Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tension in Barcelona

Opposite our hotel
Though I wasn’t looking for it, I couldn’t avoid politics during our three days in Barcelona. My wife leaves all the trip planning to me so I booked the little Hotel Bagues based its proximity to the Gothic Quarter and the sea. We could walk to places of interest along La Rambla, a popular, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard. It’s very popular and it appeared there were tourists from just about everywhere else in the world.

There were mimes, tourist shops, and restaurants with sidewalk tables along La Rambla. Above the first floor restaurants and shops were residences with small balconies overlooking the streets and nearly half displayed political banners, flags, and posters draped over them calling for Catalan independence. Tourist literature called our section the “nerve center” of Barcelona — the city which is itself the nerve center of Catalonia.

We were sipping wine on our little balcony our first night there when we heard chanting in Spanish getting louder by the minute. Then demonstrators marched out of the street across from our balcony which connected La Rambla to the Gothic quarter. They carried Catalan flags and signs and chanted a phrase neither of us understood.

Last October, Catalonia tried to hold a referendum declaring independence but Spanish authorities violently disrupted the vote. According to CNN: “Police fired rubber bullets at protesters and voters trying to take part in the referendum, and used batons to beat them back   using rubber bullets.” Nine hundred people were injured.

Across from our balcony was another owned by a local woman with a Catalan flag and another banner I couldn’t read. Our bellman told me she is a leader in the independence movement. Last October counter demonstrators gathered on the street below and tried to get her to come out, but she wouldn’t. “They would have killed her,” said the bellman.

As if that weren’t enough, the previous August, another kind of political violence flared up when Moroccan Muslim immigrants mowed people down along La Rambla with a rented van. Sixteen people were killed and more than a hundred wounded. Our bell man told me three people died under our balcony and a dozen more lay gravely wounded. The door man pulled out his phone to show me videos too gruesome to show on television. The night before, an imam blew himself up in another area as he tried to construct explosives with gas cylinders.

Last Saturday in the Gothic Quarter very heavy drumming filled the air of a plaza where we were eating breakfast at a sidewalk cafe. Heavy base vibrated my sternum as it bounced off the stone buildings on all four sides of the plaza but I couldn’t pinpoint its source. We paid our bill and walk up the front steps of a gothic cathedral across the square where many people milled about. Looking over their heads, we could see the drummers surrounded by people holding banners and flags. When it stopped, one man with a banner told me they were rallying to keep Spain united.

Below our balcony
Saturday night six motorcycle police gathered there and two vans of heavily armed soldiers with automatic weapons positioned themselves below our balcony at dusk and hotel employees said that wasn’t unusual for a Saturday night. Going to our cruise ship Sunday, there were more soldiers with automatic weapons deployed at the waterfront. 
Two days later in Naples, Italy I saw an even heavier military presence soldiers with two very alert soldiers with automatic weapons were deployed every fifty yards along a pedestrian walkway in the center of the city. On Friday we’ll be in Nice, France where two years ago a Tunisian Muslim driving a cargo truck killed 84 people and wounded 458 others. Clearly tension is high in heavily-trafficked pedestrian zones of Mediterranean cities.

Truck Attack in Nice
A huge, 13th century castle dominates the Bay of Naples where our cruise ship tied up, built by the French when they dominated the region. It’s a reminder that political conflict is nothing new here as it’s been besieged many times. Muslim navies terrorized the entire Mediterranean for centuries. The last Muslim armies were expelled from Spain in 1492, the same year Columbus discovered America.

Castle Nuovo in Naples
Castles and other material fortifications are useless, however, against the kind of terrorism plaguing the region now. The European left encourages Muslim immigration, while the rising European right wants to cut it off, especially in eastern Europe. The right claims Muslims don’t want to assimilate, don’t want to become Spaniards, Italians, Germans, or French, and have a long-term strategy to take over Europe by demography. Demographic studies indicate that native Europeans are not producing offspring in numbers sufficient to maintain population. Meanwhile, immigrants are having large families.

