Scott Ellington's Blog

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The Sisterhood of Man

On seventeen separate rooftops, this morning, in one small town in rural Kentucky, seventeen volunteer firemen sit with each of their laptop computers running the Google Earth application, and a good lensatic compass in hand.  They’re all engaged in the installation and orientation of digital television antennas that will prevent the loss of free television broadcast service to the residents beneath those seventeen rootops.

Google, the giant, progressive corporation, actually heard my request! (lodged about a month ago) that they update their Google Earth application to highlight the geographic location of all digital transmitters within the United States — and promote this update as a means to help homeowners and good Samaritans ease the digital transition:  Good for Google public relations, good for good Samaritans, good for the worst and dimmest, good for the sake of goodness.

The firemen benefit doubly by;

1)  honorably helping to free the analog spectrum for first-responder/emergency communications, and

2) by actively participating with members of their community whose infirmity, age or incompetence prevent them from reconfiguring their television hardware by and for themselves.

I don’t know that those three preceding paragraphs are entirely apocryphal.  It’s possible that the example of a president bent on transparency, hope, change and interpersonal civic engagement in service of public interests has, in fact, led to the opening of homes, hearts and roof-hatches to the purpose of our helping one another.  Maybe my cynical, cloistered view of the state of current events is simply too blinkered and blindered to appreciate the actual kindnesses transpiring between my fellow Americans, and I simply don’t see it happening from the tiny well of my abysmal isolation.  Too bad for me.

Spencer Tracy (Inherit the Wind) delivered a speech in the role of Clarence Darrow, in which he said that every advance in technological innovation is countered by a significant sacrifice; we gain the power of birds to fly, but scent the clouds with gasoline; we conquer the barrier of distance with the telephone and lose the charm of absence (which makes the heart grow fonder)…as though every step toward the future of human technology is a stride away from human nature.  Jerry Mander seconds this perspective by saying that the promoters of new (&/or haphazard) technology are always people whose fortunes improve with its adoption.  It’s as though a dedicated team of divine accountants were balancing a ledger:  A dark visionary model of innovation I personally dislike and mistrust, but it makes more sense than the 58½ years I’ve spent listening to hype and tripe about The Unlimited Potential of Humankind (which hasn’t entirely materialized much).  Where are the flying cars we were promised in the 50s that betokened the dawning of The Age of Aquarius, the Brotherhood of Man, and Tomorrowland?

Why does The Sisterhood of Man sound like salacious innuendo?

The Brotherhood of Man hasn’t worked very well as an iconic model to which we aspire.  It’s come to encompass brother-rape, -torture, -pillage and -slavery as a means to the preservation of Our domestic tranquility, usually at the cost of  Theirs.  So I propose The Sisterhood (big sister or little, your choice) as an alternative target, just to change the aspirational paradigm.  Sister-rape, -torture, -pillage and -slavery might provoke a little extra doublethink while preparing to victimize the next sucker, and if that doesn’t work any better than brotherhood, The Motherhood of Man comes next.

I tend to favor the poetic synthesis Richard Brautigan anticipated in Machines of Loving Grace, which envisioned the union of sophisticated technology with our natural humanity, and facilitated the evolution of both.

So seventeen firemen aren’t sitting on seventeen rooftops this morning?  Maybe they’ve been wisely and justly delayed by solid bureacratic reasoning and won’t begin the altruistic work at-hand until Juneteenth (June 13, 2009) when irate, analog broadcast television customer-complaints pour in concerning the absence of signal on a few million television sets, and the almost-forgotten American fondness for free broadcast TV will set big wheels in motion to preserve the equilibrium of squeeky little wheels in commotion.  Whatever works.

I guess I really want that flying car, still.

