Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fisheye Fun

As you recall (I'm assuming) I promised I would post some photos I took of my day in Washington on Friday. I decided to travel light and use only my 14mm fisheye lens. It has a 180-degree field of view and (as you can see) distorts the images, hence the name. One of my favorite things to do is photograph the METRO, Washington's wonderful subway system. It takes you just about anyplace, and I think the innards are particularly interesting. This is the train coming into L'Enfant Plaza. The flashing red lights on the platform tell us the train is coming. The only problem with doing these photos is that I usually miss my train. The sacrifices I make for my art. Geez.
It's a short walk from the L'Enfant Plaza stop to the East Building of the National Gallery. It's at the end of the Mall, near the Capitol building.
Don't be fooled by the Smithsonian METRO stop. It isn't as close to the gallery as some other stops. The original Smithsonian is at the other end of the National Mall.

That's the Calder mobile hanging from the glass panel roof that greets visitors when they enter the East Building. There are more Calder works in the museum, but we aren't allowed to photograph them. Downstairs, there is a small Rothko exhibit (below) that we are allowed to photograph.
From there, it was off to the Air and Space Museum, where they have the original 1903 Wright Flyer as part of a great exhibit all about the Wright Brothers and their historic airplane.

My favorite museum on the Mall is the Hirshorn, directly across from the Air and Space place. The exterior looks a bit like a space vehicle.

During the summer months the fountain is running, but I think it's just as interesting in the winter. This is where the fisheye lens comes in handy.

The featured exhibit at the Hirshorn is a collection of Morris Lewis works. He used a thin acrylic called Magna and drew it across the canvas to make some compelling paintings.

Downstairs, there is a coathanger sculpture by Dan Steinhilber.

Down at Mall lies the original Sminsonian buildings, where this little fountain rests, filled with some sort of blue material to simulate water.

For my Canadian friend, this is the building where all those screwy American laws are made. We call it the Capitol. Last year, they cleaned the exterior. Maybe soon they'll clean up the inside?

OK, so I cheated for this one and broke out the 50mm and cropped it. Sue me.
That's pretty much the photo album. As much as I love my good old Nikon N70 film camera, I might have to get me one of those new-fangled digital ones soon. I wasn't too happy with the CVS photo disc, although I did get a comment from the "inspector" at the CVS Photo Center that said, "These pictures were sweet!"
But not as sweet as you, my friend. Don't-cha just love the fisheye lens?

Friday, December 14, 2007

A 130 mile drive for a $20 lunch

Today I took my final vacation day of 2007 and spent the majority of it cruising around the Mall at our nation's capital. I took a lot of photos, but I'm still on the film standard, so the pics will have to wait until tomorrow at least.
Usually, I take Amtrak, but that option is getting expensive, so I did the drive today. It's 130 miles straight down Interstate 95 to the New Carrollton METRO stop, then a 20-minute train ride into the city.
The first stop (as usual) was the East Building of the National Gallery. I love that place. It's good for my tortured soul. They have some new exhibits since the last time I was there, including a fine exhibition of Edward Hopper, who you may not know, but I'm sure you have seen Nighthawks.
The gallery is free, but lunch is far from it. For the record, that turkey sandwich was on pumpernickel bread, so it is kind of special. If you go by weight, the Tiramisu is more expensive than silver and the water is more expensive than gasoline. On the bright side, I got $2.01 change.
Then, with a full belly and empty pockets I was off to the Air and Space Museum, which at first glance appears to be an entire building dedicated to nothing, but it's really about airplanes and spaceflight, but they call it air and space for short.
My favorite of all the joints on the Mall is the Hirshorn Museum, which features work by modern artists and artists that are actually alive. There is always something interesting going on, and today was no exception.
There is a great exhibition of Morris Lewis' works (OK, he's dead) and a cool film by David Weiss called The Way Things Go. I posted the YouTube version at the bottom, but the full-length version is a half hour. I think Netflix has it.
The place was eerily empty. One of the guards told me that it's like that on weekdays before the holidays. I've been there on plenty of weekdays and it was much more quiet than usual, so I guess I picked a good day for a visit. There were some schoolkids at the East Building and the Air & Space, but they were in little tour groups being lectured. I couldn't tell if they were there because they wanted to be there or because they had to be there. Either way, it was nice to see grammar school-aged kids at a major art gallery, and I suppose they enjoyed it once they got off the phone.
The drive to and fro was a circus. I-95 is a mish-mash of jackasses, truck drivers and speeders that makes white-knuckle driving look like a test ride. Traffic was bad coming home, but that didn't stop the weavers from crossing 4 lanes of traffic in front of tractor-trailers so that they could tailgate the guy in the left lane. What did they think all of those red brake lights were?
I think I'm going back to Amtrak.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Mitchell Report

The Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball came out today in a blaze of ... um ... glory shortly after 2pm EST. It named 85 current and former major league players that either used or helped obtain performance enhancing substances as far back as the 1990s.
It's 409 pages long, if you care to read it. I do, but I haven't read the entire thing yet. I might need some amphetamines to get through it. All I've done so far is to search out the names of players and teams I was curious about. Otherwise, I've heard Bud Selig's news conference and I was unimpressed. Bud used to own the Milwaukee Brewers and now he is the commissioner of the league.
Picture this. You have a professional sports league with a commissioner who is a former owner of one of the teams. Do you think he would always act in the best interests of the game or do you think he would be interested in helping his (former) fellow owners make as much money as possible? Remember when Dick Cheney was chosen as Bush's running mate and we figured there would be impropriety because he was CEO of Halliburton and owned a ton of stock? He claimed that, since he sold his stock that his influence-peddling days were over and he was going to act in the country's best interests as Vice President of the United States. How did that work out for us? The Selig thing is just like that.
Bud held a press conference today after Senator George Mitchell presented the report and said that he would take care of the present and future, and was satisfied that the report took care of the past. That's like, if you robbed a liquor store in 2005 and nobody found out about it until the police looked at some incriminating evidence and decided to let you go because they'll be watching you from now on. The 79 athletes named in the report apparently have nothing to fear from the fish commissioner, since he doesn't want to hurt the owners by taking away some of their best players and ... oh, I don't know ... maybe sending them to trial and possibly to prison.
As you know, players make millions of dollars, so they're not treated like us. Part of the reason they use drugs is because they make millions of dollars and stand to make millions more for every extra year they can squeeze out of their bodies. Major League baseball turned its back on something it knew about because there was money to be made. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped save baseball's popularity with their drug-enhanced home run race in 1998. Anybody with eyes in their head and pictures of young and slim McGwire and Sosa figured it out, but the TV revenue flowed in like water, so it continued.
The team trainers knew, the team owners knew, the front offices knew, the sportswriters knew and worst of all the commissioner's office knew. None of them did anything to try to stop it until Barry Bonds' head became so huge and his numbers likewise that it finally started to blow up in their faces. Formerly average players were having 50 home run seasons and even the most ignorant fans wondered what in Hell was going on.
Pitchers were throwing 100mph and breaking down faster than when pitchers threw twice as many innings. If you were surprised to see Roger Clemens' name among the violators, you really weren't paying attention.
When there are millions of dollars at stake, people (not just athletes) will do things that they wouldn't normally do in order for the money to keep coming in. They're called performance enhancing drugs for a reason. If they didn't help, they'd be called something else. We're supposed to be trying to keep our kids from using them, but they're being used in high school and college now because they enhance ones performance. The better they perform, the greater the chances are that they will sign a lucrative professional contract. When one player uses them, as Sosa and McGwire did, it encourages others (like Bonds) to use them so that they can keep up. The drugs create a bigger chasm between the great players and the scrubs, so the scrubs start using them because there are plenty of lousy players in the minor leagues who would love to play in Philadelphia or Houston, so the lousy major leaguers use the drugs so that they can keep their jobs. It really isn't all that complicated.
So what happens now? Nothing. Players have turned from steroids to Human Growth Hormones because there is no reliable urine test for HGH and baseball can't prove that players are using it unless they are stupid enough to write checks and talk to their teammates. Today, we found out that 85 of them are that stupid. The smart ones didn't get caught.
There likely will be no retroactive punishment, no records will be expunged and since many of the players are retired, they will return to their giant tract homes and reflect back on the days when they could hit a ball further than anyone or throw faster than anyone. They'll remember how the fans cheered and how it seemed like they were kids again, playing a game for more money than they ever knew existed. They may have thought, at the time, that what they were doing was "cheating", or they may have thought they were merely surviving in a sport where competition is fierce and fame is fleeting.
After all, they just gave the people what they wanted.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Today's admonition

