On Monday, we had a rare cloud-filled sky, since it had rained on Sunday.  I dashed outside at 5 pm and started running around my neighborhood taking sky shots as quickly as I could before the sun set.  You will notice the sky getting darker as we go down the page.  In my haste, I took too many pictures with rooftops and other objects in them to serve my ultimate purpose of building up my sky library for Photo Shop. So, I have to get out to beaches and mountains and take some big-sky shots. We have identified a mountain area just ten minutes away where I can start this, provided I get another sun and clouds day.

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As if I don’t have enough to do, I decided to sign up for a week of Photo Shop and Lightroom webinars.  There are 51 of them total, and they were free in real-time and then Adobe is selling the package for anyone who couldn’t attend the live classes. It is amazing how much one learns about oneself and these programs, as well as photography, just by making an intensive time commitment.  There are ten classes each day for six days (rebroadcast at night!) and I am doing five each day, ending Saturday. The classes are each 90 minutes long and very organized, fast-paced. There was a small audience in-studio and a chat room for online viewers where we could all ask questions and make comments.

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At first I thought I could not sit through these 90 minute classes without my mind wandering or getting bored. But, they were so content-rich and intense, that I had to force myself to turn away to check my email and remember to stand up and move around every 30 minutes or so. I finally set up the seminars to run side by side with my regular screen so I could simul-task.

There was a great deal to absorb and I am a seasoned note taker but even I was a bit overwhelmed by the end of the day. Obviously, I could have bought the series. It comes with manuals and notes and free plugins.  But, not only have I been spending like a drunken sailor on other things this winter, but I also realized that I would just never go through all these seminars on my own.  They would end up with all the other webinar/seminar and tutorials that I keep meaning to view and rarely get to.  I have a long list and even when I watch some, I am always adding to it.

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I did learn a lot.  For one thing, most of the functions in the newest PS are in my older version. The problem is, it makes it so slow that I am demotivated to use it.  So I did buy the newest version.  When I tried to download it on my solarium office computer, there was every complication and I ended up only finding the trial version.  I cannot even figure out where I get my license key number for it, something I will have to address eventually. So now, I have to spend some time working on that computer in PS.  I have other programs there like LR5 and Topaz, so I guess it makes sense.  This summer I am getting a new computer for my main office and will have to switch it all back.

Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work

— Chuck Close

One of the things that was emphasized over and over again, even though it was a Photo Shop series, most of the photographers do the majority of their adjustments in Lightroom first. One primary reason is that you can do the meat and potatoes editing in LR far faster than in Photo Shop. Lightroom saves a ton of time. They all seem to say that other than serious facial flaws and dropping in completely different skies or fore- and backgrounds, you can do everything else in LR, and PS and LR are meant to be used together, jumping back and forth between them with a single shortcut keystroke, seamlessly.  I discovered I was underutilizing all of Lightroom’s features like masking, and healing/dodging/burning as well as gradients. I could go on but you get the idea.  They seem to feel PS is limited to the end of the process, just before stylizing with other plugins, of which they listed dozens of companies I don’t know about at all.  So my workflow would be LR, then PS if I needed those specific features that require layer stacking, and then Topaz.  Between all Topaz’s programs, including Impression and Glow, there is very little I cannot do if I take the time on each photograph, with those programs and Lightroom.

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So, here’s the thing. How much time do I want to spend on these series of mine? After all, I am not doing this to make money or draw attention to a business venture.  I don’t even use it when I make the family videos, other than I toss the shots into LR to open the shadows, crop, and correct exposure. I am not really sure that I should be spending hours of time on every single photograph just to make myself look like a pro.  For one thing, I have said this before, people put up what look like masterpieces to me, really spectacular and get less than 100 views and few or no comments.  They use better cameras than mine and still have a very small footprint on Flickr. Other people put up mediocre shot after mediocre shot and instantly have thousands of views.  What’s up with that?

I have restricted my photographs to being viewed only by people I follow.  I have more people following me, than I am following.  And, I just cut out half of the people I follow, marking a select group as friends.  I may eventually restrict my Photostream to that group alone.  After two years, I know who matters to me.  I am not throwing shade on anyone, I just don’t want the public to be able to view my pictures so easily.  I figure that I vet people before I follow them and then thereafter trust them not to abuse that privilege.  Another thing I am doing is ceasing to comment on people who rarely comment on my pictures.  If that means I only get a few views and comments, so be it.  Life is too short.  I tend to be a very diligent person with a sense of responsibility to treat people the way I like to be treated.  But it seems to fall on sterile ground a lot these days, so I am cutting my interactive time down.

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Among the many things taking my time, now when work is a bit slow — it is that time of the year — I am knitting a lot.  I can only manage to knit in the cooler weather, so I like to take advantage of it.  Since I have several sets of photographs already sitting and waiting for processing, I am not as motivated to go out and take more.  Except sky shots.  I am building a collection of sky effects that I can use as stock footage, so to speak, when I need it.  I am not really big on manipulating photos by dropping features into them that weren’t in the original shot.  I don’t mind processing that enhances effects, but pasting people into scenes or switching sky or water is a bit less appealing to me. Still, I want the practice, so I am going to start taking various types of fore-, mid- and backgrounds to have on hand.

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Now I have to decide whether I want to strive for mastery and perfection.  The newest girlfriend in Geoffrey’s family of siblings and their offspring terms herself a “skillionaire”.  I don’t want to be in that category, because it is all too easy for me to be. Whenever I get into something, I take it to the nth degree and then have to find a place for all the accoutrements that go with it.  What have we had in the past, you might ask?  Well, baking — I have a kitchen and garage full of professional baking equipment as well as one whole bookcase devoted to professional baking books — over 150 of them.  And, jewelry making — beads, wire, silk, crimpers, trays, books on gems and beads and jewelry making.  One whole wall of my garage is devoted to that one, from the 1990s.  Knitting, crocheting — fifty-seven forty-gallon bins of yarn and tools/equipment.  Clothing, shoes, purses? Don’t even ask. Gardening tools and books and supplies; vintage watch collecting;  astrology programs and books for professional astrologers; higher consciousness books; vegan/vegetarian cookbooks; history books; professional psychology books.  Honestly guys, it goes on and on and on. Travel books, gear, clothing designed to be rolled and wrinkle-free is another whole area.  Oh yes, and painting on wood with various media.  Almost forgot!  All my music and equipment, both for singing and for playing the piano and mountain dulcimer (I have two, handmade in the Ozarks). I also have a Cuíca that I bought in South America and learned to play from a local band. Ridiculous!  It has to stop.

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OK, here is where more shopping comes in with photography.  During the Photo Restoration and Rescue seminar this week, the photographer said you should really be working with a Wacom-type tablet and stylus because mice cannot control pressure and your process will not be as refined and professional. My last Wacom tablet was ten years ago, so, no-go. Also, for portrait skin, eye, teeth, lips, hair? For layering really quickly? He uses Their Perfect Photo Suite 9 is like Photoshop combined with Lightroom. It also comes with a bunch of cool presets.  You can work in this program stand-alone or inside Lightroom or Photo Shop.  They all use the exact same modes as do all the Topaz programs. So, cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching! By the way, there are sites for offering your services and Photo Shop skill restoring, rescuing and repairing damaged or old print photographs.  Here is one that was recommended as a great way to practice and maybe develop a new business.

And, a friend just sent me this about switching to a standing desk.  Uh-oh, I have been sitting at a desk for 140 years.  All my healthy practices out the window? My SIL just got an adjustable one of these, a cool $2600. I may try it the poor woman’s way with cardboard boxes, LOL!

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Now the question is, should I nip this photography obsession in the bud or just accept it as the next step in this 46 year old project called me. It has something to do with, why are we doing this? Why am I taking pictures and processing them? Why am I buying cameras, lenses, bags, accessories, programs, devices to go along with this?  It can’t be for Flickr.  There are days when traffic is dead on Flickr and you can be Ansel Adams or Vivian Meier and no one is going to click on your picture, period. In addition, I have shrunk down the number of people who can see my photostream to a mere 100.  If I restrict it to friends, that will be about 40, and views will be fewer and fewer. There are photos I love that people just yawn at anyway.  It isn’t for money (at least not now and not my aim right now at all).

My quandary is, at what point does the cost/benefit switch balance and the input (time/money) stop producing  equal output (photography expertise) value? One discussion that was surprisingly helpful was this seminar during which the photographer talked about the balance between consumption time vs creativity time, and developing her style, her space, even the clothes she wears that shapes her life to be supported in her creativity. Too much social media time, or time spent with negative people, nay-sayers — anyone who detracts from one’s sense of self and joy, robs creativity and a sense of accomplishment.

The only thing I can think of in favor of continuing down this particular path, other than documenting my life and world for whoever in the future gives a damn, is that it helps me stretch my brain, lay down connections and maybe lengthen key telomeres.  If I can afford it time and money-wise, maybe that is reason enough.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives — Valencia February skies





Faux News

This is one of those time periods when nothing really happens of significance around our house, so I just tossed down bits and pieces of thoughts and things that popped into my head since my last post.


We did have to attend a birthday party with the InFirm last weekend, at one of those fancy-people restaurants they love. It was the usual stressful experience, fending off insults, even from one of my SIL’s mediocre kids with whom she strong identifies.  It is totally unconscious, but this fourteen year old has been raised to think she is always the smartest, prettiest, cleverest person in the room.  And that she is infinitely wise as her mother has raised her to believe. So, for example, she jumps in and answers questions for other people based on her extensive life experience growing up in an affluent bubble. The table is always so filled with ego, that I cannot eat. But I held it together with a flimsy smile the whole time, so much so, that my face ached by the time we got home.