31 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Right To (A) Life

Washington Weak, this morning, woke me with a panel discussion of the nomination of Judge Sotomayor (whose introduction, this week, revolted me with its Traditional American Family Values prelude — very like an Oscar-acceptance speech).  The panel’s conclusion was nebulous and conditional (as ever) with regard to the eventual outcome of the partisan squabble that will rage and languish through the remainder of the year, but one insightful remark put something else in perspective for me.

A veteran reporter said that looking back on the record of Ms Sotomayor’s opinions provides a useful lever for neither her conservative nor her liberal scrutinizers, but that looking forward to her views on abortion rights may yeild significant purchase for the opposition to her nomination.  It may have been Gwen Ifill who said in response that abortion rights is last year’s issue, that same-sex marriage is the new polarizer.

The RightToLife of an unborn fetus continues to be yet another unresolved American controversy from which the spotlight of national attention has moved on.  We seem to do that moving-on thing more than we come to definintive conclusions.  What struck me as interesting about this exchange was that the right of a fetus to be born guarantees exactly nothing with regard to its sexual orientation, nor, pretty much, anything else.

I think sexual preference is a good deal more complex than binary labels like straight or gay.  Even the four-part coalition of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender simply reduces the vast spectrum of sexual orientations to a five-part disharmonious choir.  Anyone whose intimate union with other people is sanctioned by majority opinion is a deviant whose right to A life is discouraged to some extent by somebody.  We are, all of us, deviants from any standard definition of normative behavior.  Not only aren’t people perfect or normal or standard, it’s a wonder we’re even reasonably similar.

In fifty years of encounters with male homosexuals in and around San Francisco, I’ve come to believe that a guy comes here escaping FROM a family and community that squelched and impugned his right to an honest life.  Heterosexual parents, and an orthodox midwestern upbringing don’t guarantee the heterosexuality of the box of chocolates incubating in pregnancy.  What comes out of that belly has a right to make A life that’s every bit as high a priority as the right to be born in the first place.

Sexual orientation isn’t a function of choice.  Whether to abort or not is a choice, but once the child is born, its parents and community, state and nation are Constitutionally obligated not to impede that child’s making an optimal life.  In the same way that the Constitution doesn’t act as a practicable example to the macrocosm of the private sector, it also doesn’t proscribe the behavior of the microcosmic personal sector, either.  We, The People, don’t privately practice what it preaches about the use and abuse of power:  “Do Better”.

If an unborn fetus truly has a right to life, the quality of that life falls within the province and responsibility of the passionate RightToLife advocates.  If their arugment makes any kind of sense, the folks who bomb Planned Parenthood clinics would also be after hate-criminals.  They aren’t.  Ironically, people who oppose abortion seem to be disposed to attack sexual deviation, and any deviation from the standard American Way of impugning the rights of others to make an authentic life for themselves and their significant others.

So from the comfort of my armchair, I’m philosophizing that the lives of serial murderers, pedophiles and sociopaths have undiscovered value that won’t be revealed in this beknighted country until the RightToLife argument is taken several steps beyond its current impasse.  The thing is that same-sex marriage (the current media hot-button issue) isn’t a different controversy.  It too requires sustainable, supportable resolution:

We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I like to think it was a declaration of independence from the Bible, and that the minor faults in the language in that particular sentence reflect an adolescent (evolving) perception of sustainable, supportable rebellion from the more significant failures of our pathetic past.  The Declaration didn’t explicitly identify chicks, niggers, dirt-worshipers, chinks, spicks, micks and sexual deviants/defects as exempt from rights endowed by the right to life.  Neither do I. 

If the choice to be born is made on your behalf by people who did not consult you, they’re conscientiously obliged to get out of your way in your pursuit of conscientious happiness.

30 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Points of Interest

There’s a free treasure trove of panel discussions and interviews here:

The link leads to my personal favorite, though MIT World is packed with valuable items for every interest.

And there’s plenty more David Milch here:

Grant McCracken’s blog is the intersection of fascinating ideas and a probing intelligence:

And Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian is an invaluable antidote to advert-think hysteria:

Just tracking Henry Jenkins’ trail of ideas is the work of several lifetimes:

And the Rowell website:

is an oasis of inspiration and information on the journey to learn to see.


