Sunday, July 31, 2011


              The ingredients for our third batch of salsa this summer, and by far the hottest of the three we've put up.  Those habaneros are SERIOUS HEAT! 

              But a bowl of this tomato inferno on a cold winter day later this year will make that cold bottle of beer even more enjoyable... and tossing a pint into a batch of homemade chili is another way to remind us that all of our work in the spring and summer was worth the sweat.


               From this morning's comics page, Scott Adam's Dilbert nails another one...

AN AFTERNOON ODE TO FACEBOOK (and other social diseases)...


Graphic courtesy of Think Progress   

This is from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office:
         Not that it matters, (and not that anyone reading this will have an opinion changed by pesky ol' facts) but Saint Ronnie Reagan (the patron saint of teabaggers and nostalgic geriatrics everywhere) raised the debt ceiling by a whopping 199.5% during his eight year term in office.  Try to remember that there were no major wars or devastating recessions taking place to drain the treasury's coffers during that time period, then contrast that number with the current situation.
         George W. Bush raised the debt ceiling  90.2%, his daddy raised it 48%, Bill Clinton raised the debt limit 43.6%, and even if Congress agrees to pass Barack Obama's proposed increase, his percentage of debt growth during his first three years in office would only be 47.5%, less than half of Reagan's first term in office.
          When you hear these fiscal conservatives railing about the debt, try to remember that most of them were quietly agreeing to previous debt increase proposals.  It all comes down to political gamesmanship and the damage they think they can inflict upon a guy they desperately want to replace in the Oval Office.
           And their hypocrisy should sicken anyone who can read a fucking graph.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


            A year or two ago I divorced Facebook because I found it to be a banal timesuck of epic proportions.  The idiots who would gather there would post the most inane, inconsequential shit about their daily lives, as if we were all breathlessly awaiting word on how their hair appointment had gone, or whether or not that person's cat had had a successful visit to the vet.
            The political trolls who often plague this site and others seem to live, gather, and breed on Facebook, making any progressive or liberal-ish post the target of a tag-teaming pack of baying hounds, akin to villagers carrying pitchforks and torches to the gates of the offending heretic's castle.
            I often found myself in endless "debates" with mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging troglodytes whose political philosophy could best be described by the old rightie adage, "Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Bootstraps!"   And that's a fine old adage to chant, especially for the other Bootstrappers who were born to privilege and a nice pair of boots.  Not so comforting to someone starving in a third world pisshole or born to a crackhead mom in Watts.
            Well, for whatever reason, I relented and rejoined Facebook about six or seven months ago after spending a year away.  The same trolls are still spawning there, and the same banal posts extolling the virtues of materialism are everywhere to be found... and again, I'm finding myself spending more and more time arguing with folks who have crawled out of the shallow end of the gene pool in search of liberals to irritate.
            And I'm about over it.  Again.

            To tell you the truth, I rejoined Facebook because I wanted to promote this blog and my nature photography bidness.  Shameless self-promotion is all the rage on Facebook, so why not join the capitalists and try to make it pay?  Only problem is, it generates no bidness, only headaches.
             Half the people there seem to have a fetish for all things Ronald Reagan, when they're not going steady with Jesus.  They see any and every government program as a threat to their god-given right to be free (whatever that means) and blast away at anyone who dares criticize the policies of our nation or its people. 

             So I'm working on a Bootstrapper's Manifesto.  I call the "Pull Yourself Up By Your Own Bootstraps" people "Bootstrappers", and unfortunately it's also on the internets as an exercise program, a business model, and several other non-political entities.  But for the purposes of this post, "Bootstrappers" refer to those God Bless America, Love it or Leave it types who become offended whenever anyone criticizes the United States.

                                 THE BOOTSTRAPPERS' MANIFESTO

        Above all else, thou shalt never criticize the United States of America, nor shall ye tolerate the criticisms of others directed toward this nation, because God Himself has blessed our union of states with a holy mission to be the beacon unto a darkened world.
        Whenever possible wave Old Glory.  The only good excuse for not waving our nation's flag is because your hands are full of crosses or crucifixes.  Or because you're carrying bundles of hard-earned cash, gathered by the sweat of your brow or the brow's of others in your employ.
        Above all else, remember that this is your planet, by God, and you'll shit where you damn well please.
         Seek out those who might speak ill of your beloved nation with a laser-like focus, and remind them that they can either love America with the fervor of John Wayne narrating the Pledge of Allegiance to the soundtrack of America the Beautiful, or leave on the next liberal flotilla from the left coast.
          Find fault with the socialist policies of all other nations, disregarding pesky ol' facts, for they are the devil's handiwork and are meant to deceive you.  If a policy is designed to help someone who hasn't Pulled Himself Up By His Own Bootstraps, that policy is an affront to God and an insult to our Founding Father Figures.
          Insist that war is a Godly manifestation of America's destiny, and encourage conflicts in the name of capitalism and patriotic nationalism.  Remember that "Peace" is a four letter word, unless followed by the words "With Honor", in which case it's a five letter word employed by our beloved Richard Nixon.
           At all times be overtly patriotic, and give no quarter to those who fail to display adequate levels of patriotic zeal in public.
           Find others of your flock, band with them, and forever remind one another that yours is a chosen path not easily followed, and despite your majority status you are an oppressed and persecuted people.  Become highly offended at any suggestion of facts to the contrary.
           And finally, remember that it is only the winners in life who are remembered.  Those who are grist beneath the wheels of progress had a chance to climb aboard the Lord's American Chariot, but chose the heretic's fate.  Mourn not for them, for they know not what we do.

