Friday, February 27, 2009


This blog is all but retired. I started it for a couple of different reasons, none of which are any longer relevant. Many, but not all of these posts have found their way onto my flagship blog, the 25 Year Plan. This blog will remain active, however dormant, for the time being anyway.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Fall Graduation

I am faced with something of a dilemma. It is not a serious matter; there are no dire consequences no matter which direction I choose to travel. It’s more a matter of expectations and anticipation versus patience and perseverance. In the first place, I have been working very hard toward a goal that has proven to be elusive for many years. Due to a great deal of patience and perseverance, I am almost there. However, my expectation was to be there just a little bit sooner. Through planning, followed by the work necessary to realize my goal, I anticipated graduating at the end of this semester.

Graduations, like so many other ceremonious events, entail not just the pomp and circumstance of the moment of commencement, but all that the ceremony celebrates. The accomplishment and the time, the work and the sacrifice, all of the component parts that represent the completion of a bachelor’s degree. The document means much more than a cap and gown. It represents that a specified course of education has been satisfactorily completed.

It is not uncommon for some loose ends to be left at the tail end of a college career. Many graduating seniors still have an odd requirement left to complete. Perhaps it was overlooked, maybe there wasn’t time or availability was such that it couldn’t be scheduled before the commencement ceremony. It happens all the time. At Sacramento State, if a student is within six units (usually one or two classes) of completing his or her degree, he or she is permitted to participate in the graduation ceremony. Due to an oversight, I am six units short.

When I discovered this “error,” I was more than just a little disappointed. I have been chipping away at this college thing for more than two decades and diligently for the past four years. I thought I was done. After spending three or four days investigating causes, options and effects, I found a place of acceptance. Although I might have been able to lobby/coerce/manipulate the system into awarding my degree this semester, I didn’t go there. I want to know, for myself, that I met every requirement - even if that means returning for two classes in the fall.

Besides, I still get to “graduate” in the spring, right? The rules state very clearly that I can participate in the commencement ceremony as I originally planned. I don’t even need to rationalize or justify my reasoning, the rules allow for it and a large number of graduates this coming spring will not yet have actually graduated. When I say that there is nothing wrong with that, I mean it and I believe it. It’s just not for me. As much as I have been looking forward to this ceremony and despite the ability to legitimately participate when I originally planned, I need to wait.

There is one other teensy-weensy factor that comes into play as well. As a matter of fact, it was the straw that tipped the scale in favor of a fall graduation. My grade point average is currently 3.72. (UPDATE: After 15 more units at 4.0, my GPA is now 3.8) If I were to finish with that GPA, I would be graduating with honors - cum laude. But for those who have not yet finished, honors cannot be awarded at the commencement ceremony. Honors are awarded when the degree is, but not with any ceremonial recognition. If I can increase my GPA by just .03, I’ll graduate with even higher honors - magna cum laude. With just four weeks to go this semester, I am carrying a 4.0. I can get there; I know it.

There are other reasons, mostly personal, that I want to wait. Once I accepted that I screwed up and that the screw up would cost me six months, I consoled myself with the party that would still be on. However, the more I thought about it, the more hollow it felt. I don’t want to cheapen the experience knowing I haven’t yet completed my degree. I want to walk with honors. I don’t want to be handed an empty envelope. When I graduate, I want to be a graduate.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Blog author's note: This post originally appeared briefly on The 25 Year Plan, but was taken down for reasons that are no longer applicable.

Upon deciding to write a story that dealt with objectively examining the changes in photography, ushered in by the digital revolution, I was somewhat surprised to find that I had two conflicting biases. My story, however, was written based on the research I have done, not some preconceived notion, however subliminal it might have been. Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that reporters often have a particular mindset when going into a story. The good ones, however, won’t let it influence how the story is written. Judith Miller I am not.

I wanted to be able to write about how photography will always, at its core, be about film. I wanted to report that the purity of the traditional photographic techniques would always keep film’s quality at least just beyond what digital could deliver. I was willing to grant that the advantages of digital far outweigh film in every area save one: Purity (read “quality”). At worst, I wanted to concede that it would be many, many years before digital would overtake film in this isolated, albeit significant area.

