Saturday, February 25, 2017

Though the Mind's Eye

We had this strange couple over to our house the other day.  They appeared to be in their seventies but  were rather gregarious and energetic for that age.  It was a bit exhausting, and a little bit annoying on my weekend off from work as they seemed to be talking all the time and they had enthusiasm for anything and everything.  Maybe they did not have many friends and had all that pent up stuff to share.  Yet, in all honesty, it was somewhat our fault, as we had initiated the call to visit their yard.  A friend had suggested that they also had some hillside erosion issues when they built their house and that we might get some ideas for our yard.

It was a three day weekend for my husband and I.  I was glad to be out of the city and back into our newly purchased get-away on the river.  The house is over 70 years in age tucked against the trees, but has been well maintained.   It was not large and still needed a lot of superficial work as a son of the prior owners had lived there a year and repaired nothing.  The rooms with contemporary high ceilings and track lighting and the wide windows overlooking the river on the left side and overlooking the backyard with a view across the river and the softer view of the marsh on the right from our rise of land were what I looked forward to soaking in with a cup of tea each Friday.  Each view was a painting.  Everything at the CIA had been tense these last weeks, and even though I was in the history section of the department writing biographies, I could feel the confusion and craziness just outside our section.  Warden, my husband, could shut everything out while he worked on his computer code, but I was in a room of people separated only by cubicles and could feel the distraction.  I was working on a detailed biography of Sarandji of the Central African Republic which had not been all that intriguing.

Anyway, Warden had called this elderly couple for a tour of their yard on the river.  They did sit on a bit of a hill, but the slope down to their tributary of the river was much softer.  It was hard trying to keep up with the couple, casually dressed in jeans and hoodies, on what was our warmest day of the new year thus far.  They showed us every single tree they had ever planted in their ten years of living there.  They pointed out various birds in the woods, the vegetable and flower gardens, and finally we got to the side of the hill where they had placed retention walled supports that we were interested in studying and the river where they had put in rocked reefs to deflect the waves from eroding more shoreline.  

The couple talked over each other and corrected each other like long term married couples do.  I decided that the best method was to divide and conquer.  So Warden took the husband for a while and I followed the wife.  Then mid-way we switched.  When we finished, we of course had to invite them back to our house to get their advice on our land challenge.  They were like happy dogs, covering paths and identifying plants and suggesting reinforcements in our yard while we tried to keep up.  By the time they left at 1:00 PM I was both hungry and ready for a lie down.  I was also wondering with some trepidation if our paths would cross more often when we fully moved down here.

(P.S.  The above is mostly true and happened last weekend.  We are the elderly couple, of course, so I have no idea what was running through the younger couple's minds, although I wrote this as if I did.  But I do know we (hubby) talked way too much.)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Fourth and Last on Photo Lying

This will be the last in my series of "adulterated" photo editing posts. The photo below is not one I took, but something my daughter-in-law took a few years ago when we were out exploring a state park. She took it with her phone which had an effect included that put the "grunge" filter on it. It includes my son and his nephew and niece (my grandson and my granddaughter).  It has that almost fisheye look as well.

Note the hand in the frame on the lower left. This is a better example of how hard it is to clone certain elements out of the photo. I tried to pay attention to detail, but it becomes obvious when you repeat a pattern from somewhere else in the photo over the part you want to clone out, particularly when there is not much background to choose from.  I also took out my sweet granddaughter but just left the light color of her clothing and it looks like a jacket or backpack, perhaps.

As a follow up to my prior post I had given up on getting the geese as the focal point of my photo.  I could have cropped it down, but the focus was too poor to be useful.  I just removed my neighbors for the heck of it to show how photos can lie.

Errol Morris in his book that I am reading wrote: "It is an error engendered by photography and perpetuated by us.  And it comes from a desire for "the ocular proof," a proof that turns out to be no proof at all.  What we see is not independent of our beliefs.  Photographs provide evidence, but no shortcut to reality.  It is often said that seeing is believing.   But we do not form our beliefs on the basis of what we see; rather, what we see is often determined by our beliefs.  Believing is seeing, not the other way around."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Lying Through the Lens

This is the view from my side of the river from my deck looking across the river. I lightened it a bit and sharpened it but did nothing else. I was trying to get a photo of our bunches of geese that were resting before take off. But they are too far away to hold the attention of the viewer.

