Saturday, February 28, 2009

CPAC run

The Conservative Political Action Conference is, I'm glad to say, over.

CPAC, for the unenlightened, is the right-wing political equivalent of the ugly American tourist who expects to be understood by speaking to the natives LOUDER and more s-l-o-w-l-y.

I watched as much of it as I could stand.

Honestly, I can't fathom how three days of third-grade insults and utility-grade intellect will strengthen "the conservative movement," as I often heard it called from the CPAC rostrum. If there really is such a thing, that "movement" looks less like a political revolution and more like a biological function.

The event was not so much cathartic as colonic.

CPAC didn't merely condemn conservatism -- it underscored the failure of all narrow ideologies, whatever their goals or guises, reminding us of the danger that extremism poses to our nation.

Wise up, People.

Digital karma

I entered the world of digital photography in the fall of 2001, the day after I was teased by images from a 2.1-megapixel Canon PowerShot S110 Digital ELPH. I had to have one.

A year later, when a connector on my S110 came loose, Circuit City (may it rest in peace) replaced the camera with an S230 -- essentially the same little silver box, but with 3.2-megapixel resolution.

For over six years that camera has gone everywhere with me, capturing thousands of moments. The S230 has proven to be damned-near indestructible, giving the impression that it's capable of driving nails as well as producing great images -- an awesome camera, despite its age.

In all that time, the only issue was a handful of distorted images taken on a hot, humid day last August. I didn't seek the reason for the transient problem until a few weeks ago -- turns out that Canon had known about a defective CCD since 2005 and was repairing all affected cameras at no charge, regardless of warranty status.

Cool. After a few minutes on the phone with Canon Customer Support, I printed the repair form and pre-paid UPS label that had been e-mailed to me, packed up my camera and dropped it off at the local UPS Store. That was a week ago yesterday.

Canon kept me apprised of my camera's status throughout, and when FedEx rang my doorbell yesterday afternoon I was looking forward to reuniting with my trusty photographic friend.

The box struck me as being heavier than it should be, considering, and upon opening it I was greeted by a note:

"Due to the current lack of essential components at the repair facility, and in order to expedite your repair, we have exchanged your original equipment with a new or factory-reconditioned model of equal or greater value."
Underneath the note was a sealed box containing a factory-refurbished Canon PowerShot SD950 IS Digital ELPH, plus all accessories and software.

Sad as I am about the factory-authorized retirement of my S230, I don't think I'll have any trouble getting used to its replacement -- big LCD, image stabilization, 12.1 megapixels, Titanium housing. The only down-side to the swap, really, is that the SD950 takes a different memory card and battery than the S230 -- no worries, just a matter of picking up a spare battery and an extra SD card.

I was impressed enough with the whole experience that I picked up the phone and called Canon to express my thanks. I also offered a gentle suggestion that the 16MB memory card supplied with the SD950 might be, um, a wee bit small, since it can hold only two full-resolution images.

That's when the Canon rep, without my asking, urged me to send back all of the CompactFlash cards and batteries I'd purchased for my S230, so that the company could replace them with equivalent items compatible with the SD950 -- no charge, shipping prepaid.

Somebody pinch me.

I didn't need another reason to be loyal to Canon products, but I got one anyway. Also, to my surprise, I got a rather pleasing glimpse of my karma.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Images: Wings

Columbus, Ohio (2007)

Somewhere over West Virginia (2006)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All around & back again

Yesterday afternoon our town's police nabbed, named and charged an 18-year-old kid in connection with the arson and break-ins at the high school. Reportedly he had a younger accomplice, a student at the school, who faces expulsion as well as criminal charges.

The rash of bomb threats, according to media accounts, was perpetrated by two others, also current students, both girls. They haven't been named and, as juveniles, won't be.

Fry 'em all, dammit. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) We plan go to tonight's town meeting anyway, even though this episode presumably has come to a close.

After catching local TV news coverage of those happenings, I watched Pres. Barack Obama field questions from lawmakers and economists at the end of yesterday's "fiscal responsibility summit." My first reaction was that it's refreshing to have an engaged, articulate President who displays an IQ above the freezing point of water.

He also had the confidence to grant the floor first to Sen. John McCain, who probably meant to challenge (respectfully) the President's agenda, but who ended up practically endorsing the election results:
"Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One. I don't think there is any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money."
Now there's a guy with a big ol' basketful of symbols and a severe shortage of substance -- I mean, a third-grader could come up with a "more graphic demonstration" of government waste. Had McCain won in November, I can imagine him suggesting that homeowners could fend off foreclosure by riding bicycles, turning off lights and taking short showers.

Despite my staunch opposition to some of Pres. Obama's policies, it's clear to me that the American electorate (such as it is) chose the more able leader.

It could be worse, of course -- much worse, and I'm not talking about John McCain. This is what his former running mate said in a recent interview:
"Obviously something big took place in the media. We’re going to seek and we're going to destroy this candidacy of Sarah Palin's because of what it is that she represents. Very frightening, I think, what the media was able to get away with, this go around."
Another Republican trying to pass off symbols as substance. Another elected official blaming the big, bad media for political failure and personal incompetence -- a sure sign, as Jack Cafferty said last week of Sen. Roland Burris, that "you're out of bullets."

A few simple-minded conservatives can't help singing right along with Palin, whining that there was no justification for turning her into a political piñata -- and I say that the media, collectively, actually short-armed its coverage. She deserved far more scrutiny and parody than she got, but we can be thankful, at least, that this vacuous vamp was exposed in plenty of time to sabotage the ticket.

