Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hope and Change 2.0

The 2012 presidential election is two days behind us and I'm still giddy. The thrill of victory is all the sweeter by my appreciation for the agony of the GOP's defeat. Last Sunday, while watching the Fox News show with Chris Wallace, I was worried. Fox's talking heads were predicting an Electoral College landslide for Mitt Romney. For weeks, my conservative friends had been sharing analysis demonstrating that President Obama's support among young and minority voters did not approach anything near 2008 levels. The continuing high unemployment rate and slow pace of economic recovery made it impossible for the president to get re-elected. Wisconsin was a shoe-in for Governor Romney as evidenced by Governor Walker's repudiation of recall efforts. Elizabeth Warren was a fraud whose success germinated from lying about her heritage on her resume. Nevada's concentration of Mormons and foreclosed real estate assured placement in the Romney column. Florida's Jewish voters had received the message that President Obama had thrown Israel under the bus and the state's governor was doing his best to suppress the vote of likely supporters of the president. Constitutional amendments on the ballot in Minnesota designed to bring conservatives to the polls would threaten Minnesota's traditional blue status. The multi-million dollar final blitz by GOP Super-pacs was going to eviscerate support for the president.

It was all too much to bear. It made it impossible to rationally believe in Nate Silver's 538 Blog assessment that President Obama was strongly favored to win re-election. Now, how sweet it is!

The reality is that the GOP campaign was based on inflammatory rhetoric rather than substance. The governor's supporters drank their own Kool-Aid  and (to mix metaphors) believed that the seeds of hate for the president they'd been sowing for four years would take root and wipe Democrats off the Electoral map.

Don't get me wrong. The country has serious problems facing it at home and abroad. All of us need to be concerned about them. But the GOP strategy of spending four years obstructing every effort the president made to address those problems and then smearing him for being ineffectual ultimately did not sell. The efforts to rile up the under-educated white male base with racist dog whistle references to the president's heritage, religion, Socialist leanings and past associations failed to bring enough lemmings in to make a difference. Attempts to manipulate the electorate by suppressing likely Democrats and baiting conservatives with inflammatory constitutional amendments backfired. Democratic turnout was enhanced in response to these not-so-subtle attacks on the moderate/liberal electorate.

I have a lot more to say about the election and about the frustrations felt to my core with the direction conservatives want to take us. That's for later. Several friends have commented that, in the weeks leading up to the election, I seemed to be getting cranky and condescending in my online exchanges in social media. I plead "guilty" and owe them an explanation. It's coming. Now that Obama 2.0 is uploaded, I am no longer willing to sit silently while uninformed Fox News ventriloquist dummies tear down our country and its president.

For now, I'll just leave you with this: I want to believe that Hurricane Sandy played a major role in undermining Governor Romney's campaign efforts and results. The poetic justice of a natural disaster enhanced by climate change and referred to as an Act of God being responsible for the defeat of a climate change mocker whose base claimed God as their own is too marvelous for words.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More Signs of Reason Gone Mad

Among the senselessness that comes to mind when reading about last night's shooting at a movie theater in Aurora is the knowledge that someone working for the NRA will arrive at the office today and be tasked with doing damage control. Worse, 2nd Amendment fanatics will start decrying "liberals" for using this as an excuse to try to violate their Constitutional rights. Welcome to the other side of the Looking Glass.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

R.I.P. Tom Davis

Tom Davis, Comedian and ‘SNL’ Sketch Writer, Dies at 59

This is so sad and sobering. When I was a senior at UCLA, I lived in West L.A., near a bar/club where Franken and Davis did stand-up. I ran into them one night. I had met Al while visiting mutual friends from SLP at Harvard a couple of years before and we shared other close friends. They were looking for a ride back to Minneapolis and we spent a couple of minutes figuring out if it would work to go back together. That didn't work out (would have been a Hell of a trip) but I've always remembered what a nice guy Tom seemed to be. He was my age and on a completely different career path. The fact that he's now "inanimated", reminds me of a special time of my youth and the reality of its passing. He's left me with a new (again) appreciation for enjoying each day that Life offers. R.I.P Mr. Davis. My condolences on your loss, Senator.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Elections Matter

When Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate in the middle of the health care debate, there was a general consensus that the lackluster campaigning by his Democratic opponent and the relatively low voter turnout gave Ted Kennedy's seat to a Republican. Notably, the race was seen as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. Brown's election jeopardized passage of the ACA and cries of "Elections Matter!" resounded from a vocal minority who were determined to push their agenda on the majority.

