In addition to writing, photography and art have always been my passions. I use all three to capture the essence of the places I’ve been in my life. Travel, by the way, is another passion, which makes a great quartet.
I’d like to share here some of the images I’ve captured with my camera over the past several years – just a few of the thousands of images I’ve snapped across the globe. Missing from my collection are photos taken during my visits to South and Central America – I was unable to take a camera on those trips, so I’m limited to describing them in writing.
The different faces of Africa
The people and places of the continent are a lot more varied than most foreigners think.
And, of course, one mustn’t forget the animals
Just a few shots of Cambodian scenes, one of the ten countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Pacifica I’ve visited.
Just a few snaps of western Europe.
Finally, I’ve done thousands of photos of various regions right here in the good old USA – animals, people, and places of interest – some quite literally in my back yard.
Just a sampling which I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed.
I love taking photos of all kinds of wildlife. One usually thinks of wandering far afield when doing this, and in truth I have done that, with photo safaris in Africa, Europe, Asia, and many parts of the United States. On July 4, 2013, though, I fell and hurt my hip, and since then I’ve been pretty much confined to my house or hobbling around with the aid of a cane, which you might think would inhibit my ability to get good wildlife photos. Not so. My deck looks out on a wilderness park, and my neighbor has a profusion of flowering plants in his back yard. Butterflies, birds, squirrels, and many other small creatures can frequently be seen hopping, perching, or flying around in both places, as well as my small back lawn.
For the past thirteen days, I’ve spent many hours sitting under an umbrella on my deck, camera in hand. I’ve documented an interesting array of nature’s creatures who’ve come to visit, all without having to move more than ten feet – to the rail of the deck for a clearer shot in some cases. More often than not, I’m able to just sit in my chair and by using my telephoto lens, get some pretty good shots of my visitors. Here is a small offering of what I’ve been able to get. I’d be interested in how many readers have also documented the wildlife around their homes. If you do a post of your photos, please link them to this post so that I and other readers can also enjoy them. Happy shooting.
A Yahoo! Voices article on budget golfing in the DC area: http://voices.yahoo.com/article/9892352/come-washington-dc-area-golf-not-government-12170787.html?cat=16. Check it out.
Fade to Black by Jeffrey Wilson is a hard book to categorize. Realistic, gritty combat action opens the story with Marine sergeant Casey Stillman and his men penned down by militants in Fallujah, fighting against impossible odds in their effort to just stay alive. We’re then quickly zipped into the mind of Jack, a school teacher who deeply loves his wife and daughter, but who is troubled by uber-realistic dreams of himself in combat.
Fast-paced action and no-holds-barred dialogue whip the reader the along as Jack tries to determine whether or not he’s going crazy. Wilson puts you there, whether it’s the dusty villages where radicals are trying to blow you away, or a middle class school campus whose occupants have no understanding of the stark reality of life or death combat.
The ending will blow you away, and that’s all I’ll say about it, other than you just have to read this book.
Author’s Note: This is a post I wrote at the end of the last HIFA. I’m sharing it again because HIFA is just taking place in Zimbabwe and I’m not there to see the great performances. I wanted to share this with my readers so they, too, can know what wonders there can be even in a country that is as troubled sometimes as Zimbabwe is. Comments and feedback are welcomed.
Today is the final day of the 2012 Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA). This year’s festival has been marked by some first-rate performances, domestic and international, and the closing day is usually the day the headline acts show their best. For me, though, the highlight of HIFA is an Irish play, The Cambria, which tells of the American abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglas’s flight to Ireland and England in August 1847 aboard The Cambria, a paddle steamer that was the flagship of the Cunard Line.
Douglas was an escaped slave, subject to being captured and returned to bondage, but when his famous and popular biography was published, making him a potent symbol of the northern abolitionist movement, slaveholders put a large bounty on his head – dead or alive. Supporters assisted him in getting passage on The Cambria, where he traveled under an assumed name. In England and Ireland, he appeared as a speaker, sharing the podium with the noted anti-slavery activist Daniel O’Connell. In a letter Douglas wrote from Ireland in 1845, he said, “. . . people here in Ireland measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the colour of their skin.” This is also the closing line of the play, and for history buffs, the similarity to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream that one day in America, people will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” resonates in a deeply stirring manner.
