Friday, April 30, 2010

Fancy Nancy

That’s a pretty amazing photograph of Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the cover of the May/June issue of Capitol File magazine. I saw it linked on The Drudge Report and didn’t even recognize that it was her. The change is nothing short of remarkable.

At first I thought one of her “image” handlers had goofed. In an effort to polish her up they had gotten carried away and smoothed off a few too many years. This picture’s effusive puffery goes so far that it nearly amounts to the roll-out of a new product that the public hasn’t seen, like the Apple iPad. But, Nancy Pelosi is not new.

In marketing and advertising certain procedures are followed when the time comes to re-make a person or product’s public image. Media-savvy consultants don’t just spring a major change on the public out of the blue.

Simply explained a re-build is done in phases and measured steps. The hair is allowed to be shown progressively grayer; the words “sugar sweetened” get smaller on the box and the word “Natural” gets larger; the suit gives way to a sport coat, then to a sweater. The tee shirt and sandals come last.

It may actually be, if we could measure it, that the photo’s impact on the general public is not one of positive approval, but of stunned amazement. John and Jane Doe, fed up with taxes, unemployment and Washington double-think, recognize this for what it is -- political spin. We all know Nancy Pelosi has been around the block a few times and has had some "work" done. So, who do they think they are kidding? Another new "do" and some pictures are not going to improve her numbers with the public.

Having been involved in this sort of thing, I look at Speaker Pelosi’s new photo and see the lights, the silks, the scrims, the makeup artist, wardrobe stylist, the security officers shooing tourists away (if, indeed, this was really shot on location). I see the staffers, the 20-somethings on cell phones back to the office, and the personal assistant sent to fetch some Fiji Water – in a glass with ice, not in the bottle. I see the photographer walking on eggs trying to get the Speaker to look this way or that, to smile -- but not too broadly -- and the crew banging off dozens of high res images before heading into a long session of Photo Shop-by-committee. And, all of this fuss was in quest of a vanity portrait that was never destined for the cover of The Rolling Stone, but rather a stuffy inside the beltway version of Cincinnati Magazine.

However, now that I think about it, this picture is more than a vanity portrait. It is a tool intended to send a message to a specific audience.

Capitol File magazine’s primary circulation area is Washington, DC. The audience is very select. This cover photo is so outlandish in its visual flattery that it can only be seen as a warning directed to the lobbyists, and vendors, and supplicants who travel to our nation’s capitol. It communicates to them that Nancy Pelosi can command how others should see her; as Our Glorious Speaker, and you better not laugh or you’ll be on the next plane back to Palookaville. Gone are the wild eyes. Gone are the grasping facial expressions. Gone is any hint that she habitually accuses Tea Partiers or others who challenge her of being “violent” and “Nazis”.

For the next two months Capitol File magazine will sit on coffee tables in reception areas throughout Washington. All the people who are not insiders, who have to wait, who are not whisked past the desk directly through to meetings, will sit in lobbies and see Nancy Pelosi’s picture smiling at them from the coffee table as if there’s nothing wrong.

Nancy Pelosi's cover portrait is not designed to fool anyone into believing that she is younger, kinder or gentler than she really is. We all know the truth in that matter.

The picture is intended to let people know who is in charge.

This essay was originally published April 30, 2010 on

The American Thinker

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The US is Not "Like Nazi Germany"

Oh, Brother.

I just heard a radio sound bite of some anti-anti-illegal immigration protester claiming that America is like Nazi Germany: We are putting up a border fence in Arizona and storm troopers are demanding to see people's papers.

The easy explanation would be to point out that in Nazi Germany those things were done to keep people in -- in Arizona they are being done to keep people out. That's a significant difference right there, but also an over-simplification itself.

It is commonly agreed that The United States is a nation of immigrants, legal immigrants. For over two hundred years in all parts of the world -- people have left their homes, their extended families, their possessions and moved to the New World of the United States. Those huddled-masses built this nation. An immigrant today doesn't just join us, but in a real sense joins those earlier immigrants, too.

It should be self-evident that the old legal-way worked well; we're all here, aren't we? We all have grand-parents or great grand-parents many times removed who came here from somewhere. They all were escaping a tyrant, a famine, religious oppression, or a backward culture that would abandon them to an eternity of peasantry. All were looking for a new start and a chance at Life. Very few of the world's wealthy left their estates or their villas to move here. Even the Marquis de Lafayette, after serving with George Washington and helping win our independence, moved back to France -- I'll never figure why. So don't fall for a lecture about "America hates poor people". Poor people by the million came to the United States and made it what it is.

The protest focused on Arizona is really a part of the economic resentment directed at the American people as a whole. It is self-serving and ultimately will prove self-defeating. There is no reason now to discard our measured means of selecting, admitting and absorbing new citizens in favor of a lax open border policy that disadvantages the American people.

