Monday, December 29, 2008

Today's Real Estate Question

So, in the Taschen Icons book on photographer Edward Weston, the text tells us, on page 14:
In 1929 Weston rented a cottage in Carmel, an isolated seaside village in northern California with a history of being an artists' colony. There he lived simply and inexpensively, close to some of the most spectacular landscapes in the American West...
That's all well and good, but if an up-and-coming photographer today wanted to do the same, he'd probably have to spend something in the neighborhood of $2 million to buy a house there. Carmel is only really open to artists these days if they're superstars.

And it's not just Carmel. Those of you who saw Dogtown and Z-Boys know that Venice in the 60s and 70s was a rough, downscale neighborhood (it's still kind of skeevy, just full of million-dollar homes). Even a place like Manhattan Beach was full of layabout surfers a few decades ago; when I was a toddler my family actually lived in a small rented house there when my dad got his first job out of grad school. I once visited an open house for a large yet much-in-need-of-renovation house on the beach in Seal Beach that was listed for $4,995,000.

So, my question is not "Why is real estate so expensive along the coast," because that's obvious---the weather's great, recreational opportunities abound, the culture is relaxed, and there is, of course, "some of the most spectacular landscapes in the American West." My question, rather, is how was this land ever cheap? Why was Carmel affordable for simple-living artists in 1929 instead of only for captains of industry? Why did wealthy people in Southern California not drive up the price of coastal property beyond the reach of surfers and recent grad students until recent decades?

And are there any affordable places to live on the coast in California now? Ventura? Somewhere farther up the coast? A lot of beach cities used to be working-class towns. Are there any working-class beach towns remaining?

R.I.P., Dock Ellis

Former Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, who famously pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD, has died at the age of 63. Obviously from his record he had a pretty good career and was known for a number of colorful incidents, but when you throw a no-hitter on acid, that's what people remember you for, at least outside of Pittsburgh.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I like this image:I gather from the fact that the prints were in a limited edition of 666 that the artist isn't too fond of Benedict, but oh well, I think it looks nice anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama Trivia

A few days ago I realized that Barack Obama is the first person elected (or otherwise becoming) President who was born in what was, at the time of his election, the newest U.S. state (Hawaii). Check this list of Presidents and their birthplaces against this list of U.S. state admissions.

Now, it's been 49 years since the last new admission of a state, the longest such gap in history, so that makes that somewhat more probable now. Imagine if, say, Benjamin Harrison (actually born in Ohio) had been born in what was the newest state when he was elected in 1888, Colorado. Obviously it would have been impossible for him to have been born in a post-statehood Colorado, since that would have required him to have been 12 years old at the most. But more importantly, if we allow for him to have been as old as he was (born 1833) and born in territorial lands that later became Colorado, we would have to then consider that only about half of the state was U.S. territory at the time, and the part that was hadn't been settled by white people yet. So he would have either had to have been a Native American or the son of a mountain man's wife.

Not many Presidents have been frontiersmen; even Kentucky had already been a state for more than 18 years when Lincoln was born there. Checking the same references as above, we can see that Obama is also the first person elected (or becoming) President who was born in what was at the time of his birth the newest U.S. state. Additionally, since the country was established (i.e., since the States ceased to be British colonies), no U.S. President has been born in a territory rather than a state, even though it's perfectly legal. You'll recall that John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, and the other Republican Senator from Arizona who unsuccessfully ran for President, Barry Goldwater, was born in a pre-statehood Arizona Territory. I don't know of any other territory-born Presidential also-rans, but I suppose I could do the research.

Here's some extra trivia for you: Obama is the only person elected President while the state of his birth was the current U.S. State Quarter design. In fact, the Hawaii quarter was released just the day before the election!

Krigstein's "Master Race"

Note: to avoid spoiling the ending, don't click through to any of the links discussing the story until reading it yourself.

Bernie Krigstein's "Master Race,"* which appeared in EC Comics' Impact #1, is deservedly one of the most famous and acclaimed comic stories. Not only is the art top-notch and the techniques striking, but it's quite remarkable that this shocking story was published just ten years after the end of World War II, before the Holocaust had been widely depicted in popular media, much less in comic books. My copy of a reprint of this is in storage right now, but some helpful soul made high-quality scans of the 8-page story and posted them on their Geocities page (click on the scan to go to each next page).
Read (or re-read) the story first and then check out these essays on it and Krigstein by Martin Jukovsky, Paul Gravett, and Art Spiegelman.