            Feel free to add your own amendments.  I'm sure I've left out quite a bit of the story...


Friday, July 29, 2011


               Narrated by Cornelius Bent

         You might find yourself nodding along to this one.  I did.



             According to a story on Boing Boing, the House Judiciary Committee voted 19-10 to move a bill out of committee that would require internet ISPs to retain all keystroke and browser visits users make on their computers for a period of one year.
             The stated reasoning behind such intrusive spying on the American public is, of course, what it always comes down to: national security.  Law enforcement needs to know what you're looking at, what you're reading, what you're writing, and exactly where your curiosity takes you when you surf the glorious world wide web.  Having this data retention law is a biggie to the folks who like to snoop around without warrants.
             But no one anywhere thinks the government will restrict its inquiries to any one area of potential evil-doing.  What might seem innocent enough to you might interest an agency concerning itself with, say, child pornography, or music/movie bootlegging, or homeland security, or tax evasion.  The old mantra from the right will be what it always is:  "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."
              I guess we should rest a little easier knowing H.R. 1981 (misnamed, it should have been called House Resolution 1984 in honor of Orwell's Big Brother) has only moved out of committee and still faces a vote by the entire House of Reprehensibles... the same group that can't figure out how best to fuck over the entire world's economy by letting America go into financial default.
              But still, it's troubling that such a thing could survive and find its way out of committee.
              Apparently, 19 members of the House find nothing ominous about a law that would require our internet providers to record EVERY ASPECT OF OUR ON-LINE ACTIVITIES, all in the name of security.

            The horrible Patriot Act that passed in the smoldering aftermath of 9/11 gave the government unbridled powers to snoop into our daily lives.  Our library records, or store purchases, our credit card information, and dozens of other seemingly random bits of our financial and entertainment histories are fair game for Uncle Sam, already.  The cell phone umbilical cords we're all so happily tethered to record our whereabouts, and the companies that provide those services are required to record your call records for billing purposes.  Your grocery store probably offers you a discount if you sign up for one of their store cards, which links your purchases to your debit/credit/checking information, providing a comprehensive history of your food and beverage tastes.  Your bank follows every ATM or credit card purchase, your newer model car probably contains some version of a "black box" that records location and speed information, and it's a rare day when you aren't recorded on video surveillance cameras at every intersection or checkout line.
          In short, we've allowed ourselves to become a nation of ants under the magnifying glass of a higher authority, willingly acquiescing our freedom from unwarranted searches at every turn in our daily lives.
          If (or more likely "when") this bill becomes law, essays like this one might someday raise an eyebrow in a lonely little government office somewhere, and perhaps a file in my name might get yet another entry.
          We shrug and watch this happen at our own peril.


      Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press


          I have long contended that the most dangerous individuals you'll ever encounter wearing badges aren't authorized law enforcement officers of the local or state police, but the security guards employed by private firms to protect their property.  Here's a cautionary tale for anyone who doubts that premise...
          A newlywed couple in Adamsville, Alabama, had some trouble with the self-serve scanner at the Adamsville Walmart on July 1st, so they asked for help from a Walmart employee.  They repeatedly tried to scan a $2.90 package of chicken necks (gag me with a spoon!) before the employee was finally able to get the scanner to read and register the item.  They paid for their purchase, but were stopped by the store's security guard as they attempted to leave.  He insisted they had stolen the chicken necks, despite being shown the receipt that proved they had indeed purchased the meat.  According to the story from The Courthouse News Service, the security guard became agitated and loud, demanded to see their identification, and questioned their residency status.  The store's assistant manager was called to the scene.  (Anyone doubt that their skin color led to this incident?  Do we really need to see photos of the couple or the guard in question?)
          The assistant manager verified for the security guard that the couple had indeed paid for the chicken necks, and even reviewed video footage of the transaction to make sure they had done nothing wrong.  He informed the guard that all was well, but the security guard (obviously one or two bullets short of a Barney Fife-like neurosis) called the police and had the couple falsely arrested for shoplifting.  He then called another Walmart where Mary Hill Bonin, the woman who had bought the chicken, was employed, notifying them that she was being arrested for "Theft of Property in the Third Degree."  She was subsequently fired.
           Her new husband repeatedly offered to pay for the chicken necks again, just to end the drama.  But Barney Fife was fired up, insisted they were going to jail.  Because the husband hadn't received his green card residency status update following their recent marriage, he was promptly deported.  The couple then lost their home and all of their possessions, as well as the woman's car.
            She's suing them in Jefferson County Court for damages.  Among her complaints?  Walmart has refused to even refund her $2.90 for the chicken necks...