Geoff’s brother Tim occasionally works with Geoff when he has nothing else to do.  It is such a mixed bag.  He brings a lot of financial expertise (used to be a kingpin for a large company, and, well … more on that some time) but he thinks he is talented in every area.  He had some promotional gifts made for Geoff’s company that look so crass and amateurish, I could barely contain myself. The company footed the bill, too, naturally. My very polite spouse has a hard time standing up to him.  That alone makes my blood boil. But he picks his battles more carefully than I do.  I am the one with the problem getting along with these people. Sigh.

So of course, I had some sort of bug that night, that was probably psychosomatic because it was gone the next morning.

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Our Valentine’s weekend was rather unremarkable.  I spent it working and producing a video of some recent events, for my family.  My thoughtful SO got me a very dainty tanzanite (poor man’s sapphire?) and diamond ring.  February is the month we got married, but we celebrate our anniversary in April to mark the day we met. Still, he thought I might need something new and frivolous.  So now, of course, I have to buy a whole new outfit to go with it, right? I have very little (notice I didn’t say nothing, lol) in periwinkle.

We DVRd the SNL reunion show, but one thing that stayed with me was Jane Curtin’s quip, “I used to be the only pretty blonde woman reading the fake news. Now there’s an entire network devoted to it.” Ya think?


John Fugelsang was on Reliable Sources on Sunday and he said something that struck me as quite profound.  He said, quoting Billy Wilder, ‘if you are going to tell someone the truth, better make it funny, or they will kill you’.  As a total aside, I think Fugelsang is the best candidate to replace Jon Stewart, and someone far more likable.

So many reporters in the news this week, Bob Simon and David Carr passing away, Stewart and Williams leaving. The journalists themselves have become the news.

Another thing I have been mulling over for the past month is some statements issuing from the Vatican. What have they done with my Francis?  I want him put back immediately!


Seriously, something very strange is going on with Papa Frank these days.  Just when I was starting to warm to the RC Church again, feeling that after decades of scandal, corruption, depravity and weird silences on key issues, we had a genuine renegade, reformer, with bold new ideas, forward looking and thinking.  Someone who would restore youth to the Church and resurrect its image.

Uh, apparently I was a bit hasty.

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First His Holiness says that its OK to smack your kids around as long as you avoid hitting them in the face.  Say what? Well, that’s humiliating. Really? Any more so than somewhere else on their developing bodies? Any worse for their closest caretakers to hit them on the back or chest or legs or buttocks than on their face where the marks would be visible? Hmmm.  Back to this sometime soon.

Now Francesco has come out and said that not having children is selfish while having too many is to be compared to rabbits. Ala Mother Theresa who was against birth control?  Oh boy.  Where do we begin.  Where are these selfish parents, I want to know? Might they be in Italy where the native population is dwindling and foreign born numbers are soaring, including — gulp — non-Catholics?  If I didn’t know better, I would think “they” (whoever ‘they’ are) have substituted a fake for Francis.  I have some Israeli friends who swear that everyone in the Middle East knew that John Paul was faked along with Qaddafi.  We Americans seem to be the last to know.


I am wrapping up my Caltech photos for now.  Reading about the philosophy of that school heartened me that I am not alone in seeking a life of  contemplation, aspiring to the higher ideals, using my brain and focusing on excellence over money.  Caltech’s focus reminds me of that of both my schools, Cornell and Columbia.  Here is a sample:

“The purpose of the Athenaeum is to promote social intercourse among lovers of science, literature and art, by creating a center of intellectual and social life”. Athenaeum Handbook, 1931

I am also awaiting the Greek default on debt with some trepidation.  A lot of my clients are in Europe and the Euro is teetering as it is.  It will be interesting.  I may have more time on my hands, LOL! I always viewed the Euro as a somewhat pretend currency.  The UK look like geniuses right now.

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Lent started on Wednesday.  It is a good time of year to clean out whatever is hanging around that has outlived its usefulness, holds us back, brings us down, and quashes happiness.  All the phony-baloney that we don’t need but (some of us) cling to anyway.  I am going to work on that this year! One thing I have noticed is that my diligence in friending and commenting and being loyal to some of my contacts made on social media has placed more of a burden on them than I intended by doing it.  So, I am reevaluating all of that and streamlining. Less pressure for them or for me. None of my friends here, of course. :-D


As a coda to last week’s extensive discussion and the one we had on my Snofu post a few weeks back, look at this article, which I just received.

