(no subject)

I've been trying to write this post for months. It started as a diatribe about everything that's wrong with our presence in Afghanistan, but that carries with it two problems: First, and most important to me, is the possibility of ruining my wife's career. Not gonna do it. Second, I don't want to bore the crap out of you with everything you already know. If you want to know both what's wrong and what's right about what we're doing here, follow the news a bit. The positive reports are all correct. The negative reports are all correct.

Instead, I want to talk about what's wrong with the 7,000,000,000 of us currently living. We've created a hell of our own making, but we don't realize that we can change it, and we don't know how to change it.
"Of our own making?" you ask. Yes.
What has happened is that we've made growth and style more important than substance and quality, in nearly everything we do. If substance were more important than style, our magazines, television shows and movies would be very different. We wouldn't learn every week which movie made the most money, we wouldn't know what a Snooki is, and we wouldn't care whether a 17-year-old from Alaska was having sex. If substance were more important than style, we wouldn't buy new cars every five years, or "update" the interior decorating in our house before it physically needs it. When we bought a camera, even as professionals, we wouldn't have to get the latest version every 18 months or less. Our computers wouldn't need upgrading, or become obsolete as soon as we bought them. Our clothes wouldn't cycle back and forth between a 70s look and an 80s look every two years or so, and we certainly would never, ever buy clothes that looked like crap on us, just to fit a designer's vision of what was cool this year.
The result of all this living for style is that far too many of us take jobs that we don't want, that we don't need, that keep us away from the people we love and things we love to do, in order to finance all this style. You don't agree, do you? You have to have that job, because you have BILLS. Lots and lots of expensive BILLS.
Let's look at those bills. Mortgage/rent...if you had less stuff, would you need as much house/apartment as you currently do? And would your mortgage then be as high as it is?
Credit cards...if you bought what you could afford, would you need the credit feature as much?
Car payments...remember, as a teenager, even into your 20s, paying cash for a car? Maybe $250-400? Yeah, they were on their last legs, and required a little more maintenance, but I'll bet you I didn't spend more than $300/year on cars until I bought a new car in my early 30s, and suddenly had to pay $250/month. And before that was even paid off? Bought a different car, with a payment of around $350/month. I can give you my litany of excuses, but that's all they are.
Utilities...I'd bet the monthly cost of your utilities is directly tied to both the size of your house and the amount of your stuff.
And the list could go on - there's cable, entertainment, computers, phones, other phones, gas, food. Much of it is definitely stuff that's necessary, at least to a point, but we've gone waaaaaaay beyond that point. If you have an iPhone, do you also need an iPad, a laptop, a desktop and a point & shoot camera? If that pile of toxic waste is still functional, do you need to replace them every 18 months when the new version comes out? I would bet you don't.

And that's what we don't think about often enough. I hear people talk about slowing down, but it seems like a lot of talk. In part, that's because we don't know that better means less growth, maybe even negative growth for a while. Ever since we first got a little smarter than the other apes, and I'm going to go ahead and pin that right around the point that we started to cook our food, about 2,500,000 years ago - a total guess, but a logical one, since it's easier to extract nutrition and calories from cooked food, allowing us to eat so many extra calories we could spend a little time thinking about things - we've been striving for technological progress and domination of resources.
We've achieved the peak of that. We're so good at it that we can live anywhere on Earth and within 3 days' reach of Earth, and there's serious talk of Mars, which is about 2 years away from home.
We have to keep striving, though; it's in our genes. You, I, everyone, is hardwired to collect things that get us food and progeny. The coolest guy leads the tribe, and everyone else brings him food - that's why it's good to be President, Donald Trump, Angelina Jolie or Maria Sharapova. He also gets to pick who makes his babies, which is why a not-very-good-looking guy like Trump has a daughter who looks like Ivanka. We measure coolness in the collection of non-food resources such as money, or through athletic prowess, skill at telling stories or making enough promises to get people to put a tick next to your name rather than the other guy's. In the nerd world, if you own Microsoft or Google, you win. If you are a high-performing coder or marketer, you also win. As you get further down the food chain, you gain leadership roles in your tribe(s) by being good at making art, being excellent to people, saying wise-sounding things, connecting people to each other and so on.
The drive to be the coolest guy with the coolest stuff, though, is what's killing us, and a serious chunk of life on Earth.

