Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ah Photography!

A couple of weeks ago my wanderings found me in Farmington Bay along the Wasatch Front outside Salt Lake City, Utah looking for the Bald Eagles that winter there. Farmington Bay and the Great Salt Lake - one of the most important migration stops for birds of all kinds in North America, and one of the truly remarkable ecosystems on the planet. It's also a very cool place to photograph birds. And sure enough I found a cooperative Bald Eagle that flew over my set-up (Nikon D-700 with 200-400 AF-S lens on a Wimberly head and Gitzo tripod) with the sun behind me. Nice bird! I hope we do everything we can to preserve this ecosystem and protect the habitat for these wonderful birds. We would be crazy not to.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Worst Ever?

One thing I have learned about writing a blog -- I don't have time to write one! My last post was some weeks ago, but since about two or three people ever read my postings the world is none the worse for my failures. I'm afraid the same can't be said however for George Bush. And John McCain is just pretty much more of the same in terms of policy, so I support Barack Obama for President.

I am in my 53rd year. I have lived through ten presidents and studied the lives and work of nearly all the rest. Lincoln, Truman, Washington, Roosevelt (Franklin) - these guys rock! But then you have James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Geroge Bush Jr. In terms of scale and scope and far reaching consequences, George takes first prize as the worst American President in U.S. history. Much of the blame of course rests on the shoulders of who he hired, the chief devil being Dick Cheney. But Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rove and the rest have ruined our economy by insiting that "deficits don't matter" (Cheney), by invading a foreign country without legitimate pretext (we had never done that before) and doing everything in their power to take power from the legistative and judicial branches of government and putting that power into the executive. And that's just the tip of this iceberg. Below is an article detailing some more of the messes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, "The louder he spoke of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons." And no administration in U.S. history has spoken louder, or as often, of its honor.

So let us count our spoons.

Emergency Management: They completely failed to manage the first large-scale emergency since 9/11. Despite all their big talk and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on homeland security over the past four years, this administration proved itself stunningly incompetent when faced with an actual emergency. (Katrina Relief Funds Squandered)

Fiscal Management: America is broke. No wait, we're worse than broke. In less than five years these borrow and spend-thrifts have nearly doubled our national debt, to a stunning $8.2 trillion. These are not your father's Republicans who treated public dollars as though they were an endangered species. These Republicans waste money in ways and in quantities that make those old tax and spend liberals of yore look like tight-fisted Scots.

This administration is so incompetent that you can just throw a dart at the front page of your morning paper and whatever story of importance it hits will prove my point.

Katrina relief: Eleven thousand spanking new mobile homes sinking into the Arkansas mud. Seems no one in the administration knew there were federal and state laws prohibiting trailers in flood zones. Oops. That little mistake cost you $850 million -- and counting.

Medicare Drug Program: This $50 billion white elephant debuted by trampling many of those it was supposed to save. The mess forced states to step in and try to save its own citizens from being killed by the administration's poorly planned and executed attempt to privatize huge hunks of the federal health safety net.

Afghanistan: Good managers know that in order to pocket the gains of a project, you have to finish it. This administration started out fine in Afghanistan. They had the Taliban and al Queda on the run and Osama bin Laden trapped in a box canyon. Then they were distracted by a nearby shiney object -- Iraq. We are now $75 billion out of pocket in Afghanistan and its sitting president still rules only within the confines of the nation's capital. Tribal warlords, the growing remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda call the shots in the rest of the county.

Iraq: This ill-begotten war was supposed to only cost us $65 billion. It has now cost us nearly a trillion (yes, a trillion!!!!) and continues to suck $6 billion a month out of our children's futures. Every high school student in America, every one of them, could get a free college education for that money!!! Meanwhile the three warring tribes Bush "liberated" are using our money and soldiers' lives to partition the country. The Shiites and Kurds are carving out the prime cuts while treating the once-dominant Sunnis the same way the Israelis treat the Palestinians, forcing them onto Iraq's version of Death Valley. Meanwhile Iran is increasingly calling the shots in the Shiite region as mullahs loyal to Iran take charge. (More)

Iran: The administration not only jinxed its Afghanistan operations by attacking Iraq, but also provided Iran both the rationale for and time to move toward nuclear weapons. The Bush administration's neocons' threats to attack Syria next only provided more support for religious conservatives within Iran who argued U.S. intentions in the Middle East were clear, and that only the deterrent that comes with nuclear weapons could protect them.

North Korea: Ditto. Also add to all the above the example North Korea set for Iran. Clearly once a country possesses nukes, the U.S. drops the veiled threats and wants to talk.

Social Programs: It's easier to get affordable -- even free -- American-style medical care, paid for with American dollars, if you are injured in Iraq, Afghanistan or are victims of a Pakistani earthquake, than if you live and pay taxes in the good old U.S.A. Nearly 50 million Americans can't afford medical insurance. Nevertheless the administration has proposed a budget that will cut $40 billion from domestic social programs, including health care for the working poor. The administration is quick to say that those services will be replaced by its "faith-based" programs. Not so fast...

