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Posted by on Jul 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Picture 1, Travel, Uncategorized, What's Left | 1 comment

The Greatest Photograph Ever Taken

 

 

[This is the follow up post to the article “WHAT’S THE GREATEST PHOTOGRAPH EVER TAKEN?” and subsequent discussion HERE which took place on Facebook.]

 

You’re looking at the greatest photograph ever taken.

It’s an astonishing image, spellbinding even, especially given the unforeseen interlude of the snapshot and the tumultuous times unraveling back on earth at the instant that it was taken.  The image is a blaze of contrasts, and for many — an inspiration and a call to action.

This photograph was snapped by William Anders in late 1968.  Anders was one of three astronauts aboard the Apollo 8 space mission.  Remarkably, Anders had no prior experience in photography, and yet his image has been called “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”   Not bad for an amateur.  The photo was even something of an accident.  It wasn’t planned.

Later named “Earthrise,” we see the earth in the distance which appears as an oasis of vibrant colors floating in the dark abyss of outer space.  The foreground shows the moon’s surface up close for the very first time, directly beneath the Apollo 8 spacecraft.  Contrast this image with grainy black and white television images transmitted back to earth from the lunar capsule, and the differences are striking.  We take these images for granted now, but at the time they were taken and later splashed around the world in media, we were in awe.

This image was a first in so many ways.  Earthrise was the first photograph to show the earth in its entirety.  While some of earth is concealed by a shadow and we can’t see the other side of the planet, it’s still the first comprehensive photo of all of humanity and the place we call our home.  Still, let that sink in.  Before this instant, we never quite knew what the whole earth looked like.  Previous manned space missions had beamed back many stunning images, but they were taken much closer to the earth’s surface.  Until this mesmerizing moment, we’d never seen ourselves truly as one.  In a sense, it’s the first “group shot” of everyone on earth.

This is us.

The timing of the photo also adds significantly to its power over us.  From space, we see what seems to be a peaceful planet.  But the historical backdrop to this photo was the terrible year that was 1968.  The world was in chaos.  This was the height of the Vietnam War.  The two superpowers were locked in a death-stare of conflicting ideologies, both sides stanchioned by thousands of nuclear warheads.  At the time, the U.S. didn’t even recognize the largest nation on earth, the People’s Republic of China.  Apartheid was the law of the land in South Africa.  Famine and starvation raged across parts of Asia and Africa.  Tensions were brewing in the Middle East, which had just come off a war between Israel and the Arab States in the prior year.  Central and South America were in the midst of their so-called “dirty wars,” as many countries were ruled by brutal military dictatorships.  Revolutionaries were active almost everywhere and had even launched a new tactic particularly loathsome to humanity, called “terrorism.”

The United States was also in crisis.  National Guard units patrolled the streets of many American cities.  There were nightly curfews.  Every major university had mass protests against the Vietnam War.  Race relations exploded into riots and burned many American cities.  There was a generational split on every cultural and political issue — the old didn’t like or trust the young, and the feeling was mutual.  Yes, 1968 was a bad year — Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down.  A few months later, Robert F. Kennedy was murdered.  Even one of the national political conventions erupted into near anarchy.

Yet, none of these man-made troubles are apparent in this stunningly beautiful groundbreaking image.  This was the portrait of a seemingly very different world that was taken when Anders lifted a Hasselblad camera loaded with 70 mm film and aimed it at the earth.  The audio recording of the conversation between the three astronauts inside the spacecraft reveals just how spontaneous this moment was:

William Anders:  Oh my God! Look at that picture over there!  There’s the Earth coming up.  Wow, is that pretty.

Frank Borman:  Hey, don’t take that, it’s not scheduled. (joking)

William Anders:  (laughs)  You got a color film, Jim?  Hand me that roll of color quick, would you…

Jim Lovell:  Oh man, that’s great!

Here’s another thought:  Given these historical firsts, the ironies of what the year 1968 was like, and the accidental occasion to take such an iconic photograph, also consider the actual date this image was taken.

December 24, 1968.  Christmas Eve.

Some 240,000 miles away, a billion people were about to celebrate the holiest of holidays.  Many of us would later sit down to dinner just hours later with our friends and loved ones (I was 6-years-old at the time).  While many of us enjoyed our Christmas feast, three remarkably brave men were so very far away, locked inside a tiny compartment the size of a Volkswagon, circling the moon.  The mission set the stage for the first moon landing, some seven months later.

Now, take another look at the photo.

I’m often asked why I believe the way I do.  I’m asked what makes me champion the virtues of science and reason, and why I value cooperation over conflict, and why I’m an advocate for human and animal rights, and why I’m an environmentalist, and why I don’t believe in imaginary gods, and why I don’t think national boundaries or borders are a good thing when it comes to being a fully compassionate human, and why I’m convinced we’re all much more interconnected than the wedges of disagreement which divides us.

There is no mine.  There is only ours.

Never has one photograph instilled within us such an important task — to save what we see.

 

Note 1:   The Earthrise photo had been preceded by a previous image taken in 1966 by a robotic space probe.  However, that image was in black-and-white and didn’t generate nearly the impact.

