Monday, May 30, 2011

Hostility at the river, 5-30-11

As we approached the river a large hawk sailed past our Jeep and down toward the river bottom. As he glided down a small bird dove repeatedly and furiously at him from above. The hawk never flapped its wings or in any way seemed perturbed.

We got to the river at about 07:00. The sun may have been up elsewhere, but it was not yet up above our local mountains and the temperature was still in the 40s. We hiked northeast for about 90 minutes veering away from the golf course when we noticed a man in a bright red jacket looking for golf balls.

We got to the river service road to head back west. As we climbed up on the road I could see a jogger perhaps 300 yards behind us coming our way, and coming toward us from the west was a family of about eight Hispanic people. I considered stopping and putting a leash on Ginger when I saw that one of the men had a German Shepherd, but there was no good place to stop and Ginger knowing my intentions was dancing away from me. The man had his GSD on leash and walked down into the river bottom to get around us. Friendly Ginger of course headed down to say hello to the GSD. The man frantically waved his arms at Ginger to ward her off.

“She’s friendly,” I yelled at the man. “Don’t worry.”

The pointed to his GSD and yelled back, “he’s not. Sorry.”

Ginger got about 15 feet away from the GSD and stopped. After looking it over carefully as it leaped about trying to pull his leash loose, she decided she agreed with the man and returned to us without further disagreement.

Someone I hadn’t noticed earlier was catching up with us from the east; so we headed down into the river bottom. The entrance to a trail I intended to use was completely overgrown with spring flowers and bushes so we had to push through. We walked along until suddenly from just a few feet away we heard the maniacal and menacing howling of a coyote. This was the spot where we had heard that same call in the past. In fact it may have been the same coyote we’ve encountered before – perhaps coming to her favorite spot to have a litter of pups. We three stopped to peer in the direction of the howls but couldn’t, at least I couldn’t, see her. I looked at the girls’ backs: no hackles, so obviously no big deal to them, but it was a very big deal to the coyote. It was as though she was saying, “you’d better keep away from my pups or I’ll tear you limb from limb and feed you to them.” She was probably just bluffing but we kept moving anyway.

The Olympus E-1 struggled with the low-light conditions during the time before the sun made it up. I would have taken the Pentax K-20d, with its better low-light capability, but it had a sensor I couldn’t clean & so had to send it back to the Camera-Store seller in Texas. I should get its replacement by this coming Thursday. I was using a Sigma 18-125mm lens today.


 _5303427 _5303446  _5303462 _5303481 _5303486 _5303523 



Saturday, May 28, 2011

The girls on a beautiful morning, 5-28-11

[Olympus E1 camera and a Sigma 50-200mm lens]

I didn’t expect anything from from today.  I debated whether to even go, but Duffy swallowed one of Susan’s food supplements, Magnesium or Calcium & Vitamin D, she couldn’t tell which; so after checking the internet to be fairly certain he would come to no harm, I decided to take the girls to the river so Duffy & Susan could go back to sleep, or at least calm down.

We are entering the warm period in this region, when a trip to the river is an ordeal rather than a pleasure, but the end of spring is hanging on a little longer.  There was enough of a breeze to blow away the insects and enough rabbits for the girls to chase.  From time to time I would turn to see something spectacular.



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fervent Camera Owners & Christians

While I haven’t read about a great deal of fervency in Christianity at large, I have seen it in the Photographic world. I spent time on the forums of three camera brands, Olympus, Pentax and Sigma. Each brand has its fanatic adherents known as “fanboys.” If someone announces he is abandoning his brand for another, he will be denounced as a traitor, if his brand is capable of being defended – as Olympus and Sigma have been in the past and Pentax is at present.
But Olympus and Sigma have serious problems. It is as though Harold Camping pronounced the end of their DSLR worlds. Olympus fanboys take pride in Olympus lenses and in the most recent “pro” camera the Olympus E-5, but Olympus seems to be planning to neglect or deemphasize the DSLR line and concentrate on their more profitable “micro-dslr,” which the real DSLR owners consider a bare step above a Point and Shoot camera. The end of the Olympus World may not be at hand, but Olympus DSLR owners have definitely entered a period of hard times. As an indication of how depressed the Olympus fanboys are, they readily tolerate those who decide to become the owners of two brands. Pentax may be preferable as a second brand, but even Canikon (a pejorative term applied to Canon and Nikon) cameras are now tolerated.
But sadder by far are the Sigma fanboys. Sigma made a name for itself by producing good-quality lenses for the major cameras. A few years back it broke into the camera market with a new sensor, the Faveon. Sensors in other brands have one layer, but Faveon’s sensors have three layers. Thus their SD-15 is described as having 15 megapixels, but these consist of three layers of 5-Megapixel sensors. Detractors claim that the SD-15 should be called a 5 megapixel camera, but Faveon claims that their system gets truer color from its three layers than single layer sensors do. Sigma claims that their cameras approach the quality of film-cameras.
The Sigma SD-15 has not received good reviews. Its image quality is good if the light is favorable, but it doesn’t match its competitors in low light. It isn’t very fast and its button arrangement strikes the reviewers as chaotic. Still, most photography is done in fairly good light; so I could understand the appeal. When I first began monitoring the Sigma forum, its fanboys were ecstatically describing the coming of the SD-1 much as Ahmadinejad describes the coming of the Mahdi. All the problems of the SD-15 would be corrected and the SD-1 would have its FORTY-SIX Faveon megapixels. Fanboys were buying Sigma lenses and saving up their money in anticipation of the coming of the SD-1. Some were selling their old SD-14s and SD-15s.
And then the earthquake hit from Japan. The SD-1 was to cost $9,700. Fanboy after Fanboy expressed his despair. How could Sigma do this to them? Who could afford $9,700? This was surely the worst business decision possible. Could Sigma even survive after such a bad decision? Many thought not.
The SD-1 still hasn’t reached the market, but already the $9,700 decision has been abandoned. BH Photo has it listed for $6,899. Some fanboys have said there are going to buy one, but the bulk think the price is still too high. They are hoping that it will be lowered yet again, but not feeling optimistic about it.
FURTHER COMMENT: I don’t know how many of these fanboys are also Christian, but I will venture to guess that if some of them are, their enthusiasm for their religion doesn’t match their enthusiasm for their cameras.
We in the West have become used to progressing secularization. It has gone hand in hand with unprecedented prosperity. We Christians can take some pride in this progress, for as Max Weber said, our prosperity, indeed our entire Western Civilization could not have developed were it not for our Christian Work Ethic. So surely there is nothing wrong with our benefiting materially from our hard work. Surely there is nothing wrong with owning a few cameras if we can afford them.
Marcel Gauchet after Weber wrote of The Disenchantment of the World, A Political History of Religion. Gauchet. While acknowledging Christianity’s role in the creation of the Western Civilization, he believes it is no longer necessary. Secularization can accomplish everything that Christianity did and do it better. But the world has not become “disenchanted.” Christian fervency may not be what it was, but fervency for what in the past was termed “superstition” is much on the increase. Also, while Christians may not be out proselytizing in French and Italian villages, Muslims apparently are. Those who thought that the abandonment of Christianity would be replaced by a sober reliance upon science were wrong.
Am I as depressed about the future of Christianity as the Sigma and Olympus fanboys are about the future of their cameras? I could be, but Christian history is replete with difficulties. Jaroslav Pelikan’s five-volume “The Christian Tradition” reads like an adventure series. Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy hasn’t the successes and failures, heroes and villains that exist in Pelikan’s narration.
There are signs of the corrective that caused Tertullian to abandon orthodoxy and turn to Montanism. When the church becomes lax it inspires some to become more ascetic and self-sacrificing. The big news in the Christian World may be that Harold Camping has guessed wrong, but there is small news here and there. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that someone new had moved into the house behind me. I was in the back yard while he was setting up a dog run and we spoke over our common fence. He was tattooed and had the appearance of an East-LA gang-banger which in fact he had been. I gather he spent some time in jail but at some point he became converted. He has become involved in preaching to young kids to keep them out of gangs. He is getting a degree from the local college in some sort of social service. His wife is already working in that arena.
This largely-self-taught Christian is out doing this sort of thing with tremendous fervency – perhaps even as much as the fanboys express on the Olympus and Sigma camera forums.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Is there a Christian answer to Fervent Islam?

There is a secular answer: let all Islam become like it is in Turkey, i.e. “Secular Islam.” Islamic intellectuals here and there seem to have taken that position, but it isn’t widely accepted. Whatever pressure was placed upon Iraq, for example, to become more like Turkey religiously, has failed. This is the only hand Western secularism has played and it has failed.

So if there is to be ongoing religious fervor in Islam, does the West have anything to contend with it? I am making the assumption here that in religious terms fervor will win out over apathy. I am not ruling out the possibility that Islam may eventually become as apathetic as Christianity has (largely), but am assuming for the sake of discussion that it will not.

Backing up a little, there are modern cases of Christian fervor. Jim Jones exhibited quite a bit of it when he took his congregation to Guiana a few years ago. We have seen another example in Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21st. Both Jones and Camping were without doubt fervent, but that isn’t the sort of fervency we need if the West is to offer a viable alternative to Islam.

I’ve been reading Heresies, The Image of Christ in the Mirror of Heresy and Orthodoxy from the Apostles to the Present by Harold O. J. Brown. Christian theology developed to quell the various heresies that developed throughout Western history, but the tendency of Christians to become lax in their religious practice invites heretics to rise up with their fervent alternative. One of the earliest Church “Fathers” was Tertullian of Carthage, “a Roman jurist turned Christian (ca. 160 – ca. 230): ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, or the Stoa with the Porch of Solomon?’” Tertullian asked. He saw no need to integrate Christianity into society or society into Christianity. One needed only to hunker down into Christian society and be what Christ asked of his disciples. But Tertullian was bitterly disappointed in what he experienced there. The Christians he knew lacked, or perhaps lost, the sort of fervor Tertullian wished for.

Even though Tertullian became one of the pioneers of Christian theology in Latin, “in the latter part of his life, he found the church too lax, and went over to a heretical ‘reform’ movement, Montanism.” [Brown, p. 43]

Interestingly, Montanism has much in common withPentacostalism and the Charismatic Movement. Wace & Piercy in their A Dictionary of Christian Biography, page 738 write, “ He [Montanus] taught that God’s supernatural revelations did not end with the apostles, but that even more wonderful manifestations of the divine energy might be expected under the dispensation of the Paraclete [the Greek term for the Holy Spirit as “comforter” and “teacher”]. . . Montanus claimed to be a prophet and spoke in a kind of possession or ecstasy.”

While the actual “prophecies” delivered by Montanus and his disciples weren’t in themselves heretical, “what condemned the prophesyings in the minds of the church authorities was the frenzied ecstasy in which they were delivered.”

But that wasn’t the Montanists’ only problem. Like Harold Camping, they predicted the “end of the world” with no better accuracy than his. Orthodox Christianity put a cap on the Charismatic gifts, but Montanus took it off. One of his prophets, Priscilla, “had seen in a vision Christ come in the form of a woman in a bright garment, who inspired her with wisdom and informed her that Pepuza was the holy place and that there the New Jerusalem was to descend from heaven. Thenceforth Pepuza and the neighbouring village Tymium became the Montanist holy place, habitually spoken of as Jerusalem. . . .” [Wace & Piercy, p 739]

I am not a fan of the Charismatics and Pentecostals for the same reason that Montanism was declared a heresy. If anyone can prophesy then who is to decide which prophesies are valid? And if any are valid, must they be set alongside the Scriptures? But Charismatic and Pentecostal churches grow and Orthodox churches decline because the former are fervent and the later are not. As humans we want to follow someone exciting who “fervently” tells us what is true and what is not. Unfortunately these fervent individuals have been as human as the rest of us and their teachings have in various ways failed. We know of Montanism today only because of the Christian Apologists who “fervently” attacked it.

“The personal commitment and pattern of life of contemporary religious groups Orthodoxy calls deeply heretical, such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . is precisely what one ought to be able to expect from orthodox Christians if they really believe in the truth of the doctrines to which their creedal and confessional positions formally commit them.” [Brown, p. 451]

An “orthodox fervency” is possible in this modern world, but it needs to be “in the world” in order to be effective, and in order to be there it needs to maintain a high level of religious consciousness in order to avoid succumbing to “that very-tempting-world.” Paul once told the Christians to follow him as he followed Christ. Who could say that today? Paul could go into Athens and preach the “unknown God.” Who would be willing to go into Athens today with that sort of fervency? Christians feel safer hunkering down in their little religious ghettos. That’s surely better than nothing, but a cloud is forming over them:

The following is from “Hudson New York”

“According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is already the fastest-growing religion in Europe, where the number of Muslims has tripled over the past 30 years. Most demographers forecast a similar or even higher rate of growth in the coming decades. . . Europe is spiritually beset by a morally relativistic post-modern worldview that encourages indifference to religion, especially of the Judeo-Christian variety. Religious apathy, induced by secular humanism, has emerged as the defining characteristic of contemporary European society; has created a huge spiritual vacuum that Islam is eager, willing and determined to fill.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Checking out the neighbors, 5-21-11

[Pentax K-20d camera & 18-55mm lens]



IMGP1194 IMGP1202


IMGP1210 IMGP1228 IMGP1230 IMGP1233 IMGP1241

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The River on the End of the World, 5-21-11

[Pentax K-20d camera and 18-55mm lens  -- my second outing with this equipment]





Friday, May 20, 2011

Is Obama anti-Israel?

That Obama is carrying on Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan seems unquestionable. One pundit entitles his article to this effect, “Barack Obama, Neocon?” [From ]

But Obama’s foreign policy diverges from Bush’s notably on the matter of Israel. This same pundit writes,

“But it is the last section of Obama's speech that is drawing the most attention. He called on Israel to accept withdrawal to its 1967 borders as a precursor to "peace" negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas:

[From Obama’s speech] The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.

I'm not sure how this is an argument for Israeli withdrawal.

[From Obama’s speech] “The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. ...

“These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met.

Under Obama's formula, the Palestinians would begin negotiations "knowing" that their territory will include, among other things, the entire Temple Mount, including the Western Wall. Obama can't seriously believe that Israel would accept this as a starting point (or ending point) of negotiations.

It gets worse from there:

[From Obama’s speech] I'm aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

So in Obama's view, the "right of return" is on the table, and it is incumbent on Israel to make further concessions, on top of acceptance of the 1967 borders--correctly labeled "indefensible" by Prime Minister Netanyahu--if it wishes to continue to exist.

Others will have more profound observations on Obama's seemingly gratuitous change in America's policy toward Israel. For the moment, let me just note this: as with Obamacare and a number of other issues, Obama evidently is acting from conviction, not political calculation. The Mearsheimer/Walt hypothesis, widely accepted on the Left, is that the Israeli lobby exerts a sinister influence on American foreign policy. The truth, however, is that the American people overwhelmingly side with Israel, for reasons that do not need to be explained to our readers. It is shared conviction and culture, not lobbying, that accounts for America's traditionally pro-Israel policy.

Obama will not gain politically by sabotaging Israel; on the contrary. He must know that his re-election is in grave jeopardy, and going out of his way to put his administration at odds with Israel will hurt, not help, his chances. So one can only conclude that Obama is genuinely, as a matter of philosophical conviction, anti-Israel.

COMMENT: I agree in part with this writer. But Americans sympathize with Israel for more than one reason. My reason is that they are a Western nation and I would hate to see any Western nation bullied out of existence by militant Islam.

Another reason is that Christian Fundamentalism is predominately ‘Dispensational’ which embraces an eschatological perspective hinging on Israel “staying in the land.” If those of who support Israel because it is of the West are not vocal enough, the Dispensationalists are sure to be.

However, while a withdrawal to Israel’s 1967 borders sounds alarming and absurd to those who have followed the history of Israel, it may not mean that much to the average voter; so if this writers prediction that this speech, at least the part about Israel, will harm Obama politically; someone is going to have to put this matter in different terms. From my standpoint if a nation invades my country and loses, and the cease fire occurs well inside his former territory, I am under no obligation to give back all his land. I may give back most of it, but I may keep enough “high ground” to discourage his invading me again.

From the Dispensationalists standpoint, they are not going to want to give back the temple mount.

From Israel’s standpoint, if returning to the 1967 borders could get Palestine to agree to a two-state solution, including the moving of the Palestinian refugees to the Palestinian state, while retaining Jewish access to the holy places outside this border, then Israel would probably go for it.

No doubt it depends on how this plays out politically. If the voting public becomes convinced that Obama is anti-Israel, this could count against him – even if Israel itself isn’t terribly offended by what Obama has said. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pentax K-20d, day 1, 5-19-11

[Pentax K-20d camera & 18-55II Pentax lens]