Amazon just sent me, “a valued member of Amazon Prime”, an e-mail telling me they are raising the price for Prime from $10.99 to $12.99. Two dollars a month doesn’t seem like much, but it’s an 18% increase. How does Amazon justify an 18% increase when inflation has been negligible for years and Amazon has been raking in the profits? Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is now the richest person in the world. Money Magazine estimates his net worth at a paltry $90.6 billion.
Amazon is one of the so-called Frightful Five along with Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Farhad Manjoo writes about
. . . the core of the Frightful Five’s indomitability. They have each built several enormous technologies that are central to just about everything we do with computers. In tech jargon, they own many of the world’s most valuable “platforms” — the basic building blocks on which every other business, even would-be competitors, depend.
These platforms are inescapable; you may opt out of one or two of them, but together, they form a gilded mesh blanketing the entire economy.
So why is [many expletives deleted] Amazon demanding from me, just an old schmuck on a fixed income, an extra two dollars a month?
Should I cancel or just roll over in a submissive posture and accept the increase?
Any reasonably coherent answers will be appreciated.
The first beautiful place is next to a glacier in the Arctic, with beautiful music done by Ludovico Einaudi. The video was put together by Greenpeace and voicesforthearctic.org. Notice how Ludovico gasps in surprise at the beginning of the video when startled by falling ice . No trick photography in this video – He is there.
Enjoy this beautiful music and then do everything you can to help protect the wonderful places on our beautiful planet, the only one we’ve got.
Countries, societies, people all over the world want to value, treasure, and protect our beautiful, natural places whether in the Arctic, a National Park in Croatia, or Bears Ears National Monument in Utah . We in the United States have a president and an administration that do not share these values. They want to remove protections so that our natural heritage can be exploited for financial gain by a few grasping individuals and corporations. Don’t let them steal what is ours.
Sorry, this isn’t about the Disney movie, it’s about my day out in the cold working on my project to photograph the Chippewa River from source to end. It was cold: 2° F with a wind chill of -10°. I was not uncomfortable because I dressed for the weather. (I recently purchased what I suspect was the last pair of XXL long johns in Stillwater. I admit my outfit was not very fashionable, but it worked.) The only problem was my hands. I had to take off my choppers to take photos. In areas exposed to the wind, I could only manage two or three shots until my hands became too numb to operate the camera.
When I stood still, all I could hear was the wind hissing through the dry grass and the river ice occasionally booming and popping. When I walked, I heard the fresh snow squeaking beneath my boots and the old, frozen boards of the bridge deck creaking and snapping under my weight. I didn’t see another soul all afternoon.
Some of the lyrics from the song “Give God the Blues” by Shawn Mullins off the album Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest Of Us.
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
God ain’t no Republican
He ain’t no Democrat
He ain’t even Independent
God’s above all that
Bigger than religion
He’s got a better plan
The sign says, “God’s gone fishing
For the soul of every man”
God don’t hate the Muslims
God don’t hate the Jews
God don’t hate the Christians
But we all give God the blues
And God don’t hate the atheists
The Buddhists or the Hindus
God loves everybody
But we all give God the blues
The entire Mercyland album is well worth checking out. It’s a compilation with various artists: Emmy Lou Harris, The Civil Wars, The North Mississippi Allstars, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and others, all providing hymns a bit different from those you hear in church.
I’ve been swamped in pessimism lately; pessimism that threatens to become cynicism. The problem is that I don’t want to be either a pessimist or a cynic, but I thought that all the evidence I was seeing or hearing about the world today suggested that pessimism was justified. Is it? Even if it is justified, would it be possible to somehow escape the clutches of pessimism?
I talked to my good friend Nick, the potter and bartender. He wisely pointed out that pessimism leads nowhere and produces nothing except despair. He helped me realize that even though intellectually I was wallowing in pessimism, I’m living as if I were an optimist – doing new things, seeking new challenges, always trying to develop my skills and educate myself.
Then, I stumbled across three things this morning.
I’ve been meaning to weigh in on the latest raft of pieces about the decline of American democracy, the decline of Western liberalism, the decline of globalism, and the decline of everything else in the era of Trump. In a nutshell, I’m far more optimistic than most of the people writing about this. Unfortunately, I haven’t really thought the whole thing through rigorously enough to make a little essay out of it.
