Words of Wisdom, January 27

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” ~Carl Sagan

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality.” ~Carl Sagan

“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” ~Carl Sagan

The night sky

Words of Wisdom

One of the most appealing thing about being Ada Sunrise Rotary is the idea of having breakfast with friends at one of Ada's longest-established businesses, the Aldridge Hotel.
One of the most appealing thing about being Ada Sunrise Rotary is the idea of having breakfast with friends at one of Ada’s longest-established businesses, the Aldridge Hotel.

Every Friday morning, Ada Sunrise Rotary, my civic club, meets at the Aldridge Hotel Banquet Room starting at 7 a.m. Meetings start with a ringing the ceremonial brass bell, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, a non-denominational prayer, introduction of guests, announcement, “Words of Wisdom,” a guest speaker, singing the “Friday Song,” an appeal to donate to Polio Plus, and, ending the meeting, “The Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do” …

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

I didn’t join Rotary to change or reform it. When Robert and Jennifer Greenstreet, long-time friends, invited me, I thought it sounded like fun, that it would be a good source for community news for my newspaper, and an important way to represent our newspaper as a civic-minded product.

When I joined, two and a half years ago the “Words of Wisdom” segment of our meetings usually consisted of one of the buzz-cut set telling a slightly off-color joke that started with something like, “So this 80-year-old couple is about to make whoopee, but they’re both a little deaf…”

I decided that I might have something more erudite to contribute, so about a year ago, I started bringing in some of my brainier-sounding books on science, philosophy, sociology, writing, creativity, and so on. As I did so, everyone began to realize that I might be making a worthwhile contribution to the discourse, and that I was at least attempting to be well-read and creating an atmosphere of ideas and learning.

As the last six months or so, from July 1 when Ashley became president, has evolved, more and more when we get to “Words of Wisdom,” Ashley’s eyes, and everyone else’s, immediately turn to me.

Last Friday I read this from Albert Camus’ The Plague

“The evil that is in this world always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more-or-less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue, the most incorrigible vice being an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for it the right to kill. The soul of murderers is blind; and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”

I bring my journal to Rotary every week, and it gives me a chance to write, if I haven’t, for the week, as I wait for breakfast. Thus, I concluded that I should be more consistent about writing down my words of wisdom, and make it a regular feature here on this blog.

To find words of wisdom, click on the category by that name, or simply go to the search box and type “words of wisdom.”

Hopefully, I will be a wise man, and not a wise guy, as time goes by.

In a world of increasingly shallow content, I have often made an effort to read, and discuss, deeper topics.
In a world of increasingly shallow content, I have often made an effort to read, and discuss, deeper topics.

Our First Date; Better than We Expected

Abby and I had our first date January 17, 2003, 20 years ago today. Here is my account of it from my journal, plus a couple of notes from her journal.

Abby and I met at our office and had dinner at Papa Gjorgjo next door to our office in downtown Ada.

I made this image of Abby just a week after our first date. You can already see the love in her eyes, and my love in the way I made this photograph.
I made this image of Abby just a week after our first date. You can already see the love in her eyes, and my love in the way I made this photograph.

I invited her to see the house I am considering buying from Ann Kelley. When trying to get into my car, the door wouldn’t open – probably since it was very cold and I washed the car earlier in the day – so she climbed over the center console to get in.

We then drove to the house on 17th Street. We talked about fixing it up; she even pulled up a corner of carpet to see if it had wood floors. We held each other by the gas fireplace, mostly holding hands and talking.

Abby poses for me just three weeks into our relationship.
Abby poses for me just three weeks into our relationship.

Back at my apartment, we curled up on my futon, held each other close and talked more. She purred. I held her hands and touched her hair and nestled closer and closer. We traded back rubs. It turned into kissing, so much kissing.

Made a month after we started dating, this image really captures how beautiful Abby was, and how comfortable she was in front of my camera.
Made a month after we started dating, this image really captures how beautiful Abby was, and how comfortable she was in front of my camera.

We were happy to be together. She likes me. She likes my beard. She likes the way she feels when I hold her.

A few days later, Abby wrote, “I’ve started dating Richard Barron, and it’s so great it’s scary…. I could fall completely in love with Richard.”

The rest, of course, is history. We got married in October 2004, and after more than 17 amazing years of marriage, Abby died in March 2022.

It all started with that first date on that cold, clear night in January 2003.

Abby and I pose together in Ada's Wintersmith Park in March 2003, just two months after our first date. By this time, we both felt completely in love and were very comfortable as a couple with a great future together.
Abby and I pose together in Ada’s Wintersmith Park in March 2003, just two months after our first date. By this time, we both felt completely in love and were very comfortable as a couple with a great future together.

 

A Dog Emergency

Trigger warning: sight of blood and injured animals.

For a little less than a year, Hawken the Irish wolfhound has had a lump behind his left ear. A vet told me in the spring that it’s a skin tumor, and harmless, so if nothing happened, we’d just leave it alone.

Today, something happened. He spent last night inside because it was cold out. I put him outside at around 7 a.m. and fed him. At some point between then and 1:30 p.m., he must have cronked that tumor on something, because when I went out back to walk him, there was blood on the back porch, and when he came around the corner, I could see he was bleeding.

Hawken seemed to have no idea that he was injured. I think he thought the whole thing was a game.
Hawken seemed to have no idea that he was injured. I think he thought the whole thing was a game.

I put pressure on it, but it didn’t stop the bleeding, especially since every time he would shake, he would re-open it. I wrapped it with paper towels and an Ace bandage, which was enough to stop the bleeding while I drove him to the vet.

And of course, the back yard and the garage look like a crime scene.

They are sedating him now and will remove the offending tumor. I expect they will find it is benign, but I am aware there is a chance that isn’t the case. They expect to call me this evening to take him home.