           If you understand that some people go into law enforcement for all of the wrong reasons (a power complex, the need to "be in charge", lawful excuse to carry weapons and boss folks around, etc.) and further realize that not all applicants for local police departments pass the mental or physical exams necessary to become policemen, you have to consider the options for those who don't pass muster for their dream jobs as cops:  they turn to the military, or they apply as security guards for private firms.  The wannabe cop who washes out at the academy or fails the psych exam is more likely to be standing at the door of a local market wearing a badge and carrying a gun than operating a backhoe or bagging groceries for a living... and that frustrated individual will, in many cases, be one cup of coffee away from a meltdown.
           I hope this woman wins her day in court, and hope she owns that Walmart one of these days.  And Barney Fife at the door can put his bullet away...  She should "nip it in the bud" and fire his ass, if the store hasn't already done so.


        I've heard of a "circle jerk" but never seen a photo of one in progress...

         Okay, so it wasn't really a circle jerk.  According to the story in Think Progress, about a dozen clergy members were arrested after they failed to stop a public prayer urging "an equitable resolution to the debt ceiling debate."
         Actually, all snarky comments aside, this is the kind of thing that the leaders of organized religions should avoid at all costs.  As much as I admire their intent  (to get members of Congress to work for fair treatment of the least among us) it's never a good idea for folks to bring their religious concerns to the public square in an effort to sway political opinions.  If these ministers were there to promote the interests of the Koch brothers or the Tea Party, I'd have a problem with their prayer meeting in the Capitol rotunda.
           The fact that I agree with their stand on this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with my belief that their actions were inappropriate.  We can't pick and choose which prayer groups we allow in the political arena based upon the message of that particular prayer.  If it's illegal for one group, it's illegal for them all.
           But it does look like a circle jerk, doesn't it?


             In an effort to rally support for Speaker of the House John Boehner's "Dead on Arrival" debt ceiling bill, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy broke out the old coach's ploy of having the "team" watch an inspirational film clip before the "big game."
             McCarthy's film clip of choice?  The scene from "The Town" in which Ben Affleck's character urges a fellow hood to help him "hurt some people."  The Daily Show's Jon Stewart wonders if anyone in the room had actually seen the entire film, shows the clip, and then adds "the worst DVD add-on in movie history" by showing the Chuck Shumer response.
             It must be fun to be a comedy writer these days.  When lunatics are running Congress and the people they answer to are more interested in the upcoming NFL season than the demise of their own financial house of cards, it's not really work to come up with something humorous to say at night.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


    The average red, white, and blue blooded daddy...

            There aren't many shrinking violets in the new freshman class of the redder-than-red House of Reprehensibles, and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) certainly isn't one.  He's on television more often than a meteorologist in tornado season, grandstands in the House well whenever the cameras are rolling, and puts out ultra-inflammatory youtube videos in which he calls the President of the United States a liar.  No wallflower, he.
            At every turn, Rep. Walsh screams for the public to "pay attention to me!"  He rants about the fiscal irresponsibility of Congress, and blames the president for the massive debt incurred over the past fifty years by members of both parties.  In short, Joe Walsh is a button-polishing prick, determined to have the white-hot glare of the spotlight trained upon his antics whenever possible.
            Well, okay... let's take a look.  Seems that Rep. Walsh has a bit of a problem.  His ex-wife has sued his ass for over $100,000 in back due child support payments.  According to multiple stories, Walsh has had a lot of financial troubles in his life, and while he might like to lecture the President on fiscal responsibility, he's shown little of it in his private life.
              Because he was unable to hold steady employment for many years during his court fights with his ex-wife, Walsh told her he was unable to pay his child support bills.  So it came as a surprise to her and their three children when Walsh somehow managed to come up with $35,000 of his own money to loan to his House campaign.  It also surprised her when he was able to take his new girlfriend on lavish trips to foreign resorts.
              Here's a Chicago Sun-Times headline, taken from a Washington Post article by Jonathan Capehart:
              One of my friends is recently divorced.  His ex-wife receives over $2,200 per month is alimony and child support for their three children.  My friend works all the overtime he can get in order to pay his child support, and in additon to the amount he's required to pay, steps up whenever his ex calls with tales of woe like car troubles, or needing a new hot water heater for the house, etc.  He does what responsible people do:  he pays his bills, meets his obligations, and spares everyone the empty wallet routine.
               This teabagging Representative from Illinois was quoted as having said this about the current debt crisis:  “I won’t place one more dollar of debt upon the backs of my kids and grandkids unless we structurally reform the way this town spends money!”

                It looks like he won't add a dollar to their college funds, either.
               What a mother fucking douche bag...
                Here's his youtube vid in which he calls our president a liar:

                By the way, if you have anything you'd like to pass along to this stalwart member of the House of Representatives, here's his office number in D.C.:  202-225-3711   Feel free to let him know what you think of him, 'cause he loves hearing from the American people!