Europe is changing but it’s still possible to travel peacefully, for now.

(ANSA) – Naples, April 26 – State and Carabinieri police arrested a Gambian national in an antiterrorism operation in Naples on Thursday, sources said.
The arrest comes after investigators found evidence the suspect was planning an attack, the sources said.
Alagie Touray, 21, admitted to investigators that he had received a request to drive a car into a crowd, the sources said. The evidence against him includes a video published on Telegram in which he allegedly pledges alliance to ISIS leader Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi.
He was detained as he left a mosque in Licola, in the province of Naples. Touray landed in Messina along with over 100 other asylum-seekers in March 2017….
We were there Tuesday. Touray was arrested Thursday. The first sign one sees when arriving in Naples by sea quotes Pope Francis and pleas for no borders. Let everyone come who wants to.
Europe is committing suicide.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Left & Right April 17, 2018

With Gino in Florida, Mark Guerringue filled in. Mark is publisher of the Daily Sun newspapers, including Conway Daily Sun, Berlin Daily Sun, Laconia Daily Sun, and the Portland Phoenix, one or more of which run my column.

We start with the Meuller investigation and recent happenings. Then it's media bias in various manifestations. We try to define conservative and liberal. Judge Kimba Wood background; Carter/Trump attorney/client privilege; comparing Ken Starr and Robert Meuller investigations; Facebook difficulties; regulating social media; likelihood of impeachment in 2019 if Democrats win the House.

Facebook in the news: does it need regulation? Political restraints on newspaper advertising should apply to social media as well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Keeping it Natural

Whenever possible, I use natural light in my photography. I much prefer it to artificial light which, if you think about it, hasn’t been around very long. Thomas Edison patented the light bulb in 1879 during the lifetime of my great-grandparents. We’re not sure how long humans like us have been around; recent discoveries in Morocco indicate about 300,000 years, so artificial light is very new in a relative sense. Before Edison, the only light we had to operate between sunset and sunrise was some sort of flame from candle, lamp, or lantern, all of which I would characterize as natural.

Moonset over Mount Washington
Artificial light improves our lives and we all use it every day, but it always feels unnatural to me and feeling is a big component of photography as I like to do it. Although I spent several hundred bucks on an artificial flash unit to photograph my loved ones indoors in the low light of our long, Maine winters, I only use it when I have to. As digital photography keeps improving, I use it less and less.

Lovell beech
People have asked me to photograph weddings and I’ve obliged a few times, but I don’t anymore. That’s work, and it diminishes the enjoyment of taking pictures for me. I only want to shoot what I want to shoot, so it’s been more than thirty years since I’ve done it for hire. Recently I’ve begun uploading a few images to Shutterstock, which is an online site for selling them. If others will pay to use pictures I’ve already shot that’s fine, but I’ll retain ownership and continue to shoot only what inspires me. I’ve donated images to non-profits and I’ve allowed National Review and other publications to use some, but I’ve never charged for them.

Perhaps the best natural light conditions I ever encountered were in Santorini, Greece. Our two days there had plenty of June sunshine and people are required to paint their houses and businesses white. Some cyan and light pink and blue are allowed now but all reflect light very nicely. Nearly every building perches on the steep rim of a volcanic crater high above the sea which reflects light upward. It’s photographer heaven and I shot hundreds of pics — of which about ten I’d consider high quality. Shutterstock already has over 82,000 pics of Santorini but I think mine will compete.
Santorini sunset
My northern European ancestors valued sunlight  highly for millennia to the point where it seems they worshipped it. Whoever built Stonehenge oriented it to the solstices. The builders of Ireland’s Newgrange structure did as well and it predates Stonehenge by 1000 years. Druid priests, or whoever presided over these ancient structures (historians aren’t sure), would have used candles or lamps to light the inner passages of Newgrange. Unless people lit massive bonfires, low light at night was the rule for everyone. Then in 1824, Augustin-Jean Fresnel invented the famous lens named for him through which light from a single lantern in a lighthouse could be projected 20 miles to warn ships of navigational obstacles. They’re still in use today.