"Despite the Bush administration's rhetorical support for religious charities, the amount of direct federal grants to faith-based organizations declined from 2002 to 2004, according to a major new study released yesterday....The study released yesterday "is confirmation of the suspicion I've had all along, that what the faith-based initiative is really all about is de-funding social programs and dumping responsibility for the poor on the charitable sector," said Kay Guinane, director of the nonprofit advocacy program at OMB Watch.." (More)

The Military: Overused and over-deployed.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned in a 15-page report that the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain the current operational tempo without "doing real damage to their forces." ... Speaking at a news conference to release the study, Albright said she is "very troubled" the military will not be able to meet demands abroad. Perry warned that the strain, "if not relieved, can have highly corrosive and long-term effects on the military. (More)

With military budgets gutted by the spiraling costs of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration requested funding for fewer National Guard troops in fiscal 2007 -- 17,000 fewer. Which boggles the sane mind since, if it weren't for reserve/National Guard, the administration would not have had enough troops to rotate forces in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 40 percent of the troops sent to those two countries were from the reserve and National Guard.

The Environment: Here's a little pop quiz: What happens if all the coral in the world's oceans dies? Answer: Coral is the first rung on the food-chain ladder; so when it goes, everything else in the ocean dies. And if the oceans die, we die.

The coral in the world's oceans are dying (called "bleaching") at an alarming and accelerating rate. Global warming is the culprit. Nevertheless, this administration continues as the world's leading global warming denier. Why? Because they seem to feel it's more cost effective to be dead than to force reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. How stupid is that? And time is running out.

Trade: We are approaching a $1 trillion annual trade deficit, most of it with Asia, $220 billion with just China -- just last year.

Energy: Record high energy prices. Record energy company profits. Dick Cheney's energy task force meetings remain secret. Need I say more?

Consumers: Americans finally did it last year -- they achieved a negative savings rate. (Folks in China save 10 percent, for contrast.) If the government can spend more than it makes and just say "charge it" when it runs out, so can we. The average American now owes $9,000 to credit card companies. Imagine that.

Human Rights: America now runs secret prisons and a secret judicial system that would give Kafka fits. And the U.S. has joined the list of nations that tortures prisioners of war. (Shut up George! We have pictures!)

But don't bother George W. Bush with any of this. While seldom right, he is never in doubt. Doubt is Bush's enemy. Worry? How can he worry when he has no doubts?

Me? Well, I worry about all the above, all the time. But in particular, I worry about coral.

This nifty atricle sums up many of the failures of the last eight years. I for one am ready for a change, a big change. And if John McCain wan't to call great public education, anxiety free health care, and decent public transportation socialism, I say bring it on!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shakespeare one day, Vivaldi the next!

Hi again! I tried to publish this blog back in September regarding the financial crisis we are in, but lost ii somewhere in cyberspace. I just found it! So here it is, a little late but still a good take on how I view life.

Life can be pretty good sometimes. There are those serendipitous days that come along now and then to remind you of what is good about this place. Last week was pretty crazy in the global financial markets, and September 2008 is coming to be known at Black Sempember. Pretty ominous sounding. And it is a fun time to be teaching AP Economics! But let's put a little perspective to Black September for just a minute or two.

Between 1590 and 1613 in London, William Shakespeare was writing, producing, and perhaps acting in the greatest plays in human history. Watching a Shakespeare play back then was to watch yourself, watch the world, at its best and its worst, its humorless and its profoundly funny, its bawdy and its sacred. It was real. And William Shakespeare, after these four centuries, is still doing the same thing. Last Friday, at the end of a dark week, I went to Davis High School's Advanced Theatre Night of Shakespeare -- monologues, scenes, and the ensemble piece that in the end sent Black September flying, reminded me that recovery is on the way, more Black Septembers will come, and that we can choose from among Shakespeare how to live. We have all the examples we could ever want of all the kids of selves we could ever be. Panics and manias galore have come and gone since Shakespeare wrote for his Globe, but he is still around. He is still around to inspire, thrill, frighten, confuse and entertain. Shakespeare lasts.

In september of 1703 Antonio Vivaldi became maestro di violino at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, an orphanage to shelter and educate children who were abandoned, or whose families could not care for them. The boys learned a trade while the girls (lucky girls!) received a musical education, becoming members of the Ospedale's renowned orchestra and choir. Later he spent time in Rome, and while there he wrote his famous Four Seasons featuring some of the finest violin passages in music. Returning to Venice his Ospedale orchestra celebrated the work as their signature. His girls there did him proud. Saturday night, the night after Shakespeare, my wife and I attended an orchestra recital of Vivali's famous Four Seasons played by a youth orchestra, including four young violin soloists, all no older than Vivaldi's orphans. Their playing, and Vivaldi's music, again sent Black September scurrying for the door, and awakened in me the realization that the schemes of the billionaires can't hold a candle to the sublime work of two 15th century wonders -- William Shakespeare and Antonio Vivaldi.

