Friday, April 30, 2010

Shanghai Takes The Stage - Expo 2010

The big "world's fair" called Expo 2010 kicks off in Shanghai, China on Saturday, May 1.

Diane and I visited the city as part of our trip to China in the spring of 2008 and were blown away in many ways.

Whether it was the historic old quarter that is quickly disappearing, the modern new Pudong section, the colonial British Bund or tree lined French Concession, the pollution, the super fast maglev train, the hustle and bustle or the food...Shanghai really delivered a major impression. If Beijing serves as "the Washington, DC" of China, Shanghai is clearly "the New York" of the country.

At any rate, the Expo starts this weekend, and I've heard it reported that 95 percent of all attendees will be Chinese. While world's fairs seemed to have lost their world appeal in about 1962, there is still something about this one that is interesting. Perhaps its just the spectacle of it all and "the next big thing" China is doing to establish itself on the world stage following the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Shanghai is full of visual treats, and I'm sure all the visitors will get an eyeful not only from the splashy national pavilions, but also the normal city itself.

For those interested in a glimpse of Shanghai, below are four pictures I took when we were there, but you can see some more I captured by clicking HERE. More pictures of other parts of China that I took are HERE, HERE and HERE.

Additionally, because the pollution in Shanghai is so prevalent, I wrote a few thoughts about that upon returning from our trip. You can read those entries HERE and HERE.

Photos: View through the pollution of Pudong from the Bund, one of the remaining alleyways in Old Shanghai, the grandeur of The Bund at night and a psychedelic experience inside The Shanghai Tourist Tunnel underneath the Huangpu river.

Friday, April 23, 2010

PiL Rocks Seattle With Flamin' Show at the Showbox

Sometimes patience pays off. Sometimes heroes from another era still posses talent and fire in spades and can still deliver the goods better than anyone today. Sometimes the best music and performances are not by bands that sell millions of songs or even have a recording deal. Sometimes a singer does not need to be a singer to sound great. Sometimes authentic, rebellious, interesting and enjoyable music comes from unexpected places.

All of the above was proved anew this week as John Lydon and his band Public Image Limited stopped in Seattle for an incendiary show as part of their 2010 U.S. tour.

Know your PiL History
More on the gig in a second, but first a quick history lesson for those of you not familiar with PiL. You may know Lydon under another name - Johnny Rotten. Yes, the lead singer and lyric writer for the seminal and highly influential punk rock band the Sex Pistols. While the Pistols delivered a blistering, political attack and a DIY approach that influenced the formation of bands around the world, their heyday was played out by late 1978 as they broke up for a number of reasons that year.

At that point, Lydon re-took his real name and started a new band called Public Image Limited - or PiL for short. If the Pistols were rock and roll through a bright major chord buzz saw, PiL were rock and roll in a dark minor chord blender set to grind. Lydon was truly looking to do something completely different - for himself and for music. So followed three great and very cutting edge albums that accomplished just that - First Issue, Metal Box and Flowers of Romance.

For the second time in just a few years Lydon and a set of band mates again re-defined what new music is all about, again launching a wave of influence across music. The lineup of the group changed continually going forward into the 80s with Lydon as the lone constant. They also achieved more commercial success with songs like "Rise," "This is Not A Love Song" and "Seattle" in the mid-1980s.

By 1992 Lydon put PiL on hiatus and most of us thought we'd never hear from them again. Sure, he re-formed the Sex Pistols a few times in the 1990s and early 2000s for gigs, but nobody seriously thought we'd hear live PiL again. Surprise! In late 2009, bankrolled by Lydon's payday for his stint as TV spokesman for British Country Life Butter, he put PiL back together and on the road with a UK and now US tour. No record deal, no label support...just Lydon and band mates playing shows because they wanted to.

Seattle Gig
With that history, I was thunderstruck when I read that PiL was coming to Seattle. No questions asked, no doubt in my mind that I was going. I saw Lydon with the reformed Sex Pistols in 1996 when they played Bumbershoot in Seattle, but that was 14 years ago and in a big venue. Meanwhile, over the years the PiL cannon of songs really grew on me to become one of my favorites in my music collection. And, any chance to see John Lydon up close and personal with PiL is a no brainer in my book.