But I can’t. I can report about the heart-felt passions of a few traditional photographers and that aficionados of “artistic” photography say so, but much to my dismay, I cannot defend the medium in light of what I have learned. However, I am only slightly disappointed, for as much as I have a tendency towards nostalgia, so too do I have one towards technology. This story has touched both interests and to some extent has satisfied both - and neither.

As technology evolves, it changes the way we do things. I have not worked out a long-division problem - armed with my trusty pencil - in a very long time. Yet I can remember when solving mathematical problems in this manner was the norm. Hand-held (and smaller) calculators have changed the way we do math. The ubiquitous personal computer, cable and satellite TV, robotics and any number of recent technological innovations have changed the world in much more profound ways than just as it applies directly to a specific industry.

“Professional” photographic technology is now available to the masses. Whether using automatic settings or fiddling around with the manual modes, these digital wonders allow the everyday person to do the things only the pros using professional equipment were able to do in days gone by. Furthermore, with instantly available results, trial and error is far more cost effective. Wait; allow me to rephrase that… it’s free. No processing cost or waiting for the results only to correlate the settings used to the frames on a negative. Today, it’s all about right here, right now.

And all that access sounds good. Indeed it is - but. What about the ability to frame and compose the shot… to be able to “see” the image before it is rendered - digitally or otherwise? How many trials and errors does it take? Professional photographer and Professor of Photography at California State University, Sacramento, Nigel Poor laments that the ease of taking literally hundreds of shots “takes the preciousness out of it.” The “art” of photography appears to be among the casualties of the digital revolution. Of course, it is not the only one.

However, classic photography will likely never completely die. It is said that portrait painters viewed the new technology of photography well over 100 years ago with the same trepidation as film photographers view digital imagery today. And although it is safe to say that the vast majority of portraits are photographed (now digitally), portrait painters are still painting portraits. Many in the world of art photography claim that black and white film photography has a quality that has eluded digital thus far. It is a very subjective assessment, but like other “ancient” technologies, traditional photography will still have a place in the world. Art always has had a staying power that transcends technology.

My story, therefore, tells the story of film obsolescence, but not its death knell. Indeed, the industry of film photography will likely continue to atrophy, but it will never completely die. And the fundamentals are still the same. Light still behaves as it always has and the physics that determines how it interacts with lenses, exposures, apertures, and the like is pretty much set in stone. These fundamentals still need to be mastered if one wishes to succeed in the business of photography.

Freelance news photographer Michael Kirby said simply, “I think every teacher should teach the fundamentals. There seems to be this attitude that says, ‘It doesn’t matter how it looks, I’ll fix it later with Photoshop.’ I think it’s a crime.” And he shoots almost entirely digitally. The last holdouts in the world of film photography, large format and motion picture film are fast losing their market. The major consumer roadblock of cost doesn’t have as much impact in the professional ranks. Digital large format and cinematic equipment is a reality - it’s expensive, but it’s here and it has a market.

It is heartening to know that the art of traditional photography will likely never die - that there will remain enough interest to keep some manufacturers in business and enough still practicing the art to pass it on to future generations. However, it will never enjoy the prominence it did. It is equally encouraging to realize that with the technology advancing at the rate it is, there will be greater access and consequently greater production of imagery. In that respect, everybody wins.

Monday, January 15, 2007

My Favorite Sentence

... But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you no forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

Excerpted from "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

April 16, 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time and Change

Another day just came to an end. It was a good day. Most are lately. Yesterday I visited a friend who is currently residing in the same hospital that I called home for several weeks six years ago. Although my experience there was miraculous, insightful, enlightening, transforming and a host of other equally profound adjectives, there were no good days. Not a single one, not even the day I left. It took some time and a lot of pain before the days got to be even close to good, but here I am today nonetheless better – a lot better than I’ve ever been.

In many respects, my friend is in the same boat I was in. The specific nature of the medical condition that led to her hospitalization is different; so too is the magnitude of her condition. However, the fear, the uncertainty and the helplessness are no different. I’ve been there. It was hard for me to walk back into that institution. It always is. I never particularly took to hospitals in the first place and my extended stay in one sure didn’t change that. Much had changed in just the 18 months or so since I had last been there. I was visiting a different friend.

