Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Seasonal Recollection

What seems like ages ago now, we went to our first John Doan "Victorian Christmas" performance at the Clinton Street Theatre.

Doan is a regional fixture, and for several years before that had had a kind of hokey Christmas special on OPB TV.  "Hokey" only in that the story was a bit too contrived for adults.  The music was great.

His live performances around Christmas were based on the same theme:  wandering into a Victorian-era parlor to hear old compositions played on period instruments.  We thought we knew what to expect.

We settled into our seats and enjoyed his welcome and his storytelling.  His specialty is the harp-guitar, and he never stays away from it for very long, drifting briefly off to a banjo, or guitar or autoharp or any of the several oddball period contraptions before returning to his instrument of choice.

Partway through the performance there was, as there always is, a singalong segment.  We all had our lyric sheets on the off chance that we didn't know the words.

I can't even remember what we were asked to sing, but as the voices rose around us emotions seemed to lift as though by a long wave.  I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I tried.  I wasn't going to get left behind on that ride.

We soared through the first carol and Doan looked up from his harp-guitar.  Like mine, his eyes were wet.  He smiled broadly and almost whispered "Wow, it sounds like choir practice just let out."

A half-dozen voices in various parts of the audience answered back:  "It did!"

The laughter that resulted didn't break the mood, and we launched into the rest of the segment, everyone part of the same choir for a few minutes.

I wasn't alone in not being able to keep my eyes dry, but we all kept singing.

The rest of the performance seemed particularly inspired and the mood throughout the theater remained quietly elevated, as though we all knew we'd been a part of something unique.

We all filed out afterward, talking to people we'd never met before and would probably never see again.  Smiling, quietly wishing each other happy holidays, we passed the audience for the next performance, which happened to be the regular Saturday night showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The audiences of the two shows couldn't be much different, and yet even the crew waiting to take our places inside seemed to brighten up a little as we went by in such great moods.

I've attended many of those performances since in many different locations, but none has matched that first one.  Each has been "good to wonderful" in its own way, but none seemed to make a full choir out of all of us the way that that first one did.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Grouch Gets Poked Once Too Often

And he starts to snarl.

The little angel on his left shoulder (yeah, I picked left on purpose) says "Be nice.  Everybody has a right to express themselves in their own way."

The little devil on his right shoulder (in the 21st century US, the devil is on the right, trust me) says "Yeah, sure, but dammit, why can't they use a spell-checker, or at least give enough of a damn to want to know if they're sounding like a half-wit?"

Am I speaking of anyone in particular?  No, I wish it were that simple.

MySpace, Facebook, blogs and public forums of all stripe are filled with such obvious examples of the failures of the US's education system.

Far right wingnuts demand "English-only" speech, but can't manage simple English on their posters at demonstrations.

Far left folks get just as bad at times because rules are for "tools" and so they flout them willfully.  Sometimes. Sometimes artfully.

A tangent:  I had a couple of wise teachers in high school ("Hi Pat!, hi Carol!") who in their own ways let me know that I was only allowed to break the rules after I had demonstrated that I understood them.

We all make mistakes.  But they shouldn't be a lifestyle.

We have so, SO many ways to communicate these days, but the discourse is deteriorating, and I'm so disheartened.

I need to be clear about this note:  As I noted many months ago when I started this blog, if English isn't your first language and you're trying to make yourself heard, GO FOR IT!  But if English is the only language you've ever known and you're still butchering it, you're insulting yourself and the language you're supposed to be fluent in.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reading the Ship Report

Some things are a given.  When there's a ship in the anchorage or passing by with three sets of king posts,bet on  it being the Sammi Crystal.  If you're in Astoria, this "just is".

Still, I look for confirmation.

After making a stop at Safeway for necessities, I saw the familiar profile against the afterglow.  Checking the ship report site confirmed what I already pretty much knew... the big rustbucket was back in town.

But there was more.  The Oriente Sky is in the anchorage, too!  This is the ship that I photographed about a year ago when the Columbia looked like a storm-tossed sea.

Both ships are featured, for the next few hours, anyway, in my first public display of photographs.

Interesting that they'd both show up as the curtain comes down on that episode.

The Sammi Crystal outbound, 12/20/2009.  I seldom get to see this leg of her trips.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Worth the Trip

I regularly question the sense of driving between 75 and 150 miles to one-day cycling events. But, since I don't really have any riding partners over here, and I've used up the majority of the available roads many times over, I still do it.

