Faltering on the 52-week challenge: Week 25

It all started out with good intentions back in January as I stumbled across the 52-week challenge for improving my photography. I knew it was going to be difficult, especially the portrait challenge, as that really is not my comfort area and, thus it was at week 19 (messy portrait) I faltered. In fact, I stumbled so badly as I struggled with this one that I ended up losing momentum and now I am six weeks behind! I can throw out excuses like work pressure, an extended business trip abroad and too much to do in the garden and the house but, to be honest, they’re hollow reasons. That portrait assignment simply knocked the enthusiasm out of me to complete the challenge.

Well, I’m back now! I have a lot of catching up to do and it will be a be a bit erratic but I am determined to set myself back on track. Weeks 19 to 25 may be out of sequence but I fully intend to get them completed.

So, I waited until sunset in Ocean City, New Jersey to get this one.

Week 25: Portrait: Silhouette – Expose for the background and let your subject fall into shadow. Shape is important this week.

160629_52WK25_Silhouette

~Richard

The Room in the Elephant

And now, for something completely different. You are probably aware of the old adageThe Elephant in the room to describe a big problem that everyone sees but no-one wants to address, but yesterday I had the opportunity to turn this phrase inside out.

Back in February, I wrote about Lucy the Elephant, at Margate, New Jersey. This week I finally got to meet the huge pachyderm, and she exceeded my expectations!

Lucy is in a wonderful looking condition, ready for her 125th birthday very soon. We climbed the spiral stairs through her left rear leg and entered what I can only describe as The Room in the Elephant. It is a large, splendidly wood-paneled, split-level room with a glass panel in the ceiling which is also the floor of the howdah, above.

Taking the small spiral staircase in her left side we ascended to the howdah on her back and partook of the views of the Jersey Shore from atop the behemoth beast.

In my opinion, this is the sort of place where serious debates should be held and important decisions made, in the style of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories!

160628_RoomInTheElephant.jpg

After all, the world is going mad!

~Richard

 

Democracy is voting FOR something

A lot can happen in a few days. The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom has shown us just how the real world and virtual world are connected and controlled. In a democratic referendum last Thursday 51.9 % of those who voted (17.41M people) voted to leave the European Union, against 48.1 % (16.14M) who wanted to remain.

The fallout was almost immediate.

As the Pound Sterling fell to it’s lowest rate in 30 years, there were mass protests from both sides, and cries of “foul play” not only from those on the losing side, but strangely, also from many who voted to leave but on waking to the result, think they were cheated somehow. Many have said that they would have voted differently and they only wanted to register “a protest vote.” Others have claimed they were misled, didn’t understand the full implications, or thought their vote “wouldn’t count.” Well, here’s some sobering news – your votes do count!

Still, at least those complaining did actually vote. At 72%, voter turnout was very high by modern standards, but it still means that more than 1 in 4 voters couldn’t be bothered. That’s 13.04 million wasted opportunities for a voice in the shaping their own future! 

The glory days of Britain may have waned but this small island has given one last lesson to all who live in a hard-won democracy – USE YOUR VOTE and vote wisely. Most importantly, vote on something you believe in, not against something as a rhetoric-fueled protest.

Consider this wisely as we live in dangerous times.

~Richard

Democracy inaction

 

Prompted by this article in the Evening Standard

160625_DemocraticInaction

One:

I didn’t think my vote would count

He mumbled the day afterwards

All I wanted was to make a point

And give Cameron a bloody nose

Now I look at the map

And see four countries where there was one

I don’t know what’s going to happen

I wish we could have a second chance

Two:

I didn’t think my vote would count

He mumbled the day afterwards

I thought it was in the bag

So I went to the pub instead

Now I look at the map

And see four countries where there was one

I don’t know what’s going to happen

I wish we could have a second chance

 
~Richard

Thoughts on Brexit

The Brits have spoken. In a closely run race, fueled by a combination of vitriolic rhetoric, hate-speech, fear-mongering and lies by both sides it appears that the population voted with their gut feelings, as that was all they could trust. Just over half the country will be rejoicing and just under half despairing. It would have been the same whatever the outcome.

This is democracy in action.

The stock markets, who thrive on uncertainty and fear, have plummeted as a knee jerk reaction, even though nothing actually changed overnight. Many people will have lost money and a small, but significant, few will have made a fortune in just a few minutes.

This is capitalism in action.

160624_BrexitThem
All of us always have someone to blame …

Britain, Europe and many other countries now face a period of navel-gazing, hand-wringing and reassessing their world view. What will be the final impact of this move? To be fair, the only thing for sure is we don’t know. This is uncharted territory as no-one has left an integrated community in this way.

The EU is (still) much more than a simple trading bloc; it is a mechanism of maintaining some sort of cohesion across a continent that has been war-torn for centuries. What will be the knock-on effect of Brexit – who can tell? Will others use the example of Brexit to foment grassroots anger and leave also? If nothing else the Eurocrats should, at the very least, take a moment to look at the way the EU machinery works – the unelected officials, bureaucracy and corruption. It’s time to ‘fess up guys and girls, realize you’ve been caught and do some house cleaning. Even a remain vote should have prompted this.

