Monday, June 29, 2009

A Record Setting Day for My Pictures

Wow! I've received more than 1,400 views on my Flickr Photostream since posting some pictures I took at yesterday's Seattle Gay Pride Parade. This is a one day record by a long shot for me.

The set of pictures is here.

If you like that stuff, you may also may be interested in some other local and/or festive sets of my pictures I put together, such as:
  • Ballard - click here
  • Rock n' Roll (currently featuring the band Glasvegas) - click here
  • Vancouver, BC - click here
  • April Fair (Seville, Spain) - click here
My full Photostream is here. All of my sets are here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Photos of the 2009 Seattle Gay Pride Parade

OK so I know I said my next photo project would be to scan and post pictures I took when Diane and I visited Poland and Prague. However, today we decided to meet our friends Danny and Scott and check out the 2009 Seattle Gay Pride Parade. We'd never been to it and with the weather so nice today, we decided to see what it was all about.

Anyway, we had a good time...and I took some pictures.

And if you're interested you can see some of them by clicking here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Visiting the South - Wilmington and Nags Head

Picking up the from where I last left off in describing our recent trip the south...

After visiting Charleston, we made our way north. Ultimately, we were headed to Williamsburg, VA to visit family there. However, that's a LONG schlep to do in one day. So, we decided to break it up a bit and see some places. With this in mind, we planned one night each in Wilmington, NC and then Nags Head, NC on our journey to Virginia.

Wilmington, North Carolina

OK, first of all the drive from Charleston to Wilmington is about four hours. After our great lunch in Charleston at the Cru Cafe, this meant that we arrived into the city at about 5:30 p.m. This proved just enough time to check into our hotel by the river and then stroll on down the river walk to Elijah's Restaurant (also on the river) for a seafood dinner and to watch the Kentucky Derby. Man, did you see how Mine That Bird came from behind to blow away the field in that race? Spectacular.

Wilmington is the largest city on the coast of North Carolina. It's an old traditional city, founded in 1739. From what I could piece together, it was founded as a port city and thrived as such through its history up and until today. The University of North Carolina-Wilmington is located in the city, there are nice beaches nearby and there are also quite a few TV programs and movies filmed in and around the Wilmington area too. Additionally, the World War II battleship USS North Carolina is moored prominently on the river and is a tourist attraction. (Left: The Wilmington Riverfront)

Our activities focused only on the riverfront and old part of the city. We only had one evening and the next morning to look around, so our experience there is admittedly limited. After our dinner, we took a walk back to the hotel through the old part of the city. This was on a Saturday night, so all the restaurants and bars were open and, for the most part, full. My impressions were that the city looks a bit shabby...and perhaps has seen its best days. Other than the street with the entertainment, all the other streets were empty and struck me as a bit depressing. This is in direct contract to the instant hit of color, energy and activity we experienced in both Charleston and Savannah.

On the other hand, the old buildings were great and with some nice Carolina beaches close by, I could see how this could be a nice small city to live. Anyway, I probably shouldn't judge as we didn't see all that much of the city. The next morning we took a sunny run along the river, and then packed up and headed north again to...

Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head is one of the many little towns on what are known as "the outer banks." These are long, narrow islands that border the main coastline of the state. As you can imagine, a lot of vacation houses, hotels and all the amenities to service visitors have sprung up over the decades. However, it seems far less of a tourist trap and strip mall than what we observed as we drove through Mrytl Beach earlier in our trip.

We underestimated how long it would take to get from Wilmington to Nags Head. It turned out to be about five and a half hours. We arrived at the very nice First Colony Inn bed and breakfast at about 4 p.m. The first thing we did after checking in was to take a nice stroll on the beach. (Right: Outer Banks beach at Nags Head.)

Next, it was off for dinner at The Black Pelican. While you'll never mistake this joint for upper crust fine dining, we really enjoyed the atmosphere and great seafood. And that was about it for us that day.

The next morning we took another great walk on the beach after breakfast and, by about 10 a.m. we were on the road again to our final destination in Williamsburg, VA. However, before leaving the area, we stopped a one very historical place - Kitty Hawk. This is the place where in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly a heavier-than-air, engine-powered aircraft. It's the spot where humans first flew and airplane. The site is only about five miles north from where we stayed the night, so it would be a shame to miss it. (Left: Flight landing markers for Wright brothers' flyer flights at Kitty Hawk.)

After looking through the museum, we walked over to where the Wright brothers first four flights occurred. All of them took place on the same day and all started from the same point - today marked with a large boulder. Each of the landing points of the flights are also marked down range with stones - the last of which was the longest. Nearby is a hill with a large monument to the Wrights and their accomplishments. Suitably impressed, we moved on.

