Saturday, March 27, 2010

A little break from the controversy.

I bought a new Tokina 12-24mm zoom lens with money that Uncle Sam repaid me from my income taxes, and decided to take it to my favorite city for a spin. For those of you who still like the ranting, go back a day. Others of you can take solace in some photos I took today, and visit my Flickr stream (whatever that is) for the whole set.
As usual, if you click on the photo it may enlarge, but I have no idea how this stuff works.
I always start at Independence Hall. It's what Nevada Weir would call "creative inertia." Take a photo and the rest will follow, like inertia. A body that is in motion remains in motion. It's a nice way to think about working. Start using the camera, even if the photo you are taking isn't particularly interesting, it helps to start.
A dogwood tree (I think, I'm not up on trees) near 3rd and Chestnut Street stood out among the cityscape. The pinkness caught my eye.
Elfreth's Alley is a residential alley. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited residential streets in the country, dating back to the early 1700s. It is a National Historic Landmark. The alley is located off Second Street between Arch and Race Streets in Philadelphia's Old City Neighborhood. People actually live there, and I'm sure the constant flow of tourists is a great thrill to them.
I'm pretty sure that the plastic trash bins and cigarette containers are post-20th century.
The Constitution Center rests in the mall between the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Independence Hall. I'm ashamed to say that today was my first visit. I'm not ashamed to say that I was told that full access costs $12. When you're used to free museum access (as I am) in Washington, having to pay $12 seems a bit much, but the city is in financial peril, so we pay - or, you do. I didn't pay. Maybe next time.

Inside the lobby at the Constitution Center. It is one of the rare places that one can visit that doesn't cost money. Unfortunately for visitors, all you can do is look around. If you go upstairs or try to get into one of the exhibits you will be asked for your ticket, as I was.

A falafel is a fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans. A shawarma is a sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef or a halal mixture of meats. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Chunks of fat within the meat ensure that the shawarma stays juicy. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East and North Africa. They are for sale at the Reading Terminal Market.
Maybe next time. I know what "fresh juices" are, however.

More from inside the Reading Terminal Market. I was tempted to get a gyro, but my heart talked me out of it. Thank you, heart.

This is the (fisheye) view from inside the second level of the Kimmel Center. In the Verizon Center (left) the Philly Pops were charming the elderly with songs from their youth, like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and other such war-era standards. When I heard the National Anthem I braced myself for the onslaught of old people leaving the show. It was the slowest rush to the door ever.

A nice security guard told me that if I wanted a good view, I should take the elevator up to the Roof Garden. From there, the glass panels were more pronounced, and I could get a nice case of vertigo looking down on the lobby below.

Potted trees line the rim of the roof garden. I left my hat up there someplace. If anyone finds a cap with "Mt. McKinley - Alaska" on the rim, please leave a comment. I might go back to lost and found to get it, but since I haven't actually been there (it was a gift from my traveling neighbors) I will probably give it up for lost.
So, that's my city - or some of it. Along the way, I encountered a film crew at City Hall filming a pilot TV show for NBC. I didn't recognize anyone, and it likely won't find the light of TV, but it provided work for people, which is nice.
I'm sure they all have health care, which is another great benefit of living here - but I digress.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Fear mongering (or scare mongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.
These are high times for fear mongering. Not since the great Swine Flu scare of ... oh, 6 months ago have we experienced such a spate of nonsense coming from people who profess to know something about nothing. It's the latest epidemic.
They call it "Obamacare" and talk about us living in the "USSA," because they are afraid that what is going on now in politics will ultimately be bad for the country. These are the same people who stood by over the last 8 years and watched a complete nincompoop run us into the ground. Where were their words of warning then?
Afterward, they watched John McCain pick a dimwitted mayor as a running mate and stood idly by while she "you betcha'd" the country into an image-induced coma. Now, she writes books and produces TV shows in order to keep her face in public. Am I afraid? You betcha. But at least I'm afraid of something that is real, not something imagined or something that people tell me I should be afraid of.
I'm supposed to be afraid of the new health care legislation. Just like our ancestors were supposed to be afraid of Social Security, television or the horseless carriage. Every generation has its backward thinkers that believe that anything new is bad. I still remember how we were told that computers would increase unemployment, as hordes of workers would no longer have jobs. Meanwhile, more people work in the computer-based service industry than in industry itself, so where are those worriers now? Probably unemployed.
SHORT PERSONAL STORY: I was a part of a company that instituted computer-aided drafting (CAD) to replace paper drawings back in the mid-1980s. One old-timer refused to be part of the movement and continued to do his drawings with pencils on paper. Every once in a while the power would go out, prompting him to proclaim, "My drawing is still taped to the board!" It was, but his career was still taped to the board too, and those of us who embraced the change to computers saw our careers flourish, while those who kept drawing with pencils were probably left selling them out of cups on a street corner.
Change is hard for people, and the more narrow-minded you are, the harder it is. When change comes it requires adaptation, and we do not adapt well. We like to go along doing the same things the same way, because it requires zero effort. We are also easily led by people who yell the loudest. Take a break from the yelling and stop and listen. You'll find that the quiet is calming.
Like they say in the movies, "America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've got to want it bad, because it's gonna put up a fight."
Some of you don't want to fight. Some of you want to go along to get along, and the longer things remain the same the better you like it. Sometimes, you have to change for change's sake. Sometimes, you have to take the tape off the board and work at something you might think is ridiculous but will be a benefit in the long run.
Think about something besides yourself for a change.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A small request.