            Pointing out the hypocrisy of Faux News' reporting on the religious backgrounds of various terror suspects is easy work, but Jon Stewart and the Daily Show have a way of making it oh-so-much fun to watch!
            A self-proclaimed Christian fundamentalist who slaughters is simply a deranged madman.  A self-proclaimed Muslim fundamentalist who slaughters is a Muslim fanatic, just doing what they do.  See how this works?
            They've taken the actions of a lunatic who was railing against the multiculturalist acceptance of Muslims in a Christian society and turned it (as they always do) into yet another attack of Christians and Christianity.


Got this story from Think Progress                           

            Several years ago a group of "concerned parents" in the middle Tennessee area were determined to see to it that their children's delicate sensibilities weren't harmed by the foul language and confusing messages conveyed in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s anti-war novel "Slaughterhouse-Five".   A lot of well-meaning book burners wrote impassioned letters to the editor in favor of banning the novel from area schools.  (I wrote a letter trying to explain why the book was important and socially redeeming.  Someone at the Nashville Tennessean thought enough of my letter to award it one of their "Three Star" awards, which entitled me to an invitation to their annual Letters to the Editor banquet.  Like the other three times I'd been invited, I passed on the chicken and potato salad.)  Eventually, the trolls gave up and as far as I know, Vonnegut's classic is still part of local high school curricula in middle Tennessee.

            But about a year ago a complaint was filed with the school board in Republic, Missouri, by a man named Wesley Scroggins, who claimed that "Slaughterhouse-Five" and two other novels should be pulled from curriculum and libraries because they "teach principles contrary to the Bible."  The school board in Republic agreed, voting 4-0 to pull Vonnegut's book and one of the others ("Twenty Boy Summer" by Sarah Ockler... "Speak", a novel by Laurie Halse Anderson was spared).
             School superintendent Vern Minor explained the school board's reasoning for banning "Slaughterhouse-Five" thusly: "The language is just really, really intense."  (No fucking shit, dickhead.  It's a novel about American and British prisoners of war behind enemy lines in Dresden, Germany, when it was fire-bombed by allied warplanes.  Vonnegut lived through that hell himself, and based the novel on his experiences.  Intense language is probably a part of wars, and because of that, it's part of war novels...)

             The U.S. Supreme Court once ruled on a case (1982's Island Tree School District v Pico ) involving the banning of books, including Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" and ruled that "Local school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."
              Apparently, not being godlike enough to pass the Bible Thumper litmus test in Republic, Missouri, is grounds for pulling a book off the shelves after all.

            The phrase "they teach principles contrary to the Bible" ought to be all anyone needs to know about the man who filed this complaint and the school board that voted in his favor to remove Vonnegut's book from Republic's schools.  Personally, I'd be hard pressed to name a book with less socially redeeming value than Mr. Scroggins' holy tome, and it's about time people in this fucking country stood up for some of the rights they claim to love and defend.
            I'm too mad to even write about this right now, but suffice to say "Slaughterhouse-Five" is  my favorite novel, and the movie made from that book is my all time favorite film. If you haven't seen George Roy Hill's movie version of the book, get thee to a Netflix and find a copy, if for nothing more than the brilliant cinematography and soundtrack of J.S. Bach by Glenn Gould.
            And Mr. Scroggins and Superintendent Minor and you four assholes on the Republic, Missouri school board?   Fuck you.  Fuck you very much.



        The acoustic version of this song Townshend did at The Policeman's Ball was much better, but at least the vid and audio quality are good for this cut.


              I don't know what you thought you'd find under this post's title, but hey, we try to keep it clean here at Chateau Squatlo!
              The afternoon light plays tricks on the ruby throated hummingbirds' feathers, sometimes making them almost iridescent.  No color was added to any of these shots.  What you see is what I shot.
              It's like valium for me to sit out and take these photos... can't believe people pay me to do this!  Wait, no one does...  Shit!  What a waste of time...

              Give me a badminton racket, I'm gonna swat a few of these buzzing bastards...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011


        That's a bus tire.  John Boehner, the doomed Speaker of the House, is destined to meet one of these in very near future.  Bank on it. 

        A couple of days ago Agent Orange floated his own proposal to solve the debt ceiling crisis in Washington, and when the smoke cleared all that was left of Boehner's ass was last seen scurrying away to rewrite his own plan.  His own troops were tossing rotten veggies at him as he ran for cover.
       When Boehner was elected to the Speaker's chair he sobbed a lot of tears, told his story of humble beginnings, and quivered a lot for the cameras.  He's cried at every opportunity ever since, and no doubt if we could see him at this very moment he would be found awash in salty tears, guzzling single malt Scotch, and chain smoking his ass off.  Speaker Boehner has finally come to realize that the teabagger base of the Republican Party is marching toward his house with pitchforks and torches, and there's nowhere for him to turn.
        He can't agree to raise the debt ceiling without losing his Speaker's position to Eric Cantor.  He can't agree to any kind of tax increase, though it's painfully obvious to anyone not looking directly at their own colon that that is exactly what MUST happen to make this crisis go away.  And he can't survive a government default, because it will be blamed squarely on his leadership, or lack thereof.
        John Boehner is about to taste the underside of the Republican Tea Party bus, and he'll be lucky to even survive his next election cycle before it's over.
         That's the funny thing about leading an angry mob.  Once the rabble has been roused, there's no telling where their wrath will lead.  Sometimes they burn one another at the stake, just to justify all the work involved in gathering wood for the bonfire. 

