Winter Storm Is Over

I live in Southeastern Virginia. Virginia is a beautiful state. I have lived here all my adult life. Virginia has it all, mountains, piedmont, beaches, history, and an amazing natural beauty. Two things this area has that I don’t like are hurricanes and blizzards. Today is the morning after one of the worst blizzards we have seen in recent memory. While we got through the storm without any problems, the sub-freezing temperatures forecast for the next two days will make driving anywhere problematic.

Cabin fever is now starting to set in. I’m too old to go out and make a snowman unless it is a very small one. During the storm yesterday I spent time with online courses I am taking on Udemy.com. The courses are on Lightroom photography and Gimp 2 graphics software. They are a lot of fun and I am learning quite a lot. I managed to get out this morning and took a video of the results of the storm. I cleaned the snow off the outside unit of our heat system and cleaned up the front stairs some. Now I thought I would spend some more time writing on my blog. I don’t often post here, it is mostly a therapeutic thing for me.

The sun is out for the first time since the New Year and if not for temperatures in the low twenties it would be a great day for doing something outdoors. It’s just that you can’t drive anywhere to do anything. So I guess after I finish this I will spend the rest of the days reading, watching a football game, and maybe a movie. The roads should be ok by tomorrow I hope.

That’s about it. Just wanted to kill some time. Hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year so far. Stay safe.

Orlando tragedy, gun control, and Radical Islam

The radical Islam terrorist attack in Orlando has once again brought the topics of gun control and radical Islam to the national debate. Adding fuel to the furor is the fact that the site of the terrorism was a gay nightclub. This adds homophobia to the debate along with Islamophobia and the second amendment. Sadly, the last 8 years under President Obama has done little to bring clarity to any of these issues. In fact, the various positions on these topics have grown further apart, rather than heading towards some form of consensus.

What is lamentably apparent, especially on social media like Twitter, is the knee jerk jump to conclusions along with the immediate use of the tragedy to promote a particular political agenda or other world viewpoint. In too many cases it is all to apparent that there is little real anguish or grief for the horrendous loss of life. In fact often the first comments posted are immediate references to the NRA, gun control, homophobia, and how fill-in-the-blank needs to be done now to end the senseless slaughter. If my pessimism and dim view of the human condition are troubling, believe me when I say they trouble me as well. I have lived to see the citizens of our country become increasingly divided over far too many issues.

The sad truth is, there are no simple one step answers to gun violence, radical Islamic terrorism, homophobia, or Islamophobia. That should be readily apparent to anyone in light of the fact that none of these issues are simple in nature or origin. I am not going to go into detail on what I think should or can be done to address any of these issues. I am neither an expert on any of them nor do I have the time to address such complicated issues in a simple post.

What I will say is that jumping on tragedies like this and using them to call for the death of the NRA, taking away the rights of lawful citizens to own firearms, blaming Christians for homophobia, calling for all Muslims to be deported or banned from coming into the country, etc., etc., etc., are not legitimate or even rational answers to any of these issues. What needs to occur is rational, honest, civil debate and national discourse. Peoples individual rights and viewpoints need to be acknowledged during the course of this discourse. The rule of law as well as the Constitution of this great country need to be upheld. There can be no room for self-righteous anger, hatred, and intolerance.

Nothing will be resolved in 140 characters on Twitter or in a Facebook post. Communities, churches, local, state, and national government should focus on these problems and try to discern practical answers that can address these issues while still respecting the Constitution, existing laws, and the rights and freedoms of every citizen. It can and has to be done.

Dump Loyalty Cards

CC3H15_2401584bI was shopping at my local grocery store recently, and as I was pulling up Android Pay from my smartphone to access my loyalty card, I had a thought. Why are we still using loyalty cards? When I got home from the store, I pondered the question.

I know that loyalty cards were originally designed to encourage customers to continue to shop at or use the services of businesses associated with each card. I’m not sure when the first loyalty card was issued, but I do know that they have been around for years. While they may initially have been some value to both customer and business, today, with the proliferation of loyalty cards, I wonder if that is the case anymore.

I have loyalty cards for grocery stores, bookstores, electronic stores, pet stores; just about every category of business imaginable. They have become both a nuisance to keep as well as to use. They have not made me loyal to any business today. Since every business now has one, I tend to use use whichever business provides the best value and services. Loyalty cards seem to have lost the ability to engender loyalty in a customer.

With that said, and the businesses knowing full well that their loyalty cards no longer work as designed, why do we still have them? Wouldn’t it be far better for all involved, business and customer alike, to do away with loyalty cards altogether and earn loyalty again the old fashioned way? The old fashioned way being to offer the best value and service from the get go.

It must cost businesses quite a bit to maintain such programs, and has become increasingly onerous for the customer to keep and use all the myriad cards available. I think I will start a hashtag campaign on social media to eradicate the loyalty card. #DumpTheCard

The only problem I see with my campaign being a complete success is the fact that the very first business to drop loyalty cards may actually suffer economically. That is where the customer needs to step up to the plate and give their loyalty to that first and subsequent businesses. And then one day we can return to the days where a loaf of bread costs exactly what it is labeled, with or without a loyalty card. It takes more than a card to earn my true loyalty.