Despite my best efforts to apply pressure, Hawken's ruptured skin tumor required immediate attention.
Despite my best efforts to apply pressure, Hawken’s ruptured skin tumor required immediate attention.

Update: I was right to be concerned that Hawken could have bled to death. The vet (who is a good friend of mine) got him right in and excised the mass, which was, as we suspected, a hemangioma. Due to the sedation, he was a handful to get into the back seat of the pickup, and still a little weak and confused when I got him home, so I piled him out of the truck into the front yard.

Overall, it was a crisis, but my vet and I handled it well.

Hawken rests after I got him home tonight. He was coordinated enough to stumble up the stairs of the front deck, but it's nice outside, so he is in the front yard, where I am keeping a careful watch.
Hawken rests after I got him home tonight. He was coordinated enough to stumble up the stairs of the front deck, but it’s nice outside, so he is in the front yard, where I am keeping a careful watch.

 

Thoughts about Top Gun: Maverick

The hottest movie topic in 2022 was Top Gun: Maverick.  I am sorry, my friends who loved this movie, but…

The biggest problem I have with this film is the same problem I have with the final three Star Wars films in the saga: rehash.

  • The same title card and Faltermeyer/Loggins intro music.
  • The same fighter jet porn in the intro.
  • Goose’s son wears Goose’s exact same mustache.
  • The fighter pilots are approached from behind in an ambush-introduction.
  • The motorcycle scene with his girlfriend (even riding in the same direction as the original scene). Same jacket, same motorcycle.
  • The stupid sunglasses they all wore in the first movie and in this movie; they were on-point stylish in 1969.
  • The mission is almost identical to the mission the rebels undertook in Star Wars: A New Hope… a very small force is tasked with skimming a narrow canyon to hit a small opening in the enemy base, and the mission is saved at the last minute by an arrogant pilot who was not part of the original plan.

Also…

  • He steals an F/A-18?
  • The ultra-sonic test jet flying over North America? Never happen. Supersonic flight of any kind is done over the sea.
  • The task group fires a spitload of Tomahawk cruise missiles at one runway. Each one of those costs about two million dollars, and just one of them would be adequate to take that airfield out of the fight.
  • Or, you could use the Tomahawks to actually do the mission.
  • No one with bitter feelings about the instructor would even be assigned to the mission, no matter how skilled he or she is. Direct conflict of interest.

Also, this job doesn’t really seem like a job for the Navy and carrier-based warplanes, but an Air Force task with something like the B-2 Spirit long-range stealth bomber. And why are these jets attacking anything without air superiority?

By the way, Iran is the only nation in the world to have any F-14 Tomcats in service, so duh, it’s Iran. But of course, the presence of the F-14 was shoehorned in to get Tom Cruise back into one for the final scene, and, of course, with Goose’s son in the back seat.

A note about G-forces: this happens when an aircraft is experiencing a lift vector that changes the attitude of the aircraft. The instant an aircraft stops that vector by leveling off, regardless of the direction it’s nose it pointed, the G-force falls back to normal. We see these F/A-18s pull out of the attack, and the pull-up maneuver is what creates the Gs. An aircraft climbing straight up or diving straight down is not experiencing high G-forces.

The bottom line is, for me, that Top Gun: Maverick is easily the most over-rated, over-anticipated movie in the last five years. I didn’t really enjoy it.

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

Movie Prop Mistakes

Updated December 2022 to include a note about the movie Die Hard.

Often when watching movies, I will simultaneously look up the background of them on Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), or, if the film has guns, the Internet Movie Firearms Data Base (IMFDB).

I did so recently when I was rewatching the 1995’s excellent Heat, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It has a lot of interesting firearms in it, and I wanted to learn about them.

This shot shows a combination of an accurate depiction and a glaring mistake. I actually owed both of these radios and one time or another. I love how they have been temporarily mounted in the vehicle with clear packing tape.
This shot shows a combination of an accurate depiction and a glaring mistake. I actually owed both of these radios and one time or another. I love how they have been temporarily mounted in the vehicle with clear packing tape.

What I found, however, was an interesting mistake, and one that I see over and over in movies about crimes and cops: a shot showing us a signature rifle muzzle device also happens to show us two police scanners. One of them, the top one, is a Radio Shack Pro-2030. The display on it reads 000.0000, meaning it was never programmed, or it was reset at some point and never reprogrammed. Either way, it isn’t working.

The lower scanner, a Radio Shack clone of a Uniden 500 UBC9000XLT (Probably the
Realistic Pro-2036.), displays 470.5375, which is the correct frequency for Los Angeles Countywide police dispatch.

In the movie Die Hard (IMDB), (IMFDB), on the other hand, the TV reporter, a one-dimensional character played by William Atherton, is on the phone when he hears a panicked police call from an LAPD sergeant played by Reginald VelJohnson. I assume this scene takes place in the fictional TV studio, since there do seem to be at least a couple of reel-to-reel audio tape decks in the background, but the scanners supposedly picking up the call are junk fished out of the back of the props department.

Two of the radios appear to possibly be Radio Shack / Realistic Comp-100s or maybe similar Bearcats. Both are early 1970s tech, and use crystals to set each frequency. Neither of the radios in the scene appear to be receiving anything, though, since the red LEDs on the front panel continue to track and don’t stop on a channel. The other radio is hard to make out, but might be a higher-end communications receiver or all-mode amateur radio transceiver. It appears to display something like 145.890 Mhz, which is an amateur radio frequency, not a police frequency.

Some movies try harder than others, while some, like the big-budget, action-packed Die Hard, don't. The scanners in this shot look like the first thing the props department came across the had flashing lights on them. I guess we're lucky they weren't CB radios.
Some movies try harder than others, while some, like the big-budget, action-packed Die Hard, don’t. The scanners in this shot look like the first thing the props department came across the had flashing lights on them. I guess we’re lucky they weren’t CB radios.

