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Saturday, October 7, 2017

For Sale -- Your Personal Information

I'm a big user of the Internet. I shop online. I get directions and business reviews online. I compare prices online. I have an online blog that features a weekly photograph, and I offer photos for sale online.

But lately, I have felt that my personal space is being invaded just a bit too much. If I search for a new camera lens, for example, an ad for that lens will soon appear on my e-mail and Facebook pages. My new Samsung phone now includes an e-mail section called 'promotions' that is nothing more than ads of Web sites I have visited (but never provided any contact information to). jI get e-mails from businesses that claim that I 'opted in' to receive their spam e-mails -- something I never do. I always uncheck the box that has conveniently been pre-checked for me that says I want to receive ads and other information from the company. But that doesn't matter; I still get spam from the company.

Not too long ago, I spent many hours scouring the Internet for information about myself. I did this after I found one site that included far too much personal information about me, including my name, street address and even a map showing the location of my house. So I started checking sites that offer to sell personal information -- name, address, age, phone number, e-mail address, previous places lived and possible relatives -- about anybody. I contacted each company by e-mail (there usually is a way to contact the company, although it isn't always easy to find), and stated that the company had no right to publish, sell, barter, trade or give away my personal information, and to take it down at once. Every company did. And now when I search for myself, I find only references to my blog and my Facebook page. 

Nobody should have the right to sell my personal information. It isn't about the money these companies make. I realize it's all about money, no matter the wishes of the customer. It's about their collecting my personal information, including my unlisted phone number for which I pay an extra monthly fee, and selling it to anybody for any purpose. With identify theft running rampant, why would I want so much personal information to be available to anybody who wants it? 

And consider this: the Republicans have passed -- and Trump signed -- legislation that allows internet service providers to collect and sell an individual's personal browsing history without consent or notification. Here is a link to the story:. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/trump-signs-measure-let-isps-sell-your-data-without-consent-n742316

There is nothing bad or embarrassing in my browser history. But I strongly object to the information about what I do on my computer -- unless the government has indications of a threat to security -- being shared with others who have no right to it. I am tired of personal information about my, my Web browsing habits, where I shop online and which pages I visit, being offered for sale without my consent.  

I contacted my ISP to ask what its policy is regarding distribution of its customers' browsing history. In response, I was sent a link to a lengthy document that appears to say that the company, while making vague promises about protecting personal information, can share the information with other companies for marketing and business purposes. The document never directly answers the question about browsing history.

I suppose there is nothing anybody can do about this, especially this sell-outs in Congress have decided to reward their masters in business and ignore the rights of individual citizens to keep their personal information just that ... personal.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seeking Beauty

I spent yesterday working on a flower calendar because I need to replace the hatred and negativity that is everywhere with something beautiful. 

Following my third retina repair surgery since spring, I am facing the possibility that vision in my right eye may never be the way it used to be. While I can 'see' with that eye, I only see shapes and colors, with no details. I am unable to read with that eye, even with a magnifying lens. And my tar and gravel roof has started leaking, resulting in damage to the ceiling in the pantry. So times have been a bit rough for me lately.

So I decided to focus on things of beauty -- flower photos. I put together a calendar that is now for sale for $22, domestic postage included. Proceeds will go to the Elephant Crisis Fund to combat elephant poaching and the trafficking of ivory. As I looked at these photos, several of which I took last year in Costa Rica, it was as if I saw them for the first time. The colors seemed so vibrant!




This morning, I awoke to news of the slaughter of 58 people and the wounding of more than 500 others in Las Vegas.

With all the ugliness and anger in the world, I find myself turning more and more to nature for comfort.

"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home," wrote.Gary Snyder. And right now, we need more nature, more beauty, more reflection, more peace. 

I find peace and relaxation in nature, whether walking along a river, hiking in the mountains, sitting on my patio or photographing wildlife in Africa or in Yellowstone National Park. Nature is where I go when the worries and fears of the world threaten to overwhelm me. 

Wherever you find peace and beauty, I hope you visit often. Find what brings you peace, whether it is music or literature or through the lens of a camera. Find it, cherish it and make it an important part of your life.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fall Has Arrived

Fall officially arrived two days ago, and Mother Nature has taken notice.

This morning the temperature registered a chilly 48 degrees F, cool enough for me to forego shorts and pull out a pair of capris. My fleece jacket is also at the ready for my walk with my dogs. And yesterday we were blessed with a good amount of much-needed rain. 

Fall is a good season and it provides something for all our senses. The morning air feels crisp and cool. Warm clothing and flannel sheets feel cozy against the skin. 

The air smells different. In New Mexico, the smell of roasting green chilis is a common aroma. In some areas, where it still is allowed, burning wood in fireplaces and fire pits fill the air with smells. Fallen leaves have a smell all their own. I get the urge to bake and perhaps make a pot of soup to fill the house with wonderful smells. 

