Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Digital Color Variations Are Easy

One nice thing about digital imaging is the ease with which one can create multiple color variations on images. Sometimes that can result in some pretty silly looking images, but it can be used intelligently, too. In the case of abstract images, for example, there really is no "right and wrong" when it comes to color choices. Whatever looks good looks good. Consequently, a single image can theoretically serve as the basis for dozens of different variations on that image.

The two images shown above serve as an example of how easy it is to create radically different versions of images at the click of a mouse. The color version was created first. I applied a variety of filters in order to impart a rough, "painterly" look to the image.

Then I created the "antique sepia" version below. After I converted the color image it to a monochromatic image with warm brownish tones, I applied an additional filter to slightly alter the texture of the digital "paint", which already had a simulated impasto effect on the color version.

Which one looks best? It's a subjective judgment call. It depends a great deal on the context in which the image appears.

It's always interesting to see how different colors convert to monochromatic values. Some colors derive most of their contrast with adjacent colors from the qualities of hue and saturation. Once they've been converted to monchromatic tones, some colors that started out looking quite different can look very similar to each other. Notice, for example, how the adjacent red and green colors both converted to roughly the same level of darkness when converted to monochrome. Such things can be manipulated, however, by making selections, and by using sophisticated controls such as the Channel Mixer in Photoshop.

I can easily conceive of the idea of an art show in which every image on display would be a different color variation of the same original image.

Two Brown Triangles: An Abstraction

Here's a quick little abstract image I threw together while I was waiting on hold to speak with RCN (my current telephone company) regarding a billing matter.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Manufactured Log Homes: Mobile AND Beautiful

The image shown here is from Spirit Cabins. It depicts one of a number of manufactured homes which they sell. By manufactured, they mean that it isn't built on site, but rather, it's built at the factory and then shipped to the site. In other words, it's a mobile home. In this case, it's a "double wide" mobile home. The clue to that fact is the seam which appears in the middle of the home on the right side.

The building isn't actually constructed from logs. Rather, it's a conventional mobile home, covered with log siding, with log paneling on the inside. Nevertheless, I really think that the log siding adds something special. It may not be as beautiful as some of the gigantic log homes for which one can sometimes pay millions of dollars these days, but I still think it looks very nice, and a home this size would be quite adequate for most of my personal needs.

In fact, when it comes to my personal needs in terms of living quarters, a smaller unit from this company would be adequate. For example, the Homesteader is basically similar to the above, except that it is a "single wide" unit with just two bedrooms, not three.

The main reason I'd want a unit as large as the Ponderosa (shown here) is that I could use one of the two extra bedrooms for an office, and I could use the other one as a music practice room, with a place to put music recording equipment and a digital piano. The living room area would then serve as a small gallery of my art (in the form of several giclee prints on canvas), in addition to being a place where I could entertain visitors. Having such a space would make it more feasible for me to sell my visual art.

I'd also want to have a utility building (for storage) adjacent to this unit, on the same piece of property. It, too, would ideally be covered with log siding, so that the look of the two buildings would be consistent. I'd also want a garage, covered with log siding. Later, provided that the land was large enough (and providing that the zoning was suitable), I could add yet another log building (or a building covered with log siding), to use as a larger retail art gallery.

That's my fantasy, at any rate. The reality is far different. Right now, I live in a room at the YMCA in downtown Chicago, and it measures 11x14 (154 square feet). That doesn't include the shared restroom down the hall or the small closet and small "water closet" adjoining the main 11x14 room, nor does it include the 50 square foot storage room I rent here in Chicago. But any way you slice it, I don't have a lot of space right now. A small cabin occupying about 300 square feet or so would probably be comparable in space to the living quarters I currently occupy. For some people, that might be enough, but I love to read, and I tend to acquire a lot of reading materials and computer equipment and other things for which I need a lot more space than I currently have.

It isn't just a matter of space. It's also a matter of aesthetics and living environment. The city can be wonderful in some respects (such as the fact that one has regular access to large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble), but I have long desired to have a beautiful log home in the country, where one can experience the peace and quiet which comes from being surrounded by nature. I don't know if it will ever be feasible for me to own such a home, but that's what I dream of having. If not in this life, then perhaps I'll have such a home in the next.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Give You Handala

Sometimes in art, the challenge is not to create whole images from scratch, but rather, to modify existing images in new and exciting ways. Or at least that's the case for collage artists and digital artists.

Here's an example. I recently downloaded a reference image from For those of you who haven't yet discovered that website, it offers numerous cool features for artists, including access to a library of reference photos which you can download for free in order to create your own art based on those photos.

As one might expect, given the fact that the images are basically donated by anyone and everyone, some of the images are much better than others. But if you have a good eye, you can find some real treasures.

For example, I recently found a full color photo of a person's hand. The photo stood out on account of its clarity and good composition. My original intention, when downloading it, was to create a pen & ink drawing based on the photo. I still intend to do that, but tonight, I converted it to grayscale mode (known to you film afficionados as "black and white"). And then the fun really began. I started playing with mirrored copies and with features which enabled me to tint the image various colors.

The first image shown here is the grayscale version of the color photo I downloaded. The second version ... well, the second version is hardly recognizable in terms of being able to tell what source image it was originally based on. I call it "Handala" because it's a mandala constructed entirely of modified copies of a single photo of a man's hand.

And to think that I did it all with a simple program called Microsoft PictureIt! Imagine what I could have done with Photoshop.

I have additional variations on the hand photo which I will probably present in this blog at some point in the future.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Microstock and Royalty Free Images

There was a time in history when companies needing photos and illustrations for advertising and packaging had no choice but to hire photographers on a per-project basis to create the specific photos and/or illustrations which they needed. That was very expensive, since they had to reimburse the photographers for all of their related expenses (which might include model's fees). And they were gambling, to some extent, since they had to pay those expenses upfront before ever seeing the photos or illustrations for which they were paying. Consequently, they were only willing to take such chances by hiring professional photographers with long-established reputations for quality. That made it hard for aspiring photographers and illustrators to break into the business.

Later, someone figured out that many of the photos and illustrations used in the course of ordinary business activities were a bit "generic" in nature, meaning that they were not so specific that they couldn't be used and reused by numerous different companies. Photographers and illustrators began creating images without knowing in advance who the buyers of those images would be. That was the beginning of the market for "stock photography" and "stock illustrations". This obviously reduced costs considerably, both for the photographers and illustrators and for the buyers of those images. But such images could still be quite expensive, and the prices were often based on usage. I remember in the early 90's, I inquired into the possibility of obtaining a stock photo from the Image Bank. I was told that I'd have to pay $300 just to use that one photo on 1,000 business cards. Plus, if I printed up more cards in the future, I would have had to pay even more money to the agency (sometimes known as a "royalty"). Ouch!

Then digital imaging began to impact the industry. Companies such as Corel and PhotoDisc began to sell CD-ROM discs containing royalty-free stock photos and illustrations, and prices continued to plummet. For about $300, one could buy a PhotoDisc CD-ROM with 100 high resolution photos, so that a single photo which had once cost $300 might now cost $3. There was no need to keep track of how many times one had used that image, because the price was a flat fee. Sometimes, as in the case of the discs from Corel, prices for individual discs were much, much less than the $300 or more typically charged by companies such as PhotoDisc. Of course, quality also varied. Some images required a lot more cleanup than others.

That market is still thriving. One can buy such discs from companies such as Publishing Perfection, or directly from the agencies which publish such discs. (Click here in order to see the wide range of image collections available from Publishing Perfection.)

However, one drawback was that such images were always sold in the form of CD-ROM collections with related themes. If one only needed a single image, one still had to buy the entire CD-ROM containing that image. In the case of the relatively low resolution "photo objects" offered by a company known as Hemera, that wasn't a big deal, because one could buy a set of discs containing 100,000 images for a mere $100! But when it came to images with higher resolution, a better way was needed. As the Internet continued to develop, and as more and more people acquired high speed Internet connections, publishers of royalty-free images began to market images individually, in the form of files which could be downloaded online. Prices varied, but a new category known as "microstock" began to enable even the lowliest of buyers to obtain just the images they needed (at just the resolutions they needed) at extraordinarily affordable prices. Some companies offered individual images in the form individual purchases. Others offered "subscriptions" which enabled members to obtain unlimited numbers of images within the time periods offered by their various subscription plans. Some companies offered both options to those wishing to purchase their images.

