The camera lies – oh my, does it lie!

Hey – a picture is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene – so yes, it is its own reality only representing another reality in a loose way. And no, a picture is not worth a thousand words – except when you choose it very carefully. Problem is, while a picture can convey a lot of information, it is frequently very imprecise, meaning many different things to different people.
Kevin knows this is near and dear to me, so he sent me this link to this wonderful NPR story examining the ethics of photo journalism. Ouch! Does this ever strip the varnish off of the press – particularly press photographers. It begins:

Every now and then, photojournalism gives rise to ethical questions. For instance, why was O.J.’s image digitally darkened on the cover of Time? Did tight shots of Saddam’s statue being toppled by Iraqis intentionally obscure the U.S. Marines’ role in the incident? Did newspapers whitewash the horror of war by suppressing images of corpses? Were famous photos from World War I and the Spanish Civil War actually reenactments?

There are clear rules that supposedly govern such situations, sometimes observed, sometimes not. But, as Bob reports, one category of mass media photography operates with hardly any rules at all.

But don’t just read this – the best way to appreciate it is to listen to it – same link – and at the same time watch this slide show of the pictures they’re discussing which are on another site. The pictur eof McCain above is the one used by the Atlantic – I think it’s quite heroic. But go to the slide show and see the photo that wasn’t used.

wchurchill_by_ykarshThis famous photo of a scowling Winston Churchill came about when photographer, Yousuf Karsh, took the cigar out of Churchill’s hand and immediately snapped this shot.

One year I taught English 101 at UMass Dartmouth and I focused a healthy segment on how words are used to slant things. But that’s easy. TV and still images can do much more and in amuch more subtle fashion. This story is one hellua a good, brief lesson on how images are used to manipulate our view of the news and newsmakers. My only caveat is please remember that while the photographer might of had a precise idea about what they were trying to convey, the end result can hit different people very differently. I learned that lesson many years ago when I planned to use the photo of a bonfire – part of a rally before a football game – on the cover of our Admissions Bulletin. It was a terrific shot and I and the photographer thought it captured a very positive spirit of campus life – but I tested it on faculty and staff first. The reactions I got included:

  • it looks like devil worship
  • it reminds me of the Watts riots
  • what a great shot – those kids are really having fun!

I used a classroom scene instead – or maybe it was the typical – seldom happens, but looks great – outdoor scene of teachers holding class under the trees on a spring day 😉


Laugh like a child – a taste of pure joy!

photo108I don’t laugh – laugh like a child – very often these days, but yesterday my early Christmas present to myself arrived – a 24-inch IMac – and a few hours later our grandchildren were here helping us decorate the tree. That was great family fun, as usual, but what happened next had no scripting, no planning – just spontaneous reaction, and oh my – I really enjoyed it.

Maybe you will too. A brief explanation before the slide show. The kids discovered the Imac, I turned on the “Photo Booth” software ona whim – unused until that point – and they just started going wild. I started snapping photos and videos and it was non-stop fun for nearly an hour, with the dogs and an occasional adult getting involved as well – all taking advantage of the built-in – and weirdly cool – filters. It was like tumbling into one of those old-time, carnival fun houses!

Hmmm. . . right now WordPress isn’t letting me embed the Flickr slide show. So for the complete show, go here I am able to make avideo of it, though, so . . .

Hey, maybe no one cares – maybe this was only fun if you were there – maybe you’ll be bored to death after yu see the first picture nelow. That’s OK – just turn it off – I just hope everyone manages to have such fun once in a while and, of course, you don’t need a new toy to do so – but for me it was just such an unexpected Christmas bonus! See for yourself.

I should add here that I’m hard of hearing – I was wearing headphones with a little amplifier so I could follow the conversation – and this hearing problem has frequently made it difficult for me to relate well to children – I simply seldom can understand what they say, even when wearing sphisticated, very expensive, hearing aids. (See my earlier rant here.) So the experience was priceless – and I feel like I’ve done my part to help the slumping economy as well 😉

Interested in details of how this is done? OK. I don’t have a clue how unique this is or isn’t to the Mac. And it may all be old stuff to other folks. But I didn’t even know the capability was there in this Mac – I bought it because in my retirement I still design some Web sites and stuff and it has been more than six years since I had a new machine.