We don't get a lot of changing colors on the trees here in the high desert, although the aspens and cottonwoods will soon be adorned with beautiful golden leaves. Clothing colors move from brights and pastels to browns and darker colors. Low clouds over the mountains will provide beautiful sunrises. The amazing blue New Mexico sky will look even cleaner and bluer than it usually does.

Soon I will hear the calls of thousands of sandhill cranes as they migrate to their wintering areas. The sounds of the propane burners lifting countless hot air balloons into the clear New Mexico sky will fill the morning air.

Even the flavors change with the change of the season. Pumpkin-flavored products proliferate. Three years ago, I noted that Trader Joe's was selling 44 different pumpkin-flavored items. And this year, pumpkin Cheerios made their appearance. This is all lost on me, of course, as I lost my senses of taste and smell more than a year ago. But it's still a nice reminder that fall is really here.

It's what comes after autumn that I dread -- cold temperatures, perhaps a bit of snow and early sunsets that make the days drag by. My arthritic hands will not be happy in the cold morning air. I don't like 4 p.m. sunsets.

But for now, I will make the most of the beautiful fall weather and just perhaps, venture into the kitchen to bake a batch of black walnut oatmeal cookies.



Monday, September 11, 2017

May We Never Forget

Thinking back to this date 16 years ago, I, like so many others, was numb and in disbelief. A plane hit one of the Twin Towers. It must have been a terrible accident, I thought. And then news came of the second plane hitting the other tower. This was no accident.

I worked for a federal agency in the San Francisco area that shared property with the military. Immediately after the attacks, all the access gates were closed, with only the main gate remaining open. Every vehicle entering was searched inside and out and underneath for explosives, and our IDs were carefully checked. We also were quizzed about where we were going. 

I was among a few employees who stayed at work to handle the deluge of requests from local news media wanting to interview our senior managers for their thoughts and "reactions." So I and a couple of other people arranged interviews, coordinated our efforts with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and developed talking points.

This went on for several days, with little time to mourn the horrendous loss of life. Finally, on a day off work, I had time to process what had happened. As I sat in my favorite chair in the living room, watching the endless replays of the airplanes striking New York's Twin Towers, and listening to the non-stop news media coverage, the tears started. And they would not stop.

Life has changed in so many ways since that day, when cowards perverted their Muslim faith and used it as justification to kill innocent people. Now we must remove our shoes, coats, belts and sometimes our watches before we can board an airplane. We go through multiple document checks and are subject to patdowns, scanning and swabs for explosives. We are advised that if we "See something, say something." Security has been drastically increased at federal buildings, airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people gather. 

The would-be terrorists continue to change their approaches to killing and maiming innocent people. But American and other intelligence agencies and police departments, along with private citizens who are quick to report anything or anyone suspicious, are fighting back.Terror leaders have been captured or killed, terror cells and plots have been interrupted, and people are willing to get involved in the fight against terrorism on land and in the skies.

Sept. 11 should, in my opinion, be made a national holiday. Cancel Columbus Day, which is a minor holiday celebrated by the federal government but not by anyone else. And it is a growing source of irritation to Native Americans who resent having to honor a man who enslaved and killed so many of their ancestors.

Let us instead honor the thousands who died on that beautiful autumn day in 2001. Let us also honor those first responders who rushed in to help the victims. And let us honor the survivors who will forever carry the physical and emotional scars of that day.

Above all, let us never forget.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Finding Joy in a World Gone Mad


"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir


A Facebook friend recently posted that in an attempt to find joy amidst the crazy, hate-filled world in which we live, she took a walk in nature.

That is precisely what I need to do -- spend more time in nature, or at least, outdoors. I'm just back from a wonderful three-week safari in Kenya, where I had limited wi-fi and internet access. There were no newspaper. It was wonderful being essentially out of touch with the terrible news at home. 

I've been home for just more than two weeks, and that 'vacation' feeling has been gone for a while. In addition to the news about the violence and hatred in Virginia, I have had to deal with two dogs in need of veterinary care, and my air conditioner died on a Friday when the outside temperature was 90 degrees. So my stress level has been pretty high lately.

What I need to do is go for a long walk in the bosque, a wooded area that runs along the Rio Grande. Or I could dust off my bicycle, pump up the tires and go for a ride. Being outside, enjoying fresh air, sunshine and exercise, is the best way to have a mini-escape close to home.

I also escape by reading. My Kindle has more than 60 books on it. I recently finished a book by Hitler's last secretary, and and then I read a book about a couple and the dogs that showed up at their rural home one morning. Reading has always been a great way for me to escape. My current read is by a Holocaust survivor.

Photography is another fun escape, whether it is taking pictures, editing them or designing calendars with them. Looking at photos from my trips, whether domestic or international, brings back vivid memories of those trips and elicits the same feelings I had when I took the images.

 Listening to music on my iPod is a great way to relax as I walk. I listen to all kinds of music -- classic rock, pop, classical and ethnic music. I also listen to a local FM station when I'm working in the house, rather than having the television blaring its nonsense.