Let's say that you want to obtain an image of a stained glass window, with a Christmas theme, to use on your own homemade greeting card. You might visit a site such as, whereupon you would use that site's search engine to find just the image you wanted. You would be presented with all of the images meeting your criteria, and you could review those images one by one to see if they had what you needed. You might select this image by photographer Robert Young. You would then be presented with a variety of options in terms of resolution and pricing and licensing. Prices are lower for images suitable only for websites (or for use as inset images on business cards) than for images with resolution suitable for reproduction as large prints.

Technically, you do not own a royalty-free image. The photographer still retains the copyright. But you're permitted to use the image once you've paid the fee, according to the wording in the specific license. Most license agreements are pretty broad. Even so, it's a good idea to read the agreement carefully, if there are any questions as to whether or not your intended usage is allowed. You have to be particularly careful whenever images of people are involved, because misleading usage can lead to lawsuits pertaining to issues such as libel and slander. For example, you wouldn't want to risk such a lawsuit by using the photo of a model you didn't even know in such a way as to imply that the person was a criminal or a drug addict, unless the model was playing a role in which he or she actually appeared to be a criminal or drug addict!

The great thing about the new market for "microstock" photos is that photographers and illustrators don't have to have established reputations in order to receive pay for their work. Even if they only have a few good images, they can market their images by signing up for memberships with companies which sell microstock images on the Web, and they have just as much of a chance of selling their images as any of the more established photographers and illustrators.

Probably the biggest drawback, when it comes to the microstock category, is that a lot of the images in particular categories tend to be very similar. Some sites offer better images than others, so it pays to shop around if you're a graphic designer or web designer.

It is even possible, in some cases, to legally download stock or royalty-free images for free. is one such web site. is another. In general, the selection isn't as good at such sites, nor is the quality as high, but it's always an option worth exploring before you shell out your money for an image which isn't free.

For example, here's a link to a free web-sized image of a classic Rolls Royce car. The image to the left shows that I was able to quickly convert it into an artistic interpretation which conveys the idea of wealth and status.

(Admittedly, the selection was a bit rough, because I was using a program which was decidedly inferior to Photoshop in that respect. If I'd taken more time, I could have cleaned up the thin white line separating the car from the artistic background. But for this particular purpose, it's OK, since it isn't intended to perfectly simulate reality anyway.)

I thought I'd end this blog post by offering useful links to a number of different companies offering royalty-free images. Be sure to check them out the next time you need images for web design or graphic design, or the next time you want to look into the possibility of making money by licensing your own images to others.

Absolute Stock Photo

Adobe Stock Photos
(Images are only accessible to people who have the Adobe Bridge program on their computers.)

Age Photostock


Animals Animals

Banana Stock

Beateworks (now a division of Corbis)

Big Cheese Photo

Brand X Pictures

Clip Art Image Gallery
A very good book/CD collection of premasked high-resolution photos of people.

Comstock Images



(Offers access to products from numerous different publishers)

Getty Images


Image Source

Independent Photography Network

Ingram Photo Objects


iStock Photo

Liquid Library
Focuses on illustrations and photography, not just photography. Some of the vector illustrations on the site are much better than what one would get from a typical clip art collection. Others aren't.

Media Bakery
Offers collections of images from Getty, Corbis and Jupiter Images.

Microstock Group
Not a microstock agency, but rather, a forum for photographers who sell their images via such agencies.
A site connected with Hemera. Images available online by subscription have higher resolution than the Hemera Photo Objects sold in packages of CDs in computer stores, but they're more expensive, and there are fewer of them.

Photo Stock Plus

PhotoDisc (now a division of Getty Images)




A "microstock" site operated by Corbis.

A site (associated with StockXPert) where images are "exchanged" without any money changing hands. The website says:

Browse through the categories of our huge gallery containing over 250,000 quality stock photos by more than 25,000 photographers! Need a wallpaper for your desktop? Need a pic for your commercial website design? Looking for inspiration? Have a look around.

Share your photos with fellow designers! SXC is a friendly community of photography addicts who generously offer their works to the public free of charge. If you have some nice photos that you'd like to share with others, join us!

Chat with other members in our forum! Looking for something? Need an opinion? Have a question? Post a topic, and someone will definitely help you out.

Stockbyte (now a division of Getty Images)

Potentially a great resource for restaurants. Of particular interest: "Our in-house recipe editors can supply the recipe for each and every image including, on request, additional information, such as nutritional values." So if you want to create your own custom illustrated cookbook without having to hire the photographer to take the pictures, this could be your best resource.


SW Productions


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bold Color Abstraction

I created another simple yet bold piece of abstract color art today. It only took me a few minutes to do so, using digital tools.

Here it is:

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mediocrity Is A Lousy Witness

Within the Christian subculture, a Christian is said to be a "bad witness" when he or she acts in a manner which blatantly contradicts the values in which he or she claims to believe. In other words, a person is a bad witness when he or she cause others to question the legitimacy of Christianity on account of the discrepancy between his or her words and deeds.

Certainly, a Christian who openly lives an immoral lifestyle is a bad witness. All Christians should respect God's laws.

But there are also other ways that one can be a bad witness as well.

Back in the late seventies, I moved to Sioux City, Iowa in order to study piano tuning and rebuilding at Western Iowa Tech Community College.

For a while, I became involved in a local church group which was part of the "shepherding movement" made popular by teachers such as Derek Prince. I'd never heard of that movement until then, so it took me a while before I wised up and realized that the type of authoritarianism taught and practiced by people such as Prince was quite different from the model of leadership demonstrated and taught by Christ when He was here on earth.

During that time, I remember attending a jazz concert at Morningside College. The artist was Maynard Ferguson, a very talented trumpet player who was particularly known for his ability to hit very high notes without sounding bad. If that alone had been what he was known for, he wouldn't have achieved great popularity, but his arrangements were also great, and his band consisted of people who were as talented on their instruments as he was on his. The band's style of music was heavily influenced by rock and pop music, making it more accessible to a person my age than it would have been if it had focused on earlier types of big band jazz. Overall, it was a very exciting concert. We even got to hear them play the theme from the movie "Rocky", which was cool because that was one of that band's most popular hits.

Out in the lobby, during the intermission, I bumped into a guy I knew from church. I was beginning to get excited about the idea of having a Christian band which would be comparable to Ferguson's big band in terms of talent and quality. Naively, I expressed that idea to the guy from church. He replied by saying that that would never happen. I asked him to explain himself. He answered by telling me that a truly dedicated Christian would be too busy praying and reading the Bible to spend the kind of practice time which would be necessary in order to become as talented as Maynard Ferguson and his band members.

Now remember, this guy didn't believe that there was anything wrong with listening to music such as the music performed by Mr. Ferguson. If he'd believed that, then I have to assume that he wouldn't have paid to attend that concert.

In effect, he was saying that high musical quality and deep spiritual devotion were mutually exclusive. He was saying that Christians who loved listening to high quality music would have to rely upon unbelievers or spiritually immature Christians if they wanted to listen to such music, because they could not expect for mature Christians to possess such talent.

I was stunned and appalled when I realized that this guy equated musical mediocrity with spiritual maturity.

I'd like to believe that he was unusual in that respect, but sometimes I have to wonder, when I consider some of the music which has been released by some Christian record labels in the past. There's been a lot of good music, but there's been a lot of garbage as well.

It's been said that "practice makes perfect". Well, no musician is perfect, but some get a lot closer to perfection than others. Generally speaking, the ones who do get close to perfection are able to do so because they spent a lot of time practicing their instruments.

The idea that working hard and practicing one's instrument detracts from one's ability to worship and serve the Lord is blatantly ridiculous. It didn't seem to occur to my simpleminded friend from church that developing one's talents could be legitimately regarded as an act of worship, inasmuch as the Bible commands us to make the most of the talents God has given to us. To develop one's talents is to obey God, at least in that area of one's life.

The marginalized status of Christians and Christianity in the culture in which we currently live can be attributed, at least in part, to the biblically unjustifiable views which were expressed by my Christian brother at that Maynard Ferguson concert. And that is going to have to change if we ever hope to make the kind of impact which will bring about the revival this country badly needs.

