Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sometimes You Eat the Bear...

Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you. I recently found out the bear has not only been eating me, but treating me as an endless buffet.

We returned to the US from Thailand in March. In April, we moved to an apartment in downtown Des Moines and I started covering the Democratic candidates for President. We enjoyed living in Des Moines and I was busier than I had been in years. Life was good.

In May, I had some pain and stiffness in my legs that I dismissed as age and basically ignored it. I’ve always been healthy. I haven’t spent significant in time in a hospital since I was 4 or 5. Never had surgery or a broken bone. Traveling and eating pretty much like a local in Thailand, Mexico, Burma, Cambodia and more, I never had a problem. Healthwise, I’ve led a practically charmed life doing stupid things and never experiencing any consequences for those stupid things.

More after the jump...

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Photos of the Year 2019 Edition

One of the last pictures I made in Bangkok of Wat Arun at sunset. 

2019 was a year of change. We returned to the US after seven great years in Bangkok. We live in Des Moines, Iowa now and I spent most of the year covering the Democratic candidates touring southern Iowa in the run up to the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential selection event of the 2020 campaign. 

You'll see a lot of political photos in here, along with some photos of daily life that I've made here. Enjoy. 

January - Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, Women monks from Wat Songdhammakalyani walk through the community on their alms round. The women monks exist in a gray space in Thai Buddhism. The Sangha Supreme Council, the organization that governs Thai Buddhism, doesn't allow women to be ordained or allow male monks to participate in ordination ceremonies for women. Most of the women monks in Thailand went to Sri Lanka to be ordained. A few went to India. There are about 270 women monks in Thailand. There are more than 250,000 male monks. 

January - Samut Prakan, Thailand, Morning commuters come into Samut Prakan on a ferry. From here most of the them will head into Bangkok, just a few kilometers away. 

January - Bangkok, A mass of polluted air settled over Bangkok and people wore breathing filters everywhere they went.

January - Bangkok, Mid morning, the sky was gray and the air was foul during Bangkok's pollution emergency. 

January - Bangkok, Passengers on the BTS Skytrain all wearing breathing filters because of the pollution emergency. 

February - Bangkok, People at a Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok's Chinatown make offerings of incense sticks and food during Chinese New Year. 

February - Sihanoukville, Cambodia, A Chinese tourist runs past a Cambodian construction worker on the beach in Sihanoukville. Chinese money and business interests are changing the once quiet fishing community of Sihanoukville and turning it into a gambling destination for Chinese tourists. 

February - Sihanoukville, a Cambodian worker buys food a street vendor in front of the more than 80 casinos in Sihanoukville. 

February - Sihanoukville, a Buddhist monk collects alms from a community on the edge of Sihanoukville. The casinos have been a mixed blessing. They bring jobs to Sihanoukville but they've also driven up land prices and forced many of the people who lived in the city to move out.  

February - Sihanoukville, a Chinese worker jumps out of the transport that takes him to and from a job site. Many of the casinos employ Chinese and Cambodian workers. There are tens of thousands of Chinese workers in Sihanoukville. Many work in the casinos but most work in the construction trades. They take jobs that Cambodians would otherwise have.  

February - Ban Laem, Thailand, Workers on a salt farm try to get the best work assignments. Workers are paid based on the amount of salt they gather and bring to the warehouse. 

February - Bangkok, Sikh men in the Sikh temple in Bangkok at the morning meal. Sikh temples around the world host a meal after morning services that is open to all. 

February - Bangkok, The tattooed back on a worker in the Soi Cowboy entertainment district. 

February - Bangkok, A porter in the Flower Market looks at his smart phone while he waits for a client. 

March - Bangkok, Chinese tourists line up for selfies in a parking garage. 

March - Bangkok, A woman prays on Ash Wednesday in a Catholic Church in Bangkok. 

August - Prole, Iowa, Former Vice President Joe Biden waits to walk into a campaign event south of Des Moines. I've covered a lot of the Democratic candidates in Iowa

November - Des Moines, Joe Biden works the rope line after a campaign event. 

December - Des Moines, Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a candidate for President, finishes a campaign speech. 

April - Harlan, Iowa, US Sen Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) leaves a campaign event in Harlan. Sen Gillibrand was one of the first to drop out of the race after running into polling and fund raising headwinds. 

April - Des Moines, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at a house party early in her campaign for President. Sen. Harris dropped out in December. 

November - Waverly, Iowa, Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) waits to enter a Presidential campaign event in Waverly.

April - Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)  speaks at a Presidential campaign event.

April - Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)  makes a "pinky swear" with a girl at a Presidential campaign event.

August - Des Moines, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, IN) buys a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.

April - Des Moines, A man opposed to Buttigieg heckles him during a rally in Des Moines. 

