Saturday, September 15, 2007

In the works

More Superior text and photos are in the works. In the meantime, one photo from the first paddling day.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Pukaskwa 1 -- Wilderness Silence

Note: In mid-August of 2007, my wife and I, along with her 16-year-old nephew, took a two week vacation. It involved a lot of driving (2352 miles), and the bulk of our time was spent at Pukaskwa National Park, near Marathon, Ontario. (Pukaskwa is pronounced "PUH-kuh-saw".) To me, Lake Superior is sacred. You can interpret the word sacred in any way you want; I know what it means to me.

Pukaskwa is a special place in that sacred place, a place set aside not only for the enjoyment of those who find her, but as a protection of wilderness. This is the first of some posts about that trip. Undoubtedly there will be tangents into the ecological, philosophical, photographic and spiritual domains. As I write this post, the bulk of the photos I made are either in transit to/from processing (the Kodachrome), or awaiting some darkroom sessions in the case of the 4x5 Tri-X. Additional posts will come as I receive and process more film.

One of the most unexpected, almost startling things about camping at Lake Superior was the silence. It was most noticeable at night, but my wife also noticed it since there were little, if any, birdsongs in the mornings.

At night when everyone settled in, the only sound was the waves on the beach and the pre-cambrian shield shoreline. Even that was muted on calmer days. The individual campsites are well separated at Pukaskwa, so we normally heard no activity from nearby sites; Pukaskwa's normal campers are very quiet types, not party animals.

This silence seemed to almost disturb, or at least annoy, my wife. To me it was fascinating. While I understand the practice of meditation from an intellectual perspective, and have sometimes successfully meditated, this silence was like someone really explaining the silence of meditation to me by using a palpable, physical example.

I also thought of the social and cultural implications. Any people, but especially pre-contact native communities, undoubtedly have their psyches influenced and formed by such an environment. For example, it aids sustaining sensory sensitivity such as is necessary for tracking, awareness of approaching people from outside the community, alertness to weather changes, etc.

While the whole issue of noise pollution and human detachment/alienation from the natural environment has been raised as a serious social issue from time-to-time, it never seems to sustain a longer, serious discussion and reach the level of an important social concern. It occurs to me that this is most likely because so few people have really experienced the phenomenon of real and nearly complete silence.*

It would be an interesting experiment to place people in such an environment and record their feedback -- both conscious and bio-feedback. I'm sure this has been done, but it still interests me. One additional thing that strikes me is that I am at a loss as to how to describe my reaction. To say that it put me into state something like altered consciousness doesn't really hit the mark, but is as close as I can come at this point. Cleared my mind? Sort of, but it was more like cleansing of soul or spirit. Not that I am totally clean, but I feel cleaner.

If this were the only value of wilderness, it would be enough. I am persuaded that without periods of regular silence immersion, it is not possible to fully connect with the environment.

*For the record, the silence of our particular location was frequently interrupted by helicopter flights. Some were likely from flights to resupply back country campsites with "government issue" bear buckets, and others, I suspect, were taking searchers into and out of Rainbow Provincial Park, where a camper had gone missing while taking a morning run. This did not spoil the experience, rather it seemed to heighten it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Whatever your feelings about homelessness, there is no argument that it is an important social issue. I suspect that most of us have never spoken to a homeless person, other than to perhaps utter a phrase while giving someone some spare change, a meal from a fast food joint, etc.; I know I never have.

I stumbled across Ronzig's Blog via his flickr gallery. I recommend visiting both. Clearly Ronzig is a very intelligent person, and his determination to champion the issues of homelessness is extremely moving.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Hazards of being a Sales Engineer

How old is NCLB, aka "No Child Left Behind"? I am a Sales Engineer ... er, babysitter for sales people ... and I see evidence of lack of cognitive skills that are beyond my admittedly meagre imagination. These folks are in their 20s on up, so I shudder to think that NCLB is exacerbating the situation.

Example: Sales rep rushes over to my desk, almost breathless. "I just sent you an email, I wanted to check if you got it."