This is the view that is falsified which makes it look much more rural. If a printing company took a magnifying glass to this they would see my edits, because I used shortcuts and was not careful. But to the untrained eye, I think the edits are hard to see and it makes it look as if I have no neighbors. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Follow Up to Before

Spending time "faking" the photos with change in style and not content.  My hellebores (Lenten roses) are blooming very nicely this week under my bare sugar maple.  They have become the subject of this experiment in photography.  The first is the original with a little change to exposure to lighten it.  Then each photo below has a layer which changes the original in a different way.  This is not a change in content, just lighting and tone.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Is It Fake?

These colder days have given me time to focus (and I do mean that as a pun) on photography.  I am reading a book titled "The Mercury Vision of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith."   I am also reading a book titled "Believing is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography)" by Errol Morris.

While both books are about photography they could not be more different in tone or focus or era.  The first is a biographical fiction written with the prose of a poet or a romantic or a photographer.  Paris in the 1800's is seen through light angled scenes and colors and scents that makes it easy for me to think I am there. The city is dirty and ugly, marred by revolution and class separation, but still filled with lovers and artists and lamplight.  The fictional theme of the book is Daguerre's search for the love of his life at the end of his life while becoming mentally compromised by the cloud of mercury poisoning from his years of photographic work.  While it is fictional, it is done very consistently.  A series of nude photos are taken by Daguerre of an important figure in his life and we see how he decides to pose them and why and how photography began to change the society.  He asks one elderly woman whether she wants to have a daguerreotype made of her and she scolds photographers for trying to capture "death."  It is a frightening new technology and considered as a sin among many religious people at that time.

Daguerre talks in the book about how the person changes the minute the camera lens is upon them, and therefore, it is impossible to get an honest essence of the person in a picture.  At that time a person may have to sit for several minutes in front of the camera, and candid shots were unknown.

In the second book I am only 30 percent through the 300+ pages.  It is a discussion of the truth of photography and the accuracy of interpretation of a photograph by others when viewed years later.  The writing is a bit tedious and forces the reader to question almost everything in what we see and how we come to conclusions about what we see. "We may know the order of the photographs but that doesn't mean we know whether they were authentic or deliberately posed."  This struck me as certainly important today with the magic of digital painting.  Some of you may remember the photo of the dusty and bloody Syrian boy sitting shocked in an orange ambulance chair after an Assad/Russian bombing of his home.  Assad claims the photo was fake, even though witnesses attest to its reality.  There are so many photos of children in pain and maimed after the war, one wonders why the Syrian President claims this one was fake?  Is it because it truly captures the emotional horror of this war?

This taken from Wikipedia on the truth of photography:  "Charles Peirce's term 'indexicality' refers to the physical relationship between the object photographed and the resulting image.[2] Paul Levinson emphasizes the ability of photography to capture or reflect "a literal energy configuration from the real world" through a chemical process.[3] Light sensitive emulsion on the photographic negative is transformed by light passing through the lens and diaphragm of a camera.[4] Levinson relates this characteristic of the photograph to its objectivity and reliability, echoing Andre Bazin's belief that photography is free from the "sin" of subjectivity.[5]"  So much is covered in the preceding sentences that one could talk all night about it.

Another person who writes about photography, "Sontag also describes the inability of a photograph to capture enough information about its subject to be considered a representation of reality. She states, "The camera's rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses…only what which narrates can make us understand."[25]"  This is clear to me as I frequently frame the photo to leave out distracting or extraneous stuff and may later photoshop to erase it.

There are lots of photos on social media sites where celebrities state one thing or another about life or politics.  Almost all of them are fake, their images being used without their permission.  There are other photos that have clearly been enhanced with romantic mist or fake snow or something to make them softer and more beautiful than the original.

This seems to be a theme these days.  Viewers are being duped everywhere.  How do you know something that was shown is real or not?  You can search online for testing fake news and a number of sites will come up with guidelines. and Snopes are reliable sources for analyzing something written or said, but they do not usually focus on photos.  You can find a reverse source search for some photos here.  This is sometimes used by photographers to see if their image has been stolen and used elsewhere.

Fake stuff has been around for a long time and will be around, perhaps forever.  (Apologies for my very poor photoshopping of the image above.  I was too lazy, and perhaps too low on technique, to present something more believable.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What is in Common?

My neighborhood is not as quiet as someone would think if they came down the side road into the neighborhood.  About half of us are retired and so busy in our yards or coming and going during the day.  The other half are still working and one has a nearby business office, so his workers driving heavy equipment go up and down the road at least a half dozen times during the week.  

This is the road after the last snow.