The recent Arizona law was forced on the Governor, the Legislature and the People of that State by the inaction and fecklessness of the Federal Government. We've all heard the stories. How much murder and kidnapping does the Administration expect the people of Arizona to put up with? Just a little bit more, and then we'll do something? The fact is, the American public is being ignored by those who would benefit from either cheap labor or cheap votes. As Americans we have a right to expect our government to fulfill its commitment to "provide for the common defense" and to "insure domestic tranquility".

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A 3-D Slide Show -- in Breathtaking Kodachrome

As I have mentioned before, I am a dedicated and long-time stereo photographer. The rugged Stereo Realist is my camera of choice. It was Made In the USA, in Milwaukee to be exact, and is one of those American built-to-last wonders of the post WWII-era. Other companies introduced more sophisticated stereo cameras with more features and simpler operation, but the good-old Stereo Realist just keeps taking the pictures I want it to take.

Shooting with a 60 year-old stereo camera means, obviously, that I use film. Very retro compared to the current mode of photography. This year I am shooting my way through my last supply of Kodachrome 64. Last summer, after 75 years, Kodak announced they are suspending production of that wonderful film. -- One of the earliest posts on Plumwood Road, June 23, 2009, dealt with the subject of Kodachrome's passing.-- I found a cache of this film at PJ's Camera in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and bought a brick of it. My camera has been souped-up in such a manner to enables it to shoot "wider" views, but that means it burns through a 36-exposure roll in only 20 clicks. I am trying to make my supply last through the year, which is also the last year that processing will be available.

As it happens, we have very few Kodachrome slides of any kind from my youth. My Dad was not a slide shooter. He shot black and white print snapshots. Nothing fancy. Although, some of the shots he took in World War II in China and India are pretty dog gone amazing.

My introduction to Kodachrome slide film came in the mid-1970s, when I was a motion picture camera assistant. I was working in the California desert on a car commercial. The still photographer's assistant saw that I was using some commonly available "vacation-type" slide film in my personal camera and gave me a roll of Kodachrome 25 to try.

"This is called 'The Good Stuff'", he said. "Use it once and I guarantee you'll never go back."

And he was right. Kodachrome is/was rich, vivid, crisp, sharp...and permanent. Properly stored some estimates claim it to be stable for 500 years. It is perfect for documenting for viewers in the distant future a record of the images we see around us now.

Most people remember slide shows when they were kids. It was a common form of entertainment in the 50s and 60s; gather in the living room, dim the lights and project last summer's vacation pictures for the neighbors.

The Kodachrome slide shows that I remember seeing were photographed and projected in 3-D.

Long time friends of my parents from our church were Emil and Stella Miller.

Emil Miller was corporate/portrait/wedding photographer in the post-WWII years in Dayton, Ohio. Stella ran the business. Though it may be hard to picture now, Dayton, Ohio was once a booming industrial center, home to NCR, Delco, Frigidaire, Mead Paper, Lau Industries and a host of other manufacturing businesses. It was a very prosperous Mid-Western city that was full of engineers, machine shops, factories, and aerospace firms. All of this provided Em and Stella with work and interesting photographic subject matter. During his assignments Em would often switch out his view camera or 6X6, and mount his Stereo Realist on the tripod and click off a few shots in 3-D for his personal collection. He had nifty views taken on the plant floors, inside offices, at the mill...the lady at the switchboard, the guy in the bow-tie with the clipboard, the sparks flying as the molten metal was poured, the line of bottles rattling along at the local Coca-Cola plant... all preserved in that perfect You Are There effect that only 3-D can capture.

Emil's business was very profitable. It allowed him and his wife to indulge their interests in art and antiques. They restored an old frame house and filled it with paintings. They enjoyed nice vacations, too; road trips in the summer, ski trips in the winter, as well as European or Asian travel. This they covered extensively in 3-D as well.

In the winter they hosted parties where they would project their slides; the kids sitting on the floor up front and the parents comfy on furniture in back and everybody wearing cardboard glasses. These shows were a lot of fun, not only due to the interesting subject matter but for the unusual 3-D effect. As the images clicked by, Stella or Em would narrate and tell us what we were seeing and who was in the picture. If you've never seen well-shot, well-projected 3-D pictures, it's quite an experience. We would look at the pictures and feel like we could step right into the screen and stand in front of the Eiffel Tower, or walk through the gates of the newly opened Disneyland. The pictures made quite an impression.

Years later, I began shooting Stereo pictures myself. This common interest put me in contact with the Millers who would phone from Ohio occasionally with questions like "where can I find supplies", or "who do you recommend to repair my projector?"

Sometime in the early 1990s, my wife and I, visiting family in Dayton, were invited to attend one of Emil and Stella Miller's 3-D shows. They had found a few boxes of old slides and thought we would enjoy seeing them.