When Scott Walker became governor of Wisconsin in the off-year election of 2010 and started on a previously unannounced campaign to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, cries of "Elections Matter!" were heard again, again to justify the imposition of a minority agenda on the majority.

Elections do matter. My growing frustration with hope and change submitting to block and parry is directed at those who share my politics but not my willingness to vote. Governor Walker's ability to push back the recall effort in Wisconsin resulted largely from a broader consensus than contributed to his initial election that elections matter and that he should be given his full term.

What I don't understand, except as a strategy in the war of politics, is why elections only matter when the minority scores a victory in a low turnout election. There was an election in 2008, too. President Obama, who campaigned on universal health care, won handily in an election in which well over half of the eligible electorate participated. Not one Republican was willing to acknowledge that the 2008 election mattered and support the will of the People by voting for the ACA. Recall that the President accepted the invitation of the House Republican Caucus to meet directly and respond to their concerns over a wide range of issues in a televised, unscripted setting. As a result of the way he successfully responded to the false rhetoric and soundbites upon which Republican congressmen based their opposition to the ACA and other programs, the GOP decided that there would be no more invitations extended to the White House for similar exchanges. And, although Senator Brown's election ultimately did not matter enough as it related to blocking the ACA, there was, and remains, a refusal to apply the same elections matter theory of democracy to the acceptance of issues unpopular with conservatives.

Now that the Supreme Court has determined that a Constitutional basis exists for support of the ACA, the GOP is redoubling its efforts to repeal the bill, primarily by replacing President Obama in November. If successful, there will be a return to "Elections Matter!" But if the election in 2012 is going to matter, I am going to do what I can to re-elect President Obama in order to re-send the message from 2008's electorate. More to come.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pondering = Tea Leaf Reading?

June 28, 2012: Feeling a little full of myself. When asked this week about what the Supreme Court was going to do with the Affordable Care Act, I've been suggesting that Justice Scalia's unprecedented temper tantrum from the bench when delivering his dissent in the Arizona immigration case signaled his frustration with what was coming today. Pass the broccoli.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Vote Republican (if you're so inclined, but not for these reasons)

I am writing tonight to follow up on a graphic I posted on Facebook earlier this week. As anticipated, the graphic, an attack on current Republican dogma, drew several comments, both critical and supportive, on the message I was trying to convey.

One of my conservative friends, Kari, posted a comment in response to the graphic. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Sam? I expect much more thoughtful discourse from you. ;-)."

I responded to Kari by promising to blog, "expanding on the theme (with sources)". Here goes.

Let's start with the message in the graphic:



I introduced the graphic with this observation:
I know a number of my friends aren't going to like this. The truth is, these are positions that have been championed by candidates they've supported to various degrees. Might as well own up to it now if these are the opinions/values/programs you want to see prevail in November.

I proved to be particularly prophetic. A firestorm of comments ensued. As of this writing several days later, there have been about 50. More conservative friends went post to post with more progressive friends, including a number of self-proclaimed former Republicans.

The fact that the graphic evoked such strong visceral reactions results, I believe, from a fundamental conflict within the Republican party. As I noted when I posted the graphic, "the truth is, these are positions that have been championed by candidates they've supported to various degrees." The further truth is that a majority of Republicans and Independents think the platform presented is nonsense. The final truth is that our political system has failed us to the extent that we encourage candidates looking to gain traction in early contests to throw red meat to the faithful to generate newsworthy turnout and support.

Unfortunately for principaled conservatives who do not support the scapegoating, denigration and baseless soundbites that pass for political discourse, there is neither an alternative debate nor sufficient demand for one to silence the idiots.