I knew “Photo Booth,” which came with it, allowed you to see yourself on the screen. I didn’t know anything about how it worked and I didn’t have to – it was all so typically Mac intuitive. The kids just hammed it up and I just kept clicking on things. I took six videos, each of which went a minute or two. Picture quality and sound was great. Where’s the camera? Not at all obvious – hidden near the top of the screen, I think, where there’s a tiny green light that comes on during these sessions.

Remember those old photo booth at the amusement park? Put in 50 cents – was was it 25 cents? – and you got four pictures of yourself – or maybe of yourself and a friend hamming it up! Well . . .

I think the main goal here is for use with video chat – I got to give that a try – and to do things such as create iconic photos for social networking sites. The fact that when you stand in front of the computer your image appears on the screen made it instant fun for the kids. When I then started clicking on various backgrounds that could be added to it – clouds, Paris, the Moon – they started gobbling up the clouds and trying to eat the Eiffel Tower! I found I could throw in photos of my own from Iphoto, so I put in one of the puppies playingin the snow. That lead to the real puppies joining us and in the mean time we had discovered all the “fun house” mirror filters that were included and that just lead to more craziness. “Try mirror image!’ Try “squeeze – no try swirl!”

To take a picture you just click and it gives a 4-second countdown and makes a sound like a camera. The photos you take can be ported right over to Iphoto library and from there to email or whatever. I picked out some of the better, exported them to a folder and sent them all up to Flickr where it was simple to create this slideshow. You can then email a link to it – or grab the code (copy) and paste it into a blog like this one.

Honest folks – people put down technology sometimes – especially people of my generation – but there is some genuine usefulness showing up here – usefulness for grandparents especially and well beyond what I discovered in this one instance. Take a look at this NYT article, for instance. Makes a whole lot of sense to me. And yes, all of this is genuinely simple. You don’t need to be a techy. I’m a writer with not a spec of formal computer training. People say we spend too much time in front of the computer. I say we don’t spend enough time – time like this, anyways 😉

And happy holidays to all!


Who’s black? Who’s white? Who cares?

Bren’s been saying this all along. I’ve wondered about it from time to time. So it’s nice to see Marie Arana taking it on in the Washington Post – President-elect Obama is neither black nor white and by calling him black we’re perpetuating racism. He calls himself black, but it was interesting that in one recent public statement about the White House puppy quest he referred to himself as a “mutt.” I like that – especially when you consider that a lot of folks these days are not at all happy with the problems you can have with pure bred dogs and are either opting for mutts, or opting, as we did, for intentional cross breeding – ehh . . . intentional mutts. (Ours are cockapoos.) There is a richness in genetic diversity that we tend to play down because we’re still so damned tribal by instinct.

Anyways, Arana writes:

He is also half white.

Unless the one-drop rule still applies, our president-elect is not black.

We call him that — he calls himself that — because we use dated language and logic. After more than 300 years and much difficult history, we hew to the old racist rule: Part-black is all black. Fifty percent equals a hundred. There’s no in-between.

That was my reaction when I read these words on the front page of this newspaper the day after the election: “Obama Makes History: U.S. Decisively Elects First Black President.”

The phrase was repeated in much the same form by one media organization after another. It’s as if we have one foot in the future and another still mired in the Old South. We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.

I could’t find the orignal WaPoarticle on their site, but it was republished by the New Bedford Standard-Times today and can be read in full here.

Ehhh . . .is this bad? Really bad?

From this morning’s Washington Post:

Retailers posted the worst November sales in more than 30 years yesterday, as holiday shopping not only failed to lift the economy but showed that the financial crisis is further distressing everyday consumers.

About 30 major companies — including Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target — posted sales declines at established stores. Overall, retail sales in November fell 2.7 percent compared with the same month last year, marking the second consecutive negative month, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group.