I check and sure enough, an email arrived 7 seconds ago. I hadn't seen it because I was busy websurfing for ways to kill myself without causing my wife to cry.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


As much as I love my Zuikos ... Leica M3/90mm Summicron; circa 1981-82. Note: I did NOT retouch this image for dust/dirt, so it is "as is". No post-processing other than unsharp mask to recover original sharpness in the Kodachrome original. Kodachrome STILL rules.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dummies for Dummies

This evening I went to my local pharmacy to pick up some film processing. On the way out I passed the cashier and saw a counter display of some of those "... For Dummies" books. One of them was Baby Names for Dummies.

Whaaaat??? I mean, really, are there special names for children of Dummies? Are "Dummies" so stupid they need a special book to help them navigate the world of names for their child-to-be-born? The mind reels.

But it got me to thinking. Without knowing all the "Dummy" titles, this could be a really fun exercise ... come up with the stupidest, dumbest "for Dummies" titles we can think of. So without giving it too much more thought, I offer my own ultimate "for Dummies" title:

Dummy Books for Dummies

Bring em on ... post your ideas and see if you can top that!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dipping into History

Some recent, some older, none ancient.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

iZon ... day 2

Well, my first entry about the iZon lenses was way too long. My SO reminds me that I have a knack for making short stories VERY long, and I proved it. So here's the executive summary, plus some thoughts after a full second day with the wonder-lenses...

Tina adjusted the spectacles and things feel "right" now. Before that was accomplished, my eyes had to "hunt" around for the proper alignment to find the right power, plus I was frequently adjusting the positioning on the bridge of my nose. So I wasn't really "visually relaxed" and able to allow the new vision to become natural.

But now things are settled in, and the new view of the world is sinking in. On one level the difference is subtle ... the improved definition, more natural colour saturation and tonal range just seem natural but not so dramatically different as to be like the difference between 1960s colour TV and current HDTV . On the other hand, it is almost jarring to think that I regarded the view BI (before iZon) as "normal".

But my impression of the improvement remains pretty much the same today. The impact of having the new view become my norm still seems magical. One additional thing that has impressed me is the diminished amount of glare from the lighting at work. It's not that I really noticed it before, but now I notice the absence of glare.

I have no real quibbles except the the iZon technology is not available in contact lenses. As a photographer, I prefer contacts when using 35mm cameras. Reportedly Opthonix (the company that owns the iZon technology and markets the lenses) started out wanting to apply the basic technology to contact lenses, but didn't have a good manufacturing partner, combined with contact market economics that did not make a favourable business case. I've sent Opthonix and email pleading for iZon contact lenses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

High Def Specs

My optometrist rocks. I've always been particular (ok, I'm fussy and picky) about my eyesight. Years ago another optometrist told me "you just want better than perfect vision". He was right, though he mainly was trying to get me to settle for the best that he could do. Not that he wasn't competent, but the technology at that time wasn't able to give me what I wanted.

When I moved to the city where I currently live, I crossed that threshold where my arms were continually shrinking whenever I held a book or newspaper. Eventually I concluded that age is "just a number", and succumbed to progressive focal length (aka "no-line bifocal") lenses. I got them at a "doc-in-a-box" chain, and I was pretty happy. The technicians warned me that it might take me some time to get used to them, and to be especially careful negotiating stairs until I was comfortable with them. Well, that took about 15 seconds, so I was a happy camper.

For awhile. The problem was, I was used to wearing contact lenses (rigid gas permeable or RGP), which gave me better acuity than spectacles. Plus, focusing a camera is more difficult with glasses for most people. I did the best I could until one of the temple pieces of my specs broke for the second time and couldn't be replaced. (Frame manufacturers build to the planned obsolescence/product churn model.) At this point I wanted to get rid of reading glasses when I wore my single-vision contacts.

So I went to a different eyedoc-in-the-box chain to see about progressive contact lenses. The assembly-line optometrist supplied me with single-vision soft contacts after stating that I wouldn't like multi-focal contacts. I believe he backed this up by quoting a statistic that only 20% of people can wear them or get on with them. Huh. Wonder where he got that statistic and by the way, 20% of what? If it's 20% of people who tried them and the only people who try them are brave souls who ignore an optometrist's opinions, then well ...