Let us therefore endeavor to make the most of all of our talents, by working hard to develop those talents, and by offering other talented Christians the help and resources they need in order to overcome obstacles which stand in the way of their ability to achieve great things for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Whatever Happened To The C?

The YMCA is such a ubiquitous institution in civilized nations such as the United States that one would be hard pressed to find someone who had never heard of the Y. Most people could even tell you that the organization's initials stand for Young Men's Christian Association.

But it's probably more appropriate these days to just call it "the Y", because the full name has become almost completely meaningless.

"Young"? Sure, there are young men who participate in the activities at the Y, but there are also old, old men who are equally involved in the work of the institution in various ways. That's somewhat understandable. People don't stop needing the important services offered by the Y when they reach some arbitrary age. Young men eventually become old men. So the "Y" in YMCA is just a letter that really doesn't stand for anything real, even though it may have been meaningful at one time.

The "M", of course, stands for "men". But it's been my observation that even though there are more men than women at a typical YMCA, women aren't exactly scarce, either. In fact, almost all of the administrative staff members here at the Lawson House YMCA in Chicago are women. And while there are more male residents than female residents here, there are a lot of female residents here, too.

The "A" in "YMCA" is indisputably correct even to this day, but that's only because "association" is such a loose term that it's practically meaningless. On some level, any group of people organized for any purpose whatsoever is an "association", since the employees of such an organization obviously cannot even go to work in a shared office if they do not associate with one another.

Lastly there's that "C". That's right, it stands for "Christian".

What a joke! These days, if you query the staff members at a local YMCA, you're just as likely to find that they are atheists or Buddhists or Muslims or believers in any number of other religions. Wikipedia acknowledges that the name is now "something of an anachronism".

How sad! In the early days of the YMCA, things were far different.

In 1855, at the Paris World Exposition, a document known as the Paris Basis was created, both in English and in French. It stated:
The Young Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.
In 1869, a pastor named Samuel Wolcott wrote a hymn entitled, "Christ For The World We Sing". The hymn was inspired by a visit from the YMCA of Ohio. Their motto at the time was "Christ For The World and The World for Christ".

In the late 90's, while I was employed as a database specialist for YMCA Child Welfare (a division entrusted with the case management for about 950 foster children), I dared to tell a co-worker that I believed that the Bible was the authoritative Word of God. In response, I was ridiculed for my alleged naivete.

The YMCA now loves to talk about "diversity" and "inclusiveness". To some extent, that is admirable. Christ loves all people, and it is therefore our duty as Christians to extend the hand of friendship to all people, whether they are currently Christians or not.

However, there is a point at which the original identity of an organization is lost forever if it does not steadfastly maintain that there are certain nonnegotiable distinctives which give the organization its identity. I personally find it appalling that an organization which once defined itself as a Christian organization now shows no particular preference for Christianity.

Sadly, the same thing could be said of some of America's so-called churches, particularly among those traditional denominations which have succumbed to theological liberalism. The loss of membership which such churches have often experienced has been attributable, in large part, to their inability to persuade people that they are anything other than pseudo-religious social clubs.

The YMCA remains a valuable institution in the communities where it exists, but I would be lying if I did not say that I wished that it could return to its historic roots in biblical Christianity. The secular humanism which has replaced Christianity as the foundation of the YMCA is a poor basis upon which to build the type of society envisioned by the founders of the organization.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What A Church Looks Like

A number of years ago, I had an idea for what I thought would be a great ministry. I wanted to start a printed Christian publication known as Body Power News. The logo would be a cross constructed from two sticks of dynamite, representing the "dunamis" of the Holy Spirit.

The name "Body Power" was inspired by a local publication named Pennypower Shopping News. Pennypower Shopping News was a local publication consisting entirely of classified ads and inexpensive display ads. It was a good place to advertise if one wanted to sell used merchandise, and it could be useful for other purposes as well.

However, there were certain types of ads which I wouldn't really have wanted to run in such a publication, partially because Pennypower had no specific sections for those types of ads, but also because that periodical's readership didn't necessarily consist solely or primarily of Christians.

My idea was to create a classified ad publication (to be distributed primarily through churches and Christian bookstores) focusing specifically on the Body of Christ and on the needs of individual members of the Body of Christ. Hence the name Body Power News.

Unfortunately, there was no Internet as we know it today. The option of publishing online didn't exist. Therefore, I knew that in order to turn my dream into a reality, I'd need to find someone willing to finance the printing and distribution of such a tabloid publication. So I put together a lettersize flyer which I planned to post on bulletin boards at my church and at other churches, in order to locate people who might be interested enough in the idea that they'd be willing to finance the venture.

Unfortunately, the idea never really got off the ground. The first snag came when I attempted to post the aforementioned flyer in the hallways of my own church. I was told that I could post it on the bulletin board just outside of the sanctuary, if I could find any space there. But the bulletin board was already completely full, mostly with things I regarded as far less important than my project. (Ironically, if my publication had ever taken off, there would have been far less need for such bulletin boards.)

I suggested that I could just tape my notice up neatly in the hallway, since the bulletin board was full, but that suggestion was rebuffed. I was told that if people were allowed to post notices in non-designated areas of the hallway, the church would no longer look like a church!

I thought that was a strange thing to say. When I'd been a student in public school, I'd often seen posters in the halls, advertising various events. The school didn't look any less like a school on account of the presence of those posters.

I found myself thinking back over the years about all of the different churches I'd attended, from huge churches with beautiful sanctuaries to tiny storefront operations to house churches that met in people's homes. To say nothing of the fact that American churches looked nothing like churches in distant countries such as Russia. From what I could see, there was no single "look" common to all churches. Saying that the church would no longer look like a church if I posted my sign in the hallway seemed to falsely suggest that all Christian churches had a certain look, when in fact that was demonstrably false.

In fact, that particular church didn't look much like a traditional church. It was a rather bland cinderblock building which could have easily been mistaken for a corporate warehouse, if not for the sign out front announcing that it was a church. It wasn't as if my little lettersize sign would have significantly detracted from the aesthetics of the place. Aesthetically, that church wasn't much to get excited about, with or without my sign.

If the architecture varies widely from one church to the next, then it could be accurately said that it is not architecture which primarily defines what a church looks like. If not the architecture, then what exactly does define what a church looks like?

I propose that what defines the Church --- or rather, what ought to define the Church --- is how we Christians relate to one another. The scriptures do not tell us that unbelievers will know that we are Christians by the fact that we meet regularly in buildings which look a certain way. Rather, we are told that they will know that we are Christians by our love for one another.

Wow! Love! What a radical concept.

How does one recognize a true church? One recognizes a true church because it is a place where ministry is taking place on a regular basis. And by ministry, I don't just mean the preaching and teaching of the Word, as important as that may be. I also mean the doing of the Word. Wherever hurting people are being comforted and healed, wherever hungry people are being fed, wherever lonely people are being befriended, that is where the Church is, and that is what a local church looks like. It has nothing to do with the building, and everything to do with what goes on inside the building.

I'm not saying that I don't appreciate beautiful church architecture. I think that churches should be aesthetically attractive, if at all possible. But I also think that such things should be fairly low on our list of priorities.

When we allow petty, unbiblical preconceptions about what a church looks like and how a church ought to operate to stand in the way of meeting people's real needs, then we have lost Christ's vision for what a church can be and ought to be. It is therefore time that we put aside such preconceptions in order to realign our priorities with Christ's priorities. It is time that we stop giving mere lip service to the idea of being the "family of God" and start acting as if we actually care about the needs and the welfare of every one of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

By the way, I have not given up on my ideas regarding Body Power News. Now more than ever, I believe that such a publication is badly needed. The Internet makes it more financially feasible than ever before to begin such a venture. In all probability, the publication (which will include articles as well as classified ads and display ads) will be distributed online in the form of regularly published and updated PDF files which can be downloaded by visitors to the website containing links to those files. So keep visiting this website and others with which I am associated in order to watch for future developments along those lines. Or feel free to send me an e-mail message in order to express your interest in the project.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Very Cool Website Design

I just stumbled on a review of various barbecue sauces. gave its highest rating to Dinosaur BBQ Sensuous Slathering Sauce for BBQ. To paraphrase the review, they said that it was extremely tasty, and very healthy to boot. By "healthy", they meant that it was low in sodium and in the type of high-calorie sweeteners often used in such sauces.