Writer-performer Donal O’Kelly and performer Sorcha Fox give absolutely stunning performances as they play multiple roles, transporting audiences to the decks, cabins, and holds of The Cambria, complete with the ominous fog of the North Atlantic. Due to an foot injury Fox suffered after coming to Harare, making it difficult for her to walk, last minute adjustments had to be made with the two seated throughout the two-act play. If I hadn’t been told this I would never have known.
The essence of good drama, as with good writing, is getting an audience to suspend disbelief. O’Kelly and Fox are masters at doing this. The transformation as O’Kelly switches from Douglas, a black character, to the slave owner Dodd, is nothing short of magical, and Fox plays adult and child characters effectively, and even comes across credibly when she’s representing male characters.
Only someone with a heart of granite could sit through this performance without being moved – to tears even – so profound is the story and so flawless the acting. This is Irish drama at its very best; great script, good direction, but most of all, top level performances by two of Ireland’s finest. The Cambriahas played to rave reviews on the New York stage, and now it has come to Harare and HIFA. Five stars to the performers, five stars to the material, and thanks to the organizers who had the foresight to bring this great play here.
- International Artists Bring New Excitement to Zimbabwe (voanews.com)
- Outfit Post: Pastel blue, lilac purple & HIFA (namesjaney.wordpress.com)
- Harare International Festival of the Arts 2012 (africareports.wordpress.com)
In Book 1 of The Second Internet Café, Dimension Researcher Lucas Hunter encountered the evil American Dietrich during his trips to the ‘other’ dimensions. What ensued was an American attack on the Café in an attempt to destroy it – an attack that Lucas and his friends were able to thwart.
In The Second Internet Café, Book 2: The Cascade Annihilator, once again must confront his nemesis Dietrich, who is now armed with a weapon that threatens to not only destroy the Café, but the entire reality. The Café is again under threat, and not just from Dietrich, but from the entrenched European bureaucracy that wants to shut it down, or bring it more under political control. Aiding Lucas in saving the facility and the existence of ‘reality one’ is Paula Featherstone who has the ability to enter other realities when she sleeps.
To add complications to their task, Lucas discovers that another group, more advanced people from yet another ‘reality,’ are also interested in the outcome of his confrontation with his enemy, but he’s not sure he can completely trust the enigmatic Mr. Llews.
As in the first book, the action in Book 2 is nonstop; the characters are unforgettable, and the settings are all too real. Chris James has changed gears a bit in this book; writing from two points of view – alternating between Lucas and Paula – he keeps your interest as this complicated tale unfolds. This is a book that you won’t be able to put down; in fact, you just might find yourself going back and re-reading portions to make sure didn’t miss anything.
Another five star effort by author James.
Once again I had an opportunity to participate in Angel Thunder, the US Air Force‘s personnel recovery exercise. I missed some of the highlights, such as the simulated rescue at the Grand Canyon, one of the first (and largest) military exercises in a national park. But, I was able to observe a simulated air crash at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, where local emergency responders came in to assist, and an emergency response at Playas Training Center in New Mexico involving US, Colombian, Chilean, Brazilian, and Singaporean units responding to explosions that caused casualties in a simulated village. Some of my photos are below.
Despite the debilitating impact of sequestration, the U.S. Air Force still managed to hold its largest ever personnel recovery exercise this year. Angel Thunder, a two-week exercise that tests and refines the ability to locate and recover those who are isolated from friendly control and return them to safety, concluded on April 20 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, and this year included nearly 3,000 personnel from all U.S. uniformed services, a number of federal civilian agencies, participants and observers from more than 20 countries, and local law enforcement, emergency management, and medical officials from several local jurisdictions in Arizona.
Begun in 2006, Angel Thunder was designed initially to give Air Force rescue units the training they couldn’t get through participation in other exercises. With the promulgation of a presidential document in 2008 which directed all federal agencies with personnel overseas to develop programs to ensure their protection should they become isolated, Angel Thunder’s focus was also moved toward interagency cooperation and involved more international partners.
Angel Thunder 2013 included international participants from countries such as Colombia, Brazil, and Singapore, working together and with their U.S. counterparts to refine the techniques for locating, supporting, and recovering individuals who are victims of natural or manmade disaster or who have been taken hostage. The exercise opened with a scenario demonstrating Defense Department support to civil authorities in natural disasters and mass casualty situations, with military forces responding to a major traffic accident in the Grand Canyon by recovering ‘injured’ persons and transporting them to medical treatment facilities.