I’m adding the gallery page of my DeviantArt account largely because it’s a better viewing environment for the presentation of images than I’ve managed to squeeze out of this blog.  And adding this link may spur me to post more of the best stuff I get every weekend.

23 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So Close

Catching up on the Daily Show this evening, I found Jon Stewart busily mocking the Democratic congressional irresolution in the presidential closing of Guantanamo, and the reluctance of any state’s representatives to accept terrorist-detainee-refugees.  To illustrate the American competence to keep bad guys inside, Stewart cued an MSNBC clip of a patricidal cannibal named Joseph Garner, interviewed at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, who, after killing his father,  took a bite out of his father’s brain.  Stewart went on to fence brilliantly with Nuke Gingrich.

Funny thing.

Joseph L. Garner was the name of the kid who lived across the street from me from 1951-63.  The guy on the screen looked a great deal like an older extrapolation of the Joey Garner I remember; glasses, pale and particularly strange.  Slough about 45 years, and prisoner Garner could easily be the very same kid who accidentally broke the little finger of my right hand beneath the heel of his boot as we walked to the Saturday matinee at the Avenue Theater.  It happened when I reached for something interesting on the ground in front of us — and he took a shot at crushing it.  Despite being nearly identical in age, raised under similar conditions, we were two very different kids.  I ignored the pain and numbness in my finger until it started smarting from the salted popcorn, midway through the feature.  There was blood.  There was also no way I’d disclose the fact that that twerp had caused me a moment’s discomfort, but whatever friendship we’d enjoyed was 250-300% over.

I watched at a distance from that point forward as Joey’s peculiarities surfaced in the schoolyard.  All through the fifth and sixth grades, he hung out with very small kids; taunting, teasing, bullying.  And I’d listen attentively as my mother pointed to Joey as though he were a paragon of the virtues she demanded of me.  I, of course, knew a whole lot better than she…who Joey really was.  And is.  So that’s what fresh psychosis smells like in the morning.

Joseph Garner, inmate at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, looked like the perfect reason for me to call my mother and tell her just exactly how infallible is her judgment of character.   Unfortunately, I’m not that particular prick.  Neither, upon closer inspection of the records available to me by means of the internet, is prisoner Garner, Joey.  The cannibal is probably ten years younger, slightly better looking and likely a pleasanter companion.

Still, it would have been awfully nice to take and withhold the news of this mountain of moral highground from my mother.  So very close, yet totally unsmokable.

22 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Acme of Creation

There goes another weekend spent photographing Caspian Terns.  I’ve learned that auspicious weather predictions of mid-70° temperatures don’t really account for 20-30mph winds sweeping off the bay, so I dressed for the middle of winter, and things turned out okay.  Unfortunately, I hit the beach at 0900 yesterday and about 1000 today, finding that identical conditions caused the 60-70 roosting terns to face into the NW wind, with the sun semi-bright on their backs, and incoming tide preventing me from setting up at any angle to optimize catchlighted eyes, minimize shadows, and watch for incoming birds in flight.  And both days, the kite&windsurfers arrived shortly after I did. 

On a day like today, there were about as many surfers as terns.  Although the birds are resilient in terms of turf, and they’ll condone a goodly amount of encroachment, fifty yards is about as close as anything human or canine gets before every roosting bird goes airborne.  At about 1030, a couple of guys hauled their kite-launching-operation into the breach between me and the terns (which left abruptly), while the guys spent about 30 minutes there, largely motionless, failing to launch.

I’m not one to walk up to imperfect strangers demanding to know what the fuck they think they’re doing by coming between a photographer and a mess of sitting birds at which his 18″ lens was obviously pointed.   And since I’m not quite that arrogant an asshole, I contented myself for 30 minutes of watching where the terns had gone and calculating how the change in their location might lead to better images; resourceful and inventive, projective reconfiguration of my shooting situation.  Live and let…(there’s plenty of polarizing invective here that I’ll leave to your imagination).