August - Des Moines, Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA) was a Presidential candidate for a few months. He bought pork belly on a stick at the Iowa State Fair. 

November - Des Moines, Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) was a late entrant to the Presidential race. He made his first Iowa visit in November. 

March - Bloomington, Minnesota, Congressperson Ilhan Omar does selfies with fans after an interfaith prayer service at a mosque in Bloomington.  

November - Des Moines, Supporters of President Trump picket a Bernie Sanders campaign event in Des Moines. 

August - Des Moines, A supporter of President Trump stands in a sea of people at a campaign event for former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a Republican. Weld is running an insurgent campaign against incumbent Trump.  

April - Des Moines, Thai and Lao Buddhists gather for New Year celebrations in Des Moines. The traditional Thai/Lao New Year is in April. 

March - Bloomington, Minnesota, Muslim women at an interfaith prayer service in Bloomington. 

June - Des Moines, Eid al Fitr services to mark the end of Ramadan in Des Moines. 

June - Central City, Iowa, A boy holds a rooster during poultry check in at the Linn County Fair.  

June - Central City, Iowa, Mutton Bustin' at the Linn County Fair.

October - Polk City, Iowa, Combining corn near Polk City, Iowa. 2019 was a bad year for farmers in the Midwest. They were slammed by low prices, a result of President Trump's tariffs on China, and bad weather, a likely result of Climate Change. 

November - Des Moines, US Marine Corps First Sgt. Michael Sodergren holds a folded United States flag during the reinterment service of US Marine Corps Reserve Private Channing Whitaker in Glendale Cemetery. Pvt. Whitaker was killed in the Battle of Tarawa and buried in the South Pacific. His remains were exhumed and returned to Iowa this fall. 

July - Des Moines, Newly minted US citizens wave American flags after a naturalization ceremony in Des Moines. 

November - Des Moines, Santa Claus walks down the street in the Valley Junction neighborhood of Des Moines. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Micro 4:3 is Alive and Kicking

Art? One of the first photos I made with my then new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II body and 40-150 f2.8 Pro Zoom with 1.4X teleconverter. 210mm (420mm FX equivalent), ISO200, 1/500 @ f4 (wide open with this lens and teleconverter). 

The interwebs, especially vbloggers on YouTube, have been full of reports on the death of the Micro 4:3 format. I won’t link to them because I think they’re largely clickbaity, but I wonder, “are they right?”.

Canon and Nikon’s recent announcements of their new 24X36mm* (what Nikon calls “FX”) mirrorless systems seems to has accelerated the pace of announcements from M4:3 doomsayers. Is M4:3 format doomed?

I don’t think so. Micro 4:3 makers are facing very strong head winds in the marketplace. All camera manufacturers are. Apple (and others) have put excellent cameras into their pocketable computers, which, coincidently, also make phone calls. Almost everyone has one with them almost all the time. Thanks to sensor development and better computational processing those cameras make better pictures than the professional level digital cameras of 15 years ago did. They’ve gutted the entry level camera and point and shoot markets.

Micro 4:3 was the first format to make mirrorless cameras practical for most consumers. The “most consumers” part is important; I’m not overlooking Leica, but come on, most consumers are not going to drop $8,000 (US) on a body and thousands more on lenses. Leica products, as good as they are, are niche products.
Who says M4:3 can't do high ISO? Then Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), now Minnesota Attorney General, at a town hall about immigration. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with 40-150 f2.8 Pro Zoom, 150mm (300mm equivalent on FX), ISO3200, 1/20th of a second, f2.8. Handheld. This is where Olympus' In Body Image Stabilization shines. With my Canon gear I would have had to use at least 1/250 of a second shutter speed (my 300mm lens didn't have image stabilization) and an ISO of about 52,000. 

The M4:3 doomsayers are predicting that consumers will move away from M4:3 to FX format cameras because of the “inherent advantages” of the larger format. There are some advantages to FX format sensors. The only so called advantage I consider absolute is the lower noise / better high ISO performance of FX format sensor cameras. More on that later.

There are many, sometimes overlooked, advantages to M4:3 format cameras.