Also, because it just happened yesterday, I will be commenting on Giuliani’s hateful, racist, and unfounded remarks only briefly right now. As a New Yorker, I can assure you, Giuliani is considered to be a failed politician.  His mistaken judgment in keeping the emergency HQ in the WTC after the first bombing is largely viewed as having led to many tragic deaths on 9/11. He needs attention and chooses to attack the President falsely. Apparently he did not hear or read the speech Mr. Obama gave earlier this week.  Or any of his speeches, in which the President has reaffirmed his love for this country.  Mr. Obama has been unambiguous.  Giuliani is merely pandering to the low-information voters that watch that pretend news channel.  He is offensive and un-American, in my opinion. There are ample enough actions about which to criticize this or any President, but not loving America isn’t one of them. Giuliani should be ashamed of himself, but he is too small and needy to be.

[By the way, if there is some half-finished post or weird text on this blog (apart from my usual blather, that is), something is going rather haywire with my WP – Chrome interface these days.  So, bear with me!]

Images: Beth Byrnes archives: Caltech


Sciense and nonsense

Following my theme from last week, thinking about my dad and his influence on my life, I was intrigued by an ad I saw recently from Bayer.  My dad worked for Sterling Drug, which owned Bayer, early in his career as a bench chemist.  Sceptical as I am about a chinese wall being erected between profit making organizations and ivory tower scientists, Bayer is a good company and its intentions with this program are positive.  Children are natural truth-seeking scientists and should be encouraged as early as possible to develop their skills in this area.

I have been increasingly struck by the growing divide amongst a certain segment of our population regarding the validity of scientific evidence and its being equated, erroneously, with speculation, ideology, belief, economics, politics, and frankly nonsense.

It bothers me from the standpoint that, if we cannot even agree about the established and indisputable facts produced by the most accurate and systematic method of knowing devised by humankind to date, we have little hope of solving any of our global or domestic problems.

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Increasingly, our media are merely entertainment arms of large corporate interests. The latest scandal involving Brian Williams should disturb us in that it points to utter desperation and a gross perversion of the fourth branch of government.  It is one thing to simply get the facts wrong.  Most credible people will willingly admit failures or weaknesses in this regard.  It is quite another to deliberately twist or shade reality to attract attention, boost ratings and earn sponsors revenue.  If Brian Williams could be pressured into doing this, imagine what is going on with other so-called newsmen on other stations (including a plethora of ersatz news sites on the internet and radio) with far less integrity.

Is it any wonder that some of us believe the silly ideas that we do? What if you don’t have time or interest in vetting your sources and still believe that what is published, especially via high-profile outlets, is the truth? We can’t expect everyone to know and be able to take the time to chase down every fact.  We have to have some leaders to whom we turn with faith that they are doing this for us.

Let me say, in case anyone reading this takes this personally, what prompted this post was my hearing a candidate for leader of the Western world say in London yesterday that he could not confirm or deny evolution. If you have a conviction one way or the other, don’t punt, admit it. Let us kick the tires and see who we are hiring for the most important job on earth.

Personally, there are few popular reporters I trust to do this. One is Wolf Blitzer, another is Andrea Mitchell. I still respect Ted Koppel. Maybe Steve Kornacki, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow.  All of these people are highly intelligent.  In the case of the first two, they have had long, distinguished careers without even a hint of impropriety. In the case of the latter three, albeit progressive, with an overt personal philosophy, they are scholars as well as broadcasters and I respect them even if I don’t agree with everything they represent or their sometimes theatrical manner of delivery. Two other people I occasionally listen to, while not agreeing with everything they stand for and their manner of expressing it, are Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann (both alums of my undergrad school). In the former case, Maher and I are both on the same wavelength when it comes to humane treatment of animals.

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I like Olbermann because of his courage to speak out eloquently against wrongdoing, even if it means he suffers financially or professionally by doing so.  I like courageous people and am sick of passivity.  But that is another topic.

What science simply does is give us a systematic method of knowing, i.e., of finding the facts available to us through the physical senses. It will not help us with anything else.  And belief systems and philosophy will not help us establish facts, other than providing in some cases a potential jumping off point for disproving theories about phenomena.  Science is deductive in that it begins from a foundation of previously established fact (through sound research, as established in the scientific discipline in question) and then testing a logical deduction stemming from that solid basis.  Induction is a faulty way of dabbling in any field.  It means that you start from things you see, string them together, come up with a theory that you believe explains their connection and then set out to find more discreet occurrences that fit your theory.  I know of no scientific discipline that uses this method (journalists do all the time and that is what makes what they write journalism, not science), not the social, behavioral and life sciences, and certainly not the physical/chemical ones.  You can have lots of fun with mathematics (which is akin to logic, not science) and game theory.  You can elaborate a complex philosophy and make it an ideology, but you can’t fake science.  When you do, those in the field who have established their bona fides will negate your conclusions and you are done, for all intents and purposes. Where do we find these experts? At the top research universities, as listed here or here, for example.

