Posts Tagged ‘influence’

Influence of Ten

1 June 2012

Dear J-

I used to watch a lot of syndicated TV when I was growing up: the main television time for us as a family would be 7-8PM, while we were lingering over dinner and before the temptations of primetime (we had a VCR but didn’t use it to time-shift). Note to fellow parents: I’m not going to recommend combining meal time with TV time; you may think that you’re saving time by combining activities, but all it did for me is render me functionally mute and easily distractable during dinners. After watching the same set of Star Trek (original series, of course) episodes several times over we moved on to the sitcoms, which is why watching Cheers reruns on Netflix makes for pleasant nostalgic times.
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Just lately I’ve become convinced that you go through some product formative years between ten and fifteen: things you think are cool then become items to lust over later in life. For me that list includes cars and watches; I’m hopelessly in love with the boxy first-generation Toyota MR2 (AW11) as well as the long-running Acura (Honda) NSX. I picked up a Casio G-Shock not through any real need but just because it’s a G-Shock, man, and have contemplated seeing if Swatch still makes those rubber-band face protectors. Calculators too: I own the things I couldn’t afford as a kid not because I need them but because of delayed gratification.

I wonder what this means for the shows I used to watch. I suppose that’s what the networks were trading on when they launched a revamped Knight Rider a few years ago, but who knows, maybe it’s unconsciously influenced me to come live in Southern California. I do know that Cheers gave me the impression that Boston folks were funny and quirky, which helped my decision to go to grad school in the area. If I’m ever called to Night Court I’m going to be looking for a judge that can do magic tricks. Mostly I wonder what’s going to lodge in our kids’ minds while they’re watching the things they are (the Disney Princesses being particularly ubiquitious but, at least lately, actually growing spines and being spunky, thanks to Shrek’s influence).

Mike

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Money Talks

18 February 2011

Dear J-

The Wisconsin State Senate is composed of 33 members, at the moment 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats. With the Republican majority in place, a bill has been introduced requirng that non-safety public unionized employees (make that teachers and government workers excluding firefighters and police officers) will be required to pay a higher proportion of their benefit costs. Based on the majority vote it would pass on a straight party-line basis except that the Democrats have done the only thing available to them: they have denied the quorum by going into hiding. There is a separate rule that states a minimum of 20 Senators must vote, so though I’m sure this is more grand politicking (wouldn’t an abstention also count as a no-vote?) I’m heartened by the tactics.

I honestly don’t understand voter discontent in this country, but perhaps that because I’m tone-deaf to one end of the political spectrum. I have seen my taxes go up, but that’s because I’m making more this year than last, and the year before too. I happen to think that health care costs grow at a fearsome rate but that’s just based on strict percentages — where my office copay was $7 when I started at my current job five years ago it’s now up to $15. Somehow we’ve decided that initroducing government money into health care is bad, while crop subsidies and bringinig home pork projects is good? When did social services get such a bad rap?

There’s a disconnect between perception and reality that we feed with a few selected facts now and again. Obama’s not even American-born, and a Muslim to boot. Bush really thought we were going after Iraq’s nonexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Iran-Contra. Global Warming. Gun control. We hear the parts we want to hear and disregard the rest as extraneous evidence that we just don’t know is really true or not. Yeah, those Wisconsin Senators walked out on their job. How else can they send a message through all the chaff that’s floating around? Is it fair to balance the budget on the backs of teachers? Which services do you cut instead? Or do you raise taxes? It is the politically weak who suffer, and in this country that almost always means those without money. Who contributes against health care reform? Health Insurance companies. Who is loudest against EPA regulations? Big industry polluters, including oil compnaies. Those equations are remarkably simple but dig back into who’s sent the money and you’re on your way.

Mike

National Influence

30 October 2009

Dear J-

I believe in photographic influences; my eye is informed by those National Geographic photographers working in the 1970s, shooting Kodachrome on Nikon F2s.  Something about the colors — muted yet oddly vivid in different ways — which may be a result of the printing process, in fact, makes me think that the world was softer when I was growing up.  Going back now has, for me, nearly the same effect as going back through old albums:  instead of Uncle Fred, though, there’s that article on Papua New Guinea, for instance.

One thing that strikes you immediately is how gritty everything looks, part of pushing exposures and high-speed film; it’s not that the world was that much dustier thirty years ago, more that the norm today is hyper-clean high-ISO pictures.  We complain if the camera’s noise performance is anything less than perfect at ISO 800, never mind that it used to be an exotic film speed only fifteen years ago (I still remember when Fujifilm came out with an 800 print film that didn’t look like crap).

Another part the way that those old Nikkors drew.  It may be why my eye picks out lenses of a certain vintage when I’m going back through pictures I took on film.  I picked up a book the other day, written at the height of film, saying that the F/2.8 lenses of yesteryear were amazingly fast, allowing for handheld shots on ISO 400 film in any light.  Modern lenses are spectacular, for the most part, allowing flexibility with a wider range of useable stops and focal lengths, but perfect is rarely charming.  I know that everything can be added in post-processing (grain, lens defects), but it still doesn’t match what I remember.