Also, the characters repeatedly interrupt each other while talking on two-way radios, which we all know is impossible since you can either receive or transmit, not both at the same time.

For what it’s worth, the movie with the most accurate and believable radio communications that I’ve seen is End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal clearly studied and practices with real police and how they use radios for this film. Props.

 

Get Well Soon

My social media fans might have seen that I was sick the past week. I was pretty sick with what was probably influenza, or “flu.”

Someone asked me recently why I thought toilet paper got scarce at the start of the pandemic, and upon giving it more thought, I sort of settled on the idea that most people don’t really understand terms like influenza, flu, virus, and infection.

Anyway, I am almost entirely recovered from whatever it was, and returned to work this morning, just in time for the temperature to drop into single-digits. Zing!

You can picture me like this, your humble host, or you could picture me like I was earlier this week, which was pretty much the same, only not as dressed up, and with a fever.
You can picture me like this, your humble host, or you could picture me like I was earlier this week, which was pretty much the same, only not as dressed up, and with a fever.

Why Would This Be Fun?

Should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?
Should I cut the red wire or the blue wire?

I did some man-caving in the garage tonight. After walking the dogs and taking trash to the curb, I set out to see if an old 23-channel citizen’s band (CB) radio was working. When I discovered it was not, I decided, quite organically, to take it apart. Part of me says I was scavenging for parts, but the other part was just having fun learning about how radios were put together in the 1970s.

As an aside: one thing I explored on my recent drive to Kansas City for Thanksgiving: where is the CB radio scene these days? I deployed a magnetic-mount antenna connected to my Uniden Pro501HH. I didn’t really expect to hear anything, but was surprised that the chatter was almost continuous through my whole drive, and I discovered that CB radio is mostly populated by noisy, inarticulate, lonely people who are on the verge of mental illness. How much of this parallels the real world and/or the comments section of pretty much any hot internet topic I don’t know, but it was unsettling to say the least.

Most two-way radios, including CB radios, can be modified or programmed to transmit a “key up” tone, which is sent at the beginning of a transmission. At the beginning of this clip, you can hear the “key up” tone is a screaming child…

 

But back to tonight: one oddly satisfying thing in my disassembly is trying to unscrew stubborn screws. When they don’t budge, I lean into the handle of the screwdriver, push and turn. When I finally get that little “pop,” as the screw unseats, it’s like a tiny victory.

In the end, I have little to show for my effort except the fun of piddling and a pile of parts.

This is the fruit of my labor: a proud pile of junk.
This is the fruit of my labor: a proud pile of junk.

Thanksgiving 2022

My cousin Lori Wade and her husband Bill Wade invited my sister Nicole Hammill, her husband Tracey Hammill, and me to join them for Thanksgiving at Lori’s home in rural Platt City, Missouri. We were joined by Lori’s father Wes on Thanksgiving Day.

My cousin Lori, my sisters Nicole, and I pose for a photo in Lori's living room.
My cousin Lori, my sisters Nicole, and I pose for a photo in Lori’s living room.

The last time we joined Lori and her husband was when Abby and I drove there in 2010.

Lori, Nicole and Tracey take their turn in front of my camera.
Lori, Nicole and Tracey take their turn in front of my camera.

I made the six-hour drive on Wednesday before the holiday, with my Chihuahua, Summer, in the back seat.

Summer was nervous and sat in my lap early in the trip, but settled into the back seat for most of the drive to and from the Kansas City area.
Summer was nervous and sat in my lap early in the trip, but settled into the back seat for most of the drive to and from the Kansas City area.

I asked Bill, an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, if he owned an AR-15, and he did, so we took it down to his range and did some target practice, which was very fun.

Tracey and Bill's brother Kyle reload a magazine for Bill's AR-15. The weapon is chambered in .224 Valkyrie.
Tracey and Bill’s brother Kyle reload a magazine for Bill’s AR-15. The weapon is chambered in .224 Valkyrie.

At my urging, Lori brought out a box containing her father Wes’ Canon FTb, a popular single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera from the 1970s. I have a very clear memory of seeing Wes about to photograph the Thanksgiving table at Grandma Barron’s house in Independence, Missouri when I was in junior high, and thinking it was the coolest thing I’d even seen. I asked him if I could look through the viewfinder, which he let me, and I was smitten with the idea of one day owning such a camera.

This is my Uncle Wes' Canon FTb camera from the early 1970s. Big, heavy, and solid, it was made at a time when cameras were meant to last a lifetime.
This is my Uncle Wes’ Canon FTb camera from the early 1970s. Big, heavy, and solid, it was made at a time when cameras were meant to last a lifetime.

I gave the camera a quick look, and it appeared to be in pristine condition, and everything still worked fine.

Your host holds his uncle's Canon FTb. Wes is still alive, and joined us for Thanksgiving dinner, but he hasn't made any photos with this camera in at least a decade.
Your host holds his uncle’s Canon FTb. Wes is still alive, and joined us for Thanksgiving dinner, but he hasn’t made any photos with this camera in at least a decade.

Lori seemed genuinely happy to be our host. She looked great and was so glad to see us. She cooked for us, and it was all delicious.

Between eating, conversation, and taking care of five dogs (Lori and Bill’s two Newfoundlands Sailor and Scarlet and their old retriever Riley, Tracy and Nicole’s Labrador retriever Dauphine, and Summer the Chihuahua), none of us every turned on a television, and only sparingly looked at our smartphones.