Wish me luck!

 

State of the Union

No, I am not the President of the United States. Nevertheless I feel compelled to present my own State of the Union, as I have never been accused of being introverted. The government has its take on the state of our country while the citizens of this great nation have their own. Seldom are the two in agreement on anything. The government seems to see things through rose colored glasses, which is what frequently happens when you are basically critiquing yourself. The citizens however, are critiquing those whom they voted as representatives for their interests. Things tend to be seen much more clearly from the perspective of the citizen as the state of the union is in reality about the state of us, the citizens.

Let me start with the 500 pound gorilla in the house, the economy. The President will present all sorts of statistics that demonstrate how well the economy is doing under his wonderful leadership. Has there ever been a President who painted himself as anything other than a genius when it comes to the economy? I am not an economist, I can’t easily counter with facts the claims made about the economy when statistics, presented as facts, are as tenuous as the wind. But I do know what I see, hear, and experience. What I see is 11 stores shuttered in the local mall I shop at. I see other upscale stores replaced with moon golf and Red Dragon martial arts venues. What I hear is the lady who rents from a friend of mine being unable to find steady work as a painter and having to move because she cannot pay the rent. What I experience is the young lady who is my Bible study class telling me she is desperate to find a job, any job, and yet is unable to do so. What I experience is the unbelievable cost to feed a family, pay the utilities, and pay my taxes. These events tell me that the economy is not in the state that the President says it is in, statistics be damned.

As bad as the economy may be, the moral state of our union is much more troubling. The rancor, divisiveness, intolerance, and apathy that is the hallmark of society today is far removed from what it was when I was a child. You can see this in the elections that are currently taking place across our country. Again, while politics has never been played out in a completely civil manner, the degree to which civility in politics has taken a nosedive is stunning. This decline in civility can be seen in every other aspect of our society. Racial tensions have never been higher, even with a black President. Religious intolerance, where religious protection laws are portrayed as anti-LGBT and businesses are being destroyed simply because the owners were exercising their religious beliefs, is rampant. LGBT rights are not greater than religious rights, both need to be respected.

Our national security is threatened at a level unseen since WWII. A weak, naive foreign policy, based on misguided beliefs and ideas, has emboldened our enemies while at the same time left our allies isolated, ignored, and betrayed. Our president just finished visits to Cuba and Argentina, neither of which has ever been an ally of ours, while completely ignoring the only democracy and ally we have in the Middle East, Israel. China is building artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarizing them, while Russia has committed aggressions against South Georgia, Ukraine, and the Crimea. We have unlocked billions in frozen assets to Iran, the worlds largest sponsor of state terrorism, while at the same time doing little to deter them from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran still threatens us and has even taken our sailors prisoner, continuing to mock us at every turn. North Korea daily threatens us with nuclear annihilation while our response is to weaken our military capabilities to almost historic lows.

Suffice it to say that I and the President do not see eye to eye on the state of the union. I know that there are many, many more citizens of this great country that feel as I do. Unfortunately I do not have much optimism that things will change for the better any time soon. Actually, I am as pessimistic about the future of our country as I have ever been in my life. The Democrats offer us Hillary or Bernie. Hillary was a disaster as Secretary of State and her reckless disregard for law, procedure, and national security in the establishing of a private email server should have every voter cringing at the thought of her becoming president. Bernie is a Socialist who is anathema to everything our Founding Fathers stood for and promoted. His grandiose plans of free everything will cripple the already overburdened taxpayer with more taxes. It will also generate an even bigger government than the already far over-sized one we have currently. The Republicans are as big a disaster as the Democrats, almost. The only reason Donald Trump is doing as well as he is with voters is due to the great level of anger and frustration that the voters feel by their betrayal by establishment politicians. He would be a disaster as a president, on a scale with either Hillary or Bernie. Ted Cruz, being a Constitutional Conservative, closely reflects my political view. But I fear even he would be just more of the same. The two parties have merged into one party, where there is no middle, only the extremes on either side.

The damage done to our country may be irreversible. This great experiment of a Republic that the Founding Fathers made for us may have run its course. And as history has shown, the downfall of most nations comes from within. The only solace I take is my faith in God. He is in control and his Will will be done. That is sufficient for me. I just wish it hadn’t happened in my lifetime.

state-of-the-union-history

Schooners , Snakes, and Potheads

I have two friends who are professional photographers and they often steer me towards interesting things to photograph. First let me say that I am not a professional photographer, but I have been an avid photographer since I was 12 years old. So while I don’t make money at photography, I do know a little bit about composition, subject, and lighting. Anyway, one of my friend photographers told me about the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. The race starts in Maryland and ends here at the Hampton Roads Bridge/Tunnel. The boats then tie up at North Landing in Portsmouth. Since I have always wanted to be a sailor, especially sailing, I went down to North Landing to see the schooners as they came in.

