Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Keeping it Natural

Whenever possible, I use natural light in my photography. I much prefer it to artificial light which, if you think about it, hasn’t been around very long. Thomas Edison patented the light bulb in 1879 during the lifetime of my great-grandparents. We’re not sure how long humans like us have been around; recent discoveries in Morocco indicate about 300,000 years, so artificial light is very new in a relative sense. Before Edison, the only light we had to operate between sunset and sunrise was some sort of flame from candle, lamp, or lantern, all of which I would characterize as natural.

Moonset over Mount Washington
Artificial light improves our lives and we all use it every day, but it always feels unnatural to me and feeling is a big component of photography as I like to do it. Although I spent several hundred bucks on an artificial flash unit to photograph my loved ones indoors in the low light of our long, Maine winters, I only use it when I have to. As digital photography keeps improving, I use it less and less.

Lovell beech
People have asked me to photograph weddings and I’ve obliged a few times, but I don’t anymore. That’s work, and it diminishes the enjoyment of taking pictures for me. I only want to shoot what I want to shoot, so it’s been more than thirty years since I’ve done it for hire. Recently I’ve begun uploading a few images to Shutterstock, which is an online site for selling them. If others will pay to use pictures I’ve already shot that’s fine, but I’ll retain ownership and continue to shoot only what inspires me. I’ve donated images to non-profits and I’ve allowed National Review and other publications to use some, but I’ve never charged for them.

Perhaps the best natural light conditions I ever encountered were in Santorini, Greece. Our two days there had plenty of June sunshine and people are required to paint their houses and businesses white. Some cyan and light pink and blue are allowed now but all reflect light very nicely. Nearly every building perches on the steep rim of a volcanic crater high above the sea which reflects light upward. It’s photographer heaven and I shot hundreds of pics — of which about ten I’d consider high quality. Shutterstock already has over 82,000 pics of Santorini but I think mine will compete.
Santorini sunset
My northern European ancestors valued sunlight  highly for millennia to the point where it seems they worshipped it. Whoever built Stonehenge oriented it to the solstices. The builders of Ireland’s Newgrange structure did as well and it predates Stonehenge by 1000 years. Druid priests, or whoever presided over these ancient structures (historians aren’t sure), would have used candles or lamps to light the inner passages of Newgrange. Unless people lit massive bonfires, low light at night was the rule for everyone. Then in 1824, Augustin-Jean Fresnel invented the famous lens named for him through which light from a single lantern in a lighthouse could be projected 20 miles to warn ships of navigational obstacles. They’re still in use today.

Inside Newgrange
Those conducting solemn ceremonies and romantic encounters still favor natural light from candles even when all sorts of artificial light emission devices are available now. Just before I go to my bed each night I like to walk outside for a few minutes to smell the air. It’s never dark outside the South Portland house with street lights, porch lights on neighboring houses, and lights from Portland across the harbor. In Lovell, by contrast, there’s only light from the moon or stars with the exception in winter of a few twinkles from a distant hillside in Chatham, New Hampshire. I much prefer evenings outside there.
Kezar Lake sunset
It’s never completely quiet near the city either, whereas out in the country the only sounds are from wind, rain, or a wild animal, with only an occasional bark from a domestic dog. Some people find comfort in the lights and sounds of a city that never sleeps. I get that, but I believe I’ll always prefer natural sources for both.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Knife Control

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says, “There’s never a reason to carry a knife.” Well, Mr. Khan: there’s always been a knife in my pocket for more than fifty years. It’s a little one with a two-inch blade and a very handy tool. Mr. Khan further states: “Anyone who does will be caught and will feel the full force of the law.”

I’ll be in London April 28th, but only for a stopover on the way back from Barcelona. I won’t be carrying my knife because it’ll be in my checked luggage. A real visit to Great Britain is on my bucket list however, and I plan to carry my pocket knife after I go through customs in London —unless it’s confiscated.