In the end, our plan of breaking up the trip to Virginia worked and we enjoyed seeing new places and things, but if we were to do it again (or if you're thinking of a similar trip) I'd revise and add in an extra day on the road between Charleston and Williamsburg - either stay an extra day in the outer banks or stay a night in third town along the way. Those two drives of 4+ hours each were pretty long.

As for the destinations themselves, I'd definitely recommend Nags Head or towns nearby. Wilminton to me was more of a "stop over" destination. If you're looking for beaches in North Carolina, I understand that the ones near Wilmington are that's a possibility. But, the city itself is not a must see in my book.

I'll be back to finish up the "Visiting the South" series with the caper on our visit to Williamsburg, VA.

Next Photo Project - Poland

Pictures I took when we visited Poland in 2002 are consistently among the most viewed over on my Flickr Photostream.

However, what's there now are just a few rudimentary scans.

So, for my next photo project, I'll tackle the full set of pictures from that trip - which also included a great stay in Prague.

We took that trip back in the ancient old days before digital SLR cameras - at least ones that regular people could afford - so there'll be a lot of high resolution scanning going on.

I'll post a note when the pictures are up and live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

European Soccer Players Are Also Actors

Between loyally watching Team USA Soccer and now following the new Seattle Sounders FC MLS team, I'm really starting to dig soccer. It's not on par with college football or basketball for me, but it's a cool sport with a lot to offer. Did you see how Team USA just beat the best national team in the world? Team Spain. That was cool.

However, while I'm no expert on soccer (or "football" as it's accurately called everywhere in the world but the U.S.), I do have eyes and after seeing a lot of soccer over the last few years, I've come to the conclusion that...

European soccer players are pussies. Yep, you hear me. Wimps.

No, I don't mean they're not athletic or talented. Clearly they are - more so than most players in the USA or other parts of the world. I'm not talking about talent or results. I'm talking about that time honored (and very accepted) practice in soccer of players absolutely flopping - rolling around in agony on the pitch as if injured at the slightest touch from an opposing player in hopes of drawing a foul. Its epidemic and I see it most with European players. Not exclusively mind you, but mostly.

In the NBA, they have flopping too, and it's bad. But, it's usually only the stars that benefit from this. This is not great OK, but when you compare it to's a different story. Any fool out on the soccer field can fake an injury to draw a foul and it happens a lot.

What's funniest is when one of these jokers fake a horrific injury, rolling around like someone cut their leg off from the shin down - sometimes even being carried off the field on a stretcher - they suddenly and miraculously get better and are again charging around like nothing happened within a minute or two. What a farce!

OK, rant over. I still like soccer a lot and I'm eager to see how the Sounders and Team USA do this year and next as World Cup 2010 arrives.

It's a Republican Affair

Well, Republicans don't disappoint do they?

First this week we find out that a Nevada Senator John Ensign who consistently runs on "family values" and was one of the first and loudest to condemn Bill Clinton for his infidelities while president has himself been having an affair. News here.

Now it comes out that the governor of South Carolina has been having an affair too. News here. While I'm unaware if the governor uses "family values" as a primary issue, he has been previously mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2012 for a party that uses that issue A LOT. So, not sure how much credibility he'll now have for the socially conservative Republican party base.

Throw in the Larry Craig situation from 2007, the Ted Haggard scandal, Limbaugh and his drugs and serial marriages, as well as a number of others...and you have a lot of major Republicans out doing hypocritical and naughty things. And I think it's the hypocracy that's the key because while Democrats are no less likely to step out on their spouses (Spitzer anyone?) they usually are not running for office on a platform of morality as many Republicans do.

You'd think that doesn't bode well for these people specifically or the Republicans generally in the 2010 and 2012 elections, but the conservative base of the Republican party seems to have a short memory for moral lapses when it suits them.

It's all just one big Republican affair.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Know Your History - Iran

Anybody paying attention to the news knows there is some serious stuff going on in Iran right now as many in that nation are openly protesting against the conservative religious government over what appears to be rigged elections.

As of last week, the Iranian leaders have started to talk about how the unrest in their country is being orchestrated by the U.K. and the U.S.A. This sounds paranoid, and it's definitely a diversionary tactic on the government's part to cover up whatever they've done.

However, it's not all that surprising why the Iranians would bring this up as a reason for the protests and unrest. Why you may ask? Know your history I say.

Turns out, we and the Brits did in fact overthrow a democratically elected Iranian government back in the 1950s...installing the Shah of Iran who ruled as a dictator and ensured the west got its oil for cheap. The Shah was in turn overthown by a revolution against his dictatorship in 1979...a popular uprising led by the current religous leaders.

And, lets not forget that the U.S. backed one Saddam Hussein in the long running and horrific Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s.

So, there is a rich history of western involvement in overthrowing the Iranian goverment. Based on that, it's plausable for the Iranian goverment to use the spectre of our influence as an excuse for what's happening now in their attempts to shift attention and blame.