Inside Newgrange
Those conducting solemn ceremonies and romantic encounters still favor natural light from candles even when all sorts of artificial light emission devices are available now. Just before I go to my bed each night I like to walk outside for a few minutes to smell the air. It’s never dark outside the South Portland house with street lights, porch lights on neighboring houses, and lights from Portland across the harbor. In Lovell, by contrast, there’s only light from the moon or stars with the exception in winter of a few twinkles from a distant hillside in Chatham, New Hampshire. I much prefer evenings outside there.
Kezar Lake sunset
It’s never completely quiet near the city either, whereas out in the country the only sounds are from wind, rain, or a wild animal, with only an occasional bark from a domestic dog. Some people find comfort in the lights and sounds of a city that never sleeps. I get that, but I believe I’ll always prefer natural sources for both.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Knife Control

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says, “There’s never a reason to carry a knife.” Well, Mr. Khan: there’s always been a knife in my pocket for more than fifty years. It’s a little one with a two-inch blade and a very handy tool. Mr. Khan further states: “Anyone who does will be caught and will feel the full force of the law.”

I’ll be in London April 28th, but only for a stopover on the way back from Barcelona. I won’t be carrying my knife because it’ll be in my checked luggage. A real visit to Great Britain is on my bucket list however, and I plan to carry my pocket knife after I go through customs in London —unless it’s confiscated.

It’s made by Schrade, says “Old Timer” on the handle, and costs $16.01 on Amazon and given that I turned sixty-seven last Saturday, the “Old Timer” label is ever more appropriate. I ordered four of them recently to have spares on hand because I lose them sometimes. Three times I’ve had to forfeit my knife at airport security checkpoints because I forgot to put it in my checked luggage.

One of my students told the principal several years ago that she got scared when I used it to peel an orange in my room during snack time. He came up to see me and said, “You’re not supposed to have those you know.” I responded that I was going to keep my little pocket knife until he told the custodians they couldn’t have utility knives and the cooks couldn’t have cutlery. He left me alone after that.

Just last month New Hampshire’s Berlin Daily Sun reported that a Gorham, NH high school teacher was being investigated for doing a classroom demonstration on search and seizure using a jack-knife which he temporarily gave a student for the demonstration. When the parent complained, the superintendent, the police chief, and the district attorney all got involved to consider charges against the teacher. All this over a jack-knife that boys in my Cub Scout den carried. “There were other students in the classroom at the time,” said the article. Of course there were; it was a demonstration! What’s next? Will the school provide grief counselors for students who’ve seen a jack-knife?

So far in 2018, the city of London has had more homicides than New York City. Most have been stabbings so Mayor Khan wants a knife ban. Handguns have been banned in the UK since 1997. Khan is also banning acid because there were more than four hundred “acid attacks” in 2017 mostly by young men against other young men in certain London neighborhoods.

Acid attack victim

Though NYC police are banned now from using “stop and frisk” tactics, London police have been empowered to “stop and search” suspected knife wielders. Mayor Khan had previously called that “racist” and “Islamophobic” because they were often done with Muslim immigrants. Nearly all the attacks, however, occur in Muslim immigrant neighborhoods — also called “no-go zones” because police and other civil servants are violently discouraged from going there by their Muslim inhabitants. Officially, however, there aren’t any “no-go zones” in the UK and if you claim there are, you may be investigated for a hate crime.

Snopes insists “no-go zones” don’t exist in Europe anywhere. Last month, however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted they do. When asked to clarify a statement on citizen safety in public places, she said: “It means for example that there cannot be any no-go areas, that there cannot be areas where no-one dares to go but there are such places. One has to call them by name and do something about it.”

According to the Daily Wire: “Parliament is also set to take up heavy ‘knife control’ legislation when it resumes this week. The U.K. government is expected to introduce a ban on online knife sales and home knife deliveries, declare it ‘illegal to possess zombie knives and knuckledusters [brass knuckles] in private’ — ‘zombie knives’ are those defined as being manufactured for the purpose of being used as a person-to-person weapon — and ban sales of caustic materials to anyone under the age of 18, the Independent reports."

