Monday, December 31

2008 is coming. Everyone look busy

I'm thinking that, being New Year's Eve, it's time to take a look back at some of the things that happened in 2007 and whack ourselves over the head repeatedly in order to avoid some prior mistakes.

So this post is simple: thinks I'm glad about for 2007, things I'm angry about for 2007, things I'm looking forward to in 2008, and things I dread about 2008.

But first, once again, I have done more light drawings:

As usual, clicking on the images gives you a larger version with details about the photos.

So let's start with the bad, from 2007. Put simply, I am pissed off about:

FISA, S-Chip, Dems in Congress, Dems in the Senate, Harry Reid's crap, Nancy Pelosi's crap, Joe Lieberman's sanctimony, Kent Jones getting canned, every single thing the Bush administration has ever done, thought about doing, or come close to doing, lead in toys, talk about a wall across the border, the fact that the only Republican candidate who's willing to speak out against the occupation of Iraq seems to be getting support from white supremacists, rising costs of health insurance, rising costs of gasoline, rising costs of, well, everything, global warming, species of fish dying out, Blue America Democrats who turned out to be Bluedogs, big media, big media going after their writers, Vermont state police collecting personal medical data, corporate greed overriding common sense, the pardoning of Scooter Libby, and probably a whole hell of a lot more.

I'm also just sad that Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's.

I am, on the other hand, quite happy about:

Chris Dodd standing up to Harry Reid, Daily Kos, Green Mountain Daily, Keith Olbermann, Futurama's return, the end of the Bush administration (in theory), pretty much the whole Republican field (for comic relief), The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, the fact that we *caught* the Vermont state police collecting personal medical data, that Gonzales was forced to resign, the outcry over the pardoning of Scooter Libby, the fact that even though we can't change things quite yet, the country seems to finally be fully on board with the slogan for the occupation of Iraq I've wanted us to adopt ("Come on! WTF?"). Actually, that slogan can apply to the whole Bush administration. I'm happy that John Kerry isn't running and that John Edwards is. I'm happy that I took many awesome pictures this year.

I'm happy that I'm a lot healthier than I was a month ago and I'm happy that my work, for the time being, is prosperous and I'm happy that even though some of my camera equipment got stolen this year, and some of it got broken, that I was able to recover quickly (though expensively) from both. I'm glad that clear thinking about global warming has entered the mainstream.

I'm happy for Parker River.

As far as 2008 goes:

I have no idea what to expect. I both dread and look forward to it. I look forward to whomever the Republican nominee is, because I don't think it will be that difficult to beat him (though I think McCain and Huckabee would be major challenges). I dread Clinton being nominated (feel free to flame me) but I look forward to working for Edwards in New Hampshire this weekend, because I think he'll do better than Clinton in Iowa and that will make NH *really* interesting.

I look forward to more music, more photography, better health. I look forward to the last throes of the Bush administration and I look forward to seeing better people elected in 2008.

I look forward to more writing, more thoughts, a little peace and quiet, and a lot of damned fine music.

So how about the rest of you? What are your best lessons from 2007? What do you expect to do differently in 2008?

Friday, December 28

Friday Bird Blogging: Raptors at Salisbury Beach

We did a quick visit to Salisbury beach the other day, after a disappointing visit to Parker River. We were greeted with a minor raptor show. First this Short-eared-owl showed up:

Then, we spotted a red-tailed hawk (bad light, now picture).

Then we realized that across the tree from the red-tail was this Cooper's Hawk:

All in all, not a bad day.

Friday, December 21

Dear Lakota Nation,

I love you. I really, really love you.

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Lakota Indians, who gave the world legendary warriors Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from treaties with the United States, leaders said Wednesday.

"We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us," long-time Indian rights activist Russell Means told a handful of reporters and a delegation from the Bolivian embassy, gathered in a church in a run-down neighborhood of Washington for a news conference.

A delegation of Lakota leaders delivered a message to the State Department on Monday, announcing they were unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the United States, some of them more than 150 years old.

They also visited the Bolivian, Chilean, South African and Venezuelan embassies, and will continue on their diplomatic mission and take it overseas in the coming weeks and months, they told the news conference.

Did I mention that I love you?

I have no idea how this is going to work out, because I somehow think the US isn't going to say, "Oh, all right then, you go right ahead." But as in your face civil disobedience goes, this is as disobedient and in your face as you can get without weapons.

You're awesome and beautiful. I love you. Go, you!

The War On Solstice is Here

Last week, I urged you all to Fight Back against the war on solstice.

Today is your final day to do battle. I gave a list of ways you can fight against the anti-solstice forces and ended with the traditional pagan litany:

Never give up.

Never surrender.

Today, I will give you your final orders. You have a mere twenty-one hours to make this happen until the official time of solstice.

Your task is now simple.

It is to fight for the solstice and to achieve final solstice victory by any means necessary.

The time for letter-writing is past.

The time for picketing is past.

Now, it is merely war.

To go into battle, you merely need three things:

The wisdom of righteousness

Remember: you are the only people who are right on this. Everyone else is either a heathen, a blasphemer, or otherwise unsuitable. You are not wrong. You can do no wrong. As long as the gods tell you what to do, you can do no wrong, and will be held harmless for all acts you conduct in the name of Solstice.

This, of course, applies to the *right* gods. Make sure you don't pick the wrong ones, or we're all screwed. And really, there's a whole lot of them. So be careful. But once you're sure you've got it right, pursue your goals with all due zealotry and obliviousness to any belief but your own.

The power of numbers

Get your neighbors, your friends, your postal workers and your UPS delivery person to help you out with this. And trust me, once you tell those last two that that you're fighting back against Christmas, they'll be right on board. No one hates Christmas more than UPS unless its the US Post Office. If anyone seems skeptical, tell them you're going out caroling. Sometimes the best way to fight Christmas is to pretend to support it, and then go in for the kill.


Remember the snowmen? Torches are great for repelling the forces of the turncoat snow traitors. They're also good for burning down manger scenes, non-chemically treated wreaths, non-artificial "Christmas" trees and the vehicles of the anti-pagan forces. Plus, there's nothing more exciting than an angry mob with torches. Gets the solstice blood flowing.

You are now equipped to fight back against the war on solstice.



Friday Bird Blogging: Downy vs. Hairy woodpeckers

One of the really easy mistakes for new birders to make is confusing Hairy and Downy woodpeckers; their markings are similar, but there are some very distinct differences. None of this is news to you guys, and this photo won't be anything new to anyone who's been birding for any amount of time, but I put this together for really new birders as one of the easy ways to resolve confusion between two easy to distinguish birds which look difficult to distinguish at first.

So here's what happened-- by dumb luck, I got two photos in the same day: one of a downy and one of a hairy, in almost the exact same position on the exact same feeder. I then scaled them to a very similar size and stuck them next to one another using Photoshop for easy side by side view.

Can you tell which is which? If not, check out this brief piece I wrote about the distinctions.

See? The difference is a lot easier than you might think.

Tuesday, December 18

Light Drawings: A Primer

The pictures here are all "Light Drawings." The short version of this is that they are all photographs which use long exposures to capture light in motion. Appearances vary due to a variety of factors. Those factors boil down to a few primary aspects:

  1. exposure time, often referred to as shutter speed;

  2. film speed ("ISO"), which is how much light is needed to render an exposure on the film;

  3. size of opening in lens (f-stop), which is how big the hole allowing light to reach the film is;

  4. ambient light in the scene;

  5. how much light is emitted by the objects being photographed;

Today, I'll talk about some basic photographic techniques and then apply them specifically to light drawings.