So, my buddy Paul and I checked out the show this past Tuesday at the Showbox at the Market in downtown Seattle. This is a small but nice venue with good acoustics. The gig also happened to be an "all ages" show, so management did not allow alcohol onto the show flow. Rather, if you wanted to have a few drinks with your PiL experience, you had to stay towards the back in the specified bar areas. Lydon noticed this during the show and admonished the crowd farther back for being "too elite" or something. He probably didn't realize the bar/under 21 situation. I'll give him a pass.

Ok, was the gig? Flamin'. That's my answer. On fire. Lydon and his band were spot on, passionate, talented and engaging. You could feel the music and the message coming off the stage. This was not necessarily surprising given Lydon's history, but it was really welcome to hear him and the band so committed, so into it and sounding so good.

I would estimate the venue was about 80 percent full. This is a little disappointing considering how good this band is live and how influential they are. With no record label to flog ads and promote the gig, I thought the turn out was pretty good. I'd also estimate that the crowd was mostly in their 30s and 40s, with a few younger peeps smart enough to check it out.

Hitting the stage just after 9 p.m., a black-clad Lydon sporting a wildly spiky head of blond hair said hello to the audience, advised them not to jump on stage, offered that if respect was given to the band that respect would be given back...and then announced, "let the celebration begin!" And it did as the band jumped right into This Is Not A Love Song. Which it wasn't. But it was good. Real good.

Appetite whetted with that first song, I was really pleased that John then led the band through several all time classic PiL songs from their early career - Poptones, Tie Me To The Length Of That, Albatross, Death Disco and Flowers of Romance. Each of these sounded great...possibly even better than the recorded versions as the live, in-the-moment rock and roll treatment amped them up and made them drive as much as grind. A wicked cool balance that, well, was stunningly impressive to me. I'll give Death Disco the nod as best of this part of the set - just incredible.

As mentioned earlier, PiL has seen many lineups over the years, and none of the original members are in the band now. However, Lydon has clearly assembled a great live group, bringing in two musicians who played in PiL before - Lu Edmonds on a scorching guitar and other instruments, and drummer Bruce Smith. The four man team is rounded out by expert bassist Scott Firth.

Next the band tackled a series of songs from the album 9 sandwiched in between a pair of songs from Lydon's solo album, Psycho's Path. In order of performance, they were Psychopath, Warrior, USLS 1, Disappointed and Sun. To me the standouts were Warrior and Disappointed. These were tight performances from the more pop-oriented era of PiL's career and Lydon was particularly talkative to the audience introducing those tunes. For Warrior, he said that he was becoming a U.S. citizen and that soon this would be "my land" too - echoing a line from the song. He also advised the crowd to stand up for what they believed in and - I think - said something about how the Republican Party should be dismantled.

Among the many things I was instantly impressed about the band was the quality of Lydon's voice stood out to me. Never one to be called a classic rock singer, he has always relied on pure energy and guts to belt out his lyrics. This has served him well over the years as his is a truly unique voice in rock, but you wonder how a 54 year old guy is going to sound. Well, he sounded great through the entire show.

The home stretch of the main set was completed with performances of Memories from Metal Box, Bags from Album, Chant from Metal Box and Religion from First Issue. Again, wow. To me, Religion was just superb. Before the song started, Lydon called out to the sound man, Walter, at the back, "Oh Walter, give us more bass...more bass Walter!" Walter obliged. What followed was a blistering version of the anti-organized religion song, Religion. With all that's happening with the Catholic Church these days, not to mention the general rise in religious fervor here in the U.S. and other places in the world, this song is just as relevant, cutting and needed today as it was when it was written back in the late 70s. This gets my vote for song of the night.

At the close of Religion, Lydon thanked the crowd and said, "We'll be back in two minutes. Smoke break. Back in two minutes." And they were.

The show concluded with the performance of two of the best known PiL songs - Public Image, Rise - and then one of Lydon's biggest solo hits, Open Up. Delivering the goods right up to the last note, this seemed a perfect ending set for the show.

Paul and I couldn't have been more pleased - a long time music hero blowing away expectations by delivering a high quality set of music with a tight band in a small venue. And here's another thing...Lydon, this band and these songs sound as fresh, important and vital as they ever did and certainly more so than 95% of what passes for rock music today. To me, this was the big "ah ha" of my night.

Lydon has said in interviews leading into the tour that if goes well, this PiL lineup may record new music. If they do, I'm sure it'll be good and worth checking out. But, I am not sure it could top what we just saw this week.

You can view a clip from the show on YouTube - Lydon's opening comments and then This Is Not A Love Song HERE. But, I warn that the sound quality of the recording is not very good for the song as the PiL sound system blows out the microphones of whatever device the person recorded it on.