Check out the info on the US-backed coup on Wikipedia here.

All of this goes a long ways to explaining why the Iranian government is saying what it is about the west right now, and it also helps inform why President Obama is not projecting a loud and aggressive tone on this issue right now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Visiting the South - Social Observations from Dixie

I want to take a diversion away from reporting on the site seeing and eating Diane and I did last month in the southeast to offer up some observations about life in Dixie...and how it differs from the northwest.

I'd like to first say that I like the fact that the south is different than the north or the west. More and more, the U.S. is starting to look the same no matter where you go, people are starting to sound the same, regional differences are disappearing and choice of eating/drinking/accommodation is becoming more homogeneous. I love the fact that we were able to  go someplace within our own borders that offered up a different take on America.

With that, here are some of my top observations...

I - Southern Hospitality is Real
People in the south are generally much more approachable and willing to help out a stranger or tourist. Quick with a smile and an eagerness to help out, southerners seem proud of their culture and the cities they live in and they're pleased to talk with you. Up here in Seattle, there's much more of a keep-to-yourself culture that stands in contrast to what we experienced down south. I suppose you get used to what you grow up with or what you're personality type connects with. For me, chalk the friendliness of southerns up as a strength over the northwest.

II - They Grow 'Em Big Down South
There are a lot of overweight people in the south. While I understand and agree that a certain percentage of people simply are genetically predisposed to carrying more body fat than others, the fact that so many southerners are obese is evidence to me that this is not the main reason America is so heavy. No, the reason that Americans - and apparently a high number of southerners - are so overweight is because...get this...they eat way too much, way too many fatty and unhealthy foods, and they do not exercise.

While Seattle and the northwest has big people too, it's not so pervasive and a hallmark of the culture as it is in the south. Perhaps its the diet most people have here, perhaps its because there are so many active things to do outdoors in the northwest, temperate weather or maybe its because more people here exercise than most parts of the country. Not sure. But, the size of the people IS a difference between the northwest and the south.

III - The Southern Male Wears A Uniform
After about two days down south, I realized that most of the men we were seeing were wearing very similar attire. We're used to seeing a pretty eclectic mix of fashion as we navigate our jobs and lives here in Seattle, but it became clear that this was not so down south. Here are some of the "uniforms" I observed so many southern males wearing:
  • Uniform #1 - The Dude. Baseball cap (with sunglasses perched on the brim), t-shirt, shorts, white tennis shoes with ankle socks (or sometimes just flip-flops). To maximize this look, the southern male very often accentuates it with a mustache or goatee. I'd estimate that 30% of guys you see in the south are rocking this fashion statement at any one time. Any time you get near a tourist attraction, bar or casual dining establishment the percentage jumps radically to about 70%.
  • Uniform #2 - The Polo-Phone Combo. Colorful polo shirt, khaki pants, braddedleather belt, leather shoes, cell phone clipped to the hip. This is a major look for the southern male too. I'd estimate you're looking at about 20% of southern males are sporting this slightly upgraded look.
  • Uniform #3 - Just Out of Bed. Rumpled shorts and t-shirt and floppy unkempt hair. Perhaps not a southern specialty, but with I'd say you see about 10% of guys in this type of get-up regularly there.
So, right there that's about 60% of males walking around the south in one of these "uniforms" with some cross-pollination of these three looks too that probably account for another 10%. The other 30% are a mixed bag with more universal looks such as business formal, hipster, bohemian, etc.
What does this say about southerner guys? To me it's perhaps an indication of a desire to "fit in" or there is a severe lack of fashion sense - or maybe both. Any way you slice it, the southern male wearing a "uniform" was one of the most vivid observations of the whole trip.

IV - Southerners Show You What They're All About
I noticed that a lot of people - many more than where we're from - were sporting shirts or caps that displayed a name or logo of some group or entity they were proud of. Most of this was sports-related themes of course, but schools, companies, the military and locations were well represented too.
Also, within the sports-related shirts or caps, there seemed to be a very high percentage of "champions" attire declaring that whatever team they supported had won whatever championship and who they beat. The message here seemed to be, "we're the best...respect me."

Anyway, it just made an impression on me that a large number of people seemed to be making the decision that they would wear clothes that communicated support for something vs. something that may make them look more sophisticated, interesting or cool.

V- Pickup Trucks
That's it. Just pickup trucks. There are a lot of 'em in the south. More than here in Seattle where most people tend to have BMWs, Mercedes, Subarus (or similar), SUVs or perhaps a fuel efficient city car. Sure, the truck quotent goes up in more rural areas here, but overall I wouldn't call the northwest a "truck culture." But it is down south. It doesn't matter if your in a city like Charleston or out in the countryside, there are a lot of pickup truck rolling around. People seem to identify with the identity of the pickup truck - tough, rugged, not gonna take any crap and get out of my way.