I have a problem here. I don’t mean to appear unfeeling. I know that a worsening retail situation will hurt a lot of people who live on the margins.I feel for them much more than I feel when I ee the stock market going down and people like me lose some networth. Yeah, I’ve also seen this slumping economy cut my own net worth by something approaching half, but it’s all paper value. Doesn’t impact me right now in real ways.

But when the first alarm went off in September I immediately put planned major purchases on hold. My gut instinct then was this is what everyone would do – or most people – and the result would be it will make the situation worse.

And so it has. But is this bad?

There’s a part of me that is screaming “wake up America! You could be a world leader. You may be the major hope of civilization, if not our species. You – America – may hold the key to massive problems with the environment going haywire and radical religious elements expressing their fear as hatred in violent acts. ”

Yeah – part of this waking up business was electing Barach Obama president. But in the end this isn’t about him – it’s about us. He knows he can’t do it all – he just thinks he can inspire us to do it. So a big part of this waking up is us starting to take the world seriously again. Many of us have been living in a ridiculous dream world where houses keep getting bigger to hold the pile of stuff that’s under the Christmas tree which also keeps getting bigger. And, of course, China is pumping in goodies here as if our appetite for anything and everything is without limit. And it would seem to be.

So maybe we need a wake-up call to put the brakes on this wild, unfettered consumerism? That should have been obvious when Bren and I – mostly Bren – spent so much time this summer cleaning out the basement. It should be obvious when you look at all the “garage” or “tag” sales. It should be obvious when you see you can buy things, like telescopes, that are the same size and power – and the same price – as what you paid 30 years ago.

Yesterday a nice old guy called me to tell me he had bought a new telescope for $15. He admitted he knew nothing about telescopes or astronomy and he didn’t have any plans for this one, but he had looked at the Moon and Jupiter and Venus the other night – and when he saw this telescope, well he couldn’t resist. He just had to know what it was you could buy for $15. And it was a lot. I think my first telescope was much like what he bought and I paid at least $25 for it and that was half a century ago.

But we know why the prices are low. We know other people are living like hell so we can live like kinds. W know the world has a very unlevel playing field, but we don’t like to think about it. We know we’ve stoppe making thng and jobs have been outsourced overseas and we owe a ton of money to China. We know people in other countries are living in poverty making us toys and stuff – but we don’t like to think about it. We’ve been having a ball!

My mother used to tell me I was “spending like a drunken sailor” when I was a kid and blew my allowance on something silly. Well, an awful lot of us have gotten awfully used to spending like drunken sailors. So maybe a few percentage points drop in retail sales is a good thing. Maybe we’re starting to understand we don’t need all of this stuff?

Hey – maybe we are actually making some judgments between those two critical words – “want” and “need.” Maybe we’re developing some self discipline.

Is this funny? Well, if it is, I’m laughing at myself because my last post was about being disappointed with FedEx for not keeping me well-informed about where my most recent toy is. Yeah, if I’m honest, it’s a “want” – not a “need.”

But I have reigned in my spending at least by the amount consumer retail sales are falling, so I’m doing my share 😉

But seriously – we may be seeing just the start. This could get serious. It could get ugly. But it also could be that cold slap across the face that we all need to come to our senses and start paying our dues as a society. Maybe in the end we’ll look back on this and as retail sales – and the economy – slumps, we’ll say “thanks, I needed that.”

Then again, maybe our changes now will be too little, too late. This does feel like we’re at a hinge in history – but a rusty one. Maybe this is just the “gloomy Gus” in me. See, I thought I saw this slump coming years ago. For the past five years I’ve been toning down my investment – modest as they are – and putting my life savings into conservative stuff with no chance of making more than about 5 percent. This wasn’t because I know a lot about the economy, nor because I have a better crystal ball than most – it was just simply a gnawing feeling that we were all living too high on the hog and someday that little piggy was going to go to market without us.

Hey FedEx! Is Rudolph AWOL?

Update: 4:30 pm Dec. 6 -All is forgiven – Santa arrived – she was cery bice, too – carrying a package with ease that I could hardly lift – ahh youth 😉 So while FedEx tracking l(in this case) eaves something to be desired, the service performed up to my expectations. That is, the original delivery date was today and it arrived today. Rudolph is doing fine, as well – so case closed!