It’s made by Schrade, says “Old Timer” on the handle, and costs $16.01 on Amazon and given that I turned sixty-seven last Saturday, the “Old Timer” label is ever more appropriate. I ordered four of them recently to have spares on hand because I lose them sometimes. Three times I’ve had to forfeit my knife at airport security checkpoints because I forgot to put it in my checked luggage.

One of my students told the principal several years ago that she got scared when I used it to peel an orange in my room during snack time. He came up to see me and said, “You’re not supposed to have those you know.” I responded that I was going to keep my little pocket knife until he told the custodians they couldn’t have utility knives and the cooks couldn’t have cutlery. He left me alone after that.

Just last month New Hampshire’s Berlin Daily Sun reported that a Gorham, NH high school teacher was being investigated for doing a classroom demonstration on search and seizure using a jack-knife which he temporarily gave a student for the demonstration. When the parent complained, the superintendent, the police chief, and the district attorney all got involved to consider charges against the teacher. All this over a jack-knife that boys in my Cub Scout den carried. “There were other students in the classroom at the time,” said the article. Of course there were; it was a demonstration! What’s next? Will the school provide grief counselors for students who’ve seen a jack-knife?

So far in 2018, the city of London has had more homicides than New York City. Most have been stabbings so Mayor Khan wants a knife ban. Handguns have been banned in the UK since 1997. Khan is also banning acid because there were more than four hundred “acid attacks” in 2017 mostly by young men against other young men in certain London neighborhoods.

Acid attack victim

Though NYC police are banned now from using “stop and frisk” tactics, London police have been empowered to “stop and search” suspected knife wielders. Mayor Khan had previously called that “racist” and “Islamophobic” because they were often done with Muslim immigrants. Nearly all the attacks, however, occur in Muslim immigrant neighborhoods — also called “no-go zones” because police and other civil servants are violently discouraged from going there by their Muslim inhabitants. Officially, however, there aren’t any “no-go zones” in the UK and if you claim there are, you may be investigated for a hate crime.

Snopes insists “no-go zones” don’t exist in Europe anywhere. Last month, however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted they do. When asked to clarify a statement on citizen safety in public places, she said: “It means for example that there cannot be any no-go areas, that there cannot be areas where no-one dares to go but there are such places. One has to call them by name and do something about it.”

According to the Daily Wire: “Parliament is also set to take up heavy ‘knife control’ legislation when it resumes this week. The U.K. government is expected to introduce a ban on online knife sales and home knife deliveries, declare it ‘illegal to possess zombie knives and knuckledusters [brass knuckles] in private’ — ‘zombie knives’ are those defined as being manufactured for the purpose of being used as a person-to-person weapon — and ban sales of caustic materials to anyone under the age of 18, the Independent reports."

British actions would seem to empower classic arguments long made by gun control opponents in the US, like: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Killers use what’s available whether it’s guns, knives, poison, or explosives. It’s not the instrument; it’s the person, they insist. 

“It’s also not clear what local Londoners will now use to cut their food,” says the Daily Wire.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Blood Metal Trees

One does not expect to see a stunning work of art at the town dump, but there it was — a stainless steel oak tree about fourteen feet tall. The dump attendant said nobody was sure what to do with it, so there it sat between the garage and the scrap wood pile. Knowing who made the tree I drove over to Rod Iron Designs and asked Rod Blood and his son Merton what their tree was doing at the dump.

In the Bloods' shop/studio under construction

I’ve learned that I need a couple of hours if I’m going to talk to them because they like to visit. They told me the tree was first assigned to another artist who didn’t get too far on it so the patron, now deceased, asked them to finish it. They did, and the result is astounding. The patron was quite pleased and his tree was delivered to a hillside perch near his house in Lovell. Upon his death he wanted Rod to give it to either the Town of Lovell or to Fryeburg Academy but neither entity could decide whether to accept it so there it sat at the dump.