Having just learned about the product, I can't vouch for the taste one way or another. But I visited the website for the company to get more information, and I thought that the design on the home page was pretty awesome. Check it out for yourself.

As for the sauce itself, I'll definitely check it out if I see it on store shelves here in Chicago. I love barbecue sauce, but I have to keep my sodium down now that I've discovered that I have an issue with hypertension.

Quick and Simple Modern Art

Last week I dropped in to take a look at the art being shown at a local gallery. On the walls, there were a number of large and colorful but rather simple abstract paintings somewhat reminiscent of the image displayed here. In fact, if anything, I'd say that the image shown here is more complex (and more interesting) than the images I saw at that gallery. The main difference is that the images I saw at the gallery were actually created with real paint (whereas this was created totally within the digital realm), and of course, the scale was much different. (This was originally created at a resolution of 650 x 650 pixels and then scaled down for display in this blog post.)

Oh, yeah, there was one other difference, too. Those paintings were being sold for thousands of dollars. This one hasn't earned me a dime, and probably won't make me any money at all.

Now, I must admit that it was rather fun to create the image shown here, using a combination of Microsoft Paint and Microsoft PictureIt! software. (I used Paint primarily, but the rough painterly effects were added in PictureIt!, since Paint, which is the free software which came with Windows XP, doesn't have any filters.)

But is it great art? If I were to transfer the image to a large piece of canvas and then paint it with real paint, would it become great art? Would the resulting painting be worth thousands of dollars? I must confess that I question that premise. The work involved in creating the image was minimal. I basically just drew in some geometric shapes which intersected with each other and I then filled in various areas with various colors, using the "paint bucket" tool in MS Paint. I experimented with different colors until I got a combination I liked. I had certain loose criteria in term of which colors were applied where, but a lot of the process involved just playing around with the colors.

If people want to pay thousands of dollars for such images, hey, I'll be happy to accommodate them, because I could certainly use the money. It wouldn't be hard at all to turn designs such as this into full-blown paintings.

Even so, I can't help thinking that the amount of money people pay for art ought to be somewhat proportional to the amount of work and skill that went into the creation of the art. There are a lot of gullible people out there who place value on particular works of art, not so much because there's any relationship between the work and skill it took to produce those works and the asking price for those works, but more on account of the fact that those particular works of art are highly praised by the elitists who dominate the world of modern fine art. I wouldn't mind that so much if it weren't for the fact that it sometimes means that people who are only moderately talented receive high praise and big bucks, while people who are far more talented get passed over like yesterday's garbage because their art isn't as trendy.

I also can't help but think that truly great art ought to have meaningful content, and that content ought to exhibit some measure of profundity or insight. When we look at the realistic paintings created by the "great masters" of art, those paintings educate and illuminate our minds. We are transported back in time, and we better understand the worlds in which those painters lived. We see the full gamut of human experiences, from tragedy to comedy. Such paintings tell rich stories.

Modern art pieces such as the one shown here do not do that. If one were to sum up the message of the above image, it would be, "I like bright colors." And that's pretty much it. It's not utterly worthless, since any short-term pleasure which comes from seeing bright and cheerful colors has the capacity to raise one's spirits. But profound it is not.

I think that the world of modern art often mirrors the world of philosophy. Most of our philosophers these days are bereft of any really profound ideas, having abandoned belief in biblical Christianity and the values which are derived from faith in God. Such people have nothing meaningful to say, so the art which they inspire says nothing meaningful.

When it comes to fine art, we need to learn to be more discerning, and to trust our own instincts rather than listening to the self-appointed arbiters of taste, whose alleged qualifications are mainly derived from the fact that they happen to have a lot of money and they happen to live in disproportionately influential places such as New York City.

If a piece of art looks as if it would be easy for a novice to create, it's probably because that is in fact the case. Such art should be priced accordingly. By all means, pay the painter enough to compensate for the time and materials which were necessary in order to create the painting, but reserve the really big bucks for those whose skills and vision deserve to be described as extraordinary.

Note: The following is a Flash-based slide show featuring the above image plus 3 others. The timing may be slightly off if you're playing it for the first time and you have a dialup connection, but playing it a second time should fix that problem.

Click here to see the original album.

Note to Self: I had to adjust the size of the player to 400 x 361 pixels in order to fit the entire player into this portion of the web page.

A Beautiful Nature Painting from Webshots

Here's a pretty cool painting I found just now at Webshots:

alaskan wonder Wallpaper

To see the full-size image, click on the thumbnail image above. Then be sure to maximize the window to see the image at the largest possible size.

Admittedly, the likelihood of seeing that many bears all congregated in one spot is pretty remote. But I just like the color scheme and the style of painting.

An Embedded Slide Show

The following images aren't mine. They're from While browsing through that page at, I noticed that there was a block of text which could be used in order to add a "slide show" online. It occurred to me that if I liked what they had to offer, I might create a similar slide show of my own images. So we'll see.

Fred’s Dotted Doodles1

Hmmm ... not too bad! And I rather like this person's mandala-like images, even if mandalas are more associated with Eastern religions than with Christianity. My feeling is that mandalas are pretty harmless spiritually, inasmuch as they're simply abstract symmetrical shapes and patterns reminiscent of natural phenomena such as stars and flowers.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hate Crimes and Equality

Almost anyone who grew up during the sixties remembers reading about incidents in which racists committed acts of violence against civil rights workers and African Americans who bravely took a stand against racism. Such violent incidents were outrageous to all Americans who believed in the necessity of loving one's neighbor --- or, at the very least, in the necessity of respecting one's neighbor's rights.

It is therefore understandable that some people felt that it was necessary to use the legal system in order to send the message that such crimes would not be tolerated in a free society.

Yet, as much as I understand why someone might be inclined to advocate hate crimes legislation, I think that support for such legislation is intrinsically unprincipled. Ironically, such legislation is based on a premise which undermines the philosophical foundation on which the civil rights movement was based.

Our nation was founded on the belief that "all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights". But hate crimes legislation does not treat all men and women as equals.

If one man is murdered by a person whose motivation was to steal his wallet, and if another man is murdered by a person whose motivation was to send a message of intimidation to the black community, the two men are both equally dead. Murder is wrong regardless of what might have motivated the act. To attach a higher penalty to the latter murder than to the former is to treat the two victims as if their lives were not equal in value.

Murder, by definition, is a hateful and despicable act. It is therefore ludicrous to say that one murder is a hate crime but another is not.

An additional problem with hate crime legislation is that it requires that jury members be able to accurately assess a killer's reasons for committing murder. It's hard enough, in many cases, to determine simple guilt or innocence, let alone to determine what motivated the killing. Motives are often complex. When it comes to violent crimes such as murder, a person's true motives may never be known in this lifetime. It's true that there are situations in which one can state with a fair amount of certainty that it is extremely probable that a person was motivated (at least in part) by a particular thing, but even in such cases, there is a degree of speculation involved. Things are not always as they appear, and none but God can perfectly judge the human heart.

Hate crimes legislation introduces the possibility that racism or another form of bigotry might be assumed, without any real proof, solely on the basis of the respective identities of the killers and their victims. The end result, again, would be to treat certain victims as if their lives were unequal to the lives of other victims.

Hate crimes legislation has the effect of using the coercive power of the state in order to impose specific beliefs and ideas on the population. We may not always like what others believe or think, but we have no right to use the power of the law in order to force others to think as we think. Racists and other bigots may very well be wrong in believing as they do, but they nevertheless have the right to be wrong, in a free society, provided that they do not act on those beliefs in such a way as to violate the legal rights of others. If indeed their beliefs motivate them to commit acts which violate the legal rights of others, then it is those acts which should be punished, without regard for what may or may not have motivated the acts.

I just recently got an email from Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council, regarding Ted Kennedy's attempt to add a Hate Crimes bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill (S. 1535). Perkins writes, "The intent of this legislation is to favor some victims of violent crimes over other victims of equally violent crime while ignoring the principle of equal justice under the law."

My only quibble with that statement would be that I would change the word "intent" to the word "effect". I am not in a position to judge Ted Kennedy's intentions or anyone else's intentions, which is precisely the point that I'm trying to make when I oppose hate crimes legislation on principle.