I've had it up to here with symbols. I'm tired of hearing that so-and-so's speech was "short on details" when the loyal opposition has nothing substantive or credible to offer. Tossing rotten chestnuts and clinging to infected ideologies, regardless of source or subject, won't get the job done.

Just ask Americans who followed experts' advice to "stay in the market" -- and whose retirement savings now are worth less than 50 cents for every dollar invested 16 months ago. Even those with 12-year-old money are right back where they started, or worse.

If "free trade is fair trade," then someone needs to give me a better explanation of how that philosophy squares with our crushing trade deficit. If wholesale deregulation is so bloody brilliant, then how did our markets' biggest players (and more every day) end up in the toilet? If government handouts to individual citizens are profane but government bailouts for failed corporations are sacred, please tell me again -- exactly which brand of capitalist whimsy is that?

If organized labor is committed to "improving the lives of working men and women," just how are those lives improved when plants close and jobs evaporate, due in large part to unions' terminal greed? And with a national landscape that includes food lines in Wilmington, Ohio and 24% graduation rates in Detroit, how can any politician or captain of industry have the unmitigated balls to whine, to pander, to traffic in symbols?

The words of Henry David Thoreau:

"No face which we can give to a matter will stead us so well at last as the truth. This alone wears well.

"For the most part, we are not where we are, but in a false position. Through an infirmity of our natures, we suppose a case, and put ourselves into it, and hence are in two cases at the same time, and it is doubly difficult to get out.

"In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.

"Tom Hyde, the tinker, standing on the gallows, was asked if he had anything to say. 'Tell the tailors,' said he, 'to remember to make a knot in their thread before they take the first stitch.'

"His companion's prayer is forgotten."

Policy differences aside, I see this President as one our nation's "sane moments" -- which means, by intelligent contrast, that purely partisan or contrarian opposition is implicitly insane. To be sure, anything resembling unquestioning, categorical support of the administration's agenda is likewise addled.

I call bullshit on make-believe political rhetoric that gives short shrift to the facts, the case that is. I don't care if it comes from McCain or Obama, Schumer or Gramm, Limbaugh or Franken. It's time for The People to set fire to these folks' carefully tended ideological gardens -- along with our own -- and drag the powerful into our world.

First, however, we must start telling the truth about what we see -- if we don't, we're no better than they are.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Same song, next verse

Another day, another lockdown at the high school.

This time it was called "non-emergency" and "precautionary," although the sight of armed law-enforcement officers greeting students arriving for classes this morning isn't exactly routine around here. Reportedly, the move was in response to text messages last night, threatening a shooting, an explosion and a fire.

Police officers and firefighters scoured the buildings and grounds but found nothing to substantiate the threats. Still, all students were searched today before being allowed into the school.

KintlaLake and family, by the way, live close enough to the high school to hear the marching band practice on autumn evenings. While we didn't quite feel the heat from those burning vans on Monday night, if something did explode up there our windows surely would rattle. This week we've watched the parade of TV satellite trucks pass by on the road in front of our house.

That's entertainment, I guess. Other developments of note:

  • Some additional "hardware" has been brought in to deal with the incidents. That hardware actually passed through my wife's hands yesterday afternoon, at her office 17 miles away, before being deployed at the school.
  • Police say they're close to naming names in at least one of the incidents. One of the department's commanders is a friend of ours, and we're acquainted with the other commander and the chief -- good-to-go pros, every one. We're four-square behind these guys while they play high-stakes Whac-A-Mole.
  • The whole affair has residents and especially parents (natch) on-edge, so the school will host a town meeting on Tuesday evening. Its tone will depend on where the investigation stands and whether or not there have been more incidents. Regardless, the meeting should be interesting. We'll be there.
I must confess that my initial reaction to what's been happening is, "Idiot kids." For my high-school classmates and me, it was toilet paper in trees and soap on windows, maybe the occasional potato jammed in the tailpipe of a teacher's car.

For these kids it's...well, it's just a bunch of melodramatic, look-at-me bullshit.

And then I realize that I'm living in a post-Columbine, post-September 11th world. Idiots seek attention, sure, but idiots have been known to carry out their threats.

The best thing for us to do, I think, is to dial back the drama, keep our eyes and ears open, stand by our kids and support the investigation. That's what we'll be doing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slap 'n' tickle

Late last year, the local high school received a bomb threat. It turned out to be a hoax, but it's still the kind of conduct that calls for swift and sure punishment.

The student who made the threatening call was administered an appallingly mild dose of punitive medicine -- a four-day in-school suspension.

I rolled my eyes when I heard that -- four days? I mean, our younger spawn got three last week for throwing a couple of retaliatory
punches. Besides, what the hell is an in-school suspension?

The reasons behind school officials' slap-on-the-wrist weren't clear, but I recall commenting to my wife that they'd sent a message that would only encourage similar acts in the future.

Looks like I was right. In the last six weeks, the same school has gone into lockdown four times -- all bomb threats, all phoned-in hoaxes.

And on Monday night, two vans parked in the school's parking lot were torched, two buildings broken into and walls spray-painted with graffiti. The local Miscreants Club definitely got the message and is holding regular meetings.

Whatever happened to the "hot stove" approach? While I acknowledge the value of discretion and proportion, the stove of punishment has to be hot enough to persuade an offender (and any associates) not to touch it again. Pretty simple stuff.