I have greatly reduced the amount of time I spend on Facebook with its never-ending items about the latest escapades of the Trump administration. Stepping back also spares me the onslaught of stories about trophy hunters and animal abusers.

I am trying to spend my time in more pleasurable, less-stressful pursuits. Even trimming rose bushes and hedges in the back yard, accompanied by my dogs, on a nice day is relaxing.

Our nation as a whole is very divided, very worried and very stressed. We all need to take a step -- or more -- away from the electronic bearers of bad news and spend some time in the healing power of nature. There is joy to be found in our world. We just have to look for it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Moral and Political Failure

This morning, hours before dawn and for the first time in my life, I lay in bed and cried for my country.

I cried about the resurrection of a hate-filled faction of our country, a faction that calls for the removal of everyone who isn't white. This faction, emboldened to come out of the shadows by the election of a president who supports and approves of their white power beliefs, marches through the streets carrying torches and Nazi flags, chanting Nazi slogans. This faction celebrates the murder -- by one of their own -- of a young woman who showed up to protest the hatred espoused by this faction. This same group plans to protest at her funeral.

I cried for a friend whose family was exterminated in a Nazi death camp.

I cried for the neo-Nazi apologists who continue to defend their president, a president who refuses to condemn the hatred, violence and bigotry demonstrated by the 'white power' groups. He called them "good people," "fine people," and tried to blame the victims for the violence. 

I cried for those who believe the lie that "both sides" were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, as Trump contends and continues to repeat. I cried for our so-called political leaders who continue to do nothing to combat the poisonous words of the president.

The following appeared on Facebook; it is well worth sharing.

"Both sides" did not come armed with long guns.
"Both sides" did not come armed with sticks.
"Both sides" did not come in para-military gear.
"Both sides" did not come with Nazi flags.
"Both sides" did not come with Confederate flags.
"Both sides" were not giving the Nazi salute.
"Both sides" did not drive a car into a crowd of people with the intent of killing and maiming.
.
It was only one side that did that.
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That side was the one chanting "Make America Great Again", "Take America Back", and "Blood and Soil".
.
That side is emboldened by those who talk about both sides being responsible.


~ Jonathan Odell

After my tear stopped, a wave of nausea swept over me.

Trump's failure to forcefully and unequivocally condemn and reject the violent, racist, bigoted rantings of the KKK, the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis, only emboldens these fringe fanatics. Their beliefs are based upon the perceived inferiority of those who aren't 'white,' whose race or religion is somehow 'different.' These beliefs are the antithesis of what America has always stood for -- equality and equal rights. And yet the president has cast shared blame not only on the Nazi-admiring marchers, but on the victims and on those who gathered to protest the hate.

His failure to speak out against those who want to remove the 'other-than-white,' non-Christians among us, rather than blaming "both sides", is a huge moral failure. The American president has traditionally been seen as a moral leader of the country. Trump has failed miserably as both a political and as a moral leader. None less than David Duke, former leader of the KKK, has praised Trump's blaming of the other side.

Is he in reality a neo-Nazi sympathizer, or is he merely pandering to his 'base' as he plans to run for reelection in 2020? The truth will most likely never be known. What should be clear, however, is the danger he presents to America and to American society.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Unfit to Lead

My heart is breaking for my country, once the greatest nation on earth.

I am angry. I am sad. I am heartbroken. I am concerned.I am disgusted. And I am disappointed.

With the election of an illiterate, orange-tinted buffoon with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old, our country is devolving into chaos. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, as well as anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-anybody-who-isn't-white individuals and organizations, have been emboldened to act on their sick, twisted beliefs.

And the buffoon occupying the White House (when he isn't away at one of his many resorts playing golf)? He steadfastly refuses to condemn the hatred and the violence perpetrated by his Nazi-loving followers. UPDATE: Two days after the attacks in Charlottesville, VA, he finally, reluctantly, condemned the hatred and violence. He read his words on a TelePrompTer, so clearly the words were not really his. His words would have been much more believable and appeared more sincere had he spoken from the heart.

I travel internationally several times each year, and to a person, everyone who has spoken to me about the juvenile occupying the White House asks how the United States could have elected such a bullying buffoon to the most powerful position in the world. He and his cronies in Congress have made the US the laughingstock of the world.
 ,
Cheetoh-Man has frequently stated, either verbally or in never-ending tweets, his opinion of individuals and organizations that have 'hurt' or been 'unfair' to him. Why is he suddenly so silent when it would be appropriate to condemn the organizations responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Could it be that he wants to retain their support for his inevitable run for reelection in 2020? 

When the black CEO of Merck, a major pharmaceutical company, resigned his position on the manufacturing council to protest the bully's refusal to condemn white supremacy, the bully-in-chief promptly criticized him in a tweet. Neo-Nazis have praised the weak, mealy-mouthed response of the co-called leader of the United States to the terrorism in Charlottesville. They voted for him, and they applaud his actions to keep Hispanics and Muslims out of 'their' America.

