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.