Mike

Division Mind

16 June 2009

Dear J-

In my mind I’m still making those late-night trips down Division — this before they split it into one-way streets in order to relieve traffic before they (assuming they ever do) put in a north-south freeway to put a permanent end to the charm. Remember of course that you could tell how close we were to I-90 (and therefore home) just by seeing which businesses you were passing at the moment — Wheelsmith and White Elephant, not so much; Arby’s a little closer; Red Lion closer yet. I watched the neon signs through sleep-blurred eyes drinking it all in hungrily, waiting for Frankie Doodle’s to light the way back.

It was something I found peculiar to Spokane as I’ve gone through life in different parts of this country; there are other places — Sacramento comes to mind — where you can take long trips along business-lined arterials if you want to, but none where you actually have to. It was inconvenient and certainly not world-class, but it’s how I learned dead-reckoning via landmark (“Yes, just past the Yoke’s, you can’t miss it.”), a skill that’s amply repaid itself in years past.

We spent the morning wandering around a park (Overfelt Gardens — we initially thought about Alum Rock Park but we tipped towards Overfelt because of the Chinese influence), figgy avoiding various traps (the fountains were off and the sleepy geese were warned off by her heavy tread). It’s how I think parks should be — manicured, tree-lined, and planned; we have city parks in San Diego but none I’ve been to with quite the same mix of water, vegetation, and structures. No playground, though, but the wealth of trails kept her busy; once again I rethink what I see in San Jose although the overcrowded buffet lunch we went to makes me believe the tastes aren’t perfectly in sync yet.

Mike

Oh, by the way, my perfect (for two years, at least) record for multi-day trips is still intact, but instead of the plunger everyone else gives me, my dad handed me a drain snake and a knife for my toilet fight. Are there crocodiles here or what?

Senioritis

5 June 2009

Dear J-

This time of year is  a good one, for lack of a better term, for the itchiness inside.  The summer solstice appraches and the evenings keep getting longer; we continue to work indoors but once those hours are up I keep wanting to head outside, outdoors to find something new.  The old saying that there’s nothing new under the sun has some merit — we take the same looping dog walk, I ride back and forth from vanpool to home on the same route — but perhaps it’s not a failure of the new so much as it is a failure of seeing.

Whenever I look at other people’s photographs I alternate between despair (how? and when?) and envy, but I keep pulling up those with a strong view of the world — they force your eyes into how they see it.  The very best, of course, are like the successful painters and designers:  you can immediately tell the style from their work and recognize unfamiliar photographs as part of that gestalt.  It’s not to dismiss abstract photographs — more that I’m starting to understand what I respond to by recognizing it in others and trying to incorporate it into my work.

How much is just slavish imitation, though?  Remember how infectious those last two weeks of school were?  The slightest change in mood would make it across class in an instant; everyone joined in window-gazing and thoughts of sunny days ahead.  Were we responding to each other, or reflecting the way we thought we should be acting, based on  older siblings or rumor?  Likewise, how do you assimilate your influences without plagiarism?

Mike

Fourth Estate

9 September 2008

Dear J-

Is it American to assign blame?  Let’s look at this whole “Bridge to Nowhere” scheme; after the press got wind of it, the plan became the poster child of pork.  On the surface, it makes sense:  you’ve got a multi-million dollar bridge that connects an island to the main body of Alaska.  Problem is, that island has, at best, a few hundred residents in it, and the tab would come out to nearly a million dollars per resident.  Thus the ridicule and another example of how America legislates through popular perception.  Its champion, Senator “Intertubes!” Ted Stevens, soon found himself scrambling to defend the bridge with essentially indefensible numbers.

Look at it a different way, though:  the bridge connects Ketchikan with its island airport.  Ketchikan is a fairly popular tourist destination, and allowing vehicle traffic to the airport would provide a significant boost to encourage airport growth and could thus potentially stimulate tourist visits.  Suddenly the bridge is to somewhere, but it doesn’t play well in the press, so they’ve managed to bury that nugget; I keep harping on the issue, but a press that attempts to protect the interests of the public by forcing legislative action is governance via un-elected officials.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to stop it — make sure that the newspapers listen to people?  Hold elections for government-run (shudder) news agencies?

All I’m saying is that it doesn’t take much repetition for snappy phrases to enter everyone’s subconscious.  War on Terror (oh, really?).  Bridge to Nowhere.  Fill-in-the-Blank-Gate Scandal.  Liberal Media (that’s right, FOX News, Wall Street Journal — yer all liberals!).  Yet rather than take caution and knowing that these things take on a life of their own, the press keeps questing for the latest sound bite, the newest pat phrase to discuss.

By the way, our local Union-Tribune reserves space in the Monday Op-Ed pages for the reader’s ombudsman to take note of what folks are up in arms about (lately it’s been the removal of the separate weekly TV listings in the Sunday paper — when people are more concerned about the paper providing TV listings, clearly something’s amiss at the paper — you might want to consider adding, I dunno, content or something).  Yesterday’s paper brought something I’d never thought I’d see:  the newspaper, calling its readers idiots and rubbing their noses in it.

Mike