Note 2:  Read more about the marvel of Earthrise here, from the official NASA website.

 

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Rants and Raves, Travel | 2 comments

So, It Snowed Today in New York: Hello? It’s Still Winter!

 

 

So, it snowed today in Buffalo, New York.

Big fucking deal.

I suspect that it always snows in Buffalo, New York.  I think it snows in Buffalo, New York during the Fourth of July.

That’s what you get for living in Buffalo fucking New York.

Today, it also snowed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Big fucking deal.

That’s what you get for living in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

Hey, listen up.  You chose to live in the Northeast.  That’s the decision you made, a choice which encompasses all the repercussions of dealing with occasional bad weather.  And, according to my calendar, today is March 12th.  That date places us squarely in the season known as Winter.  W-I-N-T-E-R.  Spring is still more than one week away.

Okay, so let’s say it snowed 12 inches a month from now, sometime during April.  Then perhaps you can make a case for acting all surprised and going full ape mode.  But right now, it’s still wintertime.  News Flash:  It snows during the wintertime.

I just don’t get what’s the big deal about the weather.  I don’t.  Unless there’s a hurricane brewing off the Gulf Coast or a tornado has touched down in Oklahoma and people need to evacuate, I see no purpose whatsoever in covering nor discussing the weather.  Ever.  It’s a total waste of time.  There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.  So, just deal with it.  Live with it.  And if you must talk about it, do so among yourselves because of the rest of us living in other parts of the country really don’t give a shit.

This is not news.

I live in Las Vegas.  You don’t hear those of us who live in Las Vegas crowing about the scorching temperatures during the summertime, now do you?  We don’t say, “Hey, look at us — it’s 110 degrees today!”  That’s because we know it’s going to be 110 degrees in July, just about every single day.  It’s also going to be 110 every day in August.  That’s because we live in the fucking desert!  It gets hot here.  Just like it snows in the Northeast, sometimes even in mid-March.

Bingo.

You think people living in Seattle bitch about it raining 364 days a year?  Hell no!  Well, maybe they complain just a little.  But it’s never a national news story.  Same with bone-chilling temperatures in North Dakota.  You know what they call 32 degrees in Fargo in the middle of January?  A heat wave.

Nobody in North Dakota complains about cold and snow in the Winter.  That’s what bars and fireplaces were made for.  They man up.  They toughen it out.  They go on with their lives and don’t give a rat’s ass about the weather.

But all of you so-called “tough guys” living in the Northeast get a few inches of snow and all the sudden milk and bread flies off the shelves like you’re stocking a nuclear fallout shelter.  Wanna’ know something?  Tough guys don’t bitch about snow.  Tough guys don’t even notice it.

I just thought of a better use for the pejorative insult-of-all-insults during this post-election season:  Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here are way too many snowflakes.

 

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Posted by on Jan 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics, Travel | 1 comment

How You Can Help Save and Protect Red Rock Canyon

 

 

I woke up this morning to the majesty of contrasts that is the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, better known simply as “Red Rock Canyon.”  Everything within sight, from the desert cactus to mountain pines, was covered in white snow.

Most Las Vegas visitors, and even many locals, may not know about the natural splendor nestled in the mountains due west of The Strip just a half-hour drive away.  Red Rock is an oasis for the mind and a vacation for the soul.  It seems light years apart from the fabricated latticework of 1.5 million people, continuing to crawl with an alarming expansion beyond the sustainable resources necessary to ensure a healthy balance between what we build and the natural world around it which cradles our city like a protective glove.

Red Rock is a vast “pause button,” ready to be hit any time, a temporary escape to a quiet place still mostly unspoiled by sprawling urbanization, except for a few roads and the occasional traffic sign.  In a city blanketed with casinos, cookie-cutter tract homes, and look-a-like strip malls, Red Rock has become our common escape, even if just for a few fleeting seconds with an affectionate gaze in the westward direction of the snow-capped mountains.  Like a seductive temptress, we long for our next encounter with beauty.

Note:  Here’s a short article I wrote last year about my hike in the canyon, along with several photos. [CLICK HERE]

Sadly, each time I’ve driven into Red Rock in recent years, commercial development looks to be creeping closer and closer to the park.  Now, when driving up Charleston Blvd., which eventually leads directly into the heart of Red Rock Canyon, it’s shocking and sad to see the extent to which homes and shopping centers have stretched to the valley’s outer boundaries and very nearly into the canyon area itself, which is now seriously threatened.  Towards the north, specifically the Lone Mountain area, commercial and industrial development has been even more aggressive.  Lone Mountain was once on the outer fringes of the west side of Las Vegas.  Now, it’s been engulfed by a freeway, thousands of new homes, and a monochrome of dust and blowing debris which seems to swirl around constantly.

South of the Red Rock area, there’s a controversial proposal by developer Jim Rhodes to convert prime land currently occupied by a gypsum mine to construct more than 5,000 additional homes, which is likely to bring in another 10,000 cars and unforeseen disturbances to the area, such as noise and pollution.  A city where air quality is marginal at best and often covered in a thick haze on bad days chokes on its own exhaust fumes.