A small exercise in the beginning, that was held every 18 months, Angel Thunder is now an annual, inter-service, interagency, international exercise that covers an area in the southwestern United States approximately the size of the country of Afghanistan and involves several hundred fixed and rotary wing aircraft in realistic scenarios ranging from the rescue of single individuals to providing medical treatment and evacuation to victims of mass casualties.
Representative Ron Barber (D), who occupies the House seat once held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, yesterday visited Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson to get a first hand briefing on Angel Thunder, the largest personnel recovery exercise in the world. Now in its seventh year, Angel Thunder has become a major platform for exercising the national capacity to provide search and rescue and recovery services for American military forces serving abroad, support to the civilian agencies in their efforts to protect their citizens abroad, and defense support to civil authority here in the US. This year’s exercise, despite the restrictions imposed by sequestration, is one of the largest yet, with some 3,000 participants from all of the military services, federal civilian agencies, and local emergency management officials and agencies in Arizona.
Mitchell Sinclair is an up and coming young lawyer. He has a good house in Marin County, north of San Francisco, a trophy wife, Sarah, and a shiny black 1958 Cadillac Sedan. He’s living what one would describe as ‘the good life,’ until one day, while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to his law firm, a strange toll booth collector tosses an even stranger package into his car.
The package contains a sheaf of documents written in strange languages, and as Sinclair struggles to translate them, his life is turned inside out and upside down. This ‘chance’ happening – or, so it seems at first – sets him on a journey that spans the globe, from San Francisco to Machu Picchu in Peru; but, even more importantly, a journey into his own tortured consciousness. As he flees the mysterious ‘men in black,’ Sinclair finds himself at times doubting his own sanity – or insanity.
While it is often thought that a thriller needs lots of dialogue in order to be truly effective, Dominic Peloso, in City of Pillars, shows the beauty of narrative. He deftly puts the reader inside Mitchell Sinclair’s head; for, this is his story. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole City of Pillars. It’s part thriller, part science fiction; with a lot of philosophy thrown in for good measure. This is the kind of story you won’t want to put down; which you, in fact, can’t put down. Highly recommended reading for that next long flight when the in-flight movies are boring, or for curling up over a long weekend. A definite five-star story that anyone can appreciate.
Today in New York, negotiations began at the UN on the Arms Trade Treaty, which would require countries to determine whether the weapons they sell might be used to commit serious human rights violations, terrorism or transnational organized crime.
The Obama administration has indicated that it will support the accord, although US support has been lackluster at best in the past. Predictably, the Neanderthals of the National Rifle Association (NRA) have come out against the treaty, fearing that the treaty will be used to regulate civilian weapons. Among the treaty’s most vocal opponents, if the NRA fails in its efforts to sabotage the ongoing negotiations and gut the treaty, one can be sure that it will redouble its efforts to ensure its staunch supporters in the Senate block US ratification.
Whether this is true or not, one has to take a step back and analyze what’s happening here. It’s really simple, when you peel back the layers of this stinky onion. The NRA, and other gun nuts around the world, don’t seem to care if human rights violations, terrorism, and crime are committed using civilian weapons – just don’t even think about limiting their right to have their phallic substitutes handy and in large numbers. That this treaty is a common sense approach to reducing gun violence around the world, that has the support of many individuals, is lost on these tone-deaf fools who are still mentally inhabiting a world of wild animals and log cabins, and who don’t seem to know the difference between a muzzle loader and a 15-round automatic magazine with steel jacketed slugs.
I wonder if they’ll push for no limits on private ownership of anti-aircraft weapons to protect against those black UN helicopters that’s trying to invade and install a world government behind our backs.
In 1968, artist Andy Warhol said, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” I don’t know exactly what he meant by that; nor do many others who have paraphrased him, but I think he was probably right. I do know that, after 50 years of roaming the globe, and, often like the character in ‘Forest Gump,’ being on the fringes of momentous events, I’ve probably accumulated my 15 minutes – and, maybe even a few seconds more.
If being seen in a movie counts as fame, though, I think I had my quarter-hour in the limelight in 1990, or maybe it was 1991, when I had the opportunity to be an extra in the movie, ‘Air America,’ starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. Unlike those who actively seek notoriety, my moment under the lights was a combination of pure accident, and being in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time.