But first, one more photo:

Clicking on photos brings you to a larger image with data about exposure length, camera settings, etc.

So let's look at those items I mentioned in turn:

  1. exposure time:
    The longer the exposure time, the more light gets in from the surroundings. This can be good or bad, depending on what you want to do. I've found that longer exposure times can be quite nice, as long as you don't have too much surrounding light (in which case everything can be overexposed.

  2. film speed ("ISO"):
    The lower your film speed, the better an image you tend to get. Higher speeds tend to produce pictures with more "noise" to them and the effect is not as nice as you'd like. You, however, don't want to choose a film speed which is too low for your desired effect. If your speed settings are too low, you'll find it difficult to get a proper exposure. You'll need to experiment some to get this right.

  3. F-stop:
    this can make a really big difference. Wider openings in the lens (lower-numbered f-stops) can produce much brighter images, but in doing so, they sacrifice depth of field, which is how much of your field of view remains in focus. Wider openings (F 3.5) allow for more light, but less of the photo is in focus. Smaller openings (F 22) provide for much darker pictures but almost the entire shot will remain in crisp focus. This makes for difficult choices sometimes, especially if the light source you're using is not very bright.

  4. how much light is emitted by the objects:
    This takes some getting used to. I've got a bunch of different objects I use to generate images and some are much brighter than others. In some cases, I have to move the objects VERY slowly in order to get the same effect I would with others. Below I'll provide some examples.

So let's take a look at this photo:

| f/9.0 | exposure: 3m, 10s | ISO: 100 | 10mm |

I was working with 100 speed film so I know I needed to emit a lot of light from the light objects in question. So I stood a distance from the camera and started spinning this light around (it's a color-changing light). I spun about 20 times, walked a step forward, counted 20 spins, and repeated until I was very close to the lens. This is a good picture, but it's not my favorite-- the F-stop of 9.0 didn't produce as strong a depth of field as I would have liked, so you can see that the background is slightly hazy as is the snow in the foreground. At a tighter f-stop, those would have all been in crisp, clear, focus.

In this one, on the other hand:

| f/13.0 | exposure: 4m, 14s | ISO: 250 | 17mm |

I went with a higher film speed so I could use a tighter f-stop instead. I also had a much longer exposure and didn't use a spinning light object but instead one that I was moving slowly across the shot. It's a crisper and cleaner picture, using the same light source, but in a very different fashion.

It's amazing how many factors can affect the shots you get. The picture above has a lens flare in it, which I didn't expect at all. This picture...

...has a bunch of sparkles throughout. That's because it was snowing at the time and even though the snow didn't come out clear, it reflected light from the laser pen I used to make the shape below. That gave me the inspiration to do more work with that laser pen once it snows again. I may create mirror ball type effects using it, if I can pull them off. One more picture, then some thoughts, and then a few more to close out:

Here are a few things I've learned:

  1. every camera is different in terms of how it processes artificial light and what light frequencies expose best;

  2. furthermore, every camera works a little differently at different ISO levels as well;

  3. every lens is different. My 17-70mm lens creates a different look and feel than my 10-20mm, even if they're both set to 20mm;

  4. how fast or slow you move an object can make a major difference in how well exposed it is. If you move it very quickly, it may not show up in the shot at all. If you leave it still for too long, it may just appear to be a blob of light. Experiment and learn;

  5. Different frequencies of light create different effects and different light sources work differently;

  6. flashing lights create a dramatically different effect from continuous lights;

  7. the further away a light is from the camera, the less light reaches the camera;

  8. ambient light has a dramatic effect on the light you manipulate. Doing these pictures shortly after dusk leaves sunlight still visible in the sky. Doing them in an area with street lights produces a different effect than doing them in areas surrounded by darkness;

  9. nights with full moons are dramatically different from nights with new moons or cloudy nights;

  10. snow reflects almost all visible light and multiplies it. Same goes for any light-colored, reflective substance;

And remember: most of all, have fun.

A few quick notes: All these pictures were taken using a Pentax K10D camera, but the technique applies to many varieties of camera. They were all taken with Sigma lenses, either a 10-20mm or a 17-70mm.

And I will once again mention that clicking on the pictures brings you to larger versions with more details, as well as the ability to rate the photos, if you feel so inclined.

Friday, December 14

Friday Bird Blogging: Amazing Views of a Cooper's Hawk

Last week, a quick stop at the Brattleboro (VT) food co-op yielded an amazing result. This coper's hawk landed in a tree just outside the parking lot so I grabbed my camera.

Coopers Hawks are very similar to sharp-shinned hawks, but a little bigger. Size alone wasn't enough for me to be certain, but white patches on the bird's back left me without any doubt as to its ID. This is, by far, the best ever look I've had at Coopers.

As usual, clicking on the image gets you to a larger version and this link brings you thumbnails of all the pics I posted from that day.

Wednesday, December 12

Help Fight the War on Solstice!

As you all know, the secular-hedonism forces in the country are doing everything they can to attack the valuable cultural icon of the Solstice. To wit:

  • People are refraining from saying "joyful Solstice," replacing it with such heathen phrases as "happy holidays," "happy New Year," "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Chaunakah;"

  • Our traditional solstice symbols, such as the star and wreath, have been co-opted by the forces of Christmas;

  • Stores across the country have abandoned their stock of solstice-specific merchandise. You can find Dradles, mangers and other merchandise, but nowhere can you find solstice-specific items;

Want to help end this anti-Solstice scourge? We at the Department of Pagan Enthusiasm (DOPE) have prepared a short list of tasks you can incorporate into your everyday life. So if you're on board with our pro-solstice campaign and ready to fight the scourges of the anti-Solstice agenda. There's a lot you can do to help:

  1. organize letter writing campaigns: see a store that ignores our great and glorious Solstice? Write them a letter. Get your friends to do it, too. Use phrases like "merchants of the forces of hedonism" and "supporting the powers of darkness;"

  2. picket people who refuse to say "joyful solstice." Be sure not to just picket their places of business, but their homes as well. If they object, leave sheaths of wheat on their doorstep. They'll get the message and shape up in no time;

  3. see a tv program that doesn't sponsor any pro-Solstice activities? write them letters, too, but also focus on their advertisers. Ask the people who advertise on their show if they've ever had a bunch of angry pagans outside their offices. If that doesn't scare them, nothing will;

  4. sabotage events supporting other holidays that exclude the Solstice: get a job as a mall Santa and eat lots of cabbage and beans before your shift. If anyone asks, blame it on the elves;

  5. bumper sticker your car: there are some great bumper stickers available form our shop: "Remember the Solstice!" and "12-21: not just a palindrome" are two of our best sellers. But be sure to not stick to just bumper stickering your own vehicles. Be sure to bumper other peoples' cars as well. Best to do this late at night so they drive around with our message of hope and peace for hours before they find out;

  6. there is no number six;

  7. see a manger scene? Get a bunch of "it's a girl!" balloons and tie them to the hands of the wise men. Tie them to the crib as well and make sure to put a pink bow on the baby's head;

  8. fight the snowmen: snowmen have been transformed from their traditional pagan status so as to no longer have their connection to traditional pagan rituals and rites. They are no longer our allies and must now be seen as our enemies. When you encounter a snowman, you may fight it through a variety of means. Hair dryers are effective, but it's difficult to find an easy to use outlet near many, so we recommend carrying a carafe of hot coffee. Its effect is similar to that of "holy" water on vampires. (vampires are neutral in this fight, so please don't make your coffee with holy water. It will be perceived as a threat by them, and the last thing we need is for them to ally with Christians);

We hope this update on the War on Solstice has been helpful. With your help, we can defeat the forces of anti-paganism and bring society into conformity with our pantheistic tree-hugging dirt worship, which everyone knows, is the One True Religion. And remember, if anyone challenges you, you're doing this for their own good. Just tell them that and everything should be fine.