*Krigstein illustrated the story and is most associated with it, but Al Feldstein wrote it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Santa representation question

In all the depictions of household encounters with Santa Claus that I can remember, he's depicted as flying in to the encounteree's house from some distant point and then, when he's finished distributing gifts, flies away again to some other distant point. This despite the fact that said encounteree's house is generally depicted as being in a neighborhood of other, similar houses.

Are we to believe that being selected for delivery of Santa gifts is thus a rare thing? Or does our encounteree live in a Jewish or Muslim neighborhood? Or just one full of bad boys and girls?

Or does Santa's distribution method simply defy all logic? Does he hit a house in London, make his next stop in Japan, then Canada, etc. all before hitting the next-door neighbor of our first encounteree in London? Just what is the method to his madness?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Michael Jackson, Inventor

You know Michael Jackson as a singer, dancer, and sleepover pal, but did you know he was an inventor, too? Jackson is one of three names listed on U.S. Patent #5,255,452, "Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion." What this is is a special boot that can be anchored into a stage floor so that the performer can do the extremely low lean featured at the end of the "Smooth Criminal" video. In other words, Michael was so amazing that he really did have a patented dance move.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Presidential Trivia

When I was born, there were no living ex-Presidents. Nixon had yet to resign. Kennedy, Hoover, and Eisenhower had died in the 60s, and then Truman and LBJ had died within a month of each other in 1972 and 1973. But then there was not another Presidential death until Nixon's in 1994 when I was 20. In the meantime, the ranks of living ex-Presidents had grown from zero to five: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George Bush I. You'll remember that Robert Smigel made a pretty funny cartoon about it.

You should not be surprised to learn that one can see this information in convenient tabular form on Wikipedia. It turns out that there were previously periods of no living ex-Presidents during the administrations of George Washington (obviously), John Adams, U.S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. There have never been more than five living ex-Presidents, but it has happened three times:
  1. March 4, 1861 to January 18, 1862, during Abraham Lincoln's administration: Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan;
  2. January 20, 1993 to April 22, 1994, during Bill Clinton's administration: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and the first George Bush; and
  3. January 20, 2001 to June 5, 2004, during George Bush the Less's administration: Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush's dad, and Clinton.
OK, so what if we expanded this inquiry not just to former Presidents, but to the current and future Presidents, too? In other words, when were the most number of men alive who, at some point in time either before or after that time, became President of the U.S.? Before checking, let's think some. It's obviously not going to be right at the beginning, and it also wouldn't be any time in the very recent past, because there are at least several people walking this earth who will be President some time in the future whom we don't know about yet. And while life spans increased during the 20th century, so did the length of Presidential administrations; there were 23 Presidents from 1801 to 1901, and only 17 from 1901 to 2001.

Wikipedia comes in handy again, this time with a timeline. They don't tally things up for us, but if you go through and add things up, you can figure out that there were four periods of time when there were 18 men living who at some point in time had or would become President of the United States:
  1. October 4, 1822 to July 4, 1826, Rutherford B. Hayes' birth to the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson;
  2. August 20, 1833 to June 28, 1836, Benjamin Harrison's birth to James Madison's death;
  3. March 18, 1837 to April 4, 1841, Grover Cleveland's birth to William Henry Harrison's death in office; and
  4. January 29, 1843 to June 8, 1845, William McKinley's birth to Andrew Jackson's death.
So there you go.

*This is one of the most remarkable Presidential trivia tidbits: founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died within five hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

University of Phoenix Stadium

Here's what looks like the world's easiest sports trivia question:
What football team plays its home games at University of Phoenix Stadium?
The answer, of course, is the NFL's Arizona Cardinals. Huh? Yes, that's right, it's not the University of Phoenix. The University of Phoenix is a for-profit university specializing in adult education, and has no intercollegiate athletics program. They bought the naming rights to the Cardinals' new stadium shortly after it opened in 2006, just like corporations like FedEx and Qualcomm do. Weird.

Another odd thing about this stadium is that it has a retractable grass playing surface, the first stadium in the country to do so. This lets them keep the natural grass in the sun more and host other events without damaging the turf.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This Kid is the Mack

Nine-year-old Alec Greven of Castle Rock, Colorado, has written an advice book called How to Talk to Girls. Here's some of his advice, as seen in the article's slideshow:
Girls win most of the arguments and have most of the power.
A crush is like a love disease. It can drive you mad.
If you are in elementary school, try to get a girl to like you, not to love you.
Control your hyperness. (Cut down on sugar if you need to.)
Make sure you have good friends who don't try to take the girl you like.
Girls always like the smartest boys.
Class clowns never make a good love story with a girl, if you catch my drift.