Photos taken by Marc Osborn at the PiL gig in Seattle on April 20, 2010
PiL logo taken from the the Johnny Loves Fuzztone Blogspot blog

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Don't Chip In Me

There is an interesting report on a disturbing legislative activity in Georgia over at the Lowering the Bar blog.

Apparently, the legislature in Georgia is considering a bill to specifically make it illegal to implant a microchip into a person without their knowlege.

Given that privacy law in that state and under the U.S. Consitution would cover such activity as illegal, I think this stunt reeks of "us vs. them" manipulation by politicians interested in continuing to stir up dissent against "the Federal govermnent."

"Don't tread on me," say the Tea Partiers as they hype up the perception of an overbearing central government. In this case some in their ranks may have just changed the hype a little to, "don't chip in me."

Anyway, check it out. Pretty wild.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Know Your History: Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary

Today sadly marks the 15 year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings by American terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

In addition to reflecting on those who lost their lives, I am struck by the similarities in American political culture now and in the time frame leading up to that tragic mass murder.

In 1995 you had:
  • A nation coming off a major economic recession brought on by more than a decade of conservative economic, unemployment and dissatisfaction up, massive budget deficit
  • A first term Democratic Party president
  • A president attempting to bring reform to the health care system
  • The U.S. military recently in action in the middle east - Kuwait, Iraq
  • Domestic right wing, anti-government and racist groups calling themselves "militias" or "Freemen" becoming more and more visible and angry based on the vague notion that somehow "the government" was going to come get them, their guns or both
  • A suddenly out-of-power conservative/Republican movement desperately trying to regain power and the associated...
  • Complete freak out by the Republican party that was way out of proportion to what was actually happening in politics and government...and also highly hypocritical given the leading role conservative government had in creating the problems the country was going through at the time
  • Talk radio fanning the negative flames associated with all of the above.

Sound familiar?

It does to me. You could associate pretty much all that with 2010 as much as 1995. And that's what's scary when you contemplate that all it took back then were three or four American citizens who bought into the hysteria and "decided they were going to do something about it." Their chosen action? Blow up a government building in Oklahoma, killing 168 people and altering the lives of hundreds of others.

Flash forward to today. Since Obama took the oath of office 15 months ago, we've already seen a man walk into the Holocaust Museum and start shooting. We've also seen a man fly his airplane into an IRS building in Texas in protest against the government. We've seen a "militia" group in Michigan caught planning to kill a police officer and then blow up everyone attending his funeral as a form of protest against the government. And, we've seen some very ignorant and hateful speech from a group billing itself as "The Tea Party" about what it believes are the evils of government.

Get the picture? History is starting to repeat itself.

With all the similarities with 1995...will there be another McVeigh in this decade? Obviously and sincerely I hope not. I hope that we as a people can learn from history...and not that distant of history that because of previous tragedies like Oklahoma City and 9-11 the police, FBI, and military are more on guard and can disrupt or stop home-grown terrorists before they can act.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Baby Blue Cadillac in Ballard

Today I noticed a beautiful classic baby blue Cadillac across the street from our house.

So I took some pictures. Below are a couple...a few more are HERE.

Sounders Game This Weekend

I went to the Seattle Sounders FC game on Saturday and had a great time - especially since they won.

Thanks to my friend Sean and his friends at Group Health, we were able to watch the game in luxury (and out of the rain) from the Cooperative's suite at the stadium.

Healthcare is a cut throat business, and even non-for-profit organizations like Group Health have to be "in the game" against large for-profit competitors and need to be able to woo potential corporate customers...hence the suite.

While I am not a broker/client for Group Health, I did enjoy the hospitality that Jim and Kim from Group Health showed by inviting us in to enjoy the game.

Anyway, below are a couple pictures I took at the game with my little Nikon Coolpix camera. You can see a few more by clicking HERE.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Flickr Question Answered

I found out the answer to the question about why I saw a spike in views of pictures of Auschwitz on my Flickr Photostream.

Today on NPR, they said it was Holocaust Remembrance Week.

That explains it then.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Views Spike on My Photostream - But Why?

I had a pretty big day over on my Flickr Photostream Tuesday, but I'm not sure why.

Total picture views for the day were 162, and that's about 100 more than I get on an average day.

Most of the views yesterday were of pictures I took when we visited the grounds of the former Nazi concentration camp called Auschwitz in Poland. Those were clearly the views that spiked the daily total upward. But why?