My  next door neighbor on the right (his house is above across the ravine) is an elder guy who can fix almost anything.  He is pretty much the go-to guy for that stuff in his church that needs fixing.  He and his wife are very religious in that they attend evangelical conferences at least once a a year and sometimes more in Florida.  He votes conservative and thinks climate warming is an unproven theory, and therefore, blows his yard every other day so that it remains neat as a pin.  He has two daughters and a son, none who live in this state.  Two of his children have divorced.  The son has a family in the Philippines although he is not married to the mother.  The son, a commercial pilot, also has an estranged ex-wife and son in South America that he was finally able to see at age 6 for the first time in as many years.  The divorced daughter is raising two girls on her own.  The other daughter has married for the first time at age 40 and has recently given birth to her first child which means they take more trips down to Florida to see the new little one.  They have a comfortable retirement as you can see from above.

My neighbor who lives on the left across the other ravine (their winter home in the photo above sadly empty this month) has lots more money.  I have written about them before.  They have had an expensive motor boat which they recently sold since they do not use it enough.  They also have a fancy sailboat that cost somewhere in the six figures and they take it out a few times a year.  They have a large huge home and even have an elevator in their house!  She started a church under one of those rather liberal religious sects in this community.  She and her husband vote liberal.  They now spend most of the winter months at their condominium in a snazzy area of Florida.  This is a second marriage for him and a first for her, so she holds Christmas holidays for his son's family before they head south.  His son is some genius engineer inventing materials for space.

All of these neighbors are really nice and kind and we help collect mail on travel and exchange tomato plants or baked food.  We go out to dinner with the liberal neighbors several times a year.  Both neighbors are very different from us.  We are comfortable middle class bureaucrats with no religious affiliation or interest in such and do not have the money that they have.  We do have grandchildren or step grand-children in common.  We share gardening with the neighbors on the right and food-eating with the neighbors on the left.  We all live in harmony and we support each other after hurricanes with removing trees and storing food in freezers if electricity is on or in the case of my neighbor on the right assist after recuperating from triple-by pass.  We are all college educated.  

I think about my neighbors when the craziness of the social news trolls starts getting to me.  We do have more in common that not and I keep hoping that we will see some middle ground on much of this soon.  I also realize that this is a rose-colored demographic and not how most of the U.S. lives.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Once again here is a navel gazing post all about me.

I am thinking there are various types of attention disorder that can be seen in people besides that which can be medically diagnosed.  I think I have a mild variation of ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder).  Something that is not so demanding  that I cannot function in this  dysfunctional  society.  This is something new for me as my life has been pretty much filled with the ability to compartmentalize and focus.  I have been both high energy and high functioning in my past life but rarely hyper.

Why do I think I have trouble with attention.  I can follow a conversation, a TV show or a recipe.  I  can focus.  But I also find I sometimes have to re-focus on something else at the same time.  I have a compulsion to be doing two things.  I cannot exercise without some distraction to get me through the routine.

For example, as I am writing  this blog I am listening to the NYT broadcast on my laptop "Will Shortz:  Meet the Puzzle Master."   It seems when I get  distracted I have to fill the time with something other than a pause in thinking.  I  frequently play solitaire on my lap top while watching television, or if it is the depressing news which I watch with hubby, I go between  listening to the world circus and listening to an online course from Harvard on photography on my laptop with my earphones.  I may miss much of the news, but it is  an ever present annoyance that pops up later in the day in so many ways.   I also cook and  watch television at the same time.

Currently I  am reading all of  the books in  the photo below (not at the exact same time, of course) as well as also reading "Leaving Blythe River" on my Kindle.  I  have a dozen half read magazines scattered on my coffee table.

I certainly am losing my ability to focus for long periods of time on any one thing and I am just sitting and wondering if  the aging process has something  to do with that.  My mother-in-law lost her ability to read a magazine and just flipped through the pages in her elder years.   Maybe I should Google this phenomenon while I am doing the NYT mini crossword puzzle this morning?

I am wondering if meditation exercises will slow this restless mind?  Are there other physical or mental exercises I should be doing...while not  blogging,  of  course?  Or is this just a normal personality disorder?

How is your attention span these days?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Just Do It, It's Good for You!

The photo above is my amaryllis pushing through the hard earth to the sun which, while it is stressful, it is good for the plant and will result in a beautiful blossom. 