Merton plans the next move

Metal is cold and hard, but doesn’t seem so after Rod Blood and his son Merton work it. They’re artists who use iron or steel as their medium. They’ll do utilitarian repairs if asked and that’s what Rod did for decades working for others. His creative work was a sideline until some years ago when he dove in full time as “Rod Iron Designs.” Now he and Mert have more work than they can handle at their shop near Kezar Lake in Lovell.

Outside Portland Museum of Art

Outside the Portland Museum of Art stand metal sculptures like the one above which don’t appeal to me, but indicate the museum’s interest in the genre. If neither Lovell nor Fryeburg Academy appreciated the tree, I figured maybe the museum would. I took several pictures of it and sent them to a trustee I know. He was impressed — even more so after driving over to see it. He sent the pictures to the museum’s director, Mark Bessire, who contacted me. I told him of a smaller oak tree the Maine Medical Center commissioned the Bloods to create which now stands next to the hospital’s main entrance just down Congress Street from the Museum. Bessire said he would walk over and check it out.

The tree at Maine Medical Center entrance

The trunk and branches of the small tree are stainless steel, but it’s in full foliage with each individual leaf fashioned of copper oxidized to green. The tree is only about four or five feet tall but it’s perched on a pedestal with roots grasping outcrops of feldspar and quartz the Bloods dug out of the hills of western Maine. After seeing photographs of the hospital tree at their workshop I believed I could take better ones. I tried every angle, with flash and without, but was frustrated by the sterile setting. The tree is beautiful but it’s surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass, aluminum, or brick — and not well lit either. It would look much better just inside the entrance in the main lobby.

Rod and Mert were flattered that the Portland Museum of Art was interested in the bigger tree, but not sure how to proceed if neither Lovell nor Fryeburg Academy wanted it. Rod felt the weight of his deceased patron’s wishes and his obligation to fulfill them. It was an honor thing, a duty. Shortly thereafter, however, Lovell’s Board of Selectmen finally decided the tree could be placed at the site of the former Annie Heald School in Lovell Village next to the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library. There it stands today.

The morning after an ice storm last January it was completely glazed over. So were the trees around it and all were backlit by the rising sun. For a few hours the metal tree was indistinguishable from its natural neighbors.

Steel tree outlined in black

More people would have been able to see and appreciate the tree if it were next to the museum in Portland's Congress Square, but I’m glad it’s in Lovell. Both its artists and its patron are from here and this is where it belongs. I would, however, question why there’s a big pile of riprap stones around its base hiding so much of the trunk. It’s not as if the tree is going to be blown down by wind. It can’t have been placed there for aesthetic reasons, can it? I hope it's not a permanent arrangement.

The rock pile doesn't work

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Left and Right March 28, 2018

We start with John Bolton appointment. Gino defines an "extreme" Republican. Recent deal that added another trillion in our broken budget process. Tom wants to go back to an annual budget process in Congress. Gino is afraid of Russian missiles. Tom brings up black racism in Zimbabwe and South Africa who won't let white people own farmland. Tom points out media hounding Trump for congratulating Putin, but didn't mind it when Obama did. They criticize Trump for using Facebook data in his campaign but praised Obama when he did the same thing. Gino disagrees.
We compare special prosecutors for Clinton and now Trump whose investigations got out of hand beyond what they were charged to do. Presidents with strong libidos from Kennedy to Trump. We're asked about Trump tariffs. Marshall Plan in Europe.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Holy Week in Jail

It’s Holy Week, but how many Americans know anymore what that is? For Christians, it’s the final week of the Lenten Season, but this year it coincides with the Final Four, the end of March Madness. Perhaps the latter is more recognized than the former in today’s America.