Take the case of our 13-year-old, suspended from school recently for fighting. I don't know about the other kid (who was booted for five days, by the way), but the school's penalty and two weeks' house arrest from us should be enough to make our spawn think twice before getting into another tussle unnecessarily -- and if it's not enough, stiffer punishment is in order.

And then there's our 17-year-old. When the CarChip we'd planted revealed that he'd been driving 90mph in a 25mph zone, we grounded him for a month. Apparently our stove wasn't hot enough, however, because a few months later he got a ticket for 75 in a 65. His excuse?
"Other cars were going a lot faster than I was. It was totally impossible for me to drive any slower."

Naturally, we grounded him again. The county's penalty was a nominal fine, a few trips to traffic school and a pair of essays -- no license suspension. Call me a hard-ass, but it didn't seem like a very hot stove.

Sure enough, last Friday he got clocked by a state trooper and pinched for 77mph in a 60mph zone. When he broke the news to his mom and me -- four days later, which is a whole 'nother story -- he had a new excuse this time around:
"The sun was in my eyes. I couldn't even see the speedometer, so I didn't know how fast I was going."
At that moment I got up from my chair, walked to the bathroom and checked my reflection in the mirror. Just as I thought, I don't look quite that stupid.

Yes, he's grounded -- not so much for having a lead foot (he's a teenager, after all) as for refusing to be accountable for his actions and their consequences. Now we'll see if a county judge has the stones to suspend his driver's license for six months, which is exactly what should happen.

Look, I'm not begging the county or our school district to impose idiotic "zero tolerance" policies, the kind of knee-jerk rules that slap a 14-year-old with a year's expulsion for coming to class with a Nerf dart pistol.

I'm simply asking for common sense -- and a hotter stove.

* * *
Update, 10:26am: This text message just arrived on my phone:

The high school has received a threatening note. Police Depart are conducting a full search. All students are secure in their
I'm guessing that the third sentence would've ended with the word, "classrooms." Or maybe "beds." (Probably not "sexual identity.") As long as the district's communications genius is still on the job, it's hard to say for sure.

Anyway, let's review, shall we? The high school was hit by arson and vandalism Monday night. A threat yesterday morning and another today makes a total of five lockdowns since the first of the year.

Somebody needs to turn up the heat, dammit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reno redux

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, still warm from the confirmation oven, is making news. Plucked out of a speech today marking Black History Month, here are the words kicking up all the dust:
"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, a nation of cowards."
Pish-posh -- I can't even bring myself to be mildly interested, much less offended. Hell, he actually may be right, though I'll grant that our nation's chief law-enforcement officer probably shouldn't engage in such rhetoric.

If we're able, just for a moment, to break our addiction to ah-ha! sound bites, we'll realize that these are the words that should be making news:

"Recognition of an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms for private purposes will make it more difficult for the government to defend present and future firearms laws."

"Argument: The Second Amendment Does Not Protect Firearms Possession or Use That Is Unrelated To Participation In A Well-Regulated Militia."

"...(the Supreme Court of the United States) should adhere to its view...that the scope of the Second Amendment is limited to furthering the institution of the well-regulated militia..."

Those are excerpts from Brief for Former Justice Department Officials as Amici Curiae Supporting Petitioners, taking the side of the District of Columbia in the landmark Heller case, which last June resulted in the Supreme Court affirming that the Second Amendment to the Constitution does, in fact, guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms.

The first of the brief's 13 signatures belongs to gun-grabbing former Attorney General Janet Reno who, for Second Amendment advocates, needs no further introduction. The third signature is that of Reno's former Deputy -- Eric. H. Holder, Jr.

According to conventional wisdom, it's fear of Obama-Biden's gun-control agenda that's responsible for skyrocketing firearms sales. Just last month, the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System registered more than 1.2 million checks, an increase of 29% over January of 2008. In November, election results triggered a record 1.5 million checks, a 42% jump over a year earlier.

Although my family and I were prepared for the threat long before Election Day, the current buying frenzy seems to me to be a reasonable reaction (or at least a human one) to a clear and present danger. We know that the danger reaches beyond the White House -- as Clinton-Gore had its Reno, Obama-Biden has its Holder.

A nation of laws has installed yet another Attorney General bent on end-running the Constitution. Don't kid yourself -- Heller or not, we're in a heap of trouble.

Μολὼν λαβέ.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maddening excuse

This blog seldom has reason to quote former Pres. Bill Clinton, but here's a line from an interview that he did over the weekend:
"I find it amazing that the Republicans who doubled the debt of the country in eight years and produced no new jobs doing it, gave us an economic record that was totally bereft of any productive result, are now criticizing (Pres. Barack Obama) for spending money."
Whether you love him or just love to hate him, the man makes a damned good point.

Kevin Madden, who served as press secretary for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, rises on the right to offer a counterpoint:

"We're now unencumbered by not having a Republican in the White House. And we can draw the line and say, 'enough is enough' when it comes to spending."
That might just be the all-time lamest excuse for partisanship that I've ever heard.

Oh, it's a plausible enough explanation, considering the present irony. But anyone who finds justification in Madden's words needs to put the Kool-Aid down -- now.

In two short sentences, the one-time Romney flack confirms what we already know -- that partisanship has crippled our government -- and thus he makes a sharp case for independence.

The GOP, facing Democratic Party majorities in the House and Senate as well as a Democrat in the Oval Office, calls itself "the loyal opposition" -- which presumes opposition. Loyal opposition is a smoke screen for contrarianism, not a synonym for independence.

The Democrats are no better, of course. The Obama administration's call for "bipartisanship" is itself an endorsement of ideological inertia. Bipartisanship demeans true independence.