Actually, you might consider that good news. However, I do want to lay down a few markers. Here they are:
Read both these articles for welcome counterbalance to the doom and gloom in much of today’s news. (Note that neither article is by a Trump or Republican loyalist.)
My other stumble this morning was on YouTube where I stumbled on The Artist Series, videos produced by The Art of Photography. They are each about fifteen minutes long and are interviews with outstanding photographers. I watched the one with Keith Carter. Carter talks about the death of his wife at the end of an illness. Her last words after looking out the window of their home from her death-bed were “What a Beautiful World This Is.”
After watching that video, how can one possibly remain a pessimist, much less a cynic?
A few years ago I took a photo of two, left-hand-turn signs in a field of fresh snow against a cloudless blue sky. It’s one of my favorite photos. In the intervening years, left-hand-turn signs have continued to grab my attention until now I have a small gallery of such photos.
The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*. Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.
My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently. It gets dark very early these days.
So I’m trudging through a dark wood. There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse. They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening. I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else. It’s actually a beautiful evening. More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.
I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin. Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.
I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.
There´s no sun up in the sky
Since my gal and I ain´t together
Keeps raining all of the time
Gloom and misery everywhere
Gloomy weather, gloomy weather*
Expert photographers advise when the weather is gloomy, make gloomy photographs. Here are some from the last few days. (PS., it’s finally sunny today, cold but sunny. There are high thin clouds so the sun is not strong, but a weak sun is better than no sun at all.)
Two Maple Leafs
Cold, November Day
Little Mushrooms On a Log – 2
Little Mushrooms On a Log – 3
* Lyrics from Stormy Weather written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and since covered many, many times.
It was only October 27th, just a few weeks after the fall equinox, but it started snowing as I sat at my kitchen table eating breakfast. I’m usually in a torpor at that time of the morning, but when, after a half hour, the scene outside my windows looked like the scene in the photo below, I decided I had to get out with my camera. The results are farther down. I only got slightly soaked. It was heavy, wet snow, windy and cold, but I had fun which was my objective.
Who wants to age gracefully? Not me. Old folks just wanna’ have fun.
I sure do, but my doctor suggests that I have morning depression.* That means I feel wretched in the morning, but if I’m lucky I’ll perk up later in the day. By the time bedtime rolls around, just like a toddler I don’t want to go to bed; I want to stay up late.
When I woke up this morning, I “was stiff and sore and grumpy. It felt as though rigor mortis was getting an early start on me. Sleeping for eight hours is enough to make anything go numb. Anything that still had feeling to begin with. Worse yet, there was not a drop of Diet Coke to be found anywhere. I needed to pee again. I’m old and have a bladder the size of a lima bean. Don’t get old. If Peter Pan shows up, just go.”**
So what do I do in the morning? I’m not sure I remember. I know I eat breakfast and check the latest news on the internet. (Tip for morning depressives: Never read the latest news in the morning. You will end up with absolutely no hope. I of course always read the news in the morning.)
My doctor prescribed light therapy. I got a light box a few days ago, but it still sits unopened in the box it came in. I’m too depressed in the morning to open the box much less set up the light. I’ll do it some night when I am more energetic and haven’t drunk too much beer.
I’ll finish this wretched post by quoting two of my heroes who I’ve quoted before and will likely quote again.
What? Me worry. – Alfred E. Newman
Keep on truckin’ – R. Crumb
* In case you were wondering, morning depression (not to be confused with morning sickness or associated with pregnancy, something I’m not likely to experience, being sixty-nine years old and the wrong gender ) is also known as diurnal depression, diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation. I’ll stick with morning depression.
** All quotes are by Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two year old protagonist of the novel Norwegian By Night. I’ve slightly altered the quote to be in first-person and the appropriate tense.
Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, is in the Globalization/Political Economy genre according the the ISBN code sticker on the back of the book. One usually doesn’t look in such books for suggestions about creativity, but that is what I found in the first chapter, also titled Thank You For Being Late.
Creativity involves having ideas and then doing something with them whether you turn those ideas into – in Friedman’s case, a column in the New York Times, or in my case a photograph. Friedman says
. . . a column idea [or an idea for a photograph] can spring from anywhere: a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee. Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light.
How can one nurture the ability to recognize ideas when they appear?