Ultimately, when the guys left, and the birds refused to return, I picked up my stuff and walked about 300 yards for an auspicious line-of-sight on their new location, which changed the moment an unleashed dog came at them…and again when a 6inch, half-deflated Pier 39 balloon blew out of the water toward them.  Pier 39 is about 20 miles away, northwest.

As more and more surfers arrived to take advantage of the increasingly strong and steady wind, I settled for 750 new photographs (today) and left the beach thinking about the sublime intelligence of humankind, which is (to the best of my knowledge) endlessly celebrated in song and ode and whitepaper and journal article and (human) common sense by absolutely no other species. 

We are the pinnacle of creation (according to us) and the crowning achievement of a God who smiled upon us, giving us dominion over all the earth and the lesser creatures He made before finally accomplishing the unparalleled wonder of us? 

When human kind is smart enough, or evolved enough, or divine enough to ask another species how mankind ranks on the pinnacle-meter…I don’t think we’ll like the answer.  No worries, we’re going to remain blissfully ignorant until we’ve silenced every other potentially-intelligible voice on this planet and moved on to proclaim our divine dominion over everyplace else, too.

In all, I set myself up, then moved my set-up eleven times while attempting to photograph Caspian Terns in flight in the past 48 hours.  Every weekend I spend doing this stuff, the birds teach me something new about the difficulty involved in doing it well and properly.  Thusfar, they appear to be comfortable with me planted about 65 yards from their bivouac, from which one or two birds depart to go fishing approximatedly every quarter-hour, unless there’s a school of feast in the water — then it’s almost a mass-evacuation…but the one reliable fact seems to hold that every returning bird comes back to the bivouac which moves with the random incursions of surfers, dogs and balloons…I think I’m learning to read their cues, at least a little; and keeping their displeasure with my presence managable.  So at the end of our time together, I always tender my gratitude for their patience.  I assume they understand and appreciate the gesture, because they’re always there (pretty much in the same place) the next time I see them. 

At the core of the regret I feel in walking away is leaving them to the tender mercies of the oblivious folks who remain when I’ve dragged my butt from their space.  The barnacle of creation seems a more apt description for humans, although it does a disservice to barnacles.  So the subject line of this entry went straight for the Wile E. Coyote connection, with a little Douglas Adams inflection; so long, and thanks for the sympathetic attention

In Tern, that statement simply sounds like an ecstatic croak, which is pretty much all I hear ever from them, which makes it seem as though they lead an eminently enviable existence, which doesn’t suck.

11 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Power of the Center

Thusfar, in the second chapter of Rudolf Arnheim’s book, he’s identified alternative models of sense-making for objects in a visual field; grided or centric.  No doubt he’s setting up some miraculously elegant proof of the necessity and complicity of these two schemes of composition in all aesthetic endeavors, not exclusively in visual/graphic arts.  The thing is that the abstract terms with which these ideas are expressed makes them feel as bloodless as math without numbers, a strenuous exercise in airy vagueness; and he’s evidently going to take his own sweet time in getting around to the notion that the model/image of a concentric system of organization is an excellent representation of the way attention works through eyes.

He opens with the familiar neonatal metaphor of a me-centered universe that radiates outward from the nucleus of attention in which a child’s perceptual mechanism locates awareness of itself.  But self-awareness in a vacuum (of significant events external to that center) is not a description of  a reality about which people can speak; it’s the curse of godlike consciousness in an absolute void.  (“Existence is beyond the power of words, to define:”)  Arnheim introduces other people to the child’s awareness as Other-centers of awareness of which the child eventually becomes cognizant as independent entities; triggering the birth of compassion and empathy.  What he hasn’t yet said is that the grid system of an objective reality is necessary for the concentric center of subjective awareness to relocate a nipple, a toy, a light…that the grid and the eddy are complementary organizational representations that make the evolving consciosness feel at home in the world of familiar events in the consensual scheme that most of the rest of us claim as our own.