Ethnic tensions between certain groups of whites and other ethnic and religious groups in the US are higher than in a long time. I lived through the racial divisions and riots of the late 1960s, and I have no wish to relive those experiences.


All those claiming that they want to make America white again have it all wrong. America has never been a white country. Our nation was founded on the principles of equality and justice for everyone. From early in our nation's history, black Africans lived in the US as slaves. The original inhabitants of this land were not white, but Native Americans. Hispanics played a major role in the history of the American Southwest, and several current states -- California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Wyoming -- belonged to Mexico, a nation of largely brown-skinned people.

So to those outside the US, I can only say that this president and his 'make America white again' followers do NOT represent the majority of Americans. Regardless of our ethnic background and our religion, most of us want the same things -- equality, justice, peace and the ability to live our lives without fear. I apologize for the thugs and misfits who are trying to turn the clock back more than 150 years. The so-called 'culture' they are supposedly trying to preserve -- slavery and misogyny among other things -- has been relegated to the dust bin of history. Let's hope it stays there.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The World in Black and White

While on vacation in Kenya recently, I decided to experiment with my camera's 'monochrome' setting, which allows me to take photographs in black and white.

We were watching a large herd of elephants trying to decide whether to cross a crocodile-infested river. The animals had been standing in the river for several minutes, so this was a good opportunity to switch the camera to 'monochrome.'

When I got home, I submitted one image (I would have submitted more but my computer was acting up) to a photo contest at www.viewbug.com. You can see the image here: https://www.viewbug.com/photo/74378314?type=myaward  and below.  I was pleased the next day to see that a fellow photo enthusiast had given this image a peer award. 




I took a couple other shots in monochrome as well.


















Finally, I took this image of several Samburu warriors celebrating and dancing. 





 I don't think I will switch all of my photography to black-and-white, but it's fun to see the world from a different perspective once in a while.



 

Celebrate the Magnificent Elephant!


Today, August 12, is World Elephant Day. 

Elephant populations in both Africa and Asia have shown dramatic decreases due to habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with humans. If the species is to survive, everyone must get involved.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent, caring, family-oriented animals. Female elephants stay with their families -- mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins -- their entire lives. Elephants show compassion.They appear to mourn their dead, even elephants they don't know. Recent studies seem to show that elephants have a sense of self-awareness and recognize themselves in a mirror.

Please never buy ivory or paintings by elephants, and avoid elephant rides or anything else that exploits these amazing animals. The procedures used to train baby elephants -- who suffer incredible trauma when they are ripped from their families -- are horrendous and abusive.

If you can and are so inclined, find a good elephant conservation or rescue organization (I support Save the Elephants and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and get involved. Educate yourself about the plight of elephants, then help spread the word to your friend.

I have been fortunate to observe these marvelous animals in the wild. Elephants are not here to entertain or adorn us. They deserve to be left alone to enjoy life with their families as they are meant to do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loving the Southwest

What makes people prefer one type of climate over the others? It's definitely good that not everyone likes the same sort of climate.

While some love cold and snow, I get grumpy when the temperatures drop. Some people love cloudy, rainy climates, while I get depressed without a lot of blue skies.

I grew up in the cold and snowy Chicago area. I lived in damp Maryland and in hot and humid Houston. I love the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area. But at this point in my life, no place beats the high desert of New Mexico.

I love the vastness of the state, the low humidity and the crystal blue skies. I love the privacy my half-acre lot provides, along with the unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. At night, I can look up at a black sky with countless twinkling start. I love the open spaces and the ability to get away from the crowds without facing a long, traffic-clogged drive. Most of this part of the country is less populated (aside from Phoenix) than the rest of the country.

Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, has a population of only 600,000. Yes, traffic can be terrible, and crime is a real problem, but one doesn't even have to leave the city to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. A mere five miles from my home is Coronado Historic Site, which has  nothing to do with Spanish explorer Coronado, but it does include the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. Among the ruins is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, that included some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian art ever found in the US. (The original murals have been removed for safekeeping, but copies decorate the inside walls of the kiva).

From central New Mexico, I can easily drive to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, Ariz., or to Abiquiui, made famous by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I can reach Durango, Colo., in less than 4 hours. I can be at the other-worldly beauty of White Sands in 4 hours. When I attend a photography trip in Moab, Utah, later this year, I will make the 11-hour drive through a beautiful land. I can be in Santa Fe in less than an hour.

Every morning I watch the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. They aren't terribly pretty mountains, especially compared with Arizona's and western New Mexico's red rocks, but they are impressive as they soar to 10,567 feet. And they are home to some amazing sunrises. I try to keep a camera handy so I can dash outside whenever I see one of the fiery sunrises over the mountains.