The idea of a united Europe is a noble one, but where did it all go wrong? Self-serving, greedy, narcissistic behavior from within – that’s where.

How sweetly ironic that similar characteristics were exhibited on Thursday by millions of voters on that small island off the west of the European mainland.
~Richard

Hershey – a paradox

I stayed in Hershey, Pa over the weekend as my daughter and her friends were attending a concert at the Hershey Stadium. The town of Hershey is a thriving place, designed and built in the early 20th century by the great Milton S. Hershey, the most famous chocolate maker in the US and probably one of the most famous chocolate makers in the world.

Mr. Hershey’s story is fascinating – a poorly educated, failed confectioner with a devoutly religious mother and a father who was, to say the least, a bit of a reprobate, and who after years of hard work develops  a successful caramel (Lancaster caramels) that sells internationally and makes him very wealthy. This would have been a good enough “rags to riches” story but Milton decided that caramels were not the future so sold his business in 1900 for the astonishingly huge sum of one million dollars and then sank all his money into developing his new passion, chocolate.

For this he bought the latest technology, employed modern production methods and developed a new process for making chocolate using lots and lots of locally sourced milk. For this reason he sited his new town in the heart of Pennsylvania dairy country. The new town’s name was chosen by vote to be Hershey, as a tribute to the man and he employed thousands of people in his hugely successful business.

He also suffered tragedy though as his young wife, Kitty,  became ill and died in her early 40s devastating him. As he and Kitty had no children Milton established an orphanage school to provide free education to thousands of children over the years and which, today, provides the same service for students of humble background.

Milton S Hershey was a true philanthropist, of the ilk that we do not see so often in modern times, and his various companies, institutions and organizations carry on his legacy to this day.

160622_Hershey
So, where’s the paradox, you may be asking?

Well, as someone brought up in the UK, I have to admit I simply cannot stand the taste of his chocolate. Even the smell of it is quite nauseating. I have tried many times over the decade that I lived in the US to get used to it but I simply cannot. To me it smells and tastes like paraffin wax (kerosene).

There’s my paradox – I admire what Milton S. Hershey achieved, his philanthropy and general attitude, and the fact that he made his fortune on a product that is of actual food value (unlike Coca Cola, for example), but I simply detest his product. There, I’ve said it!

~Richard

Strawberry Solstice

I always thought, misguidedly it would appear, that Midsummer’s day was on the 21st June. However, I now stand fully informed by the interweb that it can fall on 20th,21st or 22nd June. As a consequence of my misunderstanding I missed my posting for the Summer Solstice, since I was away on a family trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania.

However, coincidence being what they are, on my return yesterday evening I thought I would potter about the vegetable garden and do some watering and weeding. (Bear with me.)

We have recently moved our strawberry bed (for the second time) and it has been spectacularly unsuccessful over the last two seasons. Therefore, I was more than happy to see half a dozen or so bright red strawberries beaming up at me in their freshly watered, and recently bird-proofed, bed.

I duly picked these for my beloved to have, as these were the first of the season and always remind me of our June wedding day xx years ago, when we also had the first strawberries of the year (back in the days when fruit was seasonal). After drifting into the house to browse the web, I found that Monday was not only the Summer Solstice, but also the rare incidence of a “Strawberry Moon”, which occurs roughly every 50 years or so.  

Now, I have never heard of a Strawberry Moon, but apparently it was so-called by the Algonquin tribes of North America who believed that a full moon in June signaled the start of the strawberry season.

160621_StrawberrySolstice

What an odd coincidence…

Happy Midsummer’s Day to all!

 

~Richard

 

Arjuna’s Penance – Mahabalipuram

Approximately 60km south of the large city of Chennai (Madras) in Tamil Nadu, is the historic town of Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). This was a bustling seaport since the first century and is best known now for the wonderful carved monuments from the 7th century which have earned the area the classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the most spectacular carvings is the huge relief known as both Arjuna’s Penance and Descent of the Ganges. Carved over two rocks and occupying an area of 30m length by 15m high, this is a wonderful depiction of the journey of Arjuna in order to obtain Shiva’s weapon (Pasupata) and so allow him to challenge the gods. The detail on the 1400 year old figures is exquisite with many animals and figures, both human and godly, large and small. There is even humor in the carving, with a cat depicted as mimicking Arjuna’s one-legged fasting penance to a crowd of watching mice (look just in front of the elephant).

160620_ArjunasPenance

Between the two rocks is a cleft filled with snake spirits (Nagas) and down which water was poured to represent the Ganges’ descent from the heavens. This is the second tale that is said to be depicted by this carving.

Whichever story you like, the rock is an amazing and enduring architectural testament to an ancient people. I wonder what will remain of our 21st century artifacts for our descendants to regard with similar awe in the 35th century?

~Richard

 

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