Imagine for a moment a world in which automotive performance is measured through environmental impact. Your coolness is measured by how much time you spend fishing, building boats, teaching your children how to write stories or make a treehouse, and you're pitied if you have to spend more than six or seven hours a day at work. Businesses, people and countries strive to maintain balance, rather than endlessly seeking growth. Your goal isn't a big house two hours away from your job, so your kids have good schools, because you can't be with them, but a reasonable house, 10 minutes' walk from work, and you live in the neighborhood where your kids go to school. In fact, you walk them to school on your way to work.
Imagine, you don't need Ambien, because you sleep well every night. You don't need Lipitor because your food is made of natural ingredients, you don't eat with a snow shovel, and you get enough exercise (so you also don't need a treadmill or that gym membership). The food you eat tastes great, because it's fresh; it was picked yesterday, and you got it at the local market, from a farmer whose name you know.
That is what's going to save us. That is what's going to prevent us from becoming the next extinction event. That is what's going to bring us sanity. That is the world I want to live in. I bet you do too.
greek coffee

I haven't, in fact been shut down

It's been a long, long time - almost two years. Wow. Facebook has pretty much taken over my life, and I'm not sure I'm capable of writing more than a status update at one go. My wife said that she saw on Diplopundit.com that they thought I'd been shut by external forces. Such is not the case, though if I'd been maintaining my LJ activity for the past couple years, it might well have become the case.
After the bid list came out in 2010, she looked at her options and said, "Hey, how would you feel about doing a second year in Kabul?" I thought an extra year of an insane salary would help my photography business, and that I could put up with almost anything for two years, so I said it sounded like a freakin' amazing idea. Actually, it was more like, "sure, why not."
As it turns out, I can just barely put up with almost anything for two years. Just a couple months into the second year, and I was ready to go to the Washington Post with an opinion piece that I'm pretty sure would have ended my sojourn here. It would probably also have ended my wife's career, though, so I've restrained myself as best I can. Instead, I piss off everyone I know with arguments on Facebook about other stuff that I have strong opinions on and count the days until the next leave. From August 2011 to about a week ago has been an excruciating six months...felt more like six years at times.
Now that we're inside of five months to go (with two leaves left to break up the time), I suddenly feel free. I see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that it's not illusory.
I realize this is kind of a lame first post back. It's like running - if you stop for a long time, it takes a little to get back into the groove.
  • Current Mood
    chipper chipper
mahmood's tomb

my worst nightmare?

Or maybe a massive learning opportunity. My new job is turning out to be more than I ever dreamed/dreaded. It's a new job with a vague title and description, and every meeting I have makes it clearer that it could become virtually anything I want it to be.
A) Crap. My photography business is anything I want it to be, and that's not going spectacularly. or...
B) Sweet. With the protection of a net, I can learn how to do a bunch of very interesting things, make contact with people throughout the Embassy, and take another step toward figuring out how to apply that to my business.

Well that was comforting

I was talking with a relative yesterday who's been a life-long atheist. His wife died recently after a long, painful fight with cancer, and he faces his own mortality every day, plugged into an oxygen generator. He has fits of uncontrollable crying as he thinks about the nearly 50 beautiful years he had with his wife and how empty he feels now without her. He's holding a memorial service for her this summer in their home town, and I told him that I'd be going, but annesblog wouldn't because she already knows she has a thing she cannot miss on the day of the event. He said that he has no illusions that his wife will be watching from the afterlife, but that he appreciates very much both my going to the event and the reason why annesblog can't.

I've long had the fear that faced with my own end or the tragic painful death of a loved one, that I would abruptly find solace in a god. To see a fellow atheist facing it without doing that made me feel very happy, while simultaneously sad for him, deeply, deeply sad for him and his loss.
greek coffee

The obligatory soul searching

So it's New Year's morning, and my last day in Athens. Heady, heady stuff.
A look at what I'll miss of Greece: The islands - those I've been to and loved, such as Milos, Paros, Delos & Hydra. Those I've not been to and so must return to Greece, such as Xios, Lesvos, Rhodes & Limnos (yes, you have a favorite that is unlisted here...write your own list, there are dozens of islands to choose from).Collapse )
greek coffee

Hooray for pack out!