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Are scientists amenable to debate? Of course, among themselves, including students at credible institutions, they are continually reviewing theories and refining, and updating them — on many, in fact most topics.  However, there are those axioms that short of a Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton stepping forward and negating them, are considered to be absolute and foundational.  Like what? Gravity, tectonic plates, spherical heavenly bodies including this planet (hence the ridicule of flat-earthers), the age of the universe and its bodies, including our solar system (no, not 6,000 years), evolution, earth and agricultural sciences, genetics, aeronautics, and its underlying physics, pharmaceutical action and their basic chemistry, etc.

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This is not restricted to the physical sciences either.  There are solid principles in the behavioral sciences as well and every good psychology, sociology, and anthropology student is trained in them before going on to prepare their own research or clinical practice. You don’t get a marketable PhD in this country by going to the wrong sources, building upon a house of cards, and inserting your own ideation — that would be academic suicide.  The broad, established scientific community has to have confidence that it can replicate and therefore verify your results or you and your work are rejected, ipso facto.

If you enjoy debunking theory, study the scientific debates on string theory, dark matter, efficacy of allopathic medications, human vs animal intelligence, etc.  There are thousands of exciting (I am sure you can find them) topics on which the jury is still out among the world’s leading researchers.  But, there are others where there is no significant daylight left with which to view competing points of view.  They are elementary.

There is simply no credible debate among the scientific community on certain topics.  I know for some people this is a bitter bolus to swallow, but it is so, nonetheless.  I prefer to get my science facts from scientists, not philosophers, politicians, businessmen, carnival barkers and shaman. And one reason I respect scientists is their having no dog in this fight apart from finding out what is, not what they would like it to be.  That is the value of the unfettered puttering in the Ivory Tower and it was the first principle they taught us in our PhD program at Columbia.

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By the way, speaking of  Columbia, read this. One thing to take away is, do we want to change our current living patterns drastically? Are all of you ready to do without the bread basket? To crowd 7.5 billion (and growing) people into Antartica and the North Pole and try to subsist without fish and most mammals, eating farmed plankton and hydroponic fungi? You cannot compare pre-Ice Age conditions with the needs and practices of the human-heavy 21st century.

If you want to live in a fantasy world, you have that right.  I hope you don’t raise your children in it, but many people do and get away with it.  A tragedy for society, because only by bravely and objectively facing “what is”, based on established truth, can we solve our problems and work together for once in our history, and have a functioning, harmonious and joyous existence at last.  I will throw my lot in with rigorously trained, scrupulous Ivory Tower figures over the handful of billionaires who seek to manipulate the truth for personal financial gain.

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This is not a small problem.  It is one that afflicts almost 25% of Americans, an unacceptably high number.  While I do want everyone to feel their points of view are welcomed here, to a point, there are boundaries.  If you come here advocating abuse, championing tobacco use, or if you bring discredited positions on established and settled science, I will not engage in any discussion of them here, whether it is to deny something as fundamental as gravity or the less palatable concept, apparently (for some inexplicable reason), as climate change.

There are certain givens upon which our modern lives are built and now depend.  Wasting time debating those takes valuable resources away from solving real problems, such as, what to do about adverse phenomena.That is where our best mental capital should be spent as a society and here on this blog.  That is what I intend for the serious topics covered here. So let’s not invest in circling a black hole of opinion on such matters. And, as I promised at the end of 2014, I will include plenty of unfreighted topics to lighten the burden we face each day as we interact virtually and actually.

It was in fact that very Respected Scientist,  who first said, “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Coincidentally, that is Caltech’s motto.  It’s mine as well.




 Images: Beth Byrnes archives: California Institute of Technology


Parental control

All this week I have been thinking about the issue of parenting.  One reason was my folks dropped in unexpectedly and we needed to scramble to organize our days (and house) to accommodate them. This almost never happens. For one thing, my dad isn’t crazy about California.  For another, he hates to be away from his sphere of influence and golf (yup, on snow with red balls).



So, here I have been, trying to get a challenging project done while keeping these latest visitors happy. It didn’t help to have our previous guest be so insulting.  Her stay thoroughly turned me off to knocking myself out, acting as an LA tour guide, waiting on people hand and foot (sorry for the cliches) and feeding them, to boot.  I also have a pushy cousin, an attorney from England, who announced that she was coming to LA for an assignment and wanted to get together with me to go over the family tree.  She says she is armed with a list of questions. I have no time to work on that topic these days and now have to find a way to avoid getting together with her.  She stayed with us a couple of years ago and all we ended up doing was taking her around to the places she decided were important, and picking up the tab for the privilege.