Every politician who puts party loyalty before the will of The People has ceased to serve The People. And every citizen who pledges allegiance to political ideology squanders their birthright.

A nation born of independence deserves better -- from our elected representatives, and from us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keep praying, stop braying

It was bound to happen -- no, not today's lesbian wedding on ABC's "All My Children," only the inevitable self-righteous wheezing about it.
Hey, little sister, what have you done?
Hey, little sister, who's the only one?
I don't do soaps, but I can't escape all the hand-wringing over the long-running daytime drama's portrayal of two independent women pledging their love in front of God'n'everybody. Good for the girls...
Hey, little sister, who's the one you want?
Professional whiners refuse to differentiate between being offended (which clearly they are) and actually being affected by the actions of others (which they're not). I mean, these are the same people who turned the GOP into the GOMP.*
Take me back home...
To all those who take offense at gay marriage and the like, please home-school your little darlings. Turn off the TV, strain their food and fit them with blinders. Make sure that they never learn what they don't know -- they'll be better off, because
There is nothin' fair in this world.
There is nothin' safe in this world
And there's nothin' sure in this world,
And there's nothin' pure in this world.
Look for something left in this world...
Our nation is weaker for having listened to a self-appointed "moral majority" -- which, as we've discovered, is neither. Our public servants have been distracted from the business of governing by small-minded "watchdogs" who insist that church attendance, evangelical rhetoric and private behavior matter more than (or are necessarily related to) professional competence.

For Exhibit A, look no further than the last eight years of insubstantial executive service. Enough already.

It's a nice day to start again.
Faith and values are personal concerns and, as much as it chafes the righteous, our society is undeniably secular -- always has been, always will be. Let's act like it.

(*Grumpy Old Morality Police. Lyrics from "White Wedding," by Billy Idol.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Prattle & hum

It's been a quiet few days here in the KintlaLake household, and likewise on this blog. Life hums steadily in the background while I scan the horizon for what's next.
But besides the lookin' for, well, the findin' is always tame;
And there's nothing drives a gambler like the lovin' of the game.

Events unfold and fade without consequence or need for comment. Financial matters, both national and personal, have yet to be resolved. I'm a patient man.

Diary report: a Valentine's Day dinner yesterday, the Daytona 500 on television this afternoon, and a 17-year-old male preening for a homecoming dance this evening. A viewing of "Righteous Kill" last night reminded me that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are the high priests of their craft.

Life is at once ordinary and rich. Rewards are wherever I happen to find them. I continue
to cast about.
Still I wouldn't trade my time for a solid diamond claim.
No, I would not trade a fortune for the lovin' of the game.

The photography that I did two weeks ago has rekindled something in me. As I apply myself to re-sharpening my skills and adjusting my eyes, I find myself recalling, strangely enough, the odd assortment of gear that I've used over the years.

First came my dad's Argus C3, a WWII-era rangefinder that I never did understand. Several Kodak Instamatics, suitably childproof, were followed by my first 35mm SLR, a borrowed Pentax KX. Then a Canon AE-1 and an A-1, along with a truckload of lenses, took me through college, helped me earn beer money and served me well during a summer in Montana.

Laziness, plus a simmering annoyance with the complexity of my SLRs, led me to Olympus pocket cameras -- an XA3, the original Infinity Stylus and later a Stylus Zoom. Pleased with autofocus and Zuiko optics but frustrated without control, I picked up an Olympus IS-1, a sleek and sexy Buck Rogers design that gave me more enjoyment than perhaps any other camera I've ever owned.

The siren song of creative expression lured me back into the Canon camp in the form of an EOS Elan and a few zooms. The world has gone madly digital now, of course, and I'm still with Canon -- a pair of point-and-shoots, an SLR and a modest selection of glass.

My journey from a quaint 35mm rangefinder to a whiz-bang digital SLR spans almost 50 years and hundreds of thousands of memorable frames. Almost none of the film cameras remain in my possession today, save the XA3 and the Elan, which our spawns have used in photography classes. It occurs to me that someday my trusty 35mm EOS, now almost 20 years old, will be their Pentax KX.

Ultimately, the hardware is incidental -- the process of learning to see is what's important. Until recently I'd forgotten how therapeutic, how absolutely essential my photographic vision is to my personal vision. It's good to have it back.

Today I'm exploring the world with awakened eyes, seeing more than I have in years.
Where I'm going has no end, what I'm seeking has no name.
No, the treasure's not the takin', it's the lovin' of the game.

Once again I have my sight as well as my voice. Every now and then, maybe I'll add a little music.

(Lyrics from "The Lovin' Of The Game," by Victoria Armstrong & Pat Garvey)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Splash course

Nearly a month has passed since US Airways 1549 was forced to ditch in the Hudson River. By now we know the story by heart -- a remarkable piece of flying, a cabin crew that performed in spectacular fashion and the quick response of rescuers saved the lives of all aboard.

It's an inspiring tale with compelling characters. Warm fuzzies and hero-worship aside, and with all due respect, I'm more interested in its lessons.

Captain C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger has been in the spotlight, and understandably so. In interview after interview, he's been prodded to describe how Air Force training, 30 years of flying commercial aircraft and experience as a glider jockey combined to produce a textbook splash-landing on January 15th.

Sullenberger, however, doesn't take the bait. He knows better:

"I think, in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment."
Notice that Sullenberger doesn't stow his flying, crucial as it was that day, in some separate compartment. He recognizes that Sully landed that crippled Airbus A320 -- and that Sully is a helluva lot more than a crackerjack stick-and-rudder guy.