I was the U.S. Consul in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai when the movie company came to town to do the location shooting for this black comedy about the Vietnam War, and the exploits of the CIA’s airline’s operations in Laos. They recruited some 50 people in Bangkok as extras, many of them Vietnam veterans who’d settled in Southeast Asia rather than returning to the U.S. As a matter of information, I too am a Vietnam vet, but I’d chosen to enter diplomatic service after leaving the military over running a bar in Patpong.
One of my duties as consul was to provide services to American citizens in the area, and unfortunately, one of the movie company’s assistant directors, an Israeli-American, became ill and died shortly after they arrived. His was a complicated case, because his American relatives wanted the remains shipped to Israel. I was around the set so often taking care of his affairs, someone (and, I no longer recall who) suggested I be an extra in the film’s bar scenes which were being filmed at a local pub. My boss, the consul general, and the embassy approved, and since the filming was being done at night, I didn’t even have to miss work.
After several days of ‘drinking,’ ‘dancing,’ and ‘carousing,’ for the camera; all make believe, but very much like activities I’d participated in in the 60s as a young military man; the company began packing up to travel to Mae Hong Son, on the Burmese border, to film the flight and pilot briefing scenes. I was asked to go along to be an ‘extra’ pilot. Again, the embassy approved, provided I used my personal leave to do it. No problem, I thought, after all, it might be fun.
It was; in Mae Hong Son, most of the shooting was during the daytime, so evenings were free for my wife and I to explore the border area. We even had a couple of free days that allowed a visit to a nearby village occupied by the famous long-neck women. I had a chance to spend an evening with Mel Gibson; barely recalling riding back to my hotel on the back of his rented motorbike; and shoot the breeze with some of the other actors like Tim Thomerson.
But, we’re still getting to the ‘fame’ part. During the shooting, the director finally noticed that even though the film was about the Vietnam War, a war in which a large percentage of the American GIs were people of color, there were only two ‘extras’ that were non-white. Kudos to Roger Spottiswoode; he had a small role written in – or maybe it was there all along and they just hadn’t cast it – of a few lines. It was near the end of the movie, when the Mel Gibson character ‘rents’ a military plane to move his ‘collection’ of weapons, and features Gibson, Downey, and the ‘dispatcher.’ Someone suggested I read for the part, along with three or four other guys, including the only other person of color, and to my utter surprise, I was chosen.
I mean, I had to sign a contract and everything, and the rate paid for filming that scene was more than I got as an extra for two or three days shooting. It was done in two takes – and didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, although, in final editing, they dubbed in someone else’s voice. I didn’t get to go back to L.A. with them – no sense trying to push my luck, I figure.
The movie only did so-so in the theaters, but it’s been on cable movie channels around the world regularly. I saw it on South African cable around this time last year, and several people have mentioned seeing someone who ‘looked like me’ on hotel cable when they’ve been traveling. It’s also available on DVD for anyone who is a fan of not quite B, but not A movies either.
It was fun doing it, although, I wouldn’t think of acting as a profession. Hours are too erratic, and with all the food on movie sets, unless you have a real action part, you’re in danger of putting on weight.
Now, you might well ask, what does this have to do with anything? Well, nothing really; I just happened to be getting a jump on spring cleaning and ran across a faded copy of the contract I signed way back then, and thought it’d be a fun thing to write about.
In October 2011, I got a chance to participate in the US Air Force‘s Angel Thunder Exercise. This was my second visit to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona to ‘play’ in this huge search and rescue exercise that includes many US Government agencies, local authorities, and participants from different nations. Below are some of the photos I took during my week there. The Air Force pararescue jumpers, or PJs, are often called Guardian Angels for their role in rescuing d0wned pilots or other people who are in distress, but these are angels with claws that you definitely don’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Nowadays, especially since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, professions and organizations around the world are paying more attention to the need for ethical professionalism standards to guide their activities. Research has shown that cheating has become more commonplace, especially among young people, and while there is not enough data to indicate whether or not this is a clear global trend, it is nonetheless worth being concerned about.
What is inarguable is that any profession needs a grounded ethical code to guide the activities of its members if it is to be successful in our increasingly globalized world.
It’s worth thinking about just why this is so. First; a clearly understood code of ethical behavior helps guide the individual member of the profession in carrying out his or her responsibilities, and protects the individual from outside pressure to ‘bend the rules.’ A sound code is invaluable in explaining the profession to outsiders, and aids in professional interactions with those within and outside the profession. More importantly, for professions that serve the general public, a code establishes the expectations that those being served have regarding that profession.