Yes, it can get hot during the summer (it's been hovering in the 100-degree F range for a couple of weeks). It is very dry. And the winters are colder than I would like. But the small amount of snow we get each year generally melts in a day or less. Water is a constant concern, especially given the unrelenting demand of local governments to encourage construction of still more houses. 

I enjoy the blend of three cultures -- Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian -- in my state. I love visiting some of the historic buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years. The crisp air of spring and fall bring a much-appreciated change

My yard was xeriscaped after removal of a water-guzzling lawn. The yard is beautiful and perfect for a desert climate, with drought-tolerant and low-water trees and plants, artificial turf and lots of colored, decorative gravel and boulders. The plants bloom every spring with flowers of a variety of colors. And there isn't a cactus in sight! My yard also includes two peach trees and a cherry tree, too young to produce fruit just yet.

The Southwest states have the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Sedona, Monument Valley and so many more gorgeous locations. Other parts of the country, of course, have their own natural beauty. But in my mind, the Southwest has more beauty than anywhere else in the United States.

I hope my little slice of heaven stays just as it is, without a strip mall on every corner and houses crammed onto tiny lots.There is barely enough water to go around, even with careful water use and conservation of this valuable resource. Let's hope our so-called leaders can see beyond the demand for more and more tax revenue and stop encouraging people and businesses to move into the desert.




Friday, July 7, 2017

19th Century Wisdom

The great 19th century American author Mark Twain once wrote:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I believe this statement is just as true now -- perhaps even more so -- than when it was published in 1869, in his book The Innocents Abroad. We now have a president who seems bent on curtailing America's involvement with the rest of the world, and who has already taken steps to limit the programs set in place by his predecessor to increase people-to-people interactions between Americans and Cubans.

I am a well-traveled person. I have visited Africa several times, as well as Europe and the Middle East. I haven't yet made it to Asia or South America, but those places are on my list of places I hope to visit. I learn something and I make friends wherever I go. I have Facebook friends -- people I have met in person -- from Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, England, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile, Botswana and France.

By visiting these and other countries, I have gained a better understanding of other cultures and people. I am more informed when I see a news story about something that happens in one of those countries. When I heard about another attack on a French police officer on the Champs Elysees, I knew where that is because I walked down that well-known Paris boulevard a month ago. When I heard about a military action against protesters on Istanbul's Taksim Square, I can relate because I was there just two weeks previously. When a story surfaced about a knife attack at Jerusalem's Western Wall, I can see the wall in my mind, as I visited Israel three years ago.

Travel provides a real life education and broadens one's horizons. It has increased my self-confidence and ability to be flexible and to take things as they come. The rest of the world doesn't necessarily do things the way Americans do. Although I usually travel with a group, I also spend time exploring on my own. Yes, a friend and I were lost in Istanbul; neither of us knows a word of Turkish. But we found our way. 

Traveling makes me see more similarities and fewer differences in people regardless of where they live. People care about the same things regardless of where they call home: family, education, food, shelter and safety.  Don't we all want those things, regardless of where we live? 

I travel with a variety of companies and for a variety of reasons: photography, adventure/hiking and just plain tourism. I wish more Americans had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other cultures. One culture is not 'less than' or better than another. Our American isn't better than the cultures of Peru or Kenya or France. Learning about other countries and cultures can broaden our horizons and make us better informed citizens of the world. And the more we know about other lands, the less reason there is to fear them.

Monday, July 3, 2017

America's Shame

On the same day he met with the president of South Korea -- a nation facing attack (possibly nuclear) by its neighbor North Korea, which is led by a mad man -- the president of the United States was more preoccupied with attacking via Twitter two morning talk show hosts who frequently criticize him. And despite criticism by members of both political parties, and pleas for him to stop his bizarre tweets, he did the same thing the following morning. And on the morning of the third day, he released a video clip showing him punching a character with CNN as its face.

This wouldn't be funny even if it were done by a middle school student. That the source of these verbal attacks and name-calling is the president of the United States is, at the very least, shameful and unprecedented.

Our country is divided like at no time in recent history, from the halls of Congress to Main Street. Unprovoked attacks on black citizens and on Muslim-Americans have increased dramatically. Yet what is the president doing to try to bring the country together? Absolutely nothing! He has not spoken of unity, of coming together to face our country's problems, or taking America's rightful place as the leader of the free world. 

Instead, he adds fuel to the fire with his off-the-wall tweets and pronouncements. He continues his verbal assaults on women. For the first time in decades, the White House did not hold an Eid celebration to mark the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He says nothing when Americans are gunned down on the roads and in their homes. He offers no condolences or support to the survivors and families of victims brutalized by violence. Instead, he uses the killings as an opportunity to gloat.

His latest is a demand that the states turn over to some commission -- a commission whose members are a secret -- a list of all registered voters and their personal information. His excuse is that there was rampant voter fraud in the last election, a charge he has never been able to prove. He is obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote to his opponent by more than 2.5 million votes, and in his mind, that is due to voter fraud, illegal immigrants voting, and other crazy explanations.  