A few nights ago, a meeting was held here in Las Vegas where many critical issues important to our region were discussed.  I was stirred into action by the presentation of Justin Jones, who’s a board member of the organization known as Save Red Rock.  I learned that this non-profit is fighting to protect one of Las Vega’s last natural resources, not just for us, but for future generations.  Jones stated if we don’t take action now, it might be too late in the future.  He also noted that big-money developers have filed a lawsuit against Save Red Rock, purely in an effort to silence opposition, thus squashing citizen advocacy and democracy.  Fortunately, many people with the local community, Democrats and Republicans alike, are now speaking out and making their voices heard.  But that might not be enough given the power of developers who look towards Red Rock as a potential piggy bank.

We aren’t opposed to responsible development.  Indeed, there are plenty of attractive neighborhoods in our city where new homes can be built and new businesses can be created.  That’s something every community needs to remain vibrant  In fact, many established parts of Las Vegas are desperate for investment of this kind, and even offer generous tax incentives.  So, why allow unbridled expansion into one of the most gorgeous areas of Southern Nevada, when so many other opportunities exist for local development and revitalization?

If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the website SAVEREDROCK.ORG.  There’s also a petition you can sign for an upcoming public hearing with country commissioners (in February), which will show your support for protecting the natural majesty of this critically important and precious public recreation area.  Consider signing the PETITION HERE.

Once Red Rock is gone, it’s lost forever.  We must act now.  Please help and also tell your friends and neighbors.  We need your voice, your signature, your support, and most of all your action.  Please do it now.

 

READ THE FACEBOOK PAGE, with comments, HERE.

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 7 comments

What Happens When You Lose Your Ticket at Airport Parking?

 

 

Many years ago, I parked my car at New York’s JFK Airport and flew to Europe.  A planned one-week trip rolled into 16 days and by the time I returned to the lot, my parking fee had mushroomed into more than $300 (Note:  I’d arrived late for the flight due to traffic and was forced to park in the closer, more expensive zone).

I wondered to myself back then — what would have happened if I insisted the parking ticket had been lost?  There’s a special line for cars and drivers with lost tickets, but I’ve never challenged the system nor forsaken my obligation to pay what was owed.  Still, I’m naturally curious as to the protocols of how airports know how long you’ve been parked, and what to charge you for a lost parking ticket.

To be more clear for those who are unfamiliar with the issue, most big airports have multiple parking lots.  The closest lots, near the terminal, are always the most expensive.  Parking at Las Vegas McCarran comes to about $4 an hour.  There are even zones with parking meters.  However, Las Vegas also offers satellite lots, which charge up to $9 per day.  However, the satellite parking requires you to take a shuttle bus back and forth.  This adds another 20 minutes or so (each way) to the trip, plus a tip for the driver if you’re carrying bags.

I always park in the discounted parking lot when I travel (unless I’m running late, which happened in New York).  Over the past ten years, I’ve flown perhaps 60-70 times and many of those trips were for weeks at a time.  I’ve paid thousands of dollars parking fees.  However, many times upon exiting, I’ve wondered what would happen if I declared a “lost ticket.”

The math seems to make this a +EV move.  If I’m parked for 10 days, at $9 per day, that’s $90.  But what would happen is I feign confusion, declare my parking stub to be lost, and try and get a cheaper bill?  With thousands of cars parked for varying amounts of time, how would the airport know how long your car has been present?  Would it be possible to insist on a 4-day trip rather than 9 days, thus saving $54?

I’m not advocating that anyone try this.  Furthermore, it’s dishonest.  To me, $9 seems like quite a reasonable fee to pay to park for a day.  However, my experience in New York 20 years ago still bugs me.  Plus, I could really use that $300 that was forked over to the Airport Authority.

Has anyone ever challenged their parking time?  Has anyone ever successfully shaved a few days off the fee by declaring a “lost ticket?”  I’m specifically referring to airports where there is no maximum.  I realize a lost ticket at some lots requires the driver to pay the max.  What about long-stay parking lots?

I’d like to hear stories, which can be posted here or on Facebook.

 

READ DISCUSSION HERE.

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Posted by on May 24, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 32 comments

Beer

 

beer

 

Last night, I attended a local beer tasting here in Las Vegas.

I’m not really much of a beer guy.  Oh yeah, I went through that childish phase some time ago.  Okay, the childish phase lasted two decades.  Maybe three.  I admit it — I used to love my beer.  I still do.  But, the truth is, I can’t slam down cold pints of golden brew like I used to, because it makes me fat as all fuck.

Okay, fatter.

Screw you people for confronting me with the truth.

I have a lopsided love-hate relationship with beer.  I love it.  I love it.  I love it.  But, it hates me.  Beer makes me bloat like a puff fish.  After I drink 3 or 4 or 12 beers, I feel like a beached whale.  I’m Tony Montana all powdered up like a coke fiend drunk on his own supply.  Let me tell you something.  It’s embarrassing as shit when you have to poke a screwdriver into your leather belt to punch one more notch so your pants will stay up instead of drooping down to your ankles.  The beer-drinking fatties will likely get that reference.  We all done that, haven’t we?  The rest of you — please carry on.

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