One rare occasion for using my smartphone was to show a photo of my wife Abby, Nicole and Lori in the same spot 12 years ago.
One rare occasion for using my smartphone was to show a photo of my wife Abby, Nicole and Lori in the same spot 12 years ago.
Lori and Nicole proudly pose in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Lori and Nicole proudly pose in the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Uncle Wes and Tracey, Nicole's husband, sit for a few minutes with Summer, my Chihuahua. I was proud that this little dog got along with all the bigger dogs so well.
Uncle Wes and Tracey, Nicole’s husband, sit for a few minutes with Summer, my Chihuahua. I was proud that this little dog got along with all the bigger dogs so well.
Nicole and Tracey show off their retriever Dauphine's manners for Uncle Wes.
Nicole and Tracey show off their retriever Dauphine’s manners for Uncle Wes.

Lori seemed to have a great time being the gracious hostess, and put very amazing meals in front of us the whole time.

A steaming turkey sits on a cutting board.
A steaming turkey sits on a cutting board.
Bill places the turkey on the table.
Bill places the turkey on the table.
You either love Brussels sprouts or you don't. We all do, especially roasted like this.
You either love Brussels sprouts or you don’t. We all do, especially roasted like this.
Our uncle Wes is seated. Behind him are Kyle Wade and Bill Wade, our cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, and her husband Tracey.
Our uncle Wes is seated. Behind him are Kyle Wade and Bill Wade, our cousin Lori, my sister Nicole, and her husband Tracey.

The Nature of Irrational Fears

I have a friend who is very afraid of heights.  He gets nervous, then panicked, then actually shuts down in the face of any kind of perceived open exposure to unprotected high places.

I don’t share his fear at all. I am known as the photojournalist who will climb on, or fly in, anything without any hesitation, to get a picture, or, sometimes, just to be doing it.

This isn’t fair, because neither my friend nor I are in any real danger. The fear for him is instinctive, and irrational.

But consider this: spiders freak me out. I feel a very visceral, very instinctive, revulsion to them, and I always have. I am especially freaked out by spiders that are rubbery or have no logical means of locomotion. It is so irrational.

This irrationality makes even less sense when you consider this: I am completely unafraid of crickets. Lately, there have been an unusual number of crickets – I learned only tonight that they are called camel crickets – in the house. Here’s why it is so irrational: this insect is very similar in size, color, and markings to a wolf spider. But I am fine with them. Tonight, in fact, I picked one up (the one in the photo) and posed it next to a penny for scale. Then I picked it up again and tossed it into the front yard.

I could no more make myself do that with a wolf spider than I could a coiled viper or attacking bear. Wolf spiders are actually doing good work in my house by hunting and eating unwelcome insects, and they are absolutely as harmless as the cricket, but any that I see are terminated with extreme prejudice.

Please, dear reader, explain this paradox.

A camel cricket was nice enough to pause for a picture with a penny for scale. It is similar to a wolf spider is most respects, but because of subtle differences, it elicits a completely different response in my brain.
A camel cricket was nice enough to pause for a picture with a penny for scale. It is similar to a wolf spider is most respects, but because of subtle differences, it elicits a completely different response in my brain.

Keyword: Vulnerability

Lately I'm not really trusting mirrors. I wonder if they've always been lying to us.
Lately I’m not really trusting mirrors. I wonder if they’ve always been lying to us.

I sometimes wish I were less transparent. I sometimes wish I were more of a mystery. It seems like my feelings are so obvious, and that the vulnerability from it could be dangerous.

I was at a store recently. My former photography student Devon was behind the counter.

“You look sad,” she said.
“I am sad,” I replied.
She’d held me up to the light, and could see right through me.
“Why?” she asked.
“I miss my wife.”

A recent poem from my journal:

that pose that we all have when we look in the mirror
is why we are surprised when we come across a mirror we we weren’t expecting
who is that in the mirror?
I no longer have that pose
who is that in the mirror?
stop being me in the mirror

“I am not the body you seen before you. Nor am I the soul inside. I am all the things I have said and done, and all the things I failed to say and do. I have said too much and done too little.” ~Journal, November 1990

I went to see a long-ago friend recently. We sat on the couch in her living room and talked. I told her about my feelings about Abby and the last year of her life. I asked her to hold my hand, and to hold me in her arms for a few minutes, which she did.

“It was intimate,” I told another long-time friend later.
“You had sex with her???”
No, no I didn’t. Intimacy isn’t a synonym for sex.

It made me wonder why so many people only perceive intimacy as sexual intimacy, and how that might even make sex non-intimate.

So, then, Richard, what do you mean by “intimate”?

Caring for a child is intimate. Caring for a dying person is intimate. Respecting someone is intimate.

One aspect of intimacy I learned in the past couple of years is the very real intimacy of caring for someone who cannot care for themselves. They are wearing an involuntary vulnerability.

Another friend of mine is at the start of a very intense relationship, and she expressed to me that she wants to say, “I love you,” but is afraid it might be burdened with consequences. I felt that same way when I was much younger, but “I love you” comes easy to me now, from the all-day, every-day “I love you” my wife and I expressed so easily, to the more casual “I love you” for my friends that are simple, welcome, and can make a difference.

Don’t be afraid of “I love you.” But yes, it is vulnerable.

Maybe I finally found that one mirror that isn't lying to me.
Maybe I finally found that one mirror that isn’t lying to me.

I Don’t Need Surgery

I thought for a bit about how to illustrate this entry, but as I was doing it, I also needed to illustrate my column for tomorrow about COVID-19 vaccination, and had some interesting outtakes, including these two tiny water droplets clinging to the tips of two injection needles.
I thought for a bit about how to illustrate this entry, but as I was doing it, I also needed to illustrate my column for tomorrow about COVID-19 vaccination, and had some interesting outtakes, including these two tiny water droplets clinging to the tips of two injection needles.

Why is not needing surgery news? In succinct terms, I was grimly beginning to think that my achy breaky left shoulder was going to need work.