And now the US State Department, operating under the ban on Muslims from coming to the United States from certain countries, has refused to issue visas to an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan. These brave young women, who live in a country that oppresses women and often does its best to keep girls from attending school, wanted to come to the US to compete in a robotics competition. But of course, the list of banned countries doesn't include predominantly Muslim countries with which his excellency has business ties.

He continues his outright war on the news media, referring to any media outlet that runs stories not favorable to him (even those that report things he himself has said and done) as "fake news." His administration has held daily briefings from which the news media were banned. Hitler and other tyrants did the same thing.

He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the Thafront of the group for a photograph. He insulted the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia during his first few weeks in office. He has publicly chastised the leader of Germany, one of our strongest allies, for not paying enough to support NATO. He has insulted veterans. He congratulated a veteran who had lost his legs in combat for winning the Purple Heart. The man has no compassion and no filters. He simply blurts out whatever comes into his brain.

It should be obvious to all but his most obtuse followers that Donald Trump's mental health isn't what it should be, especially for the man who occupies the most powerful position on the planet. The presidency needs a cool, calm, intelligent person, not a petulant, nearly illiterate, I-know-more-about-everything-than anybody person who is unable to resist attacking any individual or organization that in his mind has insulted or been 'mean' to him.

This isn't about his policies or cabinet picks or his plans to remove 23 million people from the health insurance they now have. There is absolutely nothing about this 71-year-old man with the mind of a child that I like. I agree with none of his policies. But this isn't about policies. It is about the damage he has already done to our country. We are the laughingstock of the world. Rather than leadership, we get buffoonery. 

All Americans want what is best for their country. We may have very different beliefs about what is best, but we should find some common ground and work to bridge the chasm that divides us.  That, I hope, will include replacing a dangerous tyrant-in-waiting from the highest office in the land. Meanwhile, let us come together as Americans and celebrate the greatness of our country.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Independence Day: A Photographic Celebration


A few years ago, I was riding my bicycle on July 4 when I came upon preparations for an Independence Day parade in a village near where I live.

It had been several years since I had watched a parade, so I stopped and waited for the parade to begin. As parades go, this one wasn't very big. But it included a variety of participants: veterans, people on horseback, kids on bicycles, old pickup trucks, costumed dogs, folks in Civil War-era costumes, people riding in a cart pulled by goats, and a semi representing a local Arabian horse breeder. There also was an Hispanic group that marched, along with some Native Americans in traditional dress. 

This was small town America at its finest, celebrating our nation's independence and the things that bring us together as a nation.So as we approach our nation's 241st birthday, I'd like to share some photos I took at various July 4 parades around our country. Regardless of what the current president claims, America still is a great country.
 


 

 












Main Street, York, SC, during a recent visit







Thursday, June 29, 2017

Artwork Sold!

I am pleased and excited to announce that a buyer in Oklahoma has purchased a 24" x 13.375" print of my image 'Las Cruces Sunset.'



This image of the Organ Mountains was taken just outside Las Cruces, NM. 
This image is available at https://designerprints.com/featured/organ-mountain-sunset-ann-sullivan.html

Proceeds from the sale of my images are donated to the Save the Elephants scholarship fund, which enables high-achieving pastoralist students in Kenya to attend high school.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Too Connected to Everything

Every so often, I travel to a place where cell phone and Internet service is limited or nonexistent.

After a few days of feeling somewhat lost without instant text messaging, e-mail and Web access, life returns to the way it used to be, before electronic communications took over. And that, I have learned, is a good thing. 

Being device-free definitely lessens the stress I feel. No longer am I bombarded with the latest bad and sad news from around the world. No longer am I faced with a never-ending barrage of pleas for donations to 'go fund me' pages and charitable organizations. No longer do I feel a need to keep up to date with everything. A self-confessed news junkie (most of my professional life was spent working with the news media), I like to feel 'in the know' at all times. But having no or limited access to the news is a very freeing feeling. Whatever happens will happen whether I am aware of it or not. And there is little, if anything, I can do about whatever happens.

Lately I have been really frustrated by my electronic world. First, it's the passwords. I'm told not to use the same password for more than one account. Don't write passwords down. Be sure not to use anything that is easy to guess. And make it a combination of numbers and letters. Of course, this is impossible for me. I have far too many accounts to keep track of every password in my head, especially for accounts I seldom use. I constantly have to hit the 'forgot password' button and create yet another password that I will forget the next time I need it.

My Dell laptop, which is probably 5 years old, is frustratingly slow. Sometimes it freezes and the cursor won't move. This requires unplugging the device, turning it over and removing the battery, then restarting it and waiting forever for the browser to load.

This week I decided to dump my expensive DirecTv service, which claims to have 150 channels. In reality, half of them are nothing but infomercials for some vacuum cleaner, copper cooking pans or 'best sex ever.' One of my favorites (I saw it in the channel lineup but didn't look at it) was "Do you poop enough?" And I'm paying how much every month for this nonsense?