That evening's show came as almost a shock: All of the views were shot on Kodachrome and projected as beautifully as the day they were shot. We saw pictures of my brother and me as boys, my parents as a young couple, adults and kids from church, There was a shot of Dave Rothman when he was about 10 years-old, standing next to his dippy sister, Diane, who had cooties. But, what did I know then? For the record, she was a dish the last time I saw her.

There were slides taken inside our old house, at a picnics with people long gone, of Dayton, bustling and decorated up for Christmas. In the mid-50s my brother and I had a pet raccoon and there were a couple pictures of him, still a young pup, sitting on my brother's shoulder or standing up on his hind legs mooching a handout. The pictures were so life-like I felt I could reach out and give the fuzzy little guy a scratch behind the ears. The show went on to highlight some of Emil's commercial work, views of Dayton, Ohio as it used to be, and of some of the travel Em and Stella enjoyed; all of it was interesting. The over-all effect was this: Emil Miller had taken a shovel and scooped up a load of random memories and flashed them on the screen.

The evening concluded with refreshments of soft-drinks, with ham and rye, sweet pickles, veggies with potato chips and dips -- all smells and tastes associated with the era in which most of the pictures had been taken.

In 2002 my wife and I were in Dayton. Stella had passed a few months earlier and we found Em packing boxes in the dining room. He was breaking up their art collection and selling the house in preparation to move into a retirement community.

"While you're here, I have something you may be able to get more use out of than me..." Em opened a closet, shifted a few boxes around and got out his Stereo Realist projector, which to this day is the only genuine "Realist" projector I've ever seen. It was a phenomenal gift and one for which I was very grateful.

Along with the projector he gave me four boxes crammed with stereo slides.

"These are not my best slides" he said. "But I won't have room for them in the new place. Maybe you could look through them and see if there is anything you want to keep."

It took my wife and me several days to get through all the slides. They were all interesting and fun. Yes, I could see that some of them were misfires or out-takes, but there were some gems in the collection as well.

I stayed in touch with Em, over the next few years and on visits would stop by his apartment and say hello. He was a handy fellow with tools and kept busy hanging pictures and making repairs for the widows in the community.

After a while I began thinking about the rest of his stereo slides, the ones he'd shot at church functions, of my parent's 50th wedding anniversary, the views inside factories and old airliners, "the good ones" that he had kept. I wondered if he had any idea what he planned to do with them. I knew they were more personal to him, so I put off any questions. I would have loved to have had them. But, as it turned out, I never got the chance to ask.

In the fall of '07 Em didn't return a couple calls I had made. When we stopped by at Christmas time his apartment was empty. We were told that Em had died several months earlier. An auction had been held for his remaining artwork.

But, sadly, all those slides were tossed into a dumpster.

This article was published earlier by The Kodachrome Project. If you are a photographer you will enjoy going to that site and taking a last look at that wonderful, soon to be gone, film...Kodachrome.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Time in Chicago

I’ll tell you right now: this Chicago Tea Party report has a very happy ending…and, I’m going to get to it as fast as I can, so just sit tight and be patient.

I haven’t had a chance yet to check in on reports of tax day Tea Parties from around the country, but I don’t suppose Chicago’s made much of a ripple. Other rallies were much bigger, featured speakers of national stature, or had coverage on Fox. But in heavily Democratic Chicago, the capital of Obamanomics, what could happen worth comment?

The Windy City’s Tea Party took place on Daley Plaza in the center of Chicago’s Loop. Daley Plaza is dominated by the five-story high Picasso statue depicting a giant iron bird. Since it’s erection in the 1960s, it has evenly divided locals between those who like it and those who think it is an eyesore. Artistic merit aside, it never the less qualifies as a major Chicago landmark. You can walk by even in the dead of winter and find tourists, under-dressed and shivering, snapping pictures of each other in front of it. Then, to the west of the Plaza, across Clark Street, looms Chicago City Hall. It is the local equivalent of the Tower of London; the source of some local pride, but also the site of many infamous deeds.

The rally kicked off smartly a few minutes after noon, right at the heart of lunch hour. It was a warm day and the Plaza quickly filled. A couple major problems quickly became apparent. First, the speaker’s platform was located too close to the Picasso, so the view of a lot of people was blocked off. And, second, the sound system, which would have been fine for a high school pep rally, was totally inadequate to reach the ears of several thousand of the attendees. For most of the rally I could hear nothing but a low rumbling blur.