While it might be interesting to know the intentions of those who sponsor particular bills and laws, I'm more interested in knowing what effect those laws will have once they are passed. And I think that such a law would indeed "favor some victims of violent crimes over other victims of equally violent crime while ignoring the principle of equal justice under the law".

I also think it likely that such a law will be used in order to suppress the free speech rights of those whose opinions on matters such as gay marriage and abortion are deemed politically incorrect by political liberals who have a tendency to abuse the court systems in order to impose their views on the general population.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Free Image Hosting from Image Terminal

Want a quick and easy way to host images (e.g., for blog posts such as this one) without having to go to all of the trouble of signing up for a new account, keeping track of your username and password and so forth? Try It won't allow you to do all of the fancy things you can do at sites such as, but it can be useful in some circumstances. If all you need is image hosting for your blog, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

You're limited to 1MB per file upload, but that's pretty easy to achieve. Anyone who knows web design knows that a 1MB JPG or GIF would be considered very large in terms of web design. (In our web design class at Truman College, we were told that it was ideal to keep individual images to somewhere around 40 KB or so. I think that there are definite exceptions, especially for photographers' websites, but you can get a lot done with a fairly small file if you know what you're doing. For example, the "Blue Hosta" image used in this particular blog post is 34.3KB in size. It's a modification of one of my floral photos, formatted for use on a possible CD cover design.)

Since there are no user accounts associated with specific images, there's pretty much an unlimited number of images you can host via Image Terminal.

They do have Terms of Service you'll want to read, but since you have no account to begin with, the most they can do if you violate those terms is to delete specific images if they discover that those images violate the TOS. They can't cancel your account, because like I said, you have no account for them to cancel.

Basically, when you upload images, you get 5 lines of code, each of which is to be copied and pasted into specific types of documents. There are lines for:

  • Forum/MySpace
  • URL
  • Direct URL
  • HTML
  • BBCode
You may wonder: "What's the difference between URL and Direct URL?" From what I can see, Direct URL presents your image by itself in the upper left corner in the browser, whereas URL presents the image in the middle of the screen, surrounded by several unobtrusive text ads. Direct URL code doesn't show the small ads which appear when one clicks a URL link. Unless you want people to be able to see such ads when they look at your image (which seems unlikely), you'll almost certainly want to use the Direct URL code.

NOTE: On another image which I downloaded, I noticed that the image presented when I entered the URL code into the address bar was larger than the image which appeared with Direct URL. So there might be some circumstances in which URL would be superior to Direct URL.

The HTML code is for situations where you want to click the image and be taken to a separate page showing that image. Ditto for "Forum/MySpace" and "BBCode", except they're for situations where HTML links or references are not allowed (such as comments on blog pages).

Here's an image I uploaded to the site today, both with and without a link to the site:

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

7/11/2007 Status Report

I am still feeling greatly disappointed and hurt by two separate incidents which occurred last week.

In one incident, my mother reneged on an offer she'd made to me on two separate occasions. That kind of thing is typical of her. She forfeits credibility, to my way of thinking, when she does such things.

In another incident which occurred on that same day, I learned that the church I'd been attending had such an extreme view with regard to the subject of "submission to authority" that I could no longer attend that church in good conscience. It had begun to feel more like a cult than a church.

As a result, I am now estranged both from my mother and from that church.

Yet, things could be worse. The weather could not be better here in Chicago today. The skies are fairly clear. It's neither too cold nor too hot. Humidity is only 51%, according to This comfortable weather is a blessing, since I have no air conditioning in my apartment.

In my imagination, I imagine that the weather in heaven will be similar to what the weather here is like today. Of course, the air there will be much cleaner.

After going over to the Starbucks on North Avenue in order to apply for a job, I walked over to the Chicago History Museum (run by the Chicago Historical Society), where I browsed a bit in their gift shop and bookstore. Then I walked out back behind the building and sat on a park bench, enjoying the sight and the scent of the beautiful garden planted directly in front of a tall statue of Abraham Lincoln. It was a fantastic setting in which to pray, so that was what I did.

In about a week, I will turn 51 years old. There have been times during the past few years when I didn't think I'd make it this long. There have been times when I wanted very much to die. Yet, here I am nevertheless.

Satan tries to plant seeds of negative thought in my mind, telling me that I'm a loser who is bound to fail. But I am trying to fight those thoughts by countering them with positive affirmations of God's love for me. Jesus said that one ought not to take thought for tomorrow. I don't think that he meant that one ought not to plan. I think he meant that one ought not to worry. That's much easier said than done, for me at any rate. But I am doing my best.

With the grace and love of God, I will prevail.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cliches You'll Sometimes Hear During Arguments


"I don't want to argue about it."

The preceding sentence is often uttered, ironically, by the person who started the argument in the first place. It is seldom uttered at the very beginning of the argument. Rather, it is usually uttered after the person who says he or she doesn't want to argue has already spent some amount of time arguing. Yet, it subtly implies that arguments themselves are inherently bad, and that the person making the statement is too mature to argue about anything, unlike the other party involved in the argument.

My response: "Sure you do. If you hadn't wanted to argue about it, you wouldn't have made the stupid and highly debatable statement that started the argument, and you wouldn't have continued to defend that statement. What you don't want to do is lose the argument that you started. Now that you can see that you are losing the argument, you want to end the argument without conceding defeat, so you try to misrepresent things in such a way as to imply that I am an excessively argumentative person, when the fact is that I am no more argumentative than you are. I just make better arguments, that's all."

There is another category of people who "don't want to argue about it", and that's people who are so full of themselves that they think everything they say should be taken as gospel truth just because they are who they are.


"You just think you're so smart."

This statement is usually uttered because the person who utters the statement has run out of intelligent rebuttals to the other person's arguments, so he or she is trying to change the subject by implying that the person who has won the argument handily is guilty of egotism.

The way I've phrased the statement here is usually the way that little kids express things. As people get older, they come up with other, more sophisticated ways of saying essentially the same thing.


"That's your opinion."

Well, of course it is. Most arguments are about opinions, unless they're about verifiable facts, and even then, they're also about opinions concerning what those facts are. But the issue isn't whether or not it's an opinion. The issue is which of the two or more competing opinions is best supported by the facts and by solid principles of reasoning.

When you argue about something you believe to be true and the person with whom you're having the debate says, "That's your opinion," then you can be fairly certain that the person has run out of good rebuttals for your arguments, because saying "That's your opinion" does not amount to a rebuttal or an argument.


"Opinions are like bodies. Everyone has one."

The preceding statement is evasive, in the sense that it's completely irrelevant to the question which is currently being debated. Saying that everyone has an opinion is not the same thing as saying that all opinions are equally valid or that all arguments are equally persuasive. The implication of the statement is that there's no point in debating the issue because there is no good way to determine which of the competing opinions is the most likely one to be true. But that's seldom the case.

The four cliches listed above all seem to have more or less the same objective, which is to end further discussion. They can also be a way of saying, "This argument is going nowhere. There's no way we're ever going to agree, so let's end the discussion now."

Sometimes it's necessary to end an argument, but oftentimes, people end conversations and arguments prematurely because they can see where those conversations are heading and they want to try to avoid or postpone defeat. Such people often go to great lengths to impugn their opponents while simultaneously avoiding any real discussion of the specific points their opponents have made.

People are particularly likely to end such debates when they have made up their minds to do things which are irrational and which have the potential to hurt others. They cannot defend their decisions logically because those decisions are inherently indefensible. Therefore, they refuse to intelligently and objectively discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of their decisions.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

When Pastors Become Bullies

During the years since I became a Christian in 1969, I have heard many arguments against the existence of God, and many arguments against the legitimacy of Christianity. I still haven't heard anything to persuade me that I made the wrong decision when I committed my life to Christ. But my faith has been tested on many occasions. One of the primary causes of such tests has been the hypocrisy I have often seen in the Church, particularly among its leaders.

One area in which hypocrisy often seems to exist is in the area of spiritual authority. More than a few pastors have been known to quote scriptures out of context in order to create an oppressive atmosphere within the local church in which they have been able to rule the flock like little self appointed emperors. They seem to be under the impression that when Jesus told Peter to "feed the flock", he really intended to tell Peter to bully the flock!

