shape slob who can throw the ball. You don't need to run fast, jump or perform any other athletic move than to throw the ball to the catcher.
Sailing. Similar to motor sports, I have my doubts about this "sport." However, I think there is enough running around, lifting, hauling and muscling going on to elevate it to sport status - albeit in the "suspect" category rather than "barely a sport." Also in its favor, there isn't an engine powering the movement of the vehicle. The team has to use its mind and muscle to get the boat into position to harness the wind. On the down side, sailing is - in the end - a bunch of people on a boat. Getting from point A to point B on a boat isn't exactly the most athletic thing you could do...and you certainly could do it with pinkie ring set and cigar lit.
So there you have it - at least from my perspective. There are plenty of other activities that could be listed in any of these categories, but I think these are the best examples.
What do you think is a sport? What isn't? Why?
Monday, April 6, 2009
In Seville, these gatherings date back more than 150 years and have grown from a livestock fair into a post-Easter spectacular that the whole city indulges in. Yes, it's a big "thank God Easter is over" drink-fest and more...and it's uniquely Spanish. This year's fair starts next week on April 12 and runs for a couple weeks. More information here and here.
In 2004, Diane and I went to Spain and built in a stop in Seville for when April Fair was happening. Needless to say, we were very pleased to be in the city at that time.
To give you a flavor of the festival, here is a run-down on typical sights and activities of April Fair, illustrated with some pictures I took at the time:
A fairgrounds packed with private "casetas." Green and white striped party tents called casetas line the alleyways and avenues of the fairgrounds. Families, civic groups, clubs, public institutions and other groups purchase the license to have a tent. Drinking and dancing are pretty much the only activities you'll see people doing in their tents and, not surprisingly, mostly in the late afternoon and evening hours.
Unlike Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany where everyone is invited to participate, at April Fair you can't get into one of the casetas unless you belong to one of sponsoring groups or unless you're invited by them to come in. We didn't know this in advance and were kind of disappointed when we found out. None the less, there are a few (like maybe two) tents open to the public so visitors can enjoy the festival as well. At any rate, we liked being at the fairgrounds in the evening because that's the time when it took on its most impressive look with revellers decked out in their party wear, lights twinkling, music floating around and the constant flow of talking, dancing and drinking. And, there were certainly plenty of bars and restaurants in full April Fair celebration mode right by the fairgrounds to get your fill.
Women and girls in colorful dresses. A hallmark of April Fair is the sight of women and girls dressed up in their colorful "trajes de flamenca" or flamenco dresses.
It's a truly unique sight to see 150 women in bright, Technicolor dresses walking down the street.
Even more impressive is seeing thousands of them together at the fairgrounds. Men dress up too, but lets be honest...it's not that big a deal by comparison.Bullfighting. Bullfighting happens in Seville at various times during the year. However, it becomes a focus during April Fair with the stadium packed day after day with fans seeking to see first class fighting by top flight matadors.
Clearly, bullfighting is not for everyone and most Americans find it barbaric. I myself cannot condone it. However, we'd never seen it, so we also felt like this was something we had to see for ourselves to really judge it. So, we went ahead and attended a bullfight. Which, by the way, is not just one fight but several with increasingly aggressive bulls and increasingly talented matadors with each fight. Inevitably, the bull lost each bout, but it was extremely interesting to see the spectacle up close and personal. And oh by the way, the stadium was interesting too. It featured bench seating all the way around with only a few isles, so once you sat down...you were locked in for the entire two hours. Also, the facility had concessions too, but unlike here in the U.S. where we sell beer, wine and hot dogs, they sell whisky, rum and...well, no food at all.
Horse carriages. Families or clubs will hire (or have) ornate horse carriages to transport them from home to their tents at the fairgrounds.
You see these around the city during the time of the fair, but mostly you see them at the fairgrounds itself as people arrive and enter their own little party domains.
The fairgrounds gate. This structure welcomes all who enter and is most impressive at night.
Naturally, the streets around the fairgrounds come alive with street vendors, food stalls, rides and all the stuff that comes with a big fair...and all of it is worth checking out.
So what's the big sum up?
Seville is a city well worth visiting any time of year due to its place in Spanish and world history, its wonderful labyrinth of crooked streets lined with delicious tapas bars, a royal Spanish palace (still used), the presence of the largest cathedral in Europe outside of the St. Peter's in the Vatican (also the burial site of Christopher Columbus) and great Andalusian food and drink. All and all, the city is a treat to spend time in. But, if you can get there during April Fair, everything goes up a few notches and makes it the penultimate visit to the city.
You can see a more complete set of pictures I took at April Fair 2004 here.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
From where I sit I can confirm that it's true. And yes, it's weird. If you can afford a few seconds, check out the parade of co-workers and observe their look and demeanor. Remind you of a scene from Night of the Walking Dead?
For those of you not living in the Northwest, I can report that this winter has been LONG with a lot of gray skies, cold temperatures, rain and snow. So, the weather may indeed have an impact on people's collective mojo.
But, I think the weather in Seattle and this area of the country has been like this for pretty much ever and the zombie-factor is actually more attributable to other things more related to the economy and the state of corporate America today.
Indulge me. Try this on for size and see if it seems familiar...
- Most people are working under a lot of stress because they're being asked to do the work of several people. Who among us has seen their job get easier with a manageable workload and reasonable, achievable expectations? Not anyone I know. It's gone the other direction...by a lot. In recent years, this happened as companies sought to "maximize profits" in the short term. Now, it's still happening, but because companies need to "minimize losses" in the near term. In either case, over an extended period of time now (years) companies have cut people, budgets and resources and made work very, very difficult for most of us. Clearly this is stressful, demoralizing and un-motivating. No wonder people walk around looking shell-shocked.
- Also, we all know layoffs can happen at any time. Hell, millions have lost their jobs over the last several months and any one of us could be next. The ever-present possibility of the axe falling creates stress and for many a sense of hopelessness. Not good.
- Workers - at least ones I know - aren't getting ahead in their organizations either, and their salaries have stagnated. In some cases, wages have been frozen and merit increases eliminated. Again, not motivating to say the least and a key contributor to the "why bother" mentality that many end up wearing on their faces as they trudge the corridors of their office buildings.
- Finally, you throw in stresses at home, a spouse or significant other with the same work-related situation (or worse, laid off), kids and all that they bring to the stress level, and yes the weather along with whatever else is going on in life and you get...zombies! Just like Sean said.