So those soft contacts didn't really do much for me. They were not as good as RGPs with a good script, and I decided I didn't like be pushed around by a snot-nose optometrist of a faceless corporate Eye-Mart. (No, it wasn't Wal-Mart, but it was the same mentality.) So I went back and demanded to get a trial pair of progressive contacts, which he grudgingly supplied.

Those are not "monocular" lenses wherein one lens is corrected for distance, the other for close focus. Each lens is truly progressive additive just like eyeglasses. Once they arrived and I tried them I knew this could work for me. The script wasn't quite right (thank you very much, Mr. + with-a-tailwind-optometry-graduate), and once again the resolution wasn't up to my standards because these were soft, not RGP. But now I knew I was on to something. So, I got a new pair of spectacles dispensed from another optometrist. I wasn't giving the dork any more of my money, and I chose a decent titanium frame.

So this is a really long way of leading up to my long-overdue visit to Tina Reeves, who runs a small optometry shop, and had come highly recommended. It was a recommendation I had ignored for a long time, figuring I couldn't afford her. But by now I wanted someone who really knew there stuff, someone who had a chance of getting me close to perfection.

First of all, did I say "my optometrist rocks"? Oh yeah, I did. Well, she does. First off, she got me a good script. I mean really, really good. I got some progressive RGP contacts and I was knocked out by how well they worked. People who say they don't work, or who say "I can't wear those" are wrong on the first count, and maybe wrong on the second. Some people can't wear RGPs, but for the life of me I can't understand it. Apparently there is something about tear production and/or the shape of the cornea ... I don't know. But I'm willing to be that a huge portion of people who think they can't wear them have never had a good fitting. While my insurance covered a good portion of my expense and my flexible spending benefit covered the rest, it was worth every penny, insurance or not.

Now I had confidence, and the next year when my script changed a bit, I got new contact lenses and my spectacles upgraded to the new script. But having kept up in her field, Tina could now source new RGP lens material that was easier to keep clean and wore longer without "gunking up". So reason #2 to stick with someone who really knows her shit, er stuff. (I kept the old pai of contacts for backup, which came in handy.)

The following year I upgraded to some really stylish Calvin Klein "frameless" frames (huh?), which make me look oh so suave... with good anti-reflective coating. These are the lightest most comfortable frames I've had, and they improve my looks, which is pretty easy. (Actually, I think it's pretty hard, in the sense that I think only a total redo of my face could actually do the job.)

Earlier this year, but well before my annual exam was due, Tina sent me an email about iZon lenses. The prospect of "high definition" vision drove me nuts, primarily because it was months before my insurance would kick in for the next exam and dispensing coverage. Aaargh! In the meantime, I figured out what these folks are doing. Their machine uses lasers to map the surface of each eye. It is the same wavefront technology that is used to guide Lasik and PRK keratometry, aka "laser surgery", to permanently correct ones vision. Only instead of reshaping your cornea with surgery, a custom lens is created for each eye that goes beyond the traditional script that corrects for power, astigmatism, etc. A thin-film polymer "lens" is created that is sandwiched between two layers of the lens material. Or at least, this is what I could deduce from my reading and Googling.

For months I anticipated the day, June 15 to be exact! that I could visit Tina and stick my face into the machine and have my eyes mapped with laser precision. Not that I needed an iPrint to create the excitement of a visit to Tina. Hell, Tina is such a joy to visit that I'd get an exam every day if I could. Who could want more than a rockin' rally car driver who loves her patients and exercises the highest degree of craft and knowledge to satisfy their vision care needs?

When I got my iPrint, it showed my right eye had a high degree of spherical, coma and trefoil aberration. The left eye had more moderate levels. This explained that while my old script was quite good (correction for 20/15 vision and excellent correction for astigmatism and presbyopia), my wife could still read street and highway signs yards before I could. Which, of course, made me seethe with optical jealousy. No matter how good the "normal" correction, those other nasty aberrations were not corrected with the precision of fine Leica or Zeiss glass ... even though one pair of my spectacles actually does have Zeiss material for the lenses.