I already had a minor piece of surgery this summer, and while it was easy and painless, part of me says that I don’t want to be the guy whose health falls to pieces rapidly after his wife dies.

As a matter of fact, I have no recollection of injuring it, but am very sure it started bothering me on the very day Abby died.

Today I saw the same shoulder guy that looked after Abby’s shoulder (the left one, of course), and after an examination and a couple of radiographs (okay, fine, x-rays, which they actually aren’t), he told me I probably did not have a torn labrum like my sister did last year, but some osteoarthritis in the joint, and inflammation in the  surrounding tissue. He prescribed a course of oral steroids, and physical therapy.

Despite this and the fact that I am less than a year away from turning 60, I feel I am in top physical shape.

After my needles illustration was done, I fiddled around a little with water droplets from the needles. If you've ever had an influenza or COVID-19 vaccination, or injected yourself with insulin, this is the size of needle they use.
After my needles illustration was done, I fiddled around a little with water droplets from the needles. If you’ve ever had an influenza or COVID-19 vaccination, or injected yourself with insulin, this is the size of needle they use.

Green Day

Wake me up when September ends

An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
An unexpected rain yesterday dropped about three quarters of an inch on us. This is a morning image of the crepe myrtle in the front yard.
  • After a summer that got browner and hotter from the end of June through most of August, our patch of green got some unexpected – and sometimes unforecast – rain.
  • The Shoffner family reunion was this weekend, and I went Saturday.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
The Shoffner family trades stories and secrets Saturday afternoon in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
On the way home from the reunion Saturday, I stopped to photograph this gorgeous Catholic Church in Sterling, Oklahoma.
  • Our hosts Troy and Rachel had portobello mushrooms on hand to make as veggie patties, but I had a longish drive home so I didn’t stay for dinner, so they sent them with me, which I made for my last two meals, and which were delicious.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
Portobello mushroom caps sizzle as I sauté them for lunch today.
  • I washed my wallet. It was probably time to replace it, but I was super annoyed with myself for throwing those jeans in the washer without checking the pockets first.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
After washing my wallet, I decided to replace it, the first time in maybe 15 years.
  • I traded a pistol I didn’t like for one I think I will like, the Ruger LCP-II in .22lr. It didn’t do well the first time out; I think I have a bad magazine, since rounds kind of pop up and strike above the feed ramp and won’t feed. I ordered two more magazines, so we’ll see.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
I heard good things about the Ruger LCP II in .22lr. Except for a flawed magazine creating a couple of issues, it seems like it will be a very fun pistol to shoot.
  • I just finished teaching a really fun photography class. We made lots of great photos and had tons of “aha” moments.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
Classmates Stephanie and Cara share images as we shoot at the Pontotoc Technology Center two Mondays ago. I think I gave them the tools they need to be better photographers, and we all had a great time.
  • The fall sports season has started, and it’s kept me busy, including a super-fun evening covering the Ada Cougars at Ardmore Friday. The drive down there was brimming with rainbows, which I chased a bit.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I'll work on it.
I took several stabs at photographing this rainbow Friday night on my way to Ardmore to cover a football game. This is nice, but I feel like I should finesse it more. I’ll work on it.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.
It has become a bit of a tradition to have my picture made with my good friend and partner in crime Courtney Morehead.

Today is also the 44th anniversary of my journal.

My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.
My students and I had beautiful light for classes in August.

Keyword: Inclusion

An issue came up at one of my civic clubs (the name of which I am withholding) recently. At a meeting in June, the Board voted to change the weekly meeting to include a moment of silence instead of a prayer, which historically was always a Christian prayer that included Jesus.

Some of the members claimed they objected to this change because the board made it without consulting the membership, though most of us knew this wasn’t their real objection.

On July 1, a new Board took office, which included me. We considered this action, and decided that yes, we would put it to a vote of the membership. The president emailed ballots, and at our meeting last week, we voted. The choices were 1. prayer only 2. moment of silence only 3. prayer followed by a moment of silence and 4. a “Faith Moment.”

“Faith Moment was presented by one of our own, Richard Barron,” the president said in her email. “He proposed that the (our club) create an itinerary item called the Faith Moment, in which the president or other member conducting the meeting could call upon any members wishing to express their faith. That member could express their faith in the form of prayer, religious thought, or reading from scripture. This segment of the meeting would be open to and include expressions from any faith or belief system, as long as that expression did not deliberately exclude the faith of other members, or contain hate speech or other inflammatory content, as determined by the President. This segment would be limited to 2 minutes.”

I thought this suggestion hit all the right notes for 2022: diversity, equality and inclusion. Surely we would adopt this, and everyone would be happy. I was ready to accept my Nobel Peace Prize.

Sadly, despite my notion that this compromise would work, it was not to be. Though the vote was close, “moment of silence only” was the verdict. My own piece of brilliance received the fewest votes.

As that was announced, four members immediately claimed they would resign, including one who barked, “how can you have (this club) without god.”

So, sure, I have some ideas about this, so let’s start with the most basic: people who are genuinely afraid of the real world.

The urgent, angry, frightened need to control all functions of society like church doesn’t speak of faith, confidence, or trust, but of insecurity, especially insecurity about the fragile house of cards you truly know is your faith.

That faith isn’t constructed by god, by the way, but for centuries by kings and lords and presidents who want your obedience, and, most importantly, your money.

“Why wasn’t God there that day at Columbine? Because God isn’t allowed in the schools.” ~Actual letter to the editor (Sidebar: just this week I wrote a news story about “Rachel’s Challenge,” a program started in memorial of Rachel Scott, the first victim killed at Columbine.)

I love quotes like this because they are such a blunt admission that god is powerless to stand up to school boards.

So really, the small people were the ones who objected. They have small ideas. They have a small world view. They are the people who are afraid of other beliefs, and especially to have other beliefs in their midst.