Dare to criticize such a pastor in any way, and you are likely to hear about how awful it is to "touch God's anointed". These egomaniacal so-called "leaders" interpret scriptures in such a way that it becomes virtually impossible for ordinary people within the church to criticize or hold their leaders accountable for anything. No wonder we Christians have been forced to deal with so many public scandals which have brought shame to the Body of Christ.

I find it interesting to reflect upon what it was about Jesus that caused people to acknowledge his authority in their lives, because it bears very little resemblance to the actions of many people who claim to speak in Christ's name.

Jesus came to this earth with the heart of a servant, even though he had no obligation whatsoever to do so. He washed the feet of the disciples in order to demonstrate that the sign of a truly godly leader is compassion and humility. He said that much would be required of those to whom much had been given. In short, He saw leadership as a responsibility, not as a free pass to say and do whatever one wanted to say or do.

Sadly, that lesson seems to have passed right over some people's heads.

For people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in churches where one or more of their "leaders" lack the humility and compassion which all good Christian leaders ought to have, and also for those deluded individuals who think that being placed into a position of authority within the church entitles them to ride roughshod over the feelings of those who attend their churches, I have a couple of book recommendations (both of which are for books which I bought at the bookstore for Moody Bible Institute here in Chicago):

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen (Bethany House Publishers)

Churches That Abuse by Ronald M. Enroth (Zondervan)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Time For Some Cathartic Relief

In 2006, I had another blog site, hosted by a Christian blog company called Life With Christ. During that time, I got a reputation for writing some fairly articulate and thoughtful articles. I also got a reputation for being remarkably "transparent", in the sense that I shared many details about my personal life, some of which were not pleasant to share.

I didn't write under a pseudonym. I revealed my contact information, including my full address, to any and all who wanted to know where I could be reached. Some would have called me naive for doing so, but my feeling was that I had an obligation as a Christian to be a person of honesty and integrity. In my view, that obligation did not end when I sat down at the computer keyboard and went online. I felt that if I wasn't willing to stand behind the things I had written, then I probably shouldn't have written those things.

Unfortunately, there are Christians who cannot seem to make the connection between Christian discipleship and the need to be honest with one another. They're often dishonest with other people, and they often can't handle honesty from other people when it comes to serious problems that need to be addressed.

I've experienced that type of thing on a number of occasions in my own family. In particular, both my parents have both demonstrated an inability to appreciate the importance of keeping promises whenever possible.

Divorce, of course, is nothing but a broken promise between a husband and wife. Or at least that's the case when the marriage began with vows to the effect that the two people would love, honor and cherish one another until they were parted by death. My own parents took such vows, but that didn't stop them from divorcing one another prior to my 16th birthday.

The marital vow may well be the most sacred vow any person can make to another person. If a person cannot be trusted to keep that vow, it ought not to surprise anyone that such a person is unlikely to be trustworthy when it comes to other types of promises.

I acknowledge that there are extreme situations in which individuals in broken relationships can justify the decision to get divorced by the abusive nature of those relationships. But I think that that ought to be a last resort, and even then, I think that it is nothing less than a major tragedy for any marital relationship to end in such a manner.

When I was a sophomore in high school, shortly before my parents' divorce, my mother (Jean Pettigrew) became a new believer in Christ, after an emotional experience at a prayer meeting I'd invited her to attend.

At the time, I thought that that was marvelous and wonderful. For the past several years, we had been at odds with one another, to put things mildly. I'd invited Jesus into my heart a couple of years prior to that, and I'd subsequently expressed interest in certain aspects of Christianity (such as speaking in tongues) which were not part of the doctrines or traditions of the Methodist church in which I'd been raised. Mother had been very critical of me at the time, telling me that I'd "gone off the deep end" (as opposed, presumably, to merely dipping my toes into the shallow end of the pool of faith from time to time). Nevertheless, in spite of my mother's opposition and criticism, I later experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit for myself.

During my mother's spiritual encounter at the aforementioned prayer meeting, she began speaking in tongues herself. From then on, my mother was a changed person. She became extremely passionate about her Christian faith. She attended many of the same Christian meetings that I attended, and she ultimately ended up leaving the Methodist church for the Assemblies of God church. She attends an Assemblies of God church to this day.

At first, I was thrilled by the change I saw (or thought I saw) in my mother. We no longer argued with one another about doctrinal differences, and we tended to argue with one another less about other things, compared with the way things had been in the past. It was almost as if we had both willingly joined the same club, and the fact that she was my mother was no longer the only thing that bound us together.

In many areas of my life, I'd gotten my ideas about right and wrong from my mother. Now that we were both "born again Christians" (and "spirit filled" to boot), it seemed as if we had even more in common.

Over the years, however, I have slowly and painfully come to a realization about my mother. In spite of the fact that she claims to read the Bible regularly, my mother is as self-centered and deceitful as the day is long. I would trust my mother about as far as I could throw a full-grown elephant. Promises mean nothing to her. A promise, to her, is something she makes easily and impulsively --- and then breaks, just as easily.

That realization did not come about as the result of just one experience. It is the result of a number of broken promises over the course of many years. It's gotten to the point that it's almost predictable. Yet, every time it happens, I am somewhat surprised, mainly because I have tried to be a forgiving person, and I have tried to be optimistic about the future. Maybe this time will be different, I naively tell myself.

This latest incident occurred after I had been talking with my mother about the problems I'd been going through here in Chicago. In addition to a prolonged period of unemployment, I'd been living in a building with a serious pest control problem. I'd been waking up in the middle of the night with painful insect bites. I had no money with which to move out, and I was supposed to try to look pleasant and cheerful during job interviews in spite of the fact that I had not gotten sufficient sleep the night before.

I was getting close to the end of my unemployment insurance benefits, with no sign of a job with which to pay my living expenses once those benefits ended. On top of that, I'd worked for a week for a jerk named Paul Stuck who refused to pay me the $500 he had promised to pay me for a week's worth of work.

Mother, claiming to feel bad about what I was going through, voluntarily offered to let me move back to Springfield and stay in her house while I sought employment there in my hometown in the Ozarks.

A few years previously, I never would have been stupid enough to believe that such an offer from her was actually genuine. But she'd recently asked my forgiveness for several extremely hurtful things she'd done to me shortly before I moved to Chicago, and I had granted her the forgiveness she sought. We seemed to be getting along well when we talked on the phone, and I suppose that I thought that she was finally beginning to actually care about my welfare. In the back of my mind, of course, I knew what she'd been like in the past, and the rational side of me said that she couldn't be trusted. But I wanted to believe that she could be trusted this time, partially because I had so few options other than to trust her.

In fact, for the past couple of weeks subsequent to Mother's offer, I've been spending a good deal of time working on things pertaining to the possibility of an imminent move back to Springfield. I applied for a job back in Springfield, and I thought (for a while) that I had a good chance of getting that job.

That job opportunity fell through, due to problems which were inherent in the fact that I didn't live in the same town. I was very disappointed, but when I told Mother about losing that job opportunity, she said that her offer to let me stay with her until I could get a job and an apartment of my own still stood. So I renewed my effort to get as much information as possible regarding where I'd store my things after moving there, and regarding other matters pertaining to that move.

Today, I learned that that effort had all been a big waste of my time. She said that she'd been praying about it, and she'd decided that she shouldn't let me move back home after all.

It was "like deja vu all over again", as one baseball player famously said.

Isn't it amazing, how God seems to repeatedly tell my mother to break her promises to me? The wonder of it is that I'm still trying to hang onto my faith in the Lord, in spite of the fact that some of Christ's alleged disciples seem to be utterly lacking in anything resembling integrity.

Not long ago, my mother took out a reverse mortgage on her house, as a means of having a nest egg with which to deal with crises. Well, to be more specific, she wanted to be able to deal with crises she deemed important. Apparently, that doesn't include crises which threaten to destroy my life.

On more than one occasion, she has made it clear to me that she doesn't give a hoot about whether or not I become homeless due to lack of an adequate income with which to pay my rent. In fact, it was precisely because she evicted me from the home I was renting from her, in 1991, that I was forced to move to Chicago in the first place. When I had dared to express my frustration with the fact that she was putting me into a financially precarious and dangerous situation by evicting me without giving me adequate time in which to find a new place, at a time when she knew full well that my income was inadequate for the purpose of finding a comparable dwelling elsewhere (due to the lack of money with which to pay a security deposit), she responded by filing a restraining order against me. I could have been arrested merely for speaking with her when she didn't want to speak with me, despite the fact that she lived right across the street from me. To say that that was extremely hurtful to me would be the understatement of the century, both then and now.