The phenomena is not limited to conservatives. Four years ago, John Edwards was pulling stunts like recreating RFK's tour of inner city ghettos as a means of demonstrating his populist leanings. Senators Obama and Clinton were tripping over one another to distance themselves from the war in Iraq. In this cycle, my progressive friends clamor for wealthy individuals to pay their "fair share" of taxes, playing number games with percentages that ignore the fact that multiplying any percentage by a high income generates a lot of tax revenue. In the final analysis, how much is enough?

One of the most thoughtful comments on the post was from a woman who declared, "I am a Republican and I do not believe in any of these statements." If more Republicans who share her belief system spoke out, and if more Democrats similarly renounced campaigning by pandering to the lowest common denominator, we might actually return to problem solving and civil debate. Unfortunately, we treat our political campaigns like reality TV competitions and our candidates survive by ridiculing their opponents and avoiding the controversy that comes from standing up to the proponents of the theories contained in the Facebook graphic.

I promised Kari sources. Here goes.

1. Corporations are People. This one is easy. I agree. Maybe "people" is the wrong word. But corporations are separate legal entities. They were invented for that purpose. They have allowed remarkable achievements and prosperity not possible through a mere assemblage of individuals. Corporations are separate and distinct from their owners, the shareholders. Their debts and their assets belong to the corporate entity until otherwise assumed or distributed. Where things have gotten out of hand is the claim that corporations have separate First Amendment rights to political speech. Corporations are to its shareholders and management what Charlie McCarthy was to Edgar Bergen. No one would have allowed Charlie to use his income to contribute to political candidates for the same obvious reason that ought to apply to corporate participation in politics.

2. Women who use birth control are sluts. This platform is derived from the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy. Check out the interesting take the Christian Science Monitor had on the controversy. Here, given the opportunity to take Limbaugh to task for his off the wall attack on Sandra Fluke, GOP candidates shucked and jived. Rather than thoughtful discussion about the conflicts between individual rights and religious freedom, it was safer not to incur demagogue Limbaugh's wrath. Governor's Romney's comment, "It's not language I would have used", leaves the impression that it wasn't the attack that was out of line, just the inclusion of raw language in destroying the reputation of a woman following her constitutional right to petition Congress for a redress of her grievances.

3. College students are snobs. This plank apparently misstates Senator Santorum's characterization of President Obama as a "snob" for saying everyone should go to college. Leaving aside the fact that President Obama never said that and has championed trade schools and community colleges as an alternative, study after study confirms that persons with more education trend higher in income and the ability to support their families. But Rick Santorum was not courting an educated electorate. His demographic is the less educated, malleable malcontent who blames folks who have achieved some modicum of success for their plight. Senator Santorum played the snob card and ran with it because it generated buzz in the media and support among a constituency looking for a scapegoat.

4. Gay Americans are an abomination. This plank overstates the case, but just barely. Opposition to repeal of DOMA is largely as Republican cause, as is the submission of constitutional amendments for popular vote. For background, check out this link on Senator Santorum. Governor Romney is not in strong disagreement in this election cycle.

5. Poor people deserve to be poor. This is a stretch. Certainly, unlike the positions outlined above, no one is campaigning on this slogan. It largely derives from fiscal conservatives wanting to cut programs that give people living in poverty opportunities to better themselves.

6. Union workers are Socialist thugs. Unions have become more and more of a scapegoat for the failure of the Obama administration to increase employment. The alleged stranglehold on the economy is belied by the falling numbers in union membership. Fox News is a leader is utilizing disinformation about union organizing and its effects.

7. The unemployed are lazy parasites. This was a popular belief offered by Congressman Gingrich as he railed against extending unemployment benefits. While he did not always get away with it (see discussion towards end of link), GOP opposition to extending benefits was as much about opposition to encouraging laziness as it was about the financial pressures of paying for the program.