It’s been nearly two years since I volunteered for a weekly Bible study at Cumberland County Jail (CCJ) in Portland, Maine and it’s a challenge. When I taught history I’d have the same students every day and planned lessons each building on the other. At the jail, I never know who will come through the door or how many. Maybe two or three will have attended before. Maybe none. Sometimes it’s a completely new group. Some enter carrying donated Bibles which are supplied free but most arrive empty-handed. 

Windham Correctional Facility
Most CCJ inmates are there less than a year either awaiting trial or already sentenced. Those who get longer stretches go to Windham Correctional Center or Maine State Prison in Warren. Inmates at every prison were in a jail first and given high recidivism, all correctional facilities have revolving doors.

An average Bible Study has eight or ten guys, some with much biblical knowledge, some with none, others in between. I always have a plan but it seldom unfolds as intended. How can I impart a sense of what Holy Week means to inmates who don’t know what Christianity is? Those with knowledge are eager to expand it. Others have no idea of what the Bible contains and for their sake I most offer a broad context.

I tell them the Bible has two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Last week I drew a timeline on a white board. Explaining that we don’t know when creation occurred, I began by writing:

Abraham — 2000 BC
Moses — 1500 BC
King David — 1000 BC.
Babylonian Exile — 500 BC
Jesus Christ — 0.
Muhammed — 600 AD.

Dates were approximate and the Bible doesn’t mention Muhammed, but most inmates have been exposed to Islam because it’s usually not their first experience behind bars. They’ve have done hard time in prisons where Islam has a significant presence and occasionally I’ll get Muslims from Somalia or converts.

After fixing the Bible in time, I fix it in space using a folder full of maps. Starting with a world map showing Maine and Israel highlighted in red, I then I hold up one of the Mediterranean Sea with Rome, Greece, and Israel highlighted. Then I’ll draw a crude map of the eastern Mediterranean across the Persian Gulf toward Iran on the white board. Often there are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans present who know the region. I trace Abraham’s migration from the Persian Gulf up through Syria and down to Israel. Then I trace Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, the exodus back to Israel under Moses, the rise of King David, the establishment of Jerusalem, Israel’s captivity in what’s now Iraq during the Babylonian exile, and finally back to Israel for the birth of Jesus.

If I ask how long ago Jesus lived there are lots of blank stares. “What year is this?” I say. “In the western world, we measure time from before Jesus and after Him because He was considered the most important figure in history and the Bible is divided the same way: The Old Testament is about events before Christ. The New Testament begins with His birth 2018 years ago. We get our seven-day week from the creation story in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament.”

Wide eyes tell me most never realized this. Finally, I explain the four gospels which begin the New Testament, each of which ends with events of Holy Week — the Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection — the crux of Christianity.

Questions are asked and answered. Then comes a review of original sin — Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament Jews sacrificed lambs to atone for sin. The New Testament tells of Jesus Christ offering himself as the perfect sacrifice by His death on the cross, then rising from death. That’s why He’s called “The Lamb of God” — the final atonement.

This week I’ll offer a more detailed summary of Holy Week: Christ re-entered Jerusalem on Sunday. Thursday he held the Last Supper, was betrayed, put before Pontius Pilate, then beaten and scourged. On Friday he was crucified with two others. On the third day, Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead.

Recently a very young inmate with a cross crudely tattooed between his eyes came in early before anyone else. He asked me, “Is it ever too late to get into heaven?” I told him of the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus who said to Him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“Today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus said.

“No,” I said. “It’s never too late.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Left and Right Show Thursday, March 15, 2018

We examine yesterday's special election in Pennsylvania. Tillerson firing. Gino cranks up Trump hatred to overdrive. He asks me what the Deep State is, then doesn't like my answer and accuses me of McCarthyism. He really gets cranked at about 18:50 and I call him on it about 42:40. The gloves came off during this show.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pineland to D-Day

Phillip Kupelian at his home in Falmouth 2018

Ninety-four-year-old Phillip Kupelian lives alone in the Falmouth, Maine house he built himself. Last Saturday I interviewed him there about two things: Growing up on the grounds of what was then called the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Gray, Maine, and his experience in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Pineland Farms today

Phillip was born at what’s now called Pineland Farms in1924 because his father was a doctor on staff there when it was renamed the Pownal State School. Phillip couldn’t attend local schools because roads were bad and horse-drawn sleighs were his only transportation. He and his older brother were sent to stay with their maternal grandparents in Randolph, Maine (near Augusta) to attend school until Gray constructed plowable roads.