I could not bear to live in the same town, knowing that my own mother felt that way about me. So after considering my options (which were few and far between, due to my financial situation), and after failing to kill myself at the end of a rope hung from the ceiling in my garage, I decided that one of my few remaining options was to move to Chicago and become part of a Christian ministry in this fair city. I've been living here ever since.

For a long, long time, I was so bitter and angry about the way that my mother had treated me that it ate away at my insides on a regular basis. When I was able to get work, I managed (most of the time) to keep it together, but I spend a lot of my evenings crying my eyes out, in the lousy YMCA room I called home. I didn't go back to Springfield for another 5 or 6 years, and when I took that first bus trip back home, I deliberately avoided seeing my mother or having anything to do with her. My only reason for that trip was to retrieve some of my things from a storage room I still rented there.

I tried to find a good church here in Chicago, but most of the churches I attended treated me like absolute garbage, the minute they learned that I had unresolved issues they weren't prepared or willing to deal with. That made things even worse, because I felt totally and miserably alone in the world. No one wanted to fulfill their biblical responsibilities to help me, even though the Bible clearly taught that Christians were supposed to "bear one another's burdens".

When my father died in 1999, I went back to Springfield again, in order to attend his funeral. I'd had a lousy relationship with my father for many years, even to the point that I once called him to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that I hated him. On one level, I felt that that was the wrong thing to do. But it also felt honest. He had become a miserable, good-for-nothing drunk, and I attributed many of my financial struggles to the fact that he wouldn't lift a finger on my behalf when I needed help.

So why did I go back to attend Dad's funeral, in spite of how I felt about him? Largely for the sake of my dim hope that I might one day be reconciled with my mother. I felt that the chances of such reconciliation would be nonexistent if I didn't attend Dad's funeral, and I didn't want to close that door. So I bit the bullet and went back even though I didn't really want to see my mother at all. (My relationship with my brother, Matt, wasn't much different. Like my mother, he had demonstrated a willingness to stand by and do nothing when I was right on the verge of homelessness, even though the possibility of living on the streets of Chicago terrified me.)

There was some tension during that visit in late 1999, but things weren't quite as bad as I'd feared. Matt and I both stayed in Mother's house during that brief weekend visit, and we parted on what seemed to be good terms. Subsequent to that visit, I travelled back to Springfield a couple of times, after having been appointed as the Executor of my father's estate, in order to deal with matters pertaining to his estate. I visited with my mother again, and we seemed to get along fairly well.

But then another crisis came along in 2003. The money from the estate ran out, and I still hadn't been able to find work after losing my most recent job. I was on the verge of eviction from my room at the Lawson House YMCA, and I was desperate enough to ask for my mother's help, even though I still remembered how she'd treated me in 1991. Naturally, she refused.

In October 2003, I took almost two full bottles of over-the-counter sleeping pills, wanting desperately to end the struggles once and for good. After awaking the next morning and foolishly confiding in someone here at the Lawson House YMCA about the fact that I'd just tried to kill myself, I ended up spending a miserable weekend in the mental ward at a place called Chicago Reed Hospital.

Somehow, I persuaded the doctor to let me out, when he saw me on Monday, by telling him that I was no longer suicidal. And in truth, I wasn't. Sleeping on the miserable beds they had at Chicago Reed was like being tortured. But it did force me to face up to my situation. Previously, I'd thought that if the suicide attempt failed, at least someone would take care of me for a change. That weekend at Chicago Reed made me aware that their idea of taking care of people left a lot to be desired. Apparently, they reserve their comfortable beds for people who can afford medical insurance.

Subsequent to that incident in 2003, I have somehow managed to keep body and soul together without being evicted and without yielding to the temptation to end it all. But the struggle continues.

My IQ was tested once, and I got a score of 140. I like to think that I'm a pretty smart guy in some respects. But I confess that there are still some things that completely mystify me. For example, I cannot fathom how a person could expect to be able to treat another person the way that my parents have treated me, and then expect that such treatment would have no negative consequences insofar as the relationship is concerned. My perplexity is compounded by the fact that such treatment has come from people (particularly my mother) who have claimed to be good Christians.

Spiritual transformation is not just about how often one goes to church or reads the Bible or tithes. It's also about how one treats one's fellow human beings. If one's Christianity doesn't have an impact on one's sense of morality and ethics --- not just on an abstract level but also in ways which actually affect one's behavior --- then it seems to me that it's all rather pointless.

One of my biggest challenges has been to fight against the temptation to reject Christianity itself on account of the hateful things which have been done and said to me by various Christians. An equal challenge is to try to rise above such behavior in my own life. I don't claim to be perfect, but I can honestly say that I do try to treat people with love and compassion, to the extent that my extremely limited resources enable me to do so.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Lately I've become interested in alternative building technologies, partially on account of the fact that those technologies are often more environmentally friendly than traditional technologies, and partially on account of the fact that they are often less expensive. Such technologies include such things as yurts and domes, as well as homes built from things such as shipping containers.

I recently came across one web site that had all the others beat when it came to unusual approaches to home building. Admittedly, a person's definition of home would have to preclude the idea of having a whole lot of space for one's things, if one decided to define a "home" in such a manner. But it's conceivable that a person might choose to build such a structure, if one just needed a small place to use as a writer's retreat, or as an unusual alternative to a traditional tent when spending the weekend in the woods.

Free Spirit Spheres are made by a Canadian woodworker named Tom Chudleigh ( Essentially, a Free Spirit Sphere is a large wood-and-fiberglass ball (or in some cases, a ball made completely from fiberglass) with windows, a door, and a floor large enough to support items such as a bed or a small desk.

The sphere isn't placed on the ground. Rather, it's hung from multiple tall trees, using cables which are placed in such a way as to minimize the amount of swaying which occurs during a strong breeze or wind. In other words, it's a spherical treehouse. If you thought that the Ewok village in the third Star Wars movie was odd, then you haven't seen a "home" from Free Spirit Spheres. The Ewoks lived in tree houses, sure, but at least they looked somewhat like conventional structures such as one might find in an ancient tribal village.

Imagine an entire neighborhood, nestled deep in the forest, consisting of Free Spirit Spheres' products. It would give new meaning to phrases such as "I'm having a ball" and "just hangin' out".

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Public Transit In Nowheresville

For the past 15 1/4 years or so, I've lived in downtown Chicago. In some respects, it's been stressful and difficult. In other respects, however, there have been aspects of life here in the big city that have been much better than they were in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. One of those areas pertains to public transportation.

Now, don't get me wrong. Springfield may be in the Ozarks, but it is also the third largest city in Missouri, and it does have a functional bus system, run by the City Utilities department. If you visit their website, you'll see that they even offer a nice little PDF map showing the different routes in various colors. Well, two maps, actually. One for their normal daytime schedule, and another for their limited "night" schedule which begins at 6:00 p.m.!

However, even if you're looking at the daytime schedule, you'll quickly pick up on something, and that's the fact that few if any of their buses are limited to just one street.

In Chicago, I live on Chicago Avenue, near Dearborn. If I want to go west, I walk out to the bus stop (all of 30 seconds or so from the front door of the building in which I live) and wait until the bus comes. I virtually never have to call in advance to see when the next bus will be there. Buses here run so often that I can be pretty sure that I'll almost never have to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes at the most.

There's a CTA map in order to help one keep track of all the different bus routes, but such a map isn't as essential in Chicago as it is in Springfield, because buses pretty much run along every major street (and quite a few of the minor streets) throughout the city. There are exceptions, but in general, almost all of the bus stops are clearly marked.

Springfield buses, on the other hand, almot all run in a loop,and the loops intersect with each other from time to time. If you look at the color coded map, you'll see that the total number of separate bus routes in Springfield is about 13 routes or so. From what I can see, there's cyan, navy blue, pink, magenta, red, black, maroon, light (grass) green, dark green, brown, orange, turquoise and yellow. That would be quite a few, if we were talking about subway lines which were supplemented by a gridded network of bus lines, like they have in Chicago. But we're not.

There are directional markings on the maps, and while there are some places where the bus runs in both directions on the same street, there are a lot of other places where they do not.
So you can't assume that just because a bus dropped you off at a certain intersection, there's also a bus which passes that same intersection going in the opposite direction. Occasionally that's the case, but not very often.

Not only that, but the schedule is generally so sparse that if you miss a particular bus, you may have to wait another hour for the next one to come along, which means that you pretty much need to call Springfield City Utilities in order to find out when the next bus will come (and where you should wait for it).

This is sometimes true even in the case of buses which regularly go to the downtown area near the square (where Jefferson and St. Louis intersect). Of course, that square is nowhere near being the hot spot that I remember from my childhood. Urban sprawl has taken over in Springfield, and there really is no center of town anymore. All of the really beautiful old homes are still where they always were, which is to say that they are concentrated mainly in the area which surrounds the public square within a perimeter of a couple of miles or so.

When I as a kid, my parents would take me to the Springfield public square every Christmas, where I'd gaze with wonder and delight at the animated displays in the storefront windows at the Heers Department Store. Heers was nowhere as big as a Carson Pirie Scott or Marshall Fields (recently renamed Macy's), but it was several stories high, and that was considered big when I was growing up. Sometimes I'd go to the movies at a movie theatre there in the square, or I'd stop by the candy department at Heers and pick up a big block of white chocolate to knaw on. (Why they couldn't have molded it into smaller, more easily handled pieces is beyond me. But I loved it anyway. I have had few "vices" during the course of my life, but sweets would have to be one of my vices. I've paid a price for that indulgence, in the form of recurring dental problems. But that's another blog post.)

I didn't know it when I was young, but the Springfield public square had a colorful history. Years ago, Wild Bill Hickok had shot and killed a gambler named Davis Tutt in the Springfield square, having been offended after Tutt had the audacity to defy Hickok by wearing Hickok's pocket watch in public after winning it in a card game.

The thing that caused the downfall of the Springfield public square was when the Battlefield Mall was built. Initially, we all thought it was marvelous to be able to shop at numerous stores, even when it was pouring down rain, without ever having to go outside to get from one store to another. The mall was so popular that it became a hangout for people who didn't even need to do any shopping. It wasn't until it was too late that we realized that the economic rejuvenation of the south side of Springfield had had a devastating effect on the economy in the older sections of the city. For a while there, the area around the public square became almost like a ghost town. Once proud businesses started showing serious signs of decline and decay, and many went out of business. The installation of an "outdoor mall" where once there had been parking did create an attractive park-like space, complete with a fountain and park benches, but the change hurt businesses inasmuch as people no longer had any good places to park unless they were willing to hunt down a parking garage and pay more money than they'd have paid to a city parking meters.

Consequently that section hasn't been the commercial center of Springfield for many years. Strip malls and name brand national chains have mostly taken over, and most of those newer businesses are located close to (or south of) the Battlefield Mall. (There are still only two indoor malls that I know of in Springfield: The Battlefield Mall, and the smaller North Town Mall, way up on the north side of town and very close to the city limits and Highway I-44.)

Yet, despite that fact, the transit routes in Springfield haven't been revised in order to reflect the changing commercial and demographic realities in the city. There are a lot of places in Springfield where there is literally no bus service at all. Why do people who have to live or work in those areas get treated like second-class citizens by the city of Springfield? I have no idea.

Buses are not like subway trains or elevated trains. Once train tracks have been built at great expense, those routes are generally in place for a long, long time. But changing a bus route is as simple as sitting down and redrawing the route on a map. (And maybe moving a few bus stop signs in order to reflect the route changes.) It's high time that Springfield City Utilities hired someone competent who would work to insure that residents of Springfield received adequate bus service no matter where they lived or worked.

Why don't they do that? I suspect that the answer is that public transit just isn't a very high priority in Springfield. Most of the people who rely on it are students or retired people or handicapped people who can't drive, either for physical or economic reasons or both.

The relative scarcity of people who don't have cars of their own in Springfield can be seen in the piecemeal and uncoordinated manner in which the city deals with city sidewalks. On some streets, there are public sidewalks, but often, those will go for a few blocks and then abruptly end for no apparent reason. What's the point in that?

The primary reason for a sidewalk is to enable one to walk to one's destination without getting one's feet wet or covered with mud or snow. (Sidewalks are almost a necessity for handicapped people who have no cars and who must therefore travel via wheelchair.) If one can't count on the sidewalks being there regardless of where one is going, then they might as well not be there at all.

Another issue pertains to sidewalk maintenance, particularly during the winter. A sidewalk covered in ice and/or half a foot of snow is next to useless. In Chicago, it certainly snows from time to time, but it's rare for a downtown sidewalk to go unshoveled for more than a day or two at the most. In Springfield, if it snows hard, the sidewalks are almost never shoveled by the city. If fact, they're almost never shoveled (on streets such as Glenstone, which is one of the busiest streets in Springfield) by anyone at all.

In a city such as Chicago, one can travel down almost any major street and count on the fact that there will always be a sidewalk on which to walk. True, it does get a little iffy once one gets out into the suburbs. Then one often has to deal with the same types of problems I've seen in Springfield.

It isn't a question of not having the money with which to pay for sidewalk construction and maintenance. Some of the richest suburbs, both in Chicagoland and in the Springfield area, lack proper sidewalks.

Ultimately, it's a matter of thoughtlessness. People who drive almost everywhere they go don't see proper sidewalks or proper public transit systems as a big priority, because they don't use such things often enough to care. Only on those rare occasions when such people are forced by unusual circumstances to forego the use of their cars does it occur to them that things could be done better.

In a post 9/11 world, we all ought to be doing everything possible to reduce per capita consumption of foreign oil. That means that we need to start doing things more intelligently. Urban planning (even in relatively small cities such as Springfield) needs to be reformed in such a manner as to make it feasible for people to live highly productive and active lives even if they do not choose to own automobiles.

Urban sprawl is also a serious problem in places such as Springfield, and it contributes greatly to the perception that a car is an absolute necessity when living in such cities.

Why build up, when you can build out? After all, there's an infinite supply of land, isn't there? That seems to be the mentality in Springfield.

Obviously, there is not an infinite supply of land, not even in the Ozarks. It would be a sad day indeed if residents of places such as Springfield woke up to discover that the lovely natural landscapes which had drawn so many new residents and visitors to the area had virtually disappeared. And that's an inevitability unless there's a radical change in the mindset of business people in that area.

A more compact city in which commuting distances are shortened makes for a more livable space, one in which people interact with one another more regularly because they see one another face to face whenever they happen to be walking down the same street or traveling together on the same bus.

I entitled this blog post "Public Transit in Nowheresville", in response to a recent article I was reading about various Hollywood stars and celebrities. The article pointed out that while some movie stars come from families where acting, producing or directing has been in the family for two or more generations (think Drew Barrymore, for example), there has always been room in Hollywood for people with more ordinary backgrounds. It cited Brad Pitt, who (according to the article) came from "Nowheresville".

Well, Brad went to Kickapoo High School, which is where I'd have gone if I'd lived just a little further south than I did. (I went to Parkview.) To me, Springfield wasn't "Nowheresville". It was home. But when I look at some of the stupid things which are regularly done by the people who run that city, I can understand why those people would look incompetent when seen through the eyes of folks from major cities such as Chicago.

Not that Chicago is perfect. I wouldn't wish Chicago's problems with gangs, drugs and corrupt police officers on my worst enemies. Dollar for dollar, housing in Chicago costs a lot more than it costs in Springfield. The public schools in Chicago have been so badly run, in the past, that only the poorest people have been willing to send their kids to such schools. In all the time I lived in Springfield, I was never approached by a homeless beggar asking for a donation, whereas I've lost count of the number of times that's happened to me since moving to Chicago.

In many respects, Springfield can be a great town in which to live. But I wish that the people who manage the city were not so "auto centric". I say this in part because I'm considering the possibility of moving back to my hometown, after 15 years here in Chicago, and I know that I'm probably going to face some problems and challenges on account of the fact that I have neither a driver's license nor a car. Hopefully, I'll get a good job soon --- one which I can get to easily in spite of my handicap --- and then I'll be able to save up enough money to get my own car again, along with the driver's license and insurance I'll need in order to drive it.