Saturday's Harvest Century started in Hillsboro, so I drove "The Barrel" and the Sunset Summit, much of it in full darkness.

The sun started to rise as I turned onto US 26. I risked making myself late by stopping several times to shoot.

The "fog in a bowl" image was at the viewpoint turnout. The balance were on the way in from US 26 a few miles from Hillsboro. The ride itself traveled through most of that area an hour or so later.

It was a beautiful day, and I was glad to be on the bike, but I could easily have burned up the morning chasing more photographs. Good thing I left the "big bag" at home. These were all shot with the Lumix, and a couple needed slight Photoshop adjustments to "give me back" the scene that I saw.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Well, I'll be...

Looks like the Nobel Committee is in strong disagreement with me.  Or at least they're a lot more optimistic than I am.

Well, good!

At least the "non-US" portion of the planet has stopped loathing our leadership.  That's what I take out of the Peace Prize selection, anyway.  "Hey, look!  They elected someone that doesn't hate the rest of the world, and he's not bent on killing us all through overt hostility or callous neglect!"

Not insignificant matters, to be sure, but we still need some real focus here.

If the Nobel Prize was offered in the form of a chalice (I know it's not), I'd see it as something to yet to be filled, a major project yet to be completed.  Expectations expressed but not yet fulfilled.

For all of our sakes (including the counter-patriot wingnuts currently freaking out en-masse), I hope the Nobel Committee remains happy with their choice in the coming years.

Mr. President, you've got yet another high bar to get over.  I know you didn't ask for it, but I hope you make it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When the Hangover Starts

Trivia question:  Which 80s pop band released a song by that title?

But I'm talking about the electoral hangover, not the alcohol induced one. And I've got one.

As I've noted previously, I didn't expect miracles, an immediate reversal of a catastrophic economic slide or a sudden, inexplicable outbreak of peace and harmony on the planet.

But what I did expect and had reason to hope for was a change from "business as usual" in the White House, with a trickle-down effect into the houses of Congress.

Silly me.

Do I regret not voting for the old grouch from Arizona and his Froot-Loops-crazy glamor girl sidekick?  Oh, hell no.  I can induce nightmares in the daytime when I consider that scenario.

But my disappointment in the President is growing daily.  It's not hatred or bigotry or anything else that the crackers on the right have going for them.  Regardless of what their nutball signs might say, it's really that wing of the public that leans right far enough to approach Nazism.  The very fact that so many of them are utterly befuddled by the political spectrum points up either the failure of our education system or the complete success of the right-wing media machine.  Or both.

I'm disappointed with the President for not standing up for the ideals that he ran on.  Come on, Mr. President, let's make a fresh, strong pot of coffee and get a fresh start with some real focus!

Trivia answer:  Squeeze

Friday, August 28, 2009

Has the "Fox News" Mentality Taken Over Everything?

OK, so that's probably not the right question. Fox, while really awful, isn't the only outlet that I suspect in this...

The question is really much more broad. It's more like "Do people really not want to do their own thinking anymore?"

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get at work is "What laser printer should I buy?"

I understand why I get the question. I sell a number of products that are designed for use in laser printers. It's normal to ask for tips and things to look for when purchasing a new printer, and I help when I can, but I (and we as a company) do NOT make recommendations.

Why? The reasons are myriad, including but not limited to the fact that there are more printers than we can possibly test; people's needs are different; models and drivers change faster than we can keep up with and (this is a biggie) real, usable testing takes many months to accomplish.

With all of that in mind, simply testing printers and their output in a real-world setting could be a full time occupation. It wouldn't be one that many people would pay for, but it could be full time.

Many of our customers understand this without asking. A few more get indignant when I won't tell them which printer to go and buy, but then settle down when they consider the factors listed above.

A few more, however, get really, really upset when I won't say "Go buy this printer."

Sometimes they push harder. "You've GOT to tell me something."

No, really, I can't do anything more but to help you identify the features that are most important to you. "How can you stay in business if you won't help your customers?"

Helping someone and removing them from the thought process are two very different things.

Which is where the Fox (or MSNBC, or Rush Limbaugh, or what/whoever)question comes from. With all of these various ways that people are told what to think, and with all of the millions of viewers and listeners who swallow all of whatever flavor of spew that happens to resonate with them, has a large segment of our population just given up on thinking for themselves and taking responsibility for their thoughts?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Oh, For a Kayak Tonight...