I will end this message from the front lines in the culture wars with a traditional pagan litany:

Never give up.

Never surrender.

Friday, December 7

Friday Bird Blogging: The Brown Thrasher

This picture:

Was not easy.

If I'd known at the time I took this picture what I know now, I might not have tried for it. It turns out that when you get to close to a thrasher nest, you can actually get attacked by the bird. Cornell has records of Thrashers actively attacking humans and even drawing blood.

In addition to their distinctive color and shape, thrashers can be noticed by their call-- a wide range of songs that tend to be repeated in pairs. Catbirds will go through songs one after the other, and Northern Mockingbirds tend to do repeats in 3+ iterations. Whenever you hear a bird in the US with exactly two repetitions of a large variety of songs, you're probably dealing with a brown thrasher.

Saturday, December 1

The Long View: the Prisoner Experiment and what it teaches us.

Crossposted to Daily Kos

Yesterday I wrote about Milgram's work and how diffusion of responsibility supports torture.

Today I'm continuing that theme, discussing how Zimbardo's Prisoner Experiment at Stanford shows us similar trends.

First, a summary of the prisoner experiment, for those of you unfamiliar with it.

If you're not interested in the YouTube version, Wikipedia has a great summary as well.

Here's the simple version:

When we set up bad structures, we end up with people who do bad things.

That's it. It's that simple. What Zimbardo mentions (more in this recent interview) is that, in his experiment, the "guards" boiled down to two kinds: "good "guards and "bad" guards. The "bad" guards are the ones who engaged in brutal behaviors against the "prisoners." The good "guards" are the ones who didn't.

But none of those "good" guards tried to stop it.

In the Stanford experiment, we weren't dealing with people who had a moral right to be guards. We weren't dealing with prisoners who had done anything wrong. Everyone was randomly assigned to a role. And yet, still, we had prisoners breaking down. We had guards deliberately demeaning and abusing prisoners.

Does this ring a bell?

Without proper leadership, people in authority tend towards chaos. Without proper controls and accountability, people in authority do damage.

Without a proper idea as to who the enemy is, soldiers don't know what to do.

So they behave badly.

And, like I mentioned yesterday, we don't want to acknowledge this:

I'm going to mention another concept that I've talked about before: cognitive dissonance -- the condition that exists when our behavior contradicts our beliefs. When dealing with cognitive dissonance we sometimes change our behavior, but we sometimes also change our beliefs.

We do not want to think of ourselves as a country which supports or promotes torture. It contradicts our beliefs. So when we see that we have, in fact, engaged in torture, we have some choices:

  1. we can change our beliefs to convince ourselves that we think torture is ok;

  2. we can say "this has to stop" and change our behavior;

  3. we can say "this has to stop" and then convince ourselves that we've changed our behavior without actually doing it;

  4. we can say "we oppose torture" and then reclassify everything we do as something that's not torture.

We're so focused on this idea of supporting our troops that we refuse to acknowledge the reality: by failing to hold them accountable and by refusing to hold them to a higher standard, we are doing them damage. We're so focused on choosing option #3 above-- pretending we're solving things without actually doing so-- that we're risking serious long-term damage.

A few weeks ago, in another post, I wrote about the problems facing our soldiers:

In the meantime, as IAVA reports, the professional component of this is far from adequate:

90% of military psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers reported no formal training or supervision in the recommended PTSD therapies, and there is a general shortage of trained mental health professionals in the military. The Pentagon screens returning troops for mental health problems via an ineffective system of paperwork. Studies have shown that many troops are not filling out their mental health forms, that there are serious disincentives for troops to fill the form out accurately, and that those whose forms indicate they need care do not consistently get referrals.

Both guards and prisoners in the Stanford experiment suffered mental damage as a result of it. And this was fake.

Imagine yourself placed in a situation where the rules are unclear and you don't know what you're supposed to do, but that your basic role is "guard." You don't know who the enemy is. Or you don't know what your prisoners have done. Or you don't know why you're there or what your mission is.

And you're there, in this prison, guarding people whom you don't understand, who don't understand you, and you're there guarding this scene where you're the "good" guard. You're not the one strapping someone to a table. You're not the one holding the suffocation hood. You're not the one doing the waterboarding.

But you're there. And you're supposed to be keeping everything in order. You're one of the 92% who won't intervene when someone in the room with you is killing someone. Because you're just following orders.

Imagine this insanity happening around you and you being part of it and yet also just a casual observer who had the power to intervene and prevent atrocities and failed to do so.

Now imagine that you think of yourself as a good person, but are connected with this.

Remember the concept of "cognitive dissonance" that I reference earlier?

What do you think this does to a person?

I'm horrified by what I see, but I get that pretending its not there is worse.

I want to support my country, but I can't do so in a way that ignores the truth.

I want to support the troops, but I can't do so without knowing who they are and what their limitations are.

I want what we're doing overseas to stop. It doesn't just do damage to other countries and other people. It does damage to us. It destroys the hearts of everyone involved: prisoner, guard, soldier, civilian.

It destroys the minds and it destroys the souls.

Friday, November 30

The Long View: How diffusion of responsibility supports torture

Crossposted to Daily Kos

Stanley Milgram began his research into obedience in the early 1960's. His original intent had been to demonstrate that "just following orders" wasn't a legitimate excuse for Nazis who committed atrocities during the holocaust.

It was his belief that only a select few people would engage in acts which could serious harm to others when ordered to do so. His belief was shared by the students he polled.

They were wrong.

Milgram's experiment was a simple one that involved three people:

  1. the Authority Figure/Experimenter (E);
  2. the Technician/Teacher (T);
  3. the Learner (L);

The experiment was set up as follows:

"E" would show up in a white coat and explain to two individuals that one of them would be playing the part of the teacher and one would be the learner and explain the rules. Then he would hand a slip of paper to each one. One would say "Teacher" and the other would say "Learner." The learner (L) would move to another another room and the teacher (T) would stay with the Experimenter.

Then they would get to work.

The Teacher would, through a microphone, read a question to the Learner. If the Learner got the question wrong, T would administer a shock. Each time the shock was administered, T would increase the voltage a little for the next time and L would scream in pain.

The dial went up to "450 volts." In many cases, this was marked as "DANGER" or "LETHAL."

The thing is, this experiment was a ruse. The "Learner" was part of the experiment, an actor along with the Authority figure. No one was shocked. No one was in pain. L wasn't being tested.

T was.

The idea of the experiment was to discover what our limitations are in terms of what we'd be willing to do to harm another, and how authority can influence those limitations. I'll get to the results soon, but first I have to explain something:

In social psychology, we talk about Diffusion of Responsibility, a problem that often occurs when people don't feel adequately responsible for the circumstances around them. Having an authority figure available to tell us what to do provides an immense amount of diffusion of responsibility.

In Milgram's experiment, E didn't use threats or cajole. If T didn't want to engage in the experiment, the experimenter would first say "please continue." If that failed, the next statement would be that "the experiment requires that you continue." If that didn't do the trick, E would say that "it is absolutely essential that you continue," and finally, "you have no other choice, you must go on."

If T still refused after those four statements, the experiment would end.

If the experiment didn't end through refusal, it would end after three "shocks" at the maximum level of 450.

There were no threats to E. There was no danger. No loss to refusal. It was merely those statements on the part of the experimenter.