Back to the parents.  We had to find something they would both enjoy.  My mother is easy. Take her anywhere and she finds people and things to entertain her.  She is so damn positive, its scary. And, my dad is the opposite. He is the most critical, analytical, cynical human being I have ever met.  One thing they have in common is their love of learning. It was so emphasized when I was growing up that I am always shocked when I meet people whose parents didn’t pressure them to excel academically.  I guess when you have just one child, you concentrate on them unbelievably.  Anyway, my mother’s career has been educating children (special ed — which includes the gifted and talented), my dad’s science (chemistry) so I thought they would enjoy walking around Caltech and having lunch in Pasadena — so they would feel at home.


The weather was perfect: cool and overcast.  It mirrored my mood and gave me a different vibe to capture in stark contrast to the over-bright pictures I usually have to take with relentless sun beating down all the time. My dad has an old college buddy at Caltech so we parked him in the lab and wandered around.  It was truly a tranquil, inspiring setting and a godsend, getting us all out of the house and into an environment where my dad would be comfortable.

But our détente was shattered by the Super Bowl.  You can guess: my dad, pulling for the Patriots and Geoffrey (and all his friends) in Seahawk territory. OK, so to give him credit, G. forewent the party and stayed home with my parents to watch the game. It was tense, to say the least.  The thing with Geoff, though, is he is a quiet loser. The stupid play that cost Seattle the game (hey, didn’t they watch The Blindside? ‘Run the dang ball!’ …) left him in a somber mood. I think North Carolina Running Back DeAngelo Williams came up with the best and most charitable description for the disastrous decision by saying “they played chess when they should have played checkers”.


But at least my dad, being away from his element, could feel good about the Patriot win.  I forced myself to sit in the family room with them, something I usually avoid, since the roaring in the crowd and the shouting commentators make me nervous.  But I am knitting a long sweater-coat, and reading an intriguing book right now about Saudi women, so I could do both even with the game blaring. Still, the error that ended the game cast a pall over the end of their visit.  We packed them off the next day with a sigh of rueful relief.


So, while I was dealing with my personal parental issues I have also been meaning to comment on the latest controversial trend in parenting, i.e. that of helicoptering vs free ranging. As I have said so many time before, I hate labels, categories, classifications and any other form of limitation placed on natural life, for the purpose of argument or discussion or solving problems. The fact is, no one and nothing in this universe really can be defined by a category (or even multiple designations). Things are just bigger than that, to put it in simple terms. Phenomena when considered organically or as a whole defy even definition, let alone confinement.


The idea of helicopter parenting has been around since the late 1960s, so it is nothing new. But I also think it is a poor concept.  In over-simplified terms, it describes a parent who is smothering the child with apparent attention but who is actually absent on a true emotional, connective level.  Again, the minute we hear the term, we conjure up a certain kind of annoying person who thinks they are doing the right thing by their child but who is actually damaging them.  I would prefer to take the individual parent/child duo and its dynamics on a case by case basis.

The only reason I mention the idea here, is that I think it has led to the ‘free range’ parent phenomenon, which is far more dangerous.  Increasingly one hears anecdotes about parents who allow their children much greater freedom than is appropriate for their age as well as the world we live in.  An example would be the parents who were recently charged with child endangerment when they allowed their two very young children to walk a couple of miles between a park and home, unaccompanied by an adult.  In this classification I would place any parent who allows a child to be on his or her computer behind closed doors, completely unsupervised. This is stupidity and recklessness.  I would have a computer hub centrally located in the house where children would do their homework at night — not in their rooms, as unpopular and harsh as that might seem.


Of course we want children to develop independence, critical thinking, judgment and a healthy, strong sense of self and capacity, but not at the wrong time.  The raising of a child, by all caregivers, is a gradual introduction to the world and a steady unfolding of realities, fostering trust and eventually decision-making on their own.  All one need do is read a simple Piaget-style primer on this topic to learn what is and is not acceptable at each age.  People who confront their children with difficult decisions and environments too early are risking catastrophic outcomes.

The hands-off, free range-style parents, who have just enough information to be dangerous, and who are by and large ignorant, are responsible for a spectrum of accidents befalling their kids, from incidents like the three year old who shot both her parents this past week, with a handgun taken from the mother’s purse, to any number of boys and girls who are kidnapped, raped and murdered when lured into danger by disturbed people, both familiars and strangers alike, when they don’t have the proper monitoring.


It truly pains me to see people have children who have spent no time learning about human development, childhood or parenting.  The information is out there, a lot of it.  Much of it is wrong and contradictory.  But the same could be said about anything of importance.  Buying a car takes research and sorting out information to identify the best choice.  So does parenting, as I have said ad nauseum.  Free range parenting as it is meant by the movement afoot today is abuse.