VI - History Has A Presence
The cities we visited have a long and much older history than what's out on the west coast. Charleston and Savannah, for example, have a British colonial history, American Revolutionary history, slavery history, Civil War history that, say, Seattle has none of.  I mean, in Seattle schools you learn about the Civil War and slavery. In Charleston you can literally step foot where that war started, visit a former slave market and see what plantation life was like for slaves...all in one afternoon. Throw in the old buildings, cobbled streets and all the thought of all the things that happened in and around them and you have history staring you in the face every day. I really liked experiencing this inside the borders of the U.S. rather than in another country.

Yes, a lot of stuff happened in these cities over the past three hundred years. And, over those years a certain sense of that history settles on the culture there - helping create the social and political and makeup of the region.  Like anywhere, a region's history is reflected in current day culture. In my mind then, it's no surprise then that an area with history built on religious settlement, slavery, anti-Union sentiment and an agricultural economy would today be so very  -politically, religiously and socially. So, beyond buildings and sites, the history of the south has a less concrete but equally real impact on society there.

VII - Women Dress Up
Unlike their male counterparts, women down south tend to dress nicer and make an effort to look good for themselves, their significant others and the public. You may not share any one woman's sense of style, but you can tell they're putting forth the effort...and much more than the guy they're with or hoping to attract.

VI - Some Possible Conclusions
We had a great time down south and I am really pleased to have visited an area unlike home for all the reasons I've described in my other posts. By experiencing different places around the world, you become a more informed and enlightened person.

In thinking about what the common elements of the observations I've made above might be, I'll offer the following. I might be wrong, and I'm no social scientist, but...

It seems that a lot of the social behaviors I observed seemed to be attempts to project "importance," "authority," or "respect." And what could be motivating that? Or, at least more than in other places around the U.S. that I've been? Well, my theory is that many southerners are operating with some level of an inferiority complex and that their behaviors are an attempt to overcome those doubts. This is not something they may even be doing consciously. It's just part of the culture. 

Sure, southerners will say "no way," and they are proud of where they're from. I get that. But think about it. You're talking about a less wealthy, less educated, less opportunity-rich area of the nation with less natural beauty and resources than many other parts of the country. And, it's an area of the nation that was defeated in the Civil War (and believe me, that's still a sore subject 140 years later).

All that could add up to a longstanding culture of inferiority that manifests itself in overcompensating behavior. Well, like I said, it's just a theory. But, it's based on my first-hand observations. If you have a different perspective, let me know.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Know Your History - Why the Tienanmen Crackdown is Relevant Today

June 4, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government crack-down on the massive pro-democracy protests that were happening in Tienanmen Square in Beijing.

These events are important to remember and relevant today in my estimation for two reasons:

  1. The violent crack down shows what the Chinese communist government is willing to do if challenged.

  2. The protests led directly to an opening up of the Chinese economy and the resulting boom that has, lets be honest, a HUGE impact on the U.S. and world economy.

Diane and I were in China last year and visited Tienanmen Square. You can see some of the pictures I took while there by clicking here.

In terms of what happened and why it's relevant today, the story goes like this...

In the spring of 1989, students and others filled the huge plaza in central Beijing to protest the controlling government that was presiding over a faltering, iffy economy on top of heavy restrictions on personal freedom, speech and other human rights.

Protesters initially gathered in mid-April to mourn the death of pro-democracy and anti-corruption official Hu Yaobang. Focus of the protest began to crystallize around desire for national democratic reform and greater economic freedoms. The crowd got bigger, louder and more determined...however, it remained a non-violent protest.

All of this happened in a year - 1989 - in which other communist governments had failed (East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania for example). With this in mind, and not wanting to lose their grasp on power, the communist government of China decided the protest could last no longer and "cleared" Tienanmen Square with army soldiers and tanks. People died. Lots of them. They were shot, run over and beaten. Many more were jailed or never heard from again. This was a naked power play by the Chinese government to crush dissent. So, we now know what they're willing to do if things come to a critical head again. We also know their army is willing to participate.

However, soon after the end of the protest, the government did something else too. It decided that instead of giving in on controls over speech, rights and would greatly loosen economic controls and open up China to free-enterprise and market economies. This enabled the big and enduring economic boom in China that is still happening today.

As a result, today - and believe me it's evident over there - the Chinese are very focused on amassing wealth and material possessions. They are not as concerned over freedom of speech or democracy. Their perspective might be, "I don't mind government control of the media or that I can only vote for one party if I can drive my brand new car from my new high rise condo to my tech job."

Of course other big outcomes of the economic decisions made in the wake of the Tienanmen Square episode have been US companies moving jobs from North America to China for the cheap labor and Chinese ownership of US debt. To me, these are clearly not good developments given our country's inability to balance these moves out with new job creation and fiscal responsibility here.