The idea that all our institutions have to be your church is a very toxic idea.

Pondering important ideas might best be done over coffee.
Pondering important ideas might best be done over coffee.

Words of Wisdom, August 25, 2022

I saw a woman in the parking lot as I walked to my car after photographing the Free Fair. She used a walker and seemed very unsteady. She told me she’d had a stroke, that left her with an uneven gait and slurred speech. I helped her to her truck, and put the walker in the bed of the truck for her.

It seemed like the right thing to do, but I was the only one helping her. I think this was one of the most important things I learned by taking care of my wife Abby at the end of her life: we all benefit from acts of kindness and generosity, and it is our duty as humanitarians.

Returned to the Fold

Decades ago I was a member of the Ada Amateur Radio Club, listed as Ada ARC. I let my membership lapse about 20 years ago during a time when the club fell into neglect.

This is a snapshot of me at a meeting of the Ada Amateur Radio Club. In my right hand is my first dual-band handheld transceiver, the Kenwood TH-79A, with a long BNC-whip antenna a fellow member was letting me try. The phone on my belt was my first cell phone, which I got in January 1997, and which only lasted a couple of years, so this photo was from that era.
This is a snapshot of me at a meeting of the Ada Amateur Radio Club. In my right hand is my first dual-band handheld transceiver, the Kenwood TH-79A, with a long BNC-whip antenna a fellow member was letting me try. The phone on my belt was my first cell phone, which I got in January 1997, and which only lasted a couple of years, so this photo was from that era.

Yesterday I was listening to a local amateur radio repeater, one I use and monitor all the time, and heard several “hams” mention that their meeting would take place at 6:30 at the college, and that the parking lot construction was finished, so parking wouldn’t be a problem.

“I should go to that meeting,” I thought to myself, “and join the club.”

Ada ARC has long since been replaced by the Pontotoc County Amateur Radio Association (PCARA), and though I have been a licensed amateur radio operator since 1996 (callsign KC5TFZ), I have never been a PCARA member, so I applied and was accepted last night.

I bought the Icom 2350H in the late 1990s when it was discontinued, and have found it to be one of the most robust and reliable electronic devices I have ever owned.
I bought the Icom 2350H in the late 1990s when it was discontinued, and have found it to be one of the most robust and reliable electronic devices I have ever owned.

In the same way that photographers like to ask you about your cameras, and shooters like to ask about your guns, ham radio operators like to ask about your radios, which, last night, they did. I told them that I have two dual band Icom radios in my Nissan Juke. The 2820H below the climate/audio panel is set up as a scanner on the left side, and my primary transceiver on the right side, while the 2350 in the center console is set up like a VHF scanner on the left, and a UHF scanner on the right, programmed to monitor police, fire, EMS and storm spotters around the area. The Icom IC-V8000 is a high-power 2-meter transceiver in my Nissan Frontier 4×4.

They all informed me I should have bigger antennas, but my current setup is about right-sized, since they all seem to have solid signals while being short enough they don’t bang on the garage door frame when I pull into the garage.

At the end of the meeting, I invited anyone who was interested to join me as my guest Friday morning at 6:45 at the Aldridge for Ada Sunrise Rotary. Some of them seemed surprised to learn that there is a 6:45 in the morning.

My Icom 2820H is shown configured for split uses. The left side of the radio is set up to scan my most important public safety frequencies, and the right side of the radio is set up to operate in the amateur band.
My Icom 2820H is shown configured for split uses. The left side of the radio is set up to scan my most important public safety frequencies, and the right side of the radio is set up to operate in the amateur band.

A Visit from a Red-Headed Stranger

I had a very welcome visit today from Abby’s daughter Chele, her husband Tom, their son Paul, and their gorgeous golden retriever Samson. They grabbed a couple of pizzas on the way in, and we had a great time.

One of the many gifts Abby gave me in our years of marriage is love of dogs, and I was able to meet Samson, Abby's "grand dog", today.
One of the many gifts Abby gave me in our years of marriage is love of dogs, and I was able to meet Samson, Abby’s “grand dog”, today.

After Abby died in March, Chele and I spent a week kick-starting the big clean-out, the process of changing our home into my home. We set aside several plastic bins of items that Chele considered sentimental or valuable to her, with the intention of storing them here until Chele and her family moved to the Dallas area from Baltimore, which they did a month ago.

In the intervening months, however, I went through many more items, especially family documents and photographs, and loaded more plastic bins.

Anyone who knows Chele knows that she is the person you want on point on Thanksgiving day when it’s time to put away the leftovers. No one is better at “fridge Tetris” than she is.

Despite this fact, we only got a fraction of the bins and boxes loaded into their truck.

I anticipate traveling their direction before too much longer, though, with my truck loaded with more bins and boxes.

One thing I’d really like to do on my next trip to the Dallas area is visit Founder’s Plaza, DFW airport’s hot spot for airline spotting, which is interesting to me both as a pilot and as a photographer.

It was great seeing Chele and her family again, and I’m glad I finally got to meet their wonderful dog Samson. Samson got along with my dogs, and we all had a great time.

Tom, Chele and Paul pose in the front yard today with their gorgeous dog Samson. Not everyone likes or even gets along with their in-laws and out-laws, but Abby's family and I have always been close.
Tom, Chele and Paul pose in the front yard today with their gorgeous dog Samson. Not everyone likes or even gets along with their in-laws and out-laws, but Abby’s family and I have always been close.

Bringing Dead Tech Back to Life

This is an array of some of the old garage sale/thrift store/Ebay handheld scanners I have around the house. About half of them work, but getting the other ones to work is an intriguing rainy-day project idea.
This is an array of some of the old garage sale/thrift store/Ebay handheld scanners I have around the house. About half of them work, but getting the other ones to work is an intriguing rainy-day project idea.