Update: 4:30 pm Dec. 5 – package has arrived in Connecticut and delivery is now estimated for tomorrow – the original delivery date. Now my main concern is do they make residential deliveries on Saturday? (Maybe the anser is “yes” for the Christmas season? We’ll see.) But I’m now optimistic that at least the original schedule will be met and my package has not been lost in the fog of a weather delay. Call off the red alert for Rudolph 😉

Free Christmas Clipart Picture of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.comI usually find the FedEx tracking of a package helpful. My latest experience is just – well – annoying. I mean I’m a 68-year-old kid waiting for Santa and he’s a no-show!

I placed an order on November 28. The company I ordered from – very reliable = showed it as shipped on Nov. 29 – Saturday. OK, so it doesn’t show up in the FedEx system until Monday, Dec. 1 with an expected delivery date of December 6. (Another Saturday – do they deliver on Saturday?) But apparently it hasn’t even been picked up yet.

I later learn it arrives at the FedEd location at 8:27 pm Dec. 1. OK. But no more data yet from Fed Ex – then on December 2 it shows up in the FedEX system “in tranit” and great news! It is Tuesday, and the new expected delivery date is now Thursday, Dec. 4 – whoopee!

Anxious, I check regularly. No more reports on its progress. Thursday morning – no new reports. For it to be delivered it must be in the neighborhood now, right – the “on the truck” thing. . I don’t really expect it, but I make preparations for it to arrive (about an hour’s work) and all day I go out of my way to be around home because I will have to sign for this. There is an ominous hint on the FedEx tracking site though – a red note that says there’s bad weather at the Memphis hub. No specific indication that this affects my package – just a general “oops” alert. I’m still seeing an expected delivery date of that day,

It doesn’t come, of course, though the dogs call me to the door several times with unexpected barking. (They’re my alarm – I don’t hear well.) When I get up this morning only one thing has changed – still have the red alert notice, still show the “in transit” with no new entries – but now there is no expected delivery date showing. Not Thursday (past) or Saturday (tomorrow) nothing. So my gut feeling is for now my precious cargo is lost in either real space or cyberspace or both.

This is like learning that it’s a foggy Christmas Eve and Santa can’t find Rudolph anywhere! Come on FedEd, stop toying with my emotions 😉

Irving Berlin’s ‘snow business’ – I love it!

Yes – there are Berlin tunes I love, but this piece in today’s New York Times is a gem in itself and started me digging for appropriate Youtube material. It begins:

IF you didn’t know better, had never been taught the proper technique, you might approach a piano with your hands flat and fingers splayed, as if instead of striking the keys you were going to dribble them. This may be why Irving Berlin, who never studied music except with his ear, favored the ebonies over the ivories when he first started playing. His melodies found their home among the black keys, making excursions as necessary to the white, with the result that the tunes all emerged in the absurd six-sharp thicket of F-sharp major or its corresponding D-sharp minor.

My first Youtube venture struck gold with a version of White Christmas I had not seen before. I should add that the story points out that this is the single most popular song ever recorded!

Why has Berlin lasted?

Others of the Big Five found their sound in the opera house, the dive, the theater, the boîte; Berlin found his in the street. This is what Kern meant when he said that Berlin had no place in American music: he was American music.

“There are composers who make you come to them, and there are composers who ask you to meet them halfway,” Mr. Pomahac said. “Of the Big Five, Berlin is the first one to race across the room and grab you by the lapels.”

And here’s a wonderful musical tribute – and brief bio of Berlin – on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

My grandson is fascinated with WWII which reminds me that one of my favorite songs when I was 12 – soldier songs – was this one. Talk about grabbing you by the lapels – by being ritical of the Army this song made me love it – in my 12-year-old fantasies!

And the article concludes quite nicely:

But his insistence, in melody if not always in words, that nothing lasts forever turned out to be a trick for the ages. Even in “God Bless America,” an anthem that sounds as if it were not composed but mined, the word “America” descends into tonal ambiguity as its syllables play out. The man couldn’t help it. As he wrote in another classic you can hear at the Marquis: “If my song can start you crying, I’m happy.”