One of them is that M4:3 is well established. There’s a great ecosystem of M4:3 gear with everything from tiny entry level cameras (that are, within their limits, excellent) to somewhat larger, but very capable, professional cameras.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Calling Out Lies

This is a complete break from my usual posts. For this, I took a dive into my archive to revisit the immigration issue. I covered immigration, in the US, in Mexico and in Guatemala, from 1996, when we moved to El Paso, TX., until 2012, when we left Phoenix and moved to Bangkok. From 2001 until 2009, I covered immigration, and immigration related issues, almost exclusively. Please follow the links for more on the issues I'm writing about.  
A US Border Patrol agent detains a Mexican national trying to enter the US illegally near Sierra Vista, AZ. (27 July 2001)

The President is lying about immigration. It is past time to explicitly say that. How do we know he's lying? The easy, snarky, answer is that it's because his lips are moving. Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact checkers, found 69% of trump statements "Mostly False," "False," or "Pants on Fire". And while saying the President is constant lying might be objectively true, it doesn't move the discussion forward.
A Mexican family from the state of Jalisco hide in the back of a car crossing the border. They were apprehended on the Tohono O'Odham reservation, southwest of Tucson, AZ. (5 May 2003)

In the interest of moving the discussion forward, here's how we know he's lying.

First we have to establish the difference between a lie and a misstatement. No one can truly know what is in the heart of another person. Is he lying because he's misingformed and therefore unaware of the truth? Are statements from the stump signs of true animus or merely playing to the crowd? Because of this, I am willing to give a person a pass on their first utterance of a false statement.

So the first time the President says the border is "out of control," I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he's misinformed. Maybe he'll issue a correction when he educates himself and learns the truth. But the second time he says the border is out of control? Then he's lying.
Mexican nationals, apprehended in Douglas, AZ, walk to a Border Patrol vehicle. They were taken to the BP station in Douglas, processed and returned to Mexico. (5 October 2005)

The President is lying about an out of control border. How do we know? We can look at the Border Patrol's numbers. The Border Patrol's numbers show that undocumented immigation is down, significantly, since 2000. In the Tucson sector, where I did most of my work, the Border Patrol apprehended 616,346 people in FY2000 (Fiscal Year). By FY 2008, it had been cut almost in half to 317,696. And by FY 2017, the number was down to 38,657. That's a decline in apprehensions of about 94%. That is not an "out of control" border. That is a sign that deterrence is working.

The trend holds, although not as dramatically, across the Southwest Border. In FY2000, the Border Patrol apprehended 1,643,679 people across the Southwest Border. In FY2017, the number was down to 303,916. That's an overall decline of about 82%. Again, not a sign of an "out of control" border. When the President continuously repeats a misstatement, he is lying.

(More below...)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

And that's all from Seoul

Sungnyemun, Seoul's historic south gate, was built in the 14th century C.E. It's one of the city's landmarks. 

This is my last blog entry from Seoul. It seems that Seoul doesn't get mentioned very often as a travel destination. Not as charming as Bangkok or as metropolitan as Tokyo or as historic as Kyoto, and located on the Korean peninsula, so not as accessible as Hong Kong or Singapore. But don't overlook Seoul.
Seoul's city hall building stands behind a large public space. 

It's a huge city, the population of the "special city" (a South Korean term for main administrative area of a city) is 9.5 million. The population of the metropolitan area is more than 25 million. Seoul is a megacity, home to South Korea's leading financial institutions many of South Korea's largest manufacturing conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.

Despite Seoul's massive scale it's a pretty easy city to navigate. Seoul was essentially destroyed during the Korean War and then rebuilt following the armistice. So the city was razed in 1950-51 and then rebuilt on a blank slate starting in 1953. Then, when the South Korean economic tiger was unleashed in the mid 1960s, money poured into Seoul and was directed into huge infrastructure projects like the subways and highways. 

The subway system is a thing of wonder. There are 21 subway and light rail lines, with more than 900 km of track (more than 540 miles) that run to every part of the city and into neighboring cities and provinces, like Incheon and even the DMZ (North Korean border). Most of the subway stations double as bomb shelters because North Korea has hundreds of pieces of artillery just north of Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery shells into Seoul in an hour if hostilities broke out again. All of this means you can get around Seoul almost entirely by subway. 
A couple relaxes in the "O" in Seoul. 

I wasn't sure to expect of Seoul. I found it huge, a little bewildering and ultimately very satisfying. It feels more authentic (for lack of a better word) than Singapore, which sometimes feels like a Potemkin village.
Part of Namdaemun market, near the South Gate and the beating heart of South Korea's retail trade.
A woman sells traditional Korean treats, made out of glutinous rice, in Namdaemun. 
Dolls for sale in the market. There's been a market on the site since the late 1400s CE.

Don't let Seoul's hypermodernity put you off if you're not a fan of that. There's still plenty to see and do.  
A prayer grotto at the Meyongdong Catholic Cathedral. 
A street preacher on a Seoul shopping street. Christianity is the second largest religion in South Korea. Although technically more South Koreans are Buddhist, so many are non practicing that there are more practicing Christians in South Korea than practicing Buddhists. (56% of South Koreans don't practice a religion. 27.6% are Christian and 15.5% Buddhist.) 

I hope to get back to Seoul in the near future and explore the city more as a tourist.

There are more photos of Seoul in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.