So I purchased an Amazon Fire TV stick that allows me to stream a variety of channels without the need for cable or satellite television. I'm still getting used to it, as I have had cable of satellite television for decades. But I'm sure that after a while it will seem normal to me. Of course, then I had to call DirecTv to cancel service. As expected, I got the usual high pressure sell of why don't I block the infomercials (I would still be paying for them), why don't I use DirecTv streaming, etc. I finally told the woman to stop arguing with me and just cancel the service. Naturally, I'm getting hit with a $240 'early termination' fee, but that's still considerably less than I would pay if I kept the service for another year. So goodbye, DirecTv!

Technology does have a good side, of course. I like being able to use my cell phone to call for roadside assistance if my car gets a flat tire. I like being able to get directions with a simple click or two. I love being able to compare prices and to order things online, and to use a small e-reader to carry 30 books with me when I travel. I can share photographs from my trips, and technology allows me to write and share this blog. My car has a navigation system that gets me to my destination, if not always the best route to take.

I remember spending hours in the college library doing research, and hoping that the books I needed hadn't been checked out by another student. I remember struggling with a paper map or road atlas to find my destination. Now I can do research online.

 I guess it's too late to disconnect completely. That would be a very difficult step to take, and it would present issues of its own (online banking is a real convenience).

Still, I am looking forward to my next trip and the escape from technology it will offer.








Monday, June 19, 2017

Staying Right Where I Am

One of the reasons I love to travel is the opportunity to learn about new countries, people and cultures.

But last week I learned something from a domestic trip. I spent a fun week visiting a friend in South Carolina (and neighboring North Carolina), my first visit to those states. And that trip helped clarify something for me.


We visited Ashville, Old Salem and Blowing Rock, NC. We had dinner with some of her friends, and I spent some time photographing their horses. We had lunch at the new Sierra Nevada brewery, where I enjoyed a half pint of orange-infused beer. I did a bit of walking (5 miles most days) and ate way too much. I helped take care of her four dogs (her father died recently, leaving behind his two chihuahua brothers). I walked the streets photographing the small town on whose outskirts she lives.

I enjoyed the greenery, which is lacking here in the high desert of New Mexico. There are trees everywhere in the Carolinas. What I did not enjoy was the humidity, which ran in the 90 percent range. Combine that with temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s (both humidity and temperature will get worse as the summer goes on), and just being outside was very uncomfortable.



My friend drove me to a new subdivision on the Catawba River, hoping that I would like it and want to move there. The houses, while lovely, are on tiny lots just feet from each other. They are all two-story, which I don't want. And they are expensive. 

I would love to be nearer to my friend. We get along really well, we have much in common, and it would be nice to have someone to help out when I need it. I also would like to be there to help her when needed. But the heat/humidity combination is just not to my liking. Going for a walk at 6:30 in the morning, when both temperature and humidity were lower, left me feeling hot and sticky. And conditions went downhill from there.

What I learned from my week in the Carolinas is that I can scratch those states off the list of possible places to move to. I realized -- not for the first time -- that I love the warm (OK, hot), dry climate in which I have lived for the past seven years. I loved the warm, fairly dry climate of northern California where I lived for 28 years. I love being near, but not living in, the mountains. 

So I will happily stay right where I am. I love my house, my yard and my views of the mountains. I love the 300+ days of sunshine every year, the amazing crystal blue skies and the lack of humidity. I plan to visit my friend again once she gets moved into a new house. 

Just as the heat and dryness of the high desert aren't for everyone, so the heat and humidity of the American southeast aren't for me. I will admire its greenery during visits, but for now at least, my heart -- and home -- will remain where they are. 



Copyright Ann Sullivan 2017.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Help Save Victims of Puppy Mills

I just watched a dog die on video.

The dog, named Iris, was a nine-year-old Chihuahua rescued just the day before by the wonderful folks at National Mill Dog Rescue. Iris, who was named following her rescue, spent nine years making puppies to feed the greed of the operators of the puppy mill in which she spent her life. She was nothing more than a puppy-making machine.

Those cute puppies you see in mall pet stores? They come from commercial breeding operations. Many puppy mills are in the Midwest (Iowa, Kansas and Missouri), as well as in Nebraska, Arkansa, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Amish are big puppy mill operators in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. The Amish treat these animals the way they treat livestock, or worse.

Puppy mill dogs typically receive no veterinary care, their feet never touch the ground, and they never know the kindness of humans. They may have a number, but never a name. They spend their sad lives packed into wire cages until they get sick or are unable to produce any more puppies. Then their worn out bodies are tossed into the trash.