My company had its annual Xmas party last weekend. My Cal Ripken-like streak of not going continues at 17, mostly because there is more downside and almost no upside. This year, they published “Do’s and Don’ts” on our inter-office web space, so right away you know that there is a decided advantage to skipping the party altogether. Yesterday, a collection of photos from the party appeared on the space, and one overriding thing occurred to me.
Obesity is a real problem. I’ve taken notice of the general increase in girth of the people that have been working here as long as I. Almost none of them are lighter than they were 15 years ago, and not only are they heavier now, but the increase is dramatic. There were probably 200 people at the party, and finding one that is too thin is almost impossible, but finding one that is too fat is sometimes just a matter of moving to the next photo. Looking at one photo after another really drove the point home. There are a lot of fat people running around. They're not running too fast, but they're around.
I’m not talking about 5 pounds. Almost all of us could stand to lose that much weight, and it doesn’t show up in photos anyway. I’m talking about 50 or 100 pounds, or more in some cases. It’s striking and sad that people can allow their bodies to deteriorate to such a condition. It happens so slowly that they hardly notice it, until they have to buy new pants or their back starts to hurt. A pound a month. Ten pounds a year for ten years. Before you know it, you can’t see your shoes, but they probably stay dry when it rains.
I guess it’s because they continue the lousy eating habits they developed as teenagers through adulthood. It’s nice to eat cheeseburgers and French fries for lunch when you’re 15, but eventually it’ll catch up with you. Does every lunch have to come with fries? How about some green beans or a side salad? You’d have a better chance of finding Goerge Bush at a Pro-Choice rally than a hunk of broccoli on their plates. I suppose it’s all part of that “food as a reward” deal that we’ve conjured up. “I deserve this chocolate cake,” but the heart attack that follows is uncalled-for.
We lean on the health care industry a little too much. Pills for cholesterol and the assorted conditions associated with our sedentary lifestyles have conditioned us to “talk to your doctor” when we really should be looking in a mirror. There was a news story on Yahoo today that said the nationwide average cholesterol reading was down to 199, which is below the acceptable range. Well, of course it is. Half the people in this country are on some form of prescription medication and most of them are on some sort of cholesterol blocking pill, so it stands to reason that the number would be lower. They’re still eating the same crap, but their arteries are clean.
On the inside they’re fine. It’s their outsides that are a train wreck. And while we’re at it, what’s with the missing teeth? Reasonably intelligent adults with full-time jobs and (I might add) a dental plan, and a lot of them are missing one of those top-side teeth that shows prominently when they smile.
Fix that, will ya?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's in Santa's sack?

Mary Carey's breast implant bags have hit the wall at $15,100 on eBay. There are, however, still almost two full days to go, so any dumbass thing is possible. Another Christmas miracle? Somewhere in America, a family (or 15,000 families) could use a nice hot meal on Christmas. Meanwhile, some jackass is going to Paypal 15 grand to Mary and her charity for this nonsense. Sorry, there I go, off in my perfect world again. I'm back now.
PLANT CITY, Florida - A 9-year-old boy died after being run over by a church float in a Christmas parade. Jordan Hayes was walking alongside the float, handing out beads and candy, when his foot was caught by a wheel and he fell under the float Friday night, said Police Chief Bill McDaniel. Parade watchers shouted at the driver to back up, but the pickup truck pulling the Greater Heights Family Worship Center float ran over Jordan a second time. "This is a tragedy that defies words," McDaniel said. "This was supposed to be a time of celebration and joy, but it has turned into a terrible tragedy."
My first question: What's a church float doing in a Christmas parade?

Hampton, Virginia - Hampton Police are searching for whoever set a restaurant's Christmas tree on fire. Around 6:30 a.m., police say someone broke into The Ritz Gold at 2000 W. Mercury Blvd. and set fire to the tree. "They just broke in the backdoor, popped the lock, set my Christmas tree on fire and left," said owner Darell Corbett. "It's nuts," said Corbett. "Someone crazy enough to break in and set your Christmas tree on fire at the holidays."
It sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The only time you could set fire to a Christmas tree is during the holidays. Use your head, Chief.

Good news for bargain hunters:

U.S. retail sales rose 2.3 percent last week as stores discounted items to attract customers for what may be the worst holiday shopping season in five years, Bloomberg News reported today.

"The consumers, as always, have the upper hand because they make the purchasing decisions," Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, said in a statement Monday.

I'm sure Britt went to some high-end college (or university) and learned all about retail sales and marketing, so don't scoff at his knowledge. Consumers make the purchasing decisions. Get your pens out and jot that one down.

Maybe they should count Mary's boob baggies in with the retail sales numbers?