For 30 years, until I retired in September 2012, I served in the US Foreign Service (and for 20 years before that in the US Army), working at a number of American diplomatic posts both in the United States and abroad. During my service as an American diplomat, I was often dismayed at the lack of understanding most people outside the profession have of what diplomats do. The most common phrase I heard throughout that time was, “a diplomat is someone sent abroad to lie for his country.” From the inside, I knew this to be false. Most of my colleagues were decent, dedicated individuals who operated according to a strict ethical code, serving often in dangerous situations, and performing heroic, but unheralded jobs in the service to their nation and its people.
Why, then, did people fail to understand the profession? There are probably a lot of reasons, but one that impressed me most was the fact that, while there are reams of regulations concerning proper ethical conduct, nowhere was there a clearly defined code of ethical conduct easily accessible to diplomats or the outside world. Other than anecdotal information, or the often distorted and inaccurate portrayals of bureaucratic and snobbish diplomats in popular media, there was no easy to access and understand code of ethical professional behavior that told anyone what the profession of diplomacy is all about.
It became clear to me, therefore, that diplomacy, as any other profession, would be best served if it was made accessible to the general public. Diplomats would be more effective in carrying out their important tasks if they knew, not just what they should avoid doing, but what they are expected to do. Our current ethical regulations, though scattered about dozens of volumes and almost requiring a law degree to fully understand, effectively distinguish between right and wrong behavior, but they are useless in helping professionals make the often hard choice between two courses of action, both of which are ‘right,’ but one of which might be more appropriate and effective. The individual is left to his or her own personal code of behavior in making such decisions, and, while the right (or appropriate) decision is made in most cases, it would be more effective if the individual had aspirational guidelines to help in the decision making process. Furthermore, such a code would help outsiders better understand the reasoning behind the decisions made.
Like the US Military Code of Conduct, promulgated after the Korean War and the unfortunate collaboration with the enemy by many soldiers who had not been prepared for the propaganda employed against them, a diplomatic code of conduct, introduced during the beginning of a career and constantly reinforced throughout that career, would better prepare our diplomats for the world in which they must operate today, where they must contend not only with officials of the governments to whom they’re accredited, but with the many nongovernmental groups and individuals who impact foreign affairs in ways not thought of in the early days of international diplomacy.
No longer should American diplomacy be burdened with the image of ‘someone sent abroad to lie for his or her country.’ As the new US administration prepares to face the challenges of the next four years, establishing a well-understood, respected, professional corps of diplomats should be one of its top priorities.
In three days, on January 21, the nation prepares for the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President, for his second term. At the same time, we will pause throughout the country to honor a man whose efforts were instrumental in many ways in this historic inauguration. January 21 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a holiday marked every year on the third Monday in January since 1986, and since 2000, recognized in all 50 states.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of a Baptist preacher. He followed his father’s profession, becoming a pastor in a church in the south, ministering to the needs of a then-segregated black community. The Montgomery bus boycott, sparked by Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white male passenger, King became the leader of the national civil rights movement, and in 1957 helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements in moving the cause of civil rights forward in the United States, and honored around the world, he is best remembered for his historic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, before an audience of 250,000 civil rights supporters at the close of the March on Washington. After the 1963 event, King turned his attention to a focus on poverty and the war in Vietnam, which he vehemently opposed.
In Memphis, Tennessee to support that city’s garbage workers in their strike for better wages and working conditions, King was slain by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968. His death touched off riots around the country in some of the worst racial violence the country has ever seen.
King’s words in Washington in 1963 are as appropriate today as they were then, given the economic and social problems plaguing the nation over 150 years after the end of the Civil War. We are still a nation of haves and have-nots, with millions going to bed at night with empty stomachs, without shelter, and deprived of the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The promissory note written by the Founding Fathers when they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is still due for many. As King said, “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir to.” We should take careful note of what he said after that, though. “In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds . . . let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”
His dream, the American dream, remains largely a dream. To honor his legacy, it is up to us, each of us, to continue to work to make that dream a reality. Even though we might have to face the ‘difficulties of today and tomorrow,’ we should still cling to that dream, a dream that is ‘deeply rooted in the American dream.’