         I don't know if we'll face a government shutdown, don't know if we'll default on our nation's debts, and don't know what any of this means for the second term aspirations of Barack Obama.  But one thing I can tell you without a moment's hesitation:  John Boehner is toast as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
         And right now I'm not so sure he even wants the job.

THE MYTH OF THE BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT (and why it's a terrible idea)

      Illustration by Harry Campbell for Time Magazine

              I'm the last guy who should attempt to give financial or economic advice to anyone... a quick glance at my bank accounts over the past few years would make that quite evident.  For the longest time I thought NSF (non sufficient funds) stood for Not So Fun.  It always cost me money I didn't have when the bank had to send me those notices...
              But there's an article in this week's Time Magazine by Rana Foroohar ("Balanced-Budget Blues") worth reading.  I'm including the link to the article, but don't know if non-subscribers can access the page. 
              The gist of Foroohar's article is that the current popularity of the concept of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would be disastrous for America, and she explains why in very concise, clear language.
              She argues that comparing the nation's budget process to a family's budget is a false comparison, and here's why:  if a family is spending way more than it is bringing in, it obviously has to cut spending drastically to balance the books.  But if a nation is spending more than it's bringing in, spending cuts only worsen the economic mess that is causing the shortfall.
              Consider this: if everyone decided the best way to get their financial house in order was to spend as little as possible, the American economy would quickly tank.  If no one is spending money at local businesses, jobs are lost, incomes are cut, and businesses soon close.  Currently about  60% of American economic activity comes directly from the process of consumption.  If consumers don't buy, the economy nosedives.
              When the recession hit prior to the beginning of the Obama Administration, the government had a choice to make.  It could either let the free markets weed out the unprofitable businesses, watch as the housing market took down the rest of the financial house of cards, OR jump-start the economic recovery with a massive infusion of government spending.  Most analysts agree that had Obama not pressed forward with the bailouts and stimulus funding our economy would be in much worse shape than it is today.
              But consider what would have happened had we been operating under a Balanced Budget Amendment.  The government would have had to make at least $400 billion in spending cuts.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that would have resulted in 5 million lost jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to over 10%.  Those unemployed would have begun to draw unemployment benefits instead of paying payroll taxes to the government.  The only other option for balancing the government's budget would have been to drastically raise taxes across the board.  Not a happy picture.
            Foroohar's article concludes that Keynesian Theory has to be employed.  The only way to fix America's economic engine is to spend, not cut spending.  Jobs drive economic recovery, while draconian cuts to government spending always increase unemployment.
            In short, we can't treat the federal government's budget woes the same way we would treat our family's budget shortfalls.  States that have adopted balanced budget legislation are often reaching out to Washington to help make up for their shortfalls in revenue, and if the federal government can't offer anything other than a shrug of the shoulders in response, the economic woes are exacerbated at both the state and national levels.
            Watching as the Congress tosses around ideas such as a Balanced Budget Amendment in response to the current debt ceiling debate is like drilling holes in the hull of an already sinking ship.  We need to remember that an economic engine like the federal government can spur recovery only when it creates jobs, provides incentives for employers, and thusly increases revenues. 


           The guy singing the tight high harmonies for America, Dan Peek, has passed away at age 60 of unknown causes.
           Their music was commercial, pop, and hasn't aged as well as a lot of what we listened to in the day, but there's an acoustic ring to it that I still love.


           My buddy Sherry over at Raindrops Make Things Beautiful 2 has just posted a Squatlo-worthy rant on her site concerning America the Stupid, and it's like a shotgun blast of incriminating evidence in the face of apathetic teabaggers across the country.
           and let her know what you think.

           This is one of the best recaps of the current political constipation I've read in a long time!

SQUATLO BREAKS A VOW AND SHOOTS A WEDDING (in a Babtist Church and everything...)