Attention Mothers:

If you have a small child tagging along with you on your daily errands, please do not allow that child to use something complicated like a bar code scanner or anything with numbered buttons because you think it's "cute" or because you think Junior will "learn something."
He won't learn anything, it isn't cute and it slows the pace for adults (like you) who already know how to use those gadgets.
Teach Junior at home.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fear of health.

Fear is a great motivator. Some can use it in a positive way, while others choose to use it to panic and violence.
Unrest over sweeping federal health care legislation has turned to vandalism and threats, with bricks hurled through Democrats' windows, a propane line cut at the home of a congressman's brother and menacing phone messages left for lawmakers who supported the bill.
The FBI is investigating the instances, which include shattered windows at four Democratic offices in New York, Arizona and Kansas. At least 10 members of Congress have reported some sort of threat as of Wednesday, and no arrests have been made
Some narrow-minded people think that flinging bricks and screaming equals social commentary. And for some strange reason, those people are always on the side of the Republican right. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be that rage and violence represent their best ideas?
The brick flung through the window of a county Democratic Party office in Rochester, N.Y., over the weekend had a note attached: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," roughly quoting 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater.
A New York congresswoman whose office window also was smashed with a brick accused the Republican leadership of failing to denounce attacks against lawmakers who supported the legislation. The vandalism was at Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter's district office in Niagara Falls early Friday, two days before the House passed the health care overhaul bill
My favorite part is when they invoke the name of their God...
Some of the anger over the bill spilled over in a flood of obscenity and threat-filled phone and fax messages to the office of Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. His office released some of the messages it has received since the health care bill passed, declining to add further comment.
"I hope you bleed ... (get) cancer and die," one male caller told the congressman between curses.
A fax with the title "Defecating on Stupak" carried a picture of a gallows with "Bart (SS) Stupak" on it and a noose attached. It was captioned, "All Baby Killers come to unseemly ends Either by the hand of man or by the hand of God."
That's a useful piece of information to have. Of course, the good news is that if Stupak does indeed "get cancer" he will be assured of health care, so he has that going for him - which is nice.
"The tone is not surprising, but the aggressiveness is," Lyndsay Stauble, executive director of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party in Wichita, Kansas, said Wednesday. "I'm not shocked that people are not reacting well to a large piece of legislation passed by a president that they don't like."

I'm not shocked either, Lyndsay. They're just afraid. The trouble is that they don't know exactly what they are afraid of - other than something different. I only wish they were better at losing. Maybe we could take their names so that when they find themselves in need of health care and cannot pay for it, they would be left to do what they want the rest of us to do - die.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Born too soon.