Ripples are slow, too lazy to peak. The stillness stretches all the way across the river.

It's warm and so sticky that the grass is sopping wet, though there's been no rain for more than a day.

Breathless calm, muted hues, happy frogs, the soft murmur of contented ducks bobbing nearby, but out of sight.

I want to disrupt it ever so slightly, just to cut one long, broad wedge into the surface, pointing a slender craft out toward the trestle's cut, dipping a paddle quietly.
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flyweight Fight

Some of the hummers never left, but the ones that did are coming back in numbers.
The feeder is getting a little too crowded for some these days.
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Click on the image for a closer view.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Copyright? What copyright?

The web is a great thing.  I don't know how I'd get along without it.  But there are some serious downsides.

I make photographs because I really like to.  No, I love to.  I like to share some of what I do.  I mean, for me, that's the point... capture a frame for the sake of its visual appeal.  Not everyone is going to like it, but some will.  So I put some up on the web and provide links for viewing them, particularly to the subjects.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at the front page of the print publication for our local community radio station and found one of my photos staring back at me.  When I looked below the fold, there was another.  Nobody had asked me for permission, and yet here's my stuff showing up in print, without attribution.

Musicians (at least the ones I like) get up on stage because they love to do what they do, because they want to share what they do, and usually because they'd like some appreciation for what they do.  Appreciation in the form of applause (at least) and in the best of worlds, some money.  Not an outlandish amount usually, just some to help offset expenses.

I don't expect applause.  Though I have to admit that when one of my subjects came up to me a week ago and told me that those were the best pictures she'd ever had from a performance, it did feel really good.

I don't expect a lot of money.  Usually, I don't expect any, but some would be nice.  I've got a few thousand dollars invested in equipment, supplies and software... think of it as an analogue to a few guitars and an amp or two.  They're necessary tools, and they're not free to me.

I do expect respect.  And sometimes it comes.  But sometimes it doesn't.

I got an e-mail from a performer who happened to be included in one of my sessions.  No compliments or anything, just "send me everything you took at high resolution".  Naw... I don't think so.  Even if he understood what he was asking for he wasn't going to get it.  I gave him express permission to use web-resolution images of the files that I chose for MySpace or Facebook use only, and I didn't charge him.  It was a better deal than he deserved, but he probably still thinks I'm being a jerk because I warned him that he really didn't want me to find that he'd used anything in print without permission.

I'm regularly astonished at what some people believe they're entitled to.  But it does make those occasions when real appreciation is shown even more memorable.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is Oregon Really That Bike-Friendly?

And, is civil discourse as dead as it seems?

It's starting to feel like the answers are "No" and "Yes", respectively, and it's depressing me.

Two cycling-related legislative proposals have hit Salem in the last week or so, and the resultant firestorms of "debate" (applied in the loosest of possible contexts) have amounted to hate-speech.  Both sides are guilty, but the pro-car/anti-bike wing wins hands-down for both overt and covert threats of violence and preponderance of ignorance.  They've got the gross vehicle weight behind them, after all.  So, when push comes to, well... squish... the cyclist loses.

There are some pretty damned stupid "spokeys" out there, too... don't get me wrong.  A carbon-neutral footprint doesn't win you any points if you're otherwise an idiot.

Few of the combatants in the alleged debates seem to be from the "real world"... that is, people who both ride and drive and take a pragmatic view of both sides of the issues and try to find peace in the middle.  The loudest of the shouters are the anarchist bike-fans and the "you'll pry me from my car with your cold, loud Jaws-of-Life" crowd.

A news-flash, folks:  Peace is possible in the middle.  But it requires thought, tolerance and some flexibility.

Oh, damn.  I just remembered that I'm asking all three of the above from a majority of state citizens.  

Nevermind.  I'll keep an eye on my mirror for the pick-em-up truck aiming to make a hood ornament out of me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Surprise!

I was liberating some new shirts from their packaging tonight. I don't buy such things all that often, so maybe these aren't so new, but I LOVED the fact that the Dockers shirts didn't have pins, but these little paper clips, instead.

As I slid them off, I felt the imprints far more than read them. These are really small, after all. I looked much closer and just chuckled. I thought they were worth dragging out the camera and flash to shoot them.

Yes, I kept them all, and yes, they're being added to the paper clip collection in my office.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

I took a couple of hours off to watch the procedings today. I've never done that before. Since high school (maybe before) I've understood on an intellectual basis what "a peaceful transfer of power" means, but it's taken until now for the full effect of that phrase to really resonate within me. Sorry... I can be kind of slow about these things.