Oh yes! That glorious day is upon us! The movers are coming! The movers are coming! The good news is that we've done this enough times that we're getting pretty refined in our processes, and we have a sense for what we absolutely have to have to survive 6 weeks with just luggage and 6 months to as much as a year with our air freight.
I decided to experiment a bit with finally trying to live up to that section of my moral code which states that we need less stuff than we have (the Reduce part of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). As a result, all of the clothing I'm packing for 6 weeks almost fits in one suitcase, and with my tripod, that suitcase squeaks in under the airline's weight limit. Collapse )
  • Current Mood
    calm calm
greek coffee

Why Creation Myths Are Dangerous

Let me start this by saying it is not meant as an attack on religion just for the sake of attacking people. I seriously want people to think about what I'm saying. This is not a well-researched, peer-reviewed scientific treatise. It's a generalized opinion based on a little logic and some light research to get a few figures.

Most of the myths we have concerning the creation of Earth and the life on it tend to place that creation after the discovery of writing (around 10,000 years ago) and before the codification of those myths (around 5000 years ago). Collapse )
  • Current Mood
greek coffee

reflections with a month to go

So I started thinking about what I've done and what I haven't done in Greece. I'll start with the short list.

I didn't climb Mt. Olympus. I wanted to, but not badly enough to make it happen. There was one good opportunity to do so with a large group, but it coincided with the big OSCE meeting in Corfu, where I chased the Dep. Secretary around for 2 days taking pictures with prime ministers, foreign ministers and secretaries general.
I also didn't drive to Troy. I think it was a trip I would have enjoyed, but annesblog wouldn't have...lots and lots and lots of driving for the sole purpose of visiting a barely-developed archaeological site in Turkey.
That pretty much covers that which I would have liked to have done but didn't.

I ran my first marathon, at the age of 43. It was the original marathon, from Marathon to Athens. The first 10 miles were fun (despite the continuous downpour), and the last 6 miles weren't bad (in the bright, warm sun), but the 10 miles between were a motherfucker (up a serious hill). I discovered what I'm made of, exactly how far I can bend, and just how hard I'm willing to work when I really want to finish something. And I couldn't be prouder. My time was 5:41. Hell yeah.
I visited Ancient Olympia twice. It is my favorite archaeological site. It fell out of disuse after the Christian emperor Theodosius outlawed the religious festivals in 394 CE, after 1170 years of continuous use. Amazingly, nearly all the original blocks are still there, and they are massive. Another cool thing is that the blocks are limestone from the bottom of an ancient sea. You can see the shells and fossils of mollusks throughout the stone.
Despite many misgivings, I went to Meteora. Before coming to Greece, I had heard that Meteora was the one place you *have* to go because of all the monasteries on top of impossible cliffs. I don't care. If people want to go be monks, leave them the hell alone. There are religious buildings I like - Notre Dame, Hagia Sofia - but most are either irrelevant to me or offend me deeply - St. Peter's in the Vatican offends me. So why would I go see a bunch of monasteries? When we went, was I in for a surprise. The cliffs are amazing...they were formed from a lake- or seabed that drained 60 million years ago. When you see how high and eroded these cliffs are, you can't help but wonder how long the sea was there before it drained. Once I saw the cliffs, I embarked on a project to show the cliffs for themselves rather than as homes for the monasteries.
I got to shoot a wedding on Santorini.
We did a 10 cruise-by-ferry of the Cyclades.
I worked as the Embassy's official photographer.
I greatly refined my vision as an art photographer (blog.bpsphoto.com or www.facebook.com/bhneely. I've started to focus on geological subjects, to show the awe-inspiring age of Earth and the forces that have acted on it over the eons. I've begun shooting more still lifes, particularly flowers. It's been a great journey of discovery.
I learned to cook rabbit. I ate goat, octopus, fry, smelt, anchovies & sardines (I didn't used to eat fish at all).
My photography business turned a (very, very, very) modest profit.
I bought nearly all my vegetables at street markets (today I bought some lemons in the grocery store, and it was the first time I'd bought produce inside a building in 6 months or more). I learned why people like tomatoes. I learned to cook with quince, to make sour cherry juice, fig jam and how to cure olives. I made friends with a lettuce dealer who listens to Motorhead and Biohazard and a butcher who listens to AC/DC.
I learned to enjoy long days on the beach. Long days that drifted into long weekends. Very long, peaceful, quiet days of swimming, looking at barely clad (or unclad) Greeks, Germans, Brits, French, Russians & who knows who else, reading, drinking iced coffee, eating lightly fried anchovies at a beach taverna before returning to the sun bed (always in the shade, because my Irish skin bursts into flame when confronted with direct sunlight). And evenings of taking a nap from 4-7 pm, drinking iced coffee, wandering through town, having pizza or lightly fried smelt with retsina and finishing with a glass of ouzo or tsipouro (a Greek version of grappa, or home-distilled booze made from grape skins and other odd bits). Damn I'm going to miss those weekends.
I took tours of the Acropolis and Ancient Agora. I wandered the Acropolis and Ancient Agora. I stood where Socrates stood when he was indicted for "corrupting the youth" and "worshiping false gods." I've seen the Acropolis empty of people, full of people, in the rain, in the restrained sun of January and the mind-numbing sun of August. I got to photograph a US Marine's re-enlistment ceremony in front of the Parthenon. I've stood where Paul addressed the Athenians and told them the religion they'd followed since the dawn of civilization, a few thousand years before, wasn't good enough.
I have complained about a summer so wet that it rained one day each in July & August. Seriously, how could we survive such a deluge? Little did I realize that the rain wouldn't stop until I had sacrificed my body and spirit on Nov. 8 by running 26.2 miles, 10 of it in a downpour.

