I must admit that I was tempted to just post a picture of the guy that currently occupies our oval office…
I thought that might be a little crass so I opted for a different interpretation for this week’s challenge: Dense. I took this photo from a small boat off one of the largest Ghats in the holy city of Varanasi, India. Tens of Thousands of people gather every night to participate in the prayers led by the holy men along the banks of the river Ganges. Our guide told us that during the religious holidays, Varanasi is the densest population center on the planet. While I cannot verify that information, our attempt to exit the area after the prayers certainly had to go through one of the densest and most chaotic traffic jams I have ever seen.
Just did a quick search to find a photo for this week’s challenge. While this may not be the best fit, this guy seems to be enjoying his green surroundings…… I took this in the very early morning at one of the stops on a European River Cruise a few years back. I found this statue on a wall just off the empty main square of a beautiful little town (can’t remember the name right now). I loved the look on his face, the natural flora, and even the bikes parked nearby. I still find this photo relaxing and a nice reminder of that solitary morning.
I thought I’d continue my monthly political commentary at the end of Mr. T’s second month in the office. At first I started to recount all of the confusion, obfuscation and ineffectual leadership of the second month but that quickly became tedious. Instead I thought I’d comment on some of the emerging strategies of this administration and what that may portend for the next 46 months. While most of the strategies that I list may have not been formally announced, they are clear in the context of the administration’s actions to date.
Belief and Propagation of a Fact Free Environment
This has become a central feature of the administration and is a continuation of Mr. T’s fact free campaign. I am writing this as the Director of the FBI is confirming that there is absolutely no evidence that T’s assertions of illegal wiretapping of his campaign/administration. This tweet has been widely debunked since he sent it but he has reaffirmed it several times. It follows a long line of attacks on the credible media as well as most of the governmental institutions that we depend on every day. While his supporters may believe him and his conspiracy theory sources (Fox news and the farther right alternative media), his strategy appears to be to attack and attempt to discredit anyone who disagrees with him – even if it is an outrageous claim. The press is then wasting their coverage following his false leads and forgetting the important issues of the day. I hope that may be changing – it is telling when the questions at the white house press briefings now are frequently about “why and when should we believe anything the president says”. Our allies and people around the world are also and already asking that same question. Hopefully we can soon get back to questions that matter – such as inauguration sizes or imaginary voter fraud.
Hard Power vs Soft
The recent budget submission as well the administration’s stated strategies revolve around increasing our military and improving our “Hard Power” capability. This is a strategy that is simple (so even the Commander and Chief can understand it) but it doesn’t fit the complex world that we live in. We already outspend our closest military rivals by several multiples (2.7 times in the case of the next largest, China). While I would applaud efforts to streamline the military spending to make it more effective, the vast majority of rules and regulations that truly effect efficiency have been imposed by Congress itself and are unlikely to be changed. In any case, we and our allies are more than capable of defeating any credible adversary in a hard power confrontation. I would focus instead on what the new National Security Advisor, General McMasters has said about the need to “integrate all elements of power: military, political/diplomatic, economic”. Unfortunately, the budget proposal threatens huge cuts to our diplomatic corps and major cuts to financial capabilities to effect the behaviour of both our friends and our opponents. This is happening at a time when China is quadrupling its diplomatic corp and has already become the primary financier and supporter of development activities across the world. One visit to Africa with signs of Chinese construction and infrastructure projects everywhere will convince you that we are not the ones trying to build those relationships at the local level anymore. It will only get worse under Mr T’s hard power strategy – the only relationships we will strengthen are within our own military industrial complex. Update: a group of dedicated former Generals and Admirals are currently lobbying against the draconian cuts to the State Department in order to preserve our “soft power” alternatives.
Some of Mr T’s most publicized campaign promises where to the coal and fossil fuel industries. While he has done little to follow through on these promises so far, his cabinet appointments and his budget spell real trouble. There is practically no-one that thinks the coal industry is going to recover (2 Ohio coal plants announced closures this week) – the market just doesn’t exist. It was an empty promise that despite his best efforts will not be kept. All around the world, people are moving to renewable fuel sources which also happen to be green. Again, even China recognizes this trend and is transitioning its industries. Meanwhile we have an administration of climate change deniers (with the notable exception of the Defense Department) while the rest of the world invests in, and moves toward renewables. Combine that with the proposed cuts to energy science, research and technology across the departments and we risk falling behind in the race for trillions of dollars in future investments.