Naturally, I ordered the iZon lenses for my Calvin Klein frames ... progressive additive power and multi-coating are included for the extra $100. But the big problem was THE WAIT. "Four to six weeks", the optician stated. The lenses are ground by a lab in San Diego, so my frames had to be shipped there, the lenses ground, returned etc.

Yet it is less than one month and as of today I now wear these new lenses. I have to admit, my first reaction was a bit of a let-down. Somehow the nose pads had been adjusted way too narrow, so they didn't sit right. The optician adjusted that, but once I got home, I decided the specs sit to high, so I need to go back.

More than that, I didn't see a shocking difference right away. For the first time in days, I had worn my contacts, and by the time I hit the optometrist at about 4:15, my eyeballs had adjusted to those, and it takes time for them to adjust back.

But after a few hours, and some fiddling with positioning, I began to see the difference. Sitting in the back yard and reading, I occasionally looked up to see what the world looks like. And gradually, I could see the difference. Yes, everything seems sharper. Colours are cleaner and purer, but not in an over-the-top rendering that is the bane of much of digital imaging. And as the natural light waned and the LED patio lights became more prominent ... even after a couple of gin-and-tonics I could really see the difference. It is not just the resolution, not just the absence of halos, smearing and flare. What struck me was the smooth tonal gradation that was just ... well, so natural. Some of the party lights we have are small LEDs that are surrounded by a paper-lantern type of shade. Looking at these lights carefully, there is no flare or smearing from the LED itself, and the gradation of the light transmitted through the shade material is just what it is... it is easy to visually define with the iZon lenses. I find it difficult to describe it in words. I can only compare it to a finely crafted b&w photograph, say Agfa APX100 film, 120 format, negatives carefully processed in Rodinal 1:100 so that micro-tonality is preserved throughout the entire brightness range. It's funny that I have seen this in good prints, but I don't think I've really seen it "live".

So, it's off to Tina to have the specs readjusted to sit properly on my face. Then off to Eastman House to see the Ansel Adams exhibit again. I saw it last weekend and was really thrilled. But now I'm really going to see it.

Oh, and I'm going to take more pictures. I have a feeling my prints and final files for display may change a bit. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Internal Audience

I get a kick out of pulling out cameras that are older than the person to whom I am showing them. The reactions are entertaining, but surprisingly (at least it might be surprising to a lot of people,) the reaction is often "Wow, that's so cool!" Given my age, it's at least possible that they are humouring me, and it's also possible that since I am a support resource for many of them they want to insure I give them good service, so they feign their delight. But I don't think so much ... the designs and craftsmanship are classic and solid. Today's tiny pocket digicams don't have heft and solidity, and the larger DSLRs are so plastic and cold.

But there is another factor. Over on RFF, we have noticed a real influx of younger photographers and new photo enthusiasts who have moved over not only to film shooting, but in amazing numbers to mechanical or "simple" electronically controlled cameras. These are people who have at best a vague notion of film, and certainly have grown up with digital cameras as the only photo capture device they knew, or at the very least they desired a "good" digital camera because of the marketing and word-of-mouth hype.

So why are they turning to film cameras, and to rangefinders, of all things? I think one answer is in how current products are designed and implemented. The New York Times has a great article on "feature creep" and the "internal audience syndrome", which plagues marketing and engineering departments.

A still camera is a pretty simple device. It is intended to capture a moment and a composition to a sensitive material or subsystem so that the resulting image can be reproduced for any number of purposes. The physics dictate a lens opening, an exposure duration and some means of transferring the captured image to other media.

Figuring out the exposure duration and lens opening size (aperture) takes some knowledge, so a light meter is used to help. In truth, exposures can be calculated in one's head if the sensitivity of the capture medium is known. Interior and night lighting is more difficult, since our eyes are so adaptable to lower light levels and there is little or no reference point to the sun's intensity.

Most cameras with even moderately sophisticated internal metering systems do a very good job of evaluating the required exposure, and when a scene has "tricky" lighting, a minimally knowledgeable photographer can compensate for the meter which has been fooled.