A 2009 survey conducted for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that 19 percent of teens had sent, received or forwarded nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail.
When I was a kid we passed paper notes to each other. I remember a girl in my freshman year of high school that used to look up "dirty words" in the dictionary, write the definition down and pass it around to us. Words like penis, vagina and breast. They weren't really dirty, but we were kids with AM radio, 6 channels on the TV and a repressed sex drive. A product of our times.
At 52, the list of people willing to send, receive or forward nude or nearly nude photos through text message or e-mail is noticeably small. I didn't have a telephone in my bedroom until I was 17, so I can't imagine having a cell phone at that age, but kids are running around with smart phones with text message plans and Internet access. I'm guessing that their parents don't know or care what their kids are up to. As long as they aren't talking or whining about something. The cell phone has replaced television as the new baby sitter.
Meanwhile, technology is moving faster than the law allows ...
For the computer user who can't bear to be unconnected, Chrysler has something for you -- an in-vehicle Wi-Fi system that will turn Chrysler vehicles into rolling hotspots.
Announced as part of its
Uconnect system, Chrysler will offer the system in most of its 2009 vehicles with the in-vehicle router and installation at about $500. The application also requires a $29-a-month subscription fee.
Of course there is a fee. There is always a fee. Add that into your monthly car payment, because God forbid you go without Facebook for a half hour while you drive to work. A "Uconnect System." Nice. How about a "Udrive System," or is that asking too much from a car?
In most states it is illegal to text message and drive or use a cell phone without a hands-free device. So, what do the auto makers do? They devise a rolling WiFi vehicle that makes the car its own hot spot. Your local government can't move as fast as technology. They have passed unenforceable laws against using the phone while driving, so why not push the envelope a little further and put a full-fledged Internet connection in the car too? Next up: Laws against web surfing while driving. One more thing.
One of the reasons we are in the sad economic state we are in is that there are so many more things that cost us money than there used to be, and our weekly paycheck can't keep up with all the junk they tell us we need.
Cable television rates keep rising. My Comcast service went up again last month. Cell phone bills that we didn't have 10 years ago, Monthly internet fees and a ton of junk we didn't have to pay for 15 years ago amount to a big expense for people who aren't earning six-figure salaries - which is to say, most of us.
But we'll soon have universal health care, and that's good, right? Don't get me started...
More on that later.

Life lessons from basketball - because there has to be something useful to take out of this.

Face it, if it weren't for the fact that most of us have money riding on this NCAA basketball tournament, we wouldn't give a tinker's damn if Ohio beat Kansas or Purdue beat Pittsburgh. We like lotteries, and this is the biggest one in the country. It's even better because we don't have to declare taxes on the money we win (if) and we get to tell the people at work how smart we are, even though we don't know a wit about whether Kansas State is better than Baylor. All we know are the numbers.
A three-seed is supposed to beat a ten-seed and there's no way a 12 seed can beat a 5, unless you're Cornell - then you're a genius if you picked Cornell. However, if Ohio beats Kansas it's some sort of anomaly because there is no way Ohio should have won that game. Unless, of course, the NCAA committee who picks the seeds has made a grievous error, which is what we will claim, since we are too smart to think that Kansas could possibly lose.
We get wrapped up in numbers and what someone else tells us is valid, even though we have little first-hand knowledge of the facts. For most of us, the tournament is the first time we've seen many of these teams play. Funny how that doesn't stop us from being incredulous when a higher seed loses to a lower one. It's part of our inner bias and the way we trust experts to guide us through life. So much so, that we are willing to gamble our own money on what somebody else tells us is valid.
On a level playing field, if you had picked Ohio to beat Kansas you might have an argument, but doing so when one is placed 14th and the other first would make you something of a nitwit, in a sporting sense. I'd challenge anyone to analyze the Ohio basketball team and make an argument. They can't because they haven't seen them, and only know that they are third from the bottom in the Midwest as placed by the NCAA tournament committee.
Believing it makes you something of a boob. You can also apply this new found knowledge to other aspects of your life - somewhat more meaningful aspects than a basketball tournament - and I will leave you to determine to which of those you apply it.
Chances are, you have your own pre-determined 14 seeds and 1 seeds that surprise you with their success or failure.