It's easy for us to look at this and think, "I wouldn't ever go that far." It's easy for us to say "I'd never do that."

But the fact of the matter is, in Milgram's work and studies that have replicated it have shown a remarkable consistency: more than 60% of the sample has stuck with the study until the very end, even though they believed at the time that they might be doing serious harm to another human being.

So yes, I'd love to be able to say "I'd never do a thing like that." But I know enough about psychology and self-deception to understand fully well that I can't be certain how I'd behave if faced with such a dilemma. On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer and I honestly can't conceive of doing anything but walking out. But I don't know that I'm that much different from so many people who go along with the experimenter. I don't know that I'm better than they are and I don't know that I'm that strong a person.

I hope I am.

But I'm also fine with not knowing that I'm one of that 60+% who would buckle under the dread of the words "it is absolutely essential that you continue."


Now you know about Milgram's work. Some of you knew all this already. Some of you didn't.

But that's not the point of this piece.

The point is to talk about where we go from here.

In 1974, Milgram wrote an article for "Harpers," "The Perils of Obedience:"

The problem of obedience is not wholly psychological. The form and shape of society... have much to do with it. There was a time, perhaps, when people were able to give a fully human response to any situation because they were fully absorbed in it as human beings. But as soon as there was a division of labor things changed... The breaking up of society into people carrying out narrow and very special jobs takes away from the human quality of work and life. A person does not get to see the whole situation but only a small part of it, and is thus unable to act without some kind of overall direction. He yields to authority but in doing so is alienated from his own actions.

Even Eichmann was sickened when he toured the concentration camps, but he had only to sit at a desk and shuffle papers. At the same time the man in the camp who actually dropped Cyclon-b into the gas chambers was able to justify his behavior on the ground that he was only following orders from above. Thus there is a fragmentation of the total human act; no one is confronted with the consequences of his decision to carry out the evil act. The person who assumes responsibility has evaporated. Perhaps this is the most common characteristic of socially organized evil in modern society.

Let me tell you a story. A woman I know has a son who, in September of 2001, was in his early teens. He was at home with his father, when the first tower fell. They were watching TV at the time, glued to the set.

When the tower fell, his first comment was "cool!"

There was an awkward pause and at first he didn't understand what he'd just said.

Then there was a moment of realization on his part. He looked at his father, confused, and said "wait-- that was real, wasn't it?"

This kid-- a perfectly ordinary kid in so many ways-- no delusions, no dissociative disorders, no disconnect from reality-- said "cool" when one of the towers fell. He said this not because he was mean, or cruel or inhuman.

He said it because it happened on television. And when big, dramatic, things happen on television, they happen because of effects, because of writers, because of cameras and tricks and angles and stunt performers.

I'm going to break from this for a moment, because something big is going on:

As I write this diary, there's a hostage situation over at one of the Clinton campaign offices in New Hampshire. I don't know much more than that. No one seems to know much more at the moment. I wonder how many people watching it are feeling separated from it, and how many are taking it like it's something real and profound. Judging from a quick scan of (I will not link there), there are definitely people who seem to take it as though it's a game, and something worthy of jokes. I don't mean the sort of jokes that people make when nervous or disturbed. I mean the sort of jokes that people make when they are, in fact, completely separated from humanity.

I don't know what to say about this. I sometimes forget how bad the comments over there can be sometimes, and I shouldn't be bothered by them, but I just find it disturbing. I think we need to find a way to bring these people to light without allowing ourselves to be sucked into their twisted world. I have yet to figure out a way of doing that.

Obviously, I'm not going to be posting this diary at the time I expected to. There's no point at all in posting something like this until the current crisis is resolved, so by the time you're reading all this, we'll all know a lot more about what's going on here.

So, anyway: more from Milgram's article:

I will cite one final variation of the experiment that depicts a dilemma that is more common in everyday life. The subject was not ordered to pull the lever that shocked the victim, but merely to perform a subsidiary task... while another person administered the shock. In this situation, thirty-seven of forty adults continued to the highest level of the shock generator. Predictably, they excused their behavior by saying that the responsibility belonged to the man who actually pulled the switch. This may illustrate a dangerously typical arrangement in a complex society: it is easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of actions.

I'm going to mention another concept that I've talked about before: cognitive dissonance -- the condition that exists when our behavior contradicts our beliefs. When dealing with cognitive dissonance we sometimes change our behavior, but we sometimes also change our beliefs.

We do not want to think of ourselves as a country which supports or promotes torture. It contradicts our beliefs. So when we see that we have, in fact, engaged in torture, we have some choices:

  1. we can change our beliefs to convince ourselves that we think torture is ok;

  2. we can say "this has to stop" and change our behavior;

  3. we can say "this has to stop" and then convince ourselves that we've changed our behavior without actually doing it;

  4. we can say "we oppose torture" and then reclassify everything we do as something that's not torture.

It's not a difficult argument to make that we, as a nation, have adopted a combination of #s 3 & 4. We've not only moved our debate to treat torture as though it is worth a discussion over whether or not it's an acceptable approach, not through an open discussion but through a redefining of torture into something that ignores the reality behind it.

This denial of the reality behind it is so severe that someone who's experienced torture actually got lectured by, of all people, Mitt Romney on how he defines torture.

Here's the reality as I see it:

  1. we, as a matter of policy, torture people;

  2. we, as a matter of sense of self-integrity, don't want to acknowledge that we torture people;

  3. despite all this, some of us openly acknowledge that we torture.

We need a wave of action about this, pushing our media to reflect a truthful and accurate narrative about this. Therefore, every time we see a "news" article which:

  1. uses the word "waterboarding" but not the word "torture;"

  2. describes the act of "waterboarding" as "similuated" drowning;

  3. references without critique the claim that "we do not torture;"

  4. references torture on the part of lower-level military personnel without mentioning any higher ups;

  5. makes any reference to "torture" without acknowledging any history of torture on the part of the US...

we need to write letters. We need to bombard these papers with letters reminding them of the truth. We need to not let them get away with rewriting the narrative to dismiss torture. We need to eliminate diffusion of responsibility by forcing us front and center into the reality of what's gone on.

Research on obedience has shown that we comply easily when we feel removed from the situation. We ignore the reality of things we can not easily control, assuming that someone else will take responsibility. We find it easier to push a button that will kill someone five miles away than to pull a trigger that will kill someone who will look into our eyes. We find it easier to ignore an act of atrocity and pretend it is not our problem than to take responsibility for it.

Torture can only be supported through obfuscation and lies. We will not stop this until every one of us choose to actively challenge these lies and until we push ourselves to not just bemoan the use of torture but fight it, every of the way. Fight it when someone claims we need it to get information. Fight it when someone pretends it isn't real. Fight it when someone refuses to acknowledge it. Fight it when someone obscures its meaning.





Friday Bird Blogging: The Common Redpoll

Redpolls are small finches (about 5-6" long) with a bright red patch on the front of his head. Males are marked by a distinct black goatee-type beard, giving them the look of a beatnick who likes to paint using his forehead.

I'd been hearing about irruptions of them all over the region so I'd been on the lookout: checking out birch trees (which they love) and any other spot which might hold unusual finches. I was surprised, Wednesday afternoon, to see one just hanging out on our tray feeder, but not so surprised as to miss the shots. This common redpoll marks another life bird for me.

Wednesday, November 28

iBrattleboro sued for libel by moron

Based on something said in their COMMENTS section.

More from J.D. Ryan.

I don't care if she sues me or not for this, so I'll just say it: the woman suing them is a moron.