Income/wealth inequality – I’ve been one of “those people” for years that believe that inequality is a large problem and that the hollowing out of the middle class is a significant issue. I admit that I cannot personally identify where the middle class of the future will come from. Other than human intensive activities like public health, education and safety, and service jobs which are today lower paying jobs, I haven’t been able to envision where the jobs are to create that core economic group. While some people tout that technology and innovation will invent these new jobs, I’m not convinced that they will create more jobs than they will help eliminate. In any case, I only see the problem getting significantly worse under Mr T. His budget will certainly harm many on the lower wealth/income spectrum and his (Republican generated) health care plan creates more inequality by eliminating many of the subsidies of the ACA and also provides massive tax give-aways to the insurance industries and the most wealthy americans. Update – the Mr T/Ryan healthcare plan has been defeated so at least that does not appear to be a continuing threat! I can hardly wait to see the (again Republican generated) tax reform plan which shows all signs of distributing more wealth to the rich in an effort to stimulate the illusive phenomenon of effective “trickle down” economics.
In summary I’ll just state that I believe Mr T has seriously degraded the office that he now holds and he shows no sign of recognising that effect or trying to change his ways. Even more importantly, his personal strategic views of the world are simplistic and potentially very damaging to this country. While his plunging approval ratings provide some evidence that the public may be waking up to his con job, there is still no evidence that the Republican party will abandon its seriously flawed front man before he can wreak more havoc.
Feeling lazy so I’ll take the easy way out this week and choose another photo from Edinburgh for this week’s challenge, atop. This is a fairly regular view from “atop” one of the hills surrounding Edinburgh. Although it is a normal view for postcards, you can understand why it is popular as it gives you a nice vantage point for the primary sights of the city. In particular, the clocktower on the right centre of the photo is on the beautiful Balmoral Hotel, to the right of that is the Scott memorial (to Sir Walter Scott), and to the left is the Edinburgh Castle high on another hill. I normally don’t like to take views from above cities (skyscrapers or observation towers) because they seldom provide a view into the character of the city. I think this view is different in that it is not high enough to hide the character of the main buildings and it provides a nice overview of where everything is……
I should mention that the memorial in the foreground is to Dugald Stewart, a Scottish mathematician and philosopher of the 17 and 1800s.
I hate to climb on the church related responses to this challenge but we recently had the opportunity to do some photography in and around St. Giles cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a rainy couple of days so I was able to get some external and internal shots of this beautiful church which dates back to the 1100’s and was rebuilt in the late 1300s after a fire destroyed much of the original structure. I am not normally drawn to take lots of photos of cathedrals but I found this one to be very photogenic and we also used it as a refuge to stay out of the downpour.
I took this first photo not long after we arrived in Edinburgh. There were actually quite a few people on the rainy streets but this long exposure “ghosted” most of them out of the picture. Even though the photo was taken over a period of about 50 seconds, the two ladies in the foreground kept chatting for the entire time so they were captured along with the cathedral. I liked the context they added so I didn’t reshoot the picture or try to remove them in processing……
The next photo is of one of the main chambers of the church. The lighting was low but dramatic and yielded just enough color to make the stone building seem warm on this stormy day. Any time I am in a historic place of worship such as this one, I cannot help but to try and imagine the different ways the people lived during the lifetime of the building and how their hopes and dreams differed over time while at the same time remaining fairly constant in theme.
We had lots of roads taken over the last week as we were in Scotland, London, and Ireland. Many of the roads were very shiny as it was raining- a lot. On our first evening in Dublin we went wandering around the city looking for a place to eat and have a drink. We ended up right in front of the famous Temple Bar so I took a couple of shots there before we went on to eat and drink elsewhere. In any case, we were glad to see it and we went on to a great night on the town in Dublin.