Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kid's Show

Was trying out a new lens by photographing the television set the other morning while I. watched one of his favorite cartoons. I ended up being kind of amazed of what subliminally is being fed into the minds of our children. Douglas Wildmon, where are you?

Hey, that pink pig? . .he's gettin' him some action. But with penguins and rabbits, too? That's just plain wrong.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Farewell, Mr. President

Today marks the end of eight wonderful years of Bush 43 in the White House. Here's a look back of some of the special moments of his presidency.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Want THAT!

Sure, Union Pacific can paint up a locomotive to honor George Bush #41. . .but who will be the first to paint up an engine to honor president #44, Barack Obama?

Why wait for the REAL railroads to get around to it. . .I know I'm going to rush right out and order this fine collectable today. . .

No mention of "Amtrak" Joe Biden on there. . .and I'm really diggin' the bling-o-liscous gold trimwork. One can only hope this precious keepsake is still running four years from now. . . .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

BEWARE! Baby in A Bucket!

Even my four-year-old knows what this means: Don't let your child chase a bumblebee into a bucket of water. . .

It's not enough, in our semi-literate, often multi-lingual society, to merely warn people that high-voltage hazards exist inside that green utility box over there on the corner. Instead, such warnings are often communicated using pictographs, dispensing the need in most cases for words to make the point.

Often, the graphical warnings are straight forward. Sometimes, they're inspired in the over-the-top depiction of the horrors the await those who don't heed their warnings. And sometimes, they're just pretty damned funny.

Here's a few from my collection:


Burning to death, to me at least, must be one of the most horrible ways to go. And here's two treatments of exiting a building that on fire:

Here's the cool, calm building dweller calmly leaving the scene of a fire (my guess is he's the guy who started the fire and he's trying not to call too much attention to himself). . .

. . .and this guy here is me, getting the HELL OUT as quickly as possible.

Here the artist assumes his work isn't clear enough without the written elaboration. This seems like a particularly awful situation.


You never know when death in the form of an electrical jolt will strike you down. This one is pretty self-explanatory, with little additional flourish. . . .

. . while this sign really anthropomorphizes electricity as a demon that could scare the hell out of you. It's about as far as you can get from the friendly image of Reddy-Killowatt.


I particularly like this one for the "whimsical horse-play gone awry" it implies. And look at the detail work! The "boink" marks on the ground, as well as the dent the poor unfortunate's head makes on the earth elevates this warning sign above the strictly pedestrian.

This doesn't look like much fun, does it! Getting crushed by a tractor as it rolls over on top of you down a hill is a particularly awful way to die.


It would seem to make sense to keep out of the way of automatic gates, but I suppose some horrible and gruesome death in the past necessitated this sign. . .

While first-time bowlers may well be ignorant of the hazards that await them near the ball-return.


This little incident reminds one of a stunt from Jackass. Really, though, if you're going to help out your wheelchair-bound friends, please don't attempt any shortcuts around the ADA ramps. . .

And all that's missing here is a tiny banana peel at the top of the stairs. . .


Mountain-climbing, of course, is fraught with peril. But do mountaineers really need a sign warning them of the hazards of falling into a crevasse? I think not. Where is the sport in that?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Let's Pick The Surgeon General!

The next Surgeon General?

President-elect Obama is taking a lot of heat for picking Dr. Sanjay Gupta to be his next surgeon general. He's certainly popular enough, appearing at CNN's Medical Editor, and he's an actual qualified brain surgeon in Atlanta. He was an advisor to Hillary Clinton when she was the first lady and tried to get socialized medicine passed in this country. Folks just don't seem to warm, however, to a doctor who's largely percieved as a "celebrity." Don't think he's qualified? Think you can do better? How about these choices?

Dr. Dre would be near the top of my list. Okay, so he's not a real doctor, but he knows his West Coast damn-straight. Who better to address the problems of health care in the inner cities? He'd probably be able to talk to kids about having children out of wedlock and about the horrors of drug abuse (he had a son who died of a heroin overdose). And he'd probably scare the shit out of you in the process.

Myself, I liked Dr. C. Everett Koop, the only surgeon general who dressed less like a surgeon and more like a general. He was Ronald Reagan's surgeon general, and no less a source that Wikipedia referred to him as the "first" celebrity surgeon general. I can't see Dr. Gupta in dress whites, though. I couldn't see a surgeon very easily in them, either--it reminded more of Captain Merrill Steubing on the "Love Boat." I don't know if he's still alive or not. Bonus points for that kickin' donegal beard.

Here's another Doctor, though I don't know where he practiced medicine: Dr. Demento. He seemed to know a lot about old songs, and i'd bet his bedside manner would cheer up even the terminally ill.

If you're going "celebrity" for doctors, choose Dr. House. Don't bother with McDreamy--he'd be too good-looking it'd hurt him with his mission to the public. But House--ah, here's the real deal. He probably wouldn't have worked too well with a President Clinton--there's that whole friction thing he has with Dr. Cuddy that would work against him--and President Obama might bristle at nominating a doctor with a pain-killer addiction, but he RARELY loses a patient, thought they all nearly die first. And, he loves Monster Trucks.

Na, I'm not serious. I just like to use Dr. Phil's photograph so I can mention what a douchebag I think he is.

This guy is an ass-wipe, too, but he's got nice muscles. Can probably trade chest-waxing tips with President Obama. And I'd guess Dr. Rey would soon move to include breast augmentation and labial reduction to be included in medicade.

Who is YOUR choice?

Guess What Time It Is?