. . . you have to be constantly reporting and learning – more so today that ever. Anyone who falls back on tried-and-true formulae or dogmatisms in a world changing this fast is asking for trouble. Indeed, as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.
Friedman paraphrases and then quotes Lin Wells of the National Defense University.
. . . it is fanciful to suppose that you can opine about or explain this world by clinging to the inside or outside of any one rigid explanatory box or any single disciplinary silo. Wells describes three ways of thinking about a problem: “inside the box”, “outside the box,”, and “where there is no box.” The only sustainable approach to thinking today about problems, he argues, “is thinking without a box”.
. . . it means having no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to appreciate how [the world] works. [A person needs to be] radically inclusive.
As a photographer, thinking without a box means not being constrained by accepted norms of beauty or of what makes a compelling photograph. It means not being constrained by the rules that are trotted out by the experts who then tell us to freely ignore them. It means not being overly influenced by the latest hot stuff on Instagram or what is winning contests on ViewBug. It means shooting from the heart. As Friedman says, “What doesn’t come from the heart will never enter someone else’s heart.
For me it means walking down an alley behind the stores that present their trendy, polished facades to the main street. In the alley is where you find the unexpected and serendipitous examples of unexpected beauty. Below are recent examples of beauty I found in alleys.
Yes, I envy Beethoven; not his creative genius or ability to write beautiful, awe-inspiring music. I envy his ability to sleep. Beethoven actually complained about sleeping too much:
Tell me nothing of rest. I know none but sleep, and woe is me that I must give up more to it than usual. *
For those of us to whom a good night of sleep is no more than an elusive hope, it is impossible not to envy Beethoven. Looking at Beethoven’s lifestyle gives some ideas about achieving such sound sleep:
He sustains this strength of his by means of vigorous ablutions with cold water, a scrupulous regard for personal cleanliness, and daily walks immediately after the midday meal, walks that lasted the entire afternoon and often extended into the night; then a sleep so sound and long that he thanklessly complained against it! His way of living is substantial but simple. Nothing to excess; he is no glutton, no drinker (in the evil sense of the word) as some have wrongfully described him. **
I think I’ll try walking all afternoon and see if that helps my sleep. Ha! I’m lucky these days to walk for a couple hours. I bet Beethoven didn’t have to pursue an endless search for a mattress that didn’t cause nightly agony in one’s back and hips. I feel more like the princess who encountered the pea than I do Beethoven. The doctors tell me that exercise will not worsen any of my nagging afflictions and is more likely to improve my life. I’ll keep Beethoven in mind when I walk today and keep trying to be more active. Hopefully, as I become more active I’ll sleep better. In the meantime, I’ll continue to envy the great Beethoven and just keep trying to be myself.
I spent the afternoon wandering around The Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska, camera in hand. I ended up the day with some sunset photos on the railroad tracks in Columbus, Nebraska. Here are the best shots of the day.
I went out yesterday to photograph the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. I was distracted by the corn fields growing in the bottomlands of the river. Here are some corn field photos, taken either in the field or on the edge of the field.
Sometimes, good words are found in unexpected places. Yesterday, I twice and unexpectedly heard (saw) life lessons. The first time was while watching Series 1, Episode 2 of Endeavour, the BBC program about a young Inspector Morse. At the end of the episode, Detective Inspector Thursday offers Detective Constable Morse advice about music.
Go home. Put your best record on loud as it will play, and with every note you remember that’s something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.
Later that day I walked past Valley Bookseller here in Stillwater. A bright yellow poster in the window advised me to
I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets. Imagine me writing a poem. As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day. I am however, still thinking about poetry. I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.
My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets. One of the three is Charles Bukowski. I like some of his poems.
Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher,is titled Poetry In Action. It begins with reference toa poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s. This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.
It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine]. Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.
. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive: a poet with power.
Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:
Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]
The post say this:
But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”
I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will. In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments. Again, I doubt that I ever will. Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do. On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one. I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer). Being able to write this entry. Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.) Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month. (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s) This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.
So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing. Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day. Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game. (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals. I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”. I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)
I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958. There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website. I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside. The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul. It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.
Easy to tweet, hard to have an ideology, a political will, an interest in anything but winning, or the frontal lobes of a burnt tuna casserole*!