I sort of thought, in the back of my mind---not consciously, that when I was an old retired f**t, most of the anxieties of my life would dwindle away into the level of stress that a rain storm on a picnic afternoon might cause.  I had run my finances and felt that I could pay for my late years.  I kind of worried that my days would be gray and boring and sometimes full of guilty waste but certainly less stressful.  Sure, in the distance I could see the challenges of aging and health, but not the Monday through Friday anxieties of raising a family or tending to a job and career that I had previously survived.  There would be no more dreadful Monday mornings of heading out in the gloom of a cold gray day to an office or leaving early in the day to tend to a very sick child as I fought rush hour traffic.

Well, those of you who are my age and sitting in your chair reading this know that I was wrong.  Life goes on and gets in your way and you get in its way if you are still breathing and talking and not hiding in a closet or sitting  on the side of  a mountain far away from civilization being a hermit.

The point I am wandering toward, and I do have a dull one as we climb this switchback, is every decision you make impacts your life in some way and sometimes that way is a little more annoying than you anticipated.

This morning I am on a new schedule.  My student from Peru, a woman in her early 40's (married to a retired Navy intelligence officer with PTSD and in his late 50's) is trying to improve her English and I am the next tail of a rocket that she has grabbed after passing her high school equivalency test through our county program.  She is sweetly pushy and demanding in her plans for this trip and she is eager for the rocket to continue at break neck speed.  Because her temporary jobs in this area require flexibility in my setting classes I must keep moving with a watchful eye on my calendar.  This month the classes are on Mondays at 11:00 A.M.!

I kind of dread this having to head out and having to be on my toes at this time of day.  I am a hard person to please.  I know this is both good for her and certainly good for me to get back into remembering digraphs, graphemes, irregular verbs and whatever.  This is a free wheeling project in that the county has done its job and I have no hard curriculum to follow.  As you may remember from a prior post, I have PILES of books to choose from and am trying to hone my focus and create some structure to this journey.

She wants success yesterday and I have explained to her that there is no magic wand that she or I can wave.  But I keep thinking to myself, am I focusing enough in the right areas.

Anyway, while I feel full of satisfied hope at the end of each class, I do feel a bit of tension as I plan each lesson and as I head out to each class.

I do know that this is probably good for me and I hope it is good for her and I will continue to stick my courage to the sticking place and just do it!

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Sunday Sermon

I am not a Christian or even very religious.  But today is Sunday, a Christian day of prayer and worship.  I heard this sermon on the radio a few days ago and it certainly touched my soul, so I will share, now that churches are being told they can have more freedom of political speech by this White House.