But in an effort to relieve snap-shooters of having to know anything about exposure rules, manufacturers have tried to design logic via electronics and more sophisticated light measurement techniques to do the work of the human brain. Some efforts have been very successful, but funnily enough it's not simply the newest systems that are the best. The Yashica rangefinder models such as the GSN had metering systems that were, by all accounts, hardly ever fooled, yet those cameras were produced in the 1960s and 1970s.

So when my friend DOF posted about his plan to purchase an Olympus SW-710 because of its rugged, waterproof construction, the quality of the images and such, one commenter advised he reconsider because of a published "bad review". Ooops! If you know DOF, you know he does his homework. I'm sure he'll make that camera dance.

My needs are a bit different. If I am forced to go digital, or choose to do so, I want:

  • A smallish yet rugged, metal-bodied camera
  • Rangefinder focusing; if I must have a dSLR, then manual focusing must be straighforward, positive and precise.
  • A viewfinder that is the equal of a Leica or the Olympus 35SP, or an Olympus OM-1
  • Small, compact prime lenses with fast prime choices
  • As little automation as possible
  • An interface that presents a minimal number of controls that are analog in presentation and operation. Multiple, nested menus are NOT acceptable
Guess I'll be waiting a long, long time. Suits don't understand real utility.

Friday, June 01, 2007

"Just the facts, ma'am"

Facts can be slippery things. Well, actually "real" facts are not slippery at all, but getting to the facts can be difficult, not least when the "facts" are statistical in nature.

Canada's Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day (aka "Doris") has responded to Ontario's request for a federal ban on handguns by arguing, as quoted in The Toronto Star, that availability of handguns aren't the real problem. Part of his argument:

'"In jurisdictions that have eliminated or tried to eliminate, to ban handguns – the United Kingdom, Ireland, other jurisdictions – in fact crime with guns has unfortunately gone up," Day said.'

Whenever public officials or pundits make these kinds of statements, I am suspicious. Actually, given the track record of other conservative government officials (read: Cheney, Bush, Rummy, Rice, etc.,), I now automatically assume the true is probably exact opposite or at least wildly different.

There was a 16 per cent drop in the number of firearms offences in the United Kingdom in 2006 compared with the previous year, according to figures from Britain's Home Office. Injuries related to gun crimes also fell while fatalities rose slightly."

Apparently the UK handgun ban was introduced in 1997, and there was some variation in gun crime incidents ... steady some years, up for a couple of years, now down. Well duh, such a ban would not change things overnight; we are talking about a policy that will take years to evaluate for its effect. And no one argues that availability of handguns (or not) is the sole "answer" to the problem. All sane, rational people will admit that gun violence is complex, with multiple causes and influences. Day is correct in that addressing the issue of smuggling of illegal weapons into Canada is certainly of major importance.

In addition, Stock refers to more than one jurisdiction where crime increased, yet cites only one reference. Wanna bet if he were asked to cite a few more countries he would be stammering?

But outlawing handguns, which have no purpose other than to shoot another person or for target practice, is obviously a logical action. It will give more power to law enforcement, gradually change public attitude and eventually reduce the number of handguns in circulation. To argue that fewer handguns will increase handgun crime and shootings is laughably ridiculous.

Personally I am sick to death of the "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" mantra. Give it a rest ... that isn't even imaginative.

Hey Stock, is that a handgun in your wetsuit, or are you just happy to see me?

What we need are ministers and other officials who really know things and are not talking puppets.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Scotland Should be Free

Yes, it has been forever since the last entry. I am working on selling off a passle of photo gear to fund the acquisition of a film scanner, most likely the Nikon Coolscan V. Once that is accomplished, I can work on a large backlog of negatives and slides to be posted here, on flickr and RFF, etc.

In the meantime, tonight I am watching the election results in Scotland, where it currently appears that the Scottish National Party (SNP) have significant gains and may form the majority in the Scottish Parliament.

As a party whose major policy plank is Scottish Independence, I am quite pleased, as I believe Scottish independence is a desirable development.