As stated by a portrait of President Obama in a cartoon conversation with Li’l Trumpy, a recent, new character in the Zippy the Pinhead comic strip by Bill Griffith that’s appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press for years. The strip was never overtly political until Donald Trump somehow became our president. (Oh, did I say Donald Trump instead of President Trump? Sorry, I meant to say The Big Cheeto**.) Now the strip regularly features new characters like L’il Trumpy and Steve Bunion. Many of these strips end up comparing Li’l Trumpy to a burnt tuna casserole, a perfect simile.
In one strip, Li’l Trumpy is said to have the attention span of a burnt tuna casserole. This is the strip in which Steve Bunion says
Let’s ban all climatologists! Let’s lock up David Brooks! Let’s invade New Jersey!
I think I’m going to have to start checking in regularly on what’s going on with Zippy.
* from Zippy the Pinhead “Dropping an O Bomb” by Bill Griffith, 05/02/2017
I thought this would be just another morning at home. Then I stumbled upon the song Guantanamera done on YouTube as part of the Playing For Change project. That led to watching and listening to La Bamba, What’s Going On, Stand Up Sit Up . . . Lots of great songs. Watching the videos caused goose bumps – they are that good. Fun. Uplifting. Especially the out-of-this world rendition of Lean On Me. What a show! What a show!
Help, I can’t stop. I’m going to be here all day listening to music. Oh god! Now it’s What a Wonderful World!
Each video has many different musicians and groups that contribute to the songs. They play in locations around the world on every continent. Somehow, all the clips of all the different musicians and all the different locales are combined into wonderful creations. They musicians are the best. The videos are the best. The music is the best.
Playing For Change has a motto: Connecting the World Through Music.
Mark Johnson, the co-founder, says
The idea is to show people enough different cultures using music to uplift themselves, so that we can see the connections we all have.
. . . that’s the way music was meant to be.
. . . man, all my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that
Far from being just another morning, it’s been an inspiring, fun, music-filled morning. I feel like it’s a bright, sunshiny day even though it’s wet and cloudy.
The United States recently dropped an enormous bomb, one of the biggest non-nuclear weapons in existence, in Afghanistan. We dropped it apparently on ISIS fighters. So why in the world are we in Afghanistan?. What is our purpose there? We’ve been there since 2001, we’ve spent billions of dollars. We’ve lost soldiers. Afghani civilians have died. We don’t seem to be any closer to leaving or having a plan or date for leaving.
To what purpose all the sacrifices? As far as I can see, all that we’ve done is ousted the Taliban and Mullah Omar from the central government and put in place a central government that is shaky and still needs our presence. That might have felt good in 2001 (revenge is sweet), but it’s sixteen year later and the Taliban is still there and is still fighting. Now there’s a third force in the mix, ISIS, and apparently ISIS and the Taliban fight each other. If the enemy of our enemy is our friend, does that mean we’re now chums with the Taliban and should fight on their side? It’s all too confusing. I wish someone could tell me what our objectives there are. Is it to reduce terrorism? To create a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan?
Whatever our objectives were or are, we have failed miserably. We keep coming up with new plans, new strategies for continuing to fail.
During the war in Afghanistan (2001–14), over 26,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 91,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are recorded to have been killed in the conflict, and the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may include an additional 360,000 people.
Yesterday I was looking for wildflowers. There were none to be found. I guess it’s still too early even though the last few weeks have been warm. The only things I could find that had new growth were big (red maples or willows) or very small. The small things were mosses and lichens which I find very hard to identify. I’m satisfied if I can correctly state that something is, in fact, a moss. The mosses are sending out what I think are called sporophytes. It had snowed the night before, so much of the foliage – dead or alive – was covered in tiny droplets of melt water. One had to get down on one’s knees or belly in order to examine or photograph such tiny things. I was wet by the time I finished. Luckily, the sun came out later in the day, it warmed up, and I escaped death by hypothermia.
I think this may be a small puffball that survived the winter relatively intact although it looks like it “puffed.” It was in pure sand. There were more puffballs in the sand. They grew only as individuals plants spaced a yard or so away from their neighbors. All dead of course.
More stuff found within an inch or two from the ground.
Dead Leaves Of Common Mullein
Dead Leaves Of Common Mullein Surround New Green Moss