He's also a husband and a father, a businessman, a student and an educator, an accident investigator and more, the sum and the product of 58 years. He's a lifetime of knowledge and skills, discipline and mindset, rational thoughts and human emotions.

What Sullenberger is trying to tell us, really, is that it wasn't the pilot who brought that plane down safely -- it was the man.

I also was struck by the words of Flight 1549 passenger Jim Hanks:

"One of the things I discovered is that in a situation like this, you have to survive more than once."
Think about that for a second -- "you have to survive more than once." Hanks continues:
"You have to survive the crash, the landing, which we did. And then you have to survive whatever comes afterwards, whether it's a fire or, in this case, water filling the back of the cabin very quickly. And then you have to survive whatever comes after that, which...on this day was a 20-degree air temperature...."
A critical incident -- and riding a powerless 70-ton airliner into an icy river definitely qualifies -- seldom is a single, simple event. It's a series of critical moments, each of which demands evaluation, decision and action.

Survival isn't assured until survival is secured. Misjudgment, poor choices, hesitation and inaction, alone or in combination, can draw the ominous line between survivor and casualty. The passengers and crew of Flight 1549 stand today on the bright side of that line because they survived moment after defining moment.

Hanks, Sullenberger and the others have still more surviving to do, of course. They must navigate the glare of celebrity, the inevitable emotional trauma and the expectations of family and friends who can't grasp the changes wrought by a near-death experience.

They also have much to teach. Sullenberger demonstrates that living is learning, and that it's the whole person, shaped by life, who acts. And Hanks reminds us that outcomes are the result of actions building on actions. We survive one moment at a time, standing on a foundation of choices we've made.

There's more, I'm sure. To learn, all we have to do is listen.

'We cannot escape history'

"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility."

(Abraham Lincoln, born two hundred years ago today, in a message to Congress dated December 1, 1862)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

'This is surreal'

That's what my wife whispered to me as we listened to Pres. Obama address the nation Monday night.

I can't say if this is "the most serious financial crisis since The Great Depression," but I can imagine my grandparents gathering around the radio 80 years ago, in much the same way that our family sat silently in front of the television. Living in these uncertain times is, as my wife observed, surreal.

Since we've always been a nation of optimists, this is a strange feeling. Through depression and recessions, wars and calamities, nothing has kept us from improving our lot. Our children will live better than we've lived, dammit, and a free society's limitless opportunities favor honest men and women who work hard.

Now our indomitable spirit has run smack-dab into a reality we never imagined.

To be clear, I dismiss incurable doom-and-gloomers who see things as worse than they truly are. I also ignore myoptimists who wonder what all the fuss is about. Reality lies not at those extremes, or even at some fixed point in between.

Reality, for all of us and for each of us, lives at home.

That very personal reality is reflected in our President. He speaks for neither extreme, simply conveying urgency born of the truth as he sees it.

Around here, the truth is impossible to avoid. Like the nearby rural school district that's eliminated jobs, sports and virtually all bus transportation, and yet in May will ask each voter for another $465 a year -- just to stay afloat. Or an unemployed former colleague of mine, a talented guy who recently e-mailed an appeal for gainful employment, hoping that he can keep feeding his family.

I drive past stores that were open last week, shuttered today. Each day's news brings reports of companies and businesses cutting jobs.

And then there's the experience, my experience, of meeting with an attorney yesterday, trying to figure out what I'll be able to keep and what I must sacrifice. I know I'm not the only one who's dealing with that sort of ritual humiliation, and I believe I'll emerge from it in better shape than most, but it's something I never expected, never predicted.

I, along with my family, will start over. We'll simplify, reinvent and move on. We'll be able to do that because spirit -- my own, my family's and my community's -- matters more than macroeconomics.

That's just one lesson we can learn from our national economic crisis. We've already seen that trickle-up fundamentally trumps trickle-down. Wholesale deregulation, corporate bailouts and socialized capitalism ultimately betray The People. The short-sighted pursuit of short-term profit is a malicious prank played on national security.

And so on.

There's little doubt that sooner or later the bubble gum and baling wire of fiscal policy will let go. After the inevitable collapse, we'll rediscover that our nation is its People, not its economy.

Actually, we can seize that reality right now. Our national strength, after all, resides in our independent selves, in our families and our communities.

It can start today. It must start at home.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Remembering Chan

Today I'm remembering Chandler Maranville "Chan" Goodnow.

Chan, who was my age, died unexpectedly in 2001 after performing at a bluegrass festival in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. He was one of the most gifted mandolinists I've ever seen or heard, and he played a mean banjo. He also was among the gentlest souls I've ever met.

Standing onstage with Chan while he and Stony Creek Band cranked out "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" (sans fiddle) is one of my fondest musical memories. This afternoon I listened to the band's recording of that Vassar Clements classic, marveling once again at Chan's eight-string wizardry.

The world is richer for his presence, poorer for the loss of it -- and that's why I remember Chan.

I just don't know why especially today.

In this 1998 photo, KintlaLake harmonizes with Chan (center) and Stony Creek Band on "The Weight." Listen to an mp3 sample of the band's rendition of "Lonesome Fiddle Blues" here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snapshots from the week

Not long after sunup Wednesday morning, I sat at my desk in our upstairs office. My wife already had left for work and our younger spawn was at school. The other spawn, feeling a bit sour, was home for the day.