All the returns are not yet in, but I am hopeful, and congratulate the SNP on the results so far.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Newest 3rd World Country

We usually think of countries emerging from "3rd world" status. But obviously countries, as a result of a series of events and mishaps, can devolve into that status. And we usually think of 3rd world status as primarily economic condition, with bad government and corruption as secondary conditions. In reality, of course, the situation is often the reverse: decline into economic failure is caused by bad government, corruption, etc.

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I watched Hacking Democracy, an HBO production that left me at once angry, despairing, disgusted and again angry. Yes, I have known about the problems with electronic voting systems in general, and the serious issues with Deibold in particular. But before watching Hacking Democracy, I didn't really know the details, I didn't know how shocking the situation is. And it's not just Diebold; Velousia county in Florida clearly demonstrated that the rot goes all the way to the core of your electoral systems and personnel.

Now I know which country is the latest to "achieve" 3rd world status.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Russians Came

... and left us a gift.

I remember when Fed and Zorki cameras were at least mentioned in Modern Photography or Popular Photography (gee, I really miss Modern) as pathetic alternatives to a Leica or a Contax. OK, they didn't use the word pathetic, but the idea was there. The knock against Soviet photographic equipment was its reliability issues. I.e., make sure your camera was made on a Wednesday, else it was too vodka-soaked to be useful.

There was some merit to that, but it wasn't the whole story. Through my membership at Rangfinder Forum, I have gained a new appreciation with FSU (Former Soviet Union) photo gear. Until recently, however, it was an academic appreciation. Then someone sold me a Mamiya 1000DTL camera with 50mm Mamiya lens, and a Carl Zeiss Jena 135/f3.5 lens as a bonus (made in East Germany during the soviet era) ... the CZJ is a VERY sharp lens:

This shot was form the CZJ mounted with an M42 adapter onto an OM-1n. That setup doesn't allow for infinity focus, only close focus (e.g., "macro) shots. The CZJ 135/3.5 has pretty close focusing anyway, so this is a pretty useful rig, albeit requiring stopdown metering.

As a result of the close focus and large aperture, this shot shows very limited depth of field. But what is in focus is wicked sharp.

Next, I acquired a 58mm/f2 Helios lens, also in M42 (Practica/Pentax) screw mount. My friend Gene Wilburn (Harbourlight on flickr) had posted some shots with this lens that really impressed me. It turns out a co-worker had one that he considered spare, so he gave it to me. Whoo hoo!

One freezing Sunday in January I went out to the High Falls district in Rochester and made a few shots, mounted on the aforementioned Mamiya-Sekor 1000DTL. Most shots were either wide-open or near full aperture. I wanted to see how sharp it was at maximum aperture, as well as gauge the "bokeh", i.e. the characteristics of the out of focus areas.

Some of the blurriness in the last shot is from the long exposure combined with falling sleet. My butt got wet on this shoot.

Film was a private label of Agfa Vista 200. Sadly, Agfa no longer manufactures photographic film. This particular emulsion was a real winner.

The Industar 61 is perhaps an even better lens (albeit slower at f/2.8), so I think I'll have to get one of those, too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hillary's Chances

My friend Decrepit Old Fool (DOF) recently blogged about why he is not enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. This was in response to a private email I had sent him asking why, in a previous post, he had used the word "Ugh" in connection with Hillary as a candidate.

I thought his blog post was thoughtful and pretty interesting. I think it fairly sums up the feelings of a lot of people, at least those who are not irrationally rabid about Ms. Clinton. (Naturally, some of the regulars on DOF's blog chimed in with toss-offs about Hillary. They are mild in comparison to what is to come from the loonie right fringe, of course, but they were "entertaining" nonetheless.)

However, I wanted to respond, with this proviso: I am not supporting Hillary. First of all, I think it is far too early (for me at least) to choose a candidate. There has been no real dialogue, much less actual debate among the Democratic hopefuls. I have promised myself that I will be deliberate and thoughtful before making a personal choice. As if anyone cares.

So, a few highlights from DOF's post, with my comments...

  • "I didn’t appreciate Bill enough while he was in office, but Bush cured me of it."