I took the whole thing for granted, really. Shame on me.

But now, now that I'm the same age as the man taking the oath, it all hit home.

What's happened here is just barely comprehensible.

I have not "drunk the Kool-Aid".
I don't believe that Obama is anything more than a man.
I don't believe that any one person can heal all of the wounds and right all of the wrongs of the last eight years.

But I do believe that one man can lead the people where the last was led by greed and vanity and the military-industrial complex that a former leader of his own party warned about two generations earlier. "The People" ended up being dragged along in increasingly unwilling numbers.

The holes that have been dug by the previous administration (and those started decades ago and deepened through benign neglect or malignant intent) will take a lot of time and effort to fill.

One man can't do it all.

But one vast country still can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Well, now... that was impressive

On a spectacularly ugly night to be out and about (rain driven by frantic gusts of wind), attendance vastly exceeded any expectations at a movie preview/anti-LNG meeting at The Loft in Astoria.

For anyone in the dark about this, LNG is liquified natural gas.  Basically the same thing extracted from Canada and the US Rockies, except that LNG is extracted in other parts of the world, supercooled to a liquid state, poured into massive ships and then offloaded, re-gassified and then distributed via pipelines around the US.

So, what's the problem?  It's just another energy source, isn't it?  Isn't gas cleaner than coal?

Oh... where to start?

While this wasn't really touched on at the gathering tonight, I'll start at the mouth of the river, since that's where it first begins to touch our lives.  The mouth of the Columbia River is one of, if not THE most dangerous ship passage in the world.  And we're talking about making regular transits of it with some of the most potentially dangerous cargo in the world.

Should an accident occur and even one of the holding tanks be breached and its contents ignited, the "blast zone" or area of fire hazard would extend for a mile and a half on either side of the vessel.  My house is much less than a mile from the center of the navigation channel.  Most of downtown Astoria is far closer than that.

"OK, but accidents like that are unlikely."  I'd say that that's true enough, but an accident like the Exxon Valdez or the New Carissa was unlikely, too, but they did happen, and those were just relatively recent events on the west coast of North America.  And both of those happened when "terrorism" was something that happened elsewhere.  These days, an LNG tanker is a floating, slow-moving bomb that any inept "pilot" with a couple of days of training could fly a light plane into.

But, what if we ignore the fire or terrorism threat?  Why all the NIMBY attitude?

How about:  "We don't need it."  Can we be more plain?  The state of California has denied any siting of LNG terminals, but they still use gas, a lot of gas.  The state of Oregon's natural gas needs even at current levels and possibly higher can be met handily for at least the next thirty years by domestic production.  California's demands are far higher.  In fact, California's demand is far more than double that of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada's usage combined.  But they won't host a terminal.

Which brings up the other major problem with LNG:  moving it to its market.  Which would be California.  There's an existing pipeline that runs from British Columbia to California, passing through eastern Oregon.  The current plan is to tie the Columbia River terminals to the existing pipeline via the Palomar project, joining the lines near Maupin, OR.  

If you're unfamiliar with Oregon's geography, all I can say in short order is that Maupin is two mountain ranges and thousands of creeks, rivers, farms and forests from here, and that's mostly because the most direct route would be through the City of Portland, and you know damn good and well that will never fly.  So the developers took the assumed "path of least resistance" through farmlands and forests.  If you are familiar with Oregon's geography, the damage is enough to make you weep.

And I'm not meaning to gloss over any of the other salient points:  creating another dependence on a foreign-based fossil fuel; the carbon cost of liquification/transport/regassification (makes it only second to coal for power production as a global warming contributor); the environmental impact (especially at Bradwood for our already threatened salmon runs), and the long-term lack of contribution to the local economy while simultaneously threatening the flow of shipping for an entire region.

But there IS resistance.  Rural Oregon is fighting back.  Farmers, fisherpeople, First Peoples and everyday citizens are staring big business (none of the developers are from Oregon... who would've guessed that?) and the Federal Government in the eye and saying "You have to go through me."

And several hundred of them braved the winds and the rain to show up in support of keeping the projects from moving forward.

More info:
http://www.nolng.net/ (an issue-specific site of Columbia Riverkeeper)
or contact Dan Serres at (503) 890-2441

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Alderbrook, Christmas Morning

Aside from the fact that it was a most unusual morning for weather, there's not a lot to add to the title!
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