I have always made it a point to visit the ER/ICU when I’m there. Although my memory is fuzzy, there are a few nurses there that I remember and they remember me. They see a lot of patients come and go and many that go… well they go permanently. It’s the nature of a trauma center; you don’t end up there if you’re not in pretty bad shape. I was expected to be one of those that left in a permanent fashion. That I didn’t, and have since been back, willingly and under my own power, is (or was 18 months ago) still a source of amazement to my caregivers.

Like many hospitals, Washoe Medical Center, in Reno, is expanding. Indeed it seems it always is. There has been construction going on every time I’ve been there, whether my stay was a few hours or a few weeks. The floor my friend is on iss the same floor I was on after they moved me out of ICU. It’s also where my other friend was 18 months ago. It used to be called the “step-down” unit and it was on the third floor. Now that ward – with my old room - is the oncology unit. I’m not quite sure why my friend is in that unit, she hasn’t got cancer – my other friend did, and he has since passed.

This time, however, there has been much more extensive activity than just the rearrangement of furniture. Everything is different, including the ER/ICU. They even changed the name of the whole hospital. New graphics, slogans, color scheme… and, it would appear, new personnel. At least that is what I was told by the administrator behind the “admitting” desk in what used to be an old, “throw-back” style ER waiting room. There used to be a door under the TV with a phone hanging next to it. In the past I would simply pick up the receiver and wait for an answer.

“ER, can I help you?”

“Yes,” I would say. “My name is Mike Althouse and I was a patient here for a few weeks back in October of 2000.”

“What can I do for you?” the friendly voice on the other side would ask.

“I was just wondering if there is anyone working today that was here during that period of time?” was my typical response.

Usually I wouldn’t even get put on hold, “Hang on just a sec… Peggy? You were here at the end of 2000, weren’t you? Do you remember a Mike… what was your last name? Althouse. Mike Althouse?”

By this time there is some kind of surprised exclamation followed by the door being buzzed open.

“Come on back!” And I hang up the phone and push the door open.

That door is no longer there. And according to the sentinel guarding the gateway from behind her desk, all dressed in her hospital garb, “Oh, there wouldn’t be anyone working here from that long ago.”

“Really?” But 18 months ago there would be - was. I suppose she was just doing her job. I asked if I could just walk back and see if I recognized any of the nurses. She asked me if I had a name of someone– I didn’t, and no she wasn’t going to just let me walk back there. There was not much else I could do. I am relatively sure there were some still there from when I was, but the admitting “nurse” (she isn’t a nurse, but they all dress like one), was equally sure there weren’t. It was a losing battle and perhaps the finality I needed.

That place was special. My stay was short, but in terms of hospitalizations, pretty lengthy. Considering my days there were 24 hours long, it felt much longer. I have made this informal and irregular pilgrimage since I left the mountains four years ago. I can’t really explain any better than to say that it was a part of me. I wanted to express my gratitude again and tell those who took care of me that their efforts were not in vain – that it was worth it and that I care a great deal.

Maybe that administrative assistant was right. Maybe all from that era are gone. Perhaps it’s time now to close that chapter in my book. Time and change are constant. Thanks in large part to the efforts of those kind and caring professionals, I am living proof.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad!

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’s 70-something. I can never remember exactly. It’s not like it’s a big secret or that it’s not polite to ask… I could, it just doesn’t much matter. It’s the same with my mom. Her birthday is in February and she’s my dad’s age minus a few years. No, I don’t know how many – a few. Again, it’s no big secret, she wouldn’t have any problem telling me – again.

What’s important about November eighth is not how many times it has rolled around in his lifetime. What is important is how much he has accomplished in that time. If memory serves, he was born in 1933 – I could be wrong but at least it’s close. That would put him smack-dab in the middle of the Great Depression. Although they were hard times for many, it was doubly hard for my paternal grandparents and their only child.

My father is a first generation American. Both of his parents came to this country from Russia and/or the Ukraine in the early 1900s. They met and married in New York City and worked very hard. When they arrived, they didn’t know the language or the culture; all they had to build upon was an ability and willingness to work and work hard. They never made a lot of money, but they earned every penny. They were among the most honorable people I’ll ever know.