Give space in life to those things that are not inferno. For me, Shakespeare and Vivaldi are two of those things.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Okay, just watch this!

Okay, all I'm going to say is "watch this!" I've never seen anything like it!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

"It's is lumber, man -- all lumber!"

I like words. I actually keep a list of words that really strike me in some way, and that list is quite short. It takes a lot for a word to get on that list. There has to be meaning to the word that goes well beyond ordinary usage, meaning that leeds me to ponder about life in some way. Today's post is about one such word -- Lumber.

At first blush this word must seem pretty ordinary. Lumber is, after all, so common a thing. Who doesn't know something of 2 X 4's and plywood sheets. Who hasn't made trips to the lumber yard for that bit of wood to finish a project.

But there is a rather archaic definition of the word lumber that caught my attention some time ago, and the older I get the more meaningful that definition becomes. I first came across this definition in a Dickens novel where some character is in a lumber room. I hadn't heard of that before, but by the context it seemed a sort of storage room or attic for cast of household junk. I looked up the word lumber and sure enough, that is an old definition -- cast off household junk.

Some time later I was reading a delightfully funny book suggested by an old English professor by Jerome K. Jerome -- Three Men in a Boat. (It is hilarious british humor for one thing, but also a poignant analysis of some of what is important in life. Three friends decide to take a boat up the river Thames for rest and relaxation, and what they do and what happens to them is great stuff!) I had not gotten far into my first reading of the book, I came across a real gem of philosophy and good living that I believe we could all stand to think about.

As the three friends are packing their boat for the trip, one of them speaks up . . .

George said:

'You know we are on the wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can't do without.'

George comes out really quite sensible at times. You'de be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care a twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha'pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with -- oh, heaviest lumber of all! -- the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal's iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man -- all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment's freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment's rest for dreamy laziness -- no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o'er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the somber-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchis, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need -- a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water.

I think the above stands pretty well on its own and doesn't need much commentary from me. Let me just say that with my 52 years I have come to realize the George really is quite sensible here, quite sensible indeed. Read it again, and again. Think about it, about its implications, about your own lumber, whether it is things you have piled up or emotions you haven't gotten rid of. Think about it and then take Jerome K. Jerome's advice -- Throw the lumber over, man!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

W Gets a Brain

It took a while, but G.W. has finally received a brain. I know, it is eight years too late, and untold suffering lies between then and now, but hey -- better late than never!

The brain he has received is, admittedly, rather small, but a small one is a large improvement over having no brain at all. As evidence of his new aquisition I point to his speech yesterday in Japan (ironic location, as you shall see) in which he pressed the leaders of the other G-8 countries to join together to cut in half greenhouse emmisions by 2050. This from the guy who swaggered into office eight years ago and, with a smirk on his face, brazenly and arrogantly tossed away the Kyoto (Japan!) Protocol that would have addressed greenhouse gas emissions eight years ago!

To what do we owe this sudden aquisition of a brain on the part of our President? I don't know, but it would have been nice if he could have gotten in a bit earlier in his Presidency, don't you think? Could have stayed focused on Afghanistan for one thing, rather than flying into Iraq with guns blazing on dubious intelligence and faulty Neocon reasoning. By taking his eye off Afghanistan he has screwed up two countries rather than saved one. Yup, an earlier brain would have been nice.

But now he has seen the light of global warming and want's the world to wake up to its threat and do something about it. Good for him. Icepacks of the world, rejoice! Your savior has arrived! Yes, I know you have pretty much melted away by now, but he got you before there was nothing at all left of you, right? So be happy.

Dolphins, whales, all small critters that have been threatened with extinction -- W is with you! Be not afraid! Eight years of irreparable degredation of your habitats and environment is a small price to pay for a President of the Untied States trying desperately to do something -- anything -- that will somehow raise him in the eyes of history above at least James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson!

You go W!

Monday, July 7, 2008

This Digital Imigrant Now Has a Blog (Inspired by my son and daughter in law)

Well I'll be (stopped in my forward progression!). I have a thing called a blog. It is entitled "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost", a quote from Lord of the Rings and somewhat befitting my summer rambles through Europe and my disorderly reading habits. I've no idea why anyone would be interested in the least to read anything I have to say, but since I am free to say it, so I shall.

It is inspired in it's creation by my son Mark's witty, sharp blog posts and my daughter in law Stephanie's love-of-life postings. You should check them out!

I am a teacher of AP Art History and AP Economics, so you can expect much about art and much about politics and the economy from me. If you are a typical Utahn you're not going to like the politics much, but I do hope you like the comments you'll get about painting, sculpture, architecture, travel, and the lates book I'm reading.

Expect wandering of the world and wanderings of the mind, neither of which head toward any particular destination. Remember, "Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost."