Anything but landscape

An insect visits a beautiful world.

An insect visits a beautiful world.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like to photograph landscapes.  I usually post them to an Arizona hiking site as informational rather than objects of beauty.  It’s a “I hiked here” sort of thing.  Or this is where I got hung up on the mountain.

But as I shoot more photos I want more and more to make them interesting if not things of beauty.  Here are four photos that evoked in me the emotions of curiosity, humor and loneliness.

Oranges eaten by birdbath birds?

Oranges eaten by birdbath birds?

The first photo shows an African Daisy in our backyard.  It is one among many in the wildflower garden.  I used a tripod and cheap macro lens, the one that I displayed earlier with inconsequential scratches in the glass.  As I enlarged the photo on editing software, I not only saw the interior of the daisy but a small insect, a fly I think, nearby.  Hmmm.  Interesting, I thought.

Augie waits for his supper.

Augie waits for his supper.

I had to laugh at this one, the second photo.  It shows a small birdbath on a wall in our backyard.  Three ceramic birds hover just above the water.  Sentinels, I suppose.  To make it a bit unusual, I placed in the scene two damaged oranges from a nearby tree, no doubt victims of our noisy Gila woodpecker’s sharp beak.  If you look at it in a certain light, then you might think those ceramic birds briefly came to life and attacked the oranges.  Humor?  Maybe.

The third photo was shot in the near darkness of our backyard patio.  One of our three outdoor cat, Augie by name, is waiting to be fed.  It seems interesting to me since with the empty food bowls at the side, the photo seems all but self-explanatory.

Waiting for life to appear.

Waiting for life to appear.

Loneliness or emptiness radiates from the last photo.  At least to me.  There you have an “ancient” wood bench, unpainted, and a blue birdbath.  Neither is being used.  There is no indication really they have ever been used.  Set against the somber background of frost-damaged bougainvillea and a drab, gray wall, it is a downer to me.  It is an “autumn” photo shot in 80 degree weather on one of the warmest days of our winter.  I intend to shoot this photo over and over until I get it as good as I can.


Another ‘Rebel’ death

Almost 60 years after the film’s release, the James Dean classic “Rebel Without A Cause” lost its screenwriter recently, leaving only one known cast member still alive.

The writer, Stewart Stern, died on February 2 at age 92 in Seattle.  Stern created “Rebel” from an adaptation by Irving Shulman of director Nicholas Ray’s story.  In reporting Stern’s death, the New York Times noted he was “best known” for that 1955 film that starred Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.

Jack Grinnage is the only cast member thought to be alive.  Grinnage played “Moose,” a member of Buzz Gunderson’s high school gang.

I posted two blogs about ‘Rebel’ deaths five years ago.  “Dennis Hopper and the dwindling cast of ‘Rebel,’ on May 29, 2010, and “Corey Allen:  2 scenes and immortality,’ on June 30, the same year.

Since then, Beverly Long (“Helen”) died last year and Frank Mazzola (“Crunch”) passed away several weeks ago, on January 13, at age 79.

Stern, according to the Times, based James Dean (“Jim Stark”) and parents on his own family, who were “unnaturally detached and seemingly incapable of love.”

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun in 2005, Stern said, yes, his parents had seen the film.

“They thought it was marvelous,” he was quoted as saying.  “But they never recognized themselves.”


The spider beside me

By the lamp, behind my chair.

By the lamp, behind my chair.

Our house is lousy with corpses.  In almost every nook and cranny there are dead things dangling from the ceiling, from corners, from lampshades.  These dead things are corpses of very small insects.  Gnats, lacewings and some others I could not identify, all hanging from webs, the eventual entrees and desserts of at least eight spiders I discovered while exploring today with a flashlight.

With all these murders going on around me, I thought it wise to get to know at least one of the killers.

Cid, I call him, has a home in a corner of the dining room by a floorlamp.  I call him Cid because, though I am far from an arachnologist, I believe he is a Pholcid, a Daddy Long Legs (DLLs).  In this case, because she or he is the largest I have yet to find in the house, I believe it is a Grand-Daddy.   I do not think there is a spider called a Grand-Mommy, though maybe there should be.  For simplicity, I will identify Cid as a male.

In his irregular web, Cid has two or three meals lined-up.  One, I believe, is a green lacewing.  Once trapped in the web, Cid wrapped it in silk and inflicted the fatal bite.  I have read DLLs also feast on other spiders, in particular some of the most poisonous kind — the brown recluse and the black widow.  This Daddy is no threat to humans, I read, which is fortunate.  My morning routine puts Cid and I close together.

Once arisen, I find my way to the coffee, and the coffee and myself then travel over to the comfy chair by the floorlamp.  Since I have only seen Cid move once, and that not very far, we coexist from about a foot away, head to his front legs, as I flip through the morning newspapers.

Cid, up close and impersonal.

Cid, up close and impersonal.

Due to Cid’s position on the web, I always look at his belly which has a distinct brown stripe running down the middle.  We have little communication.  There was the time I hit his web by accident.  He backed off and vibrated violently.  But for the most, we live in harmony.

Nebra more than once has offered to clear out the web.  It doesn’t look nice, I admit.  But I say, no, let Cid alone.  He does no harm to me and keeps the house clear of bad insects.

His corpses I can live with.



‘Is this Phoenix?’

Fog near downtown.

Fog near downtown.

Our Super Bowl visitors from Seattle must have felt quite at home this morning.  A dense fog hovered.  Visibility was about 100 yards.  Flights into and out of Sky Harbor Airport were delayed.  A rare occasion in this part of the desert.

Nebra said to some passers-by on the sidewalk:  “Is this Phoenix?’

The couple laughed.  One said the obvious.  It is more like Seattle.

