Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Becoming Old

I'm beginning the final week before the 41st anniversary of my 39th birthday . . . It's been a longish haul since my early days in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I thought for my many thousands of readers (see, I still have a sense of humor) I would provide some context.
So I thought, instead of my usual cranky old man stuff that I write for the cognoscenti, I would publish a little walk down my photographic memory lane. Below are some views of me at varying stages of my exciting life . . . I hope you enjoy.












































Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pearl Harbor Remembered

December 7th
Fleeting images of past lives continue to wander through my increasingly elder brain. December 7th, 1941. I was due shortly thereafter to become 7 years of age. Do I remember that day? Well, a bit maybe. My folks rarely talked about the war before or after that fateful date. I guess we had a newspaper around, and I know we used a radio, because I listened to it often, even at my very early age—Jack Benny, Charley McCarthy, I Love a Mystery, The Shadow (who knows what evil lurks in the mind of man . . . The Shadow Knows) Gangbusters, oh the list goes on . . .
So, do I actually remember Franklin Roosevelt informing us of that “Date that will live in infamy” event? Well, maybe yes, maybe maybe.  I certainly remember much of the aftermath of that date, which, at least for Americans, ushered us into WW II. We almost certainly would have entered anyway, with the Prez Franklin pushing, pulling, kicking us into the fray. For that we should all be grateful, well aside from  the many thousands of men and women who died to save us from that infamy.
I remember the blackouts in New York City, and the rationing, because they affected us personally. My uncle Bill was in the Seabees during the war, serving in the South Pacific theatre. But that was as close as our family got to having a family member “in harms’ way”.  Bill was 40-something when that conflagration began, and certainly did not have to serve. He wanted to serve.  We saw him perhaps once during the war, when he came home briefly. And he gave, or mailed us some postcards with naked women on them . . . wow.
So, now we remember that date and that event, although it is a fast-fading memory.    The Japanese have become our fast friends, and, before China took over and America stopped making anything, Japan supplied many of our finer goodies (thinking of our 15th Subaru now sitting in our driveway).    As I age, I ponder the question . . . which images do I prefer to keep in my dimming memory??? These . . .


             
            
Or maybe I prefer to retain this one of the Daibutsu, from our visit to Kamakura . . . yes . . . much better.


               

                           

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Digital Art: Is it Art?

I have been a practitioner of the black art of digital, or digital art as it is sometimes known, for perhaps 30 years. When dinosaurs still roamed the earth, I actually used a darkroom to process my (non-digital) photographic creations. Of course, then I resided in a black and white world.  I created pictures, sometimes as large as 11 x 14. Color was for otherworldly folks who possessed more money and knowledge.

Then in 1986 I acquired my first PC, and gradually the software that would allow me to create this thing called digital art. I used Corel Draw/Paint initially.  Of course, my first printer was a monochrome HP printer. In the old days, whenever I had a technical problem, I would call HP and actually speak to an engineer in Redwood City, California.

Slowly, the world kept turning, and my technology and some skill kept advancing. My darkroom was packed and stored in the basement and I began seriously engaging this world of digital technology.  Until we retired and moved to Concord, NC most of my digital art was family fun—photographs of a grandson playing soccer; family holiday pictures, etc. But sitting in the basement, next to the retired darkroom equipment was a box filled with 35 mm slides, most of which dated from 1964-1968, when we resided in India. I managed to take several thousand slides during our life in India.  The Taj at first light and again at full moon. The sun rising over Mt. Kinchinjunga, turning the peaks of that snowclad mountain golden, as the valley down below remained dark. The beautiful lake in Srinagar, Kashmir, surrounded by mountains  (and hostile Pakistani’s) and occupied by little boats gliding around carrying passengers or local artisanal crafts. Ancient mosques, fortresses, camels, and village folk dotted the large landscape that is India. I took full advantage, returning home with a treasure trove of artsy photographs.

After our retirement to our own century-old bungalow in Concord, I continued taking new photographs, and converting the old slides to digital format.  Slowly, I began to create my digital art. With larger printers, capable of printing on canvas, I became a “digital artist”.

Then I became aware of our periodic Art Walks in downtown Concord, where artists and craftsmen displayed and sold their artistic creations. Local folks would come out, wander the streets, gaze at some artistic creations, dine at local eateries, sometimes buy some stuff on display and go home happy.  Slowly I began creating larger works specifically for these shows, sometimes from new digital photographs, sometimes from my India collection. I began a blog (www.observedart.blogspot.com) to publicize my digital art.