Anti Gay Mass Resistance Shows its True Colors

Hat tip to Pam's House Blend for this.

The anti-gay group, MassResistance, is clearly off its rails. It hasn't been updating its web site for awhile, and one of the last posts they made involved a great deal of personal detail about the daughter of one of the of the group's members. This includes some specifics about the kid's special needs history. It's beyond horrible:

ACTON, MASSACHUSETTS (NOV. 7, 2007) Homosexual activists - possibly in cooperation with school staff -- have viciously targeted a 17-year-old special-needs student, the daughter of Amy Contrada, a MassResistance staffer. (It's outrageous that a parent is now forced to reveal once-private information in order to stop this assault.)

I love that. They fully admit that they're revealing "private information" but pretending that they've been "forced" to do so.
Their statement continues:

Claudia Contrada was born in Korea and was adopted by Amy and her husband as an infant. Claudia's special needs include psychological/emotional issues and learning disabilities. Amy and her husband had Claudia enrolled in private parochial schools until her special needs exceeded those schools' abilities to deal with them. Thus, in seventh grade, they had no choice but to enroll Claudia in the Acton-Boxborough public school system.

But Claudia is talented in singing and especially acting. She has a beautiful voice and a fantastic memory for lines and lyrics. She has won awards for her acting. Her therapists said that Claudia's participation in the school's drama program is directly related to treatment of her special needs.

While the group is welcome to have whatever opinions it wants about the school, the events involved, etc., it's unconscionable to air the kid's personal details in public like this. By engaging in this sort of behavior, MassResistance verifies what many of us have known all along-- they're not trying to defend anyone from anything. They're a group of hateful, bigoted people, who don't understand the difference between political activism and personal destruction.

There's a lot more here in the link I provided which suggests not just invasion of privacy, but desperation and fear on the part of MassResistance. The daughter in question came out of the closet during the whole event outlined and they, of course, blame activists for this and treat anyone who's come in contact with the daughter as a group of predators.

This isn't just awful. It's sad and pathetic.

Saturday, November 24

"I Saw The Best Minds of My Generation Destroyed by Madness..."

I first encountered Ginsberg's work in high school, when someone read "Howl" at an open mic and got heckled by the audience.

I think of this poem often.

I think about it every time I hear about a soldier's suicide.

I think about it every time I hear about a child's murder.

I think about it every time I see someone lose hope.

I am not a sentimental person. I do not believe that all of humanity is good, if given a chance, and I do not believe that Everything. Is. Going. To. Be. Fine. But I believe in hope and I believe in grace, wisdom, and courage.

This feels like a type of heresy-- splitting out any one excerpt from this poem, but I can't post the whole thing here, and so much of it is relevant: recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head, the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death...

So there is something about this poem that drives me deep and I don't think I can articulate it well. Reading it is like listening to 5,000-year old music rendered through gravel, blades of grass and mummified bones, accompanied by tenor sax. Trying to talk about it is like trying to get a 5-year-old to explain Stravinski's "Firebird," by playing it on a xylophone.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

When Ginsberg wrote that, he wasn't referring to elites, or the most brilliant. He was referring to outcasts, diamonds in the rough, the disaffected, the homeless and the drug addicts. He was referring to those of us whom mainstream society would prefer to forget. He was speaking openly about hallucinations, about his own history, about encounters (especially with Carl Solomon, whom he met during a stay in a mental institution) with friends and lovers.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Doctors Scramble to Handle War Veterans' Brain Injuries:

Medical experts are witnessing an increase in the number of brain injuries sustained by soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, prompting Veterans Affairs hospitals to set up special centers to handle the severe cases.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

The madness I'm talking about today: part of it is suicide and brain damage. But more of it is the madness of war, the madness in which soldiers are in a war that soliders neither understand nor respect:

...nearly one-fifth of the soldiers surveyed said they felt the situation in Iraq had not been worth going to war over. In another poll... 54 percent of households with a member in the military said the war was the "wrong thing to do"; in the population as a whole, only 48 percent felt that way. Doubts about the war have contributed to the decline of troop morale over the past year—and may, some experts say, be a factor in the 40 percent increase in Army suicide rates in Iraq in the past year. "That’s the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield—a reason to be there," says Paul Rieckhoff. "...When you can't articulate that in one sentence, it starts to affect morale. You had an initial rationale for war that was a moving target. [But] it was a shell game from the beginning, and you can only bullshit people for so long."

More from Howl:

...with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al-
cohol and cock and endless balls,
incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and
lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of
Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
tionless world of Time between...

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness."

Someone tell me again what we're fighting for?

Wednesday, November 21

Friday Thanksgiving Bird Blogging: Cattle Egret at Parker River

While you might have expected me to go for some form of turkey (wild turkey, turkey vulture, turkey in the straw), I decided instead to go for my most recent awesome sighting.

Cattle Egrets are common birds in the Southeast, but in the Northeast they're an unusual (though they do show up during migration season) sighting. This one in particular was not only visible, but actively feeding very close to the parking area at Parker River Wildlife refuge's North Pool overlook.

The best part of taking pictures of this Cattle Egret was how it apparently decided that I didn't have enough good shots of it, so it flew directly across the parking lot so as to land on a fence three feet from my car and then let me move around to photograph it a bunch more from a better position and angle.

I swear: People who want their pictures taken are not as cooperative as this bird was.

Saturday, November 17

More Light Drawings

As usual, clicking on the images brings you to the full-sized versions:

How Can I Keep From Singing?

I originally posted this on Daily Kos. It got lots of great feedback and comments, so I figured I'd post it here as well

On August 18th, 1950, Pete Seeger was called to testify before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. But first, just because it's amazing, here's Pete Seeger on the Smothers Brothers show from 40 years ago.

The relevance?

First, a sidenote: I do not sing, because I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses. But I'm an evil genius with the guitar and stick to the things I know. But the title of this diary is still appropriate because Seeger never gave up on his music or his activism.

Seeger's been a protester and an activist for his entire life, and that activism got him blacklisted in 1950's. When he was called before the House Unamerican Activities Committee, he gave them quite a run, being serious, while still being funny, and refusing to ever give them a thing they wanted, without ever being anything but civil and polite.

Bear with me. This quote is a bit long, but the original testimony is a bit longer:

MR. TAVENNER: You said that you would tell us about the songs. Did you participate in a program at Wingdale Lodge in the State of New York, which is a summer camp for adults and children, on the weekend of July Fourth of this year?

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: Again, I say I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business.

MR. TAVENNER: I am going to ask you.

MR. SEEGER: But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you sing this song, to which we have referred, "Now Is the Time," at Wingdale Lodge on the weekend of July Fourth?

MR. SEEGER: I don't know any song by that name, and I know a song with a similar name. It is called "Wasn't That a Time." Is that the song?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you sing that song?

MR. SEEGER: I can sing it. I don't know how well I can do it without my banjo.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I said, Did you sing it on that occasion?

MR. SEEGER: I have sung that song. I am not going to go into where I have sung it. I have sung it many places.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you sing it on this particular occasion? That is what you are being asked.

MR. SEEGER: Again my answer is the same.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You said that you would tell us about it.

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you about the songs, but I am not going to tell you or try to explain-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer the question. Did you sing this particular song on the Fourth of July at Wingdale Lodge in New York?

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer to that question, and all questions such as that. I feel that is improper: to ask about my associations and opinions. I have said that I would be voluntarily glad to tell you any song, or what I have done in my life.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I think it is my duty to inform you that we don't accept this answer and the others, and I give you an opportunity now to answer these questions, particularly the last one.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, my answer is always the same.