A good parent protects his or her child until that nascent human being is ready to take care of themselves.  While it certainly varies from individual to individual, the legal age of majority is a good enough (and scientific enough) benchmark for giving freer reign to a child.  In fact, the more closely the upbringing resembles the ideal, the greater the likelihood that an 18 year old will be ready to face the world on his/her own.


It is hard sometimes to separate the smothering parent from the loving and nurturing one, and the independence-loving parent from those who are essentially lazy and self-absorbed. But that is the challenge parents (and teachers, for that matter) face. If you can’t or don’t want to pay attention and put the child first, you don’t belong around kids.

Finally, because it is so topical right now, let me say a few words on the topic of immunization. I have a complex approach to this topic.  As you know, I am not a believer in just slavishly acceding to the directions of any so called ‘expert’.  I believe in being armed with information and then taking into consideration whoever is in charge of some area, like our health.  It is no different on this topic, so here goes.  First off, I do not believe parents ‘own’ their children, as Dr. Rand Paul said this week.  I believe children are entrusted to their parents, but own themselves and are simply maturing to emancipation under their parents’ care.  Secondly, I think there are diseases for which vaccination is the best of the bad choices. Among them would be polio, smallpox, and pertussis.  These things are not to be trifled with.


But again, this is on an individual, case by case basis.  We face a tough choice.  Measles, chicken-pox, mumps have been around for centuries. If your child has a healthy immune system, s/he is likely to survive these diseases with immunity to them.  Not that we would wish this on them, naturally.  Avoiding disease is paramount and in most cases can be ensured with proper regimens (nutrition, activity, rest, healthy emotional support, etc.).  But there are children whose immune systems are so compromised that they cannot risk these illnesses. For their sakes and because we live in a world where the greater good of society has to take precedence over our individual preferences, we must go ahead and immunize every child (and adult) to protect the group.  My suggestion would be that there not be these multi-shot visits, where the toxic cocktail from a half dozen or more diseases is injected directly into the bloodstream of a six-month old all at once. This is done for expedience and cost-control but I do question the wisdom of subjecting such an immature organism to that kind of assault. Vaccinate we must, but let’s do it in a nuanced manner, tailored to the individual.

This just in

I just heard Il Papa’s unfortunate comments on corporal punishment.  This is a topic on which I feel very strongly, so I will save it for a future post.

 Images: Beth Byrnes archives: California Institute of Technology, Pasadena


Have I mentioned my distress at what I refer to as the ‘bumpkinification’ of America? I will explain in a minute. But, I am just as disgusted with our wimpification too.  So, before I get going, let’s take a look back at this week before zeroing in on this post.



In a word, this week was all about snow. First of all, I have been sharing a set of pictures I took when we ran up to Wrightwood (see recent post).  I hope this is not leaving you all snow-bored. Second, my parents were snowed out of their place in Stockbridge, switched from their annual pilgrimage to the Belmont Shores relatives down in shangrila who are marooned in Cape Cod as it turns out and instead, came to visit us for a few days, and so in addition to work, we’ve had to entertain them.

This is the winter, my time of year when I, as a native East Coaster, feel like reveling in wintery things, like snowflakes and cold and icicles and woodsy/cabiny/sweatery interiorized features. These are the collectively unconscious symbols for a drawing in of the earth and of ourselves for contemplation. Rudolf Steiner talked about this in a Jungian/Campbell archetypal and mythological vein.  Each season has its own nature. One thing that truly offends me is seeing people in summer clothes in the middle of February (even in SoCal) – or out and around playing as if it were July. In the olden days, especially back home, no one would dream of being sleeveless or wearing cotton in the winter.  And 70F temps like we had here all January really annoy me. OK, so I won’t belabor this.


Another reason for all this snowiness is the non-stop, round the clock, over the top, snomigosh coverage of the “snow bomb” -“thundersnow”-“snowpocalypse” -“arctic clipper”-“white-out” blizzard this week that even had a name (Juno — why, I wonder that particular name?), for heaven sake.  It was so strange that every station was covering it that I almost wondered if there was some big world-shaking event that they didn’t want us to think about, while they literally blanketed us with snoverage. They predicted a monster storm for Yankee territory and while New England proper did deliver, NYC got by with a mere 8 inches.  That is nothing, in my snow country lexicon.



So,  this post turned in a different direction than I had planned when it drifted across my mental landscape early this week. I never get tired of trudging through this topic, so bear with me.

I was originally going to recount some anecdotes about my first year in lake-effect snow in Upstate New York, going to school.  It is truly hilarious and I am sure I will toss it into a future post so you can get a kick out of how little prepared I was for the realities of six month winters, when I first arrived with my citified gear. Nope, I just have to get this off my vest first.