British actions would seem to empower classic arguments long made by gun control opponents in the US, like: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” Killers use what’s available whether it’s guns, knives, poison, or explosives. It’s not the instrument; it’s the person, they insist. 

“It’s also not clear what local Londoners will now use to cut their food,” says the Daily Wire.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Blood Metal Trees

One does not expect to see a stunning work of art at the town dump, but there it was — a stainless steel oak tree about fourteen feet tall. The dump attendant said nobody was sure what to do with it, so there it sat between the garage and the scrap wood pile. Knowing who made the tree I drove over to Rod Iron Designs and asked Rod Blood and his son Merton what their tree was doing at the dump.

In the Bloods' shop/studio under construction

I’ve learned that I need a couple of hours if I’m going to talk to them because they like to visit. They told me the tree was first assigned to another artist who didn’t get too far on it so the patron, now deceased, asked them to finish it. They did, and the result is astounding. The patron was quite pleased and his tree was delivered to a hillside perch near his house in Lovell. Upon his death he wanted Rod to give it to either the Town of Lovell or to Fryeburg Academy but neither entity could decide whether to accept it so there it sat at the dump.

Merton plans the next move

Metal is cold and hard, but doesn’t seem so after Rod Blood and his son Merton work it. They’re artists who use iron or steel as their medium. They’ll do utilitarian repairs if asked and that’s what Rod did for decades working for others. His creative work was a sideline until some years ago when he dove in full time as “Rod Iron Designs.” Now he and Mert have more work than they can handle at their shop near Kezar Lake in Lovell.

Outside Portland Museum of Art

Outside the Portland Museum of Art stand metal sculptures like the one above which don’t appeal to me, but indicate the museum’s interest in the genre. If neither Lovell nor Fryeburg Academy appreciated the tree, I figured maybe the museum would. I took several pictures of it and sent them to a trustee I know. He was impressed — even more so after driving over to see it. He sent the pictures to the museum’s director, Mark Bessire, who contacted me. I told him of a smaller oak tree the Maine Medical Center commissioned the Bloods to create which now stands next to the hospital’s main entrance just down Congress Street from the Museum. Bessire said he would walk over and check it out.

The tree at Maine Medical Center entrance

The trunk and branches of the small tree are stainless steel, but it’s in full foliage with each individual leaf fashioned of copper oxidized to green. The tree is only about four or five feet tall but it’s perched on a pedestal with roots grasping outcrops of feldspar and quartz the Bloods dug out of the hills of western Maine. After seeing photographs of the hospital tree at their workshop I believed I could take better ones. I tried every angle, with flash and without, but was frustrated by the sterile setting. The tree is beautiful but it’s surrounded on all sides by concrete, glass, aluminum, or brick — and not well lit either. It would look much better just inside the entrance in the main lobby.

Rod and Mert were flattered that the Portland Museum of Art was interested in the bigger tree, but not sure how to proceed if neither Lovell nor Fryeburg Academy wanted it. Rod felt the weight of his deceased patron’s wishes and his obligation to fulfill them. It was an honor thing, a duty. Shortly thereafter, however, Lovell’s Board of Selectmen finally decided the tree could be placed at the site of the former Annie Heald School in Lovell Village next to the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library. There it stands today.

The morning after an ice storm last January it was completely glazed over. So were the trees around it and all were backlit by the rising sun. For a few hours the metal tree was indistinguishable from its natural neighbors.

Steel tree outlined in black

More people would have been able to see and appreciate the tree if it were next to the museum in Portland's Congress Square, but I’m glad it’s in Lovell. Both its artists and its patron are from here and this is where it belongs. I would, however, question why there’s a big pile of riprap stones around its base hiding so much of the trunk. It’s not as if the tree is going to be blown down by wind. It can’t have been placed there for aesthetic reasons, can it? I hope it's not a permanent arrangement.

The rock pile doesn't work