Christianity and this President

We teach our children not to be bullies. He is a bully.
We teach our children to tell the truth. He openly lies and repeats those lies with greater and greater insistence, until they become truth in his own mind. For example, "Obama was born in Kenya."
Related: "Trump's pledge to Catholics: 'I'll be there for you' " (Oct. 7, 2016)
We teach our children to be kind and respectful of others. He openly mocks the disabled and belittles his opponents, e.g., "Little Marco" for Sen. Marco Rubio and "Lying Ted" for Sen. Ted Cruz.
We teach our children to be generous with the poor and the needy. He is selfish in the extreme and gives little or nothing to charity.
We teach our children not to be prejudiced on the basis of race or ethnicity or looks. He ranks women by their looks. He speaks with open racism. He stereotypes Latinos and African-Americans. Remember his remarks about Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Remember his characterizations of African-American culture and living conditions.
Jesus began his public ministry with a proclamation of the need for repentance, that is, "re-thinking" our lives. Trump has said he isn't sure that he has ever asked God for forgiveness.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus called on us to repent as he began his ministry. Immediately afterward, he gave us the Beatitudes. In those eight couplets, Jesus gave us the formula for Christian life.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Generally, we take this to mean we should be "detached" from worldly goods. We don't have to dwell in poverty, but we don't measure the value of life or people by their wealth. Trump brags about his wealth. He lives ostentatiously. He sees such enormous wealth as perfectly OK, even laudatory. He does not think he needs to contribute even the socially required minimum to the commonweal, the common good, by paying his taxes. He ignores the needs of the poor.
"Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted."
Jesus meant for his followers to be empathetic, sharing in the joys and sufferings of others. If we want to be comforted by others we must mourn with them in their sorrow.
Empathy is a part of the Christian life. Donald Trump mocks people for their looks and handicaps. He mocks those who are empathetic. When Jeb Bush said, immigrants come here out of love for their families whom they support, Trump mocked him.
Narcissism is the antithesis of one who mourns with others. Narcissism is a preoccupation with self. You cannot share in the sorrow of others because you are only focused on yourself. Only you count. Trump is a textbook narcissist. He is so busy bragging about himself and the size of his crowds, so busy obsessing over every slight, that he cannot mourn with others.
Jesus also said "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
When we think of "meekness" Donald Trump does not spring to mind. Meekness is an aspect of the virtue of humility. It is the quality of deferring to others and being open to learning from others. Humility means not arrogant, but teachable. Meekness requires that we admit when we are wrong. Meek people are not puffed up with themselves.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice or righteousness, for they will be satisfied."
Justice or righteousness in the Scriptures was a right relationship with God and others. It was being zadok, righteous like St. Joseph. It means we should humbly seek to conform our lives to God's commandments and not our own will.
At a minimum, it means that we should treat others fairly and keep our commitments. A man who cheated his contractors and repeatedly evades his creditors in bankruptcy is not righteous. A man who defrauds people enrolled in his so-called "university" by taking money and not delivering training is not zadok.
A righteous man is more than just doing the minimum. He goes beyond justice to mercy. He upholds the widow and the orphan and defends the alien and the stranger.
"Blessed are the merciful," says Jesus, "for they shall be shown mercy."
Can a man who advocates torture and extreme interrogation techniques be considered merciful? Can a man who advocates beating up people at his rallies be called merciful?
"Blessed are the pure of heart, or the clean of heart, for they shall see God."
Everyone struggles with this, to be clean of heart. Lust and greed cloud our judgment and become competing "deities."
But a man who admits to and brags about groping women cannot be called pure of heart. A man who objectifies women, by assigning "numbers," is not pure of heart.
What does he worship? Physical beauty and superficial attributes? He owned the Miss Universe pageant. Such a superficial and degrading view of women is not pure of heart.
Can we imagine Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day in a beauty contest? What number would Trump assign to Mother Teresa? What does he see when he looks at virtue and goodness?
Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
Can a man who would deliberately target the civilian families of terrorists, in violation of the law of war, be called a peacemaker? Can a man who is so thin-skinned, that every slight, every disrespect, every implied insult, must be answered by a full frontal Twitter storm be called a peacemaker? How does he make peace with others?
He never apologizes. He never backs down or lets up. He does not do what peacemakers must do: listen. He does not see the other side's point of view. He does not credit his opponent with good will.
He sees every opponent as someone to be shouted down or roughed up. He is not a peacemaker.
Finally, Jesus says, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and speak ill of you for my sake, for your reward will be great in heaven."
In other words, we don't have to win every argument and answer every insult. We don't live for the praise of others. We live for the approbation of God. Him alone do we seek to please. When we are insulted, we should offer it up and let it go. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.
Repentance is not an option for a Christian. It is the essential beginning of our Christian life. Every follower of Jesus must at some point repent.
The gospel Trump is preaching absolutely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We who stand in the real pulpit should be willing to say so.

[Fr. Peter Daly is the pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Md.]

Thursday, February 02, 2017

She's Baaaack!

Not sure what I tweaked as I was changing very little these days on templates and settings for this blog, but some one thing must have done it!   I am back on the blog rolls of my readers and what better gift can that be?  Both of my blogs appear on my blogroll which I set up as a test, and then when other's said my new posts were appearing on their lists, I felt as if someone had let me out of a very stuffy closet back to the outside.

My post updates failed right after I had posted my first nasty political post and I thought maybe that was a warning.  Then my computer crashed...for the second time after a year of repair...then trying to set up my new PC took days...and then I found the repair person failed to load scanner drivers, so I worked for an hour and got those two loaded.  It has been a rough month.

Enough of this!  I am back.

I have been going through old photos and taking a nostalgia trip being glad that I lost only a very few things with the crash.  Below is my Maxfield Parrish (one of my favorite Art Deco painters) version of the mountains in Breckenridge Colorado which I took  a few years ago!  (I am so glad I am back!!)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Guts of the Beast

Perception is one thing, and yet, our experience cannot help but color perception in some ways. Is the photo below (generously manipulated) a view of an industrial park from some high perspective? Is it an architect's model of a future business development? Is it the cover of a science fiction book?  Does it remind you of something that you cannot quite put your "finger" on?  Please note that while the shapes and focus have been manipulated, the colors are pretty true from the original.

Done guessing? Below is the original before and after the cropping.

It is the guts of the beast that I smashed with a heavy mallet a few days ago.  It represents a few years of my life, a bit of which was saved and much which was not.