           When I retired from my job as a tire building drone in the factory, I made up my mind that I would never again do any work that I didn't really want to do.  Seemed like a fair conclusion at which to arrive after thirty-five years of relentless, mind-numbing tedium on the factory floor.  If they were going to pay me not to come back, I was damn sure not going to sign up for some other shitty line of work to substitute for my last career.
            So I put my efforts into my photography bidness.  I would cover youth athletics, parties, fun events, and every now and then mess with portraits and family pix for those who were willing to pay me for my time.  I would continue to stalk birds and critters in the woods, in the futile hope that someone, somewhere would appreciate nature photography enough to cough up some bucks for original art for their closet walls...  (still waiting on that customer to find me, so if you know anyone looking for great bird photography, send them to and tell them to find the nature/birds/wildlife/landscapes galleries... your check will be in the mail as soon as I get one)
             The one thing I swore I would never do as a professional photographer is shoot weddings.  I've got an intense hatred of suits and ties, for one thing.  Don't even own a suit, to tell you the truth.  My theory is, if I need a suit, I don't want to do it.  Whatever the fuck it is, I'm not interested.  If I have to wear a suit and tie to go somewhere, I don't want to go there.  It's a simple thing, really.  My next "thing" is that I don't "church".  Ever.  Churches don't make me feel all warm and fuzzy, the way some people respond to them.  Or the way I assume they respond to them, since they spend so much of their time and meager resources churching.
             When I think of myself entering a church, I picture the scene in the movie The Omen in which little Damien pitches a shit fit in the back seat of Gregory Peck's limo because they're about to drag his little ass into a Catholic Church.  I halfway expect my head to revolve around like Linda Blair's in that scene from The Exocist.
             So for about two years now I've answered every wedding photographer request with a heartfelt "Oh, fuck no!" response.  Well, not exactly THAT blunt, but I don't mince words when asked to shoot weddings.
            "I don't do weddings, sorry..." is my usual response.  'Cause I don't. 
            Or at least I didn't.

            I'm not sure how Julier talked me into covering her wedding last Friday at one of the largest Babtist Churches in the state of Tennessee.  I think it had a lot to do with the way she laughed on the phone when I told her I had no desire to meet Bridezilla or her mom in a church.  She laughed again when I told her I refused to put on a suit for any damn body, and laughed even harder when I said I would rather eat horse turds than deal with the responsibility for someone's wedding pictures.
            I love a woman with a sense of humor, and I guess this proves I'm a sucker for a woman with a down-home laugh.  She explained that there would only be eight people in the entire crowd.  Only eight.  It was so small they weren't even doing the ceremony in the sanctuary of a church, but in the pastor's study, instead.  It would be done in an office, basically, take about ten minutes.  It was happening at 11AM on a Friday, so if I agreed to do it I could be done and home in time for lunch.  And she kept laughing...  She even told me she and her fiance didn't care WHAT I wore, as long as I took good pictures.
            Well, the ceremony wasn't done in the pastor's study, after all.  When we got there we were informed that the sanctuary would indeed be used, but I was relieved to find that the number of folks in attendance was accurate.  There were only eight people there, not counting myself and my lovely (and dangerous) wife.
            My wife thinks I've been an idiot for not taking wedding cash.  After all, it's where photogs make the big bucks, even in an economy in which NO ONE spends disposable income on photos.  But I was serious about never shooting weddings.  Repeated that vow a lot.  Meant it, too.  I guess a good woman's laugh and our dwindling savings account balance convinced me to give it a shot.
             To help get a few shots that didn't look like posed wedding photos, we borrowed their rings to place on an open Bible for a closeup.  Before the ceremony I found the 23rd Psalm, remembered the page it was on, and after the ceremony took their rings to a tilted music stand for the Bible shot.  As my wife carried the Bible over to me, I reminded her that the verse was on page 474.
             Julier seemed oh-so-impressed. 
            "You even know what page it's on?" she asked.
            That's when my bullshit dispenser kicked in, and I said, "Well, when you're a Bible scholar like myself, you commit such things to memory."
             To which she replied, "Really?"
             And at that point I had to laugh and tell her the truth.
             "Actually, Julier, I was just happy to see I could get inside this church without being struck by lightning."
             She kept laughing all the way to the parking lot.

            My wife and I took a spare change of clothes, which we put on in the church's bathroom, and then went into downtown Nashville to drink beer and play shuffleboard on Buffalo Billiard's fine wooden table, in the back room overlooking the Cumberland River across from the Titan's stadium.  We ate a great meal at one of our favorite restaurants, had a few more drinks, and then cruised on home to process some wedding photos.
             Now when someone asks if I'll shoot their wedding, instead of saying "I don't do weddings." I'll have to say, "I do weddings, I just won't do yours."
             Unless she's got a great laugh.  And I don't have to put on a suit and tie. 

             Cheers, y'all!