In a household clean-out that seems never-ending, today I reached down under a 14-hole cubby cabinet in the sewing room to find a plastic cube bin that appeared to contain something technological. After carefully vacuuming the spiders and other sketchy-looking stuff from it, I started pulling things out. Included were…

  1. A Sony FM/casette Walkman
  2. A Coby MP3 player
  3. Three unused wired earbuds
  4. Two well-used wired earbuds with earhooks
This is the Sony cassette Walkman at pretty much the pinnacle of development. I think it's a very neat-looking piece of hardware.
This is the Sony cassette Walkman at pretty much the pinnacle of development. I think it’s a very neat-looking piece of hardware.

I don’t know anything about the cassette player, except that it’s nice-looking, like a stylish piece of tech from the 1990s near the peak of its evolution. But I do recall the Coby MP3 player, which Abby used for years at work, mostly to listen to audio books while she worked. Before that, she used various CD MP3 players, and after that, until she retired, she used her smartphones.

I turned on the Coby, and it seems to be working fine. It plugs directly into USB, so I put it in my laptop and saw it contained one of the books Abby was hearing right around the time she retired.

When you turn off the Coby MP3 player, it’s display says, “Bye Bye!!

This Coby MP3 player of maybe 2005 vintage still works just fine, and will hold 1GB of music. I also found its teensie plug-in boombox, which only needed a new AA battery.
This Coby MP3 player of maybe 2005 vintage still works just fine, and will hold 1GB of music. I also found its teensie plug-in boombox, which only needed a new AA battery.

Collecting and playing with aging technology is one of my interests, though I don’t exactly know why. It’s very fun for me, but to what end? Part of me thinks it has to do with the galling idea that capitalism/mercantilism is selling us the same thing over and over, with the entirely hollow and somewhat immoral idea of taking our money.

You own a VHS video cassette of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the DVD of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the Blu-Ray of Gone with the Wind. Then you own the rights to stream Gone with the Wind. You have basically bought the same product four times.

Another area of old tech I think is fun to collect is old police scanners, shortwave receivers, and amateur radio transceivers. Some of them work, and some of them don’t, and some of them are becoming less useful as communications becomes more integrated with digital communications and  the internet. But there are still some neat radios out there to collect, try to make work, and even use while I still can. And one of the best things about that is that they cost nothing: you can sometimes get this stuff for $5 at a yard sale.

In their heyday, these two scanners, the Radio Shack Pro-2004 (bottom) and the Radio Shack Pro-2006 (top) were the best you could buy, costing nearly $1000 new. I was able to fix the 2006, but the internet informs me that the 2004 is a hopeless case due to bad soldering during its production run. Too bad I wasted $15 on it on Ebay.
In their heyday, these two scanners, the Radio Shack Pro-2004 (bottom) and the Radio Shack Pro-2006 (top) were the best you could buy, costing nearly $1000 new. I was able to fix the 2006, but the internet informs me that the 2004 is a hopeless case due to bad soldering during its production run. Too bad I wasted $15 on it on Ebay.

Words of Wisdom, July 15, 2022

There is a scene towards the end of Richard Attenborough’s 1982 movie, Gandhi, where the late Om Puri, playing the role of a Hindu man whose son had been killed by Muslims, bursts onto a terrace where Gandhi, weakened by weeks of fasting, is lying on a bed.

The man throws a chapati at Gandhi and shouts, “Eat! I’m going to hell but not with your death on my soul.”

“Only God decides who goes to hell,” the Mahatma responds quietly.

“I killed a child. I smashed his head against a wall!” the man screams.

Gandhi winces and asks, “Why?”

The man’s eyes well up with tears, “They killed my son, my boy. The Muslims killed my son.”

“I know a way out of hell,” Gandhi whispers. “Find a child. A child whose mother and father have been killed. A little boy about this high; raise him as your own. Only be sure that is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.”

The Natural Order of Things

Stop for a minute and think this through.
Stop for a minute and think this through.

In a public setting recently, someone said they were, “a Christian first, a family man second, a countryman third, and a member of this group fourth.”

His assertion was intended to express his life’s priorities, and I understood his point, but I don’t agree that you have to put them in an inflexible order.

If I said I was a journalist first, what if I arrived on the scene of a tragedy I am covering for my newspaper, but was the first on the scene? This has, in fact, happened to me on more than one occasion, and in that situation, I was a humanitarian first and a journalist second.

On several other occasions, I had to set aside my newspaper duties to help my wife. In that instance, I was a husband first and a journalist second.

What I’m unpacking here is that while we can define ourselves as we want, it’s not always helpful to remain stubbornly, even anti-socially, locked into such a hierarchy.

And of course I could stomp all over this person’s assertion with, “I am an atheist first,” which in some instances is true, but in others it’s damaging to the greater good.

In group settings, I have always politely and respectfully bowed my head and waited for prayers or pledges or songs to end, and I was never threatened by their presence or what they advocated, even though it was advocacy of some things I consider untrue and sometimes ridiculous.

Maybe it’s tribalism. Maybe it’s fear of change. I hope that those who chose to remain rigid or closed-minded or afraid will one day see that the road to freedom isn’t paved with flags or salutes or doctrine, but with compassion.

Some sage advice: the way to truth is decidedly NOT to deny all other perspectives.
Some sage advice: the way to truth is decidedly NOT to deny all other perspectives.

The Cultural Poison of 1970s Television

There is a brilliant scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The character of Rob (who is also called Max) played by Tony Roberts, has invited Woody’s character Alvy Singer (who is also called Max) to sit in on a television post-production session of Rob’s show. Rob gives instructions to the technical director about where to add laughs and what kind of laughs to add…

“So Charlie, give me a good laugh here. A little bigger. Give me a tremendous laugh here. Now give me a medium size chuckle here, and then a big hand.”