8. Latinos are illegal until proven otherwise. This is another example of an overstatement not far from the truth. Recent legislation adopted in Arizona and Alabama, and pending in the rest of the alphabet, effectively turns the U.S. into a police state for people of Hispanic descent. Governor Perry was dismissed for a lot of reasons, not least of which was his support of immigration reform and his refusal to disavow the impossibility of deporting 10 million illegal immigrants. As an aside, I often tell clients that one person's "amnesty" is another person's plea bargain. Funny how many conservative Republicans are looking for amnesty if they get as much as a speeding ticket.

9. The Bible trumps the Constitution. You'd have to have been deaf, dumb and blinde these past few months not to have noticed the injection of religious reasoning into proposals for public policy. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum were leading proponents of Evangelical Christian dogma as a solution to the problems arising in our foundering society. The whole dispute with the Catholic Church over whether the government can require its contracted health plans to provide a birth control option arises over a dispute about the scope of the Commerce Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

10. Global Warming is a Hoax. Yes it's scary and, yes, it will be expensive to fix. But real leadership would speak candidly about the problem and not just scoff because Al Gore made it a priority topic of discussion. Here's a link that made its way around Facebook. It's from Minnesota's own Paul Douglas. And, yes, it's scary.

11. The Auto Industry should go bankrupt. Another example of semantics being used recklessly. The auto industry (or, at least, a large share of it) did go bankrupt, and the results of the Chapter 11 reorganizations proved highly beneficial compared to liquidating as an alternative. The issue comes down to whether Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization would have been possible without U.S. government financing. Governor Romney has been on both sides of the issue and is justifiably criticized in my mind for taking a cavalier attitude about the fallout from massive layoffs across the industry. Having done a fair amount of Chapter 11 reorganizations, on behalf of both debtors and creditors, I do not think bankruptcy financing necessary to reorganizing GM and Chrysler would have been available in 2008 except from the Federal government.

12. The U.S. President is a Muslim agent from Kenya. This is a classic case of playing to the fears of the uninformed electorate. If you're dependent on ratings to make a living, why not engage in ridiculous conspiracy theories and pump up the rhetoric, forever?

Bottom line is that the planks in the platform characterized in the Facebook graphic represent very real positions, theories, and attitudes promulgated by the most vociferous element of the GOP's constituency. If I was a more moderate, educated Republican, I would also be defensive about being painted with this drivel. But the best defense is a good offense. Rather than being upset about the sarcastic "Vote Republican 2012" tagline, join together in speaking out against those who trivialize legitimate inquiry into the direction our country is heading and offer realistic solutions.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Thank Goodness

I am so relieved that Rush Limbaugh will finally get his come uppence. His personal attack on Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, because she dared to petition Congress for a redress of her grievances struck a chord this weekend. The outrage was bi-partisan, if you exclude the GOP office holders and would-be office holders, too spineless to actually call Limbaugh out for his tirade.

George Will had one of the best lines on ABC's This Week Sunday morning. Mocking Speaker Boehner for going no further than calling Limbaugh's remarks "inappropriate", Will was incredulous. "Inappropriate?!", he asked. "Eating your main course with your salad fork is 'inappropriate'".

The reason for my relief is my conviction that when Limbaugh's remarks are fully vetted, the conservative, "family values" electorate will turn on him and his apologists with a vengeance. Limbaugh did not merely call Ms. Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute". He also suggested that if she wanted taxpayers to pay for her birth control, and, therefore, for her to have sex, she should provide something to him in return. Specifically, Limbaugh asked her to make a sex tape and post it on YouTube so he could watch it.

Boom! Once the One Million Moms and the Tea Partiers and Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann supporters hear the whole story, and realize how Limbaugh apparently spends his free time, they will refuse to support or associate with the lascivious pornography junkie (I exclude Newt Gingrich supporters from my list to the extent they are not otherwise included because the Speaker's hypocrisy on matters of out of wedlock sex is too unconscionable to contemplate).

Do not worry about me. I have not lost my mind nor become stupidly optimistic. I never expect much from Rush Limbaugh in the human decency column. What I find unnerving is the lack of outrage from EVERYONE besides Limbaugh. Milquetoast apologies and qualified condemnations do not count. For an electorate that is so quick to shroud itself in its view of the Constitution, the excuses being made for Limbaugh's behavior, or, worse, the attempt to pass it off as entertainment, ignore the basic fact that Ms. Fluke was exercising her First Amendment right to express her opinion.

There will be no additional condemnation by the One Million Moms, GOP presidential candidates or any of their ilk. They are more interested in merely repeating the mantra "Family Values", as if that absolves them of their general intolerance, than holding self-described "entertainers" accountable.

This country is in serious trouble when it has given national political party contender status to a total maniac (cf. The Onion, February 29, 2012) who attacks President Obama as a "snob" for wanting our youth to get a college education, but dismisses the significance of Limbaugh's attack, telling CNN "(Limbaugh's) being absurd, but that's, you know, an entertainer can be absurd." The lack of any critical analysis of Santorum's selective self-righteousness by millions of his supporters, and the resulting refusal to be associated with such nonsense, illustrates the challenge faced by those trying to have an intelligent discussion on solving the country's problems.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's Wrong with this Picture?

This is not another blog about photography, but does arise from disturbing images.

I just watched President Obama deliver his State of the Union address. As he was speaking, I was making note of certain parts of the speech. Here's a pop quiz. What do the following excerpts from the SOTU have in common?

  • In the last 22 months, we’ve added 3 million jobs.
  • GM is once again the number one car manufacturer in the world.
  • No American company should be able to avoid taxes by moving its money and profits overseas.
  • It is time to stop rewarding companies that ship jobs overseas and reward companies that create jobs in America.
  • Women should earn equal pay for equal work.
  • America's production of oil is the highest it's been in 8 years.
  • Last year America relied less on foreign oil than at any time in last 16 years.
  • I believe what Abraham Lincoln believed: the government should only do for people what they cannot do for themselves and no more.
If you guessed that they were all applause lines, you're half right. They were all applause lines for everyone in the House Chamber except for the Republicans. Speaker John Boehner sat on his hands in response to each of these pronouncements by the President and his colleagues followed suit. In another instance, when the President called for comprehensive immigration reform after touting his administration's success in reducing illegal border crossings, John McCain appeared to be nodding in agreement. But, unlike those who stood and applauded around him, he did not put his hands together.

I cannot get the image of stone-faced Republicans out of my mind and find it incredibly disturbing.

Take a look at the list again. Who could possibly be against, or not appreciate, any of the items highlighted by the President? The coordinated refusal by Republicans to show any support for the efforts of our president is another in a long series of examples of the implementation of obstructionist policies designed to denigrate and politically destroy President Obama.

I am not naive. I know how the game is played. But with everyone acknowledging that the economic crisis we face as a nation requires our leaders to demonstrate actual leadership and put aside political squabbling, the Republicans' strategy is particularly disappointing.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, had a soundbite bouncing around the media today. He said something to the effect that if a CEO of a company had the same dismal performance as President Obama over the past three years, he'd be shown the door. The observation was succinct, contentious and guaranteed to become a talking point among the non-discerning and contentedly under-informed elements of the electorate. It was also nonsense.

What Senator McConnell leaves out is that if a CEO's efforts to carry out the will of the shareholders (technically, board of directors) who elected him was thwarted time and again by a few contrarians in the company's management team, obstructionists who demanded that their co-workers follow their leave on threat of termination, it's the contrarians who would be shown the door in order to give the CEO a chance to perform.

Unfortunately, American CEO Obama lacked the authority to fire Congressional Republicans who bragged from the start that they would oppose any proposal by the President in order to paint him as ineffective and limit him to one term. It is the height of arrogance for Senator McConnell, having spent the past three years blocking the President's initiatives, to criticize President Obama for not following through on all his aspirations.

It is to the same degree depressing to reflect that our democracy has devolved to the point where, as part of a coordinated plan to embarrass the President, Republicans cannot bring themselves to applaud achieving a reduction of America's dependence on foreign oil or the idea that our daughters should receive the same pay as our sons for doing the same work. In what universe would Congressional representatives, elected to serve their constituents while guiding the country to peace and prosperity, take issue with General Motors' return to prominence on the world stage or disapprove of limiting the role of government to undertaking no more than what citizens cannot do for themselves.

We have another eight months or so until the election in November. Join me in challenging our candidates, of whatever political bent, to stay focused on legitimate issues and to offer concrete solutions as the test of their competence for public service. When you see, instead, candidates relying on factually inaccurate character assassination to promote themselves by contrast, ask yourself how we are better served by allowing such intellectually empty pretenders to ascend to leadership. Use your social networks to share relevant, thoughtful analysis with your peers and followers.

One final thought, a final rule of the challenge just made. Do not be dissuaded from declaring the Emperor naked because his more popular predecessor was similarly unclothed. So, for example, Speaker Gingrich's moral lapses in his first two marriages are not excused because President Clinton also broke his vows. If the hypocrisy of having a serial adulterer serve as standard bearer of the Republican Party, which seeks to impose its version of family values on all of us, is objectionable, say so. President Clinton's personal misconduct in 1995 offers no relevance to our weighing the integrity of candidates in 2012.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Respite from Heavy Pondering

When I'm not working at my day job, practicing law, I pursue an decades long interest in photography. It is more than a hobby. I refer to myself as an enthusiast. For as long as I can remember, starting with family road trips to California and vacations in Florida in the '60's, I have carried a camera.

My brother and I shared a darkroom when he shot for the high school yearbook. I set up the first student darkroom at Carleton and was more than pleased to see that it was still around when I visited campus last Spring. I was the guy who memorialized college life and, later, law school for my classmates. Deb became irritated with me while in labor with our daughter because the obstetrician and I were discussing the camera equipment I brought into the delivery room instead of caring for her. I watched the kids grow up through my viewfinder. Today, my Facebook page has 124 photo albums associated with it, covering subjects ranging from friends' birthday parties to macro-photography of food. Last month, I decided it was time to set up a formal site on which to post my work and set up galleries on

I built my system up over the years, sticking with Nikon products that were mostly backward compatible. I take odd jobs for pay, but mostly volunteer my photography, donating half-day photo sessions to charities holding silent auctions. I also serve as Senator Franken's campaign staff photographer when he's in town. For three years, I served as the event photographer for a steeplechase in Florida. Last night, for the fifth time, I photographed the award winners at the annual Central States Dressage & Eventing Association.

I offer this background to give credence to the advice I am about to share. My presence at events with intimidating looking camera gear frequently invites comments from other attendees with simpler equipment. Observing me lugging five pounds of camera, they worry that their photographs cannot compete with mine because my equipment is fancier.

The truth, cliché or not, is that the photographer, not the equipment is the key element in creating images. Lately, I have been getting amazing results with my iPhone. I encourage the observers to learn the craft by working with the camera they have, shooting whenever they can and making the end product as good as they can. I also usually throw in a gratuitous "fill the frame" as the best single piece of advice on photography I can offer.

There are, however, rewards to learning the basics and being able to make equipment work to its capacity in order to further develop as an artist. I offer this example in today's bi-partisan blog.

Experienced photographers know to bracket their exposures in order to assure capturing just the combination of light and darkness in their images. Recently, software known as HDR, High Dynamic Range, has made it possible to take the best exposed elements of various parts of an image and combine it into a finished product. One of the features of my digital camera, once the flagship in Nikon's stable, is its ability to auto-bracket up to 9 frames in increments of 1/3 of a stop at 5-8 frames per second.

With the "normal" exposure in the middle, this has the effect of bracketing 4 exposures on either side. The complete series ranges from an image that has about 42% of the light of a normal exposure to one that has 233% of the light needed for a normal exposure. By "normal", I am referring to the default setting a camera with a built-in light meter would choose for a particular scene assuming no special circumstances like bright light directly behind the subject.

Of course, it is possible to make the manual adjustments to exposures to get the same effect. But the professional camera equipment I use allows me to quickly compile the entire series of images I want to work with and to do so without the need for a tripod.

Here is an example of the most overexposed image in a series I shot in California in November. I was driving on two lane roads between San Diego and Palm Springs, winding through the San Bernadino Mountains on a rainy Sunday. I was disappointed at the weather because it kept me from stopping to capture more landscapes. When I came to a rest stop just outside San Bernadino National Forest after being on the road for several hours, I seized an opportunity (click on the images to enlarge for viewing).

Generally, the image is washed out, particularly the clouds in sky, which have basically disappeared. This results from the need to over expose the foreground to get detail otherwise darkened by the lack of sunlight. Here's the most underexposed image in the series.

Now I have detail in the clouds, but the high desert flora is too dark to be acceptable. Notice that the images are identical in composition. By shooting the series over the course of less than 2 seconds, I was able to avoid a lot of movement in the clouds or have any problems with aligning the 9 images that made up the series. Keep in mind that there were an additional 7 "in between" images that were eventually combined into the finished product.

By taking all 9 images and applying the HDR software I purchased to enhance the capabilities of Apple's Aperture, I ended up with a finished product that properly exposes all elements of the scene:

I have had universal praise for this last shot, particularly when I crop it to remove the trash bins. There are those who question whether such digital manipulation is really photography. I am in the camp that believes it is. I am merely using tools available to reproduce an image as I saw it in my mind's eye. Our brain does all the HDR adjustments for us. My software merely overcomes the limitations, reduced range, of the sensor in my camera as it deals with any one particular shot.

And now that I've touted the difference a very expensive piece of equipment can make, automatically, here's another HDR example that was captured more basically and attainable with any camera that allows either manual override of automatic exposures or the ability to spot meter various very small portions of a scene in multiple exposures.

This is a composite of six images I shot, handheld, one morning as I was leaving for the office. I had my recently acquired backup camera in the car and I was not as familiar with its controls as with the more expensive model. I manually adjusted the exposures, needing to underexpose from the camera's norm in order to capture the deep colors of the sunrise. That left the foreground black (it's a sunrise; there was no other light). By shooting a series and applying the HDR software, I obtained something special. Because each exposure was taken individually, and despite my best efforts to line up the exposures similarly by using reference points in the viewfinder, you can see some ghosting in the tree branches.

You can see more of my landscapes, and other work, on my photo website. Tomorrow, I'll get back to pondering about politics and matters of more import. Feel free to contact me with questions or for advice. My photography is the release from the pressures of needing to be right all the time when getting paid for giving legal advice. Some people garden, some people read, some people exert themselves physically. I capture images and, from time to time, I write.

When I was introduced to Garrison Keillor at Senator Franken's event last week, he looked at my camera and asked if I was with the press.
"No, sir, I'm an attorney", I replied.
"An attorney? I should have known by the bow tie."
"I'm a left-handed attorney," I elaborated.
"A left-handed attorney," Mr. Keillor repeated. When he smirked, I knew he understood.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Preferring the Chaff to the Wheat

As I write this Saturday morning, news reports suggest that Newt Gingrich is surging in the South Carolina polls and now has a good chance to defeat Mitt Romney in today's primary. A win by Speaker Gingrich will delay what I expect will be the ultimate coronation of Governor Romney as the standard bearer for the GOP in November's general election.

That Governor Romney is having difficulty bringing closure to the process is not particularly surprising. He strikes me as a decent man who is likely more moderate in his views than he is allowed to acknowledge in Republican primary campaigns. However, despite all the time he has spent wooing various electorates for the past 20 years, he also strikes me as uncomfortable with retail politics and the necessity for personal interaction with voters in the early contests. As a result, he comes off as a bit insincere and too programmed. I suspect he's neither, but I am giving it more thought than the average South Carolina voter.

Speaker Gingrich's latest resurgence is similarly unremarkable. It is, however, disconcerting. As if he was running for debater-in-chief, Speaker Gingrich resuscitated his gasping campaign by attacking the "liberal media" in Thursday night's CNN-sponsored debate. The Speaker feigned righteous indigence when asked by the debate moderator if he wished to comment on his former wife's widely reported lurid descriptions of Mr. Gingrich's moral shortcomings. Effectively claiming attempted character assassination by the moderator for raising the issue at the outset of a Presidential debate, the Speaker used it as an example of how the media would do whatever it could to prevent conservatives from gaining widespread acceptance among the electorate.

First of all, I believe moderator John King's question was a fair one. The candidates were receiving free publicity by appearing on a debate hosted by the Cable News Network. Like it or not, the "open marriage request" story was news, replacing Rick Perry's withdrawal from the race as the big news of the day. Everyone in the debate audience, everyone watching CNN and everyone listening to the debate on the radio was wondering how Speaker would address his ex's condemnation.

South Carolina voters might not approve of multiple marriages spawned by serial mistresses, but they are even more concerned by the "liberal elite's" trashing of candidates who just want to return to those good old days in Mayberry when Opie was a boy and all was right with the world. Playing on this, Speaker Gingrich (watch his hands as they never leave his wrists) turned the fairly benign question (Do you want to comment on the allegations?) into an example of disrespect and evidence that the press was stacking the deck to assure President Obama's re-election.

For the most part, the Speaker just ignored the substance of his ex-wife's lurid allegations. Assuming that they are true (which the Speaker ultimately denied as part of his diatribe), they are indefensible when wooing the support of conservative evangelical Christian voters needed to succeed in South Carolina. As my grandfather advised me many years ago, when the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law. And when the law and the facts are against you, argue like Hell. Speaker Gingrich argued like Hell.

What is disconcerting to me is I believe voters should be more concerned than they are when a politician avoids uncomfortable scrutiny, whatever the issue, by aggressively attacking the source and appealing to the audience's basest instincts.

For the record, in today's world, the railroading of cultural norms by a liberal media is a myth. There is so much information broadly distributed by every element of the political spectrum that it is nonsense to suggest that any one mindset can unaccountably and dishonestly hold sway. Would Mr. Gingrich have us believe that his friends at FOX News and the Wall Street Journal have lost their voice or their interest in challenging more moderate points of view? Of course not and the Speaker's complaints about being attacked on Thursday night were patently false.

Nonetheless, the voters like a fight and a feisty fighter. The substance and veracity of what is being said apparently matters less than the fact that it's being said at all. Scapegoating a "liberal elite" might play well in South Carolina, and the visceral reaction of the South Carolina electorate might be enough to win a primary election. I think our country is better served by earning support through cogent argument and persuasion and by avoiding the constant efforts to widen cultural chasms that form the basis for the gridlock killing our democracy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I am embarrassed that it has been nearly a year since I last posted on this site. Perhaps I was too angry, too tired, too frustrated, too lazy, too depressed, too medicated, too short of time, too selfish, too self-absorbed, too distracted to spend two minutes to ponder from the prairie. For a year?

I have decided I need to make time again for writing, apart from the volumes I generate at work.

Writing forces one to organize one's thoughts, exercising, training and strengthening the mind in ways that involuntarily lend themselves to enhancing every day's experience. Like a good liberal arts education, committing thoughts to paper (or pixels) demands critical thinking, a skill useful from time to time when away from the keyboard.

Writing serves as a release. The frustrations of being governed in response to Orwellian soundbites passing as political discourse fade with the self-satisfaction realized when publishing reasoned arguments to the contrary.

Writing assuages guilt. I spent this evening with Senator Al Franken. He works so hard to promote policies with which I generally agree, facing intense pressure from the GOP to institute policies I generally loath. I feel guilty that I have not been lending my voice in support of Senator Franken's efforts, apparently content to have others do all the heavy lifting. By writing, I feel like I'm doing my part to move readers in a direction I can support.

The occasion of my opportunity to share time with Senator Franken was a fundraiser at the home of Garrison Keillor, a local writer made good, with, coincidentally, his own history of prairie pondering. It is simply not possible to be in Mr. Keillor's presence, surrounded by his book collection, drawn to his office with its deliciously disheveled desk, awed by his ability to clearly, rationally and effectively communicate a point of view and not feel the urge to try to imitate art.

For me, for you, in appreciation for the public servants like Senator Franken and inspired by Mr. Keillor, our generation's Mark Twain, I am going to give in to the urge and try.

Garrison Keillor's Underwood