What happens when people half-way back in the crowd can’t hear? They stop trying to listen and begin to talk among themselves. It was in large part due to those conversations that the event was such a success. There were people all around introducing themselves, taking pictures, commenting on clever signs, exchanging literature, business cards and email addresses. Yes, there were a few “Party Crashers”, but they amounted to little more nuisance than ants at a picnic. On the plus side, however, was a surprising number of the genuinely curious; those who came to see what the Tea Party was all about. It was a lively, very satisfying social gathering; a cocktail party without the cocktails.

Several of us eventually managed to inch our way into hearing range just as the MC introduced Congressional candidate Joel Pollak, who is running for Congress in the Illinois 9th District, for the seat now held by Democrat Jan Schakowsky. If somebody from the Republican National Committee is reading this, pay attention: Pollak is somebody to keep an eye on.

Pollak's turn at the podium came late in the program. He stepped to the microphone with a toothy grin, gave the crowd a few laughs and then got down to business. He clicked off a short stump speech stressing political accountability, of “More freedom, less government, less taxes”. Then he shouldered an acoustic guitar and led the crowd in a Hootenanny. It was a blast. Joel Pollak was on stage about twelve minutes and created a lot of buzz in the crowd.

A little later, after the rally, I walked into The Berghoff for a pint of dark. Several groups of Tea Partiers had gotten there ahead of me and were in discussion. While I was paying for my beer, a young man standing at the bar carrying a nice Canon professional commented on my Stereo Realist. Camera-talk led to talk of the Tea Party. He’d attended the rally to photograph it. He had seen little that impressed him, “A few nice people, but not what the country needs right now.” He was generally unsympathetic to the views of the Tea Partiers.

As the remaining Tea Party crowd drifted out of the bar and onto the sidewalk, the photographer and I continued talking.

“What do you think of Sarah Palin? What about Glen Beck? How can you let all those people go without health care?” I did my best to advance the ideas of Free Markets, less government, and lower taxes, and to describe the dark waters that lay ahead if we don’t bring government under control.

Then his cell phone rang. It was the photographer’s new girlfriend.

“I’m at The Berghoff talking to some Tea Party-guy.” He said. “Okay, see you in ten minutes.”

We continued our conversation, and ten minutes later the girlfriend walked in. She was in her late 20s, wearing a cotton sun dress, and very attractive. The photographer introduced us, “This is Lisa.”

She ordered a beer and sat quietly while the photographer and I continued our conversation.

When her beer arrived she, with some ceremony, picked it up, took a sip, set the glass back on the bar then looked at us steadily for a moment. “Are you guys just talking politics? ‘Cause, if you are, here’s my politics: I voted for Barack Obama and I wish I hadn’t.”

Maybe it wasn't the sum-total of the Tea Party philosophy, but what happier, more unexpected conclusion to the day’s events could there be? A beer at The Berghoff, and a cute girl who wraps things up in one sentence.

Case closed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Congressman Paul Ryan Speaks in Oklahoma

Today while doing yard chores I caught part of Rush’s show on my Walkman, and heard him comment about a recent speech given by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. I was trimming some dead branches and trying not to step on spring flowers starting to poke up, so I was only half-listening.

It wasn’t what Limbaugh said that caught my attention, but the way that he said it. A little light flashed in the back of my head. When I finished the job I came in and fired up Old Sparky and looked around the internet.

Representative Ryan spoke last week, on March 31st, to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. If this sounds like Ryan is tap dancing his way through the Rubber Chicken Circuit, put that thought out of your mind. I found a transcript at Real Clear Politics and it took about 20 minutes to read. It was riveting and you should take a look at it; Click Here for Paul Ryan Speech.

The whole thing is a freight train of ideas barreling along at 80mph; one terrific passage after another. There is nothing half-way about it. He absolutely demolished the Health Care Reform Bill, Cap & Trade, the concept of “ethics” in the current Administration, but one part caught my eye:

“Since America began, the timid have feared the Founding Father’s ideas of individual freedom, so they yearned for Old World class models. Our Progressivists are the latest iteration of that same fear of the people.”

A few weeks ago I happened to run across a quote by Samuel Adams that said the same exact thing more than 200 years ago.

Many people would be surprised to learn that after the Founders won our independence an astonishing number of colonists packed up their belongings and moved back to England. Isn’t that astounding? They sailed here, and then sailed back. They could not comprehend living in a representative democracy without a Monarch. No King, no Duke, no Sultan, no permanent ruling class; just “Mr. President”, some Congressmen and Senators and “We the People”. It’ll never last. Who’ll take care of them?

There was, understandably, some resentment at the time directed toward those who wanted no part of The American Adventure, who couldn’t comprehend any sort of “American Dream” and Sam Adams expressed it beautifully:

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."

The spirit of that quote lives in Paul Ryan’s Oklahoma speech. As does this sentence, which I take to be Ryan’s Topic Sentence:

“We are at the beginning of an election campaign like you’ve never seen before!”

Read Ryan’s speech, and mark the man well. We will see him again before long.