THUMP! -- it sounded like something had landed on the roof. For a moment I imagined a migrating goose falling out of the clear sky, succumbing to the sub-zero chill, then dismissed the thought. A quick walkaround revealed no clues. Strange.

I returned to my desk, puzzled. Five minutes later...

POP! POP! -- two gunshots, right outside. As I rolled my chair away from the window and shifted my mindset toward defense, the sleepy-eyed homebound teenager shuffled into the room.

"Did you see that?" he asked.

A car had struck a deer on the road in front of our house, and the thump we'd heard apparently was the echo of bumper on bone. The two shots were fired by a village police officer, putting the badly injured creature out of its misery. The 17-year-old had watched the scene from his bedroom window.

Life in rural suburbia. You just never know.

* * *
Our younger spawn won't be back in school 'til Thursday, owing to a three-day suspension -- for fighting.

We've taught the spawns to walk away rather than engage in a physical confrontation. They've both been trained in hand-to-hand defense, mind you, but we've always emphasized that the goal is not to fight, but to win -- and that winning almost always happens outside the fight.

Yesterday after school, according to an adult witness, the 13-year-old was taunted and then punched by a classmate. He retaliated with a headlock and two body blows, ultimately prompting the instigator to flee the scene.

What happened next surprised the hell out of me -- our spawn picked himself up, dusted himself off and marched into the school office to report what had happened, knowing full well that he'd be assessed an automatic three-day suspension. He acted responsibly and told the truth, and that's commendable.

My wife and I are somewhat conflicted about the incident. We're unapologetically proud that the youngster stood up for himself -- in a society bent on pussifying an entire generation, we'll never condemn our spawns for defending themselves.

Based on what we know, however, our spawn didn't defend himself -- he retaliated, and that's something entirely different. He had all the skills he needed for self-defense but made another choice, an undisciplined one. For that reason, and in addition to the suspension, we'll ground him for a couple of weeks.

To do otherwise would be inconsistent with our previous guidance to him and could cultivate disrespect for the school's authority. Mrs. KintlaLake and I support that authority even though we recoil from the whole mass-pussification thing.

So we'll walk a fine line between discipline and affirmation -- both of which, as we see it, he deserves.

Parenting is more art than science, isn't it?

* * *
Over the course of the week, I spent a lot of time culling and editing photos from last Saturday night's concert. I ended up with about 700MB of image files -- too beefy to e-mail, so I decided to hand-deliver a CD, a contact sheet and a few prints. That gave Mrs. KintlaLake and me a good excuse to catch John Schwab and Mike Nugen last night at Cementos, a North End joint.

In sharp contrast to the relatively cavernous venue that had hosted Zachariah's Red-Eye Reunion six days earlier, Cementos is a cramped bar with a floor-level "stage" not much bigger than a dining-room table. The Reunion crowd of 2,000 was replaced by a hundred or so attentive patrons, two dozen players by just two.

Small as it is, Cementos has inherited some of the spirit I remember from the original Zach's. It's not unusual to see many well-known local musicians in the crowd, and such was the case last night.

Nugen, a brilliant guitarist who drove north from Florida to play this year's Reunion, released an album, "Ain't Live Funny," with Schwab back in 1994. The Cementos gig was a playful, extended encore of that concert, showcasing the pair's remarkable personal and musical chemistry, especially on their signature "Crack of Dawn" and a cover of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page."

Most striking, at least to me, was the knowledge that until a week ago, John and Mike hadn't played together in over a year. It was like no time had passed -- truly special.

John, by the way, had nothing but praise for my photos of the Reunion, and I can't begin to express how gratifying that is. The probability of more work, at a time when I need work, is welcome, to say the least.

Life continues to swirl around us, and not all of it is pleasant, but this was one great week.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Truth spoken

I hate political grandstanding -- except when there's truth-in-bluster.

Take what Rep. Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from Long Island, said to representatives of the SEC during yesterday's House Financial Services Committee hearing on the Bernard Madoff debacle:

"What the hell went on? Your mission, you said, was to protect investments. And detect fraud quickly. How'd that work out?"

"It seems to me with all of your investigators, one guy with a few friends and helpers discovered this thing nearly a decade ago. He led you to this pile of dung that is Bernie Madoff, and stuck your noses in it, and you couldn't figure it out! You couldn't find your backside with two hands if the lights were on!"

Ackerman's right about the SEC, both in this case and generally. And although he didn't mean to indict the entire federal bureaucracy, he did so with eloquence.

It's the government we deserve -- and that's the truth.

We elected (and we keep re-electing) our representatives and they, on our behalf, created this tax-hungry monster. From agriculture to diplomacy, education to defense, our government is criminally inefficient and practically incompetent for The People's purposes.

It'd be tempting to call it self-sustaining, if not for our complicity in perpetuating it. This dysfunctional government has our consent.

As Pres. Barack Obama presses the Senate to pass stimulus legislation, the media have been characterizing his rhetoric as increasingly "combative." That assessment is as fair as his frustration is understandable. Here's part of what he said this morning, not long after the Department of Labor announced that 598,000 American jobs were lost in January, bringing the recession-to-date total to more than 3.6 million:

"I'm sure that at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate are reading these same numbers this morning. And I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion: The situation could not be more serious. These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay, or politics as usual, while millions of Americans are being put out of work."

"If we don't do anything, millions more jobs will be lost. More families will lose their homes. More Americans will go without health care. We'll continue to send our children to crumbling schools, and be crippled by our dependence on foreign oil. That's the result of inaction. And it's not acceptable to the American people.