MR. SEEGER: I shall he glad to answer about the song, sir, and I am not interested in carrying on the line of questioning about where I have sung any songs.

MR. TAVENNER: I ask a direction.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You may not he interested, but we are, however. I direct you to answer. You can answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question.

MR. TAVENNER: Have you finished your answer?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I desire to offer the document in evidence and ask that it be marked "Seeger exhibit No.4," for identification only, and to be made a part of the Committee files.

MR. SEEGER: I am sorry you are not interested in the song. It is a good song.

MR. TAVENNER: Were you present in the hearing room while the former witnesses testified?

MR. SEEGER: I have been here all morning, yes, sir.

MR. TAVENNER: I assume then that you heard me read the testimony of Mr. [Elia] Kazan about the purpose of the Communist Party in having its actors entertain for the henefit of Communist fronts and the Communist Party. Did you hear that testimony?

MR. SEEGER: Yes, I have heard all of the testimony today.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you hear Mr. George Hall's testimony yesterday in which he stated that, as an actor, the special contribution that he was expected to make to the Communist Party was to use his talents by entertaining at Communist Party functions? Did you hear that testimony?

MR. SEEGER: I didn't hear it, no.

MR. TAVENNER: It is a fact that he so testified. I want to know whether or not you were engaged in a similar type of service to the Communist Party in entertaining at these features.

(Witness consulted with counsel.)

MR. SEEGER: I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

Think for a minute about this: here's a man with everything to lose. A working musician who knew who and what he was facing and just decided he was going to do exactly what the right thing was. What's more, he did it with humor, with passion, with grace and with dignity.

Can you imagine going before Congress and offering to sing for them when they ask you about a song, and when they question your patriotism, telling them you're sorry they're not interested in the song?

And he suffered consequences for this::

Seeger, Arthur Miller, and six others were indicted for contempt of Congress by an overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives. In 1961 he was found guilty of contempt and on April 2 he was sentenced to ten years in prison. The following year his ordeal ended when the case was dismissed on a technicality.

The video clip above is from Seeger, years after these events. Blacklisting, contempt charges, threats, intimidation, and yet still...

I saw Pete Seeger at Clearwater a few years ago. A tall, skinny, grizzled old man without the voice he used to have and without the banjo chops or the vocal resonance he once had, but still present, powerful and magnificent.

Seeger is pushing 90, but his voice, his power, his resonance make a difference today.

Even something as simple as coming onto a prime time TV show and singing about war and being accurate about war and what people are like during it, paying attention to history-- I don't think we see much of that any longer and it's something that saddens me-- it's not just that Seeger's anti-war: he's anti war, and incredibly articulate about it.

And Seeger's refusal to bow to HUAC-- this is relevant, because he was willing to stand up to them and take the challenge directly to them. He refused to plead the fifth in front of HUAC. He instead pled the 1st: freedom of speech and freedom of association. This was a much bigger challenge to the committee than simply refusing to self-incriminate. As Jim Musselman put it:

...Everyone else had said the Fifth Amendment, the right against self-incrimination, and then they were dismissed. What Pete did, and what some other very powerful people who had the guts and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the committee and say, "I'm gonna invoke the First Amendment, the right of freedom of association...." "

"...The case of Seeger v. United States... changed my life, because I saw the courage of what he had done and what some other people had done by invoking the First Amendment, saying, "We're all Americans. We can associate with whoever we want to, and it doesn't matter who we associate with." That's what the founding fathers set up democracy to be. So I just really feel it's an important part of history that people need to remember."

What we do today can cause ripples into the future. The rights we stand up for today can influence the next generations, and the cowardice we show today will affect our children and our grandchildren.

What Seeger showed us was that any one of us can challenge the power of the system around us. Any one of us can stand up and say "we have the right to be who we are, speak to the issues that are relevant to us and the government has no business intervening in any peaceful act."

Seeger may not be with us a lot longer (like I said, he's 88), but he'll be a part of my life long after he's gone.

UPDATE, from the comments, a great stanza from "Wasn't That a Time:"

The wars are long, the peace is frail, the madmen come again.
There is no freedom in a land where fear and hate prevail.

Thursday, November 15

Friday Bird Blogging: Evening Grosbeaks

I haven't been doing as much birding in the last couple weeks, as I've been focused on other projects, but I was thrilled to spot a pair of evening grosbeaks in one of our yard trees the other day.

I've posted about Evening Grosbeaks before, but with new pictures, I feel the need to occasionally revisit old birds. Cornell's doesn't have any particularly new information about the bird, so I'm just going to rely on saying "oh. What a pretty picture!"

Wednesday, November 14

More Drawings With Light

These were done off my front porch. In that last one, in the background, a car drove by as I was in the middle of the shot, creating an interesting effect.

Of course, from the driver's point of view, they just saw this little light wand being waved around in my front yard.

My neighbors probably think I'm nuts.

As usual, clicking on the images brings you to a larger photo.

Friday, November 9

Friday Bird Blogging: Pileated Woodpecker

This bird has been hanging around our yard as of late. I've only spotted it a couple times and every look has been exhilarating. It's the largest woodpecker in the Northeast, about the size of a crow, and right after I took this picture it flew off, about 15' directly over my head.

Yesterday I got home, with my camera still inside the house, and it landed on a tree right on the edge of the yard. It started its call (which I can't even begin to describe), flew off and then came back a minute or so later. We've had these birds around for some time now, but it's only recently that I've had any good looks at them.

As usual, clicking on the image brings you to a photo twice its size.

Monday, November 5

Poverty: What Now?




Let me start by saying that, for a lot of people, it's going to get worse.

I don't mean it's going to get worse before it gets better.

I don't mean it's going to get worse unless we elect a Democratic president.

I mean it's going to get worse.

I'm not making a prediction here.

I'm just going with the odds.

What does this mean?

It's simple.

On Tuesday night, I attended one of the many forums Vermont is holding around the state on childhood poverty. There was a panel represented by a range of people, some of whom help distribute resources and some of whom are recipients of public assistance. Doug Racine (whom, incidentally, I think should run for governor again, but I'll talk about that in a whole other post) led the forum, discussing its goals as to reduce childhood poverty by 50% in Vermont over the next ten years.

And you know, I think we can do this. When we put our minds to creative solutions, we can find ways to transform our world. We can harness the power of children playing to run water pumps. We're very clever this way, and we're capable of introducing great change. And if we have the will, we can do it.

But in the meantime, many of us are struggling. Gas prices are going up. Medicine is getting more expensive. Food is becoming more expensive and use of ethanol may make it worse. The Water situation is not good.

And, really, most people do get by and manage, through various means, to tread water, for a good chunk of their lives. But for each and every one of those people, it only takes one significant event to kick them hard in the gut and force them into the ream of requiring public support or some other form of assistance.

And really, even that's a misnomer. We all receive public assistance. Do you use public roads without paying a toll? Congratulations. You're on public assistance. Are you using the internet right now? (hint: the answer is "yes"). You're receiving a public benefit. Yes. Even if you're paying for internet access, you're still receiving a subsidized benefit. Do you buy food with the hopes that it will be safe? That's because there are public officials who, in theory, regulate the production, storage and distribution of food. That way, we don't have to have a major salmonella breakout in order to find out that a company is using poor food practices.

These are public benefits for the public good. When someone tells you that it's wrong to take public benefits or that they've never had to receive any help from anyone and have made it all on their own, you know they're either lying or completely self-deceptive. We all receive public benefits.