This neck of the woods is one of the least likeliest places you’ll run into a fog.  Our usually sunny city averages only seven foggy days a year, according to a website I read.  Among major cities, only Las Vegas has less, with five.  No other city listed was close.  Unless you call 46 at Salt Lake City close.

Usually you can see downtown highrises from here.

Usually you can see downtown highrises from here.

As for Seattle, it barely made the Top 10 for foggiest.

The top five:  New Orleans (200 days), Raleigh (198), Jacksonville (198), Houston (194), Richmond (185).  Even Pittsburgh (183) had more fog than Seattle (165).

But look at this way.  The fogginess could be a harbinger for a Seattle Seahawks victory in SB 49 later this afternoon.  Go Seahawks!  Poo on the Patriots.


On the boat with Bogie

Published 36 years after the film.

Published 36 years after the film.

Having by happenstance seen the classic 1951 film, “The African Queen,” the other night, I began immediately to read a book on one of the living room shelves, “The Making of ‘The African Queen,’ by the actress Katharine Hepburn.

The subtitle, “How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind,” is not completely accurate.  The eccentric Hepburn is in command throughout this book of about 130 pages.  And although the book appeared 36 years after the film’s release, Hepburn’s eye for detail at age 75 is astonishing.

“. . . there are some happenings you can’t forget,” she wrote in circa 1987, or 16  years before she died.  “This happened to me with “The African Queen.”  I remember it in minute detail — I can see every second of its making and of me at the time. . . . ”

Once I became accustomed to Hepburn’s unique writing style — jumping suddenly from past to present and back again along with the unusual punctuation — I began to enjoy the book.  Her eye for the odd behavior of the director John Huston and the daily goings-on of the male lead Humphrey Bogart aka Bogie and Bogart’s wife Betty, who is better known as the actress Lauren Bacall.

For example, she writes about Bogart:

“Bogie was funny.  A generous actor.  And a no-bunk person.  He just did it.  He was an actor who enjoyed acting.  Knew he was good.  Knew his lines.  Always was on time.  Hated anything false.  Hated his hairpiece as he began to need one . . . .”

But much of this book is about Hepburn’s impressions of her first visit to the Dark Continent and how she dealt with the language barriers, the weather, the food and bad water and the bug. bilharzia, which almost brought the film to a halt.

The Riuku River, a tributary of the Congo, served as the primary film location.   In a later location in Uganda, the proper Ms. Hepburn startles the film crew by going on an elephant hunt with Huston.  Bacall wanted her to stay and help the crew prepare food, but, no.

“Live dangerously,” Hepburn wrote about the incident.  “There’s a lot to be said for sinning.”

The film won an Oscar for Bogart and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Hepburn) and Best Director, (Huston).

As for the boat itself, The African Queen, it was discovered in Cairo in the 1970s, purchased, refitted and now is docked at Key Largo, Florida.  Shortly after Hepburn wrote her book, the boat was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.







A scratched camera lens: So what?

I see nothing wrong here.

I see nothing wrong here.

My Canon EFS 18-55 mm macro lens has a scratch.  Actually there are three of them.  I don’t know how they made it there but they did.  I suspect I dropped the camera with the lens cover off and it banged into rock on one of my hikes.  It had to be something like that.  Those lenses are tough.

All are on the lower right quadrant, and I felt horrible.  Horrible because I thought the lens would produce bad photos with zagged streaks of light on the image.  One scratch was 1/2 inch long. Another was 3/16 of an inch and the smallest was 1/16.

If an imperfection exists in this photo, I could not tell.

If an imperfection exists in this photo, I could not tell.

My first reaction was to visit the Internet.  I found one of those zillions of camera websites and read on.  I was astonished to learn that scratches mean very little.  It also said to put some toothpaste on a microcloth and wipe the lens in circles.  Some of the scratches might go away.

I did the toothpaste thing but nothing changed.  The scratches, I guess, were too deep.

Lens appears OK.

Lens appears OK.

The other day I decided to give the injured macro an experimental try.  The photos on this post were taken with that lens.  You be the judge.


The American era of torture

Book Black BannersHaving just read Ali Soufan’s 2011 book, “The Black Banners,” I am more convinced than ever that our government’s era of torturing “terrorists” was not about seeking accurate information.  It was about the Bush administration’s desire to extract faulty information that would suit its agenda.  That is, the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

What better way to get the excuse you need than torture?

I use terrorists in quotes because, as almost every knowledgeable person knows, many of the prisoners held at Guantanamo and some sent to other countries for torture, a practice known as rendition, were never proven guilty of anything.  Yet some have remained there in “Gitmo” for more than a decade.  As “terrorists.”

The book’s title comes from a Muslim hadith, or saying:  “If you see the black banners coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice; no power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach [Jerusalem] where they will erect their flags.”  The saying was used by recruiters for al-Qaeda.

The book’s subtitle, by the way, is “The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.”

No one knows this better than Soufan, an Arabic-speaking Lebanese who was one of the lead FBI interrogators from the 1990s to the time he resigned in frustration in 2005.

In the coming weeks, I plan to write about various matters regarding torture that Soufan presents in his book.  Some topics include investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole, traditional interrogation techniques v. enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs, or torture), CIA’s interference with FBI interrogations and how 9/11 might have been prevented if the CIA had shared info with the FBI.

Shortly after Barrack Obama’s election in 2008, the EIT program was suspended.  Suspended, yes.  But always a threat to return under a new administration.

Dick Cheney’s name is rarely mentioned in Soufan’s book, but a careful reader will discover the former Vice President’s thumb print on everything that went wrong before and after 9/11.  And why the Bush administration will, or should, go down as the worst in U.S. history.