Phillip’s father, Nessib, had fled Ottoman Turkey around 1915 to escape the Armenian genocide. Out of 2 million Armenian Christians in Turkey, 1.5 million were slaughtered by Muslim Turks. The rest, including Nessib, took flight. In Maine, Nessib attended medical school at Bowdoin College and practiced at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. He was made superintendent from 1938 to 1953. “Coming to Maine, to America, was the greatest gift a father could give his son,” said Phil.

Scene from Armenian genocide

When I asked about eugenic practices at Pineland, Phillip didn’t know what eugenics was. I explained it was sterilization of the “feeble-minded” which was done at Pineland and many other venues in early 20th century America. He said he remembered hearing it discussed, but that’s all. In 1912, eight mixed-race squatters forcibly evicted from Maine’s Malaga Island were sent to Pineland. There they were probably sterilized along with several hundred other Mainers. Eighteen bodies from Malaga’s cemetery were re-buried there as well.

From its inception in 1908, Pineland was designed to be self-sufficient, a town in itself almost. It had an operating farm, a coal-fired steam generator, its own water system, and laundry. Phillip became quite interested in all of that so after high school he went off to study steam and diesel engineering at the Wentworth Institute in Boston. Then World War II broke out and he was drafted. After boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island he went across the Atlantic to England on the crew of LCI 506 — one of over 900 LCIs, or “Landing Craft Infantry” built in the USA for amphibious invasions. They were flat-bottomed, 158 feet long, and 23 feet wide.

No one on the 26-man crew of the 506 had any experience beyond US territorial waters when it set out in January, 1944. At a 1996 reunion, Ensign Phil G. Goulding, described his first time aboard the 506 being greeted by its 31-year-old skipper, a Lieutenant J. G. named Albers:

“Goulding, do you know anything?”

“No sir,” I said. “I just got out of midshipman's school. I don't know anything at all.”

Al Albers smiled. He pounded the wardroom table with his open hand. “Thank god for that,” he said. “Nobody on this ship knows anything and I was afraid those idiots were going to send me someone to spoil it. Siddown and have a cup of coffee.”

He turned to the others. “By God that's great,” he said. “He doesn't know anything. By God that's great.”

The crew that didn’t know anything nonetheless made it to England across the stormy Atlantic, seasick much of the way. Then, assigned at the last minute to a British command, they crossed the English Channel six months later on D-Day and delivered two hundred British infantry to Rose Beach — right between Omaha Beach and Juno Beach. The 506 hit a German mine just as it hit the beach which blew off one of its two ramps and tore a big hole in the bow. Soldiers got off safely though, and the ship limped back to England for repairs carrying wounded Allied troops and German POWs with them.
LCI 506 circled

Fifteen million Americans fought in World War II but there aren’t many left today. Phillip, one of the few, was modest about his wartime service. Most of what I learned about LCI 506 and what it did came from my online research. My own father was aboard one of the other 5000 ships that crossed the channel on D-Day, so I have a personal interest in that largest invasion in history of the world.

Cafeteria at Pineland School
Phillip returned to Pineland after the war and met his wife, Margaret, who lived nearby. They were married from 1947 until she died in 2012. They had one daughter who lives in Colorado now, and three grandchildren. Phillip is still quite active and goes back to Pineland every couple of weeks to take part in a veterans program housed there. “It’s quite different now,” he said, and invited me for a guided tour after all this snow melts.