Here are a few facts from the NMDR web site (www.milldogrescue.org):
  
Dog Facts


More than 11,800 dogs rescued to date

Rescue average/year: 1,067 (Past three years)

Average number of dogs at kennel: 110

Average age of a puppy mill survivor: 7 years

Typical number of dogs in foster care: 60

Average number of adoptions per month: 51

Average rehabilitation time: 6 to 8 weeks
Rescue Facts


Trips: 2x per month, average 44 dogs per trip

Rescue mileage: Approximately 28,500 miles per year

Expense Facts

Kennel expenses (mortgage and utilities): $6,400/month
Food for entire kennel: $100/day
One rescue mission: $16,000 (includes dog care expenses)
Basic veterinary care: $300/dog (includes spay/neuter, extensive dentals, heartworm testing and treatment, vaccinations, microchipping
Specialty veterinary care: $13,000/month average. Roughly 1/3 of our dogs require specialized treatment.

Our community embraces thousands of donors, supporters and volunteers from around the world. To follow us online, go to:

My golden retriever Tia was from a southern California puppy mill. She and a dozen other goldens were rescued by a California rescue group and adopted to new, loving homes. When Tia was rescued, she took with her a small log, her only possession and source of comfort. She was seven years old when my daughter and I adopted her. She was thin but otherwise healthy. It appears her growth had been stunted, most likely from being forced to produce puppies when she herself was still just months old. We had Tia for five years, until we lost her to brain cancer.

Please, NEVER BUY A PUPPY FROM A PET STORE OR ONLINE!! We must stop this institutionalized abuse. Animal rescue groups and humane societies often have purebred dogs, if that's important to you. I have adopted five golden retrievers -- each one a wonderful dog -- from humane societies and rescue groups. 
 
Puppy mills are chambers of horrors. A little Chihuahua named Harley (check out his Facebook page) lost an eye when his cage was pressure-washed with him inside. His broken body was found in a pail. Iris died the day after she was rescued, being cradled and loved for the first time in her life. These are just two of the dogs of all breeds and sizes that spend their lives producing puppies to make money for greedy, heartless people. 

If you can't volunteer (NMDR is in Colorado), consider sponsoring a kennel or signing up as a monthly donor. And please, educate yourselves about the evils of puppy mills, then spread the word. And check out the wonderful dogs available for adoption. NMDR's teams of veterinarians, groomers and rehabbers prepare each dog for its new life of freedom as a beloved family member.

YOU can help NMDR save more dogs and YOU can help bring an end to puppy mills. For more information about NMDR, please visit its web site or e-mail customerservice@nmdr.org

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What To Do With $1,500

What can I do with $1,500?
  • I could pay rent for one month in some US cities. 
  • I could buy a fancy 4K television. 
  • I could buy a nice camera or a decent telephoto lens.
  • I could go shopping and buy some nice clothes.
  • I could buy a couple of the latest smart phones.
Or, I could change a life by making a charitable contribution to the Save the Elephants scholarship fund. This will pay for one year of high school for a deserving student in Kenya. This is what I have chosen to do.


My $1,500 annual donation helps provide education, uniforms and supplies for a young lady named Jecinta, who was left orphaned when her parents died of AIDS. She was taken in by an older brother with a family of his own. The brother can't afford to send Jecinta to school. If she doesn't go to school, she will spend her life herding goats or cattle. She might be married off at a very young age and end up taking care of a husband and several children. Instead, she is attending high school.

This young lady has dreams of a better life. She wants to work in the medical field, hopefully as a doctor. If she can't get into medical school, she wants to become a nurse or a pharmacist. Despite the challenges of going to a new school and having to learn twice as many subjects as in her primary school (including physics and chemistry), her first semester grade average was B-. (Kenyan schools typically start in early January). She wasn't satisfied with that grade, however, writing that "it was very painful" for her to get that grade. She has promised to work even harder the next semester. She also has joined her school's wildlife club and vows to work to protect Kenya's wildlife, particularly elephants.

So far 129 students have completed their secondary school education under this program, with 10 currently in college. One, who completed his secondary education in 2005, emerged as the top student in his district. With the help of the program and his sponsor, in 2013 he completed his 6-year medical degree at Nairobi University and is now a doctor in that district. Another, the program's first-ever scholarship student to get straight ‘A’s in his final exams, has graduated with first class honors in geospatial engineering at the University of Nairobi, a path that has led him back to studying the very elephants that brought him his education.

I can think of nothing more worthwhile on which to spend $1,500 than providing an education for a deserving, intelligent student. I chose to sponsor a female student because opportunities for girls are fewer than for boys. 

One day I hope to meet Jecinta in person. Because her school is in Samburu, in northern Kenya, I likely won't get to meet her during my next trip there. She will be in school. But I have bought five books, a photo album (with pictures of me, my family and house) and a New Mexico T-shirt that I will give to a Save the Elephants representative in Nairobi to give to her during their next meeting. I also will send a letter of encouragement to this blossoming young scholar. 

For more information about sponsoring a deserving student, go to http://www.savetheelephants.org/project/elephant-scholarships/