At each art show, I would create, print and frame (or just stretch the canvas without framing) some of my creations. I loved showing my work, having a few people actually buy some, and then I expanded my display space by filling the walls of Gianni’s Italian restaurant, and the artsy shoppe, Little Feather, with my work, supplemented by the quarterly art walks.

As people would stroll by looking at my work, mostly admiring, I began noticing a consistent theme. Many people would look at a picture, and ask, “how did you do that?” they weren’t commenting on the beauty of the piece. Instead, they were asking for some technical explanation of what I had dome on my computer to create the picture. When I acknowledged using Photoshop to create an effect, I would get, “oh, you photoshopped it”.  As though, that was the full explanation. I began to realize that Photoshop was seen as the author of the work, rather than me. It was as though I waved my hand in front of the screen and declared, “Oh Photoshop God, make this humble digital photograph a work of artistic beauty.  And it would be so.  Then I could return to my cup of coffee and relax on the couch.  I was apparently not a real artist. I noted that the wandering folks never asked a water colorist, or oil painter (you know, real artists) how they had managed to create a certain effect. Nope, they only admired the work as an original work of art. My work was apparently seen as something different in its entirety, a production output of a software company called Adobe.
So, the question bouncing around in my head now is . . . “what is digital art?” Is it ART, or merely the creation of the Photoshop brainchild. I suppose, my question presupposes the question, “what is art?”
And I am left wondering, if my digital art is not really art, then what the hell is it I have been doing?
And if I am not a real artist, then what am I, just the hulk of an old aerospace engineer who wandered into the 21st century?
Hmmm.

Perhaps I should engage in another smallish nap, and ponder the question at another time. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Predictable Faux Outrage

So, the Prez acted alone on immigration, since the Congress refused to do anything on the subject. And now they’re all whiny and pretend outraged. They’re going to . . . well do something . . . impeach him . . . or sue him . . . or call him names. Yeah, that’s the ticket. We’ll call him names. Nyah, nyah, nyah nyah nyah.

Course, they were going to sue him anyway, or do something or other, just cuz, ya know, they can. They got lawyers, you know. Yeah, they really do. And with Tony and the Supremes at the top, they can do almost anything they want. Tony’s never known a GOP policy he didn’t love. He’s so . . . Supremey . . .

So, now the game is on. Our Prez may have finally learned something important.
When the opposition party refuses to do anything, and will deny the Prez anything he wants, including appointments to his administration, or the courts, then it actually doesn’t matter what he does.  It’s a freeing thing, this wall of opposition.  Or to put it as Janice might have:

 “. . . freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose . . .”

This condition has existed from the beginning of President Obama’s presidency, when Mitch declared that his main job was assuring the Obama was a one-term president. He and Mr. Boehner declared at the beginning that nothing Obama would attempt would succeed, so long as they were able to impose their will. 

And for six years, they have done a fair job at impeding progress in America, including 54 votes in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They apparently really hate the idea of giving 30-40 million uninsured Americans access to our health care system. Presently, they are bringing a lawsuit against the Prez for actions taken by him regarding the Act, and they are doubtless going to sue/impeach him for his immigration reform measures. But note, they are least likely to debate, construct, and vote on their own bill concerning immigration, or really anything else.  They are simply opposed to anything he wants to do. They apparently define their job as opposing the President, regardless of the effects of their opposition on the nation. One has to assume that they do not care about the fate of our fair nation. Perhaps that is above their pay grade.

So, now what’s the Prez to do? Well, he is free to do anything he wants. They won’t pass any legislation he crafts, but that shouldn’t stop him from crafting some.  With regard to the economy, climate control, education policy, renewable energy development, infrastructure renovation . . . the list goes on . . . he can and should act, even if Congress will not act. Then he can publicize the inaction of Congress and the consequences of that inaction. See, the GOP assumes that they can use any or all of his actions against the democrats in the 2016 Presidential election. They will certainly. But the Prez now has the opportunity to do the same to them.  Craft some sensible, potentially productive legislation, submit it to Congress and then spend as much time and effort as needed to inform the American public about their unwillingness to do anything to improve the nation’s status.

It’s a double-edged sword the GOP has crafted. The President should now use their sword to his and our advantage.