The planet is warming, the climate is changing, we are responsible for enough of it that changes we can make can reverse this trend before it is too late.  Please, if you are going to challenge me with what the Koch network thinks about this I ask only that you can prove it with established fact from respected scientific, not propaganda sources. This is where the interpolation of ideology and belief with actual, measurable, demonstrable fact is so dangerous.  I just heard a former mayor of Boston say he relied on ‘instinct’ and ‘prayer’ to meet weather emergencies. Un, no! As a private citizen, go ahead and pray.  I am a supporter of prayer, which works and helps in our personal lives for many reasons. But if they are responsible for the safety and well-being of millions of people, our leaders absolutely must turn to technical experts as well as to their trained teams of responders.


Oh, and if we are not clear about the distinction between weather and climate, we need to educate ourselves.  I will summarize the answer I gave Bratley when he quoted me chapter and verse of Limbaughology, i.e., that a. it was arrogant of us to think we could alter the environment (ever heard of extinctions? take a look at what is happening to our bee populations, thanks to Monsanto et al.) and b. how can the earth be warming when there are so many serious blizzards. Its simple: the heat is being absorbed by the oceans and the extra moisture evaporating up into the atmosphere is mixing with the greenhouse-induced heat and producing more storms.


The increased gas emissions from a variety of man-made activities are altering the earth’s wind and water current conveyor belt system,  marooning the jet stream far to the north and reshaping its arc. That is why the wet places are getting wetter and the dry, hotter and more arid.  These last few years have been the hottest for thousands of years. How do we know? Not by record keeping alone, which is relatively recent (although that measurement is consistent with others) but by things like ice core dating, sedimentary analyses, carbon dating, ocean temperature readings, mass marine extinctions (yes, hot oceans means no more fish!), etc. The data is out there.  Find the science experts and read what they have to say. Unless you are a coupon-clipping Davos-card-carrying member of the highest magnitude (i.e., billionaire), you really are mistaken to subscribe to their disinformation.


And this leads me back to bumpkinism.  If I were from an environment that kept me blessedly isolated in a safe bubble of immediate surroundings, I would consider myself lucky to have been sheltered by blissful ignorance and the contentment it often provides. Sometimes I get so fed up with the disturbing events swirling around us that I want to step right into a Kincaid painting and never come out.  But if I came from such a safe Igloo, then, I would go out and find the world and its latest knowledge on any subject about which I had been ignorant. That could be done in many ways and is the primary reason people often leave the country for the city: to get up to speed.  The best way to do that is to study the latest and best knowledge of experts. That does not mean being uncritical of them or swallowing everything one reads.  In fact, when you go to good schools, they teach you how to be discerning and to sort out the valid from the sham. And, you can retire to the country later on, either actually or virtually, after you’ve been ‘schooled’ in what is, not what someone believed in the 19th century.  In fact, I love rural America — where else is land affordable any more, anyway.


That used to be the way we were all raised to think.  We respected those who were trained in subjects about which we were largely uninformed. Those specialists who went through the best, most learned institutions were held to be experts. I, as a psychologist, would never argue with a physicist. Today, however, there is a movement in this country to glorify obdurateness and oversimplification.  Everyone runs around boasting about how backward they are, admitting they are not scientists but then spouting a facile opinion anyway! While I don’t think we should put any human being on a pedestal, clearly we need to be respectful of those who have earned the right to hold professional opinions and not hide behind a veil of stupidity as if it is somehow purer and better than being smart. You don’t even have to leave home to do this anymore, either.  The information is at our fingertips all the time from the remotest village.  It is a wonderful era in which to be intellectually curious.


So, when people point with glee to the fact that many of our leaders got this snowstorm ‘wrong’, it is as if to say that there was no way to know what was going to happen, that the models which turned out to be good but imperfect, were wrongly constructed and that meteorology is beyond our ken. They are playing right into the hands of the diabolical corporatists who want to keep plundering our brains and resources for their own aggrandizement.   It is no different, I heard a scientist say yesterday, than knowing who is going to win the Super Bowl.  There are many statistics and models that could help predict the outcome, but none of them are 100 percent certain.  He went on to say, any simpleton can tell us what happened, but it takes a higher order of analysis to tell us what is going to happen.


Being so incurious is lazy.  It takes courage to entertain the unfamiliar, but it is a sign of uniquely human intelligence. If that is scary, too bad! We need to human up and be willing to face unattractive facts about ourselves, both individually and as a species.

When I want to know what is likely to come, because I want to be prepared, or to help prevent an undesirable outcome, I am going to look to people who have spent their lives training in that subject. 16216012977_ee5a2856f8_kI am not going to champion my own or anyone else’s ignorance. To me, that is playing into the hands of people who want to snow us with myths and leave us bewildered or snowbound — if you don’t mind my straining the analogy!

P.S.: This just in! How timely

 Images: Beth Byrnes archives; Mountain High in early January



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