Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Facebook teaser

Yesterday evening when we got home and I turned on the TV in the bedroom (as I often do while changing out of my work clothes) it was on KTLA, the local station we sometimes watch in the morning for the news. Closing out a commercial break (for the syndicated Two and a Half Men) was a teaser for their upcoming 10:00 news broadcast. The teaser only ran about 10 seconds and multiple stories were mentioned, so each only got a headline-esque treatment. The final story included in this manner showed a tight shot of a computer monitor with Facebook up, and the voiceover alluded to how Facebook was "fueling" divorce.

Even only barely paying attention, and without actually having heard the report (as that wouldn't air for over two hours at that point), I could see through that provocative and egregious specious assertion. A social networking website does not make people get divorced; at worst it provides evidence to make those divorce proceedings worse for the party who was really stupid. That, however, is not the "fuel" for the dissolution of a marriage; the fuel is the cheating (implied in the story) or other suggested infidelity—which is itself fueled by the distinct likelihood that the individuals in question probably should not have been married in the first place.

But obviously they thought the best way to draw viewers was to suggest that Facebook was directly responsible.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cake time

Today we eat the top part of the cake.
It's been in the freezer for exactly a year.
A wonderful year.

Photo by our fantastic photographer Jordana Hazel of Hazelnut Photography.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup madness

Wednesday morning as I got ready the World Cup match between the U.S. and Algeria was on. I flipped by and watched a bit before getting in the shower, and when I was later getting dressed it was halftime. As I put on my shirt the TV in the bedroom showed me highlights from the first half, which featured a disallowed goal by the U.S.

That's when something inside me snapped. A bit. Figuratively speaking.

Last Friday the U.S. match against Slovenia had aired before I left for work as well, and there I happened to see live what would have been the winning goal be waved off by what was declared by pretty much all observers as to be an awful call by the referee. I was so quasi-incensed that I even went on Facebook and posted how that ref better never set foot in this country.

In short, I was treating football (soccer) like a sport I cared about.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sweetgum Project 1.0

We are not in control.


Back in mid-February I got the idea to chronicle in photographs the growth of the leaves on a tree just outside my front door. In the courtyard of the complex where I live there's a number of trees, but for simple reasons of proximity I chose the American Sweetgum that's closest to me, rather than one of the two Sweetgums on the opposite side of the courtyard area; it was the one I pass every day as I walk in or out the door, and thus the easiest to remember to shoot.

I'd captured the tree in the past (as seen in these posts), but that was showing the changing of leaves in the autumn. In February the tree was complete barren, without a single leave or pod on it, so this seemed like a good time to start the project. I figured that I'd make a point of getting detailed shots focusing on a specific branch (the highest one) as the one to track the progress of how the leaves and other blooms developed, along with getting general shots of other branches just as accompaniment.

It wouldn't be a time-lapse thing, as I wouldn't be setting up a tripod to shoot the exact same shot of that highest branch from the same angle every time (being a common area I couldn't just leave such an object there all the time); I'd stand in the same spot, certainly, but obviously that wouldn't be precise. That wasn't the point. The nibs at the end of the branches had not yet started to sprout, and the transformation they would undergo should still be interesting enough even from perhaps slightly different angles. Given the rate of growth I figured that shooting once a week would be sufficient; that should allow for there to be at least some modestly noticeable differences.

And on that Sunday before Lincoln's birthday I did go out in the mid-morning and get some shots. Here's the shot of that highest branch I selected, showing how it looked that morning:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This follow-up post didn't stop the oil spill in the Gulf either

Some things I didn't explicitly address in the oil spill post (that were brought up by commentors):

I called oil "cheap" and it was emphatically noted the other costs there are that people don't think about. Those are all entirely true, but I was referring to the public perception that it is cheap, not the actuality. Another took it a bit further, noting that it won't merely be a matter of finding some other solution but taking steps to make petroleum unattractive (by taxing it greatly, the way they do in Europe). Obviously there's no real incentive for oil companies to change the status quo, and any lip service they give to alternatives is nothing more than placating the public, making it seem as though they're agents of change. All very much applicable, and all items that I'd consider to go without saying. Which is why I didn't say them. But worth acknowledging, certainly.

Of course, I'm pretty sure that any politician (one of the few who aren't in the pocket of the oil companies) who proposed taxing gasoline and raising the price at the pump up to double what it is would not only be thwarted by other politicians , not only have no chance of being re-elected, but likely he'd have to move to Canada.