Craft on Prez. You have nothing left to lose . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Return to Values

Well, the people have spoken, sort of. More accurate to say, some of the people have spoken some of the time. Apparently, Lincoln didn’t get that part, when he said:
You can fool all the people some of the time,
and some of the people all the time,
but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The part he didn’t get is that is that you do not need to fool (lie to) all of the people all of the time. Because all of the people do not vote all of the time.  With this last election, we seem to have demonstrated, if not proved, that at the least you can win elections by lying to that part of the people (electorate) who actually intend to vote.
What did the GOP promise? Well, they said basically,
“All of the world’s problems are caused by Obama.
And we are not Obama.”
So, despite all of the evidence sitting there in front of them that, actually, most of the current problems have either been caused by the republicans, or ignored by them, the voting people elected to cast their ballots for one of the weakest fields of candidates I can remember. And now, instead of the unimpressive Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, we will be led by those youngsters, Mitch (I am not a scientist) McConnell, and Johnny Boehner.
Now, to be fair, Tony and the Supremes can claim some considerable credit for the election results, given their “Corporations are persons” ruling, which opened the floodgates of black money. And of course, what would a GOP election win be without the Faux News Network’s contribution?  They are the official PR wing of the Koch-party. That they lie is beyond dispute, and, further, that the (voting) Americans believe them also seems beyond dispute.  It’s all really kind of amazing.  The rest of the world must view us as some kind of weird Klingon culture, or perhaps we are The Borg—“Resistance is futile”.
Exactly how we plan to bring democracy to the so-called Third World, or to that benighted region known colloquially as the “Middle East”, or “Beheading Central”, as we now like to call it, I cannot imagine. What troubles me greatly in that regard is that we have several thousands of our youngsters currently in harm’s way within that sad region trying to enforce our will, meanwhile some dying each day in pursuit of the Shrub’s continued legacy.  While it has become Obama’s war, that mess was created by the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz crowd, who insisted on attacking Sadaam just because Poppy Bush had done so and we did so want to demonstrate that we could do it better than Poppy Bush. Plus, we do so like our oil fields. Of course, now that ISIS has its own oil field(s) we may not be able to claim any of the profits generated there. I suppose, ISIS will use the profits to buy more swords, the better to behead more unbelievers. Much as we like oil money, they love beheadings.
And so it goes.
Now, we, the other part of the electorate (the ones who voted for the other guys) will have to watch how the Koch-party (maybe we can call the republicans The Grand Old Cocks??) will erase what remains of the nation’s honor.
Hopefully by the 2016 election (beginning . . .. oh, now) the Democrats will discover an actual platform on which to run Hillary, or Bernie Sanders, or Kirsten Gillibrand, or whoever. And maybe that platform will speak to the whole of the American people.
·         The economy currently sucks and shows some signs of actually crashing, ala 1929 fashion.  The federal government can play a productive role in its recovery. We know that the so-called “job-creators” are mainly the folks who have been outsourcing American jobs and WalMarting America.  Meanwhile, at a minimum, our entire infrastructure is crumbling, and a WPA style program might actually restore both that infrastructure and some small part of our economy;
·         The banks and hedge fund managers of the world (way beyond just here in the US) seem basically to be little more than gamblers, and they are using our credit to gamble, while returning virtually all the profits to the 0.1%. They need desperately to be reined in, with perhaps some drastic steps needed to restrain banks from their current style of gambling.
·         We need to invest in tomorrow’s technology and stop worrying about the 19th century (see the Koch brothers). A major national investment program in new energy resources, and new approaches to climate control will move us back into the 21st century from our current 19th century perch. It could also help to revive the economy.
·         We need to reinvigorate the concept of balance in our world. In a past episode, I commented on the need for balance and it continues to have relevance. I will close this little posting with the remains of a former posting:
In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy.
We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.
We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources.
We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social security alone
 Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer.
We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 
There were a few other points that need not be repeated here. What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers. Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).
Mainly, we all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