Monday, December 10, 2007


Like a dog with a bone, I kept at it. The Virtual Waiting Room be damned. There's baseball in Boston and I'm going. Section G26, row 8. It isn't until Labor Day, so I'll probably have to put one of those post-it notes on the calendar, but I'm going. Red Sox vs. Orioles. Sure, I could go to Camden Yards (and I will), but yes Sparky, I need Fenway. I need an old ballpark that really is an old ballpark, not one dressed up to look old.
In the 1970s, stadiums were multi-purpose, because people figured (rightly at the time) that if they were going to spend $40 million to build a stadium, it's more efficient if you can play football and baseball in them. They all looked the same - geometrically they were octorads - nearly circular, but not quite. Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and Veterans Stadium here in Philadelphia. The only one I never got to was Busch, but if I closed my eyes in one of the other ones, I could imagine I was there.
Three Rivers was a dump, plain and simple. The lower concourse didn't go all the way around. Start walking at third base, toward home plate and you'd have to turn around and go back when you got to right field. At least Veterans Stadium had the sense to let you make a complete circle. Riverfront was a little nicer, but it rained when I was there, so I can only vouch for part of it.
Now that money rules sports and they have enough to put on their own games, it doesn't matter that an expensive stadium sits vacant for half a year. Football is played in a football stadium and baseball is played in a ballpark - like it used to be. But just like the 1970s, they all look the same now, too. Camden Yards was the model, and it's been tweaked by Coors in Denver, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Citizens Bank in Philly and a bunch of others. Most of them were designed by the same architect, so it stands to reason. It's difficult to be different, and once people started to flock to Baltimore, the blueprint was copied.
Places like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Yankee Stadium are not only places where they play baseball, they are a piece of American history. I went to Fenway and Yankee Stadium in 1997, but I've never been to Wrigley. I need to go back to Yankee Stadium this year, before they tear it down to build another one of these blueprint ballparks. I couldn't care less about the Red Sox or Yankees, but I do care about places and history, which is why I'll get a little chill when the wrecking ball comes down on Yankee Stadium next year.
We'll see whether these new places inspire the same sort of feelings when they are torn down. They might, but it won't be for the same reasons. When they tear one down, there will be another one someplace else that looks just like it.
Plus, Babe Ruth, Ernie Banks and Ted Williams never played there.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Another ordinary weekend.

A few years ago, tickets to sporting events became a cottage industry. With the advent of the Internet, people can buy tickets to games that they have no intention of attending and sell them at exorbitant prices, often from a link at the team's web site. Ticket brokers and sports teams are corporate partners now, and it's an odd pairing, especially to someone as cynical as I.
I spent part of the weekend waiting online for a ticket to a Red Sox game. They put about twenty games on sale starting Saturday. They have this thing called the Virtual Waiting Room (which, oddly describes my life) and ticket buyers are asked to wait there while the "random process" opens up a spot for us to buy a ticket.
Eventually it opens, although I gave up on Saturday, after allowing the computer to cook for about 8 hours, refreshing automatically every 30 seconds. Finally, I just shut it down. I tried again on Sunday, only to find the only tickets remaining for weekend games were standing room or General Admission, meaning I would drive 4 hours to not have a seat.
More games went on sale on Sunday, so I tried again. This time, the process was a little quicker, but when I was asked to type in the mysterious number combination that would prove I wasn't a robot, the space was blank. No ticket for me. I'm sure there are some at StubHub, which is probably where they want me anyway.
The rest of the weekend found me pondering some odd events at work, which I am not at liberty to disclose, lest someone find out who shouldn't.
What I discovered was that, from late Friday until now, I have only spoken to store clerks and my cat. It's not all that unusual for me to go entire weekends without human interaction, but it still amazes me when I realize it has happened. I could have gone out and watched the Eagles game today at the local joint, but strangely, I find that I enjoy my own company and that of the cat to some drunk strangers.
I got one of those food cravings. Ice Cream. Have to have ice cream. I waddled over to the local convenience store (it's close, which is why it's convenient) and picked up some. I blew through the pint like Sherman through Georgia, and oddly, I didn't feel all that satisfied. I felt bloated and disappointed, as I did when I started eating my Quiznos Baja Chicken Sub lunch, which started out with an aftertaste. So, I'll be crossing that one off my list.
So, it's back to work (for now) on Monday. I'm taking my final 2007 vacation day on Friday and I need something interesting to do that doesn't involve shopping. I'm thinking D.C. or NYC.