           This is one of those stories that makes you wonder if perhaps we're not being given all of the facts... Because if what we're told is true, then we're a lot more fucked up in certain parts of this country than we care to believe.
           McGehee Secondary School, just southeast of Little Rock, Arkansas, has a very simple policy concerning the declaration of its annual valedictorian:  the kid with the highest grade point average over the past four years at the school is the winner.  Apparently, there's one little caveat, though... New rules apply if the student with the highest GPA happens to be black.
            Kymberly Wimberly (and there's a name that ought to get a parent slapped shitless...) made only one B in her four year career at McGehee, and took advanced placement courses and honors classes to help boost her GPA.  She was informed by a school counselor that she had the highest GPA in her class and would be the school lone valedictorian for 2011.
           Kymberly's mom works at the school as a "certified media specialist" and happened to overhear members of the faculty discussing the matter.  According to her federal lawsuit against the school principle and the school board, she heard someone say that allowing her daughter to serve as the sole valedictorian for the school would cause "a big mess."
           Shortly thereafter it was announced that two other students (who happen to be white) were named co-valedictorians.  Ms. Wimberly filled out a form in order to be able to address her complaints directly to the school board, but was denied the opportunity to speak at the meeting because (she was told) she had filled out the wrong paperwork.  The school board superintendent told her she could appeal his decision at the next meeting, which would occur AFTER the graduation ceremony.
            McGehee Secondary School is predominantly white, with 46% of the students being African American. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


             I don't know how Tennessee's State Insane Asylum (otherwise known as our fine State Legislature in Nashville) failed to make this list, but Alternet's Kenneth Quinnell has put together a "top ten" list of the worst state legislatures in America.  Currently, 26 states are in the total control of the GOP, while only 15 are in Democratic hands.  I assume the rest are suffering through some form of split-party control.
             Here's Quinnell's list, in order of shittiness. 

10:  Michigan
 9:   North Carolina
 8:   Ohio
 7:   Montana
 6:   Indiana
 5:   Texas
 4:   North Dakota
 3:   Wisconsin
 2:   Florida
 1:   Arizona

                No surprise that Arizona would take the loony bin trophy, but wouldn't you think Wisconsin's insanity would be running a close second?  Nope, according to this story, the Rick Scott revolution in Florida damn near took home all the bacon.
                I'm absolutely certain someone at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville will read that list and decide to crank up the crazy, though.  You can't out-batshit our boys in Nashville, people!
                Just hide and watch!


