Friday, December 25, 2009

The Apolitical Inactivist

[Disclaimer: I vote. Sometimes. President and the U.S. Congress (House & Senate). Beyond that it's a tossup.]

My awakening began shortly after college. My first employer was an enthusiastic supporter of several groups that billed themselves as "educational" organizations. They were devout conspiracy theorists. My father had been a Mason and I thought it was a good thing that so many presidents had been, too. What a surprise to learn of all the many conspiracies out there! One of these groups advocated the same action that "Deep Throat" told Woodward and Bernstein, "Follow the money." It was also during my tenure at this company that Taylor Caldwell had her book, Captains and Kings published. It echoed the theme that the "controllers" were the international bankers that influenced many organizations (clubs and secret societies) who could suddenly turn on the man they made and have him assassinated. I was in the third grade in Louisiana (home of Jim Garrison) when Kennedy died. I grew up in a community of hunters and was familiar with firearms and was shocked when I heard the claims that Oswald had acted alone. How could anyone fire a bolt action rife that quickly and accurately? Even for an eleven year old the magic bullet theory was impossible to swallow. I even began to doubt Walter Conkrite. After the sixites, by 1972, my mind was a fertile field for serious conspiracy theories to germinate. Throughout the rest of the seventies and the next two decades my frustration grew with the observation of the lack of real change in the way our country was going regardless of which party was in power.

Flash forward to 1997 and Dr. Andew Weil's book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. Several of his suggestions made sense to me and I tried them. One of them, I really liked! A one week news fast sounded too difficult but I tried it anyway. This was at a time in my life when I was reading three newspapers a day and had the television set on CNN most of the day. It was amazing! I didn't care what Bill and Hiliary were doing anymore by this point anyway. It was such a refreshing change -- no news! I'm still enjoying the benefits today by continuing my news fast. So much of the news is politics. Not having a constant influx of news and politics made it so much easier to go about the business of living my own life. In 2000 my life changed again -- separation. A divorce ensued in 2001 and in June I married a woman who taught me the importance of living my life without being concerned about what anyone else would think. Without the news and the politics it brought, combined with this new life philosophy, I was liberated!

The same old theories abound and are now like choruses sung by new choirs. Was Bullworth correct with his claims that 5% of the population control 95% of the money? He must have been correct. I haven't seen any real change, regardless of which party is in power. Don't the big money companies divide their funds on both sides of the aisle in congress? Can you imagine General Electric, Bank of America, Kraft, Alcoa, or Pfizer putting all their eggs in one basket? Was Viet Nam fought to satisfy the desires of the military-industrial complex? Is it true that the first casualty of any war is the truth?

So why should I vote? Does one person really make a difference? Joanne Herring did. She was the driving influence behind Charlie Wilson. Julia Roberts played her in the movie Charlie Wilson's War and she really did make a difference. She did a lot more than vote though. She was at the time, according to Charlie Wilson, "the sixth most wealthiest person in Houston". Do we really want one person to be able to make that much difference? Is my vote being diluted by hundreds more who are voting because of "drive-through voter registration"? When I took a course in civics in high school, we were taught that our government is different because we are not governed by the masses but by informed voters who had earned the right to vote. Our voters were people who knew how our government worked and that by avoiding a simple "majority rules" system, America was different -- and better.

Fortunately my background includes enough study to consider myself "government literate" -- I know how our system is supposed to work. There's enough political awareness for me that an informed decision to not be politically active is possible. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on our country, but don't look for a bumper sticker on my car. Don't expect to see me on the mall in D.C. with a million other men waving a sign and singing A Hard Rain's A'gonna Fall. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats should expect any contributions from me. Can't think of any country I'd rather live in, but in many ways, it's not much different than when Thomas Payne lamented, "These are the times that try mens' souls."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Growing Old Gracelessly

[This article was written by a "guest blogger", my wife, Bob Etier. You can follow her blog at: She would be thrilled!]

Here's the deal. I'm going to be 60 soon. No matter what anyone says about aging, it all comes down to one thing: it sucks. I should celebrate that I've lasted this long, right? I don't. In my head I'm 35. When I see my reflection, I'm saddened.

Growing older, gaining wisdom (LOL), and maturity are all overrated. I am now learning the answers to many of the questions I had when I was young. I now know that the reason old ladies address everyone as "honey" or "sweetie" is not a misplaced sense of familiarity, but an acknowledgement of memory loss. We've met far too many people to be able to remember all their names. I haven't yet figured out how to introduce a "honey" to a "sweetie." ("Darling, I'd like you to meet my very close friend," then let them figure it out?)

Older people's clothing was once a source of wonder. Why do they dress that way? Doesn't she know her outfit doesn't "match"? Isn't she too old for that? Who's he trying to impress with the cowboy hat? It's just a matter of priorities. Being fashionable isn't as important as being comfortable once you're past the age of wearing stiletto heels. If I'm out in the yard pulling weeds, who will notice that my pants are striped and my shirt is plaid? And I won't consider my attire (or changing it) when I jump in the car to make my ValueMart run. I bought Crocs to wear while gardening and vowed never to be seen in public wearing them. Then I broke my ankle and heel (we older folks do that a lot), and I had to wear them. Once, I'd begun wearing them in public, the ice was broken and after my foot heeled I kept wearing them. Hey, they're comfortable. However, they are not good on slippery slopes.