From a financial standpoint, I'm doing reasonably well. I have a savings account with a decent buffer and I have the resources to pay my rent for four months in advance at a time. So I know that even if I were to lose a major client, I'd be fine for the immediate future and I have the skills and creativity that I could probably find work again long before my money were to run out.

One of the things I've learned in the last few years is that going from near poverty to a really nice income changes your perspective and changes your ability to allocate resources. When it came to buying a new washing machine, I chose the best one I could find: it was more energy efficient and would last longer. While other people end up getting washers which are more expensive in the long run, I can afford to buy one that's more expensive up front but much cheaper over the next ten years. Similarly, I could afford to buy a hybrid vehicle, meaning that while a lot of people I know are getting 25-35 mpg, I'm getting 45-55, making my fuel costs dramatically lower.

These options aren't available to people without as many resources.

The way my insurance works, there's an up front deductible. I have to pay $1500 out of pocket before the insurance starts paying for everything and, when it comes to medicine, I still have to pay up front and then I get reimbursements down the line. One of the medicines I'm required to take in order to prevent my diabetes from causing me long-term damage costs over $200/month. I can afford that, especially knowing that I'll get that money back. When I accidentally lost a supply of medicine once (left it on top of my car and drove off. Clever), it cost me $250 to replace it, and that was out of pocket.

When my car got broken into and much of my camera equipment was stolen, it ended up costing me over $1500 to replace, and insurance only reimbursed $500 of that. The cost of repairing the broken window was below the deductible, so that came entirely out of my pocket.

So I'm out these chunks of money and they're not painless, but they're not debilitating either.

But I think about this, and how these events would have affected me when I was making less than $20k/year. And really, the only reason I've got the work I have now is because I lucked into it. I got hired for a short-term contract, which led to a long term contract, which led to other contracts. One minor change in luck and this never would have happened. I'd still be living near the poverty level and I'd be in that situation where I made too much money to receive health benefits but too little money to afford my own health care. I'd be going on lower doses of medications in order to make them last longer, significantly affecting my long-term health and I'd have less control over my eating habits, opting for crap instead of good wholesome food, affecting my health once again and significantly impacting my quality of life.

This is the every day scenario for people in poverty. You need a medication or you need food so you make your choices. You need a car, so you find the clunker which constantly needs work and gets crappy mileage but it's what you can afford, so you just never have the time to build up savings and every little thing that happens makes things worse.

If you add a child into the equation, it gets worse, just in terms of simple allocation of resources.

Now imagine that you're not in poverty and that you have some means at your disposal, but you're keeping afloat. But you have to make choices. Get the better health insurance or live in the better neighborhood. Get the lower deductible for your car insurance or get the better school for your kids.

And you make choices the best you can, but then something happens. It could be anything. You're laid off. Your kid has diabetes. Your or your spouse gets into an accident and needs four months of physical therapy. Your house gets broken into. Some of what you lose can be recovered but not all.

So you have to make more complicated choices and things get tighter.

And then gas prices go up and you have to decide between the really good job that pays better and comes with great benefits but costs you an extra $50/month for the commute or the crappy job that's near where you live that doesn't pay as well and doesn't come benefits that are really as nice.

Or you've got a great job with great benefits and the company just decides that those benefits are too expensive.

And things get tighter.


Sometimes we luck out. Sometimes, in the midsts of all these difficult things, something gets better. We luck into a new job. We buy a lottery ticket and win $5k. We inherit something from a wealthy relative we'd forgotten we had.

But, mostly, it just gets tighter.

And then, when we do need care, we go to the emergency room, because our insurance won't provide for pre-screening.

And that's more expensive.

For everybody.

So things get tighter.

For everybody.

And then there's a drought in Georgia. And Florida and Georgia fight over how to handle it because now they're competing for precious resources.

And things get tighter.

For everybody.

So we've got this situation, with multiple levels of poverty causing multiple problems for people across the board. We've got this squeezing out the poor and the middle class and, whether they understand it or not, it will eventually squeeze out all but the richest of us. Those that have means which are so significant as to be almost untouchable will probably be generally fine, but even then won't have a food supply which is necessarily safe.

In the meantime, there are steps we can take that might not necessarily solve the problem but can, at the very least, help:

  • Universal health care. Until we're willing to see to it that everyone is fully covered (regardless of citizenship or legal status), we risk immense problems. Early screening and careful monitoring of health trends makes us safer as a country and as individuals.

  • Loans and grants for community resource projects. Providing resources to communities to build recycling centers, health clinics, composting systems and public transportation reduces strain on individual families and communities.

  • Creative energy systems. Imagine what we could do if we used the motion of people walking on subway platforms to help power the subways themselves. Imagine what we could do if we made a serious effort to invest in projects that find ways to take existing resources and make better use of them.

  • Invest heavily in early education. Research shows, time and time again, that early education is of immense benefit, not just to children, but to society as a whole.

  • Get Over It. People often seek public assistance when they don't want to. They receive social stigma for it. They're treated like dirt for doing so. We need to start respecting that people who receive public assistance don't want to be on public assistance and would avoid it if they could and just get them the help they need instead of constantly treating them like there's something wrong with them that could be solved if they simply worked harder.

What are your ideas for what we can do to improve upon things? How can we change our government, our people, our planet, to encourage true change that releases us from poverty? Where do we go from here?

Friday, November 2

Friday Bird Blogging: Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows can be easily mistaken for song sparrows, save for a distinctive yellow "eyebrow." They're prevalent throughout North America in large numbers but I very rarely see them as feeder birds; all my sights of them have been in migratory tracts such Dead Creek, Parker River and Herrick's Cove. They're gorgeous birds, with a great deal of variety between them. I'd never, for example, seen one as dark as the one shown here before.

Cornell reports that there are seventeen different subspecies of the Savannah, some of which are much heavier and paler than other varieties. This can lead to confusion in the field, but generally speaking, if you see a bird which bears close resemblance to a song sparrow but has a clear yellow eyebrow, you're probably dealing with the Savannah. White-throated sparrows often also have a yellow eyebrow, but the white throat is prominent and clear and seaside sparrows have a lot more greyish hues in the head.

Tuesday, October 30

Why same-sex marriage has to be the next step in Vermont

The quoted sections below are all from the Burlington Free Press or the Rutland Herald, reporting on the same-sex marriage commission's hearing last night

Let's start with the Free Press:

"A marriage license would deliver no more rights than a civil union license," Greg Johnson told the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection. That marriage license wouldn't unlock the 1,096 benefits that the federal government offers only to married men and women, he said. It's also unlikely it would open doors in states other than the eight where Vermont civil unions currently receive some recognition.

I've heard this argument before. This argument is the same as the argument which pretends that global warming doesn't exist. Don't bother trying to reduce carbon emissions! It won't help enough anyway. Why even bother? But really, this is about more than just what's happening today. It's about what's right, what's relevant and what's worth doing.

Here's Johnson again, as reported in the Herald:

Meanwhile, some states have taken upon themselves to either recognize or reject civil unions or same-sex marriage, Johnson said. Right now, eight states recognize Vermont's civil unions as a marriage equivalent, he said, but more than 40 states have passed laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

This is a little misleading. While 40 states have laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman, Vermont is one of those states and not all those states have received constitutional challenges. It's not clear from this extreme simplification of a complicated issue where the truth of the matter lies.

What's more relevant, however, is even simpler. Having a two-tiered system in Vermont is wrong. Even if it produces no specific tangible benefits anywhere else in the country (it does, but I'll get to that in a bit), it's still right to lead on this. Vermont was the first to move towards Civil Unions. Vermont should be the first to take the step of being the first state in the union to move towards full marriage recognition without a court requirement.

Why should we do this?