The public acts in dissociative ways when we rail against the oil spill but turn around and fill our tanks. That doesn't make us as villainous as the oil companies but we are complicit.

Oil is part of what made the country rich in the 20th century. Slavery facilitated the cotton boom that made the country rich in earlier centuries. So perhaps what it will come to is an out-and-out war. I hope it doesn't require that.

All of this may be moot, as we'll probably run out of potable water before the oil dries up.


I fear someday we should be so lucky as to have crude oil remain our most pressing concern.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

This post did not stop the oil spill in the Gulf

Well, weeks of me not writing about the oil spill in the Gulf has not resulted in the capping of the leak, so here we go.

(Oh, there's no way in Hades that this is going to make any difference with that situation. Let's not pretend for a second I was meaning to imply this would have any effect whatsoever. It was merely a silly rhetorical red herring.)

It seems the only thing I can do about that specific issue is enjoy the fodder the attempted resolutions by BP provided to The Daily Show. That's about it.


I must interject here the following: When I was first typing this on the train and got to that point the person who was sitting next to me (I don't recall when she got on but it wasn't the whole trip) got my attention. It was a young woman who had glanced over at the screen, noticed that I alluded to the oil spill, and then wanted to mention to me that she'd just been talking with relatives on the Florida coast who were likely to get oil washing up in their area; the young woman thought it an interesting coincidence how she'd just been discussing it and here I was starting to write about it.

We ended up talking for the rest of the ride. I fully admitted not having any expertise, and we agreed it was a tricky topic with no easy answer. She asked if I had a blog, which I admitted I did with some reluctance—not that I'm ashamed of what I post, but because what I do I don't consider to be proper "blogging"—and noted that whether this entry would ever get posted was questionable. She nicely encouraged that I should.

So then I felt some obligation to finsh. The next day I tried to recall where I was going with it…


I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on deep-water drilling—but then, from the way the efforts to plug the leak have gone, it seems neither are those who engage in that specific activity. (Ba-dump-chik!) Okay, that was a cheap joke, but it does get at what I've gleaned from watching coverage is that this venture was (shall we say) imprudent.

Now, I concede this is an easy topic about which the coverage can be indignant. It is catastrophic beyond belief, but I don't think the people tasked with stopping it are incompetent. I'd be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they're legitimately trying their best. It's unfortunate that their best is wildly insufficient, but to make them out to be villainous buffoons is not helping stop make the pipe leak oil into the Gulf of Mexico at an astounding rate.

It is an amusing distraction when one has reached the point of hopelessness, though.

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup fever (oh wait, it's probably indigestion)

[Sit back and enjoy the glib generalizations, my fellow Americans.]

The World Cup is back, and again some effort is going into attempting to get the American public to regard it with the same fervor that is demonstrated by other countries. Nike has ads running tying in to the games. ABC is airing matches on national TV. And while likely there will be better ratings than there were four years ago, it's unlikely that will reflect a greater interest in football (soccer) by those who weren't interested previously.

There's many theories (I assume) about why football (soccer) is not as popular here as in other countries, and all hold some credence:
  • It's a slow game with little (or possibly no) scoring, that doesn't play well on TV.
  • It's not a game that we invented. (Although baseball can be traced to cricket and our football perhaps to rugby, both are uniquely ours. Basketball is ours, and hockey... comes from a country right next door, so, uh, that's close enough.)
  • We don't call it the same thing the rest of the world does.
  • We already have plenty of sports where we're good.
All those apply, but I don't think that's the ultimate dilemma that proponents of the sport face.

Americans love a winner. The Olympics come every other year (between the summer and winter games) and there's enough sports involved that there's some American athletes doing well in at least some of them. Heck, we can even pretend to care about ice dancing for a few weeks. But when it comes to World Cup football (soccer) the U.S. has never won. Many times we haven't even made the tournament, and even when we have our team hasn't fared impressively well. I'm not criticizing the efforts of the American players; these are the best players from around the world, and their countries take it more seriously.

And those other countries are willing to follow their team every four years whether it does well or not. Which only proves more profoundly they aren't Americans.

If the U.S. won a World Cup trophy that would spike interest for a while, but one win does not make one a winner; the U.S. must win multiple to prove that we can be consistently powerful. Only with a reasonable likelihood of victory in tournament after tournament can we change the public's perception about paying attention.

Americans fancy ourselves the best country in the world (and I'm not saying we aren't), but the World Cup suggests that there's at least one area where that's not quite the case. But if there's one thing where Americans are unmatched it is in our ability to ignore what doesn't reinforce our national psyche. There, we're #1. We're #1! We're #1!...