               It's been at least twenty years ago, but I still remember the details of my one and only experience with jury duty.
               In those days, the factory where I once worked had an eight hour day schedule.  Being called for jury duty was a good thing to those of us on the factory floor, because it meant we were going to be paid factory wages to sit in an air conditioned courthouse waiting room day after day, which beat the hell out of building truck tires.
               I would drive into Nashville from my suburban apartment complex, park in the courthouse garage, and stroll over to see if my name would be selected for a jury panel.  On most days, the clerk would come into the room where hundreds of potential jurors like myself sat waiting, read a list of the people called for a jury pool, then dismiss the rest of us for the remainder of the day.  I would get up, usually within an hour of arrival at the courthouse, and then head back to my apartment to take a cooler of beer to the swimming pool for the day.  It was a tough life, especially when I remembered that my buddies were hard at work in the sweatshop making exactly the same amount of money I was being paid to drink beside the pool.  Ah, justice...
              Then one day during my two week jury duty session the clerk came into the waiting room and called my name along with about twenty others.  The rest of my compadres were dismissed for the day, but those of us who were called had to follow the clerk to a courtroom down the hall.  That's when it got interesting.
              Both attorneys are given a chance to accept or reject any potential juror, usually after asking them a few questions to judge how they might rule in their particular case.  According to the state's attorney, this case would involve a man charged with driving under the influence, with the extenuating circumstance of a confirmed case of narcolepsy tossed in for flavoring.  I was asked by the Assistant District Attorney if I could tell when a person was drunk by watching or talking to that person.  I told him I might be able to determine that a person was impaired, but not necessarily due to excessive drinking.  He seemed interested in that response, and asked me to elaborate a bit.
              So I told him a person's slurred speech might be caused by any number of things: drugs, a head injury, alien abduction... Okay, I left out the alien abduction part.  But he was okay with my answer and accepted me on behalf of the prosecution.  The defense attorney didn't bother to ask me anything, just accepted my inclusion on the panel.  We were going to trial, and I was officially a jury member.  It was sort of exciting.
              The details of the case are important to this story, so here they are:  a black man in his sixties was accused of leaving his job after work at 7AM, driving to a nearby market where he purchased a 16-ounce can of beer (or several beers, that was in dispute), and played several "numbers" with the market clerk.  It was explained to us that "playing the numbers" was an illegal gambling operation, which the accused freely admitted to having done.  It was also explained to us that the man in question suffered from a confirmed case of narcolepsy, an illness that can strike at any time without warning, and causes the victim to drop off to sleep regardless of where they are or what they're doing.  The state didn't dispute his diagnosis, and no doctor was called to testify.
              The arresting officer testified that he pulled up to the market and found the accused slumped over his steering wheel in his parked car, apparently passed out.  The officer noticed an open container of beer in the front seat with the sleeping man, and also that there were seven or eight more empty individual cans of beer in paper sacks strewn in the back seat and floorboards of the car.
              The officer attempted to wake the sleeping man by tapping on the window with his nightstick, and finally managed to rouse the man.  Once out of his car, the accused was unsteady on his feet, smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes, and slurred speech.  The officer asked the man to comply with a sobriety test, which the defendant refused to take.  He then arrested him under the implied consent law of the state, and charged him with driving under the influence.  According to the D.A. you can be charged with DUI even if you are only sitting behind the wheel of a car with keys in the ignition.  Who knew?
              The defense attorney explained to us that the man had driven to the market, purchased one can of beer, then suffered a narcoleptic seizure behind the wheel of his car, and fell asleep in the market parking lot.  When awakened moments later by the officer, he was still suffering from the effects of that seizure, which explained his slurred speech and unsteady balance.  According to the officer's report, the man had left work only thirty minutes prior to the incident, after working a twelve hour midnight shift at a local factory.
             When they sent us to the jury room to decide the case, the twelve of us (eight men, four women) were told to discuss the case, but to be prepared to take a lunch break in about an hour.  So we selected a jury foreman to run the show (one of the four women) and began to "deliberate".
             Immediately it became clear that three of the four women were in favor of convicting the guy for drunken driving.  One of them was absolutely adamant that he was guilty as charged, looked like a drinker, and that we needed to keep him off the streets before he injured or killed someone.  She pointed out that the officer had found seven additional cans of beer in his backseat and floorboards, indicating that he was a problem drinker.
              A few of the others made comments about the time frame between when he left work and when he was arrested, and it was pointed out that in thirty minutes it would be difficult for a man to drink that many beers.  The 'guilty as charged' lady insisted it could be done, and that he was the kind of person who would binge drink and pass out.  A menace to society.  She was sure of it.  Guilty.  Let's vote, go home.
              I got a chance to speak and asked if there were any beer drinkers in the room other than myself.  A few hands went up.  I asked if they had ever gone into a store and purchased seven or eight individual cans of beer, one at a time.  The angry woman wanted to know what that had to do with anything, so I explained to her that it's a lot cheaper (and easier) to buy beer in six packs or twelve packs than it is to buy them individually.  I also pointed out that if you went into the backseat or floorboard of my own car you'd probably find a can or two in individual paper bags.  It's a factory thing.  You get off work, you're parched, you stop for a brewski, and you toss it into the back as you roll home.  Sometimes you forget to clean out the car for a day or two.  Or a week, in this guy's case.
             I also told them I thought the guy's eyes were probably red from being up all fucking night working in a factory.  Try it, I said, and see if your own eyes aren't a little rosy when you get off work at 7 in the morning.... after eating lunch at midnight.  A few heads began to nod around the table.  The woman who was ready to hang the guy insisted no one would drink beer at 7AM unless they were a problem drinker, and that she believed the officer's testimony over that of a drunk.
            We pointed out that the "drunk" hadn't testified, only his attorney had spoken on his behalf.  She saw that as even more evidence of his guilt, since he was afraid to tell his own story.
             At about that time a guy came to the room and said we could follow him to another room where our lunch was being served.  We had a nice meal, didn't discuss the case while we ate, and sat around until they took us back to our room to continue the deliberations.
             Over the next two hours the arguments for and against convicting this guy basically came down to me and "angry bitch".  She became more and more agitated, couldn't believe ANYONE would be willing to let this guy off the hook, especially since he had admitted he was at the market to gamble.  And gambling is illegal.  Guilty. As. Charged.  She kept saying it just like that.  Emphatic, and final.
             We took votes, and it finally came down to eleven of us voting to acquit, and that one woman insisting she would never change her vote:  he was guilty.
             In one of the rare moments when I think my sense of humor carried the day, I pointed out to everyone in the room that I was being paid about $25 an hour to sit there with them instead of building tires, and that I was loving every minute of it.  I sat back, put my hands behind my head, and told the woman in question, "It's fine by me if we come down here every day for the next two weeks and argue about this case.  I've got nothing but time."
              A couple folks chuckled, a few others nodded their heads, and everyone turned to look at Judge Judy with the noose.  That's when she started to shake a little, tears came to her eyes, and she blurted out, "He's guilty as sin!  No one made excuses for me when I was charged with a DUI, and by God he's getting one, too!"
               There was a moment or two when we all just sat and took in this comment.  She was insisting that this guy be tagged with a DUI basically because she'd gotten one, herself.  We should all have one, I suppose.
               Five minutes later, without another word from yours truly, she relented and agreed to vote "Not Guilty" if that meant we could go home.  The jury foreman reminded her she was entitled to her original opinion, and if she wanted to stick with that decision we'd have to understand her point of view and respect it.
                But ol' Hang 'Em High was over it.  She'd blown her cork, lost her fizz, and all she wanted to do was get the fuck out of that room and never have to see any us again.
                We took one final vote, announced our decision to the bailiff, and went back into the courtroom to have the decision read to the court.  
                 And I think justice was served, personally.  When I got back to my car I found no empties in the backseat... I was pretty diligent about cleaning up after myself in those days.   

                 I don't think I'd look forward to jury duty today, being self-employed and valuing my time a lot more now than when I was on the company payroll.   But I'd go if they called me.  It's an interesting look at how the justice system works.

                Cheers, little old man, wherever you are!