It is apparent that the work ethic my grandparents relied upon to survive was transmitted to my father. As I said, they didn’t have much, but they made do. My dad excelled in school and graduated high school at 16. A remarkable achievement in its own right but even more so when you take into account a complete transplant from New York to Miami midway through his high school years. He would be the first to tell you, however, that he wasn’t any smarter; he just worked twice as hard.

As hard as my grandparents worked, there was not much chance of them seeing my dad through college. He found a way to do it himself. He viewed education as the antidote to fiscal uncertainty. Through a combination of means (such as the GI Bill and… that’s right, work), he managed to graduate from UCLA with a chemistry degree before putting himself through Stanford for his PhD. (For those that do not know – a PhD is a BIG deal… a PhD from Stanford is a REALLY BIG deal). Not bad for a poor depression era kid.

I could go on and on about what he has done since then. He and my mom have been married for almost 45 years, he has traveled all over the world, he has been a successful business owner, an employer and… for almost 44 years he has been a father. My father.

And what was that like?

Well, if all’s well that ends well, then all’s well. Ok, the truth – Mostly pretty good. Yes there have been more than a few rough patches, but the good times have more than made up for them. There is one glaring incident when my dad and mom literally put their lives on hold for several months to help me. In my book, that is the kind of sacrifice that defines parenthood and perhaps even more so, fatherhood.

Happy Birthday Pops!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Experts

I must admit, I didn’t know - much. Apparently, I am not alone and in some very good company. Last Tuesday, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Jeff Stein, national security editor for the Congressional Quarterly entitled, “Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?” Like I said, I didn’t know. And although the article doesn’t really explain the difference (I will, my curiosity was piqued), he is surprised, as am I, that those in the highest levels of government don’t have a clue.

I am majoring in government-journalism at Sacramento State. That could mean several different career paths. As much as I have any influence over it (not much I’ve learned, but that’s another story), my path is heading towards journalism (as opposed to government or PR) with a specialty in government reporting. Within that area, foreign policy interests me the most. Therefore, I should have known the difference as well. The key difference between my ignorance and say, oh… FBI National Security Branch Bureau Chief Willie Hulon’s is not a matter of trivia – it’s life and death.

The following is taken directly from Stein’s article:

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”

I couldn’t paraphrase it any better. It is that last quote that is particularly telling.

Perhaps Hulon and Everett should pay attention now as I will briefly explain the difference not only between these two religious sects, but also a little about the ethnicities involved.

Although I still don’t have great deal of detailed knowledge of Islam, or for that matter any religion, I will try to explain why these two branches of Islam differ. According to a variety of sources, it has to do with the lineage of the prophet Mohammed. It is somewhat complex, but there is some dispute about which of the descendants should be followed. It could be likened to the various different branches of Christianity or perhaps a better analogy is the split between Judaism and Christianity.

Not to muddy the waters even further, but within the Sunnis and the Shiites, there are further divisions and factions, which probably lends a little more accuracy to the Jewish/Christian paradigm. The issue is complex indeed, but there are those whose job it is to understand our enemy and I’m afraid, as Stein so aptly points out, that this very basic crash course is more than many of them know. But wait, it gets even more complex; again, I will distill it down to my level of understanding.

In the region, there are several different ethnic groups as well. For instance, the Iranians are not Arabs, but Persians – and mostly Shiite. The Iraqi’s are mostly Arab, except for the Kurds. Most of the Arabs in Iraq are Shiite like the Iranians, but not Persian. Most of the rest of the Arab world is Sunni, as are the Kurds, but the Kurds are not Arab. Are you taking notes?

For those that have a hard time understanding how Muslims can kill each other so persistently, ruthlessly and unconscionably, perhaps remembering the slaughter among those of differing sects of the Christian faith will help put it into perspective. Maybe historical accounts of Christians killing Jews will lend a better understanding. Realizing that all three major religious divisions have a common root probably won’t help much, but it is true enough that all three are “Abrahmic” spin-offs.

So perhaps our “leaders” don’t understand that we’ve inserted ourselves smack-dab into the middle of a religious-ethnic-territorial war that is hundreds of years old. Maybe they underestimated the complexity of the demographic makeup of the region. Perhaps if they had done their homework, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe it’s not too late to find a solution. It’s time to cram – finals are coming.