But it would help if the rest of the world would just get on board with calling it "soccer." I'm sure that would seem like meeting us halfway.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A story of determination and 'America: The Story of Us'

About seven weeks ago the History Channel started running a 12-hour series chronicling the history of the country called America: The Story of Us. It seemed like it might be interesting, so I recorded the episodes on the DVR but didn't get around to starting to watch until a couple weeks ago.

I'm still only part way through viewing them. I'll explain.

As the subtitle suggests, it is intended as a story of the U.S. for the U.S. and by the U.S. There's a lot of computer-generated graphics and live-action re-creation with actors (with voice-over narration by Liev Schrieber, who has done narration for a number of such productions), with bits of interviews interspersed. Those interviewed include professors and authors and journalists who presumably have expertise with history as well as celebrities who appear to have paid attention in their high school U.S. history classes.

Clearly the inclusion of the celebrities is trying to appeal to an audience who ordinarily would not sit through 12 hours of a documentary, and in this era of celebrity obsession it's an understandable ploy; it's obviously not an inexpensive production, so they need to get good ratings to justify that. (And it appears the premiere episode got the highest ratings for any show the channel has ever had.) It is very intentionally populist in its tone, and having Sheryl Crow comment on the achievements of Clara Barton rather than a less-famous academic might make it more palatable to a mainstream viewership.

Although they don't gloss over the dark episodes in the nation's history, the overall tone is very much a pep rally for America. However, "the story of us" certainly suggests such a tone before one even starts watching. Besides, populist works tend to be optimistic in their approach to subjects; it's unlikely that a wide audience will sit through 12 hours of a depressing, look-how-awful-we-were diatribe.

I was willing to put up with the interspersed interview footage featuring Donald Trump that the producers included; as annoying as he is, he does technically meet the modern definition of a "celebrity." His scenes were generally less than 30 seconds, so it wasn't too arduous a trial to sit through--although it was far more arduous than I expected viewing the series would be before I started watching.

Monday, June 07, 2010

On writing

The compulsion to write is a curse I would not wish upon my worst enemy. (If I had a worst enemy.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Vote or we'll make you vote: an initial reaction to Prop. 16's ad

Back on April 1 (no foolin') I saw an ad on TV that morning in support of a proposition coming up in the June primary election. Knowing nothing more about Proposition 16 than what I saw in 30 seconds I composed the following on the train ride in to work. With that election now only days away it seems worth sharing, to let those who are behind the commercial how effective it was.


There's an initiative on the upcoming ballet where if it passes it would require any takeover of a power company by the government would require a 2/3 majority of voters to approve. The commercial on TV I saw closed with the rationale that such a decision should be up to the voters, as we'll be the ones paying for it.

Well, technically it would be the taxpayers who would be footing the bill, and only a percentage of that group actually vote, but I see where they're going with it.

The movement to put such a topic on the ballet seems to have been motivated by dismay over the government allocating funds without the direct approval of the voting public. In a democratic society it does seem fair to have some say in how the tax money collected by the government are spent.

Of course, ours is not a democracy but a republic, where one's input is achieved through elected representatives in the government, so conceivably the way such a process should occur would be that if one had a specific opinion regarding whether tax money should be used to bail out a major utility company one would tell one's representative, and he or she would gauge the level of support or opposition to the topic in the district and issue a recommendation to those making the decision on that basis. However, that is more likely to be a reflection of those who are most vocal about it (either pro or con), which may or may not be the view of a majority of those in the district.

Voting is flawed in that it only tracks the figurative voices of those who actually participate, but conceivably that collects more opinions than would relying on people to actually contact their representatives.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Who's primarily conservative?

In a week California will hold its primary election where one of two rich people will get the Republican gubernatorial position on the November ballot. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday after next the two potential candidates, Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, have been running commercials in prime time (Whitman ran one during the finale of Lost, for example) where they're essentially vying for the title of who is most conservative. Or rather, they're attacking each other with accusations that the other is actually liberal, and thus undermining their collective credibility as genuine conservatives, leaving the only potential prize that of who is less objectionable to conservatives.

Conceivably either one could approximate conservatism better than the Democratic candidate would, but nonetheless they are presumably spending a bunch of money tearing each other down in an attempt to sway the hardcore base who is apt to vote in the primary. Not that they're so much touting their individual strengths but pointing out their opponent's weaknesses. It's wooing the conservative voters with the implication that the other one sucks even worse.