GOP Winner Take All

Well, the American people have spoken (at least that segment of the American people allowed to vote by the GOP-run states). And they voted for the GOP overwhelmingly.  That means the American (republican) people now want:
1. Health care turned over to the private insurance companies--that includes the ACA and, of course Medicare.
2. The American people want/expect taxes on the wealthiest to be lowered.
3. The American people want/expect our society to be deregulated--that means less/no regulation of the extractive industries,  oil and gas, and all potentially polluting industries.
4. The American people prefer/demand a society based on Christian beliefs and values. If you hold different values, tough.
5. The American people prefer/expect our system of public education to be gradually diminished in favor of private educational approaches, including for-profit, on-line approaches.
6. The American people expect Social Security to be converted into a privately managed fund.
7. The American people expect that we shall erect even larger walls around America, with increased military/militia presence around the walls--think the Great Wall of China. In addition, the American people expect immigration from LDC's to be reduced/eliminated.
8. The American people want/expect even greater access to personal weaponry by most Americans.
9. It is rumored, but not certain that the Koch brothers will begin immediately building several castles, now that they own America. One is expected to be built on the banks of the Potomac, so GOP Congresspersons can be summoned easily for instructions. It is thought also that their main castle will be erected somewhere in Texas. That would be appropriate.
10. Well, there's more, but now for a smallish nap . . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Land in Disarray

I am often taken to task for not writing more frequently in my blog. But increasingly, I no longer know what to say.  As I age, I am increasingly aware of the limited time I have left. And I find our world increasingly difficult to comprehend.  All over the world, we see vaguely crazed people imposing their will, to the detriment of ordinary folks—see Vladimir Putin.

The Middle East seems to have come totally unhinged, with the crazy ISIS/ISIL people defining what we think of as Muslims. That they most closely resemble the Thugs of the old Thugee bands of 1300-1800's India, seems not to matter to most observers. They kill with impunity, but more to the point, they act in crazed and excruciatingly cruel ways towards seemingly ordinary folks. The cruelty being expressed throughout the Middle East, under varying names, makes me wonder why the formal religious leaders in the region—the Mullahs and Ayatollahs do not express formally their judgment that these acts are not part of Islam and the people who carry them out are explicitly not Muslims, but rather evil forces masquerading as Muslims.  For ordinary Muslims, living around the world, their very existence as people is now threatened, since the non-Muslim world has begun viewing all Muslims through the lens of ISIS killers.

And then we have stable, boring old Europe, currently looking like a jigsaw puzzle coming apart. The economy of the region seems vaguely in the crapper, but then we also observe movements to disassemble the region and return to the Europe of old—squabbling tribes periodically hating the other tribes to the point of shooting at one another.  That Great Britain escaped its own demise with the Scottish vote seems only an accident of timing. Who knows what might happen should there be another vote in a year or two. And what will the Brits do now to placate the Scots? And whatever they do, I imagine Wales and Ireland will be paying close attention.

And then, if we head to the West, across that large body of water known as the Atlantic, we come across another Crazyland—the good old United States of America. We have begun drifting into some NeverNever land, ever since we elected a black man as President.  Apparently that national act was simply too much for the party in opposition.  Having subjected the country to Ronald Reagan and then Junior Bush, the republicans decided that they could not tolerate such an act of outright defiance. The Chutzpah of us voters—electing an intelligent, articulate black man as President. Heaven forfend as George Will might say.  So, the republicans all crept off into a permanent whiny corner of the world, vowing to have nothing to do with this man, regardless of what he might like to do, and regardless of the consequences to the nation.  What that meant was that they committed themselves to opposing whatever our President wanted to do. They wanted him out—a one-term president was their spoken goal.

Then they let loose their barrage of money through the ultra-moneyed set—the Koch’s of the world, allowing the Koch’s and others of their ilk to essentially buy their party, lock, stock, and barrel. That they have become destructive goes without saying. But what has begun to baffle me is that our voting public seems ok with all that. Obama has something like a 48% approval rating by the public, whereas Congress has about a 15% approval rating. Despite those ratings, the public seems poised to hand over majority control of Congress—both houses—to the republicans, that party now owned by oligarchs of the Koch-ilk—the destroyers of our country.  What are we to make of such a bizarre outcome? It is as though the Middle East had voted to elect to power the ISIS thugs.  I can find no rational explanation for why the American public would choose to vote Republican in this coming/ongoing election.

Except that we are now living in Bizzaroland. The America of old—that nation that secured the freedom of the world from the 1940s terrorist regimes in Germany and Japan; that nation that sent the first men to the moon in the 1960s; that can-do nation, seems no more than a shadow of its former self.

And that is why I have been having trouble writing in my blog.