Yep, it's tax time again. And here's a little plug for Liberty Tax Services of Fort Worth. If I wasn't using Turbo Tax, i'd probably take my business to them, for what could be a better away of attracting business than sticking some homeless-looking guy in a green plastic bag, slapping a foam Statue of Liberty crown atop his head, and then leaving him on a street corner to distract passing motorists? I guess it's cheaper paying this guy than it is to rent one of those giant American Eagles or Uncle Sams or the nylon "floppy guy" wind socks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Christmas Gift to Myself. . .

I rarely ask my wife for anything for Christmas; I feel if I really want something, I’ll just go and purchase it, anyway, so basking in the glow of receiving a set of Christmas-themed pancake batter molds from my sister and plug adapters useful in several foreign countries from my wife, I thought I’d head over to and treat myself to Jim Shaughnessy and Jeff Brouws' new book, "The Call of Trains." The price was right, and for the money I saved off list, I decided to pick up, sight unseen, the "Frequently Bought. . . " suggestion from Amazon, "China: The World's Last Steam Railway," by British photographers John Tickner, Gordon Edgar and Adrian Freeman.

I knew nothing of this book (perhaps if I read Railfan & Railroad magazine I'd have seen the review for it this past year!), but I've always been intrigued by the last years of big-time Chinese steam that the gorgeous thumbnail image of a backlit QJ at sunrise made me bite. What am I out? Around $22? A steal, and if the book is a klunker, I know a few folks who wouldn’t mind me re-gifting it to them. But that ain’t going to happen, as it turns out.

First, the Shaughnessy book: I expected great things from it, and it delivered. I do feel, though, that for a photographer who is still living, there’s precious little of Shaughnessy in the book besides his photographs. I appreciate Brouws’ attempts at placing his work in the context of other rail photographers, but felt he was reaching a bit to elaborate on influences on his work that didn’t exist. . . I’d much rather read more tales from the road on how Jim took these great photographs than expositions on photographic history. Shaughnessy’s photographs crackle with life, but the text doesn’t do the same: even a reconstruction of a nine-day photo Safari in 1956 is created from Shaughessy’s expense and mileage logs, rather than an oral presentation from the man who took the trip. But I digress. . .

The revelation which came out of the box from Amazon wasn’t the Shaughnessy book, but rather “China : The World’s Last Steam Railway”—a title that I’d rate now as the best railroad photography book in my collection. . .it’s THAT good. The reproduction and layout are first-rate—the photographs leap off the page, a collection of medium-format color and black and white images created between 1997 and 2005. I’d certainly rate the photographic work of the three authors as being at least as good as the best U.S. railroad photographers, and their sense of place and time imbued in their work certainly raises it far above other “train books.” With all the discussion on the Yahoogroup "Observation Car" about “artsy-fartsy”photography, I’m surprised that this book hasn’t been mentioned. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised—Americans are a pretty provincial lot, and this is certainly true when it comes to their interests in railroads. I’m sure that many American fans would deride this book for too many “people photos,” or too much glint, or too many views of small trains in big settings, or for the numerous mood tones created on smoggy, grey, foggy days. Is it art? Is it photojournalism? Yes, and yes, and really, what’s the difference?

Clearly, these guys came for the steam, but came back with far, far more. I don’t sense a big difference in their individual photographic styles: they’re each one part Galen Rowell, one part Edward Steichen, one part Sebastio Salgado: equally adept at stunning black and white and beautiful color work, comfortable with portraiture as well as landscape. The photographers don’t ignore the sweeping changes taking place in China that the demise of steam railroading is but a small part of: We see coal miners in Shibanxi and Xiaoyutou pushing small lorries of coal out of mines by hand, then loading that coal into rail cars using shovels; local residents banging on the sides of passing coal trains in an attempt to dislodge loose coal to forage for their home stoves; workers pushing their bicycles along snowy walking paths next to the rail line and children sledding on frozen ponds while steam trains pass in the background. Draft horses, their nostrils lined in ice, wait patiently under loading chutes for the wagons they pull to be replenished with coal. These are scenes we’re familiar with from the early 20th century in America , before home electricity, heavy machinery, and labor unions—but everyday life today in rural China.

The photographs are both intimate and sweeping: views of an industrial valley from high atop a slag heap above a steel mill or from a hillside above a landscape of small houses covered in a fresh snowfall, passing trains an exclamation point below a plume of steam.

The chapters are organized among regions or types of railroads: the narrow gauge logging railroads; industrial, steel mill or coal mine railroads; or the well-known Ji-Tong line, for instance. Diesels operate nearly all of them now, the Chinese government making good on a commitment to eradicate steam locomotives on mainlines by the time of the Bejing Olympics last year. The text presents both an overview of the operations photographed and recollections of the photographers of their travels in China. It’s clear from these tales that the difficulties encountered—language, customs, weather—made the photographers work that much harder for their pictures, and the reader is rewarded for their effort. The endpapers feature a stylized map pinpointing locations where the photographs were made; to someone unfamiliar with China ’s rail network, including the railways on the map would’ve helped me make sense of how it all fits together. Perhaps a few more photographs of the railroaders who work on the steam locomotives would've been welcome, but I don't otherwise see any glaring holes in the coverage.

Seeing the scope and quality of the images in this book leaves me with mixed emotions: I kick myself for not pursuing the opportunity to go back in 2001, but I realize that whatever photographs I did come back with would hardly compare with the work of photographers Tickner, Edgar and Freeman.

You won't be disappointed by plunking down a small pittance for one of the most amazing books of railway photography I've ever seen.