Right. Pretty much same here. I did like Bill all along, though from time to time I had some doubts regarding policy. (The blue dress incident was a total non-issue to me. Anyone who truly believes the affair rose to the level of impeachment is, IMO, either totally lacking in understanding of the constitution or an outright idiot. Flame on, right wing.)

My suggestion here is that Hillary may really surprise some people, too. Just as so many underestimated her husband, thinking he only won on charisma, don't count out Hillary because she lacks that charisma and warmth. FWIW, my opinion is that she does have some of those characteristics in person. No I haven't met her, but reports from those who have met her/know her indicate she's different in person, it's her people who are remote, aloof, etc. Yes, she has chosen those people, so I fault her there. But still, I do not regard the public media as my lens of choice for critical evaluation. I simply suggest we listen to what she says, and dispense with everything else, at least as much as possible.

Further down DOF writes: "You can make a very strong case that voters always go for the more charismatic candidate regardless of ideology. Bill Clinton has it - he could work around almost any gaffe or misdeed. Hillary does not, and her candidacy virtually guarantees a Republican president in ‘08. I do believe Hillary is smart enough to realize this, which in my mind makes her candidacy self-indulgent and unprincipled. "

I disagree completely. Judging what Hillary does or does not realize is somewhat arrogant, IMO.

Overall I'm understanding of the "no charisma/warmth" POV, but can't award any points, especially in light of the latter judgment.

Oooh, dangerous ground here. Based on this, we'll have to eliminate just about every candidate, Republican or Democrat. I agree that I never bought into the administration's justifications for the war. But being a legislator at such a time is way different. Would I prefer someone who actually voted against the authorization bill? Absolutely. Do I judge? No; not my moccasins. I give DOF half a point here, I guess; he did say "She would probably make a halfway good president, at least compared to the current one, but we can do better."

  • "Then there’s economics: her husband understands the profit motive, and so does Al Gore. They regard taxes and regulations as necessary things, but they also recognize that capitalism is pulling this wagon, and to keep it well fed. What about Hillary?

    “I want to take those profits, and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund...”"
DOF goes on to make the point that such statements hand Republicans ammunition ... they will re-run the words "I want to take those profits" over and over. Well DUH. Finally someone who says it like it is. If the American people are that f-ing stupid to fall for yet more Republican smear tactics and lies, then they deserve the President they elect."

I recently received a "joke" email (from a relative who knows I'm a liberal, yet!) that had a photo of a KFC store whose sign denigrated Hillary based on her thighs. In the text of the email, i.e. not part of the actual "joke", was the admonition "Even if you're a Democrat, you have to admit this is funny." No, it's not funny. When serious political discourse, the choice of the leader of the most potent military force in the world (at this point) degenerates to mean, sexist attacks, it is not funny. I am so tired of attacks (by either side), of meanness, of disrespect, that sometimes it physically hurts.

But beyond that, I have to hope that any Democratic nominee will be able to rise above those attacks; respond in a timely fashion (unlike Kerry), yes, but speak to the real issues, to what is important.

Yes, sliding all the burden of the cost of carbon production solely to the corporations is not the right tactic. But I am reasonably certain that is not Hillary's only plank in her energy platform. More than that, though, is you have to start somewhere, and corporations are a huge part of the production of our carbon burden. Competition and innovation will make sure the cost of becoming more environmentally responsible is not simply passed on to the consumer. Sorry, but that is an old, tired and wrong argument. It is the bleating of the right wing that claims to be "conservative" yet wants to live off the benefit of what amounts to a subsidy. "We produce products in a dirty manner, you the consumer pay the price, thanks to government abandoning their responsibility to protect the common good." If we used the argument of the cost just being passed on to the consumer to prevent regulation of environmental concerns, we'd still be using freon for air conditioning.

I'll grudgingly grant 1/4 point here. I am tempted to go a whole 1/2 point, but I'm not feeling magnanimous.