I have come to love a place as deeply as I love western Washington. I did not think such a thing could happen, but there you have it. I will probably cry when I get on the plane in 4 weeks, even though I'm excited about the next stage of the adventure, in Vladivostok.
  • Current Mood
    nostalgic nostalgic

wow...21 weeks

I've been channeling all my bloggy energy into facebook for...looks like half a year or so. I promise to start writing more here. I'm working on a long bit about our time in Greece, and another one on petroleum usage from an atheist perspective. I promise not to be intentionally offensive to those who don't share my world view in that one. My goal with it is to give people something to think about regarding the way in which religious beliefs might affect the ways in which one perceives natural resources.

But first, a weekend of parties...we're hosting a sloppy joes night, going to a party and prepping for annesblog's name day party on Wednesday.
  • Current Mood
    calm calm
forbidden city

Disgusted with customer services

I'm going to use this forum to vent a little. Lately, I've had terrible luck getting customer service.
I've discovered that I need help with marketing. It wasn't a ground-shaking discovery, but discovery leads to action (and there's been none on the marketing front). Recognizing this, I thought it would be a good idea to research and possibly hire a marketing company to push me along.
First I contacted Photo Publicist (www.photopublicist.com) using their online contact form. I got the we're-so-excited-to-hear-from-you email, assuring me that my request was important and that a real human would contact me soon. June 1st that was. By my math, 6 weeks isn't soon.
So then I tried Swagger, whom I now can't find. Their online form didn't work, so I sent them an email. No response at all. It has been 6 weeks since that one.
Then I bought a camera...my D200 has a bad sensor, and it costs about $50 more for a refurbished and warranteed by Nikon D200 than it does for a sensor replacement, so buying a camera made more sense than shipping mine off for repair. So I went to my favorite used camera dealer, Keh.com, and placed my order. Their policy is that if they don't have the item you ordered in stock, they place a pending charge on your card. They did that, and after two weeks, I sent them an email saying that they really ought to ship my camera. I got no reply to that, so after checking that the order was still pending (and the money still unavailable to me) I sent them an unfriendly email saying that they should ship a better camera than I ordered, since obviously they don't have what I want in stock, or return my money, so that I could take it elsewhere. No reply to that. The camera came that day (10 days ago now). So I sent them a friendly email, apologizing for the strong language, telling them that they ought to update the status. No reply to that, either. The sale is still listed as pending on their site, but the transaction has gone from pending to completed.
This kind of crap pisses me off. If you're an art marketing agency, at least have the decency to send a note saying, "Hey, yeah, we appreciate your interest in giving us money to help you become well-known and paid for your work, but first you have to be well-known and paid for your work for us to represent you." If a pissed off customer sends you an email (or three) telling you how pissed off they are because you won't ship their product, reply. Tell them you're sorry, you'll get right on that. If you have an order status function on your customer account page, update it. Once in a while. Is a transaction really pending if the customer has your product in hand and has used it (with great satisfaction I might add)? Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll send me yet another camera!
On the flip side, I've been very happy with Imagekind.com's responsive to problems. They're fast and informative. Just wish someone would buy from one of my galleries at bhneely.imagekind.com. Really, you can buy great photos and cards there.