We see Alvy begin to feel sick.

What did we learn as we grew up watching television in the 1970s?

  1. That it was okay to tell your wife to shut up, thanks to Archie Bunker constantly telling his wife to “stifle it.”
  2. That insults are the best way to deal with everything, as in “up your nose with a rubber hose” from Welcome Back Kotter, or Don Rickles calling everyone a “hockey puck.”
  3. Best put-down/comeback ever? “Heeeeey. Sit on it!”
  4. Who thought it was funny to call someone a “jive turkey”? It was something white people thought made them sound black, even though it didn’t.
  5. Three minutes into any “variety show” from the 1970s reveals not only laugh track, but applause track, and it’s very clear that those who created it weren’t trying very hard.
  6. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’s introduction is enough to make you want to drop your television down an elevator shaft.

Entertainment has an interesting, sometimes destructive role in Western culture.

Part of what poisoned the waters of television is the inherent opposition of its desire to be vulgar vs its inability to use coarse language.

Taken as the main source that raised me (my sister and I were latchkey kids), television sent me to school with the idea that I needed to be quippy and shallow, that if I was sarcastic enough, people, and especially girls, would like me, and, of course, it didn’t work. Since I have a nearly-eidetic memory, I still cringe when I think of all the stupid things that came out of my mouth as far back as seventh grade. I wish time would erase those words, and, thankfully, it will.

Then. Wow. Then I was surfing through Amazon Prime videos, looking for something to put me to sleep, when I saw The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. Hey, I laughed at this when I was 12, so why not… uh. Wait. The Bob Hope roast includes Flip Wilson, Jimmy Stewart, Howard Cosell, Jack Benny, General Omar Bradley, Phillis Dyller, Milton Berle, Neil Armstrong, Rich Little, Ginger Rogers, Billy Graham, Johnny Bench, Foster Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Nipsey Russell, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mark Spitz, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Henry Kissinger, John Wayne, and Don Rickles.

Ho. Ly. Sh!t.

Of all those names, only Rich Little and Johnny Bench are alive today.

The whole thing makes me want to vomit in terror.

The color looks wrong today because 1970s television had an entirely different idea of who we were.
The color looks wrong today because 1970s television had an entirely different idea of who we were.

Surgery Virgin

Trigger warning: stop now if pictures of stitches or scars bother you.

Updated June 28 to include a photo of the scar with the sutures removed.

I haven’t had any surgery of any kind since I was 17, when I had my upper third molars (“wisdom teeth,” whatever) removed. Before that you have to go back to 1968, when I had my tonsils out when I was just five.

Yesterday I had a teensy basil cell carcinoma on the left side of my neck excised. Basil cell is the most common cancer in the world, and one not likely to metastasize, but there was no real reason to ignore it, so I had it taken off.

I thought it was teensy, about the size of a dime, but of course, there are more cells than you can really see on the surface, so a skilled dermatologist will dig around and get it all, so I was a little taken aback when I removed the bandage this morning to see two inches of incision and 14 stitches, more than I’ve ever had anywhere (the previous record being five stitches in my chin after a bike crash when I was 11.)

By the time my wife was my age, she’d had many of the standard removables removed: hysterectomy, thyroidectomy, cholecystectomy, and full mouth dental extraction and dental implants. She still had her appendix, both lungs and kidneys, and her scruples. A friend of mine, Wayne, had a kidney and pancreas transplant this spring, so wow, I really am a surgery virgin, and would like to keep it that way.

It doesn’t really hurt, but it does itch a bit, and I wore a bandage on it at work to spare my coworkers and the public from thinking I was among the undead, and as a result of that bandage tugging at me oddly, I put tension into my shoulders and back, so that hurts a bit.

This is a very minor surgery, but it's new to me.
This is a very minor surgery, but it’s new to me.
This is the scar the day I had the sutures removed.
This is the scar the day I had the sutures removed.

Vacuuming a Vacuum

For some time now I have noted that my vacuum cleaner, a wedding gift from Dorothy in 2004, wasn’t picking up things like yarn bits and threads like it should. I don’t know how long this has been going on, but a while.

Yesterday when I spilled a huge amount of dirt and dust from an area rug on the bare kitchen floor, I decided it would be easier to vacuum it up than to sweep it. When I ran the vacuum over it, though, it didn’t really do the job, so I upended the thing to find the beater bar wasn’t spinning.

I disassembled it to find that the belt was broken, and as it happened, I had an extra belt hanging on the handle.

While I had it open, I noted that it was super-filthy inside, so I got a smaller vacuum and vacuumed out the vacuum.

When I put it back together today with the belt in place, it was like a brand new machine. I vacuumed the living room until the canister got full, about a quarter of the way across the room.

I find this episode personally embarrassing, since I should have realized long ago – although I don’t know how long ago – that the belt was broken.

In the end, though, I’m glad I got it fixed, because I am getting rid of a huge amount of household filth.

I hate to think how long this deep filth has been lingering beneath me, but I am glad to finally be getting rid of it.
I hate to think how long this deep filth has been lingering beneath me, but I am glad to finally be getting rid of it.

Self-Picking Plums

A bright red plum hangs on a branch of one of my two plum trees this evening.
A bright red plum hangs on a branch of one of my two plum trees this evening.

My plums have started to ripen. Hawken the Irish wolfhound started eating them off the ground last night, so this morning I told myself that I would pick plums this evening.

Minutes later, I heard a morning thunderstorm rolling in, and before it was finished, the ground around the trees was scattered with a couple of dozen ripe plums.

I cut them up and had them as my evening appetizer, and they were great.

Small, ripe plums sit on my cutting board tonight.
Small, ripe plums sit on my cutting board tonight.