  • "So what about Obama? He is a constitutional scholar, he respects the conservative world view, he has charisma, he knows history, and he is able to hold his temper under extreme provocation. In other news, I recently found out he smokes cigarettes, which moves him up a notch in my book. Illogical as it sounds, I don’t trust people who appear saintly."
Well, this is a problem. I sort of share this lack of trust, as I've had a similar experience as DOF when it comes to "the saintly" in my life. But really, being quick to trust and being immediately cynical are the same problem, just opposite extremes. I will wait and see what Obama has to say about the issues. Yes, I have yet to dig into the detail on his website. So far, I'm not terribly impressed on energy. He favours an increase in use of E85 fuels. Ethanol as fuel is a net energy loss ... it requires the use of more energy to produce (read: oil) than it yields. The only way to achieve the use of more ethanol is through government subsidy.

Midwest farmers will love that, but it makes no sense in terms of energy. In addition to the input requirements, corn requires huge amounts of water, herbicides and pesticides to produce in industrial quantities. So it doesn't make any sense on other environmental grounds, either.

Obama also favours the development of "clean coal" technology. Huh? We've heard this drumbeat forever, it seems. Turning from one non-renewable source for another doesn't make any sense to me. And the issue of what is "clean" is complex enough, subject to statistical justification, that the average Joe will glaze over and say "Yeah, makes sense" even if it is black magic.

I see nothing in Obama's platform, as published on his website, that speaks to the environment in real terms. And it doesn't begin to address DOF's recommendation:

"Alternative energy research will benefit all Americans, so there’s a good case for all Americans paying for it, not just evil corporations"

The only time Americans will "get it" is when real conservation, real change becomes necessary.

So, does this make me anti-Obama? No. He has just started, I'm sure he will expand and fill out his position on issues. As for Hillary's website, it's pretty disappointing if you want to read position statements, her platform proposals. Apparently all such information is in the transcripts of speeches or in news articles and news releases. It's not very user friendly, IMO. (Oh, and by the way, I'm thinking Hillary is pretty educated on the Constitution as well. Before she was the First Lady, she gathered some pretty impressive credentials, including sitting as a staffer on the House Judiciary Committee that handled the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon.)

But still, I would encourage people to not come to conclusions about Hillary until the campaigns have worked their way through the course of debate, caucuses and primaries. And focus on what candidates say on the issues, not just judgment calls on what one infers about their motivation. That's always rocky ground.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hillary is In

Hillary Clinton is in. With Barak Obama set to make an official announcement on Feb. 11 in Springfield, IL (and as much as I respect Obama, I think that is just a shade too cute), Bill Richardson contemplating running, the Democratic race will take on a character unlike any other. The diversity of candidates will finally, finally reflect an "America" (actually, the United States of America ... there are several other countries in the Americas, and all their citizens are "Americans" in actuality) that has changed radically in the last 50 years. Yet this race will be the first to truly reflect those demographic and social changes.

As I stated in my blog submission on Mrs. Clinton's website (see below,) I believe the most important aspect of the upcoming campaign will be her ability to reach out and have a dialog amongst all the electorate. I am one of the rare few who are ambivalent about her candidacy, because while I share most of her views, most of her record and admire her intellect and work ethic, the ability to overcome divisiveness is perhaps as important as policy and legislative agenda.

First of all, I want to congratulate you for your conviction and determination that have led you to enter this race. Regardless of the outcome, I believe that the very presence of a woman of such qualification and experience, one who has a real chance to win, is very important to the U.S.

That said, I am one of the few who is, at this moment, ambivalent about a Hillary Clinton presidency. Mrs. Clinton, please make it a top priority to demonstrate how you can be a great President, not only in terms of policy and leadership, but in reaching out to and including those who strongly oppose you. While there will always be divisions among the body politic, we need someone with the strength and compassion to lead in spite of divisions, to not revile, marginalize nor denigrate those who strongly oppose.

I am US born, but as a young adult took out Canadian citizenship after living for a long time in southern Ontario. As a result of the trends in American politics and society (starting with the Vietnam war ... and no, I was not a draft dodger,) I now consider myself a Canadian first. I sincerely hope that the dialog resulting from your campaigning, from the national discussion which is so vital at this time, restores my faith in the United States.