I arrived a couple hours early so I stopped at Olde Towne Coffee House for some coffee and a crumble muffin. After breakfast I walked down to the dock and met a couple who had a beautiful Siberian Husky. After talking with them for a while I learned that they used to race in the Schooner Race ten years ago. I had a very interesting conversation with them about sailing, the technical aspects of which I know very little. The husband had a portable marine radio with him so I got to listen to some of the radio chatter. I could keep track of the race in real-time thanks to my smartphone and a web site which had a real-time map of all the boats with their tracks and current position, speed, etc. From the website I could see that the Schooner Woodwind home-ported at Annapolis Maryland, and a past winner, was leading the pack, followed by the Pride of Baltimore.

The weather started to turn bad just as the Woodwind appeared around the bend of the Elizabeth River heading to dock at North Landing. She had crossed the finish line already, having won the competition. She had her sails furled (drat) but she was a beauty nonetheless. Here are a few pictures of the Woodwind.

As for snakes, this is the story.  My cousin Roxanna, who lives in Ripley, NY but is down in Virginia visiting her son, invited me to Sandy Bottom Nature Center to visit with her and her son who is the Park Ranger in charge of the park. Sandy Bottom is an awesome park with lots of fun stuff to do. Hiking, fishing, boating, camping, and a great Nature Center building with a wonderful teaching program for youth and adults alike. They have an impressive collection of reptiles, amphibians, fossils, relics, and assorted other stuff that is fascinating.  When I arrived, Roxanna’s son was showing a small snake to a group of scouts. It was a hands on show so all the boys got to touch the snake. Having owned a snake, a python, I thought I knew a lot about snakes. I could differentiate between venomous and non venomous snake by the shape of their head, pit between eyes and nostrils, and pupils. But Marc, Roxanna’s son, told me one thing I did not know. The bottom of the tail (behind the anus) of venomous snakes looks the same as the rest of the belly. If the snake has a cross pattern (like a diamond shape) it is non-venomous. There are three species of venomous snakes indigenous to Virginia. They are the rattlesnake (canebrake), copperhead, and cotton mouth. The Nature Center had beautiful specimens of each one. I took a few photos with my smartphone.

king snake King snake1

 

After looking around the rest of the Nature Center Roxanne took me on a long tour of the park. It was a beautiful day and as I said before, the park is awesome. It was nice spending some time with my cousin as I rarely get to see her. Anyway, it was a great day and I managed to get a few good photos. See if you can figure out why the title mentions potheads.

 

The Neon District and Why Norfolk Rocks

I have lived in Chesapeake, Virginia for over a decade and for the most part love living here. Chesapeake is a largely rural city and lacks a lot of the things that an urban city like my neighbor city Norfolk abounds in. Among those things Norfolk has is an abundance of art and cultural resources and fine dining and entertainment. The adjacent city of Portsmouth also has more art and cultural resources and restaurants than Chesapeake. The good thing about Chesapeake is that it is very close to both Norfolk and Portsmouth so I can enjoy the suburban living of Chesapeake and partake of the arts, culture, fine dining, and entertainment of both Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Norfolk especially has an abundance of places to eat. You can partake of just about any cuisine you can imagine. Chesapeake, on the other hand, is more a Sonic and Burger King kind of city. It is even hard to find a good hot dog in Chesapeake. Did I mention that another adjacent city, Suffolk, also outshines Chesapeake in the areas mentioned? Sad, but true. Norfolk has a major Zoo, sporting venues for college football and basketball, professional Hockey, and semi-pro baseball, a botanical garden, and an actual downtown.

It is the downtown of Norfolk and the art aspects that I want to talk about today. Norfolk has some beautiful architecture, including the Chrysler Museum, a world-class art museum. Norfolk has recently undertaken a project to paint many of the old buildings in downtown Norfolk in what is now being called the NEON District. Many volunteers have gotten together to paint fantastic art on the walls of buildings in over 30 areas of Norfolk from the Chrysler Museum to Granby Street in the heart of the city. I first heard about this project on local television and I had to go take a look. I am a lover of great architecture and especially enjoy murals and painting done on buildings.

Here are a few of the photographs I took of some of the fantastic art adorning buildings in Norfolk. All of them are within walking distance of each other.

 

 

Architecture

I have always loved architecture, especially architecture from times gone by. Living in Virginia I am used to seeing many examples of Victorian and Colonial architecture. I am a big fan of Gothic Architecture, mainly that of churches. While traveling in Europe I made it a point to visit as many Gothic churches as I could. Recently, which driving around Norfolk, Virginia, I came across this church and I had to stop and take some photos.

There was a wedding going on complete with an honor guard, with lots of well-heeled people going into the church. Anyway, I thought I would post a few of the pictures I took of it here. I’m not exactly sure what category of architecture to put this church into but I did find it striking. Help me out if you know what type of architecture this church best represents.