Being older is the end of changing outfits four times a day. That's a good thing. Being older also means not having the energy to do the laundry as often (or having a mom to do it for you). If there were a way to wear the same thing all the time, NEVER changing, I'd be interested. Showering in my clothing is not an option.

There are so many myths about old age that we subscribe to when we are young. "At least when I'm older, I won't have acne." Yeah, right. Not only will you be dealing with blackheads in the same exact spot over and over again, but you can also keep the tweezers out to deal with those "hairs on your chinny-chin-chin." "I can't wait to go through menopause, then I won't have my period to deal with." You've got two errors there: one is a dangling participle, which is easy enough to fix, and the other is that you don't gothrough menopause. Menopause is more like demonic possession. It latches on to you and never lets go. Oh, sure, some of the symptoms ease (or maybe we just get used to them), but others continue for decades if we're lucky enough to live that long. There is no exorcist and there is no magic cure. Periods are to menopause what limbo is to hell.

Everyone who lives long enough gets old. Pretty basic concept, right? Not everyone feels the same about it. I've known so many people who dreaded turning 40, but I welcomed it. I was glad to be 40, it was a milepost that said "a lot of bs is behind you, now." Of course it wasn't, but I had my illusions. Fifty wasn't a big deal either, just another birthday. So why is 60 so depressing? "Sixty" is a name for all the things I never desired. I can't walk as quickly, take the stairs as well, carry as much, stay up as late, or work as hard as I once did. And, more frighteningly, I am aware of the slowing of my mental processes. My superior math ability is now merely average, my memory--never that great--is untrustworthy at best. What 60 represents to me is the continuing decline of all that constitutes me. I am becoming the weakened, watered-down version of me. It sucks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Basic Primer on Manual Settings - DSLR

For over two years, I used my first digital SLR exclusively on the "automatic" settings. While I did get some nice images (including my best sellers) I regretted not learning how to use the manual settings. I regretted it until March 23, 2007. Yes, I remember the date because it changed the way I take pictures. Brian Peterson's book "Understanding Exposure" walked me through the steps methodically and clearly and I cannot thank him enough. His book is one of my frequent recommendations when people ask me what to read. I also quote often from my notes taken at a weekend seminar presented by the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

So, relying upon what I have learned from the previous sources and what I have learned in practice by trial-and-error, here is a summary on how I use the manual settings on my digital SLR. (Warning: This is NOT a definitive detailed essay of this subject. Just a quick overview to get the novice started.)

Spin the dial to the "M" setting for manual.
The three settings are: ISO, aperture or "F-stop", and shutter speed.

ISO: This determines how sensitive the digital processor is to light. Lower light shooting environments require a higher setting and vice versa. If you want a candid shot of the kids by the fireplace, or if you are shooting at night without a flash, set the ISO to 1600 or 3200. Full sun outdoors, you could use an ISO of 100, 200, or 400. The trade-off on higher settings is a more grainy image.

F-stop: Depth of field. You know how some photos have the people or object in front of or behind the main subject totally out of focus? Your eye goes right to the kid in the middle with the bright eyes and big smile. It's because that kid is the only part of the image that is tack sharp and it was done that way on purpose because the photographer used a low F-stop, probably F-2.8. You may have seen landscape shots in which the flowers in front and the mountains in the back were all in focus. It was a higher F-stop, most likely F-32. The aperture setting is my favorite artistic tool in photography. It allows the photographer to choose which aspects of the image will be in focus. Note: Higher F-stops require slower shutter speeds.

Shutter speed: Do you want to stop the action? Do you want some blur? Pull out your camera's operations manual and find the dial to spin that controls the shutter speed. In addition to the action/blur control, shutter speed also has a major influence on how light or dark the image will be. The faster the shutter speed, the darker the image and the better the action will be stopped.

When you look through the viewfinder there will be lighted graphs, charts, etc that let you know what settings you have chosen. There will also be an indicator to show if the shutter speed and F-stop are adjusted for what your camera thinks is the "ideal" setting. Canon calls this the "standard exposure index" and it appears across the bottom of the viewfinder under the focusing screen. When you change the shutter speed, you will notice the indicator move. Of course as you experiement you will learn where on this line you want the settings for the effects you desire.

Three examples:
1) The kids by the fireplace shot needs some light. Maybe open the curtains before they come into the room. (Candid shots require some preparation.) F-2.8 or 5.6, ISO of 800, and experiment with shutter speeds to get a clear, sharp focus with no blur.
2) Humming birds at the feeder in bright sunlight require very different settings. F-5.6 is still good, but I go with an ISO of 400 and shutter speeds of up to 1/2500 and faster.
3) A fall landscape scene offers many options and this is typical for me. I mount the camera on a tripod and use a cable release expecting a slow shutter speed. F-32, ISO 100. Depending on the available light, clouds or overcast, this set up could require a shutter speed of several seconds. A slower shutter speed here will also help you get that silky smooth texture to moving water in your image.

Finally, be sure to keep your camera's manual in your equipment bag for easy reference. My last tip is to take a lot of shots. And I do mean a lot! One afternoon I went out and shot fall color and moving water for a couple of hours and filled two memory cards with almost five hundred images. After you have tried the suggestions I have made in this article and experimented with several thousand shots, you will be more confident with the manual settings and never go back to "auto" again. Happy shooting!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Be My Guest

A Facebook friend and fellow blogger, Juliet Robertson, just used one of my images on her blog in an article about paths.
Visit her blog, read the article and see which image she chose. I'm sure she would appreciate comments on her article.