Because we're ready for it and it's clear and obvious that there's a need for it.

Let's put it in simple terms. The Hearld reports on a comment by Peter Teachout from last night's hearing:

But there are intangible differences between civil unions and traditional marriage, such as that marriage is more widely recognized as a union in the common culture, according to Teachout. The Vermont court did not address that in its 1999 ruling that led to civil unions, but same-sex couples do speak of feeling separate or unequal from heterosexual couples due to the distinction, he explained.

In Vermont, some legislators who supported civil unions lost their seats after that historic move. Two years later, Republicans lost their short-lived majority. Today, Republicans hold a fairly small minority in the legislature, with Democrats and Progressives holding a fairly impressive dominance. The political damage of civil unions was small and short-lived. Howard Dean, who signed the bill into law, was re-elected with a clear (though close) victory, exceeding the 50% necessary to avoid the election being moved to the legislator, against some blistering attacks from both the right (anti-civil-union Republican Ruth Dwyer) and the left (Progressive Party stalwart Anthony Pollina).

In Massachussetts, when the state legislature refused to take active steps to block court-mandated same-sex marriage, none of them, no one who came out directly in favor of same-sex marriage lost their seat.

I mention these two facts for very relevant reasons. The Free Press references Vermont Law School professor Michael Mello's statement at the hearing:

"If the Vermont Legislature adopted gay marriage, the rest of the country and world would pay attention," Mello said. Unlike in 2000, when the Legislature was under pressure from a court decision, a change now would signal something significant.

Civil unions changed the nature of our political dialogue. While they were once vehemently opposed by the right, when same-sex marriage was debated in Massachusetts they become the more conservative alternative to marriage. They became the fall-back right-wing position.

Vermont led, in a baby steps, the pathway to full equality. Now it's time for Vermont to grow up and take responsibility for its earlier vote and replace it with full marriage equality.

Will it work in other states? Only a few, for the moment. This will change, over time. But, in the meantime, take this scenario: a same-sex couple is traveling with their kid in Wisconsin and there's a car accident. The one member not incapacitated by the accident is the one who's not biologically related to the child. So when the nurse asks if you're a family member, what answer do you think will make the most sense? That nurse may not be legally obligated to let the conscious family member make decisions, but it's a lot more likely that the nurse will recognize the relationship if the response is "we're married" than if it's "we have a civil union."

This is real. It is tangible and it goes way beyond symbolic gestures.

Monday, October 29

Julie Waters e-notes: Mon, October 29, 2007

This is going to contain a little fun stuff, but there's some heavy stuff in it to, so be warned.

I'll start with the heavy to get it out of the way.

Here's a post I wrote on Daily Kos the other day, suggesting that we might be a bit closer to fascism than most of us are willing to acknowledge:

Read my thoughts on fascism here

I don't know if I'm right or not, but I sadly suspect I am.

Here's something I wrote the next day, which was a bit more optimistic, about Rosa Parks, how she really lived, and how she was a lot more of an activist than people often give her credit for:

Read my thoughts on Rosa Parks here

I know a lot of people try to keep their politics separate from their lives, etc. I don't see it that way. Politics affect me in a very direct and clear fashion. The politics of hate have, at times, done me tangible harm. The politics of ignorance equally so. What I'm trying to sort out how to talk to people more directly about politics without turning them off or pushing them to tune out. I'm not sure how to do this yet, but I'm working on it.

Okay, so... that's the heavy stuff. Here's the fun stuff:

First, I'll be performing live on WOOL tomorrow (Tuesday) night. You'll be able to listen live from 8:00 - 8:40 pm a WOOL.FM.

Second, I got some amazing pictures of an unusual visitor to the East coast-- a Rufous Hummingbird. You can see them at this link

The third is about photography as well, but it takes a little explanation. There's an artist named Eric Staller that I first discovered when I was a kid. I recently rediscovered his work, and you can see what I wrote about him on my blog.

I've been thinking a lot about light sculptures and the work he did and I think I have some ideas for experiments of my own. I do night photography which involves long exposure work. You can the best of it here.

Everything I do with night photography is based on what happens in the course of things; I don't use models and ask them to do specific things in order to photograph them the way I want the image to come out. Similarly, I don't deliberately introduce patterns or shapes into my night photography. I just get things as they come. Stars, traffic, fire, fireworks, etc... I'm quite -good- at this. I can see the patterns of how things are moving and plan some very nice shots to capture the light well, and I've got great equipment for doing it, but I want to try something different.

But I've been thinking: what if I tried doing what Staller did but in a different way? What if I deliberately made specific patterns in light that the camera could capture? Staller called these light sculptures. But I'm thinking: what if instead of doing what he did, I got large groups of people involved, having them do coordinated movements across the screen using hand-held light sources of various types and colors, creating patterns in the air that are like Brownian motion? What if I get groups of people, all dressed in black, creating waves of light across the streets in downtown Brattleboro, Putney or Bellows Falls and capture them with my camera?

But all these questions come to mind. Will people be interested? Will I get a sufficient number of participants to make for an interesting project? Will people be willing to come out to do this on a cold November night? How do I publicize this sort of thing and what do I say? "Participate in an avant-garde photography project! Create sculptures out of light! Meet outside Bellows Falls movie theater at 9pm!"

Other projects come to mind:. Can I find a sculpture and photograph it at night by repeatedly moving a laser light pen across it, creating an image not of the sculpture, but of the lines of light that move across the thing, creating a lattice of 3-d patterning that does the opposite of Plato: not reflecting the truth in shadow, as he claimed we all did, but reflecting the reality in light?

Can I find someone who juggles fire and photograph the patterns and arcs of light as flames dance through the air?

Can I find a way to get above a group of people as they carry lights around in an infinity pattern, creating a floating infinity above the pavement?

Thoughts? Ideas?

More info:

Julie's photography:
Upcoming events for Julie Waters
Tuesday, October 30th Halloween Howl at; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, November 11th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, December 9th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Sunday, January 13th 2nd Sundays Song Circle (tentative) at RAMP Gallery; Bellows Falls, VT

Monday Puzzle Blogging

The shape shown is a collection of right triangles which share the same angular properties, though their sizes are different. If the side labeled "K" is exactly 12 centimeters long, what is the area of the entire shape?

Saturday, October 27

If you can't see the photos...

...I'm working on resolving that, but I don't have a fix yet. There's a problem with the name server for all my web sites and I think it's an easy fix, but I can't fix it myself. Hopefully, this will be resolved soon.

Friday, October 26

Friday Bird Blogging: Rare Rufous Hummingbird Sighting

It's fairly uncommon to see a rufous hummingbird on the east coast, though they are known to stop over at feeders on occasion. This one, apparently, had been stopping at a woman's feeders for two weeks. She agreed to let someone post directions to her house on the New Hampshire bird group. We took a visit out on the first day we had available and it was only a few minutes before it showed itself. We sat on this very nice woman's deck for half an hour or so, taking pictures and watching the bird as it came by multiple times. Not bad for a first ever sighting.

A couple interesting facts about the rufous hummingbird, per Cornell:
  1. the Rufous Hummingbird makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world, as measured by body size. Its 3,900 mi (6,276 km) movement from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 784,500 body lengths. In comparison, the 11,185 mi (18,000 km) flight of the Arctic Tern is only 514,286 body lengths.

  2. The Rufous Hummingbird has an excellent memory for location, no doubt assisting it to find flowers from day to day, or even from year to year. Some birds have been seen returning from migration and investigating where a feeder was the previous year, even though the feeder was currently absent.
All five of my rufous photos can be seen here