"They did not choose more of the same in November. They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points. They did not send us here to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected, because we saw the results. They sent us here to make change, with the expectation that we would act."

Bluster? Grandstanding? Maybe -- regardless, it's the truth.

The stimulus bill is traveling a twisty two-lane road, metaphorically speaking, and right now it's stuck behind a partisan hay-wagon with no place to pass. Making matters worse, Democrats and Republicans are wrestling over who'll steer the damned tractor.

What we see is ideological prancing, not representative governing. What we hope for, under the circumstances, is urgent, productive collaboration, and what we get is political inertia.

Intellectually honest debate is good. Partisan barricades, wherever they come from, waste The People's time.

It's the government we deserve. While both parties bear blame for the current gridlock, I'm particularly disgusted by Republicans' insistence that the plan can be "fixed" with recycled top-down proposals that have proven to be failures.

It's time for Republicans to lead, follow or get out of the way. They won't (and shouldn't) follow, and since The People largely have rejected the party's leadership, I'd prefer that the GOP get the hell out of the way.

I didn't vote for this President, nor do I favor, practically or philosophically, every single line-item in his stimulus proposal. All the same, I do favor giving his economic ideas a fair chance to work. Whether they succeed or fail, one thing will continue to be true:

We'll get the government we deserve.

Another peek under the TARP
The Congressional Oversight Panel that's been charged with keeping an eye on the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program released its
report today.

Those who thought that our government might do a responsible job of managing a massive, taxpayer-funded bailout of failing corporations might want to note this paragraph from the report's executive summary:
"The valuation report concludes that Treasury paid substantially more for the assets it purchased under the TARP than their then-current market value. The use of a one-size-fits-all investment policy, rather than the use of risk-based pricing more commonly used in market transactions, underlies the magnitude of the discount. A number of reasons for this result have been suggested. The Panel has not determined whether these reasons are valid or whether they justify the large subsidy that was created. In addition, the Panel has not made judgments about whether the decision-making underlying these investments was sound. The rationale for the Treasury’s approach and the impact of this disparity will be subjects for the Panel’s continued study and consideration. It is important, however, for the public to understand that in many cases Treasury received far less value in stocks and warrants than the money it injected into financial institutions."
Back in December, Treasury assured the panel, in a written response to pointed questions, that the value of stock bought by our government was "at or near par" -- dollar-for-dollar, that is -- when in fact it had overpaid by more than $78 billion. And those were last year's prices.

So Hank Paulson stuffed his Wall Street buddies' pockets with some "extra" cash. Really, is anyone surprised?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A cap for The Street

I hardly know where to begin.

I suppose I should start in Washington, where this morning Pres. Barack Obama and Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner emerged from fervent prayer to announce that pay would be capped at $500,000 for executives of banks and other financial institutions taking big-time bailout money from U.S. taxpayers.
"We all need to take responsibility. And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves customary lavish bonuses. As I said last week, this is the height of irresponsibility. It's shameful. And that's exactly the kind of disregard of the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis: a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else."
In addition, these propped-up companies would face restrictions on "golden parachute" severance packages, entertainment, transportation and other luxury expenditures.

Next stop: New York, where the chorus of blubbering on Wall Street is deafening. Here's Meredith Whitney, an analyst with Oppenheimer:
"No one goes into Wall Street to save the world. Compensation is the motivating factor. If you can’t compensate your employees, they’re going to go somewhere else. You’re going to get a different variety of folks who are going to come in."
Also typical is Megan Barnett of
"For starters, it will create a disincentive for executives at troubled banks to use the federal program that was established for the very purpose of preventing the U.S. banking system from collapsing. Secondly, it will drive some smart executives out of the banks that need them desperately right now. And replacing them won't be easy, dangling a $500,000 carrot in front of potential candidates who likely surpassed that grade level more than a decade ago."
Having seen no reliable correlation between high executive pay and corporate viability, I'm not particularly convinced by that kind of provincial whining.

I'll end today's tour at the commentariat. Conservatives (so called) are apoplectic, calling the administration's move "a blueprint for the end of America" and "the flushing of free enterprise." You'll have that.

So did Obama-Geithner make the right play? Or is this the ultimate expression of anti-capitalist big government?


I don't care much for Big Brother, nor am I a fan of government inserting itself into our free-enterprise system. All those taxpayer-funded corporate bailouts, however, changed the game before the rules were written. Today, belatedly, the administration made a few new rules: responsibility, accountability and sacrifice.

Executive pay is what it is -- and what it is, besides stratospheric, is detached from reality, performance and results. Maintaining that connection should be the job of corporate boards and shareholders, but both have abdicated their roles, gauging success only by stock tickers and monthly statements.

Whenever corporate cost-cutting is called for, I've noticed, it almost always takes the form of hacking away at rank-and-file workers. That gives the appearance of boosting "shareholder value," so stock prices tick up. But because consumption still infects the executive suite, corporate health continues to decline. In many cases, as we've seen, failure is inevitable.

And under the old rules, the capitalist ideal, those companies would’ve failed -- but then the 110th Congress and our 43rd President defied the will of The People and taxpayers were conscripted to ride to Wall Street's rescue. Capitalism on the way up, socialism on the way down.

Now that We, the People, are shareholders, today the new chairman of our board simply did what corporate boards didn't do for their shareholders.

In our economic system, that's not the role of government. When Pres. George W. Bush and Congress boarded the Good Ship Bailout, however, it set capitalism adrift. So while capping execs' comp might make me cringe -- and believe me, it does -- this independent citizen also demands responsibility, accountability and sacrifice from companies "rescued" with my (and my children's) tax dollars.