It’s not that these two schemes are alternative maps of the perceptual world, mutually exclusive disciplines, but that they complement one another to provide an interlocking schematic basis for consciousness to operate and function in the physical world.  And the deadly thing about Arnheim is that I’ve no assurance he’s ever going to say what I’m hoping to find confirmed somewhere in the next 200 pages.  That very uncertainty makes it necessary to read slowly and cautiously.  Luckily, I read very slowly, anyway, but the impulse to drive relentlessly through this book is hampered by the diminishment of my curiosity, as the piles of abstractions grow higher.

Rowell’s The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography aroused my renewed curiosity in reading more Arnheim, but the profoundly dry Arnheim experience is driving me back toward Rowell, with Film as Art positioned like a malevolent defensive back waiting to smack me down when I’ve, at long last, completed The Power of the Center and before I can move toward The Inner Game again…even before the goal of better photographs comes in sight.  The gridiron analogy felt appropriate there for a moment.

07 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Generation Boom

Last week, Robert J. Elisberg posted another intelligent blog-article at Huffington Post.  With the lightly sardonic tone he often uses, he blasted the notion that George W. Bush saved us…itemizing the myriad ways in which George W. Bush did nothing of the kind.

I was moved by the article to comment, that:

George Bush saved us by quenching the Torch of Freedom in the well of our global disgrace.

“Mission Accomplished!”..?


Catching up on my iTunes subscription to The Daily Show, last night, I watched Jon Stewart converse with Cliff May about the intricacies of Americans inflicting torture on detainees.  In the course of this remarkably frustrating definitions ho-down, Stewart said that Harry Truman should have been held accountable for war crimes against humanity for lobbing atomic bombs at two unwarned Japanese cities, when the objective of ending the war would probably have been accomplished just as effectively without waging total war against unprepared civilians. 

Two nights later, Stewart backtracked from that “extreme” position.  He made it sound as though the words slipped out (of their own volition) before he’d given the proposition adequate censorial thought, saying that, upon reflection, his statement was simply stupid.

I think he was absolutely right in not pardoning Truman.  I’m suspicious of the apology that followed as disingenuous, politically correct/conventional, and far more profoundly stupid.

I went on to revisit Flags of Our Fathers and Beyond Barbed Wire/Go For Broke

I think the generation to which I belong, Generation Boom, was defined by the presidential decision to end the horrors of global war by bringing them home to the undefended wives and children of soldiers who weren’t prepared for a second “date that will live in infamy”, which Truman swiftly followed with a third.

The one thing foreign enemies always seem to forget is the uncharacteristically immoral and illegal depths to which Americans will sink in pursuit of  certain goals.  While our temporary lapses in sanity give rise to various catchphrases; Manifest Destiny, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills, Remember the __________ (Maine, Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 911…) they all have in common a built-in  hysterically unilateral justification for anti-empathy.

And just as our foreign enemies overlook our tacit penchant for unfathomable ruthlessness, we constantly forgive ourselves for breaking Indian treaties, slavery, indentured servitude, infantilizing women, internment camps, and general acts of racial, religious and ethnic prejudice…all the forms of rampant xenophobia that transform our fellow Americans into foreign enemies…at least temporarily…long enough to exact some staggering form of vengeance in retaliation against the diversity they represent.

Generation Atom is gradually fading away.  My cohort (formerly Beats, Hippies and Punks) is replacing them, daily,  as pillars of an establishment that practices hypocrisy.  I think the cure for the fossilization of virtue resides in daily doing better unto Others than will be done unto you.

06 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Scriptural Distillation

Do better unto others than will be done unto you.

01 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments