Going To the Movies

popcorn-boxMy earliest memories of going to the movies are of total chaos.  Imagine a large, old-fashioned movie theater on the main drag of my hometown during a Saturday matinee for grade schoolers.  The theater is packed.  There is a cartoon, an episode of a cliffhanger serial like Buck Rogers (to be continued the next week), then the main feature, often a black-and-white western.  The kids are not quiet.  When they finish their popcorn, they fold the box flat and sail it out over the crowded theater.  Soon the air is filled with gliding popcorn boxes.  The noise and chaos didn’t bother me at all.  Oh, but it was fun!

Yesterday I started watching the Stars Wars movie that is first in the series in chronological order.  I star-wars-textwas surprised how poor it was, dependent heavily on special effects and quirky characters.  The plot was as weak as day-old coffee and so lame that even the good actors couldn’t overcome the hackneyed dialogue.  I could only manage thirty minutes of the movie before turning it off.  There are a million better ways to be bored.

I often start a movie without finishing it.  A waste of money for sure, but also for me an indication that there are not many decent movies being made these days.  I’m not interested in movies based on comic book characters, so that excludes seemingly half the movies made these days.  Include the re-makes and there doesn’t seem much room left for original movies.

Going out to see a movie used to be one of my favorite things.  When I lived alone in Washington, DC and had yet to make any friends, I went to the movies at least once a week and enjoyed myself even if the movie wasn’t very good.  Now I never see a movie in a theater.  It’s not because there are no movies I’d like to see (not many but there are some),  it’s because the sound is often overwhelmingly loud, an assault on a person’s senses.   So I no longer subject myself to movie theaters.  I wait until I can get the DVD from the library or from the one-and-only, surviving DVD rental shop left in town.  I may never again set foot in a movie theater.

There is a lot of junk available on the internet.  Truly awful movies that exploit all possible human weaknesses.  I’ve gotten sucked in by too many such movies.  In my defense, I can say that I’ve rarely if ever finished any of the trashy movies, but I have to guard against temptation.

tempted-mouse

 

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Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

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Fast Art

Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that

Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital.  But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . .   A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.

Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”.  (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?)  The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph.  Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter.  A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer.  A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph.  A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.

Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it.  I used to draw.  I found drawing too much of a slow art.

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West Coast Blues

I watched the movie Devil In a Blue Dress in 1995.  The movie is based on the book of the same name by Walter Mosley.  It is the first book in the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries.  The book and movie take place in Los Angeles in post-World War II 1940s.  The movie soundtrack is music from the period, and it’s from that soundtrack that I first heard examples of West Coast Blues.

The West Coast Blues is music of the African-American exodus from the Jim-Crow south.  As described beautifully in The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, African-Americans from the western part of the former slave states migrated to California.  The musicians, particularly those from Texas, played important roles in the West Coast Blues.

West Coast Blues are very different from but much less familiar than the Chicago Blues.  I am not a musicologist, so be careful about quoting me as an authority on West Coast Blues.  With that caveat, I think West Coast Blues owes more to the jazz and swing dance music of the era than Chicago Blues.  Musicians from the Mississippi moved tended to move north towards Kansas City and Chicago.  Chicago Blues is more tinged with gospel and the country blues of the Mississippi Delta region south of Memphis.

Here are some songs you might check out.

Good Rockin’ Tonight – Wynonie Harris

Blues  After Hours – Peewee Crayton

Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’ – Louis Jordon

Ain’t Nobody’s Business – Jimmy Witherspoon

Old Time Shuffle Blues – Lloyd Glenn

T-Bone Jumps Again – T-Bone Walker, an example of Jump Blues

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Series, Series, . . .

Careless In RedI finished another Elizabeth George novel today, one in her series of mystery novels.  I’m stuck in the series.  I ‘ve often been stuck in such series and have churned my way through many of them.  I like best the ones wherein the novels in the series are sequential and characters change and develop from book to book.  One of the best such series going today is the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries by Walter Moseley.  I’ve also liked some series that are not sequential and in which the protagonist(s) are the same in every book – they just do their thing and don’t change from book to book.  One such is the Lew Archer mysteries by Ross McDonald.  Coincidently, both the Archer and the Rawlins mysteries take place in southern California in the mid-twentieth century.

Other than mysteries, I’ve been engrossed in series with military themes, the most notable of which take place during the Napoleonic Wars and have British heroes:

  • The Aubrey–Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, about the British navy in the age of sail
  • The Hornblower series, also about the British navy in the age of sail, by C. S. Forester
  • The Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell.  Sharpe is a rifleman in Wellington’s armies in India, Spain, and eventually at Waterloo.

I could list lots of others, series by A. Conan Doyle, Martha Grimes, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham,  E.E. “Doc” Smith (science fiction that my brother and I were plowing through at the same time), John D. MacDonald with his Travis McGee series, Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, and on, and on, and on.  I know I’ve read others, but you can’t expect me to remember them all although I did just remember some from my high-school days; the adventure yarns of Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books.  If I go back a bit further I would have to throw in series for young readers like the Tom Swift books and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan books.

I have to stop writing.  I keep remembering other series.  I’ll never finish this post unless I just come to a full, abrupt stop.

What series have you enjoyed?

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Spider

Old Prison Guard House

Old Prison Guard House

I live in a condominium development on the site of a former prison built around 1860.  The outermost prison walls still stand, part of which is what looks like a guard post.  I’ve included a picture of the guard post as it looks during the day. Spiders, with their impressive spider webs, take over the guard post after dark.  It’s probably a great spot for a spider since the lights attract lots of bugs.  Here are a couple of photos from the last few days when I’ve walked past the guardhouse on my way home after having a beer or two downtown.

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

Spider and Its Home Sweet Home

A Spider's Lair

A Spider’s Lair

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I Still Can’t Sing!

I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music.  Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners.  What I quote today shares that theme.

. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.

But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species.  And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history.  Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature:  Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it.  We have to train them to behave “civilized.”

In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗

And as Levitin describes,

Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams.  Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall.  The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . .  Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.

dance_and_sing_poster-r4298727ac34f4914894ac5b0ffc3ee93_0uf_8byvr_324So , what to do?  I suggest we dance and sing!

 

∗ Wikipedia entry on “Bebop”.

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Peanut Butter

Peanut ButterAs everyone realizes, peanut butter is the staff of life.  Without it, society as we know it would collapse.

 

 

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I Can’t Sing!

Brain On MusicDaniel Levitin, in This Is Your Brain On Music, asks “why is it that of the millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults?”  He answers the question by describing the many people who say to him that

their music lessons “didn’t take.”  I think they’re being too hard on themselves.  The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music.  Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family.  This performance chasm does seem to be cultural, specific to contemporary Western society.  And although many people say that music lessons didn’t take, cognitive neuroscientists have found otherwise in their laboratories.  Even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than for those who lack training.  Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier to us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like.

I’m glad to know that the many years of piano and cello lessons I had, and the excruciating (for me) experiences of annual piano recitals were not wasted.  And I have come to realize that I can sing, just not very well, but good enough to benefit from the emotional value of music.  Levitin writes that “music increases the production of dopamine . . .  [and] is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.”

Sing On!

Keep_On_Singing

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Jingo

I watched two movies over the weekend, one that posed a difficult moral and ethical issue, the other that trashed the same issue in a gush of jingoistic nationalism.

Eye In the SkyI first watched Eye In the Sky with Helen Mirren.  Its plot involved a potential drone-launched missile attack on a house in a congested, urban area in Nairobi. At the moment of launch, surveillance intelligence revealed that two suicide bombers were in the house and about to proceed on their missions.  Surveillance also showed a young, innocent girl just outside the house.  The dilemma was whether to launch the strike that would abort the two suicide missions and likely save up to eighty lives but would likely kill the young girl, or cancel the strike and save the young girl but risk having the suicide missions carried out.  The movie shows that there is not an easy answer.  It doesn’t provide an easy answer.

London FallenThe second movie was London Has Fallen.  This movie begins with an actual drone-launched missile attack on the compound of a rich terrorist and arms dealer in rural Pakistan.  Surveillance clearly showed that there was a wedding in progress with many guests – children, women, innocents.  With no discussion, the attack is carried out and many innocents are killed.  The terrorist and his sons survive and plot diabolical revenge with an attack on London that plays out like a coup d’etat.  The Rambo-style hero rages unscathed through thousands of bullets, grenades, and rockets and eventually saves the day and rescues the U.S. president who behaves like a true American hero.  It was nothing more than jingoistic nationalism:  we’re the good guys, they are the bad guys, even though the initial missile attack was just as barbarous as the revenge-driven attack on London.  The issue of collateral damage from the first attack was never addressed.

I recommend Eye In the Sky.  It’s a simple plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat and starts you thinking.  Don’t bother with London Has Fallen.  Not only it is a gush of jingoism, the plot is unrealistic and illogical.  An embarrassing movie.

Helen Mirren(P.S.  Helen Mirren is 71 years old, way past the age of retirement in the U.S.military, but in Eye In the Sky she plays a very fit-looking colonel.  I think she’ll continue to entertain us with great acting for a long time to come.)

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Can’t Go Back

The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA.  Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea.  It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer.  I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week.  That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent.  Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

field songsAnyway, the music is great.  It makes up for the absence of beer.  William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago.  He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa.  I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011.  Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo.  The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument.  I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to.  I especially like the banjo songs.

I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015.  On this album, he plays with a band.  This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.

Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away

He has some stuff on YouTube.

 

 

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Shades Of Green

The current assignment on Outdoor Photographer is Shades of Green.  I remembered that the focus was on the color green, but forgot that it was an outdoor photography assignment.  I took my photo indoors using artificial lighting.  He is my photo of slices of lime on a bed of spinach on a light pad.

 

Shades Of Green

Shades Of Green

 

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About Boomers

Micheal Kinsley, in Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide, says that

in a boomer culture that celebrates youth, you no longer qualify.  Ouch

I’m posting this as a heads-up to all those who no longer qualify as youthful.  I don’t include myself because I’m only 68.  Surely I’m not old?

Here are another few words from this morning’s reading:

As big soft buffettings come at the car sideways

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

from Postscript by Seamus Heaney

 

 

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Essays and Poems

Yesterday while at Brueggers, I read 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West.  The first of the four is daily Morning Pages.  The Morning Pages technique was described by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way:  “[Morning Pages] are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.”  I have found that for me, using an online journaling website (Penzu) is better for stream-of-consciousness writing.  My longhand writing is so bad and tedious that it gets in the way of my stream-of-consciousness.

Another of the four is from Ray Bradbury’s Zen In the Art Of Writing.  It is to

Buy a book of poetry and a selection of essays (perhaps some from a previous decade). Read a few every day to help your mind foster a state of creativity.

I will never turn down an excuse to visit my local, indie bookstore and buy a book or two.  So I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems and a small book of essays by Michael Kinsley, Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide.  This morning I added reading an essay and some poetry to my morning routine.

Old Age:  A Beginner’s Guide is targeted at Baby Boomers of which I am one.  I read the foreword by Michael Lewis and the introduction by Kinsley; no essay yet.  The introduction ends with

If you want to be remembered as a good person, then be a good person.  Who knows?  It just might work.  But start now, because if you’re a boomer, time is running out.

If you want to know about the other two 4 Ways To Make Space In Your Brain To Create, follow the link to the article.

 

 

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Unique and Unprecedented Threat

Andrew Sullivan writes that Donald Trump is a “unique and unprecedented threat . . . to liberal democracy and constitutional order.”

Sullivan has been live-blogging both the RNC and DNC conventions.  Sullivan, who produced the blogs The Dish and The Daily Dish from 2000 until 2015 when he retired from full-time blogging, considers himself a traditional conservative.   He does not at all  support American conservatism as embodied in the Republican party and adamantly opposes Donald Trump.  I think Andrew has been spot on about the importance of defeating Trump.  He says it better than anyone else.  This is some of what he wrote on day one of the DNC convention:

[Trump,] a candidate who openly called for mass deportation, war crimes, disbanding NATO and a trade war is now ahead in Nate Silver’s “now-cast” of polling results. The great unknowable about America is what would happen if fascism were actually on the ballot. It’s never happened before. But if you thought fascism would be taboo, the American people are proving you wrong.

So the Clintons have a real task ahead this week. They have to keep the focus on the unique and unprecedented threat that Donald Trump poses to liberal democracy and constitutional order.

On day four of the Republican convention, Andrew Sullivan wrote that

This [Trump’s speech] is a very new departure for politics in a liberal democracy. We’ve never heard an appeal from a major party platform to junk traditional democratic norms, and cede power to a new tyrant, whose magical powers will somehow cause almost every problem in the country to disappear. In this election, the very basis of liberal democracy is on the ballot.  . . .  fears . . .  about the popularity of tyranny in a late-democracy have, I’m afraid, only been fanned by events since.

The speech is entirely about fear, to be somehow vanquished by a single man’s will to power. Its core message is what America was founded to resist. Its success would be an abolition of the core promise of this country for two centuries – that self-government is incompatible with the rule by the whims and prejudices and impulses of a man on a white horse.

It can happen here. It is happening here. No election has been more important in my lifetime.

Nor in mine, which goes back to seeing I Like Ike buttons while riding the bus to grade school in the 1050s.  Ike and Ronald Reagan are both probably turning in their graves because of what their party has become.

This is from day three of the DNC convention.

I’ve never felt this way about a president, so I might as well admit it. Against hideously graceless opposition, in the face of extraordinary odds, facing immense crises, he [Obama] stayed the course and changed this country. This election is, at its core, about not letting a bigot and a madman take that away from all of us.

It is an election to keep the America that Obama has helped bring into being, and the core democratic values that have defined this experiment from the very beginning: self-government, not rule by a strongman; pluralism and compassion rather than nativism and fear; an open embrace of the world, and not a terrified flight from it.

There you have it.  Remember to vote for Hillary come November!

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Let’s Enjoy the Day

Manana

Manana

If you’re not enjoying the day, check out Amanda Martinez’s song Let’s Dance.  It can make your day.  Let’s Dance is on her album Mañana.  The album is chock full of good songs.  Another wonderful song to perk up your day is Que Bonita Es Esta Vida.  Also Va Y Vienne.

Here are a few words from Let’s Dance:

Don’t wait
Take time today and celebrate
Until another moment
This one’s ours to claim
Until another sunset, let’s enjoy the day

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Learning To Sing

The other day I told a friend that I was going to start singing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to sing on pitch unless I was sitting right next to a good singer.

A few days later, I decided I was going to try the guitar again. Unfortunately, all the many years I tried to play the guitar, I was always practicing.  I never reached the point where I was just playing.   Also unfortunately, tendonitis in my hands and thumbs forced me to quit guitar.

I’ve decided I’m going to ignore all the “unfortunately”s and proceed with singing and guitar picking.  I’ve gone so far as to buy a new guitar.  I’ve also found a protocol for dealing with guitarist’s’ tendonitis (it involves lots of ice baths).  Wish me luck.

I should perhaps get over the notion that I have to always be on pitch or play like Doc Watson.  I can sing for my own enjoyment.   So what if I hit a few bad notes.  I’ve already learned Zip a Dee Doo Dah. (I find a lot of Disney songs from my misspent youth popping into memory)  Granted, it’s a very simple song but a fun one that can make for a better day.  When your down and out, sing Zip a Dee Doo Dah – better than a pill.

the music lessonI think I’ve  been sent some kind of mystical message.  I found a book at the Guitar Center.  It seemed out of place – misfiled – among the instructional books.  The clerk who checked me out had never seen it before and didn’t know that they sold books of that nature (trade paperback format; all text).  It was as if the book was waiting for me.  The book has reminded me that I need to learn to play.  I use “play” to mean both making music and having fun.  Over all the years I played guitar, I never played.  All I ever did was practice.  Maybe the book will help me learn to play and have fun.

Any advice will be appreciated.

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Cheer Up

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed

Too tired to move

Listened to A Little Bit Of Soul

Cheered up, was able to start the day.

 

 

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Huff On Trump

I posted a few days ago regarding the mainstream media’s reluctance to use the word “liar” to describe Donald Trump.  I since have noticed with pleasure that the editors of The Huffington Post have started adding the following note to their posts about Trump.

huff postEditor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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Drum On Trump

Kevin Drum writes that the media is finally standing up to Donald Trump.  I don’t disagree, but I noticed the words “lie” or “lying” never appeared in the quotes used by Drum.  Drum himself describes  “Trump’s tsunami of lying. . .”, but the media quotes use various euphemisms:

  • misstatements and exaggerations
  • stretched the facts
  • falsehoods and exaggeration
  • inaccuracies and overstatements

“Falsehoods” comes close but is still more passive than “lying”.  I suppose the media prefer to use long words.  “Lie” must be too short; it’s only three letters.

Drum concludes “the job of the press is to tell the truth. They should do it, regardless of whether it makes much difference or not.”

How can you argue with that?

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Dry Feet and Dry Lenses

Marina In Stillwater On the St. Croix

Marina In Stillwater On the St. Croix

I wanted to shoot some photos on Wednesday, but it had been raining all day and was not likely to stop.  What the heck, I decided to go anyway.

I wore waterproof hiking shoes to keep my feet dry and an umbrella plus a lens cap or handkerchief to keep my lenses dry.  All those things worked well.   What I didn’t plan for was slipping in the mud, falling on my back, and ending up with wet and muddy clothes.  Oh well, I did get some decent photos.

 

 

 

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Good Graffitti

I went for a walk the other day and stumbled (not literally) upon some good graffiti.  I laughed out loud.

The chalk artists are a mother and daughter.  I think they had a good time with their chalk.  They have a Facebook page titled You Matter.

Here are more of their chalkings.

 

 

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Beryl, Basalt, and Gnats

I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through  the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area.  The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock.  The top of the knob is relatively flat.  The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge.  Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens.  There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.

Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades

Dinnertime At Osceola Bedrock Glades

I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime.  I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out.  Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head.  (Hovering?  They were attacking.)  I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.)  Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible.  That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.

Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)

Prairie-fame Flower (Talinum rugospermum)

On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum).  The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got.  By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock.  Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing.  This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects.  The first time it was mosquitoes.   Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots.  The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.


Later

I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind.  What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats.  Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent.  She was one of the first pilots in the region.  She writes about elephant hunting:

Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush.  A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat.  Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files.  The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.

All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain.  Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”

West with the NightBy the way, I highly recommend the book.  A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.

Bartenders should always be trusted.

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Filed under Books, Day Trips, Hiking, Memoir, Nature and the Environment, Photo Challenge, Photos, POTD, The Daily Post, Walking

Two Days Of Bloodroot

Two days ago I spotted my first wildflowers of the season.  Bloodroots were blooming in profusion.  The day was eighty degrees and sunny, and the bloodroots were wide open (first photo.)   The next day was gray, drizzly, and in the sixties.  The bloodroots decided to stay in for the day (second photo).  I don’t blame them.

Bloodroot - Sanguianaria canadensis - on a warm, sunny day.

Bloodroot – Sanguianaria canadensis – on a warm, sunny day.

Bloodroot - Sanguianaria canadensis

Bloodroot – Sanguianaria canadensis

 

 

The greenery has popped over the weekend because of the warm weather.  Here are more shots of new spring growth.

 

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An Afternoon At Fish Lake

Dueholm Lake, drawn down

Dueholm Lake, drawn down

The Fish Lake State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin near Grantsburg is part of a collection of areas managed as The Glacial Lake Grantsburg Properties.  They are Fish Lake Wildlife Area, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, and Amsterdam Sloughs Wildlife Area.

The Fish Lake area is mostly “huge sedge marshes” interspersed with areas of low hills with oak forests.  The first time I visited Fish Lake, I was not very impressed – it seemed too flat.  The more I visited and explored, the more I came to appreciate the area.  There are lots of nooks and crannies, paths and dirt roads to explore.  I was there yesterday, a beautiful warm Sunday.  I didn’t encounter another soul.  That’s heaven for an introvert that loves exploring solo.

Dueholm Lake, drawn down

Dueholm Lake, drawn down

I didn’t take too many photos.  I was tired and just walking along a flat dike next to Dueholm Lake took all my available energy.  Dueholm Lake is an impoundment.  The only natural lake in the area is Fish Lake, thus the name of the area.  The impoundments are a result of management that “began in the early 1950s when the first dikes were constructed to re-flood the drained marshes.

 

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The Source

St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River

St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River

I reached the source of the St. Croix River in northwest Wisconsin.  Last year I tried twice to reach the source.  The first time I got to the start of the Brule Portage section of the North Country trail after I was already tired out so I didn’t hike very far.  The second time I could find no way to get to the source.  There was a clearly marked side trail to the head of the Bois Brule River but nothing to the St. Croix.  After the second try, I decided that I would come back for another attempt when the snow had melted but there was not yet any foliage in the woods.  I also studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (page 25 I think.)  I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix.

I drove, I parked, and I walked in on a trail which shortly ended at the North Country Trail from where I could easily see a small pond.  I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps.  I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away.  The mid-summer foliage completely hid the pond.

I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond.  The stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix.  I confess that I didn’t get to the literal source.  Walking was like bushwhacking through a jungle.  I didn’t have the energy to go the extra 100, at most, yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.)  I can claim that I saw and photographed the headwaters, if not the actual source, of the St. Croix so I consider the expedition a success.

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Seeds Of the Future

The Daily Post‘s challenge for the past week is Future – share an image that represents the potential of things to come.   This is a photo of pine cone scales.  The pairs of yellow bits at the tips of the scales are the seeds of future trees.

Pine Cone Scales

Pine Cone Scales

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How To Shoot?

On Being . . .

On Being . . .

I recently wrote about Jay Maisel’s book Light,Gesture, & Color in which he writes

All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can.  One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.

I’m now reading On Being a Photographer.  David Hurn advises photographers to

. . . take on a project that is containable, and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. . . . just wandering around looking for pictures, hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.

I  think both approaches can work and have worked for me.  It’s true that having some sort of focus, whether it’s a project or a weekly challenge published on the internet, will improve one’s photography.  I have fun just rambling about with camera ready.  Sometimes things do pop up.  I went on a road trip yesterday to work on my project to photograph the St. Croix River from source to mouth.  I also kept my eyes open for pop-up opportunities.  Of the three best photos from yesterday, one was of the St. Croix, the other two were things I spotted while driving on back roads in Wisconsin.  Here are the three:

 

 

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Light, Gesture, and Color

Light, Gesture, & Color

Light, Gesture, & Color

I like this book.  I like the way Jay Maisel thinks, probably because I think many of the same things.  I do the same thing as he writes about:

All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can.  One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.

One night a year [Halloween] I add an on-line flash.

I do this with great trepidation, as I really don’t know how to use the damn thing.

I try to sneak out of the house before my wife can see me and howl, “Oh my God, you have no idea what you’re doing.”

It’s a top-of-the-line Nikon flash.  It has too many numbers and letters.  It doesn’t just intimidate me, it eludes me completely.

I have never used the flash that came with my Olympus OMD.

The book contains a short introduction of seven pages.  The rest of the book contains two-page spreads with a photo on one page and a short, pithy description on the other page.  As you can see by the quote above, a number of the spreads have Maisel’s self-deprecating humor, as in the following:

I love to photography my daughter asleep.  There is none of the clenched look that some people have when asleep.  She looks angelic and peaceful.  That’s what I’m trying to get.

Never mind that when she awakens and sees me, she starts bellowing out, “Do you have any idea how creepy it is to wake up and find you’re being photographed?”

“Yes, dear.  Now relax and go back to sleep.”

Other spreads have Maisel’s advice.

You have to be ready to shoot at all times.

Don’t over think things in front of you.  If it moves you, shoot it.  If it’s fun, shoot it.  If you’ve never seen it before, shoot it.

. . . There was no sun.  There was just a pissed off, disappointed photographer who had been thwarted in his attempt.

Petulant, unhappy, and frustrated, I started throwing all my tripods, cameras, and miscellaneous crap into the car.

I was there with my ex-wife, who looked at the spectacle I was making of myself and simply said, “Turn around, stupid.”  I looked and was amazed to see that the sky had turned blood red and the building were reflecting the red afterglow.

Had I not been told to look, I would have quit, ignorant of what was really there, because I had “made plans” and was wearing visual and emotional blinders that limited my perceptions and my vision.

It’s important to realize that the images are everywhere, not just where you want or expect them to be.

You can’t just turn on when something happens, you have to be turned on all the time.  Then things happen.

There are no rules.

The thing I’m aiming at is to remind you that the more generic your image is, the less surprising, challenging, or specific it will be.

Try not for the symbol, the familiar, the iconic.  Try, instead, to make your pictures a new look, a very personal, insightful type of gesture you’ve not seen in pictures again and again over the years.

So we all miss most of the best shots.  Don’t despair, keep working on it.  You are not alone.

Light can be instantaneous.  You must be ready, and you must have the damn camera with you.

I ordered Light, Gesture, and Color on-line.  When I first looked at it I was disappointed because there was so little text.  I tend to like dense books with a lot of content.  This book was exactly the opposite.  There is not much content, but the content is concise, witty, and useful.  There is very little about the technical aspects of photography.  The book will not tell you how to operate your camera.  It will tell you how to see better.  Isn’t that what we are all ultimately striving for?

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A Day At the Florists

Hanging Pitcher Plants

Hanging Pitcher Plants

I spent some time at Rose Floral in Stillwater today.  Rose Floral has a huge greenhouse filled with plants and flowers.  A greenhouse is an excellent place for photography.  Good, even, natural light and lots of wonderful subjects.  Here are some of my photos from today.

 

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Landscape Challenge

This week’s The Daily Post challenge is Landscape.  Here is my landscape shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Raw Spring Day

 

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