In the end, of course, bailouts won't fix anything, and whether these companies survive or fail, our money is gone forever. The new rules aren't enforceable, either, but in light of the status quo, the Obama administration had no intellectually honest alternative.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Alba gu bra!

By heritage and by surname, I'm a Scot.

My wife's family name happens to be Scottish as well, and one day we Web-surfed our way to an entertaining connection between our clans. Allow me to put the ancient story into present-day characters:

I fell in love with a fair maiden of the other clan -- well, I fell in love with her money, anyway, and especially her castle. Problem was, she had an elder brother, reportedly the village wussy, who stood heir to the clan's fortune.

So I did what any self-respecting Scot would do -- I killed the wimpy brother, married the maiden and got the estate (including the castle, of course).

Sharing of that bit of Scottish trivia was just an excuse to say that I watched Braveheart last weekend.

Some criticize Mel Gibson's 1995 kilt-in-action epic for its historical inaccuracy (the script was inspired by a poem, not by events), but I thoroughly enjoy the movie. Braveheart is worth watching if only to hear protagonist William Wallace exhort the Highlanders at Stirling:

"Aye, fight and you may die, run and you'll live. At least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom?"

That's not just a keeper -- it's a touchstone. Highlands forever.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Super Buckeyes

Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Santonio Holmes, once a standout at The Ohio State University, was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIII, marking the first time that a former OSU player has won the award. Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards, including the gravity-defying game-winner with 35 seconds to play.

With the Browns and Bengals having become poster boys for NFL futility, Holmes gave Ohio reason to cheer last night's winners -- but he wasn't the only "Buckeye" with a hand on the Lombardi Trophy.

Pittsburgh scored its first touchdown on a one-yard run by Columbus-born Gary Russell, a graduate of Walnut Ridge High School.

As time expired in the first half, Steelers' linebacker and NFL Defensive MVP James Harrison -- an Akron product who played for Kent State University -- returned an interception 100 yards (a Super Bowl record) for a tide-turning touchdown.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, understandably favored by some over Holmes for Super Bowl MVP, is a native of Lima and starred for Miami University in nearby Oxford.

Ok, so Holmes originally is from Florida, Russell played his college ball at Minnesota and the Steelers, AFC North Division rivals of Cleveland and Cincinnati, generally don't get much love west of the state line. No matter -- our "local" kids, homegrown or adopted, acquitted themselves well yesterday.

I can celebrate that.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Backstage past

For all of my personal promotion of last night's Zachariah's Red-Eye Reunion, I'm just now getting around to posting about it. I can explain.

Thursday afternoon, I got a surprise call from John Schwab of Reunion headliner McGuffey Lane. After some catching-up and general chit-chat, John asked me if I'd be interested in photographing the concert.

Oh, twist my arm, I thought. Somebody pinch me.

Honestly, being offered an all-access chance to document my favorite music and musicians made my head swim. And if I agreed to the job, Mrs. KintlaLake and I wouldn't be able to reprise our annual trip down memory lane, at least not together.

Still, I didn't blink -- I said yes.

Two hours before showtime, my wife and I, accompanied by our older spawn and a friend, entered through the stage door. The three of them cooled their heels in the near-empty hall while I spent some time checking sight lines and chasing down a step ladder for one high-angle shot that John wanted.

Once the show got underway, I started bouncing from wing to wing, capturing moments as they presented themselves. I made one long trip up to the balcony, and several times I wound my way down to the foot of the stage, eventually abandoning those low-angle shots as the general-admission floor became too crowded.

I worked from stage risers and speaker towers, stood on folding chairs and perched on the aforementioned ladder, occasionally (and briefly) invading the stage during a performance to get my shots.

I went non-stop for four hours, burning hundreds of frames. Everyone -- musicians, crew, audience -- was magnificently helpful and accommodating, making what could've been a stress-packed evening an absolute pleasure. It was at once exhausting and satisfying, maybe the most rewarding photography I've ever done.

So that was the job. And the concert?

I've been immersed in this music for the better part of 32 years and I've attended every Zachariah's Red-Eye Reunion since 2002. My wife and I, along with every performer we spoke with, agreed that this was by far the best one yet -- instrumentally and vocally, talent and performances, energy and audience. Each Reunion has been uniquely great but this year's, without question, topped 'em all.

Between the concert and the after-party, along with a lingering natural high, sleep didn't find me 'til the wee hours of this morning. I finally hauled my weary ass out of bed around 10am, brewed a pot of coffee, pulled the memory card from my camera and started flipping through the images.

I was disappointed immediately.

My expectations were especially high for this job, and I'm a perfectionist anyway. I couldn't seem to find a single shot that met my standards for sharpness, exposure and composition. As I sat grumbling in front of my computer, my wife eased down next to me and put her hand on my shoulder, giving it a knowing squeeze. She didn't say a word.

Then on my second pass through the photos, I found a few that I liked. By the third or fourth review, I realized that there were some killer images in the bunch. A crop here and some color-correction there -- to make a long story shorter, by late this afternoon I couldn't stop smiling.

Just before I started writing this post, Mrs. KintlaLake remarked that she awoke today with the same mixed feelings she's had after the last three Reunions.

"I have this warm and joy from the best concert ever," she said softly. "At the same time, I'm sad -- sad that we won't get to do it again for another year."

She gets it, y'know?

We looked into each other's eyes, held hands and smiled, sharing the same emotions and knowing that irrepressible soul and incomparable music have the power to carry us to next January.