Why all the views of Auschwitz on April 13, 2010?

Four guesses:
  1. Poland is in the news right now because of the airplane crash that killed its president and other high officials. So...maybe there are people out looking at pictures of Poland and saw my pictures that way? That's a stretch, but maybe.
  2. A few of my pictures were posted somewhere without my permission and whomever is looking at those pages online are also clicking through to see my pictures in larger format at my Photostream.
  3. Random. As in, for no particular reason there just happened to be a lot of people in the world looking online for pictures of Auschwitz yesterday.
  4. There is an anniversary of some sort associated with World War II, the Nazis or the Holocaust that I am not thinking of or don't know about, and that's driving views.

I'm gonna guess that it's either #3 or #4.

If anyone has any other ideas, let me know.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tragedy for Poland

Thoughts with the people of Poland and the families of those killed at least 96 people in an airplane crash today. Passengers included the nation's president and a number of their elected officials and military command.

I noted that the airplane they were traveling in was a 26 year old Russian airliner. I've always had a phobia of flying on Russian built airliners as they seem to crash so often...and sadly this just drives the point home once again.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Malcolm McLaren

You may have seen the news from England that one Malcolm McLaren has died of cancer at age 64.

If you've never heard of McLaren, you probably have heard some of the bands he managed in the 1970s and 1980s - namely the Sex Pistols, The New York Dolls and Bow Wow Wow.

He's most known for helping form the Sex Pistols, therefore playing a major part in the development of punk rock, and setting up some successful publicity stunts that helped get the band even more notoriety than they were already generating. He is also known for being a notorious fake, flake and manipulator.

Absent his death, you wouldn't catch me writing about him. But, hey...the guy did have a role in creating one of the most significant pop music developments. Notice I said "role," because Malcolm may have though he invented punk himself...but clearly he did not.

In any event, the man was pretty good with a phrase, so I'll mark his departure with some of my favorite quotes from him...

"Punk became the most important cultural phenomenon of the late 20th Century. It's authenticity stands out against the karaoke ersatz culture of today, where everything and everyone is for sale."

"I was searching for a way to break the rules, change life - and I was looking to turn art into action."

"My intention was to fail in business, but to fail as brilliantly as possible."

"Be childish. Be irresponsible. Be disrespectful. Be everything society hates."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A New Blog to Check Out - Seriously, Check It Out

My buddy Marcus has started a blog. Diane and I met him on our 2008 trip to China as part of our REI tour group.

Operating out of the greater Portland, Oregon area, the dude is really smart, wickedly politically astute and has a lot to say.

So, for anyone seeking "from the front lines" political talk and some other good stuff, check out his blog here:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Top 10 Most Viewed Pictures - Udpated Q1 2010

It's time for my quarterly look at which pictures I've taken are getting the most views online.

I now have more than 1,000 pictures loaded onto my Flickr Potostream HERE. And, I try to get the word out a bit on new images I have taken and loaded up. A few have even been published.

But mostly, my pictures are simply viewed online. Which ones are viewed most? I try to re-cap that grand running totals every quarter.

So, as of the end of March 2010, below are the most viewed pictures from my Photostream. You can see each picture by clicking on it's name in the list...
  1. Close Up of Taj Mahal Detail
  2. Beijing Olympic Stadium

  3. Don't Tread On Me Flag

  4. Aircraft Carrier Yorktown

  5. Modern Ho Chi Mihn City

  6. Former South Vietnamese Capital Building

  7. 2009 Seattle Gay Pride Parade (guy on stilts)

  8. Modern Skyline of Ho Chi Mihn City

  9. US Military Vehicles in Ho Chi Mihn City

  10. 2009 Seattle Gay Pride Parade (guy with sign)
This is a repeat of the Top 10 from Q4 2009, so not much to say about why these might be the most viewed pictures beyond what you can already read by clicking HERE.

Also to note, the numbers on all these pictures except the Olympic Stadium did go up over the last three months. So, they're still being looked at vs. amassing a big number a long time ago and just sitting at the top.

Photos outside of the top 10 most viewed that have risen up in the rankings over the last few months are:

View of the Great Wall

Air Pollution in Shanghai - this one may have come up in number of views because it was published as part of an online educational series and I let friends know about it.

Ancient Chinese Vase

2010 Rose Bowl - Oregon Returns a Kickoff - this is self explanatory because the game happened in January and, well, it's the Rose Bowl.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Three Big Sporting Events On April 5

Today, April 5, is a pretty big day in U.S. sports with three high profile events taking place.

Opening day for baseball (for all teams except the Yankees and Red Sox who played last night).
  • What to like: could be a good season for the hometown Mariners, they open with a winnable series vs. Oakland, Jr. is back again this year and with no Sonics around any more and college b-ball over, it's good to have another local team to follow.
  • What to dislike: baseball is, at least in my opinion, boring compared to basketball, ice hockey, soccer and football. So, here we go with seven months of guys mostly standing around either spitting or scratching themselves.
NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game - Butler vs. Duke
  • What to like: a compelling match up of an unlikely finalist on an incredible run and an old traditional power looking to win another title.
  • What to dislike: two private schools from the east playing for all the marbles in Indianapolis...not too relevant or interesting to we basketball fans from the west.
Start of the Masters Golf Tournament...and the return of one Tiger Woods to competition
  • What to like: well, I'm not a golfer or a fan of golf, and I'm not fan of Mr. Woods even before all his problems came to light. So not much to like here for me.
  • What to dislike: Oh where to start. Tiger Woods for one. Enough said. Then there's the fact that the tournament is played in the oldest of old school private golf clubs in the nation. Not very "everyman" and certainly with no women allowed to join the club very "everywoman" either. Then there's my opinion that golf is not really a sport...more like guys walking around their lawn with sticks. It makes baseball look like ski-cross from the Winter Olympics.
Best of the three? For me it's clearly the Ms opener. Local team, start to a new season, hope springs eternal.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Know Your History...Because It's Being Re-Written

To some degree, what is accepted as history is indeed influenced by modern day interpretations. Usually, however, those viewpoints don't tamper with the facts of history...rather, they offer up analysis of what happened in whatever context is relevant at the time.

However, I read a disturbing story today in the Seattle Times about how elements of the conservative right are literally trying to re-write U.S. history to fit their vision of our country as a religious nation that did not and has not ever benefited from government involvement in matters.

It's no small stuff we're talking about here. We're talking about out-and-out change to facts. Not interpretations or opinions, but an insidious re-writing facts to suit a warped and ultimately negative political philosophy. What's disturbing is that these people might just get away with it. For example, your kids or perhaps theirs will come to believe thing such as:
  • Theodore Roosevelt was a socialist.
  • The Federalist Papers did NOT stake out a strong role of the Federal government.
  • Thomas Jefferson was not that important to the founding of the country and his ideas of separation of church and state were not adopted.
  • Franklin Roosevelt caused the Great Depression.
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American hero brought down by lying liberals who smeared his good name.
Think I'm paranoid or kidding? Read the story yourself.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 4 - A Sad Anniversary

Sadly, April 4 is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

It happened in Memphis, Tennessee as King stood on the balcony outside his hotel room. He was in the city to support and help striking garbage collection workers in their fight against unfair practices by their employer and for better wages. Unfortunately, a man across the street on that faithful April day had other plans and shot and killed King.

Diane and I visited Memphis a number of years ago, and among the many things we did there was to visit the site of the assassination. The hotel has been turned into a Smithsonian museum on the civil rights movement and is well worth checking out.

One side of the building remains as it was when King visited, preserving the place where he was killed. Below are a couple pictures I took of the cite when we were there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pictures from Prague and Wroclaw, Poland now up on my Flickr Photostream. They're at the top of the HERE if interested to see.

These are the last pictures I'm posting from our 2002 trip to Poland and Prague.

The Census - It's In the Constitution

In addition to Thursday being April Fools Day, it's also Census Day in which U.S. citizens are urged to fill out and send in their Census form.

I saw an interesting article about how some on the political right are questioning if the Census is constitutional. The article points out the irony of how by not sending in their Census replies, the very people who currently want change in the government will be minimizing their representation in the government since virtually all forms of legislative districting are proportioned based on population. The article also points out how it's pretty funny that the Census is even being debated as it's so clear that its clear the Federal government is authorized to do it.

I guess this goes to show you the level of paranoia and willful ignorance of a certain element of our citizenry.

For any doubters out there...or as ammo to use when discussing the Census this evening with your "crazy right wing uncle," straight out of Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution...

The actual enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

Other than some interesting 1700s use of capitalization, that's pretty clear...and it's in the Constitution.

Oh, and that section about "in such manner as they shall by law direct?" The relevant law today is Title 13 of the US Code, and it can be seen HERE